The Birth Of Anu- 2. – Something For The Boys ?


When I first  mentioned to my Dad that I was thinking of buying a boat to live on, I think he feared for me.

Maybe he had visions of me in an old, but charming vessel, bailing out through the night in my wellies and pyjamas …( it could have been the case! )

And then, once having decided to have a boat built especially for me, to my own spec, I sat down with my parents one hot July afternoon this summer and opened the brochure that  Keith ( boatbuilder ) and Ossie ( Marine owner ) had given me.

‘ What engine does she have on board? ‘ My Dad asked me.

‘ She doesn’t know the detail of that kind of thing, Chris!’ Said my kind Mum, who knows me well.

It was sadly true, and as I handed the brochure over to my engrossed father- who is after all, a Marine Engineer and Shipwright and DOES know the detail-  I resolved to rectify that.

So this second blog on The Birth Of ANU, is going to be slightly more technical, though I hope no less fun.

After my decision had been made,  I sat down with Keith again, and this time, he had just returned from overseeing the start of my build in Great Yarmouth.

I must thank him again, as I know this involved a very long day which began at 5am, and those of you who know me, know I’m not really an early morning person ( it’s the creative, yer see.)

I had asked him to send me a few photos of the hull and how she was beginning to shape up ( see pics )

And I also asked for some info on Anu’s construction, engine and all those vital  parts that my father ( and some others, mainly chaps, sorry ladies if I’m being a little sexist, I’m sure  there are many of you who may well be engine- inclined! )  had been so interested in.

So here is some of that info- abridged as I see fit, since this is not a manual for a boat – building enthusiast, and I hate manuals anyway – never knowingly read one!

Worry not, readers of the fairer sex, or those not particularly fascinated by  engines, I shall return swiftly to the real necessities of life afloat, such as a Cocktail cabinet, space for my little black dresses and three types of Gin.

My boat – Anu- is a Widebeam Barge. She will measure 57′ by 11′ and she will be a luxury one berth boat with all mod cons and built to a very high quality.

The name of the company building her is Alicat, which as I mentioned in my first blog, is project managed and overseen by Cameron Stewart,  who also happened to go to school with my daughter Molly.

Keith Bullard is the boatbuilder who designs and ‘ steers’ the whole thing ( pardon the pun) and he has now built 40 boats to similar specs…Anu will be his 41st- a good number!

At the moment, this is all happening in Great Yarmouth, but ANU will be floated down nearer to where I will be moored quite soon.

I chose Shannon Green and Cream for her paintwork, as those are traditional Irish colours and she has an ‘ Irish theme,’ with the Harp logo and Celtic knot design that I chose for her exterior.

Please forgive me, Keith, if I get any of this incorrect, I am still learning and I think always will be, but as I understand it, Anu will have a steel hull, and her engine is a 60 horsepower Canaline, which is a Japanese Marinised engine and the best of its type.

There, that was sexy wasn’t it?!

Canaline engines are very robust and easy to maintain, which is exactly what we want for this sort of vessel , which- after all-will be a home, as well as a boat I will learn to drive and sail.

She will have a fully fitted luxury kitchen, complete with aforementioned wine fridge ( very important ) a Swan Hatch…for saying friendly ‘hellos’ to passing wildlife whilst making your morning Cuppa  …and a large breakfast bar / table in stainless steel and glass for feeding the troops – a job I relish and thoroughly enjoy, for I dearly love to have friends and family  round my table.

Anu will have a beautiful bathroom on board, complete with shower AND bath, thanks to Keith’s design skill. As I mentioned in the first blog, I dance most days and play a lot of sport, so I do love to come home and get in a nice hot bath with a glass of fizz or something stronger!

I must remember to ask Keith about my on-board music system,  as that  is another thing in life that I cannot live without, and I often like to partake of a little Michael Buble whilst in the tub ( Molly calls this a ‘ Buble Bath’).

Anu will also have a large main Saloon, complete with a wood burner for extra toastiness, as well as being fully centrally heated- cosy.

The bedroom will be fully fitted with extra wardrobe and shoe space ( thank you Keith ) for the little black dresses and their friends, and there will be a Japanese screen at the foot of the bed, for privacy from passing ducks and to  give that rather ‘ James Bond in ‘ You Only Live Twice’ effect.

In fact, for future reference, and if in any doubt Keith, just imagine you are designing and building a boat for Bond, as I have always wanted to be the female equivalent- (except I don’t like pain, so would give in under torture) and am completely obsessed, owning the entire box set…for those rainy nights in front of the log burner.

To conclude the spec ( for now ) outside on the bow, there will be fitted seating for summer drinking, and a little ladder built in, for ease of climbing up onto the roof to enjoy the stunning views that Mother Nature always provides…and a handrail, collapsible for going under low bridges, on the roof itself,  to assist with wobbles as you hold onto your Martini ( shaken, not stirred, one olive and a twist for me ).

The stern will have a full, barge – style canopy fitted over it, so that we don’t get wet when pulling off our wellies or damp sports gear and to keep us cosy and act as a sort of porch in the more inclement weather.

So there we are, I think that will suffice  for now. Something for everyone, I hope.

During the writing of this blog, I actually had to ring Keith to check I’d got the type of engine right ( I hadn’t ) so I’ve got a lot to learn, I’ve not even scraped the surface yet, the tip of the iceberg, to use yet another boating term…of which there are many.

Perhaps Santa might bring me a book on ‘ Boating for Beginners ‘ in my stocking this year…

And on that note, I’m off to the kitchen that I currently inhabit, here on The Island, to mix this evening’s cocktails…just call me Bond- Amanda Bond.

Down the hatch.

Copyright Amanda Hills 2016  All Rights Reserved

Read All About It !

imageimageimageThere has been a longer than usual gap between my blogs, and there’s a reason for that.

Having written about Love the last time round-the biggest topic in the world in my opinion-I needed a break!

And my last post caused me to think afresh, in a rather deep way, on that subject.

In fact, pondering on love sent me back to my bookshelves, re-reading the words other more exalted writers had written.

