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Hearts and flowers

First thing on a Sunday morning, London is like a ghost town, quietly waiting for its admirers.  A short walk from Old Street tube station, takeaways and bus routes give way to older streets with more historical buildings and over sized greenery seems to be heading towards us, as people struggle home with a new pot plant or two.  Where are we heading?  Columbia Road flower market.

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The flower market began as a Saturday market but was later moved to a Sunday to accommodate a growing number of Jewish traders, for whom Saturdays were a day of rest.  Moving it to a Sunday also allowed traders from Covent Garden and Spitalfields to sell off stock left over from Saturday trading.  Following a demise in the seventies when there were suggestions of demolition, the locals fought to save the market and the surrounding Victorian shops and since then it has gone from strength to strength.  The market now attracts people from around the world and as well as being a great place to pick up a cheap bunch of quality flowers, or a pot plant to transform that awkward corner of your home, the market also appeals to photographers and film makers.

The market is a feast for all the senses, with flowers in every colour of the rainbow available, their sweet scents filling the air, blending with the waft of freshly brewed coffee coming from the many cafes.  The day we visited, the air was filled with the sweet scent of lavender.  The second or third generation market traders call out their deals in cockney accents and there is a general hubbub as people squeeze their way along the stalls.  Music can also be heard from the street buskers.

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When you have had your fill of the plants, the Victorian shops behind offer vintage crockery, gifts and art.  Then it’s time to chill in one of the cafes.  We accidentally stumbled into a vegan cafe and I can tell you a vegan pain au chocolat doesn’t quite hit the spot, but I did feel like a hip east Londoner!

My husband bought me the most gorgeous roses which lasted way longer than your average bunch, despite being carted round London with me for the rest of the day.

It might mean an early start but the market is well worth a visit on a Sunday morning.

This was Valentine’s weekend and so after the historic market, we headed to the modern Shard to experience the view from the top, whilst sipping champagne.  I of course dressed themed for the weekend, in a top with hearts on the collar, paired with skinny jeans – both Oasis and complimented it with red ballet pumps by Mauro Leone purchased in Milan and a red heart bag by Floozie.  I wore my trusted faux leather jacket from New Look as despite the sun, it was a chilly day.

At the beginning of any romance, it’s all hearts and flowers but once you have been together a few years, that all falls by the wayside, only to be replaced with the day to day routine.  It’s important to still appreciate each other, so this year we decided to celebrate Valentines Day like we did in the early days.

The trouble with going out on Valentines is you are usually faced with an overpriced fixed menu and crammed in so tight that you virtually bash elbows with the person next to you every time you lift your fork to your mouth.  Maybe we have just been unfortunate with our choices in the past, as this year we booked our local restaurant, Eight and although it was a set menu – the price was reasonable and we were in no way crammed in.

I wanted to get proper dressed up, just as you do in the first flourish of dates.  I decided to embrace this year’s animal print trend and wore a jumpsuit from Oasis with some red wedge LK Bennett sandals.  I even had my nails themed for the day.

Rather than just cards this year, we also did gifts.  Men being notoriously hard to buy for, I got my husband some clothes from Superdry.  He got me the best kind of chocolate – one that doesn’t get you fat!  Have I discovered the holy grail I hear you ask?  No just some fantastic eyeshadow by Too Faced that is scented with chocolate!

Love comes in many shapes and forms and needs to be nourished.  Many of us spend the best years of our lives searching for our Mr Darcy, just like Bridget Jones.  When we find him though, do we forget to appreciate what we have and take it for granted?

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At the location used as Bridget Jones’ flat in the films

Along with romantic love, one of my other great loves is London.  It is such a fusion of all the cultures and traditions of the world.  It doesn’t matter how many times you visit, there is always something different to see and old and new blend together seamlessly.  I particularly like the creativity it unleashes.  A wander along the Thames from London Bridge to Blackfriars is made all the more beautiful by the entertainers.  This particular day, there was a poet, typing you an instant poem on an old typewriter and a bubbleologist.  A painting by Jimmy C of Shakespeare reminds us that London’s relationship with culture and the arts dates back centuries.

London’s people are what makes the city so wonderful and we all pull together when our centre of multiculturalism is threatened by extremists.  The love Londoners have for each other is perfectly depicted in the street art of hearts created in Brough Market by the artist Jimmy C following the terror attacks there in 2017.  Each heart represents one of the eight people who lost their lives that night.  There is so much hate in the world but ultimately love will conquer all.

