Blooming marvellous…

It was many years ago in Manchester when my seven year old son invited his friend to join us for lunch. I fed them their favourite –  fish fingers, chips and peas.

fish-fingers-children.jpgAs I stood in the kitchen peeling potatoes, our guest watching me, suddenly exclaimed “Golly gosh – I didn’t know that chips came from potatoes”.

Remember, in those  days “golly gosh” was a popular expression of surprise –  a euphemism for ‘Good God’ (from1757).   This made me question what boys might utter today, but all I could think of  was ‘Wow’,  which surprisingly isn’t modern at all but dates back to  sixteenth century Scotland.

But I digress.  The boy’s comment shocked me and I resolved to ensure that least my three sons knew the basics of where food comes from.   Too few children have the experience of planting  a seed and watching  it grow. I felt they needed to get their hands dirty, work the soil and observe the joy of creation.

This principle I upheld until recently, when  my ideas were completely turned on their head, as I began reading about an alternative system of growing plants – hydroponics which is, wait for it – without soil – using only water with added nutrients.

How revolutionary, thought I, this must be a recent innovation – but  guess what, wrong again!    For whilst researching this subject, my voyage of discovery led me to Sir Francis Bacon (1551-1626), an English philosopher, scientist, jurist, orator and prolific and erudite author, who served as Attorney General and later Lord Chancellor of England.  (What, I wonder, did he do in his spare time?)

belowSir Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban.
portrait.jpgOne of his books, published posthumously in 1627,  described how to grow plants without soil.  Following this, research into water culture became popular  and many scientists carried on  experimenting with his ideas.

GerickeTomatoesGreenhouse.jpgIn 1929 Gericke, a plant physiologist, created a sensation by growing tomato plants 25feet high  without soil. Others refuted his method declaring it had little advantage over soil-grown produce, but  around the same time, one of the earliest hydroponic successes occurred on Wake Island, a rocky atoll in the Pacific which was a refuelling stop for PanAm airlines.  The island had no soil,  but fresh vegetables were hydroponically grown there for the passengers and crew.

Since then influential  bodies – NASA and the Kennedy Space Station, have demonstrated how hydroponics can provide a life support system in space travel. Today Canada has hundreds of acres of large-scale greenhouses with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers grown this way and  it is estimated that the world market will increase fourfold by 2023.IMG_0979.jpg

‘Green In The City’ (above)

My interest in this topic was aroused after reading an article about a revolutionary rooftop farm.  Set up by Mendi Falk “Green In The City” is located on the rooftop of the oldest and largest shopping mall in Israel – the Dizengoff Centre, Tel Aviv. I had to see it for myself.

I  was greeted by Sheana – an expert in sustainability whose enthusiasm was infectious.  She told me that two dozen varieties of vegetables and herbs including lettuce, basil, pak choy, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers are grown and supplied to 20 restaurants in Tel Aviv, with no transport costs and hence no carbon footprint.  The public buys from three stalls in the mall paying by means of an honesty box.

Their hydroponic process is elegant in its simplicity.   A tank of fish sits on the roof.  Plants feed off waste created by the fish and in return the fish thrive on the oxygen produced by the crops which grow faster, produce greater yields and take up less space than using other methods. Pesticides are eliminated as most plant diseases come from soil.  A main feature is that it uses 70 – 90% less water than soil grown produce. In a world threatened with diminishing water resources this is a massive plus.

‘Green in the City’IMG_0981.jpg

Their aim is to inspire urban dwellers to ‘green’ the city.  However other timely objectives are addressed. The complex  also serves as an educational facility with visitors learning how to grow their own hydroponic produce and also which varieties of plants attract butterflies.  Bee hives will be installed emphasising their importance in our lives.   1,700 trees grow on the roof and these will eventually be given to projects encouraging afforestation which in turn reduces the carbon output.  Simply put, the more trees, the less pollution.

I learned how rainwater can be better utilised.  All over the world most is wasted when, for example, a  sudden downpour can result in urban flooding.  At Green In The City  a section is devoted to demonstrating how absorbent ‘pillows’ can conserve large amounts of rainfall which is then slowly released to feed the plants.  This system protects buildings by eliminating the flooding that can cause structural damage.

But this is not the only green spot blooming in Israel. Others are in Beersheba, Jerusalem and Haifa.  Bat Yam houses a special community project supported by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel,  where those with mental health issues grow hydroponic plants as a means of aiding their recovery.  Hydroponics are also used by some religious Jews to grow crops during the Shmita ( every seventh year) following a biblical injunction to leave the land uncultivated.

Hydroponics is now used in many countries, but of particular interest to me, and certainly  ‘unexpected’, is the farm installed 100 feet  below busy London streets.    ‘Growing Underground’ is an urban farm in Clapham, housed in a network of 7,000 square feet of tunnels that used to shelter up to 8,000 people during air raids in WW11.  It was opened by restaurateur Michel Roux (below) who is delighted that fresh organic produce is now available locally.claphamcommonfarm.jpgAs seen in  Tel Aviv, some 20 different types of herbs are cultivated and distributed to a growing number of markets, wholesalers and contract caterers across the city.  The main difference is that in London they use low energy LED lighting – they claim that they have reached the stage where plants can grow without natural light, instead using the LED spectrum adjusted to suit different plants.


So my story began with a child who did not know where chips came from.  This concerned me then, but not as much as the  results of a recent UK survey about food.  27,500 youngsters aged 5-16yrs were interviewed.  30% of the youngest thought that cheese comes from plants, 11% of the older ones believed that tomatoes were grown under ground,  and many others claimed that fish fingers were made from chicken.   22% were sure that pasta came from animals.  

However as strange as this seems, nothing compares to what happened on April Fool’s Day 1957  when the BBC aired a  t.v. programme showing a Swiss family harvesting spaghetti from their trees.   This achieved immediate credibility as the voice-over was by the respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby.Spaghetti_harvest.jpg

Picking spaghetti in Switzerland.

We must remember that pasta was not an everyday food in 1950s Britain, only known then as the tinned variety in tomato sauce and considered a delicacy.  Eight million people watched the programme, following which hundreds phoned in to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC reportedly told them to “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”     You absolutely must look this up on YouTube – it is unbelievable!

But now for a last word on fish fingers. I did not mention that  the youngster featured earlier in this story told me that he never realised that fish had fingers. I had no answer for that.  But to add to the mystique, some years ago the graffiti artist Banksy displayed an art installation of fish fingers squirming around in a goldfish bowl.  These images have remained with me and have definitely stopped me from ever wanting to eat fish fingers again.  If you watch this on Youtube I suspect you might agree…….

