Things just got a whole lot better…

This might seem a strange title when at the time of going to press, here in the UK and indeed the wider world things are not too rosy.

Coronavirus, although not yet at pandemic level is causing much mayhem and indeed economic distress by scaring the pants off the financial markets.

Weeks of rain has caused considerable flooding in many parts of the UK, and I could go on and on.

But in the words of Monty Python, Always look on the bright side of life.

We currently have some house guests and conversation turned to where was an optimal place to live in London when young and single. For the avoidance of doubt, that ship has sailed for me many years ago but anyway, we had the conversation just in case I became young and single again!

Many years ago I lived in the London/Essex borders and my lengthy and boring commute took me through Stratford in London’s East End. Stratford was a miserable place…poor quality housing, industrial grime of railway yards and general decay as the jobs diminished and nothing came to replace them. Standing on the station platform to change trains was fairly depressing and in reality gave me a guilt complex as I realised this was home for many people, not just a transit point, as it was for me.

But then came the Olympics in 2012. And then more importantly the Olympic legacy.

This area is now one of the best connected in London with new tube stations, a station on the International network with trains to Paris, Brussels and even Disneyland; a world class home for their local football team and a fantastic area of Parkland housing the newly orientated Olympic acquadrome and stadii.

And a very large shopping mall with not just shops but also numerous restaurants, bars and entertainment options.
Given the opportunity now, a great place to live at that stage in life.

So what makes me write this, quite simply the fact that not all change is bad , and that generally speaking we overcome the difficulties and move on.

In the same way that we embraces the seasons, we have to embrace the changing world we live in, learn, improve and move on.

One of the interesting “fall outs” from the Coronavirus situation is that Chinese pollution levels have dropped for the first time in years…little comfort for someone impacted financially by not being able to work, but a telling fact all the same.


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National Treasure

There are many good things about living in the UK…it’s actually very important for those of us living there at the moment to remind ourselves of that, as with the huge Brexit chasm that we live beside it can seem a world full of conflict, divided opinions and distrust of each other. Sounds extreme…well thst is Britain in September 2019…not a pretty political place.

But that aside, we live in a land steeped in history and tradition and we are pretty good at preserving it.

For those not from the UK, the National Trust might sound like some second rate bank or finance house…ready to take your money but not give much back. Well, let me explain…the National Trust is actually a somewhat amazing charity who buy , save or rescue old buildings estates, ancient moorland or indeed anything that is part of our heritage or is at risk.

They then open these to the public and in many cases create viable and sustainable businesses within them. And in doing so preserve nature, traditions and even our coast in a sustainable way.

The imminent release of the Downton Abbey movie and the huge popularity of the TV series demonstrates the interest in buildings duch as these and the people who lived in them and worked, ‘below stairs ‘. The NT have got these by the dozen on their books the length and breadth of the UK. With tea shops, gardens and very often huge open spaces..for our family whenever making a long UK wide road trip we will detour to one of these for a break in our journey.

But all this comes at a price..but not a big one. The NT get no public funding and relies on admission fees, membership fees, bequests, grants, revenues from its some 400 rental cottages ,gift shops and most importantly a huge army of volunteers supporting it’s paid staff. And pound for pound…it’s really great value if you become a member…about £10 a month gives you unlimited access to literally hundreds of places. If you are an overseas or occasional visitor you can of course pay for individual admission. Yes this is a more expensive process, but you know that what you spend is being reinvested into preserving the past for future generations to come.

And as I said, it not all stately homes. My primary school (a convent school ) was housed in classic villa designed by Scottish architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson. At age 9 I was oblivious to the style of this building from the 1800’s but absolutely appreciate it now and delighted the National Trust for Scotland were able to save it and restore it to its original style.

And finally a word of caution for any overseas visitors..don’t go through the National Trust handbook or website looking for the fictional Downton Abbey.


Although portrayed as North Yorkshire,  the exterior is filmed at Highclere Castle in Berkshire, still actually  a private dwelling so not in the hands of NT. It’s the home of the Earl and Countess of Caernarfon and only open for limited number of days each year!

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Time to go wild….in the garden

Nature reminded me today that when it comes to skill, nature is streets ahead of everyone else!

As my garden is big, and work and other things have meant that evenings and weekends have been very occupied, I had to have a Plan B in force to keep things in order but still have time to enjoy my garden, rather than become a slave to it.

Essentially plan B is just for our allotment area, which we have next door to our garden which on previous years took many hours of upkeep ….and then have to sadly dispose of unwanted produce! You can only eat and find homes for so much lettuce…

So this year some of this area has had wildflower seeds intentionally sown . There has been no watering (other than by nature), no pest control – slugs, snails, caterpillars, squirrels and birds all welcome; and no staking or supporting of plants. A recipe for failure the gardeners would say…the actual result..for the first time in my life some successes with sunflowers.

Previous attempts have seen me act like an overprotective parent of a young child with protection against wet, cold, illness being thrust upon the plants only to find them fail miserably! And of course it’s not just sunflowers, many other insect friendly plants are thriving in this patch too.

