Category Archives: Children in Hackney

Samhain!

20131030-233033.jpg Every October as a kid, some time about midway through the month, on a Saturday, my parents would announce it was time to go to Tice’s Farms and pick a pumpkin. Our mouths would water and our eyes would form wide euphoric circles. Forget Halloween. For my brother Paul and I, Tice’s Farms was the event of the season. Vast patches of pumpkins great and small just off the main road in Woodcliff, New Jersey, guarded by sentries of scarecrows with painted face pumpkin heads, gilded with American country charm (which is extra challenging in New Jersey), exuding the olfactory sensations of fermented apple, warm dough, cinnamon and sugar, and rivalled only by the almost-as-good Van Riper’s Farm across the way, Tice’s Farms, or Tice Farms to give it it’s proper name, still embodies the beauty of the fall in America for me. 20131030-234550.jpg For at Tice Farms we glutted ourselves on Autumn itself. We began the day paying 25 cents for a small refillable paper cup which we would fill from the spigot of one of several large aged wooden barrels full of cider (non-alcoholic of course). We would then use the same cups to return to the same barrels to water ourselves throughout the day until our young mouths were glazed and sticky with the sour/sweet taste of Red Delicious. We paid another quarter to fill our bellies with warm donuts hung from metal hooks behind glass displays and coated simply in cinnamon or sugar, having watched, like Pavlov’s dogs, the ring shaped pieces of dough dipped in the fryer to be transferred to aforesaid hooks for the few seconds before purchase and consumption. This process of eating and drink would repeat itself with a hayride and a haunted house thrown in at random intervals for good measure until we returned home, splayed out in the back of our parents’ sedan, a great globe of orange carefully selected and waiting in the trunk to be carved and personified, signifying to all our willingness to participate in the rituals of the season. 20131031-001947.jpg Now, with a son of my own, and wishing, albeit a little late, to recreate some Halloween magic for him, I cast around for places further afield from our urban environment to pick our own pumpkin and rosy our cheeks in the winds of autumn. After asking Twitter and googling, I have to admit, it was tough finding much, but Crockford Bridge Farm in Surrey did come up. With a web flyer that promised “spooky fun,” “apple bobbing,” “and more…,” we dutifully headed out to Surrey and were pleasantly elated by what we found there. 20131031-002759.jpg Not only was there a vast and plentiful pumpkin patch, Grimm’s Scary Storytelling in the Woods, and surprisingly tasty hot chocolate (you leave London, you’re never sure what you’ll get, ya know?), but there was also a full stand set up for Bird and Animal Rescue with owls. Owls I tell you. And zipwire. Zipwire!

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Gourd-geous. Get it? Gourd-geous? Oh. Nevermind.

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The “Creepy Teepee”

20131031-004054.jpg Alright. It didn’t have endless cups of cloudy apple juice. Economics have changed since I was a kid and even the hot chocolate was on the pricey side. The scary walk in the woods was entertaining but a bit hammy. The drive via the North Circular, as anyone who lives in London and drives knows, was hell on asphalt, the North Circular being the single most unpleasant highway ever constructed. Ever. But it did, as I think is evident, create a sense of innocent wonder and glee that is the closest thing on this side of the pond to embodying the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve. Heartbreakingly, Tice’s Farms and Van Riper’s both closed in the 90s, replaced by an A & P and a strip mall, but it’s nice to know there are some ways of still carrying on the tradition. Happy Halloween! 20131031-010450.jpg 20131031-010459.jpg

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Alas, Poor Tice, I knew it well.

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Walking in a London Wonderland

London Wonderland 1

Hackney Marshes, looking less marshy, more snowy and beautiful

We had our biannual snow day two weeks ago, but unfortunately, my son’s school was still open. This presents a slight problem when all you want to do is go play in the snow and your living, breathing excuse to do so — your small child —  has gone off to school for the day. How dare he.

