Sunday Morning ~ Christmas in England
Ukayenda pa Ijira usamagulula mano, udzasowa chodyera nyama. ~ If you go somewhere, do not take out your teeth, you will not be able to eat meat.
~ Chewa proverb
December 24, 2023
It’s Christmas eve and I’m happily settled in my cheap hotel in Manchester, just back from a beautiful mass at “Hidden Gem” St. Mary’s Church, aptly named as it was impossible to find even with GPS. A kindly man taking in the sign in front of his bar directed me to the passageway leading to the front door of the church tucked into an alley surrounded by taller buildings. I could hear the church bells ringing so I knew it had to be close but never would have ventured down that tiny walkway between buildings to find it. The bar man was added to the list of very kind people I’ve encountered since leaving home a week ago.
Preparing to leave home involved end-stage frenzy although I’d been preparing for months. Getting the house ready for the family living there for the year: clearing out closets and basement, packing for my year in Malawi, packing for two weeks in UK, was a lot. I did manage decent timing for departure as the following day the storm of storms hit Maine with a vengeance. I was in Boston by then and we got heavy rain and wind but nothing like Maine sustained. Upon leaving home I’d reassured my renters that damaging storms were rare and I’d only lost power a few times and for short periods, except for last Christmas. No, I don’t have a generator. No, they probably wouldn’t need one. Oops.
Despite the holiday-week warnings of nightmare travel experiences, my flight to UK was smooth as could be. My friend Carl generously (heroically) drove me to the airport at rush hour as taking public transportation with my oversized luggage was out of the question. In fact, getting from the curb to inside the terminal was impossible. A kind man waiting for a bus helped me get into line for check-in, then dashed back outside for his bus. An airport employee took me out of the line, checked me in, and took the bags to the luggage drop. Within five minutes of entering the terminal I had my boarding pass and a manageable amount of carry on. I stood there a little dazed that it was all that easy. It looked staged the way people popped out of the crowd to help me. There are very kind people everywhere.
On the flight, which took off on time, I decided to watch Love Actually because I love that movie, it’s Christmas, and I was flying into Heathrow. It seemed appropriate. I cried like I always do and hoped to see some of those hugs and kisses upon arrival, though not for me.
I’ve planned rather a lot for my two weeks in UK beginning in Cambridge, up to Manchester, then Northern Ireland, then back to London. There was no way I could drag all my luggage around UK for two weeks so decided to put it in long term storage at the airport. So after collecting my bags onto a trolly, I pushed it over to my departing terminal. There, I put them through security and agreed to pay a storage fee which is likely higher than the worth of everything in those bags. But, whatever. This is the price of having too much stuff. Then unburdened, I found the tube into London and then the train to Cambridge. Asking all along the way which direction? which platform? and receiving smiling, polite responses. People are so kind.
At Cambridge I was greeted by old friends and received maximum princess treatment. Swept up at the train station, fed tea, mince pies, sausage rolls, and more kindness. We did a walking tour of Cambridge, lunch at a pub, and a neighborhood party with mulled wine and pleasant conversation. We went to Ely where there is a thousand year old cathedral. Mind boggling to think of how they could possibly have built it. And, I learned the river flowing through is the river Cam, thus the name Cambridge. I never knew that! The university has thirty-one colleges, thirteen Nobel prize winners from the science college alone, and it’s a mere two hundred years younger than Oxford.
Yesterday I said goodbye to my friends and took a train up to Manchester where my son and his fiancé are having Christmas with family. A family christening was this morning and I’ve been invited to all the celebrations. So far I’ve met at least a hundred people with different accents hailing from all corners of this country, Ireland, and Nigeria. Whew! It’s so much fun and an introduction to those who will be celebrating with us next August at Zack and Louise’s wedding.
Tomorrow morning I’ll find my way over to the house for Christmas celebrations and on Boxing Day (a big holiday here) we’ll fly over to Belfast to meet more family and see the wedding venue. Exciting!
When I was walking to the hotel from mass this evening I thought about the last time I was in Manchester and trying to find a room. There was a Lady Gaga concert in town and every room was taken. This was before pre-booking was a thing and I wandered from hotel to hotel to be told no rooms were available. Increasingly panicked I thought I’d have to spend the night in the train station. It’s the loneliest feeling in the world and I was so grateful to know I had a safe space to rest. It was apropos I thought, on Christmas Eve, to remember what it’s like to be searching for shelter.
With gratitude, I wish everyone a blessed, peaceful Christmas.
Love to all,