Tags: canal boat, Emma Smith, ice cream, Maiden's Trip.
Since our canal holiday earlier this year, I’ve been a lot more aware of the canal boats I see everyday. I often cycle along the Regent’s Canal towpath on my way to work, and can also see a little bit of it from my flat (a view that’s slowly being eroded by new buildings). There are a real mix of boats, from floating wrecks to beautifully cared for boats with painted names and extensive miniature-gardens of flowers, vegetables and herbs. You get to know some of them for short (or longer) periods of time, depending on the mooring regulations upon particular stretches of the canal (some moorings are long term; some are for a fortnight only).
After getting back from our Kennet & Avon jaunt, I read Emma Smith’s Maiden’s Trip, a fictionalised version of the writer’s experiences working on a barge during the war, when women were called in to help with the vital work of moving cargoes around the country via its waterways. She vividly describes the hardships – and pleasures – of life on the boats, from bad weather and bed bugs to tinned milk cocoa and kedgeree for tea. The maiden’s trip takes them from Limehouse Basin (15 minutes cycle ride from my flat), where they load up, to Birmingham and Coventry and back. The views from the canal encompass desolate and dirty urban wastelands as well unspoiled glorious countryside. They meet a range of people along the way and find friends and rivals among the barge folk, from those for who it’s just a day job to those whose whole lives are lived on the water.
If anyone has any other recommendations for stories set aboard barges, I’d love to hear them please. I keep thinking that Five Go off on a Canal Boat is a great, unwritten story, which I can vividly imagine elements of, in part drawn from my own trip in April: accidentally hitting another boat (perhaps this is Dick, getting distracted by lunch being prepared below deck), having a nasty encounter with some rude and angry men, suspicions being aroused as lights shine out from the boats at night – perhaps a midnight trip up and down the canal, picking up or dropping off some mysterious cargo… And of course this would all be fueled by plenty of ices and lemonade, boiled eggs for breakfast and burnt sausages for tea. This ice cream barge, currently moored near Victoria Park, would provide the perfect stopping off point for refreshments.
Tags: Almond Kitchen, Botany, Botany Shop, Chatsworth Road, doughnnuts, Firefly Books, From Field and Flower, honey, jam, London Borough of Jam, marshmallow
I’ve just returned from a Sunday morning jaunt to Chatsworth Road, E5. I’ve not been down there for a couple of years and there are now so many lovely places to shop, eat and drink. Sunday (11-5) is market day. Here are a few my highlights from today’s visit:
This lovely gentleman at the ‘From Field and Flower‘ stall very easily talked me into buying a stawberry honey creme and some pollen (it’s full of vitamins and good for the joints). My friend and I were encourage to try lots of delicious Italian (and one English) raw honeys. I’ll definitely be going back once I’ve worked my way through the stock of Welsh honey I picked up on my recent-ish trip to Hay-on-Wye.
Some delicious home-made confectionery courtesy of The Almond Kitchen. The vanilla marshmallows were yummy and would be perfect for taking on a Famous Five expedition.
Ditto these doughnuts from London Borough of Jam. ‘Timmy’s just silly over those doughnuts’, we find out in Five Have a Wonderful for Time. Sadly, the lady in the LBJ shop informed us that the bakery who makes them forgot to put the jam in! So only custard available today.
But lots of jam in the shop itself. Amalfi lemon and vanilla, strawberry and rose, apricot and camomile and much more. Mmmmm. I can imagine Aunt Fanny or Joan the Cook making some delicious jams like these, using herbs and flowers from the Kirrin Cottage garden.
And another one for Aunt Fanny, the beautiful and serene Botany, which sells plants (lots of succulents in little pots and jars), local flowers, gifts for home and garden, and a wonderful curated selection of flora and fauna-themed books including novels, histories, pattern sourcebooks, growing guides and cookbooks.
