Sunday, 31 January 2016

January joy

It's the last day of January, which means there are just over five months until my university research project is due in. I remember thinking we had almost a year...but now I am regretting my complacent start to the project last autumn! In happier time-travelling news, it is less than two months until British Summer Time. The days are already feeling a teeny bit longer, which is helping me to feel sunnier, even though I hate the cloudy, grey days we keep having.

I saw the film Joy on New Year's Day, and it was a great film to start the year - Jennifer Lawrence is brilliantly understated and made me feel optimistic and enthusiastic about new beginnings and second chances. Even though film awards are a load of nonsense (I've never felt inclined to watch Paul Haggis's Crash after seeing it at the cinema, but I have watched Brokeback Mountain several times since I saw it at the Odeon Panton Street), I'm afraid I get totally swept up in the hype, and end up disappointed every year! I would love Inside Out to win Best Original Screenplay, but I'm sure it won't. I would rather Jennifer Lawrence be nominated for her incredible acting in the last Hunger Games film than Joy, but I think awarding bodies are too snobby sometimes. I do hope Brie Larson wins Best Acting awards for her role in Room, though - she also played a character called Joy, and the film, despite the traumatic subject matter, was beautiful and sensitive and hopeful. There was a lovely atmosphere amongst the audience in Greenwich when I watched it. We cried, we laughed, we held our breath, we sighed with relief, and we cried some more.

I bought a bunch of Lincolnshire daffodils from the garden centre after shopping for late summer bulbs. The flowers were not quite "Garden Fresh", but they were close enough! I've loved daffodils ever since my ex (Welsh) boyfriend bought me some for St David's Day - the first flowers a boy bought me. The ones I bought this week had a faint scent that was more noticeable when you first stepped in the room.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

I can sing a rainbow

There is a TV programme tonight all about people giving up sugar. I gave up sugar (and a bunch of other things) once for a year and all I can say is: never again. Now I aim for five fruit and veg a day and fit in nice things like cake around them, no food-shaming and less body-shaming, and that seems to make me much happier than I was during the sugar-free year.

So if you are not a fan of sugar, you might want to stop reading now.

Everyone else: here is my first attempt at rainbow cake. I have wanted to make it ever since I tried the gorgeous one from Cloud 9 in Brighton a few years ago.

I made this for my friend at the weekend. The natural colours (purple and blue) came out more muted than the artificial ones, and I am too impatient to do a proper crumb coating of buttercream, wait for it to dry, and then ice properly - but apart from that, I think it worked. It was a basic 2oz of butter, sugar and self-raising flour to 1 egg, and I used 4 eggs. I added vanilla and orange blossom to the cake and the buttercream.

I'm also sharing photos of a polychromatic bouquet I made as a wedding gift for a couple last year, which I haven't got around to sharing here. It was late summer, and there was a mixture of British and imported flowers as well as stuff I'd grown. It smelled amazing.

I can sing a rainbow, too.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Red Shoes

A few years ago, I went through a wonderful, creative period in the spring and summer. I had been going to random classes - tap dancing, ballet, flamenco, improvisation, screen acting, screen writing - and I was writing and drawing much more. I read a book called The Creative Screenwriter by Zara Waldeback and Craig Batty, and there was an exercise where you choose three nouns and write a short story with them. I wasn't sure how creative I would be if I chose the words myself, so I asked friends to give me three words that I could use. It was a great exercise, and some of the short stories ended up becoming three-chapter stories or longer stories which I kept adding to.

The story below was written after being given the words "shoes, castle, and bewilderment" by my childhood friend, Pauline. It was written on 28 May 2013.

I thought I'd share it now because red shoes have been on my mind since the sad news about David Bowie; Let's Dance was my first memory of him, late 1970s child that I am. That video is so evocative for me - I must have watched it scores of times when I was young. I didn't know then that the red shoes in the video followed on from their symbolism in the depressing Hans Christian Anderson fairytale and the stunning Powell and Pressburger film (see Lyn Gardner's piece here about the symbolism if you are interested in reading more). I didn't understand the story of the Let's Dance video exactly, but it felt very sad to me as a young child, and (not knowing what acting was) I couldn't understand why Bowie was ordering the man about like a strict teacher.

This story is happier. And, because I haven't felt like writing fiction lately but have wanted to do more photography, I've taken photos of red shoes to illustrate it. As Alice says before she goes down the rabbit hole, what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?

Bored of Brogues

Was this really happening?

It was, but he still couldn't understand what had happened, what had led to this.

He had only gone to the shop to buy some new brogues for work. The sleepy-looking girl had shown him all of the brogues in the men's section, but nothing took his fancy. So, in her hungover daze, she led him to the women's brogues.

He hesitated. He wanted to say that he was fine, he'd just go to the other department shop across town, but when he opened his mouth to speak he just shut it again and followed her.

The women's brogues were definitely nicer. Instead of the rather serious black or chestnut brown of the men's, these seemed to be winking at him with their sexy cherry reds and cobalt blues, their candy pinks and mint greens, and their leopard prints. He picked up a cherry red brogue, but then he stopped. Behind it, in a shiny blood red that he could see his face in, was a pair of Mary Janes.

The toes were rounded, sort of conservatively but teasingly, and the back had a heel - not stiletto high (he'd looked in wonder at the women who wore these to work) but high enough for the wearer to notice and walk taller.

