The Beast from the East …

‘The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold … And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold’ … from the poem ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’ by Lord Byron.  Best spoken aloud while galloping on a fiery steed …  otherwise, worth a galloping read…

The Beast from the East was not quite as destructive and colourful as ‘the cohorts gleaming in purple and gold’ but the big freeze came to Barnes and ice blocked our boiler pipe on the two coldest nights of the year.  We hugged hot water bottles and survived the icy blast, welcoming the plumber, who came bearing a hair drier!

We’ve had snow in the past six years but not such a biting wind, which lowered the temperature to the point that the spring flowers wilted with  shock.

The snow didn’t last long.  But the wind pinched our ears and the brown bear coat I bought in the ‘Anthropologie’ sale came into its own. Exceptionally cosy!

I am always drawn to colours but the ‘grimmity’ of this weather comes over best in monochrome  –  this is how it was as I trudged along.

A dainty footprint

Everyday life – highlighted – fairly chaotic?!

Crossing the road …

Garden wall

Posh tyres remind me of a snake’s skeleton …

Squashed foot

Big yeti

And after a while, the sun returned …

Barnes Pond – March 2018

The Beast was repelled for the moment but continued to lurk in the shadows.


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Wimereux – a stormy adventure with silver linings

My brother-in-law had been going to the north coast of France for many years.  In his youth, he and a friend braved the Channel in a dinghy, and (with a stroke of luck, having got lost mid way) – they  finally made it to Boulogne.  Mickey is also a rail enthusiast and it was because of this he found himself after one of his trips a few miles up the coast, leaving the train at Wimereux.  And so began a love affair with this small country town by the sea.

When my sister married him, she also became enamoured of this Hulot -esque, unspoiled spot with its fabulous ‘digue’ (promenade) and picturesque architecture.

Mickey was in poor health now in his ninetieth year  and needed to be in a wheelchair much of the time but he longed to go back once more to Wimereux.  It was slightly risky but we got a letter from the doctor to say he was fit to travel and off we went.

We’ve made it to the Channel Tunnel … racing towards France

Horse power and mega horse power 2017 … we board the train … Mickey sleeps on …

The tunnel is an astonishing feat of engineering and we are soon on the other side,  en route to Wimereux …

The open road …

We take the coast road rather than the autoroute.  Traffic free – with fabulous views … my stress levels falling by the minute …

Coastal route – a joy to drive

‘Hotel du Centre’ – safe arrival

The resident guardian

We have two rooms opposite one another.  Mickey and Christine have an additional small sitting room with comfortable sofa and TV.  Their window overlooks the garden.  I love my spacious room with giant size bed.  The bathroom is tiny but ‘perfectly formed’!  A welcome hot shower sets me up for the afternoon and evening ahead. With even a chink of uninterrupted peace to read a couple of chapters of my book. Bliss!

The sea awaits, five minutes walk from the hotel.

Wimereux sea air

Seagulls at Wimereux

It’s very windy but we catch the sun and enjoy a drink at the local café, while watching the waves rolling in …  wonderfully exhilarating… and with supper to look forward to …

The hotel owner’s sister has a welcoming restaurant looking out over the sea.  She is so hospitable, rushing out to help us with the wheelchair. Mickey’s eyes light up at the thought of his favourite ‘moules’.

The restaurant by the sea

… and a favourite bowl of ‘moules marinières’ …

By the time we had finished our supper, the wind was howling like a banshee around the building and we struggled with a bumpy ride home.

The night did not go well.  Christine woke up in the small hours in a pool of blood.  Mickey had somehow cut himself.  He is on warfarin, which thins the blood.  Disaster was narrowly averted.

Breakfast is served in a conservatory, which extends into the garden.  Christine and I learned how to eat kiwi fruit without getting the juice all over our fingers.  We copied the stolid Belgian couple on the next table.  Why did we never think of this?  A mysterious face looked down on the diners, high above the coffee machine.

Enigma in the breakfast room …

Mickey had made it to breakfast but we then tucked him up on his sofa and brought him ‘Le Monde’  and ‘Figaro’ newspapers.  The hotel will bring him coffee.

A blustery and fierce wind greeted us as we made our way once again to the sea. What a shocking but thrilling site awaited.  The ‘digue’ was awash with waves, the force of them sending spray high into the air.  There was no point in looking for a coffee in one of the cafés on the sea front  –  they were completely cut off  –  and closed down against the storm.  And yet the sun was bright and we felt lucky to be here. Carpe diem!

Wimereux – waves rolling in a bit too far – I’m feeling quite high on the ozone front!

The drama unfolds …

Surfing …  along the ‘digue’ – Wimereux

After the storm …

A trip to Boulogne market (twenty minutes away) seemed like a good idea before lunch.

