Monday 27 April
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) .
Winter is the time to plan and dream. And over the first one at Palace road I read up on gardens and gardeners, great and small to get me going on the new garden I will dig with the help of Tommy and his gang later in the year. Alexander Pope’s advice to the Earl of Burlington – that the gardener consult the genius of the place could certainly apply to my back garden as much as to the 18 century earl’s sprawling acreage . The genius in this place is its spacious and leafy,suburban proportions. Where to start?
Yesterday the garden became a little Venice as the storm rain poured down and created watery canals between the central beds. To say it was sodden was an understatement as I took refuge in the office and tidied up the computer desktop rather than the garden prunings.
This morning the ground has swallowed up the excess water but the grass still feels like the unstable mud flats you get at low tide by the river. Squelchy, but at least the narcissi are poking through , the little clump that is well over 10 years old has sprouted again and is about to burst into bloom. This time last year the buds were shut tight and the plants half the size in height. It’s been another exceptionally warm winter , as we all know.
Very excited to come across a pot of narcissi actually flowering; they’re bulbs from inside that I put out after flowering over a year ago and forgot to dig into the ground. Love the accidental surprises that the garden yields.
I skipped swimming to garden but it’s another form of exercise, sweeping, cutting, loading up the wheelbarrow and trundling it to the heap behind the fencing at the bottom of the garden. After an hour, plus aching arms from stretching upwards to prune wildy unwieldy Madame Aflred Carriere rose (a glorious puff of white petals later on in summer) it’s time to lay down the choppers and have a break.
Last week while I was feeling the breeze in Barbados and reconnecting with long lost Bajan Cumberbatches (an extraordinary story of which I will write later ) the garden was busily bursting forth in an explosion of tulip colours. On the plane home, I was yearning for the Bajan sea colours which are of unspeakable beauty: gazing from the verandah each day at a glassy expanse of dark blues on the horizon, then ultramarine, and in the shallows, luminous turquoise flecked with white froth. But after battling against the early morning commuter flow at Clapham Junction and dragging my wheelie bag up and down the hill, my mood lifted as soon as I saw the floral beauty by my very own back door .
NB I planted the bulbs randomly and so not quite sure what is what, but know that that the varieties include: Lilac Perfection, Violet beauty, Fringed fancy frills, Lily flowering China Pink, Triumph ( the white and beetroot coloured ones) and blue parrot tulips, from Dejager
Crocus and Rose Cottage .
The week in December that I spent almost double pushing several hundred tulips and alliums far into the ground to prevent squirrel digging was all so worth it. Each morning, coffee in hand, I`m outside inspecting the day`s new blooms. The tulips are first , and I can almost see them growing as vivid pink and raspberry rippled flower cups unfold in the sun on smooth lime green elegant stems .
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.
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.
I`m as besotted with my garden as the bees are sated on sweet nectar from the starry alliums. It feels almost electric with activity: bursting glossy pink roses, voluptuous peonies shedding brilliant carpets of petals and crowds of bees, enough, if there were such a thing for a bee club night. I get up close, eye to bee pollen sack with black and white striped ones, fat yellow ones, small bobbly hairy ones, brown fluffy types as if they`d had a cut and blow dry.
Growing, budding, flowering, seeding on a still warm June afternoon the garden seems more dynamic than the brains in any government think tank. Only joking, but as George Eliot suggested "If we could hear the squirrel`s heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar" .
The garden soothes, me with its it`s distractions and needs. What better way than to work off writers block or parking ticket annoyance with the physicality and sense of purpose that an hour`s weeding gives. The fact that nature is ambiguous, that she is neither all good nor all bad, that she gives as well as takes away, also puts life outside the garden into perspective. Contentment with green fly free roses, fury at the bullet headed snails who strafe the rocket, it`s all about the ups and downs and the getting on with what is thrown at you. A dancing in the rain approach., rather than waiting for the storm to pass I suppose.
rain has taken a bank holiday. New year, new sky so blue, a
sense of optimism in the lst January air. I
trek across the sparkling park and the view is hyper clear. A crow’s eye vision
of London: swooping
glowing needle points of the Shard,
and onwards to the hills of northern Thameslink
My Christmas was as over indulgent and wine embellished as usual. From rolling out sweet pastry for mince pies and tending slow roast pork, we were never away for long from kitchen activities. Highlights were my sister’s hens’ eggs with glorious yellow yolks and the sweet baby leeks she pulled, mud caked, from the garden on Christmas morning.
Plans, and more plans for the months ahead: to grow a rambling scented jasmine in Portugal, to get my Colour Bands out there and on your walls, to paint pictures in bold washes of colour, to cook more paellas, to rein in daydreaming at my desk.PS I hope that I’ve ironed out all the new website stuff. The comments page is up and running again. I look forward to hearing from you all in 2013. J
The frosted 05.30 from Liverpool Street to the small scale experience of Southend airport gets me in the mood for the simple pleasures of
Olhao. We even take off over the same silvery mudflat coastline that meets our descent two and a half hours later.
The house is dry but needs a fire. We stoke up the woodburning stove, a dumpy cylinder on legs and traditional feature in old houses throughout Spain and Portugal. It soon pushes out heat. We sit beside it, like contented
cats, eating bo
wls of sweet steaming clams in garlic.
Shops are closed, or down to minimum stock supplies. The down beat, empty feel of Portugal`s recession is even more apparent in an out of season Algarve seaside town. There are no christmas lights in Olhao this year, but somehow the token nativity with live donkey and sheep in pen with crib and star, is more charming than streets of blazing illuminations.
The Saturday market seems recession proof, people, colours, produce. life, as visually intoxicating as ever. A vivid canvas of lemons, golden wedges of pumpkin, the new season`s olives, plump greens, and eggs like white opaque jewels.
White crunch outside. Crystalised petals and leaves piped with ice. Wouldn’t mind a pair of fur lined boots to go with digging in the last bulbs. Frozen toes, frozen ground, not fun to hack at with spade but good for strength.
was ….boogying, Yes I Can, to Seventies’
band ‘Kool and the Gang’. Played at every rubbish wedding disco I’ve been to it
was a revelation to hear the authentic
Live beats of ‘Celebration’ and
‘Ladies Night’. Found very odd that many people viewed the stage through smart phones,
arms stuck up in the air and blocking the view. But rubber beer bottles v. good
In town and eyeing Christmas presents I’d like to give: Rococo sea salt chocolate; striped cotton pyjamas from Toast; Diptyque woody scented Feu du Bois candles. And, if no limits, a Hans Wegner oak and corded seat armchair, inspired by the story I have written about Danish architect Pernille Arends, in this month’s Elle Decoration. You will love the retro Scandinavian white and wood features of her fifties’ home.
Going local I think a hyacinth vase with bulb is a perfect present, see this from Alleyn Park garden It comes in clear, green, and lilac, too.
On the homemade front I’m giving jars
of quince jelly boiled up from fruit I picked from a friend’s tree in Somerset.
I have an open pot which as well as dolloping on toast with butter I spooned into gravy with white wine and
juices from the pheasants I roasted on Sunday. Only a fiver for the brace from
Brixton farmers’ market – brilliant value and tasty.
Taking my maths O level three time was as painful as getting the new website up. I have to say that if I were one of the sweet and patient boys at www.ph9.com I would be hairless after nursing me through a hundred panicked calls in learning how to use the website manager. But Hooray! I’m in business.
Do have a look at the new Pure Style shop, and the delicious colour bands. (I noticed that White Company shooting here this week, used them as props!)
Escape route? The garden. The place where I can have some control when the uploads don’t, the links go nowhere and paste text paste text is like severe aerobics for hands and fingers.
I’ve planted 8 of the 16 beds with about 125 tulip and alium bulbs – Got them this year from Rosecottage plants, who have rather good deals, and an amazing array of both aliums and tulips
I’ve got a bit behind with posting this- so a week ago when I shot these pictures it was warm and sunny enough to down tools for half an hour and cook up sausages on the bbq. The end of the garden by the shed catches the afternoon rays in autumn and is a brilliant spot for the purpose.
Digging and musing, I think about a man I know and his mid life delusion: leaving home for an ex-council bedsit, smoking, the Affair. They say that clinging to the death throes of youth is a temporary fix - like Botox. What if the energy could be channeled into something really productive .......like gardening? Clubs even where you can ` Dig for a new lease of life` Nurturing a pumpkin patch could be so much more rewarding than lusting over Janet in Accounts. And pumpkins make good soup.
I stab the bramble roots at the thought of the colossal parking fine I paid after yesterday`s visit from the bailiffs. How so I didn`t see the previous warning letters? It`s not unusual for stylists on shoots to help themselves to my stuff for props in a shoot scene. Parking tickets lost in a Day in the life of British Gas or Moshi Monsters Christmas. Or is it just a case of me throwing them in the bin by mistake?
Fresh air, light, space. ... suburbia is the place to be. Screened-out I can tour the last rose buds, pick a green tomato, (see above) and fennel (see below) for fish, or check on the sweet pea seedlings in the shed to revive me. How I used to pace from room to room in our last flat high above the City where one fragile weed on the roof top opposite was the only spot of green. It`s only a bus and a tube ride away from the bright lights. Recent highlights: more al fresco swimming at the Oasis in Covent Garden followed by clams and razor clams at Barrafina as fresh and garlicky as they could be outside of an Andalucian beach bar; Tim Wright`s figurative paintings in Shoreditch and last night`s treat a groovy basement bar The Social with readings by Faber Man Booker authors, Adam Foulds, Deborah Levy and Sarah Hall .
Wouldn`t it be fun to create paint colours for each season. Autumn references of golden yellow, ,orange, earth brown are here, leaf confetti at my feet. And all in a morning`s dog walking across the dew grass in Brockwell Park.
More good ideas from the Pure Style Design Files
Rococo sea salt milk chocolate and blue and white wrapping - very moreish and Moorish.
Hand dyed cushions recycled from vintage blankets by textile specialist Sasha Gibbs.
Hoxton Grey, Golden Square, Spitalfields and Pimlico: some of the rather wonderful colours with a London theme from Mylands.
My tough, rough leather Spanish riding boots could do with a polish, and afterwards a good brush up. This horsehair model would be just right for the job.
Simple garden green folding bench from Jonart
I don`t think I`ve ever seen such a good red (Cherry is it`s name) in vinyl flooring and this goes for the other great shades in the range from The Colour Flooring Company
I wanted to show you this great piece on my home that`s just gone live with Design Sponge. Thanks so much to Keiko for taking such glamorous pictures!
This is my new weekly post where I share inspiring pictures and ideas from the Pure Style design files.
Retro look for keeping warm this winter: wool blanket ‘Madison Gold’ from Melin Tregwynt.
With 20% off from 1st October Scottish fabric designer Donna Wilson’s Eadie armchairs at SCP are potentially more than just a textile-dream.
Just launched at the London Design Festival is Studioilse’s Companions bedside table in oiled chestnut and cork for De La Espada.
This olive oil crushed from Arbequina olives, by Spanish food specialist Brindisa is really mellow and nutty - I think it’s brilliant for making mayonnaise.
I’ve had my Le Creuset cast iron casserole pans for over 20 years - but wouldn’t mind adding a cream coloured one to my kitchen kit.
Feathery white parrot tulips are essential in my spring garden. Definitely putting in another order this season from Crocus.
