Monday, 17 February 2014

Goodie bags and Garden Press

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Last thursday I emerged from my winter hibernation long enough to visit the Garden Press Event at the Barbican.  It was as much to get out and see people and prove I was still alive after the winter gloom as anything else, although I have been a little jealous of those attending the event in the past when it was held at the RHS London Halls.  No such delightful venue this year - the Barbican has all the charm of a multi-storey car park

Despite the sterility of the venue those attending or displaying were full of good cheer and surrounded by the latest glossy products from the garden industry, it at last felt like the garden year was off to a start.

I wandered around with the Bedsock for a while before he scurried off to investigate the joys of the nearby Spitalfields area (or more accurately to treat himself to a nice lunch at a St. John's Bread and Wine Restaurant). Then I met Michelle (Veg-Plotting) for a chat and catch-up on gardening goings-on.  Lunch-wise the Bedsock got by far the better deal - although mine was free, it was a slightly weird chicken in cream sauce, reminiscent of what I would imagine school-dinners to have been had anyone ever forced me to eat one. Even more reminiscent of school was the very, very, slight tinge of Jeyes Cleaning fluid wafting in the air. Jeyes had kindly sponsored the event but perhaps their stand wasn't best placed right next to the eating area.  I didn't let this stop me accepting a freebie bottle of Jeyes to join the rest of the goodies in my stash bag though.

And this is where I come to the main point of the event - YOU GET GOODIES!! Yes, lots of freebies from all sorts of stands. Who knew? Everyone but me apparently!  The Bedsock and I had been slightly surprised and pleased when the Thomson and Morgan man had said "Help yourself to seed packets" - so surprised that we had failed to take full advantage and just picked out some radish seeds!  Over lunch my companions had explained the set-up to me, so I joined the grab-a-goody-gang with gusto!

Here is my haul!



The best of these are are the Backdoor Shoes at the front of the table.  I don't, in general, use my blog to promote stuff but I'm quite happy to write about these because they are FAB!  The Backdoor shoe people had sent attendees an email prior to the event publicising these shoes and when I showed the Bedsock he immediately said I MUST buy myself some as he was "fed up with you leaving those nasty old sandals by the back door and watching you tread the back of your shoes down when you've just slipped them on to chase the cats around.. blah..  blah...cont. p. 94". Whilst I tuned the Bedsock's telling off out, the idea of dedicated Backdoor shoes was actually very sensible and I resolved to look out for them. You can imagine how pleased I was when the nice lady gave me a free pair and I could chose my own pattern. I went for these with the vegetable design on them.


Spook and my Backdoor shoes

They are waterproof, washable and "made from rubber so they will not crack or perish." Not that I read the blurb - they looked useful and pretty and will stop me treading on slugs or cat vom in my bare feet when I need to quickly rush out and save some poor frog from my evil cat's paws! Now all I need is Frontdoor shoes for when I put the bin bags out.

Next on my list of goodies was a mini-hose reel from Hozelock.  I confess I had heard they were giving them away so hung around the stand looking needy and burbling on about wanting one to run from the waterbutt I plan for my greenhouse (what a shame Gabriel Ash isn't giving away their fabulous waterbutts to match my greenhouse!). Anyway I think this could well be very useful to me.

The nice man on the Bubba stand gave us some flashy insulated travel mugs from their range - the Bedsock uses these all the time to keep his coffee warm when driving on his long commute to work.

I couldn't resist the Big Cheese goody bag although we don't have rodents (yet) there were various moth repellent bits in it which will be useful. And what's not to want about a Big Cheese hat?



The jolly chatty man on the stand promoting the "Stratford upon-Avon Home and Garden Show 18th-20th July 2014" deserves a mention as he said they like bloggers! Also he said that this show was promoting quality and uniqueness amongst its exhibitors so you won't have to walk past miles of garden tat to find the nice things you want. It's at Alscot Park.

Suttons seeds have produced what they call a 'windowsill allotment' of different microgreens all packaged up ready to sow with trays and growing mats. Although not for the more serious veg grower, these were very attractively packaged and would make a great little kit for kids to start growing - or indeed anyone without a garden or short on space.  They had various packs, I chose Rainbow Bright and Twinkle Tendrils cos I liked the names.



I ended up with two bags of Gorrilla glue goodies as the Bedsock had been given one too.  I've already thought of a use for one of the glues to fix some wooden stops onto my knicker-drawer as I'm scared Hebe (cat) will pull the drawer right out on top of herself when she drags it open with her claws. (see vid  for demonstration of this trick).

I got various different slug and snail barriers to try. If any of them prove particularly effective I will let you all know.  I was pleased to see that they were mostly suitable for organic gardening and pet safe.  I was intrigued by the sales pitch from Grazers of 'Have you seen a Spanish slug?'.  They had a container with three slugs and two plants in it - one of which had been sprayed with Grazers G2 Formula and was uneaten,  and one without which had been grazed by the evil Spanish slugs. "The smell of this puts the slugs off" said the salesman proudly. "WHAT!!! you mean it doesn't KILL them?!" Shrieked the outraged Bedsock from behind me before I quickly grabbed a sample and ushered him away.

There was stuff they didn't give away though.  I did suggest to Whichford pots that they give me the beautiful, expensive new pot from their range but they weren't going for it.  But they did give me a sweet little mini-pot with a chocolate in it - and that was nearly as good! I didn't manage to secure a pair of some of the fab wellingtons on display around the show or the elegant gauntlet gardening gloves.

