Entries in colour (23)



'I have always thought there was such beauty about a room like that [empty], even though there weren't any people in it, perhaps precisely when there weren't any.' Vilhelm Hammershoi 1907

I find myself drawn to unpeopled rooms as a subject for art and photography. Then the focus shifts to the slant of light on an object - highlighting a detail, re-shaping the contours of the space, emphasising the silence.  

A few years ago I went to a stunning Hammershoi exhibition. Many of his paintings are of interiors, executed in muted variations of black, grey, beige, white. Sometimes a woman is glimpsed, her back to us, holding a plate perhaps or disappearing through a doorway. Rooms only recently deserted have a different energy to those that have been empty a long time, as if you can still feel the human molecules. Somehow, Hammershoi conveys in his paintings that sense of rooms where absence is recent. But even the paintings containing a figure imply that their presence is transitory; undisturbing. I circled the room over and over, taking in the cool delicacy of the palette and the absorbing quality of the empty canvasses.

Eventually I stepped out into the noise, colour and movement of Piccadilly and felt like Alice slipping down the rabbit hole with a feeling that the world was topsy turvy and I'd left reality behind, in that gallery.




Blue warmth briefly breached the clouds so I took the chance to get into the garden. The slow and calm of tying in roses and the satisfying clip and pull of dead-heading made me hum out loud. That's a good sign. A precursor to the singing that will mark my full ascent to ground level. 

Buoyed by the pleasures of that outdoor tidy and trim I searched for a little something I could do in the house. Ignoring all the large, dull piles that are accumulating this week I settled instead on the smallest, and happily gathered all our recent beach finds into a jar for Joel. 

And so the morning passed until it was time for coffee. With biscuits of a kind I only eat on my own as I like to nibble away all the edge chocolate first in a way that seems unseemly in a grown-up. And a read through the new book I bought after taking Denise's counsel on my last post. The bracing blue against red made it irresistible and brought to mind summer and all things good.

I found more clear sky in Simic's words. The blue in the cloud, the light in the stone. Hope.




I have seen sparks fly out

When two stones are rubbed,

So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;

Perhaps there is a moon shining

From somewhere, as though behind a hill - 

Just enough light to make out

The strange writings, the star charts

On the inner walls.

Charles Simic


food for eyes

 1. Untitled, 2. good morning, 3. Back to Bali, 4. Untitled, 5. Owl drawing on book edge, 6. les oiseaux., 7. cheer up, buttercup, 8. К, 9. Untitled

Perhaps because this stubbornly grey sky is muting even the brightness of azaleas and rhododendrons, my eye is desperate for bursts of colour. Out of the window, the green is dulled and uniform with only the few yellow stream-side iris that remain unbattered by rain and the last buttercups dotted through the grass like little lights of cheer. The lack of colour and sun is wearying somehow: my head feels woolly and unstimulated.

So when colour comes, it jolts me. The other day, a dull delivery was suddenly made magical by the marigold zest of the delivery man's turban. My eyes drank in the solar purity of the tone against the steel grey of his beard and I may have drawn out the conversation slightly too long. As we talked, I wrestled with shy reserve when all I wanted to do was catch that colour with my camera. Shyness won and I reluctantly watched him walk away, my eyes pursuing the glowing orange all the way down the track. Perhaps it's better kept as a memory.  

Instead, I've gathered together a few favourite images from other flickr feeds. May your eyes be full of colour today.



colour blindness

Pink - blue - yellow - fresh greens. The colours of the garden. 


of books and colours

After the darkness of yesterday, today has been surprisingly colourful - despite the rain that's falling relentlessly. With time to spare before my pottery class I lost myself in nostalgia in a second hand bookshop. As a child I spent far too much time reading and the books of Enid Blyton, Louisa May Alcott and Susan Coolidge were amongst the first I read independently. I haven't dared dip back into Little Women or What Katy Did because I'm sure I'd find much to disapprove of, but I'm currently ploughing through the Blyton back catalogue with Joel and remembering how vividly alive the characters of the Faraway Tree and the Famous Five were to me. Indeed how alive those other favourites were; Jo (boyish and brave), Anne of Green Gables (loveable and strong), and Pippi (so unlike me in her complete disregard for the regard of others). 

Suddenly aware of time I bolted for the pottery room and lost myself in the steady, cold press and smooth of clay as a bowl gradually took shape. Around me, slips were mixed and oxides applied and the colours and possibilities began to build. Meanwhile, I wedged and smoothed and enjoyed the gentle press and whirr of the wheel, as colour combinations passed in front of my eyes.

