Is Wallpaper making a massive comeback in our homes in 2021?

 

Wallpaper is a key trend for 2021, and the insatiable appetite from consumers doesn’t look like abating any time soon,’ says David Harris, Design Director at Andrew Martin.

Sanderson Fruit Aviary.

If you are a product of the fifties, you were most likely also a product of the wallpapered bedroom.  Mine, I remember distinctly, would be changed every few years, and it would be not just the wallpaper, but the curtains, valance and sometimes, even the cover of the bed.

Sanderson was the current favourite, our lives characterised by the Sanderson fabric and wallpapers in our house. It wasn’t just Sanderson, but mum was an ardent supporter. So it was when I had my first home, after years of living like a student of in flats in cities as I was pretending to know what I was doing, that I went straight back to the Sanderson stable.  Not so much the wallpapers, but Little Chelsea and Rose and Peony, to name two favourites, were curtained up and upholstered on the very grand sofa.  I was echoing my mother, was I becoming my mother?

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchaise.

The love affair with wallpaper, for me anyway, seemed to fade with the neutrals and monotones of the Nineties and early 21st century.  South Africans, in particular, were finding themselves less florally inclined, and if wallpaper was selected, it was nothing as busy and garden orientated.  I went for the taupes, the creams, the nudes.  Wall statements were fallow in favour of strong accent colours in the room. Natural light and openness, and may I venture a rise in fabulous local fabrics and decor.  At times I even leant towards the desert theme, sun washed bones and hides for accents.

The more I returned to Europe, and in particular living in England, it was the hotels that reignited my love of wallpaper.  We do not get to see each other’s home all that often, it’s very much an English thing, but the hotels I was booking my clients into, revealed the most beautiful, wallpapered lobbies, rooms and dare I say, bathrooms.  I found myself photographing hotel toilets in the reception areas, just because I loved the wallpaper.

Saint James, Paris

Wallpaper helps to tell a story, it sets the tone of the room. Bold, daring, soft and cosy, the room takes on an identity of it’s own. Why are we sort of scared to paste?  Maybe because it is expensive and set for a long time, where with accessories, you can change the look of the room in an instant. With the pandemic, many have turned inwards, to their own interiors, in which we are spending a great deal of time, and I am drawn to doing something different this time. I need drama right now, I need passion and optimism and colour. I may not be able to control what is happening outside, but I can make my living space, more mine.

So it is the wallpaper I go.

Hotel Daniel, Paris.

I have bought five rolls of wallpaper, to put in my suitcase and take back to my home in Cape Town.  To paper the walls of my bedroom and bathroom, and that’s a start. It is the paper in the first photograph, Fruit Aviary, so yes, I am going back to the days of yore, the mother days, the bedroom wallpaper days and I cannot wait to see the results.

It’s gloomy out there.  Hope the birds and fruit will cheer me up when I wake … staying positive, trying new things …

London – a walk beyond King’s Cross.

It is a long way away from the normal, energetic and bustling city I am used to right now.  Nevertheless, there is a beauty in the Sleeping Beauty city of wonder.  Whilst all are in lockdown and keeping close to home, I find myself, for work, and might I add, mental well being, still venturing into the quiet city, still within the boundaries, still to find the majesty and grandeur beneath the veil of silence.

The city is sleeping.  A pocketful of people are out in the financial and tourist areas, and where I would once be striding and headlong walking and giving tours, I now have time to linger, look up, get closer and take in new (and there are always new) sights and signs, adding to the massive photograph selection, notes and reminders, to review, research and formulate different tours.

Today I found myself at King’s Cross and St. Pancras.  These are two of my favourite places, mainly because they are the hubs from which I alight and make my way to the Eurostar. She still travels to Paris, albeit with a select list of passengers and nothing else open, not even a quick coffee to collect for the journey.  I am not one of those fortunate to travel to France at the moment, so must wistfully look at the beauty from afar and wait to return to the queue boarding, in the future.

St. Pancras is an architectural marvel, linked to the grand and stunning St. Pancras Hotel. Now closed, hopefully not for long.

Over the past few years, much has happened to the sort of run down area, behind King’s Cross. Old Coal Yards and Gas Buildings have been transformed into glistening apartments, the University of Arts London, restaurants, piazzas, office buildings and open living spaces.

 

From the rubble to magnificent urbanisation.  Love the way structures of the past, once perhaps unsightly, have been transformed.  In the winter sunshine, the harnessing of urban architecture and green spaces marry history and a vivid past. Granary Square is inviting, complete with urban pieces, water features and an inviting view of the canal. A close walk to Coal Drops Yard, again forged anew from working rail yards and derelict ruins.  Keeping parts of the old structure, two skyward roofs seem to rise from concrete and melt into each other, like the tail of a whale rising up from the sea.

