Winter: for one day only

Winter’s not been around in recent years, not really.  Those crisp snowy days we all seem to remember from our childhood, those snowball fights, those Jack Frost patterns etched our bedroom windows, those chilblains – all seem to be ancient history.

This week in London, where we had an early unofficial Christmas with William and family, winter arrived for one day only before becoming sunny and mild again.  Look at these ducks and gulls in the local park, standing in puzzled uncertainty or ineptly skating on a frozen pond.  One day only was quite enough for them.

Snapshot Saturday: a transient house in a temporary home.

If you go to London, and if you go to the Victoria and Albert Museum some time before next February, don’t miss a rather special temporary exhibition I saw there this week.

Find the glass lift, and allow it to sweep you upwards to the sixth floor.  Here, from this light and airy vantage point, you can enjoy views over the museum and beyond.

Contemporary Korean ceramics.  That’s what you’re looking for.  There are glossy ceramic tiles, reinterpreting Korea’s exquisite porcelain from the Joseon dynasty (you can see examples of these down on the first floor).  There are wonderfully lustrous translucent vases, in luminous reds, yellows and blues.  Oh wait ….  they’re carved from soap.

But what drew me back, several times, was this house.

Here’s what its creator Kim Juree has to say about this, and the many houses she has created in the same idiom.

So what you’ll see if you visit won’t be what I saw.  Don’t wait too long.  This temporary structure isn’t long for this world.

If you peer behind the house, you’ll see a few of those vases carved from soap.

This post is a response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: temporary

Fresh air and fun, London style

I’m in London, doing a spot of childminding for two-year old William.  But after all that city living in Poland and Berlin, my inner Country Mouse needed some attention.

A city farm then.  This turned out to be a Good Idea.  It involved an exciting trip through the waterways and futuristic high-rise building sites on the route of the Docklands Light Railway.  It involved, in the smart business district of Canary Wharf, an exciting intermittent fountain that commanded William’s rapt attention for many minutes.

William and the fountain at Canary Wharf.

It involved a ferry crossing to get us from one side of the Thames to the other.  ‘Did you see the seal?’ said one of the crew.  No, we didn’t, but it turns out they’re rather common.

The ferry goes from Canary Wharf to the far side, back and forth, all day.

And it involved a saunter along the Thames views.  Then we arrived.  Surrey Docks City Farm.  Path, through parkland and with riverside.

The view from Surrey Docks Farm.

It’s a farm, but not as we know farms here in North Yorkshire.  The animals are behind fences, and the crops are in beds rather than fields.  But it’s nicely ramshackle, in a good way, and a real piece of countryside among the high-rise.  William and I befriended sheep: monster woolly breeds from the South Downs and from Oxford, quite unlike their rangier northern cousins.  Donkeys requested loving pats on the back. Here was the biggest sow ever.  Ducks were a-dabbling, up tails all.  Goats played King of the Castle to increasingly complicated rules, jostling each other off the heights: and hens busied themselves policing the entire site.

A few goats having fun.

William was, if anything, even more interested in the vegetables.  Those gourds!  They were long, thin, and taller than him.  Those pumpkins!  So big, so h-e-a-v-y. And the long leaves of the cavolo nero!  So tough, so leathery, and such an intense shade of dark green.

William holds a pumpkin inspection.

Everything in the cafe is home-made.  So we had lunch there – an enormous lunch – before retracing our steps.  The ferry was still as exciting, and there were workmen hanging off the gangway onto the boat, doing unimaginably interesting things.

Maintenance work on the jetty.

The fountain as entrancing as first time round.  By the time our train journey was over, William was fast asleep.

Snapshot Saturday: rus in urbe*

I’ve been in London this week, spending each day with William, now almost two.

One of the things I love about being with The London Branch is the real connection with nature that’s to be had in Hither Green, part of busy multicultural Lewisham.

We’ve spent happy moments peeking out of the window watching the fox cubs playing and relaxing in the garden next door.

Virtually every day we go to one of the parks near their house. And the day before yesterday, this is what we saw.  A juvenile heron doing what herons have to do.  Fishing.

I saw this heron as a friend, a link with my more rural day-to-day life. You might think that’s a bit of a stretch, but perhaps he, like me, is a fellow country bumpkin among all these townies.

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is ‘friend’.

  • ‘country in the city’


Snapshot Saturday: a view of densely-packed London from the River Thames

‘Redoubt’ tugs cargo-laden barges down the Thames. The river is as much a busy highway as it ever was.

