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     Volume 5 Issue 123 | December 8, 2006 |

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Straight Talk

The Charm of Winter

The sight from my rear view mirror was nothing less than stunning. The sun was setting and the trees were silhouetted in the background. The colours I could see were almost unreal --- oranges, pinks and greys merging into one another to make a spectacular feast for the eyes. God's palette is truly remarkable. There are definitely some things around this time of the year that I absolutely love and high on my list is probably the sunsets that give a splash of colour to the somewhat grey winter days. My morning drive through Hyde Park is also something that I have started looking forward to. As I wind my way around the park, it is almost eerie as the mist settles just above the ground making it hard to see beyond your own hand. I feel like I have been transported back in time to an England of old with horse drawn carriages and all enveloping fog. But there is still so much beauty in the haunting scene with the barren trees all around covered in dew and mist and the Serpentine River calm and tranquil. Every now and again a swan or duck settles on the surface sending ripples out onto the water to break the stillness. It is all very reminiscent of a Turner Painting.

Then again there are times when I sit looking out onto the garden with the sun streaming in bathing the room but belying the crisp coldness outside. It just makes me want to take a deep breath and close my eyes and soak up the warmth. The other telltale signs of winter on days like these are the people in their coats and hats, scarves wrapped around tightly and heads lowered to avoid the impact of the wind on their faces. Every now and then you see someone clapping their hands, blowing on them or stamping their feet to keep warm. For some reason this weather and this time of the year always takes me back to my days as a student where the few weeks before Christmas were always packed with a million things to do. Winding down from a term of studying and gearing up for the holidays. I remember the Christmas and New Year's Ball that most people in university used to look forward to --- the girls trying to find the perfect outfit and the boys reluctantly hiring or buying tuxedos for the event. A place to impress and be impressed. And following hard on its heels was the packing of suitcases and moving out of halls of residence and going home. Even now it is a time when restaurants are constantly booked for pre-Christmas office parties or private functions. People still like to dress up and leave their day to day worries behind and enjoy the “Christmas cheer”

There is always something festive about December at least in London. The Christmas lights in all the major shopping areas come on by the end of November and the streets are bustling with people trying to get their last minute shopping done. That particular scene does not seem to have changed at all. The decorations start to go up in shops and houses well in advance. Although Christmas is a religious occasion, I think nowadays many people view it as a time to be with family and friends. It is not just Christians who celebrate it and people from all faiths join in the festivities. My children love to put our Christmas tree up (albeit a fake one) and decorate it with multi coloured tinsel, glittery baubles and fairy lights. And I for one find myself infected by their high spirits and excitement. My youngest daughter still writes her letter to Santa Claus and this year the things she wanted for Christmas were 1) world peace 2) any toy and 3) a present for Santa. It was heart warming to think that aged seven she had some understanding of the world around her and had a thought to spare for the rest of us. There is also something almost decadent about spending the whole day with family and friends eating too much, exchanging gifts and generally lazing around for the rest of the day. No work pressures, no homework, no errands to be run, just a day at home with your loved ones --- that to me is a wonderful combination.

There is also something rather romantic about this time of the year. The days are shorter and evening falls before you know it. The lights twinkling in the dark, shining from the houses all around you take on a charm of its own. The night can carry an air of mystery that is lost in the harsh glare of daylight. Nowadays ice skating rinks are especially built for a few weeks in winter. One particular one is the ice rink in the Natural History Museum in London or should say the ice rink just outside it. There is something surreal about gliding around on the ice with the open sky and stars above you, the wind on your face and the architectural magnificence of the actual building as your back drop. I think that it is to soak up the ambience and atmosphere that draws people to this spot. And once again there seems to be that hint of romance in the air. Who knows how many people have fallen in love under the stars and the moon on nights such as these. Anyone with a heart must feel the magic of a winter's night.

How bittersweet it is, on winter's night,
To listen, by the sputtering, smoking fire,
As distant memories, through the fog-dimmed light
Rise, to the muffled chime of church bell choir…
"The Cracked Bell"

by Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Norman R. Shapiro

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