busy in a good way

There’s not been much let up since my Thrive residency came to an end. On Sunday 26th June I travelled far north (for a south London gal) to perform at Finchley Literary Festival‘s closing event, the Poetry and Music Palooza hosted by Anna Meryt. The locals were friendly and it was a fun and uplifting evening, despite the drizzle and recent events. Here’s a YouTube clip of my reading. Thanks to Anna for inviting me to read, and to David Gardiner for filming the event.

Then on Wednesday 29th June I took part in my first Stanza Bonanza at the Poetry Café. Billed as a ‘war of words’ between the Clapham and Reading Stanza groups, I was a little nervous, as I’m not keen on poetry as a combative activity. Thankfully, it was all very good-natured, and I volunteered to read first for Clapham so I was able to relax then and enjoy the rest of the evening. The winner? Poetry, of course! And, well, half the Reading team seemed to have connections to south London, so really…

StanzaBonanza
Clapham versus Reading

After a bit of a London Undercurrents lull (Joolz and I have both had a lot going on) we’re pleased to have two poems published in the 10th issue of Lunar Poetry magazine. The launch reading was on Tuesday in Peckham and as Joolz was away, I read for both of us.

I’ve also got two poems in issue 13 of morphrog, which has just gone live. Hurrah!

The community roof garden is keeping me busy in a very rewarding way. It’s not just the produce, but the strawberries and raspberries taste fantastic and we’ve had some delicious beetroot. There’s also been a football tournament taking place in France, you may have noticed. And on Monday I was filmed reading a poem in a polytunnel. But more about that another time.

berries
Battersea berries!

 

 

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poetry in the Old English Garden

It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque setting for a poetry reading than the Old English Garden in Battersea Park. Here, on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, I read some of my garden themed poems as part of Thrive‘s Chelsea Fringe Festival week of events.

The weather was kind to me, with warm sunshine breaking through on both days. I had a small but attentive audience on each occasion, including some of Thrive’s hardworking gardeners and volunteers. The poems I read broadly reflect my own ongoing journey into gardening, and it was lovely to share some of the poems I’ve written over the last few weeks as I’ve spent time in the gardens Thrive manages.

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Old English Garden, Battersea Park, 29 May 2016

It’s only three weeks now until the Open Garden Squares Weekend on 18th and 19th of June. By then I hope to have a decent crop of new poems. For now, here’s a recent haiku, plucked from the Thrive Herb Garden:

IMG_2372

tall mauve irises,
poodle-proud. one rainbow shade
in time-lapse garden.

February’s looking up

Poor old January. Too often a long dark month to get through. Now you’re behind us, and February’s here, the shortest month whose lengthening days speed us towards spring. So it snowed overnight on Monday, and the wind is Siberian, but there are snowdrops in the park, and buds on the magnolia trees.

This bright morning I walked down to Battersea High Street to check out Raynsford’s greengrocers, following a friend’s recommendation, and was not disappointed. Blood oranges, four for a pound. Blood oranges! Sunshine wrapped in citrus peel.

And this afternoon, for the first time since I fractured my right thumb, I ventured out on my bicycle. I’ve been itching to get cycling again, though my thumb’s not yet restored to full flexibility, and I’m still building up its strength. So this was a trial run, in the relative safety of Battersea Park. Four circuits, varying the pace, practising gear changes, making sure I could brake, battling headlong into that Siberian wind. How exhilarating it felt! But, being a cautious bod, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to tackle peak hour traffic, especially after dark. That will come. And beyond this, I’m hatching plans. Changes are afoot. February is definitely looking up.

Ch-ch-ch-cheers!
Ch-ch-ch-cheers!

Thank you, Thurgoods, and farewell

About a year ago, our local greengrocer closed temporarily for a radical refurbishment, including the addition of a flat over the shop. We resigned ourselves to several months of mildly-aggravating and bit-more-expensive fruit and vegetable shopping in the nearby supermarket, softened by the anticipation of when-Thurgoods-reopens, hoping it would be perhaps a little smarter but still a good and proper greengrocers. With the odd stray apostrophe. Scaffolding went up. A new storey went up. Months passed. Scaffolding came down. Metal shutters covered the shopfront. Estate agent sign appeared: Maisonette for sale. The maisonette sold. Every time we passed, the shutters were down. Only today, as I headed up Queenstown Road, I noticed a light, the shutters up, and this sad notice taped to the window:

Thurgoods
Thurgoods – Notice of Closure

 

