Immortality Achieved

A beautiful space to remember

In retrospect, I dedicate this post to Terry of Spearfruit, who passed away just after I posted this. I was thinking of him when I visited the Memorial. RIP Terry – a brave and inspiring man – and much love to Gary who is left behind

‘Death is the brother of Sleep’

The Runnymede Air Forces Memorial at Englefield Green stands above fields and woodlands next to the Thames at Runnymede, looking over toward the sprawl of Heathrow and then London beyond. It was a place that Baz took me to soon after we met

Runnymede Air Forecs Memorial

Over the past twenty-something years I’ve seen it in most weathers. This weekend was hot and sunny, but sometimes the wind howls and the rain lashes as you open the door up to its roof, where the terrace gives a commanding view. Yet it always seems to remain protected from the elements at ground level, where light and shade play beautifully

Runnymede Air Forces Memorial

Designed by Edward Maufe – who also designed Guildford Cathedral – it has, to my mind, a perfect balance of decoration and restraint. Much of the decorative interest itself is provided by the lists of over 20,000 names engraved, immortalised on its walls, providing a thought-provoking memorial

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The dead named here are from the Commonwealth Air Forces and have no known graves. People visit the site from all over the world

We come in spring to see the bluebells on the slopes of Runnymede below, we come in autumn to look for fungus in the woodland. We always take these opportunities to visit the Memorial. Spring flowers abound at Easter and wreaths of poppies appear for Remembrance Day, but there are always flowers, photos and personal messages propped against its walls

Runnymede Air Forces MemorialThough it is currently partially-shrouded in scaffolding for repairs, I wanted to see how my little handbag-friendly Lumix camera would cope with the strong light

Runnymede Air Forces Memorial

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Restraint continues throughout, with simple benches and the airy chapel with its softly painted ceiling

Runnymede Chapel ceiling

Air Forces ChapelWalking the corridors is very moving, inviting reflection without trying to create drama – simply a beautiful place for people to remember the dead and for them to be cherished

 

Am I Being Curated?

I’ll find a home for anything Art Deco

Baz has often said that he doesn’t want me to turn our home into a shrine to the 1930s. Obviously, my love of art deco could easily have transformed our modest 1930s UK bungalow into a beautiful museum (when we came here the only remaining 1930s feature was the fireplace), but I have curbed some of these tendencies out of respect for him

This hasn’t completely prevented me from de-blanding our house by installing reclaimed 1930s panelled doors throughout, a Lloyd Loom bed and Chinese black lacquered bedroom units. Or, for that matter, from adding the sunburst drinks cabinet and a 30s church pew

He knows that if he takes his eye off me I will sneak more in

But I admit that the green uranium ceiling and wall lights were a step too far. I was constantly terrified that someone would damage them (low ceiling, freakishly tall visitors, etc) so my tame sparky Ray, who absolutely hated them, took them down again after a few weeks, so that I could relax

I’ve been picking up bits and pieces of Art Deco since I was little. It was and remains my biggest style influence. I get a thrill when we drive past an original deco front door and sidelights in situ and I still covet my mum’s ex-neighbour’s sunburst gate!

I suppose the truth is that Baz curates me. He tries to remind me that I cannot give a place to everything. At least, not in this house

There remain some beautiful unspoilt examples of thirties houses. The one I knew best was Jack’s House. My grandparents bought their brand new house in Edgware in the thirties and our Uncle Jack lived in the same house until his death about ten years ago. I lived there with him for about a year in the late eighties and it was his house I went home to during that massive hurricane, after working the nightshift. Nothing had been changed in all the years. Nothing at all. And I loved it. When finally sold, the buyers planned to strip it, including the completely original and unfashionably tiny kitchen with its black and white tiles and purpose-built larder

This summer, friends invited us to their unspoilt 1930s house in Bounds Green. Weirdly I became anxious as we approached my old area of London and I nearly passed out. It was worth the trip. They had kept everything including the little kitchen, so it was almost exactly a mirror-image of Jack’s old house, and a flood of memories engulfed me as we sat in the front room eating cake (Jack rarely used his front room, but we would sit and have coffee and cake together on Friday mornings in the back room overlooking the garden, with his enormous speakers blaring out classical music)

Jack was a one-off. One day I’ll try to finish the post about him that I started writing two years ago!

