Tuesday, 9 December 2014

An Afternoon at the Laura Ashley Elstree

Laura Ashley Elmstree

With an abundance of natural fabrics and whimsical designs, the style of Laura Ashley is unmistakeable. Laura Ashley was a Welsh designer who rose from humble beginnings to create an empire synonymous with British fashion and home furnishings. Laura’s name and legacy have continued since her passing in 1985 and recently I was lucky enough to visit the Laura Ashley flagship boutique hotel at The Manor in Elstree.

We travelled to Elstree on a vintage AEC Regal IV bus and arrived just in time for afternoon tea in the beautiful Cavendish room with its 16th century panelling.

Cavendish Room, Laura Ashley Elmstree

Afternoon tea Laura Ashley

Our sandwiches were the standard afternoon tea fare. I was assured by my companions that the salmon on brown bread was pleasant and mild whereas I found the salsa and cream cheese on brown bread to be slightly dry. The sandwiches on served on white bread were much better and I helped myself to several cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches while keeping the delicious egg mayonnaise sandwiches until last.

Sandwiches - Laura Ashley Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea was served on the Laura Ashley Home collection and I did like the look of our pretty, understated tea set. I would have preferred to be given a choice of tea as I like to drink black tea with my sandwiches and fruity teas to cleanse my palate after the sweets but we were a very large group that day so I expect that just wasn’t possible.

Laura Ashley Home teaset

The scones were absolutely delicious. They had perfect texture – slightly crispy on the outside and moist inside and they were perfect with the clotted cream and jam. Naturally I had to try both a plain and raisin scone just to be sure of their quality.

Scones at Mary Ashley Elmstree

As much as I like afternoon tea, the sweets is usually my least favourite part of the experience, with the sandwiches, teas and scones being my highlight. On this occasion, however, I was greatly impressed with the sweets.

Sweets at the Laura Ashley Afternoon Tea

My highlights were the carrot and walnut cake which was moist with a sweetened cream cheese icing, the raspberry mousse served in a cup of dark chocolate and the delicious and moist lime macaron.

Following our tea, we took a tour of the hotel and learned about the entrance hall which is rumoured to feature wood beams from the Spanish Armada. We encountered a 16th century mural in the Terrace Bar and saw an example of one of Laura Ashley’s very first printed fabrics.

We took a peek in some of the suites. Each of the rooms is individually styled in Laura Ashley’s signature style and they really are quite beautiful. I was surprised to discover that the rooms are reasonably priced. Even the honeymoon suite seemed affordable when compared to what we pay in London!

Knightsbridge Room, Laura Ashley Hotel

Finally, we took a walk through the gardens and I was delighted to spot an outdoor chess set. The view from the terrace over the gardens and surrounding area is really quite beautiful and this would be a fantastic venue for a wedding.

Outdoor chess set, Laura Ashley

We had a lovely time at the Laura Ashley Elstree but all too soon it was time to return home on our vintage bus. I would definitely like to return with Stephen one day, this is the perfect, romantic country getaway.

AEC Regal IV Bus

Laura Ashley The Manor Hotel
Barnet Lane

Afternoon tea: £19.95
Room rates: £143.10 for the deluxe room pictured above, including breakfast


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A World of Vintage at the Dartford Bus Garage Open Day

London Transport ticketing paraphernalia

2014 is the Year of the Bus and this year Transport for London put on a series of events to enable Londoners to reconnect with the bus network and realise the importance that buses played in the history of the city. Why 2014? This year marks the centenary of the First World War where the London Omnibus Company B-type Battle Buses were specially fitted with protective boarding and khaki paint and used to transport troops to and from the front lines.

As part of the Year of the Bus celebrations, bus garages across the city were opened to the public and the last of these open days took place at the Arriva Bus Garage in Dartford. Being the absolute vintage bus geek that I am, you can imagine that I was very excited about this event!

RF 539 (NLE539) and RT2083 (LYF 21) at Dartford Bus Open DayRF 539 (NLE539) and RT2083 (LYF 21)

The bus in the foreground is the London Transport AEC Regent IV RF539 which went into service in 1953 and behind that is the London Transport AEC Regent III RT2083 which has been running since 1952.

Route 370 to Tilbury DocksRoute 370 to Tilbury Docks

The classic red double-decker Routemaster bus is a symbol of London transport but once you stepped outside the Greater London Council, you encountered the Green Line. That is why many of the buses in Essex, Kent and Surrey were green.

RT2083 (LYF 21) at Dartford Bus Garage Open DayRT2083 (LYF 21)

The route 370 continues to this day and now stops at Lakeside Mall. These days it is part of the Transport for London network and has a red bus.

