26 February 2009

matters of the heart::2

Around about the same time as I realised that the dust on the kitchen windows was stopping the sun from getting through, I mustered the energy to take my turn at clearing out the junk in the cellar. Young John had already sorted out some of his old toys - I had taken them back down again for the my cousin's children to play with when they came to visit. Baskets, flower pots and bowls and more jars, for hyacinths, a tin bath, no less than five mop buckets, ancient tools, an artist's easel, two sewing machines (one electric, one hand), a tin trunk half full of cotton fabric, crates of books and lego and railway track. And that's only the half of it.

The fact that we have cellar space is part of the problem. It's too easy to keep things because they might come in useful, or because you want to hand them on to someone else when the time is right. It's a bit more complicated than that, though. When I unearthed a bag of baby clothes originally destined for a jumble sale, I came across this little wool cardigan, the cuffs slightly moth eaten and frayed, but the body still sound. It made my heart ache a little. When my aunt made this for my boy, she would have been in her seventies (she died a couple of years ago). Thinking about her holding the wool and working away at it, a little act of love, folding it up in an old tea towel to keep it clean, well...how could I throw it away?

It can't go on though. I used to be able to live in the tiniest space with very few possessions and now I find it harder and harder to let go of stuff. Our little house is full to bursting point. The moths think it is a maternity home.

Time to adopt a wooden heart.

23 February 2009

matters of the heart::1

I've been under the weather, a post viral thing, that made me achy and grumpy. I'm over it now.

I'm not over wanting to live in Ivy Cottage though. Nicholas Nickleby's family lived in a cottage in Bow so I see no reason why I can't recreate the fiction. I was reminded about it when this heart shaped ivy found its way onto our kitchen mantelpiece on Valentine's Day. ( Ivy, Ivy, Ivy-will-cling.) I've been trying to persuade John for years to paint Ivy Cottage on the window over our front door, intertwined with ivy tendrils.

Yes, I know it's daft and people would laugh. But no more daft than this old thing...

I shall just have to sit on a cushion and sew a silk seam, like Curlylocks, while the other cottager carries on playing with watering cans.

12 February 2009

mitten cat

I thought I should commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, so let me introduce you to our Polly aka the Pollypod, an evolution case study.

Look closely and you will see that Polly is a polydactyl or a "mitten cat". It's all due to a gene mutation. Most polydactyls make good use of their extra dexterity and I've seen Polly very gingerly extract food from places that other cats can't reach. (Alas, I have not seen her knit.) She should really be top cat, but she isn't. She is shy and nervous, probably from being treated cruelly before she was rescued by Celia Haddon.

Poor Pollypod. At least she has her mittens and the other two have lost theirs.
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11 February 2009

mad men

Can any writing compare with the minutes of an allotment society? "Structures that cause unfair shading of adjacent plots". "Allotment meeting room status". Rousing success of seed day.

But what's this? "John advised that he may be able to get some beehives." First I've heard about that...
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10 February 2009

pay back time

It seems like months ago, that snow, and now it's payback time. These are the aloes (arborensis?) in our back garden. The aeonium is even sadder. And the yucca recurvifolia is leaning over perilously after the weight of the snow changed its centre of gravity just a little too much. John has also had to salvage broken plant parts at one of his school gardens..

The week the London Heat Puddle froze over. Ah well. it was fun while it lasted.
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06 February 2009

library place

Just down the road from my mum's street is Library Place. When I was in the sixth form, I used to work in the library that was here - St George's Library - two nights a week after school. It was a much prized job, handed down like a sinecure, from one sixth former to another. Respectable girls only, of course. I passed it on to my cousin when I moved on.

The library was not a place of beauty. In fact, it was a pre-fabricated building, put up to replace the library that had been housed in the local Town Hall, bombed during the war. One half of the pre-fab housed a baby clinic, the other half the library. When it rained, it was like being in the tropics with the rain pounding on the flimsy roof. I know this because I used to work there for three hours on Thursday and Friday evenings, a doddle of a job because Fridays were dead quiet and once I'd shelved the returned books that had accumulated during the day, there was not really very much to do. For the most part, it would be me and the relief librarian from the area library, an amateur photographer, talking about books. There would be a few customers - a serious boy who read his way through all the quality children's books, the two girls from the Italian grocers who were obsessed with Dorothy Dunnetts, a rather attractive young man working his way through improving political texts (I distinctly remember Karl Marx's Capital), middle aged women reading Georgette Heyer and middle aged bachelors reading adventure stories, H Rider Haggards and the like.

It was a wonderful job. Covering books, folding and pasting pages into the front of books for stamping the return dates, counting the issue, stamping the books with the insignia of ownership according to strict protocols. Look here - proper paste, proper ink pads, wooden boxes for library cards. And demure handmaiden to carry out said tasks.

