29 February 2008

comfort zone

I have been in need of comfort this week and have had to resort this evening to sitting by the fire wrapped in a tartan blanket while the wind blows outside. It was my uncle’s funeral on Wednesday. It was everything that a funeral should be. The church was packed with family, friends and neighbours, the readings were dignified, children from the local school sung the hymns. In his address, the priest evoked a real sense of his personality, his place and history. It was all modestly magnificent. After the burial, we went to the church hall for soup, sausages and mash, trifle, tea and a drink or two. It was food for those in need of comfort. And that’s what I have needed ever since. Cocoa, biscuits, chocolate, a glass of whiskey.

I’ll be fine tomorrow.

26 February 2008

Cabbie's cottage

It's strange how you can walk the same route day in day out without noticing things. I was thinking about how little there was to write about my journey from the tube station to work and there it was. I pass it every single morning, I knew it was there but I had never paid it any attention. The Cabmen's Shelter, a rural retreat in town. There is something about the concept and the realisation that is at once so very London, while at the same time nostalgic for the countryside. This one has a brass plate on it which says it was restored by the Heritage of London Trust . God bless 'em.

25 February 2008

A nearly zen moment

Monday morning, standing on the District Line wondering how there could possibly be any relationship between this experience and a country life, when I looked up and saw a Poem on the Underground. But just as I read the first line - my nearly zen moment - the seat below me became free. Now I was in a quandary. Body or spirit? Ever pragmatic (how else could I live my rus in urbis life?) I took the seat, got my camera out and took this slightly wonky snapshot to read later. But the interesting thing was that the two men standing in front of me, curious as to what had interested me, started to read the poem too. I could not quite make out what they thought of it. Maybe they have gone home to tell someone this story from their perspective. Maybe they had nearly zen moments too.

24 February 2008

No Rush

Spring was most definitely in the air today. For a start, it was a perfect drying day, warm and windy but not so much that the washing tangled on the line. The daffodils I bought on Saturday were almost completely out. If it was possible, we might even claim to be suffering from a surfeit of spring flowers as we still have several bowls of hyacinths filling the house with their scent.

But down at Mudchute, our bulbs were much slower to show off. Just as well, because we had to move them today to make way for the potato patch. It's my own fault. I had not quite decided where everything was to go and had rashly bought crocuses, tulips and narcissus which had to be planted somewhere. Digging them up today to transplant, it was apparent that, in spite of the warmth in the air, the soil was cold and wet under the dry and barren looking surface. Plenty of earthworms though, which must be a good sign. The bulbs were moved to the new garden patch to join a rhubarb crown we had brought from our old Manor Gardens plot, planted yesterday. By teatime, the patch was marked out with some lawn edging and the rhubarb put under a forcer in the hope that we'll soon have some delicate pink stems for a crumble or tart . I know it looks a bit lacklustre just now, but part of the pleasure is being able to see in your mind's eye what it will look like in the future. And, unlike Capability Brown, you only need to wait a few months rather than years for the vision to be realised.

It will be a few more weeks before we can put our potatoes in the ground. I know lots of plotholders opt for planting on Good Friday, probably because it is a day off of work. Our seed potatoes arrived this week and have only just been put to chit, so 21st March may be a little early. We'll have to be patient and see what happens.

And I think it will be a few more weeks before we'll give up on hot suppers, candlelight and snuggling up on the sofa with the cats, now that they are on speaking terms with us again. It's amazing what compromises are possible when someone else yields power over your next meal. So, I'm off to iron a couple of shirts while I wait for mine.

23 February 2008

Pet of the Day

There is a free evening newspaper in London you can pick up on the way home from work, or wherever, handy for checking the weather forecast, or cinema listings. Or Pet of the Day. I always check it out - guinea pigs, dogs, cats, snakes vying for their fifteen minutes of fame. Our cats are much more low key, stay at home, sit by the fire in the warm kind of cats. I think they had deprived kittenhoods. They were both rescue cats from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust and one of them is definitely slightly deranged, dismayed by garden brooms, wind, and being picked up. Celia comes and checks you out before she'll let you bring a cat home and then manages to persuade you that you should take two even though you only really wanted one. But then, I came home a couple of days ago and there was a "surprise" for me. My son's friend had brought us a kitten. I have not yet quite got to the bottom of why he thought that was a good idea, other than we are clearly suckers. And he was right. She has captivated us all with her kittenish ways - playing with balls of wool, washing her face so delicately, looking pretty. The other two are huffy about it and have established a bit of a caucus in the front room, giving us haughty looks. All to no avail, I'm afraid. Here she is... and here she's staying.

