Archive for the ‘London’ Category

New Year’s Resolution no.3

….was to blog. So here I am. Blogging. About what? I’m not sure yet. Maybe about my newly discovered love of beautiful art? Maybe about my renewed fascination with the history of Ham House because of my fabulous new book about it? Maybe about cake?

Well, let’s start with the cake. Here is a box that once contained a chocolate orange cake.
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Danda had one peice. Someone else ate the entire rest of the cake, thinking it might help with her cold because oranges contain vitamin C, right? That someone else had been sworn off sugar because of the sugar headaches and achy teeth caused by their new job as a cake maker. The someone else now feels chocolate guilt and wishes not to be named.

Talking of new jobs, it’s been an interesting year. In the space of twelve months, the following things have happened;

1. Got two new jobs. One I disliked. One I loved. Thankfully I am now in the one I love!
2. Lost a good friend to the murky depths of Texas’ capital punishment system.
3. Went to France (for lunch), Italy (for my birthday) and America.
4. Visited the NASA space centre.
5. Became a ghost tour guide.
6. Made this (the website, not the art)
7. Became addicted to Candy Crush, Breaking Bad and Modern Family.
8. Purchased the most expensive (but most worth it) book I’ve ever owned.
9. Discovered pretty art and fabulous painters (current favourites are Sir Peter Lely and Van Dyck)
10. Got to know the life of the river better, via my walk to work. (And learnt about the importance of knowing the tide times!)
11. Got reacquainted with my childhood best friend when she came to stay in the spare room.
12. Had a cold for a month.
13. Watched family jet off for a new life under the Australian sun.
14. Met a fellow blogger for the first time.

There has been a lot of change in the last year, some of which I’m still getting used to. Here’s to 2014! I wonder what will happen.

Frost and food

Yesterday was a day of frost and food, both of which make for pretty pictures. Check it out.

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Pics from the walk to work
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Cherry and apple cake
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Chopping chives in the kitchen garden for the day’s food
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Making chutney with the garden produce

Halloween at Ham House

I’ve never been much of a Halloween celebrator. I have put pumpkins in the window and got sweets and waited and the children have not knocked on the door anyway. And that’s the most I’ve done. This year, however, Ham House was in charge and they had an evening of fun planned that I couldn’t help but get caught up in.

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After finishing our normal work day, we whipped out the crazy make-up and got ready for the evening.

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The house looked fabulous, lit up against the dark sky.

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(Just realised that the above photo doesn’t do it any justice at all.)

They had tons of good stuff happening in the house. Unfortunately, I was working in the Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun bar so I didn’t get photos so I’ll tell you about it.

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There were séances happening in the attic, scary films showing in the chapel, a pair of real lungs hanging in the meat larder downstairs, mini ghost tours, a design-your-own-gravestone art workshop and a photo booth that made the photos look all old and faded and ghosty.
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It was brilliant fun, if the mood of the customers in the bar was anything to go by.

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The outfits were amazing too. Everyone had dressed up for the occasion and some people had really gone to town with it. One woman was dressed as a pumpkin and had somehow lit it from inside so as she wandered around the gardens, I could just see this massive orange ball. There were ninjas and witches, mime artists and dead brides, and everything in between.

I’ll try and see if anyone else at work got good photos and I’ll put them here for you to see.

Recent photos from my walk home

The weather is changing recently and the sky is different colours and everything looks a little different every day. Here are some photos I have taken over the past ten days or so.

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Getting spooked in Ham House

A few days ago, I expressed an interest in becoming a tour guide at Ham House. As luck would have it, the very next day there was a training session on how to guide the ghost tours.

I jumped at the chance so the following morning, the training was due to begin at 10am. The house is generally kept quite dark, to avoid light damage to any of the delicate things in the rooms. This makes the whole place a bit spooky. My plan was to go into the house at 9.30am and have a little look around for some ghosts while the place was still quiet and dark.

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I went and stood in the chapel, where the Duke of Lauderdale’s body lay for a week after his death and where a woman dressed in black has been seen kneeling by the altar and where a handprint was found in the dust one morning, at the Duchess’ pew. I stared into the darkness and my heart beat fast and eventually I lit up my phone to scan the room for ghosties but didn’t see one.

Next I went to to the Round Gallery where, in the book I recently talked about, one of the main characters sees some ghosts. While I am not claiming this book is based on anything factual, I still thought I might come across something, given all the portraits on the wall.

