Five Senses at Stepney City Farm


I have not fully trusted my senses since watching someone put a forefinger into an empty eye socket during a fire when I was 14.

This did not ‘happen’: I was in isolation hospital for a few weeks with a high temperature brought on by severe glandular fever. I have very few memories of that time but that awful hallucination is as real a memory as any other that I have. It involved all of my senses: I won’t go into any more horrible detail.

On to the nice stuff: my sensory week, which ha’ bin mos’ly at work on the Farm.

Hearing: Nineteen goslings in grass for the first time after hatching live on Channel 4 and a week in the barn at Stepney City Farm. The sound of utter joy.

Vision: More Farm birdies: it has to be the Herding of the Runner Ducklings. They hatched on the same TV show and are the most adorable sight: big feet, tiny wings and the Platonic ideal of duckiness. 

Smell: Is this a bit of a cheat?. It is certainly the toughest to convey online, alongside taste.The most memorable smell this week was the baking of delicious bread but that wins taste as well. So I am choosing the Forge at the Farm’s Rural Arts Centre. This mixture of fire and metal and warmth is striking (no pun intended.) This wonderful Spitalfields Life feature on my colleague, blacksmith Ian Lowe, was published on Wednesday and gives a real feel of the Forge.

Taste: The best freshly-baked bread in London and beyond; the old East End family firm of Rinkoff. We’re opening a café at the Farm in the next few weeks and I had a lovely trip with manager Jassy Davis – who took the terrific videos and pictures here – to sample some of their delicious loaves.

Touch: The soft, warm, woolly coats of two new Jacob lambs, who were born on Monday. Now who is going to believe me when I say it has been a tough week at work?


Gin and cigarettes

Just a few lines today. My best friend’s mother died last night. It’s been done in a lot of books: I fell in love with a family.

I often hid from semi-detached unhappiness at their house: a farmhouse hidden down a country lane and always my ideal of the perfect place to live. Eileen often seemed to be waiting,  beautiful and glamorous, with gin in one hand and cigarette in the other, for her husband to arrive. He worked in London where he won awards for copywriting, advertising the cigarettes that probably shortened her life. His office was in Bram Stoker’s old house and my friend had lived in Kensington: too exciting and exotic for me to imagine.

My friend and her twin would be squabbling by the fireplace that is always the size of the one in Citizen Kane in my memories. There were amazing pictures on the walls, secret staircases and books everywhere. It was paradise and Eileen – though I never called her that, always Mrs Surname – was at the centre of it all.

David Puttnam was a close friend and told a lovely anecdote of her utter surprise, gin and fag in hand, some 15 minutes after giving birth to a daughter. It was the days before scans and my friend was an entirely unexpected second twin. It represents her so well. Eileen was witty and vague and capricious and I adored her.