Dial Square FC Win the FA Cup

Dial Square FC Win the FA Cup

Woolwich Warren and a Rather Famous Football Team


The Woolwich Arsenal used to be called the Woolwich Warren, due to being built on a Tudor house which had a warren (as in, a place that rabbits were raised for food). It then became the place gunpowder was made, and is now a swanky place to live. I popped in there for a quick inspection, and decided it was a rather lovely place to be.

Woolwich Warren Tudor tower

Photo: Kleon3
The tower of the Tudor mansion.

The original Tudor house was defined by a tall tower, which feels appropriate now the site has several high-rise buildings which are seen as you approach Woolwich.  The owner of the original mansion was later Lord Mayor of London. There are now several very new, rather exclusive apartment blocks, with balconies and views across London, mingled with some ancient squares and old army buildings. It is one of those places that England does best—modern architecture muddled up with ancient history. I was interested to learn a little of the history, so after wandering through squares with bubbling fountains and past yuppy pubs and wine bars, I stopped to read a few of the signs.

After the mansion was demolished, the Woolwich Warren was built to make armaments. In 1695, an ammunition factory was set up, making gunpowder, shell cases, gun cartridges. One of the original pavilions still exists:

A Pavilion at Woolwich Arsenal

Photo: Barrabus1312
One of the original pavilions.

Woolwich Arsenal guard house.

Photo: Kleon3
One of the guard houses at the entrance from the river.

By 1777, the warren covered 104 acres, conveniently placed next to the River Thames. In the 1700s, convicts were used to build a high wall (8ft high) around the boundary, and later (1814) they dug a canal along the eastern border. There were hexagonal guard rooms either side of the main entrance from the river. We walked past them, but there were no signs, so we had to guess what they were. They look a little like over-sized kiosks that sell newspapers (so I clearly guessed wrong.)

In 1886, the men working in the workshops around Dial Square formed a football team. They were called the Dial Square club, and their first game was against the Isle of Dogs club in December 1886. The club still exists today, is now known as Arsenal FC — even I have heard of that one!

By the time of the First World War, the warren had expanded, and now employed 80,000 people. I love thinking of the secret manufacture of cannons and gunpowder, all guarded by the military. Did the people living nearby have any idea how explosive the area was? After the war, most factories closed, and they produced steam engines for the railway instead.

The arsenal no longer produced gunpowder in the second world war, which is probably good as it was a target during the Blitz, and lots of buildings were destroyed. It was still involved in the manufacture of weapons, but mainly guns and bomb cases. After the war, the machines were modified to manufacture the knitting frames for silk stockings (bit of a change then!)

Gradually, the arsenal ceased to be an arsenal. The wall was dismantled, the buildings sold to the council—one was even used by the British Library to store books. (Note: I rather resent these books stores, as if you publish a book, you are required, by law, to send a copy to the library, so it can be placed into a store and never seen again. Rant over.)

Today, as you wander around the area, you can still see many of the historical buildings, and many have signs, explaining what they were. It’s a nice place to visit, you wander through squares, and walk next to the Thames, staring at the muddy banks looking for treasure (and finding washed-up shopping carts!) The other side of the main road, is the bustle of real life, with small shops and tiny markets and people from every corner of the world. Not a bad place to visit on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Thanks for reading.

Counting Stars continues on Wednesday.

Coniston Water-gsd-lake district

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Victoria and Albert Museum: Fun without a Deadline

One of my Christmas gift vouchers was a trip to a London museum/gallery and lunch, with Jay. We went on Saturday.

We caught the train to Victoria, which was one of my favourite bits of the day—because I was alone with my son and we chatted, and mothers love this sort of thing when their children are grown-up. (It was sometimes fun when they were little, but less reliably, as the stress of tiny bladders and possible tantrums tended to cloud things a little.) We then walked to Rocca in South Kensington for lunch. Jay chose the route, and suggested that we nip across the road, ignoring the lights, a few times, and I wondered how this trait could possibly be inherited and told him he reminded me of his father (not in a good way).

Rocca turned out to be a very nice little Italian cafe. I had a very tasty lasagna, with a slightly old salad, and drank fizzy water and a coffee. It was very pleasant, with the other tables filled with families (a few mothers struggling with the whole tiny bladder/tantrum stage of parenthood) and students. Our waiter was nice and smiley, and it was a lovely relaxed meal.

We walked to the V&A museum, which you might remember I visited last year with Husband (who compared it to a jumble sale full of tat). I rather liked the eclectic mix of stuff, and was keen to visit again. I also wanted to check if people wore gloves in 1760. I am writing (very slowly) a story set in 1760, and gloves were a key element, but I wasn’t sure when they became fashionable. The V&A is good for these kinds of facts.

The map showed the 1760s displays were on the third floor. We walked up some stairs to the first floor, where the stairs stopped. We wandered through the displays, looking for an upward staircase. This was fun with no deadline, so we weren’t trying too hard. We saw lots of fancy religious icons, and some very elaborate tankards and lots of silver. One artefact was a silver ‘coffin’ (not called a coffin) where they think the remains of Simeon (old man who saw baby Jesus in the temple) were placed. People were big on things like that once upon a time. There was also a wonderful library, which we could peer at from the doorway but we weren’t allowed inside. But no stairs. It seemed impossible to reach the third floor from this section. We retraced our steps.

