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

IMG_7876

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)

IMG_7821
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

IMG_7969
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

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

IMG_0913

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

IMG_1160

IMG_0938

IMG_0901

IMG_1658

IMG_0903

IMG_0905

IMG_1672

IMG_0892

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 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Candle Lit in Carcassonne

A Week of Red Wine and Reminiscence

The sun was rising over Carcassonne, but I was alone as I explored the Medieval Cite

Mum and I spent a week in France in October, just us. I cannot remember the last time we spent alone together like this, and I was delighted that she wanted to see our project

I slept at our house but installed her in our neighbour’s apartment, and the nicest parts of the days were the evenings when we’d have something to eat together and then settle down with a glass or two of red wine, and simply natter

Through the week we discussed various family histories (and, we decided, perhaps a few myths). We also talked about her childhood and siblings, of her experiences and loss as a young girl during World War Two, and then of her long and happy marriage to Dad

We stayed overnight at Carcassonne on the way home, as I wanted to share the Medieval Cite with her

img_2543

I was tired, having picked up ‘something’ which turned out to be a chest infection and struck me dumb for eight full days once I was home. Still, the early October weather was kind and we sat in the sun with afternoon drinks, and then wandered off to soak up the al fresco atmosphere at dinner within the city walls

img_2567

The next day was our last, so I went out early to take a few snaps. The solitude and peace was totally different from the previous evening, and the light was just catching the Cite

img_2588

img_2580

img_2593

I noticed someone else: a nun, on her way to open the Cathedral

img_2611

I followed inside. She glanced at me, perhaps slightly disapproving, but didn’t ask me to leave. Inside, candles still burned in dedication from the day before, and the enormous windows were illuminated in the golden morning light

img_2704

img_2627

img_2625

I continued to wander a while, before heading back to breakfast with Mum. We were travelling with only hand luggage and so we were quickly packed and out again to explore. I was keen to show Mum the Cathedral, and the day was deliciously warm

img_2635

img_2624

That day Mum and I lit a candle of our own, as if to mark the end of our week together. It felt right, somehow, and I think of it often


I wouldn’t normally include travel notes, but:

Carcassonne is not ideal for anyone who uses a walking aid, such as my Mum, but it is worth the effort and we just took our time. We saw a lot of wheelchair users managing too

The little road train provides a cheap and convenient tour. However, it is very bumpy so I strongly recommend wearing a sports bra!

 

 

Our hotel was pretty much opposite the entrance to the Cite. Even if you just fancy a sit down over a cuppa or a glass of wine, I can recommend it Hotel du Chateau

There is a beautiful old cemetery just outside the Cite entrance. Worth a look if – like me – you like cemeteries

img_2578

Slightly Mad, But Optimistic

It sounds lovely doesn’t it: ‘The South Coast Challenge’, a walk along the cliffs and downs of East Sussex, an area where my mum’s family come from and where I spent many happy childhood holidays

Well, that’s where the nice bit stops

A very silly friend, who is old enough to know better, told me he was doing this for the ‘Bloodwise’ charity who are currently supporting a friend in great need, and when I saw his email it felt very much like I really should join him, as he and I are part of an informal tribe who have already traipsed the West Highland Way together and attempted to scale the 6 Peaks – Snowdon, Scarsdale Pike and Ben Nevis twice each – in 48 hours (we only managed 4 Peaks, but it was worth a shot!). None of the other guys in the random bunch of extreme crazies took up the challenge. Perhaps that should have dissuaded me, but it just made me more determined. Of course it did, so before I could change my mind I signed myself up

The event takes place tomorrow, August Bank Holiday weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

(a) it could be VERY hot

(b) it could be wet

(c) my left ankle ligaments might react very badly

(d) it turns out that we have to get up at 5.00 in the morning to get there before we even start!

Did I mention that it’s 100km long, this walk? Or that my ‘friend’ had decided that we were doing it in 24 hours?

