The last few weeks I’ve been in a bit of an Instagram melt down. Spending frantic weekends and evenings scattering petals across notebooks and letting cups of tea go cold as I strive to create images that will break the engagement deadlock that seems to have developed between us and the algorithm.
Every café lunch or walk along a river became a potentially ‘grammable situation as I found various contortions in order to get #handsinframe or the angle where the light hit just so. It is worth noting that although I was taking photos all over the place, 99% of them never reached my grid, never even reached the editing stage. I was so fearful that I would miss a golden opportunity that I was taking all the pewter opportunities as well, and consequently living only in squares and through my iPhone screen.
I was reaching peak Instagram-bore, and something had to give.
It’s been a tough week for our planet. After the high of the Women’s March and all its positivity, the subsequent legislation emanating from Trump’s hand and our own government’s inability to stand up for what’s right, it’s been a momentous downer. I’m left feeling small, unrepresented and powerless. And scared.
I realise you’re here for a little escapism, but it feels wrong not to at least acknowledge what’s going on. Sign the petitions, write to your MP and don’t let any of this become normal in your mind. But then what? Go outside, breathe the air, and take comfort in our land and our heritage.
A few days after the Brexit vote, I found myself at some ruins on our summer holiday, while last week we decided to visit the ruins at Old Sarum. Although the timing of each of these visits was, if not coincidental definitely subconscious, at both points it was apt. At times like this, I often take comfort in ruins.
The crooked and haggard buildings of our past that still stand firm in our landscape. Ruins have been bombarded, or burnt, or pulled down, or abandoned, or all of the above and more. And despite that, their rugged remains hold resolutely to life. Battered by weather, by time, and by humanity they simply won’t collapse. It’s not like they’re just clinging to life either – they are strong and solid, the indestructible bastions of England’s past.
I feel this in churches perhaps even more so. I think it’s because ecclesiastical architecture was one of my postgraduate specialist subjects. I can read a church. I can see where it’s been wrenched apart, altered, and feel the ghosts of the bits that have been stolen.
I have a memory, on that Brexit day, of placing my hand on the softened iron handle of an ancient church door, of closing it quietly behind me and being plunged into the darkness of the porch, dazzled by the stained glass of the inner doors. Once I’d managed to feel my way inside, I stepped into a warm-hued little oasis, all sandstone and Victorian pews. Completely alone, I took comfort in the stillness. The smoothed stones, the musty, bookish smell, the gap where the choir screen once was.
I had a thought then that I return to frequently these days. If this church can withstand 800 years, civil and international wars, and a Reformation where it had its very guts ripped out, then we too can withstand our current political storm. Not only withstand it, but come out the other side with our heads held high, a little battered, but all the more magnificent for it.
The toothless grin of Donnington Castle – the perfect illustration, I think.
So if you’re looking for comfort, take it in ruins or wander to the village church. Run your hand down centuries-smoothed bannisters, place your feet in the worn parts of flagstones, stepping in the very footsteps of our ancestors. Feel your place in history, here at the end of a long line of experience, and right at the beginning of the future. Do your democratic duty, and by all means feel and rage against it all, and feel the weight of history. But take comfort in that history too – it is there to teach us, to cosset us and to show us the way.
Winter seems to be full of them, especially compared to the other seasons. This, of course, has a lot to do with Christmas, whether it’s the universal traditions of Christmas trees and carols, or the family-specific ones of searching through old dusty boxes to find your dad’s fisherman Santa decoration. But there’s also something about the bleakness of winter that has us seeking out little rituals and fist pumps just to get through it all.
Have you noticed how our winter rituals are all forward-looking?
From your first mulled wine to New Year’s Resolutions, our winter rituals are all about saying hello and planning for more to come. Maybe this is because of our need to keep things positive. Maybe it’s because autumn is one long goodbye – a goodbye to the nature going into hibernation, a goodbye to the harvests and bounty of summer, a goodbye to evening light.
Or maybe it’s because firsts are just easier to measure. You don’t know which fruit will be your last strawberry of summer, which will be the last autumn leaf you crunch. Just like you can never remember exactly when you last saw an old friend, lasts fade into time like sepia photographs.
I’ve always been good at saying hello to the sea. I’m told that a small town near where I grew up is, as the crow flies, as far as it’s possible to be from the sea. So my childhood summers were full of long drives to Cornwall, straining in the back seat of our Citroen to be the first to see the sea. Even now, on the first of our trips to the North Welsh coast visiting Dan’s mum, we stage a ceremonial procession to ‘say hello to the sea’, and I eek out each second, not daring to tear my eyes away from the surf until we’re on the other side of the hedge.
