Mauritius – Sun, Sand and plenty of Vitamin Sea!

Mid-December, in the depths of a cold, grey, miserable english winter, when the whole family has become part of a national statistic – the 150% increase on the previous year’s flu’ sufferers – what better time to take off for tropical climes?

This trip, to celebrate (albeit a month late) our 40th Wedding anniversary, with our children, grandchildren and dearest friends in tow, was planned months in advance, and although the prospect of sneezing and wheezing throughout the 10 hour flight with heavy chests and head colds was possibly foolhardy, as soon as we arrived and felt the warm sun on our backs, we knew we’d made the right decision. Almost instantly our symptoms improved and by the time we reached our resort; the fabulous, newly refurbished “One & Only’ St. Geran, 40 minutes later, they’d all but disappeared.

Our friendly and very chatty driver of the hotel courtesy car took us along the scenic coastal route, winding through the pretty, colourful villages, with the Indian Ocean not 5 feet away, throughout.

He entertained us, clearly swelling with nationalistic pride, with so many facts and figures about the island that the drive seemed to take no time at all!

From him, we learned much about the island’s history;  how, the Dutch, French, and finally the British had colonised it in turn, until independence was peacefully won in 1968 and it became a republic in 1992. How the sugar plantations that cover most of the island –  grow and refine the high quality cane sugar that’s still the island’s biggest source of income; 100% of it being exported to Europe (and how an inferior quality of sugar has to be bought in for local consumption)

We were assured that the development of Tourism, the island’s second largest economy, is strictly controlled, hence the abundance of untouched natural beauty (although, we later learned, things are in fact changing and beautiful public beaches are today, worryingly, coming under threat from foreign investors with fat cheque books).

It seems however that, in general, the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Mauritians are a happy lot. Although their standard of living may not be considered particularly high compared to the western world (materially speaking) it is more than sufficient to sustain a happy healthy life; a result of everyone having a) regular employment, b) more than enough healthy and natural food to eat and c) a beautiful, healthy environment in which to raise their families and contentedly live out their days.

Mauritius is made up of people from very different backgrounds namely, Indian, African, French Creole and British, all of whom live happily side by side . In fully accepting and embracing the rich diversity of their communities, by openly celebrating their marked cultural differences; their religious beliefs, traditions, festivals, dress etc……and in living as one with a deep shared respect for the outstandingly beautiful natural flora and fauna, a sense of harmony presides. There’s a lesson or two for us all, perhaps, to be learned from such hard-working, tolerant, generous, gentle, passionate and kind spiritual folk……

The approach to our hotel, lined by an avenue of ‘Flamboyant’ or ‘Flame trees’ (Delonix Regis or Royal Poinciana) laden with scarlet flowers, was a glorious sight to behold:

and merely a taste of what was to come. We had truly arrived in Paradise.

For the next 8 days we simply wound down and completely relaxed.

Mornings began with a healthy buffet breakfast serving up any and everything one could possibly imagine – and more!

(though I did try to be healthy and stick mostly to the huge array of exotic fresh fruits)  and were then spent lounging at the beach, soaking up the sun and occasionally dipping into in the warm, shallow clear waters:

Afternoons were spent lazing by the pool, with our every whim catered for by an army of discreet attendants by merely lifting a ‘service’ flag:

Just what the doctor ordered!

There was the occasional leisurely walk along the beach:

or, for those of us who felt the need to be active, there were a host of water sports such as kayaking, paddle boarding and waterskiing, on offer.

Not for me though, I was content just to find the shade of a gently swaying palm tree, dig my toes into the soft white powdery sand and, for hours on end, stare vacantly out into the blue….

Or I’d enjoy wandering around the tropical gardens of the hotel that were teeming with lush exotic plants and wildlife.

The gardens were beautifully maintained by a team of statuesque lady gardeners. I found them so fascinating, in their regulation green Hunter wellies, polo shirts, orange marigolds and colourful headgear and I managed this quick sketch, in preparation for a larger painting:

A gold crested crane was a regular visitor

as was the cheeky red Madagascar Fody who brazenly visited our balcony each morning

There were several parakeets and even a few red whiskered Bulbuls (passerine songbirds) darting between the banana palms but they were too quick and elusive for me to capture.

(photo courtesy of Juzaphoto)

This chappie however ‘froze’ just long enough for me to snap him though (not sure who was the more scared!) 

One indulgence was a fabulous relaxing full body massage in the soothing sanctuary of the pristine Spa and then, suitably pummelled and pampered and with glass of bubbly in hand, watching the sun go down over the lagoon:

Evenings were pure indulgence and a culinary delight (not to mention a real exercise in restraint!) with the sumptuous buffet offering every type of food imaginable from Sushi to exotic curries and everything in-between:

Not forgetting the ever-changing array of desserts which were simply to die for!

After Dinner there was live entertainment, including local bands and mesmerising performances from the fast and furious Sega dancers:

We did venture out of the hotel a couple of times. Once for a day’s sailing, on a catamaran which took us from Trou d’Eau Douce, firstly to the Ile aux Cerfs:

where my husband (someone notoriously terrified of heights!) only took himself off, along with our son, for a spot of para-gliding!!

With feet once again on Terra Firma (thankfully!) from there it was on to our next port of call; the beautiful inland Grand River Waterfall:

then back out to sea for some snorkelling in the fabulously clear turquoise waters:

The final event of a most memorable day was a delicious barbecue of fresh crayfish and lobster cooked on board by our charming crew:

Our second excursion was to the colourful market at the nearby town of Flacq where the heady aromas, the cacophony of sounds, the hustle and bustle and vibrant colours of the exotic fresh produce on offer was matched by the glorious saris and sun parasols of the local inhabitants who arrived by the bus load for this twice weekly event:

There was of course so much of the island still to see and do; wild life parks, a sugar factory and museums to visit, but we barely skimmed the surface! This holiday was all about relaxing, celebrating a milestone and getting ourselves fit and well once again in time for Christmas (less than a week away) and, with only one week, time simply didn’t allow for us to venture very far this time, unfortunately. Neither did it allow time, sadly, to meet up with a dear old friend from our Saudi days (over 35 years ago!) yoga teacher and fellow artist:  Brigitte Haberland.

I’d dearly hoped to see her but she had a busy schedule of classes at the other end of the island so that too will have to wait for another visit. Meanwhile, do enjoy her wonderfully vibrant artwork:

Brigitte is also  a passionate and active campaigner against the gradual destruction of the natural beauty of her beloved homeland. Pomponette Beach, situated in a ‘protected’ heritage site of outstanding natural beauty, a designated public beach, is currently under threat of commercial development. If you would like to help, please take a moment to sign this petition to prevent it:

Given time, we would also have loved to experience her son Patrick’s “Yemayah Adventures” He offers kayaking, mountain biking and more, exploring more of the unspoilt interior and fabulous coastline of this beautiful island.

I did however, manage to catch up with another English artist/sculptor friend, Lynn Smith. I’d first met Lynn through a mutual friend, the artist Gail Stathakis in Skiathos, a few years ago. In passing, Lynn told me she’d just bought a cottage in Mauritius and I mentioned my friend Brigitte. Well, talk about coincidence! It only turned out that the very person who sold their cottage to Lynn was none other than Brigitte herself! What a small world! Lynn has now made Mauritius her permanent home for several months a year and she very kindly drove the 40 minutes or so to visit me at the hotel. It was really lovely seeing her again and I was so excited to hear all about her exciting new venture; she has a fabulous studio now, ‘Artspace’ in Calodyne, in the north of the island and brings renowned art tutors, from around the world to teach workshops. Definitely something to consider…. I wish her every success!

