Favourite books of 2019

I don’t know if it’s a case of getting older but I do sometimes re-read books I have loved. These include ‘The Greengage Summer’ by Rumer Godden, ‘The Lady Vanishes’ by Ethel Lina White, ‘The Balkan Trilogy’ by Olivia Manning, ‘Hotel du Lac’ by Anita Brookner, ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ by Clive James (after his recent death), ‘Any Human Heart’ by William Boyd, ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ by George and Weedon Grossmith, ‘The Young Visiters (sic)’ by Daisy Ashford, ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig and ‘The Places Inbetween’ by Rory Stewart. I love Patrick Modiano’s books in french, often just re-reading a chapter because of the brooding atmosphere of impalpable menace he is so good at invoking. ‘Maigret’ by Simenon, in french, is also a great favourite This short list probably gives some inkling into my personality. A lot of these books have also been made into films.

The writer

I’m starting with Muriel Spark, who was brought up in Edinburgh and ended up in Italy. She was quite a tricky personality but Alan Taylor, who has written her biography after many meetings and interviews over some years, became a friend and there was obviously a ‘spark’ between them.The book’s title is ‘Appointment in Arezzo’, subtitled ‘A Friendship with Muriel Spark’. What a great name, even though it came from her husband, who was, apparently, not so great! William Boyd writes on the cover, ‘A beguiling, fascinating memoir’ and I couldn’t put it more succinctly myself. I felt I got to know her well and found the book enormously enjoyable.

I also read her book, ‘Territorial Rights’. Much of it is set in atmospheric Venice – with rocky romance, adulterous liaisons, a would-be art historian meddling with a capricious countess, blackmailers and spies against a backdrop of ‘respectable’ ladies who run the Pensione Sofia. An interesting footnote – when Robert and Anna are tracked down by a middle aged man in a business suit, purporting to be a ‘talent spotter’, he tells them they have ‘style’ and can ‘make the top’. As a result, they are sent to the Middle East to train in a terrorist camp! This book was written in 1979 …?

Two excellent reads

From there I came upon a great find in Waterstones. First published in the U.S. in 2017, ‘Sourdough’, by Robin Sloan, is set in San Francisco and features the Farmers’ Market on the sea front, where I remember sitting outside a great fish restaurant with a steam beer, feeling on top of the world. Sourdough bread is all the rage – now in the U.K. as well – and the author has soared on its wave of publicity. Lois Clary, a software engineer, is bequeathed a sourdough starter, which she, a novice in baking, must keep alive. Shades of ‘Burning Man’ eccentricity, a new life opens up for her in an unexpected way. The Financial Times calls it ‘An enjoyable slice of fiction, wonderfully written and absolutely brilliant’. It sparkles.

Always buy sourdough bread!

A non-fiction book from that part of the world – but based in Silicon Valley, is ‘Bad Blood’. John Carreyrou is an excellent investagative journalist who tracks down secrets and lies in a Silicon Valley start-up. A scientist becomes obsessed with a new idea and then hides the fact that the technology is flawed. Investors have put in millions of dollars. Carreyrou discovers a huge, corporate fraud. This is an example of the downside in taking risks with new technologies. It’s a fascinating read – quite shocking. It rather confirms my reluctant suspicions about certain people and projects in Silicon Valley. Hi-tech needs to be monitored and regulated. Difficult but necessary in a globalised world. No photo – the jacket is bright red but it’s disappeared … suspicious…

I’m interested in Japanese culture and found two books which really appealed to me. ‘Sweet Bean Paste’ by Durian Sukegawa and ‘Before the coffee gets cold’ by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Both of these books explore the meaning of individual lives (‘no existence is devoid of meaning’), of the power of friendship, the importance of memories and how the celebration of good food and drink interweaves into our spiritual existence.

‘Sweet Bean Paste’ is a charming, sweet and tender book, using the deliciousness of the sweet bean pancakes to illustrate how unexpected friendships bring happiness to each person and harmony to the world around them, enhanced by the beauty of pink cherry blossom. And yet there will always be dark clouds, bad memories, bad times, challenges to overcome. ‘Poignant, poetic, sensual’ (Lausanne Cités) – ‘This mix of grief and solace, cherry blossoms and red beans is a recipe for happiness’ (Radio SRF 2 Kultur Kompakt). A book to be read when feeling overwhelmed with the modern world. It will ease your worries for a while and give you new insights into what life might mean to you. Much recommended.

Two charming reads take time to sit down, clear your mind and read them slowly …

I picked up ‘Before the coffee gets cold’ partly because I liked the cover. It’s very offbeat, set in an old fashioned café and quite mysterious. There are three stories – three different people who wish to find out what the future holds, following things that have happened in the past, which cannot be changed. A chair in the café offers you the possibility to travel back in time but not without risk. And you must return to the present before the coffee gets cold. Mesmerising and extremely thoughtful. It starts slowly but stick with it and you will be rewarded.

Delving back into the past in a different way is a book by Lara Maitlem about the treasures to be found in the mud of the Thames in London. It’s called ‘Mudlarking’ and a mudlark is defined as ‘A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour’. I see many ‘mudlarks’ plying their trade along the banks of the Thames and have often thought I would like to join in. The author has spent fifteen years discovering objects from the past that the river throws up on its banks – buckles, pins, pipes, pottery, bottles, coins, sometimes engraved with initials and love knots, examples of which are illustrated on the endpapers of the book. Lara has many stories to tell – a fascinating read.

Treasures of the Thames

I don’t usually read the books which win the Booker Prize but ‘Hotel du Lac’ by Anita Brookner won it in 1984 and I have enjoyed many of her novels since – so much so that I read this one again recently. It was made into a film, starring Denholm Elliott and Anna Massey in 1986. The Times calls it ‘a smashing love story. It is very romantic. it is also humorous, witty, touching and formidably clever’. Hilary Mantel writes ‘Her technique as a novelist is so sure and so quietly commanding’.

Anita Brookner taught at The Courtauld Institute of Art and wrote twenty four novels. She died in 2016.

One of those books that merits a re-read

Talking of the merits of re-reading, ‘The Lady Vanishes’ by Ethel Lina White (1876 – 1944) also qualifies but in this case I saw the film on television and then decided to read the reprinting of this book. It was first published in 1936 under the title ‘The Wheel Spins’ and made into a film, entitled ‘The Lady Vanishes’ by Alfred Hitchcock in 1938. It starred Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave and Dame May Whitty. Two further remakes were made.

Ethel Lina White wrote over fifteen mysteries and thrillers, several of which were made into films. She was enormously successful in her day and as well known as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers but she fell into obscurity following her sudden death in 1944. The story is about a woman who goes missing on a train travelling through Europe and the tension is kept up until the very last page. The characters are well drawn and I can see why Hitchcock decided to make a film of it – which, in itself, was a great success.

