Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reclaim the Streets

The marked cycle paths in South London often follow quiet residential streets with little traffic, and it strikes me that there is potential to reclaim these acres of tarmac and use them for vegetable gardens, trees, resting and playing spaces. By blocking off every second or third street and setting up a timed permit system for access for deliveries and loading, we could have green corridors across the city. Winding down the middle of these people-centred spaces, one-lane shared bike/pedestrian ways with in-ground solar-powered lighting. Dedicated multistory and underground parking facilities would use space more efficiently and provide 24hr video security. People would get more exercise and more opportunity to meet neighbours and the streets would be quieter and safer. With increased foot traffic would come more opportunities for pop-up businesses.

Lambeth Council is already providing secure bike parking, like these that I see everywhere. London is doing such a good job of creating infrastructure for cycling but it could go so much further.

Google tells us I'm not the first person to come up with ideas about reclaiming the streets. There was a whole movement in London in the 90s, and it actually started in Brixton which is where I was when I started thinking about it. That movement has been swept up into the wider anti-capitalist activities.

I'm thinking more along environmental AND high-tech lines. When Uber morphs into a transport system with something like google cars, for example. And car sharing schemes. Actually now I think about it, aren't there already streets like this in Collingwood and Fitzroy in Melbourne? Montpellier has some great lessons in how livable a pedestrian-zoned conurbation can be.


Look what I found.

One Lonely Planet, one Rough Guide. I was vacuuming at Jeremy's when I spotted these (I'd hate for anyone to think that I poked around in their things while house sitting - I don't. Except for bookshelves). Ah, I thought when I spotted these, just what I need. I have been looking in every charity shop I pass for guidebooks.

Hey, that's my name in the front, and it's in my own handwriting. Those are my highlights and notes scribbled in margins. It takes me a moment to register - these are mine, from when I was here in 2001-2. No wonder I fell upon them so eagerly. Now I dig into memory and remember that Jeremy had lent me stuff when I moved in to Miss Pope's - a portable TV, a couple of Pat's watercolour paintings. I must have included these books when I was returning what had been borrowed.

Packing up - ah, I do it all the time. It is almost exactly two years since I left Rotorua with no more than a suitcase. Then too I gave away what could be palmed off and took loads to local charity shops. I do have some things in storage on the Gold Coast (thanks Neil and Di). Of what I packed into that suitcase, very little is still with me now. Phone, laptop, toilet bag, a couple of merinos, a pair of gloves - that's about it. Now here are these books, artifacts from a life even more deeply rooted in the past. Strangely affirming. Traces of continuity in a peripatetic life. I live happily in the short term, but it is comforting and reassuring to have evidence of coherence, of some greater design running through the years and developing over time to shape the person I am today.

And now I'm picking up where I left off 15 years ago, doing things I wanted to do then but didn't get around to. The Leighton House Museum, Brixton markets, Chelsea Physic Garden, Tate Britain, Dulwich Picture Gallery. It is enormously satisfying for all sorts of reasons. The guidebooks might be dated, but they are still useful and I'm a bit thrilled that they have turned up in my life again and that I have this opportunity to fulfil those older wishes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


It's a short ride to Dulwich from Herne Hill and so a good choice for a rare blue-sky day in London. I am in my element setting off to go somewhere I have never been before with no idea what to expect. The buzz I get from this is probably to blame for me being unable to settle in one place for long. Its like an addiction I have.

My destination, the Dulwich Gallery, is easy to find but the sign saying Dulwich Village tempts me with promises of cafes, and the reality does not fail to satisfy. This is my sort of place, a tiny shopping street with lots of trees and not much traffic and some interesting little shops including a branch of Gail's Artisan Bakery, which I discovered near Clapham yesterday.

About Gail's, there are some recipes on their website, and they have a book out that looks great too. Check out some of the breads available, all made with sourdough starters.

Here's a nice place for sale in the area - is that a misprint, or are there meant to be that many zeros? In a suburb that doesn't even seem to have a mobile signal?

