Monday, 31 March 2014

what the commuter saw


I bring you London in springtime.

24 March
Waterloo Station

5 March
Charing Cross from Embankment

20 March
Waterloo Gardens

3 March
St. James's Park

10 March
Charing Cross from the South Bank

6 March
Coliseum, St. Martin's Lane

10 March
Carlton House Terrace

27 March
St. Paul's from Villiers Street

[ p.s it did rain occasionally...]

26 March
White Horse, British Council

Sunday, 30 March 2014

coup de foudre

Booths, Victoria Pattern 1891-1906

The owner of the antique shop showed me round and we agreed that the plate was very fine. I took it down from the shelf admiring the delicate floral border, the charming central illustration. We put it aside and then he showed me a rare Georgian plate with a rhinoceros, I wanted it but it was too expensive so I put it back in the cabinet, regretfully. Next we looked at the sauce tureen, a delightful example but without a lid. A customer had broken the lid, he said, and nobody wanted the tureen without a lid. I agreed to take it for a small sum, so that it didn't clutter up his shop. Finally, I explained I wanted something pretty. He looked bemused. What did I mean? Floral? Gilt edged? Pink? I would know when I saw it, I said, but I did not find anything in the crowded rooms, the piles of china. As he wrapped up the plate and tureen I saw it on the shelf above the till. A tiny Victorian coffee can, in a particular shade of blue. And I fell in love.

Friday, 28 March 2014

The Away Fixture

MasterM plays for the Dar Leopards these days.
It is hard rugby but a good way to make friends.

I had a shock when he sent these photographs
because I did not recognise him to start with.
I remembered the schoolboy rugby player
and he was not there, however hard I looked.

He tells me that he has to run onto the pitch
holding the hand of a little child.
I smile because it wasn't that long ago
that he was a mascot himself.

They are playing the Arusha Rhinos this weekend.
That's Arusha near Mount Kilimanjaro.
It's the local derby so it should be a close match.
If you are in the area do stop by to cheer the Leopards.


We are not sure who took these photos.
I will print a credit as soon as I can.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

MrsM, hipster

Just me, MissM and a few fans
at a Bombay Bicycle Club gig.
Nothing much to see. Move on.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Clare College : early morning

Memorial Court

Queen's Road

The Avenue

Clare Bridge

Fellows' Garden

Old Court

Cherry tree outside the Chapel

Trinity Lane


I was in Cambridge for an alumni reunion. It was a delightful evening, a chance to catch up with people I see infrequently but who lead interesting lives and are good company. Whatever we have done subsequently we share memories of three years in this beautiful college, a privilege indeed. As I walked through Old Court in the bright, cold sunshine a magpie flew from the arch to the upper storey of windows. It felt like a good omen.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


in Tanzania...

MasterM is maintaining his vitamin intake.

"Today we got a selection of mangoes.
Tomorrow we are going to buy pineapple.
Or maybe paw paw!"

It is disconcerting to remember
that when he was a baby
he was Lord Picky Eater
and lived on cucumber for 3 months.

Monday, 24 March 2014

An embarrassment of flowers

There are too many flowers in the house
and it feels shockingly extravagant.
Perhaps if I share them with you
I can spread the burden of guilt.

These delicious orange tulips
are from a market stall in Cambridge.
It was a bright sunny morning
and I had just bought for lunch
a loaf of rosemary and seasalt bread.
I was feeling virtuous and housewifely.
Tulips seemed a necessary purchase.

Unfortunately, I had completely forgotten
that I had bought a bunch of hyacinths
before I left for Cambridge on Friday.
I assume this was caused by the stress
of sitting on the M25 for two hours.
I made it in time for the party but only just.

Luckily I had a clear run back on Saturday
and MrM was very pleased to see me.
This is partly because I had promised
to chauffeur him back from a rugby match.
These sunflowers are a gift from MrM
and they are glowing in a blue vase
from lovely Jenny the Cartographer.

There is no room for so many flowers!
No room in our tiny house, I tell you!
I had to move my ivy arrangement
to make room for the jug of hyacinths.
There is a story about the sauce tureen
but I am too exhausted with housework.
Another day.

And so to bed.
A small pot of pink roses,
my private pleasure.
Some things do not change.

Saturday, 22 March 2014


This week has been a blur. We were in Rome at the weekend and then I went to visit MissM. Now I am off to Cambridge for a party and in between there have been two busy days in London and a trip back to see the Geographers play football. I am glad of it - how lucky I am to have such a full life and the good health to enjoy it. In the not too distant future we will be visiting MasterM and before that I will see bb in London! I cannot wait! But for now, in real life, the laundry. Man cannot live without clean socks. Ahem.


Thank you for all your lovely comments - you are so generous. I would particularly like to thank Ali Ballon for her kind words on Thursday - I was truly touched by what you said, Ali.

Friday, 21 March 2014


MrM thinks that when he gets to Heaven
he will eat sfogliatelle every day
which is why he works hard
to make sure of his welcome.

