Monday, 31 August 2009

In defence of summer

I know that we British love to have a good moan, but I do get despondent sometimes when people say that we haven't had a summer at all this year. Yes, the hailstones in July were bizarre, and the unpredictable rain and thunderstorms meant I was caught out without an umbrella on more than one occasion, but we have definitely had many, many hot sunny days in the last few months. There have been barbecues, picnics, outdoor music concerts, garden parties, swims in the open air and numerous meals on the balcony. I have walked to and from work almost every day this summer, and the Wimbledon roof only had to be used once. My shoulders are brown and my sister's nose has its annual smattering of freckles.

This weekend has not been a solid three days of blazing sunshine I had hoped (though today has been beautiful), but I feel it was a fitting fanfare to the final days of summer.

Friday night M and I went to the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park to see 'Hello Dolly'. The performance was delayed due to rain, but we sat in the bar area and sipped our wine, and eventually the skies cleared and we returned to our seats for a fantastic all-singing, all-dancing performance which we watched snuggled up under blankets as the sky got darker and lights came on in the trees.

The Saturday night Hen party / dinner was brilliant; delicious food, free flowing wine and excellent company all made even better by the fact that most of us were staying over and so didn't have to worry about getting home. It was slightly unconventional as there was a mix of boys and girls, but it was so much fun and everyone got on so well that the big mix of people only added to the atmosphere of the evening. The celebrations went on into the early hours of the morning unfortunately ending with one of the party falling off the garden trampoline and breaking his upper arm. Ouch. (Note to self: in future, 3am trampolining after copious amounts of wine is not a good idea, and should not be encouraged.)

Sunday was sleepy, dreamy, with the morning spent drinking many cups of tea and absentmindedly stroking our hosts' cats (too cold for the swimming pool) before getting on a train back to London where we spent the grey afternoon at the flat drinking more tea, eating fruit loaf and napping to try and counteract the effects of the just-three-hours sleep we'd had the night before.

I am afraid to say that we were so exhausted from the previous night's activities that there was far less dancing at Sunday night's party than I had anticipated, but it was still a lovely laid back affair. The garden looked beautiful, lit with burning torches, fairylights and the glowing coals from the barbecue, and it was nice to just sit on the rugs, swaddled in my two cardigans (there was a distinct chill to the air) and chat to friends and nibble on corn cobs. I did do a bit of dancing, because however tired there are some songs you just can't sit down to, but eventually the lure of bed became too overwhelming and we braved the night bus home.

I didn't get my swim this weekend, but I did get an outdoor party and some glorious sunshine this afternoon. Tomorrow is the 1st of September and, my two week holiday in the South of France aside, I do feel ready to embrace autumn*.

*(Although, Met Office, if you're reading, if we could have some nice weather on the 12th that would be just wonderful as it is A & T's wedding and I know they would really appreciate some sunshine. Many thanks.)

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Knitted Tank

(image from MTV)

On the phone to M this morning, walking through the park:

Me: I loved the outfits in the film last night, even the male ones. I'm going to buy you some knitted tank tops to wear in the labs this autumn.

Him: Tank tops are geeky.

Me: Darling, you're about to embark on a three year PhD in Particle Physics, you are geeky.

[offended silence]

Me: But I love geeky.

Him: Thanks.

I'm still not sure I'll get him into one, but if he needs further persuading I can always show him this article from Boxwish. If it's good enough for Brad...

(image from Boxwish)

Thursday, 27 August 2009

(Non) Rom-Com

( image from The Guardian)

I know this has been written about a lot recently, especially in the American blogs as this film is already out across the pond, but I have just returned from a free preview screening of (500) Days of Summer with Anna so feel I must post.

We both loved it.

The witty dialogue, the envy-inducing wardrobe, the lust-after apartment interiors. The realism of a relationship that it displayed, albeit in an off-beat, quirky way, complete with a musical style street dancing number at the peak of the relationship and oh so clever split screen to display the protagonist's expectations of a party he attends, compared to the reality.