As I mentioned, this was a very special trip, to mark our Ruby Wedding anniversary and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to celebrate it in, surrounded by family and our dear friends, along with the faultless, attentive service of the entire staff of the ‘One & Only’ St Geran, all of whom made the occasion so special for us. Thank you all!

Mauritius is truly a paradise on earth and its gentle people are so warm and welcoming….it was very hard to leave….

Au Revoir, Ile de Maurice……One of these days, God willing, we will be back, to discover and enjoy even more of the wonderful experiences and delights you have to offer…..(and, hopefully, to find you not too much changed!)

Margate: Magical Moments & Memories

Mention the word ‘Margate’ today and most people (at least, those not yet in the know) will immediately think of a sad, forgotten, rather depressing, peeling seaside town, full of boarded-up boarding houses, pound shops and cheap housing, accommodating benefit-dependant immigrants. Having re-visited the town this week, after a gap of several years (well, decades actually) I was so pleasantly surprised by it’s recent regeneration that I feel compelled to set the record straight.

Margate today,  with it’s impressive newly-opened ‘Turner Contemporary”; a striking architect designed gallery that dominates the skyline:


(image courtesy of Visit Kent)

and an eerie ‘Anthony Gormley figure standing half submerged on the end of a stone jetty, staring out to sea as the salty spray and rising tide flood in to claim it


along with other new commercial and residential developments, there has clearly been a huge injection of monetary and artistic investment and Margate has, once again become a vibrant, thriving seaside town. It has an ever-increasing professional population, excellent facilities, a huge and active art community, super cool shops, restaurants and bars (many decked out in sleek and fashionable ‘mid-century’ or ‘industrial’ interiors) and, being within a mere hour and a half reach on a high-speed train from London’s St Pancras International, it is so conveniently accessible!

So pleasantly surprised was I that I had intended to entitle this post ‘Thank you, Thanet!” until I was reminded of Katherine Hepburn’s immortal line in the film ‘On Golden Pond’:

“My name is Ethel but when I married Mr Thayer (Henry Fonda), my life changed forever because everyone thought I had a lisp……”

So ‘Margate, Magic and Memories’ it is….

Margate, being one of the three Kentish seaside towns (along with Broadstairs and Ramsgate) that make up the ‘Isle’ of Thanet, in the far South Eastern corner of the UK, has experienced mixed fortunes over the centuries but with its wide open skies, dramatic seas, miles of soft sandy beaches and rugged cliff faces,  this once-thriving, self-sufficient coastal town, with its natural harbour (and man-made?) sea-wall, provided a safe haven for the fishing and trading fleets of locals and Londoners alike.  Among them, arguably, in Georgian times, was Britain’s finest painter, J.M.W Turner. Eager to escape the smoky city and breathe in the fresh bracing salty sea air, Margate became a firm favourite of his, providing him with the perfect inspiration for over 100 of his incomparable sea and sky scapes. “The skies over Thanet are the loveliest in Europe” he once said.


Throughout the Victorian era and well into the 20th century, the popularity of these south eastern coastal towns as holiday destinations firstly for the gentry and then the hard-working city and farm workers of England’s South East, continued to grow. All along the sea front, promenades, piers, elegant town houses and garden squares and terraces began springing up in front of  the ‘Olde Worlde’ smugglers cottages, narrow alleys and pirate and smugglers taverns of yesteryear.

By the mid 1960’s, with its newly opened Lido, Butlins holiday hotel and Dreamland amusement park, and with every B&B regularly filled to capacity, Margate was at it’s zenith. Thousands of  holiday makers would spill excitedly from the tightly packed trains and descend annually throughout the summer months, upon the rows of brightly coloured ‘Sea View’ boarding houses and quaint wooden beach huts, in search of fun family times; long lazy days at the beach, building sandcastles, jumping the waves, dipping toes in the cold, ever-choppy North sea, eating gritty home-made sandwiches and tubs of vinegar-soaked cockles and mussels followed by sugary cones of fast-melting ice-creams –   and all with the slim chance of a sun-bathe too! Brightly and colourfully-lit  evenings were spent fearlessly riding the ‘illuminated’ helter-skelters, bumper cars and roller-coasters of Dreamland, sucking on sticky candy floss and sticks of rock, and enjoying all the light-hearted, slightly bawdy but perfectly harmless entertainment that many of the seaside postcards, amusement arcades and theatre venues had on offer.

And that’s precisely what brought me to Margate for the first time all those years ago. It was the early ’70’s, just as Margate’s fortune began to change and its once glorious heyday was already beginning to decline. I was hired by the Alan Blackburn Agency to work as a dancer for a summer season in Margate’s famous ‘Winter Gardens’, appearing in ‘Grayson’s Scandals’; an entertaining summer variety show, bursting with popular stars of the day and headlined by the then most popular TV comedian, Larry (“Shut that Door”) Grayson.

After barely a week of rehearsals in London, I took the train down a few days before the Grand Opening night to find accommodation with another dancer/ room mate, Pauline Boardman. Both of us had been hired late in the day and by the time we arrived, there were virtually no decent digs still available. But we did eventually find, and have to settle on, a grimy 1st floor flat at Lynton Court Mansions (which had previously been a girls school) in Cornwall Gardens, Cliftonville.

Lynton House Girls School 1914

At least the walking distance to the theatre was manageable (just!) and the rent was cheap (well  it was, till the landlord saw the size of my dog, Pasha, who would be rooming with us for the summer and promptly demanded an extra £8.00 per week!)


Opening night was a great success and we received rave reviews in the local press:

Looking back through my diary today, most of my entries speak of the camaraderie and endless laughter. They were very happy days, three months filled with glamorous nights on stage and afterwards  dancing at the now closed (but still standing!) ‘Caprice Club’:


with fellow cast members and stage managers & crew, including the lovely John Ashby (L),


and Barry Moore (Larry’s chauffeur):


There were very un-glamorous mornings cooking up a storm of ‘full english breakfasts’ in our tiny kitchen for dear good friends including  John, an antiques ‘runner’ and his brother-in-law Gary both of whom kept us in plentiful food supplies once they’d discovered we both could cook! (Where are they now?)

Most afternoons were spent fruitlessly trying to re-capture my dog after a long run on the beach. Afghan hounds, beautiful as they are, are so in-bred they’re pretty dumb animals, almost impossible to train and a nightmare for their owners, in terms of grooming and exercise; once let off the lead, it can take hours to catch them (I once chased Pasha for 3 hours straight, from headland to headland, before I finally caught him in Broadstairs and had to bring him home on the bus !!)

