barbara hepworth

rainy days are made for visiting museums – go and see the beautiful marble and carved sculptures of barbara hepworth at tate britain;  shown alongside her partner ben nicholson’s paintings, the exhibition is very enjoyable – the only drawback is that you want to touch and feel them – they are so tactile. it is now high on my list of things to do to visit -the barbara hepworth sculpture park in wakefield;  not forgetting the yorkshire sculpture park, which i have visited – apparently you can do both parks in one day.

closer to home, you can also go and see the wonderful sculptures of henry moore in perry green – its a lovely day out.

i ventured to epping a couple of years ago, didnt realise that the end of the central line could be so pretty – our lovely friend Lyn (who incidentally sends me so much information on what to do in london – she is a busy cultured soul) –  lives in a cute little cottage there and invited us for lunch followed by a scenic drive to Henry Moore  in Perry Green.  it was so peaceful and pleasurable walking around the grounds seeing all the sculptures and Moore’s workshops



the sculptures are placed all around the estate, some you catch glimpses through holes in the greenery;  the sculptures themselves are breathtaking in scale and very tactile. its definitely an interesting day for children, both young and grown up.  unfortunately by the time we arrived, the house where he lived was already fully booked, so its a good idea to reserve in advance – it just means that i now have a good reason to come back again.

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films on planes

i love to travel, but i hate to physically travel – maybe one day there will be an easier way, but even with all this on line precheck on, choose your seats before you board,  carry on only and go straight through to security – its still always a long lengthy and stressful process.  i now use the time for long haul flights to either catch up on my reading, or viewing films – which is exactly what i did this time.  i managed to watch a few films that i missed, ‘Dior and I’ – a fascinating insight into the high couture fashion world – loved the dresses that Raf Simons created – but what intense pressure…….

x + y is about a borderline autistic teenager with brilliant maths ability – interesting character studies, especially by Sally Hawkins who played the mother.  i am also embarrassed to admit that i watched ‘fifty shades of grey’ – intrigued by the fact that sam taylor johnson, who i respect highly agreed to direct it – please dont even waste your time.



Culturally, just walking around is all you need to do, but its always hot from 11am to 5pm, so you need to find cool places to go – the museum of the Revolution is great as is the Bellas Artes which is housed in an amazing 60’s building. Walk along the Malecon on an early evening, it’s the road that runs along the sea front, its where all the locals hang out, fishermen,  families, lovers, musicians, it catches the evening breeze and runs from the old town to Verdado.  Soak in the atmosphere with barbecued food from one of the many shacks that are aimed more for the locals.

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Modernisation has certainly come to Havana – there is an old warehouse up in the suburbs by the docks which has turned into an arts house music venue – its mainly for young people, but we didn’t feel too out of place – Fabrica de Arte Cubano has live theatre, video installations, art, sculpture, food bars and is all very cheap .  on a weekend its frequented by all the young locals and apparently after midnight turns into a dance and music venue too. We ate beforehand in Cocinero, which is alongside Fabrica  de Arte in the same building, on the lovely roof terrace under an avocado tree.

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Its easy to hail taxis in the street, and more than often they will be the classic 50’s style cars – agree a price before you get in – as it can vary greatly. It seems that the pristine cars with smart driver are double the price, as well as the open top ones.   For short distances hop into the little yellow coco taxis – kids loved that, but generally its lovely to walk and if you get onto the malecon, you will always be able to find your bearings.

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There isn’t much to buy in Havana, except rum and cigars – but there is a big warehouse full of handicrafts right by the seafront, just a short walk down from the old town – we bought a string hammock, and some carved wooden spoons. Next door is a brewery that makes its own beer – its also a great spot to sit, cool down and take a bite to eat – aimed at both locals and tourists it’s a calm spot to relax.

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We stayed at the Saratoga, an old colonial style hotel which is perfectly situated for the old town, the malecon and then a short taxi ride to Verdado where the hotel nacional and all the 1960’s buildings are.   The Saratoga has a lovely rooftop swimming pool with great views of the city and is a breezy haven in the heat after a day of sightseeing.  There are lots of hotels to stay in, Hotel Florida in the old town looks good, the nacional is a government run hotel which is famous for its gardens overlooking the malecon and the sea and has hosted an array of celebrities in its past – its very bustling and commercial, but has all the nightlife of live music right there in its gardens. But our favourite has to be the hotel Riviera with its immaculate 50’s interior. It was the last of the hotels to be built by the mafia in its heyday and still retains all its design features – its not in such a handy area, but with transport so easy and not too expensive, it’s a very affordable stylish place to stay expecially if you love  50’s vintage furniture.

tatton park

my talented green fringe red friend Laura Arison is showing her garden design that she did for Maggie’s Cancer Charity at the northern equivalent of chelsea flower show – at Tatton Park.   so a few of us spontaneously decided to visit her – and especially as it was her birthday.  typically that particular day decided to team down with rain!  its not as glamorous as chelsea, but i managed to buy a few plants for my mother, surprise her with a quick visit and purchase a copper wire basket, which I am going to use as a wastepaper bin from my favourite shop Moth in didsbury.   its the last day tomorrow at Tatton Park and you can probably get lots of plants cheap – i did notice that the prices were at least half the price of the ones on offer at chelsea.

elise and I ate lunch on chorlton green, which is now the hot spot for a la fresco dining.  there’s an outdoor mini market on the green, selling deli food, home made chocs, olives and a few gift items.  elise has lived there over 30 years and i remember there was nothing then, how areas change.