And seeing that the hyacinth bulbs discovered in the corner of the shed and hastily crammed into pots are doing just fine is a satisfaction that rounded off an afternoon. Now - sitting in front of the wood burner with a glass of cold white and Radio 4 and a peppery, oniony, potato frittata just ready for cooking - everything feels good.   




Ten years ago, when she was eighteen and was not called Arrow, she borrowed her father's car and drove to the countryside to visit friends. It was a bright, clear day, and the car felt alive to her, as though the way she and the car moved together was a sort of destiny, and everything was happening exactly as it ought to. As she rounded a corner one of her favourite songs came on the radio, and sunlight filtered through the trees the way it does with lace curtains, reminding her of her grandmother, and tears began to slide down her cheeks. Not for her grandmother, who was then still very much among the living, but because she felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that it would all come to an end. It overwhelmed her, made her pull the car to the side of the road. Afterwards she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.

Now, however, she knows she wasn't being foolish. She realises that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It's a rare gift to understand that your life is wondrous, and that it won't last forever. 

Steven Galloway The Cellist of Sarajevo


light can be both wave and particle

me, by Joel

Several years ago, I found myself stuck in the middle seat of the middle row of a jumbo when I'd expected to be in splendid isolation on the side aisle. Oh I was unhappy. Pinned in on both sides and unable to move my arms and legs my claustrophobia began to rise at the thought of the lengthy transatlantic flight. I determined that this was all a bad show and my bad mood radiated off me. I ignored my fellow passengers, scowling instead into my book. Time passed though my fury remained.

Suddenly the man beside me said 'it's true, y'know'. I blinked at him. He just smiled and repeated 'it's true - the book'. I was reading Ellen Gilchrist's Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle. With that, the journey changed. He was a physics teacher, travelling back home with his wife. We all talked for the rest of the flight. I remember nothing of our conversation but that it was good and thoughtful and unexpected. He took the risk of breaching my barrier of gloom and it lifted the day for all of us. 

I'm not a fan of the strict resolution but this year I'm going to try and remember to live with more generosity and lightness. To smile and see the best in someone, or a situation. To cut off a bad mood before it affects other people. To enjoy the simple fact that I'm alive to see in another year. I hope you've had some good days and are looking foward to the chances that this new year brings. Happiness to you. 


oranges not lemons

Growing up in the seventies, orange was a familiar sight on clothes and in homes. One house we lived in was painted orange outside. In another, the entire kitchen was orange. Even the floor was terracotta. You had to look up or out to rest your eyes on any other colour. And if it wasn't orange, it was brown. Brown carpets, brown cars, brown cord trousers. 

Nowadays, in our white worshipping society, you don't see orange around so much. But it happens to be my boy's favourite colour so I've felt compelled to use it around his room and in splashes around the house. Last year, I stretched some orange bird-printed IKEA fabric over a very large handmade wooden frame as a cheap (temporary, I thought) hanging on one of our high, breakfast room walls, but it's still there. We took it down, replaced it with more tasteful this and that, but the wall looked so lonely and cold without the vivid splash of colour so it's back up again, reflecting warmth back into the room. It's cheer-making, especially when the days outside are increasingly grey.

This bonfire weekend was heaven for orange lovers and as a contribution to a bonfire feast I made an orange saturated almond cake. Similar to the lemon cake I mentioned previously but moister, it's been a staple of ours for years as you can cook it in advance and let it really soak in the juices or whizz it up quickly on the night as I did, making it a lighter and drier affair. I like it straight with coffee but it sits very happily alongside ice-cream or crème fraîche and simply gets more richly delicious and moist over a number of days.

The recipe below is based on Claudia Roden's orange almond cake, the main difference being that the oranges are squeezed and zested rather than boiled and used whole, so it's that bit quicker to make.


4 eggs, separated

125g caster sugar

grated zest of two oranges

100g ground almonds

For the syrup

juice of four oranges (add an extra one if you want more syrup to pour)

125g caster sugar

a good splash of brandy or cointreau (though equally happy without it)

Preheat oven to 180C/350 F/gas mark 4. Beat together the egg yolks, sugar, orange zest and almonds.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, and fold into the yolk mixture. Pour the mixture into a greased and floured loose-bottomed cake tin.

