24 December 2013

day 24: all we like sheep

With apologies to Handel for the missing comma, here are two wise old girls at Mudchute today, one slightly disapproving, one with a smile. They remind me of the two sisters in Cranford, watchful, waiting for news. Maybe they know something we don't.

So here we are again for another year. Thanks for coming along on the journey around East London and beyond, and leaving all your lovely comments.  Peace, joy and good wishes to you all. 

Hallelujah and amen to that.

23 December 2013

days 21, 22 & 23: a flurry, a star and whisky galore

Flurry: a small swirling mass of something, especially snow or leaves, moved by sudden gusts of wind; a sudden short period of activity or excitement; a number of things arriving or happening suddenly in a short period.

We have been bartering, my neighbour and I: her barely used spare mattress in exchange for hemming her curtains. It wasn't a bad deal, though I had forgotten what a pain net curtains can be. It was a lovely escape, actually, and as I sat at the sewing machine with the rain pouring and the long lasting leaves from the mulberry tree next door swirling around outside, I almost managed to forget that there were other jobs that needed to be done. I optimistically thought there might even be time to make a few late gifts. Wildly overambitious of course, especially when there was cake to be made for visitors, resulting in a flurry of flour and sugar instead. Then there was carol singing, social stuff, a bit of cheery jiving, shopping, deliveries. That flurry soon became more of a meltdown.

So to leaven the gloom of the heavy downpours this afternoon, we went off to find a star, and settled on the Star of the East in Limehouse. I've been curious about this old gin palace  for years. Back in the 50s it would have been packed with seamen or locals who left their bored children outside with lemonade and arrowroot biscuits. Outside there's a hint of the Alhambra, plus some original gas lamps. Inside it's more like the Wild West - bare floors, a scattering of seriously dedicated drinkers, and tables too heavy to pick up and throw through the windows.

We couldn't quite relive Whisky Galore which we'd been giggling over  this week. But we did our best for twenty minutes. Possibly the bargain of the month, if you don't mind a curious adventure thrown in.

20 December 2013

day 20: tree

Normally there is strict observance of the house rule that the tree does not go up until the weekend before Christmas. Now I realise that may well have been a mistake. We reached the point, with the cold and all, where something bright was needed to cheer us up over and above a glass of pudding sherry, so here is the driftwood tree, lights, three felt robins, a perplexed cat wondering what I am doing outside the house looking in, and a more cheerful household.

Driftwood and  drift plastic junk
The trip a few weeks ago to find exactly the right planks of wood for the tree, including a triangular piece for the top was made on a clear afternoon, timed so that the tide was far enough out to allow us to mooch about on the shore. As you may have gathered, we are partial to a bit of driftwood. Quite often it ends up just propped against the wall because it is too interesting, too tactile, too full of the past and possibilities.

I like the idea that our tree has been resurrected from the river. It's quite a fragile construction - one careless move and the whole lot could come tumbling down. It only has to hold on until the New Year, after which, well, it depends on how cold it is.

19 December 2013

days 17,18 & 19 : a sneeze, a cold and some oranges

Suddenly the advent calendar turned into Pandora's Box. It started with a sneeze, then a fit of sneezing and didn't stop until it was a fully blown thick head and aching limbs. Half a bowl of little oranges helped, and some real sunshine.

16 December 2013

day 16: dear hart

Or is it deer heart?

You can always rely on the V&A to pull out the stops with the decorations, and I like the playfulness of this year's offering, the colour, textures and the antlers peeking out.

If only I'd thought of it first.

15 December 2013

day 15: winter fuel

I was hoping to discover another series of Borgen behind the door of the calendar today, but alas not. All I found were grey skies, rain, a pile of cards to write and a pressing desire to stay indoors.  But what's this? Lurking in the background, some winter fuel, gleaned from the shore of the Thames at Purfleet. And Smiley's People on BBC i-player.

It's not even cold outside to be honest, but we can pretend it is, just to get in the spirit of winter and all that.

14 December 2013

day 14: paper decorations

Next to our cake stall in the Museum of Childhood last Saturday was a lovely young woman who designs and makes displays for the museum, Without the resources of their parent, the V&A, this outpost has learned to be resourceful and so we learnt in passing how simple it was to make these paper baubles. Waiting for that pudding to boil last night, I exercised my newly acquired knowledge and spent a relaxing hour cutting a musical score into strips and stapling them together. I hope Mozart isn't turning in his grave, wherever it might be. 

The decorations, along with some stars, are now adorning our slightly bonkers entry to the local Christmas tree festival. It's all very Barbara and Tom this year but at least it hardly cost a penny. Maybe in 2014 we'll be able to go a bit more bling and leopardskin, a la Bet Lynch, if things look up - or down as the case may be.

