Monday, 27 July 2009

Other people's roof-top tomatoes

There really aren't many cities ANYWHERE where people actually live on narrowboats any more. One of them is Cambridge. The Cam is a dozy little river and everyone jokes about it being dirty. It's pretty full of bikes (like everywhere else in the city), but as rivers go it's pretty clean I think. If you have got drunk and gone punting and bridge-jumping, and then drunk too much Cam water...that's a whole different thing. It has fish and birds and all sorts. At least ones that can cope with the tourists. And people really, genuinely, live on it, in the way that they have continually since probably forever. Though they do have things like solar panels now, and cabins bigger than 10' by 5'.

This guy is growing rainbow chard, as well as tomatoes and some other stuff. Not sure you can see it in the picture but he is. I planted some, but in the previous house. I'll have to go and see how it's doing when I head over for dinner this week. He wasn't the only one, either.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

"Take heart for Mrs Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!"

I never understood that line from Mary Poppins when I was a kid. I didn't know the history or who Mrs Pankhurst was. That film did ensure that I remembered the name though, even if I didn't know why. I found this postcard yesterday (at Ark in Cambrige, which is a shop I love but where I virtually never buy has lots of things I'd love to own but which are ultimately useless). It was probably the prompt for the last post, but I felt it deserved something of its own.

I realised that while I know the basic story - that Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes fought violently for the right of women to vote - I know very little about the woman herself. I found this picture intriguing. Doesn't she look proud? And direct? And elegant and somehow modern? She's looking straight at you, and it's a demanding look. I imagine she must have been a terrible woman to meet. A bit like Margaret Thatcher but if possible even more driven. Her wikipedia article shows how single-minded she was and how much she expected of the people around her, her family and by no means least of herself.

The status quo at the turn of the century was that women were inferior to men, incapable of performing the same tasks as men and fundamentally endowed with fewer mental facilities in the same way that they were physically weaker. Pankhurst's own parents didn't educate their daughters to be more than home-makers - they learnt needlework and music while the boys had the academic education. And from this, she rebelled. Rebelled such that she was arrested and went on hunger strike on numerous occasions. Some suffragettes were force fed, though the wiki article doesn't suggest conclusively that Pankhurst herself was. All around her, people decried both her cause and her methods. And they WERE extreme, but given how many times the women's suffrage bill was presented in Parliament didn't they have to be? And what other ways were there for her to fight? They didn't HAVE the vote, so they couldn't choose to vote for parties that supported their cause, much as black people in America couldn't vote to change things over there. At least people fighting for gay rights can actually use their votes to express their opinions.

It must have seemed an impossible project, to change the minds of those confirmed in a belief that women were second. I would have looked at it, been sad, but not seen anywhere to start with changing it. She, and others like her, did a very great thing. Every woman should be profoundly grateful to all she achieved...we would not be where we are now without them.

I'm going to try and do more reading...talking to Elaine last night, I found out she had *taught* a *course* on British history at the turn of the I have a Queens Belfast approved reading list. I will be breaking into the History and English Faculties as soon as I establish when they're open in the holidays. I might even look in to whether I can get readers' rights in the UL.

I have a thing about postcards.

Or rather, just cards in general. I still have nearly every birthday card I've ever been given, though I think they're in Cornwall somewhere. I started running out of space, so unless they were particularly important I began tearing the pictures apart from the backs and recycling the backs. I have some great ones. The postcard thing is slightly different, because it's about images I've chosen for myself. It still have the odd separated birthday card in it, or cards people have sent me and even the odd flyer or leaflet if it had a particularly good image. I have one photo taken by Graham, that fits in seamlessly. I have an ambition of one day wallpapering them all to a suitable wall, but in the meantime, I use the wardrobes.

It probably doesn't look like it, but they're quite carefully arranged. The idea isn't to have areas that are all the same colour or that are too busy. New cards often mean rearranging what's already there so that the newcomer fits. The too busy is a big factor in how I choose images to go in. It's much more effective to have a very simple image on each card, because it gets too hard to see otherwise.

This one is pretty simple - just one object to catch your eye in a sea of more detailed images. It's a flyer from The Baltic Centre in Gateshead. I went to a conference there a year ago, and spent a good hour or two in their shop - they had a Yoshitomo Nara exhibition on, so it was pretty cool. I love the doll - the cynicism and the cartoon aspect of it.

