Known as the winter extreme in Chinese wisdom, the 22nd December sees the Winter Solstice – a magical time of year when the daylight is at its shortest and night is at its longest and darkest. Its the moment when yin reaches its peak, pauses and the spark of yang ignites and the ascent into light begins again. Its this precise meeting of yin and yang that heralds the possibility of new creation, both spiritually and emotionally. In this moment of stillness feel that anything is possible. It’s time to say goodbye to the woes of the year and look forward to the brightening of the longer days and the goodness of the future.
one year i managed to catch the full moon known as the ‘harvest moon’ – so called because it signals the time when corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice – the chief indian staples are ready for gathering. here is the full moon on the padstow estuary – its the view from my friends’ house. its actually one of my favourite images in my book stolen glimpses.
what to buy each year becomes a dilemma – here is my list of what usually works for most of the family.
curzon cinema vouchers or membership to local cinema, could be any of the lovely independents that are around , 2. tate, v & a membership or any gallery subscription – older kids seem to have preferred the Barbican, which also gives you discounted access to the gallery and cinema, 3. ticket or gift voucher to the theatre, maybe somewhere unusual like Wiltons or Sam Wanamaker theatre or National Theatre, 4. daunts book voucher or again any local bookshop, 5. anything from aesop, 6. anything from the wonderful art shop cornelissen 7. food gifts from la fromagerie ,Lina stores or my favourite Italo in Bonnington Square , 8. jewellery from Tidy Street, Liberty’s or sweet pea,, 9. ceramics – Conran, Japan House – at the moment, I love Japanese bowls from Sway gallery 10. candles from cire trudon or Tom Dixon’s fab new shop 11. a treatment from the Cow Shed, my husband got me a voucher last year for my birthday and the pedicure was pretty amazing. 12. of course there is a night’s stay in a hotel somewhere in the countryside, and there are so many lovely hotels to stay in and one extra – a course in ceramics, a language, drawing or just about anything – there are so many courses on offer at city lit and the neighbouring adult colleges. lots of independent shops such as Momosan, Native and Co, Tidy Street, Couverture and Garb store, Vanil. remember most of these places have a website and you can get gifts delivered.
Robert and Alfie’s favourite shop for classic men’s clothes with style, visit J.Simons shop on chiltern street – it brings together a handpicked selection of American, Continental and British brands, classic loafers, harrington jackets, jeans and even includes a few vintage pieces – perfect if you want to find your male partner or friend a gift. i love the pendleton shirts! you go in there wishing that they did the same things in womens sizes.
struggling to find presents for men, go along to the aesop shop in soho – their products are all plant based, high quality and specially made to benefit the skin and absolutely smell beautiful. last year i bought a foaming shaving balm for my husband with a steel dish for him to whip up the foam with his brush – he is very old fashioned and still likes to wet shave. a lot of men hate bits and pieces, collective memoirs, so finding something to buy them can become a bit of a challenge. a guess this means that you have a limited list; here are a few places that i know robert will always be pleased to receive from -any products from kiehls, scarves and silk handkerchieves from peckham rye, vintage books and out of print books from the numerous antiquarian book shops on cecil court, poetry books from daunts, I still think that they have the best choice of books, and the re issues of classics such as Agatha Christie and Dickens are so beautifully presented that they can be the start of a collection, travel notebooks from smythsons – you can even have your own initials embossed on the beautiful leather covers, margaret howell for vases and accessories , rapha for absolutely anything cycling, brooks for classic cycling bags,chapmans for classic bags.
the boys love fresh boxers, from the great basic uniqulo boxers to the supremely quality cotton boxers from sunspel – their cotton is just lovely; even the girls like to wear them for holidays.
such an apt song for now ,forever autumn justin hayward; autumn is one of my favourite times of the year – its the gentle closing to summer and the breaking in of dark winter nights. some may say its a bad time as it ends the long balmy nights, but i quite like wrapping up warm on an evening, curling up on the sofa – too lazy to venture out in the dark……
I love going to suffolk out of season – still the warmth of the sun, the breeze of the wind and the to and fro -ing of the sea; lots of lovely villages, but one of my favourites is Dunwich – a small sleepy village famous for its birdwatching. its hard to believe that it was once the unofficial capital of east anglia and the main port for trading of wool timber and fish. there is apparently a 3 mile coastal walk to walberswick which is worth doing. the ship at dunwich looks like a popular place to have sunday lunch, but you must reserve. there is also the lovely cafe by the beach car park, reminiscent of an old scouts hut, serving old fashioned knickerbocker glories plus great fish and chips. stop off at dunwich forest and take a picnic and enjoy the natural beauty. on the top of the cliff top visit the National trust cafe, surrounded by fields of heather – it really is quite magical with all the changing colours.
we usually end up at Homebase in Lowestoft – so its a good excuse to pop to Kessingland beach for walk to take in the fresh sea air. it always reminds me of Dungeness with its pebble beach, wild flora and incredible light. this is not a tourist beach, always quiet even in the height of summer.
