Posts tagged ‘celebrate the mundane’

May 22, 2015

the day the swifts came back

May’s been a funny old month. Colder than March, some days. Full of brisk winds and heavy storms that stripped the blossom off the trees in my street before I’d barely had time to stop and appreciate it. Nights of violent dreams and creeping nightmares, days of bad news and exhaustion. Too many moments of frustration and loneliness.

Yesterday afternoon there was a break in the clouds, so I went for a walk up Primrose Hill. I lay down in the grass and looked up at the sky, and I took these photos.

new shoes on Primrose Hill


on Primrose Hill

on Primrose Hill

bug's eye view of Primrose Hill

And as I lay on the grass near the top of the hill, watching the clouds, I spotted the first swifts of the summer. They always arrive around the third or fourth week in May, so I’ve been looking out for them, but it was a lovely surprise to spot them anyway. They were way up high amongst the cirrus, tiny black specks flitting around, so high that you could blink and miss them.

I made my way up to the peak of the hill and craned my face upwards to get a better glimpse, only to realise that nobody else had noticed them, the heralds of summer. This was a moment for me, alone.

And I walked off down the hill with a smile on my face, towards a tree with new buds of pink blossom starting to bloom, a sign that the storms of May didn’t blow everything off the trees.

down Primrose Hill


May’s been a funny old month. Stormy weather and bad dreams took their toll on me. But it’s also been a month of mellow afternoons with good sounds spilling out of windows opened wide to warm sunshine. Days of creative encouragement and good food. Days to linger under lush green trees, listen to the bees and watch the birds in the sky.

Yesterday the swifts came back, and I almost didn’t see them.


[photos taken with the Hipstamatic app, using the Adler 9009 lens and Blanko Freedom13 Film]

May 9, 2015

walk on, past

On Thursday, after I’d voted (and I’m not going to talk about the election result because it is just too depressing), I ended up taking a long walk through the woods on Hampstead Heath, which I hadn’t done for a while.

One of the drawbacks about going to classes two days a week is that I seem to have less energy for walking as much as I did last year — chronic fatigue means I have to balance what I want to do against what I have to do, and walking for pleasure often gets left out of the equation. Because of this, I haven’t been walking as much as I’d hoped and planned to this year. I usually walk to my printmaking class, but although I had great intentions when I started the drawing class that, since it’s in the afternoon, I’d have enough time to walk there too (it’s in a different place to my printmaking class), I never seem to have enough energy to do that, and I’m pretty sure if I did walk down there it would make me too tired to focus on the class (as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a pretty intense class).

All of which means that I’ve hardly been in the woods on the Heath this year (although I have been up on Parliament Hill a few times), and Thursday’s walk reminded me how much I’ve missed it. I did take photos when I was out on Thursday, but I recently came across these photos I took last year (which I had uploaded at the time but not got around to blogging, because that was when I ended up taking that impromptu blog break for a few months), so I thought I’d post them now. I always find something very soothing about being on my own out in the woods, and I think these pictures capture that soothing atmosphere so you can share it, too.

Vale of Health, Hampstead Heath, spring 2014

Hampstead Heath, spring 2014
I can never tell if this is wild chervil (aka cow parsley), wild carrot (aka Queen Anne’s lace) or hogweed
(which is poisonous)

Hampstead Heath, spring 2014

Hampstead Heath, spring 2014

Hampstead Heath, spring 2014
it’s a bit confusing that baby coots have red beaks like adult moorhens

Hampstead Heath, spring 2014
don’t know what this plant is, but it’s got pretty leaves

Hampstead Heath, spring 2014
cleavers, aka goosegrass, one of those multipurpose plants: eat it, make dye, stuff beds, use as a sieve…

Hampstead Heath, spring 2014
garlic mustard, aka Jack-by-the-Hedge, is tasty in soups, salads and stir-fries

bluebells, Hampstead Heath, spring 2014

bluebells, Hampstead Heath, spring 2014

bluebells, Hampstead Heath, spring 2014

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 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.

September 25, 2014

tea at the Regency

Regency Cafe, Pimlico

Regency Cafe, Pimlico

Regency Cafe, Pimlico

Regency Cafe, Pimlico

Regency Cafe, Pimlico

Today I’m visiting Tate Britain, with plans to go to the Regency Cafe afterwards, so I thought I’d post these pics from when I popped in for a cuppa a few months ago, because it’s such a great little place. I always worry it’s going to be gone the next time I walk past, but fortunately its popularity doesn’t seem to wane (you might recognise it as a location in several films), and they don’t mess about with the authentic vintage decor and design (unlike Bar Bruno in Soho, which has been destroyed now, sadly.)

Lift up your mugs of tea! Long may the Regency reign!