29 July 2011

tiger, tiger

Do you ever have those days, or even weeks, when a particular image or thing keeps popping up?  It seems like coincidence, but I suspect that in the end you are just seeking out your quarry.  Thus, tigers - of all things- have loomed large over the last weeks.  It started off in Eastbourne when we were there.  Visiting the  Towner Gallery, there were some fabulous paintings by primary school children of tigers.  Then, later that day - and I wish I had asked if I could take a picture of this - a happy group of women, dressed in shalwar kameez, were walking along the prom with the most enormous fluffy tiger that I can only think they must have won at a fairground.  Later on still we stopped off at a pub - another tiger stalked us.

A week later, outside a charity shop,  a less happy sighting.

Perhaps at the back of my mind all the time was the tiger who came to tea.  You can take tea with said tiger at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green if you are brave enough.  My old friend Mrs C and I went today to hear the  charming and talented Judith Kerr, author and illustrator of the the Tiger who came to Tea and the Mog stories, telling us, and about a hundred other children, small and large, about the real Mog.  She was a delight.  Dressed in shocking pink and pearls, she told us how she always felt a little sad that the real Mog never knew how famous he was.  That was until she agreed, after much badgering, to let the BBC in to film the aged 19 year old cat.  Mog had spent the last year resting in his basket, literally on his last legs.  Like the greatest stars though, he rose to the occasion, performed some of the tricks that he had become famous for in fiction, and seemed to thoroughly appreciate the attention.  It was, in effect, his swansong, but told as many of Mrs Kerr's stories with sensitivity and gentleness.  She is a woman who has learnt much from her cat.

So we joined the queue of Mog and Tiger lovers to have our books signed - a new book for Mrs C's grandson, and the thirty year old book that she had first read to his mother (I had to present this as we were rationed to one book each).  And I had a chance to tell the writer face to face how much I enjoyed her story and how it had taken me to back to my own readings of Mog to my once-boy.

Then we went to have some tea. Real and imaginary.  Without drinking all the water in the tap.

Then we cycled home. 

In one piece.

23 July 2011

the courgette diaries

I feel as if my days are being measured out in courgettes.  The number of days since we last picked them.   How much it has rained since we last picked them.  The number that we pick. Whether there are any that hid last time and have turned into giants.  How many we have managed to foist on neighbours and friends.  That's not to say that I don't appreciate the wonderful harvest, the warmth of the mornings before the showers might arraive, the exuberance of growth.   And so we have been eating well.   Courgette and lemon risotto - made in the ususal risotto style though with olive oil rather than butter, courgettes chopped up smallish, with the rind of two lemons and juice added.  Scallops with samphire and char-grilled courgettes, a surprising salt/sweet combination.  Chocolate courgette cake using this recipe (sans ganache, reduce the sugar, add a spoonful of golden syrup and some chocolate gratings for a richer flavour) - delicate, moist, huge.  The ubiquitous frittata.

Everything else is forging ahead.  Charlotte potatoes, cucumbers from a plant I bought at a fete in Waltham Abbey, beans going wild, tomatoes waiting for some sun to ripen them, beetroot burgeoning, leeks settled into their deep holes, tiny parsley and coriander plantlets surviving benevolent neglect, asparagus beetle caterpillars munching.  Until I slayed them, thinking as I did so that if reincarnation ever comes my way, let's hope it is not as an asparagus beetle.

In the garden, I have been tantalised by the figs.  They are hugely swollen by last week's rain, but the tree has grown so tall that they are quite out of reach, and the rangy branches far to flexible to have a ladder set up against them.  I have been tempted to climb out on the kitchen roof to get a little closer, but have managed to restrain my appetite.  So morning finds us reaching up with inverted washing line props and brooms, trying to bend the fruits down within reach before the birds get them - not that I begrudge them, it's just that the tree is so fickle that it's rare for us to have a decent crop.

Such is the pedestrian pace this summer.  Some lovely outings though:

:: a visit to London Fields Lido on a warmish afternoon with a friend.  We'd first talked about going in the  winter when the steam rises off the water, but I guess we were just too wimpish in the end, unlike these swimmers.  Our visit this time took me back to the summer after our GCEs when a little gang of us would go the now disappeared Victoria Park Lido.  Something to do with the way the walls keep the sound in, and the way you see both trees and clouds when you dawdle along in the gently heated water on your back.  Later on in the week a swim in the sea, so cool that it made my fingers hurt till the next day.  For a full review of the Lido and more London swimming see Jenny's blog (thanks to Knit Nurse for the link).