Slightly late, I processed all this information, and Brian (the ‘friend’) added to the mix by saying that there is a nice pub near the finish line. So it was a done deal. A JustGiving page was set up and Bloodwise sent us thank you messages for our prospective efforts

So, think of us as you enjoy the mixture of very hot and very wet weather this weekend (a double whammy!) and please consider donating to this wonderful cause

At least for us by Sunday morning, it should all be over, whereas the path to wellness is long and very hard for those affected by cancer. Ironically, only yesterday I found out that someone else I know has just been diagnosed. We are all hoping for a cure to cancer, but in the meantime, love and practical support are all-important

I will also be thinking of my fellow blogger Spearfruit, whose honesty and positive energy inspires many of us. Here’s to you, Terry …

 

 

Beyond the Pale – Miami Pastels

A business trip brought us here, but it’s good to be back. There’s a special quality about the light, the orange juice (OMG I had forgotten how good it tastes!) and the ubiquitous form of art deco that we almost take for granted when the word ‘Miami’ is uttered The first few times we came here C was just … Continue reading “Beyond the Pale – Miami Pastels”

IMG_0345A business trip brought us here, but it’s good to be back. There’s a special quality about the light, the orange juice (OMG I had forgotten how good it tastes!) and the ubiquitous form of art deco that we almost take for granted when the word ‘Miami’ is uttered

IMG_0466

IMG_0275

IMG_0521

The first few times we came here C was just a baby and so she has no recollection. One time, we stayed at the Breakwater, right in the hub of South Beach, where the downstairs nightclubs throbbed all night

IMG_0374
IMG_0354.JPG

South Beach is where she took her early steps, but what she sees now is an exhibitionist’s chaotic paradise where nothing or no-one can be too bright, too loud or too visible. She adores the flashy top-end sports cars – Lamborghinis and Ferraris – that compete for attention, and loves the music emanating from every window of restaurants, bars and carsIMG_0736

Baz and I are not too old to enjoy these things, we’re honestly not

But for us Miami is still all about the art deco. Obviously. Many of these hotels were cheaply built, as is so often the case, and must require frequent maintenance. A few are shrouded in hoardings where major works are taking place, but there’s still plenty to seeIMG_0437

deco

I think it’s hard to beat these simple perfect curvesIMG_0411

I also adore the motifs featured on so many buildings – often painted in typical Miami-deco styledeco

And the odd bit of glass…

IMG_0733

For me, South beach is not somewhere to come for a rest, but for a change. There is a collision here, where the light meets the pastel colours and the shapes. Miami is a confection that relies on all these elements. In addition, it’s a bustling chaotic hub of a town where the buildings and the beach are an almost incidental background now to the nightlifeIMG_0347 We took a walk before the sun was up, and the only other people on the streets were dozing on the cafe chairs or walking aimlessly, hand-in-hand. Definitely a good time to enjoy it

 

 

Those kittens won’t shoot themselves

encounters on South Beach

The boardwalk provides a 4-mile morning loop on an ideal running surface to the temple of Starbucks at South Beach. It’s an easy run as long as I am back to the hotel before it gets impossibly hot each day (around 7 am)

The distinctive huts along the beach are my landmarks
IMG_0625Enjoying my temporary routine I notice others around me, who also start their day by coming hereIMG_0666

The cats are in all shades of ginger, grey, white and ‘Branston pickle’IMG_0710Taking shade in the sea grape bushes during the heat of the day, they appear each morning to enjoy small piles of kitty biscuits, lovingly placed by dedicated locals

By the second day I recognise several of the cats, and I am on nodding terms with a few people – some of them runners and some ‘feeders’. One lady says she feeds them ‘every day, sixty three of them’. Another man tells me he gives food to ‘about three dozen’. Clearly this is a great commitment and a real passion

As we settle in bed one night, we tell C that we will both be getting up at a time she’s only heard of, for me to run and Baz to find and photograph the groups of kittens that she won’t see during the day. She groans and pulls her cover over her head, unimpressed