There were fun days out too such as when we had a photo shoot to promote the show. This one was in the dock yard in Rochester, on board the HMS Lincoln (which tied in nicely with Larry’s ‘OOh I do Love a Sailor” and ‘By the Sea” songs )

There are so many stories I could tell but two in particular stand out.  In the middle of our ‘Can Can’ number (which the band always played far too fast and furiously as it closed the first half of the show and by then they were gasping for their ‘intermission’ beers!) well, one of my contact lenses popped out near the front of the stage as we (the chorus) were making our way along to the back. No sooner did I mention it under my breath to the dancer next to me, Denise (Watson) Metliss, when she suddenly broke ranks and began high-kicking her way back down stage, where she elegantly dropped into the splits. On returning from her impromptu ‘solo’ she casually whispered in my ear “Panic, over, I’ve got it!!” Bless her!…Especially as, being an asthma sufferer, every night she’d collapse in the wings as soon as we came off stage from that number and had to be pretty speedily extricated from the suffocating laced-up can-can corset we all had to wear.

Can Can b:w (A sketch of our Can Can costume)

The second half of the show was opened by the amazing jazz singer/pianist, Paula Watson, hot from America. Her section was at least 45 mins long followed by the singing duo the Barry Brothers who had another 10 – 15 minute singing spot.


So, in addition to the 1/2 hour intermission time, most of the dancers knew they had plenty of time to leave the theatre at that point, to get some food from the local chippy and be back in good time for our next number. I say ‘most’ because three of us had a part to play in the Barry Brother’s song: ‘She walks like an Angel Walks’, and had very heavy complicated costumes (Fur coats over jewel-encrusted body leotards, very heavy head-dresses and masses of jewellery) to get into. These were all stored on the other side of the stage from our dressing room, in a tiny room up 3 flights of stairs. It always took us a while to get ready for this number so we couldn’t risk leaving but we’d place our orders with the other girls and sit and wait out the time……until they returned.

Fur Coat Pose

(Another sketch, this one is of my fur coat costume)

One evening though, Paula, feeling unwell had decided to cut short her songs – by about 25 mins!! A shrill, panicking voice suddenly screeched a TWO minute ‘call’ over the tannoy system and…well… all hell broke loose! You’ve never seen dancers move that fast in your life. Total mayhem ensued back stage, under the stage up the stairs, down the stairs, in the dressing rooms. Dancers, musicians, performers…. Yes, even the late great Rod Hull (and that vicious, evil Emu who would ‘goose’ you at every opportunity!)


People were dashing about in all directions and bumping into each other in various states of undress with expressions of nothing but sheer panic on their faces. To this day I don’t know how we all managed to get ourselves dressed and in place on stage in time;  just as the curtains opened..but we did….and the audience was none the wiser…… That’s showbiz!

So, after happening upon another Turner favourite at the V & A earlier this week


and then meeting up with an old schoolfriend who quite coincidentally was planning a day away at the very same seaside and invited me along for the ride, I suddenly found myself on a train, speeding through the lush Kent countryside, retracing the same journey I’d taken all those years ago.

Arriving in Margate station on a glorious day with not a cloud in the impossibly blue sky, the first impression was one of complete sensory overload!

Firstly the smell of the salty sea air just smacks you in the face (as did my hair; it was very windy!). The glare from the sea was blinding and the noise of its furiously galloping white horses as they crashed and broke against the shores just below us was dramatic, deafening and exciting! The seagulls circling overhead just added to the cacophony!

The first thing to greet visitors is a series of large stones, set in a circle, each with charming sentiments that immediately set the tone:


And then there in front of us, lay the bay:


Straight ahead, in the distance, beyond the wooden beach huts, was the beautiful Georgian(?) bell tower customs house (now the tourist information centre),


with huge columns of sea spray rising up behind it as the waves crashed into the protective harbour wall…..and there right alongside it , by complete contrast, were the angular shards of the ‘Turner Contemporary’ glistening in the sunlight like crisp, white sugar cones. The view from inside revealed the same view Turner must have enjoyed looking at the sea and wonderful skies from:


For the next few hours we just walked and walked. All along the sea front where I revisited the Winter gardens:

and so many old haunts…..the Lido, and the Tom Thumb theatre.

I was delighted to find my old digs still standing (and considerably spruced up!)


Although it’s clear there are still some areas awaiting improvement:

And still others that remain simply frozen in time:


Eventually hunger set in and what better lunch to have at the seaside than good old ‘Fish & Chips’ which were absolutely delicious – the cheeky seagull thought so too!

The afternoon was spent leisurely idling around the old town’s quaint alley ways and shops

followed by a spot of beach-combing now that the tide had retreated, to see if it had left behind some of its treasures.

After a very welcome cup of sea (in a converted red double decker London bus, no less!)


and with pockets bulging with salted caramel fudge and sea shells, it was time to head for the station and home, once again.


Today was one of those truly memorable days, one filled with lots of emotion and thoughts of happy care-free distant days, long-lost friendships….and even longer lost youth.


Margate today is embracing the future and forward-looking. It offers so many things but above all, by far the best, is Hope. For if she can live through adversity and hard times (even her famous Dreamland burned down and has risen again from the ashes) and yet, come through it all relatively unscathed, able to re-invent herself,  become re-vitalised and even re-connect with old friends, well then……who knows,  perhaps we all can too?


Sigh……Yes, Larry, it certainly has……

Florida – Forty Years On

It’s hard to believe that more than 40 years have passed since I last visited Florida.

Back then, still a teenager and as one of a 4-girl dancer/backing singer troupe to the then popular and rising star, Peter Gordeno, I arrived in Miami; the second stop of our first USA tour.img_2091 For the duration, we were lodged with a wonderfully hospitable and protective family in the leafy suburb of West Palm beach:

img_2083while performing each evening at the impressive Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood Florida –


img_2075alongside fellow entertainers such as Paul Anka, Bobby Vinton and Englebert Humperdinck. It was a thrilling and glamorous time.

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First impressions then were of ones of awe, filled as we were with eager excitement to experience first hand the America we’d only seen in movies; skyscrapers, drive in movies, huge everything (cars, roads, T bone steaks, pancake stacks with maple syrup, cheesecakes, etc) and sunshine! To get to the white sandy beaches as often as possible, to soak up the sun and enjoy, even in January, the balmy semi tropical weather, was paramount.

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Tall swaying palms, reaching up into the impossibly blue unbroken skies, danced gently above the seemingly endless strip of ice-ream coloured art deco hotels and resorts that lined the shores, completing the perfect picture of paradise.

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If there was any disappointment it was simply that there were so few people of our own age around.  Florida, I soon realised was the winter playground of wealthy, ageing mostly New-York retirees. A whole generation of hard-working World War II (and even WWI!) survivors whom, almost without exception, sported leathery, deeply wrinkled sagging skin; the result of years of austerity, excessive smoking and relentless sun-worshipping (this was long before the days of health warnings, Botox and fillers or plastic surgeons on every corner). The balding, hairy-chested and medallion-ed men were constantly enveloped in clouds of black acrid smoke from their fat cigars held by even fatter heavily be-ringed fingers –  each sporting over-generous waistlines that bulged over their gaudy, crimpelene golf shorts. While their skinny, elegant, over-coiffured, blue-rinsed and scarlet-taloned wives (or widows) wafted about in gaudy flowing kaftans and jangled heavy gold charm bracelets that weighted down their mahogany-coloured and crepe-y, bony arms.

That said, everyone we met was incredibly kind and friendly and seemingly appreciative of our show, particularly the hotels helpful ‘hospitality’ officers, with names like ‘Sugar’ and ‘Honey’, who spent much of the day ginning vacuous smiles while insisting everyone  ‘Have a nice day” through brilliant white and even teeth. For a 19-year-old, optimistic and full of the joys of life:

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well, it was all rather depressing really…..

