As the winter afternoon darkens, the Christmas street decorations light up the entire length of St Peter’s Street. This year the tree branches are wrapped in bright garlands of red gold, blue and green lights and it all looks so festive.

My Christmas shopping is almost done so I’m out with an old school friend and we’re spoiling ourselves with a few little extras. I love that feeling when all that’s left are a few bits and bobs like the odd box of crackers, there’s nothing like it and that’s when I really begin to feel the Christmas spirit.

I love bookshops, especially during the Christmas season and we linger in Waterstones. I buy The Guinness Book of World Records 2018, it’s absolutely packed with amazingly incredulous human feats; the sort of colourful classic hardback that all of the family, young and old, wouldn’t mind a flick through in that restful week after Christmas.

The booksellers have thoughtfully created a display table filled with the best-seller non-fiction books of 2016/7 and its buy one get one half price. I buy myself a book that came out last year that I never got to read, Wohlleben’s book on The Hidden Life of Trees; it explores why solitary trees have shorter life spans than large tree groups; it appeals to my geeky side and nobody would ever think of buying me it.

We go upstairs to the café for a couple of mega spicy hot chocolates; I bite into a festive mince pie and relax into the red sofa. My friend brings a couple of humorous seventies Ladybird books The New You and The Meeting over and they have us in hysterics.

I’m feeling excited that Christmas is just around the corner as I drive home listening to Christmas choral music mixed in with some Elvis and yes I admit, some Dolly Parton.

I start thinking about my food list for next week. That’s the weirdest shopping experience of the year, when the M&S food hall becomes an urban jungle and only the most determined mums will secure the last few jars of cranberry sauce and brandy butter into their trolleys!

We drive through the gates into the Luton Hoo estate and after a few twists and turns, see a grand neo-classical country mansion in the distance. Grade I listed, it is it is situated on the crest of a hill overlooking acres of beautiful gardens and was built for the 3rd Earl of Bute, then prime minister, who bought the estate in 1763.

We stop outside to look up; I can see why Dr. Samuel Johnson referred to its “magnificence” when he visited in 1781. As we step past the imposing columns we are all smiles as we have come to celebrate my mother-in law’s birthday.

The lounge is huge and the dark green mantelpiece is the tallest and widest I’ve ever seen! The crackling log fire, gives an immediate sense of warmth and homeliness. On the other side of the room is a bounteous flower arrangement filled with vibrant tropical flowers.

At one o’clock, we’re shown into the opulent salon that is the Wernher restaurant. We’re given the seasonal menu for our Sunday lunch. We order some wine. I sit there fascinated to see every wall panelled in marble. The crystal chandeliers cast a shimmering light onto the Beauvais tapestries. I look out of the windows and see miles of rolling parkland as far as the eye can see.

The food arrives. I begin with Parma ham with fresh figs mozzarella and wild rocket followed by a lamb roast. The dessert trolley is filled to the brim with cheesecakes, fruit tarts and chocolate delicacies.

After lunch we take a stroll into the gardens. I take in the frosty December air and smell the evergreen. We walk towards the side of the hotel and stand at the top of the steps overlooking the grand fountain; we pause to face the formal gardens and see a perfectly symmetrical harmony, with a lawn on each side, topiary trees and domed stone garden houses.

As we walk down the stone steps onto the gravel path and draw closer to the fountain, I’m fascinated to see mermen carved in stone, their muscular torsos and fish tails resting against the central column; strange choice of mythic creature, I think to myself.

I look forward to exploring the rock garden and the rest of this thousand-acre parkland next time, maybe I’ll visit the spa and who knows even stay overnight and enjoy some eggs royale in the morning!

It’s a bright Sunday morning and life-size painted figures of gilded angels on wood provide the perfect backdrop to the Childwickbury Christmas fair. In the middle of the courtyard, a huge Christmas tree illuminated with coloured bulbs and decorated with red and gold glittery baubles towers above us; Christmas music jingles in the background and each stable is filled with shoppers.

An old Citroen van is parked further along, covered with poinsettias and roses. Behind it is a stall with hyacinth bulbs planted in neat rows of Victorian teacups on saucers. What I love about this fair is its rustic charm; being here is such a wonderful contrast to shopping on the high street and I stop to admire the twig woodbine angels blowing trumpets.

There’s a stallholder selling handmade log reindeers with friendly faces and big red noses and rather than wanting to buy one I feel as if I’d like to make one; his little Yorkshire terrier is the cutest thing ever, strutting around in a bright red tartan body warmer!