Two very enjoyable reads …

Surprisingly, here is the detective novelist, Agatha Christie writing a very personal diary of the trips with her husband, Max Mallowan, to archaeological sites in Syria, Iraq and Mesopotamia. Fascinating photographs are interwoven throughout the text . I’m really impressed by how she copes with the primitive conditions in the desert. How would I compare if I was woken in the night by mice running over my face, only to struggle to light a lantern which then illuminates hundreds of cockroaches on the walls of what can hardly be called a bedroom. She describes everything with a wonderfully dry wit, and is very ‘beady’ about the local sheiks and their behaviour.

P.D. James writes ‘Agatha Christie has provided entertainment, suspense, and temporary relief from the anxieties and traumas of life both in peace and war for millions throughout the world’. She continues to do so today. Félicitations, Agatha. Very good to read something about your own life!

I’m now turning to contemporary writers. I have always loved Sebastian Faulks’ writing – ‘Birdsong’, ‘Green Dolphin Street’, ‘Charlotte Gray’ – and ‘Paris Echo’ (2018) doesn’t disappoint. If you love Paris, it’s an especially good read. I love the detailed descriptions, for example, of the markets in Paris and in Tangier. Sebastian Faulks is so thoughtful that I feel he must know some of these individuals personally … maybe not. But he pulls out all the stops to deliver a first rate story, balancing his characters between Paris and Morocco – delving both into the past, their daily life in the present and the hopes of Hannah and Tariq for their different futures. Again, a relationship which happens through a chance meeting which in the end fulfils both of them.

‘Trinity'(2018), by Louisa Hall, is extraordinary and mesmerising. It is based on the complex character of J. Robert Oppenheimer – the father of the atomic bomb. The title, ‘Trinity’, is used because ‘Trinity’ was the code name of the first detonation of a nuclear device on 16 July, 1945. It was named by Oppenheimer, who said he was inspired by the poetry of John Donne, (1572 – 1631). Maybe ‘Batter my heart, three person’d God’ …

The author takes seven fictional, separate individuals who fall into Oppenheimer’s orbit at different times of his life in order to unfold the scientist’s very complicated personality. It’s an absolutely riveting read. The ‘New York Times’ pronounced it ‘brilliant’.

Two contemporary favourites …

Two other contemporary novels, which I didn’t get on with quite so well. However, it’s good to see what other people like. John suggested ‘Liberation Square’ by Gareth Rubin. John likes ‘what if ‘ books. The Germans have won the war and London is now like Berlin, with a wall down the middle. Everything operates in an atmosphere of fear. I found it a bit muddled but on the whole, a good thriller. It didn’t do much for me though. Just added to the gloom of the present uncertainty in our general lives …

Elizabeth Strout is an acclaimed writer, obviously beloved by many. So I bought ‘Olive Kitteridge’. Somehow, I was reluctant to get into it but then began to really enjoy it, so it clattered along. Over half way, I began to find it so parochial and suffocating, I started to wonder why these people managed to go on living such tedious lives. Poor Olive is tied to a life of negativity because of her personality. I do see myself in a very small part of her (which I must keep extinguishing) – really so glad I wasn’t born Olive. She’s bitter, she’s irritating, she’s tetchy, she’s funny, her character assassinations are brilliant, she relies too much on common sense and can’t help breaking out in kindness and self pity from time to time but she’s also lonely and sad and won’t admit to it. She’s not someone I would like to see often. Too wet blanket, too needy, just tiresome. But still, I sympathise with her lot in life. Will I buy the new book, ‘Olive Again’? I’m curious but life is short, so I’m not sure. Elizabeth Strout does hit the nail on the head though. Ouch!

Horses for courses …

What I needed now was some tales of derring-do. An old fashioned phrase, stirring up memories of Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean. Vintage have re-issued some of Hammond Innes’s thrillers – and I landed up with ‘The Lonely Skier'(1948). He dedicates the book to a friend, Peter Wilson, saying he hopes it will recall pleasant memories of places visited together. The setting is the Dolomites. This is a thriller at the top of its game – a great book to read either while travelling or tucked up in bed. Satisfaction guaranteed!

In 1975, Frederick Forsyth wrote a novella, Called ‘The Shepherd’. He’s not a writer I know well, although a film (1973) was made of his book, ‘The Day of the Jackal'(1971), starring Edward Fox, which was a massive success. The film was absolutely riveting but I don’t believe I ever read the book. I should. My father-in-law, who was in the RAF, died last year, aged 98. ‘The Shepherd’ has a picture of an RAF brooch on the front cover, which men gave to their sweethearts as they left for war. I had bought two of those for my daughters as mementoes of their grandfather. So I picked up ‘The Shepherd’ out of curiosity. It’s Christmas Eve 1957 and a pilot is flying home solo, on leave from Germany – a simple sixty six minutes of flying time. Things go wrong. It’s a miniature masterpiece. Tense, spooky, stirring and beautiful. I loved it.

High quality thrillers

I’ve just found a book which incorporates both travel and history in Europe. It’s called ‘Lotharingia’, by Simon Winder. Judith Flanders says ‘He has created a genre all of his own, the history-travelogue memoir’. It sounds just up my street!

A treat in store …

Art books by Taschen are fantastic and always a great gift to receive. I’ve been dipping into ‘What Great Paintings Say – 100 Masterpieces in Detail’. Alongside it, I’ve been reading ‘The Art of Rivalry’ by Sebastian Smee. He takes Manet vs Degas, Picasso vs Matisse and De Kooning vs. Pollock. This writer really knows his stuff and uncovers so much personal detail of each artist. This is rivalry that stems from admiration and friendship. It’s an illuminating and rewarding book.

‘The Secret Lives of Colour’ by Kassia St Clair is beautifully presented. It’s also packed full of information with fascinating stories about each colour. I’m besotted by colour and this is such a treasure trove. ‘A vivid, whirlwind tour through the rainbow’ says The Wall Street Journal. These are all books which reside by my bedside. Dippers!

Treasure troves – the buzz of learning more about what you love …

I love Alexander McCall Smith. I bought his new book of short stories, ‘Pianos and Flowers’, inspired by old photos which he has come upon randomly – he doesn’t know the people in them but has created stories around the images. There are fourteen stories from all over the world concerning love, friendship, happiness and how chance and serendipity play a part in changing lives. ‘McCall Smith’s generous writing and dry humor, his gentleness and humanity, and his ability to evoke a place and a set of characters without caricature or condescension have endeared his books to readers’ – (New York Times) . He’s a lovely man in real life too!

Brief Encounters

And now a cracker of a book, bought by John and definitely in my top three reads of the year. It is a non-fiction, historical account of The British Plot to Bring America into the Second World War and stars two unlikely heroes, Bill Stephenson and Bill Donovan. It really is a sensational piece of writing, entitled ‘Our Man in New York’ by Henry Hemming. There is praise from Ben MacIntyre, William Boyd, Max Hastings, ‘The Guardian’ and many other newspapers and journals. I couldn’t put it down. Those two men did so much for us all.

