“We’re being counted,” declared a man from a group of eight walkers. I was sitting on my comfortable waterproof mat on a convenient wall at the entrance to the Muswell Hill tunnel on the Parkland Walk.
“Yes,” I replied. I’m helping with a count of walkers, cyclists, runners and even dogs so that we can advise the Council on a strategy for reducing litter and dog poo.”
“We’re all sound engineers,” said the man, and as if it prove it the group went whooping through the tunnel listening to echoes.
Although it was a cloudy afternoon in November, it was a Sunday and the intermittent drizzle hadn’t put off the 100 walkers I counted in an hour. Most people were wearing navy blue or black down jackets with the odd splash of colour from a rainbow faux fur hood or a pink, yellow and white woollen shawl flung over a jacket. Dogs were another matter: tartan, striped, spotted and plain; woollen, down and waterproof jackets were sported proudly.
This was one of four separate counts I took along the Parkland Walk on both weekdays and Sundays.
One very sunny Sunday I counted over 300 walkers, cyclists and runners – and 23 dogs passing by one spot by the meadow near Stapleton Hall Road, a popular walk for locals going to and from Finsbury Park. I even met my neighbour with his adorable King Charles spaniel. Soon a small group of dogs and their owners had congregated by my bench, but I had to keep an eye out on passers-by to complete my count.
People were intrigued with what we were doing and stopped to chat on weekdays when it wasn’t so busy. One woman pushing a buggy wanted the Walk widened as she felt at risk in case dogs or cyclists bumped her.
The Footfall Survey took place between 1st November and 14th December last year. Volunteers carried out 38 one-hour stints over both the southern section (Highgate to Finsbury Park) and the shorter Muswell Hill section. Unsurprisingly, Sundays had the highest usage with my own count of 302 walkers, cyclists and runners and 23 dogs topping the count. But the Parkland Walk is well used any day of the week. On the southern section an average of 77 people an hour passed by on a weekday with their 13 dogs; and on the Muswell Hill section an average of 64 users and 25 dogs an hour were recorded on a weekday.
For information on the survey and the Parkland Walk see here.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was interested in the display board giving information and old photos of the original shopping parade, the Library and Rail Station.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s Nicole and Toby with their colourful vintage store.
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.
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.
It’s also colourful with paintings of Black women on the ceiling.
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.
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
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.
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.
And the large white valerian below represents air.
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.
A pergola leads to the pond area.
A quirky feature is this metal boat complete with oars and rope and artful planting.
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.
Scattered throughout the garden are some lovely sculptures which are enhanced by the surrounding plants.
Beyond the pond is a mirror serving to extend the garden.
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.
Kay will happily show you her garden by appointment. Get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Well, what a day! I was exhausted after that, but what a great way to celebrate our lovely street.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
Here’s another border. Geranium Johnson’s Blue, aquilegia (I think Nora Barlow?) and self-seeded Alchemilla mollis and valerian.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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