Lost and Found

Piccadilly.  Pouring with rain, I struggled to get my umbrella out of an already soaking shopping bag.  I trudged on to Liberty’s via Golden Square.  Breathing a sigh of relief as I arrived but looking like a drowned rat, I began to drip my way upstairs.

When I went to put my umbrella back into my sodden bag, said bag was missing.  There hadn’t been much in it but it weighed very little and was useful.  Oh dear …  oh well … I expected somebody would pick it up and put it in a bin or take it home and find it useful too.

Then I forgot about it as I had something similar at home.  About a week later, when John was away, I decided to go to the Nordic bakery in Golden Square and buy a favourite egg and herring sandwich in a round bun for my supper.  Joy – there were one or two left.  I came out of the café and lo and behold – on the railings opposite, surrounding the grassy square – was my bag – waiting patiently.  I crossed the road, picked it up and found something inside.  A brochure telling me about all the shops to visit in the neighbourhood.

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

So some kind person had rescued it from the gutter, put in the brochure and hung it on the railings.  It was such a nice surprise to see it again and have good feelings about who had put it there.  Just reporting an act of random kindness … heartwarming … thank you.

PS  In Britain, we have ‘Lost Property’.  In France they have ‘Objets trouvés’ – (found objects).  Different mindsets …  !

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Books I read in 2015

The first book I read in 2014 was ‘WOLF HALL’, by Hilary Mantel. It’s long and was quite a challenge but I suddenly found myself ‘in step’ with it after about 200 pages.  And, by chance, I started 2015 with another long but ultimately satisfying piece of writing.  ‘THE GOLDFINCH‘ by Donna Tartt.

This starts off with a ‘bang’ which filters out into an extraordinary,  sprawling panorama of a book.

The day I bought a copy was when I’d been to see a Vermeer exhibition at The National Gallery.  I knew that Vermeer was supposedly mentored by Carel Fabritius, who himself studied under Rembrandt. But Fabritius died young, a victim of the massive explosion of the Delft gunpowder magazine in 1654.  Many of the paintings in his studio were also destroyed but from what art historians say, he was destined for greatness.  One of the paintings that  did survive is called ‘The Goldfinch’, which was on show in the Vermeer exhibition.

I stood in front of it for a while, thinking of all the untimely accidents that happen and how they affect futures that might have turned out very differently, for not only the victim but for those he/she knew and for the world in general. What if …

On my way home I slipped into Waterstones.  The first book I saw, laid out on a table, had a jacket with Fabritius’s goldfinch on the front.  I felt in visceral shock, as if my heart had stopped.  The title was  ‘THE GOLDFINCH’ by Donna Tartt.  I wasn’t to know then that the book starts with a terrible accident  –  creating the effect of a stone thrown into a pond. It’s a wonderful read  –  long, but once started, bowls along.

'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt

‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt

Patrick Modiano has won the Nobel prize for literature.  I had already read three of his novels (in the original French) at my class. ‘UN CIRQUE PASSE’ continues the theme which runs through his novels about ‘untold’ stories and ‘lost’ people.  Many of these people were ‘lost’ during and after World War 2.  This novel is set in Paris as the war continues and a young boy and girl with her dog are thrown together, their lives fractured, having lost touch with their families.  Atmospheric, sinister, mysterious, tense and sad  … there is also romance and you wish for a happy ending …

I  continued with ‘Maigret’ (Simenon) in French and read ‘LES VIEILLARDS’ (1960).  A former diplomat in his fading years, living in retirement discreetly behind Parisian closed doors, with only an ageing and devoted housekeeper for company, is found shot.  His life seems to have been unimpeachable, except for a long standing but curious platonic love affair with a woman, Isabelle, with whom he exchanged letters almost daily since he was a young man. Maigret investigates.

Books in French

Books in French – Modiano and Simenon

London Under

‘LONDON UNDER’ by Peter Ackroyd. He’s written some wonderful books, many on the city of London. In this one he makes you aware of how London is built on so many wells and springs.  It makes for a fascinating read, especially when you are out and about and can track down some of these wells and springs – or remains of – with your trusty A-Z.

“The plethora of London names such as Spring Gardens, Well Walk and Wells Street testifies to the extent and variety of these waters. We also have Shadwell and Stockwell and Camberwell”.  And so it goes”.  On its journey to the Thames, the Westbourne river  passes through a great iron pipe today, to be seen above the platforms of Sloane Square tube station.”

The river Westbourne passing above Sloane Square station

The river Westbourne passing above Sloane Square station

Afterwards, I went for another non-fiction read. ‘STUFF MATTERS’ by Mark Miodownik.  I needed to read this twice to remember it  –  ‘Stuff’ indeed really does matter and we should be aware of what we can do with, for example, futuristic materials like graphene and aerogel. Afterwards, I felt more or less up to date with ‘The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that shape our Man Made World’. A great scientific learning experience.  Since I read this MM has presented programmes on television, following his book.

Concentration here reaps rewards ...

Concentration here reaps rewards …

Somebody suggested I read a novel about exploring nature. ‘THE FISH LADDER’ by Katharine Norbury has very memorable descriptions about the countryside as she indomitably strides on through it, day and night, but she would not be my type of travelling companion.

I read an American novel soon after this one, called ‘AQUARIUM’ by David Vann.  This is grim reality –  but seen through the surreal world of a young girl. ‘Jellyfish eyes’ (page 51).  It’s very dark – peeking at the obverse side of the American dream  with the aquarium as focus, where Caitlin is obsessed with the maritime creatures.  Is the old man who she meets there other than he seems?  It’s an ongoing struggle, not just for survival but to understand the adults around her and help them find a life rather than just an existence.  An uplifting read, despite much of it on the dark side.

Both of these books made me feel somewhat like this picture of them.  Unbalanced – on the edge …probably good to be out of one’s comfort zone!

fish ladder + aquarium

I loved this next book. ‘PERFECT WIVES IN IDEAL HOMES’ – ‘The story of women in the 1950s’, by Virginia Nicholson.  I raced through it with many of the stories resonating so strongly with my own experience of the 1950s and 60s  –  like being a teenage beauty queen at Butlin’s holiday camp!  How things have changed – for better or worse – or both.  Very well researched and tells it as it was.  It hit such a nostalgic note for me.  And am still doing the housework …  but I do have time to read nowadays…

Enormously enjoyable!

Enormously enjoyable …

It was about this time that an American friend of John’s, Debra Dunne, who is a food scientist, arrived in London and over lunch at Zédel’s, she recommended  a book ‘SALT, SUGAR, FAT – HOW THE FOOD GIANTS HOOKED US’ by Michael Moss.  Yes, they certainly did –  and do. I lapped it up!

