Sunday, 4 September 2016

Burning lavender

Well what a very charming day we've had! This morning Abbie and Tina came up to Highgate and, after grabbing a few takeaway cups of tea from the little orange-fronted cafe below our house, we jumped in a car and sailed up the M1 to Hitchin.

We picked Julie up from the train station there and drove to the neighbouring village of Ickleford where there is a lavender farm. We caught it on the last day of the season, which has apparently been quite a bad one this year due to a very wet May.

The joy of the Hitchin Lavender Farm is that you pay £4.50, they hand you a bag and some scissors, and you can go along the rows of lavender in an enormous field picking as much as you want. It's a really rather pleasurable and peaceful experience. The smell of the flowers fills your lungs, and you walk through clouds of very happy bees looking out across the Hertfordshire countryside. When the season is at its height the aroma is apparently overwhelming, and everything is purple as far as the eye can see. It wasn't quite like that today, but there was certainly enough lavender to more than fill our bags.

Nathan also managed to fill his beard with lavender stems! He looked rather fetching, and the flowers stayed put in his beard all day. They're still there now. I think flowers work rather well in a big bushy beard. It sounds rather eccentric, and it probably is, but I think he looks very cool and bohemian, particularly now that he's just finished knitting a big slouchy hat, which came off the needles and went onto his bonce as I was driving there this morning.

After we'd filled our bags with flowers, we sat outside the lovely on-site cafe and gorged ourselves on delicious tea and cakes before buying some pots of lavender which I'm hoping to plant under the tree in our garden to encourage bees. I want bees in abundance.

We dropped Julie off at the station and drove back into town, parking by the British museum, where we said goodbye to Tina. Abbie, Nathan and I walked along Endell Street specifically to get bags of chips from the legendary Rock and Sole Plaice (see what they did there?) I still maintain these chips are the best chips in London. They're enormously fat - almost an inch across and a good half-centimetre thick. They're a great treat to have whilst walking through Covent Garden.

We met Jack Reitman from the first cast of Brass on Waterloo Bridge and wandered down to the Embankment directly opposite the OXO building, where the crowning glory of the Great Fire of London anniversary celebrations was taking place. I don't know who comes up with these ideas, but this one was every bit as exciting as the poppies at the Tower of London.

Someone, God knows whom, had built a 400 ft long replica of the City of London as it looked before the fire in 1666. The replica city was placed on an industrial barge in the middle of the Thames and, at 8.30pm, they set fire to it. For the next forty five glorious minutes we stood and watched London burn. It was an astonishing sight. Little explosions saw building after building burst into flames. Churches. Town houses. Halls. The fire spread West and then back East again, just as the real fire had traveled. The crowd sang London's Burning and cheered as steeples became engulfed and collapsed into the flames. The old St Paul's went up like a Christmas tree. The air filled with little specks of flame, which Pepys would have called "fire drops." It was a deeply moving experience and I was instantly reminded of Pepys' account of his trip to a tavern on the south side of the Thames where he sat and watched London burn: "in corners and upon steeples and between churches and houses as far as we could see up the hill of the City. Horrid and malicious bloody flame."

Pepys wrote about great arcs of fire and we saw them tonight. We heard the snapping of the flames "a horrid noise the flames made and the crackle of the houses at their ruine" and felt the heat of the fire, "all over the Thames with your face in the wind you were almost burned with a shower of fire drops." I can't begin to explain how impressive it all was and how grateful I was to Abbie for suggesting that we went.

Believe it or not, this is a photograph and not a painting. Nathan took it on his phone. How astounding is that?!

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