Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy new year!

I feel it's going to be a good one. Love and hugs to you all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cat logic

"I can't think why humans want to go out in the cold and take photographs," said Pushkin. "It's much nicer here by the fire.
"The trick is to get within whisker-singeing distance of the flames. As for all that white brrrr-stuff outside, I have no intention of dipping so much as a paw into it."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I almost forgot...

... to say that I had a post up at Encounters With Remarkable Biscuits, James Alexander-Sinclair's eclectic blog based loosely around the subject of round crumbly things (and no, you don't need to enable cookies in order to have a browse).
My feeble excuse is that I have a terrible cold and have been busy at work. I'm so late in telling you about it, indeed, that my post has now been superseded by VP's recipe for Chocolate Spice Cookies. Much more interesting, if you ask me.
While we're on the subject of updates, a couple of my favourite bloggers have had revamps recently.
Rob, who is practically a neighbour of mine here in south-west London, has redesigned his blog, Mutterings in the Shrubbery and Jodi has spruced up her blog, Bloomingwriter, in time for Christmas.
Jodi is not a neighbour of mine, unfortunately, since she is based in Nova Scotia. But I bet at this time of the year she wishes she was based in south-west London...
Jodi has been writing her blog for four years and was wondering whether to keep going or not. However, she has heeded the heartrending pleas from around the world and decided that she will stay with us for a bit longer. Hurray!
It's difficult to know, when you write a blog, who is paying attention. Most of us have a group of ... well, I think of them as friends, who comment regularly. And some people, but not me, track their blog stats and find out what is bringing the traffic and out. I don't because I don't know how, and I've decided I can live without knowing.
Unlike Esther, who I think has turned commenting into an art form, I am not the world's best commenter. I often write a lengthy comment, only for it not to appear, because I haven't done something vital like the word verification. (Strangely enough, this often seems to occur late at night.)
Sometimes I don't have time to comment. Sometimes - quite often, really - I can't think of anything intelligent to say.
It doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed the post, but the blogger is not to know that. So to prevent Jodi and other talented people like her feeling unloved and unappreciated in future, I am going to make much more of an effort to comment, even if it is just to say: "Great post!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Eeek, it's December

Esther has shut down for the festive season. Arabella is doing the most wonderful Advent calendar. VP is busy looking for another Messiah to sing. Helen and Karen have been testing trees and lights. So where are you up to with your Christmas preparations? Let me rephrase that: what have you failed to do so far?

I have not:
Sent cards
Put up the tree
Checked out the Christmas tree lights
Swept the front step (as you can see from the picture below) and put down a fresh mat, which I like to do at Christmas time. Indeed, Christmas and New Year is usually a time of great upheaval and reorganisation in our household. I suppose it's because I have to clear away all the normal clutter in order to display the Christmas clutter. In the course of this, one discovers cobwebby corners and grubby paintwork, which one wishes one had time to clean, but which one usually disguises with strategically positioned furniture.

On the other hand, I have:
Ordered the turkey
Received my first Christmas card, from a friend in Australia
Booked tickets for my daughter's carol concert (but haven't received them, since daughter, who has the attention span of a gnat, is in charge of bringing them home)
Bought the new mat, ready to put down when I get round to sweeping the step (which I am planning to have retiled in the spring)
Made a wreath for the porch
Er, that's it.

Don't be too impressed by the wreath - I cheated. I bought the components at New Covent Garden flower market at dawn last Saturday. I wanted a really big wreath because I always put mine on the bare bit of wall by the door instead of on the door itself, and a small wreath looks a bit forlorn there.
I knew the only place I would get a base big enough (without paying huge amounts of money for it) would be the flower market, and sure enough, they didn't let me down. The actual base is 20 inches, and when you include the foliage it measures about a yard from top to bottom.
I have a lot of variegated or yellow-leaved plants in the front garden, so I also bought some variegated holly to pick up those colours. It seemed like a good idea at the time, because I imagined I would wear gloves, but of course, if you're doing something fiddly, you keep taking your gloves off. My fingers now resemble a pincushion.
The flower market also sells every single thing you can think of to decorate wreaths. Cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, fresh miniature apples in green, red or yellow (how do they do that?) bows, ribbons, you name it. I decided I wanted something yellow, and was very taken with the mini apples. However, this is the first time I have ever attempted a wreath (even in a cheating sort of way) so I wasn't very sure how I was going to wire them on.
In the end, I saw some fake lemons, which came complete with a long wire on the end. Perfect! They must have been made especially for a wreath cheater.
Like me, you probably have your own family Christmas traditions. Some of ours are rather eccentric - we like to watch the Morecambe and Wise sketch in which they make breakfast to the music of The Stripper. And we like to watch Some Like It Hot. The reasons for this are lost in the mists of time.
I think I will add wreath-cheating to my list of Christmas traditions, however. There was something very nice about wandering around the flower market and smelling that wonderful Christmas-tree smell, then loading the car with greenery as the sun came up.
There are things we squabble over too. The children like to put the tree up the minute December strikes, while I prefer to put it up a bit later. If I had my way, it would go up on Christmas Eve, because I like the idea of Advent being a quiet time of waiting and anticipation. Usually we compromise (in other words, I crack under pressure) around the first weekend of December, but this year we've managed to get to the 8th without the tree going up. I'm hoping to get as far as next weekend.

