Friday, 24 May 2013

RHS Chelsea - These are a few of my favourite things..

A quick round up including pics I have already tweeted from Chelsea Press Day in case anyone missed them or lives up a mountain in France and doesn't use twitter.


Not only is Chris Beardshaw a 'pocket adonis' he also does beautiful gardens.  I truly adored this for the 'Arthritis Research' and I think it put over the charity's message in a reasonably subtle manner.   The planting was all my favourite, dreamy, colours even including some Cleve West 'Masterpiece' lupins (see my blog post from days of yore).

A comment from twitter friend Sally Nex saying she wasn't keen on the 'corridor' effect got me thinking. I can see exactly what she meant and this next picture reminds me of the Garden Photo day at Wisley, where we were taught that its often a good idea to use the telephoto for long border shots to compress the perspective and lose the long corridor effect. As you can see I didn't use the telephoto!

 For me, the smooth simplicity of the paving corridor made the borders and plants the focus for this garden showing off Chris's horticultural mastery. Bit of a shame the pathway was covered in dirty footprints from the judges et al trudging around.  In a show where, to my mind, it looked like the same gardens from the last few years had been slightly rejigged and regurgitated, the planting was pleasingly different and the fabulous wire sculpture (surely based on the Pocket Adonis himself) enhanced rather than stole the show. Love the echiums and will try them again in my border despite past failure!

Another one I liked, the East Village garden, again offered something different with a brave, slightly retro feel, bold colours and curves.

East Village Garden

I've always like Nigel Dunnett's gardens but let's face it if you didn't spot it as a Nigel Dunnett garden then you haven't been paying attention to Chelsea for the last n years. In fact I'm not going to post a picture of his garden as you can probably just imagine it for yourself!

The Aussie Trailfinders garden (which got Best in Show) was a good example of sculpture outshining the planting.  I was so mesmerised by the structure I didn't really notice the rest.  The girl is probably about to break into Waltzing Matilda - I know a great alternative version to this which I was taught by some Aussie surfers. Unfortunately, I once sang to a group of people at a dinner party thinking it was funny, and shocked everyone into a deathly silence.

Aussie 'Trailfinders' garden

I liked Jo Thomson's  garden, although I didn't love it as everyone did her caravan garden last year. The theme 'Stop the Spread', contrasting the beauty of a garden with the spread of pest and disease, was sobering and the colours a little sombre for my taste.  If there was any mistake it was perhaps to make the dead ash trees look so architecturally attractive!!

Jo' Thompson's garden

Whilst I was full of appreciation for Jo's planting scheme I ache for someone to just let her loose on a Chelsea garden where she has entirely free rein to come up with something that is totally 'her'.  I do for all the designers really. Take Jinny Blom, I think she drew the short straw this year in terms of trying to please both Royals and the Sentabale charity.  Her garden really didn't work for me at all.  Still, always better to be talked about at Chelsea than ignored and it gave Anne Wareham something to get excited about, so not all was bad news.

Jinny Blom's Sentabale Garden

Last of my favourite gardens was Robert Myer's - I liked his last year too. Again Sally Nex disagreed and said it was 'too well-behaved' a marvellous description which is perfectly fitting, I love the well-behavedness of it.  Had to agree that the white chairs weren't quite right though.  Hmm.. looking at the picture I don't like the wall either. The photo doesn't do it justice at all. Someone's comment on Chelsea was "enuff Anthriscus ravenswing already" but I just can't get too much of the stuff.  I love all those umbelifferous lacy plants.


Just in case you're thinking "I'm half-way through this post and there's still no mention of Climate Change Farmer, Author, and barman Mark Diacono" I'd better remedy that now.  Mark was muddling cocktails on the Pennard Plants stand. The muddling was entertaining, the cocktails were good, I now know what stevia tastes like and will be heading to Pennard's to buy some seeds next time we are near there.

I have no doubt this isn't the last I have to say about Mark and his cocktails.

There ain't nothing like a Dame! Helen Mirren  looking fabulous and elegant in a lily of the valley floral dress.

Joanna Lumley looking more Ab Fabulous and a little less elegant but you've to to love her!