If, like me, you are consumed by a lifelong love of art deco, perhaps – like me – you lie awake at nights worrying about what has been chucked into a skip that day

Thankfully, fellow blogger Art Deco Magpie dedicates his time to the essential business of documenting and photographing some wonderful deco buildings, providing an honest report of them, raising awareness and ensuring that they are immortalised in case of the unthinkable

His blog is full of streamline passion and is well worth a visit. I loved his post about the Piccadilly Line, featuring the fabulous stations I knew as a child growing up in Southgate

And when Baz captured this image on Saturday evening I knew I could find it a home

 

 

The Accidental Prop Shop

The world’s smallest brocante – and nothing is for sale

All my current favourite rooms in the house seem to be the ones that had been in complete darkness for over forty years, with the shutters and doors firmly closed. Perhaps they scream the loudest and so they get the my attention?

This room is effectively just the end of a corridor next to the ‘Damask Room’ and had been used by the elderly lady as a cooking and laundry area until the mid-1970s. Note the clothes pegs and hangers – I’m not really a detective

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as we found it August 2015

I spent a day last week stripping this tiny room bare of paper. The Dissoucol worked a dream and I learned the (mercifully brief) wallpaper history of this space

Poshbird's prop shop

Under the very brown patterned wallpaper with the horribly mismatched border there was a cobalt blue and white lace-patterned paper which must have been very elegant in its day. This in turn had its own border, deep blue and graphite with silver grapes on it, though I only found small traces of this

Poshbird's prop shop

Poshbird's prop shop

The ceiling paper was extraordinary only in the fact that it would never have worked with either wallpaper. I was fascinated by how the pattern has chemically degraded

Removing the old coat rack (I have kept it for future use) revealed a patch where the colour had remained, showing an unexpected and much cheerier sky blue background

Poshbird's prop shop

I found various scribbles on receipts covering up to 1975 in the coke box. I gathered all the evidence – which will need a good iron – and stuck it into a vide grenier frame for safe-keeping

Poshbird's prop shop

Also in among the coke was a cannonball, about two and a half inches in diameter. No doubt at least one of these has hit the house during its history, judging by the cracks. This house just keeps giving

Poshbird's prop shop
in spring 2017 we ‘lost’ the cooker or whatever it was
Poshbird's prop shop
some epic gravity-defying cobwebs

The little room is earmarked for a loo and washbasin and we’ve had plumbing installed in readiness, but I was SO enjoying unpacking all sorts of smaller gems after two years in their wrappings that I decided to actually ‘put’ them somewhere to enjoy them. I’ve never had them in one place together before so it’s been hard to gauge scale etc. Plus, I wanted to check for breakages – so far, so good…

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Exterior doors (right one partially cleaned)

The original paintwork on the doors showed fabulous colours under the filth, so rather than remove the lead-based paint (and who knows what else is in it?) I will keep it. It rivals any posh paint colours of today and has a genuinely fabulous patina. I’m sure some people would squirm at the idea, but I don’t care. I can use wax to seal it

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Starting to unpack (interior door to hallway)

And so, here we have the world’s smallest brocante, the beginnings of my own personal prop shop from which I can pick and choose items. Don’t you just love it?

Poshbird's prop shop

Pavarotti’s Key

Hanging doors and pointing fingers

I knew I’d earned my bath each evening when that dirty ring of shame (or honour, depending on how you choose to view it) appeared almost immediately I got in the tub

At least eight internal doors in the house were taken off by the builders and plumbers for ease of access, but that was months ago and they had taken up residence propped against the walls (the doors, not the workmen, who all cleared off on their summer holidays without replacing them) so it fell to me to try to re-hang them alone before the family arrived

France uses a simple and effective drop-in hinge system, but some of these doors are over two hundred years old and very heavy. I’m pretty strong, and thanks to working in beer cellars I’m used to pivoting heavy items onto blocks, but  this was exhausting. It was a very hot day and the ludicrously oversized key in the Head in a Bag Room door was constantly bruising my right thigh as I tried to locate the hinge

It was then that I remembered someone describing making love to Luciano Pavarotti as ‘like having a large wardrobe fall on you’

‘With the key still in it’

I shuddered, removed the enormous key and successfully hung the door without further injury (!)

