31 May 2008

bee catchers, snoxum and fairy weed

I've spent a number of days this week at home studying, well for a few hours a day at least. The cool weather and grey skies have made this easier. But this white foxglove has been seducing me to go out into our very small London garden.

We used to have a clutch of these in the garden at one time, but they gradually disappeared over the years. The seed originally came from the garden of a friend who lived out in North Norfolk, years ago. They've been variously sown in a number of John's gardens over the years. We think the seed must have returned back here in the soil of some aloe vera which John moved here earlier this year.

My Englishman's Flora lists over a hundred regional names for foxgloves. Names linked to fairies, thimbles, fingers, ladies and virgins, dogs, dragons, even clothes pegs. Snoxum comes from Gloucestershire; Fairy Weed from Ireland; bee catchers from Somerset.

I like the idea of bee catchers, those dotty flight paths enticing the bees up into the corollas. And there were certainly lots of bees around this week, hovering in and out.

Fairies are also supposed to have given the flowers to foxes to wear as magic gloves to make them invisible. And according to Irish folklore, "fairy weed" is the only plant that can bring back children who have gone away; powerful too for dealing with children left by the fairies.

We have around 60 young people in the garden. They're getting louder and I'm getting more stressed. I might have to invoke some fairy powers later. Or sooner.

30 May 2008

brownie study

So how many people are coming to your birthday party tomorrow, John?

Don't know, Mum.

Blow out the candles and make a wish.

Now we're all in the dark.

28 May 2008

rough in urbis

Sometimes bad stuff happens. I didn't mention that my son was mugged the other day on the way home from a friend's house. It was around three o'clock in the morning and he had his i-pod snatched by someone charging by on a bike. He has been angry about it for days, blaming himself for not being alert. The irony is that he had been stopped and searched himself - for the third time in a month - a few days earlier, just round the corner from where we live. Not much fun for him and a complete waste of time for the police,who, incidentally, had the cheek to tell him he was lucky.

We've had a bit of a run of crime lately. Just a few weeks earlier a stranger called at our house claiming to have been sent to measure our rooms. Unfortunately my son let him in; fortunately he stayed with him all the time so, as far as we know, nothing was stolen. But it was not nice to know that a con-man had gained entry. Then this morning I got in the car only to find that someone had stolen my side mirror. Not sure why, maybe it was just gratuitous vandalism, maybe it's gone to a new home. I know it'll cost me a lot to get it fixed and not be worth losing my no-claims bonus. What a pain.

Somtimes these tales of theft have an element of comedy. About six weeks ago, someone stole from my car two incredibly heavy bags of coins that I'd been given by my brother for charity. I must have left the car unlocked. The thief had checked out the glove box, kindly left my manual, taken my Corinne Bailey Rae CD, but left the others - including two by Amy Winehouse. Did he not approve of her music? Or her druggy lifestyle? And were his arms aching from carrying those 20lb bags of coins by the time he got home? Did he spend the money bit by bit? (Even that tale does not compare with the out-of-his-head young man I found asleep in my car on a Sunday morning a couple of years ago who, when asked what he was doing replied "Trying to steal your car". I politely told him to get out as I was off to my yoga class. Which he did. He did leave a gold ring in the car, though.)

Then, to top it all, to put the very lid on the pot, those slimy, butter-would-not-melt-in-their-mouth snaily vandals have somehow managed to get into my mini greenhouse and eat the tops off three of my baby cucumbers. I know I should have put salt round the bottom.

So bad stuff happens. It isn't "mommy blog" wonderland here. Life goes on.

I find green very soothing in these circumstances.

26 May 2008

the mystery of the sequined slippers

By five o'clock today, I decided that it was not going to stop raining, so went for a walk anyway but came home more puzzled than when I started out.

These shoes have been sitting under a privet hedge a few streets away for the last three or four days. Is there a barefoot princess in hiding somewhere?

Has she has been stolen by the water gypsies up on the canal?

Or did she just decide to run away with a unicyclist from the circus?

Was she simply seeking to escape the weight of a banal life in Bow?

Has she been turned into a rambling rose on Fish Island, waiting for a passing prince to break the spell?

Or is she just waiting for the the sun to shine again?

25 May 2008

an afternoon in Paradise

I spent a lot of my childhood wanting to be like the children in story books. And while it never bothered me that my mum went out to work and my dad did not wear a trilby, I could not understand why the circus never came to town like it did in my Janet and John books, with elephants marching down the street. Some things you never get over. Now I get a little excited whenever the circus stops by near us. There may not be elephants these days, but there are angels gliding around, helter skelters, laughing hot dogs, people dancing their socks off.

This was Paradise Gardens. And the excellent women of the East End WI were there to do the teas in the Tea Dance tent.

Which meant that I spent Friday morning making four dozen rock cakes, this morning making another 3 dozen, and this afternoon working on the tea stall.

