Category Archives: Places

Lost and Found

St_Eanswythe_FolkestoneIt’s been a death-intensive year for my family. After Dad dying in January, my much-loved Uncle Bill died a couple of weeks ago. His funeral was last Thursday at a pretty church in Hemel Hempstead.

The ‘moor’ of Boxmoor is a small green space on the edge of an ever-growing town that has swallowed up the cottages and cowslips of my Mum’s 1930s childhood. When I was small, heading to the millpond by the canal with a fishing net, it was a wild expanse of trees. Probably with bears.

So it feels timely that a poem I sent to the fun Verbatim Poetry site back in the summer inspired by, yes, death, has just been posted. The Verbatim Poetry idea is to add punctuation and spacing on to non-poetic text, from ‘road signs to shampoo bottles.’ It is, I warn you, addictive. As well as editing any text in front of me, I now scan it for verse potential, which often means talking aloud to myself in shops and other public places.

I took my poem – Floral Tributes – from the excellent and informative handbook produced by the Natural Death Centre.

Up until today I felt I’d lost my regular blogging ability. The Weekly Blog Club was such a wonderful impetus.

Now found: my own much-needed ‘just get on with it and don’t rely on wonderful Janet E Davis to encourage you’ push to post regularly again.

By the way: the photo is a different churchyard: St Eanswythe in Folkestone on a summer’s day. Definitely my favourite saint with superpowers as she made water run up hill.

Here is a wonderful description of another favourite and local to me cemetery, with some stunning photos – the gloriously gothic Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park: visited by The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life on a a misty winter morning. Beautiful and moving. And that’s enough death, thanks.

Lookout: Folkestone Triennial 2014

The_Electrified_Line_Gabriel_Lester_Folkestone_Triennial_2014‘Lookout tells as many stories as there are visitors discovering the artworks’

I’m glancing through the Folkestone Triennial 2014 brochure I bought yesterday: the page is open at The Electrified Line, by Gabriel Lester.

The brochure notes how the sculptor valued the aesthetic presence of bamboo scaffolding while he was in China. His sculpture ‘proposes the coming ‘Chinese century’ in Folkestone’s heart.’

In the background, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme advises British businesses how to invest in China. It seems a good place to start a quick post on the first few works I visited yesterday. Please don’t think this is even a vague attempt to look at the Triennial with any form of critical eye: it’s just personal experience.

Our party comprised one would-be art appreciator, a local now based in London (me); a bolshy 17-year-old whose potential love of art has been largely trashed by GCSE drudgery but likes Gaudi (daughter, hereafter referred to as 17) and my mum (78) who likes nice pictures of flowers and the countryside.

They’re a good example of  ‘two fixed points determining the position of a third’, as described in the brochure. I’ll only get to go where they’re prepared and able, or can be persuaded, to visit.

From the brochure again: ‘The unofficial brief is create something ambitious, high quality, fun, surprising, challenging, and maybe a bit crazy: these things make an exhibition memorable and thought-provoking.’

I arrive home to much excitement. ‘There’s one of them headless chickens on the Martello Tower and you can see it lit up from your bedroom!’ Mum hands me a  piece of paper from one of the small notepads Dad bound when he worked at a printers.

She’s written down the different colours that roofoftwo’s Whithervane turns at night, depending on the output of alarmist words in the newsfeeds it monitors. On Saturday night, it’s green: fear levels are low. Mum is concerned that it’s been blue and whoever told her the colours hasn’t mentioned this. We agree it’s probably a nice colour.

The view from the tower is one of my dearest and best. I am allowed to walk to the end of the road for a look at the illuminated chicken, in the dark, on the promise that I won’t go up on the cliffs at this time of night. I am 52.

Sunday morning: I meet Best Friend for coffee. Best Friend is a very talented, though no longer practising, artist. We talk about the best-known work: Michael Sailstorfer’s Folkestone Digs. News of this had reached me on holiday in the forests of Sweden, with several friends emailing, texting and tweeting  that Folkestone was full of people digging for gold.

