20 July 2015


Around this time of year you'll often find some bunches of dried poppies around the house. They seem to last for ages until you accidentally brush them when dusting the mantelpiece and a scattering of seed rains down. That's not an idle metaphor - it really does sound like rain. So now I have a bowl of poppyseed and rather than sift it into a clean jar to be used for cake I am tempted to take a handful, get on my bike and scatter it around the borough.

What's more, looking out of the window, I notice that the police horses have left a line of fresh manure which, interestingly, passing cars are trying to avoid as if they were wearing new wellies and not old tyres, and now I'm wondering whether it would be too eccentric to go out with a shovel and bucket and collect it for the little apple tree.

Quandaries, quandaries. Anything to avoid the housework.

16 July 2015


There are only a few places where you can comfortably watch the clouds go by without craning your neck, and one of them is lying on a beach and it was here that I suddenly realised how surreal the seaside can be. It's the place you can eat Christmas Pudding in summer, albeit as the very best ice cream in England - just after breakfast and again before supper; where normally decorous women can show their knickers as they lift up their skirts to avoid the waves while paddling and nobody bats an eyelid; where grown-ups can eat fragrantly vinegary hot food with their hands out of a paper bag without the raising of a single judgemental eyebrow- none that I saw at least; where sculptures adorn beaches and towers and delight passing strangers.

And even the hollyhocks are tempted to steal a march to the shore. (Did they follow me, I wonder?)

In our surreal little bubble, we lay on the beach, hiding under straw hats and hammamas from the strength of the sun in the afternoon, reading, snoozing, eating and drinking tea brought onto the beach from the rented flat, took an evening promenade, walked to the next village for a cream tea and raced the bus back. Then we came home with our haul of books, brooches and sneaked-in fabric and slipped clumsily back into the real world.

05 July 2015

10 good things

I know, I know. I never kept it up for more than a few days. But there is a slight conflict between wanting to spend less time looking at screens and writing blog posts, so as a peace offering here is a collection of some of the good things from the last ten days.

:: Hollyhocks! I have never seen such wonderful hollyhocks in London at this time of year and these, in front of a house round the corner, are my favourites with strong competition from this lengthy run a few blocks away. (John wants to know why his aren't included. Later, later.)

:: The little apple tree which is clearly responding to the nightly waterings with perkier leaves and the disappearance of the woolly aphids which were apparently responsible for much of the damage to the new leaves, though not so sure quite how helpful the masses of harlequin ladybirds are going to be.

:: Jolly babies and busy children We went to a small 4th July party yesterday where there were three happy babies splashing, cruising, gappy-smiling, and not a cry to be heard for several hours. It was infectiously joyous. The apple pie and home made buttermilk ice-cream may have helped. And some more frantic children at our community fun-day,on bouncy castles, queuing to have their faces painted, playing pirates with swords made out of balloons, licking the frosting off of cupcakes, throwing quoits and frisbees. We sat in the sun observing the mayhem, calmly pouring tea carried from home and eating cake.

:: More cake. Banana cake actually. Banana cake made with the enormous amount of spotty bananas sold to me by a benevolent stall holder. Around a dozen banana cakes. Butterscotch banana cake. Melted butter banana cake. Dark banana and ginger/chocolate cake.  Banana, coconut and cranberry cake (from Kitchen, Nigella Lawson). I'm open to more suggestions for experimentation.

:: Margate on a sunny day, a good choice for a trip out with my mum who tires from too much walking. We hit the perfect combination with lunch and a view of the beach, a trip around Provincial Punk, a walk around the old town, back along the front, checking out how everything reverberates, an ice cream and a paddle.

Mum's verdict? Ice cream far too expensive, Grayson Perry fabulous.

:: The Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel It was the Empire when my mum was courting, and the ABC when I was old enough to go to Saturday Morning pictures. Now it's the Genesis and as cool as can be on a hot night, even with a delicious cup of coffee and a bargain ticket for those of a certain age who need to be indulged with tales of ageing beekeepers and the evil of bounty hunting. (Mr Holmes and Slow West, worth a trip both). The bus stop is just outside the door and if you are really lucky and a number 25 comes along quickly, you can be home in 10 minutes...  provided of course you haven't forgotten that you arrived by car. 

Sonic walking, a new skirt and the glory of the bicycle. Pleasures all and about which I want to say more.

