Sunday, 25 December 2016

Support available over Christmas

I'm repeating last year's post with some additional information. If it's a hard time for you, please get the support you need. And if you're in crisis, call 999 or go to A&E.

The Samaritans are available to talk 24 hours a day, every day. Their helpline is 116 123 if you are calling from the UK, and it is free to ring. Other details are here:

If this is a difficult time for you because of bereavement, Cruse have extra, trained volunteers on their helpline over the holidays. The helpline is 0808 808 1677 and it is open from 9.30am until 5pm from 25th - 26th December and 30th December, 9.30am until 8pm from the 27th - 29th December and New Year's Eve, and 9.30am until 5pm on New Year's Day.

Beat (the eating disorder charity) has kept their helpline open over Christmas: 4pm-8pm on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. The number is 0345 634 1414 - and it will be open from 4pm-10pm on the bank holidays. You can also visit their website

Napac supports adult who have experienced child abuse. Their helpline on 0808 801 0331 is usually open 10am-9pm Mon-Thu & 10am-6pm Fri (I can't see Christmas hours though).

Survivors UK supports men who have experienced rape or sexual abuse. Their helpline is closed until 28th December, and then closed again from 1-2 January.

24-hour National Domestic Violence freephone helpline is available on 0808 2000 247. Other information is available here:

There are lots of reasons why people can feel less than merry over the holidays, especially if someone is alone, or feels alone. Mind has some ideas here for self-care and treatment if you are suffering:

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Autumn equinox: flowers during chemotherapy

As it's the autumn equinox today, I thought I'd postpone the last instalment of the Florist on Tour to share autumnal flowers from last week.

It is now estimated that one in two of us born after 1960 will get cancer at some point in our lifetime. It's a sobering thought, which feels more real if you have loved ones with cancer. In the last few years, it seems like more people I know have had the disease, and it has hit young friends as well as older relatives. In my work at a hospice, I hear stories about the effect cancer has on people's lives - those bereaved as a result of it, and those currently dealing with their own or their loved ones'.

So when I was asked to do flowers for someone whose cancer treatment has affected their sense of taste and smell, leaving them unable to enjoy the sweet things they used to - simple pleasures such as cake, biscuits, and floral scents - I was only too willing. I did "roast dinner" flowers: a pumpkin from a local allotment, filled with my sage and rosemary, autumnal-hued peony leaves, and non-scented flowers. There were asters, sedum, and a single dahlia that have all flowered again this year, and hypericum from Blooming Green. I have to thank Simon Lycett for the tip about peony foliage - I have never thought to use it before.

I delivered them on a beautiful, hot day last week, and warned that they probably wouldn't last long - the combination of vegetables (fruit and veg give off ethylene, which speeds up the flower-wilting process) and hot weather wasn't helpful. But they were gladly received, and smelled without any horrible nausea. On one of the hottest days of the year, we all craved a roast dinner.

Simple pleasures. They don't cure cancer, unfortunately. But sometimes they are all we can turn to, to help to ease us through the rubbish that life throws at some of us.

If you have or care for someone with cancer, there is advice available here. And if things feel really difficult, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on the phone number 116 123 if you are in the UK.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Florist on tour: Part 2, My Flower Patch

The journey from York to My Flower Patch Sara's local train station in Wiltshire took six hours, but it went pretty quickly and the journey was mostly peaceful. I listened to the MiniDisc I'd compiled before I went away, forgetting how random it was (Bonnie Tyler followed by Elvis, anyone?), read my book, and fell asleep. I journalled and sketched as I waited to change trains in Reading (the York to Reading train was the slow one - it would have been quicker to go into London and then out again, but I was on a budget!).

Sara met me at the quiet train station, and we went to the local Indian restaurant to order a takeaway. There was a bit of a wait - since it was one of the few places open on a bank holiday Monday, everyone seemed to eating there - but it gave us time for a drink and catch up! We went to her house, gifts were distributed (Betty's tea for her and her husband, Sara's beautiful flowers for me), and the three of us ate dinner and chatted.

The next morning, I met their son again. He had, understandably, forgotten meeting me a few years ago in London. As I had breakfast with him while Sara got his things ready for us to go out later, he asked me if I wanted to take a photo of him to show my family. It was the sweetest question! I got my camera and returned to find Darth Vader. He asked me if I would like to have the rest of my breakfast with Darth Vader and there was only one answer to that!

We went to the flower patch with Sara and their dog, and I finally got to see the fruits of Sara's hard work! It has been lovely getting to know her through Twitter and her visits to London, but I really wanted to see her flowers in the flesh. It was a beautiful, sunny day, which made for a lovely day out, but rather overexposed photos. Here are a few pictures of the patch, but they don't do it justice - I was oohing and ahhing as soon as we walked over to it, and didn't know where to look first. At every turn there was something new, and the scent of mint as soon as we walked through the gate was amazing. I just can't imagine the amount of work that goes into creating and maintaining a flower farm like this - it's incredible.

The pollinators love her flowers, as you can see here. One minute I was trying to take a photo of a scabious, and the next minute I'd be distracted, chasing after a butterfly. I got very excited when I saw this green butterfly on a zinnia - I think it's a Brimstone. We don't see many of these in London!

There is grassy space next to the flower patch, where we played Frisbee and attempted archery. Here's an action shot of Sara channelling her inner Katniss Everdeen.

