Sweetbriar Dreams

Sweetbriar Dreams

So where shall we go on our journey today?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Revisiting Camden Town and Santacon in London

On Saturday 10 December, something special will be happening iaround the world in towns and cities... 

Santacon 2016
(you can find out more here)

An event organised by the power of social media and one that I loved coming across a couple of years ago in 2014.  So, my blog today is going back in time and revisiting December 2014, when we were pleasantly surprised by the fun and festive feeling of Camden Town and Trafalgar Square in London.  Full santa outfits have to be worn (not just a hat or Christmas jumper!) and details of where the events being held are only told the night before.  Unfortunately I can't get down to London for a couple of weeks but reliving this day from 2014 was still as fun as it was then.  So, mince pie and a glass of sherry my dear readers... here we go again...

Well the year is nearly over and this would be my last trip to London for now.  A little bit of Christmas shopping was to be embarked upon, along with some sight seeing in the City to see the Christmas decorations sparkling in the night time.  What we were not expecting to see along the way were Santas.  Many, many, many Santas.  Now, if your little ones are reading this with you, can I explain that these are being interviewed to work in the North Pole next year in the real Father Christmas' workshops!  To the adults- this was one massive pub crawl!!!!  So as I take you around our visit this time, you may see quite a lot of Santas' in different shapes and guises along the way!

Just a quick hop onto the tube to Camden Town from Kings Cross and we joined the crowds.  Yes, people were saying that we were mad to go Christmas shopping in London, so seeing the Mad Hatter as we came out of the tube station really didn't help!!

Camden Town is full of markets, individual unique shops and friendly staff - unrushed and very happy to please.  Yes, it was full of shoppers but we didn't feel as though we were being pushed along, instead we were able to take our time and handle things at our leisure.  What is also so different is that the signs for the shops are accompanied by huge examples of the wares they are selling inside.  So instead of seeing a typical barber shop red and white column, you can see boots...


in fact anything from a distance.

As we walked along there were more and more Santas walking along to Camden Lock.  Santacon was obviously in full swing!

Now to some I suppose Camden Town can look a little shabby with its individual style, so if you are into sleek and shiny High Streets then Camden is not for you.  However, if you like things that are a little different and especially if you have teenage kids, then this is a MUST see.  Miss Teen and her friend Miss B felt totally at home and were happily soaking up the young, vibrant atmosphere and were surprised at just how long the stallholders spoke to them and let them try things on without getting all huffy.  It was a new experience for them.

My happy places though were capturing the ghost signs on the sides of old shops...

... taxi cabs outside good old fashioned fish and chip shops...

... lamp shops...

... boots...

... dresses...

... candles...

... necklaces... (a favourite for Miss Teen and Miss B - the stallholder was amazing with his knowledge of TV shows and film).

Then there was the food, and what a huge choice there was.  All freshly prepared and cooked.  Yes there are the typical fast food places, but most people head to the stall holders where cocktail sticks are handed out to try the different flavours of the world.  Even Octopus is freshly cooked and served.

We went for the Turkish option with succulent chargrilled chicken, perfectly cooked rice, fresh salad and a flat bread!  Perfect!  For dessert we went along to some more stalls and spotted this one with oozing cakes.

I truly wanted that sticky toffee cake but passed, however Miss Teen and Miss B enjoyed the brownie pops.  I was allowed a little taster and they were heavenly!

Lunchtime here is very busy but again we didn't feel that we were being rushed along, everyone just taking their time.

But hey, do you want to see where all the Santas went?  They were at Camden Lock...

Streams of them, all very merry.

One had obviously already been down a chimney!

Another had already been to one of the corset shops.

The atmosphere was fantastic and the girls were so happy to be part of it.

But to keep on track we needed to get back over the bridge.

Passing this great looking shop called All Saints where you can just see all the antique sewing machines in the windows

Can you make them out?

Time was knocking on so we needed to say a reluctant goodbye to Camden Town.  I feel that this will be a regular trip for my daughter now!

Another tube journey to Charing Cross and a short walk to Trafalgar Square next.

When I was younger I used to have a regular Christmas trip here with my Nan and Grandpa, just to see the Christmas Tree which is a gift from Norway.

The lights were on as the sun began to set over London town.

Including the star at the top!

Yes, you guessed it.  Santacon was here too!

If I was prepared I think we would have stayed to see the whole square full of Santas, which is what happened later on.  But we needed to walk to Westminster before our train back.

We walked past Downing Street on the way.  Long gone are the days when you could stand next to the famous front door with a policeman!

Westminster was full but we managed to get near the railings of the Houses of Parliament.

Then along to Westminster Bridge to see the London Eye at night.

County Hall looks beautiful when it is lit up.

London at night is my favourite time to see this magical place.

Everyone dashing here, there and everywhere!

It was now time to say goodbye to the Thames...

And let the ghostly carriages pass us by!

Sorry, couldn't resist, the photo could have come out A LOT better but it was a quick turn round to see them going past me.

