Category Archives: London

Pigeon

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Of the rooms in our flat, I think I’m most fond of the bathroom. While our flat is lovely, previous paint and wallpaper decision have put a definite design stamp on the kitchen and bedroom that my partner and I have little to no control over. The bathroom, painted white with white subway tiles and white fixtures, had an old purple shower curtain and abstract IKEA art prints. Easy enough to put our own stamp on it.

I very quickly put up an understated, striped shower curtain and changed out the glass and metal set of open shelves for a white particle board cupboard. I later picked up a nice soap dish and some glass jars for cotton balls and q-tips (classy like), a bin and a toilet paper holder. Previously, the toilet paper was placed on the handle of the toilet brush. Not exactly sanitary. But the IKEA art stayed on the walls, taunting us.

I don’t know about other people, but art seems to be the hardest part about putting a new flat together. I have a fair amount of pieces back home in Virginia but every time I think about shipping the art over . . . the mind boggles with shipping companies and costs that make your eyes bug out of your head. So we’ve a Turner print . . . that’s yet to be framed and other prints from our travels and the ever-amazing Etsy, framed in the ubiquitous black IKEA frames.

We finally chose three prints from local south London artist and author of the blog Birds in Hats, Alice Tams. Clean lines with a touch of whimsy is obviously a major trend everywhere right now–it keeps the room pretty timeless, and art can obviously be changed as tastes change. In this instance, the stark black frames suit the birds perfectly and the prints add the final touch to the room. The room is an indication of our shared design sense–what our home might look like once we have a fully blank slate.

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This flat is the first flat that I’ve felt I could treat as my actual home, rather than a temporary space intended for students or ‘young people’. I feel like I can buy nice things after years of holding back out of fear of things being destroyed accidentally. It’s nice to feel like your home has a sense of permanence, even if it will definitely change buildings at some point.

Quite contrary

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The garden has been quite contrary indeed. The original seedlings all died, for a variety of reasons, and now pea plants, take 2, and the original spinach are in the ground happily growing away. It’s fun to watch the pea plants reach up and cling to different ropes, support structures, and each other. The little tendrils wrap around the strings so tightly, the next set of leaves springing upward. We’ve planted the pumpkins and the cucumbers (the cucumbers for the third time), and continue weeding the garden. I think we need a fertilizer, but I’m not sure what kind, or how much . . . . research needs to be done.


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I’ve also re-done my window boxes, with trailing fuschia and this thing that, I’m not quite sure what it is. Despite the fact that I bought it. It sure is pretty, though.

I’ll soon have lots more space to practice my gardening in, but that’s a post for another time.

 

‘Noli Me Tangere’

‘Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, helas! I may no more.
The vain travail hath worried me so sore,
I am of them that furthest come behind.
Yet I may by no means, my worried mind
Draw from the deer; but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off thereof,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain;
And graven in diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about,
“Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild to hold, though I seem tame.”

–Sir Thomas Wyatt

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A few weekends ago I went to Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and wandered around the the house and gardens. The house, I must admit, is a bit disappointing, largely because it’s a turn of the century reconstruction done by the Astors. With the silly amount of money the Astors possessed, they restored the early modern aspects of the home in an incredibly romantic fashion with little historical accuracy. It’s also, to be honest, become increasingly difficult to go to these old homes and castles. It sounds incredibly snobbish (and probably is), but the level of just . . . factual inaccuracy that parents spout to their children is heinous. This is basic facts, I don’t require nuance. But rather than say ‘I don’t know, let’s find out together when we get home’ or taking the time to read the plaque and relate the information to their children, parents just say whatever pops into their head. We overheard this one woman, when asked by her child which one of Henry VIII’s wives ‘got stabbed’, tell him very sincerely, that Catherine of Aragon was divorced because she couldn’t have children (blissfully overlooking Mary I, her daughter) and that Anne Boleyn had her head chopped off ‘you know, guillotined’. GUILLOTINED. The guillotine as we know it wasn’t invented until the late 18th century, and while the Halifax Gibbet did exist as a method of decapitation in England during the 16th century, it certainly wasn’t wheeled to the Tower of London.

