29 December 2011

coming up for air

Coming up for air,  St Christopher's Place
One of my favoured remedies for the excesses of Christmas is a port and brandy, recommended many years ago by an elderly barmaid in a pub overlooking the sea at Cromer;  we remember her with affection whenever indigestion demands a cure.  The other remedy is a long walk, preferably one through unfamiliar territory or familiar places seen from a slightly different angle.  So to speak.  On Boxing Day we stuck to the familiar circuit - Regent's Canal,  Victoria Park, Hertford Cut, Mile End Park, home, cup of tea.  A few days later, up for an adventure, we decided to follow the course of the River Tyburn, courtesy of Tom Bolton's Lost Rivers of London, from the heights of leafy Hampstead to the infilled marshes of Pimlico.

I'm not sure I can convey how stupidly exhilarating this walk was.  It may have been the slight stir-craziness of Christmas, or possibly the heady Hampstead air or, as I like to think, the sheer delight of a quest for something largely unseen.   It was a fascinating journey through the physical and human landscape carved by a small river, now hidden in culverts and pipes, where you can still see the dips and slopes left behind as the river meandered its way to the Thames.

The walk starts near Spring Path and Shepherd's Well, past the gothic villas and mansions that, thanks to Sigmund Freud's choice of home, now seem to house the greatest density of psychiatrists in the country.

Shepherd's Well, Spring Path and Fitzjohn's Avenue, Hampstead

At some points you come across manholes in the road where you can hear the hidden water - murkiness unseen - if you brave the middle of the road and put your ear to the vents. As I did.

Colleen listens to running water
One of the pleasures of a walk like this, following on from days of languor, is that you know you are in for an easy time as it is going to be downhill.  Below Hampstead and Swiss Cottage, you cross the Regent's Canal taking you into the Regent's Park. An aqueduct built into Charlbert Bridge carries the Tyburn across. The river runs into the Boating Lake with exotic ducks fenced in, too soppy to venture across.  John identified scorp, smew, pochard, mallard, shelduck, mandarin and tufted ducks, as well as Hooper swans and ubiquitous herons lurking like predatory clergymen.   Another manhole in the middle of the Outer Circle gurgled obligingly from the depths below.

Across the Canal, Regent's Park and Paddington Street Gardens

South of Marylebone Road the route became more interesting because, despite the greater number of people, you actually follow the serpentine course of the river in some places like Marylebone Lane - "a winding, contrary route".  According to Tom Bolton "it was once a country lane running through fields alongside the Tyburn before eighteenth century London hid the lane and the river among newer, grander roads".   Going through St Christopher's Place and looking up at the decorations, you might even feel like a fish gaping up for air.

Across Oxford Street - surging through shoppers - there are more meanders down back streets behind posh shops.  The gentle slopes and occasional cast iron grilles confirm the course.  Brook Street is raised to cross the Tyburn below, then curves gently downwards again through narrow Avery Row.  Crossing Piccadilly into Green Park you can see where the river has carved a valley which graduates gently through the park down towards Victoria.

The last section of the walk again takes you beyond Victoria through back streets like King's Scholars Lane, towards the flatlands of Pimlico,  Aylesford Street and the Tachbrook Estate, where the last exposed area of the Tyburn was finally put undercover in the 1960s.   Opening the gate under the arch of the appropriately named Marsh House, you finally come to the point where the Tyburn trickles into the Thames.

By the time we arrived it was dark.  We looked across to the south bank where the River Effra flows in.  I like the name.  It may well be the next quest.

We made do with a cup of tea at the Tate before we followed the Thames homewards.  By Tube.

25 December 2011

peace at last

Cambridge, this Thursday
It was sunny.  We sneaked off to Cambridge for a quiet time together, my friend and I, and enjoyed ourselves very much indeed.  Now I'm listening to the replay of the Nine Lessons and Carols. The others are asleep.  A firework has just gone off to mark the turn of the day.  There's just a bit to finish off, not much.  Maybe I'll have a small glass of something.  Then I'll be off to bed too.

Wishing all you lovely people, wherever you are, a joyful and peaceful Christmas.

