Feeding the birds and the bees

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Alan Briggs and his bughouses

I first met Alan Briggs, bughouse builder extraordinaire, at the Wild Weekend at Woodberry Wetlands this spring. My friend and I were so taken with his beautifully constructed green-roofed insect houses that she bought one for me and I bought one as a birthday present for my next-door-neighbour. The bees buzzed all summer long in our adjoining gardens. More recently I bumped into Alan again at the Quernmore Road Street Party where he had a stall full of his bughouses, as well as wreaths made of succulents all ready for the Christmas season.

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Beautiful Christmas wreath

He also donated a combined bird box, bug hotel and butterfly roosting box to the Quernmore Road Project. Here it is all primed and ready to be painted by Lisa of N4 Workshop.

Three in one: bird box, bug hotel & butterfly roosting box

Alan moved to Epping when young, which fuelled his interest in the natural world Moving to the Harringay Ladder he experimented with a green roof on his compost bin. He was pleased with how successfully sedums and succulents grew in gritty compost in an exposed part of the garden. Alan went on to construct garden stores, bin stores and cycle shelters for friends, family and neighbours out of found materials including pallet boards and scaffolding, as well as recycled Victorian floorboards sourced from local forums such as Harringay Online. My favourite construction has to be the shelter he built for a neighbour’s outdoor cat, fully insulated with 50 mm of foam insulation and planted with a green roof.

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Fully insulated cathouse with green roof!

Moving on to smaller things, Alan builds the prettiest bughouses, filled with little pieces of bamboo, and planted with sedums and sempervivums. “I think I help the birds and the bees,” says Alan. “A block of wood can be home to 50 solitary bees.”

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An array of pretty bughouses

He’s also built larger bughouses for schools and community projects. These have the scope to include bamboo, broken pots and tiles, cut-down plastic bottles filled with corrugated cardboard. Attracting a variety of insects including lacewings, ladybirds, and bees, some insects even overwinter as pupae. He’s also built bat-houses for the Parkland Walk.

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Bughouse in action

In his other life, Alan teaches wood and metal work in schools and so it’s not surprising that he thinks community involvement is vitally important, especially to nurture children’ fascination for the outside world. He can teach them about the importance of recycling materials too. “If I can get children involved they can experience the lifecycle of insects from pupae to flying insects,” says Alan.

Here’s an example of a community project in Carbuncle Passage in Tottenham where the community was involved in planting up the wooden planter.

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Carbuncle Passage planter

Always inventive, Alan has now started making tardis-like police boxes and telephone boxes to sell, along with his bughouses and birdhouses, at local festivals and fairs in and around Haringey and North London.

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Tardis police box

Buy a lovely gift from Busy Bee Alan at the Made in Tottenham Pop-up Christmas Gift Shop at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre from 14-17th December: Thursday and Friday 9.30 am – 6.30 pm, Saturday 10 am – 6 pm and Sunday 11 am – 4 pm.

Alan will be at the Christmas Fair, Earl Haig Hall, Elder Avenue, Crouch End on Saturday 16th December from noon till five.

Briggs Bughouses is now selling on Etsy so do get your Christmas orders in now!

Quernmore Road Street Party

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Quernmore Road Project Street Party

The Street Party to end all street parties was how But First, Coffee, our local coffee shop, billed the Quernmore Road event on 29th October.  The sun shone warmly on hundreds of local people celebrating the unveiling of a beautifully furnished public space made possible by The Quernmore Road Project – a small regeneration project devoted to transforming the cul-de-sac by Harringay Station. A working group of local businesses and residents worked hard to apply successfully for a £10,000 grant from the Tesco Bags of Help Fund. Hats off to all those who voted for the Project at our local Tesco.  They also worked hard to organise the spending of the grant – on running children’s art workshops to produce the mural, a planter set, planting and, most wonderful of all, the lovely benches and chair with salvaged legs from an old snooker table. Some of the funding was matched with Haringey Council’s Ward Fund to organise the  street party.

