Well hello and a huge thank you for all of your comments last week – I think it’s a record. Just as I was beginning to wonder if you’d stopped reading you astounded me. I usually reply to everybody individually but I have a lengthy corporate identity document to complete so instead I’m going to spend any spare blog time I have collating each comment into a report. I’ll add ‘noted’ under each one so you know that your feedback has been included and will reach the right ears as soon as I can access the best team. In the meantime it’s a Midlife Lately post. Back in the cold days of winter you may remember me urging you to put plans in place and make these summer weekends count. We’re currently living through the outcome of my enthusiasm and feeling a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion. It’s easy to sit on the sofa in January with a mind that feels 23 but forgets it resides in a 55 year old body isn’t it? Anyway, join me for the latest in my ‘making summer weekends count project’ – a mixture of family, sunshine, dancing and music.
Making summer weekends count
Midlife Lately – Friday
As I signed off last week we were heading to a family wedding – my cousin’s daughter Helen was getting married. It was fifth time lucky for her and her fiancé Simon because they’d endured repeated cancellations throughout lockdown. The final location for their happy day was Samlesbury Hall just outside Preston. Built in 1325, it’s a beautiful old place that oozes history as you can see from this picture. When it isn’t hosting weddings it’s open to the public and it’s pretty special being in a house that is apparently filled with friendly and sometimes mischievous ghosts. If you’re ever travelling along the M6 and looking for a stop off, you’ll find it just off Junction 31 but do check it’s open first.
We arrived in plenty of time to check in. We’d booked a Shepherd’s Hut in the grounds and we had my sister and brother-in-law for neighbours so it was a lovely, quirky start to the day.
As we walked over to the wedding together we were delighted to spot so many members of our family that we hadn’t seen since before lockdown. Helen and Simon asked people not to take photos until after the service so we’re starting here at the joyful point when the ceremony’s over and the fun begins.
Helen was trying to cajole a smile from her camera-shy new husband here, I think at this point they were just utterly relieved to have made it to the day. In addition to the four cancellations, they’d had endless bad luck over the last few weeks as various key players let them down – the dressmaker, the florist, the airlines bringing overseas guests, the cakemaker… so many things went wrong. You’d never have guessed it though as they smiled all day long. Everyone’s delighted that she now has a strong partner by her side because for a long time, Helen has been utterly dedicated to her career as a paediatric nurse. She’s a Sister on the cardiac ward at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and when she’s not spending long hours there, she accompanies specialist medical teams as they head off to undertake complicated cardiac procedures on tiny children in far flung places.
And here’s her proud mum Stella who, along with my other cousins, is a fervent supporter of everything I try to do with this blog (thank you again to all of you). She was happy for me to tell you that her outfit was in fact picked out by her husband Neil when they went shopping together and he clearly knows what suits her. As for mine, I’ve made a pledge that I won’t buy any new special occasion outfits this year because I have lots that I’ve hardly worn so I’m going to be repurposing outfits you’ve probably seen before. You might remember that I wore this for Mr MC’s 49th birthday in Jeréz and then again to celebrate our first night out after lockdown.
The family had worked so many little personal touches into the day – can you see that they’d popped ducks in the fountain behind us here so that the children could play ‘hook a duck’ and fish them out?
And I have some lovely photos taken with Helen but this is the one I like best – Mr MC had clearly come out with one of his classics. There’s Neil’s handiwork behind us giving details of the day.
And you know my Auntie Enid – Helen’s grandma and my dad’s sister; she’s the one who always makes me think of the Roald Dahl quote “if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” She’s the matriarch of our family now and we couldn’t wish for a bigger hearted one. You may remember that her husband, my Uncle Stan, died during lockdown and we had a very sad, very small, Covid-restricted funeral for him last winter so this was a happier moment.
We were too busy having fun to take as many photos of Samlesbury Hall’s stunning interiors as we should have done but this gives you an idea… and all of the family who are no longer with us were there on the piano, beaming away at the happy couple.
And on the rare occasion of Mr MC being coaxed out of jeans and trainers we didn’t even get a proper photo of us together, this is all I have! By the way, you can really see the glow your skin gets when you mix a single metallic bronzing drop into your foundation here, it’s subtle but it works.
I did get a photo with my siblings, it isn’t often that we all manage to get together with our other halves. As you know I was a late addition to the family although it’s looking less obvious than it used to. My parents always told me that they had a moment of empty nest regret when the older two went off to university – there are gaps of 20, 18 and 13 years between them and me. My older brother is determinedly holding on to the lockdown beard he grew, enjoying a new identity as the wild man of Wanstead. And you can see it’s been chilly up here, even this week there’s been no sign of the heatwave for us.
In the lull between the reception and disco, Stella brought the dressing up box out – and you’ll know who was the first one there. Look at all the dates that have been crossed out as Helen and Simon waited so patiently for this day.
