25 December 2010

christmas eve:: the stable

I found my donkeys.   I'd taken the precaution of wearing a donkey jacket just in case I needed to use that a substitute but it was only necessary to keep me warm rather than for the styling.  We tried one farm (closed) then crossed the treacherous icy paths of Mudchute Farm looking for their donkeys.  They very sensibly had decided to stay in the warm of the stable, so I had to squeeze the camera through a space to snap them.  I like the fact that they are in a stable, and the knowing, somewhat world weary looks they're wearing.

So here we are.  Time for bed.  And a Happy Christmas to all, Eeyores included.

24 December 2010

day 23:: light

This is a day late. The cat must have been sleeping on the internet connection again.  But I wanted to include it anyway as the turn of the light after the solstice is such a relief after the greyness of the last few days.  Yes, at last, the nights are drawing out.  Inside,  the white hyacinths mimic candles and bring enough extra light to see us through the darkest days.

I'm off to see if I can find that donkey.

22 December 2010

day 22::dance

Like lots of little girls I was enchanted by pictures and books about ballerinas and Rattling On's reminiscences today about Christmas presents reminded me of a music box I was given as a child which opened to reveal a little dancer dancing on a mirror.  I never got to go to the ballet until I was very much older, by which time my interests lay elsewhere.  So, taking refuge with a friend at the V&A today from even the idea of shopping, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the somewhat theatrical  Diaghilev/ Ballets Russes exhibition  - amazing costumes, paintings, sketches, artefacts, video, music.  And colour, so much colour, swathes of red but also those rich colours drawn from traditional Russian peasant costumes - pink, orange, yellow, cobalt blue, teal. Towards the end there was a shadow performance of  an extract from The Firebird that was so captivating it gave me goosebumps.

So very much more inspiring than queuing at a till.

21 December 2010

day 21:: ox

Just when you are beginning to wonder whether you might  have to make a trip to the farm to make sure there is an ox - or even a cow - in the Advent calendar, one turns up on the table of the pop-up cafe at the Royal Academy when you sit down for a coffee.  I guess it's a cow really, but we don't have that many oxen around in London.  The search is now on for an ass - could be a little easier to find.

20 December 2010

day 20:: carols

So yesterday we had our carols in the square, like last year, only with snow this time round and mulled wine to warm us before we started, which helped the singing no end and left us all jolly.  But today, after no more than an hour out shopping, I felt like my soul had been sucked out.  So, if you need a restorative and have not found them already, there are more carols here, courtesy of our Poet Laureate (and others).  Read them out loud, listen to Carol's bee carol.  Get enough of a buzz to raise the spirits again.

19 December 2010

day 19:: cat

My niece told me last week that she had a cat in her advent calendar and, as someone mentioned last year, it makes sense to have a cat in a nativity scene if only to keep the rats away.

More napping than ratting goes on here in the run up to the 25th.

18 December 2010

day 18:: christmas present

So here we are, the weekend before Christmas, time to put up the tree and the decorations.  John was despatched to cut greenery just as the snow started to settle, and then sent out again later for more.  We spent about 8 hours clearing the room, rearranging the furniture, polishing, swabbing and hoovering.  I had to have a cup of hot chocolate before the appointed hour to sustain myself.  By tea time, the snow was a few inches deep, the street was quiet, the recycled "tree" was re-positioned after its last appearance, the decorations hung, the lights switched on, and all was right with the world.

day 17:: christmas past

I spent yesterday morning at the Geffrye Museum.  It's become a bit of a tradition to go there to see their annual exhibition when the rooms are decorated for Christmas in the style of the period.  My favourite is the room from the mid 17th century with its oak walls and furniture,  decorations of green box and bay cuttings, and plaster sweetmeats on the table like the ones in that Beatrix Potter story where the mouse gets in a rage when she finds the delicious looking ham in the doll's house is fake (was it the Tale of Two bad Mice?).  It is all so restrained.  When I got home I thought it might be an idea to see what Samuel Pepys did for Christmas.  And what do I find? That he is feeling remorseful for having given his wife a black eye the Monday before, that's the day before he had it away on the quick with his friend's reluctant wife.  Charming, eh?

