Trusting to Travel again? How anxious are you about committing?

Brugges in Autumn

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

The truth is, we have all become a tad more boring over the past year.  Lack of stimulation in lockdown, and I say this tentatively, has increased skills of baking and the like, but what do we really talk about now since the world went into freeze the tape mode?  I for one, almost fear the C word conversation now, it’s negative and boring and look forward to being able to JUST GET OUT and experience things.

Like a walk through a gallery, or sitting at a sidewalk café, being able to talk about a route taken, a plan make, a holiday laid forth, which is why I write.  We are being allowed glimpses of foreign holidays in the near future, but are we really?  Will we make plans and then be disappointed?  What do you think?

Camps Bay, South Africa.

Next month was supposed to see me sitting at Lake Como.  Not going to happen.  So today I thought, ok, we’ll move it to Autumn, still a beautiful time to visit the Lakes.  Or Brugges, or Paris or …

And I begin.  Flights.  Have vouchers and look at dates.  I begin to lose my nerve.  What if this is going to end up being cancelled, all over again?  After the previous, plentiful cancellations, I find myself fearful of dashed hopes. Interestingly enough, looking at dates for Varenna, the hotels are surprisingly full, which indicates that others like me are hoping things will resume some sort of normality again.  Maybe I should just get those dates in, imagine waiting for the green light and I am stumped for accommodation? She ponders.

Then I begin to wonder about the thought of having to wear masks in public, in restaurants, on public transport.  Will that still be required – how is it going to feel when one goes exploring for hours on end, only to have to breathe through cloth for most of it?  Will it be the same, will I be tentative of every entrance, a crowd of people, buying a ticket?  How anxious am I really?  Do you feel the same?  Have we become so fearful of the unknown virus that it will keep us from living full and curious lives, indefinitely?

Left bank. Paris.

The braver amongst us will be on the next flight. Cheap as chips, anything to mix and mingle and party into the night.  I remember that energy, I wish I still had that bravado. Families will staycation, but when you are a single, solo traveller like me, later in life, it is the cities and culture you crave, more than a suntan, in my case anyway.

It is the storytelling in travel that takes hold.  Witnessing cultures, art and drama.  Tasting new flavours and hearing new languages.  Stories all. The days are different when we are not at home.

As much as I yearn, and itch to travel soon, I myself am still in quarantine – facing hotel quarantine and a million COVID tests.  South Africa will be a long time in receiving the vaccine and so the months are spent patiently waiting, yet burning to immerse myself in airports, cobbled streets, beaches and castles again. How will things look though, and how will they be?  Another day passes and I withhold for final bookings, payments are withheld, like the dreams of being able to collect more stories in my life to share.

Yet, we can follow the rules, be careful and courteous and still push ourselves, or trust ourselves to take the chance.  We need to support tourism, we need to widen our horizons once again, and we need to travel.

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. – Saint Augustine

Afraid I am not much company at the moment.  My stories may be getting a little tired.

For me, it is not the fear of the unknown so much as the fear of moving forward from the known.

And I cannot make Banana bread and tell one more person about it.

How do you feel about travelling again?

Images: Travel pockets

April Double delight.

A beautiful Happy Easter to all,

I have been blessed to spend this summer in South Africa.  As the weather turns towards Autumn, the days are still balmy and warm enough to spend time on the beach, lunches on the captivating wine farms though the evenings a little crisper than they were a few weeks ago.  It is the natural light that is the real princess here, natural light and space.

Been doing a bit of DIY at the same time.  Finally, after nearly eight years, the slither at the back of the house has been paved. Technically not DIY since I had little to do with it, other than the rudeness from my neighbour at the back. All my other neighbours are wonderful and we live in a very happy corner of the estate.

With thoughts turning to Spring, being able to meet a friend and soon all the shops will be open, some, like me, may still be faced with no clear plans.  Lockdown has hit the tourism industry really, really hard and the pain of watching planes parked on runways, small pensions close, restaurants flounder and fold under the protracted rules, I am also waiting for visitors to return, and realistically this is going to take some time.

With so many redundant and that is all ages, the chances of getting work when one is over sixty is all that more difficult.  The options are a little limited, but not impossible.  It’s a question of rewiring if need be.

So the days are still slow, and the mind always thinking of many things to do.

Have a wonderful April, be rejuvenated and positive.

Eat all the Easter eggs you want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disinvited, disengaged, dismissed and disgifted … all just another form of rejection.

Disgifted is not actually a word, more like the undoing of giving a gift, and if that is so, I was thoroughly disgifted yesterday.  Massively upsetting really, for no matter which way you peruse the situation, I was promptly dismissed, which in turn means, rejected.

