a tour of the English countryside

it was probably a bit too ambitious and hasty to think of  booking a holiday to Ibiza at the time of a global pandemic, but when the opportunity arose, we thought, why not?  Robert had worked all throughout lockdown and after the sad passing of my mother, we thought it would be a quiet peaceful rest.  our friends who live in Barcelona had taken a house for a month there and invited us out there this week, but  then the 2 week quarantine rule came in.  Neither of us could do this due to work and other commitments, and so here we are – on a 5 day tour of the glorious English countryside.   We literally had to book something in with a few days notice, which proved to be more difficult due to it being August and high holiday season.    The internet can be confusing and frustrating, and even with my daughter helping us, it became a rush against time and bookings quickly disappearing as we were looking….   now I now why travel agents still exist…….

our first stop was The Swan Inn in Esher, a pub owned by the amazing Jose Pizarro;  the rooms were small, but very clean and just what you need to stay comfortably for the night, but what really makes the stay worth remembering is the food.  we had a light tapas lunch, the tortilla was made individually and freshly, and there is a large garden to eat in with open barbecue.  For dinner I had the best fish and chips that I have ever  tasted – the haddock came in the lightest batter with its tail still on!  Breakfast was also delicious, so I would even recommend a day trip out for lunch or dinner!  we went for a walk in the nearby woods around the Black Pond – so much lovely countryside.  Claremont Landscape Gardens was highly recommended, but now that we have to prebook everything in advance, we couldn’t get a time slot, so instead we visited West Green House Gardens, in the lovely village of Hook. Beautiful gardens, with pear and apple orchards, victorian summerhouse on a lake and beautiful conservatories that looked perfect to hire out for a wedding or celebration.  Its such shame that during this time, the main houses don’t seem open.  These gardens were close by to our next stop Tylney Hall Hotel, a lovely Victorian Manor House set in its own grounds, with outdoor heated swimming pool.  Maude found this on booking.com and to be honest, trying to get one night at a weekend was proving to be a chore.  But now that we are here, its perfect for a one night stay, offers lots of facilities;  its a big victorian hotel with rambling rooms, some for formal dinner, some for afternoon tea, but it fitted in perfectly with our country jaunt and also was within our budget – its traditional old fashioned rather than the soho house style with lots of service.  If you have no price limit, anything could be yours…….  Part two of our trip to follow…….

 

Covehithe beach

I love this beach – although the cliff  edge is slowly falling away, with the wheat fields creeping in and the wild flowers perching over the edge – its a wonderful place to take a walk.    Park up before the church and walk through the hedgerow to drop down onto the beach, then walk all along the beach to the bird hideout hut and then walk back along the top cliff.  you feel as though you could be anywhere in the world and yet its only 5 mins drive away from the  cottage ;  the sea washed branches add an air of spookiness, the ever-changing sky belies where you are – at times you feel you are on a desert island away from everywhere.  its especially beautiful after being lockdown in the city.  I didnt brave the sea but  Robert and Maude did.and said how refreshing it was.

 

 

Ying

I have written this blog for  just over 10 years, its intention was to share, inform, inspire and motivate me to take photos;  its changed directions several times, some are pure information, listings, ponderings, opinions and some show an insight into my life.  it was a quandary whether to share this particular writing, but then I thought, so many of us hide behind our social media platforms;  our addiction to images and screens can somehow project different perfect lives that we all know is not always the full story.  so for the last couple of weeks, I have been a bit quiet, but I now feel the need to share my sadness this week;  I have always tried to be true, honest and hope that some of my wanderings either touch or inspire you to live a fuller life.  I still share this with tears in my eyes, but somehow it also gives me some release to acknowledge that we all go through our ups and downs, happiness and sad times.

And so last weekend my mother passed peacefully  – her strength, smile and easy going nature will always stay with me and it is heart warming to know that she is finally at peace.

I wish that I knew more about her life and past, but sadly the years has flown by and the relationship that we had during her 57 years of being healthy and able to speak was not of the kind where she opened up about her life and emotions.  She is definitely a strong resilient woman – bringing up 3 children by herself proves that, but she must also have been an independent free thinking female too.  She met my father through a friend in Hong Kong – in fact that friend also settled in the UK, but has sadly passed away.  She was in Hong Kong to escape the hardships of China when the family tailoring business was taken away and they had to restart their lives as agricultural farmers – my grandmother died in the village that she was born into and never left it ever.  Her father had built the school of the village, but sadly the village is now a ghost town as all the young leave to get jobs, shunning the life of farmers and banana plantations.