Daimler DMS1 (EGP 1J) Daimler DMS1 (EGP 1J)

This is the Daimler DMS1 which ran from 1971. On the outside, it looks like any other double decker red bus but things change once you get inside.

Self-service turnstile London BusSelf-service turnstile on Daimler DMS1 (EGP 1J)

This was one of the first efforts to get rid of conductors on London buses and the bus was designed to be run by only a driver. The idea is that responsible, reasonable Londoners would get on the bus with the exact change and glide through the turnstile in a quick and orderly fashion. It really didn’t work out that way and the turnstiles were later replaced with the system of paying the driver.

RM 2660 (SMK660F) and RT1702 (KYY529) at the Dartford Bus Open DayRM 2660 (SMK660F) and RT1702 (KYY529)

There was a lot to see that day at the Dartford Bus Garage and loads of enthusiastic volunteers on hand to chat to us bus geeks and fans. It was a well organised, educational event too and there were lots of leaflets and brochures for children (and adults) to take home.

London transport vintage bus ticketsLondon transport vintage bus tickets

I actually got the idea that the biggest fans there were the volunteers themselves, many of whom worked for Transport for London and had offered their time at the event on their spare weekend. This was confirmed when my friend and I squealed with delight on spotting the vintage bus tickets and paraphernalia and the man behind the stand didn’t even bat an eyelid. Kindred souls.

No standing on upper deckNo standing on upper deck

London General Omnibus Company K424 (XC 8059) at Dartford Bus Garage Open DayMandy and the London General Omnibus Company K424 (XC 8059)

And last but certainly not least... This is a 1921 AEC K-Type London General Omnibus Company bus K424 and it is in superb condition. We were able to go up to the top deck of the bus which I considered to be quite a privilege because they were carefully overseeing access and making sure we didn’t jump or run and that there were no more than two people up there at a time.

Top deck of the London General Omnibus Company K424 (XC 8059) at Dartford Bus Garage Open DayTop deck of the London General Omnibus Company K424 (XC8059)

The bus was an open top bus and there would have been covers that clipped over the seats in rainy weather. I couldn’t really get my head around that – it rains all the time in London in summer so those covers would have seen constant action.

London General Omnibus Company K424 (XC8059) at Dartford Bus Garage Open DayLondon General Omnibus Company K424 (XC8059)

How beautiful is this design?

K 424 (XC 8059) at Dartford Bus Garage Open DayLondon General Omnibus Company

I took one or two photos of this beautifully preserved bus from every angle imaginable so I feel quite proud for only subjected you to my very favourites! Then again, this is my third vintage bus and car post in a year so perhaps I shouldn’t feel too good. There was Vintage and Retro at the Isle of Wight Bus Museum and Dartford’s Vintage Car and Steam Rally if you’d like to see more vintage and retro goodness.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed sharing it. My favourite posts are always the ones where we visit quirky places or see history come alive.

You may have noticed that my posts have been a little sporadic over the past few weeks and that I haven't been visiting your blogs as often. I do hope that you'll bear with me for just a couple more weeks - I'm about to write my first two exams for my ACCA qualification and let’s just agree that taking two subjects at once might have been a little ambitious. I’m flying off to South Africa in just over two weeks and definitely plan to catch up again then.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

History of the London Bus: Infographic

History Of The London Bus

What do you know about the history of the London bus? 2014 is the Year of the Bus and this year has seen a host of activities across the city to mark this momentous occasion. The question most people want to know is why is the Year of the Bus in 2014? What makes this year so special? I have a couple of posts coming up on this very topic but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with this handy infographic that should answer most of your questions about London’s iconic red buses.

Do be sure to return on Tuesday when I’ll take you on a tour of the vintage buses at the recent Dartford Bus Garage open day. If you’re a vintage bus geek like me, you’ll love it!

 London bus History Infographic


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Architectural Wonders of Ephesus, Turkey

As you walk along the streets of the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey, you get a unique glimpse of the civilisations that once lived here. The site is rich in archaeological finds such as the collection of Roman milestones and the three ancient Greek columns standing side by side representing the Ionic, Corinthian and Doric orders of classical architecture.  Yet as you crest the hill and walk down towards the Celsus Library, you realise that the allure of Ephesus lies not just in the artefacts but in the largely intact archaeological wonders to be found here.

The Library of Celsus

Celsus Library

It is difficult to explain how impressive the library of Celsus is and it is not until you stand on its steps and look up that you can appreciate its scale. It was commissioned by Gaius Julius Aquila to honour his father, Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus who had been governor of Asia. Construction began in 117 CE and continued to 135 CE.

