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 …

Bedtime!

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.

Breakout!

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.

Cargo

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.

Contemplation

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 …

Topiary

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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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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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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