Boulogne – old …

Boulogne – new

I bought a bunch of the sweetest, tastiest, small black grapes – probably from Greece.  Also a small, flat, soft leather purse for 2 euros – perfect for keeping coins re parking.

Lunch at the local bakery – with a model fishing boat.

With Mickey back at the hotel for his afternoon nap, we explored the town.  Some of the old houses are quite unusual.

The coloured house by the shore – Wimereux

Houses on the beach – Wimereux

Pavillon des Dunes – good for a film set?

Le Rayon Vert

This house overlooks the sea.  It must be called ‘Le Rayon Vert’ after the film by Eric Rohmer of the same name.  Sometimes, at sunset, as the sun slips below the horizon, there is a green flash as it splashes into the sea.  I have never seen this (except in the film) but hope to one day.

Wimereux – bathing huts

A typical street view near the sea …

Religious automobiles?!  Mixed media?!  Puzzling! Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Christopher officiate over Express Automobiles …

Back to the sea front.  The sea was still rough and we found the local youth risking life and limb …

The local youth flex their muscles …

A new day …

We had one afternoon left.  Mickey was already asleep after his favourite ‘Croque Monsieur’ at lunchtime, so we decided to drive along the coast two miles to a fort at Ambleteuse.  This was built by Vauban on the orders of King Louis XIV.  Access is at low tide only. The fort is open in the summer months, so we only got a view of its dramatic location in the sea.

The fort at Ambleteuse, built by Vauban – low tide

I was keen to get back in time to watch the sunset at Wimereux.  The sky was clearing after the storm and maybe I’d get to see ‘le rayon vert’!

The storm is over but there’s a chill in the air.  The hotel has a good restaurant, so we can eat ‘at home’.  I realise how frail Mickey is now but he still enjoys a good French dinner. And he’s a trouper, keeping going against all the odds.

I put on a warm scarf and make my way down to the ‘digue’ to watch the sunset.  The colours are spectacular.

Golden sunset …

Wimereux windsurfer

Hand in hand …

No ‘rayon vert’  tonight though.

The sun slipped beyond the horizon leaving a glow, like embers in a dying fire. Couples were walking hand in hand along the shore, people strolling with their dogs.  What would it be like if you lived here and often had this experience? Everybody looked content, nodding ‘bonsoir’ as they passed by.  I sat on the wall,  just happy to be part of the scene and for once feeling calm and peaceful, away from all responsibilities.  And the sea, which had been so rough and wild, was calm too in the chill of the coming night.

Evening light

The end of the day …

Windsurfers persevered as darkness flooded in.  A dog walked along the shoreline.

Looking out to sea …

Twilight –  or in French, ‘crépuscule’ …

The dusky, pastel colours here remind me of Monet. I recommend a fabulous book by Ross King called ‘Mad Enchantment’ which is about Monet and the painting of the water lilies.  Ross King is an excellent writer.

We go home tomorrow.  For such a short sojourn I feel amazingly restored and fulfilled.  A change of scene in beautiful surroundings lifts my spirits, changes my attitude to life in general.  I hope Mickey feels this too.  We did wrap him up well against the elements as we sped him along the promenade in the wind and the sun. He had the right idea in wanting to come here one last time. Now we just have to get him home in one piece!

It’s market day and once we’ve packed up the car we just have time to see what’s on offer.  I buy dried fruits from Morocco, honey from Provence and special biscuits from Wimereux.

Wimereux fruit and veg …

Wimereux biscuits

The coast road 1

The coast road 2

We make good time to Calais.  Mickey is deeply asleep, ensconced amongst his cushions and chunky Kit-Kats in the back of the car.  At passport control the officer insists on waking him up to make sure he and his passport agree.  At least precautions are being taken against terrorists.  Mickey passes the test!

Passport control

The train is delayed so we manage to settle Mickey down in the lounge with a sandwich, which attracts a perfect little French sparrow, as crumbs scatter on the floor.

Le petit moineau – the little sparrow …

Finally, we’re on our way.  My sister is as practical as I am the opposite. She’s truly impressive with logistics.  Au revoir, France.  We hope to return very soon.  I am a European at heart!


PS  The book I was reading was “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories’ by Penelope Lively.  Now in her 80s, she still has a keen and observant eye and a black sense of humour.  Genteel ladies are not always what they seem – she uncovers the deeper traits of human beings through the minutiae of daily life.  Wise and funny.

PPS  Michael Green (journalist, actor and humorist) died on 25 February 2018.  There was a full page obituary in ‘The Times’, another in ‘The Telegraph’ plus ‘The Leicester Mercury’ (where he started his career).  He was 91.