Back to 2016 and my last London trip of the year will be coming up in a couple of weeks when I hope to capture the tree at Trafalgar Square while Miss Teen and Miss B enjoy a West End Show.  I can't wait to get down to my old home town and breathe in that air again and have a couple of hours of selfish 'me' time.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

... and so it begins!

I have my own little tradition in our house, the last weekend of November is the tree weekend!  Stop groaning, it has to be done.  The closer it is to the big day, the more stressful the jobs become, so this little tradition eases me in gently and helps me enjoy the month's preparations ahead.

I like to open up the boxes and bags full of last year's decorations and think back to what frame of mind I was in when I put them away in January ...

 obviously I wasn't in a good place!

 Oh yes, I remember now, full of painkillers and unable to stand... yes I remember that time well (post double bunion removal, arthritis removal and both toes broken and pinned in three places... oh yes, yes, I remember it only too well!!).

I love unwrapping the ornaments that have been with me since pre-children days...

Along with those ornaments that were my mild threat to my little darlings "this is special santa who is here to watch and make sure you have been good!".  This little santa had such amazing powers as soon as he was put on a shelf!

The main tree has to be decorated a certain way otherwise I am met with "Mum, it doesn't feel right!".  Dried oranges, apples and cinnamon sticks fill vessels and jars around the house, filling the house with a Christmas fragrance that gladdens the nostrils.

One year I changed the tree to a thinner version to be told when I took it down on New Year's Day, that they didn't like to say at the time, but Christmas was just not Christmas without the shorter fat one (they meant the normal tree!! Don't be rude!).  So the  tall thin tree has now been banished to the hall.  Another new tradition!

The next thing is the obligatory Christmas lists.  The food list, the present list, the Christmas card list, the social calendar list.  Yes, I'm a Virgo, in control, calm in a crisis, organised and methodical (well that's the theory).

The main items on the Christmas food list... Baileys, Ham, Turkey, Maple Syrup, Chipolatas, Sweet Chilli Sauce.  Why?  Turkey obviously (even though I prefer not to eat it) ready for the Nigella recipe (here), Maple Syrup for the Christmas parsnips, Chipolatas and Sweet Chilli Sauce for the sticky sausages I make for the Boxing Day buffet (usually half have disappeared before I've got to the table!  Seriously good and I've found an online recipe here for you) and ham for my boxing day ham.   Yes, my best friend on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is Nigella!!

 Without these elements and the smells that the recipes give the house, Christmas Eve 'doesn't feel or smell right' according to my darling Teens!  Oh, and the Baileys?  Well, Christmas morning as I prepare to stuff, flavour, and wrap acres of tin foil around my nemesis (the turkey), I take the occasional snifter of Baileys to get me through it.  The Baileys will be strategically placed in the kitchen with a crystal glass and will be the first thing I see when I come down bleary eyed at the crack of dawn.

A newer tradition, to save me my sanity on the big day, is the big breakfast!  Now that the Teens are grown up and not up with me at the crack of dawn, I cook a full English, complete with black pudding!! (don't knock it until you've tried it).  I make sure the aromas waft upstairs and before long I hear the stirring on the landing and down they come.  This new tradition keeps us full until 4 in the afternoon, when the turkey has finally finished its roasting, the potatoes are crisp, the Yorkshire puddings have raised, the parsnips have started to caramelize with the maple syrup, the Brussels sprouts have been mixed with crispy bacon and chestnuts, the carrots have taken on the dill they have been paired with,  the stuffing is just starting to harden on the outside but gooey in the middle, the pigs in blankets are beginning to snore, the bread sauce has been prepared (and mostly eaten already by Miss Teen), the beef is cooked to perfection and the cauliflower cheese is bubbling and taken on a satisfying tan.  Yes, my Christmas dinner is notorious as a girdle buster and no one in the family will have it any other way, but we skip lunch for this feast by candlelight and it allows me to cook in peace (and finish the Baileys!!).

The lead up to the big day is one that I do love getting on the conveyor belt for.  I love planning and the satisfaction of giving everyone a wonderful Christmas.  The Christmas Eve presents under the tree which are usually a new pair of pyjamas for everyone and slippers so that we can then have our baths and showers and slip into these with the last takeaway meal for the year and snuggle down in front of the TV until everyone goes to bed.  Then, my last look around the house while it is quiet and I have some time alone, taking out those last little surprise presents and putting them around the tree.  A little stocking of goodies for Tia (another new tradition)... times like these I am grateful for a deaf furry friend!  Some text messages to those who are dear to me wishing them a great day ahead and then off to bed making sure the alarm is set for 6am and the start of a hectic day for me but a relaxing one for everyone else.

And so, as no doubt all of you are, it's time for the business and planning to be put into effect!  I have no real trips planned until just before the big day when my birthday surprise to Miss Teen is to see a West End show in London with Miss B.  While they are in the theatre, I will be no doubt walking down to Trafalgar Square to see the Christmas tree and take in this beautiful city on its last office working day.  No doubt there will be much merriment and plenty of Christmas Jumpers and Santa's Hats!!

... and so it begins... time to start climbing that mountain!

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