an alternative view

I’m not so keen on this time of year. Despite the crocuses being up it doesn’t feel anywhere near summer, and there is still a small chance that snow will fall before anything but parsnips can be harvested on our plot. Having been brought up in the Norfolk countryside I miss what the countryside offers. It is important to me that I notice the seasonal changes that shape our year, despite the suburban home I find myself in, here in Birmingham. I miss the big skies, the open fields, and the greens of each season, still in existence, I just can’t see them from here.


Looking though photographs from last summer I found this shot. I took it from the car as we sat aboard the Windermere ferry, crossing back towards the motorway, heading south to the Midlands from our final holiday of the season. It really was a grasped shot of the closing summer, peering through the window, breathing in the view. A last look across to the beautiful hills of the Lake District, unaware of what sort of wet winter was in store for so many in the region. In getting the link to the ferry for this post I’ve just discovered there’s a ferry-cam. I’ll check back to it in daylight, and dream of the summer holiday.

Today it was sunny in Birmingham. I had a short run around the park nearby and pretended it was the countryside, imagining I really could feel the heat of the sun through my hat, gloves and coat. I think we have a while to wait. The ground underfoot reminded me all to well of school cross-country in winter!

I think I’m in need of another holiday to the country!




miles on wheels

I was brought up in a very keen cycling family, as a useful form of transport from a-b as well as for touring holidays and adventures. Growing up in Norfolk meant ignorant bliss when it came to real hills, and yet we did know that it can feel as if you have a headwind on four sides of a flat field!

With the Design Museum’s bicycle focused ‘Cycle Revolution‘ exhibition now on, the theme of their Twitter #FontSunday recently was bicycle brands. This got me thinking. I own many bikes, and each one for different reasons and I have many happy memories of times on two wheels. I took a few photos and started to remember…


My early school photos show evidence of me learning to ride. Scars, bumps and bruises across my face, the result of falling in to the ditch of the edge of the disused airbase runway in rural Norfolk. I’ve fallen off with full panniers on, in fords deep enough with water to soften the landing, and I’ve broken my elbow as a result of hitting a pothole that was so small it could hardly be photographed for evidence! I’ve cycled Boxing day charity CTC runs, made others fall in love with touring on wheels, and ran round the park being brave enough to let my own children pedal away from me.

I inherited the silver ‘Falcon’ after my dad died, and once I’d grown old enough to fit an adult frame. With huge sentimental value, I love the bike I’ve covered miles and miles on. Youth hosteling with friends in Norfolk, and further afield: Scotland, Wales, France and Denmark. Loaded high and wide, on the open road, enjoying the same freedoms my father had experienced on the same steel frame.

My ‘Rudge Whitworth’, a heavy gent’s black butchers bike with rod brakes and wicker basket was purchased for a tenner from a fellow student at the art school in Great Yarmouth. I loved riding along, with my art box in the basket, seated so high up that I could peer over fences and be nosy. It takes hard work to pick up real speed, and yet once going, it’s impressive. The stopping is more interesting / less easy!


My life changed colour with the purchase of my ‘Turkish Green’ Brompton, from BikeFix in London. I ordered it before I’d seen the true colour but as the staff pointed at many products in the shop, saying, nearly this, bluer that that, brighter than those, I chose my new bike. On the day it arrived I excitedly arrived at the shop to discover the true colour, and to receive ‘training’ of how to fold and unfold the bike before I was allowed out on the streets. When I lived in London I headed off with the bike, all over the place, leading bookbinding workshops, before packing it all up, and heading off to the train home again, some miles cycled, others on tracks. Now this bike is my regular commuter bike to the train and I’ve covered so many miles in over ten years. I transport my children on it when they are too tired to walk, I load up the rack with runner beans in trays ready for the allotment, and I carry the harvest back from the plot, strapped up in front and behind. I fold it without a second thought now.

There are other bikes too. The borrowed, hand-built racing bike I cycled Lands End to John O’Groats on back in 1994, all 1144 miles of it. Then the Dawes Galaxy with ‘modern’ gears, that made me embrace cleats on the pedals instead of the rat traps. The red Falcon that I had before I was tall enough for my Dad’s old bike, I still have that one too.

Each bike I own was made with a different rationale to the next one, in different times, in different workshops and factories, with different ambitions. Each one I own has been part of a different story too.



summer to autumn colours

We’ve been treated to some clear blue sky days over the last few weeks and this makes the transition from summer to autumn a bit more tolerable. I always hate having to acknowledge that the summer warmth has gone for another year, and that the plot has given us most of the harvest for the year. We will wait for the frosts before we dig the parsnips, but I’ve gathered the squash and picked the final runner beans we will eat. The last of the sweet peas still offer their scent, but their strength of colour has passed. It’s a constructive time at the plot as we take down the netting, pull up the spent corns and clear ground for new anticipation.

Poppies, marigolds and nasturtiums still bloom such strong summer colours, daring the frost not to strike for a few more nights… I have my fingers crossed too…


A change of background colour

It’s the holiday season and we’ve been taking part. A camping trip to the Lake District offered a dramatic difference to the usual scenery we live within here in the Midlands, and it was refreshing change for being so. Everywhere seemed so green, really really green, not just the local park green but intense, vivid greens that lush meadows could offer. Naturally with that comes rain, but even then the colours were vibrant. Lichen was glowing, moss saturated, even the sheep were blue! Some colours took me back to studio projects, Pantone references, British Standard colours and colour choices, others offered a welcome diversion.The strange thing is, that when I compiled the image to include with this post the images looked really grey, but it really wasn’t like that through my eyes!

