Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Old Year: 2014 in Review

You’ll have to excuse me while I panic at the thought of 2014 being over – I was just getting into the swing of things, and last I heard, it was September!  Time it is a-flying.  It has been such a lovely, if challenging year.  It started by joining a gym and taking up swimming again, which I really enjoyed.  I took a lot of power-walks along the rivers of Cambridgeshire, we had an amazing weekend in Southwold at the beginning of March, and then we were thrust into the rush of packing up and moving in March/April.  Before we knew what was happening we had found a delightful rental house, moved, Mr VP had changed jobs and we were ‘back’ into our new and exciting life in Northumberland.  We arrived just as the last of the blossoms in Cambridgeshire were fading and the first of the cherry and hawthorn blossoms were beginning to flower up here – we had the longest, most luxurious spring in my memory.

Summer was a holiday for both of us, and just what we needed after a stressful move.  We visited Coquet Island and saw puffins and seals, we spent our wedding anniversary picking strawberries, we walked for many miles along our favourite beaches old and new, and we made the most of every spare moment we could.  At the beginning of September, we began the mammoth task of house renovation.  This turned out to be not only extremely stressful and difficult, but also very educational and I know a lot more about things I didn’t even know existed (like building regulations and how best to choose decent workmen).  After three months, we moved in to an almost-finished house and that’s where we are now.  We’re still mostly living out of boxes as we’re still waiting for the floor to be laid, but with the lights on, candles lit and the fire going, it is very homely indeed.

If 2014 was about movement, then 2015 will, I hope, be about growth.  Moving house twice in seven months is unbelievably stressful and having to pack-up one house and oversee works in the other is tear-your-hair-out worthy, so I would like to settle down in 2015, yet still grow and develop. At some point I plan to return to my studies, either this year or next, and I would like to increase the time I spend doing good and useful things.  It sounds obtuse, but it means me taking on more challenges and making more committments to myself and the life I would like to create.

I always have a bit of a panic at the end of the year, as I worry about the future and what is to come.  I suppose it’s the not-knowingness that New Year represents that worries me the most, but each year I keep trying to let that worry go a bit more and spend a little bit more living as in-the-moment as I can.  I have had such a glorious year in 2014 that I am eager to see how 2015 will pan out and how we’ll grow and change to meet the year.

So that’s it for 2014.  Here we sit watching Guardians of the Galaxy (Mr VP’s pick), having nibbled at some of the buffet food I’ve made (the homemade sausage rolls and olive palmiers have gone down a treat!) and toasting ourselves in front of a warm fire.  We might not be awake come midnight, but we’ll usually be woken long enough to welcome the new year by the fireworks going off around and about!

To all the lovely blog readers who stop by, I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2015 for you and yours.  Thanks for reading and see you in 2015! :)

Monday 10 November 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014: Day 10. Grainger Town

After showing you around one of my favourite parts of Newcastle the other day, I thought I’d show you the main, and one of the most beautiful, parts of the city: Grainger Town.  Named after Richard Grainger, a Newcastle man born and bred, he ascended the ranks of society through the connections he made from his building work.  After marrying well, he became more influential and went on to shape the whole style of Newcastle city centre, as well as some of the suburbs.  The Monument is one of the best places to sit down and people-watch, and serves as a permanent reminder of the man who changed the entire look of Newcastle.  It is also one of my favourite places to stand and gaze up at the enormous Georgian architecture, huge stone crescents and ‘Tyneside Classical’ stylings of the buildings.  Thanks to this man’s vision (with the help of architect John Dobson), we now have one of the most beautiful cities in the world (in my humble opinion!).

Friday 7 November 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014: Day 7. A Sanctuary in the Heart of the City

One of my favourite places in Newcastle is the Central Arcade.  Full of pomp and circumstance, it was built in 1837 by the wealthy and influential businessman Richard Grainger whose name still remains an important in the city’s history and architecture.  The building has been destroyed by fire more than once and its latest incarnation dates from 1906.  The tiles that line it floor to ceiling are a sight to behold and whatever the season, weather or time of day, it is definitely one of my favourite places to visit in the city.

