23 June 2016


Ivy leaved toadflax growing in cracks in our front yard
Thank you all so much for  your kind, encouraging and helpful comments on the back issue. It's only looking back from the vantage point of improving stamina, (mostly) better sleep and less discomfort that I can appreciate how much we take these things for granted and, in particular, how precious well being is. Ivy's tale is a wonderful, touching and ultimately uplifting example of the value of looking after ourselves - engagement, keeping active and meeting friends. (Thank you, Rachel)

Valerian behind bars beneath the Dockland Light Railway, Cannon Street Road

It was not quite the case for my Aunt Lil - a trooper, a worker, a joker - who died a couple of weeks ago as she approached her 95th birthday. Despite stellar attentive care from her daughter and moving in with her family, mobility and progressive Alzheimer's resulted in Lil's transfer to a care home, where she fell and broke her hip, finally dying in hospital with her family at her side.

A tiny Mint Moth on worn out floorboards by the back door (tut, tut - that fluff!)

My mum's family, including Lil, were not really joiners-in. In a family with nine children, you aren't obliged to make an effort to find company or make close friends. But there are only two left now and I've watched my mum becoming more isolated and 'stuck', physically, mentally and socially. Older people like her are often left isolated by the changing demography of the East End, diverse and unfamilar cultures, confusing technology, unfriendly architecture, and local geography changing at such a pace that you can get lost going to the bank (which has probably closed down anyway). Without a doubt, old age requires the kind of resilience, energy, support  and zest for life that might even floor somebody years younger.

Escapee toadflax and other weeds between the barrier and the river, Blackwall

So captivity has been on my mind, my own included. When I signed up to 30 Days Wild, I imagined I might be visiting new places, trying out new ways of engaging with nature. What's happened instead is wild has come to me. So many escaped flowers; ferocious gothic storms; bats, wrens and goldfinches in the back garden; a young green woodpecker in the park; jays in the churchyard; a knowing crow surveying the allotments and an egret flying north overhead. And on those nights when sleep has been elusive, escapism into the world of Silas Marner, The Woodlanders and Alexandra Harris's wonderful Weatherland was available courtesy of I-player. (Pity I fell asleep during most of them and had to replay the next day.)

Wild, it seems, can be quite subdued if you look and listen in the right places.

Next up - a tale of pioneers, making, and other important stuff.

01 June 2016


If you live on the east of the country, the last few days will probably have delivered storms, and rain, and temperatures sufficiently uncomfortable to make you unpack  the woolies you have so carefully stored away from moths or even light a fire. You may even have been aghast to see the snail population emerge. Here they crept from beneath the ravaged acanthus leaves to make a bee line (wait, is that possible?) for the ends of fig tree prunings where various members of the troupe are showing off their circus skills .

If only I too could show off even a semblance of the snail's agility. Clowning might be a possiblity, but anything involving the least bit of contortion or strength is off the agenda. Here is a short version of the saga. Sometime in early March I fell down the cellar stairs, landed chest first on a newel post, summersaulted with a crash onto my right side and lay there winded and shocked. I suppose adrenaline kicked in, because once I was rescued and got my breath back I felt battered and bruised but thought as nothing seemed to be broken all would be well. And apart from some interesting Just William style bruising, it was, for a while at least, fine. Then, gradually, something went in my back and despite various consultations with osteopaths, acupuncture, homeopathy and, finally, a visit to GP who was happy to prescribe painkillers and give me a number for the local NHS physiotherapy service which never answered the phone but not investigate further, I am still decidedly lopsided and in pain. I resorted to some interim private physio (nerve gliding anyone?) and, after a 10 week wait montht, look forward to seeing what the NHS has to offer at the end of this month.

Now one of the things I learnt earlier this year when I did this interesting little Futurelearn course was that the speed of walking is a useful rule of thumb indicator for healthy ageing. My walking speed, and coverage, has diminished considerably, so not good. And who knew that discomfort and lack of sleep sleep was both debilitating and demotivating? Over the last few months I've managed to keep up with other existing commitments - managed a break at the seaside, visits to the allotment and friends, a bit of volunteering - but beyond that it's all been a bit hit and miss. Sadly this little space seemed to be just out of reach. But a half term break, Sian Williams Radio 4 piece yesterday on resilience, and a reminder in my inbox about 30 days Wild  have prompted me to get on and get out. That and missing what goes on here and the visitors who drop by. Virtual visits, often invisible, to your own domains have been a pleasure and now it's payback time.

Stepping outside the back door to observe an acrobatic snail might not be the wildest thing I've ever done, but one small step and all that.

29 February 2016

scenes from spherical life

Write a blog for eight years and it's not surprising that there are times when you feel that you are covering old ground because you probably are. It may be a route that takes you past the same place again - shopping at the market, cycling to the gym, a walk to the library.  Or a ritual - the lighting of a candle as the light goes on a winter afternoon, making a favourite cake- again!, settling down to a Saturday evening murder, preferably somewhere in the north or, a topical favourite, the unfolding of spring - the appearance of new buds, different birds moving in, sudden showers, late frosts. Whatever it is, chances are it will provide a comfort of sorts, perhaps reinforce a sense of place and belonging. Occasionally it might induce a rising desire for change, anything from a niggling itch to a sense that something more profound needs to shift.  February - j'accuse!

