Thursday, December 31, 2009

First Kiss for a Happy New Year

Wishing you an (early) bright and happy start to the New Year - by way of W. Bougereau's 1890 il Primo Bacio (otherwise known as l'Amour et Psyché).

Brings back happy memories, for me, of wandering the cobbled streets of Citta di Castello (where I was studying Italian a few years ago) when I purchased this lovely (post card) image from the Duomo shop. Tanti Auguri! Buon Capodanno!

PS image in the public domain - see Wikimedia Commons - as the copyright has expired.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas spice tea

Instead of buying costly commercial herbal teas, why not make your own deliciously healthy, warming blend? I love the seasonal spice notes of cinnamon and ginger and regularly buy tea bags that feature their flavours.

Sometimes though, I crave something more naturally potent; so, on impulse and in the mood to christen my new teapot, I decided to experiment. I peeled and chopped a 6cm piece of fresh root ginger and broke a cinnamon stick into smallish pieces. Into the pot they went, with boiling water poured over...

I left them to infuse (and enthuse) for about 15 minutes and the result was a brilliantly warming, naturally sweet and spicy 'tea'. Yum! As good once it's cooled, as it is hot; since both the ingredients are woody/roots they can be topped-up with water again up to three times. Cheers and good health!

PS When I do enjoy commercial varieties, Pukka and Hari Tea feature in my favourite mug.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lord Seb's top running tip

This is one item that comes firmly under the category of things I wish I'd known earlier...

Listening to Lord Seb Coe, on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, the other day, I was intrigued to hear him talking about the way his father trained him, to enhance his medal-winning running prowess. Seb related how he was set super-challenging tasks running up hills but emphasised how his dad would always collect him in the car, rather than ever allow him to run down hill. Lord Coe explained how downhill running is when the majority of damage occurs to joints, through jolting/jarring.

It completely brought home, to me, how I had hurt my back - cue violins - through downhill running in Richmond Park, a couple of years ago - something I'm still 'paying' the consequences of, today. How I miss my regular long runs and super-fitness. My schedule is now mostly at the gym (not such great scenery)... Hope Seb (and I) can prevent some of you from incurring avoidable damage...

PS Pic shows Richmond Park (just beyond Ham Gate) in all her winter glory

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top toasty tip (for girls)

Brrr, if you're in the UK, you've probably heard the weather reports and felt the chill. And it's going to get even more wintry over the next few days. That's fine and dandy if you relish playing in the snow (and I'm a happy bunny if the torrential rain stays away and allows the sun to make an appearance) but it's not so great if you want to keep the fuel bills down. Why not make like the Scouts or Girl Guides and be prepared...

One of my best recent finds was a pair of these cutsie slipper booties from Gap. Super-comfy and cosy, not desperately un-stylish (or too old-fogey slipperish) and a good buy at £15. Useful Xmas gift too, boys!

PS Pic courtesy of

Sunday, December 13, 2009

All the colours of the train

I'm not usually in the habit of extolling the virtues of graffiti. But I admit that I was rather taken with the colours and artwork, on the train, I spotted at Catania station... Che ne pensi?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Perfect pasta (with pistachios)...

Three confessions: first, I admit to not being the world's greatest pasta fan; second, all that changed on my recent trip, in a village just outside Catania; thirdly, I omitted to take a photo of the dish but here's one of the featured (locally sourced) ingredients...

However, I can still tell you all about it, more than whet your appetite and offer some inspiration for at-home experimentation (or just gustatory jealousy).

On my second evening in lively Catania, I headed-off with local wine expert, Glauco, on a whistle-stop tour of must-see venues. For cena, Glauco's first choice was closed (time of year, or just the fact that it was a Tuesday evening) so we ended-up in Giarre, at La Spiga.

There was a happy buzzing atmosphere in the pizzeria with large family tables and adult-only groups enjoying each others company, good food and wine accompanied by the all-important, on-screen calcio (football). Sometimes, I take all my time making my choice but I had no such trouble on the unintimidating menu. Nothing for it but to jump straight in at the twisty Strozzapreti (literally translated as choke - or strangle - the priests!) cooked with baby tomatoes, chunks of swordfish and aubergine, scattered with a generous top-layer of ground pistachios. Served piping hot, it more than lived-up to my expectations. Packed-full of local flavour, it was a genuine Sicilian savoury delight.

