Monday, 31 October 2016

Mr Fidget is unwell

Mr Fidget bounded into the bedroom first thing yesterday morning with Mr Fluffy, but looked slightly uncertain about his lunch, then spent all afternoon asleep, which is not like him.  He ate his share of supper, but later in the evening he was slightly sick, and he wouldn't eat any of their second, late supper at all, and showed no interest in licking out the ice cream tub.  This morning he met me at the top of the stairs as I got up, but after that he retreated to his favourite spot on the pouffe and didn't want any breakfast.  I offered him some water, but he didn't want that either, and when I stroked him he didn't purr.  It might have been my imagination, but he felt rather hot.

When it comes to human ailments we will both run with a temperature for several days before going to the doctor.  As long as somebody in previously normal health is still able to hold a lucid conversation then colds and flu count as self limiting illnesses.  But how do you tell if a cat is lucid? Mr Fidget will be eight months old tomorrow, still very young, and he has never been ill before.  We decided to book him in to the vet, telling each other that if we didn't we would only spend the day worrying about him.

As soon as the car began to move Mr Fidget began to wail in his basket and scrabbled at the wire, only stopping each time we reached stationary traffic.  He has done that on every car trip he has ever taken with us, coming home from the rescue centre and on previous trips to the vet.  If we ever find ourselves moving to the other end of the country with him he will have to be sedated.  Not a good passenger, Mr Fidget.  He was quite composed once we got to the vet, which was just as well because there were a lot of dogs in the waiting room.  Mr Fidget when well has an optimistically belligerent attitude to dogs.  He attempted to chase one of the Airedales when it came into the garden, arching his back and jumping sideways on all four legs, until it ruined the effect by chasing him.

A hard core of the other patients did not seem to be going anywhere.  There was an amiable Rottweiler whose owner said she had fleas and whose hair was coming out all over the floor, and a cat called Sophie accompanied by a little girl wearing a Halloween costume, and a pug who snuffled and barked.  The little girl stuck a finger into Mr Fidget's basket and complained when he didn't respond that he didn't like her.  I explained that he wasn't feeling well, and she wouldn't like it if she was ill and someone she didn't know came and stared at her, and she went away to play with the Rottweiler instead.  A large rabbit and a small black dog with a seriously tubby body atop four incongruously spindly legs joined the queue.  Quarter of an hour late turned to forty minutes, and the Rottweiler owner went to ask at the desk how much longer it was going to be because he had to get back to work.

Eventually a weeping girl appeared with a small empty pet carrier and two sombre grownups, and we concluded that things had gone badly wrong for someone's pet.  The queue began to move, until another girl appeared wearing a veterinary practice polo shirt and called Mr Fidget's name.  I realised this was our vet for the day.  Jenny Eclair last night was talking about her child GP, the one who diagnosed her tiredness as a bad case of lazycowitis and prescribed cardiac exercise three times a week.  Mr Fidget was due to see the child vet.  This is of course unfair to vets and to all qualified people under the age of thirty-five.  You need better A levels and a more impressive CV to train as a vet than a GP.  She was very nice, and asked about Mr Fidget's symptoms, and assured us that it was better to have him checked out than not, before feeling his abdomen, listening to his heart, and sticking a thermometer up his bottom.  Mr Fidget did not like that last procedure.

He had a temperature.  Quite a high temperature for a cat, and she gave him an injection containing a painkiller and an anti-inflammatory, and told us to bring him back in thirty-six to forty-eight hours so that she could see how he was doing once the drugs had worn off.  He might be better by then, or if not she would start doing blood tests and further investigations.  She thought it was a virus, which is what GPs always used to say when I was younger if you were off colour but not at death's door and with no other obvious symptoms, and which I always assumed meant they didn't know what it was yet.  She meant she didn't want to prescribe antibiotics at this stage.

Pumped up with the vet's drugs Mr Fidget wanted some lunch, which was a relief.  Even if he didn't want anything else later when the jab wore off then at least he'd have had something.  We reinstated the litter tray so that he wouldn't have to go outside, locked him in when he did look as though he wanted to go out, and he settled down to spend the afternoon on his pouffe.  Then he decided he wanted some supper, and now he has snuck out after all.  I'm not sure we should have left him, as I feel he should be resting, but it is very difficult to make a cat rest when it doesn't want to.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

day in, evening out

I am thoroughly confused by the clocks changing.  I'm not sure whether we ate lunch at twelve or two by stomach time, and the cats are no guide because they will always tell you that they are hungry.  I'll get used to it in a few days, though it is a complete nuisance that it now gets dark so early.  I know that in theory I could just get up earlier to compensate, since as a politician arguing on the Today programme for the clocks not to change said (with withering and unnecessary scorn) the day won't get any shorter, you know.  But it's difficult keeping up a day that's out of synch with everybody else, not to mention the radio, and in the end you end up going with the flow.  If The World At One has just started then it must be one.

I have finally finished putting the pots of tender things under cover.  At last.  Bring on the cold nights, I'm ready for them.  Night time temperatures are forecast to drop by mid week, so I may be none too early.  I eyed up the remaining space and the pots of dahlias that are still standing outside the greenhouse waiting for the frost to blacken their leaves, and tried to decide whether they were going to fit.  It is going to be nip and tuck, but I think they will.  I had better look through the bedraggled collection of things propagated from seeds and cuttings and check what ought to go into a cold frame sooner rather than later.  Belamcanda chinensis, or Iris domestica as I am supposed to learn to call it, probably doesn't want to be frozen in its pots, and nor do the penstemons.  The iris (I still can't think of it as an iris but I must try to do so) has attractive amber flowers spotted with orange-red.  It is not difficult to raise from seed and this isn't the first time I've grown some, but I have never worked out a good place to put it.

Continued:  And that's all there is, because after typing the last paragraph I had to go out because I was meeting a friend in Colchester to go to Jenny Eclair's show, How To Be a Middle Aged Woman (without going insane).  She was very, very funny.  The Arts Centre was sold out, and about ninety-eight per cent of the audience were women.  And now, although the clock says it is only eight minutes to eleven, it is really eight minutes to midnight and time to go to bed.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

in the conservatory

Today was extraordinarily warm and lovely for the time of year.  I was totally overdressed for disentangling brambles from roses, and had to peel off layers as I worked.  I even checked with the Systems Administrator that it really was that warm, in case I was having a hot flush, but the SA confirmed that no, it wasn't just me, it was a warm day.  Dead still, too.  The blades of the wind generator on the farm across the ditch never turned.  The eleagnus hedge was a humming mass of foraging bees, and I was glad I'd only given it the lightest possible trim this autumn to keep as many of the flowers as possible.  It can have another haircut in the spring.

I moved the pots of succulents from the deck back into the conservatory for the winter.  The Aeonium have enjoyed their summer out of doors, and their rosettes have grown much bigger.  I consolidated the dark purple ones into one big pot.  It was a rather fine Whichford pot, a present from some years back, that turned out taller than I was expecting when I saw it in the flesh, and I didn't feel I'd found a really good use for it.  It had pinks in it for years, but the balance of shapes never looked quite right.  When Whichford's Christmas catalogue arrived today I noticed a photograph of Aeonium in a tall pot and had a light bulb moment.  The purple Aeonium had got extremely leggy so that they blew over in their individual small pots in any kind of wind.  Planted in one tall pot the heights of the two would complement each other and the weight of all that terracotta and compost would keep their centre of gravity suitably low.  I mixed a lot of grit into the compost, which seems to be the way to persuade Aeonium to make good root systems.

To my disgust I had over-watered the Echeveria and most of them had rotted.  They have had the same treatment as the Aeonium, from which I conclude that they need less water.  Some of the individual rosettes were showing a few wispy roots, and I sat them all on pots of compost mixed with grit sand, then mixed with grit when I ran out of sand.  Stood on the high greenhouse shelf with no extra water at all they have two choices, root or die.

Salvia confertiflora squeezed in somehow, cuddled up to the Tibouchina.  The salvia will need a bigger pot next spring.  It is growing, but a bare and skinny specimen compared to the ones I've seen at Kiftsgate and East Ruston Old Vicarage.  They are both at the front of the conservatory and near the door, to get as much air and light as possible.  Both are fuzzy plants with a terrifying capacity to attract botrytis.  The Clianthus squeezed in by the other door, next to the Eriobotrya 'Coppertone', and it was a puzzle to know where to put the seed raised Geranium maderense I had to move from the window to make room for the succulents.  I have to admit it to myself: the conservatory is full.  I must not buy any more conservatory plants until something dies, not even a little one.

It's a shame since I had tracked down a houseplant specialist that stocks Araucaria heterophylla, the Norfolk Island pine, and I'd love another one of those.  We had one before that started life on the telephone table before being evicted from the conservatory when it hit the roof.  They will get enormous given the chance.  Kew have or had one that they'd taken the top out of to make it fit in their big glasshouse, though they don't look nearly as nice once you do that.  The red Mandevilla hybrid is still living on the telephone table where I put it temporarily so that we could admire its flowers, and has been joined by a piece of purple and grey striped Tradescantia that I rooted after it fell off the parent plant in the conservatory.  I really ought to rescue the latter, since none of its predecessors have made it through the winter.  Conditions in the conservatory must get too cold, too damp or both.