Inside the stables, an abundance of creativity is on display and the merchandise is of a high standard, from watercolours to handmade knitwear.  We chat with a trendy jewellery designer. I admire a pair of black and white asymmetrical leather earrings from her latest collection entitled Morphology; they’re pretty avant-garde and I buy them for my sister, hoping they’ll appeal to her unusual taste.

Whenever I come here, I always visit the milliner and check out his latest display of spectacular hats; he’s hugely talented and also works in many West End theatre productions; he shows me a miniature lion mask that he’s still working on, I love it and he lets me have it at a reduced price.

Just before we leave my daughter runs ahead towards the food barn. I buy a bag of cinnamon sticks to grate into cake-mixes and onto my cappuccino, but it’s the bakery stall that she has her eye on. There are carrot cup cakes and “Boozy Baileys chocolate cakes” with red macarons perched sideways on top! I bite into the best brownie ever, decorated with edible bronze beads and waves of caramel icing; it’s utterly delicious. We leave content, licking our chocolatey lips!

The Hatfield House Frost Fair is buzzing with festive feeling as we arrive. The juggling entertainer is delighting the children with his tricks and visitors are wandering around or relaxing on a bench with a warm drink.

We approach the Palace green and see a group of white marquees lined up and packed with exhibitors. Inside, we enjoy the wonderful displays of Christmas decorations from glittering baubles to miniature glass angels. I buy a Christmas diamante brooch of a leaping reindeer and a Scandinavian style decoration of a winter elf.

I’m beginning to feel Christmassy and can’t wait to see more. We step into the next marquee bustling with shoppers and are bombarded with a huge variety of colourful and sparkling merchandise; from alpaca scarves to well designed leather handbags; from fruit gins to woodcarvings of herons, lions and horses.

I’m drawn to a stall displaying bespoke silver jewellery, and it’s official! I have now started my Christmas shopping and buy my niece a pretty silver necklace with a contemporary design. I spot the perfect pink woollen hat for my daughter; it’s so pretty with sparkles on. My husband smiles kindly and gently breaks the news to me that, as she is no longer ten years old, she would never wear it!

We chat with a stallholder selling football paraphernalia and buy a couple of unusual historic prints of my brother’s favourite football team. He’ll be fascinated to find out that most football strips were an entirely different colour when the teams were founded.

After shopping we step outside into the pale sunlight. Visitors are tucking into pulled pork baguettes and mince pies. We enjoy a freshly made banana and chocolate crepe each. Before we leave I buy a cup of mulled cider; it’s really warming with a sweet apple punch and spicy undertones. My husband has a Cadbury’s drink called The Works, a huge hot chocolate laden with cream and topped with marshmallows and cinnamon.

I sit quietly on a bench, immersed in the festive atmosphere and breathing in the crisp autumn air; we enjoy listening to the rock choir singing out Leonard Cohen’s Hallelulia; my husband looks over at me and notices my eyes well up. That song gets me every time!

I’m thrilled that a bit of the West End has come to the Alban Arena and a new production of West Side Story is about to begin! As we take our seats, the stage is set and smoke spills onto the stalls. I settle into my seat and sip my hot chocolate looking forward to revisiting all those familiar songs.

Inspired by Romeo and Juliet and set in New York’s Upper West Side in the fifties, the Montagues and Capulets are replaced by two rival street gangs battling for control of their territories. Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks and Riff, of the Jets. When Tony, a Jet, meets Maria, Bernardo’s sister, love strikes like a lightening bolt.

This play is a classic with lyrics by Sondheim and music by Bernstein; it became a worldwide musical hit when it first came out in 1957. The film was then adapted from the musical and in 1961 swept up a whopping ten academy awards!

We’re introduced to the Jets in the opening scene. I love the synchronized dance moves, clicking of fingers, and sound of police sirens turning into high-pitched French horns and trumpets just like in the film!

The stage is set for the dance and packed with the entire cast. The music blares out and suddenly Tony and Maria appear at either end of the stage, the lights turn blue around them and silence takes a hold. They are powerlessly struck down by cupid’s arrow. We, the audience enter a timeless space with them both and there is a feeling from that moment on that their intense young love will be doomed.

There are some vibrant complex jazz pieces by Bernstein and modern dance expressing both the joyous and darker side of a passionate love between two teenagers. Their perfectly harmonized voices fill the stage; I’d forgotten that there are so many classic songs like Somewhere, Tonight, Maria, I feel pretty. America is a delight; the choreography is energetic and upbeat, as the ruffled hemlines of colourful dresses crash through the air.

I notice the conductor’s hand become more animated from the corner of my eye, as the dramatic scenes intensify; it is precisely in these moments where the audience gets swept away in emotion that he must concentrate the hardest to deliver the precision of the musical score. After the finale we feel as if we have been on an emotional roller coaster ride and we applaud with enthusiasm, captivated by such a talented cast.

