This is the time of year when the outside of our house, and the one to which we’re attached deck themselves in scented clouds of wisteria.
There’s lilac below the kitchen window: that’ll bloom very soon: already the tightly furled buds are loosening and hinting at the soft mauves and purples that will emerge. That’ll be for next week then.
On the last day of April, I took myself for a short walk, from country house to country house near me. They’re all called Sleningford-something-or-other – Old Hall, Hall, Grange – in memory of the village of the same name that was ravaged by marauding Scots in the Middle Ages, never to be seen again. Though they had older antecedents, all these buildings are from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and they all mark pleasant pauses in our walking routines. Here’s the gatehouse to the first, Sleningford Old Hall, its window enabling the gatehouse keeper to keep his eye on all the comings and goings into the estate. Well, the last actually. I’m showing my last photo first, and working back towards home.
Only the upstairs windows of the house itself were visible over the high wall which maintains the owners’ privacy.
A mile or so beforehand, I’d already passed Sleningford Park and Hall. You can see the house set in its parkland in the feature photo. The conservatory has glass enough, and the gatehouse too has windows pointing in every direction to help the gatekeeper do his job.
I’d started from home of course, less than a mile before that. Not that we live in the house you see here. But we’re lucky enough to live in its grounds, in a rather simpler dwelling, which has its own long history – that’s for another day.
A less-than interesting photo of the main road near Skipton? Who cares? We were off to see my daughter and her family for the first time in about a year. For us it was the very brightest day of the year.
We all started queuing bright and early. We had to. Our local independent bakery and deli has been doing Click and Collect throughout the last lockdown, but now it’s open again, and we all wanted to make sure we got our hands on our favourite sourdough loaf, a croissant or two, or a couple of cinnamon buns maybe. And a few little treats from the deli while we were at it. We’ve missed you, Vanora!
The featured photo shows the shop window. And not just Vanora’s shop window, but all the ones opposite, reflected in the shiny glass.
Local colour. We love it. Washing lines suspended from distressed peeling-paint window frames, or stretched across characterful ancient narrow streets oozing character and Instagram appeal. But life moves on. Families get rehoused into concrete-and-brick tower blocks. But Monday is still washing day. Exchange the battered wooden windows for ones made from metal and pvc, and atmospheric Old Town alleyways for Le Corbusier’s vertical cities – then stick the washing out anyway.
Last Monday in South Korea we went shopping for string, elastic bands and spam – oh, and books.. Today we’ll go instead to one of the large shopping centres – Shinsegae in Seoul maybe (where I was astonished to find a branch of Waitrose) or Lotte Trevi (yes really) in Busan. We could spend the day there, strolling around the sleek and elegant displays. Maybe we’ll stay for lunch in the food hall, and choose from the many outlets featuring foods from around the world, though particularly from the Far East. Out of town shopping centres like these are popular, as in Europe, but the average city shopping street is busy from morning till late into the evening too, with young people toting large carrier bags full of new clothes . ‘Shop till you drop’ seems to be the motto.
Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of window shopping? And perhaps particularly in parts of South Korea, which can offer a few differences from the high streets that many of us are used to. Let’s start in Busan. in Bosu-Dong Book Street (보수동 책방골목 문화관). There are books, and only books on offer – but of little use if you’re as slow as me in decoding hangul script.
On our first day in South Korea, in Seoul, jet lagged and in need of a gentle day of orientation, we mooched round the markets area. And we found not only whole shops, but whole streets dedicated to shops selling just one product: it might be string. It might be elastic bands, or electric cables, or empty cardboard boxes to be filled with other products. or even gift-packs of a product beloved of Koreans since American soldiers had been part of their lives during the the Korean War – spam. We arrived in time for Chuseok, the festival that’s the time for families to get together and exchange gifts, as we do at Christmas – though historically, Chuseok was more of a Harvest Festival. Trust me, the perfect present for your granny is some gift-wrapped spam. And jumbled in among these workaday products are streets of jewellers’ shops. Come window shopping with me.
That man making his choices from among the books on offer is Just One Person from around the World, enjoying browsing and deciding whether or not to buy, just as we all do, wherever we live.
Those builders hard at work just beyond my hotel room in Pondicherry weren’t the only slice of life I saw through my window there. The featured photo shows the view I had just after midnight every night (I told you I didn’t sleep), My camera – or the way I handled it anyway – wasn’t good at night-time vision, but I like the dream-like quality of this scene.
Can you see a group of five women – four of them in blue, seated in the road? Until just before I took this shot, they’d been busily sweeping all the streets round and about, equipped only with short brooms of the kind that witches in western fairy tales normally use . They made cheerful conversation, calling to each other so they could hear and be heard. Now though, it was time for a break, and the women simply sat down and rested in the road, their voices falling to a rippling murmur of chatter and laughter.
This intimate moment, sharing something with these women who were certainly unaware they were being observed, remains one of my treasured memories of India. These women, I’m sure, had little enough, and yet their easy relaxed movements suggested contentment with what their lives gave them. And above them is a washing line. All that day’s washing was blue, apparently.
Here are the windows through which I observed the scene.
About three years ago, we were in Sants, Barcelona. The flat where Emily and Miquel then lived was too small to accommodate us for too prolonged a stay, so an apartment in Sants it was – a part of the city we didn’t knw at all, but came to like a lot.
Once a village, by the nineteenth century it was industrialised – the textile industry – and home to Barcelona’s biggest textile factory. Now it’s home to Barcelona’s biggest station and travel interchange.
For us though, it was simply a busy working community, full of independent shops, a market, housing old and new. Let’s go and walk the streets for a while, and admire the often elegant windows. And as the feature photo shows, there’s washing. There’s always washing to hang out.
It’s an assertively independista part of the city: hence the Catalan flags and yellow ribbons. And they don’t welcome the destruction of their community by tourists that come and go. So we did our best to spend in neighbourhood shops bars and restaurants, and also hoped that, since we’re all-but Catalan in-laws now (and now, even Spanish grandparents), we might pass muster.