I have already stashed the pink flowered Begonia fuchsioides in my bathroom, since the woman from Fibrex Nurseries was so discouraging about its prospects over winter in a frost free conservatory that she practically refused to sell it to me.  It is not very convenient having it next to the sink, but I can't think of anywhere else for it to live.  It can't go on the window sill in the study because it would be in the way of the blind, and I have a hunch that if I try to use the sitting room as an overflow overwintering area for tender plants I will find the Systems Administrator's normal indulgence towards my hobbies will reach its limits.

Addendum  It is a great shame about the Royal Clarence in Exeter burning down.  When I first saw the picture in yesterday's Guardian I thought it looked awfully familiar, and surely that was the hotel in Exeter's cathedral yard, and so it was.  I have been to a wedding reception there, a school friend who got married in the cathedral, so that's a little piece of personal history gone.  The historian on this evening's PM programme was over-egging the pudding when he said it was Exeter's most iconic building, though, since that must be the cathedral itself, and Exeter's remaining Elizabethan heritage isn't as extensive or exciting as he made it sound.  The Baedeker raids were bad, but I have seen photos of the city centre after the blitz, and the worst of the damage was caused by Exeter's demented post war planners.  A lot of it could have been rebuilt as was, or at least the facades retained, but they swept away great swathes of the medieval, Tudor, Georgian and Victorian town and replaced them with the most godawful brick boxes on a rectilinear street plan.  I thought as a thirteen year old that the High Street managed to be simultaneously bland and hideous, and revisiting twenty-five years later for a school reunion I saw that my teenage judgement had been spot on.

Friday, 28 October 2016

pruning and potting

At the start of today I thought I would have finished putting the pots in the greenhouse by dusk. Hope springs eternal.  Endless over-optimism is something of a gardener's trait, otherwise you wouldn't bother.  One of the ladies from Tynings Climbers told us that when they bought one of their tunnels she said it would take a couple of days to put up: it took six weeks.

I have re-potted two of the agapanthus.  They came out of their pots much more easily than I feared they would, with only a little help from the bread knife.  The trick (or at least the way I get things out if they won't lift out of their pots) is to upend the pot and tap the rim sharply on the edge of the greenhouse bench, directly over a leg otherwise all that happens is that the staging vibrates. You need to have your hands positioned so that you can feel the moment the root ball starts to come loose, at which point you swing the pot back to the horizontal while finding a spare finger to break the fall of whatever is in the pot, otherwise your precious plant will land on its head and snap bits off itself.  The agapanthus pots were about at the limit of what I could manage using this method, one being thirty-eight centimetres in diameter and the other slightly larger.  I had held back on watering recently because I knew I was going to need to lift them, but even so.

Agapanthus grown in containers will need periodic re-potting, since they will grow inexorably until the pot is absolutely stuffed with their thick white roots, gradually raising themselves up during the process until there is no gap left at the top for watering.  The books say they flower better if pot bound, but I've found that once they are too crowded in their pot, and perpetually slightly short of water because you can't get it to soak in, they give up on flowering.  These two, which were huge healthy looking specimens that would have sold for north of thirty pounds each in a garden centre, managed the grand total of four flower stems between them this year.  Having learnt from previous experience both were growing in machine made, smooth sided, large versions of the traditional flower pot, to make sliding them out when the time came as easy as it could be.  If you are planning to grow agapanthus in a container I would steer clear of anything rustic and hand made with a rough internal finish or the roots will stick to it, and don't for goodness sake choose a pot that's smaller across the top than it is further down.

I thought that if I sliced the bottom two inches off the root ball of the first plant it might fit back in its original pot with a gap at the top for watering, but it wouldn't, and after messing around trying to reduce the root ball enough to go in I gave up on that idea.  It needed a bigger pot, but searching through the pot shed I didn't have to, and I decided I was going to have to bite the bullet and divide it.  The bread knife went through the outer white roots almost as easily as cutting bread, but when it got to the core of the plant it was another story, and I had to resort to a pruning saw. One of the joys of having a new pruning saw for pruning is that I can use the old one for jobs like dividing root balls.

Unfortunately nasty grating noises and a feeling of resistance as I sawed warned me that there was something solid embedded in the compost.  I wondered if I had left an old crock inside when re-potting previously.  I once spent an unbelievable amount of time diligently sawing away with a very blunt saw at a bamboo I'd been told to divide at the plant centre, only to find out when the root mass finally fell into two halves that the reason why it had taken so long and been such hard work was that I'd sawed right through a piece of terracotta.  I went to fetch my spade, to bring some leverage to bear on the agpanthus problem, and remembered to angle the whole operation so that if the root ball suddenly gave I wouldn't crash the handle of the spade through the side of the greenhouse.  When eventually the agapanthus yielded, by now rather battered, three irregular lumpy stones fell out of the middle of the compost.  I have no idea how or when they got there, but the moral of the story is to try to keep container grown plants free of such rubbish, in case you ever need to divide them.

Neither of the two halves of the original root ball wanted to fit back into their old pot without further surgery, and by now I was getting fed up with chopping more and more roots off a perfectly healthy plant.  I managed to find a couple of old black plastic pots that will do for the winter, and can decide whether to buy more large terracotta pots in the spring.  Given how much large clay pots weigh and that black is a recessive colour I might be able to get away with using the plastic pots at the back of a display.  Or perhaps I am in danger of ending up with more agapanthus than I need and should give one of them to the garden club plant stall next year.

After that the plant from the thirty-eight centimetre pot was able to go into the bigger agapanthus pot, once I'd sliced a disc off the bottom of the root ball.  Two down, two to go, although one will be easy to get out of its present container because the pot has split.

I brought in two of the large fuchsias as well, and cut them back fairly hard as the specialist fuchsia websites advise, and then went over them painstakingly cutting the leaves off, since the experts recommend storing them leaf free.  I didn't insist on taking off all the smallest, newest leaves, but the larger ones went into the compost bucket, together with the soft shoot tips.  It feels brutal and counter-intuitive to attack a plant in such a way that ten minutes previously was looking perfectly healthy and happy, but the aim is to avoid botrytis and other fungal rots.  I did the same thing last year and it worked.  The plant centre manager used to delay putting the stock of fuchsias under cover for the winter until they had dropped their leaves naturally, to avoid having the fallen leaves mouldering in the polytunnel, but some of my fuchsias are not hardy and I need to get on with filling the greenhouse and can't start leaving gaps for things to come in later.

The Plectranthus argenteus I'm overwintering had a drastic haircut as well.  It seemed a terrible waste to throw away the material for so many potential cuttings, but I don't need any more plants. My plants came from seed and I haven't tried taking cuttings of this species, but it has the vibe of something that would root really easily.  Some of the stems seemed half way to throwing out roots in mid air.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

packing the greenhouse

It seems to take an age putting the pots of tender things in the greenhouse for the winter.  I suppose it is not just a question of moving the pots.  There are dead leaves to be picked off, root balls to be checked for root aphid, growth to be cut back, dry pots to be given one good soak before being stacked away as close as they'll fit.

I have made some welcome discoveries.  Some of the softwood cuttings I took from a pink Gaura have struck, not all of them, but probably enough to give as many extra plants as I want, if they make it through the winter.  It had never occurred to me that you could propagate Gaura by chopping a stem into bits and putting them in compost, but it was one of the species brought along to my garden club's propagation evening.  I have a rather nice pink flowered form, not too short and dumpy, which has made it through a couple of winters in the open ground, and I wanted some more.  I am not entirely one hundred per cent sure which variety it is, since I bought it originally to go in a pot by the front door and it seemed such a waste to throw it away when I dismantled the pot that I planted it in the gravel to take its chances, but by then I'd lost the label.  It might be 'Siskyou Pink' but it might not be.  I don't think I'll risk separating my cuttings until spring, but so far, so good.  Of course there is many a slip between cup and lip, and they may yet fall prey to botrytis or simply mysteriously die before then.

I heard back from the RHS about root aphid and the good news, if you are not an organic gardener, is that there are still vine weevil drenches approved that should work on them, one being Scott's Bug Clear Ultra Vine Weevil Killer.  I could also, the RHS entomologist suggested, scrape off the infected compost.  Indeed I could, and I have, also thrown away some infected Pelargonium where I had more than one plant of that variety, but as I am not a fully organic gardener I am glad there is still something available to treat my dwarf pomegranates when required.  Better still, it is available from Tesco Direct, so I won't need to trawl around the local garden centres looking for somewhere that sells it.

The dahlias have pretty much finished, and I have started carting the pots back up the steps by the conservatory to the front garden.  The Systems Administrator offered the use of the new garden trolley, but the steps are so much more direct than going right round the house, and save dragging the trolley up the steep slope to the drive.  I will borrow it for the last bit to trundle the pots across the gravel to the concrete by the greenhouse.  Then I suppose I had better wait for frost to blacken the foliage before cutting them down, now I know the reason for this is to give the tubers time to seal themselves naturally at the end of the growing season and avoid introducing rot and disease through the cut stems.  It's a nuisance in some ways, since I'd love to be able to put them in the greenhouse and have done with it, plus then I'd see how much space was left for other things, if any.  Frost is not forecast in the next week.

The big excitement is going to come when I tackle the pot bound Agapanthus.  I could wimp out and leave it until spring, but a couple have risen so far in their pots it has become impossible to water them properly.  That is going to be an issue come the spring, even if I want to keep them dryish over the winter.  I have a feeling I ought to do something about them now.  The last time I had to get a mature Agapanthus out of its pot it took absolutely ages, and the bread knife was never the same again.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

talking and not talking

I did a talk this evening, about gardening for wildlife.  I hadn't been planning to and was rather looking forward to a quiet week with no more demanding social interaction than a haircut, feeling slightly socialled out after the Friday concert and Saturday lecture.  But on Saturday evening I got an email from a beekeeping contact who runs one of the local garden clubs.  Her planned speaker for the coming Wednesday was unable to make the meeting, and was I by any chance free?  Since I was free that evening the strong urge to sit in a chair in front of the stove with the cats and the Systems Administrator, with no obligation to be entertaining or even to speak, did not seem a sufficient reason to turn her down.

