Monday 28 March 2011

Desk mess

I am not so much bothered about clean, but I am bothered about tidy.  Mess makes me cross.  And when it's my mess, that's even worse - there is not even a compensating glow of righteousness to be had.

My desk early this morning reminded me of a party game from my childhood.  We called it Kim's Game. We were shown a tray with an extremely random selection of objects arranged on it, for one minute.  The tray was then covered with a cloth and we had to write down all the items we could remember.  I always liked this list-writing game.

Morning desk
morning desk

My desk this morning had:
  • laptop
  • pyjama trousers needing hemming
  • sewing machine
  • a bag with a secret surprise for my Mum in it
  • tins full of cables and sewing machine feet
  • pens
  • a bottle of water
  • lip balm
  • handcream
  • a seam ripper
  • keys,
  • part of an oyster shell I found on the foreshore
  • a note from school about fundraising for Japan
  • a crumpled tissue
  • a sewing pattern in a brown envelope
  • sunglasses
  • my normal glasses
  • orange post-it notes
  • a book in a fabric cover
  • a baking magazine
  • medicine
  • a camera cable
  • a camera case
  • a bristling pincushion
Evening desk
evening desk

By this evening, nothing had been put away, but I'd acquired Rose Prince's Kitchenella from the library and another bottle of water from somewhere.  I'd plugged in my camera and cable and plonked my green satchel on top of the baking magazine.  It does look like I'd managed to put the crumpled tissue in the bin though. 

Sometimes even small achievements must be celebrated.

Friday 25 March 2011

My blossom dress

I didn't hang about with the dressmaking.  Earlier this week I made a second Lisette portfolio tunic (you can see my first one here). 

Lisette portfolio tunic

I made some adjustments to my first one, which I repeated with this one.  I took in the seams around the waist - between the armpit and the pockets at the hip - by 2cm on each side, and I lengthened the sleeves slightly by sewing the cuffs with the seam on the inside (they are meant to be sewn with the seam on the outside and then folded back on themselves, but I just knew that would irritate me).

I still love this pattern but I think I could take it in even more around the waist - I am going to try putting some back darts in.  They're easily reversible if they don't work as I imagine.

Lisette portfolio tunic

I love this floral fabric.  I bought five metres of it at a vide grenier in France last summer, for the princely sum of €3.  No that's not €3 per metre, that's €3 in total - amazing!  It is a vintage cotton lawn, which the lady who sold it to me said was bought by her mother shortly after the war.  I'm inclined to believe her because the selvedge to selvedge width is narrower than usual, just 91cm rather than the more usual 137cm, and the floral pattern looks typical of the 1940s or 1950s.

I'm calling this my blossom dress, because the blossom is out everywhere now, and just wearing this dress makes me feel like spring has sprung.  I wore it when I went to Kew yesterday with Tracy and Kristina, and we found more than enough spring blossom there to keep us happy.

Spring colour poster at Kew Gardens

A field full of Glory of the Snow

Red blossom

Daff in the sun

Pink magnolia

Magnolia light bulb

Two tone blossom

Squinting in the sunshine

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Weekday walk #8

For our walk this week we went back to the Thames, to continue where we left off at the end of walk number 6.  And yet again, we found ourselves delaying the start of our walk as we'd unwittingly turned up at low tide, and there was a vast stretch of muddy, rubbish-strewn foreshore to explore.

We were on the North Greenwich peninsula, just next to the Millennium Dome, and we clambered down as close to the edge of the water as we could get without falling in.  The rocks were very slippy with mud and seaweed, so we trod carefully.

Looking across the mud to the Isle of Dogs

With the tall towers of Canary Wharf looking over us we poked around in the mud and the pebbles, to see what we could find.