We agree that it’s fun, bringing optimism and life to the Outer Harbour. I admire her suggestion that all the digging should be filmed on timelaspse camera and then put on two minutes of video to the Benny Hill theme.

Her shop in the Old High Street is next door to Andy Goldsworthy’s Clay Window and Clay Steps. She’s watched its progress with fascination. I meet 17 and 78, who look into Georges House Gallery and its tiny 3D printed figures and chorus ‘Ooh no!’ at the idea of being scanned and turned into teeny  statuettes like The Luckiest Place on Earth.

We walk to Payers Park and I read aloud from the brochure about the ‘series of open-ended invitations to visitors to occupy and appropriate structures.’

‘Like that,’ notes 17, nodding at a woman changing a nappy on the grass. ‘It’s a nice place,’ 78 says. ‘Bit steep but good for you.’

At Something & Son’s Amusefood , 78 is enchanted and spends a long time talking to the attendant. The aim to produce fish, chips and mushy peas aeroponically is a response to the twin evils of obesity and food scarcity.

17 and I have talked about this very subject on the train, as it’s part of her A Level Geography course; she hadn’t known we’d visit this. She’s initially excited, then disappointed at the small scale, then saddened by trying to work out on what a huge level this would need to be to produce a meal on demand. It’s made her think.

A look at Clay Steps meets with hisses and mutterings about modern art from 17 and frank confusion from 78. Both are reluctant to enter the thick darkness of the shop interior, and then:

‘Oh! It’s so beautiful!’ 17 is impressed by Clay Window. 78 has a nice chat to the attendant about ‘her’ Whithervane.

Off to Electrified Line. It made an unexpected impact on me. I’m saving that for a separate post after I’ve gone back for another visit. 78 notes that she wouldn’t have gone up it if I hadn’t made her and she’s glad that she did: you can see the posh people having their lunch at Rocksalt and it’s the closest she’ll ever get to it.

We walk to the harbour and stop to stare up at Alex Hartley’s Vigil, eventually rewarded by a wave from the tiny, tiny hand of Em Peasgood. Please, please read her blog post here, from Saturday 6 September. One of the most moving and inspiring things I have ever read. What a truly brave woman.

17 has recently given up climbing after four years and is reluctant to engage with Vigil in any way. 78 is again frankly bemused. After a cup of tea at the Station Cafe – top hospitality there – we walk along the old platforms, reminiscing about the ferries. Tim Etchell’s Why is the Place is pronounced ‘very nice’ though it would look better if the railway line were weeded.

I am FURIOUS that the pilot station has been demolished and the only way I can see the work as it was installed is in the brochure. I hope it’s one of the works that becomes permanent but suspect the likelihood of vandalism will rule that out.

We walk along the Harbour arm towards Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Weather is a Third to Place and Time. I regret the silencing of the foghorn, which would have been a wonderfully mournful soundtrack on such a misty day. 78 says no, because it used to keep her awake. All three of us look through the telescope, in separate admiration.

There are faded knitted poppies along the rusting handrails. ‘I wonder if Prince Harry came along her,’ says 78. ‘He should of done.’

I have a five-minute dig for gold (nope) under the distant disapproving eye of 17. Then home to London but I can’t wait to come back.



A Forest


A test post from the mobile, even though I’m home from Sweden now.
The scene means perfection to me. An area without a name: ‘Just the forest.’ Tall trees, soft moss, boulders like trolls hiding in ferns.
No synthetic interruption. No cars, planes or pavement cyclists. No spitting, shoving or shouting. 
Just sun and clean air and ten types of mushroom to pick.
Aching arms and legs and back to stretch out later, utterly satisfied, looking up at the stars.
A tall rickety tower where the elk hunters hide with their rifles.
A tiny fairy tale frog to kiss and check in case of princes.
A terrifyingly warm heap of poo from a large wild boar, not far away.
Then back to a small wooden house to prepare them to eat: Karl Johan and chanterelles and all the other names I forget now I’m back in the noise and grime and air I don’t want to inhale.
A few hours and a while wide world away.