21 December 2011


Sometimes you need a break in the run up to Christmas.  I know I do.  Round about the solstice I can find myself getting quite overwhelmed by the busy-ness.  This year I have been more organised not by the to-do list type of stuff, but by scheduling in some quiet time.  So it was that Veronika came round yesterday for a crochet lesson, and Elizabeth came to join us.  We had an altogether relaxing time with our hooks, mince pies and fruity spelt loaf, and a bowl of home-made pumpkin soup  before going off to meet our mates at the pub where we ended up making a communal fourteen pointed star with some pretty paper that E just happened to have in her bag.  V, who was an exemplary student and very diligent about holding the yarn properly, dropped me a line today declaring herself a crochet addict: "I crocheted my way home last night, on the central line, then onto the Waterloo and City Line, then on the train trying to remember to not miss my stop.  Then I got home and had to do just a little bit more in bed... "  she said.  

Our fluffy cat is a crochet addict too.  Except she waits until the work is done and just sits on it.

14 December 2011

carmen fluminum

Hammersmith Bridge
"The Thames has more than fifty tributaries between source and sea.  Twenty one (depending on what qualifies as a river) are on the tidal Thames within Greater London;  the Black Ditch, Beverley Brook, the Brent, Counter's Creek, the Crane, the Darent, the Earl's Sluice, the Effra, the Falcon, the Fleet, the Ingrebourne, the Lea, the Neckinger, the Ravensbourne, the Roding, the Rom, Stamford Brook, the Tyburn, the Wallbrook, the Wandle, the Westbourne,  And these London rivers have their own tributaries: Bollo Brook, the Ching, Dollis Brook, the Graveney, Hackney Brook, the Kidbrooke, the Quaggy, the Moselle, Mutton Brook, Pool River, Pyl Brook, the Silk Stream, the Slade, Wealdstone Brook among many." Tom Bolton, London's Lost Rivers, A Walker's Guide, Introduction.

When I picked this up and read it the other day, I was so captivated by the sound in my head of that list of rivers, brooks and bournes I wanted to recite them aloud like poetry.   Reading Joanna's paean to grey, Esther's lovely exploration of Adeste Fideles, and then listening to a programme -only available for a couple more days  - about Ted Hughes , reminded me again of how much I like this list.  And that learning Latin as a girl I took a fancy to the words carmen and flumen.

All this takes my mind off the other lists in my head, though now I think there may be a new one entitled "things I want to do next year".

12 December 2011


Spelt fruit loaf
It's not surprising that as the cold weather finally started to bite I found myself longing for spicier, sweeter food, but short of the full cake and pie fest that is about to start, if indeed it has not already. This coincided with a decision to branch out a bit from my everyday wholemeal and use some of the spelt that I bought on impulse a while ago.  I can only think that the reason I waited so long was down to inertia.  When I finally put my arse in gear, my spelt fruit loaf turned out to be a soft and sweet bread, heavily spiced, without all the fat and sugar that comes with cake, and absolutely perfect for a banana sandwich pick-me-up indoor picnic on a dull day.  I am a total convert.  Unfortunately, I  can't offer a perfect recipe to suit everyone because I used my breadmaker (yes, I'm still using it everyday and it has a rye programme that can be used for spelt.)  I haven't tried the recipe by hand, though if you are interested there are plenty of recipes here, and more around the interweb that you might want to try, and Dan Lepard gives one or two in Short and Sweet (untested by me).  Spelt costs more than other flours, but it can be worth paying that bit more for something that tastes so good,  somehow makes you feel in touch with a bit of the past, and prepares you for the spicy days to come.

Ingredients: 1.5tsp quick yeast; 500g spelt flour; 1 tsp honey; 3 tbsp oil ( I use walnut or a mix of walnut and sunflower)' 1 tsp salt; 150 mixed dried fruit (I use those pre-mixed bags); 3 tsp mixed spice (sounds a lot, but keep faith); 360ml water.  Mix and bake on the rye programme, if you have one, three and a half hours on my machine.  The loaf has a slightly sunken top and may be slightly floury at the sides.

08 December 2011

to do or not to do, that is the question*

I cannot be the only person having to decide what moves from the to do list to the not to do list, if indeed there such a thing exists in a place other than my own head.  Thus I decided that I would not do my advent countdown to Christmas this year.  I am missing it, of course, as one does when one decides not to do something.  I just thought I needed a break this year.  I am, however, delighted to see that both Lara and Joanna are both blogging their way daily through Advent.  And then there is the quirky little  Geffrye Musuem calendar for a visit.  (I am particularly fond of what is behind the door of 4th December which reminds me of days out at the seaside and Sunday morning breakfasts.)