16 December 2010

day 16::camel

It strikes me that we could probably create an advent pub crawl, starting with The Camel in Globe Road, then the Crown in Grove Road, the Palm Tree in Mile End Park, and the Star of the East on East India Dock Road (probably only for the very hardy).  I'm sure there are lots more that could be named, if only I got out more.

15 December 2010

day 15::silent night

When the shutters are locked and everyone is out, except for a cat or two, it's good to turn off the radio,  sit by the fire, ignore everything that needs to be done and tune into a bit of silence for a few hours, notwithstanding the occasional helicopter, passer-by and gentle hum of the city, of course.  And the occasional tinkle of crocheted bells that for some reason you've decided must be tried out.

14 December 2010

day 14: mince pies

I always try to hold off the mince pies as long as possible so I don't die of a surfeit before Boxing Day.  I had my first one last Friday, a gift from a friend.  This evening I sampled many more (WI Mince Pie Bake Off).  Mine, which I forgot to snap, were entirely unexceptional, though they did not look so very different from this one, in particular the similar deployment of icing sugar to mask imperfections.

Looking through the rest of the photos from the evening, I was struck by these mince pies of a rather different kind.   Ever so slightly alarming

13 December 2010

day 13:: the sound of music

Not the Von Trapps, but a little band of musicians practicing in Mile End Park under the trees.  I was cycling home from the market on the other side of the railway when I heard music and could not figure out where it was coming from.  I followed the sound, under the railway bridge and into another entrance when I spotted them.  As I was taking a snap, a young woman, reminiscent of the White Rabbit, rushed by with a box towards the band.  What was in the box?  And who were the mystery band?

Later that day, having a cup of coffee outside a cafe in Blackheath,  I heard the unmistakable sound of  a Salvation Army Band playing carols, a sound which for some unfathomable reason always makes me a bit weepy.  Christmas can do that to you, I find.

12 December 2010

day 12:: yule log

Another tree, a cherry, was being decimated, this one in the garden of a house at the end of the street.  I asked the men if I could have some logs and they gave me the whole tree trunk, sawn into manageable chunks, pleased to get it off their hands.  John spent some time chopping them up this afternoon like a mad axe man, while I sat by the fire listening to the thwacking.  Now we have a great pile of logs seasoning in the cellar.  Most satisfying.

day 11:: trees

East end WI was invited this year to join in a Christmas Tree Festival and after a few exchanges on the merits or otherwise of a tree made of a sack - otherwise was the answer - we opted for a somewhat simpler solution.  There was some tree pruning going on in our street and I asked the men whether I could have their lopped branches.  I managed to salvage enough to assemble a tree of sorts after my son's enthusiastic chain sawing of the branches while I was out shopping ( "Oh! I thought they were meant for firewood").  Decorated with Swedish hearts, salt dough decorations and icing sugar as mock snow it looked rather pretty.  The tree was in good hand-made company - lots of imaginative recycling including a tree made from bike wheels and cogs, hand crafted decorations and the most amazing sculpture made from painted electric flex.  The lady serving cake told me that her family made their own tree every year, and her kids keep asking for a "proper" green tree but I'm thinking maybe a change of tack is due in this house.  Let's wait and see,

10 December 2010

day 10::chocolate

When I was growing up, Advent Calendars were very straightforward - it was rewarding enough to find out what was behind each randomly placed door.  By the time I was buying them for my son - no time for home-made creations -  they came with little chocolates behind each door.  I thought I ought to be moving a little more with the times, so today we have chocolate in our calendar.