A revelatory and wholly fascinating work of history ‘ – William Boyd

I finished up with a book advertised enormously in advance and very well worth the wait for! This is one of my favourite writers. ‘The Body – A Guide for Occupants’, by the illimitable Bill Bryson. Besides his brilliantly entertaining travelogues, he is also a mine of information about life in general. If you enjoyed ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, you should read ‘The Body’ too. His erudition is lightly worn and he has the enviable gift for explaining the most difficult subjects in the clearest possible way, spicing his writing with a dry sense of humour, often against himself. This is a book to return to. Like a knowledgable and engaging friend, you will always find something new and inspiring to discuss. I am always curious to learn, so this book is perfect company.

A final flourish …

This has been a great year for books. I am happy, as I love reading, love bookshops and long may they continue to give us such pleasure. As you may have guessed, I am not an Amazon fan. Waterstones and Hatchards in Piccadilly are my stamping grounds – good cafés within at Waterstones, meaning I can always stay that little bit longer …

2020 awaits …
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Homeward Bound

It’s late afternoon at the end of November. I just got off the bus which is continuing up river. Van Gogh’s painting ‘Starry Night over the Rhône’ comes to mind as I contemplate the reflections of the street lamps over the water.

What shall I make for supper?

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Bridget Riley – Op Art in the Psychedelic Sixties

Bridget Riley is best known for her eye wrenching optical illusion art in the 1960s – much of it in black and white. The idea spilled over into clothes, some designed by Mary Quant. I still have something from that time in my wardrobe – I must have been so slim, it was so easy to wear geometrical patterns which hung perfectly ‘spot on’ in 360 degrees/3D!

A friend wanted to go and see the ‘Retrospective’ at the Hayward and it is impressive. However, if you are prone to migraines, I don’t recommend it – my eyes went into a mix of Marty Feldman’s in ‘Young Frankenstein’ and those of the lorry driver in ‘Men in Black’. I felt peculiar, I looked slightly discombobulated. The paintings are decidedly unsettling in that they antagonise your eye at the same time as being quite geometrically perfect in their execution. It was interesting to see how Bridget Riley arrived at this quite extraordinary way of looking at things.

Arrival at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank

Bridget Riley was partly inspired by Seurat and pointillism. I had always thought of her as being more inclined to black and white but Seurat was fascinated by how colours reacted with one another. For example, red with green, yellow or orange with blue. I can almost taste the way they interact. And in this exhibition you can see how BR was exploring this too.

Seurat was very much influenced by Chevreul, who was a chemist. Chevreul noticed how a colour was influenced by the colours it was next to when he was director of the Gobelins Tapestry dye works in Paris. Seurat, for example, puts dots or small dashes of colour next to one another in many of his paintings but at the same time creating a figurative rather than an abstract painting. Later on, Matisse was also inspired by this way of using colours together. His cutouts illustrate this. But back to Bridget Riley …

Wired up at the Hayward …
Brainwaves …
Colour and movement – like dancers …
Bridget Riley – in drawing and pointillist mode …

During his long life – he lived to age 102 – Chevreul came up with the idea of a ‘colour wheel’. This study of how colours interact had a great influence on art – especially with the Impressionists. Appropriately, given his long life, Chevreul also studied gerontology – the effects of aging – he was a chemist but came from a medical background. As a polymath, Chevreul managed to explore the intertwining of arts and science – he is only one of 73 people to have his name inscribed on the Eiffel Tower in Paris and truly deserves to be remembered for his many sided contribution to the understanding of the science that lies behind our feelings and emotions.

Personally I prefer the pointillist lady with a hat to the abstract display of colours below – but both paintings are experimenting with the interaction of different colours – it’s just that one seems human and the other seems robotic – one is imaginative and the other is digital … and yet they are both employing the effects of what Chevreul captured in his ‘colour wheel’.

Colourfest … at some level, exhausting!

Bridget Riley shows how experimental she herself is. If you had asked me to guess who had painted the picture below, I would have opted for a Scottish colourist like Cadell.

Bridget Riley in colour and figurative mode …

and now she’s in

black and white mode

Black spots, black holes, sucked into 3D space …

out at the sharp end … in your face
Fairground colours

These candy stripes makes me feel queasy – like sinister clowns who use mirrors to change your shape and steal your soul …


The above looks like a message in code but I am incapable of translating it …

I wonder what this young man is thinking … ? He’s very personable.

At the end of the day …
Pals contemplating pastel patternsroom for discussion

I enjoyed this exhibition for itself but even more because it threw up new channels of exploration and linked up various artists and ideas which I hadn’t connected. The sixties were a time bubbling with freedom to think outside of the box and that appealed to my curiosity. Now I can see the linkages in a different way. I expanded my mind!

On the way home, I passed some geodesic domes overlooking the river – a table and chairs set for a meal lie within. A suitable venue to discuss the art of Bridget Riley, while watching the waves …

Bon appetit

I’m thinking that if I came back in a hundred years – impossible – I would be as surprised and shocked, curious and questioning and maybe like a fish out of water – as Samuel Pepys would be if he appeared in London today. Progress is inevitable and includes the bad with the good. The universe will have changed but is unalterably made up of the same nanoparticles – it’s how we use them that makes change possible.

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Olafur Eliasson at Tate Modern

An interactive exhibition by this Danish-Icelandic artist is full of light and reflections – a mixture of the beauty of the natural world with the science that it is made up of and a universe that we don’t totally understand. Oddly, I had bought a ‘Little Sun’ (renewable energy) at the Design Museum in Copenhagen earlier in the year, unaware that it was conceived by Eliasson as one of his many projects. Eliasson is also keen that people should welcome being part of a community. In his own studio he established a kitchen using local, seasonal, vegetarian ingredients in order to help bring his team together.

On my way to Tate

I walked along the river from Waterloo with plenty of time to explore the river front. Such a glorious mixture of buildings, old and new. The weather was mild – it was good to be out and about.

Blackfriars bridge from the South Bank
Designs for the first Blackfriars bridge

If you have time to stop and stare for a moment, it’s worth a look.

An inviting prospect?

But I had already had breakfast and so I moseyed along the river thinking about the treasures that lay beneath the water in the mud and the mudlarks who patiently search for them. At the moment I’m reading all about this in a fascinating book by Lara Maiklem, unsurprisingly entitled ‘Mudlarking’. It is a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’.

Tate Modern

I’ve arrived – the poster for the exhibition is outside and to the left is the Millennium Bridge just touching base on the South Bank. I’m early, I find a bench, sit down and take in my surroundings.

