Posts Tagged ‘London’

Nora and I went for a little walk along the Thames Path from Chiswick to Barnes today. It could have been somewhere quite rural at first but it got more urban as we went along. So we just turned around and went back again. London’s full of these quiet little spots. You just have to go a little off the beaten track and explore.

Chiswick Bridge Mortlake tree stump grown around fence black labrador on country path Barnes Bridge Train going under graffitied bridge jogger on urban path

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As a child I visited Boston Manor Park frequently with my father but nothing apart from the children’s playground had stuck in my memory. I often catch sight of the Jacobean manor house when driving along the M4 motorway’s elevated section; the bit that links Heathrow airport with London. If you’re travelling towards London, the house is visible on the left-hand side at around the same time as the shiny GlaxoSmithKline monolith appears ahead of you on the right.



Curious to see what it’s like, I decide to take Nora for a walk there. Expecting more or less an ordinary park, I am first rather disappointed and then surprised. Disappointed because the grounds appear very small, with only a small lawned area and a large pond immediately behind the compact house and stable block. I almost regret having paid for an hour and half’s parking. But we are surprised and rewarded by the discovery of a ‘nature trail’ leading down under the motorway into a mysterious other world that co-exists with the impatient roar of the traffic over our heads.



The trail is really only a hint of a dirt path that descends out of a flowerbed into a boggy, overgrown mass of ivy and untended greenery. It’s quite off-putting. However, we persevere, with me cursing a lack of waterproof footwear, until we see what I suspect is the Grand Union Canal but turns out later to be a canalised bit of the River Brent, complete with barge and lock (I’m not showing you the side of the lock with the graffitied penises all over it).

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Despite the filthy water, a swan swims up to greet us and we are surrounded by the echoing calls of hidden waterfowl. Nora finds the inevitable pile of human poo and what looks like the skin of a fish and evades my attempts take it away from her. The smell makes me gag and I worry that she will get ill from eating it.


A cyclist passes on the other bank where there is a well-maintained path but our side seems utterly desolate until a brown-haired man in his thirties wearing a striped tee-shirt wanders by looking aimless. I wonder if he’s a part of this place where nothing looks official or managed. There’s a ramshackle, padlocked, chicken wire gate that leads to more wasteland littered with old bits of tractor and more rubbish. It seems odd to fence in such abandonment. I wonder if the barge people have claimed it for their own since no-one else seems to care.

Beneath the motorway itself stretches an underworldly tarmac paradise, spacious and deserted. It feels strangely liberating to be somewhere so hidden from the mainstream of city life. It occurs to me that I should feel frightened but I don’t. However, I also don’t investigate further under the motorway. Not on my own with a rather unpredictable young dog.

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Looking at a map later, it appears that we might have found more open parkland had we gone on further towards the Glaxo building but, drawn in by the atmosphere of dereliction and isolation amid the busy-ness overhead and in the light industrial areas round about, this seems enough for one day.



We resurface and return to the car, feeling mildly astonished to have been so close to tennis courts resounding to the noise of a game and council employees working in the children’s play area.

It turns out that I don’t even actually remember the playground.

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Bad luck, chaps, it appears that I’m going to write a blog post every time I go for a walk with Nora, the puppy.

My preference would always be to walk to the local park, Ravenscourt Park in Hammersmith, when we’re in London, rather than drive somewhere. The trouble is that, at the moment, Nora isn’t very good at walking on the lead. Everything is so new to her that she has to look at every discarded cigarette end, bit of dog poo, and sniff every smell going. This means zig-zagging back and forth across the pavement so that I end up going round and round in circles trying to disentangle myself from her lead. It’s very slow. She also greets everyone we meet and is often a little offended – or perhaps I am – when people don’t find her utterly charming and want to say hello back. But for every person who recoils from her, there’s another who says how lovely she is and stops to chat about her.

Gunnersbury Park, mansion

Gunnersbury Park, mansion a

So, I’ve taken to driving to places where the parking is free and we don’t have to walk very far to where Nora can run about. She’s only allowed about 15 minutes’ exercise at the moment (to prevent the development of arthritis in later in life, although this is just a theory), so it’s nice if she can spend that time actually in a park rather than on the way there.

Gunnersbury Park orangery

Today, we had a lovely time. The sun shone again, although it was chilly, and I rediscovered Gunnersbury Park in Ealing, which I haven’t been to since my children were small and I was equally in need of somewhere that would divert them.

