Saturday, 4 April 2020

Strange Times

Oh my, it was a different world at Christmas.  How fast it's all changed.   I'm guessing I won't be able to tell anyone anything they don't already know.   But isn't is so very, very strange to think that even a month ago we were not giving serious thought to all of this?   

I thought I'd look through my photos and see what I'd been doing at the beginning of March.  And this is where I was: 

This is the village of Metfield in Suffolk, and I'd been attending a jumble sale.   You know, one of those village sales raising money for a good cause. We had been packed together in the village hall and I'd got a some interesting-looking books, a booklet of unused decorative craft papers, a brand new colander (to replace my old one which I'd melted by accident) and a brand new liquidiser to replace mine which is on its last legs. (T.'s qualified to check it out for electrical safety, which he's done, and he says it's fine). 

We came out with our trophies, which had cost a total of £3, and the sky was a wonderful blue, and the breeze was blowing some early daffodils about and it suddenly felt like Spring instead of winter.

As it had been both warm and wet, the road that led past the church was one big puddle.  We waded across it and went into that church which has an ancient clock, which dates back to the 17th century.  The clock face is on the bell-tower, but the mechanism is kept on the floor in the tower,  and its loud, steady "tick tock" can be heard all over the church. 

Looking at this little film now I think about all that has happened since the clock was made by Mr. Garrett in 1629.  I believe it will be ticking steadily away in Metfield Church long after everyone has forgotten about Coronavirus. 

Things became more serious, but a couple of weeks ago we were still able to go out into Essex to see the daffodils at Warley Place in Essex. I blogged about this unusual nature reserve ten months ago, and when I got home, I put a note in the diary to go in March 2020. And so we did, and it was all but deserted. What an incredible sight it was, with acres of daffodils. It was all so beautiful that we stayed for many hours, stopping to have a picnic and coffee.   

We decided to explore nature reserves and footpaths near to London after that.  And so, just twelve days ago, we were here (below), in a little-known spot of Hertfordshire countryside, above 3/4 hour drive from our home, watching a shallow wide clear river glittering through a green valley,  and an incredible blue sky above, with hills around and some little gothic cottages. Here's a view from the bottom of the hill.

And here are the cottages, next to the church.

The very next day, though, the government locked down. We were told to stay at home, and of course we have obeyed - there hasn't been any temptation for me to risk contagion, because I know how easily this virus spreads. There's a chart at the end of this post that shows how just one contact can make a whole lot of difference.   But we are allowed to walk or cycle near home, for purposes of exercise, and that's what we're doing. I just hope nobody closes the  open spaces near us.   The blackthorn is now fully out but there are still only a few leaves on the trees.  Thank goodness for wildness. 

It is tragic listening to the news and my thoughts are with those who will be affected, which include me and my own close family.   I don't think anyone can feel complacent.

But what can we do, except the things that are in our power? We cannot possibly alter a global problem, and so, just as with the climate emergency, we can only do - and keep doing - absolutely everything possible not to make things worse and buy time for healing to happen.   If we take care not to spread the virus, we are helping to save lives by postponing infections and spreading them thinner so the medical services can deal with the numbers better.  And, of course, so that scientists can develop vaccines and treatments and manufacturers can produce enough ventilators for those who may need them.

 Thankfully from the back of our house we have a close up view of a large cherry tree which is right now in full bloom. 

So that's me. I'll be checking my favourite blogs and leaving some comments after so long away. Please stay safe everyone and try to help others to stay safe too.  Stay in your home, or your garden, don't go closer than two metres (six feet) to anyone who isn't in your own household. (Even the drainholes around here are warning us of that) 

 I haven't been in Blogland much over the last months and so I'm now going to visit my favourite blogs.  I hope very much that I will find all of you well, and that you'll remain so. 

How are you coping with the strange times we are in?

Thursday, 26 December 2019


Happy Christmas, belatedly.  I prepared some photos.... but life took over, and I was too busy to blog. 
But it's still the Christmas season till 6 January, so hopefully you're still in the mood to see some Christmassy cherubs...

and some Christmas trees....

These little trees, riding on tree ornaments shaped like landrovers (what will they think of next?) were part of the highly creative window displays at V.V. Rouleaux.  This charming ribbon and hat trimming shop is tucked away in a back street in London's Marylebone, and when I cycled past the other day I saw they'd decked the whole shopfront entirely with ribbons for the festive season. 

