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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, July 11, 2016

One by one the Brexit leaders fall by the wayside

As Oliver Hardy used to say, "This is another fine mess you've gotten me into."

The leading exponents of Brexit have now slid back under their stones, presumably too cowardly or just not good enough to handle the sensitive negotiation on Article 50 and the inevitable hubris and discontent that will create for our beleagured nation.

I'm sure Mrs Leadsom will paint a pretty picture in tomorrow's papers of a) not being prepared for the cynicism and public name calling that public life entails;  b) worn down by the bad publicity over what she said about mothers and Theresa May, which The Times didn't appear to take out of context, but she insisted they did  (Rule no 1 in politics: always blame the media);  3) we need to rally behind one leader quickly to start making all the changes.

Then there is also my cynical suggestion, which is:  4) Resign and give the reasons above, when really it's the tax return that is the issue.  (She still hasn't shared it and there are rumours she has offshore investments).

Nigel Farage thinks he has achieved his life's work and can now sit back and wait for the invitation to the Lords. Boris was stabbed in the back but that was a mercy because he was totally unsuited to the role of PM. Gove shot himself in the foot by stabbing Boris in the back, if that isn't mixing my metaphors. Crabb withdrew but just as well seeing as he had been playing away from home.

Theresa May is, I'm glad to hear, a "bloody difficult woman" and to my mind, having no children makes her more focused on the task in hand, as well as giving her something in common with Angela Merkel. Women have to work 10 times harder and achieve 10 times as much to get to the top of the slippery pole.  We're forever hearing about girls outperforming boys in school, and women starting to earn more than men, but when you look at the real numbers, they're derisory. The number of women in senior positions is still very low, even though data shows that having women on the board makes companies perform better.

Kudos to Mrs May for stepping into the breach, even though she wanted to Remain, and picking up the poisoned chalice.  Nobody else has got the guts. It's not surprising to me that a woman has to sort out the mess caused by Cameron / Farage / Johnson. The only good news for Mrs May is that Labour still won't present a credible alternative by the time we get a General Election.  Angela Eagle would be a fine leader but Mr Corbyn seems determined to hang on, deluded by the idea that the voters are going to swing far left when even Neil Kinnock wrote that off more than 30 years ago.

Finally, I hope Theresa May will be allowed to do her difficult job without the media trivialising her because she is a woman.

At the start of the leadership challenge, the Mail decided to compare the skirt length and shoes of Mrs May versus Mrs Leadsom. But they didn't compare the jacket cut, or trouser length of the male candidates. The only time David Cameron's sartorial style has been mentioned is when he wears the same blue polo shirt every year on holiday.  Tabloids, you spend your whole lives building female "celebrities" up and tearing them down. You shouldn't need to analyse what our PM is wearing.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Desperately seeking BoatyMcBoatFace

We've just got back from one of the Greek islands, Skiathos. It was the second year running we were there, unheard of for us, but the hotel and island really tick all the boxes  (and with my husband J, there are a lot of boxes to tick).

One of the things that enthralled me last year was the fact that our beach, being very close to Skiathos Town, gave a superb view of all the
ferries and flying cats / dolphins going by. And to make it even better, there are planes coming in to land.

So I booked the same hotel again and asked J for a pair of binoculars for Christmas. This year I sat very happily monitoring all the shipping. In 10 days, I became quite an expert on the timetable.

At 12.30,  "Old Honker" went by. This was a big Aqua Ferries ship which always honked as it approached the harbour.  I could imagine all the people in cars and lorries, waiting for it, abandoning their coffees and racing to their vehicles.

Old Honker
Old Honker was followed by Flying Cat 4, or "the Cosmote," as we referred to it (Cosmote being the sponsor: Greece's answer to Vodafone). What a looker.

One evening as we arrived in Skiathos Town on our water taxi, we saw the Cosmote glide elegantly into the port and we strolled over to have a closer look.

This one wasn't Flying Cat 4 but probably 5, which is older and doesn't have a side door. I was very amused to see the smartly dressed crew virtually dragging people and their cases on, as they only have 10 minutes' turnaround time.

FlyingCat 4
As you can imagine, I was itching to go on the Cat. Or even the flying dolphin, which fascinated me last year. But studying their online timetables, I saw we would have to stay overnight for a return trip. Their destinations include Skopelos, Ionosssis and Volos  (the second city in Greece).

Flying Dolphin 
Next year I might book a one-way trip on, say, the Cat, and come back same day on another vessel. J is rolling his eyes at the thought of this even as we speak. But even he became quite keen on ship spotting, particularly when we saw the biggest cargo ship we had ever seen. He does need his own binoculars though. He's long sighted and I'm short sighted, so we had to change the settings every time we used them.

Post dedicated to Sarah in France, whose enthusiasm for my humble blog has made it all worthwhile.

Further reading: 
shipspotting.com  (really!).

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

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