So it was with some reservation this January that my husband and I accepted a long-standing invitation to visit our Canadian relatives who, now retired themselves, swap their cold, snowy Montreal winters for sunnier, healthier climes and their fabulous Condo. on Florida’s western shores .

Weary from the long (10 hour) flight, arriving at, processing through (the most frustrating border control!), and finally getting out of Miami Int. Airport (over 3 hours later!) was an experience I hope I never have to repeat! Likewise, collecting the rental car (unbelievably sans sat. nav!) and finding myself hurtling along a six lane, poorly lit and badly sign-posted freeway in driving rain, heading for 45 minutes in totally the wrong direction, is something I never hope to experience ever again! If it wasn’t for the fabulously kind lady we met, once we could pull over and ask directions, who lead us all the way back to our hotel in her own car,  we’d probably still be trying to navigate the fast and furious spaghetti junctions even now! Thankfully, a comfortable night’s sleep followed by a huge American breakfast cleared the air which had become decidedly heated and blue both inside and outside of the car! The comfortable hotel (just moments from the airport as it turned out)img_1128 is about to undergo a complete refurbishment and having admired the stunning artwork in the lobby, I was sad to hear it too would be disposed of shortly so I thought I’d post some of it here for others to enjoy before it disappears. (If anyone knows the artist please drop me a line.)

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A new day, a new start. Under blue skies we hit the (correct, this time) freeway bright and early and headed west, all the way across the flat Florida heartland to Naples on the Gulf Coast.

img_1133We followed the Everglades route –  but alas, with high protective fences on either side, alligators were nowhere to be seen.

img_2086We arrived in the comparatively new and exclusive gated community of Pelican Bay, nestling gently behind the mangroves and shoreline, just over 2 hours later.thumb_img_1358_1024

Aptly named for there are certainly plenty of Pelicans – manatees, alligators and dolphins too but they’re more camera-shy!

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Most noticeably there was not a fat cigar or blue rinse in sight!. Instead, we saw incredibly fit, slim, healthy and lightly glowing (but suspiciously taut and youthful!) 60+ year olds, cycling, jogging, swimming, playing tennis, driving golf carts and briskly walking their dogs along the wide avenues of beautifully manicured gardens of what is arguably a picture perfect paradise for retirees. – well for those lucky enough to afford it, that is.

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This part of Florida, with its exclusive tax breaks, boasts some of the most wealthy residents and expensive real estate in the country. Days of leisurely boating around the network of canals around Naples and Marco Island revealed the many multi-million-dollar, water-frontage homes owned by the rich and famous.

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thumb_img_1324_1024Then there were the mostly private, talcum-powder-soft and sandy beaches:

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and sunsets which were simply spectacular:

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thumb_img_1572_1024 thumb_img_1561_1024as was the abundance of seafood:


img_1589and fresh, organic, locally grown produce. No excuse for not following a healthy lifestyle and diet here!

On first impression was it was all just a bit too perfect  and, like the shallow, precarious, floating terrain that makes up most of Florida and is susceptible to sudden sink holes, I feared it might be lacking any real cultural depth too.  Imagine my surprise then when on our first evening we were whisked off to watch the entire New York cast of the show-stopping, foot-tapping musical, ’42nd Street’, performing at Artis Naples; the impressive new local theatre/concert hall/cultural centre.  We also visited the adjoining museum which,  overlooked by a fabulous piece by the celebrated Seattle glass artist, Dale Chihuly:


housed an exhibition of origami-inspired metal sculptures by Kevin Boximg_1214

Later in the week a night visit to Naples’ botanical gardens showed even more of Kevin Box’s work, strategically placed amongst the beautifully lit exhibition of exotic plants and foliage. A wonderful initiative that certainly drew the crowds in to see the stunning gardens.


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Our amazingly generous hosts, Maureen and Alain, had gone over and above to make our stay magical and indeed it was. Every day they treated us to new delights and surprises and we were genuinely sorry and sad when the time came to offer our thanks and begin packing.

thumb_img_1594_1024We waved our goodbyes and retraced our route to Miami,  to catch a flight to San Diego (our next destination which I’ll write about after this).

A week or so later though we returned to Miami and had a whole day free to lose ourselves in the city before boarding our night flight home. So we took a cab over the causeway to Miami’s South Beach. On the way, we stopped off briefly to tick another item off my bucket list; paying my respects to Bee Gee, Maurice Gibb (my first serious schoolgirl crush!) at the peaceful Memorial Park laid out in his name.

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That done, it was on to the famous Ocean Drive to enjoy a kerbside lunch while toe -tapping to the Latino, Jamaican, Cuban and Haitian street rhythms that engulfed us and the cacophony of all those spoken languages too, as we watched the fascinating mix of people – of all colour and ages – who now call Miami home – parading past.

Fast and furious, yet chilled and laid back, Miami has become a city of marked contrasts. The ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ co-existing side by side – but not with without the inevitable tensions. With the tragic shootings at Fort Lauderdale Airport less than a week previously and the street riots that broke out in Miami just after we left, not to mention the fact that probably everyone we saw was carrying weapon of some sort, a constant tension in the air was certainly palpable; I never really felt completely at ease anywhere in this city….

However, its elegant retro architecture;

img_1892 img_1890 img_1876the cruising stretch limo’s, Mustangs and vintage cars on every street corner;

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the outrageous, unapologetic statements of ‘bling’ adorning the swaggering, beautiful bodies;

img_1915thumb_img_1883_1024the fine dining and ridiculously enormous Happy Hour cocktails (this was HALF a mango Mohito!):

img_1904the cultural mix and of course the perfect weather, all combined, make Miami a seriously cool and vibrant place.

Returning here after 40 years, I thought it would be an indulgence in nostalgia; I was fully prepared to come face to face with yet another brutal reminder of my long-lost youth. It turned out instead to be a totally rejuvenating and invigorating experience. I was indeed reminded of that young, naive 19-year-old girl –  but also of her still ‘as yet’ unfulfilled dreams and aspirations….

As a result any thoughts on our own impending retirement have been put firmly on the back burner.  Florida has, undeniably some fabulous retirement communities and its becoming an increasingly popular destination of choice for many over 50’s from the UK where, sadly, the healthy lifestyle, high standard of living and Floridian  weather just simply can’t  compare (BBC ‘s documentary, ‘The Real Marigold Hotel – on tour’ episode 1 in Florida, captured the pro’s and cons of retiring in Florida perfectly). But for me, being neither particularly slim, sporty or hell-bent on disguising my age surgically at any cost, settling into what would be my penultimate resting place, is not one that appeals –  on either side of the pond. Perhaps that’s because I’ve lived like a nomad most of my life or, more probably because having regularly frequented elderly people’s facilities for the past 6 years (while caring for both of my parents before they passed away) I feel I’m ready to give facing inevitable decline and death on a daily basis a bit of a break…..moreover, I’ve never really had any desire to live in the US so no, Florida is certainly fabulous but definitely not for me, not just yet anyway.

Instead, while I still can, I’ll forge ahead,  onwards and upwards to embrace each next new adventure …… wherever it beckons – wobbly bits, wrinkles and all!