Orangery at Gunnersbury Park

I’d really forgotten how lovely it is there. The position of the house on the hill and its breadth reminds me very much of Kenwood House in Highgate although I haven’t been able to find out if they are in any way related yet. We met lovely people while we walked: a chap with a dalmatian puppy and a woman walking an old, grizzled labrador, who asked Nora to sit and then gave her a treat.

By the way, I refuse to capitalise the names of dog breeds that are named after places. They aren’t proper nouns in that sense – you wouldn’t capitalise spaniel, would you? Or perhaps you would?


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This picture shows in spectacular clarity the way that our cities and countryside can look from space. London is the very light area on the right, Bristol the largest light area on the coast to its left, with South Wales hanging over the inflowing Bristol Channel like a repeated strings of fairy lights. Almost immediately below the droopiest bit of Wales there on the other side of the water are the Quantock Hills, and Spring Cottage is about 12 miles inland from the coast. The very dark area to the left of the belt of lights going south, which is basically the M5 corridor, is Exmoor at the top and Dartmoor further south.

As you can probably tell, I could look at this for hours. This picture was taken by the NASA Suomi-NPP satellite on 27th March this year. You can find the image, along with many others, online.

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Tired and emotional

The Boy departed and family from Canada arrived on the same day. Overlapping at the airport for an hour or so, we ate lunch together surrounded by surreally tasteful tables and baggage trolleys before going from arrivals in one terminal to departures in another. I hugged my boy tightly and a silent voice within me said, “don’t go,” and “spread your wings,” in the same breath.

Then I slept in unaccustomed beds in familiar houses, dreams interrupted by jetlaggy stumblings and the sudden, jolting reminder that things have changed. While I played tour guide, we walked urban pavements and country fields, stood under trees sheltering from bursts of rain, took off our waterproofs as the sun came out and put them back on as the clouds rolled back over, only to repeat it all quarter of an hour later.

We admired London transformed by Olympic-inspired activity and watched house martens dive into eave-housed nests and brushed spiders off our shoulders. The roadside sale of a hen house in the next hamlet and some snub-nosed lolling puppies in this one beckoned towards a different life. We ate in pubs on the south bank and in West Bagborough and Porlock Weir, as well as tea rooms in Dunster. We looked at empty, polish-scented churches of various degrees of ancientness, marvelling at parchment from the thirteenth century signed by Edward I in one and a knight’s tomb from the fifteenth century defaced by graffiti in the seventeenth, in another.

I baked scones and we ate them with clotted cream and blackberry jam made in my first year here. And I drove and drove and drove. Little things, like the tiny carrots I grew that we dug up and ate for supper, made me want to cry. Then I lit a fire and some candles, and the already autumn-smelling night drew in while we read.

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I can’t quite get over the contrast between my blog and my Twitter feed running alongside it. It sort of sums up my life, really, with the contrasts between town and country.

Nothing much to say today other than I feel terribly, terribly sad about the social unrest in the UK (actually not the UK, just England, I think) these last few days. There is much sense in this piece in today’s Daily Telegraph.

Meanwhile here is a picture à propos of nothing because I need something to gladden my heart.

pansies in a windowbox

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Dead chuffed

Just been to the pub. I’d forgotten I’d spent most of my cash on my riding lesson, which meant i couldn’t pay for my supper and drink. Barman Dave’s response: “Tchah, locals. Drop it in tomorrow.” I’m considered A LOCAL! I love them:


Also some sad news, I heard from Sue at the stables that one of my elderly neighbours at up the road has died. I’m going to drop his wife a line. That’s how different things are here. It would seem improper not to do so but in London you wouldn’t think of it, unless you had known the person reasonably well. There, you can live somewhere 20 years and barely greet the people across the road from you when you meet. Of course, the downside, is that they probably know all about me too but I can’t say that bothers me in the least.

Oh dear, now the title of this post looks like some horrible poor taste pun. But  it wasn’t intended that way at all, I only added the last paragraph as a postscript once I’d saved the original short post…

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Sitting in my kitchen working from home today, I can hear incessant birdcalls. So I thought I’d upload some of the images of birds that I’ve taken in the last couple of years at Spring Cottage. They’re not great pictures or very exciting or unusual birds, but as I keep saying – this is principally a record for me and my family and, if anyone else likes it too, then so much the better.