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A story I never thought I would write

Some ten years ago I started singing lessons.   I passed the Grades at the Guildhall School of Music –  (I was the only student attending without their mother!) and am currently studying for the Advanced Performance Certificate which requires singing six arias in three languages for a 35 minute programme.

Why am I doing this? Obviously my career does not  depend upon getting good grades – but Camille, my first teacher, was adamant that it is the best way to focus and improve.   She was right.  I love the discipline of the learning process. The question of performing in public rarely comes into the equation.

When Camille left London she recommended that I transfer to Jorge – a  Spanish concert pianist who teaches music at the Central School of Ballet.  However my concern was what to do when I am in Israel, sometimes for six weeks at a time –  I needed to find someone to fill the gap.   Fortunately, four years ago I was introduced to Haim Tukachinsky –  a  concert pianist based at the Jerusalem Music Academy.



I knew little of him but vividly recall our first meeting as he, coming from a Haredi (ultra religious) background, was immediately distinctive because of his long black side curls. My first question was to ask how he was permitted to teach me, as I understood that it was forbidden for religious Jewish men to listen to a woman’s voice.   He smiled and simply said –  “I teach’. 

And so we began our journey.  He proved to be an excellent teacher –  encouraging whilst at the same time critical of every little point that needed correction – a mispronunciation, a wrong note, a timing issue  – and so on.  This rigour was exactly what I needed.  In 2016, I was invited to sing six solo arias in Maale Adumim – my first public performance with a 65 piece orchestra.  As the day for the concert approached I became rather nervous – why on earth was I putting myself under this pressure, whatever for?  

The day of the concert arrived, Haim insisted on coming with me.  He was like a rock and it was he who gave me the confidence to perform.    He sat in the eighth row directly in front of me,  no-one realising that he was conducting me from his seat, and mouthing all the words of each piece.   Thanks to him, the evening was a success.  We ended the performance with his playing the piano and my singing  ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess.  It was an occasion I will never forget.  

But more of Haim.    He became interested in music from a very young age.  He attended a religious elementary school in Kiryat Motzkin, but chose not to continue to higher learning.  Instead  according to his mother Yael, “he wanted to learn music, to use it to sanctify God’s name”.

 Haim studied at  the Jerusalem Academy of Music – composition under Dr Michael Wolpe and piano under Prof. Isaac Katz and Prof. Vadim Monostyrsky.  He attended many masterclasses of world famous musicians and in 2007-2009 was the winner of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship and also received the prestigious Wolf scholarship.  He then began performing extensively as a soloist, accompanist and with chamber ensembles at venues in Israel and abroad.

  In 2012 Haim added a new dimension to his creativity by venturing into the world of musical theatre as musical director of shows such as The Sound of Music, Singing In the Rain, Cats, a Little Night Music, The Producers and more. His ability to bridge the gap between classical music and contemporary musical theatre, a genre that he had never previously experienced, was  hugely impressive and he received many accolades for his musical genius, incredible pedagogical skills and most of all for his magical personality, so full of life, joy, respect, and inspiration.

In July of this year Charles and I invited him to stay wth us in London, mainly so that he could attend some top class concerts at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and visit museums and galleries.   He came for ten days and was the best house guest ever.   Every day I packed him sandwiches and off he went to explore the city.  The first three days he spent at the British Museum, captivated by everything he saw.  Each evening he went to a Prom concert.  I joined him twice,  my enjoyment enhanced by learning through Haim how to understand better what we were hearing.

We visited St Paul’s Cathedral where we were given free entry to the Bill Viola art show. We  then crossed the Millennium Bridge over the Thames to the Tate Modern.

St Pauls.jpegHere we saw the Picasso exhibition.  Haim was concerned that I might be bored going around with him, saying he took longer in museums than anyone else he knew, but it was wonderful to see his enthusiasm, openness and sensitivity to all art forms including the architecture of London.

P1080844-1.jpg Another day we walked over Hampstead Heath, seeing it anew through his eyes.    Haim gives the  initial impression of being reserved but he readily engaged with everyone we met and charmed them all.

I, as a person who can go to sleep at 8.00pm, found myself staying up late and we chatted for hours.   He told me of his family and particularly the nephews and nieces that he loved, proudly relating anecdotes of their achievements.  We also shared youtube videos that each of us enjoyed and laughed a lot. I  suppose what I remember mostly is his gentle manner and wonderful sense of humour.

On his last night I organised a private concert for him at the home of a friend who had a grand piano. The programme was “From Greig To Gershwin” and he charmingly introduced each piece with wit and erudition.  

Watching him perform was mesmerising. His whole being, combining physical, mental and emotional energy  resulted in a unique experience. The audience were stunned, overwhelmed and deeply moved.  Their thank you letters next day expressed such terms, urging me to do whatever possible to get him back to London for a larger audience.

When Haim returned to Israel,  it was as if a family member was leaving us, but I promised to be in touch as soon as we arrived in Jerusalem.  This was only three weeks ago. We had this crazy idea of his playing on the concrete piano in central Jerusalem with my singing alongside him.

This was not to be.   Two days later Haim, whilst walking back from prayers at the Western Wall, was knocked down by a hit and run driver and killed.     The driver, a Spanish journalist who lived in Jerusalem, was reported as being three times over the alcohol limit. He is in custody awaiting trial.

I do not have the words to write of the shock of losing a beloved friend in this way, in particular one so young and with all his life ahead of him and my heart goes out to his family,   He was 31.

Many times during our lessons I would stop Haim to say thank you, telling him that singing with him was as if receiving a very special gift.      As a newcomer to the world of music, I am astonished by the overwhelming feeling of  happiness I feel once I start to sing.     Haim replied saying “Music is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a person, for it has the power to make one happy, regardless of their situation”.

One of the pieces we worked on recently was Bernstein’s ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story.  At the moment I cannot bring myself to sing it – the  words being so very moving.

There’s a place for us, Somewhere a place for us.

Peace and quiet and open air wait for us somewhere.

There’s a time for us, some day a time for us,

 Time together with time to spare, time to look, time to care,

 Some day!  Somewhere   We’ll find a new way of living,

We’ll find a way of forgiving    Somewhere . . .

There’s a place for us, A time and place for us.

Hold my hand and we’re halfway there.

Hold my hand and I’ll take you there

Somehow, Some day, Somewhere!

It is perhaps a small consolation to think that Haim, this beautiful person so loved and admired by many,  is now at peace ‘somewhere’….


A Woman Without Equal


miriam in garden .jpegYears ago I was fortunate enough to become  a friend of one of the most outstanding people I have ever known – Dame Miriam Rothschild.  It was she who involved me in the field of contemporary crafts in Israel – a passion for which has endured over the years.  But more of this later.    First, something about this remarkable woman.