As always, in matters of the heart, I turned first to Shakespeare and his Sonnets, Sonnet 116 in particular :

‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.’

Very well-known and popular, but no less profound for that.

From there, I took down my anthology of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and turned to Sonnet 43, to gather solace from her beautiful and timeless words :

‘ I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need

By sun and candle- light.’

Still with poetry as my theme ( for it is the language of love and expresses tenderness and the heart’s longings better than any other form ) I opened my treasured book of the verses of WB Yeats.

Never far from my side, this is my favourite book of poetry, by my favourite Irish poet.

What had William Butler to say about love, oh so many years ago?

Many of his love poems were written to, and for, Maud Gonne, his Muse and the great love of his life.

Yeats adored her for her beauty, sweetness of nature and outspoken manner.

This is one of my favourite lines from his poem, ‘ When You Are Old’ :

‘ How many loved your moments of glad grace

And loved your beauty with love false or true.

But one man loved the Pilgrim soul in you

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.’

It doesn’t get better than that, you can feel his love for her all down the centuries.

The point I’m making, is that books have been my comfort and my release, as well as my main source of inspiration since I first learnt to read.

And so, with that in mind, my post today is about my journey through literature and my love of reading.

When I was 5 years  old, I made up my mind to be a writer one day.

I didn’t think exactly how that might come about, I just knew in my very soul that reading and words were able to transport me to a quiet place of my own, where no-one could reach me and where nothing was able to intrude. In Yoga, we recognise this as being in ‘ flow’.

My mother realised this, and encouraged it, buying me little books to read alongside the regulation ‘Janet and John ‘.

My paternal grandmother, a devoted church- goer all her life, gave me The Children’s Bible for my 7th birthday. Her writing is still on the fly-leaf, another thing I love about books.

This is the very first book I remember as being my favourite. I was obsessed with it, and would avidly read as much as I could each night before I was made to turn out my bedroom light.

It was beautifully illustrated with pictures that completely captured my imagination and I had a particular fascination for the story of Bathsheba.

The coloured plate at the bottom of the page depicted a beautiful temptress in a white robe, immersed in an outdoor pool.

It was obviously on a roof, as there were high trees behind her, as well as a bearded man who appeared to be spying on her.

I don’t know what it says about my seven year old self that I couldn’t get enough of this chapter!

All I remember are the words : ‘ He saw a very beautiful woman and sent to ask who she was. She was Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam .’

These wonderful and exotic stories bewitched me far more than the standard texts set in primary school. I longed to be called Bathsheba!

My first big leap into what could be termed grown -up  fiction, came at the age of 12.

By then, I was in Secondary school and studying English Literature.

The riches of F. Scott Fitzgerald unfolded before me- I couldn’t get enough.

I even read the biographies of Zelda Fitzgerald, his wife, and the famous autobiography ‘ Beloved Infidel’ by Sheilah Graham, which chronicled her affair with Fitzgerald and the Golden Era of Hollywood.

I lapped up all the American authors at this point- everyone from Gore Vidal to John Updike and, of course, Norman Mailer, who like me, had a complete fixation on Marilyn Monroe.

As an antidote to all this Americana, and influenced heavily by my maternal grandmother, I also made it my business to read all I could about the Tudors, Medicis and Borgias.

The more grisly and gory the facts, the better I liked it!

Again, my fascination was mainly for a very strong and vivid female character, Lucrezia Borgia.

With her waist- length golden tresses, she seemed to have every man in Rome in love with her- including her own brother.

It was always these less wholesome heroines that I liked the best.

Scarlett O’ Hara, Lucrezia, Lolita and Anne Boleyn won out over Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna every time- although I did have a fondness for Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers boarding school series, which featured a roguish, prank-loving tomboy called Darrell Rivers and her escapades with the brilliant and mischievous Alicia.

Later on, and perhaps influenced by these tales, I was to attend a boarding school myself, complete with midnight feasts in the boot room!

Growing up in a male dominated household with brothers, my forays into magazines began with those august publications ‘ Match’ and ‘ Shoot’.

Along with The Beano, they were sometimes all I could find to read while in the bath.

Then, at the age of 12, I began my life-long love affair with Vogue.

These were the 70’s, and glamazons  such as Jerry Hall and Bianca Jagger adorned the pages.

I still like that look almost better than anything- flowing wavy hair, tanned skin and a red lip.

I would save up all my pocket money to buy it, going without school lunches sometimes in order to do so, and I am still a subscriber, finding joy and beauty in its pages, and a different kind of escapism.

Around this time also, I published my own amateur magazine- complete with a Problem Page…a taste of my psychology training to come?

My late teens were the study years- my deep love of classic literature seriously challenged as I spent far too long closeted with Laurie Lee,  Dickens and Austen. But I sought relief  in song lyrics, particularly those of Bowie and Lou Reed, whose Perfect Day was my favourite to have a good sing to when fed up with studying.

It was the literary critic Cyril Connolly who said that the enemy of good art is ‘ the pram in the hall’.

How true.

Once I became a mother, raising my family, my writing and reading for pleasure took a serious nose-dive due to lack of time and sheer exhaustion.

To compensate, I could not believe the joy I took in reading to my own three children.

Tucked up in bed in their pyjamas, rosy-cheeked and adorable from their baths, the light on low to encourage sleep, I was the book Nazi to end them all.

Refusing to read anything that was not beautifully written, my children were brought up on Peter Rabbit and C S Lewis, Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Roald Dahl. Although I did ( and still do ) have a weakness for nonsense rhymes, such as those by Edward Lear and Spike Milligan.

As the children grew, I returned to my studies.

This time, Psychology and Philosophy, as well as spiritual texts such as The Bible ( yes, a return and a staple of my life ) The Quran and the wonderful Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, along with The Bhagavad Gita.

Greek Mythology too.

Immersing myself in philosophical and academic texts was my escape from discussions on who had started which fight amongst my children and the sheer daily labours- and pleasures- of being a mother of three.

I felt that if I could understand how our long- term memory works, and the theories of Aristotle, that I was somehow staving off the numbing of the mind that can occasionally happen as you care for young people.

