Phantom Thread

Last night, I started to read The Glass of Fashion, a book by Cecil Beaton which was published in 1954. And the book conveyed me to a bygone time in which high fashion was art, not industry.

Why did I have a strong urge to pick up this book was because I wanted to linger in a particular era which was portrayed in a film, Phantom Tread. The life portrayed in the film was a small slice of the 50’s post-war Britain. And it was indeed, a very privileged one. …

 

The film, which Hubbie and I saw at the Barbican Cinema, was simply exquisite. It was beautifully shot, the storyline was original and the acting was superb. I loved everything, absolutely everything in it. And of course, Daniel Day-Lewis, he was divine. The fact that he has left his acting career behind after the film makes my heart bleed! Does it mean I will never see his inimitable smile, which is elegant yet impish, ever again? I am still heartbroken.

Another thing I pined for throughout the film was how I desired to time-travel to the era in which the film was set. Even though my mum, who experienced the reality of the post-WWll, may not agree with me, I did find the time very desirable.

The reason why I liked it so much was because everything appeared to be real and tactile. The life then was conducted more elaborately and properly. General things, even trivial things such as drinking tea or putting on clothing, appearred to be done with more care and joy. And respect and appreciation towards labour and service seemed to be more just and courteous.

What is luxury? I wonder. Nowadays, we are surrounded by objects which claim themselves to be “deluxe”. From fast food to fast cars, the notion is widespread and abundant. Despite it, I just can’t help feeling that we are decidedly poorer. I ponder why.

If I could, I would love to bring back Cecil Beaton and hear what he would comment about the state of luxury in the present time. He may have a fit or worse a heart attack but also he would give damn accurate (& savaging) digs at it too…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Afternoon tea @ St Pancras Renaissance

The last afternoon tea I had was at the Lanesborough during last July. My friends were visiting London and they wanted to have a traditional afternoon tea (who wouldn’t?), therefore, I recommended there. This time, I wanted to take my girl Bella with me, therefore, I picked St Pancras Renaissance. In London, there were more than a few dog-friendly afternoon tea venues to choose from. However, most of the places were in West London and St Pancras Renaissance was the only hotel which was close from our place and also welcomed four-legged guests open-armed.

Hurry up, you all!

Even though her legs were short, she climbed the stairs much quicker than me. Why is that? Would I run up the stairs much faster if I got down on all four?!

Behind the present building, there are platforms for Eurostar…

The Victorian style building has Grade 1 listed status and the original structure was constructed in the late 19th century.

I distinctively remember how the place used to be before all the regeneration works transformed the entire area. It was in the early 90’s and the station just looked dirty and unloved. I think I was on my way to visit Cambridge and the train route was starting from St Pancras. The journey was made on one very cold February day and in my memory, the platform was utterly devoid of human beings and as cold as a tomb.

During the 1960’s, there were serious discussions regarding the future of the station. Some wanted the station to be closed and demolished altogether for inner-city redevelopment. However, the station was spared, thanks to fierce opposition by the Victorian Society.

The fortune of the station improved further in 1996 when LCR – London and Continental Railways won a contract from the government to reconstruct St Pancras. The company was to build a 109-kilometre (68 mi) high-speed railway between London and the United Kingdom end of the Channel Tunnel as well as to refit the existing St Pancras for accommodating 300-metre+ Eurostar trains.

After eleven years, during which there were a few ups and downs and the cost of £800 million, the station was reopened on 6 November 2007 by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Before the present St Pancras Renaissance opened its doors in 2011, the site was occupied by the remain of Midland Grand Hotel. The original hotel which was in the elaborate English Gothic revival style was designed by the architect, George Gilbert Scott in 1865. In its heyday, the hotel was known for expensive fixtures and luxurious decor. The place was decked with a grand staircase and every room had a fireplace. The hotel also sported the latest innovations of the time, such as hydraulic lifts, concrete floors, revolving doors and fireproof floor constructions. However by the 1920’s, all the utilities became out of date and it was decided that the hotel was to cease trading in 1935.

After the hotel was closed down, the place was renamed as St Pancras Chambers and it was used as railway offices by British Rail until the 1980’s before the building failed fire safety regulations.

In 2004, planning permission was granted to redevelop the existing boarded-up building into a new five-star hotel complex. The specification for the new hotel, which was to contain 244 guest rooms, two restaurants, two bars, a spa and a gym with a swimming pool, required a much bigger footprint than the former structure, therefore, a new bedroom wing was created on the western side of the Barlow train shed.

Steps leading us to a beautifully decorated hotel lobby…

The afternoon tea was served in their Hansom Lounge…

It was used to be the spot where the wealthiest passengers were dropped off during the time the place was used as a train station.

Bella wanted to explore the place. ‘Let me gooooo!’

No Bay-Bay! You behave yourself!