Now here I am at tea time, having done some things on the to do list  and some that aren't-  a ride on the canal, a yoga lesson with a great teacher, popping in to the doctor's surgery, pestering the man who has had my sewing maching to service for 5 weeks, delivering an electric urn, popping in to my mum with a new duvet, hearing on the radio Annie Lennox singing the Holly and the Ivy and joining in a bit croakily, looking at new printers, planning our  WI Christmas market next Tuesday, mending a couple of moth holes in a charity shop skirt, and written this post (now I've listed them I know I've done more than I thought).  There are lots of things not done that are on the to do list too.   Including sweeping up the stars on the kitchen floor, though it may be several days until I get round to that because I like to see them.  And just looking at this strange picture reminds me of Perry Como, one of my dad's favourites, singing Catch a Falling Star.

I hope you find time to catch some falling stars in the next couple of weeks.

*My trip to see the Comedy of Errors tonight may be what has put me in Shakespearean mood.

06 December 2011


I am very much enjoying this wintry weather.  My self-discipline with the central heating at home means that a briskish walk has multiple benefits - a helping of vitamin D, free exercise, the excitement of new grounds to stamp, and a bit of a warm-up.  This weekend we tested the instructions for the last leg of Walk 2012 which runs from Putney Bridge to the Olympic Stadium. 

It was one of those grey days that, if you are in the right frame of mind, can be soothing rather than miserable.   We took the tube to Putney Bridge, followed the route to the Thames Path passing pretty suburban villas; zigzagged along the path past breeze block walls, buddleias and concrete benches; looked across to Bell Creek where the Wandle meets the Thames,;  crossed at the river and found our way back to the river path, him ranting about the unimaginative modern architecture, and me admiring sand and gravel depots; had a long chat with a stranger about power stations and the Pre Raphaelites; and mooched past the pretty-in-pink Albert Bridge.  Once we were in Battersea Park we had to take shelter from the rain under an awning with a cup of tea.  We thought we might make it as far as Tate Britain without getting too wet, but still had time to stop to see the trickle that was the Tyburn meandering across the mud, and a heron paddling at the edge of the glittery, grey river.

I'm a little ashamed at how long it took us and that we took shelter without getting even half way, but that's what happens if you don't leave home until midday and spend too much time dawdling.  Even so, we felt we'd earned our cup of tea, a gentle mooch around the Camden Town painters, and the pleasure of finding my lost beret (in the shop) and my gloves (in the cafe).  It's the little things that make a good day.

We'll try to get up a bit earlier for the next stage.  Promise.

01 December 2011


I know what inspired me, but I'm not quite sure how I persevered.  The observant among you will have noticed that, yes, those are crocheted pockets.  For this, dear reader, is the all-wool advent calendar, finished off just before midnight on the last day of Wovember, with pockets made in red and green carpet yarn, stitched on to a recycled woolen blanket.  I did enjoy making it but decided quite early on that it would be achievement enough to finish it in time for the first of December and that absolute perfection was not necessary.  Hence a certain lack of consistency in size which I like to kid myself think adds to the naive charm of the finished object.  I thought my four year old niece might like it, but to be honest she would probably prefer something in pink.  Or yellow.  Containing lots of chocolate.

Now I just have to get round to filling up the pockets.

Enjoy the countdown, people.

29 November 2011

kilty as charged

Ok,  I didn't manage to post every day in November.  But I have been wearing wool all through Wovember, maybe not down to my knickers, but there has been a very fair percentage of woolliness indeed.  I don't think I've mentioned it before but I tool a silent pledge not to buy any new clothes nearly two years ago.  I did allow myself to buy second hand clothes and new shoes (my non-employed life needed more flat shoes for walking!)  and for the most part I have stuck to it well with just a couple of brand new items.  As a consequence there has been much haunting of charity shops, much shortening of hems, some nippings in, a bit of darning.  It has all been most satisfactory even if I never quite manage to work through the pile of items awaiting adjustment or mending.

Thus it is that the kilt, and its happy sister the pleated check skirt, has come into its own in satisfying sartorial and sensual needs.  There's a plentiful supply in provincial charity shops,  and they are  forgiving when it comes to sizing, easily tweaked with a shift of a button or - confession- the addition of a bit of sneaky velcro.  Although they come in modest old lady lengths, you can just cut along the horizontal lines of the checks to get a perfectly neat edge.  Moreover, when you decide that there's still an element of frump, you can just go up another inch or two and no harm done.  I don't hem them, just ease the threads out along the bottom edge leaving a little fringe.  I pop them on the wool cycle, press the pleats back in, job done.  And most beautifully, they are soft, warm, 100 per cent wool, not just for Wovember.

Any suggestions for recycling the leftover lengths of woolly fabric gratefully received.

