Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A Capital Christmas - Part 3

So - Boxing Day. What a strange day it always seems. Most places still closed, people (mad in my opinion) queuing and rushing to the Sales...it can be a bit flat and sad. But we were determined to have fun and headed to Covent Garden (on foot) to have a beautiful brunch at Kopapa . There'll be a review on my food blog soon so I won't spoil that - but it was a wonderful treat!

We wandered home through the throngs in Covent Garden...avoiding as many shops as possible! I can't stand crowds and it makes me a little panicky sometimes to be in the middle of a lot of people...but the famous Piazza was fairly quiet. There was a special Christmas art installation called Merry Kissmas - you had to kiss under mistletoe and the electricity lit the huge tree up! But the queue was too long, sadly!

I hope you can see the beautiful topiary Rudolph - and note the well placed iconic red phone boxes too!!

Paul cooked me an amazing fresh tomato pasta dish with chilis & capers for supper and we just relaxed and watched old movies...perfect.

And yesterday we decided to go somewhere that I've never been...and I can't quite believe that I haven't! The British Museum holds so many amazing treasures from all over the world...

sarcophagi, mummies and other artefacts from Ancient Egypt...

sculptures and pottery from all periods of history (this is Charles 1, one of our doomed monarchs...!)

and (my favourite) exhibitions of various amazing items discovered by people with metal detectors, or just when ploughing fields...hoards of ancient coins, jewels,gold and silver like the beautiful ornate dish pictured above, which was found at Mildenhall in Suffolk. The museum is so vast, that it's impossible to see very much on one visit... we just headed for things we especially wanted to see this time.

I must admit that, while I've wanted to see the Egyptian mummies since I was a child when I actually did, I didn't enjoy it too much. I think this is because I was slightly uneasy that all these artefacts had, in effect, been stolen from the places that they belonged - even though that happened many, many years ago. It also felt wrong to be looking at the dead in that way...they'd been so beautifully & reverently preserved, wrapped, adorned, laid to what was assumed to be eternal rest...and here they were in glass cases being stared at (&usually photographed) by all who passed.That's why there are no pictures here. But maybe I'm being too sensitive! I adored the museum as a whole and will definitely be making more visits there...

And so, this morning, we packed up our Christmas and headed back. Alice was equally good on the train home...

But she was still happy to arrive at the other end...

and now we're settling back and getting ready for New Year and celebrating at the farm with my parents, little sister & youngest nephew.

So that was our Christmas 2010 - eventful, not at all what we expected and a little wistful. But there's serendipity in all situations, and we really enjoyed ourselves in beautiful London. And I can't wait for 2011 now, to see what that will bring.

Enjoy the rest of this strange 'limbo' week...between Christmas & New Year...looking back and looking forward too.

See you at the farm! xoxo

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Capital Christmas - Part 2

So, Christmas Day in London dawned...freezing cold and slightly misty. This was the view of the BT Tower when we set off for our walk...

We went to church at 10am. I don't go to church, although Paul does sometimes...but I made an exception. Partly because St Marylebone is extremely beautiful, and is the place that one of my heroines, Elizabeth Barratt married the poet Robert Browning in secret....but mostly because the music that accompanied the service was Mozart's Coronation Mass! It was a lovely warm service, full of candles and carols.

We made our way home through the deserted streets...

to little Alice and hot coffee with cinnamon buns that I'd bought on Christmas Eve from our local Nordic Bakery.

We were going to wait until dinner to open our presents (we'd just brought those we were giving to each other, the others we'll open at New Year with my family at the farm...) but as we were feeling a bit sad at not being where we were supposed to be on Christmas Day, we decided to exchange them straight away.

Amongst lots of other treats, I received something that I've wanted for soooo long:

yes, that's me with my new love....my limited edition cranberry Kitchenaid mixer!! Isn't she bee-yoo-ti-ful??

We called my parents, read our new books and relaxed until it was time to take another long, frosty walk with Alice...all around Regent's Park, laughing as she tried and failed miserably to catch the hundreds of squirrels that ran around taunting her before escaping up the nearest tree!!

BBrrr it was cold! So we went home again to watch TV and cook dinner. Free-range duck, cranberry compote, roast potatoes & parsnips and brussels sprouts...we'd forgotten a pudding, but there was cheese & biscuits & medjool dates...and champagne.

We called the friends we should have been with, heard the laughter and clattering plates in the background, knew they were missing us as we were them...so more champagne & TV!

Then it was time for bed...we were all pretty tired by then:

It was wonderful to spend the day with our sleepy little girl!

And now it's Boxing Day - sunny and very cold again. We're off to walk to Covent Garden now, hoping to have lunch at the wonderful Peter Gordon's new restaurant Kopapa. I hope that you had a wonderful magical Christmas Day.

To be continued......xoxo

Friday, 24 December 2010

A Capital Christmas - Part 1

We left home, and the churchyard in the crisp, deep snow....

