Looking back, and forward

18 December 2016
Ben Pentreath

Yay! Charlie’s back, after a wonderful but so-quick-trip to NZ, and we’ve had the quietest week down in Dorset with Henry, Percy and Mavis. The day he arrived home, he was knocked down by one of those nasty not-quite-sure-where-they-have-come-from airplane bugs, so we didn’t just do the crazy pre-Christmas weekend which had been planned with some friends, and instead he slept a lot and caught up. Almost on the mend. But we were all incredibly excited to see him, and he us. It’s actually been perfect days being so quiet down in Dorset, if not quite what we’d hoped for.

And now it’s Sunday evening, and we’re back in London, and Charlie’s asleep. I’ve had the loveliest hour or so looking back over a whole year of blogs and photographs. As we’re about to tip in to Christmas and the New Year, it’s often easy to think to ourselves ‘where did this year go?’.  In fact, there’s a whole industry out there just making you obsess about time, and where it goes.  And then you realise that aside from the day-to-day stuff, the year is made up of just a few events, maybe one a month, maybe two, many not even that at all; the rest is the background, but also the bits that we call real life, and where I happen to think the real importance of our lives lies.

And of course, how quickly, that passes.  Because it’s just a day here, and a day there.  But one of the reasons I love writing this blog is because it gives me the chance to look back, both on a year, and now, these days, to look back over the same week year after year – fascinating to see what stays the same, and what changes.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I used to hate keeping a diary as a child. I didn’t see the point. Now, the more I think about it, the more I love it.

So I hope you’ll forgive me for pulling out lots of my favourite photos of 2016 and enjoying looking back; pictures without commentary, other than to say if you need to know what’s happening, then somewhere in the blogs you will find everything you see!


I pop in this little photo purely because the shop, Gandolfi, which I finally got around to blogging about in 2016, has now closed, as I was on the Marylebone Road the other day….




In so many images are so many narratives and so many happy memories encapsulated. And there’s no doubt that one of the greatest pleasures of writing this blog is reading all the comments which so many thoughtful readers contribute, some, regularly, others very occasionally, or just once. One of the first rules of being a proper blog-writer is that you are instructed to reply to every comment, and I’m always sad I just don’t really have time, because I don’t really have time to write the blog at all, or, for that matter, to answer emails or letters I really should answer in the office, as promptly as I’d like.  So I hope you’ll rest assured that it’s me who reads and moderates every comment left on the blog, and I’m very grateful.  It occurs to me now, I don’t think I’d be quite such a regular diary-keeper if no-one was reading.  I enjoy a minor sense of obligation to fulfil a Monday morning routine for a lot of people all over the world!

It’s Christmas; a time of year I love, reflective, a turning moment. So next weekend, and until the New Year, I’ll be taking a little rest (I think), and so give you lots of love for a wonderful, peaceful time, however you plan to spend it.

I know that it’s easy to feel that, as 2016 rolls to its end, that the world feels on the brink of change, and that many of the readers of this blog feel worried – and even read my words or look at my pictures as a form of a escape from the torrent of bad news that the mass media rams down our throats ceaselessly.

But without burying my head from problems at all, I’d merely urge you do what I always try to do, and that is this.  Look at that little part of the world that you can directly influence, in your own way: it might be your front yard, your street, your village. And do whatever you can to make that world just a bit better in the next twelve months. And if we all managed that – well, that would be a powerful, powerful thing.

66 comments on this post

Katy Gilmoresays:

Oh what a wonderful treat! I had my husband wrap your beautiful book to me from me and put it under the tree. And all these quiet days after Christmas, I’ve each evening read a little bit – wallowed in a little bit with such pleasure. I love how you write, and love that each huge photo is then described. AND now to discover that you write a blog. A ray of light in often horrifying and frightening January. Best Happy New Year to you!


I saved this post for a time when I could sit with a cup of tea and gaze intently at each image. I am trying to be very deliberate about where I spend time online and your beautiful blog never fails to recharge my faith in life’s beauty and simple goodness. What a lovely rhythm to a year you share here. How affirming and hopeful it feels. Thank you for each post and the feeling of connecting to something so elegantly simple and glorious.