It's a mostly thankless task, running a club, as you grapple with finding speakers that will appeal to at least the majority of your members and that your club can afford, and then they go and get ill or stuck in traffic.  Add in the key holder who doesn't show up on time leaving your club members standing in the car park for twenty minutes, projection and sound systems that break down, the noise of loud music and/or shouting and/or whistles coming from whatever club has booked the other room in the hall, and a sprinkling of people who have somehow got themselves elected to the committee despite having the social attributes of Donald Trump, and the lot of a Chairman is not always a happy one.  We should be grateful to them at a time when newspapers are trumpeting about the epidemic of loneliness.

I'd already spoken to this same club earlier this year about the woodland charity, which was a good reason not to go again so soon.  The Chairman promised that she had been planning to ask me again next year as they had liked me last time, but in an ideal world you wouldn't have the same speaker twice in nine months.  But I was available at four days notice and lived just up the road, and beggars can't be choosers.

In the event I didn't even see my beekeeping contact, because she had a family emergency and couldn't go.  The organisers were rather apologetic about the low turnout, blaming illness and the fact that the meeting clashed with the final of The Great British Bakeoff.  I decided not to take it personally.  The talk itself was fine.  I'd done it quite recently so I was up to speed with the script, and they are a friendly group of people.  Almost too friendly, in that I'd rather not chat in the minutes before the meeting starts.  It makes it hard to get into the zone when you have to make polite conversation about irises and moles in the garden, and I'd really rather sit quietly in a corner and concentrate on what I'm about to talk about.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

clearing and planting

I am trying to plant out as many of my seed and cutting raised hardy plants as possible while the soil is still warm.  There's nothing to be done about the ones destined for the meadow, not until I have had another go at the brambles and nettles.  That's a pity, since there are some nice young North American golden rod that are just ready to go out, and plants only deteriorate sitting in pots. Help, however, is in sight at least for the moment in the form of the Systems Administrator, who showed a sudden, unbidden and unexpected interest in the problem and after voluntarily clearing the whole of an enormous lump of ivy clad dead ash tree that fell out of the wood earlier this year, is planning to have a go at the brambles.

The gigantic lump, more ivy than ash, was one of those things that makes you feel discouraged. Just as I'd got rid of a lot of the brambles near the wildlife pond, including some of the evil white stemmed Rubus cockburnianus which I should never have planted, the lump fell and I was more or less back where I started in terms of stuff needing clearing.  Alas, the bare, brown and very dead remains of what was once a small holly bush were uncovered as the SA cleared the site.  The SA worked out it must once have been something because it had a rabbit guard on it, and kept it to show me.  Something about its lines and the way it held its dead twigs told me it had been a holly. I'm afraid it was the yellow berried one that used to live somewhere up there.

The SA had carefully worked around another young tree, still living, but I'm not sure if we want to keep it or not as it was a seedling evergreen oak, and unless topiarised it will grow huge and cast a lot of shade.  The nearest holm oaks are across two fields from us but they keep coming up in the garden courtesy of the jays (or at least I assume they are responsible.  At least one study has shown that jays that think another bird is looking at them will not merely refrain from going to their food caches but try to spoof the onlooker by deliberately looking in the wrong place.  A bird with a theory of mind?).

I pointed out another small tree which I was pretty sure was a hop hornbeam and not a self sown hazel, though it was difficult to get close enough to make sure, and a Styrax japonica, both of which were to be saved, and checked the SA was happy with the difference between brambles and species roses.  I have never badgered the SA to help with the meadow, since it purely an object of amusement and adornment.  Unseen from the house and not affecting access for any kind of service vehicle or delivery, it isn't something that has to be done unless somebody wants to do it.  But if the SA has developed a new found enthusiasm for bramble bashing that is great by me.

At the other end of the gardening spectrum I dibbled little nine centimetre and one litre rootballs into the borders in the back garden, Verbena bonariensis, pink Linaria 'Canon Went' and a white hybrid of Verbascum phoeniceum, all the while running the hose on the bog bed which is still very dry in places.  I'm hoping they'll make some root growth before it gets too chilly, and planting them now means I can see how tall and how densely their neighbours grow.  It can be tempting in the spring to slip a new plant into what looks like a gap, only for it to be totally overshadowed as the established occupants of the border get off to a quicker start than it is able to do and shade it out. Yesterday I replanted a pale yellow alstroemeria that almost suffered such a fate last spring, before I rescued and re-potted it.

There are still some seed raised aquilegia to go in, and more verbena, and some bright red Lychnis chalcedonica, plus the geums and Selinum I bought.  It will still leave me with quite a stash of pots waiting their chance to go out into the soil, just as soon as we can clear the room for them.  I am looking forward to a bit of bramble bashing myself.

Monday, 24 October 2016

too much technology

I can't keep up.  I really can't.  I am so much not a digital native I feel I know how Pocahontas felt when she was transplanted to London.  And I am not even stupid.  Just very, very baffled.  The only consolation is that the Systems Administrator is baffled as well, and the SA is normally good at digital devices.

The new tablet arrived.  It is the cheapest Amazon Fire I thought I could get away with while being able to see the screen, which meant an HD8.  More than half of the icons on the Home page are for Amazon features, but I'm OK with that: I do not regard Amazon as the Great Satan.  The SA assured me that the Amazon branding was the price I paid for something with the functionality of the Amazon Fire being as cheap as it was.

It arrived with my Kindle library already downloaded, because I told Amazon when I ordered it that it was for me and not a gift.  I was perfectly happy with that, not that I normally read books on my tablet because I like reading on the Kindle.  Something about the quality of the screen and the fact that there are so few buttons is very soothing.  I managed to link to my email account in no time at all, it was just a question of putting my address and password into a box that popped up the first time I touched the email icon.  This was digital technology for non technology minded people, so far so good.  The Amazon branded App store let me download my favourite Sudoku programme as the SA had promised that it would: we checked on the SA's device that Amazon offered that app before I decided on the Fire.

I wasn't utterly convinced by the concept of the Silk browser, because I am a creature of habit and I use Chrome, but the SA said we could download Chrome later.  I really didn't understand why Silk took me to a BT page, twice, after I'd clicked on a link to the film review programme, and gave the device to the SA to look at.  It did the same to him as well, and the SA began to sound irritated, then it stopped doing it without the SA knowing why, or why it had been doing it in the first place. Never mind, it then let the SA access the BBC website and download the most recent film review podcast, which took a few minutes.

And then I couldn't find where it had put it.  Could not find a folder for podcasts anywhere.  Could not find a section in the help page that would tell me how to start looking.  If you wanted to know if a stone had a mouth, how would you know where to look?  Wittgenstein (if it was Wittgenstein who said it), where are you when we need you?  The Amazon Fire comes with a series of pages after the Home page, books, video, games, shop, apps, music, library.  Books was self explanatory and had my books in it.  Video was empty because I hadn't bought any, and probably won't.  I don't think it does justice to any film worth watching at all to try and watch it on a screen that size. Games contained my solitary Sudoku, which is the only game I ever play.  But where the hell were podcasts?  The old tablet had a down arrow icon on the front page that brought up a list of all of them, arranged in date of download.

I gave the tablet back to the SA who began to fiddle with it while emanating bad vibes.  Not as bad as when reinstalling the operating system on an errant PC, but not happy positive vibes.  Eventually the SA announced that podcasts were filed in music, not on the front page which is all adverts for albums I might want to buy (but don't) but in the library of the music section.  Of course they are.

The next time I fired up the tablet it came up with a page for Ceebeebies, followed by a link to a shop to sell me accessories for the tablet, while the button for the home page had vanished. Swiping sideways didn't get me home, while swiping down from the top brought up a menu including Airplane Mode, Blue Shade (what is that?) and Camera.  In despair I chose Settings.  I didn't want any of the Settings options, but it did have the little round Home button at the bottom of the page.  The SA reminded me that I'd taken the cheaper option with adverts at the start of every session.  Which turns out to mean often, as the tablet powers down jolly quickly (though maybe I can alter that using Settings).  I did notice before ordering that it is possible to upgrade retrospectively for another twenty-five quid or so so as to not have adverts.  At the current rate of progress I may be doing so.  Why any advertiser thinks it helps their cause to ram adverts in people's faces that slow them down when they are trying to do something else, and with no prior reason to believe they want to shop for that sort of thing at that moment, is a total mystery to me.

Meanwhile my phone had come up with a message saying it needed to do a software update and I would have to delete some data or unused apps to create sufficient memory space.  I was baffled again.  I don't have any data.  I don't even use the phone as a camera.  All it has on it is half a dozen text threads.  The SA explained that it was not that sort of data but the mess that was left over from having previously used maps and so on, and that anyway the memory of my phone was not very big.  The SA cleared the digital mess out and ran the update, following which the home page looks entirely different.  I am sure I will find my way round it eventually, and the SA has promised to show me how to de-gunk the phone for next time.  Tomorrow, when I have not already overdosed on new technology.