It just frustrates me that key opportunities to spark a child’s interest in history, crucial moments of inspiration, are frequently missed by dismissive parents. I am lucky to have a mother who loves history and encourage my interest in history from an early age. If that interest isn’t fostered, with an emphasis on learning the fascinating facts, then a potential lifetime of passion for a subject is lost.

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Regardless, the gardens were gorgeous, in a very Victorian/Edwardian sort of way. Trellis upon trellis of camellias bloomed, they were so inspiring. The Castle celebrated May Day that weekend, with Morris Dancers and, more importantly, archery demonstrations! For a couple of quid you received several arrows and some very legit archery instruction. I hit a knight at close range, a ‘tower’ at mid range, and almost hit a ‘deer’ at far range. I was positively giddy with excitement, it was very fun (though designed, ultimately, for children).

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Despite whinging about historical inaccuracies and ignorant parents, I do love going to stately homes, and thanks to a very kind present of a National Trust membership, I’ll be able to visit many many more in the coming months!

Rakes and Scoundrels

I realize it’s been an age since I posted but I can only blame the sundry activities that take up the hours.

But I suppose a good thing is that I’ve been postponed about gardening, because I’ve been gardening! A few weeks about, in March, when it wasn’t too horrifically cold (but still plenty cold enough, let me tell you) we turned over the plot and pulled weeds for hours and hours. The plot has been left to it’s on devices for a few months, so before we started it looks like this:

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Or rather, it looked like that after we raked a good bit of foliage off the top. After that we got into the seriously dirty work for using big forks to turn over the earth and pull the particularly pernicious weeds. There’s the one weed in particular (the predominant one) with leaves that look a bit like parsley or chrysanthemums and long long white roots that just grows and grows. I can’t identify what it is (I’ve looked at different things online, but they all show the weeds in bloom and that obviously hasn’t happened here yet).
But even though I do not yet know it’s name, I hate it with a fiery, fiery passion. I think it’s one of those ‘find the mothership and destroy it’ weeds, which I think we managed last week, but who really knows. Either way, we managed to get it looking like this:

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This whole process, I’m aware, is going to be constant maintenance, but it does feel really fantastic to even have it looking like this. Our seedlings are coming along nicely:

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We’ve got some cucumbers coming up (the medium-sized sprouts), the perpetual spinach (the small sprouts) seem to be doing something but I can’t say quite what. They’re concerning me, honestly. However, I’m thrilled with the peas. I’m convinced that Gregor Mendel himself could not have grown a better-looking pea. And they’ve got the fantastic little curly stems! It’s still not warm enough to re-plant these pretty things outside, but I am going to start putting them outside for a bit to make them a bit hardier. Honestly, plot maintenance (weed maintenance) is taking up quite a bit of our Sundays, which is nice but would be nicer if there were plants we WANTED in the ground. But I’m starting to feel a bit like this, sometimes:

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I’ve got a picture in my mind of how that garden oughta be.

Can I pretend it’s spring yet?

London has had a horrific, slow, agonizing ascent into the potential of warm weather. These past two weeks have been so bitterly cold I thought my extremities were going to drop off during my commute. Needless to say, turning over a garden patch is damn difficult when the ground is frozen solid. But we had packs of seeds, some compost, and it was the appropriate time to plant them so that they’ll actually germinate and become baby plants. Then, eventually, when the ground thaws and the threat of frost passes (in, oh, June), we’ll be able to plant the seedlings.

And then they’ll be eaten by slugs. Despite my carefully strewn crushed eggshells. But that’s besides the point.

The point is, we stood in the laundry room and played in the dirt on Sunday, and it was lovely. IMG_0922 IMG_0924 IMG_0925

 

Now these trays of potted seeds, carefully dug to the appropriate number of centimeters and the correct number of seeds, live in the airing cupboard. For now. The cupboard is warm enough to actually get some germination going, but I want to move them as soon as seedlings start sprouting, so they can get the sunlight they need.

But seriously, any time spring wants to show up.

Anytime.

Garden, etc.

Continually, I apologize for the sporadic nature of the blog. I want it to be less intermittent, but I also would prefer it not be stupendously mundane. ‘Today, I went to the library. I read materials. I came home, ate dinner, and fell asleep watching television.’ Short short blog.

