“I thought you already owned a Morris Minor?” said a text from my friend Val (from New York) on Monday. “Or am I going mad?”. That was what alerted me to the fact that the blog, developing a mind of its own recently, and obviously missing the fact that I hadn’t written anything for a long time, had decided to re-issue a very, very old blog from I guess at least ten years ago, when I bought the Morris 1000 that we still love and use most days.
That blog, appropriately, somehow, was called “Happy Days Are Here Again”. And you may have opened it on Monday morning, thinking, great, there’s a new and optimistic blog from Ben.
Well, here it is. And I think that the Happy days really ARE here again… at last. It’s been a long wait. It’s even been a long, cold, dry Spring. The trees in Dorset are hardly in leaf and we’ve still got daffodils and primroses flowering in the garden, which is unsettling for mid-May. But it’s been magical to see London slowly unlock. Today, coming back in to St Pancras Station from a day on site in Kent, walking down to Lambs Conduit Street, you could feel the hum in the air. I have to say I’ve lost count of the number of articles that I’ve read over the last year foretelling the death of cities and the fact that no-one will ever return to the office again. And I’ll be honest, I don’t believe it.
So, first, apologies that it’s taken a little while to blog. It really has been a busy few weeks, but we have also had rather a lot of blog and website gremlins to contend with too. I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s move on. First stop, a few weeks ago… Charlie’s delicious tangerine-striped daffodil and tulip sale tent that he erected in the village to tempt passers by on a hot sunny weekend to buy up all his surplus flowers. Trade was insanely brisk. On Sunday evening, this is all that was left. I’m currently very obsessed by the colours of those daffodils. They are flying through all our interior decoration at the moment. I’m doing a lot of tangerine coloured walls, I don’t know quite why I’m finding it quite so beautiful and optimistic.
The chickens are going fairly crazy at the moment, don’t ask me why. Maybe they’ve got spring in their step too.
The remains of the tulips.
And then I was up to Scotland, on the first day that we were allowed back in, to visit a whole series of projects. Near Edinburgh is our new development at Longniddry – and as a treat, Rob from the office, and Ed our colleague in Scotland who has masterplanned the scheme, and I, stayed in the beautiful Greywalls House, designed by Lutyens, now a wonderful hotel. I arrived late after driving up via project meetings in that beautiful and hitherto, to me, unknown part of the country called The Dukeries – so called, because most of the county was owned by four contiguous Ducal estates. We are looking at potential architectural design for some housing developments for one of the estates. I had the easiest drive north, always that magical sense of air and spaciousness you get as you cross the border, and arrived at Greywalls at dusk. Just time for a bath and a walk around the incredible Jekyll gardens before supper and bed.
On the Tuesday, an early start and a site visit in the pouring, pouring rain to the Longniddry development. I’ll take more photos one day when it’s not pouring with rain. Here’s the care home now under construction that we’ve designed….
And then, Rob and I travelled to Tornagrain, the new town we’re designing for Moray Estates – always so good to be there, and so wonderful to see progress as the months have passed and work has continued apace. The place has an amazingly settled feel now, already, after only three years. I think it’s really one of our proudest projects in the office; am I allowed to say that? Because of the virus restrictions I couldn’t stay with my clients and friends, John & Cathy, this time – so I’d ended up renting a little holiday apartment in the town. It was so fantastic to go to sleep there, and to wake up early the next morning and be able to walk around before breakfast. Such a treat.
We hadn’t seen these houses finished and occupied – imagine how nice this is going to look in a few years when the beech hedges have grown up and the front gardens are planted and established, filled with a wonderful landscape. We are putting the first bones of the infrastructure in, now nature must take its course.
This bright yellow paint colour is, I was told, a mistake on the spec chart, but it’s one of those brilliant happy accidents that you simply cannot make up. It’s perfect. So, so beautiful against the white.
It just glows, even on a cloudy morning…
Looking up the first completed street….
The bus doing its rounds. Amazingly there was an active and very regular bus to Inverness before the first house was occupied. Next year the railway station opens! Then we are really talking.
That afternoon, I had an incredible visit to the Johnston’s of Elgin factory – in Elgin, in continuous production at this site since the 18th century. It was a remarkable, beautiful, industrious, inspiring place. Maybe some exciting things will be happening, but here for now are some views of the incredible interior of the factory. Mesmerising.
And extremely ‘accidentally Wes Anderson’.
Then we had a long walk around the centre of Elgin, as we are getting to the stage at Tornagrain where we are needing to think about the design of the future town centre in more detail.
Early the next morning I was off and away to the Isle of Skye, where I was looking at helping advise on an old house over there on the coast. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful drive. I was covering the miles but you hardly feel it in this country. That evening we went for a wonderful walk down the peninsula.
This was my room for the night. What a magical, wonderful house. Sunset.
And then, via Oban, down to the bothy. Charlie had arrived the day before. We hadn’t been here for so long, unable to visit once during the lockdown. Everyone was in heaven.
Tea service the following morning.
A walk on yet another staggeringly still, clear morning. Look at the reflections!
First glimpse of Jura…
Mavis in her element, looking like a friendly seal.
That afternoon, lunch in the garden with our friends the Milnes, who have I think one of the most beautiful views in the whole of Scotland, looking across the Sound of Jura.
The water was the most incredible colour. To think that a commercial fish farm was going to be placed here, until many locals successfully fought the application.
Back at the bothy. Drinks time.
The next day, a walk down the peninsula…..
morning coffee on the rocks, followed by swims (for some)….
Dogs in heather.
Home for lunch.
And then an incredible storm blew over, and we hid inside all day long. And the following day, I was down to London, and got back in time for an evening walk in brilliant sunshine, huge clouds rising over Bloomsbury.
Sunset the next evening, looking down to the Shard.
And then to Dorset at last. Charlie’s garden was transformed by rain and some warmth in the air at last.
On Sunday, last weekend, I was taking photos at a project site, and so we swapped our weekend around. Monday became fake Sunday. The weather sparkled on a beautiful breezy day. We got up late, breakfasted late, had coffee with Gracie and Adrian over at Little Toller Books, and went to the Pymore Inn for lunch. But calling in at the Dorset Nectar Cider company on the way. Their blossom was extraordinary. Is there anything more beautiful than a large, old apple orchard in May?
And so here we are, in the little Morris Minor, which brings us very neatly full circle to where we began.
Back to London that evening. The sunshine was favouring church over Mammon, I’d say.
And here we are back in London, half way through a week, and almost half way through the year. How is that possible? The year of lost time. We need to make the most of it – to seize each day, and treat it as something rich and special, filled with infinite possibilities.