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Nothing.

Back downstairs, I went into the Duchess’ bedchamber. This is the room where she spent the last years of her life, ridden with gout and feeling trapped. I can’t remember the exact quote but she writes about feeling imprisoned in her beloved Ham House. There have been ghostly sightings by room guides here, who’ve been so scared by what they saw, that they have been unable to return to the house.

I lingered around, looked in the mirror, looked at the portrait of the Duchess as a young woman and waited.

Nothing.

Undeterred, I went into the White Closet, a beautiful little room that was one of the Duchess’ private closets in which she entertained only her closest friends.

As I stared at a painting of the back of Ham House and the gardens, I remembered someone saying that this painting contains most of the people at Ham House who have been seen/heard as ghosts. So I started looking for them in the painting. And I heard a noise…..

Whirrrrrrrr…..

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Oo! Oo! It’s the ghosts! Through there! Up there! In the next room! I snuck along following the noise, with a beating heart, and found….

One of the staff members hoovering the floor in the Long Gallery.

Ah. Yes. Of course that was it. Silly me. Ghosts don’t whirr, everyone knows that.

I did tell him off, though, for hoovering while I’m looking for ghosts. How can they walk around or say hi to me if he’s busy hoovering them up? It takes them bloody ages to get back out of that hoover so I wouldn’t see them until much later in the day.

By this time, it was 10am and the training was starting so I went upstairs and complained about the lack of ghost sightings. We talked a lot about how a tour should run, then a few of the experienced guides did a sample tour for us around the house.

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I still didn’t see any ghosts on this tour but not for lack of looking.

Anyway, the training finished and I left, clutching my notes and dreaming about being the Best Ghost Tour Guide The World Has Ever Seen, and ran into my manager from the cafe, who told me about a name scratched into the kitchen window in one of the house steward’s flats upstairs in the house.

The story is, briefly, a young man called John McFarlane was at the house. He was in love with one of the kitchen girls but she was in love with the butler. He was super distraught about it and threw himself out of one of the upstairs windows and died. But not before scratching his name into one of the window panes – John McFarlane 1790.

So we went to see this name scratched in. I was really having to restrain my excitement. People have photographed this window before and seen an orb in the photo! I attempted to take a photo of the name but my phone was like, “There is no more space for photographs on your phone.”

Humph.

So I deleted some photos to make space and tried again. Same thing. I deleted some more and eventually I got one but I couldn’t take any more. After walking through the front room into the hallway, we decided to look around upstairs.

As we approached the stairs, Sarah said to me, “There are stories of a little boy ghost on these stairs,” then she turned the light on…

And the light popped and the bulb threw itself out of the socket and it hurtled down the stairs towards us and smashed on the ground, only just missing us. I tried to photograph the smashed glass but the phone was having none of it. Sarah checked the fuse box but nothing had blown….

Make of it what you will, my friends. Make of it what you will.

Even more cool facts about Ham House

(This is a follow on from two earlier posts about the house.)

A few days ago, after sorting out the harvest from the garden, I went on a Behind The Scenes tour in Ham House. It was fascinating. We squished and squeezed and poked about these little passages, learning about the world that the servants occupied.

We started outside the house, learning about how the West Door, which is the door on the side of the building that the volunteers and staff use, was a later addition. It was part of the refurbishment in which a whole new section was built on the back of the house.

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It reflected the changing attitudes to servants at this time. Previously, the servants had not had their own passages and rooms. They had walked around among the family doing their jobs. When everything French started to become fashionable, there was a move toward copying their system of the servants being out of sight so that the family did not have to witness a slop bucket or drying linen being carried around. It was believed that these things should happen behind the scenes.

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This affected the nature of the servants work. Up until this point, people had slept where their work was. The lady-in-waiting to the Duchess would sleep on a pallet on the floor next to the Duchess’ bed. The kitchen maids slept on a raised wooden plinth underneath the kitchen table.

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And the ladies in charge of the linen cupboard and wardrobe would sleep in a small room built in to the corner of the room in which the linen was kept.

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(It’s an office now but all the office furniture has been built in a non intrusive way so that it could be taken away and the room would still be preserved as it was.)

In the same office is this old fireplace from 1610 when the house was originally built.

