Tuesday, 31 May 2016

experiments in the kitchen

I tried out a new recipe for beans last night.  I am a fan of pulses.  They tick all the boxes, good for you, cheap, ecologically sounder than grain fed meat, and I like them.  The Systems Administrator, a confirmed carnivore, cooks only two bean dishes (if you don't count baked beans), both of which contain meat, but eats my vegetarian versions happily enough, as long as I don't do them too often. It's good to extend one's repertoire every now and then, and so last night I tried the Cranks' haricot beans with tomato sauce.

The Cranks cookery book, copyright 1982, has more of a 1970s vibe.  The photos are gathered together in the middle of the book, all the food is displayed on thick brown earthenware vessels, and there is a residual nut cutlety tendency.  Yotam Ottolenghi it is not.  On the other hand the recipes don't require the purchase of six different Middle Eastern ingredients, three of which you can't get in Colchester and four of which you are unlikely to use again before they dry up or go mouldy.  It seemed like a reasonable place to search for a new way of cooking beans.

In the event haricot beans in tomato sauce was not one of their, or my, finest efforts.  It started well.  I remembered to soak the beans overnight, and cooked them at lunchtime so that I wouldn't have one of those evenings when supper's ETA grew later and later because the beans were still hard.  Beans, courgette, green pepper, onion, garlic, basil, bay leaf, tomatoes, I began to have doubts when I read the fine print of the recipe and discovered that I was supposed to add half a pint of milk.  I couldn't quite imagine courgette swimming in milk.

My general rule with new recipes is to try them as they are written down the first time, then decide whether to adopt them, adapt them, or abandon them as a failed experiment.  Otherwise if I start changing them before I've started there's the risk I'll never actually try something new, merely adapt it to the nearest thing I already know how to cook.  I compromised and scaled back the milk.

You couldn't honestly call the result beans in tomato sauce, because the tomatoes didn't ameliorate into the mixture at all, but stayed as distinct one sixteenths of a tomato, little red blobs in a white sea of beans and milk, along with the green discs of courgette and slices of pepper.  The book said I could serve it with cheese.  I wondered whether that would make it better, and decided it probably wouldn't.  Never apologise in advance.  Like my retired primary school head teacher sister-in-law laughing brightly as her grandson fell into a bed of nettles, to encourage him to think that it was not too bad, I presented the beans to the Systems Administrator.  The SA said, ah courgette, in tones that indicated surprise and a lack of enthusiasm for courgettes, and ate one helping but didn't come back for seconds.  In truth, basil in milk is not a good combination.  OK, it goes brilliantly with mozarella, but not milk.  I don't know why not, but it doesn't.

On the plus side, I went to a lunch today and discovered a fabulous new pudding.  Take equal parts of double cream, full fat yogurt and lemon curd, mix, and freeze until it has the consistency of a semifreddo.  It is utterly delicious, sounds very quick and easy to make (less quick if you make your own curd), and full fat dairy products are no longer bad for us, now that sugar is the new devil food.

Monday, 30 May 2016


Cardunculus has been missing for the past two days because I haven't had any internet.  On Friday morning the Systems Administrator set forth for Durham (for the cricket) and on Friday afternoon my laptop dropped offline.  I tried switching it off and switching it on again, twice, with no result. When I asked it what was the matter it said my DNS was invalid and I should consult my systems administrator.  When I went into kitty city in the study I found the modem lying on the floor with no signs of life, blue light extinguished.  I picked it up and put it back on the window sill, but couldn't see anything obvious unplugged.  I sent the SA an agitated text, and settled down to life without the internet.  On past trips the SA has left me with an emergency dongle, but recently our broadband has been so reliable that this time we didn't bother to spend a tenner charging up the account.  An error, in hindsight.

The text never arrived, though whether my systems administrator could have solved the problem remotely is a moot point.  Probably I should buy my own dongle, then I'd know where it was and understand how it worked.  The downside of delegating my technological needs to my technologically savvy partner is that my own tech skills remain resolutely under developed.  But I tend to take the view that I'd learn if I had to.  The SA's initial verdict on the modem after getting home was that it was broken, but after we'd resigned ourselves to spending seventy quid on a new one the SA discovered a tiny on-off button on the back, which had somehow got set to off in the fall, so we did not have to add a modem to the kittens' existing record of destruction, which stands so far at one footstool, a pair of my jeans and the SA's shoelaces.

From this you will gather that they are rumbustiously well.  The big moment of excitement was the sudden appearance of a hornet from a vent in the back of the stove.  It flew to the window, the kittens advanced on it, ignoring my shrieking, and were dabbing at it enthusiastically with their tiny feet when I reappeared with a glass and a piece of card to catch it.  I was mightily relieved that none of them got stung.  Hornet stings are quite bad enough in human beings, let alone something as small as a kitten.

The tiny hens are alive as well, and the old lady Maran seems to be allowing them out into the run. They were sunbathing yesterday in a tight little group, and have found their way to the water.  This is day six, and as they have still not died of shock or thirst or been pecked to death by the old lady they are probably going to cope from here on in.

I have had one other animal encounter, at a local garden that was open in aid of the lifeboats.  I didn't even know it existed, but saw the poster in the Clacton Garden Centre.  In case the rhododendrons were not enough of an attraction by themselves (which in truth they wouldn't have been) the organisers had got some stalls and a Scottish pipe band, and one of the stands was occupied by a collection of owls, including a tiny asiatic Scops owl called Baggins.  I declined the offer to hold Baggins, knowing from past experience that I'd have to put on a sweaty and much shared leather glove, but eagerly accepted the invitation to rub him behind the ears.  He leant his head forwards, looking entirely soppy, and I wished once again that I could have a pet Scops owl like the young Gerald Durrell.  But there were never any cats at the Durrell villas.

Friday, 27 May 2016

chickens and Chelsea

When I shut the hens last night the old lady Maran was sitting at one end of the perch, and the four little hens were sitting together at the other end, as far away as possible.  All four were still alive and looking quite lively this morning, so they survived their second night.  They were reluctant to come out of the house, though, and I began to worry that they were not getting enough to drink.  I put an ice cream box of water just outside their door, where they could scarcely help noticing it, and they came out.  I soon discovered why they keep upsetting their boxes of water: one of them puts her foot on the side of the container when she drinks.  There's a market there for a topple proof chick drinking bowl.

The old lady continued to take a dim view of them, and I opened the chicken house a couple of times in response to the chorus of tiny frantic peepings to find the old lady Maran glowering over them and doling out the odd peck while they sheltered behind the food hopper.  I glared at her, and she stomped out of the house, so in her heart of hearts she knows she is not supposed to beat babies up.  I bribed her to stay out their way with sultanas, scattering some among the straw of the run in the hope that it would keep her busy for a while looking for them, and threw down some grain so that she could eat without going near the little hens.  Generally I don't feed them in the run any later than breakfast time, so as not to have rat-attracting leftovers at the end of the day.

By late afternoon the tiny hens had made it as far as the proper galvanised drinker, which was a relief.  I gave them some more water in the house when they were holed up behind the food and they upset that as well.  If they and the old lady can come to an understanding that they are allowed to come and drink that will be much easier all round.  Tonight they are perching again, still as far from the big hen as possible, but perching's a start.  It's better than if they were spending the night in the corner on the floor.

The joy of Chelsea is not yet over.  We have been watching the TV coverage, though we are still a day behind, and I was delighted that one of the nurserymen interviewed gave an account of how to overwinter Solanum pyracanthum.  My seed raised plants have started producing proper orange spines, and I am immensely pleased with them, but since they are originally from Madagascar I didn't know if they'd survive in a merely frost free greenhouse.  According to Graham Blunt of Plantbase they will, if kept bone dry through the winter months.  They will defoliate, when Wikipedia describes S. pyracanthum as an evergreen shrub, but come the spring they will grow new leaves.  I have never visited Plantbase, which sounds amazing.  It sells exotic and tropical plants, all propagated on the premises and grown with no more protection than some polytunnels.  Those that can't cope with the conditions die, and some turn out to be hardier than you would think.

It was a pity that in the interview with the designer of the modern slavery garden the questions were almost entirely about how it felt to be the first black woman designer at Chelsea, and not about her show garden.  And apparently all the judges were men.  That was unnecessary: off the top of my head I can think of lots of suitable female candidates to be judges.  Does the RHS not ask them, or do they not want to?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

out come the pots

Now that Chelsea's over I've started moving the tender stuff out of the greenhouse.  Frost is theoretically possible in our part of the world until the end of May, and while from the forecast and the pattern of weather it looked unlikely still it would have been sad to have the new growth of my laboriously overwintered plants nipped by a sudden plunge in night temperatures.  But I think I'm clear now.  I want the space in the greenhouse for other things, and the plants destined for bedding out or grouping in containers might as well get into their final quarters so that they can start spreading their roots.

I did plant up one container before Chelsea, the Systems Administrator's conical pot in an iron stand, a vintage 1960s design inherited from the SA's mother.  When she died his brothers were unanimous that we should have the pot, and in truth it looked better outside our 1960s house than it would in front of a Kent weatherboarded or Northampton sandstone cottage, though I think the main reason we got it was that I was the keenest gardener, since I got the garden books and the collection of 1960s RHS magazines as well.  Last year the ancestral pot had Calibrachoa, a trailing plant like a miniature petunia, in coordinating shades of orange and dark yellow, and this year it has a mixture of Calibrachoa and trailing verbena in red and raspberry pink, since I have decided to go for a pink and purple colour scheme outside the front door.  But it was only one pot, and I told myself that if the thermometer was due to drop too far overnight I could always move it under cover.

