Monday, 22 January 2018

Going Back

Sitting on a commuter train from London Bridge last Autumn on my way to visit family, I was musing about how sometimes I find myself coming full circle. It might be a book I am re-reading and find it is set in a place I know well now but which was completely unknown to me originally, or as in this case, a place where I once lived, which was familiar to me on an everyday basis but which I have long left behind.

As we passed through the familiar stations, I was transported back through the years to a younger version of myself. A girl new to London who regularly travelled on this commuter line in another life. A life I rarely even think about now as the present is so all-consuming.


The next day, I was curious to revisit the life I had so many years ago, to bridge the gap between the girl I was then, and the woman I am today. I would never wish to revisit my early twenties, sometimes a painful and disconnected time of life, when family and childhood are left behind and the life you will build for yourself is still in the future, but still it was interesting to be back in the place where I made that transition and reflect on that transient and unsettled time.


Autumn Trees in Dulwich Village
So I took the train back to Dulwich and walked into the pretty village, much more vibrant and fashionable than the sleepy village I knew then, but still a lovely place to spend time with its beautiful, spacious houses and wide tree-lined streets.

One of the prettiest houses in Dulwich Village
I stopped off at Gail’s Bakery, sitting outside in the sunshine and watching the world go by, sipping a cappuccino and eating a delicious fruit scone, amused by the woman telling her daughter that they didn’t have almond milk, only soya!


Later I walked into the Park, admiring the trees and remembering other times I walked here long ago, then I wandered into the stunning Picture Gallery with it’s permanent collection which includes my favourite Rembrandt, 'Girl at a Window'. I had a the poster pinned to the walls of my flat in London for years till it fell apart.  I bought another print to frame and keep as a memento, a link.



Walking back through the village, I passed the newly refurbished Crown and Greyhound pub, once my local and always known as ‘The Dog’, almost unrecognisable now as the scene of so many informal social gatherings, including my first date with my first husband.


Lots of water under the bridge, many ephemeral relationships that have vanished into the ether, but what endures for me is solid and strong and it was good to be back in that place and to be the woman I am now.

Do you sometimes find yourself drawn back unexpectedly into your past, turning full circle?


I wrote this post back in the autumn, hence the autumn trees, but wasn't able to post it due to technical problems.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Sussex and Silence

Silence.  Not always golden, but sometimes there seems nothing much to say.  

2017 did not get off to the best start for me, with the sad news that an old friend had died after three years on the rollercoaster that is cancer.  Someone very special to us as it was through his family that I met my husband, and someone whose life has threaded through mine for well over a decade now.  At 64, he was too young to die and had so much to live for.  A beautiful, loving wife and four children in their 20s. Children whose weddings he will never attend, grandchildren he will never hold and cherish, although his very close family will always hold him in their hearts.

Then there have been the usual winter bugs which strike and refuse to move on and which are still lingering now, but with the longer days and brighter sunshine (on the days we emerge from under the grey umbrella which dominates here in winter), I too am feeling brighter and hopefully recovering some of my lost energy. 

We did manage a trip to Sussex in sub-zero temperatures, enjoying an invigorating walk on Camber Sands watching the light bounce off the cold, clear water, followed by a whistle-stop tour of the ancient Cinque Port town of Rye, taking time to admire the beautiful 12th century Church of St Mary the Virgin, before driving home through the frost-bound countryside. 

How has 2017 been for you so far?  What do you have planned this year and are you longing, like me, for Spring to arrive?
Camber Sands
Mermaid Street, Rye
St Mary the Virgin, Rye


Stained glass, St Mary the Virgin, Rye

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Have a Happy Christmas!


Christmas is coming on like an express train!  Where does time go?  How can it be Christmas again so soon?  And why do I need three Christmas trees this year?  I always get carried away at Christmas.

This afternoon was spent at the church carol service, with a cameo Nativity play put on by the local children.  Just as charming as I remember from when my own children were small and happily donned tea towels round their heads to become shepherds.  

Mulled wine and mince pies were served afterwards in the village hall and I swear we could have been in Ambridge.  I kept listening out for the hurdy gurdy of the Archers theme tune!





