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.

 

What I loved this week.

It’s been two weeks since I left the cold and Christmas love of London, bound for a ten day break in the gorgeous Mauritius.

I would not have planned a trip for myself to Mauritius per say – not the sort of place I would have thought to visit on my own, but it was a ‘good morning Kari’ on my 60th birthday from my dear friend Bev, with an airline ticket to the island.  Her present.  Bev is a present to me every day, and this was overwhelming. Landed in Cape Town at 11.40 in the evening, just time to toss the winter clothes, throw in the bikini and off the next day.

A quick thanks to the brilliance of Air France and Air Mauritius for amazing service and getting me halfway around the world in two days!  From four degrees to forty degrees and darlings, the body crisped up in a matter of minutes in the sun. I am now the shade of tomato, from lobster to tomato.  Learning to do absolutely nothing everyday was a bit of a strain in the beginning but swimming again, that was pure magic.

It is paradise indeed. Being with friends who knew me when I still believed I was going to marry Robert Redford and had stayed throughout the highs and lows of my life is something few have in their lives and I do know how blessed I am. I only hope I am as good a friend to them, as they are to me.  With the liberty of taking time out, a slow wi fi and literally just chilling, what were some of the things I loved this week? – other than the gorgeous holiday of course!

Finally got stuck into ‘The Fingersmith‘ by Susan Waters. If there is one book I can recommend or begin reading almost immediately again, it would be this epic novel.  Pulsating, thrilling and brilliantly executed.  Details and imagery of London and the Borough in the 1860’s, just up my street.

Since the arrival of George, I am so aware of dog friendly places to visit.  Sawdays has a great guide to Dog friendly hotels in the UK. This would make a fabulous gift for fellow dog lovers.

 

Watercolour of George by Madison de Villiers

For those fortunate enough to find themselves in Paris over Christmas (I do envy you), Paris Insider has some wonderful tips of things to do.  Still on the subject of Paris, I do try, and never really get it right, but this is a great guide to learning the different bridges spanning the Seine in Paris.  Which is your favourite? Cannot wait to see these early next year when I return. Still on the subject of Paris, good news for all – a face lift for the Champs-Èlysées

Cannot wait too see the results, and Paris again.

Something else I cannot wait to try again, and discover a few more venues for Brunch, is this article I found of the best places to have brunch in London.  Am constantly finding ‘the perfect coffee shop’ or the perfect spot for lunch in the different boroughs of London (St Clements being my favourite, of course) and now I have a handy guide for brunch.

Part of the gorgeous offerings by Coutours is The History of London in Four Drinks, which includes the history of Gin.  We also offer Gin tasting evenings which a so much fun for friends and family to share.  This article gives a great view of the History of Gin and it may just tempt you to join us for a more in-depth exploration of the History of Gin and a fabulous tasting to boot. Everyday I am so enthused by all that is still possible to explore in this silly world of ours.  Not only can we show you a unique part of London in a fun and informative way, we can also help you plan your days when you visit.  Herewith a list from the Londonist, of some of the superb exhibitions we can see in 2020, so get that itinerary on track!

The mind brims with all the ideas of these places to visit, what next year holds in store for me, travel wise and every way otherwise and I do believe it will be a fascinating year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are a few of my favourite things …

Christmas Time, Mistletoe and Wine …’

And oh dear, all intentions are lost, but not entirely lost.  There is a perfectly positive reason for the lapse in the new, weekly story.  And that is the point, it’s ok to sometimes not be on target.  The truth is, I have been lost in the very Christmassy life around me – absolutely, stunningly beautiful London at Christmas.  Officially feeling ‘Christmassy’. 

The past two weeks rolled into one with me working everyday of the week.  Either at Coutours or St. Clements.  I am blessed to have diverse and engaging occupations, meeting new people, ideal ‘office’ environment and the best co-workers one could ask for. My barista skills are coming on and my knowledge of Christmas icons hidden in London has grown.  Let me not reveal all, but if you do wonder by, head down, down Piccadilly – look up at the marvellous Advent Calendar that  are the windows of #fortnum and mason. The Art that is Window Shopping has me at thinking, it’s going to be difficult not to gush and repeat the word ‘wow’, over and over and over again.  Each detail, minute detail, designed and executed to present a scene of ‘wow.’! The story of the Christmas windows at Fortnum and Mason is a great read.

 

Another highlight of the Festive season was attending an evening with Madame Genever and Gent.  The occasion ‘Ghosts and Spirits’, the venue – 38th Floor of the Gherkin Building. The experience, priceless. I have never been up the Gherkin building, though she has been a landmark in London for many years (and the location for many films).  The view of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, that high up, at night, is etched forever.  Emma and Will entertained us with stories of Gin, ghost stories, stories of eerie co-incidence and how to make a Dark and StormyOnly with Black Seal Rum of course. Thank Goodness the night was perhaps dark, but not stormy being up so high in the sky.  