So beautiful! Walked and slipped down to the train station and took Alice on her first train ride into London. I had a pocket full of biscuits for bribing her - sure she would be so excited and a total nuisance. We didn't need one treat! The dear little girl sat quietly on my lap, looking out of the window, for the entire journey. The biggest compliment came when a lady was disembarking at Marylebone, looked over and said 'Oh! I didn't realise there was a dog in the carriage!' We swelled with pride!

And London is beautiful and buzzing at Christmas. Lights everywhere. Hardly any snow up here either, just cold & crisp. Last night we saw 'It's A Wonderful Life' at the movies. I shed tears. It gets better and more poignant everytime I see it. Darling George Bailey!

This morning, Christmas Eve, my day of days, Paul took Alice for a looong walk in Regent's Park while I made coffee,tried not to feel too sad about not being where we are supposed to be, bought sticky cinnamon buns and ALL the newspapers (Paul frets if he doesn't have enought to read!) After a quick breakfast, we left Alice with the radio on for company and walked the mile or so to Soho for last minute shopping. First to Wholefood Market for cheeses, bread, dates, avocadoes, treats (!) Then it was lunchtime and we popped into Randall & Aubin for a glass of festive prosecco and something light to eat...

                                                            Paul in holiday mood!!

We had some fun, as opposite the restaurant was a neon lit sex shop...it was very funny to watch the furtive gentlemen looking around before dashing in...!

After lunch, Paul & I split up (temporarily!!) to do some last minute secret shopping before heading home...and now I'm here with Alice, cup of coffee, candles lit. My very favourite part of Christmas. The shops are almost shut...no time for more panic buying (which is really all it is at this time) Nothing to do but sit back, relax and enjoy the holiday.

And I have a wonderful background of Mozart's Don Giovanni filmed at Glyndebourne this Summer on TV.

If we can't be where we were supposed to be this Christmas, then I'm glad to be here.

Happy happy Christmas Eve to everyone. A special mention to my dear Twitter friend Sandy, who's undergoing an operation today. I send her love, special thoughts and wishes for a very quick recovery.

Have a wonderful day. I'll share the rest of our Christmas soon. xoxo

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

All I want for Christmas....

WHEN icicles hang by the wall,

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,

And Tom bears logs into the hall,

And milk comes frozen home in pail,

When blood is nipp'd, and ways be foul,

Then nightly sings the staring owl,


To-who!—a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doe blow,

And coughing drowns the parson's saw,

And birds sit brooding in the snow,

And Marian's nose looks red and raw,

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,

Then nightly sings the staring owl,


To-who!—a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

I love these words by the incomparable William Shakespeare.They illustrate the ancient history of our country. They evoke memories of my grandfather, who could recite them by heart. And they remind me that we, in this pampered & privileged 21st century, have quite a nice life.

I need reminding of this...because the Christmas that Paul & I thought we were going to have, and had been planning for months, has been cancelled due to our great British weather!

Right now, we should be on a plane, 37,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. Jetting towards dear and special friends for a week of Christmas joy, food, laughter, fun. Instead we are still at home, with no Christmas tree and knowing all too well what we are missing!

The snow arrived on Saturday. Lots and lots of it. And the UK does not do extremes of weather, as the world knows. Everything grinds to a halt. Roads become lethal ice rinks. Trains are halted. And aeroplanes are grounded....for days and days. Our flight was cancelled yesterday. But I count our blessings that we, at least, knew this well in advance and could make alternative plans. Hundreds of people are stuck in limbo, sleeping on the terminal floors with no hope of departure. I'm watching the BBC news now...dreadful pictures of passengers in makeshift marquees, being supplied with hot soup by the Salvation Army. Terrible!

Because of the snow, we can't even make the short journey to my parents home, up in the hills. So we'll have a different Christmas. Me, Paul & Alice...all together, warm & cosy. Lots of food, champagne, sleep, DVDs. And we have a Christmas Eve showing of 'It's a Wonderful Life' booked at a local cinema.

Not all bad news by any means. Much to be thankful for. These are the Christmas lights in our town

On Saturday evening, we held a little cocktail party for our neighbours. Those who had been stranded by the extreme weather crunched their way through the snow to us. I made a big pan of Mulled Wine, Paul relayed plates piled with food out of the kitchen. We talked and laughed with people we only ever say a quick hello to the rest of the year. It was a special evening.

I wish you everything good for your Christmas and holiday celebrations. Friends, family, food and happiness. I'll be with my beloved husband and our darling dog, and I'll enjoy every minute. But a piece of our hearts will be across the Atlantic, enjoying the Christmas that might have been, with the friends that mean so much to us. We'll raise a glass to them, and to everyone we love who can't be with us.

Merry Christmas everyone! xoxo

Saturday, 11 December 2010

& the Oscar goes to....

The answer to the question was, of course, their eyes. All our favourite men have blue or grey eyes! Now this may be Freudian as so does our father (and before you ask, Paul also has the most beautiful pale blue eyes too!) We're both just drawn to them!

