It’s another new year!

New year’s resolutions are made to be broken they say. For that reason I am not making particularly taxing ones this year. More chance of keeping to them. Though I doubt I will. Here they are, if you’re looking for inspiration:

1. I will shut the bathroom door in the morning so that the cat cannot come in and rub his cold wet sticky nose on my bare leg while I’m having a pee. This happens EVERY morning.
2. I will remember to water my plants before the hibiscus goes floppy.
3. I will not indulge in a toastfest more than once a week.
4. I will buy enough bras of light colours to ensure I do not have to spend the whole day wearing a jumper so that you can’t see I’m wearing a black bra under a pastel shirt.
5. I will not leave the ironing pile for more than two weeks at a time and when I do the ironing pile I will not decide that I don’t need to iron things because once I’ve been wearing them for ten minutes it won’t show. It will show.
6. I will not leave the washing up for more than 48 hours or until it starts to look like primordial soup.
7. I will not get into a rage as a result of comments made to me on internet forums and go off and eat chocolate or drink gin.
8. I will not call toast and a glass of wine supper on days when I don’t feel like cooking or can’t be arsed to wash up (see no. 6 for details).
9. I will get up early enough on Thursdays to put out the recycling even if the Thursday is a day when I’m not at work (for example New Year’s Day 2014 but that doesn’t count because I was asleep and anyway I’ve only just thought of it as a resolution).
10. I will not post snarky comments about other people’s spelling or grammar on Twitter unless I’m in a really bad mood.

Good luck with that, huh?

Happy New Year!

The absent blogger

People keep following my blog, I get a dinky little email when they do. It makes me feel so guilty, because I haven’t blogged for months.

This is in part because I’ve been Out of Sorts. You don’t want to hear about that, really couple of colds and an operation about which I could write tomes. I have got unfit. I cannot walk far at all at the moment.

But wait! Despair not. I have ordered a new pair of VERY snazzy hiking boots online. I needed UK size 8.5 in this particular boots, the sizing of which is rather small, and this is a half size bigger than they come in the UK, so I’ve had to order them online from the States. I always thought the legend of Bigfoot was a spoof, but now I see it’s a lady hiker. They’re being delivered to me at work for complicated reasons that I suspect are connected with the privatisation of the Royal Mail, and I expect them to arrive some time next week. They’d better arrive before my trip to Cornwall in early December, as I plan to do a fair amount of walking then.

So, new boots. I’ve also bought a new waterproof that I can do up, just, but not if I put a jumper under it so I need to lose some weight.

Oh yes, that. Don’t ask. Please, just don’t. If you’re not well for four months, things can get complicated.

I’m giving thanks we don’t do Thanksgiving here. There’s only Christmas to contend with.

Only.

Forager 1

bramblesCouple of years ago, when people started to feel hard up, journalists (I blame journalists for many of the world’s evils including Marmite and homeless kittens) started writing about food for free, or foraging. ‘Go out into the country,’ they told us, ‘and you can pick yourself a dinner of herbs.’

Top of the list are things like dandelions, bitter but ok if you like bitter salad, and nettle soup, which is fine if you don’t mind the fact that they smell like cat pee. As to the rest, it was mostly mushrooms which a. might poison you b. only grow in the autumn, for the most part, and c. tend to grow in places like Epping Forest, where you are not allowed to pick them.

The exception, of course, is brambles. ‘Blackberries’ if you must be posh. The things on the left.

They grow on waste ground all over northern Europe. If you live in the UK, chances are you’ve eaten one. Quite possibly, one was enough. They don’t taste of that much when raw, and there’s always a danger of Maggots.

Yes, precisely.

Cooked, however is differentnot least because any maggots have merely become extra protein. Cooked, they have a fruity woody taste that is like the essence of autumn. Made into jelly to spread on bread, they become a fond reminder of the day you picked them.