I am trying not to do too many temporary summer pots.  I do the pots of bulbs for the spring, and they use a lot of compost.  I have got some Cosmos seedlings in the greenhouse, after the success of last year's Cosmos pots, but I'm concentrating on perennials that will last for years, with a modicum of greenhouse heating.  In a cold winter I have to run the fan heater rather a lot and start wondering if it wouldn't be more economical just to buy new geraniums next year, but most years I don't need to use it more than a handful of times.

So out are coming the geraniums, the dwarf pomegranates (grown from seed), the broad leaved evergreen Agapanthus, a plain green leaved and a variegated Tulbaghia, silver leaved Plectranthus (also from seed), the tender purple flowered Salvia I bought at the Dixter plant fair, an unusual Lobelia I divided last year with remarkably rejuvenating results, some yellow flowered Argyranthemum and the Puya.  Plus the dahlias, that will spend a few more weeks growing on on the concrete before being hauled down to the back garden.  And a couple of Canna, though I saw to my irritation that their curled up leaves had been eaten through by snails which will leave a series of holes as they uncurl.  And some Eucomis.  Plus a pot of silver leaved Lotus berthelottii which has been producing more of its burnt orange flowers in the greenhouse than it ever did outside last summer.

Once that lot is out of the greenhouse it should free up space for the tomato growbags, and to start off the pots of Cosmos (white and pink for one scheme and yellow for the other) plus some Zinnia grown from a packet of seeds that came free with a magazine.  And to pot on and spread out the fuchsia plugs which have all been doing very nicely crammed in on the greenhouse bench behind a propagating case.  And with any luck to strike some cuttings of Penstemon and perennial wallflower.  The real puzzle will come in the autumn, when I have to work out how to fit all of it, including the expanded fuchsia collection, back into the greenhouse.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

tiny hens

The new little chickens arrived today.  Originally they were booked for last Wednesday, but at some point delivery slipped a week.  We had to get more, because to have only two hens, one of which is Methuselah in hen years, not to mention foxes walking through the garden in broad daylight, is to be perilously close to only having one hen, and a solitary hen is a deeply lonely animal.  So the new tiny hens came in an air conditioned van all the way from Happy Chicks in Lancashire.

Sourcing chickens from the other end of the country sounds daft, but buying from a commercial poultry supplier has turned out to be so much easier than hunting around north Essex and east Suffolk getting them from local hobbyists.  One lot of locally sourced chickens introduced red mite, and it took me ages to rid the hen house of the infestation.  Hens are difficult to transport: another small pullet that had been chased around the run by its previous owner and shoved into a cardboard box practically died of shock on her first day here.  Last time we needed hens the Systems Administrator tried Happy Chicks, as they looked professional and claimed to deliver all over the country, and the Speckeldies we got from them were such a healthy, laid back lot that we thought we'd stick with them.

The first lot of Happy Chicks hens arrived after dark due to delays on the motorways, so were put straight into the hen house when the existing hen was already roosting.  They all seemed to sort themselves out pretty harmoniously, or at least without violence being done to the small hens.  The old lady didn't think much of them at first, but mellowed as they grew, and at least they were other chickens to flock with.  By now she and the last of the original Speckeldies are the best of friends, when the Speckeldy isn't broody.  A broody chum is no good at all, spending all day as a baleful presence hidden away in the egg box, and since the last fox visit the old lady isn't going to be let out of her run for a while.

This morning's delivery of small new chickens went straight into the hen house like their predecessors.  That way they know where they are supposed to live, and can find their way into the run once they're feeling braver.  The old lady was already in the run when they arrived, and had a rude shock when she discovered that her hen house was now full of rug rats.  The Speckeldies found their food hopper almost at once, to judge from the ring of tiny beaks on galvanised iron, then decided it was all a bit much for one day, and took refuge in the egg box with the broody.  We put an ice cream box of water in the hen house, in case they were thirsty and did not explore as far as the drinker in the run, and left them all to it.

The broody presently took umbrage at having to share her nesting box with a gaggle of teenagers, and erupted into the run, screaming furiously.  If you have never lived with chickens you might imagine a broody hen to be a fluffy and nurturing sort of creature, but in reality they are fabulously bad tempered.  The broody was very, very cross, and let us all know it.  I refilled the tiny hens' water which had got kicked over in the stramash.

By evening the old lady was perching and fidgeting because she had not been out, the broody had regained sole possession of the nesting box, and the tinies were clustered on the floor of the house by the food, water kicked over again.  I gave them some more water, shut the pop hole and left them to it.  I felt rather sorry for them, but we couldn't see a better way of doing it, unless when the first of the old hens died we were to ritually slaughter her companion in a chicken version of suttee, and start again with the new hens in an empty house.  They will probably all be fine in a day or two.  The old lady has never been a bullying sort of chicken, and this is her second lot of small new hens.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

it's Chelsea time again

We went to the Chelsea Flower Show today.  We arrived at quarter past eight this morning, and at quarter past four this afternoon I had to admit that we might be getting tired.  It was wonderful. We avoided watching any of the TV coverage beforehand, so as not to spoil the initial surprise of the displays, but the machine was set to record and we'll watch them now, then go on following it for the rest of the week.

It's always a pleasure to see old favourites.  Peter Beales and David Austin roses were both there, and both got gold medals (phew).  Ditto Blom for their tulips, or at least I assume they got a gold.  I don't think I actually saw it, but Blom always gets a gold.  The chap I spoke to didn't know why the heads might have broken off my tulips, though.  Apparently it is not a common problem.  Avon Bulbs looked marvellous as ever, and the Alpine Garden Society, and Dibleys with their streptocarpus and begonias.  We got home to find a Dibleys catalogue on the doormat, complete with Chelsea selection if we wanted one.  I was planning to put an order in, but will choose my own.

I have found an alternative supplier of violas.  I paused to admire their display, and the nurseryman asked if I'd smelled their new introduction for 2016, so I did, and it was delicious.  I established that they had a website, and he told me that orders submitted by Christmas were not charged until later and that they would always contact customers to discuss alternatives if there was a problem with anything not rooting as well as planned.  He agreed that five substitutes out of ten was too many, answered my question on compost with advice on fertiliser doled out for good measure, and off I went, a potential new customer.

Fibrex were there, and gave me their best guesses on the identities of two pelargoniums I'd acquired without names, one as a present and the other bought unlabelled because I liked it.  The British Pteridological Society were happy to dispense advice on growing ferns and a fistful of leaflets, and warmly urged me to join them.  There was a man specialising in Mandevillia.  I didn't speak to him, but saw from his display that if Budgens had another Dutch trolley of them I would be OK overwintering one in the conservatory as long as I kept it very, very dry.  One of the things I like about Chelsea is the opportunity to pick people's brains and deal with some of the year's accumulated garden niggles and queries.

Some things were sadly lacking.  There were no reckless plant stands at all this year, and what is Chelsea without an auricula theatre?  Although every other show garden in the main avenue seemed to have pine trees in it, there were no conifer growers in the great pavilion at all, if you don't count one bonsai firm, which I don't.  A couple of years ago it looked as though conifers might be valiantly nudging out of the wilderness to which they had been consigned by the end of the 1970s, but evidently not.

But there was a gloriously blingy parks department display, with Birmingham doing the honours this year.  I love the Chelsea version of municipal bedding.  I wouldn't want to live with it all year at home, but I really like looking at it annually at the show.  The stand of impossibly tall and perfect delphinium stalks ranged above equally impossibly huge and brilliant begonias was there, exactly the same as it was last year and every year for as long as I can remember.  There were two cactus nurseries, both excellent, and I like cactus.  And lilies, and orchids.  Really the great pavilion is my absolutely favourite bit.

The show gardens were fun as well, none ground breaking, some downright silly (especially the garden concealed inside a granite box with peep holes in it, and a long queue of people waiting to look through the holes).  After we'd watched Diarmuid Gavin's topiary cones rotate and his box balls go up and down we got bored of waiting for the other bits of the garden to move as billed in the programme, but we really liked Cleve West's Exmoor inspired garden, and this year's slice of the Provencal countryside.  Weeds and wildlflowers are increasingly in at Chelsea, while a couple of gardens that were still using yards of box hedging, corten steel, crown lifted multi-stem shrubs and pleached hornbeam took us back to the noughties.  The show gardens are using more colour and less pure white and green than a few years ago, while this year apricot and burnt orange and yellow are all the rage.  I counted no Dianthus carthusianorum at all, while it was all over the place a couple of years ago, and the early flowering red peony 'Buckeye Belle' ubiquitous a decade back has likewise vanished, but Orlaya grandiflora first introduced several years ago by Tom Stuart-Smith is still going strong.

The internet is a great adjunct to Chelsea.  Instead of having to go home with armfuls of catalogues I can look everybody up when I get home, as long as I can work out who was who from the show catalogue.  Better still, designers and sponsors of show gardens are starting to put up to date versions of the final planting list on their websites.  It is so frustrating when you see one unfamiliar plant that you really like in a show garden, only to find when you accept the planting list and obligatory free bag from the polite young person on the stand who is not a gardener and knows nothing about the plants, that the particular subject of your interest was a late addition or substitute and isn't included in the printed brochure.  Cleve West's M&G garden gets round this problem by putting the list as of 22 May on the M&G website, where a quick session with Google will let you identify any charming unfamiliar species.  Though I am not planning to buy any investments from M&G as a result, only to make a note to order fresh seed from Derry Watkins at Special Plants once it's available in August.