And you know what? It was fantastic. The dancing was stupendous, people of all ages joined in and because it was so chilly, people kept coming back for more teas and cakes. The lamingtons seemed to induce the most ecstatic response for some reason. It was a sell out.

I’ve hung up my apron for the day. But if this is what Paradise is like, count me in.

22 May 2008


Do you ever have those days when, whatever you try to do, something goes wrong? That was my day. I planned a visit to the allotment to put in the tomatoes and pumpkins. But no shed key meant I had no access to the tools I needed.

Not to worry, I thought, I'll go out on the bike and do my errands. My two punctures had been fixed earlier, so I thought this was going to be a runner. Yes, and no. The bike was fine but the (second) super D-lock, a necessity in London, had disappeared. I thought it might be in the kitchen airing cupboard (isn't that where everyone keeps their bike ephemera?). I looked high, I looked low. I ended up with the whole cupboard turfed out onto the floor. NO LOCK. Only now I had to re-stack the cupboard. It took about an hour. I remain perplexed as to why I thought I needed 3 hot water bottles (not including the one upstairs), 2 dozen tablecloths, 48 napkins, no less than 8 cloth shopping bags, a piece of hessian (to make another), plus assorted "useful" lengths of fabric, including two lengths of deckchair canvas. And that was what was left after I had sorted a huge bags of white linens for the cat rescue people, a bag of rags for recycling, another for cleaning and some spare hats and bags for the plot.

I gave up on the bike lock, the bike trip and the planting expedition. By now I'd run out of time. I resorted to the car to go shopping and stopped off at the roadside nature reserve where the cowslips grow. It's now covered in ox-eye daisies.

Which is probably why I was tempted by this, a present for a special person. Aaaaaah.

19 May 2008

and when she got there the cupboard was full

And the fruit bowls. In fact, I have been accused in the past of having a serious stock control problem. So I have been going through one of my occasional "eating through the cupboards" weeks - lots of beans, rice and pasta, tinned sardines. The worms will be able to tuck into the out of date flour and cereals which were lurking around. And I shall drink my way through the packets of exotic teas while I sit at my table working my way through the benefits of mentoring.

Apparently, oranges and their ilk are high on the list of fruits we throw away each year. I suspect that I know why. Firstly, they look so enticing on the fruit stall, so sunny, so very orange, so good for you.

So you buy them. You get them home and they look pretty as a picture for a while.

But unless you buy those easy peeling types, you can't always be bothered to to get your fingers sticky. So they get past their best and before you know it you've bought another lot. And why would you want to eat last week's oranges when you can eat fresh ones? Same with lemons. I try to eat as many as I can, but some weeks I have to give in. I have a solution though - as they move towards the mummification stage, they go into the fireplace to dry off until winter comes around again .

They'll make lovely firelighters come December. Meanwhile I'll try a little harder to curb my citrus addiction and concentrate more on looking like this

18 May 2008

ten gallon hats

The ladies at Mudchute are assiduous waterers. Hoses are not allowed, so they patiently walk backwards and forwards from the water tanks with their cans, sensibly protected from the midday sun wearing a variety of lovely hats. Much nicer to look at than the flat cap brigade.

I'm sure these ladies thought it was quite odd of me to ask permission to snap their hats, but it was a good way to meet the neighbours and make new friends. The owner of this checked hat and her daughter (above) have an incredibly productive plot, packed with Chinese greens, peas growing up stout bamboo poles and an assortment of brassicas. They posed patiently and very sweetly offered me a spare squash plant - it'll be interesting to see what the fruits are like.

I've been enviously admiring the hat below for some weeks. The owner told me it comes from Hong Kong and folds up so that you can put it in your pocket. She is another squash lover and was putting in her Uchiki Kuri, a tear drop shaped squash, bright orange and reputedly delicious (if you manage to get through the very tough skins). Her seed originally came from Japan, but she saves some from the fruits every year and said that in the main she has been lucky in avoiding cross fertilisation, one of the pitfalls of saving your own squash seed on a small plot.

And here's mine, bought on holiday in Tunisia about 15 years ago. It only cost about a dinar I think, but even though it was cheap I didn't want to abandon it at the end of the holiday and insisted that it came home with me. It has come out every summer since.

It's probably worn a bit better than I have.

16 May 2008

the early worm...or two

It's unusual for the post to arrive while we're still drinking our breakfast coffee. "Our worms!" We won our Wiggly Wigglers wormery in the raffle at the East End WI Christmas Party last year (you couldn't make this up, could you?) and we finally got round to setting it up and sending off for our starter pack of worms last week. So here they were, a new addition to the family - a box of worms beautifully packaged, and carefully labelled for the avoidance of doubt "urgent, live worms". I daresay they couldn't wait to get them out of the sorting office.

