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

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Friday, September 02, 2016

All is not well in the garden

The garden has been a bit disappointing this summer, and not just because one of our wood pigeons has died.

I spent a LOT on plants this year and virtually remodelled my border, as well as planting a lot of pots which I don't normally do for summer. The early summer garden was fine:


But the garden today, in late summer, has run out of steam:

There's a huge empty space which would normally be taken by towers of hollyhocks. Unfortunately they were very seriously affected by rust and showed no signs of flowering, so I had to remove them.

Earlier in the summer, I usually get a great display of foxgloves too. But I didn't like the different type that I planted, foxglove x mertonensis; they flowered later, were weird colours and didn't last very long.

I was inspired by Joe Swift's containers of purple plants, and Sarah Raven's white plants in pots. But some of the white plants - the phlox and cosmos - didn't thrive and were dominated by lobelia. The purple and mauve plants, particularly the verbena, looked great but in my trademark green pots somehow didn't have any oomph.  Next year I'll add some bright pink flowers.

I planted a rose in the border for the first time, Olivia Rose Austin, and sadly because she was planted on a slant, she kind of collapsed and didn't grow upright. I will have to replant her when dormant.

Meanwhile Shed Corner was a complete disaster.

I've learnt that if I put containers of tall and very vivid plants by the shed, beyond the decking, it leads the eye down the garden and makes it look bigger.  The previous owners built a garage in the garden which made it a lot smaller;  Shed Corner is a reminder of its glory days.  I planted up osteospurmums, which I've never grown before, along with a salvia and a fuchsia.

The osteos all died;  it wasn't sunny enough. I tried moving the pots but it was a bit too late.  The fuchsia was great but turned out to be a trailing type, which was unsuitable for the pot it's in.

I've rescued Shed Corner a little by buying a couple of celosia which are short lived but very impactful.
Finally, the Japanese anemones were very poor this year - the flowers were tiny! - and my beloved salvia Hotlips, which is actually 2 plants that grow huge like a shrub, started taking over the grass.  It leans forward to try to escape the hedge and and to catch the sun, and encroaches over our tiny "lawn" of artificial grass. The border it's in is particularly problematic, being mostly shaded and very dry.

It wasn't all bad. Some plants were wonderful. The roses in the front garden have never been so good. I've been watering them more than normal and it's paid off: they have hardly any black spot or other ailments. The honeysuckle too was very good.  I was a bit uncertain about pruning it last year but this time I pruned it after flowering, and I'm hoping for the best.

I've already started preparing for next year.  I've got some healthy young foxglove purpurea plants and  a new cordyline to replace the one that died last winter  (it gives some architectural shape to the border). I'm awaiting my bulb order and I've got three trays of forget-me-nots and some wallflowers ready to plant out with them. I'll persevere with the hollyhocks because I do love them. I'm going to move a few things around;  the salvias got very unruly and fuchsia Hawkshead, a white hardy variety, is not enough of a show stopper to retain its current position.

I'm always pleased with my spring garden but next year I'll be aiming for better results in high summer too.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Why Mary Berry was right: bin the deep fat fryer

I don't have a lot of time for Gregg Wallace. I've always questioned his status as a judge on Masterchef based on his credentials of a) eating out a lot, and b) having been a grocer, which makes him an "ingredients expert" as he was once billed.

He's currently on honeymoon with his fourth wife, another young lady he met on Twitter. I'm saying nothing.

Wallace criticised the saintly Mary Berry for saying that no-one needs a deep fat fryer.  He said that Britain frys things, we always have, and there's nothing wrong with chips and spam fritters.

He's a little out-of-touch. Young mums use McCains oven chips. Heating oil to boiling point was never a very safe thing to do. I've never had a deep fat fryer.

On the point that "we've always done it, it's what we do,"  we used to do lots of things that we don't do now.  It doesn't make them right.  Slavery,  sacking women for being pregnant; corporal punishment in schools.

