Friday, 9 July 2010


NOW THEN, NOW THEN! (Why do people say 'now then?' It's nonsensical - a self contradiction in two words. Barmy. We should think up a new way of ahemming for attention.

But to get to the point:

The image below is included mainly for the delectation of Ms Arabella Sock, in recognition of her illustrious blogging achievements in food, gardens and other mises en bouches of this extraordinary life, and in particular as a mark of congratulation on her NEW FENCE.

The piccy is of a wall made entirely of gabions - those abominations of engineering, crafted to stop cliffs falling onto motorways but snatched up gleefully by assorted garden designers, and those who go through the motions of design (you know who you are.)

Named after 'gabbione' which is, according to Wikipedia, Eyetie for 'cage,' these objects, like vertical gardens, black granite kitchen surfaces, carpetless restaurants and those things that super-chefs use to turn perfectly good food into cuckoo spit, will eventually be recognised for what they are - banes, rather than boons to Mankind, and to Man Unkind as well, for that matter.

Anyway, as a mark of respect, I dedicate this gabionic construction to the Sock who, I suspect, actually has a tiny gabionini somewhere about her garden.

I have to say, that this particular wall of gabions, with its streaks of coloured stones, including limestone, slate from schist and some reddish stuff I wasn't able to identify is rather impressive.

I spotted it in the new Terra Botanica, an 'Edutainment Park' at Angers, in Anjou. More on that later, when I've picked up the rest of the piccies from Boots. (The PG stayed at home, so the pics will probably be substandard.)

Joyful things.
1. The swallows have flown their nest - all five - and now zoom about the garden by day but rush home to Mum and Dad for night roosting in the garage. They've crapped all over the barbecue which will probably improve the flavour of my burnt offerings next time it's wheeled out for use.

2 Last summer was such a pile of pants, weatherwise, that I don't think we barbecued once. This year, each week end, we sacrifice sausages or chicken with veggie kebabs and sweetcorn which is nicer, if almost but not quite burnt to ruination, rather than boiled up in a saucepan in the kitchen.

3. Wendy, the greenhouse, has produced a tuberose flower spike, despite my inept plant management in which I managed to rot off two of the three bulbs.

4. The mock orange in the shelter belt which hides our back garden from the village street is full of blossom. We can't see a single flower - they're all on the street side - but when in bed, with the windows open, the entire room is filled with delicious scent.

5. The iPad is amazing. I'm reading Penelope Lively's Family Portrait on it. The book cost a little less than a paperback but is more convenient. I can alter the font, the type size, can book mark where I got to and so on. What an absolutely brilliant gadget this machine is.

A very, very sad thing.
I looked out of the window this morning and saw that one of the swifts which nest in our roof had fallen. Swifts live almost every moment of their lives on the wing, landing only when they nest. They even sleep on the wing. This one had probably been hit by a raptor - we have a marauding hobby which swoops over frequently, trying to snatch up swallow or house martins and was lying, with a few feathers round it, on our terrace.

I picked it up and tried to launch it - that's what you do with a fallen swift. The tiny legs, almost vestigial, end in long, sharp claws which grip with amazing tightness and pierced my skin. That surprised me because it had seemed very weak. It was a young bird, hatched this year and until now had obviously been healthy and in good order. I tried a launch, but alas, it was too badly hurt and unable to fly. My attempts merely caused it further distress, and there was, very sadly, only one further option.

That put a big black cloud over the morning. Nature is a vicious, nasty, ruthless bitch and there are times when I really hate her. It shouldn't have to be so agonising, but it is. Damn it.

My meadow thrives, despite the drought. Lady's bedstraw and field scabious are flowering for the first time this summer but our star wildling was still the spotted orchid which we spotted - ha ha - earlier. It's the one place where I'm actually allowing lesser bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis. I think it will do no harm and you cannot deny that the flowers are exquisite. Distinctly prettier than C. sabateus, which we pay good money for, and also rather more variable.

I'm listening to Schubert's Der Winterreise, A legendary recording with Benjamin Britten accompanying Peter Pears. Britten's playing is riddled with verve and vim.

This time in 2006 I had gout in my right foot but managed to prune a big Ceanothus dentatus and a small Brachyglottis greyi before watching Federer beat Rafael Nadal. The PG and I watched Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, that evening.

This week's adventure was to travel by train from Peterborough to Kings Cross, to Saint Pancras, to Lille and thence to Angers. What a thrill to be in Anjou, the epicentre of the Plantagenet Dynasty and to bathe in Angevin culture for three delirious days. And to think I was paid to go there! More on that later.

The TGV train broke down about 20 minutes short of Angers station but had the good nature to stop so that my window looked out onto a patch of trackside wildflowers. I watched Marbled Whites, a fast flying fritillary of some kind, Chalk Hill Blues and other intriguing butterflies for the hour we had to wait while they magicked up another locomotive.

Despite the breakdown, I'd recommend the train over beastly aircraft any day. Civilised travel, what?

Bye bye.


  1. Morning Nigel
    I have been shamingly lax about commenting on your blog recently - although I have read every delightful word. My apologies but too busy, busy busy.
    You were missed at Hampton Court - which was refreshingly short on gabions. I am having huge problems with a badly designed* Ha-Ha wall constructed from rubbly gabion. They are so uneven and rubbishy that I am really quite cross.

    *Not designed by me I hasten to add.

  2. You are such a lovely man!! I can't tell you how much your kind thoughts mean to me but as a token of my gratitude for bringing me 'back up to the surface' for a while I am going to share with you a picture of my idea for this years


  3. I woke at dawn this morning with the terrible feeling that I'd written 'bain' when I meant 'bane' in this post. Funny how, despite a raft of serious and pre-occupying problems such as world peace, drought-dead garden, an empty fuel oil tank, the joke that was our pension fund plus a seriously ailing mother all fail to nudge me into fearful wakefulness whereas the thought of an idiot spelling mistake makes me sweat and shake. Pathetic! Being small-minded can be horribly humiliating. (The text has been corrected.)

    Arabella - your 2010 gabion occupant is miles more beautiful than last year's in every possible respect. The foliage is prettier and clearly, it has a great deal more character.

    James - thank you and good luck with your personal gabion hell. A bull dozer and new blue-print are probably your best options!

  4. Sorry for the swift. We frequently rescue stunned birds that crash into the windows. We leave them in the cage/feeder and they rise from the dead, and fly off into another day.

    And absolutely train, not plane every time!!!

  5. A great hero of mine, Brian Clough, was the master of using now then, usually accompanied by the follow two words, young man. As in "now then young man". I wouldn't normally mention such things, but the word verification code on this is Foxian - I don't think it's a word, but it really should be.