Monday, 23 May 2016

fox alert

Late yesterday afternoon as the Systems Administrator was sitting in the porch minding the old lady Maran, a fox walked past the front of the house in broad daylight.  The SA shot out of the porch, shouting.  The fox bolted.  The old lady had fortunately just gone into her run and was not caught up in the rumpus, but there was an eldritch screech from the wood that had us both looking for Our Ginger for a moment, until he appeared around the side of the house, blinking.  I think the scream was magpies.

Poor old Mrs Hen.  We didn't dare let her out this evening, while word's out among the local foxes that there are hens on the loose in the garden in the afternoons.  Tomorrow we're out all day, and on Wednesday the new little Speckeldies arrive.  They were due to come last Wednesday, but things have slipped a week.  So no more chicken exercise time for the old lady for a bit, which is a shame as she likes coming out, and the SA likes looking after her, in a gentle pottering about the garden sort of way.

I saw some friends today at lunchtime, and one has just lost three hens to the fox.  They knew foxes were coming into the garden at night from the frenzied reaction of their dogs, but when they tried setting a humane snare at the point where they thought the fox was coming in all they managed to catch was one of the Labradors.  If they had managed to trap a fox I don't think it would have been released out on the marshes.

Her neighbour the pest controller was called to a London school that had foxes walking up and down the corridors.  He managed to trap them, only for some of the parents to release them. Foxes are too clever to walk into a trap twice.  Once you've botched catching them you're stuck, unless you can shoot them, which is not easy in an inner London school.  He ended up giving a talk to the parents about the diseases foxes can spread in their droppings, and the bites they can inflict if cornered or frightened.  People in towns don't understand, you don't want foxes hanging around near human habitations.  If it's a hot summer and people leave their doors open then perhaps there'll be another baby bitten and folk will suddenly remember that foxes are not cute and cuddly, until they forget again.

Late spring and early summer are always the most risky time for the chickens. apart from the fact that we're more likely to let them out when it's nice weather.  The vixens have cubs to feed, and it makes them bold and desperate.  That's another good reason to keep the kittens indoors until July, when they're bigger.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

spring surge

The promised rain did not materialise, meaning that fairly soon I am going to have to get the hose out and water the railway garden.  Instead it is grey, heavy and humid, with an odd damp chill in the air like the onset of sea fog, except that it is too early in the year and not hot enough for sea fog.  It has given the Systems Administrator a headache.

The garden is in full growth now.  As Stephen Lacey writes in one of his books, he aims for there to be no bare soil in his borders by June unless something has died.  Ours are getting to the point where I can see where the gaps are.  I am cautious about bothering to plant some of them until the rabbit situation is under control, but after watching the kittens rampaging about the study today I think that problem is in hand.

Unfortunately with the surge in spring growth come the shoots of horsetail.  The edges need trimming as well, but I am leaving both of them until after Chelsea to conserve my energies. Ignore any garden articles telling you that you can get rid of horsetail by covering it with black plastic for a year.  You can't, but equally it isn't a reason to move house the moment you discover it.  It is not a strongly competitive plant, and the leaves don't make an appearance until May so you can enjoy early displays of small bulbs and suchlike undisturbed.  The trick after that is to cram your borders with leafy and not too low growing stuff, which will hide that year's regrowth once you've pulled the top of the horsetail off once or twice.  It is a nuisance, but not the end of gardening as we know it.

Poor old late flowering Selinum wallichianum is being overshadowed by the various Thalictrum, which flower much earlier and come into growth correspondingly sooner in the year.  The Selinum is a member of the carrot family.  I first saw it in full bloom in September at Trentham outside Stoke-on-Trent, covered in insects, and luckily found a gardener who could tell me what it was.  In great enthusiasm I bought one from Beth Chatto, and then two more, and slotted them into gaps in the front of the bog bed, but I hadn't thought about when in the year it would do its growing.  As it is the Thalictrum gets a head start, and the Selinum is left with no air space.  There is now a gap left when I cleared out the old remains of a rampant iris that was ever moving on to pastures new, so I could get a couple more Selinum to go in the space.  And perhaps I should try cutting down the Thalictrum as soon as it has finished flowering.  It doesn't make a particularly attractive or durable winter skeleton, but I don't know if it would respond to an early post flowering chop by making some nice new basal leaves, like Alchemilla mollis or many of the hardy geraniums do.  There is an easy way to find out.

The rabbits have been eating my asters, despite my most recent efforts with Grazers.  I am cross, but I look at the athletic kitten asleep on the window sill and console myself that they are going to have another think coming, very soon.

Saturday, 21 May 2016


In the past couple of days the kittens have started to venture on to my lap.  This is a big step for them, metaphorically speaking.  It took them a couple of days to stop hiding behind the furniture when we came into the room, then they started to look at us from a safe distance but were wary if we made any movement towards them, though we scooped them up when we could to initiate some physical contact.

Then they started to sit near us, and would allow themselves to be stroked if they were feeling brave.  Mr Fluffy, who hissed at us each time we touched him or tried to touch him in the early days of our acquaintance, discovered that he loved being stroked, and was soon roaring his approval, laying his tiny fluffy body out on the arm of my chair.  One of his brothers, who is the most energetic of the three, also grew to like human touch and would purr if I stroked him as he lay on the by now rather battered footstool at my knees.  The third, most athletic and aloof of the trio, consented to be stroked at times, and even came and hovered at the edge of the love fest if I were making a fuss of his brothers, but I could see that he still didn't get it.

Now Mr Fluffy and the energetic kitten are starting to make the first move, clambering slightly gingerly into my lap, where Mr Fluffy is keen on nuzzling my fleece before chewing the tag on the zip.  His brother likes to nibble my clothes, and my fingers, though not painfully.  They have also started walking across my laptop, which is problematic.  I don't want to rebuff their advances at this stage, but in the long run I don't want them in the habit of stomping on my keyboard.  As it is one of them has managed to open the Chrome help page, which I never knew existed, and to open an unfamiliar search page which I think must have been something to do with Microsoft.  The term entered in the search box was Everything.

The aloof and athletic brother has mastered the art of jumping straight up to the window sill in a single bound.  I haven't seen either of the others do that yet, they still take a circuitous route via the stool and the armchairs.  He is not brave enough to settle in my lap, but has walked across it a few times, and across the keyboard, as if en route from desk to window ledge.  This morning he lingered for a few seconds before continuing on his way.  I don't think he is ever going to be a cuddly cat, but he may come to like us on his own terms.

Friday, 20 May 2016

cats and rabbits

Our Ginger has given up with baby rabbits, and switched to mice.  This is disappointing, since there is a whole family of juvenile bunnies frolicking in the rose beds.  The Systems Administrator took a couple of shots at them from the bedroom window, but without success.  I am not happy about the rabbits, but with any luck the cavalry is on the way in the form of the least cuddly kitten, an athletic creature who has already mastered the art of slinking with his body close to the ground. He and the most energetic, outgoing one are racing about the room taking it in turns to carry a screwed up piece of paper with a string tail clamped in their jaws.  I might have to make them a new one soon.  I am not sure whether Mr Fluffy is a born hunter but that's fine, he can sit in my lap and purr while the action heroes are patrolling the garden.

I have been planting out low growing Sedum in the railway garden, raised from cuttings.  I shall take more cuttings as soon as there's room in the greenhouse, when I've shifted the tender stuff out. The Sedum album 'Coral Carpet' which I rooted in an eight by six divided tray last year and planted out around the model buildings as tiny plugs has taken and is spreading well in its unpromising position on a raised bank of pure sand in semi shade.  The SA mounded the earth up in places around the railway to make the topography more interesting.  It does, but the soil in the front garden gets unbelievably dry to begin with.  Heap it up and add root competition from a field hedge for good measure and I was really not sure what could be expected to grow.  I didn't know whether the Sedum would cope with the shade of the hedge, but it doesn't seem to mind.  And rabbits don't seem to eat it.

Box is good for unpromising dry shady spots, though now that box blight is a problem you might prefer not to depend on it.  It was looking very yellow and dreadful, and the SA muttered that it was no good there, but the SA had not weeded, fed or watered it since planting it.  Between us we cleared the grass from around it last year, and I dosed it with fish, blood and bone.  This year it is looking much happier.

The heathers I planted last year are not looking so good.  They are not turning brown and dying, but nor are they growing.  They are going to need watering this summer, to try and get them going. If they can get their roots down they'll be fine.  If not they will die and we'll have to think of something else.  Rabbits don't seem to eat heather either.

Nor do they eat Arenaria montana, which is growing prodigiously well.  The clue's in the common name, mountain sandwort.  It likes sand.  It is seeding itself around so generously that if I were trying to grow fine alpines I would be terrified of it.  Since I am mainly trying to find anything reasonably pretty and not too large to cover the area of the railway garden to reduce the amount of weeding I am on balance grateful to the sandwort.  It has narrow, dark green leaves, and single white flowers that are out now.  It makes quite dense patches once it gets established, and is a useful groundcover if you happen to have a large area of sandy soil and want something low growing.