I included anyone in the draw who mentioned their eyes...not just the colour. And the winner is: Sherry!! Well done sweetie! Your prize is...

this beautiful Moleskine Film Journal to record & grade all the movies you watch (or to give away to someone if you want!!)
I'll get it in the post as soon as I can & I hope you enjoy it!

It's so much milder here today - the birds are singing, no frost on the ground and Paul & Alice have just left for a long and muddy walk. It's two weeks until Christmas....my advent calendar had a little angel behind the door this morning and at 6am I called Esther to say Happy Birthday and heard the twinkling bright voice of my 8 year old niece answer the phone so beautifully and politely. A wonderful way to start Saturday.

Esther is having a little tea party before heading out to work at the hospital tonight. It's good to think of her there, in the warmth of an Australian summer, blowing out the candles on her cake.

Happy Birthday to my darling sister. And as you all enjoyed the pictures of our movie men as much as we did, I'll leave you with a couple more of our Favourite!! I am currently listening to the soundtrack of 'Becoming Jane'...a wonderful, romantic film that I could watch forever...so that may have influenced my choices!

Enjoy Mr McAvoy and enjoy your weekend.....xoxo

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

This one's for you....

No one who reads this blog on a regular - or even irregular - basis can be left in any doubt as to my feelings regarding my beloved sister-in-Australia, Esther.

I love her more than anything, miss her every hour that I'm not with her. She's my best girlfriend as well as being an amazing mother to her 3 beautiful children and a full-time ICU nurse. She holds everything together despite not being in the best of health and in pain most of the time, and her outlook on life is always optimistic and practical. She's not a saint (thank goodness....) Her Monica-from-Friends qualities are well known! But she's a person that so many love for her loyalty, strong principles and kindness.

As it's her birthday this weekend, I thought I'd celebrate the run up with two of her favourite subjects: movies and actors.
She writes a fabulous, funny movie review blog called Half Sweet, Half Salty which is testament to her absolute love of film. She goes to the cinema at least once a week, watching bad as well as good - it's her way to relax and unwind. It's a passion we share and one of our great joys is watching a movie together, because we usually feel the same way about them and love discussing the nuances of plot and performance. Occasionally we disagree - but never on the important ones. Sometimes, if I've seen a particularly powerful or emotional film (I generally go on my own) I really can't bear to talk about it for a while afterwards. I prefer just to digest it, to let it settle in my mind first. Esther is the only exception, because I know without a doubt that if I feel that way about it, she will too.

Another way in which we're similar is in our....how shall I put it...admiration and, yes, lust for certain actors. Sometimes it's the man himself, sometimes it's just the role he's in. We each have a Top 5, and  Top 10.The Top 5 never differ,although the others in the 10 may come and go and I know better than to encroach on any of Esther's special loves!! But there are several that we share....quite happily and amicably! Just for her, I list some of them below...remember they're ours!!!

Harrison - most especially in 'Witness' and the first 'Raiders' movies. Serious, moody, capable...and when he finally smiles....!

Frank, oh Frank. The voice, the cheekbones, the eyes. The naughtiness - especially in 'Pal Joey'. You know he'd break your heart...but you'd have such fun before it happened!

Ralph Mighty Fienne-s! The back of his neck in The English Patient alone is enough to melt us. But there's usually something to swoon at in all of his appearances. The Constant Gardener, Maid in Manhattan....oh yes!

Mr Hanks. You just know he's a wonderful husband and father....so kind, so sweet, so funny. Everyone marvels at Sleepless in Seattle. Yes it's good - but to our minds, You've Got Mail is supreme. His movies are always worth watching. A Jimmy Stewart for our times.

This one's really mine. But Esther loves him in The Fabulous Baker Boys, so we share that performance. Jeff Bridges, great actor and gorgeous man. And happily married for over 30 years - got to love that! A keeper.

Liam Neeson. Big, handsome bear of a man. You know you'd be safe and protected enfolded in those arms. The soft Irish accent helps too....

Ok, deep breath. This is the big one. He's really MINE. My No 1. I'm not being mean in saying this, because Esther has a No1 of her own (I won't reveal his name here...she wants to appear nonchalant when she finally meets him, as we're sure she will one day) and no one, but no one encroaches on him! However, as Esther introduced me to this actor (filmically speaking), I allow her to share him in this one, amazing performance.

James McAvoy. We share him when he's playing Robbie Turner. Because Atonement is in both of our Top 5 Movies of All Time. Because it's not fair to keep him all to myself. But in anything else, I'd fight her to the death for him...and I'd win!!

So that's a little look into our warped world of movie star obsessions. Sometimes it's hard to believe we're both in our 40's. There are many, many more I could add. One interesting thing is that all 'our men' share one thing in common - young, old or dead! Can you guess what it is?? There's a prize for the first to spot it. Leave your guess in the comment box, along with any film fancies of your own you'd like to share and I'll pick one on Saturday, Esther's birthday!

Have a wonderful week and keep warm if it's cold where you are....I'm looking out onto thick, hard, beautiful frost this morning.