Here’s the striking mural with our very own Snowy, the Harringay Station Cat, snuggling up in a tree.

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Mural with Snowy nesting in a tree

And the bench with its snooker table legs.

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David and his daughter Catalina sitting on the bench

I was interested in the display board giving information and old photos of the original shopping parade, the Library and Rail Station.

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History of Quernmore Road

The planting schedule is designed to create year round interest: for example we can soon enjoy sweet box with its winter perfume and the greenery of the ferns and evergreen shrubs such as yew, bay and japanese spindle.  I look forward to the display of spring bulbs: alliums, tulips and narcissi.

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Planters and bench

I had another engagement that Sunday so all I could do was a quick trot around the stalls when the event opened at 12 noon. I missed the unveiling ceremony which I understand was done by Haringey’s Mayor.

I met Peter and his nephew, Matt, at the bulbstore with their jumbo Hippeastrum bulbs.  My friend was sorely tempted to buy one of these.

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Peter and Matt with their bulbs

Next up was Alan Briggs of Briggs Bughouses, whom I first met at Woodberry Wetlands Wild Weekend earlier this year. I had my eye on the loveliest winter wreath planted with succulents.

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Alan Briggs and his Police Box

This is Suzie London with her vibrant pieces of joy – lampshades, planters, phone cases, make-up bags. You can iron one of her pretty patches onto your jeans.

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Pieces of Joy

Here’s Nicole and Toby with their colourful vintage store.

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Nicole and Toby

I lingered at the Friends of the Library stall.  The Friends earned £183 from the sale of books, DVDs and CDs, sharing their takings with the Library.

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Friends of Stroud Green and Harringay Library

Then on to Etsuko, head librarian at the Stroud Green and Harringay Library, with her ‘Join the Library Today’ balloon.

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Etsuko, Head Librarian

My friend and I joined the queue at But First, Coffee for a latte and a cappuccino.  Here’s Nic, one of the owners, and Alison working their socks off.

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Nic and Alison of But First, Coffee

We couldn’t stay long but left with jazz music by BessDeeThree ringing in our ears. Note the amazing all-in-one van.  They just open the side and set up stage.

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BessDeeThree

Well, all too short at time was spent I’m afraid, but I wish the Quernmore Road Project the very best and I’ll certainly be using the space – it’s a great place to meet your neighbours.

New Beacon Books

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New Beacon Books: shop front

When I moved into Stroud Green 22 years ago I often popped into New Beacon Books to buy books by African, Caribbean and Asian writers. So I was so glad to attend the re-launch of the shop on Saturday 7th October.

New Beacon Books has been in Stroud Green since 1966, set up as a Black publishing company by John La Rose and Sarah White. Later, in 1973, it was established as a bookshop with the aim of encouraging Black writers and to sell books by Black writers, sadly lacking in other bookshops. John and Sarah were active campaigners in the educational field aiming in particular to address the negative stereotyping of Black schoolchildren. John La Rose also established the George Padmore Institute, an archive, educational resource and research centre of materials relating to the Black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe. It holds educational and cultural activities, including talks and readings, and also makes its archives accessible to the general public.

The growth of ebooks over the past few years meant that sales of books decreased, leading to an insecure future for New Beacon Books. However, John La Rose’s grandson, Ronaldo, and his family launched a ‘gofundme’ campaign to raise money for a refurbishment, quickly exceeding the target of £10,000.

Today the bookshop is light and airy with space for a small coffee bar and a meeting place at the back.

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Coffee and juice bar
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Inside the bookshop: Sarah White speaking

It’s also colourful with paintings of Black women on the ceiling.

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Ceiling painting

I went to the launch with one of our councillors, Kirsten Hearn, and we also bumped into Catherine West, our MP. There were speeches by Ronaldo La Rose and Sarah White as well as those who have been supporters of the bookshop for years: Professor Gus John and MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot.