Not only did I finally get to go up the Gherkin, conquer my fear of heights – very creepy – as one walks all around the pinnacle, but had the proper canapés and gin experience with the wise and witty Emma and Will.  Great idea for corporate and special events.  

 

Leaves have fallen now, a few really fisherman’s coat coloured yellow one’s still clutching to feint branches, so natural has been replaced with oceans of fake for Christmas.  It’s all lights, candy stripes and metallics now. Not being an online shopper (the amount of plastic wrapping is heinous), I prefer every little nook and cranny, alley way and big Department store to do my shopping.  Been holding out with the ‘it’s not cold’ but brrrr, it is starting to bite now.  Yesterday, my lovely guests on our Icons of London; Christmas Special, were being extra brave outdoors – it is so worth it when the lights really begin to perform, but I think the Hot Mulled Wine (or Bishop) was most welcome in The Clarence, on Dover Street. 

The gorgeous staircase at Fortnum and Mason.

It’s all about finding the time, now that the year is running at a pace towards the Great 2020.  Office parties galore, lists of presents, and that not so good for you but must have party food – just because it’s all in miniature.  Why do I succumb to these little pastries, the silly crackers, the party hats – because we celebrate our families, spoil our children (and George) and also, ourselves in return.  It is the festive season, it is the spiritual season.  

It is the coming together in peace and goodwill.  The story of the Mistletoe originated as a Pagan custom, where warring opposites, finding themselves beneath Mistletoe in the woods, would lay down their arms until the next day.  From there, the idea of hanging mistletoe, and should on find oneself beneath it, a kiss could mean friendship, true love and perhaps,  the one to marry.

A good sign.  A good sign.  One more week to go.

 

 

Image:  Fortnum and Mason

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn in London – The first letter.

Whim Wood

Katherine Towers

into the coppery halls
of beech and intricate oak
to be close to the trees
as they whisper together
let fall their leaves,
and we die for the winter

Am sitting in the pub, possibly one of the most ‘infamous, or famous’ pubs in London for a quick spot of lunch today.  Done the walk through for the actual ‘Belgravia Pubs’ Tour this afternoon.  What another spectacular, Autumnal day it is. We have been spoilt, and possibly going to incur deluge from now on, but I have revelled in this season.

Though not doing any volunteering at Ham House at present, have popped in often to sit in the Kitchen garden and watch the turning of the soil, the squashes stacked like sweetie jewels and walk about to Richmond along the river.  The gentleness of the season quite takes me by surprise.  Hopefully I shall be back at Ham in time.  The richness of the time is so evident in Richmond Park – stags and bambi’s in the bracken. But it is the trees, it is the leaves, it is the colours one cannot quite explain. This is why we English speak about the weather all the time – it changes so radically, is so specific and part of our psyche here.  You had to be here for Halloween, children all of us, shop windows, houses and every available space draped in cobwebs and witchery – nothing unusual to see adults shopping in Waitrose for wine, full Halloween make-up and a cape or two, carrying a carved out pumpkin, before jumping on the tube.

 

 

Have not had the opportunity to get out to see Autumn in the countryside, but I did get to see the King’s Kitchen Garden, and Versailles, before they close for the winter.  A day trip to Vaux de Vicomte, just outside of Paris, was a further treat.  In the Autumn and winter months, the real structure of the gardens come to the fore – the lavish foliage and colour fades to reveal the bones of design, the linear shapes of hedges and box – the starkness of fountains, statues and follies – stripped and strong. This I shall write more about.  Am still savouring my honey from the Jardin du Roi – more special to know the source of the food you eat.

The clearest sign ending the British Summer is the changing of the clocks. We now have an extra hour in the morning but it gets darker, earlier and personally, I would have it as is – I can handle more darkness in the morning, but to find the darkness come early, is usually when the black dog comes lurking out from behind the haunted house, so to speak. It makes for a very long evening and by December, feels as if I am permanently in a thick sludge of soup.  Other than the past years, and so remembering when I first came to live in England, I am determined to be more positive about it.  Don’t quite now how but if you have any ideas, please let me know.

Inspired by the Venetian jewel colours, I have so enjoyed adding a few new items to the Autumn wardrobe. Hobbs is spot on with their rich tartan skirt in burnt orange, I just had to have it, adding a divine matching cashmere polo neck top – the skirt is a statement; block coloured jumpers in a variety of shades and voilá, you are sorted.  Fell in love with their classic, black jeans – in the basket it went. Marks and Spencer’s ‘could it be vermilion? matching trio of scarf, gloves and beanie just has me at ‘Hello Burnt Da Vinci colours’ – loving the new additions.  My heavy coat is still back in Cape Town, but the layer dressing of – Uniglo‘s thinly padded purple jacket tucked under the good old faithful Barbour, really works. 