A good lesson in eating local and relishing inventive flavour combinations. Swordfish is plentiful and fished locally. Aubergines are prized and adored in Sicilian cuisine. Tomatoes are sweetly nutritious. The pistachios are from nearby Bronte - as shown in the photo pack pictured above, purchased from Catania's wondrous daily market - ground to a powder. They're prevalent throughout Catania in a plethora of sweet and savoury delights (notably ice-cream, biscotti, pizza and pasta). Buon appetito!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fruits of Etna

It's not just through its dramatic omnipresence and black lava stone that magnificent Etna has an impact on the lives of locals. The particular climate it endows upon the surroundings are perfectly suited to producing prime varieties of vitamin and mineral-rich fruits.

If you look carefully at the central box in the photo, taken at Catania market on the last Saturday in November, you'll see the words Frutta dell'Etna. The fichi d'India, (anglicised as prickly pears rather than Indian figs) it houses, are an eastern Sicilian delicacy.

Related to the cactus family, they need to be peeled - and handled - with care, prior to being enjoyed. Available in a range of hues, some prize the white-fleshed variety above the peachier-toned examples. I relished every mouthful of the deep pinky-plum fruit I devoured.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Full Sicilian

Oh yes! There's no stopping me... I liked it so much the first time around that I just had to go back. An (almost) irresistible offer at an alluring hotel in another part of the glorious Mediterranean island meant I just couldn't refuse. So, at the end of November, I repacked my summer clothing and headed off to Catania (Sicily's second city) for a five-day sojourn.

As soon as I saw the panoramic views of all-dominant Etna (from the window seat of my flight) a broad smile was evident on my face. Yippee! No more sodden, grey London but a beautifully temperate Sicilian, sun-blessed sky. Even the fact that there were no buses running into town (so I was forced to break my budget and splash-out on a cab) didn't really suppress my mood.

It was a brief (but 25 Euro ride instead of the 1 Euro bus fare) into town; I enjoyed chatting to kind, patient cabbie, Roberto and even learnt some enhanced pronunciation skills along the way.

No sooner had I deposited my bag in my attractive hotel room on the Via Etnea, I was bursting to get out of the door and explore. (I needed a bottle of mineral water subito, anyway...) Darkness had just fallen so it probably wasn't the best introduction to the bustling main street but soon I was to fall under the spell...

Pic shows the lava stone Fontana dell'Elefante on the central Piazza Duomo (just down from the Via Etnea).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sicily's Rubbish...

I found the parts of Sicily I visited to be exemplary as far as cleanliness was concerned, contrary to reports I'd heard from acquaintances who'd visited last year.

This street bin in Erice was in keeping with its surroundings - almost a work of art - an inspirational way to encourage tidiness and pride in one's surroundings.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Discreet Charms of Castelvetrano

This appealing sculpture is sited directly in front of the Police station. Such charm and elegance... I was also impressed to see that it was a meeting place for local teenagers - imagine that happening closer to home!

Impressive architectural detail on the side of a centrally-located building.

I may not have officially shopped but that didn't stop my window gazing and admiration. I loved this quirky yet chic interiors store. How cute is the face chair!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Food for Thought in Castelvetrano

I enjoyed this perfectly grilled local (Selinunte-caught) marmara, for lunch, at renowned foodie hotspot Lu Disiu. Not the most obvious place to find, it's located down an alleyway by the side of supermarket Conad.

I'm not sure how easily I would have arrived, had it not been for the lovely Maria who guided me there, after I had asked for directions - therein lies the food for thought...

Initially she said, apologetically, that she couldn't direct me but after a few moments thought, she came chasing after me, corrected my pronunciation - of the dialect words - and insisted on taking me right there, all-the-while congratulating me on my Italian and explaining that I had not placed the emphasis correctly on the last syllable of disiu. (While watching a cultural programme on Italian TV, I learnt that there is a different dialect every 3kms in Sicily). It made me think of the profound difference when asking for directions in a busy UK city, (usually) all signs of charm and patience absent, thanks to the hectic intensity and (self)pre-occupied, stressed-out rush of modern life.

