20 November 2016

strolling, maybe walking, occasionally marching

It has been a good week for just strolling, by the light of the moon above as Flanagan and Allen might have had it, or otherwise. Some evenings it has been balmy, with foundling leaves swirling and crackling round in low breezes or sticking perilously to the pathways preparing to ambush the inattentive. I love the way the low light - along the canal, through the park, down the short-cut side streets - softens the rough surfaces and harsh tones of the city, hiding the unswept gutters and graffiti in the shadows. On the main hauls, the hubbub and the dazzle of headlights, street lamps and the Tesco Metro shop windows play other tricks but still can't compete with the beauty of the perigee moon along the Mile End Road.

There's something about this walking at night that makes you hyper alert. We may not be in the dark forests of wicked witches, wolves and woodcutters, but, well, you never know. This evening a skein of geese flew overhead making just enough whispering noise to make me look up. Later on I noticed I gave a much wider berth to the Staffie and his owner than to the little lapdog and hers. We all have our prejudices. And preferences: I stick mostly to the places I know and like best.

It's easy to forget at this time of year that what might seem late is actually not late at all. Side streets that are quiet during the day are deserted by five o'clock. It may feel like midnight, but turn a few corners and you find the that the last of the market stalls on Whitechapel Road are just stalling in and shoppers are still popping into the Bengali Sweet Shops for something truly suitable only for those whose teeth have been protected for years by fluoride in the water.

Occasionally I complete the circuit by bus or train. Those pavements can be hard on the arches. By the time I get home, I'll be rosy cheeked, a little too warm from the chunky sweater under my jacket, ready for a chair by the fire, a chat about where I've been, what I've seen, what I may have brought home with me and, let's be honest here, just a little sanctimonious about the number of steps I've clocked up. 

If you are interested in London walking and it comes your way, go and see the slightly whacky, funny, sad and enraging film London Overground. John Rogers has done a lovely job. Or just watch one of John Rogers' short films about walking. This is a walk John suggested to him. I just love it.

13 November 2016

seeking comfort

Well, what a week it has been. You'll know what I mean. It hardly bears thinking about, but it won't go away and my fears for the future multiply daily. So, like the good people who put this board up outside a local church cafe, a little comfort seems needed all round and food seems as good a starting point as any, though possibly definitely not cheesy pasta.  No, no, no.  Soup is definitely nearer the top of my list. We've probably eaten at least three different types, homemade, in the last week alone; carrot and coriander, my latest herb of choice; celeriac, leek and potato; and a very tasty spicy Mexican tomato soup that came in a Hello Fresh vegetarian box on sale at Liverpool Street station for a donation to the Felix Project.

Next up would have to be toast, with or without embellishment of any kind; my persona fixation is marmalade just now.  Toast had been on my mind since I spent a couple of hours indulging in comfort-blanket that it the Edward Ardizone exhibition at the House of Illustration a couple of weeks ago. Fans will know that he created the feisty Diana who boldly rescued a poorly rhinoceros by plying him with a great deal of toast while he settled down in front of a fire in the front room, an inspired piece of nursing if ever there was one.  It should be on prescription for the downhearted.

And if toast doesn't do the trick, you could always try a cream tea, preferably homemade. Sitting alone in the cafe at the V&A after a Brief History of Underwear I counted my uncorseted blessings and imitated a heroine from a Barbara Pym novel, though the portion may not have been quite so ladylike. I know it doesn't seem like sensible, or even healthy, cold weather food, but at least it's a reminder of sunny days. And if that doesn't do the trick, a square of 85% chocolate might help. Or a trip to Smitten Kitchen, a brilliant post which ends with a very sensible next step.

Anybodyseeking a bit of comfort?

02 November 2016

now, where was I?

So much for good intentions. Things went rather to pot when our boiler needed replacing, then the one we bought needed replacing because it was damaged on delivery, the kitchen counter needed to be rebuilt because the boiler no longer fitted under it, the plumber went on holiday, the furniture maker hurt his back, the window repair man locked himself out of the house while we were away, the car broke down on the way home from Horsey Island- ah, Horsey Island, at least that was peaceful, apart from the terrifying journey across the muddy causeway. The camera gave up the ghost in sympathy and the laptop decided not to co-operate with Googlmail or the iphone. I thought about buying a new one, decided to wait until the new Macbook came out and now find the price has rocketed. Just as I was trying to eliminate all thoughts of Brexit from my damaged psyche.