18 February 2008

Weather Girl

I am a little obsessive about the weather. I don't know whether this particular idiosyncracy is the result of some genetic defect, or down to spending a couple of years working in the open when I was younger. Now I rush to be near a radio at three minutes to the designated hours of 7, 8, 1,and 6 and shush everyone in earshot when the weather forecast comes on so that I know what to expect. I am rarely awake to hear the first forecast of the day, though I can attest to its superiority. For the real farmers I suppose.. The most comprehensive forecast is on Sunday during gardener's questiontime on Radio 4, but that requires the utmost concentration as it is longer than usual. I simply cannot understand why it is so easy to drift off during a 2 minute (or is it 90 seconds?) forecast, something hypotic abut the clouds, points of the compass and temperature that lulls the senses. One minute they are talking about the wind on the west coast of Scotland, and the next thing you know it's rain in Cornwall and you have no idea what is going to happen in East London.

Now here is a conundrum. I woke up a little earlier than usual today, around 6.30, and the bedroom was suffused with the light of a rosy dawn. Red sky at morning, shepherds warning etc... But the man from the Met Office spoke of a fine and particularly dry day after a frosty start. And he was right. So what exactly was it those shepherds had to be worried about today then?

17 February 2008

Rugs in Urbis

It was so cold down at Mudchute yesterday that I managed to aggravate the cold that I already had so I decided that I needed stay at home this afternoon and to pay some attention to putting my own house in order. John was dispatched on his own to make inroads into the manure mountain and transfer some of it to the new beds on Number 40. No evidence available, though he tells me that they look a little like Five Graves to Cairo. Meanwhile I have had to take comfort from what I can see out without going too far from the back door. Our garden is very small, suitable for the sub-Pooteresque families who would have occupied these terraces in the late 1800’s. Even so, I had completely forgotten that these tête-à-tête were there as the space is normally so strictly supervised that only plants of architectural merit are given entry visas.

There is, though, a fall back for cold days like today when, even though the sun is shining, you need to take a day off to recuperate. The rus in urban indoor garden. We have had a small orchard variously in our halls or over the backs of chairs for some years.

And this one has now been given a temporary home in the kitchen to stop the wintry drafts coming through the floorboards. The clash of orange and dark pink is really uplifting when you creep down half asleep in the cold half light of morning.

Here is my favourite, though. We were given a modest amount of compensation when we had to leave Manor Gardens, and I decided that I needed something which would remind me of the time we had spent there. When we visited Stonebridge Barn in the summer, we found the perfect winter garden rug. Strangely not everyone who sees it gets the picture . But for me the rows of guls, haphazard, wobbly and each one different, remind me of the imperfect order of a garden plot. The colours are a little garish; in fact I wondered whether the aniline reds were a little too strong for our muted rooms. I love it. And I know that it won’t be long before Mudchute looks a bit like this – once those sunflowers and dahlias are out.

14 February 2008

Happy Valentine

It was John's birthday today. Spot the Valentine among the cards.

We'd planned to visit Hadleigh Castle in Essex, famously recorded by John Constable. The painting has wonderful clouds in it but today, after several days of clear high pressure weather, the sky was flat and grey and the air chilled. Not that it mattered. The walk through the country park was was hardly nature at its wildest, but a relief after the Tilbury Loop. As you approach the Salvation Army Tea Rooms (fantstic service) on the top of the hill overlooking the castle, the hedges are full of small birds (I wonder if anyone makes a cardigan patterned like a hedge sparrow) and a muddy field of perfectly lovely black Berkshire Pigs. None of them with petticoats like Pig-Wig, but maybe they save those for partywear. The castle lived up to expectation , though there were no shepherds, no cattle to complete the picture.