Celsus Library Ephesus


Temple of Hadrian

Pediment Temple of Hadrian

The Temple of Hadrian is largely intact and is a beautiful structure dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian who visited the site in 128 CE. It is possible to step over the porch and into the main chamber of the temple but what really caught my eye was the level of detail in the lintels and pediments.

Temple of Hadrian

Ephesus Theatre

Ephesus Theatre

Standing at the height of the Ephesus Theatre, peering down at the crowds below, I felt unable to comprehend the enormity of this structure. How did they build it without the benefit of cranes and machinery and how did they design a venue with such perfect acoustics that it is used as a concert venue almost 2,000 years later? People have flown in to Turkey from all over the world to watch artists like Elton John and Pavarotti perform here at Ephesus.  

Stands of Ephesus Theatre

The theatre was first built in the third century BCE but expanded to a capacity of 25,000 seats in Roman times.

Trajan Fountain

Trajan Fountain

It was the clean lines and geometric structure of the Trajan Fountain that appealed to me the most. Built between 102 CE and 104 CE, the temple once stood at over twelve meters high but its elegant Corinthian columns succumbed to the demands of time. The fountain was dedicated to the Emperor Trajan.

Temple of Domitian

Temple of Domitian

Before travelling to Turkey, we knew little about ancient Roman culture and propriety. On our trip, we learned about neocorates and the cults and temples dedicated to the Imperial families of Rome. Essentially, communities were granted permission to worship their conquerors and Ephesus was the first city to receive this honour when the Emperor Domitian granted it temple wardenship in around 89 CE. Very little remains of this temple which once extended for 100 metres along the terrace but the foundations show that it was a massive structure.


We visited Ephesus on a hot early summer’s day and the experience has always remained with me. It always amazes me how much we can deduce about ancient culture through archaeology and history yet how much is lost to us forever.

Have you visited any of the ancient wonders of the world? Where should I visit next?


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Must See: Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Ned Derrington, John Dagleish, Adam Sopp and George Maguire in Sunny Afternoon. Photograph by Kevin Cummins

I've loved The Kinks for as long as I can remember, possibly all my life. They remind me of road trips with my Dad, singing along to “Sunny Afternoon” at the top of our lungs and serenading each other with “Days”. For the record, my Dad has a much better singing voice than I do but those are indeed days I’ll remember all my life.

The Kinks were there when I finished school, late nights at Bella Napoli in Johannesburg when revellers would flood the floor to dance to “Lola” and “You Really Got Me”.

I’m such a fan that when I was invited to see the new West End production of Sunny Afternoon, I said yes straight away without even checking to see if I was free that night. Nothing was going to keep me away.

Sunny Afternoon is as authentic as it gets and Ray Davies, lead singer of The Kinks, wrote the story in collaboration with playwright Joe Penhall. We learn how those first chords to “You Really Got Me” became one of the biggest chart anthems of all time and the influences behind Ray Davies' inspired lyrics. Through the music we learn how they were exploited by British music industry executives, how unions in America almost brought them down and how they made a legendary comeback in the summer of 1966.

The show is jam-packed with hits from The Kinks and features all of those mentioned so far as well as “Waterloo Sunset”, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “I'm Not Like Everybody Else” and many more. Sunny Afternoon is obviously a must-see for fans of The Kinks but seeing the entire audience on their feet dancing by the end of the show made me realise this is a show for everyone.

John Dagleish in Sunny Afternoon. Photograph by Kevin Cummins.

John Dagleish is superb as the brooding and intense Ray Davies, lyrical genius and lead singer of the band. Dagleish managed to capture the boyish pitch of Ray's voice in his vocals and his performance was mesmerising, especially in his portrayal of Ray’s descent into depression.

George Maguire provided hilarious comic relief as Ray’s manic and irreverent younger brother Dave “The Rave” Davies. Just seventeen when “You Really Got me” was recorded, Dave went on to be voted one of Rolling Stone magazines 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time. Adam Sopp played drummer Mick Avory and Ned Derrington played the insecure bassist Pete Quaife who quite wrongly thought the band could survive without him.

I have long believed that I was born in the wrong era and have always loved 60s fashion so I especially appreciated the set design and costumes in Sunny Afternoon.  If you’re a fan of 60s music and fashion, especially of the British Invasion, then you’re going to love this show.

