Saturday, 29 November 2014

At last! A Christmas flower stall.

If you cast your mind back three years, you might remember I was trying in vain to get a flower stall for Christmas with a fellow student from my floristry diploma. Fast forward three years and I finally have one! The lovely people at the Garden Museum are running an eco-friendly Christmas fair called Diggin' Design for the third year running (I should have asked them three years ago!) and I will be sharing a stall with another lady who volunteers at the museum. I'll be doing all British flower posies and bouquets.

So this morning I was at Pratley in New Covent Garden Market nice and early (on the way there I saw two ice cream vans on the road...surreal in November). There was plenty of British flowers loveliness to choose from, including a box of 200 different-coloured tulips, which was very tempting but a bit too much for my needs! In the end, I bought powder blue scabious (I couldn't believe it was still flowering), brassicas, paperwhites, and freesias. The freesias and paperwhites smell beautiful.

I also went to GB Foliage and got viburnum, berried ivy (the berried ivy growing in the garden is not that great now - the ivy is fine, but the berries are not so pretty), and mistletoe. "Is it British?" I asked. "Yes," came the reply. "We don't like the French stuff."

I also had a delivery from Tregothnan - lots of pretty Sweet Williams from B J Richards, the last of the British chrysanthemums (well, it is still November), ranunculus, rosemary, sage, and pepperleaf. I got a bag of scented pine cones too, which I've wired to add to posies and other arrangements.

Here's it all cut and conditioned and ready to be arranged.

And here are the first of the posies in upcycled jars and tins...I had to quickly take these before the sun disappeared. There are big bouquets too...but you'll have to wait till tomorrow for photos. Or better still, come to the fair and see them for yourself! The fair is from 10.30am to 5pm tomorrow, at the Garden Museum (next to Lambeth Palace). Who would have thought you could get all this from Britain at the end of November?!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tower poppies

I mentioned my South London-centricism in my last post. I think many Londoners, on both sides of the river, suffer from a condition I call world-revolves-around-Londonism. Also known as London arrogance. I'm not talking about the type of arrogance you see when walking through the City during rush hour - that's a whole other kind of awful. I mean the feeling that important things in London will last forever. It's a feeling that was challenged when Canary Wharf was bombed in 1996 - I was in town at the time and was shaken by the thought that such a strong, developing part of this confident city might be vulnerable. It's also a feeling that meant I missed seeing the Nineteen Eighty-Four book bench by Thomas Dowdeswell in the summer; I knew it was a temporary display, but also assumed I had an indefinite amount of time to see it.

It also meant that when I first heard about the Tower poppies, I expected to make several trips to see them, to watch the "field" growing. Did I? No, I didn't. And as Armistice Day drew closer, I found myself busier with work and uni, ill with first a migraine and then a virus, and refusing to go at any time other than dawn. Perhaps it's nothing to do with living in South London for the best part of four decades, and more to do with my own stubbornness.

Last Thursday I returned to work, and thought I would go and see the poppies before my first appointment. I knew they had started to dismantle them the day before, but I also knew that it would take a long time - 888 246 ceramic poppies need much gentle care.

I quickly took a few photos of the view from London Bridge towards Tower Bridge. When I used to work in Essex, I would often walk to Liverpool Street from Cannon Street or London Bridge. The walk from Cannon Street reminded me of Roald Dahl's short story, Galloping Foxley (if you tend to get the same train to work every day, I recommend a read of it). But the walk from London Bridge meant I could see this view in the morning.

I'll never tire of it.

I saw Tower Bridge and City Hall up ahead as I walked along the south side of the river. Tower Bridge is fantastic - it's so colourful and distinctive. I adore City Hall, too. I think it's a beautiful building, and I regret not taking photos of the interior and the view when I got to visit it ten years ago.

I crossed the bridge and saw the poppies gradually and then suddenly.

I realise now why Tower Hill is said to be the best side for viewing - it's nearer to the poppies and at a similar height, whereas the river side has a longer drop down and the poppies are nestled down there.

