31 August 2011

later than you think

Much loved egg timer, went the way of Humpty Dumpty

When I visited Southwold this weekend, I noticed a little brass plaque on the pier commemorating a happy union which included a message reminding them that 'it's later than you think'.  Indeed it is.  Just when you think summer might be getting into its stride, the nights are drawing in and all the things you meant to do or mention seem to have happened weeks, or even months ago.  So here, in no particular order, and sadly late in many cases, are some of the things I've enjoyed, or not, this summer.

:: An eyrar of swans.  It was the mayday bank holiday and it felt like the beginning of summer.  All week I'd been listening to, and very much enjoying, the reading of Edgelands  by its authors Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley on the radio, and I wanted to take a cycle ride through some of my own edgelands - up the canal to the Lea Navigation.  We rode past the Olympic Site; saw wild roses on the tow path; had a picnic on Tottenham Marshes (it's not all riots); and carried on into the wind all the way up to Waltham Abbey.

 There we found, joy of joys, the church fete in progress with all the treasures they offer - a second hand thermos flask, a selection of plants, a cup of tea and a slice of cake, a walk round the abbey church and its ground, lots of lovely walls.  A brisk ride home and the eyrar of swans.  If you have not come across Edgelands and you are interested in the forgotten landscapes at the edges or between-spaces of cities, the beauty that can be found in the remnants of industrial landscapes, the way that nature can creep into such places to create something secret or magical or moving, then I'd strongly recommend it.

:: another ride last week, this time to Walthamstow Marshes, to find blackberries.  Half the bushes had been cut back, and the rest had been stripped bare.  But I did see a kestrel sitting on a post and that felt like some kind of reward for my effort;  that and the cup of tea at the Counter Cafe on Fish Island where there is always a friendly welcome for you and your bike.

:: a bit of culture, with lots of thinking about how utterly amazing Turner was after twice visiting  the Tate's Watercolour exhibition (too late to go again now), and then trying to outdo each other with supposed "sightings" of seascapes on our days out.

We also had a great giggle at the Vorticists' Blast, and after that creating our own list of all the items we would include in our own edition.  I seem to remember that Seb Coe featured high.  Good fun for a rainy day.

On a day when the sun shone, a trip to Folkestone and a high speed tour around some of the Triennial exhibits.  Along the Leas to the Martello Tower for a magical peep into the wildness around the tower.

Towards the Sound of Wilderness, Cristina Iglesias

Out along the beach to ring a 16th C out of tune bell, and witness the disdain of a couple of locals.

Out of Tune, A K Dolven
A walk through the abandoned station on the sea front, the place soldiers arrived to continue their journey to the battlefields...

Rug People, Paloma Varga Weisz

... and an encouraging sighting of crambe, toadflax and valerian growing through the desolate sleepers.

:: a sighting of the straw Urban Fox on the Southbank during the celebration of the Festival of Britain; and liking Tracy Emin more than I thought.

Urban Fox

::  a trip to the Imperial War Museum to see the eye opening Women War artists exhibition, worth seeing  Ruby Loftus close up and the moving work of Frauke Eigen.

A lot to think about.  And now we need to get ready for our last few outings before the equinox sends some gales our way.

19 August 2011

right out on the marsh

You must know Tollesbury, Chief.  Everybody knows Tollesbury... A wonderful place.  You must know Tollesbury.  

Yachts, oysters, fishing boats...

Right out on the marsh, yet only forty odd miles from London. 

 It's littered with little sea going boats, all of them out in the river well away from the village, and the dinghies lie around on the mud with no one to mind them (Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke, Chapter 18).

I'd picked up a copy of "The Tiger in the Smoke" in a charity shop, in the mood for a bit of post-war murder and fog "like a saffron blanket soaked in ice-water", so when we were up in Margery Allingham's  old stamping ground around Tolleshunt D'Arcy we decided to take a detour to Tollesbury.  I didn't even know that Tollesbury was mentioned in the book until I found it on an information sign on the river front.

Somehow the link between the fog of Allingham's London and the fusc of the marshes seemed just right.  And it was good to find that there were still boats in the mud of the river.  Lots of boats.  And wood, and old iron and bricks, all littering the place, a lovely muddle of works in progress and paint splashes.  Even a salt water pool with a sign saying you must not enter if there are already a thousand people in it.

We stopped and talked to the owner of "Reminder".  He's restoring the boat, an old fishing boat previously owned by the Osbornes of Leigh on Sea (the place where I bought my cockle tea).  It had gone out to Dunkirk, one of those that had made the journey safely.  It felt like the boat was in safe hands again.

