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.