Brocante, Baguettes, Bonnard et BB

An invitation, out of the blue, to revisit Gassin, near St. Tropez, in the South of France was too good an opportunity to pass up! I had painted this Provençal house after a previous visit, back in 2011 and I’ve always been keen to return:


I took off into the early morning dull, grey skies over London and landed a couple of hours later in a very bright and sunny Nice. By lunchtime I was sitting at Key West, on St Tropez’ famous Pampelonne beach, staring out at the rolling surf of the Cote d’Azur

IMG_2297and soaking up the sun with a glass of crisp white wine in one hand and a selection of freshly caught seafood to choose from


– wondering all the while what on earth I’d done to be so fortunate!!

Once back at the house, after settling in and a good night’s sleep (despite the army of frogs er… ‘calling for company’…. from an adjoining neighbours swimming pool!) I awoke at first light, threw open my window and gasped at the idyllic peaceful, Provencal scene that stretched before me.


I filled my lungs with the fresh country air, sweetly scented with Mimosa, Rosemary, olive wood smoke and salt from the sea….and, after a breakfast of fresh croissants and strong coffee:


made the ten minute drive, through the vineyards into the colourful port of St Tropez:



IMG_2458I passed the artists busily setting up their easels for the day:IMG_2313  IMG_2370as I made my way to the twice-weekly market at the Place des Lices. IMG_2317 No one does markets quite like the French!

IMG_6380 IMG_6381 IMG_6468The abundance of fresh produce; fruit, flowers cheeses, herbs, salamis and baked goods on display, not to mention the fine linens, scented soaps and brightly glazed pottery, is quite simply breathtaking!

IMG_2497 IMG_2496

And no one lives quite like the French either! To me, they have their priorities right too: Come 1 o’clock, no matter what, everything stops for lunch. They work to live not live to work! Shops are closed, and for a couple of hours, over a leisurely meal and a glass or two, neighbours and fellow shop keepers meet in a local eatery to sit together, enjoy each other’s company and put the world to rights. The art of conversation, face to face communication, is alive and well in France (and much of the rest of the Mediterranean too, I’m sure) – but it’s something I’m afraid we’ve all but lost, on our own shores…..

Laden with goodies I set off to explore the maze of brightly painted, narrow streets:IMG_2330 IMG_2331 IMG_2333 IMG_2336 IMG_2338 IMG_2339 IMG_2346 IMG_2358 IMG_2361 IMG_2365before stopping for lunch at the famous red-painted ‘Sennequier’ cafe on the port. Facing the impressive line up of luxury yachts, I joined in the national leisurely pastime of people-watching and sipping endless cups of cafe –  all to the gentle strains of a passing busker (who just happened to sound exactly like Charles Aznavour!) and, with her image appearing and her presence felt on virtually every corner, I almost expected the legendary BB to appear at any moment!


Before heading home, I stopped to buy a famous ‘Tarte Tropezienne’ (a delicious sweet custard sponge) for tea:

IMG_2465but simply couldn’t resist a few more delicacies (Macarons and Florentines) from this delightful shop too:


IMG_2468IMG_2469and assuaged any guilt by walking around the local gallery, housing an important collection of impressionist paintings, for a few hours:


The current exhibition is of several of Bonnard’s sketches of his muse, Marthe de Meligny:

do you fgeeeling urewjrBonnard Sketch from

The following days of the week rolled into one, filled as they were filled with excursions to the nearby medieval hilltop villages such as Ramatuelle, Gassin and Grimaud.


and, at every opportunity, indulging in my favourite pastime of all, rummaging around a local Brocante/ Antiques/Flea market.



IMG_2489 IMG_2488IMG_2380Inspired by Bonnard, I spent many hours sketching too:


image.aspxand soaking up the warm spring sun in the peace of the beautiful garden,

IMG_2421before returning to the UK, refreshed, revitalised and totally relaxed.

There is no doubt that this is an expensive part of the world but the good things in life, the important things; good, simple food, good wine, quality family/ friendship time and plain old fresh air, fresh flowers and sunshine are all relatively inexpensive or free…..and can be appreciated and enjoyed by all…..Yes, the French have definitely got the work/play balance just about right. IMHO anyway……They’re an example to us all….

Lebanon Revisited….

IMG_2091I wrote extensively about Lebanon after my last trip to this beautiful country, back in 2011 (see: ‘On The Road to Damascus’) and after returning again last month, three years on and the first time since the start of the Syrian crisis, I thought it was worth a mention again.

I discovered not much has really changed apart from areas that have now become strictly ‘no go’; i.e. Baalbek, in the Bekaa Vally, which, alongside the fabulous classical ruins,

IMG_8067 acres of white tents now temporarily houses the millions of displaced Syrian refugees:


(For a greater understanding see:

They are gradually being processed and trickling onto the streets in search for the limited available work opportunities;  Tripoli in the northern regions bordering Syria and, as I arrived just a few days after yet another devastating suicide bombing in Beirut city itself, the fashionable ‘Downtown’ area. Avoiding it altogether, although as it turned out was unnecessary, seemed the most sensible action to take at the time.

As through all its many years of conflict and turmoil, Lebanon and its people carry on with their daily lives, regardless. If there was any notable difference, the lack of tourists was probably the most obvious. The tourist industry, sadly but not surprisingly, is all but dead. The many luxury hotels, both on the sea and up in the ski resorts, may stand empty but they are not yet totally abandoned. Foreign investment may have slowed down but beautiful modern high rises continue to alter the skyline; the infrastructure may be seriously damaged but regular power cuts have become an accepted way of life. Shopping trips and visits to friends and family are arranged around elevator operating times. IMG_2114

Streets are unusually empty and quiet. Highways, for once, are free-flowing and un-congested and, 3000 feet above the city, at the Monastery of St. Cherbel


where we made a pilgrimage to offer prayers for the lost generations caught up in the conflict (and to give thanks for our forthcoming first grandchild!)


it was as quiet on the way up, outside, as it is was deep within its cold stone walls.


Without the customary frenzy, its hustle and bustle, Beirut is almost unrecognisable. An air of calm, almost complacency, prevails, replacing the erratic excitement and vibrant energy normally associated with it.

That said, the many fabulous restaurants continue to open their doors daily and lay their tables with crisp linen and gleaming silverware, in expectation.


One of the greatest qualities of this resilient people (their generous hospitality aside) is their eternal optimism. They simply never give up hope….and while the tourists (and now substantial number of expat Lebanese) may be giving all this wonderful country has to offer a wide berth, the dwindling number of inhabitants who do remain (but would probably leave, given half a chance) continue to enjoy Life and live it to the full, as best they can – perhaps even more so, now that they have the place virtually to themselves.


So, for the moment, Peace reigns but there’s an uneasy stillness knowing the horrors that are taking place just the other side of the mountains; the raging war, the brutal, senseless killings and the millions of starving and homeless – children especially. It’s too close for comfort and impossible not to think of when presented with the incredible feasts placed before us in every restaurant we visited. One, certainly worth a mention was the glamorous new seafood restaurant Babel al Bahr – complete with its own tower of Babel:


and chic interior:



The bread:


and selection of ‘Mezze’ dishes were spectacular:


but it was the glorious display of seafood that stole the show:




with the fabulous desserts, a close second:


Delicious as it all was, for the first time ever, with thoughts of all the starving children not a million miles away, I found the abundant and delicious Lebanese food almost too difficult to swallow….and the unusual silence that enveloped us almost everywhere we went, filled us with uneasy foreboding and trepidation….The lull before the storm perhaps?