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Once done, there was no way I was going to try to lift it off again alone, even though my Marigold glove was stuck fast in the hinge (I guess it could just as easily have been my finger – ouch!) so the glove remained pointing its pink finger along the hallway until Baz arrived the following week to assist me

The house is certainly starting to change. The Head in a Bag Room is now fast becoming the much more user-friendly Damask Room, no doubt the first of various damasks, as I am currently having a bit of a love affair with patterned wall coverings. Of course, the newly-hung door needed to be painted blue as it had been propped elsewhere when I decorated so I had missed it

Interestingly, I noticed, the last person who painted the door had done so while it was closed

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Traditionally one opens the door before painting?

Unfortunately, because this was such an ugly and unpromising room, we hadn’t taken many pictures of it beforehand

There was never a plan to work on it first. This busy wallpaper was over EVERYTHING, there was decayed lino on the floor, brown skirtings and woodwork, and the old lady’s mattress leaned against the wall. Satisfyingly, apart from the removal of the mattress and installation of a 140kg radiator we’ve done everything else ourselves. At some point we will need the electrics sorted out, but for now we are using a portable LED light

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Head in a Bag Room after stripping (sorry, wordpress insists that the picture is THIS BIG)

Putting the bed together really spurred me on and I found it quite therapeutic to spend an hour or so a day decorating as a break from the slog of heavy workIMG_1353

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On the road to Damask

I put the shell-motif mirror over the fireplace. Gill – who doesn’t miss much – noticed it in a previous post, and I think it really works here. I had a much better pic of the room a few days later but wordpress is being an arse and won’t upload it. Hopefully, you get the idea for now. It’s a long way from finished yet, but there is a new calm in this unexpectedly light and airy room and it was a good feeling to take our shoes off before going into our new sanctuary. I love this space now (excuse the old light cable dangling)

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And every girl needs a place for her claret jug. As this will eventually be a guest bedroom the jug may just have to be kept filled for visitors

 

Chickens with Beef

It’s complicated

Despite the title, this is as far as possible from a recipe. The only beef is the rivalry between chickens

This is a drama, an epic love story, a ‘Game of Thrones’-type saga (I’ve actually never watched it, but I am told it has all the same basic ingredients. Power, love, loyalties and betrayal, chickens. Except the chickens, that is). I was prompted to write this after recent events, and I hope you’ll pardon me for yet another chicken-flavoured post

Original all-female cast:

Babs and Floella – two Polish chickens, with feathery hats like ladies at Ascot

Phoebe – a Lavender Arucana

Audrey Henburn – a Cream Legbar. Quite short and squat. Margaret Thatcher looky-likey

Gertrude Rose – a Cream Legbar. Tall and necky. A bit scary (can’t stand white feathers)

Lola – a Frizzle (covered in fluffy white feathers, not much bigger than a pigeon and very bouncy)

Coco – a very pretty Chocolate Orpington

In June 2013 we became the proud owners of seven chickens, having pre-constructed a fox-proof run at some considerable cost and effort

Baz had found a ‘reliable chicken lady’ in Dorset so we collected them on the way back from a  weekend away. Seven point of lay (PoL) chickens travelled home in cardboard boxes – all girls, as specified, so as not to disturb the neighbours too much. The car smelt pretty funky for a few days after

They were all around sixteen weeks old and already they were showing character traits. Audrey was definitely in charge, and Gertrude was a strongly nurturing little thing, always the last to go into the coop when everyone else was safe

It became apparent fairly soon that the two Polish ‘girls’ were actually transvestites. The crowing after a few weeks kind of gave it away. Our neighbours didn’t mind, but we still had a problem…