Though quiet today, the hustle of upmarket shops align side by side for business. Glass and brick art. And the building continues. An urban oasis. Loo break provided, and we know in the time of lockdown, loo hunting is part of the game. As a tour guide, this is an essential part of the business, but in lockdown, and doing my research, it is even more vital when a coffee, or two, cannot go amiss, particularly when the weather is bristling and cold.

St Pancras Basin.  How far can one walk along the water’s edge? What is so lovely, as in all of London, is the respect for the past, for architecture which may have been functional, or decorative, restored. Incorporated into the new London, the ever changing London.  We learn so much from every part of her.  King’s Cross remembers the many who laboured and built a great railway, bricked the walls and buildings with pride.  Who brought the coal, the cheese, the people to this mecca.

It is a beautiful walk, not well known to tourists, but important to discover as this is as important and beautiful as the many known tourist sights.

The sun was out, the gloves were on, the eyes pleasured by it all. Now to get down to the notes, the history and how this development will add to the glory of the city and her people.

 

Hands up who is a little scared right now? Harness it.

The execution of Lady Jane Gray by Paul Delaroche.

A little dramatic I know. But this painting, one of my favourites in the National Gallery, sort of sums up this year.  We are faced with death, not sure what to do about it, feeling our way as best we can and all so frigging tragic. Innocent (in some ways) we are facing execution by lottery of the virus and no matter what we do, sort of sacrificial lambs one and all … and it’s bloody awful.

Sat in the Gallery, before it closed, once again, and stared at this painting. Feeling as helpless as she must have felt. Because seriously, we have all been doom scrolling for the statistics and wondering if our little world will end on a hospital bed.  Didn’t feel so much before, all bravado and such over the past year, and it has been a year, being ha ha … is this for real, is this sort of really serious and now to … don’t touch me, spritz the sanitiser, avoid absolutely everyone and spending winter at one address. Christmas, yes it was lovely, yes it was lacking … and thinking, am I breathing ok, am I still smelling the Brie?  Even sort of starting thinking, if it happens, where the hell will my body go. Such morbid stuff.

Not at all evading the issue of real people losing their lives to the virus and the utmost pain endured.  I have been close to those who have sacrificed their loved ones, and left wanton as to the next step … it is not out of flippancy, but real fear that I think … are we all a little scared?  You are right.

Only I cannot stop living, right now. When it hits home, really home, all the jokes of stealing wine and illegal this and this, dissipates with the loss of a real life, a young, gone to soon life.  I cannot, and nor should you. If life is ready to be done with me, I must live as much of it that I can, right now.  Good thing I am of an age that going to the disco no longer has me panting. Curfew doesn’t  concern me, but the loss of jobs and livelihood do.  This year has ravaged and taken from so many. I have followed the rules, but I have also realised that I cannot, will not, give up before I have no opportunity to do so.

It is one of those things – me wanting to live a full life, and acutely aware of those who have not been given the chance.

This is to what I write about. It’s about still hanging onto hope. I am scared, very scared, even more so now, but I cannot settle for never laughing again, or travelling again, or just going outside the door and going … what can I do under the circumstances?

I can keep talking. Wishing and hoping. Most of all, I can keep talking. About curfew lifting and going to Paris.  Starting your own company, a little new business, a different way.  I can keep hoping you will say … enough of the couch and the comfort eating and get up to do something positive.  I can keep urging all to muster the strength of planning for better – a trip, a business, mending ways with those you are estranged from, deciding that time is of the essence to do the things you have always harboured in your heart and felt to afraid to begin.

So if you are feeling a little scared, it is ok.  We never expected this, but then there are chapters in our lives we never expected either. Scared, you are allowed to be, knowing you are in the category or a vaccine because of your age, who would have thought. It’s good, and ageing.

The poor lass in the picture had no choice and she fumbled her way to the block.  We may feel the block is close, but until it actually happens , I am saying … do not go gently … go with a great defiance of maybe the virus ignited a new fire in your hearts, a new idea to bring to fruition and more importantly, a conviction that you, and what you are about to do, defies fear.

 

Why am I avoiding being the new Samuel Pepys?

 

‘But, Lord! how sad a sight it is to see the streets empty of people, and very few upon the ‘Change. Jealous of every door that one sees shut up, lest it should be the plague; and about us two shops in three, if not more, generally shut up.’