Tate Modern – waterfront

‘Elbow’ skyscraper

There are two men on top of this building. I feel dizzy watching them.

A head for heights!

Not a job I would have the qualifications for …

My companion arrives and we make our way into the world of Olafur Eliasson. Light, mirrors, reflections, ice, fog, moss, multiple images …

Geometry leaking light

We come upon a long passage filled with fog called ‘Den blinden passager’.It is suffused in a yellow light but I can’t see very far in front of my nose. We are encouraged to keep moving forward. I feel disorientated and my balance is wonky but I persevere and begin to become acclimatised. It makes you think – good to be out of one’s comfort zone !

Moving on … touching the void!

Catching quantum physics
‘In the mood’ – a shadow community …
Glacial melt water
Wherever next … into the blue

Colours, light, reflections – all these I am drawn to. I love artists like John Singer Sargent, Joaquín Sorolla, Claude Monet and many of the Impressionists who capture those things in their paintings. I love other artists as much in different ways but I would never choose to live on a planet without light and colours. I don’t expect I would be given a choice but as Jim Al-Khalili moots – your reality may be based on something that doesn’t exist … or at least things we haven’t yet understood. So there’s still room for learning and dreaming. It’s a pity I won’t be able to come back in a hundred years from now. But as it is, the planet has given me enough food for thought in my life to date …

Workshop in spatial experiment

I love this ‘hands on’ room in the final zone where everyone looks completely fascinated by what they are discovering.

And finally, there’s a special treat. The Kitchen team have been set up by ‘Tate Eats’ for us to have a lunch which is similar to the ones made for Eliasson’s team. It is exciting, delicious and wraps up an excellent exhibition. Thank you Olafur Eliasson.

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Wimereux – 1st October 2019

This old fashioned, Hulot-esque town overlooks the sea on the north coast of France. I was introduced to it by my sister and her husband. Almost fifty years ago Mickey and his friend managed to cross the Channel in not much more than a leaky dinghy. They lost their way and finally landed somewhere in total darkness, not knowing if they were still in England or had made it to France. France it was and Wimereux welcomed them. Mickey came back regularly over many decades …

Sadly, he is no longer with us. Times have changed and luckily the Channel tunnel is more reliable than the dinghy. We arrived in good time to board, the sky like grey goose down, shedding a few heavy raindrops onto the windscreen.

Rain, steam and speed – entrance to Channel tunnel

We left England at 11.20am. The photo below will remind me to take the coast road to Wimereux rather than the autoroute. It is empty of cars and full of fresh sea air, the waves rolling in like white horses.

Take the coast road to Wimereux via Peuplingues

An hour later and we are settled in at ‘Les Oyats’ café by the sea, enjoying a ‘crêpe nature’ with salad and a ‘thé au citron’ – or maybe ‘un verre’. The sea is quite wild. ‘Oyats’ translates as marram (sea) grass. The café is busy, despite the weather.

Wild waves
At ‘Les Oyats’
A breath of fresh air

We walked along the ‘digue’ afterwards, feeling madly invigorated. Sun isn’t always a given for holidays – the force of the sea was pulsing through my veins, filling me with a new found energy.

Back at the hotel I noticed a couple at the reception desk and recognised the man straight away even though I hadn’t seen him for many years. Struggling through the cobwebs of my memory, I finally came up with it. A TV programme called ‘The Likely Lads’ – a series shown between 1964 – 66. He was James Bolam – his other half being played by Rodney Bewes.

Sun bursting through …

The clouds are breaking up this morning. The rain has moved on and we have a clear palette for the day ahead. I sometimes wish I could paint but taking photos captures the moment very well. We are off to Boulogne, fifteen minutes away – market day.

Boulogne – market day
Boulogne – la fromagerie roulante
Temptations galore

However, I’m even more interested in the notice above which is anti pesticides. It says pesticides are a tragedy for health – ‘nous voulons des coquelicots'(.org) (we want poppies). It has a message advertising a meeting about the environment on the first Friday of each month at the Place Gustave Charpentier. ‘Chapeau’ for the French!

It’s lunchtime and before we know it we’ve found ourselves in a ‘biker’ café, which is obviously very popular. We plump for a Flemish dish called ‘Flammekueche’ – roasted peppers, aubergines and courgettes on a base which resembles matzos. It’s super delicious, paired with a glass of red wine and a (glass) bottle of ‘Vittel’. There is quite a lot of Belgian influence on this north coast of France.

Biker café – lunchtime
Lunch companion …

The man sitting on the right must be a basketball player. When he stood up, he was over 6’6″!

Boulogne – entrance to fish market at the harbour

We decided to visit the aquarium in the afternoon. Got slightly sidetracked by the most delicious looking patisserie called ‘Fred’.

This box contains the most divine …
…Tartelette au citron …

The aquarium is on the seashore and contains 10 million litres of sea water and 58,000 sea creatures. The entry, through curtains, leading to a down escalator, is dramatic.


This photo didn’t come out well because I was persuading my sister onto the escalator, while this enormous video screen seemed to be enveloping us over and over in a giant wave with a suitably mega soundtrack.

Having descended into the depths, we were met with a huge metal cage and surrounded by roving sharks …

Face to face!

I feel very small – one tiny, tasty morsel …

Marine wonderland …
This is a great coastline for windpower
…and for ‘moules marinières’ …

Dinner time was at the delightful ‘Cap Nord’ – a restaurant/brasserie on the sea front. We were in for an extra treat – front seats to watch a wonderful sunset while eating our ‘moules’.

A lone runner …
A couple watching the sunset on the shoreline
Towards the end of the day …

At this point you could read Shakespeare’s sonnet number 73, which expresses some of the feelings going through my mind at this moment better than I could. It was such a fabulous show this evening. What will tomorrow bring?

Our hotel has been in the same family for at least three generations. It has preserved its traditional French atmosphere downstairs in the hallway and restaurant. A modern addition however has been added at the back, overlooking the garden. Having breakfast with a Fornasetti vase examining your credentials is a sight to behold. I think we passed muster.

Tessellated entrance hall
Glimpse of the traditional hotel dining room
The Fornasetti vase with its uncompromising gaze

It’s worth looking up the Milanese designer, Piero Fornasetti (1913 – 1988). His designs are witty and surreal and continue to be popular.

The sky was becoming bluer by the moment and we headed for the beach, where the tide was out, passing some traditional buildings along the way.

House with traditional ‘oeil de boeuf’ windows …
Paul et Virginie – erstwhile stables made into holiday apartments
Wimereux – an especially ‘grande maison’
Extraordinary companions

This building is on the main street. I find it bizarre that Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Christophe seem to be advertising ‘Express Cars’ and ‘Automobiles’ ! But 100% preferable to having a flimsy, tacky, garage advertising burgers. In fact, the non sequitur arrangement very much appeals!