Walberswick is easily accessible from Southwold, park at the water tower and make your way to the harbour, cross the pedestrian bridge at the end furthest from the sea and then walk down to Walberswick beach; then loop back to the harbour edge and take the short ferry ride back over to Southwold fish harbour and enjoy some fresh caught fish a Sole Bay fish and chips.
we have had the cottage 6 years now, but we have explored the coastline on each of our short visits, and each time we are pleasantly surprised at how naturally beautiful it is.
an equinox is the moment in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun’s disk which occurs twice each year. today the equinox is due around 8pm – its the official end to summer and the start of autumn. lots of cultures celebrate the equinox, including the mexicans for whom it is a big time of year. i feel so sad for all these hurricanes and earthquakes that have affected parts of the world – we may complain about the rain and the grey days, but at least we are relatively free of these intense forces of nature.
on an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. they are not exactly equal, however, due to the angular size of the sun and atmospheric refraction. the word is derived from the Latin aequinoctium, aequus (equal) and nox (genitive noctis) (night).
we are on our annual family holiday in Vejer and September is a perfect temperature…. we have had the house 22 years now, watching our little one grow from one to 23 years old and still loving the area and especially the beaches.
one of my favourite beaches in andalucia is El Palmar – popular for surfing in the winter and the local beach to our village of Vejer de la Fronterra; its quite a long beach and the waves can be strong, but the sea is fresh and exhilarating. we tend to go to the far left of the beach which is a little bit quieter, but if you go towards Conil, there is a much more younger audience and lots of surfing and cafe and bars to choose from.
Zahora, hidden away, this natural beach is within a bay, so a bit more sheltered than the wider open beaches and is perfect for children; however, when the tide goes out, its very shallow with lots of rocks, and a long way to walk out to swim. friends have noted that its like a Caribbean beach; if you walk up towards the lighthouse from Zahora, you will reach Manguete beach – a beautiful wild beach with nothing built on it – access by this road is more difficult as its an unmade dirt road, but well worth the journey. In the summer months, there are lovely Chiringuitos, pop up beach restaurants, but they tend to only be there from mid June to mid September.
Cabo de Trafalgar, is the famous beach from the battle of Trafalgar, totally unspoilt with nothing built on it – lots of kite surfers frequent this beach when the conditions are right for surfing – a finer sand its completely unspoilt and during the summer can have fewer waves for swimming as it is in a cove like position; the next beach along is Canos de la Meca a smaller hippy beach, again a bit sheltered, but very busy in the summer – only worth going to out of the busy August period; the sea can be less wavy as there is a ridge in the sea that breaks the waves – the far end is rugged with cliff tops but also attracts nudists, again wilder with no buildings built on it.
Zahara de los Atunes is a fishing village by the sea with a long windswept rugged beach, popular in the summer with tourists – there is a lovely bit by the old town and a long stretch further down towards the newer apartments; we like to eat in the hotel Don Antonio and then sit on that part of the beach after and watch the sun go down, but if you stay in the old town, our other favourite restaurant la Taberna de la Campero.
Yerbabuena beach, just at the start of Barbate and next to the pine forest is a beautiful setting, especially at this time of year. There are a couple of chiringuitos there in the summer.
Conil is more built up than the other beaches, but has a fantastic long wide beach and the sea is perfect for wave jumping – again, the end nearest Vejer has a bridge that takes you to a wilder non built up part, but the other end has 2 fantastic eating places right onto the beach, La Fontanilla.
Bolonia is a great beach with the added attraction of some Roman ruins, dunes and the odd cow or horse stepping out on the seafront; – if you go left its quieter with cafes on the cliff top, right are the ruins. Tarifa is hip, young and a magnet for windsurfing and kite surfers, but also has the wonderful dunes nearby; between Tarifa and the dunes is the beach Valdequeros, which has a fun beach bar.
