Friday, 2 December 2011


And a very happy Advent to y'all!  It's a time of expectation, waiting and hoping, I'm told.  And also a time to contemplate death.  Hurrah!

And a huge THANK YOU to the scads of you who so kindly sent messages of congratulations on my AMAZING, SURPRISING and MOST GRATEFULLY ACCEPTED - though wickedly undeserved - gong, at this years Garden Media Guild.  Yer could 'ave knocked me dahn wiv a fevver, yer honour, 'onest!

London, despite the strike, was still a joy to visit, despite the police closing the West End for the strike, and despite my being stuck, in traffic, in a cab with the cabbie who could even out-talk me.  When the diatribe began with 'I'm not a racist, but. . .' I knew it would be a long, hard ride.  It took 76minutes to get from Oxford Circus to the Barbican.

But hey - how lovely is London? Where else are there so many theatres staging good productions? So many art galleries and museums absolutely free to enter?  Such a range of restaurants from absolutely terrible to sublimely good.

Click any picture for a larger view.  (Perhaps you'd prefer not, though,with the 'bottom' picture.)

As daffodillydallier and lake-lover Bill Wordsworth wrote:
'Earth has not anything to show more fair.
 Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
 A sight so touching in its majesty:'

Well, OK, fair enough . . . you're right – this is not the view from Westminster Bridge and the piccy was not snapped by Wordsworth but by me.  But you can still see that. . .
 'Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
 Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
 All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.    Well, nearly, anyway!

I shot it on Hungerford Bridge on my new iPhone 4S camera which is not a bad gadget.

On Tuesday night, I dined at Chimes in Pimlico, a decent eatery which specialises in English food and serves a range of draught, flagon and bottled ciders.  Yorkshire pudding, eaten as a starter with onion gravy, is one of our tastiest dishes, if properly done.  Chimes offered a variant - with grilled prawns in a sauce - which sounded so disgusting that I simply had to try it.  What a delicious surprise! The flavours blend and contrast beautifully and their Yorkshire pudding was exactly as it should be - a puff of red hot hot air, packed in thin, crisp, fragile, aromatic, flash-baked batter.

Liver, bacon, mash and gravy followed –  a favourite of mine and since the PG abhors liver, is something to go for when at a restaurant.  It was lovely, too, but I was sad about the mash.

People don't understand the subtleties of a good mashing potato and either adulterate it with flavour too strong for the potato, or cream it into a slick, slimy gruel or don't add anything to bring out the 'spuddiness.'  I like it mashed con brio but always by hand.  You have to knock air into it.  Butter is better than marge and you must add milk, too.  For seasoning, I use a small pinch of mustard powder per double serving and – this is really important – freshly ground nutmeg.  You don't necessarily taste the spice in the mash, but it tones up the gorgeous potato taste.

I drank Chimes own house cider, which was draft, semi-dry and had the necessary borderline taste between an abandoned apple box and old stilton rind.  (This is meant to be complimentary and not at all an adverse criticism.  To me, good cider tastes like that, whereas bad cider tastes like sick.)

I also drank a very dry, strong cider from Biddenden, in Kent, which was arresting, challenging and actually extremely pleasurable, despite the stilton rind.  By the end of the glass, I didn't really care about anything.

Not exactly the Thames but one of the fen drains, near us, romantically known as The Forty Foot.
Fenland drains, despite the intensive agriculture round here, are important wildlife corridors.  We have leaning telegraph poles, too, thanks to depth and quality of our easily worked soil.  Anyone can garden here!

Now a rant:

If you ask me, the whole thing is utterly and irrevocably a huge pile of humungously bad taste pants.  And I'm not talking slinky Sloggi jobs, here, nor Jermyn Street boxers and certainly not those disturbingly thigh-hugging, nearly knee-length Calvin Klein things.  Oh no! I'm talking slack-bellied, man-made fibre, Y-front style, unlaundered, luridly dayglo green or purple, bearing obscene double entendre slogans on their crotches type pants.

That's my informed analysis of the West's economy.  There's nothing more to say except that if we thought we were all utterly shafted before, when the credit crunch began, we were wrong.  That was just the starter.  

The main course is yet to come, apparently, and the only important question is this:  when everyone in Europe is having to carry their cash – be it NeueDeutschmarks, NouveauNouveau Francs or Thanatodrachmas – to the shops in wheel barrows, will £50 be enough, here in Britain, to buy a can of baked beans?  My suspicion is that it won't, and we'll end up well and truly in the cack.  

Perhaps we deserve it, but really, I do wish Merv could, well, you know - get a bit of life into his deliveries and cheer up a bit.  At least things wouldn't be quite so suicide-inducing, then.

