Shingle Street Escape

The weather may have been very grey and trying to rain most of the time, but it was glorious to be out on the coast and not in lockdown. It is the first drive out of Ipswich I’ve made for over four months.

Sort of beachwear for July????

Of course, we know Coastal Suffolk well and the wind is rarely absent and even in July you sometimes needs a leather coat.

The mouth of the River Alde.

I have been coming to Shingle Street since I was six years old and each time I visit I am surprised at how little it changes. However, it is a long time since I can remember arriving at low-tide and seeing the treacherous shingle bar at the mouth of the River Alde.

Muddy areas were revealed as the tide receded.

Today, as we were walking down towards the shoreline I realised the extent the sea rises and the stormy waves travel during a winter high tide. When I was a teenager I used to imagine living in one of the cottages of this delightful seaside terrace, but now with more and more shocking news about the Climate Crisis I would be too nervous to live so close to the North Sea.

For the time being the sea kale and other wildflowers continue to bloom and seed and partially stabilise this low-lying, marshy coastline and we can enjoy a refreshing walk along the beach.

Some of the tough sea kale (Crambe maritime) was in flower and some had already gone over.

What do you think Tobias?

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced further changes as part of the loosening of the lockdown in England. Amongst other cultural venues, museums and galleries will once again be able to open their doors and admit the general public from the 4th July .

Tobias Blosse (1565/6-1630/1) 17th century English School 1627-8. Oil on Canvas. Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. Tobias Blosse was Portman and Bailiff of Ipswich and Captain of the Ipswich Train Band. In this portrait he was aged 62.

I can’t help but consider when looking at this portrait of Tobias Blosse (photo from a pre Covid visit) that his expression and pose suggests he might just be thinking ‘yes, yes I have seen this all before and humans will, as usual, forget surprisingly quickly all the horror of this plague’.

On a personal level, I am not sure how I feel about going to the cinema, which necessitates sitting inside with little ventilation for two or three hours. However, walking through the galleries of my local museum or visiting Christchurch Mansion to find inspiration for my work will be much welcomed. It will be interesting to see if wearing a mask is suggested – I think it might be necessary in some of the smaller venues. Following the advice given at the final daily Downing Street Briefing, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty called for individuals to mitigate risk. They said wearing face coverings was one way to fulfil that requirement!

Earlier this morning I received an email from ‘The Wallace Collection’ announcing their reopening on 25th July and informing everybody of the ‘new normal’ procedures for visiting the Collection. Strikingly, the opening hours have been reduced to 11 am to 3 pm and you have to pre-book your visit. I am waiting to see if this version of the new normal at a busy London gallery will be replicated at local museums and galleries across the regions.

Here’s a summary of the instructions for visitors from the Wallace Collection website.

I expect with local museum’s often occupying much smaller premises there may have to be even more restrictions. The days of spontaneously popping in for a 15 minute break to look at a favourite painting, or wander randomly through a display of Roman finds to divert oneself from the present, would appear to now also belong to the past.

Inspirational pattern detail so delicately painted on the portrait.

During the lockdown I have found books and the Internet have been useful along with strolling through the park and cemetery, but I am most definitely in need of being up close and personal with treasured objects from our past, even portraits of grumpy looking gents like Bailiff Blosse. In Tobias’s defence, I would just say that when standing in front of the canvas he does not appear quite so grumpy (apologies for the lens distortion Tobias).

As the gradual loosening of the lockdown continues and we find a new normal we will be reminded that as with much of human life, that some things are simply better experienced directly in person even if it now means more planning and less spontaneity.

Parched in May, Sodden in June

We’ve had some strange ol’ weather adding to our already strange times. As if we weren’t all living in an upside down world, the weather is all over the place. According to the Met Office we have, in England, just experienced the driest May on record.

And, now it’s June and we have these monsoon-like downpours. My roses bloomed so early that the first flush had near enough finished before the arrival of June and despite the rain, there’s no sign of ‘balling’ of the next flush as they are still tight buds. For once, I feel the roses have outwitted the capricious English weather.

However, it has been another story in the local park as by the end of May the lawns were turning brown,

and the ornamental grass display looked so parched it could have been mid-August in a heatwave.

A few white alliums in bloom are the only clue it isn’t high summer.

It was also a shame to see some of the frilly poppies (papaver somniferum) failing as they are normally so resilient. Their heavy heads drooped and their leaves withered. Following the past month without rain even a good watering would probably not save them now. I think perhaps it’s more the fact that the soil is baked so dry that the roots have become entombed.

