Friday 9 December 2011


I'm dreaming up horrible destinations for the undeserving.  Here's one (described below in reddish type by my good friend J Milton) that I had previously planned for certain bankers.  

However, I feel, now, that perpetrators of mindless bureaucracy have the prior claim on this choice region of hell.  Details on the particular piece of catastrophically silly, pointless and – thankfully – unenforceable piece of pillocky legislation will follow in a mo. . . 

First the pome fragment . . .
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light; but r
ather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed

With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.

Yes, that would do nicely for faceless ones who stride past, staring through me with their dead eyes, some mornings, when I'm alone and palely loitering in the vicinity of Whitehall.

And then,  a pretty thing. It's cold, nasty winter but not yet Christmas – so we need tropical pictures to warm up our cockles – whatever they are.  (Hope it's not rude.)

Here's the first. . .

 A Common Birdwing butterfly, Troides helena photographed when we were last in Peninsular Malaysia

Oh, and answers to the last film quiz which was here, are these:  
The film was the Coen Brothers' Fargo and the man who did the stamps was Norm Gunderson, played by John Carroll Lynch whose wife, Police Person Marge, was played by Frances McDormand.  When Norm grumbles because his painting was chosen for a small denomination stamp, Marge cheers him up by saying that when the postage rate goes up, his will be the stamp everyone will use, to make up the difference.

And now here's this week's film quiz.  

First an easy one
Who said:
'That's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.'  
Bonus points for the character name, and the star to whom he or she is speaking?

And now a nasty one for Victoria. . . 
Who said this:
You wanted a recording of my voice, well here it is.
And can you finish the quote?

Dahlia 'Fascination' - like a cheap, pink negligée.
Dahlias will be harder to overwinter, safely, for reasons you can read about below.

Now the rant.
If you want something to make you furious – I mean apart from the unbridled arrogance of the Merkozy cuddly snuggle-up which will NOT do much to stabilise the crumbling mess that was the Euro – look no further than the latest scriddick of asinine, anserine, indeed positive ovine legislation that directly concerns all good gardeners.  And I mean even organic ones.

From 1st January 2012 it will be illegal to dust gladiolus bulbs, dahlia tubers – or anything prone to the rots – with sulphur powder.  

That's right.  Sulphur may be one of earth's commonest elements.  It may, with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and nitrogen, be one of the building blocks of our bodies, not to mention everything we grow and eat.  It may be organically approved and as safe, nearly, as tap water.  But its use as a fungicide dust will, from next year, be verboten. 

And anyone who so much as dangles a leaky packet of sulphur over a crate of over-wintering dahlia roots could be committing an offence under the Food and Environmental Protection Act.  

Now that, in itself, is totally bloody silly.  But it gets even more barmy when you realise that gardeners will still be allowed to buy and use sulphur to sprinkle on their gardens if they want to increase the acidity of their soil, or to use it as a plant nutrient. 

WHAAAAAAAAT?????  So it's not banned because it's considered dangerous.  They don't mind you having it but forbid you to use it in any way but the one they prescribe.  And that's sulphur.  Something  so abundant, in some areas of the world, that you could gather up a bucketful simply by dragging it along the ground.

So what panel of cretins dreamed up that one?  More to the point, how many pointless and tedious meetings, each squandering entire rain forests of paper, printed with impenetrable text, all in Civilservantese, had to be held, to come up with that particular piece of utterly pointless legislation?

And how will it be policed?  Will check-out staff, at garden centres, come over all officious, like Boots pharmacy counter assistants, and demand to know what the stuff you're buying will be used for?  

Perhaps the police – who, I'm told, are worryingly undermanned and overworked – will deploy burly constables to come and smash down our shed doors, hoping to catch us furtively sprinkling flowers of sulphur (posh name for sulphur powder) onto our begonia tubers while pretending that we were about to use the stuff as a rhododendron tonic.

I'm not sure where all this nonsense originates from.  It has a hideously strong whiff of Brussels about it, possibly coupled with Nannistate and New Labour and I DO NOT APPROVE OF IT.

The wise way forward is pretty obvious.  I can't tell you how to get round the problem, because even though the law, in this case, is an ass and should be strongly contested and objected to, the law as a whole has to be respected, don't you think?  

Or if not respected, obeyed until, by popular pressure, it can be changed.  So why don't those bodies with muscle - the RHS, the HTA, Garden Organic and others unite, get together and tell the legislators to stop being so bloody silly and repeal the stupid law this instant!

Here's another nice Asian plant, Amherstia nobilis, a superb member of the pea family which grows as quite a large tree and is native to Myanmar (Burma.)   The racemes were nearly 60cms long.  I fell in love with this while visiting the Kuala Lumpur botanic gardens.  There were Long Tailed Macaque monkeys,  Macaca silenus, playing in a stream nearby.

I'm listening to Erik Satie Gymnopedies 1 -3

This day in 2005  The PG and I visited Hanson's Chocolate Shop in Folkingham to buy expensive but delicious chocolate things for the Christmas crowd. The shop is still going strong. Even Lincolnshire, it seems, has a certain amount of Sloaniness, enabling a business like that to survive in such a small village.  Mostly, though, it's the three Ms, round here – Money, Muck and Misery.  That evening, we went to a cocktail party in Rutland.

This week's film was John Boorman's Hope and Glory, a little classic much loved by the PG and me.  We had a Boorman relative to stay, and since she had not seen the film, used that as an excuse to play it again and watch it with her.  It's an exquisite glimpse at middle class suburbia in wartime, through the eyes of a school boy who learns the rudest word in the English language and how to bowl a Googly, all in the space of a few days.  Ian Bannen plays his irascible grandfather to a tee. I've a feeling, had he really existed, that he'd have enjoyed this grandpa's awful blog.

(If you need to know what a Googly is, look at one being delivered here.   The knack is not to give the game away to the batsman - but then, a clever bat will usually spot a googly in time and play it accordingly.)

Bless you for your patience, and bye bye for now!

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!