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

Blooming Lovely

This is another little heater I picked up

The auction was timed to close at 2am on a Monday morning, so I set an alarm on my phone before bed on Sunday night and was up five minutes before the end. The seller later apologised when he realised what he’d inadvertently done and the effort I’d gone to

I didn’t really mind: it meant that I was the only bidder

IMG_7174I showed this prize to my friend and tame sparky, Ray, who scratched his head and asked what I was going to do with it

‘I’ll make it into a light, of course’

He looked at me dubiously, not for the first time over the years. ‘I don’t know where you find all these things‘ he said, implying that what he really meant was ‘why’ rather than ‘where’

But I was weak at the knees when I saw this and I could see how simple a project it would beIMG_7179

I showed him the original damaged fittings, the same size and ‘pitch’ (apparently) as a shaver socket, but much longer. He said they’d need to be cut and filed down to make them safe but I thought this sounded like hard work and – just perhaps – not very safe at all. Instead, I stuck them into a bag for safekeeping and bought a new black batten bulb holder to attach to the central fitting. It didn’t fit, but I worked at it with various pliers until eventually it stopped resisting and accepted my persuasion. I was fairly stoked, I can tell you, when it finally sat in place

Black fabric flex completes the look, and I got Ray to add the plug and check it over, as I am no electrician and I remain nervous about mixing electricity and metalIMG_7186

The light was too intense from a bare bulb so I chose a small copper-coated golfball bulb for a more subtle effect, and then reinstated the pretty little grill with its Universal logoIMG_7200 There is a neat handle at the back and the light can be tipped to any angle, even directly upwards as an uplighterIMG_7212

It’s made entirely of copper and has perfect patina, so just a firm wipe with WD40 removed the dust from the decorative base

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Even Ray likes this one

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

 

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 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together. Alone

Despite the fact that it’s February, Baz and I have spent the last two days together in France basking in the warmth of clear blue skies. We explored, we took photos and we made the most of all things outdoorsimg_4328

Then, he left me

That is to say that today, after a flying trip, he boarded the bus to the airport, joking about how he had just enough euro ‘pocket money’ for the bus. As I walked back across the car park I realised that it was much harder sending him off home and staying here without himimg_4327

I know it’s only for a few days. I have plenty to keep me occupied and I just need to remain focussed