Chatsworth Road also has lots of great charity and antique shops, fruit and veg shops and stalls, plus the excellent Firefly Books, where I picked up a copy of 1000 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up (still a little time for me, then) for a mere £2. Bargain.
Tags: Growing Communities, harvest festival, Haystack, High Tea, Lammas Day, scything, Walthamstow Marshes
Have you ever wanted to learn how to scythe and how to make a haystack? It’s just the sort of thing you can imagine the Five helping out with on the farm, before going into the farmhouse for a grand High Tea of ham and lettuce sandwiches, scones and cherry cake, all washed down with homemade lemonade.
If you fancy it, and you’re anywhere near east London next weekend, here’s your chance. From 1-3 August you can take part in a Community Haystacks event on Walthamstow Marshes. The Marshes were traditionally considered common land and are now managed by Lea Valley Regional Park. Hay used to be cut on Lammas Day (1 August), which is the festival of the wheat harvest and the first harvest festival of the year. For the second year in a row the traditional is being reinstated on Walthamstow Marshes by the Lee Valley Park Rangers and artists Kathrin Bohm and Louis Buckley.
On 1 and 2 August you can learn how to scythe with expert Colin Leeke. A two hour workshop costs £5 and includes tools and (much needed) refreshments. There will also be free talks on the Marshes from speakers including artist and architect Céline Condorelli, food grower and conservationist Fiona McAllister from Growing Communities, and artist Alana Jelinek. Sunday 3 August is haystack-making day! Bring a picnic and join in to help make the largest haystack the Marshes have seen for many a year. Apparently this will be Essex-style – I don’t know what this means but will look forward to finding out.
More information and details of booking for workshops can be found here.
Tags: Book Hive, Dormouse Books, Fabulous Frames, Norwich, Norwich Castle, Ronaldo's Ice Cream, Verandah, Wonder of Birds
Just back from a lovely weekend in my home town of Norwich. I love that place. Here’s my pick of things to do from this visit.
Eat local. Loads of delicious produce from Norfolk is available on the market and from other delis and stores. Here’s some tasty looking asparagus from Louis’ on Upper St Giles, and some gooseberries and strawberries from the market. Mmmm!
Buy some books. The Dormous bookshop on Elm Hill has good secondhand books including Blytons and Penguins. The Book Hive is a new-ish but now much beloved institution. This picture is of their window display promoting their ‘Book Hive Year’ whereby you can sign up to receive one hand-picked book a month for a year.
Send a postcard home. The Famous Five always send their parents a card or two while they are away. I love this letterbox which is embedded in the window of stylish art/craft/gift shop, Verandah on Upper St Giles (the shop was formerly a Post Office). You can buy some gorgeous cards just up the road at Fabulous Frames (separate post on these to follow).
Learn stuff. Norwich Castle Museum is one good place to do this. It’s a museum in a castle! What could be better than that? They currently have an exhibition on called The Wonder of Birds: Nature: Art: Culture. It’s good. So good I bought a catalogue. No photos allowed inside the exhibition but there were stuffed birds aplenty, drawings, paintings, textiles, fashion, eggs and fossils. Extinct birds were represented too, including the Great Auk, whose replica egg would have delighted Jack of the Adventure series (keen ornithologist Jack dreams of one day spotting a Great Auk).
Eat local, part 2. Ronaldo’s ice cream stall, located on London St, does the best ices. They use local milk and cream, fruits, nuts and liquers. I had liquorice which I wasn’t sure I’d like. It was, needless to say, utterly delicious. If you can’t decide though, I’d make like the Famous Five and have at least three ice creams each:
“I advise you to start off with vanilla, go on to strawberry and finish up with chocolate.” – Julian, Five Have a Wonderful Time.
