trying to get back a bit of normality….

I cant believe that its been 6 months since all this strangeness commenced…..  life is not back to normal, but at least you can go and do a few things to enlighten and inspire……  it does take a bit of organisation though, booking tickets to the Tate and Royal Academy can be difficult to get dates that you want, but its worth just planning ahead and put it in your diary.   Warhol and Beardsley are both interesting and yet so different.  I didn’t  know much about Beardsley, and found him fascinating – he sadly died at 25 years old with TB, but in his short life, he produced so much work, so detailed and monochromatic, but beautiful to look at.  Beardsley worked on lots of books, and so they are quite ‘fairy tale ‘ and mythological.   Leon Spilliaert is somebody new to me, again very illustrative and quite ‘dark’ in his outlook, lots of landscapes.  I really enjoyed learning about 2 new artists.  I have already booked ahead for Gauguin  and the Impressionists and Tracy Emin and Edvard Munch.   I don’t usually have a Royal Academy membership, but I bought one earlier in the year to visit Picasso exhibition and if you go more than 3 times a year, it does make it worth it.    The one good thing about Covid is that you can finally visit an exhibition and have space and time to see the paintings, without feeling rushed and crowded And it does take you away from real life and you can feel inspired and enjoy the wonders of art.

 

tea towels

i cant seem to keep my tea towels clean, even with bleaching – so i have decided that its easier to buy cheaper tea towels and then throw them away when they look  so stained and terrible;  which means all my lovely vintage linen goes into a box and replaced with the functional, simple cotton with blue/red stripe teatowels or their value 10 pack from dennys . if you go into the shop you can buy them singularly, but these are so affordable and look great in any kitchen.

other great choices are of course ikea and kempton market where clever stall holders take the time to make them out of old rolls of linen;  the market is usually on the 2nd and last tuesday of every month.

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fashion illustration

I have always loved fashion drawings, especially those from the 1940’s and 50’s and tonight I watched a live masterclass through the wonderful Gray MCA gallery, who arranged a live Q and A with the illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer and a  film recording in which Gladys executes 4 large scale drawings for you live.  It was fascinating to see her at work, using several different mediums, she swiftly and confidently drew images from the collections of Alexander McQueen, which she captured with such accuracy in her lively individual style.  Gladys’ drawings are so full of life, movement and capture the mood and flavour of the clothes and design.  They are more painterly and she herself says her biggest influence is Toulouse Lautrec  and you can definitely see this.   Gray MCA are worth following as they have so many interesting exhibitions and events.

I am not a big fan of everything going through the computer, but in this case, it opens up a great opportunity for everyone around the world to join and watch together and learn from these great masters.  you can watch again on Vimeo.

also interesting is the  documentary film about McQueen  its a wonderfully moving tribute to the designer – emotional and very interesting it follows the rise of the designer Alexander McQueen and proves what a creative inspirational mind he had.  I remember seeing the show ‘savage beauty’ and thinking how beautiful the clothes were, each one an art piece.   the film follows its thread through his collections, which are all art pieces – the stories, the themes – all show an eclectic brilliant mind.

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plums

plums are in season at the moment and are a good source of vitamin C and although they taste sweet, apparently dont spike your sugar levels; if you are lucky enough to have a plum tree, then this is the time to make plum jam,  i just discovered that there is a plum tree at the end of my suffolk garden…..

Plum Jam

1.5 kilos plums
500 g   3:1 jam sugar (for 3 parts fruit to 1 part jam sugar)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 cloves
1 vanilla bean
1 glug lemon juice. (ie 2 tablespoons)

Wash the plums. Take stones out and cut. (I cut every half in 2-3 pieces)
Mix fruit, juice, sugar and spices (vanilla bean scratched out but adding the outside too).

Slowly bring to a boil. Boil heavily for 3 minutes (according to sugar package).

Fill into sterilized jars – discarding vanilla bean and other spices.  (an easy way is to wrap in muslin so making it easy to remove)

 

corn moon

tonight is the last full moon of the summer  known as the ‘corn moon’ – so called because it signals the time when corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice – the chief indian staples are ready for gathering.  it should be full for around 3 days, so try and look out for it.  here is the full moon on the Padstow estuary – its the view from my friends’ house and the last photo is actually taken tonight.

This full Moon corresponds to the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival. The seventh month of the Chinese calendar is the Ghost Month and the fifteenth day of this month (a full Moon day) is called Ghost Day, on which ghosts and spirits, including those of deceased ancestors, come out to visit the living.

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a farewell

So we lay my mother at rest a few weeks ago with a spiritual Chinese ceremony; I never thought that I would do this, but for some reason, lockdown with time to reflect and think, urged me to acknowledge our Chinese heritage and arrange something that I remember that she herself had done for her 2nd partner. Of course it was a lot more difficult with social distance and the limit of guests, but it really was a beautiful day.

