Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Ta ta tristesse....


A rose the colour of cassis

By last weekend my post holiday blues had deepened into a melancholy which had me waking up crying for no obvious reason. These things happen and these things pass but it was perhaps a mistake to pay a long overdue visit to my brother with all the emotional baggage that anything to do with my family entails.  Nevertheless my brother lives not far from Cottesbrooke and what could be more guaranteed to lift me out of the slough than a visit to a plant fair? (other than, perhaps, a shed load of chocolate!!). Sadly this guarantee had run out and although I didn't feel overly bothered by the 45 minute queue to get in (it was through pretty country lanes and I listened to the music from 'Diva' to indulge my tristesse) even the sight of a multitude of stalls burgeoning with beautiful plants failed to lift my mood.   I mooched around for a while but when I found that I should have got a ticket for James Alexander Sinclair's talk, which was by this time standing room only at the back (normally I would stand on hot coals for one of James' talks) I decided to give up on the day.

A new dawn, a new - albeit rainy - day and I have regained my belief that a bit of Garden therapy will enhance my mood so I am off with my brother and his wife to Coton Manor.  We spend a reasonably jolly time on the drive there discussing how we are going to cope with Old Ma Sock and in particular her presence at the wedding of my niece next year.  The problems with this fall into several categories

1)  How will we persuade Old Ma Sock to buy a decent outfit and not wear the strange multicoloured trousers she favours that she bought many years ago in Thailand. (For years Old Ma Sock has steadfastly refused to be taken out shopping to buy anything new!).

2) No-one has mentioned to her that my other niece is gay and will be attending with her girlfriend.  Whilst none of us believe that Old Ma Sock is likely to be outraged or offended by this, she can't be trusted not to come out with something totally insensitive, particularly if she is 'caught on the hop' and has to think of something to say.  My view is that it is pointless telling her anything as she will forget in two minutes and the whole conversation will have to be repeated infinite times.

3) I have the distinct feeling that ensuring that Old Ma Sock behaves at the wedding will be left up to me and the Bedsock.  I hate weddings anyway and am wondering if I can accidentally book a long holiday abroad to cover all possible wedding dates.

At least this new potential problem has taken my mind off my present despondency and we arrive at Coton Manor in a better frame of mind for the plants to begin working their particular kind of magic on my mood.  I am not disappointed.

A chic and cheering display of pelargoniums and Salvia 'Hot lips' greets us

I don't know what this plant is but it certainly zings...

I love this combination of allium seed heads and nicotiana langsdorffii which I think is the one I was rather taken with when Monty Don showed it in his garden on GW.

The scent of roses permeated the damp warmth of the garden and although roses are not generally amongst my favourite flowers they certainly worked well here

Then disaster! A faux pas of the most ghastly proportions!  Up until this point I had been impressing my sister-in-law with my knowledge of plant names (OK I made some up but she doesn't know that). I knew that James A Sinclair had designed some of the borders at Cottesbrooke and the previous day I had not really given them my full attention being too absorbed with myself.  However, for some reason it had stuck in my mind that James was also linked with Coton Manor.  Seeing one of the gardeners working on the long border I asked "Has James A Sinclair designed any of the borders here?"  She turned and fixed me with a steely, patrician glare.. "Most certainly not" intoned the lady of the manor indignantly, her vowel sounds indicative of years of high breeding "we do ALL of our OWN gardening and design here!"  Eek!  "And very beautiful it is too and these dull skies are perfect for photographing them" I gibbered whilst a voice in my head said "Shut up! Shut up and walk away NOW!".  I ignored the voice and told her I was confusing it with Cottesbrooke.  "Ah yes James designed the borders there but I don't think he uses roses which we have in abundance here" she replied softening towards my predicament. I mumbled in agreement as I edged away to stop my brother eating cherries from the tree next to us.

The rest of our tour continued without mishap.  All over the garden chickens, ducks, and

A border to crow over

er.. a few pink flamingos wandered freely,  posing artfully around the hosta beds.

My brother told me that they feed the flamingos strawberries in order for them to keep their pink colour... but this might quite possibly be a fib.

At the bottom of the garden a wildflower meadow looked lovely but for some reason seemed somewhat short on bees and butterflies

Another attractive border, limited colour and full of texture - does anyone know what the dark leaved plant is and also the green plant top right with the weeping leaves?

To make up for the shortfall on plant purchasing of the previous day I allowed myself some impulse buys from their nursery.  I was struck by how the main draw of this plant would be the fabulous little lichens or mosses invading the pot..