One of the things that comes with adulthood is setting your own rituals. As a child you live within your parents’ traditions, dictating what you do at Christmas and when you can see the sea. As a grown up (of sorts) you hang on to the ones you like, but also create your own.
A new ritual I’ve recently decided upon is saying goodbye to the sea.
Brought about by a new car and an empty Sunday, a few weeks ago we trundled down through the New Forest to say goodbye to the wash of the Solent. Knowing this was our last salty breath of air in 2016, it made me so much more mindful of every pebble-y crunch, every slap of the waves. It made me examine the shells I collected that bit closer, to notice the weathered stumps and watch as the sun slanted through the clouds.
It may sound a little melancholy to be saying goodbye, but we know it’s only temporary. A lovely little bookend to the year, a line in the sand before Dan plunges into his busy period at work and before the endless winter rain makes spontaneous days out a less likely prospect. It was a celebration, a thank you to the natural world for its beautiful summer. Perhaps a goodnight, more than a goodbye.
As much as I like to mark firsts and look forward, probably more than most, to future goals and plans, I think there is a value in planting your feet and taking a long look over your shoulder. A smile at things that have passed, a thought on things we should have done better and a bookmark in your memory. I’ll certainly never forget the crisp day we said goodbye to the sea.
There’s something powerful about an escape, right?
Last weekend we had our long awaited weekend away in the Forest of Dean. We were using a Christmas present to stay at Forest Holidays in a cabin in the woods (with a hot tub!). Given our recent run of bad luck it was much needed, although the bad luck did follow us and my car broke down on the way. But the main thing is we got there, we had some great food (more on that in a future post) and we reconnected and just chilled. Something I’ve not done much of lately.
And it has been so valuable. I now feel so excited and inspired to write and take pictures and connect with you guys. This feeling is so infectious that I wanted to give you my tips for how to create it with your own refreshing escape…
Rule number one of the Simple & Season escape is that you don’t do, or even think about, anything you’re ‘supposed’ to do. You don’t work, clean, go on social media or catch up with blogging (if you want to do that I’d recommend reading Flourishing Freelancer’s post on creating your own writer’s retreat). The time needs to be spent stewing in your own thoughts, luxuriating in simple decadences and feeling like the best you.
Whether you have a few hours, a day, a weekend or more, there are lots of options for your own escape….
I’m no anthropologist, but there is definitely something about water (preferably hot and in a tub), that is undeniably attractive to humans.
In a few hours…
One of my favourite ways to pass an hour is swimming. I love the rhythm of the strokes and letting your mind wander into plans and dreams as the water streams past you. And there’s no beating that unique roaring silence that you only get under water. If that’s a bit more activity than you’re looking for in your escape, then run your perfect bath – piping hot, bubbles of choice, drinks (is it just me or do baths make you really thirsty?!) and your current read. There is also something so decadent about having a bath in the middle of the day if your escape is at the weekend.
In a day or weekend…
Check out local hotels for any spa deals and plonk yourself down in a hot tub for as long as you’ve got. you don’t need to be in the water for a relaxing escape. Check out river cruises where you can sit out on the deck with a book listening to the water or watch it slip gently past.
Reconnect with nature
The great outdoors has medicinal properties (according to me). Fresh air, vitamin D, beautiful things and fellow life. There’s nothing like reconnecting with nature to reground you, which makes it such a perfect escape.
If you have a few hours…
Go for a walk. It could be somewhere new, it could be your local park. Go with fresh eyes, ready to notice every little thing and collect stories or photos. Let the rhythm of your steps lull you and listen to the wind in the trees and other people’s conversations. Take a flask with you, or grab a coffee on the way, and find a spot to sit and read and imagine your in a film.
If you have day or a weekend…
Maybe like us you’ve got time to hire a cabin (or a secluded Airbnb), close the doors, light a fire and play scrabble, catch up on conversations and eat heartily. Time to spend days walking the woods or the coast and head into little cafes in little towns for breakfast.