If Gregg casts his mind back to when he was a kid, I'm sure he did enjoy spam fritters and chips. We occasionally had chips cooked in the chip pan, with beef dripping. Delicious. And perfectly fine to have as a treat. Nobody snacked mindlessly between meals or drank sugary fizzy drinks. It was milk or squash in those days. Consequently, hardly anyone was obese. If you watch footage of real people from the 60s and 70s, they were all slim. There was only one boy at my school who was overweight.

It's a different story nowadays as we all know. You only have to see the kids waddling out of school and into the nearest takeaway to surmise that the last thing this lot need is extra chips, even if they are cooked by mum and not by Ronald McDonald.


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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Three Blind Lice

My husband J often refers laconically to an erring a man on TV as "a louse." I love that phrase and it's unfortunate that "three louses" doesn't really work.  So, Three Blind Lice it is.  Here are three men who have raised my ire.

1) Sir Philip Green
Image: Mirror.co.uk
As doughty old UK retailer BHS sighs and sinks this weekend, like the Titanic when it gave a moan and disappeared for ever, Green is no doubt parading his big belly somewhere in the Adriatic on one of his vulgar yachts. He claimed he would sort out the BHS pension scandal but no sign of that from him or "er indoors", Lady Green, who is said to balance the books. Choppy waters ahead for that dodgy pair.







2) Jeremy Corbyn
Image: Telegraph.co.uk 
To start with, I thought he was harmless enough and would soon be swatted out of the way like an irritating fly.  This week we had the unseemly row with Virgin Trains over their CCTV footage and his claims the train was full (later recanted to a pitiful "I wanted to sit with my wife" which is rich when he's never photographed with her). But it's not that which made my blood boil. If he wants to hire inept PR people, that's his business.

No, I loathe him because he's a bully, and deluded. He smirked when some of his people (men) mocked BBC business editor Laura Kuenssberg. Any decent man would have rebuked his team. He refuses to deal properly with claims of anti-Semitism.  One of his female MPs Ruth Smeeth walked out in disgust at some of Corbyn's ill-judged comments. Comrade Jezzer and his bull necked henchmen remind me of characters from Animal Farm. They certainly parade similar sentiments parrot-fashion. Re-nationalise this, re-nationalise that!

He's deluded because he's convinced that as long as he has the backing of "the party members," he's got every right to be leader.

My message to you Mr Corbyn is: Labour will lose the next election under you and face an even longer struggle back, if it doesn't shatter into pieces. Is it good for democracy not to have a viable opposition party?  Most of your party members are left wing extremists whose views would go down well with Trotsky. Many of us who always voted for Labour WILL NOT DO SO while you are the leader. If you cared for the party you would stand down.

3) Louis Smith
Image: Telegraph.co,uk
I really disliked the way the gymnast reacted when Max Whitlock took the Gold in the pommel horse at the Olympics.

I've long thought of him as vain, petulant and evidently utterly ruined by his devoted mum, who still does his ironing.

No-one likes a poor loser.


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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fab Team GB and the naysayers

Jo Rowsell-Shand, Elinor Barker,
Laura Trott and Katie Archibald
image: Telegraph.co.uk


I didn't think we could top the 2012 London Olympics and in many ways we haven't - the empty seats in Rio and the debacle around the Paralympic Games tell the story - but wow, Team GB, you have surpassed yourselves!

Second in the medals table, ahead of China and with gold medals spread across more disciplines than the US, this team has done us proud.

The naysayers are out there of course: losing cyclists making po- faced suggestions, quickly withdrawn, about the British team and how it only does well in the Olympics; some unnamed commentator in the Mail on Sunday today likening the investment in sport and resulting success to the state sponsored drug enhanced days of East Germany a few decades ago.

We used to remember the hapless former Prime Minister John Major mainly for his indiscretions with Edwina Currie, now we should laud him for creating the circumstances that led to our Olympic success this year: in particular, the significant investment in certain sports.

