Friday, 19 June 2015

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Escape the City - The Park Club



My local health Club, The Park Club in Acton has been open for 15 years. None of us who go there regularly with our children can imagine life without it.  If that sounds spoilt and reminiscent of FIRST WORLD problem in a first world country please stay with me. What  I am trying to say is that life would not be so colourful and manageable without it.  It's an oasis in the City, a break from the sirens, crowds, and pollution. I had been thinking about joining when the club first opened, but the crunch came when I took my toddler daugther (she's now 11) swimming in my local West London Park. She didn't have  a swimsuit to paddle in the shallow concrete pool so she stripped off to her pants and tee-shirt. Half an hour later, a park policeman arrived, ordered her to put her clothes on, and arrested a shady man who was hiding behind a tree.

From then on we went swimming at the Park Club, mostly in the outdoor pool. It's a saviour for those of us who have miniature outdoor spaces.   We could potentially squeeze in a 10' trampoline, (which my daughter desperately wants) into our 'garden' but that's all it could fit.  My son once insisted on installing a football goal in our diminutive patio, and the kids were literally standing in one flower bed to kick the ball two metres into the net which rested precarioulsy against the fence on the other side. The goal lasted a few weeks before it collapsed. Both sets of neighbours were justly relieved that footballs were no longer being lobbed over our trellis into their superior, patios, bedecked not with goals or trampolines, but ferns, and potted plants.

My children have spent hours at the Club playing football, tennis, cricket, making dens and eating supper with friends.  I have spent many mornings working in the bar with my co-writer, or sunning myself on the terrace. I practice Pilates andYoga there, and have just been told by a physiotherapist to use a crosstrainer  to help my weak knee. The gym and I have never really got on that well, but I am glad to have some kind of incentive to get there.

The Club already already seems huge with a massive outdoor swimming pool and 27 acres of land (the only problem being that children literally disappear in the grounds and its not always possible to leave when you want to)  But there are plans to make it even bigger. It has submitted a Planning Application to increase the size by %35 and install new studios, a hydrotherapy pool, steam baths, upgraded restaurants, a new top floor with natural light and a 50 metre pool. Bring it on.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Get The Guests


The last time we had a friend to stay in London, was about 14 years ago, when we lived in a small terraced house in Sheperds Bush with one bouncing boy baby and a thin stray cat. Our son is now a teenager, and the day after his recent 14th birthday, he un-friended me from Facebook, glued himself to his mobile and began to grunt.   Marie (who came to stay with us all those years ago) lives in Paris and is an exact replica of Julia Roberts.  She ostensibly was staying for a night, then revealed she was depressed and installed herself in our small spare room for a week. She spent a great deal of time in bed, so didn’t need much entertaining.

We didn’t move far. We now live in a 3-storey-house, across the road from where we used to live. We have two children. We have a large office space that we share,  a dining room, and a small garden, but no definitely no spare bedroom. A girlfriend was going to stay recently, after a late night, changed her mind when she realised she would have to sleep in my daughter’s single bed, while my daughter squashed between me and my husband in our room upstairs. Just as well. We would have had to search far and wide for a clean towel and sheet.  
Before we were married, we rented a house in the Brecon Beacons for a year and for several weekends in a row we had people to stay.  It seemed like such a fun idea! The sun was out; the view was stunning. We had a lovely spare bedroom and lots of walks on our doorstep. We even bought a visitors book.  We would entertain them well, in lieu of the fact that they had driven over the Severn Bridge to get to us. We cooked lavish dinners and full English breakfasts with a choice of tea. We arranged walks to the pub, friends over for drinks. We changed sheets and washed towels. Picked flowers for their rooms. It began to feel like a B and B. It was utterly exhausting.

I am all for the idea of catching up “properly” with friends which is what all my country friends say about having friends to stay, but I am just as happy to have a spontaneous coffee or a walk in the park in the City. Another thing country folk say is ‘it’s only an hour from London, you must come for lunch.’  I’ve learnt to add a third to the journey time at least!




Monday, 15 December 2014

There's a fire on Christmas Eve! Evacuate. Memories of a Childhood Christmas.


