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Bugwoman on Location – Costa Rica (Tortuguero)

Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)

Dear Readers, Costa Rica is a place that I have longed to visit for many years now. It isn’t just the extraordinary diversity of plants, birds and invertebrates that throng its rainforests, but the country itself. In an area of the world racked with poverty and corruption, it manages to provide free healthcare and free education to its population, in part through the abolition of the army. Hunting is forbidden. There is 100% renewable energy. I wondered how such a country would feel to the casual tourist, and what it would be like to spend a brief ten days exploring its varied landscapes.

We started in Tortuguera, right up by the Nicaraguan border. Our guide, Walter, was very much in favour of immigration: Nicaraguans do most of the coffee harvesting (and are paid a minimum wage), and other places in Central America and the Caribbean provide doctors, lawyers and teachers.

”We are a small country’, Walter said, ‘And we need people to come and work. It benefits everybody’.

And what a refreshing outlook that was.

Tortuguera has a river full of crocodiles on one side, and the Atlantic on the other. We travelled to our lodge by boat, and the female guide who made the safety speech demonstrated the Costa Rican sense of humour.

‘In Costa Rica’, she enunciated carefully, ‘lifevests are MANDATORY and this is because if you fall in the river, there are crocodiles, and they will eat you but you will FLOAT and so we can ship your HEAD back to your relatives for identification’.

American crocodile looks on hopefully….

Our lodge consisted of separate ‘bungalows’, and the grounds were full of heliconias and other tropical plants. Within 5 minutes I was getting acquainted with the local wildlife.

Green iguana

I had begged the other people on the tour to let me know if they found any interesting creatures in their rooms, and even volunteered to be on call for such purposes.

‘Room 54!’ I said. ‘Don’t forget!’

But in fact the place was remarkably insect free, maybe because at night there were bats of all sizes flittering and fluttering about.

My favourite birds here, though, were the Montezuma’s Oropendolas (Psarocolius montezuma). These are the world’s largest weaver birds, and they were in the process of constructing a huge communal nest. This involved a lot of squawking and arguing, and occasionally one bird would hang upside down, open his or her wings and let loose a sing-song cry.

Montezuma’s Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma)


Of course, a lot of the wildlife action here in Tortuguero is on the river, and we took a boat trip to see what was going on. The rainforest here is quite a narrow band along the bank in some places, and occasionally our excursion took us along the edge of someone’s garden, where Costa Rican music blared out from a transistor radio and a party of puppies pounced on one another. Tortuguero was originally exploited for logging, and the ‘canal’ that we visited was used to haul out the rosewood, teak, lacewood and tigerwood from the forest.

‘All the most beautiful trees were taken’, said Walter.

There is evidence for this in the village of Tortuguero, a short walk from where we were staying. Nowadays it had plenty of coffee bars and small restaurants for the tourists, but it also has a school, a clinic and a little supermarket. Everywhere there are the rusty machines that were used to process the logs, being gradually reclaimed by the forest.



Our guide Walter pointing out a bird


Logging is now banned in Costa Rica, except for where it’s sustainable, but there are large areas of secondary forest, where the trees are gradually coming back. Fortunately this seems to be enough for the sloths.

IMG_3338 (2)

Hoffman’s Two-Toed Sloth (Choloepus Hoffmanni)

I always wondered why sloths come down to the ground to defecate, when they do everything else from the treetops. There are two theories. One is that a pile of poo under your favourite tree will attract more predators, so it makes sense to come down from your tree and walk a little way before doing your business. The second theory is that there are chemical messages in the poo about the breeding condition and dominance of the sloth that are so valuable that it’s worth risking getting eaten by a jaguar. Things in nature are never simple, and so it could well be both, or neither.

The river bank was rich in birds and reptiles. I loved the plumed basilisks (Basiliscus plumifrons), who have the common name of ‘Jesus Christ Lizards’ because if disturbed they will run on their back legs on the surface of the water.


Plumed basilisk (Basilicus plumifrons


There was a Bare-throated tiger heron sitting on her nest, and relying on her extraordinary camouflage to keep her and her eggs safe.


