Random restart*



After such a long, hot time of it this summer, clouds and rain have finally returned, softening the ground on my allotment. I hadn’t sown anything new in quite some time, all notions of successional peas, radishes and salads having evaporated with the moisture in the soil.

Today I went down to harvest some potatoes. I am still trying to work out the best way to store them but I thought it best to get some more of them out of the ground on the occasion of a sunny Saturday. I also picked courgettes, ever present at this time of year, French beans, raspberries and some flowers.

And then I began digging, turning over the soft soil at the front of my plot to create four somewhat wonky rows with my rake head in which to actually sow something new. It felt like it must be spring, how strange! Into my rows went: ‘Sicily Giant’ radishes. ‘Bright and Spicy’ salad leaf mix, ‘Lobjoits Green’ lettuce (which I realised halfway through isn’t for sowing after July, according to the seed packet, but I decided to be a rebel) and finally some ‘Discovery’ rocket. Sowing these seeds gave me a sense of simple accomplishment and contentment that I greatly needed.

I’m not feeling very settled in myself right now and consequently, I guess, I’m not feeling very rooted in Bristol. I remember years ago feeling something perhaps a bit similar: a feeling that a bunch of balloons might easily lift me off my feet and take me elsewhere in the world. I am older now and so much more rooted here in many ways, but something isn’t feeling right and I’ve been trying to work out what it is, what needs addressing. I’ve now lived half my life in one country and the other half in another. Which land is more my land, which soil more my soil?

The answer is a sort of neither/both. But why it matters on my allotment is that I sometimes struggle to see the future there – because maybe I’m going away. And growing is about looking to the future; all gardeners love planning their gardens.

But I suppose it’s the nowness of gardening, the immediate present, the ability to be present, that is the most important part of it for me right now. Today’s potatoes, today’s flowers, today’s seeds in the soil, today’s sprinkling of the ground with water and care. Starting something again because I have the power to.

*of the blog and of sowing seeds

Salad from under my feet, and other small wonders

It’s amazing how good a daisy leaf tastes. I had no idea until last Sunday afternoon. I went on a local foraging walk and found out just how much of the common plants we walk over, through and around all the time are not only edible but tantalising to the taste buds and highly nutritious.

I’d already considered myself a forager. Every year I know spring is beginning to show its face when the first wild garlic appears. Actually, it’s often the smell of wild garlic that you notice first. This year I went with a gaggle of friends to gather bags full of the pungent leaves. I think we may have overdone it somewhat (not that the wild garlic minded – it’s rampant), but some of us later reported having more wild garlic than sense! Never mind, it’s great stuff and a real wild food milepost in the year.

I also try to gather elderflowers every June, to make cordial or champagne or flower-infused vinegar. And then in autumn elderberries (and also sloes). I just finished off my last bottle of elderberry cordial from a batch I concocted a couple of years ago. It’s reputed to protect from colds and other illnesses, and I believe it works. A friend tried making elderberry vodka. This was unfortunately comically vile. It became the focus of a party game last summer – who can make a cocktail that makes this liqueur palatable? So wild food is ripe for experimentation.

On Sunday’s foraging expedition, the guides took us to a green space near the start of the Bristol and Bath cycle path. Very much an urban, everyday sort of place. Every few steps we’d stop and there would be perhaps five different plants growing near our feet that it’s possible to eat, and/or make a tea from, and/or treat an ailment with.

We tasted garlicky, mustardy foliage (that would be the garlic mustard, also known as Jack-by-the-hedge), the lemony freshness of daisy leaves, the feathery bitterness of yarrow (whose leaves can also be used to staunch bleeding), the celery-like crunch of thistle, which we stripped first with a knife to remove the prickly bits. We also found and gathered nettles, dead nettles, dandelion leaves and flowers, wild chives, hawthorn leaves, lime leaves and flowers, willow twigs, burdock, herb Robert, cleavers, pineapple weed, plantain, chickweed, cow parsley and the buds and young leaves of blackberry. We also learned about a few things NOT to eat, including the highly poisonous lords-and-ladies.

Later we took our gatherings back to Trinity Community Garden, which was running this event, where we tried nettle soup (delicious and made, if I recall correctly, from nettles, potatoes and garlic and was served with lemon juice and lots of salt and pepper), dandelion flower fritters and wild garlic pesto with fresh bread. There were also flasks of teas to try – cleavers, nettle and dandelion.

I continue to feel inspired, and this weekend I may go on a little forage on my own and see what wild salad I can bring back from a wander in one of the green corners of this city.

wild food nettle soup

Potato blues

I found a blighty looking tomato on one of my plants today and ended up scrutinising the nearby potatoes. The leaves looked suspiciously blight-esque so I decided to pull them all up, spur of the moment.