Relationships aren't perfect, they do end, people don't (or can't) always express what they are thinking, feeling, as eloquently as Dawson's Creek would have us believe. The film breaks down many of the chick flick cliches that we are continually exposed to, and my only quibble would be that it didn't fully follow this through. Without giving anything away, I feel that the film would have been stronger, and I would have left feeling more satisfied with its message (though also, admittedly, more teary), had it finished about 5 minutes before it did.

All in all though, one of the best films I have seen in a good long while and I am very tempted to go see it again next Wednesday when it is out on general release.

Hanging on

Autumn is my favourite season, but I am loathe to say goodbye to summer just yet.

It may be grey outside today, and the rainclouds yesterday evening may have made the sky prematurely dark, so that walking home along rain-slick pavements I felt like it was October, but we haven't even had the August Bank Holiday weekend yet.
I am determined to wear something light and summery to my friend's Hen Party dinner down in Kent on Saturday night, and will be painting my toenails bright pink and packing my polka bikini in preparation for a Sunday spent by her pool.

I am hoping it stays dry on Sunday, so we can stand in the garden at C's Carnival party, as the light slips away behind the trees, and escape to it later on, when the heat from dancing to A's DJ set gets too much. I am not sure if I will make it to the Notting Hill Carnival itself, but if I do, I want to be able to stand in the street and eat corn cobs cooked over hot coals, sun beating down on my back, music throbbing across melting tarmac.

This is all rather optimistic. BBC weather predicts mixed sun and cloud, with highs of just 22 degrees (Celsius). But at least if it doesn't rain that's something.

Meanwhile, more gifts from the Norfolk garden were delivered last night, glowing yellow cherry tomatoes, furry peaches to be ripened on a sunny windowsill and the first of the apples, a marker if ever there was one of the turning seasons.

I can't fight it, and indeed have no real desire to. Autumn is on the horizon, whispering to me.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Is it still only Tuesday?

Itching for the weekend already...I have not one, but two parties to go to, Saturday and Sunday(Bank holiday!), and I just can't wait. Ready to put on something sparkly, drink something bubbly and dance in the evening darkness to whatever is being played.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Best of both worlds

A weekend split between the family home in Norfolk and here in London, and I feel lucky to be able to have countryside and city, family and friends, all within the space of a weekend.


I leave work early so we just miss the rush hour traffic, and get driven up to Norfolk in a 1963 Jaguar e-type that Dad has hired for the weekend. Low to the ground, fast, and resulting in multiple salutes and nodded acknowledgements from other classic car drivers we pass on route, especially those leaving Duxford airfield, as Spitfires roar overhead.

Barbecue in the garden, smoky peppers, blackened courgettes, grilled halloumi. Evening visit to the stable to feed S's horse, catching up with my sister in the barn as hay is munched and swallows dip in and out of the rafters overhead. Poo-picking in the field (ah, the things you do for a sibling!) as the last rays of the evening sun come across the hedge. Home-made strawberry ice-cream and Fame on DVD later on. Love the legwarmers and headbands.


A morning wander round the charity shops, buying up a few books and a couple of china swans for a friend's wedding that I am doing the flowers for. Lavender picking in the garden to bring back to London for C, honey bees and Cabbage White butterflies for company. Lunch outdoors, tomato and basil bruschetta follwed by sweetcorn picked from Mum's vegetable garden half and hour before, juicy and so so sweet, with melted butter and sea salt. I had forgotten how much I love this vegetable.

A train ride back to London, where I meet M at the flat to get ready to go out for a friend's birthday. At The Porterhouse in Covent Garden I drink various fruit beers (which I have come to appreciate since Bruges) whilst M drinks dark, bitter pints that taste of burnt toast. Twenty of us then head to Wahaca to eat, and though we wait for an hour for a table, one scoop of creamy, lemony guacamole later I am hooked. The food came quickly (one we were finally seated), the staff were friendly and my summer vegetable burrito was delicious. M and I walk back to mine through Leicester Square, past Piccadilly, up Regent Street and I am full of love this busy, vibrant city. M is finally moving to London in a month and I can't wait to discover a new area of it with him.