It’s time for dealing with the fading roses. Great for pruning are Swiss made Felco secateurs.
Suffused in pools of light and shade this May afternoon the garden seems to take on an air of secrecy and serenity. It is my place of shelter and repose from the roaring traffic and sirens on the South Circular, just two streets away. I turn on the hose and give everything a good drink (drought conditions continue, and gardeners are being asked to create mud pools so the house martins and swifts can build their clay like nests). The arc of water plays like a silver stream over the last tulips, rosemary, alliums and clumps of purple chives. It leads my thoughts to a piece I have read about Islamic gardens, and how we owe a huge debt in the West to the Muslim ideal of paradise. This is encapsulated in the design of the Persian `chahar bah . This enclosed garden has a central fountain which flows into water rills which represent the four rivers of Paradise. Famous examples include the Taj Mahal garden in India and the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, Granada. In his book` Gardens, An Essay on the Human Condition`- the academic Robert Pogue Harrison argues that it also provides a key to understanding Islam in the modern world. He suggests that where paradise is imagined as a garden of perfect tranquility our incurable Western agitation takes on a diabolical quality. It would be wonderful to have world peace and understanding through gardening.
On a personal level, working in my garden takes me away from just about every mental annoyance that happens to be swirling around. I enter a calm non judging head space when having to concentrate on the delicate and precise task of lifting fragile radish and bean seedlings into position for the next stage of development. My senses are energised: bad or dull feelings float away with the smells of damp earth as the hose plays across the beds, and I feel more in touch with the elements as my legs are lightly tickled by lavender that has spilled voluputously over the brick path.
The Constance Sprys, are in themselves a vision of petally paradise, tumbling luscious pink blooms over on both garden fences. Not only visual balm, but with a scent that is so light and sweetly fragrant that I feel I want to drink it .
Then there are the equally fabulous frilled and frothy pink peonies, (below) the ones I lifted and divided from my childhood suburban garden after my mum died. It is reassuring that she lives on, in a way, through this yearly renewal in the garden.
I`m always coming up with ideas for Pure Style this and that - one dream is a heavenly little hotel with a walled garden and bright white bedrooms. If there was to be a Pure Style scent, of course `rose` would get a first look in, but I have to say that if anyone could help me bottle the delicate vanilla fragrance of my wallflowers this spring( see below) I am sure we could be on to a winner, too.
The party`s coming to a close with the tulips. Like beautiful young things who`ve been up all night their petals are languid and flopping. Somehow the curling and dessicating parts aren`t cause for gloom, but give the flowers an extraordinary wild and anarchic look. The tulip`s decline is an elegant one. I must remember to pick off the seed pods and later in the summer I will lift the bulbs and dry for planting out again in the winter. There`s so much more about to happen in the garden, and I am being kept on my toes with planting out vegetable seedlings, mowing the grass (only roughly I have to say, just to make it look refreshed rather than obsessionally neat and titivated) and weeding, weeding, weeding. My gorgeous Constance Spry rose are on the point of bursting forth, so in next week`s post I can show you these and the other summery beginnings which are so very early this year.
I wake early with the encouraging limpid blue of an English Spring sky. Since I`ve been away in Olhao the apple tree has blossomed in a candy floss of fluffy pale pink petals.
The morning sun warms the worn red brick paving tiles and spills across the newly opened array of tulips. I can`t remember planting quite so many gorgeous varieties. (Not that surprising because when I did so, the garden was coated in a thick white icy coat of snow and it was all I could do to force the bulbs randomly into snow rimmed earth holes before it all became too cold and unpleasant and I had to scurry inside, toes and fingers numb.) It is so exciting to watch this blast of petally colour unfold.
See above from left to right: Spring Green; Black Parrot ( a straggler from bulbs that I planted three years ago ); Lilac Perfection.
The purple and white striped `Triumph` tulip reminds me of the purple and white colourings of red onions; it has to be the most stylish of my tulip flock.
Hardly have the bags been unpacked and the weeds attended to, then our spring jaunt continues with a large family get together in Suffolk. By now the air feels midsummer balmy and the weather people are in high excitement about the early heatwave that is hitting northern Europe. Whilst I am ambling along dewy lanes, alive with cuckoo song , lilac, and wild asparagus (see above), a subdued text from our tenant in Olhao describes great winds and rains and a request for wet day activities in the area. Wow, we had a narrow climatic escape.
We visit Walberswick, rather like an English east coat version of the Hamptons, on Long Island, all beautiful picturebook, wisteria-clad houses and cottages with immaculate picket fences. There is a village green with swings, well behaved children and a horizon with simple beach huts. We crunch along the pebbly beach and some of the party, plus the dog, embrace the unseasonal warmth and swim. Of course, the sea is still winter cold and we drive home with the heater full on to keep hypothermia at bay. I negociate a detour to Wootton`s nursery which has everything from agapanthus to old fashioned cottage garden plants, and the most amazing selection of auriculas (see above) all massed together in a light white greenhouse. I come away with a box of cat mint and lavender for the potager beds, blue geraniums for ground cover, and an exquisite lemon secented old perlagonium called Mabel Grey which I shall keep in a pot to sit on my desk through the winter.
Sufffolk (and going over into Norfolk) is also very blissful with its wide flat watermeadows around Harleston and Beccles, where cows swish their tails in the shade of ancient willows and the river Waveney is cool and meandering. We bike past hawthorn hedges frothing with white blossom and look over to into fields where hares leap across the furrows. The county`s vast field aspect can be overwhelming, as are the electric yellow swathes of rapeseed. Sometimes I catch the whiff of a more industrial and stinky smell than anything with more rural connections. There are clues in the anonymous green lorries thundering past gnarled greening oaks to what is probably hidden away landfill. We eat well on Suffolk honey, the new season`s asparagus, cod landed at Lowestoft and rhubarb for pudding. The Ship inn at Dunwich serves the best fish and chips of the week, and is also a only a few minutes walk to the beach , where it is said that divers can hear the ghostly clang of church bells that succumbed to the sea.
Arriving back in London through steamy streets where the thermometer is hitting 27C, I am almost bowled over by the riot of colour (see above and below) that that has taken over the garden. All the tulips are now full and voluptuous on leggy stems. I watch their cups open up lazily in the sunshine and close in the shade as as if to keep warm.
New this year to my bulb order are `Silver ` parrot tulips (see below right) which when they first came out weren`t in the least bit silver, more bright raspberry ripple. Now that they`ve matured, the pink has faded a little and is rather fabulous.
The garden is growing growing growing. The warmth and sun of the past week has kick started the spring juices and the little beds in the parterre/potager are greening and filling out fast. The tulips that started as a flop of leaves have developed slender stems with tight buds. The first to flower is the variety Lilac Perfection (see above) in fabulous bowls of fuschia pink petals.
This natural beauty in my backyard is a kind of antidote to all that’s commercial and mass market: ads that make us want more even though we don’t need whatever is being pushed, or the TV mush of American teen soaps and celebrity dining shows. This, and my desire to live more simply and without so much fuss is also where I am at with my Pure Style philosophy. I think I must be on the right track when I read that my design hero Terence Conran has a buff label on his desk with the words ‘Plain, simple, useful` and says that we should apply this attitude to everything we own and use. I am also a fan of John Lane’s Timeless Simplicity - in which he explains how to live more creatively in a consumer society.
It quite a revelation, to see that it’s not the first time there has been a reaction to the consumerism in society. Go and see the V&A`s exhibition Escape into Style, `The cult of beauty: The aesthetic movement 1860-1900’ which is about the late nineteenth century revolt against Victorian industrialism by artists and architects who wished to create a new ideal of beauty in wallpaper, painting, architecture, textiles and poetry. NB: Although it`s really all about middle class family angst - and a rather too close to home portrait of it too, I recommend the film, Archipelago, to see some truly mesmerising visuals of the natural beauty on the wild and windswept island of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.
The new greens are in season. Whatever else might be thwarting my daily progress, young bean green shoots and fresh bright spring green grass are reassuringly sprouting and budding outside the kitchen window. I can’t resist bunches of ‘muscari ‘ grape hyacinths (see above) delicate blue flowers on equally delicate lime green stems. They are packed fresh from the fields in a box propped up outside the florist with the logo, Cornish flowers on its base. At £1.25 a bunch I am surprised that by lunchtime the sales woman says that I am the first to buy some of these vibrant and colourful pieces of spring.
With its potent link to nature, green is one of my favourite colours to have about the home. (Have a look at the exciting greens for faux suede by Designers Guild). Its presence as a decoration tool can be as minimal, as a flash of a lime green painted flower pot to brighten up the bedroom, or as all encompassing, as our lime green painted loo. The latter idea is a very good way for me to incorporate a rich green colour in a house that needs to make its living being painted white almost all over! And I have also managed to make way for some muted greens in the tv room and garden shed as the shoots are very keen to use them for backdrops to simple and natural still lives. As soon as there’s a day with the faint burn of spring sunshine my thoughts turn to picnics. I like to head for that south facing spot on the tussocky slopes that frame our walks along the Somerset valley on visits to my father. Feta cheese, basil and cucumber is one of our favourite fillings in hunks of sourdough bread that come freshly baked via our local corner shop.
This feels like spring. A brilliant sunlight filled day and a plate of Daisy’s eau de nil and chalk white eggs fresh from her hens. I check outside and even the bare flower beds have little patches of brilliant green where the chives, and tulips are having a go at bursting forth. I know that the doom mongers say there’s plenty more foul wintry weather to come, but you can’t ignore the fact that it stays light until teatime. And as it turns dusky velvet blue, the sky has the luminous feel associated with softer, warmer and longer days ahead.
I like to bring the spring feeling inside even if it hasn’t quite got going outside. There are inexpensive bundles of daffodils, or pots of delicate grape hyacinths at Jayne Copperthwaite’s fragrant flower shop which she recently opened in Balham, south London. It’s my daughter’s 17th birthday weekend and so there’s every excuse to come away laden with bunches of blue hyacinths and sweetly scented white narcissi.
I prefer my flowers to sit in containers that don’t shout: simple glass vases, pint beer gasses even, or the white enamel bowls that I fill with bulbs and layer with moss.
I lay the table with a suitably spring green cotton cloth made out of a furnishing fabric remnant from my store cupboard on the landing. Later at the birthday dinner, there are candles, pink fizz and large slices of chocolate cake. (I feel very short amongst the beautiful gazelles in high heels.) NB: Before I push Publish, I must say how really cross I am that the Government wants to close hundreds of libraries (481 libraries, 422 buildings and 59 mobile libraries are under threat according to Public Libraries News). As an 8 year old, it was a first taste of independence, wheeling my bike back from Earlsfield library with an Everlasting Toffee strip and a bagful of books dangling from the handlebars. The shiny parquet floors and hushed atmosphere made the library seem all at once very grow up but somehow calm and comforting. Choosing books from packed shelves, rows and rows, was like being in a kind of sweet shop of words and ideas, and all the better because you could take them home for free. My current local library at West Norwood is a brilliant source of everything from thrillers, to the latest Booker Prize winner in a pristine dust jacket. There are mothers with young children getting their first taste of reading books, old people who come to read the newspapers, seek some companionship. Even the disruptive teenagers calm down in this airy, peaceful environment. And in common with other libraries around the county, it is also a lifeline for the one in five people who do not have the internet at home and need their local library to look for jobs. The libraries must stay open.
