I often bump into friends in cafes and it’s these unexpected meetings that are often the most enjoyable. On Tuesday having just dropped off some old camera gear at Clock Tower Cameras I was strolling through Pavilion Gardens when I remembered that there was a new cafe through the south archway. The possibilities of somewhere new is always a draw for a cafe lover like myself. Just as I was deciding which tea to have who should walk in but a friend who is a photography lecturer in London.
The Pavilion Tea Co. has taken over the space that used to be occupied by the Pavilion shop which has moved into the adjoining space that used to be the tourist office. It’s on a small, pedestrianised side road that leads onto the Pavilion Estate and lined mainly with other cafes and restaurants.
Loose teas are the speciality here and the look is of a traditional oriental tea sellers. Colourful tea containers in hues of red, yellow and brown are stacked up on dark wooden shelving along the main wall with hexagonal fringed yellow lampshades hanging down. The royal blue velvet seating along by the large arched windows looked very inviting and the bespoke wooden tables and chairs complete the look.
The cakes and savouries all looked delicious and the lunch box deal of one of their savoury tray bakes or quiche with seasonal salad at £4.95 should be a crowd puller.Tea is served in grey cast iron teapots, just like in Hove Museum tearoom, being also run by Peyton and Byrne, and there’s a superb choice if you’re a bit of a tea aficionado.
My friend and I got chatting and soon moved on to photography. Her students were down from London to do a Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ book cover assignment. I was able to update her on my forays into interiors copywriting with possible accompanying photography and my subsequent digital upgrade. Her wise comment that it’s more about the development of the ideas of the person behind the lens than the camera which is just a tool is worth remembering. It was great chatting photography again and reminded me of my college course taken some years ago.
Clock Tower Cameras phoned later with their quote and it’s just about enough to buy a new digital SLR It will probably take some time to learn how to get the best from it but I’ve always loved taking photos and it looks like a new opportunity is opening up for me. All the better with the support of like minded friends. ‘A happy accident’ remarked my friend at the happenstance of meeting each other. For me too the synthesis of photography, writing and tea too of course.
Find out more about the Pavilion Tea Co. Cafe
There are some cafes that are recommended to me by friends, others I just happen to spot as I cycle around town and a few that I hear about on the grapevine. Joe’s is one that I’ve been meaning to visit for some time now with friends and family raving about its charm and great food. In between house visits, as part of my new property copywriting venture, I deduced that Joe’s was equidistant between my last appointment of the afternoon and home. Unless you’re familiar with the streets around the Port Hall area of Brighton the cafe is is a bit tucked away but it is definitely one worth seeking out.
I was told that Joe is no longer and the new owners are a family combo of Dan and Jane who are husband and wife along with Lynsey who is Dan’s sister. They sensibly decided to keep the original cafe name as it had such a strong following.
The bold turquoise walls set off well the reclaimed wooden tables and chairs reminiscent of those in my primary school dinner hall. There’s a profusion of fresh herbs growing in zinc pots around the room and stacks of old wooden crates filled with all sorts of goodies. Breakfasts are still the principal item on the menu and at £5 including tea or coffee sounds a good deal.There are plans to make use of the patio garden area out at the back which would be a great spot to sample one of their famed breakfasts.
The new owners are keen to use local suppliers of top quality sourcing their bread from the Real Patisserie, sausages, black pudding & bacon from Natural Farm, free range eggs from Holmansbridge Farm, juice from the award-winning Wobbleggate, pies from Magnificent Magpies Pies and cakes from the wonderful Brighton Cakery.
I was too late for the breakfast menu but thoroughly enjoyed my warming bowl of home made tomato and basil soup with fresh bread. Afterwards the spread of cakes caught my eye and I opted for the banana and walnut muffin which went down a treat with a mug of tea.
Miles Franklin an Australian writer titled her autobiography ‘ My Brilliant Career’ swiftly followed by ‘My Career Goes Bung’. Sometimes I feel as if I go through this process in one week, sometimes in the course of one day, so bountiful are the peaks and troughs as I carve out my new line of work. The trajectory is on the whole upwards so I should keep the faith. For the new cafe owners Dan, Jane and Lynsey I wish them all the best for success in their new business and if there is any justice Joes’s Cafe should continue to do very well indeed.
Houses aren’t just homes, they say a lot about our aspirations, our dreams and how we see ourselves. As the French leave the rural towns and villages so the incomers take their place. The Brits, the Dutch, the Canadians are all part of this influx, staking their claim in a new French way of life. They’re mainly retirees and mainly couples though sometimes there are families and singles but the one thing in common to them all is this new phase to their lives.
