31 May 2009

holiday romance

So it's the end of the holiday, not all spent at home. We spent a couple of days on the estuarine beaches of the North Kent coast (on this particular day, Graveney Marshes o). I love the sound of these spaces, They're not silent, but gently quiet, the water and mud sissing softly and oystercatchers piping. The smell of the beach changes from place to place, seaweedy in place and in others sweet from the crop of crambe maritima.

There were scatterings of yellow horned poppies.

And here, and further along the coast, cloudlets of Painted Ladies, on the beach and in the tea gardens above it.

We stopped off on the way home and collected a bag of seaweed for the asparagus. I'm not sure how much good it really does. As we were planting the leeks late this afternoon with only a few people around, parakeets screeching above us, and a gentle breeze taking the edge off the still hot sun, the smell of the sea drifted across from the asparagus bed every now and again. Even if it doesn't really do that much for the asparagus, it at least makes me feel that all is well with the world.

holidays at home: the plot

I realise that I have not mentioned the plot much lately. This was down to my general pissed-offness with the inconsistency of various collective decisions made and some unnecessary unpleasantness related to over-loud radios - all too boring and irritating as only allotments can be. I'm over it, at least for the time being, and in fact everything is coming along very nicely, despite a late start due to my bad mood. For the record, and at the risk of tempting the allotment gods, it seems that we may have escaped the dreaded curling potato haulms; the culprit according to the RHS may well be the manure from the farm, either too fresh or laced with something unpleasant.

There's a healthy showing of sugar snap peas, the beans are in, and various tomatoes. The outdoor sown courgettes and pumpkins are showing. The beetroot are pathetically patchy (should I soak the seeds before sowing perhaps?), the garlic only mildly rusty, the birds have ignored the cabbages, and the cut and come again lettuce are not only doing well, but taste good too. With great restraint, we stopped cutting the asparagus a little while back as it's only in its second year. It's looking lovely and ferny and, so far, only a handful (literally, now squashed) have been seen.

I've given up on onions - too much space for too little reward last year. But the sputnicky allium christophii - ahh!!!! Out of this world.

holidays at home: spitalfields wool and sheep fair

Blimey! Last week's sheep and wool fair was fantastic. John knitted and I felted. We ate cake and watched spinning and shearing. I don't know how the starring Bo Peep lookalike kept her cool with her woolly wig (North Ronaldsay, I think she said) and bustle while she gave a hand with the fat sheep.

Here's one that was prepared earlier, bless.

I haven't been to the farm since my son was a lad, and it's much bigger and busier than I remember it. There's all sorts going on and lots of lovely sheep and goats and veg to see. Visit!

26 May 2009

holidays at home: whitechapel

I cannot tell you how glad I am to have escaped from work for a short holiday. It started last Friday with a visit to the Whitechapel Art Gallery for coffee with women from East End WI, a literally moving feast as the group meets at different cafes around the local boroughs. An important part of the ritual is testing the cakes - nine out of ten for the chocolate brownies, the highest score yet, and if you were to ask me, ten out of ten for the helpful staff, good company and location.

Revisiting the gallery after the incorporation of the Whitechapel Library building into the gallery proved to be curiously affecting. Here the private dining room - once the children's library; this smart restaurant - the space once used by the outreach team, preparing for visits to hospitals and the housebound. This spinning back into familiar spaces might explain why I felt so moved by the Guernica tapestry and installation and the idea that people were asked to leave a pair of boots for those fighting in the Spanish Civil War when they first came to see Guernica at the gallery in the 30s.

Walking home, in territory both familiar and changed, I stopped to admire an 18th century street sign and got into conversation with another woman, a painter, also taken with the history of the place. It is complete fallacy that people who live in London do not talk to each other.