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Jeremy Corbyn, MP
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Diane Abbot, MP

Gus John spoke movingly about how important it was to give positive images to Black schoolchildren. Do read his informative lecture, given at the British Library in December of last year, in which he celebrates 50 years of New Beacon Books.

New Beacon Books is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 6 pm; Thursday 11 am to 8 pm

Kay’s secret garden

Kay Thomson’s beautiful garden. She worked together with Nicholas Wood-Glover, the designer.

Last week my one trip outside the house was when a friend drove me to Muswell Hill to see Kay Thomson’s beautiful garden, open under the National Garden Scheme. I’d met Kay through my friend over a cup of coffee in winter and heard about her garden so was looking forward to this. It had been scorching all week and being gardeners of course we hoped for rain, but not during this afternoon! As luck would have it the rain held off and the temperature was balmy. An extremely tidy side return leads into a long garden divided into sections. But first of all we admired the profusion of flowers on this Trachelospermum jasminoides scrambling on the back wall of the house. And of course we took in the scent which is divine. It must be a good year for this climber as my own has done better than ever, clambering all over an east-facing brick extension right outside my bedroom window.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

A lawned area is surrounded by borders which Kay has planted up to represent astrological colours – reds, greens, whites and blues representing fire, earth, air and water. This red salvia represents fiery Aries, my own sign.

Aries area of the border – red salvia

And the large white valerian below represents air.

Capricorn area – Valerian

Kay has some unusual plants and trees, including this guava tree which I’ve never seen in the UK. If you look closely you can see the purple and white flowers, although Kay says she’s never seen them turn into fruit.

Mature guava tree with blossom

A pergola leads to the pond area.

Pergola

A quirky feature is this metal boat complete with oars and rope and artful planting.

Boat

It leads to this large wildlife pond.  It has a few goldfish but I wonder how long before a heron discovers a tasty meal! At one entrance is a running stream, something I lack in my own pond.

Wildlife pond – lilies in full swing
Babbling brook
Fine specimen of Equisetum

Scattered throughout the garden are some lovely sculptures which are enhanced by the surrounding plants.

Sleeping cat
Cheeky duck

Beyond the pond is a mirror serving to extend the garden.

Clever use of a mirror

And any garden showing under the National Gardens Scheme would not be complete without the statutory tea and cakes.  What a display – worthy of the Women’s Institute!  My friend bought me a raspberry sponge cake and a tea and we sat down at one of the many tables and chairs scattered throughout Kay’s garden.  A real treat of an afternoon – thanks to my friend for taking me.

Tea and cakes

Kay will happily show you her garden by appointment.  Get in touch with her at kaythomson378@gmail.com

Summer of Love Local

I had second thoughts about writing this post about last Saturday’s celebration of Stroud Green Road. There were lots of celebrations in the area, what with this Stroud Green Day and also various events to celebrate Jo Cox’s Great Get Together. And then on Sunday – the terrorist attack on worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque and Muslim Welfare House. But I thought I would talk about the event as a way of showing a strong sense of community spirit.

I followed a shop trail of 21 shops and pubs. First off I visited The White Lion to collect my map and to visit Kiran Sidiki’s jewellery stall.

Kiran Sidiki with her jewellery display

I backtracked to Vittorio’s Deli to chat to Michele. It wasn’t quite lunch time, so I didn’t indulge but I often do. Among my favourites are the arancini, the salads, and of course the Italian cheeses.  A great recent addition to our street.

Michele at Vittorio’s Deli

Then southwards to Boulangerie Bon Matin at Tollington Park. Tempted I was with the glorious selection of cakes, I held off for the time being, but the place is a good one for coffee and cake, as you can see.

Window display of Boulangerie Bon Matin

Next was the estate agent Davies and Davies, from where I bought my flat 21 years ago! This used to be some kind of men’swear shop I think and the display cabinets are still there at the back of the shop. I chatted for a while, extolling the virtues of my flat and garden and learned that they do a lot for the community, in particular sponsoring Pedal Power, which I featured on one my posts a few weeks ago.

