My old friend J woke up with a stomach bug yesterday, so instead of having his company here for the weekend, I am alone with Nora the dog and the cats. Although this menagerie means I’m patently not alone, it does mean my time is being spent much more productively than it might have been.

man with book in pub

Instead of pub lunches where I point out the coincidence of J sitting in front of a book written by someone of the same name that then turns out to be actually written by him, or getting lost on scenic walks, the weekend’s entertainment consists of apparently never-ending hedge cutting and a homemade lunch of avocado on a bed of toast and houmous with poached eggs passé à travers un tamis (go on, Google Translate it).

wheelbarrow on the grass

Today’s hedging, always rather A Task, was enlivened briefly by the last flying Avro Vulcan, a cold war era bomber that was taking part in the Dawlish Airshow in Devon, flying earsplittingly low, directly overhead. Quite the unusual sight in these parts normally devoid of RAF practice sorties. The only planes we see here are tiny, silently cruising airliners and their contrails. It turns out that this was one of the last opportunities to see it, which I rather wish I’d known. So, since I haven’t a picture of the bomber, I’ll blather on about the hedge some more.

garden with long hedge

I’ve blogged about the hedge before, several times, which is because cutting it, or rather, them, takes a lot of effort. Trimming it looks quite manageable from these pictures but that’s because I’d already carted away about four wheelbarrows full of clippings when I took them and the whole of the hedge isn’t in the pictures.

Wheelbarrow, rake and garden

The trimmed section (garden side and top) took me about six hours today and I still have to do the side along the lane, which I can’t reach from the garden because it’s too wide in places, and for which I will need to deploy a stepladder, a lot of nerve (slurry and milk tankers heading down the lane to the farm) and some agility.

But I’ll be delighted to have it behind me, which is probably how you feel about this post. I promise to be more interesting in my next one, which should be coming to you from my adventure with Nora in Provence.

Five twenty-two. It’s quiet. The light is grey, starting to sneak in around the edges of the curtained windows. I don’t know why I’m awake.

Without much thought I get out of bed and pull aside the curtain to get a look at the day that is to come. Bleak-looking, damp, cooler. It’s the summer. The street, usually parked nose to tail, is almost bare of cars. The neighbours are on holiday.

I shrug myself back down under the duvet, trying to find the warm bit, delighting in the knowledge that I have another hour and a half before anyone wants anything.

The cats at the foot of the bed look up bleary-eyed, blinking. Even they aren’t ready to rise yet, although they are curious.

For once, I’m not aware of the distant howl of jet engines on the flightpath to Heathrow along the Thames. Nor do I notice the comforting double hoots of the trains going in and out of the junction. I’m in my own, rare little world.

Finally, I hear the hollow shutting sound of a metal door down in the street and a van starts its diesel engine, revs a few times and is gone. I was wrong. Not everyone is away.

I’m loath to close my eyes and submit to sleep. I want to savour the pleasure of this limbo. I stretch gently and wiggle my fingers and toes, making sure that all of me is there. And while I’m feeling so calm and settled, nod off again.

Flower Show

Driving through the village the other day I was a bit taken aback by a brightly coloured figure lurking in the corner opposite the old pump. I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t going to step out in front of the car as it turned out to be a scarecrow, part of one of the many competitions taking place for the Flower Show on Saturday. marquee

A really proper, old fashioned marquee had been put up on the playing field for the flower and produce displays and the village hall was serving steaming cups of tea and homemade cakes. With rainclouds being driven across the sky by a brisk breeze, we were lucky to escape a soaking and the sun even came out from time to time.

old ladies drinking tea

There were two lady llamas on display. They make odd high-pitched mooing noises and tried to turn away from the camera shyly whenever I came near waving my phone. Apparently they are very good at guarding livestock as they can be quite aggressive if anyone unknown comes along.

llamas

As expected, there were lots of traditional activities, such as ‘hook-a-duck’ and stalls selling cakes (the Women’s Institute now rebranded as County Something). We pottered around admiring a couple of girls selling professional-looking preserves and a gluten-free range (very Zeitgeisty) and watched the adults’ running-backwards race, just starting below.

start of the adults running backwards race

dreadlocked woman and child

girl sitting in a toy cot

Everyone seemed in a good mood and, while the bric-a-brac at the car boot tables was a bit half-hearted by the time we turned up two hours into the afternoon, we all came away with something that suited us. In my case, a bulb vase for 50p, my friend with some sheet music for her daughter and her husband, popping back to the WI, with a cake for tea.