Lazy morning, raspberry pancakes, orange juice, balcony door open wide to let in the morning sunshine. A trip to the farmers' market, a bunch of sunflowers with fat, heavy heads, a box of tomatoes, a couple of corn cobs.

In the afternoon we head to Hampstead Heath with some friends, and brave the ponds again. The sun is on the water this time, and the surface looks green and more inviting. We swim for longer than before, then pick a sunny spot elsewhere on the Heath to spread out our towels and dry out in the warm breeze, laughing at the antics of a boisterous Jack Russell nearby.

Later, we barbecue on my balcony, making the most of the final hours of the sun-filled weekend. The first of the peppers are burnt beyond recognition but once we peel of the black skin they are soft and deliciously sweet within.
I wake up this morning to the last of the pancake batter, feeling completely relaxed and fully topped up with Vitamin D.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Internet finds

Three internet finds that have cheered up my lunchbreak:

1. The results of the Guardian's 'perfect date' competition...which is your favourite? I like 'Viennese waltz' and 'Queen of Hearts' but the winning entry is pretty good too.

2. The Impossible Project - I was so sad when I found out they were discontinuing Polaroid instant film, but these guys are trying to start producing it again, which is very exciting for Polaroid lovers everywhere.

3. V has finally got his Mum's cookery blog up and running (that I talked about in this post), and just texted me the link to it. Check out Cook like Geetha for delicious vegetarian Indian recipes...though there are only a couple up there at the time of writing this.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Five a day

The parents were down from Norfolk at the start of the week and came over on Tuesday evening bearing gifts. Garlic and french beans from the vegetable patch, and a big box of jewel-bright damsons and greengages from the fruit trees. Too few to make jam from, too many to eat by myself, though I am most certainly trying - I have some on my desk at work today and am just nibbling and nibbling!


(image from here)

Oh it was hot yesterday. I met C after work and we jumped on the Number 24 to head to Hampstead Heath and the bathing ponds. The air on the bus was stifling, the seats prickly on our bare legs. By the time we had walked up the hill to the accompaniment of chirping grasshoppers, made a false turn along a gravel path through the long dry grass, then finally found the entrance to the mixed pond amongst the trees, we were aching for the cool water. It was less appealing on first sight however, a dark, murky brown, bordered by a strip of muddy grass scattered with ogling men, but it was so hot and we had come all that way, so we quickly changed into our swimsuits and clambered down the ladder before the warning signs about potential ear infections and gastroenteritis could put us off completely. Not quite the bathing scene from Atonement I was imagining!

Our (very) brief swim was actually extremely refreshing, surrounded by leafy trees and drooping rushes, and there is a sense of satisfaction from swimming outdoors in London. I am definitely keen to investigate some of London's other outdoor swimming spots, I have heard that Tooting Bec Lido is particularly worth a visit. I am also tempted to return to the Ladies Pond in Hampstead Heath, I have been there once a few years ago and remember more grass space for lounging than was at the mixed pond. Any recommendations?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

That's what they call al fresco

At times, wandering around Bruges, the sun was so hot on our backs that I felt we might have been on the Mediterranean coast rather than in Northern Europe. Back in London, it is not much different, as the sun is finally blazing down from a blue, cloud-scattered sky. The basil on my windowsill is producing green, chlorophyll-packed leaves in abundance, and the English strawberries on sale in the supermarket are a deep, intense red. Yesterday evening I met up with some friends. Partly on account of the heat, and partly because of our Euro-stretched purses (the exchange rate is so bad at the moment!), rather than the pub we headed to Regent's Park instead, taking with us a blanket, some bottles of cider, some cans of pre-mixed G&Ts and Pimms, a bag of giant pretzels, and a box of raspberries. We sat on the grass and talked and drank and nibbled as the sun grew lower in the sky and the shadows grew longer and the music from 'Hello Dolly', on at the Open-Air theatre, began to fill the air.

And all that for the price of a single drink, had we chosen to have our drinks in the pub. Got to love al fresco London.
Oh and I have been given my first ever blog award by Trishieokoh at Under Lock and Key so thank you very much to her for that! I am not quite sure of the rules but think I need to pass it on to three other blogs that I very much enjoy reading, who will then pass it to another three and so on, so I am giving it to:

All these blogs brighten up my day whenever I see there has been a new post. Thanks guys!