Although I grew up in London, my childhood Christmases were usually spent at our house in Berkshire. The house was on a farm, which we rented from a local landowner and in the winter there were cows mooching around in shit in a depressing pen. In the summer, we would play under the weeping willow tree in the garden and always, without fail, whatever the season, we would act out Cinderella and make the adults watch it over and over again. My friend Pandora would be Cinderella and I would be the handsome Prince. I didn't mind the role, in fact I was a tomboy and enjoyed it. My only downfall was once being asked to be the 'stick' in a dramatisation of Pooh-sticks.

My grandmother (who usually joined us at Christmas) was like a fairy godmother from a children’s story; we all loved her because she was able to do magic. We would choose somewhere to find a little trinket, then she would shut her eyes and say some weird and wonderful words and miraculously we would run off to our chosen site and the prize would be there  (I still don’t know how she did it)

On Christmas Eve, we would leave milk for the reindeers and a glass of whisky and some biscuits for Father Christmas in front of the fire. The next day we woke extremely early of course, to delve into our stockings. There are lots of Christmas Day photographs of me looking shattered, with huge grey bags under my eyes.  In one set of photos, aged about seven, I look particularly haggard, like a tiny junkie. That year, the  grownups had forgotten to put the fireguard in front of the fire as they staggered to bed on Christmas Eve, and the embers must gone awry, because in the middle of the night, my slightly ditzy aunt woke up my grandmother and said she smelt smoke. 

We were woken up by the adults and evacuated outside and told to look up to the sky to see if we could see Father Christmas arriving. It was thrilling and exciting to be outside in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. The fire turned out to be manageable, no fire engines arrived and we all went back to bed.

The next day, Christmas carried on as usual, the only reminder of what had happened the night before was the singed fire surround. We pulled crackers, opened presents,  told terrible jokes, dug out silver trinkets from the Christmas pudding, put on silly hats, watched television, played with our new presents and then felt depressed when it all came to an end.

When I think about Christmas,  I still think about escaping somehow, getting out of the city, and away from real life. Certainly in London, there is far too much traffic over the festive period. London feels blocked and overwhelmed, exactly like I feel. Thank God for online shopping. Christmas is like a fiction anyway, an overblown day of abundance: too much food, too many presents, too many good choices on TV, too many hours being in the company of certain members of our families  whom we never see the rest of the year, There is a sudden visit to Church, a flurry of carols and hopefully some reflection. I'd like to think Christmas was about giving, sharing, forgiving, reflecting and reunions as well as presents, parties and champagne.

I like the idea of being away in a cottage with a roaring fire and a windswept beach.  There would be endless games of scrabble, a few good carols, a short walk into the garden to collect some logs, a long walk along a beach to good pub. Yes bring me a country Christmas every time or failing that a Caribbean or a mountain Christmas will do.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

My Guide to West London


I was recently asked to give some recommendations for where to eat and be merry in West London for an American Website. Below is my very personal and slightly abridged guide, maybe a bit biased to the area around where I live in Sheperds Bush, but not completely so. There are links added, but not to absolutely everything, as my arm got tired. Hope it inspires those of you coming to London for some Christmas Cheer! 





Where is  West London?

West London loosely stretches from Kensington to Ealing; its vibrant mix of inhabitants includes the very rich and the disadvantaged poor. It boasts green conservation areas juxtaposed with urban spaces; boutique shopping and Westfield, the largest Mall in Europe. European bankers and Russians set up home in Holland Park and Notting Hill alongside Jamaicans and Afro Caribbean’s  - long-term residents, who orchestrate the annual Notting Hill Carnival in August. 

What would you do in West London if you wanted to be elegant and have fun?

I would have lunch at the River Café, the elegant Italian restaurant on the River Thames. I would then go shopping at the independent clothes shops, The Cross near Holland Park and The Jacksons in Notting Hill, followed by a massage and a facial at The Park Club in Acton. I would relax afterwards in their 27 acres of grounds with a cup of tea. In the evening I would book a sofa at the Electric Cinema  and snuggle with my husband and get food delivered to me from the Electric Diner next door.