Wimereux – panorama

In the summer, Wimereux is known for its kite surfing, sand yachting and hot air ballooning. On the beach, there are still a few hardy souls riding the waves from dawn until dusk.

Wimereux – kite surfing

This photo somewhat reminds me of Eugène Boudin, who was one of the first artists to paint ‘en plein air’ and was a mentor to the young Claude Monet, who was brought up in Le Havre. Boudin, (1824 – 1898), was born in Honfleur, the son of a sailor. He met Monet in 1858. Boudin is especially well known for his beach scenes.

On the beach – big sky …
The lone and level sands stretch far away …

… and we had them almost exclusively to ourselves save for a few dog walkers. Magnifique. This is just the place to clear your head and make a fresh start.

On a more sombre note there have been a lot of landslides – the cliffs are friable and several pillboxes and blockhouses left from the Second World War are victims, hurled down onto the rocks below.

WW2 fallen pillbox covered in surreal graffiti

Maybe the eye is a reminder. ‘Lest we forget’. There are still many pillboxes dotted along this coast and also a huge, sinister looking blockhouse containing a small museum of memorabilia near Wissant. Worth a visit.

We retraced our steps and were soon striding back along the ‘digue’ with the wind in our hair.

Back at ‘Les Oyats’, writing a few postcards

Nowadays with email, many fewer postcards are sent, which is a pity. I hope the two I sent will be enjoyed!

I wonder what will have happened at the end of this month. Will Brexit have isolated us from the rest of Europe? Since the end of WW2 people have forgotten that an enormous effort was made to work out a structure of international agreements to prevent another war. The risk now looms again, ever larger, forces that seem to be out of our control.

A great percentage of the population know little about history in general. And some have no wish to learn or remember. I include here a lot of politicians, which is a disastrous situation. I am looking around in vain for a visionary with an addition of common sense.

However, there are a lot of good people doing great things out there and I am positive that at some point the tide will turn in their favour. There are natural cycles in our history, just as in nature.

A second cup for contemplation …

The Channel is looking cold.

Dinner at the hotel is in the offing after a quick visit to the Carrefour supermarket and some of the exclusive looking delicatessens and wine shops in the rue Carnot.

Rose garlic
Côte D’Orgood quality chocolate

A delicious box of biscuits with Snowy – Milo en français – on the lid. I have always been a fan of Tintin books and obviously he is as popular here. The author, Hergé, hailed from Belgium.

And thinking of things being delicious, here is our last dish in France coming up.

Slightly out of focus – nice wine!

Time to leave but it’s not far to drive to the Channel tunnel. I always think just three or four days away from normal daily life gives a great boost to morale. Speaking another language, enveloping yourself in another culture, welcomed with delicious food and drink and a comfortable place to lay your head.

Au revoir, Wimereux et à bientôt
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Bank Holiday with Roland Mouret et al …

The ‘dog days’ of August – people on holiday, searching for the sun, which they seem to have left behind in London. It was so very hot. I used to work in Mayfair in the 1970s for Heinemann – publishers in Curzon Street, near Shepherd’s Market. Mayfair was always wealthy and quiet, with an ambient buzz around the narrow streets of the market area. Not the Berwick Street type of market with stalls – more an ancient pub or two, bijou boutiques, art galleries and discreet restaurants. And one or two ‘ladies of the night’. The Mayfair Curzon cinema with its marble ‘toilettes’ is nearby – always a treat. And the upmarket Connaught hotel. I’ve never been inside but it was a favourite watering hole for Alec Guinness … (he played ‘Smiley’ in John Le Carré’s novels, which were adapted for television).

Carlos Place Mayfair – yellow awnings are at the Connaught hotel

I stood next to the refreshing spray coming from the fountains – opposite was an exotic floral display at Roland Mouret – fashion designer. The display is by a friend of mine.

Mayfair – exotics at Roland Mouret
Roland Mouret

Designer fashion and sleek, purring cars with Dubai number plates are two a penny around here …

Caroline Herrera – headless …
Mayfair – Picasso-esque
Luxurious Lanvin …
Exquisite Lalique
Lalique too …
N. Peal – sumptuous cashmere – Burlington Arcade
Mayfair – a stork in Cork Street
Gallery ‘refurb’ in Cork Street

A lot of galleries have had to leave Cork Street because of modern redevelopment and presumably higher rents. Some have reverted to being ‘online’ only. I’m glad this one seems to have survived and look forward to its new persona. I especially miss the Medici … Some months ago I turned the corner left out of Cork Street, where there is a small café. It has been there for many years – this time I was especially happy to see Bill Nighy sitting outside, enjoying a cup of coffee. I smiled at him and hurried on.

In Albemarle Street …

So that was my Bank Holiday Saturday. In a few minutes I will see my two favourite bookshops on Piccadilly – Hatchards and Waterstones. I can’t pass a bookshop without buying a book … but first, a glamorous afternoon needs to finish with a glamorous cup of tea.

Tea at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly

P.S. The book I came home with was ‘The Lady Vanishes’ by Ethel Lina White. She used to be as well known as Agatha Christie, writing over fifteen mysteries and Hitchcock made a great film of this book. Sadly, she fell into obscurity after her sudden death in 1944. Recommended!

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My family of houseplants

Last year I was given a giant terracotta pot, full of succulents, for Christmas. They looked exquisite and in the early Spring I decided to put them out on the garden table for a day or two. The sun was warm and I thought they would benefit from fresh air.

On the second morning, I looked out of the window only to find an unbelievable scene of frenzied destruction and total carnage. Some monster had, under cover of dark, uprooted the plants, scattering earth everywhere. The plants were massacred, half eaten and thrown on the ground. Was it a fox, a squirrel or a malign force – was this sinister night visitor still lurking somewhere nearby, waiting to wreak more vengeance …

I was horrified and then sad. It became grey and cold outside. I put out seeds for the birds – robins, blackbirds, goldfinches and a tiny wren. Undeterred by the late frost, primroses appeared. The demise of the succulents slowly faded …

As Spring gave in to Summer I started buying small plants, one at a time. And now I have a new family of succulents – kept safely inside for the moment …

My family of succulents

One morning I came down to find that one plant had grown a beanstalk type stem in the middle, showing a crowning glory of pink, starry flowers. If the initial pot had survived, I doubt that I would have started this collection – so some good came out of disaster …

Pretty in pink!
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Barcelona – a kaleidoscope

John was speaking at a conference here and I was invited along by ‘Atlas For The Future’. This is a company run by two very talented women – Lisa Goldapple and Cathy Runciman. They are both fabulous.

This was my first visit to Barcelona and it would be only for two days. Early evening sun lit up the city. The Jazz hotel is central and our room was probably designed by a female brain because all the mirrors, hooks, lighting etc were in the right places! So often I can’t believe how badly designed some hotel rooms are. Even expensive ones.

