Sunday, 30 August 2009

As Seen on BBC 1!!!

The Sock is in Plymouth for the weekend again so obviously it is raining.

Last night the Socks dined at a restaurant in the Barbican - a pleasant enough meal with good, fresh, local ingredients slightly unnecessarily fussed over in a way that detracted from the food. Gordon 'boil in the bag' Ramsay might be a hypocrite but that doesn't make him wrong. In the Sock's view only the top chefs can get away with artistic arrangements of the food, everyone else should keep it simple and concentrate on the cooking. The most memorable part of the meal was the view over the road of the fish and shop

where a board outside advertised "As Seen on BBC1..."

On seeing this the Socks both simultaneously chanted "...Rogue Traders!" An amusing five minutes followed where the Socks imagined every likely programme the chip shop might have appeared on "Chip shops from Hell", "How clean is your chippy?", "Coach Trip".

What a shame the Socks didn't have any chalk with them.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Show must go on...

Don't forget The Emsworth Show is now on and awaiting your entries

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Horticultural Holidaying Humphreys

A recent blog from Amanda at Kiss my Aster asked "Have you ever been at a party, outside on someone's patio, and the overwhelming need to deadhead the hosts' containers becomes too strong to fight?" Oh... yes! but whereas the Sock tends to stop at the occasional surreptitious pinching off of a dried up bloom - the Humphreys did a full garden make-over!

The Socks often rent holiday villas or cottages not least because it enables the Bedsock to spend the holiday perusing local shops and markets and buying the kind of exciting fresh ingredients he can't get at home for his culinary masterpieces. Sometimes the rentals have been fabulous - views to die for, luxurious bathrooms, wonderfully equipped kitchens whilst others have been poky, damp holes with too many of the local insect population scuttling around.

After settling in to their temporary new home, filling the fridge with goodies, displaying the wine haul, scattering books and guides on the tables and generally making the place their own, the Sock will pour herself an apéro and seek out the 'House Book' to see what previous visitors have made of it. Entries invariably follow the same pattern of dodgy restaurant recommendations, child-scrawled details of 'What Daisy did today', weather reports, the sighting of some interesting critter which you will then spend the whole week watching for but will never show again, useful advice on how to unblock the chimney when the room fills with smoke etc. The entries are usually anodyne, repetitive and intrinsically boring except for the occasional absolute cracker - and what a beauty the Humphreys' entry was.

The cottage was an interesting old stone building with sandy garden extending an hundred metres down to the beach just outside Concarneau in Brittany. Quirky would be one way to describe it - a cavernous, high ceilinged living room stuffed with heavy antique furniture of varying degrees of comfort and a strange mezzanine loft sleeping area built under the ceiling accessed by a pretty much vertical library-style ladder on rollers. One wall was dominated by a fabulous raised granite fireplace which the Socks toasted themselves in front of every evening mesmerized by the flames from the blazing logs and mellowed by their evening brandies.

There were various slightly musty and mildew smelling bedrooms in the house extension which were cramped but comfortable enough and a dank kitchen with the scariest ceramic wall tiles you could possibly imagine being a psychedelic orange and brown that no-one could have liked even in the 60s. All pretty much to be expected for this kind of rental. Being able to wander down the large sandy garden to a stone-walled terrace directly over the beach made up for any other small irritations with the property.

Not for the Humphreys though. The visitors book contained an eleven page diatribe of everything possibly wrong with the property. According to Mr. Humphrey, his wife and seven children, the house was nothing short of a death trap with a list of 'Health and Safety' violations long enough to give a years worth of material to Mutt and Jeff. These included the fact that several Humphrey offspring had had great fun swinging dangerously off the loft ladder whilst others wheeled it backwards and forwards across the room (an enjoyable game which the Socks copied). Assuming they had not been killed on the ascent, the sleeping loft having no door could have meant a 15ft plunge to their stone-floored doom for any sleep-walking Humphrey child. Dangerous electrics, plumbing, stairwells - the list was endless.