It wasn't "state sponsored."  It's cheerfully funded by us the people, mostly by the lottery. The Labour Party, which has become very dour and patronising under Comrade Jeremy, believes this is a bad thing because it exploits the dreams of poor people. They actually seriously believe that people don't realise their chances of winning are tiny. Oh, but they do, but somebody does win, and that's as powerful an incentive to squeezed middle class people, often subsidising grown-up children and care homes, as it is to "poor people."
The Brownlee Brothers: Triathlon Gold and Silver
image: Telegraph.co.uk

I remember years ago when we didn't invest in sport and we had one or two stand-out competitors who did it all on their own. We certainly didn't jump for joy when we saw the medals table. We were squarely beaten by nearly every country in Europe.

Now we can hold our heads high.

More importantly, children will hopefully be inspired to follow the example of Olympians who really deserve the honours that will no doubt follow: Mo Farah, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny, Nicola Adams, Jade Jones, Adam Peaty and the Brownlees to name just a handful.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

One of our pigeons is missing

Pidgie Pigeon, RIP
Oh, I know it's small in the scheme of things. A wood pigeon, shuffled off to the great nest in the sky. A late pigeon;  a pigeon who has ceased to be.

Regular readers to this blog will know that for the past five years a pair of wood pigeons has been visiting the garden several times a day, and I've been throwing down seed for them.

The male, a very plump and gregarious bird, would run towards me as fast as his little legs would carry him.  I named him "Pidgie." Well, I haven't seen Pidgie for more than a week now. So I'm assuming that he has Passed.

Meanwhile his mate, Leg, is spending more time in the garden and has a winsome new habit of perching on the garden gate so that she can fix a beady eye on me when I come down for breakfast.

Leg was named thus because she limps.

An intruder pigeon has started hanging around, and Leg is defending her patch.  J maintains this is probably a new male moving in on Pidgie's turf. Or on Pidgie's bird, in fact.

I wonder if Leg knows that Pidgie is dead, or, as in the case of swans, has to see the body to acknowledge it.

I draw your attention to this wonderful, heart breaking poem by Gillian Clarke.

Swans

She was brave in the bitter river,
the Mary Rose, doomed,
ice-chalice, lily in bloom.

Thaw, her feathers and bones dissolve in the flow
and she's gone, flower that floated
so light under death's undertow.

In lengthening light he patrols alone
ferocious on his watery shore
where the nest from last year and the year before

has drowned to a dredge of sticks and sludge.
In full sail, his body ablaze, bridge
over unfenced water, he waits for her.

The voice on the phone said,
"He doesn't know she's dead.
There is nothing to be done."

Now love rides the river
like a king's ship, all wake and quiver,
and I can't tell him, it's over.
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Friday, August 05, 2016

10 years of blogging

This is my 10 year blog anniversary. Yes folks, that inaugural post was on August 11 back in 2006. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it was about David Bowie. I've had 158,000 page views which, let's face it, isn't going to make The Huffington Post lose any sleep.

When I started, blogging was quite new in the UK.  I was forever trying to reach out to other bloggers, because the name of the game was having other bloggers visiting you and leaving comments. There were quite a few blog challenges and "link ups" where you left a comment on someone's blog and they linked to yours via a widget called Mr Linky. Most of the people who linked to me were young moms from New Orleans, so I wasn't really getting to the right demographic.

Blogging was quite naive and pure then.  Nowadays blogs from young wannabes writing about clean eating, fashion and makeup, with immaculate companion pages at Pinterest, Instagram and so on are ten a penny. I take my hat off to the successful ones, where they're fortunate enough to be deluged with "product", ads and trillions of followers. Some, like Zoella, have reinvented the nature of celebrity. We can all be famous, and not just for 15 minutes.  Sadly the only product offer I had from a big brand was for Impulse, and I sniffily disdained it.

Blog Litter 

When I started, there were a few blog aggregators --- I suspect these were nerds in their bedroom --- who would include your blog on their list.  Technorati was one of the biggest and best known. There were others like MyBlogLog and BlogFlux.