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‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene’

The city of Paris has always been synonymous with romantic short breaks but next time you want a couples get away, why not consider Verona?

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T-shirt Oasis and shorts (just seen) also Oasis

 

To the North of Italy, Verona sits on the Adige River somewhere between Milan and Venice.  Those who paid attention in English literature, will know that Verona is the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  It is no doubt on the back of this play that Verona became a tourist magnet, further aided by the successful 2010 film Letters to Juliet, staring Amanda Seyfried.  Both certainly played a part in my selection of a city to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary.

The flight was a swift two hours from Gatwick and a bus takes you from the airport to the city’s central station for a bargain €6 per person.  We stayed four nights at Hotel Giulietta e Romeo, which of course I picked out based on the name, but as luck would have it, it did turn out to be a wise choice. Rooms at the hotel were clean and staff friendly and the breakfast was a good continental offering.  Located a mere stones throw from the Arena, it couldn’t have been better located.  Watch out for gladiators wanting their picture with you outside the arena and don’t bother paying to go in as the best views are from the outside being that the inside is now a modern concert venue.

The main attraction of the city is Juliet’s house and balcony.  As you walk into the courtyard entrance, the walls are covered with names and messages, to the point that you can’t distinguish one from the next.  The focus of the courtyard is a brass statue of Juliet.  Legend has it that rubbing her right breast will bring you luck in love.  The queue to go up on the balcony was far less than I thought but that could have been in part as it was a weekday and perhaps also the admission charge to the house puts some visitors off.  We added to the numerous padlocks bearing initials in the courtyard.  Visitors can write to Juliet either by the traditional method of pen and paper or by email.  Just like in the film, Juliet’s secretaries do actually reply.  If you are still hungry for more monuments to the great play, head to the tomb of Juliet.  I warn you though, there really is little to see aside from a quote from the play and an empty stone tomb.

Verona has much more to offer than this fictional history, but before exploring that, we soaked up the Italian lifestyle and sunshine, stopping for an Aperol Spritz and some pizza in one of the many cafes that border Piazza Erbe.  This is a great square to relax and watch the Italian hustle and bustle.  A market takes up much of the centre square and a wonderful array of colours and smells tease your senses, from beautifully decorated opera masks to fresh fruit and pizzas.  For a bird’s eye view, head up the torre dei lamberti.  To get to the tower you will pass under an arch from which a whale rib has been suspended since the early 1700s.  No one knows how it got there and the myth is that it will fall on the first truthful person who walks beneath it.  It might not have fallen on me, but as I walked through the arch, my wedge shoes caused me to stumble and fall spectacularly!  Style over function once again!

Some beautiful bridges take you across the River Adige, the most beautiful being part of the Castelvecchio, a wonderful example of gothic architecture.  A walk over Ponte Pietra and a trip up on the cable car to the Castel San Pietro is worth it, just for the view which was just as well as the castle itself, was closed for renovation when we went.  While we were up there, the weather took a turn for the worst and we took shelter in Re Teodorico, a bar half way down the hillside.  Thank goodness it was there, as when the rain came down, it really came down.  It was like someone had turned a tap on full blast.  There was lightning as well as thunder that shook the window panes.  It even started to rain in the bar!  I was only really worried about my LK Bennett satin espadrilles, so thankfully it did stop after about an hour and we made our way back down to the town, with me tip toeing around puddles.  Also on this side of the river is the Roman theatre and archaeological museum.  The theatre is quite a marvel, set in the hillside and more great views of the city below are on offer.  The archaeological museum on the other hand was not for us – you’ve seen one pot, you’ve seen them all!

Verona is ideally situated for a trip out to the Italian lakes.  We visited Lake Garda and went on a terrifying boat ride across to Sirmione.  Sirmione used to be a peninsula but is now an island.  You are welcomed to the island by a beautiful medieval castle that overlooks the lake.  Here we sampled the best gelato I have ever eaten.  It was so creamy and sweet and the choice of flavours was monumental.  I went for coffee, chocolate and tirimusi.

In order to really understand Italy’s love affair with food, we enrolled on a four-hour cooking class while in the city.  Here we learnt the art of tirimusi and how to make tagliatelle by a very talented chef who has written a fair few cook books – sadly they have yet to be translated.  Following our efforts, we sat and ate the food we had made, washed down with complementary wine.

