10 Things You Didn’t Know about Hampstead

I didn’t know half of them myself till recently – and I live in Hampstead. This part of London is full of surprises.

1 Hampstead is chock full of delightful architecture, much of it Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian. Then there’s 2 Willow Road. Designed by architect Ernő Goldfinger in the 1930s, this modernist home was only made possible thanks to his wife’s great wealth.

2 Willow Road NW3

Goldfinger was a champagne socialist, which is why he concealed the servants’ bell. You could say that he wasn’t popular with everyone. Ian Fleming, you may recall, named the ultimate villain after him.

2 Nightclub hostess Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in the UK. Her crime? Shooting dead her cheating lover David Blakely in 1955 outside the Magdala Tavern. If you wander up South Hill Park in Hampstead, you’ll still be able to see the bullet holes on the wall of the pub, mainly because they’ve been enlarged with a drill.

Magdala Tavern, NW3

For a thought-provoking novel set around the Ruth Ellis story, I can highly recommend Jane Davis’s brand-new book At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock

3 The Whitestone Pond at the top of Heath Street is the highest point in London. It’s a man-made pond with ramps to let horses wash in it. A bit later, it was used for floating model boats and for paddling, earning it the name Hampstead-on-Sea. Now fringed with rushes, nobody much goes into the pond at all, but they do wander up here, and probably tell each other it’s the highest point in London.

4 Hampstead Heath covers 790 hilly acres and has something for everyone, with magnificent views over London as well as woodlands and a string of ponds, three of them for swimming (if you don’t mind cold water). The Heath enchanted author C.S. Lewis, inspiring him to write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Hampstead Heath

5 Fancy a bite to eat? Hampstead has not one Streatery, but two. The Belsize Village Streatery opened for summer 2020 on the paved area of the village to help keep a wide range of local restaurants and cafés running. It brings a continental vibe to this corner of London and is an excellent place to meet friends or celebrate a special occasion. The floor is clean enough to eat off, as the saying goes, but the socially distanced tables and chairs in the square are a better bet.

Belsize Village Streatery

Following on from the success in Belsize Village, there’s also a second Streatery at South End Green.

6 Hampstead is awash with celebs. Do you know Mrs Newbie? She and her cob lived together in bliss on the Heath, until Mr Newbie died in 2016. At some point, the grieving Mrs Newbie flew off and hurt herself on a nearby roof. While at the swan sanctuary for treatment, she met fellow patient Wallace who had come from Waltham Forest. Their relationship blossomed.

pair of swans

Once both of them were well enough, they were released to Hampstead Heath’s Number One Pond and have since raised seven cygnets. Mrs Newbie had to return to the swan sanctuary earlier this year after she was attacked by a dog, but is now back with Wallace and their cygnets. Vive l’amour! 

swan with one cygnet

7 Originally from Suffolk, painter John Constable relocated when his wife developed TB. At the time, the air in Hampstead was considered a lot healthier than elsewhere. Unfortunately there were no anti-TB drugs at the time and Mary didn’t improve. Most of the family is now buried in the family tomb at St John-at-Hampstead.

Constable family tomb

8 The Royal Free Hospital in Pond Street was founded in 1828 to give free treatment to those unable to afford it. To begin with, the Royal Free was in central London, and then moved near the site of the previous Hampstead Fever Hospital, a name which inspired the title of my novel Hampstead Fever.

For years, the Royal Free was the only London teaching hospital in London to train women doctors. The Royal Free’s pioneering heritage continues. It was the first UK hospital to have a high level isolation unit (HLIU) for infectious diseases like Ebola.

Royal Free Hospital

9 Hampstead has cats. Many, many cats. This busy fluffball knows exactly where she is going. You’re lucky the others moved too fast for me to photograph them all.

long-haired Siamese cat

10 You don’t have to go into the Freud Museum to see a fine statue of Sigmund Freud. Here he is outside the Tavistock Clinic in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, leaning forward in a pose suggesting period pain. I call it womb envy.

If you know Hampstead, please leave a comment with your favourite fact about the area. Meanwhile, until September 9, you can download a copy of Hampstead Fever for just 99p/99c. 

 

Beware: Umbrellas at Large

Has someone out there been doing a rain dance? The sun is a distant memory, the brollies are out in force, and it’s pretty clear it’s not all Mary Poppins and Singin’ in the Rain.

I know, beach parasols aren’t entirely innocent. A sudden gust can give your sunshade wings, and propel it at speed into the chest or brain

But rain umbrellas are in another class of spikiness altogether, with sharp edges and points just where you least want them. It’s hard to protect yourself on crowded pavements in the rain when’s everyone’s scurrying about brandishing their weapons as they dodge the puddles.

In Cambridge’s narrow streets, there’s the added danger of tourists stopping without warning to take selfies, and tour leaders waving extra umbrellas around to show their group where they are.

