Archive for October, 2014

October 31, 2014

witch feathers and locket bones

crow feather

old books


detail of vintage blouse

open locket

crow feather

book of Poe

• vintage top from Peekaboo Vintage years ago
• old books from my family
• locket from my mum
• images inside locket from old magazines
• crow feather and pigeon feather found on Hampstead Heath

October 30, 2014

out in the autumn sunshine

On an unseasonably warm Indian summer’s day in late October, she travelled westwards, to enjoy the bright blue skies and look at brightly-feathered birds.

blue skies over Holland Park

peacock in Holland Park

She sat where Rogers sat and thought about all the other people who had sat in the same place.

sheltered bench in Holland Park

''here Rogers sat...'' in Holland Park

She admired the golden roses and green ivy outside the Ice House.

roses in Holland Park

the Ice House, Holland Park

the Ice House, Holland Park

Although she was sad to see find some grapes withered on the vine, she admired their autumn colours.
grapes in Holland Park
Holland Park

Nearby, she found some grapes that would never wither.

grapvine tile, Holland Park

grapvine tile, Holland Park

The strange flowers on the fig tree reminded her of christmas.

fig tree in Holland Park

plaque in Holland Park

She wandered past the playing field as the sun began to go down, and was happy to be right where she was.

autumn leaves in Holland Park

(This is a companion piece/sequel to this post.)

October 24, 2014

some beachcombing finds and how to clean them

Thanks for all the comments on my last post, I’ve replied to most of them, but I thought I’d post a follow-up here for other interested people.

If you’re interested in finding things along the Thames foreshore, and want to make sure the tide will be out so you can get down onto it, then check the tide times before you go. I never have, I usually just end up on the foreshore if I happen to notice the tide is out when I’m by the river, but I’m sure you can find a tide timetable online. The easiest places to get to are on the south side of the Thames between Waterloo Bridge and the Tate Modern; there are staircases down to the foreshore dotted all the way along. There are other spots along the river, like Wapping, but I’m not familiar with those, so do some research before you go. As I said in my last post, if you want to find things actually buried in the mud (e.g. digging with a trowel, using a metal detector etc.), you need a licence, but anything on the surface is fair game.

I’ve seen other posts suggest that you wear stout waterproof shoes, but as you can see from my earlier post, I managed fine in a pair of canvas shoes! Just be aware that some bits of the foreshore can be muddy, and some parts can be the kind of soft wet sand you sink into (not quicksand!). The terrain changes a surprising amount in such a short space, and it’s actually quite interesting to see how certain parts of the shore almost seem to attract certain things — like the piles of old bricks in one stony spot, or the chalk deposits in another, or the bits of charcoal and black stones washed up on a sandy patch.

The other thing I see is people suggesting gloves or hand sanitiser, but again I’ve never used them. I don’t put my hands in the river (although I have washed mud off things in a passing tidal surge), and I do wash my hands afterwards (there are also quite a few places with public toilets along that stretch). However, I do use hand sanitiser to clean stuff when I get home — see the bottom of this post for how I do that.

Anyway, here are some pictures…

These are all the clay pipe pieces I found last week, about 40 of them, all found between the Tate Modern and Gabriel’s Wharf (apart from two, which I already had). The stem pieces are very common, but it’s less common to find a pipe bowl in such excellent condition. Clay pipes were the equivelent of a cigarette, they were bought pre-filled, and would be disposed of after use. Some stems are really narrow, which probably dates them to when tobacco was more expensive, so people smoked it slower.

clay pipe pieces found on the Thames foreshore
They look like pieces of chalk, don’t they?

Here are some other pieces I’ve found over the years — I’ve used the excellent Mudlarking on the Thames blog and the visual guides at Clayground Collective to help me identify pieces.

