The Brockley Peach Murderer

Posted in Uncategorized on July 25, 2017 by helenperkins

He is brazen.

Last summer the squirrel from next door stole the only peach from the fledgling peach tree in my back garden.

He didn’t even eat it – he just tore the almost-ripe flesh off the stone and left the fruit’s remains scattered around the paving stones.

This week he dug a hole, through the centre of my newly sprouted salad leaves. I caught him digging  compost out the pots and onto the floor, along with spinach-that-could-have-been.

Inside the kitchen, I banged on the glass and shouted: “Get out! Go on! I’m going to put you in a curry.”

He simply hopped next door where, I am pretty certain, they are feeding him nuts.

The comedy and tragedy of gardening has been an entirely new delight to me. Up until now, I’d much rather have had my head in a book or staring at a painting palette. Maybe my vitamin D deficiency finally got the better of me because this spring I bought a gardening fork, and took on the task of sorting out the huge sodden bags of rubbish, and the hip-high weeds.

Here is what I found amid the dandelions and the thistles: that a garden is a beautiful microcosm. It’s a little universe.

There is everything really – a whole checklist for life. There’s creepying evil, which must be kept back. Not even the Nunhead Gardener’s finest weed killer will keep it at bay forever. There must always be this honourable battle to stop the bad from strangling the fragile good.

There is the need for faith – pots of mud that look as if they hold nothing at all, nurtured in the kitchen until finally, little seedlings appear out of the cold brown, like strange clean, colourful miracles.


Flowers from my back yard


There are beautiful moments, where things start to bloom, even without you fully understanding why, or how, or even quite what these things are. Did we plant carnations? What’s the big purple one that looks like a daisy but better?

There is my favourite truth of the garden: that one huge effort reaps little reward. Instead, it is the quiet daily routine of love, the habit of tending to it in five minute weedings, waterings, and tomato feeds, that slowly, with no real physical force, turns a scrappy unknown patch of mud in Brockley into a little flowering oasis.

Then it becomes the type of love you can sit in at the end of a long day. One from which you carry your first hand-grown handful of misty green sugar snap peas.

Took me by surprise. And I love it. Even if I know that, right now that squirrel is sat on the fence, casting bits of monkey nut shell debris onto the garden paving, and he’s doing it on purpose.


Things I think about London

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2015 by helenperkins

The water is poisonous here. Or at least it tastes that way.

It makes this weird scum on the top of a cup of tea – kind of like the algae on a pond which gets too much sun. I had to switch to bottled water when I realised I was unconsciously avoiding drinking and was slowly turning into a human crisp.

I’ve been making notes about the capital since moving here in March 2015, comparing it to the Lake District, where I lived for four years before that.

Other negative features of the city – I will start with them – include the fact that everyone gets sick here all the time because there are so many people and so many germs.

Also, on a vexing domestic point, every building in London seems to have installed these kitchen taps that fire water at you. It’s like each tap hides a Force 400 Power Hose. More than once, I’ve come away from the washing up looking like I’d actually clambered into the sink.

Then there’s the anger. People get angry in London – and they lose their top over almost anything, not just the taps. They get angry at the fact the next train is in three minutes. Angry at the fact that everyone else is so angry. Angry at umbrellas and the pavement and being tired and the temperature and the bus driver.

This city is a therapist’s merry playground. And a therapist could charge about a million quid because everything in London costs about a million quid. London is like Fight Club – but this time it’s Skint Club. Unless you are a successful hedge fund manager, you are constantly finding yourself in Skint Club. But the rules of Skint Club are that no one talks about Skint Club, or else someone might get angry.

But, then, London.

London is a city of a million chance meetings, ranging from the terrifying, to the glorious and often the downright surreal.

I ran straight into the world’s most blue-eyed boy on a platform somewhere on the Northern Line, about a week after I arrived here. Blue, the colour of a child’s crayon.

He was maybe 16 or 20, dead freckly, maybe Italian or Spanish or something. He followed me onto the train just to say hello – thankfully not like a creepy teenage stalker hello, just literally to say hi.

