Friday Fun: Watching the World Go By…

It has been quite a week, so I think I deserve to just sit and enjoy the spring weather (hopefully), and read a little bit, of course.

Porch in San Francisco, from Pinterest
Another American porch in the Deep South, from Southern Living
Another traditional porch, from City Farmhouse.
Space in Japan is at a premium, but this house makes the most of its vertical structure to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji, from Tezuka Architects, Design Boom
A pergola can be just as nice as a porch, from Better Homes and Gardens
And of course any outdoor space is enhanced by a pet, Peter Fudge Gardens, from

Friday Fun: Traditional Japanese Houses

Traditional old houses in Japan tend to lose their value and are difficult to restore. Few people want to be saddled with them, as they are frequently in remote locations and badly insulated. However, you can’t fault their aesthetics – and since these Friday posts are all about escapism, I will simply look for the positives: that elegant, minimalist style which is so good for my mental health. (They are also very much present in Studio Ghibli productions)

A countryside home – minka (people’s home, for the non-samurai classes), from Japan Objects.
The gardens are of course one of the most appealing features, so far removed from most city dwellings, from Japan Travel Magazine.
Some houses are on stilts or water, from Wonder Travel Blog.
A renovated house, combining Japanese and Western style, from CNN.
I can’t tell you how frequently I have longed for a kotatsu type table (that would be heated underneath, keeping your feet toasty). From Mansion Global.
The typical corridor going outside the main rooms, like a sort of porch, with sliding shoji doors. It feels like absolute peace! From Mansion Global.
One more inner courtyard to finish things off. I would never move from that veranda! From InDesign Singapore.

Friday Fun: Needing Holidays Again!

Another week of horrendous ill health (I’ll spare you the details) and generally feeling quite helpless and low about most things. I’m ready for another holiday, aren’t you? Escapism is more needed than ever before, so here are some pictures to put you in a more positive frame of mind.

Fairytale house and courtyard, with Encanto vibes, from Pinterest.

Nothing better than an inner courtyard with a water feature, from

A dream restaurant in the French Antilles. From
An unusual but spectacular inner courtyard at a hotel, from

A beautiful garden and sea views, what’s not to like, from

I do believe this is the Amalfi Coast? I don’t think I would want anyone sitting on those comfy seats, covering the view though. From

Friday Fun: Walking Up and Down the Mall

When I first moved to London, I was lucky enough to be asked to housesit for the parents of one of my dearest schoolfriends in the beautiful part of town called Chiswick. Their flat wasn’t by the river, but I soon made a habit of walking all the way from Barnes Bridge to Hammersmith Bridge, up and down the footpaths by the river called Malls: Chiswick Mall, Upper and Lower Mall. Last week I visited the place again for the first time in twenty years, and although there seem to be even more rich people around in that area, and new developments have been built to reflect that, it still has some of its old charm.

This is how I remember the place mostly: flood defences in the doorways, narrow footpath, small houses with balconies.

Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood lived here for a few years, back in the 1930s when it was more affordable.

Georgian and Regency architecture and a Riviera like mood, with very often…
… the front garden on the other side of the road, overlooking the river.
Some fine historic buildings there: Westcott Lodge overlooking Furnivall Gardens.
Perhaps these people could not afford a gardener? But it looked invitingly shady in the heat…

College House looks like a dreamy little French maison, but sadly lies on a big piece of land, so might be turned into a larger development soon.
And this was my absolute favourite: the poise, the symmetry, the shady garden. Near the famous The Dove Pub.

Friday Fun: Chalets with Gardens

I’ve not given you much in the way of holiday destinations and escapism with my #WITMonth reading so far, so let me make it up to you. What if you crave a cosy garden AND untamed nature just a little further on? Well, you could do worse than snap up one of these charming little (little?) chalets around the world.

The river just below you, the forest behind you… not much room for a garden, you might think, but there is one (or at least a decking) to the side. Ideal for fishing. Aspen, Colorado, from Aspen Trout Guide.
The quintessential Swiss chalet, with its incredible window boxes. From Swiss House.
Landscaped garden in this offering from Bonin Architects. And well isolated from any nosy neighbours.
Another classic view in the Dolomites, with a sunny pasture to the front for your four-legged friends, from Casa Italia.
The Nokochi – Sanso Villa near Kyoto is particularly beautiful in autumn.
Best for last, I want to instantly move to this beautiful jewel in Romania. From Decoist.