I really can't keep up.  I am going to read a book.  A printed one made out of paper.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

planting and tidying

I finally finished planting the knapweeds and mallows in the daffodil lawn, intermittently inspected by kittens who came bounding across the grass to greet me before tearing up the oak tree.  I ended up locking them in the house after lunch, so that I could cut the last bits of straggly grass under the tree and along the line of the hedge without fear that I'd accidentally lop Mr Fluffy's feet off.  They were all lounging about digesting and looking relaxed and not as if they were about to go anywhere, but through the glass door I could see Mr Cool beginning to panic as he realised that he was locked in.  It took less than an hour to finish the grass, once I didn't have to mind what I was doing so carefully, and as soon as Mr Cool was allowed to go back outside he no longer wanted to.

The Systems Administrator managed to get the mowers over the top and bottom lawns.  We haven't had much rain in the past couple of days, but the dew overnight is pretty heavy by now, and the grass wasn't drying during the day.  It's still all surface moisture.  I planted some old polyanthus left over from last winter's pots by the front door, that have been sitting in individual plastic pots all summer, and digging down four or five inches the soil is still dry.  The daffodil lawn is bone dry too along the strip closest to the hedge, and unless we get some proper rain fairly soon I can see the hose coming out again.

I was very pleased with myself for tidying up the mess of old compost bags and assorted dump-bound rubbish that had accumulated behind the woodshed, so that there was space to put the hose away in a series of big loops on the ground.  It wasn't doing anything for the appearance of the garden, having got into the habit of leaving the hose snaked around the edge of the drive to whichever area I was last using it, and I needed somewhere where it could be coiled and uncoiled reasonably quickly and easily.  I hadn't reckoned with my efforts giving the Systems Administrator a nasty fright with the boiler, as I stacked bags of waste waiting to go to the dump too densely around the flue, and the boiler cut out.  It had done the same a few days previously, and the SA seemed to have fixed it by removing the Parthenocissus shoots that had started twining around the metal cage protecting the flue and vacuuming dust out of the exhaust.  Not knowing that I'd moved things around near the flue, the SA was spooked when the boiler did it again.

I planted my bag of a hundred Crocus tommasinianus in the bottom lawn, to bulk up the existing display.  A hundred bulbs didn't seem to go very far given the size of the lawn, and I wondered if I should have ordered more.  Five hundred, or stop pussy footing around and order a thousand.  Five thousand!  I add some more bulbs every year or two and the display is building up, though I still don't feel it's achieved critical mass.  I only ordered a hundred this time partly on grounds of cost, but largely because I thought planting five hundred bulbs might just get too soul destroying, not to mention hard on the wrist.  I note with envy those interviews in magazines with owners who claim to have planted a few dozen crocus bulbs some years ago, and now have sheets thanks to naturalising.  My crocus are still nowhere near being a sheet.  Maybe mice find them and eat them, even in the lawn.  Or the grass is too vigorous for them to self seed.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

out and about

I went last night to my second Studio Music concert at Brightlingsea.  I knew how the furniture was arranged this time, and by dint of arriving early managed to nab myself a chair on the ground floor giving a view of the musicians without having to peer through the banisters.  They were a cello and piano duo, James Lisney and Joy Lisney, who had had a nightmare journey to north Essex after leaving London at three and arriving at twenty past seven.  True professionals, they did not let this outwardly ruffle them and appeared to be genuinely delighted to be playing on a Friday night to a tiny audience in what was basically somebody's front room, but I hope that they managed to get something to eat at some stage.

I enjoyed their recital very much.  You get something of what the sensation of a nineteenth century salon must have been like, sitting so close to the musicians with the front row practically within touching distance.  We got Bach's sixth and most difficult cello suite, two early pieces of Chopin, some Schubert, some Ligeti, and some Brahms.  My initial uncharitable reaction when I saw on the programme that the first piece after the interval was by Ligeti was to hope it would be short, and it was, but I surprised myself by enjoying it.  It was the first time I ever heard slide cello and it is a fabulous sound.  I must confess I had not heard of either musician before this concert series, which signifies little since I haven't heard of all sorts of people, but I see from Joy Lisney's blurb that she is a champion of new music and is currently studying for a PhD in composition as well as performing.  I shall keep half an eye out in future.

I liked Brahms' violin sonata transcribed for cello so much that I might even buy a copy (Presto Classical's top choice comes bundled with all the rest of Brahms' entire output for the cello for a correspondingly weighty price, but it's also available on Naxos).  I was not convinced by James Lisney's claim that Brahms had played it at Clara Schuman's funeral, though, because I was sure I remembered from a Radio 3 programme that he was late to her funeral, only arriving in time for the actual burial, and I don't see they'd have had a piano standing next to the grave.  But perhaps he did.

Despite their hideous journey and late arrival at the venue they even played us an encore, some more Chopin.  My neighbours in the audience on both sides were friendly, and altogether I am beginning to warm to Studio Music.  It is only a quarter of an hour's drive from home, so the main issue is the need to arrive so ridiculously early to get a decent seat (and avoid getting caught by the level crossing at Thorrington).

This afternoon was the last of this year's lectures at the Suffolk Group of Plant Heritage, which was mainly about orchids growing in the wild, interspersed with other wild plants, lemurs, and assorted South African and Madagascan mountains and forests.  Somebody else's holiday photos, in fact, but the lecturer was an authority on orchids and possessed of a dry sense of humour.  And I bought a tender salvia with white flowers in dark purple calyces, to be a companion for 'Amistad' next year if I can nurse it through the winter in the greenhouse without it getting botrytis.  And I stayed for tea and cake, and chatted to various strange people, which is so much easier at a club meeting when you have a common interest to talk about.  Sit two keen gardeners down together with a cup of tea and pose the question 'What sort of soil do you have' and we're off.

Friday, 21 October 2016

another day, another electronics failure

My tablet died overnight.  It was perfectly fine yesterday.  I played Sudoku in the evening, and left the tablet on charge overnight so that I could listen to the film programme podcast today while planting mallows in the daffodil lawn.  This morning I was all set up to go, trowel, trays of plants in their nine centimetre pots, packet of mycorrhizal fungus, kneeling mat, shears to tidy up the whiskery bits of lawn as I went (keeping an eye out for approaching kittens), big green bucket for the rubbish, radio, jack plug lead, tablet.  Lights, camera, action.  Only when I swiped my finger across the touch screen nothing happened, and after I'd dried my finger (which was not even wet) and wiped the screen with kitchen roll and spectacle cleaner still nothing happened.  The little padlock remained firmly in place in the middle of the screen and that was that.

The Systems Administrator tried every technique in his armoury, from switching it off and switching it on again to attempting to reinstall the entire operating system.  Nothing.  The tablet is dead, defunct, no more.  It had done us pretty well, since I'd had a couple of years' use out of it and before that it was the SA's for about three years, but even so.  How dare it break?  It had all my film programme podcasts on it.

I am not having a good six months for electronic kit.  First of all it was my phone, going into a mad spasm and eating its entire battery in a few hours.  Then my iPod went into a fugue so that the only thing it would do was play Philip Glass.  And the battery in my garden radio got to the point where it wouldn't last a morning before it flattened.  The radio problem was easily solved by installing a new battery, its fourth.  I was relieved the SA could refettle it yet again, since it is a good chunky radio.  After I bought it the SA was so impressed that he bought an identical one for his bathroom. The model has been long discontinued by the manufacturer, but I think its modern equivalent would set me back pretty close to three figures, so a new battery at twelve pounds something was a bargain.

It didn't seem worth buying a new iPod, when I thought about it.  I hate wearing headphones, which is eccentric in this day and age but there it is, I can't help it.  And I don't want to listen to music on the move.  When I'm out and about I'd like to hear what's going on around me.  Eccentric again, but that's how it is.  So I listen to the iPod when I'm indoors and stationary, either cooking or ironing. On that basis buying a small CD player was easier and cheaper than getting a replacement iPod.  I am slightly sad to see it go on purely artistic and cultural grounds, since an iPod and docking station were featured in Grayson Perry's tapestry The Vanity of Small Differences as middle class signifiers, but I can't see him bothering to include a mini CD player any time soon.

In total I probably don't spend any more on electronic equipment than I do on gardening gloves, but it still riles me when it breaks.  Gloves are disposables.  Electronics are capital equipment, they are supposed to last.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

going under cover

I was going to start planting the small pots of seed raised knapweed and mallow in the lawn, now there's been some rain to soften the ground.  Unfortunately it kept on raining, not a proper steady downpour that would soak into the soil, which I'm sure is still dry a few inches under the surface, just a series of annoying showers each time I'd got my tools out, enough to make everything damp including my kneeling mat, my knees and my gloves.  I gave up on that plan and decided to start moving the pots of tender things into the greenhouse instead.

Frost isn't forecast within the next week, but when it does turn cold night temperatures could drop suddenly, and it takes a while to stow everything away neatly, while in the meantime the bursts of rain are making the pots randomly wet.  I need to try and make sure when I fill the greenhouse that anything prone to botrytis has as much air moving around it as possible, that plants with fragile branches don't end up next to the narrow path that's all that will be left for access by the time I've finished, and that I can reach all pots needing regular checking and watering while pots that have to be kept dry are put where they won't get accidentally watered.  I've never yet got it entirely right.

So this year the pelargoniums are going up on the staging as last year they got a bit damp and mouldy down on the floor, while the fuchsias are going in the corner furthest from the entrance instead of right by the door where they were last year.  Fuchsia branches have a heart rending habit of ripping off, taking a long strip of bark with them, if you so much as brush into them.  There is not going to be room for everything, I feel this in my bones before I even start, looking at the space and the quantity of pots scattered around the front and back garden.