Various pottery sherds from the Stuart and Georgian periods (1600s-1830s), which is a few hundred years older than I thought some of these pieces were. There’s some annular (aka banded) ware from the Georgian era and a piece of Staffordshire combed slipware, probably from the same period. That black-and-white striped piece at the top right is one I found ten years ago under the Millennium Bridge by St Paul’s (actually, quite a few pieces date from that day, but that’s the only one I specifically remember).

pottery sherds from the Stuart and Georgian eras

Pottery sherds from the Tudor period (1480s-1600s), including a piece of Bartmann jug at the bottom of the photo. The piece at top right has a slightly pearly sheen to it, and a repeat pattern imprinted on the surface.

pottery sherds from the Tudor era

Speaking of pearly, this is some shell-edged pearlware, which again is about 150 years older than I first thought it was.

shell-edged pearlware from the Georgian era

I also have lots and lots of blue pottery sherds, which can be harder to date. After browsing Mudlarking on the Thames I’ve been able to identify a few of them, but I put them all away before I took any photos so you’ll have to wait for those for the next time I can be bothered to get them out and photograph them… In the meantime, here’s most of my collection (including pieces found on Hampstead Heath):

beachcombing/mudlarking finds
I realise now I should have made this image bigger so you could click on it to see it at a larger size, oops. Anyway, the eagle-eyed among you might be able to spot some blue Westerwald, some delftware, some white salt glaze, some green and blue transferware, some Flow Blue and lots of willow pattern dating from all over…

How to clean your finds

You will need:
• a bowl
• hot water
• bicarbonate of soda
• white vinegar
• hand sanitiser
• washing-up liquid (optional)
• something to stir with
• old toothbrush
(there are no exact measurements because it depends on how many items you are cleaning, just trust your own intuition)

Put your finds into a bowl and sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over them. Add the white vinegar — you don’t need a lot, just enough to make it fizz up when it comes into contact with the bicarb, and cover what you have in the bowl. The fizzing action should help to shift some of the dirt.

Immediately add the hot water and hand sanitiser, also the washing-up liquid if you want — the hand sanitiser claims to kill 99% of known germs, and I figure if it’s gentle enough for skin then it won’t damage anything I find.

Swirl it around with your stirring implement. Then leave it for as long as you feel like it, longer might help to shift more dirt.

Then rinse everything off and give it another soak in water and hand sanitiser — just to be sure to rinse that too, or there’ll be a residue on everything.

I use an old toothbrush to clean off stubborn bits of dried-on sand or whatever (but sometimes not everything comes off), and sometimes give it a final rinse just to get all those little bits off as well. After that, everything should be clean enough to handle without worrying about germs!

I’m sure there’s a proper way that people clean stuff, but I haven’t found out what it is. In the meantime, this method works and is very cost-effective, so I think it’s worth sharing.

feather on the foreshore

October 22, 2014

larking on the foreshore

I have always loved being by the river in London. There’s something special about a tidal river, especially one that smells of the sea right in the middle of a big city, the sea that’s almost 50 miles away. It smells of adventure and history and the most mundane moments of being human. It’s constantly changing, with the ebb and flow of the tide, and the ebb and flow of the skyline surrounding it, as buildings go up and come down and are replaced by new buildings that go up and come down, it’s no wonder that I’ve found myself continually drawn to its edges.

Last week, I found myself by the Thames again. I had actually planned to see an exhibition at the Tate Modern (the membership a friend gave me last year runs out in a few weeks oh noes I will miss having that), but as the tide was low I decided I’d have a little browse along the foreshore and do some beachcombing. (A lot of people refer to beachcombing along the Thames as “mudlarking” but technically it’s only mudlarking if you are actually digging in the mud, which you need to have a licence to do. Anything else is beachcombing, although the foreshore isn’t strictly a beach, but calling it “foreshore-combing” is too pedantic even for me.)

A couple of minutes on the foreshore in front of the Tate, and I’d already spotted some old clay pipe pieces. These date from the 1700s up until the 1880s, when cigarettes became more popular. Parts of the broken pipe-stems are really common, the pipe-bowls less so, especially intact bowls — so I was quite lucky with that one!

beachcombing on the Thames foreshore
clay pipes, toy dinosaurs, snail shells and mussel shells, spotted on the foreshore in front of the Tate Modern

There’s always interesting flotsam if you look. I like to spot interesting rocks and stones (everybody needs a rock). The egg-like one pictured below resembles one of the ceramic “river eggs” that an artist put into the Thames in 2012 (there’s a picture here for you to compare), but it was actually flint (one side had chipped off). The other one was a nodule of tar I think, but with something of a different texture that has sort of woven itself in. Surprisingly lightweight, but hefty enough to be an interesting paperweight!

beachcombing on the Thames foreshore

beachcombing on the Thames foreshore
A piece of flint that looks like a Picasso dove, and a shell face that’s yawning or screaming — and another piece of pipe-stem.

beachcombing on the Thames foreshore
a piece of flint that looks like a sugar mouse with the tail end bitten off, and a piece of a pocket watch — one side says “watch makers and jewellers” and the other side says “Fehrenbach Bros Strood & Chatham”.

