Christmas champagne at the Hoxton

Oh Christmas, a time of year that that strikes fear into the heart of every expat. From New Zealand you think its going to be all ice skating, mulled wine and Christmas jumpers. Wait, actually it totally is all those things. But what you don’t think about is the sudden horrifying fact that you are on the other side of the world from your family. No matter what your New Zealand Christmases were actually like (good, bad, drunkenly waxing your sister’s legs) you will remember it through rose tinted glasses and wonder – what the hell am I going to do for Christmas in London?

The common tactic is the Orphans Christmas, where all the sad lonely expats gather together and try to pretend its no different from Christmas at home. Normally assisted by a significant amount of booze.

Full disclosure before I get going, I fucking hate an orphans Christmas. I’ve tried to enjoy it twice now, and it just feels like I’m trying to compensate for the fact that I am not at home. Regardless of how nice the food, how well decorated the tree or how drunk my friends are, it is still quite decisively not home. I try to pretend it’s my sister that I’m annoying the hell out of, or that it is my Dad telling the terrible cracker joke, but its all just wrong wrong wrong in my heart. For all the meticulous mimicking plans it just feels like I am faking something, like I am Kim Kardashian contouring the world of Christmas.

Harry Potter Christmas Decoration at the Hoxton Holborn

Let’s be honest, at the end of the day Christmas isn’t about food or presents or the John Lewis TV advert – it’s about family. And there ain’t no magic in the world (short of £1,200 and 24 hours in an airplane) that can make your family appear on December 25th when you are living in the heart of London.

So I vowed to myself that I would do Christmas in London differently. Forget the weirdness of an orphans Christmas, if I was going to be 18,234km away from my family on this special day I sure as hell wasn’t going to try to re-create anything, oh no I was going to do something entirely different. I was going to spoil myself rotten at a hotel. Still making the day special, just special in a completely different way; different enough that I wouldn’t feel that ground shifting déjà vu feeling of an orphans Christmas. For me this meant finding a modern hotel, a damn good bottle of gin and a kick ass restaurant that I didn’t have to brave the cold for.

For my redefined version of Christmas I didn’t try to surround myself with the noise of a party to distance myself from the ‘weird’ feeling. I wanted the calm and the still so I could reflect on why, why oh why, I was living on the other side of the world and having Christmas away from my family. I wanted to have a day so ‘London’ that I fell in love all over again. I wanted to staycation so hard that even Santa would want to tell the children of the world to go fuck themselves just so he could join the day of awesome with me.

Room at the Hoxton Holborn

The hotel I picked was all important. You guys know Hubbard and Bell one of my favourite brunch spots? Well, it’s actually the restaurant in the Hoxton hotel which is heartrendingly cool (and they have free wifi). If this sad and lonely plan was going to work I needed to wake up in a room that made me feel amazing, and the Hoxton Holborn was my top pick. After stalking their website for about three months I managed to convince the team at the Hoxton Holborn to give me a press rate for my stay, but to be honest I would have booked even if they hadn’t.

I stopped by the supermarket and stocked up on all the important things that I would need for my Christmas for one. Champagne, cheese, chocolate, sloe gin, cheese, panettone and some more cheese. Oh and just to make sure I brought the Christmas spirit with me I actually brought my own Christmas decorations to splash across the room – including the pretty amazing Harry Potter one above. I opened the door to my room and with a giant sigh of contentment threw on pajamas and the brightest lipstick I owned and settled down to watch terrible terrible Christmas movies.

Somewhere between The Santa Clause 2 and the Santa Clause 3 I had to Google ‘how to open champagne’ – this may have been the only downside to Christmas solo. Being the smart cookie that I am I opened it in the beautiful black tiled shower just in case the champagne situation went horribly wrong. Don’t worry no champagne was harmed in the making of this blog post.

Opening champagne in the shower

I had been a bit worried that no matter how awesome I thought my hotel idea was, when I woke up on the day I would be sad. As Christmas Day dawned I stretched lazily in my massive bed, I needn’t have worried. The Hoxton fairies had left champagne and orange juice on my doorstep so I could start the day right. I loved the morning skype to my family as I was sipping champagne, well rested and so god damn happy to doing Christmas on my terms. I couldn’t have felt happier to be waking up in London if I had tried.