I was well pleased with all the bits and pieces I had and even more pleased when the Bedsock collected me and my goodies and took me for an extremely enjoyable meal at our favourite restaurant Bocca di Lupo.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Behind the Scenes at the Library.. A lifetime of good reading

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Lewis Carroll's Poems in the Children's Treasury

It was National Library Day on 8th of February and in honour of that a few of us* decided to blog our top 20 books. You are more than welcome to join in the fun.

An impossible job to select just twenty books out of over a half century's reading - so I have picked the ones that first came to mind that mark different periods of my life.  They are not the 'best' books and whilst I might not always remember their storyline - they bring back vivid memories of my own!
I realised that I was waffling on so long about each book that I've decided to split the twenty into two different blogs, so here are my first ten!

As Julie Andrew's  suggested Let's start at the very beginning - a very good place to start

1. The Illustrated Treasury of Children's Literature

I wanted a book to reflect the joy and diversity of reading I experienced as a child. Visits to our local library were a fortnightly family affair, choosing two or three books to tide us over 'til the next visit. I loved the slightly musty, woody smell of the small library and the excitement of finding a book with the promise of a new world to immerse myself in. One of my particular pleasures was to read whilst eating which OldMaSock could hardly object to as PaSock was doing the same.

My favourite book was a Christmas present called 'Once Long Ago' a beautifully illustrated book comprising of fairy tales, myths and legends from around the world. I still have it - a little battered as it is now over fifty years old and has done a circuit of my nieces before returning to my shelves.

Beautiful though 'Once Long Ago' is, my personal vote from this era goes to the fabulous Children's Treasury - a bit of a cheat as it is a book crammed full of poems and pieces from other works and includes stories from Aesops Fables, Alice in Wonderland (with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel leaving me with a proper picture of Alice)  and a myriad poems that I learnt by heart for the pleasure of it and still remember. Alongside Wordsworth's 'Daffodils',  'The Fairies' by William Allingham,  various pieces by Robert Louis Stevenson... was 'The Goops' by Gelett Burgess, a family favourite description of the children, a poem close to my heart which I passed on to my nieces.


2. The Odyssey

I've included Homer's sequel to the Iliad (which I also read in translation) - a cracking good adventure story and the only reason I continued with taking Latin up to 'O' level (which in the event, I failed miserably).  It also represents my love of Greek and Roman legends which I read avidly and, over the years,  has provided the answer to many a pub quiz question.

3.  Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales of Shakespeare

I had to have some Shakespeare in my list and pay tribute to an author who has enriched our language in so many ways - not to mention lent his words to a thousand book titles.  We did 'Midsummer Night's Dream', 'As you Like it', 'The Tempest' and 'Anthony and Cleopatra' in detail at school - the latter containing one of my favourite quotes "My salad days when I was green in judgement".  Rather than single out a particular play I'm going for 'Shakespeare Lite' - the Lamb's Tales of Shakespeare turn some overlong plays into short stories.  Whilst the writing may not be glorious they do give you the gist of many of Shakespeare's plays and familiarise you with the characters. If you throw in a few quotes from the genuine product along the way, knowing these will allow you to fool people that you have read all the originals.

4. Lord of the Rings (early 70s)

This, as we all know, is a much better film than book. However, turgid though J.R.R. Tolkien's writing is, with its long and tedious meaderings, I have read it twice.  The first when supposedly swatting for my 'A' levels I swapped that tedium to escape into the world of wizards, elves and hobbits. LOR was popular with the young hippy 'loons and afghan coat wearing' generation who at that time were my companions of choice.  A poster of Gandalf's horse 'ShadowFax' adorned my bedroom wall replacing that of Leonard Whiting as the heartbreakingly beautiful and tragic Romeo from Zefferelli's film. Even then I only got as far as the fight with Shelob before the books got too battle driven for my tastes.  Many years later, when I was first struck down with ME and stuck to the sofa for a few years, I re-read it.  The writing hadn't improved but my patience with it had and I finally made it through to the end.The Hobbit was always the better book.

5.  Prince in the Scarlet Robe (early 70s)

From LOR I moved onto Science Fantasy and read pretty much everything Michael Moorcock wrote. He created more new worlds in my head, surreal obsidian landscapes, tragic heroes and heroines who pretty much all died nasty and lingering soul-destroying deaths, all fitting depressingly well into my overwhelming teenage angst.

6. In Watermelon Sugar (mid 70s)

After fleeing Wales and a reading diet that had for years been an indigestible mix of Wilbur Smith adventure novels, Jean Plaidy historical romances, and some extremely questionable (but popular at the time) novels like 'Mandingo' by Kyle Onstott , I landed in Brighton. A new start, a new me and a whole host of new ideas thrown at me every day by virtue of working with clever, articulate people at the University.  My 'Daily Mail' indoctrination (caused by reading my parents daily copy of the insidious paper) quickly thrown out the window to be replaced by my own thoughts, formed with the help of kind, intelligent, people, who patiently and gently introduced me to a different way of thinking both personal and political. And new books too - I was lent 'In Watermelon Sugar' by a colleague and I remember the strange and beautiful writing which led me to read more of Richard Brautigan's books. I re-read 'The Hawkline Monster' recently and it was still as gently, mesmerizingly, weird and wonderful.

7. Fear of Flying (late 70s early 80s)

A difficult choice between Erica Jong's 'zipless fuck' book and Marilyn French's 'The Women's Room'. Whilst I hadn't considered myself a feminist I certainly wasn't conforming to the 'set' female norms of
get a man, get married, have kids and be a good little housewife that so many other girls of my generation had fallen into - but equally I hadn't discovered what exactly my identity as a woman was.
I remember reading Marilyn French's book whilst lying on a beach on the Costa Brava and feeling a new and unleashed rage against the unjust treatment of women by men.  This was somewhat ironic as my long term boyfriend, who was holidaying with me, took the brunt of my anger. (He was a gentle guy who I bossed around mercilessly and finally dumped because his idea of an easy life was to continually 'sit on the fence'.) 'The Women's Room' was another slightly turgid book which nevertheless made an impression - but Fear of Flying was amusing, ridiculous and feisty and gave me a whole new outlook on taking control of my sexuality and the vagaries of German toilets (although it should be noted that until now those were never linked together!).