When people ask, how do you know what to chose when you’re putting together a new room or buying a piece of furniture ? I say that going with my instinct of what feels and looks right is usually successful. This is all very well, but if I am fussing or thinking about something else I may not always be properly alert to some wonderful new prospect that is staring me in the face. This is exactly what happens when I am cruising around the Brixton branch of the British Heart Foundation’s chain of second-hand furniture and electrical shops. There it is, a magnificent upright and elegant wing chair. A touch elderly-aunt-like in its plush velvet cover but this can soon be sorted out with an update in a simple blue and white ticking. And my goodness it’s only 20 quid. I clock it as ‘brilliant, should buy it, a great piece for the location house’ but the detail is all made foggier in the domestic thought jumble. I am oblivious to precious minutes being lost as I fiddle with the messages on my iPhone. Too late! An eagle eyed young mum with child and a buggy also knows its potential value and snaps it up before I’ve even had the chance to press back to Menu.
You win some, you lose some. Happily, I return to form when I spot a pair of pretty armchairs (see above and below) lined up on the pavement outside the junk shop in Streatham Hill. Like the lost wing chair, they have promise in spite of unappealing covers. A quick barter with the fag-in- hand, peroxide blonde attendant and the chairs are mine for under 40.00. Their new home is the blue room where I think I have made them look a little more dashing with linen shawls from Volga linens. I find the use of a throw is a very handy trick to cover up ugly prints or threadbare seats, and to protect a more precious fabric from muddy paws or children’s feet.
Also related to a too fast, too multi-tasking existence (as seen with wing chair experience above) I read in the newspaper that the emphasis on knowledge in our culture, is taking us further away from using our hands. Too right. I think it’s so important to feel the physicality and satisfaction of creating something oneself. My main proviso is that nothing should be too complicated. One of the best ways, for example, to update a simple dining chair, is to give it a lick of paint. (For those who are like my friend Marjorie and think that being handy is an anathema, look at Howe London to see some clever ways with old-fashioned Windsor chairs.) My favourite colours for sprucing old chairs are duck egg blues or plain whites. This is how you do it: Sand the chair with a medium grain sand paper, and then again with a fine one. Remove all loose bits of old varnish or flakes of old paint to leave a smooth surface. Apply one coat of wood-primer or undercoat as evenly as possible. Allow to dry. Apply one layer of eggshell paint. Allow to dry thoroughly before applying a second coat of paint.
I also love the idea of rescuing worn out linen and blankets with the needles and thread from my desktop sewing kit. It’s a wonderful and practical distraction from the screen to repair a favourite blue and white check blanket that has lost some of its blanket stitch edging. (You can see lots more simple sewing examples in my book Sew Easy). It feels productive, and calms me. Just as an afternoon digging in the garden does, or stirring the aromatic golden marmalade which is on the list for this weekend. Oh yes, one other good thing is that although the garden has been left looking like a rugby pitch on a wet Saturday afternoon, the leak is mended and I no longer live in fear of Thames Water spying on our pipes in the early hours.
From almost-hysterical queues to silhouettes of trees and church towers against white fields: this contrast from urban shopping frenzy to rural peace has been one of the best things about our Christmas, spent in the depths of Somerset. Charades, a melee of dogs plopped in front of the fire, and Blackadder on the TV are pretty good festive ingredients, too.
There’s a feeling of relief that all the present searching and sorting is over. I am using the post Christmas calm to get stuck in to Before I Go To Sleep With a bizarre form of memory loss as its key theme, the story is a gripping psychological thriller which kept me up all night, because it was too tantalising to close the pages and not get to the clever ending. But enough of the adrenaline. I am thrilled with my copy of Second Nature: A Gardener`s Education by Michael Pollen who brilliantly promotes the garden rather than the wild as the most appropriate place for rethinking our relationship with nature. He says that a garden is the place for being in, rather than looking at. Lawns, for example are not part of Pollen’s landscape: “The more serious about gardening I became, the more dubious lawns seemed” he writes and goes on to say “For however democratic a lawn may be with respect to one’s neighbours, with respect to nature it is authoritarian”. I know what he means, but you do have to tough it with nature too - I’m thinking of the groundelder and lemon balm that engulfs my summer garden, of which I have no qualms at hacking down to maintain order.
With more musing on my unseasonal train of thought I do so miss the summer herby lavender scents of my garden which is looking so spare and flattened now that there is a bit of a thaw in progress. The closest I can seem to get to a summer sensory experience at the moment is the gorgeous Primrose Facial Hydrating Cream with lavender, sage and rosemary from Aesop. I don’t usually find huge words of praise for beauty treatments (having worked as a beauty editor some years ago and tried out products that came with extraordinary claims, even more extraordinary prices and yet didn’t seem to be any better than E45 cream from the chemist) but this cream is delicious in fragrance and good to my frazzled winter skin. Whilst I’m on the subject of beautifying I shall keep you posted with the effects, if any, (who me, sounding a touch cynical?) of my Yuroll which bills itself as a jade facial massager – not unlike a small rolling pin on a long handle – and is supposed to ensure a “lean re-contoured wonderfully unlined face: thoroughly toned and with improved elasticity”. I can’t see anything, apart from a very large dose of Botox improving my ‘laughter’ lines and general wear and tear, much of which occurred when I sunbathed furiously in my teens. But, hey I’m going to give it a go!
We’re all nursing extremely full stomachs, and yearning for something lighter and more fragrant than Christmas turkey fare. My sister in law gave me a jar of her preserved lemons, which I can’t wait to add to a spicy tagine with some fluffy hot couscous. I must also pay a visit to Persepolis our local taste of Persia in Peckham, where there are many aromatic middle eastern delights. After an extremely bracing walk across Hampstead Heath, it won’t be over indulgent in this season of indulgency, to enjoy some ice cream at Marine Ices in Camden, a family tradition that goes back to when my children were small and seemed to disappear behind their two huge scoops of chocolate tottering on wafer cones.
Tobogganing at great speed in the park (well it seems like it to me as I am given a rather alarming shove to get going) is one way of getting rid of excess adrenalin brought on by the run up to Christmas. It’s Alpine conditions here still in south London and I seem to be permanently dressed in bobble hat and my very thick hand knitted granddad style cardigan from the Brixton branch of Traid, the brilliant charitable organisation set up by Wayne Hemmingway that recycles clothes and textiles. On the subject of all things sub zero it seems rather typically dotty and British if not plain mad that it’s the annual open-air cold water swimming championships at the local lido in a few weeks time. We’re keeping warm too with a spot of mince pie making. There is readymade flaked and short crust pastry in the fridge to get them out in double quick time. And I’ve stocked up on jars of shop bought mincemeat which can be customised with more flaked almonds, orange and lemon zest and slugs of brandy.
There’s absolutely every excuse in our draughty house to make a log fire and sit beside it with a slim volume of Ten Poems about Puddings which arrives by post complete with a lucky sixpence to stuff in the Christmas pudding. If I’m on a lap top it’s always worth a quick visit to see what’s new in interiors on the decor8 blog . My log baskets are Spanish and made from plaited esparto grass, but if I didn’t have these I think I’d go for something English and traditional in woven willow. I prefer the elemental feeling and flickering heat of an open fire but am considering a wood burning stove because they’re a more efficient way of storing heat. We’ll see. War is waging in the garden as the big birds - crows, magpies and fat woodpigeons scare the little birds – robins, sparrow, and bluetits away from the survival rations of seeds and nuts that I have scattered across the garden table. We must try and keep the robins alive, especially as their numbers were depleted in last year’s hard winter. A squirrel has hidden a boiled potato in the rose standard. I know because I went and checked it out this morning, hoping it wasn’t one of the tulip bulbs. The snow shows up the gaps in the lavender planting and I make a mental note to go to my favourite catalogue and order more for the spring.
Slip sliding my way around the West End crush in search of very specific make up requirements for the sixteen year old, I think about the beauty of online shopping. But because mother nature is holding up deliveries during this mad freeze I can see I will be out hunting and gathering right up to the big day. At Liberty there are the most gorgeous Liberty print scarves, investment buys, yes, but brilliant colours in timeless style. And even if it didn’t arrive until after Christmas it would be worth waiting for one of Volga Linen’s lightweight woven shawls in olive or duck egg blue that is half price, and as good to look at thrown across a chair, as it is wrapped around you. If I could have a new set of cutlery for the Christmas feast I would go for the classic sixties stainless steel knives and forks from Robert Welch - really beautiful and streamlined. It would be good too, to fill a large white bowl with the fat juicy oranges that are now in season in the market in Olhao.
The snow comes and the last roses are topped with fairy queen ice bonnets. I embrace the way the snow, the hoar frost, the cold, slows everything down: idling in front of a blazing fire to thaw out, or the ridiculously slow driving speeds needed to avoid the neighbour’s brand new Fiat are all rather welcome. I crunch around the garden in Wellingtons and think it timely to invest in a pair of the recycled cashmere gloves that I spied on the nydesign room site. The dog loves the new white world and takes up goal post positions saving the snow balls we chuck in the air. “Look at that dog jumping” squeals a boy in the park and I feel the sort of maternal pride normally reserved for my children when they were young and doing some sort of athletic trick. I think she deserves a Liberty print collar even if it’s not quite the butch streetwise look that most dogs sport around here.
The extreme weather conditions have encouraged the squirrels to excel at survival tactics. They line up on the garden fence, tails juddering, twitching and eyes greedily fixed as I attempt to plant the bulbs that didn’t get dug in before the blizzard. I am not taking chances and put down barricades of wire netting to stop their mining efforts.
The shoots are tramping in slush and so I rush round laying down covers hoping it doesn’t seem too unfriendly. It is not a little disorientating to be watching TV on Monday in the sitting room painted in Dulux’s aubergine vision for winter 2011, and then by Wednesday, it’s spring again and all pale walls, tulips, and hyacinths for a magazine feature that includes a gorgeous arm chair upholstered in olive green from Laura Ashley. Another theme on all things British, includes very simple white jugs from Burleigh that are ideal for a Pure Style kitchen, and simple block printed fabrics from Tobias and the Angel.
This Christmas I am stocking up on Spanish fig and almond slices from Brindisa and more membrillo as book writing meant that I didn’t get round to making it this autumn. For more Iberian pleasures such as simple woven Portuguese shopping baskets try Feitoria. For a present of simple everyday drinking glasses you can’t beat the dumpy French Duralex ones from Labour and Wait. And any lover of English food history will have their head happily buried all over the festive period in a copy of Dorothy Hartley’s classic Food in England: A Complete Guide to the Food That Makes Us Who We are
I might think the moment for scented room candles could come and go forever if it weren’t for Diptyque who make ones with authentic smells. My favourite is Oranger, and almost as aromatic as the real thing. The Christmas tree is going up tomorrow and with it woolly pom poms that are very satisfying to make with children because the effect is very quick to achieve. I also make rag balls with fabric strips from my remnants bag that are pinned to floral oasis. The look is simple and homespun.