There will be many, diarists of this time.  I have written some stuff, but nothing that will be discovered centuries later about life in the middle of this pandemic.  Perhaps I should have started a year ago, when the first smatterings of news of COVID19 had us at, what, when, how and now, almost a year later, more anxious than ever that this will ever end. I honestly cannot say what I think about it, believe about it, but that sadness has descended on the world is the truest thing I could say.
A friend lost her husband yesterday, on Christmas day, to the virus.  Forever to mark the day. The loss of life, the horror of it all, I don’t want to think about it, cannot even bring myself to read the statistics and wonder, and I do, if I will succumb to it. I fear more for my family, friends, and those I love and yes, I have prayed for release from this all.  Walking the empty streets of London, I am so reminded of Mr. Pepys and how history is a great lesson.
A little about the man.  Samuel Pepys kept diaries, particularly from 1660 to 1669 which covered the Great Plague, the Dutch War, the Restoration and the Great Fire of London.  His biography is riveting stuff, the diaries written in code, but this was more to mask all his numerous affairs and undesirable associations – the man married a girl of fourteen for goodness sake! Yet he is the one we look to for day to day recordings of what it was like back then – he witnessed the execution of Charles I and was on the ship bringing Charles II back to royal power.  A man of Naval office, walker of streets, observer of all.
I walk the streets now.  London is empty and filled with stories.  I love the mesh of lives past and present.  We have soared since then, technology, space, medicine and education.  Yet we fail with Cancer and COVID. But this is not why I walk the streets of London at this time.
I walk because I feel the passion for life.  Senses acute, eyes averted up and far, touching, reaching, immersed in life.  Lives lived and remnants of their being here, lives loving and birthing and painting and writing and creating lace, buildings, taming rivers, trading in coffee houses, putting on plays at the Globe, I am part of something bigger than just now.  And that is what gets me through.  I am watching the same view, tripping on the same cobbled streets, caressing the same pages.
Our pain is universal.  Our achievements too.  I could not imagine getting through this if I did not have the past to show me how. Perhaps it makes me feel small in some way, that I am but a little human at this time, and not so significant in the big scheme of things.  No Kingdom, no Papacy, no Master of Art or developer of the latest app – but I am part of something great. And as much as this time is a tragedy we, as modern day, solve it all, super achievers have been knee amputated and no real answer, we are still part of something magical. Life.
Part of our own story.  Like the millions that have been before, simple workers, homemakers, mothers and daughters, we have a right to be here.  To write our own story. Diarise it, paint it, print it … or just be in it.
Who would have thought I would ever get to be in the ‘high risk’ category?  The close up there to getting the vaccine because of my age, underlining conditions, and just plain on the other side of fifty? Does it scare me – you betcha it does, but I cannot just sit and wonder if living every day is going to be unfulfilled, without curiosity, without hope?  I do what is needed, isolate and follow the rules. When I go out, I am alone, choose the empty carriage, touch no-one and wear my mask.  I know how serious it is.  I know how much I need to cherish my children. But I do go where I am allowed, and in this city, I am allowed to wake up super early, be the only one on the bus, exit and begin the journey to the past, to validate my present.
I will not diarise this time, for this time is not what we are supposed to endure. Pepys wrote everyday, I appreciate everyday now. Follow amazing people writing blogs, filming on You Tube, being creative in a new normal.  I embrace every single person who still wants to act, write, sing, paint, build a building, fly a plane.  I embrace every midwife, nurse, teacher, lawyer, politician, fisherman, baker, barista, decorator, truck driver and everyone who is making the best of this time, without documenting their journey, but doing their journey regardless. One has to love the final recognition of true heroes at this time. It is time. It is long overdue.
In my fifth Lockdown, worried and afraid about the year that has been, and the year ahead, I will not diarise the darkness, but the light of being here, part of an amazing journey.
I will leave the light on. To music, love and just being human.
Suffering exists and my heart breaks all the time, but somehow, I don’t know how … she keeps pumping.

 

 

Staying strong. Stay strong.

My dear friends … it has been hard.  This whole year has been fractious, anxious, unknowing, and just plain difficult.

When I experienced my first lockdown, there was a sense of bravado, even fun, trying to get hold of wine, been told off for meeting someone across the road, waiting for the skies to open and then thinking … it will get better.

Tonight, I am in London, in Tier 4, and little is better.  This is my fifth lockdown, if anyone is counting, so effectively I have spent the entire year with some restriction or another.  Work has dried up, being in the tourism industry, and my walks around London are now not proudly showing off this amazing city, but walking alone. And now I cannot really do that either.

For some who do not know, I live between London and Cape Town.  A result of a change in relationships and a new chapter.  I love both equally, but my work is here, and having flown back in August, I have spent the past four months without an much of an income, like so many others.  For some who may know, it has been a change over the past few years of having to start again, re-define myself and build my future, firmly planted in my own two shoes.  My family are here and that is why I love being here, and then I go back to my roots to savour my heritage. Lockdown has brought some wild flurries of despair and heartache, but also a time of self growth, though I have not yet succumbed to the knitting or banana bread making.

