Although we had snowfall last week, I know that Spring is creeping up on us. The first daffodils are out – the naturally produced ones, that is, not the shop bunches – and buds are popping enthusiastically all over the place. To celebrate, I have started buying bits and pieces for when I feel it is time to venture into the garden. A fair weather gardener, that’s me. At least for the time being!
So – we went to a huge (to me) garden centre outside Seven Oaks. It sold much, much more than plants, I can tell you. Clothing, (non-garden related), a huge range of food (lots of it locally produced), books, nasty little ornaments from certain countries, greetings cards, mugs, mobility scooters, garden furniture and of course, tools, hoses, mowers -you name it – it was probably there. There was a sad little eatery that sold dubious looking sausage rolls and other similar treats, served on elegant paper plates and cups! They were so classy, they bent under the weight of the smallest sandwich and it was a race to get to the table before your lunch met the floor! After waiting for ever in a slow-moving queue (only one assistant) we chose a fruit scone. We could hardly contain our excitement as we cut into this rock cake in disguise with our bendy plastic knives that had blades the size of a fingernail (there’ll be no mucking about here – we ‘do’ health and safety!) There was also a huge restaurant/café, that had a menu that sounded rather good, but we found that the most of the food on offer was swimming in fat, and the prices were what we would pay in our local gastro-pub where the food is really worth eating. It was though we were caught in a time warp – sixties here we come!
I thought about missed opportunities, as I walked out without eating, back into the produce area. There was a beautiful butchery selling local meat. It seemed well patronised, too. There was an attractive array of local fruit and veg. along with cheeses and ice-cream from around Britain. There was bakery (selling retro items like gypsy tarts and eccles cakes – maybe not so good for me-) There were sweets, home-made jams and chutneys, the list is very long.
The right people, with access to this great produce, could make this enormous venue into a fabulous place to come and eat, browse and buy. Business would be ‘kicking’.
As to the plants – well, it is a bit early still and I did not buy a thing. And the mowers, spades and forks, hoses and wormeries? Rather expensive and I am sorry to say, I will probably buy them from Amazon.
I did get a pair of pink clogs, an out-door brush and some gardening gloves though, so that’s a start!
Dare I hazard that Spring is quietly creeping around the place, sneaking a look at what she can expect if she makes a commitment to actually arriving? Friends say I am mad, that we could still suffer a rapid drop in temperatures with attendant snow, wind and rain – let alone the dreaded BLACK ICE! I, however, favour the more optimistic version and point in the direction of the daffodils that have actually been in bud for a couple of weeks now and which are forging ahead in the otherwise naked gardens.
And yesterday I caught a glimpse of snow-drops as I walked past a house with a ‘green’ garden. That is, one planted with small buxus hedges, well-trimmed ever-green shrubs, palms and topiary. There was a simple, winding gravel path leading eventually to the front door, each curve giving access to the plants situated further back in the beds and all enclosed in beautifully trimmed leafy hedges about 4 ft high. I love gardens that look like this – so controlled. (or is it ‘contained’?)This garden was tiny by most standards, but it was loaded with impact, purely because of that control (containment) and because of the obvious care that had gone into its design and maintenance. Various shades of green played the part of absent colours, providing the dynamics of contrast – of light and shade, of cool and warm and of rough and smooth. The snow-drops added the final touch.
Around us, though, new buds are popping all over the place and it was fun freezing my hands off taking photos of a few of them.
The lake is also looking pretty damn good and I am adding three pics showing how different it is without the 5 shades of grey. (see my blog: Winter- The Final Frontier).This is for Lloyd.
The Canada Geese are starting to come back, just to upset me. I spotted a pair yesterday, grubbing around in the grass at the edge of the lake. Noisy, dirty and aggressive individuals they are, too. When the weather gets better and they all arrive to nest we will be greeted by bird s##t all over the paths and roads and appalling noise every morning as the sun rises. I am sorry to say, that once the fluffy stage is over, there is little to recommend these honkers except perhaps the part they played in the Saatchi and Saatchi ads persuading us all to ‘work as a team’. (Talk about social engineering! And they do look very elegant when flying in formation as long as they keep their beaks shut!