We won't have snow in Suffolk this Christmas, too mild, but I love these wonderfully evocative lines from Christina Rossetti's poem, which we sang in the ancient Suffolk church today.  The church where we were married just over 18 months ago.  

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas!

'In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago'
Christina Rossetti

Friday, 18 November 2016

Woodland Walk


There is a perfect moment each Autumn, when the trees are hanging onto the last of their leaves before the storms strip them bare for the winter...


... a secret place for two lively dogs to explore




This wet little spaniel has never seen Autumn before but he had no trouble finding the stream at the bottom of the valley


We are so lucky to have this ancient woodland just a few minutes walk from our home and usually have it all to ourselves, apart from bluebell time when it is full of families enjoying picnics and making dens.  We tend to avoid the woods then as the dogs don't take kindly to being walked on a leash and are strangely unwelcome, storming through someone's idyllic picnic!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Half The World

"The candles burned, the moon went down
the polished hill, the milky town
transparent, weightless, luminous,
uncovering the two of us
on that fundamental ground,
where love's unwilled, unleashed, unbound
and half the perfect world is found"

Leonard Cohen
Book of Longing



So sad to hear of the death of Leonard Cohen, such an inspirational and talented writer, poet and musician (and the other great love of my life!)

Monday, 17 October 2016

A 'Hygge' Moment


I love the changing of the seasons, and after an unusually long-drawn-out and busy summer both here in Suffolk and in Scandinavia, the change of pace in Autumn is more than welcome!  

It's time to be cosy, hibernate and get into the hygge (hoo-gah) vibe, light the stove and the candles, invite friends and family round for kitchen supper, snuggle down under a warm throw and watch box sets or put on the layers for bracing dog walks in the ever-changing countryside, before dropping into a welcoming country pub.  

Of course we have all been doing this for ever but the Danish definition of hygge is the ritual of enjoying life's simple pleasures. Friends, family, graciousness and cosiness.  What could be better?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Stockholm to Helsinki, Part III - Finland

Island hopping in the Baltic, sunset
Having a deadline is never a good idea on a sailing holiday, but despite extending my trip to compensate for the delayed launch of the boat, my pet sitters were getting restless (as well as increasingly expensive) and I had commitments, so a flight home had to be booked.  We decided on Helsinki for my return flight as my husband, who was planning to stay on for a couple more weeks, was keen to carry on to Tallinn in Estonia, so Helsinki was en route for him.  However this involved the serious business of 'making passage' rather than the idyllic island hopping we had been enjoying. 

It took a long day's sail in the Finnish Archipelago to bring us to the island of Juomo, and we arrived, tired, around 5pm to find a full harbour with no available moorings and a strong wind making moving on difficult and potentially dangerous.  This was a situation which required ingenuity, so we did something we hadn't tried before which involved literally poking the boat's nose (bow) between the sterns (rear) of two boats already moored up, and tying onto the middle cleats of their boats.  This meant that to actually get off the boat onto the island we had to clamber across our German host boat, placating them later with a glass of Single Malt Scotch whisky, which went down well!  

The next morning started badly, with the Germans knocking us awake at 7am on the dot (5am English time), followed by a trip to the heavily overused compost loos with no hand washing facilities - no running water on this island - then another long, windy day at sea, with the sails up, mostly stuck on a port tack (heeling over to the left, the sea washing our deck) which makes doing anything at all hazardous and tricky. Even the kettle was on the floor, and I had a splitting headache! A toxic combination as I really dislike any sailing that involves needing to strap onto the boat but sometimes it just is like that.  Definitely a 'Should have gone on a Mark Warner holiday' melt down moment. 

Our next stop at Rosala was pretty much the equivalent of a motorway service station but it was relief to me that, with very little wind the next day, we were motoring, not sailing and more or less upright. Five hours later we arrived on the Finish mainland at the charming seaside town of Hanko, where we decided to stay for a couple of days.  I could get the train from there to Helsinki and I was pretty much at the end of my boat tolerance. Time now to relax and enjoy a final weekend in Scandinavia.


