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The catkins of Clerkenwell

February 12, 2010
by the gentle author

We have all lived through this worst Winter together, following what we had believed was the worst Winter ever last year. So you may share my delight to see these hazel catkins dancing flamboyantly in the churchyard of St James, Clerkenwell, where they stopped me in my tracks. Another of those familiar rural sights that acquire an exotic poetry, displaced here in the heart of the city.

I was walking home to Spitalfields when I saw the catkins, as I was taking a detour through Clerkenwell to avoid the bitter East wind that numbs my face and pinches my nose, blowing directly along Old St. In Summer, the churchyard is a pleasant shady place to sit, in Winter the buildings and surrounding trees create a shelter from the Arctic blast. At this time of year, I avoid Old St entirely, walking instead along the smaller parallel roads. Closer to home, in Spitalfields, I am familiar with which streets channel the wind and which exclude it. Hanbury St, for example, is a wind tunnel whereas Princelet St is always sheltered from the traffic of air currents, while Commercial St and Great Eastern St are especially prone to raging winds that cause pedestrians to walk with their heads down, bent double against the furious blast.

Being a perennial optimist, whenever I have woken to sunshine over recent weeks, I have briefly convinced myself it is Spring. A self-deception exposed each time that notorious East wind brings another whirling blizzard across the North Sea to engulf us. In fact, the pot of fresh green mint that I bought at Columbia Rd Market on Sunday to brighten my kitchen window sill had to be hauled inside on Wednesday when the snow fell again.

Yet I cannot relinquish the wishful thinking engendered by my longing for Spring and every day I cast my eyes upon the garden searching for signs of growth. There are points of green poking from the dark earth where Spring bulbs declare their first intentions but, however many times I check, they appear reluctant to reveal themselves and make a further commitment to new life. They have a more prudent appreciation than I do of the potential for bad weather still ahead.

As I continued on my way beyond Clerkenwell Green, I acquired a spring to my step because of my discovery. At last, the catkins were positive proof, botanical evidence that life advances ceaselessly and this stasis at Winter’s end cannot be interminable. If your wishful thinking is directed towards something that you know will come, I think it can be dignified with the name of hope, I told myself. And then, even as these thoughts were crossing my mind, I realised my newly fleet feet were carrying me quickly eastwards and I found myself in Allen Gardens, next to Brick Lane, where I looked down to discover these first snowdrops here in the Spring sunshine.

My path led from the catkins of Clerkenwell to the snowdrops of Spitalfields.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. toni permalink
    February 12, 2010

    Your blog is just wonderful. I live in Ohio, love England — starting with the year I spent at the University of Birmingham in the late 1960’s. We are planning our third vacation to London this summer and reading your blog has made the Spitalfields area come alive. I particularly love the stories of the people who live and work in an area of such historical interest — albeit relatively “recent” by English standards. You are a wonderful writer who can evoke a time and place. We look forward to our visit to this amazing place.

  2. Joan permalink
    February 12, 2010

    I frequently walk through Bunhill Fields – often stopping to place coppers on William Blake’s stone. Today there were definite signs of spring around the gravestones. But as it is half term this week I fear that we are in for another week of wintry weather!

  3. Kate permalink
    February 12, 2010

    Thanks for this post. I’m dying for an end to winter- it’s just so difficult to get out of bed when you know that wind is going to blast you the moment you step out the door. I read Spitalfields Life everyday, and in some small way, it keeps me going.

  4. Anne permalink
    February 12, 2010

    This week I bought a tiny pot of dwarf daffodils for my kitchen windowsill (the inside) as, like everyone else , I’m longing for spring to come. As i live further north i haven’t yet seen many signs outside of shoots poking through the ground and so I thought i’d hasten it with the daffs.
    This blog is keeping me going too, a point of contact with other unknown humans with like minds. Thanks gentle author.

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