so this years birthday was spent in Edinburgh;  I can’t believe that its taken me so many years to get here.  typically my birthday fell on the first heaviest snow day in london for a few years, which meant massive disruption for travelling.  we thought it would be quicker to fly, arrive early for lunch, but instead we sat on a runway waiting for our wings to be de-iced for 5 hours and birthday lunch was a packet of crisps care off M & S.  Actually we were lucky to get there as it seems a lot of flights were cancelled.

Prestonfield House hotel came highly recommended and although its a 10 min drive from the city centre, its a sumptuously decorated old mansion with lots of communal sitting rooms to enjoy a drink and the warmth of a woodburning stove.   most of the rooms are decorated with dark rich tones and fabrics, lots of dark renaissance style paintings,  oriental style antiques  and plaid cushions, evoking the feeling of a grand old Scottish residence.  there is a good value 3 course dinner and apparently afternoon tea is very popular.  breakfast is definitely a treat in the spectacular oval rooms.

our first stop in the city was Edinburgh castle, a lovely walk up the cobbled street leading up to the castle, sharing wonderful vistas of the handsome city.  in fact whichever direction you walk, there are views of some iconic building, a steeple or church;  with a background of rows of handsome Georgian houses,  hills and the sea at one end, it really is a stunning city.   we popped into the Scottish national gallery  to view its wonderful collection of paintings, before taking a stroll to George st and having a drink in Cafe Royal, an old atmospheric pub with seafood restaurant.  there seems to be a lot of beautiful pubs, with their original interiors kept in tact, fortunately not modernised into these bland gastro pubs that we see all over now.  close by we popped into 21st century kilts with its unusual hand made kilts for men – they did do a couple for ladies, but they are all hand made to order, works of art.   we walked through to Stockbridge area, with its independent shops and cafes, making it a very village feel – you will pass rows and rows of beautifully kept Georgian houses – up and down cobbled streets, so don’t forget to wear comfy shoes.   we popped into Dicks Edinburgh, a well curated homes and clothes shop, with quality brands such as MHL, sunspot and a few other lesser known brands too.   you will find lots of knitwear and tartan shops on the royal mile area, but they are all very tourist driven and to be honest, I would give this street a fleeting look, but no need to waste your time walking along it;  instead cut down one of the many small alleys that leads to the more interesting backstreets.   there are a few outlet cashmere shops around the castle that sell gloves and scarves that make good gifts.   although the high streets are pretty much made up of the same brands as in london’s high streets, there does seems to be a lot of independent shops, which makes the city more interesting.   our last morning was spent in the two national galleries of modern art – a 20 min walk out of the centre, but set in gardens just opposite one another.  both have a good collection of works.   we ran out of time to do all of the sites, but I guess that means we can come again – its definitely a place to see once in your life.

Maude’s mince pies

when my daughter gets stressed she finds that baking is very therapeutic for her, so at the end of the evening, just as i am going to bed, she starts in the kitchen.  one Christmas morning i awoke to mince pies!  she adapted mary berry’s recipe, but added chopped apple and grated orange rind to the mincemeat, which we pre bought.  makes a lovely festive board. mincepies23Dec2014_0007 mincepies23Dec2014_0014 23Dec2014_0008


christmas houses

one of my recommendations this xmas holiday is to go to the geffrye museum – i havent been for ages, but its on my list of things to do.   its a lovely time to visit, there is an exhibition of christmas past, 400 years of seasonal traditions in english homes! its a lovely day out, combine it with a visit to the flower market on sunday, pick up your wreath and mistletoe at the same time.

for an insight into 17C london life, you must visit the fascinating dennis severs house in spitalfields. they have a special spirit for the christmas season. the 17C silkweavers house ,which was lovingly restored as a working house but in its original time, is an insight into life of that period and it certainly keeps your mind wondering. since severs has passed away the house has been beautifully maintained and continues to show in all its glory what life would have been like. – the grandeur of the wealthy, the darkness of the poor. its a museum, cum drama, cum personal collection – its just breathtaking – your eyes dart from corner to corner of each of the rooms on the 5 floors – absorbing the different scenarios, the different smells, the crackling of the open fires , the flickering of the candles- it really is a must visit. why not buy a visit for a friend – they would just love it. think of art crossed with drama.

another interesting place is the charles dickens museum – especially if you are fascinated by the writer.  there are always lots of interesting events , but usually  there are portraits of the family, the writing desk that dickens used to create his famous novels,  his personal book collection –  and even personal artefacts such as jewellery.   at this time, the house will look very festive as they are including artefacts that influenced ‘A Christmas Carol’  ; after reading his biography by Claire Tomalin my interest in dickens was born.