24 November 2011

in case I'm busy today

I have been reveling in the mistiness this week.  This was Sunday morning on the canal, me cycling south to my nine o'clock class (breathe one, two three; lovely one, two three), and the committed runners going north.  By the time I reached the Thames, completely shrouded in fog, my eyelashes were wet with fogginess.  I want to remember it because it was so delicious and I know if I don't write it down now, I'll forget how utterly lovely it was.

Getting up early(ish) and with purpose on Sunday morning fills me with enough sanctimony to last all week.  The concept of busy-ness is, of course, completely relative.  Without the discipline of the metaphorical factory whistle, or Microsoft calendar, my days elide one into the other .  I have to supply my own discipline these days.  It has become easier, but it has taken quite a while.   At least I'm dressed before porridge time now, packed lunch made for himself while my coffee cools down.  No more lazing in the bath listening to the history of the world in one hundred objects while the clock ticks on to ten o'clock.  (It's a metaphorical tick.  Working clocks are only available when the radio and laptop are switched on.)

There are still a hundred things to do but, without the urgency of a deadline, it is pot luck what comes first.  Library books are reserved and renewed electronically.  Bills paid by direct debit.  Shopping avoided by recycling.  Occasionally everything falls into place and there is a surge of productivity - emails sent,  blog posts written, skirts hemmed, aprons sewn, washing stacked, cakes baked, puddings steamed, holes mended, papers read, cupboards cleared, lists ticked.  Other days just pass in a haze. That might be why I enjoy autumn so very much.

23 November 2011

in the night kitchen

The sound of the christmas puddings steaming on the stove.

Sunflowers on the mantelpiece, surely the last of the year this time.

The scent of the mincemeat steeping in the bowl.

The comfort of wool.

The taste of beer in a posh glass.

Mostly without moving from my chair.

16 November 2011

leafy lane

Sometimes you have to take your leafy lanes wherever you can find them - in this case a bus lane.  I noticed as I was cycling down one yesterday that where the plane trees had shed their leaves on to the bus lane, the weight of the buses had compressed them into the tarmac, creating delicate coppery patterns.  This was taken in Cambridge Heath Road in Bethnal Green.  Sometimes the romantic rural names around here live up to there promise.
If you are interested in alternative floral forms, Annie is generously offering a giveaway of  Vic Brotherson's Vintage Flowers on her beautiful Knitsofacto blog and  it's open to all visitors.  It's a lovely blog and her post on developing her blogging voice is, as usual, very thoughtful.  Do pop in.

12 November 2011

awakening of cheerful feelings

We've been watching the Simon Russell Beale's series of programmes on the symphony and I was very taken with the inspiration for the first movement Beethoven's Sixth, the Pastoral: the awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the country. Uplifting, perhaps would be a word I would choose.  And it does not even have to be the deep countryside that does the trick- a walk in the park, a cycle along the canal, discovering a little corner, or like Knit Nurse, seeing the sunflowers you've guerilla planted.

As it happens, I felt very cheerful today.  I'd had a brisk cycle along the canal to my pilates class, speeding past the Sunday fair-weather and hardy runners. Then, a trip to Elmley RSPB reserve for a walk over the marshes in the sunshine along by the sea wall, wind bristling through the reeds and grasses.  You are encouraged to use your car as a hide so as not to scare the birds on the approach road, and there we watched a female kestrel hovering and diving in for a couple of kills, curlews, lapwings, marsh harriers, a sleepy heron, egrets, no end of waders and ducks and geese (I can never tell one from the other).  Of course this is only a small sample of what's there because I am hopeless at remembering any of the birds and have to rely on more expert opinion.

We moved on to the raptor viewing point at Capel Fleet as the light started to fade and the mist was rising.  The drive takes you across fields of sheep and low lying ground.  There was a collection of serious monosyllabic bird watchers there with giant telescopes and tick-lists, accompanied by the chafing sound of their super waterproof clothing.  A more friendly lady told us a couple of short eared owls were around and, on cue, they came up and swooped and circled low around the marshes in front of us.  A wedge of swans flew by, making that wonderful whistling noise as they passed.  "I love that sound" said the friendly lady.  (I bet Ludwig would have added it in to the second movement if only he had heard it.)

And because we were on the Isle of Sheep, I couldn't come home without one quick snap of the burr-covered girls posing in the last of the light.

Lots of reasons to be cheerful, I reckon.