Packing up for the hols’ may be palpitation inducing: thundering down the motorway to take the dog for her summer billet with my sister, racing through a month’s paperwork in the early hours, and making the house ship shape for a magazine Christmas shoot . But boy it’s worth it! Exchanging city shorts for beaten up espadrilles and t-shirts is as good for the soul as the summer diet based around grilled sardines and hunks of watermelon. Just scraping under the 20kg limit as usual, my suitcase is stuffed with books for long spells of reading under the beach umbrella. Favourites include The Surprising Life of Constance Spry by Sue Shephard; Outliers ‘the story of success’ by Malcolm Gladwell, and The Algarve Fish Book by Nic Boer and Andrea Sieber. I’m also inspired by Reinventing Letter Press by Charlotte Rivers, a stylish little book with fabulous printing ideas.
Along with the reading matter, there’s just enough room to slot in a few bars of Green and Blacks chocolate bars. It will head straight to the fridge as soon as possible after we meet the sauna temperatures of Olhao in August.
I’ve also tucked in the dolls house sized Indian terracotta pots that the returning traveller produced from her mighty backpack. Perfect for salt, pepper, and chopped herbs, they are also a tangible reminder of just how far my middle born has spread her wings in the last six months.,
1’m counting on the Spanish lodgers to nurture the courgettes and tomatoes all swelling nicely in the warmth and damp. One of them is a specialist ham carver, so I hope his talents for precision extend to the vegetable patch. They’re already under instructions to feed and water Miss Bea, the cat who will lord it over the sofas, spreading her black fluff, with the dog safely out of the way.. One last look around the flowerbeds, to enjoy the sweetly scented white nicotiana- another unexpected success from last year’s seeds, which in turn were produced from the previous year’s blooms that i collected. And even the agapanthus managed to defy the winter’s ravages and has just put out some glorious blooms. I’ll miss the sweetpeas, too, their delicate soapy fragrance is so much part of an English summer garden. .
Before I snap the case shut I must tell you about three new finds: Feitoria.com.pt sells a cleverly edited collection of Portuguese accessories, such as leather slippers, donkey milk soap,(yes, honestly) and cork ice buckets - so much more inspiring than the usual souvenir stuff. Closer to home ther`re simple Welsh blankets and other celtic home ideas from Blodwen And molly-meg.co.uk sells stylish child sized chairs: a good idea for anyone want ing a nice bit of scaled down Ercol in the nursery.
Very very late in getting this post out, but my fingers have been racing over the key board writing text for the book. Driven by a surge of fear and enjoyment I plug into Al Green`s `Let`s Stay Together ` and try not to be distracted by You Tube comedy clips and the latest updates from THAT volcano. The spewings of which, we were lucky to avoid returning from Olhao, where, hooray! the room on top is complete and wonderful. Filipe Monteiro of White Terraces is the architect of this little white gem. From simple white wooden beams to curved detail on the stairs up to the roof, he has cleverly interpreted traditional Olhao building features to make the structure look as if it has been there for ever. And together with his gang of men, Mr Martinho is the builder from heaven.
In Olhao market, spring is here with the juiciest oranges billowing herbs and plump `favas` broad bean pods. The fish market is full of fish because it`s Friday, and there`s the fresh ozone sea smell rising from wet slabs displaying everything from the anonymous `pescado`, 1 euro kg, so ordinary it doesn`t deserve a name, to thick white fillets of corvina 16 euros kg. From their perches on cranes, and spires, the storks are gnashing their great beaks in mating calls, sparrows twitter and the 11am hooter whines like an air raid siren : the boats have come in.
In London the garden is green and glossy, and the tulips are bursting out in bloom with more vigour than I remember. Maybe it was because winter was so long and so hard that all growing things seem to have extra reserves of energy to launch themselves into the new season. Against all these signs of nature`s renewal, it is particularly sad and poignant to hear of the sudden death of mother, and brilliant garden and interiors writer Elspeth Thompson. What a great loss. A fellow blogger, she was most encouraging to me. At the very least she will live on through her evocative words and thoughts.
I never quite know what will come up on the tulip front, and I`m really pleased that the black Parrot tulips from last season have reappeared. Watching them go through the budding bit to their unfurling into a whirl of feathery petals the colour of dark beetroots is absorbing
Black Parrot tulips in bud and full frilly bloom
Unfurled `Blue` parrot tulips, look like striped fruit drops from an old fashioned confectioner or even a head of salad radicchio. Where`s the blue?! and when they are in full bloom the striped effect fades into an all over fuschia pink.
New to the garden this year, and from another really good value bulb order from Crocus the single late tulip, Violet Beauty, is more of a slender, elegant thing than its more wayward and feathery Parrot tulip companions.
Only a few piles of dog eared admin remain before we can escape to Olhao and the new room on top. On the way to the post office, mimosa and forsythia are fizzing with yellow. It seems a little wasteful to be leaving behind the first budding and greening signs of spring but the draw of sand between toes and sardines are tantalizing too. And after more technology malfunctions (I won`t even go there) parking ticket angst, missed train connections, and near hospitalisation involving clogs on a down escalator, I`m ready to walk there, let alone fly .
Just have to get in a session of dough making for pizza (artichoke hearts, green olives and parmesan, is my current favourite) and other homemade creations (see here my sister in law`s divine rye sourdough bread) to illustrate my new book. The four legged paparazzo is enjoying the cooking sessions too, hanging around the worktop for crumbs, and helping herself to the subject matter of a flapjack shot when no one`s looking. It`s all go putting together the pages, and the deadline is no tiny speck in the distance anymore. But that`s good, too, because it means the weeks are slipping away until the backpacker daughter returns.
When I`m back first stop will be gorgeous fabrics at the V&A exhibition, Quilts 1700-2010. Might even get round to a spot of quiltmaking with pretty seaweed prints from the museum`s collection of archive printed cotton. Check out more print ideas from Printand pattern.blogspot.com and Liberty prints at knockdown prices in the new range for American chain store Target .
Spring garden notes: Divide agapanthus: I have an extended family of agapanthus plants that came stashed in a suitcase from Spain and are now packed tightly in a pot like chocolate fish in a tin, which is how they like it. This year, though, division is necessary to keep the plants vigorous and I cut them down the middle with a fork and plant the new half in a fresh container. Feed shrubs and climbers: I started with the standard roses, and have now worked in more compost and bonemeal around the shrub and climbing roses, and gorgeous pale lilac wisteria at the front of the house. Sow seedlings half hardy under cover: Nicotiana and zinnia seeds saved from last year are germinating in a tray on the windowsill. Sow less than think as a pinch of seed goes a long way. Prepare trenches for beans and `chitted` potatoes and dig in muck or compost (on another sea salty note, I remember my grandmother lined her bean trenches with seaweed and newspaper to conserve moisture).
Bother! I`d hoped to get my post out before the end of February. I am diverted from my laptop to equip the eldest daughter with `wedding ring`, door wedge, extending washing line and all the other stuff for the gap year female traveller. It is like losing a limb when she walks through Terminal 5 departures, but I can get in the bathroom now. And in the way that life sometimes seems to synchronise itself, my new book contract is signed and the deadline is just about the date she returns. Publication is next spring, but I`ll give you some sneak previews along the way. Some design notes:I won`t ever tire of gingham, it`s a really inexpensive way to add a spot of spring colour to the home: a simple pull on chair cover ,say . My temple is MacCulloch & Wallis who sell online as well as from a shop crowded with young fashion students in central London. Look out, too for enamel alphabet letters and numbers from Hyperkit, more timeless simple design. RIP Lucienne Day one of our great designers, known for her painterly and simple Fifties` fabrics. I also have a passion for the stacking Polyprop chairs that her husband Robin Day designed, and can still be picked up from secondhand shops and markets.
There are walking babies, crawling babies, sicky babies and back-up babies modelling shoes in the house, and so I escape to the garden. It`s looking spare (an understatement) but crocuses like bright fruit drops are pushing through. I prune the roses with vigour giving the 4 standards the equivalent of a military short back and sides. But they will flower well and spread without looking wild and untidy. They have a good feed with shovels of rich earthy compost from the bottom of the bin. It`s so cold I can`t be bothered to dig it in, but it`s raining so the nutrients will wash down to where the roots need it . The room on top in Olhao is nearing completion after the builders have ducked and dived the thrashing winds and rains of the Algarve`s worst weather in 30 years. It`s a whole new vista up here. In the distance, a band of cobalt sea beneath a grey blue sky, tv aerials, flapping laundry, a silver winding mesh of homing pigeons, the fizzing pink of an almond tree. And all with the Olhao soundtrack of dogs barking, bells, and the strains of a fado song on next door`s radio. NB The dearth of photographic evidence is due to further gadget malfunction, this time, my newly acquired i-phone, a marvellous invention, when it works The blues and greens of the seaside are exhilarating but no less than the rolling hills and valleys on the drive to see my Dad in Somerset: a mossy palette as if from a Farrow and Ball paint chart. And then there is more heavenly natural colour at the Van Gogh exhibition, where my rushhour Friday stress melts before the artist`s drawings and paintings of French gardens and vegetable patches
What with all the backpacking details I almost leave the marmalade making too late, but am saved by the last boxful of Sevilles at the local greengrocer. Soon the kitchen is a bittersweet aromatic fug and the mind only focused on the job. No wonder DH Lawrence said "I got the blues thinking of the future so I left off and made some marmalade." I read though that 80% of marmalade eaters are over 45. Don`t you think we should champion the young to get boiling and stirring? It`s such a pity that marmalade has that fusty old major at the breakfast table image.
I pot the marmalade in recycled jars that I save and store under the sink. Holding one`s golden efforts in a simple glass jar topped with a cellophane lid and decorated with a homemade label is pure pleasure; so, too, is a slice of bread topped with marmalade and a spoonful of creme fraiche.
8.00am: a fairy tale encounter with iced petals and snow flakes when I venture into the garden this morning to prod a blocked drain. A mucky distraction from the business of Christmas shopping which is something that I always intend to get done without getting stressed over, but never quite manage to pull off. It would be wise not read all those Christmas gift guides which swamp the reader with choices and possibilities that make decision making even more problematic. At least they`re not all about solid gold teapots these days, and hey, the Rolser (shopping on wheels vehicle of choice in Olhao) was even in the Eco Gift part of the Observer magazine. The shop floors of the Nation, though, continue to be choked with over packaged Starbucks gift boxes and pile `em high towers of celebrity memoirs. And talking of books, real ones, I have just ordered several copies of the Little Stranger by Sarah Waters . It`s supposed to be a good eerie read - perfect for a snug holiday afternoon. I know that all the mags are telling us to make our own presents, but it`s not quite as simple as that. You need time to create a handsewn bag for Aunt Olive or a knitted mohair scarf for your nearest and dearest. I know it`s all about the thought but setting yourself the task of homemade gifts for everyone can induce similar palpitating stress to battling through Oxford Street department stores. The way I do it is to do a bit of shop bought and a bit of homemade, and try to give appropriately. I can`t see my 20 year old wowing over a box of peppermint creams but know that if they`re prettily wrapped in tissue, will really please a girl friend or grandparent.
HOME MADE PEPPERMINT CREAMS: 1 egg white 450g icing sugar, juice of half a lemon, 5 or 6 drops of peppermint flavouring, the mere driplet of green colouring (or they`ll look gruesome and lurid). Beat the egg white until fluffy, and add all the other ingredients to make a ball of green paste. Roll out to half an inch thick and cut out shapes. I like mine round, but stars and hearts would be good for christmas too. Decorate with silver balls and leave the creams to dry on greaseproof paper overnight Christmas biscuits are also a winner, and can be thrown together in half an hour, left to cool and either eaten for tea or wrapped up as a gift. Watch me making a batch on my latest YouTube I have in mind, a `present to myself` set of Volga linen sheets. But the car needs to be fixed and what sort of parent lets their children drive off in a dodgy vehicle? This business of feeling responsible for your offspring, doesn`t diminish as they get older, quite honestly you feel even more protective towards them as they hurl themselves around the world on gap year travels and hit party nights in drink sodden University cities.