Then she went into the sulking mode. Oh no…

I don’t care. I’m gonna make you all feel guilty. Her turned back shouted her silent protest. Oh well. Never mind.

The lounge was very Christmassy…

We ordered their classic afternoon tea. For the actual tea, I ordered Earl Grey, Hubbie opted for Rooibos tea and David went for Darjeeling.

The first plates they brought to our table were sandwiches…

There weren’t any customary cucumber sandwiches but we were given a plenty of savoury fillings filled slices and rolls, such as salt beef with mustard & pickles, salmon with dill crème fraiche, roast chicken with fennel & orange, beetroot with goat cheese and so on. They were all very delectable.

For scones, I asked them to include a few scones without raisins or sultanas…

So Bella could join in our feast.

Then for the cake selections, we were served trays of coffee & amaretto panna cotta, lemon mousse, mini chocolate eclair, pistachio Madeleine and raspberry Victoria sandwich…

They were all great. However, I much preferred to have them, the sandwiches, the scones and the cakes, served altogether rather than to be brought separately. Also the time between each plate was served was a little too long for us. Therefore, for those negative points, I had to say the experience was 7 out of 10.

By the way, their dog-friendliness was 10/10…

One of the staffs brought a bowl of water as soon as we were seated and everyone was very attentive to us and Bella.

It was around 5:30pm when we left the hotel…

That meant we spent nearly two and a half hours chatting and drinking tea?! Wow, time flies when we’re having fun, we all laughed…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

‘Aren’t you a bit peckish?’ Hubbie asked me as he squinted into the viewfinder of his Leica which was pointed towards Old Royal Naval College across the Thames. ‘Yeah, I am hungry but is there any place we can eat around here?’ I looked around and found a small kiosk which appeared to sell some hot tea and candy bars in the far corner of Island Gardens. ‘Shall we have tea and a bar of chocolate?’ Hubbie wrinkled his nose and replied curtly, ‘Nah.’ ‘What shall we do then?’ I threw back a question while sticking my icy hands into the pockets of my lumberjack jacket ever so deeper. ‘Let’s cross the tunnel and eat something hot in Greenwich!’ Oh, cool!

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a subterranean walkway under the River Thames, connects the south bank of the Isle of Dogs and the north bank of Greenwich.

The tunnel’s construction commenced in 1899, right at the end of the Victorian Era, and completed in 1902. The purpose of the tunnel was to provide a more reliable and less costly method of commute for workers who lived in the south side of the river and worked in the docks and shipyards in or near the Isle of Dogs.

Today, the tunnel is classified as a public highway and it is in use 24 hours a day.

Let’s go down the tunnel…

During the 90s, I used to walk down the passage at least once a week. The reason was because there was a riding school at Mudchute Farm & Park and I rode with them every Saturday. The farm was rather a pain to travel to, especially during weekend. However, the fee was significantly cheaper than the one at Hyde Park and which afforded me to have two sessions for the price of one in Central London. I used to have one session in the morning and another one in the afternoon.

The stable at Mudchute Farm was not as snooty as Hyde Park’s and I enjoyed hanging around the yard, chatting with the fellow student riders and petting the horses and ponies. The only shortcoming of the farm was a lack of facility for food and drink. There was no cafe or kiosk in and around the farm – literally, the farm stood in the middle of the council flats and wasteland then, therefore, I had to travel to Greenwich if I wanted to eat lunch.

Until 1996, Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was not extended as far as Greenwich, and I had to ride DLR to Island Gardens so I could walk across to the south bank via Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

The lift looked different then…

I can’t elaborate exactly what was different with the lift then but the doors wasn’t like these. It may have been a pair of steel doors.

We came out of the tunnel on the south side and the first thing greeted us was the famous Cutty Sark

In the 90s, the ship was moored on the quay like HMS Belfast near London Bridge. I remember the tall masts of the clipper decorated with rows of ensigns. The newly restored Cutty Sark after the fire in 2007, however, was hoisted up on the custom made structure designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, away from the water. This treatment aroused controversy because it made her no longer sailable as a ship. However, the state of the timber of the tea clipper and the modification done in the 50’s made her structurally too weak for the actual seafaring.

It is sad to realise that we will never be able to see her in full sail like this…

Still, all is not lost. The new exhibition space which is created underneath the ship allows the visitors to admire her famous keel which contributed to her legendary speed while she was in service.

The wind by the Thames was extra chilly…

Does Cutty Sark want to be as free as a bird like these seagulls?

We wandered around the crowded weekend Greenwich Market and looked for some hot food. Every stall we passed had a long queue, and in the end, we settled for hot dogs…

It tasted okay but the benches were in the shade and it was a bit too cold for our comfort.

After finishing our hasty lunch, we headed for the tunnel entrance…

It was a fun day out. But next time, I shan’t forget to bring a pair of gloves…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Island Gardens, E14

One sunny but cold Sunday lunchtime, Hubbie suddenly declared that we were to visit Island Gardens in the Isle of Dogs, East London.

