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

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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.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Remembering Lynda Bellingham

Very sad to hear about the death of actress Lynda Bellingham today. Diagnosed with bowel cancer in July 2013, she took the decision not to continue treatment so that her family wouldn't have to see her as a "sad, sick little old lady."  She hoped fervently to enjoy one last Christmas with her husband and two sons. Sadly, not to be ---- although there are calls for one of her Oxo ads to be shown on Christmas Day in tribute. I don't think she would only like to be remembered for the ads, but as Marketing magazine says today, these were a history of British family life in the 80s and 90s.

Happily for Lynda, she died in the arms of her husband. And she left no unfinished business. Her autobiography, just out, includes letters to her closest family.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This week's Flotsam: Amal Clooney, a woman persecuted; Strictly update

It didn't take long for the harridans of journalism to sharpen their claws and set about savaging Mrs Amal Clooney.

Just a couple of weeks ago they were agog at her stunning outfits, describing how she was out-styling the Duchess of Cambridge, and marvelling at her professional credentials.

This week they're embittered and griping about her international jet setting (Rachel Johnston, Amanda Platell, Jan Moir etc), and spitefully quoting some research which says those who have expensive weddings don't stay married.

Mirian Gonzalez Durantez
To me, Amal is a great role model for young girls. She, and the likes of Miriam Gonzalez Durantez , are far better role models than the girlfriends and wives of footballers who will put up with all sorts of humiliating transgressions to keep their lifestyles. Or the likes of Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan and the cast of TOWIE. We need girls to aspire towards getting themselves a good education and making positive career choices, rather than dreaming about reality TV, taking their clothes off or marrying a footballer.

Amal, keep up the good work. We need some glamour in our lacklustre world. And those Elgin Marbles do belong back in Greece. Lord Elgin was doing a good deed at the time but now it's ridiculous that the friezes are displayed in broken parts in two countries. The dispute has raged on for decades. Amal in her designer outfits will probably make more of an impact than any of the boring male politicians.

Tougher being A Troll

Good news, I thought, about internet trolls being jailed for up to two years. Let's hope it wipes out these miserable low lifes, because the ever-diminishing police forces of the UK could soon be fully occupied in tracing IP addresses and dragging out the social inadequates who taunt others under the cloak of anonymity.

Strictly update: what's happened to the clothes?

Shock horror: two male wardrobe malfunctions in two shows! Could it be down to the "modern" style trousers that the men are now wearing? Elesehere, I'm suspecting that costume designer Vicky Gill has a reduced budget this year. Some of the dresses look cheap. I can't imagine the likes of the horrendous outfit worn by Caroline Flack last night selling for thousands as they used to.

Strictly Progress 

The biggest surprise of the series so far has been the transformation of Thom Evans, the former rugby player. Last night you could tell he was genuinely enjoying himself and dancing his heart out. Very unlike week one, when he came across as little more than  a chisel jawed dandy.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The wonderful heart and soul of John Lydon: book review

John Lydon
I have a confession to make. When I read the autobiography of various celebrities, I usually fast forward through the early years as soon as I see the phrase "my dad was a cobbler and my mother Gwen came from Cardiff."

And this is exactly what happened when I started reading John Cleese's tome, "So. Anyway...."

Chapter after chapter recounts his dreary reminiscences of school life at St Peter's Preparatory, where we learn he was OK at Latin but frightened by scripture. By chapter four, we're starting the Clifton College years and giving up the will to live. Cue frantic page turning as I attempt to find the interesting stuff: Monty Python, Connie Booth, Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda. Unfortunately the book ends in 1969, and it's not described as autobiography volume 1 so who knows if we'll ever hear the rest. My suspicion is that Cleese will make it as turgid as his early years.He writes in the style of Sven Goran Erickson, whose numerous encounters with women were described as "very nice."

Cleese is an intellectual snob who derides his mother's lack of general knowledge, telling her untruths that she is gullible enough to believe. And her lack of general knowledge, he cries, was symptomanic of how self-centred she was. Segue to the usual celebrity moans "my life was ruined because of my parents."  He has spent most of his adult life "in therapy" and is forever name dropping psychologists.

I can imagine all this therapy angst would be given short shrift by John Lydon who has also just published his autobiography, "Anger is an Energy: My life Uncensored."

I haven't even finished it yet but I must tell you about it. It is one of the best books I've read for a long time.