Bare-throated tiger heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)

A yellow-crowned night heron sat very obligingly on a fallen tree while we all took our photos. I wonder if the birds are so much less worried about humans because they aren’t hunted? I’ve certainly noticed a difference in the behaviour of the birds in London and in Dorset, where the woodpigeons scatter as soon as I raise my camera.


We watched metres from a great egret as it spotted and caught a fish. I had never noticed before that the eyes of these birds look down their beaks and are slightly hooded, maybe agains the glare. The combination of stillness and sudden coiled speed is exciting to witness.


And then we headed back to shore. As we left the boat, there was an enormous kerfuffle, and a cloud of dust, and it became clear that an enormous iguana was enacting his territorial rights. In full breeding colours, with orange spines and a huge dewlap, he was a creature to be reckoned with.


And you can see him in action (briefly) here:

So, after a few days in Tortuguero it was time for us to move on, to our next location close to Mount Arenal in the centre of Costa Rica. I had already fallen in love with the country. What would we see next?






Bugwoman’s Fourth Annual Report – Part Two

August 2017

Dear Readers, one of my most popular posts from last year was created during a deluge. ‘Twenty-six Ways of Looking at a Rainy Day’ was so much fun to write. The main challenge was keeping the camera from getting water-logged during the downpour…

It hasn’t been a particularly ‘foxy’ year, unlike 2016 when I was spending a lot of time with the foxes in the cemetery, but I did spot this little darling, sleeping under the whitebeam in the garden.

And I also spotted some common carder bees buzz-pollinating in the garden, a first!

September 2017

The month started a visit to the new gardens around Kings Cross station, for an assessment of how helpful they were to wildlife. The answer was that it’s early days, but the signs are very hopeful. Sparrows, vanishingly rare in central London, have already moved in, and there was an active wasps’ nest. I shall have to visit again soon to see how things are shaping up.

The month continued with my friend A bringing me a Knotgrass caterpillar for me to identify. What a fine creature! It has now pupated, and is back in A’s garden, with a barricade of twigs for protection. One day, no doubt, it will emerge and fly away, probably when no one is looking.

A theme throughout last year was my Mum and Dad’s 60th Wedding Anniversary party. At times it was all very stressful, and it was good to go for a walk around their village, Milborne St Andrew, and to reconnect. There’s always something wonderful to spot, and slowing down to actually see things is a very fine way of gaining perspective.

The party was held on 21st September. Mum said it was the best evening she’d ever had, so every bit of hassle about table-settings and whether or not to have a photographer was worth it.

Mum, Dad, my brother John and I at the cake cutting….


A few days after the party, we had the heart-breaking news that one of the people who had attended, someone who had battled for years with depression, had killed themselves. It was so hard, especially after the event had been such a good one. I wrote this piece in the days afterwards, and believe every word.

I also took a visit to Dundee. I worked as a carer in a night-shelter for homeless people in the city when I was in my twenties, and wondered how things were going. The shelter is about to be converted into luxury flats, the pub where we used to drink is now a college, and there’s a new branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum going up on the quayside, but there are still people asking for change on the streets. Everything changes, everything stays the same.

The sign above the door of the old Dundee Cyrenians night shelter

The garden was visited by an amazing visitor in October: a female emperor dragonfly, trying to find a spot to lay her eggs.

And some birds in the garden had a narrow escape when we had another visit from the sparrowhawk…

November 2017

November saw me back in Milborne St Andrew, following Mum and Dad’s spectacular double fall down the front doorstep. Fortunately neither of them were seriously damaged (though after spending two and a half hours waiting for an ambulance while laying on the front lawn Mum was a little less sanguine than usual). But once in hospital, they were delighted to be placed in adjacent beds, and even more delighted to be sent home after a couple of hours. Suffice it to say that my visit the next day was well-timed. But I did manage to get out for a walk, and finally got photos of a buzzard, and my first ever meadow pipit.