Not being a beer drinker I’d never visited Clapton Craft, a recent addition to the street with every imaginable craft beer on its shelves, and beer on tap to boot. I’d thought it was just beer from a local micro brewery, but no – Martyn, the manager told me that he sourced the beer from all over and there are several other branches in London. And there’s even wine at the back for us wine drinkers.

Martyn of Clapton Craft

Then to Pretty Shiny Shop.  Again this is a fairly new shop selling all kinds of gifts including bags, scarves, cards, candles.  I must admit to being a bag lady myself and so just before Christmas I purchased an all purpose black shoulder bag with many compartments.  Usually I switch my bags for the occasion but the last winter I was mostly seen with my black bag.

Bag display at Pretty Shiny Shop

One of the most intriguing and specialist shops on the street is Top Balloon.  I spoke to John, the manager there and Caroline, his assistant. They sell balloons for all occasions,: foil, latex, message balloons, glitter balloons, bubble balloons.

John and Caroline with their balloons

Now it really was lunch time, so I went to another favourite, the Deli at 80. Brigitte, a local neighbour, set this up a couple of years ago and it’s been a success with a range of deli goods, excellently kept cheeses as well as sandwiches, cakes, coffee and other drinks to eat in or take away.  If you’re quick on the uptake there’s usually Portuguese pasteis de nata but they sell out fast. I ordered a salmon and cream cheese sandwich and sat outside in the sun to enjoy it. I watched a pop-up tarot reader and her client engrossed in conversation (I couldn’t hear them though).

Wares displayed at the Deli at 80

Somewhat refreshed, although this was a VERY hot day, I popped in next door to Snow White Dry Cleaners for a chat.  Here there was a very satisfied customer who comes all the way from King’s Cross for her cleaning, a good recommendation I thought. The manager was chatty.  I thought I would give it a go sometime as I have some clothes alterations to be done.

From there I went into Mosey Home, selling mid 20th century items.  It also had a display of pretty hangers by Studio GBD.

Hanger by Studio GBD

Across the road I visited Stefan Alexander, a designer clothes sample shop.  It’s been here longer than I have, so it’s quite an institution.

Stefan Alexander, designer samples

On the corner of Stroud Green and Lennox Roads is a large Crisis shop where I stopped to chat to the volunteers.  Here’s a photo of me in a wig and heart-shaped glasses! The shop is large and well set out with a range of clothes and  household items. They urgently require donations of clothing, shoes, bags, belts, jewellery, homeward, books, DVDs, CDs and Vinyl.

Me dressed up by a volunteer!

Round the corner is the John Jones Arts Building where I attended a talk by Barry Venning of the Arts Society who spoke about the making of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967. There were about three of us in the audience who remembered its release but the younger audience was captivated.

Next I visited the new Walnut restaurant.  The summer spritzes looked good to me. It’s only just opened but the lunch and dinner menus look enticing. So that’s one to try soon.

Wines at Walnut

Now I really did need a bit of rest so I claimed my free drink (for visiting at least ten shops on the trail) at my very favourite restaurant La Fabrica. I’ve been a patron since it opened a few years ago and it’s never disappointed.  I had a little glass of something cool and rested.

Alejandro serving me at La Fabrica

In came Ensemble Moliere, a relatively new music ensemble specialising in Baroque music.  They played a selection from their upcoming performance of Rameau’s little opera, Pygmalion which was great fun.  I lingered a while, ordering a plate of Spanish cheeses for sustenance.

Refreshed, I ploughed on back up to the Stapleton Hall Road end of the street to visit the last stop of the day: the Aladdin’s cave that is X-it. Always bright with lanterns you go in and there are cards, candles, mugs, but its real speciality is in fireworks.  I bought a set of indoor fireworks for last year’s New Year party.  Thoroughly recommended!