The author tells us that every year the average American eats 33lbs of cheese  (triple what we ate in 1970) and 70 lbs of sugar (about 22 teaspoons a day).  Also that we ingest 8,500 mg of salt a day – double the recommended amount and this mainly comes from eating processed food.  It’s no wonder that 26 million Americans have diabetes 2.  The level of obesity among humans today is beyond belief – and continues to grow. Most of this has happened in the past 60 years.

Help!

Help!

I came down with a terrible cold and actually spent two days in bed.  Unheard of for me, but it was comforting, pampered by my oh- so- soft duvet. I began to find it quite relaxing. From time to time I ventured downstairs to fill up my mug with restorative hot lemon juice, honey and whisky.   And I found a perfect book to read when my eyes stopped streaming.

‘THE BLACK EYED BLONDE’ is a Philip Marlowe lookalike novel, set in the 1950s and written by Benjamin Black, a pen name for John Banville.  Very ‘noir’, with its laconic detective once more in edgy company of a beautiful, rich woman who wants him to solve a murder case while treacherously tempting him to sleep with her. A spider in her web …

John Banville won the Booker prize for ‘The Sea’ in 2005 but alongside his other novels, he wrote detective stories as Benjamin Black.  Humphrey Bogart’s ghost is strongly in evidence.

Shades of Bogart ...

Shades of Bogart …

Another writer, Sophie Hannah, takes on the Agatha Christie style of writing with ‘THE MONOGRAM MURDERS’.  I bought the hardback, lured by its glamorous gold and black cover and endpapers.  It was good but somehow not quite what I had hoped for –  but nevertheless, a great ‘try’.  I love my handsome copy and would gladly read another by her.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

Feeling better now, I needed to jump out of my comfort zone.

What better than a travel book with a philosophical strand to it. Michael Jacobs, the author, who studied art at the Courtauld, fell in love with Spain.  He was, for some years, a guide with ACE, a travel company. We had hoped to join a group where he would take us to the Alhambra, the huge mosque at Cordoba and to Toledo, where El Greco spent most of his life and did some of his best paintings. Sadly, it was not to be.

The title of this book, ‘THE ROBBER OF MEMORIES’, relates to his parents, both of whom died of dementia. But the story is about his dangerous trip up the Magdalena river in Colombia, dangerous not only because of the impenetrable jungle with its snakes and poisonous insects but also because of the FARC guerrillas, who made it their hideout.

MJ was lucky to survive. I’m glad I only travelled by armchair but also glad I was with him in spirit on this intensely personal journey.  Later, MJ died of cancer before he was able to finish a book on the famous painting, ‘Las Meninas’ by Velasquez –  a painting which obsessed him.  A good friend finished the book for him after MJ’s death.

'Carpe diem'

‘Carpe diem’

Dwelling on death, I decided to read ‘REASONS TO STAY ALIVE’ by Matt Haig.  Oh, my!  I don’t know if I would have survived this ordeal of deep, dark depression. It is brave of Matt Haig to relate what he went through.  Others caught up in a similar situation may benefit from reading it.  I hope so.  His parents and girlfriend were saints and because of them, he made it.

And he wrote ‘THE HUMANS’, which I love.  It is an original take on life on earth – completely original, off the wall entertaining. Yet so insightful about the human condition.  What a star!

So glad you made it ...

So glad you made it …

This next book was recommended. ‘EUPHORIA’ by Lily King.  It’s an ‘anthropological’ novel set in New Guinea and based on the book  ‘MARGARET MEAD – A LIFE’ by Jane Howard. It’s a good read and knowledgeable about tribal cultures. These can be very different, with a fierce and murderous tribe living quite near to a gentle and altruistic one.  Biodiversity rules?!

Jungle secrets ...

Jungle secrets …

This book reminded me of Ann Patchett’s ‘STATE OF WONDER’, which is a similar novel about a scientist doing research in a rain forest, who gets lost and is presumed dead.  I preferred this novel because I felt a lot more in tune with all the characters and really cared about the outcome.

I had never read ‘TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY’ by John Steinbeck. I found it by chance in Waterstones Piccadilly and being a person with itchy feet for exploring, I picked it up with the anticipation of a good road trip.  John Steinbeck is one of the ‘great’ writers of our time.  This is a compelling read, written by a very intelligent ‘hobo’ (!), whose dog is pretty intelligent too.  Charley is a French poodle without the frills and possessed of excellent instincts.  I’d like to travel with Steinbeck and Charley again … I missed them  as they turned the corner to home and disappeared from my life.

Travels with Charley - Steinbeck

Travels with Charley – Steinbeck

Waterstones were bringing out some old classics in new jackets. Somehow, I had never read ‘THE BALKAN TRILOGY‘ and ‘THE LEVANT TRILOGY’ by Olivia Manning, although I remember the television series with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson as Guy and Harriet Pringle. So many of my friends said how envious they were of me because it was such a treat in store.  And so I began … 1033 pages, followed by another 569.

I wonder why Olivia  Manning is not so well known today as other writers of her period, like Iris Murdoch. ‘THE BALKAN TRILOGY’ starts as Guy and Harriet Pringle, recently married, travel out to Eastern Europe at the start of World War 2, where Guy will be working as a lecturer with the British Council.  The story follows their fortunes as war spreads and engulfs them.

Olivia Manning bases both books on her own experiences. She is acutely observant and as ‘The Guardian’ noted on the back of my book ‘One must salute the brilliance … the exactness of sights and sounds, the precise touches of light and scent, the gestures and entrances’.  And I would like to add that Guy Pringle is one of the best delineated characters in modern fiction – and the marriage of  Guy and Harriet, so finely dissected, means they can never be forgotten. I recognise some of the traits in my own marriage.

Instead of more explanation, I should direct you to the site of Abigail Nussbaum, whose commentary on both books (2010)  is outstanding.  Don’t read it before reading the books!  I feel another trilogy could have been gestating in OM’s head but as ‘THE LEVANT TRILOGY’ was published in the year of  her death (1980), I expect we missed that treat.   Oh dear, my friends were right.  I felt bereft when I came to the end, like saying farewell for the last time to people I had known and grown fond of. 100% recommended!

Not be be missed ...

Not be be missed …

We decided to do a big clear out of books which had accreted over thirty plus years.  Ten boxes went to the Oxfam shop in Chiswick, who accepted all of them.  Hurrah – thank you, Oxfam. Then we rearranged hardbacks and paperbacks.  I collected all the Graham Greenes together and decided to read ‘STAMBOUL TRAIN’.  His characterisations are both skilful and memorable but personally I much prefer Paul Theroux’s train journeys.  No criticism, just a personal choice –  perhaps because PT is more of my era. Both of them tricky men in real life, I would think …

John bought ‘THE MARTIAN’ by Andy Weir.  It’s not a book I would have picked up in the shop but despite all the technical detail, I found it fascinating and could hardly wait to find out the ending.  An astronaut gets left on Mars by mistake, following an accident.  The story is about how he survives – or not.  A successful film has been made since.

