Friday, 29 January 2010


Well there's no rule that says that every post in this gardening blog has to be about gardening, is there? So this one isn't –

– Despite the picture which is of Hacquetia epipactis, a delectable little umbellifer which will be flowering here in a few weeks time and often tricks people into thinking it's some kind of aconite, or even a dwarf euphorbia –

No, I just wanted to say farewell, J. D. Salinger who died yesterday.

There, I've said it. Sorry you've gone and great respects.

Am I the only one among possibly hundreds of millions of its readers to think that his one big work, The Catcher in the Rye was somewhat overrated?

Everyone at my school read it, in the 50s. Indeed, if you hadn't yet read the thing, you had to pretend that you had, in case of appearing to be a 'square.' When my turn came, to borrow the battered paperback copy, I recall being underwhelmed. Not a book one would illicitly read after dormitory 'lights out' with a torch (flashlight) under the bedclothes. (Lady Chatterley's Lover was more like it, and our housemaster threatened instant beating for anyone caught with it - an added frisson indeed!)

But the Rye? Hm. The whining of a spoilt teenage brat, I thought, which said little that we didn't know already, being ourselves, whining teenage brats.

In older age, about three years ago, I rebelled against the inexorable tide of mediocre 'Lit Fic' which currently spews out of most publishers. So many dreary novels, set in North London, written with style but saying sod all! The last one I read involved fat brothers and stolen penguins, I think. But anyway, that was it. I hurled the thing across the room, when I'd finished it, and vowed to read nothing published later than the 1960s for a while.

And ever since, with the odd exception, I've stuck to re-reading classics - or reading them for the first time - and to revisiting writers I read when young.

Naturally, the The Catcher in the Rye was on the list. Also, work by Hemingway, Steinbeck, James Baldwin, Lawrence, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, John Masters, Conan Doyle, Wodehouse etc. etc. And, after a lifetime of nursing a wicked anti-Dickens prejudice, promulgated by a close blood relative who hates him, I'm currently reading his entire output and loving it, warts and all. And boy, are there some warts!

I enjoyed the Salinger this time round, far more than I had at school. Through the eyes of a man in his sixties, there is a little more sympathy for whining adolescents. But I still felt it slight, compared with, say, Updike's Rabbit novels, or with the wonderful Steinbeck's masterworks. The Grapes of Wrath towers above most American literature of the first half of the 20th Century, but I think his smaller works, particularly Cannery Row have enormous stature, compared with Salinger.

Updike came later than Salinger, but another 1960s writer who I hugely admire - James Baldwin - was almost a contemporary. His novel Another Country and his essays Notes of a Native Son should be read and compared with Salinger. I think you'd be impressed by him, if you haven't tried his work. Like the modern American novelist Toni Morrison, he creates a picture of black America that makes you realise how little you really understand about that world, unless you are actually part of it.

I suppose the big thing about The Catcher in the Rye was that it came so early - 1951, compared with the welter of rebellious literature that followed. Is that what makes it great - just good timing?

I'm currently reading Dickens - The Old Curiosity Shop - oh, dear, the mawkish sentimentality!

I'm listening to Feeling Good sung by Nine Simone, very kindly gifted me by James Le Chapeau

This week's film was Run, Lola Run! A breathless story told in three frenzied movements, in three parallel universes. Not brilliant, but certainly compelling.

This time in an hour, I'll be at my local surgery discussing the results of a hip x-ray. Growing old isn't all a bed of roses, you know!

Good reading - and bye bye!

Monday, 25 January 2010


A massive wisteria at the Villa Carlotta, Menaggio, on Lake Como, Italy.

A while ago, in a comment posted on the fascinating blog Constant Gardener, VP (who actually lives here) mentioned, that gardener and nurseryman extraordinaire, Keith Wiley, had talked about growing a walk of free-standing wisterias. What an absolutely spiffing idea! (And what an absolutely frightful opening sentence!)

I remember Keith from some years ago, as an inspired young head gardener at the Garden House, Buckland Monachorum, in rainy Devon. He was for ever bubbling over with enthusiasm and vim, cutting whacking great holes in hedges to make big vistas and doing all sorts of exciting and original things, all on a twopenny-ha'penny budget.

But a wisteria walk! Now there's a concept. Mmmmmm!

