Friday, 21 November 2008


Well, that's got the Garden Media Guild awards lunch out of the way.  What a bun fight!  It can't be healthy to have so many competitors crammed into one large room but everyone seemed to be in jolly form and it was lovely to see so many old faces - some even older than mine! 

Deepest gratitude to my gracious hosts, Garden World Images who tolerated me at their table. Thank you, thank you! 

The venue, the Royal Lancaster, was pretty much yer  bog standard big London hotel banquet room, but it distinguishes itself by having quite the ugliest crystal chandeliers ever devised.  These are buried in deep, rectangular, upside-down pits and are squat, non-sparkly and unbelievably heavy-looking - a perfect example of opulence overruling taste.  

The food was a tad chef-tastic but despite that, not bad.  For starters, the thing resembling a miniature Egyptian fez turned out to be tomato cheesecake, mounted on a mashed up McVitie's digestive biscuit garnished with asparagine slivvers.   I wondered whether the labour cost of splitting the hundreds of asparagus spears longitudinally cancelled the savings made on having to buy less of the stuff in the first place.  (Have you noticed how, within minutes of eating asparagus, your wee smells different?  It's the result of a sort of metabolic short cut. Miraculous, innit?  But as ever, I digress!)    Guinea fowl followed and then another mini-fez, identical in texture to the first, but a paler hue and blander flavour,  this time served with a small, moist, slightly glistening thing which the menu said was poached pear. 

The showmanship bit was handled deftly and wittily by the charming Andy McIndoe and the sound and visuals were good.  I suspect they used the superb Macintosh software known as Keynote, rather than the infinitely more clunky and user-hostile PowerPoint.  And the howler at the conclusion, when Michael Warren's portrait came on screen before he was named as recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, did not spoil things at all.  It was good to see his picture while his credentials were recited, and deeply satisfying to see such a deserving winner. Big congrats, Michael! 

The rest of the awards themselves held few surprises and a lot of very, very,  familiar names cropped up in the shortlists.  But two winners were such a thrill to see that I decided then and there, that my next blog post would fete them!

First, Newspaper of the Year.  This was not a big budget, high flying National Daily - though two were in the shortlist. No, it was the previously make-d0-and-mend, now shiny sparkly and revitalised GARDEN NEWS.   And no prize could be more richly deserved!  Times had been tough, for this horticulturally superb weekly.  The paper suffered a prolonged period of uncertainty, pinched budgets, minimal publicity and downright lack of support from its previous owners, EMAP, but now, with new proprietors, seems to be flourishing. Long may it continue, and to Editor Neil Pope, Gardening Editor Clare Foggett and all the team, huge, huge, heartfelt congratulations.  (And thank you, thank you for renewing my contract!)

I've left my other top, top fave award until last:  Jacques - Le Chapeau - A-S.  received a surprise award for top blog.  This is the man who inspired me to leap into the blogosphere with my own lame, faltering offerings.  He had nagged me to visit his blog for ages, but I never did - idle bastard that I am.  But one day, when Googling for something completely different, I stumbled on the Blackpitts blog and wasted the next hour or so, immersed in J A-S's outrageously funny, wicked, wonderful prose and longed to see more of his enchanting images.  Witty, wise, wicked - no wonder I was caught and held fluttering like Pieris brassicae in a cobweb.  So, James, if I had a hat as big as yours, I'd lift it high in your honour!  As it is, I have to be content to tug what old age, male pattern baldness and my barber have left me to serve as a forelock.

Blogger extraordinary - up a gum tree, as usual.


  1. Thanks for the potted account - fascinating. I havent looked at Gardening News for ages so will probably revisit it now.

    I do hate this growing trend for pureeing up vegetables it seems to get worse the 'posher' the resturant. It makes me feel like a child who has to have their food mushed up or that I am secretly being fed more veggies than I know!

  2. that picture had me laughing out loud!!

    I was there.... Didn't see you though I was looking out for you just to let you know how fab I think your blog is (a possible candidate for the future, I wonder?)

    Did see Emma T and a lot of other lovely people I've met over the last couple of years (not sadly James A-S - my only sight of whom was as a surprised and mildly bemused prizewinner on the stage). The unbelievable crush in the foyer where most of the chatting took place before going in meant I didn't manage to get much further than 10 ft past the table where you picked up your name tags, and you were among many people I knew were there, wanted to say hello to, but didn't manage to find. Hey-ho, there's always next year...

  3. Nigel,
    you didn't mention that sales of Neurofen had gone up this morning due to the fact that enough wine was drunk at the pub afterwards to re-float a run aground cruise ship.
    I've just spoken to James Alexander-Sinclair who tells me that from now on we must all pre-fix his name with "Award Winning Journalist." I am happy to oblige.

  4. Well Nigel

    A propos of the aforementioned DEFRA-rage we now have another (City related) rage...the meaning of which my brother asked me the other day. viz ARBITRAGE.
    It sounds a bit horticultural so I thought you might have an answer.

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  6. Lila - I managed to resist the temptation to hit the sherbet with friends, after the lunch, but I heard there was a brief claret crisis in Westminster. Perhaps that's what caused the FTSE to slump.

    Rozza - Arbitrage is indeed horticultural. It refers to the sudden burst of anger experienced when one bangs one's bonce against the low-hanging branch of a tree. So don't let any City Slicker friends of yours mislead you by suggesting that it's something to do with trading.

    My picture of AWARD WINNING JOURNALIST J A-S is a classic example of a recent attack of arbitrage - on my part. He'd just kicked my head, as he climbed up into the tree. Hence the angry pointing from below and the 'What, moi?' gesture from the A.W.J.

  7. Well spotted, Nigel. It was indeed Keynote, running on a MacBook Pro - albeit, we didn't invoke many of the bells and whistles. A sponsor lady wrote to me to say that it was "blissfully unpretentious" and believing her to mean tasteful, I felt vindicated.

    Your review of the chandelier is right on the money. But I think your faint praise for the fez was wide of the mark for it was an historic dish. And I chose it.

    The premature visualisation of the Lifetime Achievement Award winner can be credited to whoever it was who jogged my elbow at le moment critique.

    Congratulations to all the winners - including the award-winning journalist, JA-S who rose from his sick-bed to share his malady with me, and doubtless a few hundred others.

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  9. I felt the chandeliers were gorgeous, as, clearly, did Howard Sooley -check out his account of the event on the Observer blog.

    Now onto more important business - your piece in the Garden this month. Did you know (I found it in a junk shop about four months ago and literally couldn't believe my eyes) that Richard Mabey wrote a book called "The Roadside Wildlife Book" at one stage in his early career. I notice that this book is now not often cited as part of his oeuvre. You will need to order a copy to see why, but I can't help feeling it's the perfect glove compartment accessory for any TDI.