Friday Fun: Romanian Gardens

Romanians are very fond of their gardens but they’ve always had to combine their love of beauty with practicality. The climate ranges from very dry and hot in summer to very cold and snowy in winter, with everything in-between. Growing your own vegetables was never a trendy hobby but a necessity, and much of the land around your house (if you were lucky enough to own any) had to be given over to keeping hens, turkeys, pigs, cows or whatever livestock you could muster, to make up for the lack of food in the shops during Communist times. The younger generation now live mostly in the urban areas and have at best a balcony or terrace in which to unwind (or a park). Wealthier people, who have holiday homes in picturesque settings, are not there all the year round to look after their gardens properly, or are keen to copy Western models.

So, while they might not look as pretty and dreamy as the English country house or cottage gardens, these are hardworking gardens which deserve our admiration. And I can assure you quite a few are suitable for reading (tried and tested in my childhood).

Messy and busy, just like my grandmother’s garden, from the Botanical Garden in Bucharest.
Usually the flowers were in the immediate vicinity of the house, while the orchard and vegetable patch was behind. From
Flowers and vegetables alternate in rows in front of these traditionally painted houses from the Dobrogea region near the Black Sea coast. From Pinterest.
Some of the most beautiful flower gardens are at the nunneries, as here at Varatec. From
Agapia Monastery also boasts a magnificent display of flowers in its courtyard. Photo credit. Stefan Cojocariu.
If you only have a balcony in the city, this will have to do. From
But I prefer this porch, just like at my grandmother’s house. My cousins and I would sleep on little mattresses outside on really hot summer nights. From Pinterest.
Several of my relatives had dining tables under these vine-laden pergolas in the garden (with food coming out in a steady stream from the outdoor ‘summer’ kitchen). I think I read most of Dumas in places like these.

Friday Fun: Shady Spots in Gardens

It’s so lovely to see how many of my blog readers enjoy my Friday Fun posts – and even make suggestions for future topics. Like a DJ, I am always open to requests – and the excuse to go off and do some ‘research’. A couple of weeks ago, CA Lovegrove, who blogs at Calmgrove, asked about cloisters and gardens with shady walkways. So here are some inspirational gardens that I hope fit the bill…

Aberglasney in Wales has a walled garden rather than a cloister, but you can walk below the arches, I believe. From
Cloister in Sorrento hosts weddings, in case you’re looking for a romantic backdrop, from
The Japanese version is more of a narrow corridor or gallery that can open up, a bit like my grandmother’s porch, but going all the way round even the smalleest garden. From Pinterest.
Cloister of Saint Salvi in Albi, France, from Office de Tourisme Albi.
A dreamy, shady walkway at Petworth House, from Country Life.
The Spanish/Moorish design is so beautiful, although this particular one is in the US, from Garden Design.
I’ll end with another Japanese beauty – in honour of the Olympic Games. This one is in Kyoto. From

Friday Fun: The Flowers We Wish We Had

Look, just because I’m a rubbish gardener and don’t like being suburnt or buzzed by wasps while reading outdoors, doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate a beautiful garden, and the English cottage garden style which is so difficult to replicate without a lot of hard work…

Gateway to paradise, from
Frith Lodge, Sussex. Lavender always a pleasure and delight to see, from My Design Chic.
Antique urns always present an interesting focal point, from
I can never resist a secret path between the flower beds, from OC Signature Properties.
This one is open to the public, at least on occasion, from Amberley Open Gardens.
Blue heaven, from the aptly named Heaven’s Walk Blog.

Did you know, by the way, that there seems to be a trend for short filmed walks through gardens? Try The Flower World on Pinterest.

Learning to Go Out Again

After a particularly fraught and busy period at work, I had been looking forward to this week of annual leave. I was going to do so much (Cardiff, writing, day trips to London, editing translations, reviewing, major cleaning blitzes around the house) – but I should have realised that all my poor battered body and brain wanted to do was relax.

My older son vetoed Cardiff last weekend, because he wanted to watch the Euros Final in England rather than Wales. I’d been having second thoughts about travelling anyway, with the rising cases of Covid and the possibility of being pinged about going into self-isolation (which happened to a friend of mine when she went away for a mini-writing retreat in Eastbourne the week before). So we cancelled the hotel and instead wandered a little closer to home. Savill Gardens in Windsor Great Park no longer had the glorious rhododendrons, but there was still plenty to admire there.

