Saturday, 22 December 2007

Christmas parties from Hell

They all sound perfectly ghastly, to be honest. 

By 7pm a small crowd has gathered in front of a small door under London Bridge station. Some are dressed formally, some less so; most of them stand in little knots of affiliation. At 7.15 we are ushered through the door and into a coat-check area, and then into a pretend lift that rattles for a few seconds and ejects us into a crowded Victorian street that runs impressively along a tunnel under the railroad tracks. There is a dark pub, an old curiosity shop and a lot of Dickens characters. I have unknowingly stepped into a world where one of my deepest phobias - a fear of interacting with actors dressed in period costume - is the main entertainment.

I am immediately approached by a young girl in a dirty bonnet with very crooked stage teeth. As she begins to engage me in cockney conversation, I can feel sweat running into my collar. I know she will not break character, even if I beg her to point out the nearest fire exits. She spots my notepad and tells me to write down her story. "Once upon a time there was a nice girl called Maude," she says, "who wanted a boyfriend but something got in her way. However, she had the biggest heart of all ..." As I write I think, Oh my God, she's coming on to me. What do I do? Eventually I give her the slip, only to be confronted by Miss Havisham, who tells me her whole sad tale. I can't think of anything to say, apart from: "Yes, I know."

Tim Dowling on how the City parties | Lifeandhealth | Life and Health