In spite of people's complaints about the UK's rail system, I still much prefer going by train than driving. Partly because it's the one time you can just daydream, look out of the window and switch off. And sometimes, you get to meet someone who leaves a profound impression. This week when I came down to the South West, I was particularly glad I let the train take the strain.
I sat next to a woman in standard class and while we acknowledged each other, we both were busy with our own thing - reading and/or writing. It was only when one of the passengers was having a challenging time that we exchanged views and got chatting. One thing led to another and it turns out that she is the current Chair of the WI, no less.
I don't come from a long line of WI women. My granny loved baking and making things (she was a particularly talented dressmaker) and she worked well into her 70s. My mother followed suit, with a career and continues to work now. I guess my perception was that, admirable as it is, the WI is strictly for women at home, with children. I was aware of some new blood being injected into the organisation and the infamous conference speech by Tony Blair. And, of course, the Calendar Girls. But how wrong I was. The WI is so much more than the sum of my misconceptions.
We also talked about the difference between being a feminist and feminine organisation. I had to disembark before my travelling companion but I wish we had had longer.
The WI's strapline is Inspiring Women; it's a great play on words. I have to say Ruth Bond certainly inspired me and I urge you all to check out what the WI is doing. And maybe even think about joining. And if you don't find a branch that suits you, think about setting up your own, like the Shoreditch Sisters. The East End WI blog will give you the urban slant on membership. In its seemingly quiet way, the WI is making great strides. And doing so much more than I ever gave them credit for.
You can find them on their website here (And, as an aside, any organisation that includes its own jargon buster deserves my total admiration.)
After hibernating doing other stuff for, oooh, 10 months, I've decided it's time to take this blog by the scruff of its neck and get writing again.
And what could be more auspicious than a little post about Lyme Regis?
Let's start with the literary connections. For any Jane Austen fan, it's all about where Louisa Musgrove fell off the Cobb or if John Fowles is your man, it's where his novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman, is set, immortalised by Meryl Streep (or her stand-in) with that unforgettable black cape draped around her.
Anyway, even with a virtually cloudless sky and temperatures in the '70s, the Cobb is still pretty scary to walk along. Believe me, it's deceptive.
I hate heights or exposed walkways without railings (!) but was determined to reach the end. Ultimately, I had to give up and clamber down the last set of steps, with help from some passers-by who saw me dithering - too scared to go forward, too terrified to turn back.
Although Lyme Regis is the perfect English seaside resort, totally dog-friendly, etc, etc, most of the beaches have summer restrictions so if you go with your hound, you don't get to walk by the sea. Note to self for next time. I was borrowing two dogs for the day and they weren't very impressed. It seemed particularly mean to walk them past any swimming opportunities.
However, there are LOTS of dog-friendly places to sit, look out and enjoy the Jurassic coastline. Even the lampposts are themed...
If you wander into the back streets, it gets even better. I cannot recommend the Town Mill Bakery highly enough. It reminds me so much of how Neal's Yard Bakery in Covent Garden used to be - artisan, fun and producing the yummiest food EVER. And it's dog-friendly outside.
When you walk through the main (and only entrance), this is what you see:
In the meantime, here are some architectural gems that caught my eye...
Get to Lyme Regis before the school holidays kick in and the traffic jams make you fall out of love with it before you've even arrived.
PS We didn't get to dine at Hix Oyster & Fish House but I have it on very good authority that it's the place to eat and the staff will make you feel like a million dollars if you're celebrating a special occasion while serving up fabulous fayre.
In true confessional style, bless me readers, for I cannot believe that it is almost a month since my last post. Shameful.
But I am determined to make amends. Right now. This summer, for one reason and another, I explored new (to me) areas along England's South Coast and found some gems. And a horror or two.
For starters (I'll stick to the positives for now), there was a truly old-fashioned Italian ice cream parlour, Fusciardi's, in Eastbourne.
Definitely NOT on a par with anything I have tasted in Italy (sorry) or even elsewhere in the UK - Gelateria Danieli in Richmond (near London, not Yorkshire) was pretty amazing - but I still really enjoyed sitting down to absorb all that Fusciardi's had to offer. I guess it's a cross between Ponti's and Marine Ices. I used to visit Ponti's as a child - whenever we went to John Lewis in Oxford Street. Then it seemed something special and a treat. Getting a real Italian coffee was much harder in the '70s and Soho was too far when there was a school uniform to be purchased. Now I find the same place mildly depressing. Last time I popped into Ponti's (more out of curiosity than anything else), it seemed to be full of people who wanted to escape (perhaps to Italy?) - or just ground down by long-working hours (quite a few retail staff were taking shelter in the booths). But Fusciardi's has gone big on the decor - quite OTT in parts - so I think it's determined that every customer will be cheery. At all times.