The ground floor had some cool statues (why are they always naked?) We found some different steps, and started to go up. The second floor had some 1760 displays, so I stopped to look at those, and managed to find evidence that people did wear gloves. I photographed some of the other clothes, and looked at a reconstructed room from 1760. There were also interactive displays, where you could design patterns, or tie a cravat, or wear a hooped skirt. Jay tested them out, but wasn’t impressed (I think they were aimed at 10 year olds).

We went up to the third floor. There were no displays from 1760. I think they must have hidden them. We saw a model of the Crystal Palace (which apparently was in Hyde Park, not Crystal Palace—is that correct? I had my doubts about the reliability of the museum and locations/maps).

We left, and discussed whether to walk back to Victoria, or take the underground, or catch a bus. Jay checked bus times on his phone (my children are so clever, who knew such a thing was possible!) and told me we needed the C bus. We waited at the stop, and Jay checked I had ‘something to tap’ because apparently you cannot pay with real money on buses anymore.

The bus arrived. Jay tapped his phone, I tapped my credit card. Absolutely no idea on the cost, or how the bus knew where we wanted to go—all very future world. We then worried that perhaps we were supposed to ‘tap-out’ when we left (because apparently this is a thing) so we decided to watch the other passengers. None ‘tapped-out’.

The bus stopped outside Victoria Station 3 minutes before our train left. We ran. We caught the train. It was a nice day.

I hope you have a nice day too. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Fortnum and Mason — Bit of a Treat

My Monday was great fun. It began with breakfast near Fortnum and Mason. Have you ever been? The best place for breakfast (I think) is not one of the restaurants inside the actual shop, but at the restaurant hidden at the back, 45 Jermyn Street. It has orange awnings, and a rotating door, with a man who stands outside to greet you. Inside, there are comfy orange seats (I do like a comfy seat!) and a desk where they take your coat and show you to the table.

The menu is nice—not too big so you don’t spend hours looking at a book trying to decide, and I don’t think they change it very often because it always seems to be the same when I visit. The prices are high, but not super high, not for London, and not as much as you might expect for somewhere rather lovely. The service is efficient and unobtrusive, and everything is very clean.

I chose what I always order—buckwheat pancakes, with caramelised pineapple and coconut yogurt. I don’t much like pineapple, but it’s so sweet, it’s easy to ignore. The coffee is delicious, and the orange juice is freshly squeezed. (Though do be careful, the drinks aren’t priced on the menu, and they add a lot to the final bill!)

The washrooms are behind a door marked: ‘Leeks and Peas’ (confused me for a moment!)

It really is a lovely place for breakfast, and it’s full of people in dark suits, so don’t arrive in your ripped jeans.

 Afterwards, we went into Fortnum and Mason. I have never properly explored the shop before, so we started at the very top (which was bit of a waste of time, as there were only restaurants up there!) On every floor, the staff greeted us, and asked if we wanted any help—but not in a condescending snooty manner (like in some posh shops). They seemed friendly, and willing to help. Even when we were looking at the hampers, and Husband (always to be relied upon for helpful comment) told the assistant they were a ridiculous price, she simply smiled, and said we would probably find the same products at a cheaper price in the rest of the shop.

The hampers were interesting. Some were themed, so you could order them for a wedding, or a birth, or a special occasion, like the Chinese New Year (this year is the year of the Rat, and everything was decorated with rats, which wouldn’t be my choice of decoration for a food hamper!) There were even hampers for animals (lots I could say here, but I won’t because I assume they give pleasure to the owner, even if the dog would be unimpressed).

I walked around taking photographs, and no one seemed to mind. On one floor there was a display of teapots, with signs explaining their origins. A shop assistant told us they were preparing to do a tea-tasting, and if we came back in a few minutes we could try some tea. (We didn’t, but it was nice of her.)

 It’s a nice shop to browse. The lighting is bright, but never harsh, and the displays are beautiful and full of colour.

We skimmed the ground floor, which was full of tins of shortbread with chocolate chips in (always wrong) and chocolates in fancy boxes—all aimed at tourists, who were pushing through the ground floor in their masses. Instead, we went down to the basement.

The basement is full of food, and I had a voucher. There was a golden tree, surrounded by citrus fruits. I love pomelo (which look like giant grapefruit) but I first discovered them in Morrisons, and these were triple the price and not ripe. A chocolate orange was also tempting—brown-skinned and grown in Valencia, the sign said it was very sweet.

The bakery was full of bread and cake and tarts, all looking delicious, but all unwrapped (and therefore potentially sneezed on by tourists, which I found off-putting).

In the end, I chose a tiny jar of fish eggs (sort of pretend caviar, but rather cheaper than the £400 price tag I saw for the real thing!) A man was cutting thin slices of salmon, and he chatted to us for a while, and offered us a blini—a tiny pancake topped with salmon and cream cheese. Behind him, there was a blini-making machine, and we watched it while we chatted. Really, the staff were very friendly.