Five Places to Visit in West London

1. Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew also known as Kew Gardens is one of the most famous gardens in the world, with a vast range of rare and beautiful plants, a bamboo garden, Victorian glass houses, 14,000 trees and much more. I love to walk there and just take it all in.


2.Portobello Market in Notting hill  The big antique day is Saturday but Friday is also good if you want to avoid the crowds. Don’t forget to include the Golborne Road too, which also boasts food stalls, junk and antiques for sale, as well as Portuguese cafes selling custard cakes and coffee.

3. A Walk in Kensington Gardens, visiting the Serpentine Art Gallery (free entry) and then The Orangery for tea. The Serpentine always has interesting modern art exhibitions and the Orangery is just a beautiful place to sit.

4. Leighton House Museum is the former home of the Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, and it contains a collection of paintings and sculpture by Leighton and his contemporaries. One of the best rooms in the house is the amazing Arab Hall with its golden dome, interesting mosaics and walls lined with Islamic tiles. It would be worth visiting  Holland Park afterwards.

5. A jaunt down the river from Hammersmith Bridge to Chiswick House is one of my favourite walks in London. It’s easy to imagine what the city must have been like 200 years ago and the route passes beautiful houses, a few pubs and St Nicholas Church where the artist, Hogarth was buried. While looking at the river landscape, it’s easy to forget that you are minutes away from a huge loud metropolis. 



Best new Restaurant in West London

Bush Hall Dining Room voted favourite restaurant in Sheperds Bush by Time Out readers. The cocktails are great here.


Favourite Restaurants in West London

¬Persian food at Sufi in Shepherds Bush. This is a  unpretentious and cheap, local restaurant. The grilled chicken or lamb and rice are delicious. Also the home-made flat bread.

English Tapas at The Shed in Kensington – little plates of dishes like pork scratchings with apple jam and hake rillettes with dill and marmalade. Although it’s not the most comfortable seating, it’s a really interesting and delicious dining experience.

The Anglesea Arms near Hammersmith is a cosy local pub with a roaring fire. Order a pint of prawns at the bar  or sit down in the restaurant to order seasonal food. 


Good Shopping?


Turnham Green High Street and Chiswick High Street, where there is a good mix of good quality independent food shops, health stores, furniture shops and cafes, including The Old Cinema, a treasure trove of furniture and interesting antiques.

Askew Road, in Shepherds Bush is great for inexpensive local shopping. There is a wonderful butcher, The Ginger Pig that sells Deli goods, organic vegetables, homemade jams and chutneys and extremely good quality meat and Max Inc. an interesting mid-century furniture shop with fair prices.  

Westfield, near the Shepherds Bush roundabout is the largest shopping mall in Europe, and it’s worth a visit, just to experience the sheer size and variety of shops.  There is a pop-up skating ring here in the winter and lots of free and fun happenings. There are also a huge variety of restaurants and cafes.

The clothes, jewellery, furniture, flower stall and shoe shops around Ledbury Road in Notting hill are worth visiting. I Love Gorgeous is an independent children’s shop for girls, selling beautiful dresses with an edge – a perfect gift for a godchild, a niece or a daughter. Anya Hindmarch for bags and Ottolenghi the deli are amongst the array of other independent shops.

What to do in the Evening?

The Bush Theatre  showcases new writers and it’s a small intimate theatre which make this an exciting and affordable evening.
The Bush Hall for original live indie music in a Victorian, music hall setting. 
The Riverside Studios for movies, theatre, eating and drinking
Chiswick House Gardens and Café 



Wednesday, 5 November 2014

DOMESTIC GODDESS? I DON'T THINK SO

There have been moments when I’ve scanned social media, to discover that one of my Martha-Stewart- type-acquaintances has smugly photographed her perfect muffins, fairy cakes, or apple pie.  I have noted the smiling child by her side and sunk into a gloomy despondency.  My ten-year-old girl loves baking cakes, but baking is not one of my talents. Maybe it would be if I spent more time on it. Instead of revising muffin recipes, I write at my desk, looking out at my London street, and every twenty minutes or so, become distracted, and do useless things like cut the cat’s hair where it has clogged up into tight balls around it’s bum. Or log onto facebook and cry over the photographs of beaten dogs, or captured dolphins.