Sunday 17 November 2013

NaBloPoMo 2013: Day 16. Worcester Cathedral.

When I said yesterday that my stressful week was finally – phew! – at an end, I had forgotten that today would be spent driving almost 300 miles to fulfill some duties that we had promised we would do. After a long drive there, I left Mr VP doing some of the things that needed to be done and I made my way into Worcester cathedral.

What to say about the cathedral?  It is a nice little cathedral; not as awe-inspiring as Wells, as grand as Lincoln, as big as Peterborough or as divine as Sherborne (which is, to all intents and purposes, more cathedral than parish church!). It is nice, though. Comfy.

The first thing you will notice is probably this window.  It is a Genesis window, depicting the creation of the world, the characters and the stories from Genesis.  As you can tell from the vivid colours, it is C19th, made by Sir George Gilbert Scott.  If you look hard at the window in person, you can make out the pink giraffe (of all things!)

The Victorians conducted a huge restoration of the church, which was apparently in need of an overhaul.  The Victorians being the Victorians, they added a lot of (overly) ornate ornamentation to just about everything.  I am a Victorian apologist, so I find the prettyness in what they did, but I know many others who do not like this sort of thing at all.

The cathedral found itself in the centre of one of the bloodiest battles of our Civil War, the Battle of Worcester.  Worcester was a Royalist stronghold but Cromwell’s New Model Army, with twice the numbers of the Royalists, overwhelmed their forces, slaughtered many and captured Worcester.  The battle would become one of the most famous of the Civil War because it heralded its end.  The beleaguered Royalists were not only overwhelmed in number, they were beginning to lose heart in their cause.  Because of this, the petit tyran seized victory and manage to ‘win’ the war.  As a result, like most of the other churches at the time, Cromwell and his Puritan army stripped churches of their ancient colour, removed all traces of fripperies and made them modest temples of worship.  You can see that this gave the Victorians, who loved their high-church aesthetic, a blank canvas to work with.

Some beautiful examples of painting can be found in the ceiling over the quire.  The nave remains almost entirely unadorned, but get past that and suddenly the richness of the Medieval artists comes to life in the beautiful vaulted ceilings.

My motto when looking around any old building, but particularly cathedrals and churches, is to look past the obvious and to look for the little things.  These beautiful tiles have seen many footsteps in their day, but look as if they were only put there a few weeks ago.  I love their busy pattern, rich red-and-gold colour and how well the stone surround is made to fit.

A rare joy for me, I got to see the quire stalls lit.  It is quite something to behold, and made all the better by the modern lighting.

This reredos is very Victorian.  It sits just behind an extremely colourful altar cloth made in 1969 by local artists and its colours are said to represent the colours of the liturgical year and the sharp edges represent the reflection of the cathedral’s spires in the nearby river Severn.

More floor tiles.

Looking towards the nave from the quire, this has to be one of my favourite views.

This is King John‘s tomb.  He was a difficult fellow and disliked by most.  He was not a great leader, but what came out of his reign was the Magna Carta (albeit with a few dozen swords pointing at him if he didn’t accept the charter) and that is something very special indeed.  The Magna Carta gave individuals (in this case barons) the opportunity to legitimately overthrow a monarch who broke the rules set out in the document, as well as laying out a plethora of rights for individuals.  It was incredibly an forward-thinking document.  What really fascinated me about his tomb, though, is that this carved marble is his original tombstone and that means that it is over 700 years old.  Amazing.

This is the Cathaedra.  It is just… well, very ornate.  Completely Victorian.

The stained-glass in the cathedral is exceptional and well-worth getting up-close and personal with, if you should visit.  Of course, most of it is ‘modern’ and… you guessed it!  Victorian.

This is, I think, some of the original paintwork.  The Victorians did renovate, but they specifically left certain parts unaltered, so that people could see the church in its original state.  This is very forward-thinking, as most conservation and restoration also leaves the original visible for future generations to admire.

The Victorians left this tomb alone, and I’m glad they did.  This ‘ball-flower’ design can be dated to early-C14th.

I rather like seeing these cross-supports, going through the windows as it seems to provide a bit of interest in an otherwise-standard set of Gothic arches.