Deby (in Canada)says:

Oh Ben…
What bliss…I had a glimpse at these pictures when you first posted but saved them up for a New Year wallow! Peace contentment and beauty at every season and such a positive reminder to all do what we can…
Wishing you and Charlie and your fur family a wonder filled 2017… and thank you again for sharing
Cheers Deby

Mary Chapinsays:

thank you for sharing such beautiful images that have the power to transport and for your wise words about reflection, purpose, the importance of community and grace. We can all use these reminders in times of darkness as well as in times of light. Happy New Year when it come to you and your beloveds.


I really enjoyed looking through the photos and I’ve got near identical photos of my tabby and black and whitey brother and sister kittens – so lovely! The photos of your garden have inspired me to get back out into mine in SW London, despite the overwhelming desire to stay inside with the heating on and eat cake.

Happy 2017!


Thank you for your beautiful peaceful memories. I lost the remainder of my family this year and find myself quite alone. These images help the noise around. Have a very happy new year. Denise


my favourite photo is mavis with her big red winning ribbon and her beautiful smile! blessings of the season, to you and yours, dear ben. can’t beat english anything! thank you for sharing. snowing here in the high sierra, california, expecting a couple of feet. peace for us all!



First time visit, love the warmth of vibrant pattern and overlapping colours in your interiors, Curious because blog mentioned. Read today’s because December 23rd here in Canada and just relaxing… scanned through your 2016 photos with their mix of home and away, stillness and activities.

Thank-you, I will come again. Especially for thoughts, Ben, at the end of your blog – to remember to hold dear what is near and to nurture where we are able. I am convinced that it is the “first necessary” no matter where or what life we are privileged with.

Happy Christmas to my country of birth!


I love your last paragraph, Ben. Thank you for bringing to me the beauty of your corner of England and beyond each week.

Happy Christmas to you and Charlie and the four-legged ones. xx

Stephanie Berrysays:

That was a treat! Such a lovely corner of the world you live. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Rebecca Sellenssays:

Such lovely photos, especially the ones that have the church in the background, it makes them seem timeless. I’m going to take your final paragraph to heart and keep striving with my tiny corner of the world.


I love your blog. Thank you for it! With all that 2016 brought us it is hopeful to see how much beauty there still is in the world both in nature and in most human beings. We will all need to remind each other of this even in the face of very uncertain times.


My previous comment seems to have disappeared (I actually was the first to post,a bit of serendipity) which is probably just as well as it was a bit verbose. I’ll be on point and thank you for your selflessness,your blog is a pleasure and yes,a bit of escapism. Happy Holidays to you,Charlie, Mavis,Henry & Percy.


That’s good advice in the last paragraph Ben, and I think I’m going to take it. It’s the antidote to feeling overwhelmed by all the madness and an answer to the question “but what good can just one person do alone” because, I suppose, one person is rarely alone.

I’d have thought my favourite picture would be one of the West Dorset hills, but I can see those for myself now (oh blissful bliss), and in fact I’m plumping for the picture of a drawing room, which may be yours, I’m unsure, but has pink walls and many books. It seems to encapsulate something far better than any effort of mine to put into words what it might be.

I’ve liked the way the year has unfolded on this blog. The posts at the end seem different to the posts at the start. And I’d like to thank you. You used to write week after week about my two old homes, London and Dorset, and week after week I’d write about how homesick I was. Eventually I managed to hear myself and decide that something needed to be done. I’m here now for a protracted period, and though I’m not sure whether it will be possible to stay for good (two other decision makers), I realised reading your post today that I’m no longer homesick. Thank you.

The very best Christmas to you and Charlie, and to Mavis, Henry and Percy.

(Quite funny to see there are two PPs commenting on the blog).

((I mean to mention every time I comment, but then forget every time, that it seems to be getting harder and harder to leave a comment. It takes longer – so long sometimes that I end up getting two identical comments) and today there has been quite a kerfuffle with reCaptcha. Not sure if anyone else is having troubles, but thought it worth mentioning.


I know I should be raving about Charlie’s cakes, Mavis and the cats (and I am really!) but oh my Lord those cows! Just the deepest happiness do they bring!
Although this all makes me beyond homesick, thank you for this beautiful reminder of all things wonderful that have been and which will come again next year.
Happy Christmas to you all.

Diane Keanesays:

Ben, I agree with the other commentators regarding the beautiful sentiments you express above. I will also say, I am overjoyed to read that you love the blog. So do we!! Thus it is more likely we will continue to benefit from your perceptive commentary, gentle humor and sound good sense (not to mention your gorgeous photographs and interesting life-style)than we would if you found the blog a chore. It is delightful to be allowed to participate in your and Charlie’s lives, even just digitally. Warmest best wishes to all for a restful but festive holiday season, and all the best in the New Year!


