December was a busy month, and I wanted to ensure the man and I had a day to ourselves to lark about and spend some time together. This is how Secret Christmas Day of Fun came about. This is a long, wordy post that I'm writing more for myself than anything, as I want to scrapbook the story. Blogging it gives me a way to write my journalling in advance, so that when I make my page, I've already got all my words prepared. So please don't feel obliged to read this account, but if you are interested in what we did on our day around London together, here's the account.
And these are pretty much the only two photos I took all day, as being winter, it got dark almost immediately.
Secret Christmas Day of Fun (or SCDoF) was only actually secret to the man as I had given the game away to myself by organising it. But we had a lovely time (mission of fun accomplished) and it's definitely something I would do again. I think days out like this make excellent Christmas/Birthday/Random Tuesday presents, and so I want to dream up more secret days soon.
We had a bit of a lie-in when Saturday morning dawned, which was due in no small part to us both being out the night before, and that technically bed didn't happen until Saturday morning anyway. But I was chirpy and up first, producing the necessary morning tea and coffee and then hit the shower. Perhaps this is too much info, but I include it as it was in the shower that I decided how, when and how much to reveal to the man about our secret day. For at that point, he still had no idea beyond that we were leaving at half ten-ish.
We got the tube into London straight down to Waterloo, and here I put my newly-formed shower plan into action. I explained to the man that the day was made up of 5 elements, and I named them thusly:
Element 1: Nutritional
Element 2: Educational
Element 3: Comedic
Element 4: Spiritual
Element 5: Dramatic
And then I invited him to guess what he thought we were doing. It was wildly entertaining, like a game of twenty questions where you know the answer is going to come true.
Element 1: Nutritional he deciphered reasonably easily, given that we hadn't eaten before we left and we were hitting the South Bank at bang on brunch o'clock. We visit the South Bank quite a bit and so it seemed appropriate to start our day here with food at Giraffe. We struck lucky with the timing and hit a brief no-queue lull. The weather was very mild and the sun was out and we opted to sit outside with views over the Thames and lots of people to watch. The terrace was thriving: we had our coats off and weren't cold at all, which seems ridiculous for December, and I took a couple of photos before the food arrived. We consumed a Mexican breakfast each, a couple of smoothies, and another tea and coffee. Plus I had wedges, because they're always so lovely and fluffy at Giraffe.
We continued to play the guessing game, and the man correctly guessed that Element 2: Educational was a visit to HMS Belfast moored on the Thames. In retrospect, this wasn't hard to guess, as educational easily equates to museum, and given that we were on the Thames and often talk about visiting the Belfast, it wasn't too hard to figure out, and I knew we'd both enjoy it.
We strolled along the river to the boat, boarded and spent a happy couple of hours clambering round inside. It's amazing, and HUGE. I'd had no idea. We could easily have spent much longer, but we ran out of time. However, I'd highly recommend it and I think we'd both like to return. You have a free audioguide as you go, which is cool because I'm an audioguide junkie, and they had so many great interviews on it with men who had served on the Belfast. One of my favourites was with a man who had worked in one of the four Gun turrets: 27 men were squashed into this tiny space to man 3 massive guns, and it was full of smoke and shells and cordite and telephones to relay instructions, and a shouting-tube in case the phones stopped working. Anyway, the chap in the interview explained how they would have to prepare everything for their guns and get them all ready to bang, as it were. Then the guy in charge who was listening out for instructions etc. would call out "Report". My favourite line was when the interview chappie then explained that "Then we would all just should out what we'd done". We've been trying this out at home. For instance, when the man goes to look in the fridge, I can yell "REPORT", and he'll shout back if there's enough milk for another round of tea. It's very effective.
HMS Belfast fact of the day: They only stopped handing out the rum ration in the 1970s at which point the crew all wore black arm bands in mourning. Awesome.
Anyway, we left the insides of the ship to head towards Element 3: Comedic. The man didn't guess this one, because we were heading out to the East End to visit Winterville, a big Christmas festival in Victoria Park that slightly wishes it's the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. Anyway, the man hadn't heard of it. It's a bit trashy if I'm honest, but we were there for specific reasons: tickets to see a performance of Sh*t-faced Shakespeare in the Speigeltent. It's a great pop-up venue: a big circus tent that somehow incorporates booths round the edge and a bar. We eschewed the booths for centre aisle seats with a good view, and watched a truly confusing rendition of the Merchant of Venice with one cast member absolutely plastered to quite hilarious effect. It's impossible to describe, so I won't, but I do recommend the company, who perform at the Edinburgh fringe and also come to London quite regularly.
On the tube back into central London, we discussed Element 4: Spiritual. He had initially been quite surprised by this one, wondering if we were going to climb St Paul's. A good guess, but not an accurate one. Anyway, on the tube journey, he explained that he thought spiritual might be a bit less religious and a bit more boozey, which he thought he'd enjoy a lot more, and he was correct.
It didn't help that as part of Element 4: Spiritual I had been carrying around a full bottle of rum, concealed and smuggled within my capacious bag, and which had then been found and confiscated by security when we arrived at Winterville. It was returned to me as we left, but it did give the game away a little bit regarding the meaning of Element 4.
