14 March 2013


On Saturday 30 March, 2013 down at Praia Pequena, Colares, Sintra, there will be a beach clean up.  Susanna Cole of www.quintabeiramar.com has decided to get involved and is asking for volunteers to come along and help.  Glenn and I will be going along and ask others to join us if possible.  We will be meeting at 11.30am.

Pretty Praia Pequena

Now before people start muttering about the state of beaches in this part of the world, I would like to point out that during the winter, an awful lot of debris gets dumped on the beaches from the storms that the Atlantic likes to batter us with.  Earlier in the week in fact, I saw a JCB digger scraping driftwood off the beach at Praia das Macas which had been brought in on the high tides we have at this time of year.

Susanna's initiative got me thinking about litter in general.

When I was at primary school, we were all taught to respect the rules of the countryside – always close gates, keep dogs on leads, do not trespass etc – and also to not throw our rubbish anywhere except in the bin.  There again, in those days there was far less unnecessary wrapping to be disposed of compared to today’s overkill.

There were frequent campaigns on KEEP BRITAIN TIDY – some more memorable or disastrous than others.  Litter bins were everywhere and used.  However, as years went on, packaging increased; threats of bomb attacks meant litter bins were few and far between; fast food/takeaway joints opened and slowly the clean streets became a distant memory, along with the ever present street cleaner.

Courtesy of the W.I. (Women's Institute)

When you went on holiday and went to the beach, you would have taken a picnic carefully put together by your mother, which would be carried in the proper picnic basket, complete with cutlery, china, tablecloth and glassware and any rubbish would be repacked and disposed at an appropriate bin.  Drinks tended to be in thermos flasks too - no plastic bottles or cans. 

An example of a proper picnic basket

I had a google about the problems with debris on beaches and decided it needs to be shared and hopefully the message will start to get through to those members of society who need reminding about leaving the planet for others (difficult concept for some I know but we can but hope).

Beach litter is now at the highest level since records began;  nearly 2,000 items of rubbish per kilometre!  A rise of 135% since 1994. It kills wildlife, looks disgusting, is a hazard to health and costs millions to clear up.

Turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and if they eat a bag, it can block their stomachs leading them to starve to death - how horrible is that?  Seabirds think plastic litter is food which they then eat and die.  Plastic never biodegrades (rots). It just breaks down into small pieces and lurks on beaches, in the stomachs of marine life, etc.

Where does all this come from?  Guess?  Yes, you're right.  It comes from us, the public and also from shipping, fishing activities, sewage pipes and it can all be prevented.

Plastics make up the majority of debris found on beaches, and has been found to make up half of all the debris on remote desert islands.  Easy to see how when our throw-away lifestyle is examined.  No bins?  Chuck it on the ground, in someone's garden, anywhere but where it should go. A recent study by UNEP or the United Nations Environment Programme, reckoned that there were 46,000 pieces of plastic litter per square mile!

Because plastics are extremely cheap, durable (hard wearing), lightweight, and versatile - they have replaced many traditional materials (metal, glass and wood). This also means that they are the most pervasive, persistent and hazardous form of litter in the marine environment.

Remember the devastating tsunami in Japan? Floating debris can also be transported substantial distances by wind and currents like the empty fishing boat that turned up in the US all the way from Japan. Litter can travel thousands of miles around the world’s oceans. In 1992 twenty containers full of plastic ducks and other toys were lost overboard from a ship travelling from China to Seattle. By 1994 some of the toys had been tracked to Alaska, others reached Iceland in 2000. The toys have now been sighted in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Some of the Tsunami refuse that arrived in the US

Portuguese beaches have a great system of recycling bins as well as portable ashtrays, but of course there are people who do feel that they need to use them - irresponsible people only and more than likely non-local.  I would like to think this is down to plain ignorance but I have actually seen tourists stub out cigarettes in the sand rather than get off their bottoms and retrieve a red plastic container from the stand, to put them in.  A bit like the way they can't be bothered to read the signs on the beaches (in English as well as Portuguese) about warning flags for swimming.

Fishermen can also be careless or just unlucky, with their gear being swept out to sea and coming back to be debris on the beach, although leaving their beer bottles and other rubbish is not careless but thoughtless. 

How can we help stop this debris reaching our shores.  Well we can stop buying things that are covered in plastic or if you cannot avoid it, make sure it is recycled properly and if you are on a beach, take it home with you or put in the correct bin on the beach. 