George Maguire, Ned Derrington, Dominic Tighe, Tam Williams and Adam Sopp in Sunny Afternoon. Photograph by Kevin Cummins

Sunny Afternoon. Photograph by Kevin Cummins

Would I recommend Sunny Afternoon? Of course I would. It is really that good and I’d quite like to go see it again. Luckily they’ve extended bookings to May 2015 so I might just get a chance to do so. 

Sunny Afternoon
Harold Pinter Theatre,
Panton Street,
London SW1Y 4DN

Book online

I received a pair of complimentary tickets to this performance which just about made me the happiest blogger of all time. As is always the case, I promise to share sincere and honest opinions with my readers.

All photography © Kevin Cummins


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

An Afternoon at the Geffrye Museum

Geffrye Museum

Sometimes life in London is so busy and your calendar so full that the only chance of spending time with your friends lies in both of you taking a day off work. This is what Kat and I decided to do recently when we both took a Friday afternoon off work so that I could spend some time with her and her cute-as-a-button toddler. Kat asked if I had ever been to the Geffrye Museum and I hadn’t so I was thrilled that we decided to spend our afternoon there.

The Geffrye Museum is a most unique museum indeed. Founded in 1914, the museum focuses on the homes of the English urban middle classes through a series of eleven period living rooms and specially maintained period gardens.

Geffrye Museum - entrance

We began our visit with a walk through the gardens. It was a sunny mid September afternoon and people were relaxing on the lawns or sitting on benches eating their lunch. I work right next to one of the most beautiful public spaces in London but even I felt a pang of jealousy when I looked at these people and I wished for a minute that I worked nearby so that I could spend lunch hours in this environment.

Geffrye Museum - pear treeGeffrye Museum - covered walkway

The award-winning gardens really are well maintained and well labelled for educational purposes. You can see a strictly designed Victorian garden followed by the rambling English country garden that evolved as a reaction to the Victorian era.

Geffrye Museum - gardens

Our visit then continued inside the museum. I won’t show you each of the eleven rooms as I wouldn't want to spoil it for you and I really do think the Geffrye is worth a visit. Instead, I’ll show you some of my favourites that we saw on the day.

Geffrye Museum - a hall in 1630

This first room represents a hall in 1630. The wood panelling reminded me of rooms I had seen inside Hall Place and Ightham Mote. We also saw parlours from 1695 and 1745.

Geffrye Museum - wallpaper detail in the library

We spent some time in the garden reading room and I was most impressed by the mural on the wall, especially in the detail of this butterfly. You might need to click on the photo above to enlarge it to see the detail properly.

Geffrye Museum - the chapel

The original almshouse chapel lies in the middle of the museum and I loved the way the light shone through the high windows.

Geffrye Museum - the art gallery

In the Reading Room you will find a selection of paintings depicting home life from the 17th to 19th century. This made me ponder on the forgotten art of painting and how there were relatively less art works in the 20th century depicting home life and every day life once photography became the preferred medium.

Geffrye Museum - A Parlour in 1790

The room above depicts a parlour in 1790. The wallpaper in this room was quite exquisite and I actually set off an alarm while trying to take a closer look at it. Thankfully the guide was really understanding and explained that the wallpaper was in fact hand painted and that I was right to find it so interesting.

Geffrye Museum - A drawing room in 1830

This was my favourite room. It is a drawing room in 1830 and I just loved the way the curtains cascaded onto the floor. That is my favourite shade of blue (and blue is my favourite colour).

Geffrye Museum - A Drawing room in 1870

This is a drawing room in 1870. I loved the fine China tea set and the lace curtains.

Geffrye Museum - At home in 1890

From the late 19th century, homes began to become more homely. This scene depicts a living room in 1890.

Geffrye Museum - Mid-Century Period Room

Another of my favourite rooms was this one which depicts a mid-century period room dating from approximately 1955 to 1965. This reminds me so much of my childhood and we still had lots of wooden cabinets and furniture with tapered legs in my own home and those of our friends and family. What fascinates me is how attractive and retro this is to me now but i distinctively remember finding such styles entirely distasteful by the late 1970s.

Geffrye Museum - cafe

We completed our visit with a long rest and chat in the museum cafe. They served up some delicious cake and we chatted away while the rain pounded down outside. It had been a muggy, humid London day and we were both relieved for the rain and happy that we were safely inside when it did come.

The Geffrye Museum is free to visit and just around the corner from the Hoxton Overground station. We really enjoyed our visit and I will certainly be back in the future.