So I have learned a lot about Chinese traditions and superstitions whilst arranging my mother’s funeral.  strangely I haven’t really lived a very Chinese life, but I have grown up listening to my mother and her strange ramblings and phrases, and now I am understanding where they originated from and what they mean.

we decided to use Chinese funeral directors, partly as they were recommended by the community centre that my mother visited twice a week – a social centre run for the ‘Older people’ in the Chinese community, providing a place for them to go and meet other friends, play Mah Jong, do a bit of Tai Chi, where they basically feel that they are still part of a community.  Manchester has quite a big Chinese population, so there seems to be a ‘Chinese everything’ from hairdressers, solicitors to funeral directors.

The service started like any traditional funeral in the chapel with an introduction, prayer and words of thanks, but then we moved to the graveside, where we lay out a folding table, put a photograph of our mother on it, a bowl of her favourite food (noodles and veg in this case), and incense sticks which we all in turn lit and put into a sand bowl. we burned bullions of paper money, folded to increase the wealth, which gave my mother funds to start her new life.  we also had a travel document made with the name of her home village in China, so that if she decided to travel home, she has the permission document to do this – again this was burned.   In her coffin, we all left letters and gifts, and when the coffin was lowered into the earth, we all had to turn our backs and not look at this moment, but once the coffin was below ground, we three children were asked to check that the coffin was in straight and that we were happy with the way it looked.  the photograph and the flowers were buried along with the coffin, which means you don’t actually see the flowers.  Also as I am  the married daughter it is traditional to lay a blanket or cloth on the body, but as my mother loved to wear silk headscarves, I gave a silk handkerchief –  this all adds to her comfort for her journey.   When deciding on the rituals, we were offered pages and pages of paper replicas of computers, iPhones, food to have made and put in the coffin…..  apparently people choose the deceased’s  favourite things to remind them of their fruitful life.

There is some strange Chinese 3 year tradition that you shouldn’t celebrate anything after the death of a close relative, but to neutralise this superstition, the females of the family wear a flower clip and the males wear a black ribbon.  at the end of the ceremony, you throw your clip and ribbon into a firebowl, and then you step over the bowl with its flames.  This now means you only have to wait 100 days, rather than the 3 years.  I try to tell myself that superstitions are not for real, but once you know about them, it’s hard to ignore them and so we did follow a few of the suggestions  – I know that my mother would have wanted this and it all makes for an easy passing to the new life.

we even managed to have a traditional wake lunch, which consisted of 7 courses, the first being a sweet soup – the sweet after the bitter. the courses again were chosen to avoid certain foods, like beef, melon.  I am not sure of why, but again we obeyed the rules.

It was all very interesting and made for a very memorable and special celebration of my mother’s life.  we were very lucky that we were allowed 20 people at the funeral, I know its been such a difficult time in history  to organise a funeral and I feel so sorry for those who couldn’t even attend their own beloved’s farewell.  I feel fortunate that we had the small window of more freedom, just before the north locked down again.

of course there are lots of interpretations of funerals and traditions, and now people are turning to more modern ways, but I feel it was a wonderful memorial and enabled me to learn more about the Chinese and their customs.

Why I love this photo of my mother and my children, is because it reminds me of her strength and determination to be independent and self sufficient in both her life as mother and wage earner. Her smile is what I will always remember – even after her stroke and then recently her dementia, she would always smile. I now realise that I have taken her desire to forgo the male dominated Chinese culture and hence all the women in our family are the most vocal and dominant.

 

majorelle blue

the Majorelle gardens are painted with this amazing blue – it reminds me of the lovely  casa polopa hotel  with its beautiful stencilled walls and also of the frida kahlo house.   you can try the majorelle blue paint from bristol paints – it would indeed be a bold statement to paint one of your walls or your garden this intense shade of blue.  stencilling is another lovely idea to try – if it looks really terrible, paint it in and start again in another colour!

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visit the beautiful jardin majorelle in marrakesh,  originally landscaped by Jacques Majorelle, the gardens opened in 1947 to the public, but after his death in the 60’s, the gardens were acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge who kept up its existence and enchanting condition.   it truly is a tropical paradise with its water lily ponds, intense blue and exotic plants.

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For an offbeat travel experience in the Mexico City area, you really must consider this visit to the Museo Frida Kahlo in Coyoacan. Hidden behind high cobalt blue walls at the corner of Londres and Allende in this charming southwestern suburb, the museo is where the surrealist artist Frida Kahlo was born, grew up and later lived with her muralist husband Diego Rivera, from 1941 until her death at age 47 in 1954. Fascinating not only for the collections and personal effects of the two great artists it contains, the museum also affords a window on the lifestyles of affluent Mexican bohemians during the first half of this century.  its a long time since i have been back to mexico, but this will be high on my list again.

iris

every week i seem to have a favourite flower –  basically i think that i love all flowers – white irises remind me of the wings of a dove – apparently  the white iris symbolises purity and kindness; in Japan, it is believed that the Iris flower has the power to purify the body and protect the household from disease and evil.  for me, all flowers have the wonderful tool to change emotions, stir calm and emotion – they are natures w o n d e r.

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green

THE dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between.

She opened her eyes, and green
They shone, clear like flowers undone
For the first time, now for the first time seen.