Off I go today, to pick brambles. I’m not saying where, but I live in central London, not the sort of place you’d expect to forage for food unless you were a fox in a dustbin, so it’s safe to say anyone can go brambling. First off, I get on a bus and it’s diverted because of Notting Hill Carnival. Ah, Carnival. I’ve lived near it for more than 25 years and every year when it comes round, I plan my weekend’s activities around avoiding it.

Bah humbug!

So, I’m on the bus and it starts a detour that eventually deposits me about 50 metres from my bramble patch of choice. This is not the buses usual route, but I’m going to make a note of brambling on this day again next year, because it is much more convenient than the usual two buses and a 15-minute walk.

I head for the thickets. The first thicket has no brambles, which is a bit odd and I am momentarily worried. The next one though, is very brambly. Set out brambling equipment:

  • Suede gardening glove for left hand
  • Plastic container for fruit
  • Bottle of water which I always need but have never brought before

Am already wearing thick cotton drill gardening trousers, and hiking boots. Normally I cover up to pick brambles but it’s a very hot humid day so I’ll just have to make do.

Insert myself with care into bush, lift up bramble branch, and start picking. It’s wise to respect bramble bushes. They have thorns like nobody’s business and additionally I seem to be slightly allergic to the leaves. Not, I’m pleased to say, to the fruit.

People who are given to saying ‘nom’ should say ‘nom’ at this point.

Remember how my bestie told me her dad offered her 5p a pound (which was serious money) for brambles when she was in her teens and she picked several stones of them so he had to pay for them all. Reflect on last time I picked brambles when I tripped over a tussock and sprained my ankle and resolve not to do this again. Pick pick pick. My technique is to pick seven brambles at a go then drop them into the container. Pick for about 40 minutes. Drink water. Pick for another 10 minutes. Decide if I am out much longer, I will burn. Also feeling knackered. It’s like a pilates class, this bramble business.

Pack up and head back to bus stop. Bus nearly doesn’t stop for me as this is not its usual route, and they are creatures of habit, buses. However it does and I hop in. Bus deposits me, 20 minutes later, outside my flat, with brambles.

Take them in, wash them, take photo, cook them, put in sieve to drain overnight for jelly. Do not talk to me of Muslin. There’s no need. I am not competing with the WI. I am making something to eat. I don’t care how clear the jelly I get is. I’m not bothered about depth of colour etc. I want something to last me through the grey days of winter.

And dinner tonight. I saved enough for a crumble, natch.

Woolly animals

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it was the rabbit that brought it home to me. It was sitting in a cage reciting that poem by Pam Ayres, and when I saw it, I thought ‘Funny. Bunny at a wool festival. Definitely not a sheep. It’s a bunny.’ Then I realised it was a very fluffy bunny and attached to a stand selling angora yarn.

I was in a tent full of people selling woolly things, in fact. Yarn, patterns, blankets, amusing stuffed toys that were mainly sheep, knitting needles. . . Of course you can get a lot of this sort of stuff in John Lewis’s but what’s different at an event like this one, Fibre East, is that the yarn on sale is being sold by people who know what breed of sheep it came from to say nothing of the name of the bunny. The yarns are as far from the acrylic stuff Woolworths (remember them?) used to sell as an actual banana is from a foam banana chew. They come in myriad colours (though there seems to be a tendency towards blue/turquoise/purple) and every texture and weight you could imagine. You can even watch people spinning them. This looks remarkably easy though I bet it’s not.

What was I doing there? Well I CAN knit you know, though the thought of attempting some of the things on display would have made me take a deep breath and start finding excuses. It was very clear that the hundreds of knitters milling around were Keen. Very Keen. Experts. Which I aint. No, I was volunteering for p/hop. If you haven’t heard of p/hop, don’t worry I will explain. Or you can follow the link if you’d rather not get involved in my explanations. It’s a fundraiser, p/hop and the name is short for pennies per hours of pleasure. It raises money for Medecins Sans Frontieres. MSF then spend the money on health care in countries where health care is thin on the ground. Or non-existent.