Whatever’s in store for Lebanon, one thing is sure, its cities and people will survive and thrive.  Lebanon, like Beirut and Byblos, the world’s oldest, continually inhabited city, still stands, tall, defiant and proud –  just as it always has done since the dawn of civilisation……and long, LONG may it continue to do so!


Quebec, Oui! (had a ‘whale’ of a time!)

IMG_2404An invitation to a family wedding in Canada, mid-September, provided not only a welcome opportunity to catch up with dear relatives but a new adventure too including a chance to re-discover Montreal, a city we’d last visited more than thirty years ago, shortly after it had hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics and, before that, Expo 67, the world trade fair. I was happy to see the futuristic architecture of those days had remained intact; from the innovative, award-winning, concrete apartment blocks:


IMG_2515to the exhibition stands:IMG_2501including the olympic stadium (now Montreal’s state run casino)IMG_2500

Spread over a series of islands in the St Lawrence river, an impressive skyline has risen up in our absence and today, from a distance, downtown Montreal looks much like any other prosperous north American city:IMG_2127


IMG_1392 IMG_1385

where old classical buildings stand dwarfed by the tall new shiny glass and steel tower blocks:



and monuments stand loyal to the memory of a once glorious British colonial past:



IMG_1408But that’s where any similarity ends. For Montreal is very much a french city and a continental influence is apparent on every corner, not only in the spoken word and on every street sign but in its cultural heritage

IMG_1372 its Arts

IMG_1505and seat of learning; McGill universityIMG_1398 and nowhere is it more strongly apparent than in the old quarter of the city (despite Lord Nelson presiding over all)



where the old stone buildings, cobbled streets and horse-drawn fiacres:


serve as a reminder of the days when pioneer explorer, Jacques Cartier, landed upon these shores and established Montreal as an important trading post and port.

IMG_2521Many of the colourful old warehouses, paper mills and grain stores of bygone days remain, some as is but many now converted into slick city loft apartments:

IMG_2517 IMG_2527



IMG_1409Today, Montreal enjoys a broad cultural mix and this is reflected in the wide variety of food, from all around the globe, that is readily available.The famous Atwater market

IMG_2482 offers the traditional Canadian fare of fresh lobsters:


Crab legs:



IMG_2143 fresh produce including pumpkins of every size and description:

IMG_2454 IMG_2467 IMG_2469 IMG_2470 flowers



delicious french cheeses, chocolates and patisserie:IMG_2478


Canada’s famous ‘Ice wine’

IMG_2811and of course EVERYTHING maple, from butter and fudge to cookies and syrup:

IMG_2807We also enjoyed food with an international flavour. Fresh sushi:


IMG_2204IMG_2193 salt beef sandwiches:

IMG_2461and a Montreal speciality ‘Poutine’ (french fries with gravy and melted cheese!)

IMG_2460After days of pure indulgence, a fabulous wedding


(and yes, I wore a hat!)


and after seeing the lovely young couple off on their Italian honeymoon,

IMG_2308together, with our wonderful hosts, we planned to venture further afield and explore some more of the Quebec Province from the pretty countryside setting of the town of Hudson, on the banks of the Lake of Two Mountains, where the wedding reception had been held.

Hudson, nestling among the trees has both old farmhouses and traditional rustic barns


IMG_2337 interspersed with picturesque homes and brightly painted wooden holiday cottages:

IMG_2353IMG_2357It is technically a suburb of Montreal – a popular weekend escape for city dwellers. We’d stayed overnight at the quaint ‘Willow Inn’:

IMG_2293a comfortable and peaceful waterside retreat complete with wrap-around veranda

IMG_2298 delightful gardens

IMG_2317and far reaching views across the lake:

IMG_2283As this old church shows, there is definitely more of an english influence here.

IMG_2382 From Hudson, our Quebec adventure began as we crossed over the lake to the town of Oka

IMG_2406and visited a popular apple farm where ‘pick your own’ was the order of the day:


IMG_2420IMG_2440Horse-drawn carts led us through the apple and plum orchards IMG_2431and the farm shop offered all kinds of fresh produce


IMG_2455Next day, we travelled further north, alongside the St Lawrence river to Old Quebec city, entering the walled fortress through the ancient stone gate:


to find Frontenac Castle standing tall and proud:


a fortress situated high above the the river and the maze of colourful cobbled streets of the old town below:

IMG_2580IMG_2609IMG_2608IMG_2590IMG_2601IMG_2588where there was much evidence of Quebec’s indigenous, ‘First Nation’, inhabitants; Mi’kmaq and Iroquoians and, from further north, the Inuit tribes.

IMG_1406IMG_2614 IMG_2592IMG_2615 IMG_2616and those who fought the battle for independence from the Crown IMG_2576After a delicious al fresco lunch, basking in glorious sunshine and entertained by a variety of colourful street performers:


it was time to head north yet again, once more following the river.

We visited the  Montmorency Falls (taller than Niagra!):


IMG_2632IMG_1465and found the end of the rainbowIMG_2636on our way to the quaint artist colony of Baie St Paul, where we spent the afternoon visiting the many art galleries filled with traditional and contemporary art by some of Canada’s leading painters past and present.

IMG_2658 IMG_2663 IMG_2664



We stopped for the night at the picturesque town of La MalBaie, arriving at the beautiful ‘Auberge les Falaises’ inn just before sundown


A spectacular sunset was seen from our room with a glorious view:IMG_1472 Next morning we set off bright and early for our final destination, the Sanguenay Marine park, excited at the prospect of some serious whale-spotting. We journeyed on up through the wild terrain of lakes and pine forests

IMG_2704 and remote farmsteads


before, finally, reaching the end of the road (literally!) we made the crossing over the Fjord du Saguenay to Baie St. Catherine and the tiny village of Tadoussec.


Sadly, the boats that had left at dawn’s first light were forced to return back early, due to the sudden high winds and choppy seas further north and, much to our dismay, we were informed all further whale-spotting expeditions that day, were cancelled.
We made up for our disappointment with a visit to the local whale museum instead,
IMG_2750 IMG_2752  a stroll around the pretty, sleepy townIMG_2753IMG_2718 IMG_2738 IMG_2740IMG_2739and a leisurely walk around the boardwalk of the rocky headland, IMG_2755IMG_2763well stocked with tourist information boards
IMG_2757 IMG_2765IMG_2764Back in the port, another highlight was meeting a beautiful young Husky called Shana:
That afternoon we retraced our steps back across the fjord and headed back to St. Simeon, in time to catch the ferry across the St Lawrence to Riviere du Loup on the eastern shore, where we would join the motorway than would eventually lead us home to Montreal.
IMG_2800 As luck would have it, no sooner had we embarked on the 1 & 12 hour crossing, when a huge whale rose up majestically through the waves alongside us – but disappeared back into the icy depths before I could get to my camera. Our journey had not been wasted after all!IMG_2801 With such a busy week there was little time for sketching but I have more than enough inspiration to begin a whole new series of paintings  – and I did treat myself to a beautiful water colour print of Montreal:
a souvenir of a beautiful, colourful country, steeped in history and natural beauty and its wonderfully diverse, hospitable people – not least our wonderful Canadian cousins:
Alain & Maureen who, gave us such wonderful memories to treasure for many years to come…….Merci Beaucoup! A Bientot!
and, until the next time….Au Revoir Quebec!