Marble and bottle ball from the mud on the Greenwich peninsula
A marble and a glass bottle stopper ball

Metal treasure on the beach
Part of an old spring
I found a wax crayon on the mudflats in North Greenwich
Not a toxic lump of sulphur, as I first thought - but a chunk of wax crayon

One of the strangest things was something we noticed gradually, as we explored.  Almost the whole beach was covered with a thick layer of old metal - mainly long nails, pieces of chain and chunky nuts and bolts.  What I first thought was a beach full of pebbles was in fact a beach full of eroded old bolts - worn by the tides to look like rounded pebbles.

Metal pebbles
Metal detritus on the beach

The bolts are so obviously from ships that I was quite alarmed at the apparent fragility of the boats that go up and down the Thames.  But then when I got home I discovered that this small stretch of the river used to be home to several shipyards, and that the shipbuilders were careless with their recycling, rather than shoddy in their workmanship.
Chains in the mud
Chains and old nails in the mud

Once we had filled our backpacks with too many rusty bits of old metal to be practical, we set off along the riverbank, towards the centre of town.

It turned out to be a walk of two distinct parts.  The whole length of our walk - nearly eight miles from the North Greenwich peninsula to Bermondsey - used to be part of the London Docklands.  The Docklands was once the teeming hub of a trade-fuelled empire, it declined rapidly and irrevocably after World War II, lay derelict for several decades and then was regenerated, starting in the late 1980s and continuing on into the late 1990s and up to the present day.

But the regeneration has been so varied, and I felt on this walk that we saw both the very good and the very disappointing.

Derelict land in front of the Millennium Dome

The first part of our walk - from the Millennium Dome to Deptford - has seen the most recent regeneration, at the time of the new millennium, just over ten years ago.  The regeneration here has been so patchy; huge buildings with bold architectural styles, interspersed with vast chunks of still-derelict wasteland.  There's no sense of community as you walk from one building to the next - people are kept apart by long stretches of security fencing or hoardings.

Gill taking photos in North Greenwich
Derelict quay in North Greenwich

Odd choice of cladding
Strangely clad office block next to the Millennium Dome

Derelict in Deptford
Derelict arches in Deptford

Poor colour choices
New tower blocks in North Greenwich

Mud and barges by the Greenwich peninsula
Mud and barges on the Greenwich peninsula

Wharf and aggregate plant on the Greenwich peninsula
Wharf and aggregate plant in North Greenwich

But when we got to Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey the mood of the river, and our mood, changed.  The sun came out too, which helped.  These areas were regenerated back in the late 1980s and were done in a very different way.

More houses and fewer appartment blocks were built.  There were fewer grand 'statement' buildings erected, and more old pubs and gardens were kept.  There is a palpable sense of community here - with noticeboards, schools, posters for local events, prosperous looking pubs and more mature plants and trees.

Good windows in Rotherhithe
Terraced houses with funky windows in Rotherhithe

The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe
Fancy a pint? The Mayflower in Rotherhithe

Modern sign - old name
Old name for a newish (1980s) building in Surrey Quays
Lunchtime marathon training
Lunchtime marathon training in Bermondsey

I hope that the difference is simply due to the extra time since Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey were regenerated - twenty years or more compared to a mere decade or so for North Greenwich.  Perhaps North Greenwich will catch up.

We ended at Bermondsey with absolutely glorious views along the river to Tower Bridge, St Paul's Cathedral and the impressive buildings of the City.

The City, Tower Bridge and the Shard - seen from Bermondsey

Except, that wasn't quite the end.  We sloped off to a cafe on the busy Jamaica Road in Bermondsey and treated ourselves to a good strong cup of tea and a kitkat, before catching the tube home.

The end of the walk

Sunday 20 March 2011

Finding Things Out

I realised today that one of the reasons I love walking so much is that I like Finding Things Out.  Walks almost always lead to Finding Things Out because whether you are in the city or the countryside there is so much to observe and absorb.

Today we went for a walk in North Essex, starting out at Saffron Walden and walking out to the Audley End estate and then on to the pretty little village of Wendens Ambo.  The walk is number 22 in this excellent book of Essex walks.

We saw these amazing plaster patterns on the walls of many of the houses in the villages we walked through.  I loved them. 

