mystery tours


Sometimes a tiny glimpse of a roadside scene can really cheer me on my way: this little boy looked so happy within the circle of his huge red umbrella. I recommend the one-day summer holiday – on the hottest day of the year I was treated to a delicious lunch in the country – who needs a month? As we arrived at the iron gates, W R picked out in red, they inched open and we swung up to the 16th century house that is Gravetye Manor. The majestic floral borders shimmered and whispered in the heat, the lawns reminded us how peaceful a greensward is.


At lunch we chose poached salmon with ‘textures of cucumber’ – which turned out to be cucumber sorbet – the most delicious and refreshing mouthfuls imaginable. My mind flew to our cucumber vines on the allotment – hadn’t I just seen a splendid fruit there when I’d been to water that very morning? After lunch the meandering paths brought us to the enormous circular kitchen garden – walled and set on a south-facing slope like a magic sun-trapping disc. The air was alive with bees and butterflies, birds darted from the leafy walls to ruffle in the stone water tanks, gardeners toiled, visitors boiled.


Tea in paved shade sitting with a view of the sweet green hillside opposite restored us for the journey home. It felt like a real holiday – without the need to pack a toothbrush and clean underwear or scramble for the passport! And a day or two later – what was in the weekend cookery columns but a recipe for cucumber sorbet? Lucky some ripe ones were waiting to be picked.


Having been invited to contribute work to the Sidney Cooper Gallery summer print exhibition I felt compelled to complete the circle of its story. The pieces in question are from our archive – some early Liberty designs, paintings and cloth. These had been engraved (by Joyce) and printed at Merton Printers in the late ’60s, early ’70s when Liberty had owned the printworks down on the River Wandle that had once been William Morris’s works. I remembered the factory and the buildings, and particularly loved seeing the newly printed cloth hoisted up to dry above the tables. I was sure there must be photographs of this somewhere. 





I began the search. Via the current Liberty archivist – thank you Anna – I landed on the Wandle Industrial Museum, and it being a Wednesday afternoon when I called they were there to answer the phone. Their marvellous ‘honorary archivist’  – thank you Alison – immediately talked of a collection of photos and reminiscences she knew. And the man whose work this was had been a printer at Merton! We got in touch; he remembered me and indeed had kept an ‘autograph’ of Susan’s in his files – a note she’d written on a piece of cloth! A few days later we sat at my table reminiscing – thank you David – and a few days after that the pictures were scanned and his publication despatched. And now, a couple of weeks later, the work and the photos have pride of place in the gallery. It was hinted that perhaps his archive and ours should be united…

Sidney Cooper Gallery

I’ve written before about like finding like – Colour Talks: this Sunday a grand birthday lunch was given in celebration of a cousin’s 80th birthday. I arrived late, delayed by the London cyclists, and plonked down on the nearest chair offered. I looked around the marquees at the discreet pink and cream and linen outfits. Then I noticed that at one table alone were three very bright yellow dresses – our table had somehow attracted a trio of canaries – me being the third bird. 

canaries pavlovaOne guest outdid us all in his be-tasselled glory – a beard of many plaits, a fringed sporran afore his tightly pleated kilt and red garter ribbons peeking out below green sock turn-overs – a ghillie on his day off!

I’ve long wanted to set off on a journey where the destination is governed by an arbitrary set of rules – third right, second left, first right in sequence for instance.  Maybe it’s left over from dim memories of the most exciting holiday jaunts of my childhood – the ‘mystery tour’ days. I remember seeing coaches sporting the words Mystery Tour in their desto panels; these weren’t for the likes of us – our family, well Dad, invented our own. I loved the whole conspiratorial idea of them though I can only remember the one where we ended up in the middle of Dartmoor.


Not so long ago I was invited on a mystery weekend to mark a significant birthday. My orders were to turn up at Heathrow (in February) with a swimming costume and a warm coat. Obeying without question I soon found myself on a plane to Iceland!



Not being the best forward planner it can be 9.30 on a Saturday night before the bright idea of going to the flicks takes hold. Last weekend the only thing to be seen at that time in this neck of the woods was the 3D craziness of Pacific Rim – another bit of a spontaneous mystery tour in terms of destination but entirely predictable in terms of story – though naming the heroic robots Jaegers did give them extra meaning for me!

paper cutthe_lakeDawdling in Union Street SE1 on the way to the Jerwood Space – have you seen Nahoko Kojima‘s astonishing paper-cut bear by the way? – I passed a young man painting the pavement outside number 100 with blue and white waves. Behind the hoarding a co-operative of pan-European architects and craftsmen have made The Lake, a complete watery garden for lounging and having fun – all welcome from this weekend onwards he said. In the spirit of enquiry I’ve been to two talks at the Jerwood Gallery – the makers I found insightful, the academics sadly incomprehensible – both very thought-provoking! 

At the V&A Cath Kidston celebrated 20 years in business in conversation with Michele Ogundehin; I enjoyed her account of the flowering of this ubiquitous and decorative empire – a fascinating story of focussed determination.


imagesOn another little walk recently we wandered through the newly reclaimed pavement area designed and planted to honour the memory Vincent Van Gogh, who lodged in Stockwell for a while in Hackford Road. The new gardens and paving, well-used by local schools and residents alike, all make reference to his paintings and remind us of Vincent’s heroic struggles and discoveries as an artist. As we walked we spoke of memorials; rounding a corner we were surprised by a small crowd. In its midst was the mayor, on the wall was a lustrous little purple velvet curtain, and we were suddenly caught up in a ceremony to unveil a blue plaque in memory of musician Pete Robinson, a local resident from 1915. What other cultural riches will SW9 reveal? 

The many sartorial riches of SE19 are trumpeted in The Transmitter – the Palace’s free magazine. Having recently been interviewed for a special ‘local girls’ issue coming in the Autumn I feel that on this little bit of the journey I might have actually arrived.


Thanks to Alan and Molly.

8 thoughts on “mystery tours

  1. Back in hospital,hopefully a small hickup in my long but good recovery, enjoying your blog to the full. Thanks for this ray of sunshine. Dare say i also enjoy Joe’s blog very different but quite witty and distracting, just what I need. So hurray for the Colliers!

    • Thanks Guillemette, very happy to be a diversion – and Joe’s stories at Greyhares are great and entertaining too – am so looking forward to seeing that magic puits – and may you be well too, soon. xx

  2. A wonderful idea: the one-day holiday! Your posts are equally potent 5-minute get-aways for me, Sarah. Thank you. Very glad the archivists found what you needed. Enjoy your cucumber crop!

  3. Come and taste the divine allotment cucumber sorbet before it’s finished- it’s a bit of taste mystery tour, an edible breeze.
    Xx Charlotte

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