Back at the restaurant, I discovered the meaning of its title: desiderio in Italian, alluding to all that one could want/wish for. It's a charming place, loved by the well-to-do business-lunching locals (and made even more interesting for visitors, who can enhance the experience by observing their style and behaviour). Understated with a smart-hunting theme, vegetarians are still well-looked after. The smiling young waiter (whom I believe is the son of the owner-chef) was charming, patient and helpful. When it came to choosing a light main course, he brought out a stainless steel platter simply strewn with the super-fresh local catch of the day.

I ended my meal with a richly-gorgeous espresso, cheekily accompanied by a (generous) glass of Sicilian grappa (my excuse was the need to soothe my sore throat - it worked - and to indulge in another local taste). As I'd been watching the centissimi, thanks to the appalling almost-parity exchange rate, it was a happy surprise to discover that I'd been offered the grappa and caffe. The bill came to 22 euros for the antipasto starter, fish with tomato salad and pesto garnish, mineral water, caffe and grappa.
Lu Disiu, Via XXIV Maggio 14, 91022 Castelvetrano Tel. 0924 907321

Friday, October 30, 2009

Relaxing in unspoilt Selinunte...

It's not just the magnificent ruins that make a trip to Selinunte worthwhile and memorable. The glorious beach, marina and naturally unspoilt ambience are increasingly rare gems.

A sweep of pristine golden sand, a welcoming bar, lack of crowds and an inviting azure sea are the perfect combination for an afternoon of relaxation, after climbing and exploring the vast site of the Temples.

If you want to provide your own lunch, there's a brilliant and friendly little grocery selling the freshest fruit and veg, alongside chilled drinks and other snacks. You can't miss it as you walk down the hill, beachwards, from the ruins.

The large, comfortable beachside bar will keep you well nourished when you prefer to be catered for. They'll even refresh your beer if a fly dares to take a dip inside your glass.

Should you decide to go further afield for lunch, La Conchiglia has a terrace with exquisite sea views, super-fresh seafood and fish - ideally partnered by a wonderfully refreshing, light and delicious house white. Service is warm, friendly and efficiently laid-back.

If you visit on a Saturday in late September, you might be lucky enough to chance upon one of the town's annual celebrations featuring local sardines or pane nero and tomatoes.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ancient Unmissable Selinunte...

If you're ever in the vicinity of Selinunte, don't miss-out on a visit to the magnificent site of the largest archaeological ruins in Europe. Built by the Carthaginians, the temples are known only by initials and range from the impressive, relatively-recent reconstruction, to those that remain just as they fell.

One of the rare beauties of the site is that you are able to explore as and where you wish, without barriers or out-of-bounds limits.

If you're feeling fit, enjoy your explorations on foot but bear in mind the vast scale of the site and the high gradient you'll climb. At most times of the year, you'll also need to ensure you have sufficient sun protection due to the open exposure and strength of the bounteous Sicilian sun.

For those with less than desirable fitness levels, all aspects of the wondrous site can still be enjoyed, by taking a seat on one of the 'chauffeured' snaking tourist buggies that will provide access to all areas.

Another way to visit is to book a guided tour (many languages available), or to use the recorded version. Or, just explore and take-in the bounty, at your own pace and leisure. Allow a good couple of hours; if you need a rest during your exploration there are quite plentiful benches with a selection of wondrous panoramic views throughout the site.

The loo, located towards the highest point of the site is not only impressively clean but also must qualify for the facility with one of the world's most magnificent outlooks.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wonders of Erice - the great and the small...

The perfect way to get the full perspective on the splendours of magnificent, mediaevel Erice is to buy the one day pass - for five euros - that will allow you access to all the churches and the museum.

I instantly fell for the beautiful, ancient church floor ceramics and thought how divine they would look replicated in my ideal home...

Climbing onwards and upwards, through the town, we reached the pinnacle - above the clouds - and gasped at the awe-inspiring views and serene beauty of the Torri Pepoli (the breathtaking 4 star hotel you see in the photo...)

After reveling in the glorious views, we descended the tranquil cobbled streets to continue our church visits. I couldn't help but smile at the middle-aged cherubs adorning the beautiful image of Madonna and Child.

Further inside, I discovered the exquisite fragment - in impeccable condition - of gold-embroidered 17th century cloth.