We do try baking. We follow the exact ingredients for a recipe, weighing out the butter and flour, but  there NEVER seems to be enough mixture to make 12 perfect cupcakes. The last time we tried there was just enough for nine and our sugar icing was thin and sweet; we must learn how to do the butter version. Is that even what it’s called? Or I should just double the ingredients that the recipe calls for. Something has to change.

I was one of three mothers who recently sold cakes at the Year 6 school cake sale. Our blue-iced cakes seemed at best small, compared to the one’s the French mother had made that rose like small mountains with generous dollops of buttercream. One man scoffed at our blue offerings: “50 pence for those
“The money is for the school,” I replied tersely.

Craft is another thing. I remember when the children were small and all they wanted to do was make huge glittery messes with dollops of glue. I would hover over them as the table became amassed with sticky patches and glitter and would try to mask my rising sense of irritation and boredom. I am not like my sister who can make origami birds out of bits of paper or my friend Emily, who can pick up a stick and paint a tiny Union Jack on it, instantaneously creating a work of art.

But I am good at listening, laughing, hugging, massaging and cheering them on. So that’s something I suppose, although my friend Emily can do all that as well as baking and crafting. Don’t get me started on gardening: I am not like my friend Shirel, who says, gardening gives her a sense of spiritual purpose. I am the type who buys a ready-made window box and hopes for the best.


Monday, 15 September 2014

The Average Family

I was doing research for a book I am writing and came across the poll (below) commissioned by an energy company in 2011. 2000 families took part. It's shocking how I can relate, and how strangely precise the timings are: such as rising at 6.57am. Our alarm goes off at 6.50am, (my husband's idea) but I probably get up at 7.20ish. It infuriates me that the alarm goes off at 650 but he then goes back to sleep and lets it ring out three more times at five minute intervals) We have one car rather than 1.5, live in an attached 3 storey house, holiday about two or three times a year, with at least one holiday abroad. We've just started eating together about  3x a week, (which is average) but probably on average, an hour later. The weekly food shop is more than twice the poll average, but it is three years later. The night out as a couple seems very low, although having said that, we do go out more than that but are usually with other people. That makes me think. We very rarely have a date night.  1.6 arguments a week? With who? Kids or amongst adults, or the whole family?  We probably have three or even four, arguments, but that includes arguing with children - call it five a week. Best Family entertainment - TV that's quite depressing. I would say my favourite family activity, is eating out, or having friends over with their kids or messing about on beaches or being on holiday. I probably have a night out with friends about once a week too, so consider myself lucky. I exercise the same as the average on the poll, about two and half times a week. Interesting that 80% class themselves as happy. That's uplifting.

Would love to know how other families live too...and would welcome comments.

The poll below shows how an average family live, (this poll was taken in 2011)

AVERAGE UK FAMILY - UNOFFICIAL CENSUS

Get up: 6.57am
Car: Silver Ford Focus
Number of cars: 1.5
House: Semi-detached on a main street
Holiday: 2 x 10 days in the UK
Evening meals together: 3 per week at 5.50pm
Weekly shop: £76.02
Weekly alcohol bill: £12
Entertainment i.e. DVD's: £15
Best entertainment: Watching TV
Favourite TV show: Dr Who
Time spent watching TV: 9 hours per day
Nights out with friends: 2 per month
Nights out as a couple: 'Every few months'
Big family outing: Once a month
Get home from work: 5.15pm
Go to bed: 10.39pm
Arguments: 1.6 per week
Savings: £3,280
Mortgage: 53% have a mortgage and have paid off 32 per cent
Cash in wallet/purse: £10.31
Neighbours: Two that we speak to
Exercise: Two and half times a week
Home improvements: £559 in the last year
Wider family: Once a week gathering
Quality time together: Two hours per week
Breakfast : Eats breakfast twice a week as a family
Laundry: 5.3 loads per week
Chores: 4 hours and 24 minutes every week - mum does the majority
Happiness: 80 per cent class themselves as 'happy'
Wellbeing: 70 per cent claim they are 'normal'