Stop using plastic supermarket bags or plastic bags from anywhere.  There are plenty of cheap, material alternatives that you can tuck in your handbag.  Better still, buy a nice handmade basket and keep the basket making industry alive and thriving.  We do not need plastic bags.

On the beach, if you bring food to eat, make sure you dispose of the packaging or leftovers responsibly.  You would not want to step in someone's leftovers would you?  Nor would you want anyone to end up with a disease from stepping on a broken bottle you have carelessly (or drunkenly) left on the sand.

So anyone who has some spare time on Saturday 30 March, who cares about our beautiful coastline, come along to Praia Pequena (inbetween Praia Grande and Praia das Macas) near Colares, Sintra and lend a hand.  Or, check out www.initiativesoceanes.org or www.surfrider.eu who are also on Facebook as Ocean Initiatives Surfrider Foundation Europe, to see whether you could organise one of your own wherever you live.  Thank you.

Praia Pequena


8 March 2013

Art for Art's Sake (Apologies to 10cc)

The first painting I really  remember as a child,  was a large reproduction of Maurice Utrillo's 'The Dead End'.  This was positioned over the fireplace and I remember spending quite a bit of time looking at it.  Perhaps this is where my interest in art began. 

The Dead End - Maurice Utrillo

Along the corridors at Granada Television in Manchester were some amazing works of art that Sidney Bernstein, the founder of Granada Television in Manchester, collected.  After his death I believe a lot of his collection went to the Manchester Art Gallery. Years later, wandering around the fascinating Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon (www.museu.gulbenkian.pt), I saw something that rang a bell.  It looked like a Bridget Riley that had been at Granada, but this was a different colour. I went closer - it was a Bridget Riley.  I realised that unwittingly, the paintings I saw every day for 13 years, had left a lasting impression.
In Edinburgh I fell in love with the work of Ken Lochhead, a local artist. I managed to buy five of his originals, featuring various views of Cramond and Leith which look really good here in Portugal but my favourites are two fabulous, commissioned ones featuring the River Almond.  I never get tired of looking at his work on my walls.  His website is run by his wife Sheila (Ken sadly died in 2006) www.kenlochhead.co.uk.  These are my two commissioned favourites.

 Cottages in Dowie's Mill Lane, Cramond, Edinburgh 1986

A view to the Cramond Brig Bridge 1986

There was a period when I abandoned blogging to help a friend of very long standing, to write his autobiography. I have known Joe, (strictly speaking Christopher Joe Beard) since I was a teenager and he was part of The Purple Gang.  The band possibly more famous for having their first single banned by the BBC. The problem was, as perceived by the ancient panel who passed records for radio play in those long off days, was the line: "...so once year Granny takes a trip".  Had the idiots listened to all the lyrics properly and not focused on the word 'trip', the lives of the band members would have been very different.  The late John Peel was a big fan of the band and was the first DJ to play their second single, 'Kiss me Goodnight Sally Green'. For those of you who have never heard the classic, check out 'Granny Takes a Trip' and other gems by the band on www.youtube.com.

However I digress.  Joe, apart from still being a musician and writing a fascinating autobiography 'Taking the Purple', which hopefully will be published some time this year, is also an artist.  His story of keeping the legacy of The Purple Gang alive and combining it with being an accomplished artist, is fascinating but as all authors/artists need sales, you will have to wait for the book. I will say that his adventures in music and art are hilarious at times, moving at others.  I am very fortunate to have one of his works on my wall which reminds me of happy times in Cheshire.

Coppice Road Allotments, Cheshire

Private Fitton Kings Royal Rifle Corps 1914
Collection of Mr. G.Fitton of Hampshire

I love this one - what a character

Councillor Thelma Jackson, the last ever Mayor of Macclesfield

A very handsome horse 

Joe does commissions and is building a website and blog at present but if anyone fancies a portrait, please contact me and I will put you in touch with him.

Another artist I met here in Portugal, and am lucky enough to have one of her works on my walls, is the daughter of a respected Portuguese artist, Rui de Azevedo. Vanessa's works adorn the walls of various branches of Barclays Bank in Portugal and she has exhibited all around Europe.  I think her work is really interesting. Her website is http://vanessaazevedo.com.  Here are three of my favourites but please check out her site for other beautiful examples of her work.

