Monthly Archives: March 2011

Become a London beekeeper…



The hayfever season now looms – the Daily Mail is already shrieking – which means two months of sniffling and hiding indoors on breezy days and cursing at the BBC Pollen Count. Every year I try different remedies – acupuncture, antihistamines, ionisers, anything. I’ve also heard that eating the honey made locally can ‘immunise’ you against local histamines, although there’s not (yet?) any scientific evidence to back it up.

The most well-known local variety is Hackney Honey, which was photographed by Gabrielle Motola and featured in The Guardian. I’ve found it in H Tidman Butchers on Broadway Market, but it’s best to get in quick as honey is harvested throughout summer so tends to sell out by the time you need it the following spring.

Space Studios on Mare Street produce honey on their rooftop, and Hackney City Farm has hives. Or you can buy London honey through Urban Bees, although their 2010 stocks have sold out and the 2011 harvest won’t be available until June. And it’s also sold at quaint British food deli A Gold in Spitalfields.

Alternatively, if you have a garden, roof terrace or allotment, you can produce your own. Bees are thought to thrive in urban environments because there is such a rich variety of flowers in private gardens and parks as well as railway sidings and unused scraps of land. It’s not cheap – the going rate this summer for a swarm of bees is £150, plus you need to buy a hive and bee suit, but from one hive you can harvest around 40lb of honey. London honey is described as ‘multi-floral’ and light in early summer, becoming darker and richer towards the end of the season.

To find out more or book a course, visit Urban Bees in Kings Cross. Set up by Brian McCallum and Alison Benjamin (author of A World Without Bees) , they have established 20 new hives on rooftops and in community gardens and allotments across London. Urban Bees is a social enterprise sponsored by the ethically minded Cooperative Bank, who began as Rochdale Pioneers and established the first successful co-operative in 1844. Having already invested £500,000 into Plan Bee, their own bee protection and education programme, funding from The Co-operative helped Urban Bees get started.

If you have a good idea and could benefit from a £5,000 cash injection, visit The Cooperative’s ‘Join the Revolution’ site or their Facebook page. And if you have a hayfever remedy, send it my way.

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Ghormeh Sabzi from the Turkish Food Centre

If you happen to visit the Turkish Food Centre at Ridley Road market, and feel like Iran’s national dish for dinner, then pick up a couple of tins of Gormeh Sabzi. It costs £1.49, and is a mixture of herbs, oil, dried lime and kidney beans. This is the basis for a typical Persian dish that provides comfort and nourishment in the way of a bowl of really good spaghetti or a roast chicken. According to one article, it’s traditionally served when family members return home from a journey (proper Journeys, I would imagine, not just a package holiday in Lanzarote).

I was introduced to this dish by an Iranian family friend who now drives a taxi in Berlin and loves to cook. He assured me that although you can cook it from scratch, using fresh herbs, it’s also OK to use the tinned stuff. Here’s how you do it:

Once you’ve got your 2 tins from TFC (in the tinned tomato aisle up the back, near the baklava stall), cook an onion in some oil, then sprinkle over about a teaspoon of turmeric. Add about 500g of diced lamb (TFC also sells good-quality lamb, so you can buy it here, along with some yogurt (full fat, push the boat out and go for the 10% stuff), and a bag of basmati rice. Add water to cover the lamb and simmer for an hour or so, then open the tins of ghormeh sabzi and stir in. Season to taste (although it’s already pretty salty) and simmer for 20 mins or so while your rice cooks. Serve with rice and a dollop of yogurt.

It’s an odd sort of a flavour – sour limes, earthy herbs, sweet lamb, fragrant rice and tangy yogurt, but really, really good.

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The Olympics site…

Now that weekends start a little earlier (Saturday kicked off at 4.30am – not that I’m complaining; if I’d known how little sleep you actually need to function I probably would have invented something quite significant before having a baby), it’s become necessary to build a scheduled family excursion into the day. Otherwise you just get sucked into a vortex of daytime television, hanging tiny little clothes over radiators and wiping tiny little bottoms, and it’s nice to have a change from Monday to Friday (just kidding, I only watch Medical Emergency and Emergency Bikers… and The Jeremy Kyle Show if I’m feeling masochistic). Basically, as long as it has caffeine we’re there.

Last Saturday we finally got around to visiting the Olympics site. Heaving. Tour groups, out-of-towners with notebooks of the day’s activities (‘Next we’re off to Hackney) and a few hungover blokes workshopping the night before, which made for nostalgic eavesdropping.

The Container Cafe does good coffee, cute little pies and things like bacon sandwiches, all very pleasant, and once you’ve done that you can look at the building site, which includes Zaha Hadid’s stadium and the Anish Kapoor tower.

It does all beg the question, though – is it worth it? So much money, materials, work, bulldozing etc for such a short period of time. So unsustainable. And I remember visiting the Manor Garden allotment, years ago, with a friend who had a plot there. It had been granted to the community by a private philanthropist almost 100 years ago. It was beautiful, like being out of the city altogether. But it was taken and bulldozed (think of the soil quality, after 100 years of planting…) to make a footpath for two weeks. You can read more about the allotments here, and see photos. 

