A change of heart

You know the expression – to feel like a red-headed stepchild? That’s always amused me. I could be mistaken but as I understand it, the combination of being a red-head AND being a stepchild is not the best. That said, all the red-heads I know are gas craic, happy, well-adjusted people with just the right amount of crazy to make them special. And the stepchildren I know, be they red-headed or not, seem to be fine.

IMG_0078In the UK last week, the term was just to describe the relationship between the sibling cities of Bath and Bristol, with Bristol feeling a tad overshadowed. Certainly, Bath is beautiful, far more quaint, with lots of eco-stuff going on, and has far better buskers. And in truth, when I visit that part of the world, I rarely get further than the train station at Bristol Temple Meads as I, too, head for Bath.

IMG_0070 (800x600)IMG_0071 (800x600)This time though, I stayed put. In Bristol. And what an eye-opener that was. The city, once a major departure point for the slave trade and a less than glorious history, is lovely. There are plenty of green spaces and it has more than its far share of bombed-out churches that are still magnificent. My favourite is Temple Church. No question. A stunning 12th-century ruin in Temple Gardens that just begs quiet contemplation. I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.

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IMG_0090 (800x600)Bristol Marina has been majorly revamped with the Brunel’s SS Great Britain the main attraction. Time wasn’t on our side so we didn’t go in to see what all the hoo-ha was about but it’s on the list for the next visit. The colourful terraced houses that look down on the docks would be more my style than the lavish penthouses that line both sides of the river. Mind you, I wouldn’t turn up my nose at one of them either. There are myriad cafés, brew pubs, cider houses, and restaurants to choose from with boat taxis to ferry you every which way. Think Venice without the striped t-shirts. A lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Wills Memorial Tower

Wills Memorial Tower

The St Mary Redcliffe, billed as a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, has stood tall for over 800 years. Like many other buildings in the city, the ones that managed to dodge the bombs like the University’s Wills Memorial Tower, it, too, is gobsmackingly gorgeous.  Again, with time being at a premium, the tour of this tower has also made it to the list of things to do next time around.

IMG_0107 (800x600)IMG_0106 (600x800)And in sharp contrast to all this stylish splendour, Shaun the Sheep was everywhere. Seventy sheep have been scattered around the city as part of a fundraising campaign for the Children’s Hospital. And cleverly positioned near places of interest so that some little bit of cultural exposition might sneak past. It was my first time spending any time of note in the city and I liked it – a lot. I’d happily go back . Anytime. I won’t forget Bath, because she’s been good to me, but perhaps its time the red-headed stepchild got some more of my attention.


2014 Grateful 27

I nearly didn’t recognise her. The short crop was gone, replaced by a pinned up 1940’s bob. I hadn’t seen my mate MC in way too long. Despite the best of intentions, work and lives had interfered. Schedules had clashed and best efforts to get together had come to nowt. It had been nearly two years since we’d seen each other – by far the longest time we’ve gone with out setting the world to rights in our own inimitable way.

STA_9956 (800x399)We did the train-station theatrics in Bath with minimum fuss but the right amount of understated excitement at being together again. And then we went for lunch. One hour morphed into two, three, four. The bottle of wine long-since gone, we had just one Italian spritzer (limoncello and prosecco) which turned into two and then three. Nearly a full eight hours later we had caught up on personal stuff, discussed Putin’s bout of sabre rattling, bandied around the possible consequences of China’s debt bubble busting, debated the current rise of antisemitism in Europe, wondered at the whole gay rights vs human rights, and expressed our liking for the current pope. Back home to hers and the conversation continued. That night, I marvelled, not for the first time, at the enduring power of real friendship and thanked my God for blessing me with some fabulously interesting friends.

The night before, I’d been to a reception in Bahamas House in London. The current Governor General of the Bahamas was retiring. As he spoke, he mentioned that at 84, it was time to retire. He didn’t look a day over 70. There, I caught up with old friends from the Bahamas and Jersey, met some new friends from South Africa, and again, marvelled at the diversity of opinions, perspectives, and lifestyles that the world has to offer.

The day before that, I’d been in Bern, Switzerland, and had had dinner with a mate of mine from school whom I hadn’t seen since 1983. I recognised AR immediately, partly through a recent connection on LinkedIn but mainly because she really hadn’t changed that much. We sat for a couple of hours in the shadow of the Swiss Parliament and caught up on 30 years, mostly trading experiences of where we had lived and what we’d been doing in our intervening lifetimes. We swapped news about classmates whom we’d been in contact with recently, try to put names to their collective faces, and reminisced about school days and the green uniforms that were indelibly etched on our fashion consciousness.

Earlier in the week, I’d managed to inject some life into a rather lethargic Geneva in the company of some new friends from the Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Samoa (our Solomon Islands friend had gone in search of shoes). As we sat and traded stories, our fluency much enhanced by some semi-decent Swiss wine, we seemed to focus on commonalities. Shared phrases, ones that I’d assumed were quintessentially Irish, like ‘yer man/yer woman’ are alive and kicking and doing the rounds in the Cook Islands. This begs further investigation and one of these days I’m sure we’ll manage it. Traditions, habits, recipes, tales of madness and circumspection travelled to and fro across the table. As I settled into my hotel bed that night,  I marvelled at the opportunities and chance encounters thrown up by the universe that have the potential to become enduring friendships, or not, and I thanked my God for sending these people my way.

As CS Lewis is said to have said: ‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.’






