"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
April blog 2020
29 April 2020
Monday 27 April
Six weeks in and with glorious weather lockdown has at times the feeling of an endless summer holiday albeit one without the sense of an actual ending, or what might lie on the other side.
Getting to grips with how the new normal will be for work; winging it and re- invention seem to be the order of the moment. The publishing industry is mothballed, but I’m ploughing on to complete my new Pure Style book with Vanessa Courtier my long time collaborator. As my potential publisher says, it will be easier to sell a finished book once things get moving again. I`m enjoying the focus and chance to research.
Editorial and advertising shoots have come to a standstill. The days are gone it seems of 30 unsocially distanced people pitching up here to make a commercial. The June/July cover of American Vogue is an Irving Penn close up of a rose, the magazine’s first still-life cover in 50 years and photographers who co-habit with a spouse, partner or adult child model are offering ready made at-home creative teams. Am sniffing the air to see whether this idea might be where the house and I will be heading….
Life and reassuring continuity goes on in the garden. Luminous spring greens against cobalt sky are David Hockney exuberant . Tulips still brimming even if some on their way out and the alliums are on the way to becoming centre stage, every soon with leggy detail ideal for creating height and splashes of purple colour. It`s dry out there but several days of rain are forecast. (As I write the weather has flipped over night and torrents are giving the garden a good drink) .
23th April Planting up pots and trays with runner bean, dwarf bean and rainbow chard seeds. Also anticipating a herb and sweet pea seedling delivery. …Long over due sweep and dust in the shed where there`s a bees nest under the wood floor boards; the bees buzz in through a hole by the door. The plan is to write and work from here on warm days through the summer.
22 April Heavenly scented English country garden sprays of lilac `syringa` from my friend Pam who`s marooned in the US and generously let me forage from her Tulse Hill front garden tree
In my old cloth covered copy of Constance Spry`s ` Simple flowers` A millionaire for a few pence` lilac , not unreasonably is one of her `few penc`e flowers She writes " it grows in the less favoured positions in country gardens as well as many a dusty town yard. Lilac massed in a box or a bowl, set low on coffee table or stool, is not only good to look down on but for such an arrangement short stemmed pieces are suitable , and these last better than longer branches; neither of course do well if one neglects to remove the leaves from the flowering stems, not of course discarding useful sprays but arranging them among the flowering heads though detached from them " So there you have it from Constance.
Cardoon: garden awning for Coco cat
13 April Easter Monday quiet and blossom filled. Would have been flying to visit my Cumberbatch family in Barbados. Trip to the hardware shop in Herne hill. Open. Not allowed into the shop but have to stand by a serving hatch at the door whilst the assistant disappears into the tool hung gloom to fetch what you want. Buy low odour white spirit for cleaning paint brushes, seed compost, peat pots and seeds.
8th april Work and play: though the locations shoots are on hold the house remains multi functional with me per usual in office, one daughter holed up in front room working via Zoom, dog and cat sprawled across various chairs doing absolutely nothing and other daughter
Georgie being creative in the kitchen with smoked mackerel, mashed with yoghurt, lemon, parsley on toast and topped with cooked beetroot. Inviting in colour as well as taste.
Painting my way through lockdown is good for the spirits.
8th April Apple tree blossom unfurling, sycamore filling with slodges of lime green buds. Our beady eyed garden robin hops along the fence in hope of a juicy worm.
You know how you go on for years convinced of something and then find out that you`ve been completely wrong? Using my new Picture This app I`ve discovered that clumps of deadnettles with pretty white flowers (ideal for widflower jugs on the table) are in fact Comfrey plants Also excellent for making comfrey juice fertiliser. I remember using my sister-in-law`s comfrey potion on my tomatoes a few years ago to good effect. See Griselda Kerr`s advice in the Apprenhensive Gardener, Pimpernel Press: "remove flowers regularly to keep the foliage fresh. Pick the leaves, throw away tough stalks and put in a bucket to make a great potash-rich feed suitable for most plants. Weigh down the leaves with a brick, topping up with fresh leaves , adding 10 l water to every kilo of leaves - stir occasionally and leave until it has broken down into a liquid (which stinks). Strain, bottle, keep cool and dark. Dilute again 1;10 to use"
9th June 3pm: the garden basks in afternoon heat and light. Days like this in our hit and miss summers are precious, as all worthwhile things are. The bees are here again, feasting on the fluffy alliums and there`s a haze of blue nigella magic from a packet of seeds. Blue and purple, purple and green: summer colour pairs which work so naturally and beautifully. Framing the left and right borders lush green and pink, the usual, but never taken for granted , bowing and flopping roses are sweet with soap scent..
Sorry for the silence but I have been pushing on with my new book and have a deadline for end of September! Yes that`s me out there with camera slung round my neck,. sun hat, glasses (can`t focus through view finder without) ruck sack , notebook, tomato bun . We`ve been all over the place my camera and me , and next week we`re at home in London where I`m painting and shooting more gorgeous colour inspiration. I am moored to the keyboard, but food breaks are not neglected- the only demand is that ideas are simple and easy to prepare.