Back in 1977, Lydon, or Johnny Rotten as he was known then, and his group The Sex Pistols certainly had my parents and everyone else's spluttering, what with "God Save The Queen" and an expletive filled interview with someone called Bill Grundy on some sort of regional TV show.

The Lydon in this book is fascinating, laugh outloud funny, uncensorious, joyful and brilliantly clever. He could read and write before he started school, but don't think he had a pampered upbringing like Cleese. The Lydons were squeezed together in a block of flats with an outside toilet. Six of them, parents and four children, shared one bedroom.  But he doesn't recount all this in a "poor me" misery memoir kind of way. It was economic deprivation, he tells us. At eight years old Lydon suffered meningitis and was in hospital for a year. When he eventually went back to school, the nuns called him Dummy Dumb Dumb.

He was far from dumb though. His schools lack the scholastic reputation of those attended by Cleese but he got seven O Levels and 3 A Levels, and his writing sparkles with insight and humour. Who would have thought that John Lydon would love Kool and the Gang? "I loved them!" he declares. He is fascinated by all forms of music and the different tribes music inspires.

His parents, poor and Irish, are described warmly. "I vividly remember my mum and dad dancing to "Welcome to my World" by Jim Reeves on the Dansette in the front room - her with her bouffant and pink Crimplene outfit, and my dad in his suit and tie. It was a very romantic song, but also kind of political, that the world could be a better place - just hopeful, positive. A wonderful song."

Living in a squat with Sid Vicious and sporting green hair "like a Brussel sprout", Lydon did any job going. In a vegetarian restaurant, a new thing at the time, he and Sid were cleaners but there wasn't much to do, just sweeping up the odd peanut.

Poignantly, he got a job looking after kids aged between seven to ten. But the people who ran the day centre didn't like him near the children. "In a world of Jimmy Savile! That's the bitter irony of it, because I'd be the last person to bugger about with children, yet you're so readily and easily labelled, and so wrongly too. People can't see through to a man's heart and soul, their character."

I haven't even got to the Sex Pistols yet because I haven't been fast forwarding. I'm relishing every page. I've even overlooked his devotion to Arsenal. Reader, discover the heart and soul of John Lydon. You won't regret it.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Is it just me...or Has Strictly Come Dancing gone a little lame?

"Lame? There's nothing wrong with my foot"
I was eagerly awaiting the first glimpse of the dancing celebs on Friday and tweeting my excitement about the return of the sparkles. Yes, I was still keen, even though I'd seen the list of mostly z listers who would be competing.

But as it all got going, and there seemed so many unnecessary extras before we saw the first couple, I started to think Has Strictly Gone The Way of Downton and Become A Bit Lame? (It was such a sobering thought it was all in capitals).

There was the matter of Claudia. What I've always liked about her is her studied noncomformity. The fringe and short sighted eyes peering out; the black eyeliner which runs when she's on the red carpet;  the policy of any colour as long as it's black; the strange gait and the awkward shuffling from one foot to the other.

But the BBC stylists had clearly had other ideas and on Friday, clad in a lurid pink which drained her of colour and minus her pale lippy and eyeliner, poor Claudia looked 10 years older, and, worse still, ordinary.

Fortunately a Twitter furore saw her usual look reinstated on Saturday.  She was back to black.

Tess meanwhile was rising to the challenge quite well, if she stops doing that awful tongue in cheek thing, but I had the distinct impression the judges were not supporting her very well. A couple of times she asked a question and I don't think she meant them to be rhetorical.

As for the celebrities, I realise it's a challenge to find people who are well-known but "resting,"  because SCD is probably a full-time job from now until the final. Secondly, the pay is not much of an incentive, except for the pop stars and stage school luvvies who expect to make it to the quarter finals.  It's only £25k for everyone to start with, rising at the end of October for those left.

And I realise that by competing head-to-head with that awful rubbish on ITV, the BBC needed to attract names who would appeal to a younger audience.  Hence the inclusion of people like Mark Wright from the ridiculous Towie.

The long suffering Aliona and GreggWallace
But this year's line-up is dull by anyone's standards. The only glimmer of hope comes in the relationship between Masterchef's grocer Gregg Wallace and Aliona Villani.  It's plain she couldn't stand him and what he alleges are his jokes.  Will she have enough time to do something with this dad dancer? Or will he be released back into the hinterlands of Twitter and doomed romances with girls half his age?

