We headed up to town on Sunday and while I would have preferred to have driven we wouldn't have found anywhere to park; it was Chinese New Year!
Me and Chinatown go back a long, long way - to buying punk records at Soho market and trying to find food cheap enough to eat as a student.
That usually ended up in a slightly ill tempered confrontation somewhere off Gerrard Street.
These days Chinatown is safer and more boring, more corporate. You rarely see a meat cleaver used in anger anymore.......like the old days.
Robyn told me off and said I only wanted chaos around me but actually Chinatown always had an excitement about it, an edge, which isn't there anymore.
As it was, the Tories were out leafleting for their mayorial candidate, which sums up the way things are these days.
But it did give me an opportunity to be very insulting.....several times over.
For the record, it was only Ken Livingstone who ever did anything for the Chinese community before the banks and the casinos invaded Chinatown.
Anyway, as we spilled out of Leicester Square tube station Robyn skilfully steered me out of the past and straight to where one of the lions was already dancing for cabbages;
Chinatown was heaving with people - this is the band that follows the lion around;
The crashing drums and the cymbals are to ward off demons and evil spirits for the new year to come - The Year of the Monkey.
The day always starts with a ceremony to 'dot the lions eye';
There was also a procession and floats but we were never going to get there in time for that.
Everywhere there were stalls and red and gold ornaments for good luck;
Here's my dragon (I may need a bit of luck) and a pack of Chinese crackers.
You throw them on the ground and the bangs drive out the demons - I have a few of those, so I'm hoping it was a good investment.
The dragon has a pearl in it's mouth for prosperity;
There was lucky bamboo;
And the gates were looking particularly nice;
A really special atmosphere;
Everywhere we went the lions were dancing at the restaurants and the shops;
When I was young, they danced for strings of cabbages and red envelopes hung out of first floor windows - they needed to be very athletic to get up on each others shoulders to reach for them.
These days it's a bit easier but still very colourful.
And, as you can see, each lion doesn't only have its own band but also a protective group of 'martial arts enthusiasts'; here the 'Shaolin Fists'.
The floats were on display;
Robyn doesn't like crowds like I do and by this time she was getting a little frazzled.
We headed back towards Gerrard Street, fighting through the crowds again to get to an 'eat as much as you like Chinese Buffet'.
Which is about the best way to get a good meal on a budget in London.
After a queue we collapsed into our table and then negotiated the even bigger queue for food. We weren't in any hurry to leave, which was just as well.
Because then something wonderful happened.
For a short time they stopped letting anyone else in, then they put up a cabbage in the doorway;
With a red envelope for The year of the Monkey;
A short wait.... then all the staff came up to the front of the restaurant;
And our very own lion turned up!
A really magical moment, a once in a lifetime experience;
After a dance the lion raised itself up to bite the cabbage;
Then, all too quickly, it spat out the cabbage in a fit of rage (keeping the envelope) and was off;
I couldn't believe our luck - most of the people eating didn't seem bothered but for me it was a very special experience; a window into another peoples world.
We wandered down busy streets, closed to traffic for the day, down to Trafalgar Square and took in the big stage.
This is the Chongqin Chuanju Theatre;
I was in quite a lot of pain by this time and Robyn seemed to be suffering a bit too;
A very special day;
Thanks Chinatown, catch you again when it's a bit less busy.
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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