So, farewell, Dave and family. There is so much I will miss. Already miss. Loose bunches of fresh spinach, that came with their roots still intact, mud on the leaves and the occasional small stone. The brief appearance of blood oranges early in the year that told me spring was on its way. The cheap bunches of daffs or scented narcissi – 3 for £2 – too good a deal to resist. In late May, bundles of English asparagus, tender spears perfect for roasting or adding to risotto. Then Cyprus potatoes caked in red earth, and the excitement of sighting the first Brussel sprouts of the season. Brown paper bags for mushrooms. Choosing one or two onions, a handful of carrots, just the amount we needed and no excess packaging. And Dave with his friendly welcome, and always remarking that we brought our own bags. A bit of chat about the weather, or football – they were Fulham through and through – while Dave weighed and packed and son Joe or Mrs Thurgood (ashamed to admit I never learnt her first name) rang it all up on the cash register. Have we kept a receipt? And no more Brussel sprout Christmas card slipped into our bag beside the pots and sprouts and parsnips in chill December. The shop is empty, newly painted. I rather dread what its new incarnation will be. Patisserie? Charcuterie? Designer-boutique-whateverie?

Melbourne scrapbook

Here are some snaps and snippets from my recent trip home. Home? To the city where I was born, where I grew up, that I made a conscious choice to leave many years ago. London is home now. Melbourne is family, a few friends, home-but-not-home. What’s that line from a Gang of Four song? ‘At home she feels like a tourist.’ I need a map, I’m given a Myki, sometimes I can’t understand what the shop assistants are saying.

Sliced thumbnail, April 6th 2014
Sliced thumbnail, April 6th 2014

I sliced through my thumbnail whilst shredding lettuce for a salad. Cut thumbs seem to be the poet’s injury of choice – witness Sylvia Plath’s Cut, and more recently Josephine Corcoran’s post. Luckily, it was my left thumb, and the friendly fireman who lives across the road from my brother and sister-in-law bandaged my thumb up expertly.

 

 

 

 

 

Squirrel cake, April 7th 2014
Squirrel cake, April 7th 2014

I helped my brother construct a squirrel-shaped cake for my niece’s ninth birthday. This was a big hit, and also a lot bigger than any real squirrel, so entirely appropriate in the Australian context. When I first arrived in London and saw squirrels darting about in the parks I was surprised at how small they were. I’d expected them to be a similar size to possums. And hedgehogs – well, they must be about the size of an echidna, surely?

Mr Mao teaches me relaxation techniques
Mr Mao teaches me relaxation techniques

 

 

Quality feline time with Mr Mao. Note also the fancy footless tights I acquired from a shop in Port Melbourne.

 

 

 

 

 

modest literary purchases
modest literary purchases

On this trip, I only visited a couple of bookshops. In the Brunswick Street Bookstore I bought issue 3 of Melbourne based story magazine The Canary Press, which I read on the flight back to London. Some great yarns accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. I also bought Liquid Nitrogen by Jennifer Maiden, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. I have a poem by Jennifer Maiden pasted onto the first page of the first journal I wrote in when I came to London. And I picked up the Text Publishing edition of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride since I couldn’t track down a copy in London.
Books for Cooks on Gertrude Street is packed with mouthwatering foodie books, both new and second-hand, so just the place to lay my hands on a very reasonably priced first edition of Donnini’s Pasta Book. My brother had made pasta with Donnini’s Garlic and Oil Sauce – simple and delicious – so I thought this recipe book was a must-have for my chef at home in London.

Bolivian hat, Market Lane Coffee, April 14th 2014
Bolivian hat, Market Lane Coffee, April 14th 2014

Coffee is practically a religion in Melbourne. The latest cult is the pour over, and I was initiated into its ritual preparation at the Victoria Market outlet of Market Lane Coffee. It’s a rather gentle and quiet process, but requires precise measurements (weight of coffee grounds, volume of water, optimum temperature) and some classy equipment (ceramic filter cone, stainless steel kettle with a slender spout ‘for precise pouring’, glass jug). It was a pleasure to watch the measuring and timing and the circular pouring; and then to savour the delicate porcelain mugful of 100% Rwandan Nyarusiza bean pour over coffee, on an unhurried Monday lunchtime. And while they sell most of the equipment, and bags of beans, and Market Lane aprons, the Bolivian hats on the whitewashed walls are for display only.

I enjoyed other coffees too. I stole a couple of hours for myself one afternoon, and sat in Barry on High Street, Northcote, with paper and pen and a good latte, and cobbled a few sentences together. And jotted down my exchange with the waitress.

Waitress: “What can I get you?”
Me: “Just a latte please.”
Waitress: “Awesome.”

Yes, I thought, I am a stranger in my home town.