In order to fit as much in as possible I have been clearing the jumble of oddments from the little shelf above the main staging.  In summer it gets too hot for practically everything, apart from a prickly pear I grew from seed years ago and which lives up on the shelf so that it can't spike me or the cats.  This year I remembered to water and feed it and it made some new growth, sprouting a couple of fresh green new segments.  The old pads are brown and gnarly with age and the attempts of some daredevil snails to graze on them, and I would not say it was a thing of beauty, but I am fond of it.  Once I have chucked out the rubbish from the shelf and condensed the useful things down into one little section above the potting tray I should be able to fit some of the vast collection of Puya up there.  My garden club is holding a plant stall next May, and I hope somebody would like to buy an industrial quantity of Puya plants, because I hate the idea of throwing them away but overwintering them becomes more of a struggle each time they need repotting.

Every geranium root ball is being checked for root aphid as I stack them away, and as a radical step I have thrown away some infected mature plants if I've got clean rooted cuttings of the same variety.  This is partly to save my pitiful last supplies of Provado drench for serious cases, like the dwarf pomegranates which are years old and can't be renewed from cuttings in one season, and partly because I know I'm going to be short of space as it is.  I wish the RHS would hurry up and reply to my email, since I'd have liked to have a root aphid strategy planned out before starting to load the greenhouse.

I borrowed the Systems Administrator's dinky new little four wheel garden truck to move the pots since the SA was out.  It was bought specifically for hauling wood, and the SA was very clear that it should not be left full of other stuff if I used it for anything else.  In fact, the suggestion that if I found it useful I might like to buy one of my own has been made a couple of times.  It did still have some geraniums in it by the time the SA got home, but the SA was magnanimous about them, saying they could stay there until the morning.  It gets dark so early now.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

back to the stage

The great question of the music society stage rumbles on.  We have a stage already.  It is composed of several pieces of massively thick and massively heavy plywood that sit on metal frames.  The community opposite the church kindly lets the music society store it in one of their outbuildings and one of their members has been in charge of ferrying it over to the church and assembling and disassembling it for years.  More years, in fact, than any of the current committee members have been on the committee.  Now he is in his ninth decade he is beginning to find hauling huge pieces of plywood and chunky metal about the village not so easy as he did when he started, and so the plan was hatched to invest in a modern stage made out of individually lighter components that anybody could handle.

And that is where the fun starts.  Were we going to store the new stage in the community across the road?  How much could the components weigh before they weighed so much there was no real advantage over the existing system?  Did we expect one person to be able to put the new stage up, or a couple, or more?  How much space could we reasonably ask to take up in the store room, if the new stage came on its own purpose built trolley or trolleys so that we didn't have to unload it and load it up again each time we wanted to move it?

I don't particularly want to become regularly involved in moving the stage, just because it's an hour's round trip from home, so I'm hoping enough volunteers come forward who live in the village. But I thought I'd go and contribute my two penny's worth when a rep from one of the potential suppliers offered to come and demonstrate their stages in situ in the church, on the grounds that I am probably more used to lifting and moving things than some of the committee, and to remind some of the chaps that actually women could lift things too, as long as the things weren't too heavy or awkwardly shaped.  To listen to them you'd think that lifting anything heavier than a teapot was an exclusively male preserve.

We were shown two sorts of stage, one composed of smallish squares that sat on solid metal supports where the legs were fixed, and one made of bigger pieces with detachable legs that clipped on.  The exact size of the floor sections and height of the legs was entirely up to us, since the company designed and made to order and could make whatever size we wanted.  I liked the detachable legs.  The clips that held them looked good and solid and very quick to fasten and release, and I could imagine all the legs stowing away into a bag, leaving us with only the floor sections to stack, while carrying a ferrying a couple of dozen or more fixed three dimensional little metal supports back and forth across the road looked like a complete hassle.  And my instinct was to go for the largest floor sections we could comfortably handle, on the grounds that setting up eight or twelve pieces of staging looked like much less work than slotting twenty or thirty together. The church floor has got some spectacular dips in it where the brasses were removed in times gone by, and the floor sections have to be clipped together, so I thought the fewer legs and clips to worry about the better.

But of course not everybody thought like that, which is how democracy works.  The salesman retained an air of Zen calm as he explained for the half dozenth time that we needn't worry about the exact height of the sample he'd brought, we could have any height we liked, and talked us through the Disability Discrimination Act rules on the maximum height of steps, and tried to get us to focus on what size we would like our stage to be in total.  We didn't reach a decision on the spot, of course.  I think the chairman's husband agreed with me, but he is not a voting member of the committee.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

are you talking to me?

I applied for our Chelsea Flower Show tickets the other day.  They are quite eye-wateringly expensive, and I have to tell myself that it is the greatest flower show on earth, besides which I don't go to international sports matches or stadium rock concerts or Glyndebourne, or even the Royal Festival Hall nowadays, so Chelsea is pretty much the only premium event that I do in the whole year.  And I love it, and Hampton Court doesn't have the same buzz, even if it is less crowded.

The RHS has 450,000 members according to their magazine, so it's just as well that they don't all want to go to Chelsea.  Or maybe they do, and some people who didn't remember to book the previous October are disappointed.  I have been reading some of the accumulated pile of magazines on my desk, before filing them in date order in boxes down in the garage.  So far I have not found anything about the withdrawal of Provado root drench and what we are supposed to do about root aphid.  I emailed the question to the RHS but their website warned that replies to queries could take a couple of weeks.

I wonder what the membership profile is?  I would guess predominantly older, mainly middle class, mostly suburban and rural.  I am probably typical.  I don't think the RHS has ever asked me, not that I like filling in those surveys that ask you about your age and ethnicity before getting to the meat of the issue, what is your household income?  I sometimes get the slight feeling that the RHS is not really talking to me.  They seem rather fixated on youth.  How to encourage more young people to take up gardening as a career.  Up-and-coming young designers.  Gardening in schools. Also the environment.  Campaigns to stop front gardens being paved over.  Wild flowers on verges. Peat free compost.

It isn't that I have anything against young people, or believe that urban flooding is a good thing.  I am very much in favour of gardens and gardening and pollinating insects.  It's just that sometimes I get the slight feeling the RHS is so busy on its self-imposed mission of converting the masses and especially the young that it forgets about the greying, mad keen experienced gardeners who stump up their £57 per annum membership fee to keep the show on the road.  For that you get free double entry to the four gardens owned by the RHS, entry for one only to a longer list of gardens opting to work as partnership gardens, the right to buy tickets to the first two days of the Chelsea Flower Show when it is less crowded and some displays may be looking fresher than by day four, a monthly magazine, free admission to a reducing number of London flower shows, access to a fairly cheap though no longer free seed list, use of the Lindley Library, and access to a plant advice and pathology service.

Which is all very nice as far as it goes, though how useful it is depends on where you live.  Starting from north Essex I can make it to the London events but free entry to Rosemoor in Devon and Harlow Carr near Harrogate is about as useful as the Tate members' free access to exhibitions in St Ives.  There are some very good partnership gardens, but you need to visit quite a lot of gardens to save £57 worth of entry fees.  The seeds on the seed list are mostly not especially rare and plant enthusiasts would probably do better with one of the specialist societies.  I can see that the magazine has to cater for a range of levels of gardening experience and knowledge (and if I wanted something really detailed and nerdily plant focused I could pay extra and subscribe to the quarterly The Plantsman).

But here, off the top of my head, are some ideas on topics I bet would be of direct personal interest to quite a few of the 450,000 subscribing members.  Finding a good gardener.  How to cultivate a productive long term relationship with your gardener when you've found them.  How to spot when the slow changes and accumulated errors of a quarter of a century call for wholesale renewal in your garden.  How to summon the heart to do it.  Gardening with a bad back or hip replacements. Getting to grips with the garden after an enforced absence from gardening.  What it's like to downsize your garden.  Growing your garden club's membership.  Finding people to serve on the committee.  Organising garden group visits.  I have a hunch that more of the members would be able to identify with three or four of the topics on that list than are every going to be involved in inner city community gardening.

Monday, 17 October 2016


The Systems Administrator has warned me to go easy on the late night distribution of cat biscuits, having cleared up a couple of piles of sickie that had quite a lot of biscuit in them.  One had quite a lot of mouse as well, but I take the SA's point.  It's very easy to keep feeding the cats, because at the first hint of movement anywhere near the kitchen they will all insistently tell you that they are very, very hungry.  Kitty breakfast is a riot, with all three kittens swarming over each other and Our Ginger, who sits in the midst of the food dishes and howls with indignation that the youngsters are showing him such scant respect.  A dollop of food into a dish at one end of the newspaper will distract the kittens, hopefully for long enough to give Our Ginger something to be going on with before doling out the rest of the kitties' share.  Twice in recent days Mr Cool has ended up with a lump of jelly on his head, and Mr Fidget has taken to darting towards Our Ginger's share as soon as it is put out, instead of battling it out with his two brothers.

We've gone back to tins for their main meals now that they are bigger.  One tin holds the same amount of food as four pouches and is much easier to dish out.  Squeezing the contents of a pouch on to Our Ginger's plate with one hand while using the other hand to fend off Mr Fidget takes forever, and you end up with fingers smelling of cat food.  Serving food from pouches to four cats is easier with two people, but still a riot.

