The five best…things I tried this week

IMG_5646Where did you get that hat?

When I was little and we were out shopping, my family always knew where to find me if I disappeared: in the hats department, jamming them on my head in quick succession. I’ve never lost my affection for hats; which is why I was gutted to lose my perfect alternative to the umbrella (I hate umbrellas) when I left my patent-finish Barbour rainhat on the train. It was drying on my lap, fell off when I stood up, I filled in a lost property form… let it go, it’s gone.

So I was really pleased to finally buy a hat for myself from Snooks, milliners of renown in Bridport, Dorset since 1896. I’ve been in there several times with my hat-sporting OH, but I’ve never been shopping for me. Snooks is more than a shop; it’s a millinery museum, with headgear of all types on display including a pith helmet, an authentic fez and a Madeiran ‘Tinky-Winky’ (I have one of those too). And when I tried on a bowler, one of the staff explained how it was originally a protective item, sparking amusing images of old-school bankers bashing each other on the head with their brollies.

Wandering the shop while my OH was trying on, I spotted the words ‘water-repellent’ on the label of a Fedora-type hat. A note on the label about how it can be rolled up – v handy for the handbag. Another hat to try on and… sold. And with the weather forecast as it was, it came in very handy.

As well as hats, Snooks also sells hankies (another OH foible) and nightshirts (yes, OH again). And I believe the establishment was instrumental n the birth of the Bridport Hat Festival (Sept 5-6).

Bridport Open Studios

Bridport is home to a real cluster of creative people, and for one weekend a year you can explore the creative process with a look at the studios of the artists who work here and nearby. We headed for St Michael’s Studios where, among my favourites, were the work of Marion Taylor, whose views of the iconic Colmer’s Hill just outside Bridport (above) are as compelling as the hill itself. Her book, Colmer’s Hill, One Artist’s Obsession, can be seen in local shops. Completely different in style, the sparse, minimalist graphic work of David Smith also caught my eye. There are many works in many media (mediums?) to see – and it’s free.

The event continues until Bank Holiday Monday – get the guide here.

Buying cider from the farm

I love proper cider, and have been happily drinking it without ice for years (no offence, Magners). My taste has been shaped partly by my experiences at Middle Farm in Sussex (hello Rod and Helen), where over 100 ciders and perries are available to taste and take home. But I’ve never bought it straight from the farm, until now. Cycling along the Bride valley in Dorset, we saw a ‘cider’ sign and turned off. A couple of tasting sips later at a makeshift bar in a barn, and two two-litre containers of Talbot Harris cider were stowed in the saddlebags The bloke who served us also knew the band who’ll be playing at the East Malling Beer Festival which is where I’ll be when the Bridport Hat Festival takes place.

Banksy at Rise

Not going to make it to Dismaland so contented myself with a Banksy exhibition at Croydon’s Rise Gallery. I have to say I found the approach down dilapidated shuttered-up shops St George’s Walk a little depressing. (Don’t get me wrong; I’m not dissing Croydon; it’s near where I grew up and was my Saturday shopping haunt as a teenager and I’m aware of the regeneration that’s going on.) But the gallery space was great, and the wall pieces by Banksy including Di-Faced Tenners and Rude Copper were thought-provoking and amusing. Unfortunately it’s over now.

Wild swimming

Or what used to be known as taking a dip. At Weymouth, with thunderous clouds rolling in, it was time to take the plunge. Anecdotally, a lot of people give up swimming in British seas once they’ve got used to holidays abroad. I think that’s a real shame.

Determined to go for it, we waded in to ankle level. ‘Ooh, cold,’ I thought. ‘Too cold?’ Then I distracted myself with the idea that I was going in to save a child, as I’ve noticed that when you have to get in water, for example, to board a boat, or wade a stream, you don’t notice the cold of the water as much because it’s incidental. On I strode, gasping and jerking my arms up as rolling waves climbed up my body. Once above the bikini bottom, it was only prolonging the agony not to get fully submerged. I flung myself forward and snapped out a few strokes of a record-breaking breast-stroke pace before standing up for more gasping. Then the ‘I’m wet and you’re not’ pleasure of advancing on my OH, while threatening to flick him with water. He did his own entering the water dance, and then we swam and floated around, becoming acclimatised. It is, as they say, life-affirming.


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