Christmas in Glasgow
or How to Rock Christmas despite the Royal Mail
3 DECEMBER 2015
ST. GEORGE’S SQUARE, GLASGOW
We have taken the subway on a dreary Scottish day to City Center, to shop. A Ferris wheel, a carousel, an ice-skating rink, and one of those insane swing rides have been set up in the square. Unaware that Scottish Christmas apparently includes a State Fair Flare, we take a rest and watch the shoppers and teenagers as we eat lunch in The Counting House.
We shop, we stroll, we drink, we shop some more. I have had enough to drink by 3pm to want to ride (despite my fear of rides set up by carnies) and am vetoed. We accomplish all of our shopping in between pints and people watching. The rain decides to dump on us in earnest and we duck into The Pot Still, where a semi-retired teacher named George, waiting on his wife, starts a conversation with us. This is typical for Glasgow. A city full of Never-Met-A-Strangers. He asks about America, we learn that he plays the accordion, and he ends up buying a round for the three of us before we move on. The rain had stopped by then and the night sky was amazing and crisp, the smell of wet cobblestones more relaxing than a shoulder rub. We end our night with a wee cocktail at the very posh bar in the first floor of The Corinthian Club. Merry!
6 DECEMBER 2015
COSAs in GLAGOW
With my school term at an end, JP has decided to schedule our daily walks around locating COSAs. Cozy Outdoor Smoking Areas. Yes, this is happening, people. Cigars are hard to come by – and expensive when we can find them – so they have become quite the treat. But our little garden has no shelter, so we must be creative. We walk to the Hotel du Vin, for which, in jeans, we feel instantly underdressed. We slip into the whisky bar (abundantly warm, crackling fire, comfy leather couches) and began chatting to the whisky concierge, Ibon, who discusses the 20-page whisky menu.
*I have no photos of Ibon, but rest assured, I will in the future. He may even get written into my will.
Ibon also gives us the cigar menu (only a page, alas) and we make selections as he leads us outside to the Cigar Bothy. There is a stone courtyard with tables and fairy lights above (he tells us this used to be the stables 100 years ago) and at its end, a Tiki Hut structure with soft leather chairs and space heaters underneath. He turns them on, takes our orders, and returns with a whisky, cigars, an ashtray and two Cubans.
Merry. Christmas. To. Us.
Ibon calls it a hidden gem, as many people to do not know about it, and it does not get regular use. I do not think he believes us when we tell him in earnest that we intend to change that. He returns in a while with a second round, which, when we are ready to go, he pays for. Merry. Merry.
8 DECEMBER 2015
GLASGOW Christmas Excitement
Holiday shopping, for us, was accomplished by December 9. I realize that by typing this sentence, I run the risk of alienating half of my readership but let me beg the other 6 of you to stay and read on.
Never Complain about the USPS!! You have no idea how wonderful they are. The Royal Mail, in addition to its competitors (yes there are multiple mail services here) ALL SUCK. They deliver when they want, and they charge extortionate rates and pile on taxes and customs fees that would make a Mafia Loan Shark blush.
And no one seems to know what FRAGILE means,
so give up on that too.
We had two big boxes of pressies purchased, wrapped, packaged and shipped; other presents were being shipped for us (thank you Amazon!) and we had some Incredible Elves stateside who helped us with a few things too. Let me be clear; I am not bragging so much as admitting that I was beaten into this Time Management Machine by none other than Hurricane. It is one of the things I am most grateful to her for – in life in general- but definitely around the holidays.
CALM AND BRIGHT
The Christmases of my childhood appear in memory as Storybook Superb. And Hurricane was never manic over it all. This is not to say that we didn’t have a Griswold moment or two, but those mainly revolved around Mackula’s shenanigans. Hurricane would have something on the stove, something in the oven, the menu planned, cards mailed, presents wrapped and/or delivered, linens pressed, tree and house superbly decorated, Christmas music softly playing, Pork Chop (our dog) curled on the end of the throw blanket, under which she was curled, on the couch, reading a book, and sipping Russian Tea.
Procrastination was viewed by Hurricane as some sort of mental disorder.
