The bright summer

We’re back to London this weekend, grey skied, rain sweeping through, everything drenched, trees black-green barked, buildings a symphony of brown and cream and black gloss paint. Red phone and letter boxes. Wintery London. Of course, I love it, can you deny the beauty of London on a wet January weekend? But I can’t help but crave the clear bright skies of the southern summer.

We arrived in Sydney after the huge flight, floating down below, where we were spending a few days before heading across to New Zealand. We’d spent a day in Sydney a few years ago and loved it. Now we were here to explore properly.

We were staying (not in the Lord Nelson Hotel, but just around the corner) in the Rocks district, the earliest part of Georgian Sydney, still extraordinarily well preserved.  Waking early on our first morning, we were soon out and about and exploring, as the city woke up.  I cannot get enough of single storey villas with porches.  And stripy corrugated iron canopies.  Down on the harbour front… Modern Sydney looming behind. As I find myself saying so often in these sorts of situations, I wonder which buildings will still be here in another 200 years time?  Cadman’s Cottage – the earliest remaining cottage in Sydney – sadly not open to the public at the moment…  Back to the bridge…. And of course to the Opera House… High summer in the Botanical Gardens.  Then, that morning, a bit of a departure. We had found that the brilliantly untouched Rouse Hill estate was open for a rare afternoon and decided to head over there.  We drove for an hour through suburbia and exurbia, strip malls and business parks. You take a sudden left turn off and arrive in another time and place.

This is the sight that first greets you, cattle in open fields and the smell of gum trees.  The house is astonishingly beautiful. Completely untouched by modernity, it remained in the same family ownership until almost the turn of the last century at at which point it has been administered and cared for by The Historic Houses Trust.   Every room is perfectly preserved and consolidated as it was found; a palimpsest of 6 generations of the same family, gently falling from incredible wealth to harder and harder times.  The view back to the stable and paddocks, and to the line of the Blue Mountains in the far distance.  The summerhouse in the garden.  The most brilliant design. One that must be replicated one day.  We tore ourselves away. It couldn’t have been a more enormous culture shock to head to Bondi.  Lunch at incredible Sean’s.  An afternoon and evening of more exploring and walking.  The next day we were in the city.  The Museum of Sydney – drawings of how the early settlement looked… A model of the first fleet…. And excellent displays about the evolution of the Governor’s Mansion, that stood on this exact place.  Artefacts discovered in the 1970s excavations.  Upstairs, a small sample of an amazing photographic archive of historical photographs…

A staff Christmas Party at the Government Printing Office No. 2, 1932, should you need reminding of the brilliance of paper chains.  A Sydney slum in the late 19th century.  Your new years resolutions sorted – A 1930s Childrens’ Health March. After a monumental rain storm, we headed out and found the beautiful Hyde Park Barracks by Francis Greenway, Sydney’s early architect, who arrived in Australia as a convict and went on to complete many of the finest buildings in the emerging city.  The historic Mint – a stunning building. 

And then a long walk out to the Eveleigh Works for lunch…. The Eveleigh works are a brilliantly re-imagined historic factory complex, now being restored and home to fascinating displays and new businesses.  The harbour at sunset.  We came across the replica of HMS Endevour, the vessel which bore Captain Cook to Australia and New Zealand in 1768-1772.  So strange to see the contrast of the tiny boat and what surrounds it today.
The following morning we were up early. I was giving a lunch for Morris & Co that day, but we had decided to head down to Endeavour to see inside the boat.  Life must have been incredible cramped on the ship, with its low, low bulkheads owing to an additional deck being inserted to the ship before the start of the voyage.  Junior officers’ quarters.  Cook’s cabin.
The stateroom and Joseph Banks’s cabin.  Morris & Co was the rest of the day.  Chinatown for dinner that evening.
And then we were over to New Zealand, arriving into Christchurch for another Morris & Co talk, and then absorbing summer in the city, and spending time with the projects that my office is designing there now, for the developer and house builder Brooksfield – so exciting to see these all beginning to take shape now!

We had time for a lovely walk in the Botanical Garden.  Lots of catching up with friends. And then we headed down to the farm for Christmas with Charlie’s family. How long had we waited for this moment to see everyone!

Days lazed by; we cooked, ate, drank, talked, lay in the sunshine, read our books and did nothing very much at all.