In Bruges

Deep green canals. Cool stone bridges. Cobbled streets. Gothic churches, step-gabled buildings, leafy squares. Mornings exploring the city on foot and by boat. Creamy Belgian hot chocolate before the sun rose too high. Ice cold cherry beer in the heat of the day and warm evenings. Beautiful tapestries, intricate, delicate lace. The rich, deep, dark smell of the chocolate shop where we stocked up on gifts. Climbing the tall bell-tower, and surveying the city beneath us glowing in the late afternoon sun, as the sweat from 366 steps cooled on our backs. Hot, salty frites with a dollop of thick mayonaise eaten in a park by a fountain. Sifting through other people's junk at the flea market, walking away with dusty hands. Window box after window box, stuffed with geraniums in bubblegum pink and pillarbox red. Fluffy waffles with a dusting of icing sugar. Stumbling off the beaten track and finding beauty in the mundane, elaborate doorknockers, bicycles leant against walls and trees.

No sign of Colin Farrell (sadly).

Thursday, 13 August 2009

I've always loved a train journey... is it so very terrible that I am excessively excited about the Eurostar one tomorrow?! Forget flea markets, canals, frites with mayo, Flemish art, Belgian chocolates...I'm just really looking forward to settling down with a good book*, the latest Vogue, a few English plums and some of the best (and probably most expensive!) jellybabies in London (from here) whilst the English, French and Belgian countryside rushes by. I'm exaggerating of course; I am really looking forward to being in Bruges too, but the weekend is made all the more appealing by a good old train journey at either end!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend, I'll be back next week with photos.

* I haven't yet starting this book, 'The Great Lover' by Jill Dawson, so cannot in fact assert whether it is good or not, but it features romance, Rupert Brooke AND The Orchard Tearooms in Granchester (one of my favourite escape-from-it-all places whilst at university in Cambridge) so here's hoping...

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

(It's in Belgium)

(image from here)

On Friday I am off on a four-day city break with some girlfriends to Bruges. I am very excited, even more so after seeing this film last Friday. It looks beautiful, all cobbled streets, gabled buildings and picturesque canals.

Anyone ever been?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Orpington finds

'The Sound of Music' soundtrack on vinyl. Haven't played it yet, but it doesn't look scratched...not that I'll mind too much if it is, it was worth the purchase for the cheerful cover alone, complete with buttercup scattered meadow and gambolling Von Trapps.

A Persephone Classic that I don't think has even been read, 'Someone at a Distance' by Dorothy Whipple. Not sure whether it will be any good, but I have read many wonderful things about all the carefully chosen Persephone books so will give it a try. I am also, much as I try to resist, a sucker for packaging, and I love both the elegant grey and the individually selected endpapers that all the Persephone books feature.


All summer long I have been growing potatoes on my teeny-tiny balcony in a sturdy plastic supermarket shopper bag. Yesterday evening I finally harvested the first of my crop (by rooting around in the soil with my bare hands no less, because I have no tools, not even a trowel, but that seemed to work well enough!). I used them to make my supper, a rather rustic leek and potato soup. I say rustic because I don't blend it, but simply use the following method which I learnt from my mother:

Slice the leeks (I used three for the above amount of potatoes) finely and cook in a lidded pan with a generous amount of butter until silky soft. Meanwhile, chop the potatoes into small pieces and boil for about 5min, in the microwave is fine. Drain, then roughly break up with a fork, before adding to the softened leeks. Add half a litre of stock and simmer for a few minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a swirl of cream and perhaps some grated Parmesan if you want to remove the peasant feel. The above measurements are rough I know, but I got two big bowlfuls from it. You could easily increase the quantities and freeze leftovers for a later date.