13 December 2013

day 13: the pudding

We've been here many times before, only it seems later and later each year, not that our enthusiasm for Christmas pudding has diminished in any way, just that it seems to take longer each year to get into the swing of the season. Same recipe, no half measures, a three pint pudding bowl, hours of boiling - that rumbling on the cooker, such a purposeful domestic sound. And when all is done, the pleasure of leftover pudding for breakfast on Boxing Day to look forward to. So satisfying.

(Thanks to Jess from Knitting on Trains for her recent giveaway of a gift from Neat Eats which I won. No prize for guessing what I chose.)

12 December 2013

day 12: fortification

By the time we get round to serving the port and sherry at the Over 50s Christmas Tea Dance, we must have poured out at least two hundred cups of tea - weak tea, strong tea, black tea, milky tea, extra hot tea. The variations are endless. 

There's strong ration control on the fortified wine however - only one small glass per person - but it's all done fairly. We ladies of the WI are even allowed to secrete a glass behind the cups and saucers and take a sip between pouring tea. It makes you feel like Irene Handl or some  middle-aged barmaid in an Ealing Comedy. Come to think of it, the whole cast of the  tea dance would fit in very nicely there too.

11 December 2013

days 10 &11: holly, ivy and bells

Normally the handlebars of my bicycle are decked with fake flowers, supposedly to deter any potential  - default male - thieves who might balk at the prospect of cycling on a hippy-looking bike. That's the theory at least. After a couple of years out in all weathers, those flowers were looking a little sad, even after I washed them so, with a snip here and there in the garden, they were soon replaced with something a little more seasonal. But you know how is it once you start with a bit of embellishment...where to stop?

I'm hoping that the bells will act as a gentle warning to strollers on the towpath, my routeway to all three points of the compass from here. The tinkle they make on the uneven path is really rather nice, just a suggestion that something is approaching rather than a commanding ring. I suppose it's possible that some people might think that they are suffering from auditory hallucinations but that's no bad thing if it makes them slow down for a moment or two.

So there you are - triple helpings today. Singles tomorrow.

09 December 2013

day 9: camel

This paper camel fell out of "my" cupboard the other day, the cupboard that's filled with books and old bank statements, passports and paper that might come in handy, handbags and old photos and stationery. It must have been there for twenty odd years because the niece who made it is now in her thirties. She was one a child who had to be doing something all the time; this must have been come from her origami phase. So how do you photograph an origami camel that is on its last legs? Why you get out that old junk shop platter that caught your eye one day and has only been used about half a dozen times since the day it came into the house.

I'm glad it all came in handy for advent because this may be the end of the road for these two. My resolution for next year is to lighten the load and any camel should be happy to hear that. It's something that has been at the back of my mind for a while and needs a little bit of elaboration. Plenty of time for that between now and the end of the month.

That origami camel though. It's really rather sweet.

ETA: Meant to say, read Esther on how to lighten the load for Christmas. It really cheered me!

08 December 2013

day 8: promise

Today we have a promise hidden within the calendar, and unusal one. If you think an image of some dried pea pods is an odd one to describe a promise, you might soon understand.

Joanna Dobson has always struck me as a woman of integrity and honesty, and I've been reading her blog for several years now, and over the last wee while, she has written more and more about her interest in the story of Incredible Edible Todmorden - the town that has been learning how to feed itself. Joanna's interest has gradually developed into a much more serious commitment - a full blown project, launched on Kickstarter, a crowd funding site, to raise the funding to publish a book about the story of Todmorden to encourage others to  think about doing something similar. 

This is what Joanna says about the project. "Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution is the story of Incredible Edible Todmorden, the extraordinary local food movement that has become a worldwide phenomenon. I wrote Incredible! in collaboration with the movement’s co-founder, Pam Warhurst, in whose voice the book is told. From ‘propaganda planting’ in cemeteries and on station platforms, to a Green Route that has transformed the look and feel of a Yorkshire mill town and a global network that is helping to change the way we think about the future, the Incredible Edible movement is rippling out across the world. Over two years I have interviewed a whole range of people whose lives have been changed by Incredible Edible, from another co-founder Mary Clear, who ripped out all the roses in her front garden and replaced them with vegetables and a sign saying ‘Help Yourself’, to the farmer who credits with movement with boosting sales of his award-winning cheeses, and the high school student who thought his destiny was a dead end job until he became a student director of the project and realised that was a lie (he’s now at university). Woven into the story are facts and figures about our broken food system and illustrations of how it could change to give all of us a better future."

I'd never heard of Kickstarter until recently but I did understand the whole concept of crowd funding. I very much like the idea of a crowd of people risking a small contribution to help tp realise a project they believe in. It is really exciting to see that  Joanna is so very close to the £10000 target that can make the promise of publication a reality. When I checked earlier she was within £750 of her target. With just 3 days to go, she needs just a little bit of help. Worth thinking about or maybe even foregoing a glass of wine or a couple of cups of coffee*and pledging a fiver.

•Incredible, but that's how much you'll pay in the pubs or cafes round here. Not me, because I'm very mean so I have made a pledge to Joanna instead.