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Amsterdam in a nutshell …

John was invited to give a presentation at a conference in Amsterdam.  I thought we could go the weekend before and explore a city I hadn’t been to for maybe fifteen years but had good memories of.  I don’t really like trying to mix business and leisure.  But –  I could see a peep of light twinkling on the horizon – a chance to cross the channel.  My heart sang at the idea of  soon being in a different city, a different language, a different culture.  I am a European – I also feel international, being curious and outgoing to the world in general.

Heathrow – on the way to our gate – quite a long walk!

Up, up and away – as a member of The Cloud Appreciation Society I was lucky to have a window seat!

It is easy and fast to take the train from Schiphol airport to Central Station.  Our hotel was nearby and to my delight our room had a view over the Amstel river.

Amsterdam – view from hotel room

View from hotel room – looking down!

It was mid afternoon  –  enough time to do a bit of exploring before meeting a friend for supper, who is studying at the university here.  I made a start with a traditional scene.

Amsterdam – canal + boats and bikes …

Amsterdam – canal, boats and bikes too …

An example of a still existing ‘pissoir’

I first saw these on my very first visit abroad  –   to Paris, aged sixteen  –   and found them quite curious.  They are mixed up in my mind with the other completely foreign experience  of the time –  that of the heavy smell of garlic in the metro –  which hung thick and glutinous in the stale air and seemed to sink forever into my skin.  We never cooked with garlic at home then  –  but I did afterwards.

There’s another smell that pervades the streets in Amsterdam and many shops selling the seeds and other products  –  all I bought was a pair of socks!  Honest!

Outside the museum …

Unisex sox!

Another relic of times past … the ‘deux chevaux’ isn’t made any more …

It was time to meet up with Faye and we were soon sitting by the Prinsengracht canal, enjoying a ‘wheat’ beer together.  I very rarely drink beer but this ‘wheat’ beer is round and toasty – and relaxing.

Faye suggested a vegetarian restaurant nearby called ‘De  Bolhoed’, Prinsengracht 60-62.  It’s sort of old fashioned with well used wooden tables and chairs and primitive colours and posters on the walls.  Perhaps not the kind of place I would have noticed walking by but the food was plentiful and delicious.  We talked about history and castles and what studying in another country was like.  The majority of young people in Britain feel very European and want to be able to travel and work freely in the EU. It is a pity many of them didn’t get to vote in the referendum.  After all, they are our future.

We walked back to the hotel in the dark – about twenty minutes – and went through Dam Square and a beautifully lit, covered galleria –  illustrating Holland’s strong links with the sea.

Dam Square – Town Hall

Amsterdam – an extraordinary ceiling

‘Fish’ galleria during the day – I had to go back!

Obsessed with fish heads …

This one offers a drink of water should you dare to put a hand in its mouth …

Rabbits of the night …


Next day the sun flowed through the muslin curtains and we were soon up and having breakfast.  There was porridge, scrambled eggs, meaty and cheesy treats.  I chose plain yoghourt with exotic fruits and walnuts, followed by steaming coffee and croissants.  The dining room was shaped like a boat’s prow.  A mix of buzzing humanity therein – Americans, Germans, men looking like mariners with stripey T-shirts and loafers,  tattooed arms, dogs lying under the table looking hopeful but behaving well, and not least, incredibly polite, efficient and hospitable waiters.  I was ready for the day ahead.

Walking along the Amstel towards NEMO

NEMO bathed in early morning sunshine …

Just ten minutes walk and we arrived at NEMO, the Science Museum (a fabulous creation by Renzo Piano), which first and foremost offers children hands-on experiments. This is what I found in the shop.


I’m just aware of how maritime this country is, with water everywhere. And so many boats of every shape and size, new and old.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that the Scheepvaartmuseum, close by, houses the largest collection of boats in the world, including the replica of an 18th century Dutch East Indian ship, which is out on the river and can be explored.  The museum has been renovated over four years and is very beautiful and impressive.  This was our next stop.

The ‘Amsterdam’. Replica of a Dutch – East India company 18c ship – Scheepvaartsmuseum

The ‘Amsterdam’ close-up

The captain’s quarters along with those of the doctor and dining room for the officers are below the flag.

The ‘Amsterdam’ – figurehead

View of NEMO from the ship …

As I was taking this photo, a guide came up, showing a group of people the primitive ‘loo’  –  i.e.  the sailors sat on the side of the ship, holding on to the ropes and just hoped for the best!  Here’s a photo of the captain’s bathroom  –  at least he wouldn’t be lost overboard.

The captain’s less risky private loo …

The shorter you were the better  –  even I bumped my head a couple of times as I explored the mens’ quarters and the kitchen.  The ship is beautifully constructed but seasickness would have definitely laid me low.

