Scenes from an East London garden

Last year I thought I’d do my bit for the dwindling bee population and plant some borage after nurturing 4 or 5 plants from seed. This summer they came back with a vengeance entirely covering a previously barren plot of dusty lifeless soil. The borage patch is now alive with bees.

Look at them here getting absolutely sozzled on nectar, sucking it in till their little furry cheeks puff out. That’s probably not what they do at all but they seem to be in some sort of elevated state as they dance between the translucent blue petals bumping into each other like inebriates staggering home from the pub.

After attending Pestival in 2009 I vowed to let my garden become a bit more untidy to allow the insect universe to flourish. I let the herbs go to seed and now this small kitchen patch is bustling with hexapoda activity.

I saw this  butterfly jockeying with a bee for the best position on the flowering mint. I’ve had a go at identifying the butterfly without luck – I’ll take a punt that it’s a variety of Skipper.

There’s an element of jeopardy feeding here as it is the domain of a greedy-gutted spider that has spun his super-sticky web across the entire bed. The other day I saw him capture a wasp, wrap it in web then carry it off to hang from the underside of a mint leaf. Such efficient slaughter. My young son informed me that the spider would inject a poison into the wasp’s gut that would liquify it and allow him to suck it up much as the boy slurps down a smoothie.

A ladybird and a flying ant both took a promenade along the wicker arch that supports the sweat peas, largely indifferent to each other each, peacefully co-existing – maybe we can learn something from them (but not the spider perhaps).

 These yellow flowers have emerged quietly in the shade of the overhanging ivy. Consulting R.S. Fitter’s Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers (1956) tells me that they’re a Ragwort of some kind I like the idea that they’re  Hoary Ragwort simply because of the name, although they’re most likely Marsh Ragwort, meaning that the seeds could well have come home with us from a walk on Leyton Marshes or Wanstead Flats.

Knowing the name of the plants that spring up in your garden changes your relationship with them – they’re no longer just a weed but have a heritage and a mythology – there’s a popular belief that Ragwort can kill horses (not by sneaking up and strangling them but if the horse eats its own body weight of the intensely bitter leaves).

Apparently Ragwort is a favourite of the stripy caterpillar of the cinnabar moth which I spotted over on Wanstead Flats recently, then when down in Devon last week saw a few of the post-pupa moths themselves marvellous black and red wings lighting up a deep Devon hedgerow.

One of the most surprising things to emerge from the ground this year is a triffid-like pumpkin plant, legacy of leaving last year’s Halloween lantern to rot on the edge of the vegetable patch that has no vegetables (until now). Two grasshoppers have taken up residence on its great bristly leaves – or are they crickets. I haven’t heard them sing yet.

Here are some more photos – all taken with the space of about 20 minutes

Update @ 21.30: This fella just came and joined the party and hop out across my foot as I was watering the borage

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The Book Genie

I like to imagine there is a spirit that guides my fugues at times – that rewards me for surrendering to its lure. The rewards come in the shape of stumbling into unexpected corners of the city at the end of unpromising schleps. But sometimes they come in the form of books. Today I succumbed to the fugue and found these four books virtually side by side on the same charity shop shelf.


Rising in the East (1996) unlocked the door. A book of essays on East End regeneration written in a pre-Cool Britannia London – when to talk of a renaissance of the East may still have sounded optimistic or opportunistic. The first eager read turned up an essay on the importance of the North London Line Overground train at a time when it was fighting for its life. I skimmed the first few pages of this thesis as I glided eastwards from Haringey to Leyton on one of the brand new trains running on the 160- year old line. ‘Traversing the Great Divide: The North London Line and East London’ the essay is grandly titled, by Bruce Jerram and Richard Wells, and such is their passion apparent for the NLL that they produced this brilliant diagram demonstrating how it arcs West – East across the capital, or as it was viewed at the time from “a rich desirable west to a poor, dull, possibly dangerous east”. With the stations being upgraded, gleaming pre-graffiti trains and the East London Olympics at the end of the North London Line, it looks like they won their argument.


The Romance of London from 1910. The first pages pouring cold water of talk of the myth of King Lud but all the same acknowledging Tacitus’s observations that in AD61 he finds London “celebrated for the gathering of dealers and commodities”. A Roman refuting the idea that the Romans founded our city.
A guide to Camden written at the height of Britpop and an archeological examination of the relationship between town and country in Roman Britain (wonder whether urban sprawl was an issue back then?)

Westminster – day after the election

College Green Westminster day after the Election from fugueur on Vimeo.

Last night I had been filming Bob and Roberta Smith reading from his journals at Tate Britain and decided to walk along Millbank to Westminster to get the tube home. As I reached College Green, outside the the Houses of Parliament I came across the encampment of news crews still trying to untangle the mess of the General Election. It was 8.30pm, and there were only a few teams still broadcasting.
The was a strange feeling of tranquility hanging in the Westminster air, it was all very calm and quiet. Inside nearby rooms men, educated at the most expensive private schools in the country were working out who was going to be in charge. Earlier Bob and Roberta Smith had shown the audience at Tate a postcard from his recent show called ‘I Should Be In Charge’ – his painting of this declaration is on display in the windows of the Hayward Gallery just over the river from Westminster. Bob would make a brilliant Prime Minister
I contemplated whether I should get my camera out and film, and it was then that I recalled the scene in Patrick Keiller’s brilliant film, London, shot on the day after the election of the Conservation government in 1992. I have none of Keiller’s finesse nor a 16mm Bolex but felt I had had a duty to run off a couple of minutes of tape as an homage to Keiller’s opus.


Lost Steps on Resonance 104.4FM

Malcolm Hopkins from Housman’s Bookshop and producer/ sound artist Nick Hamilton (who made the rather brilliant Foot and Mouth series) have just started a new show called Lost Steps, on Resonance 104.4fm.
I’ve nicked this blurb off their website:

“Lost Steps is a series of weekly radio programmes, exploring lost London.
Over the weeks, Malcolm Hopkins will be inviting a spectrum of invited guests to discuss and appreciate aspects of London literature and culture we seldom get to hear about; seldom reaches the mainstream media, and is often neglected as time passes by. London’s history is steeped with obscure and often clandestine reference.”

There have already been some fascinating broadcasts which you can catch-up on here:
I’ll be joining them for an episode in November which I had better prepare for I suppose.


In Praise of the Penguin Podcasts

Stumbled upon the brilliant Penguin podcasts via Will Self’s website. They are getting me through the recovery from a knee arthroscopy I had done last week that has caused the title of Iain Sinclair’s Millennium Dome essay, ‘Sorry Meniscus’ to loop continuously through my head.

The pick of the bunch has to be the series of podcasts from Will Self’s reading of ‘The Book of Dave’ at the Bloomsbury Theatre. Nick Papadimitriou, a good friend of this blog and regular contributor of comments under various pseudonyms, is credited in the book for the topographical research he provided. It is after all a book that both draws on and adds to the mythology of the city that Nick knows more about than virtually anyone else I know.

There’s also an interesting podcast by Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map, who talks about Placeblogging – of which I suppose this very blog is at times an example. The blogs that Johnson is really talking about are those more intimately linked with the daily minutiae of a community – and the value of the pooling of the kind of amateurised specialist knowledge that they represent.

Whilst mentioning Podcasts I hope to start a regular podcast under the National Psychogeographic banner with Nick Papadimitriou when I can tie him down. Watch this space for details.