We even managed to make the Christmas cake. By the time we ate it, Dad had fed it with so much brandy that I’m glad I wasn’t driving.

Once home, I went for a walk in East Finchley Cemetery, where I found a strawberry tree, some greenfinches, a handsome jay, and this lovely gravestone. How I would love to find out a bit more about Muriel….

I also had a few thoughts about the use of fruit trees as street trees: there is a crab apple on our street which causes all kinds of mess, but which does attract such exotic creatures as this one.

What are you looking at?

I finished off the month with some thoughts about the passing of time, which seems to be have been a theme last year. With so many people that I love in their eighties and nineties, and with my own seventh decade approaching, I suppose that it’s inevitable that mortality should be on my mind, along with other existential thoughts, such as ‘what’s it all about’? ‘How do we live a good life, and what is a good life anyway?’ All this was prompted by watching a band of sunlight move across the garden in the space of a few minutes. I had a similar sensation last week as I watched the moon rise with Mum, and we both realised that you can actually see it moving,  and wondered why we’d never noticed before.

December 2017

December saw Mum and Dad struck down with a chest infection, and so I headed West again. It was a stressful time: the carer who normally looks after Mum and Dad was struck down by her own health emergency, and so I had to negotiate to try to get Mum and Dad to accept a carer who came from an agency, rather than someone that they already knew. I found it unbearable to think of them struggling on, sick, without someone to help them, and so I took myself off to the frozen fields for a walk and a think. Oh, the light on those December days. It felt like a blessing.

Then we had a spot of snow, the first that’s fallen and stayed for about five years.

Pied wagtail

And then it was Christmas, on the County Roads...

and in Dorset. We hadn’t expected to be in Dorset (Mum and Dad usually visit us in London) but they were both still too sick from their chest infections to travel. This didn’t reduce their appetite fortunately, and ridiculous quantities of the aforementioned Christmas cake were eaten, along with chocolates, roast potatoes, stuffing, brussel sprouts. Just as well we were able to get out for a walk.

It’s a pig!

January 2018

So, now we’re nearly back to the present day. January saw me exploring Hampstead Village, and falling in love with an angel.

It saw the very welcome arrival of a song thrush in the garden (still here as I write in February), and the continued presence of a single pied wagtail, who has been here since November. We are all hoping that he or she soon has some company.

And I took a bus ride down to Tate Modern, and a tube ride back.

So, readers, that’s the end of the review of the past year. Thank you for all your input  – I read every single comment, and love the community that we’ve built together. Don’t forget that if you’re on Facebook, you can find me here. I look forward to ‘meeting’ with you all in the year to come. And during the next few weeks, you will find that Bugwoman has been on a very exotic adventure, and has been living up to her name, for once. Stay tuned…..







Wednesday Weed – Fourth Annual Report – Weeds of the Year Part Two

Dear Readers, here are the remaining contestants for ‘weeds of the year’. Let me know what you think!


Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)


I might not like fennel very much, but I am a great fan of tomatoes, what with their health-giving lycopenes and all, and so I was delighted to find a couple growing beside a lamp post in Muswell Hill. It appears that they ‘escaped’ from a vegetable delivery van, and were doing very nicely though, knowing the association of dogs and lamp posts, I was not going to harvest any from this particular site. Tomatoes, like all plants in the family, need to be ‘buzz-pollinated’ by bumblebees, and in some countries with no bumblebees of their own, people are paid (a tiny amount) to go to every tomato flower and pollinate it using a special device. I had no idea. And in a piece of most excellent synchronicity, I witnessed buzz-pollination myself only a few days later.


Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)


Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

I have chosen mugwort as my September weed because it is such an unassuming plant that it’s very easy to walk right past it and not notice, surely the defining characteristic of a true ‘weed’. Yet, it has a very long association with the people of the UK – it’s been smoked, turned into beer (the ‘mug’ part of the name may refer to the days before glass tankards) and it is said that, if you stuff it into your shoes, it will stop you from tiring on a long journey. It may, of course, give you blisters, but that’s another story.