I had to be in London, because it’s not every day my son gets a chance to sing in the Royal Festival Hall. Admittedly, he was only one of some 400 singers from Lewisham Choral Society and the Hackney Singers, who’d combined to perform Bach’s B minor Mass.  What a privilege to hear so many voices give such a finely tuned and moving performance.

The other treat was that I was seated between my daughter-in-law, and a new friend made entirely thanks to blogging.  She’d discovered my blog after following up a comment I had made on the wonderful ‘Spitalfields Life’.  She commented – often – on mine, and eventually we met. I do like this blogging malarkey.

Views from the deck.

Anyway, I got to the Festival Hall from Greenwich by way of a commuter trip along the Thames.  And on this journey I got a sense of densely packed communities, sometimes in tower blocks; and of the densely packed offices of Canary Wharf and the City.

Something old, something new ….

I saw too the Docklands area, where once tobacco, ivory, spices, coffee, tea, cocoa, wine and wool were unloaded from densely packed ships along the quayside to be processed in wharfside buildings – once busy, crowded industrial sites, and now transformed into desirable apartments and businesses.

Once a busy hive of industry, these wharfside buildings are now dwellings for people who would never have chosen to work there.

I saw the Tower of London, with the city behind showing itself developed in a manner unimaginable to the many unhappy souls who entered, never to return to life as they had known it …. or to life at all.

The Tower of London, with the now almost equally famous Gherkin behind.

This journey is a treat which some lucky Londoners can enjoy every day as part of their regular commute.

My response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: ‘Dense’

Snapshot Sunday: Solitude with a few fish

Ten thirty on a damp Wednesday morning.  The Horniman Museum was just opening its doors as William and I arrived, and we stomped downstairs to the aquarium.

We were the first arrivals.  Here’s William, wholly absorbed in fish, frog and butterfly hunting.  This peaceful moment didn’t last long.  Within minutes one, two, then three parties of Reception age school children stormed noisily in.  The fish continued their solitary swishing round their watery home.


This post responds to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Solitude

Should I move house?

View of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge and Tate Britain.
View of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge and Tate Britain.

I was in London this week, and on Monday had a day all to myself.  After a morning at the wonderful Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate Gallery, I mooched around the area where I grew up.

Here, just at the back of Tate Britain, is the Millbank Estate.  There was a penitentiary here till 1890, and when it was cleared away, 17 blocks of flats were built as social housing between 1897 and 1902, housing 562 families. They must have seemed palaces to the former slum-dwellers who moved here.  Each flat had its own kitchen and scullery, its own toilet.  The streets were tree-lined, and there was a communal garden besides.  Even now these barracks-like buildings have an air of quality, of being built to last. Sadly, many of these flats are now in the hands of private landlords, who charge their tenants up to four times more than those who are still in the social housing system have to pay.

Millbank Estate.
Millbank Estate.

About five minutes walk away are the flats where I lived between about the ages of seven and fifteen, St. Augustine’s Mansions.  Those of us who lived there were ordinary types. There was the little old Irish lady in the flat below; the man who worked at Manbre and Garton, the sugar refiners, who once a year would take us and his wife to the wharf-side where he worked to watch the Oxford and Cambridge boat race.

St. Augustine’s Mansions.

There was the Liberal Party activist, who was disappointed when my mother wouldn’t let me take the afternoon off school one day in 1958.  Our activist friend hoped I would lay a wreath at the recently relocated monument to Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst.  My mother, an early beneficiary of education for girls, didn’t approve of suffragettes.  But later, we’d often go to our friend’s flat on Saturday evenings to watch That Was The Week That Was. I was by then the only child in my class not to have a TV at home.

Entrance to St. Augustine’s Mansions. No handsome trees there then.

Briefly, before he made the comparative Big Time, a singer lived on the ground floor.  Was it Billy Fury?  I can’t remember.

These ordinary flats are now a gated community.  Look on Zoopla, and you’ll find that the larger ones change hands at £1,500,000.

I wandered on to Tachbrook Street.  Now, as then, there is a market. Then it sold everything you’d need in  a weekly shop.  Now it’s street food from every continent, sold to the large local working community at lunch time.  I can recommend the sumac chicken from Lebanon.

Local shops sell fine cheeses, fine antiques, and the charity shops have goods with £200 price tags.

And here is a residential street.  There won’t be any local working folk living in these handsome terraces any more.  Zoopla again.  £1,750,000.

A typical local street near Tachbrook Street.

It’s rather lucky that I neither want nor need to move back into the area.