An hour after they'd had their breakfast this morning they were on the hunt for more food.  They did not honestly need it.  The three kittens are all just nicely covered, no jutting bones but slim and sleek as healthy young animals should be, and Our Ginger is frankly tubby.  I shut them out of the kitchen while I made a pudding for some forthcoming guests, and when I opened the door all four were waiting outside, Our Ginger because he wanted to sleep in the cardboard box in the kitchen like he usually does in the mornings, Mr Fidget because he thought there must be something interesting going on behind the closed door, Mr Fluffy in case there was food, and Mr Cool who had just strolled in according the the SA and joined the queue to see what was going on.

When your previous generation of cats has lived to a ripe old age you forget how extraordinarily lissom young cats are.  They are very quick and very supple.  When all three kittens are running about in excitement waiting to be fed they positively swarm over the furniture on entirely silent feet, in a sort of fluid stream of black fur.  Nobody except us is likely to see them do it, since they are cautious of visitors, but I can see how anybody who didn't greatly like cats could find it quite unsettling.  Their sinister aspect is rather undermined by the squeaking, pathetic in the case of Mr Fluffy, strident from Mr Fidget, and very soft from Mr Cool.  Poor Mr Cool, an Amazon van drew up outside the front door this morning, and as the driver stepped up to the doorstep Mr Cool burst out of the cat door and bolted away across the gravel at great speed, just in case the stranger planned to come in.

All three are lying down now, Mr Fluffy and Mr Cool on the hearthrug (after Mr Cool had inspected the freshly cleaned grate very carefully in case it was a trap and Mr Fluffy had investigated whether he could climb up the chimney) and Mr Fidget on his pouffe.  They look deeply asleep, but I know it will be bedlam the second I get up.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

a domestic day

Every so often the cleaning catches up with you, or at least it does with us.  So today I tidied up the pile of paper on the kitchen table, discovering a reminder letter about the electoral register which one of us should have filled in weeks ago, a feedback form from the house sitting agency that must have been there for nearly a month, and a rock climbing magazine addressed to one of the neighbours.  I really wish the postman wouldn't do that.  Everybody who delivers our mail seems thoroughly pleasant and I don't like the idea of complaining about them and getting them into trouble, but they shouldn't go delivering mail to the wrong house.  I didn't find my last Visa statement in the pile, which I was hoping to, so who might have it if I don't?  It could be on my desk, of course.

And then I scrubbed the Aga with paste out of my bumper jar of non scratch enamel abrasive, and wiped the worktops and the cupboard doors and the tiles, and scrubbed at the sinks, and vacuumed and washed the floor.  I don't mind scrubbing so much.  You can listen to your choice of music or a podcast while you're doing it, and have a cup of tea to hand.  I caught up with Pienaar's Politics, which I missed live because I went to the supermarket.  I find it difficult to take Tim Loughton entirely seriously as the chairman of a select committee because I remember him when he was a very young stockbroker back in the early eighties.  He wore chalk striped suits and we were once invited to dinner at his flat, sausages and mash served out of the sort of white plastic urn they sold in garage forecourts.  He wanted to be an MP even then.

The new pump is still working down in the conservatory.  Fairly soon I'll have to switch it off because the struggle will be to keep the atmosphere buoyant, not to raise the humidity even further, but after months of not having a working pump it is so nice to go in and hear the trickle of water.  And the Systems Administrator advised me to run it for a few days in case it failed. Apparently if they are going to go they tend to fairly quickly.  We drank our tea down there, and I realised it was time to clear the dahlia pots away.  I am going to have to make space for the potted Salvia confertiflora in the conservatory and am not at all sure where or how.  It has grown since last winter, and so has the Eriobotrya it managed to nestle under last year.

The salvia has individually tiny orange red flowers on terminal (that is held at the ends of its branches) spikes, and as the autumn goes on the spikes have got longer and longer.  The old flowers drop off discreetly, so while the effect is getting a little straggly by now it isn't too untidy. The plant is a bit gappy, though, and not so dense and bushy as some I've seen at gardens like East Ruston. I gave it a bigger pot in the spring, and it has responded by sending up a second shoot which I might try nipping the tip out of to encourage it to bush out.  I bought my plant at Kiftsgate Court and have never tried growing one before, so don't know how well it will respond to hard pruning.  I had better feed it more next year, along with the dahlias.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

plumbing in the pump

We went this morning to support a friend's fund raising event for her village hall.  A group of volunteers has been revamping the garden outside, and now they need to raise the funds to pay somebody for some of the work, so locally produced food, crafts and breakfast cooked from locally sourced products were on offer.  We aren't up to a full English nowadays, but managed the bacon rolls, and dutifully bought some jam, some shortbread, some coffee (roasted in Suffolk but not grown there) and two slices of cake for later (we've eaten them now and they were delicious).  We didn't buy any crafts, though, and I heard one of the organisers telling somebody that they needed more people to buy things as well as food.

I'm afraid part of the trouble with local crafts is that lots of people have so many things already. We have a lifetime's accumulation of gifts and purchases, less what's been smashed by various cats over the years and augmented by the things garnered from the Systems Administrator's late mother's house.  We bumped into a couple of beekeeping friends who were there for the same reason as us, and they said the same, they couldn't buy anything without something having to go to the charity shop to make room.  And we drove past a huge car boot sale getting to the hall.  There is a vast reservoir of objects in circulation, accumulated over decades of post war comparative prosperity, depleted only by whatever the nation's pets and butter fingered owners or their rampaging children have managed to break.  Modern day craftspeople face an uphill task persuading anyone to part with hard cash to add to the existing stock.

It was a beautiful sunny morning as we trundled around the village hall and down to Screwfix so that the SA could buy some new welding gloves (not for welding in but for cutting brambles.  New ones are near to thorn proof).  By early afternoon just as we'd both got out into the garden it began to rain.  I thought that was my cue to fit my new pump for the trough in the conservatory, since I now had all the parts and the SA had finished the other half of the job and installed the new waterproof trailing socket for the lights and the heater.

I was pleased with my initial progress, since I managed to thread the cable of the new pump through the hole in the back of the trough without dipping the end in the water, and to wire up the plug.  Only then did I test the pump in a bowl of clean water, because I couldn't be bothered to wire up the plug and then unwire it and fit it all over again.  I remembered to immerse the pump before switching it on, and it whirred into life and water came out of the tube at the top where it was supposed to.  I had even remembered to fetch an engineering brick to put in the trough for the pump to stand on, so that it would not be right down at the bottom sucking up any silt.  So far, so good.  Then I discovered that the outlet tube of the pump was exactly the same diameter as the hose in the trough leading up to the spout.  I could not squash the hose enough to fit it inside the outlet pipe, or stretch it enough to fit outside, and the only fitting supplied with the pump didn't seem to help at all.  Alas, my self reliance in DIY plumbing ground to a halt and I had to ask the SA what sort of tape I should use to butt the two together.

The SA said there was no tape that would hold under water, but found a little bit of old hose from a defunct washing machine that fitted snugly over both and made an adequate join.  After all, the trough isn't going to move about.  It's not like plumbing in a washing machine or a boat.  The pump was duly lowered into the trough and switched on, and nothing came out of the spout at all.  The SA asked whether I had tested the hose.  I hadn't.  The SA blew down it experimentally and hard as possible and said it was blocked.  This was a nuisance, since in order to poke anything through the hose or even see it we were going to have to pull the trough out from against the wall, which meant I had to empty it.  I think the SA entertained a vague idea that we might be able to tip it over given there is a drain in the middle of the conservatory, but on the basis that it weighed a tonne and the first one I ordered got stoved in during delivery through being tipped over, I said firmly that I would bail it out.  The water proved to be so filthy once seen in a white plastic bucket that I'm very glad I did.  I wouldn't want my new pump sucking that up.

As soon as we were able to shuffle the trough six inches out from the wall the problem with the hose was obvious.  It had kinked just behind the spout where it was required to go through a ninety degree turn.  The SA chopped off the last three inches and refitted it.  We moved the trough back, trying to leave a little more room for the hose this time, I refilled it, stood the pump on the brick, plugged it in and voila, I had a working water spout.  I fiddled with the pump's flow rate until it tinkled pleasantly  rather than sounding like a horse peeing, and arranged a convenient fern on top of an upturned flower pot to hide the hose and cable, now suddenly visible since the water got so much cleaner.

We ate our cake down there to celebrate.  I am very fond of the conservatory.  I daresay whoever has the house after us will just put a dining table and armchairs in there and use it as a garden room, but I get enormous fun out of messing about with the tender plants and the fountain. Conservatories used for actually growing plants in, so popular in Victorian and Edwardian times, are now massively out of fashion: there wasn't one in any of the gardens featured in Tim Richardson's book about significant modern English gardens.  Ours is a relict of our City days and we could never afford to build it now, but I'm delighted that we did while we could.

Friday, 14 October 2016


I called in at the Clacton garden centre on my way to pick up some 13 amp plugs, thinking I'd stock up on Provado root drench in case I found any outbreaks of root aphid as I put the tender things in pots away in the greenhouse for the winter.  There was none on the shelves, and when I asked at the till whether they would be getting some in the answer was a very unwelcome No, not ever.  It had been withdrawn and they could no longer sell it.  Something to do with the safety of one of the ingredients.

It must have been one of the neonicotinoids that are suspected of causing harm to bees.  I am all in favour of not harming bees, on the other hand I am not at all in favour of root aphids wreaking havoc in my greenhouse.  I asked whether they had anything else I could use instead, but the chap on the till seemed uncertain, beaten down by the succession of products that had been outlawed. Soon, he opined, we would not be allowed to use anything.