Hillier's stand was bright, gorgeous and after a rather flat grey start to the day, very cheering!  I had a glass of their more alcholic fizz and the day started to improve.

A quick visit to my Heucheraholic friends - their stand was looking pretty good and I wanted to snaffle a couple of the shiny happy heucheras.  Jooles said I would have to wait until after judging - they had resigned themselves to getting gold at every show but Chelsea.  Guess what!!!!!!!!

Hurrah for Heucheraholics! And hurrah for RHS Chelsea - it wasn't the best of years for the show but you wouldn't want to miss it!

Oh.. nearly forgot.  The Press and other assorted riff-raff get chucked out at 3.00pm on Press Day so that Her Majesty doesn't have to trip over them when she wanders round.  I just caught this last picture before I left....

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Photographing the Most Handsome Man at RHS Chelsea!

Ha ha! You thought this was another Matthew Wilson post didn't you (see last blog). Well you're wrong!  This is about my attempts to photograph David Gandy - the most famous male model in the world - who was being touted around Press Day. When I say touted, it looked to me like his agents were escorting him around expecting him to pose provocatively for photos and be mobbed by press. In general this didn't seem to happen so perhaps he just happens to like gardening and was with his Mum.  Some of you may remember David Gandy from the fashion parade part of the Olympics closing ceremony, along with Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and others. There was a certain amount of twitter flak about these 'vacuous' people being paraded amongst our heroic athletes but I have to disagree.  These supermodels are one of our most famous and biggest exports and - knowing as much about the modelling industry as anyone who watched eighteen series of America's Next Top Model before finally finding it just too excruciating, can - I would say it takes a lot of skill and hard work for these top models to perfect their art.  Also I read an article about David Gandy where he came across as an intelligent and grounded guy who just happens to have the kind of interesting and chiselled face that cameras love.  Except for my camera. Clearly there is something wrong with it!

Having seen David Gandy in the kind of glossy magazines that I only read at the hairdressers I felt quite excited at seeing him in the flesh and felt sure I would get a good photo - I was so wrong.  This is how not to do it..

Photo Fail 1 - Spot your celeb but have the wrong lens on.

This wasn't really my fault. Last year I got the Bedsock in with me as my camera carrying man and he proved a true paparazzi, roaming the show with the long lens and getting some great pics.  This year he wasn't able to come and as I couldn't carry two heavy cameras I kept having to swap the lens which takes forever..

Photo Fail 2 - I swapped the lens but in my haste put it on the wrong setting. However I got quite a nice picture of the ginger woman's hair.

I gave up at this point as I didn't want to look like a stalking madwoman even if it was true.

Photo Fail 3 A bit later I saw Gandy again in the marquee.  I circled round a few stalls to get him from the front but spent so long messing with my camera settings that I failed to get a picture at all.  A nice young woman at a nearby stand asked me who he was - I explained and said I didn't like to be too pushy getting photos. She suggested that I had failed at that too as I had just stuck the camera in his face, so I'm not really sure what happened there.

Later in the day the real cameramen caught up with him so here was my ideal opportunity to get a picture.

Photo Fail 4 - I blame the fact that Mark Diacono forced me to drink several of the cocktails he had muddled on the Pennard Plants stall.  Nice shot of the cameraman's back though.

Photo Fail 5 - I tried again. I honestly don't think that this was his best angle

Photo - not quite such a fail 6.  - This was my best shot. 

On inspection I'm wondering if actually Matthew Wilson is the better looking bloke after all.  Maybe I'll just stick to photographing him in future.

Matthew Wilson

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

When Petra met Matthew

Some might think that Petra Hoyer Millar took Matthew's badge a little too literally!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Chelsea Fringe and beyond at Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station

One of my abiding memories of childhood holidays in France is that of 'cadeaux'.  Every year PaSock would pack us in the car and set off from Swansea to drive around Europe for a month.  My main memory of Provence, apart from the smell of lavender, is that petrol stations would give away a 'cadeaux' with each tank full - a paper cone containing maybe a couple of sweets, a small plastic toy, or some other bit of nonsense. Rubbish it may have been, but BroSock and I craved the excitement of discovering what goodies were hidden in the cone and would sit in the sweaty, sticky heat of the back of the car chanting "cadeaux! cadeaux! cadeaux!" every time the petrol gauge showed it was nearing fill-up time.  "Little things, please little minds" as MaSock used to say.  This practice came to an abrupt end when PaSock, whilst searching for a station that gave out cadeaux,  held out a little too long on the petrol front and had to coast for miles down the Provencal mountains until we finally found a sleepy hamlet with one petrol pump.  Several hours later the attendant finished his siesta and turned up to serve us.  As this was clearly BroSock and my fault we never got "cadeaux" again.