On Wednesday we braved a trip to London – the first time I’ve been into town since 16th March 2020. It felt like a good time to go, before the breakdown of any and all restrictions on 19th July. Needless to say, GWR lived up to my bad impression of it: there was no accurate or up-todate information about how busy the trains were, nor about changing trains and platforms. I booked tickets and was told I had to reserve seats for part of the journey, which I initially thought was reassuring. If you reserve seats, you at least know that it’s not going to be crowded, right? Wrong! Turns out that every single seat had been sold – so there was no social distancing. Although on some of the trains there were big signs saying not to sit facing other passengers, we had to sit facing other passengers, including those who did not wear masks.

We went to visit the newly-opened Japan House on Kensington High Street, so we could walk there from Paddington via Kensington Gardens. In the morning, the park was quite quiet, partly because of the cloud cover. In the afternoon, however, when the sun came out, it was a typical London summer day: dog walkers, sports activities, children playing. The streets and shops were busy too (perhaps not like Oxford Street in the pre-Christmas frenzy, but busy enough). I struggled to see what people were complaining about in terms of restrictions or having their personal liberties curtailed.

The Japan House itself was slightly disappointing – or perhaps our expectations for it had been too high. According to the website, it is one of only three such centres around the world, set over three floors, housing exhibitions, a library, a restaurant and all sorts of other things. You had to book in advance for the library, but we ended up having the whole place to ourselves, which was just as well, since it was just one small room: interesting books, but simply not enough of them (and not enough variety – mostly design or visual arts). The ground floor exhibition/shop was beautiful, but a bit too heavily curated, upmarket and expensive. The afternoon tea we had at the restaurant was delicious, but expensive and not very filling (especially with two teenage boys – they had to buy sandwiches to eat immediately before and after).

Of course, for a Japanophile such as myself, it was still very interesting and I discovered some fascinating historical Japanese photos. But do not plan to spend the whole day there, as we thought we would. There simply isn’t enough to do and the chairs in the library are not that comfortable. Still, it was not a wasted afternoon, because we managed to do some clothes shopping, which is nearly impossible to do in our town, which has only a smallish M&S and a SportsDirect. We did not go into any bookshops, although I later found out there is a Waterstone’s a little further away on High Street Kensington.

Sunset over Hammersmith Bridge.

The very next day, I ventured into London again, this time in a friend’s car to the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, to see Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. I don’t think I was too popular with my friend for choosing such a pared-down, depressing play which feels very apposite for the loneliness of lockdown. But I rather enjoyed its bleakness, and the multitude of ways in which it could be interpreted: the humiliation of old age and impotence or amnesia, the burden of caring responsibilities, the grinding down of personality in a long and not very happy marriage, the need to be seen and appreciated.

Who wouldn’t want to run on such a beautiful path?

Most of the rest of my holiday was relatively humdrum. I slept nearly eight hours most days (a record for me), read a lot of undemanding books (which is not to say badly-written – just not heavy topics), only logged onto my work email once to check if I still needed to help out a colleague with a Zoom call. I had quite a bit of school and car-related admin to do, ordered a new sofa, gave the porch a thorough clean and even went to the gym and for a run. I also tried not to get angry about news and politics and news, about not losing a gramme of weight in spite of my best efforts to eat healthily and follow an intermittent fasting programme. I have watched just two films this week, mostly because my son’s laptop (which we connect to the TV to watch things) is on its dying legs: The Battle of Algiers, a powerful documentary-style Italian film about French colonialism and the war in Algeria, and Midsommar, about which I might write a whole blog post re: the misappropriation and misinterpretation of religious cults and folklore.

Instead of feeling guilty about ‘vegetating’, I call this a ‘fallow field’ period, which, as all farmers know, is so necessary to improve the yield of future crops. As part of my ‘three field rotation’ programme, next week I start the BCLT translation summer school, after which I probably will require another week of annual leave to recover. There is no doubt that I would rather be doing that than the day job (aka ‘main crop’), though!

Friday Fun: Still in the Garden

Yay! Finally some time off for a week! I might even do a spot of emergency gardening (aka ‘keeping things under control’), but I doubt that my garden will ever look as pretty as the ones below, unless I bring a proper professional gardener in.

I have that slightly neglected flagstone look down pat though… From Southern Living.
What a dreamy little place for afternoon tea, from the Tumblr account of A Little Bit of Silliness.
I do have some roses in my garden, but it would be glorious if I could get them to trail around the door like this. From Gardenista.
Now that’s what I call a border. No lupins in my garden though, as they are poisonous for cats, but what a riot of colour, shapes and sizes! From Judy’s Cottage Garden.
Sitting and dining with friends until late… My dream life. From Dreieckchen on Pinterest.