Sunday, 5 December 2010

The day the music died....

"When the angels play for God, they play Bach...but when they play for themselves, they play Mozart...and God eavesdrops.."

As I am, truly, Mozart's Girl I couldn't let this day pass without commemorating his death 219 years ago today.

I am always filled with melancholy on 5th December. I listen to his music non-stop and wonder what he could have achieved had he lived longer than his tragically short 35 years. Traditionally, my Mum & I watch the movie Amadeus on this date (I've seen it 73 times....!)Not because it's a faithful representation of his life (nor was it ever intended to be) but because it brings a little of him to us and allows us to imagine what the world may have been like with him in it. And, of course, it's filled with that sublime music.

I'm currently listening to his Sinfonia Concertante for Violin & Viola, K 364 - my favourite recording, played by the Israel Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta with Itzhak Perlman & Pinchas Zuckerman as soloists. Sheer, unadulterated heaven.

What makes him different, to me, from the other great composers? And I acknowledge that there are many others. I love Bach, some Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak, Puccini. But Mozart, my Mozart. I find it hard to describe the effect he has on me - I have felt it for so much of my life that it's like breathing. I think maybe it's that his music encompasses & describes every facet of being a human being - joy, sadness,birth, death, marriage, hope, spirituality...and ,above all things, love. His music is suffused with love.

All I know is that he can raise my spirits and fill me with joy and longing like no one else. For that, and for so much more, I remember and thank him, especially today.

This is thought to be his death mask. I'm drawn to it and yet it's so hard for me to look at. It's never been fully authenticated, although it's known that a cast of his face was taken after death and there are many things that point to it's authenticity. I find it overwhelming to know that I may be, finally, looking at his dear face.

All I can tell you is that, like all of his music, it feels familiar to me.

I wish you a wonderful Sunday xoxo

Friday, 3 December 2010

Happy Slava

I've written before about our dear Militza and John Nikolic, the elderfly couple who lived next door to my parents when Mum & Dad were first married nearly 50 years ago.Our family remained close friends with them from that time until their deaths - John in 1991 and Militza in 2000.

We still talk about them often and remember them both with such love and fondness. They brought so much to our lives. In fact I met my oldest friend Isobel through them...her family bought the house next door from my parents in the mid 1960's and befriended the Nikolic's too. When we moved back to the village when I was 6 and I started at the little primary school there, we were asked in class what our weekend plans were. I put up my hand and said 'We're visiting Militza & John for lunch on Saturday' at which a little indignant girl stood up and glared at me " oh no you're not! Militza & John are our friends!" So began a friendship that has lasted for almost 40 years!

Forced to leave their beloved homeland after WW2 when the communists took over (John was a diplomat and they were both from old, aristocratic dynasties....5 European kings once stayed overnight at Militza's family home...), they were given shelter - via the Red Cross - with a wonderful woman, Mrs Cross, who looked after them for the rest of her life and eventually left her house and belongings to them. John was fairly badly disabled following a major stroke that he suffered through the circumstances of his escape. He and Militza were childless by choice - they wanted to keep all their love for each other - and it would be hard to find a more devoted couple. In the 9 years that she lived after his death, the light and joy left Militza totally. She was simply never happy again. It was a comfort to us that, when she died very suddenly at 89, we knew that, somewhere, they were reunited once more.

Their Serbian Orthodox faith was very important to them both. Tomorrow, 4th December, would have been Slava Day for them...and it's a celebration that we all loved to share in.

Slava is the most important day for Serbians - essentially it's a Saint's Day and so each family celebrates on a different date according to their particular Saint. The traditions are passed from father to son and their are 3 things that must be present on the Slava table. The first is the Slava candle...this must burn all day (another must be lit from it if necessary so that no break in the flame occurs) and symbolises the light of life. The second is the traditional bread or Kolac...a tall, slightly sweet & egg enriched loaf that Militza would bake with the imprint of the Saint's icon on top

I have no photos of their actual loaf, so this is one I found on an informative website, which also gives many more details of the Slava.
She would cut the Kolac in two and then help John to make the sign of the cross onto the bread with red wine, to symbolise Christ's blood, and he then said a prayer to bless it before we each took a piece. The third thing was the Koljivo or wheat pudding. I always thought that Militza made this, but I spoke to my Mum today and she told me that, in fact, she would go to London each year to pick it up from a family member who had made it for them. It is a pudding of boiled wheatgrain, flavoured with ground walnuts and rum and formed into a dome shape in a glass dish before being crusted with sparkling sugar. I can taste it still. This is the most holy part of the meal, for everything comes from seed and it symbolises thanks to God for the bounty of the earth and the sustenance it provides.

