Archive for September, 2010


Cheap, easy post.

I’m ill, work hates me as a result, and for some reason I can’t seem to muster the will to moan about how unfair these things are. Instead, I thought I’d share a picture which cheers me up endlessly and which should negate me from actually having to scrawl anything. Here, for your caption-writing pleasure, is Artemis and her friend the bear.

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Stores

I’ve found that I get a remarkable sense of achievement from laying down stores for the winter. Whether I’m going to eat my creations or give them away remains to be seen. I am, however, proud that I’ve managed to create so  much from my local plants. Whether it’s from fruit and veg that I’ve grown myself, the hedgerows around my house, or from the local producers of sugar and vinegar that I’ve managed to find, I have filled my shelves with pickles, chutneys, compotes, jams and schnapps which speak volumes about the place in which I live.

Front row from Left: Apple and mint chutney, mango chutney, bramble jam. Back row from left: Tormentil schnapps, lavender schnapps, apple and plum compote.

I’ve been preserving in less traditional ways too, freezing some of the incredible elderberry soup which the hedgerows have provided to drink around the bonfire on hallowe’en.

Elderberry soup, stewing in a pan. Said pan is now blue, as is the spoon.

So that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to of late – slaving in the kitchen and enjoying the outcome. I’m hoping we have a wave of visitors before too long too, so I can share my scrummy stores.

Sunny Saturday

Once upon a time, I was able to sleep until thirteen o’clock in the afternoon, eat a chocolate orange with my breakfast cup of tea and then go out into the fine city of Norwich to wander aimlessly round the shops until closing time.

Now, even when I’ve been on night-shifts, I can’t sleep in past ten and feel rather nauseous if the first thing I eat isn’t at least vaguely healthy. I would certainly never dream of spending masses of money that I don’t have on clothes that I don’t need. I think they call this growing up.

I’ve been increasingly tired of late – I reckon it’s the double-edged sword of autumn that’s doing it. I love the crisp days in the sunshine because it’s finally cool enough for me to enjoy without melting, but with the long nights on their way, there just isn’t enough natural light to keep me going. It’s the Celtic curse – our skin hates the sun but our energy levels love it.

Anyway, on this sunny Saturday my plan is thus: go a-wandering and pick blackberries, come home and make various jams and chutneys and pickles and such. Have an early night and enjoy tomorrow morning – pre thirteen o’clock.

The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes

THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

This is the first picture I’ve drawn in a good few years.  I was listening to Loreena McKennitt’s take on the Alfred Noyes poem when I started doodling and just couldn’t stop. Here is the result. It’s a style of drawing I’ve never tried before, and I think it needs some work, but for a first attempt at Frank Miller inspired work, it’s not too bad.

Gardening

I’ve been thinking a lot about the typical British garden recently, and how its function has changed throughout the past few generations.

At the beginning of the 1900s, gardens were essential to a functioning kitchen, as well as to the household economy. My 83 year-old drinking buddy was taught how to grow crops as a little boy because otherwise, there simply wouldn’t have been enough food. Wartime compounded the need for private land to work and rationing meant that any alternative sources of edibles was in high demand.Companion gardening was also necessary, due to the lack of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, giving bees a great honey crop from the herbal flowers and plentiful fruit bushes.

As wartime children grew up and moved into houses of their own, they set aside a portion of land for food, as they had been taught to, but also installed areas simply meant for enjoyment. They set about creating beautiful borders and lawns for ball games. Think about it – whenever you see an immaculately laid out flowerbed, spread with a colourful patchwork of pansies and roses, you automatically presume that an ‘old lady’ lives there, don’t you? That someone who grew up during the bleak years of the war has made this joyous, life-affirming thing.

The next generation, having grown up with large grassy patches in which play, turned an increasing amount of their land over to lawns. The working area of the traditional garden continued to earn its keep, but as a space to park the family car, and light the summer barbeques. Gardens suddenly meant suburbia, which meant success and something of a Yuppie ‘lifestyle’. But as with all things, we shun the life our parents aspired to – 40 is the new 30 afterall, and we no longer want a peaceful life away from the city. We want 24 hour supermarkets, nightclubs, and a cinema within walking distance.

And so comes my sorry generation, ready to leave our mark on the British garden. 100 years on, at the start of this new century, we set to tarring over the lawns we enjoyed so much as children to make way for our herd of cars. Grass, which would take so little to maintain, is suddenly seen as an inconvenience rather than a pleasure and so we rid ourselves of the chore of cutting it, employing our well-stored cars to visit places where other people have maintained the park-land and countryside we so desire to see. As a species we long for open spaces and greenery, yet in our homes we strive to eliminate all forms floral life.

I want to return to the way things were – not necessarily to the complete hard graft my friend grew up with, but certainly to a garden which combines productive soil and lazy grassy areas.  I am proud of ever misshapen tomato I serve, of every cup of camomile tea I drink, because I grew it myself. I fed the bees with my flowers and my soul with the greenery. The longer I stay in the countryside, the more human I feel, despite the fact I seem to be distancing myself increasingly from the popular ‘norm’.

Lights in the cities get brighter and people push back the darkness. I wonder what they’re afraid of. Perhaps if they dimmed the lights and drew the courage to look, they might see the stars and the world around them.