We were too busy wandering and enjoying to stop for lunch but we finally took a reviving refreshment break for a delicious caffe and spuntino; I couldn't resist one of the local speciality dolce - an exquisite dark-chocolate encased, almond-shaped, maraschino and almond paste delectably sweet treat. Unmissable but so squisito that it escaped my camera's view...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The quiet pleasures of Castelvetrano

Picture the scene, early October, the sun is shining infusing the town with a perfectly temperate 30 degrees. You've just enjoyed a deliciously healthy lunch of the freshest grilled local fish preceded by a colourful antipasti platter.

Contented and comfortably replete, you chance upon a delightful garden square with a refreshingly soothing fountain cascading in the centre. For company there are the local wise men, of a certain age, whiling away a happy hour with a post-prandial smoke and a chat. This was my last afternoon in Sicily earlier this month, partly spent in this pretty and tranquil garden in the centre of unspoilt Castelvetrano.

Leaving the pretty square I headed further up into the town, enjoying the sleepy streets, admiring the gentle green curves of the duomo ahead.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I've been away...

... in case you hadn't noticed! Happy to be back... with apologies to all my lovely blogisphere friends for my lengthy disappearance! A lot has been happening; I won't subject you to the full saga but I have to tell you about my lovely trip to Sicily. Davvero bellissima!

My first real holiday in two-and-a-half years (no violin required); well worth waiting for and, perhaps, all the better after such a long time without a break that lasted more than a mere couple of days.

In late September, I flew into capital Palermo; it all started in friendly-style when the curly-headed, bronzed policeman at Passport Control welcomed me, asking where I was staying and for how long, the purpose of my visit and... "do you have a boyfriend?" (in italiano). It made me smile, especially as I didn't feel at my most beautiful-best after a scant one-and-a-half hours sleep, prior to a ridiculously early flight.

The beautiful drive to the hotel broadened my smile and kept me wide-awake as I took-in and admired the gorgeous panoramic scenery: verdant hills, a backdrop of mountains, views down to a calm azure sea, pretty pale-ochre villages and dramatic hill-top ruins.

The photo above shows one of the most dramatic and unmissable sights: the mediaevel, stone-built elevated town of Erice.

I'll be back to regale you with some more, very soon... promise!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grey Beauty aka Winter Inspiration

I just rediscovered my photo, taken a couple of years ago in Bella Venezia, in January. Grey - yes; a thing of beauty and inspiration, definitely!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chichester travelogue: Pallant House Gallery

Photo credit: Susie MacMurray from

I'd been looking forward to my visit to the prestigious Gulbenkian award-winning (2007) Pallant House, for a long while. Arriving at the elegant exterior, mid-way down a charming characterful street, I wasn't disappointed at my first view.

Armed with my floor plan, I went upstairs, starting in the historic collections. One of the most impressive sights, in the first room, was the gilded bronze bust of Charles I, created by Hubert le Sueur, in 1637. As I progressed through the rooms, I was intrigued to notice chic leather chairs with strategically placed pine cones (not for artistic reasons but to prevent the temptation for visitors to rest on them).

Moving out of the historic collections, I came upon the striking original (walnut?) staircase, contrastingly complemented by Nina Saunders amazing velvet fabric creations. I had to smile when I noticed her limited edition (of 50) velvet dustpan: Mr William Morris' Pan for the Application of Utilitarian Cleaning available to order, for the sum of £360. I also loved Susie MacMurray's highly inventive After 'Shell' with mussel shells and deep red velvet dramatically combining to form unusual but exquisite tulips.

Speaking with the empassioned guides, I learnt that much of the collection had been donated by Walter Hussey, former Dean of Chichester Cathedral, in 1981, on condition that it be made available for public view. Charles Kearley's remarkable bequest (1988) contributes the mainstay of prominent European masterpieces in the collection.

The highlights for me, were varied and many, including: Antony Gormley's simple elegant, stunning mild steel rod sculpture Trajectory Field III (2002, on loan); Richard Hamilton's Swingeing London (sic), a 1967 piece depicting the hand-cuffed Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser as they were driven away after a drugs raid; Eileen Agar's simply beautiful Italian Girl (1927); Julian Trevelyan's Absentee Pig (1943); George Bracque's stunning, vivid blue The Bird (1949); Salvador Dali's hot-hued Hawaii Suite II (1973).

I loved the temporary Lee Miller and Friends exhibit (runs until 29th March '09) packed with wonderfully evocative and iconic photography (taken mostly in the 1940s and '50s), including everyday moments shared with Pablo Picasso and his family and Jean Cocteau.