I carried on past the Mosque, through the market, seduced by the cheap scarves and sequins. Some of the stalls had been covered up and left unattended while the stall-holders went off to Friday prayers - another myth busted. To the east of the Blind Beggar pub, the "waste" takes on a more rural appearance with plane trees lining the pavements, the Trinity Almshouses clustered around a green ( I wanted to live here when I was a child), restored Queen Anne houses rubbing shoulders with the old facade of the disappeared Wickham's department store on one side and PC World, Halfords and Currys on the other. A group of young girls asked me to takes photos of their birthday celebration with their mobiles. A young man wearing black gloves,very politely, asked me if I would like some company while I was walking. I, equally politely, declined.

By the time I reached Mile End, my shoes were rubbing and I climbed up "New Globe Tavern Gardens" mound, disregarded the detritus and listened to the birds. When I arrived home, a couple of presents from John - a Post Office poster and a jutey bag from the Women's Sewing Project, perfect for picnicking.

I call that a good start to a holiday.

23 May 2009


I would like to be able to say that I am easily pleased, but I doubt that it is true. There are, however, some things that do manage to perk me up. One of them is winning the quiz at the East End WI. We pulled off the hat trick this week with the bee quiz, me and the team that is. The occasion was our voting on the motion for the WI AGM on increasing government research into honey bee health. The prize - a load of booty from Chelsea Flower Show - a watering can rose (just what I needed), two copies of Amateur Gardening, a packet of oriental mix salad, a bird feeder (passed on to someone without three murderous cats). Who would have thought that this little stash could give such pleasure?

More bee stuff to come, no doubt.

not domestic rocket science

If you have been thinking about the cockleshell vestry at St James, Cooling,

and then come across wild rocket on a walk across the marshes at Cliffe,

maybe it's not so surprising that this is what you have for your tea when you get home.

15 May 2009


My purple beans are up. The worm compost seems to have worked well. Less successful for the tomato seeds, though - around a hundred tomato plants came up and it has been impossible to distinguish those from the seeds I sowed and those growing from seeds in the compost. Mmm. Lesson learned.

Down at the plot, the purple Aran potatoes are earthed up and everything has that pre- growth- spurt neatness. Even the purple alliums.

Could this be why my new shoes are purple?

13 May 2009

isle of grain

You know you are on the right road for the Isle of Grain when you see the signposts saying "industrial area" and "power stations". You keep on going across the flats, through Grain, and take the footpath at the end of the village across rough fields against the backdrop of the power station. Turn north and you can walk along the side of the estuary towards Yantlet Creek, catching the container ships on their way to the docks on the Isle of Sheppey to the east.

It is pretty austere. Dry grasses grow through the cracks in the concrete. The railings are rusty. A few fishermen stand stoically around. We got talking to an elderly couple sitting on a wall and they told us of a man they met who had come over from the other side of the estuary because he used to look across and wonder what it was like. They liked it here.

As you reach the end of the esplanade, beyond Cockleshell Beach, curiously shaped blocks stand on the foreshore to stop the sea and other invaders coming in and eroding the fragile low lying cliffs. It's like a man made Giant's Causeway of sorts.

On the cliffs and the scoured land behind them the vegetation has the appearance of holding on for dear life - a wind battered apple tree on the cliff edge, a single holly tree in the middle of a giant sandy moonscaped pit and seedy coltsfoot.

Then at the end, more standing stones, mimicking ancient druidic relics, covered in lichen and curving brambles, mirroring the barbed wire fences to keep people out of the firing range.

Other wordly, less than an hour from home.

12 May 2009

low leaden line

Call me fickle, but I have fallen in love with a little bit of the Thames Estuary in North Kent. It started with a flirtatious visit to the Isle of Grain a few weeks ago. Then this weekend we walked along the sea wall to the west of Yantlet Creek and the London Stone which used to mark the easterly boundary of the City's rights to the river. It is not conventionally beautiful, but it captivated me. We found a tiny bit of beach of broken white cockleshells spotted with sea beet and ate our picnic leaning against a convenient concrete post looking across to Canvey Island and Southend. A few people walked or cycled by, but other than that we might have been on a desert island.