Alicia Whitakersays:

Dear Ben, it was quite a year for all of us! I love your blog and look forward to hearing about your adventures with Charlie, Mavis and the kittens. You live in two amazing places and seeing how the garden has evolved in Dorset has been wonderful. Your life as well as the garden has flowered!
I wish you held a book signing in NYC that many more of us could have attended. The new book is fantastic. Of course you’ll do more, and the two that you’ve written so far are treasures. All the best for a wonderful Christmas and New Year and your closing words resonate with all of us who read your blog. The charge to make a difference in what we can touch makes tremendous sense. Thank you, Alicia


Beautiful. Have a wonderful Christmas with Charlie and your ‘kids’. Wonderful blog, look forward to 2017


Peace and goodwill indeed. Merry Christmas to you and all the people and animals you love,


Deborah Wagnersays:

Oh, Ben, you always know just what I need! Happy Christmas to you and Charlie and Mavis and the kitties and all the other animals that inhabit your lives—yes, right down to the snails in the garden! Hugs!

connie kennedysays:

Tuesday mornings wouldn’t be quite the same down here in Australia without checking out ‘life in Dorset’. Thank you for sharing Ben and best wishes to you both for Christmas and the year to come. PS The last words of this post are beautiful…


Thank you for letting us share your journey. It’s a wonderful gift! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Having been reading your blog for about two years, I am in Northern California, so every Monday morning I look forward to it being in my e-mails. What a wonderful few minutes of utter beauty and wit that can be recaptured with each rereading. Thank you so much! Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas and peaceful New Year.


I send a heartfelt thank you for the comfort, reassurance, and inspiration of your posts. This one is great! I also enjoy my Tuesday mornings with you all here in the south of NZ where the first dahlias are just starting to open. Mavis is adorable and looks so much like my Lucy. What joy and love she will give you. It’s been a tricky year and it’s good to focus on what we can do. Best wishes for a lovely Christmas and a kind New Year to you all.


I awake each Tuesday morning here in New Zealand and delight in reading your wonderful Blog each week. Your photos and words feed the soul. Wonderful to see the year in pictures and Charlie’s work in the garden this last year is inspirational, I now adore Dahlias!!

So thrilled that Charlie is back safe and sound at home with you for Christmas, I hope he feels 100% soon.

Sending you both and not forgetting Mavis, Henry and Percy a most wonderful peaceful and loving Christmas.
Aroha from Aoteraroa

Robyn Hillmansays:

Thank you Ben for your calm kind words. I love your writing and pure heart. Wishing you and Charlie a wonderful Christmas.


Thank you Ben.Best wishes to you all


Happy Christmas Ben and Charlie. Thank you for a year of goodness here.


What a joy these posts are every week; they truly have the lovliest calming effect on me. Thank you for sharing so much of the beauty and simplicity of home and love. I have a pair of Mr. Rib”s dogs from your happy shop, so I’m reminded of you and yours daily! Have a sublime Christmas season.


Thank you so much for this lovely retrospective on another year that has flown by. In the desert Southwest of New Mexico I started reading your blog many years ago (just after you got your house) to watch the progress of your always impressive and growing garden, but really I think I have enjoyed watching your family grow just as much. Know that there is a huge fan of your blog who really appreciates all your efforts during the year to give us a glimpse into your world…and thoughts. Merry Christmas and thank you again.


Hi Ben,

I’m one of those readers, here in Washington, DC, that turns on the computer first thing Monday morning and comes straight here before starting the week. It has been such a joy to find your blog this year and so grateful you share with us your world and success.

When you return, I hope you’ll share pictures of your christmastime traditions.

Warm Regards,


Time travel is possible. What a superb calendar. Thank you very much for your contribution to the smaller picture throughout the year. My very best to all your crew from just over the border in East Devon, Nicola


Thank you, Ben and Charlie, for sharing your lives and homes, which have become even more of a haven for so many of us at what seems to be a very fraught time.

A very Merry Christmas to you and all of your readers, and best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!


Happy Christmas National Treasure, you should be knighted for services to making Monday mornings that much more bearable

Linda Schubertsays:

Here in Texas we have our own panoramas and flora, not too much in the way of historical buildings. But reading your blog keeps me close to my son who is now in England! Sweet of you to read all the comments. I am struck by how we all know you and Charlie and you don’t know us, the blog readers, at all except to feel the affection we have for your words and pictures. PS I’ve been mindful of not seeing Christmas as some looming deadline but a time to prepare my heart.


