Sunday, 30 December 2012

An Accidental Christmas

Christmas in the Accidental Family happens much the same sort of way every year.  There are significant amounts of food and alcohol, plenty of people around, cats generally getting places they shouldn't be, family outings and the one obligatory church service of the year.  And it always takes place out of London, back in the Midlands.

The fun begins with my pilgrimage home, usually at the mercy of London Midland train services.  It is unutterably bloody and grim EVERY SINGLE YEAR.  So this December, gritting my teeth at the cost and the fact that I was supporting Mr Branson's efforts to take over the world, I instead booked a ticket for a Virgin Train, and along with hundreds of other Londoners, embarked at Euston station last Friday.  To my utter amazement, the journey was totally smooth and easy.  No random stops in Rugby to let everyone go to the loo as all the onboard toilets were broken.  No random stops in Rugby for no good reason at all.  No complete lack of luggage racks on which to shove heavy suitcases full of presents.  It was a dream.  (Not exactly a cheap dream, but sometimes one really just has to throw some money at the problem.)

Once home, I am usually handed a list of things that need baking or cooking.  I roll up my sleeves and produce a cake, although not one of the traditionally Christmas-y variety as a couple of members of the family habour deep hatred for both marzipan and fruit cake; we usually end up with a large ginger cake as a sort of festive compromise.  There will be mince pies to assemble, and often pastry to make.  This year's mince pie creation was somewhat thwarted by an exploding Magimix, which had a peculiar effect on my first batch of pastry which was, well, truly awful.  A second attempt (i.e. with no smoking Magimix) and we were back on track.  Salads were made, masses of onions were chopped and sauteed, and a special fancy batch of Italian biscuit mix was assembled, left to freeze for an hour as per the recipe, and completely forgotten about for several days - sorry, Mum! (They'll probably need about 15 minutes in the top oven until golden brown...)

And then there's the tree.  No plastic needles have ever been allowed to cross the threshold of the Accidental Homestead.  Oh no.  Living trees all the way for us.  And not the kind of living tree that was living until we picked it out from the tree farm, had it chopped down and borne home.  No, the kind of living tree that lives all year round (for many, many years) out on the terrace.  Each year it is manoeuvered in, complete with the enormous pot in which it resides, to shed its very real needles all over the carpet.  The cat goes nuts at this point as she realises that its Christmas, and that there will be lots of people to flirt with, lots of food to steal, ribbons to chase and wrapping paper to nest in, and TREES INSIDE!
This is the cat looking excited about being wrapped with a ribbon - she really is.  You just can't quite tell because of her permanently stern face.
The current tree, which shares a damp corner of the terrace with its predecessor which finally got too enormous to get into the house each year, is a somewhat sorry specimen of evergreen tree.  It has odd bald patches, missing not only the usual complement of needles but entire branches.  It takes a certain amount of tree-trimming expertise to disguise such gaps in a Christmas tree, but fortunately we managed it pretty well this year, thanks to a large number of glass icicles and an enormous bauble made out of something that looks - rather inexplicably - exactly like lichen.  (Why do we have this?! Where did it even come from?)
First however we have to decide on which lights to use, a process which usually goes like this:

'Oh God, the Christmas tree lights.  We've still not got any new ones.'

'So it's the same options as last year.  Either 40 white ones that don't reach the bottom of the tree or 80 purple ones. No, not those coloured ones; they're not long enough.'

'Well, why do we still have them then?'

Awkward silence.

'Purple again?'

Unconvinced silence.

'I suppose we could take the plastic snowflakes off the outdoor ones.  Then pretend they're just regular white ones.'

'Why have we never thought of that before?  I hate the snowflakes.  Why do we even have them?'

'We'll buy some more next year.' (Spoiler alert: we won't. This same conversation will happen until the end of time...)

