Something Old, Something New

8 January 2017
Ben Pentreath

It’s not blue Monday yet; that’s next week. So we can still say, Happy New Year! But if you’re like me, the holidays seem a slightly distant memory. Suddenly, this weekend, London filled up, casting off for another year the ghostly curious emptiness of Christmas, with her deserted streets, dark windows – that time when you can drive around from one end of London to the other as if in the 1950s (a quality that you can, of course, find at any time of the year by walking through the City of London early on a Sunday morning).

Christmas feels an age away; I suspect that many people’s New Year Resolutions will be slipping, as we realise once again that the only resolution ever worth making is to be realistic. To be honest, I’ve always thought the dark days of January are a terrible time to give up anything. Much easier to have a good spring clean in a few month’s time.

I did make one resolution, though, and I’ll try to keep it. And that is that somehow, somewhere, each week this year, the blog needs to write about 52 new things – 52 places or things or experiences that Charlie and I have never had or seen or done before. They might be large, or more probably be small, but every week of the year I want to see or do or look at or think about something that I haven’t done before.


So you won’t mind my starting this New Year’s blog first by ringing out the old days of 2016 with some photographs of something very familiar indeed.  After the happiest Christmas in London with Mum & Dad, Charlie and I headed to Dorset after Boxing day and had the quietest time imaginable. The days were still, clear and cold, and we woke most mornings to frost. Magical morning walks.

I pottered about with this and that. Charlie got the last of the manure on the garden.


Though it was nowhere near the longest time we’ve spent in Dorset, it was probably the biggest shock getting back to London. But we’ve had the nicest weekend nonetheless.

We started yesterday with a hangover; nothing new there. On Friday night we had a brilliant and happy good bye to wonderful Lucy who’s worked in my decoration office for the last three years, in which time we went really from no jobs at all to everything we have on now. How time flashes by. As she heads off to new adventures, we bid her farewell in the old panelled rooms of Blacks, in Soho. I just about managed to go home in one piece; Charlie and the boys were heading out dancing. He got back not quite as the sun was rising (this being winter still). So Saturday morning was very quiet. Bridie made an emergency visit with cheese toasties. And then we recovered enough for a late lunch in the pub with an old friend of Charlie’s over from New Zealand, and settled into Shirley Valentine for the afternoon, and had a lovely supper with our friends David and Chris.

This morning, an early visit to Columbia Road and breakfast after at the Colony Grill Room, where you really cannot go wrong. Apart from our parking ticket. 

And then it was up to Hampstead for Mavis’s walk and pints with the pub with Ruth.

We parked our car on this little street where I loved the house above, and was intrigued and mystified to see this little sign pinned to an anonymous green painted front door.

Can anyone explain? I would be grateful. 

I loved these knobbly trees, 

And these tiles, 

And these stained glass door signs at Parliament Hill Mansions.

Okay, you’re not going to believe me but here’s the new bit. I’ve never, ever in my life walked up Parliament Hill. Primrose Hill, yes; the northern end of Hampstead Heath, yes; Parliament Hill…. No.

Here’s the lido at the bottom of the hill.  The city coming in to view beyond.

And here we are.

You could just make out a misty St. Paul’s, hidden between the towers and cranes of New London.

And then we set off for a walk around this part of the Heath. Perfect first date territory, it appeared:

Perfect jogging territory, 

And perfect getting away from it territory, for those of us missing woodland and muddy leaves.

Mavis went mental, in a good way.

And then we made our way down…. to a really, really old favourite…. Pints and pork baps with Ruth Guilding at the Southampton Arms, which has to be the best pub in London I would say, but don’t tell anyone.

We rolled out of the pub a couple of hours later and crossed over to beautiful Grove Terrace, where I spotted a little grove of violets. You might have thought it was just a little rubbishy patch of nothing, 

But then you noticed this.

Geoffrey Jellicoe’s house (have a read of my blog about Shute House, which he designed, here):

Cutting a dash in Grove Terrace Mews (we decided to ignore the sign and authorise our own access):

Rolling Streets of Victorian London stretch out:

And here was new destination two. Ruth was taking us to the Fitzroy Park Allotments.  We’ll need to come back in the Summer. 

Cobble moss porn.

We wandered up to Highgate.  Here was a sight. George Michael’s shrine, outside his house.

George’s Range Rover was covered in mementos.  Crowds of sad visitors mingled and looked at the notes.  It was strangely moving. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge died in his house next door.  No flowers for him, but we wondered if milkmaids of London bought their posies of roses here on the 25th July, 1834?

To be honest, I’ve never just pottered around in Highgate before, so this was another first in its way. I know it a tiny bit, but I’ve always been rushing through.  So many things do you miss that way. This perfect sign, for instance.

A glimpse in to Highgate Cemetery, which annoyingly you can only visit now by guided tour (It’s not often that I can cope with a guided tour).

Ruth and Bunny, Charlie and Mavis by the extraordinary tall wall of the cemetery. 

Lady Workers’ Homes on the Holly Lodge Estate, which needs more exploration all on its own, 

And then Ruth took us past crazy Victorian Gothic Holly Village, which I would love to visit more properly. 

And we walked past this pale ultramarine moderne apartment building, and speculated that this would be the nicest house to live in of all.And the walk was over. We’re back at home. Charlie is cooking. Delicious smells are coming from the kitchen, and we’re about to watch a movie; I’m not quite sure which, but that’s a nice feeling too*.

Happy Sunday, and Happy New Year; let’s really hope it is a fine one.  I feel it may be.