I have been craving chocolate more than anything else in the last couple of weeks and Charbonnel and Walker is my chocolate of choice - no sugary powder, just gratings of chocolate to melt into your hot milk.  It's so good that I've decided to keep it in the cellar rather than the kitchen because otherwise I would want a cup every time I had to get the porridge or olive oil or whatever out of the cupboard.  I mean, I know it's not Lent, but a little bit of self control is necessary here otherwise things might get completely out of hand.

09 December 2010

day 9::christmas pudding

To celebrate her birthday, my friend organised an event-filled day,  kicking off with the recording of a live TV show and ending up in the cellars of Gordon's Wine Bar.  In between there was a full English,  cocktails and a trip to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic portraits (some fabulous photos of defiant looking women this year), all against the background of the distant chants of students protesting, helicopters buzzing constantly overhead and a deserted Embankment, blocked off to traffic. One of the more intoxicating elements was the Christmas Pudding cocktail, a mixture of drambuie (which I can't even think about without wanting to laugh) cherry brandy, and Guiness.  As Christmas Puddings go, it wasn't bad.

At home, I've stuck to a more traditional  recipe.

day 8:: holly

I realise that I have been somewhat unadventurous with my calendar this year, so much so that - apart from my outing to Bath -  I have hardly gone beyond the bounds of the neighbourhood.  I wondered where I might get my holly from this year -  local cemeteries (again), the tree in the square that the foxes play under, or the lovely avenue of hollies in Victoria Park I discovered last year.  Then I had a doh moment and realised that perhaps I could stay even closer to home and use the holly in my own garden.  It's a lovely lollipop shape and this year, surprisingly, there are still berries on it.  If we're lucky there may be enough to put on the Christmas pudding.

I'll try to be a little more adventurous in the next few days, but don't hold your breath.

07 December 2010

day 7:: postbox


In the snow last week, now melted, the postbox on the corner looked like something from a Victorian greetings card and it is, I'll admit, a rather fetching little postbox with its decorated top and finial.  It is something of a fraud though.  There was no postbox there at all when we moved in many years ago and when local residents lobbied for one, they demanded that the one provided should be in keeping with the local architecture.  Royal Mail must have been feeling flush at the time as so we got our pretty little postbox.

Our first Christmas card arrived today.  Which reminds me...

06 December 2010

day 6:: sheep

I like to have a sheep in my advent calendar and the last couple of years I managed to track down live woolly ones.  This year, we have something a little different - a tee-shirt sheep print. You see, I've just finished a term of a  fabric printing course and have been trying out all sorts of silk screen printing, direct painting, using pastels, paper stencils and so on.  Apart from a couple of life drawing nights at the WI, I have not been in an art room since I was about 14, so this has been quite an adventure of a messy kind.  What's more, because we only have a couple of hours once a week, half of which seem to be spent  preparing a silk screen and then scrubbing it clean, I have generally forgotten how to do things by the time I get back the following week.  In a nut shell, it has been challenging.

One of the things that has been really hard to get right is a good photo emulsioned silk screen and I had a few disasters - emulsion not right, under-exposed,  blown away by the pressure washer, you name it.  After a lot of mishaps, I finally got my silk screen using one of my own photos - a cement road on the marshes imprinted with sheep hooves.  I printed it onto a tee-shirt and it looked pretty good, to me at least.  I then overlaid it with a paper stencil of a sheep.   I was rather pleased with my sheep stencil (based on this sheep).   The problem was that it didn't really make much of an impression on top of the sheep's hooves - too delicate, wrong choice of colour, a mere ghost of a sheep.  Not that my son seemed to mind - he's been wearing the tee-shirt since it arrived home.

I shall be practicing over the Christmas break to try and improve my stencilling, watched over by my sheep-wraith. Benevolently, I hope.

05 December 2010

day 5::hearts

On the train down to Bath, Lizzie showed me how to make Swedish hearts (another link here).  Without much by way of equipment, we decided to use some discarded newspapers.  When I looked at the photo I'd taken, I noticed we'd used a snippet from the financial pages that said Women Mean Business.

Heart it.

