30 October 2017

gratitude

Finished project, crunchy leaves, boy in a buggy

Thank you all so much for your lovely comments. I am truly touched by your loyalty in continuing to pop in to this too often empty space. Your simple acts of recognition and kindness across the ether are heartening and encouraging, a reminder of the quiet power of a few words,  a hastily written note, a virtual post card.

Words can be so powerful,. Even a simple list can galvanise. After that last post bemoaning my lack of action on those outstanding projects, I got my act together and actually finished one of them. It reminded me that at the beginning of this year - you know how it is with the greyness of January to be negotiated before things start looking up again- I decided to practice what I preach in parenting workshops and keep a gratitude journal. It had been a sad time for the family. My lovely Uncle Connie had died after several weeks struggling to recover after a long stay in intensive care following an accident at home, undiagnosed injuries and subsequent lung damage. Con was my dad's youngest brother, the last surviving sibling, the most cheerful, steadfast and constant of them all. He somehow had the knack of making us all feel favoured and much loved even though we were decades away from childhood and going grey ourselves. I felt hugely privileged to spend time with him during those bedridden weeks, just sitting by him as he slept, or keeping my aunt company as she chivied and cared for him, often pulling him back from the brink. It was an emotional and humbling time.

I first started the journal after Con's funeral in early January. It was no more than a few words every day squeezed into a diary. Writing down at bedtime two or three things I was grateful for helped much more than I expected. Looking back, they were modest everyday things,: porridge waiting for me in the morning, a visit to the theatre, the company of a friend, laughter, unexpected gifts, handmade lavender soap, comfortable boots, gin, earl grey tea, baked beans, kale (really? more than once too). Friends featured often, food and drink more than you might think, outings, labour saving devices, walks, Thames barges. Even St Katherine's Waitrose made an appearance: they are, after all, extraordinarily kind to my mum.

I decided it was time for a top up, before the dark nights kicked in, not least to get in the right frame of mind before the time arrived to turn on the heating and bemoan the lack of light. That was a couple of weeks ago.   My list now includes toast and cocoa, October sunshine and clouds, leaves, afternoons in the park, washing lines, vacuum cleaners, my teachers, fellow sewists, the 339 bus, and cream teas which I had an awful craving for a couple of weeks ago, now replaced by these spelt cookies.



It's been good for me. Bring on November. I'm ready for it - almost.






03 October 2017

last hurrahs


The shifting of the light, the cool mornings and hazy evenings, they all seemed to creep on me this year. One minute the sunflowers were towering magnificently above us but before long the  pre-equinoxial gales had left them bent and battered. Some we managed to prop up again and those we couldn't came home and filled every vase and mantlepiece with a blaze of autumn. The dahlias are holding on on defiantly but pretty much everything else is sending out a final hurrah. The carder bees that took up residence in the detritus at the bottom of the mullein have disappeared although the queen is probably tucked up until spring.The courgette plants and tomatoes, apart from one hardy black cherry,  have succumbed and the runners and French beans have handed in their notice too. Quite a relief to be honest. Whole families of squashes - butternut, Crown Princes and Queensland Blues have been cut and brought home. Yes. There will be soup, a lot of it.




At home the kitchen is dark as the sun dips earlier and earlier behind next door's mulberry, a late leaf-dropper, and denser than ever. Candles are lit at night but it's a matter of principle here to hold out as long as we can from turning on the heating. The woolies and warmer clothes were unpacked a few weeks ago while others have been added to the jumble pile. Elsewhere in the house half-finished projects are packed on shelves and hang on hooks. Pyjama trousers, a gaudy shift, a new apron, a refashioned tweed skirt, a longline check jacket - a final push would see them finished if I could set aside the time and focus. That's only the half of it. I spent the last three Tuesday evenings taking Sew Over It's Francine Jacket workshop. Hems and buttons and buttonholes would finish the project. A few hours by a sunny window might deliver a happy ending to that story and the sooner the better. 

Hold on. That's the sound of the front door closing. A gardener has just returned from work. He just called up the stairs "Are you asleep?"

If only.