My last photo.  I was lucky enough to catch the cathedral’s choir rehearsing for a concert and it was an absolutely glorious (and unexpected!) way to spend a few hours this afternoon.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Finding my way through the streets at dusk

Now that the nights have drawn in, the clocks changed from BST to GMT once again and the cloak of night now falls that much earlier, it seems fitting to enjoy these first, early days of Winter.  For indeed, that is what we are in the midst of now.  Autumn was warm and yellow and bright, but after the  storm of St Jude, we have been feeling the nip of cold and the crystalisation of winter in the world around us.  Scarves, hats and gloves have become the norm again and I slip into this season as I slip into my sheepskin slippers: with an unnoticed ease.

I thought that as our new-found but much-remembered early nightfall is upon us once again, it would be fitting to capture Cambridge at dusk.  I personally needed to get some air; needed to fill my lungs with the chill air, until I could really feel it.  On my way round, I found this church which now houses a full restaurant.  During the day, one passes these windows without a second glance, but come dusk and evening (and because it was still open at this early time) the lights were on and these windows shone with gold.

They reminded me of the little stained-glass lanterns we used to make as children with coloured cellophane sweet-wrappers and card.  These windows are extraordinarily beautiful and provide a juxtaposition between the call of god and the call of commerce, whose windows – just down the road –  are startlingly bright and glitzy.

The town really comes alive at this time, as people leave their offices, colleges and shops for the evening.  This is the old bit of the city, a mish-mash of the very old with the Georgian and the Victorian all jostling for attention.  I imagine how this curving street, Rose Crescent, would have looked with gas lamps flickering; and before that even, when Cambridge was just a proto-town, full of academics and not much else.

By just a slightly different angle and aperture setting, the street is modernised, with bright lights and shop fronts urging you to consume.  People mill, some with a purpose some without, here and there; some homeward-bound, others out intentionally to become the nightlife that they seek.  A slight sensation on the air, I can feel it, that Christmas is not far off, that November is just beginning and the month of mists and mellow fruitfulness is no more.

There are lots of streets that look just like these, in different parts of the city and the country.  I happen to rather like Georgian architecture with their occasional Mansard roofs and sure, square assemblages.

It is not often that you will come across original street signage, but I would hazard a guess that this is at least 100 years old, but probably more.

Looking down the street to St John’s College, I notice that the lighting comes from so many different sources, each with a different quality that gives all of the different architectural styles their own magic.  Uplighting, downlighting, passive lighting; the church tower catching the last of the natural light.

Skylines in cities are fascinating to me.  It all stems from the painting at the start of Mary Poppins (a film I watched so many times I wore out the VHS tape!) by artist Peter Ellenshaw that really began my fascination with all things skyline.  Chubby Jacobean chimney stacks sit cheek-by-jowl with church spires, which sit next to square, sturdy Georgian buildings.

I rather like this photo.  In times to come, when I am old, I will come back here and probably nothing will have changed.  Pale blue sky, chequer-pattern brickwork on a sleeping college and very old windows, lit up from within, full of busy-ness.

The air was still, for the first time in a few days, and the tourists had already gone home for the most part.  I felt incredibly self-conscious, as I was the only one with her DSLR camera snapping away.  On any other day, I would’ve been but one of many.  The night turned out to be a very chilly one indeed.

Buildings lit up from within is another thing that fascinated me very much.  I built a wonderful Christmas scene one year, with industrial quantities of card, glue, glitter, plastic snow-scene figures and a lot of fairy lights.  It was rather wonderful and very magical, if a tad naive-looking!  There is something inherently magical about windows shining into darkness that I cannot put my finger on.  I am by far not the only one who finds illuminated windows beautiful.  In the run up to Christmas, you can find a plethora of little houses and buildings illuminated with tea-lights or fairy lights.  Even our Scandinavian neighbours like them, as they have the year-round zinkhus.

Another thing about Cambridge is bicycles.  Everywhere.  Chained to railings, some missing wheels and handlebars, some chained up high, some chained to someone else’s bike.  But bikes there are in abundance.  And posters, mentioning the newest play in town or a new opera or band coming to play.  Organ recitals sit cheek-by-jowl with Shakespeare and Bill Bailey posters in the same way that our higgledy-piggledy buildings sit next to one another, almost in concentric historical circles, moving outwards as the city has grown and expanded.