04 December 2010

days 3 & 4:: bells and stars

I need to make up for a lost day - my internet was not connecting yesterday not, as I had originally thought, because of a flaky service provider, but because one of the cats likes to sit on the Belkin thingy, thus severing the connection.  So here we have a double offering - a (chicken) pie with both bells and stars.  I make my pie by cooking a couple of leeks in a generous tablespoon of butter, adding plain flour when they are nearly cooked to make a messy roux, then stirring, stirring, stirring in milk to make a smooth sauce seasoned with black pepper and a pinch of salt.  Add chicken leftovers, put in a pie dish, cover with ready-made pastry and cook until golden.

Never fails to make everyone happy.

02 December 2010

day 2::angels

Angels are making an early appearance in the Advent calendar this year, courtesy of a trip to Bath this week with my friend Elizabeth.  It was only the second time I'd been back since I was at university there and it was good to see some of the things that I'd had a minor love affair with when I was eighteen - the goldenness of the city, some lovely rusticated stonework on the bridges over the canal, the river running under the shops on Pulteney Bridge.  I'd always been especially fond of Jacob's Ladder on Bath Abbey, those angels climbing their way heavenward, and sometimes coming a cropper.  Too much sherry perhaps while mixing the celestial christmas pudding.

01 December 2010

day 1:: robin

He turned up on the railings round the corner one day and disappeared the next. I'd much rather it was a robin with feathers, but sometimes you have to compromise.

30 November 2010

sackcloth and ashes


Oooh, err.  Sorry.  I just don't know where the rest of this beautiful November went to. Misty mornings.  A sharp frost that finally saw off the leaves from the mulberry tree - we watched and listed to them fall into the garden with a slight shusshing sound.  The first snow, though not much.  There was a wonderful walk along the canals and the Greenway (more concrete than green, hideous barren looking rose bushes) to view the Olympic site with Felix.  A block of parsley growing along the canal path.  Hot chocolate at the Counter Cafe and beer in the The Camel.  An irresistible ball of Wensleydale wool bought here.  Another day, a chilly grey Sunday, there was a trip around the City of London to hear Susan Phillipsz's plaintive singing in almost empty and quiet streets, under London Bridge with the river lapping below, in soulless city squares.  The sound of Lachrymae in Milk Street was enough to squeeze your heart.  All this against a background of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall which I didn't want to end.  At home, there were a couple of weekends of baking squash muffins to sell at local events - quick and easy if you skip the frosting, better with an added teaspoonful of ginger, and sunflower rather than olive oil.  Several soups.  Kale at the market. The first hot water bottles.

My sackcloth wasn't too punitive, unlike that of Thomas More.  This apron was my offering for a wee project we had at the WI to make a little something out of coffee sacks given to us by fairtrade coffee suppliers, Cafe Direct.  It was not exactly the easiest fabric to work with - I stuck it in the washing machine to get rid of the dust and it came out a little the worse for wear (the rosette is hiding a big hole that appeared) and still kept shedding bits of fibre.  I lined it with some unseasonal but jolly blue spotted fabric that at least keeps  my clothes from turning into hair shirts and I have to say I've grown rather fond of my sackcloth.  It's good for doing the dirtier jobs around the house - like cleaning out the ashes from the grate now we are having fires again - and I shall definitely be wearing it on the allotment.  I've even had a commission from John to make him one for work, though with a rather more subdued lining.

First day of Advent tomorrow - and I haven't even put up the curtains to keep out the winter draughts or baked the cakes and puddings yet.

11 November 2010


Is there any other county in the country that has such a healthy respect for the letter Z than Cornwall? It's littered around the place names - Zelah, Zennor, Penzance, Marazion. Polzeath.  It  might even be the defining sound of the accent.  So it's with some pleasure that this alphabet comes to an end just down the road from Zennor.