Can't get more simple than that, and it goes quite well with this one:

My favourite (at least at the moment...) is this one:

I found it in a tiny art gallery come shop called Frank in Whitstable. I bought about 5 cards in there and found I'd spent about £20. I have forbidden myself even looking at that site properly because I KNOW I'll spend more money.

My postcards range from the abstract (thank you Charissa!) to the silly, from adverts to Darwin and from The Wildlife Photographer of the Year to Joan Collins. I love buying them. It's surprising how much money you can spend on postcards. I don't intend to get into that antiques game, I just find it a nice way of remembering great images.

I pick them up in art galleries, from racks of flyers, from quirky bookshops and gift shops. People SEND me them sometimes...that's exciting. Interesting images from all periods, cultures and places. I remember pretty much where they all came from too. They're an extension of my own photography, part of the same thing. An easy way of having a record of a beautiful thing or place, but also a window into a different time and place. How ELSE could I have a picture of Joan Collins rehearsing dance routines from Seven Thieves alongside pineapples growing at Heligan?

...So. Pretty pictures. If you see one that you think I'd like, post it! And I'll send something back. Then EVERYONE can have quirky collections of of pictures to cover their wardrobes with...

Friday, 17 July 2009

My tomatoes torment me -or- Gardening At Height

I can see them there, outside the bedroom window, ALL THE TIME. I can see the fruit on plants. Green. Not going red, despite my checking on them hourly when I'm home. Dammit. And I don't actually see any more growing, though everytime I go out there to take off the side shoots and feed them, there ARE millions more buried under the leaves. And tomato side shoots can grow 6 inches in a week. WHY not the tomatoes that I can see from the window? It's torture.

I'm growing four sorts. The ones in the first picture are 'Gardener's Delight', available nearly everywhere. When I bought mine they came with a free packet of Marigold seeds. These are those 'companion planting' things that people talk about - something about the tomato pests being kept away by the marigolds, or something about the proximity of the Marigolds encouraging growth in the tomatoes. I have no objection to flowers and the possibility that either of the above is true, so I put them in too. I haven't actually grown tomatoes all the way through by myself before - usually I've had to move house in the middle and leave my half-grown plants with someone - so I don't know if it's made a significant difference to pests or not. I also haven't grown them on a roof away from other plants that might pass the pests over before, so I can't really tell. I've only got one plant of this sort - I gave quite a lot away (can YOU find a way of growing on 18 tomato seedlings), but only one seedling seemed strong enough to warrant planting out. It's a nice plant with the biggest tomatoes on it at present. I reserve judgement on whether I grow it again when I see how it tastes and what the final yield is...

Then there are are the San Marzano and the Striped Tomato. I didn't take pictures of those in my two minutes on the roof this morning in the rain, but they're weird and wonderful shapes already. (It's been gorgeous, for ages. I pick the day to take photos that the sky appears to be trying to wash out the ground...) Another time.

I'm not actually sure of the seeds for the little cherry tomatoes I'm growing - I suspect they might be these ones or something similar. I planted them on a course I did at the Eden Project in March, along with some basil (growing nicely thank you) and some liquorice - one single seedling of which is creeping larger and looking forlorn on a windowsill. It's the cherries that are the biggest plants with the most fruit on them, to the extent that I'm not even worried I broke off a truss by accident last time I was pruning. There are masses*.

Also on the roof are a selection of chilli plants, some of which are getting on for three years old and still producing tiny, firey chillies, some peppers that are still seedlings, really (they're the ones in the champagne box!), some of the basil and the tomatillo plants. And my pride and joy - the one solitary little aubergine plant that's made it through.**

I like the roof. It's an effective place to garden. We water by throwing the hose up there and then climbing out of the window. It gets lots of sun, and it's reasonably sheltered. Except from one direction.

I also share my house with a triffid. This I didn't plant but definitely intend to harvest. I hack it down on a weekly basis but it's trying to take over the world. LOOK at the fruit. Hope it ripens. It's been planted with some thought, the roots outside and the fruiting branches in - vines like cold roots and warm branches.

It means our passage doesn't get too hot most of the time, and the rodent residents of that room don't roast. They're quite keen on vine leaves, which is a good thing because otherwise it would try and eat their cage.