Mind the gap!
This is how we get on and off the boat, stepping onto the plank tied across our bows - in England small boats are usually moored alongside a pontoon, but the rule is 'bows to' in the Baltic and Scandinavian boats have an opening at the front, like the next door boat, but not ours.  You literally have to take a deep breath, step onto the small space between the ropes holding the plank before you can grab hold of the stay.  I don't know what Health and Safety would have to say!

Hanko is a former spa town and has been heavily fought over with Russia, but it has been left with a legacy of beautiful villas and almost deserted beaches.  The light there is magical and it is an attractive venue for artists and musicians.  We loved exploring this unexpected and unusual town with its almost empty beaches, boutiques, bars, restaurants, hotels and delis and I quickly decided that package holidays can wait.  This was so special.  The weather was overcast when we arrived, but we still found the evening light created a haunting atmosphere on the beach.


Rocks, Hanko, Finland
English woman abroad!
View from the Water Tower - Villa Park
View of Hanko, Finland
On our second evening in Hanko we went for a walk around the town after a boat supper and heard the most stunning live music coming from the hotel on the beach and had to investigate. Playing in the courtyard was a professional Finish guitarist and his Belgian wife, who had the most beautiful voice.  They were performing a cover of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game to a small and very appreciative audience. Sadly, they were just about to finish when we arrived, but we discovered they were playing again the next evening (my last) in another small venue on the harbourside. It was a superb evening and despite knowing we had an early start the next day, and I had two long days travelling in front of me, we stayed right to the end, falling into our berths at 2am.  After all, you only live once.

Helsinki Station
The next day, it took two trains to Helsinki, another to the airport, a four hour flight back to Gatwick, a train and taxi to a friend's home in South London for the night, then more trains the next day, wishing I hadn't got such a large bag to trail behind me, and finally home to Suffolk.

Addendum.  We were sailing in Scandinavia in July and early August.  Although the summer days are long it quickly becomes cold after mid August and most boats are tucked away by then.  It was already cold at night when I left at the end of July and we were glad of hot water bottles and duvets!

Monday, 5 September 2016

Stockholm to Helsinki, Part II - The Aland Islands

West Harbour, Mariehamn
Sailing in a small yacht is always an adventure, full of unpredictable highs and lows, often both in the same day.  Every day is different and as we release the mooring lines in the morning we never know quite what to expect.  

Although there is always a moment when the combination of fear and sheer discomfort becomes quite overwhelming, and I resolve 'never again', still I go back for more because there will equally be moments of the sublime and the magical that cannot be found in any other experience.  I understand what my husband means when he says that sailing makes you feel fully alive and I often feel we live more intensely in the relatively short time we spend on the boat each year than at any other time when life is more humdrum and predictable.

From the boatyard, we slipped downstream to the West Harbour in Mariehamn and celebrated the successful launch of our boat with a supper of delicious fresh fish and a glass of cold white wine, setting off for the island of Rodhamn the next morning in good spirits, the sails up as the wind freshened.  Things got rather sticky as we approached the island though, as our new head sail refused to furl in frisky seas - too much sail for the weather conditions is always a bad idea and it took ingenuity and quite a battle to get it to collapse in a heap on deck so we could enter the harbour and squeeze ourselves into the tiny space which was all we could find, offering entertainment to the safely moored up boats.  One or two other boats also arrived with collapsed sails, so at least we didn't need to be too embarrassed, although we both seemed to have forgotten everything we know about a well prepared mooring, sails and ropes in all the wrong places!  

Cafe at Rodhamn
Rodhamn was delightful and the weather the next morning was positively Mediterranean, so we enjoyed exploring this small island, sitting outside the tiny cafe drinking coffee and eating the best homemade Kanelbular (traditional Swedish cinnamon buns) we have found in Scandinavia. 

Unfortunately, despite adjustments before we left, the new sail still refused to furl as we approached the island of Degerby a few hours later, so lots more undignified flapping, but lunch at the harbour restaurant soon compensated for the problems and as the weather was about to turn with heavy rain forecast, we settled in for a rest day, exploring the island in between rain showers and chatting to the friendly locals and wrestling with our overfull bilges.