We travelled down by train (deals for the ageing be praised, and thanks to the 205 bus to Paddington on tube-strike day) and caught the bus from St Ives to our B&B at Gurnard's Head.  The death bus.  Or at least that's what the bar staff called it. I simply sat back and enjoyed the adventure - whizzing down serpentine lanes, climbing up into the mist on the moors with the sun disappearing and a smattering of rain on the windscreen, feeling like I was in some black and white horror film from the fifties.  It was a real delight for me not to have to drive anywhere and a great discipline to stick to the bus timetable knowing that we had to shift ourselves to pack everything in before the last bus at tea-time.  And there was no mobile phone signal either.  Very Wuthering Heights.

The next day, sun threatening to break through the grey, we walked to Zennor along the well-kept public footpaths, over the granite stepping stones and stiles, counting the flowers still in bloom - tiny blue flowers that looked like scabious, campions, brambles and gorse.  In the church, we checked out the medieval mermaid's chair, the needlepoint hassocks with their dedications on the back, and the angel sundial on the wall.  We flipped a mental coin and took a chance on continuing towards the coast path and into St Ives rather than the bus, knowing that you can add at least another 50% to the estimated distance once you have taken twists, turns and contours into account.  The sun came out, my coat came off and we climbed up and down the (not very well signposted) cliff path until we turned the corner at Porthmeor Beach; surfers in the waves, Tate St Ives, a bottle of delicious tarte tatin tasting Cornish Orchards blush cider  and we were ready for Peter Lanyon, so apt after a morning walking through the Penwith landscape.  

Before we came home, and thanks to some kind friends, we fitted in a visit Penzance in the showers, acquainted ourselves here with unfamiliar painters and Alec Walker's Cresede textiles (fabulous blog!).  We sat and ate a pasty on the sea front at Newlyn watching the swans, thought about reading Metamorphoses, then walked through the mist, back thousands of years, to Lanyon Quoit and Men-an-Tol. 

When we got home we cracked some zeds in the perfect bed, our own; and reconciled ourselves to winter coming.

10 November 2010


I thought I might find some of these in Cornwall, but no.  Luckily I had a fall back.  What's more the yuccas in the garden at the front of John's school garden on the Isle of Dogs were still in flower.  Rather amazing.  As it happens, yuccas are very good for schools, especially ones that have to cater for hundreds of young people intent on taking short cuts through the gardens.  They make them think twice, especially when there are agaves to keep them company.  If yuccas do suffer damage, you can just stick off the broken bits in the ground and they'll grow - even in the growing medium which passes for soil in London.  They don't need watering, they are easily propagated, spikes notwithstanding, and when they flower they just look spectacular.

Especially in November when the trees are nearly bare and the weather is about to turn.

03 November 2010

...and (e)xploration

I'm off for a few days to Cornwall in search of my Y and Z.  Back soon.

01 November 2010


My son drew this for his alphabet scrap book about 18 years ago because we could  not find a picture for the letter X.   I think he must have been inspired by his  pull-along Fisher Price xylophone.

It still makes me laugh.

31 October 2010


This wall and wallflower is in Walthamstow, just at the end of the market by the bike parking.  It is a most elegant bit of graffitti, more attractive in many respects than the Banksy sunflower in Bethnal Green and a very satisfying bit of wall art.  I'm particualry fond too of natural plant invasion - ivy, ferns, or even buddleia. Not that walls have to be adorned to be beautiful.  One of my favourites is a wall outside Shoreditch Church where the rustication is so worn that it now more ocelot than stone.  I'd be proud to have any of my wall collection at the end of my garden or guarding me against the weather. These are just a few of them, others have featured here over the years (try the walls label for more!)

I'm not alone in my wall fancy,  I'm glad to say, and pleased to see a link  between walls and wool that goes beyond the slack vowels of an East London accent.

30 October 2010


We were walking home from the Geffrye Museum one Sunday at the end of March.  It was raining and rather chilly.  Then I noticed these violets, just a few of them, in a patch of grass and weeds at the side of a block of flats.  It was a quite lovely thing to see.

I may go back next spring to see whether they've survived.

