23 April 2014

St George's Day.

Why not have a day where you can celebrate your nationality? Aussies have Australia Day, Kiwis have Waitangi Day, the Irish (and the rest of the drinking world) have St Patricks Day.

The only trouble with this, is the stiff English upper lip. One doesn't really show oneself to be very excited about ones heritage, as one would look to be showing off about something that is inherent. Innit.

Why am I blathering on about this? Well, today is St George's Day, and we accidentally attended the St George's foodie festival at Trafalgar Square this weekend. It made us proud to see the red & white banners, fake shields, jewelled swords and kids learning about St George and the Dragon. It made use even prouder to see the English foodies arranged around the fountains, sharing their proud food heritage with the gathered masses.

Hearing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot echoing through Twickenham Stadium, accompanied by waving St Georges Crosses tells me that patriotism is something the English are becoming less afraid to shout from the rooftops. 
And it also tells me that they're about to receive a caning from the All Blacks. (Note: I was told to edit that out by my husband - the editing isn't going to happen...)

It's wonderful to see. As are hanky waving Morris men, pork pies and mustard, drinking Earl Grey with a raised Pinky and grown men cheering at the results of the latest FA cup.

Also, who doesn't need another excuse to get your Red trousers out?

Strut those things dude...

Brought to you by one of the best countries in the world - I have statistical proof.

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22 April 2014

84 Charing Cross Road: Book Review

There is something exceeding romantic about bookshops that you don't really get ordering books via the internet. Instead of the anonymous clack of a computer mouse, walking into the hushed, hallowed walls of a booklined sanctuary becomes an event in itself.

Gingerly stepping to the nearest bookshelf, searching for the section that you prefer, or simply playing the roulette of random selection, your eye is caught by the spine of an enticing tome, the whisper of a favourite author or the lure of something new and unexplored.

84 Charing Cross Road journals the letter exchange of Helene Hanff, a poor New York script writer, and a bookstore employee Frank Doel working for Marks & Co. a secondhand bookseller in London. The book is a heartwarming narrative of their friendship all the while an ocean apart, of 20 years.

Marks & Co. was a “lovely old shop straight out of Dickens,” redolent of must, dust, age, and solid wood. Its bookshelves of “old oak have absorbed so much dust they no longer are their true color.”

Helene Hanff is a forthright, opinionated American, whilst Frank Doel replies with the erstwhile reserve of an English gentleman - much to her amused frustration. She warns him at one point “You better watch out, I’m coming over there in '53 if Ellery is renewed. I’m gonna climb up that Victorian book-ladder and disturb the dust on the top shelves and everybody’s decorum.” though sadly they were never to meet.
Their friendship spanning the Second World War, and the rebuilding of Britain afterwards is simply a wonderful extension of the relationship we have with books, whatever their formats. The content of these small rectangles of paper, covers or electronic wiring are companions, travel inspiration, recipes to cook with loved ones - they all affect our lives in such meaningful ways.

Sadly, the bookshop no longer stands, a chain restaurant in it's busy Charing Cross footprint, but to my utter surprise when I popped by to take an in-situ photo (I couldn't resist) there is a lovely brass plaque and inscription, further documenting this friendship.

In the spirit of the book, I'd love to give my copy to someone, pass on the baton as it were. First person to pop me a comment below, and it's yours, anywhere in the world. We can correspond by email to arrange the logistics.

Do you still write letters?

21 April 2014

Hampstead Heath, London.

London on a sunny day is almost unbeatable. Sure, we may not have azure waters, bleached white sands or turtles stumbling out of the surf, but we do have rolling acres of parkland, amazing views and spades of culture.
When you combine these with sunshine, the wonderful company of international cat smuggler, old house adorer and fellow expat @JessonThames with the lure of an exceptional cup of tea, how can you go wrong? We were greeted with a peaceful yet vibrant Saturday morning scene, with locals drinking coffee whilst their dogs ran amok with waggy-tailed delight that only they can convey.
We giggled at this nesting duck's ball graveyard, well played madam, well played.
We shared a cup of rather good Joe overlooking this little shack, before exploring the beautifully restored depths. But that's a tale for another day.
 Beautiful Kenwood House.