‘Sure, I don’t mind. But why there?’

It turned out that he wanted to take photos of Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich from the north side of River Thames. And the garden would provide a perfect location for it.

Yeah, you are right. It looks magnificent, doesn’t it?

Before the site was occupied by the Old Royal Naval College in 1878, it accommodated numerous occupants over its long history, and the most famous one amongst them must be the notorious Tudor dynasty.

A view across the Thames in the Tudor time, facing then the Palace of Placentia, aka Greenwich Palace…

Before Henry VII decided to make the site as one of his royal residences in 1485, it was a royal manor house, owned by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The manor was called Bella Court (!) and it was in his possession until the duke fell out of favour with the new queen, Margaret of Anjou, a consort of Henry VI. Margaret was one of the major figures during the infamous War of Roses, and Bella Court which she renamed as the Palace of Placentia, aka the Palace of Pleasaunce, was owned by her until her Lancastrian army’s defeat at Battle of Towton. After Battle of Bosworth, the ownership of the manor changed hands again. The estate now belonged to the newly crowned Lancastrian king, Henry VII. After defeating the Yorkist king, Richard III and creating the House of Tudor, the king set out to transform the existing riverside mansion to a much larger and more opulent palace with grandeur.

The Tudors loved the palace. The location was healthy and tranquil, thanks to adjoining Greenwich Park, and it was safe because of River Thames, a natural barrier, which kept London’s noise, filth and dangerous epidemics such as plague at arm’s length.

The Britain’s most famous king, Henry VIII was born at Greenwich Palace in 1491. Like his father, he was very fond of the palace, and as a result, two of his queens, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, gave birth to princesses, future Mary I and Elizabeth I.

A view towards the Isle of Dogs from the Greenwich side…

Henry VIII must have seen the same riverscape (minus Canary Wharf & etc, of course) from his royal barge, the Lyon and Greyhound on his way to the Royal shipbuilding yard in Deptford and Woolwich.

While Hubbie was busy with his Leica, l entertained Bella with a frisbee.

Off you go, my princess!

The ground was covered with fallen leaves and because of it, I lost the sight of the frisbee more than a few times.

Still a frisbee in neon pink was much easier to spot than a Chuckit ball.

Are you not throwing the disk for me again?

I will but my hands are icy cold! I rubbed my hands together, trying to keep them warm. How I wished if I brought my gloves! Or having furry hands like Bella…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Bella & Mulberry Harbour @ Arromanches

On the beach at Arromanches-les-Bains, Normandy, there were gigantic remnants of WWII.

A huge chunk belonged to the once harbour could be reached on foot during the tide was out…

During last September, Hubbie, Bella and I visited Normandy with our friends.

Our two days’ itinerary included a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer and Arromanches which was famous for the Mulberry Harbour B, aka “Port Winston”.

For anyone who is not familiar with Operation Mulberry, I advise you to watch this documentary…


It explains about this phenomenal military project from the conception to the execution.

We parked the car in a car park, facing Gold Beach, one of the five areas of Normandy coast which was assigned to the British Army to take on D-Day…

– a map by Daily Mail
Today, Arromanches was a quiet seaside town with a museum, souvenirs shops and cozy family-run hotels and B&Bs.

Reminders of the history, serenely resting on the beach…

Can you make out where these parts belong to?

An aerial view over the Mulberry Harbour in action…

– an image by the Imperial War Museum.
The photograph shows the enormity of the project.

My girl Bella enjoyed an unhindered run on the beach…

‘Yipee!’

And inspected the harbour…

She had never been to the seaside in her life, therefore, those limpets must have smelt very weird for her. She was absolutely obsessed with them.

And played with a newly found four-legged friend…

 

She was running around like a maniac!

If there were such a thing like a Yorkie brigade, she would most definitely volunteer.

I am a commando!!

As we walked towards one of the towering concrete blocks on the beach, she followed us and we came to a pool of the leftover sea water around the foot of the structure. She seemed to be very intrigued by the water and stared at it for a while. Then next moment, she dived into it! It was not particularly a warm day and the water must have been pretty cold. In the water, she looked rather sheepish and I had to drag her out by her harness.

How did she react after the plunge? She became totally jubilant and euphoric! While I hollered ‘Noooo, Beeeeelllaaaa!!’, she rolled on her back, rubbing her wet coat into the sand. On our way back, we came across another puddle and she stopped in front of it. And before I could stop her, she dived into it again. There was a group of French tourists and they were laughing their heads off, ‘Oh la la!’

Bella the Brave is definitely in favour of amphibious landing, I sighed and picked her up in my arms. By then, she was completely soaked and dripping with the smelly stale sea water and she resembled a rat, not a Yorkie…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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