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Native Janner living in London UK. Curious about everything.


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Friday, September 02, 2016

All is not well in the garden

The garden has been a bit disappointing this summer, and not just because one of our wood pigeons has died.

I spent a LOT on plants this year and virtually remodelled my border, as well as planting a lot of pots which I don't normally do for summer. The early summer garden was fine:

But the garden today, in late summer, has run out of steam:

There's a huge empty space which would normally be taken by towers of hollyhocks. Unfortunately they were very seriously affected by rust and showed no signs of flowering, so I had to remove them.

Earlier in the summer, I usually get a great display of foxgloves too. But I didn't like the different type that I planted, foxglove x mertonensis; they flowered later, were weird colours and didn't last very long.

I was inspired by Joe Swift's containers of purple plants, and Sarah Raven's white plants in pots. But some of the white plants - the phlox and cosmos - didn't thrive and were dominated by lobelia. The purple and mauve plants, particularly the verbena, looked great but in my trademark green pots somehow didn't have any oomph.  Next year I'll add some bright pink flowers.

I planted a rose in the border for the first time, Olivia Rose Austin, and sadly because she was planted on a slant, she kind of collapsed and didn't grow upright. I will have to replant her when dormant.

Meanwhile Shed Corner was a complete disaster.

I've learnt that if I put containers of tall and very vivid plants by the shed, beyond the decking, it leads the eye down the garden and makes it look bigger.  The previous owners built a garage in the garden which made it a lot smaller;  Shed Corner is a reminder of its glory days.  I planted up osteospurmums, which I've never grown before, along with a salvia and a fuchsia.

The osteos all died;  it wasn't sunny enough. I tried moving the pots but it was a bit too late.  The fuchsia was great but turned out to be a trailing type, which was unsuitable for the pot it's in.

I've rescued Shed Corner a little by buying a couple of celosia which are short lived but very impactful.

Finally, the Japanese anemones were very poor this year - the flowers were tiny! - and my beloved salvia Hotlips, which is actually 2 plants that grow huge like a shrub, started taking over the grass.  It leans forward to try to escape the hedge and and to catch the sun, and encroaches over our tiny "lawn" of artificial grass. The border it's in is particularly problematic, being mostly shaded and very dry.

It wasn't all bad. Some plants were wonderful. The roses in the front garden have never been so good. I've been watering them more than normal and it's paid off: they have hardly any black spot or other ailments. The honeysuckle too was very good.  I was a bit uncertain about pruning it last year but this time I pruned it after flowering, and I'm hoping for the best.

I've already started preparing for next year.  I've got some healthy young foxglove purpurea plants and  a new cordyline to replace the one that died last winter  (it gives some architectural shape to the border). I'm awaiting my bulb order and I've got three trays of forget-me-nots and some wallflowers ready to plant out with them. I'll persevere with the hollyhocks because I do love them. I'm going to move a few things around;  the salvias got very unruly and fuchsia Hawkshead, a white hardy variety, is not enough of a show stopper to retain its current position.

I'm always pleased with my spring garden but next year I'll be aiming for better results in high summer too.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Why Mary Berry was right: bin the deep fat fryer

I don't have a lot of time for Gregg Wallace. I've always questioned his status as a judge on Masterchef based on his credentials of a) eating out a lot, and b) having been a grocer, which makes him an "ingredients expert" as he was once billed.

He's currently on honeymoon with his fourth wife, another young lady he met on Twitter. I'm saying nothing.

Wallace criticised the saintly Mary Berry for saying that no-one needs a deep fat fryer.  He said that Britain frys things, we always have, and there's nothing wrong with chips and spam fritters.

He's a little out-of-touch. Young mums use McCains oven chips. Heating oil to boiling point was never a very safe thing to do. I've never had a deep fat fryer.

On the point that "we've always done it, it's what we do,"  we used to do lots of things that we don't do now.  It doesn't make them right.  Slavery,  sacking women for being pregnant; corporal punishment in schools.

If Gregg casts his mind back to when he was a kid, I'm sure he did enjoy spam fritters and chips. We occasionally had chips cooked in the chip pan, with beef dripping. Delicious. And perfectly fine to have as a treat. Nobody snacked mindlessly between meals or drank sugary fizzy drinks. It was milk or squash in those days. Consequently, hardly anyone was obese. If you watch footage of real people from the 60s and 70s, they were all slim. There was only one boy at my school who was overweight.

It's a different story nowadays as we all know. You only have to see the kids waddling out of school and into the nearest takeaway to surmise that the last thing this lot need is extra chips, even if they are cooked by mum and not by Ronald McDonald.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Three Blind Lice

My husband J often refers laconically to an erring a man on TV as "a louse." I love that phrase and it's unfortunate that "three louses" doesn't really work.  So, Three Blind Lice it is.  Here are three men who have raised my ire.

