18 July 2010

not quite the big lunch

Dalston Mill, 2009
I was very tempted to set up a Big Lunch event in our street but never quite got my act together in time to get people involved and shut off the street.   A few of us thought about a picnic, but got cold feet in case the weather was rough.  Then last night I decided that I was being a complete wimp, so I made up some invitations and posted them just before midnight inviting the neighbours round for tea.

A lot of frantic baking went on before tea-time today- I managed to pull off six different types of cakes, with no major upsets, but ran out of time before I could make cucumber sandwiches.  My next door neighbour,  a French woman of impeccable taste, brought the most delicious little chocolate cakes with ginger, cinnamon and lime and another brought some jolly iced fairy cakes.  Neighbours who lived a few doors away from each other met for the first time.  Children painted pictures in the garden and then played hide and seek.  After several cups of tea, the over-18s had something a little stronger.   It was a lovely afternoon.

I've just climbed into bed a little on the weary side, but I reckon I just may have persuaded the neighbours that we can pull off a Big Lunch next year.

16 July 2010

happy feet: 2

Thomas Hardy's Garden
I have been meaning to write about boots for some while, ever since I noticed that one of the regional museums had chosen a pair of Victorian boots as part of its contribution to the History of the World in 100 objects project.  Boots were on my mind.  I had recently resuscitated some boots from the bottom of the cupboard with elbow grease and polish, wore them all winter with woolly tights, and wished I could wear them all year round.  It was not always the case.

Note the boots I am wearing in this picture, for example, a pair of DMs.  I'm sitting in the garden of Thomas Hardy's cottage and the picture was taken on John's Box Brownie camera by a Japanese tourist who was totally perplexed by the fact that all he had to do was move a little lever at the side of the "box".  We were on a long walking holiday, one which had taken us from Pembrokeshire (had to escape before I came down with pneumonia from the damp),whence to Cornwall (to recover),  up to the North Devon/ Somerset borders -  Minehead, Porlock, Ilfracombe, Woolacombe, Baggy Point and then on to Dorset.  Some of this journey was done by bus, but much of it was completed on foot.  We travelled light, slept under a makeshift tarp, no tent or sleeping bags, swam in the sea, washed in streams,  boiled water for coffee in a black billy can hung on a hook over an open fire.  Rabbits sniffed us and toads joined us for breakfast (honestly).  When it rained, we hid in barns, drunk cider and dreamed of having our own shepherd's hut. We looked like tinkers and smelt of smoke in the lanes.

Drying the bed, Maiden Castle
Back to the DMs.  I had to spend good money on those boots because I had started that walk wearing  a very silly pair of shoes indeed.  However, the boots had a crease at the back of the heel that rubbed and rubbed and gave  me the most awful blisters.  Whatever we did to soften the leather never quite worked.  In the end, I had to buy a cheap pair of fabric deck shoes, which I hated, so that I could walk.  You can just about see them in my string bag here.

Colleen with the grumps, a Dorset lane
Whenever I see this picture I think of Thomas Hardy's Tess: "She took off the thick boots in which she had walked thus far, put on her pretty thin ones of patent leather, and, stuffing the former into the hedge by the gatepost where she might readily find them again, descended the hill..." (Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Chapter 44).  Tess's boots were taken, of course.  Mine never were.  I'm not sure if they ever made it all the way home or whether we carried them as far as Hampshire when we caught a bus home.

The moral of the story is, of course, that you should always try to have happy feet.

10 July 2010

happy feet

Last weekend I spent Sunday afternoon sitting in a shady dell in the park with some friends listening to a concert of world music put on as part of Cultural Co-operation's Music Village Festival.  There was a lovely relaxed atmosphere.  People had brought picnics and either lazed around or stood closer to the stage and moved to the music.  A couple arrived and stood close by and soon their feet with tapping and their hips were doing that shimmy thing.  Things started warming up when Conjunto Sabroso came on.

She looked perfect - swishy frock, neat little bolero, proper red dancing shoes.  He was much more  relaxed.

I wondered where they met.  Dance classes?  When she went on holiday to South America to improve here technique?

I'm thinking about dance classes now.  Now I've got some magic honey cream for my sore feet I should be OK.


There's a final festival event at Hyde Park tomorrow if you're interested.  

09 July 2010


The first of the New Mexican hollyhocks, sent here in disguise as sequins, has flowered.  Perhaps the high temperatures - over 30 degrees C here today - are fooling it into thinking it's still in Albuquerque.

It's a very fine hollyhock indeed and I hope it's enjoying breathing the Isle of Dogs air, just as Jeanette imagined.

08 July 2010


Looks like there's some food left in those bowls.

I don't think anyone's noticed that I've crept in here while the back door's open.

Might as well finish it all off so they don't have to wash up.

Then he has the cheek to do a massive miaow as he saunters off as if to say he can find better leftovers elsewhere.

06 July 2010

heart of glass

Our house has a mantelpiece in every room.  They are all very different - some quite formally set up - candlesticks, photos, fancy china or whatever.  Others are more, well, organic I suppose.  Stuff comes and goes more quickly. The one in our kitchen is one of these.  Apart from cleaning it, a bit of a chore, it is the place where the comings and goings of day to day life are most frequently recorded - greeting cards, postcards from friends, invitations, flowers from the allotment, a pot full of keys, the odd seashell or button.  It also has a provenance.  A friend made it for us out of the discarded wood from the booking office at Liverpool Street Station, a place that has been the starting point of many outings and holidays to the east coast - Walton on the Naze, Frinton, Cromer (I would still rather go by train than drive to any of these places).

Last week there were some new arrivals and departures from the mantelpiece as a result of my clearing out some of the storage boxes in our cellar - a lovely thank you card for a gift, a marble egg, a silver egg cup, a bottle opener in the shape of a hard hat.  And it was from these items that I decided to make an exchange as part of Kate Murdoch's 10x10 Project, a satellite project of the Whitstable Biennale.  It's worth reading  Kate's description of the project because the idea of having too much stuff, how difficult it is to discard material goods that have strong memories attached to them that increase their value even though their monetary worth may not be much,  is one that I think about quite often, and without really being able to get on top of it.  

You can see our bartered objects in these photos.

John swapped of one of his balls of string for a packet of sewing needles which he gave to me - a very generous gesture given that he is often the victim of those I have lost or discarded.  This seems a fair swap of one work accessory for another - he is also a great lover of string and those perfect little balls of string sat on our mantelpiece for some while in perfect symmetry before I cut some.

I swapped my marble egg, perfect for cooling sweaty palms in hot weather.  I suppose I had already got over the attachment to the egg, otherwise it would not have been in the cellar in the first place.  My swap was for this:

- a little heart of glass which was exactly the same colour as the top I was wearing.  The heart is nowon my bedroom mantelpiece.  I thought it would be a good reminder of not getting too attached to things.  Like Blondie.

So what's on your shelves?  And would you be prepared to swap any of it?