Wednesday, 30 November 2016

a real frost

It was properly cold last night.  Not as cold as Oxfordshire where the thermometer hit minus 8 C, but forecast to be cold enough for me to set the heaters in the greenhouse and the conservatory when I came in from the garden.  It was a relief when I went out this morning to switch them off again to find all the plants still above freezing and that nothing had collapsed, defoliated or turned to mush in the night.  I don't know how cold it got here because I don't have a max-min thermometer, but my phone told me it was minus 2 in my location when I got up.  I think that was a generality for the area, since it wasn't as though the phone had popped outside to check.

The garden did look very pretty with the frost on it, under a blue sky.  If we get another frost before all the seed heads disintegrate I must persuade the Systems Administrator to photograph them, or at least photograph those it is possible to get to without walking on the lawn.  If you are going to take cold weather gardening seriously then you need surfaces you can walk on during freezing spells without spoiling them.  This precludes the lawn.

The trouble with frost from a gardening point of view is that you can't do much until it's gone.  You can prune woody stems if you've a mind to, indeed Christopher Lloyd waxed lyrical about the joys of rose pruning in cold weather, when you would not feel the thorns and could look at the streams of red with detached amazement.  But you cannot weed because the surface of the ground is solid, you cannot walk on the grass, you probably can't rake leaves because they will be either frozen to the ground or else lying on the grass, you cannot plant anything because the surface of the ground is solid and you absolutely must not bury any frozen lumps around the roots of your new plant, or they will take an age to thaw, chilling its roots all the while.

The frost was slow to shift even with the sun on it and I had to defrost my car before I could go to Tesco.  By the time I got back things were looking a little damper and more flexible, though you could see the hollows where the sun didn't quite touch by the bowls of frost still lying.  I decided it was a morning for getting on with trimming the ivy hedge.  I feel I must be on the home straight with the ivy, though generally when I feel that it turns out to mean there are only about two days' worth of work to go.  That's the trouble with frosts, they make an already short gardening day even shorter.

By mid afternoon the gravel had thawed nicely and I was able to scoop up leaves and pull out tufts of creeping sorrel as a change from the ivy.  But by four it was too dark to see what I was doing and jolly cold.  I think we will get a light frost tonight, but not enough to be worth setting the heaters.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

let them eat cake

I arranged to call round to see my parents this morning, after calling in on a friend who has drummed up demand for some jars of honey among her colleagues to drop the jars off.  Living where we do, sales at the gate are a non-starter, and the farm shops all have regular arrangements with one of the local commercial bee farmers, while I just have some spare jars from time to time. Next year if the weather's bad or the bees aren't in a cooperative mood I might not have any.

I thought that as I was visiting my parents I would make them a cake.  Home made honey loaf with our own honey and our own eggs.  I thought they might like a cake, and I enjoy baking.  I made it yesterday afternoon after coming in from the garden.  The cake has to be allowed to cool in the tin, and I put the tin carefully away in a cupboard on a pile of plates where the cats could not get at it.  They like cake, especially Mr Fidget and Mr Fluffy.

I was not due at my friend's house until ten.  At half past nine I started getting ready to go out, changed out of my Birkentocks into shoes I could drive in, printed off a couple of honey recipes I'd typed out for my friend's son who is a keen baker, transferred eight labelled jars of honey into a box with convenient internal divisions that had previously held cat pouches (it was the only box I could find that hadn't already had a cat sitting in it), put two boxes of eggs and the recipe sheets into a shopping basket, wrapped the cake in a freezer bag and put that in the basket, and decided to nip to the loo before going out.

When I returned to the kitchen Mr Fidget was in the shopping basket, and had chewed through the freezer bag and gnawed a hole in the side of the cake.  I was jolly cross.  In fact, I was discouraged.  I try to do something nice for other people and that is what happens.  It was not two hours after Mr Fidget's breakfast, and how the hell did he even know that the cake was in the shopping basket?  I put the cake back in the cupboard to sort out later and went to put my coat on. When I returned to the kitchen for the second time Mr Fidget was back in the shopping basket, and had bitten the end off one of the egg boxes and crumpled up the pieces of paper, so I had to find a new box for the eggs and reprint the recipes.  By then I was running ten minutes late.