Then there was the royal barge, which was housed in its own private building.  Its final voyage was in 1962 for the Silver Wedding anniversary of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard.  It reminded me of the ‘Gloriana’, our own royal barge, used for Queen Elizabeth’s Thames Diamond Jubilee pageant in 2011.

The Royal Barge – Amsterdam

We were blown away by the inside of the museum, especially by the room housing all the navigational instruments.  Everything there was bathed in ultra blue light and quite magical.

Uplifting entrance to museum

Golden steps …leading to

an elegant liner …

There is something deeply fascinating about ships plying the oceans on voyages of discovery.  Coming upon different lands, making maps, bringing home exotic cargo.  I love the poem by John Masefield called ‘Cargoes’, first read in English literature class at school.  My other favourite poem by him is ‘Sea Fever’.  I recommend you to read them both.


We almost missed the navigational instruments room as they were temporarily housed in the East Wing but luckily because my feet hurt I made my way to a welcoming bench and by chance saw the sign to the galleries.

Amsterdam – navigational instruments

A wall of stars to steer by …

Next door was a room full of ships’ figureheads, some of which I would have preferred not to meet in person  –  but a splendid collection to behold.

Scheepvoortsmuseum – figureheads

Beauty pageant extraordinaire … ?!

An angel rides the wings of the storm …

You can see I was entranced by this place – I hadn’t thought I would be so interested but I didn’t yawn once … We finished up with the maritime paintings.  Many showed fantastic sea battles but these two appealed to me in a different way.

This reminded me of the ‘Titanic’.

The hopes and dreams of so many sailing to the New World. I feel  joyful, like the woman in the hat waving, wishing them well.  The size of the ship is overwhelming.  The knowledge of what tragedy awaits in those icy waters after such a send-off brings tears to my eyes. I saw the ‘Titanic’ exhibition in Melbourne some years ago.  We were each given a ticket with a name on it of one of the actual passengers.  John was the conductor of the orchestra – they all went down with the ship.  I was a maid in steerage class.  I lost my husband but made it to New York. This was an original way of involving visitors personally in the exhibition.

The yellow coat

This painting has a mysterious quality.  A solitary person in a yellow coat on the shoreline gazes at a ghostly white liner.  I like the colours – the atmosphere is expectant, caught in a silent moment in time – the story behind it is unknowable.

As is this figure who came into the museum as we were leaving –  Agatha Christie came to mind.  I like her jaunty outfit a lot.

In the pink. An original character …

‘Do they not eat lunch’? I hear you think.   We were famished, almost too weary to start walking again. But needs must and we found ourselves in a street which shuts cars out at weekends.  Restaurants a-plenty, with tables on the pavement. We plumped for an Italian.  How delicious food is when you are really hungry.  A light Peroni beer went down well as people passed us on bicycles with bunches of flowers, children and dogs.  One of those unexpected happy moments when everything hits just the right spot!

Much revived, we took to roaming the streets in a directionless way. I think this is a good way of getting to know the city in depth, should you have time  –  and fun to come upon things you might not have taken in otherwise.  My camera was very busy!

Bicycles in blossom

Amsterdam – wheels within wheels …

A lesson in crochet!

Ah well – it takes all sorts …

I think they were actually advertising sweets and popcorn.  The marshmallows  in a cone on the right are labelled as ‘sugar free’  –  I can’t imagine what they are made of then!

Which way now?

Flowers and fruit

Dutch houses are adorned with flowers …

As I was musing about this, we happened to pass the Tulip museum. I have never been to the Keukenhof where all the fields of tulips are grown for export but there were bulbs for sale in the museum.  It is small and somewhat touristy but gives you an idea of the astonishing variety of tulips on offer.

At the Tulip Museum – bulbs for sale

Tulip bulbs were imported from the Ottoman Empire and first sent by the Sultan of Turkey to Vienna in 1554.  They made their way to Amsterdam and Antwerp and the Dutch became obsessed with them.  There’s a book by Deborah Moggach called ‘Tulip Fever’, which is a story about how the tulip ‘bubble’ grew and grew – fortunes were made and then lost when the ‘bubble’ finally burst. It’s a good read – fiction based on fact.  Tulips recovered in time and are still a valuable export product along with big round, yellow cheeses, for example, Gouda, Edam and Maasdam.

Take your pick …

Besides windmills, another icon of Dutch culture are clogs and there is also a Clog Museum.

The Dutch clog

Clogs were worn from medieval times and were made of wood, usually willow or poplar.  They are still used by farmers and gardeners although now they are often made in every shape and size as souvenirs for tourists.