We snuggle up in our warm coats, scarves and wellies and head to this year’s fireworks.

Once we arrive, the music is loud, there’s a certain anticipation and festive feel in the air.

 We stroll along to the burger stand and order our cheeseburgers topped with onions and ketchup. It’s pretty dark so I can’t really tell if it’s well cooked but bite into it all the same. Mmm…,it’s delicious. I wash it down with some mulled wine, surprisingly strong behind the warmth and spicy sweetness. We bump into a few familiar faces.

 Suddenly that first firework rockets into the night sky followed by fireworks of every colour whizz through the air burning brighter and louder by the minute. The children wrapped up in woolly hats and scarves, yell with excitement at the initial boom. Their bellies filled with hot dogs and lips stained red with toffee apples, their eyes glazed with expectation and wonderment.

 I sip my wine and my daughter hands me some chocolate as comets hurtle through the November air. I enjoy the pink glittering tails that give way to cascading shimmers of gold-lace; cool ultraviolet tones scatter like ribbons then silently fall away like stardust. I stand back and marvel at the screamers, the brilliant white strobe effects and the patterns of the spinning Catherine wheels.

 I look around for a moment and see the full moon, steady and tranquil obscured by a fog of cloud; a sea of mesmerized faces gazing up at the night sky. I smell the air dense with smoke. Sparks dissipate into the atmosphere leaving a trail of embers until the silent ashes fall to the ground. I wonder what people are thinking as the fireworks explode with colour, scorching and crackling through the air.

 The biggest fireworks ignite, filling the sky for a sensational finale and we are bombarded with a starburst of luminous colour. It has been a wonderful community event, bringing friends and families together. We head home in jovial mood, our hair smelling of smoke and our steps crunching on the cold damp grass, through drifts of fallen leaves.

We’re venturing to Battlers Green Farm shopping village in Radlett this morning for brunch at the Bull Pen restaurant and tearoom. It is a converted barn built in the early 1900’s, the shaker-style tables and chairs match the light wood floors and the tall windows let in ample light. It’s always busy, has a great buzz and is well known for its cream teas and freshly baked cakes. I order a small cooked breakfast followed by some cinnamon toast that I dip in maple syrup.

It’s hard to believe that it started out with a single shop in a secluded farm area, and that over a dozen stables have now been converted into attractive boutiques. It’s so refreshing to leave the high street behind and take pleasure in wandering along a tree-lined promenade and exploring each and every boutique.

There is a strong community feel and an authentic rustic charm. I chat with a variety of local traders and spend a little longer than I should in the clothing boutiques. I love the unusual selection of handbags and jewellery; I try on a taupe woolen scarf with dark swirling patterns, it has a distinct style and will keep me warm. Perfect!

Outside the florist is an autumnal table decorated with seasonal fruits and flowers, and yellow and orange pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, The green scent is revitalizing and as I step in, take time to admire the freshly cut lilies, roses and orchid plants.

As soon as I step into Spice Way, I breathe in the intense aroma and marvel at the wonderful variety of bowls filled with colourful blends of mixed herbs and spices. A variety of gourmet gift sets to suit all palettes are neatly arranged along the higher shelves.

Across the courtyard are two large home interior shops packed with stylish accessories. I buy a small oval lamp with mini mosaic mirror tiles; it will sparkle nicely in my living room.

As I step out of the shop, I find my husband in the village’s anchor farm shop clutching a huge loaf of sourdough bread and choosing some mature cheddar.

Just before we leave with our bagful of culinary delights, we go and have a look at the aviary hidden behind the shops as it’s populated with some colourful and animated cockatoos!

Going out for a pizza and a glass of decent red wine is one of life’s simple pleasures.  We’re welcomed into Nonno’s Pizzeria on Hatfield Road by the headwaiter, quintessentially Southern Italian, charming and loud; he asks us to take a seat.

The place has a rustic charm, furnished with antiqued wooden tables and chairs and the walls have a rough brick finish. The huge wood-fired pizza oven behind the curved counter glows with warmth giving the restaurant a homely feel and savoury aromas fill the air. I order a mushroom pizza with some rocket and spinach heaped on the top. My husband, teenage daughter and friend order Americanos.

The chef is a young Italian from Trento, a natural, kneading and flinging the dough about; there isn’t a rolling pin in sight and I watch him creating a small disc, re-flouring the surface then throwing it back down, stretching it into a wider disk and making sure it never gets too thin.

He pours on the tomato sauce with a small ladle in circular motion, then its time for a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese and a drizzle of oil, after that he adds the toppings with care and finishes with oregano and garlic. The pizza is put into the oven then served at the perfect temperature, its crust a deep golden brown and cheese bubbling.