11 November 2011

an education

I learnt how to finger knit a couple of weeks ago when I volunteered at a Craft Club event at the V&A.  It's part of the initiative to promote knitting and other crafts in schools.  It's good fun, but quite exhausting - if you turn your back for a minute little fingers seem to knot the yarn in an instant and you have to start all over again.  For my part I feel a bit of a fraud though.  I'm not much of knitter, though I know the basics, and so I work on the basis that I'm bound to know more than the average infant.  I've got away with it so far.  Then this week we agreed to teach some finger knitting at a local community centre where my friend Elizabeth occasionally runs little crafting sessions with a group of local Bangladeshi women with me as the sidekick.  (By the way, Elizabeth is a great teacher.  Her instructions are full of delightful similes and metaphors - "Take the yarn off your hand, hold it in the plam of your hand like it's a baby.  place your baby down ..."  And she can do that gimlet eye thing too and get instant attention.  ) So we turn up and do the finger-knitting thing, and we're having a laugh and so on, and I turn round and one of the women is suddenly doing extra loops round her fingers and making much more elaborate strands than the others.  "Oh I love to crochet and knit" she says "I learnt by watching one of the women in my village when I was a child, and I really wanted to learn properly but my mother said if I was going to crochet, then she would take me out of school.  So I carried on at school.  But I secretly carried on with the crochet too - I just made myself a hook out of a nail"

That's right.  A nail.

I was well and truly humbled.  And rumbled come to that.

08 November 2011

the wool shop

I like to check that this picture is still on display whenever I go to Tate Britain because it is one of my favourites.  It was there the last time I looked, at least.  The young woman playing with the wool, and a somewhat diminutive Stanley Spencer seemingly overwhelmed by skeins of yarn with a life of their own.  It exudes energy, the sensuality of new wool, and, according to this description, lustful thoughts on the part of Stanley too.  I like what he says in his notes of the painting: "Stonehouse  had several of these small local shops such as I remembered years ago in Cookham. The Cookham ones must have emigrated there."  The Stonehouse wool shop certainly looks more fun than the Shelstone's in Watney Street, the haberdashers I used to visit as a child with my Auntie Mary .  The best part was being allowed to sit - out of the way - on a high bentwood stool - until the serious business of making purchases was completed.  I still dream sometimes about those shopping expeditions.

Which reminds me that I didn't mention my outing to Walthamstow Village to a talk by Debbie Bliss organised by East London Craft Guerilla.  It was very informal, about a dozen of us sitting round yarning in a cafe, with Mrs Bliss telling us about her career as a knitwear designer and running her own wool shop - not very well, according to her. I was very taken with her - approachable, modest and very open about the challenges of being a knitwear designer - the years of being not very well paid, the copyright breeches, the boggledom of grading patterns.  Lots of questions afterwards from would-be designers and me asking why her range of yarns were from imported wool (originally because there was not a sufficient volume of high quality fleeces, but "watch this space"). She also said something interesting about the upsurge of interest in making and crafts during economic downturns.  Apparently sales of craft books and magazines increase enormously, but there is not generally a commensurate increase in sales of yarn.  It seems we are all dreaming of making stuff but not always getting on with the actual knitting or whatever.  Maybe we might if there were more lovely woolshops.

07 November 2011


Even though I missed the first of November - put that down to too much Halloween fun - I am attempting to post every day for the rest of the month, spurred on by the renewed energy I have found now that I have embraced the autumn.  Part of this uncharacteristic vigour is a determination to attempt some of the numerous recipes I have cut out from magazines and stashed away.  Today it was an Alice Hart recipe - soy braised tofu with butternut squash and spinach.  I like squash. I like spinach.  I like ginger and star anise and soy sauce.  It looked promising.  I followed the recipe slavishly and the finished dish looked not unlike the magazine photo.  I stood on a kitchen chair to avoid the rising steam and took a photo before I sat down to eat.  At which point I discovered that  I still do not like tofu.  Maybe I need to take Nigel Slater's advice and try again some day, though not for a good while I suspect.

So, what's with the photo?  Well those are from my first crop of Highland Burgundy, a small crop and with a few losses to a fungal growth in the sack, but in other ways quite a success.  Purple when cut, sweet when cooked, they keep their colour and taste much, much better than tofu.  Such a lovely name too.  I'll add a link to the recipe I used...when I manage to find it again.

06 November 2011

more trees and a touch of tweed

I like it when friends call out of the blue and ask if they can come to London for the day.   No fussy planning just "see you tomorrow at 11".  It means you have to make the effort to have a bit of an outing.  So we took  a walk through the foot tunnel to Greenwich and up into the park to see the avenues of sweet chestnut trees.   Whether John Evelyn had a hand in designing the avenues seems open to dispute- he seems to be given credit for a number of sweet chestnut trees in England.  Not that it matters much.  The trees are immense and ancient and altogether awe inspiring.  Just thinking about them makes me feel tiny.