I recently learned that my father had been a troublesome child, raised by his aunt Elisabeth, he was in Borstal by the age of 15 and chose the army to escape imprisonment.  He was stationed in Hong Kong and met my mother there.  I am presuming that they were early 20’s when they met, as my mother always told me that she was 24 when I was born, but to this day, we are not quite sure of her actual birthday.  She always had 2 birthdays, a Chinese one as well as her western birthday.  She was a little bit older than my father too, though there are discrepancies about her real age, relatives have told me that she could be as much as 6 years older!    From the photograph that I have of them dancing, they looked so happy, but that newborn happiness brought a rift to my mother and her family.  They didn’t speak to her for many years – embarrassed, ashamed that their eldest daughter married an English soldier and settled in the UK.  I know that my mother always sent them money all the time to help them rebuild their lives and in fact when I finally did make it to the village in China to meet my grandmother and extended family, I was so surprised to see the houses that they built themselves with the help of the  money that my mother had sent throughout those many years.

I cant remember when they forgave my mother, but I do remember my mother going back to Hong Kong several times, filling a truck with fridges, clothes, kitchen stuff and driving them across to China to her parents’ house.  This was when communism was still strong and you were not able to buy these products easily.  My mother also brought over her younger sister  to live in Manchester, found her a husband and put down payment for another house for her to live in.  I remember that Yik Oiy was only a little older than myself and had never eaten cakes – that was my first lasting memory of her.  Sadly she died fairly young with breast cancer leaving behind 3 young daughters.   As I left home at 19 and my own life took its route, I only saw my mother maybe 4 – 6 times a year.  When I finally reached that inquisitive  stage of my life to ask more about her life, she had a massive stroke – about a year in hospital and rehabilitation and her speech never recovered.  She could only say the first sentence of what she wanted to say, but apparently still being able to understand us.  How frustrating.  So with all the distance between her own family, her own marriage falling apart so early, she kept most of those emotions and feelings trapped to herself.

My eldest daughter Alice is fascinated by our Chinese roots and has really embraced and tried to understand more, but it’s not until recently that I too have become more intrigued and touched by our heritage.  Perhaps it’s the moving times that has spurred this, but more the reality that my mother has slipped away and all that unknown leaving with her.  I think that recently this strange lockdown has ignited my thoughts and desire to discover about my past history– it’s probably the much needed therapy that allows me to speak and learn about my own heritage.  For so many years, generations have lived with their secrets, hiding their backgrounds hoping to be included and respected.  Being Chinese in a western society was never completely easy and I think that’s why my mother hid a lot of her past.

We have decided to use a Chinese Funereal company, which has unveiled a world of superstition and tradition.  we just thought it was nice to incorporate some of the intriguing rituals that I know my mother believed in;  my mother had this amazing resilience to accept the good and bad times in her stride, I never saw her upset or angry, she seemed to accept its ups and downs.  It is a relief that she passed painlessly and is now finally at peace, surrounded by her 3 children whom she dedicated her life to.  I feel such gratitude and guilt about many things around our relationship, but I also feel lucky to have had such a wonderful mother.

marble sinks

i love my double sink thats in my kitchen in spain, its carved out of marble.   i am sure that you can get one made in england, but must cost a fortune – try venice marble, they made a quartz top for me in london, which looked like white marble, but in fact is much more hard wearing and wont chip. plain english have lovely kitchen ideas, simple, clean, but still modern – i say ideas, because they are definitely an investment!

if  you are constantly sourcing ideas of how to change your house, update your kitchen, what colours to paint your hallway, or even what furniture to buy there are other options to  buying interior magazines which is costly, trawling round the shops,  trying to find things on the web – frustrating and tedious – then take a look at house locations sites, such as Light Locations, or 1st option –  they are all beautifully done to a high standard, and allow you an insight to lots of different styles and looks.  i also like looking at the site remodelista, which keeps you up to date with all aspects of design.