8 DECEMBER 2015
If ever there is evidence that I am her child, it is during the holidays. Christmas shopping is managed, meals planned, and the time for reveling has begun! We have tickets to a movie (Star Wars), a show (A Christmas Carol), and reservations for a Christmas day feast (@Curler’s Rest). I will cook a Christmas Eve meal, and we will snack on the leftovers for days while JP plays Christmas movies and I pretend to read or work. We have everything we need, (indeed more) and we revel in the luxurious sexy pace of our lives.
9 DECEMBER 2015
We have no desire to travel this holiday. We’ve not been here 3 months yet, so we are content to explore our new home We take the train to Edinburgh, to a Choral Light Show, choosing the night, of course, with gale force winds (up to 40 mph) in the pelting rain in which to enjoy Handle’s messiah.
With temperatures in the mid-50s, prior to the show, we did some walking and shopping (cigar shops are few and far between in Scotland, people, you must always be on the lookout!) and had a magnificent birthday meal of roasted duck and garlic mashed potatoes, prawn and crab cakes and a bottle of Merlot. We have a few pints, we buy JP a new hat (the wind threatening to take the one he was wearing) and a find a new whisky bar. Thus reinforced, we headed to the music, ready to kick of our holiday in more style.
If you’ve never been beaten by stinging rain while listening to the Hallelujah chorus while standing beneath a Disney-like light structures, glowing and pulsing in perfect synchronicity with the music, then you do not know Christmas Excitement, my friends. Merrrrrrry.
10 DECEMBER 2015
TeamShrop HQ, GLASGOW
Our boiler (think: hot water and heat) goes out. As in, stops working. We have a mostly-hot shower (it’s electric) and a few phone calls to the landlord (do you remember him? Hamish?) and he’s on his way over, with John, one of the building’s owners. I’m fairly sure they both expected that we were simply intoxicated or otherwise incapable of properly operating the thing, because neither masked their genuine shock when they turned up and the boiler performed its little on-and-off-watch-the-pilot-light-tick-and-dance-and-disappear act. Scottish Power was summarily called.
We danced with three different technicians from Scottish Power over the next SIX DAYS as they finally managed to order, deliver, and install the parts needed for our poor boiler. Space heaters were delivered in the interim and we were quite cozy, but having to wait on the deliveries and technicians cut into our neighborhood wanderings a bit. Lesser humans would have been bitter and bored. We are superior humans; we drank bitters and played board games.
12 DECEMBER 2015
WARM AND BRIGHT
It’ 55 degrees and everyone is complaining about the weather. In North Carolina, temps are 20 degrees higher than that, and people are complaining about the weather. We flatly blame Al Gore and his Global Warming and head out, having waited the previous day for a Scottish Power part delivery that never arrived. #royalmailcankissit
We go see a movie (Victor Frankenstein), walk around the Christmas stalls in St. Enoch’s square, pick up a birthday delivery at Debenhams, then sail home on the warm weather with thoughts of a cigar. Hubby’s birthday is our excuse, but we really don’t need one. (His birthday this year was a concert, a dinner, a fine bottle, and a fine cigar.)
It is full dark when we walk there (at 4pm) and we shake off our boiler frustrations with a cigar and two glasses of whisky while listening to Christmas Carols on my iPhone, the heaters whirring away in the bothy, keeping us toasty. The wind picks up at the last and after we settle up, we decide to have another drink inside at the whisky bar. What’s the rush back to our Space Heater Flat? The lounge is crowded, but there is small couch by the front window and Ibon ushers us to it. We change our whisky order to champagne, for Hubby’s birthday. And Ibon brings us a plate of truffles:
He refuses to let me pay and is embarrassed when I hug him good-bye.
We walk home, our way lit through the neighborhood by Christmas trees alight in bay windows. We play our first round of the Christmas Tree Game.
24 DECEMBER (1978 -88)
AFTER DINNER RIDE ALONG
Following the Candlelight Service at FBC and then our annual Chinese dinner, my family would drive all over the city, looking at Christmas lights and play the Christmas Tree Game.
The car is divided, to left and right sides – these are your teams and you cannot switch. If there is a lit tree with multi-colored lights on your side of the car (road), that’s one point for your team. Trees with all white lights are two points. A tree with any other solid color (red, blue) lights are five points each. Trees that you can see but are not lit do not count. Trees inside and outside count. Bigger trees do not yield additional points. Decorations in/on businesses do not count. It must be residential. Trees must be real trees as far as you can tell. (No obviously plastic or wire trees, icicle lights on bushes, or trees created by lights strung from poles). Plastic figurines, angels, Moravian stars, and balls of wound lights hanging from trees do not count. When in doubt, the driver was the ultimate judge (Mackula).