Small trips.  Look at this little cottage in Mount Somers.
One of the trails at Mount Somers.  Back at the farm. A walk to the Emily Falls, Mount Peel Forest: Nearly over – the Mount Peel lilies.  Heading out towards Mount Peel Station. Heaven on earth.  Back at the farm, Christmas day.  A few days later we headed south to visit our friends Kirsty & Simon.  Astonishing lupin fields on the way down.
The scent was so powerful in the warm air. Kirsty’s incredible garden was looking even more amazing than our last visit five years ago.  Ben with a lamb.  And then over towards Timaru for our friend Forbes’s brillaint 60th birthday party…. Finding this abandoned treasure on the way.  Waimate. Dusty and brillaint.  Forbes’ and Bridgie’s garden.  Sunset that evening, staying up at the tiny shearers’ quarters high on the hill.  And sunrise that morning, the start of an incredibly hot, happy day.  An evening walk at the end of the party.  And then down to Waitati, for a night with Forbes and Bridgie, recovery mode, at their bach.  We’d had a day exploring Dunedin. It was good to do nothing and sit and drink beers on the green and pink porch.  Early the following morning we went for a long walk on the beach – sea lion marks in the sand…. Pine trees growing out of the rock face:  Bach with a view… We tore ourselves away.

We discovered what I’d say is our dream New Zealand house on the way home.  Do you see what I mean?

Back to the farm. Our last few days were upon us. Isn’t it extraordinary how quickly weeks can pass?

May I confess we were all in bed at 9pm on New Year’s Eve?  Always the best way.

Up bright and early for Charlie’s birthday on the 2nd.  A happy party in the garden all day.  A walk that evening – the amazing straight, tree-lined roads of Canterbury in the slanting evening light.  The next day a walk up Little Mount Peel.  It took a couple of hours of fairly hard and fast walking uphill to get to the summit – 1311m, so almost the height of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Great Britain. I will say that I found it quite hard going towards the end but with Charlie’s encouragement I persisted.  At the summit.  Coming back down… Flax plants… re-entering the tree line… Views over the mid-Canterbury plain.  And back into the Peel Forest, thick with ferns of every shape and size.  Lush green.

And then, like a dream that is coming to an end, we were at our last day, and then we were packing, and starting the long, long journey back up to London, where we arrived, blinking, on Friday. It’s been a weekend of readjusting – to the change of light, day length, colour of sky, summer back to winter again.  I think I read once somewhere that our brains can only really take in the speed of a walking pace. There is always a dial that needs settling, therefore, at the end of a long flight home. But spending a little time, this evening, in the memories of the last month, has been wonderful.

The New Year can be a strange time.  The excitements and exhaustions of Christmas are over.  The turn of the year brings the idea of renewals, but perhaps, if we are being honest to ourselves, we wake up a few days later and realise that not so much changes. The world is the same world as it was before, and as it will be.  That permanence, and recurrence, is actually something that we should take great comfort from, except that we always hope that one year will change things around.

Well, as regular readers of the blog will know, I’m a believer in small changes, and I’m a believer in really only spending time worrying about things that you can change, and which are in your control.  We’re bombarded with a million problems daily that you can do nothing about.  Let’s tackle the tiny number of things that you can do something about.  This is really the way to make things happen.

And if you are need of a new year’s resolution, I think perhaps it’s this, for 2023. Be Kind – to yourself, and to others.

Spring is just around the corner now, and just think – it’s 20 weeks until the start of summer.  Let’s make every week count.

Happy New Year.


This is the most refreshing blog in the bloguniverse. Thank you. I am never" weary of your ardent ways". And Charlie remains the most chic man; it appears to be effortless. Cheers!

mary lou bethune

Have not been home since 1983, thank you Ben for letting me see what it looks like now! “Single storey villas with porches” are Terrace houses with verandas!


Breakfast will be late this morning ! xxxx

Patricia Taylor

What a wonderful trip you both had over the holidays and Charlie’s birthday celebration. Loved the pictures of Sydney and New Zealand, so beautiful. I have friends in Sydney and a wonderful lifestyle there, beautiful weather and scenery. Wonderful vegetation and florals. So uplifting to see. Thank you for your suggestion of a New Year’s Resolution. I totally agree and try to follow those words. All the best to. you and Charlie in the New Year, best wishes.. Can’t wait until it is Spring and summer and we are seeing Charle’s gardening. All the best from Canada.

Darlene Chandler

Thankyou once again for such an interesting blog with incredible photos . Love the lupin fields, Mount Peel, and photo of the children’s health march !
Having visited Sydney and N Z about 10 years ago it brought back a lot of happy memories.

Rosemary Givens

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