When my parents-in-law first moved to the countryside, I was surprised to see the interest with which they watched the birds in their garden. I couldn’t have found anything less fascinating – I just thought, “Birds, so what?”. Now, I can see my children, who are in their early twenties, thinking the very same thing about me, as I get excited by the birds that nest in the garden or feed on the seed I put out.

pheasant in grassy field

Cock pheasant

old bird book

When I was a very little girl, I was given a bird book, so I must have had an interest in birds (although I also had a great uncle who gave me Ladybird books for Christmas until I was at university, so this doesn’t necessarily follow). I coloured in some of the pages with red felt pen and traced a lot of the images of birds over and over again. I wrote my name inside the front cover alongside little pencil hearts. It’s been well-loved and is now falling to pieces with a very broken spine but, despite having other bird books with lovely photographs, it is still this book that lives permanently in the kitchen and that I go back to when I want to identify a bird. Its drawings are clear and the birds are well described, which is more than you can say for a lot of modern books, although I do really rate the RSPB Bird Identifier website.



And while I’m thinking about my childhood, what bird epitomises a city child’s experience of birdlife better the sparrow? Sadly, these days you rarely see what used to be an everyday little bird, although bright green parakeets are now a common sight across London, frightening away the indigenous species with their loud cries. They annoy me in their huge flocks screeching across the skies, but I do enjoy them in my neighbour’s cherry tree, balancing on one leg while they hold a cherry in the claws of the other foot and take bites. This seems so comical.





The picture above is a bit of a cheat as I’ve had to enhance it slightly, as it was taken through my kitchen window and looked a bit murky.

robin on a branch


My favourite bird though, in town and in the country, remains the robin – for its faithfulness and friendliness. There always seems to be one around and they’re quite happy for me to take endless photographs of them, while they sing their hugely under-appreciated and beautifully varied songs.

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I knew it would happen as soon as I’d got over the massive hump that is Christmas and all one has to achieve during that time and before. I am ill. Gripped by a sore throat and lethargy, I have slept the morning away to find a huge thaw under way, which has saved me from carving a path out of the front garden.

Forcing myself out of bed, I almost fled straight back to London. But the Children are taking Little Sister to the Natural History Museum today, so all that I would gain is the looming clearing up, which is best ignored for the time being. Instead, I decided to tackle the chores I brought with me, head on. I have put up Mr and Mrs Hangup from RE (they are actually called that):

I also put up the mirror I picked up on my trip to Langport, so that you can actually see yourself in the bathroom. Rather a shame really, as one of the luxuries of being down here is not having to worry about appearances and not having a mirror helped.

Then, I discovered the wonderful, surreal world of the Clerkenwell Kid and the sounds of the Real Tuesday Weld. But aside from this, I’m afraid I’m not very inspired today. I have no idea why I am showing you pictures of my flannel and tea towels… Time to go.

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Mini-crampons Since the cold weather hit I have been wanting to have a whole cupboard full of these, so that I can give them out to whoever needs them to feel steady on their feet on their way home. They are the best thing, apart from claws, that you could have to trudge the treacherous pavements of our ungritted side streets.

map of uk

Don't believe everything online...

Telescopic road miles I would like Windsor to be brought about 20 miles closer to London, so that the poor Boy doesn’t have so far to commute every day. But at least he has a job, for which I am truly grateful. When I was trying to look up the distance between London and Windsor, Google maps came up with the map on the left, which made me laugh!

Essay titles I would like Up North University’s English Department to set their students essay titles once a term, so that they can have a break from thinking them up for themselves. Perhaps they’ll also ask them to set their own exam questions? Well, why not? Ahh, because they don’t have any exams. No, none at all. Who’d have thought it?

Le De Givenchy This is definitely for me – a scent that I first bought when I was about 20. In those days it was only available as a parfum, so I used it very sparingly and the bottle lasted for years. I still have the empty bottle in my underwear drawer in the hope that it could still impart a lingering whiff of loveliness. The sad thing was that for years, Le De wasn’t manufactured, so all I could do was dream about it. But now Givenchy have brought out a whole range of vintage smells, one of which is Le De, albeit in Eau de Toilette form. Well, beggars can’t be choosers. I will be very happy if Father Christmas could land on the roof of Harrods, one of its few stockists, and bring some back for me.

Bembo My dog, Bembo. I know he exists somewhere in the new year but for now he (or she) is just on my wish list.

