Saturday, 30 May 2009

A lovely day off

I took Friday off work to spend the day doing lots of lovely things...

After a very early start I arrived at my Mum's in Ipswich for morning coffee and cheese scones, freshly baked just before I arrived. We had a good gossip over coffee before doing some more baking.

I called into my Grandparents to say hello to them and have a cup of tea in my brown mug. We talked about where they had lived when they first got married and had a good reminisce about the past.

Then it was off to the University of Essex in the afternoon for a Lecture by Hermione Lee as part of The Afterlives of Virginia Woolf season that they have been running. You can read more about the lecture on my Virginia Woolf blog. She is a wonderful speaker and I came away feeling very inspired and studious.

I headed home at 4:30 and despite getting stuck on the M25 at rush hour I was still home earlier than I would have been if I had been to work. It was a wonderfully relaxing day and I just wish everyday could be like it.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A most unexpected pleasure…

Yesterday evening after work, I went to The Chelsea Flower show. A girl who I work with had a spare ticket and knowing my interest in gardens she invited me along. So, at 5:30 sharp we jumped on the tube to Sloane Square and I had my first Chelsea experience. It is an absolutely wonderful event and I came away wanting to give up my job and get stuck into my own garden. I have watched The Chelsea Flower show on the TV for years and I am fascinated at how these gardens spring up in the centre of London for 5 days of the year and then vanish.

There was a huge variety of different gardens to look at. The Laurent Perrier Garden had
the most wonderful group of purple flowers, irises, peonies and tulips. If a tiny corner of my garden could look like that I would be very pleased indeed.

The Daily Telegraph garden was very elegant and again had some lovely purple planting.

The Key garden was a wonderful mix of planting and planters. A gentleman who had once been homeless explained to me the thinking behind the corner of the garden that he had put together. Breaking with convention he had planted edible plants next to poisonous ones, spiky leaves next to soft. He had been given the pick of all the plants and he said it was like being a child in a sweetshop. His enthusiasm really demonstrated the good work being done by the Homes and Communities Agency who put together the garden in partnership with the Eden Project.

My favourite part was in the great pavilion, looking at all of the perfect specimens of every variety of plant that you can imagine. The work that goes in to creating these stalls must be enormous. I learnt that there are over 24,000 named varieties of daffodil

and the secret to growing 2ft long parsnips is a very large bucket!

It is so striking to see a whole group of varieties together, as in most gardens they are mixed in with lots of other plants. There were some wonderful alliums, these are one of my favourite plants but my small patch at home is tiny compared to these beautiful examples.

James May’s garden was very busy and rightly so as it is a wonderful piece of art.

He has taken the idea of a child’s fantasy garden and recreated it, along with the help of children, model makers and Chelsea pensioners, in plasticine. Everything you see is made of plasticine, right down to the soil the plants sit in. The bust, also made of plasticine, is a tribute to the materials inventor William Harbutt.

My favourite garden was entitled ‘1984’

Described as “a modern urban retreat with a nod to the kitsch, built with cost efficiency in mind for our cash-strapped world!” Of all the gardens I saw it was the one that I thought I could replicate in my own garden.

And just for my Dad, there was a Harley Davidson inspired garden c
alled “The Ace of Spades”. It was built in the shape of a spade and the plants, which were all very dark purples and greens, were potted up in old tyres.

I was completely bowled over by Chelsea, I only got to spend 2 hours there, but I had such a wonderful time. It is amazing to think how much time and effort goes in to putting it together. I will definitely be trying to get tickets for next year!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

An Outing To London

Despite the fact that I work in London, i don't often get to see very much of it as I am dashing about to meetings and appointments. So yesterday was a real treat as I got to spend some quality time in the capital.

I started off at the Barbican where I saw the exhibition about the architect and designer Le Corbusier. I first went to the Barbican 13 years ago where I saw an exhibition of the photographer Don McCullin's work. I love the building, such a striking piece of design from the 1960's but very easy to get lost in.

I really enjoyed the exhibition but I found it a little bit too much for someone who does not know a huge amount about Le Corbusier. What I did enjoy was the bits of film that he made showing his vision and gave you a glimpse at what his early life in Paris may have been like. I was surprised about what I did know and how much of the furniture I recognised. I also enjoyed more his earlier work, which was more simple and had a youthful promise to it. Some of his later work seemed to be very grand and I couldn't identify with this quite as much. Le Corbusier was a very intelligent young man working on his first house at just 18 years old and his inspiration to the world of architecture and design continues through to today.

After lunch I visited Persephone books which I have been waiting to go to for sometime.

I first heard about Persephone books from my good friend over at Cuppa Tea and Cake and a few weeks ago I was given one, 'A Very Great Profession' by Nicola Beauman, as a present. I love the idea behind Persephone, it was set up to publish books by and about women that were not readily available from other publishers. What makes them extra special is that each is printed with a plain grey cover, but inside is a wonderfully bright end-paper that has been chosen to match the book.

I was in there for sometime as I couldn't decide which book to choose. After much deliberating I settled on 'The Wise Virgins' by Leonard Woolf. He wrote it around the time that he was marrying Virginia Woolf in 1912-1913 and as I am up to 1908 in my Virginia Woolf read (see my other blog here) I thought I might be a good book to read as a break from Virginia Woolf.

Luckily I had my book bag with me so was able to get it home without it getting scuffed in my bag. All in all a rather fun day out

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


On Tuesday 14th April I went to see Handel’s Messiah at Westminster Abbey. The performance marked the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death and poignantly it was performed in the place in which he is buried.

