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A holiday in my garden

What a beautiful start to my day. I had decided that the best way to cope with a super hot day was to treat it like a day on holiday in the Med.

I woke early and could already feel it was going to be a hot day by the warmth of the breeze that was wafting across my bed. Dressing for a holiday day is a simple affair…..fling on a cool linen dress, sandals and a hat…..ready to go. Breakfast can be a treat bought on the way to the garden.

All was quiet on the street…..maybe folk are staying home today. The shops were all shuttered still except for the bakers …perfect…a croissant for breakfast……and the Turkish market which is open all night. The night staff squinting in the bright light as they stepped outside for a sneaky fag and a natter with their colleague who was just starting to set up the water melon stand.

It was a languid walk to the garden… hurry….enjoy….brush the crumbs off my frock….smile. Brush the crumbs off my chin. I bumped into so many friends coming in the opposite direction…’Morning Vivi, you off to the garden?’……’Morning Vivi, beautiful day isn’t it?’…….’Morning Vivi, you off to water?’…..’Morning Vivi, you’ve got crumbs on your chin’…..

By the time I got to the gate, the big chain which locks it was already hot to touch. Once through the gate there is a brief moment of shade and coolness from the trees before I step back into the bright light and the crunchy straw like grass underfoot. It is pin-drop quiet. Even the parakeets have ceased their chatter.

So hot already. So bright already. Yes, this feels like a holiday day. I can’t see anyone else at first…….but I can hear water tanks gurgling as they refill……I can hear cans clanging against the sides of the tanks. And then I start to see them……fellow gardeners lovingly pouring water on their precious plants……I don’t so much see them as see their hats bobbing up and down amongst the growth.

As I arrive in my garden cats start to appear from shady spots…..lazily stretching before they come to great me. They can hardly be bothered……I think the cats are having a holiday day too. They follow me to the shed then promptly flop on the grass and start snoozing again. They have the right idea. I sit for a while…….just looking, listening…..grinning. Yes, dear cats, we’re on holiday.

I take my time with the watering. I splash my feet a few times and it feels delicious. Sometimes I remove the roses from the cans and slip them into the pockets on my dress (a dress MUST have pockets)…..they leak a bit and make my pockets soggy……I can feel it on my thighs…it’s lovely and I think about filling my pockets with water….

I greet the pants as I water them and chuckle to myself to imagine them saying ‘thank you’ for the drink. They look happy. They are growing.

I pop the cans back in the shed and sit again, this time on the deck. I can see the hats are starting to leave. There are hands waving from behind bushes and a chorus of ‘bye Vivi, stay cool’….. I have the entire garden to myself. I don’t want to leave. I start counting butterflies on the lavender……I immediately lose count and laugh to myself.

But it’s getting hotter by the minute and I know I ought to go home. I step out of this beautiful, quiet, secret place and back into the High street……..the shops are all open now……folk are out and being busy before the real heat comes. Shopping bags are bursting….there’s a huge queue at the Post Office already……the flower stall is spreading it’s fragrance across the road…..and then the overwhelming fragrance of water melon. The water melon stall is doing a roaring trade…….I stand in the shade and watch for a few moments…….as fast as he can cut them into quarters and wrap them they are selling……water melon juice is trickling across the pavement……where the pavement comes out of shade the juice dries instantly. Black seeds on grey flagstones.

Yes, this feels like a holiday day. Later I shall read a little……or maybe snooze a little, a siesta……and as I drift off I shall picture fresh, juicy tomatoes and cool cucumbers……and imagine the taste of tangy feta…… Yes, I can be blissful even on the hottest of days

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London on a rainy night.

Sometimes, living in a cottage in the sky, things can feel a little other worldly, other timely……I’m high up enough to look out of my windows and simply see Victorian……no modern life…..I’m high up enough to only hear muffled noises from the street.

I spend a lot of time in my kitchen……not as a cook but writing and daydreaming…..the kitchen is where I do all my writing and I commit to it every day though most days nothing comes out. The kitchen backs on to an alley between buildings. It’s a blind alley……it’s dark, narrow, steep, tall sided buildings enclose it… one goes there……it’s paved with the original flags from 1800 and goodness knows when……moss grows there. It’s a little ominous. Every sound from the alley is magnified.