Potatoes play a major role on Mars ... !

Potatoes play a major role on Mars … !

I needed to get back to earth, to my own, green planet.  I was drawn to ‘THE LAND WHERE LEMONS GROW‘ by Helena Attlee. What a pleasurable discovery!

It’s both a well researched history of the enormous variety of citrus trees grown through the ages with fillips of intriguing stories tossed into the mix.   There is also a wealth of personal detail as the writer travelled over southern Europe, meeting all kinds of people connected with citrus and adding all sorts of recipes for marmalade and pasta. One which especially appeals is ‘Tagliolini alla Scorzette di Arancia e Limone’.

I can’t tempt you more than Jonathan Keates in the ‘Literary Review’ saying ‘every lemon-scented page made me feel it’s time to pack for Italy’ or Tom Stoppard  in ‘The Times Literary Supplement’ – ‘The book I pressed on friends more than any other this year’.  Added to that ‘The Guild of Food Writers’ chose it as ‘Food Book of the Year 2015’.

So you have to buy it and read it and try one of the recipes, (although I quickly turned over the page at ‘Tortoise Pie’)! Take the book as a companion on your travels – open it at any page and you have a wealth of fascinating anecdotes at your fingertips.

Land of Lemons

Land of Lemons

‘THE VERSIONS OF US’ by Laura Barnett.  This is a novel about however many times you get the chance to change – have a re-run,   make another choice, some people still make an enormous mess of their lives.  I didn’t enjoy this at all and was very turned off by all the characters.  It went to the charity shop and as it seems to be popular, I hope it went to a home of somebody who loved it.

Sue Roe is a writer after my own heart.  I am a great lover of paintings and ‘THE PRIVATE LIVES OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS’ is such a rewarding read.  It’s a very personal and detailed account, so much so that I felt I was living alongside the artists.   She nails your interest from the very first sentence, creating a luminous backdrop for the artists of Paris and the Seine.  The blurb comments, ‘This intimate, colourful, superbly researched account takes us into their homes and their studios and describes their unconventional, volatile and precarious lives, as well as the stories behind the paintings’.

Impressionists

I was so entranced that I bought another book by her, called ‘IN MONTMARTRE’.  This is all about Picasso, Matisse et al arriving penniless in Paris, where the ‘high pitched chaos’ of living in the Bateau Lavoir is shatteringly and wonderfully portrayed. The Spectator said of this book that it was ‘enjoyable, engaging, rollicking  …  lively’.  Both books are worth a second read.  They flow as easily as the Seine.

A friend bought me the catalogue of the ‘Gardens’ exhibition at the Royal Academy, which was on until recently. Painting outdoors instead of always in a studio became popular with the Impressionists and many artists, like Monet and Renoir, Pissarro, Caillebotte and Sorolla, le Sidaner, Bonnard and Rusinol, to name a few, took not only to painting gardens but to growing their own and exchanging visits to see one another’s.  Monet’s garden at Giverny is a prime example, which many flock to today as his dream lives on.  There is an interview between Monty Don and the present gardener, James Priest, in the catalogue.  Monet lived at Giverny for 43 years.

Towards the end of the year I was beset by gastric problems and felt miserable. This was made worse by ‘the 100 day cough’, a beastly malady which meant that talking started off a machine gun rat-a-tat, so I began to speak less and less.  Probably a relief for some!

I silently bought ‘GUT’ by the rather beautiful Giulia Enders, illustrated by her equally beautiful sister, which became a best seller –  making me think that many people must suffer from gastric problems!  There are no euphemisms here as she describes how your complex digestive system works.  A great bathroom/bedside book. I learned so much about my innards!

GUT by Giulia Enders

Could I possibly take on another long read after the Balkan and Levant trilogies?  I had quickly skirted the table in Waterstones, which groaned under piles of the Elena Ferrante quartet for this very reason.  Just don’t pick it up … what I really needed was even just a cookery book that I could dip in and out of to finish up the year.  Or an Alastair Sawday book, full of beautiful chateaux and manor houses in France that offered B&B. I needed comfort on many levels.

But somebody arrived, bringing ‘MY BRILLIANT FRIEND’, the first book of the quartet, which by now was celebrating bestseller status  –  not that that means I would enjoy it.  I said thank you, how kind …  but resolved firmly to put it away until 2016 poked its head around the door.

However, the cough maundered on and one day, in the midst of cleaning the kitchen, I opened the first page out of curiosity. Just like Pandora’s Box! Casting mop and bucket aside, I read on …

The Ferrante table at Waterstones

The Ferrante table at Waterstones

Book 1 - My Brilliant Friend

Book 1 – My Brilliant Friend

The Ferrante quartet

The Ferrante quartet –  The Neapolitan novels

In order: ‘ My Brilliant Friend’, ‘The Story of a New Name’, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’, The Story of The Lost Child’.

I read these books voraciously, one after the other.  Emotions run high, damaging people’s fragile lives; whirlwinds of love, lust, hate, loss, tempered by enduring friendships.  Any advice that one might have given would have been ignored.  But for all the family feuding, the leaving and returning, the loves and the losses, the loyalties and betrayals,  there is an all pervading sense of belonging that connects the characters to one another and makes for an indelible story line.  The ending (for me) sews it all up in one sentence.

The author is unknown as she will not give interviews or reveal who she is. I empathise with that. I think she herself must have struggled against the macho atmosphere and way of life in which she grew up to attain a university education and success as a writer. The Neapolitan novels are a wonderful read, a great achievement and will be remembered also as a valuable social document of the times we lived in.

The Lost Child

The Lost Child

Ferrante Man Booker 2016

Waterstones - ground floor

Waterstones – ground floor

Well, that’s it for 2015.  Bookshops still exist despite Amazon and I would feel completely bereft without them.  There are two on Piccadilly –  Hatchards and Waterstones.  James Daunt, an independent bookseller, was asked by Waterstones during lean times, to come in and try to revive their fortunes.  He seems to have succeeded.  Hurrah! He also has independent  bookshops of his own.  Daunts in Marylebone High Street is very special.

Waterstones now has two cafés and a restaurant of their own in the building, which become ever more popular, together with soirées, when authors come and talk about their books while you enjoy a glass of wine. Books, flowers, knowledgeable and friendly assistants on hand.  A cup of coffee, a slice of cake.  I can’t think of a better treat in store!

Welcome to bookshops 2016!

Welcome to bookshops 2016!

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Tintin visits London

Tintin books have always been a favourite in our house.  I think we must have the whole collection, neatly nibbled around the edges, as they were loved so much!

John and I made a foray to Somerset House by the Aldwych to see a small exhibition of Tintin in the New Year.  A new resolution for John to have some leisure time during the week and this wasn’t too far from the office.