I hope it has worked, for I’m now a Freelance writer as well as a Psychologist, and in the fortunate postion of being paid for doing something I love.

On a personal reading note, I belong to a fabulous book club, and my enduring love of the classics, as well as an epic  love story are well -known.

Only yesterday, a few of us went to see the latest film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s ‘ Far From The Madding Crowd’, one of my favourites of both genres, featuring, funnily enough, another Bathsheba.

Due to a very great friend, I’ve re- discovered poetry too, and even written some of my own.

Yet, as Picasso so wisely said : ‘ Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working’.

Luckily for me, and as regular readers will know, I live on a beautiful island on The Thames, where the Muse is often able to strike due to the complete peace and tranquility.

If I leave any kind of a legacy for my children, I hope it is my love of words, books and ideas, along with kindness and an appreciation for all living creatures.

My bookshelves remain over-flowing, and apart from Brenda, our beloved cat, my books would be the first things I saved in fire or flood ( well, maybe some of my clothes too, since I’m rather fond of those, hence my love of Vogue ! )

For what could be better, in any weather, or any mood, winter spring summer or fall, than curling up with a good book, losing yourself and escaping into somebody else’s imagination for a while.

Copyright, Amanda Hills 2015, All Rights Reserved

SOME OF THE BOOKS MENTIONED: ( In case you feel inspired ! )

The Oxford Shakespeare, Complete Sonnets & Poems

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Selected Poems

The Complete Poems Of WB Yeats

The Children’s Bible, Hamlyn

Zelda Fitzgerald by Nancy Milford

The Great Gatsby and Tender Is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Beloved Infidel, Sheilah Graham Westbrook

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias, by Sarah Dunant

Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee

The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe, CS Lewis

A Book Of Nonsense, Edward Lear

The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali

Bhagavad Gita

The Greek Myths, Robert Graves

Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy


Love Love Love…

It was never going to be long before I tried my hand at writing about love.

Those who know me well, may wonder why it has taken me this long.

But sometimes, the subject of love proves difficult to put into mere words, and we are all following in the footsteps of so many revered others, writing about love is not easy.

From Shakespeare to Yeats and The Beatles, most of the songs, plays, poems and books ever written are on the subject of love, because it is the most powerful emotion the human spirit can experience.

Before I write more, I want to say that this particular blog may well be even more personal than my previous writing. It may also be a little longer.

But I believe that we are all here to live and speak our own truth and so, I shall continue to do just that, without worrying what others may think at all.

If, however, you find yourself without any spiritual beliefs of any kind, it might be better for you to stop reading right now and go and put the kettle on. For love is impossible to write about without touching, in at least a gentle way, on our Divinity and our souls.

My daughter, if reading this, as she sometimes does, may at this point, think that I’m going to ‘ sit cross-legged and call myself Willow’ , as she has expressed before in her inimitable way.

But it’s ok Molly, I’m not and my sense of humour and down-to-earth nature will remain intact!

If you’re still with me, I also want to thank two people today.

My friend and fellow dancer, April, for her words of encouragement when I feel that it is too scary to write so openly.

And Sean, who reminds me to remember my ‘ mission’ on a regular basis, and is also a most wonderful and entertaining friend.image image


In the Spring, a young man’ s fancy turns to it.

Poets and songwriters are inspired by it.

People throughout the ages  have lived and died for it. Even killed in its name.

But what is it, this emotion that takes up so much of our thoughts and time? How do we know we are feeling it?

A little personal note here: my name, Amanda is derived from the Latin for ‘ to be loved’ or ‘ worthy of love’.Named by my Irish grandfather, I’ve been a hopeless romantic my whole life, and maybe ‘ Amanda’  is why!

My two favourite films are ‘Some Like It Hot’ and ‘ The Sound Of Music’. Both love stories.

And my favourite songs are love songs, my earliest in this regard being sung by The Beatles, and John Lennon in particular, who I swore aged 5 that I would marry.

My friends in the book club I belong to, cast exasperated looks my way as I suggest yet another love story or anthology of poetry for us to read.

‘ Is it about love?’ I ask ‘ For if not, I’m not sure I’m very keen to read it’ .

But there are definitely two distinct sides to my character.

My father is a very straight-talking engineer and my mother is a poetic soul of Irish descent. Both have influenced me.

I’ve studied psychology and philosophy, finding them equally important and fascinating.

For without the why’s and the how’s, I’ve never been interested, and I always look for proof wherever possible.

Yet, on the other hand, where would we be without the ideals and ideas posed by philosophy?

So, I practice yoga, but I also like nothing more than empirical research and scientific fact, a difficult thing to find when looking into the business of love!

There are many different kinds of love.

Familial, dutiful  and unconditional- the love we feel for our children and our parents and siblings.

Platonic, as in the love we have for our closest friends.

Universal- a love I often feel as I look out over a sparkling river on a sunny day or over a sea of rapt faces enjoying a wonderful live performance of some kind.

Then, I can’t help feeling a swell of love for my fellow human beings, knowing that we are all just trying our best, have the same struggles and pains  and are in this together.

And then there is romantic love.

The stuff of legend.

How many of us, if we are honest, will leave a better legacy behind than the love we have shown to other people in our short time on earth?

Very few of us will be remembered for some invention that made lives better or for a medical breakthrough that alleviated pain and suffering.

We all don our masks each day, pretending to do very important jobs to cover for the fact that most of us are sleep-walking through our lives and have no idea why we are here at all.

I am here for Love. And I know that for sure. To feel it and show it and not to be afraid.

For I strongly believe that we all have Divine missions to fulfil, and only by doing this can we find any true happiness and peace while we are here in our allotted span.

‘ The greatest thing we can ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return ‘ ( Nature Boy )

We are  all capable of love, yet we don’t all achieve it, or anywhere near it.

Not all love is created equal.

Not all love, is love.

Who can forget the famous quote from Prince Charles on the eve of his engagement to Diana Spencer when asked if he was in love.

‘ Whatever ‘ in love ‘ means’ was his unromatic and dead-pan answer, even as she smiled shyly up at him, clearly besotted. I think we all knew right then that the union would end in tears and disaster. At least, watching it, I did. My thoughts were that his heart must have for some reason, frozen, or ( as turned out to be the case ) he must be in love  with another. My romantic heart hurt for Diana that night.

