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.