Tonight it is raining again… so many nights for the last couple of months…….but tonight I’m listening differently…..I was trying to write when the sound caught my attention…..I suddenly felt like I was listening in a time warp…..I was listening to the time when my house was built…. There were no people noises….no traffic noises……just the gush of rain in the big box gutters and the occasional rhythmic fat drip, drip, drop from a broken gutter or down pipe….I look to the window……it’s death black out there……I let my eyes adjust and the street lights beyond, maybe a couple of streets away, put the rooftops and chimney stacks into relief…….I ditch the writing and move my chair over to the window.

The air is cold and freshly charged with the rain…..all the noises are muffled…..I feel like I could be anywhere….but I am unmistakably in London….and I love it……. I lean out of the window and look towards the city……I can see the lights twinkling on the bridges.

I have loved walking the streets of London at night….when no-one else is around….now, as I hang out of my window, I can picture those streets and my solitary walks……along the embankment peaking at the boats and looking down onto the shore to check the tide…. up through the squares of Bloomsbury, fantasising about meeting Virginia or Vanessa as I turn the next corner and imagining what I would say to them both…imaging how they would tear strips off me and how I would tear some back………… Two o’clock in the morning visits to the British Museum….not to go in, of course, they are shut……but simply to sit on the steps and dream a life……to open a book and read by the light of a street lamp and be entirely lost….to sit and read until the sun begins to show her face and the first workers begin to emerge……other than those that have been here all night of course…..the men taking bins, the street sweepers, the earliest of early birds getting their goods to market, the cab drivers stopping for a steaming mug of tea…..I watch them all and say an occasional hello…….Then the stroll through St James’ Park when everyone else is tucked up in bed and I say quack to the ducks in the duck house on the island………

It’s sort of remarkable……one dollop of rain, one lean out of the window and suddenly I am miles away….but not many miles. It is nights like these that remind me how much I love the city that I chose to make my home…remind me that I am lucky to live here….remind me that the world and my romantic imagination really are my oyster. As much as I would love the dream cottage/garden in the country side…….arch, I can’t quite imagine being away from this……from all this history, this literature, this romance, these buildings which drip, drip, drip every time it rains….these random meetings with strangers…..

It’s early…..only eight in the evening…’s not too late to grab my brolly and a book, jump on a bus and head up to town……for a walk….a sit on some steps……a moment by the twinkling lights on the river… abandoned park……some alone time in the midst of a crazy city…..a moment to simply be and appreciate what I have.

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Cooking in a Greek Nana’s kitchen.

It has taken me a long time to realise something about myself. I’ve been asking myself, in the last few weeks, why it took so long…..but sometimes it just does……sometimes we see things separately and they have little significance but then something happens to make us see the whole picture and realise it was there all along.

I have always said I’m not a foodie; I’m not the kind of person to rave about a weird, scarce ingredient or to eat at expensive, fine restaurants. No. I’m not a fine diner, nor am I a fine cook. I have always seen cooking as something of a chore, a means-to-an-end. I cook in order to eat. Until now.

I don’t need my food to be fancy-pants. I like it hearty, healthy and tasty….I have always made simple, quick food for myself and never felt I deserved a space in my kitchen. I don’t use or read recipe books…..these are only for artists surely….

But something clicked recently. Bear with me while I digress a little. I love to travel, not far, but I like to go someplace else from time-to-time. I love to travel by train…..I should say I really love to travel by train….and, occasionally, boat. I like to journey, I like to take my time getting there. I like to see the landscape change, the architecture change, the light change. I like to converse with my fellow passengers and form fleeting friendships. I like to snooze on a train and dream romantic endings to my encounters. I like to lean into the wind from the top deck of a boat and be the first to spot land…

I don’t travel far….only as far as the train will take me. I usually end up in the Mediterranean…which is probably why I travel in the first place…the chance to bathe in that sea without freezing…..bathing free of a wet-suit. West or East Mediterranean I don’t mind.