Bake for 45 mins until golden brown. Meanwhile, place orange juice, sugar and brandy (or whatever) in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 mins.

Pierce the cake all over, then pour over the syrup and leave to soak in. Jug any extra: rest assured, it will all be used.

By now your kitchen will be full of orangey deliciousness and November will seem a pleasant time of year. Enjoy.



sunlight on your eyelids

Good morning. And it is good. Sitting outside with my coffee I realised that something felt different: yes, the leaves had yellowed dramatically but it wasn't that. It wasn't even that the grass is so thickly carpeted with yellow and orange leaves that light is reflecting happily upwards. It then struck me that there was a lot more sky and water than normal. After a night of strong winds the tops of the tallest trees are bared and the lower limbs of the trees surrounding the lake have dropped, letting in so much more light. Tilting my closed eyes up to the warmth and brightness, I thought of this song, discovered via Lily and played over and again.

On first hearing, images exploded of my first trip to India. Driving dazed from the airport in a taxi playing bangra. Rolling along the stall-lined, rutted, back streets of coastal Kerala as dusk descended abruptly candles flicked on alongside us, the stars switched on above and woodsmoke wove in front of our headlights. I stuck my head out the window like a crazy mutt, all the better to inhale the scents of smoke, food, dust and dung. The smells of India. Addictive. But then, the scent of dusty pavements drying after rain is heaven to me. My first night in India, not sleeping. In a hut on a cliff above the beach where the incessant crashing of surf mingled with the shouts and songs of fishermen and early morning calls to prayer. And from somewhere, music. In India there is always music.

The colours of an English autumn can't compare with the vivid tones of India but this is our season of yellows and orange. Warm colours reflecting the welcome warmth of the last day of October. Sunlight on your eyelids: it's a good way to start the week. I hope your day - and your week - contains a little sunshine.  


everything's rosy


I had an unexpected little hour of happiness the other day that began with the discovery in a second-hand bookshop of The Pocket Encyclopaedia of Roses. Emerging into a suddenly blue sky with a spare half hour, I sat outside my favourite cafe and ate Swedish carrot cake. It had a cheery little icing carrot on it and I admired the extra effort. So I sat happily in the sunshine and ate and sipped and read about roses.

Published in 1963, it's a technicolour beauty. The styling is so of its time it's easy to imagine those formal displays sitting alongside a table set with wine bottle candleholders, a bit of Engelbert Humperdink on the wooden record cabinet and a hostess (already hot in her long, patterned, polyester gown) worried if moussaka is a little 'foreign' for a dinner party. My favourite bit of the book though are the descriptions of the roses themselves. Clustered together, they read like characters from a play.

Emily Gray : shapely buds golden yellow opening to buff. summer flowering. foliage small, dark and glossy. vigorous but inclined to die-back.

Cecile Brunner : blooms miniature and perfectly formed. bright pink, yellow base. fragrant. foliage sparse, dark greeen. growths long and slender.

Countess of Dalkeith : vermillion flushed orange flowers. very fragrant. bushy growth of average height. an attractive variety but similar to parent, subject to black spot.

Hugh Dickson : rich crimson shaded scarlet. very fragrant and recurrent. growth vigorous and upright, and best grown as semi-climber. unsuitable for formal beds.

John S Armstrong : blooms large and flat, freely produced on good stiff stems. attractive colouring, rich scarlet crimson. slight fragrance. foliage dark green and plentiful. a vigorous variety of good habit.

I see myself sneaking into the action as Clair Matin: blooms medium size, cupped, semi-double, slightly fragrant. pink. moderately vigorous, best suited for pillar...



faded beauty

In my eyes, hydrangeas are at their best now, their sometimes brash colours faded to softness. At home I have them in jugs, drying slowly, to appreciate their papery beauty for a few weeks longer. Not a fashionable plant, my attachment is sentimental.

They remind me of summer trips back to my grandparents' house, leaving the humid heat and yellow of a Canadian summer for the cooler air and colours of England. Sprawling mop-headed hydrangeas lined the front gardens of the avenue they lived on, hanging heavily over the brick walls that bordered the pavement. As I wove my way to the local shops each day with my grandmother, I pondered whether to prefer the blue or the pink. The fading of the flower heads marked the approach of going back home. And while I was itching to get back to my friends and my own little world, I'd by this time grown fond of the rhythm of days with my grandparents: the rituals of meals, walks, butcher and sweet shop.  