My last photo from the evening because it was getting quite chilly and I was due to meet up with Mr VP for coffee.  A huge horse-chestnut tree, denuded apart from a couple of leaves, a guardian over the war memorial nearby.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

A Lovely Saturday

Oh what a lovely Saturday Mr VP and I had a few of weeks ago.  We woke up relatively late – around 8.15, I think – to find that we had the luxury of having a whole unplanned day in front of us.  I had a shower, using one of my favourite shampoos (Kérastase Bain Specifique Clarifiant, a real luxury!) before blow-drying my hair, as I have started doing, so that I can have a “good hair day” (the trick is a vent nozzle on your dryer and a round-barrelled ventilated brush — it has only taken me 27 years to work it out!) rather than perpetually look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.  I popped on my favourite geometric-print dress, sprayed myself with some perfume and then went downstairs feeling pretty nice.

I made breakfast, poaching an egg for each of us, and then we sat and had a discussion about what we wanted to do for the day.  I had no clue, but I knew that I wanted to get out and so we decided that a trip into Cambridge was called-for.  Though I’m not a huge fan of the city, it’s okay for a little potter around at this time of year, now that much of the Manic Tourist Season is over.  So we hopped into the car and arrived at the park and ride just in time to catch a very full bus, chatting all the time about everything and nothing, as you do.

When we reached town, we just wandered.  I bee-lined for John Lewis’ haberdashery department, small as it is in the Cambridge store, only to find it was heaving and the poor assistant was absolutely run off her feet.  I bought a new pair of 5mm knitting needles (mine have gone walkies…) and a couple of small Christmas presents for a friend, which I know she’ll love.  I managed to score some reduced Rowan Cashsoft wool, too, which was a bargain at £2.80 per 50g ball!  I plan to use it to make a present for someone – but it’s a secret, so I’ll keep Mum until afterwards!

Feeling inordinately pleased with myself, we headed out and thought, as it was nearing lunch time by this point, that we might do something that we don’t often do – have lunch out.  As we were next to Yo Sushi!, we decided we’d go there.  We used to go occasionally to the one in the Metro Centre when we lived up North.  We both really enjoyed our lunch (I like that you never feel overloaded or overwhelmed by the amount of food and it’s a novelty having it come around on a conveyor belt!) and vowed that we would make sure that we did it again soon.

From there, we headed to Paperchase to browse notebooks for Mr VP’s bag and came up trumps with a very nice, neat and tidy Rhodia notebook (we all have our faves – I’m a Whitelines girl with a penchant for the odd Moleskine – what’s yours?).  From there we wandered down Rose Crescent towards Trinity Street and Heffers via L’Occitane.  I couldn’t help myself.  We were greeted warmly and given a glass of lovely cloudy lemonade – a welcome surprise! – before we came away with some of their miraculous foot cream and pillow spray.  We did have a look in Heffers and I was shocked to discover that there was a 3 for 2 sale over most of the shop.  Mr VP left me to have my joyous conniption at the thought of a 3 for 2 sale in a bookshop, while he went to peruse the shelves.  We talked about Seamus Heaney passing – the man who will forever be the saviour of English Lit students studying Beowulf! – and his literary legacy.  I headed for the poetry section, then the philosophy section, before ending up at a table of Oxford World’s Classics.  Oh it was lovely, just to browse unhindered by time or need.

Then we just wandered up and down streets, talking and laughing, arm in arm as we like to do.  We marvelled that, even though it’s comparatively quiet compared to the summer months, how full of tourists it still was.  And how tourists like to take photos of everything.  Absolutely everything!

As the seasons are changing – can you smell it on the air in the morning?  Did you see the morning fogs recently? – I knew that there was no better time than to begin my Annual Autumn Boot Hunt.  It happens every year at around this time, just as the first morning fogs and cooler evenings are arriving, that I begin my search for a pair of boots that will be comfortable and robust enough to see me through a British winter (as changeable as they can be!).  I have difficult feet – both large and wide – which makes finding shoes of any kind a real dilemma!  I finally found a pair, in Marks and Spencers, which are the Goldilocks of boots (i.e. just right).  I now have a pair of boots I can look forward to wearing for the rest of the year (and beyond!).