I also bought some sour dough bread (I found some that was wrapped, and safe from stranger-sneezes!) and a china pot of Welsh rarebit, four miniature puddings, a pat of black garlic butter, a packet of blinis, and a tiny pot of pesto.

We carried everything home, and had a sort of picnic in front of the fire, drinking some prosecco that we were given at Christmas time. What a lovely treat!

I hope you have some treats this week too. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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If you fancy a treat, why not read my latest book? A feel-good family saga, set on a farm that will make you smile.

Sowing Promises
by Anne E. Thompson
Available from an Amazon near you today.

UK link: Here

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A Little London History

A Little London History

Walking around London is always fun – there is so much to see, so many tiny parts of our past left for us to find. However, not all of it is obvious, so here are a few snippets I learned recently.

Did you know, that if a name ends ‘sey’ it was once an island? Bermondsey, near London Bridge, was once a small area surrounded by marsh land. Most of the south bank was marshy, which is why there was only one bridge – London Bridge – crossing the Thames. When you are next crossing London Bridge, just after leaving the railway station, look down at the road underneath. You will see two metal tram lines. These mark the position of the original bridge. They are surprisingly narrow, considering the bridge was a main thoroughfare and had houses and businesses on both sides, over-hanging the river. There is a story (possibly not true) that because people crossing the bridge had to pass very close to each other, they would pass with their sword hands next to each other. Most people were right-handed, so people walked on the left side – and this is why today, English people drive on the left. Apparently Napoleon was left-handed, which is why the French drive on the right side.

If you walk along the south bank through Bermondsey, there are many buildings which were the original dock buildings. Most are now converted to homes, but when you look at them, it doesn’t need much imagination to see how they would have been. At St. Saviours Dock you can see the setting where Dickens wrote the death of Fagin in Oliver Twist. If you walk back to the river, there are areas of floating gardens, and on Sundays they are open to the public.

Many of the railway arches are now small businesses. If you wander around Bermondsey on a Saturday morning, you can buy all sorts of fine produce – a foodies paradise. There is a fine honey shop, which uses the honey from London beehives. Did you know there are beehives on top of Fortnum and Mason, which are shaped just like the shop? There are also hives on top of the KPMG building, though I doubt they are shaped like a set of accounts!

Near to London Bridge is Borough Market, a hive of human activity. This is the place to shop if you want unusual spices, fancy breads, or specialist fish. Just beyond, is Neal’s – the place to buy English cheese. There is also Monmouth coffee house, which I am told sells the best coffee.

The South Bank is where the prostitutes worked and they were called ‘wild geese’. A short walk from Borough Market is a plaque, marking their graves.

Many of the areas of housing are named after what the area was previously used for. So, the housing on the Neckinger estate is so named because it was an area of execution. I’m not sure that the current residents realise that…


Thank you for reading.
You can follow my blog at anneethompson.com

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.


If you enjoyed this, you will love my new book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.
I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

The US link is here:


The India link is here:


The UK link is here:


Not A Pub Crawl…

Not A Pub Crawl

I was invited to a guided walk: ‘Ales and Pubs, Sipping the History of British Beer and the Social History of the South Bank’. As I like both history and beer, I accepted. I wasn’t entirely sure what I had been invited to though – was this an intellectual way of saying “pub crawl”?

I arrived on time at Bermondsey Underground, our starting point. Met the guides, a knowledgeable historian and the FT food and wine journalist. Began to realise this was going to be more of a guided walk, and less of a pub crawl. We walked to St James Church, and were told to notice the water pump outside, a source of clean water for local people, and the galleries inside the rebuilt church (it was bombed during the war). Definitely more of a guided walk.

We then went to Spa Terminus, which are several units built under the railway arches. All the railway lines from the South to London go through Bermondsey, and due to the marshy soil, they were all built on sturdy brick arches. These are now home to many different small businesses – including some breweries. We stood outside one, and learned a few historical facts while looking at the closed door, in the cold wind. I wished I had worn a coat, and was now certain that this was not a pub crawl.

We then walked to the Brew By Numbers brewery, which was also under the arches. It was started by two blokes in their flat, and now has 11 full time employees and several part-time workers. We were allowed in, and stood, amongst boxes stacked by a forklift, while the owner told us how to make beer. A few men were working at a table, using microscopes and thermometers – this was more science than pub. The smell was wonderful, that warm sweet beery smell produced by fermenting yeast.

Making beer is relatively easy. Making good beer needs a little more skill. The basic recipe is hot water, to which you add mixed barley and leave for about an hour. This will activate the enzymes within the barley, turning the starch to sugar. This is then moved to a kettle and boiled – killing those enzymes. Sometimes it is dried and roasted (hence malted barley). It is passed into a ‘whirlpool’ (big metal thing) and hops are added. It is cooled, and yeast is added before it’s pumped into the conditioning tanks. They might add more sugar here (depends on the beer). It can then be put either into metal drums or bottles.