For if you can’t be joyful and happy when you’ve asked somebody to be yours, when can you be?

You can see and feel love when you are in the presence of it, for there is no disguise. I went to the engagement party of two dear friends recently where true love was present in the room, and they were not afraid to show us all, so we could share in their happiness. It was wonderful and every guest left feeling enriched.

Marriage does not necessarily involve love.

We’ve all witnessed those couples that sit and stare drearily into space without a word to say on Valentine’s Day in restaurants.

True love has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or anything so trite. It is expressed in the little details of every day, rather than the hearts and flowers and diamond rings of the Big Occasion.

True love is kind and quiet.

‘ It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud’. ( I Corinthians 13:4-8 )

It is patient and never asks what is in it for us, but instead, seeks the other person’s happiness.

Love makes better people of us, because we want to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.

Love makes us happy to our very core, so that we laugh at the smallest, silliest thing that the other says, simply because they have said it.

Love makes us tremble with delight at the sound of the loved one’s voice speaking our name. And our name on their lips sounds better than we have ever heard it before, it feels safe in their hands.Silences and pauses are filled with delight, as we both anticipate what the other will say next.

It means never feeling uncomfortable sitting quietly with that person but instead, feeling a sense of deep deep peace and complete satisfaction.

It means looking up, seeing their face and knowing there is nowhere else you’d rather be, even if it is pouring with rain or you are walking in the bitter cold.

Love means real concern for another person ‘s comforts.

Wanting to make their favourite meal for them because it makes them happy.

Love is never counting the cost of any slight argument or disagreement, but forgiving quickly, because there is nothing to forgive.

True love has no games and no pretences.

It does not diminish over time, but rather, increases and grows stronger every day.

When you love someone, the whole world looks more beautiful because they are in it.Everything lights up, people seem kinder.

It is this kind of love that can and will change the world. For as Martin Luther King Junior said : ‘ Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.’

True Love is unconditional, in the same way that love for our children is. It embraces flaws and imperfections, each becoming beloved as they make the loved one who they are.

Love is true understanding, each of the other. It  plays no tricks or cruel games, because there is trust, truth and honesty at its heart.It is not to be confused with lust, which is not even a near relative ( although some people do muddle the two . )

Love is missing that person the moment they leave a room or have to go away for a while. Because their smile is the best smile you have ever seen and you will hold it in your mind until you can see them again.

Love is a secret shared by two people but that spreads like wild -fire. First to their family and friends and then to the rest of their  world, wherever they go.

For everyone loves those who are in love, and in the words of the famous song from ‘ Casablanca’ : ( another favourite ) ‘ The world  will always welcome lovers, as time goes by’ .

Love is painful. Nothing of great beauty comes without a price.

A parting from the person you love will feel like centuries, though only days or weeks may have passed.

For love is not logical or conveniently packaged and has no boundaries of age, space, distance or time.

Love is not logical. Yet it is the strongest and most precious gift any of us can give to another.

It can cut through anything and overcome any obstacle, although it can and does involve sacrifices, both small and large. They never feel like sacrifices, because you want to make them.

True love does conquer all. It is the only thing that can.

It is very rare and worth waiting a lifetime for.

Love inspires, inflames and impassions. But it also soothes, quietens, calms and softens. It is the best, and also the hardest thing in the world.

For love is divine. It is how we were created and where we will return.

Once you have found it- if you are lucky enough to have found it – never ever let it go.

‘ There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung

Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game

It’s easy.

‘ Nothing you can make that can’t be made

No-one you can save that can’t be saved

Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time

It’s easy.

‘ All you need is love

All you need is love

All you need is love, love

Love is all you need’ .

Copyright A. Hills 2015 All Rights Reserved

‘Nature Boy’ ( Eden Ahbez )

‘As Time Goes By’ ( Herman Hupfeld )

‘All You Need Is Love ‘ ( Lennon-Mc Cartney )

Island Life

imageimageimageimageFor  the last 8 years I have lived on a little island on the river Thames.

Water, as I’ve mentioned before, has always been my element, and I had promised myself many years ago that one day, I would live on or beside it.

I first saw my house when idly browsing one day on a website specialising in waterside homes.
Coming from a very large Edwardian house, I took one look at it and thought it was not big enough.

And then I adjusted my perspective and began to think again.

Compact and much smaller than I had been used to, yes, but right on the river in a peaceful and beautiful backwater, with my own mooring and a south-westerly view, which meant that we would get the sun all day right through until sunset.
On one of the quirky little islands that dot this stretch of the Thames like tiny jewels, yet with the best pub in the area just the other side of the bridge and only 15 minutes into London from our railway station.

All this, and with one wall entirely window, filling the house with light and a large decking wrapping around for barbecues and evening cocktails.

Best of all, somewhere of my own to sit right at the water’s edge and dip my toes and reflect.
I would have been mad to turn it down, it had my name all over it.

I went to see it, walking over the large iron bridge and down the winding footpath that runs through the centre.
That was it- love at first sight!

A week later, I signed the deeds and it was mine. I’ve always been decisive when it comes to something ( or someone ) I love.

So we moved in, Freddie, Molly and I, one rainy March day.
By boat, because it was an island after all.

The removal men dropped in the river and smashed, one of my antique Victorian wash-stands and our cat was shell-shocked at the sight of so much water, but we were in.
We had to sell the piano!

When I tell people I live on an island, I hear one of four reactions:

‘ Oh, so where do you park?’
‘ But what do you do when you have to carry all your shopping?’
‘Do you ever get flooded?’

Or lastly, and much more rarely : ‘ How amazing and lucky, I’d love to live on the river!’

I always know that the person who says any one of the first three sentences will never live anywhere like this.
You need to have a certain adventurous spirit to live somewhere unusual and parking is not usually uppermost in that kind of mind.

To think of such banalities as parking and shopping when there is outstanding natural beauty to be had so close to the centre of London is to completely miss the point!

For this is one of the most glorious and unspoilt stretches of water, in the first real village outside London.