Rabbits do eat pinks, which is particularly annoying since I put in a lot of smart named varieties from Whetmans last year.  Their growing instructions said to cut the pinks back in the autumn, which the rabbits did for me, but I don't want them continuing into the spring.  Rabbits also eat eat prostrate Veronica, and they love Iberis sempervirens.  And Pulsatilla.  And dwarf Penstemon. Things will start to change from July, though, when we unleash the kittens of mass destruction.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

the herb pot project phase two

The robins have fledged in the pot shed.  I had to go in this morning because I needed a pot, and there was a little brown bird in the nest, no red breast, which must have been a youngster.  When I went back in the afternoon for another pot the nest was empty, but a scruffy brown bird suddenly shot erratically up the shed.  I don't know how many babies the parents brought off successfully, since I've rather left them to it since discovering they were in there.  Perhaps it was only the one. They are messy nest builders, robins.  There were piles of leaves and vegetation in three other pots besides the one they finally nested in, and the Systems Administrator said there was an abandoned half-built nest in the workshop.

Meanwhile the rabbits have eaten the hollyhocks by the blue shed, or at least something has grazed most of them down to leafless stalks, and I think it was rabbits.  A few other things in the area had been eaten down as well, and I'm not aware of a hollyhock stripping caterpillar.  I don't mind as much as I would have now that it's only a couple of months to go until the new ant-rabbit squad will be out on patrol.  I'm still cross, though.  I like hollyhocks and I grew those plants from seed.  It's a lot of effort to go to waste, with the sowing, the pricking out, the growing on and the planting, only for a pest to munch through the lot.

My Lewisia pot project is finally planted up.  I ran into a snag, since having ordered enough plants for two pots, I discovered when I came to plant up the second that I could not physically get the Lewisia leaves through the holes in the pot.  It is a very arty pot, bought years ago from a pottery in Manningtree, but instead of removing a disc of clay from each planting hole the potter had cut a slit, and pushed the lower edge of the cut outwards to make a lip, and the upper edge inwards. The arcs of clay protruding into the pot made it impossible to bring the crown of the plants flush with the inside surface of the pot.  Wedging the root balls at an angle sloping away from the hole might have worked for a trailing plant, but was no good for a rosette former like a Lewisia.  I broke a few of the fleshy leaves of one plant experimenting, before realising I would have to pull the plants half to bits to plant them through the sides of that pot.

I decided the answer was to buy another pot, though the project was beginning to balloon out of hand because I'd then have three herb pots.  Herb pots are not so much in fashion as they were twenty years ago, but I hoped I'd find one lurking in a corner at one of the local nurseries.  I struck lucky at my first stop, the Clacton Garden Centre, finding a nicely shaped pot with only four holes in the sides, but a wide enough top for the remaining five plants.  It looked as though it had been in stock for virtually twenty years, price label long dropped off, a patina of lichen and a thick layer of pine needles inside.  I resigned myself to a wait at the till, or alternatively to trying a bit of haggling and offering ten quid for it.

The man who served me said he would go and check the price, and disappeared.  His colleague, seeing me standing there after a couple of minutes, asked if I needed help and I explained that his colleague had gone to look up the price of the antique pot.  The price, when the first chap returned, was £9.99, remarkably close to my guess of a tenner (unless he couldn't find a price in the office but thought that £9.99 sounded less made up than ten pounds).  I remarked that £9.99 had been worth more in those days, and bore my ready weathered trophy away in triumph.  It is a long time since you could buy a thirty centimetre by thirty centimetre herb pot for under ten pounds.

It looks well planted up, and I have high hopes of the scheme.  It was noticeable, though, how much growth the first lot of plants had made since being moved into a bigger container compared to the second lot which had sat in their seven centimetre pots on the hot concrete, even though they'd been kept regularly watered.  The latter were flowering more, which I take to be a sign of stress.  I will report in due course how they did next.  Meanwhile I have a spare herb pot sitting under the greenhouse bench.  The moral of the story is to inspect your materials more carefully before starting these projects.  I blame the robins, discouraging me from rummaging freely in the pot shed.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


My order of rooted pelargonium cuttings arrived from Fibrex Nurseries this morning.  It's that time of year, when boxes of little newly raised plants are being sent all over the country.  I knew to expect the pelargoniums this week because they put on their website that orders would be sent out in the week starting 16 May.  The cut-off date for ordering for spring delivery from the full range of the catalogue was mid April, and I made sure to get my order in before then.  Not very long before, admittedly.

I love pelargoniums.  To be clear, I am talking about the tender, semi-shrubby plants originally from southern Africa, not the hardy garden geraniums, though most of the time I call them geraniums like almost everybody does.  I have liked them since childhood.  I like handling them.  I like their smell, and the good natured way that most will root so easily from cuttings.  I find a meditative satisfaction in picking off the old leaves, the way they come away neatly from the stalk and the plant looks so tidy afterwards.  I like the colours the flowers come in, reds, purples, pinks and whites, and the range of flower sizes and shapes from gigantic, ruffled formal affairs straight out of a Victorian conservatory to tiny, wild five pointed stars.

I have a motley collection, mostly bought in garden centres, some souvenirs of garden visits, some gifts, a few survivors from previous forays into the world of the specialist geranium nursery, some with names and some without.  They have to be over-wintered frost free, and some types seem to cope better with life in my greenhouse over the winter than others.  Scented leaf varieties do pretty well, as do those Uniques I've tried, which are similar to the scented leaf brigade but with better flowers and less interesting leaves.  Regals have been a struggle.  I've just ordered two, and am going to try them this time in the conservatory.  The Fibrex website says they don't require full sun, unlike most pelargoniums, and perhaps they will like winter better in there than in the greenhouse.

I used to be keen on the ivy leafed sort, as grown trailing down the front of Swiss chalets, but they tend to become overwhelmed in the muddle of pots by our pond, and overwinter badly.  I went through a phase of loving the rosebud sort with their double flowers, but now find myself more drawn to the tiny flowered species and species hybrids.  I have got slightly bored of the bright scarlet zonals as stocked in a garden centre near you, though I am nursing along a rather poorly specimen of the old variety 'Paul Crampel' which has been very reluctant to make roots, in the hope that it will yield some cuttings and I can start again.  I have a couple of cheerful variegated types which out of flower I am apt to muddle up,  In flower it's obvious which is which, since 'Wilhelm Langguth' has fat, bright cherry coloured blooms while 'Frank Headley' is starrier and salmon pink.

Fibrex are first class.  They are old pros who have been exhibiting at Chelsea for years.  Indeed, they hold a Royal Warrant, suppliers of pelargoniums to HRH The Prince of Wales.  I ordered six plants and got the six I'd chosen, no problem.  They were lovely bushy plants for all that they were only recently rooted cuttings.  I am just psyching myself up to trudge out through the rain to the greenhouse and pot them up.  I would recommend Fibrex Nurseries to anybody.  You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

not quite how to do mail order

My order of violas arrived today.  They were dispatched yesterday, so I knew to expect them today or tomorrow, and was pleased that they came fairly early this morning, partly because it meant I no longer had to wait around for the van, and because it meant they hadn't spent too long in transit.  And the weather hasn't been too hot in the past couple of days, and the delivery company had kept the box the right way up and not squashed it.  So far, so good.

I ordered the plants on 6 March.  The suppliers, an earnest young couple who met at Wisley and featured on last year's Chelsea TV coverage, had bought out an established viola grower.  They did a beautiful stand at Chelsea, and their website looked pretty good, with full online ordering and payment, nice photos, and as far as I recall a detail I hadn't seen before, which was that items you'd added to your basket were flagged on the main catalogue pages, so that as you browsed through you could see what you'd already chosen without having to go to the shopping basket.  I was impressed.

A month went by.  The website said they only dispatched plants between late March and late June, so I wasn't too bothered by the delay.  Once it got to the first week of April I checked on their website to see what it said about sending orders out, and was rather puzzled to find my basket still live on the screen four weeks after I'd ordered, or at any rate paid, only by now several items in it were marked as out of stock.  Puzzled, I emailed to check that the order was in hand and ask when they might be sending the plants, adding that I hadn't liked to hassle them as I knew they were only a small outfit.  Their reply could be interpreted as sounding either harassed or ratty, depending on whether you were feeling charitable or entitled.  They were sending orders out as fast as they could and as a rough guide orders received after Christmas would be sent out in April or May, in the order in which they were placed.  I was left none the wiser as to why my basket still contained items, or how much of what I'd ordered was by now out of stock, and decided to leave it and see what turned up.

On Sunday lunchtime somebody rang to say that my order would be dispatched tomorrow.  I expressed my pleasure.  Some of the items were out of stock and they would have to substitute with something similar, was that all right?  Her tones suggested that I was supposed to say that of course it was all right, much as I might if a friend trying to book concert tickets couldn't get us in to the event we most wanted to see and was proposing we go to something else instead.  I said that I would take the substitutes given that all the violas had been pretty and I preferred to spread the cost of delivery over a reasonable number of plants, though obviously I'd have preferred to have the varieties I'd chosen and not something different.  She began to explain how some of the stock plants hadn't come back as strongly as hoped and so they hadn't been able to take as many cuttings as anticipated, and how difficult it was knowing how many plants to produce.  I thanked her for her call and returned to cooking the lunch.

I'd ordered ten plants, all different, since I thought I'd try my own hand at cuttings to bulk up those Viola cornuta varieties I planned to use in the borders.  The box, when unpacked, contained ten pots, all nice healthy plants, well grown, bushy, green, mildly squashed from being backed in two layers on their sides but with no structural damage.  Stood in the fresh air out of hot sun for a day I was sure they'd be fine.  Five of the ten were not what I'd ordered.  I was mildly disappointed. A couple of substitutions, fair enough, but half the entire order?  Maybe they should only put plants up on their website once they had cuttings rooted in and growing on.  As it was they almost might as well offer five violas of our choosing, all different.  Or if they were going to amend orders to that extent perhaps it would be graceful to slip in an extra free plant, by way of apology.