Pargeting pattern

Pargeting patterns

Wavy pargeting

Zigzag pargeting

I had never seen anything like this before, and neither had any of the rest of the family.  When we got home I rummaged on the internet and discovered that this type of decoration is called pargeting, and is relatively common on old houses in East Anglia.  It used to be found on buildings in London too before the Great Fire in 1666.

Pargeting panels

The other thing I saw, which intruiged me greatly, was this pill box - slap bang in the middle of a field of wheat just outside Wenden's Ambo.

Pill box at Wendens Ambo

I didn't have to wait until I got home to find out what this was all about.  We were walking with my sister and her husband, and until a couple of years ago my brother-in-law  served in the army

The first thing to note was that he had spotted many more than this one - which I am sure was indicative of his honed observational skills picked up in his army training, although he modestly said not.  The second thing to note was that they are called pill boxes, and not bunkers or hideouts as I'd been calling them.

N told us that they were part of a huge network of defensive forts built across the UK during the phoney war of 1939 to 1940 in preparation for a German invasion.  In our part of the country they were built roughly in circles, radiating out from London across the South East. 

Pill box entrance

I find it amazing that they are not marked with a sign or a plaque or something to tell us about their history and why they're there.  When I think of World War II, because I know that in the end there was no German invasion, I tend to forget that it was even a possibility.  But walk past one of these pill boxes, and peer in, and suddenly it all seems frighteningly likely.  It must have been very unnerving for the people who lived in sleepy little villages like Wendens Ambo to see these fortifications springing up in their valleys and woods so soon after war was declared. 

If you want to find out more about the history of the UK pillboxes, and the ones that remain, there is a fantastic website here devoted to them.

And if you want to Find Things Out about other topics which you never even knew existed, my recommendation is to put on your boots, grab a kitkat, and go for a walk.  You never know what you will find when you set out.

Oh, there was one other small thing that I found out today...the couple who live in this house have a great sense of humour!

House sign

Thursday 17 March 2011

Street lamps

I grew up in a little village in the countryside.  Small English villages are very dark in winter, and at nightime, because they don't have any street lamps.  As a small child I was very frightened of the dark - once night fell it seemed to close in around me.  I always had a little light on in my room when I slept.

When I went to stay with my Grandparents though, things were different.  They lived in a city, and there were street lamps!  I remember thinking that street lamps were the most marvellous invention.  Their warm orange glow could keep me company all night.  I lost that feeling of being abandoned to the night, which I always had in the village back home.

I still love street lamps today, and there is one outside our bedroom window.  Many people, G included, find their light an irritation and a distraction from sleep, but I like it.  When G is away, and I don't need to be considerate, I like to sleep with the curtains open so that the orange glow fills the room.

Street lamp

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Sewing loves and loathings

I had another late night last night, finishing a new top so that I could wear it today.  This time it was made from a very familiar and favourite pattern - the Heather Ross summer blouse from her book Weekend Sewing.  I've made this top for myself before: here, here and here.

Grey and green mushroom fabric

One of the reasons I love this top so much is that it is trimmed around the neck, cuffs and hem with bias tape.  I love everything about bias tape - making it, sewing it on, and the way it looks on the finished item.

As I sewed I thought about my most favourite and most hated sewing jobs.

Things I love about sewing:
  • bias tape
  • choosing fabrics
  • seam ripping
  • beautiful sewing books
  • hand quilting
  • putting in zips
  • sewing machine feet
  • the sound of heavy, sharp shears cutting through fabric
  • ric-rac
  • good patterns
Things I loathe about sewing:
  • pattern cutting
  • wrestling tissue paper patterns back into envelopes
  • velcro
  • hemming (unless with bias tape)
  • sewing on buttons
  • picking endless bits of thread off my socks
  • bobbin winding
  • having to work in inches most of the time
  • pinning jersey fabrics
  • interfacing
  • having to stand in odd places of the house and take 25 photographs of myself in a  mirror to get one shot I like.
Summer blouse

Monday 14 March 2011

March of the Women

Hungerford Bridge and the river

This evening I went to the Southbank, at Waterloo, for the finale of the three day Women of the World conference.  The finale was an evening of comedy and music, hosted by the deliciously naughty Sandi Toksvig and with performances from Susan Calman, and an all female orchestra led by Clio Gould (who usually leads the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra) and conducted by the multi-talented Sue Perkins.  There was even a guest appearance by Helena Kennedy QC.

