While I was in Britain, I started reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast which has been on my reading list for as long as I can remember. He describes how it was writing in a freezing cold room in Paris as a young man. On rainy days, he felt tempted to buy a bunch of expensive twigs to burn in the fire but would walk through the streets looking up at the chimneys and the way the smoke was drifting and knew that the damp wood would only fill the room with smoke without heating it and that it wasn't worth spending the little money he had. I can definitely identify with that feeling since I'm now confined to the kitchen with a blanket over my knees and fingerless gloves as the wind howls by viciously outside. Winter has arrived with a vengeance to chill every warm fibre of your body and this morning the pipes to the living room radiator froze. A thin layer of ice lines the inside of my windows with their wooden frames which I try to scrape away without much success. The only sensible thing to do then is to switch on the oven and make a cup of tea. Even though I only returned to Berlin yesterday, my days in England seem strangely distant. When my train pulled into Waterloo from Portsmouth, thick grey clouds still hid the sun but I could feel the city drawing me to it like a magnet and could not wait to explore. Blue fairy lights were twinkling over Oxford Street, Eros remained stoic against the cold and the shops windows were filled with snowy branches and winter landscapes. I took the last remaining seat at the Curzon cinema in Soho for The Kids are All Right on the front row and was glad of the cosy auditorium. Susan had asked me to get a few shots of the ice skaters at Somerset House but unfortunately, the rink wasn't yet open. I had to content myself with René Gruau and his fabulous Line of Beauty. There was still enough time to get through two huge exhibitions, Treasures from Budapest at the Royal Academy and best of all, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes. Nothing I can say could describe the thrill of seeing those exquisite but incredibly bulky costumes (how did they dance in those things?), of letting your eyes wander over those sketches and designs while the familiar strains of the Stravinsky's Firebird music are played overhead. I loved Picasso's vast backdrop with two monumental women and wished that I could have been around to witness the scandal of The Rite of Spring and the fun of Satie's Parade.
Keeping warm with a London bear
At Piccadilly Circus
Christmas lights on Oxford Street
Do they have a Miss Messy one for me?
Great hats near the Royal Academy
In the stunning shop windows of Fortnum and Mason which this year have an artistic theme
At Hatchards, one of my favourite London bookshops where I got Tove Jansson's the Winter Book
Gorgeous but heartstoppingly expensive meringues at the V&A restaurant
At the V&A museum
Back in Derbyshire, I found the trees still green or golden. My footsteps left imprints on the frozen grass which the few rays of sun couldn't melt. Windfall apples lay on the ground and a grey squirrel scuttled here and there gathering the stray nuts left by the birds. In the evening, I curled up in my favourite armchair, watching Groundhog Day even though my eyelids were heavy with sleep and wished we too could have a blizzard. The next morning, I pulled back the curtains and there it was; 8 cm of the whitest, most beautiful snow. The night before it comes are filled with a strange silence, as if all the little creatures are lying in wait for the thing that will muffle their steps and camouflage their traces. My feet felt like blocks of ice in new wellies in wool tights but foolishly without socks as I ventured out on the ground where no others had dared to tread. There's something about snow that creates a curious solidarity between people who would never otherwise be keen to stop and talk to you and perhaps I love it for that almost as much as what it does to the landscape. I told myself that it wouldn't be so hard to leave this time since I'll be back in Derbyshire again by mid-December but it never gets any easier and I fought back the tears before going through airport security. If only those I care about the most and the city I love could be together. While taking off, immaculate white fields spread out as far as the eye could see; I had a feeling I was missing all the fun and hope that they can save a little snow there for Christmas time.
Mungo, cosy on his pillow with a hot water bottle underneath to keep warm
It seems appropriate to leave with with a recipe fr a London cheesecake, although I admit to having tweaked it a little to make it more of a Berlin one by adding quark.
For the base
125g digestive biscuits/graham crackers or Dinkelkekse if you can't get them
75g melted unsalted butter
115g full fat Philadelphia
1 small tub mascarpone
1 small tub quark, 40% fat
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Put the biscuits into a food processor and pulse until you have rough crumbs. Stir in the melted butter and pulse again.
2. Grease and line a springform tin then pour in the buttery crumbs, pressing them down with the back of your spoon to form an even base. Place the tin in the freezer and pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the mascarpone, quark and philadelphia until smooth. Beat in the sugar. Add the eggs, egg yolk and vanilla extract and blend again, finishing with the lemon zest and juice. Remove the base from the freezer and pour in the cheesecake mixture. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes or until the middle is firm. Leave to cool completely in the tin before transferring to a plate.