Picture it: strolling down a classically hogginned pathway, with a lovely on your arm as you pass under branches hung with elegant racemes, bee-loud by day but luminous in the romantic moonlight. If a nightingale warbled in the background and a flute of Dom Perignon gently effervesced in the hand that wasn't supporting the lovely, it would be true perfection. Eden would look tawdry by comparison.

But wisteria, now. Was there ever a more strongly paradoxical love-hate relationship than between the gardener and wisteria?

One has, first, to understand a little about this most wonderful but exasperating of all climbers. The obvious virtues are blindingly, well, obvious! But those virtues are evident for little more than a fortnight each year, and only then, if conditions are right, if the sparrows haven't pecked off the buds and if you pruned it as you should. Even then, an untimely air frost can snatch away all joy, on the very brink of glory.

Wisteria's subtler virtues need time to engage with, and an appreciative eye. The foliage is naturally golden, in a subtle sort of way, deepening and warming its hue to old gold each autumn. The emerging baby leaves are bronze-tinged, though, making a coppery contrast with the blossoms.

But those ancient stems! In age, they become magnificently gnarled, distorted, convoluted and fascinating. As with Dickens' characters, they are over-blown and exaggerated - a surreal tangle of elephant limbs. In summer, these huge, tortuous trunks are modestly dressed with semi-concealing foliage but all is bared, in winter: a shocking exposé of knots and couplings, with twiggy blossom spurs and stunted little side-branches punctuating the heavyweight limbs.

My free-standing Wisteria floribunda 'Rosea'

The damnedest thing about wisterias is that they won’t flower. They they won't grow where you want them to, either, and never end up as the perfect framework, furnishing the wall at even intervals. The stems are so impotent, in youth, that they need tying up with string every six inches. But in maturity, they're so craggy and bloody minded that the stone wall on which they are trained seems bendier. Wisterias on my parents' house undermined the fabric and then, in a fit of remorse, helped to prop the the building up with their massive trunks.

Keith Wiley's notion of a wisteria walk calls for acreage, not to mention patience. But anyone can do a single free-standing wistera. I've even seen some passable bonsai ones, though that is somewhat more esoteric than my gardening aspires to.

We had some beauties at my last house. Their blossoms looked superb against the beige oölitic limestone walls and when we moved, six years ago, they were among the plants I missed most. So for consolation, I planted three at our current gaff. One, Wisteria sinensis covers part of a the south elevation where it makes friends with Rosa banksiae 'Lutea.' The other two, W. floribunda 'Alba' and the quaintly pink-flowered W. floribunda 'Honko,' 'Hon-Beni' or 'Rosea' - depending on which authority you refer to, are trained to be free standing.

Wisteria floribunda enduring bondage.

I wasn't sure how one is supposed to force a rampant climber to be a well-behaved, non-clingy, small tree. So I did it with my usual combination of ignorance, poor horticulture and crass brutality. I filched some solid metal stakes - they'd once formed part of an estate's stately enclosures, no doubt - and rammed them into the ground. My good friend Chris Bailes, curator at Rosemoor, had told me that if you allow the young stem to twine round a metal pole it will, eventually, engulf that pole and thus develop a heart of steel. I did just that, and already, parts of the metal are nicely engulfed. (Hope no one attempts to chainsaw these up in 100 years time!)

As for the top growth, I didn't want to do the conventional umbrella trainer thing. I know the Victorians loved those, but I think they look contrived and horrible, so instead I had lots of fun subjecting my wisteria plants to bondage sessions. Each main stem (side shoots correctly pruned to seven buds in August and three in January) had a length of Nutscene jute string tied to its tip and was then strained downwards so that the other end of the string could be tied to the stake. And so far, it has worked. Both trees are pretty in spring, looking reasonably natural and un-umbrella-ish. Both are also developing an interesting winter outline. I took the strings away last winter but the branches remain elegantly bent.

Wisteria floribunda 'Rosea.' The racemes are pretty for a fortnight.

There's more on Keith Wiley here and a really nice little bloginterview with him here.

I'm listening to Brahms's B minor Clarinet Quintet Opus 115, the dreamy slow movement.

This week's film was The Green Man, a slight but rather charming farce made in 1956 and starring Alastair Sim, George Cole, Terry Thomas and Jill Adams. Basil Dearden and Robert Day directed. While audiences were watching this comedy of errors, Suez was going on and the Russians were driving tanks over Hungarians. It's a funny old world, isn't it?