8. Frenchman's Creek

To balance the growing feminist in me I was also an incurable romantic.  I read countless novels of the 'one-up from the bodice-ripping Mills and Boon' kind but not quite so well written as Jane Eyre. They would invariably based in some gothic, Cornish castle with a mad woman locked in the attic who would hamper the course of true love between the new, innocent, governness and the dark, brooding Lord of the Manor.  I enjoyed all of  Du Maurier's books and whilst the obvious choice to illustrate this might be Rebecca I always found her a bit of a wet lettuce. The heroine of Frenchman's Creek was more to my taste. 

9. Pride and Prejudice (mid 80s)

It was about this time that I revisited Jane Austen who I had given up on after the Dementors, that served as teachers at my Grammar school, sucked the life and soul out of her books and indeed any other form of learning.  It was years before I returned to reading 'good' literature but when I realised how amusing, slyly witty and fun Austen was I devoured every one of her books in short succession and was left wanting more.

10. Hons and Rebels (early 90s)

A real life eccentric family, the Mitford girls wrote with such charm and honesty they overrode any class barriers.  I would defy anyone not to become totally immersed in Jessica Mitford's account of her childhood warring with her 'fascist' sisters and her own journey towards renouncing her privileged background, becoming a communist and running off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Whilst Jessica was my favourite the other Mitford girls provided a range of reading that engaged my imagination over the years.

So that's the end of my first ten books and I have waffled on enough for now.. a short break until I publish my last ten.


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*If you are interested in others book choices then visit the following blogs.. you may just get some new reading inspiration.

Vegplotting for some background on this theme
Pianolearner
PatientGardener
LazyTrollop

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Monday, 30 December 2013

Every picture tells a story....

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Rue in Surgeres

For some time I have been planning to transfer the Sock family photo archives onto my computer.  This is an enormous task as we travelled extensively around Europe when I was a child, my parents whisking us out of school for a month every year in order for my father to drive us to some far flung (by those days standards) destination like Dubrovnik.  We saw a lot of Europe - but mainly from the back of the car, it was called 'touring'.  I keep meaning to write about some of these adventures on my Fourth Plate blog but that means prompting my memories with the thousands of archived 35mm transparencies, each one taking an age to transfer and clean up in photoshop.  I get too easily distracted every time I start this task, either by something else on the computer which demands my attention or, as in this case, a curiousity about some particular photographs.

These are dated 1965 and labelled 'Surgères (The Garden City)'. We were travelling from Sable D'Olonne down the Atlantic coast towards Biarritz (my first but by no means my last visit to the latter which became a favourite holiday haunt over the years). Surgères would be close to our route but I can find no record of there being a garden festival or garden city there at that time although it would appear to be somewhere we stopped at with a purpose so something must have drawn the Socks to this small French town.


 The picture I find most haunting from a 'time gone by' is the one at the top of this blog, a road in Surgères. The complete lack of traffic or parked cars, the tortured trees forming rather attractive archways across the road, the very 'Frenchness' of it all.  

At the Bedsock's suggestion I checked Surgères out on Google Earth, it's not a big place and although it has plenty of greenery there is no obvious Rue of tunnelled trees.

YoungMaSock (pictured below) had obviously found some horticultural delights for us to sample. I wonder if she nicked the oranges when no-one was looking - certainly I remember us eating foraged fruits on our holidays and knowing MaSock's liking for food for free it wouldn't surprise me.


BroSock and I don't look particularly impressed with the donkey!


This below was probably the height of horticultural sophistication at the time!


This last photo is of Bayonne further south down the coast  - another of the Sock's favourite French places.

Bayonne 1965

French municipal planting probably hasn't changed a great deal since then (although they often do a good roundabout, far more imaginative than the majority of British ones!)  It's the sort of planting scheme that Anne Wareham must surely hate but personally I think it has just a hint of je ne sais quoi!

I remember the dress, YoungMaSock had made it as she did most of my clothes - many of them extremely pretty and remembered with great fondness until MaSock discovered the joys of drip-dry, no-iron crimplene and my wardrobe took a drastic turn for the worse.  The Clarks, T bar sandals and white ankle socks were standard wear for little girls - I was still forced to wear them to school into my teens often changing into tights and slightly more sophisticated shoes when I was half way down the road and out of MaSock's sight.

You can see how I get distracted! There are another 90 photos to go on this holiday alone.  Doesn't look like SockTowers will be cleaned any time soon!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Savillers in the Mist

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Christmas coloured cornus brightens the misty mood

Time for the 'Ladies who Launch' pre-Chrimbo meet and this time the chosen venue is the delightful Savill Garden in posh Surrey.  Leaving the bright blue skies of sunny Brighton behind I headed up the M23 in the Sockmobile - a hair-raising  journey of frequent fog patches worsening the nearer I got to the Savill Garden. By the time I arrived I could barely see my 'Ladies' through the mist!


A steaming mug of coffee in the fine cafeteria at the visitors centre and we were ready to brave the penetrating damp cold.  It seemed such a shame to be visiting at this time of year, that brown, soggy, mournful, misty season when the dreary autumn leaves have dropped into damp decaying piles and everything is a bit dead or glum.  Add to this mournful scene the swirl of a dull grey smog and reasons to be cheerful were rapidly vanishing. Or so I thought...