This isn't leading up to anything dramatic. It's just that I've been thinking a lot about this circularity, how to value the best of it without relying too much on the familiar. So I'm using the bike less, walking instead and building into those outings little detours from familiar paths, focusing on what I can hear -the sonic walk- as much as what I can see. It has been surprisingly fulfilling. Just another form of mindfulness I suppose, but one that makes you realise that actually the diesel engine from barges all sound slightly different, how a runner's shoes slap on the towpath as they jog past, that a crush of  buddleia across the canal is still as full of sparrows as it was several years ago, what a blessing that is when the building sites by local watersides have lost trees inhabited by small songbirds.

Those dispossessed birds don't give up. A late afternoon walk a few weeks ago took me over the Green Bridge crossing the A12 and there in a scrabble of shrubs a robin ignored the fumes and build up of rush hour traffic and sang for who knows how many other birds and a contented human audience of one.

So here we are on Leap Year Day. It's cold but the sun is shining. I've finally completed this post which  I started at the beginning of the month. I'm waking up too. I shan't be asking anyone to marry me, but that's another story.

04 January 2016

back to the future

Walking home from a party Hackney yesterday evening

Is it too late to wish you a Happy New Year? I do hope not. And surely it's never too late to say sorry - for being away so long. I lost count of the number of times I thought "Oh, I should write a blog post about that" - about how warm it was in September; the discovery of new and beautiful places; how pretty and entertaining long tailed tits are, especially if you have time to watch them lying on your back beneath a tree; how lovely it is to walk in persistent heavy drizzle if you have a decent coat on, but how difficult it is to take photos; how it was possible to have the bedroom window wide open all year and still see golden leaves on the trees in December.

Drizzly August day at Oare

Warm September walk, Thames Estuary

Watching the antics of long tailed tits in Bethnal Green, October
Winchelsea in October- who knew how lovely the view was?

Golden leaves, tangled branches, railway line, Mile End in December

Open bedroom window and curious cat, December

Then I read this article and thought yes! that's what I need to do. Stop faffing and just start off with ten minutes a day. So I did. And here I am three quarters of an hour later. Good to be back.

20 July 2015


Around this time of year you'll often find some bunches of dried poppies around the house. They seem to last for ages until you accidentally brush them when dusting the mantelpiece and a scattering of seed rains down. That's not an idle metaphor - it really does sound like rain. So now I have a bowl of poppyseed and rather than sift it into a clean jar to be used for cake I am tempted to take a handful, get on my bike and scatter it around the borough.

What's more, looking out of the window, I notice that the police horses have left a line of fresh manure which, interestingly, passing cars are trying to avoid as if they were wearing new wellies and not old tyres, and now I'm wondering whether it would be too eccentric to go out with a shovel and bucket and collect it for the little apple tree.

Quandaries, quandaries. Anything to avoid the housework.

16 July 2015


There are only a few places where you can comfortably watch the clouds go by without craning your neck, and one of them is lying on a beach and it was here that I suddenly realised how surreal the seaside can be. It's the place you can eat Christmas Pudding in summer, albeit as the very best ice cream in England - just after breakfast and again before supper; where normally decorous women can show their knickers as they lift up their skirts to avoid the waves while paddling and nobody bats an eyelid; where grown-ups can eat fragrantly vinegary hot food with their hands out of a paper bag without the raising of a single judgemental eyebrow- none that I saw at least; where sculptures adorn beaches and towers and delight passing strangers.

And even the hollyhocks are tempted to steal a march to the shore. (Did they follow me, I wonder?)

In our surreal little bubble, we lay on the beach, hiding under straw hats and hammamas from the strength of the sun in the afternoon, reading, snoozing, eating and drinking tea brought onto the beach from the rented flat, took an evening promenade, walked to the next village for a cream tea and raced the bus back. Then we came home with our haul of books, brooches and sneaked-in fabric and slipped clumsily back into the real world.

05 July 2015

10 good things

I know, I know. I never kept it up for more than a few days. But there is a slight conflict between wanting to spend less time looking at screens and writing blog posts, so as a peace offering here is a collection of some of the good things from the last ten days.

:: Hollyhocks! I have never seen such wonderful hollyhocks in London at this time of year and these, in front of a house round the corner, are my favourites with strong competition from this lengthy run a few blocks away. (John wants to know why his aren't included. Later, later.)

:: The little apple tree which is clearly responding to the nightly waterings with perkier leaves and the disappearance of the woolly aphids which were apparently responsible for much of the damage to the new leaves, though not so sure quite how helpful the masses of harlequin ladybirds are going to be.

:: Jolly babies and busy children We went to a small 4th July party yesterday where there were three happy babies splashing, cruising, gappy-smiling, and not a cry to be heard for several hours. It was infectiously joyous. The apple pie and home made buttermilk ice-cream may have helped. And some more frantic children at our community fun-day,on bouncy castles, queuing to have their faces painted, playing pirates with swords made out of balloons, licking the frosting off of cupcakes, throwing quoits and frisbees. We sat in the sun observing the mayhem, calmly pouring tea carried from home and eating cake.