1) Sir Philip Green
Image: Mirror.co.uk
As doughty old UK retailer BHS sighs and sinks this weekend, like the Titanic when it gave a moan and disappeared for ever, Green is no doubt parading his big belly somewhere in the Adriatic on one of his vulgar yachts. He claimed he would sort out the BHS pension scandal but no sign of that from him or "er indoors", Lady Green, who is said to balance the books. Choppy waters ahead for that dodgy pair.

2) Jeremy Corbyn
Image: Telegraph.co.uk 
To start with, I thought he was harmless enough and would soon be swatted out of the way like an irritating fly.  This week we had the unseemly row with Virgin Trains over their CCTV footage and his claims the train was full (later recanted to a pitiful "I wanted to sit with my wife" which is rich when he's never photographed with her). But it's not that which made my blood boil. If he wants to hire inept PR people, that's his business.

No, I loathe him because he's a bully, and deluded. He smirked when some of his people (men) mocked BBC business editor Laura Kuenssberg. Any decent man would have rebuked his team. He refuses to deal properly with claims of anti-Semitism.  One of his female MPs Ruth Smeeth walked out in disgust at some of Corbyn's ill-judged comments. Comrade Jezzer and his bull necked henchmen remind me of characters from Animal Farm. They certainly parade similar sentiments parrot-fashion. Re-nationalise this, re-nationalise that!

He's deluded because he's convinced that as long as he has the backing of "the party members," he's got every right to be leader.

My message to you Mr Corbyn is: Labour will lose the next election under you and face an even longer struggle back, if it doesn't shatter into pieces. Is it good for democracy not to have a viable opposition party?  Most of your party members are left wing extremists whose views would go down well with Trotsky. Many of us who always voted for Labour WILL NOT DO SO while you are the leader. If you cared for the party you would stand down.

3) Louis Smith
Image: Telegraph.co,uk
I really disliked the way the gymnast reacted when Max Whitlock took the Gold in the pommel horse at the Olympics.

I've long thought of him as vain, petulant and evidently utterly ruined by his devoted mum, who still does his ironing.

No-one likes a poor loser.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fab Team GB and the naysayers

Jo Rowsell-Shand, Elinor Barker,
Laura Trott and Katie Archibald
image: Telegraph.co.uk

I didn't think we could top the 2012 London Olympics and in many ways we haven't - the empty seats in Rio and the debacle around the Paralympic Games tell the story - but wow, Team GB, you have surpassed yourselves!

Second in the medals table, ahead of China and with gold medals spread across more disciplines than the US, this team has done us proud.

The naysayers are out there of course: losing cyclists making po- faced suggestions, quickly withdrawn, about the British team and how it only does well in the Olympics; some unnamed commentator in the Mail on Sunday today likening the investment in sport and resulting success to the state sponsored drug enhanced days of East Germany a few decades ago.

We used to remember the hapless former Prime Minister John Major mainly for his indiscretions with Edwina Currie, now we should laud him for creating the circumstances that led to our Olympic success this year: in particular, the significant investment in certain sports.

It wasn't "state sponsored."  It's cheerfully funded by us the people, mostly by the lottery. The Labour Party, which has become very dour and patronising under Comrade Jeremy, believes this is a bad thing because it exploits the dreams of poor people. They actually seriously believe that people don't realise their chances of winning are tiny. Oh, but they do, but somebody does win, and that's as powerful an incentive to squeezed middle class people, often subsidising grown-up children and care homes, as it is to "poor people."
The Brownlee Brothers: Triathlon Gold and Silver
image: Telegraph.co.uk

I remember years ago when we didn't invest in sport and we had one or two stand-out competitors who did it all on their own. We certainly didn't jump for joy when we saw the medals table. We were squarely beaten by nearly every country in Europe.

Now we can hold our heads high.

More importantly, children will hopefully be inspired to follow the example of Olympians who really deserve the honours that will no doubt follow: Mo Farah, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny, Nicola Adams, Jade Jones, Adam Peaty and the Brownlees to name just a handful.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

One of our pigeons is missing

Pidgie Pigeon, RIP
Oh, I know it's small in the scheme of things. A wood pigeon, shuffled off to the great nest in the sky. A late pigeon;  a pigeon who has ceased to be.

Regular readers to this blog will know that for the past five years a pair of wood pigeons has been visiting the garden several times a day, and I've been throwing down seed for them.

The male, a very plump and gregarious bird, would run towards me as fast as his little legs would carry him.  I named him "Pidgie." Well, I haven't seen Pidgie for more than a week now. So I'm assuming that he has Passed.

Meanwhile his mate, Leg, is spending more time in the garden and has a winsome new habit of perching on the garden gate so that she can fix a beady eye on me when I come down for breakfast.