Finally – because I was a bit of a slouch and did not post this when I wrote it, I have indeed been beaten by the snow! It arrived this morning – light and fluffy and not too difficult to contend with. Just as well too, as today, we picked up my new car!
And finally, finally, a few lines that I first read over 50 years ago and which I have cherished and chuckled over ever since.
The spring is sprung,
The grass is riz,
I wonder where dem boidies is?
The little boids is on the wing.
Why, dat’s absoid –
The little wings is on the boid!
A day in London is always exciting and I go up regularly to meet friends, to the theatre – to eat, to visit an exhibition or museum or just to wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere. The aura of history is a tangible factor in this stupendous city and over the years it has just got better and better. By that, I guess I mean that it has become more accessible, more tourist friendly and attuned to the needs and wants of visitors. In turn, Londoners themselves benefit from enhanced facilities and the extra cash that is spread around.
When I first came here to live 48 years ago (it seems so long ago and yet just like yesterday,) it was a hugely different scene. Traffic clogged all the main shopping streets. I remember only one pub in the West End, situated behind Selfridges that had any tables and chairs outside. The opportunity for any day-time entertainment other than shopping and visiting historic monuments was non-existent and the general consensus was that the weather was too fickle for any European nonsense like eating and drinking out-of-doors. Apart from the Fortes in Piccadilly for a special treat, your average punter relied on local pubs, stodgy tea-rooms – often in department stores, the ubiquitous Wimpy Bars and an appalling chain of eateries called The Golden Egg. The casual, cheap eating and entertainment scene was indeed sadly lacking. It was grim for the non-shopper! I must hastily say that it was a bit different out in the country!
Now, the area is crammed with cafes and pubs, offering outside seating winter and summer. The cafes around the Carnaby Street area and Liberty’s offer a great meeting place for everyone, with some not bad food and plenty to drink. I often visit to get a decent espresso or a flat white from the NZ café there. It is called Flat White and it comes well recommended. Also try Sacred, another NZ espresso bar in several locations, including Westfield Shopping Mall.
Arguably the most changed area of London from my point of view anyway, (forgetting the Olympic development) is South of the river where a grim huddle of semi-industrial concrete and brick, winding lanes and old slums, has been turned into
a truly intriguing opportunity to wander along the bank of the Thames and to soak up the vibrant atmosphere of this ‘new’ part of London.
Known simply as South Bank, here there are masses of cafes, small shops and watering-holes seeded with not-to-be missed attractions like the Tate Modern (art gallery), the Globe Theatre (an on-site re-construction of Shakespeare’s Globe) and the National Theatre.
The Acquarium and the London Eye are among other attractions that may be accessed from this area and there are skilled buskers, music and street theatre to add to a sense of bubbling excitement. Treasures like this are your reward for walking rather than taking the ‘tube’. It is fun, when the tide is out, to watch sand sculptors working their magic down on river level.
It is fascinating to visit the old Mudlark pub, situated in the shadow of the Southwark Cathedral (probably best not to sit outside in the pub garden when the cathedral clock chimes!) Here, you may be tempted by a ‘typical’ English pie or, if your tastes are less robust, you may try Le Pain Quotidien for a modern French-style salad with excellent bread and a lush pastry. So much variety!
You can easily, too, walk over the Millennium Bridge and up the tiny hill to St. Paul’s Cathedral with its famous dome, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. A memorable ending to the day is to attend the 17.00 Evensong choral service in the cathedral (where the sound of the choir will surely send prickles down your spine,) before wandering back over the bridge for a welcome drink and something to eat.
It is all there for the asking – a great day out and one that offers
different pleasures each
time it is repeated.
Do you have a favourite place in London that is no longer being used for its original purpose, but which has been converted to provide entertainment? We would all love to hear about it. We are always looking for new places to visit!