06 September 2017

five minutes peace


Down in the cellar we have a copy of one of my favourite children's books, you know the one, where Mrs Large finally escapes from her family to have a quiet bath. In peace. My fictional elephant sister has my sympathy. It seems I have entirely lost the ability to do anything that requires a bit of concentration or energy. Want to read a book? Not a hope  other than at bedtime when after around three minutes my eyes droop and I begin to snore. How about hemming that dress that's been hanging on the to-sew hook? Lost count of the number of needles I've lost after starting and deciding there's something more urgent to do. Sit down and write a blog post? The laptop is so seldom used it's like trying to break into Fort Knox, metaphorically speaking of course. Password mayhem.

So here I am. The Boy is asleep after helping out with the vacuum cleaning at home, throwing himself around on the bed with what can only be described as the utmost glee, shouting "dig, dig, dig!" at anything vaguely resembling a machine, running round the park, refusing to join in with Five Little Ducks at Storytime and, as a finale, attempting to ransack the lovely collection of board books in the library by pulling them out of the box and dropping them on the floor.

This is how it has a been for several months now. It's only for two or three days a week, but it is all consuming on those ten /eleven hour days. That's not to say we don't have fun and fine days out, but creative space seems to be in short supply when all the other demands are taken into account. There's time to dream, but converting that into anything concrete is entirely another matter. I'm hoping that the slower pace of early autumn, the reduction in urgency to fit everything in while the sun shines, the subdued light and colour will bring with it a bit of calm and, dare I say it, peace.

Time to put the kettle on. Quickly.

10 May 2017

catch us the foxes



A family of foxes has moved in under his allotment shed, a vixen and three cubs. We've seen her - skinny, tired looking, the prettiest face, leaving her trail of takeaway boxes round the back for her clan. The cubs have been more elusive and we only found out about about them from a neighbour who snapped them frolicking about on the seedbed. We've pretty much given up on that - the sticks are just a half-hearted attempt to stop a complete takeover. At least they came in handy when we decided to tidy out the shed and air the sun hat collection. Not that that the seedbed was exactly thriving anyway - there's been hardly any rain to speak over for nearly two months and the job description for prevailing wind seems to include cold, brisk, northerly as desirable attributes these days. There's some protection in this west-facing corner and there are plenty of blankets on hand to keep the cold out while we sit spellbound as the old-fashioned sprinkler whirls round erratically and the birds swish by hoping for some refreshment. It's all pretty zen.

Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil our vineyard? Nah. Live and let live. We can always eat rhubarb pickle and cheese until they can find their own way to the takeaway.


hello blog!

Hello Blog. How are you?

What the f..?! Oh my days, it's you! I was fast asleep. 

Of course it's me. Who else would be popping in at bedtime? Who normally drops by this time of night?

Only the occasional visitor. And very nice it is to hear from them too. I didn't know your readers were so loyal. and kind. Not that you deserve it. I thought you'd given up on me. Nine years we've been together. Nine years February gone. And you didn't even send me a card, let alone celebrate. You're such a slacker aren't you? 

Hold on a minute. You've not been unfaithful have you? Have you been flirting with Facebook, you strumpet? Or Twitter? Or even Instagram come to that?

Good Lord. no. Well, almost no. I mean obviously I'm registered, but I can't be doing with FB, except for messaging Paulette and Ronnie, and that's a trial. As for Twitter I'd much rather be listening to birdsong down the allotment. I must confess though. I did post a picture on Instagram the other day.

Really? I never even knew you had an account. 

Caroline went on about it so I thought I'd better liven up.

Lots of followers?

Erm, three I think. Maybe. A cousin-in-law and two friends.

Oh, popular then.

That's right. Make me feel welcome.

Sorry. Perhaps I should insert a sad face here. If I knew how to do it.

I'm sorry too, Blog. I've missed you, really I have. I talk to you in my head every every day. "Oh, I wonder if Blog would like that" or "Look at that! Definitely something Blog would like". But you know how it is. You don't talk to someone for a while and then you're embarrassed about how much. you've neglected them while you've been indulging your selfish self.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, what's been so all-consuming that you can't even find the time to write me a few lines. Or send me a photo?

Well, there's the allotments...and having to cook all those vegetables. Did you know this is the first year ever that I've harvested all the year round? Probably not. Then there's the volunteering, the usual stuff. Plus all that sewing of course. My mum needs watching now she's coming up for 85. And then there's the baby.

Whoaaaa there! You've never mentioned any baby before. Where did that that come from?