I can tell you that barley is just barley – the same stuff that grows in fields, and malted barley looks like coffee beans. Hops arrives looking like the pellets I feed to my ducks.

There is some snobbishness as to whether the fizz in beer should be natural, or carbon-dioxide added at the end. Historically, people didn’t have pressurised canisters of CO2 so it had to be natural fermentation that added the fizz. The difference between bitter and lager is how they are stored. (I have a fun little story here: When my boys were little, they wanted to make characters for a computer game who sounded grown-up. So, being ‘real men’, they decided to call them Bitter and Lager. Unfortunately, their spelling wasn’t as good as their ideas, so the characters are called Biter and Larger.)

We were invited to taste the beers. Only two, so still not a pub crawl, and only about an inch, so we weren’t singing when we left. There was a Saison, which had cucumber and juniper extracts added, and tasted light and acidic. The Porter tasted strongly of coffee, and was nice, but an inch was sufficient.

We moved on to another brewery, the Courage Brewery which at one time was the largest brewery in London, possibly in Europe. Unfortunately, it is now a housing complex. There was a plaque, which commemorated when the draymen beat up an Austrian general. The draymen were the delivery men, beefy workers, so the attack would have been painful. It caused an international incident at the time.

Apparently, when water in London was revolting due to being pumped along rotting wooden pipes and people drank much more beer, it was also more alcoholic. Which caused a few problems. So Lloyd George changed the law, and reduced the amount of alcohol that was allowed in beers.

The end of the tour was a quick look at the Hops Exchange (where we weren’t allowed to take photos, though I have no idea why as it is just a tiered hall.) We also stood outside the George Inn, which has been there since Dickens wrote his novels. But we didn’t go in. This was not, even slightly, a pub crawl.

Thank you for reading.
You can follow my blog at: anneethompson.com

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.



Hello, hope all is well.
I have a cheeky request (which you can ignore if you’re too busy, but I would be super-grateful if you can do this). Next time you are near your local library, please could you ask them to order you a copy of CLARA? It won’t cost you anything (other than time, which I know is precious, so I will be very grateful). The library order a copy, and let you know, and you will then have to collect it and read/pretend to read it, and return it a week later. Your part is then finished. But it means that the book will be available to a whole lot of other people.

I have tested the plan with my Mum, and there is now a copy in her local library, so I know it will work. Some libraries might refuse, if you are the only person who has requested the book, but the more people who ask, the more likely they are to stock it. I have had to deposit 6 copies with The British Library and 5 other libraries (which is a legal requirement, even though I lose the money) but it does mean that other libraries can stock the book.

The library will need:
Title: Clara
Subtitle: A Good Psychopath?
Author: Anne E. Thompson
Publisher: The Cobweb Press
ISBN: 9780995463257

They can order it through their normal channel (I think they tend to use a wholesaler).

The more people who request it from a single library the better, as they will display it in a better position if it’s popular (so do mention it to your friends and work colleagues).

Hope you don’t mind me asking. I don’t have the backing of a major publisher, so I need all the help I can get. Thank you oodles if you are willing to help.

Anne x


An Hour at Victoria Station

An hour to wait at Victoria Station. Am lucky enough to find a seat, so I settle down with my M&S sandwiches and watch the world. Take a minute and watch with me (you don’t need to stay for the whole hour).

In the middle, next to the stall selling lurid coloured sweets (unwrapped and unhealthy) is a man speaking on the phone. At least, I’m hoping he’s on his phone – I can’t actually see it but he is wearing ear-plugs. He is also talking very loudly in accented English. He’s the sort of person you want to slap: too loud, too German, too aggressive. He’s talking about, “Five or six billion,” and, “it’s well within my experience.” Like I said, needs a slap.

Then there’s the man who plonks an empty coffee cup next to me and walks away. He needs a slap too.
German man is still talking as I glare after the departing back of coffee trash man.
A group of women arrive in front of me, hugging and kissing good-byes. One is heavily pregnant in a tight striped dress, her shape straining against the fabric.

There are young people with backpacks, and a mother with a pushchair, and men, with pull-along cases, who walk beside them as if they’re walking a dog. A group of teenagers giggles its way across the concourse, and a black girl sits next to me to eat her chips (she has to move trash man’s empty cup first). We exchange a smile, but don’t speak. Speaking might be deemed weird.

There are people hurrying to platforms, and others standing in the way as they stare at departure boards. Heels click past, rushing towards the toilets (they’re free now you know, it used to cost 70p to pee).
An intense young man in a pink shirt speaks into a phone while walking towards the platforms. German man has gone now – I didn’t notice him leave. An old lady with an orange carrier bag walks lopsidedly towards the sandwich shop. Mr Pink Shirt is now standing, still talking, fiddling distractedly with his trouser zipper – not a good habit. Two women walk arm in arm reading a timetable.

