How a Christmas Lobster Made Mother’s Day Extra Special

Christmas In London 2002

New Traditions – Christmas In London, 2002

As we celebrate Mother’s Day here in the US, everyone anticipates a holiday where we all miss our Mom’s and tell them how great they were as we were growing up…if we can.

Sometimes it’s true, sometimes not so much. Mom’s all worry that they are doing it right and our teenagers assure us we aren’t, until they have kids and begin to understand just how much can go wrong.

Case in point… Christmas 2002. The best laid plans, at least I tried. But this Christmas Life Lesson is a good one, and makes for a very happy Mother’s Day, oddly enough.

The Plan:

Daughter Caryn would arrive from university in the US to spend the time with me in London, with tickets to a 500 voice Handel’s “Messiah” at the Royal Albert Hall, followed by Christmas Eve in Paris, the City of Lights, back to London via Eurostar train for Christmas/Boxing Day holidays and, finally, to catch her plane home, with many presents and happy memories of both cities.

It really should have been lovely.

I had made reservations well in advance, ordered the Messiah tickets online, booked the Millennium Bailey’s hotel in Kensington and they in turn had reserved a room for us in their sister hotel, the Millennium Opera, in Paris for Christmas Eve. I had the Eurostar tickets in hand… all was going perfectly.

Which, had I thought about it, should have been a sign, an omen, a bit of foreboding.

After arriving on time to the Baku airport at 12:30am, following a long day of work getting ready to leave for the week, the flight that should have left at 2:30am, got delayed. And delayed. And delayed.

Thus began the worst trip in history of travel planning.

  • The British Airways flight finally managed to arrive, but so closely that I got to the hotel with 5 minutes till curtain time. The cab barely slowed as I literally pushed my bags out one door of the cab, while my daughter scrambled in the other. Away to the theatre, arriving just two minutes before curtain. Whew!
  • Being up for 32 hours by this point, I managed to stay awake for at most 10 minutes before I nodded off… the first of many times during the performance. Each time Caryn would nudge me, I thought it was the end and began to applaud. How embarrassing!
  • Next day we went shopping and agreed to meet at Marks & Spencer near the Oxford Circle Tube stop. Would you believe there are two there?? Who knew? I didn’t at the time. But we later learned that, yes, there are two: #173 and 458 Oxford street. One to the left of the Oxford Circle Tube stop, and the other to the right. We each waited (at opposite storefronts) and searched for nearly two hours, in the rain, of course, because US cell phones don’t work in London.
  • Christmas Eve we took our first journey on the superfast Eurostar train through the “chunnel” only to be delayed by track work that required a max speed of 20 miles per hour… all. the. way. to. Paris.
  • Caryn got sick in Paris and was in bed the entire day. On the way back to the Gare du Nord train station, I hired a driver to make a fast photo stop to at least see some of the sights along the way. Not exactly the impression I wanted for her, but better than nothing… or was it?
  • At the train station, in a very slick scam, my briefcase got nicked literally from between my feet- along with all the cash I had. Since Azerbaijan was pretty much a cash basis system at that time, I had no credit cards and had to pay for the hotels in cash. Thus we had no money to pay the hotel in London when we returned, no money for the Christmas dinner we had planned on our return…nothing. Dire straits. And the only response from the French Police was… c’est la vie, madame.
  • Fortunately, the Millennium Bailey hotel had my data on file, so they didn’t ask for anything when we returned, thankfully. We were grateful for a place to sleep, but we had no way to go out and eat. However, a saving grace, we found the pub would be open serving a limited menu. We figured limited British food (on a room tab) is better than no food, so to the pub we went. Oddly enough, it was rather good. Turkey and chestnut mash with cranberry something- very much like our Thanksgiving dinner would be, sort of.

    But then, the really sweet part. The part that makes all of the above simply painful, not tragic.

    The photo above is our Christmas… One we both recall as one of our favorites.

    The hotel had that little plant on one of the tables in the room. We snagged a couple of the ever-present “Christmas Crackers” from the pub to take back to the room with us. With my nail clippers I cut out a star from the cracker tube, using chewing gum to attach it to the plant. The confetti and streamers from the crackers decorated the little jade plant.

    What better way to spend Christmas? Morecambe & Wise British humor.

    What better way to spend Christmas? Morecambe & Wise, humor- British style.

    Since we didn’t have money to go out anywhere, and the banks were closed until after Boxing Day, we sat in our lovely room and watched the “25 Years of Morecambe & Wise”. We laughed at that British humor all morning.

    We also got to watch what has become a legend in our time- meaning no one believes this really happened. Wolverhampton Christmas is apparently open to interpretation… how else does one explain the lobster and starfish at the manger? Or Away in a Manger sung to the English melody, but reggae style, a calypso beat maybe? It stands alone in the memories of Christmas pageants. In a good way.

    That Christmas that had begun, and continued, to confound all the best laid plans, ended up being the most wonderful mother-daughter quality time. Memories that we still share. Laughter that will bind us for all time.

    And that’s why Mother’s Day will always remind me of that Christmas when all we had was each other. Well, just us and that calypso Lobster.

    8 thoughts on “How a Christmas Lobster Made Mother’s Day Extra Special

    1. What a lovely story – I mean in the end, not getting robbed, etc. It is often the mishaps and the unexpected that leave us with the best memories. Kudos to you and your daughter for making the best of the situation.


      • Thank you Margo, so glad you enjoyed this story! I totally agree, what could have left a bitter taste for travel, in the end, made us realize money and things can be replaced, but the time we share and the love we have are the real things we remember. In a new tradition since that year, we now buy the Christmas crackers here each Christmas, and laugh at the prizes and paper crowns inside.


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    5. Jonelle, this tales wins the prize for disastrous holidays. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. I don’t know how it is in London these days, but when we lived there when Christmas arrived, the city pretty much shut down – totally. And it was advisable to plan well (food, etc) because everything was going to be closed. And this also applied to tourists. I’m glad it all turned out well, and I’m sure that both you and your daughter, in addition to getting a few travel battle scars, learned a few travel life lessons. ~James


      • You’re so right, James. People who don’t travel miss the thrill of… oh, who am I kidding? They get to have normal holidays!

        However,people who don’t travel also miss the high points of surviving situations, seeing just what they (and their relationships) are made of.

        From travel experience we know those are times that make some of the best and most enduring memories. And like you say, you just can’t make this stuff up!

        One thing I didn’t put in that post, that you and Terri can appreciate: Because Christmas and Boxing Day in London are Bank holidays, nothing gets done. But… in Muslim Azerbaijan it was business as usual. I called my office in Baku as soon as we got into the hotel and had them wire $5000 to me to pay the hotel, etc. and buy a new airline ticket home. Thank heaven for the non-Christians? 😉


    6. Pingback: Give Me Back Old Baku: Why Am I Afraid of Change? | Life Lessons

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