Last week found us taking an overnight trip to Birmingham. This is a city that seems to attract a great number of disparaging comments and regrettably, in my mind is associated solely with TV comedy programmes from forty years ago and a ‘Brummie’ restaurant manager that I worked along-side in the sixties. He was a tough bird. One of the toughest people I had ever met. His girlfriend was tough too. She was a waitress in the same establishment and I found their voices and accents totally bemusing and, sad to say, bloody awful. I take solace in the fact that many people find my accent pretty awful too. I reckon that allows me a little leeway in the (gentle) criticism stakes!
Anyway, back to Birmingham. We travelled up on the M40, through Oxfordshire. To encourage us, the weather decided to be pretty OK. The sun shone, we were blinded because neither of us thought to take sun-glasses (after all, it is winter in England), and the scenery was very therapeutic. As we drove across the Thames Valley, we were surrounded by acres of gently undulating farmland, almost flat and with water still lying in the fields from the recent floods.
There is definitely something up-lifting about speeding along on a wide, well-surfaced open road, perhaps with the radio blaring out some oldish music and not too much traffic. It allows you to luxuriate in a cosy cocoon where the outside world, for a short time at least, has no influence. I think that, over the years, I have experienced my moments of purest, unalloyed, mind-floating pleasure at times like this. There is no particular external factor prompting this feeling of well-being, but it manifests itself by what I think used to be called “a swelling of the bosom”. Or is it ‘in’ the bosom? A sensation of fullness in the region of the heart along with a feeling of absolute gratitude, satisfaction, warmth and believe it or not, youth! The road could carry on for- ever, going anywhere, without limits. (No wonder those old road movies were so popular.) The Sun is important, though. I think that it only really happens on a sunny day. You know – the sun is shining and all is right with the world. Just a shame that the poxy lorries have to be there as well.
Anyway, we spent our night in Birmingham and the only thing we saw while we were there, other than the hospital, (the reason for our visit) was the inside of Akbar’s Indian Restaurant (Bradford).
I have to say, that they provided one of the best Indian meals I had ever had. We go to Bradford two or three times a year and we had always wanted to visit the original Akbar’s there, but had never had the opportunity. We now realise what a treasure we had missed. The whole experience was really special – polished service, wonderful food and the biggest Naan bread in the whole world! Definitely a place to return to.
Next time we go to Birmingham, I hope to actually see something of the city!
Congratulating myself now, upon not having bought my worms yet. This time, my procrastination has worked in my favour and that of the worms, I guess. If you follow my other blog, clevercomposting.com, you will know that a kilo or so of ‘red wrigglers’ is about to enter my life, inhabiting my new worm farm. The little dears are probably quietly winding around each other, still warm in the worm nursery, enjoying a mass orgy. This means that I will not be going outside and finding a communal grave in my yet- to- be- installed worm farm. Thank heaven for that – it would have been too devastating.
The drifting flakes are falling constantly now and the typical snowy hush has descended upon us. It is a Sunday, so traffic is almost non-existent and apart from neighbours introducing children and pets to the joy of playing in the snow, there is nothing much happening.
The cabbage trees across the road and the tree ferns in pots are bearing huge loads of the white stuff, their green blades bending under their unwanted and un-asked-for burden, poor things. They are surely craving the warm sun and rain of home now, hating the freezing blast that is paralysing them and which will, eventually, turn them brown and rotten.
The local ever-greens, still showing signs of life, are bending too, sharing the load with their foreign neighbours, but with their tough leaves handling the strain far more successfully.
The lakes are not frozen yet, but should the temperatures nudge down a bit, that ice will creep over the surface of the grey, grey, water shutting out the few birds that are still in evidence and sending the fish into a state of drifting coma. To me – it’s a miracle that anything survives at all. Bread moistened and tossed out onto the lawn, is ignored by the few birds that fly overhead. Not like NZ, where it would have been snapped up in an instant. So much to learn! I guess I will have to buy a proper bird feeder and buy seeds and stuff.