I met some proper mudlarkers in front of the OXO Tower, who were very friendly so we had a nice chat before I wended on my way. One of them dug up the top of a watch-fob while I was there. The fun thing about finding stuff like that these days is it’s so much easier to research — a quick google shows that the Fehrenbachs were quite a famous German clock-making family, with shops all over the place, including Scotland and Manchester. When WW2 came, they changed their name to Fernbank and continued to make clocks and watches, but they also made bullets (for the British side).

The tide didn’t seem to move while I was down on the foreshore, but when any big boats came past they quicky caused a swell. Luckily I happened to be standing on a big rock when this one happened — but then again jumping to avoid getting your feet wet is part of the joy of being by a tidal river. That rather phallic-looking thing is an animal bone of some sort, they’re quite common to find. And that skirt is a new-old find of mine, I actually bought it back in the 90s (!) but it’s been lurking in my fabric stash for years. A little while ago I altered it to make the waist smaller and now it hangs better so I’ve worn it quite a few times lately.

Thames tidal gif

I didn’t have enough energy to wend my way back to the Tate for the exhibition, but I did end up collecting some nice bits and pieces, including about 40 pieces of pipe-stems (I don’t usually collect them, but this time I decided I would!), and some pretty sherds of broken crockery (I recently learned that “sherds” is the name for bits of broken crockery, “shards” just applies to broken glass). I always have a soft spot for those little fragments of pretty plates just for themselves (I find them all over Hampstead Heath, too), but I recently discovered that a lot of the pieces I’ve found over the years are probably a couple of hundred years older than I assumed they were. It’s funny how rubbish that’s three hundred years old somehow becomes special to people, even though it’s still just rubbish. But the rocks and broken plates on the foreshore will always be special to me.

October 14, 2014

a ride on the Woolwich ferry

Last month my mum and me enjoyed a quintessential part of London’s history, and went on the Woolwich ferry. I meant to write about it sooner, but I forgot about it (oops) until I spotted a lovely Betty Swanwick poster on Quad Royal yesterday, and read this post on Londonist about the proposed Silvertown tunnel today, and then I remembered again.

We actually went to Greenwich for the Tall Ships Festival, but the riverfront was really crowded and we couldn’t really see much of the boats (and there weren’t that many to see right there). Instead of fighting through the exhausting crowds, we decided to visit the Queen’s House, have lunch in Greenwich Park and then go on to Woolwich to see the boats there.

The Queen’s House is actually one of my favourite free museums in London, never very crowded and always full of amazing art. The current exhibitions, The Art & Science of Exploration and War Artists At Sea are both recommended (and on until next year), but the permanent collection is wonderful, anyway. It’s a beautiful building, too, not just because of its famous Tulip staircase, but because it’s all so well-proportioned (we were impressed to notice how the edge of the upper balcony overlooking the Great Hall is perfectly aligned with the edges of the doorways).

In Woolwich, there were lots more boats, but it was less crowded and there were less tourists, more locals. We had as much fun people-watching as we did boat-watching, and decided that as we were there we’d go home via the Woolwich ferry.

Woolwich isn’t a part of London I have much reason to visit (although it has a very interesting history) and I’m not a driver so I don’t have much of an opinion on the new tunnel, but I’ve always loved the ferry. Or rather, I’ve always loved the idea of it, because — never really having had a reason to travel from one side of Woolwich to the other — I’ve only ever been on the ferry once before, but it’s kind of fun to do. I think it would be a sad thing if the ferry disappeared completely — I’ve always felt there ought to be more boats going across the Thames, not just up and down (the only other one I know about is Hammerton’s ferry near Richmond, which has also been on my list of things to do for ages).

