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Native Janner living in London UK). Curious about everything. Expect a wide range of topics and a few wood pigeons.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Travesty of This Referendum

Right then. The EU Referendum.

I am not one of the millions who can't make up their mind.For me it was In, Remain, from the start.
I can't believe what a travesty the whole thing has become. Is either camp using "proper" PR strategists to drive their campaign?

Neither the Remain or Brexit camp has put up proper arguments, just alarmist scare stories which have all the accuracy of a Mystic Meg prediction.

The Tories have descended into their usual silliness:  plots to oust Cameron; Cameron replacement candidates all stabbing each other in the back;  Boris standing for Brexit for no other reason than becoming Prime Minister quickly if the Remain camp lose (does he really think we're so stupid we didn't see his shallow motives?).

Quite a few Brexiters say they're voting Out purely to get immigration under control. Hmm, I wonder how that will work.  Do we suddenly recruit thousands of Border staff, charter thousands of boats and somehow protect every port and marina? Because we only seem to have 2 ships doing this to date.

Voting Out does not mean our borders suddenly and magically close, and we start cherry picking "the best migrants." Europe needs to work together on solutions. Cameron's original strategy of improving things at source was the right one: helping to broker peace and improve people's prospects so that they don't have to leave their countries. The EU can do that as a united community: the UK cannot, on its own.

What has the EU ever done for us?

I am a proud Briton but also a proud European. You can be both!

Thanks to the EU, we are safe at work; we get a certain number of days holiday; we work a certain number of hours; we have the same rights whether or not we are full or part time, temporary or permanent.  We have maternity and paternity rights; sickness rights; equal pay.

I was asked if we would have got all those things anyway, if we were not part of the EU.  Not necessarily. Successive governments have not had the rights of workers at heart. Labour did very little for the private sector worker. The Tories confounded everyone with the Living Wage but their sympathies are usually with those who run businesses, not those who work for them. It's far easier to make people redundant in the UK than it is in France or Germany; they get longer holidays; they get far more generous redundancy settlements. So "UK plc" is not a guarantee of fairness for the workers.

We swim in clean water on clean beaches, thanks to the EU.

We safeguard the future of fisheries, no matter how much it irks those who think we should be allowed to plunder recklessly if the fish are in "our" waters.

The EU has poured investment into the UK. We are one of the largest recipients of research funding in the EU. Over the period 2007 – 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion out of a total of €107 billion expenditure on research, development and innovation in EU Member States. This represents the fourth largest share in the EU.

Don't think that, cast away from Europe, we can count on the US as a substitute.

The US likes to talk about a special relationship when it suits them, but Obama was speaking the truth when he admitted we would get no special treatment for exports if we leave the EU.

The US has a different agenda to us in many areas. Foreign policy for one. Particularly if "The Donald" is voted in.

Don't sacrifice our place in a special community

There is safety and comfort in numbers. We may speak different languages but our DNA is largely the same.  Crack open any of us and our ancestry will be Celtic. Gaelic. German. French.

Cast adrift, it may all work out;  who knows? The fact is, the UK now accounts for less than 1 per cent of the world's population and less than 3 per cent of global income (GDP). Each year that goes by, these numbers shrink a little. We will find it increasingly hard to get our voice heard on topics that affect our prosperity and well-being if we go it alone.

The European Union is larger than any individual economy in the world. Its GDP surpassed the USA’s in 2003.

Once Out, we may never again get back In. Is that something you want to foist on your children, grand children and future generations?

Friday, April 29, 2016

What's the BBC done to upset the UK's gardeners?

I never thought, back in the day when I had razor blade earrings and liked punk music, that I would ever become a gardener.

But a gardener I am, in my spare time. And one of my pleasures is watching BBC Gardeners' World, which my parents used to watch in the era of Percy Thrower, even further back in the day.

Lately though, the nation's gardeners are up in arms.

The BBC keeps cancelling Gardeners' World for sport. Women's football, snooker, and soon athletics. Instead of moving something to the red button, or online, or to a different channel, they simply cancel Gardeners' World.

At this time of year when our herbacious perennials are starting to go crazy, we're thirsty for gardening know-how and knowledge from Monty Don and team. It's just not on!

To add insult to injury, BBC Scotland commendably moved the snooker to the red button so that Beechgrove Garden went out as normal.

Over on Facebook, a new group "Keep Gardeners' World Growing" has a petition and the members have been bombarding the BBC with letters and getting patronizing replies. 

Tonight on Twitter, Monty's Dog Nigel  (yes really) will lead a protest that will hopefully see #GardenersWorld trending again. 

