31 October 2008


I have found a new word, one which sums up perfectly my trip to Penzance. Gloose. The Cornish for grey-green.

I should come clean from the start. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Cornwall. It just feels so foreign to me - so far from home, the coast so harsh and rocky, unlike the gentler muddy, gritty flats I am used to on the east coast. Spend a winter in Cornwall and the dampness seeps into the bones and makes the joints ache. I speak from experience.

Somehow though something changed on this visit and I'm not quite sure how or why. Visiting at the end of October, I did not expect fine weather, so the interludes of sunshine between the hail and showers were an unexpected bonus. The views from our attic room of a cold grey sea on one side were tempered by mossy slates, ferny walls and a lush churchyard at the back, the trunks of the cordylines home to exquisite leafy lichens.

Mature agaves were growing by the great granite gravestone slabs, offsets establishing themselves in the gaps between.

The town was full of previously undiscovered surprises. Earlier visits to Penzance have been short, passing through to catch the Scillonian for holidays in St Agnes. I must have missed the beautiful granite paving stones, scored in herringbones and stripes, so beautifully worn it was as much as I could manage not to stop and stroke it.

Then there was the wedding, of course, the main reason for our visit.

The bride wore white. But the groom kindly went with the glooseflow.

More tomorrow.

29 October 2008

late reds: in the street

This is the same tree that was covered in pink froth back in the spring.

And leavees in the gutter, ready to be swept. Taken Sunday - but will probably be gone by the time I'm home again.

28 October 2008

late reds: in the garden

Maybe these should be early reds really - hyacinths, ready in time for Christmas I hope and those house leeks, potted on.

27 October 2008

late reds: at home

It's way past hop picking time, but the idea of a Kentish hop ale has great appeal. These Shepherd Neame ales are hoppy and bitter and won't be around long, that's for sure. Just like autumn.

26 October 2008

out of the woods

We went down to the woods this weekend. Peace, mossy scents, wood smoke. Some satisfying construction work, laying down stock.

Not exactly back breaking, but stretching enough to create an appetite for a fry up and an evening listening to the "Farther Tales of Robinson Crusoe" on the radio.

A windy night, a rainy morning and back home to pack.

We're into the west tomorrow. I'll leave a few picture posts to fill the gap until I'm back.

24 October 2008

a trumpton moment

My fantasy about living a village life in London was tested yesterday when we went to the Town Hall for the "Tower Hamlets in Bloom "prize giving. For a start, our Town Hall is a modern high rise block at the far edge of the borough on the reclaimed East India Docks where all the roads are named, somewhat incongruously, after herbs and spices. Not quite the sort of building you would find in Trumpton, though the rest of the evening was rather more in keeping with a sort of village life.

What is the collective noun for gardeners? A barrow? A truss? An eccentricity? Whatever. We were gently guided into the planning chamber and formally welcomed by the Head of Public Realm, surely a job title straight out of a fairy tale. We sat patiently and applauded generously while the Mayor, a tiny man with a lovely smile who seemed too small for the heavy chain of office, presented the prizes for the various categories - "educational establishments", hanging baskets and balconies, community gardens, pubs, gardens hidden from view, allotments (a new category) and so on. Everyone who entered got a certificate of merit and a trophy - we like to be inclusive in LBTH - delighted older ladies,, sprightly gents, frailer looking folk who clearly adored their gardens and tubs and hanging baskets. .

After the ceremony, the Mayor thanked us most graciously and we were ushered off to a feast and slide show of the very best of the blooms that Tower Hamlets had to offer this year. I didn't detect any petty jealousies, just a great deal of pride and pleasure in the celebration of their efforts.

Most definitely an eccentricity.

22 October 2008

blue rinse, gold highlights

Have you ever been to Bexhill? It's the sort of south coast seaside town that people retire to for a quiet life and the sea air. In fact the air is so clear that lichens thrive - down on the beach and on the tops of houses. Golden sands, golden roofs, blue rinsed skies.

The 1930s De La Warr pavilion is the jewel in the tiara and you can take tea there looking out over the sea. While we watched from the terrace a wedding party drove up and piled out to have their photos taken against the backdrop of the sea and then disappeared just as quickly.