After the ceremonial part of the meal,we would feast on crispy roast chicken served with homemade sauerkraut and the creamiest mashed potatoes imaginable. We children were allowed a little red wine, mixed with water, which made us feel so special and grown up! And after the main course there would be desserts the like of which I shall probably never taste again....a cake comprising numerous layers of wafer sandwiched with coffee cream and finished with ground almonds...little biscuits filled with apricot jam and speckled with the black dots of real vanilla...pools of vanilla custard on which floated the lightest snow-white poached meringues.....chocolate, candied fruits and little delicate cups of strong dark coffee. Laughter,celebration and candlelight.

We would eventually leave the warmth, light and joy of that small, beeswax and vanilla smelling house and make our way ,a little tipsily, home. We children would sleep very soundly the night after Slava!

I miss them both. Wonderful friends - more like our grandparents really. They embraced us and showed us an almost forgotten world of pre-war etiquette and Eastern European charm and elegance.
I feel so lucky to have had them in my life.

I'd also like to send the happiest of birthday wishes for tomorrow to the beautiful Morwenna of Bluebells & Butterflies. One of the most joyful bloggers I know! have a great day, sweetheart.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

Stealing Thanksgiving....

I've always loved Norman Rockwell's art...it's always seemed to me, here in sometimes grey & rainy Britain,to symbolise all that's exciting, shiny, hopeful about the United States. GIs in uniform, their caps at a jaunty angle (" got any gum, chum?!"), little girls with pigtails and freckles, dime stores, drug stores, ice cream sodas, pecan pies, coke bottles, ladies in 1950's swirly skirts with little white gloves and well groomed young husbands...and Thanksgiving! A magical holiday in the dreary month before the glitz of Christmas.
As a child, of course, my admiration was tinged with envy. Another day off school! Another wonderful family dinner! Perhaps presents??
But now that I'm older, I just think what a beautiful thing it must be to have a day set aside to celebrate...everything! Health, happiness, home. I wonder why we don't have it here - after all, those pilgrims were British when they landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620! We should have given thanks for their success, at least! What a time that must have been. Absolutely terrifying. Much as I adore New England, a part of me always feels a little sad when I see all those familiar names: Taunton, Bridgewater,Warwick, Greenwich, Mansfield, Uxbridge...Braintree, Weymouth, even Boston itself!They all speak to me of the homesickness those early settlers must have felt. Clinging on to a little of what they'd known, in the wilderness and unfamiliarity of their new surroundings. Of course, I'm sure it was no picnic for the native Americans either...these blustering newcomers with their sense of entitlement, come to inhabit their land...
But here we are. Nearly 400 years later. And I like to think that most of the Thanksgiving prayers around the millions of tables today.. groaning with turkeys, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pies...won't differ so very much from those said at the first celebrations all those hundreds of years ago. Thanks for friends, for family, for health and for the beauty and bounty of the country that we live in.

I'll second that. Happy Thanksgiving, America. I'm so glad the Mayflower made it...


Friday, 19 November 2010

Memories of a Princess

Happy news of the Royal engagement this week have , inevitably, brought back memories of the mother that Prince William lost at such an early age. Diana was such a part of life in this country for nearly 20 years that it's still sometimes hard to realise she's no longer here. Pictures of her are still printed frequently (& will be more so now in the run-up to the weddng I have no doubt) and stories still written even 13 years after her death.

She wasn't much older than me, and at the time of her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981, I was at that very impressionable, romantic stage....mid-teens....hearts and flowers! She was like a fairy tale to me, I collected cuttings for my scrapbook, analysed & devoured every photograph...in those days, her style was copied endlessly too. My friends and I all had versions of her flicked bobbed haircut, wore similar 'piecrust' collars, blue eyeliner...in some way or other we were all under her spell. My family went to London, to friends who had a flat that overlooked Hyde Park, the night before the wedding - the biggest firework show ever! We had a red, white & blue buffet supper - still have nightmares about dyed blue rice salad! The day itself was hot & sunny...we waited with bated breath for a look at THE dress...and there she was, our dream girl, in a huge puff of clotted cream silk! Some people saw creases - we just saw gorgeousness. I can remember every minute of that day, I videotaped the ceremony & would replay it so often that it ended up crackled & grainy! The obsessions of 14 year old girls can't be underestimated! In 1983, she came to OUR TOWN!! Her red helicopter landed on our school playing field and some of my friends & I skipped a lesson to see her open the new shopping centre in the rain (highly illegal - I hope my mother doesn't read this!) I remember she wore damp, green velvet & a feather in her hat along with that sweet smile!

The years rolled on and everyone knows what happened. The news of her death came to me in the early morning of the day after my Mum's fantastic 60th birthday party. It will always rank as one of the biggest shocks of my life. Gone. Just like that. In the week between that day and the funeral, I went up to London & vsiited Kensington Gardens. I hear people now saying that the events of that week weren't 'real', that the country was gripped by hysteria,that it was all manufactured...well, I was there. And there was nothing manufactured about it. The gardens in front of the palace where she'd lived were, literally, a sea of flowers. Florists vans parked in the road were giving roses away (free) to people...and such silence despite the crowds. Everyone was in shock. I remember seeing a business man, in pinstriped suit,with a briefcase in one hand and a white rose in the other making his way towards the floral mountain. Candles in jars lined the fence. Old ladies,cheeks wet with tears. Our Princess gone. No more Diana.

