A Date Out and About Near Home

My mission: To go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.

We love our home. Our home is our castle, our refuge, our safe place, a place where we can do what we like (within the law). The phrase, ‘An Englishman’s Home is his Castle’ was adopted as early as the 16th century and is now hard-wired in our psyche. Yet when it comes to going out and about near home we are strangely reluctant. We’d rather go to Rome to visit the Colosseum or sunbathe on the French Riviera than investigate what’s on our doorstep.

I’m just as bad. Having moved to the Surrey/Hampshire border over five years ago you’d think I might have gone to see some of the local attractions. OK – so we were renovating a Victorian Farmhouse and I did have a heart operation but still…

A sixty date would put it right.

I asked John and Carol, two local friends who we’d met shortly after we moved in. They tried to hide their surprise when I said I’d never been to Midhurst or Petworth. And what about Jane Austen’s house they said?  Only 30 minutes away.

And so, a date was fixed.

Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton, Hampshire

A Date Out and About Near Home
©Jane Austen’s House Museum


I confess – I love Pride and Prejudice and read it every year. When I’m particularly tired, which happens when you reach a certain age, I make a cup of tea (or pour a glass of wine) and re-watch Joe Wright’s film. Of course, I loved the 1995 hit BBC TV series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but it’s too long for a quick sit-down. The only problem with the film is the missing kiss. Why didn’t we get to see Elizabeth (Keira Knightly) and Darcy (Mathew McFadden) kiss at the end? Don’t the producers know every good love story ends with a kiss? The only disappointment in this otherwise lovely romantic re-telling.

A Date Out and About Near Home
First Edition Pride and Prejudice ©Jane Austen’s House Museum


I was excited to visit the house (museum) where Jane Austen lived for the last eight years of her life (1809-1817). There she wrote or rewrote some important works. Sense and Sensibility (published in 1811) and my favourite Pride & Prejudice (1813), followed by Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). While she lived at Chawton, she also wrote Persuasion and Northanger Abbey although both were published after her death.

As I walked from room to room I was struck by how much it still felt like a family home. Full of family memorabilia and creaky stairs. Clothes and cooking pots. Books and pens. The writing table where she worked. Pause. Really? It’s so small. Positioned by the window in the dining-parlour, you can’t help but wonder. No grand desk and expensive laptop for Jane to produce her memorable characters and great story lines.

A Date Out and About Near Home
©Jane Austen’s House Museum


Perhaps my favourite item was the blue ring. It caused a national outcry when the singer Kelly Clarkson outbid the museum in an auction, paying £152,450 for the ring. She intended to take it back to America but after a fundraising cri de coeur, donations flooded in, including an anonymous one of £100,000, enabling the Museum to buy it back, saving it for the nation.

A Date Out and About Near Home
©Jane Austen’s House Museum, photograph by Peter Smith


Outside the kitchen there’s a pretty courtyard which had such a feeling of tranquillity that I sat for a while and imagined myself transported back to 1813, having tea with Jane, and discussing writing. I grinned at the idea of asking her to read my blog.

A Date Out and About Near Home
Jane Austen Woodcut ©Jane Austen’s House Museum


Rule 1: Focus you’re exploring on your interests


Midhurst, West Sussex 

Still on a literary tale we headed for Midhurst, a pretty market town and only fifteen minutes’ drive from home and the inspiration for such writers as HG Wells, Anya Seton and Ruth Rendell.

A Date Out and About Near Home
Novelist, teacher, historian, journalist


The town voted one of the best places to live in the UK dates back to before the times of the Romans although the name was first recorded in the early 12th century. We walked to St Ann’s Hill where there is evidence of an Iron Age fort and pagan worship. (see also my blog on a date to Danebury Hillfort).

The hill, lying to the east of Midhurst’s market square, was once the sight of the festival of Beltane, an ancient fire festival celebrating the start of summer on May 1st. Bonfires were lit (usually on 30th April), and rituals followed. The Anglo-Saxons and the Celts believed fire to be purifying and healing. I particularly loved the story of the Beltane cakes. A large sweet offering to the spirits, it would be big enough to split into portions, with one containing a piece of charcoal. The unlucky recipient of this piece would be thrown in the fire, although usually rescued by friends. Villagers would dance around the fire and cattle would be herded through two bonfires to protect them from disease.

Anything to do with the time of the Anglo-Saxons, the Celts and the Norse is right up my street.

