Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Based in Balham

The final bank holiday weekend in a long string of days off was spent based in Balham, where my sister Kate lives, with her husband Jim and baby Ella. Jim was away on a stag weekend, so I was hoping for some quiet time to catch up with Kate and get to know Ella again, having not had the chance to see her since Christmas. I did get that, after a delay.
The rest of the family heard of my plans, so we were joined on Sunday by Lucy and her boyfriend Andy; Mum and Dad; Pippa and Vinny, my nephew; and my best friend Vanessa. We had such a great time. On Saturday night, for the first time since any of us could remember, it was just the girls: Kate, Pippa, Claire and Lucy, aka the people I love most in the world and with whom I grew up.
On Sunday, we started at the Science Museum, which, to tell you the truth, holds not a huge amount of interest for me, as I am much more inclined towards the arts. However, Lucy and I paired off as we always would have done in childhood, and had a go at all the experiments, and it was great. Then we had lunch in Carluccio's, which was noisy and nice. Ella couldn't get enough of the bolognese! Then we headed to the South Bank, so that 4-year-old Vinny could see all the street performers, and he gave them a run for their money, dancing and doing impressions along with each artist he met! He was in his element! We went back to Balham for a roast and a wind down, Vinny wearing out Andy as he played on his skateboard and threw around the slinky he got at the museum, Ella opening and closing the garden gate a billion times.
On Monday I finally got Kate and Ella to myself, and we went to the Battersea Children's Zoo. It was a lovely sunny day, with a lovely chilled vibe, and we spent a few hours saying 'bye bye' to all the animals and playing in the park. Ella was gorgeous and contented throughout, and really good company.
I had such a wonderful weekend, with such great people, and left Balham feeling relaxed and inspired. Not only had I fed my soul with family love, but I'd also found the time to start teaching myself Italian! Che vita!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

S'Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence has a special place in my heart, being the French town I finally got to live in, aged 21, after spending most of my childhood fantasising that I'd one day live in France. It is the most wonderful place to make such a dream come true. The old town is mostly pedestrianised, and contains over 100 fountains although it can be walked around within half an hour, a few days, six months or more, whatever you have. It is a maze of squares, cafes and old shuttered buildings, and it couldn't be more beautiful.
I have been lucky enough to share Aix this week with three of my most precious friends. We got the cheapest flights we could find, and stayed in the cheapest hotel, but this neither meant we had a bad time, nor a cheap one. Our money and time were spent wisely, wandering through the streets; drinking coffee, wine or kir; visiting one of the three C├ęzanne sights, his country house (disappointingly devoid of his paintings, but pretty nonetheless); buying clothes and jewellery; marvelling at the cost of living in Aix (beat £8 for a fruit juice!) and eating pastries, pizzas and salads.
Our hotel was spacious and clean, with a good pool, I got to catch up with a friend who still lives in Aix, and we even swam in the sea before flying home.
It was wonderful for me to relive some of my happiest days, and share it with the people who keep on making my dreams come true.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Forest of Dean

Caterpillars, bluebells
Butterflies, woody smells

Black beetles, bumble bees
Pine cones, oak trees

Blue sky, endless green
Peace and quiet, the Forest of Dean.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Montpelier Arts Trail

It's arts weekend in Montpelier. That's not a misspelling, as I mean Montpelier, pronounced Montpelier with an 'er', in Bristol, UK, not Montpellier with an 'ay' in Southern France.
The weekend began in the Attic Bar in Stokes Croft, where we watched the bidding for paintings by local artists raise nearly £10,000 for Temwa. Amazing, and very exciting.
The weekend continued, for a very long time, in the Studio, where Matt and I had been tidying, hanging and pricing in preparation for the Arts Trail. Actually, before really starting we attempted to nurse our hangovers with a slap-up breakfast in The Bristolian, but it turned into lunch, so long was the wait for beans on toast. I could have walked to the shop, bought the food, gone home, cooked it, eaten it, washed up, queued up for a Banksy print and got one, in the time it took between paying and eating... and I would've remembered the difference between brown and white toast. (One is brown, one white, it's not hard).
Anyway, once finally fed, we installed ourselves in the studio, with supplies of tea, coffee, biscuits and beer, and chatted to the local art enthusiasts as they dropped in and out. It was fun. Most people seemed to love the space, and the art, and quite a few transactions were made, so the happy, arty, local, lovely feeling from the night before was sustained. Then Matt's parents came and took us out for dinner, to The Social on Cheltenham Road, where the service is normal speed and the food delicious, so it couldn't have been better really.
On Sunday we hung out some more with the artists who share the studio, and welcomed more Bristol people through the doors, and sold more work, and drank more beer. It was good to see so many people out and about, wandering in and out of people's homes and work spaces.
Another uniquely Bristol weekend, and it was great to be so involved. I'll be sad to miss the Stokes Croft Street Fest coming up this month...but much as I love Bristol, I do also love to leave it.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Blown away

Jon has a lot of lovely friends. Unsurprising really, as he is a lovely person.
I hadn't made plans for the second long weekend in a row. I'd been too obsessed with the first one, as it provided my first days off so far this year (illness excluded as that's no fun). Then, all of a sudden it was here, and miraculously, the sun was still shining! So I went for a cider after work, then a burger, then found that I was remarkably tired and slept early, and lengthily.
On Friday, after satisfying my compulsion to clean the house, I was ready to celebrate not working by drinking, doing this first in a garden, then in the studio, welcoming various friends who dropped by. We'd intended to find a street party but never really got that far, as when we left the studio it was already time for tea, then the pub, then a bar.
One of the friends we'd seen on Friday had convinced us to join him the following day for a trip to Mersea, so we had an early start on Saturday.
It was the first time I'd been to Mersea. Actually, I'd not really heard of the place before, and I can't tell you how to get there as I spent the journey asleep. Anyway, it's quite far from Bristol, and very windy. We pitched our tents in the campsite and stomped across the beach to Jon's house, where his generous parents were hosting the bank holiday for Jon, his brothers and around 40 of his friends. They have a massive garden, which is thankfully sheltered from the wind.
The next two days were spent drinking, barbecuing, walking across the beach and huddling in a tent while the wind threatened to blow us into the air and across the sea. We wouldn't have gone far, as the sea at Mersea is more like a muddy estuary, with a view of houses and power plants on the opposite shore, but I didn't fancy being blown across it.
I have been utterly spoilt growing up in Cornwall, and in terms of natural beauty, Mersea does not compare. However, what it did offer was sunshine, fresh air and seafood, a beautiful sunset and lots of lovely people. I was blown away, almost literally, by Mersea.