Chichester travelogue: Cloisters Restaurant (@ the Cathedral)

After a serene and inspirational visit to the wonderful Cathedral, on a drizzly weekday lunchtime, it was a welcome sight to find the recently restored Cloisters restaurant, adjacent to the Cathedral shop.

There was a great choice of hot dishes - including a good range of filled baked potatoes with salad, a traditional roast with all-the-works and pan-fried 'catch-of-the-day' Mediterranean style (mackerel again - must be very well-caught in the vicinity)... Also a decent serve-yourself salad bar, fresh home-made soup and a plethora of snacks (sweet and savoury). I opted for a colourful and well-cooked selection of roasted veg (might not sound exciting but they were delicious and perfectly hit the spot) at just £1.50, for a generous bowl.

The atmosphere is cosy and attractive with plenty of light pouring-in (even on a relatively dull day) and a very pleasant outlook on the gardens and ancient stone walls. Staff were friendly, helpful and efficient (tables were cleared rapidly for those who were waiting). There was a congenial buzz with contented visitors of all ages - from toddlers to senior citizens, students and ladies who lunch. Essentially self-service, although if your dish requires lengthier preparation (eg a toastie) you'll be given a numbered paddle and it will be delivered to your table when it's ready.

Recommended for price, quality, atmosphere, and taste...

Chichester travelogue: Chichester Cathedral

Oh, the wonders of Chichester Cathedral! It's extraordinary; since 1108, it has been a remarkable presence. As soon as I entered through the doors, warmly greeted by the two duty volunteers, I felt the serenity of the ancient site embrace me.

I discovered that there are over 500 volunteers - such is the affection that the Cathedral is held in, reflecting its unique status. Those I encountered were passionate about their role and contribution, and the privilege they felt to be able to work in such a splendid place.

My highlights - other than the overall experience - were the magnificent rich-hued (almost glowing) stained-glass window created by Marc Chagall (based on Psalm 150 and commissioned by Dean Walter Hussey in 1978), the beautiful fragment of 2nd century Roman Mosaic - now under glass - (re-discovered in 1966) and the exquisite Lady Chapel (in the process of restoration) with its impressive red-and-blue line detailing and sublime green-and-white ceiling. Also the richly vibrant Piper Tapestry (at the High Altar) which was woven in France (created in 1966) making a remarkably thought-provoking impact in its modernism - contrasting (positively) with its ancient setting.

As my visit was coming to a close I was surprised to notice, close to the exit, that composer (and former choirmaster at St Paul's School) Gustav Holst was buried there, in 1934. I was also charmed to read the collection of enthusiastic letters from young (primary school) visitors who treasured their special Cathedral experience.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Chichester travelogue: The Place Bar and Grill

There are several routes into the Bar and Restaurant; it has its own independent access to the side of North Street and two entrances within the Ship Hotel. Enter through the main hotel door and, to your left, you're greeted by the welcoming sight of a roaring log fire (in winter!) alongside inviting squashy sofas in modern neutral tones. Walk past, or through, the bar and you're in the spacious, airily stylish restaurant.

I chose to sit in the strikingly attractive, subtly-lit conservatory, looking onto the quiet side street. The Lloyd Loom (style) seating was both chic and comfortable.

I opted for the evening two-course table d'hote menu, at £10. My starter of fresh grilled sardine was inventively filled with ricotta and accompanied by green salad; it was light, tasty and the perfect size for an appetiser. I wasn't sure about my main of pan-fried mackerel when I ordered it but it proved to be deeply-delicious, packed with flavour, as fresh as could be, complemented by crushed new potatoes, black olive, fresh tomato concassé and salad leaves. (Note to self: "must try to recreate at home"...) The busy staff provided excellent, efficient service and remained smiling and attentive throughout.

Chichester travelogue: The Ship Hotel

In spite of extensive recent interior refurbishments, this attractive Grade II Georgian listed building is in keeping with its surroundings and retains a smart presence. With rooms on three floors, take the stairs and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the elegant sweeping 18th century Adam staircase; on the walls - of the first floor - you'll discover memorabilia dating back to the time of the original owner, Admiral George Murray, who served with Nelson.