We walked a large loop around Cambridge before deciding that it was time for a coffee (by now about 4.30pm) and we were completely pooped.  As every other coffee shop in Cambridge was heaving, we decided to go to the John Lewis café on the top floor of the building.  The views were quite startling and even better enjoyed with a latté in hand.  We then caught our bus back to the park and ride and headed home.  It was just such a lovely, weather-perfect and happy sort of day that even Mr VP remarked on what a nice day he’d had.  A special day indeed.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

York Weekend: Part 3

Some more photos from York Minster, I think.  Just a couple.  This window really spoke to me as a lover of all things campanological.  Can you see all the bells?  The two panels either side of the centre show bells at the foundry in the process of being made.  I thought it was not only lovely but showed what was important to the early peoples of York.  Bells not only denoted wealth but were taken seriously as they called the faithful to worship.

One thing that did surprise me was that ‘commoners’ weren’t allowed to use the cathedral until the mid-C19th.  Only the very uppermost echelons of society were granted access, whilst the poor had to make do with the smaller churches dotted around.

It seemed a wasted day to not do something on the Monday before we drove home, so I suggested to Mr VP that we visit Fountains Abbey.  I’m so glad we did because it was such a gloriously sunny day with big, blue skies and a strong but soft wind blwoing through.

I hadn’t been to Fountains Abbey since I was a teen but remembered its grandeur which is as wonderful and stately as it ever was.  It’s hard to believe that it has been ruined for so long as it is still in very good condition.  In fact, of all of the ruined abbeys, it is one of the best preserved sites in the country.  I got a real feeling for monastic life and ritual here because the walls are so strong and sturdy and the rooms so well preserved.

In some ways, not having a roof has improved this abbey for me.  This way, I can celebrate and worship nature in such elegant and divine surroundings.  The lack of windows is both a pity and also a bonus, just look at the views from them!

I can imagine the monks here and I can feel their presence in the very walls.  It has a slightly sad tone to the place as it was built but only used for purpose for a short time; Henry VIII has a lot to answer for.

I hadn’t remembered this from the first time I visited, but I was awed to see how well the altar has remained despite the hundreds of years of abandonment.  It is easy to see how this was one of the richest parts of England at the abbey’s heyday.  I’d like to think that the monks, who I am sure still wander around the ruins at night, would be proud to see their handiwork still around today.

Such a pretty ruin.  I would have loved to have seen that window which now lies empty, I imagine it would have been a mighty piece of stained glass perfectly able to rival the great East window in York Minster.

In one of the lower parts of the ruins, where the monks would have conducted their daily business, the walls are not as high nor as complete as the abbey and nature has begun to reclaim the land.  This wall was teeming with different kinds of wildflowers and ferns.

I’m not sure how old this fig tree is, but it’s doing very well in the cloisters.

I seem to find graffiti just about everywhere now, and I wonder who wrote this and when.  I don’t think it’s as old as the walls, I would guess maybe Victorian by the script; if only I could decipher it!  Was it a declaration of love?  A wish?  A shopping list?!  Who knows.

Make sure you investigate the ruins of the abbey as there are lots of interesting places to find.  This room is hidden begind a door to stop pigeons (there’s mesh at the windows, too).  Would this have been a bedroom?  A meeting room?

This room is part of the cloisters and was pretty big.  The vaulted ceilings are quite something to behold and inside it there was a real sense of calm and quiet.  It’s a very peaceful place indeed.

This is the view from Anne Boleyn’s seat over what is called Studley Royal Park which encompasses the abbey ruins.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and from this elevation, you can see why.  We wouldn’t have known about this seat had it not been for a very knowledgeable and lovely lady in the tea-rooms who noticed that I was an avid photographer like herself.

Such a lovely view.

My last photo of the holiday: a crow’s feather.  We had a wonderful time in York and vow to visit it again.

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