I’ve just returned from a few days staying with family in the Limousin region of France. My sister moved to Bellac some four years ago and along with her husband has successfully established a Chambre d’Hotes in the small town of Bellac. Maison Bellachonne is a 400 year old town house just across from Le Mairie with five gorgeous en-suite guest rooms. History oozes out of every wall with original dark wood flooring throughout. The central staircase is in dark wood too and rises up to the fourth floor. Each guest room in this small boutique hotel has been individually designed with much flair. Views from the rooms at the back are of the ancient church and the rolling countryside beyond the town while at the front towards a fountain by the town hall. It’s a lovely place to stay.
When the UK house prices are so exorbitant the chance to buy property at just a few thousand euros is a huge draw. My sister showed me around some properties in Bellac that were bought by some of the early retirement diaspora from the UK and beyond that were now back on the market. Circumstances change and maybe the reality of that particular dream no longer held sway. Being already at least partly refurbished these properties are a bargain compared to the UK. A large town house with shop/business premises on the ground floor and sited on the main pedestrianised Rue du Coq and overlooking a small square can be purchased for offers around 75,000 Euros. Some properties, albeit very rundown, are even given away free with the purchase of another. Buy one get one free is not advantageous as it may appear given the restoration required but for some an offer too tempting to turn down. The property market in France compares favourably to the UK and that’s why so many Brits and other Europeans are moving there.
Hearing my two nieces speaking fluently in French was hugely impressive and they continue to move successfully through the French education system. This is one family that have built their dream into a positive reality and have overcome the myriad of difficulties of establishing a new life in a foreign land.
Maison Bellachonne is located deep in the heart of France in the Haute-Vienne department of the Limousin region. You can fly to nearby Limoges airport with flybe and Ryanair from the UK. As well as running the Chambres d’Hotes my sister is also unofficial property guru for the town and knows what’s hot and what’s not.
Central park has just as much buzz as the rest of Manhattan albeit in a more spacious setting. The park is a massive patch of green space in the heart of the city and the New Yorkers come here to jog, cycle and play baseball with typical zeal and earnestness. After all this is their small slot of time and space to exercise and they’re going to make the most of it. Then there are the horse and carriage rides and the bike carriages too taking tourists on trips around the park’s inner route adding to the general throng. All of the city, as well as the park, has an air of familiarity about it somehow, probably because New York has been the backdrop to so many films and TV series.
A morning visit to The Met, which sits on the east side with its breathtaking views over the park from its roof garden, satisfied any cultural urges. A more prosaic need was to find a cafe for lunch. There are a few cafes dotted around the park and after getting slightly lost in this vast area with its woods, rocks, tiny paths, reservoir and turtle filled lake we came upon Le Pain Quotidien. This is an artisan bakers with a great array of tasty sandwiches and pastries. The outside terrace is perfect to take in the Manhattan skyline behind a foreground of trees. The park’s huge perimeter mean that you can’t hear or see the traffic on the nearby Avenues.
For observing a different side of Manhattan, a prime spot on the cafe terrace held my attention for ages. From young Latino girls pushing their privileged charges about in their prams while mom is out working to the young women in their gorgeous designer shift dresses immaculately poised and groomed with their Chanel handbags hanging effortlessly over their arm. Preppy boys actually exist, coiffed and sporting dashing blazers with the requisite brown brogues and straight legged chinos direct from a J Crew advert.
I remember reading in Alain de Boton’s wonderful Art of Travel about a philosopher who liked to just sit at train stations or ports rather than traveling through them himself. It was more about sitting and observing and imagining the stories about all the lives moving in and about the scene before him, thereby saving himself all the stresses and discomfort of travel. I can identify with his point of view and observing Manhattan life from the parks, High Line walkway and cafes were some of the best parts of my trip.
Spotting what I thought looked like a film shoot just a short way away I wandered over to see that it was Kevin Bacon doing a jogging scene for an upcoming Warner Brothers production. So my impressions of New York being like some huge film set are not so off target. Real life will seem very tame on my return home.
Manhattan is amazing. It’s like a film set with its iconic tall buildings, the ubiquitous yellow cabs and of course the New Yorkers themselves with their verve and style. Just around the corner from where we were staying on the Upper West Side we found this great little bakery. The colours are cream, pistachio green and pink to match the sweet confections produced within. The staff work tirelessly around the clock in the open kitchen mixing, stirring and baking everything fresh. The counter is heaped with an incredible array of fresh cupcakes, round cakes, tray bakes and muffins.
My choice of walnut, apple and cinnamon muffin was packed with fresh fruit and delicious. But really it’s all about the cupcakes with the PB&J – Peanut butter cake with grape jelly filling and peanut butter cream being the September special and the most requested. Sitting there watching the customers come in and line up along the long counter to order their cakes was endlessly fascinating. The New Yorkers are loud, brash and completely entertaining. The style was smart casual and being Manhattan most also carried a carrier bag filled with freshly bought purchases from the nearby designer stores.
