Stuff I’ve Seen, Places I’ve Been.

“Where have you been? 'Cause I never see you out. Are you hiding from me, yeah? Somewhere in the crowd” – Rihanna – Where have you been?

Well this is probably the biggest hiatus I’ve had from blogging. Not because I’ve had nothing to write about, but because I’m too busy doing things! A time consuming commute, busy days at work coupled with sheer laziness of an evening after I’ve cooked tea and done whatever chores are required, has led to me not sharing my usual goings on with everyone! But is that such a bad thing? Well yes if you have a blog. A blog without entries is a pretty boring and pointless thing! But can I attribute part of my laziness in not keeping up to date with my writing because I find sharing every intimate part of your day with a world full of strangers rather a bizarre act? Is it my subconscious that is telling me I can’t be bothered? Maybe that ability I have of being able to keep my mouth shut (yes me, the woman with perhaps the loudest mouth on the planet, can keep secrets very well. Even those people whose paths have now led us in different directions, I’ve still held onto those private words, never to be discussed with anyone) leads me to the path of “I can’t be bothered…I’ll write it tomorrow!”

I originally was going to write about the events below in great detail…but as time has gone on, and the silence has got longer, it seems more appropriate to just do a general sweep of some recent postings I find interesting instead. Plus, I’d need to sort out all of my photographs to go with all of the possible entries…and there lies another bout of laziness. There are soooo many photo’s which need sorting out on my phone, laptop, tablet, and camera. Discipline is required, I must get the photo’s sorted out so I know what I have and where they are, but somehow, when I see the big job ahead of me, I seem to prefer to slope off, to ignore it all, a cup of tea and a book in hand!

“Just walking in the rain, Getting soaking wet” – Johnnie Ray – Just Walking in the Rain

I used to love walking, but him indoors became increasingly competitive. I became impossible to walk with. I was too slow (although my friends complain I walk too fast…go figure!) Walking on the flat and downhill is a cinch. Uphill, that’s the killer. My lungs collapse, my left knee screams in pain and it doesn’t take too long for my right knee to catch up and emit conspiratorial screams of its own. I also have that really annoying habit of stopping and taking a look at my surroundings. Yes, I like to see where I have been walking and, yes, maybe take a photograph or two for prosperity. (Or the blog!) So he goes walking/climbing with his friend in hilly Snowdonia or the Lake District, and when I can con someone to go out with me, I will go on a short 7 or 8 mile ramble taking in the sights and sound of the flatter countryside!

I arranged a day out around Cheshire with my friend Kate, the weather had been nice up until the day we had agreed upon; the day we selected was grey and mizzerly! We parked at Marbury Country Park, where the ticket machine promptly ate my money and didn’t give me a ticket…there were no contact numbers, so I emailed the council directly stating I would be very grumpy if they gave me a parking ticket, and then I marched off towards the park and the start of the walk.

After turning the map book around several times and walking around in circles, Kate and I finally fathomed the correct direction we needed to head off in. Thankfully we had decided to wear wellie boots, it became apparent we were going to need them. It’s a lovely walk around Marbury, taking in the canal, the Anderton Boat Lift and the picture postcard village of Great Budworth. I say picture postcard, if it hadn’t been raining so heavily I might have actually seen my surroundings. That’ll teach us to stop off en route for a pub lunch (fish, chips and a pint of real ale). The sun was trying to break out at lunch time, by the time I had finished stuffing my face (I was starving) and we had started the second half of the walk the rain was heading our way again. The last twenty minutes was torrential, I told you the wellie boots were a god send, but still, it was nice to get out, nice to see Kate again, and as a Brucie bonus, I gathered a carrier bag of elderflowers; that was my Sunday sorted…making several pints of elderflower cordial for the summer. (It’s lovely when mixed with a glass of prosecco!)

Elderflower Cordial.
1.5kg caster sugar
2 lemons
30 heads elderflowers
50g citric acid

Put the sugar and 1.5 litres water into a large pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Thinly slice the lemons and place in a large glass or plastic bowl. Strip the elderflowers from the stalks and add to the bowl. Pour over the cooled syrup mixture and stir in the citric acid.
Cover and leave overnight. After 24 hours sieve and then strain the mixture through a piece of muslin into sterilised bottles. Store in a fridge. Dilute to taste with still or sparkling water, (or prosecco!)