Onwards and Upwards… Old Dubai.

There can be few more iconic and instantly recognisable buildings in the world than the Burj Al Arab in Dubai:

(photo: Joi Ito)

A global hub with a futuristic cityscape:


This fantastical city that has risen up so meteorically out of a barren wasteland is very different to the Dubai I once knew:

Back then it was just a small bustling sea port with a reputation for gold smuggling. It had a tiny population and was a relatively unimportant (but strategically necessary) outpost to the  British interest in the area. It was place the world seemed to have forgotten, struggling for survival the on the edge of a vast empty desert:

No giant high rises in glass and steel at that time and, mosque minarets aside,

with a few exceptions, the tallest buildings were the abandoned portuguese forts dotted along the coast; relics from the days of piracy and pillaging that had plagued the Gulf for centuries:

At the heart of the Dubai side of the creek stood the old Al Fahidi Fort:

Built over 180 years previously, it had only recently become a museum (in 1971) and its few cannons and ancient dhows on display, ‘moored’ alongside a wooden platform, provided a fitting backdrop for an open air production of Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ in its central courtyard. My role in the masked ball scene was my first of many appearances with the recently formed ‘Dubai Theatre Group’, who regularly entertained the small but enthusiastic expat. community:

and provided the inspiration for this sketch:

(‘Tarantella’, pen & ink drawing © Yvonne Ayoub)

At the approach to Deira side stood a hint of what was to come: a daringly modern new clock tower (which I believe is still there):

But mostly Dubai retained an air of a busy backwater. Having grown up in Bahrain, the way of life, the familiar sounds of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, the hot desert winds and the lingering smell of crude oil in the salty air were not unfamiliar to me.

In the old traditional stone houses of the wealthier merchants:

in the Bastakia area of Old Dubai side, air-conditioning was provided naturally by ancient wind towers ( ‘badgeer’)  a Persian invention. They effectively harnessed any passing sea breeze, channelling it down through the dark interiors. Water would be sprinkled on the floor beneath the towers and its evaporation, as the air was sucked back up and out, would create a cooling draught throughout the house.

High-built ‘purdah’ walls surrounded each house, providing much-needed shade but also ensuring the privacy of those within (namely the women folk) allowing them to view the world outside, yet remain unseen:

And everywhere bare-footed children played freely in the dusty streets:

along with the freely roaming sheep and goats:

Low built villas housed much of the population but many still lived in the traditional ‘barasti’ (palm frond huts) whose high hand-woven walls, battened together, also allowed for a degree of air circulation. But, being open to the elements from above, they must have provided little respite from the scorching desert heat, high humidity and temperatures that regularly soared well over 40 degrees. Huddled together for shade they were little more than shanty towns devoid of basic utilities – and quite a fire hazard! Once connected to mains electricity, a network of overhead cables appeared, providing power for electric light and air-conditioners and a sea of TV aerials suddenly protruded skywards above them.  it wasn’t uncommon to see a few smart Mercedes’ and Datsun trucks parked outside too – along with the tethered camels!.

(drawing by Lee Steen)

This was a world that was about to change – radically.  Independence and the discovery of Gulf oil would propel the Emiratis from a humble, harsh existence steeped in time- honoured Bedouin tradition (in one of the most barren and inhospitable places on earth) to the very forefront of the 21st century, bringing with it the excesses of consumerism, capitalism, modern technology and unimaginable luxury. From a single seed to a world-class thriving metropolis – and all within just a few decades!

When I arrived to join my family who had settled there, The U.A.E was barely a year old.

HRH Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi III, Ruler of Sharjah

(with my brother and father far right)

Each state had its strong ruler and a proud, clearly defined tribal identity – and although now ‘united’ they were still fiercely competitive with one another! Perhaps they are still….When Dubai constructed its first state-of-the-art international airport, Sharjah, only a few miles away and not to be outdone,  promptly built one of its own!

There was a growing community of mixed origin: Arabs from neighbouring countries, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Iranians and Iraqis.  Each brought their skills in education, shipping and trade. Among them were many Lebanese who, anxious to escape the early rumblings of the impending civil war back home, brought not only their professional skills (law, civil engineering and construction) but a touch of Beirut’s glamour and good life too, in the form of good restaurants, stylish boutiques and nightclubs.

In addition were many from the Indian subcontinent whose roles were often in medicine, book-keeping and accountancy as well as trade and commerce. Pakistanis, Baluchis and Bangladeshis provided much of the labour force at that time.

A small American community (oil related) lived quite far out of town further up the coast in Jumeirah (where the Burj Al Arab Hotel now stands) as did a handful of Dutch and French whose primary interests lay across the Gulf in Iran (or Persia as we knew it, as this was still pre-revolution).

There was small British presence too: a handful of Trucial Oman Scouts, left behind to oversee a smooth transition to independence and train the newly formed local defence and police forces, a team from the BBC (to set up the new TV & Radio stations), business consultants and financiers (The British Bank of the Middle East) and the British Council.

The latter employed me to teach English to the wives (Sheikhas) and daughters of two of the ruling families and after mornings spent teaching ballet at the British and American schools, I spent many hours driving through the lonely desert, up and down the empty stretches of the single lane road (newly constructed to link the states) to and from their english lessons.

These were conducted in their newly built palaces:

and gave me a unique insight to the Arab way of life – especially from a woman’s perspective. The women I taught varied in age and education but they were all very gracious and hospitable and, surprisingly given their life of seclusion, extremely savvy and worldly-wise! They were keen to know more of and understand the ways of the west – but understandably wary of embracing them.

Within the indigenous population, the main occupations were in trade:

particularly gold. No sprawling, multi-storey, glitzy shopping malls then! The original old palm-covered souks were a maze of dark narrow alleys, filled with dappled light;  lively, aromatic and mysterious places filled with all manner of goods and exotic treasures from the East.  Just as they had done for centuries, copper beaters noisily hammering competed with the grain, spice, textile and live-stock traders all shouting their wares, and haggling for the best deals.

(Bedouin, pen & ink drawing © Yvonne Ayoub)

Fishing was also a traditional occupation, providing virtually the only source of locally produced fresh food (the Gulf was rich with fish and seafood) and as a result,  boat building was a necessary and still thriving business. Ajman State was where many of the elegant wooden dhows were constructed:

each section of hardwood, African teak, sawn by hand just as they always had been for centuries:

Dubai creek was filled with these graceful vessels constantly to-ing and fro-ing, transporting bundles of goods and the rapidly growing population of migrant workers from side to side:

There was always an energetic buzz about the city but nothing compared to when the huge cranes, heavy plant machinery and miles of pipeline began to move in;

Things were changing before our eyes. Dubai was turning into a giant construction site. Its transformation had begun…..

I watched it grow for four more years before I eventually left,  to continue my Arabian adventure in Saudi – and I’ve never returned since. Awesome and breathtaking as know it is today, I want to hold on to my memory of those special early years when, just like the Old Dubai,

I too was young, ambitious, ready to move on…… embrace the future….and fly…..

onwards and upwards………

Before the earth reclaims what she inevitably will….

“Venezia, La Luna E Tu”

Many years ago, back in my early dancing days, I was contracted to appear in Italy, firstly at the prestigious annual Song Festival in San Remo:

and then, afterwards,  in a TV Spectacular, ‘Penso, Corrido e Canto’ which was to filmed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome.

