12 August 2013

good neighbours


In one of his books, John Paul Flintoff describes how when he had a surplus of tomato seedlings, he and his daughter went down the street knocking at neighbours' houses to share the spares. This little story has always stuck in my mind as it seems such a perfect way of meeting people who live nearby but with whom you have never struck up a conversation. Now since we moved into our house the number of homes has at least doubled. A car alarm workshop was converted into a studio, the studio later split to add a flat, the yard across the road rebuilt to accommodate four new houses, the cosmetics warehouse pulled down so that eleven flats and houses could be squeezed tardis-like into the space. We scarcely see anyone from these new buildings because they are built behind security gates.  Knocking on doors to share surplus produce face to face with these unknown neighbours is well nigh impossible. So when we trimmed our rosemary bushes and had masses of sprigs of rosemary, I decided to make them up into bunches and hung them on the railings with a sign asking people to help themselves. Over the course of the day at least half of them disappeared. When I went out to bring them in later that night, a young woman and her friend called out to thank me from across the road. She was going to make rosemary bread, she said. Then this morning when I popped out to shake out the mats there, hanging on the railings, was a cloth bag and inside it a loaf and a note from Ellie.

I like to think that isn't the end of the story but the beginning.

Have a good week.

06 August 2013

there was a birthday


Back a bit now, there was a birthday. Now, we don't do birthdays in a big way, but I very much enjoy birthday cards, the choices that people make, that confluence of what they like and what they think you would like too - a bit of nature, some baking, rural scenes, a bowl of knitting (this accompanied by some felted stones!), scraps of seaweed, candles, and a beautifully coloured-in ballet "dress" and "shoes",  in what looks to me like red, but which I was assured were pink. This last was accompanied by a sprig of blue hydrangea blossoms which was proferred with more thoughtfulness than a six-year old might be expected to express (I chose blue for you. Which do you like best - these or the sunflowers that mummy bought for you? My heart creaked, my throat tightened. It remains so.)

There is a card missing. My friend always manages to find a card of women at the seaside. This time she actually found one of two women with the same colour hair as ours. And that is how we actually spent the day. I wore THE DRESS, the one that took thirty hours to make, the one I promised to show, the one I wore to the wedding party with ancient yellow patent shoes and a yellow flower pinned in my updo, on the day I forgot to take my camera.  Here it is. You've seen the front already and that's enough of that.


Now, the observant among you may notice that there is a pretty little Edward Bawden drawing of teapots on that mantelpiece. Inside is a message which reads "NO MORE TEAPOTS". 


Such an  instruction, Dear Reader, is as a red rag to a bull. I saw it in Deptford High Street priced at £2.25. It leaks, as I knew it would, but I could not care less.


It is the perfect partner for the other gifts. No expense spared in this house.


05 August 2013

it always rains on sunday


We'd just moved into a hard-to-let council flat on tenth floor of a tower block in Bethnal Green after three years of travelling. It was a Sunday, pouring with rain, and we were watching It Always Rains on Sunday on a small black and white portable TV somebody had given us.  "I wish there was no such place as Bethnal Green. No pubs, no jobs." says Googie Withers, laying back on the grass with her bad-boy lover. We thought it was a hoot. 

I've watched the film a couple of times today and it's actually much better than I remember it. Googie, a housewife worn down by post-war austerity, helps her ex-lover when he escapes from Dartmoor and turns up in the shelter in her backyard. The locations are bleak - bombed ruins, a church with the steeple missing, wet streets, railway yards, dock walls. There are some neat period costumes - a pretty pinny, plenty of headscarves and oilskins to keep the rain off, sharp suits and hats on the dodgy Hyams brothers (John Slater and Sydney Tafler), less nifty clobber on Jimmy Hanley and Alfie Bass. The interiors are evocative - washing drying in front of the range, a tin bath in the kitchen, proper pubs - and plenty of authentic dialogue: "diabolical liberties", "too much sauce", "mending to be done"; and a good smattering of the sort of Yiddish and slang that you'd actually hear around the place. What's more, according to my dad, his own father was responsible for driving one of the Council's cleaning lorries to make the streets wet for at least one of the scenes, none of which are actually in Bethnal Green according to the brother in law who is something of an expert on this kind of thing. I loved it.

It didn't rain this Sunday as far as I remember, but it did rain today, teasing clouds and sunshine this morning, then finally a tremendous downpour. I enjoyed it very much. When the weather is fine I simply have to be out in the open, a leftover from those traveling days, so being indoors with the windows wide open listening to the rain and catching the scent of the wet garden was an unexpected pleasure. A bit of light mending, a couple of cakes in the oven, catching up on some reading and writing, Cornelia Parker on the radio talking about the beauty of dust, all of these things were little splashes of joy because it simply doesn't always rain on Monday. 

01 August 2013

heat and dust and extraordinary things


The debris in the garden next door rather has put me in mind me of childhood summers when we would run around on the still-remaining bombed ruins pretending we were  cowboys, and indians, holding on to the belts of each others frocks to use them as reins. Even on the cultivated areas of grass, there were always bricks about which could be used to bang in pegs and stakes made from discarded chestnut fencing for the tents we would make from old curtains. There may have been fires, although that was mostly boy stuff.

So it goes on, the heat and dust. I am collecting bits of brick and stone and lining them up on my railings, my own installation to countdown to the end of August when the building work next door is due to be completed. Meanwhile, I am out of the house most of the time - it's just like being a child again - though nowadays more time is spent in the shade. Those city streets that I used to find so very dark and grim provide some welcome refuge. On the way to visit an aunt in hospital, I walked through Postman's Park, deeply wedged between buildings off St Martins-Le Grand, a cooling sanctuary where you can visit the memorial plaques commemorating acts of bravery, the perfect place to commemorate ordinary people doing extraordinary things, including the too young and brave Mr Onslow.





Outings here have been less dramatic. But I have been thinking of estuaries and rivers, trees and gardens, wonderful aunts, cakes and cafes and local shops, gluts and what to do with them, and getting older with each passing day. 

We can come back to those another day because the temperature is rising, the banging has started and it's time to get out of the house.