There is something so lovely about hanging with fellow expats/bloggers; problems with pants (called trousers here), having a predilection for photographing food, laughing at the weird way that Brits pronounce their place names (Leicester, Southwark and Norwich to say but a few) and the strange yet comfortable feeling of not really having one single home.

Even better, when you realise that you share a passion for stately homes (and not just the desire to live in one)....

As we wandering the winding paths, we encountered so many corners, the gardens in full Spring bloom awash with an explosion of exuberant colour and the odd child exploding out of the shrubbery to share their discovery of secret stairways.

Our cultural palates whetted we adjourned to the cafĂ© for a delightful repast. What more could you ever ask for?

There was only one fly in the proverbial ointment as we wandered back through the curving paths to civilisation. I know you can swim in a couple of the ponds scattered through the Heath, but it's March. I mean, really?? We were both practically shivering just watching this guy dive off the pier.

One more glance behind us to that dichotomous view, and severe case of kicking myself for living here so long without exploring the Heath. 

This is London, baby. Zone 2 represent.

Have you discovered the delights of Hampstead Heath's rolling hills recently?
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19 April 2014

Top 10 London Staycation Activities

This year over Easter we're avoiding the magical overseas destinations, airport queues and funny foreign tummy bugs, and hanging out in the capital of Ole Blighty, Madam London herself.

With fairly good weather on the horizon, we've decided that we are going to hit up a few of our favourite spots, as well as a few new goodies.

Our rock of literary ages, the British Library.
According to the official website, you can explore 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, 3 million sound recordings, and much more. Find what you need - in the arts and humanities, sciences, or any subject.

Plan my next visit to Buckingham Palace
My schedule so far consists of
  • Drink Tea
  • Hang out with Her Majesty
  • Check out the online 'Baby George's first visit to the farthest reach of his empire' photo album with her
  • Try on all the tiaras
  • Walk the Corgis

Take a picnic to Kew Gardens & soak up the sunshine.
I am absolutely no good with plants. The cat reminds me to feed her, but plants just slowly, accusingly, wither away. It's nice to see that I'm in the minority. Perhaps my admission fee karmically makes up for all the plants I've killed over the years (there is only one I managed to keep alive, and that's because it lived on my desk and most of the times that I took a sip of water from my glass I'd feed the plant).

Pretend to be a Wizard at Kings Cross and dream about Paris from St Pancras.
This need no explanation right? (Unless of course you're a muggle...)

Wander Regents Park/Little Venice - The Grand Union Canal Path Walk
Starting the wonder at the Camden/Chalk Farm end. The Canal is pretty equidistant from each tube station, and you just walk along the High Street until you get to the bridge that spans the industrial marvel - dug by hand by Irish workers - that are local branches of the canal networks. Under the Camden Lock, is the Camden Lock food market where tantalising tidbits are laid out for your delectation.

Get a Pie Mash & Likker fix. Oh yeah.
The basic premise is you get a beef/chicken pie, creamy mash, liquor sauce (a mostly clear containing Parsley and a few secret ingredients) and quality jellied eels (if desired). It is simply the best, quick, easy cheap comfort food on a cold winters day, and I imagine that dock workers adored it on their Dinner breaks.

 Re-visit the Elfin Oak
The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens, the children's book which Ivor Innes published with his wife Elsie in 1930, describes how "for centuries now it has been the home of fairies, gnomes, elves, imps, and pixies. In the nooks and crannies they lurk, or peer out of holes and crevices, their natural windows and doorways

 Get some moolah for my sky rocket (Money for your pocket): Cockney Cash Machines
 If we're lucky, we'll end up on a train or in a caff cafe (there is definitely no circumflexing in the East End) with a group of proper Cockney gals and geezers, getting to listen to their musical, melodical and almost nonsensical accent and phrases.

Wander to Dr Johnson's House; Dictionary compiler, cat lover, Twitter enabler and traveller.

Say hey to the peacocks in Holland Park.
We've explored Kew Gardens, Bushey Park, Battersea Park (in a fashion) and of course the Queen's backyard but there is a special place in my heart for Holland Park.

Now just to decide where to start off this weekend... (Edit: I've just found a couple to add to my list - I knew writing a 'top 10' was a bit futile...!)

What are your favourite London activities?

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