07 December 2013

day 7: yule log

My friend called. She was looking for somebody to make her a Buche de Noel and wondered whether a baker from the WI might be interested. Of course there was. Me. Never made one before so all the more reason to have a go.

It wasn't as difficult as I thought but there were lots of lessons learnt.  Firstly, read the instructions - that way you might beat the egg yolks before you add the cocoa. Secondly, do a bit more research than just going to the kitchen cupboard and getting out the Delia Christmas book you've had for 20 years because there might be a better way to do things. Thirdly, check whether the plate you put it on can actually fit into the carrier box because otherwise it'll be a bit awkward to get it over to Islington on the bus. Fourthly, remember that candied chestnuts are not commonplace in Mile End. Fifthly, leave enough time to  complete the operation in one fell swoop otherwise you might have problems with an unwieldy ganache. And don't even think about making it on the same day as you are committed to baking two dozen cupcakes and two other cakes.

If you fancy having a go, I suggest you read Felicity Cloake's article first. My offering used this Delia recipe to make the bare log as far as the rolling it up stage; and Felicity Cloake's generous ganache to finish it off.  Despite the tribulations, it worked out well enough. The best part was making it look like a log;.licking the bowl; cutting the perfect piece of holly from the garden; presenting it in perfect condition to my friend; being told that it looked pretty being given a slice to eat.

By the way, if I had to identify the species of tree, I'd say this was an oak log, wouldn't you?

06 December 2013

day 6: chestnuts

This is one of fifty two chestnut trees in Greenwich Park. Just imagine, you could visit one every week of the year and then start all over again to see what had changed. Myself, I find it quite extraordinary that these trees are so very old, planted around 350 years ago, though it notices in their bent limbs and gnarled trunks. Apparently the complex structure of the trees is enormously important to wildlife; those clefts and cavities provide safe space for all sorts of invertebrates and fungi. And there are the sweet chestnuts, of course, sought after by squirrels and elderly ladies alike in the autumn. Unfortunately the only evidence we found of this year's crop was  was a little cache of husks in a neat pile. 

At least I thought that was our lot, until this evening when John took out of his pocket three or four tiny little chestnuts that he had quietly pocketed and is planning to grow. Now that would be a wonderful thing, wouldn't it. A sapling from an ancient tree.


Just a quick word to say thank you for the comments you have been leaving over the last week or so. I particularly enjoyed all the comments on the Factory Dress. I always wonder whether I'm going to make it to the twenty fourth, but somehow something always turns up on the journey.

05 December 2013

day five: a pause for thought

I turned on the TV for the news when I arrived home tonight to hear the news that Nelson Mandela died today. It's hard to know what to say that won't be said elsewhere so perhaps we can just pause and think about what we have learnt from this man's life about grace, dignity and the power of reconciliation.

04 December 2013

day four: cat

A sweet friend texted late in the afternoon to say he had a spare ticket for the panto this evening at Hackney Empire. Would I like to go? Yes, I would...

Bright, loud, local, jolly, a small and enthusiastic band, a decent dame, sweets thrown into the auditorium, lovely frocks, tap dancing (I love tap dancing), the very best chorus for the audience sing-song, an excellent Puss with a Jamaican accent and winning ways. 

I do like a cat in a panto; and an advent calendar.

03 December 2013

day three: robin

He was singing right at the back of the Lidl car park. I couldn't work out where the sound was coming from at first, then tracked it to a scuzzy corner, discarded beer cans scattered on the ground along with the other detritus. A large buddleia was growing in a small share of land between the car park and a new building, and there he was as high as he could get, and he didn't stop singing until I got a little bit too close.

It was a competition of sorts I soon realised, because in the lull I could hear the other robins on the other side of the canal singing along.

Don't be fooled by the background - that car park is a bit of a dump but the music is still sublime.

02 December 2013

day two: three ships

Go to Greenwich to pick your three ships and you'll be spoilt for choice. They are everywhere. You can choose those with names. Go for the Cutty Sark tourist option. 

Admire Yinka Shonibare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle. 

Or walk through Turner and the Sea to see his interpretation of the Victory and the mayhem of Trafalgar - why did I not realise that the sails would be torn to shreds by fire and cannon?  Or the spectacle of the nation's favourite Fighting Temeraire being towed up river, with a degree of artistic licence. Then make your way to the last couple of rooms and be blown away in a breathtaking mini-storm by the little colour sketches with their merest suggestions of ships. 

I may even have been at all at sea when I saw them.

01 December 2013

day one: gold

On our way out of the Maritime Museum, we came across a small golden oak leaf on the stairs, brought in somehow from the park outside. It was so delicate, it's a wonder it survived at all under the heft of people passing up and down.

Back outside, the leaves had almost disappeared from the trees and even though the sky was grey there was a hazy goldenness about the place.   We walked up the hill by one path and down by another, then out into the street again. It was cool rather than cold, but it was the light that gave it away, a definite sense of change. December, I think.