There’s a babble of languages, the background drone of engines, the tap of heels on the smooth grey floor. The tannoy, which no one appears to listen to, screeches its announcements, and an orange-lights-flashing vehicle beeps through the crowds.
An old man, flat cap, carrier bag, beard, leans heavily on his stick as he wheezes behind his wife. Or lover. Or work colleague. They are overtaken by a younger couple, both with small efficient cases. Hers has a giant hat box on top, and I wonder if she’s going to a wedding. Perhaps the wedding.

Victoria Station. No one is really here, everyone is passing through, waiting to leave, their mind somewhere else. The workers are invisible, in spite of their orange jackets, their beeping vehicles, their shiny booths. Who could describe the person they bought the panini from? Or the hair of the girl at the information desk? Or the shoes of the man unloading the heap of free newspapers while hands reach out, their attached bodies barely pausing, the commuters not breaking step for a second.

The information board flips, new platforms announced. I fold my sandwich box into my bag, and leave.


I wrote this at the station, whilst also chatting to my children on a Facebook group chat. I told them what I was doing, and asked if they thought it would be okay to add photographs of the people I’d mentioned. They replied:
Mark: “No Mum, definitely not.”
Becky: “Mother, I don’t think you should have taken photographs in the first place!”
As I am at the age whereby I have learnt it is best to obey one’s children, I’m afraid there are therefore, no photos.

Thank you for reading.
You can follow my blog at: anneethompson.com

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.


Christmas Meal with the Family

For the last few years, we’ve tried to go up to London, to see the Christmas lights and have dinner together. Not anywhere particularly posh, but just to be together, somewhere different, where I don’t have to do the cooking. Last weekend was the 2017 family meal.

I wasn’t sure if we’d manage it this year, as only Husband and I were at home, and everyone else would be travelling from different parts of the country, but they all seemed willing, so I booked a table and hoped it wouldn’t snow. It didn’t, but it did rain, which made the event damper than planned, but it was still nice to see everyone.

We arranged to meet at 5:30pm at The National Gallery. I chose this time because it was an hour before our restaurant reservation, and my family, whilst wonderful, are somewhat unpredictable when it comes to times and trains and going in the right direction. Well, actually, it would be more accurate to say they are very predictable, and I knew it would be best if we met ahead of time. As I guessed, one child arrived on time, with partner, in arranged place. One child texted to say they were at a station in Hertfordshire, the other was silent, so we assumed they might be on a train to Edinburgh. Nothing unexpected there.

To be fair, we were all together, in the restaurant, at the correct time. We had a lovely time together, lots of good conversation and teasing and general family bonding stuff which goes to make up the best memories. We then wandered around Covent Garden, and through Leicester Square Christmas Market. They did have security on the gate, checking bags, and one person had with him several large bags, hauled down from uni; but when he mentioned they were full of dirty washing, the security were surprisingly unkeen to search them.

We then had a quick look at China Town, before deciding the weather was too awful, so went and camped in the bar of the Curzon Theatre for more chat and cups of hot chocolate.

My family does best when it’s contained in a restaurant or bar, as wandering around places never works. This might be due to the general unsuitedness of Husband and I, who are both bossy leader types that dislike following others. (A matchmaking site would never have put us together, even though we do actually have lots of fun together. Sometimes I think God just wanted to spare two other weaker people, who would have been squashed by our dominant personalities!) The problem is, our children are also not, in any respect, ‘followers’. So when the family tries to walk anywhere, we have many different opinions about where to go and the best route, which means everyone tends to disperse in different directions.

As you can imagine, raising strong personalities was fun, but challenging. Whenever I took them out, I would have back-up plans, just in case. Such as, “If you get on a train before me and the doors shut before I’m on it, get off at the very next station and wait for me.” Or, “If you realise you have lost me, just stand still and shout; and only ask for help from a woman with children.” (I figured that a woman who had children of her own would realise how awful they generally are, and would never want to steal someone else’s!) However, one son informed me that these strategies no longer work, and now he’s a  very tall man, if he approached a woman with children and told her he was lost, she would probably have him arrested.

It was a lovely evening, and stress free, which such evenings have not always been. I remember the year when there had to be a line drawn across the table, so one son’s feet did not extend into my daughter’s foot-territory. And the year when one teenager arrived in the car ready to drive to the station moments before our train was due, wearing a shirt and jeans. Just a shirt – no jumper, no coat. And it was snowing. But apparently teenaged boys do not feel the cold or ever get ill, so it would have been unreasonable of me to comment.

But not this year. This year, they all arrived, from their various places of residence, and we ate dinner together and chatted. A special time. So, if your children are younger, and perhaps not always easy, hold that image in mind. In time, they will be the people who you most want to be with. They will be the provider of your most special memories, the accompaniment to precious moments, and the people who lighten your heart. If they manage to arrive in the right city on time….


Thank you for reading.

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Looking for a Story at the V and A

I wanted to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, and as Husband had a day off, he suggested we go. Next time I’ll go on my own.

I have a few wisps of stories in my head at the moment, and one is set in the past. As my knowledge of anything historical is pretty much limited to slushy films and novels, this might prove something of a problem. I want to write about people living in another age, but have no idea what they wore, ate with, sat on, etc. So I thought the V and A might be a good place to start. I could look at a few artefacts and decide whether it was even plausible to set a story in a past century.