Best of all in this fascinating condemnation of the property and all things related was the fact that the Humphreys had been so appalled by the state of the garden that they had had to spend their entire holiday clearing and tidying it and weeding the flower beds!! The Sock only remembers the garden as being slightly overgrown in the sort of way that is charming if it is not your own and having rather more cannas than you could shake a stick at.

The Humphreys' parting shot was that they were looking forward to staying in a Travel Lodge on the way home!!!!

Determined that not all Brits should be judged by this whingeing crew subsequent visitors had filled the book with hilarious criticisms of the Humphrey parents and what had become known as their tribe of seven dwarves. The Socks added their piece to the visitors book and only wished they had photocopied it and sent it to John Peel for his (then) Radio 4 Hometruths programme.

The Sock confines her holiday gardening to watering parched pots and occasionally breaking off the odd aeonium head that somehow falls into her handbag. Feel free to confess to greater gardening crimes than this.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Desolate Dungeness?

The Socks had business in Kent yesterday so decided to throw in a visit to Derek Jarman's garden, Prospect Cottage at Dungeness. The Sock had thought that the garden was actually near Whitstable on the rather more attractive north Kent coast and was surprised to find it sandwiched in between the south Kent Cinque Ports*. Distant memories conjured up visions of a forlorn and desolate drabness from Dymchurch round to Camber sands.

The Sock had formed a picture of a lone cottage out in the wilderness against the gloomy, bleak back-drop of the nuclear power station at Dungeness. This may be true in winter but the reality, on a warm summer Sunday was somewhat less dramatic. A small road, busy with holiday-makers, runs a few hundred metres back from the unprepossessing seashore and Prospect is one of quite a few similar clapboard cottages that line it. Far from menacing, the backdrop of the nuclear power station in the near distance actually looked rather jolly.

An open top London bus was running people along the road to visit the power station and behind the cottages a little train transported yet more to the visitor centre, surrounding pubs, cafés, fish smokeries and galleries passing off sea-detritus as art. The Sock found the reality all rather more grim than the strange beauty of her imagined gloomy, wind-ravaged wasteland.

Prospect Cottage is surrounded by shingle and its view extends uninterrupted (except by visitors' cars) across the road, across the inhospitable landscape to the sea horizon.

No actual walls delineate it from its neighbours and although the garden isn't open to the public there is nothing to stop you viewing it from the road. Eager to wander around the garden area the Sock was informed by some other visitors that the owner was happy for people to explore and photograph the garden but draws the line at pictures being taken through the cottage windows. This seemed very generous to the Sock as even just the sound of gravel crushed beneath the traipsing tourist feet must get rather wearing - luckily there was no-one in residence on Sunday.

So, to the garden... it was certainly very attractive and evocative combining the lovely blue-grey of seakale and santolina with the bright yellow horned poppies, and rusting metal artefacts.

Driftwood, pebbles, an old boat with ancient peeling paint, reclaimed wooden seagroins and.... wait a minute... wasn't Toby Buckland starting a similar seaside garden on Gardeners' World last week? (You remember - the rivetting episode where viewers were treated to the sight of Joe and Toby sheltering under a hastily erected pop-up gazebo and attempting to construct a sandy seaside garden in the heavily puddled clay beneath their feet!) Sea gardens are beautiful and fascinating but in the Sock's mind they really do belong by the sea.

And this is the problem for the Sock - it is gorgeous and because of that Derek Jarman's concept has been massively over-emulated and turns up everywhere, even in Birmingham one of the most land-locked towns in Britain.

Does this matter? Well yes, because the original idea is now so copied that the Sock found it difficult to believe that the interesting rusting iron and twisted metal artefacts were reclaimed from the landscape rather than bought at some expensive garden sculpture show. Some of the rods looked almost identical to the ones the Sock bought at the Malvern Show earlier this year and to the Socks certain knowledge ones bought at Chelsea are holding up a clematis somewhere in the backwaters of Belgium at this very moment! The decaying beached boat seemed clichéd. Even the cottages alongside vie for 'most interesting display constructed from flotsam and jetsam'.

The Sock feels that Derek Jarman's garden is definitely a victim of its own success.

* Is there anyone out there who wasn't taught about the Cinque ports when they were at school? Naming these must surely be one of the most popular pub quiz questions along with "Name a British town that ends with a punctuation mark."