I find now I am in good company with wild flower planting…many UK local authorities who are allowing parts of grass verges and parkland areas to develop naturally- everyone is a winner…it looks good, the insects have new habitats and the authorities save money on grass cutting etc.

So if you have a garden…you too should think about having a little bit going wild too.

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How to be a breakfast chef – use your mobile

I am sure I am not alone in my frustration with seeing couples or sometimes entire families at tables in restaurants all deeply engrossed in their phones. To me it seems a real waste of time to share and engage with others.

Now don’t get me wrong…I am a big user of my phone with a blog to write (!), friends to be kept in contact with, places to find and a desire to know what is going on in the world. But I do choose my moments – train journeys, waiting in airports, coffee stops (if I am alone) all provide good opportunities to do the electronic conversations!

So true to my word, last week I was in a hotel walking down to breakfast and decided to use that moment to quickly respond to a What’s App message. Well as most women know, men and multi-tasking aren’t always found in the same place ….and that sure applies to me. Walking purposely into the hotel’s restaurant, a place I am familiar with having stayed several times before, I was a bit too purposeful and instead of making a sharp left as I entered as I should have, I just kept walking. Now this is quite a sizeable and modern restaurant with an open kitchen but behind counters which the customers can see, but are separated from the various chefs and kitchen staff as they prep the food and prepare customers special order breakfast items .

I suddenly found myself amongst chefs supervising pans of frying eggs, juicers squeezing fruit and everything else needed for the delivery of this hotels impressive buffet.

Bemused faces everywhere…bearing in mind my attire – suit, laptop bag and phone in my hand they may have thought this was a dawn raid from the International Scrambled Eggs Standards body or some other such authority!

This event took place in Muscat, and as anyone who has visited will know, the Omani people and their guest workers are polite, friendly and welcoming people….so no screams of get out of my kitchen…just smiles, good morning greetings and best wishes for good breakfast.

And just for the record it was!!!

Carpe Diem

To the non Latin speaker, this is probably a fancy fish restaurant in a trendy part of town, but to those who have learnt a few such useful phrases of this ancient language, it of course means seize the day. To regular readers of my blog, I am a big exponent of grab it while you can…for anything in life ….as we never know what’s around the corner in terms of health, opportunity or just ‘stuff’ that can throw a wobble into life.

What is ‘it’?…’it’ is doing things that enriches your life and hopefully others as well….and that doesn’t always involve spending money. Unless you live in a hermits cabin, generally there are things out there in the world that are waiting for you! Be that volunteering, walking around in your countryside or city, trying new foods, feeding the ducks,or just engaging with different people.

I do realise I am very fortunate in that I have a job that takes me to different places (..and not many people have that opportunity) This week work took me to the UAE and it gave me the opportunity to catch up with a friend and former colleague recently relocated and living there. Now if I had to nominate a role model for my philosophy of life….. it is her! She is already one of the most well travelled people I know, and in this new geographic position she can weekend in India, take a short trip to Nepal or even get to the Far East…which becomes not so far east anymore! From updates I have already had when she first moved it seems she really is grabbing every opportunity not just to travel, but to explore the new city she lives in, make new friends and that’s four legged as well as two legged as she has found a dogs home that wants volunteer walkers! So already now she has just about every weekend and holidays allocated to something new. Anyway we managed to find time to meet up between work and her travels. So research was done to find somewhere new to go. Where did we find ourselves? …on Happiness Street…which I think says it all!

Unicorn in a big park……..my kind of art!

Sculpture was never top on my list of things to be excited about on childhood visits to museums and art galleries.

An 18th bronze reproduction of some meaningless person did nothing to excite me or generate a love of this art form.

Well fast forward 40 or more years and it’s a different story. In keeping with the tradition of ‘if you have something good on your doorstep don’t bother visiting it as it will still be there next week ‘, I had still not got around to visting the Yorkshire sculpture park despite it having been in existence for all the time I have lived in ‘God’s own county’.

A recent visit opened my eyes to this place and made me wonder, why never before?

It is 500 acres of magnificent parkland in pleasant rural West Yorkshire. Sheep are grazed on the land and they seem to successfuly co-exist with thousands of daily visitors and quite a few dogs (on leads).

The sculpture and array of other exhibits is amazing and often on a grand scale..at the moment there is a Damien Hurst exhibition on with some truly giant and slightly haunting exhibits.

Some of the images are a little haunting…this image below of the child with polio was a familiar sight in the UK in the 60′ and 70’s. A best intentioned way of trying to raise awareness and collect funds, but even so…maybe not the best approach.

You will find it hard to see everything in one visit. We combined walking in the parkland, enjoying refreshments on the outdoor terrace, and photographing this array of images ..although really you have to be there…!

It’s a definite one to return to repeatedly to see the changing exhibits and I look forward to experiencing it in different seasons. Might substitute the cold drinks with hot chocolate on our forthcoming planned winter visit!

Oh and by the way, it is completely free to visit, just a car park charge.