The V&A is walking distance from Victoria Station, so we had a nice walk, past interesting statues, very posh mansions and pretty mews. I love walking through London. Then it began to rain. If you plan to visit a London museum, do not go on a rainy day. It is full of people with umbrellas who are more interested in being dry than looking at the exhibits.



Husband needed to make a phone call, so I dumped him in a coffee shop and went up to the second floor. There was some lovely 1700s furniture. I was quite taken by a little table with spindly legs and inlaid wood. It had side panels, and one was a drawer, and I could see someone might hide something in there. The table would be in the corner of a room, partly hidden by swathes of curtains (did they have curtains in 1760?) and a young woman would hide something in the drawer and lock it.

There was also a cabinet, called a commode, patterned with scenes of a Chinese garden. Perhaps the girl would hide the key, dropping it into one of the Chinese urns before rustling away. (Did they wear clothes that rustle?)

There were tables, set for dessert, showing food that was served in those days. People had just begun to buy cutlery, so guests didn’t have to bring their own; and food was served in courses. Desserts were fashionable, (the word is derived from the French ‘desservir’ meaning ‘unserve’ because the main food had been cleared away.)

I could see my young girl, glimpsing the complicated stand designed to hold sugared fruits, as she passed the dining room. (Did they have dining rooms?) The people would be drinking wine, having moved on from the traditional ale and now importing wine from abroad. She would be fascinated by the slender decanters, stored in the sideboard and produced only when there were guests of note. But who would be eating? Did men and women eat together? And were meals usually in the evening, or at midday?

Grumpy Husband joined me, and began to say (loudly) that, “the museum is actually just full of very expensive tat. It should be renamed ‘The Museum of Tat’. And how does someone get their stuff accepted by the museum? Everyone has stuff they don’t want to throw away, but they don’t really like – weird gifts and things collected on holidays. Clearly if you are Royal, you can simply shove it all in a museum and pretend it’s interesting.”

I suggested Husband sit in a chair and play a game on his phone, then I walked on.

There was some furniture designed by Thomas Chippendale (1718 – 1779). Perhaps my story house could have a couple of chairs, designed by Chippendale and chosen from his furniture catalogue. The grumpy husband of the house could moan, not liking that James Rannie, a Scottish man, backed Chippendale financially. In 1707, there was the Act of Union, which made Britain a single nation, joining England, Scotland and Wales under a single parliament and monarch. Grumpy Husband (in the story) could be cross about this, feeling it was a mistake, and therefore resentful when his wife suggested they buy furniture associated with a Scot.

Perhaps later generations of my story could live in 1870. Fruit from abroad was imported, and my character, an awkward young man, could agonise over how to eat it politely. When faced with an array of fruits, he always chose a banana, which he did not particularly like, simply because it was easy to peel with a knife and fork, and could be chopped into pieces and eaten delicately.

I could have the militant lady of the house, presiding over her tea-table. Millie the servant had laid a large tray of cups and saucers and silver pots, ready for the mistress. She removed the embroidered tea-cosy, and poured for her guests, offering milk or lemon. But did they serve tea with milk and lemon in those days? And who would be invited to tea? And did the maid stay, or leave when tea was served?

I clearly need to do lots more research before I write my story. Perhaps I will write it first as a serial on my blog, then I can write it as I learn snippets of information, like I did when writing Counting Stars (which I later rewrote as a complete book.) I will find some books and look online. I sort of have an outline for my story – am just not sure if I can learn enough facts to flesh it into something realistic.

We had a quick look at the displays of clothes before we left. But there were too many people avoiding the rain for me to stand before a glass case and imagine how it would feel to actually wear those corsets and layers of cotton.


I rather like the V&A. Husband is sort of right – it is an eclectic mix of stuff, but it’s interesting. There is also a wonderful reading room, and a hall full of statues, and even a paddling pool for sunny days. I will definitely return. Perhaps after I have done some research so I know more of what I’m looking for, and I can use the exhibits to imagine how my characters would have lived; I can see textures and sizes and think about the comfort of things. I will go on my own….

Thank you for reading.

If you want to read the finished version of Counting Stars, my novel set in the future, the UK link is below (though you can buy it from whichever Amazon is local to you.)



Smelling Like Marilyn….

Ah, the problem of what to wear. I had been invited to London, which is pretty much a foreign country as I go there so rarely. I knew the day would involve some walking, then a lunch in a posh dining room – so what should I wear? I was fairly confident muddy jeans and wellies weren’t appropriate. Perused wardrobe and began sorting outfits. In the end, I was restricted – in both senses of the word – by finding clothes that actually fit. My weight tends to fluctuate (joys of being an older woman) and I’m having a ‘fat tummy phase’. I eventually leave in a too-tight skirt and a silk blouse that gapes. I carry heels and wear flats. I so wish I was a man sometimes.