We visited to see the Ben Nicholson exhibition at the De La Warr. It's worth a trip if you are interested because it's the perfect space to see the work - early paintings done in the Lake District and Cornwall, some perfect, sparse little drawings, and then the scrubbed down reliefs. I rather liked his description of wanting to get his reliefs to have the something of the quality of his mother's kitchen table. Somehow the cleanness of the line and the textures fit in perfectly with sea front - the ochres of the lichens and the washed out blues of the sky and the beach.

There's something a little sad about Bexhill though. People prefer to shop at the retail park on the road to the next town. So if you go up the main street and round the block you'll find so many charity shops that you are spoilt for choice, stocked with discarded white summer Kangol hats. Only one greengrocers and a few empty gift shops. And this dusty little shop where ladies of a certain age can buy their wincyette nighties and long cotton vests for the winter.

There's a proper ironmongers too, where you can still buy hooks and nails and what not individually without having to buy a whole pack; and other sensible stuff like hormone rooting powder (John), moth killing chemicals (me), string and shovels and pudding basins.

I practised being an old lady...

...sitting on the beach thinking about when I might have more time to learn how to play bowls, make puddings and maybe go a little wild with a blue rinse and gold highlights.

20 October 2008


I've been eating figs for weeks now. I stop off at the fruit stall outside Embankment station and treat myself to three figs every morning and eat them when I get into work.

I like the little wrappings that the figs come in too. These have such a lovely combination of colours that it's a pity to just throw them straight into the recycling. After playing around with them for a while, I realised that I could recycle an old joke too.


19 October 2008

finished goods

We were going to take a trip to the apple festival down at Brogdale this weekend, home of the national apple collection. Not that we are planning to buy an apple tree, we don't have the room, but the sheer variety of apples is wonderful to behold. And cider, of course.

Sometimes, though, you have to recognise that you need to temper your ambitions for the weekend. So much to do and so little time to do it all. We did get out (I'll write about it soon)to the Essex countryside, a little closer to home, and found an alternative supply of apples at the side of the road, 50p a bag.

It was a wise move. Slowing down and pottering around in the kitchen felt like the right thing to be doing today. Bulbs to plant for the new year, bought from the flower market this morning. House leeks to pot on. Playing with the lovely rich compost that those worms have made for us.

And some finished goods to enjoy. Nothing taxing. Just a simple apple crumble...

...and some oat biscuits.

There's lots more - too much - to be getting on with, but at least we'll be well stocked up on some comfort food.

17 October 2008

a wooden plate

I went to the Origins craft fair at Somerset House yesterday evening. I had forgotten that I needed to find a weding present but I found the perfect gift. Well, I know I would think it was the perfect present if it was my wedding.

I am in love with this wooden plate. I was attracted not only by the colour, the density and the texture, but also because it reminded me of a day at the seaside when I took some pictures of shells on the strut of a groyne which had been burnt by a throwaway barbecue. Coincidentally, I watched the film Venus this week and saw Peter O'Toole sit down on the very same burnt -wood groyne.

The maker of the plate lives in Cornwall by the sea, another coincidence because the wedding is in Penzance. So there's a lovely symmetry about the whole thing.

As we were about to leave, we noticed a huge woven tent was being built and we were invited to write about our visit - what we bought, what we were looking forward to - on a ribbon and thread it into the glittery silky, wire structure.

This is my contribution. A wooden plate, a journey, a wedding, joy. I hope.

PS I know the weddingees will not read this so please keep it a secret

15 October 2008

gosh, darn it

The slaughter of many moths with rapid eye-to-hand attacks as they flew past, the powerful scent of of cedarwood oil in my wardrobes, the diligent attention to storing my woollen garments in sealed boxes under the bed, the banishment of the panda to the gulag of the freezer in the cellar, all of this I thought would offer some protection from the insidious destruction of the clothes moth.

How wrong I was. I retrieved a felted cardigan - a favourite because I feel like I'm wearing sheep's clothing - from under the bed and found it had been munched in the front. Holy moly, I was not happy. The repair was rapid with the only matching cotton in my mending basket.
I'm sorry now that I missed the darning days at Prick Your Finger last week because there is definitely room for improvement. The work of the darning artist, described by Felix here, looks much more beautiful.