Outside a small art and photography gallery …

‘Art’ and architecture …

We were loosley homeward bound to the hotel.  My feet were complaining bitterly but I began recognising street names and it wasn’t long before we were passing Central Station.  I was looking forward to a hot shower and a little doze before evening set in.

Just picturesque!

Outside Central Station

Everyone, it seems, rides bicycles  –  old and young, children, dogs and shopping are transported with ease. But you must pay attention –  bikes are both a joy and a menace, coming from every whichway, often very fast.  There are lanes for bicycles alongside the road – so don’t breathe easy when you’ve escaped the traffic – you still have the bikes to contend with!  It’s a great way to get around though …

We noticed earlier that there was a roof terrace on top of NEMO with a small bar.  It was only ten minutes away – so – making the most of our long weekend, off we set once again, this time to watch the sunset.

Wide steps lead up a shallow incline to the top of NEMO.  It’s like walking up the hypotenuse of a not quite right angled triangle. But the small bar at the top was certainly alright and we sat outside with our glasses, commanding a bird’s eye view of the city.  A perfect end  to the day.

Sunset in Amsterdam

NEMO at night/

Who are you?

This reminds me of the film E.T., directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Melissa Mathison, which came out in 1982. He’s a great film maker and this is one to remember.  However, I’m not quite sure why this ‘alien’ looking creature has landed here…

We meandered back over the bridges and some of my photos came out as ‘impressionist’ images.


Are we lost – or just looking romantic in the twilight?

We were certainly not lost but we were hungry.  Passing an Albert Hein grocery store which was open late, I suggested we bought something to eat and took it back to the hotel room.  Quite a sumptuous repast was had –  all told!

I did notice a mysteriously large number of full size. empty vodka bottles outside bedroom doors on the way to our room.  However, the inhabitants were as quiet as mice  –  not a squeak to be heard.

Goede Nacht, Amsterdam

Sunday.  The weather is holding. We decide to visit the ‘Hermitage’ museum, which has links with the one in St. Petersburg in Russia.

Morning view from the bridge …this is just how I feel!

There are several exhibitions on and we started with ‘The Romanovs’.  This period in Russian history is fascinating but the tragedies that are scattered through it are devastating. Haemophilia was one of the maladies that struck down the Tsar’s family.  And what happened to them all in the end is horrific.  Simon Sebag Montefiore has written a book called ‘The Romanovs’, which has had umpteen brilliant reviews. Much recommended to those who like history.

Monster at the ‘Hermitage’ museum

We moved on to ‘Paintings of the Golden Age’ and finally an exhibition of art by mentally troubled people. A wide variety to take in.

Popping into the shop on the way out, already thinking of lunch, the sun’s rays were lighting up the most beautiful, sparkling crystal ball in a glass case.  Reflections and refractions showed a floor to ceiling window with people walking upside down and I was mesmerized.  I expected it would cost a great deal  –  at least 200 euros – but when I looked closer it was less than 100.  I showed it to John and it left the museum with us!  It was very heavy.

Near the museum

This drawbridge over the canal reminded me of the wooden one Vincent van Gogh painted in Arles.  This is a modern version in concrete but still attractive.  See a watercolour van Gogh made of the Langlois bridge at Arles in 1888.

And here’s a van Gogh bicycle to go with!

Faye had recommended that we visit the ‘Hortus Botanicus’.  It is small compared with Kew Gardens but very beautiful and tranquil. There is a greenhouse full of exotic butterflies, flitting amongst the plants they love.  None of my photos came out because it was so hot in there that the lens of my camera steamed up.  I just found I had taken pictures of mist! The butterflies flew on, oblivious.

The Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam

At the Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam

This place is a delightful refuge, especially as we now found a table on the terrace to have lunch.  Maybe it would be our last lunch outdoors this year as Autumn was drawing in.  Today, summer still reigned supreme and  I luxuriated in the underlying warmth.

A fabulous ‘botanical’ lunch has been had …

The ‘botanical’ cat looks for leftovers –  in vain …

John would be working from now on so I would be exploring alone. Being somewhat of a flâneur (euse), I set off in good heart.

An original, if uncomfortable, bench …

Music men

Magic mushrooms

Intriguing – but maybe defunct?

Another way of being…

… and yet another

Pause for thought …

Sign of the times …?

In the evening I was invited to the conference dinner in a restaurant which looked out over the water.  It was a little difficult to find.  Then I could see it but needed to swim across the river to get there!  I finally found a way up some stairs, crossed the railway, went through a barrier that said ‘no admittance’ and arrived in plenty of time.

The restaurant is the glass building on the far left. So near and yet so far!

I appreciated meeting with some of John’s colleagues in the Netherlands, who were very welcoming.  We had some great conversations.  They are fluent in English of course!