Apart from the penetrating cold, we had to return home early for our own celebration. Typically, I had not made the cake, so it had to be something that would be ready quickly. I think it was a Dan Lepard recipe, Quick Rich Chocolate Cake, cut out from a newpaper. The wiggly inscription does look a little like wormcasts (clever worms), somewhat appropriate for a gardener's birthday cake. Sadly, we forgot to put the candle on until after we'd cut the first slice. Didn't spoil the taste though.

13 February 2008

The Good Life

I tried to describe this blog to someone and they asked whether I was recreating that sitcom with Felicity Kendall, the Good Life. While here is a touch of that I suppose, I want it to be about a bit more than home and gardens and the compost bin . I want it to be about people too and the way they meet up across boundaries to create communities. That was what we found on Monday when we left our work manor to enter unknown territories in Bermondsey to do some volunteering at Bede House, a community project on a large housing estate. It was a great day. Not only the adventure of going somewhere new, the park through the mist, the sunshine, but the pleasure of getting mucky, working together and a job well done. If only clearing out my own junk was half as satisfying this house would be a lot cleaner.

When I arrived home, I still had enough energy to finish making the Dark Chunky Marmalade I'd started the night before.

But not quite enough energy to do the washing up.

10 February 2008

Grand Designs.

Traditionally, birds start their wooing on St Valentine's day. It seems to have started a little earlier this year. On our walk to the market across the park yesterday we saw a pair of thrushes and a pair of swans getting ready for their honeymoon. Or maybe it was a second honeymoon.
Down at the allotment it was the mating call of the hammer, saw and rotovator as people were energised into, well, whatever it was. We, of course, are a little late as we have had to spend the last few months clearing years of neglect. For us it was the satisfying clunk of york stones as we started to lay the paths for our raised beds. We brought the stones from our Manor Gardens plot - they had been collected over a number of years and were too precious for bulldozing. Other plotholders have been eyeing us up curiously and can't quite figure out why we are using up so much precious space with paths. But I'm hoping for a patchwork effect of different plants and colours.

We still have have more to do on the shed- a stovepipe perhaps if we are serious about making a cup of tea.

In the meantime we had to walk down to Mudchute Kitchen. Even the sheep were delighted to be out and about on such a beautiful day. Somehow these sheep, with their shaggy locks even manage to look like urban sheep. I just love the idea that a stone's throw away from the builders and cranes at Canary Wharf sheep safely graze.

07 February 2008

In a brown study

For some reason I have been wearing a lot of brown and a lot of cardigans this year. Even when it's poshed up and called "bitter chocolate" or some such, brown remains a comforting colour, one that a sensible vicar's wife or librarian would have worn fifty years ago. Not that there is anything wrong with that. In "Crampton Hodnet", Barbara Pym conjures up the churchy academic life of North Oxford where ladies companion Jessie Morrow is torn between her sensible brown marocain with the beige collar and a blue velvet ( she chooses the racier blue velvet). Well, I had a brown day today. It's been a long week and brown wool was what I needed. How tired it looks at the end of the day

Very Jessie Morrow. But then I wonder whether Miss Morrow had quite such an irregular pair of shoes to cheer her up.

03 February 2008

The new plot

This is our new allotment. New to us. Our old allotment is now buried under the Olympic site. But life moves on. Our new plot is on Mudchute Farm. It does not have the same unique beauty as Manor Gardens but, like most alloment sites, it has a certain quirkiness of its own. And being on the biggest city farm in Europe it has the advantage of being close to what is probably the largest pile of manure to be found in London. It may look a bit bleak now, but it's a big improvement on how it looked in October - covered in couch grass, compacted cracked soil, dips and bumps where half hearted attempts had been made to tidy it up. It won't take long to have it looking as good as the old plot, believe me.

And when the going gets tough, there is always the marvellous Mudchute Kitchen where you can treat yourself to the mainstay of every rus in urban - the farmhouse breakfast. As you can see here...

And ten minutes later.