If all you’ve got is a day head out on a day trip – you’re only a drive or a train away from anywhere. Head to the coast and crunch along a beach, combing for the prettiest pebbles and running away from the creeping surf before steaming up the car with fresh fish and chips. Explore one of our National Parks or come and see me and I’ll take you to my favourite haunts…
Have an adventure
They say change is as good as a rest, and I subscribe to that. I’ve never been one to spend a two week holiday laying by a pool, but always feel well-refreshed after climbing rocks and exploring on my holidays.
If you have a few hours…
Be a tourist in your own town. Go to that place you’ve never got round to, visit a gallery, have lunch at that new restaurant. Lose time browsing in a book shop and adding to your ‘to read’ list or visit a farm shop or market and spend the afternoon experimenting in the kitchen.
If you have a day or a weekend…
Go to the place you’ve always wanted to. A weekend in the Lake District, a scenic railway journey, a day out in a new city. Spend time doing your kind of exploring, just forget your thoughts, learn new things and make sure you drunk every single detail in.
Do what makes you happy
Most importantly, whatever you do, however long you spend doing it, make sure it makes you happy. Whether it’s working out, reading, walking, eating or walking the bloody tight rope, just make sure you do. Banish your practical thoughts and recharge those batteries ready to kick ass once you come back to the real world.
For more photos of my escape, follow me on Instagram.
I am writing this wrapped in a blanket next to the radiator watching the rain drizzle down outside and the droplets race each other down the window. So I get it. In the autumn and winter going outside can feel like the last thing you want to do.
But you really must. Autumn is the last time you’ll see leaves until spring, it’s an opportunity to drink in all of nature’s bounty before she goes to sleep for a few months. Going outside at this time of year is the cheapest and easiest way to feel invigorated; cheeks pink from the wind and hair sticking to your face.
So to help you heave yourself off that sofa, here are my best suggestions.
Go on a mission
Give yourself a task that you can only do by getting out into nature. Maybe you want to forage the last of the autumn berries or some nettles. Maybe you want to collect conkers to fix your spider problem without resorting to the hoover. Maybe you just want to take some totally Instagrammable pics of autumn leaves. Give yourself a mission and you’ll have to make it happen.
Change up your coffee date
Or, rope in a friend. Rather than just meeting for coffee or a browse round the shops, go out for a walk. Walking with a friend is a great bonding exercise – you talk about real things and you take some awesome selfies. Also if you arrange to meet there (whether that’s the park, a woodland, a National Trust site) you can’t exactly not go. (Note: the photos in this post are from an autumnal wander and a cream tea with my best friend at Basildon Park).
Maybe this is just me but I can basically make myself do anything if I promise myself food. Plan your walk to incorporate a nice lunch or a pint at a quaint pub and it not only gives you the impetus to get out the house but also keeps you motivated. You can even just get the marshmallows in and promise yourself a sumptuous hot choc afterwards.
Make it a road trip
It can feel samey going to all your local spots that you go to all the time. So do something more than groceries and X Factor on a Saturday. Get a train to the coast and walk along a windy beach, finishing off with a cone of chips on the front. Drive somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Visit a woodland or an arboretum, or explore some National Trust parkland. This Forestry Commission map shows you which of their sites are turning golden. Give yourself something interesting to talk about on Monday.
What outside adventures do you have planned this autumn?
I’ve been putting off this post because I felt it was too early to start thinking about Christmas, but I just can’t hold it in any longer! I’ve had my first mince pie, the shops are slowly filling with red and I’m starting to get booked up with December do’s – the holidays are most definitely coming.
One of my favourite things about Christmas is giving presents. I’ve always been an awkward receiver of presents and refuse to open a gift in front of the person who’s given it to me. What are you supposed to do with your face in that situation?! But I love that feeling of finding something that you know will absolutely blow the recipient away and that they’ll love so much. I love choosing the paper and tying it with a ribbon. I basically just like to win at Christmas.
Which is why the #apovgiftswap was basically just made for me. It’s a beautiful way for bloggers to discover each other and to send a gift to a stranger who will become a friend. Obviously we want as many people as possible to sign up, which you can do over on A Piece of Viola. The deadline is 1st November, so go over there now!
Hooray, it’s autumn! 22nd September is the official first day of autumn, even though if it does feel like it’s been around for weeks. And so begins the best season of all – it has the best light, the best temperature and by far the best food. It also has the best name of all the seasons – any word that is all ‘u’s and has an ‘m’ and an ’n’ next to each other knows it’s fabulous.
Here are six things to love about this most lovable month.
