Create a story from this photo

I took this photo as we were about to cross the road at South Kensington after an interesting lecture at the Science Museum.

It seemed to me quite a little ‘cameo noir’ from which you could create an interesting story.  Even the shot is out of focus!

A story lying at the crossroads …

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Nightwalk

It’s quite difficult to dig John out of his chair in front of the computer to have a walk at the weekend.   I just felt I had to go out and walk up river but it was already twilight and darkness was rolling in.  I decided to go anyway and tempted John to come with me by saying he might see some bats at the pond.

Valerian overlooking the Thames at dusk …

Walking up river, listening to the querulous mutterings of birds on the water, settling down for the night.  Peaceful, no people except for an odd runner mingling silently into the darkness.

Making our way home via the pond, avoiding the boy racer …

Nightwalk

Barnes Pond – almost home …

A glass of red wine awaits as the moon shows its face …

PS  There are bats but I didn’t catch one on camera  –  much too fast.  We have some new wooden sculptures showing wildlife on the Common though.

Barnes batsqueaks …

I suppose you could call Barnes ‘rus in urbe’.  A good place to be.

 

 

 

 

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Rhapsody in Blue ?

We’ve had an ongoing water crisis. Huge water and heating bills didn’t make sense –  we finally tracked down the culprit.  An invisible leak from a corroded hot water pipe, lurking in concrete, deep under the maplewood floor.  All the pipes in the kitchen had to be replaced – we had to say farewell to the maple floor.

A floor in flux …

Monster machines sounding like tyrannosaurus rex shook angrily, squatting and panting over the disaster area twenty four hours a day, drying everything out with their fiery and malodorous breath.  They made me think of komodo dragons, who would finish me off with one snap of their jaws.  I complained to a young person and got the answer that if I lived in Hackney with a concrete floor with pipes sticking out of it, I would be very stylish.  I stopped complaining and learned to live with a concrete floor – for months!

It should have been quicker but  the first firm wouldn’t work with the insurers, the second I found, by chance, was going bankrupt, the third came in with a hiked up estimate. I loved the fourth and he slipped a disc on the day before starting.  And the fifth are doing an excellent job at this very moment.

Insurance, plumbers, plasterers, carpenters, floor layers – all flowing like an eternal tide through our front door until, finally, one day, an end was in sight.  A sort of rhapsody in blue, coming slowly to its climax. I took this photo, not knowing how it would turn out.  It personifies the maelstrom I have been trapped in in these past months.   Surreal but I’m still in there somewhere – and surviving!

Feeling the blues …!

The pinky glow of the new beech floor looks so pristine I really don’t want to walk on it!  But the pink in my cheeks shows I’m recovering …

 

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The Sussex Downs – Firle and Charleston

It all started with a business contact of John’s who invited him to dinner in Lewes one Friday evening.  It seemed a long way to go just for dinner and if he drove there and back he wouldn’t be able to drink wine.  If I had been him I would have suggested a lunch meeting during the day in London or Lewes – and if Lewes, a little time to explore the town.  But I am not him!  Then I forgot all about it.

One evening, sometime later, we watched a television programme on the Sussex Downs, presented by an eccentric and enthusiastic vicar called Peter Owen-Jones.  He loved looking after his three small parishes and we saw him striding purposefully  over the Downs with wonderful views either side, saying he had found his spiritual home.  I was intrigued- he looked so footloose and fancy free –  I wanted to be like that.  So we ended up for the weekend, staying in a beautiful house called Old Whyly, recommended by the ever reliable Alastair Sawday, with the intent of exploring the East Sussex Downs.

The South Downs at Firle Beacon …

Dinner was duly had in Lewes that evening at a tiny but exquisite Thai restaurant, only a short distance away by car from our comfortable and rather grand hostelry.  Without this invitation we certainly wouldn’t have been here and I was excited at the thought of the weekend ahead.

Well rested, we had the treat of breakfast eggs, laid by hens, who were clucking around contentedly in the woodland garden.  Here are two having a stand off with each other  –  their colouring is softly mottled grey and black and their eggs are scramblingly delicious. Helped by Sarah’s culinary skills!

Eggcellent!

It was dry and sunny  –  we do need rain but next day was perfect weather for walking.  We set out for Firle Beacon via the village. See photo above of the ‘trig’ point + ‘walker’.

The ‘olde worlde’ of Firle

The church at Firle,  Sussex

Church window at Firle, Sussex

The ribbon tree in Firle churchyard … I added two to say thank you for our weekend away … many small pleasures are recorded here.

Church kneelers at Firle, Sussex

Through the looking glass … just like Alice

Now famished by fresh air, we made for the local inn, which promised good things –  and delivered!

At ‘The Ram’ inn, where we had a very satisfactory lunch – the soup is especially good.

Firle is at the end of the road and a path leads on upward to the Downs.

Looking towards Firle from the South Downs

The village is nestled below the escarpment, silent except for the people buzzing about the inn.  Someone had left their bicycle and seemingly never returned for it. It was as if we had gone back in time. I expected my phone to melt away like a mirage.

Bike in aspic

An old tithe barn where the road petered out – East Sussex

The Long Man of Wilmington who we passed on our travels …

Friends had encouraged us to go to Charleston  – the farmhouse  where the Bloomsbury Group used to spend many weekends.  The house has been left as it was when they were there.  No photos allowed inside.  It must have been freezing in winter, when guests were advised to bring blankets and a hot water bottle!  Our guide seemed to know everything about Vanessa Bell et al  –  and some of the stories were really salacious, their ‘partnerships’ being quite ‘fluid’.

