Sometimes it pays to wait. Southern England may be awash with cleverly conceived gardens which look gorgeous in spring, but occasionally autumn can compete. A fortnight ago it was end of summer, grey days, cool nights – all rather dreary. But then bingo, along trots an Indian Summer (still going strong as I write), the sky-blue deepens, the sun burns, the light sharpens, a huge pink harvest moon rises and, as for the flowers…
After three days of pootling placidly along the bucolic canals of Lancashire, I realise there’s a whole other world out there. One of living on a narrowboat while cruising the waterways of England. Apparently there are now over 30,000 registered boats, a number that’s soaring year after year. Such popularity is hardly surprising given the pressures of urban life. On the canals you can forget traffic jams, mortgages and noisy / obstreperous neighbours and move at your own sweet pace, experiencing ever-changing scenic backdrops. It makes the fixed view from my London window seem decidedly boring.
A weekend in Liverpool is just long enough to get a sense of this great city’s soul – because so much of it lands in your face, wild, full of colour and above all warmth that you really can’t miss it. Back in London the difference was patent: crowds of lone people were glued to their mobiles, whereas up beside the Mersey, Scousers (that’s anyone born within spitting distance of the famed river) roamed hand in hand in couples or in boisterous groups lapping up life. No shortage of hen-parties and musicians, but no mobiles in sight either.
For the last 15 summers, London’s Serpentine Gallery has commissioned a temporary pavilion to sit on its manicured lawn in the middle of Hyde Park. With a bucolic backdrop of towering trees, winding paths, swathes of grass and of course the serpentine lake itself, the structure kicks off with a fantastic setting. Better still, this year’s worm-like or womb-like tent designed by subversive Spanish practice, SelgasCano (that’s José Selgas and Lucia Cano), is totally bewitching.
Iridescent colour shimmers and flickers over the semi-transparent surface with changing light and time of day, and at last night’s opening, the setting sun had a field day. Clouds came and went, the light intensified and shadows lengthened, altogether creating a mesmerising, surreal quality.
When you spot a man with the word ‘LIGHT’ inscribed on his shirt, you know something’s up. In the case of James Turrell, the genial Californian genius, it is more than apt, as light has been his medium for decades. Not everyone can make it to his monumental Roden Crater, in Arizona, where he’s been exploring skyscapes for over 40 years, but anyone in the UK this summer should go to Houghton Hall, in Norfolk.
You can hardly call it fashion as Alexander McQueen’s soaring imagination knew no bounds. Savage Beauty, the exhibition dedicated to his peerless designs which just opened at London’s V&A, explodes with theatricality. At the same time it’s hauntingly visceral – in keeping with the man himself (1969-2010) who also designed his own tragic end.
Not being a fashionista, I shan’t indulge in any critique of this mesmerising show, merely say that if you’re anywhere near London between now and August 2, when it closes, make it an absolute priority. 200 tickets will be released daily, so there’s no excuse. Here are a few pics and pointers as to what awaits you.
The rhythm is relentless. We Brits, it seems, just can’t get enough of those tasty Spanish morsels that come under the ever-expanding umbrella of tapas. Another day, or let’s say, another week, and a new tapas bar opens. And they’re not always Spanish, as other nationalities have leapt on the bandwagon, but the best are, in my opinion, straight from the Iberian peninsula – but then I’m biased.
It’s the kick off of 2015 and they’re all doing it (the mainstream press that is). So, as a professional traveller I thought I’d add my pinch of salt – or spice. Culled from decades of travel, here’s my short-list of affordable destinations that give you the best of all worlds … in 2015.
Yet another addition to London’s burgeoning Spanish gastronomy scene is alive and kicking in Lower Regent St. Ah yes, that WAS Lower Regent St, but a few days ago it somehow morphed into “St James – Regent St“. Could this be connected to the vast new upmarket development (St James Market) taking shape just south of Piccadilly Circus? Of course!
The term Empty Quarter is usually applied to a vast Arabian desert which spills its grains over the borders of Saudi, Oman, the UAE and Yemen. Well I recently found a very English equivalent – minus the sand-dunes of course, but in relative terms for this tightly squeezed island of ours, a pretty impressive emptiness.
Look at a map of England, and you’ll see a tight web of roads, towns, sprawling cities, tiny villages and the odd contour of hills. Spool northwards, beyond Leeds up through the Yorkshire moors and dales, to reach the fells of the northern Pennines. Here, squeezed between the Lake District to the west and Tyne and Wear to the east, abutting Hadrian’s Wall to the north, is a great chunk of nothingness. That’s it! Nothing – nada – nyet!