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.

05 October 2010


Did you really think we could have an alphabet without a cat appearing somewhere? I saw this beauty today sitting behind the railings in Whitechapel, watching the world go by. If only I'd been playing Catto! The trick, of course, is not to let your companion/ opponent know you are playing, so that when you see a cat and shout Catto! they complain that it's unfair. But any walk is a game of Catto! if you are with someone. You've just got to know where to look - on walls or warm cars, rolling in the grass, looking out of windows. Double score for moggies with mittens.

04 October 2010


Lowestoft lighthouse
My Uncle Ben was a dab hand at all things marine.  A Harwich man, he'd been a merchant seaman and could turn his hand to anything that involved rope or wood and probably canvas.  Even though he had five children of his own, he always included us in the little gifts he made - wooden swings that swung from two hooks on the doorframe of my bedroom, ships in bottles and, most impressive, a clever little wooden lighthouse money-box with a light that came on when you put your pennies in.  It was an absolutely brilliant way of rewarding prudent young savers.

Stairwell, Southwold Lighthouse
I still find myself delighted by lighthouses, from an observer's perspective at least. When my son was small, we climbed outside onto the platform at the top of Dungeness lighthouse.  While he skipped around outside, I clung to the walls for comfort, totally overwhelmed by the exposure.  Scary.

Trinity Buoy Wharf, Tower Hamlets
I popped over to the Trinity House website to see just how many of their lighthouses I had seen first hand and I was amazed at the variety of stripes and shapes and lighting sequences.  I think if I'd have married a lighthouse keeper, I might have made a lovely lighthouse quilt to remember life by the high seas.  In fact, maybe I will one day.  Make the quilt, that is.

03 October 2010

a joust, a kist and a key

Hidden away in the church of St Thomas the Apostle on the Isle of Harty is a 14th century Flemish kist. I'd never heard of the work kist before, but it seems it is simply an old word for a chest, one for storing wool or linen, or in some explanations, a bride's trousseau. Normally the carving isn't visible because the chest is locked away in the Lady Chapel, but when we visited last week there was a wedding so the gate to the chapel was unlocked to admit the couple to sign the register.

Unusual to see knights having, albeit somewhat perilous, fun in a church - normally it's their effigies on display. And quite what this kist is doing in this church is a bit of a mystery.  Just like whatever it is you would find inside if you were to turn the key in the lock...

02 October 2010

ice cream

I tasted some interesting ices this summer.  The organic mixed spice in Southwold was rather nice ,and the rhubarb ice from the bloke with the bike at Tankerton Slopes was exceptional.  His raspberry was rather good too.  At a push though, my favourite might just be this one - the christmas pudding ice cream from Aldeborough.  The girl in the ice cream parlour said that out of a choice of thirty odd flavours it was her favourite all year round.  I think she might be a good judge.

I read today that nobody buys ice cream when it rains.  I can't quite believe that because it rained here all day and all I wanted to eat was ice cream with strawberries and grated chocolate on top.  Maybe I'm sickening for something.

01 October 2010


Collected at the Whitstable Biennale this summer, this house was from Heidi Plant's "Moving House" project.  Each wooden house was numbered and she asked that you take a picture and send it to her with the number.  This, I think, is number 531 but it may be 532.  I forgot to write the number down each time I visited the allotment where it sits in the garden in front of the shed, and now it is too faded to read.  I like the tropical looking location.

I have another little house, number 111 - a second home? -  that sits on the mantelpiece in my bedroom among the stones and shells I've brought home this summer. I'm not sure it's going to stay there so have not taken a picture yet.  If only moving house was as easy as picking it up from the mantelpiece.  I keep thinking how nice it would be to have a house by the sea, or with a sunny garden big enough to grow vegetables, a house that is warmer in the winter and lighter all year round, one that has less dust.

A caravan, perhaps...