We sat across from this drunk couple. She had her legs over her boyfriend, who was wearing a fancy dress cowboy hat and was making some pretty heavy promises to her, loudly, which were heard by everyone in the carriage.

“You can tell this is a late train,” the boy said.


“Nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

And then I got off and ran up the steps.

So yes. This, everyday. London.

You can meet all imaginable kinds of people. Life drawing models, musicians, hi-tech geek wizards, the Swiss guy who sells the world’s finest coffee out a little espresso van in Peckham.

I met Sylvan, the staff guy who says goodnight to you when you get off the train late at Brockley Station. And met Barry, a man who stands at the end of Queens Road almost every day with his ancient little white dog ‘trying to get him used to the sound of the traffic’. He used to be taught English by Chris Tarrant.

London is like this big drunk trifle. It’s overwhelming if you make any attempt to swallow it whole – there’s far too many places and people and things. All that custard.

So everyone here makes their own, special, personal mousey route. You pick your half a dozen friends. And I did. There’s the one who initially described herself as ‘the result of an accidental condom split’, the one who told me a story about a lizard that still creases me up and is surely the single best story-teller I will ever meet, another who has saved me with wine and merry chatter a hundred times now, and who has the ability to cut through nonsense like she has laser eyes. And you go to Battersea Park, where it’s quiet and there are beagles. You find your way to the Velasquez paintings in The National Gallery. You work out your Northern Line and you stick to it.


How to stretch a canvas

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2014 by helenperkins

The painting training has shimmied into the dark arts – with worrying rooms full of hammers and sharp implements and the smell of rabbit skin glue and death in Watership Down. This Monday night was spent stretching my own canvas, which is both easier and harder than it sounds. Intellectually, it’s not difficult, but for the stringy-armed…well…owh.

I thought I’d share the a bit of a How To. Then I can look it up when I inevitably forget.

Here goes.

To stretch a canvas, you will need:
A decent floor space.
Two pairs of stretcher bars. So, if you want your canvas to be 18″ by 30″ you will need to get two 18″ bars and two 30″ bars. Best place I can recommend is Jacksons online. They will send them out to you, and they are likely to be cheaper and a whole lot more reliable than the ones you would turn out if you tried to butcher a tree yourself.
Canvas. This comes in all types. Get it pre-primed and save yourself hassle. You can buy a roll of it, if you’re sure you know the kind of grain you’re after.
A staple gun. And staples, obviously.
A staple extractor, for when you get it wrong.
A sharp craft knife.
Something to put on your floor so you don’t dent your canvas or get smut on it. We just got a bit piece of thick fabric.
A hammer.
A set square.

Below is the method. Additionally I’d recommend you do all this to good music, so you can’t hear the sound of yourself failing to work the staple gun.

1. Slot your stretcher bars together. One side of them will be flat and the other will be beveled. Make sure all the bars have the flat side the same way up.

2. Check your corners are straight with your set square. If they aren’t, give them a tap with the hammer. Don’t whack them hard because you’ll dent them.
3. Lay your formed canvas frame on the floor.
4. Get your roll of canvas and lay it out to work out the size. You want to leave a 20cm margin around the outer edge of your canvas.
5. Get your craft knife and cut that out.
6. Get a cup of tea.
9. Now, lay the canvas, primed side (white side) down on the floor.
10. Put your frame on top.
11. Sit in front of the frame length and turn the edge of the canvas over at its centre. You want to staple it in the centre of the length of the frame.

12. Head to the other side of your frame. This is the bit where you need strong arms. Pull your canvas, stretch it, so it’s taught with the other side – the part you have already stapled. Grip it and staple the direct opposite side.

13. Now, do the same for the centre of each of your width bars.
14. Return to your longer sides and begin working your way out – stretching and stapling evenly, so you reach the corners of your canvas at the same time.

15. You can tap in any proud staples with a hammer if they sit proud to stop them going anywhere.
16. Cut excess canvas off in a straight line.