Perhaps this is why I get filled with glee by a "goodie bag" and those handed out at the Chelsea Fringe Press Launch did contain some good goodies from various sponsors. A box of Carbon Gold BioChar soil improver which will do nicely for my veg bed, thank you very much, some Crabtree and Evelyn gardener's hand cream (If I had realised this was cream and not soap I would have scooped another couple of boxes off the freebie table.)  A Lush bath ball (which pervasively perfumed the car with a strong scent of roses for our journey home) seeds, a mug, bumph about Flower Workshops at Ally Cappelino (I love her bags!), wild flower seeds and other stuff.

We were very pleased to be invited to the Chelsea Fringe Press Launch - I missed most of the Fringe events last year and felt left out. Also Brighton, our home town  is one of the this year's Fringe satellites (along with Bristol, Kent and even Vienna), and I hope that supporting them will encourage future Brighton events.

After some rather nice pastries and coffee, Tim Richardson the Fringe founder, informed us that the Chelsea Fringe projects had doubled in number this year with more than 200 ready to swing into action.  The vast majority of the events are free and often community inspired, from guerilla gardening to performance art.  Take a look at the Fringe Site or better still the Chelsea Fringe app.  Both of these will help you plan a visit taking in, for instance, a project that exists to brighten up your tube journey - The Meadow Line WC2N displaying native grown wildflowers in containers at tube stations across the city; spend some time at the Gin Garden at Chelsea Physic Garden with its  'botanical bar' serving drinks with herbs, flowers, local honey and unsurprisingly, gin; or lounge around with a floral themed cocktail at the Athenaeum Hotel which has a very attractive exterior living wall.

Model of the planned redevelopment

If there is only one thing you have time to do make it a visit to installations at the impressive Battersea Power Station site.  This was not least of our reasons for wanting to attend the Press Launch which was held there.  For as long as I can remember the Power station building has pretty much represented London to me - its proximity to Victoria station placing it as a familiar landmark, I've watched its gradual decline into decay and ruin over the years from passing train and car journeys, wondering what fate would befall this imposing icon.  Now the entire surrounding site is to be covered in a huge new development of 'a genuine mix of residential, retail and recreational opportunities alongside riverside landscaping and space for the arts.. blah blah."

I viewed the models with fascination - and hated it! All those narrow spaces between high glass buildings which will never see the full light of day, the smart soulessness of it.  But worst of all for me, the iconic, ageing, brickwork of the Station itself will be hidden, no longer viewable from the train - just the tops of the chimneys peeping over the glass walls of endless apartments.  Nevertheless the heavy, imposing frontage will still make an interesting vista from the river and is where you will be able to view the Pop-up Park weekends from now until September. But I can't help feeling that the Battersea Power Station has been sequestered, an icon that somehow belonged to us all will now be part of an elite development site for the rich - and the rest of us will be poorer for it.

Ironically, as venue for a Garden Fringe, the envisaged planting on the new development looked somewhat sparse amongst the great swathes of glass and hard landscaping.  I fear for those trees planted in the dark wells between the high rises to the sides of the Power Station.

Enough of my mealy-mouthedness! We were happy to be guests there and I wouldn't say no to an apartment there with a nice river view!

We were escorted over to the front of the Power Station which will form the principal hub of the Fringe Festival.

Filming of a flower festooned boat

There were various installations already in situ but what caught my eye most was the  fabulous old rusty cranes on the river directly in front which I suspect by coincidence, not design, had blown in shrubs growing happily out of some of the integral containers.

Is it just me getting a bit nostalgic in my old age or is there just something infinitely more attractive about the ageing rusty, intricate metallwork of the cranes or the solid brick monstrosity of the Power Station itself,  than a modern glassscape?