Shaped like a canoe and with only 49 houses, each one different, this is one of the smallest of the islands on The Thames.

One of the first things people notice is that we have our own post- box, which is rather quaint and stands there like something out of Beatrix Potter.

One of the houses is called The Chalet, and is an original from when the Island was first developed as a place to live by people from London who wanted summer homes on the water.

We now live here all year round!

We are opposite Hampton Court Palace, and our tiny hamlet is filled with history.
Henry VIII, whose magnificent residence is ours to enjoy just across the river, acquired a cottage in Thames Ditton for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves after their divorce – although she never actually lived there.
The miniscule doors and windows that I pass every day are testament to how small the Tudors were in stature, if not in deed.

Every season is a changing feast for the eyes and senses.

In winter, the glow from the moon reflects upon the water like a silver disc, illuminating the sleeping ducks like a still life.
The boat yard is closed for the season and there is a quiet ‘ off peak’ feel, though our cosy pub, Ye Olde Swan is always buzzing, with roaring log fires and laughter over local pints.

Before I lived here, I hadn’t understood the words in the song ‘ These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things’, but now I’ve actually seen ‘ wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings’.

When the spring arrives suddenly, as it always seems to, there is a flurry of boating activity.
People remove the covers from their little vessels and start to think about the first jaunt upstream.
The Olympic rowing team appear too on their practice runs, the shouts of the cox often being the first thing I awake to.

The cygnets, goslings and ducklings bob past, their proud parents in front.
Friends and neighbours sit out on their porches for the first time, their faces turned towards the weak spring sunshine and there is the promise of long days and nights to come.

Oh, but in the summer!
Lazy boats drift by all day, and everybody is laughing and waving.
As I said to my daughter one day, this has to be the happiest house we’ve ever lived in, for every single face that goes past wears a smile.
Boating on the river has that effect.

And now, the wild life is fully grown and swans glide by, no longer cygnets, their beauty and purity in contrast to the blue skies and colourful clothes of the day trippers.

To sit at the water’s edge at sunset is my favourite thing to do in summer.
Made even more perfect if family or friends are there too, sharing it with me.
And I never seem to be short of willing volunteers in this season!

Chilled rose wine or a beer in hand, the sun glinting off the river, shouts of nearby children and the merry barking of a dog.
These are the delights of an English summer on the Thames.

How could you ever leave?
Or think of parking issues?

I sometimes contemplate how it will be when I live elsewhere, because I know I won’t be here forever on this little slice of heaven so close to London.
That’s why I take as many photographs as I do, plus it is so picturesque.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt, it is that nothing lasts, everything changes. We can only hope to recognise moments of happiness,peace and tranquillity as they arise, and be thankful for them.

For this island living gives me just that ; calm and quiet and a place to reflect and write.

In my working life, I am in central London at least twice a week, sometimes more. Evenings too.
And my love for London is never in doubt, as I wrote in my last post.
In fact, another thing that really thrills me is that the very same river that runs past the Houses of Parliament, also runs past my house.
As I wander along on my way home from a business event or social gathering and gaze out over the lights on The Thames, I have the satisfying thought that very soon, I shall be on my own porch, a nightcap in hand, looking out on my own little sparkling stretch of the very same famous river.

The Island is a wonderful counterpoint to days spent amongst so many people.
Nature has its own power to soothe the soul like no other, and as I walk over the bridge after a day in town, I feel all my cares and tensions melt away and flow downstream.
The quiet of the night here, with no car alarms or traffic, the clarity of the stars because we have only old – fashioned gas lamps lighting our path.
These things restore balance to the weary spirit.

It isn’t perfect, life never is, anywhere.

I think my parents sometimes worry about me living here.
But I went to a boarding school that encouraged outdoor living and robust character, so I find I’m quite resourceful and up to the challenge!

Our power sometimes fails for no apparent reason and water pressure can be a challenge as we share one pump.
And don’t even think of flushing anything down the sink or elsewhere, you have to treat life as though you were on board a boat, but I love sailing so I’m used to this.

These small trials can, if you let them, make you feel annoyed.
But instead, you can allow them to bring out the Robinson Crusoe in you ( or in my case Girl Friday ) and feel satisfied that you’ve dealt successfully with the practical challenge.

Sometimes, when I have to park miles away on a drizzly winter’s day and carry heavy shopping over the bridge like a pack-horse in the trenches, I think ‘ what on earth am I doing living here?’

And returning late at night from a party, the footpath leading to my house can seem like the longest and darkest path in the world.
And yes, sometimes the footpath does flood and I have to don my waders.

But the treasures far outweigh the small tribulations.

Where else but on the river does your view change every single day?

Last week, my son stopped me as we were coming over the bridge to point out a kingfisher darting across the water.
A heron stood at the edge under the willows and ducks were laughing ( they do, believe me ) as they enjoyed the first of their early spring baths.

It’s enough to make a poet out of almost anyone.

So if you’re passing our little island on the Thames this summer, in a boat or perhaps on foot, give us a wave.

We will wave back, safe in the knowledge that you will wish, for at least that moment, that you were sitting here in your very own river-side seat with us.


Copyright Amanda Hills Feb 2015 All rights reserved
All images, Amanda Hills
‘ My Favorite Things’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein

London Calling


imageMy great-grandfather was a Yeomen of The Guard at The Tower of London.

For those who may not know, The Yeomen of The Guard are The Queen’s bodyguards at The Tower and are the oldest British Military Corps still in existence.
Created in 1485 by King Henry Vll at The Battle of Bosworth Field, they still wear the original and highly- distinctive red and gold Tudor-style uniform in his honour. In London, they are both respected and instantly recognisable.
I have a photograph of Edward ( for that was his name) with my great -grandmother, Kitty, standing proudly outside The Tower in his finery, my mother and aunt in the foreground, two little girls in ribbons.

Perhaps this explains in part my life-long love affair with London- it is somehow in my DNA.

Samuel Johnson said : ‘ When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…

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London Calling

imageMy great-grandfather was a Yeomen of The Guard at The Tower of London.