I walked along the east side and followed the gate to the north side. It was just after 7.15am and it was quiet, except for a few people taking photos and some commuters passing through.

One thing that struck me was the mud. Nearly every book I've read about war, every poem and memoir, describes the mud and the rain, the boredom and the emptiness, as much as the horror and the blood.

The ceramic poppies were designed by the artist who came up with the idea for the installation, Paul Cummins, and were arranged by stage designer, Tom Piper. 

The official name of the installation is Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, and comes from the words of a man who left his home in Derbyshire to join the First World War, but died in Flanders. Each of the 888 246 poppies represents a "British or Colonial military fatality during the First World War". The total number of casualties, according to the Imperial War Museum, was more than 16 million. Cummins said he hoped people visiting the installation would take time to reflect, and although I found it hard to imagine the magnitude of the casualties, I did reflect.

Particularly when I saw them close up.

There were several crosses left in tribute around the tower, and I noticed one amongst the poppies.

I was touched by the names, the messages, and the photos.

Ceramic poppies created the sea of red, but there were other flowers to be seen. A yellow rose and a bunch of alstromeria had been tied to the railings, paper and knitted poppies were left nearby, and roses and fuchsia grew around the tower.

Although all of the individual poppies have been sold and will gradually be packed and sent out over the next few months, I think the other poppies that formed part of the installation will go on public display, touring the country.

How wonderful that a part of this display, that caught the hearts and minds of an estimated 5 million people, will be seen by even more.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

We'll always have Paris: a love letter to Waterloo International

I meant to write this post earlier this week, but illness and work prevailed. Anyhow...

I didn't realise so much time had passed since Eurostar stopped running trains to Waterloo International (now just plain Waterloo). I loved the ease of travelling to France or Belgium by train, with no need for getting the tube or a having to check in luggage two hours before a flight. Yes, I know I was completely South London-centric, but it seemed to be one of the few occasions when those of us south of the river got the better deal!

So when it was announced that Eurostar would stop going to Waterloo, I booked a day off work and a return to Paris. I got the 06:34 from Waterloo on 13th of November 2007, and came back the same day on the 18:16 from Gare du Nord (which was the last train that went to Waterloo International).

I got to Paris later that morning, feeling ever so excited about the day and pretty liberated without luggage. I went to the Jardin du Luxembourg for the first time. Paris has a certain kind of cold in the winter. I can't explain it. It's kind of clean and crisp - very cold but not "bitter". I took photos and sketched.

There's a mini Statue of Liberty by Bartholdi - I'm not sure whether it was prep for his main statue in New York.

I had coffee and lunch at Cafe de Flore. An utterly touristy, literature-graduate thing to do, but I didn't care. I enjoyed it.

I went to the hotel where Oscar Wilde died, and I sketched for a little while. Generally, the length of time I sketched depended on how cold my fingers felt without gloves!

I went to a cafe called Les Éditeurs because...don't cringe...I was an editor at the time. I wrote a lot while I drank my coffee.

I paid a flying visit to Galeries Lafayette to buy some pretty scarves and gloves, and then I went back to Gare du Nord.

On the train, they announced that they would give champagne in the lounge car to everyone in celebration of this last journey to Waterloo. I went there and happy strangers said, "À vos santé!" as we drank. There was such a wonderful atmosphere.

When we got to Waterloo, there were cameras on the platform.

And a farewell at the station. I haven't been to Paris since.

I will do one day, when I have a decent income again. I love that the Eurostar has been running for twenty years now. Paris and London are two of my favourite cities, and it's wonderful that such romantic neighbours should be connected by train. That day trip to Paris was the only time I've gone there and back on my own (most of my trips had been with partners), but it was a magical day and I got to do so much.

I found some old photos of my first trip to Paris when I was a toddler. My parents decided to go there for a weekend with me...apparently I was a complete nightmare!

My love for Parisian cafes started early.