mince pie porridge

 It’s everything you think it will be.

It’s everything you think it will be.

Friends, I’m writing this from the hotel near Heathrow Airport where Tom and I are spending our last night in the UK!

In a matter of hours, I’ll swapping winter for summer - and this breakfast won’t exactly be seasonally appropriate. But with Australia’s changeable weather, you never know! I made up this breakfast last year, as the first snow was falling in London and I wanted something hearty and warming but indulgent for breakfast on one of my work-from-home days. It was so delicious I simply had to share it! I’ve never seen anyone else make this so I guess it’s a PM original, haha! You can probably tell by the lack of approximation in the recipe I’ve given below. I’m just a whack it all in kind of cook, and I’m assuming you already know how to make porridge, so this is easy!

It has become my favourite thing to eat for breakfast this time of year in the lead up to Christmas. It’s festive, indulgent and delicious! If you’re a mince pie fan, give it a try. You will be delighted from the first mouthful to the last.

Mince pie porridge

Serves 1 hungry or 2 less hungry people

2 cups rolled oats/porridge oats (I have used Sainsbury’s organic Scottish porridge oats)
Milk of your choice (I like to use oat or almond) - quantity will depend on runny or thick you like your porridge
An appropriate sprinkling of festive spices to your taste - I use a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, but just mixed spice is fine if that’s all you have
Pinch of sea salt
Flaked almonds, or other nuts or seeds you have lying around (I like to add chia) (optional)
2 mince pies
Greek yoghurt or soy cream to serve

Place oats, milk, spices and salt in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Place the pan on a medium heat and stir regularly as it heats up, the oats cook and the porridge thickens. Add more milk if you need it. Add more oats or some chia seeds if it’s too wet!

When it’s nearly ready, add any nuts/seeds (if using) and then crumble the mince pies into the porridge mixture, stirring well. Leave on a low heat, stirring constantly, almost whipping it, to break up the bigger bits of pastry and filling (but be careful!). Once it is all well combined, check for the consistency you like (I sometimes add a little more milk at this stage if it’s got too thick) and then pour into your bowl/s. If you’re feeling very indulgent, you can place another mince pie on the top.

Drizzle with yoghurt or soy cream (my favourite!) and eat! Preferably with Kate Rusby’s Christmas album The Frost is All Over playing softly in the background and watching snow fall.

What’s your favourite festive breakfast?


no matter how far or how wide i roam

chalk-map-of-australia

and the way forward always in the end,

the way that you came, the way that you followed,

the way that carried you

into your future, that brought you to this place,

no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,

no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:

the sense of having walked from far inside yourself

out into the revelation, to have risked yourself

for something that seemed to stand both inside you

and far beyond you, that called you back

to the only road in the end you could follow, walking

as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice

that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,

so that one day you realized that what you wanted

had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place

you had lived in before you began,

and that every step along the way, you had carried

the heart and the mind and the promise

that first set you off and drew you on and that you were

more marvellous in your simple wish to find a way

than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:

as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city

with golden towers, and cheering crowds,

and turning the corner at what you thought was the end

of the road, you found just a simple reflection,

and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back

and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:

like a person and a place you had sought forever,

like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;

like another life, and the road still stretching on.

-- David Whyte, “Santiago” from Pilgrim

And so, this is my next adventure! After nearly 12 years in the UK, Tom and I will be calling Australia home again soon.

When I heard David Whyte read this poem in the recording of the On Being Gathering at the weekend, tears started falling down my cheeks and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. He put it so perfectly. Because that is really the point I have reached in my life….where I know the way forward is the way I came. It is another invitation. And the road still stretches on.

I want to write more about this, and I will, once the fatigue and stress and brain fog of packing up our life here - all the possessions and memories and clutter and baggage - begins to subside. Once the removalists have been and the belongings we are taking (or are allowed to take - nothing made of cane, bamboo or untreated wood! We had quite a bit of it as it turned out!) are on the container, and suddenly it’s just us and our suitcases, perhaps it will sink in. Perhaps I will be able to string more than a few paragraphs together.