This day in 1980, a Sunday, I spent the morning cleaning out the fireplaces and helping my elder son to do his homework. (He was seven.) After a lunch of roast pork, I moved some rose bushes and juggled plants in a spring border.

We have another snowdrop out. Bye bye!

Friday, 15 January 2010


First, a question: Has anyone tried Dog Rocks? If you have, you'll know what they are. And if you have, did they work? Please let me know - for reasons to be revealed on a later post.

Rosa 'Guinée'

Second, a delectable little irony. Our Christmas tree never looked prettier than earlier this week when snow followed cold rain and sweetly garnished every branch and needle with perfect white crystals.

I had dumped it on the terrace, after Twelfth Night, but was too idle – and too depressed by the dismal non-freeze-non-thaw limbo we were in – to shred it for the compost bin, so for once, indolence was blissfully rewarded. The Photographer General came over all wistful, saying 'if only we could plant it.' But she knew it was doomed, cut off above the roots and jammed into a log for stability. Nice little swan song, though.

Sutton's 2010 plant catalogue turned up this week. On its cover, the most lurid-looking Himalayan blue Meconopsis I've ever seen. Why do they do that? The natural colours had been so pepped up and distorted that the flowers looked more like a corsage for a concubine than the exquisitely delicate thing that a blue poppy is. You can see it here - but the web colours look a little less lurid.

And leafing through, on page 21 I discover a quarter page shot of 'The first truly yellow geranium!' Well, I dare say the petals have a certain creamy, not quite buttery tinge, but since the whole picture has a violent yellow cast, it's hard to know exactly what colour the flowers really are.

This prompted me to look at other catalogues, to hunt down untruthful pictures. From memory: clumps of Amaryllis belladonna with alien leaves; barrels of potatoes which suggest that a single plant will feed India; jostling forests of Arum italicum berry spikes, when you know that only two or three ever appear, and when they do, the birds gobble them all in an afternoon; horrible little standard buddlejas with staggering masses of flower spikes sticking out in all directions making them look like old mops and a Salix melanostachys with catkins that would look as though they'd outdo magnolia grandiflora blooms.

The most dreadful of all lying pictures, though, belong to the roses. Let me spell this out: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BLUE ROSE. You can call a dirty lavender one 'Blue Moon' if you must, but it isn't blue. I grow a fab rambler called 'Veilchenblau' but it's a lot more veilchen than blau!

Actually, I'm pretty sure nobody wants a blue rose. Why would you? (I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because when I was adolescent, my mother decorated the bathroom with wallpaper depicting huge blue roses and installed a blue bath, bog and basin. I had to pluck up courage, every time I entered.)

So I thought I'd do a couple of little introductions here. All you have to do is look at the pictures.

Rosa 'Blue Fandango' (AUTCRAP) - an exciting new colour break in this cultivar developed by rose breeders David Automobile and having the 'old rose' look but with an exciting new hue. (Protected by PBR and marketed in the USA as 'Blue Movie' and in Australia as 'Dinky Di Blue')

Galanthus nivalis 'Blushing Pedant,' a remarkable new discovery from the Rev. Tweedly-Stale's garden in Smackton-under-Clothes, Gloucestershire. Bidding on eBay for a twin scale of this cultivar has already reached £3,000 and rising. The Rev says, 'this colour break is heaven-sent. I can now retire in comfort.'

I'm listening to Way Down In The Hole by the Blind Boys of Alabama. (We've been watching the first series of The Wire which is largely incomprehensible but the title song is - well - try it!)

This week's film was Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. Being interested in the Mayan civilisation, I thought this might be worthwhile. Oh, what a mistake! The cinematography was absolutely superb, but that's about it. The plot was thinner than a supermodel but significantly less intelligent. Credibility shortfalls happened regularly and there were two classic Deus ex machina cop-outs, one with a kids comic book style total eclipse and the other even more preposterous, near the end. With one bound, people were free from lethal situations and the dialogue - through subtitles, since the thing was spoken in the ?Yucatec?? Mayan language - was wooden. But what I hated most was the unrelenting, gratuitous violence. We got the point that they were a violent lot. The body piercing was a bit of a give-away, on that, but spouting blood, decapitations, rape, pillage - on and on and on and on it went, until one felt physically sickened. The whole thing even begins with a gory hunt for a tapir. The Mayans were a remarkable people with unbelievably sophisticated abilities in maths and architecture - but not in this film.