Oh I’m homesick now! (Been in Austin Tx for a couple of rather turbulent months but all being well we should be back in Penshurst on New Years Day). Thank you for sharing all the loveliness in your life. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your two and four legged family and here’s to lots more joy and beauty next year!

BJ Ralstonsays:

I never truly appreciated the dahlia until I found your blog. Now a totally besotted fan of the flower and you. Yes, indeed you are my weekly escape from the vile upheaval in America. I try to practice the sentiment of your last paragraph, now more than ever. Enjoy the quiet of the Christmas season. See you in the new year. Thank you.

Rebecca Smithsays:

Oh how lovely, we have been lulled into your world of dahlias, rolling hills, sunsets, tea lights and rugs thrown onto the ground for lazy picnics. I have been thoroughly enjoying watching the work in the garden; the planting of the hedges, fencing and now woven hurdles all to protect the tulips and vegetables.
Keep up the blogging, it makes us all smile on Monday.

Janice Strongsays:

Thank you for the beauty of your blogs. Beauty heals and inspires. And your words bring to the everyday the positive that can be done by all of us in our own corner of the world within the larger context of needs. One person at a time, we can make a difference for this time in history.

Blessings at Christmas from Canada,

Janice Strong

Sharron Bsays:

Ben, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you sharing your life each week in this blog. I so look forward to reading each Monday morning to start my week. The beauty touches my artist soul in a very deep and profound way. Merry Christmas to you, Charlie and all your lovely pets from deep freeze Chicago, Illinois. Peace be with you and yours this holiday season.


Thank you Ben , particularly for your last paragraph. I am struggling with what’s happening in the world, and full of worry and fear for all our futures, but this might just have helped me find a way through it. Have a wonderful Christmas xx

Pierre B.says:

Ben, this is a great digest of your year 2016.
Many of your favorite photos are also mine: the marmelade lady, Mavis “laughing” at Charlie… Thank you for sharing.
Merry Christmas to you all!


What wonderful, peaceful photographs! Thank you for sharing. I love the beautiful flowers and of course your animals. Happy Christmas to you all.


Simply the most obvious and profound ending paragraph ever. Merry Christmas and Happy 2017 to you and Charlie and your lucky companions. Thank you so very much.


A big thank you Ben for the joy that the blog gives me and for your quiet wisdom and reflections too.
(coincidentally it arrived in my inbox this morning just as the doorbell went with a big parcel from your wonderful shop that I know the recipients are going to be delighted with). I love the photographs, I love the generous glimpses into your home life and I love seeing (without romanticising anything) how you and Charlie seem to be a match made in heaven. Yes this year has been the “best of times and the worst of times” and there may be bumpy rides ahead but we are so blessed in so many ways. Happy Christmas.


So thrilled some of my favorites made the cut…especially the one of Charlie with your mom and dad! The smiles tickle me still. Happy Christmas and New Year. Looking forward to another voyage through the seasons with your art filled words and photos.

sarah mcharrysays:

What a treat to see some highlights of the year, and to appreciate the seasons, our beloved pets, partners, friends and family. (I will have to look back and check where some of those lovely buildings are and visit!) I love your blog and only discovered it this year, thank you. Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and look forward to hearing and seeing more next year (no pressure!)
Very best wishes. xx


So love your blog, and your words echo what I think many of us feel, if we can’t influence the big events that are already happening, let’s influence what we can and make our own world a better place. Merry Christmas to you and yours and wishing you a very happy 2017.

Jennifer Phillippssays:

Very sound advice which I will take with me into the New Year. Hope you have a lovely relaxing Christmas break together one and all. Festive greetings from the warmth of NZ!