I settled down with my laptop and a cup of tea to find out what the substitute varieties looked like, and found that most of them didn't seem to be on the viola firm's website.  I think they must have taken down varieties they weren't going to have again this season, as I couldn't find all my originally ordered plants there either.  That would save potential customers the disappointment of preferring varieties they couldn't have, but sent me surfing the net in search of photos and descriptions, which quickly led me to a Scottish nursery offering a pretty wide range of violas, even if they didn't show at Chelsea.  I bookmarked the site for future reference.

So was it a good retail experience?  Well, yes and no.  They look good healthy plants, and the substitutes all sound close enough that I'll probably like them.  But half of them weren't what I ordered, I had to pay for them six weeks ago, and I didn't feel I'd been especially well kept informed in the meantime.  Would I use them again?  Yes if they had varieties I wanted, though I'd order in autumn for spring delivery with a firm note that I did not want substitutes.  Do I feel any sense of customer loyalty?  None whatsoever.

Monday, 16 May 2016

pets in brief

Once again Blogger has eaten my entire post, just as I thought I'd finished.  The whole body of the text was highlighted blue, and then vanished except for the last two letters I'd typed.  Once again I have no idea what combination of keys I touched to make that happen.  The Systems Administrator suggested I could write it in Word and then copy and past, which indeed I could, but it is a faff.

I don't have the heart to repeat myself so all I will say is that the kittens are growing.  We seem to have a cheerful confident one, a cute fluffy one, and a cool one, like a boy band.  But we must be careful not to label them at a young age.  Perhaps Mr Fluffy will grow into a really elegant cat, and his current habit of bouncing off the furniture is just a phase.

Our Ginger still doesn't like them.  He went and hid under the stairs this morning.

The Systems Administrator is the old lady Maran's new best friend.  She followed the SA all the way up the garden and back to the chicken house when it was time to go in.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

pets old and new

A watched pot never boils.  And an unwatched pot will surely boil over, especially if it's split peas. I am having another go at making pease pudding, this time having bought some bacon to give it that authentic hammy flavour in the absence of a hock bone.  After sending rivulets of scummy water down the outside of the pan several times I am now sitting at the kitchen table to keep an eye on the peas while they simmer, to make sure they are actually simmering without boiling themselves dry and covering the Aga in white scum in the process.  In Norway they could get a whole television episode out of that idea, watching dried peas cook.  I don't know what it is about split dried pulses that they are so reluctant to boil gently.  Lentils are almost as bad.

We have been trying to introduce Our Ginger to the concept of kittens, carrying him in to the study so that he can see them and then telling him how wonderful he is until he grumbles so much that we have to retreat, then bribing him with cat treats and long lap sessions to try and make kitten contact a rewarding experience overall.  He has not yet managed longer than two minutes, and he hisses at them very rudely.  They stare up at him in wonderment and don't seem to mind him hissing.  At least so far he has consented to be placated after each encounter and not stormed off into the garden in a dudgeon, but there is a way to go yet.

The kittens have grown amazingly in the nine days we've had them.  They still have pointy kittenish tails, but are unmistakably on the way to being young cats.  They are beginning to enjoy being stroked, as long as they are approached at the right moment when they have exhausted themselves by galloping round and round the room and wrestling each other, and not while they are trying to play.  Indeed, they have all purred in response at some point.  They are all very curious about us, sniffing our feet and legs if we sit down and staring up at our faces.  Compared to day one when two of them managed to disappear inside the bookcases, and day two which they spent mostly hiding behind the furniture, they have made good progress and are on the way to becoming pets rather than semi-wild animals that have somehow got penned up inside somebody's house.

One of their current crazes is to sleep in my filing rack, one in the bottom tray and two in the top. There was a crash from the study yesterday, and when I went to investigate I found they had managed to knock the Systems Administrator's filing basket to the ground.  They have begun to unpick the seat of my bamboo and seagrass footstool as well.  Pets.  Who'd be without them?

Addendum  The last remaining Speckeldy hen has gone broody.  This leaves the old lady Maran, who has outlived all but one of the next generation of chickens that were bought partly to keep her company, with nobody to flock with.  A companion who insists on sitting in the egg box in the dark all day is not much of a companion at all.  We ordered some more Speckeldies a few weeks ago, before the current one went broody, since hens are social animals and you don't want to risk being left with just one.  The new hens are due to arrive on Wednesday, and I don't suppose the old lady will think much of them in the short run, any more than she did of the last lot.  She got used to them in time.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

late post

This will be a very short blog post because there are only ten minutes left to write it.  We have been watching the Eurovision Song Contest, and before that I was cooking the supper.  I was rather touched and amazed that the Ukraine won.  Depending on how world events go then staging the competition in Kiev next year could be tricky.  The Systems Administrator suggested that they might have to get Lyse Douset to present it.

Today I heard the first cuckoo of spring.

Friday, 13 May 2016

a visit to Coggeshall

This afternoon I went with my parents to see Coggeshall Abbey.  I hadn't known there was an abbey at Coggeshall, and in truth there isn't much of it left, and that's in private ownership, but the owner had kindly agreed to lay on a tour plus tea for the Friends of the Minories.  It was not a coach trip, though, but a get-yourself-there outing, and since my parents don't drive I supplied the wheels and they the tickets.

We called at the National Trust's Grange Barn first.  I hadn't known that existed either, having not read my National Trust membership guide carefully enough, but when I spotted it on Google maps while trying to find the abbey it looked like a handy place to stop.  Given the unpredictable nature of Colchester's traffic and the A12 it's always a good idea to aim to be early to events with a fixed starting time, to reduce the chance of being late, and I thought we could look at the barn if the traffic was running freely, and would have a margin for delay before the main event if it wasn't.

It is a very fine barn.  It was almost lost in the 1970s when that sort of thing wasn't so highly regarded and a change of ownership saw it allowed to fall into dereliction with a view to housebuilding.  The locals rallied round, permission to demolish the barn or build houses was withheld, the locals got it rebuilt and in the 1980s transferred it to the National Trust.  The majority of the timbers are still the originals, but the roof tiles came from a London council estate that was being demolished and happened to have tiles that were a good match, stylistically speaking.  I enjoyed looking at the barn, and was grateful to the National Trust volunteers who cheerfully agreed we could leave the car in their car park, which was nowhere near full, rather than risk parking 'in the lane' at the abbey.

Parking in the lane looked like chaos when we arrived at the abbey and I was very glad not to be taking part, though in fact everybody had miraculously sorted themselves out by the time we walked back to the barn.  The abbey church is long gone, and all that remains is a cloister house (or it might have been the guest house, the experts are still arguing about it), a short brick built arcade with room above, and the abbot's lodging.  There is some very nice Medieval brickwork including some specials, moulded shaped bricks used for doorways and arches, which the proud owner told us had worn far better than the stonework and was of vastly superior quality to Tudor brickwork.

Part of the original buildings morphed into a farmhouse after the Reformation, and then had the luck to be owned by families who mismanaged their affairs to the extent that they could not afford to improve or update it.  Many pretty Georgian frontages across Essex hide a far earlier building behind them, but not at Coggeshall Abbey.  It is still late Medieval.  The current owners bought the place eighteen years ago, and have been lovingly restoring and patching up the house and buildings ever since.  We were shown a couple of rooms which were almost straight out of Wolf Hall, with panelling and vast, log-eating fireplaces.  There is a pretty garden too, with a fabulous weeping lime, and a fold of the river Blackwater, and a carpenter's workshop housed under yet more medieval beams (plus corrugated roof) with a carpenter who can make or mend anything.  Just downstream was the only Grade I listed watermill in Essex, though that belonged to somebody else and wasn't part of the tour.

Then we had tea in the garden, and my only criticism would be that two hours is longer than a guided tour should last.  People get tired and are ready for their tea and cake.  The organiser murmured that she had not realised the tour would take quite so long, but you see the owner was an enthusiast.  He and his wife have had help from various grant making bodies to try and stick the whole place back together and keep it going, and I'm very grateful that other people have the energy to take on projects like that.  I couldn't face it myself.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

storm in a shoe

By now you have probably heard about the London temp who was sent home from her first day at work for not wearing high heels.  I read about it yesterday in The Guardian.  She didn't dispute the right of businesses to have a dress code or the need for reception staff to look neat and businesslike, she just didn't see why in this day and age formal flat shoes wouldn't fit the bill.  Her role included showing visiting clients to their meeting rooms, and she didn't want to have to do that wearing two to four inch heels through a nine hour working day.  And only female staff were expected to undergo this particular discomfort.  Her outsource company employers initially laughed at her, then asked her to go and buy some shoes with heels, then sent her home without pay.

Right is entirely on her side.  Every kind of orthopoedic specialist or podiatrist will tell you that spending long hours in heels over two inches high is not good for people's health.  The strains it puts on the knees, legs and lower back can contribute towards arthritis.  Your feet will probably hurt long before the day is out.  Habitual heel wearing can cause your calf muscles to shrink so that it hurts to wear flats, meaning it will hurt to do any normal activity needing flat shoes, which includes most forms of exercise.  Heels throw your weight forward in the shoe, which is apt to do horrid things to your toes, producing corns, bunions, outer toes permanently twisted over their neighbours.  Some women enjoy wearing heels, some even have the knack of walking in them. They are entirely free to wear them, but nobody should be forced into them five days a week.