Another way of giving beautiful presents without spending a fortune is to have a rummage around charity shops for someone elses old glass. I set myself a visual style guide: no crystal glass, nothing coloured and always simple in shape. In this way it makes the hunt easier and defines the `look`.
Seagulls patterned like Fairisle jumpers swoop over the house in Olhao, where the ` room on top` is emerging from piles of rubble and bricks. I`m not going to post the `works in progress` pictures because they don`t look much fun, only to me. I will wait for a `before` and `after` show. Dare I say it, but it might take less time than we thought because Mr Martinho got off to a roaring start when a violent storm was forecast. It didn`t appear but, because there were more hands on the job in anticipation, the men were able to take down the old roof, and construct the building`s cement platform in just a few days. I like the way they have put all the old tiles to one side for reuse. I`ll leave you at the end of the year, with a plate of plump aromatic lemons, as typical an element of winter, as the rickety wagons of roasting chestnuts in the twinkly Olhao cobbled streets.
It has been a glorious Indian summer of an autumn: crisp golden leaves catching in my hair and tumbling across the grass as I walk in the park. But now the clouds have burst to soak the leaf fall which pastes the streets like papier mache. London is good at this time of year quieter, more mellow. In the deepening shadows the city squares and churchyards seem more secret, invitations into the past.
At weekends it`s hat, scarf and ribbed tights weather. Dark sunday afternoons are for eating cake and idling at an exhibition. I really really recommend the visual magic at The Museum of Everything, showing unseen artists, who create their work outside the eyes and ears of the art world. Take Judith Scott, who made sculpture from household objects entirely hidden by being wound-about over and over by wool and yarn. Scott had Down`s syndrome, and only communicated through these things. They`re very convincing, together with the spirit drawings of medium Madge Gill, and the ceramic recycled kingdom of Indian roads worker Nek Chand. The works are unintentional, delicate and profound. What a contrast at Tate Modern where Pop Life: Art in a Material World is billed as a foray into the world of the celebrity artist. It includes Andy Warhol wallpaper, Damien Hirst`s golden spot paintings, a reconstruction of Keith Harings`s Pop Shop and some unappealing top shelf stuff in the over 18s` room. The artist as commercial brand continues to flow into the shop where Tracey Emin white mugs are a whopping ¬¨¬£15.00. It all left me feeling rather flat and anxious to go home and do something nourishing like collect the bean and nicotiana seeds from the pods I`ve been drying by the boiler.
I wake up to the door bell and a postman (something of a rarity during the recent post strikes) bearing a cardboard box with perforated holes from Crocus. It`s the tulip bulbs: Lilac Perfection, Tulipa White Parrot and Tulipa Violet Beauty. All to be planted asap. Six inches isn`t too deep too keep out the the foxes and squirrels who enjoy a crunchy bulb or two..or three....or more. By the way, bulbs are poisonous if eaten by humans and can be irritating to the skin.
A couple of weeks ago I planted up of bowls with specially forced bulbs of hyacinths, paper whites, and crocuses so we will hopefully be surrounded by gorgeous scent and colour over christmas.The secret is to keep them cool and in the dark to let them develop good roots before bringing them into the warmth and light.
Now for some trumpet blowing: Remodelista editor, Sarah Lonsdale has voted my blog as one of her top ten eclectic design blogs. And I`m `Queen of Simple`, no less, in Grazia magazine where there`s a piece on the house in Olhao. Speaking of which, hooray! hooray! almost a year to the day, we have the licence to start work on The Room on Top. Who knows what will be in store, once Mr Martinho`s gang arrive and start the heavy work? I will keep you posted.
A room isn`t a room without Farrow and Ball`s `Teresa`s Green`, it`s my current passion, having just re-painted the tv room. A room isn`t a room without a dog, but unlike paint which can be painted over if you get fed up with it, a dog is for life. Should be, but round here `weapon` dogs roam the streets with hoodied youths who can`t look after themselves, let along something on four legs. We found a sad, abandoned and emaciated staffie with sores and trailing claws who clambered wearily into the back of the car and let me take her to Battersea Dogs Home. If you want to rescue her she is Brindle/White SBTX
What with all the leaves pouring off the trees it seems a little unseasonal to be to picking remnants of a summer flower garden: a few rose heads, nasturtiums and so on. I hope it`s not because of climate change. But then Pepys describes roses blooming in his London garden in the middle of December, and that was hundreds of years ago before we`d begun to stifle the planet. Anyway, it`s good to press the petals between the pages of the telephone directory for simple decorations that you can stick on your christmas cards.
The warm conditions followed by wet this autumn have been a fungi foragers dream. My family really got into searching for porcini, (penny buns) field mushrooms, chanterelles, blewitts and parasols when we lived in Spain. These are edible mushrooms that are quite easy to identify. The locals there were crafty so and sos and thought nothing of raiding their neighbours` fields before daylight.
On a stroll through Berkshire parkland we found parasols (actually umbrella shaped) poking up beneath gnarled trunked oak trees. They`re very tasty fried in a little butter with parsley, but as with all edible mushrooms you shouldn`t eat them in large quantities because they`re hard to digest.
I am on a no waste campaign after listening to Tristram Stuart at a Studioilse Kitchen Table Talk, about the shocking way in which we waste food. His book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal reveals how much food gets chucked away right across the food supply system. Consider just this one fact: from the bread and other grain-based products that British households throw away each year, Stuart estimates it would be possible to alleviate the hunger of 30 million people. That sounds at first like an improbably large number ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ until one considers that British households chuck away 2.6bn slices of bread each year. I was brought up with the concept of not wasting food because both my parents were world war 11 children, but my daughter sees little harm in binning a perfectly good but one day out of date yoghurt, "Mum, you`ll give us all food poisoning" she protests, sinking her teeth into a Big Mac. Tristram would give the thumbs up, though, to my apple gathering in the garden. We have had three apple puddings and as many crumbles in the last fortnight. Not only have copious sheets of the Guardian been recycled, but the trays of newspaper wrapped apples in the cellar will last weeks.I`m planning to send a specimen - fruit and leaves - to the National Fruit Collection who for a tenner, will attempt to identify it. The tree`s pretty old so I`m hoping its some long lost variety.
The 19C architect and designer William Morris`s belief `Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful` is a resourceful, and anti-waste idea to embrace now. That doesn`t mean you have to buy exquisite and expensive: think of the humble pudding basin, it looks good and serves its function for very little money. Similarly, a useful junk piece with intrinsically good bones, can be given a facelifit with a lick of paint. See my latest Youtube where I perk up a rather gloomy looking side table, rescued from a local skip. This is a good way, too, of using up paint that you might have left over- another way of reducing waste. Don`t worry if all you have is emulsion. I know that paint purists wouldn`t approve but I use it all the time to paint bits of furniture. A water based primer, and two top coats of colour is all that you need. Here I`ve used Little Greene`s Salix which is a pale greeny blue colour. When I do get around to mending things, the relief and sense of purpose, and happy thoughts of money saving are so huge that I don`t know why I didn`t do it long before. For the last year or so, the dog has been regularly falling through the Salvation Army Ercol sofa because the webbing has worn through in the middle. Being lightweight, the cat doesn`t have this problem, and humans know how to avoid the caved in bit. So I am so excited to have come across the Upholstery Supply Man who is sending me replacements.All I have to do is fit them......
My last swim at the lido was two weeks ago: the day golden and still with maturing shadows; the air warm but with a chill; the water sparkling and fresh. Wistful, now that there won`t be any swims until spring. But to look on the bright side of things there are the dahlias: old English teatime flouncy petals that make me think of Erdem`s digital floral printed dresses, one of which to waft about in, top of my current wish list.
I have had an action packed summer: six teens and me, in Olhao. ( No time to paint my nails, let alone get a new blog post out) The heat, beach and three meals a day keep them out of trouble. There are a few ups and downs: livid red grazes from a failed mission to rescue a smartphone, another you-learn-by-your-mistakes- episode with drinks in pretty colours, bags with keys and money left at shops, and spectacles washed away whilst frolicking in crashing waves.
The food side of things is more of a challenge Not that the gang are fussy, in fact they lap up everything from crab to clams but the sheer weight of daily supplies is in danger of destroying the Rolly Rolser shopping bag on wheels. This trusty accessory joins the fleet that Olhaons trundle over cobbles to the daily fish and vegetable market. Saturday is best when local farmers bring their own produce and I come home with exquisite olives, sprigs of mint, garlic strings and brilliant zinnias, one euro a bunch. I am keen to get to grips with grilling sardines, and hang around peeling white washed alleys where old ladies and fishermen expertly fuss over their door step bbqs. The story: gray charocoal, not too much of it and a cup of water for damping unruly flames. This ensures light crispy skins, rather than the oily black charred offerings if the charcoal is red hot. As for preparation, the daily catch is so gleaming and rigid with freshness there`s not need to gut them. Salad to go with sardines includes our take on Italian panzanella made with stale bread, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion , parsley and a dressing with oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. Then there are lemon quarters to squeeze over the fish and bring out its flavour.
The teen gang leave with the exuberance with which they arrived, in a whirlwind of Kate Moss scent, suntans, tangled salt hair and flip flops. The house settles back into itself again, with the air of post party relief that comes from from sending everyone home in one piece. I have a few delicious mornings in bed with Alan Bennett`s witty and self deprecating memoir Untold Stories . Then it is planning the Room on Top project for which, 8 months on, I finally have planning permission. The very last little bureaucratic hurdle is the 3 month licence, which should be through next week. More finger crossing.
As I pack away t-shirts and cool dresses, I muse that that it`s one thing to have visual records of Olhao`s unmanicured charm, but another to convey the pot pourri of smells: overworked drains, rotting fish, the waft of a honeysuckle in a hidden courtyard; beery fisherman, lingering herb cologne, home cooked stews, the ozone and saltness of the sea air. They`re so evocative, so of the place, it`s hard to conjure them up mentally but London suburbaban street air seems so bland in comparison, even when the foxes have been having a party by the dustbins.
Back at the ranch in Tulse Hill, the house has been earning its keep and host to shoots, including one for SMA baby milk of feature film proportions (apologies to my neighbours) with baby models, back-up baby models, and crates of plastic flowers; the latter draped all over the garden to make it look more colourful. My son says why can`t it always look like that. I give him the look reserved for similar utterances about things not meeting his exacting standards. Actually, the house is looking a bit bashed up after all the babies, cables, and cameras. So I am planning to do a bit of tidy up: repaint floorboards, and renew floor coverings with simple tactile rush matting, the sort we had at home in the sixties`. I am also debating one of Atlanta Bartlett`s white country tables from her new online store Pale and Interesting. The vegetable garden has survived a month of sporadic watering and nurturing from family members who remained to look after the shoots. The lettuces didn`t stand a chance, but the potatoes (Pink Fir Apple) and (International Kidney) are plump; we eat the first earthy diggings, boiled in mint and tossed in butter.