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candles from some of my folded photographic cards  – you can now buy them in a box all prettily wrapped in tissue paper – choose from flowers, or nature or whatever you like…..

the church in the modern age

last night we went to see Jo Harman at St Pancras old church – it was the first time that I have been inside the church and what a wonderful jewel it is.  the church dates back from 625AD and is just reeling with history.  Jo sang with just a piano and her incredible voice filled the church so beautifully and poignantly – it was a perfect setting.   I particularly love ‘silhouettes of you’ – try and see her if you can.

churches now have to be very flexible with their uses  – with high maintenance costs, they are all opening their doors to help pay the bills.  the actors church, st paul’s church, in covent garden has its own theatre company, so look out for future productions. the garden is haven in the midst of the bustle of the market .

the union chapel is quite well known for putting on concerts and live music – and what an atmospheric space to hear music in.

its lovely to walk around smithfields on a sunday when its quiet and explore – its strange how tranquil parts of london become on a weekend; but if you are there in the week, its good to visit st bartholomew the great – its a beautiful old church originating from the 12C – the cafe is open for breakfast and some evenings its open for cocktails – its very atmospheric! i saw a spectacular theatre performance there, so keep an eye out for events that go on there.

st lukes church in old street is a hawksmoor church that also holds lot of concerts and workshops, and its where the london symphony orchestra hold their rehearsals.

i first saw st barnabas church in soho recently and was taken back by this gem of a church right in the busy centre;  its attached to a member’s club now,  but non profit making aiding homeless people into work;  there is also the added benefit of a beautiful garden.

one of my favourite churches – the metropolitan cathedral in Liverpool.


vegan food

so since my daughter has gone vegan, we have had to change not only our eating habits at home as a family, but also the choice of restaurants that we visit.  it really is not easy, but slowly, it has become content aware in all places, including the supermarket, as well as cafes and restaurants  -all stating that you can ask about food intolerances and allergies and some even listing whether vegan or gluten.  however, what we have found in oriental restaurants, is that a dish may seem vegan, but then they will do something like put fish sauce into the recipe;  I guess it depends how fussy and dedicated you are to your cause.  annoyingly, my daughter is ……

anyhow, we have since found quite a few good restaurants that cater for vegans, essence cuisine in shoreditch is super modern and very experimental, but the food is quite surprisingly tasty and mainly raw;  they also offer take out, and lots of fresh juices and smoothies – all full of goodness;  Nama is raw food vegan, and very healthy, feels like you are living the clean life when you are in there.   mildred in camden and soho cater for vegetarians and vegans and is a more relaxed way of eating – can even take my husband there – he likes the dumplings and  black bean tortilla wraps.   actually to give him credit, he now cooks at least 2 fully vegan meals for all the family, but otherwise, Maude has to adapt our meal.   rose’s bakery, on the top floor of Dover Street Market is a healthy choice too, but you have to pass all the amazing clothes that you can’t afford!  I have myself considered going vegetarian, but seeing how difficult and restricting it is, and especially if you are travelling, found it easier to just abstain from meat when I choose.   any good vegan tips would be greatly appreciated.

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the paris wife

have just finished reading this book, ‘The Paris Wife’ – its an interesting insight into the early life of Ernest Hemmingway, through the words and viewpoint of his first wife,  Hadley Richardson.   Its an easy read, and although not a biography, rather a historical novel weaved through facts, it paints a picture of that time in the 1920’s around Paris and its rising creatives.

I have stopped buying weekend papers – the supplements used to pile up by bed, ready to read, and although I feel somewhat guilty not supporting the trade that initiated my husband’s career, I feel that its time to cut back on waste and clutter.  Instead I now pick one of the many beautiful photo books that line my shelves – and take the time to read and look at the wonderful inspiring photos.   this last week I have been reading ‘A woman’s war’ by Lee Miller – very interesting, lots of historical facts and an insight into how women contributed during the war – either by joining the forces, or helping with menial tasks such as packing parachutes;  it shows the fashions of the time that  prevailed although there was huge rationing;  it was very disturbing to see the aftermath of the war, the ruin and devastation of cities, the poverty and yet there was a glimmer of hope.  all this through the amazing photos of Lee Miller as she was the official war photographer for Vogue.  I think that I saw this exhibition at the wonderful Imperial War Museum, one of my recent discoveries in this great cultural city.  I am sure you can still find the book, makes a great xmas present.