Friday, 29 October 2010


Well, hello! What joy to greet the Emperor of China again.

Chrysanthemum 'Emperor of China.'
This is one of my favourite chrysanthemums. It's practically impossible to grow, having hopelessly lanky stems and growing 2 metres high, but the flowers are so beautiful and the leaves go beetroot red as the year dies. Gorgeous!

We've had what I believe are called, in posh parlance, our 'Rainwater Goods' replaced. Our roof is now properly drained and guttered, instead of gushing waterfalls onto the walls, into one window and through the stonework.

In gardening terms, that meant two burly blokes working round the house, banging and rending and, when not up their ladders, dancing a hobnail two-step on all the little pretties which I had planted in the narrow beds along the house walls. Many of these were clearly marked with printed, aluminium labels but both the pretties and the labels are now bent out of shape and flattened.

But they were nice blokes, and they had the goodness to cut away all the climbers which had gone up from the walls, under the pan tiles. And they also made sure that all the 'making good' still left plenty of access for the swifts which nest in our roof year after year.

In the process, one soakaway was discovered to be ruinously silted up. So a new pipe has had to be laid but can't go underground because of other services. A shaded raised bed, therefore, is among my short term design plans, to hide the new pipe and to grow ferns and dwarf rhododendrons in.

Some of the petals open spoon-shaped on 'Emperor of China'

Now then. Ahem, ahem!!!
What, exactly, is all this nonsense about fashion? Clothes? OK. They go in and out. Those who care about such things will gaze in admiration at the preposterous nonsense-garments the big 'Names' put on at fashion shows and worry themselves into a depression if they cannot be 'hip' or 'zeitgeisty' in their threads.

The rest of us have grot clo' for gardening, fishing, or whatever, and classic smart stuff for posh events including the trusty DJ for formal events. The most downcasting words on invitations, for such people, are 'Smart casual.' I still don't know what that actually means.

But fashion, it seems, now runs to other things. Fondues, I read, are now 'acceptable again' and 'fashoinable.' Sales of fondue sets are on the rise. Well, hoo-bloody- ray!

The concept is RIDICULOUS!! You can't say a Swiss dish consisting of melted cheese and wine is a fashion item. It's just a traditional dish. We have Lancashire Hotpot and Jugged Hare; America has Cajun and Pennsylvania Dutch; the Swiss have Fondue and Plat Froid Valaisanne. And that's that. Fashion doesn't come into it.

So over the past 25 years, while the Fashionistas have been sniggering at fondue sets, the PG and I have regularly enjoyed the delectable cheesy treat on the coldest winter week ends for the entire 38 years of our marriage. And we've run through three 'fondue sets,' the current and easily the best being a Tefal electric one with accurate temperature control and a Teflon lining.

My brother lived and worked in Valais for a time, in his youth, so he also has the long term fondue habit, too.

And now fashionism has spread to carnations. These, writes Victoria Summerley, here, have been 'deeply unfashionable for decades.' (She goes on with some fascinating information about them, so do read the article.) But were carnations ever really fashionable? They're just flarze, as far as I'm concerned, immune to the vagaries of trend setters, never in fashion, and never out.

My John Bratby Tie, admired by Royalty at Chelsea.

At least, I hope that's so. I couldn't bear to think of such things being part of any trend. They're uniform for blokes at weddings, of course, and can be a bit funereal to boot.

For years, I've had a rather nice silk tie, designed by the Royal Academician John Bratby - biog here. I think the Queen liked it, when I wore it at Chelsea, but hope I've never made the mistake of donning it as a fashion item.

It still has some life in it, but must stay in the cupboard, now, until I'm safe from being spotted wearing it, and then told that I'm 'trendy.' That simply wouldn't do.

And then there's porridge.

Again, the Independent comes up with an article which, ludicrously, says the stuff 'used to be a pauper's food.' Did it?

And we're told that Tim Henman, David Cameron and Kate Moss all start their day with porridge. Well, how unusual is that???? Golly gosh, porridge?? Well I never!!

So that's why I've been seeing scads of people, down our local Morrisons, putting packets of oatmeal into their shopping carts. They all want to be like Dave and Tim and Kate. They're making porridge, not just to have at breakfast, but to be like their heroes!!! And there was me thinking they were planning to make bricks out of flapjack and use them build extensions to their houses.

And as with all newspaper foodie articles, 'top chefs' have to be wheeled in to provide words of wisdom on how to cook, well, er . . . porridge. One recommended doing something disgusting with oatmeal, chicken stock and scallops. For breakfast??? Yeccchhhh!

But you don't need a chef to show you how to make ordinary things like porridge. For that you need a cook - vastly different animal - or better still, your Mum, or just any ordinary person who eats and can manhandle a saucepan.

