31 March 2012


I've yet to see a live hare this year, and feel disappointed not to have provided one in March, so let me tell you instead about our trip to Oxford in January.  We'd gone to see an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and afterwards walked in the rain to the Ashmolean to see the Samuel Palmer sepia prints. As long as you ask at the information desk in advance the staff in the print room will let you in and get out the prints for you to see. It makes you feel quite special. On the day we went  it was very quiet up there, just the ticking of a clock, and the shuffling of paper and easels. The model lady archivists got the prints out in pairs, set them up gently, and offered us magnifying glasses of monumental proportions to examine the prints more closely.  And they really are the most exquisite and desirable works, detailed with trees, leaves, flowers, tiny cottages, wooly sheep on hilltops. This one - "Early Morning" - may well be my favourite.  I like to think it's a hare rather than a rabbit in the woods, though it is described as a rabbit elsewhere.  But look at those ears, and the shape of the head, and the length of those back legs.  And hares will eat woody things, and are more solitary than rabbits. Surely I'm right.

We also got to see the Palmer self- portrait at the same time.  It's quite an intense and intimate experience being so close, seeing the little smears and watery splodges, the vulnerable, young face, wondering how this young man got to see the world the way he did. It was rather aspecial, a little overwhelming in fact, and to be recommended, especially on a cold wet day.

Back to the hares.  I did manage to find one today, further from nature but closer to home.

The Hare, Cambridge Heath Road

Not quite so romantic.  It's a pub.

29 March 2012

the 2012 asparagus post

It seems to have become a tradition to post a picture of the newly emerging asparagus.  A few days earlier this year than last.  I swear that between taking this picture and leaving for home a couple of hours later, it had grown at least another inch.

Soft boiled eggs and asparagus dippers for tea at the weekend maybe.

eating local

Three and three, one and one at Kelly's, Roman Road

When my dear cousin Paulette comes to visit from some corner of the world or other, she has to have pie and mash.  For the uninitiated reader, this local  dish is made up of a meat pie and a wodge of potato, plastered onto the plate from the side of a large wooden spoon, then drenched in "liquor", a variation on parsley sauce, more liquid and salty than any gastro-cook might let pass.

I suspect that the taste for pie and mash has to be acquired either through genes, upbringing, sheer fortitude or desperate hunger.  I suffered none of these as a child other than the genes, and I managed not to inherit this particular one.  While bossy aunts and cousins used to line up in the local pie and mash shop on Saturday mornings - Govers, Watney Street (I hope you are reading, Joan) - I would watch snootily as giant trays of pies were carried aloft by brawny pie-men to be served up by a crew of tiny women wearing grease-spotted overalls and round NHS specs. The proprietors would turn a blind eye while I waited for the feast to end, eating chips from the fish and chip shop along the street. Then, one day last year, I relented. I was in Walthamstow Market, and walked past Manzies, pie and mash aristocracy, and thought what a shameful thing it would be if I died without experiencing the local delicacy. It was better than OK, as most things are when you give them a whirl. And the ambience of Manzies was wonderful - Victorian splendour, sawdust on the floor, spotlessly clean.

Kelly's, at our end of Roman Road, is less posh, though more upmarket than the teaspoon-on-a-chain tradition of the Hoxton Street pie and mash shop John recalls.  Paulette ordered three and three.  I balked, with my measly one and one.  "Are you sure about that?"  "Watch me" said Paulette.

Half an hour later when the young Kelly heiress came to clear up she congratulated her personally. "I didn't think you'd manage all that.  You looked too lady-like."

Ha!  If only she knew.