I particularly liked the round dining table, designed and painted by Vanessa, with a bowl in the middle that echoed the yellow tones, made by Duncan Grant.

The Spring garden was at its best, the stone heads and statues handsome, even sexy, (except for one).  The pond was roiling with greedy fish.

Charleston – Spring blossom

Charleston – rhubarb, rhubarb …

… and a bottom

Charleston narcissi

Statuesque heads adorn the high walls and handsome torsos are to be found in green shade – and there’s a particularly sinister chap, lurking in the shrubbery!

A Virginia Woolf lookalike …

A handsome gladiator

A Greek hero … heroine  –  in any case, handsome …

Very unfavoured, lurking in the shrubbery …

and a very handsome fellow in the undergrowth, looking rather more splendid!

The lily pond bordered by trees is idyllic but the odd statue made me think of Virginia Woolf filling her pockets with stones and drowning in the River Ouse.

A surreal statue overlooking the lily pond, lending a melancholic air …

while under the water, the fish were rampant and voracious.

The lily pond at Charleston, teeming with fish …

Where’s my dinner?

Red and blue impressions …

It was time to go.  On the way back we took a small road which reminded me of David Hockney landscapes at The Royal Academy  –  what a fabulous exhibition that was!

A Hockneyesque landscape in Sussex

The weather had been kind to us and on our return to our home from home we enjoyed a stroll around the garden followed by a  happy hour chatting over elderflower champagne and a communal dinner, sitting at the large round table.  Complete rest and relaxation …

Tall trees and exquisite cherry blossom

Sunbeams – this photo reminds me of Ravilious, who also had a cottage in Sussex, quite near to Charleston.  It is worth looking him up  –  he was very talented.

A contemplative spaniel …

I’m rather fixated by this beautiful blue bowl capturing the sunlight!

… and the wallpaper makes a good backdrop …

After breakfast we reluctantly had to say our goodbyes to Sarah, our delightful châtelaine, her impressive and staunch Romanian housekeeper and our charming weekend companions, who hailed from Woodbridge in Suffolk.  The others, Scottish folk from Lanarkshire, were already on their long drive home.

This morning we have breakfasted together at the round table, a disparate group of strangers from many places and now we are all leaving, blown to different parts of the universe, maybe never to meet again.  White cherry blossom petals float down onto the grass. Our memories hold these transient images.  We are our memories.  And I’d like some more like this!

Instead of going home the same way, we meandered westwards towards the Iron Age hill forts of Cissbury and Chanctonbury Rings. We pass many vintage cars on the roads in Sussex.

Back on the road …

The weather is holding and we find the way up to Chanctonbury Ring along a one way country lane.  It’s quite a hike up through the woods on to the Downs but very well worth the effort.

Panorama of Sussex from Chanctonbury Ring

This place is thought to be haunted with a portal to the otherworld.  I am not a believer in ghosts but there is something I would call ‘spirit of place’.  In ‘The Old Ways’ by Robert Macfarlane he tells the story of staying the night up here. I would trust him completely and his story is chilling.  It has been backed up by several others who have tried to spend the night at Chanctonbury Ring and fled.

At Chanctonbury Ring – note the figure amongst the trees …

I would like to recommend Robert Macfarlane’s books.  I have read ‘Mountains of the Mind’, ‘The Wild Places’ and am now dipping into ‘The Old Ways’. I quote from the back cover   ‘Following the tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast ancient network of routes criss-crossing the British Isles and beyond, Robert Macfarlane discovers a lost world – a landscape of the feet and the mind, of pilgrimage and ritual, of stories and ghosts;  above all, of the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imaginations’.

John Carey of ‘The Sunday Times’ writes: ‘The Old Ways’ sets the imagination tingling …  it is like reading a prose Odyssey sprinkled with imagist poems.

Trees at Chanctonbury Ring

Soon after we were back on the A27 via Dorking home. A good drive with less traffic than we had thought  –  it was Boat Race Day and Barnes was busy – and it was good to be part of it all.

END

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An unexpected visitor

This was a day of domesticana  –  just as well I didn’t have to travel as Storm Doris was making herself felt with gusts of winds that made the house creak in its old joints and had the trees swaying wildly, which we don’t see often in London.  I kept hearing odd noises downstairs as she tried to make her way in through the cooker hood with baleful whining and  frustrated tantrums.

Tedious domestic chores always take me longer because time seems to stand stultifingly still. There’s a sort of pleasure in achievement but after a while I sat down to do some research at the computer as my real reward.  I love tracking things down and the Internet has made for a new world of possibilities.  Although I do miss exploring and coming face to face with people and places. But now I can do both and cover more ground.

I watched the shirts and trousers jiving in the wind on the line outside from my study window  –  not many people have a washing line nowadays but it’s much less expensive and environmentally more friendly than a droning drier.  And the clothes smell fresh, ready for ironing, when I also have the chance to listen to Radio 4.  Ironing in itself is workaday but because of Radio 4 I look forward to it.

I got absorbed in researching new flooring and sofas, flitting out from time to time into a few favourite sites like Bendor Grosvenor’s ‘Art History News’,  French vocabulary sites, new books, travel writers and places to visit, film reviews and art, science and nature programmes on TV. Back to the job in hand  …

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an orange flash at the edge of the window pane.  A ginger cat?  I looked round and came face to face with a very pretty fox, staring at me through the glass! I was both shocked and enchanted at the same time.