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Family Drain

My acupuncturist was a great conspiracy theorist. Whilst waiting for the strategically placed needles to start opening up the energy flow, I would entertain myself by making a few 'innocent' remarks that would be sure to set him off on long rants that became increasingly paranoid over the years. He finally emigrated to a safer existence in New Zealand - just in time for a large earthquake. Amongst some of the more airy-fairy nonsense we discussed an occasional theory would strike me as apposite,  'the family drain' was such a one. The theory was that the repressed emotions of previous generations may flow down the family until eventually an outlet, usually female, is found. Then all that unexpressed, pent up, joy, fear, love, anxiety comes flooding out through her. Bollox of course - except in my case there is a hint of truth in it.  More sensitive, emotional, and generally more effusive than generations of Socks before me.. I am 'the family drain'.

I am pondering this theory as I drive west to Wales to visit OldmaSock. I had planned to check on her well being earlier in the year but the long winter, a vicious never ending cold and a series of bad news has drained what little energy my ME leaves me. As far as I can tell OldmaSock's life has been running well enough, safe within her routine of OAPs dinner and church clubs. It's difficult to ascertain in our phone calls if anything is wrong as she invariably adopts a cheery, singsong, voice and has always been stoic in the face of any adversity. OldmaSock is nothing if not a survivor, even if it has sometimes meant putting her own needs before those of her family. She never whinges or moans about difficulties, not permitting herself the human frailties and fragilities she also denies others.

In the past if anything is going wrong it has been my brother, as 'man' of the family, who bears the brunt of OldMaSock's repetitive, frustrating, phone calls to say she can't tune the TV into Judge Judy, or more recently an imagined problem with the gas fire. As we both live a long way away it is very difficult to deal adequately with them and OldMaSock absolutely refuses any suggestion of home help.  These things have now become my responsibility. On my last visit BroSock joined us with the tragic news that his wife has Motor Neurone Disease and for the foreseeable future he will be primarily occupied with her care. OldmaSock was given a very limited version of this - there is no point upsetting her with the pain of other people's lives and in the event she does absorb what she is told she may ask the same painful questions again and again and again never remembering the answer. Oldmasock has always had an uncanny knack of thinking the most insensitive thing to say and then saying it at the worst possible time- like some sort of Tourettes syndrome, only without the swearing. When BroSock once suffered from a bad bout of depression my father had to stop her from talking to him on the phone for fear she would say something to trigger off a further descent into gloom. If confronted about her tactlessness she will giggle nervously and play the 'Northern' card "Oh but I don't mean anything by it. It's what we Yorkshire women are like". I don't think she does mean to cause pain but sometimes her lack of empathy, sympathy or emotional intelligence, coupled with a strong impulse to say whatever comes into her head, can cut you to the soul. Now the increasing dementia and short-term memory loss will mean the comment may be repeated over and over and over again, the needle stuck in the groove. Worse...I believe it is an inherited family trait and it is only because I have more empathic awareness that I (mostly) stop my impulses to do the same. 

As teenagers BroSock and I were close -I remember him returning home late one night, a few months after he had started dating the girl who would later become his wife. He woke me to whisper his excitement that she had told him she loved him for the first time. I was thrilled for him not realising that this new relationship would end our closeness and relegate me to the sidelines of teenage angst and loneliness. Now he has his own family to support him and my grief at his situation is useless as there is little I can do to help other than take over his responsibilities with OldMaSock. But I too have my own traumas to deal with.

Returning from our Easter break a month ago we found Spook hiding under the bed and refusing food, the beginning of a month of endless vets visits, hours of waiting for phone calls and Spook, like Schrodinger's cat, neither alive nor dead until we pick up the phone and hear the latest news. At last after endless blood tests and scans he has had an operation to remove his spleen and has come through that well - albeit with nearly half his fur shaved off, a stapled scar up his tummy like a zip, and a horrible cone collar around his head to stop him licking the wound. As I am driving I am thinking of the blog I will write about him.. 'Conehead the Barbarian' my brave, funny, little cat who has been stumbling around the house for days bumping into things with his ridiculous collar.  The cone hasn't stopped him foraging around the kitchen to steal food, or to stretch out on top of me for a cuddle, his head propped on my breasts, the cone itself jammed uncomfortably under my neck - a rare and precious moment of lovingness that I don't cut short to answer the ringing phone, or even to disturb by reaching out for my glass of wine on the nearby table. He has been through so much but I think we are now out of the woods.

