Tuesday, 7 February 2012


The cocktail party was getting out of hand.  At one point, the Archbishop of Canterbury said to me, in a shocked voice, "Oh no, no!  It isn't what you think! We always wear something like this!''  I had cheekily suggested that it must have taken a lot of bottle, to turn up at a posh bash, like this, in the loose-fitting Hattie Jacques-style frock he was wearing.  And in such a zany purple, too.

At the time I had on, if I remember correctly, bright yellow corduroy flares, a spectacularly flowery, huge-collared shirt beneath a ridiculously affected, greenish jacket that buttoned up, Nehru-like, almost to the aforementioned, oversized shirt collar.  (You were absolutely nobody, in the mid-sixties, unless you dressed like a technicolor prat.)

It was a gauche comment but I'd been terribly distracted by His Grace's enormous, bushy eyebrows which resembled amateurishly layered hawthorn hedges.  The bristles sort of curled round one-another, making  frosted thickets under which two intelligent eyes twinkled and glowed like hot coals. The Archbish in question, Michael Ramsey, was our 100th and bumping into him at that party was one hell of a surprise.  The girlfriend I was with was struck dumb and I don't think spoke much more all evening.  Or to me, ever again.

Winter afternoon on our Fen.  
The pictures all get bigger if you click on them.

I mention this pointless recollection because I was similarly distracted at this week's Garden Press Event.

I'd planned to take everything extremely seriously.  To greet old friends in a brisk and business-like manner but rather than just gossip, to get on with compiling facts and gathering information.

But I never really got beyond the 'greeting old friends' bit.

Early on, I bumped into the Queen of Garden Bloggers with whom I discussed, briefly, science. Together, we examined a strange green object which lay on the long tables where new products had been laid out. It resembled a discus, as used by athletes, but when manipulated in a certain way, popped up in an unnerving manner and revealed itself to be a rubber kettle.  'Not something to leave on the gas,' I suggested, but ingeniously, it had a metal base.

Its existence prompted a pretty obvious question: why would anyone want a collapsible rubber kettle?  When fully erected - sorry, but there's no other way to put that - the object took up little more space than when squashed.  And it held only enough water to supply a small tea pot.  (Mind you, the Kelly Kettle, which I gave the PG for Christmas, is equally miserly with capacity.  A thing the size of a small central heating boiler, it will speedily heat three quarters of a cup of soup.  It's fun, though, because the liquid boils from the heat of six burning fir cones or a copy of page three of The Sun.

There were other things of little apparent purpose, too:

Ground up volcanic rocks to sprinkle on gardens. Presumably, they'd make plants erupt into growth.

Compost impregnated with charcoal and therefore, it was claimed, better for growing things in.

Bundles that resembled broken shoe laces.  Useful, I gathered, for tying up plants if you happened to run out of string.

Big strips of paper, marked with big numerals.  You lay these flat on the ground, apparently, and then plant into the numbers.  No doubt, you'd end up with a planting scheme that has as much charm and originality as a painting done by numbers.

One of the delights of the recent snow was that the village was suddenly full of children who, for once, were allowed to play out by themselves.  They sat on sledges - optimistic, for the Fens - threw snowballs and built some great snowpeople.  I loved this sculpture, made by three of them without, as far as we could tell, any adult supervision at all.

Most exciting discovery, at the Garden Media Event, was a female member British Olympic Fencing Team.  (Some stuff here)

When I was told about this I assumed, since every human endeavour seems to be represented at the Olympics, that the person in question would be an expert at building or perhaps painting fences.

I conjured up visions of flying larch-laps or a frenzied clapping together of feathered boarding.  Perhaps there'd be formation trellis construction, set to music while the posts are knocked in and the panels gracefully assembled into arches and pergolas.  I was sure the Torvil and Dean of fence-building were out there, simply awaiting discovery.

But this was a genuine Olympian sportyperson - indeed a goddess who, to mix mythologies, would have given Freija herself some competition.  She fences with sword things - rapiers or foils or whatever, and I'm embarrassed that I cannot remember her name.  But then, I know the names of absolutely no one, on any of the teams.

Hilliers, in her honour, were handing out styrofoam rapiers.  I declined the one offered to me - I'd have preferred a Star Wars thingy that lit up -  but eagerly accepted the glass of sparkling pink stuff that Hilliers were also graciously dishing out.

The annual Press Event, I finally decided, is a perfect excuse for seeing colleagues, friends, competitors and those who make their living from horticulture.  So, ground-up volcanoes and rubber tea pots notwithstanding, it's an event that absolutely everyone, in our walk of life, should attend.  I'll be there next year, if there is one, and hope to see you too.

We all need warming up, so here's Tulipa purissima 'Madame Lefebre' often called 'Red Emperor.'  In My garden, this variety usually flowers in March.  Can't wait!

I'm listening to Debussy's String Quartet.  He only wrote one, and it's a belter, though his contemporary, Ravel, I think has the edge, especially with the pizzicato movement.

This day in 2007 A newspaper photographer came to photograph me doing things in the garden and seemed surprised not to find burgeoning borders, full of colourful flowers.  I think we ended up lurking in a shed.

This week's film was Victim - One of Dirk Bogarde's best roles, in this 1961 mould-breaker by Basil Dearden.  Supporting performance from Sylvia Syms was also superb.  It's about blackmail and is set in the days when homosexual contact of any kind, between males, was criminal.  The police were pretty heavy handed, too, so blackmailers treated it as a licence for printing money.  Watching the film today, I find it almost incredible that 'Society' has moved so far and so fast into more liberal, tolerant times.  Still a long way to go, though.

Gosh, what an outrageously long post, again.   If you've read this far, I love you - regardless of who or what you are! Almost.


  1. Sabres, dear chap. They were fencing with sabres.
    With the other two weapons (foil and epee) you can only prod your opponent.
    with sabres you can hack and slash. Those poor girls are almost certainly criss-crossed with bruises and dents.

    My life feels empty for having missed the sight of you in your yellow corduroy flares. Please wear them again at Chelsea.

  2. The Fab Four and you ;-) - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!

  3. Sledges and hill starts - two things the Fens can live without.

    Still, a very passable snow man and dog. Did he have a snow poop scoop? Now that would have been impressive.

  4. The goddess-like fencer in question was the UK's number 1 female fencer, the suitably sparkly named Chrystall Nicholl. You can read all about her here http://bit.ly/yYj1bg

    The event was fun wasn't it, though I never seem to have enough time to speak at length with anyone. Obviously I am spending my time earnestly inspecting each and every exhibit whilst all around me are boozing and gossiping. (Ahem).

    And I second James' chelsea outfit vote. A must-see, so must-wear xxx

  5. It was a great day - sadly not long enough as I only got round about half of the exhibitors and I've since found out I missed loads of people I'd loved to have chatted to.

    Thank you for my new blogging name :) At least 50 people have been curious enough to come over to my blog to find out who on earth you've referred to. I hope they're not too disppointed!

    Fingers crossed my comment appears this time - I did leave a comment days ago, but Blogger seems to be swallowing up comments on certain select blogs like yours :/

  6. Great photo of the fen, at the top and encouraging to see the snow sculpting going on amongst the young. If we leave them alone to do something creative, they always come up with the goods!

    Sounds like too much socialising, not enough hard graft from you! get back to work.