Monday 22 April 2024

55 Broadway


Those who follow my Instagram account will know that over the last few years we have been thoroughly enjoying the London Transport Museum’s “Hidden London” tours - from the incredible history of Down Street, to the big and small screen connections of  Charing Cross - each and every one has been both unique and fascinating. The ”one that got away” however was 55 Broadway - for nearly 90 years the head office of London Transport and its forerunner and successor entities. Foolishly we had assumed that it would be a tour which would always be offered, and so we had put off doing it in favour of the more “directly involved” visits to actual stations - which meant that the announcement that TFL were moving out, and there would be no more tours came as a bit of a blow. Over the past few years I’ve looked on with envy as various social media influencer types have got to visit, all the while thinking that from our perspective, all hope was lost…

Just imagine my joy, if you will, when in the middle of March, we discovered an email saying that a visit had been arranged, if we might be interested…? Needless to say, we wasted NO time in responding,  and later that day had confirmed that we would indeed finally be getting across the hallowed threshold! I should add that I had in fact been into what is now the reception area many times as a small child, when my Nan took me in there to see this rather wonderful thing…

These are the old train interval indicators,  used to enable the frequency of the service to be monitored - until around 1989 these were in an area which just formed part of St James’s Park station and so were publicly accessible. I have to confess this was one of the things I was most excited about seeing - sadly they no longer work, but standing back in front of them I was astonished to realise that in spite of not having seen them for  well over 30 years, I could still hear in my head the distinctive noise of them recording the trains - a sort of “Swish-clunk” sound!  

Having met our guide in reception, we initially went outside to hear some of the history of the building - designed by acclaimed architect Charles Holden - at the time it was built it was the tallest office block in London.  Looked at from above the building forms a cruciform shape,  and from the ground the shape tapers upwards -  with the central tower culminating in a flagpole. It features sculptures on all sides, and various nice features like rainwater hoppers featuring the famous roundel. 

Back inside, and having heard a little more about the various materials used in the interior decoration - all very ornate, perhaps the nearest current tube station equivalent is Piccadilly Circus, we made our way to the upper floors. Unsurprisingly even the staircases are wonderful - with the most beautiful tile detail…

 The staircase then opens onto a lobby area from which the various wings of the building can be accessed, and also toilets, the lifts etc. Other features include  pedestal - probably for a vase of flowers or, as here, a plant - a water fountain and a clock. Indeed, there are clocks everywhere!  

We were ushered along a rather smart walnut panelled corridor to see the executive offices and the boardroom, and finally the Director’s office, which apparently featured the Director’s desk in the diagonally opposite corner to the door one had to enter through, meaning that if you had been summoned to see the great man, you faced an unnerving walk all the way across the office to stand in front of him! My favourite feature of the room was something I spotted as we walked out again…

That also gives you an idea of the beautiful panelled doors! Then, very excitingly, it was back to the stairs - or to be accurate this time, the lift and then more stairs…up to the very top of the building! The final couple of floors are purely functional, with plant rooms and finally a narrow steep metal staircase to reach the “flagpole level” - quite a climb but, oh, how worth it…

There you go - choose a London landmark and you can probably find it there somewhere - from Wembley Stadium to the Houses of Parliament, across to Epping forest in one direction and the Crystal Palace transmitter in the other - the whole city is laid out in front of you - genuinely one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. 

We were incredibly lucky to be able to do this - not least as the building’s conversion to a hotel is due to start imminently, our guide said that he had a feeling that we really might have had one of the final opportunities to visit the building “as it is” although as it is Grade 1 listed the changes will need to be done sympathetically. Massive thanks to the London Transport Museum Friends who arranged the access, and to guide Ed, the TfL Heritage advisor and a thoroughly nice chap.


Friday 19 April 2024

First pickings!


Well here we go, just a week after talking you all through our new garden, I have just eaten our first home grown produce of the year! Just a small side salad of cut-and-come-again lettuce, spinach leaves (both grown from seed) and some of the sorrel leaves I mentioned last week too, but there’s always something a bit special about the first time in the year you can go outside and pick an actual component of a meal. When it’s the first time you can do that from your own garden, ever, then even better!