A good start – as we both love Tintin and Snowy!

A typical Tintin and Snowy drama ...

A typical Tintin and Snowy drama …

Tintin - a mischievous magpie ...

Tintin – a mischievous magpie …

Tintin - a mysterious adventure unfolds ...

Tintin – a mysterious adventure unfolds …

Tintin - teatime

Tintin – teatime

Tintin the sleuth

Tintin the sleuth

"Blistering barnacles" (a typical statement from Tintin's old friend, Captain Haddock) when facing disaster

“Blistering barnacles” (a typical statement from Tintin’s old friend, Captain Haddock) when facing disaster

It was interesting to see one of Hergé’s drawings as a child.  He was  destined to live on in peoples’ memory long after he died.

First known drawing by Hergé ...

First known drawing by Hergé …

Tintin exhibition - I love this photo!

Tintin exhibition – I love this photo!

Having got John to break out of work mode for a short time, he was amenable to tea and scones in the Courtauld café – they do a variety of delicious home made cakes too.

I had been trying to make sure he had an anti ‘flu injection and there is a clinic in Fleet Street not five minutes away, so here was a chance!  We passed by the Twinings Tea shop …

Twinings Tea in Fleet Street

Twinings Tea in Fleet Street

and the entrance to Lloyds Bank.

Extraordinary entrance to Lloyds Bank,Fleet Street

Extraordinary entrance to Lloyds Bank,Fleet Street

After that, the tea party and entertainment were over.  John returned to the office as the light began to leave the sky.

Evening drawing in after a successful expedition ... bonsoir à tout le monde ...

Evening drawing in after a successful expedition … bonsoir à tout le monde …

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My love affair with Samuel Pepys, via Lombard Street and Greenwich

‘There’s an exhibition about Samuel Pepys on in Greenwich’, said my friend, Kate.  Last time I was in Greenwich was last  summer. A place full of grand, light filled spaces – (even though bitingly cold today).  In the summer, I was enchanted by the Cutty Sark, the market, coffee upstairs in Waterstones, the wide roads and impressively flagged pavements, imposing buildings and oodles of rolling green lawns all the way up to the Observatory.  The panorama of the City from the top of the hill is magnificent. Inside is John Harrison’s famous clock, (which John chose to do a project on at school).

It was all of that, plus Kate’s company, rather than Samuel Pepys himself, which led me to Bank station on a drizzly, finger freezing, windswept morning. We had planned to take the DLR from there to Greenwich.  Bank underground is a maelstrom of people, surfing in and out of a massive maze of  exits and entrances.

Lombard Street was the nearest exit to the DLR, so I climbed the steps to the street, texted Kate to let her know where I was  –  and waited.  I was ten minutes early, so decided to walk up Lombard Street, which I found was chock full of history.

Long and narrow - Lombard Street EC3

Long and narrow – Lombard Street EC3

There’s a small Sainsbury’s supermarket on the ground floor of one of the buildings.  This used to house Lloyds Coffee House – a place where merchants, bankers and insurance men met in mediaeval times to do business, as ships came into dock with their cargo.   The coffee house later transmuted into Lloyds of London – the insurance company we know today. You can look further into this and find out the connection between the Lutine Bell and Lloyds of London, where it now resides in semi-retirement.

The Gresham Grasshopper

The Gresham Grasshopper

Lombard Street is also home to the Gresham Grasshopper.  I’m not sure about the significance of the grasshopper bit but it certainly warrants your attention. It’s on the Gresham coat of arms.  Sir Thomas Gresham 1518 – 1579 gave the City of London two great institutions.  The Royal Exchange (where the Lutine Bell resided in the 1890s until 1928) and Gresham College.

Lombard - a street full of signs EC3

Lombard – a street full of signs –  EC3

Lombard musical cat

Lombard musical cat

Lombard Street - a king

Lombard Street – a king

Kate phoned. She’d gone to London Bridge by mistake but was on her way.   I shivered and at the same time my eye lit on a board, creaking in the wind outside St. Mary Woolnoth church.   It had a drawing of a steaming cup of coffee on it.  What a welcome thought!  I followed a City type with his well polished briefcase up the steps, imagining a rather hollow and dusty interior, smelling of  cobwebs and candlewax and times past.

Lombard - a very welcome sign!

Lombard Street and St. Mary Woolnoth church – a very welcome sign!

But it wasn’t like that at all.  A small porch, before you even enter the church, has been made into a warm and inviting tiny café, run by two very entrepreneurial young women, who welcome you  with huge smiles.   A comfy armchair and a pile of books and magazines fill one side of the porch, where you can make yourself at home. Very temptingAn irresistible cosy corner - St. Mary Woolnoth café - Lombard Street EC3

Irresistible! – St. Mary Woolnoth café – Lombard Street EC3

The City man greeted the girls and asked for ‘the usual’ please. He probably works at The Bank of England in Threadneedle Street –  across the road.

This tiny niche of a café, hidden from the street, is obviously visited regularly by those ‘in the know’. If it hadn’t been for Kate getting in a muddle I wouldn’t be ‘in the know’ either I thought,  my hands embracing a steaming cup of coffee.

Melina and Melina at The CosyCoffeeCorner - St Mary Woolnoth Church, Lombard Street, EC3

Melina and Melina at The CosyCoffeeCorner – St Mary Woolnoth Church, Lombard Street, EC3

info@thecosycoffeecorner.com.  Tel. +44(0)790 6577 152.

By the time Kate arrived, I was quite perked up for the DLR trip via Canary Wharf to Greenwich.

My umbrella - still in one piece ... !

My umbrella – still in one piece … !

The wind whipped darts of freezing rain at us, as it tore at our brollies but it was a short walk to the delights of the National Maritime Museum, where Pepys awaited. I had read some of his diaries, which are in code (but he left a crib right next to them). It is a wonderful, personal picture of daily life during the time of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and Charles II. Pepys lived through the Great Fire of London and the Plague and even spent time in the Tower – but escaped execution, unlike his king.

The catalogue, which I bought after seeing the exhibition, is really worth the expense.  It is published by Thames & Hudson.  “Samuel Pepys, Renaissance Man” is a biography by Claire Tomalin.  She writes ‘Reading the diary, you feel he is holding his hand out to you.  You become his friend’.  I felt exactly like that.

Pepys was born in London in 1633, the son of a tailor, living off Fleet Street.  His wife, who was fifteen when she married him, was half French. He got his position at the Navy Board through his distant cousin, Edward Montagu. Pepys was quick to learn and quite a polymath.

Pepys loved music.  He played several instruments and gave musical parties.  He also loved the theatre, paintings and reading and later in life, set up his own library.

Although he wasn’t a scientist he was interested in everything from anatomy to astronomy and knew Hooke, Boyle and the physician Hans Sloane, as well as Christopher Wren and Isaac Newton.  He became the President of The Royal Society because of his interest in science.

