Sunday, 29 January 2012

Mountains, snow

We got the Eurostar from St Pancras, to wake up in the mountains and the snow. Sounds romantic, is actually less so when you factor in the upright, uncomfortable seats, fellow passengers playing Eminem through speakers at 3am, the never-dimmed lights, waking every 45 mins because your back is seizing up (me) or not sleeping at all (M and the others).


All of this does not change the fact that on a Friday night at 7pm you are boarding a train post-work at St Pancras, and Saturday morning at 7am, still dark, there is the crunch of snow under your feet and the cold, fresh scent of it in the air. And that by 11am you are on the slopes, a million miles away from the artificially lit-office and the post-Christmas, post-New Year blues.

I'm not a particularly hardcore or adventurous skier. I can get myself down a mountain, mostly, and sometimes even with some elegance. But I've never been a first lift up, last run down sort of girl. I like the breathtaking views. I like the peaceful moments on the chairlifts, sun on your face, the soporific swoosh of skiers down below. I like rushing down a slope you know well, fast, thinking about nothing but the moment, then stopping for a hot chocolate. I like the end of a good days skiing, peeling of the layers, toes slowly thawing, stepping into a hot shower, warmth and water enveloping you and an evening of good company and card games ahead.

There were six of us. We mostly skied together, sometimes skied apart. Developed in-jokes and nicknames for each other. Ate lunch on the mountainside. The snow was fantastic, the weather glorious. We took it in turns to cook in the evening, drank snow-chilled beer and wine and cider from the balcony. On the final night ate our weight in melted cheese and could barely move from the restaurant. I practised my poker face, worked my way through a trashy novel (oh Jilly, how you kill me with your similes!), re-read Atonement, tears streaming. It was a wonderful week, and it took a big chunk of January, which let's face it can otherwise be miserable, with it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

London Love: Bill's

St Martin's Courtyard off Longacre, WC2E 9AB

Bill's is good for breakfast. I have also been assured by friends that it is good for lunch and dinner too, but I started with breakfast, and it was goo-ood. Eggs Florentine, full English, porridge, French toast, juice, smoothies, Bloody Marys, take your pick, everything we ordered (and there were six of us) looked and tasted delicious. Okay, so we didn't order the porridge, it was a Sunday morning and a birthday breakfast for chrissake, but everything else was delicious and I am sure the porridge would have been too, had we been feeling a little more restrained.

Bill's also sell grocery items, and it is worth a visit for the beautifully stacked and wonderfully colourful shelves alone. Also, branches in Brighton (the original I think, never been, but told it's fab), Cambridge, Lewes and Reading, so if you are not a Londoner you can still get your fix.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Happy New Year Everybody


So, 2012. Here you are, wholeheartedly so. Aware that we are well into the New Year, that once again the photos are stacking up on my hard drive, the words tumbling over each in my head. But posting about things chronologically maintains some sort of order, so here you go.

New Year's Eve. What was meant to be a quiet dinner for stragglers turned into a party of sorts as numbers snowballed. There are always more stragglers than you anticipate at New Year. Always. We drank bubbly with rose petals, punch from the latest Bompas and Parr. Ate the food I had spent most of the day cooking, homemade hummus, baba ganoush, beetroot and walnut dip. Spanakopita. Ottolenghi's winter vegetable cous cous. Nigella's gleaming maple cheesecake.

At half past eleven, bundled on coats and scarves, sensible shoes, headed up to Primrose Hill for the stroke of midnight and the fireworks. Always my favourite moment. Not for me the the overcrowded London club on New Year's Eve, but rather this open space high above it all, city below, sky vast, horizon erratically lit up by fireworks, not just those on the river, but elsewhere too, people all over the city celebrating. Champagne from plastic cups, sparklers distributed to gloved hands, mud underfoot and grass slick with earlier rain.

In the morning, New Year's Day, just M and I, blueberry muffins, bagels. A long, long walk up to Hampstead Heath, spying a woodpecker in the trees and later, some of London's parakeets. Back down past Parliament Hill, Kentish Town, Camden, discarded Christmas trees looking sorrowful. Getting caught in the rain, running for the bus, holing up in the flat with soup and toast and television.

Happy 2012.

Monday, 2 January 2012


Oh Christmas. Dreamt about for weeks, sitting at my desk, longing for the last day at work, boarding the train, heading home for a week of doing very little but eating, drinking, spending time with the family. And now it has been and gone, always over so quickly, and I am at my desk, drinking hot chocolate, a whole new year stretched before me, work tomorrow.

But before the memory of Christmas fades entirely, whilst I still have Christmas chocolates uneaten and the Christmas Radio Times still waiting to be recycled on the coffee table, a few words and pictures from last week.

Arriving late at night to a surprisingly mild Norfolk. Making lists of all the food to be bought, doing the Christmas supermarket shop with my sister, vegetables from the market with Mum. Decorating the house, ivy from the garden woven up the staircase, wreaths hung, Christmas tree decorated. (A word on our tree: bought earlier in the year, pot bound, bushy. A summer in the garden and it had shot up but not outwards and was somewhat lopsided, which caused my sister and I some distress - wanting things to be perfect we almost went out and bought a bigger, finer, specimen, but then...then...we decided to see what it looked like once brought indoors and mounted on a chest. Decided that it wasn't going to be the size or the shape or the relative uprightness of the tree that made Christmas, decided that it was nothing some glass baubles and fairy lights wouldn't fix, and in the end, it did look rather elegant, at least from certain angles.) Wrapping final presents. Sinking into sofas to watch some excellent television, Dr. Who, Poirot, Great Expectations, Downton Abbey (*spoiler alert* Matthew and Mary!! Hurrah!! *end spoiler*). A Christmas Eve dinner with flickering candlelight and rising bubbles in the Champagne. Walks in the countryside, hurrying home before dusk fell, and on Boxing Day morning a walk in the beautiful sunshine, blue skies, dry heather. Preparing Christmas Day lunch with my sister, peeling mountains of potatoes, measuring nuts for the nut roast, Puppini sisters blaring out into the kitchen. Visiting family friends, some with warm kitchens and sleepy cats, others with gorgeous wide-eyed, small children to coo over. Coming back to London, bags heavier and more numerous, feeling happy, rested.

Hope you had a good one chestnuts!