So summer rolled on, and on, and on. We had no rain for months and the fine weather demanded that there was no staying indoors. It seemed very busy. We spent many evenings watching the sun set on our allotments after trying to keep the crops going with copious watering. It worked, mostly. There were crops of tomatoes and cucumbers the like of which I have never seen before, patty pans galore and even the butternuts finally played ball. Our hearth is packed out with enough to see us through winter and all the family will be receiving a jar of green tomato chutney in their Christmas stocking whether they like it or not. We will not want for borscht or spaghetti rosso (did you know cooked beetroot freezes well? It was news to me.) You can knock here too if you're in need to kale in any colour.

Cleaning jars, shiny surfaces!
Now, after a couple of weeks of easing into Autumn and the most glorious leaf fall, I have reconciled myself to the change of season. Nature can only hold out so long, me too, and my obsession with getting out of the house is subsiding. In fact, cold notwithstanding, I'm rather looking looking forward to and certainly hoping for a more reflective and creative time indoors. The hole in the wall is now well and truly blocked up again (sorry, Polly) and we now have a new shiny-ish kitchen counter. Summer dresses have been stored away and woolens rescued from their ziplock bags, mended and pressed. I've got some things to sew using some new patterns, even though I find I never even mentioned the old ones. We can get to that another day perhaps.

Phew. I'm glad I've got all that off my chest. I have been feeling very guilty about my absence and feel so much better.

23 June 2016


Ivy leaved toadflax growing in cracks in our front yard
Thank you all so much for  your kind, encouraging and helpful comments on the back issue. It's only looking back from the vantage point of improving stamina, (mostly) better sleep and less discomfort that I can appreciate how much we take these things for granted and, in particular, how precious well being is. Ivy's tale is a wonderful, touching and ultimately uplifting example of the value of looking after ourselves - engagement, keeping active and meeting friends. (Thank you, Rachel)

Valerian behind bars beneath the Dockland Light Railway, Cannon Street Road

It was not quite the case for my Aunt Lil - a trooper, a worker, a joker - who died a couple of weeks ago as she approached her 95th birthday. Despite stellar attentive care from her daughter and moving in with her family, mobility and progressive Alzheimer's resulted in Lil's transfer to a care home, where she fell and broke her hip, finally dying in hospital with her family at her side.

A tiny Mint Moth on worn out floorboards by the back door (tut, tut - that fluff!)

My mum's family, including Lil, were not really joiners-in. In a family with nine children, you aren't obliged to make an effort to find company or make close friends. But there are only two left now and I've watched my mum becoming more isolated and 'stuck', physically, mentally and socially. Older people like her are often left isolated by the changing demography of the East End, diverse and unfamilar cultures, confusing technology, unfriendly architecture, and local geography changing at such a pace that you can get lost going to the bank (which has probably closed down anyway). Without a doubt, old age requires the kind of resilience, energy, support  and zest for life that might even floor somebody years younger.

Escapee toadflax and other weeds between the barrier and the river, Blackwall

So captivity has been on my mind, my own included. When I signed up to 30 Days Wild, I imagined I might be visiting new places, trying out new ways of engaging with nature. What's happened instead is wild has come to me. So many escaped flowers; ferocious gothic storms; bats, wrens and goldfinches in the back garden; a young green woodpecker in the park; jays in the churchyard; a knowing crow surveying the allotments and an egret flying north overhead. And on those nights when sleep has been elusive, escapism into the world of Silas Marner, The Woodlanders and Alexandra Harris's wonderful Weatherland was available courtesy of I-player. (Pity I fell asleep during most of them and had to replay the next day.)

Wild, it seems, can be quite subdued if you look and listen in the right places.

Next up - a tale of pioneers, making, and other important stuff.

01 June 2016


If you live on the east of the country, the last few days will probably have delivered storms, and rain, and temperatures sufficiently uncomfortable to make you unpack  the woolies you have so carefully stored away from moths or even light a fire. You may even have been aghast to see the snail population emerge. Here they crept from beneath the ravaged acanthus leaves to make a bee line (wait, is that possible?) for the ends of fig tree prunings where various members of the troupe are showing off their circus skills .