28 March 2012

shopping local

Even before the car was put to death, I was making an effort to buy closer to home rather than use the supermarket.  It's hardly penance.  I've been going to the same market stalls for years to stock up, shamelessly flirt with the fruitman to get an extra apple, and have seen his lovely boy blossom from a shy teenager into a fully blown coster.  There are also scores of small local grocers with exotic names to indicate their exotic wares, all vying for custom.  Big bowls of peppers, tomatoes, bananas, grapes, all at a pound, spices, oils, ghee.  There is a proper, first class corner shop too where you can buy everything, and a friendly second class one that we laughingly call our wine purveyor.  (Ah, Robert ,we love you and Ye Olde Corner Shoppe, but why do you never  have enough Weston's Organic or Barley Wine for cold nights?).  All it needs is a bit of effort, some planning and a willingness to go without occasionally.

My favourite haunt, though, has to be the wool shop.  Yesterday afternoon after one abortive effort to reclaim my parking licence, and a more successful second visit, I popped in to PYF just to say hello. Rachael was on her way out to do her own local shopping at the Ginger Pig - I may have heard sausage rolls mentioned - and Louise and I sat in the sunny window chatting about life, me sending sly sideway glances to the surrounding lusciousness.  And that was it.  Rapunzel like locks of pinkness caught my eye, and I'm not even a lover of pink.  She says they've had it for ages, so I can only imagine it was the sun glinting on the lace and silver paper.  It's called Make, Do and Mend and it's worth every last point on the ration book, even if you only cast admiring looks, give it a stroke now and then, and think of princesses stuck in towers or out with their shopping bags.

We had to eat porridge for tea.

26 March 2012

why I like mondays

Monday morning airing

There was a time, not so long ago, when the thought of Monday morning made me feel glum.  It's probably the same mindset that has made nostalgia filled Sunday night viewing so successful.  A winding down after trying to fill all sorts into a busy weekend - shopping, walking, cycling, gardening, visiting, cooking, baking, washing.  Now I see every Monday as a fresh start - a quick clean, the recycling out, washing on the line, get the week going.  And this Monday, with the sun shining outside and the cool March morning air blowing through the bedrooms and kitchen, is most welcome for it has been busy couple of weeks with some good, bad and ugly.  For a start, having the car written off by some lads haring round our street corner far too fast has been a complete pain in the arse, largely because of the negotiation of bureacracy rather than subsequent need to cycle or take the train - more of this perhaps another day.  Then there has been defence of the realm, my little realm, arguing against planning permission for a neighbour's somewhat invasive extension.  Perhaps I have become so used to a quiet life that this decided disquiet has had me completely strung out a second time round.

Southbank Calendulas

There have, of course been good days, very good days: a mother's day lunch: jolly times with the WI in London and Cambridge; seeing my young cousin's clever and funny first play performed at a pucker theatre; volunteer teaching finger-knitting at the Knitting and Stitching show - this is a good way not to spend money, by the way, as you are too worn out to make any purchasing decisions; a first-of-the-year railway ride to the seaside; offering a B&B stop for friends and family; my last upholstery class of the term; using my wheat and poppy speckled carpet yarn bag around town; a meeting at the Southbank roof garden on a sunny day to talk about a garden project - it's not going ahead in after all, but what a fab place to meet; finally doing a bit of sowing and planting and rewarding ourselves with some rapid home-made scones.

Scones for tea
It may have been quiet in this space, but a hundred thoughts have been flying about in my head.

More tales to come.  Meanwhile,  enjoy the sunshine.

11 March 2012

full of eastern promise

I'm not quite sure what possessed him. You'd have thought he'd have had enough of gardening all week without taking on another allotment.  You do, however, have to admire someone who takes on  the challenge of creating something beautiful out of yet another junkyard full of glass, couch grass, bricks, bottles, jars, couch grass, corrugated plastic, cast iron, brambles, hawthorn, railway sleepers, lino, carpets, guttering, nails and broken glass.  And did I mention the couch grass?

He's starting to lick it into shape with the help of the extraordinary long handled (Irish) spade and lashings of hard work.  I think he's very much inspired by the location which, he told me today, has so many of the attributes necessary for the perfect allotment - a canal, a pumping station and sewage works, the occasional sound of a railway nearby, gas works in the distance, enough green space and trees nearby for plenty of birds, hiding places for passing cats and foxes.

And a south facing shed.