I had a quick look on the RHS website when I got home to see what advice they had to offer on the subject.  Only a quick look because I had things to do, but it didn't turn anything up.  Typing 'root aphid' into the search box yielded an article about golden root aphids that included the comment that if they were white they not the golden ones but the ordinary sort, but nothing about common or garden root aphids.  Pretty quickly the list of diseases got on to canna virus and other topics having absolutely nothing to do with root aphid whatsoever.

I will have to return to the problem when I'm not in a rush, and go via Google rather than trying to interrogate the RHS website directly.  It is one of the ultimate signs that a website is badly designed when it is faster getting to the information you want using Google than by using the site's own menu and search facilities.  The BBC is another culprit, their site so unwieldy that while it does have some useful things on it, half the time if I want details of a specific programme I find them by Googling.

It is possible that there is nothing to be found on the RHS site about root aphid treatments post Provado.  Perhaps there is no approved treatment any more.  In which case are there any unapproved treatments, dilute solutions of household products like washing up liquid that will suffocate the aphids without causing too much damage to the roots?  Or maybe the manufacturers are on the case and something will be released before too long.  It would be nice to have some guidance.  Fast growing and easily rooted plants like zonal geraniums can always be renewed from cuttings, but not so slower growing and seed raised specimens.  And what are the professional growers doing about vine weevil grubs?  Or are they still allowed to use compost treated with systemic insecticide, while us poor amateurs are left with nothing?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

online shopper

First, the acrylic sheet for the greenhouse roof.  My order from Midland Plastics never arrived, and since their site has now vanished from the web I presume they went bust.  They wasted quite a lot of my time and ratcheted up our phone bill first in numerous calls to try and establish what was going on.  The sheet was allegedly broken twice in transit by the couriers, and as the bad online reviews started to appear I began to suspect that they were in trouble.  It was particularly disappointing as we'd used them twice before and they were fine, on the strength of which I'd ordered two sheets so as to have one in stock for when another pane of glass broke.  The good news is that PayPal refunded my account in full within a couple of weeks of my lodging a complaint.

After the bad experience with the acrylic I was understandably jumpy when my auricula pots took ages to arrive.  I ordered them from Littlethorpe Potteries up in Yorkshire back in the first half of August.  I was awfully pleased to have finally tracked down somebody making traditional straight sided auricula pots, and liked some of the other designs on their website as well.  Whichford, who used to be my go-to supplier for proper frost proof pots, seem to have largely given up on plain flowerpots in favour of more highly decorated and correspondingly expensive designs.

Littlethorpe are halfway to full online retailing, which is to say that you can choose what you want on their website, but somebody will then contact you with the full price once they've worked out the carriage costs.  They don't use PayPal, and you have to send them a cheque which they promise not to cash until the order is ready to be dispatched.  It turned out when they did contact me that the auricula pots I wanted were out of stock, and I would have to wait until they made the next batch in around four weeks.  On the basis that the website looked genuine I decided to go ahead, and took some comfort from the fact that as the weeks went by the cheque still hadn't been cashed.  It was a disappointment to return from holiday and find the pots still hadn't turned up, and became mildly stressful after I'd emailed them for an expected delivery date which came and then went.  A further email produced the apologetic reply that they'd had the sickness bug and not packed any orders that week, I explained about the acrylic, they promised the pots really were on the way now, the cheque still hadn't been cashed, and yesterday the pots arrived.

They look pretty good.  The finish is rougher than I'd expect from Whichford, on the other hand they were three pounds each versus £7.50 from Whichford, and Whichford's pots are slightly smaller than I want and not the classic long tom shape.  The only way to find out whether they are truly frost proof is to leave them outside all winter and see what happens.  I was not utterly delighted by the whole experience, in that I'd have liked to have them a month ago as originally promised, so that I could have repotted the auriculas earlier in the autumn.  As it was I dithered about whether to do it now and risk letting them sit in excess unused wet compost over the winter.  On the other hand, they have barely started back into growth after the hot weather, and it could stay mild for another month yet, so they should make some new roots.  I decided to risk it.  They are in the rain shadow of the house and the back wall of the conservatory, and if we get a very wet spell and they get rained on too much I can move the pots into the porch.  As long as I don't let them sit wet they should be fine (fingers crossed.  The auricula project is still at the experimental stage).  I would use Littlethorpe again next year, assuming the pots come through the winter OK.

Some online research also brought me a replacement pump for the lead trough in the conservatory only one working day after ordering.  I can't say if it works yet, because it was supplied without a plug (sort of fair enough given I'll need to thread the flex through the hole in the back of the trough so I didn't want a plug already fitted).  B&Q no longer sell plugs, or at least the Systems Administrator couldn't find them, so I will have to pay a visit to Screwfix in Clacton.  The firm who sold me the pump did have a number for me to ring for help when neither of us could work out how to get the back off the pump to clear dirt from the impeller, or even which end of the pump was supposed to unclip.  It came with instructions, but no diagram.  Provisional high marks to the pump supplier, but only if the pump works.

Some more ferreting about online brought me some Geum 'Totally Tangerine' and some Selinum wallichianum which I want to bulk up existing displays.  The Chatto gardens don't list the former and were out of stock of the latter.  While I was at it I bought three scented pink violets for the planned extension to the ditch bed (necessary to accommodate the spreading girth of one of the trees along the ditch) and a hairy leaved Begonia ciliata, which I've liked the sound of for years and was smitten by at the open garden in Lavenham I visited in August.  It is supposed to be happy in shade, and I shall keep it in a pot as part of the exotic foliage planting at the back of the conservatory, moving it outside for the summer to consort with the potted ferns and huge overarching leaves of the Tetrapanax.  The supplier of all these nice things was Dorset Perennials, the plants came very quickly, look extremely healthy, were very reasonably priced, and because I bumped my order up to £35 shipping was free.  Dorset Perennials' list seemed really sound, not offering dozens of forms of everything but including  varieties and species I know from experience or by repute to be good garden plants, and I'm sure I'll be using them again.  They used to be wholesalers, but are branching out into direct selling partly courtesy of the net.  As are Marcel Floyd with his clematis and Trevor White with his roses.  This could be a trend.

On balance mail order is great for gardeners.  OK, you get the odd stressful experience, but most of the time it works.  I don't believe an out and out scammer would ever bother to build a full blown nursery website, and on the whole I don't worry about buying plants unseen.  Anybody persistently sending out poor stock will soon pick up negative reviews, and you can tell quite a lot about a small nursery from which plant fairs they are invited to attend.  I've had a couple of disappointments with too many substitutes, but overall I've enjoyed a wider choice and saved a whole lot of running around compared to trying to source everything from my local garden centres and nurseries.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

two exhibitions

I went to London today to see Beyond Caravaggio at the National Gallery with an old colleague. Originally we were going to go and see the Abstract Expressionists at the Royal Academy yesterday, but then the RA sent out an email warning that they would be closing at 1.00 pm on Tuesday because the Queen was visiting, so the expedition was switched to Wednesday, then changed into a trip to a different exhibition but on the new date.  I had to send an extra precautionary text to confirm I had kept up at the back and got all the details right.  It would have been sad to come in from the garden for lunch on Tuesday and find a reproachful text and several missed calls on my phone asking where the hell I was.

I like Caravaggio.  I am doubtless biased by having fallen completely under the spell of Tilda Swinton in Derek Jarman's film and remained that way ever since.  It's thirty years since the film came out, terrifying how time flies.  This exhibition has a small number of paintings by Caravaggio himself, but the bulk of it is works by his followers.  Some of them were very good, some I was less convinced by.  The midget Christ child with the glowing head like a sinister infant out of a B movie horror film perched on the gigantic shoulders of a tottering Saint Christopher was especially perplexing.  Saint Peter's denial to an expostulating young woman and Tobias' meeting with the angel were especially brilliant.  Some of the candlelit scenes in which the candle itself was concealed behind an arm or musical score were virtuosic, although apparently Caravaggio himself never painted scenes with candles in them, or at least none survive.  And there were some excellent sheep.

The few actual Caravaggio originals stole the show for me.  A pouting, indignant, faintly and sensuously chubby boy being bitten by a lizard, ripe fruit and a glass of water at his elbow, painted when the artist was only in his early twenties, was extraordinarily vivid.  Judas planting his kiss on Jesus' face as the mail clad soldiers reach forward to seize him was dramatic and touching, Christ's downcast face already reconciled to his fate as a second disciple screamed towards the edge of the canvas.  The composition is objectively bonkers, since why are Christ, Judas and the third disciple all sharing one great big red cloak over their heads and around their shoulders, but the painting is brilliant.  Caravaggio's pictures have that indefinable extra something that most of his followers don't have, or only display spasmodically, and I left convinced he was a genius.  If I have time to go back for a second look then I will.  The exhibition only opened today, and I don't generally go so early in the run to give the fuss time to die down, but my friend who booked the tickets earlier this week said there were lots available.  Homoerotic Renaissance chiaroscuro can't be as popular with the great British public as water lilies.