A Date out and About Near Home
Me at the ruins, St Ann’s Hill, Midhurst

Fast-forward a few centuries to Tudor times and to the Cowdray House Ruin. Originally called Coudreye, the Norman name for hazel woods, it was built in 1273 by Sir John Bohun as a fortified manor house. In Tudor times, Sir David Owen, uncle to Henry VIII, used the same footprint to build his celebrated Cowdray House. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were guests at the house. It was partially destroyed by fire in 1793 and now sits as a magnificent ruin overlooking the South Downs National Park. With another of my interests being Macbeth, (written in 1606 the year after the Gunpowder plot and probably because of it), I was intrigued to learn Guy Fawkes had been employed as a footman at Cowdray before his infamous attempt to blow up parliament.

In more recent times the house has hosted film crews intent on recreating period drama. Due out at the end of 2018 is Mary, Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan and featuring a scene using the Cowdray House ruins.
Unfortunately, it was closed but I did manage some photos. Still, it’s a good reason to go back.

A Date Out and About Near Home
The Cowdray Ruins

Rule 2: Read websites or books on local history so you know where to explore. Check opening times.

We finished the day with a delicious meal in the Spread-Eagle Hotel and we agreed to arrange to see Petworth, with yet another famous house, an artistic heritage and, as I would discover, a Macbeth connection.


Moral of the date: A national treasure may be close to home. Don’t miss out.

With many thanks to John and Carol who came with me on this date.

20/60 dates completed


Next: A date with Macbeth

Follow me to see what happened.


©spearean 2018 The Jasmin Vine




A date with a Religious Icon of a Place

My mission was to go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.


When you come to celebrate a milestone birthday it’s inevitable that you think back over the years and to the friends who have been with you on a large part of your life’s journey. These are the friends who’ve become sacred to you, so what better than to organise a date to a holy place.

Anne and I first met as students in 1972, on a train from Sweden to the UK. When we went through Cologne later that night we shared the wonder of the illuminated-green cathedral, glowing in mythic splendour, with its two gothic towers looming high over the city. We made a promise to come back to visit the cathedral.

Forty-two years later, as one of my 60 dates, we managed it.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
A magical view of Gothic Splendor Photocredit: Jason Mrachina

Rule 1: See if there is something you shared years before as young people you could revisit as a celebratory date.


Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) did not disappoint. Overlooking the Rhine, its construction began in 1248 but was not completed until 1880, due to a break of 400 years when building work stopped. One of the facts we were told on the English guided tour.

Advance research had pre-warned us that tourists are not allowed past a certain point during services of worship. As it turned out, the guided tour allowed us special access to the resting place of the remains of the three Magi, the three wise men of the Christmas nativity story. I felt a bit sorry for the other tourists as the gate to the inner choir, behind the medieval high altar, was unlocked and our little group filed in to gaze in awe at the golden shrine while they were kept out.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
The Shrine of the Three Magi

We were told that because of these relics, Cologne Cathedral was considered an important place of pilgrimage.

Twenty thousand visitors a day!

It was difficult not to be impressed and to enjoy thinking the bones of Melchior, Balthazar, and Jasper are resting in such glorious splendour. Gold filigree panels set with precious stones, gold and silver embossed figures, cameos and enamels. A masterpiece of adoration.

It made me wonder which one of the magi brought which of the three gifts of gold, frankincense and Myrrh. I made a mental note to look it up. *

Rule 2: Before you go, research the best way to see the religious site and book tickets if need be.

After such an intense educating couple of hours it became essential to sit and stare at the outside of the gothic masterpiece, drinking a glass of German wine (or beer) while doing so.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
With Anne at a café in the Cathedral Square

Rule 3: Don’t rush away from such a sacred history. Enjoy the outside as much as the inner magical bliss.

 *Jasper brings myrrh, Melchior frankincense, and Balthazar gold.


Mont St-Michel, France 

My next Religious icon date was again with two friends who’d been on the long journey with me, my school friend Pam and our university friend Swati. Despite knowing them for 50 and 40 years respectively the three of us had never been away together. That was about to change as we set off by car, travelling through the tunnel and along the French coast on our date to Mont St-Michel in Northern France.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
The first view of the Abbey

The first sight of the Benedictine Abbey sitting high on a rock in the distance turned us into seven-year-olds with cries of ‘look, look’ and ‘are we nearly there?’