A brocade of dying flower heads in rich autumn hues

How wrong could I be? Apart from the delightful company of my silly friends who always light up any occasion - the gardens themselves were fantastic! A lesson in how winter creates its own wonderland without the need of Santa and snow to show it off.  The rich brown and purple autumn hues were punctuated with the brightest of Christmas reds. (Double clic on any picture to get a better slideshow, as usual blogger fuzzes the photos slightly.)

Tree bark redder than  a reindeer's nose!

Every tree, every fallen leaf, every shrivelled bud or fruit on tree had its own form, and texture creating wonderful patterns .

A carpet of silver and brown

 Whilst the wider landscape was enshrouded in mist



the minutiae was all, I couldn't look at it without imagining it inspiring the finest textiles rich with pattern and threadwork, embossed with the tiny crystals of dew on spider's webs. 


Whilst my fellow 'Ladies' are both very knowledgeable about horticulture (LazyTrollop applies her talents gardening for people and the Highly Organised Helen Reeley has her own Landscape business) I am not particularly a plantsperson.  I garden by colour and texture as far as possible with random regard to any rules - much as I live the rest of my life.  Had I listened properly, I may have heard my companions naming the various trees and shrubs we passed but I was too busy  recounting the latest set of disasters to befall the Socks and my "Why I hate Christmas" stories. I was stopped in my tracks (for a while) by this fabulous tree, which I think they agreed was some sort of malus. With its tiny yellow and red fruits just beginning to shrivel - it looked like a modern art picture  This was my absolute favourite


We moved onto the rose garden which I didn't realise was designed in 2010 by twitter friend Andrew Wilson (@andrewwilsonii).  It was a shame we hadn't read the blurb (interesting piece in the Telegraph here ) because it was quite marvellous and it always adds to the occasion when you can associate a place with someone you know. The walkway in the centre reminded me of the prow of the titanic and impossible not to indulge in the Winslet/DiCaprio thing at the end.   [LazyTrollop took the pictures here so I can't share those with you until I have persuaded her to let me have one and then photoshopped out any superfluous chins and wrinkles.]

It was obvious from the moment we entered the Savill Garden that everything was immaculately kept, even down to the perfect edging of the borders.  Nowhere was this truer than in the rose garden where Helen voiced her astonishment at the extraordinary way all the roses had been pruned to exactly the same shape and size, as if someone with an extreme OCD had been in control of the secateurs. The overall ordered effect was very pleasing even in its winter bareness. In summer standing on the walkway with the scent of the roses rising up to its prow must be a very special experience.

 We warmed up in the greenhouse where despite the no-entry barrier stopping people tramping all over the Chistmas display, Helen was determined to get a robin on her hat again like last year..

Helen & robin 2012
Helen and robin 2013

Unfortunately, after we had left, a naughty child entered the display and chucked fake snow at us. Really some children should be kept under control!

Shiny bark like chic Christmas wrapping paper

On to the New Zealand garden - this was being constructed when I visited with the Bedsock some years ago and we had always meant to return to see it. Here again the joy was in the form,  this ocean of carex comans rolling waves of grass onto the shoreline


I found the subtle shades of autumn leaves caught up in this curly stemmed bush most amusing


It may just be clumps of blue grass but the patterns formed when grown en masse like this add a whole new dimension


Who needs to buy tinsel when spiders can spin it for  free?



The cafeteria food is good and my fellow Ladies felt the visitors centre was one of the most beautiful architectural buildings they had seen (I was not quite as taken with it).  The gardens have obviously got a lot to offer at all times of year - I visited with the Bedsock previously in early Autumn and the hydrangea collection was a revelation. No faded pastels of old lady pants here - these hydrangeas are chic and classy!

I thoroughly recommend a visit to Savill and will ensure my next one is not a long time coming.






Monday, 2 December 2013

Wisley Autumn Wonderland


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Feeling in need of a bit of autumn colour and some banana cake I knew it must be time for a RHS Wisley fix before the full winter drab sets in.  The sky just the blend of blue sky'd, storm clouded, sunshine that lends itself to vibrant colours and a decent photo. (clic on any pic to enlarge and get a sharper pic). Sometimes I wonder if the fact I wear transitions lenses has both intensified colours but made my life seem stormier than necessary the dark contributing to my winter SAD.


I had been in two minds whether to brave Wisley on a busy weekend - more so since the Craft Fair was sure to draw in a whole lot more visitors than usual.  But as usual I had forgotten that most folk mill around the shops and cafes maybe taking a short route to the glasshouse - the rest dissipating around the large gardens all able to find a quiet space of their own.  That having been said some noisy kid still managed to stand in the way of one of my photos for a good five minutes!

I love these echinops? I can't believe I used to cut down all the dead flower heads of plants in my garden to 'tidy' it for the winter.  These will look even more magical sprinkled silver with winter frost.


 The colours and textures around were just stunning.. enlarging parts of the various photos revealed the fine threads of the autumn tapestry - one of the things I love about photoshop!


The 'cornus' pond! I always gravitate towards this on my autumn/winter visits


I liked the way the neatly piled gunnera leaves echo the roof of the pagoda


No visit to Wisley is complete without cake.  The main Conservatory cafe is closed until mid-January to be re-opened as a food hall with even bigger slices of banana cake! As it was the smaller cafe near the Glasshouse was somewhat disorganised and overwhelmed by the extra crowds and I didn't have my usual 'Ladies who Launch' with me to gossip with over lunch.  But sitting outside with a view of the borders and aforementioned cake in front of me it would be difficult to feel anything but content.

A sudden shaft of sunlight backlit these grasses making their feathery heads glow.