Cherry tomatoes, yellow courgettes, garlic and shallots have all performed far better than I`d dared hope, and I shall plait together a bundle of garlic for my friend`s birthday. Thanks, in part, to Lambeth council: it is their free compost bin that is the receptacle for the nicely rotted contents from the kitchen peelings.
Despite the jolly hard work of nurturing and tending to the nursery of delicate seedlings that started life next my desk, it is pure pleasure to see last year`s bean seeds curling and climbing up the wigwams, heavy with slender green pods.
Even the temperamental basil, that threatened to expire when I brought it outside too early is keeping us in supplies for pesto. The magical notion of producing so much from so little is exquisitely shown by a border of leggy nicotiana plants, whose delicate white flowers release intoxicating scent at nightfall. Weeks of sensual and visual pleasure from a packet of seeds is truly gratifying.
London might not have the laid back charms of a Portuguese fishing town, but there are more than enough autumn shows and exhibitions to divert post holiday blues. I am looking forward to the new ceramics gallery at the V&A , settles and benches by Studioilse on show at Leila`s Cafe, part of the London Design Festival , or booking a table at local home dining room the Salad Club. Don`t miss life on planet fashion in the endearing and irreverent documentary, The September issue which chronicles Vogue editor Anna Wintour`s preparations for the September 07 issue. I am agog because I once worked in an office below the Vogue fashion floor, and was terrified by the svelte things that tended the sample rails upstairs.
It`s the time of year, too, to think about hunkering down with warm blankets and cushions by the fire. I use a mix of calico and cuttings from Liberty floral cottons to make simple patch work covers. See my trusty sewing machine in action on my latest Youtube video which shows you how to make a simple bobbly trimmed tray cloth: an idea that could easily be put in the pipeline for diy christmas presents. And if all you do is go for a walk, take a bag, the trees are heavy with fruit: crab apples, plums, sloes and so on, for a spot of autumnal jam making.
Good news! Elle Decoration, July Issue, has voted my blog as one of the best style blogs on the web: " British style journalist Jane Cumberbatch`s blog is a feast of gorgeous photography and inspiring ideas, on everything from Ercol furniture to making shortbread. Her style is simple, relaxed and recession-friendly". I`m in sartorial male blog company too, from Mr Peacock who offers tips on how to customise an Ikea sofa, to James Andrew a NY designer who dresses as hip as his surroundings and Jonathan Adler who`s mad about blue. It`s sweatingly hot and steamy in the city but at Hampstead Ladies pond , spreading trees shade this North London oasis and swimmers become part of nature as they move between floating water lilies and small fleets of ducks with ducklings. It`s my first ever dip here, and it feels like heaven, so peaceful, and even though the dark water seems eerily bottomless, it is fresh and free from tangled weed. Ben and Jerry`s or Haagen Dazs might be what the teenagers prefer to spoon into their wafer cones, but I live in hope that student budgets or even ennui with the packaged stuff, might nudge them towards making their own ice cream. It`s dead easy. See my latest YouTube for proof.
As all bee experts will testify, the global bee population has recently entered a catastrophic decline, in a syndrome despairingly known as "Colony Collapse Disorder". Thriving bee farms are being turned overnight into ghost towns as workers mysteriously desert their queens and everyone is quoting Albert Einstein to the effect that if the bees go, the human race will perish four years later. Well you wouldn`t think there`s a buzz crisis in Tulse Hill the bees are positively crowding out my pom pom thistles and lavender bushes in their pollinating and honey making efforts. In fact, this year. Nevertheless, I`m going to do my bit and offer up a quiet spot by the shed to host a hive a brilliant initiative for urban beekeepers who need more space.
I`ve been communing with more bees at Das Kransbach spa where you can get stuck into some serious treatments or idle away the day in buzzing and knee tickling Alpine wild flower meadows. The boxy hives passed on the walk home are the source of sticky golden chunks of honeycomb for breakfast. Just as energising for the soul are the sublime rooms designed by Ilse Crawford and the simple back-to-nature saunas, and pools that lull guests into bliss. No spartan spa this is, either, with delicious cakes on trays at teatime.
Gracie says the air smells like a greenhouse after the cloud burst today. The garden steams and drips, soaked in earth, grass, and sweet petal scents. Heads bowed and blousey, in a riot of pinks , the roses are heavenly. The Constance Sprys are doing the best ever: huge pink fluffy musky scented flowers, named after the Fifties` kitchen goddess, whose resourcefulness brought the nation `Coronation chicken` and the mantra that you can be `a millionaire for a few pence` with a packet of seeds. A spirit after my own heart, but thankfully eating habits have come a long way from the curried mainstay of buffets and wedding breakfasts. Talking of resourcefulness, have a look at the latest You Tube video where I have a go at revamping a junk shop dress. Ever since I double rolled the waist of a sensible school skirt to make it look more Mary Quant mini, I have been lopping off hems to give my wardrobe a new lease of life.
I don`t know about you, but I feel an attachment to the flowers and plants in the garden, not as strong as that for my children, or the dog, or the cat even, but an attachment nevertheless. Don`t send for the white coats yet (Prince Charles talks to his plants). I heard a PHD student on radio 4 discussing a series of case studies which examine the emotional bonds that people have with plants. It makes sense to connect with a living thing that you`ve nurtured and laboured over. Then there is the sense of continuity that growing can bring. When my mum died, I dug up some of her peonies, and planted them here in the garden. Each summer the plants are bigger and put out an even more gorgeous show. Increasing natural beauty with nothing but a spade is one of the most satisfying things in life. The frilly drooping lipstick pink blooms remind me of a hot day at home and `ninety nine ` flake cornets from the ding dong ice cream van.
Notes from the vegetable patch: I have resorted to pellets to protect the courgettes from snails` fangs. The rocket is taking off and even the little basil plants are filling well - in pots. The basil planted in the ground was a dead loss. It is a such a tender little thing and I put the seedlings in too early. Shallots, garlic, potatoes, and chard all doing nicely. And I`m just about to plant out the seedlings from last year`s beans - a success rate of maybe 30%. Not so bad, but I will need a few more plants to top up. Pulled some radishes, which looked as if they`d been dipped in a wash of deep water colour - so pretty, but maybe a bit woody. Should have eaten when younger, but delicious enough with sea salt and pepper. Next to be potted is the tray of white nicotiana plants, grown from seed, which promise heady scent later in the summer.
I set myself a deadline of midday to write this, because the sun is now blazing and the glorious Brockwell Park lido beckons, where even the most sensitive creature will want to do a bit of swimming and frolicking in the shimmering blue cool water. How wonderful to be at the `Brixton Beach` where only in February, there were 3metre high snow balls, tobogganists on For Sale signs, and an artist painting in a blizzard!
Horrors. Some beastly person took a chance in our side passage and nicked my bike. Simple. I had neglected to lock it. I take a walk outside and let the beauty of the curled and furled parrot tulips take the edge off my frustration. The feathered buds seem to have been dipped in blueberry juice, clasped together like the furled wings of some exotic bird. In fact, more birdlike, than the the parrots` beaks they`re named after. Soon they will unfold in a riot of undulating and frilly petals. Some will be white, others blue (actually a fuschia pink) and black ( not black, black, but more a deep burgundy black). I`ve got to get replacement wheels, immediately. Not a pretty sentiment for someone who`s always banging on about the evils of self gratification, but the cycle bug has bitten and I`m fretting that I can`t hook the dog`s lead over the handlebars and let her take me at a cracking pace to the park, or nip to the Turkish shop for a bundle of early mint. Justification swims around in my head for quietly siphoning off the family`s holiday money to fund the purchase, from petrol saving, to the health benefits that will stave off some horrendously expensive operation in my old age. I will make it up to them, I think , feeling like a wife who plays bingo with the housekeeping, on my way to Recycling at Elephant and Castle . And thank goodness, that in the third bike crammed aisle is a reconditioned classic sit up and beg, Raleigh, with my name on it. After a short test cycle under the grimy railway arches of one of London`s most gruesome interchanges (although developers have grand plans for it) the deal is done. Not the bargain rate I got in the wilds of Norfolk, but not a bad one either. I"m back in business,and doing more making up to the family, by tearing up leaves of Jonny`s father`s wild garlic to strew in a gorgeous soup made with leek and potato. This is the season for wild garlic, `Allium ursinum` or ransoms, and you can find it in any damp, shady woodland, or even a suburban garden, which is where mine came from. The flowers taste delicious, like garlic, too, and you can toss them in salads along with the leaves.
Living with all this white, is great because the location shoots that come to the house want a space that is light and airy, which is just the kind of feeling exuded by a white painted room. It doesn`t have to be a very specially mixed kind of white either, just a qood quality paint, in white. Dulux brilliant white matt emulsion is always reliable. I can`t resist new colour though, and have taken the opportunity to spruce up the wood panelled attic, now my son is at university, with Paw Print` a lovely muted stone shade from the environmentally friendly paint range by Earthborn.
It`s been snowing blossom. Our suburban streets have been turned into bridal avenues of trees laden with white and pink scented petals. Even the faceless housing estates look more inviting with clumps of daffodils and flowering cherries planted in the communal spaces. Yesterday I was up early and staggering outside with a weighty bag of seed compost to get on with sowing. I tend to pick up seed packets on a whim rather than on a preordained expedition. I know more or less what I want, but like to gather together elements of my summer garden bit by bit. It gives me breathing space to mull over ideas. It`s not that I`m a procrastinator, rather that I enjoy the adventure of coming across surprises, like the chilli seeds raised by Latin American chilli lovers at the local community allotments. When I was visiting my father in Somerset a couple of weeks ago, I wandered into a typical country high street hardware shop brimming with tools, and, inspired by the equally well stocked racks of seeds ,bought packets of zinnias the colours were so irresistible. And summer visions of salads tumbled with leaves aromatic basil, meant that there was no alternative but to ditch smelly cheese, for two varieties of basil from the artfully packed range of Italian Franchi seeds at the local deli cum cafe cum veg shop. So back to the garden, and a balmy Sunday morning filling plastic trays with handfuls of compost and various seeds from little black specks of nicotiana ( heavenly scent on a summer evening) to peppercorn sized sweet peas. I soaked the seven year old sunflower seeds in water, gathered from our garden in Andalucia , and prized open the tough striped casings to remove the seeds. They look healthy enough, but I`ll know in the next 10 days or so, whether there`s still potential in them. The trays are lined up, like cots in a nursery, in my office by the window on layers of newspaper and an old door so when I water them it will not soak the floor. I sit writing, glancing maternally at the potential garden offspring beside me.
I like a bit of architecture in my garden. Not waterfalls, giant urns or grand gazebos, but wigwams. Wigams of willow sticks , that is, and I`m very excited to have discovered the English Hurdle company on the net, who swiftly dispatched two bundles of willow sticks which I have bashed into the earth with a mallet and tied together at the top with all purpose hairy garden string. These twiggy structures are placed at the four corners of the flower and vegetable patch (my informal version of a traditional potager) and will support the climbing beans and nasturtiums. Until this year I`ve used cane pea sticks for my wigwams, but the willow looks more earthy and organic, and although its more expensive, will last longer than the canes.