Miriam was born  in 1908 at  Ashton Wold, Northamptonshire, the family home built by her father Charles Rothschild of the Jewish banking family. He was the son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild who in 1885 became the first Jew to receive a peerage as the 1st Baron Rothschild.  

Charles devoted much of his energy to entomology and natural history.  He amassed a collection of 260,000 fleas, now housed in London’s Natural History Museum.  He was passionate about nature conservation, established the first nature reserve near Ely in 1899, and spent his life managing his estate at Ashton Wold to make it suitable for wildlife, especially butterflies.  Miriam told me how he was ahead of his time in his understanding that, whilst preserving endangered species in zoos was fine,  more at risk  were their natural habitats, without which they could never survive.

As a child Miriam never attended school but was taught at home under the watchful eyes of her parents. She said her father never approved of governesses or exams so she had a blissful childhood.  Aged four she played on the family farm and was featured in Country Life magazine as the ‘youngest milkmaid’ in Britain”.  She was always fascinated by insects and  recalls “My father never treated me as a child but made me believe I was helping him in his work.”

Tragically Charles died aged 46 when Miriam was 15, after which she was guided by her father’s elder brother Walter, a truly English eccentric.   He  too was  a naturalist who gathered the largest collection of specimens ever assembled by one man, including two million butterflies and moths, 200,000 birds eggs, 300,000 bird skins and 4,000 mounted mammals and birds. They were displayed in his zoological museum at Tring, Hertfordshire  and opened to the public in 1892.


.iur.jpegiu.jpeg Cassowary


Miriam remembers seeing his cassowaries, wallabies and 144 Galapagos tortoises roaming freely around the estate. Uncle Walter was also famed for driving a team of six zebras to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate their tameness.


As an active Zionist and close friend of Chaim Weizmann he worked to draft the document for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the Balfour Declaration, and personally received the letter from Lord Balfour confirming the support of the British Government.

Not surprisingly in view of her background, Miriam became a world authority on fleas.  She was the first person to discover their complex jumping mechanism and explained to me  how they could jump to heights 50 times their body size, akin to my jumping to the top of the Empire State Building.


Miriam was very proud of being Jewish but denied believing in the creation. However on one occasion she did say that she began to believe it when she discovered that fleas had penises.  She spoke on BBC’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ about how beautiful these creatures were and illustrated the cover of her book ‘Atlas of Insect Tissue’ with an image of a flea’s vagina.flea book cover.jpg

The natural world was her main focus but she also pursued many other  important activities. Prior to WW2 she worked to persuade the UK Government  to admit more Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. She personally welcomed and housed  49 Jewish children.  She also cared for wounded British soldiers – one of whom  she married –  Captain George Lane, a  Hungarian Jewish exile who fought with the British Commandos and was decorated as a war hero. 

Another important contribution to the war effort were the two years she spent helping to break the Enigma Code with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. For this she was awarded a Defence Medal.

In her teens Miriam was an excellent sportswoman, following in the footsteps of her mother. She reached international standards at cricket and squash.  Aged 18,  she began Zoology studies at Chelsea Polytechnic, following which her prolific academic career took off.

 In 1982 she received the CBE, commenting “I must be the first person to receive this for examining the backsides of fleas.” In 1985 she was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society for her contribution to etymology and botany.  She became a Dame in 2000 and received honorary doctorates from eight universities including Oxford and Cambridge.  During her lifetime she published more than 360 scientific papers  and 11 books. 

The Royal Horticultural Society awarded her a medal for her wild flower meadows,  a gold medal for 80 varieties of gooseberries, and in 1991 she received their highest accolade – the Victoria Medal of Honour.    Because of her extensive knowledge of wild flowers, Prince Charles planted his Highgrove Estate with seeds that she cultivated and Lady Bird Johnson  consulted her about the programme  to beautify American roadsides.  On Desert Island Discs her chosen luxury was a bag of wild flower seeds – named ‘Farmer’s Nightmare’, so called for being full of what countrymen would regard  as  weeds.

In addition to all this she married and raised six children.

I myself met Miriam in 1989.  As Director of the British Israel Arts Foundation, I was working to promote cultural links between the two countries.   Miriam called to ask if I could arrange a trip to Israel for the UK’s  leading authority on Art Therapy – Edward Adamson.  I visited her at the museum she set up  at Ashton Wold housing 6,000 artworks by hospital inmates.   It was a revelation to learn of Edward’s seminal work, transforming, through art, the lives of so many patients.  In 1991 I brought him to Israel for a lecture tour combined with an exhibition  in Kfar Saba of the British patients’ work.


Miriam then asked if I would  join her to sit on the committee in Jerusalem of the Alix de Rothschild Craft Foundation.  Alix had always had a great passion for crafts and tools. She and Miriam  were cousins and great friends and when Alix died in 1982 David de Rothschild, her son, established a foundation in his mother’s name.  Miriam and I attended meetings at their centre in the Old City of Jerusalem.   On another occasion she invited me to the opening of the Supreme Court Building in Jerusalem in 1992 , funded by the Rothschilds. It was a splendid and memorable occasion. 

Supreme Court building, Jerusalemiu-1.jpegIn 1997 Miriam suggested I set up a charity to work with the Alix de Rothschild Foundation to help artists by arranging exhibitions, exchange visits and awarding prizes.  And so the UK Designer Crafts Foundation was born.   Over the years more than seventy UK artists have visited Israel to give lectures and workshops.  Enduring links  have been created between artists of both countries.  This continues today.

 For some reason I kept all the letters that Miriam sent me over the years. Re-reading them I can hear so clearly her voice and her ready laugh – she had a great sense of humour and was hugely  enthusiastic and supportive.    In one letter she wrote “Dear Ruth, I am very impressed with your ruthless activity – but think I need to create a new adjective for it!”


Ashton Wold House A wold.jpegI visited Miriam several times at Ashton Wold.  Her house was covered  with a profusion of ivy, wisteria, clematis and roses. The gardens were bursting with wild flowers, trees and shrubs.  “My garden has come to symbolise the new sympathy with wildlife” she said. This was when I learned that there are no such thing as weeds – they are simply flowers growing where they choose rather than being given designated plots by us.

On  arrival I was always greeted by Miriam’s coterie of miniature Shetland sheepdogs that followed her everywhere.   Every room in the house was piled high with books, papers and paintings collected over many years – including an enlargement of a flea, by the artist Graham Sutherland which hung in her toilet. 

Over lunch Miriam regaled me with stories  – American airmen were billeted there during WW2,  one being Clark Gable  whom, she said, was very handsome but quite humourless.   She however combined wit with erudition and displayed warmth and a passion for life. She was an unapologetic humanitarian, fighting cause after cause, including homosexual rights, free milk for schoolchildren, better treatment for laboratory animals.   She was also credited with inventing seat belts.   During WW2  an airfield was erected on her land –  she met the pilots, noticed their seat belts and wondered if these could be applied to cars.  She produced one to test, the rest is history.