Friday, 21 August 2009

Be afraid...

Don't even think about playing this one without the speakers on!!!!!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

People with Glass Houses II

Speakers on for the Sockmovie...

Finished at last - the Sock is now the proud owner of a greenhouse! Mad Andy and the Bedsock spent two whole days constructing it and then the Socks spent a further day working on it together. The Sock had been a little pissed off about only being allowed to be tea-maker and gopher whilst the boys were busy, hammering, bickering and bonding over it but finally she got to play with the drill, constructing the staging battoning in the window panes and putting the door handle on!

When the man at the Gabriel Ash stand at Chelsea told us the construction instructions were idiot-proof and it was simple to erect he told a big fat fib. The instructions were poor and the greenhouse had turned up rather more deconstructed than the Socks had imagined - over 120 pieces! The fact that it took four person days of the Socks' time and two days that Mad Andy was paid for meant that it would have not been much more expensive to have had Gabriel Ash construct it for us! However it is very satisfying to have finally done the work ourselves.

The greenhouse is somewhat taller than the Sock expected, it looks like St. Bartholomew's Church in Brighton which is the tallest in the country! Hebe has already been stuck on the roof ridge scared to slide back down the steep glass roof.
A lady from about eight doors down the terrace saw me in the front garden and asked "Are you the one with the lovely new greenhouse?" Very gratifying - it is obviously a landmark and will be spotted when we fly over Brighton from Gatwick and the Sock is glued to the plane window trying to spot her house.

Fifty terracotta pots of various designs and sizes have been cleaned and stored neatly inside.

Er... what does the Sock do with it now?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

It's a Mystery

The mystery plant above (the green thing not the cotinus) has been in the Sock's garden since she bought it at Hampton Court show last year. It is neither thriving nor dead and looks like someone has hacked at it with scissors but no-one has. It is possible that it tried to have tiny purple and white clumps of flowers on some of those stems. Whatever - it is getting binned but the Sock wouldn't mind knowing what she has wasted her time and money on.

The garden has been neglected this summer but trying to clear some of the pots out of the way to get on with the greenhouse construction (more on this later) the Sock found these interesting little caterpillars all on one plant chomping the leaves. Does anyone know what they are?

No prizes - just the satisfaction of showing off your superior knowledge!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Landscape Man!

Oooh! Look....

clink for the link

The Sock wants one - and the book would be nice too!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Fathers, Daughters, Lobsters

The Socks visited Padstow during their recent weekend away in the wet West country. Padstow, as well as being an extremely picturesque fishing village is famous for two things, Rick Stein's Seafood restaurant where we were lunching and the National Lobster Hatchery which has a deep significance for me.

My parents were Yorkshire born and bred, moving to Swansea as newly weds when my father was offered a lectureship at the University. Mum and Dad were modern day 'hunter gatherers' combining the thriftiness of their 'waste not want not' northern upbringing with the abundance of free food available on the Gower - designated the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956. As a family we lived an active outdoor life and soon found the best locations for the most luscious blackberries, wild damsons, cobnuts, flavourful mushrooms and anything else the countryside had to offer. My mother kept a bucket and shovel in the car boot, stopping what little traffic there was to scoop up horse droppings from the country roads for compost.

The sea at that time was teaming with life and we fished from the beaches for bass, sole and mackerel. Best of all was the cornucopia of shellfish - my parents caught fifty or sixty lobsters each summer and served them up with salad from the garden, or my favourite way with chips and Heinz salad cream. So many were caught and cooked that sometimes I would think "Oh no, not lobster again!". Crabs aplenty too, bartered for free parking at the beaches, swapped with friends for freshly caught fish, the picked crab meat served simply in a sandwich.