London from Rainham Marshes

Rain: How lovely it has been to hear the sound of the rain, breathe in the scent of damp pavements, forget about wilting plants and barren seed rows, stay indoors sewing rather than feel that when the sun is shining there are adventures to be had, places to go, stories to discover and tell.

24 June 2015

the little apple tree

It was around this time last year that I first noticed it, the little apple tree round the corner from No 1.  Even though it's only a few yards away, I don't often see it close up as it's normally obscured by parked cars and I tend not to walk on that side of the road. Soon I realised how many other apple trees were dotted around the place, replacements for some brutally excised diseased trees. I considered adopting one to contribute to Lucy Corrander's impressive list of tree followers but I just knew that I would be too ill-disciplined to post regularly.

It was a while before I noticed this year that the little tree was suffering somewhat from the mini-drought we are having here. When I popped out last night at dusk, half moon feebly shining in the still-blue sky, I was hoping to capture something of Samuel Palmer's Magic Apple Tree, all golden in the light of the street lamp*, but I found instead a sad, dry tree, covered in tiny apples almost hoping for the June drop.

So we are I am on a mission to revive the tree. I went out this evening with a watering can - several times - and started the treatment. Half the water ran off into the gutter so I'll be scrounging some compost to act as a mulch (and hopefully not a dog toilet). One or two people looked at me rather suspiciously but a passing skateboarder gave me a smile and a thumbs up as he sped by and propitious birdsong echoed through the streets, so I'm hoping fortune is on our side. Just imagine if some of those apples survive, the apprehension of waiting for them to ripen - or mysteriously disappear into a pocket, a pie or the gutter. Little things, people.

* I know, very unlikely if not totally preposterous, but it's one of my favourite paintings, and the idea that there might be a magic apple tree round the corner is just too beguiling.

22 June 2015

at the beach

These pictures never cease to astound me - an outing to the beach just a short walk from home. That's Aunt Eileen in the middle, my mum on her left, me on her right. I imagine there was another auntie - Lily probably - taking the snap. We cousins were busy paddling, digging holes and probably trying to build sandcastles.

Take a closer look and you might notice the warehouses in the distance, and is that a tug there on the left?

This, you see, is "Tower Beach" and it's the River Thames we're paddling in. Tower Bridge is just out of shot and the Tower of London would be just in front of us. At low tide, a fantastic set of wooden steps were lowered from the quay so you could descend with your deck chairs and sit on the imported sand until the tide came back in again. If you were daring, or maybe just hot, you could get into the river and paddle. The River Police used to visit our school regularly to warn us about the risks from swimming in the Thames so I doubt any of us would have dreamed of going in deeper than our knees.

I was talking to my mum the other a couple of days ago about taking the train somewhere. "Oh, I've never been one for going very far" she said. A few hours at Tower Beach would probably still be her idea of the perfect holiday if it was still there, Actually, I think I might quite enjoy another visit myself.

21 June 2015

midsummer's day

My friend and I share dreams about being on the beach and most years she manages to find me a birthday card of two women splashing, or laughing, or lazing. Favourite cards, the ones where you know someone has really thought about what you like, are always hard to throw away so I have quite a collection now. Normally I stick them into one of those latticed string frames so they gradually disappear behind new cards and post cards as they arrive. Then it struck me that they could be strung along the mantelpiece where I can see them every morning and evening to remind me of sunny seaside days past and yet to come. 

Here's to a long and splashy happy-memory-making summertime for us all and enormous gratitude for those we've already enjoyed.

out of touch and sorts

Apparently it takes around sixty six days to create a habit. I have the research reference somewhere, but I'm slouching in bed and if I'm distracted by the search to find it I may never find my way back here. So it seems that in my absence I may very well have fallen into the habit of not blogging. If I had known I was going to be away so long I hope I would have given some warning. I apologise. Now I find that a whole half season has passed. The asparagus have been harvested, enjoyed and left to go to fern and, if we are not sufficiently vigilant, ravage by beetle. The strawberries, growing on the thinnest layer of soil sub-strated by an old road, are small, pitty, and undernourished - no rain to speak of for weeks, and a lazy attitude of benevolent neglect. I have been out of touch and, notwithstanding some lovely times away and with friends, rather out of sorts, maybe even suffering from a kind of sadness. But here we are now at Midsummer, a time of alignment and light, and it would be a pity not to take the opportunity to get back into sorts, all sorts. So I've decided to set myself up for a new habit to blog over the next sixty six days, to get into the swing of things again. A bit of looking back, forwards and sideways, possibly some new directions. Let's see.