So instead of building snowmen and pegging each other with well-packed balls of ice, the missus and I took a brisk and beautiful walk along the Hackney Marshes, a vast swathe of green space local to our part of East London, providing playing fields and picnic spaces in fair weather, and bright, crisp splendor in the winter as you can see here.

Regents Canal running through the marshes.

Regents Canal running through the marshes.

What I began to notice as I savo(u)red the beautifully self-contained sound of snow compacting underfoot was the underestimated panoramic joy afforded us so close to the center of one of the largest and busiest capital cities in the world. And how it genuinely feels ever so slightly different to stroll though open spaces and trails that neighbo(u)r the grey, sludgy, dull roar of busily trafficked thoroughfares like the industrial Orient Way and Leabridge Road, a stretch that slices right from Hackney to Whipps Cross, just short of Essex. So, with the following photos, I have tried to capture something of the uniqueness of nature within earshot of the chorus of rumbling engines and angry horns scurrying about the roads on their daily grind. I hear it’s snowing again in many parts of America. I hope this captures the brighter side of it. Enjoy.

London Wonderland Winter snow

‘Ello ‘ello. Even the Snowmen in East London demonstrate fine cockney wit.

#Hackney Marshes

“The powerlines have floaters so the airplanes won’t get snagged.”

Tower Blocks on the Horizon.

Tower Blocks on the Horizon.

#HackneyMarshes #snow

Old England, looking a bit like what I envision New England looks like in my unschooled imagination. Puts me in mind of Emerson, Thoreau, Frost etc…

Snowy Path in Hackney Marshes

Beauty dotted with flecks of industrialization on the distant horizon.

Snowy Path Hackney Marshes

“Take nature altogether since time began…” Frost, “Our Hold on the Planet”

Snowy Path under Leabridge Road

“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Snowy Hackney Park

Signposts worn hard by the snow…

London Wonderland

And alas, back amid the sludge and drudge of civilization. Still, a park in the middle of all this or even just below it near the canal, can be an ephemeral bit of magic. Enjoy it while it lasts…

Something for the weekend

Weekend post! Weekend roundup? Something for the weekend? It’s been a bit of an eventful week, so thank you for reading. I do feel like this thing has finally got some momentum going. Many thanks for all the tweets and for having a look and commenting. Whatever it’s supposed to be called, here are a few things to tide us all over and chew on for the next couple days.

We Americans also celebrated our 236th birthday as a country. I think we’re looking pretty good for it. To celebrate, I went out to the launch night of Islington’s newest chic bar, Rattlesnake, designed and owned by Paul Daly, who also did Zigfrid Von Underbelly in Hoxton Square. Rattlesnake is an American style bar with a difference. Check out my review of the place here at The Hackney Hive. Let me know what you think of the place if you happen to check it out. 
Congratulations to Madame Fromage, doyenne of the Philadelphian Artisan cheese scene, on completing her manuscript  for The Di Bruno Bros. Cheese Guide based on the delightful Di Bruno Bros. Cheese Cave, at which my brother, Paul Lawler, the former local cheese impressario of Philly, worked for quite a while. I can’t wait to read it. Makes me hungry for good-quality cheese. Time to hit Hackney Home-made or Chatsworth Road this weekend, me thinks. 
Photo copyright of Todd Stregiel 2012
Finally, a bit of London Street art. On my road. Clarence Road if you must know. Home of the 2011 London Riots. Yes, Hackney is that edgy and Bohemian. Every bit of MDF covering a building is a canvas for our locals. I really like the way a gaze is turned outwards. It subtly implies that there is something behind this face, which there is (a building being renovated, probably end up a chic flat at the end of it all) and turns its gaze on the passerby in the street.
If you do happen to pass through Clapton in Hackney on Saturday, check out Millfields Community School Summer Fete, where you can see and buy children’s art and where my beautiful and talented wife, who runs the Artbash blog, will be presiding over the display of student creations from Arts Week. Check out Artbash for the results. Really astounding what you can do with kids and creativity sometimes. 
Whatever you are doing, have an inspiring couple days and do stop by and let me know if you get up to anything wonderful. 

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