We had hoped that our life here might burn down gently and quietly, like a big church candle. Instead, as I put it to a friend, it has been like a raging dragon riddled with syphilis, and every time we think we’ve cut its head off, it sprouts back and we have to fight it again. There has been a lot to deal with. It’s not been an easy year. It has not been easy couple of years, really. A lot has changed, in our lives and in this country. But we have faced everything together and we are a stronger, more resilient couple for it. And, as we’ve reminded ourselves often, if packing up your life and moving to the other side of the world were easy, everyone would be doing it!

Moving back to Australia is 100 per cent the right decision for Tom and I. We haven’t had a moment’s hesitation. At this point in our lives, Australia is where we need and want to be.

It will be an adjustment, for sure. I have been gone a long time. The Australia I lived in and left isn’t the Australia I’m going back to. John Howard was still the Prime Minister the last time I lived there, for a start! I will have to get to know a lot of people again, as they will have to get to know me - we haven’t been parts of each other’s daily lives for over a decade. I’m trying to have realistic expectations (actually, having no expectations would probably be best). But despite knowing that there will be some tricky moments, I also think it’s going to be amazing. For Tom and I to have some time out after a very stressful couple of years, to recharge and figure out what’s next for us, with the support of family around us…..well, that sounds like heaven right about now.

Australia has been calling us back for a while. We just had to wait until the time was right. And that time is now.

More soon, once I have emerged from packing hell!

xx Phil

what if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

violet-bakery-brownie

What if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

I like to keep busy. I’m not great at sitting still. Given a choice I’d rather be doing something than nothing. Give me a week off and I’ll fill it with day trips and walks and visits to pubs and galleries. And I love it. I love stimulation. But that’s not always what you need, is it? 

An unexpected flare up of an old wound saw me track down my old osteopath at her new digs at Kuu London for an hour of muscle manipulation and massage yesterday. I cried on the table, and it was much needed. Maybe keeping busy had distracted me. Maybe it has always distracted me.

And while I keep myself occupied and always find things to do...I’m not always very kind to myself. I tell myself I don’t need a massage, or quiet time. I meditate every morning...and it’s only recently I’ve stopped doing the guided ones and started sitting there in silence with only my breath for company. It’s uncomfortable. Lying there, having sore parts prodded and touched, was uncomfortable. No wonder I cried. I’ve forgotten how to do uncomfortable. 

Shoulder loosened and no longer in pain, I took my time going home. It was a sunny day and east London is full of beauty, characters and things to see. I found a new journal at Erbert (and got great tips on how to unclog my old fountain pen! Cheers Paul!) and treated myself to a brownie and iced tea at the Violet bakery.

I picked a table by the kitchen window so I could breathe in the heavenly smell of baking. I had nowhere else to be and for a change I felt calm, unhurried, unpressured. As a result, I lingered.

I took an obligatory photo or two then put the phone away. I wrote. I savoured every sweet, nutty, salty bite of my halva tahini brownie. I looked around. There were more dogs than cars in this quiet street, trotting alongside their owners. It was sunny, and with the warm cake-infused air I might have almost believed it was still summer.

As I ate the last crumb of brownie and walked to the train, I felt lighter. Battery not quite full, but recharged nonetheless. 

We so often wait for a wake up call before we’ll prioritise looking after ourselves, before we listen to our aching bodies and souls. Saturday was a good reminder to me to not put off self care until the pain is unbearable. But also, I don’t have to be in pain to be worthy of kindness and small treats. Those are the things that make life sweeter.

So this week, I’m going to try and treat myself more like my phone - and hopefully get my battery sufficiently recharged.

my favourite persephone books

persephone-books-and-pansy-jug

I've had a bit of a love affair with Persephone Books since I arrived in London. Their charming shop in Bloomsbury's Lamb Conduit Street is one of my favourite places to go when I feel like a treat. 

