Wednesday, 29 July 2009

For Your Eyes Only

It's everyone's favourite blogger James Alexander-Sinclair's birthday today* (in case any of you have missed the many hints he has dropped on his blog for the last few months).

Here is a little video just for James. Speakers on..

NB: Today is Thursday 30th July - can't seem to get the blog date to change

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Garden House - Flowers in the Rain

Perhaps one of the tests of a great garden is it's ability to charm even in the rain. Rain there was aplenty as the inevitable Dartmoor deluge stopped the Socks getting out of the car for ten minutes when they arrived at "Carol Klein's favourite garden" the Garden House, Buckland Monachorum.

The garden didn't just charm, it wowed! Although the South African garden was sodden and most of the pictures taken from the cover of a large umbrella, the rain had bought a new dimension to it, hanging crystal raindrops on the profusion of dieramas and thalictrum and adding a watery shine to the leaves. Even the fountains of grasses had lost none of their exuberance and the interplanting of flowering plants was so mesmerizingly vibrant - the Sock found it difficult to drag herself away.

The rain accentuated the overall lusciousness of the gardens creating an extraordinary green opulence throughout.

So a wet afternoon well spent.

The Sock is informed by Martyn Cox that there is actually an even more interesting garden about two minutes down the lane from The Garden House - 'Wildside' (only open to the public on Thursdays) newly created by Keith Wiley, who was the former head gardener at The Garden House. A Channel 4 television programme is currently being filmed there following the Wileys during a year of their endeavours balancing painting/gardening/nursery work (due to be broadcast later in 2009).

If Wildside has even a smattering of the interest of the Garden House then this promises to be a real goody!

Thursday, 23 July 2009


The Socks are staying in Plymouth for a few days and today visited The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum. It was bucketing down as you might expect but that is not what the Sock is humphing about.

The Sock is humphing because one of the gardeners told her that there was a big do on at The Garden House tonight and all the great and the good from the gardening world were going to be there. She reeled off a list that included Helen Yemm and a load of media people (although actually the Sock has to say she didn't have a clue who the rest of them were). The Sock very nearly said "Well I'm Arabella Sock from The Sea of Immeasurable Gravy which holds an award for Best Bloggywog Ever - where's my invite?!"

Actually the Sock isn't in sociable party mood but as she won't be able to post her photos on the bloggywog until next week she is worried that by that time The Garden House will be 'old news'.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Brighton Guerilla Gardens get green light

The first the Sock heard about the Lewes Road Community Garden built on a derelict and disused site, was that it was under threat and had been locked up. The garden was created by what has been described as 'a random bunch of locals' working on community days to clear the ex-Esso Garage eyesore area of rubble and rubbish and establish lawns, seating and planting areas. Within days of the lock-up, 3,000 people had signed a petition to keep it open and Brighton city councillor negotiated an arrangement with the owners of the land agreeing that it can continue to be used as a community garden until the site is needed for redevelopment.

So the Sock set out to see what this community garden was all about.

The Lewes Road runs through a slightly run-down part of Brighton which houses an eclectic mix of students, first time house or flat buyers, the young, the old, the born and bred in Brighton and the people like the Sock who just turn up one day and never move away. The Sock lived not far from this garden for years both in shared houses and then buying her own flat. The area is filled with memories from the Sock's misspent youth.

A sign on the gate welcomes you to a garden and community space "built on the foundations of understanding and mutual respect" and invites you to make a cup of tea, wash your cup afterwards and make a donation if you can.

The garden reflects the community, colourful, chaotic, disorderly, fun, warm, welcoming and vibrant. There are different seating areas all around. Brightly painted tyres are planted with tomatoes, courgettes, salad leaves and herbs. Discarded concrete pipes have been painted and planted with gaudy displays of clashing-coloured plants, pieces of artwork and sculptures. The garden itself isn't beautiful but the concept is.

The one disadvantage of this densely populated and heavily terraced area is the lack of gardens - a fact that the then sun-worshipping Sock felt particularly keenly when she lived there 'borrowing' other people's gardens to sunbathe in. The young woman relaxing in the sun (picture above) could have been the Sock more years ago than she cares to mention.

The Sock suddenly felt rather old and sad. Although in the area she lives now she has gained a garden of her own, she has lost the sense of community.

Monday, 20 July 2009

To pee or not to pee..