With a belly full of egg rolls and pork fried rice, we drove around neighborhoods all over the city, looking at the decorations and adding up our scores. Less competition and more about pointing out the new, the unique, the amazing, and more often than not, singing along with the Christmas songs on the radio. Every so often, Mackula would make crazy twists and turns through the neighborhood, looking for more lights and trying to keep the scores close, often making last minute decisions about which way to drive around a cul-de-sac, sending us flying across the back seat, and giving one team all the points. Mackula would inevitably turn in the direction to let “my” team get the points for the great big tree in the front window of my best friend’s house (she still calls herself the Jew that Loves Christmas). And we’d look for the plastic reindeer with the dented butt in the yard of the Kristy family, which dad ran over one year leaving a party from a driveway over.
As Christmas nears, and Hubby and I walk through our neighborhood (we’ve lived in many over the years) we often play the Christmas Tree Game when the sun sets and the trees glow vividly in the front windows of homes. We talk about the lights, and smile over stories of people they remind us of. It’s really the only Christmas tradition that we keep. I sometimes cheat (he lets me) but we always wind our way home, with a slow relaxed pace, simply enjoying the company. And feeling the peace of the season wash over us in the whisky-warmed, Scottish-chilled December air. A Very. Merry.
14 DECEMBER 2015
GLASGOW CITY CENTRE
We go to a movie (Black Mass) and have a late late lunch of small plate and ciders at All Bar One, where we laugh at a group of female Christmas revelers with Christmas cracker hats, one of which we were sure would stumble on her stilts either coming or going to the toilets. We lost that bet (the brunette stumbled, not the blonde) with our neighbor, Alex, who works for a company based in RTP. Small world indeed. Merry. Merry.
18 DECEMBER 2015
Heat restored and the universe set aright, it’s time for some 3-D Cinema.
There are brass bands playing festive music, shoppers on the Fashion Mile and high street are bustling, and the decorations on the street lamps and storefronts glow in the grey light of a Scottish Friday. We go in extra early in anticipation of Comic Con Craziness, but are greeted with no lines and an hour to burn before our matinee. We go to the pub across the street, and a spend time with an off-duty bus driver (John) who regales us with stories about the madness of private holiday bus hires and, in a coordinated effort with the bartendress, does his best to convince Hubby to sing karaoke in a few days, as the pubs hosts this and trivia every Sunday. The old man next to John has seven teeth in his head, and laughs maniacally at every other things Hubby says. He steps outside twice in the hour we are there to smoke Camels from what looks like a WWII rations tin. Merry. Merry.
23 DECEMBER 2015
We walk to the Valhalla Goat wine shop. Last minute shoppers amuse us at every turn. A man trying to reel in his 10-year old who is having a melt-down, a woman outside a cooking shop yelling into her mobile phone ”…I am not going to spend my holiday waiting for you to get off your arse and decide what you want to do…” You tell him, honey.
We have a relaxing walk home from the Valhalla Goat, stopping at a bookstore, Oran Mor, a few charity shops, The Hillhead Bookclub, a candle shop, and Hubby’s favorite, Curler’s Rest. In Curler’s I am accosted while heading to the bar by a group of men (ages 30-60) full of Christmas Cheer. I say excuse me, as I split them to get to the bar to order.
One of them manages to tell me, more or less, that he thinks that I am pretty.
I say thank you and am asked if I am Australian. I laugh and say no. Canadian? Another asks.
American, I say before they can guess more countries.
You here are on holiday? No, we’ve moved here.
They collectively miss the possessive pronoun and the loudest, who looks and sounds like Scottish Drunken Uncle wraps an arm around me and snaps a selfie.
It happens very fast, but the rest are on him quickly, apologizing and embarrassed; Drunken Uncle grins like an idiot and says something about helium. So I have been instagrammed now. One of them tells Drunken Uncle that I probably have a boyfriend that will now “level him, and rightly”.
I laugh and say, no, my boyfriend won’t mind, but my husband, who is standing over there, just might. (Thank G-d Hubby is actually standing and watching, wearing what I know is a smirk, but can be interpreted by the rest of the world as something more menacing.)
En masse, they turn to him, then explode in laughter.