Fig (Ficus carica)


My choice of fig for October is because it gave me the opportunity to talk about the delights of eating the fruit (in spite of the possibility of each succulent morsel bearing a few crunchy wasps). Even more excitingly, I was able to report that, in Victorian times, plaster figleaves were created which could be hung from naked Classical statues in the event of a visit from Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting. Rarely has a factoid made me so delighted.


Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)


The Gingko is 270 million years old and the very last of its kind.Its leaves are reputed to fall all at once, overnight, leaving the bare tree standing in a golden pool. They survived the bombing of Hiroshima, and there are trees that are over a thousand years old and still producing new shoots. Ok, so the rotten fruit smells of vomit, and the pollen is highly allergenic, but this looks like a very special tree indeed.


Red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria)


On a grey December day, the orange and yellow flowers of the red-hot poker, or torch lily, were just what I wanted. It brings a touch of African heat to the cold of winter, and I could just imagine a sunbird perched on top, or feeding from the tubular blossoms. I love the way that our native bumblebees have learned to navigate the flowers: they truly are the Einsteins of the insect world (although who knows what other six-legged geniuses are waiting for their chance at an intelligence test? Let’s hope that we haven’t made them extinct before we grow to appreciate them).


Winter-flowering heather (Erica carnea)



And so we come to the beginning of this year, and I would like to celebrate the charms of the winter-flowering heather, boon for sleepless bumblebees and the subject of a rather amusing April Fool’s Day joke in The Independent newspaper a few years ago, when the flowers were described as ‘natural Viagra’. I cherish anything that is in flower during these cold, dark days, and this plant really hits the spot.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Do you have a ‘Weed of the Year’  from the twelve posted over the past two weeks, or is your favourite plant something completely different? Are there any plants that I’ve never covered that you think deserve a bit of attention? Just let me know. And thank you for all your comments and ideas, and your never-ending support. It makes all the difference.


Wednesday Weed – Fourth Annual Report – Weeds of the Year Part One

Dear Readers, goodness only knows what happened to the formatting of my photos this week! Here is an amended version with what I hope are the correct photos.

Dear Readers, as we come to the Fourth Anniversary of the commencement of this blog,  I thought it might be fun to nominate a few ‘weeds’ as my favourites of the past year. As you know, my definition of ‘weed’ is any plant that I haven’t planted deliberately myself – the Wednesday Weed has been an excuse for me to learn something about the plants that surround me here in East Finchley, whether they’ve been planted on purpose or have sprung up of their own accord. After four years it’s become increasingly difficult to find truly wild plants that I haven’t already discussed, and so you might have noticed an increase in ‘domesticated’ plants this year. Personally, I’ve found it fascinating to discover the histories of some of our garden plants, though my heart does belong to wildflowers, especially those who survive, like many city dwellers, in impoverished and difficult habitats. With that in mind, let’s have a quick gallop through February 2017 to July 2017, (August 2017 to January 2018 will appear next week), to see who’s made my (extremely biased) list of Weeds of the Year. To find the original pieces, just click on the links in each section.


Stinging Nettle (Utrica diocia)

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)


I know, I know. Most of us have had a close encounter with stinging nettle at some point in our gardening lives, and as I get older I find that the stings seem to persist for ages, even after an application of dock leaves (as recommended by my Dad, who knows what he’s on about). But who could resist a plant that feeds peacock and red admiral butterflies, that has been woven into cloth, and which can be turned into a delicious nettle risotto? I rest my case.


Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)

Lungwort(Pulmonaria officinalis)


This was a difficult month to judge, but what tipped it for lungwort was the way that the flowers change colour from pink to blue once the plant has been pollinated, possibly giving an indication to bees that they shouldn’t waste their valuable time on blooms that have gone over. Plus, the spotted, lung-shaped leaves were said to indicate that the plant was useful in the treatment of pleurisy and other pulmonary complaints (hence the Latin name Pulmonaria officinalis). I have even succeeded, for one year at least, in growing this in my garden, and I will be delighted beyond measure if it pops back up this spring. Fingers crossed.