Nicos and his wares at X-it

Well, what a day! I was exhausted after that, but what a great way to celebrate our lovely street.

Crouch End Festival

The Crouch End Festival is in full swing running from 9th to 18th June. We decided to make a morning of it on Saturday 10th. First up was a lovely pop-up concert at Hornsey Library with an all-women trio: two singers and lute playing the most exquisite Dowland songs. Attendance was good and the acoustics excellent. This was organised by Clare Norburn of the Stroud Green Festival (yes we have festivals galore this week!).

I love our brutalist designed Hornsey Library with its canopy and the fountain in the forecourt. The woman in the fountain was decorated with Festival banners.

Lady in the Fountain: Hornsey Library

Next was the fair on the green outside Hornsey Town Hall. Food and drink stalls were there, and information stalls too. My very favourite group, the Friends of Parkland Walk were showcasing the Wildlife Trail, about which I’ve written before. And the baking women of Stroud Green Women’s Institute were selling their cakes. I’d brought an empty box so was able to buy three cakes: pear and almond, bakewell tart – and an incredible gluten free cake with lots of fruit and rum – courtesy of Georgina, of From the Larder.

Stroud Green Women’s Institute and their cakes

I visited Virle Archer’s glass stall. I’ve known Virle, a local stained-glass artist, for some time since I commissioned her to design and install two small glass panes with a leaf design for the top of my kitchen windows. She also sells lovely glass jewellery. I love her earrings that twinkle in the light and change colour as you move your head.

Virle Archer and her stall

We then headed into Hornsey Town Hall for the Craft Fair. Lots of stalls selling jewellery, scarves, dresses, toys, candles and even cactus in this art deco hall.

I was tempted by some lovely chunky silver and zinc jewellery and my friend persuaded me to buy a bracelet for a very reasonable price.

My companion was attracted by a stall of silk scarves and took a card while I looked at Maria Cabrera’s stall. A native of Colombia, Maria also is interested in Japanese glazing techniques as she studied in Nagoya on a six month scholarship. I’ve bought her mugs before and think her colours and delicate designs lovely.

Well, we were tired after all this shopping and retired for a well earned coffee to Broadway’s new Crouch End Cellars which has an open courtyard at the back (more of this in another blog).

I look forward to participating in further events at the Festival in the coming week. Do check out the programme and come along!

Stroud Green Music Festival

Unsung heroine Clare Norburn, organiser of the Festival (picture by Robert Piwko / www.robertpiwko.co.uk)

It’s almost time for the 4th Stroud Green Music Festival. Organised by Clare Norburn, who is a wonderful singer with a pure, clear soprano voice, it’s running from 8-25th June. Clare first set up an early music festival in Brighton when she was involved in a music group there and wondered whether something similar might work here in Stroud Green, where she lives.

Clare used to run the fundraising team for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and while she was there she met Tamara Romanyk, who introduced her to Father Patrick of the Holy Trinity Church, Stroud Green, and his wife Irena Henderson, both keen musicians who have organised local concerts at the church.

“There were already good local music connections and a real keenness to do more concerts. All it needed was someone to pull things together,” Clare told me.

This year the programme kicked off in April with a fundraising concert for the Festival. Shakespeare’s Musick was great fun, featuring 17th and 18th century settings of Shakespeare’s poetry by composers such as Purcell, Arne and Locke, including a rare performance of songs by a little-known composer called Defesch who was drafted to write songs for a production of the Tempest, to replace Thomas Arne who had had a disagreement with the actress playing Ariel who went on to sack him. Actors Davis Timson and Patience Tomlinson read extracts from the plays and sonnets and performed a very fine version by Garrick of the final scene from Romeo and Juliet. Many of the musicians were local, including my very own neighbour Naomi Anderson, flautist.

This year’s Festival is very varied with a good community focus. There’s folk, jazz and classical. Consortium 5 will be running recorder workshops – both for the public – and also for children from St Aidan’s school, culminating in a concert on 16th June.