This time in 2007 I was preparing pictures for Garden World Images and we ate Jambalaya for supper - obviously made with the remains of the Christmas ham.

Have a lovely week end y'all!

Sunday, 10 January 2010


It's 9.31 am on Sunday and it's RAINING here in south Lincolnshire!!! The snow is thawing, there are puddles. Only a brief respite, I know, but wow!

Leucanthemum x superbum 'Old Court' - see my list.

A-a-a-anyway. There I was, on Friday evening, minding my own business, fiddling with my new Photoshop CS4 software when my email thingy went boing, boing, boing and again, boing! A smattering of messages kept arriving, including some from such august and revered figures as plant guru Graham Rice, the irrepressibly herbal and organic Jekka McV and doubly Award Winning Journalist James A-S. Each message advised me to visit this 'ere URL.

Well, lah-di-dah! Another rant against the gardener's fave Aunt Sally, the poor old RHS. I'm not saying any more here - there's enough of a pompous riposte in my comment over there - but if you haven't already noted the flurry of invective, you might fancy popping over there for a look.

Meanwhile, back to jollier, more forward looking things.

A friend and colleague of mine - let's call him Phil - is doing an editorial hatchet job on an old, publication which is to be revised. To help him sound out the feelings of others, he asked if I'd kindly spend ten minutes - yes, ten minutes – to furnish him with a list of herbaceous plants that I feel are indispensible. It could, he helpfully added, be 5 or 50.
I mean, is he having a laugh?????

Oh, and I forgot to say - he's also asked other planty friends to do the same.

I should think there are, ooh, about 500 plants that are absolutely utterly must must must haves in almost any garden and if you have to limit your choice to 50, how on earth do you come up with a balanced and sensible list?

The answer is, you can't.

I decided that the knee-jerk or 'intuitive' response was best. In a state of herbaceous frenzy, I imagined what it might be like, if the good Lord - or Professor Dawkins - decreed that all the world's perennials were to become extinct, apart from fifty. And that I was responsible for selecting those fifty survivors - and worse, I had to come up with my list pronto, stat, indeed, within ten minutes. It's a sort of horticultural Desert Island Discs, if you like, but without drearily sycophantic interviewing.

My list follows - for your delection and amusement. However, if I had drawn up a similar list on a different morning, you could be sure that it would be different. Indeed, it's possible that every plant on this list would be absent on another one, drawn up in a different mood, season or at another time of day.

Such as it is, here it is. And being a verbose, garrulous twit, I couldn't help adding a few idiotic comments. Sorry about the lack of italics - couldn't be arsed to click the thingy.

1. Anemone hybrida 'Honorine Jobert.' OK, I know it's boring but I absolutely wouldn't be without it.
2. Kniphofia 'Toffee Nosed' or K. rooperi or K. caulescens. Must have a few rude pokers, even in the most genteel gardens.
2. Schizostylis grandiflora 'Coccinea 'Major'
4. Aster frikartii 'Mönch' Mine flowered steadily for 5 months this year and grew more than a metre high.
5. Aster 'Little Carlow' The lavender-blue flowers sweetly echo the touches of grey in the mildewed leaves.
6. Aconitum 'Sparks Variety' The darkest blue, longest lasting, most branched and therefore best.
7. Penstemon 'Andenken an Friedrich Hahn,' née 'Garnet' - most dependable and hardy of all.
8. Aquilegia vulgaris - best forms such as 'Adelaide Addison' - NOT nasty freaks like 'Norah Barlow'
9. Phlox paniculata 'Fujiyama'
10. Phlox maculata 'Alpha' and P. m. 'Omega' - still the best two, having the cleanest colours.
11. Lathyrus vernus - all varieties without exception.
12. Doronicum columnae -species, rather than named cultivars.
13. Centaurea benoistii - a gloomy bastard of a plant, but somehow, arresting.

Geranium pratense 'Album.'

