25 January 2011

couch potato

When I first started to write this blog, I wrote fairly regularly about my allotment.  We'd only just moved there, it needed a lot of work, and still does to be honest, and it felt like a considerable challenge to get the soil in some sort of decent condition.  As time has passed, I've written less about it and have gone beyond the point where I'd get excited about the arrival of a new seed catalogue. These days I'm more likely to buy my seeds in Lidl and my seed potatoes in Homebase.  Shocking.  That is until I discovered  a Potato Fair in South London, a short train ride away on the wonderful London Overground line from Dalston Junction to Crystal Palace.  It was just what I needed to drag me away from a comfy sofa, a nice fire and an afternoon of snoozing.

It seems to have been quite a while since I was thrilled by boxes of spuds and seeds for sale, but this event, held in the unprepossessing surroundings of a 1960s school hall, had quite an infectious atmosphere largely because of the enthusiastic stallholders and punters.  So now I find myself the owner of a three rhubarb crowns, three Marco garlic bulbs and a dozen packets of seeds, some I've never tried before - Blue Ballet Pumpkins, Black Beauty Courgettes, Applegreen poppies, Rio Grande tomatoes, as well as some old favourites.  Across the room there are rows of egg boxes I've filled with chitting potatoes. Sixty one little spuds, ten different varieties, some sensibly chosen for blight resistance (Winston, Lady Balfour, Sante, Edgecote), others because I know they taste good (Charlotte, Epicure), like their colour (Highland Burgundy), or because they are prettily named. (Orla, Druid, Yetholm Gypsy).

I'm off the couch, out of my rut and looking forward to spring again. 

24 January 2011

string theory

When I got home from my play-reading group last week (such a good night, must write more about it),  I found lined up on the dresser what appears to be John's domestic string collection.  I say domestic because I know for a fact that there is more in the allotment shed, including some beautiful red string he procured at the Garden Museum, and, no doubt, yet more in his various hiding places at work.  He says he was looking for a connector for the bike pump but once he started to investigate the gulag on top of the cupboard, discovered he had collected more string than he realised.  I point this out not to mock but to demonstrate the irresistibility of yarny things that come in a package of neatly wound comforting roundness. 

I happen to be one of those people that finds it hard to throw away leftover string or, come to that, anything that isn't very obviously rubbish.  But increasingly I am itching to minimise the amount of clutter in my house.  Deciding on a minimal Christmas, then seeing the exhibition of John Pawson's work at the Design Museum and the film Of Gods and Men, beautifully located in a spartan rural monastery in Morocco, amplified the attractions of a clutter-free existence.  So until I manage a purge of sufficient force to actually get rid of some of the matter round here,  I'm adopting my own attempt at supersymmetry - one in, one out.

That's the theory.  If anyone has any more practical advice, I'd love to hear it.

19 January 2011

the future's not so orange

So I had a lovely afternoon  one afternoon last week dutifully making marmalade.  I used a Jane Grigson recipe which involves boiling the whole oranges for an hour and a half, shredding them, putting them back in the water with the pips in a muslin bag and sugar, then boiling for 10 minutes.  It was miserable outside, but the kitchen smelt gorgeous, all fruity and sweet.  The only problem was I misinterpreted the recipe and decided to bin the pulp and keep the rind.  No idea why though my friend thinks it's something to do with age. So now I have six lovely looking jars of marmalade ...

...that have not set properly.  So I've bought some more Seville Oranges to have another go, will try to rescue the existing jars with a bottle of Certo, and take comfort from the full moon I saw tonight at the seaside and the orange street lamps.

08 January 2011

reasons to be cheerful

I have been longing to get to the seaside for ages.  We tried a couple of times over the holidays but various mishaps prevented us - losing my specs (found by my son three days later in the gutter outside the house with one lens missing); losing the car key (found four days later under a cushion on the kitchen chair); being generally hacked off at losing things all the time; and then having to lay on the sofa for a day in shock after shelling out for two new pairs of specs.  But we got there today, a day when the temperature soared to balmy nine and a half degrees C, the sheep were out on the marshes, the tide was in, and the sky cleared enough in the evening for a beautiful sunset and a glint of crescent moon.  It was a day when the gods of thrift and geekery smiled down too - a toasted tea cake that actually tasted of spices; from a charity shop, a hand-knit sea green aran cardigan for me (no more feeling cold when I'm too mean to turn on the heating) and some new candy stripe cotton sheets; a book of Henry Moore's drawings and a half-pint glass for John; three pounds of Seville oranges for a marmalade fest.

Before we started out for home, we sat on a wall at the top of the hill overlooking the sea and listened to several robins singing in the trees, presumably marking out their territories.  It put me in mind of Felix's wondrous balm for the soul mixdown of bird song.

And for a totally indulgent end to the day, we had a home-made all-day breakfast, a glass of beer and an evening of Sherlock Homes on Radio 7.

Hobgoblin and half pint glass

Sometimes it does not need very much at all to make a good day.  Now all I have to do is to make some space for the haul, which is another story altogether.

07 January 2011

twelfth night

I remembered only last night to decant the damson gin I made at the end of September.  Very good it is too, as are the gin-soaked damsons.  A small glass with the last slice of cake livened up the melancholy task of taking down the cards, the greenery and the decorations.  These last few days of the holidays after seeing in the New Year at least offered a gentle easing back into the routine of the everyday. Now there are things to be done, soups to be made, washing to be dried, budgets to be balanced, tears to be mended, hems to be sewn, space to be made in cupboards, outings to be planned.  A little more hare, a little less tortoise perhaps.

06 January 2011

another year

This newspaper cutting about Gilbert's White tortoise fell out of a book over the holidays:

"... it is a matter of wonder to find that Providence should bestow such a profusion of days, such a seeming waste of longevity, on a reptile that appears to relish it so little as to... be lost to all sensation for months together in the profoundest of slumbers.

While I was writing this letter, a moist and warm afternoon with the thermometer at 50 brought forth troops of shell-snails; and, at the same time, the tortoise heaved up the mould and put out its head; and the next morning came forth, as it were from the dead; and walked till four in the afternoon." (Gilbert White: The History of Selbourne, Penguin 1977)

I have not been particularly successful at achieving one of my resolutions, to get up earlier, but it's a little warmer today so I shall be venturing out myself.

And a Happy New Year to you too!