I’m looking forward to the bite-sized family-friendly version of Rameau’s opera Pygmalion (two shows on 18 June by the Little Baroque Company), a sort of Rom-Com 45 minute opera, complete with a dancer and an animated film where the singers interact with the animation. And Baroque with Bite sounds fun too – 18th century cantatas by John Stanley with the singers in costume, all while you’re eating tea and cake (17 June).

There are lots of local partners and sponsorship from local businesses too. As Clare says, “I like all the connections. I’m a big champion for the Small is Beautiful. In this world where chains are taking over someone has to stand up for the smaller guys.”

The programme is here

See you there.

Little Baroque company: Baroque with Bite
Ensemble Moliere

Going for gold – in North London

I didn’t manage to get tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show this year so here’s my own Chelsea garden in Stroud Green. I love the bronzes and purples of the heuchera, astrantia, cirsium and acer against the greens and whites in this border.

And here is the same border as an aerial view showing the different textures of the plants.

Astrantia
Cirsium rivulare atropurpureum

Here’s another border. Geranium Johnson’s Blue, aquilegia (I think Nora Barlow?) and self-seeded Alchemilla mollis and valerian.

Cottage garden border

Another border fringed with the ever-multiplying Alchemilla mollis! It’s so pretty with raindrops on but I couldn’t get a photo of those rare drops.

Alchemilla mollis – the little tramp!

I’m keen on geraniums, especially blue ones. Here’s the lovely Geranium Rozanne, much beloved, and deservedly so, by Carol Klein. It’s out from June till October, but this is a very early flower.

Geranium Rozanne

I’ve also just discovered a newer relation to Rozanne – Geranium azure rush which I’m told has a more compact form and is even more long-flowering.  I bought mine from Claire Austin which came in excellent condition.

Geranium azure rush

I haven’t got many roses, but who could fail to love the Rambling Rector – a cascade of unruliness, just like some unkempt Victorian vicar’s garden.

Rambling rector rose

Another rose I bought at this time from David Austin is New Dawn, which after several years has come into its own. Its a modern rose and flowers repeatedly and has the most delicate fragrance.  Worth waiting for.

New Dawn

At the end of my garden is a pond with various planting around it.  Here is a rush with some fish sculpture from Crocus floating above.

Rush with fish

And lastly a picture of my pond.  It looks tranquil but I have many newts, water snails, water boatmen and damsel and dragonflies. I even have a daily visit from a sparrow hawk sipping from the pond.  There’s been a pair nesting in the trees on the railway at the bottom of our gardens for several years now.

Wildlife pond

Cast your clouts!

Cow parsley on the Parkland Walk

A quick post today as I’m stuck at home.

I was out in my favourite place, the Parkland Walk, a few days ago. This time a couple of us were identifying the flowers that were out in May. The most profuse was the cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). There it was frothing away at the sides of the path leading up to the walkway beside the bridge at Stapleton Hall Road. I don’t know why it’s called cow parsley – as far as I know the cows don’t eat it. It’s variously known as Queen’s Anne lace, wild chervil or (in Yorkshire) keks. But one of the most evocative names is mother’s dead or mother’s die, or even the less sexist deadman’s flourish, based on its similarity with hemlock, which is poisonous.

On the Stroud Green meadowland, a steep bank sloping towards Florence Road, we identified a number of ‘damned yellow composites’ (the equivalent of the ‘little brown job’ in birding terms!), those dandelion-like composite flowers of the Asteraceae family. Aside from dandelions there was a coltsfoot (Tussilaga farfara) and a cat’s ear (Hypercaeris radicata)- the latter is similar to the dandelion but has hairy basal leaves with the shape and feel of a cats’ ears. Just as we were ready to leave the meadow we came across a single yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis), also known as meadow salsify or more intriguingly Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on account of its tendency to open its flowers in the morning sunshine. It has rather spectacular bracts which encase the petals.