An unexpected visitor

She must have climbed up the sloping glass windows in the kitchen roof to find a sheltered place by the wall, which separates us from our neighbour.  It was a smart move  –  a very cosy, mossy corner out of the wind.  She was completely unafraid of me as we gazed at one another  –  only slightly curious.  She looked in good health, she knew she was elegant  – it was almost as if she was smiling at me.

Surveying her territory

Elegant Mrs. Fox

Photoshoot of foxy model

I longed to have a conversation but finally, after twenty minutes or so, she made a move and vanished as silently as she had come.

The lady vanishes …

In the evening, I heard some fox call in the distance.  Was it her? I hoped she had somewhere to sleep out of harm’s way.  Maybe she was pregnant and looking for a safe place to make a den.

I know foxes can be a menace. They attack our compost heap with a vengeance. They have proliferated in cities where food waste makes easy pickings.  They leave nasty droppings and make bloodcurdling screeches in the dark of the night. They have been known to enter houses and bite babies in their warm, soft cradles. They are classed as vermin.

But I fell for her in an instant and I called her Vivienne.

Vivienne

PS  This encounter put me in mind of the poem by D H Lawrence called ‘Snake’.  It taught me the lesson of tolerance, of live and let live.  The author watches a snake coming out of a hole in the wall to drink at a pool in the heat of the day in Sicily. It is golden and venomous.  Should he kill it?  Read this poem and see.

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My highlights of 2016

We have BREXIT ongoing, we have TRUMP taking centre stage.  I just thought I’d take a photo or two from each month in 2016 to show that all was not gloom and doom. I’m determined to ‘think positive’ because that carries weight, rather than being crushed and feeling disenfranchised.

A physicist mooted that ‘dark matter’ could be made up of the weight of ‘thoughts’.  This appealed to me – a merging of science and philosophy –  the weight of conscious thought holding up the universe as against a black hole crushing it into extinction.  I did check up this idea with another astrophysicist, who, to my surprise, did say it was a possibility.  He didn’t laugh at me! It may be in the realms of science fiction but there’s so much about the universe we don’t know and so many dimensions that we haven’t or are unable to explore in our present human form.

Arthur C Clarke observed “How inappropriate to call this planet earth, when it is quite clearly ocean”.  And we don’t yet know very much about what lies under our oceans   –  and the size of them compared to land is immense. So, who knows?!

January 2016, started off very wet; we were not aware of what was to come – but my instinctive psyche took this photo. You could interpret it as reading the future …

The shape of things to come ...

The shape of things to come … photo taken January 2016

The highlight of the month was a family outing to ‘Mr. Foote’s Other Leg’ at a theatre in central London.  A triumph for Simon Russell Beale and a great family get together.

February is often misty and damp.  But there was a high point –  being taken out to dinner … a much appreciated birthday treat at Quo Vadis …

Quo Vadis birthday

Quo Vadis birthday treat

This was followed by a trip to Greenwich with my friend, Kate, to see the Samuel Pepys exhibition, which I loved. Then a wonderful film – ‘Bridge of Spies’ – by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, who were both fabulous. A ‘best’ film.

Samuel Pepys - his diaries are an invaluable source of knowledge for how life was lived then.

Samuel Pepys – his diaries are an invaluable source of knowledge for how day-to-day life was lived then. This is the best way for me to learn about history. I took SP a bunch of daffodils after the exhibition.

March offered spring flowers …

Early Spring flowers

Early Spring flowers

and a long, looped walk from Barnes Bridge, up the Chiswick side of the river through Dukes Meadows,  finally crossing back over Hammersmith Bridge and following the towpath home.

Chiswick riverside walk from Barnes Bridge to Hammersmith 1

Chiswick riverside walk from Barnes Bridge to Hammersmith 1

Chiswick riverside walk 2

Chiswick riverside walk 2

The Dove with a riverside terrace...

The Dove with a riverside terrace… a welcome dalliance half way round…

A rather splendid boat, caught at low tide on the Thames ...

A rather splendid boat, caught at low tide on the Thames …

There’s a picturesque group of pubs and houses, painted in different colours on approaching Hammersmith Bridge.

What are you thinking, my lovely, as you stare out across the river ...

What are you thinking, my lovely, as you stare out across the Thames … ?

Hammersmith Bridge

Hammersmith Bridge

We crossed the bridge, took the towpath back to Barnes and saw the most beautiful heron.  I love this circular walk.

A most beautiful heron - Barnes

A most beautiful heron – Barnes

I was lucky enough to see both the Delacroix and the Giorgione exhibitions before moving on into April, where my good fortune continued with the tremendous (and tremendously long!) Monet Gardens exhibition at the Royal Academy, followed by an excellent exhibition on Shakespeare at The British Library to celebrate 400 years since his death, a trip to the Foundlings Museum in Thomas Coram Fields in Bloomsbury and finally, the Botticelli drawings at the Courtauld Institute. I don’t really see myself as a ‘culture vulture'(!) –  more a person who is curious and likes to find things out. However, I do love paintings – even ones I don’t like.  There is also a lot of rubbish but that’s like looking through a junk shop for the real thing  –  and the thrill of sometimes finding it!

A friend, Will, who I took to the Monet exhibition, bought me the catalogue!

A friend, Will, who I took to the Monet exhibition, bought me the catalogue!

I taste the cover – it reminds me of those coloured sweetmeats by Charbonnel & Walker called ‘crêmes parisiennes’.  So melt-in-the-mouth delicious. I went to this exhibition three times, taking three different guests.