It's sunny and warm when I arrive at OldmaSock's - she has forgotten I am coming of course but treats the surprise with equanimity, she is used to being surprised by things she has no memory of doing or saying. She immediately decides to mow the lawn, in part to demonstrate how capable she is so I won't move her to a home - she always harbours a suspicion that this is the motive behind any visits.  And she is well capable, still physically strong and very active - she has an energy at the age of eighty-six I can only envy.

The Bedsock phones that evening and the news is bad, the worst, with chemo Spook has possibly nine months. I didn't expect it.. Somehow after the month of expecting the worst I had just convinced myself it would all be OK. Now I feel like my whole insides are crumpling and falling away leaving me just a numb husk. I can't speak.. I want to howl away my pain, to collapse on the floor until someone tells me everything is alright.. I don't want to upset OldmaSock so I somehow pull myself together but I have to explain the tears coursing down my face. I briefly tell her what's happened "that's sad" she sympathises "put him down it's not fair to let them suffer." I feel stabbed with pain -  it's inappropriate - the Bedsock has told me Spook will have a short but quality life. OldmaSock has never had time for those not up to scratch, pets were invariably bundled off to their ending at the vets at first sign of failure. I have no doubt that had she known I would end up with long term health problems, I would have been on a one-way ticket to Switzerland the minute I looked a bit peaky.

Difficult to know where the line is drawn between being a monster and just somewhat overly pragmatic. I don't mention it again and as far as OldmaSock is concerned it is quickly forgotten. I paste a smile on my face and a cheery, singsong, voice to match OldmaSock's and battle my way through three days of what was always going to be stressful but now feels like hell. I need to see my cats, I need to be with the Bedsock, I need to have my familiar things around me to show me that life goes on. Not stuck here in this void with no radio, no internet and OldmaSock constantly flicking through the tv channels she doesn't watch. I heat up one of the ready meals I have bought as I don't trust anything from OldmaSock's fridge with its best before dates of yesteryear. As soon as I have dished up some of the oven cooked lasagne she scuttles off to blast it in the microwave, super-heating it to a dangerous level.  Madness but its been going on for years even when she stayed with us and the Bedsock would cook her a lovely meal only to find, to his dismay,  that she would suddenly leap up and disappear off into our kitchen to 'nuke' it. Now I scarcely care and can't eat anything anyway.

On my last day,  after I have finally sorted out as much of OldMaSock's life as I can,  we go out for a walk along the coastal path, OldMaSock scampering happily up the cliff steps whilst I amble more wearily behind. It's so beautiful, the sea clear and blue beneath the cliffs, the acid yellow of the gorse with its heady scent of coconut and citrus, I loved this as a child but today I feel immune to it, alienated. I haven't slept, I'm tired, I just want to dive off the rocks and float away.  I have always been a fighter but I don't know how I can cope with this cruellest of situations. It seems such a short time ago I wrote about the death of my beloved cat Luka on this blog which I found horribly difficult to come to terms with. Now I am grieving for my bright-eyed, naughty little Spook who at age four has never seemed to grow up and now never will. It is all too hard, too unbelievable that life could be this cruel again. The Bedsock also grieves but like most men is more adept at compartmentalising his emotions, holding them until the right time to mourn. For me, as family drain, I need to find some way to staunch the flow of emotion and enjoy Spook's last months, as I will ensure that Spook enjoys them. I am, after all, OldMaSock's daughter - somewhere inside me there must be a residue of her strength, resilience and incredible instinct for survival.


I know that some readers will think "that's sad but it's a cat not a child" and that may be true in your world.. in my world they are my family and I love them. My expectations may be different but my feelings are the same.

I wrote this as I find it cathartic to do so.  Please don't feel you have to comment although you are welcome to do so - I will take your sympathy as read. In any case, at present Spook is fine.