Tomorrow we will have to go out to get some food. Our car does not like the snow, so we will probably walk. Not too far, thank goodness, and the outing will stimulate us – get the blood running again. I wish I could get interested in walking round the lake!
OMG I have just realised how long it has been since I last wrote in this blog. Not since August last year. The past months have been totally taken up with getting into our new house, doing renovations, unpacking, and just getting all the everyday bits and pieces sorted. Then we had Christmas with all the attached brou-haha and now we are half way through January. (How’s that? Three and a half months in three lines.) Soon be summer and then Christmas once more. Shudder…….
Now, winter is well entrenched and strangely, even M and I are already suffering from a lack of ‘outside’. There is little incentive to go for a drive and a relaxing lunch when everything is grey, the roads are icy and the temperatures are below freezing. The same goes for a walk around the lake. It is bleak and quite beautiful in a stark, almost minimalist fashion, but just not appealing enough for someone who does not consider ‘walking for walking’s sake’, a priority.
It is fascinating, though. Winter here, because of the preponderance of deciduous trees, offers a whole new view of previously secret places. Suddenly, the stately home up the road and down a long drive can be seen in all its glory. The shape of the lake that, in summer, is completely hidden by the lush foliage of beech and birch, can now be truly appreciated. Everywhere is now open to prying eyes, allowing passers-by to snoop, to re-assess the gardens up the street and to check out a neighbour’s new extension or pool. What fun!
The novelty is short-lived, however. An all-pervasive grey continues to shroud the country-side, its effect compounded by the clouds of vapour and smoke curling out of heating vents and chimneys on every side. The odd blue-sky day is short-lived, ephemeral, its passing barely noted except as a momentary relief from the Pantone-like colour swatch depicting shades of grey that is now our daily expectation. The sun has no warmth, unless experienced through the glass of a conservatory and even then, it is a weak imitation of the real thing.
And…..the up-side? Well, we have a crash-hot heating system. The fact that I need it set at a sky-rocket temperature compared with everyone else is a minor glitch, and I don’t care. Lack of out-door excursions means LACK OF CALORIES. I have decided there is no finer way to conduct a diet than to avoid all restaurant and cafe eating. I have time and a greater inclination to blog – not a bad thing at all as I am a great believer in ‘doing’ as a means of doing, if you see what I mean. A case of ‘don’t want to do’ – ‘improve’ – ‘love to do’. I would love to take this opportunity to do heaps of cooking, too, baking in particular, but after the Christmas fiasco of food, food and yet more food, I am quite easily resisting the temptation. I still have a pack of fresh cranberries in the freezer though, that I bought before the holidays to try a new cake recipe I found on Pinterest. Can they still be called fresh, though? Oh well, never mind. Maybe after I have lost a couple more kilos……
Finally, there are books, thanks to various second hand shops that support charities around the neighbourhood and the excellent Waterstones. Books on composting of course, and – just published, the final book in the Robert Jordan (RIP)series “The Wheel of Time”. Bliss – I cannot wait to start it, but of course, starting means finishing and that is not a happy thought and then, I realize that I have taken pleasure from these books for over 20 years now. A big chunk of my life.
Public lavatories, toilets, loos, or whatever you like to call them, figure largely in the lives of people who get around a lot. This was brought home to me recently when we were doing a bit of exploring in the Kent countryside. As usual, there was no shortage of places to go (I don’t mean the loo)- it was more a matter of deciding what direction to take – but since we had not been previously, we chose a village that is has quite a reputation, Chilham, in Kent.
Chilham is draped over the top of a range of gentle hills and can be accessed from the A252. The village square, once grassed, is now paved. At one end is the gateway to Chilham Castle, a fabulous home which dates back to at least 1086 when it was classed as a manor. It is open to the public on any day that we are not there. Yes, we missed out again. (Must check these things more thoroughly!)
There is a school, a church with a graveyard, pubs and encircling the square, beautiful medieval buildings, both houses and businesses. These buildings straggle down the five roads radiating out, back down the hill and gradually peter out as flat ground is reached. Some parking is allowed in the square, but it seemed rather rude to leave the car in what was really a communal front yard, so we opted to use the car-park at the bottom of the hill and to walk up.