And I am still mad about it.

My decision to come to sunnier climes, as I live happily between South Africa and the United Kingdom, was both frugal and medicinal.  Post Christmas in London, with only the local co-op for daily visitation,  me turning a whiter shade of pale, faster than the covid, post Christmas tree stripathon – it’s ok, it’s expected.  We did put up the Christmas decorations in September, and the day after, nah, didn’t work this Christmas, so tore them down again. I can’t even remember which Christmas ad won this year, was there a Christmas ad?  Oh where is John Lewis!

Southwards I go, I mean, few restrictions  apart from a curfew only the ghosts would have to adhere to, and the beaches re-opened.  I am lying on the beach, with a face mask. I digress.

With no work coming in, it also seemed financially viable to return to our little home here until London opened up again.  Things to be done, DIY plans, including new paving in the back garden.  Everyone is in to DIY as we know, and so she goes.

Dilligent I am, informing my neighbour.  There shall be builders, there shall be noise, there shall be dust and then it shall be done.

There was more noise than I expected, more dust like dust storm dust, and dust covered builders knocked off for the day.

Attack over the fence had me verbally pinned against the wall. You la la this and my tee tee that and oh my gosh, I could not escape.  The guilt.  I could not escape the guilt of maybe having irritated my neighbour, for one, silly day. It was official, my neighbour is not nice.

Fearful as the job still needs completing, I found my way to her garden wall carrying a bunch of roses and a box of chocolates.  She would not step away from the door. And told me to take my flowers with me. Confused, I laid them, like a wreath of humility on the grass and left with promises of being a better human being for having irritated her, for one, silly day.

Turned into a spy fest. The flowers lay there, with the chocolates, in the late afternoon, on the grass.  Still later, I look furtively through the window to check the defiance and watch the pale, white roses wilt. It was in darkness that the gifts, no the disgifted, returned to my door.  I don’t know how to describe it really?

Later than evening, my gifts are returned to my door.  I have been disgifted.  They look lovely in my house.

A small incident, soon forgotten, but never forgotten. No damage done, yet damage done.

I wait to hear when the world will allow me to fly.

Why are some people so mean, so intolerant?

Image Northern Star, Clifton packaging

 

 

Hotel Quarantine? The personal Dickension version, perhaps.

A plague was bad enough. Is bad enough … the dame seems to want to hang around for some time still.  I have been a good girl I have, doing the quarantining when I should have, two weeks in isolation and staring at the ceiling, but then there was the odd spot of walking, and taking in a much needed gulp of fresh air.

Now, dear Lord, the Hotel quarantine has raised it’s ugly head.  For the opportunity to return to London after my stint in the South, I will face a ten day sentence, at my expense.  To recap, just to really ponder it deeply, I shall voluntarily submit to being locked up in a hotel room, at the airport, in mid-winter, at my own expense for the price of a castle, for ten days.  In this time, escorted to jail, I will have the dubious experience of three delicious meals a day, and that is it. Travel supreme.

The vision: travel for twelve hours, subjected to a Covid test with nostrils flaring and gagging on a stick. Mask wearing for close to twenty-four hours. Reception, dark. Interrogation, for sure. Marched to a room, door locked and sealed and … the tragedy begins.

I shall call it debtor’s prison, for surely the cost of the tests, flight and storage of moi, will bankrupt me.

‘It was an airless room, still dank and smelling of the previous occupant.  The stale stench of hibernation pervades. My only companion, my suitcase, must find residence in the small space, enough to see for comfort, not to become the object of ‘Wilson’ to which I may cling as my sanity escapes through the keyhole.

The utmost of fears, realised, is that the window is one that will not open.  It is a non-opening window. Air is expensive. Being an airport hotel, the view, through the unwashed window shall resemble a veil of British waste, streaks of grey to peer between to view, gray. Anxiety reigns.  It is only the first five minutes, so I shall steel myself to the outcome and look for the many bottles of wine I packed in the second suitcase for the very purpose.

As I look around, the bed offers no comfort but a a future womb of troubleness.  There is a desk, a television, a chair and in the beside drawer, a bible.  The latter will come in handy when I say my last confession. The bathroom, no window, will be my second home, complete with small cake of soap and a shower cap which I must resist to put over my head to end it all.

I will exercise – despite the carpet looking like a map of the world with stains resembling cities and the others, we shall call them something else. Perhaps I shall exercise on my bed. Or in the bath. Or, on top of the basin. In a cupboard, if there is one.

