29 July 2008
First I dropped my bag as I was getting off of the train (OK, I was reading the paper at the time and I should have known better). My Oyster card, keys, diary spilled out all over the floor. Then as I walked towards the station exit, the local community police were blocking our paths as they stood over a young man while he opened up his suitcase exposing all his dirty washing. (Is it absolutely necessary to demonise and harass young men every day? No wonder those boys are angry.) As I came out of the station, I crossed the road muttering to myself like a mad woman, defiantly ignoring the traffic, only to be bibbed by one of the cars at the crossing. Aaaargh!
Let's re-run that. I got off the train in time because two kind young people helped me pick everything up so I didn't miss the stop. And that bibbing car? He drove round the block and caught me on the corner - it was an old friend who I haven't seen for a few years, a really lovely surprise. I arrived home calmer. My supper was waiting , chilled borscht, homegrown and homemade.
I could probably find a few more beautiful things if I tried harder, but three will do nicely for now.
28 July 2008
Maybe they know something we don't. Maybe they take their revenge when nobody is looking. Down at the waterhole.
Picture of lion added the following morning. Well fed or not?
27 July 2008
Yesterday, I played truant from my scholarly pursuits. I was going to go into the office to work on the dissertation but we were forbidden entry because of some building work. Happy fate. The day dawned cloudless, so I bunked off of my Pilates class and loaded up the car with seaside paraphernalia and headed off for the
The day just got better and better. We bought gooseberries, strawberries and blackcurrants on the way, though no cherries (our favourite orchard was closed). There were new born foals in the fields and lazy sheep grazing on the marshes. When we arrived at the coast, the tide was out so we had time for a cup of tea and slice of cake on the slopes overlooking the sea. And as it was the last day of the Oyster Festival, there was all sorts going on. Giants walking down
Lots of locally made and grown goodness to be had at the harbourside stalls – food, cider, plants. At the little local museum, we visited Drawing with Scissors a travelling exhibition of Matisse lithographs, late works from the 50s. The spiel says that he was advised by his doctor to wear dark glasses for the work as the colours he used were so strong – like being at the seaside.
We had time to buy some bargain books for the beach – Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook (important for courgette recipes), the Cloudspotter’s Guide (we’ll be experts in no time), a Life of Thomas Bewick (beautiful woodcuts), Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons (never read) . And this in a charity shop.
I'm sure you will remember similar books from your schooldays. In fact, I’m not sure that we did not have this at my school. Skimming through the verses, they all seemed so familiar, not exactly great art, but deeply evocative. They obviously made a deep impression on me because so much of the subject matter appears in this blog – daffodils, marigolds, the west wind, lobsters, berries, dabbling in the dew. And of course the sea. The book opened on John Masefield’s Sea Fever which I can clearly remember learning at school. I took all this as a sgn that I should be there, by the sea, not working.
By the time the tide came in, the sea was flat calm and surprisingly translucent. Perfect for paddling (John) with little silver fish glinting and young crabs nipping.
Perfect for eating sandwiches on the pebbles. Perfect for swimming and doing an impersonation of a Matisse cut out on the beach (please imagine). Perfect for drying off with swallows and amazons. And sewn up with a few bottles of the local beer when we arrived home, to help seal our memories of a perfect day.
24 July 2008
Don't fret. I am going to spare you too many gory details. We are onto the second storey of the wormery now. The first layer already looks like compost, though there are still a few worms working away in there. The second layer is also beginning to become more crumbly and compost like. Here are the gerberas from last week with the remains of torn egg boxes which I put in regularly to soak up excess moisture. I was a bit worried when I read the other day that there might be harmful chemicals on commercially grown flowers, but the worms seem to have survived. I've given them some worm treat - yes, it exists - as a placatory gesture. Bless.
The bad news about keeping worms is the way fruit flies are attracted to the bin. Not very nice, especially when they decide to invade the kitchen. I've found a somewhat unorthodox solution to that - I've been hoovering them up from the kitchen ceiling. Not very Zen, is it, but I really could not come up with any other ideas - invite an army of spiders to take up residence and build silky webs across the door? I don't think so.
22 July 2008
It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as y’all know. So yesterday when I came home, I was very grateful for the north- east-wind-blown-down flowers that arrived from John’s Cable Street garden – cloth of gold and globe thistle- (such lusciously expectant names). The inspectors came round recently to examine his garden for the Tower Hamlets in Bloom competition, and as often happens at this time of year the eddying summer winds had wreaked havoc in the garden. My gain, and hoorah to that.
Indulge me a little and let me elaborate on the theme of windfalls. The loveliness of windfalls is that they are unexpected, not quite surprises, but more the expected unexpected. In other words, there is an expectation, but you are not quite sure how it will pan out. And the more open you are to finding pleasure in the everyday, the greater the potential. Well, it was my birthday today. We don’t do extravagant in this house, but we do thrift well, very well, perhaps too well sometimes. My beautifully wrapped present (using my ribbon) from my son was this…
… a packet of pastel sticks he found lying in the road on the way home one day this week. Full of promise, nevertheless.
