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50 something Londoner (UK) who is curious about everything. Expect a wide range of topics and a few wood pigeons.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Clematis Heaven

After days of watching the plump buds for signs of action, suddenly the explosion has happened. The two Clematis Montana - pink Rubens with dark green, purple flushed leaves and white Grandiflora - are flowering joyously, profusely.

Are there any more giving plants? They are thriving next to the dry, stony environs of the fence, in a north facing plot. The blooms have smothered the fence and give a wonderful feeling of intimacy to the garden.

I will prune them immediately after flowering: I was quite radical with Rubens last year because it was becoming rather too rampant, and it didn't do any harm. This year it's a case of training Grandiflora (in its first year) to mingle a bit more with Rubens, and to prevent them both taking over the obelisk where a honeysuckle tends to get overwhelmed by them.




Saturday, April 18, 2015

Past its Sell By: theatre review "Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games"

    Ever since Riverdance exploded on the scene in the Eurovision song contest a few years ago, I've been wanting to see the show.  Last night we finally saw it at the Dominion Theatre in London. Unfortunately, I waited too long. The show is well past its sell-by.
    The theatre was only half full and the audience seemed to be mostly Irish which surprised me, as I thought Riverdance had become pretty mainstream.
     The ubiquitous Michael Flatley apparently appeared in this version last year at the London Palladium but he's now retired. He was still present however in a starting video and three holograms at the end.
    Where to begin? Firstly, I found the video surround too busy and frantic. I hoped that for some of the dances we might have scenery, like a ballet, but no, the video persisted for the entire show. The challenge was padding out the traditional "Riverdance" elements, so there was a rough theme of a battle between good and evil with macho dancers in studded black outfits stomping around one minute and girls in white floaty frocks with bucolic backgrounds the next.
    The dancing, when it going, showed occasional flashes of brilliance: the way the lead dancers trip so lightly across the stage with their feet moving unbelievably fast.  The classic "Lord of the Dance" routines, synchronised Irish dancing with the whole troupe, was superb. But a lot of the rest was very so-so, and looked tired and tatty with both the ghastly videos and the over blinged costumes. Every now and then a woman came on and sang, or a couple of girls in sequinned dresses played the fiddle. There was one dance where the girls shook their skinny backsides at the audience with just bra tops and tights on, which seemed gratuitous rather than sensual.
    Endless encores yet we were out by 9.30. This surprised the waiting taxi drivers: one of them had gone to empty the rubbish out of his cab and hadn't expected the audience to exit so soon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In Praise of.....Madonna

Here's a strange one. I never thought I would be writing a post praising Madonna. She's always been in my peripheral vision: I was never a fan of her music but gave her kudos for making such a huge career out of a fairly small talent. I saw her when she was a lowly support act on David Bowie's Serious Moonlight Tour and wasn't that impressed.

But as the years go by, I admire Madonna for her kick ass attitude.

Society would prefer middle-aged women to disappear, like they used to. To lose their voice, their appeal, their vivacity. To take early retirement because surely they're past it.

Women in their 50s and 60s nowadays are unsung heroes. They're managing grown-up children who like to stay in the iPadded comfort of the family home and have their washing done plus elderly parents who need help. Sometimes they're expected to become babysitters for their grandchildren. They're usually doing all this plus a job. They are a powerhouse of small business invention when callous firms make them redundant.

And, shock horror, we look OK! Hell, a lot of us are fitter than we were in our 20s. And definitely fitter and healthier than most young people. As a demographic, the Baby Boomer is the single most powerful force in the UK today. We won't be patronised and ignored. We're starting to ignore the harpies in magazines who write those articles about "what not to wear in your 50s."

Nobody personifies all this better than Madonna. It takes sheer dedication and will-power to look the way she does at 56. She will never stop kicking ass and being seen and heard. Good on her!