We were met in the lobby by Judith and Naledi who spirited us off at a fast pace through the streets to a roof top terrace where bottles of ‘cava’ flowed and exquisite ‘tapas’ were enjoyed by an eclectic group of all the conference speakers.

Barcelona jacarandas
The Gothic quarter
Barcelona – the cathedral
Arriving at our destination for the evening …

Not only were there delicious tapas treats but for my first time we were strapped into a virtual reality gadget, which showed us future scenes of the results of climate change on the planet. I found it very disturbing but we need to be faced with this reality and be encouraged to take steps to prevent some of these scenes happening. Will we be in time?

This conference was made up of wonderful people, all trying to do their best to save us from a tragic outcome. A warmth of spirit and enthusiasm for the good things in life and how we can preserve them prevailed throughout.

Comfortable bed, reviving sleep, day 1 of the conference.

On our way to the conference
The library – an interesting concept …
Entrance to the university
‘Atlas of the FutureConference – speaker

We had a little window of time before the afternoon session and made our way to the Picasso Museum, which stretches across five medieval palace buildings. It’s very impressive.

Picasso museum
Picasso museum – him and her
Picasso’s birds …
Picasso reflections …
Mirrors within mirrors

I’m now leaving the museum but feel like Alice Through the Looking Glass – not sure how this photo came to be but I’m reflected behind the red dot. Somewhat confused, I eventually found myself back on the street … this is a great place to show Picasso.

Near the Picasso museum

There was still a short time to explore and we made best use of it.

Looks fun – maybe next time …
An inviting enclave …
Trapped under a bell jar

I wanted to buy him but he wasn’t for sale. So – trapped for ever …

A quick lunch with the best olives …
Rose tuna
lemon sorbet
the bird awaits the crumbs …

Scurrying back for the afternoon session – do we know the way? Barcelona is so picturesque it’s hard not to stop and stare – so I do a bit of that … while hurrying on in the heat of the day……….

Ever onwards …
People watching and a pretty dress …

The afternoon session goes well – a lot of discussion on nutrition and I am impressed by a British journalist called Bee Wilson and a Scottish/Italian chef who lives in Adelaide and has a top restaurant. The two of them create huge sparks of energy together.

Pan pipes – music fills the street
No, I don’t know – it remains a mystery …

I noticed some small ‘vintage’ boutiques as we were speeding along today and planned to return alone to check them out. John is fast track, while I am slow and love to potter about.

Bona nit
Barcelona boutiques
shoe shop!
pink fashionista
meringues galore!
dog – boutique style
a bar – looking inside out …
‘vintage’ silky purchase in fifties pattern

This is from a tiny boutique near the university called ‘ZIEL’. I think they look through old patterns, then reprint onto new material. This pattern reminds me of ‘jiving’ – great rock n’ roll dance steps of the fifties. It’s also classy, unlike many modern ‘tops’ today. I am so happy!


This looks inviting but time is of the essence as the conference is now coming to a close at the end of the day. We had wanted to see the Sagrada Família but the queues were much too long – a colleague suggested to John that we should go and see the first house Gaudi created, both inside and out, for an industrialist, politician and patron, Eusebi Güell. It now belongs to Barcelona, given by his youngest daughter and has been named a UNESCO world heritage site. It is ‘out of this world’ original and wonderful.

On our way to Palau Güell
City street with Catalan flag
Barcelona bikes

The city has many trees lining the streets – some with impressive seed pods.

Impressive seed pods!
Palau Güellentrance
The stairs beckon …
Ceiling 1
A floral chest
Ceiling 2
Ceiling 3
Could come in handy!

Cut to the roof top. As you are probably aware by now, there was no limit to the budget and Gaudí went on to create Parc Güell, which is a must for the next time in Barcelona.

A magical roof top
Gaudí at play
Captured mistily in a beautiful mirror
Reminds me somewhat of Jack Nicholson in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’?
Palau Güell – garden
Palau Güell – exit

We left and our short time in Barcelona came to its end too … I hope we return.

Adéu Barcelona
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Corsica – Four days in Ajaccio

Corsica! I’d never been but the word conjures up a wild, mountainous landscape where shepherds and brigands roast whole goats on spits and live out their lives far away from society in towns and cities. Savage cliffs plunge into rough seas. And the interior is somewhat like the lost world, feral and untamed … some of which eventually came to greet us …

Wild Corsica

However, the number 5 bus to Marinella beach was our less wild transport, only a few kilometres from Ajaccio. After waiting an hour, the driver finally appeared and set off at high speed with an almost full load. That night we did walk forty five minutes to a fish restaurant overlooking the sea – La Crête – but later called for a taxi home, as the pink and violet colours of the sunset were finally extinguished and inky darkness took over with its ever present terrors.


The shepherds of yesteryear, who guarded their flocks at night, seem to have become the fit and handsome restaurateurs of today, who now serve wild boar stew, fragrant cheeses and tasty charcuterie of all kinds. They know how to present their Corsican aperitifs and wines to best advantage. I asked where the vineyards were – there are tours from Ajaccio from July to September with tastings.

Corsica – a restaurant by the sea …

Sleep engulfed me in my little pallet bed and early sunshine promised a visit to the market in Ajaccio. This is set up every day on Place Foch, which is close to the harbour. It is a cornucopia of ‘produits du terroir’ and very popular.

Place Foch, Ajaccio, where the daily market is held

Place Foch, which runs down to the sea …
A few purchases were made …

There’s a small, pedestrian street snaking off from the square, which has a shop stuffed full to the brim with all Corsican food and drink. www.villages.corses.com. Salami sausage, including that of wild boar, hangs spicily from the ceiling, bottles of cédrat liqueur (you should try the Cap Corse aperitif), olive oil and wine line the shelves in serried ranks. I espied a small jar of truffles, which I couldn’t resist, some soft cédrat nougat and a packet of ‘thé immortelle’ made with helianthus flowers. Good thing I brought my bigger suitcase!

Next on the agenda was a cédrat flavoured ice cream which I happily demolished, sitting in the gardens in front of the art gallery. Instant gratification!

A note on cédrat, which is, in a word, the ur-lemon. A sweetish lemon with a yellow, bumpy skin and very thick, fleshy pith. The strong scent of the blossom means that the bees make a very fragrant honey. The fruit is not as acid as a normal lemon and is made into jam and used a lot in cookery – and ice cream! It can be sliced very thinly and eaten as a salad with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Original and excellent.

It was getting hotter. Sunglasses a must but I now also needed a hat and found a bargain for fifteen euros.

Not my hat – Crown at Place de Gaulle, Ajaccio

This crown is linked to Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born here in Ajaccio in 1769. It’s a permanent fixture and quite bizarre, hanging seemingly precariously above the traffic and slightly reminding me of the star in Moustiers-St- Marie, France, which hangs by a chain between two mountains, celebrating the successful return of a soldier from the war.