Ten things I’ve never done before


Beaten up the mountain:
Sainte Baume

Thursday morning. I started wondering as usual what to write about for Weekly Blog Club. I’ve been dashing around over the last two weeks and thought I’d try to pick something out of that. I don’t keep a diary and am shocked at how hard I’m finding it to remember everything I’ve done – or even several things.

I spent about five minutes when I woke on Wednesday  trying to remember what day it was – not an exaggeration. So I’m giving my brain a shake-up and challenging myself to find new experiences from the last fortnight. Thinking it over, I’m shocked (again) to see how many are to do with aging; one way or another. So the first is  to push myself:

1. Write a blog post in 15 minutes. Possibly allowing five more for links and finding a photo. Haven’t done it yet: I’ll let you know by No 10.

2. Gone to Bristol. This one is down to, yes, failing memory. I am fairly sure that I have been there before: on one of the many whistle-stop tours around the country I used to do as a Home Office press officer. Several towns in a day, visit CCTV cameras when they were a New Thing, lunch for provincial journos etc. But as my memory of it is people throwing eggs, and the Home Secretary was Michael Howard, that doesn’t narrow it down enough to check.

3. Take my daughter for a University visit. Which is why we were in Bristol, the Friday before last. Gosh that made me feel old. I didn’t make any university visits myself as I didn’t expect to be able to go to university. Now I feel I missed out but it’s a delight to see her excited and so motivated.

4. Sneaked into a first class train carriage. This is because the trains back from Bristol to London were all cancelled and rubbish. After several hours and changes of train, we joined some drunk Welsh women at Reading in taking up residence in the posh seats. To be fair, we did get free bottles of water and some peanuts. I would have preferred to have been home by midnight as we had an early flight to France the next day. And yet …

5. Not had to RUSH for a flight. Up early, two trains to Stansted ahead of time, leisurely breakfast and gasps of horror at the price of Toblerone, usual beeping noises as mysterious setting off of all security systems by luggage and self … all with no swearing, falling over, dropping stuff and crying. A great first.

6. Beaten up a mountain by an octogenarian. The noticeboard at Sainte Baume said to allow about 40 minutes to walk up and up and up steep paths and steps to the church in a cave . My father, 81, snorted. ‘We will do this in 15 minutes.’ Not me. Time for all the falling over and wailing I missed out on at the airport. He went off and played golf afterwards while I wondered if my Achilles tendons would ever forgive me.

7. Walked around a golf course. Part of the reason the 81-year-old is so fit is down to a couple of hours of golf at 5.30 every morning. He gets there before the Provencal  sun is too strong and all the ‘bloody slow idiots’ come out: i.e. the people who do not actually RUN around the course as he does. I wandered along behind him for six holes, getting in the way, looking at interesting mountainside ruins and taking photos of trees. I don’t get golf.

8. Waved my daughter goodbye for ever. She went off to St Tropez on the back of my father’s motorbike. As every other road user is a ‘bloody idiot’ too, who must be overtaken at all costs, I assumed that was the last I’d see of her. Huge surprise that she came back in one piece.

9. Watched a spectacular theft. There are jays everywhere in that part of Provence. I was swimming in the pool of my father (note French construction of sentence) when a jay flew low overhead, stolen fig from the tree in the garden in its beak. Brilliant.

10. Watched baby swallows leave their nest. Another wonderful bird-related first. It feels symbolic too.

Look: 15 minutes.


May the Fourth: 4 by 4

May the 4th is Star Wars Day. It’s my wedding anniversary, by happy coincidence: we chose it to make a long Bank Holiday for people coming from abroad.

It’s also our 4th anniversary and I like the number 4. I voted for it as the world’s favourite number – see no. 7 here (I think seven cheated to win.) So I though I’d find four groups of four things about our wedding, with the four photos above.

Four Musical Things:

The Swedish Wedding March. A nod to my background by birth, for going into the register office. We’ve heard all the jokes about strangling cats, thanks.

