Monday, 27 September 2010

Madrid - A Room with a View

Madrid, the beautiful Plaza Mayor, centre and cultural hub of  'old Madrid'.  We are staying in a beautiful apartment chosen for its view across the square, the three sunny windows on the first floor by the arch in the far corner are ours.

Unfortunately the view is somewhat spoilt by the exhibition tents in the middle promoting Argentina!

There are other things we didn't expect to see from our three terrace windows leading out onto a small balcony..

A Fat Spiderman

An alarming box with legs bothering people

A mouse

Harry Krishna and his mates

A nude lady forming part of a load of semi-erotic frescoes on the Casa de la Panaderia, representing Cybele adopted Goddess of Madrid looking for her daughter Proserpine in the underworld.

A small choir singing Hallelujah outside a bar just below us late on a Saturday night

A procession of horses and carriages which has now been around the square at least four times with a bit of drumming and trumpeting and a couple of limos squeezed in between.

A man wearing a fab hattiewato

Yes it's all happening here - although if the man who plays the Godfather theme on various instruments 12 hours a day outside the cafés below, doesn't change his tune soon I may have to send the Bedsock down to sort him out!!!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Chaumont - Body and Soul

The Socks are visiting the annual Festival of Gardens at Chaumont staying a couple of nights at the gorgeous Belle Roche B&B down river at Amboise, a mansion house perched on a ridge looking down over some immaculate allotments to the romantic river Loire.  Our room is spacious and elegant with a luxurious bathroom and our breakfast includes the obligatory coffee, croissants, warm home made breads and a slice of what seems to be a meltingly rich chocolate brownie!!! Mmmmm...

It is fabulous weather for garden viewing – warm, blue sky'd with the kind of nearly autumn sunlight that imbues everything with a slight golden glow.  There is much to see at Chaumont, a castle, parkland and woodland walks not to mention exhibitions... much more than our allocated day's worth which we are dedicating to the FOG alone. 

This year's garden theme is 'Body and Soul' and the gardens are an eclectic selection including dull, witty, dreary, vibrant, playful, ridiculous, chic but overall great fun and interesting. 

Le Creux de la Main – the Socks loved this one.

The texture of the pipe wall was wonderful

Le vilian petit jardin was one the Sock's favourites.  It represented the “soul” of an imaginary character who we shall think of as Matthew Wilson. In short (as the description goes) Matthew is often in a foul mood and deliberately dumps dirty smelly things in his garden to make it ugly.   But nature works against him and gives the garden back its soul as his rubbish is an ideal place for plants to thrive!

Personally I think Matthew Wilson should be using Persil in his pants wash!

Iglooik  ultima – was just incredibly dull despite having an incredibly lengthy pretentious description of its meaning.  They could have summed it up as "some pots in a car park".

Main dans le main had a route round it of pink and blue stepping stones.  The aim was for a couple to choose a colour, hold hands and make the circuit of the garden without breaking hand contact – a mirror reflecting the journey which was easier said than done.

Cheveux des Anges was fabulous visual art

Calligrame was interesting if only for the fact that a rather strange French woman was placing a (not particularly attractive) Japanese bowl and tea-cup in odd locations within the garden and photographing them. The Bedsock was roped in to try and take a nice picture of her holding these articles within the garden – he obliged but she wasn't pleased with the photographic results which was hardly surprising as she looked ridiculous. We didn't think she was part of the art installation. The photo below may have been more interesting if she had been in it!

And then another calamity! After the trauma of losing two of the Beardibums the Sock felt the rest of them deserved a holiday.  One was selected from the jar and taken around Chaumont. All was well until we reached what can only be described as the 'Pole Dance' garden although the actual name of it was Cupidon s'en fou and it  bore one of the more pretentious descriptions including...

“Out of embarrassment we explain to children that they were born among the roses or cabbage …  as they grow up, from one adventure to another, they find out that there are a succession of truths one after the other, that these truths are also complementary and build our intimate convictions.  Sometimes an intuition appears in the heart of our Cartesian certainties and is enough to call everything into question, from our conception of the Universe to the flight of Cupids arrows.

Under these conditions, even our conception of Space and Time is no longer the same... etc. etc. blah”

Unfortunately as we entered the garden the Beardibum saw this cherub in a bottle and started to get agitated.

When he saw the picture below there was a little squeal of “Daddy!” and that was it he was off!!! So now we are down to 21 Beardibums!

On a more serious note there were several gardens on the theme of caring for disabled people.  Nearly all of these were wheelchair unfriendly with loose gravel paths (the worst thing possible for trying to hoik a wheelchair around) and steps.  One in particular called 'Care and Carer' was almost impossible for wheelchair navigation which made its title insensitive to say the least.  As the Sock has had occasion to use a wheelchair in the past this kind of thoughtlessness is only too prevalent.

Overall a fab day out and we could have spent hours longer.  Celeri remoulade, paté de lapin, runny camembert and walnut bread which had made its way off the breakfast table into the Sock's bag, made for a perfect picnic lunch whilst sitting in the shade contemplating the Chateau de Chaumont as the backdrop.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Ask Arabella - your twitter questions answered

Dear Arabella

On the advice of my agent I recently joined twitter in the hope of publicising my forthcoming TV series and (no doubt) accompanying book .  I was gratified to find that I was immediately followed by hundreds of my fans.  I followed a select few of my celebrity TV and media "friends" and of course yourself Ms. Sock. You were one of the first people I followed in order to read your erudite and interesting tweets.