17. Then you need to do a bit of origami – so you have a nice box edge, with the canvas folding over the same way on each side.





18. In theory, you should now have a taut canvas. You can tighten it up a little more by wetting the back of the canvas and by slotting in the nifty canvas wedges that come with most slats. They fit in at the back of the corners.


30 things my tortoise taught me

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 30, 2014 by helenperkins



1. In the end it is better to be striking than beautiful. And it is okay to paint your nails green.

2. It is very important to have two strong arms.

3. You don’t want to eat too much dry food.

4. It is better to see the world from one place than to blindly dash about everywhere and notice nothing at all.

5. You don’t need to be loud to get noticed.

6. Home is something you carry with you.

7. Slow and steady beats fast and stupid, every time.

8. The greatest pleasures include a good meal, a long lie in the bath, and warm sun on your back.

9. It is okay to hide if the company is not to your style.

10. Green vegetables keep you alive. Especially broccoli.

11. Determination is a like a super power all of its own.

12. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t get lazy.

13. Worry isn’t a good use of time. Tortoises don’t worry.

14.There are numerous advantages to being flat chested.

15. Having long shiny hair isn’t everything.

16. Everyone – and every thing – loves a great bass line.

17. You can live perfectly well without knowing a thing about celebrities or politicians.

18. You won’t regret one missed hour of TV, phone messaging or social networking.

19. Lettuce is important.

20. Promises aren’t necessary – if you are going to do something, you will; if you won’t, you won’t.

21. Being around is the most important part of being a friend.

22. Curiosity is underrated.

23. When you fall on your back it is important to get yourself back up – so you aren’t miserable and you don’t squash your lungs.

24. It really does take 20 minutes for every living thing to wake up. Even tortoises yawn.

25. Sometimes you can collect memories in your shell and they go no further, and that is okay.

26. You can find comfort in a friend who is 100 times bigger than you, or 100 times smaller.

27. Sleep is necessary. All living things do better with it.

28. If you are tired enough you can sleep buried under a pile of wood.

29. However, it is preferable to find a warm shoulder to sleep on.

30. It will probably take quite some time to get what you want, but that time is passing anyway. You should probably start now.

My latest painting…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 22, 2014 by helenperkins


This is the latest of my paintings – a still life with bottles, skull and gourd. I’m gradually picking up my skills.


Nervous arrivals at Mumbai Airport

Posted in Diary, Story fragments with tags , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by helenperkins

STEPPING out of Mumbai airport felt like stepping out of the Big Brother House.

Long before I found my way to the exit, I could hear shouting and cheering. I hoped the audience waiting for me outside was a friendly one.

I dragged my suitcase through the double doors at 1am local time and was met with the full force of three-hundred people shouting and waving. Taxi drivers, families, partners, hotel owners, porters, and more taxi drivers all clamoured for attention. The crowd was held back by railings and several security employees. All these jostled and clustered around a small floodlit square.

Like a rabbit in the headlights I stood in the centre, dead still. Please be here; please be here; please be here.

And then, as if by magic and four years since I had last seen her, my friend Afsha appeared in the corner of my view, raised above the sea of people.

She headed to the airport straight after her Mumbai birthday party. I hauled my bag to the only part of India I knew, even a little bit, and followed her into the night. Her favourite taxi driver sped us across the city to West Khar, where she and her family lived.

Mumbai’s roads, even at 1am, were busy. There was the honking and screeching of cars and yellow-topped auto-rickshaws, which nipped in an out of spaces in the traffic like fairground dodgems. I talked to Afsha – I can’t remember anything I said – and stared and gawped out into the evening. We arrived at Afsha’s home and, somewhere between meeting her mum and the dawn breaking I fell fast asleep.

This blog is a visual record of my trip, with a few tales and spots of advice. I hope it’s useful, especially for anyone who fits into the category of the nervous solo female traveler, and who is also hoping to spread their wings for the first time.


Oil Paintings

Posted in Uncategorized on September 8, 2012 by helenperkins

Oil Paintings


oil on board