I also saw that Fortnum and Mason's has turned the whole shop into an  
advent calendar. It happens to have 24 convenient windows (there's another row which is not visible in the picture). I have an idea that they might do this every year but usually I'm too focused on their  famous Christmas window displays to notice. This year the Christmas windows were uncharacteristically dull, actually...
... so here is a Fortnum's window from times past. All the windows on the ground floor usually share a common theme,  and this window, from 2015,  was the Royal Coat of Arms, with the Lion and the Unicorn.  I hope they'll be back on form next year! 

And here are some of our Christmas lights, which I thought looked rather cosy, together with our faithful gas fires which date from the early 1950s and were in the house when we arrived.  I always loved the look of these fires; they have some sort of finish that glistens with "interference colours"  and are a nice old fashioned shape. Their brand name is "Gas Miser"  because although they are so powerful that you can feel as if you are in Borneo instead of London, they're also adjustable down to a barely visible flame that keeps the chill off the room for long periods and costs hardly anything. Ideal for old places with large high rooms and rather bad insulation, and everyone likes to gather round them too. They don't "go" with the original Victorian mantelpieces but you can't have everything!

Enjoy the rest of the Christmas Season, and Happy 2020!

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

One thing, then another.

London really is full of surprises.  I never fail to marvel at how often I go out to do one thing, and end up doing something else as well.  For instance, we went out last week with our friend Annette to see an art show about "London through the eyes of artists."  The show was at the Guildhall art gallery, in the heart of the oldest bit of London. The Guildhall was built between 1411 to 1999 in (as you'd guess) many different there's part of a 2,000 year old Roman amphitheatre in the basement.

The paintings  in the show spanned four hundred years or so, and the one below particularly appealed to me. It seems that around 1600 a legal clerk commissioned a theatrical scenery painter to show how Old St. Paul's Cathedral would look if it was restored. It was at the time very neglected - in fact, its spire had collapsed - and his set of pictures included "before" pictures and the hoped-for "after" pictures. Here's an "after" picture of the interior. Do you notice a dog being chased out of the church in the bottom right?

This exterior "after" picture shows how very different Old St. Pauls looked from the current one, even without the beautiful golden angels flying all around it.    

It is just as well perhaps that the repairs don't seem to have been done, since it would have been very expensive - because, sadly, Old St Pauls was burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666.   

After viewing the show, we thought we'd look at some of the Guildhall's permanent art collection, so off we went went in search of it.  We quickly found ourselves before a large arched doorway, which led into a series of grand rooms, some of them very large. These were crowded with stalls selling all kinds of unexpected things.  After a while, we realised we'd stumbled upon a bazaar raising funds for the work of the Red Cross.  

And I do mean "grand" rooms. The statues decorating the walls were larger than life sized, if you notice.    It was not at first immediately obvious that many of the stalls were run by livery companies, but they were. Livery companies are a bit like medieval trade unions,  but now they play a mainly networking and ceremonial role in City life. Many are incredibly wealthy after centuries of endowment and land purchase, and they play an important part in maintaining many of the beautiful old churches and chapels in the City.  (They also do other charitable work. For example, the Dyers Company supports S and Little A's junior school, which is in an area once traditionally associated with leatherwork and dyeing. ) 

The Blacksmiths were selling splendid ironwork of all types, the Masons had stone carvings which I guess you could buy and build into your house -  I'm sure they were open to commissions too. Here are a couple of stallholders in Red Cross aprons and guild regalia. The Gardeners had a wonderful display of extremely reasonably priced and beautiful plants lining a long Gothic corridor. 

The Launderers Company were in what looked some kind of a vestry. One of them told me that some of their members supplied them with vast quantities of hotel quality duvet covers and towels so they could sell them at knock down prices and raise money at the bazaar. 

This gentleman below was MC-ing and his voice would appear out of nowhere over several of the vast rooms. T. reckons the collar and cuffs must have been made by the Lacemakers' Company, except that I don't think there is one, since lace was generally made at home by women.  

Annette bought some books and a gourmet Christmas pudding and we went down a long stone staircase decorated entirely with fir boughs and coloured lights, and ended up in one of the Crypts. These are often amazingly decorated for functions (see this site but in the past were sometimes used to confine people that the authorities didn't like.   On the occasion of our visit, the crypt housed a pop up cafe called the Clink (an old name for a jail, based on the noise the jailers made when they walked around with their bunches of keys). One of the stalls there was giving away free glasses of excellent wine, so we ended up pretty happy. 