Sockwatchers will remember the poll from a few weeks ago where they were asked to vote on whether the Socks should build the new greenhouse themselves or 'get in a man'. The poll went massively in favour of the Sock wanting to build it herself but when the decaying shed was finally cleared away, it was clear there was rather more work to be done preparing the area than at first envisaged.

So the Socks have got in a man to help with some of it. Or to be more correct they have got in Mad Andy who has done various bits of work on the house and garden over the years and is more a family friend than 'a man' inasmuch as unlike just about everyone else we have never had to sue him! The only drawback about Mad Andy is that half the time he doesn't listen to what the Sock tells him and the other half the Sock can't understand what he is on about. A bit like being married.

Mad Andy has many saving graces. He is reliable, honest and a real grafter PLUS he pisses behind the shed. Years ago when Mad Andy helped with the garden construction the Sock asked him why he was pissing behind the shed and he replied that he didn't want to get his dirty bootprints all over the Sock's house. What greater sensitivity could you want from a man?

The Sock suspects that this is actually only half the story. The fact is that most men (and ALL Frenchmen) like to pee outdoors. This excludes the Bedsock who was once shocked when at a garden party a friend just turned and pissed in the shrubbery because he was too lazy to walk the short distance to the toilet indoors. The male art of pissing 'au naturel' would appear to know no class or race boundaries with the possible exception that northerners are more likely to than southerners.

As you have no doubt guessed, the Sock mentally ran our horticultural heroes (and villains) through the 'To pee or not to pee' question and has come up with the following observations. See if you agree.

To Pee

Matthew Wilson - the Sock has no doubt that he sprayed behind every tree at Harlow Carr. A man definitely at one with nature.

Alan Titchmarsh - a probable 'closet tinkler' in all those water features.

Joe Swift - he remembers that fair skinned people burn quickly in the sun and finds another use for the panama hat

Cleve West - why waste water on the allotment?

Toby 'Tumnus' Buckland - an obvious candidate for outdoor urination but what else could be expected from half man, half goat.

Matthew Appleby - the Hort week blogger is a self-confessed northerner. Probably never made it as far as the inevitable outdoor lav.

Monty Don - an obvious pisser who has no doubt helped many a compost pile along with a quick slash. Not sure the image of him astride a ditch is doing it for the Sock though...

Rachella de Thame - Yes, she's in there with the lads, perfectly poised and practiced with her shewee

Christine Walkden - don't even go there.

Not to Pee

Chris Beardshaw


And now you are all wondering where James Alexander-Sinclair fits in this list. Well the Sock couldn't decide on that one, James clearly has impeccable manners otherwise they wouldn't let him near the Queen. The Sock thinks we need the man himself to inform us.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Separated at Birth

Today my final guest blog (for now) from the lovely VP from Veg Plotting.

Whilst sorting out my archived photos the other day, I got the photos of my Old Man's beard at home and the Old Man's Beard up at the allotment rather mixed up. Can you help me untangle my Clematis vitalba from my hairy other half?

Any resemblance of this post to la Sockista's occasional series of the same name is purely intentional.


The Sock would again like to thank all those who have contributed to this series of guest blogs and to Garden Monkey for organising it... 'virtual' friends indeed.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Cleve West's Cats

A guest blog from Cleve West - which proves that cats are adept at finding the best of people to look after them.. A.S.

We have had cats most of my fifty years and the pain of losing them (even when they are well past their best) is unbearable. In fact the sadness of our last cat, Ushi, joining all the others under the York stone terrace in our backyard was so bad that we couldn't bear to get another as we thought her irreplaceable. But a few months ago, Russ came into our lives. He originally belonged to one of our neighbours but they had children and, being of a slightly nervous disposition, soon left home and moved in with another neighbour for some peace and quiet. It was a tense time. The children obviously wanted Russ back and naturally made a fuss but, as we all know, cats are independent souls and can't be forced to stay put. Eventually everyone calmed down and Russ, oblivious to the chaos he had created, spent two years in tranquillity before his new family decided to adopt Billie. Billie is a spaniel and, by weird coincidence, belonged to Emma Townshend's sister. Russ, who didn't give a shit whose sisters it belonged to, packed his bags and camped outside our front door for weeks before we nervously invited him in. We didn't want to start another war but we couldn't leave him in the cold especially as his nervousness made him lose some of his fur. Eventually we told the neighbour that he was spending most of his time with us and tentatively asked them if they wanted us to feed him. Thankfully they agreed that this was the best course of action and, for the last six months, Russ has again found sanctuary and his fur has grown back. Apart from having an unnerving similarity to Ushi (which makes us wish we'd never read Stephen King's 'Pet Sematary') he has quickly become a welcoming fixture and, as long as we don't let children, dogs or, come to think of it, Emma Townshend, stay for any length of time he might see fit to stay with us for a while. It should be fun, especially as he has a weird habit of trying to do headstands when he's in a good mood but is totally freaked out when I practice yoga of a morning.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Mystery Guess Special