The outsource company's dress code is juniorist as well as sexist.  When I worked as a fund manager at a fairly senior level I wore court shoes with the lowest heel I could find, or if I was wearing a trouser suit I might wear flats.  Never, ever did the investment director or head of marketing or anybody else take me aside and say that really for the next client presentation I must buy some taller shoes, or blame a lost pitch on my inadequate one and half inch heels.  When I met Marjorie Scardino or Stephanie Shirley I didn't peer at their feet before deciding whether I should take their business acumen seriously: I listened to what they had to say.  Professional women at a senior level are not required to function as dolly birds, so why should more junior staff be?  The key skills of somebody on reception are to be polite and organised, get visitors' names right and make sure they get to the correct meeting rooms and that their hosts know they are there.  To look after them if there's any kind of glitch or delay to their meeting.  To be nice, vibrant, cheerful, and give a good impression of the firm for which they are the first point of contact for the office visitor.  None, absolutely none of this requires that they sway up and down corridors in shoes they aren't comfortable in.

The rejected temp, having thought about the issue and compared notes with her friends, did something rather wonderful.  In a world where whistle blowers are still as likely to be punished as rewarded she started an online Downing Street petition.  It's still legal in the UK for a company to require female members of staff to wear high heels at work against their will. Dress code laws should be changed so that women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish. Current formal work dress codes are out-dated and sexist. When I signed it last night it was up to over fourteen thousand signatures.  By this morning it had hit sixty thousand. By the time I came in from the garden it had risen above a hundred and ten thousand.  Getting through the hundred thousand mark means that it now has to be debated in Parliament, where if I were a male MP I would be very careful about trying to make any kind of joke on the subject.

Go on, sign the petition.  Let's get it to the million signature mark, and eradicate one little bit of institutionalised sexism.  There are loads more serious issues facing women than their shoes, but progress comes one step at a time.   You will find the link here.

The client company PwC have tried to distance themselves from the row, saying they had not set the dress policy and were not aware of it.  That's not really an excuse since when you outsource something you should either know the details of what is being done on your behalf, or manage to delegate to somebody who is going to do it properly.  But I think their speedy repudiation of the high heels requirement shows which way the wind is blowing.  Time to judge women employees on their ability to do the job, not to conform to a particular stereotype of sexiness while in pain and storing up future health problems.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

stage notes

My music society is thinking about buying a lightweight modular stage system.  It's something we've talked about for ages.  The existing stage is extremely strong and very heavy.  It lives in the commune opposite the church, who use it as well in exchange for housing it, and the volunteer who has been in charge of putting it up and taking it down for years has decided that as he enters the second half of his eighties it is all getting too much.

A new stage with components light enough that anybody could handle them seemed a good investment, and brochures were collected and compared.  Ultimately the project failed because none of the stages seemed guaranteed to take the weight of a grand piano.  By no means all of our concerts even feature a piano, but it seemed galling to invest in a stage system we couldn't always use.  We discussed not having a stage, but the audience is used to seeing the musicians at the front of the church, and honestly if you couldn't see them it wouldn't be as much fun, that one step further towards thinking you might as well simply buy the CD and listen at home as many times as you liked instead of going to see them live.  We debated finding alternative venues, but the church is very beautiful and atmospheric and there wasn't anything else quite like it.

Then somebody found that one of the temporary stages on the market could carry a piano, as long as additional boards were used under the legs to spread the weight.  The stage, constructed of steel tube and ply, was certified to take a load of up to 750 kilos per square metre.  A grand piano weighs between 600 and 1,200 pounds, according to Wikipedia.  Provided we used the extra boards and didn't leave the entire weight of the piano bearing down on three small points then the modular stage should be fine with it.  Or at least, that's what the stage manufacturer's brochure said.

Human nature, presented with a new idea, tends to look first for what is wrong with it, and there were a couple of people who did not really believe that the stage could support a piano, or that we would be able to manoeuvre the instrument on and off the stage without it collapsing, but in the end we agreed that we would in principle invest in some new staging, provided that our piano hire company was happy with the concept, and that other local customers would confirm the staging was robust and easy to use.

It was reading the small print of the quote that I realised that small charities were at a disadvantage compared to other kinds of customer.  The cost of a stage large enough to accommodate a string quartet or piano trio was around three thousand pounds, plus VAT.  The manufacturer's standard terms required payment in advance.  If I were spending that much on a piece of equipment I'd put it on my credit card, then if the supplier went bust before I'd received my goods I would probably, after some negotiations with my bank, get my money back.  Small registered charities don't have VISA cards.  I pointed out the theoretical risk to the rest of the committee.  It was probably very slight, but we ought to know that we were running it.

We couldn't see any way round it.  The chairman thought the company had been in business for a long time, and the treasurer said that was the way of the world nowadays.  I asked the Systems Administrator for advice when I got home, since the SA used to keep a beady eye on other people's money moving around for a living, and the SA said that the supplier would not have a client fund account, indeed could not, because they only existed in financial service companies while in an ordinary commercial business all money went into the same pot in the event of failure, to pay off the creditors in their legally specified order.  Larger commercial companies paid to insure against the risk.  Our best bet was to satisfy ourselves as best we could that the supplier was reputable and well established, and to pay as close to their required date as possible so that we were at risk for the shortest possible time.

It seems harsh, though.  Bigger commercial customers can insure against the risk, private buyers can insure via their credit cards, but little charities are left exposed.  I thought that wanting a one hundred per cent prepayment seemed greedy anyway when it was an off-the-shelf, modular system, not something bespoke.  It wasn't as though we were going to have a massively expensive granite worktop cut to size and then say we didn't like the colour and didn't want it.  The SA pointed out that the company was on risk otherwise of non-payment, and were probably dealing with some quite flaky and undercapitalised customers in the entertainment industry.  I still think a fifty per cent deposit would be fairer.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

for their own good

Poor little cats.  They were taken today for their jabs against feline leukemia and cat flu (part one) and are now looking very seedy.  One of them has been sick, and another has a dodgy tummy, and we feel desperately mean because this morning they were so happy and bouncing with energy.  But it is for their own good in the long term to be vaccinated.

They were a big hit with all the staff on reception at the vets, and the vet herself, who by coincidence was the same partner who vaccinated the Main Coones seventeen years ago.  That thought made all of us feel rather old.  To our surprise the three kittens weighed almost exactly the same, though one looks so much bigger and another slightly smaller than the one we would have said was in the middle.  They were extraordinarily well behaved, maintaining their composure in the waiting room when surrounded by rather noisy dogs, and toddling placidly around the examination table instead of trying to disappear under the furniture.  I hope that by tomorrow they don't hold their experiences against us.

Our Ginger was not pleased to see them return to the house, and sulked furiously.  We are trying a plug-in diffuser recommended by the vet which sprays cat happy hormones about the house. Synthetic pheromones mimic the scent cats leave when they rub their faces on the furniture or your legs, said to be scientifically proved to reduce stress in kittens and adult cats and help them adjust to new surroundings or a new pet.  Well, that's what it says on the box.  I'd never heard of it, but it turns out the Systems Administrator had read about it on internet forums.  I wouldn't take those as gospel, but we've known the vet for a long time and on the strength of her advice we were prepared to give it a go.  Our Ginger is now asleep and snoring, an improvement on awake and sulking.  It can't have helped that it rained all day, so he was stuck in the house and reminded of the horrible rug rats in the next room, instead of being able to patrol around the garden.

Monday, 9 May 2016

so far, so good on the cat front

I have rebooted my computer.  After eating my blog post yesterday evening it swallowed up the first half of an email I was writing this afternoon, leaving me with nothing but the last letter I'd typed, which was an s.  Not very helpful.

The warmer weather is bringing things on at such a pace that even the rabbits can't eat all of them, and I was relieved to see shoots on all three Dictamnus albus var. purpureus, a slowly spreading herbaceous species that I really didn't want repeatedly chewed down to stumps so that I lost a year's growth.  It is a graceful plant, as slow growers often are, with glossy green leaves and upright spikes of pale mauve, five petalled, starry flowers with darker purple veins and a bunch of protruding stamens.  It secretes volatile oils which according to gardening legend can be ignited on a hot, calm day, though I have never felt the urge to set fire to my plants.  From this derives its common name of burning bush plant, or in the US the inelegant name of gas plant.  Its botanical name is all back to front, since most plants in the wild are purple, as mine are, but the first one seen and named happened to have white flowers.  They were given the name Dictamnus albus, leaving the more usual purple form with the qualifying var. purpureus tagged on the end.

We have both spent quite a lot of time sitting with the kittens trying to socialise them, alternating with sitting with Our Ginger so that he doesn't feel left out.  The kittens like playing with a piece of paper dangled above their heads on a length of kitchen string, and have two settings at the moment, galloping about and completely crashed out.  They still don't give any signs of actively enjoying being handled, but as I type this one is curled up on the footstool in front of me, another is stretched out on the hearthrug and the third is asleep behind my chair.  That's an advance on Saturday when they spent their day mostly trying to hide behind the furniture.  The Systems Administrator has removed all surplus trailing cables, raised the remaining ones as far as possible, and clad the lowest ones in plastic duct.  Those tiny teeth are sharp as needles.