Back to the gallery. Nearby is one of the oldest buildings in Dulwich, the original Dulwich College for Boys.

I give the Dulwich Picture Gallery 3 out of 5. They promote their app which is meant to provide information about individual works. They say you can point your camera at any painting and the app will recognise it. I tried 3 times to download the app and it timed out each time. I asked at the ticket office was their WiFi network working, and the staff said they didn't know. Not good enough.

I got my lefts and rights mixed up again and rode up to Crystal Palace when I really wanted to go to the Horniman Museum.
School holidays, what was I thinking? The Horniman when I got there was unbelievably noisy and also smelly and hot. Turns out I wasn't in any mood to look at natural history. I guess I just tick off that one. Though I was very impressed by a taxidermy box of 112 hummingbirds. So tiny and so iridescent. And the conservatory is a lovely building - apparently Horniman ordered it from a catalogue from a Glasgow company.

There are views of the city from the gardens.

Cycling is such a pleasant way to explore and to feed my addiction. 

London summer

Drinking outside
Go overboard with flowers
And enjoy a pint in the afternoon
London presents lots of opportunities to look around people's homes. The Leighton Museum  is the house that Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), artist, traveller and celebrity of the nineteenth century, built to house his art collection and his studio. He wanted to create a 'private palace of art', and now it is open for all.

Lord Leighton's journeys in the Middle East and northern Africa inspired both his own artwork and this magnificent home.

Complete with indoor fountain and soaring domed roof, the Arab Hall is a mixture of Islamic and Victorian architecture, decorated with Turkish, Moorish and Syrian tiles, screens, fabrics, ceramics and mosaics.

The rest of the house has been restored to show the original William Morris wallpapers and some of the original furniture. Photography is not allowed but please have a look at the virtual tour here - you'll see what a delight this house is.
'He built the house as it now stands for his own artistic delight. Every stone of it had been the object of his loving care. It was a joy to him until the moment when he lay down to die.'
Leighton’s sisters in a Letter to The Times, 26 January 1899

William Morris 'India' wallpaper,
in the bedroom

The garden at the back of the house is very simple, a peaceful spot in the middle of busy Kensington that has lots of potential. Reviews here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

London, summer of 2016

My house sit in London is in Herne Hill. Before I got here, all I knew about the south of London ended at Waterloo, Vauxhall and Clapham Junction. So riding from Paddington meant plenty of stops to look up the map. Also a hill - well the name is a bit of a giveaway regarding that one. I said I'd arrive at about 4.00 in the afternoon and there I was ringing the doorbell right on the dot of 4.00. I didn't even have to hide around the corner for 10 minutes, waiting. And who should open the door but Uncle Dennis from Auckland.

The house in Herne Hill belongs to my cousin Jeremy and his wife Suzanne. Jeremy is turning 50 and has weeks of celebrations planned starting with a yacht charter in Croatia. I'm looking after their lovely shy cat called Shaddo. Thankfully, unlike Jo in Bristol, she's not a talking cat and she doesn't feel the need to wake me at 5.30am every morning. The unsavoury parts of my role are much the same though. without going into detail both cats seem to have some digestion issues. But what a small price to pay, and in exchange I have a place to call home for a while, with access to fast wifi, a frig and a washing machine and a clean shower. I love all these luxuries but there are also the small pleasures of not repacking everything each morning and not having to put on damp clothes and having a bath mat and going to bed in the same place as I did the night before. Not having to blow up my camping pillow and not waking in the night wondering what country I'm in.

There's a train station just down the road. With my Oyster card there is a maximum spend of around seven quid per day, so in any one day it makes sense to use as many trains, tubes and buses as you can to get around the city. That's wet days sorted. Fine days I don my high-vis vest and take the bike out exploring.

Or just walk. Brixton is only 30 minutes away on foot, across Brockhurst Park. Far from being the domain of hoodies, dealers and dolies, Brixton has become a destination of choice for hipsters of all ages. The old street markets down Electric Lane, dotted with Caribbean shops, are still there; but there's also Brixton Village, undercover markets with every type of food you can think of, wine bars and vintage clothes and organics and candles and handmade arty crafty everythings. And there's Pop Brixton, an area made from containers with office spaces, food and retail outlets and event venues.

