Saturday, 22 September 2012

Preserving summer

It's hard to describe the smell of blackberries. I've often heard of other things, particularly wine, being described as smelling of blackberries but I've not heard it the other way round. There's an edge to the scent, slightly tart. And is there a hint of mustiness or perhaps earthiness?  Whatever it is, it is quite distinctive and always reminds me of summer.

When I was young (in the 1970s) I remember scouring the hedgerows with my Mum, Dad, brother and cousins together with my Auntie Jeanne and Uncle Bill. We would happily spend an afternoon in August trying to avoid stinging nettles and bramble scratches to collect our precious harvest. We popped as many into our mouths as we did into our stork margarine containers. The competition between us kids as to who could get the most meant we would often abandon caution to get just one more berry.

At the end of our search we'd hand over our bounty to Auntie Jeanne who would visit us a day or two later with a couple of jars of blackberry jam.

Almost 40 years later Elizabeth and I have a well-worn trail around our allotment site picking berries to make pies and jams with. Sometimes we go alone, sometimes with friends, sometimes other plotholders join us on our tour. But the routine is the same: we each take a plastic tub and walk along the hedgerows, Elizabeth picking the low fruit and me the high fruit until our tubs are full. We both end up with scratches and purple fingers and tongues. It is our routine for late summer evenings; one we both look forward to and one that I cherish, both for living in the moment and reliving the past.

My Auntie Jeanne is long gone so I make the jam myself these days, filling jars I've collected over the year. As I heat the berries the smell of summer is concentrated, captured and stored in jars to be shared with friends and family to savour during the long winter ahead.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Is it Autumn yet?

Every morning now, when getting dressed for school, Elizabeth runs to the back door and checks whether she's going to wear socks or tights, skirt or trousers. Whilst she's still wearing socks and a skirt on some days, I'll be digging out her vests by the end of the week.

And she's not alone. I've caught myself hovering in the doorway on my way to work in the mornings wondering whether I need to take my coat with me.

This can mean only one thing: the season is changing.

Gone are the long evenings at the allotment after work grazing on fruit whilst we water and weed, harvest and hoe. Tonight we made it there at sunset: 7pm. After a quick dash round the plot watering and picking tonight's dinner we left as the last of the sun's rays departed for the night; we arrived home at 7.30pm in darkness. Soon there will be no evening trips - the clock's will go back and allotmenting will be a weekend activity only.

And our minds have already started to turn to Harvest festival and Halloween, Bonfire night and Christmas. The talk in the car was of seasonal school plays and what role a year 2 child gets in the nativity play.

I've also started looking forward to my half term visit to my Hut in Scotland where I can sit in front of a log fire in the countryside, overlooking the Solway Firth.

I've also noticed my halloween and Autumn boards on Pinterest are showing signs of activity - with pumpkins and halloween decorations being repinned daily.

I think it must be Autumn.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

I miss the Olympics!

I have lived in London my whole life and most of the time it's just my favourite city, chugging along in it's same old way.  Every now and then however something happens to transform it - and the people living there. It could be a Jubilee, a Royal Wedding, a death (a member of the Royal family or a statesman like Churchill).  It could even be a tragedy: terrorist attacks, the hurricane or less forceful weather like a heatwave or a rare blanket of snow!  When it happens (whatever it may be) people become friendlier, open, helpful.  Everyday tasks become more pleasant and the extraordinary is something to remember.

And we've been lucky recently: we've had snow (2009 & 2010), we've had royal weddings (Wills and Kate) and we've celebrated the Her Majesty the Queen's Golden Jubilee, 80th Birthday and this year her Diamond Jubilee. But I think the atmosphere of the Olympics tops them all!

I've loved every moment of it. The Gamesmakers, the ambassadors, the dancing soldiers at venues.  I've loved the shared-ness off it all - the community spirit.  Exchanging the latest titbit of information about who's won what. Comparing Olympic experiences and cheering on another country because that's what you got tickets for (New Zealand and the Netherlands in women's hockey).

