Thursday, 30 August 2012

Kenneth Allsop

Kenneth Allsop
Kenneth Allsop look-alike
There was one of those recurring interviews on BBCR4 this morning about how to get off heroin or methodone addiction. Robert Redford look-alike Kenneth Allsop (pictured above - disregard the difference in hair colour and specs, believe me there is a craggy coolness in common) was a childhood pinup, from his regular appearances on the early evening BBCTV news magazine programme 'Tonight'. As a young journalist in Hertfordshire in the 1960's, I went to interview him in his home near St Albans and was surprised when he mentioned casually that he was addicted to morphine, as a result of continuing pain from the amputation of a leg - a WWII injury. Reading about him now on the web, I realise that he was also a notable writer about the countryside and friend of Henry 'Tarka the Otter ' Williamson. I remember him vividly. The impression I had was of someone whose experience of life so far transcended my own at that time that interviewing him was uphill work, but also a profound indifference to celebrity. Until today, I had buried in memory what I must have known at the time, that he committed suicide in 1973, three years after he had moved to Dorset and five or six years after I met him.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Baste in haste

Two yellow tubes

I packed two yellow tubes for my sailing holiday: one is travel wash and one is sun protection factor 20. On the first sunny day I went below, felt in my sponge bag in the dimly-lit cabin and pulled out a yellow tube. How very nice, I thought as I applied the contents liberally to my face and neck: a transparent gel. Far nicer than that other old white sun stuff that makes you look like the teenage member of an African tribe setting off for some initiation rite. It was only the following day that I realised my mistake. The odd thing is that the travel wash actually did seem to prevent me from burning.

Sunday, 26 August 2012


Male orca
Comparative size of human to orca or killer whale
Excitement one day last week at sea in the Minches when a colossal black triangular fin was spotted off the port beam of Provident. It was an orca, circling lazily but purposively in the water. The fin was so large, so black and so regular in outline that to begin with we all wondered if it was some manmade bit of flotsam but no, there was no doubt as we watched - this belonged to something very big and very alive, probably feeding on a shoal of fish. Gannets continued to plummet like stones into the sea around it, presumably confident that they are not tasty enough to be a starter. Other wildlife we spotted included an otter in the bay where we anchored at Vatersay and several endearing harbour seals, particularly one at Barra that genuinely appeared to be seeking eye contact, and another that followed us out of our last anchorage on Thursday, Loch Kentra. We also saw herons, cormorants and other sea birds

Saturday, 25 August 2012

At sea

Provident (Brixham trawler)
Just back from a week away without mobile or internet, sailing from Mallaig on Provident a Brixham trawler. It was brilliant. Lots of sailing, in fact we broke the season's record for least use of the motor. The company was pretty good, too. We ranged in age from Alexander aged 20 in his second year reading maths at Cambridge to Ken aged 83 who was at sea all his working life. There were, most unusually, two mother and son couples on board. Our skipper Ben's mother Hazel now spends most of her year in Australia so this was a way of spending a week with her frighteningly calm and efficient boy. I was brought up to sail accompanied by shouts and alarms. On this trip we actually moored under sail at Vatersay, in the Outer Hebrides, in a bay famous for its white sands, no-one's voice raised above a whisper. The other Mum on board was Alexander's, the ship's cook Anne who kept us supplied with excellent meals whatever the sea. Crossing the Minches westward was quite bumpy but the bacon butties kept coming. All in all, it was a wrench to say goodbye yesterday morning and board the train southward to Glasgow. The floor of my house is still rocking slightly and I am endeavouring to download the pictures I took off my new mobile so far with no success.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Society of Authors in Scotland (SOAiS)

One of the two Sir Chris Hoy gold- painted postboxes in Edinburgh
To Edinburgh yesterday for the AGM of the Society of Authors in Scotland. The room buzzed with the fury of those who by definition do not get out much (we're usually sitting on our own working to meet a deadline). I met a remarkable man, a former vet who started his writing career by publishing books on immunology but is now a world authority on London cutlers (makers of knives) and medals. Talking of knives, our new SOAiS chair is best-selling Scottish crime writer Lin Anderson, founder of the forthcoming 'Bloody Scotland' bonanza in Stirling Sept 14-16, who told me that her next book is set in Cannes where she and her husband have a flat in the old quarter  known as Le Suquet. The Russians love the south of France and have returned in force after a brief 70-year hiatus thanks to the revolution. The Russian language declines like Latin and Greek, and rather sweetly they treat 'Cannes' as a plural word because of the 's' at the end. I was also able to pass on to Lin the fact that in Tsarist times, a train left the south of France every day to take fresh melons and grapes and other Mediterranean produce to the tables of the aristos in St Petersburg. I can thank a London restaurateur for this information. As a child in the 1950's, our regular treat was to be taken to a place called, the Hungaria in Lower Regent St, run by a man who had gone in 1913 to work in St Petersburg, at the premier hotel in those days, The Astoria, and then as the private chef of a prince in the circle of the Grand Duke who murdered Rasputin. His memoir 'The Tavern is My Drum' (a quote from Shakepeare Henry IV)was published by Odhams in 1948, price 12/6d. Moffat Book Events is putting on a crime fiction event next year - see our website for a shocking retro illustration of a blonde with a smoking gun. Wonder who that might be?

