Friday, 14 November 2014


If you're reading this, it means that I am not able to post right now. The time in Japan is going to be VERY busy and I'm not anticipating much time to sit and compose posts, or visit everyone's blogs, even though I will do my best!  (I'll certainly read comments at every opportunity though.)  In case not, I have scheduled a few more posts which might just remind you of summer. 

There is still so much to say about our cycle trip. We went to so many places but I seemed to get stuck on Yorkshire.  And, in fact, I'm still stuck on Yorkshire!  Because I did want to write about Scarborough, Yorks, which we found most interesting.  Before the 1930s,and even beyond, this famous seaside town was smart and fashionable, and there's enough left of that to help you realise it really was a spectacular place, with yamazing scenery and everything (such as cliff railways, a spa, golden sands, even a castle) that the j and 20th century holidaymaker could desire.

When we arrived, we strolled along to the renovated spa buildings, where a first rate Hammond Organist was playing on the terrace. Glass screens block out the wind and allow a view of the sea through the columns, so it was surprisingly cosy down there.  The audience gradually increased as time went on.   

We also climbed up to the castle, which also has good views.  

and we looked around the town quite thoroughly before deciding that Scarborough potentially has so much, but it is certainly lacking something at the moment.

TLC, perhaps.

There's been renovation and updating but somehow it doesn't come together and the overwhelming feeling is of a super place that is crying out for help, appealing to not quite the right market or something.  So, despite it being midday in midsummer, the rest of that lovely spa building was shut, so if you didn't like Hammond Organs, there was nothing else to do there.   The fabulous cliffside gardens near our hotel were overgrown with weeds. Dinky Victorian shops nearby were closed (this Colonial Outfitters was on a street almost white with bird droppings and dive bombed by huge scary feral flocks of screaming gulls, a most miserable place. Why couldn't they do something to persuade these ferocious hordes of birds to go elsewhere? )

Wake up, Scarborough!   

 I particularly noticed the Grand Hotel, which was once a posh, over-the-top High Victorian hotel, with seven stories for seven days of the week, four towers for four seasons and 365 bedrooms. Its splendiferous interiors still exist, and faded 1950s photos on the wall show it in its luxurious heyday - but the town's flagship hotel now scores lousy ratings on Tripadvisor and has been done for food hygiene failures more than once. (read more here and here

During our visit a filthy overflowing rubbish skip stood right by the front entrance. And take a look in this ballroom. At first it looks fine....

then you see the black mould all over the walls....

Perhaps I shouldn't be too negative.  Some of the guests think the hotel has great entertainment, even if they don't necessarily love the food or cobwebs.  Anyway, the bottom line is that Scarborough isn't suited to being downmarket, and it is obviously waiting for some major project to pull some well off customers and money in, so it can turn its fortunes round like Margate has done. 

 Meanwhile, there is always the sea, and lots of people do like to go there for their holidays.  It was fascinating just sitting and watching them all.

The weather looks a bit grey but actually it was warm enough.

And people were doing the traditional things British people always do at the seaside. 


We stayed at the Crown Spa hotel, which was built in 1844, just at the start of Scarborough's rise to popularity.  It has huge sea views and is not as expensive as it looks, so it's a real bargain - it's well decorated, the facilities are good, we had a classy meal there and the staff were charming.

So we really enjoyed Scarborough - and many residents are doing their best for it.  I hope they can manage to attract some sort of cultural icon to the town, spruce up the bad bits and capitalise on its Victorian heritage to turn it back into the place it should be. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


I've been awake most of the  night with an awful attack of neuralgia of the head  - caused , I think, by a deceptively cold wind yesterday. But we saw some splendid things in Kyoto and I thought I'd share some images of temple gardens and buildings. It's the start of the autumn leaf season and quite wonderful

No captions or information I am afraid but the pictures I hope will tell their own story.I hope I will sleep tonight but I will I hope stay awake long enough to see the Golden Temple and Imperial Palace!

I will meet Yoko and other Nara bloggers tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it.  And I can hardly believe my time in Japan is nearing its end - I wish I had planned another couple of weeks! 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Kanazawa and Halloween


Halloween already!  Tokyo is paying homage and even the girls from the frankly rather creepy 'maid clubs'  are dripping with fake blood.   My photo, though,  shows the menu of the respectable little restaurant next door to my hotel.

Japan has been fascinating and unexpected.   Unexpected to me anyway. We're just back from Kanazawa with our friend Rie who's been translating and explaining the many things that we're baffled by, (what various foods and implements are for instance  - I nearly bought some pickled fish thinking 
it was candy). 