No visit to any city is complete without visiting a couple of churches and Verona has plenty,  I would highly recommend Duomo Cattedrale, a vision of white marble and Church Santa Anastasia, a thirteenth century church, which while nothing special outside, has a stunning interior.

Before leaving the city, I of course made time to shop, and was happy to discover Mauro Leone – an Italian homemade footwear chain, which I first came across in Milan last year.  Much to my husband’s frustration, I came away with two beautiful pairs of shoes to add to my expanding collection.

 

Italy is a country made for me – sunny, home of beautiful footwear, the origin of the Fiat 500 and the best food in the world, not to mention the home of the aperitif – what’s not to love?  Having done Rome, Milan and now Verona, I am hoping to persuade my husband to come on further explorations of the country despite his insistence at having seen enough.  Some of Italian’s passion did rub off on him in terms of my anniversary gifts.  Flowers and fruit are the traditional gifts for four years of marriage.  He bought me a beautiful flower charm in Pandora, along with a heart engraved with ‘I love Italia’ and a new bracelet.  During our walk around the city he picked me a wild red rose and later at dinner in Bistrot Mamma Mia in the Piazza Bra, he bought me a rose from a seller touting their business around all the local establishments.

The best meal we had by far was on our final night at L’Orologio on Corso Porta Nuova.  The service and the food was second to none, I particularly enjoyed my favourite starter, caprese salad.

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Dress Miss Selfridge

One of the lesser visited cities of Italy, Verona is not one to be missed – add it to your bucket list now!  If it’s romance you are looking for, this city has an abundance of it, given it was the setting for the greatest love story of all time, and no one can deny the passion Italians have for style and of course for food, as our guide said “an Italian knows good food”.

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Top Ted Baker, skirt Oasis and shoes Converse

Does Romance have to end with I do?

Congratulations, you’ve made it down the aisle and can now live happily ever after? Apparently not with latest figures showing 42% of marriages end in divorce.  Only having been married myself just shy of 2 years, I do not proclaim to be an expert but I do feel that in some cases people are not willing to work at a marriage, perhaps indicative of our throw-away society.

Of granted legal divorces, statistics suggest unreasonable behaviour is a more common reason for divorce than adultery.  Now unreasonable behaviour of course encompasses a diverse range of things but we all know that after a few years, it’s easy to become comfortable and therefore complacent.  If either partner feels neglected and or taken for granted, resentment can fester which ultimately may lead to separation.  As Carrie says in Sex and the City, you need that ‘sparkle’.

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Romance, as a verb is defined in the dictionary as try to gain the love of; court and as a noun, a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.

To some degree romance has become far less common place in dating with the advent of online dating and apps like tinder, people treat the actual date in the same casual way.  Romance is also linked to chivalry which means courtesy to women and has seen a great downturn, in part due to feminism.  Men are now frightened to give up their seat for a woman or hold a door open through fear of being accused of sexism.

When we first meet someone special, we are all about making a good first impression and this usually involves plenty of romantic gestures fulfilling the verb definition of the word.  Now I’m not talking about the stuff of Romeo and Juliet, nor am I talking spending obscene amounts of money – romance is surely just taking the time to show one another that you care.  Sometimes this can be the smallest of things, like when I was ill and my husband spontaneously went down to Costa to get me a latte.

Romance has long been viewed as something a man does for a woman – however in these days of equal opportunity – do men not have a right to expect some romance in return?  Do men really appreciate romance though?  I bought my husband a watch when we had been dating for 2 years and had it engraved with a quote from Love Letters of Great Men.  Does he wear that watch?  The answer is very rarely.

Romance of course means something different to each individual but most of my friends agreed that whatever the gesture is from doing the chores to writing a note on a steamed up mirror to buying a thoughtful gift – it is the thought that counts.  It’s the fact that your partner has picked up on your feelings and surprised you with something that shows that; romance as a noun.

I recently read a book by Gary Chapman The Five Love Languages which opened my eyes to the fact that romance is not a case of one size fits all.  The book talks of the fundamental need to feel loved and suggests we all have a love tank that needs to be kept full, just like a car needs petrol.  It goes on to describe five different ways of filling that love tank; affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, quality time and physical touch.  The book suggests that each of us have a primary language of love and unless our partner speaks in that language, your love tank won’t be filled.  To put it simply it may be that your husband thinks by bestowing expensive gifts on you, he is showing how much you mean to him when you might be crying out for quality time with him.  Often we will show love in the way that we like to receive it.