I was planning to buy myself a garden fork to celebrate potato harvest time this summer, but under the circumstances all I had was a folding hand trowel that I’d won, oddly but luckily, at the Institute of Fundraising convention last summer. Not the perfect tool for the job maybe but it is a brilliant little thing and very much in keeping with my slightly chaotic and impromptu gardening style. So off I went, chucking soil this way and that in search of treasure.

I managed to get up a fair number of lovely little spuds. What was extra exciting was that I had completely forgotten that I’d planted a variety of blue potato! (It’s a heritage variety called ‘Salad Blue’ and its friend there is ‘Ratte’, a variety similar to ‘Pink Fir Apple’ apparently.) Can’t wait to taste them.



Vintage Velo

This Sunday I had the pleasure of being the volunteer photographer for this year’s Vintage Velo bike ride. This was the fourth annual edition of the Tweed Run-style jaunt which is held each year as a fundraiser for the Bristol Cycle Festival. My bicycle Petal and I both got a bit dressed up for the occasion. You can see here Petal’s lovely bunting, which I made for her, in between snapping pics, at the ‘Bunt up your Bike’ stall near the registration area. She’s looking rather sweet, don’t you think? (There is no photograph of her rider, I’m afraid!) Bicycle with bunting Well over 100 cyclists donned their vintage finery and took to their two-wheeled steeds (of any and all vintages) to ride through the sunny Sunday afternoon to our mystery destination… Vintage Velo cyclists …which was the rather grand Kings Weston House to the north of Bristol. Kings Weston House I say! Kings Weston House interior All in all it was a lovely day, even if I did end up at one point stranded briefly behind a doubledecker sightseeing bus circling the Downs, after stopping to photograph my fellow cyclists. If you did want to see a photograph of me on the ride, you can ask the tourist at the back of the bus who took my photo as I pedalled to catch up to the group. I smiled very nicely! I do aim to entertain. Late afternoon, once I’d had taken in my fill of sunshine on the lawn, I departed for home, riding back along the Portway. I couldn’t resist stopping to snap a shot of our iconic suspension bridge. And our muddy Avon too. View of suspension bridge Bristol love!

Life in the (illustrious) UK

After years of being very much eligible but also very much not bothered, I’ve now embarked on the process of becoming a British citizen. The other day I just suddenly got the urge, like really truly got the urge rather than my usual train of thought on this topic, i.e. ‘I could do that, yeah uh should look at that again, oh what difference does it make, don’t want to jump through all those expensive hoops anyway, BAH!’ It just feels like the time is right and the mood has well and truly struck. Maybe I’m finally so entirely embedded myself in UK soil that to carry on not having the vote or the passport is just rather…boring.

So the other day I made a list of each step I need to take – each hoop I need to fling myself through – to become a naturalised UK citizen. Top of the list are a number of actions involving the infamous Life in the UK test. I have already ticked off action number one: buy a copy of the Life in the UK test handbook. Next two actions? Study said book and book said test. Step four: pass the bloody thing (after coughing up the requisite £50 exam fee of course).

Life in the UK handbook

The test book is full of (awkward) British cheerleading and propaganda. There is a sizeable chapter called ‘A long and illustrious history’. I have no issue with further familiarising myself with British history. What I do object to is calling centuries of bloodthirsty squabbles over land and religion ‘illustrious’. But, whatever, right? To simply get on with the process of studying this material, I find myself reading passages out loud and providing an (in my opinion) ever-so-dry-and-witty commentary. I don’t know if this will help me to memorise the salient points or not, but it’s a way forward. There are other chapters that are slightly less challenging – for instance ‘A modern, thriving society’, in which one learns what a bank holiday is and finds examples of the many fine ways that the British public spends its leisure time (betting and gambling receive their own subsection here).

Leafing through the pages ahead, I see that I shall shortly be receiving education on government, the law and my role. I will learn, in language suitable for ESOL Entry Level 3 or above, how to be a good citizen. However, I think it’s obvious that by refusing to take the Life in the UK handbook seriously I am already clearly demonstrating my readiness to be inducted into official Britishness. So bring it on.

Finding my way

When I first moved to Bristol I could barely get from my front door to the local shops without a map. For a time, everywhere I went – and I went everywhere by foot – I carried with me in my bag a Bristol and Bath A-Z (that’s ‘A to zed’ for the uninitiated).

Someone I work with, a new arrival to Bristol, was asking the other day which of two routes (displayed on Google Maps on the PC screen before us) I thought was the best for getting to a particular location. I thought one would be quicker but might require her to wend her way through a few streets and so I asked, ‘Do you have an A-Z?’ I almost instantly laughed out loud, conceding that she would obviously just use her phone to find her way and would have no need for a paper book of maps. To be fair, it was only 8 years ago that I came here, but I guess that’s a long time in some ways. I’m only just getting my first smart phone this very week (it so happens), so the way I look at such things is probably a bit skewed anyway.