“Return to that fair lake, return, On whose green heathlands grows the fern; And mountain heights of dark gray stone, Are bright with lichens overgrown.” - Letitia Elizabeth Landon - Derwentwater

Time to head off to Keswick on holiday. My friends rent this wonderful cottage in Applethwaite, and it is not for the first time that I wandered around the grounds stating “this is where I’d have my veg patch, this is where I would grow grape vines, this is where I would have my pony...” The Ghyll stream runs through the garden, which is probably how the cottage acquired its name. The sound of running water brings a peace and tranquility to sitting outside with a glass of wine watching the sun go down over the distant hills. I say the sun, it was proper Lake District mixed weather so there were a fair few cloud banks rolling in that we witnessed. When you saw them, you knew you had about 15 minutes to clear the chairs away before torrential rain hit!

There’s a nice walk from the cottage down into Keswick and to Derwentwater. I can’t count the amount of times I have been down to the water’s edge, but it never loses its appeal. I still take far too many photographs, most of which should be consigned to the waste bin, but in this digital age it seems easier to keep them. No wonder I have a problem sorting out and keeping my photo files in some semblance of order, I really need to be brutal and cull some of them.

Now despite visiting Derwentwater a million times, and also being a theatre lover, I have never, until now, bothered to try the Theatre By The Lake. This time was different. I booked tickets to see Handbagged by Moria Buffini. My friend was thrilled, “The Queen and Margaret Thatcher…my favourite two people” she glowered. As we took our seats (on the front row) I could feel the murderess looks slowly giving way to a smile. Result! Both of us loved it. The theatre and the production could not be faulted! When we got home she even told her husband it had been a good night. That’s what I love about the theatre, it can throw up some unexpected delights.

Handbagged – Theatre By The Lake – Moira Buffini

“See the sleeping figures holding up the clock in Prague's old town square” – Killing Joke – Judas Goat

Back to work for a few days and then off I went to Prague on my own for a week of quiet, solitary tea drinking. It’d been October 2015 when I had last visited the city. I got off the plane and headed to buy my bus ticket off the gumpy ticket man in his booth; I realised that things had changed. No ticket booth. No grumpy man. A big shiny self-serve ticket machine stood in the arrivals hall instead. Thank God I’ve been here before I thought. I was also thankful that I never bothered changing my currency when I arrived home last time. I had plenty of change for the machine, and I knew which ticket I required, and more importantly the number of my bus and which stop it departed from. I strode off, pleased with myself and confidently feeling very much like a local!

I left the bus exchange and headed down to the Metro for the second part of the journey and got the train to Staroměstská. From there it was a short walk past the Old Jewish Cemetery to my flat just off Pařížská street where all the posh shops (Prada, Gucci…) are! It was early, but my flat was ready for me…warm and welcoming, with a new sofa and curtains. Other than that it was just as I remembered it. The owners handed over the key and left me to it, saying “you know where we are if you need us.” Comforted by the familiarity of the place, I got changed into cooler clothing (it was boiling out there) plonked on my shades and headed up to Dobrá Čajovna for my first pot of tea of the week, and some pitta and goats cheese for lunch. I got my book of Howard Barker plays out and I tuned into the murmur of foreign voices as I sat and read and chilled out. After about three hours I headed up the road to M&S and stocked up on the essentials. I know! Typical tourist! But, I was on holiday, and using M&S is a treat for me, so there we go. M&S for essentials, local shops for naughty cake type treats!

That evening I ate in the flat, I was too tired to sit in a restaurant, but afterwards I decided I would go for a stroll around Letna Park. I had looked at Twitter when I was eating my tea and someone warned me that a thunder storm was brewing…hmmm. I took a chance and walked around the park. Half an hour later, I could see huge thunderous clouds starting to roll in. As I headed out of the park and back across the river, the first claps of thunder could be heard and the sky was lit up in a hue of pinks and purples. I made it back to the flat with 10 mins to spare before the heavens opened. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed a storm that was so compelling to watch. I even recorded it! It lasted hours. I fell asleep but it had gained momentum and woke me up at 3am, it was like the world was ending. I recorded some more footage and then headed back to bed and put my audio book on to lull me back to sleep.