Life goes on...years pass. can it be so long since we last saw her? And now one of her beloved boys is to marry, and the sight of his mother's engagement ring (an iconic object in my 14 year old eyes!) on his beautiful fiancee's finger has brought her back once more. How she would have loved news of this wedding. Her sons are her lasting tribute and the contribution she made to their early lives can only be good for our monarchy, I think.

Congratulations to William & Catherine. And I offer up a silent toast to Diana. Because I miss her still.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lest we forget....

"When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot
Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,
And flowers will shine in this now barren plot
And fame upon it through the years descend:
But many a heart upon each simple cross
Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss."

From "A Soldier's Cemetery" by John William Streets (known as Will) who died, aged 31 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916

                                                      WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Aujourd'hui a Paris....

Thanks so much for all your sweet words about poor gentle China. I'll pass them all onto Natalie, who'll be as touched as I was, I know.

This week is a wild one, weather-wise. Rain and heavy winds are battering the windows as I write and wrenching the last leaves from the trees...Alice has to be prised from her cosy place on the sofa for a walk...it's hard for me to go out too,so much nicer to be in the kitchen with the oven on and Radio 4 keeping me company. But I currently have Christmas cakes baking, and they take some time, so I really have no excuse - and I always feel so much better after a bracing walk across the hill, the wet gusts whipping my cheeks into a healthy glow! And it means that I earn the cup of hot Earl Grey I'll make when I return!

Paul is on a special trip today, that I thought you'd like to hear about...

We have 3 close friends: Dave, Steve & John - they all live within a few minutes of us (although in different directions) and we socialise with them and their partners regularly. Paul, especially, has been friends with them for many years and they all get on so well...
Each year they, plus a few other male friends, have a Boy's Christmas Lunch somewhere special - usually in London. I generally find them a restaurant that I think would suit their purpose...hearty, good food and, most importantly, a lengthy & well priced wine list!

This year, they've decided to buck the trend and forsake London for Paris...so they'll be off in early December, on the Eurostar for the day. They're all very excited. So excited, in fact, that they've decided to have a 'trial run' today!! They all went into London early this morning and made their way to St Pancras Station, where they caught the train that will take them under the Channel and into France's beautiful capital. They'll be lunching at Le Timbre (The Postage Stamp) so-called because of it's small size! The chef is British - Chris Wright - and the restaurant looks gorgeous...Paul has promised to bring me back a menu!

I thought you'd like to see a photo they sent me from St Pancras an hour or so ago...

from the left: Paul, Steve, Dave & John. As you can see, they hit the Champagne Bar early!

I know they'll have a wonderful day and I can't wait to hear all about it! But for now, I have a reluctant little dog to winkle off her warm blanket and out into the cold....so au revoir  and a bientot! xoxo

Friday, 5 November 2010

Goodbye, Sweet Girl...

Just a little post today. It's pouring with rain here in London, and dark already too. Alice was clipped this morning and now looks very smart & tidy. Tanya, the lovely lady who grooms her, always attaches a cute little bow to her collar, just to finish off the look - today, it's ocean blue with a diamante flower in the centre. So cute. Alice always feels a little self-conscious when she''s just been clipped, probably because we cuddle & kiss her even more than usual as she looks so darling - she must wonder what's going on!

While I was waiting for her to be 'done', I received a very sad message. Some of my followers & friends might remember China, the deaf sharpei belonging to my friend Natalie, who we looked after while she was in Australia in January. The sweetest natured dog. Alice wasn't too pleased to share her home at first, but China bore the nagging with the utmost fortitude and they got along famously in the end.

As you have probably guessed, China died earlier today. She'd had a horrible start in life (her ears were sewn up as a puppy by her vile first 'owners') and she had a few health problems. She became very ill yesterday and deteriorated after a night at the vets. Natalie had to make the saddest decision - all that a good pet owner can do, in the end. Stop the pain, stop the suffering and release her to run free once more.

I'll always think of her with love. Gentle China. Rest in peace, sweetie.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. We have LOTS to do ! Alice is looking at me...."feed me, feed me". I'd better go...xoxo

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Home in November

I've now been home for 5 days...feeling more normal after the jet lag and mostly back to my normal routine. In some ways it seems impossible to believe that I was ever there. That this time last week I was sitting on a blanket in Cotton Tree Park, by the Pacific, in 28 degree heat, with Esther & Alfie (my youngest Aussie nephew) and our friend Sue and her daughter. Ibis (which are like pigeons there) strutted around us, picking up bits & pieces with their beautiful curved black beaks....rainbow lorikeets screeched as they flew overhead...we drank iced Diet Coke and the air conditioning was on 'high' in the car. Today I took a long, blustery walk with Alice - it was 10 degrees on the hill - golden leaves twirled overhead and scrunched underfoot...the wind was so strong that I tied my woollen scarf tightly around my neck...and this afternoon as I took my break I had a hot cup of tea and ate a toasted crumpet with maple syrup! So different.