‘The Enchanted April’ by Elizabeth von Arnim is an all time favourite read of mine.  It was made into a television series – very well cast.  Mellersh, the husband of Mrs. Wilkins, who is thrifty, ‘except for that branch of it which got into his food’, is a perfect role for the actor, Alfred Molina.  Mrs. Wilkins shops at Shoolbreds in Piccadilly for Mellersh’s fish.  He only likes sole and salmon.  He was ‘difficult’ with fish.

This is the story of how Mrs. Wilkins escapes from her dreary, diurnal round by boldly answering an advertisement in ‘The Times’.  ‘Small, mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let  Furnished for the month of April’ and in doing so, escapes London’s ‘extremely horrible, sooty rain’. I’m enchanted by this story in a similar way as in ‘The Greengage Summer’ by Rumer Godden which is, for me, a perfect read.

In May, my sister took charge of a stray dog from Greece.  Jack is good natured, greedy and gregarious. I went for a long walk with them in Bushy Park. He is not fussy about what he eats – enough said!  The main thing is that Jack has made her happy.

Jack

Jack

We went to see Tom Hart Dyke’s ‘world garden’ at Lullingstone castle in Kent.  We drove but it’s easy to get there by train from London Victoria and the station is within walking distance of the garden.  Tom Hart Dyke and his friend were kidnapped in the Colombian jungle in 2000, while plant hunting but finally managed to escape their captors after nine months.  A television programme was later made about his ‘world garden’, which is open to the public.

May – Barnes Common makes for a quick and uplifting stroll.

Cow parsley on Barnes Common

Cow parsley on Barnes Common

Summer hats on the bus to Hammersmith …

Although I succumbed to a deathly cold in June, the upside was a visit to the ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition at the British Museum  –  two cities submerged off the coast of Alexandria 1,300 years ago by a series of earthquakes and tidal waves, leading to liquefaction of the earth they were built on. Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus lay at the mouth of the Nile.  An archaeologist diving in the area twenty years ago organised a search expedition. It is mind blowing to see what they have found to date and there is much more awaiting discovery.

The 'Sunken Cities' exhibition at the British Museum

The ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition at the British Museum

I went to a film –  ‘Love and Friendship’.  A delicious confection, based on a Jane Austen novel. Just managed also to squeeze in the ‘Botticelli’ exhibition at the V&A before it finished. An eclectic mix of old and new  –  an angle that showed how much Botticelli has influenced painting, photography and advertising in the modern world.  Very well worth going – pause for thought.

I bought an exquisite print at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.  It’s called ‘Arch’ and is by Suzanne Moxhay.

And there was a Zédel lunch.

Another celebration!

In July one highlight was a few days at Buckler’s Hard in the New Forest.  A glorious walk through the woods and by the river to Beaulieu and back, with the treat of a delicious ice cream cornet thrown in!  A change of scene from the city and lots of fresh air. And an interesting place from a historical point of view.

Buckler's Hard where many of Nelson's ships were built

Buckler’s Hard where many of Nelson’s ships were built

A very special treat awaited us at Kew Gardens. ‘The Hive’ – an enormous sculpture made by Wolfgang Buttress in order to draw attention to the plight of bees, who have been experiencing death and disease in many numbers worldwide.  Leading up to ‘The Hive’, a wildflower meadow has been planted.  We, as human beings, very much depend on the pollination of plants by the bees.  No bees would finally lead to none of us either!

The Hive at Kew Gardens

The Hive at Kew Gardens

Wildflower meadow at Kew

Wildflower meadow at Kew

August is always a good time to stay at home if you don’t have to take school holidays.   Sitting in the garden reading, a visit to Kew, meeting up with the friends you haven’t had time to see all year, not having to get up at 7am every day.  But it soon goes! Carpe Diem!

Flower garden bordering the towpath, Barnes

Colours - Kew Gardens

Colours – Kew Gardens

Water lilies at Kew Gardens

Water lilies at Kew

A secret corner – Kew

One of my favourite reads this year was ‘The Penguin Lessons’ by Tom Michell.  This is a heartwarming story – so vivid, so alive, so very appealing.  Read it and be uplifted – laugh and cry – and love the penguin!

This penguin will restore your spirits ... however low they may be

This penguin will restore your spirits … however low they may be

And then it was September.  We were invited to an RAF service  in Westminster Abbey.  The day was clement and the service beautifully done.

Flypast at Westminster

Flypast at Westminster

I was inspired to walk along the Thames from Blackfriars to the Millennium Bridge and came upon some bizarre goings-on!

Thames cube!

What is going on? Any clues?

What is going on? Any clues? Well, it is near Tate Modern …?!

A more conventional view of life on the river Thames

A more conventional view of life on the river Thames

In the river with a box of treasure … another conundrum …

I made my way back to Blackfriars and found myself in another surreal situation.

Under Blackfriars bridge – good location for a gangster/spy film?!

I explored the underbelly of Blackfriars station, which has had a huge renovation.

Queasy feeling ….. underground at Blackfriars station

Blackfriars – caught in a bubble

HELP – looking for a way out!

Entrance to station – Blackfriars – finally made it!

I’ve always been attracted to things in the round – like marbles. When I boil water in a pan on the stove I wonder why the bubbles are round …then I put in the peas! If you want to know more about bubbles, look up Helen Czerski, physicist.  She’s written a lot on the significance of bubbles and her latest book is called ‘Storm in a Teacup’ (The physics of everyday life). Fascinating!

Rolling on into October via a visit to the dragon benches in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington. A new part of town for me.

