Xmas Lunch at Planet Bombay in Little Five Points, Atlanta 2014.
Ding dong merrily on high, it's Christmas time in the Democratic People's Republic of America!
This is not my first Yule in Yankland. Take the Hot Tub Time Machine back to 1990, when Vanilla Ice was the Elvis of Rap and Agent Cooper was looking for Laura Palmer's killer on Twin Peaks. Back then I was unhappily bivouacked at the YMCA on West 63rd St, watching old re-runs of Brideshead Revisited on a 1979 Sony Trinitron TV set and eating Chinese take out. My abiding memory of that seedy-but-central-joint? Lots of gay men hitting on me ("Are you looking for a new sexual experience?") and old vets complaining about food deserts on the Upper West Side. That was my Fairytale of New York. Holden Caufield, the Last and Best of the Peter Pans, eat your phony heart out.
The Satanic bricks of the West Side YMCA on 63rd St
Fast forward to Christmas 2014: I'm in the Trumpton hills of Virginia-Highland for Yuletide, and beyond (my 45th birthday). Fortunately, Charles Dickens, a writer who died in 1870, is haunting me again. Blazing fires, brined turkeys, plum puddings, good cheer and drunken revelry, Dickens popularized the very idea of Christmas as we know it. Suffice to say, A Christmas Carol, which first appeared 171 years ago in 1843, was back on the seasonal reading list.
Alastair Sim as Scrooge and Francis de Wolff as the Ghost of Christmas Past
And I can't get through Christmas without a dose of Alastair Sim in Scrooge, the 1951 film version of the story. Rupert Murdoch, a latter-day Scrooge if ever there was one, bought the rights yonks ago and it can only be seen on Sky and Fox. Unfortunately for Scrooge of Melbourne, some geek uploaded it to YouTube just in time for the hols.
My Christmas Tree!
What is Christmas without a tree? Some folk think Christmas trees make the living room look messy but the festive season is defined by mess; scrunched up balls of wrapping paper, pine needles, new toys on the floor and abandoned festive sweaters. Let the rest of the year be clean and tidy and leave me to enjoy a Messy Crimbo. Besides, having a real one in the house can bring the season alive. We bought a nice six-foot North Carolina Fraser Fir (pictured) from the local market for $65. But there is some cause for alarm -- Norwegian scientists from the University Museum of Bergen found that up to 25,000 creepy crawlies may be hiding among the needles. They found lice, mites, moths, springtails and spiders squatting on branches with baubles, lights and tinsel. Better not share that titbit with American visitors to headquarters (Yanks are anal).
None to be found...
Low fat egg nog, and egg nog ice cream, from Trader Joe's have gone down well at ATL HQ this year. Alas, I was unable to find any traditional English fayre in the local supermarkets of Midtown Atlanta. No Dundee cake, Christmas pudding or mince pies for Mr. Pooter at Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods or Alon's. I could find both items, very easily, at Villa Market in Bangkok for Christmases 2003-2011.
St Matthew's Church, Bayswater.
But where to go for Midnight Mass at Christmas Eve? Not lovely St. Mathew's in Bayswater, that's for sure. St Matthew's is my local Anglican back home in London, a Grade II listed building in the Victorian Gothic style. It was completed in 1882, replacing an earlier church from 1818, and built to house the huge 1400 member congregation that flocked to hear the then incumbent, Archdeacon James Hunter.
St. Mathew's in Bayswater
The soaring spire of St. Mathew's can be seen for miles and its stained glass windows (two of which are from the Burne Jones studio), carvings, clock and bells are long admired. One of St. Mathew's greatest assets is its organ (built in 1913 by the firm of JW Walker & Sons). The British Institute of Organ Studies awarded St. Matthew's organ a certificate Grade II in 2008 in recognition of it having survived unaltered.
St.John's Church in Notting Hill
Another favorite spot in the old hood for Midnight Mass is St. John's Notting Hill. Dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, the church was built in 1845 as the centrepiece of the Ladbroke Estate, a housing project designed to attract upper class residents to what was then a largely rural neighborhood in London. I had walked past beautiful St. John's many times over the years but did not cross its threshold until 2012, when I was summoned by its echoing bells to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I took a seat with posh regulars and passing drunks to contemplate life, death and my first Christmas in the homeland since 2002.
The Church of Our Saviour on North Highland