…and here we come back to food. I think I don’t like cooking but I do like eating and in the Med. I can eat like a princess. It is all my favourites: tomatoes, onions, beans, aubergines, chickpeas (think hummus and falafel), pasta, simple bread….my mouth is watering just at the thought of eating these things. And when I reminisce about my various jaunts to the Med. I invariably remember times spent in other people’s kitchens, other people’s kitchen gardens…..those strangers met on a train or a boat who became friends and invited me to their homes to eat, to break bread and drink wine with their family.

I always thought it was about the eating (so many delicious meals) but I’m starting to realise it was so much about the cooking, the time shared in the kitchen, the time fumbling for language, the time laughing, the time being hugged by someone else’s Grandma and having my, then skinny, cheeks pinched by her and being told I need to be fed. It was hardly about the food at all… was about the act of coming together and laughing together and working together…..

…and working with the most simple of ingredients; ingredients gathered just moments before from the garden…..or the evening before from the woods behind the house….or haggled for in the market that morning. I am beginning to recognise myself in this. I don’t need fancy food…my ‘peasant’ food will do me just fine…..but it should be cooked without haste, it should be cooked with joy and love, each moment should be savoured, each colour and texture and smell observed……it should be messy and as chaotic as life…….the cooking should be just as important as the eating.

I’ll never be a fancy cook but I think I am becoming an appreciative cook, a haste free cook, a cook who is in love with the meal before it reaches the table…and I am starting to read some cookery writers. The few cookbooks that I have I realise are like my beloved travel and exploration books…the lists of ingredients are like maps….I follow them and I am transported to another place. I am beginning to enjoy reading cookery books and am beginning to see my kitchen as a railway station……it’s just the starting point for a glorious journey…..and some trips down memory lane as I think about all the different kitchens I have cooked in alongside someone else’s mamma. I think I am going to enjoy this trip.

May all our train journeys take us, unhurriedly, towards beautiful adventures and may all our kitchen time evoke the most wonderful memories…..even on the greyest of grey days in an attic flat in London. Slightly west of the Mediterranean.



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Gone fishing

I’m back.

I didn’t really go anywhere to come back from…but I did disappear for a while….and I missed this part of me.

It was a big year for me, last year. In the grand scheme of things nothing major happened but, all the little changes added together became a rather large curve ball. I embraced it and loved (almost) every minute of it…but in the process, somehow, my words got lost. I have missed writing, I have missed being able to sort out all the words that crash and jiggle and stomp and flit in my mind. I have missed organsingSAM_1516 these slippery little things onto paper so that they would stop creating such a beautiful, crazy cacophony in my head. I tried, so many times, to land my words in my journal as the fly fisher-woman lands her catch on the river bank…but every time I cast into the river I seemed to get snagged in the weeds…and reeled in nothing but a tangled mess. It was frustrating.

But. That was alright. Fishing takes patience….. I know. I watched my grandfather. Fishing is not something to do when there are a million other pressing things to deal with. Time by the river, watching for the words to rise, requires peace and stillness and a quiet mind. As I have adjusted to all the changes, as I have embraced my new life, as I have learned to let go of all things, both physical and mental, that I no longer need I have felt the river of my mind quieten. It has taken a while but then, suddenly and out of the blue, the quiet came. The difference between a silt bedded river and one that runs over rocks….the water is clear again. I can see down to the bottom…and I can see every twinkle of light on the surface.

Change, and how we respond to it, is incredibly personal…for some the tiniest change is enough to muddy the water…for others a huge change can be as simple as diving into the water from the highest rock with no fear. I am the former. But the water has finally cleared and I am looking forward again to every day by my river. I will get back into the rhythm, just as the fly fisher does, a quiet, steady tick tock, one two, rhythm. I will be patient and let the words spawn again…every once in a while I will catch a few and land them on my blank piece of paper…..

Whatever you are fishing for I wish you patience, peace and quiet little moments of triumph.