Then there was the sulky countenance of former rugby player Thom Evans. I suspect he was stitched up into making himself seem like Fred Astaire in his intro (he's a bighead, my Mum ventured), and then realised after the judges laid into him that he wasn't going to be anywhere near the top of the leaderboard. His face was a picture for the rest of the show and Saturday's.

Alison Hammond shone:
not only has she a light step but she is full of personality. I just wish the judges would be a bit less patronising. Their surprise that yet another big bird could dance was all too obvious.

There were quite a few who I lost interest in before they even finished their routine:  Caroline Fluck (who?), a Radio 1 DJ, Pixie Lott, the latest boy from Blue, the Towie boy, the Casualty lady.

Frankie Bridge
Frankie Bridge from The Saturdays was gorgeous and sailed through a delightful routine. The bruiser bloke from EastEnders was surprisingly good, although unsuprisingly mean and moody in a tango. Judy Murray was nervous and stiff but showed she's a likeable lady.

Some of the routines were very repetitive. How many times have we seen Ola's routine to loud rock music where she and the male stamp around glowering? Zzzz.

I'm hoping things improve once the eliminations start  but at the moment, it's all a bit too lame rather than lamé for me.


Thursday, September 04, 2014

The classy way to marry

I had to smile when I saw that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had finally got married, very quietly. I was thinking of the howls of despair at Grazia magazine and others, who have been speculating for months about the nuptials.

And what a quietly classy affair. Just a few close friends and relatives (sadly, hardly any on Angelina's side) and the children very much involved. Even the wedding dress was "designed" by the children, although Atelier Versace managed to rescue it.

It was nice to see the pictures in Hello and to know that the proceeds had gone to the couple's charitable foundation.

How ostentatious and crass some of the z list weddings now seem: Kim Kardashian's for example, with its white flower wall and staged kiss; goody bags, multiple ceremonies, multiple dresses. And it wasn't as if it was her first wedding. Not to mention the Beckhams, Elizabeth Hurley and Katie Price (lost count of the number of weddings there). Let's hope the Brangelina Nuptials signal the end to weddings which simply try to outdo everyone else's.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Internet Detritis

I chanced upon the long list of blogs "I follow." In reality, I haven't looked at most of them for years. And when I did, just now, most of them are sadly no more.

What happened after 2011 / 2012 when that last post appeared?

Did the owner get bored with blogging and move on to other things? One of the erstwhile bloggers abandoned his blog and started another, on a different theme, which is very successful.  Another had written the blog about her and her partner's quest for a baby to adopt. The blog was no longer needed when the baby came along. A crafting blog that I much admired now seems to have been taken over by someone selling cut price printers and ink, yet using the same crafting title.

I had another blog which has been abandoned. It was my "scrapping blog." I used to be an ardent paper crafter, making cards, constantly experimenting with different inks and paints and scrap booking. Work trips to America invariably included a detour to a shop or outlet where I could buy US supplies at half the price.

But then, one day, I suddenly asked myself what would happen to all the thick albums I had created, the chronicle of my life. I have what I refer to as "my archive" which starts from when I'm about seven years old and writing stories. I've no-one to leave it all to. When someone impatiently clears out my attic in a few years time, when I have shuffled off this mortal coil, the archive will unceremoniously end up on the tip.

And from that moment, I lost all interest in scrap booking, and with it, card making. I took up gardening instead.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Old duffers banned from Strictly Come Dancing?

The Strictly Come Dancing group on Facebook spluttered back into life this week with the news, from a couple of unreliable sources, that the BBC has apparently told agents it doesn't want any more old duffers in the line-up this year. They don't win, and it will lead to a more entertaining show, apparently.

Well it depends on who the "old duffer" is.

Niles Rodgers
I can think of quite a few people over the age of 60 who could tan the hide of the likes of Frankie from The Saturdays, the first contestant officially announced this year. They may or may not be natural dancers but they're certainly fit, in the healthy sense, cool and trendy.

I'm thinking of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Niles Rodgers, Alan Hansen, Anna Wintour, Vivienne Westwood (in her 70s), Daphne Selfe (model, 86), Sigourney Weaver, Bill Nighy, Pierce Brosnan, Rod Stewart, Sting, Liam Neeson, Olivia Newton-John, Susan Sarandon, Joan Collins (over 80). I could go on.