Calas de Roche are a series of coves, seven in total, accessible only by walking from the road 10 mins, and down steep steps, but they are really beautiful and wild beaches, surrounded by fossilised rocks. the waves are quite strong, but if you paddle around the rocks there are lots of pools to step into. there are no facilities for food, but in the nearby marina there are a couple of spanish style restaurants, El Pastor and El Nautico de Conil
La Barossa has more hotels around, more built up, but again a fabulous long beach; San Lucar de la Barrameda is an old fishing village by the sea, famed for its seafood – its one of our favourite towns in spain – not at all trendy, just full of locals from jerez and seville searching for the famous prawns. Seek Bajo de Guia and eat at casa Bigote – classic traditional food that is always of a high quality.
i cant resist a haberdashery shop, so visiting some of Cadiz’s shops is like entering an aladdins cave of ribbons, bindings, threads and trimmings – it is also a great opportunity to buy yet another beautiful set of ribbons to add to my collection- the collection that is designated for when i have time to sew myself a beautiful dress, or make that quilt of vintage and found fabrics! I also use ribbons to reinforce tears in dresses – they work well as they are not only pretty, but have bound edges – use the sashiko stitch to patch the tears.
if you have never been to cadiz, then you must – its a charming old city, especially around the fruit and fish market, which now re-opens in the evening ; to get the full experience you should come in the morning for the produce, and then stroll the edge of the market where there are lots of food and tapas stalls that sell snacks – we decided on amazing freshly squeezed fruit juices and tortilla for lunch.
Cadiz is one of the least well known of the spanish cities -built on the Atlantic coast, its crumbling buildings are reminiscent of Havana. fishermen line the coastal walls to catch their daily fish ; wander through the many stalls of the fish market and see the locals selling their freshly picked home grown herbs and veg – anything from camomile flowers, chestnuts, sage flowers to wild asparagus. its great to see that market life is still in abundance, when in many cities, the growth of the supermarkets has killed local trading. i love the fact that spain still has shops that solely sell one thing – scissors and knives, tobacco and cigarettes, ribbons and trimmings. its also a great place to buy the typical flat soled espadrilles – nowadays everyone seems to make them with high wedges. our favourite restaurant is el faro – faded old school tradition and a bit more sophisticated, its your chance to dress up and leave behind the flip flops. on your way out of cadiz, stop at their sister branch, el chato but purely to take a late afternoon swim. another interesting restaurant is el Balandro.
wander around ‘El Callejon del Duende’, the streets dedicated to flamenco singers past and present; bars that look interesting are Circo Duende and Cafe Teatro.
we recently discovered the beautiful botanical gardens, Park Genoves just near to the city beach area – and next to the Alameda walkways and old trees, its a peaceful haven in what is a busy port city.
there is also the site of the old amphitheatre, which has been recently restored to visit too, so lots of interesting things to see.
in london, i love to browse in V W Rouleaux – you can choose beautiful ribbons, trimmings and lots of other interesting flowers and tassels – everything and anything to make your hat or costume pretty, or just to simply find the essential tie backs for your curtains.
I read this absolutely lovely piece by James Stuart, owner of the wonderful Califa Hotel in our town in Andalucia – he is embarking on a swim to Africa from Tarifa and he writes some beautiful stories about the coastline and his adventures. To continue reading the whole short story, go to my Guest Writers page, where I add little vignettes of life through words from several writers.
My original title for this site was ‘The loneliness of the long distance swimmer’, stolen of course from Alan Sillitoe’s famous story about a young lad whose prowess at running takes him on a mental escape from the reality of the institution he lives in. Loneliness in the water is an irrevocable part of swimming great distances where the activity becomes an entirely solitary pursuit, even when accompanied by others in the water. Head down, arms churning, the roll of hips, the turn of the head, the deep suck of breath, the slow exhalation under water and only very brief glimpses of sky relieve the monotony and loneliness of the challenge. Talk is impossible, contact pointless.
Yesterday I took my swimming adventures to a whole new level with a 10,5km. solo swim from Atlanterra to Barbate. It’s an almost arrow straight stretch of beach running south east to north west from the edge of the cork oak studded Sierra de la Plata, past the village of Zahara de los Atunes and then along an almost endless empty stretch of coast lined with golden sand and scrubby palmito bushes. I took a companion of course, just to have a conversation with. I find this is the easiest way to break up the heady wet loneliness. In the past I’ve swum with Ernest Hemingway (“this is man’s stuff, you’re not made for defeat, you can do it”), Winston Churchill (“If only I could keep my cigar alight I might become a tad proficient at this game”), Charlie Chaplin (who swam with great proficiency and inevitably we ended up talking about women and sex), Enid Blyton (I switched her off before she became too polemic – she started asking if we might meet gypsies on the beach in Barbate), Sean Connery (James? Look here young man, we can talk about anything but just not about you know who) and even on one memorable occasion a teacher from school whose name I couldn’t remember – I spent an hour trying to get an answer from him as to why he always wore a sharp ironed crease in his jeans.