Last day. John went to Eindhoven with a colleague on the train and I found a tram to the Rijksmuseum.  No 2 or No 5 from Central Station. The Van Gogh museum is nearby. If you like art, it’s a great way to spend a day.  I very much enjoyed standing in front of ‘The Nightwatch’ (Rembrandt van Rijn, (1642), along with many others.  It’s a powerful and atmospheric painting. Some paintings bring tears to my eyes because I am in some way completely overwhelmed.

Jonathan Jones in ‘The Guardian’ wrote about ‘The Nightwatch’ on the 6 May 2013, as the Rijksmuseum re-opened after a ten year renovation. ‘It is an icon of tolerance, diversity and the magic, golden light that makes society work’.  This article is well worth reading in toto before you visit the museum.

Afterwards, I sat in the garden for a while.  The man in the panama was sitting on his own too. A denizen of the Rijksmuseum perhaps, a tourist, maybe even a John le Carré ‘Smiley’ character …

At the Rijksmuseum

It was time to retrace my steps to the hotel.  I slipped into Albert Hein for a few more little treats, which I ate sitting by the river, watching the boats plying up and down.

Note the paddleboarder midway  …

The Dutch have succeeded in making a satisfying marriage between the old and the new.  Our location was a great place to see this working.

I had to pack and left our cases in the lobby.  When I returned to collect them, the young man in charge found me a seat, and brought me a drink and a biscuit while I waited for John to return. He was so thoughtful. As we left I waved goodbye but really I wanted to give him a big hug. This had been a great stay.

Back at the airport there were huge queues to get through – almost a kilometre long.  We shuffled and huffled and some people complained loudly. Everyone looked bored and/or cross.

The crystal ball was seen to be suspect and had to be unpacked and inspected minutely.  I hoped they wouldn’t drop it.  They asked us why we needed a crystal ball.  I said ‘Did they not think it was a thing of beauty, and a joy for ever? ‘ ( from the poem ‘Endymion’ by John Keats (1795-1821)). Not the right answer to give here.  Just as well I wasn’t wearing a bandana and gold bangles! It passed the test.

Long weekend = short blog.  You would think!  I had not been abroad for a long time.  I love seeing how different cities work and being part of them for a while.  I love exploring other cultures. Europe is my home.  And so perhaps that’s why it became such a long blog! Anyway, if you’re still here, thanks for reading …




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Dorset – highways and byways

After our Sussex weekend, which turned out better than expected, we (I) decided on a long weekend to John’s favourite county  –  Dorset.  Holidays proper never seem to materialise because work is always more important, so I pounced on what had been designated ‘holiday’ in the diary, now rather brutally raided by ‘important’ meetings,  and  managed to retrieve some tattered remains. Like a dog welcoming a newspaper through the letter box …

A manor house, down a long private drive –  breakfast included –  drew my attention on the internet.  Upmarket rural bliss? I had some very welcoming emails from its owner.  Anticipation lifted my spirits as our old but ever stylish car was pressed into more than the supermarket run.   I think it knew it was bound for the open road – it seemed to flutter with excitement …  gaining speed all the while.

Dorset is a little bit off the beaten track. The railway sputters out. You really need a car to explore its secret, narrow byways.  If I had been born here I feel I would return in later life when I had need of peace and quiet and beauty.  It has many iron age hill forts and bosky valleys, exhaling a long history, which was violent at times but is now full of wildflowers and meadow butterflies.

However, the M3 was blocked and we had to make a massive diversion, which was very badly signposted and ended up with grumpiness all round.  We don’t possess  a satnav yet and anyway I feel whoever is in charge of ‘Diversions’ should not  merrily run you off the motorway and then leave you dangling between roundabouts which seem to only offer ‘industrial estates’ exits.  You were no help, Highwaymen.  Room for improvement …

But in time the narrow, country byways appeared.  There were signposts but guesswork was needed –  especially at small junctions, usually with unsigned forks ahead.  I remembered about the private drive and saw a sign to one.  “Go down there’, I screeched.  The track became ever more unused,  with abandoned rusty cars and tractors poking their noses out of the undergrowth. Greenhouses appeared, their windows shattered.  Nothing inside them. John’s face fell.  A square house appeared almost suffocated by ivy stretching up to the chimney pots.

We stopped.  I fought my way to the front door and knocked.  A bucolic figure appeared.  We viewed one another suspiciously.  He wasn’t Michael Woodhouse (phew!) but he most kindly set us on the right road and finally we were bowling up a long driveway under an avenue  of tall, elegant trees, which led to a graceful manor house, with its own ancient chapel attached.

Our room, in the attic eyrie, overlooked the gardens and had an added small sitting room. We had just about time for a short walk in the setting sun, before repairing to ‘The Fox’ for fish and chips – a pub less than ten minutes away.