I found your blog this time last year I believe, and it’s been a joy to receive into my inbox at work on a Monday morning. This year has been a very sad one for me, losing both my Mum and my Nan, and your lovely photos help to make me appreciate that there are good things still going on and that we live in a beautiful place and we are very, very lucky.
So, I wish you a joyous, peaceful and loved filled Christmas and please keep sending your lovely blogs to me!
With love,


Thank you from Australia where our landscape and the light is so different. Your pictures speak to the ‘Englishness’ within me which is quite powerful. I was 13 when we left England and I am now 64 so I have lived here many years but my heart is with the rolling fields and hills, the gentle light and that cow parsley!!! I hope you both have a wonderful Christmas and thank you for taking the time to speak to us in our corner of the world about what is true, loving and honest. I so look forward to seeing your blog when I open my emails. Best wishes from Brisbane. Lindsey

Judith Laitysays:

Thank you for another year of beautiful images and thoughtful writing, not least for the final paragraph of this latest post.
It echoed a conversation we shared with friends at the weekend, and I would like to believe that there really is a desire to think globally, but to act locally.
with best wishes for a wonderful Christmas to you all,


Thank you for all the escapism this year Ben. I must admit that your idyllic country life prompted a trip to Dorset for the first time, on what turned out to be Brexit weekend. Very destabilising for those of us living and working in Europe. As you say, we can only look to our own little world and work on that. Best wishes to you all for Christmas & 2017.


Thank you.


Oh how those lush pictures of cowparsley and greenness lift my heart on this grey morning – as we near the winter solstice. We are so lucky to live in this bit of paradise, and even in the dead of winter, be grateful for the loveliness that will come around again. I echo your thoughts in your final para with my mantra from George Herbert, “the best revenge is living well” Happy Christmas to one and all…

jane jacobsensays:

Thanks for a year of beautiful images and glimpses of your life. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Jane J

elizabeth csays:

What wonderful words Ben.Thank you .I always enjoy your blog and pictures …they give me a kind of peace.
Christmas greetings to you and Charlie x

From the wilds of Lincolnshire!

Julia Nadarajahsays:

Thank you Ben for your wonderful blog – I wish you and Charlie a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year full of hope and peace.


Happy Days. Yes, you are right. About doing your little bit. All the very best for the Holidays and best wishes for Happy Days to come too.

Mike Esays:

Thanks to the miracle of time zones, your blog is a Sunday night routine for me, and a great way to start the week.

Thanks for the advice in your last paragraph – it gives hope in a time where there seems to be none. And I’m grateful for that, and the blog, and the shop – which I hope to be in again in the spring.

Happy Christmas to you & Charlie & Mavis & Henry & Percy.


I think you’re right to say the world feels on the brink of change, but I would say only that it’s not holding its breath any longer. Where we go from here is probably to hell and back and the only unknown is the length of time it takes.

Yet there are lights in the gloom – for me (I say this having once roundly abused you in a comment) your blog with its photographs and essays is one, other writers such as Zadie Smith another, my friends of like-mind, my wonderful husband and my whippet, Barny.

A substantial link with the UK, your blog, for an expat of longstanding like me, for there’s none of the awful jingoism, as I see it, but a quiet love and a humane understanding of an ancient land and its people.

Your second book, which is on my shelves, is super.


Dear Ben,
Merry Christmas from Tasmania. Thankyou for the slice of England and the lovely blog, it does indeed lift the spirits! Hope you and Charlie and the furry family members have a safe and joyous time and a wonderful 2017

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Dear Ben, Charlie, Mavis, Bridie, Max and co – Best wishes to you all from our little corner to yours, for a wonderful Christmas and another happy New Year.

These photos show a year filled with beauty, with ‘pretty’ and I can’t believe how quickly the new work in the garden evolved let alone how much Mavis has grown – the prettiest of pups.

Kind regards, Nicola, Peter, Olive and co. xx


What a year you’ve had! Jam packed. All your photos are lovely but I think my favourite has to be the one of Charlie with your parents- it’s great to see how well they get on.
Sage advice at the end which I’m endeavouring to follow. Interesting times indeed.
Happy Holidays to you,Charlie,Mavis,Henry & Percy.


Thank you Ben for sharing your wonderful memories the images are beautiful. Charlie has worked so hard in your garden a labour of love.Mavis has grown into a beauty she has gorgeous eyes what a joy to share your life together so pleased Charlie is back hope he feels better soon.So much of life has to do with what we make it but we should never take life for granted.We may have lost loved ones but our memories give us comfort and gratitude for loving and being loved. We must think and pray for others who are suffering or are lonely depressed and living in fear let’s hope they will find peace good health and happiness and the love of family and friends.Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all and once again thank you for being you and your wonderful blog it gives me so much pleasure.


Thank you Ben, for giving me a glimpse of your life and thank you for your last powerful words.
Wishing you and all your loved ones “Prettige Kerstdagen en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar” as they say here in the Netherlands

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