Windflower (Anemone nemerosa)

Windflower (Anemone nemorosa)


I love this plant because it is an indicator of ancient woodland, because it is so ephemeral, and because it seemed to welcome me when I first came to East Finchley and discovered Coldfall Wood. Its flowering was said to mean that the ‘March winds’ were on their way and Pliny believed that it only opened on windy days. In another story, the flowers sprang from the tears of Aphrodite as she mourned Adonis, killed by a wild boar. Its brief flowering is a result of it taking advantage of the sunshine before the leaves on the trees shade out the forest floor. If I wanted to take a lesson from it (and experience tells me that plants and other living things have much to teach us if we have ears to listen) it would be to grasp opportunities when they present themselves, because it might be a while before they come round again.


Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis cambrica)

Welsh Poppy (Papaver cambrica)


I do love a ‘new’ urban weed, and Welsh poppy is a plant that has escaped only recently, and is spreading through the neighbourhood with great enthusiasm. It is a native plant, but is listed as ‘nationally scarce’ in its original habitat. Not here in East Finchley, where it has taken to the shale and gravel front gardens of the County Roads as if they were the shady dells of Snowdonia. There is a legend that the plant doesn’t flourish away from Welsh soil, but it has obviously not read the book. It is the symbol of Plaid Cymru, and is closely related to the Himalayan Blue Poppy. Pollinators of the hoverfly and beetle variety seem to love it, so I am content.


Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

This little beauty erupted from some spilled birdseed, and I have not been so excited about a plant in a long time. After all, when your Latin name means ‘really, really, really useful’ it’s worth doing some research. Flax is used to make linen, linseed oil, flaxseed (as sprinkled on your muesli in these health-conscious days), and, best of all, linoleum! Plus the flowers are exquisite and delicate, and much beloved by equally exquisite hoverflies. I am very pleased to have made its acquaintance.


Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Dear Readers, I actually loathe things that are aniseed or licorice flavoured: I can just about cope with fennel seeds, or the domesticated fennel bulb if roasted gently until the taste is somewhat constrained. But who can argue with the pollinators who were hovering above this fennel flower in the N2 Community Garden next to East Finchley Station? They were positively queuing up for some of that delicious pollen and nectar, and in these difficult times for insects that is a great thing. Plus, fennel is one of the ingredients of absinthe, that mainstay of French poets and artists for years immemorial, so it well deserves its place in the Hall of Weedy Fame.


So, what do you think so far? Stay tuned for the August to January ‘weeds’ next week!








The Great Garden Birdwatch 2018

Dear Readers, the last weekend in January is the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) annual citizen science event, the Big Garden Birdwatch. All over the country, people sit and watch the birds in the garden or local park, and record the maximum number of each species that they see. It started in 1979, and was aimed at junior members of the society, but when the event was featured on Blue Peter, the most popular children’s TV programme at the time, more than 34,000 school children submitted their forms. Today, over 40 years of data has been collected, and over half a million people, from residents of care homes to private individuals (like me) take part.

Usually, for whatever reason, the birds opt to stay away in my garden for the hour of the count, only to come back in their dozens as soon as I submit my results. I did wonder if this was because of my presence looming at the kitchen window, but this year, the birds didn’t care. As soon as I started my timer, a great flock of starlings descended. I have noted before that I’m convinced that they watch from one of the big trees on East Finchley High Road and swoop down as soon as the feeders and bird table are topped up.

I had recorded 17 starlings when a charm of goldfinches flew into the whitebeam. I love the way that they approach at speed, jinking at right angles as if to confuse any passing predators. And what splendid birds they are!

A wren has recently taken up residence in the garden, and stayed long enough for a brief portrait. Everything about them seems explosive: they burst from cover like feathery bullets, and their whole bodies vibrate with song. I was very lucky to get any photograph at all.

The chaffinches appeared, a group of six, with their elegant mothy flight.

But then, something flew in fast over the roof, and seemed to wipe the whole garden clean of birds with a stroke of its wing.