He was drawn to the attractions of many women but at the same time loved his wife dearly.  He describes his day-to-day life very frankly!  Nothing seems to be missed out … which makes it such fun to read.

I was intrigued by Charles II’s many mistresses, whose portraits are in the exhibition.  One in particular appealed to me  –  Louise de Kérouaille was from a Breton noble family.  The king called her his dearest ‘Fubs’, on account of her chubby face. The fact that she was both French and Catholic did not endear her to the English court. But she was smart as well as pretty.

I don’t have any photos of the exhibition  –  which means that you should go and see it for yourselves!  I felt so moved by it that I decided to go and visit Pepys’s grave.  He is buried in the church of St. Olave, where he worshipped on Sundays with his wife. It is on the corner of Seething Lane and Hart Street –  EC3  –  not so far from Tower Bridge.

The Shard from Eastcheap EC3

The Shard from Eastcheap EC3

Pepys loved women ...

Pepys loved women …

I arrived with a bunch of daffodils, which I laid on his memorial in the small churchyard.

At St. Olave's

At St. Olave’s

St. Olave's churchyard 1

St. Olave’s churchyard

Pepys and daffodils

Pepys and daffodils

I felt really happy to have done this.  Writing those diaries over ten years has left us a wonderfully personal memoir of both the man and the age in which he lived. This is my preferred way of learning history! He would have made a fascinating companion.  Do go and see the exhibition  –  I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Springtime

Springtime

 

 

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Raiders at the Royal Albert Hall

A family outing.  Our seats were on the first row of the balcony, giving us a stunning view.  The film was ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, with a live orchestra playing the musical score.

Slightly early, so we walked up from South Kensington tube and John said he would show me around Imperial College, where he lectures each year.

Imperial college entrance, South Kensington...

Imperial college entrance, South Kensington…

And here we are on the right - how did I do that?

And here we are to the right of the flowers – how did I do that?

The interior is so much bigger than I had imagined! A tranquil square surrounded by buildings on four sides, screening out the  general hoi polloi.  A great place for study and reflection.

Reflections, Imperial College, South Kensington

Reflections, Imperial College, South Kensington

A scene we passed by on the way to the Royal Albert Hall.

A cameo scene

A little cameo …

And another we passed by on the way back home.

How did he do that?!

How did he do that?!

What a glorious rendezvous – the film is an outstanding classic, the orchestra was triumphant.  I  love these new, original ways of capturing our imagination and letting it run riot.

Front row seat at 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' Royal Albert Hall - 12 March 2016

Front row seat at ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ –  Royal Albert Hall – 12 March 2016

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A filmic ride through 2015

citroen Bafta

In 2015, I jotted down the title of every film I saw, with a couple of lines to remind me what I liked or didn’t like about them.  Here are a few of the most memorable.

I started the year off with GRAVITY in 3D, (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock), thinking it was not my sort of film. I was duly persuaded to go and very glad I did.  I would have missed a technically brilliant piece of filming.  It was also very enjoyable in a spooky, spacey way.

I bought a DVD of the WOODY ALLEN documentary, which I’d seen in the cinema the year before.  When his films are good – e.g. BLUE JASMINE – I love them and it was interesting to see him pootling around in daily life.

BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (The Life and Times of Liberace) with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.  The height of Las Vegas glitz and tackiness.  Wonderful performances by both actors.  I loved this film as much as John loathed it. The music and the costumes fabulously OTT. Tarnished. Finished up watching (more than once!) a Liberace video on YouTube where he engages the audience – hey!! Worth a whirl through!

THE GREAT GATSBY (Baz Luhrmann edition) was a suffocatingly sweetie of a confection.  G’s comment said it all. ‘It was as if our teeth were rotting as we watched’. Then there was FADING GIGOLO, (John Turturro and Woody Allen) – full of ‘delectable’ females and horribly self indulgent on the part of JT and WA.

Image of OTT glitz

Image of OTT glitz

John thought INTERSTELLAR very good but I felt it was dispiriting  and a bit clunky, although the time lapsing was a brilliant idea.  We both loved THE IMITATION GAME – about Alan Turing at Bletchley Park during the war.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Matthew Goode stood out.  Keira Knightley too.

THE LUNCH BOX was a present ( DVD).  It’s set in Mumbai and about a relationship which grows between a man and a woman who have never met but she sends a daily lunch box to his office and gets a note in return.  I adored ‘Auntie’, who lives upstairs and screeches down advice but is never to be seen.  A ‘life in the day’ film, beautifully realised, heartstopping at times. Appealing, funny and bittersweet.

'Auntie's' beady eye!

‘Auntie’s’ beady eye!

Another DVD  – FINDING VIVIAN MAIER – .  This mysterious woman was a nanny in America in the 1950s but also an obsessive, secret photographer, who took over 100,00 photos.  Somebody bought a cache of negatives in old boxes at an auction, not knowing what they were, then hunted down others and gradually collected  and then mounted an exhibition of them in New York. All these photos are a record of everyday life in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and worldwide.  The negatives got lost when VM didn’t keep her storage fees up.

This film has been put together by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel.  It is riveting.  To find out more about Vivian Maier, look up Wikipedia.  Utterly fascinating biography. Watch the film and find out more details with personal interviews of people who knew, or said they knew her.  Vivian Maier’s talent was almost lost – thank you to those who uncovered it and persevered in bringing it to a wider world.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING – the story of Stephen Hawking’s life.  He was played by Eddie Redmayne with Felicity Jones as his wife.  ER was rewarded with an Oscar. When Stephen Hawking saw the film he said he thought it was himself – ER was so brilliant!

GOODBYE FIRST LOVE.  I saw this French film on TV.  Very much the type of French film where you just drop in on somebody’s life day to day.  It was thoughtful and empathetic to the young lovers.  Good locations down by a picturesque river, the seaside in Denmark and Paris. Slight and gentle.

X+Y.  This film is about an autistic boy who is also a maths genius.  After he loses his father, he joins other geniuses at an Olympiad, travelling from home in England to Taiwan. This almost seemed like a documentary and may be based on one.  I loved the cultural exchange scenes with the Chinese.  Nathan (Asa Butterfield) was excellent and you found yourself very much on his side as he struggled with everything new.  A great story.

THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER (DVD) was one of the first  English ‘Maigret’ films, where Charles Laughton plays the detective (1949).  It shows how far we have come cinematically since then.  It encouraged me to buy a boxed set of ‘MAIGRET’, made for TV in the 1990s.  Michael Gambon plays the detective and most corresponds to my personal image of what Maigret should look like.  Apparently, Rowan Atkinson is set to become Maigret on TV this year?!

'Maigret' style image

Atmospheric Image ‘Maigret’ style!  