Up close it’s even more impressive. How did they build the Abbey on the top of that high rock?

We had decided to stay in a small auberge on the island itself which meant lugging cases from the car park, via shuttle bus across the causeway, up the sloping street to our rooms. It was worth it to be able to walk around at night when most of the tourists had gone.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
A breathtaking view at night

The next morning we climbed the 350 steps to the top of the rock and the 11th century Abbey entrance, stopping frequently to take in the views across the bay, and for me to get my breath back. A determination had taken hold – I was not going to miss out just because I wasn’t very fit. Even if it meant being lectured by my two friends on the need to exercise more.

Rule 4: If access is difficult, take it slowly so you don’t miss out.

We decided to take the audio tour of the Abbey, timing it so we could attend the service by the ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Jerusalem Community’.

The three of us, one a church-going Christian C of E, one agnostic and one who says ‘science is her religion’ bagged seats in the front row. Worth the twenty-minute wait to hear the harmonising voices chant the opening of the service. Such was the beauty of the angelic voices it was easy to forget it was a time of worship and not a concert.

Our naughty schoolgirl moment came when, as we listened to the Holy Communion service in French, I realised we had got to the ‘Peace’ and ‘let us offer one another the sign of peace’. As I placed a hand on each of my friends with the words forming on my lips, Swati the doctor, jumped into action ready to resuscitate me, thinking I was having a heart attack (after all those steps) and Pam spun round to catch me, sure I was passing out.

‘I was just saying peace be with you,’ I said before the three of us collapsed into giggles, earning disapproving looks from others in the congregation.

A date with a Religious Icon of a Place (or two)
Pam, Me and Swati on our way to the Abbey

We celebrated later with a Kir Royale in true French tradition.

As we drove away, after two days together, we had covered such topics as feeling old, looking old, knee supports, insomnia and whether it would have been better to have caught the ferry instead of the long drive. Such a change from decades earlier when the conversations had been of parties, boys and forging ahead in our careers.

But we did take one last look at the Mont and the Abbey which, from a distance, seemed to be floating on the sea and we agreed we’d had a great time together. And that we should do it again.

On the way home, I decided I should start ‘collecting cathedrals’.

The Moral of the Date: Even if you are not religious these UNESCO sacred sites are like special friends. See them before it’s too late.


With many thanks to Anne, Pam and Swati for coming on these dates with me.


9/60 dates completed

Next: A date near and about at home

Follow me to see what happened.





A Family Date with History

My mission: To go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday

Various surveys over the last few years have shown family time spent together is as low as three hours over an entire weekend. Between work, household demands and creeping fatigue, families often turn to non-active togetherness such as watching TV or a cinema trip.

So figuring out how I could go on a date with my gadget-loving husband and video-game playing son, the number one criteria had to be a date outside the home. I wanted something active, educational and linked to British History.

I decided on a date to Danebury Hillfort, followed by a visit to the Iron Age Museum in Andover. To my surprise both places were free entry. So ignoring the moans and protests, dragging both away from their computers, I drove us to the site in Hampshire where the hill rises up above the surrounding chalklands.

Rule 1: Arrange a family date away from home

After parking the car, we climbed the path to the hillfort to find the grassy rampart, all that remains of the settlement from 550 BC. We walked the entire circle which once protected several hundred people from neighbouring invaders.

En route, I talked about hillforts and their significance to British History.

My son told us the early fortification was destroyed sometime before the invasion of Julius Caesar (55 BC). I looked at him suspiciously; was he gleaning knowledge from his phone? His indignant protest included visual proof of phone in pocket. He studied Danebury, he said, as part of his classics course at university.

A Family date with history
Danebury Hillfort, reconstruction drawing by Karen Guffogg

We stopped to imagine the timber faced ramparts, virtually impossible to attack, the wattle and daub huts where the iron-age people lived and traded. We wondered if animals would have been corralled outside the fort, unlike the sheep who wandered freely over the hill with us.

Rule 2: Gather some information about the place before you go

We left Danebury Hillfort and headed to the Iron-Age Museum in Andover, only a few miles away.

Once a Town House, the museum holds many of the items excavated from the hillfort. Entering the exhibition we were greeted by a Iron-Age warrior in full armour.

A family date with history
Iron-Age Warrior – takes you back in time

His shield made of wood, a helmet made of leather and a long spear with a nasty looking iron head. By his side, a sword made of iron. We discussed his battle worthiness, Jake having played many a videogame where battle armour makes a difference to the outcome.