London Fields

:: serving tea and cakes for the third year running at the brilliant Mile End Dog Show with its waggiest tails and smiliest dogs

:: a visit to the Piccadilly Pop Up Community Centre, a work by artist Christoph Buchel, to do a reccy for 30th July when East End WI will be looking after the Community Canteen and running a stall outside.   Quite how much work has gone into making this place just like a local community centre is amazing and getting involved by serving tea and baking is almost equally exciting and thought provoking.  It has to be experienced.

:: meeting the next recipient of I am Tower of Hamlets... when it was handed over, and filling the gap with a real echeveria

:: thinking I'd finished my Shetland blanket, then deciding that I needed to make it a little bit bigger

Botany Bay
There's more.  But as I started writing this four days ago and still have more to say, I better press the publish and be damned button.

07 July 2011


Why is there only one sunflower on the whole plot growing among the potatoes when it wasn't sown there when none of those we did sow have come up at all, and neither have the leaf chard, half the beetroot and ninety percent of the leeks?


Why are our neighbours already eating their beans when ours haven't even reached the top of the very lovely hazel-pole wigwam?

Why did these nasturtiums, that failed to appear last year, suddenly decide to turn up en masse?

Why do we put in too many courgette plants, never manage to pick the courgettes before they get too big (although the cucumbers are perfect) and then spend so long trawling books to find novel ways to cook them that we end up leaving them and going to bed; and why did I put into the wormery the egg box that I'd written down the plan of where I had planted all my potatoes so that now I don't know which are which; and why oh why do I never, ever tie up my tomato plants until it's too late.  I just know they will have been beaten into the ground by the torrential showers we had today, though I'm hoping against hope that my beautiful Mexican hollyhocks from Jeanette will have survived the downpour.

And why the bloomin' heck did I decide on a log-cabin design at my quilting class when it would surely have been quicker to build a proper log cabin (6-8 weeks apparently, according to my web-based research) and move in?

Does any of this explain why I'm so tired?

04 July 2011

i am tower of hamlets

Friday night is normally a winding down and relaxing time of the week for us.  This week it was all excitement. We went off to Chisenhale Art Gallery to collect Amalia Pica's sculpture - I am Tower of Hamlets, as I am in Tower of Hamlets, just like a lot of other people are - to bring it home to stay with us for a week. 

I'd seen the sculpture on the gallery's website and was looking forward to being able to get up close to it, to get its measure, to put my hands on it.  It is a very lovely thing, a pink granite echeveria, with all the strokes and marks that come with the fashioning of granite, extremely touchable.  We feel very honoured to be its first hosts, delighted that an echeveria has made its way into the home of a gardener who lost his own echeverias in this last cold, cold winter; and a little apprehensive.  I mean, how fragile is a block of granite in a house with two adults and three cats?  And will we be able to safeguard it so that it can continue its journey around the borough when we have to hand it over to its next home?  Because this is a nomadic sculpture.  At the end of the week we will put it carefully into its specially crafted wooden box-on-wheels and hand it on to another host in the borough.  And so it will go on for a year until it is returned to Amalia with a list of the hosts.

It's worth reading Amalia's description of how she came to create the event that is the nomadism of the sculpture, its passing from house to house, as part of the "Sense of Place" project she has been working on. 

I remember the school pet in 2nd grade, and how exciting it was when it was my turn to take it home. My poor dog felt a bit displaced. There was something so different about taking care of something for a limited amount of time. I also remember ‘The Mary’. It was only an object, plaster shaped to represent the Virgin. Members of my local church in the Patagonian Desert would pass it from house to house, and host it for one day at a time. My family was not part of this tradition, but I would have liked to host The Mary. Not for religious reasons, but I wanted to host IT, as if there was something about its thingness that would inundate the house. It occurs to me now that just as I did then - I believe in the power of objects. I believe they can make things happen. But I wouldn’t have wanted to have IT forever. There was something about having what other people have had and what other people would have after me, to be part of something bigger by holding this thing which had become so much bigger than itself, simply by being in all these different places. I only ever saw The Mary in the final procession, the day it came back to church. I was skating on the street and saw it going inside. I wished to know all the places it had been to. Did IT collect memories of those places, from homes that were just front doors to me? 

The passing on of objects from one place seems to me an altogether good thing.  Or the re-creation of new objects from old, like taking old fabrics and making new things from them.  Fanciful it may be, but I like to think that materials can take an impression of a place or time and hold on to them.  I'm also very taken with the concept of creating a sense of place through this nomadic sculpture.  At the micro level, this has come down to deciding quite where the sculpture should stay.  We wanted it in a place it could be seen properly and admired at its best.  We moved it around to different rooms trying to find the best place.  We decided in the end that the kitchen mantelpiece was the best place because it's the room we most use.

Then when I was sitting out in the garden I thought it might like like some time in the sun...

... in a place where we might be able to look down on it too.

It might be moving again, because I think it should have at the very least a tea party to celebrate being in this particular place.  It is nomadic after all.