Settling in after a long drive …

I love damask but it has to be ‘white on white’. Wonderful bedspread!

Our evening stroll.

Dorset magic

John did the walk – I took the photo!

Dorset – up on the ridge

Barns in sunlight …

A welcoming seat …


Happy to be here …

Some friends of ours have a house in Dorset and we had planned to meet them next day for a feast of iron age hill forts. But first of all, we were shown a wood full of ramsons – wild garlic. One of John’s  and mine favourite plants.

A wood carpeted in wild garlic – ramsons is the name …

A fork in the road … ?!

We went on to a little known iron age hill fort and this picture is taken from the top of it.

A test of perseverance … the tractor plies its course…  it reminds me of that book, ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’ by John Stewart Collis.

Next stop, Fiddleford water mill …

Eye to eye at Fiddleford Mill, Dorset

A summer’s day – Fiddleford Mill

Fireplace at Fiddleford Mill

Roofscape – Fiddleford Mill

Looking out through old glass – Fiddleford Mill

Mill machinery …

Daisies in Dorset – why do mine not grow with such gay abandon?!

It was time to move on and we tracked down giant sandwiches in a small café in Sturminster Newton.  The red lion in the picture is the selfsame as those outside ‘The Red Lion’ pub at home.  How did it get here, I wondered …  I then read that there are at least 600 pubs throughout the country called ‘The Red Lion’, so they obviously needed quite a lot of lions to fit the bill.

A red lion is said to be connected to John of Gaunt’s heraldry …

Nearby, Hambledon Hill (Iron Age hill fort) is special to John and with our energy replenished, we climbed to the top.  It was steamingly hot but the top is flat and the reward was a welcome breeze.  I would probably be more fit if I managed that at least twice a week.  The location is fabulous and it’s really not a hard climb. But heat always drains my stamina and resolve.  I don’t have a thermostat like most people seem to.  Very tiresome. But I did make it with a bit of push and pull from John and Stewart.

Dinner was at an old house turned into a restaurant at Chettle.  John lost his mobile phone but that’s another story of mystery and miracles in the long grass.  Next day, after a fabulous breakfast at the manor, shared with an American couple, who were fishing the chalk trout streams nearby, we decided to explore the Arne Nature Reserve and Corfe castle.

Arne Nature Reserve, Dorset

Ivy is parasitic – it sort of reminds me here of varicose veins … poor trees …

Arne Nature Reserve – appealing yellows …

Chris Packham and his team shot some of the ‘Springwatch’ television programme here.  We are great fans and think they do a wonderful job getting people interested in the countryside and wildlife.

We spent a long time at Arne and exhaustion was setting in so I wasn’t so keen on going on to Corfe castle  –  but we did.  It is spectacular! Not to be missed on any account if you’re down that way. John will never give up if there’s a castle en route. He didn’t have his camera today (lost phone), but he did manage to take the best photo of the castle with mine!  Here it is.

Corfe castle (photo by John)

Corfe castle

Entrance to Corfe castle

View from Corfe castle

Another view from the ramparts

We walked down back into the town.  A tearoom beckoned.  I was so hungry as we hadn’t had time for lunch and could hardly wait for our cream tea to arrive.  Anyway, that’s the excuse for a rather poor photo but I’ve put it in because the tea and scones were  so utterly, lusciously scrumptious.  The manager had made the jam himself –  I wanted to buy a jar but he only had enough for the tea room.  If you ever happen to read this, please make enough for visitors to take home a jar!!

Best cream tea I’ve ever had …

This was our last full day in Dorset.  We slept well and were ready next morning to meander home. We decided to go via Salisbury, which turned out to be a good idea.

Memories of Higher Melcombe Manor …  at twilight

Early morning mist rolling in from the coast

The Dorset seashore and cliffs are full of fossils

The bosky woods of Dorset …

Thank you, Michael, for a wonderful stay.  I don’t like saying goodbye but we were soon out on the open road,  destination Salisbury.

Bowling along country roads … such a joy after city jams

Welcome to Wiltshire!

Driving into Salisbury my attention was drawn by a robot, asleep at the wheel of his car.  The mind boggles a bit …?

Robot driver? Definitely in the pipeline …

Salisbury, with its famous cathedral, is very picturesque.

On edge in Salisbury …

Good choice for luncheon …

Making our way to the cathedral …

The cathedral, even for non believers, is just ‘out of this world’. Don’t miss it.

Salisbury cathedral with Lynn Chadwick sculpture … and somebody else …

Lynn Chadwick sculpture front view …

Requiescat in Pace – inside Salisbury cathedral

A haunting…

A beautifully designed water fountain lies at the heart of the cathedral.