Of course none of them would ever deign to appear in SCD. They're far too cool and famous.

But, dear BBC, if you insist on your token oldies being "old duffers" like John Sargent, Quentin Wilson, Jimmy Tarbuck and Paul Daniels, then yes they are never going to win. Incidentally, some of the older female contestants have been very good and entertaining: Cherie Lunghi, Pamela Stephenson, Felicity Kendall. We need inspiring older role models. I wouldn't watch SCD if it was only full of young and shallow desperados from EastEnders.

By the way, I think the whole thing is what I call a stir-up. The BBC always plays a blinder in terms of seeding daft PR stories around the likely line-up, which is always entirely different than the one people speculate about, and I think this ageism story is part of their PR build up. It's a little ill conceived if that's the case, with the Miriam O'Reilly case still leaving a nasty taste in the mouth. Not to mention the sour note struck by Arlene Philips being booted out for being too old.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Savvy marketers get nostalgic (you read it here first)

Twenty years ago today the first online shopping transaction was made. It doesn't seem a long time really, 20 years, and somehow online shopping seems to have become so mainstream I would have expected it to have been even longer ago.

But there's still a huge number of disenfranchised people who don't have access to the internet - particularly among the over 65s. My mother, 82, was one of them until a couple of weeks ago when she decided to take the bull by the horns, book computer lessons with Age UK and get the required broadband. She then bought a tablet and has been making good progress, although she's impatient with how much there is to learn. She thought it would be easier and more intuitive.

As a marketer, I'm always looking ahead to new trends and where we will be going. I predict there'll soon be a general return to nostalgia and may be even "old fashioned" ways of doing business. We're reaching saturation point with email. I've spent the last two weeks in an exercise I call "reclaiming my inbox" where I've been clicking on unsubscribe in all the emails and newsletters I receive. This could be a whole blog post in itself because most of them still email me weeks later, and a lot of them are emailing me in my former name, when I have been using my married name for four years, which begs the question how old is their database?

The Super Boomers already dominate in terms of their spending power and if most of them are anything like me, we're fed up with: a) being patronised by big brands and referred to as "silver surfers" just because we're over 50, when most of it were blogging years ago and using Facebook when it launched;  b) we yearn for simple and uncomplicated. Not in gadgets (we buy all the latest "stuff") but in life itself. There's too much choice. Booking a holiday takes hours now because you have to research every hotel on TripAdvisor. Even knowing what to eat for a healthy diet is hugely complicated. A magazine article recently pitted three experts against each other, and they all disagreed. So what hope is there for the average person? 

I was recently buying a few cards in Clinton's - in itself an outdated pastime when a lot of youngsters prefer to send e greetings - and I proffered the little card they stamp when you make a purchase. "Oh we've got something better now," said the assistant, and slapped down a flyer for me to read. Of course they want my email address and in return they will email me with offers. Apparently I will get a fourth card free when I buy three cards. I'm not sure how that will work because I didn't want to register. I quite enjoyed the harmless pursuit of having them stamp my little card and then give me a free card, no questions asked. So I'll carry on doing this, but in Marks and Spencer where they still run the same promotion with no email addresses needed.

Recently a couple of online retailers have started sending newsletters, nicely produced and luxurious, and it was a pleasure to sit and read them for a few minutes.

I seriously think there could be something in nostalgic marketing. Not only would the Supers love it, but also Gen X and Y because fashion is about nothing more than recycling the past. And the past is new to them.
I'd love to hear your views.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Hampton Court Flower Show

The One Show garden
I decided to go to the Hampton Court flower show at the last minute, managing to get both a ticket and a day off work. It was partly to make up for the disappointment of missing the Chelsea flower show. Not only were we going on members' day, but we even had a delightful sit-down lunch to look forward to.  Unfortunately I indulged in oysters at a restaurant the day before and was stricken by food poisoning. So we didn't go.

I left for Hampton Court - 28 miles away - in good time and expected to get there just after the opening time of 10am.

I finally got in at 12.45! Unbelievable.

For the last seven miles it was nose-to-tail, traffic just creeping along a centimetre every 10 mins or so. I was relieved I wasn't with J. because like most men, he has zero tolerance of traffic jams.

By the time I got to the show I was feeling slightly frazzled.