Nick Cave: Straight to You. There had to be St Nick, forced upon a captive audience. The setting limited our choice a bit. One other devotee was happy and she’d traveled from the States; several older guests who’d come from Kent and Herts had a little doze.

North Sea Radio Orchestra. For one reason only. First dance: shortest piece of music from a band we both love.

Arash: Boro Boro. Because you’ve got to have an Iranian-Swedish crowd-pleaser. And everyone gets to do hand-waving and make up their own words.

Four Decorative Things:

Life-sized plastic horse. You can see him behind the table if you zoom in. I’ve said it before, the London Canal Museum is the best place for a party. It’s got the horse AND one of the only ice wells you can look into.

Place names: Friend did the nice writing, paper cut into strips and stuck with a pin through a pink heart chocolate. Soppy but nice. With the replacement of a black jelly baby pinned through the heart for our much-loved Welsh Goth.

Confetti cones. Not to be quirky or wedding-magaziney but because I enjoyed using old wrapping paper and sheet music to make them. And our two bloke ushers looked amusing carrying them.

Orders of Service: Sister-in-law enlisted to help cut paper as above, stick on more paper with song and poem titles, stamp with special name and date stamp, thread with ribbon and shove a bit of rosemary through the ribbon. Took ages: looked lovely. Which brings me on to –

Four Things I Forgot:

Orders of Service. Left at home. My daughter tried to tell me as we got in the cab but I didn’t listen. Sigh.

Vases. Carrier bags with the little vases I’d found in charity shops over months, for flowers on the tables, left under the table with the above. The flowers looked just as good in bar glasses.

Marylebone Register Office waiting room: It is lovely. Actually, they forgot to tell me it existed so Best Friend and I went to Starbucks before and I had to tiptoe around on a ladies’ floor with rather more urine on it than is acceptable.

Sense of humour: Starbucks and the rain made me a bit hacked off for a while. Sorry, Mum and Amelia.

Four Brilliant Things:

Going through London on our own big red bus on the opening day of the Elephant Parade.

My nervous daughter reading poetry in front of loads of people.

Friends from all over and from all stages of our lives.

Family for the first and last time they’ve all been together. Four of my half siblings made it. My birth father. And all four of my and Steve’s parents.

‘Sunlight and twilight and firelight’

‘Short breaks in restored historic buildings.’ I love the Landmark Trust, the charity ‘giving new life to castles, forts, follies, towers and cottages.’ We spent most of our honeymoon at one of their Peppercombe places: a tiny thatched cottage, hidden in a wooded valley by the Devon coast.

A short break before Easter needed specific requirements: not far from London, accessible by public transport and affordable. It needed to cater for a recently-bereaved pensioner, a teen laden with AS revision notes (scowling at missing Game of Thrones); a zoo, decent pubs and some form of natural history museum for husband. I wanted somewhere to sit, write and get away from the non-stop drilling and sirens of Whitechapel.

Peake’s House, Colchester ticked every box, full of words like ‘atmosphereic’, ‘snug’ and ‘Elizabethan’. Such a gorgeous and imposing  exterior when you arrive: timbered and mullioned and transomed. (Ignore the next two paragraphs if you’re of a nervous disposition: read on for the true nature of the place.

‘It looks safe round here,’ Mum said. ‘So many policemen!’ I got her inside before she spotted the boiler-suited and masked scene of crimes officer. Murder, a copper told me. Earlier in the week and along the road, though.

My husband was delighted by the cellar, convinced he could call up something nasty from Cabin in the Woods by finding the right object somewhere in the house. Zombies at the very least. My money was on the Satanic jug next to the bed. I didn’t realise daughter was unaware of the cellar and scared her witless by mentioning it. Then I woke up to the sound of drilling …

Colchester has a beautiful castle in stunning grounds, full of forget-me-nots, squirrels and sunshine for us. It has the sweetest Natural History Museum, surrounded with lush growth in an old churchyard, and the requisite zoo. Gran and Grand-daughter were happy with finding the same shops as home. ‘They’ve got a BOOTS!’