Bedrooms are sympathetically restored, with an unobtrusive modern touch, in warm neutral tones. There's a flat-screen TV on the wall, comfy chairs to relax in, a good supply of quality wooden hangers (although only wall hooks, rather than a closed wardrobe) to hang your clothes on and a sleek, efficient kettle together with tea and coffee supplies to prepare hot drinks with.

The bathroom is simple and white, comfortable enough (and very clean) with courtesy (ginseng-enriched) products. Rooms still use a traditional key system and have a name as well as a number. I was concerned that sounds from the (quite noisy) old-fashioned, gate-style, lift might be intrusive but happily that wasn't the case. Views from my window (at the back of the hotel) were of buildings and the car park with verdant hills in the distance.

Reception staff were efficient, smiling, helpful, welcoming and obliging. Well-deserved of its three star rating; decent value (even better if you get a special offer deal) and a very pleasant, convenient place to stay in the centre of Chichester and for access to other parts of West Sussex.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A change is as good as a rest...

It's been quite a while since I had a break, so I decided it was time for a short trip. I found a brilliant offer at the 3 star, Grade II-listed Ship Hotel in Chichester, so my destination was decided. At just a short train journey out (from the edge) of London, it was practical enough to do in a day-and-a-half. I packed a lot in... and returned refreshed and de-stressed.

If you're tempted to visit the old walled West Sussex city, I especially recommend Chichester Cathedral, the award-winning Pallant House Gallery and the independent shops in and around North and South streets.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Greatness is never a given"...

Is there a good person who can fail to have been moved, impressed to the core and deeply inspired by today's momentous events? Phew! Obama may have inherited the most hellish of in-trays but his stunningly inspirational and captivating Inaugural Speech was delivered so fluently and lyrically (what greater contrast with his predecessor) that only the hard-hearted won't have been touched by it. I confess that I sat riveted with tears (of happiness tinged with poignancy) trailing down my cheeks...

From the moment the new President started speaking - along with the record-breaking masses standing in the Mall - I was transfixed and captivated. He spoke not only to Americans but to all citizens of the world.

From "our patchwork heritage is our strength, not a weakness" to "common humanity shall reveal itself" to the emphasis on "what you can build not what you can destroy" and "...also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate" by way of the "errors of greed and irresponsibility", he truly is a man after my own heart.

"Mutual respect" should be bywords for all decent individuals. I hope that his intention to "extend a hand if you are willing to unclench the fist" will not fall on closed ears where much of its intended audience is concerned.

Extraordinary, as he stated, that "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath". I hope that his mother, along with the admirable and unforgettable Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, were smiling down on him and that he will succeed in fulfilling his good intentions...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Out with the old - in with the new....

The aforementioned 57-year-old youngster, behind the blue plaque, on the Thames towpath...

The Half Mile Tree

Another riverside wander and a new discovery... I was intrigued, while walking along the towpath, recently. Heading towards Teddington from Kingston, approximately mid-way between the two, I noticed a blue sign and a fenced-off tree.

Not the most beautiful tree in the world, perhaps, but thought-provoking to read the history behind it. As the plaque states, it was the site of an ancient elm (500 years old) that sadly had to be removed in 1951. The following year it was replaced by another (today, a mere youngster - in relative terms - at just 57 years old). An interesting landmark, worth looking-out for, en route to Teddington Weir...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Surbiton Sunset

Even in the most banal of (suburban) settings, it's possible to encounter a beautiful surprise. So it was recently - one of the advantages of the clear frozen weather - that I experienced this gloriously pink-tinged sunset. Taken on my (old-ish) mobile phone, it's still a satisfying photo (unlike some of my other blurry blog-featured examples!).

Any recommendations for a good affordable camera? Where's your favourite (or most surprising) sunset?

Stuart Heydinger - a Moving Inspiration

You know how it is, there's an exhibition that you find out is opening and you earmark to view. Then, you suddenly realise it's about to end! So it was for me with these photographs.

Happily, I realised before it was too late, that I had a couple of days left to get in and view the works. I'm so thrilled that I did. It was quiet when my friend and I met here (with just one other person present in the gallery) so we were able to view the images closely and to our hearts content. The collection ranged in date from the late 1950s to the 1980s - all black-and-white - for me, they conveyed more than a thousand words often could.