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As I was saying, because the servants were starting to be kept out of the way more, there were secret passages built in when the refurbishments were made. There were also servants’ staircases and dorms and bedrooms in the very top floors so that they were hidden and out of the way overnight.

These areas are fascinating to look around. There are two lengths of roof and one side was the mens’ dorms and the other was the girls’ bedrooms.

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The little girl in me was bursting with excitement at being allowed into the forbidden secret parts of the house!

One of the bedrooms on the girls’ side had been made up to look how it probably would have at the time.

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There were a few later time periods also showing their faces. There is the lift that was put in during the time of the 9th Earl of Dysart (early 1900s) and a bell that was installed in 1789.

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(The date is on the top of the bell. You’ll have to zoom in a bit, probably.)

Whilst stumbling around in these fascinating rooms and corridors in the roof….

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…we came across a lot of rooms that are currently being used for storage, as Ham House has no external storage facilities. Back in the main part of the house, rooms that the Duchess’ sisters stayed in are full of beautiful old furniture or bits and pieces that are not currently on display. These rooms were part of the new build which had left windows marooned in the strange places and occasional telltale signs of the old outside wall, now in the middle of a suite of rooms.

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We finished the tour downstairs, in the servants’ dining room where some scenes from Downton Abbey were filmed. Any watchers of Downton may remember the scenes in the Crawley household, when they set up a soup kitchen during the war. Well, this is that very room! (Sorry, the light wasn’t great.)

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So there you go. A sneaky insider’s look at Ham House. Don’t tell anyone I let you in!

The first blackberry

A few days ago, I was walking home and I spotted a single ripe blackberry.

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In my excitement, I thought about giving it to Danda…. But then I remembered what happened last year so I ate it myself….

(I posted this in October last year.)

This is a story. A story that I am calling Danda And The Blackberry. It contains adventure, daring, far away lands and valiant mission.

One day, a few months ago, I was out walking. I was listening to Vanessa Paradis’ ridiculous but catchy hit, Joe Le Taxi as I roved. I was pottering up and down hills and following the river through London and having a lovely time. The summer was at that lovely not-too-hot, just-a-slight-breeze stage. The leaves on the trees were green and I stopped often to photograph the beautiful flowers.

I was having a lovely time. That’s when I saw it. The single ripe blackberry on the blackberry bush…

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Ah! I thought. Look what the summer day hath delivered unto me. I shall pick this single ripe blackberry and present it as a gift to somebody.

But to whom should I give this beautiful gift of the summer’s first blackberry? Hmmm.

And that’s when I thought, I shall give it to Danda. Because he is a taxi driver, he is quite often on the move and I thought he might be in the area. I gave him a quick call and he was nearby but he was taking someone to the top of the hill that I was at the bottom of. So, thought I, I shall race to the top of the hill and hopefully see him there.

Off I sped, bearing the summer’s first blackberry aloft. It was quite a long walk and really quite steep but I was on a Blackberry Mission and determined. As Danda drove up the hill, I walked as quickly as my legs would take me. He was held at a red light for ten seconds or so. This gave me the edge. Holding the blackberry gently, I power-walked through fields and past trees. I was determined. Danda’s taxi was approaching the top of the hill just as I hurried to the end of the path and out onto the pavement.

It was like someone had organised us, like chess peices, to collide at exactly the right moment. We reached the bend in the road at the same time and waved. Danda drove a little further down the road to drop the person in his taxi off while I stood panting a little and trying to regain my composure.

A minute or two later, Danda was back. He pulled over and I climbed in the back.

“Danda!” I declared with great aplomb, “I have brought you this blackberry from the Alaskan wilds, from whence I have come after my long exploration there.” (Not really, I had just been wandering around aimlessly by the Thames but that’s beside the point. Stick with me on this one.) “I have brought this, the first blackberry of the summer, to you, as it reminds me of your summery disposition and your great love of blackberries.” (He once said he’d had an apple and blackberry crumble which was tasty.)

He looked a little uncertain about the grandness with which I presented the blackberry to him but nevertheless, he took it, popped it in his mouth and ate it.

I waited, with baited breath for his verdict.

Silence.

“Danda. What of the beauty of the blackberry? Do you approve of it?”

“Mmm….” He said, nonchalantly. “It’s a bit sharp….”

Silence.

“Do you want a lift anywhere?”