The Yeomen of The Guard are The Queen’s bodyguards and are the oldest British Military Corps still in existence.
Created in 1485 by King Henry Vll at The Battle of Bosworth Field, they still wear the red and gold Tudor-style uniform in his honour.
I have a photograph of Edward ( for that was his name) with my great -grandmother, Kitty, standing proudly outside The Tower in his finery, my mother and aunt in the foreground, two little girls in ribbons.

Perhaps this explains in part my life-long love affair with London- it is somehow in my DNA.

Samuel Johnson said : ‘ When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. For there is in London all that life can afford’.

I was born in London.image

One of my earliest childhood memories is of travelling up The Mall, past Buckingham Palace in a black cab with my grandparents.
I had been allowed to sit on one of the fold – down seats, which I thought a huge treat, and my grandparents, who shared my love of our magnificent capital city, pointed out The Changing Of The Guard and the Standard flying over the battlements of the palace which meant that The Queen was in residence.

To this day, I still check every time I go past to see if The Union Jack or The Standard is flying, getting a warm and comfortable feeling somehow if Her Majesty is at home!

I also still think that London cabbies, with their friendly banter and The Knowledge are the best in the world.
On late and rainy nights, to see the amber glow of their ‘ For Hire’ sign coming round the corner and stopping for you, is like manna from heaven to a weary soul.

My father worked in central London for nearly the whole of his career too.

Those were the days of three hour lunches and a personal secretary in a tight wiggle skirt to pour your 5 o ‘clock gin and tonic.
MadMen style meetings and Office Ladies Nights abounded, and yet they still seemed to get more work done than we do today, uninterrupted as they were by mobile phones or emails.

It was my dad who first took me on the London Underground.
As I gingerly stepped onto the steep escalator at Baker Street, aged about 6, I felt as though I would plunge to the very bottom like a fairground roller coaster.
I clung fast to my father’s hand and coat sleeve and bravely faced the challenge.
I must admit, I still don’t look all the way to the bottom as I step on, for if I do, I sway ever so slightly, and these days, I’m usually in somewhat higher shoes.

And then, ten years later, aged 16, I discovered a whole different side of London- its Nightlife!
I very quickly became addicted.

My dad, who reads this blog, was not supposed to know that I’d been up there, travelling all the way from suburbia as I did ( sorry dad ).
But my pal Linda and I had managed the mighty feat of getting ourselves into the hottest of the hot spots of the time, The Blitz Club. And we thought we were the absolute cat’s pyjamas. There was no stopping us!

Housed in a tacky wine bar in Covent Garden, Blitz Nights were on a Tuesday, which was by rights, a school night. I’ve loved a Tuesday ever since!

It quickly became notorious, and then famous, for its queues of wonderfully dressed punks and rebels around the block and its handsome and caustic New Romantic doorman- one Steve Strange, later of Visage fame.

We were so tame compared to the rest, although Lin managed rather better than me, with her purple curls, laddered tights and five layers of mascara.
I made do with tiny skirts pulled in with the widest elasticated belt imaginable and very big hair.
And somehow, they liked us, and…
we were in!
To dance to the newest thing- a video. How amazing and rare!

We ate chicken in a basket sitting in collapsing disused train seats and carriages.
One night, we saw Boy George and the whole of Spandeau Ballet and I danced with Sade Adu.

And then later, on the way home ( to Lin’s, so my dad wouldn’t find out, taking off my make-up and getting back into my civvies on the way ) we stopped at The Up All Night for coffee, where we congratulated ourselves on being quite the two most avant -garde teenagers that Surrey had ever seen.

London, London!

How it called to me through those years. Bored as I was with the view from our small village ( sorry mum and dad ! )
I couldn’t wait to get up there, and I did, working there through my early twenties.

How exotic it seemed, and removed from the provincial town I went to school in, and yet still so much the city of my childhood, and memories of my grandparents.

And now, I’m working there again, after several years absence whilst I raised my babies. The siren call got to me, finally and I felt an enormously strong pull back.

According to my dear and wise friend Havovie, the Earth Star Chakra Portal sits at the heart of London, and is crucial for our planet’s future. It governs love, divinity and humanity.
Maybe that is why I needed to be back there…my passion for it is just the same.

This time, I’ve re- discovered my love of Mayfair, which truly is my favourite of London’s little inter- connected villages.

Whether it is the name and history , or the fact that it is the most expensive dark blue property on the Monopoly board, and the one I always want to own whenever I play, it holds a particular charm for me.

‘Mayfair’  first acquired its name in 1686, when King James ll granted permission for a fair to be held on the swampy farmland that was then mainly used for cattle, in the first two weeks of May. This then became an annual event and people from surrounding villages began to flock to the area for the very first time.

I love the connotation of Olde England merry-making that the name implies, and the verdant month of May is so beautiful here in London.
Maybe it is because I love dancing and music so much, that this history appeals to me too.


From Berkeley Square to The Ritz, and Claridge’s ( surely the most heavenly hotel in the world ) to Shepherd’s Market ( what names! ) the winding, cobbled streets of Mayfair have always seemed to me to be filled with a certain sort of magic.

And even now, with the influx of a breed of money-making and showy individuals of the sort that I dislike, ( the area has always attracted this too, due to its wealth ) Mayfair manages to retain its charm.

Put simply, I like to wander there, admiring the skyline, the meandering streets, the leafy squares and the magnificent Georgian townhouses.

Would I like a house there? You bet I would – and build a hotel on it too- do not pass go, do not collect £200!

And my daughter Molly seems to have inherited my love of the area.
Recently, she wrote in her own blog, about Mayfair being one of the most delightful places that London has to offer: ‘ streets laced with golden lights and rosy- cheeked concierges outside each hotel door like Nutcracker soldiers’.

As the words of the song ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square ‘ say:

‘That certain night, the night we met
There was magic in the air.
There were angels dining at The Ritz
And A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.

I may be right, I may be wrong,
But I’m perfectly willing to swear,
That when you turn’d and smiled at me
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’.