They range from the iconic (well-known portraits of John F Kennedy and Winston Churchill) to tear-jerkingly historic moments in time (child victims of starvation in Biafra - 1968) and devastated locals affected by the earthquake in Skopje (1963). Studies of residents participating in everyday market life in South Western France also made insightful viewing.

We learnt that the collection has been gifted to the Museum; although they won't remain on permanent show, the photographs will be available to view, on request. If you get the chance to see or discover Heydinger's work - don't hesitate!

Sign of the times...

Even as an optimist, it's not always easy to remain smiling in the current climate (and I'm not just referring to the freeezing weather). I know I mentioned the departure of Woolworths, a little while back, but it hit me again how sadly strange it felt to walk past their large and now non-trading store, in the midst of Kingston's attractive market square.

Then, wandering a little further along the town into Thames Street, I had a shock... the windows of my favourite tea and coffee emporium were emblazoned with closing-down signs. I went-in, to find out more, and discovered their wonderful manager, as delightful as ever, but in a downbeat mood as she had only heard the news that morning. Ringtons has been a quality, specialist family-run business for over a century; now, sadly, they have decided the time has come for them to shut-down their stores. Happily though, they will still be trading via their website.

For the twenty minutes or so I spent in the shop browsing, shopping and chatting to their lovely (super-efficient and totally charming) manager, the shop was packed-out with curious, enthusiastic and keen shoppers.

The same day, I also learnt that I have lost all my regular sources of freelance work, too... I hope your year has started in a more positive way!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Almost a repeat...

Like many of us, when I find something pleasurable, I just have to go back and do it again - quickly... So, I returned to Richmond on Saturday; a different route this time with another friend and her dog, through the wild beauty of Richmond Park - once more. We ended-up at the Hollyhock Café for a warming cuppa and to take-in the fab views - enhanced by the winter sunshine and capped-off by the gorgeous sunset.

It was cooold though but thankfully minus the NE wind... Little Joe (the cocker spaniel) enjoyed it, too (relatively patiently) and was happy to lap-up the bowl of water placed outside, especially for him and his four-legged friends. I relished my big mug of warming cappuccino with soya milk.

After I left my friend (and Joe), I went to visit another friend, not far away, then I treated myself to a take-out sushi roll, at Atari-Ya, (recommended for quality, taste, value and friendliness!). It was only when I got home and saw my reflection, that I took-in the full horror of the cappuccino 'mono-brow' that had impressed itself above my nose (courtesy of the large coffee mug's generous brim) - aaargh! How embarrassing - why didn't anyone tell me!?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hello to 2009!

Hello lovely people, how has your year started? Well, I hope... Mine started relatively gently with a coooold (and calm) day catching-up close-to-home. You know how it is, there were those household things that just had to be sorted, and well... it seemed like a good idea to start the year in an orderly way - no procrastinating! So, there was my exciting first day of the New Year - the walk and visit I had planned (potentially) to Kew Gardens (offering free entry, for the day, in celebration of their 250th anniversary) were abandoned as the friend I was planning to meet (and I) both felt a touch weary and the sky was unalluringly grey. So... tidying and sorting took precedence and Happy New Year messages were sent by email, text and through chatting on the 'phone.

Friday started in brighter mode, so late morning I set-off for a brisk(-ish) six mile walk through Richmond Park, well wrapped-up in my good-old quilted black Ghost coat and MBTs, to fight-off the chill north-easterly wind. Although the bright skies didn't remain for long, it was still a lovely (if bracing) walk, on the wild(-ish) side.

In Richmond, I met with my friend (postponed from Thursday) and we had a good, happy wander through the scenic streets (rather distracted by all the shops). I was relatively restrained (although I confess to succumbing to a few little temptations at Neal's Yard Remedies and Maison - in spite of my strictly virtuous intentions). Neal's Yard's half-price Neroli gift set and Rose & Pomegranate Foaming Bath were too good to resist...

Still, I left most of the extravagance to my friend and enjoyed watching (and helping) her shop... We took a break on wonderful Richmond Green and enjoyed a warming coffee (for me) and hot chocolate (for my friend). I won't go into the amusing story of how we hunted, for half-an-hour, for one cashmere, fingerless glove that she thought she had lost... only to find - after we had retraced our steps (twice) - was neatly rolled-back on her wrist...

Happy 2009 - whatever adventures you have in store...