29 October 2010


A few days ago I had to catch the tube during the rush hour and was stuffed in a carriage along with dozens of other commuters. A period of abstinence does make you realise how amazing it is that millions of people are transported everyday under London.  If you are lucky enough to get a seat you can look round and see all sorts of little stories going on - people absorbed in studying; reading newspapers, novels, bibles; listening to music or playing games; crossword puzzles being solved; serious napping, sometimes snoring; pets on display (I've seen pet rats and pythons); arguments;  doe-eyed adoration; occasional knitting or sewing; families on half term outings; tourists looking perplexed.  You can read poems on the underground or be entertained or harassed by buskers.  You can wonder at how there can possibly be so very many different permutations of noses, eyes, hairstyles so that no two people ever look the same.  Or you can just sit in your own little world, a hiatus between where you've been and where you are going, with nobody to disturb you.  It's often warm, occasionally windy, and sometimes wet - I'm sure there is a stream somewhere in Shadwell station for there is the constant sound of running water.  There have been the most horrendous tragedies, but for the most part, the underground is just buzzing with something that is London all over.

I could hardly believe it, but I'd been missing it.

24 October 2010

tea and tears

There was always a pot of tea on the kitchen table when I was a child, along with a bottle of off-white sterilised milk (stera!) and a bowl of sugar, but I never took to it like the rest of the family.  I came round to tea eventually when I realised that it doesn't have to be taken dark brown and sweet, and I've been making up for my late start by hoarding teapots ever since.  Teapots for any occasion - everyday teapots; posh ones for when guests come for tea;  a large one for funeral teas, teapots with broken spouts that would be better off in the bin.  It is faintly ridiculous.

I find nowthat I am much more likely to choose a cup of tea if I feel a little fragile or in need of revival  which is why I ended up with a pot of tea in the cafe of the Foundling Museum yesterday.  We had gone to see the Threads of Feeling exhibition (reviewed here)  and came out of it a little tear-stained and in need of restoration.  Scraps of fabric, sleeves, cockades and ribbons,  tiny bonnets were left by mothers or cut off of clothes by the hospital clerks and attached to the entries in the Foundling Hospital's detailed records of each foundling's condition on arrival.  Notwithstanding the historical importance of these textiles, each scrap embodies a small tragedy.  It was immensely moving.  Make sure you have a handkerchief with you if you go.

21 October 2010

skirting the issue

Skirts, skirts skirts.  Made of paper, silk and metal, swishy net, ruffled chiffon, cotton and linen, wool, tailored, flouncy, full.  I do love a skirt.  There's a favourite black linen skirt with embroidered circles on it, very Mexican looking, full and lovely for prancing, but now falling to bits.  I've mended it so many times that it's only really fit to wear in private.  It's now my about-the-house-and-plot-to cheer-me-up skirt.  Then there's a floor length skirt made of silk woven with metal so that it stands out looks like crumpled paper, almost rocky, just short of fancy dress and only to be worn on special occasions like weddings and May Balls.  And skirts yet to come that will be made of neatly folded scribbly patterned woolly fabric.  It will be my Jackson Pollock skirt.

You only have to look at the pictures to see where this love of skirts came from.  A mother who bothers to make fancy dress from crepe paper with nail scissors and borrowed needle and thread while on holiday must surely have passed on respect for dressing up.  And how about the fantasy wear from Cicely Mary Barker's Flower Fairies?  No wonder that one of my dream skirts would be covered in crumpled silk roses.  Or maybe look like a dahlia.  Or any of the flower skirts that Esther examined. As for nightmare skirts, well surely the teenage mini-skirt, folded over at the waist, would bring a shudder to most middle age sensibilities.

So it was that we had a lovely time reading about your dream and nightmare skirts - the tales of skirts glamourous, colourful, flattering, evocative; or nightmare patterns, demanding, tacky skirts. I rather fancied a bag made from Stan's psychedelic curtains and might even ignore then ironing if I could have the wonderful architectural Issey Miyake skirt that Joan chose.  