Leg was named thus because she limps.

An intruder pigeon has started hanging around, and Leg is defending her patch.  J maintains this is probably a new male moving in on Pidgie's turf. Or on Pidgie's bird, in fact.

I wonder if Leg knows that Pidgie is dead, or, as in the case of swans, has to see the body to acknowledge it.

I draw your attention to this wonderful, heart breaking poem by Gillian Clarke.


She was brave in the bitter river,
the Mary Rose, doomed,
ice-chalice, lily in bloom.

Thaw, her feathers and bones dissolve in the flow
and she's gone, flower that floated
so light under death's undertow.

In lengthening light he patrols alone
ferocious on his watery shore
where the nest from last year and the year before

has drowned to a dredge of sticks and sludge.
In full sail, his body ablaze, bridge
over unfenced water, he waits for her.

The voice on the phone said,
"He doesn't know she's dead.
There is nothing to be done."

Now love rides the river
like a king's ship, all wake and quiver,
and I can't tell him, it's over.

Friday, August 05, 2016

10 years of blogging

This is my 10 year blog anniversary. Yes folks, that inaugural post was on August 11 back in 2006. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it was about David Bowie. I've had 158,000 page views which, let's face it, isn't going to make The Huffington Post lose any sleep.

When I started, blogging was quite new in the UK.  I was forever trying to reach out to other bloggers, because the name of the game was having other bloggers visiting you and leaving comments. There were quite a few blog challenges and "link ups" where you left a comment on someone's blog and they linked to yours via a widget called Mr Linky. Most of the people who linked to me were young moms from New Orleans, so I wasn't really getting to the right demographic.

Blogging was quite naive and pure then.  Nowadays blogs from young wannabes writing about clean eating, fashion and makeup, with immaculate companion pages at Pinterest, Instagram and so on are ten a penny. I take my hat off to the successful ones, where they're fortunate enough to be deluged with "product", ads and trillions of followers. Some, like Zoella, have reinvented the nature of celebrity. We can all be famous, and not just for 15 minutes.  Sadly the only product offer I had from a big brand was for Impulse, and I sniffily disdained it.

Blog Litter 

When I started, there were a few blog aggregators --- I suspect these were nerds in their bedroom --- who would include your blog on their list.  Technorati was one of the biggest and best known. There were others like MyBlogLog and BlogFlux.

Meanwhile I was swotting up on spiders  (not from Mars but from Google) and learning about meta tags. Now I don't do much to promote my blog except for a mention on Facebook an d Twitter when there's a new post.  Blogger got bought by Google and they don't do much to develop it, although the search and translate functions are nice to have.

A lot of the blogs I genuinely liked have not been updated for years. They litter the web like shipwrecks on the sea floor.

My topics have been many. I went through a period where I reviewed TV programmes including Big Brother (how mortifying), The Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother. I've also done a few restaurant and theatre reviews. I bore for Britain on the subject of my garden.  I occasionally use to snipe at celebrities I didn't like. I also like a bit of nostalgia, so there are plenty of reminiscences about childhood and teen frolics and my former life as a journalist and radio reporter.

I used to opine about newsworthy topics until a former colleague asked if I was still writing "that right wing rant blog." To be called right wing, in those days, was completely intolerable. I considered myself a leftie! After that comment, I reverted hastily to the safer waters of gardening and nostalgia.

The way I look at my blog now is that it's a useful archive of my life, for when I'm in my dotage.

My Most Popular Blog Posts 

1. Posts describing traditions do well with the search engines.  My Christmas traditions, parts 1 and 2, the history of bank holidays and applebobbing at Halloween traditions are good stalwarts.
2. Some posts have done mystifyingly well and I can only assume it's because there's very little web dross available on the subject.  My post, "Does John Torode wear a wig and More About Stenchpipes" still does well when Masterchef is on. I think it's Torode rather than the stench pipes who are the big draw. You must admit that the headline sums up the sheer randomness of my blog pretty well.
3. I attempted to scam the spiders and get massive hits with a cheeky post called "Carol McGiffin's bare bottom."
4. Certain nostalgic posts strike a chord - particularly the lure of the bottle stall.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The cars of my years

It's 1982 and I'm desperate to pass my driving test (second time).  I'm working as a reporter for BBC Radio Devon and they are annoyed that I didn't tell them I couldn't drive (they didn't ask me). Plus I need my own wheels to drive to Milton Keynes from Plymouth to see David Bowie.

Thankfully I passed, and my first car was one that had been Dad's, "Daphne the Datsun."  Now I don't believe in naming cars - it's so girly! - but this red Datsun 120Y was passed down the family and always referred to as Daphne. I paid £2,000 for her using a car loan provided by the BBC.