Persephone reprints "neglected fiction and non-fiction" by 20th century writers, mainly women, and the shop itself is an absolute haven for writers and book lovers. Not only are the books beautiful but there's always fresh handpicked flowers dotted about, vintage posters, bookmarks and other enchanting paraphernalia to get your imagination going. I never fail to feel inspired after visiting.

persephone-books-london-1
persephone-books-london-2

And, needless to say, I also never fail to leave the shop without a few books!

One of my favourite podcasts, Tea and Tattle, devoted an entire episode to discussing their favourite Persephone reads last year so I'd highly recommend you check out that episode if you're new to Persephone books and are wondering where to start, because it's quite an impressive catalogue. Many of Miranda and Sophie's recommendations are my favourites too, but they also mention some that I hadn’t thought to check out before - and as they both have great taste in books I’ll certainly be doing so.

The books themselves are also beautiful - as you can see in my main photograph, they are the most elegant shade of grey and look really lovely arranged together. Each book has its own individual endpaper and bookmark, usually a pattern related to the content of the book or the time of publication. Everything has been thought about with Persephone books, and it really shows. 

So I thought I'd share the Persephone books I've most enjoyed since I discovered them - and since my love affair was revived after listening to the Tea and Tattle episode! - but this is a mere drop in the ocean as I am nowhere near through the range. I have many more Persephones than the ones I’ve mentioned below, but I’ve enjoyed every book from them that I’ve read and we’ll be here all day if I list them all! So these are the ones that I think are great ones to start with, in my opinion. If you want some absorbing, well-written books to curl up with on a rainy day with a warm mug of something delicious, you can't go wrong with any of these.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (Persephone no. 28)

This was the first book of Marghanita Laski's I've read and it's made me want to read everything she's ever written. I read it in one weekend and it was absolutely breathtaking. It was desperately sad at times, even depressing, as it follows a father's journey to try and find his missing five-year-old- son after the Second World War, but all in all, it is a stunning novel about loss and hope. I'd even go so far as to say it's a masterpiece. I would also highly recommend To Bed With Grand Music and Tory Heaven: or Thunder on the Right, also by Laski and published by Persephone, and they’re both brilliant. The latter feels particularly pertinent in a post-EU referendum Britain!

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple (Persephone no. 3)

This is probably my most favourite Persephone book (so far). Described as "a fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage", I was quite unprepared for how compelling and absorbing this tale would be. It's a novel all about relationships, how they form and also how they fall apart. Sometimes all it can take is 'someone at a distance' for that to happen. The novel follows what happens to this family when the husband/father is unfaithful, and the emotional devastation that has on everyone - there’s no great twist, per se, but the book’s genius and charm lies in how it explores the emotional lives of the characters, and how compassionately Whipple manages to do this. And I think Louise (the other woman) is by far the most repugnant character I’ve ever come across in literature, and that is saying something! I absolutely loved this book and have all of Dorothy Whipple’s other books on my Persephone wish list!

Mariana by Monica Dickens (Persephone no. 2)

This book is a real delight - Persephone refer to it as a “hot water bottle novel” and that’s exactly what it is. A book you can curl up with on the sofa and escape into. Mostly set in England between the world wars, it’s the coming-of-age story of Mary, whom we follow from childhood right through to the early years of the second world war where she is desperately waiting to hear whether her husband has survived the bombing of his ship. We see Mary’s idyllic childhood summers at her grandparents’ country home, her school days and life at home in a London flat with her widowed bohemian dressmaker mother and actor uncle, her hilarious adventures at drama school and eventually travels to Paris, and all the misguided decisions, in love and all else, she makes along the way. It is a very funny and heartwarming book all at once, for Mary realises, looking back at her younger years, that perhaps they weren’t as perfect as they seemed, and that the grownups did a good job of hiding harsher aspects of reality from her. For most of the book, Mary is less concerned about making her own way in the world and more about filling in time before she meets Mr Right (who will of course be able to provide her with everything, hence not really needing skills or a career of her own as such). And yet by the time the book is nearly over, Mary has realised something else - that her husband is potentially now dead and she will have to carry on, independently. That she will only ever really have herself, and that she doesn’t need anyone else to complete her. Quite a revolutionary thought for 1940! '‘When you were born, you were given a trust of individuality that you were bound to preserve. It was precious. The things that happened in your life, however closely connected with other people, developed and strengthened that individuality. You became a person. Nothing that ever happens in life can take away the fact that I am me. So I have to go on being me.”