It's vast, and very crowded. I didn't stay long in the flower tent because there were too many people. I took a few pictures of plants that impressed me. - see below, Meanwhile the rose and floral arrangement marquee was very disappponting. I'd anticipated being hit by the scent of hundreds of roses, but it was an olfactory let down.

The rose displays were underwhelming. I realise in July roses are past their past but I still expected more abundance of blooms from professional growers.

I perused some of the show guides and saw that Mary Berry was due to speak at 2.30 in the food theatre. I went over there at 2pm but the queue was already massively long so there was no chance of joining it and being able to get in.
The World War 1 display

On the plus side, the show gardens seemed easier to access than at Chelsea and looked better in real life than they did on TV.  There was a fascinating World War One section with a schools' scarecrow competition and trenches showing how the soldiers grew plants. There were some fabulous stalls for laydeez in the Country Living Magazine marquee. All manner of "tut," from jewellery to clothes and oil paintings.


By 3.30 I decided to confront the traffic again but first called by at some of the vendors selling plants (very good idea to site these near the car park!). I bought a few plants including three salvias, a penstemon, a couple of grasses and a couple more erigeron.

I may well go again next year but definitely by public transport, and with a partner in crime (not a husband....) to make it more fun. And I realised that I really enjoyed last year's Hyde Hall flower show, the nearest RHS garden to us. It may have been modest, with no show gardens, but it was a delight to get around and some of the plants I bought are flourishing. So that's a date for the diary towards the end of July.


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

An unlikely star of the garden show

It's Ground Hog Day again. Yes, here's the garden in July.....an annual post!

My little garden will not win favour with those who think we should be painting with flowers and making garden creation an art form.  No, it's crammed full of plants that I love and it's not making any particular statements. I just do the best I can with a clay soil and a north facing plot  (which fortunately gets a few hours of sunshine a day).  The colour palette is primarily pink and white with a few red highlights.

This year's hits are the hollyhocks, seen on the left, by the fence, which started life being so badly mauled by snails I didn't think they would have a chance. They don't look like the usual hollyhocks but have fluffy pink balls of flower, like rosettes.

The unlikely star of the garden is erigeron karvinskianus, a tumbling daisy, part of the aster family, which is pink and white and also grows well in crevices.  I love the way it spills over my sleepers, softening the edges.

I am thrilled that a couple of tender trailing fuchsias from last year lived through the winter and are blooming again.

I have a few delights to follow in late summer:  gladioli, nerines and monarda, all for the first time.

And next week I have a day off work to visit the Hampton Court flower show. This will partly make up for the disappointment of missing Chelsea, when I had to spend the day in bed with food poisoning from oysters.


Salvia Hot Lips


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Snobbery among the petunias

Alan Titchmarsh's comments in today's Telegraph reminded me how much snobbery there is in gardening.

It's not just which plants and styles of gardening are in or out, or whether you are a garden designer or garden creator or just a plain old gardener.

There's a big branch of snobbery among those who trained as horticulturalists, who paid their dues planting matchy-matchy petunias in municipal flower beds and learning the Latin names for everything.

As Titchmarsh said today, somewhat disingenuously, he was not going to hold his successor Monty Don’s “lack of training” against him. Monty Don, you see, may have written 20 books about gardening, and fronted gardening programmes for years, but to Titchmarsh and others who trained at Wisley, he's a presenter and not a gardener.

I could level the reverse accusation at Titchmarsh - he should stick at gardening and not presenting. I can't bear the programmes where he attempts to be a chat show host. 

Titchmarsh's peevish comments follow his demotion by the BBC for Chelsea Flower Show coverage. He was apparently asked to play second fiddle to Monty Don and declined. He was "hurt" by the decision. I'm not sure why. He stood down from the BBC's flagship gardening show Gardeners' World a few years ago and now presents the deplorable "Love Your Garden" on ITV. So why does he believe he should still be the BBC's top choice for Chelsea? He can't have everything.

This year, Titchmarsh has a show garden at Chelsea, his first since 1985. I'm not sure if his decision to have a show garden followed his "axing" by the BBC, but at least it allows him to show off his gardening expertise which Love Your Garden doesn't. And how heartening (I'm being ironic) that he will even allow himself to be interviewed by the BBC this year because "there is no point" in holding on to professional jealousy.

