06 December 2017

winter comforts


Let's face it, visiting someone in hospital in December was never likely to be a delight, but I've found that if you open your mind it us  perfectly possible to find some lightness in the labyrinth that is a modern hospital. Not a day goes by without having at least one conversation and a shared smile about the enigmatic system required to call a lift and the act of faith that it will in fact deliver you to the right floor, or the ironic notice suggesting that using the stairs would be good for your health without any indication of where you might find a staircase. I've yet to solve that one. What is apparent though is the desire of everyone to make the journey through illness as gentle as possible. The hyper-alert doctors - so young, so thin - manage everything from a difficult conversation about resuscitation to finding just the right vein for taking yet another blood sample with understated expertise. The keenness of the staff to decorate the kafkaesque labyrinth of corridors (where exactly am I?) with gaudy tinsel and trees and chubby paper snowmen is above admirable. I am in awe.

And so the search for extra comforts turns to the everyday, the repetition of the known and familiar. Walking home along the Mile End Road I stop at one of the fruit and veg stalls set up outside a shop and buy a bowl of bright clementines. I cheer up at the sight of the neon lights of the local independent cinema which also makes the very best decaf latte in the Burg, marvel at the width of the road and imagine the drovers driving their sheep from the eastern counties towards Aldgate and beyond. When I arrive home all I want is toast with, ooh, how about some marmalade from the cellar ('Whole Orange Marmalade, January 2012' it says) and a giant cup of fat cocoa. Just for a change.




To finish off this feast, I open the bag of clementines and discover that the man has muddled my bag with one meant for another customer. Inside there are four luminous persimmons. I've never eaten a persimmon before. I pick one up and it feels dense, ripe, a gift I was meant to have to brighten a cold winter's day.

It is, it was,  a most unexpected delight.





30 November 2017

scattered





These leaves will no doubt have disappeared by now, just like the last couple of months, blown away by the south westerlies of the last few weeks or the northerlies of the last few days. Autumn always seems to last that little bit longer in London: although we've had our first frosts and a scattering of sleet today, the monster mulberry tree next door is still green and it will be weeks before we can hope to see any afternoon sun through the bare branches. But winter is definitely here. For the first time for a good while we have weakened and flicked on radiators, lit candles and set light to the pile of lavender cuttings and orange peel in the grate to get a fire going. It has been a most wondrous, colourful autumn this year yet I was rather looking forward to spending some time indoors catching up on those various collections scattered around the house calling out "Me Next! Read me. Make me. Write me. Cook me. Clean me. Mend me."

It turns out that they will have to wait a little longer. My mum tumbled down the stairs at home a couple of weeks ago and has been in hospital ever since recovering from pneumonia (it was several hours before I found her), a fractured pelvis, delirium and the all round ghastliness and indignity of being old, bed ridden and reliant on the thoughtfulness of others. Luckily there has been plenty of that. Meanwhile, my own thoughts, like various belongings, have been scattered and unfocused. Keys and gloves have gone missing and turned up in unexpected places. We have variously run out of milk, porridge, coffee this week because the shopping list has been left on the fridge and not lodged in my memory. More surprisingly, I find among all this schmozzle that it is the first day of December tomorrow.

So goodbye Autumn, hello Winter. I'm hoping to come across some winter comforts in the run up to the solstice. I might even find the time to stop and take pictures and pop in here. Not so much an advent calendar,  just a collection of things to ease the dark days ahead. Join me.



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?