I've no idea what Tollesbury is like when its busy, if indeed it ever it is.  We were there just before dusk which may well be the perfect time to go, as the rabbits are coming out in the fields, the goldfinches bombarding the thistles around the sea wall and mist is rising off the marshes,

10 August 2011

another day

Now this may look like an unusual sight in a quiet residential street, or may seem to be another visible sign of the extra police out today.  In fact, the horses pass the end of my street most days;  the Bow Police stables are just a little way down the main road and we are obviously on their exercise route.  They are very fine horses and  the sound of their hooves is much more pleasant than sirens.

So things seem a little more back to normal.  The shops were open, I could return my library books, and sit in the square with my pot of tea and a magazine this afternoon.  The only visible disorder was our local inebriate having a pee in the bushes (lots of complaints about that in the local newsletter though).  However, the proprietor of one corner shop tells us that the other corner shop was mobbed and the owner pushed around while they stole stuff, a sad tale because he does a fabulous job of keeping us all in newspapers, clean clothes, and any ingredient or alcohol you might need on the quick.  We managed to visit the allotment without finding that we were the victims of shed break-ins like our neighbours (this has been going on for the last few weeks), dig up some potatoes, bring home the first tomatoes - before the blight really takes a hold - runner beans, the getaway courgettes and, blimey, some big fat cucumbers hidden under the voluminous foliage.  The fresh beans were sublime and supper very good indeed.  That made me happy.

Thank you very much for your kind comments yesterday.  Good to know that you are around.

09 August 2011

every moment

I suppose there is something paradoxical, if not perverse, about using one type of damage to illustrate a discussion of the most vile damage that has taken part in London over the last couple of days.  However, this particular piece of work, a couple of steps away from the wonderful butterflies that appeared the day after Alexander McQueen's death, cheered me and helped to shake off some of the outrage I've been feeling about what has been happening in this corner of London.  I'd just cycled along to try and help  riotcleanup in Bethnal Green, but it seemed that all the work had been done by the time I got there.  Thanks to those people, for showing that for the tiny minority who want to pillage and trash, there are many, many more who do care.  And as much as I don't want to preach, we need to remember that, and do what we can to take back control of the places we care about.

08 August 2011

to shoeburyness

Sea Holly
From the top class in primary school, we looked down on the Fenchurch Street line trains, but until last week I had never gone quite to the terminus, the mysterious Shoeburyness.  It was hot and humid.  I wanted to cool down by some water and it's an easy journey from here.  Cycle to Limehouse along the canal, lug your bike up the stairs to the platform, then travel above and through the Essex marshes until you reach the outer reaches of the Thames Estuary.  Pitsea, Benfleet, Leigh on Sea, Chalkwell, Westcliff, Southend, Thorpe Bay, and then, the end of the line.  A small station, on the flat, a few warehouse based small businesses on one side and not much on the other, rows of terraced houses beyond. You can pretty much follow your nose down to the beach, fenced in Ministry of Defence land on one side and parkland on the other butting up against a narrow sand and gravel beach, packed with people squeezed into the narrow strip created by the high tide.  

I can hardly say that I explored Shoeburyness after all this time.  I just wanted to see the seaside. And it was the sea, according to the map, because just at this corner, the Thames meets the North Sea.  A real ness, with real maritime plants.

And, going west through the parkland, what I think is the Shoeburyness Heavy Quick Firing Battery.

You can pretty much ride off road for most of the trip, though when you come to Thorpe Bay, land of swanky houses and infinity pools, you have to walk your bike along the esplanade if you want to see the water, or the locals enjoying lunch outside their beach huts.  Further on, Southend was heaving with coachloads of sunburnt people and some of the most interesting tattoos this side of the river.  My mum will be pleased that there is snazzy lift to take you up the high street.  Last time I came here with her and Aunt Lil she wanted to know what they'd done to make the hill so steep.

I stopped for bit at Chalkwell to test the water and look out over the estuary with its fabulous blue-grey light.  The tide was higher and everyone was squashed on to a tiny triangle of beach, reluctant to give up until the very last minute.  Hastier departures had resulted in the abandonment of beach shoes. I wondered whether you could still buy Meltonian Shoe White in a tube;  and I thought about the afternoons that we had dashed down to the station with a boy and bucket and spade to this very beach.

The last leg of the journey was mostly on foot, where the path runs with the water on one side and the railway on the other, not enough room for cyclists and pedestrians.  We always used to walk to the next station at Leigh on Sea to catch the train home.  Because it has ice cream, tea rooms, working boats...

... and cockle sheds where you can buy all sorts of sea food.  Then there's the Crooked Billet pub where if you are lucky you can get a window seat, an Adnams beer, and watch the world go by before you go off for your cockle tea.

Two helpings.

04 August 2011

damp air, breezy air

Mrs C knows I like a bit of weather, so she gave me an old book on meteorology.

This picture always makes me laugh.

There will be no washing on the line here today.