In a small flock such as ours, the boys are incredibly competitive and Babs, the smaller of the two, quickly became power-crazed and dominant, while Flo was all gooey and enamoured with the very beautiful and elemental Phoebe. He would not go anywhere out of sight of Phoebe and spent his entire time courting and dancing around her, like a lovesick fool. Phoebe for her part enjoyed his attention, and the two of them would settle together on a perch or feed close together. They were ‘mated,’ though in chicken politics she was still Babs’ girl. Phoebe was a worldly older sister to the others and the first to lay an egg, the most incredible shade of blue

Babs, certainly regarded Phoebe as part of his harem and he insisted on mating with her often, though this distressed Flo into a state of insane jealousy. He would desperately try to head Babs off from her, but Babs became maniacally aggressive, regularly attacking Flo – who struggled to see him coming though his increasingly-droopy hairdo – and even knocked him completely unconscious. We feared for his life and tried to keep them apart

We called the woman who had sold the boys to us as girls. What were our options? we asked

She offered to take either one of or both boys back and replace them with girls, but intimated that they’d be culled. We were very bonded with them both anyway by this time, and getting rid of them was out of the question, so she suggested instead that she could give us two more girls and that this might help redress the balance

Of course, we came home with three more girls

Enter:

Tilly and Fudge – (the gingers) Blacktails, almost identical, though chalk and cheese

Rochelle/ ‘Rocky’/ ‘Rock chick’ (and any number of other derivatives) – a Rhode Rock

Tilly was immediately a terrifying psychopath, a true warrior with a cruel glint in her eye. She loved to peck the others, to draw blood. And she wanted Audrey’s job, though she never dared actually attack her. Punished so many times with the water pistol, I soon only had to move towards it for her to scuttle off and hide, because she was the only one who ever got squirted. Her sibling, Fudge, was in contrast the gentlest of chickens, easy to handle. Fudge got on with everyone

Rocky was skinny and a bit pathetic. Her neck was scrawny, her feathers were sparse and she was bullied by everyone. I used to lure her away from the others so that she could have some treats in peace. The others were onto me, but I protected her. There was something very special about the way she looked at us. It melted us all

Now, where was I?

Oh yes,

We knew Auds was not herself at the first New Year, and we drove miles to get treatment for her. The lady vet told us that Audrey was basically a bit of a runt, her reproductive system wouldn’t produce eggs, her heart was weak and we should expect her not to live very long

We didn’t tell Audrey, who was still a true force of nature, and the heart and soul of our flock. While Auds was ‘resting’ indoors for a few days Tilly seized the opportunity to become the new chief, but as soon as Audrey went back to the coop she attacked Tilly and returned to her rightful place as top girl. She would remain on top of the coop until after the others had all gone to bed, and Baz would go out and shove her in through the coop door late every night. This was a barometer of her health, as she could not manage to get up there if she was off-colour. She lived another 18 months and remained in charge throughout

In summer of 2014 Flo had accepted his low status (though he and Phoebe remained inseparable) until Babs started having ‘episodes’ where he would walk around in circles, and look very dazed. The balance of power quickly shifted, and his larger brother, Flo, capitalised on this. It’s not mean, it’s just what chickens do. Flo was by now very strong and Babs stayed out of his way. Except when he thought he could grab a girl, sometimes even daring to jump Phoebe

But Babs’ behaviour was becoming more strange. His circles became tighter and more frequent. He would run them instead of walking, then fall over in an exhausted dizzy heap. It stopped being funny to watch and the vet – himself a chicken keeper – was mystified. Babs was also now terrified, quite rightly, of Flo and we had to stand guard whenever they were free-ranging, to prevent Flo from pinning Babs down and finishing him off

Our solution: to build an entirely new fox-proof kingdom, right next to Flo’s, and separated by a wire fence. Baz put a huge amount of physical work and money into this and we were against the clock

We divided the girls. My little Rock Chick and the lovely Lola (‘Lolly’) moved into the new ‘Camp Babs’ so that he had female company and they had a bit of peace from the bigger girls, but the others stayed with Flo, who loved his newly-acquired top boy status and right to crow, though he used to lose his voice and we transferred to mentholated bedding for his asthma

