Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Garden Progress

The garden is making good progress. The borders have now been planted. The extra light bestowed by removing Leylandii trees has given a new lease of life to the hawthorn and clematis Montana Rubens, which were both magnificent a couple of weeks ago.  My blackcurrants are thriving so I am hopeful for berries this year.

I've chosen mostly perennials and shrubs for the main border, adding some different textures with hosta white feather and a couple of ferns. I'll fill in the gaps with cosmos  (being grown from my Mum's seeds), nicotiana nd penstemons. I went in search of penstemons and salvia hot lips at the weekend but could only find one penstemon. Hot Lips arrives later in June I was told.

Clematis Dr Ruppel

The smaller border

L to R: part of the large border: lupin, honeysuckle Serotina, fuchsia, viburnum, hosta White Feather

The cherry tree (needs re-siting in the autumn, too close to the wall)

In the smaller border last year's nasturtiums have re-seeded themselves, which ruined my colour scheme somewhat (it was going to be restful white, pink and purple) but I've now turned that border into a "jewel garden". There are dahlias, which are still not showing yet; lavender, John's favourite; lime green nicotiana and a red penstemon.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another Night of Hurt

Swedish winner Loreen
Oh dear, another disappointing Eurovision. So much for hoping that Engelbert would bring us the first of many triumphs this summer.

I'm sure the papers will be full of analysis, earnestly discussing tactical voting and the misfortune of singing first, and what do we do next year?

We all know the Eurovision is a kitsch festival of the ludicrous. Yet we love it for its irony. Twitter was ablaze last night as everyone gave their opinions on each act, some very amusing.

Engelbert may have been first in the draw to sing but he still had to wait a while. The host nation, Azerbaijahn, decided to show off for a good 20 minutes at the start, with fireworks and whirling dervishes, leaving the interval curiously empty.

Engelbert did us proud with his performance; he brought all his charisma to bear and there was no hint of nerves or losing the voice as inexperienced Eurovision hopefuls have done in previous years.

The song itself was, as Graham Norton kept saying, a pretty ballad. I liked it so much I downloaded it. A poignant, haunting song,. it would have been perfect as the last song of the evening, as an antidote to the usual excesses of Eurovision. There will always be camp acts in fetish gear; minxy girls in short dresses; novelty acts with folk costumes and howling soloists. Engelbert's song would have soothed the soul after that little lot.

But it was not to be, and when I saw the Swedish favourite, I immediately knew she would win. The evening usually gives us one act that is different. The Russian grannies weren't different: there is always an act like them, even if they were older than it usually is. But Loreen was a throwback to Kate Bush when she memorably burst on the scene 30 years ago. She had a spellbinding aura and her song, Euphoria,  was a pleasing disco number of the sort we will hear pounding out across European resorts for the next few months..

So what do we do next time?

Well, having a known act is good, and we have done that in the past two years. Loreen is apparently quite big already in Sweden and has been no 1 in several countries. So perhaps we need a  young, currrently successful performer. I can only imagine that a Voice or X Factor loser would fit the bill - who else would want this poisoned chalice?

I don't buy the argument that we'll never win because no-one likes us. We don't, it's true, have neighbours we can rely on. Ireland are quite stingy with their points. But it doesn't matter who you are, if you have the stand-out act  (eg Lordi from Finland; Dana International from Israel), you'll win.

It's a bit of fun and it's over now until next year. I hope Engelbert hasn't taken it too badly -- it's a shame that he finished unjustly second to last, behind many really dire acts, but I haven't heard anyone in the UK criticise him, his performance or the song. C'est la vie.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Don't castigate them for selling their Olympic torches

Bit of a furore today about Olympic torches and torch bearers' outfits being sold on eBay.
My mum was in a froth about it on Saturday until I pointed out that the torch bearers did have to buy their torches at £250 a pop  (with a few exceptions: those given to sponsors, and those where the local council, like ours, has agreed to pay for them).
If they've bought their torch, it really is their perogative whether or not to sell it. As one torch bearer pointed out, it's quite large to go on the mantelpiece.
Times have changed in that we don't need, or have room for, physical reminders of achievements and happy times.The torch bearers have a rich library of photos and YouTube clips to remember their achievement. They don't need the torch itself to remind them.
Times are very hard and for some people selling their torch will give them money that's sorely needed. 
Reports that a torch sold for over one hundred thousand pounds are wrong: the person has almost certainly been the victim of a hoax. She was on TV this morning saying the money was to go to charity anyway. An auctioneer said today that with the nunber of torches around, they won't sell for more than three thousand pounds.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Here today and gone tomorrow: TV Presenters

I often wonder what happened to TV presenters who, one minute, were ubiquitous on our screens, and the next, pensioned off for being too old.