Rule 3: Make sure the date relates to present day interests

The exhibition is set up to make visitors feel they are inside one of those wattle and daub huts, with a cooking pot on a fire in the centre of the room, where smoke could escape through a hole at the top.

We looked at the reconstructed oven and grain grinder. We read about how they made bread. The iron-agers also used grain to make porridge and beer. It’s fun to imagine they ate such things over two thousand years ago.

A family date with history
The Museum of the Iron-Age, Andover

We discovered the people of Danebury traded as far away as Italy, importing wine and figs in exchange for metals, hides and slaves.

As we left, I asked my two how they enjoyed Danebury and the Iron Age Museum.

Husband said it for us all.

“Hidden gems”.

Moral of the date: Family outings are fun

With many thanks to Brian and Jake for making such a special date with me.

Dates completed 7/60

*Picture of the aerial view of Danebury Hillfort courtesy of Hampshire County Council, Central Countryside Sites

*Picture of Danebury Interior courtesy of Historic England.

*Pictures from inside the Iron-Age Museum courtesy of Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Next – a Date with a religious site.

Follow me to find out what happened.


Dating with a Chocoholic (for my 60 dates)

My mission was to go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.

When I was fourteen I remember wanting a McVities chocolate digestive so badly I formulated a plan to sneak downstairs when everyone was asleep and steal one from the packet my dad had bought earlier in the day. Each of us four kids had been given two biscuits after tea but I just couldn’t get that sweet, creamy flavour of chocolate out of my mouth. I wanted more. And there were at least six left in the packet. All I had to do was wait until everyone was asleep.

I got caught. By mum. Just as I bit into that delicious yumminess.

Whilst my teenage night raid was unsuccessful, the feeling that a McVities chocolate digestive was the best biscuit in the world has never left me. (Full story in my book Wonderful Things)

Fast forward another 46 years and I’m formulating a plan to celebrate my 60th birthday by going on 60 ‘dates’ with loved ones doing things we enjoy – so chocolate had to be in there somewhere.

One date? Well – maybe two or three.

I considered the options.


1. The obvious – eat lots

But where? It didn’t take me long to find the Hotel Chocolat restaurant in London called Rabot 1745.

In 2010, two British guys decided to open a hotel and restaurant on a cacao plantation in St Lucia and ethically produce high quality chocolate. Their menu was all about cacao, dishing up exquisite delights like cacao-nib encrusted fillet of pork and white chocolate mash.

They then thought, wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring such flavours to London (and Leeds)? Who said men don’t like chocolate as much as women?

So where better for a chocoholic date?

Date with a Chocoholic
The Praline Soother at Rabot 1745

How can a girl resist a restaurant that makes chocolate its gooey centre? How could I fight against my senses clamouring to taste a Praline Soother, a vodka and coconut milk, white chocolate and praline blend? (My mouth waters just typing the ingredients).

I invited two cousins, June and Lorraine. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year, so once we started talking we didn’t stop – well only to savour the gourmet chocolate treats.

We started with the cocktail and decided it was far too yummy to stick with just one.

I wanted to move straight to dessert. The Rabot mousse selection, a trio made with cacao from the Rabot estate, 65% Supermilk, 70% dark and 90% dark chocolate. (Such a terrible habit to look at the dessert menu before choosing the main course).

But chocolate isn’t all about the sweet. I decided to try the seared cod with coconut milk and cacao butter and very tasty it was too.

The mousse didn’t disappoint and by the time we rolled out of the restaurant we had well and truly boosted our serotonin levels, improved our mood and reduced fatigue. So much so, we just had to explore Borough Market – looking for more food to buy.

Date with a Chocoholic
Borough Market

Although they say it was established in 1756, I was amazed to discover the market has existed, in one form or another since 1014, the time of the Anglo-Saxons and the Viking invaders and my favourite time in history. Our English king then was Ethelred the Unready. The markets position at one end of the bridge was the same then as it is today, although the bridge then would probably have been wooden, possibly constructed as a defence parapet to prevent attacks from those pesky Vikings sailing up the Thames.

When we finally said our goodbyes later that evening, we all agreed the date had been a huge success and had definite health benefits.


2. Walk it off

What better way to ease the conscience – to stick the nagging, sweet genie back in his box. Eat Chocolate and walk at the same time. Guilty conscience gone.