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Taking stock…..and taking stock

If I had known, last year, what I know now would I have done things differently? Possibly. Probably not. A few tweaks here and there but nothing major. This time last year I was just grateful to be in the garden at all…..with my little broken wings……I had no idea I was on a course for making a huge decision. The fact that I wouldn’t do things differently gives me confidence; over the last couple of years my little patch of soil has shown me it can feed me and nurture me and keep me whole.

This time of year is known as the ‘hungry gap’: the time when last year’s harvests have been eaten and this year’s are yet to grow. I have, by trial and error, over a few years, learned how to keep myself going over winter……with the stored produce and the veggies I can keep going in the ground during the cold months. It is about thiBroad beanss time of year when I go through the cupboards, the freezer, the shed to work out what’s left and what I can make from it……

So……it is this time of year, once more, when I take stock of what’s left, what goodies there are to be turned into meals:……..but I find, as I weigh the beans and count the onions and clock the bottles of toms and eyeball the squash…..that I am quietly crying…….I stop in my tracks. I’m actually really crying and I can’t turn off the tears, the little sobs catch in my throat. ……I realise, I am taking stock not of my veggies….but of my life. I slump on the kitchen chair, nursing my tears and slowly I begin to see it…….. I have been in a ‘hungry gap’ for years…….my belly has been full, but my soul has been depleted…to the point of starvation. I am empty, totally drained….and empty.

I no longer know who I am. The little moments in the kitchen garden have kept a tiny heartbeat going…..but I don’t want a tiny heartbeat…..I want a thump, thump, thumping beat. So I have decided to follow my heart….with it’s quiet little beat. I have decided to feed my soul. I have decided to look after myself for a while. I have decided to let the kitchen garden look after me this year……and walk away from the job I love but which doesn’t love me back.

I don’t know what I will do or what will happen next……but I know whatever it is that I will give it my all and I will find myself again. I know that I will be living true to myself. I know that the sun on my cheeks, the air in my hair, the buzz of insects, the beautiful flashes of colour in the garden…..the company, the tea, the thrill of the harvest, the smell of damp soil, the solitude, the birds that sing to me…….the simplicity of simply being…..will feed my soul and restore me.

The garden has it’s seasons……this is the season of newness, of life, of growth. We all feel it. After many springs my spring has finally come and I will grow once more………I hope your spring is happening for you too and that you find a way to fill your ‘hungry gap’.

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Spring….decisions, decisions.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions….as such. Why would I want to make decisions, change things, shake up my ‘norm’ on a cold, dreary day in the middle of winter? No. My new ‘resolutions’ start with spring.

Spring, like my choices, life decisions, creeps up slowly….and then, one day, BAM!….it’s here. I do not need a calendar or a news report or an ‘app’ to tell me it’s spring….I see it and I feel it. I see it in all the snowdrops and daffodils that shake their pretty heads at my feetalone-2…..the first big dollop of colour in months. I see it in the fattening buds on the trees that I walk past on my way to the garden. I hear it from the birds, brazenly staking their claims to the bud ridden branches. I see it in my soil……I am convinced I even smell it in my soil.

But, most of all, I feel it.

It is unquantifiable….but there is something about spring that stirs me, deep inside. It actually messes with me. This is the time of year (not New Year’s) when I start to wonder about past decisions, begin to make new ones…..when I begin to feel the need to stretch my wings, inhale deeply and take off with possibilities. And soar.

I find it hard to make changes, to make big decisions but, somehow, being on the soil makes it easier. I don’t know why I experience such clarity of thought when I am in the garden…but I do. Perhaps it is the alone time. Perhaps it is the perspective gained by watching nature do its thing…… by watching and trusting in the cycle of life…. Spring is a time of massive change. But it is a positive change…it is a time of new growth, new vigour, new life. It is a time of optimism. Time in the garden rubs off on my soul and makes me more brave… embrace newness and change.

Happy springtime to you all. And may your spring gardens inspire clarity for your difficult decisions and for your ‘new year’s resolutions’.