Somehow, when I think of the Olympics I will always think of that allotment. It takes time to make a place that special, and to wipe it out so carelessly, amid so much protest, seems short-sighted and disrespectful to the past. I’m thinking of this today because I finally finished Cloud Atlas, and the last pages talk about how ‘one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself…’

Later on, when I was walking through London Fields, I saw the first tour guide I have ever seen in Hackney, saying something along the lines of, ‘Now we’re going to Broadway Market, which as you’ll see is very different from Ridley Road Market…’ When Hackney is on the tourist map you know things are changing…

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A cheeky sherry at Morito

I don’t have a problem, but sometimes I long for a night on the lash. One of those brash drinking sessions, with sloppy kebabs and raucous bus rides and a blurry 3am trip to the cash point that has you declaring a week later that your card has been cloned. Not to mention the savage hangover that necessitates an entire day on the couch watching the top 50 power ballads of all time, before going out for a curry. I’ve always enjoyed a spot of binge drinking – I don’t much bother with the after-work wine or the Sunday pint, it’s all or nothing as far as I’m concerned, and lately it’s just been nothing. Pre-dawn nappy changes are quite enough sober, doing them hungover – or still drunk – would be unwise.

It’s been this way for a while, obviously. At my work leaving drinks I did have a glass of champagne, and the young beauty intern, who was sweetly clueless about the politics surrounding childbirth and its many rules, said to me, ‘But are you allowed?’

Before I could say a word the editor turned to her and said flatly, ‘Shut up. I’m sick to death of no one being allowed to drink when they’re pregnant. Just shut up.’ Continue reading

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For the community-minded among you…

Have just received a couple of emails about local events… and thanks to Tired of London Tired of Life for this pic, which I sort of borrowed, hope that’s OK.

Those who oppose the 44 million pounds (sorry my pound sign is nowhere to be found on keyboard) may want to join Hackney Unites for just one pound a month. They have produced a tabloid newspaper which, if  you live on the east end of Graham Road, was delivered by yours truly, promoting the national demonstration against the cuts that will be taking place on 26 March.

As part of their contribution to making that event a success they will be holding a meeting from 7 to 8.30pm, on Tuesday 20 March in the basement room of Café Mostra (86 Stoke Newington High Street, N16 7PA).

Hackney Unites is also supporting an initiative to make Hackney into a recognised ‘Borough of Sanctuary’, welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries.

Sign the petition online: http://www.cityofsanctuary.org/hackney/pledge

And for those who live or play around the Lea Valley Park, have a look at the Lea Valley Federation website at leavalleyfederation.org. They have just published details of new developments planned for the area, and will be holding a meeting on Tuesday night (March 15) at 7.30 at the Round Chapel Schoolroom, Powerscroft Road, E5 to discuss the future of the park.

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Spring at the Columbia Road Flower Market

http://columbiaroad.info

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Get talking at the British Library

British Library

If you like words and stories, you’ll find eavesdropping particularly satisfying in Hackney. Just yesterday in the doctor’s surgery waiting room (always fertile ground) I listened to two women reminiscing about the childrens’ homes they grew up in, and the nuns who cared for them – ‘We used to think of ways to kill them’, said one. And on the 38 the other day I heard three women talking about what they were going to do that afternoon after a trip to Primark – ‘I got some well sexy gear today’ said one, twanging a hot pink g-string, ‘I want to get home and sort it all out.’

And you only have to ride a bus in East London around 4pm to hear school kids speaking ‘Hackney Patois’, which has been described in Urban Dictionary as a combination of East London cockney, Afro-Caribbean and hip-hop slang. One of its most noticeable features is the lengthening of vowels, so like becomes ‘laaaaahke’ and mobile phone conversations are ended with a long, softly spoken ‘Baaahhhh’ instead of ‘Bye’.

Being a relative newcomer, I can only listen in on this patter, and will never speak it myself – I think you have to be born here for that. The most useful made-up word I’ve adopted in the past few years is ‘Hangry’ – which (obviously) describes a state of extreme anger brought about by low blood sugar. Happily, although I live with someone (actually two people these days, apparently it’s genetic) who suffer from this quite badly at times, it’s more comical than dangerous and easily remedied with two words: ‘Eat something!’. I think of it as hanger management.

If you find this kind of thing fascinating, get along to the British Library for their free exhibition ‘Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices’ which is open until 3 April. They have looked at contemporary language, such as marketing speak – ‘at the end of the day they’re moving the goalposts’; text speak ‘2 b or not 2 b, that is the q’, among others, and placed these alongside the kind of texts they have unique access to – you know, Shakespeare quartos, the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf, that sort of thing.

You can also record your own voice and have it archived as a record of how people speak in 2011. ou can record your voice to add to the collection as part of the exhibition – visit (http://www.bl.uk/evolvingenglish/maplisten.html) to find out more.

Visit www.bl.uk/evolvingenglish or tweet using #evolvingenglish (link the #tag to http://bit.ly/dmIoPm)
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