My son is back for Easter and wants to know where to take his girl friend for lunch. Somewhere suave, mum, he says. How did I raise a boy with such expensive taste? Maybe he`s winding me up but then, he is a child of the boom time when expectations were high. Without extending his student overdraft even further , I think there may be a solution more in keeping with these straitened times. Ok, Brixton market, might not be the capital`s most romantic spot, but at franca manca wedged between stalls selling yams and Rastafarian bonnets, there`s the romance of eating the most heavenly sourdough pizzas baked in a special Naplese wood fired oven. And it won`t cost them more than ¬¨¬£20.00 to eat sumptuously, in the word`s of one reviewer `the best place to eat pizza in the UK`
Spring has sprung with many of the season`s new frocks decorated with pretty florals. I have always fallen for buds and blooms and they needn`t look girly if you mix them with blocks of colour. And just as you don`t want to look like a flower border so you should also use florals in moderation around the home - as accents rather than all over floralness. Sprigged prints on lampshades are a good starting point if you want to introduce some simple country style in a plainly decorated room.
Last week a white `Narnia` descended upon London and suspended the daily grind. Snow! The headlines said ``-5C and we`re all going snowwhere". I pulled on the layers and walked through mounds of fluffy powder. Our road had become a heavenly avenue with snowladen branches bejewelling my steps. That sound snow makes as it packs under your boots! The velvety swish of car tyres on untreated streets! And instead of fussing about interest rates we found ourselves asking how do you roll a snowman, what have you done with the sledge, can I build an igloo in the garden? At the park I heard whoops and cheers, as if it were a blazing day at the beach. Monday had been cancelled along with school and all of London`s buses. The entire city surrendered to delight. It`s a scene one barely witnesses in London, one of innocence, of snow in a city that doesn`t do extremes of weather. Families were out in force with young children and dogs. People slithered downhill on anything from professional snowboarding kit to an estate agent`s For Sale board (very apt in the property downturn don`t you think?). A modern day Bruegel had happened before my eyes.
It wasn`t a day for bicycles either. On the subject, this weekend I`m visiting a man in Norfolk, who, according to my friend Fiona, has a shed of secondhand models going for reasonable sums. Exciting. Maybe this time next week I`ll be pitching up at the post office and getting the thighs in trim on my own pair of wheels. Thankfully the ice didn`t deter the shoots. Stylists, photographers and set builders are a hardy crew: one poor boy spent the morning getting bluer and bluer sawing chipboard amongst the drifts in the back garden, and the heavily laden props` van negociated the Alpine conditions of Tulse Hill with aplomb. The Earthborn paint gang arrived with beautiful environmentally friendly rich chalky colours. I have my eyes on a soft mint green that would suit the garden shed which is need of a tart up for spring. Good news. Garden experts predict the freezing weather will encourage an explosion of colour as the blanket of snow has put back the flowering of daffodils, crocuses, and snowdrops. For the past decade, spring flowers have come up early meaning the impact of the traditional spring bloom has been barely noticeable. Particularly pleasing to know, is that garden pests like aphids and white fly which survived the milder winters of the past few years are also expected to have been decimated in greater numbers.
Log fires, thermal leggings, and ginger and lemon tea are keeping me warm, plus the blue and white check blankets I bought over a decade ago from Welsh manufacturer Melin Tregwynt. Lux soap flakes and a quick spin on the wool cycle have maintained their fluffiness. It is also of no little importance, too, that the blankets are of top notch quality.
When fingers are swollen, after throwing snowballs while wearing under-performing woolly gloves, it`s time for tomato soup. 1litre stock ( I use a cube of dried organic vegetable stock if there`s no chicken stock in freezer or fridge) 2x 500g cans tinned tomatoes l tablespoon tomato paste 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 onions 4 cloves garlic 4 teaspoons of dried oregano or three or four sprigs of fresh and chopped salt and pepper to taste cr?¬Æme fraiche to stir in Peel and chop the onions and garlic and sweat for 10 minutes or so in pan with the olive oil and oregano, Add the tinned tomatoes, puree ,and stock and simmer gently for 15 minutes, Pulverise in a mixer or with a hand blender. Add salt and pepper. Serves 4-6
The new year feels like a fresh start as I walk through silvery streets in the early hours to meet daughter number two off the free New Year`s Eve night bus. The garden is preserved in ice like frozen aspic. And the late rose I snip before breakfast, in thermal socks and clogs, is a frosted powder puff of petals. The earth is hard, but I`m not unhappy the squirrels find it challenging to dig up the tulip bulbs. I will be generous though and put out nuts and seeds for the undeserving beasts. I don`t compile lists of new year`s resolutions because there are too many elements of my life that could do with fine tuning and better application. I am going to settle for just one: a bicycle. It will keep me fit and get me from A to B in a slow and carbon friendly way. The bike must be the sit up and beg variety, even though it`s more the maiden aunt going out for a sedate pedal-look, rather than the groovy young thing on fast and smart alloy wheels. I`m going the secondhand route, but if I had the funds, I`d be on a spanking new Pashley Princess, complete with gold lined mudguards, ding-dong bell, leather sprung saddle, skirt guards and a wicker basket.
Dodging the sales crowds, and ten deep queues outside Yves st Laurent, on a trip into town the other day, it seems that Londoners are heeding mayor Boris Johnson`s declaration that it is our patriotic duty to keep shopping throughout the recession. I`m not so sure if it means yet another designer handbag. Even if it`s 75% off, what`s the point when there are already three more clogging up the wardrobe? I think it`s the small luxuries, that cheer you up in hard times. Indeed, recent sales figures from the world`s big cosmetic companies, L`oreal, Beiersdof and Shiseido, confirm the so-called lipstick effect has returned with consumers increasing their spending on cosmetics even while economising on everything else. Barry M, No52, lip paint (shocking pink) and a good read are favourite pick-me-ups. I am gripped by Wendy Moore`s Wedlock an intricately researched tale about the terrible marriage made by the Countess of Strathmore. It lives up to the blurb on the jacket `how Georgian Britain`s worst husband met his match` with bloody duels, great hairstyles, abduction, deception and betrayal in every paragraph. The Maurice Sendak inspired drawing is fabulous in An Awesome Book by Dallas Clayton who encourages children and adults to follow their dreams of rocket powered unicorns, and magic watermelon boats rather than mobiles and matching sets of silverware.
There is pear and ginger cake for pudding: CAKE 125g softened butter 125g caster sugar 125g self raising flour 2 large eggs 4 tbsps ginger syrup 4 knobs preserved ginger, chopped 9-16 inch cake tin SYRUP 90g butter 90g sugar 2 tbsps ginger syrup 4 large pears juice 1 lemon 1 Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the syrup and sugar. Beat until creamy and a pale toffee colour. Pour into the cake tin lined with grease proof paper. 2 Peel, core and slice the pears, turning them in the lemon juice. Arrange the slices around the base of the tin . 3 Pour all of the cake ingredients, except the ginger, into a mixer and whizz until smooth. Add the chopped ginger and spread the mixture over the pear slices. 4 Bake at 190C for 45 minutes (approximate, as this will depend upon your oven). If the top browns reduce the heat. A skewer plunged into the middle will emerge clean if the sponge is ready. Remove from the heat and cool on a rack. Serve with lashings of cream , creme fraiche, or ice cream.
I was allowed out last Saturday night and went to a party at newly revamped Soho restaurant Kettners , where designer Ilse Crawford has waved her magic wand. Pretty, white Thonet chairs, twinkly candles and pale grey walls are delicious as the steaming French onion soup. To sleep late, but not too late to bounce out in the morning and get on with garden tidying. High winds and heavy rain have denuded the trees, which look like bristle brushes. Autumn is making way for winter. My brother-in-law is cooking Sunday lunch, a good incentive to work hard if there`s a reward of Jonny`s chocolate tart for pudding. Putting the garden to bed for winter is satisfying: trimming, and sweeping and generally neatening up the withered remnants of summer`s wild growth. My garden is allowed to meander more than is good gardening practice, but then I`m no wannabee Martha Stewart. I snip the lavenders so that they are more rounded and bushy, but I`m not going to bust a gut about making them look topiary perfect. I should have collected the dried flower heads in summer when they were at their most pungent but there are enough aromatic handfuls to rescue from the flower stalks to make lavender bags for Christmas presents. A whiff of lavender is almost as good as ginger and lemon tea for getting me off to sleep.
There`s an Ercol love seat with a simple spindle back for sale at the Midcentury Modern show, where young couples with babies trussed up in hand knits barter for retro fabrics and furniture. The price tag is too high for me, my goodness I didn`t realise quite how collectable Fifties` Ercol has become, but feel that I spend money well on the latest issue of Selvedge, a beautifully illustrated and informative magazine for the textile addict. On the other hand, many discounts are appearing from every which way now that recession is as official as Madonna`s divorce from Guy Ritchie. I welcome the special deal on a load of logs which, I suppose, helps to even out the cuts appearing in some of our location fees. I really don`t mind the general slowing down, and drawing back, it`s a chance to reassess priorities, to spend more prudently, on what we need rather than what we want.
PANCAKES Pancakes are a tasty recession proof idea: flour, milk, eggs, butter that`s all you need. Great for stuffing with fridge leftovers - chopped chicken, spring onions, fromage frais and a squeeze of lemon - pancakes are a quick lunch option. We like the sweet version in our household: 100g plain flour; l beaten egg; 250 ml milk;30g melted butter Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Make a well and pour in the egg and the milk. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth. Add a little more milk if necessary.Leave to stand for half an hour. Heat the butter in a small non stick frying pan. When it is very hot add about 30 ml batter or enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Tilt so that it spreads evenly. Cook for about a minute until bubbles appear and the bottom is gold brown. Turn or toss the pancake and cook the other side. Sprinkle it with caster sugar and juice squeezed from an orange or lemon wedge. Roll up and eat immediately.
Autumn`s performance continues to spellbind. The park is decorated like a natural film set, dressed in toning themes of yellow, golden brown and berry pink. Wading through layers of papery leaves is sensual, like eating a Bendicks Bittermint or lazing on hot sand.
It was good to get out in the fresh air as my kitchen was steamy and busy, booked for a team photographing food by Australian chef,
Bill Granger. I watched the refreshingly ego-and-expletive-free, maestro conjure up gorgeous baking one minute, then exotic oriental fish flavours the next. The dog had a field day escaping to lick up whatever tasty crumbs might fall. Bill`s take on chicken curry, with aromatic coconut and chilli, was among the divine leftovers that upped the ante on our everyday grub after the shoot departed in the evening.
The house has been working hard for its living. As soon as the cooking gang left, knitting heroine Debbie Bliss arrived to take pictures for the second issue of her smart new knitting magazine. My knitting skills are restricted to never-ending scarves in purl and plain, but I`m feeling inspired after drooling over Debbie`s fabulous ideas: I fancy the apricot coloured long cardigan, a groovy alternative to a dressing gown.
I`m laying down the dust sheets for the next job, a recycling ad that stars a dustbin, plus all the clobber and fuss that accompanies film making. Hey ho, all in a day`s work.