Every time she makes her presence felt - yesterday grabbing some rapper and kissing him passionately - the papers make snide remarks implying she's over-the-hill and these are desperate attempts to get publicity. Well she succeeds, doesn't she? I don't see her grabbing "Drake" was any worse than John Travolta throwing a sleazy arm around Scarlett Johansson recently. Thanks to Madonna, I've now heard of him. Maybe Drake could have been a little more chivalrous with his response because Madonna is still hot. As are plenty of older women:  Helen Mirren, Robin Wright, Dawn French, Carol Vorderman, Julianne Moore, Jane Fonda, Raquel Welch.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Spring Garden

The garden is a riot of yellow. The laburnum hedge is exuberant and the daffodils are gradually unfurling. I went overboard on the daffodils and narcissus this time thinking that I wouldn't need to replace them every year as I do with tulips. So in the front and back garden I planted four varieties, all supposed to flower at roughly the same time: King Alfred, Delibes, Tahiti and Yellow Cheerfulness. I couldn't resist a few tulips in the back garden, purple Negrita and Purple Prince. I complemented the daffs at the front with lots of forget-me-nots and muscari.


My piéce de resistance was a crocus bowl.

I searched endlessly for a large terracotta bowl and eventually found one online. I planted it full of crocus and iris Reticulata. Unfortunately some of the bulbs got pulled out by the critters and the crocuses chose to flower at different times. But the overall effect was pleasing.

Daffodil King Alfred, forget-me-nots
In the front rose bed I refreshed the annual hyacinth display and planted a few more, the purple varieties Kronos and Peter Stuyvesant. Hyacinths seem to love the gravelly soil and south facing aspect.

The daffodils have been less successful than I expected. The King Alfreds and Delibes are all out but quite a few of the others are still in tight bud. Delibes is stunning with the orange centre but it droops and hangs its head. Quite a few of the daffodils from previous years are "blind" - plenty of foliage but no flowers. They may yet surprise me, as the Pheasant Eye narcissus did last year, by suddenly flowering in May.

Meanwhile the forget-me-nots, bought from a garden centre rather than grown from seed as I normally do, struggled. They seemed to have some mildewy problem and I had to get rid of a few.

Elsewhere in the garden, I've planted five hollyhocks, double pink and salmon, and two purple foxgloves. I experimented with holly hocks last year and they were a stunning success. The main challenge is keeping the slugs and snails at bay. They haven't been noticeable yet but I took the advice of Pippa Greenwood and started my slug control on Valentine's Day. This year I'm unleashing the entire battery: organic pellets, copper rings, egg shells and nematodes. Be gone you ghastly molluscs!

I'll report back on how that goes.

My mystery hedge (I think it's Laburnum)

Hellebores

Daffodil Delibes 

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Let It Be: theatre review

We didn't know what to expect from the fairly new production of "Let It Be" at the Garrick Theatre in London. It hasn't had much publicity.  There were no posters in the underground.

"Sore misgivings," muttered J. But, as I predicted, The Beatles don't need publicity. The theatre was full. The demographic was strictly grey haired, except for the young couple next to us (and me, of course).

The usual announcement at the start, about mobile phones and recording the performance, was turned on its head when we were invited to take photos and videos. How refreshing.

The show is basically The Beatles' hits, performed by an excellent bootleg band. The first half shows footage on overhead screens of the adulation the band inspired - screaming girls aplenty - and the songs seemed chronological.  To start with, my heart sank when I thought the band didn't look anything like the Fab Four. We started off in The Cavern for a few of the early screamers  (Twist and Shout, Please Please Me).  Then after some deft rearrangements, we were at the Royal Variety Performance. The "those in the posh seats, rattle your jewellery" performance.  And amazingly, the acoustics changed. I don't know how they did that.

By now the band was in its stride, we had seen several costume changes, and Sgt Pepper's elaborate arrangements brought out the best in these talented musicians. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Strawberry Fields" were very surreal with waxy lights and haziness and dry ice. Having aged in the process, the band was looking more like the Beatles. "Paul" in particular had a real touch of the McCartneys in his vocals. His delivery of Yesterday, with just an acoustic guitar, was moving.  John too, by the time he had donned outlandish clothes and glasses, and was seated behind a piano, looked uncannily like Lennon.