Anyway, unbeknownst to the man, we were heading for BYOC, which stands for Bring Your Own Cocktail. It took us a few minutes to find, and we had to ring the doorbell of a closed juice bar, at which point a woman appeared and let us into the underground venue. The idea is a simple one: you pay a fixed fee upfront, bring a bottle (or bottles) of spirit of your choice, and the bar tender will mix you any drink you care to dream up.
It was frankly AMAZING. The place was absolutely tiny: a little underground bar with only 6 tables, a very intimate atmosphere, dimly lit and ideal for a date as you could chat easily and cosily together. As I mentioned, I'd been carrying around a bottle of spiced rum for the day, which wasn't for swigging on a park bench in the dark, but was in fact for charming and classy cocktail production. The bartender was wonderful: he came and introduced himself and asked us what we would like. We were probably slightly irritating in that we both said we liked pretty much anything, but nothing too bitter. So he started us off with a long drink of rum punch. And it was full of wonderful exotic fruits including lime, guava and mango. And it disappeared very quickly, and was frankly delicious.
As we drank, we could hear other people ordering as the bartender worked systematically around the tables. Every so often we would pause to eavesdrop and collect ideas. A group of six women ordered something to taste of salted caramel. And we heard the bartender offer another table a drink flavoured with smokey lapsang souchong tea which is one of my favourite blends.
For our second drink, we opted to go sour and short, as it turns out it's something the man and I both love in cocktails. And the next one was wonderful: rum, lemon, ginger and smokey lapsang (didn't even have to ask for it, the bartender could clearly see into my soul). It was so good: strong but not in a crazy-alcoholic way. And just delicious.
So delicious, that we opted for short and sour for cocktail number three. We never went too specific in our choices, while some tables really did. But the bartender clearly new his stuff, and every single combination was wonderful and imaginative, and it was more fun to let him bring us things he thought we'd enjoy, rather than cramping his style.
So cocktail number three: sour again, this time with cardomom, lime, guava, a little pepper, egg white, and, obviously rum. Again, amazing. Each cocktail was more delectable than the last.
At this point, the table of six girls got up to leave and they brought us all their leftover spirits. One of them explained to us that some of the bottles had been passed to them by other tables, and that we should do the same and pass them on at the end of the night. Which was quite lovely really: because the place was so cosy and tiny, you did feel a bit like part of a secret, exclusive club, and everyone gets to benefit from a rollover of different spirits and liqueurs.
Anyway, given our plethora of new bottles, we asked if we could have gin for cocktail number 4. Again, the bartender produced the best yet. It tasted of cucumber, but like cucumber must taste to people who think salad is a tasty meal choice. It was sweet and refreshing and sour all at once: still short and sharp too, but I would never think to order a cucumber-y cocktail and yet it was wonderful. I can't remember what else was in it. Possibly a bit (quite) drunk.
We had time for one more cocktail and when the bartender came round to us, we asked him to just surprise us with whatever he recommended. He pondered the collection of bottles on the table, and took the rum and the vodka we'd "borrowed" and came back a couple of minutes later with our final drink. It was red and I think he said it had hibiscus and rose... I can't remember, and I've just asked the man and he can't recall either. I do know it was good. So good.
BYOC was an excellent night out: we would both go there again. It's a perfect special occasion venue, and I need an excuse to visit again very soon. Booking in advance is highly recommended, however.
Slightly intoxicated (or in fact really quite drunk) and giggling, we passed on our rum and collection of bottles to other patrons which seemed a nice way to complete the circle, and left for Element 5: Drama. The man had guessed it was a film, and did eventually guess that we were seeing Love Actually, as it's a Christmassy film, and we were on SCDoF. However, he was unable to figure out the venue, partly because I am the mistress of all secrets, and party because it's not actually a cinema.
I navigated us down to Waterloo in an overexcited fashion, and ran some of the way to see if I could outrun google maps. I can. I knew the way to Waterloo, but not to the venue: The Underground Film Club in the Waterloo vaults. While we arrived on time at nine, it turned out that they don't open the screen until quarter past, and didn't start screening until half past, so we had time to wolf down some liquor-absorbing food, (ie nachos) before collecting our headphones and making our way to find seats in the vaults. The pop-up cinema is lovely and bedecked with twinkly lights. The seating is all raked up so you can see well, the noise is through headphones so no distractions, and it's lovely to feel sort of underground in disused railway tunnels. I want to go again! It was a perfect way to end the night, settling down together somewhat tipsy to laugh and have hearts warmed through Love Actually. Lovely film.
And midnight found us back on the underground platforms headed home. We splurged for a cab to take us the mile or so from the tube station to home, and it was nice to stumble in at around 12:45am, Christmas Day of fun no longer secret, but very much complete.
P.S. I will be making a tradition of SCDOoF I think. But meanwhile, if anyone wants to go on a Secret Day of Fun with me, let me know and I will take you on a journey of secret adventures. I LOVED planning out the steps and revealing them on the go. If only this were a career!