It sat in the tree for a few minutes, surveying the garden with monomaniacal yellow eyes. Where do the little birds go, I wonder, it was as if they had dematerialised. I was able to walk out into the garden and get a few shots of this juvenile (there have been a pair of adults around for a while). I suspect it was only the inexperience of the bird that protected his prey, for other visitors have been much luckier in their pursuit of something to eat.

Well, I thought, that puts the kibosh on my bird count, and indeed for a full ten minutes there was not a single visitor of a feathered variety, though someone popped in to take advantage of the peace and quiet.

But then, the birds started to drift back. Of course, the starlings were first, bold characters that they are.

And then the resident robin.

And one of the pair of blackbirds. A few years ago, a male fell prey to a sparrowhawk, but the territory was reoccupied the following year. So far, so good.

The pond has always been a great draw for creatures of all kinds, and the blue tit often perches on the branch that I’ve partially submerged to attract dragonflies, and has a little bath.

The finches are back on the seed feeder. Although the chaffinches are larger, the goldfinches are more aggressive, and usually win any perches that they contest.

And then, something catches my eye down by the pond.

A blackcap! This is a kind of warbler that has historically been a summer visitor, but increasingly blackcaps from central Europe have been overwintering here. I was visited by a female a few years ago, but this is my first male. They have a lovely song, described in my Crossley Bird Guide as ‘somebody cheerfully whistling as they walk through the wood’. See what you think.

And so, my hour came to an end. Of the twenty species on the list that were seen as ‘general’ garden birds, I’d recorded ten, and some regular visitors, such as the long-tailed tits and the coal tit, hadn’t put in an appearance in the hour. On the other hand, I’d had two species, the sparrowhawk and the blackcap, who weren’t on the list at all, and that always makes me happy.

I have two thoughts at the end of my hour. Firstly, this was a lot of fun, and gave me an excuse to do nothing but watch, listen and record for an hour. Did anyone else do the Birdwatch, or do you have an equivalent where you live? Or do you take part in any other citizen science events? In the UK there are recording events for everything from moths to earthworms.

And secondly, I wonder what else I would see if I took an hour a week, maybe at the same time of day, to sit and watch and record? I have an urge this year to look at things in more depth, rather than being distracted by the sheer wealth of things that there are to pay attention to. Does anyone else keep some kind of record of what they see, maybe a diary or a photo album? The blog encourages me to pay attention and to share what I see, but I am very curious about what you get up to. Let me know what helps you to appreciate nature, and what helps you to make the most of your garden or local area. I am definitely up for new ideas.

…And Home by Tube


Dear Readers, when I left you last week I had just disembarked from the bus and was making my way towards Tate Modern, on the other side of the Thames. The quickest way is across the Millenium Bridge, which rises like a whale’s back and seems to float across the brown water. From here, it looks almost ethereal, suspended by a delicate tracery of cables.


However, I was not expecting the Arctic wind that hit me as I started to cross. It sang in the cables, it chilled my face into a rictus grin, and I even had to take my hat off in case it was lifted off my head in a gust and deposited in the water. I stopped briefly in the middle of the bridge for the obligatory picture of Tower Bridge, and then made my way very briskly to the south bank. I confess, I was a little afraid – I felt as if it would be very easy to be blown over the edge, and the Thames looked both very choppy and a long way down.


I did stop again for another obligatory photo. This one, of St Pauls ‘balanced’ on the bridge is a mainstay of many a suite of holiday pictures, I’m sure.


And then it was off to Tate Modern, so that I could thaw out a little. The building is home to a pair of peregrine falcons and their young every year, but nobody was around today.


I was here to see an exhibition by a pair of Russian installation artists, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Their exhibition is called ‘Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future’, and there is a theme of escape, of flying and of angels. In one exhibit, you peer into a room in which there is a hole in the ceiling and a kind of sling, as if someone has been catapulted into space – it’s called ‘The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment’, and it was created in 1985.