Instead I have chosen to discover more of London, areas I had known little about and I suppose, determined to educate myself at this time.  Walked the streets that are dormant, listless, at times having coffee shops open, times looking around for the available loo stops (which are important) as I delve and photograph and research to a new level.  Looking up, looking down, into alleys and history and what fascinates me so about this city.

I have re-discovered my love of Art. In particular Art History, for I am afraid a master of the paintbrush I am not ever going to be, but the details and stories in every masterpiece has me at, just standing and so aware that I am in the midst of greatness, in every century.  More importantly, with all the submersion into history, culture and art, I have become acutely aware of how life has always been fragile, tenuous and fleeting.  Passengers all.  My life, till now, has been easy, no World Wars and endless days of bombing over my head, technologically advanced, and I think this pandemic has swooped me right back to thinking that it is all just about, taking every day at a time and appreciating a life I have been given.

And she says this, not in the free falling of … it is what it is … I don’t like that phrase, but in the flipping, I am part of an existence that has been a long time past and a long time coming and I am going to just be strong and weather this storm and leave a little mark, somehow, somewhere … who knows?

Can joke about this year, about to end with more restrictions and Dear Lord, Brexit.  Oh please, can we cancel Brexit under the circumstances and realise we really do need each other? Can we just go back to being friends and allies and fellow countrymen and file Brexit away? Guess not, not that it will deter me from travelling to Europe at the very first chance I can get.

Which is the plan. Must plan when everything seems without plans and without planes in the sky.

So thank you Charlie Mackesy for your words of wisdom, you are, with copious amounts of wine, getting me through this. I am strong, London stands magnificent and Table Mountain will still be there for me. I will not be defeated, she says hopefully, will be careful but now more than ever, rely on the lovely bloggers, mainly my age, who are strong, positive and feeding my soul.

Can you imagine how isolated and lonely people once were when no news arrived, you feared a letter and life was reduced to your own little corner? Some say it was better.  We have social media, bloggers, influencers and like minded people sharing, caring and drip feeding me everyday.

Truth, like blood, is here.  The times are coursing through our veins and we can choose to poison our blood, our lives or our dreams because of it, but I am holding out, staying strong and determined to find the positive, feel for those who have suffered greatly through this, and hope that I may be blessed to chat, discover, travel and grow, after this lockdown.

Some of us are alone, or feel alone at this time.  We may not know each other, but we are there for each other. Keep blogging, texting, Instagramming, Face booking or whatever you want to do … I am on the other side, feeling less lonely, less old, less hopeless, because of you. Staying strong. Stay strong.

Credit Image. Charlie Mackesy

 

Artemisia Gentileschi – a woman to love.

 

Mary Magdalena in Ecstasy – 1620 – 1625

All too willingly, I fell into a love affair with a woman who lived centuries ago. Artemisia (don’t you just love that name?) Gentileschi, born 8th July 1593, was, until now, rather unknown to me.  Always a love for the Baroque, time of a favourite, Carravagio, and plenty of grandeur, I only recently had the honour of being introduced to this accomplished, fiery, independent and the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di arte del Disegno in Florence.

Of course I could pepper you with dates and academic information, but this is not what draws her to me. I could never paint like her, create the passionate, vivid and intense scenes in oils like she did, and that leaves me at … genius.  Talent such as hers leaves me breathless.  In a time when women could not even walk alone in the streets of Rome or Florence, or any other city or town for that matter, let alone become a master painter, which was very much a man’s privilege, Artemesia and her brilliance as a painter, became the favourite of courts and kings.  She travelled to England, taught herself to read and write many years into her adulthood, refused to stand back to sexism and convention.

 

At the tender age of 17, Artemisia was being tutored by the Agostina Tassi, a man deemed suitable by her father Orazio, also an acknowledged painter of the time.  Tassi raped her.  Dishonoured and victimised, Artemisia continued sexual relations with Tassi, in the belief that he would marry her and so restore her dignity in society.  Not only did he refuse to atone for his crime, but was later found to be bedding his sister in law, and planning to kill his own wife. All supposition I suppose, what with not too much evidence on that score, but what was amazing, was that her father, realising that no good would come of this scoundrel, decided to take him to court for rape.

This in the 17th Century.  Artemisia would be subjected to the worst kind of scrutiny, ridicule and slandering for standing up for her own rights – and now we wonder what has changed – and was subjected to torture, yes, had thumb screws applied to test if she was telling the truth, until truth won out. The scoundrel was exiled but nothing else much happened to him, and Artemisia was married to Pierantonio Stiattesi and moved to Florence.  Artemisia went on to paint in the court of the Medici family, had five children of which only two survived.  So mum and artist, and lover of Francesco Maria Maringhi, a wealthy nobleman.  All the while producing exquisite works of art.  What is not to love?