In the end, rather than pick a name out of a hat, I asked a non-bloggy friend to judge your comments with clear instructions that she was not to look at any of the links to blogs.  This is what she said:
"I have read all the [comments] several times and interestingly on the first read, only one conjured up something tangible. The others I only really envisaged on the second read and I wondered why. I think it was the words swish swoosh that did it. Then the feeling of buttons digging in confirmed it. Jane had really thought about the task and then made me feel as though I was actually trying the skirts on. Gosh I do sound teacher like!"

So many, many thanks to you all for sharing your skirts and congratulations to Jane on winning the Eithne Farry book. All I need is an address to send it to, please.

18 October 2010

a little r and r

It was hot in the sun this weekend, so we took advantage of it and spent some time down on Mudchute Farm where we found lots of resting and recreation, with some other r's - red peppers, some very healthy looking rocket and a mighty Oxford Downland ram lapping up the admiration of the passers-by.  (The swan I saw on the riverbank on Friday snoozing among the old bricks and rocks.)  I sat in the sun finishing off a scarf that reminds me of an Everton Mint, made from a couple of balls found in the £1 sack at PYF, and thinking about a comment a friend made about my preference for being busy.  I think it might be true, if you can count looking at the sea, re-arranging fabrics, testing one against the other, dreaming of which skirt to make.  More of which to follow...

16 October 2010


I forgot to remind you about my quadricentennial celebration giveaway.  Descriptions of your dream or nightmare skirt or both -  let's say by midday Sunday 17th shall we?  More details here.

15 October 2010

queens, quince and quincunx

I mentioned once before that I made an alphabet scrapbook for my son when he was little and when I looked back sure enough the letter q was illustrated by a queen.  So here we are again with some different queens, Queen Victoria with her bun and her widow's weeds on my threepenny bit necklace  (as well as some more oak leaves and acorns).  What made me think of coins was the old penny stamped with Votes for Women that featured on the History of the World  in 100 objects today.  If you didn't hear the programme, it really is worth a listen because you can never have too many reminders of how inspiring those women were.

Before I alighted on the coins though, I already had in mind quinces and quincunxes, a case of plagiarism I'm afraid, because I had been looking in a Garden Alphabet, collated by John Harris and published by the V&A.  Not only was there a lovely line drawing of a quince, but also an explanation of the orchard planting known as a quincunx, essentially an arrangement like the five spots on the sides of dice.  I can't offer a picture of a quincunx, though I have thought about how nice it would be to have one of my own.  I did, however, find this excellent explanation from Gardenhistorygirl.

I also imagined what a great score you would get if you could work it into a game of Scrabble, thus...

I went on to see how many fruit words I could find with the rest of the letters - apple, pie, cream, tart etc - but had to get on with something or other more pressing like making the tea.  If fruit is your thing, don't forget that Apple Day is next Thursday.  There's lots going on this weekend and next and some lovely things to eat and see.  You never know, maybe you'll discover a quincunx.

13 October 2010


I have not quite been able to get to the bottom of the suggestion that pearls are for tears and that they are unlucky for brides for the explanations are unclear. Personally I would rather eschew matrimony than give up pearls.

Just after I took these photos tonight I heard on Front Row (20 minutes in) a report on the sound installation Surround Me: A Song Cycle for the City of London by Susan Phillipsz, with recordings of her singing Elizabethan songs in six locations around the City of London. There was a short extract of New Oysters, to be heard in Change Alley;  and two other recordings are John Dowland's Flow of Tears, to be found under London Bridge, and Lachrimae or Seaven Teares in Milk Street.  Very apposite.  I shall make sure I am wearing pearls when I hear them.