ENOUGH SAID was the last film made by James Gandolfini.  He was a much loved actor  –  generous and sensitive.  About older people looking for a lasting relationship and about how trust between them is as important as having fun.

WOMAN IN GOLD, starring Helen Mirren and based on fact didn’t get very good reviews but I thought it was well put together.  It’s about ‘Adèle’, a woman painted by Klimt, whose painting was stolen from her family by the Nazis.  The story is about how a descendant of the family, who had to flee to California during the war, tried to get it back.  Tense, drawing you in, rewarding and ultimately satisfying. Helen Mirren in tenacious form, becoming an inspiration to her rather meek nephew.

Viennese gold

Viennese gold

L’ECLISSE was made in 1962 with Monica Vitti and Alain Delon.  It plays out in a weird, surreal dreamscape.  Monica Vitti  is mysteriously beautiful  but it was that time in the 1960s when to be nihilistic was ‘cool’.  Quite a lot of silent navel gazing which seemingly added up only to wasted lives. Very dated and excruciatingly slow moving.  Good as an example for an archivist of 1960s films.

I can’t leave out ‘PETIT NICOLAS’.  A DVD based on the stories (in French) of a small schoolboy and his parents by René Goscinney and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé.  I read these wonderfully humorous stories years ago and found them enchanting.  A triumph!  Just how the world should be from a child’s point of view.   I enjoyed the film but the stories should be read and kept alive, as should the biographies of Goscinney and Sempé. The French is simple and a good way to enjoy learning another language.

Le Petit Nicolas

 

LOVE AND MERCY – the story of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. A tormented genius.  John loved this.  it was well made and well cast. Great for Beach Boys fans.

SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN.  What happened to this talented musician?  In this DVD we find out how two South African fans investigated and brought a fabulous story to the screen.  A very extraordinary and moving film.  Thank you to the fans who made it happen.

MISTRESS AMERICA with Greta Gerwig is a rather crazy black comedy of manners with a melancholic streak of ‘growing up’  – what happens to people in real life  – when it would be great to have had the  gift of hindsight.  Greta Gerwig was also in FRANCES HA, where she played a character along the same lines – MISTRESS AMERICA was more substantial.

THE NEW GIRLFRIEND with Romain Duris as a cross dressing husband who has lost his wife was enjoyably eccentric.  His gender fluidity, told through a prism of grief, creates an upsurge of empathy for him and his situation.  Slightly slow in parts but worth seeing.  An uplifting ending.  (I love his face!).

THE LOBSTER gets one of two prizes for worst film.   I found it mean and as boring as an old, grey dishcloth and didn’t find it easy to connect with anybody in it. At first, I thought the Colin Farrell character might benefit from a retreat for ‘singletons’ but this was a  particularly vicious cult.  It made me angry that it contributed to making him even more unhappy and unstable. I found the psychological cruelty in it very disturbing.  It was as if you were condemned to share your bed forever with a rotting lobster.

Oddly, I read an article about Sartre by Roger Lewis (The Times 20.2.16), reviewing a book ‘At The Existentialist Café’ by Sarah Bakewell.  Neither are complimentary about the existentialist movement, dismissing it as adolescent and egotistical. A lot of hot air!  Apparently, when Sartre took mescalin, he had ‘nightmare visions of snakes, toads, vultures and beetles. For months he thought he was being followed down the street by a lobster’!  It all confirms my instinctive revulsion of this film.

The other worst film for me was LE WEEKEND.  I found this offensive, depressing and hopefully unbelievable.  All the people in it were people I would never want to meet.  Somehow, it’s OK for pop groups to trash hotel bedrooms but not the likes of John and I.  Maybe that’s why some people found it amusing. But I found it hugely embarrassing and best forgotten!

ABOUT TIME (DVD).  Something to watch on a Sunday night. A  Richard Curtis film with Bill Nighy.  Cosy, like a lightweight duvet.

SKYFALL (James Bond) was excellent.  I think my favourite Bond movie is CASINO ROYALE but this comes very close (directed by Sam Mendes).  Last rites for Judi Dench.

The last three films are the ones I give five stars to.

Not because we were invited to the première – which was a great experience – but STEVE JOBS is a film of quality.  It hangs together well and is totally believable.  I could see myself as the desperate Kate Winslet PA character.  Both she and Michael Fassbender were excellent.  Having an ‘Apple’ myself and knowing the history of Steve Jobs and the company made the film even more satisfying for me.

Steve Jobs was a man with a mission  –  often these types of people are charismatic but obsessive and driven  –  and can be very unsympathetic and unpleasant in their dealings with other people in order to achieve their goals.  Emotional intelligence suffers here for genius in other quarters! Danny Boyle, as director, understands the man, who is also portrayed perfectly by Michael Fassbender. I loved this film which honours the memory of  a great mind.

Finishing on a high note with two films I loved so, so much.

BROOKLYN is just one of those films that hit the spot in every direction.   The screenplay is by Nick Hornby from the book, ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín.  Saorse Ronan would be my choice for  best actress – forever remembered in that yellow frock.  And it is a frock (rather than a dress!)  –  the clothes, the settings, the characters are so true to life and the film is very true to the book. Set in the 1950s, when many young Irish emigrated to New York to find jobs, this is a jewel of a film and so very enjoyable. Two handsome men – one choice!

And I finish off with CAROL  –  another film which stopped my heart.  Based on the book by Patricia Highsmith, first published in 1952 as ‘The Price of Salt’ under a pseudonym and now republished as ‘Carol’.   The film is wonderfully atmospheric, conjuring up the life in New York in the 50s as the soft snow falls romantically on the big Buicks and the perfumed women in their furs – or chaps the poor, rough hands of the shopgirls, freezing in their cheap boots and scarves as, after a hard day’s slog in the department stores, they trudge home to their gloomy, cheap apartments.

The photography is exquisite, the faces of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara forever in my head, the story by moments heartwarming and sad, beautiful and exciting  –  yet tense with warning as to what the future will bring.  A cinematic treat.

cadillac yellow

 

‘Her eyes were grey, colourless, yet dominant as light or fire,  and, caught by them, Therese could not look away’……. ‘ her voice was like her coat, rich and supple, and somehow full of secrets.’ Quote from the book, which I’m reading now.

If I was on the Oscars committee, I couldn’t choose between ‘BROOKLYN’ and ‘CAROL’ for best film, so I would give it to ‘STEVE JOBS’.  The first two are both exquisite, sparkling jewels, with fire at their centre.  Both great achievements, which brought tears to my eyes for the way we are.

‘STEVE JOBS’ tells the history of a technology which has and will continue to push us into an ever expanding ‘brave new world’, full of exciting possibilities and discoveries and ever more dangerous risks, which will both enhance our minds and also threaten to obliterate them.