Papaver somniferum – only about one in ten were successfully blooming.

Hopefully, there will be other poppies germinating from a later sowing that will fare better now June has brought us plenty of rain.

Of course, there are other features of Holywells Park where the heavy rain has been most welcome. It has topped up the ponds, re-greened the grass and provided moisture to the sheltered areas beneath the trees. This amazing palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) grows well in its sheltered position. It stands tall as the monsoon-like deluge penetrates the overhead canopy and gives this little corner of an urban park in Ipswich a tropical atmosphere.

But, there is no doubt about it – the plant that has benefitted the most from all those hours of Maytime sunshine is the banana plant in the park’s Victorian Conservatory – it’s been growing like Jack’s beanstalk.

Remember When

Remember when a saunter down the Strand meant dodging the crowds

and hurrying across to the station meant sidestepping day-trippers.

Remember when tourists clambered onto repurposed Routemasters

and taxis queued across Westminster Bridge.

Remember when cruise ships docked at Liverpool appearing to dwarf the Liver Building

and flying out of Heathrow was being one in 78 million (per year).

But, most of all, remember when spending sunny days with visiting family was just . . . . quietly pleasurable and unremarkable.

The Unbearable Emptiness of Lockdown

I was going to write about my experience of walking from the Waterfront to the Town Centre on a ‘busy’ Friday lunchtime in Ipswich, but I think on this occasion the pictures speak for themselves.

The Hold – on hold
Shoppers’ car park
Busy Buttermarket
Tree parking
A delivery

Thank You

We are most definitely living through strange times. Or, perhaps, not if you look back across the centuries. Maybe it’s just our 21st-century, developed-world mode of living that has encouraged us to become more and more over-confident in the abilities of medical science and technology to overcome any ‘surprise’ new disease. Worryingly, according to the well-informed Bill Gates, it is unlikely that an effective vaccination will be widely available for at least 18 months.

Drawing out text is certainly not one of my talents!

And, only today all over the news (here in the UK) there have been discussions that it may well become commonplace when out and about in public to wear face masks in the same way that it is the accepted norm in countries like Japan.

At present, for most of us, following the lockdown rules and helping those we can in our immediate ‘socially distancing’ circle is the best we can do. And, of course, we can also thank those professional NHS staff, care home workers and all those employed turning up to perform essential roles. I don’t know if you have seen, but various artists have also shown their thanks by offering designs for those stuck at home to colour-in or adapt.

There was this design on the Arts page of the BBC website from Sir Michael Craig-Martin.

Then I saw that Damien Hirst had also produced a design. This too is available to download from his website.

But naturally I was always going to be doing my own version.

Typography’s a bit wobbly, but I think you get the idea.

I have painted my thanks and I’ve hung it my bay window. I may not be a famous artist and this contribution may not be as big as some of the banners I’ve seen round Ipswich, but it’s certainly bright and cheerful .

It’s sort of a rainbow . . . there’s lots of flowers . . . and if you look very closely there is one butterfly (honestly).

Of course at the moment there’s not much vehicular traffic, but my road has become part of a popular route for joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers and people strolling through for their one hour of exercise in the sunshine. Quite a few of our local residents have tried to lift the somewhat gloomy air by filling their windows with rainbows and teddy bears (the bears are there for those on the Bear Hunt!) and somebody has even painted a full-colour, gloss paint rainbow across the road. Strange times indeed.

‘Queen of the Carbs’ Makes a Comeback during an Extra-ordinary Easter

It is a long time since I’ve posted a ‘food/baking’ piece. It isn’t that I don’t do any cooking or baking these days, but more that food doesn’t have much to do with my creative work.

Obviously, blog posts about my professional work show the development and process of painting a silk scarf. Posts about art, sculpture, architectural details and East Anglia’s cultural heritage in general, indicate from where I find much of my inspiration. Then there are my flower and garden posts full of colourful floral arrangements as if you were in any doubt where quite a few of my colour combinations come from.

Then there is the odd time I write a review of a play or a film I’ve seen because I just can’t help myself despite reviews having nothing to do with painting silk. These reviews are the result of a momentary glitch when my grumpy alter ego manages to slip the leash.

But this has been a very strange and disconcerting Easter and like everybody else I have been indoors, a lot, and I found FLOUR in my store cupboard. That’s a selection of opened, half-used bags of plain, self-raising, strong, wholemeal, seeded, rye and spelt. So I’ve had a bake up.