‘Those kittens aren’t going to shoot themselves,’ says Baz, but in the morning the kittens elude us, ushered away by protective parents before we can snap them

IMG_0628.JPG

The beach walk is popular with runners, cyclists, dog walkers. Many people practise yoga. Many more sleep on the beach – some through choice, some through necessity. I see one man asleep each morning on the same piece of boardwalk, and there are many more adrift here

After a chaotic Saturday night in SOBE a pair of abandoned or forgotten gold-heeled shoes lounge on the beach. There are lovers and revellers not yet returned from clubbing. As I pass two men in their twenties sharing an early morning joint, one shouts out to me: ‘Good morning beautiful lady, you look great’

I am glad of his encouragement. Name me one fifty year old woman who wouldn’t enjoy that!IMG_0481

The initial warm breeze will become a searing heat by 7 am, so I am delighted to see the beach hut we christened ‘half-of-Lisa-Simpson-hut’, signalling that I am almost back at the hotel. It’s now our last morning in Miami, my last run in Miami, and a man shouts gruffly to me: ‘Cold! Eyes! Bitch!’

Just another nutter, this place is full of them …

Stationed at Slough

Is there anything better than a Victorian station with a stuffed dog?

I hate Slough. I love stations

However much I dislike Slough, it provides a fantastic train artery. If I am sitting on one of its station platforms I am either heading off on an adventure towards the countryside of the West, or East into my old friend Paddington, from where I can access the throng of London and the rest of the country

I love adventures, and this is a route steeped in fond memories. In the eighties I used to finish work at 8.30 on a Sunday night and frantically ‘tube it’ from Bond Street to Paddington to catch the 9.10 train to go home to Bath. One Sunday, a passenger called Solomon sat next to me. He spent the weekend with his family and then worked Monday to Friday in Penzance. We got on so well that it became our weekly routine to seek each other out, and sit together drinking gin and playing backgammon

One Wednesday, as my late-afternoon return train from Bath emptied onto a Paddington platform, an announcement came over the tannoy: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P Bear please go to the Lost Property Department’

On the repetition it was cut short: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P ….’

Must have been a new guy. Hundreds of passengers sniggered

But, I digress…

Last Sunday C and I headed to Olympia to visit a customer at a trade show. As we waited for our train to arrive at Slough, C asked if Station Jim was still around, and suggested we go and pay our respects

Station Jim was a sick stray, adopted in the 1890s by the station staff. Taught to cross the tracks only by the bridge, he apparently took the occasional train journey but was always spotted by staff at other stations and sent home. For the most part he was happy just to collect donations for local causes, and he seems to have led a pretty good (if short) life. Upon his sudden death at home one evening in 1896 the station staff and local residents paid for him to be ‘stuffed’ and mounted on display on Platform 5, where he remains, proudly dressed in his collection harness station jimHowever gruesome this Victorian behaviour sounds, he must have been very loved, don’t you think?

One hundred and twenty years on he’s still in pretty good nick and he looks very noble. He has a very prominent spot on the main platform to Paddington, so that new people still see him for the first time every day – not something that a simple plaque could have achieved

And those of us who have ‘known’ him for years continue to visit

 

 

Are You Really Going Out In That?

More stories of spandex. And inappropriate smoking

IMG_2469Running isn’t for everyone. But if it’s your thing – if you are used to just popping out and running fairly good distances – and then suddenly you can’t anymore… well, it’s hard to explain how that feels

Tonight the towpath beckons and I decide to do a couple of miles. I’m easing myself back in slowly after hurting my ankle back in March. It seems incredible that an injury caused while standing still can have set me so far back

Sadly, this will be the year I hang up the Hawaiian bikinis for good (it probably should have been a few years back!), but even that sturdy and sensible one-piece swimsuit won’t wear itself. So I’d better get on with it before the summer hols

There’s a honeysuckle that stretches along the path by the river, and as I pass it the scent is incredible. I fill my grateful lungs with the perfume, taking a reward for my small discipline this evening and feeling so glad I came out