He didn't realise how long he had been looking at them, when the sleepy girl took one of them off the shelf and took the red brogue from his hand. She asked what size he was and he told her. As she went off to get them, he looked around the women's section in bewilderment. Did other men do this? Was it normal?

He sat down and just as he decided he'd been stupid and should leave before she got back, she came through the door with four boxes. She had brought the next size up too, in case they came up small on him. He looked worried and confused, but she gave him a tired smile as she got the shoes out of their boxes. Then she sat on a table and yawned.

He tried on the red brogues first. They were tight so he tried the bigger size. He walked around and looked in the mirror. They felt less stiff than his usual shoes, but he liked the secure movement they allowed. The only problem was they didn't look right on him. Besides, wouldn't it look strange if he wore cherry red shoes with his grey suits and blue shirts? Colour combinations was not something he'd thought about much before - a luxury that came from only wearing grey, blue and black.

He looked at the girl, who was now resting her eyes. He took the red Mary Janes out of the box and held them in his hands for a while. They looked like doll's shoes and even though they were his size, they felt so small. He liked how he could wrap his hand around the middle of each one.

He put one on. It was peculiar, slightly restrictive but not uncomfortable. He tried on the other and stood up. He felt a surge of blood to his head and held onto a shelf for support. When he'd regained his balance, he started to walk. He looked in the mirror, turning to look from all angles, posing in different stances, and walked again.

He wanted to run and jump and dance. The last time he had a rush like this was when he'd been for his job interview and was offered the job straight away. This was incredible. How a small thing could make him feel so different.

He looked at the girl. She was asleep.

He went to the mirror again. He imagined that he was posing at the end of a catwalk runway. He pretended he'd just been rescued from a locked room at the top of a castle and his rescuer had given him these shoes as he was carried out of the castle gates. He imagined wearing them in a dark forest, feeling no fear because the shoes would protect him.

He put his usual shoes back on and put the Mary Janes in their box. He woke the girl up and pointed to the box.

"I'd like to take those."

Friday, 15 January 2016

Playing the Asian card

Today is Thai Pongal, which I always confuse with new year because I live in Britain, but which is sort of the equivalent of a thanksgiving or Harvest Festival in the north of Sri Lanka, where my parents are from.

The celebration involves boiling rice collected from the first harvest in milk in a clay pot, allowing the milk to boil over ("pongal"). And the date varies from year to year, but it falls at the start of January ("Thai").

I am a disgrace to the Asian community, because I am rubbish at cooking rice. I often burn it, and I don't even know how that happens! So I'm using today as an excuse to share pumpkins and flowers photos instead.

Thai Pongal is also about celebrating the sun, for giving energy to the harvest. And so here's a British harvest display I did with sunflowers. And more celosia - that must be my go-to flower in autumn!

I had a Twitter conversation this morning with a few flowery people about a certain dahlia that is very popular among florists. It's this one, which I photographed when I went to Withypitts Dahlias.

If you know the flowers I tend to favour, you can see why Cafe au Lait is beautiful, but isn't my favourite dahlia. I prefer the dark drama of Thomas A. Edison below.

This was my parents' registry office wedding in the 1970s. White is associated with widows rather than brides, and so bright colours were the order of the day!

I had no idea when I decided to grow Nicotiana 'Lime Green' from Higgledy seeds some forty years later, that it was a flower that had featured in my parents' wedding. I saw the wedding photos a couple of months after I did this. It looked like a miniature version of the registrar's table flowers, and looking at the two photos made me smile.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

New year, new vase

What's the winter equivalent of an Indian summer? That seems to be what we're getting.

Earlier this week I cut some quince blossom, which had begun flowering before Christmas, along with some sweet-smelling viburnum and a yellow flower I've forgotten the name of. I used them to fill a new Emma Bridgewater vase I had bought in the January sale. I don't really need a new vase, but...

The yellow flower had blossomed in March last year - I remember, because I used it for this blue and yellow posy.

Before Christmas, I used some rosemary in arrangements - it was full of blue flowers.

The hellebores were waking up before Christmas. I need to take a new photo - they've opened up now.

But today I was outside for 50 minutes, waiting for a rail replacement bus (the joys of travelling at the weekend), and my hands were so cold, even though I was wearing gloves. It feels like there's snow on the way, which is entirely appropriate for this time of year, but feels a bit of a shock to the system after that mild November and December.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Back to work blues

Was today too much like hard work, with the return to work, school or college causing you to crawl out of bed at a snail's pace this morning, and long to go back to bed as soon as possible? Like a lot of people, I found the jolt back to my usual routine unwelcome and abrupt. My sister went back to her care home yesterday, and I always feel blue when she's out of London.

She's the blurry baby on the far left, and the tiny blur in a red coat on the right. It was raining on the day the gold-framed photo was taken.

Of course, it ended up raining today.

A Twitter observation on the blueness of this Monday got me to think about blue flowers. I'd already shared photos of bluebells this morning on Facebook and Twitter, as bluebells symbolise constancy (which I thought would be a comfort, given the unsettling return to work) as well as kindness and gratitude.

But more blue flowers wouldn't go amiss.

So here are some Monday blues. A lot of these are British flowers: bluebells, forget-me-nots, hyacinths, cornflowers, nigella, delphiniums, flax, lavender, muscari, sweet peas and scabious. And there are also roses, gentian, irises, and campanula. I've been a bit licentious about what counts as blue, but so are the people who name flower varieties! Blue flowers often have a fantastic scent as well, which is a lovely bonus. Happy Monday!