Sometimes you read an intriguing little nugget. John Leslie, for example, who presented Blue Peter and then This Morning, but was quickly dumped after a scandal, is now apparently a successful property developer.

Mike Smith, a former radio personality and married to Sarah Greene (formerly of Blue Peter) is, we hear, an entrepreneur.

I'm not sure what has happened to Ms Greene and many other ladies we used to see a lot of:  Carol Smillie, Anneka Rice (though she has turned up on Radio 2 on Saturdays), Anna Walker, Philippa Forester, Kate Thornton, Anthea Turner. Gaby Roslin seems to be doing mostly radio, as is Moira Stuart.Fiona Phillips is rarely seen now; she sometimes does the paper review on radio.

What bugs me is that a lot of good, mostly women, presenters disappear and yet current in-vogue presenters are given plum jobs far above their capabilities.

Saba Douglas-Hamilton
Julia Bradbury is good at doing her walks and Richard Hammond is OK on Top Gear. But I wouldn't rate either of them as presenters of natural history. Their juvenile shrieks and attempts to humanise every animal on Planet Earth Live makes the programme a no-no for me. Why didn't the BBC use people who know about natural history? People like Saba Douglas-Hamilton (right).

The latest crop of ubiquitous TV lovelies includes Holly Willoughby, Tess Daley and Fearne Cotton. All entirely interchangeable. They look great in a frock but they make me, the viewer, nervous because I get the impression that if everything went pear shaped on their live show, they wouldn't have a clue what to do. 

I'm always at a loss to know how people like Nicki Chapman, with her nasal voice, manage to get a good string of presenting jobs including the Chelsea flower show. She was one of the judges on the original Popstars programme years ago when she was in the record industry. Why did she give up a good job like that?

Sue Black
Reality TV stars who become TV presenters haven't earned their spurs in my view, nor people like Dominic Littlewood, a former career criminal, who has made a nice living for himself despite Wikipedia referring to him as an untrained journalist.

I like my presenters knowledgeable and I don't particularly care what they look like. I love seeing social historian Ruth Goodman, Professor Mary Beard, Professor Sue Black from History Cold Case and Angela Rippon - still so glamorous in her 60s. We need more women like this on our screens, real role models. Who are your forgotten (or current) favourites?


Friday, May 04, 2012

PE Traumas

Me aged 11
I couldn't find the photo of me
with a hockey stick
There was a report this week that said many women are put off exercising for life because of the trauma of PE/PT at school.

I don't believe it. They're put off because it's BORING.

My friends won't be surprised to know I was never very sporty at school. My set rather looked down on the sporty ones. It wasn't cool to perspire, throw things or brandish sticks.

I wasn't complete rubbish but I couldn't really be bothered. I never gave 100%. I was punished for this in every double PE class. The teacher would choose two captains and ask them to name their team, one girl at a time. I was always third to last  (there were two girls worse than me).

Ironically, on the one occasion I was chosen to be a captain and name my squad, I decided I'd go for gold and selected all the girls who were sporty. My non-sporty friends were horrified, still left at the back. But I wanted a bit of a glory for a change.

I had a memorable disaster in hockey when I was about 12. My chosen position was left wing because I found I could run up and down a lot, looking busy, but without actually doing very much. Well, on this occasion someone raised their stick and hit me in the mouth. I had to have two stitches, and got told off by the awful cookery teacher for taking my unwashed bloodied face into her pristine kitchen in search of the Dettol.

Netball was never great, you need to be as tall as Meadowlark Lemon. And don't you think those little vests with "GA" and "WA" on them look really silly? 

Anyway, lest you think I was a couch potato, when I was a kid I would be out playing until dusk: turning a skipping rope, skipping, cycling, making a den or er....fighting.

My school experiences didn't put me off exercise. I just find it very BORING. I've tried running. I have a peculiar gait: I'm told I run on tip toes. Once you know that, it puts you off. I'm sure everyone's having a snigger at my expense. I have an expensive gym membership, but I seldom go. I like yoga but there's only one class that works for me, time-wise. I like swimming and aqua, but swimming hats don't keep my hair dry and I don't want to ruin my highlights.

All excuses, I know. I could go on. I've tried Bodypump but my knees aren't up to all the squats. I'm too un-cordinated for aerobics, step, etc. I'm still doing my grapevine while everyone else is at the other end of the room doing something with their arms as well.