Yes. I said asthma

Unfortunately, just a few months after moving into his safe new world, Babs suddenly lost the use of his legs. The vet again confirmed that there was no injury and no contagion, but said that he had some ‘faulty wiring’ somewhere. He offered to euthanize but we refused and took him home. He lived quite contentedly in a washing basket in the living room for the rest of his days – about six weeks – where he was cuddled and fussed, and had periods of lucidity when he would chatter to us, though he never recovered from the paralysis. He finally didn’t wake up on Remembrance Sunday and we buried him, all in floods of tears

Meanwhile, all the ‘big girls’ who lived with Flo would roost on top of their coop at night. We think it was on one of those nights that Coco fell and broke her leg. Despite lengthy and difficult treatment she finally succumbed after weeks of indoor care, just before Christmas

We questioned if we should ever have started this. Perhaps we were doing something wrong? There was just too much drama and loss

Enter:

Rachel and Monica (two tiny sister Sulmtalers)

Rachel and Monica AKA ‘the pigeons’ came to keep Lola and Rocky company. Following their arrival Rocky became head girl in their run and she blossomed completely

What we hadn’t realised about Rocky was exactly how much she liked eating. She was a wonderful prefect to her small group and a fantastic best friend to Lola. We called the two of them ‘Hinge and Bracket’ and the two of them would snuggle up in the coop, but what she really loved even more than Lolly was food

Rocky became a chubby little girl. Incredibly heavy to pick up, but absolutely enchanting, her coy expression also charmed the neighbours and won her extra treats. She was my fine little beauty, immaculately preened right up until she passed, just a few weeks ago from sour crop, and I marked her by planting a fabulous peony in full bloom

We tried to join the two groups together, but it became clear that Gertrude had developed an intense dislike for Lolly, probably fuelled by the fact that she is pure white (Gertrude would not tolerate a single white feather on Flo and would systematically peck them out of his head). When cornered, Lola stands up defiantly to Gerty, fluffing herself up in an effort to look big even though Gerty is three times her size and could take her anytime

Phoebe, Tilly and Fudge all went within the first few months of 2016. Chicken-keeping is not for the faint-hearted. You either distance yourself or you cope with losses. They all hurt

In December 2016 DEFRA announced that all birds were to be kept under cover to ensure that bird flu was not spread by migrating wild birds. They were in their small runs for several months, and the day we let them out to free range again was a joy

Sunday morning two weeks after the loss of Rocky was sadly Flo’s finale

Losing Flo was the close of a chapter for us. He had been a gentle giant, and had never aggressed any of the girls. He liked sweet soft fruits and early nights, always giving his blackberries away and tucked up in bed before anyone else. The intense heat of that Sunday morning took him very rapidly, no doubt due to the asthma, leaving only Lolly, Gertrude and the two pigeons

So, the politics were once again very complicated. The two pigeons and Lolly are in their area, while Gertrude remained alone in hers. Chickens hate to be alone – even the marauding Gerty – so in a perfect world they would just agree to an amnesty and we could let them all live together, but Gerty has demonstrated that she will not settle for anything but full annexation, so instead they sat near each other through the fence and discussed their sworn self-imposed animosities (chickens swear a lot, I find)

Chickens are stubborn. We needed a new besty for Lola and some new victims for Gerts to bully

Whatever you think – and many people assume that chickens are stupid – they are brave and feisty creatures with a complicated set of politics and an impressive sense of survival

Yesterday we came home with six new chickens of 21 – 22 weeks old, already the size of Gerty:

Mabel (a friendly barred Leghorn, who immediately came over to meet us through the fence and was destined to come home with us)

Rhubarb (‘Ruby’) and Custard, two Bluebells

Betty, a fine pure black amazon Rhode Rock

Cleopatra (brunette) and Racquel (redhead), two British Blacktails

Our plan was to put Betty in with Lola, but she’s too big and strong for her, so we will look for some bantams soon, I hope. The new characters are all settling in with Gerty, who is loving the company and has explained how things work, that she is boss. We’re just over 24 hours in and Mabel and Gerty have already formed a bond, having been spotted sitting together under the coop – most unexpected

And so our story has too often been punctuated by loss, but a new chapter starts with the introduction of these new arrivals bringing our little flock back to ten chickens