A nice lunch in Coton's cafe and a piece of carrot cake and I was feeling nearly me.

Not quite out of the woods on the woe front but certainly seeing the light through the trees.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Dullas 4 - A load of balls

If you haven't caught the previous episodes you can click on the links below

Dullas 1
Dullas 2
Dullas 3

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Turkish Delight

Postcard from Turkey - as usual arriving a week after the Socks have returned home...

Dear All

Having a lovely time lazing around the villa and admiring the view from our infinity pool.

Sea turtles swim in the bay below us

Lovely beaches nearby with miles of sand and warm surfy sea

and funny little sand crabs that I spent ages photographing

Local market full of quality fruit and veg

A thriving family business where Granny kneads and bakes bread, Grand-daughter fills it and Father provides the freshly squeezed orange juice.  Perfect market breakfast.

A wonderfully therapeutic massage in a cave by the sea lulled by the sound of the waves. A Turkish Hammam where the Socks were steamed then soaked, scrubbed, soaped and stroked by a young lad.  All very restful until he broke the spell by chucking a bucket of cold water over us!

A perfect break to tide us over until a more active holiday later in the year.. perfect that was until the rather gruelling journey home to a week of cold and wet weather which has left us feeling like we need a holiday.

Normal blog service will resume shortly - probably.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Welcome First Clickers

Early morning foxes in next door's garden

 The Sock would like to welcome to her bloggywog all those who have followed the link from First Click

I'm very flattered that the BBC and Carol Klein have linked to my blog for the First Click campaign particularly as helping people take their first steps with computers is something I have experienced.

In the dim and distant past I worked at a University and was one of the first people to use what was then the Joint Academic Network - an early form of the internet linking Universities around the world together.  I knew little about computers but even my tiny knowledge was a great deal more than most people had at that time.  Knowing less made me more able to identify with those I taught basic word processing and computer use to - I knew how they felt confronted with this new technology and no question was too stupid or irrelevant to be asked and no knowledge presumed.   Often a problem could be solved by asking something as simple as "Had the user had turned the computer on?"  I remembered my own experience of sitting in front of a screen for some time waiting for something to happen until my boss seeing my puzzled expression flicked the switch on at the back.

And so when my elderly neighbour Mona decided, at the age of 84, to start using a computer I bore this in mind and was only too willing to help.  Mona's house backed on to mine - her lovely garden being a playground for my cats over the years - and we would occasionally chat over the back wall or I would be invited around to taste the yearly vintage of Mona's sloe gin.   Mona's mind was sharp but her body fragile and after years of activity she was mostly confined to her house where she lived alone.  Mona's impatience with her new computer was legendary and not helped by the fact it was an old secondhand one.  My phone would ring "Arabella!!! I can't get the blasted thing to work!!" I would wander around to her house to see what assistance I could offer which was mainly along the lines of "Try switching the blasted thing off and back on again - that will usually clear 90% of problems". 

Eventually Mona and her temperamental computer got into the swing of things - her amazement and delight at being able to email friends abroad was a joy to behold.  Sadly as her computer skills increased her mobility decreased and after two falls she could no longer even shuffle around her beloved garden with her zimmer frame.  Email became her eyes on the outside world.  I would send her descriptions of how her garden was growing, whether the gardener was trimming the large shrubs that now grew over her back wall tangling into mine, news on the occasional sighting of a fox in the gardens (there are now eleven living within 100 metres of our gardens - how she would have savoured that bit of news!) .  Despite her extremely correct and genteel upbringing Mona delighted in a bit of email gossip about the neighbours their births, deaths, pets and various idiocies.  I sent her pictures of my new greenhouse, my cats and the seasons in her own garden.  At first Mona's email responses were very formal as if writing a letter until I explained the different etiquette of email and how to judge whether an immediate response was required or whether she should reply at her leisure.  Mona didn't
utilize the full capabilities of her computer and the world of the internet but derived a great deal of pleasure from the bit that she did.  It was probably just as well that she never found the sites where Bridge could be played online - she was an extremely skilled Bridge player and would probably have played for money and fleeced everyone!

Sadly Mona died last year but I know that using the computer had enhanced the last years of her life.
It really is worth encouraging elderly people to take that First Click.


The Sock is about to go off on hols for a week.  For a taster of the usual kind of blog postings scroll down and don't miss the Sock's take on the Chelsea Flower show.