You see, it's not an isolated incident.  This has been happening for years.  Some Tristram or other public school idiot (sorry) at the BBC has decided gardening is a minority hobby practiced by toothless silver surfers or Jeremy Corbyn (known for having an allotment).

Let me enlighten you with these stats from the Horticultural Trades Association:
  • There are 22 million domestic gardens in the UK
  • There are 600,000 allotments in the UK, with long waiting lists (source: UK Govt)
  • UK consumers spend around £5 billion a year on products and plants for their gardens - that's more than we spend on chocolate as a nation 
  • Over half of the overseas tourists who come to the UK each year will visit one of the UK's parks or gardens, making horticulture a key part of the UK's brand image for tourists.

  • Furthermore, gardening is not restricted to "oldies." "Gardening appears to be growing in popularity among younger generations in recent years, thanks to popular gardening television programmes such as the Big Allotment Challenge and Love Your Garden" - Key Note.  There are many organaisations like Young Horts. 

      I would advise the BBC to back down because we're digging in, and this one is going to run and run. Come and join Nigel on Twitter tonight. 

      Monday, April 04, 2016

      The magazines of my years

      I thought I had written about my lifelong magazine habit but searching my blog revealed that while I devoted a post to the demise of She magazine, and have mentioned other mags in despatches,  I haven't actually written a post about what magazines have meant to me over the years.

       And now I'm done with them.

      Well, not quite.  I buy three gardening magazines each month plus sporadically House Beautiful and Ideal Home (depending if the Great Interior design Challenge is on). I used to buy a clutch of weeklies, Hello, Look and Grazia, mostly to see what was trendy and then buy little bits of it (accessories, a shirt, a coat, a necklace) to show I'm not completely over the hill. I hardly ever buy Vogue because it makes me audibly groan when I look at clothes and jewellery costing thousands of pounds which I can never buy.

      My big passion was always women's magazines. And now there's nothing for me.  More of that in a minute.

      My odyssey started as a child with Teddy Bear comic followed by Princess Tina and then Pink (which had fabulous free gifts when it first launched). Pink had a "before its time" comic strip about a woman called Sugar Jones who was in her 40s but somehow defied time. At that time, women in their 40s wore crimplene and had shampoos and sets.

      Then came Jackie, which wasn't such a huge influence on me. I was too cool for school for the pin-ups of dorks like Donny Osmond and David Cassidy  (David Bowie for me), and I had a suspicion Cathy & Claire were living in cloud cuckoo land, but I did like the ads and I was constantly buying old tat like identity bracelets and "free stamps" from Goole in Yorkshire, and sending for samples of soaps and Sister Marion's little offerings.

      Around age 12 I started reading my mum's magazines:  Family Circle, Living and Woman's Realm, which had too many knitting patterns, but also, more interestingly, Slimming, which started my obsession with dieting and calories. Its guru was a Professor John Yudkin who was the first to realise that "low fat" was bad as it led to consumption of more sugar, but at the time he was derided.

      After a couple of Jackie years there came a deluge: Fab 208; Hi! and OK! (a different OK to the one that exists nowadays); NME every week, Mirabelle, and then a real life-changing moment when I found Honey in a holiday camp shop in 1976. I remember the actual issue (I've tried to buy it on ebay but never seen it).  There was an article on how to make a real pizza, that had olives and anchovies, and an article about the "smouldering beauty" of Maria Schneider, who was in Last Tango in Paris.

      I loved Honey. It was aspirational, stylish and slightly edgy. I eagerly sought out the articles by Rose Shepherd. And it led to me a rich seam of other titles:  19, Over 21, Cosmopolitan, occasionally Glamour.
      Throughout my 20s and 30s I was avidly consuming titles She, Eve, Red plus health & beauty magazines like Zest (all these closed down).

      In my 40s crafting took over. I also found that Woman & Home, despite its name, was surprisingly good;  I started to buy homes magazines plus Easy Living, Hello and Grazia. It was only in my 40s that I stopped buying Cosmopolitan,  It suddenly became less modern and focused on "liberated" women. Instead it became like all the others, endless articles on how to attract men and how to win a pay rise.

      Now I find that women's magazines aimed at my age group do nothing for me. Woman & Home has become set in its ways, forever showcasing the same group of middle-aged women celebrities (Lorraine Kelly, Fern Britton, Carol Vorderman, Helen Mirren, Emilia Fox) and forever talking about women starting up small businesses selling artisan soaps or cakes.  I get tired of the "change your life with 10 new habits" type of articles and all the nonsense about mindfulness.

