festive things to do in london

things we have done the past few years at xmas that are lovely to do;  one xmas eve Robert and I went to the charles dickens museum –  its a fun insight into the writer’s life, especially if you are interested by the writer.   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.  there are characters from the book that keep you entertained as you walk around the house, making it more fun and engaging for children.  after reading his biography by Claire Tomalin my interest in dickens was born – not only does it tell the story of the author, but it vividly describes a london of that era.    not only is it a great educational eye opener, but an opportunity to see the inside of these wonderful london historic houses.

usually on xmas morning, whilst Robert is cooking, the kids and I  usually take a walk to the top of Primrose Hill – unless its absolutely pouring with rain, its always good to get that winter’s fresh air and the view from the top of the hill is always a stunning picture of London. we must make use of the wonderful parks that London has – they are our treasures.  this year will be very different for us, as we are in the midst of moving Xmas week – bad timing, but I am guessing that we will be taking a walk on the beaches of Suffolk. 

on Boxing Day, I  last went to see Little Women with a girlfriend –  its a good time to go and see a film, and although you can practically catch up on anything on digital now, how lovely to be in a proper cinema with silence and the big screen.  we just recently saw West Side story, which I think is fun, colourful, and a great remake of the classic.  also Boxing Day is not usually   a busy day …..  I know that there is another worry with the new variant, but we went last saturday evening and it was quite spaced out and not at all busy.  All these places are really trying to make it safe. 

i know i tell you every year, but its always a lovely xmas treat and could be an idea for a gift, but for a great insight into 17C london life, you must visit the  fascinating  dennis severs house in spitalfields.  they have a special ‘spirit for the christmas’ season for this time of year, but check their website to see whether it is on this year – and if not, buy a present for someone for next year……

the 17C silkweavers house ,which has been lovingly restored as a working house – 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.

pop up sales

i still love this community of pop up sales – a different venue, new artisans and creatives coming together to bring an atmosphere of warmth and passion sharing their crafts and products. its a million miles away from internet shopping or bland shopping centres. Ros and Sarah have curated a lovely event. there are two coming up, one in Batcombe Somerset on the 11th and 12th November and the other in Brixton on the 20th and 21st November 2021. its a great time to catch up with what small producers are making, treating yourself and buying Xmas presents – dare i even mention that word……..

I will be showing my cards, ceramics, some watercolours and a few vintage bits and bobs….

halloween

how did halloween get to be such an important event in the uk – i dont remember this as a child.  i do remember toffee apples and burning the guy fawkes for bonfire night though.

the custom of trick-or-treating and the use of “jack-o’-lanterns” comes from Ireland. hundreds of years ago, Irish farmers went from house to house, begging for food, in the name of their ancient gods, to be used at the village Halloween celebration. they would promise good luck to those who gave them good, and made threats to those who refused to give. they simply told the people, “You treat me, or else I will trick you!”

nobody really knows how halloween originated, but since the 19C , 31st october has acquired a reputation as a night on which witches, ghosts and fairies are especially active.

in the year 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church made 1st November a church holiday to honour all the saints. although it was a joyous holiday it was also the eve of All Souls Day, so in Medieval times it became customary to pray for the dead on this date.

another name for All Saints Day is ‘All Hallows‘ (hallow is an archaic English word for ‘saint’). the festival began on All Hallows Eve, the last night of October.; halloween comes from all hallow even, the eve(night before) All Hallows Day.  Therefore halloween is the eve of all saints day.

its always been a big tradition in america, but over the recent years, it has now become a big event for kids in england.  i always remember maude  carved the pumpkin to light and bought the sweets to hand out to all the little children who come round all cutely dressed up.  now she is away at uni it feels sad not to celebrate. 