Panini, scones and biscotti.
  • Plain flour – that will be some almond biscotti made with two-thirds white to one-third muscovado sugar.
  • Self-raising flour – some Mary Berry scones perhaps.
  • Strong flour – easy, naturally, hot cross buns!
Yes, fresh yeast. It was Hobson’s choice so not quite as fresh as it could have been.

Fortunately, along with the strong flour I also had yeast, eggs, butter and the dried fruit and spices needed for hot cross buns. Another stroke of luck was finding at the back of the cupboard the whole citrus peel leftover from my three attempts at making panettone. My first effort was made for last Christmas. Then I had another go in January and then another in February.

Anyway, let’s forget Christmas and get back to Easter! Compared to panettone hot cross buns are easy. Mix up the dough, give it a good knead and the only thing you have to remember is that as this is an enriched dough, it’s a good hour and a half for the first prove rather than the usual hour.

Dough mixed and kneaded, then after first prove shaped into buns for second prove complete with their ‘runny’ crosses – baking in the time of Covid.

This year the only issue I had was that the flour paste for the crosses was too runny and whereas I would normally keep ladling in the flour to make it thicker, with the current flour shortages, runny it stayed.

No family visiting from the depths of the West Country or even down from London this Easter holidays, but hot cross buns freeze well and will be a welcome carb treat with the morning coffee for the next . . . . . three weeks of lockdown.

April flowers now and then

What a difference a few weeks has made? Only four weeks ago it was Friday, 13th March and it was Gold Cup Day at the Cheltenham Festival. It strikes me now as mind-boggling to think that 60,000 people attended the famous National Hunt race meeting, but attend they did, visiting from far and wide. It already seems a long time ago as everybody comes to terms with living in a lockdown.

Today is Maundy Thursday and the weather is beautiful and sunny, but there will be no holiday stays at the seaside this Easter.

I photographed this gorgeous cherry tree last April in Aldeburgh when my sister came to stay. (She had taken a house for this Easter too and we had tickets for Bach’s St Matthew Passion at Snape Maltings, but it’s most definitely stay at home and stay safe.)

However, on a positive note it is always amazing at this time of year what a difference a couple of days of sunshine and warmer temperatures makes to the gardens. Overnight the aubretia is blooming . . .

The first aquilegia is flowering . . .

And, the pear I planted last year is covered in blossom.

Pear Concorde – late-season, self-fertile. A Conference and Doyenne du Comice cross chosen as it will be on it’s own as I couldn’t see any pear trees in nearby gardens for fertilisation.

I particularly value the pear blossom as, like many of us, I am looking for any signs of hopeful renewal during this Covid lockdown.

Honesty in my suburban garden Norfolk. (April 2015)

Compared to my old Norfolk garden I only have a small patch of outside space and it is mostly concrete slabs thanks to previous owners with their ‘low maintenance’ mindset. However, I really must not complain as I do have fresh spring greenery and some flowers too. I deeply appreciate my little backyard during these difficult Covid times when many families live in flats and don’t even have access to a balcony.

Daffodils in Christchurch Park, Ipswich. (A couple of weeks ago.)

Fortunately, we are lucky in Ipswich as, so far, the beautiful parks are still open for exercise and dog-walking.

A carpet of Lesser Celandine in Holywells Park, Ipswich. (last week)

And, you can even bicycle, run or maybe simply stroll along the Waterfront for your daily exercise.

Wishing you all well this Easter and keep safe.

A kinda pleasant surprise

I will start by saying that I am not normally a fan of chopping down trees, but one totally overgrown Leyland Cypress, partially overhanging my backyard, is not a tree I will be sad to see chopped down.

Earlier this week, whilst finding it very, very hard to concentrate on working (I guess like most folk at the moment) I was completely distracted by an extremely loud chainsaw. My office is at the top of the house with a second floor window overlooking my backyard. Peering up and down the backyards I couldn’t see where the noise was coming from. Then suddenly I noticed movement in the ugly fir tree at the back of my yard.

Man at work.

Hooray, hooray. That horrible tree that shades ALL the late afternoon sun from my yard and drops mountains of acidic debris all over my flowers is going.

After an hour of chainsaw activity it all went quiet. The tree surgeon, Acorn Trees, a local business, climbed down for what I assumed was a tea-break. Incidentally, he’s the same guy who removed the overgrown tree that was growing against my house when I first moved in.