I find Chocolate Ecstasy Tours. They guarantee a tour full of chocolate. Not just any chocolate but fine chocolate.

Date with a Chocoholic
A real find for the Chocoholic

We meet in Ebury Street at the chocolate shop of William Curley* (not the inventor of the Curly Wurly), a four times winner of the ‘Best British Chocolatier’ by the Academy of Chocolate. He has even won a gold medal at the Culinary Olympics.

Who knew such things existed?

I decided to invite Pam, a friend of fifty years who likes chocolate and whose hobby is rambling.

It was a cold day and the molten hot chocolate was a welcome start. As we drank the rich liquid we were given a lesson on making of fine chocolates and then offered a sample. My taste buds positively sang from the flavour of fresh velvety ganache. Not content with just one, I just had to buy an orange marzipan to take with me. A decision I would regret by the end of the tour. I ate it on the walk to the next stop.

Date with a Chocoholic
Tasting Chocolate on the Chelsea Tour

The morning melts into one long gooey ramble through the streets of Chelsea where we learn more about the chocolate process, eat 100% nibs, pass The Royal Court Theatre and the statue of a young Mozart, who apparently stayed in London in 1764 where he composed his first two symphonies.

The tour lives up to its promise – we are chocced out by the end. Something I thought not possible.

Date with a Chocoholic
A Wow of a Chocolate

3. Add it to your beauty regime

When I was in my teens I was warned not to binge on chocolate because it could cause acne. It never worried me as I rarely, if ever, got spots. Thanks mum. Still I remember chocolate took the rap for bad skin. Thankfully that myth has been scotched. The cocoa bean is full of antitoxins and can be anti-ageing especially when applied to the skin.

So a chocolate massage was a definite opportunity for a date. A luxury massage designed to make me and a friend feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

I invited Monique, who spends her days working for a charity, feeling she deserved being wrapped up in chocolate for a couple of hours.

First it was a cocoa butter scrub, both moisturising and nourishing. Then I was massaged with an indulgent ganache of cocoa, blended with essential oils. My nostrils flared with the added bonus whiff of chocolaty smell. Monique says she drifted off into a chocolate cloud, full of sweet dreams.

Date with a Chocoholic
Monique and Jasmin ready for their chocolate massage

The only downside; having to wash it all off later but that’s nothing compared to the unforgettable assault on the senses.

4. Need an excuse?

No true chocoholic needs an excuse to indulge but if you’re looking for cacao ways to create, there are many courses including a Chocolate and Macaroons Masterclass.

There is also the delightfully indulgent Chocolate Hotel in Bournemouth.

And then there is always a chocolate Easter egg hunt which could involve young children in the family.


Moral of the date: Chocolate is good for your health and wellbeing. Eating it is both fun and educational

With many thanks to June, Lorraine, Pam and Monique who endured these dates with me.


Dates completed = 6/60

Next – a date with history.

Follow me to find out what happened.


*William Curely shop has changed hands and is R. Chocolate now.















How to Date with your Favourite TIPPLE

My mission is to go on 60 dates with friends & family to celebrate my 60th birthday.

I’ve always subscribed to the view that lifting a glass of wine to my lips time and time again is exercise enough. Hitting 60 not only reinforces this belief, it also gives me an idea for a date.

I can’t remember when I decided Puligny Montrachet was my favourite of all favourite wines but somewhere along the timeline I did. So what better way to celebrate my 60th than to dedicate a date to this delicious, fruity, marizpanny, wine? To go to where it’s made and taste it hot of the vine, so to speak.

How to date with your favourite tipple
A bottle of my favourite wine

I ask three girl-friends to come with me and find them, despite the costs, to be surprisingly willing. It’s not until we get there that one confesses she doesn’t like white wine. Oops!

Rule 1: Check your friends like your favourite tipple.

The four of us are giggly, like runaway schoolgirls as we catch a flight to Lyon and train/taxi to our hotel. The 17th Century building is a converted Maison de Maître in the village of Puligny Montrachet, owned by respected winemaker Olivier LEFLAIVE. The first thing we do is order a bottle. Yes – before we’ve unpacked. We get some odd looks until we realise we shouldn’t pronounce the ‘t’ in Montrachet.

Rule 2: Check how to pronounce your favourite wine.

We choose the cheapest bottle at 42 euros. With it comes bread, cheese and cold meats. It doesn’t take us long to order a second by which time we are a merry bunch of ladies.