Salisbury – serenade in blue

There are many strange faces here –  I don’t really know what they mean but I am drawn to them.

Strange creatures …

Shades of Chagall?

In England’s green and pleasant land ( William Blake, poet) (1757-1827)

A very splendid tomb …

A bold heraldry banner

As we left I noticed this hoarse little gremlin clinging onto the wall

Old Sarum (a rotten borough) lies a mile out of Salisbury.  It was worth wrestling the ring road system to get there.

Salisbury with the cathedral spire in the distance, seen from Old Sarum

We took off our shoes and socks, walked over the soft grass and sat amongst the daisies in the warm afternoon sunshine.  Bliss! See John’s blog for more on the history of Old Sarum.

And then we went home …


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Canary Wharf

I hadn’t been to Canary Wharf before.  Coming out of the Underground, it seemed as if I’d been transported to a city of the future.  Glass skyscrapers, men like clones in dark city suits and white shirts walking in almost empty, silent and pristine streets. Reminiscent of surrealists Giorgio de Chirico mixed up with Magritte. I felt noticeably out of place – rather untidy, my scarf flapping noisily in the wind… I crossed a small square of tidy, cloned trees – tamed greenery.

Canary Wharf – reflection 1

Canary Wharf – home to technology

Canary Wharf – reflection 2

A cup of coffee awaits at Jamie’s Italian … how did he pop up here?!

The sun was out as I made my way to Jamie’s Italian.  It wasn’t yet open.  I knocked on the glass door and a young man with large ear rings came.  He let me in and brought me a cup of coffee.  A kind gesture among the overwhelming skyscrapers.  Bladerunner 2 is still in the future – I hope we can avoid it!

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A window on windows …

Eric Ravilious – windows – one train ticket only needed for a great view …  but also there’s the question of shopping …

I have to admit I do like window shopping  –  along with millions of others. I’m more interested in how things are displayed in shop windows rather than just rushing in to be a consumer of what’s on offer.  These, sometimes brilliant, displays of a transitory nature are often overlooked from an artistic point of view. They soon disappear because ‘the new’ fuels ‘want to have’.  I set out to capture a few displays on my travels to give them a slightly longer life.

Ribbons, bows and red petals near Marylebone

I used to work between Green Park and Piccadilly for some years and I still feel this is my stamping ground and wonder how often since then I have stepped in my tracks of long ago.  Bond Street always has an array of eye catching shop windows.  The french word for window shopping is lèche-vitrines and an amusing picture of people doing this in Bond Street comes to mind – I did a lot of this in the past.

Bond Street – we are all related to dinosaurs one way or another … ?! But what’s in its (her) glamorous handbag?

Travelling light just off Bond Street- trains and boats and planes …

Watches for sale 1

Watches for sale  – and a man in pink …  maybe for sale too but he doesn’t look quite as expensive?!

Bond Street California style …

What’s the story? So many symbols – what lies behind the umbrella –  who would wear gold emblazoned black velvet slippers? And what clever person invented scissors?

Another affluent relation close by Aspreys of Bond Street

Tiffany of Bond Street

Ortigia – I have decamped to Sicily via Sloane Square –  colourscape and fragrances of the Mediterranean on offer …

Trapped inside a window looking out … and back in Britain – as noted

The display that jumped out of the window – a favourite place on Monmouth Street, Covent Garden … nearby is Stanfords travel bookshop – always a delight ..

Spirals in Farringdon … intriguing offices

‘Here’s looking at you kid’ – in edgy Toronto. Window dressing on the wall.

That says it all …

Mustn’t forget Knightsbridge cool …

Michelin man at Moncler with snow and flying saucers. How weird is that?

Les fromages de France – Ile St-Louis, Paris – just out of reach!

Rocket science at Fortnum & Mason

And I have to add something not altogether in a shop window – but both beautifully presented and transitory nevertheless.

Octopus at ‘Madisons’ by St. Paul’s cathedral …

It was simply delicious!  (I know it’s not the thing to take pictures of your lunch but it reminds me to go back and have it again).

This is all about the transience of advertising, which can be visually brilliant but must continually reinvent itself.

And the best come last  –  these windows by Fortnum and Mason just blew me away.  Their many varieties of tea are for sale on the ground floor.  A cup of tea, whatever its provenance, is always a great comfort to most of us, wherever we drink it.

Tea time on Piccadilly … at Fortnum & Mason

Every cup tells a story … framed against a London taxi and The Royal Academy..

Even elephants on Piccadilly love tea …

An exotic cuppa for a London cabbie …

Bowing out in a blaze of glory – teatime is special at Fortnum & Mason!

I could keep going but advertising has its time and its place  –  and it’s time for me to move on …




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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 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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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 …


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!


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.


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