This change of scene is just what the mind needed after an intense workload juggling several design projects and at the end of a hectic academic year. I like what the seasons do to us, make us adapt and notice the time passing. This time of year feels like a celebration, as harvests ripen in the sun (ummm..) and we prepare for a new season of productive design work, education and research.

I shall remember the vivid greens, the birds circling overhead in the sky of blue; the vast views that some people get to enjoy day in day out. I shall remember the feeling of change, and rest, and stopping just for a short while, as a warm memory in the depths of winter when working in the studio. I am bound by the academic year, as well as the seasons on the allotment, the trade show calendar, and birthdays, as so many people are. It’s good to recognise the rhythms and differences brought on by change. Hooray for holidays!


Plot to Plate archaeology

When I was a small child there was a time when I wanted to be an archaeologist. Having been lucky enough to have visited several Greek archaeological sites and been inspired by the possible finds underground I was convinced I had the patience and where-with-all to try. That particular career plan didn’t last long but something of the magic of unearthing lost treasures, and working through the soil of past generations has most certainly been re-awakened through my adult years of gardening – and beach-combing come to think of it!

Over the last few years I’ve represented this process of working with the soil and bearing witness to nature’s materials in many drawings and prints, working to represent layers of gardening, as if strata of dinner preparations. I like the continuum of being a gardener, as the current occupier and protector of a long line of gardeners, each winning and losing the battles of nature and harvests for generations.

As I have dug the plot for nearly a decade I’ve discovered many broken bits of pottery, and some I’ve kept and others I’ve turned back to the earth to be found again at a different time. With no rationale to what I have kept but having created little gatherings; pieces turned out from my gardening trouser pockets, I have realised I’ve started another collection. (check out for two more of my collections)

I like to see the different surfaces, the whites, the blues, and the hints of familiar patterns. Why do people plant their broken plates? It’s certainly a different narrative to my Plot to Plate collection…



the true Plot to Plate harvest of 2013

Today I picked the final handful of beans, harvested the last of the squash in case we are surprised by a frost, and noted the pace had slowed on the rain-battered raspberries. We still have courgettes and the last row or two of potatoes, plenty of beetroot, celery… and parsnips – and for those we wait for positive news of the frost before they accompany our Sunday roasts.

I’ve often returned home from the plot to capture in photographs the success of the allotment on our plates and bowls, capturing the beauty of shape and colour of our fruit and veg. Today I thought it appropriate to put together the photos as the harvest comes to a close. I realise its incomplete; no sweetcorn, no cucumbers, no carrots or peas no blackberries or swede. No disrespect – some were a success, some disappointing – but there’s always next year to make amends.

I have to thank this lot for providing me with constant inspiration for my design collection of the same name – and this really is an example of Plot to Plate.


Good feelings at the allotments

Taking care of an allotment plot is never about saving money on food – and Birmingham Council have ensured it could never be, given the huge plot rent increases. Tending a plot gives so much more than the crops that you harvest. Here’s a few good reasons:

  • Growing your own food provides the gardener with opportunities and excuses to go outside and realise that what looked like a grey, cold winter day is actually rather nice.
  • Digging provides an opportunity for head space, for time to mull things over, while also focusing on the amazing tenacity of bindweed and couch grass that really ought to be put to a constructive use rather than taking up all my time!
  • Making good use of time growing food makes you wonder why other people would want to spend each weekend wandering around indoor shopping centres, missing out on the feeling of muddy fingernails despite the gardening gloves and the sight of the first strawberry beginning to blush.
  • The satisfaction felt from a harvest that provides all the food for your family meal takes a lot of beating
  • and in addition to all this, I can thank the plot for the inspiration in my ‘Plot to Plate‘ design collection too.

Its a really good feeling when the crops are bountiful. The hard work of winter has paid off, the patience with the frosts and the protection from the birds has worked out okay and you get great stuff to eat for the commitment you give. With a fully laden bike and a handful of sweet peas to grasp on the handle bars you head home like a hunter gatherer from a previous age.

The thing is, when all goes well its an amazing feeling to be able to pass on the surplus to others who will also enjoy the success. Some years at the site we all have gluts of the same thing, other years we wonder what we did wrong when others are almost complaining about too many onions, and nothing has come of ours. It’s a great thing that there is never resentment to another successful gardener, but pleasure in their success. We share tips and ideas, timings and tools as well as the odd cast-off seedling and you’d be a fool to pass on the offer of parsnip seeds from Tony!

When a fellow plot-holder offered me her excess apples and pears today I politely declined at first, thinking that she would find something else to turn them in to, another apple tart, another crumble – really! too many apples? We have had a poor year in that regard. But there is a great sense of pleasure in offering ‘help’ in accepting the produce. We really are the winners in this hand-me down act, but it also feels as if we are doing a great favour in accepting the gift of free, home-grown food, enabling the grower to experience their own sense of generosity, good-spirit and community mindfulness, and saving them the feeling of not letting down the very fruit that served them so well this year – not bad for a bag of apples and pears – thanks!