Peach puree is a favourite: Peel 5 or six large peaches, stone and slice and put in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add two or three tablespoons of sugar and juice of half a lemon. Simmer for 5 to 10m minutes. Cool, blend and refrigerate until use. Decorate with a scented geranium leaf, or not if you don`t have, and pour over ice cream for a delectable summer pudding.
Have just said good bye to beach style for the season.... home to grey London skies I suspect.
Head down and chasing ideas and making pictures for my new book about
colour. We have a publisher , hooray, and it will be on the shelves next
spring. In between, sensual respite for a few days in Olhao. Soaking up
the sun and splashing in first swim of the year sea . So cool and
invigorating and then to eat and feast on fish. Vegetables
come home in Olhao where the market is spilling over with plump tomatoes
and greens. A plate of roast tomatoes, onions, peppers and courgettes
is my offering for supper with friends.
It is `quinta-feira da espiga` (ear of wheat Thursday or Ascension day) and there are bundles of olive, wheat ,poppies, and daisies piled outside the corner shop. It is is good to see the survival of simple country rituals.
Same but different: the beach at Camber sands the day after friends daughter`s 21st. England is as beautiful as any Algarve coastal retreat. But, and this is a big one I`m not enthused about murky English channel shallows.
View from my room, below. I am booked on late rooms.com at Pontin`s `holiday park` fulfilling a childhood curiosity of what`s behind the wire of a holiday camp. It`s housing estate on sea: slot machines, chips, flimsy walls, and family bbqs. Could offer more quality for the price. And don`t punish your guests Mr Pontins: clean the windows, shoot the seagulls and put in bedside lights.
Sunday morning Long island style at Camber sands, below.
Travelling mentally to more watery paradise with Clare Lloyd`s My Greek Island Home. Australian artist, designer and photographer, Claire left the stresses of city life in London to set up home in a small village on Lesbos. The book is a visual feast in which Claire eloquently describes the simple pleasures of reconnecting with nature and community. I love the feline details.
To Colefax and Fowler on a fabric hunt and to see the new collection. I want to order the linen stripes by the hundred metre rollful but am content with a sweet carrier bag lined with `Bowood` my favourite Colefax print
There`s no place like home and my back garden on a hot day in June.
Back to blogging post the M4 migration and university delivery of youngest. And the back to the everythings of September that I would rather not have to deal with, such as the garden which is looking, let`s say, autumnal. But the apples shimmer on laden branches and next post I`ll show you the first of my apple puddings. It`s no chore, too, to revisit the delicious things I came across this summer.
Puglia ,via Ryanair to Brindisi (some say it`s the new Tuscany- hmmm it would be a great loss) was all gnarled olive trees in baked earth fields like rows of ancient chieftains. And all the chalk white hill towns , strawberry
gelato and beehive
Trullis that you could wish for.
Markets like the one at Cisternino were piled with enough
arugala, pommodori, mozzarella and good bread for a century of al fresco picnics.
We made fava ( broad bean ) humus with dried beans bought in plastic bags from the petrol station , and crunched small round dried bread snacks, (the Portugueuse and Spansih do similar) see below which encourage to you to sip more and more from your wine glass. .
One day we took the coast road swimming off rocks and then to the Taverna da Santos where we sprawled on fold up blue canvas deck chairs by limpid blue sea like extras from
la dolce vita
In between summer showers I take a comfortable seating option with arms into the garden to read a book in. It sounds middle aged but deckchairs annoy the backs of my legs, and lying flat on the grass invites the dog to drop a constant supply of stones by my face thus getting no further than one or two paragraphs.
The chair here is an Ikea upholstered model that I bought a couple of years ago with the intention of making a simple loose cover to jolly it up. And so, as with many of my bright ideas , it sat in my office unadorned for month upon month.
What I needed was an incentive, which came my way in the autumn with sewing classes run by Tessa Brown. There`s something about working in a group of people that is more fun and less intense than when it is just you and a pair of scissors. The biscuits were delicious, the chat good, and Tessa showed me how to make my very own couture chair cover from scratch.
The fabric is Ian Mankin cotton ticking which I pre washed and pre shrunk. Very useful for dealing with mud paw prints now that the dog and cat are making moves to hijack my comfortable chair.
The psychoblurb where blue equals down, miserable.... blah blah blah is daft, really. When I get the blues, it all feels rather ragged London pigeon grey. Rippling cobalt blue sea or a first day of spring blue sky can only help to lift my mood. So pleased to see on the Style Court blog that although the Pantone colour of the year is Emerald green, there`s much to get excited about blue, too. How about the new blue and white ceramics exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the cobalt blue cover of the new Anthroplogie spring collecton or Cornflower one of my new Colour Band borders - see above ?
More highs: his little pot of grape hyacinths is just as I found it at the local flower shop perfectly co-ordinated with blue plastic pot for 1.50 and, so far, 10 days of indoor Spring beauty.
Cobalt blues on old Portuguese tiles, a street feature in Olhao as everyday as grilled sardines .
Funny, isn`t it that this gorgeous sludgy blue in my sitting room is called Parma Gray? At night it feels snug, along with the heat from the new Morso woodburner. (Yes, yes, yes, pluck me from the Periodic Table of the Middle Class Handbook ). During the day this colour is serene, all very period Dutch domestic interior, like being in a scene from the Girl with the Pearl Earring. Nothing depressing about that.