Just time for a quick whizz around the Craft fair and a foray into the plant shop to buy some (hopefully) rather tasteful Christmas decorations.   I feel restored - the wonder of Wizzers has worked its magic on me again.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

This Year's Golden Flounce Award goes to......


 ..


 We are just coming up to the annual Garden Media Guild Awards, a jolly beanfeast for the usual suspects great and the good of the gardening world.  I don't normally go to this as I would be sure to get drunk and fall under the table which is all very well for the young things like Anne-Marie Powell but not so pretty when you get to my age! We have already been warned the event will be a seething hotbed of gossip and jealousy.  Unfortunately, the undercurrents of unrest over Alan Titchmarsh being dumped for Monty Don at Chelsea, have been superseded by this year's Golden Flounce Award.  Yes! The winner is the Donster himself, who despite his lack of familiarity or patience with social media gave an excellent performance that would have done credit to any messageboard member!

You are asking me what was so special about this particular flounce? In order to explain to the uninitiated I need to inform you about the different type of flounces.

The Poor Me Flounce

It starts when someone has been a bit nasty or critical of you on the board.  You take umbrage and in order to make them look bad you post a "Goodbye cruel messageboard/twitterworld" thread saying how hurt you are but that if people don't like your postings then perhaps the best thing to do is leave. Note the use of the word 'perhaps'. Clearly there is no intention of really leaving but a pretty strong guarantee that all your friends will turn up cooing and aahing over you, telling you how much they enjoy your posts, how you shouldn't let the nasty bullies get to you.. and so on.  When you get to say 25 replies begging you to stay, you proclaim how wonderful you, everyone else, the messageboard is and graciously return to posting, leaving the critic looking small and petty.  Warning: this may backfire if you don't have any friends.

The Full Flounce with Frills on

This is the most dramatic flounce and relies on the fact that you were bored with the messageboard and were going to leave anyway.  You engage with people quite a bit in the preceding weeks attracting plenty of attention to yourself and then you simply disappear! For particular effect you can even do it mid-sentence.  If you are reasonably popular posters will start to notice by that evening and there will be a rumble of "Where's Hankthetank?" on the chat threads.  By the next day they will be panicking and within two days a dedicated thread actually called "Where's Hankthetank?" will be up and running with people variously wringing their hands and weeping and wailing, the braver of them getting to the nub of the matter by suggesting that as the poster was pretty old it was possible they might actually have carked it. Cue more sobbing and snivelling with no-one bothering to google the member's name to find they are actually happily posting away on another messageboard. 

The Boomerang Flounce

This is for the recidivist flouncer forever taking offence - usually down to the lack of attention they are receiving because the reality is they are rather dull.  The Boomerang will flounce several times a year leaving a slight whiff of peevishness in their wake.  None of the other messageboarders will really care - some will try and jump on the Boomerang's bandwagon by proclaiming their support, the rest will have opened a book betting on number of hours until the Boomerang's return.

The Passive Flounce

This is the one where you discreetly leave 'the room' and sit for hours watching your screen hoping that someone will eventually notice you have not been around for a while. [This can be very hurtful - I speak from experience.] Hopefully, at worst, someone will DM or PM you to ensure you are OK but better still a little flurry of messages will appear being concerned.  At this point you turn up again smiling bravely saying things have been tough and you just needed a break.

The Golden Flounce

The Golden Flounce contains elements of all the other flounces in particular the Boomerang.

Don't try this at home readers, if you are not already famous with a lot of twitter followers it just won't work! 

First you establish yourself as a sensitive soul with strong opinions but a certain vulnerability and reclusiveness.

Then you piss off the Badger Brigade by not making a strong enough statement against culling and contradicting an earlier tweet you made which someone has tediously dug up from months ago.

Then after a couple of 'brutal' tweets from a badger lover suggesting you should be ashamed of yourself , you scarper,  aiming a 'poor me' "Goodbye cruel twitter world" tweet at your followers leaving twitterworld awash with astonishment, guilt, recriminations, ridiculous accusations and confusion.



(Dear departed Diana would have been a Past Master at this.) If you are lucky the tabloids will pick up your story with the labels "hate campaign" and "twitter trolls" and it all keeps you in the public eye at an otherwise fallow time of year.

Oooh.. well I never, as I write it looks like Monty may not have left twitter after all - let's hope we were just on a break!
_______________________________________

*The top Golden Flounce image is one of similar ones that circulates the net and is awarded in various places so for this reason I can't credit it.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Squirrelling Away

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An urge to get out and see the evanescent colours of autumn took us to Brownsea Island  on the last day of general opening for the season (November 3rd).  We took the little yellow passenger ferry from the Sandbanks side of Poole Harbour to the island on the first day of sharp, wintery, cold, the wind whipping up waves, bouncing the boat away from the open seas into the calm of the huge natural harbour.  A ten minute journey moving from the materialistic modern world of prime estate that is Sandbanks, through a time warp, onto an enchanted island where time has stood still no development has marred its charm and beauty, no noisy cars shatter its peace .


We emerged from the tunnel of tea rooms and National Trust Gift shop into an enchanting Narnia. First wandering out to the nature reserve on the north of the island (owned by Dorset Wildlife Trust) to spend a while bird watching from the hides.  Avocets, and a flock of bar-tailed godwits were settled around the sandbanks occasionally whooshing up into a huge aerial display whilst a few egrets meandered around closer to the shore.  We could have spent the day here mesmerized but with only a few hours before the final ferry to the mainland we made our way back to the centre of the island to see the main attraction.  Red squirrels!