The next morning I’ve booked us on a tour of the vineyard and a wine tasting lunch. We are escorted by Charles (pronounced Sharl), a young Frenchman with a-come-to-bed accent. He tells us how they grow and harvest their vines. How their micro-climate makes a difference between producing a basic Bourgogne or a Grand Cru. How they prune differently, 8-10 branches are left on the Bourgogne but only 6 on the Grand Cru, helping to improve the vegetation when the vine fruits again. He tells us their wine is best drunk after 5 years as the acidity is reduced and the flavour developed.

I’m feeling thirsty.

In the winery Olivier Leflaive himself shows us how they make their special wines. The fermentation tanks, the piles of oak barrels, the expert taster know-how.

I’m listening, learning but yearning for the tasting lunch. I can’t help thinking my friends might feel the same.

Rule 3: Book a wine tasting lunch. It’s cheaper.

We opt for the 9 wine tasting menu. Yes – NINE different glasses of wine. My arm muscles are going to get a serious workout. I think about my bedroom on the first floor and wonder if I will make it up the stairs later.

The list comprises of a basic Bourgogne to prepare the palate, three young white wines, three grand cru white wines and two reds which pleases my friend who doesn’t drink white. I notice, however, she joins in the tasting with as much gusto as the rest of us. I’m thinking we might have a convert in our midst.

We are instructed to taste the wine and tip away the rest. We all do that with the basic Bourgogne before someone says, ‘isn’t that a bit of a waste?’ We all agree. We are eating lunch with it after all.

Rule 4: Never tip any wine away during a tasting, think of the exercise.

At the end of four courses, we order double portions of dessert, a pear in red wine with a crumble topping. Nobody really wants coffee but we sit in the courtyard and tell favourite jokes. Laughing has a hysterical, high-pitched quality to it. For a while we become serious and talk of regrets. There are tears before we all decide to rest. I fall asleep in minutes.

Rule 5: Make sure you book accommodation where it’s easy to go and lie down after the wine tasting.

The next day we are greeted by a cloudless blue sky and taxi it to Beaune, the centre of the Burgundy wine region. We tour the Hôtel-Dieu Museum, a former hospital and stand in homage before the Altarpiece. The Jugement Dernier by Rogier van der Weyden is 9 large oak panels painted in oil, with stunning imagery brought to life. The feeling of awe lasts as we board the Disney-esque Visiotrain for a tour of the city. Then it’s find a restaurant, for lunch, and more wine.

Rule 6: Do something cultural if only to prove you’re not total philistines.

By the time we get to day 3 we have worked our way up the wine menu, ordering a bottle of Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru costing 140 euros. We feel obliged to taste the greeny-gold wine with its luxurious fragrant flavour to complete our education.

The hotel offers us four bikes. I haven’t ridden in years but manage to get on it (just) but my feet don’t reach the ground so I yell for the others to follow. I’m too scared to stop so my legs peddle furiously all the way to Meursault, where I find a high curb, allowing me to park. After the 4km charge, it’s necessary to find a café to rest.

‘As we’re here we should try a Meursault wine,’ I say.

Everyone agrees and we savour the nutty-butteriness of the wine. Much less fragrant than the Puligny-Montrachet I say, but very enjoyable.

It’s a jolly cycle ride back and we all arrive safely at the hotel front door. I feel thinner. Colour roses my cheeks and my eyes are bright with laughter.

Moral of the date: Drinking wine is good exercise.

On our 9th glass at the end of the wine tasting lunch

How to date with your favourite tipple
Jasmin, Paddy, Gillian & Raquel


With many thanks to Gillian, Paddy and Raquel who generously gave their time and money to join me on this wonderful date. And guess what? We’re going to do it again – to a red wine region of France.

Cote du Rhone here we come.


Dates completed = 3/60

Next – a food date.

Follow me to find out what happened.

Please always drink responsibly.




How to plan an Awesome 60th Birthday

Everyone knows you have to celebrate a milestone birthday with great panache but creating an adventure with lasting memories can be a bit daunting, not to mention expensive.


So it’s good to think outside the birthday box and plan something different. My style, my idea was to go on 60 dates with time as the only present.


It’s hard not to laugh when using the word date. Having been married for over 30 years it’s a long time since I ‘dated’. Of course these are not dates in the accepted sense but time spent with a loved person to celebrate my 60th birthday.