14. Geranium pratense - all varieties except those hideous flecked things. Wild ordinary by far best.
15. Geranium 'Jolly Bee' one step better than G. wallichianum.
16. Geranium nodosum for dry shade and free seeding for lazy gardeners.
17. Epimediium 'Amber Queen' - well, pretty well any epimedium, really, as long as it has good foliage.
18. Helleborus argutifolius. Many hybrid hellebores now dubious due to overbreeding. Doubles horrible.
19. Leucanthemella serotina. A big boy, but classy and late.
20. Rudbeckia laciniata 'Herbstsonne' Another big, late, lazy boy.
21. Rudbeckia fulgida - 'Goldsturm' or whatever. Seedlings often better than named parents.
22. Digitalis ferruginea or D. Pauciflora.
23. Chrysanthemum rubellum 'Mary Stoker' - taller, prettier than C. r. 'Clara Curtis' which is still OK.
24. Chrysanthemum 'Peterkin' (Pretty pale bronze offshoot from 'Mei Kyo' which is still excellent,
25. Senecio polyodon - every garden should have. Summer constellations of delectable rose-purple daises
26. Senecio pulcher - ditto, partly 'cos it flowers Oct - Nov. Same shocking pinky purple.
27. Achillea 'Terracotta' or 'Lachsschönheit' Don't mess with A. ptarmica 'The Pearl' - wild species A ptarmica much, much prettier.
28. Papaver bracteata 'Beauty of Livermere' - if you can find the real thing.
29. Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum' or 'Snow Goose.' Big, vulgar, oversized and over-promoted but essential for June joy.
30. Leucanthemum x superbum 'Old Court' or Phyllis Smith' - the ones like shredded coconut are the prettiest.
31. Glaucium corniculatum for leaves.
32. Euphorbia palustris - doesn't need a marsh.
33. Euphorbia amygdaloides ssp robbiae Or plain wood spurge but NOT named cultivars which all get mildew.
34. Erysimum 'Apricot Twist.' most dependable wall flower ever.
35. Trollius yunnanensis.
36. Sedum 'Bertram Anderson' or 'Sunset CLoud.' (The old ones still seem the best.)
37. Salvia 'Blauhügel' - has performed amazingly for me and unlike most European salvias, a nice, clean blue.
38. Salvia uliginosa - yet another tall, lazy job but I think, probably, a girl.
39. Salvia patens - only the true blue one - all others are crap, in comparison.
40. Omphalodes cappadocica - ditto. NOT 'Starry Eyes!'
41. Smilacina racemosa or Polygonatum odoratum. Wild P odoratum better than anything named or hybridised.
42. Phlomis tuberosa. Lovely with grasses.
43. Eryngium 'Cobalt Blue'
44. Cephalaria gigantea. All scabious are great and with this species you get so much more for your money.
45. Roscoea purpurea or houmeana.
46. Primula vulgaris 'Dark Rosaleen' and 'Don O' Keefe' plus P. vulgaris ssp sibthorpii. (Three excellent prims for border fronts.)
47. Primula florindae - if that's what it's still called.
48. Lilium candidum, L. lancifolium and Lilium henryi - all good for lime soils; all seem to cope OK with virus..
49. Corydalis elata - never stops flowering and has status. Not quite so pretty as C flexuosa, but at least it grows and doesn't mope.
50. Nepeta nervosa. A miserable little swine until it has established itself - thereafter, peerless.

Whaddaya think? Comments, lists, brickbats - all welcome.

Penstemon 'Andenken an Friedrich Hahn'

I'm listening to The Photographer General's constant stream of questions as she grapples with the technical challenge of learning how to put music onto her brand new iPod. If it could take pictures, she'd have it mastered in a jiffy. As it is, I think the remedial classes will be going on until Easter.

This day in 1992 I had, apparently, just watched a new TV series called Old Garden, New Gardener. My diary entry reads thus: It should be called 'Old Garden, Clapped Out Gardener.' The shooting was immaculate, as one would expect from Mark Kershaw [a BBC Producer at Pebble Mill] but the subject matter was dreary and the scripts awful. So you see, we were moaning about crappy gardening programmes then, as well as now.

This week's film was Black Orpheus, Marcel Camus' masterpiece treatment of the Greek myth, set in Brazil's colourful and frenetic Rio Carnival. This is pure opera without the arias - tragic, certainly, but amid such joy, such colour! A peerless portrait of human irrepresibility. The leads, Breno Mello (Orpheus) Marpessa Dawn (Eurydice) and Lea Garcia (Serafina) were extremely beautiful, superb at dancing and were winning actors. Also, the kids were great.

Have a nice week!