Arrived in Grosvenor Street, where we were meeting, on time. Nice walk from Victoria. We then met our guide, Cindy, who gave us a quick introduction. The plan was to visit a few shops in Savile Row and Jermyn Street – tailors to the rich and famous. No, we weren’t shopping (phew) we were having a tour. It turned out to be very interesting.

First stop was Floris, one of the oldest perfumeries in the world (apparently). We met Edward, who is the 9th generation of his family to own the shop. They have 17 royal warrents, and we saw the ledger showing the perfume the Queen orders (she pays by cheque or postal order). We also smelled the perfume that both Winston Churchill and Eva Peron wore (I didn’t much like it).

We were invited into the back room, where a lady with lilac coloured hair described the bespoke service the shop offers. As we stood in the old, low ceilinged room, surrounded by glass cabinets from a former age, I felt like I’d walked into a Harry Potter film and was choosing a magic wand.

For a mere £450, you can have a 2 hour appointment with Madam Lilac Hair (not her real name) and design your own perfume. She used lots of phrases like “main notes” and “complementaries” to describe the process, which starts with 60 different bases.

The perfume should be kept in a box, and preferably in the fridge. It should last for a year, after which time, the alcohol base starts to ‘go off’ and smell bad. (I didn’t tell her that I have perfume from about ten years ago).

As we left, I was chatting to the guide about the perfume Marilyn Monroe wore. She sneaked me into a side room, opened a drawer, and sprayed some on my wrist. How exciting! I feel very desirable now….

We then popped to Turbull and Asser in Jermyn Street – the makers of bespoke shirts for royalty. They showed us how they use patterns drawn on brown paper, which are then sent off in “shirt bags” (which are really just big envelopes) to a factory where they are digitalised. Their customers include Charlie Chaplin, Churchill, and a certain American president who asked for them to be made without the label, so no-one would know they were made in England!

All the shirts are cotton, and they don’t glue the fabric to the stiffener in the collar, as apparently this shortens the life. (Someone needs to tell Mr M&S that. Or perhaps they have…) It costs £255 for a shirt, but a new customer is expected to order at least six.

Next stop was Gieves and Hawkes (pronounced with a hard ‘g’). They make both made-to-measure and bespoke suits. (Made-to-measure is fitted onto a basic block, and the customer then has it fitted and chooses the fabric. Bespoke begins with brown paper, cut into a pattern.) A bespoke suit starts at £6,000 and will take 12 weeks.

We were taken upstairs to the archive room. Glass cases ran along one wall, filled with the red coats and gold helmets of the Queen’s bodyguards. They make, maintain and fit the uniforms. We were allowed to hold a helmet, which was surprisingly light (it’s made from brass and coated in gold, with a gold filigree pattern moulded on). We were told not to take photographs (shame) as they would be fired. The red coats are made from a heavy wool cloth, so it doesn’t warp when the epaulets and sword are added. They must be boiling hot to wear, and summer is a busy time due to garden parties and state visits (the next one is a visit from the Prime Minister of Spain). The uniforms are worn 12 times a year, and you have to be a rank of major or above to be body guard to the Queen.

Our final stop was Huntsman, who make hunting clothes. It was the shop that inspired the film “Kingsmen”. We arrived in the reception area, which had heavy leather chairs, newspapers, chocolates and drinks, and peonies in a vase. All very dignified. Below us, 14 people were working in the basement, making suits for people like Nicole Kidman and the royal family.

Actually, these places aren’t called ‘shops’. A little history: in 1666 there was the great fire of London. Afterwards, everyone was very keen to blame the French (English people still like to blame the French for everything. It’s not considered racist, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps because they once beat us up and we have very long memories.) Anyway, King Charles II wore French fashions, lots of frills, and this was politically a bad move. So he switched to an English made suit, which included a waistcoat. Yep, the first three-piece suit was apparently Charles II’s fault (even though Husband assures me only Germans wear waistcoats today.)

Anyway, following this, the coffee houses grew up. Men met, and instead of getting drunk, they became stimulated (all that caffeine) and began to plan insurance companies and such like. They regularly met their friends for coffee, and discussed business; but sometimes, someone would arrive who they didn’t like. So they created a membership system – hence the birth of gentlemen’s clubs. As lots of men were gathering in a fairly small area of London, there also grew up brothels (a surprising number for the area under discussion.) The place then became almost exclusively the domain of men, and women of a certain profession. As the men walked between the clubs and the brothels, they went along Jermyn Street, so it became the place that high class tailors set up shop. They then wanted to expand, into Savile Row, but that was an exclusive residential area, which didn’t want tradesmen. So the tailors had ‘houses’, not ‘shops’. Not everyone was invited to buy from them, and at one time, you needed two letters of introduction before a tailor would see you.

However, I found everyone to be charming and helpful, and very happy to show us round and explain things. I expect it was because I smelled like Marilyn….


Thank you for reading.

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London : Sayings and Stories

A friend called and asked if I’d like to join her on a guided walking tour of London. It was organised by Sevenoaks School, so we were slightly bemused as we’ve had no links with the school since our sons left nearly 5 years ago. However, we haven’t seen each other for ages and it sounded quite fun, so we signed up.