Meanwhile I was swotting up on spiders  (not from Mars but from Google) and learning about meta tags. Now I don't do much to promote my blog except for a mention on Facebook an d Twitter when there's a new post.  Blogger got bought by Google and they don't do much to develop it, although the search and translate functions are nice to have.

A lot of the blogs I genuinely liked have not been updated for years. They litter the web like shipwrecks on the sea floor.

My topics have been many. I went through a period where I reviewed TV programmes including Big Brother (how mortifying), The Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother. I've also done a few restaurant and theatre reviews. I bore for Britain on the subject of my garden.  I occasionally use to snipe at celebrities I didn't like. I also like a bit of nostalgia, so there are plenty of reminiscences about childhood and teen frolics and my former life as a journalist and radio reporter.

I used to opine about newsworthy topics until a former colleague asked if I was still writing "that right wing rant blog." To be called right wing, in those days, was completely intolerable. I considered myself a leftie! After that comment, I reverted hastily to the safer waters of gardening and nostalgia.

The way I look at my blog now is that it's a useful archive of my life, for when I'm in my dotage.

My Most Popular Blog Posts 

1. Posts describing traditions do well with the search engines.  My Christmas traditions, parts 1 and 2, the history of bank holidays and applebobbing at Halloween traditions are good stalwarts.
2. Some posts have done mystifyingly well and I can only assume it's because there's very little web dross available on the subject.  My post, "Does John Torode wear a wig and More About Stenchpipes" still does well when Masterchef is on. I think it's Torode rather than the stench pipes who are the big draw. You must admit that the headline sums up the sheer randomness of my blog pretty well.
3. I attempted to scam the spiders and get massive hits with a cheeky post called "Carol McGiffin's bare bottom."
4. Certain nostalgic posts strike a chord - particularly the lure of the bottle stall.







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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The cars of my years

It's 1982 and I'm desperate to pass my driving test (second time).  I'm working as a reporter for BBC Radio Devon and they are annoyed that I didn't tell them I couldn't drive (they didn't ask me). Plus I need my own wheels to drive to Milton Keynes from Plymouth to see David Bowie.

Thankfully I passed, and my first car was one that had been Dad's, "Daphne the Datsun."  Now I don't believe in naming cars - it's so girly! - but this red Datsun 120Y was passed down the family and always referred to as Daphne. I paid £2,000 for her using a car loan provided by the BBC.

Daphne was relatively trouble-free except for stalling when you gave her too much choke  (a lever that you pulled out to enrich the petrol mixture, or so my dad said). Plus she needed something mysterious called an alternator, and I got ripped off by Chico's Garage for installing said mysterious device.

My younger brother inherited her after me and some years after he'd moved on to cars anew, he kept seeing her trundling round the streets of Plymouth.

Here's Mum standing proudly with the Datsun and also (blast from the past), Dad's car of that time, a Citroen with a space age suspension:

Next up came one of my all-time favourites, a Ford Escort 1.3L. It was an unusual metallic blue and I was very proud that I bought it with my own money, buying it from dealer Sopers of South Brent. Here it is parked in the Radio Devon car park:


I didn't have the Escort for very long and moved on to a red second-hand Ford Fiesta which had belonged to a vicar who had only driven around 8,000 miles. This one I had for a long time and it did a lot of mileage because at one point I was commuting weekly between Plymouth and London.

Speedy Gonzales

In 1990 I had a new job in London and with it my first company car. At first I had to have one from the pool and it was not a head turner by any means, a red Peugeot 309, but a few months later I was able to order a car of my choice and I decided to stay with a 309 but a GTI in dark grey with a red stripe.  It still wasn't a head turner but at least it looked fast. My most memorable moment in that pug ugly car was driving along that dramatic sweeping dual carriageway that goes up towards Winchester. It was sunset, and another car exactly the same as mine appeared, and we drove side by side, fast. It was thrilling!

The car below was not mine but dates from the same year.

Two years later I had moved to a new job in Newbury and was able after a few months to choose a new company car. Until then, I mortifyingly had to drive an aubergine Astra from the pool. Colleagues described it as a retired headmaster's car.