Then they make Drunken Uncle buy my drinks.
Merry. Merry. Merry.
24 DEC MORNING
Hurricane is up early, and so is everyone else. She makes cinnamon rolls with orange sugar glaze, grapes and sliced oranges. These are set on the kitchen table with chocolate marshmallow Santas. She then begins prep for Christmas dinner, which usually involved a standing rib roast, hot dips and crackers, casseroles, pies, and if the weather was even lightly chilly, a soup of some sort. If the weather had been dry, there would be tins of homemade peanut brittle and hard candies that she’d divided into wax-lined tins. Some years, there would be fudge, some years a fancy jelly-roll cake.
One year, she sent me outside to pluck “perfect” leaves off of the holly bushes under the kitchen windows. Under her tutelage, I washed and dried them, then mixed green food coloring into white chocolate, which was then brushed into the leaves with a small paint brush. A whole cookie sheet of these went into the fridge for about 3 minutes, and then came out so I could peel and discard the leaves, which had left perfect chocolate versions in their wake. Then I strategically attached small Red Hots to each using left over green chocolate that had been melted in a ramekin and piped through the edge of a Ziploc. Other people learned life lessons while spending quality time with family over the holidays; I learned how to make chocolate sculptures.
24 DECEMBER 2015
TeamShrop HQ, GLAGOW
I have cocktails and desserts well in hand. I am not rushed; I have time for casseroles and two chapters in a good book. I heat up slices of pumpkin pie and Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie (made after we returned from Curlers). Then I make cornbread, the mix slyly obtained 6 weeks prior, from a field trip to the only Whole Foods in Scotland. They had an American Aisle, and from it I obtained a box of cornbread mix and a can of Libby’s pumpkin pie filling. I think it’s disgusting, but Hubby loves it (and I love him). A cinnamon loaf is the freezer and I have fresh oranges to slice.
I make sausage cornbread dressing and an asparagus casserole, then we bake a small turkey and feast. We snuggle and watch Christmas movies. There is no stress to our holiday. We shall eat leftovers and drink Strongbow for days.
At 6:30, we walk down to Cottiers (once a cathedral, now a pub, restaurant, and playhouse) get a few glasses of wine and then take our seats for a three-person show of A Christmas Carol. (At the first sign of a puppet, I could feel Hubby’s panic, but they turned out to be hysterical; Scrooge interacting with the audience on the border of pantomimes that are so popular here.) We laugh for 90 minutes straight. We walk home slowly, enjoying the chill and then the warmth of hearth that follows.
25 DECEMBER 2015
TeamShrop HQ, GLASGOW
We open gifts, we call friends and family, and revel in a 5-course feast at Curlers. We come home to our flat and call more friends and more family and we are stuffed, whole, healthy, warm, and happy together.
My family is here under this roof and we are whole.
While we remember the Christmases of our past, we should never forget to live the Christmases of now. Every season has magic, if you are open to it. There are many for whom anxiety, depression, selfishness, and even ego take over their holiday; they feel immense pressures – to compete, to emulate, to participate – and it crushes their spirit. I am no stranger to holiday blues; this season is often the time of year I miss my dad terribly and am saddened most that Hubby is not a Daddy. (Things I cannot change.)
But I know that joy and laughter abound in this world, and that focusing on fears and regrets makes us miss the opportunities to revel in them.
So here’s wishing all 12 of my Devoted Readers a reveling good holiday, however you celebrate it. Be you a last minute shopper, a baker of pies, a consumer of fortune cookies, a weather-moaner, a Xanax Grinch, a Drunken Uncle, even a driver for the Royal Mail… I wish you all joy and laughter.
FOOTNOTES & LINKS:
St. Enoch’s Christmas Stalls: http://www.glasgowloveschristmas.com/Pages/Home.aspx
St. George’s at Christmas: http://www.glasgowguide.co.uk/images_gsquare-xmas.html
Edinburgh Festival of Lights:
The Pot Still: http://www.thepotstill.co.uk/
The Corinthian Club: http://www.thecorinthianclub.co.uk/
All Bar One:
Valhalla’s Goat: http://www.valhallasgoat.com/
Hillhead Bookclub: http://hillheadbookclub.com/
Curler’s Rest: https://www.thecurlersrestglasgow.co.uk/
Hotel Du Vin: https://www.hotelduvin.com/locations/glasgow/