A perfect sunhat with two interesting books I plan on reading …

I set off on a walk around the centre of town and met Napoleon and other personalities from the past. Ajaccio is buzzy and easy to get to know. It’s a whole lot more welcoming if you speak French too.

Relaxing in the centre of Place de Gaulle

Ajaccio – Bonjour Napoleon!
Ajaccio – le joli chien
Ajaccio – near the market
Ajaccio – in pursuit …
Old Ajaccio – painting in the main art gallery

The musée Fesch is well worth a visit. It was a treat to spend time looking at the three floors of paintings without struggling through crowds or queueing. Your ticket includes the church which is alongside. And the ice cream parlour is opposite …

Touches of Impressionism, Manet and van Gogh …

I meant to take a photo of my cédrat ice cream cone but too late – I ate it before thinking! An excuse for another one …

Ajaccio – an elegant ‘Glacier’
Would this make a good still life painting?

Later on, we drove out towards Les Iles Sanguinaires in the hope that a boat would take us out there – and we were lucky!

Corsica with Les Iles Sanguinaires in the distance
Les Iles Sanguinaires – on our way …
Les Iles Sanguinaires – to the lighthouse
Les Iles Sanguinaires – making landfall

We climbed up to the lighthouse and had a picnic. Glorious weather. Nobody lives here and the gulls, lizards and wild flowers have the place to themselves in the winter months. Although there are a few other people here today, you do have the feeling of an uninhabited island with that unidentifiable, unspoilt ‘spirit of place’.

Les Iles Sanguinaires – a year round resident

As well as the islands, there are magnificent coastal paths full of butterflies and beetles, which bring you to empty, sandy beaches, where the sea is like glass. Swimming in the sea – I had forgotten how wonderful that is. The beach is waiting for me to come back!

That evening we sat out on our large balcony with a view of the sea. In front of us was a ruined farmhouse, surrounded by wild shrubs and bushes. Earlier we had found a short cut through it to the beach. We were to find out more about its nocturnal inhabitants later …

The ruined farmhouse
Wild flowers
Corsica – hills covered in impenetrable ‘garrigue’

These hills rise up behind the apartments. We were watching the sunset fade over the sea, while sipping a glass of cédrat liqueur. As night fell, I heard snuffles and squeaks in the rough shrubby ground below us. There were animals, rootling around. We couldn’t see them but they sounded bigger than rodents and quite determined on their search for food. They turned out to be wild boar – in French, ‘sangliers’, a word which describes them more onomatopoeically. ‘Le sang’ in French means blood and they were definitely on the rampage. Lucky we didn’t take the short cut at night! They come down from the hills above in the hopes of a treat or two and could be quite fierce if approached.

The ‘sangliers’ represent the wild celebrities of the island but it’s also worth mentioning a couple of others.

Tino Rossi was a celebrated French singer and actor, who was born in Ajaccio (1907 – 1983). He had an operatic voice and sang romantic songs of the era, only losing out to rock and roll in later years. He built a house at the end of our local beach, Marinella, which still stands today. He sang a song with the same name …

Another celebrity is Dorothy Carrington, (1910 – 2002), an English woman, who lived for over fifty years in Corsica and wrote a book about the island, which has become a classic, after winning the Heinemann Award in 1971. Its title – ‘Granite Island – A Portrait of Corsica’. She lived an enormously full life on the international scene and her obituary is a fascinating read.

Both Tino Rossi and Dorothy Carrington have graves in the Ajaccio cemetery, which resembles a miniature city – for the dead.

A ‘street’ in the cemetery, Ajaccio

Our four days were almost at an end and our last dinner was eaten under the starry roof of a rustic restaurant in Ajaccio. Very Corsican!

Goodnight, Corsica

Just a little taster of a beautiful island – lots more to explore…

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Copenhagen – Incommunicado, followed by a death

A big conference here at the beginning of February beckoned, asking John as one of the main speakers. My birthday was looming, I had hardly been to Copenhagen, so I got to come along. I say ‘hardly’ because we hitch hiked back from Stockholm in 1969 and were dropped off at a bus stop with a view of Elsinore castle. My mother loved Copenhagen porcelain and I bought her a pale blue dish with ‘the little mermaid’ sitting in the middle of it. But we didn’t stay.

This time we chose to come in from the airport on the smart metro and walk to our hotel by the water – Nyhavn 41. Interesting panorama from our window. Lots of new buildings planned.

Copenhagen – the waterfront from Hotel Nyhavn

We ventured out for a quick supper – delicious, as it turned out, at a restaurant a few steps away, called ‘Hummer’. When we came out, it was dark and steely cold but we didn’t have far to go and I took a picture of the bridge, which we walked over later in the week.

Copenhagen – bridge for cycles and pedestrians
Night moves

Looking out of the window just before I went to sleep, the light below seemed to be seeking me out across the water and I couldn’t help thinking of that quote from ‘The Great Gatsby’ – ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past’. I sleep well in cold weather.

Goodnight, Jay Gatsby

Next morning, John went to meet his colleague, Louise, at the conference centre. I thought of my mother, so many years ago, and decided to walk upriver to see the actual ‘little mermaid’ as my birthday celebration to myself. And at that moment my mobile phone fell off the bed onto the wooden floor and gave up the ghost. Nothing I did could get it started. Did I panic? Only for a moment. I left a note in the room, asked at reception to send an email to John to say I had no phone and walked out to a stiff breeze coming off the water. I was incommunicado, liberated from any intrusion by gadgets. I felt refreshingly loose, like a dog off the lead.

On my way

There weren’t many people, which was enjoyable – a change from London’s busy pavements. And a super oxygenated influx of fresh air. Phew!

Michelangelo’s David takes a trip from Florence

These old warehouses are now apartments. The wind is sheer as I focus on the way ahead. I am in my element.

I come upon a lonely giant

And a strange lady appearing out of the shrubbery.

A mysterious ‘revenante’

And, finally, the little mermaid herself.

The Little Mermaid – Copenhagen

She is beautiful and perfectly formed. On 23rd August 2013 she turned a hundred years old. A gift to the city from the Danish brewer, Carl Jacobsen, who was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. A busload of tourists were suddenly surging towards me – it was time to go.

The lonely giant had acquired some companions and the sun was trying to pierce the mist which hung over the water.

The path back was straight as a die and I strode along feeling full of the energy of youth – which I miss!

Copenhagen waterfront

There was no noise except for the ripples on the water, the occasional muted sussuration of a boat or ferry and the distant sound of construction. It made me aware of how stressful continuous noise can be. John had bought me cancelling noise headphones which I now use on the tube and bus – when I take them off, the noise factor is appalling. How could I have put up with it?! Does it contribute to deafness in later life, I wonder?