Here be dragons – Clissold Park

Walking the dog – Clissold Park – slight air of Magritte about this picture?

The air is very clear but the garden is now fading and looking overblown and weary as it settles blowsily into middle age. Then I notice that the nasturtium seeds I threw carelessly into the soil not so long ago have flourished and given me an undeserved reward.

An unexpected jewel

A Triumph outside Barnes Bookshop …

Macaroons at the French Médiathèque, South Kensington

Moonshine …

The weather for November was better and I felt good.  Here are a few images which kept me in an upbeat mood for most of it.

Flowers from our new neighbours …

Late Autumn – Richmond Park

It’s a great place for a good walk without meeting crowds of  other people.

Sunset over Barnes Pond

Being a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, I’m always looking upward for a beautiful skyscape!

I can’t recommend enough that everyone see Phil Agland’s recent documentary, ‘China – Between Clouds and Dreams; China’s Silent Spring’, which was shown on Channel 4 in November in five episodes.  It’s such an original way of looking at this  vast, burgeoning country and all the good and bad things that are emerging.  The small, charismatic boy who is training to be a monk is an exceptional human being.  We need more of his kind. And the ‘spoonie’ story is unforgettable too.  Fabulous filming  and the narrative continues to hook you in. Phil Agland is an outstanding film maker.

Good to be back in central London …

Cityscape 2

and a chance to go to the exhibition at the V&A called REVOLUTION – Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970.  The music, fashion, film, design and political activism of that era was brought together in a truly organic way.  How did what happened in the late sixties change the way we live and how we now think about the future?  Looking back at it all, I remember how very exciting it was at the time but it’s very weird to see that we are now history!

Retro Revolution!

The weather finally broke, the leaves started to fall and Autumn was on the move into Winter.

Raindrops keep falling on my head …

A big highlight was an unexpected but much enjoyed day trip to Paris.  This made me decide that 2017 should be reserved for at least some (quite a lot!) of long weekends away across the Channel. Bordeaux, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Seville …

Elegance – Paris

Guarding Place des Vosges – Paris

Enfants parisiens …

St Régis – Paris

Arrondissement St. Germain – Paris

Café Rouquet – Paris

Escargots – Terminus Nord, Paris

Back in London for December’s Christmas festivities and, most of all, a holiday for reading and walking by the river –   and not taking to the roads with millions of others from here to there and back again … loaded up with presents and stress.

Regent Street – a ghostly angel … Christmas 2016

St. Mary’s church, Barnes – Christmastime 2016

Time off to read – Christmas 2016

A walk up river – Chiswick side, looking across to Barnes …December 2016

Winged harpies swooping towards 2017 … December 2016

The rower at Barnes Bridge – December 2016

The towpath, Barnes – December 2016

The way ahead …

Christmas Day was wreathed in grey but towards the end of the year a sharper snap brought clear skies at night followed by crisp blue skies next day.

Hammersmith Bridge at sunset

Christmas wreath 2016

We move forward into the New Year with an uncertain future but with a certain amount of pzazz …

Trumping Trump 2017 … Sloane Square, London

Always a treat throughout the year …  coffee is a great mainstay!

And Woody Allen’s film, ‘Café Society’, was also a great pick-me-up and sparkling with wonderful music! Enormously entertaining and on a par (for me) with ‘Midnight in Paris’.

These are some of my highlights in 2016.  And the lowlights can just look after themselves and vanish into the ether …

END

PS  Here’s a sad thing that happened but it made me do something very positive.  The journalist, A A Gill, died at 62 of cancer, which came as a great shock to many readers.   Hadley Freeman wrote a wonderful piece in ‘The Guardian’ weekend magazine  (17.12.16) about him, which moved me to tears.  She was inspired by his writing – so why didn’t she tell him?

This article made me get in touch with somebody I met at a dinner several years ago.  I always meant to let them know how much I enjoyed their company and conversation but I didn’t do it. And then I did  –  thank you, Hadley Freeman –  both for your article and for helping me to make that happen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Buxton, Derbyshire – a fleeting visit

I hadn’t been to the north of England for a long time.  In this case it was ‘needs must’ and although my sister and I set off feeling anxious, it turned out to be more like a ‘weekend break’ –  but not at the weekend.

Driving first along the M40 in the direction of Oxford, we were making good time and the sky was clear.  Coming through the gap where the red kites congregate we decided to stop off for coffee at ‘The Leathern Bottle’ pub, which is only five minutes drive off the motorway, offering a welcome respite for half an hour.

At 'The Leathern Bottle'

At ‘The Leathern Bottle’

A tuna sandwich helped us on our way, so we wouldn’t have to stop at a motorway café later on.  Hunkering down, eyes flipping northwards, sometimes with a clear road up ahead,  more often sandwiched between two lorries, we finally hove into Buxton as the night sky turned purple –  a roofscape studded with pinpricks of bright stars. English towns were looking very festive  – Ashbourne with its old traditional houses and sparkling Christmas trees and lights looked like we were driving through a Disney movie.

Christine had chosen well with our small hotel, which looked out over the lakeside in Buxton’s Pavilion Gardens.  No road in front – just a Broad Walk for pedestrians five minutes into the centre of town. Perfect location. I shared my bedroom with a white rabbit.