Many academics and art historians have hinted at the fact that many of her works of Art, are reflections of her private pain for being assaulted at such a tender age.  A way of manifesting her anger when she was not able to verbalise.  Some of her paintings, like the young Susanna and the Elders, explores the vulnerability of the young woman bathing and being leered at by invasive, lecherous men.

Above, Judith and her Maidservant, the latter carries the head of Holofernes, just recently slayed by Judith.  A number of art works with this theme exists, some showing him being beheaded, blood spurting from his neck. Artemisia would often return to a single work of art, and create more with the same vision.

Unlike her father, who preferred a more idealised form of painting, Artemisia embraced a sense of naturalism.  Her vivid colours and costumes portrayed, were part of her later education at court.

Seldom are so many of her pieces displayed in one venue, and this is where I was very fortunate, to see such a wonderful collection at the National Gallery last week.  Before the gallery, like so many other museums and galleries, were closed, once again, due to the pandemic.  I hope others get to partake in the splendour and the hard work it has taken the National to bring so many pieces together.

My simple story about witnessing such intense and profound pieces, dating back to the seventeenth century, and in particular, one incredible female artist, does little justice to the actual exploration of her work, and her life.  There are many articles written about this, and I left the bookshop with one such story, by Alexandra Lapierre, entitled ‘Artemisia, The story of a battle for greatness.’  I cannot wait to read it.

A woman to love.  Strong, individual and greatness in a time when female artists were few.

If only I could paint but one, tiny aspect, and create such drama, colour and intensity, but perhaps I shall have to go to Italy and  even that is an enchanting thought.

 

Walking London. Grand Union Canal, Paddington and early Christmas lights.

I really, really, really don’t want much for Christmas … really.  Right now, I just want the whole wide world to return to normal.  That’s not asking much is it?  Just put it under my Christmas tree, in a beautifully wrapped parcel – here delightful, here is the world returned and all is good with the universe.

This lockdown has been brutal. Twelve months ago, the city was vibrant, alive with festive merry spreading.  Lights were inspiring and the best excuse to go into the city, have dinner, or to a show.  A glass of wine at the Stafford after a brilliant tour, so different to now.  So now we are trying to capture Christmas a whole month early, and who can blame us?  Houses are being draped in lights, trees are up and it is only November. Along with the November moustaches and early pretend it’s Christmas, all looks altered again.

To still the anxiety which creeps regardless, and kill the boredom of not having to go to my favourite place for an early morning coffee, I walk. If anything, to hear the sound of buses going, to seek life, to find nature. The tube seems like the last ride to a scary place, all masked and suspicious.  Some are mask defiant and we scowl at them.  I try and sip my second choice coffee furtively and not draw attention – sneak under mask and repeat. Said before, outings now are governed by the acute need to know where to pee – route according to toilet facilities, ah, it has come to this and I guess I am an expert now on where to go when you have to go, when in London.

 

The walk today had me at a few ago. Regent’s park.  It is Sunday, a sunny day, and the entire world is here.  Finding a bench to sit becomes a silent war, as is the pushing and queueing for a takeaway, as if we use ration stamps. The roses are confused – budding and blooming as leaves fall. I feel their fuzziness. The sense of unnaturalness permeates, but we are blessed for sun and budding roses.

Walking along Regent’s Canal is a always a thrill for me, but it is packed with others thinking the same.  We pass, we shimmy alongside, we dodge the puddles and hope not to end in the drink. Armies of the anxious out in the few hours of light. We marvel at the duo paddling on the icy water, actually no. Fawn over the mansions with a view and a silent resolve to try the Lotto once again. The weather is indeed, great, so great I am sweating in the double layering of maybe winter.

And then the light happens.  It’s only four in the afternoon, but the light comes to the water. It is astonishing, brilliant and sharp and magnificent on swans, duck feathers, house boats, spilling down from glass buildings and into liquid. Gushingly gorgeous. We all, collectively, swoon and click. This is the reward for the cloying, claustrophobic living lockdown.

 

The light is dancing on the Paddington basin.  Houseboats are smoking and show piles of firewood on their roofs. It must be cold on the water.  The Grand Canal is a triumph of development behind Paddington station.  Now office blocks are eerily quiet and the many restaurants closed, but the odd ‘essential’ offering open to ply fish and chips, pastries and coffee. It is modern and eclectic and smatterings of old London, given credit and offered to cheer us up.  Love the statues, the messages, the poems on walls and the neon lights.

The station is deserted.

Then it is to London, my style Christmas delight.  The Angels on Regent and Jermyn Streets. Burlington arcade, quiet but glittered.

Lashings of copper, gold and green. The tree in Trafalgar Square is still missing, a gift from Norway to the English in thanks for the support during the war and always delivered, every year.  Will she appear? Still walking, still not ready to go home, I cross to Southbank. There are no stalls, no Christmas music and steaming Mulled wine.

