Tuesday, 7 December 2010

To Catch a Cold - A Trip into Yuletide Tackiness

As a Londoner I cannot really get into the Christmas spirit until I have made a visit to a place where dreams are supposedly meant to come true, and no, I don't mean 'Toys R Us'! I am talking about a magical place where fake plastic snowmen, carved wooden trinkets, dangerously rickety rollercoasters and German cuisine light up the chill winter nights on one corner of Hyde Park. Of course I am talking of Winter Wonderland!

The phenomenal success of this market/fair is quite recent, although I can by no means call myself an old codger, when I was young the only option available was to go and visit santa's grotto - which smelt suspiciously like Napoleon brandy - to visit a man who looks like the broken Winthrop from the 1983 yuletide hit Trading Places! But no more, now we are spoilt for choice, why visit Santa's Grotto when you could visit an overpriced and neon drenched carnival?

As soon as you enter through the gateway after having negotiated the dangerous tangles of inner city motorways that constitutes Hyde Park corner, you are greeted with one of the most bizarre and sinister sites in the whole park...

The animatronic Reindeer 'Hans' is one of the creepiest things I have ever come across, not only does it give Germanic renditions of popular hits such as Driving Home for Christmas and Little Drummer Boy, it also starts flirting with all and sundry walking past! giving a little mechanical wink here and a saucy one liner there, it makes you wonder about the creators. Never mind the chill, I get a little chill up the back of my spin whenever he starts following 'ze pretty ladies' with his dull, lifeless eyes.

Turning round you suddenly see the crowning glory of the place, a huge ferris wheel flashing in the dusk with a snowflake motif, and then there's an ice rink surrounded by plastic penguins, helter skelters, shooting gallerys and all the other things that you expect from a funfair - except the carnies (there's not one in sight - if indeed they still exist!).

The sound of tourists - a lot of them German and Eastern European (which is ironic considering you would think they would be sick to death of wursts, kartofellchips and apfelsauce) - and children fills the air and consequently provides ample irritation for anyone who is trying to mind their own business. The other obvious sound, mostly made by Brits, is a scoff that always happens when something has been grossly overpriced. Men taking their partners or families for the evening can be heard everywhere incredulously asking if the watered down lager is 'really £4 a pint', of course they will pay begrudgingly and then turn to their wife and mutter how outrageous the pricing is!

However, they must be sowing something right as people keep coming back for more. I have to say that I visited last night and had a very good time, a few beers, mulled ciders, currywurst, Krakauer (smoked sausage) in a bun. It was bloody cold and I froze my bollocks but unlike so many other Christmas venues, this one has a great sense of humour and really doesn't take itself too seriously! If you want a fun evening out with friends at this time of year then I would strongly recommend this homage to all that is crass about Christmas - just make sure you wrap up very warm!

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