*POSTSCRIPT: Pretty Woman.

23 comments on this post

tammy jsays:

oh ben
if you only knew how your walks around London always shore me up!
i can take on anything our silly politics and prairie winds bring me now.
i’ve been to London with my ben and charlie and mavis! and even ruth and bunny!
thank you so much. xo


The sight of those allotments makes me want to run for my trowel. Also, if those photos of Charlie in the garden with the manure etc were taken in January, I am seriously rethinking my geographic location (for more reason than one, might I add.) Thanks, Ben, for that.


Happy new year, Ben and thank you for taking us on that wonderful walk. So many memorable sites but I especially loved Holly Village and that fabulous aqua house!

Charlotte Ksays:

That was a great London walk. Thank you!!


Happy New Year and thank you for a really really interesting guided tour of another tranche of London. We will of course hold you to your resolution of 52 New Things. Btw, love Mavis’s approach to stick throwing – the bigger the better! Best, Nicola

Isla Simpsonsays:

Holly Village with all it lovely Gothic chimneys and windows – I could move in today! So inspirational to see new things with fresh eyes, a great resolution for the new year ahead. I’ve been thinking much the same recently. Onwards and upwards! xxx


I think Poirot lives in the pale ultramarine moderne building.

Judith Haxtonsays:

Dear Ben, Just read your beautiful blog and had a good cry…not sure why. All good things to you and Charlie in the New Year !!!

E E Farissays:

Oh, what a nice email. I will have to do some exploring on my next trip to London.
If I had to guess on the Museum, I would say there is a curious and enthusiastic child living in that house who has discovered museums and what they mean. Perhaps nine years old?
In my family we always choose the thing we would like most for our own collection when we visit museums. I think that pale blue apartment building would qualify too.


Could the little sign on the door have anything to do with the “Museum of Everything”?

Thank you for the post Xmas wander around London. It had the virtual of effect of lowering my blood pressure – almost as much as a real one. Can almost smell the wet ground myself and the stale beer in the pubs. I was missing Xmas in London – but went for a magical wander ’round Melbourne’s (Australia) Fitzroy instead! Very recommended. : )

Katy Gilmoresays:

Well your “Inspiration” blog is something new and so wonderful for me for 2017! Thank you, and happiest new year wishes to you. I can sign myself “just another terrified Yank.”

Elizabeth Ksays:

I’m with Barbara T: your photographs and descriptions are wonderfully calming and hopeful for those of us in the US who are vibrating with worry about the future of our country. Even the photo of Highgate Cemetery is a good reminder to take the long perspective! Too bad about the guided tours, though. How about a photograph of your newly yellow kitchen to brighten January? I was just looking at your books this weekend and thinking how much warmer the Dorset house looks now than it did a few years ago. “Wet Sand” and “Parsonage Pink,” but also maybe Charlie and Mavis and the cats?

Elizabeth K.

Elizabeth K.

Sharon Marchsays:

Love this, I had never seen or heard of Holly Village until this week. It was featured in the Great Interior Design challenge, not your sort of show I think but they do find lovely, interesting properties to do up!


Dear Ben – looking back through photos of your garden last year for inspiration for my own, I saw lovely lilies amongst all the dahlias – I didn’t know until recently that lilies are very poisonous to cats, so just passing this on in case you weren’t aware, for your new kitties this summer!
Loving the posts, thank you

Pierre B.says:

Happy new year to you all! Looking forward for many more walks in your company!

judith cuenzersays:

Your latest blog has been eagerly awaited and needless to say it was another joy to read and plenty of lovely photos too. No, it’s not too late to wish you and all those near and dear to you everything you wish for yourself in 2017.

sarah mcharrysays:

Good read after struggling in to work in Soho during the tube strike! Im totally with you with guided tours, such a shame as the joy of Highgate cemetery is walking around in peace without being herded about, I feel the same about well-meaning National Trust volunteers, well meaning I know but I don’t need to be told things I can read up myself neither are they experts, and as for all the dressing up don’t start me…anyway, thanks again I love and look forward to your blogs Ben!

Barbara Tsays:

Good as always to read your blog, as we Americans sit here watching our country take a turn for the worse. Will be in London in a few weeks – can’t wait to visit your lovely shop again.


Really enjoyed seeing bits of London on your walk/outing! I really enjoy seeing the weekly changes at your home in the country but more of this would be great too. I’m wondering about a plant though – if you or Charlie know what it might be. It’s the one (or two) on the lower left of the pathway you took through the mews…the picture above the words Rolling streets of Victorian London’. It has grey-green foliage that grows a bit horizontally and looks evergreen? Could be that I don’t recognize it because it doesn’t grow here in Zone 5 (1 hr north of Toronto). Still, if you do know the name of it, I might be able to track down a hardier variant from that plant family…


Happy new year. Breakfast at the Beaumont is indeed excellent

julie cleeveleysays:

Happy new year to all of you. Another beautiful and very English post.

Alice Walkersays:

Lovely to read your blog of your wonderful first weekend of 2017. I spent some very enjoyable afternoons of my holiday reading your latest book by a roaring fire here in snowy Canada. Cheers and Happy New Year!


Good to see that the Borough Surveyor of Highgates keen sense of irony hadn’t deserted him when he placed the order for the road sign directing travellers to “The North” or “Highgate Village”.
Tragical the road sign directing travellers to “Hatfield and the North” has long gone.
Fortunately the prog rock band named after the sign still lives on, on Wikipedia.

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