Sunday, 3 January 2010


First, a very sad thing.
It was shocking to hear that John Cushnie, a fellow panelist on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners Question Time, had died on New Year's Eve. John was terrific fun to be with and had a profound and thorough knowledge of his subject. He also had a rapid wit and brought a sparkle, not just to the programme but also wherever he went. He'll be sorely missed. GQT, without a leavening spark - if you'll pardon a mixed metaphor - can be dreary in the extreme. And without genuine horticultural expertise, it can also be a mine of misinformation. John had both the smarts and the knowledge and was therefore doubly precious to them.

The Way through the Woods - A sunny walk on New Year's Day

And an extraordinarily happy, prosperous, pleasant, edifying, uplifting and above all, good gardening New Year to you, too! To everyone who sent good wishes, I give joyful returns, and with interest hugely above the niggardly base rate which ensures that my retirement date will not be until at least 2025.

Will you forgive me for a slightly nepotistic plug? My esteemed brother has recently begun a blog which should be jolly to visit. He lives in a deliciously Dickensian environment, down in Kent and has a natural history library which I covet feverishly, every time I visit his home. His cellar is pretty good too and both he and my sister in law are sublime hosts and superb cooks. You'll find his blog here.

He is naturally distressed about plans to remove street trees from Faversham's Abbey Street. Street trees are problematic from time to time, apparently, but the difference between a street well furnished with greenery, and one without leaf, twig or flower is profound. In the former, you have shade from summer sun, a softening of the harsh, manmade landscapes, birdsong, flowers or berries from time to time, butterflies, moths, a changing pattern of colour from spring blossom, fresh green foliage, autumn tints, winter outlines - need I say more?

The disadvantages are few: honeydew on the precious car bonnet; leaves in the gutter; the odd paving slab shifting and perhaps even a little movement here and there, among the buildings. But these are small prices to pay. In my brother's part of Faversham, the houses have been around for a very much longer time than cars and lorries but seem to have managed to stay standing, despite centuries of trees growing near them. So my message to the Faversham tree haters is: pull yourselves together, get a life, sort your priorities out and go outside now, this minute, and hug your trees. And while you're at it, spark off a pressure movement, not only to keep the trees you have, but to plant more.

An angel descending? No, it's just the first sunshine of 2010 at Bourne Woods.

I've often moaned at urban planners for being such vandals, when it comes to greening cities. However, a recent initiative by CABE which you can see here should give heart. I just hope this shows a genuine will to go greener in cities, rather than just paying a bit of greenish lip service.

By the way, if you want to see how to green a city properly, go to Singapore. I'm going out there in June, to help with community gardening projects but it is really we who should be seeking help from them!

By way of renewing my friendship with trees, I spent part of the Christmas break in the woods. Even in midwinter, our woodland never really sleeps - compared with woods I remember in Upstate New York, where I lived in the 1960s. Honeysuckle leaf buds are popping, grass is green in odd places and the sun on the dead, frosty bracken creates a beautiful rusty floor cover.

Dead bracken and oak leaves - a beautiful floor cover, protecting the spring plants from the cold.

Mosses seem to be vibrant, even when frozen solid and in parts of Bourne Wood, visited on New Year's Day, the trees were full of tit flocks hunting for small insects, particularly in the conifers. We saw almost the full complement: coal tit, great tit, blue tit and marsh tit. There's been a big movement of robins, too, and I watched a particularly nasty punch up between two who must have arrived simultaneously at the same bit of territory.

Meanwhile, my friendly robins in the garden at home both disappeared. On each side of the garden, one of them would lurk nearby, waiting for worms. If I was on my knees with a handfork or trowel, they would almost take food from my hand and I had to keep a beady eye out for our evil cats. But a female sparrowhawk moved in, last September and has eaten them. Nature can be a bit of a bitch, don't you think?

Oaks at Bourne Woods. The'll preside over a bluebell carpet in about 16 week's time

I'm reading The Old Curiosity Shop Thought it was time for a bit more mawkish Dickens after all the Christmas slush.

This Week's Film was Let the Right One In - a bitterly disappointing Swedish vampire story with a snot-nosed prepubescent protagonist played by one, Kare Hedebrant. The story is even more preposterous than most vampire tales; the characters are cardboard and the film is devoid of any kind of tension. There may be a depth which I've overlooked, because the crits have been enthusiastic and the amateur reviews online ecstatic. Perhaps the best part is the portrayal of the Swedish winter which, like the film, is long, dreary and monochromatic.

This day in 2006 I took the bus to Peterborough, the train to London Kings Cross and walked from there to the RHS at Vincent Square. What an exciting day that was!