During the school holidays I got to work at Whitechapel Library, visiting hospitals and the housebound, sorting out the Hansards in the dusty basement among the relics of the old museum previously housed in the building, supervising the reference library. This task amounted to little more than making sure that those who had come to get warm and dry at least didn't make that too obvious. Since then I have been alert to librarian heroines - Philip Larkins' "A Girl in Winter"; Barbara Pym's " An Unsuitable Attachment". And alert too to the importance of public libraries, the importance of preserving local histories and collections, and to the opportunities they offered to people.

Now Whitechapel Library has been closed and will soon be part of the extended Whitechapel Art Gallery. Before it closed there were various events in the old Passmore Edwards building, including a recording of people talking about what the library meant to them, for me rather a moving piece.

And what of St George' library ? Disappeared. All that remains is the name of a short alley. To the right, the Britannia, no longer a pub (the landlord was a sweetheart). To the left, on the exposed wall of the bombed building, a mural of the Battle of Cable Street. And where the library was, an entrance to St George's Gardens and some evergreen trees. (You can just about see the beautiful, to me, St George's in the middle picture below.)

I went to my local idea store today to try to find a book. Idea stores were located to be close to places that people used, local markets, shops. Unfortunately, the large supermarket next to our Idea Stores closed a while ago and the building is depressingly unprepossessing. But it was buzzing with noise and activity, people sheltering from the cold (just like the old days), masses of of people using the Internet, people coming in to borrow DVDs. some people even borrowing books. Miles away, years away, from St George's library.

So while I may have sentimental memories of the library service, it is still doing what it needs to do, bringing people in, opening doors, if somewhat more noisily than in the past. And I found out today that there was no need to have made the trip to the library at all. I could have checked whether they had the book I was looking for over the internet from the comfort of the kitchen.

By the way, I met John in St George's. That might explain the sentimental attachment.

03 February 2009

looking ahead

I was not planning to post anything today - after all, what could match all that exuberant snowiness from yesterday. I'm still overwhelmed with how wonderful it was. Then I noticed that it is a year since I started up this blog. So I pulled out this rus in urban goddess, found in the local park a few weeks ago, keeping her eye on what's going on; like Janus, looking backwards and forwards, light and shade and so on. Generally poking her nose, I suppose.

Had I noticed sooner that there was reason for celebration, I would have opened the Tasmanian Champagne left over from Christmas instead of the bottle of Old Bob we've just had with our lentil soup.

Actually, the Old Bob was rather lovely (oh, those fuggles). And probably more in keeping with the kind of thing that goes on here.

Cheers all!

02 February 2009


It was. Magic, I mean. It was a bit of a pain getting into work, I suppose, but lots of people gave up so it was quite empty. And we were sent home at lunchtime. So I walked through Victoria Embankment Gardens in a snowstorm and peeped over the pedestrian bridge to look downriver to Westminster. Then back through the gardens eastwards (snowpeople galore) to Somerset House (tourist snowfamily) and Temple.

Back home, snowpeople on every corner, in front gardens, in parks. People talking to each other, reclaiming the roads, sharing snow photos and sending each other on quests for more exciting snowy works of art. Snow mice, snow bears, snow dogs, snow women, snow men. And an igloo.

It was bloomin' marvellous.

01 February 2009

brown and grey, silence and snow

I have been rather taken by brown and grey lately. I never really got Rothko but visiting the exhibition at Tate Modern a few weeks ago, I had a bit of an epiphany. It was a Friday evening. The gallery was packed with people. But sitting on one of their wooden benches, I managed to do that thing that accomplished commuters can pull off after years of practice - completely disengage from the hubbub around me. (This can be a troublesome thing - I have several times in the last few weeks gone past my stop on the tube as a result of complete disengagement.) And that was it, looking at his brown and gray paintings, I got that quality that Sara Maitland in her Book of Silence described as as silence made visible.

Being a shallow individual, I got something else too - how well brown and grey work together. I pulled out all my grey stuff and started matching it up with brown and managed to recreate a rustic-fifties- spinster look that was just about perfect for the time of year. I've been very pleased with my drabness.

I've spent today sitting by the fire, reading a Brunetti mystery (more brown), darning those moth damaged scarves and polishing my shoes, no radio, no noise, revelling in the peace and quiet.

And now I feel quite recovered from the nasty bug I've had this week which left me unable to stomach anything other than Heinz tomato soup and milky drinks. It's snowing outside. The garden has disappeared under an icy duvet. I've just taken a carrot and two pieces of coal to some boys making a snowman. Magic.

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