Country Living would be proud.  And now I have a grand puppy!  One of the highlights of this Autumn in London, is being with my family and little George.  The leaves in the park are almost bigger than him, but going for walks in Bishop’s Park, has opened up a whole new world for all of us.  There is another society out there (we are new to this) of dog lover’s,  more like dog-children lover’s which makes the Universe a  much better place. George has brought laughter and happiness;  he is so little and yet so brave.  So curious and so loyal, and that soft George belly has me at putty in his little paws. 

Another lovely addition to the chapter in My Silver Street, has been a beginning of ‘putting my courage to the sticking place’ and … taking up Art.  What began as a weekend course at The Wallace Collection, an absolute refuge for me, has developed into a fun meeting up of friends at the National Portrait Gallery for ‘Drop in Lates’ and classes with the beautifully talented and ‘very kind to me’ Art lecturer,  Alison Kusner – I am pretty dire, and she makes me feel like my art is unique and wonderful (I think her far too flattering) – I shall endeavour and what better time than this, when the nights draw in closer,  to be found in a gallery, perched on a chair with charcoals in your hand?  Loved the Pre-Raphaelite Sister’s exhibition.
This has been our Autumn in London. The Dutch Masters and Impressionists would have revelled in the glory of the golden time. It has been a golden time.  Living in the room has improved, I travelled to Europe in Autumn, the cafe is still lovely (did you know I was back there) and now I am waiting to take some lovely clients on a walk around the pubs of Belgravia.  The pub I am sitting in now, was, it is said, where the elite and the gangsters sat side by side.  Place of the Profumo affair and the planning of the Great Train Robbery …
Giving tours in London, discovering so much more of this incredible city at every turn, finding the stories, the history and the reasons that we all stay here, is a delicious way of being purposeful and earning a living.  Hard work, lots of learning and walking, but so rewarding.  Perhaps one day you can join me?  Have a look at Coutours – we also do bespoke tours for ten or fifty guests – perhaps a voucher for a loved one for Christmas?  We have plenty of tales to weave through the wonder of London. 

And of course … South Africa won the World Cup Rugby!  Delighted that both the English and South African teams make the final but was rooting for South Africa all the way – the win means more than just the game.  It means hope and injected a little more spirit into a beleaguered country, reminding us of the possibilities of greatness still lying within her midst.  That was amazing. Well done to all of you.

As Bridget Jones would say ‘ must dash’.

Chat soon.

Images: The Guardian, Secret London, Time out

Poem: Katherine Towers

 

Silver Train Glamour under the sea.

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Guilty of ritual governance in my life.  Never been on the Orient Express or Rovos  (oh please one day!), mais have indulged in my halcyon imaginings on the Eurostar that takes me from London to Paris.   Repeat, London to Paris … 

Not going to muddy the fantasy with past tales of stuck the the tunnel.  Not going there.  It is a gorgeous experience, now upgraded and wi-fi, movie and music options.  Indulging time.

IMG_1681 Sleek.  Why the love dream with the Eurostar?   First, the leaving from St. Pancras.  Architectural stage set, one already feels special when you step into this building.  They should give five minute tours on the history of St. Pancras.  Confession that for years before corrected, I did call it St. Pancreas. Then there is the, for me, the tradition of always meeting up with my travelling companions at Le Pain …..  LPQ if one wants less flowery mispronunciation.  To get into the French way of doing, going to Paris, France you understand.  Seduced by Croissants and bread we should not eat, cups without handles and ze french accent in the air.

Secondly, there are these two magnificent cities – Eurostar is the Fixer, bringing the two together without the humdrum and dishevelling of airport security and stress, stress, stress.  Things move rather rapidly depending on the choice of bank holiday, group tour, time of train option you carefully avoid.

Thirdly, you are sitting in a decent seat.  The ‘not plaiting your knees into your hair’ sort of seat – morph seat.  All you need then, is diary, music, coffee (or wine), the dreamy expression and let the Silver Tube take you under.

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The upgraded Silver Eurofish has a few other plus points.  Let’s talk toilets with simple how to for idiots like me who fears the touching of anything in toilets on public transport – take easier reading of coach numbers (I was the one you saw with her nose against the side of the train unable to read the coach number and the same goes for inside) – take more luggage space for those who make a weekend in Paris a removal of their house excursion (hate, hate those coffin carriers) and a few other simple things I forget but enjoyed at the time.

Not so good yet?  One attendant for the dining (spot the ‘dining’) carriage and a snake of people who just look silly.  We lined up against the wall, then had to sort of decide where to stand next and ended up like a group of toddlers hanging onto an imaginary rope reading for an outing.  Not good.

The Internet is unpredictable but she is a novice in this exercise and I am a patient person, for now anyway.

Hell I love that bursting upon French soil with light affirmity.

outsideinpallant

Silver Style.  Silver Star – now to wish an upgrade at Gare du Nord please.  Then all is Silver lining.

Images:

outsidepallent