Monday, 21 February 2011


On Thursday night, post work, Mum, Dad and I jump in the car, drive to Nottingham. We arrive late, venture out for dinner. It is dark and cold, damp, and the streets seem to be full of packs of men, some possibly students, some not, drunk and loud and vaguely intimidating at worst, simply unpleasant at best. But on Friday, still grey and cold, we explore the city, and I find much to like. The Nottingham Contemporary an amazing gallery, the purpose of our visit - Dad, an architect, wants to see the building - concrete and modern but imprinted with the pattern of Nottingham lace. I like the contrast. The exhibitions are good, Anne Collier's photographs, Jack Goldstein's installations and acrylics. Tucked away in a small room, we stumble upon John Newling's Miracle Trees, find the artist himself there, tending the saplings, start talking to him. I am hooked, fascinated by this amazing plant that I have never before heard of, that has huge nutritional value, is able to purify water and possesses medicinal qualities. We have lunch at Delilah's, a deli near the gallery, goat's cheese, honey and pecan nut sandwich, a choice of bread. Rows and rows of jars, jams and spreads, olives, fresh meat, cheese, baked goods, friendly staff. My kind of place. Tea and something sweet in The Walk Cafe, exotic tea blends (I have Nosy Be, because of the Madagascar connection, black tea with peach and vanilla, divinely scented) huge slices of sponge, light as a feather, glorious golden yellow in colour. Lemon sponge for Mum, blueberry sponge for me, and Dad has the carrot cake. The china is mostly floral and mismatched, and again I feel at home. Later we explore the vintage shops (including here and here) and charity shops, I buy a few things, lust after others, lots of great stuff on offer, and much cheaper than in London. In the evening we eat at The Larder on Goosegate in the original Boots the chemist, wonderful atmosphere, all candlelight and chandeliers dripping with cut glass, fans beating lazily up above. I eat a vegetarian Shepherd's Pie, brown lentils topped with cheesy mash, perfect to ward off the cold outside. It is the Nottingham Light Night, a festival of light installations across the city, and we stumble across a few of these, my favourite being a human jukebox in an old trailer. True Grit at the cinema, which I enjoy, but am not blown away by. Saturday we drive back South via Melton Mowbray, the pork pies for which it is famous go unappreciated by this family of vegetarians, but the charity shops are good and there are fat bunches of red tulips for £1 each at the market which is packing up for the day. I buy two bunches, fill a jug with them when I return home. Sunday I breakfast on grapefruit, hit the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair again with Anna, then retreat indoors again, away from the drizzle and the seemingly constant grey, chop onions and measure out spices for Dal, let its turmeric dyed depths putter away on the hob as I get into my pyjamas, pull on a cardigan, tuck myself away from the February night.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Valentines and Vulvas

A weekend of pink and scarlet, roses and red velvet, foil wrapped heart shaped chocolates, palest pink lychee punch. We have a cocktail party Saturday night, my flatmates and I, Valentine's themed in an attempt to get it all out the way in one big saccharine extravaganza, before the day in question itself.

The three of us spend Friday night in, baking red velvet cupcakes, heart shaped mini Victoria sponges, chocolate-peanut butter slices punched into tiny heart shapes, heart shaped sand cookies, marshmallow studded Rocky Road. Clouds of icing sugar that make me sneeze, bottle after bottle of red food colouring that stains my hands, splatters the work surface. I lick about ten kitchen implements clean, feel mildly nauseous.

Saturday I rise early, ice the cupcakes, then head to The Women's Library where my Women's Institute Group, The Shoreditch Sisters, have a stall at the WI Craft Day that is being held there. We showcase our current campaign, 'Embroideries: A Creative Campaign to End FGM', in which we are creating crafted interpretations of the vulva to raise awareness about the issue of Female Genital Mutilation, as well as collecting submissions from other craft groups or individuals, some from other Londoners, some from Scotland, even one sent from France. We sit with our embroidery hoops, our needles, scissors, home made pin cushions (the cake one below is J's), velvet ribbon, silk threads. We stitch and appliqué, meet members from other WI groups, answer questions, field a few raised eyebrows, but are mostly met with lots of support (link above if you would like to get involved).

Afterwards I head home to string up paper hearts, marinate olives, pop popcorn, smother it in salt and melted butter, light candles, mix up punch, fill jam jars with sweetheart roses. The doorbell rings, guests arrive with bottles, jam-filled heart shaped biscuits from H, and an inexplicable set of measuring spoons of mystery origin. The flat fills. There are bottlenecks in doorways, a jam-packed kitchen, living-room, corridor, liaisons in bedrooms. An impromptu raffle at midnight, pizza at 2am, music still pumping at 4 (very understanding neighbours evidently), in bed before 5, just. Brunch on Sunday with all those who stayed over, then a long afternoon of clear up, but we stick some music on and pause for tea and leftover red velvet halfway through so it is not so bad.

Monday itself is fine, a little lonely I suppose, but really it is just another day, and one that M and I don't make a huge deal over even when he is in the country. He does send flowers to work though, so I am able at least to partake in the excessive bouquet one-upmanship that seems to be rife on the tube journey home. And now I am absolutely drowning in the most beautiful roses - scented bunches reduced on their sell buy date to £1.49, above, leftovers from the party, below, and M's pink roses, very bottom, filling the flat, covering surfaces, heavenly.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Coloured cotton, green shoots

I go to Norfolk at the weekend after another busy week, the theatre on Monday, a failed attempt to see Sofia Coppola's Somewhere (broken projector) on Wednesday, pizza with C instead, uneaten popcorn under the table, another supper club on Thursday with H, this time South of the river at Rosie's Deli in Brixton, most delicious rice pudding I have ever eaten, and Rosie and Steph are lovely. Hopping on a train Friday afternoon, stepping out onto a darkened platform, wind gusting, tugging at my hair, whipping the trees, Dad there to meet me, pulling up the drive to a bright kitchen, Mum, cups of tea. Norwich on Saturday to see S, my sister, smoothies at Giraffe, catching up on her exploits, losing track at romance situation number 3. Meeting Mum and Dad later, all of us heading to the cinema, Brighton Rock, the new adaptation, powerful, gripping, and wonderful lead performances, but I think it helps that I have just read the book and am able to project all the complex, tortured internal monologues of characters onto every half gesture, sneered remark. I must watch the original film too. Driving back to London Sunday night feeling almost homesick. And tucked around all this, the rest of the weekend, signs of life in the garden, winter leeks, grey-green, purple sprouting broccoli that I scoured for caterpillars last summer, earthworms, pink, in the compost bin, clusters of snowdrops under the apple trees, rhubarb, emerging, mossy walls, bright green. Shoots in the conservatory, hyacinths in glass jars. Sewing machine out in the kitchen, using fabric from the Liberty sale to make tiny cushions, and Muji handkerchief featuring old New York backed with velvet from an old skirt to make a large one. Lychees, dusky pink, sticky juice, Madagascar scented.

Hello to everyone who has joined me from here and a massive thank you to Jeska for the link - which means so much to me as Lobster and Swan was one of the first blogs I truly got hooked on, and got me through many a dull hour at a post-graduation temp-job.