The lobstering was done the hard way not with a boat and lobster pots. On the days of the lowest tides, when the sea falls back and exposes the deepest dark holes and mysterious gullies, my parents would arm themselves with hooked poles and nets and stride out in the salt wind to the rocky outcrops of the Gower coast. It would be a real 'man versus nature' battle with a good chance that a canny lobster would refuse to budge from the back of his hole or use another exit route to escape and win the day. Initiated in 'the knowledge' by a local fisherman, within a few years my father had gained a mental map of the coastal rocks from Porteynon to Kilboidy identifying the holes and ledges most likely to yield a seafood supper. He gave names to them like 'Herbert's Hole' where waist high in a rising swell of water he had once fought against the largest lobster 'Herbert' who was reluctant to be dragged from the farthest recesses of the rocky hole by my fathers prodding, pulling hook. The battle lasted over half an hour with the tide rising all the while and the sea swells coming dangerously close to submerging my father. 'Herbert' was eventually wrested from his little cave, his enormous crushing and sawing claws - enough to take a man's fingers off - waving angrily as he joined some smaller catch in Dad's fishing bag.

My mother's speciality was crabbing, no less skilled but somewhat less dangerous as the crabs were most likely wedged under ledges where the water had cleared. I once watched in horrified fascination as an enormous conger eel slid past brushing her thigh as she waded down a water-filled gully. She didn't even bat an eyelid. My brother and I were given the job of prawning, finding the most likely rock pools and scraping our nets under the ledges and seaweed to scoop out fat, sweet prawns. Less exciting was my task of de-shelling the potloads of prawns after cooking - a chore that would take ages and leave my fingers sore and puckered.

My father continued fishing and lobstering throughout his life but sadly, as my brother and I both moved away, the 'knowledge' was never passed down the family. In any event the sea no longer brims with life and what there is will be taken by trawlers. The days of "Not lobster, again!" have gone.

As children we were always encouraged to be independent and whilst we were a close knit family sharing the outdoor activities when young, as the years went on we all did our own thing and any real family closeness or support was lost. The most famous line from the film 'Dirty Dancing' should be not "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" but the more apposite "I'm sorry I let you down Daddy - but you let me down too." I think the time I made my father most proud was when I returned home for a visit and we went fishing together. The evening sun and cloud formations produced a 'mackerel sky', a sure sign that fish would be about and we walked around the headland, scrambling down onto a rocky outcrop to spin for fish. A gentle tug at the line and a flaccid fightless movement would most likely mean the bite of the now popularized pollack, a watery-fleshed fish that we would probably throw back in. I felt a hard tug on the line, something was putting up a fight, thrashing about, churning the water, with rising excitement I played the fish on the line for a while reeling it in gently so as not to lose it and eventually landed a beautiful, silvery, frantically flapping, bass. Later, as we walked back along the cliff path evening strollers asked what we had caught. My father beamed with pride and replied "I just got a couple of mackerel but my daughter caught a bass!"

When my father died a few years ago my mother, with not a lack of love but a typical lack of sentimentality, wanted a fast funeral with no speeches. It was an overly religious service for a man who was an atheist and said nothing about the man himself, his life or his achievements. Neither would my mother let us scatter his ashes in the obvious place, to be carried on the wind over the farthest rocky headlands at Porteynon where he had spent so many happy and productive days. It left me feeling angry, sad and short-changed.

Then it came to me... a fitting tribute. At Padstow's Lobster Hatchery for a small donation you can adopt and name a baby lobster which will be released off the Cornish coast after a few years. Their site gives details of when and where the adoptees are liberated. I sent them a donation and adopted 'John Phillip' who was recently released off Newlyn. It makes me laugh to think "John Phillip swims with the fishes" and also that he may have already ended up on someone's seafood platter. If so, I do hope that whoever has eaten him enjoyed the lobster as much as my father did!

And what would my father think of this? He would no doubt roll his eyes and mutter "blithering idiot" his favourite description of his offspring.

It has been a month since the death of my beautiful, darling cat Luka. I hope one day that I will find it easy to remember him in a similar way, full of the joy and love that he bought into my life rather than this present overwhelming grief. Today is not that day.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

30 Minutes - Fixed!

Those fabulous Health and Safety Dogs are back again giving you more advice in the garden!

Over to you Mutt and Jeff

clic for the flic

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Gadding about with Gladys

In a week when two Swedish tourists mistyped Capri into the GPS system and ended up in Carpi a rather forlorn Italian town 400 miles from their destination, Fat Rascal has also had Satnav on her mind as she guest blogs from France..