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Stanmer Park

so Maude and I drove to Brighton this week, partly to catch up with friends, and partly to let Maude get some experience of driving on motorways.  I do remember how frightening it is even thinking about driving on motorways and I think that its actually got worst with the amount of lorries now delivering all the time.  typically the navigator took us all the way on the M25, which is definitely the worst road that I have been on.  didn’t help that we were in a mini which made us feel like sardines between all those overtaking gigantic vehicles!  anyhow, we managed to get there and back with only a few hiccups, not a great mother and daughter bonding time driving 5 hours on such heavy roads !   when we got there my friends took me to lovely Stanmer Park, only 15 mins drive out of Brighton, but beautiful woodlands and open lands and we walked the dogs.  there is a country house, church, walled garden, but I loved seeing the community gardens – allotments, flowers from Hearts and Flowers who have an allotment there,  and then there was a hidden garden which has taken over 20 years to cultivate, which was so spiritual – a dome of twigs which has grown perfectly into a perfect geodesic , walls made of twigs and branches, small shrines of stones….   it was like an Andy Goldsworthy piece.  our countryside is so vast and beautiful, there is always something new to discover.   Quince is another of my favourite shops selling flowers and some small gifts and of course there is Tidystreet where I am now buying all my lovely white dresses from – its as though Florence is choosing them especially for me.

 

rye bread

maude had a go at making rye bread – she took the recipe from Paul Hollywood –  as with all bread its a long process and rye takes longer to rise, but is delicious.

Ingredients

500g rye flour, plus extra for dusting
1tsp salt
2 tsps yeast
20ml treacle (optional)
350ml cool water
olive oil for kneading
Instructions

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the treacle if using and 3/4 of the water and turn around the mixture with your fingers. Continue to add the rest of the water a little at a time, until you have picked up all of the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.
Coat the work surface with a little olive oil, then tip the dough onto it and begin to knewad. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft skin. You will find the dough feels different from a conventional wheat flour dough – less smooth and stretchy.
Put the dough into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size – about 4 hours.
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Fold it repeatedly in on itself until the air is knocked out. Form the dough into a smooth round cob by turning it on the surface and tucking the edges underneath until the top is smooth and tight. Generously dust the inside of a large round proving basket (I used the same mixing bowl) with rye or white flour. Put the dough into it with the smooth side down.
Leave to prove for 2-3 hours; the dough will double in size eventually but will take considerably longer than wheat flour breads. Meanwhile heat your oven to 220C and put a roasting tray in the bottom to heat up. Line a baking tray with parchment or silicone paper (I greased and floured a baking tray and it was fine).
When your loaf is risen, invert it carefully onto the prepared tray. Slash a deep crosshatch patter on the top with a sharp knife. Pour hot water into the roasting tray to create steam and put the bread into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. To test, tap the base of the loaf – it should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.

ryebread

 

lily ponds

absolutely love lily ponds, there is something mystical and serene, thought provoking and calming.

the water lily is the national flower of Bangladesh, it symbolizes love and life, and is used in almost every religious ceremony. there are many instances in history where flowers have been given symbolic meanings according to the prevalent culture and era. the stunning blossoms are used as an adornment for ceremonies and celebrations.

this is Judy’s pond, where we used to shoot our ilovegorgeous campaigns – I do miss going there;  always looking so different during the seasons, but still always tranquil.

Father’s Day

did you know that father’s day originated in America in 1908 to originally commemorate the loss of 210  miners, who were fathers in west virginia.   now it complements mother’s day and is celebrated in many countries throughout the world.  Robert likes it because he always gets more chocolates, today he got a set of printed cards by Robert Hardy  which I found in Margaret Howell, which he absolutely loved and a collectors edition of Royal Mail stamps of James Bond!  For some reason, I have a bit of a soft spot for those lovely packs of collector stamps!

i loved this rainbow that greeted us in st agnes cornwall a few years ago.

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queen anne’s lace

I love this flower which grows in abundance along the country lanes of england, did you know that its root is edible and it is in fact a wild carrot.   sometimes its known as Bishop’s lace or Bird’s nest.  It represents sanctuary.

Queen Anne’s Lace is said to have been named after Queen Anne of England, an expert lace maker. English legend tells us that Queen Anne challenged the ladies of the court to a contest to see who could produce a pattern of lace as lovely as the flower of this plant. No one could rival the queen’s handiwork. She however, pricked her finger with a needle and a single drop of blood fell into the lace, that is said to be the dark purple floret in the center of the flower.

nature has some of the best designs that is replicated over and over again in our everyday lives.

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