And so to the loo issue. Sitting in front of a tent, surrounded by racks of brochures and with a table covered with papers, was a very friendly local resident. Behind her were the local public loos. A welcome sight, I may say for slightly older than middle-age travellers. But – not for long, it seems. The local council want to pull them down because they cost too much to keep clean. The local population are totally dismayed and have organised a PETITION demanding that they be retained. We were asked to sign it and did so, readily.
Public toilets, as supplied for casual visitors, for the most part are the most revolting, filthy arm-pits of the world and if you can find one that is half-way decent, you should cherish it and commend those responsible. I visited one in the North, not long ago and it was foul. All metal furnishings and floors and walls of scarred concrete painted in a tasteful shade of British Racing Green . No paper except that strewn on the floor. No locks on the doors. Built-up dirt decorating the corners. The sort of place where you just know that you will pick up more ‘nasties’ if you wash your hands than if you don’t! But – guess what? There was piped music surging through each cubicle and it was classical organ music – Bach, I do believe. Very surreal. There was a queue in this toilet. It was situated at a popular picnic spot. Why, why ,why do they not make some effort to make it clean and pleasant to use?
You know – there are some things on earth that will never make a profit. Clean loos is one of them, luv and you just have to suck it up!
Back to Chilham. There were suggestions for over-coming the problem. Perhaps a villager could hold the key and lock and unlock the building and ‘keep an eye on things?’ Unfortunately, the population is either rather elderly, or not always available. Older folk are wary of hoons and confrontation. Perhaps visitors could use the loos in the local pubs and tea-rooms? These buildings are TINY. Can you imagine a coach-load of tourists swarming through a tea-shop that can barely fit two tables and a couple of chairs? And why should local businesses be expected to provide facilities when they can barely meet the needs of their own customers?
Who knows what the final decision will be? I just hope that the loos stay right where they are and open for business, so to speak. For God’s sake, this is England where millions of pounds are spent on winning gold medals and building stadia. Surely we can run to providing a decent place to have a pee!
Oh – by the way. Chilham is famous for being the place where Miss Marple, Poirot and Jane Austen’s Emma were filmed!
For more on the Elephant House, see my future blog on Chilham.
It is now three and a half months since we arrived in England and at last I am losing the feeling that I am here only on holiday. Stop though! We have been up to London for the day twice, in the last week. We have spent a day in Tenterden, a beautiful Kentish town with a great shopping centre (not a mall, but good, old-fashioned strip shopping). We have been to Maidstone, Kent’s county town and we have visited Sissinghurst, one of the most beautiful gardens in our part of Kent. It is a holiday after all! Even the domestic chores such as visiting the Estate Agent and looking for carpets and beds, take on a different aspect and become quite pleasurable without the pressure that usually accompanies such chores.
Our two latest trips to London were to the Science Museum, to experience the installation entitled “Universe of Sound”, developed by the London Philharmonia Orchestra along with their conductor, Esa-PekkaSalonen. The orchestra was performing on film – a ‘virtual orchestra’ with 105 musicians, in fact. The Planets, composed by Gustav Holst formed the basis for what amounted to a virtual tour around the orchestra while it was in full flight. It was a fantastic experience, so good, in fact, that we went the second time just to catch up with the bits we had missed and to re-visit our favourite passages.
This was no ordinary film of an orchestra performing, however. The large exhibition space was divided into several generously-sized cubicles , each devoted to groups of related instruments, e.g. 1st and 2nd violins and viola, flutes and oboes, harps, clarinets and bassoons, celeste and organ, brass, timpani and percussion. In each cubical, were a number of screens, which were showing film of each section, with the musicians playing their respective instruments.