A dried flower-head: a gateway to memory. 


barely beautiful

One of the four Royal Horticultural Society gardens, Wisley, is very close to us and we visit regularly: John to get inspiration (disappearing into the centre of a bed or clump of trees muttering in Latin) and me and Joel to collect leaves and cones and marvel again at the orchids, cacti and tropical plants in the huge greenhouse.

Some of the flower beds, while beautiful, are a little too brightly coloured and regimented for me. I prefer the loose planting of Piet Oudulf with his painterly drifts of flowers and grasses, especially at this time of year when the petals fade, leaving the bare brown outlines of seed-head and stem. 

Even with the abruptly darkened sky during our visit last weekend, there was still a stark beauty in their outlines and darkened palette. 


and it was all yellow

 Today finds me slightly obsessed with lemons. Starting the day with a slice in hot water just wasn't enough and I've been piling it into green tea too. After a brief detour into the thick darkness of espresso, I got back on track with a lunch saturated with lemony flavours. The cupboard being a bit threadbare I ended up stirring two large fists of parsley into a bowl of bulghur wheat, gave it a good soak with lemon juice and a dash of olive oil and topped the lot with a scattering of home-salted almonds. Delicious. I may have made noises of joy while I ate; I certainly ate much faster than I'm sure is considered proper.

Now I'm trying to fight back an urge to whip up one of Rachel's heavenly almond and lemon cakes. I simply don't trust myself today not to eat the lot the moment it cools enough to handle. It does get more stickily delicious if you do as she suggests and leave it for a couple of days. But if you were to have a little slice or two before then (just to check it's ok - ahem) it's still bliss. If you haven't yet tried her recipe, I would urge you to. Preferably on a day when your body isn't seeking to maximise its levels of vitamin C. And so to supper - linguine with a little oil, basil, pecorino...and lemon.



seeing green 

With the wild flowers over and the trees now in full leaf, the garden is looking disconcertingly green. I love the tall, swaying trees that cast welcome shade and shadows but have less friendly feelings towards the self-seeded laurels that cutting back only encourages, ivy covered tree trunks, dense holly and incongruously planted conifers that border the edges of the woods.

Once you start looking though, it's extraordinary just how many shades of green there are. A glance outside the door offers the fresh, broad bean green of the ferns unravelling from the stone wall, the dusty silver of lavender and eucalyptus, sharp brightness of lemon balm and muted, white-rimmed shade of hostas. It's a subtle palette that I'm having to take time to appreciate rather than simply giving in to envy of those gardens whose bright blooms remain glorious and un-eaten.

It's also a palette that is acutely sensitive to changes in the light. Delicate and fresh in the morning, by mid-day the sun bleaches out the subtle tones, making the garden heavy with shadows and sombre dark-greens. Late afternoon the variety returns and the garden sparkles lightly. While I'll never entirely lose my summery desire for bright drifts of colour outside, I'll console myself with the thought that looking at green is supposed to be good for the mind and body, and relax.

How does your garden grow?


desperate measures

Looking onto a steel grey sky with rain pouring straight down and heavy, it seems I need to take matters into my own hands. Gardening being central to our lives, we are friends of rain. We appreciate that each day the world is getting greener. But precious, life affirming blooms are also being defeated and bent sadly towards the ground they spent so much time getting clear of.

So it's out with the secateurs and in with the blooms. A bunch of ludicrously blowsy but delicately fragrant peonies. A few darkly red, modestly proportioned roses that fill a room with their rich perfume by the evening. And last night John brought back the first, intensely fragrant sweet peas. Some have evolved into a particularly attention-seeking neon coral that doesn't seem quite the thing, but for their scent and brightness in the gloom I'll forgive them anything.

I'm also peppering my notebooks with flowers, even digging out the watercolours, inspired by brand new but long lost brushes I found tucked down the back of the desk. Something like this perhaps? And I still have Emin's embroidered flowers urging me to get back to stitching. I have the fabric, the ideas and the thread and, from next week, a little more time.

So, I've determined it will be summer inside if I can't have the real thing. I'll pretend the blazing wood burner is actually a summer campfire and sing along with Minnie (although I'll probably have a bit of a distracted cough when it comes to the difficult up and down bits.)  


quietly busy


Joel stayed off school today and we had a quietly busy morning of making. While he constructed a submarine and a space explorer out of boxes and tape, I made a pile of notecards out of images torn from magazines. It's so satisfying to have a stack of cards ready to go. I'm notoriously bad at making and returning phone calls: I much prefer to send a few words by mail and talk in person. My rationale is that I gesticulate too much to make the phone a natural means of communication for me.