The destruction here has been extensive. I put on a dusky pink number at the weekend and it was only when I was 60 miles from home that John pointed out to me the holes in one sleeve - FOUR HOLES! I have found holes in three other cardigans too. Those demons have wreaked havoc with no regard for propriety whatever. This sailor doll's hat and collar were made of wool and are no more. It's very sad.

So what with the rats, the fruit flies and the moths, I can't help wondering what plague I'm in for next. Nothing a shotgun could not cope with, I imagine. God help us.

14 October 2008

work life balance again

Remind me to tell you one day what I think about the old work life balance thing. Or take a look at the picture my son painted of me when he was about nine or ten (in the sidebar).

Should domestic divinity be at the top or the bottom. Or not there at all?

If only it was sorted.

12 October 2008

work in progress

There is something deeply satisfying about tidying up the allotment in autumn. More satisfying than doing the hoovering because, at least at this time of year, it tends to stay tidy for a while. Unlike the house.

I know that John gets a great deal of pleasure from seeing the plot dug over, neat and tidy. He was so keen to get cracking this week that he took twenty one bags of compost to the site on hand drawn trolley from the school where he works. Beautiful rich compost, too. Not perfect, because we have to pick out the kids' sweet wrappers that end up in the composted grass clippings, but much better than the poor soil we have inherited. He got an early start today to make the most of the warm weather, digging over the beds to remove the remaining bindweed, spreading the compost, covering up the beds to let the worms get to work.

We have a few things to look forward too over the next couple of months, a few salads in for the winter -red mustard, mizuna, rocket - some overwintering brassicas, chard, beetroot.

I'm not sure about these ginger pigs. I have a nasty feeling that they might be works in progress too.

10 October 2008

taking stock

The seed catalogues have started to arrive, so it's probably as good a time as any to ignore the collapsing economy, ignore the bank account, and take stock of what lived and died on the allotment. So I'm afraid this is going to be a bit of a catalogue for the record because by the time spring comes round again I will have fogotten what worked and what didn't and make the same mistakes all over again (note to self: do not forget to label things properly).

Let's set the scene. It was our first season, the plot had been neglected for years and the soil was depleted so it was never going to be the most prolific year. The weather was, well, wet, apart from a few weeks in May and one or two odd weekends. It was all a bit of a gamble, really.

The tomatoes started off well - Hidalgo, Marmande and cherry toms - but succumbed to blight at the end of August which let me off the hook from making green tomato chutney. The potatoes, Charlotte and Desiree, were good, and the beans and cucumbers, weaving through John-grown bamboo wigwams, were some of the best I have ever grown. Only two red peppers and no aubergines but that's not too hard to take given that it was hardly the best weather for them.

Our yellow and green courgettes, sunburst and white patty pans were prolific and carried on for months but we only managed a couple of Buttercup squash and my beloved Queensland Blues and Crown Prince didn't make it at all. After a slow start, the beetroot flourished. But the onions were pathetic and the leeks, so promising early on, withered and died - onion fly, perhaps? No beetle on the asparagus in their nursery year, so hopefully one or two spears to look forward to next year, especially once that seaweed gets to work.

And then there were the sunflowers - a long wait, but even a few were enough.

One of the advantages of having an allotment on a farm is the supply of manure but there is a downside though. We have no compost bins or root vegetables for a very specific reason -the rats. John told me that he was dozing in a deck chair the other day when one ran between his feet, stopped to consider what might be worth pillaging and scuttled away only when shouted at.

Bring on the spiders, worms, frogs and toads. But freakin' rats? String- round- the-trousers time.

09 October 2008

triumph of goodness

There have been celebrations at the local Hindu temple, a feast to mark the triumph of goodness over evil. As I've walked past on my way home from work, there have been women in beautiful saris, chatter, music, deliciously fragrant food. Uplifting.

Yesterday a friend at work brought in a ziggurat of brownies. It was magnificent, and so stunned was I that I forgot to take a photo until today when I got them back out of the filing cabinet, the ones that were left that is.

Thoughtfulness. Kind comments. Small triumphs of goodness.

(And that whiskey worked, thank you.)

08 October 2008


Two cases of wine were delivered to my house on Sunday while I was out. The address was right, but they were not for me. So I dutifully called the wine company and explained and they said they would pick them up.