As the bars of the first song played out, we were eager to hit the dance floor which we did, all night long – so there are no more photos.
It was such a great day. We’re a big family because my dad was the eldest of seven so you can imagine how many cousins there were to catch up with. It was our parents’ generation who left the Eden Valley where our ancestors come from and in times past we’d all have lived much closer to each other. This wedding would always have been a happy one but it was sprinkled with extra magic because we’d all been apart for so long. Family is so precious isn’t it? On a fundamental, primordial level there’s safety in knowing that you’re part of a tribe and even though you may not see each other often, you’re on each other’s side whatever happens. The sense of connection that comes from having a shared history – not only from knowing each other throughout the length of your own lives but also in the DNA that connects you back through so many generations is instinctively powerful.
Midlife Lately – Saturday
The following morning we were up early – no hangovers but I wished I’d gone to bed before the disco ended because we had a big weekend ahead in London and I was already feeling weary. We were heading to a concert in Hyde Park that I booked back in December 2020. It was supposed to take place last summer so it was yet another postponed event that was finally happening. Getting the train from Preston meant that the journey down felt much quicker than it usually does and before we knew it we were emerging into the hot sunshine with all the other pallid northerners. I lost count of the number of people exclaiming that it was like stepping off a plane – my goodness it was hot in London last weekend.
We had a leisurely walk to our hotel and I’ll just add that we’ve found a brilliant bolthole for the summer. The Premier Inn Hub in Soho is great if you’re not intending to spend much time in your room. There are no frills of course but it’s incredibly reasonable and you’re absolutely in the heart of everything. Plus, unusually for London it has aircon which was a relief last weekend and you can request a room without a window so that it’s pitch black when you sleep. I should warn you that the rooms are tiny though, we don’t stay there in winter when we know we’ll be spending more time inside.
We went straight out for a wander around the immediate area. Carnaby Street is on the doorstep and as I said after our Christmas visit to London, it’s really reverting to the vibrant hub that it used to be. I noticed that people were queuing for the changing rooms at Nobody’s Child. It’s a brand that’s had a lot of press attention recently for its clever approach to sustainability. Looking into it I’d say it’s rather well worded and I’m not sure that it’s doing more on that front than other brands but it does phrase it openly and honestly. I loved the collection last winter; for summer it’s mostly floral midi-dresses so I didn’t spend much time in there but it was good to see a wide range of ages queuing happily for the changing rooms together.
Gingham dress (now in the sale)
The Jubilee/Pride decorations were still up as you can see…
… and it was interesting to see a queue stretching out from Birkenstock, the last time I remember that happening was in 2003. Oh how the boys have laughed at their dad’s Arizona sandals over the years and yet now they all want a pair. Later that evening we noticed handwritten notes on the windows saying that the Bostons had sold out in every colour and there wouldn’t be a new delivery for a while.
Carnaby Street was absolutely buzzing in the evening – Kingly Court and Kingly Street are the places to head to if you’re looking for somewhere to eat that feels a bit more bougie than Soho. We had a relaxed bowl of pasta then wandered over to Soho where it was more vibrant than ever, like walking into a cabaret. It’s great to see so much diversity being displayed open heartedly.
Midlife Lately – Sunday
We were up much earlier than I’d hoped thanks to early morning texts from my brother who’s still operating in a different time zone after his recent return from Australia. Having looked at the line-up for BST Hyde Park we knew we weren’t particularly interested in the first few bands so we had a few hours to fill. We were originally planning to meet up with friends at the festival but they couldn’t go so it was just the two of us for the day. Obviously we know London very well so it isn’t always easy to find something new to do but we hadn’t walked the new Mayfair Sculpture Trail so we decided to take that route towards Hyde Park. Here’s Terence Donovan taking a photo of Twiggy outside his 1960s studio…
… and in Berkeley Square meet ‘Visitor’ who has fallen from the sky. You can follow the full trail using the SMARTIFY app – info here.
Our plan was then to go on to Shepherd Market for lunch and on the way we had one of those blue plaque moments of joy when we stumbled across this. If I could have reached it, I’d have kissed it – without him we’d never have met!
Here’s Shepherd Market, a lovely villagey enclave nestled behind Park Lane with a few good places for lunch.
It felt as though this table was just waiting for us and it was a relief to be in the shade because my goodness it was hot. So we relaxed for a long, late lunch with a bottle of fizz.
When we’d finished we wandered slowly towards Hyde Park – we weren’t in any hurry to get there because they’d sent out a message warning that there was very little shade and temperatures were hitting 30 degrees. I know quite a few of you have been to BST already to see The Eagles and Elton John but we had no idea what to expect. It’s hard to find information online so I’m going to give you an outline here in case you’re thinking of it for next year.