How p/hop gets people to donate is very simple. Clever people who can design knitting patterns design and donate them to p/hop which then puts them online or, for wool fairs, prints them out. People who knit (and that’s everybody who matters of course. In the world) come along, pick a pattern they like the look of, make a donation and carry the pattern off to knit it.

So what I was doing Sunday afternoon was explaining this to people, showing them the samples, explaining that the samples were not for sale, encouraging them to start knitting Rudolf the Reindeers NOW since Christmas is round the corner (I should have been a used car salesman) and letting them try on the mitts. As Clare (my boss for the day, that’s her in the photo with Rachel, the other deputy) explained, people go to a fair like this, fall for a skein of yarn, buy it, and then want to make it into something. That’s where p/hop’s patterns come in. Of course, it works the other way on too. They fall for one of the gorgeous patterns and then go looking for something to make it with.

The most popular patterns at the moment are these ones, the Trinity shawlette and the Cranford mitts. Not for beginners, but if you are a beginner or a bit rusty you could do one of these and work your way up to a shawl.

Yes, this blog is a blatant attempt to get you to donate money to p/hop. So off you go via this link here and choose yourself a pattern and put some money in the cyber piggybank. If you don’t know how to knit, have a look at this, and get started. Or join Ravelry. Or both. Everyone starts somewhere.

Go on then!

What I did in the holidays

IMG_3882[1]Yes, yes, I know. I have been strangely silent. But in a good cause! I had some time off work and instead of sitting around blogging, I spent it doing exciting stuff like spring cleaning my flat (look spring was late this year) and decorating the sitting-room.

Boy, was it hard work. When you only clean twice a year whether the place needs it or not, the procedure is more like excavation than mere dusting. It’s remarkable how much sunshine we get in London once you’ve cleaned the windows. I discovered I’d been living in a permanent twilight of dust and birdshit and now I can look out and see that the garden really needs work. A lot of work.

But THAT’S all in the future. Or, as they say in meetings these days, ‘going forward, we want to . . . ‘ Going forward I want to tackle the garden. Going backwards, I concentrated on decorating the sittingroom, last done 14 years ago next month.

Yes.

I learned many things, which I would like to share with you. I’ve rounded it up into 14 points so that you can learn one a day for a fortnight, then remember them always. Here goes:

1. Before heading to Homebase, check that you haven’t already bought everything you need and stashed it in a cupboard, unopened
2. Check that the paint pads fit the handle you bought. Sod’s Law says they won’t
3. Make sure you still like the colour of the paint you bought a year ago. It’s tough titty if you don’t, of course, because you can’t afford to buy more
4. You’ll end up with more paint on you than a Jackson Pollock and the effect will be much the same. See if you can frame and sell your clothes when you’ve finished
5. It’s hard on the knees, painting a skirting board, so you’re going to be rolling around on the floor. If you didn’t bother to clean it first, you’ll become a sort of human mop
6. When painting overhead, do not look directly up, unless you want to spend 15 minutes removing emulsion from your eyebrow
7. Anywhere two colours meet, you are going to end up with 10 coats as you try to get a straight line at the join
8. Having a cat underfoot does not help matters, no matter how much the cat says it will
9. Keep the kettle full of water and a supply of tea bags handy at all times. Gin may seem attractive but it’s not a good idea till you’ve finished. Really
10. That blobby bit you think won’t show, will show. Anyone who walks in the room will notice it immediately. And mention it
11. If you expect a paint job to take four hours, it will take eight
12. Cancel this week’s yoga or pilates class. You’ll be doing enough bending and stretching for a whole rackful of fitness videos
13. Fluff is attracted to tacky paint by the aforementioned Sod’s Law. Make what you want of that. #justsayin
14. Wipe up any drips on the floor straight away. If you don’t, the next time you notice them will be when you get that tacky sensation on the sole of your flipflop/foot
I did all this so you don’t have to. Hope you’re grateful.