Sometimes I say to myself that I just need to man up and put some time in on the aerobic machines. I find them hideously BORING, even when I'm listening to music or watching the TV. I can just about tolerate 10 minutes on one machine. The theory is that I then do 10 minutes on the next. How it usually works is that I do 10 minutes and then sneak off to the weights. Because I really like lifting the weights! It's not too arduous and you get results fast.

And then I can reward myself with the sauna and jacuzzi (provided it isn't full of men ----- nothing on earth will induce me to get in, if it is).

How was your sporting life at school, and what's it like now?


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Spare us from The Voice

I'm not surprised that The Voice UK is mentioned in despatches on Tripe Advisor. It is quite toe curlingly awful.

The two hippies whose days are numbered
The first week or two it seemed a novelty to have the judges turning round in their chairs when an act tickled their fancy.

Now we're into the screech-offs, where two of the stables compete against each other each week in order to be "saved" by the public.

My mum has got the right idea, hitting the mute button as soon as the screeching starts.

Two of the judges appear to have the right credentials, gravitas and name dropping : Tom Jones and will.i.am. The other two are there to appeal to the BBC's holy grail, the yoof audience. Jessie J and what's-his-name from Ireland.

The Sunday night results show, which it transpires is recorded immediately after the Saturday show, is a real waste of time. Endless repetition from the Saturday show and nuggets like this: Jessie J, supposedly offering an insight into her fellow judge, the Irish one - "he's a singer and song writer."  You don't say!

Holly Willoughby has a really irritating way of grabbing the contestants  (has she been watching Big Fat Gipsy Weddings?) and hurling them off the stage. One of her cringeworthy moments was grabbing an Irish girl who had just been eliminated by posey old will.i.am and saying "Will really needs a hug."

I'm sure the poor girl, whose dreams of escaping a backwater and finding fame were now in the dust, really needed the hug more.

Every week the judges weep and wail about how difficult their task is, choosing one contestant over another. "It's the hardest thing I've ever done," they despair. I wish one of them would man up and say "well tonight your voice let you down so I'm going to choose xxx." Quite a few of the contestants would look more at home singing along to pub karaoke or screeching on a cruise ship than going for gold on national TV.

Then there's Wardrobe. As soon as they're confronted with what Grazia likes to call "a curvy girl," they immediately reach for the wrap dress and Spanx. These poor women immediately look staid, boring and interchangeable. Where's the imagination? A size 16 girl doesn't have to wear a wrap dress.

The only good thing about it is that it's knocked the even-more-deplorable Britain's Got Talent off the top ratings slot. Good to see a dent in the massive ego of emotionally dysfunctional Simon Cowell.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Blogging: is it over?

I've had my suspicions for a while. Traffic to my two blogs, both direct visits and search engine visits, has been dwindling. Comments are fewer. I've noticed it on some other blogs I follow.

Now my colleague Ekaterina Walter, social media strategist, has confirmed that blogging is dying. A 2011 study by a US university showed that use of blogging had dropped to 37% from 50% the year before.

People are moving to more visual sites like Pinterest.

Walter says that blogging still works for companies and can play a big role in their content strategy and credibility-building.

For those of us who toil away with personal blogs, it sometimes feels like we're shouting into an abyss and no-one is listening.

When I first started blogging in 2006, I had high hopes I was going to start the next Huffington Post. I felt sure I would draw thousands of readers through my wit and repartee. Well, I soon realised this wasn't going to be the case. When your own family and friends rarely visit your blogs, you have to swallow a reality pill.

Utilising search engine marketing brings a few visitors every day looking for some of the offbeat topics  I have written about.

But my biggest learning, and the one I will share with  you if you're a prospective blogger, is that you need to focus your blog on one content area.

Blogs which meander and cover the minutae of our lives, like mine, don't find an audience. But blogs which talk about fashion / beauty / football or other specific topics find a ready audience.

The thing I miss most is comments. Comments make it worthwhile. Someone is reading the blog and has a view to share. On my other blog, the craft blog, it used to be easy to get lots of comments, simply because it was a reciprocal thing. You would leave a comment on someone else's site and they would hop over to yours and do the same. That seems to have gone out of the window, sadly. I think it's partly due to Blogger's word verification and "prove you're not a robot", although I've now turned it off. But it's also a sign of the times. We're all too busy (or maybe we're less courteous).

I truly hope we are not heading for a world where the written word becomes a rarity; where nobody spells properly because they use text speak, or phonics; or where only photos, plagiarised endlessly from sites like Pinterest, dominate.

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