A guest blog from the Master of Mystery Guesses Martyn Cox

At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking this is the darting tongue of a dwarf pipe snake or perhaps the rough textured skin of brown anole lizard, but of course, you know you'd be completely wrong. After all, this is a gardening quiz, so what you're actually looking at is a close-up of a leaf photographed in my garden. Do you know what plant it is from? If you do, post your answer below. If you don't, have a wild stab in the dark or make an educated guess. As always, there are no prizes for winning, but you do get the chance to bathe in the glory of being Mystery Guess champion of the week and will be added to the Mystery Guess hall of fame. The answer will be posted in a couple of days.

Let guessing commence.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Girly Garden Moments

Guest blog from Victoria Summerley

I have a guilty secret: I am a terrible sucker for feminine clutter. You know the kind of thing - bottles of bath foam decorated with reproductions of Edwardian French soap labels on them. Vintage tins bearing pictures of kittens sitting in baskets of roses. Retro metal signs from American diners that say things like "Cupcakes" or "Hot Dogs". Chintzy lavender bags with satin ribbon bows. Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately, depending on your point of view and personal taste - I don't live in the sort of house that suits clutter. My house looks best when tidy: its 1930s lines suit a streamlined decor. So while I have pictures and books (boy, do I have books) and so on, they are not jumbled about the place in charming disorder. They are squared away in bookcases or lined up on walls. (At least, that's the plan.)

It's the same in the garden. I love roses, and herbaceous borders, and cottage flowers, but I just don't have that sort of backyard. Mine is a macho jungle, full of plants that need stern treatment to keep them in order. It's more Indiana Jones than Cath Kidston. Most of the time I love it, but there are odd moments when I wish I had honeysuckle round the door and a profusion of pink and purple in the borders.

These girly-garden moments tend to come upon me most forcibly at Hampton Court Flower Show. The show is popular with gardeners because you can buy plants (unlike at Chelsea). What you may not realise is that you can also buy every kind of twiddly-widdly, flower, flouncy garden accessory you can possibly think of.

Want a fairy in among the fennel? No problem. A plaque saying 'Home Sweet Home' above the hydrangeas? Sorted. A bird bath with cute baby buntings to go beside the bubble fountain? Certainly, madam. A metal thing shaped like a heart (purpose unclear) with a glass 'jewel' on top? Your wish is my command.

I find myself wandering wistfully round, gazing at an endless array of painted benches, floral ceramic pots and seed trays decorated with - yes, you guessed it - Edwardian French soap labels. It's strange because when it comes to clothes, I am the least frilly, floral person you can imagine. I don't even wear colours much.

In the end, my aching feet usually bring me to my senses and I stride off purposefully to look at something useful or educational. But by that time I've usually succumbed to some piece of nonsense on this occasion a metal plaque that says 'I dig gardening'. Well, at least it's black and white. Now where did I put my safari jacket and desert boots?

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

After Hours at Hampton Court

A Guest Blog from James Alexander-Sinclair

So there we were, Joe Swift and I: slightly damp and a bit knackered after a hard days prancing about for the entertainment of the unappreciative masses. We decided that a swift dinner in the pub next door to the hotel would be in order but little did we know that this simple desire would lead us into participating in a Pub Quiz.

Now, there may well be many of you (more worldly and dissolute than I) who spend your days loitering around public houses aching for the chance to name that tune but I have never participated in one of these things before. Once you get over the really annoying voice of the compere (who sounded like the worst sort of Hospital Radio Disc Jockey*) it was all rather entertaining. We failed miserably at the first hurdle which was choosing an amusing name for the team: we came up with the Hampton Court Jesters (my first suggestion was the Tossers but we thought that might give a bad impression) which is feeble. One team was called Crouching Woman, Hidden Cucumber which might be even less tasteful than our original idea.