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I’m alright Jack

I read. I read a lot. I love my books. I read to escape, I read to fall in love, I read to be challenged. Recently I read a book which floored me… was as if I was reading my own words……as if the author had read my private journals. The book was called, very simply, ‘Spinster’. Ugh. Such an ugly word (thoroughly explored in the book) with connotations of bag lady, of cat lady, left-on-the-shelf-ugly lady……a difficult woman that no man would go near…..

….but this book was, in fact, a celebration of the single woman making her own way, the single woman being complete.alone

So, now you get the picture. Spinster: be afraid……she’s a witch, a hippy, a lesbian, a freak with no kids or husband (for goodness sake!)…..she has an allotment but there’s no man to help her….she’ll give it up before the new year……or she’ll just grow flowers..

As a woman I have had, throughout my whole life, to do the most basic things, the most normal things with defiance…..and that includes my kitchen garden. When I first got my plot I worked (as a nurse) every Sunday and when I did get down to the garden I was either on my own or with a friend (female)……the rumours soon went around that I was a lesbian preacher!!!! Hahahaha……let them think what they will…I will not be defined by religion, politics or my sexuality!

Over the years my plot has become my lover – in so much as it is the thing I want to give all my time and energy to – it repays me with moments of joy and wonder, with moments of quiet and sadness… loves me back as much as I love it…..the more love I give it the more it repays me. I am not single….I am a girl attached to the land.

The soil does not judge me. The soil does not question my life decisions……the soil accepts me and allows me my alone time to think, reflect, smile, cry, laugh…..I love the freedom my kitchen garden gives me……the freedom to let my mind ramble, the freedom to be myself with no questions asked.

Whoever you are, whatever stage in life you are at, whatever question you are asking…….I hope your soil time leads you to your answers. By the way….I’m a proud spinster.

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Is it autumn already?

A couple of days ago, as I was swishing my way down the hill towards my kitchen garden (swishing is my word for walking fairly quickly, with purpose but also with a carefree air), and humming a tune to myself that was not a tune I or anybody else would know but which somehow came out alright, I thought to myself ‘gosh, I do love this time of year’……and I carried on swishing and humming until a few moments later I said it to myself again ‘oh, I really do love this time of year’…….hum, hum, hum I went……swish, swish, swish I went until, in a sort of Winnie-the-Pooh moment, I stopped in my tracks and thought, ‘hang on a minute… I said this last month……..and the month before……and I’m pretty certain I said it last January’…… and so it was that I spent the rest of my swishing time trying, very hard, to think about which time I actually do love….

……and I decided that it is possible to love all the times. The garden is ever changing and as each change creeps in, I see new things, experience new excitement, feel new pleasures. The summer was beautiful……I appreciated every sun soaked, lazy, dreamy, languid moment…..but just as I was about to be complacent….about to snooze and dream some more the garden shook itself into a new phase. Someone flicked a switch. The evening darkness came quickly and the morning air had a bite to it. I had to put on a jumper. And whsam_0617en I looked at my little patch of soil I saw that it was bursting with gorgeous vegetables…..ripe from all the sun, fat from all the growing, tall from all the sunlight……somehow, overnight, it had become harvest time. So, snug in the aforementioned jumper, I have come to terms with the passing of summer and have started to harvest in earnest…..

… recent weeks I have spent more time in the kitchen than in the garden. I pod until midnight…..I bottle until midnight…..I chop, I blanch, I freeze….
.it does become a labour of love……but I know that come the new year I will be so glad I put the work in when I cook up another week’s worth of food from my stored veg…and snub the supermarkets. And even in deepest winter there will be fresh food to harvest and munch on. So I really do love this time of year…it’s hard work…..harder than any other time of the year…but the way I see it is my garden has worked hard for me until now so what’s a bit of effort on my side?

So I answered my own Winnie-the-Pooh conundrum……I love all the times of year in my kitchen garden……in different ways and for different reasons….and I will swish to the garden whether it’s high summer or deep midwinter…..a-swishing I will go.

The garden never stands still……it renews itself over and over…..and each time it renews itself I feel a renewal in myself. Happy swishing to you all……and love every minute.

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There she weaves by night and day….