George, however, could never pass as the late Harrison. But did it matter, with such fantastic guitar playing? This was showcased in "While my Guitar Gently Weeps."

During the interval, I reckoned that Magical Mystery Tour and Abbey Road were next. But no, the chronological order somewhat fell by the wayside when Magical Mystery Tour was followed by Penny Lane.

The second half lacked the story telling and there was no mention of the end of the group, which came about after the famous rooftop performance of Let It Be.

But the songs! Sublime. And the dancing. Such fun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Winter

I was at an event recently where someone gave a very impassioned defence for winter as the best season.

Personally, I find the general prospect of winter very depressing. How we ever get through January I do not know, with all the wretched resolutions, bad weather and penury after Christmas.

Since I became a gardener I've become attuned to the fluctuations in light and the rhythms of the different seasons. Once autumn is over, the garden becomes more or less dormant until the joyful emerging of spring bulbs.

But winter is not all bad. Our elders wisely timed Christmas for the depths of winter to give us a feasting holiday to look forward to. And there are very rare occasions when we have the combination of blue sky and crisp frost, or a winter wonderland (see photo!).

Here are my Pros and Cons: do you have any to add?

Winter: Pros
1) Occasional sunny and cold days which remind us of better weather to come
2) Christmas (a mixed blessing but for me, I love the carols, the decorations and tree, and choosing and giving presents).
3) Black opaque tights are "maintenance free" - no need for fake tan
4) Cosy long fires: bit of a cliche and pretty rare!
5) Sinking into plump togs of duvets without feeling hot
6) The Christmas Rose  (helleborus Niger)
7) Snowdrops. Officially a winter flower, but the heralds of spring as they're rapidly followed by crocus and cyclamen
8) Less pressure to be active outdoors. It's quite acceptable to curl up with a book on a rainy day.


Winter: Cons
1) Endless days of RAIN, sleet, heavy winds, cold
2) Britain's habitual unreadiness for bad weather: airports closed, leaves on the line, pot holes, etc
3) Difficulty of planning ahead because bad weather can disrupt plans
4) The need for carbs and stodgy food.....yet pressure to diet in January at entirely the wrong time of year
5) Colds and flu
6) Nightmarish public transport: peoples' coats gently steaming and smelling of dinner, and people coughing in close proximity
7) Christmas arriving too soon and certain songs too ubiquitous
8) Gales causing structural damage and bringing down trees
9) Not wanting to get up early because of dark mornings
10) Ice on roads and pavements. Treacherous








Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Move Away From Reneé!

Poor Reneé Zellweger. Last week the tabloids and harpies were agog at what's happened to her face. Rumours of plastic surgery were widely discussed. Reneé, who hasn't made a film for three years, denied she'd had anything done but made a typically American explanation about finding herself and being in a good place.

That should have been the end of the matter.

But today the loathsome Daily Mail continues the heckling as we see a picture of Reneé looking very tired as she went about her shopping at the weekend, lashing out at hordes of photographers following her and still asking about her face.

This really seems like bullying in the extreme. Enough is said about internet trolls but is this any better?

If she's had plastic surgery, whose business is it? When you're an actress in Hollywood your sell-by date can often hinge on how unlined and fresh your face remains. I imagine the pressure to put the clock back must be immense. It's stay young or lose your living.

The annoying thing as always is that this is a paradigm that doesn't apply to men. Did we see the same scenes when Mickey Rourke's plastic surgery was revealed in all its gruesome glory? Harrison Ford, Sly Stallone and others are in their 60s and 70s, yet they still get the same roles as action heroes and romantic leads.

I fear that Reneé is a vulnerable lady - she apparently used to run and diet to excess and admitted as much last week. Now, after starting a new film, she's the focus of unwelcome attention and I wish the paps and those tawdry tabloids and gossip rags would leave her alone.


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