:: More cake. Banana cake actually. Banana cake made with the enormous amount of spotty bananas sold to me by a benevolent stall holder. Around a dozen banana cakes. Butterscotch banana cake. Melted butter banana cake. Dark banana and ginger/chocolate cake.  Banana, coconut and cranberry cake (from Kitchen, Nigella Lawson). I'm open to more suggestions for experimentation.

:: Margate on a sunny day, a good choice for a trip out with my mum who tires from too much walking. We hit the perfect combination with lunch and a view of the beach, a trip around Provincial Punk, a walk around the old town, back along the front, checking out how everything reverberates, an ice cream and a paddle.

Mum's verdict? Ice cream far too expensive, Grayson Perry fabulous.

:: The Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel It was the Empire when my mum was courting, and the ABC when I was old enough to go to Saturday Morning pictures. Now it's the Genesis and as cool as can be on a hot night, even with a delicious cup of coffee and a bargain ticket for those of a certain age who need to be indulged with tales of ageing beekeepers and the evil of bounty hunting. (Mr Holmes and Slow West, worth a trip both). The bus stop is just outside the door and if you are really lucky and a number 25 comes along quickly, you can be home in 10 minutes...  provided of course you haven't forgotten that you arrived by car. 

Sonic walking, a new skirt and the glory of the bicycle. Pleasures all and about which I want to say more.

London from Rainham Marshes

Rain: How lovely it has been to hear the sound of the rain, breathe in the scent of damp pavements, forget about wilting plants and barren seed rows, stay indoors sewing rather than feel that when the sun is shining there are adventures to be had, places to go, stories to discover and tell.

24 June 2015

the little apple tree

It was around this time last year that I first noticed it, the little apple tree round the corner from No 1.  Even though it's only a few yards away, I don't often see it close up as it's normally obscured by parked cars and I tend not to walk on that side of the road. Soon I realised how many other apple trees were dotted around the place, replacements for some brutally excised diseased trees. I considered adopting one to contribute to Lucy Corrander's impressive list of tree followers but I just knew that I would be too ill-disciplined to post regularly.

It was a while before I noticed this year that the little tree was suffering somewhat from the mini-drought we are having here. When I popped out last night at dusk, half moon feebly shining in the still-blue sky, I was hoping to capture something of Samuel Palmer's Magic Apple Tree, all golden in the light of the street lamp*, but I found instead a sad, dry tree, covered in tiny apples almost hoping for the June drop.

So we are I am on a mission to revive the tree. I went out this evening with a watering can - several times - and started the treatment. Half the water ran off into the gutter so I'll be scrounging some compost to act as a mulch (and hopefully not a dog toilet). One or two people looked at me rather suspiciously but a passing skateboarder gave me a smile and a thumbs up as he sped by and propitious birdsong echoed through the streets, so I'm hoping fortune is on our side. Just imagine if some of those apples survive, the apprehension of waiting for them to ripen - or mysteriously disappear into a pocket, a pie or the gutter. Little things, people.

* I know, very unlikely if not totally preposterous, but it's one of my favourite paintings, and the idea that there might be a magic apple tree round the corner is just too beguiling.

22 June 2015

at the beach

These pictures never cease to astound me - an outing to the beach just a short walk from home. That's Aunt Eileen in the middle, my mum on her left, me on her right. I imagine there was another auntie - Lily probably - taking the snap. We cousins were busy paddling, digging holes and probably trying to build sandcastles.

Take a closer look and you might notice the warehouses in the distance, and is that a tug there on the left?

This, you see, is "Tower Beach" and it's the River Thames we're paddling in. Tower Bridge is just out of shot and the Tower of London would be just in front of us. At low tide, a fantastic set of wooden steps were lowered from the quay so you could descend with your deck chairs and sit on the imported sand until the tide came back in again. If you were daring, or maybe just hot, you could get into the river and paddle. The River Police used to visit our school regularly to warn us about the risks from swimming in the Thames so I doubt any of us would have dreamed of going in deeper than our knees.

I was talking to my mum the other a couple of days ago about taking the train somewhere. "Oh, I've never been one for going very far" she said. A few hours at Tower Beach would probably still be her idea of the perfect holiday if it was still there, Actually, I think I might quite enjoy another visit myself.

21 June 2015

midsummer's day

My friend and I share dreams about being on the beach and most years she manages to find me a birthday card of two women splashing, or laughing, or lazing. Favourite cards, the ones where you know someone has really thought about what you like, are always hard to throw away so I have quite a collection now. Normally I stick them into one of those latticed string frames so they gradually disappear behind new cards and post cards as they arrive. Then it struck me that they could be strung along the mantelpiece where I can see them every morning and evening to remind me of sunny seaside days past and yet to come. 

Here's to a long and splashy happy-memory-making summertime for us all and enormous gratitude for those we've already enjoyed.