From their origins centuries ago (nobody seems sure how many) as protection for the privileged, umbrellas are now as common as muck. Hundreds of millions of brollies are sold every year, and often break just as quickly, making them even more hazardous.

My husband negotiated the last downpour uninjured, but his thumb took a hit when closing his brolly. After all, everyone knows it’s bad luck to leave it open inside the house, right?

I escaped unscathed that rainy afternoon, possibly because I kept reminding the OH not to stab me in the eye. Nearly a fifth of umbrella-related accidents affect the eye, many of these being conjunctival tears. Spokes are the main cause, but even the rubber end of a rainshade can lead to eye injuries, according to a review from Monash University in Australia.

Their review concludes that umbrellas shouldn’t be used as toys. Sound advice, especially if you’ve read about the 11-year old who impaled his little brother with a piece of wire ribbing poked through the keyhole. The 5-year old was taken to the doctor but lost his eye, shortly followed by his life. 

Swans shun brollies. Unfurl yours and you may find yourself at the wrong end of a powerful beak.

The most high profile umbrella-linked death was that of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian writer and dissident murdered in September 1978 by a ricin pellet concealed in the tip of his assassin’s umbrella. Forty years on, the suspect is still at large. I’m told the case has links to the KGB. Obviously, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Please let me know your best umbrella stories. I’m really hoping one of you has an uplifting tale to share in this rainy season. If not, I’ll just have to stay in and listen to the Hollies’ Bus Stop one more time.

Spreading a Little Sunshine

There’s nothing January can do to redeem itself in my eyes, other than apologise and segue into February without delay.  Thirty-one days of it are just too much, especially in the UK where the weather is dismal and it doesn’t even have the decency to snow any more.  But I had to grin from ear to ear and reach for my shades when I got a Sunshine Award from Mr Don Charisma himself.sunshineaward

Thank you very much for this, Don.

Naturally no man gives a woman anything without there being strings attached.   Unfortunately I can’t display the badge on my blog in any permanent fashion as I am too damn stupid at WordPress.  This may be rectified later.  I won’t be any less stupid, but I will have asked someone.

Not all bloggers like accepting awards so let’s just call my list the blogs that light up my screen and my life. They fit the bill because, to use Don’s words, they positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.  Here are my 10 bloggers who deserve an award:

Don Charisma for his great charm and good humour.  I loved Whose Blog Is It Anyway? and I suspect everyone else did too.

Ellen Arnison of In a Bun Dance.  She’s almost invariably  cheery, with the happy knack of seeing the beauty in all manner of things.  OK, her post on murdered 3 year old Mikaeel Kular wasn’t quite in that mould, but it contained great good sense and a warning to those who don’t understand what sub judice means.  For some reason I’m unable to post comments on her blog so this award will have to do.

Debbie Young at her personal blog Young By Name. Debbie is an accomplished author and blogger writer whose posts are brimming with life and crammed with unexpected little treasures.  I can’t do her blog justice so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Catherine Ryan Howard for Catherine, Caffeinated which is famed for its humorous encouragement. Without her guidance many writers would have stalled.  Catherine is truly the AA and RAC of self-publishing.

Time Thief from One Cool Site.  It is the go-to place for WordPress tips and inspiration as well as being, well, one cool site.

Suz Jones of It Goes On.  Suz blogs about depression and much more, and turns out it’s really uplifting stuff.  A worthy recipient of Blog of the Year 2013.

Seif Salama Karem.  His posts are often dark and can be political, so they’re not always easy reading, but they have a lyrical quality reminiscent of Khalil Gibran, whose work we both love.

The team at Chick Lit Club who deal with all things chick-lit.  Respect to head honcho Steph who sanctioned a review of my novel  despite one of my characters being incredibly rude about her home town.  She clearly has a sunny and forgiving nature.

The bloggers at Varsity newspaper.  Their contributions shine with enthusiasm for student life in all its forms.  Guaranteed to make you feel 18 again, especially if like me the Fen Poly is your alma mater.

Yes, I know. There are only 9, because one of my favourite bloggers has stopped blogging. So I’m sulking.   But in life there are things even jollier than blogs, like my family, friends and cat. And look at this fella sitting in the middle of the road, probably because it’s as wet as the river.  Any nearer those yellow lines and he’d have got points on his license.

Swan in Ely

One day I may list 10 of those kinds of things, just for fun.

Now there’s something else I’m meant to do in accepting the Sunshine Award: tell you 10 interesting things about myself.  As you’re busy people and I’m not that interesting, you’re only getting 7.

1 My cat is a ginger female called Mishmish, which is ‘apricot’ in Arabic and in Hebrew.

2 My idol is Martin Luther King.

3 A long time ago I actually saw the Beatles. Not that I heard them, because everyone was screaming.

4 I don’t need sat nav as my sense of direction is excellent.  Besides, there’s a map in the back of the car.

5 At school I did Russian O-level.

6 Some of my oldest childhood friends are still my closest.

7 I love writing.  It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Though you can also do it with your clothes off if you want.typewriter