So the tree is strung with lights, hung with baubles, and then the debate begins about who sits on top of it.  The main contenders are an ancient shiny angel without a face, a pheasant made of feathers and King Charles II (because, you know, he famously hid in a tree, and nothing says 'festive' like an old persecuted monarch/hilarious historical joke).  Yes, we Accidentals make our own rules at Christmas time.  Which is why this year, everyone won.  Except for poor old Charles.  Who had to hide lower down the tree, because the Parliamentarians would totally have found him if he'd been rocking out on the upper branches with an enormous pheasant and a foil angel.  Obviously.
And then Christmas is ready to happen.  Which it does.  And during Christmas the fridge is gradually stripped, the parcels beneath the tree are unwrapped, and the cat gently removes offending baubles from the lower branches of the Christmas tree like some sort of feline arbiter of tree-trimming taste.  The recycling bin clanks a merry 'Alcoholics Live Here' tune.  The entire family is astounded by not only the sheer number of episodes Coronation Street cranks out over the festive period but at the Accidental Father's dedication to watching them all.  We go on soggy walks across muddy fields and judge our neighbours' Christmas decorations.  We all watch 'The Holiday' and try to get out of doing the washing up.  

And then, whingeing once more about London Midland, I skip off back to London, and leave the poor Accidental Parents to de-Christmas-ify the house.  Oh, and to make those biscuits I left in the bottom of the freezer.  Happy Christmas, all!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Nothing like a nice cup of tea

Starbucks is a terrible place.  The coffee is poor, the decor is designed to actively discourage lingering, and the bloody company doesn't even pay its taxes.  Boo hiss.  But not many other chains - taxes aside, as far as we know - are much better.  Full of sofas that look comfy from a distance but are actually disconcertingly unyielding, they tend to be staffed by baristas who are either frazzled and unsmiling or so horrifyingly overfamiliar that if there wasn't a large plastic croissant-filled cabinet between you and them you'd be worrying for your personal safety.

And it's not as if London is without plenty of excellent independent coffee shops, all of which sell far better coffee than the chains, in spaces with much more ambiance and way fewer tourists.  But sometimes - being British - one wants a cup of tea instead of a paper cup full of frothy milk and ground beans.  And for that, I usually head to a small and select London-based tea chain; the pleasingly named, Yumchaa.  As a peaceful, calm cup of tea is to a hastily-grabbed take-away coffee, so Yumchaa is to the Neros and Starbucks of the city.
The interior of Yumchaa on Tottenham Street
A far cry from the crowded tiny tables and shrink-wrapped slivers of cake of the larger coffee chains, Yumchaa is a peaceful place to sit, drink several cups of tea, chat and work in peace.  Large wooden tables surrounded by mismatched chairs, positively encourage the spreading out of papers, whilst the free wifi acts as an efficient student-magnet.  Each branch stocks a vast range of teas which can be served steaming hot with silver strainers or whizzed up over ice on a hotter day (ok, maybe less what you might be feeling like in December).  And no cup of tea is complete with a decent piece of cake to keep it company.  (After some extensive personal research - you're welcome, by the way - I can highly recommend a wedge of Yumchaa's chocolate velvet loaf cake.)

Yumchaa has a very cosy little branch in Soho, and a few larger shops off the Tottenham Court Road, and in Camden; one on the Lock and one on Parkway.  On the nights when yet another trip to the pub sounds less than enticing - and there are rather a lot of them around now we're fully immersed in the Christmas party season of forced festive frivolity - Yumchaa has become a welcome alternative for my work chum, the Accidental Ally, and I, after office hours.  In a rarely civilised way for London, Yumchaa doesn't firmly close its doors at 6pm.  Joy!  Sipping our  teas shortly before 7 the other evening a cheery member of staff approached our table.  Thinking we were about to be politely asked to leave so that they could start cleaning up we readied our bags and murmured about just being on our way.  'No! No!' she reassured us, 'I was just coming to tell you we'll be closing up in an hour!'.  Relieved we slumped back into our chairs.  Maybe there'd be time for another wedge of chocolate velvet loaf cake...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pin It button on image hover