We were down in Devon last weekend - visiting MrEH’s family- and while we were there we had a wander around Totnes. It’s a nice little town anyway, but as we were walking back to the car I saw something I just had to go and take a closer look at…

Yep - that is a planter of strawberry plants, and there were more too - look

Salad - various different leaves and lettuces, some salad herbs like chives, and all inviting people to  make use of them. How wonderful would that be for folk without gardens? And come to that, I just bet it works to encourage some of those who do have gardens to do a bit more with them, too - there would be plenty of people who would think “well how hard can it be?” having sampled a few leaves, enjoyed a tasty strawberry or two, or had a good sniff of some of the tempting herbs as they passed by. 

There you go - that is the full line up of them. Don’t they just look tempting and lush? We had to chuckle though- the white flowered thing in the front planter there is Three Cornered Leek - absolutely the bane of our lives in our teeny tiny little patch of garden at the flat. It’s incredibly invasive - a small patch one year will easily double in size and more year on year, so for the last 20 years, pretty much every year we have pulled up as much of it as we could deal with, only for it to reappear the following year as prolific as ever! The real irony here though was that until a couple of years ago we literally had NO idea that it was also edible! At least we could have got some use from it had we known this sooner! 

I think my favourite planter may well have been the one with a wide assortment of herbs in it -  mainly because I could imagine this being something that might make the biggest difference to the people who pick from it, but also because I absolutely love herbs and can’t imagine my kitchen without them. Fresh herbs just lift food to a new level - while a handful of chopped coriander in a curry, some chives snipped over a bowl of soup, or mint leaves in with peas or buttery new potatoes are just a small thing, they change a quite ordinary food to something far tastier. Indeed, it was no accident that one of the first things I did in the garden here was to start adding to my herb collection, both with bought and sown from seed options.While I might not have a range to compete with the lovely Totnes planters, if all goes to plan fairly shortly I will have Rosemary, mint, sage, parsley, chives, coriander, thyme, sorrel, oregano and basil to choose from. (Lavender too - but that won’t be going anywhere near anything I might want to eat!) My plan is to be able to be self sufficient for herbs at least during the summer and autumn months, and hopefully to be able to preserve a fair amount to keep us going into the winter as well. 

I have seen planters like the Totnes ones elsewhere, but never as well stocked, or appearing to be as well used as these. Perhaps it’s because Totnes is a town where there is less vandalism than in some places, or because it does have quite a “foodie” heritage but regardless, I just love the idea that there are options even for those living in flats with no outdoor space at all to be able to pop by and pick a handful of leaves for a salad, or a quick pesto, or perhaps even a tea! 


Friday 12 April 2024

Where are we at, then?

Well, it’s been a while (again), no? Here we are having been in our glorious new house for SEVEN FREAKING MONTHS - how did that happen? Well anyway, we have, and so here we are at just the right time to start focusing on the garden! 

First up - some scene setting. Our sellers liked being “in” the garden but also liked it being fairly low maintenance, so we inherited some plants (the most fabulous campanula, a large and possessive lavender, some ornamental grasses (bleurgh - not a fan), a very pretty jasmine, some foxgloves, and invading through the fence from next door a winter jasmine (hurrah - as our cuttings brought from our old one which in turn was originally bought in memory of HRH The Cat and Jazzlet-Doglet didn’t survive) and what might be a honeysuckle - we’re still waiting to see on that last.) We also inherited some gaps where some of their favourite plants used to be, and a fair number of quite determined weeds… there is a small lawn, and then quite a lot of patio - far more than two people who enjoy sitting outside, but only need a relatively small area to do so, needed, so a plan was hatched… 

A couple of weekends ago, lovely-Steve-the-Handyman came round with an assortment of tools and a good deal of determination, and cut/prised/bashed away at a roughly 4’ x 12’ area of patio - to create a new vegetable growing bed. It turned out to be a little more challenging than he (and we!) expected - in places the concrete base was over 3 inches thick, and there was more hardcore and rubble than you would even believe underneath it! Eventually though after about 4 hours of his time, one ever so slightly poorly drill, a fair bit of swearing, several chunks of slab and concrete that even he and MrEH between them struggled to move, and a further 5 hours of our time the following day involving a lump hammer and brick bolster, plus 4 tip-runs (and several more still needed) we ended up with a hole in the garden that would shortly swallow what felt like sufficient compost to keep a small garden centre going for months. And THEN, we ended up with this…