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson (Persephone no. 21)

I read somewhere that this book is the closest thing to a Fred Astaire film in print, and I think that’s very accurate. Every time you think it can’t get any crazier, it does. It’s a rollicking romp of a book that is so much fun to read. On an ordinary day, the nearly destitute governess Miss Pettigrew, who has never really known a day of fun in her whole life, is sent by an employment agency to interview for a post….to the wrong address. She somehow gets drawn in to the highly dramatic, hilarious and scandalous antics of her would-be employer, Miss La Fosse, and finds herself doing, saying and experiencing things she never thought she would. There’s cocaine, nightclubs, a woman with a few men on the go…racy stuff! The dialogue is so witty and well-written, I read a lot of it out loud to myself (at home!) and plan to ask my grandmother if she’d like me to read it aloud to her when I’m next at home, because I think she’ll love it. Another ‘hot water bottle’ novel, for sure. It’s just fantastic, and proof that just one day is all you need for your life to completely change!

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E Stevenson (Persephone no. 81)

I loved this one too! A bit like Miss Pettigrew, without the financial security of marriage, Miss Buncle finds herself needing to supplement her already meagre income. She does what many people think will bring certain fame and fortune - write and publish a book! She writes a novel based on her village and all the people who live in it, thinking that changing names and writing it under a pseudonym will be sufficient to hide their true identities. To her huge surprise, her book (or John Smith’s book!) is a huge bestseller and her publisher wants a sequel, but lo and behold, all the villagers have read it, recognise themselves and their village immediately (which says it all, as some of it isn’t flattering!), are outraged and determined to find out who ‘John Smith’ is and make ‘him’ pay. No one suspects the dowdy and quiet Miss Buncle for a second, which is where all the hilarity ensues - but also makes an interesting observation that people often do have hidden lives and assumptions we make about others can so very often be wrong. It’s absorbing, intelligent and very charming.

Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll (Persephone no.30)

If you love cookbooks and social history, you will love this. I was quite surprised to learn that ingredients like camembert and parmesan were available in England in 1921 - I guess one needed to know where to go! I don’t know what it is about food writing, but the best of it recalls a time and place just perfectly. And this book does this beautifully, every essay and recipe evokes a bygone era of gracious living where, if you could afford to (most of the recipes assume the reader has a cook and hired help of some kind!), every meal could be quite indulgent. And Jekyll’s turn of phrase is quite exquisite - instructions for baking biscuits, for example, "they should be of a deep cream colour, merging along their edges into the delicate brown of faded magnolias" had me in raptures. 

**

So I hope these suggestions might inspire you to give Persephone Books a try, if you haven’t already. I must say when it comes to fiction these days, I am finding myself drawn more and more to the past, to women writers of the nineteenth and early to mid twentieth century. It might be a reflection of where my head is at in terms of writing my own novel (set in 1948) or perhaps because I find them comforting and a much-needed escape. Reading about the world I currently inhabit (modern day London) isn’t all that relaxing! There’s another blog post in that, for sure….

 The Persephone Bookshop in Lamb’s Conduit Street, London.

The Persephone Bookshop in Lamb’s Conduit Street, London.

But back to the topic at hand, I have to say I have never been disappointed with a Persephone book. Hand on heart, I have enjoyed every single one I have read. I’m sure if you’re tempted to check out the catalogue, there’ll be something there for you!

On my next visit, I plan to add The Fortnight in September, The Home-Maker and High Wages to my collection. What about you?