Ilya Kabakov The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment

But my favourite was this one, at the end of the exhibition – a rickety scaffold where a tiny figure reaches out his hands to an angel. It’s called ‘How to Meet an Angel’ and dates from 1998.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov How to Meet an Angel

If you’re in London and you want to see it, you will need to leave now, because it finishes on 28th January.

Fortified with coffee, I head off home, stopping first to look back at the new extension to Tate Modern, which looks a bit ziggurat-ish to me. There is a viewing gallery at the top, from which you can look right into the living rooms of the very expensive flats opposite, which has caused some discomfort to those who live there. I think I might be looking at installing some blinds on that side of my apartment if I was discomforted (the planning permission for the extension had been granted before the flats were even built), rather than demanding that the viewing gallery be shut down, but there we go.


On the way back to Southwark Station, I took a walk through the gardens at the base of the aforementioned luxury flats. They are rather cleverly designed, as the space is extremely shady, but plants, carefully chosen, are thriving. I always make a mental note when I walk through, as I too have a very shady garden.


Sarcococca (Christmas Box)


Some fine ferns and mind-your-own-business used imaginatively between the tiles


Hebe, rocks, silver birch


The obligatory bronze statue of a family. It looks as if Henry Moore met Picasso and the two decided to disagree…..


Some gorgeous red berries, let me know if you can identify the plant!




So much of our public space is not public space anymore….

As I approach the station, I notice a couple of things that I hadn’t seen before. One is the exuberant Lord Nelson pub. It was recently voted the Best Pub in Southwark by readers of The Londonist website, and apparently it’s even more fun inside. It has a menu of 20 different kinds of burger, including six veggie options.



And then there’s this. Why is there a statue of a dog feeding from a pot on the corner of Union Street and Blackfriars Road?


Well, it’s a recreation of a shop sign that the twelve year-old Charles Dickens used to see when he was on his way to work at the blacking factory.

‘My usual way home was over Blackfriars Bridge and down that turning in the Blackfriars Road which has Rowland Hill’s chapel on one side, and the likeness of a golden dog licking a golden pot over a shop door on the other.’

The statue is by Michael Painter, an artist and sculptor who has worked at Windsor Castle and St Paul’s Cathedral, and is made of elm wood. It even has its own Twitter account, for those of you who are Twitter-minded.

Onwards, then, to Southwark Station, which is on the Jubilee Line. From the outside it doesn’t look particularly impressive, but it is one of my favourite tube stations.


As you leave the station, you ascend into a shiny blue dome, which reminds me a little of a planetarium. The glass wall is made of 660 individually cut pieces of blue glass, and was designed by Alexander Beleschenko. One lovely thing about the Jubilee Line stations in central London is that they are architecturally very interesting, and embodied a kind of exuberance that I fear the Crossrail stations will not. But maybe I’ll be surprised. I hope so.



And there is also a feeling of space and light, an industrial edge coupled with the feeling of being on a cruise liner.


And so, out by bus and home by tube, down to the river and back again. London is such an extraordinary city (and yes, I know I’m biased, being born and bred here). I wouldn’t swap it for anywhere in the world, partisan that I am. But I do love walking in the country as well, as next week’s post is likely to reveal…..




A Bus Trip to Tate Modern….

Dear Readers, I have always loved taking the bus. My father was a conductor on the trolley buses that used to ply their trade in London in the ’50’s and early 60’s, and I remember him remarking how much he hated going upstairs to collect the fares: the combination of cigarette smoke and perfume was nauseating, especially first thing in the morning. But there were happy memories too: Mum would often get the bus when Dad was ‘conducting’ and would sit and watch him running up and down the stairs and being cheerful and pleasant to everyone. Who knows if love was born on the number 25 bus between Stratford and the West End? I can think of much worse starts.

However, it was some trolley bus rails that nearly caused Mum and Dad’s relationship to come a cropper in the early days. Dad had bought a tandem bicycle, and the loving couple were taking it for a (wobbly) spin when it somehow got caught in the groove between the metal rails. The bike crashed to the ground, and Mum and Dad fell off. On picking himself up, Dad went over and retrieved the bike while Mum was still laying there, dazed. When ‘asked’ about his priorities, he said

‘Well, the bike might have got run over’.