We had a wonderful meal at the esteemed Stockwell Restaurant, purveyors of fine medieval fare, a few steps from our front door and they, most generous of restaurateurs, gave us two huge logs so we could have a fire on our last night.

And I was happy, relaxed and inspired. I sat and wrote in almost every spacious and beautiful room, finding the peace and quiet that I needed. If you don’t know the Landmark set-up, they spurn tv, radio etc in favour of well-stocked bookcases, local histories and fiction from authors linked to the area.

Each also has log books, filled in by visitors with lots of advice about which takeaway to use, the best places are to visit and any to avoid. There’s also a lot of info about the place you’re staying and how it was refurbished.

The title is from a book about a similar house to Peake’s. Please don’t pinch it: that’s my short story name for the Landmark writing contest. I want to win so I can go back to my shortlist of, ooh, at least ten other places: temples and lodges and towers …

‘If it welcome you when you enter its hall, if its rafter re-echo gaily as though they laughed with you, if peace come dropping slow in its bedrooms, if it seems just to have stopped speaking to you when you wake, if sunlight and twilight and firelight seem equally the best light of all for its panels, its corners, its great beam – then it is a seasoned house.’

From ‘The Paycockes of Coggeshall,’ Eileen Power, 1920.

Seven ways London went wrong

Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014

Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014

From Sunday 31 March, I ran the @londonisyours Twitter account for a week. You’ve probably seen these curated accounts round your way, where a different person gives insights into their daily life in a town, country or continent. @Sweden is one of the most-followed and I think it’s consistently interesting.

Signing up a few months ago, I tempted the Fates with my plans. There’d be a day or so at wonderful places I support with yearly membership but never seem to have the time to visit: Kew Gardens and the Chelsea Physic Garden. I’d travel by boat, taking in Tate a Tate en route, among a plethora of shows, galleries, museums and lectures.

I’d revisit areas I’d lived, from Stockwell to Stoke Newington; the bars and cafes of Islington, the City and Barbican. There’d be fascinating crime anecdotes from former workplaces at the Home Office and Met Police, and topical observations on paying nearly £1K a month for childcare back in the late 90s.

Cue the vengeance of the London-wrecking Seven:

1. Dental misery. A visit to the dentist the previous week led to antibiotics and endless days of head in a bucket. ‘Oh, those! They make you really sick,’ said everybody, while I was being really sick.

2. Childcare. I thought those pricey days of toddlerdom were the worst. No. that’s appeared in the shape of weeks of exams where lives are at stake on a fairly literal level. So any money required for cocktails in theatre intervals needs to be spent on extra tuition and I have to give my ‘free’ time to helping remember facts about covalent bonds, cystic fibrosis and El Nino.

3. Family. Dad left almost nothing when he died in January but that doesn’t seem to have negated the need to visit out of town solicitors to whom digital has little meaning. Mum was trying to get over what would have been their 59th wedding anniversary so I needed to stay with her a little longer. Leading me to …

4. The provinces. I was born in London but left for Folkestone at six weeks. Most people I know here aren’t from London. I complain about Folkestone but it is where I was brought up and I have a lot of interest in seeing it thrive. So it was lovely to chat with one Folkestonian following the account, more followed and, on my visit, I met one lovely person I’ve talked to on Twitter for a while.

5. Work. The contract for my last job ended on the day this Londoning began. Rather than the free time I’d envisaged, this meant getting straight on with the first freelance jobs that came up.

6. April Fool’s Day. This left me frankly terrified to post anything as I am one of those people who believes that ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary. Having said that, the great ‘Underground Overground Wombling Free’ sign of Whitechapel went down a storm. And if you didn’t see one of the most charming and creative charity campaigns ever, do check this post via Charity Chap on the Girlguiding/Minifig takeover. Inspired.

7. There wasn’t really a seventh. But seven is the world’s favourite number. I’d voted for four which, with a pleasing elegance, came fourth. Go forth and curate your hometown. Seven aside, it was a fun week and a great experience.