Friday, 31 January 2014

what the commuter saw


It is midwinter in the city
and the trees are bare.

2 January
Royal Festival Hall, South Bank

Commuters are muffled in hats and scarves,
attempting to face down the rain.

29 January
Waterloo Bus Station

Every coffee shop is a temptation
promising hot drinks and comfort food.

16 January
Le Pain Quotidien, South Bank

There is a spare, angular beauty
in the urban landscapes of winter

13 January
Westminster from the South Bank

but when the sky and the river are grey
I long for a jolt of colour

27 January
Waterloo Station

and I seek shelter from the wind
in the arcades and interior spaces.

30 January
Royal Opera Arcade, Pall Mall

Despite the weather I feel the energy
of the city preparing for another day

15 January
Cyclists at the IMAX

and I am always delighted
by unexpected glimpses of the Eye.

13 January
London Eye, South Bank

And there are those mornings
when London looks drop-dead gorgeous.

And they are worth waiting for.

2 January
City of London from Waterloo Bridge

Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Lesson of the Kumquat

When I saw these on sale outside a tiny shop in Frigiliana last week I was immediately transported to another time when MasterM and MissM were very small.

An elderly guest speaker at a school prize day talked to the children about the life before them, as most guest speakers do on those occasions, and he emphasised that life can be happy and sad, sour and sweet. The children were not listening because profound statements about adult life do not interest seven year olds. The speaker, who was a wise former headmaster, had anticipated this and, reaching into a bag, flourished a kumquat. "Look" he said "This is a kumquat, it is sour on the outside and sweet on the inside. If you are brave enough to bite through the sour skin you can taste the sweet juice and it will be all the sweeter because of the sour skin. There will be times in your life when you need to be brave so remember the lesson of the kumquat." And then he reached into the bag and taking handfuls of kumquats threw them into the audience and suddenly the children were scrabbling on the floor in their best Speech Day uniform, trying to collect the fruit and the parents and teachers were ducking to avoid being hit by flying citrus.

I told this story to the Young Academic and he was very amused. He had a better story, of course, about an academic who demonstrated a lecture about perception by hitting a bowl of trifle into the auditorium with a golf club. Apparently it was quite messy.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

blue sky, white wash

You want sunshine?
You got it.

More sunshine...
and whitewash.

Oh...just a window box.
And a balcony.

This is my favourite street,
lots of happy memories.

You want sea as well?
Go down these steps

take your shoes off
and run into the water.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


My hotel room faced east
towards the sea horizon
and each day I woke early
to watch the sun rise.

At first I thought about
the changes I have made
since the last time I saw
the sun rise over Spain

but it is impossible
to look backwards
at sunrise and so I sat,
waiting for morning,

watching the beautiful bay
and the little town of Nerja
which I have learned to love
become flooded with light.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Just a quick note... say thank you...
  • to the talented jazz oboist busking on the Jubilee Bridge
  • to my favourite Big Issue vendor for his lovely smile
  • to the friendly people in my lunchtime cafe on Pall Mall
  • to Eleanor for being so cute
  • to the Photocopier engineer who knew what the problem was
  • to the printer which did 700 envelopes without overheating
  • to Jenny for the wonderful photos from Nerja
  • to Karen at Cornflower Books for her excellent recommendations
  • to the genius who thought up #MuseumSelfie
  • to my parents for the delicious slab of Christmas cake
  • to everyone who writes comments here even when I can't reply
  • to MrM for getting up early on Thursday to take me to the airport
Right - that's it - all packed - time to go to bed.
This time tomorrow I will be in Spain!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Death's Other Kingdom

Gamel Woolsey was on the very edge of the Bloomsbury circle, she loved Llewelyn Powys (who was married to Alyse Gregory) but subsequently married Gerald Brenan (who loved Dora Carrington who loved Lytton Strachey) and helped bring up Miranda, Gerald's illegitimate daughter. Her early life was tragic and later on she became isolated and withdrawn, dying in 1968 from breast cancer, but in the thirties it was a happy time when she lived with Gerald in a small village outside Malaga. I came to this complicated life after reading "Death's Other Kingdom", published in 1939, and wondering about the author.

The book starts with an idyllic description of a day in their Spanish home in 1936 but quickly moves to the drama of fires in the distance, the city of Malaga burning at the start of the Civil War. Most of the foreign community leave immediately but Gerald and Gamel decide to stay, believing that they can save their house and protect their small community of servants and friends. Gamel writes a conscientious eye witness account and describes the descent into fear, violence and anarchy with great compassion, always trying to understand the motivations of people as they burn houses and kill their neighbours. At first, with my limited understanding of the brutality of the Civil War, I thought that her description was naive but I was wrong because the simplicity of the images are piercing in a way that more complex analysis can never achieve. Gamel writes with a profound love of the Spanish people and now, after finishing the book, I am left with a sense of grief for that lost Spain.