I was at the 'live site' at Tower Bridge on Saturday night - watching the diving. The atmosphere was amazing! People were chatting, cheering, being helpful and friendly. Tourists and locals were taking turns standing by the rivers edge taking photos of themselves with the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge in the background.  On the train home we all exchange stories - where had we been, what had we seen, wasn't it fantastic?

It's all been great and I miss it. I hope the Paralympics will be as much fun!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Opening Ceremony

After years of preparing for the Olympics and talking about the Olympics and worrying about the Olympics they were finally here.

On the last day of term Elizabeth got to hold a real Olympic torch in school; on Monday we lined the streets to cheer the flame as it made it's way around Britain...


 So it was with some excitement that Elizabeth and I made Olympic pizzas for our family dinner before watching the Opening Ceremony on Friday evening.

And what an Opening Ceremony it was!  We were mesmerised from the beginning... the choirs singing at the beginning had me in tears... the industrial revolution made me sad but was amazed at when the Olympic ring was forged...

and amused when 007 'escorted' Her Majesty the Queen into the stadium

we loved the NHS/children's literature scenes and the poignancy of the flag raising and pauses to remember.

But my favourite bit was when the Olympic Flame was passed to the young hopefuls and the cauldron was lit.

 The Games' strapline is 'inspire a generation' and that's just what it's doing. My six year old wants to compete in swimming and sailing and some of her friends are taking sport more seriously than perhaps they might (as a load of princess-loving six year olds). Not a bad legacy.

Bye bye for now - I've some sport to watch!.... 


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

What a difference the weather makes!

In case it's escaped your notice, it's been a bit wet here in Britain... even more than normal. However it appears that the jet stream has moved and we're getting more July type weather.  So what does this mean? After months of rain we've finally had a couple of consecutive days of warm, dry sunny weather!

It's currently 28 degrees in my north-facing back garden, the warm sun and gentle breeze are wafting scents of lavender and rose towards the garden table where I'm sitting and working on a report. I lovely way to spend a working day.

Here's hoping the warm weather lasts a few more days.


Saturday, 14 April 2012

Easter holidays

It's been the Easter school holidays and my daughter Elizabeth and I have had two weeks off school/work. The first few days were a whirlwind of activity beginning with a trip to the V&A to see the wonderful exhibition of Cecil Beaton's photographs starting with his first photos taken of a young then Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen mother) and her family, including Princess Elizabeth.

My own little Elizabeth bought this postcard to send to her Nanny. It's Princess Elizabeth in a recycled dress that used to belong to her mother (well it was the war)!  Nanny was delighted to see a picture of how the Queen looked when she was 5 year's old in the 1940s!

It's a wonderful exhibition and I recommend a look if you can make it there before the end of the month.   You can see how his approach changed over time from fussy backgrounds reminiscent of the old Victorian photographers to the modern approach focussing on the subject. My favourite picture was the last in the series: the Queen in an Admiral's cloak.

After the exhibition we went for tea in Kensington before Easter egg hunting in Green Park. In our searches we found 36 eggs in St James' Park, Green Park, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and the South Bank. My brother also sent us details of eggs in the city.  We thought we were doing well until we found out there were over 200! The eggs were gathered together in Covent Garden and auctioned off for charity over the Easter period.

Next was a trip to Croydon to meet friends, then a day out in Richmond and Petersham Nurseries with an old friend.  We took a pleasant stroll from the railway station through Richmond, along the river and over Petersham meadows to Petersham Nurseries. There were had a wonderful lunch and tour of the nursery. Despite promising not to spend any money I came home with some terracotta pots, postcards and a plant.

On Wednesday after a day at the allotment/in the garden we headed of to Scotland for Easter, stopping in Staffordshire to break the journey overnight. We spent the next week enjoying the pastoral delights of Galloway. This often overlooked part of Scotland is well worth a visit.

Now our two weeks off are nearly over, just a 6th birthday party and the allotment AGM to go. Sigh. I look forward to half term!