The scenario is as follows:
St. Peter will stand with his clipboard
at the entrance to the Pearly Gates

"Cups of tea for MrsM - check.
Lifts to and from station for MissM - check.
Rugby tours with MasterM - check.
Travel agent for all and sundry - check."

Then he will shake MrM's hand

"Welcome to Heaven MrM
you have gone far beyond
the limits of human endurance...
here is a ticket for the fast track
to the pasticceria counter."

And MrM will amble off contentedly
to an eternity in Pastry Paradise.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sovereign Military Order of Malta

There is a small gate in a wall on the Aventine Hill. When you open it you can see down a long alley of trees which form a spectacular frame for the dome of St. Peters in the far distance. Tourists hang around in the hope that the gate will open so that they can catch the brief photo opportunity. The better informed tourists know that the view encompasses three sovereign territories: the Italian Republic, the Vatican City and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

We had the extraordinary honour of being shown around by His Sovereign Highness, Fra' Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta because long ago he was at school with the elder brother of one of my colleagues.

You might think that it would be difficult to imagine a Prince of the Church as a schoolboy but you would be wrong because His Sovereign Highness has an irreverent sense of humour and a wonderful chuckle.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is ancient and has its origins in the work of the Knights Hospitallers who looked after crusaders and pilgrims in the Holy Land.

It might seem that an Order with such history and pageantry would be irrelevant today but it has a very serious role with thousands of volunteers working all over the world providing first aid services, emergency medical care and specialist hospitals for maternity, leprosy sufferers and those with terminal illness.

Inside the gate there is a tranquil garden with views over Rome and an imposing palazzo which is used for diplomatic purposes. There is another palazzo in the centre of Rome which houses the archive of the Order.

The hidden gem is the chapel of the Knights of Malta, a masterpiece by Piranesi.

It was a place of beauty and history and Fra' Matthew talked of these with great affection but his responsibility is to the sick, regardless of colour or creed, and this takes priority over buildings and gardens.

If you are very fortunate you will meet a few people in your life who really make an impression - not because of their wealth or their position but because of the power of their personality. I only met Fra' Matthew briefly but it was an unforgettable privilege to listen to his commitment to the humanitarian mission of this historic Order.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

San Giovanni in Laterano

Have you been to Rome?
If you have you will know
that there is something extraordinary
around every corner.

This is an excavation deep underneath
San Giovanni in Laterano,
the cathedral church of the diocese of Rome.

It is completely silent down there,
no noise at all from the Rome traffic.
The sensation is dreamlike
as  you walk along corridors,
passing entrances to dark spaces.

The corridors are lined with plaster fragments
from previous excavations in the 30s
and occasionally there is a small fresco,
a column base or a marble statue.

It was a barracks in Roman times
with a basement full of amphorae
which was partially built on top of houses
in a practical use of previous foundations.

Gradually your eye gets accustomed
to the angles and levels
and you piece together the landscape
so that the Roman soldiers
are on the edge of your consciousness
in the cool, silent, dusty space.

This past weekend we were visiting sites
associated with the British School at Rome
and our guides were experts from the BSR.
My background is in science not classics
and it made me realise how little I know.

A few more trips to Rome
and my interesting colleagues
will soon fix that little problem.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Day 4 in Rome

I know that you have worried with me about my holiday wardrobe choices and I am grateful for that so I thought that I would report back...

Here we are in the Stadio Olimpico. I am wearing jeans, a delightful little white cotton top and a jumper with an interesting reverse seam detail. The outfit is accessorized with sunglasses, a scarf bought locally and two Peroni bottles.

Just back from Rome and it's a bit mad here.
So much to tell you about but so little time.
I'll be right back.

Monday, 10 March 2014

War Paint

On Friday morning MrsM and her friends, Helen and Caroline, set off for their Day Out in London. It was intended to be a serious, grown-up day with a trip to a museum and lunch in an vegetarian cafe. In the long time that they had known each other they had never been shopping together and MrsM felt a bit embarrassed when she asked  'Do you mind if we pop into Kiko in Regent Street?' Helen and Caroline had never heard of Kiko and so it was that MrsM led Helen and Caroline downstairs to nail polish paradise. MrsM pondered the dark greys for a few moments and when she turned around Caroline had tried three shades of brown polish and was experimenting with silver glitter while Helen had covered her hand with tape creating a tiny rainbow of pink, green and orange. 'Look!' said Helen 'It says this is magnetic polish - how does that work?' MrsM demonstrated how to create a pattern with a magnet on wet polish as though she did it all the time and Helen and Caroline squeaked with excitement. It was just like being twelve all over again.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Pass the Butter

I'm giving up butter for Lent.
It is my principal vice
and Lent seems a good time
to exercise self control.

This means that
hot buttered crumpets
feature frequently in my dreams.

When I told the lady on the East Africa desk
she laughed derisively and claimed
that her vices were more interesting.

Only 40 days.
That's 40 toast-less breakfasts
And 40 crumpet-less tea-times.
I feel droopy at the thought.

It's going to be hard
but I can do it.
And no cheating on Sundays.
That's just for wimps.

I hope I don't get too grumpy.