One of the advantages of a (very expensive) Classical education is that a lot of strange facts tend to get lodged in the furthest crannies of the mind. For example that wind is measured by an anemometer, that half of Haiti looks like that, that the Bounty Mutineers ended up on the Pitcairn Islands or that Kelsey Grammar (playing the same character) won three Emmys for three different shows. We were, however, defeated by the name of Perry Mason's receptionist so a round of web based applause and a lavish helping of virtual free love for anybody who can give me the answer without Googling.

Joe, on the other hand, is really crap at quizzes and spent a long time on the maths problem coming up with the answer 466 instead of 17.

We could have won but instead chose not to draw attention to ourselves by coming a more modest fifth.

But at next year's Hampton Court we are coming back in force with a crack team of four boffins. The locals better look to their laurels.

* Does Hospital Radio still exist? I suppose it must. I remember listening while lying around after an appendectomy many years ago. There were a lot of cheerful requests for Mum in obstetrics or Grandad in Genito-Urinary. I also remember that quite a lot of comedy records were played for instance 'Jump Up and Down and Wave You Knickers in the Air' by St. Cecilia

Thank you..

Thank you to all of you who have left messages of care and support both on the blog and elsewhere.

The Bedsock and I have been moved to tears by many of them and also deeply touched by the kindness of both 'virtual' friends and strangers.

What I lack in a closeness of community in real life is made up for by the little community of bloggers and emailers who have shown such compassion and thoughtfulness.

Not least of these is the Garden Monkey - a person I have never met and "have no knowledge of" other than in the blogging world - has shown an understanding that I need the blog to carry on regardless and has organised some guest bloggers to tide me through until the Sock comes back.

I will publish the first of these from the lovely James Alexander-Sinclair (aged nearly 50) later today.

Again thank you everybody.


Sunday, 5 July 2009

Gone too soon

As you know I try and keep this blog as a light-hearted, amusing and silly place.
Sometimes awful things happen which I try not to let intrude but in this case as my cats have been so much part of this blog it feels right to post this.

Last night my beautiful darling boy Luka, was killed in an instant by a car. I know many of you have followed my stories about him and Hebe since they were kittens - he was just over three years old. He was a happy, happy, cat totally loving, ridiculous, naughty and silly. My husband, Hebe and I adored him.

Born to amuse
To inspire to delight
Here one day
Gone one night

Saturday, 4 July 2009

A Can of Worms

It has been some time since the Sock reported on the maggotry and she wasn't happy then. Things got worse and very nearly ended in divorce! This is a salutary lesson to all those who think being 'green' is easy!

The weather started warming up in March and with the gardening season starting up the Sock needed to get in the shed. The overwintering wormery was still in the way so the Sock eased it out of the shed (it is very heavy) and opened it up! It was positively writhing with even more maggots than ever. Worse was to follow - when the Sock started moving stuff in the shed there were escapees in other places too. Vom!!!! Thin gloves were donned, all visible maggots were scooped out (double Vom!) and a layer of newspaper was tucked over the top of the decaying compost to deter more flies from laying eggs. The Sock was pleased with herself for having shown such courage in looking after the Bedsock's wormery - but no way was it going back in the shed.

As you may remember the Bedsock is working with a client in Devon and currently lives away from home during the week, returning at weekends. When he emerged on the Saturday morning he took one look through the window and turned to the Sock saying "I am not happy that you have moved the wormery out of the shed!". Making the classic mistake of answering a criticism with a criticism (instead of calming the situation and then getting her own back later) the Sock replied "WELL I'M NOT HAPPY THAT THE WORMERY WAS AGAIN FULL OF MAGGOTS THAT I'VE HAD TO DEAL WITH SOME OF WHICH HAVE ESCAPED INTO THE SHED!". Impasse and general sulking which continued the rest of the day.

Of course the argument wasn't really to do with the maggotry at all. The Bedsock felt that the Sock treated him like a lodger and no longer consulted on household decisions (a bit true) and this had been symbolised by the Sock taking control of the maggotry which was his project. The Sock felt unappreciated, unloved and generally taken for granted (only the middle bit is totally untrue). None of this is really anyone's fault it is just a by-product of a life that has the Socks living apart most of the time when they would rather be together.