Excuse me if this is sentimental, but I’m pretty overwhelmed with the wonderfulness of such windfall pleasures and, (indulge me a little more), as Elgar said about the inspiration for his first symphony,a "massive' hope in the future". Today at least.
20 July 2008
Just in case that's a bit much for you, I'll leave you with these hollyhocks. I've been going past them for weeks on my way home from my mum's. There are three houses in a row with these growing in the front gardens in a terrace on Commercial Road, one of the the busiest main roads into London from the east. They've been blown around by the winds we've been having and are a little the worst for wear, but I love the way they encapsulate that deep seated desire for a country garden and fly in the face of what you might expect to see in the east end.
15 July 2008
There's something about this time of year that takes me back to the time my son was a tiny baby. He was born just before midsummer when the nights were as short as my chance to sleep. I was unfamilar then with rising at dawn, woken up by his crying, pulling him into bed for an early morning feed, seeming as if we were the only two people awake in the world. I can still smell his woolly little head, feel the fuzz of his crop of golden hair, the softness of his skin and his guzzling.
I can't quite believe how quickly time has passed. How he grew so fast and so tall. And how I still listen out for him in those long hours before the sun comes up.
14 July 2008
A few yards away is this "cottage orne" with a rather esteemed history. Just think how lovely it would be to have a nice little sinecure as the Governor of Duck Island or Mistress of the Dutch Hoe, whatever. A hop, skip and a jump to work and home again to play farms and country life, with the Queen and Prime Minister down the road if you need to borrow some sugar or milk.
I woke up and went back to work.
13 July 2008
...and this......and this, as people made their way to the Dog Show. These ladies loved showing off their pets but I was less confident about asking other owners to pose - there were some big old boys around that looked like they would just as soon eat you as smile for the camera. The dogs weren't quite as scary.
This poor old boy, panting for breath from years of misguided breeding, managed a grin.
And the ladies of the WI gritted their teeth, overcame their nerves and served tea and cakes with great grace and, dare we say, doggedness.
Village life London style. More another day.
12 July 2008
Allotments are awash with dahlias this time of year. When I first found out that dahlias were the national flower of Mexico, I was a little surprised because they seem so quintessentially English though now I think of it, maybe they are more about what we would like to be like -more colourful, unrestrained, a little blowsy. These particularly fabulous ones grow on a plot a few yards down from mine.
And this beauty too.
My dahlias are not ready yet and even when they do flower they are unlikely to match the colour of these. I had to sate my appetite by buying flowers instead.
If I was really brave, I'd be wearing these in my hair, Frida style, but something tells me that I might not get away with it at my age, so I had to make do with my new orange patent pumps and a favourite skirt, a few years old now but destined to last forever, at least in my heart. I'm not the only one to feel like this about my clothes. I re-discovered Justine Picardie's "My Mother's Wedding Dress" this evening, an unexpectedly delicious book that describes the memories created by clothes. As she says, "life is not a bowl of cherries, but there is sometimes pleasure to be had in cherry red shoes".
And shoes the colour of tangerines.
PS We'll examine shocking pink another day...
08 July 2008
It's quite an East London thing, fish. Pickled herrings, smoked haddock, shellfish. There's that famous quote from Sam Weller in Dickens Pickwick Papers about oysters and poverty going together. I've seen the evidence - when some local houses were demolished a few years ago we were amazed to see layers of old oyster shells excavated where the family must have just thrown the empty shells into the yard. We even have a Fish Island nearby where the streets are named after freshwater fish - dace, roach and the like.
Then of course, there are eels, jellied or otherwise. John brought this beautiful looking Book of Eels home the other day, attracted by the cover and the promise of things watery.
It reminded me of our pet eel. When Young John was little he persuaded the Downey Brothers, our fish men, to give him a live eel to bring home. It was quite a big one. It lived in a barrel in the garden then after about a week suddenly disappeared. We think it made its escape down the nearest drain. I like to think of it making its way back to the Sargasso Sea via Bazalgette's sewers and the River Thames.
They are always making mischief those Downeys. They sold me some live lobsters a few weeks ago. John refused to cook them. He reminded me of the story of a family we know who bought live lobsters to cook for a special meal and ended up driving to the seaside to set them free - at estuarine Southend - on Christmas Day.
I'll leave you to guess what I did with mine.
07 July 2008
Now I know that sunflowers are considered by some to be a little unsubtle and in your face. Indeed they are, and that is what I love about them. They shout at you and demand attention. I had to buy some to see me through this unseasonal weather - English sunflowers from the flatlands of Lincolnshire, slightly wobbly, imperfect, different shapes and sizes. I'll think of the fields of them this week, bending in the wind, waiting until they can turn towards the sun when it finally comes out again. Which it will. Soon. And we'll all be able to tournesol.