So eventually we peeled ourselves away from the crypt and went off to have a late lunch - it was nearly 2 PM - and noticed that the lights were on in St. Lawrence Jewry church, which stands nearby. So in we went and found we were at the end of a wonderful free organ concert. Several city churches have free organ concerts weekly. St. Lawrence is  every Tuesday at 1 PM.   So we decided to come back and hear one of the organ concerts the following Tuesday. 

And that's what we did  yesterday.  This is a picture of the main organ - in fact, it has two cases, the big one in the main church, and a smaller one in a side chapel, and they can be played either together or separately. I'd love to hear them both played together.  

And since it is connected with the Guildhall, and those livery companies, there's a stand for the ceremonial mace of the Lord Mayor of  London.  The aldermen sit behind him (or her) in those pews. 

At the concert I heard for the first time some work by the composer Max Reger - a Chorale Fantasia. I was very impressed. If you want to hear it, Youtube has a good performance, although I have to say that however well performed it is, it's not really as good as hearing it on a real organ. 

After the concert yesterday, we noticed the main door of the Guildhall was open. There was no particular event on, so we thought we'd drop in to see what it looked like without all the stalls, or the cafe, or anything.   I'm not sure we were really supposed to be there, but it was a very interesting little walk, and this time we managed to take some photos of the stained glass windows in the crypt which showed the arms of some of the livery companies.  This, below,  for the Spectacle Makers, was my favourite. Each of the windows is full of imagery, but I particularly liked the butterfly with the "eyes" on its wings, and all the pairs of old fashioned spectacles.

Here, the Air Pilots and Navigators are one of the more modern companies. 

And I did like the Farriers - so many different types of horses to be seen. 

I'd have liked the chance to buy a book with pictures of all the windows, and explanations, but there wasn't one in the little shop by the gallery. 

 A few days ago we also took the chance to go to an exhibition called "Hidden London" - it's about the abandoned and disused tube stations of London.  To get to Covent Garden, where the museum is, we cycled through Regents Park and were waylaid there, too. The weeping willows are often the last trees to shed their leaves and they did make a wonderful sight.  

The Hidden London exhibition is due to close in January, and is worth catching if you can. It's exceptionally lively and theatrical for a small exhibition and you feel almost as if you really are going underground into a warren of abandoned or re-purposed stations. Old tube stations have been used for more things than I ever knew, from wartime headquarters to hydroponic salad factories!  

One of the exhibits in the show was the London tube map with ONLY the disused stations marked.   

The show was put on to launch the museum's own tours of disused stations in real life, which sound very good, and something I'd like to try before too long. I have to say I am a bit of a sucker for old railway stations. 

Now that December has started, I really have to get moving on my Christmas preparations. Somehow they always catch me by surprise. Have you started your preparations yet?

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Ten Things of Thankful.

I always enjoy "Ten Things of Thankful" on  Messymimi, one of my favourite blogs, and today I thought I too would find ten things I have been grateful, happy and thankful about over the last week.  So here they are:

1. On Saturday we had arrived in Suffolk, at our late friend's cottage. I am so grateful that her relations let us stay there sometimes, it means a lot to us.

2. As the weather was bad the next day we visited a  lovely bookstore in nearby Halesworth. They have such an interesting unusual selection of books, many of them local and/or beautifully produced, and I got the perfect Christmas present there for someone who is always a problem to buy for! 

3. Next day we took a bike ride.  Even though it gets dark so early, I was incredibly grateful for the wonderful late autumn sunlight to show off the rolling countryside,  the quiet lanes and the last of the golden autumn leaves, and to be somewhere I could see all this beauty.

4. The following day we met with people we had got to know in Monkton Wyld. He is a tree expert and we had lunch and such interesting conversations and  even though I was feeling ill I was having too much fun to care.

5. We went to a friend's house and listened to a concert on Radio 3 we all wanted to hear. She has better equipment than they supplied at our cottage and I thought how lucky we are to have top performers available for free on the BBC, 7 days a week!

6. Returning to London the weather was bad again and I was feeling sicker than ever. But we got back without too many delays and the house was fine, so I was grateful for no nasty surprises awaiting...