She has survived many times, did I ever imagine myself to see her wounded so? She shoots shards of brilliance still.

 

All weather walk: Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, Camden and the Canal.

Hello Sherlock, it has been a while.  I give tours about you Sherlock, and COVID has put that all to bed.  The tourists are far beyond our borders, our borders are closed.  In this time, when it is so easy to get really down and feel hopeless, I am for a walk, a long walk, that begins with you.  Baker Street is a charming Tube Stop, all old and slopey with Wooden staircases leading to different exits.  Normally its bustling with tourists, crowded with tourists for this destination serves two, unique London favourites.  Madam Tussauds, and the man himself – Sherlock Holmes.

I know him intimately and when lockdown fades, can take you to all tales and secrets, and even his ‘home’, at 221B Baker Street. You have no idea how many times I am stopped with enquiries to the home of Sherlock. Bless them.

Where most people recoil from the unpredictable, and gloomy November weather, I love the bracing sharpness that makes walking so much easier.  Clouds of electric blue, dispersed with shots of gun metal gray, and then, the shards of light from a watery sun that turns the sodden leaves to nuggets of gold – the intensity of uncharacteristic seasons all bundled up together, is exhilarating.  As is Regent’s Park, any time of the year.

Regent’s Park is one of the eight Royal Parks, named after the Prince Regent, or playboy prince, who later became King George IV.  The park is one of my favourites and summer is all for rowing boats on the lake, ice-creams and the annual Open Air Theatre.  Visit Queen Mary’s Rose Garden with over 12 000 roses bushes and be enchanted.  I love it in the summer and picnics are a special thing, but it is at any time during the year, from the Spring Bulbs to the stark landscape of fallen leaves and red berries, much enjoyed by this fellow.  As tame as the pigeons on the bridge railing, the Egyptian geese on the lakes and maybe not so tame, are the hedgehogs breeding here, and I am determined to see them.  The park offers a criss cross of walkways, Outer and Inner Circle, sports activities and of course, much walking, and especially in this weather, much needed coffee.

In the lockdown, though I still explore and gather notes, one ‘interesting’ issue to arise, is the lack of bathroom facilities available.  Coffee shops and cafés can now only serve from the doorway and toilets are out of bounds – do not even get me started on this, so irritating, but as a true guide always does, finding clean toilet facilities is an important part of the job.  This time, not so much for my clients, but for me avec the cold weather and hot coffee.  So I make notes of where I will be able to find the next toilets along the route (humbug but neccessaire.) The cafe at Regent’s Park is take away only, and no bathroom, so it was a short walk to the public loos – which have a tiny fee of 20p, payable by contactless card.

The walk was broken by a quick darting into St. John’s Lodge, in the Inner Circle.  The garden is a hidden gem, a little muddy after the rain, but that’s my November thing – striding through muddy patches, hoping not to end up on butt and loving the whole being in nature thing – it’s different in the winter and fall – down and countrified in the city stuff.

The walk, for the loving and the fit, calls you up to Primrose Hill.  The hill of Bridget Jones’ opening sequence and one of the best views over the skyline of London.  For so many people there, it is always a peaceful place.  We are back in the sunshine, and bless us, a touch of physical exercise and sunshine and the joggers strip down to crop tops and goosebumps.  But collectively we stand, resigned at our situation, and looking forth, perhaps for a promise of better, before a silent homage to your struggle brother, to your mental health sister, and peel down the hill into smaller lives.

Bit of a turn here and right there and high street Primrose Hill sparkles in the light I mentioned.  Some jewels are open, some in the box and the locals are clearly loyal to corners for conversations, their dogs either indifferent or grateful for the time to sniff.  One of my favourite restaurant lives in this street – this is a posh area, the houses around the park, up to St. John’s Wood are envious inciting, but generally only for bankers and celebrities, one or two you may spot if you loiter enough.

I am moving from one extreme to the other.  Chalk Farm wedged between Primrose verdant living and the edgy grittiness of Camden Town. This is true London style and why I could never be bored here.  Camden may have changed and become more gentrified in the last decade, she still entices the quirky, the curious and the devoted.  Small entrepreneurs who live their dream and discard the critics, supported by like and live from the punk to the pretty.  They are all at home.  Alleys of locked up loveliness, hidden from the light, but look up at the umbrellas, though a symbol of rain, also the happy dots of we can weather this;  am trying to remain super positive in the loneliness of walking through the Stables.  A few die hard food pop ups temp but the cold and the isolated makes them seem sad also.  The winter of discontent is more pronounced this year. But delight, another toilet opportunity – this is really a tragic situation, and then, of course, to stumble or rather walk into the larger than life statue of Shaka Zulu in London.  This Zulu King does not belong here, abandoned, for now, in an alley.  He looks lost.  I am also thinking, with the whole tear down the statue thing, this king sacrificed young virgins to his hearts content – is he still relevant?  What say you?