The Queen was very much in my mind as I slipped in to the morning stillness of the grey green water. She’d died the previous day, news about her was everywhere, I’d even been asked by a local newspaper wanting the reaction of the British community in the province to her death. What could I say that hadn’t been said by tens of thousands before me? Somewhat irreverently I said that I preferred licking stamps with the Queen on them than licking stamps with King Charles on them. Probably won’t be published.
to read the rest of this story, go to the Guest Writers Page.
From Chichin Itza, we took a taxi to Cancun airport to pick up our daughter Maude who was in Mexico City – you could hire a car, but we felt it was easier to take a driver. remember that distances are quite big, but the fares are at least half the price it would be in the UK, and in some cases a third of the price. It’s another 2 and half hours from Cancun to Holbox ferry, which I guess is why it is not yet innundated with tourists; from the ferry you pick up a public ferry or a private taxi boat, which costs about £12 more. The boat journey takes about 20- 25 mins and then you hop onto a buggie taxi to your hotel. The island is not too big, but it still took about 20 mins to walk from the town centre to the part of the beach we were staying at, which was at the furthest end – much quieter, less built up and fewer hotels and bars. I would definitely recommend that end – it was the end away from Punta Mosquito. The crystal clear waters are just so warm and make the journey worth it. We usually go to the less touristy west coast, Costa Carayes, but the sea is the Pacific and much wavier and not so clear and calm, but nonetheless beautiful.
A lot of the places that you stay offer bikes to get around, but its actually lovely to walk into town once the sun is going down, along the beach to the town. We stayed in 2 places, Ensuenos Beach Club and Puerta Azul – the first is more family orientated and the second is adults only. Both are very close to the sea, the 2nd being right on the beach and both not overly expensive. The first place offered a nicer communal area, pool and rooftop terrace, but the rooms can be dark.
There are lots of local places to eat along the beach front, but definitely more choices in town. We loved the food at Luuma – Mexican/Oriental fusion but very tasty. There was also a very good wood burning pizza close to our hotel, otherwise the food is the typical Mexican tacos etc… unfortunately as we were at the least tourist and more beautiful part of the island we did have no electricity at times and no running water in the bathrooms – especially at Luuma, where they had to use the pool water to feed the toilets – this happens when there have been big storms, which had just happened the day we had arrived. Apparently water is pumped from the mainland, but some hotels do seem to have their own back up. Remember that this is a Robinson Crusoe type island – and fortunately the sea is crystal clear so bathing in the sea became a several day habit.
We left Holbox for Cancun airport to return to Mexico City for the night; in hindsight we should have just flown directly back from Cancun to London, but we had already rebooked our tickets before planning our trip, but in fact it was nice to get back to the city, see some more sights and unlike our last time, not have to deal with the stress of missing a connecting flight. we stayed at Downtown Hotel, which is so central to the main square, its a perfect place to stay for one night. Caracol de Mar is a modern Mexican restaurant serving mainly seafood, but beautifully presented; it is set in a courtyard of a historical building and is a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy the good food. in contrast, the Churreria El Moro is a noisy busy cafe that sells churros and chocolate. From the 1930’s, its where the locals queue for their cinnamon churros – long tubes of sugared donuts dipped in chocolate – even vegan for Maude…… it’s very difficult to not resist those sweet local treats.
All in all the trip was a great adventure – fast moving – and ideally it would have been great to have stayed an extra night in each place, but if you want a taste of Mexico with its culture and beautiful seas, then I would highly recommend this journey we took.
going back to my post about churches – its so lovely that these grand places of worship that were once the centre of people’s lives in days gone by, have now become more modern and creative with their usage and unite the community again. we have listened to Gregory Porter singing the beautiful lyrical songs of Nat King Cole with an orchestra in St Lukes Church in Clerkenwell, as well as been introduced to new jazz by up and coming new artists. apparently the roof was missing for years, until the london symphony orchestra decided to use it as a rehearsal space and hence its now intact again. some may criticise the point of religions and blame the divide in countries and the onset of war, but we wouldn’t have these wonderful buildings without religion.
i love the songs of nat king cole – so romantic – they take you away from the stark realities of real life. my favourite being unforgettable
we have seen numerous artists at the union chapel – what an amazing venue! 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 .
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 pancras old church, which has been a place of worship since the 4th century, is another atmospheric church that holds concerts.
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.
and here are the details of the beautiful church of Blythburgh in suffolk, with its carved wooden angels, its simplicity really makes it one of my favourite interiors.
Unforgettable, that’s what you are
Unforgettable though near or far
Like a song of love that clings to me
How the thought of you does things to me
Never before has someone been more
Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
That’s why, darling, it’s incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too
Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
That’s why, darling, it’s incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too