Igreja de Carcavelos (Carcavelos Church)

Casa da Sarola, Norte

Obviously I have to add this one as a reminder of the beautiful Cotswolds.

  Cotswold Cottage

Another couple of talented artists I have had the pleasure of knowing are Nadja Kirschgarten and Nicholas Ferguson.  Nadja lived next door to me in Malmesbury for a time and now is an accomplished artist who studied Visual Arts at the University of Arts, Bern.  To see more of her work go to www.najakirschgarden.com.

Trees by Nadja Kirschgarten

Nicholas I met when he was a Director at Granada Television.  He has a distinguished background in television and now in art and sculpture.  More examples of his work can be seen at www.nicholasfergusonpaintings.com.

Grandmother's Chair by Nicholas Ferguson

I hope you enjoy my selection and if you have an interest in any of the artists and their works, do please contact them.

7 March 2013

Why you should visit this part of Portugal

As the winter slowly but surely departs and spring appears, thoughts turn to holidays.  The reason to go abroad for holidays is normally driven by desperation to see some sunshine or to have a new experience in a foreign country.  Whatever the reason for it, I am going to try and encourage people to come and explore my part of Portugal.

For those who do not know much about the country, the capital of Portugal is Lisbon.  A city spread over seven hills  with so much to see it would be impossible to fit it all in - you might need to come back!  Lisbon has its own castle - Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George's Castle) which overlooks the city and the rio Tejo (River Tagus). 

Castelo Sao Jorge at night (courtesy of Lonely Planet)

However much as I love Lisbon, I think the part of Portugal I live in deserves a bit more publicity.  It only takes about 40 minutes by car or train to reach Sintra.  So near and yet so far for some tourists who come to Lisbon via cruise ships.  Recently someone told me that the cruises offer Sintra as an optional extra. They drive from Lisbon via Cascais/Guincho/Cabo de Roca to Sintra where they have just 40 minutes.  40 minutes.  Good grief.  There is no way you can explore even the Royal Palace in the centre of the town, in that time.  What a shame.  If only there was a way to persuade people to ignore the coach outing, grab a train and in 40 minutes you are in Sintra and can spend a few hours, not minutes, looking around and marvelling at the views, the buildings, the palaces and fitting in a quick snack or lunch to get a bit of an impression.
Sintra Vila
The Sintra Council has a great website detailing what's on and where to go at www.cm-sintra.pt and it has a button for English in case you worry you won't understand anything.  There is also a great site for accommodation www.sintrainn.net which has English and Spanish options.  Wonderful choice of places to stay too.
Sintra is full of hidden gems like fountains where people fill up their water bottles weekly, because tradition has it that the water from the Sintra hills is very good for you.
Fonte Mourisca (Moorish Fountain)
It has Palacia de Pena (The Pena Palace), Palacia Nacional de Sintra(the National Palace of Sintra), Palacio e Quinta da Regaleira (the Palace and Farm of Regaleira), O Castelo dos Mouros (The Moorish Castle), Palacio de Monserrate (The Palace of Monserrate) and that is just a hint of what there is to explore.  There are museums covering art, toys, literature, science - so much to see and do all within the city of Sintra.
If you are a keen walker, then the hills or Serra, are ideal.  There is a lot to explore not least the Convento dos Capuchos (Convent of the Capuchos) right on the top of the Serra.

The ruins of the Convent of the Capuchos

There really is something for everyone in Sintra
If you prefer the countryside to staying in Sintra, why not try a really authentic holiday and stay in one of the local villages like Almocageme, Colares or Praia das Macas?  All of these are within 20 minutes of Sintra, on regular bus routes to either Cascais or Sintra, where you can get the train to Lisbon.  It is also only 40 minutes to get to the beautiful seaside town of Ericeira.  You will gain a feel of what everyday Portugal is like as this part of the world does not suffer from the commercialism that blights other parts.

The old part of Colares showing the Church

Colares has local shops selling newspapers, gifts, groceries, hardware shops, hairdressers, estate agents, banks, post office, chemist, petrol stations, some rather good cafes, restaurants, hotels, a river with ducks to feed and is on the tram line from Sintra to Praia das Macas.  It is also only minutes from three beaches - Praia das Macas, Praia Grande and Praia da Adraga. A regular bus service to Sintra and Cascais and Praia das Macas.