The Buxton white rabbit

The Buxton white rabbit

Our hotel overlooking Pavilion Gardens, Buxton

View from our hotel overlooking Pavilion Gardens (23 acres), Buxton

Buxton lakeside - Pavilion Gardens

Buxton lakeside – Pavilion Gardens

Buxton - Pavilion Gardens - a tranquil spot

Buxton – Pavilion Gardens – a tranquil spot

The market square (officially the highest in England) was a few minutes away and we had a choice for dinner.  Greek, Italian or Chinese.  The Greek restaurant, Ithaca, looked the most inviting and we chose well.  A simply delicious, authentic meal. The owners/chefs come from Corfu.

It’s so tranquil here – all I hear is the clucking of night birds dreaming – better put on my alarm as we needed to be up early.  A good, long soak in a hot bath and I was ready for the next day, travelling on to Uppermill.

Buxton - countryside with sheep

Buxton – countryside with sheep – taken through car window

It was only an hour’s drive.  We had work to do all day but managed a half hour break in a café called ‘Saint’s’, secreted in a little nook on the edge of the park.  I forgot to take a photo (so hungry) – the high street in Uppermill was looking very picturesque and Christmassy, the people very friendly.

The café is run by several ladies, who are both busy behind the till and also the purveyors/bakers of the most appetising cakes.  It was very hard to choose and if Christine hadn’t been with me I would have greedily had another piece  …  but we had to get on with our task before heading back to beautiful Buxton.

Countryside near Buxton

Countryside near Buxton

Next morning we had time to explore the spa baths, which are being completely revamped and will include a five star hotel. They are built on the site of the original Roman Bath, by St. Ann’s Well, which stands next to the Pump Room. It’s going to be fabulous when finished with the renovated Georgian buildings and will really put Buxton on the map as a place to visit.

We saw the Opera House, the Dome, which is now part of Derby university and nearby a huge, glass and wrought iron window, in the shape of a fan, designed by Joseph Paxton.  It marks the terminus of the railway line. There is a music and literature festival here every summer.

I bought a thick wool blue and yellow scarf in the Cavendish Arcade (housing a bunch of boutiques), as we made our way to the Winter Gardens.

Buxton - the Winter Gardens

Buxton – the Winter Gardens

Buxton - Winter Gardens

Buxton – Winter Gardens

Buxton Winter Gardens - exotic in orange

Buxton Winter Gardens – exotic orange on 17th December!

We took a quick look at the shops and then it was time to take to the road once more.

Buxton - at the chemist's

Buxton – at the chemist’s

Buxton - another impressive building ...

Buxton – another impressive building … a dome but not ‘The Dome’!

Coming home was good except for where vast warehouses, like aircraft hangars,  congregate like a herd of mastodons close to the gordian knots of many motorways.  They apparently store everything for the supermarkets.  The roads rear up like a  bunch of racer snakes – it’s very stressful to choose which one to take and not end up going north instead of south.

We stopped off at a farm in Northamptonshire, which has a very hospitable tea shop and restaurant.  Baked potato with coleslaw – absolutely scrumptious! With a pot of tea. When you are really hungry, food just tastes so much better.

I remember when we were renovating our house almost forty years ago, I sat down after working on it all day, having eaten nothing.  I can still taste the absolute deliciousness of wolfing down a whole baguette with a few glasses of red wine.

Buxton is definitely a place to return to at leisure, I thought, especially when the spa is re-opened.  But for now it was disappearing into the night sky, just like a bubble, as the lights of London were blazing ahead, illuminating the trail home.

Farewell Buxton - we'll be back

Farewell Buxton – we’ll be back

Buxton was once a very rich and celebrated spa town, visited by the great and the good, with grand Georgian architecture and it’s wonderful to see this all being renovated. The Peak District offers a great deal of variety as well, including Chatsworth and the Blue John caverns.  We had too little time to explore properly but what we had seen whetted my appetite for a return visit.

Buxton scarf

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Autumn leaves and loaves …

Things – like a walk in the park,

Things – like a walk in the dark …

Suddenly,  the leaves are falling all at once.  It’s Autumn turning to Winter and time for the deer cull in Richmond Park.  Clouds  are gathering …

Clouds gathering above the deer in Richmond Park

Clouds gathering above the deer in Richmond Park

... but the young will survive ...

… but the young will survive …

Back in Barnes, we visit the bookshop, finding that it has a new owner. While John is perusing the shelves, I am dazzled by what is parked outside.

A beauty

A beauty…

... a Triumph - in both senses of the word

… a Triumph – in both senses of the word

Down by the Thames, the light is slowly going golden as daylight fades.  There are still boats and rowers by Barnes Bridge.

Boats and rowers on the river at Barnes

Boats and rowers on the river at Barnes

Barnes Bridge - remains of the day ...

Barnes Bridge – remains of the day …

I manage to capture a spectacular sunset as we pass Barnes Pond a little later on the way home …

Sunset by Barnes Pond ...

Sunset by Barnes Pond …

The next day couldn’t have been more of a contrast.  The rain beat down incessantly and everything was a sullen, sodden mouse grey.   With the change in the hour, everything gets dark so early and I was feeling weary as it got to supper time.

No bread – Bof!  I would have to brave the rain but it’s only five minutes walk to Gail’s, our local bakery.  The street lights were on and because of the rain, the dead leaves seemed to sparkle with a last little show of life.

Fallen leaf with raindrops

Fallen leaf with raindrops

Autumn colours

Autumn leaves – ‘yellow and black and pale and hectic red’ (from’Ode to the West Wind’) – Percy Bysshe Shelley

More leaves, more rain ...

More leaves, more rain …

Falling leaves ...

