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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!

Last night’s commemoration of the outbreak of World War I exactly 100 years ago was followed in depth by UK media, as well as in formal ceremonies in Belgium, site of the battle-fields. It was moving, although bitterly ironic to glimpse news about the Gaza massacre at the same time. How times don’t change. But recompense came with LIGHTS OUT*, a nationwide remembrance of the outbreak of war – with London’s public buildings leading the way.



Funny kind of airport I thought. There it was, a stunning neo-classical church towering into another of London’s brilliant blue evening skies. And there I was, clutching my ‘boarding pass’ – destination: Andalucia (where else, followers of this blog might ask).


But this time my trip turned out to be a bit of a wheeze, a vaudeville-sprinkled cocktail (including those too) of staged cameo acts and surprisingly good food – eaten in the company of 50 or so other punters. This was a preview of 11 upcoming evenings designed for those jet-set Londoners who want the Andaluz atmosphere minus the angst-ridden travel. Behind it is Dine Mile High, a company that specialises in pop-up restaurants and themed events.

We’ve had Bob the Cat, now it’s George the Dog, a soulful-looking Staffordshire terrier who has helped his master out of a deep hole of poverty, addiction and homelessness. Here is George having an arty rest…


You may have heard of A Streetcat named Bob – in which the reformed junkie owner, James Bowen, recounts how Bob helped him conquer his addiction by sharing his life, joining him busking on the streets and giving him emotional continuity.

Last week I experienced a red tuna-feast. Or call it a fest, as it entailed a tasting menu of six little dishes, each one a metamorphosis of that old piscine stalwart – tuna. The degustacion took place at Hispania, a firm favourite of mine on the London tapas-bar scene (see my earlier blog), and in this case was courtesy of guest chef Mauro Barreiro backed up by Cadiz Tourism.


Little Water – how refreshing! Here at last is an independent restaurant in the heart of Covent Garden theatreland – and it’s about as chilled as they come. Even better, it’s welcoming and serves affordable, tasty small plates. But surrounded by big gun chain restaurants like Strada, Jamie’s and Loch Fyne, or well-established oldies like Orso and Joe Allen, it feels like a minnow. You just hope it won’t sink or get gobbled up.

Little Water Covent Garden

Any non-Brit reading this blog might think I’m obsessed with Sussex, as it crops up again and again to represent the UK in my travels. Well the truth is pretty simple: it’s an idyllic part of England, above all in spring and early summer, and it’s not that far from London. You could add a third, that a decade or so ago I actually lived there on an unscheduled break-out from London.


Last weekend I was back, this time to sample the Charleston Festival, a literary binge in the beautiful grounds of that 1920s-1960s hothouse of art, crafts, literature and bi-sexualism.

The English spring may be a pretty ambivalent creature, but when it arrives it’s hard to beat – anywhere in the world. Last year it hardly appeared before June, whereas this March it’s spectacularly present. Frothy bursts of pink and white blossom blaze in London streets and parks, while carpets of nodding daffodils and multi-coloured crocuses hoist the spirits giddily after three depressing wet months.


But where better to see the first signs of spring than at Sissinghurst, in Kent, arguably Britain’s most famous and, yes, I’ll use that word, iconic garden? Last weekend, serendipity struck when the man and I escaped London and balmy temperatures of 20 degrees, as our Kentish jaunt coincided with the reopening of this horticultural wonderland after winter hibernation. A stroke of luck.

Here’s a post to prove that it’s not only ‘abroad’ where the culinary buzz is happening. As every Londoner knows, this city is on such a gastro roll that it’s impossible to keep up with new openings, foodie trends and, yes, (g)astronomic prices. What’s more, the scene is truly international. The solution to staying abreast? Just go with the flow, stay ‘local’ (which for me means most of north, central and a slice of east London) and when a press lunch comes up, grab it.


It’s rare to see an exhibition of artefacts with no clear indication of their age. In the case of Beyond El Dorado, guesstimates span well over 1000 years, leaving you lost in the mists of time. The reason? You can’t carbon-date gold. This illuminating exhibition at the British Museum is all about Colombia’s deep-rooted attachment to the magical metal, an addiction which ended when the plundering Spanish conquistadores rolled in. I was lucky enough to see the exhibition at an evening viewing, so notching up the enchantment. Despite being London on a drizzly November evening, the glistening forecourt managed to look suitably dreamy.