The Sofa Years

The car I chose was a Renault Laguna, a brand new model out that year, in red. The "sofa on wheels" years had started. The photo shows a Laguna Mk 1, but not mine.


Reader, I liked the Laguna so much I had another one two years later in British Racing Green.

I then joined my current employer in Swindon and after a few gruesome weeks with a car pool vehicle, a Renault Espace  (ideal for a single woman about town....!) I chose yet another Laguna. This time in black with a spoiler. Mean! But still a sofa when all's said and done.

A Ka for Munich

Three years later I was moving to Munich for 18 months so gave the Laguna back. In Munich I had a company car better suited to the narrow city centre streets where I lived: a Ford Ka. The fleet administrator was quite bemused by my choice because everyone else drove a Beemer (BMW). But the Ka was ideal for squeezing into tight spaces - perfect because I didn't have a parking space or garage.

My next car was indeed a Beemer, which was surprising given that I'd deliberately never had one before because I thought their drivers were ignorant show offs. And, very unusual at that time in 2000, I bought it "online." I chose the spec online and it was ordered from the BMW dealer in Maidenhead, where I was moving from Munich. But in those days you couldn't actually pay for a car online so the agreement was faxed to me (how quaint).

It was a black 318 compact in a  "sport" variant. I have learned to my cost that this typically means bucket seats and a very uncomfortable suspension.

This was the first time I picked up a car on new registration day and I was given a bouquet of flowers. I was so excited.  The model below is similar, but wasn't mine.


After the baby Beemer came a succession of bigger models starting with a 330D in topaz blue, with my added extra of a CD changer; a black 330D and finally in 2010 "the Tank," a space-grey 5 Series with fancy wheels and huge sat nav screen. It was the same price at that time as a 3 series so it seemed a no-brainer to have it, although when it arrived I realised it was HUGE. Although the emissions were small.

The old gentleman who drove it round from the dealer showed me how to set up my phone and memorably said "Oh you've got a Blueberry."  A type of berry anyway.

Plenty of room for all manner of items

The Beemers were all hugely reliable and had a lovely "thunk" noise with the doors. Plus loads of space in the boot for trips to the tip and storage of stiffs (if needed).

Men aren't very nice to you when you drive a Beemer, however.  They're all determined to cut you up and tailgate you, particularly men in white vans. The car below is my actual model, with the registration plate clumsily inked out at J's insistence.


By 2014 it was time to give the Beemer back and I decided to stop having company cars. The tax and emissions situation doesn't make them viable unless you do a lot of mileage, and I don't.

In 2014 I chose a white Volkswagen Golf GTI, having decided to have a smaller car, and J "specced it up," adding different wheels and sat nav with a huge screen so that I don't have to wear my reading glasses. I loved that little car from the start and now I'm getting another one, but in red. J attempted to "spec me up" by trying to persuade me to have the limited edition sport version, but, ha! I won't be conned into one of those again. He's still trying to get me to use "the paddles".

Below is my current car being delivered - it's the only photo I've got. Must put that right!

So that's my life in cars. There's nothing on the list to make Jeremy Clarkson's heart beat faster, but my opinion of him isn't printable so who cares?
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Monday, August 01, 2016

A tale of two wedding dresses

I was interested to read author Raffaella Barker's article in the Mail today on the dilemma she faced as a 51 year old second time bride in choosing her dress.

I had exactly the same challenge six years ago when I married John.

For my first wedding in 1987, I had walked into a bridal shop in Exeter, where I was living, called Wendy's and the right dress jumped out at me almost instantly. Just as well, because I'm not the sort of girl who likes to try clothes on. I soon get bored.

In those days dresses were big, like our hair and shoulder pads. The "Little Bo Beep" look was popular. Fortunately I didn't go exactly down that road. My dress did have a hooped petticoat and huge sleeves but it was by up-and-coming (then) brand Pronovias and I loved it. It was around £450 which seemed a lot of money then.

I regretted later that I hadn't taken my mum with me to help to choose it.  She seemed disappointed when she knew I had already got the dress, veil, pearl headdress and everything else.