We thought the venerable trees would make an altogether suitable location for celebrating Wovember, and the first outing of my sweet chestnut toned Irish Tweed winter coat (courtesy of Oxfam, Dalston)...

and John's autumnal Harris Tweed jacket (Save the Children, Cambridge).

Our friends were very patient.  Can't help thinking we should have had a glass or two of Black Sheep afterwards.

05 November 2011

autumn window

Cafe window (old church), Cambridge

One of the things I like about the first few weeks of dark afternoons is the light shining out onto the street from windows.  It's a good time to take a walk to the shops, or just a mooch around.  For some reason I find it very comforting even though I'm on the outside looking in.  It's a time of year that I like to take a trip to Cambridge, when it's a bit misty, but not suffering from those easterlies that make you ache with cold.  Our afternoons there generally follow the same pattern: walk round the market, buy a bag of flying saucers and maybe some fenland celery with the dirt still on it, look at the Think! shoes in the shoe shop, walk up to Kettles Yard, crossing the river on the way, pop into a couple of charity shops, visit to the Fitzwilliam.  Cup of tea somewhere along the way, maybe a bowl of soup.  Walk to the bus stop.  Home in time for a jacket potato, a fire, a glass of something and a murder, preferably Scandinavian.

VG and star.

04 November 2011

greening the city

Birch trees, Tate Modern

I went to a lovely little exhibition at the tiny Garden Museum at the weekend.  It was pure rus in urbe - all about creating, reclaiming or saving of green space in urban environments, from the natural greening of London bomb sites in the 40s to Richard Reynolds campaign to save the plane tree woods on a deserted council estate in South London.   I came across Helen Babbs book and blog, and was particularly taken with her post on finding fruit for free in the city.  It got me round to thinking about my own favourite trees - the fig tree in Sidney Square where I ate figs for the first time,  the bent eucalyptus in Meath Gardens planted in memory of an Australian Aborigine cricketer who died here on tour, the little plantation of birches in front of Tate Modern.   And it reminded me of the places that might have been covered in trees once.  Like Ratcliffe Orchard.  All that's left of that is an alley that runs from the Highway through Cranford Cottages to Cable Street.  Except one day, I found this in the gutter there ...

and wondered where it might have come from.

03 November 2011

season of ...

It was pouring with rain.  I opened the door to find him standing there soaked, holding a big bunch of sunflowers, the very last to be picked today from one of his school gardens.  They are gorgeous, and certainly brought a bit of light into the kitchen as it got dark outside.  Nevertheless, I do find it somewhat unnerving.  I've been bracing myself for the change of seasons for weeks now,  holding on to summer for as long as I could, then mentally preparing to batten down the hatches.  It put me on edge.  I suppose it didn't help that I'd been reading The Long Winter and immersed myself during insomniac nights in blizzards, frozen livestock, a monotonous diet potatoes day in day out.  We had a couple of days in the middle of October when the wind got up and litter and leaves were scattered up the street and  mistiness seeped along the canal in the morning. And after the clocks turned back and the darkness started to creep in earlier, it finally felt that the season might have turned at last.  Then sunflowers on the kitchen table.

Oh, and he tells me he saw three peregrines too today, all at once.

02 November 2011

first class

Back of work 
It seems like forever since the weekend.  We - that's my friend Elizabeth and me -  had the most lovely Saturday afternoon at Tom of Holland's Darning Workshop at Prick Your Finger.  We sat upstairs in their workspace in the late afternoon light with a nice cup of tea and learnt how to Swiss Darn and then do proper neat darning.   Fortunately Tom had, in prescient fashion, made a beautiful large scale sampler with bespoke hole to demonstrate - he must have intuited that I would come without my specs.

Tom's darned sweatshirt
I'm not sure we were the best pupils because we spent a lot of time getting our swiss darning up to scratch.  By the time we got round to the weaving in and out (top tip: use a l-o-n-g darner) the light was beginning to go and I really could have done with my missing specs, found since then having slipped off my bedside cabinet and into the bag of important things at the side of my bed.  That's my excuse for not quite reaching Tom's very high standards.

Lovely neat front of work
We didn't even have time to see the Speedweve in action, so we are hoping that Tom will have an improver's class.  By that time I just may have got round to practicing on the pile of darning hiding in my back room.

Thank you Tom! And thanks to Louise and Rachel for the tea too.  It certainly set us up for Wovember.

