Dust and Bubbles

A weekend away starts too well

After yet another croissant (“It was a chocolate one, I couldn’t help it”), Baz announces that he can have no more breakfasts for the entire weekend and that he should in fact “eat only dust”

“Dust and bubbles” I correct him: we are travelling to Reims to celebrate twenty years of marriage in champagne country. Bubbles are a given

Morning had forced us on to the next stage of the trip – the Eurostar from London to Paris. As we were escorted across the concourse of St Pancras, an animated old fella was thrashing out an energetic account of Billy Joel’s ‘Just the Way You Are’ on the station piano

Surely all stations should have a piano

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So, why was I not happier to be leaving? What could possibly be better than champagne tasting?

It’s simple. We’d stayed overnight in Room 184, a junior suite of the St Pancras Hotel. Outrageously decadent, but we both agreed that if we could do it all over again, we’d do it all over there

(Just not too often)

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The cornicing in our room, 184 – fabulous

That Sir George Gilbert Scott’s gothic masterpiece has been brought back to life, that it survived at all through the years of neglect and hostility (bombed in both World Wars and despised by many) is incredible. That much of it only survived due to the indifference and ignorance of a string of occupants* is poetryIMG_7951*This entire decorative alcove was saved because a previous tenant boarded over it. There were more but all the others are lost

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The hallway to the historic Ladies’ Smoking Room

The star of the show is the grand staircase, with its curves and perfect symmetryIMG_7954

3200 gold fleurs de lys, I am told, have been stencilled onto the red walls over the staircase – these are not GGS’s original design, but the new carpet was indeed manufactured to match the original and was faded just enough to look worn inIMG_7965

IMG_7952I haven’t attempted here to give you the history of the building: there are some wonderful ways to discover this, and one of those would be to spend a night here. But as someone who grew up in North London, and having known this building for many years only as an apparently derelict shell, I am in awe of how it has been imaginatively restored to one of London’s premier hotels

Seemingly, its champion, Mr Betjeman, feels the sameIMG_7875

My Room 101

What can you not stand in your life?

I embrace many styles, and the French house will be subject to compromises because it is my only opportunity to indulge my catholic style tendencies (and because I take in whatever casualties/goodies that come my way)

Still, there are a few style elements that I staunchly avoid, and so, if I were to compile a short list for my Room 101 suggestions, it would have to include:

Things that are made to fit into corners (e.g. corner cupboards/ corner wardrobes/ corner shelves etc)      For some reason I have a very strong dislike of all things that were purpose-built to go nook and cranny-ish into a corner. This intolerance does not extend to things that go into recesses. No, I can’t explain, but corner-shaped things set me on edge

(a previous inhabitant of our French house painted the floor tiles around a long-gone corner unit as well as some of the rugs. I consider this very lazy as well as in poor taste, and its footprint is an enduring – ugly – legacy)

Barley twist legs    How boring and unimaginative, they make me think of my Aunty Kit (not that she was necessarily either of these things – and her legs were not kinked that I can remember – but she had a Jacobean-style cupboard with the offending legs in her chalet bungalow in Totteridge). I have yet to find a piece of furniture to persuade me that I could live with this particular feature and I have rejected many tables, sideboards and chairs because of them

Etched glass    Perhaps weirdly, though I drool over leaded, coloured, signpainted glass and over old pressed glass such as the feature image above*, I am not keen on etched glass

There are a few exceptions to this last one, usually in old pubs, but they have to be taken on a case by case basis. And no, again I cannot really justify it

What decorative things irk you? Or are there no rules…

*Only just noticed the generous dollop of bird poo, top left of the pic

Oh well!

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

 

 

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 …