Falling leaves …

Just managed to buy the last loaf.  The rain was falling in tiny, sparkly diamond droplets, backlit by the street lamps.  It was just one of those moments out of time when you feel completely happy in that instant to be alive. I caught it like I caught a falling leaf, which is meant to bring you luck.  The leaf is still in my coat pocket.

'Raindrops keep falling on my head' - Jackson Pollock style ...

‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’ – somewhat in the style of Jackson Pollock …

Read Sonnet LXXIII by William Shakespeare  –  but stay optimistic about ‘life in general’ …

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Day return to Paris

My friend David is a whizz at finding good travel deals.  Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of a £39 return on the Eurostar? Bon, j’ai sauté à l’occasion…

Getting up in the dark and cold is never the best thing but as soon as I was at St. Pancras International I could feel the joy of travelling abroad welling up and coursing through my veins.  Added to that, I was in seat 61, which seemed a very good omen.  (see the book ‘The Man in Seat 61″ – A guide to taking the train through Europe, by Mark Smith).

David bought me a reviving cup of coffee while I looked at my Paris map and studied  ‘Café Life in Paris’  – an illustrated guide book by Christine and Dennis Graf, published by Chastleton Travel – (www.arrisbooks.com). Much recommended if you are a flâneur.

Eurostar - travelling at over 300 km an hour ... the pylon bats her eyelids!

Eurostar – travelling at over 300 km an hour … Mademoiselle Pylône bats her eyelids!

Speeding by trees full of mistletoe - 'gui' in French

Speeding by trees full of mistletoe – ‘gui’ in French

Arrival at Gare du Nord is on time. We make our way by metro to the ‘Place des Vosges’.  It has good memories for me.  We once rented an apartment above a ‘boulangerie’ nearby on the Rue de Turenne. We awoke in the mornings to the delicious smell of warm croissants wafting up the spiral staircase.

The ‘Place des Vosges’ is geometrically beautiful  – there is something of ‘the golden mean’ to it. It is peaceful, yet at the centre of things.

La Place des Vosges - 17 November 2016

‘Place des Vosges’ – 17 November 2016

Lion guarding fountain - Place des Vosges

Lion guarding fountain – ‘Place des Vosges’

We walked towards the fountain, passing by a group of young people twittering happily together, like a flock of companionable birds.  Then we came upon an ancient couple, very much at home in a familiar place,  enjoying their midday constitutional.

Denizens of the Place des Vosges, Paris

Denizens of the ‘Place des Vosges’, Paris

For all that I rail against the misfortunes of old age, this old couple really warmed my heart.

Paris retains a special elegance.

Rue du Pavée, near Place des Vosges

Rue Pavée, near Place des Vosges

Paris - images of elegance partout

Paris – images of elegance

Lunchtime beckoned. We made our way down through the old area of St. Paul towards the Seine and the Ile Saint-Louis, managing not to get squashed by an enormous, growling cement lorry. There is a lot of building work going on everywhere – the same as in London.

At the point of no return ... ?

At the point of no return … ?

A gaggle of schoolchildren, headed by their teacher, were about to cross a busy road.  I noticed they were all hanging onto a communal rope, so none got left behind.

Linked in and crossing the road ...

Linked in for safety …  bonne idée!

We followed them, crossed the bridge and turned right into the ‘Rue en l’Ile Saint-Louis’, which is narrow, straight and absolutely charming.  Here are some examples  –  can you spot the mice?!

Walking across the bridge on our way to Ile St-Louis

Walking across the bridge on our way to Ile Saint-Louis

Paris - Rue St-louis En L'Ile

Paris – Rue Saint-Louis En L’Ile

Ile St-Louis - making our way to lunch ...

Ile St-Louis – making our way towards lunch

Here’s a close-up of the mice, just in case you didn’t spot them!

No, I don't know. Just a mystery ...

No, I don’t know. Just a mystery …?!

Passing by a small art gallery

Passing by a small art gallery

Ile St.Louis - La Cure Gourmande

Ile St-Louis – La Cure Gourmande

Ile Saint-Louis - petite boutique typique

Ile St-Louis – petite boutique typique…

Paris - toujours créatif, toujours original ...

Paris – toujours créatif, toujours original …

Do you remember that short film, ‘The Red Balloon’- ‘Le Ballon Rouge’? It was directed by Albert Lamorisse (1956) and is a classic.  It was filmed in the Ménilmontant neighbourhood of Paris, near  the Cimietière Pére-Lachaise  and is about a small boy who finds a red balloon that has a mind of its own and follows him wherever he goes  –  it is utterly charming.  Look it up in Wikipedia for more details.  This photo reminded me of red balloons!

Ile St-Louis - living here would be an ongoing temptation ...

Ile St-Louis – living here would be an ongoing temptation …

... and nearby is 'La Fromagerie'

… and nearby is ‘La Fromagerie’ …!

We were almost at our destination.  Saint Régis, a restaurant John and I found by chance a couple of years ago, when we were up early, walking along the river, looking for breakfast. I hoped it would stand up to the wonderful memory I had of it  –  it didn’t disappoint!

Lunch at the Saint Régis restaurant, Ile Saint-Louis

Lunch at the Saint Régis restaurant, Ile Saint-Louis

Marmite du poisson at the restaurant St. Régis, Paris

Marmite du poisson at the restaurant St. Régis, Paris

Leaving the Ile Saint-Louis

Leaving the Ile Saint-Louis

decisons, decisions ...

decisons, decisions …

Our decision was to make for Shakespeare & Company – the famously eccentric bookshop – which is right by the Rue de la Huchette on the Left Bank.  It’s good to see that it continues to thrive and has even slightly expanded, adding a café alongside.  If you buy a book here, you get a special stamp in it.