sheet music

I was tempted to buy a verbena plant at the plant stall, thinking maybe third time lucky, but I didn’t. I just don’t think I can grow them here. Not that this is a verbena in the pushchair before anyone points this out. That much I do know!

plant in a pushchair

My ‘best bit’ – which was something I always made sure to ask my children about whenever they went to any events when they were small – was the produce on show in the marquee.

table full of competition cups

There were competitions for the most scary vegetable creation, the best vegetable person and the best plant jewellery, which is a brilliant way of getting children to engage with vegetables. Growing them can frankly be a little boring and disappointing if you’re small. Children are so creative and it must have been a lot of fun making the entries. I hope not too many of the mums ended up making them at half past midnight on the night before!

most scary vegetable creation

There were also the traditional fruit and vegetable displays. Comfortingly, there was nothing outstandingly vast, other than a huge cabbage and a giant lettuce. I remember being quite put off by some enormously long parsnips one year.

raspberries

huge lettuce

best potato competition

red onions

competition beetroot

I do love the conventions around how things like beetroot and onions are displayed. It’s so very decorative.

best vegetable basket

It looks like the entrants must do it for the love of taking part or the kudos of winning a trophy. They certainly can’t be in it for the prize money, which is very modest indeed.

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Mmm, anyway time to go home for tea and cake…

cake competition

Farming today

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Blissfully quiet it’s been for weeks. Hardly any passing traffic, no huge machinery going from farmyard to field. Only an occasional whirrzzz as a bicycle flies down the hill, a bit of banging from the convertors of Winter’s Barn into New Holiday Let over the road, and the rustle of leaves in the hedge as the twice-daily milk tanker hauls itself between parlour and dairy.

Glancing out of the window in the early morning, though, I saw not grass waving in the breeze but grass cut and lying in the sun to be gathered in. Now, late in the day, every other field round about lies combed into rows, neat and green, pale and dark. And vast machines dance a well-rehearsed display of shoo, vacuum and spray into the evening.

Days of noise and dust are due, then, as all this must pass our door before the silage clamps are full.

At least the forecast must be dry.

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Having not blogged properly about Spring Cottage for a while, I thought we might take a tour of the back garden.

It’s mostly grass, or rather, moss that’s slowly smothering the grass because we don’t mow frequently enough. On the other hand, not mowing allows the wild flowers to have more of a life cycle.

On the right, there’s the end of a bit of concrete covering the septic tank — a feature of all properties that aren’t attached to sewers. I’d forgotten it was there. I recently exhumed this from a large patch of comfrey that was threatening to overwhelm the rest of the garden. The bare earth I also uncovered has already been colonised by small seedlings. Time will tell what they are. I’ve scattered various things here over the last few months and we’ll see what survives into next year. Or maybe the comfrey will win, again. It’s the yellow sort. I don’t think it’s really very pretty but the bees love it and this part of the garden is usually loudly abuzz with their activity.

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The ‘lawn’ lies beyond the area in the picture below, which is a mixture of paving and gravel laid by my predecessor here. In the middle of the gravel an old wagon wheel is set into the ground and I replanted this with herbs a few years ago. They’ve come on a lot since.

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Below is one of the cut flower beds full of Higgledy Garden flowers for the second year running. These have been more hit and miss this time following some, er, rearrangement by Nora the dog, who had a digging frenzy in late autumn. It was an autumn seeding of hardy annuals this time. Last time was a spring sowing. I’m not sure which I prefer. Both would be ideal obviously. I’ll have to have a think about where and how to do that.

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The beds were disused cold frames that I filled with earth for the glorious summer that yielded six carrots. So I gave up and decided to grow flowers instead.

The bed on the other side of the railings is planted with, amongst other things, alliums, marjoram, some fennel and a half-hearted rhubarb. I think it was intended as a kitchen garden by the previous inhabitants. You can see the ornamental vine too. It had great grapes last year although the jelly I made has only been added to gravy so far, as it’s more like syrup. I cut it back rather cruelly, having seen how hard vineyards are pruned, so we’ll see what happens this time around.

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I was given this poppy which I manage to miss flowering almost every year. At least I caught one of them this year. It’s in the wrong spot at the front edge of a bed but I didn’t plant it – the giver did and I have left it alone.

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Here is a really old rose with a beautiful scent. It was rather weak and straggly so I cut it back far more than in previous years and it’s really benefited. Much less mildewy, stronger stems and more flowers. I think it’s probably been here for a very long time and will probably outlast my tenure here.

Finally, some of the most ordinary things, these geraniums which are everywhere and are so lovely up close.