I think my language is affirmation and this is probably because it’s the way my parents always showed me love; hence not a day goes by when I don’t tell my husband I love him whereas I would like him to tell me more and compliment me when I have made an effort.  He on the other hand I believe has a language of acts of service as this is how he often tries to show love to me; as in how he worked hard to make the bathroom in our new home, the perfect bathroom for me.  Now I’m not saying I don’t appreciate these sorts of gestures but affirmation definitely makes me feel more loved.

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Bathroom as it was when we moved in

New bathroom

My new ideal bathroom

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The Biba towels really set it off a treat!

In conclusion from a quick straw poll of my friends it would appear that romance is a big part of a successful marriage, whatever form that romance may take.  We all need to work at keeping the flame of love burning and not take each other for granted. Perhaps have a date night, buy a thoughtful gift or just compliment your other half – we all have that need to feel loved.  It is that excitement and mystery that sustains that feeling of love you had for each other when you first met.

I’d love to hear your views on romance in marriage – is Gary Chapman right that we all have a primary love language?

Golden Sands

Golden Jubilee, half a century or Semicentennial; whatever term we use to describe it there is no denying that 50 years is a hell of a long time. 1965 and the 60’s were in full swing with flower power and mods and rockers. My icon Sarah Jessica Parker was born this year but the 60’s probably had a greater influence on fashion than Sex in the City could ever dream of having. Mini skirts became the norm and fashion divided the youth culture i.e. mods in parkas, rockers in leather, hippies in boho, teddy boy haircuts etc.

My aunt Olive and Uncle David tied the knot in September 1965 in London when the number one single was Rolling Stones (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

Dave & Olive

To celebrate their 50 years of marriage – commonly referred to as a golden wedding anniversary, all the family went to Heacham, Norfolk for a weekend.  Heacham is famous for it’s sunsets as it is one of the few beaches in Eastern England where the sun sets over the sea rather than over the land. My aunt and uncle hired a cottage right on the South Beach which was a beautiful location. You stepped out the back on to a veranda and some long grasses were all that hid the vast golden sands, beyond which the gentle waves caressed the shore.

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What a fantastic achievement and an inspiration to all of us that they are still happy together after all of those years. By the time my husband and I reach 50 years, we will once again be in the 60’s but 2064! I wonder if the 21st century 60’s will be as great and memorable as the 20th century ones were?

For the occasion, rather than flaunt the wonderful 60’s look often seen on the model of the era, Twiggy; I decided to go with this season’s revival of the 70’s and wore flared jeans from New Look, with a Snoopy T-shirt from Mango and a pair of brown, suede wooden platforms from New Look. I finished the look with a brown saddle bag from Asos. Snoopy actual first appeared in the Peanuts cartoon in 1950 and saw a ‘golden age’ in the 60’s but it was the 70’s when the strip became more focused on him.

Heacham

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My aunt really went to town with the theme; the cottage was decorated with gold ballons and banners, there were old photographs up and even the party poppers were gold. We were certainly never bored. On arrival we filled up at lunch before heading onto the beach for a sandcastle competition. It was unfortunately rather blowy and cold so we didn’t stay out for long. Once returning to warmth of the cottage to indulge in a hot drink or something stronger, quiz sheets were given out. This was a 1960’s themed quiz with various categories and it was very difficult despite our team including my Mum and Dad who have fond memories of the 60’s.

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We had a toast and then they cut their beautiful cake and my other uncle, Adrian sang a song from Westside story, one of the first shows they had queued up to see when they were courting (as it was affectionately termed then).

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We ducked out of the mask making competition whilst we went to check in at our B&B. We stayed at The Grove, a beautiful Victorian B&B about 15 minutes walk from the South Beach. I was blown away by the standard of the accommodation. It was vintage, Cath Kidston inspired in style which was right up my street.

http://thegroveheacham.co.uk/

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On our return, fish and chips were delivered which were delicious. There were plenty of gold theme sweets to tuck into along with a wealth of alcoholic beverage choices for the evening of chatting and reminissing over old photographs.

The following day after a pleasant walk along the sands, collecting shells; we all headed for a Chinese banquet before going our separate ways.

It’s nice to know that despite our ever changing world – true love still stands the test of time. Here’s hoping they enjoy many more happy years together – congratulations to them once again.