Breathing is everything. I mean, obviously, because we wouldn’t be alive if not breathing, but also in running terms. It’s easy to put one foot in front of the other but it’s the right breathing that allows you to run. If you can’t match your body’s oxygen requirements you’ll just be exhausted in no time

Of course, there’s an exception to prove most rules:

Norman, a friend and associate in Singapore, is a hard-living heavy drinker who has chain-smoked all his life, but after suffering a heart attack in his late fifties in 2008 he told me he had taken up running on the advice of his doctor. He was fully expecting to hate it. Yet in 2014, while I was injured and had to forego my first ever marathon place at Brighton, he was running regularly and looking forward to his first marathon in Singapore. By the next time we got together for a few drinks a year later he had run two marathons and I was absolutely in awe of him

I asked if the second one was much easier

Norman told me how he had struggled on the second one, but had really enjoyed the first one. He was eating up the miles, he told me, and he only stopped for a cigarette at eight miles, twelve miles and twenty-one miles. I honestly thought he was joking. I didn’t know it was possible for a smoker to run a marathon, let alone to stop for a fag break along the way

I wonder if he stopped for a Scotch too?

As I hit the end of my two and a bit miles I stride out a bit, get a bit of momentum going, and I feel how my lung capacity has improved

I am no Norman. But for the first time this week, there is more in the tank 🙂
IMG_2685

 

 

Beautiful and Brutally Honest

An Unexpected Truth in Lincoln

It’s never good to be behind someone who has stayed at the hotel before and wants to check that her room is ‘not by the refrigerator units because they’re quite loud’. The guy’s response that she’ll probably be fine doesn’t do much to reassure me because I know the hotel is full all week, so if my room is awful, I’m stuck with it

When I reach the desk, the manager advises me that I have received an internal upgrade. I  pay little attention because I am (a) soaking wet head to sandals from the tempest, (b) wrestling a heavy two and a half foot wide and three foot tall brass light fitting picked up at a train station sort-of-en-route and (c) almost in touching distance of the bar

Things get better very quickly. After squeezing into the tiny lift with all my crap I discover that my room is in fact a four-poster suite on the fourth floor, with cracking far-reaching views over the rooftops and access to a large roof terrace facing the stunning Cathedral

Just me and my random metal objects snuggling up for two nights until Baz arrivesIMG_9959.JPG

Lincoln really could be the fudge-lovers world capital, and there are plenty of places to stop and get a cuppa or, indeed, an ice cream. I had a strange craving for rose petals that day so I had Turkish delight, Stem ginger and Liquorice flavours all together and loved it!

IMG_2715.JPG

The spirit of creativity runs high in the Bailgate area. Galleries and small independent shops are plentiful, and Baz and I LOVED the photographic exhibition at the Harding House Gallery by Jane Wright inspired by the beauty in the dereliction of industrial sites in Sheffield

The Bailgate streets are full of character and there are frequent glimpses of the Cathedral and castle between the houses

So what hadn’t I expected?

Inside the fantastical Cathedral building, alongside the historic tombs, very contemporary works of art reside, such as the incredibly beautiful and moving ‘Forest Stations’ by William Fairbank. I found no online links that do them justice and my camera battery ran out so I have no pictures, so my advice is simply to go and see them

And more surprising to me was ‘Little Hugh’s Tomb’, where a warning against racial hatred and bigotry, illustrated by a terrifying true piece of local history, ends with the wonderful greeting of ‘Shalom’. For me as an atheist this was really refreshing and honest in such a grand Cathedral, and I welled up as I read it:

IMG_2703

Times are strange right now. There are many people feeling resentment and fear in the world and many more suffering terribly, but no good ever comes of bigotry or cruelty. History has provided enough evidence that people are capable of terrible acts, but also of wonderful kindness and creativity. Let’s remind ourselves that it is our responsibility to find the goodness and nurture it