An hour later I thought that’s a long tea-break and looked out the window to see everything all cleared up, packed up and gone. The tree was still standing just four metres now instead of the original 12 metres, but nevertheless still alive! That’s why it’s a kinda pleasant surprise. No shading of my yard and far less acidic sprinkles, but nevertheless still a huge, living root system sucking out all the nutrients from under my pear tree, climbing rose and herbaceous perennials. I think I am definitely a ‘glass half empty person’. Naturally, I have piled on the garden compost last autumn and again the other weekend to boost the soil, but if only that tree had been entirely grubbed up and replaced with an ornamental deciduous native such as a crab apple tree.

So, this is it. Not a very elegant solution, but I suppose that’s what my neighbour’s asked for, a two-thirds reduction. I am secretly hoping my vigorous climbing rose will take off in that direction and sneakily scramble up and cover the stumps with a cascade of summer rose blooms.

Collaborations

The World Presents . . . by Megan Wright
“I created these posters because I wanted to put across the message that it doesn’t take much to save the planet that we live on. If everyone just did small things to help it would make a massive difference.” Megan Wright.

Last month I went to see an exhibition of artwork on display at my local library. It was work created by art students studying for the UAL Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at Suffolk New College in Ipswich.

The brief for the students was to creatively tackle the issue of sustainability and their explorations were displayed around the Ipswich County Library.

One of the displays for the recent BLOC / Suffolk New College collaboration at the bottom of the stairs, Ipswich County Library.
Modern Goddess by William Board
“In a world where the fight never ends, we continue to contribute to a problem as we are fighting it. The textile industry generates more than 15 million tons of used textiles each year in the United States alone, and the amount has doubled over the last 20 years.” William Board.

This interesting exhibition was a collaboration between Suffolk Libraries and Suffolk New College with BLOC hosting the event. What or who are BLOC you’re thinking. Actually BLOC is an acronym that stands for Building Libraries on Creativity. It is Suffolk Libraries’ creative youth arts programme which has the aim to use creativity as a catalyst to improve young people’s resilience and wellbeing, and to change perceptions of libraries and how they serve the community, with a focus on young people. It was certainly great to see the thoughtful and compelling work created by the students. However, it was a little chilling that there was a definite grim edge to their assessment of where they think we currently are with the issue of sustainability.

Tooth and Claw. Imogen Howe
“A piece that captures the struggle to maintain ‘ethical sustainability’. Depicting the fight between good and evil, in the form of the angel and the devil. Painted using fabric paint on calico fabric, and etched using a drypoint technique over the top.” Imogen Howe.

I think any endeavour to get youngsters into libraries is welcome and holding exhibitions and other events helps to highlight the presence of libraries and also broaden their appeal for the wider community.

The First Flowers of 2020

Last week in between Ciara and Dennis (that’s the storms) I ventured out into my backyard to check for damage and collect up the debris from the neighbouring eucalyptus tree (still standing). And, to my enormous pleasure I found that the hellebores I planted last year are now blooming.

The Lenten Rose. Helleborous orientalis

Now, I do not normally cut these flowers as with their drooping heads once cut they tend only to look at their very best as single blooms floating in a shallow bowl. A shallow bowl arrangement is fine as a table centrepiece, but in my studio I only have shelf space. The two tables I have are covered with frames, silk and all the associated bottles and jars of dyes with which I am currently working.

Nevertheless, even though I knew they wouldn’t last long, I did cut two stems. I then spent some time fiddling around propping up the blooms using some blossom-bearing twigs of an evergreen shrub (Viburnum tinus) finally making my first vase arrangement of homegrown flowers for 2020. Incidentally, it wasn’t just the first flowers that were picked, but the first caterpillar was also sighted.

A very green caterpillar

Although I don’t have space to grow bulbs for cutting myself, there’s no reason not to buy a bunch of Cornish-grown daffodils. At this time of the year they last a good week and absolutely brighten up my basement kitchen.

Daffodils all the way from Cornwall.

And, of course also at this time of year a stroll through the Old Cemetery finds the crocuses in bloom . . .

. . . but what’s all this noise? I raised myself, camera in hand, after kneeling for a crocus close-up, to find myself amidst a startled murder of crows. Wrong exposure and not in focus, but, for once, I managed to capture a half-dozen of the birds as they wheeled away. All rather spooky!