 

meditation and mindfulness

I cannot recommend anything as potent as taking the time to meditate.  for many years I have dismissed it as hippy nonsense.  but as we lead a more stressful and fast pace of life, I’ve realised that being ‘mindful’ and taking the time to meditate are indeed great tools for calming, controlling, and rejuvenating one’s mind.   I used to do yoga as a form of exercise – stretching, keeping the body supple and gently toning , but now I choose yoga classes that not only achieve those things, but also help calm the mind and cultivate well being.  Susan Nove at triyoga has a lovely sense and spirit;  she runs 6 week evening courses on mindfulness, that teach you how to incorporate mindfulness in your every day tasks, meaning that you don’t have to just sit still to practise.  her half hour classes also help you maintain what you have learned.  Anna Price is also a great teacher and can personalise methods to help you get through more difficult times.  my favourite yoga teacher is Erika Tourrell – she has the right balance between yoga for revitalising the body, but her words and spirit really take you to the next level of self care and appreciation of life.   each morning, my husband and I do a meditation with Clare Connolly on Insight Timer – the breathing meditation is particularly useful for calming and setting you up for the day.  we have done this practically every day for the last year and half.   I have also been doing Qigong, which has really grasped my time  – not only have I been taking classes, but also teaching them to my friends, passing on the goodness and benefits that it has given me.   It also makes me learn more moves and the facts behind the principles of Qigong.  Not only does it keep you toned and flexible, but it also calms your mind and heart and enables you to deal with life in general, all that it throws up, its challenges, its problems, uncertainties.   i have a weekly online class by zoom, but soon I will be starting live classes in open public spaces, weather permitting……

 

International Women’s day

today is officially named international women’s day to celebrate equality for women, from simply being more appreciated, respected and loved to acknowledging economic, social and political achievements – i think that every day should be like this whether you are female or not –  so many women are undervalued, especially the role of a mother.

i admire that quite a few of my girlfriends have changed their careers and now are amazing therapists – nutritionist, osteopathy, pilates, hygienist, psychotherapist and  acupuncture – plus i get to learn more about natural therapy and am treated to more alternatives to standard medicine!

i love that women are not challenged by anything – dont ever think that you are too old to start something new!  i was inspired by the fact that Julia Margaret Cameron started her photography career at 48.  I have changed my career so many times and each one has been fulfilling and challenging but also full of good memories.  since the beginning of lockdown last March 2020, I have been learning and teaching Qigong to my friends – it really has grasped me and I spend at least an hour or two a day studying and practising more moves, and getting to understand what the philosophy of Qigong is about.  for many years, I have thought it a gentle exercise for very old pensioners, like my mother, but I have now realised its power to build strength and suppleness, not only to the body but to the mind too.   I have also started to learn basic mandarin, with a phone app, duo lingo, very slowly, as I had remembered a few words of Cantonese through my childhood, but now have to replace this with totally different sounds for the same characters.   So it definitely is never too late to start a new hobby, passion or career.

Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou

The incredibly prolific and inspiring American poet, author of seven autobiographies, actress, civil-rights activist, producer and director passed away in 2014, leaving behind a huge volume of work celebrating black beauty, the strength of women, and the human spirit. In 2017 her life was celebrated in the documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, which featured interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, Quincy Jones and Maya Angelou herself.

‘You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.’

I  still continue to volunteer at the bay tree centre in brixton  – a centre for women and their daughters of all nationalities to go and learn english, further their studies in the essentials of education – reading, science and other skills, but also fun activities like cooking, dancing and art.  there is a strong emphasis on social inclusion, encouraging equality in development and supporting them to think out of their box and achieve whatever their dreams may desire.  after school, the centre serves for the local ethnic children whose parents don’t speak much English and need help with their homework and studies, but in the day, the centre helps refugee children – these are usually older girls in their teen years- who are awaiting school places.  during the pandemic though, I have been zooming reading classes and have even hosted  a children’s Qigong class, and  a watercolour class for the older girls.  it really gives you a warm feeling seeing their little faces pop up on the screen, calling you ‘miss’ and using their thumbs up symbols.  thank god for zoom – I never thought that I would thank technology, but it really has been a godsend all round.

the lives of the children at Baytree reminds me of my own life, from a single ethnic mother whose father departed when I was five leaving my mother to work long hours as a waitress to feed three young children;  I had to look after my 2 younger brothers, get them to school – she was never able to go to parents evening, nobody to help with my homework, she could barely speak English but then I never wanted for anything, there was always food on the table and clothes when I needed them.  through sheer hard work, a lot of luck and determination, I have enjoyed a happy and family life in london.  i would have loved a centre like Baytree, but I dont think that these type of places existed then.  they are a charity and run mainly on volunteers who are always in need.