Quote from The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through The Looking-Glass’.  “Now here, you see,  it takes all the running you can do, to keep in one place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

And so we must run with that neverending tide –  ever onwards into 2016 and to what will become of us.

carol and brooklyn

P.S.  There was an article in ‘The Times’ very recently, listing successful European drama series on British television, like Scandi noir. To my mind, they missed out a terrific thriller. This was a Belgian series of twelve episodes, called SALAMANDER. Written by Ward Hulselmans  –  the main character played absolutely brilliantly by Filip Peeters.  Greatly recommended. A follow-up is on the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rendezvous near Sloane Square 2015

I meet up with my three university friends four times a year, as near to each birthday as possible.  This time the venue was Daylesfords in Chelsea. The food is both healthy and delicious. And downstairs they have an excellent deli.

Daylesford's coffee passes the critical test ...

Daylesford’s coffee passes the critical test …

Many years ago, John and I rented a flat in Ebury Street.  You can read about that in my biography.  The shops at the end of Ebury Street, leading to Lower Sloane Street, were to me then, palaces of expensive elegance.

I once stood in a rain soaked queue for the January sale at ‘Casa Pupo’, where I met a handsome young architect. He chivalrously shared his umbrella with me and I went home on a high, carrying a giant, white porcelain bowl and two twirly candlesticks.  ‘Casa Pupo’ has long gone. I often wondered what happened to the architect.

I wasn’t a ‘Sloane Ranger’ but because of a hitch hiking adventure and a long shot chance, we met the landlords of Ebury Street and ended up renting one of their flats.  We could observe Sloane Rangers at close quarters and Belgravia turned out to be a great place to live. I was able to walk to work past Buckingham Palace and across Green Park.

I was curious to see where we had lived forty odd years ago and being a little early for our rendezvous, I walked along the road.  Our flat was being renovated.  Nobody about.  I slipped in and stood in my old bedroom.  The garden was still beautiful.  The builders found me but were fascinated by my stories of living here forty years ago.  Now it will become one rather grand and luxurious home.  I wonder if the ghosts of Christmases Past will flit through it from time to time?  I felt like one but bricks and mortar don’t recognise times past.

The shops are still expensive and elegant.  They do not have ‘sales’.  But they are lovely to look at and a little ‘lèche-vitrine’ was in order!

Chelsea mirrored ...

Chelsea mirrored …

Chelsea birds ...

Chelsea birds …

Chelsea fish ...

Chelsea fish …

Chelsea stove ...

Chelsea stove …

Very one-off.  Later on, I walked up Lower Sloane Street to Sloane Square, where the Christmas lights had just been lit.  Was I just a little bit squiffy?  I don’t think so!

Christmas lights Sloane Square 2015

Christmas lights Sloane Square 2015

 

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Fen country – Suffolk

In the last days of September, we went on a five day voyage of discovery to see aeroplanes at Duxford,  Sutton Hoo, Ely cathedral, Wicken Fen, the Tide Mill at Woodbridge and the castle and oysterage at Orford.  Fen country. Somewhere we had never explored.  And I forgot to take my camera. Bof … but the quinces made up for it.

Sutton Hoo has wonderful circular walks, a 1930s house just as Edith Pretty left it – even with graffiti (bad!), carved into the mantelpiece by the Land Girls during the war.  That day,  as we walked through into the sitting room, a very cultured lady was playing the grand piano, (as to the manor born) …

Don’t forget to visit the potting shed  –  the nostalgia is palpable. Enter and jot down your memories (if you’re old enough!). Otherwise, you have a time capsule to wonder at, which was not so long ago. But a very different world from today.

Sutton Hoo is a delightful site, with a much recommended museum,  and a well run National Trust shop. I was hurried on past the café, so can’t report on that … but bought damson jam – tart and fruity. Many of the treasures found here now fill a room in the British Museum but there remains a small bejewelled room, full of especially exquisite objects.

The magnificence of Ely cathedral is not to be missed. The fabulous Toppings independent bookshop is nearby, where we were offered  coffee and biscuits, and later lugged a weighty Taschen tome of Dali’s work back to the car.  Also couldn’t leave without a Woody Allen retrospective by Tom Shone and published by Thames and Hudson. Ely, Dali, Woody and later on at our very upmarket B&B, a welcome by Cindy and Snowy, the dog.

Two rather knowledgeable and enthusiastic gentlemen accompanied us around Woodbridge Tide Mill – and then we sat by the railway, which follows the shoreline, eating malted ice creams.  The train, extraordinarily, chugs along regularly –  all the way from Liverpool Street!

There’s something out on a limb about this part of the world.  We saw a signpost to Wicken Fen.  It was almost five o’clock but we drove on just in case it was still open to visitors.  The National Trust shop closes at 5.30pm but we were told the fen is open 24 hours.  Boardwalks snake mysteriously through the reeds and as the sky began to flush pink at the end of the day I felt we might encounter a medieval peasant with his scythe as we struck deeper and deeper into the marshy fen  –  we didn’t.  Small birds flittered here and there, frogs lurked in the watery depths, and goodness knows what would have emerged if we had stayed until dark. My head was filled with the peace of solitude and evening birdsong.

On our way back, we passed by a pub called ‘The Unruly Pig’, which was undergoing alterations.  “Back on our trotters late November” it read …

We found our night’s sojourn through the Alastair Sawday site  – Melton Hall is somewhere to return to.  Cindy had bucketloads of beautiful, lumpy, yellow, giant quinces and packed me a bag  to take home. These are my only photos of our trip. Quinces are truly magical. They are woody and jolie-laide but their perfume, even without cooking, fills the kitchen.  I want to grow quince trees. It could become an obsession – something that is both lumpy and beautiful … irresistible!

Magical 1

Magical 1

Magical 2

Magical 2

Then it was the castle tower at Orford and a lunch of plump oysters at Orford’s famous Butley Oysterage, followed by a walk along a banked up path bordering the estuary opposite Orford Ness.  Old, creaky fishing boats tugged at their moorings, the tang of salty waves slapping at their sides, grizzled old men immersed over their pots and ship’s tools, meditatively, joyously, pottering. I jotted down some of the names of the boats. Sea Pearl, Moonbeam, Lady Mildred, Riverbird,  Mary Ann, Jitterbug.

It could have been the 1950s. We spotted an Agatha Christie character  in tweed skirt and beret, walking her black and white dog purposefully across the field below us. ‘Oh, why do you walk through the fields in gloves …’ …  and all the while that melancholy feel of the last of summer,  seeping, like the incoming tide, through the landscape. A cool evening draught catching at your neck, the possible need for a warm scarf – still in the drawer at home.

Magical 3

Magical 3

Yellows  –  fragrant quinces, bottles of mead at Orford castle, reeds at Wicken Fen,  malted ice cream, yellow painted bi-planes and sunshine still radiating through the trees as we broke out of the slow pace of a dream filled landscape onto the motorway. Heavy duty lorries in convoy were grinding remorselessly on towards  the city lights. I shut my eyes and breathed in the fragrance of the quinces as John continued to drive westwards.