When the pizzas arrive they’re huge, and we’re relieved that we didn’t bother with starters. They’re utterly delicious! The waiter sings along to the Italian music as we demolish our food.

The place is getting busy as it’s a Friday night and the headwaiter holds it together by speaking more loudly and flitting from table to table, making sure everybody is happy. My daughter doesn’t quite finish all of her pizza but being a teenager, is likely to devour the rest of it stone cold for breakfast tomorrow morning.

We leave full and content, ready to brave the cold air.

“Ciao e grazie.” I call out as we leave.

The waiter smiles and gives us a wave. “Ciao al prossimo!”

After driving through a maze of country lanes, I arrive at the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens. It is a gloriously sunny day and I enter the visitor’s centre, a chic contemporary glass structure.

I take a seat outside the café and sip my cappuccino overlooking the bright Sculpture gardens. The Family Group in bronze stands before me. I stare into it contemplating how Moore has captured the essence of being a family unit and celebrating the stability that it can provide.

I step into the gardens, and walk by an orchard abundant with ripe apples, its leaves casting a dappled sunlight onto the grass. As I approach The Double Oval sculpture I soon realize that it’s only when I walk around these sculptures that they truly come to life; each angle offers a fresh perspective and there is an inherent dynamism within each seemingly static and bulky design.

I enter the Yellow brick studio, a workshop space with uncut raw stone, wood, bronze, marble and all sorts of tools, like mallets and chisels, where I can imagine Moore getting covered in dust as he carved with intensity.

This leads to the Maquette Studio, I’m fascinated to learn that Moore didn’t draw his designs, but made maquettes based on various everyday natural objects like flint or bone. These sensorial organic forms would ignite his interest and he’d add to them with clay, cast them in plaster and later use them as a base for his full-scale statues.

Further along, is a sixteenth century reconstructed barn. Inside are some huge tapestries hung on the walls based on Moore’s drawings; they show how his trips to Mexico and Athens influenced him. The knowledgeable guide explains Moore’s aversion to polished classical monuments and his interest in draping often used in Greco-Roman figures.

Finally I head to a current exhibition entitled: Becoming Henry Moore tracing his path as a young sculptor. I can see his early work exhibited alongside indigenous and ancient statues and how artists like Picasso and Modigliani inspired him.

The presentation of Moore’s Modernist artwork is perfectly laid out here and I leave feeling a sense of awe at this sculptor’s legacy, amazed by his innovation with abstract form, and enchanted by the delicacy and aesthetic sensibility that infuse these monumental statues.

We head to The Green kitchen for lunch. As we enter, the smell of homemade food and the warmth from the kitchen gives it a homely feel; we’re greeted with a smile, given a menu and asked to take a seat.

The walls are painted in soft green and framed wildlife illustrations hang in two neat rows along the back wall. I peer passed the cappuccino machine into the open kitchen; it is arranged with stainless steel shelves packed with utensils, food containers and fresh fruit and veg. Two display fridges by the till are crammed with wholemeal products like veggie burgers, natural yoghurts and juices. Beside them are healthier snack options such as Chickpea puffs and Vego bars.

We start chatting with the friendly waitress and order falafels and hoummous with pitta bread, carrot, pepper and cucumber sticks on the side. I look out of the window; it’s one of those perfect October days, gentle winds and leaves falling. I sip mint tea wondering why there aren’t more vegetarian cafes around. I’ve heard people say that the vegetarian diet is limited, but when I think of dishes like tagines, stir fries and vegetable curries, I have to disagree.

By cutting down on meat and trying vegetarian dishes, we enrich our culinary experiences and discover other cultures. The waitress tells us about their monthly themed dinner evenings. The next one is a Nepalese buffet. I get it booked and look forward to trying some Newa cuisine.

Our lunch arrives. The bread is warm and it’s such a pleasure to see the real colour and consistency that hoummous should be. I can taste the subtle combination of garlic, chickpea and tahini. It’s authentic home made food and I feel full after eating it. For dessert, I bite into a carrot and walnut muffin. The crunchy walnut complements the rich carrot and cinnamon flavours perfectly.

I’ve lost count of the steak restaurants my husband has made me dine in over the years, so I’m enjoying seeing him sitting there out of his depth and subjecting him to a strictly vegetarian lunch. It’s time to expand his horizons a little; he needs to learn that there is life beyond meat n’ potatoes!

Later that evening I ask, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

“I’m making us Steak Diane…” he smiles. “…with plenty of veggies on the side!”

He doesn’t appear to be joking. I give up!