The ride itself doesn’t take very long — less than 10 minutes, but as I said, it’s kind of fun to do.

waiting for the Woolwich Ferry, watching a tall ship go through the Thames Barrier
Waiting for the Woolwich Ferry, watching a tall ship go through the Thames Barrier — you can just see it in the middle, near the Canary Wharf skyline. The cranes and chimneys on the right belong to the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown, which used to be the largest sugar refinery in the world. It has an interesting history that you can read about here.

waiting for the Woolwich Ferry

boarding the Woolwich Ferry

aboard the Woolwich Ferry

aboard the Woolwich Ferry
Below decks there’s not much view of the river but then you find nice old stuff like this. Well, I like it!

aboard the Woolwich Ferry
There’s a tiny outside platform above these steps that everybody crams onto so that they can see the river.

aboard the Woolwich Ferry
I think they added the bunting for the Tall Ships Festival but they should keep it always! Bunting on boats is so jolly.

aboard the Woolwich Ferry
Looking back towards south Woolwich

exiting the Woolwich Ferry

north entrance to Woolwich foot tunnel
Entrance to Woolwich foot tunnel, which goes under the river where the ferry goes over it. That bus to Stratford takes the same amount of time as the DLR, but it’s less faff (I love the DLR though).

In a city that was built around a river, it’s always puzzled me how little access people really have to being on that river, without spending lots of money. The Woolwich free ferry remains one of the last few ways to do so that isn’t privatised and doesn’t cost lots of money. I hope it manages to stay that way.

October 3, 2014

hollow and dancing

Last Sunday, after visiting the Isokon Gallery with a friend, we went for a walk on Hampstead Heath. Although I do know my way around it pretty well, there are still all sorts of little paths I’ve never been down before, and sometimes they take me off track from where I’m aiming at, which is what happened on Sunday. I was taking him to see the hollow tree, but I went down a new path and we managed to circumnavigate the entire glade the tree is in. Serves me right for getting cocky about knowing my way around.

Anyway, I’d been for a walk on the Heath a few days before, and taken photos then, including the hollow tree, so I thought I’d post some of those.

beech tree, Hampstead Heath
I love beech trees. At the end of August they started dropping their nuts, and for weeks I spent several peaceful moments sitting alone under the beech tree canopies, just listening to the pop-plop of the nut-cases falling to the ground and splitting open. I thought about foraging for them, but beech nuts only have a good season every 3-5 years, and a bit of internet research led me to find that the last good season was 2011 (which by all reports was spectacular), and this year the nuts have no meat on them. They still make a pleasing crunch when you walk over them, though.

tiny shoot, Hampstead Heath
Even as the season dies, there’s always a spurt of new life somewhere.

hollow tree, Hampstead Heath
Hello hollow.

dancing trees, Hampstead Heath
These trees, opposite the hollow tree, always look to me like they are dancing.

michaelmas daisies, Hampstead Heath
I always know it’s September when I see the michaelmas daisies. I love them.

Himalayan balsam, Hampstead Heath
This is Himalayan balsam, aka Policeman’s Helmet, Gnome’s Hatstand and (my favourite), Love-on-a-mountain. It is very pretty but very invasive because it can shoot its seeds up to seven metres, and bees adore it, which means that native plants don’t get pollinated. They actually have it under control on the Heath, and there aren’t that many plants, so when you see them it’s a nice surprise, because it is so pretty. The flowers and seedpods are edible, which is one way to deal with it (although I’ve not tried it myself), but as with any invasive plant you have to be careful not to tread the seedpods anywhere else. Probably best just to admire it from afar.

rosebay willowherb, Hampstead Heath
And this is rosebay willowherb, aka fireweed (because it grows well on burnt, damaged soil), which is also an invasive and also edible. I actually ate it earlier this year when the young leaves were out, very young leaves have a bit of a zingy citrus taste and were an interesting addition to salads. In my experience it has to be eaten as fresh as possible as the leaves got a bit tough after a day or two in the fridge, but they tasted OK chucked into a soup, so they weren’t wasted (it’s very high in nutrients, too!). I wanted to make some fireweed jelly this summer but again, despite its invasive nature, they keep it under control on the Heath, and I didn’t want to take all the blossoms from only a few plants because then no one else could enjoy them (not that this stopped somebody else from stripping them instead). There’s always next year.