After catching up on BBC Christmas specials I rolled downstairs to Hubbard and Bell to begin the other highlight of my stay, the Christmas feast. Over three courses, including my rather surprise decision to have the vegetarian option (I was originally going to go for the turkey) I reveled in the fact that I didn’t have to cook anything – it was literally all handed to me on a platter. Eating at Hubbard and Bell felt like the height of luxury, another ‘only in London moment’. The staff made it all so perfect as well, each going out of their way to get into the Christmas spirit (including the waiter who sang carols every time he cleared a table), it was all just so happy.

The nice thing about hotels at Christmas time is that it is full of odd ducks. There were big families, there were old and young, there were singletons and couples. All having fun. All just happy to be enjoying Christmas. I think I ate for about five hours that day, and once I had rolled back to bed to watch the Doctor Who Christmas episode I had no option but to finish up the champagne in my room – it would have been rude not to. I loved that I didn’t have to battle with the cold or the lack of public transport – it was all just beautiful food, skypes with family and Christmas love. It was a London Christmas on my terms.

This is 100% how I will spend every Christmas in London from now on. Forget trying to recreate something you can’t have, and then spend the entire day nit picking the differences between the two. I am going to make my Christmases special, I am going to make them count. Christmas is about celebrating the end to one year and the start of another; reflecting and drinking gin in a hotel seems to me to be the best way to do it.

 

How to survive London

Today I'm feeling Meh

Today I’m feeling really meh. Somewhere between the third bottle of champagne and the second box of chocolates I just started feeling a bit down. This meh-ness is slightly at odds with what is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year but for some unbeknownst reason there are no Christmas songs that account for the general post-Christmas blues that is hanging around everyone right now.

I had such a busy and fun start to the month & for the introvert who needs a lie-down after a coffee with friends I did an impressive amount. I then had a magical Christmas (blog soon to follow!) full of eating, drinking and spending WAY too much money enjoying myself. But now? Yesterday’s feeling a ‘little off’ led to a full blown existential crisis as I was trying to fall asleep. AWESOME.

I think most of the existential crisis can be traced back to the fact that I am 27 and that is just what we do for fun these days. Seriously, don’t worry about that whole I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING WITH MY LIFE panic, everyone else is having it too and most of the time you are actually just hungry.

But the post-Christmas ‘down’ time is another matter entirely.

One of the most obvious causes for the holiday blues is the slowly dying Christmas tree in the corner that somehow manages provoke three emotions at once:

  1. Foreboding that much like the life of this tree the holiday will soon be over and you have to return to work;
  2. Ennui over the consumerism that is leading to the general death and destruction of mankind; and
  3. Confusion as to how the hell you are meant to get rid of a dead Christmas tree in London, because your Dad always took care of that back home.

Of course for any Doctor Who fans there is the added emotion of suspicion as I am pretty sure one of these Christmases the tree will come alive and take me directly to our Sycorax overlords. For anyone not into Doctor Who just ignore this horrifying fact.

I think part of the down-ness is because we put so much chocolate covered pressure on Christmas, even more so if you are an expat. In the great busyness of the last half of December there is this little movie reel in the back of your mind saying that your Christmas in London will be like Love Actually, Dickens and Downton Abby combined. You will overcome the fact that your family is on the other side of the world by carolling with your chums as you all learn some sort of invaluable life lesson over your first Yorkshire puddings. But then it turns out that Christmas in London is just, well… weird.

Yes it is a nice day but it is not the same as home, it’s just not. You can totally plan an awesome day and bad-ass your way through it, but it will never be the same as a family Christmas. For one it is a hell of a lot more exhausting because all that cooking and shopping that your parents normally do is now down to you and your friends. As it turns out the reason your Mum complained about spending all day in the kitchen is because to cook Christmas dinner for ten people you have to spend all fucking day in the kitchen! Oh these things you discover when you try to adult for the first time.

The good old rose tinted glasses come into play as well, Christmas is always best looked at with about 10 months breathing space. Go on, what can you actually remember about the last Christmas you had at home? I would bet you a flat white that it has actually reduced down to the happy glow of presents and family… so you are comparing your current Christmas to what is essentially a highlights reel.   The bitter fact of being an expat at Christmas is you remember all the rosy good times, and not the ‘oh my god my sister just took the chocolate I wanted’ angry times.