View from the harbour restaurant, Degerby
The next day was my husband's birthday and things started well, motor sailing through the Aland archipelago in bright sunshine, but as often happened, the wind picked up later and we had to divert from our intended destination of Kokar to the not particularly prepossessing island of Sottunga which is vying for the accolade of having the worst facilities in Aland, including a shower that had to be prepaid but, despite my best efforts, still ran out halfway through my hair wash with no more 2 euro coins to buy more warmish water...  I ended up rinsing out the shampoo over a tiny basin with only cold water.  Not the best place for a birthday celebration, but the next island more than made up for it! 


Sottunga harbour
The wind was having none of our plans to visit the island of Kokar in the south and blew us North to the Island of Baro, which just happened to have an excellent restaurant overlooking the harbour, the Glada Laxen, which was compensation for a rather disappointing birthday.  The rest of the day was spent exploring the island and watching the children playing in and on the water - Scandinavians have a much more relaxed approach to water sports than the English as water is so much a part of their culture and the children grow up learning to manage their environment safely.  


Baro Island - view of the harbour
At last the wind was blowing where we wanted to be, and we set off for the popular holiday island of Kokar in limpid conditions, blue skies and impressive clouds.  




Coming into harbour, Sandvig, Kokar
View from the beach, Sandvig, Kokar
Half of Helsinki seemed to have the same idea and the island was teeming with families, camping, sailing and playing in the cold Baltic sea, but it was a good place to spend a couple of days, catching up with laundry, hot showers and time to explore before leaving the Aland Islands behind and heading towards the coast of Finland.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Stockholm to Helsinki - Part I, Mariehamn


The strong, bright Swedish sunshine bouncing off the water when we arrive in Stockholm is always shocking after our cool, washed out English summer light.

This time, we were just passing through on our way to join the boat in Mariehamn in the Aland Islands between Sweden and Finland, but as our hotel was just around the corner, there was enough time for a browse around my favourite design shop, Svenskt Tenn full of gorgeous, covetable soft furnishings.

The Viking Ferry took the scenic route, through the Stockholm Archipelago and we sat on deck with a refreshing gin and tonic, watching the glorious sunset, for once far above the waves and with nothing to do but enjoy the view.


Although my husband had gone out a week earlier, the boat was still in bits when I arrived, but luckily the couple who own the boatyard also rent out several holiday cottages and we were lucky enough to be given the ground floor of the old family home, known as Mormor's (Grandmother's) House. Light, sunny, full of family mementoes and set in an orchard overlooking the bay, staying here for a few days was no hardship as I had often longed to spend some time in one of these charming, traditional, red-painted summer houses.


In Sweden, the idyllic and the industrial are often found in close proximity, so although the view from the front of the house was of the gardens and the orchard, the view from the kitchen window was of a working boatyard, but I found this equally charming as the evening light slowly faded away.


At last our small sailing boat was ready to leave its winter quarters, towed by the local apple farmer, who also runs the boatyard, and was launched into the water ready for our next adventure. Our tiny floating home for the next few weeks!



Sunday, 21 August 2016

Blue Bedroom

One blue-grey and white bedroom finished!  I love the colour, which changes with the light and the time of day and works well with the curtains we put up a few years ago, after a sailing holiday in Holland.  They remind me of washed-out Dutch skies, and the walls needed to fit that theme too.  It's a very soft and restful colour and I am enjoying adding the finishing touches.  

The old french chair was re-upholstered using an antique french sheet, and the cushion was made from french fabrics found in flea markets by rosehipinthecountry.com The flower painting is by a local artist and I crocheted the shawl myself many years ago while on holiday in Ibiza with my first husband.  A few years later our newborn babies were wrapped up in it.


I found this botanical painting in the Voewood book and art shop closing down sale in the North Norfolk town of Holt, where we spent our short honeymoon last May.  The picture is painted on vellum, as was the fashion in the 18th century when these paintings were so popular.  It looks very comfortable in its new frame above what used to be my children's bookshelf.  Everything has a history and carries memories.

Perhaps the next project is to paint some of the rather dated pine furniture a soft off-white. Something to keep me busy in the Autumn when the garden is less demanding.


Clothes, shoes, cushions, handbags and scarves, all magically disappeared into the spacious wardrobe in the corner of the room!