See the pics if this sounds a little complicated! The appropriate music was provided on stands, allowing us to sit and follow the music in real time and the sound was jigged to allow us to hear only what the musicians would hear while playing. The idea was to wander through the installation and to spend time with each section of the orchestra, gaining some insight into the feeling of playing in such a charged atmosphere. The final station was a huge cone of screens, above head height, where the full weight of the complete orchestra thundered around one’s head. Here there was film of the conductor, and several other musicians, strutting their stuff, so to speak. It was fabulous.
To add to the interest, there were two smaller screens with sub-titles and optional head-phones. One showed film of the conductor as he led the musicians, recording his thoughts about the music and its composer. The other was of the orchestra. Here were comments by and thoughts of the musicians themselves, while they were playing. These offered a personal and rarely experienced insight into the minds of the players, often humorous and surprisingly down-to-earth.
Finally, there were several screens set up to allow would-be conductors the experience of conducting the orchestra themselves. A grand experience for many. There were on-going tutorials on percussion and timpani, too, with brilliant young students and on film once again, the musicians, helping children of all ages, to play along and to make the right noises at the right time.
If you timed it right, as we did on our second visit, you were treated to the presence of one or more of the members of the orchestra coming in with his or her instrument, sitting in the appropriate area and playing live. We were fortunate and our visit coincided with that of one of the viola players who chatted about his work and even allowed me to “turn the page” for him. OMG, I haven’t been so focussed for years!
So – to clarify for those who are totally confused – all the while, Gustav Holst’s The Planet Suite was just playing on a permanent loop, surrounding us with magnificent sound, allowing us to duck and dive and catch up with it at any of the different stations.
The installation also featured a new companion piece to The Planets, by composer Joby Talbot, called World, Stars, Systems, Infinity.
I must say, the two days we attended this installation were real high-lights for us and illustrated just how lucky we are to live in such close proximity to events such as this. Not only that, it was free! All we were asked for was a donation to enter the museum, and there was not pressure there, either. If we had chosen not to give, for whatever reason, that would have been fine too.
Thank you London!
I wrote this on the day the packers came – the 21st of February and have only now got to post it. I am a less than dedicated blogger at the moment, but am hoping to improve now that I am settled.
So – here it is.
The packers are here and the house is full of the sounds of ripping tape, a peculiar scratching howl that penetrates the quiet of our home in a most unsettling manner. It goes on and on and on,unremittingly…….
Now is the crunch-time and there are still last-minute discussions about a few items that have not sold on Trademe. We have agreed to take the single bed and the big bookcase and we will leave the decision on the huge chair that belongs to our suite till the last minute.
Jordan and Logan, our two stalwart packers arrived and introduced themselves early. Such good manners and their aura of efficiency and confidence made a great first impression – enhanced by the fact that Jordan was able to bring the lorry right to our front door! This has never happened before. We live down a narrow right-of-way with a nasty dog-leg into our parking area. Usually removal trucks back up as far as they can and stay there, blocking all traffic in and out. The men then have to climb all the way over the cab of the truck to get to the house. OSH would be having panic attacks!
Goods are then carried from the house to the truck, or vice-versa, while everyone prays that it will not rain. The funniest one (sort of) was the driver who trapped himself in the cab and had to stay there while our neighbours (who share our drive) unloaded their furniture. The funny bit was Maurice and friend having to sit out on the road for half an hour, unable to get in with the fresh breakfast they had gone to buy for our garage sale helpers. The not so funny bit was the fact that all the customers for the garage sale couldn’t get up the drive, so went away without even a peek at our sale. Grrrrr.
It is six in the evening, and we are exhausted. At five o’clock, reinforcements arrived from the packing company to help and things have started to move a little more quickly. Chief packer Jordan, assures us they will be out by eight, so we decide to book seats for the cinema and just forget the whole mess.
It is seven thirty and we are still surrounded by packing materials. We think, “to hell with it”, give Jordan a key, and disappear. The movie followed by a burger with kumara chips are just what we need to undo the knots!
When we got home at 10.30 they had gone and we entered a ghost house, just a few remnants of furniture (the large chair, I am pleased to say) a huge paella dish and two antique oil-paintings left behind by accident.
I swear – NEVER AGAIN!