26 December 2006

A long way down - a different Christmas!

The reason why I decided to stay in London over Christmas instead of spending it with my family was partly due to the fact that I wanted to experience a different Christmas for a change. Turns out, that's exactly what I got! But let me tell you my story from the beginning:

It all started when I wanted to see the annual Christmas Swimming Race in the Hyde Park Serpentine, where every year at 9am, the bravest of the bravest dive into the freezing depths (more like, shallows) for charity! Leaving a bit later than I intended at 8am (because, ironically, I was immersed in Nick Hornby's "A long way down"), I ventured for a ~ 3,5 km x 2 walk on a fresh winter morning (on Dec 25th, there is no public transport whatsoever).

So on my 1h 10 min "stroll", I didn't see more than 20 or 30 people! It was as if London was dead! Imagine! There are usually THOUSANDS of people that account for the cosmopolitan buzz of this city. I can tell you, it was creepy! It was like a ghost town! Obviously an Indian pedestrian I met on the street thought so to because he wished me a Merry Christmas, just so!

So when I arrived at the race place, it was 9.10h and the event was actually over! But I got my eyes on two amazing individuals that took the challenge (or "the Kneipp", you could maybe call it). I was admiring the swimmers in awe, the more so because one of them was probably in his 60s or 70s. I appreciate the metaphorical reference to living with handicap and I find this a very noble way of showing solidarity. Btw, is there anyone who is interested in trekking the Wall of China or one of these charity adventures in SEA?

A few impressions of the swimming race:

(The copyright to these pictures belong to the Serpentine Swimming Club)
Anyway, so when I sat down on a bench to rest while watching the participants, a trio of Frenchs passed by who were commenting on the goings-on in a cliché-like fashion, "C'est une façon de vivre!".
When I wanted to head home and got up again, I grimaced in agony: I had gotten myself several blisters and had rubbed off the skin on the sole so that it was very sensitive. I sat down again and thought: There is no public transport, I have only 25 £ for a cab (that will never get me home) and I could hardly ask any of the strangers to give me a lift (well, maybe I could have but I am not that type of person). So I decided that I should at least try to walk for a while to reduce the cab costs. It didn't hurt so much as long as I kept walking. But then I had another problem: It was so cold that I couldn't really move my jaw or feel my limbs anymore. Usually, the best remedy (and only way back) is walking, so that's what I did.

On Oxford Street, I saw not more than 50 people between Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road (for which there was a police patrol that kept driving up and down). I receive a call from my family which kept me distracted and until I noticed it, I had walked more than half of the way already. But when I stopped for a second to figure out how to get to the other side of a street, an acute pain eruption set every mm² of my feet on fire and it was not without some hunching that I made it to a bus stop to sit down. I assessed my situation: I was maybe only ten minutes' walk away from Dinwiddy, had not enough tissue papers to relieve the pressure and friction on my feet and didn't have the number of the cab service. Half of my brain was already mapping out an emergency plan if I was to faint of hypothermia while I was on my own. My jaw didn't really open that much anymore without some conscious effort, my butt was a block of ice (typically me, I was wondering if you can get frostbite on your buttocks) and I found it very very difficult and awkward to stretch the muscles on my arms and I honestly barely managed to move my fingers to write Stacia an SMS, asking her to look up the cab service for me. The University College Hospital was maybe a 100 metres away but 1) walking was not an option 2) I found it silly to call an ambulance to pick me up from around the corner.
By that time, eight occupied cabs had passed me, as well as two groups of people that looked at me as if I was the only person in all of London not to have noticed that the doubledeckers have vanished from the streets (but only one of them pointing it out to me). Two empty cabs didn't want a job, the number wasn't working (it was a tape) and I had been waiting for half an hour already. And then, like Santa Claus with his sleigh and presents, a cab driver that pulled to the side!

He was a nice and chatty man in his 50s or 60s and revealed to me that I was like a christmas angel appearing out of nowhere with a white jacket and hood stretching out her hand, when he had been driving around for two hours without a job! I wanted to tip him (because I remembered from Orientation that cab drivers expect that and sometimes can even get quite aggressive if you "just" pay the fare and also because I was in a grateful mood) but he wanted to give me back my due cash and said that he was happy to have had someone in his cab and since I really wanted to be charitable on Christmas Day, I settled on half the tip (which was 50 p but it's the idea that counts!).

At home, I only managed to change dress, turn on the heater on max and collapse into my bed and probably would have fallen asleep the moment my head hit the pillow (I had been awake for around 20 hours), if I hadn't been concerned about the fact that I was not warming up and feeling very cold under one blanket, one shirt, two pullovers, thick socks and leg warmers. I put my hand on the heater for a while and went back to bed but the cold that was spreading through my body from my behind was really worrying me. It might have been dead or sth, so I leaned/sat on the heater for around 15 minutes until circulation and body heat came back again. Relieved that I had successfully reanimated my buttocks, I peacefully fell into a deep sleep.

Certainly a Christmas to remember!

Since the Christmas Cookies deserve their own post, more about them to follow next time!

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