Look to the rose that blows about us

Today I go for a hikette in Epping Forest. Have not been there for a couple of months, owing to sore foot, but I think I’ll give it a try wearing my Birkenstocks.

Train to Chingford, out of the bus station and 100m up the road you’re at the start of Epping Forest. It’s actually not forest, this bit, it’s meadow and in June after a wet winter and spring, it’s in all its glory. The sky is grey but bright and it’s very warm and humid.

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There’s a warning sign about cattle, but no warning about being careful not to get a slug under your big toe if you’re wearing sandals. I say yuck a few times and shake it out.

Well I wasn’t going to use my fingers, was I?

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There are myriad paths crisscrossing the meadow and I am navigating by radar diagonally across, aiming for the edge of the woodland. Quite a few people are about, mostly exercising dogs. I’m looking to pick up the nice clear trail that will take me to the tea ‘ut at High Beech. The meadow is a haze of buttercups. This bit is nice and grassy (ref slug) and so there is no problem with gravel under my toes. There is what looks to be a cricket pitch right in the middle. It’s about the right size, but there are a couple of rabbit holes in it, so not too sure.

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Stomp along, counting the flowers. Come to a dog rose bush in flower. Gorgeous. Keep going and there’s enormous amounts of honeysuckle just about to burst into flower. Then I’m on the main path and coming to bits I recognise, always a good thing. I’ve been lost in Epping Forest half a dozen times and that’s six times more than I want to be, especially at this time of year.

Why this time of year? Because there is NO visibility through the trees. The undergrowth has grown up and it’s what you might call verdant.

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There’s bracken taller than I am (average height for women in the UK in case you are wondering) and the trees are at their prime. There are nettles smelling of cat pee, as they do. Apparently you can eat nettles but I can’t say I would fancy them.

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I get to a place on the path that I know to be a sandy quagmire and it’s dry. A tiny stream runs under it, and there is a clump of water speedwell so blue the eyes can’t process that much colour. Just beyond it is a tangle of red campion, and a bit further along the path, a large patch of yellow pimpernel.

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There are grassy paths everywhere, and they’ve clearly been mowed to make it clear where they are. I’d love to explore some of them, but I didn’t bring a map today so I don’t. Get to an enormous mass of dog roses, so lovely I name this blog after them (it’s a line from Omar Khayyam and if you think you don’t know who he is, dear reader, I bet you do, he’s full of quotations you’ll know). Then a patch of comfrey in flower, absolutely full of bumblebees. I do not like insects but they are so happing zzzing about their buzzness that I take some photos of them too.

It’s odd how many flowers I see just the one patch of today. Comfrey in particular is very common in this part of the world. Pass a sea of bracken and some that looks very architectural and come out on the road, cross it and go into the bit that leads up to the tea ‘ut.

I first walked this route in autumn after the leaves had fallen and think of it as being light and open. Now it’s summer and the trees are in leaf and it has simply closed in, a green and mysterious world again. There are some rhododendrons growing wild (yes I know they are a pest plant) and when I take a pic, the automatic flash on my camera comes on. That’s how dark it is.

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Arrive at the tea ‘ut and the dragonfly pond is still dragonless, but there are flag irises, which I love.

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Sit down with a ham salad sandwich and a cup of tea and a piece of cake. It starts to rain.

Review my options and decide to press on. The nearest bus stop that I know of is 20 minutes’ walk away and in fact I have to pass it anyway. There’s a chance that the rain will stop before then. Keep on, get to the fabulous view, which is looking . . . er . . . misty and just beyond it the road and the bus stop, passing a beech tree that must be hundreds of years old.

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I don’t know when the bus is due and I’m in Essex not London so the app on my phone can’t tell me so I choose which side of the road to wait (it doesn’t matter which direction I go, as buses in either direction go past a station) according to which is most sheltered by trees. After just 10 minutes, a bus comes and I hop on.

And that, darlings, is the beauty of hiking in the Home Counties. There’s nearly always a bus.

There’s nearly always rain too, of course.