We looked at bushes and shrubs too just to see what species were emerging in the meadow. At the bottom of the slope towards the Florence Road gardens are more substantial trees and shrubs, including a mature hawthorn tree, or may, which was fully out. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’. There seems to be a dispute about whether this means not taking off your jacket until the may blossom is out, or until the month of May is out. Which one I do not know, but it was a rather nice day so we did consider casting our clouts.

Cow parsley
Dandelion
Coltsfoot
A photo of an original antique illustration by John Sowerby published in 1860s in The English Botany.
Goats beard or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon
Ne’er cast a clout till May be out

Pedal Power

Janet and Louisa at the Emirates Stadium

I can’t ride a bike so when David, one of the staff at Pedal Power, offered to teach me I was somewhat sceptical. Pedal Power is a club for cyclists with learning disabilities running sessions at the Emirates Stadium and in Finsbury Park. “But my feet fall off the pedals,” I said. “Then we’ll start you off on a scooter,” he replied. So there I was scooting round the Emirates Stadium with one foot hovering above the ground in case I fell off. It was slightly scary but by the end of the circuit I was able to scoot for longer periods with both feet on the scooter.

Pedal Power was founded twelve years ago by Jo Roach. “My daughter, Suzie, who has a learning disability, has been cycling since she was four and is a good cyclist,” Jo told me. “Suzie lives independently but can only ride when she visits me. I looked for an appropriate cycling club but there was none available. So I sought advice from the London Sports Forum and they suggested I start one myself. I’d already got some starter money from running a tea party at Christmas. I love baking and my tea parties are always successful. After all, the more you cycle, the more cake you can eat,” Jo said with a twinkle in her eye.

With the cake money and some money for bikes from Waltham Forest Council, Jo set up the club at the Eastway Cycle Circuit, but when this was demolished to build the Olympic Park she looked for another venue. Fortunately she was able to find a regular slot at Finsbury Park, and later on Islington Council got in touch and commissioned her to start sessions at the Emirates.

“I see so much success,” said Jo. “It’s so rewarding seeing people riding for the first time when others say they could never do it. It’s about fun, freedom and fitness.”

The following Tuesday I attended a session at the Finsbury Park running track. It was a fine sunny day and cyclists of all ages were out in force – from four years old to 70! Jo told me that about 100 people would attend throughout the morning. She pointed out one of the cyclists, Pete (not his real name), looking very cool in his bright blue helmet. “Pete’s been coming for a year and was shaking all over when he first got on the trike but now all he needs is a bit of support to mount, and he’s off.”

The variety of bikes and trikes is amazing – who knew there were so many? I was especially impressed by the variety of trikes, some of which could be ridden independently and others with a support worker either at the side or at the back, tandem style. There’s even the Velo, a Dutch built trike, used to carry wheelchairs.

At the end of the session I met Phyllis who was riding her trike with confidence. “I’ve raised money for Race for Life through Centre 404 [a centre for people with learning disabilities and their families in North London]. That was a five kilometre race and I raised £84. This year I want to do a ten kilometre race,” she said with pride.

The club couldn’t do without the part-time workers who are qualified cycle trainers, the many volunteers – and of course the funders.

I heard about the club through a friend who told me that her colleague, John Thorne was running the Shakespeare Marathon at Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday 7th May in aid of Pedal Power. John works for Islington Council’s Leisure Team and helps funds Pedal Power’s Emirates sessions with help from Sport England. I’ve sponsored John and hope you can donate too by getting in touch with him on john.thorne@islington.gov.uk. Donations can be taken for some time after his marathon.

Pedal Power sessions take place at Finsbury Park (10am to 1pm on Tuesdays and 12-4pm on alternate Saturdays) and the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal (10am to 2pm on Thursdays).

Jo Roach: founder of Pedal Power
Phyllis on the Finsbury Park track
Cycle trainer with one of the magnificent trikes
Cycling on the track at Finsbury Park