Saturday, 16 April 2011
Khamsin week in London
The Arabic word signifies the fifty days, on and off, during which the Khamsin desert wind is supposed to blow - usually commencing in April, so that's not freaky-weird in itself. We only had more or less seven, with Saharan sand particles, I'm told, flying around in the air, but that was enought to bring on the peonies in the Chelsea Physic Garden and the heady scent of lilacs in the wastelands around the East End's slowly-rising Olympic site. Between them you'll forgive me for interposing an image of where the Sahara starts just outside Timbuktu - a strong if not especially nostalgic holiday memory from Mali. Where we'll shortly be is a mere 54 days' camel ride from there.
When weather patterns change rapidly in the spring, the great flower race sees some unlikely contestants sprint forward. I know some peonies bloom quicker than others, but I don't ever remember these ones flourishing before May. Two visits to the Physic within three days saw them budding two Sundays ago
and bursting the following Thursday, while the ones near the beehives had already done their work.
The heatwave also quickly saw off Sunday's magnolia
sent the robin on the tree by the gate twitter-berserk
caused the phallic liquorice to rise
and brought on the Judas tree, another early flowerer.
Lest you think we only do the posh and pretty parts of town, last Sunday's walk with friend Richard, who lives in the Three Mills enclave at the end of a long tube and bus journey, saw nature regenerating itself along the river Lea and the canal in a more urban environment.
At the back of the old mill, which is just over the border from Tower Hamlets into Newham, a swan warily guarded her eggs. We didn't give much for her chances against the local fox community, but since I've heard tales of swans breaking the necks of dogs in Regent's Park, perhaps she'll be OK.
Nearby shone the dome of Abbey Mills Pumping Station, the 'cathedral of sewage' grandly designed by the great Bazalgette and Cooper as part of Bazalgette's lifesaving drainage system in the 1860s.
A shame that in WW2 it had to loose its two minarets, obvious targets for German planes. The full complement in this engraving makes the pumping station look positively Prince Regentish in its mixing of Islam with Byzantium.
Richard's plan to lead us along the Green Way to Victoria Park was thwarted by the ever-changing Olympic village plans. But we did make our path through improvised rights of way stewarded by amiable Nepalese site workers
and found ourselves at a thriving improvised cafe looking over the stadium and the start of what sadly seems to be going ahead as the ugly, deeply unpopular demented-Eiffel-Tower designed by Anish Kapoor. As for horticultural life, it will no doubt bloom, but clearly - to judge from the sign and the result - not this year.
And so to Hackney, a friendly pub garden and a meander back to Mile End Station through enormous Victoria Park with another grand architectural folly, the Gothic drinking fountain designed in 1861 by Darbishire and presented by Angela Burdett-Coutts. Which, taking into account the dubbing of the sewage-plant, you could call the Armenian cathedral of free refreshment - not that you can get at it through the fencing that's around it at the moment.
Everyone seemed to be having a jolly time, albeit with the smokes of a thousand barbecues and more litter than I've ever seen in a London park, the bins overflowing with the detritus of the year's first scorching Sunday.