But I want to do things well so I look up the rules for dating.


What are my expectations for these dates?

Easy – A day out and a good old chinwag.


How to date?

Good question. Should I aim for the date to be free? That means either I pay all costs or we find something to do that doesn’t involve more than a few pounds or a half tank of petrol.


Should it be overseas? Who can afford to commit such funds to me? Or time? Everyone is so busy these days. An overseas date is really a big ask.

So maybe the best idea is to make a list of places and costs and match friends to them.

IPad to the rescue.


Look your best?

Not easy.

My most recent run in with the ‘ill-heath Beelzebub’ was breast cancer. Whilst it was dealt with successfully, part of the legacy is dark circles under my eyes and weight gain. If I’m being honest, I’ve always battled with my weight so maybe preparing for the 60 dates is a good excuse to diet again.

Note to self: Book a facial. Invest in new make-up. Change my hair style. Buy a new dress that fits. Am I the only woman who buys a dress with the self-promise to fit into it soon – only for it to languish in the wardrobe?


Be prepared for rejection

Some friends won’t be able to make it but I’ve never let the fear of rejection stop me doing things.

I was once a senior woman in Glaxo (now GSK) when it was still very much a boys club.

Doctors told my chances of having a baby were almost nil: my son is now 24.

Yes, I can cope with rejection.


So with the rules of dating firmly established I bundle the 60 dates into ten groups.


  1. Food and drink – of course!

What are your favourites? Ever thought of visiting the places where they originated? Or doing something to celebrate its value in your life.


  1. Ancient Britain – with an interest in eleventh century history it’s a must.

I love the stories of the Anglo-Saxons, the Celts and the Norse. I wonder if there are places I could visit?

How to plan an Awesome 60th Birthday
A sample of my bookshelf – I have another 12 like it. Obsessed or what?



  1. Out and about near home – it’s so easy to forget what’s on your doorstep.


  1. Exhibitions and learning – you’re never too old to learn.

When I was working I never had time for art, never had the energy to walk round an exhibition. I was always worried about deadlines and the next product launch. Then it was raising a child, renovating an old house. Perhaps I could correct that with my dates.

Do I have a favourite painting? Not yet.


  1. Fake or Fortune – have I got something valuable, has my friend?

I watch Antiques Roadshow every week but I’ve never been – so if I had something to take? What about a car boot sale? I’ve certainly got enough junk, if I can be bothered to get up that early.


  1. Films and the Oscars – I love all the glitz and glamour.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see all the films nominated for best film in one year? Debate which film would get your Oscar vote. To stay up, watch the ceremony live on TV, glamming up first and not forgetting a bottle of pink Moet (or two). Which of my friends would be able to stay awake?


  1. Theatre – the excitement of live theatre from Shakespeare to modern.

Ok – I confess – I’m a Macbeth anorak. I’ve seen over fifty productions and I’m a self-proclaimed expert. It got me hooked on 11th century history. But apart from Macbeth, there are many other plays I’ve yet to see.


  1. Natural Britain – I’m a useless gardener but I like looking.


  1. Wonders of the World.

I have two books. One given to me in 1978, at which time I vowed to visit all 70 wonders. Then in recent years a new book was published with only a 50% overlap. Yippee – more UNESCO World Heritage places. I yearn to see Pompeii, Cologne Cathedral, the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, Ephesus – and more.


  1. Something different – there has to be one really fluid category.


Will my friends and family be game for this?

Only one way to find out.


Follow me to see what happened.




How to Celebrate a Milestone Birthday

What is awesome?

A word so bandied about it’s become a casual reference to something meaning ‘more than good’. I’ve long deplored its use as descriptive shorthand for a World Wonder but getting to the age of 60 really is awesome. Or it should be.

Sixty is very much ‘Me Time’ or is it?

Some of my friends retired. Others, having paid off their mortgages and with children settled, decided to travel to far-flung destinations. One friend enrolled on a degree course. Another joined ramblers.

So how should I celebrate this momentous moment? A Grand Party? Did that at FORTY. Lots of friends dressed up and drank champagne. It was jolly but the average length of my conversation with each guest was about five minutes. Considering, talking with friends is one of my greatest joys, the party was inevitably a bit of a let-down. It was over in a flash with the credit card having gained a few more zeros on the debt line.

A party for my 60th would just be a repeat: Where new friends would mingle with those I had known for twenty, thirty, forty years or more.