I really can’t stay (but baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but baby, it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you’d drop in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice)
Baby, it’s Cold Outside // Dean Martin
4th January 2019, my first visit this new year. It’s 1pm and the sky has a few wispy clouds floating high above against a pale blue sky. Long shadows lie on the ground as the sun is already heading quickly towards the horizon. Although there’s barely a wind it’s cold and I’m wrapped up in my hand knitted jumper my mother made, it’s thick, very thick, warm and cosy, which along with my waterproof jacket, scarf and fingerless gloves allow me to sit for some time and draw. Unlike the allotment holders I don’t move around all the time so therefore cool off very quickly when sitting almost motionless, drawing. As the sun lowers I add a woollen bobble hat to this delightful ensemble, being at the allotment really doesn’t allow you to be fashion conscious in any way, it’s necessity over whim. I meet someone who tells me the plot number he’s been working on in such a way I am completely confused, until I realise he’s romantically read the number as a roman numeral rather than a combination of letters and numbers.
There aren’t many of us around, N6 is clearing brambles, sad that the council feel the brambles which are the home and playground of many local birds need to be removed or at least thinned. It’s a difficult balance between having a nature space and a neat space, not everyone feels the same or has the same boundaries. Being Swedish we talk about how the Swedes like to spend as much time as possible outside and how she loves being outside in Winter. It isn’t something that I particularly thought about until I started the residency and how much I’m enjoying having a reason to go out rather than hunker down inside in the warm every day. We also talk about the delightful warmth and respite from wind that a greenhouse can give on a bitterly cold day.
The water has been turned off for winter so that the taps and pipes don’t freeze. This means I need to be organised and bring painting water with me. I have started a visual weekly journal, picking out details from a different plot each week. For this purpose I will use the German watercolours I have made with natural dyes; carrot, extract of vegetables, blue algae, beetroot, all feature in the palate. They aren’t high grade watercolours and can be a bit tricky to get depth of colour, but for my journal they are perfect and to be using natural dyes in the allotment work seems completely fitting. By 3pm it’s too cold for me to draw any longer though so I leave.
Just as in the height of summer, I find there is so much to draw here in winter. The sheds are exposed and structural patterns are dominant, where they will soon become grown over and hidden. And at this time of year the blue skies can be cold but wonderfully uplifting after solemn, short, grey days. Being outside is a good mood uplifter, just walking around the plots and spotting small shoots breaking out of the ground is so exciting. But it can change really quickly as well and having settled into a plot to draw the journal I find I’m anxiously checking the sky that has clouded over and is threatening rain. I’m sure a few drops land on me, so I move as near as I dare to a holly tree, and from that close position notice a bird box hidden against the trunk. A perfect place that won’t be disturbed by anything big enough to be speared by the sharp edged leaves. Completely lost in my world of drawing I hear a gentle crunching as an allotmenteer passes behind the plot, we wave and say hello and shortly afterwards she offers me a chocolate Brussels sprout which I can’t resist!
It turns out that we have a small Swiss village in common, her cousins and my mother grew up in the same village when I check with my mother there’s a chance they were the neighbours that lived opposite! I love talking to the people at the allotments, they are a wonderful mix of cultures, experiences, jobs and personalities but with a common golden thread, a love of growing and nature. And you have to love it as it is just too hard to keep a plot unless you really enjoy the work involved. She returns with a skeletal poplar leaf as a late Christmas present for me! I’m delighted and will take it home to sit on my studio table until I have some spare time to draw a detailed study. By 4:20pm the light has faded so much I have to leave and head home to warm up in a hot bath with a cup of tea.
I’ve got really cold today, without realising. The last half hour as the light faded the temperature must have dropped but I was so engrossed with my journal and drawing I didn’t notice. My fingers and nose are really cold today whereas it is usually my feet that tell me they’re getting uncomfortable. I’ve been working on a hidden plot, one that’s not obvious from the main paths and one that has hidden treasures. Unlike a lot of the plots within the boundaries, that are in a state of semi hibernation, this plot has a wonderful selection of plants, some with small white flowers (my plant recognition is not improving, neither is my bird call recognition,) and a beautiful selection of hellebores. It’s raining but I’m not easily deterred and carry on while trying to hold my drawing board, pencils and paints while balancing an umbrella on my shoulder.
With the carefully tended paths this feels just as much a winter plot as a summer one, which is how although the light has been sinking I have become completely lost in my work. An empty snail shell lays on the ground, a forlorn home, decaying, disintegrating.
I nip into a shed I’ve been given permission to use and write up my notes for the day while there’s still a tiny bit of light left. Bright green parakeets which are not a favoured bird of mine, sit in surrounding trees. They are brash and noisy and overshadow the delicate colours and birdsong of the more native birds. Eventually they too move on at the end of the day and I’m left listening to the sound of plastic sheeting flapping in the wind and plastic bottles rattling on top of stakes. Eventually the light blurs the edges of shapes as it starts to give up on its day.