      Good Housekeeping could easily be Woman and Home if the covers were swapped, though it is a little more relentless in its targeting of the comfortably off, white middle-class woman with a lovely home and garden, cute grand children and a yen to show off with dinner parties and show stopper cakes.

      In both magazines the default is children and grandchildren; child-free women are usually deemed to be those those for whom IVF didn't work rather than those who chose to be child-free  (which will soon account for 20% of women).

      Other magazines like Red seem to have dug themselves into a tighter niche of targeting younger women with kids and careers.

      I'd love to see a magazine about health and fitness for the other 50s. There was one, briefly, a few years ago.  I read Women's Health and Women;s Fitness occasionally but all the models and case studies featured are women in their 20s, and at my age you want to read about reducing your middle-aged tummy fat, your visceral fat, and eating to improve your energy.

      It's rare to see new magazine launches these days. Although I buy virtually everything online and read a lot online, I still prefer to indulge in a print magazine.  So any publishers with deep pockets might want to consider launching a monthly that:
      - considers the over-40s woman as an older version of her 20-something self. Still curious, still independent, still seeking adventures;
      - concentrates on health, beauty and fashion for the over 40s;
      - the over 40s woman still wants career advice:  breaking through the glass ceiling, dealing with ageism, networking when every bone of your body cries out no;
      - has quirky or unexpected content like She had many years ago. I remember articles looking into witchcraft, the traditions behind mandrake and what happens to the body when we die;
      - planning for retirement - and not just setting up a small business.
      - the child-free and ideas for how we live when we are older with no kids to look after us.

      Tuesday, March 22, 2016

      A Tour of the Spring Garden

      When I was a kid, gardening was something done by middle-aged or elderly men: my dad and Percy Thrower, resplendent in waistcoat. (Or was that Geoffrey Smith?).

      I became attuned to the annual rhythm of the garden and Dad trying out new things: veg in the back garden; not growing veg; sweet peas; Dad digging out a circular flower bed in the front which was filled first with dahlias and then some mixed roses ("Uncle Walter and co" was how they were described).  A blazing trail of Superstar, the vermilion rose which everyone had to have in the 70s.

      But I didn't become a gardener myself until about four years ago when we finally cleared the back garden, as has been well documented in my blog. Here's what it used to look like.

       This year is particularly exciting because I have been remodelling my biggest border and trying out some new plants.

      Plant theatre (Sarah Raven)
      I am unashamed about liking the country cottage look, and having a north facing back garden means that sun loving perennials struggle. But plants like salvias, penstemons, holly hocks, fox gloves and dianthus thrive.

      This year I've boosted my early summer garden by adding alliums for the first time and a few wallflowers.  I've added some Canterbury bells and scented stocks for the first time. And as always I have containers filled with later daffodils and tulips and I bring them down from the shed area when they're in bloom. I finally have my "plant theatre" which at the moment has purple primulas.
      Big border on left, view towards garage and shed
      In the big border I removed a couple of plants which were past their best, a very thuggish penstemon Garnet and a sickly cordyline, and this created some room for a showpiece plant which will probably be a very theatrical fuchsia. I've also added a new rose, Olivia Rose Austin.

      In a few weeks time the fence and obelisk will be a riot of soft colour with three Clematis Montana doing their thing and Rambling Rector getting ready to ramble.  It's his third year and so far he has not rambled far. I am trying to contain him to make sure he doesn't overpower the fence.

      View towards the conservatory
      I love my few trees: the hawthorn is full of cheeping birds all day, waiting for their turn on the bird feeders. The cherry and plum trees are both heavy with buds. There is an old apple tree too which leans on the garage roof. The apples are always inedible but the blossom is delicious.

      Tomorrow I'll show you the front garden.

      Song bird in the hawthorn

      Saturday, February 27, 2016


      I love lists. There, I've said it. Shopping lists. Lists of clothes and electrical items for the next holiday. Christmas lists. Plant lists. You name it, there's a list.

      To indulge my passion, here are a few random lists. 10 x 10!

      1. Life on Mars
      2. Starman
      3. Lady Stardust
      4. The Dreamers
      5. Sweet Thing
      6. Slow Burn
      7. Hello Spaceboy
      8. Modern Love
      9. Wild is the Wind
      10. Word on a Wing

      I'm afraid these are not very high brow. A lot of my favourite films are associated with happy times / memories and family catchphrases. You won't find any Ibsen or Ingmar Bergman here. Surprisingly, for someone who hates musicals, there are two musicals!