Along the sea wall we found possibly the most mundane commemorative stone ever - erected by some worthy councillor to mark completion of the sea wall.

Crossing the wall from river to land and the enclosed waterways was like entering another country. Skylarks were rising and singing, herons heading off, families of coots fussing around and then the loudest froggy sounds I have ever heard, croaky calls and joke "plops" as they dived into the water. It was really hard to see these marsh frogs at first, but if you concentrated on the sounds, you could find froggy eyeballs peeping out of the water, or couples basking on soggy planks.

Further west we found St James Church at Cooling sitting above the marshes believed to be the location described in the opening chapter of Great Expectations. These are the graves of babies, probably killed by the ague, children from a couple of local families wealthy enough to mark them.

And remembered here:

"To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine - who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle - I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers- pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip."


PS We picked some sea beet and had it for tea. Delicious. In moderation.


09 May 2009


Iam very fond of opium poppies. I may have to go back and beg or steal the seeds from these, seen a couple of weeks ago outside a mansion block in Bethnal Green. I wouldn't even mind if it wasn't sunny if I had these in my garden.
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05 May 2009

stately homes

I promised more towers a few weeks ago. It started with this view across the lake in Victoria Park which somehow mimicked a stately home in the distance across landscaped gardens. If you look more closely you can see that it is actually a residential tower block - the Cranbrook Estate. A little closer again and you'll find low rise buildings and secure housing, built around the lovely lines of the Frink Blind Beggar.

Walking back home from the park, you pass Lake View, another Lubetkin building, looking across the lake and park.

I've walked past these buildings for years and pretty much ignored them. It's as if I was too close to see them. Recently I've viewed them in a different light and recognised the scale of their no-nonsense ambition. I got talking to a chap in a cafe, as you do, and it turned out he had had an exhibition of his paintings in one of the flats in Balfron Tower, Erno Goldfinger's test bed high rise for the more famous Trellick Tower. I'd noticed it in the local paper and meant to visit on the way back from the allotment but daydreamed past. So I missed Peter Wylie's paintings of the building, a glimpse inside the flat and the Balfron Tower biscuits he'd made for the occasion.

Align Centre

I can live with that because I now have this.
It's the Clothkits Trellick facade skirt in - wait for it - Municipal Green and Eau de Nil, The fabric has a lovely sateen finish and it has enough weight to make it hang nicely. I like to think of it as my Balfron skirt even though the windows facade is not quite the same. But love is a little blind, is it not?

With thanks to Kate for putting me on to this some while ago and inspiring me to get out the sewing machine again.

04 May 2009

river bank holiday

As we were walking across the Millennium Bridge from the north to the south I noticed a set of steps I'd never seen before leading down to the shore. The tide was out and the sun was shining so even though we weren't quite dressed for beach scoggling, the temptation was too much. As usual, it was the stones that caught my eye, beautiful granite slabs, serving some unknown redundant purpose perhaps.

John was wondering whether you need a licence to collect the small slabs of york stone washed up on the shore. We only need a few more bits for our allotment paths and there was plenty there just the right size. Too big for our pockets and I only had a small handbag, so we had to make do with arranging our finds on them instead.

Lovely old oyster shells, beautiful blue and white, ochre and brown glazed pottery, flints and cockleshells, rib bones and worn white pipe stems.

And a tiny sea beet - I think that is what it is -at least 15 feet below the high water mark. I think you can eat this stuff, though it would be a pity to harvest something clinging on so tenaciously.

I had to do some clinging on myself when I got a little too near the edge of the water. I'd filled my pockets with bits of crockery and had thoughts of literary ladies drowning...

We made it across to the Tate in the end, over the bridge that is, to see this and I came home thinking of odd shapes and new skirt fabrics covered in chains and cranes and tractors.