Are you a fan of Persephone Books too? What are your favourites?

 

a guide to london's abandoned railway parkland walk

london-parkland-walk-sign

Tom and I were having a dinner party with our new neighbours (now dear friends) last year and Matt, the husband of the couple, had recently completed the London marathon. I asked him where in the local area he had trained for it. He replied that he often went along a route between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park, which was an abandoned railway track. This caught my imagination (and Tom's) immediately! 

But, you know, best-laid plans and all that....but suffice it to say, last weekend when we had an extra day (thank you Bank Holiday) we decided to go for a long walk and finally check out the abandoned railway track. It's one of north London's best-kept secrets and I'd highly recommend doing it if you live in the area.

Londonist has a pretty good guide to the walk, which we used, but I will add my own observations and recommendations below.

First of all, get yourself to Alexandra Palace station and then make the uphill climb through the park to Ally Pally itself. The views really are lovely from up here.

view-from-ally-pally

Then head west down hill, through more of the park, where the trail starts. It's not very well sign posted, so you do need to know where you're going! There are some nice landmarks in this part of the park, including one of the oldest trees in the area - included in an Ordinance Survey in the 1860s. If you keep walking past that, going pretty much straight, until you spot the Little Dinosaurs play centre, then walk a little more past that, veering towards the right, and you're nearly there. Look for a graffitied wall and a long green tunnel, as seen below! Now the adventure begins!

tom-parkland-walk

It's pretty easy to follow this part of the walk, it goes through Muswell Hill and there are a few information boards along the way, showing you what was meant to be the railway:

 We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

Once you hit Highgate, it gets a little confusing - because the most direct route is to go via the road to Highgate, but we wanted to keep going through the woods. Again, not brilliantly signposted but we walked some of the way through Highgate Woods, sticking to the Eastern path. Follow this for a while, then look for a gap in the fence near the keeper's lodge to take you out on to the street, then cross the road into Queen's Wood to continue the walk. 

queens-wood

I really enjoyed Queen's Wood, it is a lovely ancient parkland and you could probably spend all day exploring here (it's 52 acres!). There's a diverse range of plants, trees and wildlife. I was quite taken with the frog pool (but spotted no frogs!).  

bittersweet-nightshade

To continue on the Parkland (south) walk, follow the Capital Ring signs, which take you off to the right. You'll come out at a road called Queenswood Road - now, you can cross the road and keep going through the park but we weren't sure, so we came off here. If you do this too, go right up the hill and follow this road along, going past some very nice houses (!),  until it eventually becomes Wood Lane and you come out on the A1, Archway Road. Go left down Archway Road, turn left at the Boogaloo Pub down Holmesdale Road and you'll see parkland on the left and where the walk starts again.

It's worth taking a very quick diversion to your left, just a couple of hundred metres, where you'll see disused train tunnels that have been turned into London's only bat sanctuary! 

 The bat cave!

The bat cave!

parkland-walk-sign

Then you head off down the track, which is much more defined than you've experienced so far! And it's pretty much a straight line all the way to Finsbury Park from here. 

I found it such a peaceful walk, even though there were other people around - mostly runners and fellow walkers, the occasional cyclist. It does appear to be a well kept local secret. The parkland has grown almost wild over the abandoned planned railway structures, making it quite beautiful….like living, abstract art, in a way. Take your camera, as there's something to catch your eye at nearly every turn on this walk. These were our favourites:

 Remains of abandoned train platforms!

Remains of abandoned train platforms!

 Arty arches!

Arty arches!

 Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

 Plant art!

Plant art!

We finally got to Finsbury Park and the heavens opened, so we ended up back on a bus to Hornsey - which was on our way home - where we went for a little stroll and found ourselves in the Great Northern Railway Tavern for a much-deserved cold beer! 

summer-fruit-hornsey
beer
phil-with-beer

For more on the Parkland Walk, you can visit the Friends of Parkland Walk website. Also check out Londonist for all the other walks in London they've done and recommend!