Yes indeed. But Mum soon put Dad straight, and, a few years later they were married, as they still are sixty and a bit years later.

So you can see that I have acquired my love of buses honestly. I would always rather take the bus than the tube if I have time, because it helps me to see how the different parts of London fit together. Plus, there is always something going on outside to attract the attention. So, today,  I decided to take a trip to Tate Modern on the bus. I take the 263 to Archway, and then the 17 to St Pauls, where I can walk over the Millenium Bridge. Thanks to the new Hopper fare I only pay once, which is very gratifying. And I have such plans for taking photos through the window as the bus crawls slowly down the Archway Road! Unfortunately, there is no traffic, and so the bus speeds along and photography, already a challenge what with the dirty windows and the bright, bright sunshine, becomes a game of ‘snap and hope for the best’.

So, here is what I managed to capture.

Some tiles on the front of a group of rather run-down houses. Once upon a time, I suspect that they were rather grand.

This is known locally as ‘the suicide bridge’, as it’s a place where folk in the deepest despair come to end their lives. I wonder why the powers-that-be can’t make it more difficult for people to do this? Although, to be fair, I haven’t walked over it for a long time, so maybe there are some measures in place.

In other news, the view as we go under the bridge soon turns into one of the finest in London…The view starts to open up….see how tall The Shard is compared to everything else!

And if you look carefully, you can see my destination, St Pauls Cathedral.

Off the bus at Archway, and I have about 20 seconds to get a snap of the street trees that were planted recently. One of the stone pines looks very unhappy, maybe it’s the pollution, but the other trees seem to be doing well.

My husband swears that I have a little friend called ‘The Bus Fairy’ who produces a bus whenever I get to a stop. It certainly worked today, as a 17 pulled up before I could say ‘Blimey,  it’s freezing’ (which it was). There was a determined Arctic breeze, and I was to meet it full on later.

A young chap was taking advantage of the downhill to use his skateboard. Be careful, young chap!

Many of the trees are not only trussed up in fairy lights, but have solid municipal nest boxes attached to their trunks. I’m assuming that the boxes are reinforced to prevent squirrels, rats and woodpeckers from getting in, but I do wonder how many little birds would choose this particular spot to rear their young, so close to buses and general urban vibrance. Also, what’s with the miscellaneous bits of tin foil? You do get a different view of the world from the upper deck, that’s for sure.

The roofs of the older bus shelters become micro-habitats in their own right, places for birds to drink and for little creatures to breed. The newer bus shelters have convex roofs so that the water runs off. Much less interesting.

We turn onto Caledonian Road, and pass a most splendid example of what The Gentle Author calls ‘Facadism’ – the way that developers preserve the front of a building, whilst tearing down everything else. If you look closely you can see that a one-brick thickness of the original building has been attached to what looks like a very mediocre modern construction.

‘Facadism’ – look at the right hand edge to see how the old front has been attached to the new building

And it looks as if London has been taken over by an epidemic of cranes.

Cranes seen from Caledonian Road, with the BT tower and the tower of St Pancras

The crane, looking rather like a prehistoric animal

A ‘ghost sign’ on Euston Road

There are some truly remarkable plane trees in this part of London. I am always intrigued by the way that they seem to carry their seeds all year round.

London Plane seedheads

At the bottom of Gray’s Inn Road, there are some enormous London planes which lean out over the road at a most alarming angle.

And just in case the bus driver didn’t notice them, there are signs attached to some of these behemoths.

A dragon marks the edge of the City itself.

And then we turn the corner, and St Pauls shows itself, but gradually. It is so enormous, compared to the buildings round about, that it can only be seen in its full glory when you are very close.

And even in these hallowed grounds, there are nest boxes.

And now, it’s time to cross the Thames and head to Tate Modern. But for that, dear readers, we’ll have to wait till next week.