The idea is to support support local jobs, training and enterprise. Apparently the submissions to the Ambition document for public libraries in England didn't provide any clear strategies that would enable public libraries to generate income - but it strikes me the Pop Brixton model might give some clues for revitalising libraries as community hubs. Taskforce, take note. (Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021)

Brixton's West Indian traders sell almost anything, from smudge sticks to giant African snails to pigs heads. You can also buy chilli-flavoured lemon curd, Portuguese grooming supplies, french knives, African fabrics, fair-trade asian baskets, British wine (moving right along!) and artisan breads -- over the years there has been a community backlash against the supermarket chains in the area. But who knew that Tesco was established by an Brixton barrow-boy?

It helps to have a bike to explore Hyde Park. On a sunny day the banks of the Serpentine are packed with groups of office workers gathered around cool boxes, couples lounging in deck chairs, mums and bubs, families with picnic rugs and where are my sunglasses? - youths with their shirts off playing cricket.  Others are out on the lake in pedal boats or swimming in the pool adjoining the lake.

Every year the Serpentine Gallery picks a star architect to design and build a summer pavilion. This year it is the work of young Danish architects BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). Their description of it is 'like an unzipped wall'. There's a bar/cafe in the pavilion.

Hyde Park is just one of the eight Royal Parks. I rode through Bushy Park when I visited Hampton Court Palace. I rode alongside Green Park, the smallest (no cycling) on my way to Herne Hill from Paddington. Also Kensington Gardens. I have never visited Buckingham Palace though - should I do that while I'm here? let me know if you have you been - was it worth it?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

American Museum, Bath

This post is for my sister, Deborah, an expert quilter who makes magic with fabric and needle.

One of many museums in Bath is the American Museum in Britain

 I love the clean lines and elegance of Georgian architecture and the museum is in a manor house that is typical of the style. 

Even better, it is in the middle of the countryside with lovely grounds and views out over the Limpley Stoke Valley - views that probably have not changed much in the past few hundred years.

I cycled from Bristol to Bath and back, enough for one day, so I took the option of the free shuttle bus ride up that hill.

Meet the driver - lets call him Bill. He was brimming over with enthusiasm, doing his bit to further the goal of the founders of the museum which is to bring American history and cultures to the people of Britain and Europe. As I was the only passenger going up I got the full benefit. He says most people are amazed when he tells them that the American people don't actually get to vote for the president, the Electoral College votes on their behalf.

The museum is a series of period rooms that showcase the crafts and folk art from colonial times through to the Civil War.
Bring back weathervanes!

And as always (yay!), there's a cafe with a selection of tempting food. With views like these and the Saturday edition of the Guardian, who needs a museum at all?

But I came to see the quilts. There are over 200 quilts in the collection but only around 50 are displayed at a time.

Not quilted, pieced

Traditional motif, fine quilting

The scalloped binding is impressive 

One inch squares, finely pieced and quilted
This is made from the ribbons
on Cigar Boxes. Featherstitched together.

If you love quilts, there are some more examples on the Museum website, or borrow this from your local library.

And this Pinterest board has some images of many of the quilts in the collection (plenty of inspiration here).

Personal favorite? I still love the Baltimore block style, like the quilt that Deb made me for my 50th birthday.

From the days when I used to have a home 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


A visit to the Fashion Museum in Bath. I do wonder how did women breathe with those wasp waists.  And what tortuous undergarments they must have had to wear to maintain the look. But don't they look gorgeous?

The fun part of the Fashion Museum is the dress-up room. These gowns are incredibly heavy, but what do you think, would I have been accepted into Bath society?
Hmm. Maybe the undergarments are not quite right.

I badly want to wear these black button boots. 

Or these...with the outfit below.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bath is Better?

I'm not really warming to Bristol. I'm not sure why - it's one of those cities in the world top ten for being 'livable', and heck, British Concordes were made here! It is UK’s first Cycling City. The sign-posted routes are helpful and motorists are generally pretty good about sharing the roads. The greenways are fantastic, and well-used. What's not to like?