I can't explain why exactly, but strawflowers make me smile. Maybe because I've never grown them, rarely see them, and love the papery feel of them.

I adore pink scabious.

And lupins.

Astrantia are so delicate and pretty, they even look beautiful when they haven't opened up.

We went back for lunch and then for a drive to Avebury, with my hosts giving me a guided tour of Wiltshire and pointing out some of the white horses. We were able to see up close Avebury's stones that make up its stone circles. I like the one that looks like a horse.

Sara and I didn't really get the hang of hide and seek.

And did I mention the superhero who was with us? It was a scorching hot day, but Spiderman kept his outfit on, opening gates for pleasantly surprised visitors, and leading the way for us.

In the evening, Sara and I went to the flower patch, leaving Spiderman with his father. She asked me what flowers I wanted to cut for us to play with the next day, and I couldn't decide. The only thing that hurried me was the fading light, and the phone call from Sara's husband telling us it was time for tea! It was kind of like playing outdoors as a kid, when the kids on my road would have so much fun playing on our bikes or on the swings, that our parents would eventually have to come outside and call us indoors before it got too dark. There is something blissfully childlike about being in a flower field and knowing you can play with flowers. Less childlike, but much appreciated, were the gin cocktails that were waiting for us along with a delicious dinner when we got home!

In the morning, like a kid at Christmas, I went to Sara's workshop to see what was there - and saw the flowers that Sara had carefully taken back on a wheelbarrow and unloaded.

We played with flowers, grappling with the rain and a poor child who wanted us to play with him instead. I was a bit overwhelmed by the huge variety of things we'd picked, so I overthought and wasn't too pleased with my efforts. Oh well - it's good to practice for nothing in particular sometimes, and it was nice to use lime green physocarpus instead of the usual dark foliage I tend to use. Sara adores cleome, so I had to include some of hers!

Sara did a beautiful bowl arrangement using nasturtiums and berries.

She also made a gorgeous flower crown, which her son wore all the way to the train station where they saw me off. He told me to phone when I got home, so they knew I had arrived safely - more adorableness, which I could not refuse.

And I'll finish with more florist shoes. (I feel like Gretchen in Mean Girls, trying to make fetch happen.)

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Florist on tour: Part 1, York

I had a couple of weeks off, and while I didn't really do much or go anywhere during the first week, I crammed as much as I could into the second. I booked trains to see my friends my York, then Sara at My Flower Patch, before coming home for a day and then going off again to see Ann at David Austin Roses. Sara came up with the hashtags #floristontour and #citymouseinthecountry - I didn't use the last one because it was a wee bit long for the 140-character limit on Twitter!

Part one is not especially flowery, but if you like scribbley art, pretty signs, and old trains, it might appeal to you. Otherwise, you'll have to wait for parts two and three.

This was the first summer I did a drawing for every single day in August as part of Drawing August - during previous years, I've missed a few days, or started off committed and then fizzled out. This year, I even did more than one drawing on some days. When I say "drawing", I am using the term loosely...I suspect many would call some of my art "scribbles" or something even less generous! But I don't care. I did artwork as part of my research project for university this year, and learned how the process of creating something is more important to me than the finished product. I only create things for pleasure, so I can afford to do that.

When I got to my hotel room in York on the Saturday, I did a little self-portrait as my scribble for that day. It was meant to be a calling card in the style of the 1980s Milk Tray Man, to go with the retro chocolates I'd bought for my childhood friends. I love this tall table that was in my room, with its provenance clearly on display.

I used it as a background for my drawing the next day as well.

My friends picked me up mid-morning on Sunday to take me to their family barbecue. But before that, I managed to have a Speedy Gonzalez meet up with Rachel from Ducks and Daffodils after she delivered flowers to Merchant Adventurers Hall, just up the road from where I was staying. It's always a curious experience to meet Twitter acquaintances in real life, and Rachel was so nice and very funny and interesting. I wish I'd had more time to talk to her and, of course, I wish I could have seen the flowers she grows and arranges.

It was a bit too early in the day for a proper photo, but I did snap a picture of our matching blue shoes to prove we met!

Then I had a coffee in Spring Espresso (thanks for the recommendation, Rachel) and did another sketch, and had the very un-London experience of having to wait for someone "outside the city walls". My instructions were: "You're basically walking towards Hull...but don't walk all the way to Hull." My friends found me, and I had a lovely day with them.

The next morning, I had a nice walk around York, bought a delicious pastry from Betty's and another nice coffee from Spring Espresso for my takeaway breakfast, and took lots of photos. The sun came out at last, so I wasn't half as cold as I had been the previous two days. Greenwich baker Adam recommended Haxby Bakehouse, and although I tried to go somewhere that served their bready things, I didn't have much luck what with it being a bank holiday Monday. Also, one place had miserable customer service and a lot of sad-looking customers waiting at empty tables, so I walked out.

I accidentally came across the old Terry building - York is as a famous for its chocolate as it is for its tea!

I checked out of my hotel and walked across the city to the National Railway Museum, which is just behind York Station. It's free to enter, and they have lockers to put your luggage and coat - a non-refundable £3, which was pretty good given how big the museum is, and what a relief it was to walk around without heavy, cumbersome bags! I'll leave you with a few of the dozens of photos I took in the museum. I spent two and half hours walking around and having my lunch - if you're interested in beautiful trains, old posters, and the history of the railways, you could easily spend the best part of a day there.