There is also the small fact that what with being away from your parents and not having to drive anywhere, well you might have been drunk consistently for the last four days. I for one got up on Boxing Day planning to have a day without drinking and then saw I had some leftover champagne… there was only one logical conclusion. So feeling a little down is because this is the slowest built hangover of the year, four days of binge eating and drinking cocktails ‘to hydrate’ is finally taking its toll.

So why don’t you go through this in New Zealand? Back home you get gently eased back into reality like a kitten filling out a cardboard box. Everyone has time off work, the sun is shining and Christmas drinking just turns into Summer BBQ drinking – no harsh blues, just seemingly endless good times. I think even if you were an expat in New Zealand it must be a lot easier at Christmas time because of the general vibes of the entire ‘happy its sunny’ nation.

What to do about the miasma of meh? Firstly its time to utilise the unique post-Christmas benefits: all the chocolate and party trays are half price at the supermarket and it is totally acceptable to crack into the Baileys pre-lunchtime. Also you need to enjoy the fact that London seems oddly chill this time of year, like you can actually leave your house without wanting to punch a slow moving tourist kind of chill. The second approach is to just bloody revel in it, don’t try and fix the blues just know that it is a temporary thing that will pass with the New Year.

So how am I enjoying my post-Santa ‘down’ time? Well I have spent a rather splendid day catching up with those Kardashians. Not only is it junk food for the mind, but I feel a lot better about the dying Christmas tree in the corner when I compare it to the frightfully heated argument that Kim and Khris got into over Lamar. I mean, it’s Christmas so we really should be thinking about those less fortunate anyway.

 

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Its ok to feel down

London street Art

Listen up darlings, this weather is NOT NORMAL for December.

A friend of mine who is so cold blooded he is basically a reptile came over for dinner the other night wearing a cardigan instead of a jacket…A CARDIGAN…IN DECEMBER. He didn’t even have a scarf on, oh the humanity. While I am slightly stoked about the warmer weather because it means I still haven’t had figure out the heating in my flat, there are so many dire and unexpected consequences of this 16 degree balmy London December. You know the consequences that are far more important than the global warming death of the planet type things.

You can’t complain about the weather to your parents

82% of the joy of Skyping your parents in December is to heroically sigh about how cold it is and be heaped with love from the other side of the world. If you make your sigh particularly poignent you might even get surprise pre-Christmas presents in the post. Sadly your long drawn out sigh is made slightly less credible when you are sitting there in a t-shirt.

You can’t wear your Christmas jumper

Well you can, but there was a serious danger of damp business men passing out on the tube on Christmas Jumper Day. These poor Christmas jumpers wait around all year for the one week where its their time to shine, only to be cast hopelessly over the back of the office chair because it is too damn hot to wear it.

Christmas alcoholism is slightly less justified

One of the BEST things about a super cold December is that drinking becomes almost compulsory because you ‘have to stay warm’. Having that third mulled wine just doesn’t feel as NHS approved as normal since its still warm enough to drink on the footpath outside the pub.

You actually had to turn up for work every day

The greatest joy about dodgy December weather is normally the couple of days where the weather is so bad that the Tube is closed, and all office workers get the joy of ‘working from home’ aka drinking tea in front of Jeremy Kyle while sending a couple of well timed emails. Because of the bad weather deficit this year I have had to go to work every day and be dedicated and stuff, all the while filled with an internal not-freezing rage.

You can’t feel smug about a Christmas stay-cation

One of the big benefits of being too skint to travel at Christmas is getting to see all the flights delayed or cancelled while you are happily watching movies in your moldy London flat. But because of this mid-teens weather you now have to bubble with jealously as literally everyone you knows jets off to Norway, Portugal or New Zealand with their travel plans completely uninterrupted.

All the baby-expats think you were lying about last year(s)

Boooooooooooooooooooo to all you expats who have come over in the last year and scoff at us old timers for saying that winter in London is tough. I swear it was bad, honestly last winter I thought my nipples would fall off from frostbite. It was so cold that Frozen was banned across the country because people couldn’t take some Disney bint saying the cold didn’t bother her. Trust me when I say IT WILL GET COLDER SO STOP LAUGHING.