What do you mean where'd that come from? Doesn't Google provide sex education?

Don't be funny. You know what I mean. It's just that you've never mentioned any so-called baby.

There's a lot I haven't mentioned before. You never know who's listening after all.

Never mind all that. Tell me about the baby.

OK Blog. Here's the thing. I'm a Nana. And just the thought of him makes me feel a bit wobbly. He's not even new anymore. He'll be walking and day now. But it's like being a teenager in love, kind of private and wondrous and, dare I say, truly awesome. Just thinking about him makes me feel wobbly. All that curiosity, and raw emotion, and disdain for all the rules. Perhaps he should stand for Parliament.

STOP! STOP NOW! I'm in Purdah.

Does that mean I can't mention Cornelia Parker? I adore Cornelia Parker, @electionartist2017?

As it's art I'll allow it. But can't you just get back to all the ordinary stuff you normally go on about? I mean you haven't even shown me a single picture so far. You know the stuff. Walking round some muddy old marshes on a cloudy day. A day out on the train  The annual asparagus post. A new frock, or a cake, maybe pot of jam. Even one of those snaps you obviously take without bothering to move from your chair.

Ah, Bloggy Blogsome from Blogtopia. Your are so encouraging. And you know me so well. Try this one for size. it's the back door in the kitchen  looking into the garden, sometime earlier this year when it felt like spring might be coming. That fooled us. Its bloody freezing this week.

I'll be back tomorrow. Maybe I'll have figured out how to publish something more recent by then.







  














12 February 2017

absent



I got a new camera. I got a new laptop. It took a while to get to grips with the camera, and the laptop - the software has changed, not too much but enough to have to get used to it again. The domain name for my blog expired at the same time and it has taken me several attempts to work out how to reestablish it. I suspect I'm going to overcharged because they seem to think I'm a business and I'm not. I can't upload pictures from my laptop to my blog without going through a big rigmarole.  Oh, the frustration.. Is it me? Mostly. Would it be easier to start again elsewhere? Probably. Will I? Possibly.

Meanwhile, here is a picture taken a few days ago from the top of the bus a few nights ago. It was a very cold, wet evening, and there were rain drops on the windows blurring the wet road, the traffic and the lights.  I had just come out from the cinema having seen Manchester on Sea - such a treat going to the cinema on a winter's afternoon, coming out and travelling in the dark, looking forward to getting home. And that is where we have been spending a most of our evenings -  cooking, eating, reading, listening to the radio and shouting at it occasionally, trying new recipes, working our way through the mystery frozen foods in the freezer, making cocoa. It has been a quiet pleasure, a holiday at home, an escape from the hubbub. We'll have to rouse ourselves soon. The snowdrops are out.



20 November 2016

strolling, maybe walking, occasionally marching


It has been a good week for just strolling, by the light of the moon above as Flanagan and Allen might have had it, or otherwise. Some evenings it has been balmy, with foundling leaves swirling and crackling round in low breezes or sticking perilously to the pathways preparing to ambush the inattentive. I love the way the low light - along the canal, through the park, down the short-cut side streets - softens the rough surfaces and harsh tones of the city, hiding the unswept gutters and graffiti in the shadows. On the main hauls, the hubbub and the dazzle of headlights, street lamps and the Tesco Metro shop windows play other tricks but still can't compete with the beauty of the perigee moon along the Mile End Road.


There's something about this walking at night that makes you hyper alert. We may not be in the dark forests of wicked witches, wolves and woodcutters, but, well, you never know. This evening a skein of geese flew overhead making just enough whispering noise to make me look up. Later on I noticed I gave a much wider berth to the Staffie and his owner than to the little lapdog and hers. We all have our prejudices. And preferences: I stick mostly to the places I know and like best.


It's easy to forget at this time of year that what might seem late is actually not late at all. Side streets that are quiet during the day are deserted by five o'clock. It may feel like midnight, but turn a few corners and you find the that the last of the market stalls on Whitechapel Road are just stalling in and shoppers are still popping into the Bengali Sweet Shops for something truly suitable only for those whose teeth have been protected for years by fluoride in the water.


Occasionally I complete the circuit by bus or train. Those pavements can be hard on the arches. By the time I get home, I'll be rosy cheeked, a little too warm from the chunky sweater under my jacket, ready for a chair by the fire, a chat about where I've been, what I've seen, what I may have brought home with me and, let's be honest here, just a little sanctimonious about the number of steps I've clocked up. 