Lia Leendertz, in her fantastically brilliant blog Midnight Brambling  describes quince and star anise ice cream.
What she hasn't said, though, is what voluptuous-looking, curvy, erotic fruit a quince, Cydonia oblonga is.  

I'm listening to Berlioz'  L'Enfance du Christ.

This time on Wednesday I was still reeling from having been given an award, my first ever, at the Garden Media Guild Awards Lunch.  I was guest of Thompson and Morgan - thank you thank you thank you T&M -  and was privileged to sit next to the frighteningly handsome, erudite,  jolly and award-winning James Wong, author of Grow Your Own Drugs.  We were treated to one of his pieces to Camera, about the biochemistry of the daffodil, which could have been awkward and ridiculously stagey, but which flowed like a ballet solo at Covent Garden.  To make such a contrived piece appear so natural and spontaneous is seriously good television.

This week's film was the first part of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander.  We often watch this in early December because the first act takes place at Christmas in the house of a large, wealthy family, in 1907.  The photography, the staging, acting and direction are faultless.  And there's more Scandinavian, self-destructive Angst per scene than you could throw a lorry load of sticks at.  What more do you want, in Advent, than Protestant gloom and a veneer of festive fun laid over a morass of despair, hate and sexual impropriety?

And that's more than enough from me.  But look at the picture below, and then tell me a quince isn't a suggestive thing!

You can stop looking now!  Bye bye!


  1. Having met Merv a few years ago on a jolly occasion I can tell you that he only has one setting, what you see is as lively as it gets.

    I agree with you about the economy. I work in the public sector and I didnt strike as firstly I dont belong to a union but to be honest I am grateful to have a well paid job in this climate and I believe that our pensions even after the changes are good when you compare them to the private sector. There is an argument that public sector workers have had pay freezes for the last couple of years so its wrong to hit them with increased pension payments but I know of so many people who dont even have a job that it all seems a little self centred to me. Of course when I raise my head above the parapet to say this I get shouted down!!

    I enjoyed your exceptance speech.

  2. Ahhh, the lovely quince. A tit of a fruit if ever there was one. because it bears repeating for a good while yet: congratulations, richly deserved. And because it bears repeating again: please enter your blog in next year's GMAs - we have an informal collective to keep it out of the hands of JAS

  3. You have been busy!!

    Mmmmm....quinces...the smell, the taste, the feel....

  4. I've had the Shepherd's Farewell going round my head all week. It must be the time of year. I've taken the liberty of posting a link for anyone who has never heard "l'Enfance du Christ". Gorgeous piece(s) of music.

  5. What a class A rant, and what a delight to find someone else who feels as strongly about hand-mashed mash as I do. It is a point of some domestic tension in the Nex household as hubster insists on beating it into submission until you could use the result as wallpaper paste, whereas I prefer to mash mine with a fork so it still resembles potato. And I shall try the nutmeg next time - thank you!

    Here in Somerset people have very strong opinions about cider and insist on brewing their own and then bringing it round for you to try. I'm sure it's wonderful but I'm not really a cider drinker: I find it's the kind of stuff you have to brace yourself and neck as fast as possible just to get the taste out of the way, and then once you're about halfway down the glass, like you say, you stop caring any more about anything.

    Don't even start me on the economy. I would add - rather cautiously - to Helen's comment above, though, that the politics of envy works both ways. I.e. just because public sector workers have reasonable pensions doesn't mean the rest of us should take them off them just because we're jealous. Most nurses have worked hard for their pensions: a damn sight harder, I'd argue, than the bankers and their six-figure private pensions. And I don't see anybody trying to take those off them to save the economy.

    Right, enough of that. Might I say it was lovely to see you on Wednesday, and hearty congratulations on your very well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. Your acceptance speech was rather wonderful and one of the high points of the afternoon, so thank you!

  6. I agree about potatoes but didn't know about the nutmeg.

    I have no job and no pension to look forward to. If I had one, I'd want to keep it. I wouldn't see how the way other people's pensions are made up should mean I couldn't receive what I'd paid in for. I heard your speech at the GMG lunch. It struck me that, along with giving a lot to the gardening world, you have also had a more comfortable, more interesting life than many government workers - and, what's more, will continue to do so. (For which, hurray!)

    London was wonderful on Wednesday. I grew up in London and thoroughly disliked it - but it is transformed. We walked to the Barbican from Waterloo, disappointingly seeing nothing of the striking demonstration but marvelling, as you did, at the beauty of the Thames - the impressiveness of the city too.

  7. I was born next to a Fenland drain. Well, OK, it was in a house next to a Fenland drain but that sounds so much less dramatic. Sadly our telegraph poles were boringly upright, but I guess you can't have everything.

    And huge congratulations on the gong - thoroughly well-deserved.