Very easy, very tasty, possibly a bit unseasonal, but the sky was grey and there was a light spattering of rain in my part of London.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Geraniums and Sunflowers

How the sun shone this weekend. I threw open the windows and marvelled in the blue sky after Thursday's rain, and how pretty my window-box geraniums looked in the sunshine. We took a walk in Regent's Park, and were very happy to see plenty of honey bees as I know they are in decline at the moment. Then to Orpington for some charity shop browsing and a cookery lesson in South Indian cuisine from V's mother. So delicious, and we all ate far too much. V tells me she may be starting a cookery blog soon (with the help of his technological expertise!) so will keep you posted as she really is a fantastic cook. On Sunday we dragged ourselves out of bed and made it to Columbia Road flower market before it got too busy. I bought a big bunch of sunflowers to help me get in the mood for our September holiday to Nice - they certainly remind me of childhood trips to the South of France, I remember loving the fields and fields of these bright yellow flowers, all standing to attention facing the sun. Glorious.

Past Finds - Part II

Some more old charity shop finds - although I did raid the charity shops of Orpington when visiting a friend on Saturday, so have some new finds to post about soon. Above is a favourite item of mine, a little glass oval box with a rabbit on the lid. It was 20p from the Salvation Army, quite a bargain I think. It is probably meant for trinkets or rings, to sit on a dressing table, but after giving it a thorough wash out I use it as a tiny butter pot for the breakfast table - it will be even better when Easter comes round.

Below are my vintage champagne and Babycham glasses, which buy whenever I can as I lose them at a rate of about two breakages per cocktail party! 'Buy whenever I can' is actually a bit of an exaggeration - as with most things, I will only buy them if the price is right. There were six Babycham glasses (with the deer on) in Cancer Research in Orpington on Saturday, but £3 each was far more than I was willing to pay.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Black and White, with Orange

(image from The Guardian)

I went to see Coco avant Chanel last night (gotta love Orange Wednesdays). I thought it was beautiful. It is quite a slow moving film, wonderfully subtle, with the scenery, the interiors, and of course the clothes playing as much a part as the actors themselves, though Audrey Tautou was amazing as ever. I think I will wander around in monochrome for the next few days in honour of Chanel.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Four days in

If the first four days are anything to go by, it looks like the August weather is going to be as unpredictable as July's was. On Saturday, it was overcast, with a slight chill in the air, which made me feel far less guilty about the very lazy day we had than I would have done if the sun had been shining. Following a very late night the night before for a friend's birthday, we got back into bed after breakfast and lay, and read, and dozed. Lunch was an indoor picnic of sorts, which we ate whilst leafing through my cookery books to decide what to make for supper for some friends who were coming over. The rain began just as we arrived back from a quick ingredients shop, and we turned the radio on and started chopping and peeling and crushing and squeezing as it got heavier and heavier, falling in sheets over the London rooftops. I was in charge of the evening's main course, and made a Nigel Slater Thai Green vegetable curry, whilst M was in charge of desert, a deconstructed cheesecake (gingernut base, mascarpone and lime cream, mango and passion fruit topping - his own adaptation). It all felt very autumnal with the dark heavy sky and the steamed up windows. I don't want to wish summer away by any means (I still have a summer holiday to come in September, and various summer dresses still to be worn), but some days you just have to go with it.
Sunday of course was a complete contrast, we went to a barbecue in a friend's garden, sat outdoors and drank Pimms and afterwards walked home across Regent's Park, all beneath a clear blue sky.

Yesterday we had more sun, today it was grey and muggy and threatening rain.

Ah, the British summer.

(Oh and I am finally tagging Anna from Book Early with the questions I answered awhile back. I know I am supposed to tag more people, and I really did try, but all my 'newly discovered' blogs seem to have already been tagged by someone else, and I wouldn't want people to have to answer the same questions twice in quick succession!)

Monday, 3 August 2009

A Monday morning shout out a good friend of mine, who isn't a follower of this blog but who subscribes to my posts via RSS feed (not even sure what this is - sounds very technical?!), and who, having read my VV Brown post, promtly downloaded her album for me so he could bring it over when he came for dinner on Saturday night. I listened to it on my walk to work this morning and it was as good as I thought it would be. This friend is always lending me music and recommending some very cool stuff, not to mention frequently creating some awesome playlists for my cocktail parties.

Thanks V (aka thesixfootasian), for providing the soundtrack to my life!