A street scene in Almocageme

Almocageme, like Colares has various mini supermarkets, gift shops, laundry, butchers, cafes, hairdressers, electrical shops, bread shops, restaurants and is only a few minutes (by car, longer by foot) from Praia da Adraga.  Also a regular bus service to both Cascais and Sintra.  A market on a Thursday and then on Saturdays and Sundays, there is a street market selling fruit and vegetables by the side of the main road from Colares to Cascais.

Praia das Macas

A very sweet seaside town which is at the end of the line for the tram from Sintra.  It has restaurants (including seafood ones), grocery shops, butchers, cafes, hotels, chemist, gift shops, newsagents - everything you expect down at the seaside.  Again has a regular bus service to Sintra (if you are going to Cascais, you can change buses in Colares).

A pretty street in Ericeira

The interior of Ericeira is very traditional - all painted in blue and white and has a lovely atmosphere.  It has everything a town requires from large daily market, to supermarkets on the outskirts of the town.  The shops are a mix of traditional and modern, mixed in with butchers, bakers, cafes, banks, tourist office, hotels, restaurants.  Something for everyone.  A very popular resort for surfers as is all of this coastline.  You can also get there by bus from Sintra.

Accommodation in all of the places I have written about varies from expensive hotels to bed and breakfast.  You can, of course, always go for the self catering option and there are many that advertise on the internet. 

Lisbon airport is served by most low cost airlines from late March to October and obviously the major airlines fly daily. 

I do hope you consider trying this part of the world for its wonderful views, beaches, food, wine and history.

Location, Location, Location

Do you ever wonder where some of the best British television programmes or films are filmed?  Have you ever thought a location looked a bit familiar?  Well you are probably right.  Some locations are used frequently because they most closely resemble the period in history that the producers are looking for. Bath (Spa), or even Aguae Sulis - which was its original name in Roman times has always been popular. Its streets and houses have been used in films such as The Music Lovers, Vanity Fair, The Duchess The Fantastic Mr Fox and more recently in  Les Miserables. 

An aerial view of the City of Bath

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

www.visitbath.co.uk is an excellent website giving you everything you want to know about Bath, where to stay and what to visit.

Filming in Lacock Village, Wiltshire

Close to Bath are some other very popular locations.  Lacock Village was used for many episodes of the classic Cranford television series as Knutsford (the original setting) in Cheshire was felt to have become too modern to be used.

Lacock Village minus film crews

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince also used it successfully as did The Other Boleyn Girl. Lacock is not just a village but home to Lacock Abbey and the famous Fox Talbot Museum.  Check out this website to discover more. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock/

Bridge over Bybrook River in Castle Combe

Nearby is the beautiful Castle Coombe which has featured in the original, classic Dr Doolittle, The Wolfman and the award winning The War Horse. www.castle-coombe.com is the village website and shows it claims to be the most beautiful village in England.

Castle Coombe Village

The UK has some of the most beautiful stately homes in the world.  So many are ideal for locations as they can be dressed up or down to suit the subject. Interiors, exteriors, stable blocks, gardens, wooded areas, ponds, rivers, lakes are all useful tools to producers.

Hardwick Hall was favourite for Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2. Check out the website for more details of the history of this magnificient building, visiting times for the house, gardens  and holiday cottages. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardwick/

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire

Haddon Hall pops up in Jane Eyre, Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice, The Princess Bride and The Other Boleyn Girl. Their website gives more details of the Hall and the families of the Manners and Vernons. www.haddonhall.co.uk

Haddon Hall, Derbyshire

Chatsworth is always popular with television and film crews and can be seen in The Wolfman, The Duchess and Pride and Prejudice. Have a look at their website for more information on visiting the house, the grounds, and renting holiday cottages. www.chatsworth.org

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

The Peak District is home to other stately homes such as Eyam Hall (www.eyamhall.co.uk), Renishaw Hall (www.renishaw-hall.co.uk) and Tissington Hall (www.tissingtonhall.co.uk) in Derbyshire and then Adlington Hall (www.adlingtonhall.com), Gawsworth Hall (www.gawsworthhall.com) and Lyme Park (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-hall) in Cheshire.  All of the stately homes have long histories, beautiful gardens and wonderful interiors that leave lasting impressions.

So if you want a change from a city break, try taking a break in the South West of England and explore Bristol, Bath, Castle Coombe and Lacock or try the North West and explore the beautiful Peak District.