Copyright Amanda Hills 2015, all rights reserved
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square by Maschwitz/ Sherwin

All I Want For Christmas…?

imageWhen I was a child, there was a great clamour every year for the roles of both Mary and Joseph in the school Nativity play.

But I have always felt that the unsung stars were the Innkeeper and his wife. They may not have had the best costumes or the most lines to say, but they seemed to me to embody the true meaning and spirit of Christmas, and one that I try to keep.

For they said ‘ yes’ when everybody else had said no and opened their doors so that two people in need could enter out of the cold.

Christmas. Always a difficult season to navigate, and even more so now, when everybody is so time- pressured and rushed, that there seems to be no time to enjoy what should be a period of peace and happiness.

Battling through the festive shoppers as you struggle into work each day, the season itself seeming to start earlier and earlier every year.

Queues in every department store, as you desperately try to think what to buy your father that is different from last time. My dad is always the trickiest on my list, as he doesn’t really want anything!

And isn’t that the point really? Most of us, who are lucky enough to live here in London, in England, don’t actually NEED anything.

‘What do you want for Christmas this year ?’ I hear people ask each other, as early as October. Before we’ve even celebrated Bonfire Night.

I’ve always been clear what I would like.

Everyone who truly knows me, also knows that I want nothing more than everyone I love the best back in the ‘nest’ at once!

I take very much after my maternal grandmother in this, who virtually did a head count each night, and was only satisfied to return to her knitting and her seat by the fire, once all the family were back safely indoors!

But I haven’t had this joy in quite some time, as my eldest lives in Florida and so I have had to adapt. I find it very hard, especially at this time of year.

We are never certain of anything in life except one thing: nothing stays the same.

I well remember the chaos of the run-up to Christmas when my children were all little. At one point, I had three children under 10, a cat and a rather greedy and demanding black Labrador. Madness!

And during this period, with one of them always ill for the festivities and with no chance to escape the house, I used to think that all I wanted was to go to the shops, buy myself something slinky to wear, and go to what I imagined would be a glamorous ‘ office party’, where I would be the toast of the night and dance until 3.

Of course, now that I can actually do this ( well, maybe not the toast bit! ), all I want is those days of chaos back again, with my babies!

I long for the days of school plays and dress up, where my kids decorated the tree, even though I’ve managed to block out the pandemonium and sheer exhaustion, not to mention the countless trips to the shops to replace Christmas tree chocolates and decorations that the dog had either eaten or destroyed! ( If I’m going to be totally honest here, I’ve had to go back twice this year already, as  in a moment of weakness, I’ve eaten a chocolate Santa and a bag of coins that were destined for one of the kids. As  I’ve said before, I don’t change! )

We’re never happy, are we?

But I have learned a little along the way. And what I know now is this: that everything in life is transient, happiness is fleeting and it is important to live fully in every moment.

I enjoyed  ( nearly ) every stage of my children’s early Christmases, and now I’m aware of how precious each Christmas is that I get to spend with any of my loved ones. I never take anything, or anybody, for granted.

Yes, there are a couple of special  people in particular that I would dearly love to have with me this year, but I realise how truly lucky I am to have my parents, my other two children and my friends around me.

So many do not.

On this beautiful planet we all live on, there are so many terrible things happening every day.

An atrocity this week that was horrific beyond words.

There are so many lonely people, and folk sleeping rough.

The homeless and the dispossessed among us seem to increase with every passing year.

We can, and must, do our bit, but we simply cannot help them all individually.

Collectively, however, we can do something.

Look around you, in your own small corner of our world.

Is there somebody who may be on their own or lonely this Christmas? Someone who may be feeling sad, but can’t find the words to say so? An elderly neighbour on their own, or a friend whose children have gone to spend Christmas with their other parent? I’ve been there, it is desperately hard. People do put a brave face on you know. Don’t be fooled, take the time to look a little closer.

It really isn’t about the presents under the tree, or serving the perfect Christmas feast, nice though these things may be. It is about being the Innkeeper and his wife and opening your door. Saying ‘yes’ not ‘ no’, making that extra space at the table, offering a spare bed for the night, opening your arms to the stranger or the person recently bereaved.

My daughter works at a stables ( how apt for the Christmas Story! )

She mentioned that there is a Hungarian gentleman also working there with the horses who speaks no English and who may be on his own Christmas Day.

‘ No he won’t be’, I told her. ‘ there is a place at our table for him, if he would like it. ‘

He may not come, but the important thing was to invite him. This is the true spirit of Christmas for me, not the new iPhone or the designer finery.

Of course, we don’t all celebrate Christmas. There are many other traditions and beautiful  celebrations for our wonderful diversity of  cultures and nations here on earth.

But I’ve always believed that although we may have different paths to follow, we are all trying to reach the same destination.

It won’t be easy. This season, with all its stresses and strains, can bring out the very worst in people.

There may be clashes between the generations, a moody teenager or a grumpy and difficult relative to deal with.

But with some tolerance, goodwill and a large dose of humour, ( and for me, a glass of something sparkly to hand all Christmas Day!)  I do believe a safe course can be steered through it all, and enjoyment and love can preside.

So I hope you will find your moment of happiness in this wonderful season, and importantly, recognise it when it comes.

For I’m on a mission to spread good cheer, and to do my own small bit to say we need to stop this endless greed and avarice, and idea of ‘ the perfect Christmas’ and  return to what the Christmas message really is about.

I’m happy to say, my children all share the same view and find simple happiness in the silly family games that we play and the fact that we all sit down together to eat, rather than the gifts they may receive  ( though they do! )

And so, in  the immortal words of Nat King Cole:

‘I’m  offering this simple phrase,

to kids from one to ninety-two,

although it’s been said many times, many ways,

Merry Christmas, to you!’

Shall We Dance?


imageAs I mentioned in my very first blog, I have several passions in life, and one of them is dancing.

I’ve been dancing  all my life. In fact, the first scar I ever had, still visible beside my left eyebrow, was as a result of my love of dancing!

I was on top of our outside coal bunker ( yes, this  was  in those days! ) aged 5 and I was constructing a dance routine which consisted of me pirouetting and then pretending to fly over the coal hole.