Geffrye Museum
136 Kingsland Road
E2 8EA

Tel: 020 7739 9893
Open: Tuesday - Sunday 10am – 5pm
Bank Holiday Mondays 10am - 5pm


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Coastal Walk in Guernsey

One dark and stormy Friday night a couple of weeks ago, I dashed across London to make my way to Gatwick Airport and on to the Channel island of Guernsey. I was very lucky indeed that my plane took off that evening for I later discovered that mine was the last flight permitted to depart before flights were suspended for severe weather conditions.

The weather was slightly calmer on landing in Guernsey although still decidedly damp. My lovely friends Jen, Melissa and Lindsay picked me up and we drove through the darkness to Jen’s house. After chatting late into the night and early morning, I collapsed into bed and fell asleep immediately. It had been a very long day indeed.

I woke up to this.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (2)

I had a fair idea of why Jen moved to Guernsey. She enjoys coastal runs, foraging and a life away from the chaos of the inner city. Now I understood why she loves it so much; can you imagine waking up to these views everyday?

A coastal walk in Guernsey (3)

These photos were taking from the back yard of Jen’s adopted home. She has views to the sea and the rolling hills of the nearby seaside farms. My heart soared as my lungs filled with crisp, fresh air. I wanted to stay there forever.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (4)

After the rain and storms of the previous evening, we could scarcely believe our luck at how beautiful the weather had turned out. We decided to take a walk down to the cliffs and follow the coastal path.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (5)

We walked along a narrow country road, ducking every now and then to the side as cars came trundling along. The doorway above belongs to the property that was once home to Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables. He came to live in Guernsey after he was exiled from France and Jersey.  The remains of his house – his summer home – were destroyed by the Nazis in the Second World War. (Thank you very much to Jen and Lindsay for telling me this story – I have to admit I wasn’t immediately familiar with who Hugo was. I resolve to immediately watch Les Miserables to make up for my crime against literature!)

A coastal walk in Guernsey (6)

I couldn’t help but snap a photo of this lamp post. Guernsey is just magical and every so often I’d get the feeling that I was actually walking through the pages of a children’s fantasy novel.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (7)

This is one of my favourite photos. I love the barbed wire in the foreground and the sloping grass down to the bright blue sea. The sea was really that colour!

A coastal walk in Guernsey (8)

I really like the reflection in the photo above and I love the idea of living in a house on a cliff, looking straight onto the sea. Those views must be pretty special.

Shortly after we passed this house, the girls decided that I should close my eyes for the next part. Believe me when I tell you that there is no greater display of trust than letting your friends guide you along the edge of sea cliffs while your eyes are closed.

It was absolutely worth it though for when I opened my eyes, I saw this.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (10)

I had to agree that the view was pretty spectacular. I even let out a bit of a gasp when I opened my eyes which really scared the man standing beside us who thought someone had fallen down the cliffs.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (13)

I looked to my right and saw a path leading up an incline, beckoning me to scamper up it like a billy goat. I know, I sound like an excited child but Guernsey inspired in me a desire to be free and explore.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (11)

I wasn’t going to argue in any event and I ran up the incline to see the undulating hills and countryside beyond.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (9)

I was touched by the dedication on this bench, “In loving memory of Annette Mason who loved these cliffs so much”. I could relate to that and imagined that one day Stephen and I might move to a place like this and be so happy that one of us would eave a dedication like this for the other. Of course, we’re very happy now but our dedication would read more like, “was a patient and loving parent to the most demanding cats on earth”. 

A coastal walk in Guernsey (12)

The view into the water from this point was quite dizzying. The sea gets its distinctive colour from the limestone in the cliffs but Jen tells me that it is completely transparent when you’re standing in it.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (14)

I quite liked this place marker, reminding us of Guernsey’s French heritage. At this point we’d returned from the direction the marker is pointing in and began to walk in the opposite direction.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (15)

The views here were equally impressive and I believe I took over 15 photos of this cove and more on my iPhone.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (16)

As we walked along the coastal path, we walked alongside properties which bordered the path. Can you imagine opening your back gate and seeing the views above? I can see my neighbour’s back yard.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (17)

It really was a really beautiful, warm day and hard to believe that it was the middle of October. We felt very fortunate indeed.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (18)

I was glad to get a reasonable photo of this gate. It had caught my eye on the way down but I’d worked hard to capture its charm in my previous photos.

A coastal walk in Guernsey

With one final look past Hugo’s old door, we soon came to the end of our lovely walk.

That evening about 15 women gathered to celebrate Canadian thanksgiving at Jen’s house. We had an incredible time and were only too happy to lounge around in our socks and pyjamas the next day when the weather took a dramatic and soggy turn.

Have you ever been to Guernsey? Which if the other nearby isles have you visited?


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