We brought Our Ginger in to look at them for two minutes this morning, firmly clasped in my arms. He stopped purring when he saw the first kitten, and I could feel his body tense.  They just looked at him, and after two minutes he'd had enough, and we took him back to the kitchen and bribed him to be happy with cat treats.  This afternoon he wanted to come in when we opened the door, sniffed the kittens' food, and stared at two of them while they stared back, holding their ground on the hearth rug.  A kitten hissed first, Our Ginger consented to be soothed by us, and we retired with him for a cup of tea on the terrace, where he started to purr again.  So far, so good.  I hope.

I have registered them with our vet and we are going for their first jabs tomorrow.  As I told one of them, he'll be official then.  He'll have papers.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

slow death of a broom

Blogger has just eaten my post as I was editing one final sentence about my neighbour's tulips, and I really don't have the heart to repeat myself.  The bare bones of it were that I have been removing the Genista aetnensis from the turning circle, that is clearly dying from wind rock and leaning out over the pond at a mad angle, and the garden looked better with it than without it.  It has left me with some self-sown replacements that are a better shape than their parent.  Was that because they don't like being raised in pots and then transplanted?

Several of the flower stems on tulip 'Elegant Lady' have broken three to four inches below the flower.  My neighbour was complaining about the same thing happening to his tulips a few weeks back.  Why was that?  It hasn't been that windy in the past couple of days.  Was it the sudden heat causing a sappy growth spurt?  The Darwins have now gone over so the combination was a failure anyway.

Originally there were some thoughts about the Great Storm of 1987, but that will have to keep for another time.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

pets and livestock

We woke early this morning.  I lay in bed, thinking that I couldn't decently get up and start crashing around in the shower before half past six so as not to disturb the Systems Administrator, and then the SA said It's no good, I'm awake, and we got up.  As the SA said, getting on with mending the bookcases seemed more sensible than lying in bed thinking about how to do it.  The broken trim has now been cobbled back into place so that the kittens can't get back in, and while the Systems Administrator will make a tidier job of it in due course, at the moment the bookcases have a distinctly Frankenstein air.  That wasn't bad going for three very small cats, when we have had to take a jemmy to several grand's worth of bespoke home office furniture within six hours of their arrival.

I went to check the bees this morning.  It ha beens too cold to open the hives until recently, and I should have inspected them as soon as the weather warmed up, but I was out and then yesterday it was the great drama of the kittens under the fitted bookcase.  The bees have not read the books. Two colonies that had bees filling their supers to bursting and should have had more space added several days ago did not show any signs of swarming, while a third that had some bees up in the super but still had tonnes of space had made the beginnings of several queen cells, with eggs laid in them to show that they were serious and not just playing about.  Bees are funny things, inconsistent from one season to the next.  One of the colonies that has got off to a racing start did nothing in particular last year, just trundled along.

The kittens began to explore their surroundings once they had been reinstalled in the study, where their routine is to come out from the corner where we have put their bed, food and litter tray, explore, and then retreat to the corner, though they are not very interested in the bed and prefer to sit in the bottom bookshelf which the SA has cleared for them.  They began to eat, which was a relief since they scarcely ate anything yesterday, and to play intermittently in a more kittenish way, and had a good wash which they needed after yesterday, especially the two that went inside the bookcases.  They still do not appear to enjoy being handled at all, but at least they are learning to associate us with the appearance of food.  I hope they will grow friendlier, otherwise we have just committed ourselves to a decade and a half of very hands-off cats.  We still have no idea about names.

Our Ginger liked the left-over helping of food out of a pouch rather than a tin so much that we have promoted him to pouches.  They scarcely work out any more expensive given that I kept having to throw half eaten tins away, and it seems diplomatic not to leave him suspecting that the kittens are getting nicer food than him.  We are leaving them to grow more confident about their surroundings before we introduce Our Ginger to their new world in the study, which leaves us dividing our time between them and him.  I am sure he knows they are in the study, but he has given up sitting outside the door if we're in there and seems happy to wait for us in the hall.  Getting them to all spend the evening in the same room will be a whole other exercise, but we'll cross that bridge in due course.  The lovely lady at the feral cat and kitten rescue centre seemed confident it could be done, and she has many more years' experience of looking after cats than either of us, let alone the righteous young woman at the other rescue place.

Friday, 6 May 2016

hello kitties

The death of the old lady tabby meant that we were free to get kittens.  We could never have inflicted kittens on her: she hated any change to her routine, and would have loathed the rumpus of kittens, and the adult cats they grew into.  Our Ginger, on the other hand, moved into a house where there were already four adult cats so has a track record of seeking out company.  We thought that so long as we made sure to make a huge fuss of him post kitten that he would probably come round to the idea, and might even enjoy the companionship in time.

I went to the cat rescue centre in Colchester to put my name down for kittens, duly equipped with photographic identification and proof of address less than three months old, as required on their website, and was given a form to fill in.  Did I live on an A or B road?  Did I own my house?  Did it have a secure back garden?  Did I have my landlord's agreement to get a cat?  Did everybody in the household want a cat?  Why did I want kittens and not an adult cat?  Did my house have a cat flap or was I prepared to fit one, and did I undertake to keep my cat indoors at night and to provide an indoor litter tray at all times.  I filled in the form, lying in places (none of our previous cats have wanted to use an indoor litter tray as long as they were in any condition to stagger out into the garden).

The young woman who took my form was discouraging about the idea of introducing kittens to an adult cat, saying that in her view it was not a good idea.  I looked into her bright, sharp, righteous little face and felt a deep sense of weariness.  I was fairly sure I had taken responsibility for my first pair of cats before she was born, or at any rate while she was still at primary school.  They did not want to see my passport or bank statement, not at the moment.  The only kittens they had were only two weeks old, and they did not offer to show them to me.  They would ring me.  I left, feeling fairly sure that I would not be getting kittens from the Colchester cat rescue.  Nobody I know has ever managed to obtain an animal from them.

The next stop was the vet, where I tried to buy a fresh pack of combined flea and tapeworm dab-on-the-neck treatment for Our Ginger.  The receptionist looked at her records and explained apologetically that she could not sell them to me, because they were prescription only and they had not seen Our Ginger in the past year.  Would I like to make an appointment to bring him in for a check-up?  My sense of weariness deepened.  Our Ginger does not like going to the vet, and as he seems happy enough at the moment I was not sure I wanted to subject him to a check-up.  At his age it seemed unlikely to stop at checking his heart and looking at his teeth.  I had visions of blood tests, resulting in dismal warnings of age related conditions that we could not do anything about, all at vast expense.  I invoked that great middle aged lady get-out clause that I would have to speak to my husband, and would ring them.

I had more luck when I explained that they needed to remove the old lady tabby from their records, and that I was now on the hunt for kittens if they knew any other clients who had some.  One of her ladies that very morning had said that she had so many kittens, and I left with a name and phone number.  This turned out to be the kitten and feral cat rescue centre based in Alresford, whose website I'd seen without giving it priority among the plethora of Essex cat rescue organisations. The woman who answered the phone said that yes, she had two litters ready for homing, though she had to warn me that they were all black or black and white.  That was fine by me: we have had three black cats over the years and they have all been wonderful pets.

Slightly stunned that she had kittens ready now, rather than tiny ones for July, I arranged to go round at five so that we could sort ourselves out first, and then had to ring her back shortly afterwards apologising that I wasn't thinking straight, but could we choose the kittens today and collect them on Friday when we would both be at home to look after them and our existing cat.  As the Systems Administrator had spotted when I told him about the appointment, I had a garden club meeting that evening and was going to London for the next two days, so it was not the best moment to take charge of kittens.  We went round at half past two, with a clear plan to choose two boys, preferably short haired because long haired cats fur can be a problem as they get older and can't groom themselves, and we wanted nice, friendly, outgoing kittens that would make sociable cats.

Both litters were adorable.  There were three black and white brothers in one pen, nine weeks old and big for their age, two of them semi long haired, and none of them especially friendly.  The shelter owner assured us that they were lovely with her, the problem was that they had been born in the rescue centre and were not used to strange people.  Ideally they needed to be in a proper home as soon as possible.  The other pen held four much smaller, sleek, short haired, sociable kittens, three boys and a girl, pure black or with small white markings around the face.  We dithered.  We dithered some more.  The shelter owner said she would step outside and let us discuss it.   The Systems Administrator was terribly drawn to the black and white biggies, because they promised to make large cats and the SA likes big cats.  Yes, they were a bit wild but would soon settle down.  The little black ones were so friendly, they would soon find homes.  The black and white litter were awfully pretty, but how to choose?  The fluffiest one that hissed at me soundlessly showing his tiny teeth was the prettiest.  Who was going to be left behind, alone in his pen?  I said the fatal words: I suppose we could take three.

We took all three.  As the SA said, that boosted the future rodent control force by fifty per cent. They came with a dowry of the kind of cat food they currently eat, three plastic balls to play with, and the phone number to get a voucher to have them neutered for twenty pounds each at a vet of our choice.  We showed them to Our Ginger when we got back, and the fluffy hissing one hissed at him, so Our Ginger hissed back, before managing to get into the study where they will live for now and ostentatiously scarfing down all their food.  They spent the morning hiding behind a cupboard, until we moved it forwards enough to get behind it, and then under a desk, and climbing into the bookcases.  We left them in peace some of the time, and managed to catch each one to pet it a couple of times to start their socialisation process, until we went in to check on them after tea and found that two had completely disappeared.