Outside towards the sidewalk the Upper West Side area was heaving with life. On the wide Columbus Avenue yellow taxi cabs, cyclists and trucks were all vying for space. Calling down a cab the New Yorker has to venture into the middle of the road with arm stretched up pleadingly as the yellow cabs hurtle by downtown.
Getting your travel reading just right is quite a skill. .Recommended by a friend, The Love Affairs Of Nathaniel P. was perfect for a Manhattan trip. The lives and loves of 30 something New Yorkers is excruciatingly examined with wit as sharp as the tailoring of an Upper East Side woman’s clothing. Here this group of friends living in the micro bubble of the Manhattan literati angst over their relationships and their privileged lives. You don’t have to read this book while in New York but having the vibrancy of this city around stokes the atmosphere even more. Life imitated art at the Magnolia when I overheard a conversation which could have come straight out of this Manhattan relationship bible: She asks’ Do you have a girlfriend?’ With the reply from him ‘No, I just have lots of girls I date.’ Adelle Waldman, the author, had clearly been listening in to more than a few conversations before crafting her astutely written tale.
Magnolia have five stores in Manhattan all open right though the day to usually 10pm at night. The store was featured in an episode of Sex & The City. So, if it’s good enough for Carrie and the girls then it’s definitely good enough for me.
Blaker’s Park is set on a tiny handkerchief patch of land up at Fiveways. Its sloping angle catching the sun. For a small park it crams in plenty of goodies like tennis courts, kids play area and even a cafe. I’d cycled up to this part of town to visit a friend whose daughter has just had a new baby and to see the newborn Saphia for the first time. The park was strangely quiet for a warm August afternoon. Just a few tennis players and some kids playing around with their bikes.
Trees are abundant here, tall and well rooted in full foliage giving shade where its needed. There’s an impressive clock tower painted in the City Council’s trademark green topped off with a golden fish weather vane balancing on top. At a quarter to three it was most definitely tea time. So a mug of Redbush and a slice of fruit and seed flapjack later I was sitting by one of the tables set on the grass in front of the small cafe building. The cafe, originally the tennis clubhouse, faces south-west to best catch the summer sun and there are tables and seating on the small decking area too. Sited directly next to the tennis courts, the thwack of tennis balls is a pleasing background rhythm to time spent here.
August, for me, has been one of those months where other peoples lives have touched on my own. It’s a joy when it’s birthdays you’re celebrating or when a child has been born healthy. But other personal dramas playing out around you can be a bit more challenging to address. Recently a friend’s parent died after a long illness and another friend’s new relationship broke up rather brutally. I sought some advice from a friend who is training to be a therapist and counsellor as to how best to handle these sort of situations after showing initial empathy. ‘It’s all about reflecting back what the talker feels. It’s important to show these good listening skills while at the same time moving the conversation forward.’ Insightful, helpful advice and worth remembering when I’m next called upon in a crisis.
Even when the sun is shining it doesn’t always imply that lives are going according to plan. Hopefully I’ll be more prepared next time for when real life intervenes. Meanwhile life goes on; births, deaths and everything in-between. And the cafe at Blaker’s Park is a good a place as any to ponder over life’s celebratory moments as well as its uncertainties.
The Crumpetty Tree takes its name from a nonsense poem by Edward Lear and overlooks the verdant foliage from the south side of Palmeira Square. Lots of natural light streams through the distinctive bow window and there’s an easy going feeling about the place. Angie owns and runs this great little deli and it very much got her stamp on it. There’s a mismatch of wooden chairs and tables all topped with fresh flowers giving a relaxed feel, set off with the bold black and white tiled flooring. Unsurprisingly trees are featured in the decor with some tables illustrated with a bespoke branch design and the rear wall is highlighted with a quirky motif of tree-perched squirrels and birds. Stacked on muted green shelves are local chutneys, jams and deli treats. There’s additional space with sofas and a table seating around six in an adjoining space towards the back.
Being a cafe-deli there is a good choice of fresh produce and tasty morsels if you’re stopping by for something filling all presented in the deli counter. Some home made specials include caramelised onion, roast vegetable and feta tart and mushroom, leek, potato and blue cheese pie. Then there’s also the sandwich menu and picnic boxes to tempt you with everything as fresh and sourced as locally as possible.
I was enjoying a pot of tea with my mate Karen who organises the meet up group Fresh Air . It was through one of her workshops that I first came across the cultural historian Roman Krznaric whose book I have just finished reading. ‘The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live’ is the sort of book that I wish I could have read when starting out on adult life. From relationships, making a living and discovering the world to breaking conventions, it’s packed full of wise ideas prompting reflections on the path you’ve taken and opening your eyes to a different manner of living.
The Crumpetty Tree may have a nonsense name but it’s got its roots in the right place. What better place to meet a friend to catch up and chat about life while enjoying the sunny ambience.