The storm had taken away the oppressiveness but not the heat! The next day I caught up with my friend who lives in the city and she took me to the National Café for lunch. The building was built about 1843-45, and it became the Imperial Café in 1896. Now known as the National Café, it was infamous between 1923-1928 and anyone synonymous with Czech culture was a frequent visitor to it. Having strolled around town and the botanical gardens, we went our separate ways home, and as I headed back towards the Old Town, I thought Čajovna U zlatého kohouta should be open. I actually fought back a tear as I heard myself saying to the waitress that I had been there many times before, that I enjoyed the surroundings and their tea, and that my last visit had been back in October 2015 and I had really missed the place. I drained a pot or four of Golden Tippy Pu Erh, read some more Barker and then headed home…via Bakeshop! Bakeshop does the most amazing cakes, salads and sandwiches. I treated myself to Strawberry Mascarpone cake. (That’s one reason why I chose the flat…Bakeshop is only round the corner!)

And that was my week really…ambling around in the sun, buying nice things to eat, drinking lots of tea in my favourite tea houses and finding new tea houses to add to my growing collection! I did a few sketches and caught up on some reading. I took my camera, but I couldn’t be bothered getting up really early to take those quintessential shots of an empty, atmospheric Charles Bridge. I didn’t feel I needed to fall into the tourist trap of visiting the popular, busy haunts, in fact I kept out of the way during peak times…tourists can be blummin annoying, and I, of course, was now a local!

(Although I did stand with other tourists watching everyone having fun with the bubble man!)

For the first time ever, I felt brave enough to return to the airport the same way I arrived, by public transport. Every visit I have made in the past has had me panicking that I’d not make it to the airport in time. Ridiculous I know, so I bit the bullet, and the journey back was just as effortless as the journey there. I just wished that I hadn’t bought another teapot, or copious quantities of tea to bring back. I hadn’t thought that it was going to mean an extra display of physical strength to get my case into that overhead locker! Oh well, it was worth it, and I know I will do exactly the same thing next time I visit!

“I'm gonna need you to raise your glass, I don't care what you put in it. Here's to nights that you can't take back. We live hard but we love to laugh” – Andy Grammer – Back Home

Back home and back to work, it’s done nothing but rain…in some respects that’s good. Fortunately the weekend had better prospects in store and so I’ve been able to potter about in the garden and finish listening to my Cormoron Strike audible books. I haven’t really bothered with audio books before, I did buy Dantes Inferno and Pamela because a certain Tom Burke recorded them, but I’m a lover of the smell and tactility of paper. Even in Prague I love going round the bookstores, there’s a great one on Valentinská which has a small English section, and it has that lovely old book smell about the place! So it was with some surprise that I found I actually enjoyed listening to the Strike series.

I read the books rather quickly last year and my imagination placed Tom firmly in the role, however, when listening to the books I got more of a sense of how the character had been written, I couldn’t help but smirk every time Strike was described as variations of a big, fat, ugly brute. Hmm, I’m sure Tom will bring a great deal to the role, but a big, fat, ugly brute? He’s a great actor, but even he can’t achieve that!!! Anyway, I digress, the audible versions really brought a different element to the books, and it meant that I didn’t have to put time aside to re-read them. I was able to listen whilst driving to and from the airport, whilst in the air to Prague, and then back at home whilst weeding the garden etc. Plus the other bonus was I managed to get all three books for a tenner and when you see the cost of audible books normally, I was pleased I seemed to have bagged a bargain.

So now that I’m back home, I have given myself a new project…redesigning the spare bedroom. So all clothes have been removed, and the ugly L-shaped fitted wardrobe has been taken apart and my lovely neighbour packed his van with all the bits of wood and took them to the tip for me. So now it’s time to watch this space and see what I can come up with!

Although now I think about it…I’m heading back to London tomorrow... to the theatre. I guess normal service is about to be resumed again!