You can’t make insane life choices

Something about sub zero temperatures makes any decision seem awesome. Buying 1kg of feathers online? Go for it. Booking a trek up Kilimanjaro? No problem, at least it will be warm. Swiping right on that guy on Tinder? At least you will cut down on the heating bill and gym membership. But this warm weather is just screwing everything up, I haven’t booked any random trips, no unexpected internet purchases and I have even deleted Tinder from my phone.

Its confusing the daffodils

Why does no one ever think of the daffodils? They are arriving in London like the most awkwardly early party guest ever. Instead of everyone being all excited to see them next year they just get to clash with the Christmas decorations and be ignored by the rushing crowds. Oh the humanity.

 

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London being warm in winter

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O come all ye hungover. Last night I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Kiwis in London Christmas party at the Clapham Grand. Now I know this may shock you, but after being here for four years this was my first ever Kiwis in London event. I know more shocking than Shortland Street’s recent Red Wedding. I’m not quite sure why its taken me this long, possibly because I am allergic to Clapham Junction but also because these big events can be a tad intimidating for a lonesome Kiwi.

So for those of you who are little curious about what goes on at these cult events, or if you had so much to drink last night that you can’t remember what  happened; here is my top 7 things that happened at the Kiwis in London Christmas Party.

1. The guys found it hard to pull in Santa hats

When you walked through the doors you were given the choice of reindeer antlers or a Santa hat to wear (as well as a present from Santa of the new Dave Dobbyn CD!). Much like the Matrix red/blue pill your choice at the door dictated the success of the rest of your night. For the lucky few with the antlers they had the easy conversation starter of ‘accidentally’ getting their headpiece tangled up with someone else. For the rest however this was the night where 400 Kiwi guys figured out that when you pull a Santa hat down too tight you look like a human condom…not exactly a turn on. I even saw girls pulling off the hats and throwing them across the dance floor in desperation of getting across the hat barrier.

2. The easiest way to make friends is to offer boys your chips

Because everyone in the room is a kiwi your brain puts them in the ‘safe’ category. Therefore it seems totally normal to offer total strangers a rifle in your bag of chips (salt and vinegar to be specific). You see people striding across the room with their London blinkers on, but offer them some Bluebird chips and of of a sudden the sun comes out, and through that first bite you get a mumble ‘chur bro’.

3. Drunk kiwis are fun

Sometimes in London you can feel a little threatened by drunken dudes, but kiwis? Kiwis are fun. Two highlights for me were:

  • white shirt guy who I am 90% sure was actually an English secret agent sent to investigate the colonies (he didn’t know the words to ‘How Bizarre’). He wanted to get the party started but everyone else was still enjoying the chips, so he decided to do a strip tease in the middle of the empty dancefloor…almost the definition of peaking too soon given that it was only 4:40pm.
  • Second highlight was the guy who won a prize (it was a random draw) and was so excited that he tried to give an acceptance speech, and was then still so excited that he stole the announcer and wandered off stage. The announcer…not the microphone. He actually picked up Clint (chief dude at KIL) and walked off stage.

Oh and poi on the dance floor – fuck yeah.

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4. You think you know everyone

Normally when you hear a kiwi accent in London it’s because it’s a friend, so you smile and go in for the hug. This becomes massively awkward when you are with 800 New Zealand runaways and you start hugging strangers at the bar. But then let’s be honest, because we were all kiwis a surprise tackle hug was always welcomed.

5. You actually know everyone

Well maybe not everyone, but you know you are amongst your tribe when someone spots their old babysitter on the D-floor and the girl you meet on the tube knows your sisters ex-boyfriend. Oh kiwi land, you couldn’t get any smaller.

 

6. Pies make you cry

Now I am not a big night clubber or gig person, but if I knew that venues had kiwi pie warmers I might just find myself a new hobby. At 4 in the afternoon I found myself running across a disco light up dance floor to be first in line for a steak and cheese pie. Covered in tomato sauce it was mana from heaven.IMG_0036

7. It is an amazing way to feel a little bit at home in London

For old cynical me there was a moment, a moment when my Grinch heart grew three sizes. To see a dance floor packed full of Kiwi orphans singing their hearts out to ‘All I want for Christmas is you’. No you might not know anyone there, but something about knowing that they are your tribe just fills you full of goodness.

Merry Christmas y’all

 

So youve decided to move to London oh