Still surviving - les bouquinistes by the Seine ...

Still surviving – les bouquinistes by the Seine …  on my first visit to Paris at age 17, I bought a rough edition of ‘Les Fables de La Fontaine’ in two volumes, which I still have somewhere …the pages had to be cut open …

I meant to snap this 2CV but this elderly gentleman hove into my photo at speed ...

I meant to snap the 2CV but this elderly gentleman hove into my photo at speed …

At Shakespeare & Company

At Shakespeare & Company

Keeping up appearances outside Shakespeare & Company - now with a café

Keeping up appearances outside Shakespeare & Company – now with a café alongside …

Next, we walked on along the Rue de la Huchette, passing gendarmes with guns at their belts, before plunging into the Latin Quarter, burrowing down through small streets and alley ways.

Making our way to St. Germain-des-Prés ...

Making our way to St. Germain-des-Prés …

My curiosity factor rises at every step, with each street containing a cornucopia of small boutiques, craftworks and galleries, glittering like small jewels. Sadly, there isn’t time to visit them all but that means another visit to Paris is a must.

Culture and arts - the choice is here

Culture and arts – illimitable choices …

What lies behind the blue door?

What lies behind the blue door?

St Germain - antiquités

St. Germain – antiquités

St Germain - sculpture and art

St. Germain – sculpture and art

St. Germain - design

St. Germain – design

We were approaching the celebrated triumverate of cafés on the Boulevard St. Germain.  ‘Les Deux Magots’, Café Flore and Brasserie Lipp.  Home to ‘flâneurs et philosophes’.  Nearby is a wonderful book and stationery shop and we spent some time foraging among the shelves.

At Café Flore

At Café Flore – a ‘flâneur’ is spotted …

Les chats sauvages rôdent le Boulevard St. Germain ...

Les chats sauvages rôdent le Boulevard St. Germain …

So we also prowled along Boulevard St. Germain.  I was searching for an old fashioned café, mentioned in my book. Le Café Rouquet.  No pretend retro here but real retro from the 1950s, with burled walnut formica tables.  It’s only a stone’s throw away from our celebrated three.

The café was fairly empty and we sat around the back by the cobalt blue daisies.  Two hot chocolates came to 11 euros so obviously there’s been a hike in the prices since ‘Café Life Paris’ was written.  But I did get an extraordinary photo which put everything into glorious perspective.  And I must add that the loos were modern and pristine clean 2016.  I’ll go back.

Le Rouquet, 188 blvd St-Germain, November 2016

Le Rouquet, 188 blvd St-Germain, November 2016

Time was running on. I had this plan to get to the Fragonard shop/musée du Parfum in Rue Scribe at Opéra.  Their soaps make lovely, fragrant presents – a joy to give and a joy to receive.  I don’t count David in on this last personal view but he accompanied me with good grace.

Fragonard, rue Scribe, Paris. A favourite.

Fragonard, rue Scribe, Paris. A favourite.

We spotted ‘Café de la Paix’  as we came out of the metro at Opéra.  John and I once had lunch there and the waiter ran after us as we were leaving, waving John’s camera aloft.  It had been left under the table.  I still think of this man with great affection.

Noses pressed to the glass - Café de la Paix, Opéra, Paris

Noses pressed to the glass – Café de la Paix, Opéra, Paris

Mission accomplished.  Rush hour was beginning and the metro was turning manic.  I have to say that although I am sometimes overwhelmed in London by the crowds nowadays, the tube is somewhat cleaner than the metro.  Everywhere here needs a good scrub and all those stairs need sweeping. But on the other hand, it works pretty well as a transport system.

Another favourite of mine is the restaurant, Terminus Nord, right opposite the station.  It’s a wonderful place to have a genuine French ‘repas’ before catching the Eurostar. The waiters in their long aprons –  serving you with that understated but totally professional ‘je ne sais quoi’, catering to your every whim, complimenting you on your choice, making you feel special …  I could go on but here’s what we had to eat! And we were even wished ‘bon voyage’ as we left for the Eurostar. Faultless!

Huitres at Terminus Nord - Paris

‘Huitres’

Escargots at Terminus Nord, Paris

‘Escargots’

A glimose of Terminus Nord, Paris

A glimpse of ‘Terminus Nord’ restaurant, Paris  –  very well worth a visit …

We cross the road to the Gare du Nord –  homeward bound.  A magical day in Paris all wrapped up …

Au revoir, Paris

Au revoir, Paris

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Hallowe’en 2016

Bonfire night on the 5th November follows fast on the heels of Hallowe’en at the end of October and there are always a few bangs and some stray, early rockets to chase the witches away on their broomsticks.

A ghost peers in on Hallowe'en

A ghost peers in on Hallowe’en

I usually buy packets of coloured ‘haribo’ sweets, which I keep in a bowl by the door for passing jack o’ lanterns, ghosts and vampires.   And I continue to make a Hallowe’en mask from a pumpkin, even though our children are now grown up and flown  the nest.  Maybe I am at heart superstitious!  This year, John was away and I ended up spending the evening alone with a rather evil- eyed head glaring at me.  Not the best conversationalist!

My evil eyed companion for Hallowe'en

My evil- eyed companion for Hallowe’en

Hallowe'en moon 2016

Hallowe’en moon 2016

A vampire abroad on a wild night

A vampire abroad on a wild night

He did not visit –  so I ate the sweets myself.  So tasty!

 

 

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