Budapest, Belgrade, Bulgaria, Bath; I love them all, but Bristol just isn't hitting any notes at all. The postcode is BS and that's just the start. The housing is dismal and the geography is confusing and the city is unfocused; much of the architectural heritage was bombed out of existence in WWII and the rest of it is rapidly being destroyed by unplanned urban redevelopment that doesn't seen to have any respect for history. Public transport is difficult to get your head around, starting with the fact that there are two Bristol railway stations and the central bus station is almost impossible to find even when you are basically standing at the door. There are no suburban rail services but there are a billion bus routes if only I could make sense of them, I'm here in the height of summer but I have not gone out one day without wearing a layer of merino.

Banksy, bridges, boats, balloons and bikes; these seem to be Bristol's claims to fame. And there's something called the Bristol Sound, which may or may not exist. Beth Gibson, lead singer of Portishead, says there's no such thing. Portishead tuns out not to be an invented name but a seaside suburb of Bristol. I do like Portishead but can't say much about the other big names on the Bristol music scene - Massive Attack and Tricky.

Those walls may be showing works by Banksy or maybe it's some other street artist. Sure, there is plenty of street art, but does lots of graff really make a great city?

In terms of bridges, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is the pride of the town. It will be closed during the Balloon Festival because of the risk of collapse under the weight of too many pedestrians - so would I cycle across on a normal day with all the traffic? I might skip that.

Boats - yes, Bristol was built on the shipping trade. Notably shipping slaves from Africa to America.  It is also home to SS Great Britain, the first iron-clad propellor-driven ship. When launched in 1843, Great Britain was by far the largest vessel afloat and she may well have carried some of your ancestors out to Australia in the 1850s and 60s. Now a replica in dry dock is probably the main tourist attraction. Enough said, though I'm assured its a great day out.

Balloons. Let's hope they might give me a bit of a buzz. The annual balloon festival happens this weekend and I have high hopes...

Random facts about Bristol - it's the home of Wallace and Gromit. And Ribena was invented here.

Meanwhile, I'm off to Bath on the cycleway.

One of Bristol's bridges

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A bit beyond Bath...
What to do today in Bristol? I'm tempted to cycle to Bath again, it is such a good ride, but decide instead to take the train as bit further on to Bradford-on-Avon and ride back.

Ticket machine.
"But it was out of order, sir, see?"
I get a free train trip. I would have been quite happy to pay but there was nowhere to buy a ticket at my station and no one at the other end either. The bad thing about this is I feel like I can indulge myself having saved a few quid, and when I find a perfect little cheese shop with a deli counter I go a bit overboard laying in supplies for a picnic by the Avon. But the good thing about cycling days is they need to be fueled.

That's why a cycling holiday in France is the perfect option, folks. You have to do it! Not only do you get see the best of the country, you get to over-indulge on French food and wine.

I have a policy of trying a local cheese so this is a Bath Wyfe and rather nice. But that's jumping ahead.
and red peppers stuffed with feta

My morning coffee has become such a habit that I start to get a headache mid-morning if I havn't had my fix. Just down from the station in Bradford-in-Avon I spot this little place. I'm not exactly aware of it yet because I have not read this article, but I am SOOO cool that I have been deliberately trying to avoid the hipster factor without even knowing it, but for whatever reason, this looks like the perfect place to stop.

The garden courtyard behind
is rather nice too, but let's
sit in the Coffee Room
 He only does filter coffee and he was wearing a yeoman's shirt which I thought was just normal until he pointed out that his dress was in keeping with the period, as are the fittings, made by himself after a lot of research. Coffee parlours like this, with little booths, were all the rage in London in the seventeenth century.
The digital fire is a nice touch!
Roses on the table, table cloth,
this place is a gem
My yeoman is a pensioner and has been serving coffee here for 18 years. He makes a living from it, but only because he has lived in the house above for so long that he is not paying a mortgage. He bakes his own cakes, scones and shortbread and does soups for lunch. And he has a subscription to Wallpaper magazine because he likes to keep his mind open to new ideas.