Life is like a tapestry… is made of many, many threads……and it is only when all these threads are in one place and secure do we feel whole. There are so many colours, so many textures…..sometimes we drop a thread, a strand…..and we feel the gap that it creates…….my kitchen garden has become the warp into which I thread all my other strands.

See…here is the work thread… is a jolly colour…..which fades a little in places when things don’t work out well, when the day becomes too sad…….but the thread, like me, even when I feel spent, remains strong and never threatens to break……. And there is the family thread, the colour always changing…sometimes there are ‘boborlottisbbles’ on the thread…..but it, too, is always there.

If you look closely at the tapestry you may see occasional specks of gold…..these are my dreams, my fantasies, that ‘what if’s’….my tapestry is strewn with them. There are a couple of holes in it too…..the relationships that didn’t quite turn out as hoped….

…..but throughout the weave there is a garden….my garden…the garden. I did not know, when I was younger and thought I would marry a prince and ride horses every day, that my garden would be my main thread, my warp. But so it has become. I think my grandparents were the first to dangle this wee strand in front of me…….it has since become my strength and my solace. My garden and all the nature within it have become a place where I play out all my metaphorical hopes…….it is the place to which I return when my real dreams are dashed. My thoughts frequently return to this thread and, as time goes on, I realise how (if not why) it has become so important to me.

It is the last day of September, the weather is balmy, it is harvest time. I sit at the desk in my attic room with the window flung wide. It has gone midnight and I am listening to Argentine tango music (another thread is the music)…….I write…..a breeze drifts across my shoulders…….I listen…I reflect…..I could be anywhere right now……and then…..another little speck of gold dust appears on my tapestry as I fantasise about my dream garden……the garden is my one constant (in it’s ever changing way)……the garden will always be there for me……

Tonight, in this late, unseasonably warm air, I will dance a Tango whilst spraying gold dust on my tapestry…….and tomorrow I will dig and harvest and be joyful.

May all your gardens be part of your tapestries. And may they be littered with gold dust.



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A la recherche du temps perdu

I love summer. Absolutely, completely love it. I love to feel the air and the sun on my skin, I love the feel of damp morning grass under my bare feet. I love how sounds carry on the warm air; children playing in the paddling pool in the park next door, hints of radio drifting from someone’s shed, the clinking of cutlery as lunch is prepared, al fresco, in one of the neighbouring houses, the pop of a cork and the giggles that go with it.

I love that summer days seem endless; even after a siesta the day has plenty SAM_0575enough left to stretch into a beautiful, long, languid evening. Summer is when I feel most me. Summer is when I feel optimistic and happy  from the moment I wake up to the moment I reluctantly close my eyes on another perfect day. Summer is about tranquility and life and love and being carefree once again…..

Summers are for going to the south of France for a week and accidentally staying for 2 months because of a boy with dusky, olive skin and a mop of hair bleached blonde by the sun and sea. Summers are for holding hands and waiting patiently for that first kiss……a kiss tinged with the taste of the sea….. In the summer sun there is no need to hurry anything, no need to wear shoes or be encumbered by layers of clothes… need to brush the sea salt out of one’s hair, no need to look at the clock. In the heat and the sun time stops.

A peace descends on the kitchen garden; all the hard work was done in the spring…all the hurrying and dashing…all the sowing and pricking, the transplanting and the tying and staking…it has all been done. And now……now the summer is here and the air is thick with sticky stillness; all around me is stillness. I am alone….but for the insects and even they seem to be going more slowly…..the honey bees linger, drunk on nectar, the butterflies, like giddy girls on the pier, occasionally flash their brightly coloured knickers. I, too, become more still. This is the time for sitting……for daydreaming……..for moments of ennui. For remembering. A la recherche du temps perdu. It is a time for simply being. I spend hours and hours and hours in the garden doing absolutely nothing….and I long to do it all again tomorrow.

Only when there is no light left to see by do I think about going home. And later, when I lay on my bed, drifting off, I can smell the sun on my skin and the breeze in my hair…… and my mind becomes as peaceful as my garden and all my memories flood back….

Oh summer! I am already nostalgic for you.