With so many sitting back and waiting for others to step forward and save the world, coming across Broadlands Orchardshare community orchard was like … well, it was like the  taste of fresh apple juice. Back in2 2005/2006, a bunch of volunteers concerned about the obvious decline in Somerset’s orchards, got together  to do something about it. They’re also determined to do something about the growing dependence on imported apples while local fruit wastes away on the trees, unpicked and unused.

On the second Saturday of every month, volunteers meet at the 11-acre orchard, home to some 1100 apple trees. The work crews prune the trees, clear weeds and brambles, restore parts of the orchard that has been overgrown, and plant more trees. They even hold classes in tree pruning, earth-oven cooking, and willow weaving.

I caught up with them at the Farmers Market at Green Park in Bath a couple of weeks ago and watched them press some fresh apple juice.  I’m not a great lover of apples or apple juice at the best of times, but this I liked. The whole process was so simple – I want to find a press and bring one home to my dad – think of what we could do with our own apples.

It’s an ideal family day out – the kids would enjoy themselves as much as the adults. And in a world where technology is increasingly robbing us of any sense of achievement we might have at actually doing something real, it must be nice to pick, peel, and press the apples and then to literally enjoy the fruit of you labour. Does anyone know of any similar things in Hungary?

Just call me Jane

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with a then boyfriend in Alaska, I was shocked to hear him say that Mrs Bennett reminded him of me. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last long. Mind you, I’ve never quite fallen out of love with Mr Darcy – and truth be told, I’d quite happily watch Colin Firth paint a wall.

In Jane Austen country recently,  I was reminded yet again of my life-long wish to immerse myself in that era. And while I know she set two of her novels in Bath – Northanger Abbey and PersuasionPride and Prejudice will always be my favourite. I have no problem at all imagining myself as Elizabeth Bennett, complete with bonnet, lace parasol, and razor-like wit, out for stroll with old Fitzy on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I think that when Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, she  had me in mind…

A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment. Yep, I’ve been there!

 I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library. I hear you, girl. Mine’s not excellent, but it’s not bad either.
For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn? Imagine Jane on stage at the Gift of the Gab!
As for being stubborn: Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion. 
How many times have I heard the right words come out of the wrong mouth: …for he is such a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. 
Then, of course, there’s the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder and never knowing what we might have had until it’s gone:  She was convinced that she could have been happy with him, when it was no longer likely they should meet.
I wonder if life will ever conspire to allow me the opportunity to borrow this line: You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Or to be able to agree a relationship on this footing: My good qualities are under your protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible; and, in return, it belongs to me to find occasion for teasing and quarreling with you as often as may be.
I think I know the man she was talking about here: We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb. Should I tell him? Oh where to find the balance: It sometimes is a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him.
I fear though, that if time travel were a fixture in my world, and I could transport myself back to 1850 Bath, and conspire to meet the lovely Jane, she might indeed have written this for me: Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.

Three cheers for Miss Philippa

When I look back at my travel career, I note with interest my progression from self-catering  to fully catered, from B&Bs to boutique hotels. Of late, I’ve favoured apartment rentals, which afford extra space and the use of an oven. But hiring out a whole house – all five floors – is something new to me and I now fear that once I’ve been there, it will be quite difficult to go back.

Elton House is bang, smack in the centre of Bath sandwiched between the Crystal Palace pub and Bijoux Beads, with an address of 2 Abbey Street. Dating back to 1700, it has had a varied history. Originally owned by the Duke of Kingston, it served its time as sets of lodgings for Georgian visitors to Bath around 1750 and when, in 1946, its new owner, Ms Philippa Savery, bought up the individual leases, it housed 12 tenants and had a cobblers shop in the basement. Ms Savery was in search of somewhere that she could sell antiques from and what better location than downtown Bath. She started off as a rent collector for the building and in time became its sole owner. She donated it to the Landmark Trust in 1986.

Here, in the heart of Jane Austen country, it didn’t take much imagination to envision the likes of Mr Darcy calling to the door. But wait – Pride and Prejudice wasn’t set in Bath – perhaps Mr Tilney calling might be slightly more realistic. Sitting the one of the drawing rooms, curled up with a good book, albeit in a rather unladylike fashion, the 1800s didn’t seem so very far away.

The house has a museum of sorts on the ground floor and then a very impressive wooden staircase that goes up and down from the main entrance. The first floor houses the kitchen, dining room, and two parlours. The second has six bedrooms. The third another bedroom and three bathrooms. And then there are the two floors of the attic. The place is rife with nooks and crannies and interesting features  and is very simply but functionally furnished. The walls are hung with portraits which, according to entries in the visitors’ book, have scared many a young guest who had the distinct feeling that the eyes in the portraits kept following them around. Other entries mention ghosts and legend has it that the house is haunted by a little white terrier.

For three days, Elton House was our base. It had been rented out for the weekend by MC and on Friday and Saturday night, it was full of guests. Sunday night though, it was just the two of us and what a treat. I’ve always thought I was born into the wrong era and now I’m almost sure it, assuming of course that I was upstairs rather than downstairs. I don’t think I’d have been too keen to manage those stairs when summonsed by the pull of a bellchord.

The Landmark Trust is a charity that rescuses endangered buildings such as Elton House and give them new life. It pays for the upkeep of its charges by renting them out to visitors. I’d had a vague idea of what they did (there’s also a US version) but had never experienced it first hand before. And now that I have, I can see many more holidays taking shape. What a way to fuel an imagination.

Next time though, I must remember to pack my parasol. Note to De Wimmin:  This would be such a good place to meet up.