But that was during another period of strikes and austerity and we arrived in the Eternal City only to discover all TV studios and theatres were ‘dark’. Stars of the show included the renowned dancers Renato Greco and his wife, Maria Theresa dal Medico, the singing group ‘Ricchi e Poveri’ and the host was the (still!) ever popular TV personality: Pippo Baudo. So the decision was taken to take the show on the road and to the people instead. For this, a huge circus tent was commandeered (minus the acts and performing animals, I hasten to add!) and the entire cast and crew, plus a full orchestra, spent the next few months travelling around the country, pitching up and entertaining the masses as we went.

Our  adventure began in the eastern seaside resort of Pescara and from there we slowly made our way south, through the ports of Bari, Barletta, Brindisi etc and occasionally venturing inland to towns such as Manfredonia, San Severo, Lecce etc.

Mostly we followed the coastline around the heel of Italy and we ended the first tour in Taranto, which is where I eventually left the company.

It was a magical time and provided a wonderful opportunity to see a side of Italy that few tourists, at the time, had ventured anywhere near. We stayed no more than 2 or 3 nights in each town, in decent but basic accommodation (mostly provided by the ‘Hotel Jolly’  chain – a name which continually reduced us to giggles, for ‘jolly’ they certainly were not! Apart from the wonderful reception we received wherever we went, the camaraderie – not to mention the  occasional disaster  – all added to the wonderful over all experience.

One such ‘disaster’ was also as a result of the austerity measures. Some evenings. without warning, the hotel’s water supply would be temporarily disconnected  (usually just as we were about to take our showers and get ready for the evening show!) One memorable night I was rudely awoken at 5.00 am by my room-mate sitting crossed legged on her bed, mimicking a gondolier rowing and singing at the top of her voice: Venezia, La luna E Tu!”

“What on earth are you doing?” I screeched, frantically scrambling out of bed, only to step straight into 3 feet of ice cold water which was racing like a torrent around the room,  carrying all our possessions; shoes, make up, music cassettes, books etc like flotsam and jetsam, along with it.

Panicking, we raced to open the door and found a river gushing down the stairwell from above, gathering momentum (and water!) from each floor as it went. It seems the water had been turned back on while we slept but we (and most of the company too) had inadvertently forgotten to turn off our ‘dry’ bathroom taps……

Apart from the actual show, my happiest memories are of the ‘after show’ meals; each small local Trattoria would welcome the entire company, bustling us into a large rear room where blinds would be lowered  and we’d be ‘locked’ in for the duration. Between midnight and 3 or 4 am, course after course of delicious homemade Italian food would appear in front of us on a large communal table, always beginning with an amazing pasta dish and ending with a giant bowl of oranges. The wine flowed freely and much laughter, animated conversation and heated debate was conducted throughout the meal – and over many a card game  of ‘scala quaranta’ which lasted long into the night. Ah, Happy Days…….

I was sorry I was unable to continue with the second tour which was to cover the north of Italy; Milan and most especially Venice.

It was to be many years before I got to realise that particular dream but when I did, it lived up to every expectation!

Films such as the eerie  thriller ‘Don’t Look Now’ (with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) and ‘Death in Venice’ (with Dirk Bogarde) had both left indelible impressions on my young mind (I still feel incredibly moved by Mahler’s 5th Symphony, the soundtrack to the latter) and they accompanied me, enveloping me in a deep sadness, as I explored the narrow streets and canals.

Majestic as the great Venetian palaces are, their faded grandeur, peeling facades and rising waterline emit a tangible sense of lost days of glory – it pervades the whole city …..

Perhaps this was more pronounced because we visited in a dark and gloomy November (a wonderful anniversary surprise from my husband) but despite the bitter cold and damp, we were thankful that it meant we had the city almost entirely to ourselves (I dread to think how it must be with the crowds and heat during the summer!)

Especially in the normally packed St Mark’s Square.

The Doges Palace was simply magnificent and, as an artist, I was in awe of the sheer beauty that confronted us at every turn:

It was a totally unforgettable experience which, even years later,  inspired me to paint this:

and to pen these few words:


Instantly recognisable, your famous skyline majestically rises

Above the misty lagoon. Strangely, it holds no surprises:

But to recall how Turner saw you, I must look inside my head

To see beyond the crass commercialism that confronts us now instead.

Yes there’s St. Marks, the Doge’s Palace, the Rialto and Bridge of Sighs,

But with stucco peeling, tho’ your lofty palaces appear to rise,

With dignity not defiance, above the singing gondoliers

 All along the Grand Canal, there flows your salty tears:


For, all the while, deep down, you are silently drowning, drowning…..


With dogged desperation, you cling to beauty that’s fast fading

And although, as you’ve always done, you’re still proudly trading.

Alas, it’s no longer in exotic silks and spices from the East.

No, now you trade on the grandeur of glorious days, long since ceased.

Where once, behind proud merchants’ doors, your coffers were filled with gold

Today, only worthless trinkets lie, begging to be sold,

To  ‘keep your head above water’ (literally!) in order to survive,

You’re selling your soul, your integrity, just to stay alive:


For, all the while, you are slowly sinking, sinking….. 


You mesmerize us still,   fascinating each new generation

That treads your ancient mosaics while unwittingly wearing away

Yet another layer of your proud history that’s sinking into the clay.

A culture so richly embedded in an Empire  long past,

You’re slowly being eroded and, like your beautiful Murano glass;

Those multi-faceted jewels, that dazzle in the light,

You’re profoundly complex and fragile  – and no less sparkling in the night


Yet, all the while from within, you are quietly cracking, cracking…. 


I should have never seen you in this state. l try to hold on somehow

To your image  in films like ‘Death in Venice’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’.

But like the masques of the Commedia dell ‘Arte, grotesquely evil in a way,

Which are sold on every corner, of every crisscrossed water-way,

However grandly embellished with feathers, faded velvet and gaudy gold leaf,

They are just a façade. Foolish, they fool no-one. They don’t command belief.

So too you continue to smile your broad, vacant, papier-mache grin.

and while no tears breach the gaping holes where bright eyes were once set within:


All the while, inside, your soul is hopelessly crying, crying…… 


Now, seeing you at last, through older experienced eyes,

I see only a life that’s built on a raft of lies.

I’ve tried to live my life, with honesty, truth and pride,

to avoid such compromise and inevitable emptiness inside.

 I’ve refused to sell my soul for superficial gain,

For drowning in a salty sea is no honourable type of pain.

Have you no regard for the others that will come after?

Can you find no other way to ensure their love and laughter?

Than hiding from the truth and persistently lying about the fact you’re dying… 


We’ll all succumb to age, despite preserving as best we may

The lives we invest so much in,  to see another day.

It’s hard to face the truth head-on and watch life slip away

When the heart still quickens and  yearns for the youth of yesterday.

I look to you, dear Venice, filled with sadness and decay

And think perhaps, that after all, yours is not the way.

And so from now I will endeavour to find the strength inside 

To age,  if I can, more gracefully and hope I’m not denied. 


Even though I know, like you, one day we’ll all be dying, dying……..


 I came away with a beautiful 18th century water-colour which hangs in pride of place in the stairwell at home. I pass it every day and  it serves as a constant reminder of a truly beautiful city, a wonderful occasion and another dream fulfilled.