Those strawberries, by the way: some of them found their way into muffins* for the WI stall at the Mile End Dog Show today. All the signs suggested that it might be a non-event.  The volunteer organiser by her own admission had not really had enough time to get things sorted as well as she would have wished. The fair rides and the bouncy castle failed to turn up. Other stall holders couldn't make it. The forecast was for rain until late afternoon. Yet somehow, it all came prettily together on a parched field in the park - the cake stall, the coconut shy, the face painting, the man who makes sticks out of newspaper, the local PDSA, the ice cream van and, of course, the dog show with  the most well behaved and groomed dogs ever. It was a little bit magical.

Happy Solstice!

A bit stodgy I thought, possibly undercooked. Some cheese and chive muffins (leave out the ham) came together much more easily. Use home grown chives for that added sense of superiority.

13 April 2015

the 2015 asparagus post

In keeping with tradition, here is this year's first asparagus as it appreared two days ago marking the definitive start of spring. Everything else is miles behind - not a seed sown, or a potato planted though they are ready to go.

Time to get on. Hands to get dirty. Changes to be made.

09 April 2015

grey, grey, grey

It seemed until recently as if every day, indoors or out, was full of grey and somewhat perversely I was finding pleasure in it knowing that it surely would not be long before the wind died down and the sun came out. Looking out of the window on a cold, wet day made me revel in the warmth of my sewing room, the industry, the chunter of the overlocker on a wobbly table. Even the coat I was making was blue-grey. This is good, I thought. The colour of a cold spring day.

We had some time off and went out and about - to  Cliffe Pools to look out for birds across the bleak expanse of water. There were birds there of course but the most sensible were keeping out of the wind. Another time, when the cloud lifted later in the day, we whizzed down to Sheppey hoping to see some raptors (tick) and then through Elmley where the sun finally penetrated the murk and heartened the lazy hares and daytime owls. Redshanks paddled and dappled and lapwings mobbed a threatening harrier. I pencilled down the types of  birds we saw that day, some thirty odd.

From Harty, across the Swale

Back at home I tried to Walk in Her Shoes, but there is something about walking too long on hard pavements that plays havoc with my frame. In a determined walk from home to west to Bethnal Green, south to Shadwell and back again it was more grey that caught my attention, including some wonderful visible mending of the granite kind in the appropriately named Hemming Street. The next day my hip ached and I settled on a trip to the allotment for fresh purple sprouting broccolli and rhubarb to make this clafoutis for a group supper, not too heavy to carry up Highbury Fields on a windy night and suitable for baking in a dodgy oven. (Rhubarb clafoutis: not sure I'd vote with the ayes a second time round.)

Hemming Street stones

Then more  light at the end of the tunnel.  The sun came out. The air warmed, The buds on the horse chestnut tree on Mile End Road tentatively came into leaf. And it was in the lifting of grey, we said our last farewells out in the countryside to bright, generous friend, with vibrant spring flowers*, snippets of rosemary, gaunt trees hung with great natural pom-poms of mistletoe and wondrous birdsong. It was, despite the sadness, a rather glorious day. When we got home, I took myself off for a long circular walk for more birdsong, stepping out of the way of weary mothers and children, skateboarders and cyclists, all making their way home after time in the park. It ended with a beautiful sunset over London.

Now, back at home, I am quarreling with the wardrobe trying to find something that can deal with the fickleness of April, something versatile and cheering and preferably not grey. Might something blue be a start? Or green? Or maybe yellow is the answer? I can feel some comforting needle activity coming on.

*She especially stipulated "no bloody lilies".

24 March 2015

not weeding

He didn't hear me creeping up, but then there were planes overhead, descending towards Heathrow and ascending from London City, engineering work at the new sewer ring tunnel at the end of the plot and, a little more distant on the building site beyond the canal, a concrete breaker crashing away. Clearly not much work was getting done here though. In his head he may well have been having a glass of Sancerre sitting at a"zinc" courtesy of Georges Simenon.

A couple of days later he pointed this out to me as we passed through Whitechapel station and I snapped it quickly before we got off the train.

Sorting out my photos just now, the appropriate juxtaposition of the two became obvious.

Lovely, lovely.

01 March 2015

then it was spring

It started off like this one Sunday afternoon.