The evening was so much fun and it ended with the whole audience all standing up and singing along at the top of their voices to March of the Women by Dame Ethel Smyth - the suffragettes' anthem. 

Ethel Smyth was a composer at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century.  She joined the Women's Social and Political Union to campaign millitantly for women's suffrage in Britain, and even stopped working for two years so that she could properly devote herself to the cause.  Along with many other members of the WSPU she was jailed for her actions in the suffrage campaign.  Sandi Toksvig told us all the story of how one visitor to Holloway Prison found a whole group of suffragettes in the prison quad singing March of the Women, while Ethel Smyth conducted them from a window above, using a toothbrush as a baton.

So this evening we all stood up to remember the suffragettes and sing their anthem, which really should not be forgotten.  It was spine tingling and exciting, and although we laughed when we too were conducted with a toothbrush, the determined lyrics and forceful, soaring music of the song made sure we remembered and gave thanks for all those amazing women who came before us.

The London Eye by night

Saturday 12 March 2011

Weekday walk #7

We headed to Epping Forest yesterday for our weekday walk.  We wanted something local, and a little shorter than usual.  We also hoped we might see the very first bright green buds and leaves on the trees.

We met up at Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge in the Chingford part of the forest, and after changing into our walking boots and unfolding and re-folding our OS maps for about ten minutes we headed for the trees.  You really do need walking boots in Epping Forest at this time of year - the ground is very muddy in places, and churned up by mountain bikes and horses.

Hoof prints
Hoof prints along a bridleway in Epping Forest

The sun shone and we yomped along, happily photographing bits of lichen and new buds, and stopping to say hello to the very many dogs and horses who were also out enjoying the fresh air and spring sunshine with their owners.

New growth
New growth

Spring yellow
Yellow spring lichen

Pussy willow
Irresistable pussy willow

Blue skies over Epping Forest
Blue skies
We walked through the forest to the Epping Forest Visitor Centre at High Beach, and then back to Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, which made an easy six mile loop altogether. 

There are some  hills in Epping Forest, which, although very modest really, were still a bit of a shock after our last couple of months of perfectly flat riverside and canalside walks.  I jogged up a long hill at High Beach to get a photo of Gill at the bottom adding some perspective, and my legs could certainly feel it afterwards!

Steep hill near High Beech, Epping Forest
Gill at the bottom of the hill at High Beach

Hazy spring green
spring is coming!

Spring buds
buds of blossom

Beautiful new beech leaves
new beech leaves

Pollarded tree
pollarded tree

The tree man kisses a daff
the tree-man at the Visitor Centre smells a daffodil

I love Epping Forest so much.  I've been coming here for walks ever since I first moved to East London - long ones by myself or shorter ones with the family.  They're all good.  When O got her first camera a few years ago, she spent the whole of a four mile walk along the bridleways photographing horse poo.  G goes for long runs through Epping Forest all through the year - in the winter months, coming home exhilarated and caked in mud.  Next weekend he's running in the infamous Orion 15 race, which includes the section that Gill and I walked yesterday.

Epping Forest is a properly ancient forest going much further back in history than Queen Elizabeth I.  You can still see an iron-age hill camp possibly used by Boudicca, and I'm sure it was around for thousands of years before that.  Among the beeches, holly and the hawthorn there are some enormously solid oak trees that sit placidly watching the walkers, runners, dogs, horses and school children exploring below.

We sat under one to drink our coffee and soak up the spring sunshine.

Coffee break

Good vapour trails