Brownsea Island is one of the only places in the British Isles that boasts a red squirrel population. When I was a child I would often see them in our local park before the ubiquitous grey squirrels took over.  Since then I have just seen one red squirrel in the Lake District some years ago so a glimpse of them again would be a real treat and a decent photograph would be the icing on the cake.


We had read that the squirrels could be quite shy and we were not guaranteed a sighting.  The woods were quiet, just the crunching of leaves beneath our feet, until we caught a different rustling and froze!  A red squirrel leaping and dancing beneath the trees, and then another and another, our eyes adjusting to picking out their more vibrant colouring from amongst the fallen, fading autumn leaves.  They seemed little bothered by our presence and kept just one curious, beady eye on us being more pre-occupied with their foraging.


The low light levels beneath the trees and the rush to take pictures before we lost the shot (reminds self to set the camera at the ready in ADVANCE of spotting the wildlife) meant that many of the shots lack clarity or rather grainy.  In some ways I don't think this matters - people 'instagram' high def photos in order to achieve the same effect.



When I first looked at some of the photos on my computer I was disappointed that they
were almost entirely dark like this



 but a quick autocorrect in Photoshop and a squirrel leapt out at me!


Luckily I hadn't deleted the dark pictures on the camera, as I continued photoshopping a series of fascinating pictures of a squirrel collecting nuts for its winter larder appeared.


All too soon we had to leave having only seen a tiny amount of the island.  We will of course return soon to explore the rest.


 If you want to know more about Brownsea and how you can help support the squirrels and even 'adopt' one visit the Dorset Wildlife Site





Friday, 25 October 2013

The Monty Don guide to Social Media

 ..

I don't pretend to 'know' Monty Don or have ever exchanged more than a word with him in a passing tweet. But based on his TV and public appearances, his forays onto messageboards and twitter, and more ubiquitously his own writings, I have formed an image and opinion of what constitutes Monty Don, or perhaps more accurately what I want Monty Don to be. A cloistered ascetic hidden behind high hedges, shunning the humdrum existence of the hoi polloi's lives.  A man just a tad further along the Asperger's scale than the rest of us, with a hint of an inability to understand jokes and social interactions.  A man overly focussed on his own ideas with a degree of self-belief which can occasionally come over as arrogant.   'The Man who Knew he Was Right' - I could never enjoy watching David Tennant after he appeared as the eponymous character in the series of Anthony Trollope's novel - and I can't watch Monty Don without thinking of it.

On the other hand the Bedsock is a big Monty fan, thinks I am talking rubbish and describes Monty's persona as "a kindly uncle"! So what do either of us know.  And in any case what does it matter? People will see Monty as they want to see him and occasionally as he wants them to perceive him and neither are likely to be the truth. Either way Monty exerts a certain curious fascination.

It was with this fascination in mind that I bought a copy of the latest Gardeners' World magazine (November 2013) to read whilst I lunched alone at Jamie Oliver's restaurant.  The lunch itself was poor (eight clams arranged around the outside of a blob of slightly too al dente tagliolini do not an £11.25 pasta main course make) but the article left me so full of righteous indignation I could have been a Daily Fail reader!

Where to start

The premiss of the article is that gardeners have not caught on to social media in the way the rest of the world has, and in particular there are few gardeners on twitter. Monty has based this on the proportion of GW readers and viewers that follow him on twitter roughly two million viewers to his 29,000 followers - you do the maths.  Out of these 29,000 Monty has followed 500ish people which include "several interesting tweeters" which doesn't say much for the rest of us and may go some way to explain why he doesn't have more followers.  Actually at this point I should confess that when Monty first joined twitter a few years back he did actually follow me, probably on the advice of some 'well meaning' friend and in the unfounded belief I might say something interesting.  I repaid this compliment with a series of teasing tweets, suggesting we start up a perfume business based on his manly organic persona and called 'Soil'.  I still think this was a winner. Unfortunately Monty didn't agree and quickly Uff'd me, although I did elicit a sort of apology after I told him how gutted OldmaSock was - she had proudly told her entire WI group that her daughter was being followed by Monty Don and now she would have to explain to them the shame that Arabella had been unfollowed!

Anyway, where was I? Yes... Monty says "In short we gardeners seem to be largely uninterested in social media" possibly because "we are older than most social media users." Eh?  Tell that to the old codgers using the gardening messageboards! One has to think that Monty is heading for premature oldcodgerdom himself using the "we gardeners" tagline which invariably precedes some pompous pontification on said boards .  He follows up with the guess that most GW viewers are north of 50 and  "I suspect we [use social media] with a sense of wonder that our children and grandchildren do not feel."  I don't know what goes on behind Monty's high hedges - perhaps they are all living in an Anthony Trollope period costume drama - but  I'm the same age as him and was working with computers and social media at the age of twenty. (Although I do remember when I first started that in order to enable the print out of capital letters a '$' sign needed to be typed in front of the letter on a VDU but technology moved very quickly and we were soon jamming the JANET with social email groups.)  I do agree with his notion about "phone in pocket" being the "stuff of science fiction" though.  We didn't even have a phone in our shared, rented, house and I believe I would have had a lot more boyfriends if we had had one to facilitate communication, rather than always having to pre-arrange assignations.

Monty is "thrown by the informality and over-familiarity" of internet communication. "Just because we use the same website does not make us friends - how could it?"  Well, for a start you post a few questions and answers on a messageboard that is likely to have people with the same interests on it. Then after a time you identify someone whose communications and style of writing appeals to you, then you chat to them a while eventually exchanging personal email addresses, you correspond a year or so then you meet up in a public place just in case the person is really a mad axeman, you get on like a house on fire and have a good friend for life.  Then you form a little group with some of your other twitter or messageboard friends, call it "Ladies who Launch" and get invited to all the best does.