We're also accompanied in Kanazawa by Chris from Japan Experience the travel company which has helped me for some of the trip. He's a lot of fun and I feel we've seen a side of the city that most visitors don't see. Here are Chris and Rie doing the Kanazawa version of the Beatles'  "Abbey Road"  cover. 

One of the places we visited was Oyama shrine which has great modern sculpture in its grounds and coloured glass in its tower

Stained and coloured glass is not a Japanese traditional craft.  Dutch stained glass was brought over several centuries ago to Japan when the country was still mostly closed to the outside world.  The shrine was established in 1599 but moved to this location in the 1870s. By then, I suppose coloured glass seemed like  a smart Western style to use  in this beautiful shrine, specially as Kanazawa has a strong artistic tradition. Can you see it in the top window of the tower?  

We also understand that the central area of the pathway is reserved for gods but I'm afraid we walked down it anyway! 

Here is more sculpture. 

There's a tiny gold frog on this Alice in Wonderland leaf. 

To get back to Halloween,  I found this image in my files. Looks like a prompt a for a Halloween story, doesn't it?   In fact, it's a prop, and at a particular point in the performance, it swoops out at the audience.   Scary!  But not quite so scary when the audience has just left and the  lights are up. 

Happy Halloween! 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Arrived in Tokyo

I'm sitting in my hotel room and it's about the least busy night I'm anticipating for several days, Arrived in Tokyo today in heavy rain but I don't care,. I love it. These are pretty much random images, that I happened to take on iPad not the usual camera. So it really is first impressions of Japan! 

Here's a window of the cafe in a market 
We had a nice lunch but did not dine off plastic food :) 

Just a weird random image in a drugstore 

And some good luck cranes in a shrine.

All very ordinary and everyday to Japanese people but I have spent very little time in Asia and so a lot of it is plain unfamiliar.

The layout of this post is screwy but I am pleased that I was able to post at all as my new ipad has gone mad and deleted my entire mailbox when I changed the port.... Sigh..

Friday, 17 October 2014

Wool, Poppies and Rage

Isn't this beautiful? It reminds me of a tulip,or a poppy, or crumpled silk sexy underwear, and I even see a couple of sly Aubrey Beardsley-like figures top and bottom. I just didn't expect it to be made of wool. It's an ambiguity that I expect the rug's designer, the late great Alexander McQueen intended us to feel.
I saw it at a pop-up free exhibition for the Campaign for Wool on the South Bank the other day. This organisation's patron is my favourite Prince and it's quite sparky. They've overran Savile Row, home of fine tailoring, with sheep, and roped in top designers for the "Wool School" training initiative and show some beautiful ideas for interiors (of the type where it's helpful if you're a millionaire).

Outside the exhibition, they'd woven great big strands of white wool through the old railings round Southwark cathedral. It looks so.... well, I suppose woolly is the word.

On Tuesday an old schoolfriend and I braved torrential rain to see Paul Cummins' poppy installation in the Tower of London's moat. See the Shard shrouded in cloud in the distance? That's how damp it was. The poppies, each representing a death in World War 1, joined in a dark red mass that really was reminiscent of an ocean of blood. We left in a thoughtful mood.

I've been organising being away. Talking with house sitters, packing, details of the trip, trying to get the place sorted out before we go. The Tokyo street guide (Japanese and English) has arrived. Our kind Japanese friends will take us to so many places that we may hardly need the Tokyo street map but it's both exciting and intimidating to peep inside and see what a large city it is.

While I'm away over the next several weeks, I won't have much time so I think I could find it hard to visit everyone as often as usual but I'll do my best to post here.  And I've also scheduled some posts.

I was going to add something more, but I posted this with my newly acquired app Blogsy, and it's TOTALLY screwed up when I tried to edit it on my desktop.  I had to delete the whole post and start again on the desktop.   Another hour of valuable time down the drain sorting it all out.

I steer clear of apps unless I really need them.  I am bored stiff with going through all the endless options.  All I want is something simple I can use forever without thinking about it, so I have time to spend on doing the things I actually like doing.   But that's not the "choice" you get.  Like, I had to "choose" to give all my photos to Google on Picasa in order to use this Blogsy app.  I now have to learn to use Picasa. I don't want to. And I would prefer to keep my photos on my computer, privately. Great "choice", huh?  It's that or the Blogger app that doesn't work at all.