The muddy shoes make much of these pathway along the Regent’s Canal.  Puddle obstacles, saunters doing it too slowly but there is no hurry, what else are we going to do? The dampness of rain clings beneath the archways iced with graffiti, into the dark, out in the light, under the archway, another view in sight.  Brilliant homes, tragic views of the London Zoo with Hyenas caged rather than on the Savannahs of Africa – cannot abide the awfulness of it, so look to the Mallards instead.  A single barge comes put-putting down the canal, captain au fait with the instagram moment, no hurry.  Barges line with plastic chairs tied, flower boxes in needs of paint. Winter peels away more than just the prettiness of the summer, yet it is the waiting room for spring and other things can make the days alive and strong.

It is a stunning walk this one, and for most satisfying, but if you think the canal walk goes all the way to the Paddington basin, it’s going to be an abrupt surprise.  This is Edgeware area, there are council flats and bustling shops, the glamour and elegance of the canal much changed as you find your way back to something touristy and familiar. Let it not detract from the splendour, and you can always turn around and do it all again in the other direction.

The walk had plenty of coffee shop (and now she knows the toilet) stops, eateries and seateries along the way.  Great exercise, history and culture, and a little bit of everything thrown in between.

It is a tough time, a really tough time, but I can still get out and discover the very best of London, continue to learn and plan for next year when you are all going to come and visit me!

 

 

 

 

 

Black stockings, early winter magic and ‘oh seriously, its dark at four pm!’

‘Winter is on my head, But eternal Spring is in my heart.’  Victor Hugo

We can all agree that this has been the most freaky,  frigging year.  Take it from someone who has entering into her Third lockdown since February.  A brief moment of bliss every now and then, but by and large, this has been a spooky year and I for one, have had enough of the sucky, suck it up, stuck mode and even Christmas is at risk!

Actually let me rephrase that – I am almost at Christmas already, an entire month before the event.  What else is there to do, she wails, oh pray what else is there to do when work has dissipated along with tourism in general and every day is a little like … oh yesterday.

Go Christmas shopping.  Oh, hang on, that is not allowed for another three weeks, except for Wilko of course, so just to give close ones an inside – Christmas will be heavily reliant on Wilko.  And Chocolates, or any other foodstuff from stores still open.  Thank the Lord we can still buy wine, unlike the South African lockdown earlier this year that had me at bootlegging and possible arrest for the stuff.

This is the time when you get to seven pm and think, how will I make it to eight pm and not go to bed?  How many re-runs can you watch, I beg you.

I have done the English winters for over a decade, in London, but this never got to me so much as now.  Would make the most of the lights, restaurants, theatres and just walking till late so I didn’t know that the sun was going down so early.  The combination of lockdown and no light is a different, and worrying combination.

Is this an age thing – okay I know it’s a lockdown thing, which is great for blaming, but seriously, was once a time that eight was the magic hour for actually leaving the house to dine, party and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning.  Now, it seems, the bath and pj’s happen super early and there is no trace of make-up past seven thirty. Sad situation, she mumbles, bloody sad situation.  And it too shall pass.  I am really not one for looking forward to the latest rerun or building a puzzle at this stage.  This will happen in the retirement home one day.

I’m recording my life experiences by the season I shall be encased in black stockings. That is on a good day – some days the gym pant pull on for the muffin relaxation is standard stuff. And the colour is … merde!

Speaking of French, as we do, I have been known to prefer Paris in winter.  There is something huddly about it:  fewer tour groups who push their way into Galleries Lafayette and buy Louis Vuitton like sweeties, fewer outside everything and more intense light, still able to sit at sidewalk cafes under the heaters and walk for miles in the mist.  A good Pot au Feu in a local bistro, lights on the Avenues, but not this year. It will be next year.

In the lockdown, and the months prior, it is really interesting to see how different people react.  Many of my friends have literally locked themselves in their homes, doing home deliveries and I can appreciate that, if one feels this age is a risk thing.  I have also seen many, like me, that at least try to walk through London, along the river, up Hampstead Heath, in Richmond, anywhere just to get out for the sake of our physical and mental health.  Being locked up in a house in London, is not for me.  I am careful, but determined to remain curious.

One good little emotional love, is the yearly John Lewis Christmas advertisement, and I am still a fan.  Sharing kindness, and being aware of just being kind is what we all need right now.  I know I do. Tried to embed the video here but again, the woman is technically challenged – maybe this lockdown will be the time I don’t have to ask my children for help and work it out myself. That’s a plan.