If only I too could show off even a semblance of the snail's agility. Clowning might be a possiblity, but anything involving the least bit of contortion or strength is off the agenda. Here is a short version of the saga. Sometime in early March I fell down the cellar stairs, landed chest first on a newel post, summersaulted with a crash onto my right side and lay there winded and shocked. I suppose adrenaline kicked in, because once I was rescued and got my breath back I felt battered and bruised but thought as nothing seemed to be broken all would be well. And apart from some interesting Just William style bruising, it was, for a while at least, fine. Then, gradually, something went in my back and despite various consultations with osteopaths, acupuncture, homeopathy and, finally, a visit to GP who was happy to prescribe painkillers and give me a number for the local NHS physiotherapy service which never answered the phone but not investigate further, I am still decidedly lopsided and in pain. I resorted to some interim private physio (nerve gliding anyone?) and, after a 10 week wait montht, look forward to seeing what the NHS has to offer at the end of this month.

Now one of the things I learnt earlier this year when I did this interesting little Futurelearn course was that the speed of walking is a useful rule of thumb indicator for healthy ageing. My walking speed, and coverage, has diminished considerably, so not good. And who knew that discomfort and lack of sleep sleep was both debilitating and demotivating? Over the last few months I've managed to keep up with other existing commitments - managed a break at the seaside, visits to the allotment and friends, a bit of volunteering - but beyond that it's all been a bit hit and miss. Sadly this little space seemed to be just out of reach. But a half term break, Sian Williams Radio 4 piece yesterday on resilience, and a reminder in my inbox about 30 days Wild  have prompted me to get on and get out. That and missing what goes on here and the visitors who drop by. Virtual visits, often invisible, to your own domains have been a pleasure and now it's payback time.

Stepping outside the back door to observe an acrobatic snail might not be the wildest thing I've ever done, but one small step and all that.

29 February 2016

scenes from spherical life

Write a blog for eight years and it's not surprising that there are times when you feel that you are covering old ground because you probably are. It may be a route that takes you past the same place again - shopping at the market, cycling to the gym, a walk to the library.  Or a ritual - the lighting of a candle as the light goes on a winter afternoon, making a favourite cake- again!, settling down to a Saturday evening murder, preferably somewhere in the north or, a topical favourite, the unfolding of spring - the appearance of new buds, different birds moving in, sudden showers, late frosts. Whatever it is, chances are it will provide a comfort of sorts, perhaps reinforce a sense of place and belonging. Occasionally it might induce a rising desire for change, anything from a niggling itch to a sense that something more profound needs to shift.  February - j'accuse!

This isn't leading up to anything dramatic. It's just that I've been thinking a lot about this circularity, how to value the best of it without relying too much on the familiar. So I'm using the bike less, walking instead and building into those outings little detours from familiar paths, focusing on what I can hear -the sonic walk- as much as what I can see. It has been surprisingly fulfilling. Just another form of mindfulness I suppose, but one that makes you realise that actually the diesel engine from barges all sound slightly different, how a runner's shoes slap on the towpath as they jog past, that a crush of  buddleia across the canal is still as full of sparrows as it was several years ago, what a blessing that is when the building sites by local watersides have lost trees inhabited by small songbirds.

Those dispossessed birds don't give up. A late afternoon walk a few weeks ago took me over the Green Bridge crossing the A12 and there in a scrabble of shrubs a robin ignored the fumes and build up of rush hour traffic and sang for who knows how many other birds and a contented human audience of one.

So here we are on Leap Year Day. It's cold but the sun is shining. I've finally completed this post which  I started at the beginning of the month. I'm waking up too. I shan't be asking anyone to marry me, but that's another story.

04 January 2016

back to the future

Walking home from a party Hackney yesterday evening

Is it too late to wish you a Happy New Year? I do hope not. And surely it's never too late to say sorry - for being away so long. I lost count of the number of times I thought "Oh, I should write a blog post about that" - about how warm it was in September; the discovery of new and beautiful places; how pretty and entertaining long tailed tits are, especially if you have time to watch them lying on your back beneath a tree; how lovely it is to walk in persistent heavy drizzle if you have a decent coat on, but how difficult it is to take photos; how it was possible to have the bedroom window wide open all year and still see golden leaves on the trees in December.

Drizzly August day at Oare

Warm September walk, Thames Estuary

Watching the antics of long tailed tits in Bethnal Green, October
Winchelsea in October- who knew how lovely the view was?

Golden leaves, tangled branches, railway line, Mile End in December

Open bedroom window and curious cat, December

Then I read this article and thought yes! that's what I need to do. Stop faffing and just start off with ten minutes a day. So I did. And here I am three quarters of an hour later. Good to be back.