Really, all this gardening snobbery is so parochial and demeaning. The great thing about gardening is that it is highly personal and shouldn't be subjected to the dictats of a few pompous people who think they have a monopoly on taste, style and Latin.  Personally, I'm fed up with prairie planting and the same old "trendy" plants - alliums, agapanthus,irises, cornus and anything that looks like cow parsley. I'd like to see a garden designer at Chelsea brave enough to use unfashionable plants - chrysanths, marigolds, dianthus to name three - and to create the delicate, traditional English cottage garden that seems to be banned from the likes of Chelsea yet is the backbone of Britain's gardens.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

The spring garden

As the tulips and narcissus bow to a close, the garden is looking busier than usual at this time of the year and it's all down to my new policy of not digging out the border for winter.

Inspired by some of the gardening writers, who said leave the perennials and enjoy their wintry shapes, plus, do not dig the soil, I left everything untouched. There were a couple of surprises. Two trailing fuchsias, bought last summer and supposedly tender, survived.  The winter casulties included my most prolific duo, a salvia and and a perennial nemesia. I got rid of two phygelius because they had started to become thugs.
The daffodils were stunning this year, particularly "Dick Walden," and the delicate pheasant eye narcissus.

But the tulips didn't float my boat. I'd ordered two red types and the plan was to put them in the border at the front of the house, fringed with muscari and forget-me-nots I'd grown from seed. But when I started planting them, I realised I didn't have enough red bulbs for the space, so I changed plans and put them in the back garden instead. The orange and purple bulbs originally destined for the back went in the front border, and somehow didn't work very well because I'd also had some "free" purple bulbs and a few white ones which were different heights and colours, and it looked messy.

I've decided to treat my tulips as annuals and have a new display every year, which gives me the flexibility of using the containers for more plants during the summer.

Meanwhile, in the back garden, I've put in some new plants - monarda, which can tolerate most conditions, and nerines for a late summer display. I'm hoping that gladioli will be the new showstopper, having decided that dahlias and my garden don't really get on.

The two clematis Montana have been outstanding so I added a third, and I think this may be the year that honeysuckle Serota finally delivers on flowers. I've planted "Rambling Rector" to scramble up the obelisk and was pleasantly surprised to find the perennial sweetpeas all reviving to do the same.

Dicentra "bleeding heart" really went for it this year
The main colour theme is pink and purple with a few white highlights
The hawthorn is also in full flush. It always reminds me of David Hockney, whose exhibition we saw a couple of years ago. It featured lots of paintings of hawthorn, like big curly caterpillars, and apparently he adores it, waits for the flowering and then rushes out into the countryside with his easel.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Don't let the militant atheists take over

My blog is usually a place of insignificant ramblings about....er...rambling, gardening, cycling and the like. But one issue of recent days has stirred me into tackling a controversial subject.

I was pleased to see the religious leaders of the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus in the UK defending David Cameron's statement that the UK is a Christian country (or group of countries for the pedantic). This came after a bunch of militant atheists decided to spout off in the Telegraph about undermining the rights of others, blah blah blah.

Enough of these politically incorrect buffoons, imposing their secular views on the nation.

The balance provided by religion is essential, in my view, to protect moral standards and ethics. I don't think anyone would disagree that the UK has become a more selfish, self absorbed and uncaring community in recent years. The decline in religious teaching at schools, the way it's become trendy to deride Christians (while enjoying their religious holidays, of course!) and the ways Christians are undermined, has led to a steep decline in moral standards.

Christians have been persecuted for wearing a tiny symbol of the faith, a cross on a chain, by the likes of British Airways. Christmas displays have been banned by over zealous councils and the Red Cross for fear of upsetting other religions.

And every time the other religions rally to say they are not offended. Hooray for common sense.

My rallying cry is for the militant atheists to back down. They are not the majority, despite dwindling church attendances. What we do need is for the The Church of England to put its house in order. Look at the resurgence of the Catholic Church, due entirely to the charisma and goodness of Pope Francis. He eschews all the trappings and engages with ordinary people.

The C of E leaders have largely been intellectuals, occasionally bearded and totally removed from the man in the street. Taking up battles like food banks is not the way to fill the pews. Changes in the tax-free status of the church would show it is putting its money where its mouth is. And the reactionary types in the Synod need to take a reality check. Do they really want to turn the UK into a truly secular state, because they are too blinkered to embrace change?