Except I overdid my exuberance, as usual, and fell in, cutting my head open on the way down.

My mother , who had probably been to Casualty with one of my  brothers already that week, was not impressed when I told her I was being Liesl from The Sound Of Music.

That was the first film I was ever taken to see at the cinema.

My Irish grandfather, the same one who taught me to swim, for those of you who may have read my blog ‘Just Keep Swimming’, took me one afternoon as a treat.

On the bus we went, a treat in itself, from Enfield, stopping off in the town beforehand, where I was taken into a little shop and told I could choose my very first handbag as a special gift from Grandad.

Navy blue suede with gilt handles it was, I can still see it now- and I proudly put my hanky and purse in there, along with the packet of sweets I had chosen to take in with me. I haven t changed much!

As I sat next to my beloved grandfather in the dark, and the music started, I was spellbound- and captivated by both Captain Von Trapp and Liesl.

That was where I fell in love with dance as a means to express joy in human emotion.

Many of you will know the scene I mean: in the summer pavilion at night,in a thunderstorm, Rolfe and Liesl leaping from bench to bench as the rain pours down in the garden outside. Ending in their first kiss. I’m a hopeless romantic!

This was the very scene I was re-enacting as I leapt over the coal hole.

In my mind, I WAS Liesl!


And so it went on, through ballet classes and learning to be en pointe, my first pale pink ballet slippers and my extremely wild and unruly hair brushed and coaxed by my mother into a bun, while I sat protesting , my eyes  watery with painful tears.

And then being taken to see Mary Poppins, my mum and I sitting side by side tapping our feet to ‘ Step in Time’ as Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke danced across  starry London rooftops with sooty faces and a cast of impish chimney sweeps.

My  greatest treat as a young girl was being allowed to stay up on a Thursday night to watch Top Of The Pops , waiting impatiently for Pan’s People to come on and perform their routine.

As cheesy as it inevitably  was, their smiling faces seemed to me to sum up the sheer joy that I always felt as I danced. Oh how I dreamed of being one of them!


Eventually I grew up and went to work in London.

There, the wonders of The Pineapple Dance Studios opened their portals to me.


Legwarmers and and leotards and very many ways with my hair,  the bane of my life, which I was now wearing in a Punky rough cut in what I rather hoped was a tribute to my heroine, Debbie Harry of Blondie.

Signing up to classes in Jazz and Latin American Dance ( still my favourite ) and loving the fact that every week I had the opportunity to leap, fly and jump in a big space  with mirrors whilst wearing Day Glo colours.

In fact, I still love this, as evidenced by the class I went to just last week on Hallowe’en, where my dance teacher, Nancy, thrillingly supplied masks and Glow Bands!

And that’s the point.

Dance is a fantastic way to let loose and celebrate the sheer joy of being alive, human and a physical being, while also expressing the way that the music makes you feel.

Because of course, there is always music! That’s the wonderful thing.

One of the best dancers of Salsa I know is my friend Ana.

Now Ana was born with an unfair advantage in the rhythm stakes, as she is Cuban.

She told me that in her home country, as soon as babies can move, their mothers place their hands on their tiny hips and start to gently rotate  and sway them to the Salsa beat.

No wonder they are so good at it!

I’m very lucky, because Ana taught me how to Salsa in the Latin style and it is all in the hip action, as they say on Strictly.

And we only have to look at babies and very young children to see that dancing is intrinsic to human nature.

Across all cultures, in every corner of the globe, people have developed their own way of moving to music or a beat.

Dancing is used to celebrate a ceremonial occasion, to demonstrate fertility and abundance and to just show yourself and other people that you are alive!

I’ve danced everywhere and at any occasion my whole life.

From sunset beaches with friends, to impromptu dances in sailing huts,  and from pool parties in exotic climes, to a rather wild Irish jig in a pub on Dublin’s Grafton Street.

Even in  a  country field at midnight with some old school friends ( ‘ Play That Funky  Music White Boy’, Lesley  and Mark?)

When I say how much I love to dance, and how happy it makes me feel,  some people tell me they can’t do it.

‘ Oh, I’ve got two left feet’, they say. Or :  ‘ I’m much too shy, I can only dance after I’ve had a few drinks’.

But I don’t believe this is true.

As all the  very young can naturally dance, I believe it is only  inhibition and ego that stand in the way of people wanting to let loose.

And certainly, in England, there seems to be a notion that men don’t dance!

All that wiggling of the hips and bottom- isn’t it a bit much??

But I hope that programmes such as the marvellous ‘ Strictly Come Dancing’ are beginning to change all that. We’ve seen rugby players and cricket captains alike embrace their inner dancer!

For I’m currently on  a mission to encourage more men into the dance class I go to three times each week.

Not only do I believe they would love it, but I strongly think that dancing together improves the relationship between the sexes.

We are not designed to dance alone, it takes two to Tango after all and the most iconic and celebrated dance partnership is still Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Dancing is the quickest route I know to happiness.

Any dull day can be transformed, if we just put on some music and start to move to the rhythm as the mood and tune takes us.

There is no wrong or right way really, unless you are in a classical class or giving a performance.

When it is just you, you can freely move around, expressing yourself just as you like and it is so uplifting and transformative.

I think it is impossible to stay feeling even a little bit blue whilst sashaying across the sitting  room floor to Ricky Martin, but that’s just me!

Everybody has  their favourite dance track for the mood they are in…I bet you can think of one now!

So don’t hesitate…because one of the best things about a dance piece is, it is usually only about 3 minutes long. And in  that 3 minutes, you can change your mood for the better, sing at the top of your voice and pretend to be anybody you want to be, including the best version of yourself.

On any given day, I can be Darcey Bussell, a Spanish Flamenco dancer or even just me, dancing and loving it, as I always have.

Of course, on a rainy day like today,  I am still always Liesl, in her white dress, jumping from bench to bench, supported by Rolfe’s manly hand, forever sixteen…

All it takes is the courage to lose your inhibitions for a while.

As Mary J Blige wisely sings in ‘ Family Affair ‘ :

‘ Let loose and set your body free.

Leave your situations at the door

So when you step inside jump on the floor’ .