Springing Forward

With the evenings getting lighter, the daffodils and crocuses bursting into life and the weather starting to brighten up, it really is beginning to feel like spring has sprung. I go into hibernation mode during the winter, and pack on the pounds by spending my evenings eating comfort food and watching terrible TV, but as soon as the sun comes out, I’m ready and raring to go. I’ve started to fill up my social calendar again, and I’m getting excited about summer holidays and picnics and walks and day trips to the seaside.

Last weekend was my first busy spring weekend, and I had a wonderful time. Friday night saw me and one of my old school friends dancing like we were 18 again to the tunes of the marvellous Florence + the Machine at the packed out Alexandra Palace; she is magnificent live – a real showwoman –  and I loved every minute. My friend and I came home on the bus, giggling away, and stayed up whispering in bed until the small hours, just like we used to when we were kids having a sleepover. Old friends really are the best friends; when you’ve known each other since you were 11, there’s a bond there that is truly unbreakable and I love meeting up with my old schoolfriends and reminiscing about old times. None of us can ever believe that we’re all (in my case, nearly – I’m the youngest) 26 now – it seems like yesterday that we turned up for our first day at secondary school in too-big blazers and ponytails, shy and nervous and with no idea where our futures would lie. How time flies!

On Saturday morning my sister called to tell me that as our mum was going on holiday the following weekend, we’d have to celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow. Panic ensued – I needed to find a present, pronto! Once my friend had left, I set off for Hampstead in pursuit of the perfect gift. Hampstead has loads of lovely little independent shops, and I enjoyed an hour or two of browsing before settling on a nice photo frame that matched the decor of my mum’s newly decorated living room. With the sun out, I wasn’t quite ready to head for home once I’d done all of my errands, so I decided to go for a ramble. I found myself in the back streets of Hampstead, astounded at the beauty of the historic homes, lovely churches and huge mansions that line this part of London. I also stumbled across Keats’ House; I had imagined it being a romantic, tiny little place, in a semi-isolated position, but it’s in the middle of a very densely built up suburban street and next to Hampstead Library – I felt a little bit disappointed! After a while my wandering led me onto Hampstead Heath, and I enjoyed a lovely walk (involving lots of getting lost and walking in circles), spotting some of the first trees in blossom, some wonderful carpets of early bluebells and marvelling at the panoramic views of London until the sun began to set and I thought I’d better head for home.

The next morning I was up bright and early to catch the train to Sevenoaks. The whole family turned out to go to our favourite restaurant in Speldhurst, a beautiful village just outside Tunbridge Wells. It’s a gastro pub of the proper variety – none of this frozen roast potatoes and microwaved lasagne that seems to the be the norm these days – and the food is beyond delicious. My sister had booked us a private room up in the attics of this 16th century building, with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside. We enjoyed a lovely lunch and champagne to celebrate my wonderful Mummy, but for me, the best was yet to come. Opposite the pub is St Mary and the Virgin church, which is famous for its stained glass windows. The windows were designed and painted by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, who are two of my favourite artists, and I couldn’t wait to see them. Many moons ago I worked at William Morris’ self designed home, Red House, which is in South East London where I grew up (now owned by the National Trust and well worth a visit). In the house there is a lot of stained glass that Morris painted himself, and he really was excellent at it. The windows in the church are absolutely breathtaking; they are so wonderfully pre-Raphaelite in their style – the faces of the saints especially – and several of the clear glass panels are painted with floral motifs that are identical to those at Red House, which suggests they were handpainted by Morris himself. If you’re ever in the vicinity, swing by and have a look because they really are magnificent.

After I had my fill of stained glass, my brother in law led us off on a walk through some nearby woods. The bluebells were beginning to come out, the leaves were starting to bud again on the trees, the stream was trickling at full force and the air was filled with the scent of sweet, fresh earth. My oldest nephews collected armfuls of sticks to build a dam (they abandoned them for the far more exciting activity of having piggyback rides before long) and we all had great fun balancing our way across tiny rope bridges while marvelling at the height of the huge trees in the woods all around us. The views across the Weald of Kent were wonderful and it was a real treat to enjoy so much fresh air when normally I am cooped up amongst chimney pots.

So, spring, and change, is in the air at last. This week I will find out the result of my teaching interviews, and whether my life will be changing come September. I very much hope so. In the meantime, I am enjoying crisp, fresh, sweet air, tulips in my living room, not having to wear a wool coat, listening to my spring anthem, and waking up to sunshine. I am contemplating buying a new spring wardrobe, and deciding whether I should get a dramatic new hair cut. I am also planning my next mini break; if I can scrape together the cash for the airfare, I fancy a nice April long weekend in New York. It would be lovely to see my New York friends again. And eat a Shake Shack burger. We’ll see.

23 comments

  1. Oh, to be young in spring. It is obvious that you had some lovely times. I hope you make it to New York. I love your stained glass windows. I share your enthusiasm. I am afraid that sometimes during church services, I pay more attention to the windows than the message.
    Your nephew running in what looks like it could be my own back yard is a lovely photo. Maybe your Mom will have something to fill that frame.