Or alternatively you have twitter friends, people who you have never, as Monty says, "shaken hands or ..broken bread with" but you have, unlike Monty "agreeably passed time" with them. Some of those twitter friendships are happily shallow and some are, for me at least, life-savers where I don't have to apologise for the inadequacies that my ill-health has thrust upon me and can choose to chat and communicate when I feel up to it without the guilt of frequently having to cancel arrangements because the 'real' me is not as able as the 'virtual' me.  For many of us spending time a lot of time alone by virtue of our work, health, or location, the "sound of silence" that Monty finds so precious is a reminder of our isolation.  Twitter at best can be like entering a crowded room full of laughter and chat where migrating birds are flying over the Portland Observatory, whilst a show garden is being built in Japan,  hawkers are peddling their wares "New blog" "New book" they call, a dog has farted and everyone clears the room, the skies are molten red in Ariége, an allotment needs saving from greedy, grasping, governance, LazyTrollop is baking  cake, "Does anyone grow quinces in North Kent?" and how are YOU today?" No I don't KNOW some of these people at all but I enjoy their company nevertheless. And when the babble gets too much you can wander out of the room and hopefully not have your silence shattered by "the laughter of children" that Monty espouses. 

And so  Monty moves to that old gardening cliché "Gardening is about authenticity and honesty and dealing with things as they are rather than as they might be". Eh? What is he on about? That seems to me a completely meaningless statement and irrelevant to what follows about the practicalities of gardening. Monty brings it back round to his bugbear the internet "can simultaneously feel like being in a vast and wonderfully equipped library and the saloon bar of a pub where everyone has an opinion and no one any real knowledge or wisdom." Personally, I think that could be a description of the world rather than the internet but  maybe Monty just follows the wrong people - he should re-follow me I learnt a lot in the saloon bars of pubs in my day.

We return to Monty's premiss that despite there being many forums and websites they seem to represent a surprisingly small number of gardeners.  I would be very surprised if Monty has any idea of the amount of forums that are primarily for chat about gardening.  I've used and read many of them over the years and based on my observations his comment that "gardening brings out the bossy know-all too readily" was another thing that we can agree on! However, I think I detected a little personal grievance from Monty who has suffered at the hands of #shoutyhalfhour on twitter where some of his more social media aware watchers run, a sometimes amusing, sometimes irritated commentary throughout his Gardeners' World series criticising and suggesting how it could be done properly. He writes "Life is too short to be hectored, especially about something that I do for love. From those that we love and admire we can take correction, but when it comes - often loudly and rudely - from strangers ... then it seems more civilised to turn off ... and to deal with real people and real things in real time."  One could argue that this would be fine if he wasn't being paid a large salary to instruct the nation on how to garden.  It is after all Gardeners' World - not The Monty Don show.

For me and I believe others, social media has totally enhanced my gardening giving me a forum to share my experiences and learn from others.  More than that, as I have written in a previous blog, it has given me a life.  Twitter is a great equalizer giving people access to communication with people from all different ages and different walks of life.  It isn't perfect but it suits this gardening, north-of-fifty-year-old just fine.


Monday, 21 October 2013

Evolution Plants - the Lady Launches

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Tom Mitchell with Boophone distichum the plant everyone wanted!

As you know I do love a Press Launch and whilst the Sea of Immeasurable Gravy offices are invariably inundated with requests for my presence I only take up the very special ones. Tom Mitchell's new venture 'Evolution Plants' sounded intriguingly special to me.

Driving through Somerset in torrential rain was not a good start to the day - it's a county as badly signposted as rural France. Luckily the lovely Jane Southcott, PR extraordinaire had sent easy to follow instructions on negotiating the maze of country lanes  to the Evolution Plants nursery near Bradford-on-Avon.  Even so, and despite arriving at an enormous sign for the Nursery, I still foolishly followed a taxi (believing they must know what they were doing) further down the slightly pot-holed lane and into somebody's front garden.  My fellow 'Ladies who Launch' will remember from our last road trip that I have form for organising a quick drive round innocent people's gardens.

Finally joining the gathering in one of the posh poly tunnels, we were treated to coffee and home made biscuits  (the ones with ginger in were the best for those who like such detail) and an interesting and engaging talk from Tom Mitchell. Tom has spent the last five years travelling the world as a modern day plant-hunter, collecting seeds, propagating, cultivating and trialling them - the result being Evolution Plants nursery. I won't go into all the detail as Veg Plotting has written informatively about it here and Enduring Gardener here.  For me the interest was in the incredible passion Tom feels for his work.  I thought about how much I have enjoyed photographing dragonflies this year and how easily it slipped from being an interest to an obsession, the excitement of seeing a different dragonfly new to me and the heart stopping moment when I capture a good photograph of it.  I can only imagine how Tom feels when he first finds a rare plant species and even more so when he has managed to propagate it.

I don't know what this little beauty is but I need one!

This last year I have finally stopped visiting the chain garden centres to buy plants - the dreary displays of same old, same old, surrounded by acres of household tat and Christmas grottoes six months out of season, just drained me of the will to spend money.  Their loss has been the smaller and specialist nurseries gain, I've bought either directly from them, at garden shows or online.  Searching out the nurseries is my version of modern day planting hunting! I used to be against buying plants online, wanting to view, inspect and be tempted by some bright-leaved healthy beauty at a plant centre - but this needs to be weighed against the pleasures of perusing a good website at my leisure, reading about the plants and their habits and being given a great deal of CHOICE!

So what a joy it was to wander around poly tunnels filled with different and exciting plants.  The nursery is only open to visitors by appointment at the moment but Tom also wisely appreciates the value of drawing people in with the website. His is peppered with amusing and informative descriptions of the plants, written by Tom himself.