However, since then my "space" seems to have been invaded by other people's conversations which may or may not be "amusing" but certainly bypass me.  I feel like Ken Barlow surrounded by the talking heads of Deirdre and dear departed Blanche nagging at me.  I didn't expect to have to interact.  The Dalai Lama was a let down too - thought for the day was one thing but I didn't need to know that he was "sitting on a train" with accompanying photos.

Now I have "unfollowed" a substantial amount of people leaving just the crème de la crème of the gardening tweetworld. This would seem to have given offence to those I have cast off and even those I am still following do nothing but indulge in what people seem to call "banter".

I'm not sure I really understand the purpose of twitter.  What can I do?

Kind Regards

Dear MD

Bring on the pigs.

The Unfollowed A.S.

Monday, 6 September 2010

High Jinx

The Sock has been garden visiting with a bunch of friends from blog and twitterworld.  Can you guess where she's been children? Here are some clues....

and if you still haven't got it here is the give away - Organic Clotted Cream Fudge no doubt made by HRH himself.

Even the most intellectually challenged of you must now have realised where the Sock went.  The lovely Patient Gardener organised a twitter trip for 25 interested people to have a guided tour around Prince Charles' Highgrove garden.  The Sock felt really rather special being one of a select bunch to do this... that was until first Old Ma Sock told her "Oh yes, we went there on a coach trip last year" a fact that the Sock was inclined to dismiss as a bit of the usual mental confusion and then the Sock's pal The Black Fingernail informed that he had been too and that it was "fine if you like stumperies!".  So apparently all and very sundry are allowed in as long as they a) don't carry cameras b) don't carry mobile phones and c) bring some photo ID (of themselves and not of a bearded Bedsock as the Sock nearly did).   Even then the Sock was convinced that we were an elite group allowed in as a special concession but as it turned out we were part of a conveyor belt of tour groups staggered at 15 minute intervals throughout the day.

However, as our party included some Chelsea medal winners (and of course the Sock herself) amongst the general rabble, we were afforded a very nice lady as our guide who had also 'medalled' at Chelsea on several occasions.  For the most part our group behaved as befitted the occasion but there were some giggling at the back and being rather loud - no names mentioned... what happened at Highgrove stays at Highgrove.

 (Disclaimer: The thoughts below are the Sock's impressions and responses to Highgrove and not based on anything the guide said.)

If a garden reflects the personality of the owner then you would have to think that Prince Charles was a somewhat mixed-up soul. In the Sock's mind it ran an eccentric path from brooding melancholy to childlike enthusiasm with more than a few quirky twists and turns in between.

The woodland and stumpery  (and there did seem to be a lot of stumpery) felt slightly dark and gloomy - not places where the Sock would want to sit and think and yet this was an area full of shaded seating, temple-like structures and statues to contemplate. Many of the 'objéts' were gifts that the Prince had received and it was at this point that the Sock started to feel rather sorry for him.  The Sock is terribly precious about her garden because even though some of it isn't entirely to everyone's taste, everything in it is what the Sock (at some time) wanted. Don't tell the Bedsock but when he has been keen to grow a plant that the Sock doesn't find fitting it gets sadly neglected and quickly disappears.  So imagine how you'd feel with a gift of a ghastly garden building dumped on you by some visiting dignitary which you were obliged to fit forever into your garden scheme! Or forty tree ferns you might not have really wanted (actually these looked rather good), or five thousand frou frou fuchsias you have to find a home for - the latter didn't happen but it could!  Many of the structures and statues were really quite gorgeous and we weren't given any hint that Prince Charles was less than pleased with them but given the guy's got enough dosh to buy exactly what he personally wanted for his garden it must surely be a bit galling to incorporate others' gifts ideas into his design.

The walled kitchen garden by contrast was joyful and uplifting - everything it should be, bright colourful and full of the activity of insects and gardeners.  It felt warm, lived-in and productive in a slightly untidy way.  A place to be.

There were pleasant plantings around the exterior of Highgrove House and then we came upon an extraordinary eccentricity  - in full view of the lovely stone terrace leading down from the living room was a piece of pure fantasy, a Gandalf's hat shaped 'folly' built around the remnants of a large tree stump.  It was totally charming in a child-like way but completely in the wrong context.  However, the Sock did feel that at last there was something of Prince Charles own personality coming through here because you really wouldn't live with it if it wasn't yours - that is unless you were an overgrown kid. Maybe this speaks of some unfulfilled childhood playfulness on the Prince's part, maybe the over abundance of alchemilla mollis, self-seeded to saturate the nearby seating represented a desire in Prince Charles to just go wild and free.  Or perhaps we read too much into these things...

There was a lot more to the garden but the Sock's overall feeling was that it was bitty and didn't flow.  However, it's foibles make it an interesting garden and the Sock was pleased to be able to look around.

The best part of the day was as always the company.  The healing power of hugs and laughter from some gorgeous gardening guys and gals lifted the Sock from her doldrums and smoothed the recent rucks in her cashmere.  Not to mention a surfeit of cake both the Ducky of Cornwall Cake in the cafe and the rather better Lazy Trollops legendary cupcake as pictured by VP here.  The only slightly sad note is that the Sock took along one of her precious Beardibums as a 'buttonhole'.  Sadly the Beardibum took wing, fluttered away and was last seen alighting one of the box bushes by the Prince's front door.  The Sock is now down to 21 Beardibums.

Missing - Has anyone seen my Beardibum?

Update: Sadly the rather good fudge got eaten by a rather bad cat who now has a rather upset tummy!