We looked under the furniture and in the bookshelves and the places where a kitten could easily climb, with no success.  It was a locked room mystery.  The door had been shut.  The window was only ajar behind a wooden slatted blind.  We tried to think whether there could be any other ways of getting out of the room or connections to the kitchen, given that the layout has been altered over the years.  It gradually and horribly dawned on us that the kittens must have managed to get behind the fitted bookcase.  It has a neat hole cut in the back at one end to allow access to the electric socket that was there before the bookcases were fitted, and once we looked closely we realised there was a small gap at the bottom of the trim at the end where the shelves didn't reach right up to the wall.  The SA prised away a piece of the bottom trim at the end that was not against the wall, and shining a torch along the floor we could just see a black shape that eventually moved.

It was a kitten, but only one, so where the hell was the other?  Had it managed to climb up the gap between the back of the bookcase and the wall?  And how did we persuade the kitten to come out, when it didn't like us?  We could have left it there until it was starving, but that would have been stressful for all parties.  We couldn't take the trim off the bottom of the front of the bookcase because it had the weight of the shelves and all the books pressing down on it.  We tried menacing the kitten from the door end with a drain rod with socks tied on the end, to see if it would pop out of the gap in the trim by the wall, but it stayed firmly put.  In the end the Systems Administrator flapped a ruler noisily through the hole at the wall end and it came close enough to the missing trim at the door end for me to haul it out, though by then I think it wanted to be rescued.  That was Hissing Sid, but there was still no sign of the other one, which after lunch had consented to sit on the SA's chest for a time and even stared into his face.

The SA removed part of the vertical trim from the gaps between the case and the walls at both ends, which broke into pieces since it was only faced chipboard.  No signs of the other kitten in the gap between the back of the case and the wall, when we shone torches in there.  It was not on top of the bookcase either in the gap between the case and the ceiling, when the SA prised a piece off the end cornice.  We turned our attentions to the other bookcase, which also has an access hole for the electric socket, and when we took the end bottom trim out there under the lowest shelf at the furthest end was the last kitten, and again we could not remove the bottom trim along the front because it was wedged in by the weight of books, so had to rip the end vertical trim out and try to shoe the kitten out of the gap with the drain rod.  At the first attempt it stayed put, and was equally resistant to be shooed out the other way when we waved a length of hosepipe through the gap opened up by removing the vertical end filling piece.  I thought it might look like a snake, but while the kitten came towards the gap we'd opened up, it stayed just over arms length from the end of the bookcase.  At the second rodding attempt it hopped out through the vertical gap, and hid under the stove while the SA quickly blocked up the holes in the bookcases so that it couldn't disappear back underneath, before we managed to catch it.

The kittens are now locked in the downstairs loo for the night with their food and their litter tray. The loo seat is down, the window is shut.  We are collapsed in the study and Our Ginger is sitting in my office chair washing noisily.  So much for the idea of introducing them to each other as soon as possible and carrying on in a normal fashion so that Our Ginger doesn't feel left out.  I am absolutely shattered.  The kittens are probably traumatised, but they should be safe in the loo.  The SA will have to rebuild the bookcases in the morning then we can move the kittens from the loo back into the study and try again.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

another jaunt

I went to London again today.  I had a ticket for a lunchtime concert at LSO St Lukes, my last of the present season, which was booked ages ago, and it just so happened that yesterday was the only day that suited both my friend and me to go to Dulwich before the Astrup exhibition closed.

It was the final concert in their series Elgar Up Close, featuring Elgar's chamber music, which is generally less well known than his orchestral and choral works.  Certainly I didn't recall having ever heard his String Quartet on radio 3, though that doesn't prove a lot because I don't have a great memory for classical music.  I hadn't heard of today's musicians either, the Elias Quartet, which again doesn't prove much since my knowledge of the world of string quartets is patchy.  They are relatively young and were BBC New Generation Artists a few years ago.

Anyway, from my starting point of ignorance I liked them, and the Elgar, and the Purcell Fantasias that preceded it.  They gave us an encore too, of two Scottish tunes, at which my folkie's ear pricked up, for with the first we finally got to something that I recognised.  The second violin took the lead for the folk encore, and looking him up on their their website I see that he grew up in the Scottish highlands. son of a Gaelic singer and teacher, so while he went on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music he was singing traditional music from when he could speak.  You can hear the concert as the Radio 3 lunchtime concert on Friday 13 May, though I don't know if that will include the encore.

Thence to the British Museum where Sicily: culture and conquest has now opened.  It focuses on two periods in Sicily's history, the era of Greek and Phoenician rule, and the eleventh century conquest by the Normans and subsequent golden age.  Stories of the Mediterranean melting pot are generally fascinating, and Sicily's history is as complex as any.  In fact, it is surely crying out for Simon Sebag Montefiore to make a series on it.  Some of the artefacts produced during both periods were quite lovely, though none so beautiful as the Myota charioteer loaned by its Sicilian museum owner to the British Museum for the duration of the Olympics.  In this show it appears only as a photograph.  This exhibition still has plenty of time to run, until mid August, and it is well worth seeing.

Addendum  Our Ginger caught two rabbits in the night, leaving one laid out in front of the television and the other lying disembowelled on the lawn.  The Systems Administrator tells me that this afternoon as the SA sat out on the terrace, Our Ginger strode past purposefully, and reappeared fifteen minutes later with a third small rabbit clamped in his jaws, which he deposited in front of the TV, where they both admired it for a bit before the SA tidied the body away.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

south of the river

Today I went to the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  Dulwich is still a pig to get to from north Essex, because London Bridge station has still got building works and so you have to work your way round by tube from Liverpool Street to Victoria before heading out of central London again, and it takes ages.  I had a salutary experience on the tube, finding my western liberal tolerance and rational attitude to risk might both be merely skin deep, as we hopped on to a train only to find that the opposite side of the carriage was occupied by a woman in full length black Islamic robe and head covering, who instead of sitting facing the other passengers was standing facing the wall, while fiddling with a rucksack on the seat in front of her.  I was quite ashamed at how relieved I was when she got off at the next stop.

Dulwich is as ever an island of bourgeois loveliness in the great sea of south London.  The reason for making the pilgrimage was the current temporary exhibition, which ends on 15 May, of the works of a little known Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup.  It is according to the gallery website the first major exhibition of his work in London, and indeed the world, outside Norway.  He was active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century before dying of pneumonia at the age of only 47. Like Grieg, the damp of his native country did not suit him, and like Grieg he couldn't bear to leave.  Astrup didn't even settle in Oslo where he might have found more patrons and a touch of cosmopolitan life, but returned to his village in the countryside, married, had children, tended his garden with a particular penchant for growing rhubarb, and painted the mountains, the lakes, the marsh marigolds, the trees, his family and his house.

I really liked his work.  It shows enormous feeling for his native landscape and the scenes of his childhood.  Not especially innovative, or dazzlingly technically brilliant, but imbued with spirit.  In fact, not unlike Emily Carr, another foreign artist almost unknown in the UK to be featured at Dulwich.  He made beautiful woodcuts and linocuts as well.  I have no idea why Andrew Graham-Dixon's recent series on Scandinavian art for BBC 4 left him out, ending his survey of Norwegian painting with Munch.  I was too mean to buy the book, but almost wish I had, as I should have liked to know more about who might have influenced him.  He studied in Paris and Berlin, and I thought I detected echos of Manet and Gaugin and Van Gogh in his work.

From the Dulwich Picture Gallery it is not a very long walk to the Horniman Museum, and the first half is through Dulwich Park, which is very nice, though the second half is along the south circular and is not so pretty.  The Horniman has a good reputation, and I was curious to see it, plus according to their website we could get the overground back from Forest Hill instead of looping back to Victoria.  My companion was amenable to the suggestion, but I still felt responsible for that part of the expedition, and was left with a vague feeling that the Horniman had let me down.  It is not clear where you should go even when you get there, so we walked round three sides of a square getting from the main road to the museum building, and once we'd entered the museum lobby it wasn't at all obvious what there was to see.

We took pot luck with natural history, and found ourselves in a room full of mahogany display cases full of stuffed dead things, interspersed with the fragmented remains of animals.  I find stuffed animals awfully depressing, and it's possible nowadays to explain an armadillo's skin without killing the armadillo to do it.  The Stubbs portrait of a kangaroo recently saved for the nation by the Art Fund was good, that he did entirely from other people's descriptions without ever having actually seen one, but neither of us liked the taxidermy, apart from the sign requesting us not to touch the walrus or sit on the iceberg, which had a grim charm.  Then we looked at some photos of Rio, which gave way to photos of Romania and back to Rio, and then a subterranean room of stuff collected by Mr Horniman because it was interesting.  A torture chair from the Spanish inquisition that was probably mocked up in the nineteenth century, though possibly out of genuine bits of earlier instruments of torture, glass cases of poor dead blue butterflies, puppets, ceremonial masks. Loads of random things.  I began to experience the vague sense of growing claustrophobia I felt going around the National Trust's preposterously overstuffed Snowshill Manor.

We agreed that the Horniman had done us a nice cup of tea but we were glad we hadn't made a special trip just to see it, and beat the retreat towards Forest Hill, pausing only to look a a magnificent and totally empty conservatory, now isolated from the rest of the museum but who knows, perhaps originally attached to Mr Horniman's house, that he filled steadily with his collection until there was no more space and he and his family had to move out into rented accommodation.  We could have hired the conservatory for our function, had we wanted to hold a function in south London.  After I got home I received an email from my friend, whose partner grew up in Dulwich, saying that there was more to the Horniman than that and we had missed bits of it. All I can say is, they should get some better signs.