I always feel a little flat and low when I leave Esther and the children. We have such fun and I love the 'ordinary' things that we do. Every morning at 7.30am, I heard Esther's alarm go off and knew that the next sound would be the slap slap of two pairs of bare feet as my darling niece and oldest nephew (Scout & Kip) ran into my room with a cheery cry of 'Morning, Ray!!!' and a huge hug for me. Then breakfast, the school run, the daily chat with Tamino the rescued Princess Parrot who exercises by flying round the kitchen and alighting on the nearest shoulder, the cuddles with dear Clara Bow the one-eyed black pug & Peggy the beautiful black brindle Staffy, the chats about dinosaurs and sharks with adorable Alfie....and Esther, always Esther. The joy of seeing her first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The bliss of finally sitting beside her at the movies instead of just talking about films we've seen. The aching sides from laughing more than I ever do with anyone else, about the most ridiculous things. The luxury of not being 12,500 miles away. It's all very hard to leave behind.

But my beloved Paul was waiting at Arrivals and it was so good to see him, and my parents and youngest sister Lucy and toddler nephew, William...and, of course, darling little Alice. She gave me the cold shoulder for a couple of days & refused to sit on my lap...but she's now back to normal and curled at my feet as I write. That's my life - happy there, happy here but always slightly torn.

I hope everyone's having a great week, thanks so much for all your wonderful birthday wishes and comments. It means such a lot to me, truly. xoxo

Monday, 18 October 2010

What we did today....

After some hair-raising torrential rainstorms during the first week of my visit here in Queensland, over the weekend we've gone back to the Sunshine Coast that I know & love.....not that I mind rain at all (how could I when I live in the UK??) but sunshine and warmth sure makes everything easier, and everyone happier!

This morning,as the older children had a day off school (called a 'pupil-free' day over here) and the weather was absolutely gorgeous, we took them to the beautiful, safe, sandy beach at Alexandra Headland...

my niece and older nephew have been swimming since they were 6 months old and now resemble mini merpeople so I wasn't surprised at all when they took their bodyboards and headed down to the blue waves (admittedly these were not very large waves....but it still looked scary to me!) The little one stayed with his toy dumper truck on the sand and enjoyed himself greatly digging holes and pushing the truck about, I just sat, watched and marvelled at the bliss of an October Monday morning spent in the warm sun on a fabulous beach surrounded by those I love. I did go into the water a little later - I just couldn't resist the gentle blueness and crystal sparkle of sun on sea. It was warm. If I lived here, I'd be swimming everyday for sure. I love the outdoor lifestyle here, the children all togged up and in the surf without a thought for being wet or sandy or cold. Everything is designed to make the very most of the weather and beauty of the surroundings.

After an hour or so, we piled back into the car and drove the few miles to the beachside town of Caloundra. Time for 'morning tea', another Aussie tradition. Phil, my brother in law, was anxious for me to try a cake at The Shingle Inn, knowing how obsessed I am with all things bakery. We all chose a dessert - I had an amazing gluten free Sour Cherry & Almond Tart. I don't have a problem with gluten at all, but I often choose a GF confection as I love almonds and the other ingredients often used to replace wheatflour. This was really sticky and almondy and just perfect. The children loved their butterfly cakes and clown biscuit too...

lovely displays and great friendly service.

Home for naps and lunch. Then Esther & I went to the movies this afternoon. We saw a  film, directed by, starring and partly written by Ben Affleck:

Not one I'd heard of, but a stellar cast and a great story. It's not often that I'm willing the 'bad guy' to win, but this was one such occasion! You can read a review of the film soon on Esther's fabulous movie review blog Half Sweet, Half Salty so I'll leave that to her...but I REALLY enjoyed it, even though it had lots of shooting in it which I usually wouldn't like.

And now, I'm sitting in the kitchen, the children are all tucked up and I'm smelling the first fragrance of the  cake that Esther's baking for me wafting from the oven. Tomorrow is my birthday - the first I will have spent with my sister for 8 years, the first ever with my niece and nephews, the first without Paul in 11....

I'll speak to him, my Mum & Dad and my other sister and nephew on the phone tomorrow and celebrate with them all when I get home. But it will be so special to have this time here, with the loved ones that I miss so very much. And a hot one as well - to us Northern Hemisphere people with late Autumn birthdays, that's just bizarre!

An amazing and memorable day awaits. Enjoy your Monday xx

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Eumundi Markets

Yesterday, Esther and I went with the youngest (Aussie) nephew to Eumundi Markets which are hundreds and hundreds of wonderful Australian producers and crafters all selling their wares in the little town of Eumundi each Wednesday and Saturday.