 

a packed week off – part two

I think this packed week off is catching up with me. Deep breath…

So, Wednesday night to Loose Muse at the Poetry Café. I wavered, feeling tired and a kind of non-specific low-level anxiety, and then the intermittent flurries of snow did little to improve my mood. But I convinced myself to go, and the walk to Sloane Square and sight of the new moon above Albert Bridge lifted my spirits. And I’m so glad I did go, as it proved to be an invigorating evening. Margaret Eddershaw, now resident in Greece but visiting London, read a short selection of poems, including Like George, based on an encounter with a mixed race man in Alice Springs, a powerful and troubling poem. Morgen Bailey, introduced by Agnes as a ‘prolific blogger’, shared tips and insights into the world of blogging: why you might want to blog, how often to do so (she puts me to shame!), how she got started, the downsides as well as the upsides. In addition to her main blog, she has set up five on line writing groups, and posts inteviews and podcasts with other writers. Her energy, generosity and support for other writers – established and starting out – are formidable and admirable. Notes from her talk are, of course, available here on her blog.
As ever, the open mic spots were popular, and it’s fascinating to hear the variety of work being written and performed by women, and mostly of such high quality. The evening concluded with Rosemary Harris talking about and reading extracts from her novel The Invisible Riot, currently with an agent, hopefully to be snapped up by an astute publisher soonest. Harris explained that she wanted to write about the suffragettes, and particularly the very militant and violent struggle in the years immediately before the First World War. The novel has a fractured narrative, written from a number of viewpoints, including a constable involved in violently breaking up the suffragettes’ protests. The extracts Harris read were gripping, and it sounds like an important and exciting book. It prompted quite a discussion about writing about violence, the importance of trying to understand the mindset of someone who enjoys such acts, Harris’s use of the second person as a means of exploring that character, and the way this particular part of the suffragette movement and how empowering it was for many women has effectively been written out of history. A truly stimulating evening.

As to the rest of my week, I wrote a little; thought more about my writing; started reading The Garden Book by Brian Castro; continued reading the latest Magma, Mslexia, London Review of Books; had a naughty-but-delicious fried egg on toast for lunch on Thursday, good fuel for the afternoon’s walk to Tate Britain and another rewarding look around the Schwitters exhibition; just about kept on top of my journal; updated my blog. If only I had another week off now to recover.

Not my usual lunch - fried egg on toast
Not my usual lunch – fried egg on toast

mucking in and agitating

I’ve recently discovered a wonderful community garden less than 5 minutes’ walk from our flat. Yesterday, the first properly fine day after a long wet week, I dropped by for an hour armed with some onion sets kindly sent to us by Nick’s mother in Norfolk. I am a gardening novice, but the Doddington Community Roof Garden, located between two tower blocks, on the roof of a community and business centre, is a welcoming and tranquil place. It’s a great initiative by local residents to transform a neglected space into a flourishing community garden. Unlike allotments, there’s no waiting list, no rental, and no individual plots. If you want to get involved, you turn up, pick up a spade or fork, and get stuck in. The produce that’s grown is shared, and we’ve already sampled magnificent kale, rainbow chard, and freshly picked broad beans and peas. Yesterday, with helpful guidance from a couple of the more experienced gardeners, I got my hands dirty digging over a small patch of ground and planting three rows of the diddy onion bulbs. I’m already looking forward to making my vegetarian version of pissaladière with community-grown onions.

Amazing maze of herbs

Then, after a quick VLT (vegemite, lettuce and tomato) sandwich back at home, I hurried along to Battersea Park Adventure Playground  to help with the campaign to keep Wandsworth’s adventure playgrounds staffed. Wandsworth Council is proposing to sack all the staff from the borough’s three adventure playgrounds and then spend £500,000 replacing the equipment and converting the areas to unsupervised playgrounds. Around 60% of the borough’s residents live in flats with no access to outdoor play areas – apart from the public parks. It is such a short-sighted (cynical?) measure to cut the staff from these well-used and much valued playgrounds. The play leaders are vital for maintaining a safe and fun environment for local teenagers to hang out in – resolving disputes, keeping troublemakers at bay, providing first aid, and building self-confidence and a sense of responsibility. The local – and wider – community understands this, and in just a couple of hours we gathered more than 600 signatures for the petition in favour of retaining fully staffed adventure playgrounds. We were also leafleting to promote the rally opposing the proposed cuts on Wednesday 20th June from 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street, when the council will be deciding the future of this crucial service. People’s livelihoods, and the life-chances of local youngsters, are at stake. That’s definitely worth fighting for.

Defend Our Playgrounds
Stirring it up

Signing the petition