Oh, and, of course, peace and love, good health and all that… and by the way, what does one give a 12-year-old, not very girly, girl?

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If I don’t leave London this weekend, I’m going to end up getting a dog. It’s either Somerset or Battersea Dogs Home for me. I’m driving myself completely mad with thoughts of this little scamp that I’m going to adopt. I’ve lost all reason. I work full-time and have two cats. Why on earth do I want to lumber myself with yet another animal that I have the schlepp down the motorway twice a month, take walkies late at night and clean up after when it eats the post? But look how nice they are…

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Now, I actually saw a woman walking her dog in these boots in London this week. Of course, I noticed them. That’s the point, I suppose, but, as Rachel Johnson, editor of the magazine The Lady, pointed out last weekend, country people wear wellies from Homebase or Countrywide. LIKE ME! I want to shout. LIKE ME! Not that I don’t have welly envy from time to time, when I see a nice pair of Hunters. But Jimmy Choo Hunters at £225 are not for me – even if I was wandering about on this evening, just looking, of course… Hunters, who are serious welly makers of long standing, (I remember buying some huge black ones in a ships’ chandlers in north Norfolk about 25 years ago with my ex-husband, because they were the only make that went up to a size 12 – they were for him, not for me) must be laughing all the way to the bank. Anyway, I’m heading to Spring Cottage with my friend Mrs Honeytree this weekend. She owns a fine pair of Hunters and I look forward to coveting them.

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Spring Cottage is on half term, sweetly slumbering, unaware that it will be rudely awakened today by the transfer of Lad HQ from London to Somerset, when the Boy and seven friends descend for three days of rural activities like clay pigeon shooting, mountain biking and going down to the Travellers’ Rest pub. I am so happy that the cottage is being used for this, as that’s the whole point of it. But I’m hoping that my ban on midnight fireworks – one of our nearest neighbours is 93 – will be heeded and that I won’t suddenly become local persona non grata

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I’m feeling a bit disappointed, as I’ve just had to postpone Sunday’s riding lesson. My cat, Percy, had to go to the vet and is now sporting one of those big plastic collars that make animals look like Andy Pandy.

Anyway, said cat has spent the afternoon reversing around the house at some speed, trying to get out of the collar, and it’s neither sensible nor safe to leave the Boy in charge of him, while I go away. I couldn’t even consider taking him with me, as I otherwise would, because the collar is so large, that to put him in his travel crate for three hours in it, would be torture. And not just for him.

But there’s a silver lining as I’ve just realised that I haven’t had a weekend in the great capital since early September. Somerset–York–Somerset–Prague weekends sound great, until you realise that this means buying your groceries online at 1 am, doing a load of washing as soon as you get home from work and keeping going all evening, rarely going out because you’re too tired, never calling your friends because conversations use up what’s left your spare time and letting your hair grow an inch of grey roots…upstairs

Of course, in the meantime, down at Spring Cottage,  the oil could be running out as I’ve left the heating to come on for half an hour a day – or worse, it might not be heating the house enough if there’s a cold snap – there might be a leak, the hedge is becoming rampant and the spiders will fill the corners with their webs. But if you look for it, there’s anxiety everywhere and I’m going to make the best of it instead. There will still be riding lessons in a fortnight and, if the house has survived two hundred years, it will survive two more weeks.

So I’m going to content myself with posting a picture of the small bedroom upstairs, which I realise I’ve never shown before. Yes, it really is only that wide but it opens out at the other end to about twice that width, where there are bookshelves filled with my entire collection of crime novels. And anyway no-one needs to spend much time in there.

PercyAnd here is Percy. I thought he was being really sweet in this box until I realised he was just looking for somewhere to pee, because his collar’s too big to get through the cat flap.

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I’m off to the bank to finally pay in the insurance cheque for the accident on 1st May. Five months it took for the useless Swiftcover to sort things out, and then only after a strongly worded email from me that got picked up by manager. There’s truth in that old saying: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. And I was saddened by the fact that the other driver lied about how the accident came about. I hope I never cross her path again but in this place, who knows?

Today is a good day though — a Friday, for one, and I also received my first spontaneous comment, for which, thanks go to Jane. Others have commented, but either on blog aggregator sites or elsewhere, so it’s lovely to feel that someone appreciates what can feel like twaddle.

So from my bus in rainy London, have a good October!

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