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.