Day two will find me at fifty hours of sleeping. Netflix has invaded my veins. Facebook, my best friend and books, well, I forgot to bring any. Good for me though, brownie badge for getting changed into clothes. Make-up done.

Day four and I have forgotten whether I did get dressed, or perhaps just pretended to. The thirty showers a day has become moot. I am trying to remember what day it actually is, so brushing my teeth could have happened yesterday.

Day six and I am Fagan, gnarly and suspicious of sound. Paranoia descends and I am convinced the world has ended and I am the last person alive, only no-one will find me and I shall be locked in forever.  I have made friends with the marks on the walls, given them names and speak to them regularly. The sheets have become monsters and I am singing Christmas songs with stale toast to celebrate.

Tried pleading for a walk, a talk, a trip to the lobby to get tampons and a gun, but they said no. You are too old for tampons and we don’t supply guns. My knives are plastic now. They took the bathrobe belt away.

Day three.  I’m good. At least I think it is day three, or was that last year? I have fallen in love with Piers Morgan, and he speaks to me, I know it is just to me, sending little signals through the television. I have started climbing the headboard, just like I did when I climbed Mount Everest, or was it the Parliament buildings, or the gallows at Tyburn – I forget. The hag in the mirror is cackling at me, bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.  But I am not afraid, I am Amazon. What was Amazon? Bits of food confetti my bed. Someone screamed close by, dying in the Great Fire. But I am good.

Day whatever. Fear of water and Golm under my bed. I can play the castanets now, and dribble for long periods of time. The gas lamps are lit, the candles burn and my music makes me long for Barry Manilow. Invented fifty ways of lying on my bed. Was my first glass of wine at six am or six fifteen, I forget but it does not matter … have forgotten a few things of late. Like my name, for instance.  So I will be known as Lucretia.

Call me Lucretia.’

When the hotel staff came for testing, I was naked, begging for more.

When the hotel staff came to let me out, I was sleeping in my suitcase.

Singing softly about coffee houses, gin and toffs who collect dog shit for the tanneries.

So, with this wonderful possibility of a) going stark raving mad, or

b) going stark raving mad.

I may just wait until the hotel/prison/bedlam/gulag/dying in a suitcase/begging for swabs up my nose situation is lifted, I may just sit tight and dream of England, from afar. Oh, England, I long to see you, but your demands are too high for a mere waif like me who needs air to breath, a walk in your wonderful parks, and a coffee that doesn’t taste like the Thames, circa 1600.

Just saying …

Image: Eurocheapo

 

Quite content in my solitude.

‘I find that I can bear the solitude very cheerfully, I find myself quite content with my situation Lizzie.’

Charlotte Lucas – Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, 1997.

A person I don’t know very well asked me to join them for a cup of coffee.  Seemed simple enough, friendly enough, an activity done without much thought. Ordinarily.  Only I declined, and they did not take it well.

To explain that I have become so used to my own company, in semi-isolation, and only venturing into the midst of others in my ‘bubble’ where comfort and knowledge of the familiar, seems safer, did not appear to be believable.  But this is how it is.  Been months of it, either cosseted within my own walls, or an intimate téte -á-téte of no more than three for a few brief hours.  Solitary habits have formed, and I too, am quite content with the situation.

It was not always so. I am a city dweller, a curious craver of action and art.  A must have the packed diary and dates to validate that my life is a full one.  The Pandemic has changed all that; initial fear, still fearful and waiting for my turn for the vaccine.  Travel is something I miss greatly and fear most of all that I will be prevented from seeing my children over the coming months.  But I bide my time.  Find things to do, wistful things that takes a little longer than a date at the top of the tube elevator.

Life has, for all, turned inwards.  Zoom fatigued and now selective about the conversations that seem to dwell on one subject, little else to tell.  Pray harder for the safety of my family and friends and those who have suffered so greatly from the virus.  Turn to music rather than the news … and yes, have little to say, but lots to say about just being quiet for a while …

Am I lonely?  I am alone, but never lonely.  Have I fallen into a form of depression and procrastination as a result of a halted life, and world; not at all.  Plans continue, hope prevails.

High heels and smart clothes hang in the cupboard.  I smooth the sheets upon the bed, gentleness in the making of it. Caress the new rose buds in the evening light.  Savour meals I make from old recipe books, and turn to poetry when the day is over.  Rise with the dawn, with no intentions and sleep with dreams of my childhood belonging.

Is it good?  Not so much – it will not last, this solitary life for I am a creature of doing.  Content now, to wait until the hands of those I love are slipped into mine.

I am Charlotte.  I shall return to Elizabeth soon.

And it is perfect, for now.

 

Image – Pintrest

 

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.

 

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

 

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!