And yes, we’ve already started planting in it! In true “EH Style” we’ve gone as frugal as possible - and our planting is designed and planned to provide us with foodstuffs which either we use a lot of, or which are expensive or difficult to buy. In the back right corner is a redcurrant. We had one at the flat, and briefly debated whether we could move it, but had to decide that it wasn’t going to be practical. The new one was acquired from the half price section at our local branch of a large orange DIY chain, and doesn’t seem to have objected to the lengthy delay in planting it’s had to face while we got our act together with the garden! The other large plant in there is, as you can probably spot, a rhubarb - high on our list of “plants we want when we have space”. Along the edge there are a couple of small sorrel plants. - which won’t mind the shade that the rhubarb will undoubtedly (hopefully!) end up casting…


… and a thyme, which should quite enjoy what might end up being a fairly sunny and liable to be dry spot in that corner, as well as clambering around the edges of the slabs a bit to soften things. The other end has courgettes - three plants, which from past experience is enough to leave us needing to eat a LOT of courgettes AND casting around trying to find folk to give them to. We’ll also be getting some potatoes in there (excellent for breaking up the soil in the bed’s first year) and also probably some rainbow chard - we’ve grown this before and it’s a really good versatile leafy summer veg. I will probably also be adding some more bits here and there round the edges - almost certainly more herbs - I’d like a fennel for the back left corner, and I already have thyme seedlings on the go ready for more edge-softening… the back “might” get raspberries - that one still requires thought. 

Elsewhere in the garden we have also been busy - and busy reusing resources we already have so far as we can. Having removed a big chunk of patio in one place, we’re now increasing it’s size a little elsewhere - a line of reclaimed slabs along the “top” end now have herbs in pots on them…

…and some more are being used at the bottom end to widen the path there and make the area more user-friendly. It won’t be the most aesthetic result, but it will be functional. More reclaimed slabs have been used to line around the edges of the compost bin - we had a bit of an annoying vermin issue there when we first arrived - and the whole and part bricks and blocks we dug out of the new bed have been used to make a rough and ready “wall” across the back of the new bed to avoid any risk of a garden fork skewering the electric cable that runs there. Three gooseberry plantlets carefully dug up from the flat are all settled in and doing well, sadly it’s starting to look like the Bay we also brought with us might not have survived, although we do still have a spare in a pot if needed. 

Lots of sowing of seeds has also been happening - the mini greenhouse (bought for a bargain price in Wilko’s closing down sale - the price was so good we bought a spare one, too!) is full to bursting…

…masses of potted-on tomato plants, sunflowers, a big pot of miniature round carrots, various herbs (parsley, choices, that thyme, coriander, lots of basil) and various other odds and ends. 

In one of the raised beds on the other side of the garden we have a little thicket of Broad beans - SO nice to be able to grow those again as they are one of my favourite veggies! 

Meanwhile a trough of cut-and-come-again salad leaves and spinach is going great guns on the patio table - we’ll be able to start lightly harvesting from that soon, and I will be getting another trough of each sown at some stage too I think. The table is enormous, was left (with our agreement) by our sellers, and is far bigger than we need, so we’ll be using a good bit of it for now for various pots of salad we think - hopefully it might keep them out of the way of slugs and snails and will also make them super-easy to harvest too. 

Still to get sown in a few weeks will be more beans - runners this time, and back to our long standing favourites “Polestar” there. Most of our seeds were bought at the end of the growing season last year for very reduced prices - we’ve always favoured this, and as long as they have enough date left on them to enable them to be sown the following year it can be a good way of making home-grown even more affordable. Once the shops want to clear the space for other goods, they often sell seeds at rock-bottom prices so it’s well worth keeping your eyes open. Other little money-saving ploys in the garden include using the run-off from water for washing up (our boiler is in the loft so it takes an age to run through hot) to fill watering cans - as we are now metered we are paying for it, so I’d sooner it went on the garden than down the drain! 

So there you have it - your whistlestop tour of our little fledgling garden. It’s not huge - just an average sized town garden really, but it’s plenty for us to be getting on with while we get back into the swing of having proper growing space again. Just so you know, this entire post has been written sitting in the garden too which has been rather delightful. From my comfy seat in the corner it’s rather nice to survey the space which is hopefully going to go a good way to feeding  us, as time goes on - and yes, of COURSE I’ve been enjoying a cup of tea, too!