If you are interested in London walking and it comes your way, go and see the slightly whacky, funny, sad and enraging film London Overground. John Rogers has done a lovely job. Or just watch one of John Rogers' short films about walking. This is a walk John suggested to him. I just love it.

13 November 2016

seeking comfort



Well, what a week it has been. You'll know what I mean. It hardly bears thinking about, but it won't go away and my fears for the future multiply daily. So, like the good people who put this board up outside a local church cafe, a little comfort seems needed all round and food seems as good a starting point as any, though possibly definitely not cheesy pasta.  No, no, no.  Soup is definitely nearer the top of my list. We've probably eaten at least three different types, homemade, in the last week alone; carrot and coriander, my latest herb of choice; celeriac, leek and potato; and a very tasty spicy Mexican tomato soup that came in a Hello Fresh vegetarian box on sale at Liverpool Street station for a donation to the Felix Project.

Next up would have to be toast, with or without embellishment of any kind; my persona fixation is marmalade just now.  Toast had been on my mind since I spent a couple of hours indulging in comfort-blanket that it the Edward Ardizone exhibition at the House of Illustration a couple of weeks ago. Fans will know that he created the feisty Diana who boldly rescued a poorly rhinoceros by plying him with a great deal of toast while he settled down in front of a fire in the front room, an inspired piece of nursing if ever there was one.  It should be on prescription for the downhearted.

And if toast doesn't do the trick, you could always try a cream tea, preferably homemade. Sitting alone in the cafe at the V&A after a Brief History of Underwear I counted my uncorseted blessings and imitated a heroine from a Barbara Pym novel, though the portion may not have been quite so ladylike. I know it doesn't seem like sensible, or even healthy, cold weather food, but at least it's a reminder of sunny days. And if that doesn't do the trick, a square of 85% chocolate might help. Or a trip to Smitten Kitchen, a brilliant post which ends with a very sensible next step.

Anybodyseeking a bit of comfort?



02 November 2016

now, where was I?


So much for good intentions. Things went rather to pot when our boiler needed replacing, then the one we bought needed replacing because it was damaged on delivery, the kitchen counter needed to be rebuilt because the boiler no longer fitted under it, the plumber went on holiday, the furniture maker hurt his back, the window repair man locked himself out of the house while we were away, the car broke down on the way home from Horsey Island- ah, Horsey Island, at least that was peaceful, apart from the terrifying journey across the muddy causeway. The camera gave up the ghost in sympathy and the laptop decided not to co-operate with Googlmail or the iphone. I thought about buying a new one, decided to wait until the new Macbook came out and now find the price has rocketed. Just as I was trying to eliminate all thoughts of Brexit from my damaged psyche.

So summer rolled on, and on, and on. We had no rain for months and the fine weather demanded that there was no staying indoors. It seemed very busy. We spent many evenings watching the sun set on our allotments after trying to keep the crops going with copious watering. It worked, mostly. There were crops of tomatoes and cucumbers the like of which I have never seen before, patty pans galore and even the butternuts finally played ball. Our hearth is packed out with enough to see us through winter and all the family will be receiving a jar of green tomato chutney in their Christmas stocking whether they like it or not. We will not want for borscht or spaghetti rosso (did you know cooked beetroot freezes well? It was news to me.) You can knock here too if you're in need to kale in any colour.

Cleaning jars, shiny surfaces!
Now, after a couple of weeks of easing into Autumn and the most glorious leaf fall, I have reconciled myself to the change of season. Nature can only hold out so long, me too, and my obsession with getting out of the house is subsiding. In fact, cold notwithstanding, I'm rather looking looking forward to and certainly hoping for a more reflective and creative time indoors. The hole in the wall is now well and truly blocked up again (sorry, Polly) and we now have a new shiny-ish kitchen counter. Summer dresses have been stored away and woolens rescued from their ziplock bags, mended and pressed. I've got some things to sew using some new patterns, even though I find I never even mentioned the old ones. We can get to that another day perhaps.

Phew. I'm glad I've got all that off my chest. I have been feeling very guilty about my absence and feel so much better.


23 June 2016

captive

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.