A bowl of quinces

A bowl of quinces

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A somewhat personal view of everyday Hammersmith

If somebody asked me what Hammersmith is like, I would probably say I don’t spend much time there but it’s a great place from where to get to anyplace else. There’s the Piccadilly and District lines and across the road the Hammersmith and City and Circle lines (with new, spacious walk-through trains). And there is a large bus station, taking you every which way  –  Kensington, Chiswick,  Fulham, Brompton, Barnes, Putney, Richmond, Shepherd’s Bush and ever onwards to distant, hazy pastures …

The bus station used to be outside and we got used to putting up with icy blasts and driving rain.  Then a new one was built under cover.  I expect it wasn’t big enough because some of us, having been welcomed into the warm, were subsequently driven outside once again – to an updated version, it must be said – but still with the same weather…

After a period of grumpiness, I decided braving the weather was preferable to the sickly smell of fat and sugar frying which percolates Hammersmith Mall and leads me to feel anxious about the obese percentage of users.  I don’t know what diesel fumes are doing to me in the centre of the gyratory system …  but buses are fairly frequent.

The outside part of Hammersmith bus station

The outside part of Hammersmith bus station

... and a shiny double decker bus

… and a shiny double decker bus

Hammersmith doesn’t do glamour – it’s very workaday – but there did used to be a Palais de Danse, whose faded memory is for all to see as you board the Hammersmith and City line.

Once upon a time ...

Once upon a time …

And if you look up, the old pub building on the Broadway gives a clue to a more picturesque past.

Ancient relic of old Hammersmith on the Broadway

Ancient relic of old Hammersmith on the Broadway …

The Ark comes ashore in Hammersmith

The Ark comes ashore in Hammersmith

I’m not sure about the modern Ark but at least it is upliftingly innovative and doesn’t look like a cheap and nasty concrete office block – there is something of an individual soul here – but it did come to rest by the Hammersmith gyratory system rather than on Mount Ararat.  Probably more useful here.

The Hammersmith gyratory system, spider like, traps the traffic in a super jam from time to time, causing much frustration.  When it’s moving freely it does get people from A to B. It’s not somewhere you would want to linger but one day I took this picture from the bus.  Some unknown, sporty person at traffic lights bringing the glamour of Monte Carlo to Hammersmith Broadway – an almost impossible task!

Being sporty on a crisp, clear morning - Hammersmith Broadway!!

Upbeat on a crisp, clear morning – Hammersmith Broadway!!

Hammersmith wasn’t always dominated by the gyratory system and the arching flyover, leading to the M4.  Even now, along the river, there are quiet spots with beautiful houses (and some nice pubs), which look out onto barges and rowers – and sometimes get flooded at high tides. The views from Hammersmith Bridge, both up and down the Thames, are quite lovely.  And here, it’s herons that dominate both banks. The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, amongst many others, pass underneath the bridge.

Houses bordering the Thames at Hammersmith

Houses bordering the Thames at Hammersmith

Heron on the bank of the river, taken from Hammersmith bridge

Heron on the bank of the river, taken from Hammersmith bridge

Green and gold - Hammersmith Bridge detail

Green and gold – Hammersmith Bridge detail

Looking downriver towards Barnes and onwards ...

Looking downriver towards north Barnes and onwards to Fulham, Putney and ultimately the city …

In his book, “London Under”, Peter Ackroyd talks about ‘lost’ rivers, one of which is Stamford Brook, which makes its way via Wormwood Scrubs underneath the streets and pavements to fall into the Thames at Hammersmith.

But all things taken into account, the hub of Hammersmith today remains a useful rather than an attractive or romantic venue.

Here’s a picture done by Eric Ravilious in 1933 called “River Thames at Hammersmith”.  So there did used to be some kind of poetry in the air … bucolic, romantic … and a little of it remains.

River Thames at Hammersmith, 1933 by Eric Ravilious

River Thames at Hammersmith, 1933 by Eric Ravilious

Times change!

POSTSCRIPT

Current news.  Hammersmith Bridge is to be closed to traffic from January 2016 for at least six months.  Pedestrians will be able to use it – we can enjoy the river views, come rain or shine!  Probably best to have a spare umbrella.  My last one collapsed spectacularly while crossing the bridge on foot, battling driving rain and wind. Even the handle fell off. I bought a new one, covered in red roses, which keeps my spirits up.

View of Hammersmith Bridge in driving rain from 209 bus ...

View of Hammersmith Bridge in driving rain from 209 bus …

On the 209 bus from Hammersmith to Barnes ...

On the 209 bus from Hammersmith to Barnes …

POSTSCRIPT 2

This is a photo of the flower shop, still in driving rain, on the Barnes side of the bridge.  I thought it looked rather like an abstract painting with a mix of colours that appealed to me.  Somebody said I should put it in for the Turner  prize.  ‘Art in Transit’ – ‘Transitory Art’ – ‘Flowers from the Bus’? I didn’t expect anything to come from pressing the button on my camera but even though I say it myself – ‘It’s really quite impressive’?! The camera is old but serves me well.

Artistic impression ...

 Impression …

END

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Autumn – a walk around the Leg o’ Mutton reservoir, Barnes

This small reservoir lies close to the Thames and sometimes you can count up to twelve herons as you walk around it.  It is quite hidden from the main towpath and you can be quite alone in your ramble. stopping from time to time to look at birds and surprise the occasional water rat. This time we met a man –   twice  –  he was walking twice as fast ! – and he told us he did this most days.

Walking upriver towards the Leg O' Mutton reservoir

Walking upriver towards the Leg O’ Mutton reservoir

Barnes - Leg O' Mutton reservoir

Barnes – Leg O’ Mutton reservoir

Barnes - the large and untidy heronry

Barnes – the large and untidy heronry

Besides the herons on the water, there is also a mass of their large, untidy nests in a giant tree, which overhangs the reservoir.

A Barnes heron

A Barnes heron

 

In Autumn, some hardy souls come and manoeuvre the old Victorian machinery that lets more water from the Thames fill up the reservoir after the summer. There’s a mossy wheel, a bit rusty, which presumably connects to an underground pipe from the river.  The reservoir would no doubt act as a useful receptacle for excess water during a flood.

The path around the reservoir

The path around the reservoir

Reservoir colours.  Monet- esque

Reservoir colours. Monet- esque

Lone moorhen making waves ...

Lone moorhen making waves …

This Autumn the leaves are particularly colourful.

Autumn leaves 1

Autumn leaves 1

Autumn leaves 2

Autumn leaves 2

Autumn leaves squashed on the road ...

Autumn leaves squashed on the road …

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