I've often thought that if you can't be a readable heavyweight intellectual writer, it's best to aim for the apparent opposite and cultivate a lightness of touch. I say it's the 'apparent' opposite because the best lightness of touch is extremely deceptive. Done well, it has deftness, depth and subtlety, and although the writer is wearing his or her knowledge lightly, there's no denying it is informing every sentence.
I am always full of admiration for anyone who has this lightness of touch, who can engage the reader with a fresh, natural, authentic style and voice. Often the most difficult thing is knowing what to leave out, and letting go of most of the hard-earned knowledge in favour of touching upon, alluding to, and suggesting. It's so easy to be ponderous, weighty, and mired in detail for the sake of it, far harder to seemingly skim and float yet somehow also get to the heart of the matter.
I'm thinking of the way that Alexandra Harris deftly brings together life and work in a readable short book about an often difficult writer with enormous cultural baggage.
The way that Alan Bennett sums up why we should read books and their power to destabilise and subvert in a very funny short book.
The way that Louise Wilder and others at the Penguin blog appraise the novels of Dickens with such enthusiasm and clear-sightedness, and in terms that appeal to readers rather than academics. (Other with a lightness of touch when it comes to Dickens are Jane Smiley, John Carey and, perhaps surprisingly, George Orwell and JB Priestley. They manage to condense and illuminate without weighing down the reader, unlike Dickens himself at times.)
Astrantia, also known as masterwort and Hattie's pincushion, which I think is a wonderful name for this starry perennial flower.
There is so much to see in Tom Stuart-Smith's own garden, but it's only open for three hours once a year through the NGS so it's a race against time - and the huge numbers of visitors (surely many more than last year, and certainly vastly more than when I first visited in 2005).
Since last June, TS-S has created a prairie field (similar to, and using the same expertise as, the ones at Wisley and around the Olympic Park) and it's spectacularly good. I find these prairies quite beautiful: natural, restful, informal, with a gentle, swishing movement, and masses of interest and dots of colour once your eye settles, calms, and starts looking properly. The star of the prairie yesterday was the Carthusian pink (Dianthus carthusianorum) with its tiny magenta flowers that rise high above its spiky leaves and hover in the air (below).
And the astrantias next to the corten steel tanks were just right. Like the whole garden, really.
It's summer. You're sixteen. You've just finished months (nay, years) of preparation for and taking exams. You have parties to go to, places to visit, friends to see. Your babysitting earnings are burning a hole in your pocket. You have perfected the art of walking high heels without falling over/breaking your ankle (so far). You have new ways with toe-nail decoration to show off. Why wouldn't you buy them?
I'm afraid it doesn't stop there (see below and below). Oh no, this year the books are coming like London buses (you wait for a long time for one, then three come at once). So there is a third book coming out in September. It's the fourth in the series of concept books I'm writing for Millbrook Press. This one is about shapes, and I think it has a quite fantastic cover (thank you Carol and Danielle).
Unfortunately, the project above couldn't be included, but this was my second-ever piece of counted cross stitch. It's stitched with scarlet cotton perlé 8 thread from Tikki on a piece of beautiful Dublin evenweave linen from Delicate Stitches (part of the London Bead Company business in Kentish Town). The font is Times New Roman which I like because it makes the letters look as though they've been typed on an old typewriter, and they are justified to the right for a change.
Amazon hasn't got the correct cover on its website at the moment (some glitch on their part), but Waterstones has.
[This title will be widely available eg via amazon.com]
Cherries are a fleeting fruit pleasure; blink, and you've missed the season. Which is why I was thrilled to find 2kg boxes of big, red, juicy cherries on sale this morning in the greengrocer's under the arches on Druid Street. (They also sell huge bags of Thai basil, galangal, pea aubergines, and lemon grass.) A few arches down is the St John Bakery where you can get the best Eccles cakes in the world, and some of the tastiest sourdough bread ever.
[The Druid Street traders are part of the Saturday morning Maltby Street Market. It's ten minutes' walk from Borough Market, down Crucifix Lane, then past Bermondsey Street and the Shard. A great part of London with some wonderful street names.]
* one of the songs we used to sing at junior school, but not as well as this, and with a lot more thundering on the piano.
I am very happy to encourage tall poppies in the garden. These are all free gifts and I accept them gladly.
I spent years trying to establish opium poppies (papaver somniferum, which is what these are*) but they are very capricious and the seeds can lie dormant for years, often requiring some sort of major soil disturbance before deciding to germinate. They can flower in profusion one year, then apparently disappear for several more, before reappearing seemingly at whim. These are all descended from a few seed heads from a friend's seaside garden, and have suddenly sprung up this year in the patch where we grew tulips (which we pulled out a short while ago), and all without me having to lift a finger. They won't last long, but they are the tallest poppies ever to self-seed here - at least waist-height on me - and for a brief moment they look like a carefully orchestrated field of poppies. There are also some red field poppies (papaver rhoeas) in there, from the time I shook a bag or two of seeds over the waning tulips. If I were being really demanding, I'd also like some of the dark or pink double/frilly/ fringed opium poppies, but they have not flowered this year (I know some are lying dormant around the place because they've bloomed in previous years).
My mother-in-law used to call the dried out stems and heads full of tiny seeds 'magic wands', and she was right.
*Oriental poppies (papaver orientale) are much easier to grow from seed or as bought plants. 'Patty's Plum', in a shade of somewhat washed-out brownish mauve, was one of the most modish poppies of recent years, but I prefer the pale pink and coral versions (eg 'Princess Victoria Louise' and especially 'Cedric Morris'), although this year I've been surprised by the pillar box red, fringed 'Turkenlouis' which I don't remember buying, but is spectacular. My money is now on the gorgeous 'Watermelon' as the next big thing in Oriental poppies.
I'd never walked round the Barbican before so never knew it looked like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (clearly the first landscaped modern housing estate). Quite a surprise in the City of London.
I was there for the Bauhaus exhibition which is amazingly comprehensive and housed in a suitably plain, angular, boxy gallery. It tells you everything, although you do get the impression that it was all a bit humourless (despite the creatively themed parties and beautifully designed invitations). But it's a wonderful exhibition if you are at all interested in C20 design, and the highlight was the discovery of Gunta Stölzl who created the most beautiful tapestries and wall hangings. And there's the very good Foodhall for a very un-Bauhaus cake afterwards.
[5 Choirs Gunta Stölzl (1928) which is on display at the Barbican, but hanging the other way up]
(I'd like to go back and do one of the tours. The 'skywalks' are like something out of an HG Wells novel.)