25 August 2009


My laptop is giving up on me. Weird things keep happening. I'll be back as soon as it is fixed.

21 August 2009


I've had a wee holiday, just a few days messing about enjoying the quiet of London in the middle of August. It has been lovely.

I popped round to my mum's one afternoon to collect some fabric for making Morsbags at our East End WI meeting this week. Entering her back bedroom was a bit like time travelling. First we came across some old jewellery, mostly those cheap sixties fake pearls. I guess I'm just a cheap sixties kind of girl, and very pleased that those days of playing surreptitiously with these treasures when I was a child were now legitimised with maternal sanction to take it home with me.

We carried on through the chest of drawers. Here, some dotted sand-coloured cotton - "Aunt Mary B gave me that. She probably didn't like it. She never gave me anything much in case I made something nice with it." Aunt Mary B, by the way, ran away to New Zealand in 1970, which means that this particular fabric has been in my mum's stash for nearly 40 years. )

Over here, at least 8 yards of a grosgrain type fabric, a lovely black- on- white mazy, meandering design - "Aunt Lily gave me that. She got it from work. They didn't want it. It would make a nice shift frock." Aunt Lily is coming up for 88 0r 89 and probably retired at least 25 years ago. What's more "they didn't want it" may well be a euphemism for helping herself to it.

We carried on. Leftovers from curtain making ( "Miss Cahill wouldn't let anyone else make those curtains but me"). Yards of lace ("I took this off that milk maid Laura Ashley frock you had, do you remember?" Yes I do, I ditched it more than 30 years ago.) A pretty red cotton print ( "This was for a dress for Sally when she was little" She is now 26.) A remnant of material with white umbrellas printed on black ( "This would make a little skirt for E. She could wear it with a white top. Take it home and do something with it.").

And so we went on, my mum claiming that there was a time when she could remember where every last bit of material came from. She talked about the way she had sat with her tailoress grandmother doing exactly what we were doing, how she had known that she wanted to be a dress maker. She talked about the frocks she had made for me, and the things she had planned to make but never got round to making.

I was handed a pile of material and instructed to put the rest back carefully. But I realised she was beginning to feel older and more vulnerable, and that maybe I should value a little more what she was passing on.

13 August 2009


Out in the middle of Regent's Park there is a new art gallery, up in the trees. The Treehouse Gallery has been made out of donated and found wood, and sits up in the trees held up by cables with more temporary buildings down below. In this one there are bookshelves within and the young woman who conceived this idea sits binding bark to the book spines, creating an inside out tree.

Down below, and in another treehouse, people are binding willow and making more geodesic structures. An older man was working hard making a larger dome to act as a roof on one of the structures. We talked about living in the open and how the best homes are womblike. He had reached this conclusion when he spent time investigating tepees in America. He now lives in a handmade home, like these, in South London, hidden from officialdom and prying eyes as far as I could make out. I'm glad there's space for him.

You can visit and play at the Treehouse Gallery until 5th September.

emily's rhubarb

Emily has a surfeit of rhubarb and gave us a coshel when we were at the allotment the other day. She has had a plot since 2006 and decided that as soon as she could she would not buy any more vegetables, just use what she grew. She has been self sufficient since last year. She is also a whizz at knowing how to preserve her veg to see her through the winter. Now I have a bit of an aversion to freezers but Emily's enthusiasm and my loathing of waste has persuaded me to give it a try. So we sat chopping and sugaring last night for the freezer. I've also made rhubarb and apple crumble, with spoonfuls stolen at dawn when I was too hot to sleep. And a rhubarb upside down cake is planned too.

We will still have enough left for jam. We both have fond memories of a fig and rhubarb jam my friend Pauline used to store under her bed for the winter called "Glencar". There are plenty of recipes online for fig and rhubarb but the Glencar remains elusive. I could take Nell's advice instead - "The best idea when there is a surplus of rhubarb is to combine it with something a shade more recherche". Her italics. She suggests angelica or blackcurrants or orange.

Rhubarb recherche jam?

10 August 2009


This is my new favourite place for lunch. The tree sits above a part of the park called the Sheep Trough and you can just about park yourself in the cleat at the base and support for your back and get some shelter from the sun or the wind. The odd dog walker or cross country park hound goes by. Meanwhile I eat my lunch and read.

Today it was the William Boyd Park Story, set in Green Park. If you have not read the story and don't want it spoiled, stop here.

The story includes a new nomenclature for breezes and winds to replace the unromantic Beaufort Scale. I couldn't make my mind up as to whether this was a Valentin (leaves rustle) or a Modeste (branches shift).

By three o'clock it was definitely the latter.

05 August 2009

what makes you happy?

When I walked through Trafalgar Square the other day, a woman on the Plinth was holding up a card that said "What Makes You Happy?" It was a bit of a zen moment, because it was just the right question to ask in relation to a forthcoming challenge that I will write about soon. More immediately, the question had some resonance because there were some little things that were pleasing me. Like the fact that there is a post box in the middle of Hyde Park. And that I specifically wanted to make sure that the Park Story writers were sent their prizes from that very box (to consolidate the provenance, of course).

Using the post box was right up there with discovering that in Richmond Park they have two shire horses who work for a living rolling bracken and the like because they can reach places more easily than tractors; and in Regent's Park there is a man whose job it is to breed wildfowl for all of the Royal Parks, and he has been doing this for years. Knowing all this makes me very happy indeed.

More selfishly, my happiness quotient has been boosted by raiding one of John's school gardens for overblown flowers...

... eating a lovely supper of our own beans, beetroot and potatoes...

...and finding a reference to U.A Fanthorpe's poem Men on Allotments on the letters page of Allotment and Leisure Gardener - "round flushed globes", "the stout red stems of beetroot", "the unruly loveliness of beans".