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pharmacies in havana

i was amazed to hear that the country who has offered the most help with doctors to fight this ebola crisis – is cuba – cuba is renowned for its wonderful medicine and wealth of doctors, but now i have utter admiration for its compassionate and selfless offer of treating patients . being a communist country its also a sad fact that doctors are not paid much more than other trades, so it was surprising to hear that one of our waiters was a doctor, but waiting tables to supplement his income too.

there are a few old style pharmacies left in cuba – the french pharmacy was founded in 1882, but turned into a the Pharmaceutical Museum in 1964 – medicinal herbs were processed here, which are the source of drugs.  there are beautiful medicinal jars, books and utensils – all showing the history of medications available to the public.  situated on the main shopping street, Obispo, between mercaderes and san ignacio, Havana, entrance is free and its well worth a visit;  there is also Johnson’s drug store.  like most of restored old Havana, everything seems to be a museum.  i guess that as there is nothing much to sell, then all these beautiful buildings can only serve to be museums.    you can still however buy a few basic medicines, and you can see locals choosing from the small display cabinet amongst the exhibition pieces.

there is something soothing about old pharmacies, there used to be lots in london, but they seem to be getting modernised all the time.   dont know of any old ones now with the beautiful cabinets and jars, but i did find this interesting site that hires out old pharmaceutical accessories and jars etc.   curious science, otherwise, you would have to scour the old markets like portobello to find stuff like this.   i have old chemistry bottles in my bathroom, filled with bubble bath and shampoo.

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restaurants in havana

So to end our family holiday we decided to add a bit of culture and excitement to our beach paradise; when we were planning Robert had looked on the map and thought that Cuba looked very close, but it actually is difficult to fly direct from Jamaica to Cuba, so we had to fly via Cayman Islands. Both flights were less than an hour, but with all the transit, waiting, time difference, short delay, it took well over a half day to get there. Havana is bustling, vibrant, exciting, colorful, noisy and hot! But its another world that takes you back in time; living in a materialistic modern world, its enlightening to see how simply a poor nation can live and still enjoy the simple pleasures of life – there is little to buy for the locals except the bare necessities, scarcely any running water and even toilet roll is hard to come by.

Its been over 4 years since my first visit and already there seems to be more independent paladares, – restaurants run by locals for tourists in their homes. The government has slackened its strict rules for locals and enterprise. Its an opportunity to see into the many decaying and crumbling buildings – signs of a grandeur in bygone days. The quality of the food has definitely improved, though like the rest of the world, they all seem to like a paint stroke and squiggle of sauce on the side – striving to be upmarket. Some of the restaurants that we visited were well worth a visit , the food very high quality and vary greatly in price.

Justo, Ivan Chefs is a very atmospheric room, full of old photos on the wall, food was quite good, very big portions, quite pricey; San Cristobal in San Rafael is another atmospheric space – half the price of Justo and very good quality.



La guarida is one of the original paladares that started over 20 years ago, and I think that the other restaurants are emulating their style, though now La Guarida seems to have gone quite modern, with added rooftop bar, but the food is very good and of course this is more expensive than the others. La Guarida is in one of the most amazing old colonial buildings where the main salon is now the locals’ washing line!

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El Cocinero, which is alongside Fabrica Arts in the same building, has a lovely roof terrace under an avocado tree and you can watch the sunset.



Our last dinner was another private paladar, cafe laurent on the top of a 30’s domestic block in the penthouse flat and terrace – its not a swish apartment, but the walls are lined with newspapers – the food is fairly good and has a basque feel. You must reserve all these popular restaurants in advance as they seem to be recommended by all the hotels – ask for tables on terrace with views – our hotel booked all these in advance and we definitely got a great table.  Sadly not many of these paladares are frequented by locals as they cannot afford the prices, but there are some of the government run restaurants that have equally as good food plus a mix of locals and tourists.



The government run paladars are definitely more affordable, the one we frequent is La Mina, right by the square with the booksellers – decent food and a haven to escape the lunchtime heat.

other restaurants recommended, but i haven’t personally been to are restaurant el alijibe in  mirimar,  and restaurant la esperanza .



are you always losing buttons? do you find them in the rim of the washing machine door?  or do you find that buttons are just not secured so well these days and fall of so quickly.    i now put all my lost and found buttons in a simple glass jam jar and hang it in the bathroom.  you can buy a little pack of beautiful white assorted buttons from one of the stalls in Portobello Green Market under the westway.  On a Friday morning, there are 2 haberdasher type stalls selling vintage cotton reels and ribbons, one is in the covered part of the market and the other is on the street just in front of the Cloth Shop.

you can also  find a nice selection  at  whitstable fabric and haberdashery who has everything you need to repair and update any dress, trimmings, fabrics, buttons, its what every high street should have!

for a  big choice of buttons  the button queen on marylebone lane  has an amazing choice of antique and modern buttons.    they will even cover buttons to match your garment, taking the fabric from a hem or seam.  there used to be haberdashers in every high street, but increasingly they are disappearing;  it is good to know that there are still specialist shops with something as simple  and essential as a button.