I feel like Christmas has snuck up on me this year. Real-life singing is back after a year of being cancelled and there’s something about prepping three choirs’ worth of people to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that has pushed all other to-do lists out of my head. But today I had a clear day between a Friday night choir gig and a carol service/choir gig Sunday special. So I decided we should have a Lovely Family Day Out and do some Christmas shopping. I know, it sounds like I’m setting myself up for a disaster but don’t worry – expectations were low and snack levels were high.
To keep that balance tipped in the right direction, I decided we would go for coffee as soon as we got off the tube. I had vague thoughts about going somewhere in Carnaby Street so we could see the decorations but most places either had outdoor seating only, which would have been a bit chilly, or were going to be way too Instagram for me and my surly tweens. I’d hate to think that my slovenly pastry eating would ruin someone else’s perfect selfie.
Still, we wandered up and down Carnaby Street a bit to see the decorations and they were definitely worth the walk. Look how pretty they are!
But the kids were already complaining of being too tired to walk so the slightly-delayed hunt for a coffee stop was back on. We ended up in Costa on Argyll Street, mainly because Eva had requested it and it’s a bit of a bonus if she’s guaranteed to like something that’s on offer. It had plenty of seating downstairs and, importantly, toilets so we filled up on sugar and caffeine before tackling Oxford Street.
Oxford Street has changed a lot since my day. Entire streets leading to Soho seem to have vanished and there is a surplus of “American Candy Store”-type shops but fewer big-name retailers than there were 18 years ago. (Also, I’ve just realised that I am really, REALLY old).
One shop that’s still in place is Urban Outfitters so that was our first stop. At this point, we were in the tried-and-tested Two Teams formation, with Eva and I buying presents from her to Reuben and Nathan and the boys buying presents from Reuben to me and Eva. At least, I hoped that was what they were doing. I was somewhat dubious when we bumped into them in the menswear department of Urban Outfitters. I don’t know if they were lost or if they’d already veered off track, perhaps distracted by the vintage arcade games down there…but I’m pretty sure there were no gifts for me or Eva in the menswear department. But we left them to it and scarpered before they could see where we went next.
Looking back at my posts from the first time we ever tried this, I realise that Urban Outfitters was my first stop then as well. Some things don’t change. At least I’m not having to carry Eva as well as all the Christmas shopping this time though. That time, Nathan and Reuben got distracted and started thinking about buying things for themselves rather than us so again, some things don’t change.
I can’t tell you where else we went because the boys both have internet access and one of them might actually read this. Suffice to say though, we had quite some success with the shopping and ticked all the boxes well before the 1PM deadline we’d agreed. We even ticked some boxes I hadn’t anticipated ticking like “buy sinister gift for Eva’s BFF” and “avoid meltdown in Hotel Chocolat after I pointed out chocolate dogs that I thought were cute and Eva thought were a hideous crime against caninity”. And we bumped into the boys again, this time near Tottenham Court Road tube. They were heading to Waterstones, so our planned meeting point of Five Guys in Argyll Street seemed a little pointless and instead, we went for the Five Guys next to the Dominion Theatre.
I seemed to remember we’d had a Five Guys on our Lovely Family Christmas Day out in 2018 and it had been a success then. So it was again today. Eva only had chips but she had a lot of them, and the refillable drinks were universally appreciated, especially after the disappointing drinks machine in Gloucester Road Burger King a few weeks back. So we had a bit of time to relax and recharge before swapping teams for the afternoon shopping.
The only downside to Five Guys was our order number. I’d like to think that no Jedi knights died in the making of our delicious burgers but I can’t be sure.
I think I had the 2018 day in mind when I suggested heading to Covent Garden after lunch. More lights and pretty Christmas decorations would be fun wouldn’t they?
Would they though?
By this point, I was on team mother-son, shopping for Nathan from Reuben. That bit was achieved fairly quickly and painlessly, so we decided to wander around Covent Garden and soak up the Christmassy atmosphere. On the way there, a man was handing out free tasters of something green that turned out to be soap. I really should have taken that as a bad omen – you might take a bite of something appealing but you’ll end up with a bitter taste in your mouth. Not that we ate the soap, but it was a close run thing. It really did look like sweeties.
There was nothing wrong with Covent Garden, as such. It was just manically busy. Oxford Street had been relatively quiet and so I had assumed the new variant and the drizzle had made people stay home. Nope. They were all in Covent Garden.
We tried to find the loos and the ones I remembered next to the Transport Museum were locked up so we had to use the nightmarish ones downstairs in the Plaza that cost a quid and have an inexplicable queuing system. Or at least the ladies’ door did. The gents didn’t seem to so Roo ducked through with relative ease but then seemed to have to wait hours for a free cubicle. I didn’t even try to join the queue. If only I’d take 2018Kate’s advice and gone to the Royal Opera House. It did cross my mind but I think I was conscious that I was lugging around an enormous bag of shopping by this point – the kind of bag you use to move house – and I would have had to go through bag inspection to get in. We really just should have done that though.
I’d also hoped Reuben would be wowed by the Lego installation but, 12yo cynic that he is, he mainly had constructive criticism to offer. There was a Lego Santa to pose with if you didn’t mind queueing for a few minutes so younger kids might like that (and not just shrug and say “you could probably just photoshop that”).
It was time to get out of Covent Garden. We squeezed through a tunnel of sparkly twigs that was probably very ‘grammable on a less busy day and called Nathan to see where they were. Then I got confused about where Maiden Lane was, fought our way through the crowds in the opposite direction and eventually cut our losses and told them to walk to Holborn tube and we’d meet them there. Covent Garden tube had a queue to get into it and I was guessing Leicester Square would be no better. Plus, Holborn was on the Central line which meant we could go home via Liverpool Street and have a loo break there, seeing as Covent Garden had been a bit of a toilet bust. If you’ll excuse the expression, which conjures quite the visual image. It did have a massive Christmas tree though:
So very much a day of two halves – some successes, some fails (let’s not even talk about how horrendous the Central line was) but I kept the kids fuelled with food and we bought everything we needed to. Christmas Family Day Out – done. Hopefully Eva’s forgotten that I also promised to take her to Winter Wonderland….