I fly to Malaga on Thursday and I can't wait to see the blue colours of the Mediterranean but there will be, at the back of my mind, those vivid descriptions of the flames as the city burned in the first frenzy of the Civil War.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Megan's cake

MissM shares her house with four friends
and it has been such fun getting to know them.
It was Megan's birthday this weekend
and there was a party in the house
(with balloons, fairy lights and jelly)
which went on until ...ahem...late.
An urgent request for raspberry torte
was received and gladly delivered.
There are so many happy memories
associated with this cake recipe
and now there is one more.

Happy Birthday lovely Megan...
may this year bring wonderful things.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Out in the Fresh Air

A Sunday walk with my parents.

"Let's not waste the sunshine...

we can walk by the river

and up to the top field...

sorry sheep, it's too early for supper.

It's too muddy to walk that way

but look!

The first snowdrops...

and winter flowering jasmine!

Spring is not far away."

Thursday, 16 January 2014


The enthusiastic academic has a passion for ballet
and just before Christmas she had a spare ticket
for 'Jewels' at the Royal Opera House
so I persuaded her to let me join her.

Oh! It was such a divine evening.
Everything about a night at the Royal Opera House is perfect.
You walk through the lights and bustle of Covent Garden
and into the very grand gilt and plush lobby.

The first thing to do is go up to the top bar
and celebrate your escape into this fantasy world.
Then you settle down in your seat, high in the Gods,
clasp your hands with excitement and the music begins.

We were fortunate enough to watch
Steven McRae partner Sarah Lamb in Rubies.
The enthusiastic academic was in raptures
as these two dancers 'blazed' across the stage.

The dazzling design and intricate choreography of 'Jewels'
was inspired by a visit to Van Cleef & Arpels
and is reminiscent of Art Deco jewellery:
the bold designs, geometric shapes, extravagant size.

We met a friend of the enthusiastic academic in the bar
and she confessed that going to the ballet is her vice.
I confess that lusting after Art Deco rings is my vice
but I am happy to settle for a night at the ballet.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Villa Giulia

Let's flick through my pictures of the Villa Giuilia.

It is just across the road on the Via Flaminia
and the Director invited me to join
a special tour for the new award holders.
How could I say no?

Don't you love that scooter?
That's the thing about using a phone camera
you are never quite sure what will be in the picture.

They are not the best photos I have ever taken...
I was following an award winning photographer
with a huge camera and lens combination.
Guaranteed to make you feel inadequate.

This is the Nymphaeum for alfresco dining.
It is very mossy and subterranean
but I bet it was a great place for a party.
Apparently Pope Julius would arrive by boat
and settle down for an all day picnic.
I suppose that even Popes need to relax.

I was going to photograph the other Neptune
but the flagrant cornucopia
made it Quite Impossible.

You have to imagine the soundtrack:
gasps of pleasure from the architecture students
and sighs from the Etruscan students
who want to get inside and look at Etruscan treasures.

Such a cute lion.
Quite curvaceous and curly.
Next time I go to Rome I will photograph
a menagerie of stone animals.

You can skip this photo.
I have an obsession with topiary.
Don't panic...
it's not affecting everyday life...

This is the Villa Poniatowski
open to us by special arrangement.
We weren't allowed to photograph inside
so read this delightful blog post
by bluetortoiseconservation
Their photos are better than mine too.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


It appears that at some point in the last six months I stopped being angry with myself for failing to match up to my own expectations. Was it a gradual process? If there was a switch that flicked I cannot recall the moment when it happened. All I know is that tonight as I tried to motivate myself to do the numerous tasks that should be done to make life run smoothly and listed the things that had not been done I heard a voice in my head say "You have been busy and you are tired, don't expect to do everything, be kind to yourself". Where did this advice come from? Have I unconsciously absorbed it from something I have read or finally listened to MrM or has the advice that I give other people bounced back to me? Is it a permanent change or just a temporary outbreak of common sense? I don't know the answers to these questions but it feels like a good thing, this letting go. It is never too late to start being kind to yourself.

Monday, 13 January 2014

I dot a toff

I regret to report
that I am ill with
Gallivanters' 'flu.

Principal symptom:
hacking cough
causing sleepless nights,
dysfunctional brain
and dramatic eye bags.

Don't panic!
It will be cured eventually
by a healthy dose of
self pity and chocolate.


Thanks to Hannah, aged 3, for the title.

Friday, 10 January 2014

at the end of the day

We went up on the roof
and watched the sun set
over the Villa Borghese
and then we went out
for a drink in a bar.

If that isn't nice,
I don't know what is.

I hadn't met these people
a week ago and now
I have new friends:
the Director's wife,
the archaeologist,
the librarian,
the assistant.

Warning! Fun times ahead!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Commuting - the Rome version

The British School at Rome
on Via Antonio Gramsci...

I am working/eating/sleeping here this week
so there is NO commuting.

Let's go out for a stroll before breakfast

Admire the sunrise and then
turn left and walk down the hill
to the Viale delle Belle Arti

past our next door neighbour,
Galleria Nazionale D'Arte Moderna,

cross the road carefully,
up the flight of steps
and you are in the Villa Borghese.

What can we see?

Arches, columns,
statuary, lions...

picturesque gates...

random marble reliefs.

Right, that's enough fresh air,
it's almost time for breakfast.

And here we are,
back at the British School
without getting lost.

It's a miracle!