But forgive me, I think I’ve grown incoherent. Either it’s the sound of Crackdown 2 in the background, or the fact I’ve only had two cups of tea today, but my mind is wandering. I will take this moment of clarity to say, ‘goodnight’.

Free

So I’m penniless. Work decided to change my wages from weekly to monthly, but didn’t feel it necessary to let me know that the money from that last week of August – because said week ends on September 6th – would be withheld until next month. Joy. So I now have negative sixty pounds to last until next pay-day. And it’s car tax month.

All of which is a royal pain in the arse.

I’d looked out some lovely housey stuff on e-bay that I wanted for the kitchen, and some rather attractive wooden crates which I thought would be perfect for my sewing things and tidying up the once ‘man-nook’. I was really gutted when I realised I couldn’t have them, and stomped off to collect some nettles for fertiliser and some apples for elderberry soup*. When I arrived in the ever-giving shed though, a wonderful surprise greeted me. At least six crates, almost identical to the ones I’d wanted to get. Excitedly, I snatched a few outside and began to hose off the years of shed-filth.

The boxes, after the removal of the ancient mouse-nest.

The ends of these two are even painted in fashionable 'shabby-chic' colours. Double win!

And now for the obligatory ‘before and after’ shots of the once ‘man-nook’.

Before - the nook is full of stuff.

After - the nook is still full of stuff, but this way, it looks slightly neater. Or at least I think so.

Finally, and to my mind this was the best find of all, I discovered a long, thin box that is perfectly sized for all of my sewing patterns.

This looks almost made-to-measure. Sadly, the shelf it was meant to go on is 2cm too short for it. I will have to find it another home.

It was freeing to be reminded just how creative I can be when it’s necessary. Money doesn’t buy style and whilst I don’t think you can find it in a shed, you can find components of it – old boxes, some brightly coloured paint and a little imagination. When wages allow, I think I’m going to get some grey and green tester pots and paint all of the boxes I found today. I reckon I can get a really attractive nook going.

The same goes for food – I made bortsch for dinner last night which is something I’ve never tried before. Whilst I wouldn’t have it again, it made a filling, cheap dinner. Tonight is sweet potato falafel and other picnicy sorts of food – flat bread, humus, cous cous salad. What doesn’t get eaten here will be taken to C-‘s for a BBQ on Saturday, along with our contribution of corn on the cob…

So for now, it’s all very positive. Talk to me again on the 15th though, when council tax vanishes from my account. I’m sure it’ll be a different story…

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*Let me know if you want the recipe – it’s a traditional Danish one and very good. I’ve frozen some of mine because it’s kind of like a cross between mulled wine and hot Ribeana – perfect for icey evenings. I wanted to save enough for a mug on Hallowe’en/bonfire night.

Flowers Gone

The drying bowl – a large glass chalice that I keep in the bay window to amplify the sunlight – is filled with walnuts now, instead of camomile. I think it might officially be Autumn.

Skinning walnuts is a long and messy procedure. Sadly, the gloves didn't protect as well as expected and I have ended up with black thumbs again.

As the days start to decline, I find increasing that I am turning my attention indoors – to my books, and my plotting for the garden next year. I have been so lucky moving into this house. My neighbours have been fantastic, and though we’ve just lost the couple at the top of the field, the company of  L- in the middle house very much makes up for their absence. I only wish that this magical place was mine.

It isn’t just my books and garden which have caught my attention now the weather is cooling. I find increasingly that I want to create beauty around me, in my home and in some small way, in the world. I love art, and I love drawing. It’s been so long since I have though, that aside from absent doodling I don’t know where to begin. My newfound love of textiles seems to point me in that direction and after months of being unsure what to do with a beautiful obi I bought online, and a stunning scrap of kimono silk, I have decided that I’m simply going to frame them, and enjoy them on a daily basis.

My beautiful stag obi - I will frame each embroidered section separately and give one to Mum. The card is something she bought me whilst we were in Dorset and I think it goes really well. It is by artist Rachel Goodchild.

I actually bought this years ago on Fanø - a Danish island. The lady in the silk shop there sold scraps of kimono that she had used to make other items of clothing and I just fell in love with this.

So whilst I might not be confident enough to create myself – yet – I still feel that I can fill my walls with beautiful items which are personal to me. I have also decided to try some embroidery after my cross-stitch is finished. Autumn always makes me think of the following poem and I’d love a beautiful version of it for the wall, stitched in appropriate colours:

The Autumn of Life

From the Carmina Burana, a collection of songs from the 12th century. Copied from Judith Herrin’s Medieval Miscellany.

While life’s April Blossom blew,
What I willed I then might do,
Lust and Law seemed comrades true.
As I listed, unresisted,
Hither, thither, could I play,
And with my wanton flesh obey.

When life’s autumn days decline,
Thus to live, a libertine,
Fancy-free as thoughts incline,
Manhood’s older age and colder,
Now forbids, removes, destroys
All those ways of wonted joys.

Age with admonition wise
Thus doth council and advise,
While her voice within me cries:
For repenting and relenting
There is room; forgiveness falls
On all contrite prodigals.

I will seek a better mind;
Change, correct, and leave behind
What I did with purpose blind:
From vice sever, with endeavour
Yield my soul to serious things,
Seek the joy that virtue brings.