Well, bear with me if you don't get any sensible posts from my travels.  I'll do my best, I really will. But something tells me I'll be deleting both Blogsy from my iPad and Picasa from my desktop, in order to get clear of all this cr*p without having to waste hours of time on it. 

Monday, 6 October 2014

A Pleasant Weekend. .... except......

Oh! Hope I'm not coming down with the bug which the babies had last week.  Baby No 1 got hold of my mobile phone and had sucked it all over by the time I noticed.  Ever since then it's been kind of ... sticky....and I have been feeling slightly flu-y. Not as if he did it on purpose, he is just at that age. And he is so sweet and cuddly that I nearly don't mind if I catch a cold from him!

Apart from feeling slightly rough, it was a good weekend. On Saturday we attended a meeting of our Garden Committee - as I've said before, we have a three acre shared garden out the back of our houses. Each house has only a small back garden, from which a back gate leads onto the communal space, like this, below.

 There are surprising numbers of these private gardens in London - this article's about some of them (we don't open our garden, so you won't find us in the article).  A firm of gardeners comes in once a week and the guy who runs it told us we are among the most easy going and unquarrelsome groups he deals with. Everyone was amazed to hear this, to be honest. One of the residents has been taking the law into their own hands and destroying some large climbing plants and there was some fire and brimstone in our meeting.

When we first moved here, the garden was more overgrown.  According to a film someone made in 1969, that was the year when residents started to get together to work on our garden, planting trees and clearing rubbish.  It took decades to get it into shape using voluntary labour, since of course it also had to be maintained and improved as well as cleared.  Money had to be raised to buy equipment, and it was hard graft.  

Many of those people are  now dead, but we see the fruits of what they have done and are grateful.   It is strange how people can look out at a place choked with brambles and filled with rubbish and nettles yet not consider getting together with other residents to improve it - but that is the case in some of our local big gardens, even today.

Afterwards I wandered around and admired some late blooming roses.

One of my favourite communal gardens is Park Crescent, in Brighton, which is about 70 years older than ours, consequently the houses are more elegant.  Here's a Guardian article about them. Their garden party sounds all sweetness and light doesn't it?  Ours is rarely so idyllic, but it is fun nevertheless.

I once looked around a house in Park Crescent which was for sale.  It had been the home of of  Lewis Carroll's youngest sister, Henrietta, who in the 1890s lived there with an elderly maidservant and many cats who used to climb the curtains. Henrietta sounds to have been a typical, gentle Victorian spinster who didn't really care what anyone thought of her.  She and Carroll got on well, and I thought the house, with its tiny rooms and simple period details, had a happy feeling. As a biographer, I found it rather cool to think that when he came to visit Henrietta, which he often did, he looked out onto that very garden.  It must have been so different then.

 There aren't any pictures of Henrietta later in life, but here she is as a child, when he took a photo of her.

On Sunday, went out for a walk to Kenwood House, a wonderful mansion and art gallery now in public ownership.

Just outside the orangery, at the front, I noticed two young girls had carefully created a home made picture out of petals and things they had found. It's entitled "Sunset" and they had a collecting hat nearby in case anyone felt like giving them a tip for their work.   Not sure English Heritage would like them chalking in green outside their lovingly renovated 18th century mansion which they have just spent millions of pounds on, but I gave the girls 50p for being enterprising and said I hoped they'd make lots of money. 

Kenwood's grounds were "landscaped" in 18th century style, and it overlooks a lake with an elegant little wooden bridge at one corner.

But if you go around the back you see that it is not a real bridge. It's just one layer of wood that looks like a bridge.  It was actually designed that way, for appearance sake only.

Totally fake in other words! It's fitting that Kenwood is quite often seen as a location for movies, where nothing is as it seems. Its biggest claim to fame is in "Notting Hill" - remember it?

Further along I spotted a really weird old tree. It had once been a large silver birch,but the entire bark had been stripped off, except for a few ragged branches at the top.

I found it quite creepy because it was so tall and so dead, there on the edge of the hill. I wondered why I had never noticed it before. And when I went closer, I thought it even creepier. Maybe it's my imagination but does it seem to have a face? It's like some horned witch, dancing wildly on top of the trunk.

As T said, you didn't quite like to turn your back on it in case it somehow changed position while you weren't looking!

To be honest I was glad to leave it behind, and off we went to a 70th birthday party. The birthday girl lives next door to 2 chefs who had made her two matching birthday cakes, in different flavours. One had a 7 candle and one had a 0.

It was a lovely party and we knew lots of people so it brought the weekend to a happy conclusion. Until, that is, I realised I had a sore throat.....

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