7. ...although that happened the next day when I logged in to the bank account. Some drunk person (I assume) had swerved and driven into our car while it was parked just opposite our house, and I'd no idea that the repairs would add such a huge sum to the annual insurance, which fell due at the same time.  I was grateful that nobody had been in the car when it was hit, and I'm grateful that we have good public transport here so there is the option of not having a car in the future! We are now seriously considering that.  I prepared a birthday cake and bought food for a Big Birthday of my sister in law the following day.

8. Next day I'd had an extra bad night and didn't want to infect my sister in law so we discussed whether to postpone. I was grateful she decided to go ahead. She reckons she is on public transport all the time and getting breathed on by goodness knows who, so not enough to miss a party for.  We had a lovely evening, one of the best ever.  The twins reckoned the cake was iced and decorated to perfection :)

9. Today I am grateful  because feeling ill and tired has given an excuse to spend hours at the computer writing my book and I've done another 8,000 words in the last couple of weeks. I feel really good about that!

10. And every day at the moment I give up thanks to be detached from the stress and anxiety at our political situation.  I've been resolutely avoiding social media and news of any kind,  and I'm glad I've settled in my head to vote tactically (using,) -  not for anyone in particular, but against those who've got us into this.  Sometimes it is positive to reject the bad, and I am glad I have that choice.

Oh - and finally - reading that Monkton Wyld post again that I linked to, I thought I should say that St. Anthony did indeed help with finding my lost item. Within the hour I found my hand right on a box file labelled completely the wrong thing, with the urge to open it.   My important lost folder was inside, to my surprise. I thought I had checked all the files but there you are. So I am very thankful for that too!

PS The picture at the top of this post shows one of my favourite people, now grown up.

Saturday, 2 November 2019


Hope you had a happy Halloween!  Here is Girl Twin and her dad looking pretty scary I think you'll agree. 

Thank you to those who have left very interesting comments on my last post to which I have only just replied.  I seem to be behind with just everything these days!   I wanted to post some photos I took a week or so ago in an autumnal Scotland before I forget them, and this is one of the things I saw. You might think it looks medieval and Gothic, but in fact it was built in the early 20th century.  

Here is another view of the same place.    

If you know Edinburgh you may recognise this is the Thistle Chapel at St. Giles' Cathedral, in the centre of the city's Old Town.   The Order of the Thistle's the highest order of chivalry in Scotland, and it's given to distinguished Scots or people of Scottish descent.  The recipients of the Order sit down the sides of this chapel on very special ceremonial occasions, while the monarch sits at the end, in a stall decorated with the Royal coat of arms.  

I was interested to learn that St. Giles' is a Presbyterian cathedral - there aren't too many of those around. Scots Presbyterians are associated with a rather austere approach - which is not reflected in the exuberant style of the Thistle Chapel - and Presbyterians really don't go for bishops, which I had always thought were essential if you were going to have a cathedral. To my eye, the statue of John Knox (founder of Presbyterianism) which stands in the cathedral's North aisle looks a bit disapproving, but whatever he might have thought of this cathedral, I loved it.   There are so many interesting things to see, the windows are an art gallery of stained glass, and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.   To make it even better, the apartment where we were staying during our Edinburgh trip directly overlooked its East Window, so I woke every morning and it was the first thing I saw, along with the Scottish unicorn standing on a pillar, which you can probably see to the right.   It was a nice feeling. 

T. and I were spending a few autumnal days in Edinburgh with S. who was taking the chance of taking a look at St. Andrew's University, about an hour away, where he might apply.   It was my first trip to Edinburgh, and felt we'd hit it really lucky with our location.  There must be lots of great places to stay in Edinburgh, but Parliament Square, in the heart of the Old Town, must be one of the most central. It's within steps of not only the cathedral but also in easy walking distance of the famous castle, the Museum of Scotland, Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament (which is not in Parliament Square but in a modern building.)    

On our first evening we took a walk to the castle as twilight fell. It was closed by then,  but there's the huge forecourt in front which is a good place to walk around, with wide views of the city and the Firth of Forth in one direction, and towards what I guess was the shadowy Blackford Hill in the other.   Most of the leaves on the trees had gone, so you could see a lot. 

We did wonder if perhaps J.K. Rowling, who wrote the first Harry Potter book in various nearby cafes, was thinking of somewhere that looked like Edinburgh Old Town when she dreamed up Diagon Alley, the place where the Hogwarts pupils do their shopping.  You could just imagine those ancient places selling Sneakoscopes or best quality wands, Quiddich gear or Skiving Snackboxes,
even though, in fact, they were all selling souvenirs.   But not even the endless scotch whisky and tartan stores, bagpipe players and fridge magnet sellers could obliterate the quirky, unusual appearance of the place with its tall thin houses and  innumerable alleys and courts. 