Autumn is just about the best time to get outside. Not so hot that you’re a sweaty mess, not so cold that shivering, and kicking the leaves to keep warm. The last of the berries, the animals rushing around getting ready for winter. There is that amazing golden light as the sun settles itself down in the sky, and you get to see more sunrises and sunsets.
This is why we’re focusing on getting outside this autumn on Simple & Season. Look for great walk ideas, warming autumn recipes, the best walking woolies and making your home a cosy nest to come home to.
Knowing what to wear
Chunky knits, layers, hairy legs under skinny trousers and woolly socks in boots. I love lazy and warm A/W fashion. But what I love the most is knowing FOR SURE that you’ll need a coat. None of that British summer ‘will it be warm, will it be cold, will it start raining in three hours?’ nonsense. Wrap up warm and get on with it.
Sorry to the veggies, but autumn is all about game. Venison, guineafowl, pheasant are all coming into season so get out to your favourite restaurant and start eating. I personally cannot wait to wave goodbye to wishy washy summer salads and dive head first into deep, rich flavours and gravies to die for.
Image courtesy of my other half
Reliving your childhood
Now that we’re just about adults, Christmas is all about being busy at work and balancing budgets. Autumn is where we can let our little kid out. Whether it’s kicking up leaves and giggling as they crunch, collecting pocket fulls of conkers or cooing at fireworks with a hot dog, autumn is all about nostalgia. All with the added bonus of being allowed wiiiiiiine.
Yes a pub garden is a lovely idea in summer, then you remember wasps. Much better is a big glass of smokey red wine on a leather sofa in front of a lovely, stinky wood fire. Don’t feel sad you city dwellers – a lovely dark, wood panelled pub does just the job too.
There’s something about the back to school vibes of autumn that makes me feel like getting super organised. Whether it’s going mad for stationary and planners, planning next year’s holidays or setting goals to complete before the year is done, now is a great time for planning. Even if it’s just writing your Christmas list (I may or may not have had mine since August…).
This is not a question that has troubled me for years, I must admit. But it is a good one – when you think about it, surely all those thousands and thousands of plants can’t just go in a skip?
I stumbled upon the answer over on the excellent 91 Magazine blog. On a jetty in North Greenwich, an initiative called Farmopolis takes in all the abandoned plants and gives them a new life in and around the restaurant and workshops that take place in a big polytunnel as they wait to be adopted into new homes. As soon as I found this out, I had to go. Like immediately.
And so this weekend I took along my florist friend for lunch, a workshop and to explore the plants.
Most importantly, the lunch. Well it was lovely. Farmopolis grow veggies on site and have a farm to fork philosophy which is so Simple & Season. A small and well executed menu is divied up into Soil, Land and Sea (vegetables, meat and fish) with two dishes in each category. This easily lends itself to a convenient tapas situation, and we shared the crispy chicken with coleslaw, smoked aubergine and popped rice and heritage vegetables with olive crumb and lemon dip. Plus bread, obvs.
Smoked Aubergine with Popped Wild Rice
Raw Heritage Vegetables
Crispy chicken with Coleslaw
We sat outside on the jetty where a borderline-bracing wind off the river was very welcome in these ridiculously humid days we’re having. We were flanked by the Emirates Air Line on one side and the Thames Barrier on the other, and toddlers staggered between the tables in search of face paints and ice cream.
Probably my favourite thing about Farmopolis is the atmosphere. It is so chill. We ambled around, glasses of prosecco in hand, and no one seemed worried. The staff were there when we needed them, but otherwise dissolved into the background – no one was worried about us paying the bill or leaving our table. Given that everyone else there lounged about on benches I think the homely feeling wasn’t just mine.
Down at one end of the greenhouse is the ‘Home For Wayward Plants’. Here you apply to adopt one of the ex-Chelsea plants by filling out a form and wait to hear of your successful at the end of the month. A bit cutesy perhaps, and definitely impractical for out of town-ers like me. However it’s nice to see plants treated like living things rather than the commodities they are at garden centres – the adoption process makes you actually think about whether your capable of keeping this thing alive.
The one fail of the day was the workshop. We rushed to finish our lunch before the 2pm start of the Herbal Apothecary workshop where we were going to learn all about the medicinal qualities of plants and make a lovely herbal dream pillow. However, as we headed back inside we saw that the other attendees were all eager under fives with painted faces. Yup, it was a kid’s thing. Whoops.
Farmopolis is at The Jetty with workshops running until the end of October (for kids, and adults!).