D.H. Lawrence

 

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a little jaunt

so from Hampshire, we made our way to Bath – always a handsome city to arrive in, with its rolling hills, sandstone houses with chimney pots rising up in all directions – it really is one of the most intact architectural cities in the UK.  we managed to get 2 nights at the Royal Crescent Hotel, which is in the middle of the most spectacular crescent of Georgian houses with park in front.  its not cheap, but if you consider it includes breakfast, use of spa and parking in the middle of Bath.  To be perfectly honest, trying to book at short notice in the middle of August when there are flying restrictions does not give you a lot of choice……  anyhow, it really is a real treat and you can walk easily into town.  Remember during this strange time, you have to book everything in advance, including museum entries, swimming slots, breakfast…..   takes some getting used to.  we still didnt manage to get to the Pump Rooms to see the Roman baths, as all the slots were gone.  we did manage to get to the American Museum which is about 15 mis out of town, but again the house tours were booked up until later in the day, which meant staying around for 4 hours, so I sadly missed the quilts that were highly recommended, but did see the  1930’s exhibition of dresses and walk around the lovely gardens.  I have to admit, we have walked round so many gardens, my poor husband was kind of losing his will to walk…… I now realise why gardens are full of women……

We then visited Frome, which we had heard so much about from friends.  its an old historic town – famous for its street markets, and bigger than I anticipated, with a couple of long winding streets full of independent shops from makers and craftspersons.  it was so refreshing not to see the chain coffee shops and high street chains.   I noticed  the lovely flower shop Bramble and Wild and we had a spot of quick lunch at the Garden Cafe, which also had its own health food shop next door.  Back in Bath, it was quite sad to see  a lot of empty shopfronts, and shops not opening except from Thurs to Sat, so it really is a big change to life before lockdown.  there are a few good museums to see though, The Fashion Museum, the Holbein and last time were in Bath, we visited no 1 the royal crescent, a restored georgian house that allows you to see how the houses would have been furnished at the time they were built – very interesting!  there are lots of well informed assistants in each room who are completely knowledgeable about the history of all the artefacts and period.   for a change we ate at Yak Yeti Yak, a Nepalese restaurant  – which was actually very good and made even better when we got the bill as they, like the Royal Crescent Hotel were taking part in the government’s new scheme for August of half price food up to £20 per bill.   Sometimes we take for granted the wealth of choice of ethnic food in London…..

so the last stop of our little jaunt was Dorset, under 2 hours from Bath, we actually passed Kilver Court, the outlet shop in Shepton Mallet – fortunately it was not open, apparently Thursday to Monday, but if you are in the area, it looked pretty good with Toast, Paul Smith, Rapha to name a few…..  we arrived at our final destination Beaminster, which is a pretty little village about 5 miles from the coast.  Remember we had to find places with about 4 days notice, so most places were fully booked.  We were recommended the Ollerod, which is a restaurant and pub/hotel – I highly recommend the restaurant, excellent food, the room is very overpriced, but I am guessing that Covid times is not offering the same service as before.   we drove out to Abbotsbury, a truly beautiful village going back 6000 years,  with St. Catherine’s chapel on the hill, old church and a swannery.  which we did go and see first thing in the morning – sadly they don’t feed them publicly like they used to do, which means they are less active – but still a lovely sight to see so many swans together.  we had a sandwich in the tea rooms gardens close to the church and then drove to Chesil Beach, which is a striking 18 mile long beach.  if you take the road that leads to the  Subtropical gardens, at the end of the road is a car park right by the beach.  we also stopped by another section of Chesil beach, which was easy to park, and had a restaurant bar on the front, The Club House   in west Bexington.  The amazing stretch of beach is worth the drive along the rolling sea road, such a different landscape to the flatter Suffolk.

A definite must is the drive up to Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, both very popular sites, but stunning – and at this time of year, I would advise going early in the morning.  note that you have to do a fair bit of walking up hill to see Durdle door, and in the heat of the day, this can be hard work.  you must remember to take your swimming costumes, as Durdle Door is so serene and enticing and worth the walk to plunge into the sea, which is so calm due to it being a cove.  our favourite place to eat lunch is the Seaside Boarding House –  with views right onto the sea, and if you walk right over the top of the cliff and down to Freshwater Bay, then turn back onto yourself along the seafront, you will find a vast empty beach flanked by high fossil cliffs, even on a hot balmy day in August.  Again, it needs a bit of walking and climbing, but worth it.    We had our last swim there!  Remember you must reserve restaurants in advance these days.  if you can book the seaside Boarding house to stay, this would be your perfect base to visit all these places, sadly it was booked up for our stay, but its on our list to book in Autumn.    we made our way home the scenic route, via Stonehenge – I am always amazed that the traffic always slows down at this point to view the stones from the road.   it probably took us 4 hours to get home though, so you probably have to stay a minimum of 3 nights to make it worth it.   We would definitely visit Dorset again, but I would suggest out of the July and August months would be much nicer and less busy.  what was important at this time of year, is Dorset felt safe, most people taking social distance and sanitation seriously.   so support our English countryside.