Summer things

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Big Sur, 1946, by Ansel Adams

I never long for my school days and would hate to be 17 again, but I look back with more than a touch of nostalgia at the school holidays. Six whole weeks, free from from any worries or obligations.  There were family holidays abroad in Spain, France and Switzerland, lazy days in the garden and hours of television – trashy MTV, and plenty of American shows like Saved by the Bell, My So-Called Life and Beverly Hills 90210. While summer generally doesn’t live up to expectations – British ones are generally a wash-out, Roger Federer doesn’t win Wimbledon, people ask my constantly why I’m so white and mosquitoes drain the blood from my arms and legs whenever I go abroad – I still feel excited around this time of year thinking about it. Long evenings, dinner in the garden while listening to birdsong, the chance to wear summer dresses and go out without a jacket, picnics and cool drinks. So I thought I’d put together some of my favoute summer things for inspiration. I’d love to hear what your essentials are.

Aperol Spritz

My favourite summer drink along with Bellini which reminds me of being in Venice last year, sitting on the terrace watching the sunset. Although I must admit to also enjoying a large glass of Pimm’s whenever Wimbledon is on.

The perfect summer dresses

This one, with a pattern inspired by the Royal Porcelain collection, is for me the essence of the perfect English summer and ideal for tea in the garden.

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Royal Worcester Jacquard dress, £78, Oasis

And I can’t resist polka dots

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Navy spotted ruffle sundress, £22, Dorothy Perkins

 

Red shoes to brighten up any outfit

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Lily suede flats, £198, J.Crew

 

The best facial sunscreen to wear under makeup

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Murad Luminous Shield, SPF 50, £55

A perfect orange red lipstick

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Nars Audacious Lipstick in Lana, £25

A straw shopper for that Jane Birkin feelinghmprodStraw shopper, £17.99, H&M

A cute hat for protection from the sun

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Marl Scarf Summer Hat, £17.50, Marks and Spencer

The perfect tea

This delicious blend can be served hot or cold as according to the Fortnum and Mason website, it’s also excellent for iced tea.

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Afternoon blend tea, from £5.25, Fortnum and Mason

The most delicious summer scent, as worn by Cary Grant, David Niven, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn

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Acqua di Parma, from £66

And of course, books for summer

It goes without saying that I’ll be reading the blog written by my friend Jan over the summer.

As for books, this year, I’ve got my eye on The Riviera Set about all the glamourous people who spent time at the Château de l’Horizon near Cannes, from Coco Chanel to Rita Hayworth. There’s also Dolce Vita Confidential about 1950s Rome and I’m dying to read The Unfinished Palazzo which tells the story of the three women who lived in the Palazzo Venier in Venice – Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim.

Or if you prefer fiction, can I recommend something by Patricia Highsmith or Ross Macdonald (I love gripping books in summer), some John Cheever short stories, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell about his eccentric childhood in Greece or The Great Gatsby which is the perfect choice at any time of year.

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Lost in the bluebell woods

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Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to the bluebell woods. I have no idea exactly how my parents found them but I’ve been returning every year since I was a child. The route is still the same. Taking the narrow path just above the little car park which reaches a steep incline by some trees behind which there is already a patch of blue. Then continuing through a field where as a child, my best friend Rachel and I gathered huge bunches of dandelion clocks and blew on them, watching their seeds scatter to the wind. But nothing prepares you for the mass of blue in the woods, that particularly sublime shade and the most heavenly scent which is more beautiful than any perfume could ever be. I linger in favourite spots with nothing but birdsong to accompany my steps, except the buzzing of insects or the occasional whoosh from the trainline down below.

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But no matter how slowly I go, I’m soon at the edge of the wood and push open a little gate to continue along the path by the trainline. There was a heady smell of May blossom in the sunshine and wild flowers growing by the wall. Dappled light and the fresh green foliage made me think of a painting by Sisley which features on the cover of Alain Fournier’s ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ and I imagine it would have been the perfect spot for him to walk with Yvonne de Galais.

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Retracing my steps to the top of the woods again, I take one last glance, always a little sad to leave but also inspired by the magic of this place which still has so many secrets to discover.

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Finn Family Moomintroll

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Reading my friend Jan’s wonderful article about Snoopy this morning brought back memories of my own love for the Peanuts Gang and other childhood favourites, including the Moomins so I felt inspired to write about them.

Here are some things you should know about the Moomins. Firstly, they were created by Tove Jansson, a Finnish author and artist who wrote in Swedish. Secondly, don’t ever call them hippos – only a complete ignoramus would do that because they’re trolls, obviously. Thirdly, I’m obsessed with them. It all started in the ’80s when the animated stories were shown on children’s TV in what I later realised was an awful dubbed version. Still, to my untrained ears, they were perfect. Stories about the most extraordinary range of characters, each with their own distinctive personalities, going on adventures. I still know all the words to the theme song too. But then I discovered the books and how much richer and better they were. My mother and I read them together at first and then I returned to them time and again myself. Most of all, they reminded me of my own family. They lived in a strange house far away from everyone else like we did. As an only child, I identified strongly with Moomintroll and my reclusiveness and taste for solitude was just like Snufkin’s. My mother is Audrey Hepburnesque and doesn’t look at all like Moominmamma but she frequently wore aprons for baking, always carries her handbag with her and is able to rescue me in self-inflicted chaos. My father with his eccentricities and taste for adventure could only be Moominpappa.

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As I grew up, I somehow lost sight of them until the day I visited a small Moomin exhibition on Mehringdamm in Berlin. As the only adult in a sea of children with colouring books and Moomin toys, an amused guide kindly took me to a small exhibition of photos about Tove Jansson and her life. I learned about her artistic parents, her own journey as an artist, that she had written so many other amazing books, how she and her female companion spent whole summers on a wonderful island on their own every year until the end of their lives. As luck would have it, The Summer and Winter Books along with many of her other novels were published to great acclaim and I devoured them all. At the Iittala store on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, I discovered Moomin items, even getting the last Moomin limited edition winter mug in stock. Since then, I have been collecting various items with them on – not just china but also bed linen, handbags, T-shirts and toys. My addiction even continued in the UK with the opening of a wonderful Moomin shop on Covent Garden a few years ago. Returning to the Moomin books themselves, I came to realise that these are stories for all ages, full of adventures, good humour but also plenty of dark moments, loneliness and disappointments, rather like life itself. The final Moomin book, Moominvalley in November, is almost unbearably sad and doesn’t feature them at all in fact, only others waiting at their home for them to return some day.

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I use the Moomin china every day but have a special place in my heart for this plate on the left showing Moomintroll eating at the table with his parents. I remember it was called something like ‘Together’ and that I bought it from the Arabia store in Helsinki shortly after my father had died. It reminded me of something that I loved the most – meals with my parents and that nothing would be the same again. Today I still cannot look at it without feeling some sadness but the Moomins also inspire me with their independence, good humour and rebelliousness. I’m already looking forward to the next adventure.