Tags: bird song, Blackbird, twitter
‘I know that sometimes in the quiet evening, when I have been reading in the garden just before sunset, I have been so startled by a blackbird’s loud alarm-rattle that I have dropped my book and leapt to my feet in astonishment’ – Enid Blyton, Round the Year - Spring Time
As we know, Enid was an expert naturalist and knew the calls and tweets of many birds. To celebrate the 5th birthday of Famous Five Style – yes, it’s really been five years to the day since to my first post – I’m now going to be doing my own sort of tweeting @famousfivestyle
Please do come and follow me!
Tags: bagels, banneton, ciabatta, E5 Bakehouse, Hackney Wild, Rye, sourdough
For last year’s Christmas gift countdown challenge, I suggested the gift of a Bertinent bread-making class for Aunt Fanny. Well, I should have actually recommended the classes run by my local bakery, the E5 Bakehouse. After some (I thought quite subtle, but apparently not, hints), my very own Quentin got me a day of learning the secrets of sourdough for my Christmas present. I booked some time ago but due to the popularity of the classes only embarked upon this initiation on Thursday. Anyway, it was brilliant.
We had a very good teacher called Pete. Pete is is a baker at the Bakehouse. Over the course of the day he taught us how to make 4 different breads, all with a sourdough starter. The breads were a 66% rye, ciabatta, bagels, and the Bakehouse’s signature loaf, the Hackney Wild. The bagels and ciabatta use the same white starter, but the rye and Hackney Wild have their own made with different proportions of rye, wholemeal and white flour.
The class assembled at 11am for coffee, bread and marmalade. A couple of us were locals, but many people had travelled from afar, including one gentleman who had left Darlington at 5am to make it to London in time. We spent the morning getting our different doughs going, giving them the occasional fold, and learning more about the history of sourdough, bread in general, and the heritage wheats that the Bakehouse likes to use (since the 50s, a hybrid, bred, type of wheat is generally used for bread-making, but many smaller growers are trying to revive older grains). One thing I didn’t know was that the name ‘ciabatta’ (meaning ‘old man’s slipper’) was only coined fairly recently, as an Italian reaction to the invasion of other foreign breads (baguettes and the like) into Italy.
After a bread for lunch (locally foraged and grown salad, including delicate and delicious wild garlic, and sandwiches made with Bakehouse bread, of course) we began shaping our loaves. We learnt how to be gentle with the bread, shaping round loaves with a little gentle lift and squeeze (oh yes) before popping them in a banneton (a cane basket that helps the bread develop and keep its shape during the time it takes to prove).
Bagel were interesting to make. Pete, our teacher, showed us two techniques for this. One involved rolling a sausage of dough and then squeezing this firmly together and giving the dough a roll with the palm of your hand until the join is sealed. The second was fun too. This consisted of poking a hole into a round piece of dough and then using your index fingers to roll and stretch the hole out from the inside. After the bagels sat and proved for a bit we poached them in boiling water and bicarbonate of soda before dressing them with salt, sesame or poppy seeds and popping them into the bread oven to bake.
The ciabatta, rich with olive oil, was silky and slippery to roll and stretch out, while the Hackney Wild and the 66% rye were nice and firm and satisfying to shape. One valuable lesson we learnt was about to how to recreate some of the qualities of the bread oven at home. Key to this is introducing some element of steam. This prevents a crust forming too quickly which restricts the development of your loaf. Some ways to do this are by putting a tray of water, or some ice cubes, into the bottom of your oven while the bread bakes. Another interesting method that Pete demonstrated to us is to bake the bread inside a cast iron cooking pot. The bread produced its own steam and is able to swell and rise evenly before you take the lid off for the final 10 minutes of cooking time. Pete made two loaves – one in the pot, one just on a tray - and the difference was remarkable.
I came home laden with lots of bread and three pots of starters (plus a snazzy E5 scraper/cutter). As I write, there is still one ciabatta, a quarter of rye and two bagels left, plus a frozen Hackney Wild dough in the freezer. Whew! But to keep in practice, I’m currently creating a new rye leaven from my starter (you add a bunch more flour and water and leave it out of the fridge to spring to life) so I can bake some more tomorrow.