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The other new place that we’ve been walking recently is Wormwood Scrubs, which is ridiculous as I’ve had Nora almost two years and this is very local. But the Scrubs is big and if you approach it from the wrong side — the side with the prison and Hammersmith Hospital — you can be forgiven for thinking that it only has football and rugby pitches which are not really that enticing. However, if you come at it from the west then there are acres of wildflowers, birdsong, trees and rough paths cut through the meadowland, for that’s what this is. There’s even a spot designated for flying model aeroplanes if that’s your bent.

Wormwood Scrubs view

There’s also this amazing view across London. From the obsolete gas holder in Kensal Rise (make the most of it, they’re fast disappearing and I’m kind of fond of them) to Trellick Tower in Portobello (social housing designed by Ernö Goldfinger), the Post Office Tower in the West End (formerly the headquarters of what is now British Telecom), the London Eye in Westminster and the Shard in… well, wherever the Shard is… somewhere south of the river towards what used to be the docks, I think. Typical Londoner, I have no idea about half of it. And, typical Londoner, I don’t really care that I don’t either. Shameful.

Wormwood Scrubs

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Anyway, Wormwood Scrubs is marvellous to have nearby if you crave outside space as I do when I’m not in Somerset. It’s full of wildflowers and different types of grasses, masses of cow parsley rimmed by elder, hawthorn and blackthorn bushes, as well as a ton of trees (that’s the technical term) and some magnificent teasels with which I’m a bit obsessed at the moment.

Naturally, it’s also full of wildlife (the closest meadow pipit nesting site to central London apparently) and the birdsong along the railway embankment is the best (perhaps I mean the most concentrated or loudest) I’ve heard in a long time. Also, a big bonus is there are usually very few people unless you come on a day where there’s some kind of sponsored run going on.

acres of cow parsley

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teazels

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Before anyone thinks this is some kind of country park it’s worth noting that on the side of the Scrubs along the road to Harlesden, there are two of these weird bench-and-table set-ups in a kind of abandoned concrete picnic area. The shape of the structures reminds me of the signs that used to adorn the horrible underpasses under Shepherd’s Bush roundabout and each end of Shepherd’s Bush Market about 25 years ago. They probably stem from the same mistaken initiative to jolly up the borough a bit with some childish art and bright colours. They will probably vanish in the locally controversial plan to revamp Old Oak Common, a mostly defunct light industrial area and railway depot north of the Scrubs that doesn’t live up to its name.

I’ll find something other than walking the dog to write about next time, I promise, but I guess the point I’m making — as I usually do when I write about London — is that urban life is not all about housing, shops and roads. Of course, these less urban bits are tinged with being in the city and that’s what makes them rather special to London, which is why I always take pictures of the grunge along with the pretty things.

Thames Path signpostWe’ve been in London for a couple of weeks. The Boy has been to stay on his way back to Europe from Australia and it has been lovely having him here even if it was rather brief (for now). There’ll be another instalment in a couple of months.

Always on the look out for new places to walk Nora, we were going to Richmond Park when I thought I’d stop in Barnes on the way and see if I could find a way down to the river. By ‘the river’ Londoners mean the Thames, although the walk actually begins at an old cemetery, alongside a tributary of the Thames called Beverley Brook which flows through Barnes both above and below ground. Most of London’s rivers were diverted into the sewers in Victorian times and their names, for example, Stamford Brook or the River Fleet, mainly exist as place or street names today.

Overgrown graves

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Nora really loves this walk as there are good woodland smells, open grass and water to splash in.

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For me, as well as the obligatory grungy bit to photograph and some wildlife, the walk’s a lot less challenging than trying to stop Nora from constantly diving into overflowing park bins, which is one of the less pleasant aspects of summer in the city. I am training her to stop scavenging but I wish people would take their rubbish home with them if they’re going to leave a lot of food waste for Nora and the foxes to play with.

Thames Path at Barnes

There’s always something though. This morning we were shouted at by a fat-arsed French lady who said she wasn’t cycling ‘orl zat forst’ when I complained that she almost ran Nora over. But if you have to do an emergency stop on a path where pedestrians have priority, you’re going too fast!

black dog in the grass

Dog on the banks of the Thames

The pictures are experimental as I was testing the Boy’s Nikon and I haven’t really got the hang of it. It has a bit of a wonky lens but I think I like it. It seems to have a good depth of colour and works well in low light on its point-and-shoot setting, which is basically all I have time for with all the other distractions…

Beverley Brook outflow

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Thames Embankment at Putney

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