    1. Thanks Janet! Stained glass windows are terribly distracting, aren’t they?! Though as I always say, appreciating beauty is appreciating the glory of God anyway!!

      Your own backyard?! How lucky you must be!! I think my mum would love that photo…though so would I, as a canvas…it would be lovely!

  2. England in the spring! It sounds divine, especially the bluebells and daffodils. The stained glass windows look beautiful as well. It’s getting warmer here in Canada, but there’s no flowers out as of yet, just mud.

    (By the way, I am finally reading Gilead as you recommended once and I’m really enjoying it! Surprisingly, it was Tolstoy who made me think of exploring my spirituality again, so I am enjoying an inner spring renewal right now.)

    1. It really is lovely! I just wish the sun would stay out for more than 5 minutes!

      I’m so glad to hear that Carolyn! I picked up a lovely hardcover copy of it the other day to keep for special and I can’t wait to read it again!

  3. When my (American) friends lived in london they lived not far from the heath and hampstead – I remember walking the high street – and also visiting Keats home that you have pictured there. Lovely memories!

  4. I admire how you find the most wonderful things whilst doing ordinary tasks, like shopping and going off the beaten track I a big city.

    Spring does feel in the air and it soon being Easter I am looking forward to a rest and time to enjoy the daylight more. I have planned a picnic on the beach with myself, a good book and yummy food. It is some times the simple things.

    Good luck with the interviews, whatever happens I think you are about to enter some interesting times.

  5. While I always enjoy your wonderfully crafted book reviews, I absolutely adore your adventures, Rachel. England and beyond comes alive for me in your writings. Your sense of adventure and your love of family and friends is a treasure to behold. This was a lovely post, indeed.

  6. What a lovely post. I will hint to my family to create just such a wonderful Mother’s day for my daughter, daughter in law and me! And the possible NY week in April? I am beyond excited. Such larks, Pip, such larks!!!

      1. Only if you can sleep out on a terrace in the rain. Unfortunately we are just too small nowadays for guests; however, I am available for any other thing you might care to go, even some sort of a roadtrip. Oh, and the NYSOCLibrary has a Edith Wharton exhibit that is up for the year.

  7. What a fabulous weekend! I love spring – especially the feeling of getting out again, enjoying the fresh air, feeling warm rather than shivering (and running back indoors). I think the sunlight brings new life into everything.

    I visited Hampstead one time and enjoyed it thoroughly. I think I had to ask for directions at one point though. It felt incredibly peaceful, gorgeous, and…British!

    Florence + the Machine! This is #1 on my concerts to see list. I want to feel all that energy and theatricality! Have you watched the new video for Never Let Me Go? I quite like it.

    And happy Mother’s Day to your lovely mum! Yay!🙂

    1. Oh isn’t spring wonderful! I can’t wait for it to burst forth in all its glory!!

      I’m so glad you had the chance to visit Hampstead – it is a bit of a maze, but yes, it is quintessentially British, and one of the only parts of London that has retained its original village feel.

      Yes she is so fantastic live -well worth the cost to see! I haven’t seen that video, no – I will go and check it out!

      Oh, thank you! And to yours – I bet she misses you!🙂

  8. I was completely thrown by discovering that Keats’ House didn’t rest in a section of greenery surrounded by wood. It was supposed to look like it does in Bright Star! Curses on development and urban sprawl. Still, I loved just standing in certain rooms and letting my mind wander.
    You lucky woman getting to see Florence perform! Her ‘Lungs’ CD is in my player in the car at this very moment. My vocals aren’t nearly as spectacular so for the benefit of my fellow citizens it’s windows firmly closed.
    I’ve been wondering about your application, Rachel, fingers crossed and much positive energy are sent your way every single day…all the best!
    Where’s my book?!

    1. I know, it’s so sad isn’t it?! Great that it’s still standing but sad that you can no longer have the same experience as Keats.
      Oh I felt so lucky Darlene – it was such a great experience! You’d love it! Her music is fab to sing along to isn’t it? I always feel such a great release when I am belting out the words to her songs!
      Thanks Darlene…hopefully it won’t be much longer to wait!!
      Book is on its way! I sent it last week but I sent it slow post as it was heavy so you might be waiting a couple of weeks!

  9. Rachel, your celebration with your mother and family sounds wonderful. I was really intrigued by “Red House” and the stained glass windows designed by Burne-Jones and Morris. I just saw a fabulous art exhibition called “The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde” in San Francisco. it featured those two artists among others. Their work was beautiful, and I loved learning about that whole art movement, “aestheticism.” Good luck with the job application!

    1. Thanks Sunday, it really was! Oh I wonder if that was on tour from the V&A? They had an exhibition called that last year and I’m really gutted it was on while I was in New York, because it looked fantastic!
      Thanks so much!

  10. I love these ‘daily life updates’ just as much as I love your book reviews. And especially when they include your wonderful photo’s.

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