After the talk, lunch - and what an excellent lunch it was too - a buffet of delights which made me wish I had performed the 'OldMaSock' trick of taking a tupperware to the table to fill with goodies for later.  I was sorry to only have one slice of cake as there were several different types.  Tom gave us all a free plant and I was rather pleased it was a Trautvetteria similar to a thalictrum with clusters of white flowers in summer like little bursts of fireworks.  These are the only ones in cultivation outside of Tennessee so I hope y'all feel very jealous.

Leaving the nursery I retired with VP and Victoria to the rather lovely Castle Inn in Bradford-on-Avon to catch up on garden news and gossip which I have been sadly deprived of this year - what better way to end an interesting day?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

What did Delaware?

..
In the Bleak Mid-summer.. Shit fell, shit on shit, shit on shit..

What the Summer Gods gave with one hand - warmth, sunshine, a greenhouse resplendent with the tastiest of tomatoes... they took away with the other, dumping the detritus of life on the Socks long, long after I'd reached my breaking point.  Having a beloved cat and a sister-in-law with terminal prognosis and the rest of my small group of relatives in varying states of dementia or depression hasn't helped but it isn't these that cause the problem.  I can cope with the big things by going into a state of denial. The fact that there is nothing can be done but get on with it, almost eases the pain.  No, it is the vile, disgusting, self-interest of those who pose as normal, pleasant, people that smothers me, that obsesses me, that I can't get out of my head and is all I really think about.. That wakes me in the night with my heartbeat too huge to be contained.. and whilst it should be minor in the scale of bad things, it rips the lid off the Pandora's box of bitterness and self-pity for everything that ever went wrong, for each hurt I ever suffered - and I feel the pain of them over and over again. Pandora's box is locked for good reason.

I try a technique to distract me from the bad thoughts,  name as many American States as I can.. starting with the As.. Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona....  there should be fifty I can't get to more than 34. This in turn obsesses me.. listing them on my iPad at three in the morning to see which I have missed, which I have counted twice..


We book a week in Turkey to stave off my inevitable breakdown.  We should have been touring the winelands of California, Yosemite Park and Vegas but that was all cancelled long ago. I won't leave Spook for too long even though at present he is a happy, bouncy, plump ball of wickedness despite losing his whiskers to the chemo treatments over the summer.  

The villa is one we stayed at two years ago, we wouldn't normally return somewhere when there is the rest of the world to explore but this is perfect - an infinity pool looking out to the warm, clear sea below, the sunsets and the stars. I am set up to do nothing but read, rest and relax for a week.  I love to swim.. I float naked in the privacy of our pool watching the stars, the cool cocooning water soothing my body, stealing away the stress.


Our  main enjoyment over the English summer has been finding and photographing dragonflies.  As I drift, lazily in the pool one morning I notice one little Turkish beauty on a branch tip of the pine tree by the edge. Then another and another as I realise that each branch has attracted a visiting red-veined darter.. each posing and posturing showing their best angles to an awaiting photographer. There are some good pictures although blogger invariably blurs them - clic to enlarge


When we can be tempted from the villa it is for a short drive to the fabulous Patara bay.. twelve kilometres of unspoilt, silver sand.


Behind the bay lie the ruins of Patara an extraordinary and totally understated archaeological find.  What was once a thriving Lycian port  lay covered by sand and marshes until in the 1990s a gradual excavation started.  In the dunes lie the ruins of  a Roman lighthouse almost 2000 years old, the skeleton of the lighthouse keeper found crushed in the ruins a possible victim of a tsunami believed to have devastated the town.  Despite the interest and beauty of the place it is more or less deserted with most people heading straight to the beach area a few hundred metres away.  This leaves the ruins to us and a host of wildlife guarding the temples like the reincarnated souls of the worshipped Gods.


A large lizard



An abundance of red-veined darters - a shaft of sunlight through the dragonfly's wings staining the stone with colour.  The male the brightest of blood reds


 The female sulphurous yellow



and luminescent blue-tailed damselflies eager to steal the scene.



And most extraordinarily a Turkish kingfisher perched on a broken column turns it's dagger-beaked profile to glare at us, a gleaming vision of intense, iridescent blues excelling even those of the azure Lycian sea nearby.  Too late to photograph but the image is imprinted forever in our memories.

If the kingfisher is Apollo jealously guarding his temple then these oriental hornets must be the incarnation of Mars, God of war! We didn't even notice these two inch long predators were eating a dead furry thing until the photograph was enlarged!


We swim in the warm waves at Patara letting the sea pummel our problems away. We visit the Hammam where last time a doe-eyed, long-lashed Turkish boy scrubbed us down and soaped us.  This time I am washed down by a man who looks more like Craig Charles from Red Dwarf/Corrie - he grunts a bit and enjoys my scream when he chucks a bucket of icy water over me.  Nevertheless it makes me feel good, cleansed of worries, relaxed.  We enjoy massages in a little cave by the sea, lulled by the sound of waves lapping the rocks below and the practiced hands of the masseuse, soft, smooth, stroking motions and fragrant oils that soothe away our aches and anxieties.  We eat, we sleep, we are at peace.

On the flight home with Monarch Airlines they have run out of gin.

One day home and I am obsessing again.  By this time I have discovered the missing States, Idaho, West Virginia, Utah.. I allow myself Monterey as I clearly meant Montana.  The new distraction technique is to name a song or film containing the name of a U.S. State
"What did Delaware boy, what did Delaware?
She wore a brand New Jersey
She wore a brand New Jersey
She wore a brand New Jersey..  that's what she did wear"