Miriam could always be identified by her singular dress style, loose fitting clothes, in mauve, blue and lilac with matching headscarf. These she designed to eliminate ‘the need to make unnecessary choices’.  She would often be seen walking through the village with a tame fox in tow and wearing her customary white wellington boots.  These she adopted after abandoning  leather shoes, having seen the cruelty to farmed animals.  Asked if she always wore them, she replied, “Well I wore them on a visit to Buckingham Palace”.

I remember clearly my last visit.  Miriam was about 95 and whilst talking of our work in Israel, she said “It is very nice for me to think that when I ‘ll be up there with the birds you will be down here looking after things”.   I have never forgotten this and sometimes, when I may feel like giving it up, I remember her and realise that there is absolutely no way I can possibly break my promise to this very unique and inspiring person.


In memory of a special friend.










A Scilly Story.

It was comedian Spike Milligan who famously said “Went to Cornwall once, to go any further would  be Scilly”.  This piqued my curiosity, but I never did anything about it until years later when we decided to visit the Islands. 

Situated 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, is an archipelago of 140 tiny islands. Five are inhabited, the remainder have their own residents – namely more than 20 varieties of birds, (the islands being heaven for bird watchers).  There are several types of bats, grey seals abound and it is the home of the unique Scilly Shrew, which sounds more like an insult than a species. Turtles, dolphins and sharks can be seen in the waters.

We discovered this paradise 15 years ago and have returned every year since. It exerts a magical spell over almost all its visitors who share an unspoken agreement never to tell others about it in case they decide to come and ruin the place. (oops! I guess I am now breaking that rule!)

 We fly from the mainland in a Twin Otter 16-seater airplane.  Once, before boarding, a zealous security official ordered me to remove my shoes.  I replied that were I to hijack a plane it would hardly be one flying eight passengers to the Scillies.   A fellow traveller, aged 94, was treated like an international terrorist when his bionic hips set off their electronic equipment.  On board there are no toilets, no food and no in-flight entertainment unless you count the  excellent running commentary given by our two pilots as to what to see below during the flight.



coming in to land.jpg

coming in to land

The tiny landing strip on St Mary’s is merely yards from the rocky coastline and as you alight from the plane you are greeted with a stunning view overlooking the town, the Garrison and the Star Castle – our hotel.   Fifteen minutes after landing we are there. IMG_3245.jpg


On arrival  the first thing I do is  stand at the Castle entrance gazing at the harbour dotted with small boats, the islands on the horizon, and the unbelievably clear azure sea.  I am speechless (yes me!)  and want to cry with joy – it is perfect.


According to Arthurian legends, these Islands were once linked to Cornwall by Lyonesse – a land of 140 villages, handsome maidens and strong men, rich pastures and the beautiful city of Lions.  One day, around 1099, all of this was suddenly engulfed by the sea. One man and his horse survived.  Theories abound – it was supposedly the location for the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde and periodically fisherman report finding pieces of masonry in their nets, but who knows the truth? Sea levels were undoubtedly once much lower than today so maybe there is a hidden city in the deeps covered in seaweed. 

One indisputable fact is that the sea around the archipelago is a graveyard for 700 shipwrecks – 530 of which are registered since records began in 1305.

One of the most dramatic concerned the distinguished Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Cloudesley Shovell ( what a great name!) At the tender age of 15 he showed legendary bravery by swimming between ships during a sea battle with military orders in his mouth. In 1707 whilst returning from fighting pirates near Toulon, his flagship, HMS Association, hit rocks and capsized in four minutes with the loss of all 800 crew, including Shovell and his two stepsons. Altogether 2,000 sailors died that day, in one of the worst maritime disasters of British history.


In  l967, I myself recall the sinking of the Torrey Canyon, an oil tanker carrying 120,000 tons of crude oil. It hit the Seven Stones Reef near the Islands causing catastrophic environmental damage. To minimise this, the Royal Air Force tried to bomb the ship and burn the oil, but failed. Thousands of volunteers attempted to clean up the resultant spill but at least 250,000 seabirds died.  Even today 51 years later, evidence of the oil is found as far away as Guernsey. 

The Isles of Scilly Museum tells of such maritime disasters and the geology, history and archaeology of the area, including the many Iron Age villages and burial places.   In  387AD two Roman Bishops were exiled here as a result of the Priscillian heresy ( look this up!)  They headed a cult of free love and it is said that they ensured that, being Bishops, they got more free love more often than anyone else. 

Over the centuries the Islands had periods of prosperity followed by acute poverty. The growth of Atlantic trade routes during Tudor times focused attention on the Scillies but it was the indomitable Queen Elizabeth who, because of the threat from Spain following the Armada 1588, began constructing defences – the Garrison and the Star Castle on St Mary’s.

During the English Civil War  the islanders were staunchly Royalist – Prince Charles stayed at the Star Castle after fleeing Cromwell’s forces in 1646. The islands were used as a base by Royalist privateers who raided merchant ships.  This piracy had been tolerated back in the Elizabethan era, provided the attacks were against Dutch or French ships.  When Cromwell took over, the islanders remained Royalist and continued attacking Dutch ships.  So much so that in 1651 a Dutch admiral came to the islands demanding reparation for the goods stolen and declared war on the Scilly Isles.  

This declaration was never rescinded until 1986 when the Dutch ambassador visited the islands to sign a peace treaty.    History books refer to it as the 350 Years War.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the Islands became destitute, but Augustus Smith, a Liberal MP and social reformer, acquired the lease from the Duchy of Cornwall and set about restoring their fortunes. He introduced full time education and better living conditions for the poor; constructed a new quay and parish church;  established the sub-tropical gardens on Tresco, introduced  postal connections with the mainland and encouraged new enterprises including the flower industry, which today, together with tourism, is central to the economic success of the Islands.

From the Star Castle we often walk around the Garrison – a walled defence line with cannons and gun emplacements, encircling a large promontory overlooking the sea. Because of its strategic position, flying boats were based on the Islands during WW1 and  during WW2 a squadron of Hurricanes provided cover for convoys crossing the Atlantic. 

 Each day we explore a different island.   Our boatman, Tim, waits at the quay.  He takes eight passengers drops us off and returns to collect us at around teatime. He is an essential part of our visit – his jokes never change and he never fails to entertain.Tim, the boatman.jpgSt Mary’s and St Martins are the only two islands where  traffic is permitted. St Martin’s is renowned for its sweeping silvery white bays – the sand contains flakes of  mica which stick to your skin like fish scales and make you “sparkle like mermaids”, according to one small visitor.  Here are also the remains of the cottage industry turning seaweed into kelp, for use in the soap and glass  industries and which gave glass its green hue.