      1. Some Like It Hot
      2. Mrs Doubtfire
      3. Frankie and Johnny
      4. Carry On Camping
      5. Jean De Florette
      6. Manon Des Sources
      7. The Sound of Music
      8. Oliver!
      9. Life of Brian
      10. Ondine


      1. Gertrude Jekyll
      2. Rambling Rector
      3. Scept'red Isle
      4. Ena Harkness
      5. Queen of Sweden
      6. Olivia Rose Austin
      7. Zephirine Drouhin
      8. Jude the Obscure
      9. Princess Alexandra of Kent
      10. Iceberg


      1. Jude the Obscure: Thomas Hardy
      2. Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte
      3. Silas Marner: George Eliot
      4. 1984: George Orwell
      5. The Snow Goose: Paul Gallico
      6. Great Expectations: Charles Dickens
      7. The Women's Room: Marilyn French
      8. Never No More: Maura Laverty
      9. The Skin Chairs: Barbara Comyns
      10. I Sent A Letter to My Love: Bernice Rubens

      I'm a little astonished by my own list. I've dined at many fine establishments but the tastes that please me are traditional and hark back to my roots.

      1. Vintage English cheddar
      2. Quiche
      3. Lamb rogan
      4. Avocado
      5. Cream tea
      6. Pasty
      7. Cheese omelette
      8. Poached eggs on toast
      9. Cheese and tomato sandwich
      10. Kettle chips.

      6. 10 DISLIKES
      Not a heavy list ---- ie, global warming / Nigel Farage etc.

      1. Goat's cheese
      2. Rocket
      3. Raw celery
      4. Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals
      5. "Les Miserables"
      6. Simon Cowell
      7. Films featuring swords and round tables, Jedi, light sabers, hobbits
      8. Costume dramas
      9. Jane Austen
      10. People who text in restaurants

      7. 10 RANDOM LIKES

      1. The smell of sun cream on holiday
      2. Scented stocks
      3. Cup of tea
      4. New car smell
      5. Pink sky at night
      6. Cats
      7. Glass of champagne
      8. Deserted beaches
      9. Beaches in winter
      10. A hot bath and big dinner after a Lake District walk


      1. Bournemouth, UK
      2. Munich, Germany
      3. Skiathos, Greece
      4. Sri Lanka
      5. Clovelly, UK
      6. Exmouth, UK
      7. Kefalonia, Greece
      8. San Francisco, US
      9. Polperro, UK
      10. Borrowdale, UK


      1. Marian Keyes
      2. David Hockney
      3. Dr Sue Black
      4. Ruth Goodman
      5. Carol Vorderman
      6. Julianne Moore
      7. Johnnie Walker
      8. Julia Bradbury
      9. Monty Don
      10, Vivienne Westwood


      1. Donald Trump
      2. Kanye West
      3. Kim Kardashian
      4. Simon Cowell
      5. Jeremy Clarkson
      6. Russell Brand
      7. David Starkey
      8. Donatella Versace
      9. Karl Lagerfeld
      10. Chris Moyles

      Wednesday, January 20, 2016

      In Memory of David Bowie

      July 6 1972 was a significant date for a generation. David Bowie performed Starman on Top of the Pops, and our collective jaws fell open. Who was this fabulous creature?

      I was only 11 but it made a huge impression on me. I cajoled my mum into buying Ziggy Stardust from her Freeman's catalogue for the princely sum of 10 pence a week from my pocket money. This was rigidly adhered to. We Baby Boomers knew the value of money and also hard work.

      DB became a huge part of my life. I spent a fortune on acquiring all the different formats of music as they appeared: vinyl, cassettes, CDs and then iTunes and Spotify.

      I bought the albums of his friends and associates. I ordered Iggy Pop's The Idiot by mail order, without ever having heard him, on the strength of their collaboration. It was waiting for me at home after a ghastly two night camping expedition for Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

      I saw him three times: the first was the Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983.  I had passed my driving test just 3 weeks before so it was the first time I drove a long way  (Plymouth to Milton Keynes) on motorways and on my own.

      It was a bittersweet experience. I couldn't get anyone to go with me and being a shy sort, didn't get talking to anyone. The support acts were Icehouse, The Beat and Madonna (!). After the concert, and boy was Bowie fantastic, it took me ages to find my car, the trusty Datsun 120Y.  I had a superb souvenir: one of the helium balloons that was released at the end, from a "man in the moon" shape by the side of the stage. But it was taken off me as I left the grounds.

      The next day I found out that nearly everyone staying in my hotel, the Cock Inn at Stony Stratford, had gone to the same show because we were all wearing the t-shirt at breakfast. Sheepish grins all around.

      The second time I saw him was at Wembley and the third in Birmingham, in 2003 - his last concert tour in the UK. Both times with great company.