And just in time for blackberry season 🙂

 

 

 

A Plank of Wood and a Glass of Wine

In some places this project would be considered therapy

I’m not really the mental psycho bitch that I am often portrayed as. For example, this weekend Baz came to France with me and helped me put skirting board around our tiny multi-angled bathroom, working around the cast iron bath, sink and loo already in situ. Despite these frustrating obstacles we worked well together, didn’t break anything and didn’t lose our cool in the afternoon heat. By the time we were cleaned up (Baz loved his first ever experiences of cast iron bathing luxury this weekend) and taking aperos we remained very relaxed and still on speaking terms

Always a good start to an evening

Through necessity, the bath is installed in a fairly small space and there is nowhere to put toiletries (the name ‘roll top bath’ sort of gives it away really)

A shelf on the wall next to the bath would look cramped, but my memory strayed back to childhood: we had a hideous broken plastic bath rack across the bath, as I remember

There are some vintage 1920s metal bath racks for sale as well as a few modern ones, but I felt that a metal rack could look very fussy in the small space. In fact, the designers of some of the modern ones have totally lost the plot, adding ugly random sticky-out bits to hold wine glasses, books, tea lights, as well as the necessary shampoos etc

Baz had some interesting ideas for add-ons but I cannot share these here

They’re a bit niche

I went into a very expensive bathroom showroom and said ‘I don’t suppose you get many people asking for bath racks, do you?’
It seems that my instinct was correct. He only had one silly rack which cost more than our entire bathroom

So I consulted my erudite friend, M. Google, who introduced me to the simple wooden racks – rather like chopping boards – that can be bought for not very much, according to M. le Goo

I decided that I would make my own, using a piece of old wood found in the house itself. I had visions of using a patinated oak floorboard, of course

There are none going begging, as far as I can see 🙂

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Before and after some graft

But last night after the plumbers had left I found this unpromising shelf, recently ripped from a (probably late 1800s) walk-in bedroom cupboard to make space for a water heater. I removed a few hooks and nails from the underside, cut a piece off and then scrubbed it with steel wool and white spirit. As you can see, the wood came up nicely and I even left the original uneven unsawn edge. I added toilet seat dampers to protect the bath enamel and to hold the shelf in place, then treated it with an oil-based waterproof finish. Simplicity itself

I could have added a wineglass holder, but no-one tells this psycho bitch where to put her wine glass I don’t think I need one

It could almost double up as a cheese board!

If IKEA had made it, it would be called ‘BJÖRD’ or ‘BÊAM’

But they didn’t make it, did they?

Because it belongs to this house, a token minimalist item. And it cost nothing

The bath will be an even greater pleasure this evening, I am sure, now that I can enjoy a glass of red wine and listen to a bit of Lana Del Ray…

Cuba – Written On The Streets

Cuba Part 1.
Look up if you dare, but look around

I needed a distraction after a very tough week of nursing and subsequently losing a much-loved chicken, so I thought that some photos – not too much writing – would take my mind off things a bit

So, I thought of last year’s trip to Cuba. Oh, where to begin?

Perhaps I should first explain that Havana is not for those who worry about health and safetyIMG_1005

Indeed, much of Havana in August 2016 was shrouded in wooden scaffolding and/or covered in vibrant and often large-scale graffiti. Some bits that weren’t (held up by lumps of wood) threatened to tumble without notice, and local people shouted warnings as we approached dangers more visible to them than to us:IMG_0908

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Whatever your view of graffiti, it is hard not to be impressed by the quantity and variety in Havana (I have hardly touched the surface here). I honestly did not know where to start with last year’s pictures of Cuba, because it is such a massive resource, so I’ll start with this less obvious subject matterIMG_1675

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I still need to post photos of the buildings, the people, the old cars (Oh, those cars – it’s all true), but for now at least I have finally committed to a series of posts about Cuba

With no legal drinking age in Cuba, C enjoyed a pina colada or two. On the last evening as we were enjoying cocktails, I said, ‘I suppose this is the last of the Mojitos’

But I was wrong

We have just returned for a second trip within a year to this extraordinary place …