Here you can see the full display of Venetian masks:
This was a Caribbean Rhapsody, which I didn't sample but the woman enjoying it told me it was her favourite:
Whoa! Things have been totally topsy turvy at my end. I've conducted two domestic moves from different parts of the country (within two weeks) and had a spell of depression, which always makes life more challenging.
It's hard to explain but essentially, if there is sunshine, I will see clouds. And no amount of positive thinking will shift it. Sometimes, I just want to smack myself and say, 'snap out of it' but the blues are the blues and whether it's a chemical thang or just feelings running riot, I seem to be in the backseat - cowering - rather than driving forward and taking action.
There was definite grieving for the hound - it seemed to strike in the evening, particularly around bedtime. I would find myself sobbing nightly into my pillow, hoping she hadn't gone. But she has.
Then I would trawl the internet - long into the night, looking for other rescue Chocolate Labradors (now that is just unhealthy, isn't it?) that needed a home. Of course, I am totally NOT in a position right now to give any dog a home. But I kept on searching. For her doppelgänger.
Almost two months on and the crying has stopped. Phew. Now when I see photographs of her, I cannot believe she isn't here but whereas there was zero acceptance of the situation some weeks ago, now it's just a residue of sadness. And much sighing.
I've had 24 enforced bed rest (that makes me sound very old, I know) keeping a chest infection with aching limbs at bay and it's somehow made the depression lift and real life should resume shortly. Hooray.
I'm still in Devon, finalising things for my ma's move. Sunday is d-day (for departure). I've got a return train ticket just in case her car is so full that I can't fit in (with the pets, plants and last-minute items).
Most of my stuff (ie mementos from childhood and beyond) are at my own house. In the loft. But, somehow, a few items remain in the South West. Today we discovered my International Doll Collection (as opposed to my domestic girls - Sindy and Daisy, the latter with her supersize sunglasses), which truly began with one of my mother's own dolls - Minnehaha - fully clothed, with baby, in a real leather dress and moccasins.
Or maybe it was her Hallmark Dolls of the Nations Collector's Album?
Even though I lived in the centre of London as a child, there was something so very glamorous about international travel. Even a trip to Mallorca seemed exotic. Of course, these were not my journeys but the adults in my life. If they came back with a doll, it was always an exhilirating moment. And, there is no gender bias - I have Mr and Mrs Dolls from faraway shores...
Sadly, I can no longer identify some of the dolls' nationalities. Maybe you can help? I'll let their national dress and make-up do the talking. Here come the introductions...(drumroll please):
Very much Miss Portugal
Miss Spain (I just adored her in all her flamenco finery)
Miss Mallorca (please note bread in hand and looking more like Sophia Loren than Miss Italy below)
Miss Italy (Not like any Italian woman I know but definitely a safer bet for someone in a similar position to Mr Berlusconi...I don't think she would have caused diplomatic sensitivities at the G8)
Mr and Mrs Singapore (they were a significant addition to the collection - now it was truly global)
Mr Greece (sadly, minus one of his shoe decorations)
And now for the mysteries...
She wants to shake you by the hand but where is she from?
I'm thinking somewhere along the Silk Route...
A latecomer to the EU?
PS Just for the record, I don't display my dolls anymore. In fact, I haven't seen them for at least a decade. Observing them now, there is a definite creepiness in the blank expression in the eyes. One doll that never, ever looked fake was the Sasha Doll. I still have mine and a quick search on the internet has revealed she could be worth several hundred pounds. Blimey. I could have a romantic weekend in Rome for the same money. Hmmm. Have doll, will travel.
Thanks to The Times, they've listed "15 classic disco floor fillers" , from Love Train by the O'Jays right through to Deee-Lite and Moloko. Everyone will have an opinion about a list like that. Good and bad.
Number 8 is Can You Feel It by The Jacksons. I guess with Michael's recent demise, this may get played more frequently on the dancefloors. But for me, it conjures up one memory and one memory alone; Jane Fonda and her aerobic workout. I can even remember the moves and her instructions over the music. Sadly, I find I can never dance to it now. Bad memories. I didn't have Jane's figure or studio style at the time. But there was lycra. Definitely lycra. Probably more Victoria Wood than Ms Fonda. Oh dear.
Anyway, back to now and what's important. Sister Sledge recently played Ibiza. OMG! Whatever age those sisters are, they'd be worth seeing anytime. I wonder if they are coming to the UK? I saw them at Paradise Lost, Watford. And believe me, it was fabulous. Not quite Studio 54 fabulous but definitely disco. Real disco.