Anyway, tomorrow will come … and the black stockings will be on, no more comfortable granny anything … and maybe it’s time to find the little skirt to go with them, like I used to. A red one.  Bont and paired with long black boots … now she is thinking … and then, without the trusty hair salon open, to let the hair go wild, like a Pre-Raphaelite, and put on the Barbour, check I have the face mask and go forth into the city. Sounds like a good plan.  Are you with me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hampstead Heath on a late Autumn day.

The last time I visited Hampstead Heath was nearly a decade ago.  Early January then, dragging a number of my unsuspecting friends up slippery hills and through muddy troughs, but loved it.  This time was no different, only the sun burst through in smatterings and I was exploring on my own.

There are many ways to reach the Heath, and not a part of London I am totally familiar with, so decided to take the Underground to Hampstead and meander along where ever until I see a sign. Sometimes not having exact directions are a good thing – the flanéur thing. It appears that Hampstead Heath is not greatly in favour of signage and I found myself in what I though was the Heath, but Golders Hill Park instead.  Ah well, pleasant, down this path, up that hillock, as one does, to find the my way in a suburb of some of the most magnificent houses in London.  Georgian dreams, sash windows, manicured gardens and very expensive cars in the driveway.  For a little while I dreamed of living in one of those houses, took a few pictures and ambled along – it is a beautiful part of North London.

The Heath covers 790 acres, vast indeed, and consists of woodlands, hillocks, pastures, pools and glorious views.  For a while it was divine to find myself photographing the deep paths leading to who knows where, surrounded by trees hanging onto the last of their Autumn foliage.  Dog walkers calling dogs barking deep in the forest.  Whistles that seldom seemed to work.  Couples and friends with toddlers and babies in prams, asleep in the frosty air. Wrapped up in cocoons.

Aim for Kenwood House.  The Kenwood House made famous in ‘Notting Hill’.  The house is closed, the cafe open to takeaway drinks and a sadness descends when the pavilion and gardens surrounding the house lie still.  But nothing like a great Mocha to warm the heart and a brisk walk to exercise the lungs.  The view from Kenwood House is breathtaking – a little like the walk to get there – the skyline of misty London in the distance. This is a protected view, a stunning view and spend some time making out the various skyscrapers – I see the Shard, I see …

Walking is brisk and I could have done with a pair of Wellies where the water bubbles up through the mud, though all is doable and the boots are gorgeously caked in mud.  Passed the Ladies only swimming pool, rather keen to have a peak but padlocked.  A friend swims there all the time, with winter gloves and cap in the freezing water – also the location of many a film. Can you think of any?

Two pm and the sky is turning darker already.  A man fishes alone, lovers huddle on park benches with sweet words and hot coffee, more dogs, always more dogs in pyjamas and designer gear.  One such lovely Spaniel was dressed in what looked like one of Winston Churchill’s siren suits, and of course, the first deep puddle and in she goes … all the way soaked avec siren suit.  Don’t we love seeing these silly little incidences happening along the way?  I pop in and out of other’s anecdotes on walks like these, but feel quite comfortable to be alone, setting my own pace, choosing my own path … so where to next?

One cannot spend too much time outdoors in winter, and winter it already is.  Daylight shuts at 16.30 pm.  The Heath will darken rapidly and there is a long way to go to the nearest exit or bus stop. When covering an area as large as this, it’s fine to meander, but you also need to calculate your exit strategy – there is a lot of ground to cover from the top of Kenwood House.

Kenwood House.

When all this is over, please visit for a feast of architecture, art and gardens.

Down to Parliament fields and delighted to find the first bus is going to Kentish Town, the Northern Line for my return.  Hop on the bus.  Bus terminates at Highgate, but it’s that kind of afternoon, no rush, discover another gem of a village within a city as I make my way towards the tube.

Popped off at Waterloo, which was dismally quiet for a Friday afternoon.  Do I like less crowds? No, it is eerie and the staff are bored looking at phones and standing for hours with little to do.  The trains run, not as much, and the bookshop, amongst others, is closed.  Foyles is a favourite at the station.  I curse a little under my breath. I miss life as I know it, cannot believe I cannot travel, heart breaking losses and restrictions, so let’s just pray all will go with a Christmas wish.

As the sun drops onto the tracks, I make my way South West.  It is true amongst Londoners;  some are for North London and some for the opposite side. History lies deeper in the North.  Perhaps the idea of living on graves and decades of stories makes it a bit spooky, but I love that about the other side of where I live.

Another day in early second lockdown, and it was a good one.  I am trying to find interesting places to walk most days.  Using the tube is allowed, not recommended but allowed, and for me, getting out, going for long, interesting walks is essential to my mental health.  Being very careful.  Watching the world go by, and exploring London is my business – I do research and make notes as I go along.