When I got home on Monday, there was another, smaller, box of wine. Well, they can pick that one up too.

Yesterday, two more boxes of wine arrived.

We now have five boxes of wine in the hall. The company called to apologise and will pick them up tomorrow. And we can keep the small box for being such priority non-customers.

Wine harvest or what?

07 October 2008

cold comfort

There is really only one thing to do when you feel a cold coming on. Lemon, Honey, Whiskey. Bed.

05 October 2008


I must be coming round a bit because I decided to participate in the Musings Sorted Book Challenge. As you can see, I came up with rather a sad little story. Only one of these books is mine, the others belong to John, but he seems to have most of the prime book space in the house whereas most of mine are in boxes in the cellar. Colette's "Earthly Paradise" was in the pile rather than the one here, but my copy is so worn out now from frequent dippings in that the spine is illegible. Strange that I managed to find another book of the same title .

Raking in the cupboards is perfect rainy afternoon activity, restful and therapeutic. A few weeks ago when I was engaged in some procrastinatory play I did a bit of patchwork.

As I've said before, I try to curb my own collecting tendencies but that does not mean that I can't make use of others. These come from John's little collection of King Penguins. The covers are beautifully designed, capturing the essence of the contents. The illustrations are a bit more hit and miss depending on the subject matter.

One of the reasons I was raking in the cupboards was to find the"Life in an English Village" KP, illustrated by Edward Bawden and drawn from his home village, Great Bardfield in Essex. Published in 1949, the book has two types of illustrations - set pieces depicting collections of tea pots, baskets, corn dollies, and then coloured lithographs of people around the village - a housewife in her kitchen, the cobbler, a tailor sitting cross legged, the village pub, the baby clinic, Sunday evening, the vicar. I thought it would be interesting to repeat the exercise with a photographic essay to see how much, or how little, things had changed. (I might even get round to it one day.)

The examination then set me off to see what other Bawden works I had tucked away and I sorted some from my old cookery books. He decorated Ambrose Heath's "Good Food throughout the Year" - a noble book lauding the virtues of food in season, originally published in 1932 and revised in 1964. Bawden's illustration for October is lovely - apple picking, billowing clouds from bonfires, baskets and barrels of fruity deliciousness.

Unfortunately, the illustrations are more to my taste than some of the recipes - an excess of butter and creamy sauces. And I'm not all that taken with the idea of tripe casserole either. But let me leave you with what Mr Heath has to say about October: "The holiday season is over and at last we have more time for our culinary contemplations, and those who from pleasure or necessity cook for themselves will find the shorter evenings leading them to the stove rather than to the open window."

Indeed. As Mr Heath observes, the season of soups is upon us.


04 October 2008

oranges and lemons

I ate an orange today for the first time for ages. Actually it may have been a cousin to an orange once or twice removed, but you get my drift. We thought we'd better eat some for the Vitamin C. It had been cold all day, but the wind had started to turn from the north to the south west and brought rain. The kitchen was filled with washing drying. My brother took some fig logs home for a fire tonight.

For the first time, it felt like summer really was over.

01 October 2008

over the garden wall

You may have noticed my interest in plants which grow in cracks in brickwork, through fences, peep over garden walls.

There used to be honeysuckle growing over the wall of the garden at the end of my street but it disappeared a few years ago. The scent of that honeysuckle as I turned the corner in the evening became a marker of home and I missed it when it disappeared. Then a few mornings ago I realised that the unremarkable vine that had replaced the honeysuckle was in fact a passion flower and the last few days of September were warm enough for it to flower, in the garden, I imagine, and over the garden wall for everyone else to see.

It isn't just the flower that takes my fancy but the bricks too, darkened by years of grime, red and irony, the variation in colours a result of the rubbish put into the mix before firing. (Don't be over impressed, I didn't know that until I did a search). But my infatuation has been sufficiently long-lasting for me to recognise the psycho geography of bricks, Just think of their names - Staffordshire Blues, Cambridge Whites, London Stocks. Colour, place, texture, meaning.

I met someone the other day who had been collecting bricks for years and had managed to amass three hundred of them, left in his mother's shed and in a quandary about what to do now that the house was being sold.

Think of the fun you could have playing with those bricks. Stamps would take up less space, of course, but I can see the attraction. Or even the passion.