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But I am embarking on something new! There’s been a small taste of it already, in a small succulent (that, if not dead, isn’t happy right now), and my window boxes (proud to say going strong). I’m writing, of course, about gardening. Gardening is very special to me, for two reasons. One, it’s very nice to do something physical that has a visual result when you spend so much time in your own head all day. I spend quite a bit of time sitting, whether in an office or in front of a microfilm machine, so the whole idea of doing something out of doors sounds quite nice (though not right this second, if anyone is aware of London weather right now). The other reason is that my parents are avid gardeners. When we first moved to our home in Virginia, it was a very standard Northern Virginia new build; a patchwork quilt of incredibly similar houses on tiny squares of cropped farmland. My mother stared out the windows of our new home in a new state, across one yard onto the next onto the next, all with only scarred plot lines and brown grass.  She and my dad managed to create from this small plot, with its stereotypical Virginia red clay, a beautiful yard filled with flowers and trees. My mom meticulously researched each plant for the best matches in soil conditions, sunlight, and various other factors that I’m not even sure I can think about. The garden has changed over the years, as the décor of a house does as tastes (both yours and society’s) evolve. A patio and screened-in porch have popped up over the years, with a very lovely water feature that is largely the hard work of my Dad.

While they did this, the bulk of the work on the weekends when both my parents were home and continual maintenance done a few days a week by my mom, they of course hoped and expected that my sister and I would come outside and join them. We rarely did (have you BEEN in Virginia in the summer?), but the few times we did are stuck in my mind. I remember, even when we lived in Delaware, my mom carefully instructing me in how to gently dislodge the plant from its pot and to position the plants before planting to get a feel of spacing and what looks pleasing to the eye. I’ve always loved the feeling of dirt on my fingers and rarely plant with gloves or even a spade, more often than not. I love the look of flowers and have vague memories of freshly shelled peas from the backyard plot, on the concrete slab outside my old house (my mother will of course tell you that this was the last time I ate a vegetable for about 20 years).

I like to convince myself that the sight of flowers is good for the soul, and thereby a TOTAL necessity once the season starts and prices drop a bit. I feel very grown-up as I trim the stems and arrange the flowers (almost always a single type and color of flower, since fancier bouquets are naturally pricier). This feeling of adulthood is stymied by the fact that my only vase is a pint glass . . . but I’m getting there. Anyway, I’m growing some herbs from seed (chives, flat-leaf parsley, and sage), re-planting a grocery store basil plant, and growing a chilli plant from seeds in the pots that the previous tenant left behind. The window boxes are being decided (I’m shuffling around lavender and ivy, but The Language of Flowers tells me that the meanings don’t jive well). But what I’m most excited about is my little plot of earth in the suburbs of London. Before any allotment hopefuls get their dander up that I’ve jumped a waiting list somewhere, the little plot is in the backyard of Sir Not Appearing in this Blog’s parents (DEFINITELY not appearing in this blog). They’ve very generously, and fearlessly I might add, have turned over a small plot to myself and the good Sir.

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After reading allotment blogs, allotment books, bits on the Royal Horticultural Society website and lord knows what else, we’ve decided that the inaugural run of this plot is going to be done with whatever the hell we feel like. It’s a learning experience, with what I’m sure is a steep learning curve, so we might as well (maybe) get something we want out of it. Obviously I’m still choosing vegetable varieties that suit the climate, the amount of sunlight, etc. but I’m not going to worry about not having x, when I have plants from y and z. So! We’ve ordered seeds for purple-podded peas (we have trellises from previous climbing beans that have been ousted by weeds), kuri pumpkins (pumpkin korroke curry!!), perpetual spinach, small cucumbers (Sir is now obsessed with pickles, as he should be, so we’re going to learn how to make our own pickles), Black Russian tomatoes, Golden Sunrise tomatoes, and Tigerella tomatoes. We’re also going to get a few strawberry plants (already grown and matured so we can enjoy the literal fruits of our labors).