Fortunately, very few tourists ever ventured even a few steps off the well beaten path, and if you went down an alleyway you could feel yourself in a quieter and more peaceful world.  

We spent a lot of time walking around the narrow streets and archways of Old Town in the evening. They offered so many unexpected vignettes as we panted our way up and down the flights of stone steps, which are often the best way to get from one street to another in this near-perpendicular city.  

 Autumn seems to me the perfect time to wander through the little courts that the crowds don't find.   

Talking of courts, our apartment was also directly by the Court of Sessions, Scotland's highest court. We went in to have a look at its 17th century hammerbeam roof, one of the best in Europe, and also, on our last day, (on the advice of someone in the cathedral), to get ourselves a really cheap lunch in the court's cafeteria, since we'd checked out of our apartment and could no longer use the kitchen.  

It cost just over twelve pounds for three hearty meals and three cups of tea, and it was served by one of the nicest and most helpful members of staff I have ever met.  Mind you, you do have to be frisked and go through a scanner to get into the place. 

We very much liked the Scott Monument, another famous Edinburgh sight. In fact, T. spent ages photographing it from all angles. It's a memorial to Sir Walter Scott, the novelist, and it is very tall, and looks like I imagine a Victorian space rocket . It is for my money it's even more eye catching than London's Albert Memorial, though considerably less gilded.  

Scott's books are barely read today, as they are thoroughly out of fashion, but they were hugely popular in the 19th century.  (He died in 1832, so never saw the Victorian era, which is a shame because he was so very famous then.)  He wrote poetry, including the immortal lines "Oh, what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive";  and won the 19th century's heart with his long chivalrous historical novels on Scottish themes - you might have heard of "Ivanhoe" and "Rob Roy." 

You might be able to glimpse the Scott Monument in the background of this sunset scene which we took on our final evening after a stroll on Calton Hill.  

I know, this is not only autumnal, it is a bit touristy too. We did other touristy things as well, like slog halfway across the city because S. wanted to visit a cafe which did a special student discount on deep fried Mars Bars, something he's yearned to try all his life.  The people in the cafe were charming, and kindly served him a Mars Bar without either icecream or chips, (which was the option on the menu) at a greatly reduced price. It looked pretty gruesome - like an exhibit in a police museum if you ask me - but S. enjoyed it. In case you don't know what a Mars Bar is, it's a bit like a Snickers, only, I always feel, nicer.  Or at least I used to like them when I was a teenager!
I'd meant to write about the excellent Museum of Scotland, which looked as if it had had a renovation and redesign not too long ago.  But there was so much to write about it that I decided to save it for another post when hopefully I will be able to do it justice.    

When we came back to London we went for a walk, and although autumn wasn't as far on here as in Scotland, it was definitely autumn in the woods near Lesnes Abbey, in South east London.   This was such an amazing bit of carving - those intricate swirly shapes and the two leaves. I can only imagine how long it would take to create. 

Carved by nature, of course, it's an old tree stump standing by the path., Much of the ancient woodland at Abbey Wood is sweet chestnut and there's always something to see.   This pond interested me, as its surface was alive with light and ripples.  I thought it must be fed by springs underneath, since as you see it is constantly in movement and I don't really think there were thousands of fish under the surface. Or maybe I am wrong? Maybe you have a suggestion. (I do apologise for my bad camerawork.) 

Also in the wood, a little lad raced unheedingly past as I photographed an eye catching display of fungus on a fallen tree.  When I investigated I found someone had actually picked the huge toadstool and placed it there, as a sort of impromptu work of art. 

Finally, returning to the comments to my last post, Val from Rivergirl blog asked for more pictures of Dorset. It seems so very long ago now even though it was only five weeks! So here is Dancing Ledge, east of Lyme Regis.  Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang " went to prep school at a big house nearby, and used to have to come down with his class to swim in this rock pool, which is fed by the sea.  It's a mile or so walk from the school and you have to climb down the last part of the cliff.  I suppose it's safe enough really but I wouldn't care to take a group of small boys here myself!   

I wonder what it looks like at this time of year. I bet there aren't many swimmers there now, and it is probably being lashed by the sea in the high winds we are having at the moment. 

I am enjoying Autumn this year, and I hope you're enjoying it too.

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