      The first time that my brother Robert went to London with me and my mum, we scuttled off to Camden to watch Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.  Mum thought she would have a nice snooze but was captivated by the action from the start  (someone being decapitated, I recall).

      After the concert in 2003, we then had the long silence from DB: no albums, no interviews, hardly any TV appearances ("Extras" anyone?) until he dropped "The Next Day" on his birthday in 2013. I was having breakfast and BBC Breakfast News suddenly started talking about how a new album had mysteriously appeared from David Bowie on his birthday, and goodness knows how he'd managed to keep it quiet.  My jaw fell open (again).

      And sadly it fell open again last Monday when, over breakfast, BBC Breakfast News told us that news was breaking of the death of David Bowie.  "Whaaat?" I yelled. Couldn't believe it.  I had long suspected he was ill:  there had been reports of heart problems following the last world tour. But just three days before, a new album Blackstar had appeared.  I have just listened to it for the first time since his death  (couldn't bear to, before).

      What a superb way to go: so beautifully orchestrated, and dignified.  No funeral, which would have been a circus, sparing his wife and 15 year old daughter.  Immortalized forever by that album and the video, and the photos of him in a sharp suit laughing at death in the face.

      I bought some roses (forefront, in black wrapping) and took them to the Bowie mural at Brixton, his place of birth. I wanted to thank him for all the pleasure he gave me over the years.

      I've been slightly surprised by the volume of media attention and recollections.  I knew he was a huge star, a legend, an icon, but I was cynical that the world at large didn't realise. I know now this was wrong. And I've felt a bit jealous in a way with every man and his dog recounting how kind and special he was, and how he smiled at them or spoke to them. And how many people shared my "awakening day" of July 6 1972.

      RIP our special Starman.

      I'll be back tomorrow with my Spotify list of my favourite songs and albums. If you can wait :-)

      Saturday, January 02, 2016

      Dead Sirts and Blender Traumas

      A huge bag of kale confronts me balefully when I open the fridge.  It's Jan 2 and the healthy eating programme has resumed.

      photo: mediterrasian.com
      I say "resumed" but unfortunately it was on hold for most of 2015 so a few pounds have crept on.

      Just two and a half days into my programme, I have already lost the aches and pains and the "sugar face" that you get from eating too many chocolates. It really is amazing the difference that lots of fruit and veg, lean protein, low sugar and carbs can make.

      I'm whipping up soups and adding a scoop of Nutri Shape & Shake flavourless protein powder to each serving. This makes it more filling and so I can survive on it until the next meal without climbing the walls. Soup is so nutritious, it's a great way of getting your five a day in one hit. Today I made a spinach and broccoli soup. I had sore misgivings but actually it was fine. Very important for a good soup:  use a decent stock. Those Oxo cubes and Marigold bouillon powders aren't great because they're full of salt.

      The kale was bought along with some frozen fruit and berries because I planned to have a smoothie for breakfast. But I was traumatised last time I used the Nutribullet, the latest "white elephant" gadget to be consigned to the cupboard with all the other fads. I just can't face it. I can't be weaned off my daily poached eggs with one slice of seeded wholemeal toast.

      So I'm having eggs for breakfast, soup for lunch and for dinner a piece of lean protein (eg chicken breast) or prawns or fish with vegetables / salad and healthy grains like quinoa or spelt.  Plus a couple of satsumas as a snack and maybe a banana if I get desperate.  I'm also throwing in as many sirtfoods as possible - all the rage - but I haven't seen "lovage" yet in the supermarkets, which is on the list of dead sirts.

      As for New Year's Resolutions, today I read that it's more helpful if you ask yourself a question rather than make a statement. For example:  "will I exercise more this year?" is more effective than "I will exercise more this year."  And the answer to my qustion is yes: I have signed up for the Great Newham 10k, which involves a couple of laps of the Olympic Park. I did a 5k last year but it was a bit of a struggle. So let's see.

      Here's my recipe for my favourite soup, Carrot & Almond, which even J finds acceptable:

      For 2 large servings:
      4 teaspoons olive or rice bran oil 
      3 large carrots
      50g ground almonds
      1 red onion, chopped
      3 cloves garlic
      2 sticks of celery
      Turmeric - doesn't add flavour but is a great anti-inflammatory
      500ml stock  (the Essential chicken stock from Waitrose is excellent)
      200ml water
      Teaspoon ginger powder

      In  a large pan gently sweat the chopped onion; add the garlic, celery and chopped carrots. Add the spices. Pour in the stock and water; season. Bring to boil then simmer for 25 mins. Blend; add the ground almonds and blend again. Enjoy.

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