Scenes from Islington North

The view from our flat on Tollington Way, HollowayI was hunting through an old diary for possible date confirmations of when I last applied for a particular fellowship – this is really uninteresting to everyone, including me, though it is a small detail in something that could be very interesting for me. And I came across this passage, during our family visit to London to attend a friend’s wedding. We took the opportunity to visit old haunts, including our stretch of Holloway near the North Library in Islington, and a small park nearby. For our kids – at the time 4 and 2 – a perfect park.

Here’s what I wrote:

(Interlude. Went to follow [Plum] in his stomping by the hill and came across a delightful Australian woman cutting grass with scissors. I tell her there’s a more effective way, but she’s snipping and bagging it for her guinea pig. “It’s lovely when it’s long. When I see it like this, I grab it, because when the council comes a long, they just butcher it.” So, not just a civic duty, then. “All the kids think I’m crazy when they see me.” But I bet their eyes just light up when you say “guinea pig”. [Beangirl] mentions Panda + Patch [guinea pigs of Edinburgh neighbours of ours] who, not being London pigs, have their own patch of grass to nibble. She asks if she can help; the woman says no. Her scissors squeak like a rodent. Do pigs squeak?)

(Found: at North Library: Usborne level 3 – Wuthering Heights, based on the novel by Emily Brontë.)

Blackberries Revisited

I felt that same thrill—like I was getting away with something . . . —last summer when I discovered that the wall of our shared back garden was covered with blackberry bushes. Despite receiving no sunlight and poor drainage, the bush was full, and no one else was picking them.

-Michael Munnik, ‘Blackberries’
The Messy Table, 21 October 2013

So long as I’m poaching blog posts from my wife’s online column, this one also resurfaced for me in this move. The guinea pigs are about what we left. The blackberries are about what we have arrived to. When I wrote this post, nearly two years ago, I was grieving a particular loss and trying to make sense of neighbours and neighbourliness. The blackberries in our Marchmont back garden epitomised what infuriates me about the place. The blackberries on Easedale are emblematic of abundant generosity and good company.

Easedale, however, is a small island in the Inner Hebrides, a significant journey from our front door and not, therefore, an emblem we could appreciate with any regularity. Less so now that we are in Cardiff. Right coast, way wrong degree of latitude.

But it matters not: among the many virtues of the house we have moved into is a cluster of blackberries right in the back garden! My daughter was the first to spot it, and we got out with gusto to plunder what was already ripe and beautiful and black. Of course, it is only the beginning of August, so although the stock is small compared to our erstwhile Scottish riches, there are many berries yet to come. I have to chase my youngest away from them, and when we’re all picking, the elder two are good at monitoring him and reminding him that they go in the bowl, not in his gob. Best of all, as my daughter is proud to say, no one can tell us to cut them down.

Pear and blackberry pie, first fruits of our new home.My wife mixed them with pears and baked them in a pie. It was a wonderful completion to our first made meal in our lovely, sunny kitchen. And there will be more pies. This truly redeems what was broken.

Piggies the Brave

This is mostly a reblogging effort. My wife has a real and proper online column which she writes once a week, and on the rare occasions where I’d like to write about something that she also wants to write about, her space takes precedence.

This one truly was a whale of a story: the missing guinea pig we were charged with minding, on the eve of our move from the neighbourhood, from Edinburgh, from Scotland itself. You can catch it all here, but this paragraph higlights the nub of the sadness:

It is terribly difficult to be tucked up in your bed, warm and dry, and to know that somewhere out in the dark, there is a little lost creature, shivering and terrified. And that there is nothing whatsoever you can do.

-Katie Munnik, ‘In the Garden’

What I can share here – and you know I’m a guy who likes a good joke – is that I knew,  rooting about in the dark, the wet, looking for the one pig hardest to find in the dark (the others had white patches, whereas Toffee was black and toffee-brown), was that this would be a very funny story to tell if and only if we find the pig again. Otherwise, there’s just no fun. So I’m glad to have a funny joke to share with our new friends in Cardiff. “So, just moved here – how were things on your way out from Edinburgh?”

Let me tell you…


The title doesn’t make any sense unless you know our neighbours’ song, which they wrote about their guinea pigs to the tune of “Scotland the Brave.” It starts like this:

Hark, when the night is falling
Hear, hear the piggies calling!
Loudly and proudly calling
Out of the hutch.
Out in the grassy garden,
Down in the laundry corner,
Panda and Patch and Toffee –
Piggies the Brave!