ISt Martins beach.jpg

the sweeping white bays of St Martin’s


Here  you can see a variety of plant life in the crystal clear sea.

St Agnes and Gugh are the smallest inhabited islands and during low tide one can walk between them.  The dry stone walls completely covered in a profusion of plants and lichens give the Islands their distinctive character.

dry stone wallsjpg.jpg

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At Bryher we walk north over gorse covered hills and then take a narrow steep coastal path towards  Hell’s Bay – so called as this side of the island receives the full blast of the storms which create a dramatic rocky coastline.  We always stop at Hell’s Bay Hotel for a drink, a snack and more lately a snooze, and then continue to the quay  to meet our boat back to St Mary’s.

Hells bay.jpg

Nr Hells Bay.jpg

  Tresco is renowned for its world famed sub tropical gardens.They are impressive, but we prefer to walk north, scrambling  up steep hillsides  to Cromwell’s Castle and then across the heather strewn moorland to Old Grimsby for lunch.    As on all the islands there are magnificent views at every turn.cromwells castle.jpgTresco gardens.jpg

Two additional features are unique to the Scillies.     One is the tranquillity.  Even on bank holiday we walk for hours and meet only a handful of others.  Another is the friendliness of the locals.  Last year, whilst walking on St Martins, I lost my walking poles.  I mentioned this briefly to the local policeman Matt whom we met over lunch.   On arriving back at St Mary’s a message awaited me to come to the police station to retrieve my sticks.   Unbeknown to me, he had walked an hour to the north of St Martins, found them and brought them back by boat to St Mary’s then found out where we were staying.  How’s that for outstanding public  service?

.Matt policeman.jpg

 However the islands are not without drama.  Last year the entire crew of  a naval frigate moored in the bay  planned a march past in the town.  Some 800 people turned up to see them. The excitement mounted as we waited. Suddenly there was an announcement.   Due to a slight change in the weather the lady commander ( commandress?)  decided that it was too dangerous for her sailors to disembark.   I sat next to three old soldiers wearing their military medals. One of them, Charlie, was outraged.  “How is it they managed to capture the bloody Falklands but can’t get off their  f… ing boat?”  We may have missed the parade, but the ribald comments of these old-timers more than made up for it.

On St Mary’s is a small area named ‘Nowhere’.  The story goes that a local recruit went to join the army in WW2.   When his CO asked where he was from he said “Nowhere Sir”,  to which the officer shouted “Listen here, when I ask you a question I want a proper answer.  Don’t be funny with me! You must live in a place, what’s it called?”  To which the young man replied “Nowhere, Scilly.”

As for me I prefer to think of it as ‘Somewhere’.  Remember the song by Bernstein/Sondheim from’West Side Story’  

‘There’s a place for us,   Somewhere a place for us,

Peace and quiet and open air, wait for us somewhere’

I have definitely found my ‘somewhere’.






To the ends of the earth

Some years ago Charles and I were invited to a family wedding in Buenos Aires and, as he goes anywhere for a celebration, we planned a trip to South America. Travelling with Corman is always an experience.

I laid down the law about his tardiness, but for once we left home in plenty of time to get to Paddington station.    Once in the taxi my telephone rang.    “Hello, is that Ruth”  “Yes “I said, “How are you?” said a male voice.  “Fine”  I said.  “Where are you now?” he asked. I replied  “In a taxi to the airport”.  “Oh that’s strange so am I”.  “Where are you going?” he asked.  “Buenos Aires” said I.  “What an amazing  coincidence” – he replied, “Me too!” –   at which point I turned round to see Charles on the back seat, telephone in hand, speaking to someone.       He thought he was ringing his sister Ruth, but in error had dialled me.   An original start to our trip.

Charles, whilst wonderful in many ways, is somewhat limited in the technology department.  On arrival at Paddington station he spent five minutes trying to put his coin into a trolley – eventually gave up, informing me it was broken.     Not so.   I collected the trolley.  Next, on the Heathrow Express he blocked the carriage whilst attempting to lower the handle of his wheelie case and would not stop until we reached the airport.  Here he faced another challenge – the luggage labels from the travel agent.   “These won’t fit!”  he exclaimed, thrusting them at me to attach to the cases.   

Reviewing our itinerary I realised that we were due to cover a huge distance.    As a particularly poor traveller, I resolved not to complain about anything, but instead regard it as a challenge.  Little did I know what waited ahead.

London to Buenos Aires went without a hitch.  BA’s pull down beds are fine if you master the technique of sleeping immobile in one position, but not so  good if you are allocated a window seat necessitating  a climb over sleeping bodies to reach the bathroom.

At Buenos Aires, a car awaited us for the  ‘one hour’ journey to our destination, Hacienda Ombu.   It took two and a half hours – it was then I discovered that travel agents and South Americans share the same distain for punctuality.  



Ombu was a mildly decaying estancia (ranch)  where the menu for ‘kosher’ guests consisted of tinned tuna and boiled rice.   A request for vegetables resulted in a bowl of floating disintegrated potato, courgette and pumpkin.   I had heard that Argentina is definitely not for vegetarians, confirmed whilst observing other guests being plied with endless varieties of meaty delicacies.

The other guests were mainly European seniors ‘Doing South America’, the first couple – a bursar from Oxford and his wife. She was totally paranoid about security, regaling us with horror tales from travellers in Brazil being held at gunpoint in their tour bus and robbed of their belongings. She feared carrying a camera and had even left her wedding ring at home. 

 I explained how we took a different  approach.  This being to stride ‘purposefully’ and, if threatened, to start picking our noses vigorously as this would  so disgust any assailants that they would rapidly leave.  The second option was for us to leap in unison into a martial arts stance, complete with a violent cry of ”Hi Yaaaah” so  any attackers  would a) think we knew what we’re doing or b) fall apart laughing.   Thankfully we never needed to resort to either of these undignified activities, but it was still useful to be prepared.

Ombu had several redeeming characteristics – a vast sky – which one forgets about when living in a metropolis, many different and colourful birds, and a variety of insects, making me aware of how closely we share the planet with wildlife.  We visited Areco, a traditional gaucho village with shops selling everything ‘cowboy’.


local gauchos

Many of the men wore bright red berets, rakishly worn at an angle.  They looked very stylish and I assumed they were ‘extras’ from the film company that had been parading back and forth down the main street in 1930’s costumes, but no – this was the traditional headwear for locals, many of whom sat moustachioed and macho, astride horses.



filming in Areco


An Arecan gaucho with red beret

The ‘must do’ activity in town was to visit the local museum, but it being the Fiesta of the Virgin, everything was closed, including the taxi rank.  It was oppressively hot but we sat, optimistically if impatiently, waiting for any form of transport until  eventually a vehicle of sorts arrived, complete with customary shattered windscreen.   All the cars we travelled in whilst there were similarly damaged, presumably by disgruntled passengers.

After three days in Ombu we left for Buenos Aires immediately after Sabbath. As tradition requires, we sat in the garden of the estancia  waiting until three stars  appeared in the sky, the sign permitting us to leave. On arrival in B.A. we were informed that next morning we must leave  at 5.30a.m. for a full day flying to Santiago, Puerto Montt and finally Punta Arenas in the far south.

The airport at Santiago was a nightmare. We found ourselves in a queue behind  at least 600 others, with a probable wait of two hours and the likelihood of missing our connections.   I grasped the initiative, spoke to a customs official who promptly waved us through the diplomatic channel giving us at least a fighting chance. 

However we were, to quote Shakespeare, ‘sans everything’ – in this case, our luggage.   Carousels did not exist,   instead hundreds of suitcases were scattered haphazardly all over an aircraft hangar the size of a football pitch.

It was then I realised the common sense in buying a shocking pink case with neon straps – but we travelled, as most people, with black indistinguishable bags. After at least an hour of searching, we and they were reunited and we even found a porter. Our spirits lifted until he explained that the sole access to the departure lounge was up three flights by elevator but only one was working.

 With pounding hearts and getting more stressed by the minute we eventually struggled into a lift.   Once upstairs I passed hurriedly through security and continued with a sense of achievement towards the departure gate only to turn and see Charles beckoning, having been detained by security when their  x-ray machine identified a strange item in his case. Charles opened it, whereupon the officer gingerly extracted a 12” long metal object that he eyed with great suspicion.  “Che?  What is this?”  he asked, in the manner of Manuel from Fawlty Towers. He held it close to his eyes, inspected, shook and even smelled it.  Turning to me he shrugged his shoulders hoping I would offer some explanation. 


I could easily have told him how to get to the bank, order paella or enquire about the weather,  but  my ‘Teach Yourself Spanish in Seven Days’ was deficient in not having    even one sentence of explanation about ‘what is a chanukiah? ( see above).     I began “We are Jews “ (Somos Judeos) , “Today is a Jewish Festival”  (Ahoy eta una fiesta para los Judeos). I then struggled on incoherently about lighting candles, eating doughnuts and spinning tops.  The security men exchanged glances and shook their heads,  indicating that they were convinced we were both ‘loco’. But once again the miracle of Chanucah prevailed and they propelled us, undoubtedly relieved to see the back of us, through the departure gates.

The flights to Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas went well. However, despite ticking all the boxes for ‘vegetarian food’ with our travel agent in London, no one in South America seemed able to grasp our strange and incomprehensible  request for non-meat meals. Their creative substitution was an inseparable ham and cheese sandwich.  After many hours of travel we were now, like the Israelites in the wilderness,  praying for manna.  None arrived.   The hotel, we trusted, must surely feed us soon!.

Perhaps prudently,  no-one had forewarned us that the shuttle bus would take six hours to reach the hotel.    The first four were along a straight, traffic-free road with a 50kph speed limit which our driver maintained with  stubborn  determination.  You cannot imagine the frustration of crawling along at this speed with not another car in sight.

In Britain we are used to short distances and constantly changing landscapes, a wood, a village, hillsides, a lake, people and traffic.   Patagonia welcomed us  with an immense expanse of not a lot – just sky and distant mountains. Little to hold our attention except the occasional sheep or guanaco – the local llama.

By now our sense of adventure was rapidly diminishing, to be replaced with questioning why on earth we had abandoned the comforts of  home.   Charles demanded that we return immediately, but frankly by then we were both very weary and could not countenance the thought of what that would involve.   Surely, we prayed,  the worst is over and it must only be another two hours,  albeit along a bumpy unmade track in total darkness.  

Israeli friends ( gerontologists) told us how they always travel to remote villages in Patagonia without booking, never knowing if they will reach their destination by nightfall.  This, they maintained, was the secret of long life,  as the stress involved is what everyone needs to keep alert and active.

I disagreed completely, declaring that my ideal holiday is knowing that wherever I stop there must be a clean toilet, drinking water and, if necessary, a hospital within easy reach.

I totally acknowledge that I am not a traveller but just a tourist (unlike my wonderful granddaughter currently exploring south America alone with a backpack). I question if this is an ‘age’ thing, but then when I was 20, I was a married mum so taking a year off was never an option. 

Suffice to say, when we eventually arrived  at the Explora in Southern Patagonia at 2.a.m.,  I knew immediately that I had died and gone to heaven.  Spectacular and unbelievably beautiful.  All the previous day’s rigours were instantly erased and we had a memorable and outstanding visit.     Would I do it all again?  Well of course – absolutamente!



Once again – finding the unexpected….

Sometimes in life you come across a place that exerts a pull on your emotions that  can be wondrous and unexpected.

naarden.jpgFor me it was the discovery of Naarden Vesting – a small visually delightful town in the Het Gooi region of Holland  that has an atmosphere of tranquillity totally in contrast to its profoundly dramatic history.


Canals around Naarden viewed from a boat trip.  Wild waterlilies, flag irises  – blissfully peaceful -the only sound is birdsong.

Naarden, dates back to 887 but over the centuries storms caused flooding which resulted in  the village being re-built in a new location on higher ground where it remains until today. It was designated as a city around 1300.

Naarden Vesting is a jewel, situated in beautiful wooded countryside and in the centre of one of the few remaining star shaped forts, surrounded by water.  The town has narrow cobblestone streets, pavements of red brick and historic buildings that are architectural gems.  Overlooking all of this is the magnificent St. Vitus Church.  Climb the tower for a panoramic view as far as  Amsterdam and Utrecht.  ( A treat still in store for me).

Whilst researching this story I soon realised how little I knew about the history of the Netherlands, having assumed that it had always been there.  How wrong could I be!

In ancient times it was a difficult place to live, being covered with wetlands, rivers, lakes and woods, however on the plus side this made it almost impossible for enemies to invade.   The Romans succeeded in the 1st century, but only in the south.  As the Roman Empire declined,  the Franks arrived bringing Christianity and by the 9th century Naarden was part of Charlemagne’s empire.  After his death the country was divided into smaller states ruled by nobles and by then had already developed strong trade links with Asia and Africa.  

Later the Dukes of Burgundy took over, followed by the Habsburgs.  In 1555 the Habsburg emperor Charles V granted the Netherlands to his son Philip 11, King of Spain.(He who married Mary, daughter of King Henry V111 and later sent the doomed Spanish Armada to England)  He was a devout Catholic, saying “I would rather lose all my lands and a hundred lives than be king over heretics”.  He had “a smile that cuts like a sword’ and it was he who started the 80 Years War which proved catastrophic for the Netherlands.

The Dutch, now mainly Protestants (aka heretics) rebelled and protested against his cruel regime and harsh taxes, so his army began a relentless campaign to punish them.  They looted the city of Mechelen, until “no nail was left in any wall”, killing several hundred citizens.  Zutphen suffered a similar fate.  Hearing this, a delegation from Naarden attempted to negotiate with the Spanish, offering supplies and promising to swear an oath to the King. The army arrived, the residents assembled in the Town Hall to welcome them.  Instead 400 were locked inside and murdered, while another were 400 killed in the street. The soldiers then proceeded to kill all remaining inhabitants of Naarden, burning many to death in their homes.   Only 60 of the 3,000 residents escaped. 

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Etching of the Massacre at Naarden

This massacre, including the murder of his son, was witnessed and recorded by  Lambertus Hortensius a priest and sympathiser of the Reformers. Two years later he was buried in the Great Church in Naarden where his tombstone reads: ‘A man of great scholarship, an excellent man of letters, an ingenious historian and an astute leader of Naarden youth.

Contrary to the intent of the Spanish, the destruction of Naarden became a rallying symbol for the Dutch rebels who eventually proclaimed their independence in 1581 with the Union of Utrecht.

One of the few buildings in Naarden to survive was St Vitus’ Church,  built by Catholics (1380 – 1445) before the Reformation. When I entered I was dazzled by the magnificent interior and was fortunate to meet Frans, a dedicated guide, with a passion for his local history that was infectious. 


The walls were brilliant white and the barrel vault ceiling, 65 metres (214 ft) high, was covered with 39 glorious paintings of scenes from the Old and the New Testaments. Whitewashing was a key strategy in the Protestants’ alteration of churches, when all former ornamentation was obliterated.  However for some reason these paintings were untouched.  It seems that they were so high no one could reach them, hence this magnificent art remains for us to enjoy.   I had to lay down flat on my back to take photos but Frans brought me a magnified mirror with which I could get a close up view more easily.P1080734.jpgHe then produced an hour glass (sand timer) explaining how this was essential in earlier times when preachers were only allowed to speak for twenty minutes.  If this was exceeded, they had to pay a fine to the State.   A wonderful idea!  I can think of many public speakers today who could usefully adopt this rule. Charles was so enthused by this notion that, back in London, he bought one and presented it to our Rabbi. I wonder if he will adopt the tradition?P1080744.jpgThe church can hold 1,000 people but nowadays only 100 attend Sunday services. They have regular organ recitals, the church reputedly having the best acoustics in Holland. I tested this myself with a rendition of a Spanish Zarzuela and confirm that it is true!  my voice easily reached the heavens. (fortunately no one else was there at the time.)

I next visited the Spanish House –  the Town Hall at the time of the massacre. I was warmly welcomed by Han, who related its history.  The building was partially restored in the 16th century, serving as a weighing house prior to the establishment of standard weights. The house is now a fine museum covering every aspect of Weights and Measures.

IMG_0723.jpg This depiction of the massacre is above the doorway of the Spanish House.
I was invited for drinks in the garden with Han’s neighbours, one of whom was celebrating his birthday.  Another example of the warm welcome I received everywhere on my trip.

But no story about this place can be complete without writing about the Vesting Fortress Museum. I was lucky enough to be guided by Goos,  (his real name, not a typo) who was charming, patient and very knowledgeable.  He was also a gunner which was an added bonus.

Bastion forts evolved when  gunpowder and cannons dominated the battlefield. They were first seen in 15th century Italy where star forts were designed by Michelangelo to defend Florence.  Naarden  was established to protect Amsterdam from the East and is listed as Europe’s only standing fortification with double walls and moats. Cannons were placed prominently on two levels of the hillocks – the higher for long range and the lower for short range fire.  Underground is a gunpowder room, and brick and mortar bomb proof buildings covered with earth (casemates).  Soldiers worked and slept here, patrolling a 61 metre ‘listening’ corridor from where they could hear enemy movements.  They wore soft footwear (no hobnailed boots) to ensure that no sparks ignited the gunpowder.

I watched some fascinating films, including one about the unique history of Dutch waterlines.   It was  remarkable learning how this small country, constantly threatened by the sea, has harnessed it in ingenious and positive ways.  ‘Netherlands’  means ‘low countries’ and 50% of its land is barely 1 metre above sea level. Since the 16th century 17%  more land has been reclaimed from both sea and lakes.  Great for cycling, but more impressive is how it was used for defence.

As far back as 1629  during times of conflict, areas were flooded with water maintained at a level deep enough to make advance on foot precarious, especially after the addition of underwater obstacles such as pits, or barbed wire and  land mines in later years. The water was too shallow for enemy boats but locals could still use their flat bottomed boats to move around easily.  Their ingenuity was boundless.IMG_0702.jpgphoto courtesy Goos Van Gorkum.

For me the visit was an eye opener.   I learned so much, most of which, owing to lack of space, I cannot include here.  This small country that was at the pinnacle of world trading in the 17th century, now ranks fifth place worldwide with regard to prosperity; is the sixth largest economy in the EU and is the second largest exporter of agri-food products after the USA.  Add to this their  brilliant football team. They have played in more Cup Finals than any other country and are affectionately referred to as  “the best team never to have won the World Cup”. 

I came away with  a deep admiration and love for the Dutch and lasting memories of the 19 new friends I met on my brief stay – hopefully all by now reading my stories – I only hope they approve of my observations about their very special nation.

For Men Only…..


Recently I was contacted by Giles,  an old friend, to ask if we could meet for coffee near Green Park, London.

We first met in 1971 as volunteers for The Samaritans in Sunderland. He was training to be an Anglican priest, was ordained in Durham Cathedral and since then we have kept in touch. 

We  met and chatted for an hour until Giles, looking at his watch, said he had to go shopping and would I accompany him?  Now I  really do detest shopping, but for some  unknown reason agreed, and guess what?  An unexpected world was revealed to me,    resulting in this story.

Our first stop was Trumper’s, Curzon Street,  established 1875 to provide barber services for the elite and awarded a Royal Warrant  “By Appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales.”   It was as if entering an exclusive men’s club. I learned that “Facial hair requires the finest tools to maintain a well groomed appearance which, when used in combination with a lavender moustache wax, can sculpt facial hair into any required style”. Imagine, an entire shop devoted to mens shaving accessories! Brushes of badger or boar hair lined the shelves as did horn and rosewood special brushes for hair, moustache or beard.

Trumpers brushes xx.JPG        Display of Trumpers shaving brushes.

 Their gift selection included  carbon fibre cigar cutters, sterling silver collar stiffeners and pocket handkerchiefs. It was here that I learned  the difference between a pocket handkerchief and a pocket square: the first is for ‘blow’ and the latter for ‘show’. Nothing disposable here. They specialise in perfumery (elegantly named Wellington, Astor and Marlborough) and offer personal services – moustache trim, curl and wax,  shave with hot towels, ‘Friction’ and much more all of which take place in discreetly curtained booths.

A Trumper’s leaflet advises on ‘the correct use of an open-razor’ and their Shaving School provides one-to-one tuition on wet shaving.  I found it utterly fascinating – a tribute to the eminence of a tradition that, thankfully, is still upheld and admired world wide.

 That same day I saw a web enquiry from an undoubted personage in Vancouver. His 16 year old  son was beginning to grow facial hair. The father was adamant that his son should have a true ‘gentleman’s experience’ by having  his first shave in London.  Trumper’s was chosen. Apparently this is a regular occurrence for Trumpers at both their shops, the second one being in Duke of York Street, St James.  I accept that this is a rite of passage that I, as a female, could never experience. 

From here we strolled in leisurely fashion to Trickers in Jermyn Street to buy shoes.    Giles as a 13 years old was  greeted as ‘Master Giles’ on first entering their establishment by appointment in 1949. Now 81, he has never once bought shoes elsewhere.  There cannot be many firms that can claim customer loyalty for almost 70 years.   But this is Jermyn Street,  a unique place that began in 1664 when Charles II permitted Henry Jermyn, the Earl of St Albans,  to develop the area near to St James’s Palace.  From its earliest days it was a street of distinction. 

Trickers shoes 2

All shoes in Trickers are stored in special sections of the cupboards below.  This system has been in use for generations.

Shoe storage Tricker.jpg

James Tricker founded his company in 1829.    In 1840 young Walter James Barltrop (aged 7), made a leather boot which was a very early example that eventually was developed into  their  renowned  waterproof country wear for the landed gentry.  Barltrop married Tricker’s daughter and the company is today managed by his descendants who maintain high standards both in the quality of their merchandise and their exemplary customer services.  The courtesy and care extended to Giles demonstrated how buying a pair of shoes can be transformed into an event to be savoured.     

Today they have many Far Eastern clients who regard visiting Trickers for shoes as a ‘must’. However as part of the experience, they insist on having  photographs  taken with the salesman holding a Trickers bag containing their purchases.

Eamon holding trickers bag xx                Clive holding trickers bag.jpg

On returning home I mentioned my shopping expedition to Charles who asked “Was it Trickers you visited?“   This surprised me, as to my knowledge, Charles has always been a strictly M&S shoe man, but appearances are  deceptive. It seems that 40 years ago, Charles and his good friend Bob (later Lord) Gavron were playing squash at the RAC Club in Pall Mall.   After the game Charles returned to the changing room to find that his shoes had been stolen.   Unperturbed, Bob said “No problem, come with me.”  and took Charles, shoeless but wearing socks, for the ten minute walk to Trickers.

Charles entered.  The two salesmen obviously noted that he was unshod but, showed not a glimmer of either surprise or curiosity,  instead politely asking  “How may we help you sir?”.  The French have a word for it – sangfroid.

   Nowadays sales personnel can be brusque, dismissive or simply too busy on their mobile phones to pay attention to customers.  Trumpers and Trickers have  mastered the art of ‘doing things the right way’  an experience   replicated at many of the shops in Jermyn Street.  Turnbull & Asser (est.1885) produce, amongst other items, the finest hand made shirts. You choose from 2,000 fabrics,  13 collar and 11 cuff styles.  Another rite of passage no doubt. Their  customers  have included  Charlie Chaplin, Pablo Picasso, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and Daniel Craig.

Floris 2. SGJPG.JPG

 Display cabinets at Floris. 

Many  other establishments in Jermyn Street have illustrious histories.  Aquascutum fashions (1861), Alfred Dunhill  began selling motoring accessories in 1893, and  Floris perfumers (1730) whose  magnificent display cabinets, still used today, were purchased at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  Their archives contain a letter from Florence Nightingale thanking them for a “fragrant nosegay” that helped her avoid the terrible odours in the hospitals where she worked.  Daks fashion house dates from 1894  and holds three royal warrants  and amongst all of this is  Paxton & Whitfield,  the oldest cheese shop in the UK (founded 1797) but not, I hasten to add, solely for men.


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Walking down Jermyn Street is a journey through history. A statue of Beau Brummell, Regency dandy and arbiter of men’s fashion, stands immediately facing the magnificent Piccadilly Arcade – also filled with attire for men. He never lived in this street but is noted as saying “to be elegant one should not be noticed.” An adage that wins my seal of approval.  He had an extraordinary life  but, sadly died in a French asylum in poverty.

Isaac Newton blue plaque.jpg

However  Sir Isaac Newton lived here for 65 years and Napoleon III sought refuge  here after the Third Republic was proclaimed in Paris in 1871.  Another famous resident, who both lived and died here, was Al Bowlly, an iconic jazz singer of the 1930’s.  He was killed instantly by a Luftwaffe bomb that exploded outside his apartment.  He was 42 years old.




I looked him up on Youtube and was immediately captivated by this immensely talented performer.  Surprisingly, I knew all the words of his songs  such as  ‘Blue Moon,’ ‘The Very Thought of You’, ‘Melancholy Baby’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, Two Sleepy People’ and  more –  possibly because they were classic hits for years,   but also as they were used in much later films  by Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and quite recently  ‘The Kings Speech’ and  Woody Allen’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’, (2014).


I urge you to spend ten minutes listening to him.   He was elegant and urbane with a divine voice.  Jermyn Street seems to me to be the ideal place for him to have spent time.

This story about sartorial elegance reminds me of the tale of the Jewish boy who escaped Nazi Europe and came to England. His father remained behind living in a small village but his son vowed that one day he would bring his father over to join him.   Eventually that day arrived.

At the airport he embraced a little stooped figure, bearded and wearing traditional shtetl clothes.

“Papa, I am so happy to see you. I want to give you something now to make up for our years apart”.   He took him first to a barber where his hair and beard were trimmed. Next, they visited top class outfitters where he was measured for the finest cotton shirts and following this a bespoke suit from Savile Row.    Hand made leather shoes, a bowler hat and a rolled umbrella completed the ensemble.

Finally the son took his father gently by the hand and  went over to a mirror so that  he could see himself in his new finery.  The son thought his father looked magnificent.

“Well Papa, what do you think?”  he asked.  Suddenly he saw tears streaming down his father’s face.   “Papa”, he said anxiously,   please, tell me what is wrong?”

The old man turned to him and sighed “I am crying because we had to give up the Empire”.