Getting in was a dream, there were no queues and the bag searches were quick and efficient. It was about 4pm when we arrived and even though the gates had opened much earlier it was still relatively quiet. As you walk in, the first thing you see are the hundreds (literally) of different food stalls stretching ahead…
… you can see how far they went on, all the way to the fairground you can see in the distance… and then right around the other side.
People were claiming their patch with picnic blankets – you definitely need to bring one and take a roll up water bottle too because there were lots of drinking water stations. We have these now, they’re easy to pop in a bum bag for festivals.
We settled down to watch Laura Mvula who was really good
You can tell who’d just ordered a salad for lunch – I knew he’d still be hungry.
The band I was really looking forward to was Chic with Nile Rodgers. They were being followed by headliners Duran Duran so I was ticking off a teenage dream by seeing them too. I was quite happy sitting in the sunshine waiting but if we’d been up north, we’d soon have been chatting away to the people around us. Here however your picnic blanket was your island. I found it very strange to be sitting so close to someone and yet not strike up even the briefest of conversations but body language made it clear that it wasn’t welcome. It led me to ponder. Has something happened over lockdown? Are the regions polarising with Londoners becoming cooler and more withdrawn while northerners get warmer and more outgoing? At every other festival we’ve been to it’s been the crowd that’s made it. However the atmosphere at BST was more like a dentist’s waiting room and it didn’t get much better as the night went on, even when the headliners arrived.
That aside, it was fascinating seeing what people were wearing, especially as the crowd was made up almost entirely of midlifers. The weather of course had taken everyone by surprise and no doubt caused a last minute panic in what to wear. There were meadows of flowery midi-dresses; at one point in a queue for the loo I couldn’t see a single woman who wasn’t wearing one. You don’t see quite so many in the north but it’s clearly a look that’s reached peak trend in the south.
There were some outfits that really stood out – I thought this midlifer looked fantastic in her dress – if anyone knows where it’s from please tell me.
And here’s the Boden cropped top and skirt looking fabulous. The other outfits that felt fresh were beige chino shorts with a black blouse accessorised with a panama hat with a black band – I saw a few wearing variations of that and it looked pared down and chic. Other women who stood out amidst the florals were those wearing linen – either loose dresses in solid colours or linen playsuits.
I was in my beloved towelling, my goodness it works well in the heat. I bought this with our holiday in mind when I saw it go into the sale but as soon as I saw the heatwave forecast I whipped it out for BST.
Because the Covid rates are pretty high amongst people we know in London, we decided to stay further back than we usually would for a bit more space and I guess there would have been a better atmosphere further forward. This photo was taken in the precious moment as Chic walked onto the stage. They were incredible – and Nile Rodgers… well what can you say? As well as their own hits they did a medley of others he’d composed or written – Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ and ‘Material Girl’; Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’; Diana Ross ‘I’m Coming Out’; David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’… and on it went. They’re definitely top of my list for next year if they tour.
Duran Duran was a set of two halves. Even I was bored for the first one when they played their recent stuff but then they moved into the favourites and as the sun went down, the staging came to life. Just imagine singing along to Rio with this in front of you – it was the stuff of teenage dreams.
So BST in summary: I’d call it a concert rather than a festival, people seemed to be there to watch rather than dance and sing. It’s superbly organised. There were 70,000 people and yet there was barely any queuing and the loos were immaculate every time I went in. Pack a picnic blanket and a refillable water bottle. You don’t need to take food and you can’t take alcohol in with you. Even so, there were quite a few people who were very drunk and there was much more staggering about than I’ve seen at festivals which surprised me given it was very much a midlife Waitrose crowd. Make sure you love the line-up because it’s a long day and there’s an extensive wait while sets are changed with no phone signal whatsoever. Take friends along with you because you won’t make any there and if it’s a feelgood mood you’re after, perhaps find the band you love playing at a smaller, more intimate festival… north of Watford?!
It was lovely walking back through the West End to our hotel at midnight with the heat of the sun still pulsing up from the pavements.
Midlife Lately – Monday
The following morning was even hotter and minutes after he’d taken this photo, Mr MC said rather urgently ‘look behind you!’ I turned around to see a woman wearing a beautifully crisp cotton dress in the perfect shade of deep sky blue. He often points out outfits that he knows I’ll like so I assumed that was it. What I didn’t do was look at her face – I kicked myself when he told me it was Juliette Binoche disappearing into one of the buildings.
So yes, more towelling from me, you’ve seen this before dressed down for a festival and here it is worn slightly differently, ready for a long train journey home with erratic aircon.
Jumpsuit; Stories sandals past season
With that we put a close to a wonderful weekend of fun, I’m so enjoying this project of making summer weekends count. I can see I’ve gone way over my word count again so I’d better sign off quickly now but thank you again for all of your input last week. Together we’ll keep working to change retail as well as the attitudes towards ageing. Onwards my friends.