So, as an ordinary person who eats porridge every week day morning, from mid October to April, here's how I do our breakfast:

1 Fill a small wineglass with good quality porridge (porage) oats.
2 Tip it into a large, glass mixing bowl.
3 Add one wineglass of milk and two of water.
5 Give it a quick stir and put it into the microwave for 15 minutes at 600 watts. (Stir once, about half way through the cycle.)
6 Serve, with a spoonful of black treacle (optional) and receive polite laudation from the PG.

(For a single portion, exchange the wine glass for a sherry glass and reduce cooking time.)

I love this little Korean chrysanthemum - it's called 'Peterkin.'

I'm listening to Nina Simone singing Don't let me be misunderstood. She takes the tremulous voice technique to hitherto unexplored extremes in this number.

This week's film was Giulietta degli Spiriti - Fellini's first colour feature. I last saw it at Cornell University in 1966 or 67 and was gobsmacked, then, by the colour and sensuousness. It has lasted well but I missed so much, then. Now, I was more saddened than ever by the protagonists' emotional plight, and so much more impressed by Fellini's complicated set-ups and scenery. We were a colourful lot, back in the 60s - how dull and righteous we've all become!

This day in 2008 I went to London and it snowed! Properly, with white over the fields north of the city.

Bye bye for now, and happy porridging!


  1. I love porridge (or porage as some cereal people want to call it) - have it every morning with lots of chopped apple instead of the golden syrup I used to have with it. It's a great way of using up those windfalls!

    Love the tie :)

    WV says reved - which must be a context related observation about your post. You're most revved up about things as usual. Don't change!

  2. I'm thinking of trying to revive the fashion for ha-has. After a couple of hundred years, it'a about time they came back into fashion. One would look good in our small front garden, and might prevent people stuffing pizza leaflets into our letterbox.

  3. Microwaving your porridge?
    Oh, Nigel.
    I never thought that you of all people would stoop so low.
    Mind you I have heard that Cheryl Cole and Sadie Frost * also microwave their porridge so it is good to know that you are, no matter how loudly thou dost protest, up there with the hip and happening groovy kids

    *look them up.

  4. Nice ties!

    This year we finally threw out the chocolate fondue set that was languishing in the loft along with a lot of of other bits of kitchen tat we bought when it was in 'fashion'. I'm not entirely sure that we ever used it.

    I've had one 'genuine' cheese fondue in Morzine which was fab and suitably filling and comforting after a day spend surfing down
    freezing waterfalls in the kind of dangerous sport I have long since had to say goodbye to.
    I have a vague memory of a cheap and nasty version in a Brighton restaurant that was probably made with mouldy cheese, thickened with flour and stale bread to dip in it. This could be why it went out of fashion in this country.

    Porridge? I'm a Ready Brek girl myself.

  5. Thanks for kind comments on the tie. Ha ha's should be almost universal, in my view.

    Arabella - one of the secrets of good fondue is ib the wine you use. We go for Apremont, with ours - and to drink, too it's from the Haut Savoie, but Swiss Fendant is also delicious. And the Kirsch must be proper schnapps or Eau de Vie. Kirsch de Cuisine - the stuff that bad restauranteurs larrap over fruit pineapple or drizzle onto nasty gateaux, is awful.

    James - I'm shocked and surprised that someone as intelligent and technologically space age as yourself should question my use of that boon of modern technology, the microwave. Nothing makes porridge better - and I've tried everything from leaving a pan on an aga overnight to coaxing soaked oats gently to the right consistency in a bain Marie.

    Microwaves are absolutely essential, in modern kitchens, though I have to admit, trying to re-heat two-day-old fish and chips can be a bit of a failure and re-vitalising refrigerated Chicken Tikka Massala make people at the far end of the village ask where the new Balti House has opened.

    And of course I know who Cheryl Cole and Sadie Frost are. Ms Cole, I believe is a WAG - which in these parts stands for Wildlife Advisory Group and Ms Frost is described as being some sort of an actress, though I have a notion that she also designs knickers, or something of that sort.

  6. Whoops - I published the comment before reading through. Hope you can translate the bizarre language. None of the mistales was deliferate - honest!

    Oh, and the PG has just informed me that Cheryl Cole was a WAG but isn't one now. (I thought wildlife was for ever!)

  7. Fondue...oh Yessss! I still have the orange flowery fondue set bought for me for my 21st birthday er......that's 36 years ago.... It's regularly pulled out of the cupboard to feed hubbys and my fondue habit.
    We don't do the trad Swiss recipe tho', we have an English fondue recipe, with stout and cheddar. Most yummy and, I find, less heartburny than the Swiss version.

  8. Less heartburny? My Swiss husband has learnt to eat his cheese fondue with bite sized bits of cauliflower, courgette, carrot, green pepper, baby corn cobs (fresh, not in a jar). And a little rye bread, because that is the version he grew up with. And I use cheddar ;>)