12 October 2010


It started with this oak at Danson Park which I noticed when we took my mum there for tea a few weeks ago.  It is a very fine tree, and when I got closer to it I saw a notice on it which described it as the Charter Oak, one of the Great Trees of London.  The charter in question is nothing more exciting than the charter which created Bexley as a Municipal Borough in 1937 - thrilling, eh?  However, it put me on to other Great Trees of London.  I'm rather ashamed of not knowing about them earlier, especially as my son works for Trees for Cities, the charity involved in identifying the great trees.  It was when we went along to see him walk (ahem) the Tree-athlon that I bought the book and found myself planning jaunts around London to visit the great trees.  Some of them I've seen already - the mulberry tree at Charlton House has already appeared on these pages.  And we were familiar with "our fig" at Stratford.  But, oh, the tree goodness in that book!

It's early days yet, but I think that the first tree on our visit list - the North Circular Cork Oak - may take some beating.  That a cork oak stands so incongruously placed on this busy road is down to a bit of vanity planting by the owners of a linoleum factory, now disappeared.  The road must have crept closer and closer to the site so that now the tree's existence is an act of defiance, standing alone in a fenced enclosure, the busy road on one side and a retail park and industrial estate behind.

The fence is broken - car crash, probably - and as I was trying to squeeze through a passer-by tried to help me out and I had to explain that I was trying to climb in to see the tree, that I had come especially to see it.  He looked at up in awe - "Never noticed it before" he said "All the times I've walked past. Well, I never."  Inside, you get to see and touch the glorious corkiness of the bark and, out of sight, you can even give it a hug.  In spite of the discarded drink cans, the weeds and traffic passing by, it was like being in a magical space.

We made out way back home that day via the Wood Street Horse Chestnut and the George Green Sweet Chestnut, once home to protesters against the A12 extension.  It still looks a little sad.

There more oaks to visit- the oaks of Fairlop and Fulham Palace, the Dulwich Park Turkey Oak, the Valence Park Holm Oak - and we'll make our way to them in due course, no doubt.  While I'm waiting I will indulge in virtual oaky outings - Marlene's oak jewellery and the corsets and haberdashery of  Fleur Oakes.  

06 October 2010


I spent a serendipitous afternoon in the Pleasure Gardens Room at the Museum of London with a friend, a room I'd never seen before, full of mannequins dressed  in wondrous Philip Treacy concoctions and period costume.  It happened that I had been wondering how I might illustrate "night" when I saw this and knew I had found the answer, for this dress is surely the definitive night-dress.  It reminds me of a wonderful section in Eithne Farry's "Yeah, I made it myself"  where she describes her "dreamy skirt wish list".  It includes: a skirt festooned with roses made from ribbons; a skirt made with a heart shaped pocket to keep love letters in; a skirt decorated with a huge beaded cobweb with a spider from the party shop nestling at the glittering centre.  I'm sure Ms Farry would approve of the starry dress.

After we'd had our supper looking out over London Wall, I decided to walk home in the balmy air through the City and Spitalfields and Bethnal Green.  I had my walking boots on and marched purposefully by empty offices, through the crowds hanging outside city pubs and tipsy women weaving their way precariously along the street,  past the old market streets, Milk Street, Ironmonger Lane, Lothbury, on through Brushfield Street,  Fournier Street and Brick Lane, then straight through Bethnal Green until I reached the cooler air in the trees of Mile End Park and home.

There was a touch of Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are along the way.

Some creatures were friendlier than others.

It wasn't all pretty of course, and I did chicken out of ducking down streets I would have felt comfortable in during the day, but less so at night.  I thought about Felix's night walk this summer and how brave she had been.  And what a nightmare skirt might look like.

Which brings me back to Eithne Farry.  I see that yesterday I reached four hundred posts on this blog and a hundred on the East End WI blog, a feat worth commemorating, so I think a wee giveaway is in order - Ms Farry's Lovely Things to Make for Girls of Slender Means.  I so like this book.  It is full of inspiring ideas, fabric and flowers.  I kept it by my bed for a fortnight when it first arrived just to make me smile in my sleep.  To take part in the giveaway all you have to do is leave a comment here by midnight on 16th October describing your dream skirt or nightmare skirt, or both.

Sweet dreams.