We met near Tower Bridge. Our guide was a nice man, short, carrying a briefcase and umbrella (he looked like the accountant in The Untouchables, but I didn’t mention it.) I was worried he might stick the umbrella into the air for us all to follow – at which point I would’ve left – but it stayed safely in his bag. He was actually very interesting, he remembered a huge number of facts, and told little stories as we walked around. The walk took 2 hours, mainly because we walked very slowly. I thought I’d tell you some of his stories, about the origins of sayings. They might, or might not, be true, but they were interesting.

Near the Tower of London, is the spot where they executed people who were not considered royal enough to be killed within the walls. There were a few plaques, one of which commemorated the husband of Lady Jane Grey (but I’ve forgotten his name. I would not make a good guide!) Lady Jane Grey was queen, after Henry VIII, for 9 days. After this, Mary (Henry’s daughter) rode into London and had Jane locked up in the tower. Hence the saying, “a nine day wonder”.

We also passed the pub, ‘The Hung, Drawn and Quartered’. It’s possible the owners have very bad grammar (paintings are hung, people are hanged). However, on the side is a plaque with a quote from Samuel Pepys, which includes the same words. So perhaps it was Pepys who had bad grammar and the publican was being ironic.

We passed Bakers Hall, owned by the guild of bakers. When they used fire-heated bread ovens, they got it to temperature, then shoved a piece of elm across the opening, to keep the heat in. This was the “stop gap”. The underside of the loaf would be covered in ash, so that was sold cheaply to the poor. Only the rich could afford “the upper crust”.

We went to a small lane, called Lovats Lane (used to be called Lovers Lane). It was very narrow, and led away from Eastcheap (which is where the meat and fish were sold). ‘Cheap’ was the word for ‘exchange’, or a market. In the past, horse-drawn wagons would have used the lane, going from the river to the market. It would be difficult to pass as it was so narrow, and often the wheels would touch and get stuck. Sometimes though, they touched but managed to keep going, hence the saying, “touch and go”.

We walked down to the river, just below Monument (great tall monument which my son has walked past many times without ever noticing! It’s a monument to the great fire of London). Next to St Magnus the Martyr church, you can see the remains of previous London Bridges. There is a lump of wood which was from the original Roman London Bridge. There is the stone that replaced the wooden bridge, which was destroyed in 1014 when London was attacked, and gave rise to the song, “London Bridge is Falling Down”. There is also the stone from the bridge that was replaced in the 70s because it was too narrow. Apparently we sold it to a chap from Arizona who bought the wrong bridge, as he thought he was buying Tower Bridge. Easy mistake. I was quite surprised the current bridge has only been there since the 1970s, I had assumed it was older.

We walked towards St Paul’s Cathedral, passing other guildhalls on the way. All the guilds used to take part in the Lord Mayor’s Show each year. It was held on the Thames, hence each guild entered a “float”. Two of the guilds constantly argued about their position in the procession, so it was decided they would alternate each year between the places six and seven. Hence the saying, “at sixes and sevens”.

We came to Cheapside, which was where in the past you could buy a piglet. So it didn’t escape, it would be sold, wriggling, in a tied sack. Sometimes the dishonest farmer would substitute the pig, and you’d get home, open the sack, and find not a piglet but a cat. If you checked when at the market and opened the sack in the market, you would “let the cat out of the bag”.
During the reformation, Westminster Abbey, which was catholic, was emptied of everything valuable. At the time it was called St Peter’s. The poor people didn’t gain from this though, as all the icons were carried to the anglican church, which happened to be St Paul’s. Hence, they “robbed Peter to pay Paul”.

We went behind The Old Bailey, and peered through some gates to where you can see a wall, which is all that remains of Newgate Prison. Prisoners to be executed would have a last confession to a priest (called shrift), but as they were deemed to be going to Hell anyway, the priest wouldn’t waste too much time on them, so they would receive “short shrift”. They could then have one last drink in the pub on the way to the gallows – hence “one for the road”. The cart that carried them was called a lurch, hence you could be “left in the lurch”. Anyone who didn’t go into the pub to drink was left “on the wagon”.

There was one guy (name escapes me, I’ll call him James) who was stuck for a few years in the debtors prison. He got to know many of London’s criminals. When he was released, a new law was passed, increasing the penalty for buying stolen goods. This meant few people wanted to buy them, and the price went down. James figured that the people most likely to want to buy the stolen goods, were the people who had had them stolen. He therefore set up a system whereby, if you were robbed, you could go to James with a list of stolen goods and he would find them and sell them back to you. When the items were reunited with the owner, James put a cross next to the robber’s name. Sometimes James discovered a robber hadn’t been honest with him, and so instead of buying the goods and selling them back to the original owner, James would tell the police where to find the robber. When that happened, he put two crosses next to the robber’s name. Hence, the robber was “double crossed”. Eventually, James himself was caught and hanged. (But not hung, because he wasn’t a painting…..)


Thank you for reading.


If you enjoyed this, you will love my new book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.
I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

The US link is here:

The India link is here:

The UK link is here: