50 Shades of Grey

Photographs courtesy of Lauren Webber.

January’s sun appeared as if through a wax papered sky, testing my faith in its existence. Graphite, oyster, lead, pewter, marble, battleship, iron, slate – let me count the cloud coloured ways. The promised 43 days of snow dumbed down to 43 days of cold rain.  Columnists for The Times/Guardian/Independent  filed articles in the weekend magazines titled “I hate January”/ “Ten ways to survive January”/ “January – my least favourite month”. Here Christmas is boxed up quickly. By Epiphany it’s a distant memory.  God’s wonder is still apparent in the soul searching question How awful will winter be?  but I felt, hardwired as I am to my Antipodean experience, vaguely unfulfilled, melancholic, slumpish (satisfying new word Miranda fans, slllllummmmpppisssssh). Somehow, despite the two-degrees-feels-like minus-three, I still expected the baby Jesus festivities to stretch into weeks and weeks of al fresco catch-ups with my besties.

Mid morning at Great Whitley Court, Worcestershire

And then Magic Happened. Ancient alchemy, starry skies, below freezing temperatures and water shaken not stirred, created exquisite mornings comprised of cut glass.  Hoar (an Old English word meaning white haired with age) frosts in the shape of feathers and ferns and unicorn horns ran up trees, along fences and through pastures snap-locking the county in one continuous sugary wonderland. As I walked across the fields, the grass under my wellies cracked like toffee on a gigantic crème brulee.  Crystallised hedges and frost-outlined clover. Diamanté  cobwebs and nettles iced over. These are a few of my new favourite things.

Wichenford Barn

And then t’was February and our water pipes froze, the broken valve releasing a gush of cold water from the tank above our bedroom through the ceiling directly onto John’s head. Last winter I moved from room to room dragging a doona, despite our central heating dialled to Darwin. This year the tough got going and I edged towards acclimatisation before reaching – surprise! hurrah! – wondrous appreciation. I am still running. In the dark. At night. With a head torch. And a high vis jacket.  Across a flooded ford. Really.

A weekend in Yorkshire.

Around Foxtwist now, crocus and snowdrops have raised their shy heads above the grassy parapet in a determined effort not to be trumped by the premature appearance of those spring dandies, the daffodil.  St Peter’s churchyard in the next village is sprinkled with thousands of these snowy white dainties. Snowdrops are said to have been planted by Catholic monks and nuns before the Reformation, symbolic of Candlemas during which candles are lit celebrating Mary’s purification forty days after the birth of Jesus.  I think of them of tiny hanging lanterns, a bright pointer to the long awaited Spring.


There is list of experiences in London for which I could happily push play-shuffle-repeat. The drool-jewel gallery at the V&A followed by scones in the museum’s glittering, circular café; Fortnum and Mason, my favourite department store with its signature aqua boxes of tea and clotted cream biscuits; Maille on Piccadilly where the French assistant des ventes refills my earthenware pot with Chablis mustard and seals it with a fresh cork; and the Tudor Monarchs gallery at the National Portrait Museum before a glass of Prosecco at their Café overlooking Nelson’s column. There is also that delicious ten seconds when, from Whitehall, I emerge through the long dark stone archways of the Horse Guard Palace into the courtyard’s blinding expanse opposite Green Park.  And a new favourite,  a surreptitious glance at those scurrying past Banqueting Hall to see if they too look up at its clock and just know. Do I and a stranger share for just a second the secret of the dark smudge on its face at two? ……  Nope, no one. (So next time you pass by, nod to the mark at two o’clock because it signifies the exact time on a freezing January afternoon in 1649 when, from scaffolding mounted outside the Banqueting Hall, Charles I’s treasonous head was caught at first slip. And then please, smile and nod knowingly at me.)

This January, our niece Lauren, John and I did these things and more – we pulled on a pork roll at the Borough Markets, loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Gielgud Theatre, realised the Elgin Marbles aren’t round and corrected our mistake stopping at the incredible Rosetta Stone on our second pass.


I still get a kick travelling by Tube, despite sometimes feeling too hot/too cold/too deep/too Alice-in-a-White-Tiled-Winding-Weirdo-Land. In the mid 80s when John and I lived in London, waiting time could be entertainingly spent perusing the British advertising posters along the platform walls (I remember a photograph of a dinner plate containing one pea and a smidge of mashed potato captioned “The French didn’t invent nouvelle cuisine.“, for an exhibition about the Irish famine).  And then there were the poems published inside the carriages, a programme begun the year I arrived. I imagine Poems on the Underground has  entertained, diverted and inspired London’s commuters for the last 30 years as it did me in 1986. In  celebration of 30 years past, the same five which started the fun, are riding the Circle line again;

Like a Beacon by Grace Nichols
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams
The Railway Children by Seamus Heaney

and, Up in the Morning Early by Robert Burns

Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west, The drift is driving sairly;

Sae loud and shrill’s I hear the blast, I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

Up in the morning’s no for me, Up in the morning early;

When a’ the hills are cover’d wi’ snaw, I’m sure its winter fairly.

The birds sit in the thorn, A’ day they fare but sparely;

And lang’s the night frae e’en to morn, I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

Up in the morning’s no for me, Up in the morning early;

When a’ the hills are cover’d wi’ snaw, I’m sure its winter fairly.




Travel Notes to Self

  • The Feathered Nest Country Inn, Nether Westcote, OX7 6SD for a special occasion lunch in the Cotswolds.
  • The Feathers Pub, Helmsley, York YO625BH after a visit to
  • Castle Howard, Yorkshire or the
  • Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire Moors. Time and weather was sadly against
  • North Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Maybe next time…




8 thoughts on “50 Shades of Grey

  1. Ann I feel quite transported from my decadent lie-in under superfluous! I am squandering a morning of bright sunshine like I have so many others because, hey, there will always be more! I am covered in mozzie bites from my small campaign of evening weeding (with insect repellent). Loved the photos too: congrats to lauren


  2. Love it! I can feel a feathery theme…..remind me to take you to Ludlow to The Feathers and, whilst we’re there, to the reopened institution that was De Grey’s Tea Room. FYI, the major last hoar frost was 2010 so you’re lucky to have experienced it- you see, there are positives to living in this country! (Nature is definitely one of them). I await the next instalment!


  3. Wonderful Anne, and perhaps you have explained why we brits tend to be a bit nutty at the sight of sunshine (even when it’s freezing).
    If we are ever at the V&A at the same time let me introduce you to the members room – through a wall.of mirrors into what is usually an oasis of calm. Heavenly.


    1. Members’ room! that is my kind of talk Kim! Yes please!
      As for the sunshine, I think my friend Fiona’s perfect comment above – that she’s “squandering” a day of sunshine because there will be another tomorrow – sums it up. X


  4. I love your attention on the barns and their roofs. It looks very English countryside, an area to explore as this Scottish girl has never ventured near foxtwist.


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