*Provided the ENORMOUS thunderstorm we've been having all morning hasn't knocked them all over. Arg...
**Storm getting worse. Please thunder, don't kill my aubergine. It hasn't had a chance yet!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


My cousin Philip posted his thoughts on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, and I've been mulling them over ever since. Facebook seems to be getting a bad rep, often from the religious crowd but also among others. I can see it from their perspective, in that the life you live online is by its very nature partial, and that is something that people who are searching for authenticity all the time find problematic. (I know there's more to it than that, but I'll let Philip speak for himself.) I just wanted to put the other try and articulate a bit of why I think Facebook is popular with people from so many areas of society and what I think I take from it. I'm not an avid Facebook browser, but I do think it's a worthwhile enterprise. Probably quite long...

Facebook serves as a space to share things with a large group of people whom you see in person only rarely. I have friends spread around the country, and we meet up a few times a year to do things. But without the freedom facebook affords to say just a sentence to one another now and a again - about a photo of a trip we've been on together say, or a reminiscence about something in our shared past - we might not talk at all, and it would be harder to meet up, and we would find it harder to start conversations when we did meet up, and eventually we might drift apart. The time we actually spend together would be poorer because we wouldn't have a dripfeed of continuity between times. Of course there are more personal ways of contacting one another, but they are all more serious and more time-consuming - and the reality is that we would invest that time only rarely with a few people, or not at all. And friendships would slip away because you've missed some part of someone's life, and the barrier of events that separates you from one another becomes so high that the story of your life since last you met is so unwieldly that you don't know where to start, so you don't start, so it remains a barrier between you and the friendship is lost. Facebook, via the 'little and often' element, helps to prevent that obstacle ever becoming enormous.

It is no substitute for face to face, just an addendum to it. I don't entirely agree with the reasoning behind 'quality not quantity' philosophy that so many people expound as a reason that Facebook is a bad thing. Yes. You suddenly have minor contact with a lot of people. You still have intense contact with a few of them, and you have more contact with the wider circle than you would otherwise. Knowing just a little about the people in the wider network, about how their lives have changed since you did have contact, means that there is always the possibility of revisiting a friendship or intensifying it in a way that wouldn't have been possible before. Maybe you didn't know a schoolfriend was working in your city. Maybe you didn't know someone had a certain interest. Maybe you can re-click. You might come across other acquaintances through them, and be surprised who knows who. What's the real chance of running into the one other peerson you knew from school who lives in Australia, say, in real life? But on Facebook, you can. And suddenly the whole scary experience of a new country and a new life is made easier because there's someone to talk to about it.

You will say 'but that never happens'. It does. Maybe not those exact scenarios, but I have spoken to people via Facebook, and been pleased that I have, that I probably would have lost entirely if not for coming across them as a friend of a friend. And it has been a good experience. Going out of my way to contact them would have been creepy for both of us. A quick 'hi' on chat or whatever is so much less threatening, and actually very important for me at the time it happened. So don't knock it...

The danger is voyeurism. But it's less the domain of the watcher to censor what they look at and more the onus of the watched only to share only that which they can afford to share. That feels the wrong way around, I guess. Maybe that's a British feeling. Something about one should be embarrassed to watch? A difficult balance maybe, but not a pointless one. I don't mind that there is a presentation aspect of to the self on Facebook - it's a very freeing experience to have more control over your image, and it's not like people don't act parts in real life. But everyone knows that everyone is playing a part all of the time, in life and online, I don't see the issue. Once you're aware of the construct, you can see how it's put together.

Of course one needs to make sure that one uses it and not let oneself become merely the tool either of the software itself or of other users, but it does have a function. It's all about opinion. At the end of the day, as a place in and of itself it's just not that important. But it can slide into the real world in a much more tangible way than many other things. People whose blogs one reads, or who one talks to in web fora, are for the most part not people you meet in real life. It is the exception and not the rule that you might seek to actually meet them. Facebook is an addendum to a real life connection - who is Facebook friends with people they've never actually met? Nobody I know, I think. It is a way of documenting and strengthening that RL connection. It creates a common area where groups of friends can share things in virtual space when practicalities mean they can't do that in reality.

So I think it's a good thing. I have on occasion deleted myself from it - I don't necessarily want to be part of the scrutiny all of the time for one reason and another. But for the most part, I like that other people are prepared to share parts of themselves with me and are interested in parts of me. What's the problem?