After lunch I went round the corner to catch American photographer William Eggleston at the National Portrait Gallery before it ends in a couple of weeks.  I read a rave review of the show somewhere, and I like photography as an art form.  If it is an art form.  Grayson Perry's verdict in his short Guide to Art Playing To The Gallery on whether photography can be art is that it is problematic.  According to Martin Parr, if a photograph is bigger than two metres and priced higher than five figures then it's probably Art.  On that basis most of the photos on show at the Portrait Gallery couldn't have been art, but never mind.  They were utterly absorbing.  Two girls on a couch, one lying back and one leaning forward consoling her friend had me wracking my brains trying to remember which painting it was I'd seen recently that used almost the same composition but a hundred years earlier.  Why was the dignified young black woman standing by a road with a jerry can of petrol?  Or water?  And why was the stony faced, immaculately coiffed young blonde woman sitting on a shabby wall next to a bollard with a chain wound round it?  Who could resist any portrait of a nude man in a graffiti covered room with a caption beginning 'The eccentric dentist'? The pictures spanned a narrow range of time, only ten or twelve years from the mid 1960s, and many were taken around the small town in Mississippi where Eggleston grew up.  I didn't buy the book, on the grounds that you can't collect everything and so general art books are out, but I coveted it.

I couldn't judge the photographs on technical grounds because I don't know anything about the techniques and methods of photography, but they included some tantalising images that stuck in the mind and invited you to build a whole narrative around them.  Good photographers can make it look as though the image just presented itself in front of them and they pointed the camera, but the truly enormous number of bad and boring images in circulation on the internet shows that this must be very far from the truth.  I don't generally take photos myself, on the grounds that the world is full of bad photos already and the act of photography gets in the way of the experience of being there.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

autumn tidy

The great autumn shut down continues.  Yesterday I remembered to open the umbrella over the table in the back garden while the sun was out, so that it could dry, and then take it down and stow it in the garage before the dew could fall on it.  Today I brought in the stone with the hole in it, to symbolically mark having finished weeding and mulching the bed where it's mounted, and before I could forget until I found the frosts had crumbled it.

Although things are flagging now after three months of near drought, the wet June was enough to send some shrubs into a wild growth spurt.  They are growing into each other and across paths and attempting to annhilate their smaller neighbours, and some tactful editing is called for.  When we visited the marvellous garden at Millgate House in Richmond I noticed a small yew that had been pruned back to a stick, with a sign on it explaining that it had been hard pruned to control its size, something they did a lot in that garden.  On a larger scale I am going to have to do the same thing in the ditch bed.

The mophead hydrangea 'King George' has got much bigger than I want it to be.  It has achieved this partly by layering several of its branches to form a hydrangea thicket.  I've always shrunk from pick-axing its offspring up, since it seems such a waste of potential new plants, but I don't actually need or have room for more than one.  And it has simply grown, branches extending year by year, on one side  muscling into an azalea and on the other flopping over a choice hellebore, while at the front it was straggling out over the lawn.  The branches at the back were craning up for the light so that they overshadowed my last remaining Glendoick rhododendron ( I have to admit it to myself. This garden is for the most part too dry for rhododendrons).  If I were a better and more organised gardener I would have pruned it regularly.  Better late than never, I took out some of the longest and presumably oldest shoots at the base, including all the lowest growing ones that were jostling the hellebores and spotted leaf arums.  Hydrangea macrophylla flowers on old wood, so the theory of pruning it and controlling the size of the plants is that you should remove some old branches completely, not go over the entire bush shortening every shoot.  If you do that you will lose a year's flowering, while if you take away some of the old wood it should respond by sending up new shoots and so over the period of a few years you can renew the plant.

Pruning is different for the grandiflora and paniculata types, which is why before seeking or offering advice on hydrangea pruning you do need to know what sort of hydrangea you've got.

Near the hydrangea is a Magnolia stellata 'Waterlily', which has also made prodigious growth this year.  It spends the later part of the summer draped with the herbaceous climber Dicentra scandens, which I should now call Dactylicapnos scandens.  Changes to plant names feel like hard work sometimes, but I feel I ought to keep up.  Otherwise we'd all still insist on referring to hosta as funkia, in defiance of the botanists.  The Dactylicapnos is a climbing yellow version of the familiar cottage garden bleeding hearts.  While not very rare it is not enormously common, and I grew mine from seed and am rather proud of it.  When I set it to jazz up the magnolia at a time of year when its host wouldn't be doing anything interesting I had not grasped quite how big or vigorous it would grow.  From a zero start its stems have pretty much buried the magnolia by late summer, but fortunately the magnolia doesn't seem to mind.  They are fleshy and fragile, and I imagine this is one reason why you don't see it offered for sale as a growing plant very much. Something that quickly makes eight feet of growth, clings to all its neighbours and breaks when you touch it is not going to be easy to stock and sell in a nursery.

The slightly obscure yew relative and winter flowering viburnum have been busy as well, but since I am on chef duties this week and I need to go and check the rice they will have to wait to another day.

Monday, 10 October 2016

intimations of autumn

Autumn is here.  Two nights ago I put the electric blanket on.  Yesterday evening we lit a fire in the grate upstairs, to the consternation of the kittens who were not sure they liked a roaring conflagration inside their house.  Today I donned thermal leggings under my gardening trousers, and this evening we lit the stove in the study, which smelt dreadful as an entire summer's worth of dust burned off.  We haven't put the central heating on yet as you can't have central heating in only the second week of October, or until you've piled on the jumpers and sat shivering anyway for at least a couple of evenings.

Delightfully and unexpectedly and practically overnight, the autumn crocus have come out.  I was rather concerned on my visit to the delightful garden near Lavenham to see lots of different types of autumn crocus flowering, at which point I suddenly realised that I hadn't seen any signs of life from mine.  I scanned the gravel eagerly the next day, hoping to spot at least some emerging buds, but there was nothing and I began to fear the worse.  It had been too dry for them, or the ground was too infertile, or mice had eaten the corms, or they had been fatally weakened by the rabbits eating the foliage when they were still in full growth.  Then this morning there they were, insouciant violet blue goblets sprung from nowhere.  They are Crocus speciosus, which was not one of the types recommended to me by Rod Leeds as being really easy to grow, on the other hand I'm sure I chose them because the corms were relatively inexpensive.  Cost is not invariably but quite often a good indication of how easy and quick to bulk up different varieties of bulbs are, six  or eight pounds a bulb rarities generally being rare for a reason.

I had hoped that the showers would have started to moisten the soil, and I would be able to give up on watering the ditch bed, but when I went and stirred the earth with my finger it was still dry as dust.  Back went the hose to the bottom of the garden for another afternoon of drought relief.  At teatime the Systems Administrator warned me of a band of very heavy rain approaching from the north that was showing up on the rain radar, but it never reached us, dissipating over Ipswich and the remnants sliding off to the west.

The leaves of the river birches are beginning to turn yellow, and the amelanchier below the rose bank is turning red, though it never produces such a good display of autumn colour as its fans promise that it will.  The colour of the potted acers is starting to intensify.  Eddie Mair has not yet begun to flag his annual chat with the head gardener at Stourhead, so either the leaves there are not close to turning or the PM programme has decided to drop the topic.  Or perhaps I am not listening to PM so assiduously as I used to and I've missed it.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

the music society season gets underway

I have been clearing the tomato plants out of the greenhouse.  Some of the pinkish tomatoes will probably ripen indoors, especially if I put a ripe banana with them, but it's no good expecting any more of the little ones to swell.  The forecast for the next week is still for night time temperatures comfortably above five degrees, but it can't last forever.  Very soon it will be time to start tucking the outside pots of tender things away for the winter.

I potted up the tulip bulbs as well while I was at it.  I hope they will be OK, since two varieties had shed their jackets in storage.  I have gone back to a hot colour scheme with four different varieties, fifty of each.  Those will just fill sixteen pots, allowing for a few duds, and fingers crossed that they will all flower at much the same time.  I'd like a decent splash rather than a longer spell during which four pots are looking good at any one time but the others aren't quite out or have already gone over.

I wasn't expecting it to start raining around lunchtime but it did, which put paid to my gardening for the day.  I was planning to pack up early anyway in order to get to the concert in good time, partly to help with anything that needed doing, and partly to bag a seat and save one for the friend who was coming with me.  I already felt mean that since it was the AGM after the concert I hadn't been able to give her a lift because then she'd have been lumbered with the AGM as well, and that the interval had been shrunk to ten minutes with no tea because the quartet had to catch a flight later this evening and wanted to get away promptly.

The Calder quartet were very, very good.  We were punching above our weight in booking them, but got them on the basis of asking their agent to fit us in if they were ever booking a European tour and were left with a gap.  After some months we heard back that they were.  An American quartet touring Europe scarcely wants to fly home for just a few days, so being put up in a very nice house in a very pretty village in a scenic part of the world not too far from London, and playing to a highly appreciative albeit small by their usual standards audience must have been judged an acceptable alternative.  Carnegie Hall, Hollywood Bowl, Wigmore Hall, St Mary the Virgin in East Bergholt.  Apparently when they got there they liked the church so much they took to nipping over the road in odd moments just for the fun of playing in it.

I did not expect to enjoy the opening Debussy, since I don't generally get on with Debussy.  As an escaped folkie I usually find his washes of musical colour rather dull, but I found his string quartet in G minor as played by the Calder really exciting, and was not the only one since another member remarked afterwards that she'd enjoyed the Debussy though she hadn't expected to.  The variations by a famous living Swedish composer that I hadn't heard of were about as hard work as I'd have expected them to be, but that was my fault for being an uneducated middlebrow and not the Swedish composer's or the Calder's.  The concluding Beethoven was marvellous.  I'm afraid us uneducated middlebrows like Beethoven, that's just how it is.

The AGM was mercifully brief and my notes should not take too long to write up in the morning.