Then this happened.

And today the tete-a -tete were taken to the plot so they can come up again next year.

Not quite sure how it happened so quickly though I could hazard a guess or two.

23 January 2015

taking heart

There are times when the twenty first century gets the better of me: when I can't remember the password for this or that; when the internet connection fails repeatedly and the helpline suggests it's time to get a screwdriver out (what?!?); when the fridge you want from the dispiriting electrical store is on dispay but no longer stocked; when the kettle has given up the ghost and the the main oven has also slipped into a half life and a second mortgage. It's at this point that the shoulders slump invountarily, a vice grips the neck and a massive sigh rises from the depths of the soul. And shortly afterwards you come across an odd juxtaposition in the local yarn shop which just might be sending a message to take heart and count your blessings.

With many thanks for your generous and hearty suggestions for spicing up in general and best wishes for a warm and woolly weekend.

07 January 2015

in my spice box

My dentist and I are on quite friendly terms after all these years and this morning we were talking about cooking - probably not an ideal topic of conversation when your mouth is about to be assaulted, but there you are. She told me that her mother, who had given up her career when she had children, was a brilliant cook but had never passed on her knowledge so she wanted to make sure that her own children were confident in the kitchen rather than having to learn from books as she had. Her husband, she said, was also a great cook - Punjabi dishes, lots of meat whereas her own mother had cooked mostly vegetarian dishes. "Our spice boxes are very different", she said, "though I am very fond of his dal".

Such a lovely thought - each partner bringing different spice boxes and fragrances to a a family. As a child the most exotic thing we had in our home was white pepper, even though the bricks and mortar of Wapping were heavy with the scent of spices. In our own home we have only one spice box - mine - newly refreshed in winter for the pudding-fest but not exotic by any means. I think of it as a very "British" spice box - nutmeg cloves, cardamom the box, ground ginger, cinnamon, cumin, allspice. Nothing very adventurous and easily and cheaply replenished at any of the local grocers. I think it's time for me to try a little harder, be a little more adventurous, more confident. I've always avoided Indian cookery because I don't care for food that burns my mouth, but it's about much more than that and I want to be more adventurous.

My dentist is going to think about what books might help, and suggested that in the meantime I should get myself down to Forest Gate to eat. By the next time we meet I hope to have cleared out my store to make room for some fresh flavours and a new book or two.

What should I make room for do you think? What's in your spice box? What would you recommend?

06 January 2015

before I forget

In our house, the festive season doesn't end until twelfth night. The cake's gone, the last of the cream has been put in the morning porridge, and there will be soup today to use up any solitary parsnips, carrots and scraps of cheese. I've closed the shutters on the driftwood tree and today we'll take down the greenery and settle down by the fire with a drink and possibly a spicy ginger star biscuit. Next year I won't make so many. I've already reset the alarm clock for dark and cold instead of light and cold. And then the job of shimmying into a shiny new year will be well under way. Before I do though, and at the risk of making you yawn, here are some of the things I want to remember...

Birdsong and the incredible number of robins this year round here. Taking walks at dusk to  hear them. John's delight at seeing a nightjar and mine at coming across that woodcock round the corner.

Taking the bus and sitting on the top deck. The pleasure of doing circular journeys; tube, walk, overground, bus. It's not called the freedom oyster for nothing.

The pleasure of reading again and no qualms about disposing of some books onto the "life's too short" pile. On the other hand, Beryl Bainbridge, Penelope Fitzgerald and Tove Jansson would come with me to my desert island.

Going to the cinema, best of all on wintry afternoons, on my own.

Sewing. I made lots of dresses, seven in total I think. Some were more successful than others, and some were inspired by those trips to the cinema. I learnt a lot.

The seaside. Obviously. The day we spent there to celebrate a significant birthday. A lovely funeral in a windswept corner of Norfolk. It was midsummer and we stayed in a coastguard's cottage overlooking the sea, close to where our friend lived. It was all so right.

Glastonbury with my boy. Warm, generous, uplifting, clever, funny friends and family.  Loads of new babies and new mothers. The women I worked with this year. I don't think they realise how much they've taught me. Nigel Farage can go hang.

Scania - or should that be Wallander Country?
I wasn't brilliant at lightening the load last year- thank you Oliver Burkeman for cutting some slack. At a push this year I might manage to rise and shine.

Wishing you all a shiny time too.