By Sunday afternoon everyone is feeling a bit guilty and eager to please without actually having apologised for anything. One of the things that needs discussing is the possible purchase of the greenhouse and whether this is viable. "Let's forget the greenhouse" says the Sock, "it is too expensive, too impractical and there won't be anywhere for the maggotry to go." The Bedsock immediately thought of every reason why they should have the greenhouse and insisted that she order one immediately. He even offered to get rid of the maggotry altogether. Feeling the love in the room the Sock foolishly said that the Bedsock's maggotry must stay and that a home would be found for it over the winter (but NOT in the greenhouse) and that she would leave it under his care in future. The one thing the Sock is allowed to do is feed it and as the waste vegetables need to be cut up into little pieces before being chucked in, this requires more effort than feeding the cats who don't even wait for their sachets of food to be mashed up before gollopping it down.

The Sock just looked in the wormery to see how the flies and maggots were doing. Surprisingly there were fewer flies than the last time she opened it when a cloud of tiny ones rose up into her face - but there is a rather big narsty looking spider in there!!! Ha ha ha! The Bedsock hates spiders with a vengeance but clearly the Sock is not allowed to dispose of it - that is his job!

The picture is of a bit of the garden border that the Sock quite likes at the moment.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Jamie Oliver Brighton - Pffft!

[Update: In fairness to those people who turn up here after googling 'Jamie Oliver, Brighton' I should say that we have eaten at Jamie's on three occasions and the first two we were very impressed with both the excellent service and the standard of the food. Nevertheless the episode described below was annoying and I would hope was a glitch rather than a drop in standards.]

The Sock is in a very bad mood. A very bad mood indeed.

As it is impossible to do anything much in the heat the Sock decided to drive into town and have lunch at Jamie Oliver's newish Italian restaurant. The Socks have eaten there a couple of times and enjoyed it and the Sock had a sudden craving for truffle pasta. The short drive into town was horrendous with EFL students throwing themselves under the Sockmobile left, right and centre. Not just the foreign students either - everyone seemed intent on wandering like zombies around the middle of the road or pushing their pram and children straight under my wheels. Don't they bother to teach kids road sense any more? What happened to look left, look right and when all's clear make a dash for it? And of course most of the roads have been dug up causing traffic jams and diversions as happens every summer and in fact most of the year round.

So the Sock was already hot and bothered and on the verge of driving home when she chanced upon a parking space so the meal was on.

Jamie's was fairly empty so why did they put the Sock on a tiny table right at the back? Whilst these tables are OK for two people chatting across it, the likelihood is that a person on their own will want to read something and have room to spread out a bit. Few restaurant staff ever think about this sort of thing but it would be nice if they did. The Sock couldn't be bothered to ask to change so ordered a bruschetta starters and the desired truffle tagliatelle and a glass of wine to wash it down with.

The bruschetta was OK, although the sourdough bread was not quite as chargrilled as it should have been. It arrived with four tiny bowls of creamed ricotta, rustic tomato salsa, smashed roast artichoke, rocket and parmesan pesto. The tomato salsa was slightly watery and the tomatoes bits lacked flavour but the rest was nice.

Then after too long a wait the truffle tagliatelle turned up - an overcooked mess of tagliatelle clumped together with some sort of slightly thick liquid gooping at the bottom of the bowl that seemed like the starchy run off from the pasta. It was difficult to assess exactly how near to a truffle the tagliatelle had ever got although there was a very slight hint of it as if the truffle had been wafted over the top. The first forkful of clumped tag stuck to the roof of the Sock's mouth and didn't seem to want to scrape off. Yeuch!!! Inedible! The Sock called the waiter and suggested the tagliatelle was overcooked or had been hanging around. "Do you mean undercooked?" asked the waiter. "Why would I say the opposite of what I mean? Whatever. I can't eat it, it is horrible." The Sock didn't think the waiter was particularly apologetic although he said he would change it, as if he was doing the Sock a favour.

By that time the Sock didn't want anything else and paid for the starter and drink and left doing without an ice cream dessert she had fancied. The Sock would like to believe this was a one-off aberration but she doesn't hold out much hope. Both Carluccio's and Zilli's went rapidly downhill after their initial openings and it is quite probable that Jamie's has already done the same.

So for this reason the Sock is re-instating a little tradition from last year...

clic for the flic