Daphne was relatively trouble-free except for stalling when you gave her too much choke  (a lever that you pulled out to enrich the petrol mixture, or so my dad said). Plus she needed something mysterious called an alternator, and I got ripped off by Chico's Garage for installing said mysterious device.

My younger brother inherited her after me and some years after he'd moved on to cars anew, he kept seeing her trundling round the streets of Plymouth.

Here's Mum standing proudly with the Datsun and also (blast from the past), Dad's car of that time, a Citroen with a space age suspension:

Next up came one of my all-time favourites, a Ford Escort 1.3L. It was an unusual metallic blue and I was very proud that I bought it with my own money, buying it from dealer Sopers of South Brent. Here it is parked in the Radio Devon car park:

I didn't have the Escort for very long and moved on to a red second-hand Ford Fiesta which had belonged to a vicar who had only driven around 8,000 miles. This one I had for a long time and it did a lot of mileage because at one point I was commuting weekly between Plymouth and London.

Speedy Gonzales

In 1990 I had a new job in London and with it my first company car. At first I had to have one from the pool and it was not a head turner by any means, a red Peugeot 309, but a few months later I was able to order a car of my choice and I decided to stay with a 309 but a GTI in dark grey with a red stripe.  It still wasn't a head turner but at least it looked fast. My most memorable moment in that pug ugly car was driving along that dramatic sweeping dual carriageway that goes up towards Winchester. It was sunset, and another car exactly the same as mine appeared, and we drove side by side, fast. It was thrilling!

The car below was not mine but dates from the same year.

Two years later I had moved to a new job in Newbury and was able after a few months to choose a new company car. Until then, I mortifyingly had to drive an aubergine Astra from the pool. Colleagues described it as a retired headmaster's car.

The Sofa Years

The car I chose was a Renault Laguna, a brand new model out that year, in red. The "sofa on wheels" years had started. The photo shows a Laguna Mk 1, but not mine.

Reader, I liked the Laguna so much I had another one two years later in British Racing Green.

I then joined my current employer in Swindon and after a few gruesome weeks with a car pool vehicle, a Renault Espace  (ideal for a single woman about town....!) I chose yet another Laguna. This time in black with a spoiler. Mean! But still a sofa when all's said and done.

A Ka for Munich

Three years later I was moving to Munich for 18 months so gave the Laguna back. In Munich I had a company car better suited to the narrow city centre streets where I lived: a Ford Ka. The fleet administrator was quite bemused by my choice because everyone else drove a Beemer (BMW). But the Ka was ideal for squeezing into tight spaces - perfect because I didn't have a parking space or garage.

My next car was indeed a Beemer, which was surprising given that I'd deliberately never had one before because I thought their drivers were ignorant show offs. And, very unusual at that time in 2000, I bought it "online." I chose the spec online and it was ordered from the BMW dealer in Maidenhead, where I was moving from Munich. But in those days you couldn't actually pay for a car online so the agreement was faxed to me (how quaint).

It was a black 318 compact in a  "sport" variant. I have learned to my cost that this typically means bucket seats and a very uncomfortable suspension.

This was the first time I picked up a car on new registration day and I was given a bouquet of flowers. I was so excited.  The model below is similar, but wasn't mine.

After the baby Beemer came a succession of bigger models starting with a 330D in topaz blue, with my added extra of a CD changer; a black 330D and finally in 2010 "the Tank," a space-grey 5 Series with fancy wheels and huge sat nav screen. It was the same price at that time as a 3 series so it seemed a no-brainer to have it, although when it arrived I realised it was HUGE. Although the emissions were small.

The old gentleman who drove it round from the dealer showed me how to set up my phone and memorably said "Oh you've got a Blueberry."  A type of berry anyway.

Plenty of room for all manner of items

The Beemers were all hugely reliable and had a lovely "thunk" noise with the doors. Plus loads of space in the boot for trips to the tip and storage of stiffs (if needed).

Men aren't very nice to you when you drive a Beemer, however.  They're all determined to cut you up and tailgate you, particularly men in white vans. The car below is my actual model, with the registration plate clumsily inked out at J's insistence.

By 2014 it was time to give the Beemer back and I decided to stop having company cars. The tax and emissions situation doesn't make them viable unless you do a lot of mileage, and I don't.

In 2014 I chose a white Volkswagen Golf GTI, having decided to have a smaller car, and J "specced it up," adding different wheels and sat nav with a huge screen so that I don't have to wear my reading glasses. I loved that little car from the start and now I'm getting another one, but in red. J attempted to "spec me up" by trying to persuade me to have the limited edition sport version, but, ha! I won't be conned into one of those again. He's still trying to get me to use "the paddles".

Below is my current car being delivered - it's the only photo I've got. Must put that right!

So that's my life in cars. There's nothing on the list to make Jeremy Clarkson's heart beat faster, but my opinion of him isn't printable so who cares?


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