Friday, 29 October 2010

Foreign Bodies

I don't usually take photographs of strangers.

Here's the truth: I'm trying to read my book but am distracted and start staring. It's something I try to not do because it's, well, rude. But I get drawn in by what's happening in front of me. Especially on holiday. And other people are fascinating aren't they? Even more interesting if you can't understand what they're saying so it's just the actions you've got to go on. Endless entertainment for an onlooker like me. And I get fixated on tan depth, worry about the pale skinned in the midday heat, imagine the lives of those I'm absorbed by and wonder about national body type. Is there such a thing? 

Everyone is crammed onto this narrow strip of riverside 'beach'. I am sitting in the only patch of shade in a grassy picnic area. It's busy. Out of shot to the left is an ancient bridge.  Those without fear, and happy to perform to an expectant audience, will jump from it. They will position themselves carefully: toes over the edge, arms out to the side. Wait. Ready. Deep breath. Some are trying this trick for the first time, others are old hands. One or two apply extra drama to this feat and try a somersault. 

There's a thwack when a body hits the water. 

Fifteen or so friends dominate the action and I'm trying to work out the relationships. But who belongs to whom I'm not sure. They communicate in 'shout' led by a tubby, moustachioed majordomo who directs his crowd from a spot in the river. Today the river is his. 

Can you see two heads just above the girl with the ginger hair? They are being carried along on the fast flowing current which pulls the willing towards a large rock. The game is to try to climb on to the rock either by grabbing it or being helped up by someone already there. It's not easy to do for the tug of the current is so strong it will pull you right past. It's a good place to stop to catch your breath.

The water is cold. So cold. 

In a few minutes the scene will change and so will the atmosphere. The woman right in the very middle of the photograph - she's just about to lose her wedding ring.

I should get back to my book.

Monday, 25 October 2010


I feel as if I've missed Autumn - I don't think I've been paying attention. Others have though, so I'd like to direct you towards here and here for some beautiful Autumn inspired words.

Seasonal show time in our garden is dominated by a daring performance from an attention seeking (and dominant) Virginia Creeper with leaves that change from green to red as early as August.

It looks like a limp garland now - just a few straggly leaves stuck to the bare twigs. It peaked early.

No matter - there's still one final party turn to come from our little tree which seems to hang on as long as it can before providing a final display of Autumnal magic before hunkering down until the Spring. I'll try to look out for that.

* sorry - unimaginative title for what's supposed to be one of the most inspiring times of year

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Gallery Guide: Ceramics At The V&A

I find teapots so cheering.

The cabinets in the Ceramics galleries at the Vand A contain armies of them along with shelves, high and long, of every kind of tile, bowl and vessel you could imagine. Some truly ancient, some highly contemporary and everything - and I mean everything - else in between.

(Good to know those Bauhaus folk took time out for a brew.)

And at the far end of the galleries are Richard Slee's beautiful but useless ceramic household objects. Made specifically for the gallery's fixed display cases, his exhibit is called 'From Utility to Futility'. 

It was probably the bright colours and cartoonish forms, but this display buoyed me - I've been in need of some humour. Ceramic hammer? Brilliant.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Wonder Of Wool

Wool has had a week dedicated to itself.

It's fitting then that the weather's been appropriately chilly for all the drovingknitting and weaving that's been taking place in London and the rest of the country to promote this humble fibre.

And so - as it probably isn't going to get very much warmer any time soon - I feel duty bound to encourage you to fend off the shivers and wrap up.

A scarf is a good place to start.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Goods And Chattels

I always felt my mother's home was full of interest: packed bookshelves (alphabetised by author no less) pictures, photographs and the inherited bits and bobs - or 'doodads' as she would have called them - that will continue to be passed on and then on again. Her little flat was inviting and warm and distinctively 'her'.

And so - I have become the custodian of a few new (to me) things which are special reminders of aspects of my mum's character.

....including a home-made cook book c.1964. It must have been one of a dozen or so copies typed out by my mum and has - amazingly - survived umpteen house moves over the last forty six or so years.

Amongst mum's offerings in it are Shrimp Chowder which she describes as 'a soup which is a meal in itself', and Pork Cassoulet: 'almost impossible to overcook'.

Here's a recipe from one of the other contributors. I love its prescriptive tone.


The hips must not be used until touched with frost. Further, they must be used as soon as they are picked and not left overnight, as they contain a valuable quantity of Vitamin C., which is lost with keeping.

To every pound of hips allow half a pint of water. Boil until tender and pass through a fine sieve to remove pips. Add 1lb. sugar to 1lb. of pulp and boil until it thickens.

Miss D.V. Rowe
The Plough House

The advice (tutorial was it?) I was given about the importance of hand washing delicates and woollens in - specifically - Woolite may be considered a bit outmoded today. But I know that from my mum's point of view she was simply passing on a handy tip - a useful skill perhaps - and also the notion that if you take good care of the things you value they will last longer. 

And the stripy scarf above is a great example of this. It's actually about twenty years old and - like her other knitwear - was carefully stowed away in a protective bag whilst not in use. Lucky for me it still has a faint scent of lovely perfume on it.

Finally - the autumnal orange and green of a necklace that was my mother's mother's. This treasure is made from moss agate and other stones which were foraged for by my mum and her sister as little girls when they were living in Cornwall - the sweetest memento and the loveliest story.