Saturdays are just too busy and crowded for us, especially with a little one - but midweek, although still bustling, was just perfect. I've been a few times before over the years, but this visit was the best ever. I bought some wonderful, eclectic presents for Christmas and had some lovely chats with the stallholders.The lovely Diane Elliott at Queen Bee Secrets gave me some great advice about my hands (in a shocking condition due to all the washing I have to do when baking!) and a gorgeous sample of her organic Royal Jelly Balm, made from the products of her own beloved bees. It really had an effect and I shall be ordering some mail order goodies from her, definitely. I also had a talk with the talented Bec Lindemann, who makes wonderful ceramics....

that were so tempting. I didn't buy yesterday (too much choice! too little time!) but I was so pleased to find that she has an Etsy shop called Spun Mud (gorgeous name) which I shall certainly be visiting. Esther bought some wonderful vintage children's prints at Aleta Jansen ArtWorks too - well priced and unusual, perfect for presents.

We had lunch sitting on a bench under a huge old tree....a mixed salad platter from this stall....

I had a beetroot/sweet potato & glass noodle combination (sounds weird, tasted amazing) and Esther had the noodles too, with a potato, pumpkin & salsa verde salad. Ooh, it was good! We finished our trip with all natural ice creams (toasted coconut, strawberry, creamy banana) and a go on the 'jumping castle' as a treat for my very patient little nephew, Alfie.

Then home to pick up the older children and share the ultra sweet strawberries we'd bought with them. We saw the strawberry fields up on the hill as we left Eumundi - they couldn't have been fresher.

And today is a beautiful, sunny, warm day. The children are at school and the day is mine (Esther worked last night so is sleeping today) I'm going to take a trip into Buderim, the nearby town, to browse the bookshops....then maybe I'll find a cafe and buy a sandwich to eat with a book on the beach. Pure bliss. Enjoy your Thursday! xx

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Australia's "Sunshine?!" Coast!!

Just a short post today....
I arrived on Friday morning after the endless night of the flights...every time we took off it was evening, every meal was dinner followed by breakfast, no days at all! But never mind. I sat next to a lovely lady from the Blue Mountains outside Sydney on the way from Bangkok...we talked for a long time and she wsa so sweet and interesting. That certainly helped to while away the time, as did watching 'Sex & the City 2"....twice (!) "Cemetery Junction" & episodes of my beloved "Frasier"...oh, and I slept a little bit too - not enough, but at least I wasn't too much of a zombie when I stepped off the Jetstar flight at Maroochydore and walked through Arrivals into the arms of beloved Esther and Alfie! It was suddenly all worth it.....

Later, we picked the other two up from school (they knew I was arriving in October, but not when, so the expressions and squeals of delight were priceless!) And since then, the weather, which is mainly torrential rain and high winds, and the jetlag have kept the schedule fairly quiet. Cuddling under a fleecy blanket with the kids watching movies, trying to keep my eyes open long enough to be able to establish a sensible sleep routine and talking, talking, talking.

Tonight I'll be watching 'Eat, Pray, Love' with Esther....we haven't heard great things, but Julia Roberts is always worth a look....and we'll be together.

I can honestly say that I'm more than happy right now. I'll check in again soon. Have a wonderful Sunday xox

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Off to Oz...and the other half of me...

So on Wednesday I embark on the trip to Australia. The thought of my darling sister's face (and that of my 3 year old nephew) at the airport at the end of the 23 hour journey will sustain me through...and then the thought of picking the other two up from school later that day (they know I'm coming in October, but they don't know when...ha!) makes me fizz with excitement. It'll be 17 months since I last saw them all. Way too long, but I know how lucky I am to be able to make the journey and we'll make the most of every minute. It may not sound very special to an outsider, but just doing the everyday things - making breakfast porridge for the kids, doing the school run, picking up a coffee at my favourite cafe, walking the long beach to Point Cartwright with Esther
hanging the washing on the line and avoiding the ENORMOUS spider who makes her home on the garden fence, catching up with Aussie Masterchef while cuddling Clara Bow,the one-eyed miniature black pug, eating cheesy popcorn at the movies - the bliss of watching a movie with Esther - just talking and laughing as much as we want to...all these things are my idea of perfection and bring tears as I think of them. Ordinary, simple everyday things that are usually denied us because we live so very far apart. The stuff of life.

And this time, some new experiences too...Esther and I are taking a long weekend trip to Melbourne, a city we've both long wanted to visit....I'll be celebrating my birthday there too (something I've never done with the 3 children) and Scout, my niece, is planning an ice-cream extravaganza party for me...and Esther will make my very favourite devils food cake....I won't mind being another year older at all!

I'm leaving Paul & Alice behind this time...and I'll miss them so much, but it'll be wonderful to see Paul at the airport when I get home and then I get to celebrate my birthday all over again! Lucky, lucky...I am so truly lucky and blessed. This I know.

I'll be blogging from Australia, so will update you then. But you can think of me, perfectly happy, the children playing on the swings and slides behind us - maybe one of them cuddled into my side, holding the hand of my darling sister as we sit by the sea in Cotton Tree...

maybe on this very bench.....

See you in the Land Down Under. xoxo