I stole an evening, took the train to London and joined The School of Life at Fenton House, Hampstead, for evening drinks in the orchard with Esther Freud.  We were there to celebrate midsummer and Tove Jansson.

The evening was warm and informal – cotton skirts and big boots, smiles and mercifully little small talk. We drank Finnish vodka with apple juice and fresh mint and sat on the just damp grass.

Esther Freud chatted to us about her visit to the summer house where Tove Jansson wrote The Summer Book.  She described the small black stove, the scrubbed wooden floor, the blue window, the gnarled forest of low trees and dark pools.  She also took us to the barren island where Tove Jansson and her partner Tuulikki escaped visitors to be together in a simple, square wooden house on a bit of black rock, beneath the shrieking terns – just day beds, time for each other and the daily routine and small challenges of swimming around the island, reading, writing and thinking. Lovely.

I met a teacher with red hair and warm hands and sat on the edge of her coat.  We talked about accidental planting, foxgloves, safe places, the smell of autumn and clogs. She said that she had always encouraged her daughters to go out in all seasons for the simple pleasure of coming home to climb under a blanket together.

We walked paths mown between grass left to grow feathery. There were beds of gentle chaos – digitalis, allium, blue iris, rosa rugosa, sage, philladephus, white campanula and purple poppies. And a green house with trays of lupin seedlings.

I left feeling a little bit more in love with life and with an appetite for the simple pleasure of tentative sunshine, friendship, imagination, curiosity and authenticity that had been offered to us.


Stealing time
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 19 June 2012

I came across these photos yesterday.  Both from last year. Both taken on mornings of patchy sun and drizzle. Both of the beautiful mess we make when we allow time to unfold and let inspiration in.

We drank sloe gin with our bread and cheese and talked about painting weeds, hygge, hiding and learning to sit still.

We cut up apples and opened old notebooks and new parcels.

Happy weekend.


Beautiful mess
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 18 May 2012

We stole half an hour for flat whites and carrot cake in our local café/grocery store this morning. I was ill tempered and tired of being woken early again and again. It was warm.  The wooden floor was swept.  Staff and customers were Saturday morning slow – getting stuff done but at their own pace.  A woman in a sea green knitted jumper with long, wiry hair was persuading her friend to join her for a wild swim.  We started to talk and, with the novelty and warmth of new connection, I began to find my enthusiasm for the day.   Minutes later there were five women sharing their love of swimming in deep natural pools, tidal rivers and the open sea.  For months I have wanted to dive in to the restorative flow and embrace of water.  It’s spring here.  Cold but alive.  Now is the time.  So we decided to buy a notebook and to leave it in the café on a shelf, next to the bread.  When one of us has found a new swimming spot, we’ll write it down – maybe we’ll pencil a map and the small details that will lead others to a new cove or the curve in a river where the bank is shallow enough to wade in.

The cure for anything

is salt water:

sweat, tears or the sea.

(Isak Dinesen)

A couple of books came up in our conversation:  Waterlog, of course, by the much loved Roger Deakin and Wild Swim by Kate Rew (founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society) and Dominick Tyler.  There must be more books and thousands of hidden places around the world to share with each other..Come to think of it, last summer I read Breath by Tim Winton. It was disquieting but lovely in places. He wrote about water, breath, fear, the thrill of fear, coming of age and the price of being more than ordinary. And he wrote about surfing and the joy of, ‘doing something completely pointless and beautiful’.


Diving in
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 5 May 2012

If we’re lucky, we find our people, our tribe, our kin – those friends, and that can mean family too, with whom we share real connection. With them, we feel at home; we share meals, dreams, late nights, slow walks; exchange books, music, ideas; offer each other time, inspiration, energy, solace and a sense of belonging. We allow the rhythm of our days to align with theirs – even when they are hundreds of miles away.

This weekend in Tankwa Town, in the middle of the Karoo desert, South Africa, a good handful of the people we love have gathered for AfrikaBurn. Under a huge sky, they have set up camp together, danced through the night, shared water, warmth, food, fire, inspiration and love.

We try to go every year to step away from life as we know it, to be with our kin – to be part of the community that establishes itself there in the heat and dust. AfrikaBurn is created by the participants – we all subscribe to the belief that, ‘transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.’

That’s where the hygge is – the willingness to be there whole heartedly. Everyone is welcome. No one is greedy or critical. And each one of us comes with a gift – something to offer unconditionally without contemplating a return or exchange. You can’t buy, sell or advertise anything. You can give and you can receive. It’s not about consumption but participation. People come with kites, morning coffee, music, wigs, fire pits, giant lego, tiny Buddha, gardens of fluorescent flowers, hula hoops, lanterns, paint, paddling pools and cupcakes. They gift trance tents, yoga classes, healing, polaroids and friendship. Even an Ego Booth. Check in your ego. Let go.

Afrikaburn is about ‘community building, decommodification, creativity, self-reliance and radical self-expression. It is a chance to invent the world anew.’ Just for a few days. The experience is something that sustains us for the rest of the year. And when we leave, we leave no trace wherever we have gathered.


Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 29 April 2012