Monday, 8 June 2009


Sunday's rainfall - a welcome 25millimetres.  Lovely!

Look! Before I start, let’s be absolutely clear. I have NOT fiddled my expenses. I have a perfect right to build a scaled replica of Blenheim Palace to use as a bird table, at a cost to the tax payer of £17,049.51, since this will greatly enhance the local environment. Furthermore, it’s only fair that those who benefit from my political wonderfulness should foot the bill for the extensive make-over at my new London Residence. The fact that the aforementioned London Residence is just outside Torquay, and happens to be occupied solely by my niece’s cat, is my affair an no one else’s. (And by the way, rumours that she’s not really my niece are totally vexatious and as fallacious as the notion that Ursus arctos might even think of parking his breakfast in a tree-rich landscape.)

Rain-spattered Lady's Mantle - Alchemilla mollis.

Phew. I’m glad we’ve got the air cleared on all that.

Well! First the fire, then the flood! Are we in for another biblical deluge?  Is that what climate change really is?

Sahara-style sunshine has toasted my head, hands and legs to an alluring golden brown. But they’re the only bits of me regularly exposed to weather so when I stand naked before the bathroom mirror – not something one should do very often, when over 65 – I resemble a rather oddly shaped, sagging liquorice allsort. 

Since the heatwave, a vicious, keening easterly has smashed all but the stiffest perennials down and torn swags of clematis from their supports. I’ve tied some of them back, but what were once handsome plants now resemble mangled bedsprings.

The rain that followed was sweet and welcome, of course – rain almost always is in East Anglia and Lincolnshire – but I rather wish it had fallen overnight, so that I could have spent my one free day, yesterday, weeding. The sowthistles are just coming into flower and as they say round here: One year’s seed equals ten years weed.

Lobelia pedunculata - was Pratia pedunculata, being a carpet, a pool or a living baize cloth.

I’d like to say a word on behalf  floor plants. The path which leads round our terrace has been planted up with some rather good-natured things which form durable mats over the gravel. Most of them tolerate being walked on and all are prettier than plain gravel or paving. Best of these – better even than the various coloured-leaf clovers and the aromatic wild-occurring hybrid Geranium ‘Biokovo’ – is what was called Pratia but is now Lobelia pedunculata. The galaxy of tiny, sky blue flowers is a joy, resembling a pool of water from the distance. At one point, this has pleached or merged with a naturally occurring ivy-leaved toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis to create a melange of subtle blues. All good to look at.

Speaking of pleaching, I’ve been trying to persuade the climbing rose ‘Madame Gregoire Staechelin’ to weave herself into one of our silver birches. The blowsy pink flowers look wonderful against the silver-grey trunk but unlike a rampageous rambler, this rose appeared to lack the necessary thuggishness and kept falling out of its tree. But at last, this year – after death-defying ballet performances atop our rickety step-ladder while tying in the main stems – I think it will stay put. Already, the tarty pink blooms look pretty among the birch leaves - talk about a busty barmaid among the bovver boys.  This variety produces big hips, too - very barmaid -  so I’m hoping for an autumn show as a bonus.

Rosa 'Madame Gregoire Staechelin' aka 'Spanish beauty' 

On a sadder note, the swallows that began to build in our garage took umbrage, for some reason and again, have given us a belated bum’s rush. Why? The conditions are perfect, I’d have thought. That means a 3 year gap since swallows last hatched off chicks on our premises. Sigh!

I’ve just read This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson, a more than 700 page whopper of a novelised or fictionalised account of the life of Captain Robert FitzRoy who was Master of HMS Beagle which carried a young but already egocentric Charles Darwin as its ‘Natural Philosopher. A great read, but I worried all the way through about the authenticity of the information. I think I’d have preferred a straight biography. It is obvious that Mr Thompson’s research was impeccable and exhaustive. What a monster project!!

Last night’s film was John Schlesinger’s golden 1970 ikon Sunday, Bloody Sunday. A love triangle set among affluent Londoners with wealth, privilege and newly liberal values but against a background of brewing economic crises. (Hang on – isnt’ that just a teeny bit now-ish?) Every scene exudes remarkable qualities: a bold, but not oppressive symbol structure, impeccable casting, screen play as sound as a bell, photography beautiful at times and edgy where needed – what a masterpiece! I don’t understand why this is has not become as much a cult treasure as Withnail and I did, when it came later.  And what a terrible loss when Glenda Jackson left the acting profession – and for what?

I’m listening to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash singing Girl from the North Country.

This day in 1991  I visited the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, accompanied by the PG and was impressed by an Elisabeth Frink sculpted head.  Afterwards, to the cinema to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Bees are swarming outside my window  - but another post for that.  Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!  Help, I'm getting buzzed to blazes!


  1. Surprised to read your Mme Gregoire Straechlin isn't a thug, I had to cull ours when she reached 20 foot high and went 15 foot in either direction against the south facing wall of the cottage, she started to make a bid for the roof and took some slates down. I now have the less ambitious Lady Sylvia in her place.

  2. Pratia can be very invasive - but still pretty. It has now entirely colonised my parents' lawn giving tiny blue flowers all through the turf - I think it looks rather lovely. The new name far less embarrassing to use in public!


  3. I'm listening to The Ballad of Ira Hayes by Johnny Cash.

    Very sad.

  4. Personally, as a grateful taxpayer, I would be happy to personally fund a new, bespoke litter tray for the Colborn cats.
    Your film choices are always excellent: we watched two this week which I commend to you. Firstly the immortal Bringing Up Baby which should be regularly revisited. The pace is amazing - people would never be allowed to speak that fast in a film nowadays - and Katherine Hepburn is mind blowingly gorgeous.
    Secondly a fabulous film recommended by elder son. It is called The Fall and is visually staggering - go and find it immediately: you will not be disappointed. Details here
    (I wish I knew how to embed links into comments)

  5. PS In this part of the world we say "One year's seed, seven years weed". Things must be more fertile in Lincolnshire

  6. Zoë - yes, Mme G.S. goes high, but she doesn't seem to have those down-turned thorns which cling in the way that, say, 'Rambling Rector' or "Wedding Day' does. I'd describe her as tall and politely pushy, rather than a thug. But she did have a go at the limestone slates on our last house, so I do know what you mean.

    Anon - a pratia lawn is a superb idea. Dare I introduce a sprig of mine into the turf?

    GM - don't you think most of Johnny Cash's music has a core of sadness? But what a wonderful combination, Cash plus Dylan - two absolute titans.

  7. James - thanks for the tip. Bringing up Baby is on my 'absolute classics' shelf, along with Now Voyager, Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, Seventh Seal, that sort of thing. I'll go and find The Fall at once. Oh, and Hebburn was never not mindblowingly gorgeous. No one has ever been able to do a lower-lip tremble more convincingly.

    Well, of course Lincolnshire's more fertile! Gorgeous silty loam, compared with your stiff, nasty clay. That's why it's wall to wall cabbages here, and why they say the farmers here wallow in money, muck and misery.

  8. I've never been able to grow ground covering plants which one can tread on. It's disappointing and discouraging.

    There's something romantic and elegant about the very word 'pleached'.

    It could be a new game - 'If I were and MP, I would buy . . .