06 July 2008
It was cold and windy down on the river and by Sunday the weather was even more dismal. Time to break the truce with the domestic clothes moths and set about vacuuming under the beds (normally unheard of) and inside the wardrobe. The impetus for this burst of energy was sparked I suspect by something young John said. I foolishly asked him one day what he thought I collected. "Only dust" he said. Too, too harsh.
Now I try really hard not to be a collector. For a start, there is all that extra dust; London makes enough dust of its own without any extra help from me. Plus the house is too small. I have to try hard to keep my magpie instincts under control though. I have a larger than necessary shoe collection, of course (and I'm very grateful to other women for assuaging my guilt on this point). And more cardigans than a heroine from a Barbara Pym novel can do justice to. There are also too many books around, but my nostalgic affection for the library service and forays into reading and swapping means that addiction is at least managed.
All of these pale into insignificance against the collecting habit that I have struggled most to control - my affair with fabric, sown in a childhood spent visiting haberdashers, cloth merchants and market stalls with my mum. My cupboard is less full than it used to be, though there are a few bits and pieces hidden away. While I was vacuuming the cupboards (honestly) I unearthed this little collection of Liberty silks which I have had for more years than I care to remember.
I get these out everynow and then, smooth them, admire them. I started to make this patchwork which has been waiting for years to be finished. But I find it so difficult to cut into that beautiful silk and I'm not sure whether it will ever be finished.
I even find it hard to cut some of the things that I have grown . My greed normally gets the better of me, that and the fact that it will go to seed if it is not eaten. I had a few leaves of this delicious peppery rocket I've been growing in the garden for lunch.
These Charlotte potatoes, dug up on the plot this afternoon in a lull in the wind and showers, didn't pose any challenge. We had no trouble eating them for tea with some mange touts. which were also ready to pick.
And no trouble eating these meringues.
Back to the everyday tomorrow.
04 July 2008
I've had my eye on this house for a little while because the shutters are painted the same colour as mine. Shallow I know, But now I've looked a bit closer, I think that Ben Franklin might be my kind of hero. He invented bifocals for a start and although I'm not there yet, I'm sure I'll come to it one day. He is believed to have developed the Franklin Stove, driven by his "desire to attain a greater degree of domestic comfort". A sentiment after my own heart. And he refused to patent his inventions believing that they should be there for others to benefit. Such spirit.
So I carried on homewards and visited my aunt on the way. She came out of hospital a few weeks ago and, despite having been very poorly, she insisted on going back to her own house rather than staying with one of her girls. It' such a treat to have a few hours of her to myself. She has always been patient, loving and kind, the perfect auntie. We had a long gossip. My final sighting was of her waving to me as she whizzed away upwards on her stair lift.
As I was walking down my street there was a large, loud, young man on his mobile. I could not help overhearing the conversation. And to challenge notions about brash young men, he was speaking about his granny really affectionately and saying how hard it was to help her with her decorating, how independent she was.
So here's to liberty, dignity, independence, domestic comfort, inventions for the greater good. For everyone. Everywhere.
03 July 2008
The moment has passed, and I have not had the time to take any pictures today. In fact it's already tomorrow. But let's take a trip around the house anyway.
This mirror is in the passage way and it's one of my favourites. I bought it from a neighbour who is moving to Hawaii and is disposing of goods and chattels. I paid for it with a twenty pound note which John's mum gave me for my birthday last year, shortly before she died. Even though she was in hospital and very poorly, she remembered my birthday, and I was able to report back to her how I had invested my money. Apparently it came from a flea market in France somewhere - Paris perhaps. It's a bit bashed about, with some of the frame missing, but that, and the fact that it has a layered history, adds to its charm.
Peep around the open door and you'll see this on the wall behind. I like these bull's eye mirrors that reflect a whole room in a small space. There's one in the Arnolfini Portrait in the National Gallery which has always caught my eye. I rather like the austerity of this one; and the view around the room.
Come upstairs into the bathroom. This little mirror is tucked away in a corner. If you push your finger against the glass, you notice how thin the glass is, which means that it is old and possibly has mercury in the silvering. The reflected light is rather grey, not very flattering, but I suppose the wear and tear hides defects. Maybe we should use it more often.
You get two for the price on one here. Normally I would only look into this small mirror to brush my teeth and scrub my face at night. I'm surprised I'd never noticed that you could see the second mirror if you stood at an angle, the soldiers on the top put there by young John (he likes playing this game on me, to test whether I notice), beyond that the shells on top of the corner cupboard. All covered in dust.
Back downstairs into the room with my writing table. Another mirror, probably the prettiest.
Or is it these? Those balls should really be hanging in the windows to scare off witches.
Maybe you can see one. Or is it?