The fifties` were not all about kitsch. It was an era of high quality design classics that were meant to last. I have a passion for the simple elm stick back chairs and tables that Lucian Ercolani designed for his company Ercol . I grew up eating my mum`s sphag bol around an Ercol table. I must admit that Ercol didn`t make it into my first home; I was trying out new ideas and anything associated with parents was uncool. I re-discovered the simple shapes a few years ago in forays to junk shops (see an example above, with one of the paparazzi seated) and intensive searches on Ebay, one of which led me a garage in Bedfordshire and a set of Windsor table and chairs in fabulous condition. Even the flat tyre on the way home didn`t dim my excitement. For more fifties` ideas visit the exhibition, Designer Style: Home Decorating in the 1950s at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture. MORE JOBS
On gardening matters, I really must get out to finish the weeding, rose pruning, (remember: clean secateurs and slanted cuts to let rain run off and prevent infection) and bulb planting. The most important thing about bulbs is to make sure you plant them the right way up: the hairy root bit at the bottom, and the pointy shoot at the top. If in doubt plant them sideways as the shoot will find it`s way to the light. The next most important thing is keep the squirrels out and plant the bulbs at a depth of 10cm. I`m looking forward to seeing what these white and green flamed tulips bulbs from the local garden centre will look like next spring. On `the room on top` in Olhao, we`ve submitted the planning application to the camara. Now all I have to do is wait, and send out positive vibes so that the word from on high will be positive and in the not too distant distant future. I know that I`m supposed to be on the slow road to less instant gratification, but I can`t wait to get out the roller and finish the walls in pig fat and lime a tried and tested traditional recipe, would you believe, for lime wash. I sense, though, there will be one or two hurdles to leap before that day arrives. During my visit there a couple of weeks ago, the chestnut vendors had arrived with rickety metal wagons to sell paper twists of roast nuts from the smoking coals. Everyone from old men to young children are customers. We roast chestnuts over an open fire at home in winter by slitting them first and then tossing amongst the embers for a few minutes. One year a friend gave me a chestnut roaster, a pan with slotted holes that was much less messy, and more suitable if a novice.
It`s September. It`s swallows flying south. It`s sun tan washing off in the bath. It`s back to school. It`s polished shoes, timetables, and a brisk swim at the lido on a mellow Sunday morning. As my children get down to their books with the vigour only seen at the start of a new year I, too, am enthused with ideas for colours, new spaces, and what to plant in the garden. August under cloudless Algarve skies has filled me up with positive thoughts, like a well stocked fridge. Ballast against the coming grey afternoons that darken before six.
Not that I am tiring of white, but I am experimenting with more colour around the house. Last week, aided by the muscle of my 19 year old, I rollered and brushed away the pale retro green in the north facing room which until now has been used for the rowing machine and ironing. Now it has a new rich olive green look or `citrine` as described on the paint pot. It will go with white and is very seventies`, like one of the rich funky colours that society decorator David Hicks used. I think he was so clever at making stuffy grand houses look hip with the injection of something bright and outrageous like lemon yellow armchairs, or shocking pink and orange wallpaper.
My secret plan is to annex my new green room as a snug winter sitting room/study.
Olhao is an ongoing project near the top of my list of things to do. For the last two years we`ve been restoring an old townhouse, in this Portuguese coastal town with it`s specific aromatic tag of grilling fish, drains, and salty air. This where we come in the holidays to eat sardines so fresh they are rigid, swim in clear unpolluted sea reached by ferry boat, and live at a slower pace.
Using local builders we have repaired and renovated walls weeping with salt, and woodwork blistered and warped by sun and rain. I have sourced handmade terracotta floor tiles, still produced by an ancient factory up in the hills, and poked around in dusty warehouses to find the perfect sized white tiles for the kitchen and bathroom. The interior is plain, with tongue and groove detail, high ceilings and tall double doors. On the flat roof, typical of the town`s North African architectural feel we`re adding a room, a white cube, with a bedroom, wood burning stove and shower. This will be a cool retreat in summer without electricity, candles will do, and there`ll be a solar panel on top for hot water. This is where to watch storks glide and breathtaking sunsets. . As my grasp of Portuguese is at best, limited, my hands will held by a Portuguese architect friend. I hope we will not need to seek planning permission as the building will remain in the permitted height restrictions. Ho hum, I`m not counting on anything though. E-mails are being pinged back and forth refining the original layout, which I paced out one sizzling morning, eyed by a scraggy black cat. Fingers crossed, completion should be by next Spring. I`m off to seek more architectural inspiration over the Open House weekend when all kinds of extraordinary buildings, public and private are open to the public in London. Last year we stayed local and explored a windmill, an amazing eco house, and a fabulous but faded art deco housing estated called Pullman Court.
Apples, apples and more apples are waiting to be gathered in the grey metal bucket. If I am organised there will be crumbles and apple sponge for pudding. The garden has that overgrown and dying back look of autumn. The effect is monotone and washed out like the moody Vilhelm Hammershoi canvases of landscapes and interiors I managed to catch on the last day at the The Royal Academy of Arts.
We`re back home: back to our own beds, and garden with the beans now curling wildly up their wigwam supports. It`s odd to imagine that 10 days ago the house was heaving with 40 crew and cast, false doors and walls, towering light arrangements, and a forest of christmas trees in the front garden. Like the fair that came to town and left, all that remains are some faded patches on the grass and a signed mugshot of Jack Dee pinned to the fridge.
The garden tasks have built up over five weeks of plunging downpours and bursts of heat. I`m deadheading roses (my favourite scented and blousy Gertrude Jekyll blooms), watering, and planting, rather late, several different varieties of tomatoes. I`d forgotten about the compost we`ve been making in our free Lambeth Council compost bin. It was a bit of a bonus, on top of the sunniness of the morning, to open up the hatch at the bottom and find an earthy smelling and glistening mush of fruit and vegetable matter to dig in for a hopefully bumper crop of Alicantes and Sweet Millions.
The family`s linen is in need of some maintenance. I shall have to put off excuses and deal with it. I try to follow the example of my Grandma Phyllis, who emerged intact from her devastated cellar, after a Luftwafe bombing raid over Clapham Junction and became, by necessity as the family lost their home and most of their belongings, a devoted make-do-and-mender. She sucked on Murray Mints as she repaired worn sheets by folding and cutting away the thin part. The cut edges would then be hemmed on her rackerty Singer. The sheet ends up with a central seam, but that matters little when there will be a good deal more wear in it. Dyeing worn and grungy bedlinen is another good way to extend its servitude. I have found that the colours by Dylon last well; see the hot pink dyed sheet here, from Decorating easy. I know that dyeing with chemicals is not particularly eco-friendly, but on the other hand the amounts needed for this sort of home dyeing are small, and it`s more sustainable to eke out the usefulness of an item rather than chuck it.
There`s always someone trying to spoil the fun, like the government study which showed that 90 percent of the fruit from national retailers and pick your own farms was covered in pesticides. It`s not going to stop me from buying punnets of juicy sweet English strawberries from my local high street stall. I`ll give them a good wash though, before piling them onto a meringue base with blueberries, and any other summer berries I can find. I am thinking though, that it`s time to invest in an organic boxed delivery from Riverford Organics, which sound brilliant because bundles of asparagus, rhubarb, or whatever arrive just hours after they`ve been cut.
We`ve moved out and Jack Dee the comedian has moved in. For the next month our house is his and the tv crew`s filming his next Lead Balloon series. I must confess I`ve never seen it (I`m an early lights out girl) but I shall be all agog to spot my cooker when it`s aired.
I go back to collect post and nurture the beans, which seem to have won over the slugs. Bea the cat has stayed and infiltrated the set. No one seems to mind. There`s talk of writing her in. My bedroom is `make-up`, top room `wardrobe`, (easy chair and rails of badly patterned shirts for Dee`s character, a successful but weary standup), and gap year son`s unusually pristine lair, `office`.
The Pure Style house is often the back drop for magazine shoots; it works hard for a living. We`re well drilled though. The practice of living with less means packing up for these invasions is far less fraught. So is the unpacking at the other end. Our temporary home is in leafy Dulwich where `yummy mummies` steer (or jog behind) Bugaboo prams over manicured playing fields. Just as a huge glass extension seems to be the height of social and cultural acheivement round here, the Bugaboo (the price of a decent secondhand car) is the equivalent for aspiring parents. Give me a Maclaren fold-up job, that is light portable and relatively cheap. Mine survived three kids, and years of uneven City pavements without even losing a wheel. The commodification of childhood - ¬¨¬£1,000 nappy bags, and private members clubs for toddlers - is just as unsettling as the feeling that we`re not good enough unless our homes are perfect showhouses.
There`s never going to be a headline that says `your baby lying down and looking at a rose is great`. There`s nothing to sell in it. Similarly telling the consumer that he or she doesn`t need state of the art power showers, and expensive wallpaper with giant prints isn`t good for profits. The important thing is to resist the ads and dig your own path.
I like a good potter in the shed. We inherited ours from Mrs.Campbell, who took tea and cucumber sandwiches in it on pre-war summer afternoons. The live-in maid, sent postcards of her visits to Rhyll and slept in what is a.k.a Jack Dee`s `wardrobe`. The shed is now home to bean sticks, flower pots, and trays for drying apples. I painted it in a soft bean green to make it blend with the greens in the garden. Maybe over the summer I`ll clear it and write there like George Bernard Shaw did in his little revolving writing house at Shaw`s Corner, one of The National Trust`s properties. See custom built wooden summerhouses inspired by Shaw`s at www.scottsofthrapston.co.uk.
The weather`s perking up. I can`t wait to swim at the Brockwell park Lido, a thirties` art deco outdoor pool recently given a fantastic refurbishment. It`s time, too, for asparagus, and summery salads like this simple nicoise-inspired arrangement. It`s really tasty and a good idea if you have tins of tuna in the house, and don`t know what to do with them. Amalgamate pieces of cooked potato, tomato, a few anchovies, a can of tuna and chopped spring onions. Serve with some homemade mayonnaise, or a simple dressing.
Now I know it was worth numb fingers planting out my bulb order one grim darkening afternoon last November. Leggy, feathery white and deep lipstick pink (officially Blue) Parrot tulips are making gorgeous splashes of colour in the garden.
I`m the kind of gardener who goes for a show of less rather than more blooms, appreciating the individual beauty of curled papery petals and slender stems planted sparingly. The effect is airy and delicate. ¬¨¬£25, my budget for 70 odd bulbs to be spread over a wide area, was also a factor in my pared down planting scheme.
This wouldn`t have even bought a papery sliver of bulb skin in the seventeenth century when Tulipomania swept Holland, and a single bulb could cost as much as 1,000 Dutch Florins (the average yearly wage was 150 florins). Like a Prada handbag of the time, a highly prized single stem would be shown off in a specially designed tulipiere in Amsterdam canal houses and other upwardly mobile households.
My train of thought wanders now to Maren our Dutch lodger who played a mean piano and baked Dutch apple pie. Not only does this confection look good it tastes heavenly:
For the crust:
Mix l cup flour with l cup caster sugar.
Cut butter into the flour and add l beaten egg.
Cut enough dough for the lattice on the pie.
Roll the rest of the dough to about 4mm thickness,
to fit a 9 inch greased cake tin.
Roll out 8-10 strips.
For the filling:
Peel and slice 8 medium apples.
Add 3 tablesoons flour, half cup caster sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1 cup raisins. Mix well. Add to the pastry lined tin.
Brush 4 tablespoons apricot jam over the top of the filling.
Arrange the strips in a lattice shape.
Brush with milk.
Bake at 400 f for about 10-15 minutes, and turn turn to 375C for another 45 minutes or until the pie if golden brown.
Eat hot or cold.
PS If anyone has parrot tulip recommendations. Let me know