Still creatively energised and seeing my cards scattered over the table, Joel then papered over an empty IKEA biscuit box to act as a little desk storage box for my cards, envelopes and address book. I love the rather Moroccan theme and now I really have no excuse for non-communication.

I also finally wrapped up a pretty Old Navy dress I found for my god-daughter Rosa. And, oh the feeling of being so organised, I slipped in one of my new cards to say hello.

A bit of moussaka making is now on the cards. I haven't cooked it for ages and it feels rather seventies. Perhaps I should slip on my kaftan? I unearthed an embroidered jewel-blue Antik Batik in a tatty thrift shop and was thrilled with my find. The only problem is, I keep catching the pockets on our door handles, tearing the pockets a little every time and pinging backwards with a start and a cry. Not entirely sure I'm in the mood for that and the weather isn't very Greek, so I'll put on my vaguely Nana Mouskouri-esque glasses and leave it at that.


big smoke

I stepped onto London's South Bank to find myself at the seaside. Beach-huts, bunting, even a strip of sand. A very short strip - not quite the Paris city beach experience. Enough for a toddler or two, but not a sun lounger. Anyway. There was a general perkiness about the place; perhaps we were temporarily stunned by the colour scattered amongst the brutalist architecture, and by seeing both sun and blue sky for the first time in a while. 

After lunch with a friend I haven't seen in too long a time, I headed to the Hayward Gallery to see the Tracey Emin exhibition Love is What You Want. It steps away from many of the infamous pieces that have been featured so frequently and instead shows quieter, more crafted but still acutely personal works. What I returned to over and again were the large-scale sewn drawings. The juxtaposition of the beautifully finished stitching with the aching acuity of the emotions the drawings described, gave the pieces a real power. Worked onto fine, cool, vintage sheeting or blankets, some were given an unexpected, vivid and lovely scattering of applique flowers that I longed to try at home.

I found myself thinking of them in the context of the generations of women for whom sewing was, variously, a means of making a living; a solace; a necessary social skill. And I wondered at the emotions that were stitched into the fabrics I sometimes find discarded in thrift shops, or gaze at in awe in museums. Emin acknowledges this tradition, and the role of craft in her work, in an interesting Radio 4 interview

Too soon, it was time to bolt for the station. And no matter how much I enjoy my days in London, I always love to catch the train away. I lived in London for several years and have so many memories associated with it. But now, when I come home to my little house, step through my gate and hear .... nothing, except birdsong, I feel - to quote Sinatra - that yes, it's so much nicer to come home.



wanted: summer

Summer where are you? You turned up early with unexpectedly blue skies and roses in full, early bloom but then vanished, just when it was all going so swimmingly. Now the days are about sudden, sun-shielding clouds and winds that shower me with leaves and small branches and tug hair from its moorings to whip about my eyes and mouth. All in all, it just isn't as much fun as it could be.

We've got lovely new picnicky things and outdoorsy adventures and celebrations planned. I've put away everything warm. So, please come back summer. I promise to use you well. 


monday morning


As a stay-at-home mother, Monday mornings seem unusually quiet. It's about empty beds and full wash-baskets, but also the chance to take time for a quietly indulgent breakfast involving jam (will my extravagance never end?) and a catch up with the weekend papers.

School drop-off today saw all the children being herded into the hall as there was apparently 'a slight smell of gas in the science labs'. Oh. So moving everyone into a building 20 feet away from the science labs offers ideal protection from an impending explosion. 

To take my mind off potential disasters I'm going to play this on repeat while my second pot of coffee brews (once again pushing out the boat of excess). Not the best quality video but who needs boring old clarity when you have fabtastic prints, Cass grooving, Michelle Phillips' beautiful face and a man with tight, stripy trousers? Whether you're at home or at work, happy monday to you.





reasons to be cheerful (part 3)


Rainbows. Fleeting and elusive, revealing the ultimate beauty and complexity of light, they seem like such a gift. I remember my 12th birthday, walking home from school with friends as a double rainbow appeared directly over our heads.  We stood awhile in awed silence, arms around each other. 

So here's to summer days making rainbows with sprays of water and hunting them down in sudden summer showers.