Sunday, April 20, 2014

A cycling mini break in border country

Henry Eckford
We've just returned from a three day cycling break in Shropshire, on the border with North Wales. The weather was fantastic for two of the three days. The highlight was a 25 cycle from our base in Wem (famous for the Eckford sweetpea) to Ellesmere. This ride included miles of gentle, quiet country lanes, a canal bristling with narrowboats and, of course, a damn good lunch courtesy of the Red Lion in Ellesmere.

The third day saw us cycling from Wem to Hodnet, unfortunately getting there too early for lunch and on the wrong day for the Hodnet Hall Gardens. It got progressively colder as we came back.

The distances were all in a day's work for John, who had not only just run the London Marathon (see previous post) but is well used to cycling, occasionally cycling to work (10 miles) and taking part in events like the London to Paris bike ride. But for me it was quite tough. My thighs have still not recovered from the uphill sections on the last day!

We stayed in the Old Rectory Hotel. Highly recommended, as is Byways Breaks who organised the holiday.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

John's Marathon Battle

My husband John ran his 25th marathon last week in London. It was his toughest one to date, not because of the hot weather, which never helps, but because he's been battling injury for over a year.

He damaged his Achilles tendon and running even short distances became impossible. He started a rigorous regime of physiotherapy and would occasionally set off for a run, confident the problem was fixed, but would limp home not long after leaving.

It was with baited breath that he began his winter training for the 2014 London Marathon with a group of friends from the Orion Harriers.

Fortunately all went well and John sailed through the marathon last Sunday, using his new GoPro camera to film an up close and personal account of the event, which you can view here:

If the plug in doesn't work, here's the link:
I was a spectator on the course, lucky to get a great vantage point at one of the elite runners' drinks stations manned by the Orions. One of the drinks belonged to a VIP:


Friday, March 07, 2014

Matthew I'm Sorry!

I'm feeling guilty about a tweet.

I once tweeted that Matthew McConaughey ruined every film he was in.

At the time, I was probably watching Fool's Gold or Failure to Launch. His rom coms had become increasingly dire. Both films have very telling titles.

But, all credit to Mr McConaughey: he started choosing to appear in films that challenged him, where he didn't play on his good looks, and by Jove, the dude showed us he could act.

I'm talking about The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud, Magic Mike and Dallas Buyer's Club, where his portrayal of a man with AIDS won him an Oscar this week. He lost 3 stone for the role and gossip magazines were panicking about Matthew losing his looks.

Here's to many more years of success for the actor.
Wouldn't it be great to see Jennifer Aniston do the same?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Lies and Collusion on the Dangers of Sugar

Finally the World Health Organisation admits there is a crisis with sugar and sugar is fuelling the obesity epidemic.

Now health bodies and governments are furiously back peddling after promoting low fat, low carb diets, low salt diets for years whilst turning a blind eye to sugar and the way it was creeping into "low fat" food and drinks in order to make up the taste deficit.

Sugar is not always clearly marked on processed foods and it's found in huge quantities in surprisingly "healthy" places.  Smoothies;  fruit juice;  cereals;  soups.

I find it hard to believe that nutritionists and scientists have only just arrived at this eureka moment.

It doesn't seem like rocket science to me to have in-depth tests comparing diets and results on metabolism and body composition.

But what's been happening is that successive governments have colluded with food manufacturers, and most of our most eminent scientists are actually "sponsored" by the very companies they should be castigating.

Who actually pays for the research? Not the likes of Tate & Lyle or Kelloggs or Coca Cola, because they would lose out.

I can't imagine the current government will make any changes because it will make them too unpopular with the food and drink manufacturers. The good health of the nation is clearly a low priority for this government, having repeatedly wasted opportunities to force the retailers to put up the price of alcohol, sold more cheaply than bottled water, and to follow other countries in the justified demonization of tobacco. My father died horribly of a smoking related disease, so I have no patience with those who drone on about freedom and liberty.

It will take years for the low sugar message to hit home and in the meantime more and more obese people are sucking the NHS dry. Sugar is believed to be as addictive as cocaine, so there seems to be some merit in the argument that they can't help it. But I can't be the only person who thinks it's so sad that today's children will die before their parents.

The political party which dares to make significant changes will win my vote in the next General Election. And we should all put pressure on the parties to make this a key part of their manifesto.

Further reading: today's Daily Mail (7 March): leading cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra confirms that the UK govt is in cohoots with food industry and has had many meetings with the likes of Nando's,  Pepsi, Mars and Tesco.
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