The Unswept Step. Actually, it doesn't look too bad here, given that I hate it anyway. It's tiled with old-fashioned terracotta quarry tiles, which would be OK, if some idiot hadn't decided to paint them terracotta colour at some point, and the paint has never quite completely come off. They never look really clean, and they don't seem to respond to being polished.
So I'm going to replace them in the spring, when the weather warms up a bit, with black and white quarries. I can't wait.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Garden Media Guild Awards

To the City of London* earlier today for the Garden Media Guild Awards lunch. It was held at The Brewery which, I was relieved to find, is so prestigious that the minicab company not only knew where it was but were impressed that I was going there.
I always find these awards bashes a bit daunting. You never seem to see anyone you know until the event is nearly over. At that point, you see 15 of your closest friends, but don't have time to chat because you've got to rush off. So having armed myself with a glass of fizzy wine, I was delighted to see Cleve West and greeted him in much the same way that a traveller stranded in the Sahara will greet a glass of water.
However, as I stood sipping my fizz, whom should I see over Cleve's shoulder but VP. Yay! She had been nominated for an award - in the Blog of the Year category, needless to say.
We all went into lunch, which was surprisingly good, with pumpkin soup, beef and Stilton suet pudding, and warm chocolate and fig melt with pear water ice. I could feel myself putting on a stone. I was on the National Gardens Scheme table, sitting between their chief executive, Julia Grant, and the gardening journalist and author George Plumptre, who is also an NGS trustee.
The awards ceremony itself was fairly brisk, which was good, as it was accompanied by deafening music that made a punning reference to the recipient. For example, the chairman of the GMG, Valerie McBride-Munro was greeted with a blast of Amy Winehouse's Valerie. Wesley Kerr, who won the award for National Radio Gardening Broadcast of the Year with his documentary War of the Roses, was accompanied onto the stage by the strains of Elvis Costello's It's Been a Good Year for the Roses.
These were fairly easy to work out, but the choice of a David Essex song for an award to Radio Essex gardening presenter Ken Crowther was a bit more convoluted, as was the selection of Hi Ho Silver Lining for the new chairman of the GMG, author and garden designer Geoff Whiten. Was it something to do with the name Geoff (Jeff Beck, geddit?) or was it an allusion to the colour of his hair? I'm still trying to work that one out.
As the lunch ended, I saw lots of people I knew - Pattie Barron, James Alexander-Sinclair, Matthew Wilson, Emma Townshend, Martyn Cox - but I suddenly felt really tired and decided that instead of going on to the post-awards party, I might make my way home. I bumped into VP, who had to get home to Chippenham and we decided to kill time in the local Starbucks before she went for her train, and amuse ourselves by discussing to whom WE would have given the awards.
James had won the Blog award, but had been kind enough to mention VP in his acceptance speech, which, we agreed, was lovely of him.
Carol Warters of Garden News won the News Story of the Year award for a feature entitled Grow Plea to World Leaders. I'm sure it was a really good piece, but I think my choice would have been Matthew Appleby's story on how the credit crunch affected the Chelsea Flower Show this year. All the serious papers followed this story up (including the Independent) and none of them credited or quoted Mr Appleby (including the Independent).
Personally, my choice for Gardening Column of the Year would have been Martyn Cox. And VP wanted to know why Nigel Colborn wasn't nominated for his blog, Silvertreedaze? We'll keep our secateurs crossed for you for next year, chaps.
Oops, nearly forgot. Here is a totally irrelevant picture of Pushkin for VP, who was asking after him.

*For the benefit of non-UK readers, the City of London is a specific part of London - indeed, the original city, or historic core, of London. Also known as the Square Mile, it dates back centuries. Nowadays, "the City" also means the financial district. You might hear someone say: "He/she is thinking of going into the City", meaning they are thinking of taking up a career in banking or sharedealing.

Er, where was I?

It's been a bit of a busy time in our household over the past couple of weeks. My daughter has been doing scholarship exams, work has been frantic, the bathroom is STILL being fitted - and it's almost Christmas, in the sense that it's time to order turkeys, make cakes, dig out and dust off decorations, and rearrange the living room to accommodate the tree.
Having the builders in is a bit like having toddlers in the house. It's that sense of trying to adhere to a routine which can be scuppered at any time by unpredictable behaviour.
My builders are very, very nice, but they are quite demanding in the way that small children are. You have to come and admire what they're doing at regular intervals and make encouraging noises; there are the unscheduled trips to plumbers' merchants to pick up this and that; and regular supplies of hot drinks to organise. The minute you leave for work is always the moment they choose to have a long conversation with you about "rad valves" or "boxing in".
Meanwhile, the weather has been appalling. November is now officially the wettest in Britain since records began, and it was windy with it. Any attempt to get outside involves a quick scamper round the garden to rake up leaves before the next deluge or gale dumps another ton of them on the lawn.
I find that I need to be IN the garden to connect with it properly. It's all very well staring out of the window and trying to plan what I'll do next, but I only really get inspired when I'm wandering round with a mug of tea, inspecting this and tweaking that. The mug of tea usually ends up stone cold and full of flies while I fiddle around with bamboo canes and pots in an effort to visualise a new idea or bit of planting. You can tell I never trained as a garden designer.
So in the absence of gardening, I'm delighted to be going to the Garden Media Guild awards lunch today, where at least I will see gardening people. I'll tell you all about it when I get back/recover from the hangover.