So when I knew I was getting married again in 2010, I took mum with me.

Like Rafaella, I had been feverishly studying websites and buying bridal magazines.  I was not keen on wearing white or shades thereof, but wanted something special. But a lot of the dresses I saw were a bit "mother of the bride," or too young looking.

The Dress turned up in an unexpected place, Monsoon in Plymouth.  I'd seen the dress online but I hadn't "seen" it. I couldn't even tell, when I tried it on, if it was really right for me because it was January and I had five months to lose a stone.  It was a bit tight round the middle.  But I loved the fact it looked glamorous - particularly with the feather boa that Monsoon helpfully had - and felt "me."  It was also a suitable head turner for a bridal dress. I didn't show Mum because I didn't want to parade myself wearing a tight dress in a crowded shop. And she had sore misgivings about the colour, silver, thinking it wasn't one of my colours  (both  of us being a bit of a slave to Colour Me Beautiful).

I didn't try it on again until about three weeks before our big day.  I had been dieting diligently but was still afraid the dress would not look good. I was thinking I still had enough time to find another one. But it slipped on like a dream. And the colour was perfect, particularly with my chosen purple and violet flowers. So there you have it, a tale of two dresses.



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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.



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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, trust me, 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.
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!).



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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?





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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. 



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      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 dispatches,  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 magazine passion 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.

      I was never a Bunty or Diana girl, and didn't like the Beano or the Dandy.  Zzzz!

      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 And 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. She also read, more interestingly, Slimming, which started my obsession with dieting and calories. Its guru was a Professor John Yudkin who was the first to discover that "low fat" was bad as it generally 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, with 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, Glamour.
      Throughout my 20s and 30s I was avidly consuming titles She, Eve, Red plus health & beauty magazines like Zest (all these closed down). She, when I first discovered it, had some wonderfully quirky and ground breaking articles. I still remember some of them:  one was about the Mandrake root. Another was about people who are intersex  (this was in the 70s when it was not much known about).
      In my 40s I became obesssed with paper crafts so started buying some of these magazines.  I found that Woman and Home, despite its name, was surprisingly good;  I started to buy stylish 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, like all the others, focused endlessly on how to attract men.

      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, Helen Mirren, Emilia Fox) and forever talking about women starting up small businesses selling artisan soaps or cakes.  Women in the corporate world don't get a look in yet we have work challenges as well:  there are still very low numbers in the board room and what to wear at work can be a minefield. I get tired of the "change your life with 10 new habits" type of articles and anything to do with 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 amazing 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 it, 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-50s woman as an older version of her 20-something self. Still curious, still independent, still seeking adventures. It should also:

      • Cncentrates on health, beauty and fashion for the over 50s, with less focus on what's given out in press releases but more befores and afters, and genuine results for skincare
      • Careers advice for the over 50s woman: breaking through the glass ceiling, dealing with ageism, having to "network" when every bone of your body cries out no; coping with redundancy; how to work effectively with millennials.
      • Have quirky or unexpected content like She had many years ago
      • Plus: planning for retirement - and not just about pensions and ISAs and setting up a small business. Ideas for what to do in retirement:  studying for a degree, travelling, adopting a new sport, working for a charity.....
      • Finally acknowledge there are women who are child-free. Articles on how we will live when we are older with no kids to look after us.









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      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.
      ig 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.
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      Saturday, February 27, 2016

      Listomania






      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. 10 FAVOURITE DAVID BOWIE SONGS
      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

      2. 10 FAVOURITE FILMS
      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

      3. 10 FAVOURITE ROSES

      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

      4. 10 FAVOURITE BOOKS

      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

      5. 10 FAVOURITE FOODS
      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

      8. 10 FAVOURITE PLACES

      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

      9. 10 PEOPLE I'D LOVE TO HAVE AS FRIENDS

      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

      10. TEN RIDICULOUS PEOPLE

      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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      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 :-)




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      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.

      Sirtfoods
      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

      Method:
      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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