I did think of posting up a picture of the heaving mass but I thought I would spare you. Suffice to say that they appeared to be in good health and seemed to settle into their new home. Setting up is easy - layer of damp coir, vegetable waste and coffee grounds, a damp coir mat to keep them in and you're away. Or rather they are. I've been reading various websites about what works and what doesn't - they don't like citrus or onion waste, you must make sure it doesn't get too wet or too dry, add in shredded paper to give a good texture, try to keep the fruit flies down, don't add too much waste in one go.

I'm sure we'll get in the swing of things. We thought we had our first fatalities when we drained off some liquid today and found several sad looking little fellows in the sieve. they seemed to revive. Now, I'm getting more used to handling them, which must be a good thing. Apparently it takes several weeks for the waste to rot down, and much, much longer for the worms to produce any compost. In the meantime, we can drain off the excess liquid and use it as a plant feed.

So much excitement in one week. I'll let you know how they get on.

14 May 2008

I went to market

Broadway Market actually, to this bookshop, yesterday evening.

It was to hear Valentine Low reading from his new book , One Man and his Dig, another rus in urban son of the soil. It's a lovely little book. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in allotments - new "allotmenteers", horny handed old lags or anyone interested in family and kinship in London, (with apologies to Willmott and Young). It's all there from the seed and tuber gathering manias to the total eccentricity of the allotment society AGM. If B. Pym was still with us, she would soon eschew the Church of England and direct her attentions to the shenanigans of "the allotment committee". There's even true crime in there.

I have to declare a personal interest, though not one that I had prior knowledge of. Valentine chose as one of his readings a piece about Manor Gardens and mentioned the beautiful pine tree that we had on our old plot, grown from a cone brought back from Tunisia by my son John. I was taken back at once to the idyllic little spot we had, the sheer bounty of it all and the pleasure of snoozing under the shade of that tree when it was hot. I thought I'd got over it, moved on. But clearly not as the tears welled up (not for the first time). Young John said to me once that he felt really lucky to have had the freedom to explore the semi wild spaces up there, make camps, have a tree house, run a bit wild with his mates. And for that we should be grateful.

We should be grateful for this too. On the way home, we walked along the side of the Regents Canal and found this young elder tree growing from a little corner of earth, scenting up the air, the Queen of Trees.

This majestic little beauty holds court among the old gas works and, yes, looks utterly noble to me lording it over it's domain. But then I do like a bit of industrial architecture.

And further along the road, this arum lily, an escape from a little neglected garden outside a forge works.

Doesn't it give you hope?

I never knew that cats were made of leather

It was rather an unkind thing to say after our kitten had just been shaved, neutered and sewn up. But then to follow it up by saying that soon you would be able to buy replicas in Sidcup, Ruislip, New Malden and Slough was totally uncalled for.

Still, what else would you expect from someone who insists on calling our little treasure Trish - when she is obviously a Kitty.

She's perfectly well by the way and totally oblivious to the wars raging over her head.

13 May 2008

in the sticks

At this time of the year, the allotment really starts to show its potential. After all that scheming and planning, you can suddenly begin to see how it's shaping up and whether you are going to have enough space to fit in everything in that you want to grow. (The answer, of course, is no.) The trouble is that it is tempting to cram everything in, so you need to mark out the space that you will need. So you end up with sticks everywhere - sticks in wigwams, sticks in geometrical formations, sticks marking out the soon-to-be rows of vegetables.

If you are interested in the master plan, this is what is already planted and what will be going in soon. Quite different from how it looked back in February, much better than it looked in October - and it will change quickly in the next few weeks as the days lengthen and the weather warms up.

The last few evenings have been perfect for pottering around, still warm but with enough of a breeze to make the trees swish and swirl, the light soft as the sun sets, just right for some undemanding watering.

An important part of the ritual is just sitting and admiring the view, seeing in your mind's eye what it will look like in a few weeks time. Helped along with this hoppy, aromatic, toffee-tasting beer, worth buying just for the little bees on the bottle-tops.

And the scent of sage to help with the thinking you need to do the next day.

Hard to believe that Canary Wharf is just a walk away.

11 May 2008

seaside blues ...and other stuff

I'm already missing being beside the sea and I've only been back a day. There is something completely soporific about the sound of the tide coming in. It's the sound I conjure up in my head when I'm in my yoga class during the relaxation session (and you thought I went for the exercise?). I can go into a trance like state just looking out to sea, especially on those hazy days when you can't quite tell where the line is between the sea and the sky, like it was yesterday.

I always go to the same bit of the beach and as the tide creeps in between the groynes, it creates a kind of amphitheatre effect which changes the acoustics somehow making it more intimate, as if you already know the other people on the beach. Children play together, conversations strike up, everyone is relaxed.

One of the best things about this seaside town is that it isn't just pretty, pretty. It has a small working harbour and all the accoutrements that go with it. So you find things like this...

and this..
and this.Now why should all that make me feel even more at home? And remind me that I ought to think about taking up knitting some time.