26 October 2011

curiouser and curiouser

We had the most lovely weekend.  The weather was perfectly autumnal, warmish, low light, golden if you were lucky enough to be in the sunshine, or cool enough in the shade to remind you that you might want something warm when  you arrived home.  We spent most of it at the Bloomsbury Festival, location eponymous.  It was there that I came across the white rabbit brooch, here pinned on to my lapel.  I bought it at Miwary's stall, a maker with a lovely, quirky collection of things to sell, cotton cup-and-saucers, miniature teddy brooches with moving arms and legs, necklaces made of french knitted string.  Irresistible, even for this most frugal of consumers (discuss...).  The weekend - was full of discoveries and surprises.  Wondrous throat singing from Siberian group Ayarkhaan, Georgian polyphony from Shavnabada, and much more.

I got to weave carpets with the gentlest of teachers in the Brunei Gallery and especially enjoyed the twang that the cords made as the wool was woven in and out and the bash, bash, bashing sound as a nameless implement was used to push down the weft.

There was "eat me" in Persephone Books with tea and scones and a discussion led by Nicola Beauman on the authors she has chosen to republish.  And such interesting conversations with other women squashed into the shop with their cups of tea - an elegant German lady who talked about the challenges of bookcrossing, and remarked on the cheap paper we use here for paperbacks (she's right - we need better paper for the full sensual experience of a good read); and the extremely chatty and intriguing Elizabeth who told us all about her dog Peggy, the prizewinning Kerry Blue, a dog who apparently does impressions of Snowy with her curiosity about what is going on, hates other dogs, is generally so naughty that Elizabeth has to have respite holidays, but has such perfect conformation that she will shortly be appearing on postage stamps in Jersey of all places.  And there was "drink me", not only with a decent cup of tea, but also some rather strong perry at the Lambs Conduit Street Sunday lunch and some Young's Special at The Lamb.

We visited Foundling Voices to hear the stories of foundlings left with the charity in the 1940s - both sad and uplifting with voices of such resilience.  And we tried to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsmen at the British Museum (sold out) so had to make do with feeling just like Alice in the presence of such monumentality.

We mooched through the squares of Bloomsbury under the giant planes, shadowy and gold all at once,  and found cottages with lonely drinkers sitting inside listening to the racing on the radio.

It was all wacky and wonderful and warm, and London in a very good humour.

20 October 2011

apple day

I scrumped these apples a couple of weeks ago from an orchard in which all the fruit had been picked and a mass of perfectly good apples left on the ground.  I thought they would at least be good to make pies and cakes with, but in fact they are perfectly lovely apples, yellow fleshed and delicious to eat.  Only one batch of apple cakes has been made so far, for an evening of food sharing at the WI (link in the side bar).  Tomorrow there will be another made for a coffee morning we are having at Bethnal Green Library, which happens to be one of the few traditional libraries in this borough ( we have "Idea Stores" now).  It is my little contribution to Apple Day - see the England In Particular website for more info.  Links are a pain just now because my other Apple, the electronic one, is playing me up.  The cursor keeps jumping about, and the guess is that it is a hardware problem.  It doesn't feel like that to me as it started after I opened a dodgy email.  Any advice gratefully received before I start queuing at the genius bar.  In the meantime, here is the recipe for the very simple Dorset Apple Cake, cut out from a Waitrose magazine and stuck into my recipe book. I'm attempting to make some of those recipes in the book that I've never attempted before.  This one is quite light and delicate for an apple cake, and if my mum says it tastes good, well, that's good enough for me.  She's not known for her diplomacy.

Dorset Apple Cake

Take: 1 large Bramley, about 225g, 225g SR flour, 1 tsp baking powder, half a tsp of mixed spice, 125g cold butter, diced, 125g caster sugar, finely grated zest of 1 lemon, 2 medium eggs, beaten.  To finish: either 1 tbsp sugar for dredging or, for glaze, a tsp of honey and water.

Use a 20cm cake tin, lined and greased; preheat oven to 190 degrees C, Gas 5.

Peel and core apple into quarters.  Dice 3 of the quarters and finely slice the remaining quarter (keep this for the topping).

Sift flour, baking powder and spice.  Rub butter into flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs (well, sort of).  Stir in sugar, diced apple and lemon zest, then slowly add beaten eggs to forma  stiffish mixture.  Spoon into the prepared tin and level off.  Arrange the remaining slices apple on the top.  If there is not quite enough, just add a few slices of whatever eating apple you have to hand.