Let me take you back in time to Christmas 2005......

EFR is a man who loves maps, enjoys making flight plans (will not go in an aeroplane however) always wants to know his altitude and most importantly, is never happier than behind the wheel of his car.

This has led me to believe that a GPS would be the ideal present for him. Oh no! He was not thrilled, his manhood was threatened and the GPS was disappeared before the sprouts had been boiled to mush.

Fast forward to 2009 and the trip to the UK for Chelsea.....

We were going to break the journey by staying with the Rascally Scot near Paris. The RS lives in a very nice leafy suburb which is definitely on the map! EFR had been there before but never coming from the same direction twice. It's so desirable I think the residents have taken down any signposts which would show foreigners the way there!

I had driven up to stay with RS on my own, equipped with my printout from Mappy but I got hopelessly lost as soon as I hit the big city and once I realised I was heading to Orly and that was WRONG I stopped and rang RS in tears (I was hot and over tired). She said that she had often been lost in Paris but never in the exact same place I'd got lost so couldn't help. Oh, and I should have a Satnav!

Anyway, not having been able to find the right way myself I couldn't help EFR when he too got lost. To make the situation worse we didn't have a single map of any part of France in the car.

With a bit of mobile phone assistance we did find the Rascally Scot's and were soon revived by a wee dram of single malt.

On our way home from Chelsea we again got lost trying to find Tesco in Ashford (as you do). Once again, the lack of a GPS was felt and even the most detailed OS map does not show the nearest Marmite mountain or PG Tips lake.

Last week we were going to Geneva and the hotel we had stayed in before was fully booked as the drug addicts on bikes - er, Tour de France - had decided to visit the exact same part of Europe at the exact same time. So I suggested EFR get the GPS out, I would do all the fiddling needed to get it operational and we wouldn't get lost ever again, especially in Switzerland where it's probably illegal to do so.

The first hiccup came when I downloaded the CD with user instructions. I could predict a "RTFM" being launched at me by the Satnav refusenik the minute I made an error in programming so thought I'd better be able say I had RTFM. Our model can do all sorts of things, play music, show photos, speak Bulgarian etc. but the manual was very vague when it came to explaining how to use it to get from A to B. I realised that having all the instructions on my laptop at home wasn't going to be very helpful on the journey. The PDF contained 88 pages so EFR printed it with 4 pages per side, Rector-Verso. I was having doubts. I might be better off with a map after all but I'm a hopeless map reader and get carsick when I have to look at the small print on the move.

Nevertheless I worked out how to put in our home address but hit the usual problem of not having enough of an address to satisfy a website and now apparently a GPS. Still, it recognised the commune so we were off.

The morning of our departure EFR grudgingly agreed to install the windscreen holder but the journey started with huffs and puffs and sighs. I decided to baptise the device Gladys mainly to make EFR love her but when she started to speak that's what she sounded like. It took her a while to pick up satellite signals and it took me a while to realise that every time I pressed the "home" button she wanted to take us home and not back to the home screen.

Over the next couple of days Gladys showed her mettle. She was handicapped by new one way systems and a series of tunnels on the "périphérique" of Lyon but was certainly much quicker at finding out where we were and how to get out of there than EFR's habitual mapreader. She took us straight to our hotel in a town we'd never been to before and I would have liked to have credited her with choosing the lovely Indian restaurant nearby but that was me!

She took us in and out of Switzerland several times, found me a Garden Centre to visit and by the end of the trip EFR was firmly in love with her! He changed from saying "what's it saying now?" to "ask Gladys where we go next" in 24 hours! I think he even got a bit excited when she said "louder, louder" when I turned up her volume!

Last Saturday while I was repotting and taking cuttings from plants which had been blown over by a freak windstorm, EFR was sitting in the car on the drive playing with Gladys. He was going over to his brother's in the Dordogne the next day, a route he knows off by heart but he asked if he could take Glad with him - aaaah!

My story would have a happy ending but now we've decided we do like having a GPS, Gladys is already obsolete and they no longer do map updates for her. Pffft!!!!