The seeds are arriving any day now, and we’ve bought compost for our little seedling trays. On Sunday we will tenderly plant our little seeds in the hopes that a few will germinate, fortify, and survive the transfer into the soil outside. Of course, the seeds germinating indoors is probably the least of our concern . . . slugs, birds, unexpected frost, and God knows what else could make this venture a complete and utter disaster.  More notes to come (and hopefully photos, if it goes well).

We are not Amused – Representations of the Recent Past and the Monarchy

When the day tapers to an end, the boy and I always seem to end up pulling up something to watch on the laptop (no TV, don’t you know). And it’s a shame, because you know, we could read or listen to the radio, etc. We both love food and cooking, so a good part of the evening is already spent over cooking together and chat. And by the end of the day, after work and the library and whatever else crops up during the day, we just end up propped up in bed (no couch) with an episode of Jamie Oliver (anything Jamie Oliver) or whatever. So last week, on a night where yet again the laptop was chosen over books yet again, I decided that it was about time we watched The Queen. I’d seen the film before and knew that it was quiet and thoughtful—the right sort of thing for a quiet evening. The boy, however, despite being British (or perhaps, as I’ll get to, because of it) hadn’t seen it.

Whenever I’d mentioned it he’d sort of pulled away from it, shied away. He doesn’t have an interest in watching it, he says.  And, for me, it really highlights this very odd relationship many who live in the United Kingdom have with the monarchy. The interesting thing is not a passionate love or hate, this is reserved for the government. And the government is very clearly separate, unlike the United States where we hold the president responsible for things that seem outside his control. That being said, the American president does have exceedingly more executive power than the Queen, who at this point seems to ask the Prime Minister to run her government every couple of years, advises said government, and then does appearances/ceremonies that require the clout of history and tradition. But as far as the United Kingdom’s citizens are concerned, it seems the day-to-day approach (for most, not generalizing) is a sort of passive aggressive disinterest. And this seems like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not in this instance—this total resistance to even suggest that the monarchy might matter to them or that they’re at all interested in it. It’s old, it’s tired, and (they suggest though they never ACTUALLY want to get rid of it) unnecessary. The young royals are media spectacles and the old royals are . . . figureheads, relics of a bygone era. However, it is something that is more ingrained in their culture than they’d like to admit, I think, and I challenge anyone to not melt their chilly disposition while in direct blast of the Royal Presence.

But I’m waffling (as usual) to my actual point: there are minefields upon minefields of complexities when dealing with recent past, in any medium. The recent past evokes personal emotion and any attempt at analysis is shrouded with bias. People remember Diana’s death and the days surrounding it. The boy also mentioned to me that public opinion re: the monarchy wasn’t strong at that point regardless—something that I failed to remember, nor would I really have been in the position to know. But I do remember the shock and the sadness, and the intangible connection people felt towards her public image.  And it must still be implausible to many, that her public face and private person could be two separate things. Not taking away from Diana as a mother and as a humanitarian, but it’s very possible that her behaviour became a bit of a thorn in the institution’s side. Not only as a juxtaposition of modernity versus ‘outdated’ traditionalism, but creating a (mostly unasked for) media circus and creating a precedence for royalty in the media—something previously unheard of.  And all the business side, the guarding of privacy, is inextricably wrapped up in human emotion: worry about the emotional effects on son and grandchildren, as well as the emotional trauma of making a personal/professional mistake that complicated and hurt a lot of people on both sides (the approved choice of Diana over Camilla). On this front, the film balances sympathy and recognition of the tragedy of Diana’s death and the feelings and emotions of the Royal Family at the time.

But this of course fails to mention Tony Blair, the Labour wunderkind who fell from grace during the Iraqi War-Bush era. In 1997, the Labour party (or NEW Labour party) won the election in a landslide after completely revamping their platform post-Thatcher. The party’s handling of Diana and the monarchy shot Tony Blair into the public opinion stratosphere, as the film depicts. In the film, the Queen prophesizes that the public would turn on him, ruthlessly; I find this to be a convenient addendum formed from the 20/20 vision of hindsight. It’s so easy to put our current thoughts and feelings into an analysis of the recent past because it all feels so close together.

Of course, this does not mean that the distant past isn’t just as problematic in often very similar if not the same ways.

Yes, I signed up for this.

And in case anyone was wondering, yes he liked the film.