At my feet

Even the energy grids have an attractive design! Now I decided to branch off into the streetscape and explore more of the city.

Copenhagen – an old couple!

There are lots of picturesque signs offering various services as I wander wherever the mood takes me …


Cafés and small restaurants are many and varied …

A sailor’s refuge

It’s always worth looking upwards …

Comfortingly portly!

Nyhavn, where we are based, is very picturesque and must be bursting in summertime. It’s just beginning to wake up now. A great place to be by the water.

15 Nyhavn
Cornucopia of restaurants!
A place to enjoy by the water …

Meeting John back at the hotel later, he told me all had gone very well at the conference but his father had just died. We had been invited out to a special dinner. John’s father, Tim, really enjoyed his food and also cooking, so we treated ‘Veve’ as a celebration and wished he could have been with us. The dinner of many courses was phenomenal! Our hosts were full of interesting stories and delightful company.

Next day, John had time to visit the Design Centre, where old and new is well put together. I do like a lot of modern Scandinavian design with its minimalism but I also need some things to be more ornate and glamorously romantic.

Eye catching

Three bees – no explanation!

Elegant and intriguing – who sent this letter to whom?!
A ‘face’ dress, (Gandalf?), a bicycle and domestic items at the Design Museum

Exotic shop window – nose to the glass!

Sadly, this shop wasn’t open … probably for the best

Minimalism at the Design Museum
Historic design
A significant presence with its sturdy feet

I almost expected it to speak to me in old Danish!

A beautiful carpet

Exquisite glasses
All I want to do now is plunge into this chair
Eye catching environmental posters

Enmeshed in design

There is so much to take in – all of it fascinating but what I needed now was a rest, a drink and something sweet to keep my energy levels up. All was provided!

Having a rest …
At restaurant Els
Not usually a beer drinker but this was quite special
… and a little sweetness
An ice cream thief patrols the streets …

On the way back I looked at some Danish boutiques. I did manage to squeeze in some shopping on my own and bought a simple, stylish. wrap around summer dress – silky material, bon marché, dark navy with tiny white spots – the equivalent of £40 sterling. I have worn it a lot which always adds to the pleasure of a bargain – and it hardly needs ironing. Win win! The name is ‘boii’ – I recommend this shop!

Copenhagen upmarket fashion boutique

Just a note to say this is not ‘boii’ which I didn’t get a photo of, so much was my excitement in finding a dress I liked at a good price – this shop above would be more expensive – but nonetheless alluring!

Back at the hotel, I was looking out at the view across the water. It’s interesting that I’m taking two photos of roughly the same view – one is expanded, showing all the construction going on across the water, the other could be an impressionist/Netherlandish painting of a rowing boat in a bygone age.

The old and the new side by side

See below …

Copenhagen – the rowers

Look at the older buildings in the middle of the top photo – the same buildings are here, close up, shown at eventide. Expand the photo of the rowers and you would see the modern construction going on. For the most part, Copenhagen is succeeding in mixing the old and the new today.

The Opera House – modern can look beautiful too!

My birthday was celebrated with Danish friends at Krogs – one of the oldest restaurants in Copenhagen. I do feel my Scandinavian genes coming out – except I don’t speak Danish – and they are so good at English.

Dessert at Krogs

Given that we’re just coming into February, I was charmed by the amount of Christmas roses (hellebores) I saw everywhere, welcoming in a new year.

Christmas roses (hellebores)

Giant grape hyacinths
Colour coordinated flowers

and an appealing poster

Next day – and the sky was overcast. We made our way, raindrops falling on our heads, towards the new Architectural Museum next to the modern Library, overlooking the water. Both buildings inside and out are very impressive.

On our way …

Rain soaked

I love frogs and frogs love rain

New Architecture building

This is close by the new Library, called ‘The Black Diamond’, which also overlooks the water and incorporates part of the original library. It is where I found my birthday present, which I love!

My birthday present

This is the most fragile and beautiful mobile which sparkles both in the light and in the dark and is now hanging in our kitchen.

A reviving cup of tea

That evening we ate very well and simply at Koefoed – recommended but took a long time to track down. Worth the effort. Another place we should try next time is called ‘Geist’ – I like its logo – but I don’t know what it’s like.

Please hand me a glassful …

Champagne is always welcome …

In the evening when it became dark, we strolled across the bridge near the hotel and I sort of fell in love with Copenhagen. I love lots of other places and cities but my genes for the most part are rooted in Scandinavia. And I like the thought that Danes are rated high on the ‘happiness’ list!

Copenhagen – the bridge at night
Goodnight Copenhagen

We were recommended to see The David Collection. C. I. David was a lawyer and entrepreneur, coming from a wealthy family. He was interested in all forms of art and was finally able to open his collection to the general public. It’s eclectically impressive.

Open sesame!

David Collection – three fish plate
Sunflowers in silk – exquisite
Sea horses – now an endangered species
It must have been a beautiful bowl …
A few things from the David Collection

Coming out of the building which houses The David Collection, the view is of the Rosenborg castle and park on the other side of the road. There are also some small pavilions, containing design and art works.

Copenhagen – Rosenborg castle and park
Copenhagen – flying high, looking glam …
Smash and grab
Another unexpectedly high flyer

Feeling pretty exhausted – the David Collection is massive – we suddenly realised that within one of these small pavilions which decorate the edge of the park was a restaurant – the ‘Orangeriet’. What joy. They were busy but a table was found and we immediately felt cosseted and warm. The back of the restaurant is like a greenhouse with olive trees growing inside.

Copenhagen – restaurant ‘Orangeriet’
Old forks recycled as drawer handles – great idea – this place is laid back and lovely
Wrapping up a delicious day …

This was our last morning. We went to look for a copy of ‘the Times’ which had an obituary of John’s father. The sun was bright, illuminating the pristine layer of frost which stretched before us.

Copenhagen – frosty morning
Searching – without success – for a copy of ‘The Times’

John has three siblings. A brother and a sister who live in the village and another sister who is a nurse. John had been there a few days before we left for Copenhagen. His father was being well looked after at home in bed but had lost consciousness. A final stroke left him in peace. He was 98 years old and will be honoured as a Battle of Britain pilot. It was time for us to go home. Oddly, my phone came back to life this morning. It must have had concussion.

Morning constitutional

A perfect winter’s day

Packed and ready to leave. I never like this crossover time and airports seem to drag it out, sapping your energy with endless queueing, crushed on all sides by a world gone mad with consumer goods, automatic ticketing and baggage to contend with, automatic passports manned by robots. Aaargh! ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’ (thanks, John Milton, for this well used phrase) – that’s me! We wait, we hope. There were no aeroplanes in John Milton’s time. He was ahead of the game. In fact, the poem was written ‘On his Blindness’. I can see but am somewhat blinded by technology. Maybe I should grow wings!


Copenhagen has been a joy and I want to come back.

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