It is the first time that I have seen the work performed in it’s entirety. I took part in a Messiah workshop last year with the choral society that I sing with. We spent the day rehearsing the piece and then performed it to an audience of friends and family in the evening. It was great fun and also my first attempt at a solo. Singing is something that I have always done, but only started doing it again recently after a break of five years.

My Great-Grandmother sang all her life, right into her 70’s and my Grandfather also sang and played the organ for many years. I have programmes of Messiah concerts that my Great-Grandmother took part in dating back to 1917 so it is exciting for me to watch or take part in something that she took part in over 80 years ago.

Westminster Abbey is a wonderful place to have a concert, the sound just carries right up into the roof. I haven’t been there since I was a child so we took the opportunity to have a wander round in the interval. I am amazed at how a the abbey was ever built. It is huge and the craftsmanship that would have gone into it, and the time it would have taken is amazing!

The choir sounded superb with really beautiful treble voices and the soloists were really good too. I particularly enjoyed the Tenor soloist, Paul Agnew. He had a very clear voice and his articulation and expressions really added to the atmosphere of the evening. He is going to be performing at Covent Garden this year in Acis and Galatea. At my last concert with the choral society we sang a couple of pieces from Acis and Galatea so I would like to see it being sung professionally and would also love to hear Paul Agnew sing again.

My mum asked me to bring my score with me so that she could follow the piece. It is interesting how differently people hear music and I think she got more out of the piece by following the score rather than being a passive listener. We have decided to try to attend the Messiah sing along at the Albert Hall in November. Whilst some people think that Messiah should not be performed on a larger scale, we both think that singing the Hallelujah chorus in the Albert Hall with several hundred other people would be quite an experience!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Dunwich - March 2009

A couple of weeks ago I made my annual trip to Dunwich for fish and chips at The Flora Tea rooms and a walk on the beach. Over the years mine and another family have met there on Mothering Sunday, but this year the numbers were somewhat depleted so it was just me and my mum.

Dunwich, or what is left of it as most of it has fallen into the sea, is typical of the Suffolk Coastline. A vast expanse of heath meets the shoreline at a dune of pebbles that cascade down towards the sea. We had great fun rummaging amongst the pebbles to look for hag stones which can be hung up together to keep witches away. If you are lucky, or spend a large amount of time looking, you can find pieces of amber mixed in amongst the stones.

We started off by having lunch at the tea rooms. It is a simple wooden shack and it serves large plates of fish and chips with pots of tea all on old fashioned green ceramic plates. In the very British tradition of “if the sun is shining make the most of it” we sat outside even though the air was a little nippy.

After lunch we walked off our chips braving it over the dunes and into the wind. There is something very simple about Dunwich, next to the tea rooms are a few boats and dotted up the coast might be a few people fishing or walking, but other than that it is really empty.

Aside from the chips and the beautiful scenery the thing I enjoy about going to Dunwich is stopping at Westleton, the village before Dunwich, and visiting the second hand book shop. Set in a Methodist church, this is one of those quirky little finds. The books are piled up in bookcases or boxes, but all are labelled by type. A door out to the back office has a sign that says “Hit can with stick for attention” and sure enough if you do this the proprietor will come out and answer your questions and even offer you a cup of tea or coffee. I picked up a couple of 1940’s penguin classics to add to my ever-growing collection…

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Beth Chatto Garden

Last Saturday marked the beginning of my garden adventures for the year. it was my Mum's birthday so I took her to Beth Chatto's garden just outside of Colchester in Essex.

As with so many of the gardens that I have visited I did not know vert much about the garden before I arrived, although my Mum has been suggesting we go for some time now.

The garden began life in 1960 as part of Beth Chattos family garden. It was this garden that prompted Beth Chatto to begin to write books about gardening in difficult areas of the garden.

As well as the garden there is an extensive nursery where you can buy many of the plants that are featuered in the garden. I came away with a lovely Iris called "George"

The garden itself feels like a real garden. Some of the gardens that I have visited feel very manicured and unachievable. Whilst being a large garden it did not feel overwhelmingly tidy. Plants had been pruned and tidied, but fallen leaves have been left as well as empty pots waiting to be planted up.

I liked the way that the garden was divided up into different areas by the type of growing conditions. As you enter the garden from the car park you find yourself in the dry garden. It is an experimental area that is not watered to see how plants cope and ultimately so that the nursery can sell plants that work well in drought conditions. Wishful thinking of a gloriously hot summer for this year and the accompanying hose pipes bans.

We think we may have spied Beth Chatto at one of the windows as she lives in the house. I am not sure that I would like to have 100's of visitors wandering through my garden everyday, but then if I had such a lovely garden I may not mind showing it off.

The planting felt very natural, particularly in the woodland areas. It gave the garden the feel that it had all just grown up of its own accord. With closer inspection however you can see the work that has been put into the garden.

To finish our visit we popped into the tea rooms and had a delicious piece of cake and cup of tea. I really enjoyed visiting the garden but it has left me wanting to know more about Beth Chatto and her techniques of planting and I also want to visit the garden again when more things are in bloom. Another trip later in the year then...

Monday, 2 February 2009

A brief interlude from hibernating...

I have had so much fun today building "Snulpture" (Snow Sculpture), worth coming out of hibernation for...

Winter Hibernation

It has been far too cold for any exciting outings so I am hibernating until the spring and warmer weather!