And, breathe

The first things we do when we get here are to unpack the car, turn on the water, note the metre readings, switch on the storage heaters, make the bed, have a drink.  Depending on the time of year and time of day we might light a fire.

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After that I like spending a few minutes out here.  Listening to the sheep crop the grass and call to their lambs, and the answering bleat which changes pitch throughout the year, the rustling leaves and the burbling brook if it’s been raining a lot, the occasional curlew, maybe a startled pheasant.  Smelling the cool sweetness and earthy damp or sundried grass.  Feeling the sharpness of the wind or the sun on my skin.  Often, the rain in my hair.

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Tomorrow I will look for the lake which might have formed in the hollow at the bottom of that hill, or see if it’s been and gone, leaving field mushrooms in fairy rings.  We’ll find snowdrops or daffodils along the bottoms of stone walls, bluebells or badger sets in the wood.  I might pick nettles for soup or wild garlic in the lane, apples from the old tree or maybe those mushrooms if I’m feeling brave enough.

But for now I’ll just stand here a moment, feeling something unfurl.

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Posted in life, noticing | 4 Comments

Box clever

Stuff vs experience is always hotly debated.

I am the first person to connect stuff with happiness.  (OK, maybe the second).  But there is evidence to suggest that buying activities rather than objects – and ideally choosing pastimes which involve sharing and being with others – is the route to happiness.  Being out of full-time work for a while made me reassess some of my spending priorities, and I’ve started to think less of a treat as something to be carried home wrapped in tissue paper than as time spent with people you love.  If that person is yourself, that’s no less wonderful.  One of the nicest things I did last year was to treat myself to breakfast for one at The Wolseley on the way home from a particularly brutal set of night shifts.  I may have been less well kempt than my fellow breakfasters, but that haggis with fried duck egg was glorious.

Reading Duchesse’s recent post about the cost of culture Stateside, and Pierre Foglia’s point about the replacement of art with armchair columnists and consumerism, hit home.  It also made me realise was how lucky we are to be living in London, with its wealth of possibilities on our doorstep.  Knowing I was about to embark on a job working normal hours, able to make plans in advance (and actually stick to them! Amazing) I resolved to get myself to the theatre toot sweet.

So obviously, when I received a text from Will inviting me to the opera, my first thought was ‘Why is he texting me in the third person?’

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… quickly followed by ‘A box!  Crumbs.’

Will is a muscian.  He thinks sitting so close to the stage gives you the best balance between the singers and the orchestra.  Marginally restricted viewing means that the tickets are cheaper, too.  This box between four of us worked out at £46 each.

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This was Die Frau ohne Schatten, The Woman without a Shadow.  I’d never seen a Strauss opera before.  I first discovered Strauss watching The Hours (Meryl Streep in her New York kitchen cooking lobster with Jessye Norman singing Four Last Songs turned up loud.  I fell for the kitchen and the music in one fell swoop), but his operas aren’t put on very often.  This one, staged at the Royal Opera House to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth, is long and the story didn’t sound promising.  Turn it into a nightmare, with lots of people wearing animal heads, and it looked odder still.

It was wonderful, though.  The animals, doubles of their spirit/human counterparts and omens, were beautiful to watch.

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As was the orchestra.  The only downside of being able to see so much was getting swept away and forgetting to read the subtitles.  (My German extends to ‘Guten tag’ and ‘Zum wohl’).

IMG_1606The Royal Opera House is of course beautiful.

IMG_1630Looking out of the Paul Hamlyn bar

The ROH house white is pretty nice, too.  Reserve yours in advance for the interval and avoid the ravening crowds.

IMG_1639IMG_1628People more organised than us who had booked supper for the interval

The best thing about Die Frau ohne Schatten (and the orchestra and singing were wonderful, and the set design was pretty snazzy so it’s a tough contest) was the conductor, Semyon Bychkov.  I am not a music critic, so have searched  for someone who summed up better than I can what I felt.  In the words of Stephen Pollard, ‘you will never hear a finer performance of a Strauss opera than the blazing, incandescent, tender and opulent reading of the glorious score that Semyon Bychkov secures from the Royal Opera House orchestra … we have the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics rolled into one in the Covent Garden pit.’  I would travel far to listen to Bychkov conduct again.  Apparently he’s a Strauss specialist.

IMG_1616I can’t recommend it to you because that was the last night.  But if you get a chance to see Bychkov conducting Strauss, grab it with both hands.

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The best £46 I’ve spent in ages.  Absolutely no question.

Posted in adventures, concerts, London | 11 Comments

Tea and sympathy

My husband was admitted to hospital with a pneumothorax on Monday.  When they’re big they can be life-threatening.  His was quite big.  This happened on the first day of the second week of my new job.  As you can imagine, life has been a bit stressful recently.  He’s home now and I am taking refuge in a cup of tea.

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This is one of those mugs I bought at the Emma Bridgewater factory shop on a trip to Stoke with some of my best friends.  The tea is Darjeeling, which I keep in a tin bought from the gift shop at Cotehele, when I visited with the very same friends.

Incidentally, I had to make this with a tea infuser, as I have broken my teapot.  So I am now in search of a teapot.  Our wedding china is Wedgwood white, but I think the teapot looks a bit too much like an elephant.  Any suggestions, please let me know!  I’d like to buy something British and not too expensive.  I love these, but would be desolate if I broke one.

Posted in life, love | 15 Comments

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

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I start tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

Picture kindly borrowed from here.
Posted in life | 14 Comments

This is not a piece of (birthday) cake

This is a slice of toast, from a loaf with a slightly burnt crust to which I forgot to add salt.  It is spread with salted butter and honey my sister brought back from France, and sprinkled with cinnamon (thanks Tabitha!).  It is good.

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I’ve been trying to bake bread for about a year and a half.  My first few loaves didn’t rise properly.  The next couple stuck to the tin.  I learnt to read the recipe (um, yes, well done me) and grease the loaf tins.  Occasionally the crust would burn slightly before the dough was cooked all the way through (or the loaf sounded hollow when knocked on the bottom).  I muddled on, tweaking this, trying that.  Sometimes we would have a few really good loaves for our sandwiches for a couple of weeks.  Then the loaves would burn, or stick, or both.  Or I’d forget the salt.  Often it seems I’m taking two steps forward and three steps back – but hey, isn’t that line dancing?  (I apologise if it’s not.  I’ve never tried line dancing).

As well as the butter, the honey, and the advice from friends, I am grateful for this imperfect slice of toast and a cup of good strong tea for my birthday breakfast.  It is a small paving stone along my path.  It’s a sign of something I’m not particularly good at, and haven’t given up on.  Last year was busy, wonderful, and hard work, I learnt an awful lot (although not, apparently, about bread) and they say life begins at thirty!  I have a feeling this year is going to be bigger yet.

Happy my birthday, everyone!  Any advice about the journey, or bread-baking, gratefully received.

Posted in life | 13 Comments

Happy New Year!

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Wishing all of you the happiest of New Years, and a 2014 full of love and laughter.

Posted in celebrations | 9 Comments

Merry Christmas

I hope you have a lovely day, however you like to spend it.

DSCN3547Baby Jesus in a walnut shell

Thanks so much for reading, and for your comments, which I really appreciate and love to read.  Thank you also for writing your blogs which, being entertaining, thought-provoking, captivating, comforting, challenging and inspiring, have given me so much this year.

Seasonal joy to you all!

Posted in blog friends, celebrations | 6 Comments