This man is the only other customer while I'm there. He has dementia and doesn't speak most days now because half way into a sentence he forgets what he was saying. But he's wily enough to regularly escape from his carer to have a coffee out. Check out that suit. Yes, I did ask him could I take his picture. I think he was chuffed.

Maybe co-incidence, but I come across two Australian connections today.

In Bradford there's an old mill that has been made into posh retirement apartments but at one stage it was the headquarters of the Australian Cycling Corps.

"The cyclist battalions were organised like the infantry, and were mainly used as despatch riders. Later, during the periods of semi-open warfare in 1917 and 1918 they operated in a manner similar to cavalry, conducting reconnaissance and patrolling."
In fact this proved to be pretty much impossible on the ground, and I believe they ended up spending a lot of time doing burials.

Then in the afternoon I happen to be riding through a little town called Bathampton where I spot an old church with a lovely graveyard.
It is St Nicholas's and it is where Admiral Arthur Phillips, founder of Sydney, is buried.

Various bits of the church have been gifted by Australian states.
I imagine this is a very nice lurk for the Australian High Commissioner Alexander Downing (Hon.)

Back in Bradford-on-Thames though. It's a lovely town climbing up hills either side of the Avon. Unfortunately a busy road goes through the centre of town.

Lovely grey stone buildings
Waiting to cross the road I get into conversation with an even more dapper old man - this one is wearing a cream blazer, pink shirt and bow tie, and he's struggling a bit walking up the hill.  He's had two electric bikes in the last six years, one was stolen, the first one kept breaking down (a common complaint). "Have you been to the new bike shop up the hill?" he says. "I've been looking, The electric bikes are so much better now. The new batteries add about 30 miles. I'm thinking about shouting myself one." "Do it!" I urge him. I hope he does.

The Town Bridge and Lock Up is hard to miss. Two of the bridge arches are from when it was first built in the 13th century but the lock up is a modern addition from the 17th century. wouldn't it be fascinating to be able to see what traffic will be crossing in another 500 years. Or passing under.

There's also a Saxon Church thought to have built for the nuns in the eleventh century - the nuns who were given the village of Bradford-on Avon by King Ethelred in 1001.

Must be my day for talking to people on the street. Next thing I'm chatting to a man called Alan who insists I have a look at the Buddhist temple in a 17th century building that used to be a hotel. I wonder briefly whether he also has some etchings to show me, but no, inside he introduces me to Chinese monk from Sydney who is too busy chatting to a man with a huge head of rasta dreads to talk to me. I admire the temple appropriately and wander on.

These Tea Rooms would be surely be worthy of a visit, but the sun is shining and what could be nicer that to spend the afternoon cycling along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Bath?

It's school holidays and there are plenty of hire boats pottering along.

Maybe not a hire boat,
this man really looks the part
 At The Widcombe Locks the Sweet Shop is doing well.  Jars of old-fashioned sweets are set out along both sides of a moored narrowboat, with a sign inviting passing boats to tie up alongside. Likewise a boat that offers teas and icecreams - this one has some little tables set up under a tree for the walkers and cyclists.

Plenty of boat owners are making the most of the fine weather to catch up with maintenance and there are lots of power tools and paintbrushes in use.

The water in the canal is disgustingly brown and when I tangle with a rope across the towpath and nearly fall off, it is fear of ending up in the water that somehow keeps me upright. Also, I'm over the idea of living on a narrowboat. Often as I ride by there is this miasma of dank and mouldy air emanating from a moored boat. Plus I travel faster and get to see much more.

Though a boat would be better for taking advantage of those canal-side beer gardens, like this one.
Hmmm, that blur of white?
A bunch of people in the beer garden.

I get into Bath after 6.00, it's a Friday evening, and there are groups of people sitting and  lying around on a carpet of green plastic grass that has been laid down the centre of the main shopping mall.

The bridge has to be wound open with an alan key