Tags: Artist Textile, Fashion and Textile Museum, Graham Sutherland, Horrockses, John PIper, Marc Chagall, Rockwell Kent
A largely visual post today, after my visit to the penultimate day of the Artist Textiles exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, South London. The exhibition focuses on the work of 20th century artists such as Picasso, Alexander Calder, Barbara Hepworth, John Piper, Sonia Delaunay, Raoul Dufy and many others, exploring their work in the area of textile design. This was one way in which ordinary people were able to engage with, purchase and surround themselves with modern art – fabric for curtains, printed scarves and cotton print dresses were much more affordable and practical than large sculptures or paintings. Everyone could own a Picasso after he finally agreed to produce some designs for Dan Fuller of Fuller Fabrics in the 1950s.
The exhibition is beautiful and often works are on open display, enabling you to get up close to see the textures and colours of the fabric. Here are just a few of my favourites – all picked with the tastes and interests of Aunt Fanny, unsung hero of the Famous Five, in mind.
I think Aunt Fanny would appreciate these. She’s a keen gardener and as a woman of the 1930s/40s/50s/60s would have thought nothing about growing produce to feed her (very) hungry family. Vegetable Patch is actually a screen printed silk headscarf. Can’t you just imagine her donning this to pop down to the Kirrin shops?
This is a furnishing textile by Chagall. Maybe Fanny would like to cover her sofa, or make a nice pair of floral curtains for the bedroom from this. We know she enjoys flowers.
Country woman Fanny would probably drawn to this evocative harvest image of American Rockwell Kent’s screen-printed furnishing fabric. Kitchen curtains perhaps?
Perhaps Uncle Quentin took Fanny to Venice for their honeymoon? If so, she would no doubt like to be reminded of more romantic times by John Piper’s characteristically atmospheric screen-printed fabric, produced for Sanderson.
The Fashion and Textile Museum has previously devoted a whole exhibition to the Lancashire off-the-peg fashion company Horrockses, whose dresses were worn by royalty and housewives alike (Princess Margaret was frequently snapped in affordable Horrockses outfits). Aunt Fanny would have almost certainly owned frocks made by the company, who were hugely popular in the 40s and 50s. Here are details from these two dresses, in roses and snowdrop patterns. Mmmm.
Tags: Enid Blyton, house martin, National Trust, Nature Lover's Book, RSPB, sand martin, swallow, swift
…and House Martins too, but that didn’t fit with the alliterative title of this post.
As I was riding home from work tonight I saw some swallows. This is always a lovely sight, especially early in the year. Or were they swifts? Or martins? I wonder this to myself EVERY year. Although I have consulted Enid’s nature books in the past I’m afraid it’s failed to sink in. So here are some tips for identifying swallows, swifts and martins from each other, for me and also for you, if indeed you have this problem.
The Barn Swallow
From Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book:
‘He is a well-known bird, because of his long, forked tail. His black is steel0blue, his throat and forehead are chestnut-coloured, and he has a blue-barred chest.
Swallows build their nest sin barns of out-buildings, on beams or rafters. The nest is a saucer of mud, and is lined with feathers or grass. The eggs, which are long and narrow, are white, speckled with grey-brown.
The swallow has a musical little twitter that sounds like “feetafeetit, feetafeetit”. It is very pleasant to listen to listen to on a warm summer’s evening.’
From the RSPB Magazine:
‘The one with the long, forked tail: steel blue above, pale below (white to bright peachy colour) but with a clean-cut dark throat [...] Swallows typically fly low down, flying fluently with sinuous swerves and more fluttering twists, often around livestock, along the edges of open fields, over cricket pitches and the like’.
The House Martin
‘The one with the white rump: blue-black above with browner wings, with a broad white band above the tail, and all-white below from chin to tail. Nests in quarter-sphere mud cups beneath eaves’.
From Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book:
‘Many people think that the house martin is the barn swallow, for they are rather alike. The martin belongs to the swallow family, and leads the same aerial life. He is steel-blue above and white below. He has a white patch on his back, and this and his shorter tail will help distinguish him from the swallow. He, too, is a migrant.
The martin likes to build his nest of mud under our eaves, stuck against the wall. He lines it softly. The eggs are long and are pure white.
The martin, like the swallow, has a pleasing twitter.’
The Sand Martin
From the RSPB Magazine:
‘The brown one: all mid-brown above, white below with a brown chest band. This is a tiny bird, more fluttery than the others, often above or close to water.’
From Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book:
One thing that is lovely about Enid Blyton’s writing is the way she incorporates factual information into her narratives. The first part of the Nature Lover’s Book tells a series of short stories set across the course of the year. John, Janet and Pat go for a series of walks with Uncle Merry and his little black dog Fergus. Uncle Merry opens their eyes to all sorts of things that are around them, from flowers in January to nightbirds, moths and nocturnal beetles in June.
This is from ‘A Second Walk in May’
‘One morning John went into the garden and heard the swallows twittering together. He loved their little voices saying “feetafeetit, feetafeetit.” He looked up and saw that another bird was flying with them.
“That must be the swift,” said John to himself. “It’s sooty black, as Uncle Merry said. What great sickle-shaped wings it has! It looks like a flying anchor!”.
Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book has beautiful drawings by Donia Nachsen, as seen above. I was very lucky to discover a second hand copy of this in the National Trust bookshop at Blickling Hall in Norfolk while on a cycling tour a couple of years ago.
Tags: Bathampton, Caen Hill Locks, canal boat, Canal Museum, Canals and Rivers Trust, Chester Canal Trust, cygnets, Devizes, Kennet & Avon canal, Maiden's Trip., tinned milk
Hello there, and I hope you’re all enjoying the lovely May bank holiday weather. It was a little bit wetter last week when I and four chums (yes, there really were Five of us!) went on a canal boat holiday along the Kennet & Avon canal. Although the Famous Five never went on a boating holiday (they do use boats as frequent means of transport though, especially to get to Kirrin Island) it was a very FFS holiday. I suppose the closest point of comparison would be Five Go Off in a Caravan - living in a small and compact space and enjoying a VERY slow pace of travel.
We had three nights and four days on the boat, and I felt very much like Anne when we arrived at Bathampton (just outside of Bath) and were shown over the boat, the ‘Dorothy Beryl’, by Richard, her owner. In Five Go Off in Caravan, the Five are inspired by a passing traveling circus to hire two caravans to take them away for the summer holidays. When the little caravans arrive, one red, one green, Anne and the rest of the Kirrins sequel in delight as they explore their temporary homes:
‘”Bunks along one side – is that where we sleep? How gorgeous!”
“Look at this little sink – we can really wash up! And golly, water comes out of these taps!”
[...] “It’s like a proper house inside.Doesn’t it seem nice and big? [...]
The children spent hours examining their caravans and finding out all the secrets. They certainly well-fitted, spotlessly clean, and very roomy.’
Our boat was full of secrets and extremely well equipped. The dining table and seats turned into a double bed, the sitting room area revealed another bed (all bedding stowed underneath) and there were all sorts of cupboards hidden everywhere containing everything we needed. There was even a shower, toilet and little fridge – and a wood burning stove which came in very handy for us to warm up and dry our wet clothes (there was plenty of rain).
Like the Five’s caravans, out boat was fairly modern rather than old-fashioned and traditional. Before the caravans arrive, Anne asks if they will be gypsy caravans, on high wheels, but Julian shakes his head “No, they’re modern, Mother says, streamlined and all that.” I’d been secretly hoping our boat would be old and traditionally painted in classic canal boat style, but she was instead a neat blue with her name painted in bright yellow on her side. We did have a small stool by the stove that was traditionally decorated though. Canal boat art is beautiful, with roses and castles the traditional means of decoration. This example is from the Chester Canal Boat Trust.