Monday, 13 August 2012

On the train

A blast from the past
Changing trains at Carlisle yesterday afternoon, I found a vintage train on private charter standing at platform 3.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A last stroll round the neighbourhood

Bray Place SW3 - flat with Olympic 2012 decorations

Duke of York's Square with Olympic flags

'Trotters' on the King's Road

Peter Jones decorated for the Olympics 2012

'Trotters' Olympic 2012 window
I have lived in London, on and off,  for over 50 years of my life, starting as a schoolgirl in Mayfair, then as a young graduate in Knightsbridge, then for 35 years in Chelsea. I took a last stroll round the neighbourhood this morning, popped in to touch base with Johnny de Falbe at John Sandoe's bookshop before catching the train north. My daughter Abi worked at the children's shop 'Trotters' for a while. I did specialist training for a territorial army unit at the Duke of York's barracks. If I felt miserable or dislocated, Peter Jones's brand of sensible Middle English smartness usually cheered me up. Now I'm on the train, reading Philip Larkin and thinking 'Next year will be poetry year'.

Friday, 10 August 2012

A Perfect Day

A long, great day starting with a swim then a nostalgic walk: a ride to Notting Hill Gate on the 328 from outside the Chelsea Bun, then back through Holland Park, stopping for lunch in the cafe, along Kensington High St then south along Exhibition Road in tropical heat to square one for a birthday dinner in the open air as the sky slowly darkened. The city streets are quiet at this time of year, and the flowers and trees have never been more spectacular after so much rain in the spring and early summer.

Penultimate day

Baccarat head of a girl with streaming hair, Chelsea Green shop (closed for the month of August)
It's our penultimate day at the 2012 Olympics. Yesterday was basketball, disconcertingly accompanied by loud rock music. Today is Elly's birthday.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Book jacket

Book Jacket
Well, if not exactly a book jacket - then a jacket with writing all over it. Seen in the window of a dress shop near where I am staying.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Graeco-Roman Wrestling

Graeco-Roman Wrestling at Excel- pic by Elly Hurren
Elly took this pic at the Olympic 2012 Graeco-Roman wrestling at the Excel arena - medals went to Russia, Iran and Cuba. Return was via the new cable car across the Thames to the 02 (known for the period of the games as 'North Greenwich', then a very late riverboat up the river to Embankment. Magic!

Monday, 6 August 2012

A new coffee bar

''Artisan' coffee bar in Putney, southwest London


Yesterday we visited a
coffee bar opened last October
by a friend's son. This area of London is not short of coffee bars, but this one was packed. The couple who started it did a lot of homework before opening - it's on the web if you look for 'Edwin Harrison' there is a youtube recording of a talk he gave to a group of others interested in doing the same.

Friday, 3 August 2012

More gold!

Hanging baskets, St Luke's garden, Chelsea

News of more gold just in! Off to Ice Age 4 with Zac now...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Olympic football

Our men at the match inspecting the Wembley arch

Flags of the Olympic nations at Wembley

Gabon v South Korea: score 0:0
Two young 'stringers' covered Olympic football at Wembley for me last night while I experienced unwelcome aspects of London hospitality as follows: the house white wine I ordered was substituted by some horrible sickly sweet cordial; when I asked the bar assistant if it was the usual Colombard she paused long and hard before trying: 'It's different tonight'. 'You're telling me' I said. 'Shall I change it?' 'Don't bother - throw it away. I'm going out' (suiting the action to the word). At the local fish restaurant, the inexperienced young waiter spent a long time explaining what their house white was, before explaining that they had run out. I ordered their house salad, advertised as 'avocado, tomato and cucumber'. When a plate heaped with salad leaves arrived, with two ( I counted them) bits of tiny bits of avocado hiding shyly inside, I requested - and was given - what was specified on the menu. For dessert I was encouraged to go for a 'special' - Eton Mess, whose indispensable ingredients are meringue, cream and strawberries. A dish of sticky meringue arrived decorated with three raspberries. Hey ho. A couple of days off live sport now until the Graeco-Roman wrestling on Sunday, so this blog will roam the wilder outposts of southwest London reporting on the informal aspects of Olympics 2012.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Beach volleyball

Germany v Netherlands

Spot Nelson!

Domes and pinnacles looking southwest
The beach volleyball was superb entertainment:  Mexican waves, teams of glamorous dancers of both sexes in retro beachwear between every set, blasts from that south American instrument (zarzuela?), funny messages on the screens, spectators processing up and down with hot dogs and beer, the Dutch supporters in funny blinding orange outfits, Brits draped in the Union Jack. We lost to Italy but never mind. This is a great venue, and manned (as are the others) by unbelievable numbers of friendly, helpful volunteers as well as the smiling young soldiers who call you 'Ma'am' and stand to attention when answering unmilitary questions like where the nearest number 11 bus stop can be found. Clean, convenient, packed with every sort of food and drink supplied by small independent outlets and nary a MacDonald's in sight. Because it rained intermittently to begin with (later it cleared and was a lovely evening) we popped out and bought ponchos price £3 which will last and were even 'breathable'. Heaven.