I still have my A-Z and I still use it from time to time. I like how it’s been softened and dog-eared by the years, the corners of certain key pages are turned down and there’s the occasional sticky note on a page with scribbled instructions for getting to somebody’s house. I’ve lived and worked on a number of different pages in this book and I’ve visited many more. People used to stop me in those early days of my Bristol life and ask me the way to somewhere. I’d usually say that I didn’t know…but that I did happen to have a map. Together we’d have a look and find the elusive destination on one of the pages.

I learned this city on my feet. I used to walk off in some direction or another just to get lost and then, when lost enough, I would find myself again using my book of maps. It didn’t always work and sometimes I’d stay lost longer than planned. I once dragged an unsuspecting brother of mine, visiting from the US, along on one of these ‘lost with a map in hand’ escapades. But eventually my feet did, and usually do, (somehow) find their way.

The made up garden

I have a very cobbled together garden. The veg patch gets too much shade and the neighbourhood cats like to use it as a toilet (leading me to punctuate the earth with random sticks in an attempt to make it uninviting to their paws/bottoms).Vegetable patch

But I do love my garden. It’s a good place for sitting with a cup of tea and watching the washing dry in the sun. And in the height of summer there will be greens and tomatoes, alpine strawberries and the buzz of bees everywhere. It lets me be outdoors and grow things and swear at cats (I love cats really) and get dirty fingernails and just make things up as I go along.

For example…

Today’s top 5 uses for the empty veg box crates I keep forgetting to put out to be collected by the veg box delivery person:

1. Petite shed for garden hand tools

2. Pedestal to create backdoor window box effect


3. Trough for growing greens (nasturtiums and mixed lettuces perhaps?)

Growing box

4. Table for seed modules (dwarf sunflower and calendula)

Seed modules

5. Mini utility room greenhouse for germinating chillies, tomatoes, basil and lovage

Germinating seeds in utility room


Like love

Crochet, like love, is all the better when you share it. Here are a few things I’ve recently made and given away.

Crocheted wine bottled bag

crocheted snowflakes

A wine bottle bag and a set of snowflake mug mats, given as Christmas gifts

crocheted blanket on chair


A blanket, part made my mom, in Tucson; part made by me, in Bristol; and given to my brother on his birthday at the end of December

crocheted pixie hat

Pixie hat with flowers, given to a child on her first birthday

Baby pom-pom hat






Fuzzy pom-pom hat, given to a child just about to reach her first birthday

And a baby cardi made to mark the arrival of a work friend’s brand new baby in January

pale green baby cardi

Go slow, go sloe…

a handful of sloesFor many weeks I’ve been on a go-slow, drinking coffee each morning while reading about living and dying. Then on work days I’d take a bus, swinging past the Downs, shops, signs, sometimes juddering to a stop in road works. Resting. Today I rejoined the cycling to work contingent (and drank my coffee in the office instead, while starting Outlook for the day). I felt the goodness of cycling, being under my own power. Swooshing down hills, and smiling.

I passed ripe sloes the other day as I walked from the bus to the office. Today I went back to pick a few at lunchtime, expecting to end up with nothing more than a largish handful, but there were many, many, many. I picked and picked. I caught snatches of conversation from across the road where a woman and her kids discussed the scene: “Blackberries? No…elderberries.” “No, no,” I thought. “Sloes. The fruit of the blackthorn tree.” Then I heard an “excuse me” and there was the family, in the car in their drive, ready to pull out. Curiosity was expressed. “They’re sloes, like little plums,” I said. “You can make sloe gin with them.”

I think I spent over half an hour picking sloes. Later on I cycled them home, tucked up safe in a pannier. Tonight I have pored over them, removing stems and leaves, piling them high in a colander. Lovely, lovely sloes. I will make sloe gin with you.

I made elderflower vinegar earlier this summer, with elderflowers I somehow managed to catch. I was sure I was to miss them this year. But I didn’t, so made a bit of bottled sunshine, good on salads. The other end of the summer will bring the elderberries. I want to catch them too if I can, before they’re gone, and make a tonic to spice up colder days (and keep winter ailments at bay).

Sloes in colander

Hyperbolic crochet and other things

Finished this developmental toy for a friend’s baby today. It’s created by increasing in every stitch as you go around and is in fact also a model of hyperbolic space. Shouldn’t every young child have a model of hyperbolic space? They should.

Hyperbolic crochet toyHave also been crocheting hearts for a friend’s wedding. My flat is becoming littered with these cheerful little things.

Crocheted heartI woke up this morning really craving some ‘morning muffins’ of some sort, so I baked these. They’re carrot, apple and pumpkin seed muffins made with spelt flour, and I think they’re great. Especially fresh from the oven and with a bit of butter. Mmm.

Spelt breakfast muffins

“Not all those who wander are lost.”