Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sunday, 23 Dec - Serene and Spiritual

The days just keep getting better. And Sunday was truly lovely. It shall be one of those days which I shall remember forever, replete with activity and significance, even though it was shrouded, ironically, in a cloud of fog.

That’s right. We woke up to a blanket of thick, white fog covering the whole of London. Peering out of the window at HM and SSG’s, I couldn’t see even across the carpark to the buildings on the other side. And when HM and I emerged to head to the Tate Britain, it was a truly surreal and atmospheric sight which greeted us outside.

Tower Bridge, surely one of London’s most iconic structures, was cloaked in dense fog, and standing at one end of the bridge, we could even discern the shape of the Tower of London across the river. All these tourists on top of the bridge, cameras at the ready. Are they disappointed, or are they happy? London has a cliché for being cold, foggy and dreary, but such a day comes only very rarely.

We were at the Tate Britain for a special retrospective exhibition of the works of John Everett Millais, the great British Pre-Raphaelite artist. He’s the fellow behind such stunningly beautiful paintings as Ophelia and Mariana, with their fine, precise detail and lively colours. Incredibly, both works were executed in the early part of his career, and we were able to see the evolution of his style, including the many portrayals of ordinary couples living through extraordinary times.

Stepping out of the museum, HM and I took a bus to the Strand, where we had a quick lunch, before heading back to the Tower Hill station, and back home to link up with SSG. Our next destination? The Sunday carol service at St Paul’s Cathedral. It all seems pretty pedestrian, and I don’t know how best to describe the next couple of hours – how totally amazing it was – how best to convey what I saw, what I heard, what I experienced. But let’s try anyway….

So, I had come to London determined to do a few Christmasy things, like attending a pantomime performance, touring a Christmas market, and also going for a church carol service. HM and I were discussing things online before I arrived, and we settled on the St Paul’s service on Sunday. At the same time, I was planning to meet “Russia”, one of my dearest friends from UCL.

By a wonderful stroke of coincidence, we had arranged also to meet on Sunday, and she told be that she’d be working at St Paul’s that afternoon, where she had been temping for some time over the past few months. “I’ll be attending the carol service that afternoon, and can meet you afterwards,” I recall myself saying to her.

What I didn’t know was how wildly packed and popular the service was going to me. Russia gave me a call earlier in the day, and offered to secure us some seats inside the cathedral. And that was what the lovely girl really did! We arrived at St Paul’s, bypassed the long queue amassed outside, and went inside through the North Transept instead.

Inside, it was already almost full house, but Russia had “unofficially” secured three fantastic seats for us which a direct view of the Quire and Dome Sanctuary. I have no idea how she did it. Mere words cannot convey how absolutely grateful we were for her efforts, and what followed was a most enriching carol service.

The music was good, the setting was perfect, and the sermon sounded like a sociological thesis. But you really have to credit the weather as well. In churches back home, especially those which aren't air conditioned, you’d be sweating, surrounded by people clad in tee shirts. Here, even with thousands gathered inside the cathedral, everyone was close to shivering, lending a most Christmasy mood to the service. And when we exited, the wintry sun had already set, and St Paul’s was encased in the still present thick night fog, conveying a most Dickensian atmosphere.

SSG, HM and I emerged, feeling very appreciative and privileged, and went nearby for tea and minced pies at the imaginatively named tea, located in the shadows of the cathedral. Shortly after, Russia finished her shift and was able to join us for a brief moment. HM and SSG really took to her, and we all had a good chat, before I left with Russia for our planned dinner.

London at this hour was dark, cold and foggy, but I was feeling all nice and warm inside, happy to be with a close friend from the city. We crossed the Thames on the Millennium Footbridge, towards the Tate Modern, cutting through the fog, and then settled down at the Founders Arms pub along the riverside for a nice Sunday dinner.

It was lovely catching up with Russia. We had lots to talk about. She updated me on her life, and I updated her on mine. She told me she was considering making a trip to Singapore in March next year, which would be absolutely delightful. True friendship surely transcends space and time. But come on. It’s still good to meet as often as one can : )

After bidding goodbye to Russia, I took a train to Canada Water station in the Surrey Quays areas, and was then picked up by GNK+1 and HM. We headed back to his place, where his Other Half and SSG had already gathered. They’ve got a lovely apartment, set in an area of London which looks totally unlike the rest of the city. The developments there are very new, looking more like an American suburb than the ancient city that is London.

GNK+1 and his Other Half are proud owners of two guinea pigs, Bubble and Squeak, which I had great fun playing with. I remembered fondly my own two guinea pigs – may they rest in peace – from my days in the US, Millie and Caramel. Bubble and Squeak is actually the name of a British dish, but I had to not think of these two lovely sister animals as food. One was brown, and the other a lovely shade of grey, with a white crest tuff on top of her head.

We hung around till past midnight, talking cock, and even doing boh liao things like throwing a little toy rugby ball around the living room. Now I know who among my friends can catch, and who has absolute butter fingers. Heh. It was a truly great day, and already, I know I shall return home to look back fondly upon moment such as these.


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