Bake for 30-40 mins until springy to touch.  Then either dredge with tbsp of sugar OR make a simple glaze with honey and a little hot water to melt the honey and brush this on.  I prefer a glaze and I'm thinking it might be nice with a little bit of cinnamon in.  Might try that next.  

Leave in the tin for 10 mins, then cool on a rack.    

Hope you have an apple-delicious day.  I hope to.  Cursors and curses permitting.

16 October 2011

the plot thickens

There have been dirty deeds afoot on the plot.  A thief, maybe more than one, breeching the defensive fences, cutting hasps and breaking into sheds, stealing brass and copper.  We have got off lightly so far - two entries, stuff tumbled about, seed packets scattered,  not a bean missing.  He better watch out this burglar bill, because one of the more determined plot holders set up a camera (!) and caught him climbing in, miner's style lamp on his head.  Times are hard, but there must surely be easier ways to make money.

Meanwhile I have been bean counting myself, a very satisfying pursuit, gently opening the crispy, crackling pods, and easing out the beans from their silky nests,  squirreling them away for next spring.  And taking stock of what must surely be the last crop of courgettes before the cold air sets a frost.

And we have been gradually bringing home our sacks and boxes of potatoes, a remarkably respectable crop which, unlike the tomatoes, escaped blight.

Pink ones, purple ones, yellow ones.  Delicious mashed, baked, turned into champ with eggs on top.  No idea which is which any more.  The plot thickens - a bit like the old waistline will no doubt.

11 October 2011


Looking seaward from Faversham Road - one that got away

I very much enjoyed my week of sending postcards, and was glad that it got me back into the swing of posting.  Not that I have ever lost the habit of sending postcards - choosing exactly the right card, condensing a message into a limited number of words, hoping that it will delight the recipient, is a pleasure in itself.  It reminded me too that I was a collector of postcards as a child.  I'm not sure what initiated the interest, possibly the fact that we never went away on holiday ourselves, maybe just a romantic interest in foreign places (i.e. anywhere that was not Stepney) or possibly even a developing interest in correspondence, those little messages about weather, the food, seeing you soon.  The collection was never collated, just put into a rather nasty mustard-coloured bag I'd been give as a prize at school.  I was not fussy about what went in, and gladly accepted donations.  Even my primary school teacher Miss Brogan (think Miss Jean Brodie gets a social conscience) used to give me those she received from exotic places.  I got bored with collecting in the end, and it languished in a cupboard for a good while. Some were cut up for templates for a patchwork I made, then the whole lot were eventually tipped down the chute.

It was not the end of the deltiology.  I like to bring home and send memento postcards of days out, or things that catch my fancy and there is a little stash for sending on.  And of course I like to receive them to.  I walked round the house to see what was on display on our mantelpieces.

In the sitting room, evidence of a fascination with singleton shoes -

Tamara Karsavina's ballet shoe, V&A exhibition

A favourite in the bedroom-

The Pearl Necklace by Dod Proctor and free set of cards from local Young's pub

An affectionate message from a friend says " Sunday 18/6/2000: Hello Colleen, I bought this for you over a year ago.  Yes, it sort of definitely reminds me of you.  I've bought another one now - one for the mantelpiece and this one is for you - Love and Kisses C xxx".  

On the kitchen mantel -

Birthday Card to Miss R Gillard of Shepherd's Bush; Lady Elizabeth White ( Matthew Smith); Ikea Note Card

And tucked into the dresser:

My Kitchen, Harold Harvey, with 1985 17p first class postage stamp

I'm impressed by the thought and attention that people - friends, family - have put into the choice of these cards. The Matthew Smith  was given to me because "That dress.  It's the sort of thing you'd wear".  And I'm amazed - and not a little moved - to find that "My Kitchen" has been on my dresser shelf for over 20 years, with a closely written and condensed snapshot of a springtime in Cornwall on the back:

There is another collector in this house, only the post cards are much more organised, neatly arranged in albums and, for the most part, new and unsullied by the hand of the postmant.  When we went out with a friend recently I warned her that he would disappear now and then to look at post card racks. The collection it is carefully collated, occasionally rearranged, and rather a pleasure to idle through.  Particular themes emerge - deserts and stones;, architecture - Islamic, classical, rural and modern; walls, flowers, the green man, mazes and topiary; the nude; seascapes, lighthouses and boats; railways; a page of owls; sculpture; the odd hero.

"It's like having your own little gallery.  It gives me pleasure "he says.  It's a bit more than that I think - a little history of likes, gratitude, and affection.  Send a postcard today, I say.

*Deltiology - the study and collection of postcards