You only need to offer an hour a week, every little helps.  you don’t have to be a qualified teacher – I have no training – you just have to be enthusiastic and patient – but its very rewarding

here are a few of my inspirational ladies who have allowed me to photograph them….

pancake tuesday

dont forget today is pancake tuesday!  shrove tuesday always falls the day before ash weds and is therefore the last day before the commencement of lent.  lent is a time of abstinence and penitence, when you give certain foods up, so pancakes are the last meal containing eggs, flour and butter, which were forbidden during lent.  nowadays few people fast, but the tradition of pancake tuesday does live on.  i have always used delia smiths classic recipe – foolproof, never goes into lumps and is delicious with lemon and sugar.

i have always tried in the past to give up wheat, sugar, red meat, but my willpower is not great – i now am a great believer that a little of everything is fine – if you don’t feel like eating meat for a while, you don’t need to attach a label – restrictions always tempt the mind……. its just natural instinct to always want what you can’t have……

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12 days after xmas

Wednesday the 6th is the twelfth day after christmas and is traditionally the day that you take down your xmas decorations- so dont forget!    jan 6th is epiphany and is the day the three wise  men (magi) brought their gifts to the young Jesus;  so especially in Latin American countries, the 6th Jan is usually the day that presents are given rather than 25th december.   On the night of the 5th, instead of stockings, kids leave their shoes out, stuffed with straw. It’s not Santa who comes in the middle of the night leaving the children presents. Instead, it’s the three magi who come bringing gifts for the kids, just like they gave the baby Jesus presents in honor of his birth. The straw in the children’s shoes is for the Wise Men’s camels to eat.

To celebrate the Epiphany in Spain there are also often parades featuring the three magi…  it seems it doesnt take much excuse to put on a parade in spain, throughout the year there is always a festival, parade or street party to either celebrate a saints day, or notable date in the calendar!

this year we are having our xmas tree picked up by Kentish Town city farm, and they are going to feed to goats with the tree.  it costs £6 and that includes a donation, but what a lovely thing to do with your old tree rather than dump in for the council to dispose of it.

wedding cranes

In Japan, it is said that folding 1,000 paper origami cranes makes a person’s wish come true. They were traditionally given as a wedding gift, to wish a thousand years of happiness and prosperity upon the couple.

Throughout all of Asia, the crane has been a symbol of happiness and eternal youth. In Japanese, Chinese, and Korean tradition, cranes stand for good fortune and longevity because of its fabled life span of a thousand years.

According to Japanese tradition, folding 1,000 paper cranes gives a person a chance to make one special wish come true and as the crane is believed to live for 1,000 years thats why one folds 1000 paper cranes.   I photographed this image at the wedding of Eri and Ross about 5 years ago;  I was waiting by the desk for Eri to walk down the aisle of the room and spotted the beautiful light on the desk where the registrar was due to sign the wedding papers.  its one of my favourite images.   Apparently Eri and her girlfriends spent several months before the wedding making these origami cranes!  they are truly beautiful.  

in Qigong, the white crane is associated with royalty, beauty and grace.  They are often found standing on one leg, and their movements soft, flowing and delicate.  these beautiful white birds are known as protectors of family and are a great source of inspiration and wisdom, teaching us how to be reserved, quiet and content. 

 

 

 

 

 

Boxing Day

did you know that boxing day was originally the day that servants and tradespeople received their gifts or xmas boxes from their employers?  sometimes their boxes would include leftover food as well as a gift and a bonus.   nowadays we associate boxing day with football matches, sale shopping and visiting friends and family that we missed on xmas day!  sadly this year we can’t do any of that – who would have predicted this?  I start a box full of stuff for charity that i dont need any more – with all the new lovely xmas gifts to house, my policy of ‘one in one out’ kicks in, usually this happens when all the cupboards and drawers are brimming with so much stuff you can’t open them without things falling out;  finally we have the time to empty those out.

xmas pop up

hoping that after 2nd December we can return to a bit of normality, but I am guessing that its going to be a few months before we can all relax and go back to our normal routines.  however, lovely Florence from Tidy Street is holding a little Christmas Sale at McBeans Nursery, near to Lewes.  There is also going to be a sale of vintage clothes in aid of Relay for Refugees and a whole host of talented artisans and makers – it should be a fun day out and a great opportunity to get all those xmas presents and support lots of independent sellers.  I shall be there with my cards, prints and ceramics, so why not make a day trip to this beautiful location where orchids have been cultivated for over 140 years.