If you live in London (as I do), you can also visit the Canal Museum by King’s Cross to see examples of canal art, find out more about the history of London’s canals and even step on board a real boat (and also play inside a recreation of one). Excitingly, the Canal Museum also doubles up as a museum for the history of ice cream (I have previously blogged on this, I think).
When my boss found out I was going on a boating holiday, he recommended a book called Maiden’s Trip, by Emma Smith. It’s about women taking on boatmen’s work during the war and hauling cargoes along the Grand Union Canal. Unfortunately I couldn’t get hold of it before I went, but I was inspired by the blurb on the Bloomsbury website to cook kedgeree for dinner on the first night. We actually ate very well on board. Richard provided delicious breakfast food for us, all sourced locally – creamy milk (with actual lumps of cream floating in it), local bread, eggs, bacon and a pot of homemade marmalade. I brought some tinned evaporated milk for my breakfast coffee (Louis brought an aeropress – I don’t think the Five had one of those). This is our lunch on the first day – cheese and cucumber sandwiches. We were delayed in eating these due to an unfortunate bump we accidentally gave some resident boaters – slightly scary men with large dogs who were not best pleased and actually boarded our boat to give us a piece of their mind. Oops.
This incident did get me imagining a Famous Five-type adventure on a canal boat, with the mystery kickstarted by a similar sort of incident (the Five think the men nasty sorts, moor just around the corner for the night and then witness strange goings on, which could be smuggling by boat, or perhaps a kidnap victim being stashed on board). However, in actuality, the only other eventful thing that happened that day was getting grounded on an aquaduct with an extreme right angle and nearly leaving Louis behind on the bank.
We also had the pleasure of working locks and swing bridges. Because the pace of travel on a canal boat is very slow (you have to go slowly for various reasons, not least because you don’t want to violently disturb all of the moored boats), having locks and bridges adds a LOT of excitement to the journey. The captain/skipper has to steer the boat close enough to the bank for you to hop off and run ahead to open the bridge, or get the lock working (two people are best for the latter). As the boat barely travels at walking pace, if there are a couple of bridges or locks coming up it’s not worthwhile getting back on board so you get a good walk as well as a work out using the windlass (lock key) to work the winding mechanism that lets water in and out. This can actually be quite physically taxing.
We worked about 7 locks on the second day which took us almost up to the bottom of Caen (pronounced ‘Cane’) Hill lock flight. This is a group of 29 locks, with 16 of them being placed in very close succession to take your boat up, or down, Caen Hill near Devizes. The guides say to allow around 4 hours to work the flight, but as as we only had 4 days, we didn’t have the time or inclination to do this (we would have just had to come back down again right away, and it would have taken a whole day). Richard told us about a time he was travelling with a relative who was a marine – he got some of his colleagues to help and they managed the locks in a record time of 1 and a half hours.
We contented ourselves with taking a nice walk up the flight, watching people working its gates and wondering if any of them would get attacked by the nesting swans. You can see films of last year’s swans and cygnets here, on the Canal and Rivers Trust website (I think this year’s must be there too, but can’t find on the website). There were also plenty of ducks and ducklings on the canals at this time of year, and we saw a number of herons plus the usual coots and moorhens.
By the time we returned to Bathampton on Tuesday evening, we all felt like experienced boaters. I’m dying to go again. Because the boats travel slowly, it’s a great way to see the countryside and also relax (if there are a few of you, there’s plenty of opportunity to work (steer, handle ropes, do the locks etc) but you rarely need 5 people so lots of time to read, write, sleep on the roof of the boat and so on. As I live by the Regent’s Canal in London, and cycle the towpath every morning, it’s given me a different perspective of the boats I pass every day. I’m actually quite jealous. There’s something very satisfying about the rhythms of life on the water. And one other curious thing – it took me a day or two to stop having a sensation of gently rocking when I got back on land.