I examined the cake properly when I got back.  Most of it was still protected by the freezer bag, so I cut away the margins of the bit Mr Fidget had chewed, and put the cake in a box.  He appeared to have eaten part of the paper liner as well as the cake.  I have promised to make a cake for a tea party the chairman of the music society is doing on Sunday, so I had better take better care of that one.

Addendum  The cake, should you wish to try it, is very easy and creates minimal washing up.  Melt five ounces of butter, six ounces of honey and four ounces of soft brown sugar with a tablespoon of water in a reasonable sized saucepan.  Whisk in two eggs, making sure the melted butter mixture isn't hot enough to curdle them.  Stir in seven ounces of self raising flour, whisking it if necessary to break up the lumps of flour.  Cook in a lined loaf tin at 180 C for fifty minutes to an hour.  Cool in the tin.  Protect from cats.

Monday, 28 November 2016

free range

This afternoon I let the hens out for a run.  This was more momentous than it sounds, since it was the first time we'd let the new Speckeldies out of their enclosure.  I'm not entirely sure how that happened.  I know we didn't set out with any intention of not free ranging the new hens, and it goes to show how a situation can creep up on you by degrees.

We got the new little chickens only a short time before getting the new kittens in May, and at that stage they were far too small and too timid to risk letting them out into the garden.  Then we were very busy with the kittens, or perhaps the kittens were more appealing and the new hens did not command the attention they would have otherwise.  My last cold lingered on well into May, while the foxes grew ever bolder, sauntering past the front door well before the stage of the evening when the hens would have gone back into their run.  Although the fox menace is always there when you keep chickens it peaks in June and July when the vixens have cubs and are desperate to feed them.  I don't know why we didn't let the hens out in August, except that by then we'd got into the habit of not letting them out, then in September we were about to go on holiday and it seemed mean to dangle the prospect of freedom in front of them then snatch it away again.  Since then I've been meaning to start releasing them while being so busy around the garden that I've kept putting it off.

But yesterday as I saw them staring at the grass on the other side of the wire I thought I really must let them out.  They don't need to be out all day, but a couple of hours of scratching around unearthing things to eat and nibbling on leaves cheers them up.  I warned the Systems Administrator that I planned to release them, so that it would not come as a shock if it got to dusk and I had to confess that I'd let the hens out and lost one of them.  I hoped the kittens would not bother them, but the SA was sure that the kittens would be fine.

The old lady Maran was out of the pop hole like a racehorse on the starting line at Newmarket, followed by one of the little hens.  I can't honestly tell the Speckeldies apart now they've grown, apart from one who is more silver than the others, so I don't know if it was the Maran's original partner in crime or if one of the youngsters was particularly outgoing.  The others took a while to summon the courage to venture beyond the run, and stood for a time pecking grass through the pop hole, but they came out eventually.  And Mr Fidget and Mr Cool turned up.

Mr Fidget and Mr Cool thought that having the hens running around the front garden was the most amazing thing they had seen since the first time they saw Our Ginger.  Unfortunately I could not tell whether their intentions towards the hens were pure.  How do you tell whether a fit young cat, that is slinking along on his belly stalking a hen, merely wants to look at it or is timing his moment to jump on it and bite the back of its skull?  I did not know whether the cats could kill a hen in a single leap before I could intervene.  I did not know whether the hen would react to any aggression from the cat by giving it a good kicking.  I did not want any accidents involving scratched eyes.  All of our previous cats gave the chickens a wide berth, but thinking back to when the last cats were first introduced to the hens we had a rooster at that point, so they learned respect early.  The anxious tabby weighed a stone at his peak and was so long he could stand on his hind legs and rest his chin on the dining table, and I have seen him run away from a broody hen.  But Mr Fidget and Mr Cool seemed altogether too interested.

I had to stop putting the dahlia pots away in the greenhouse to watch the livestock.  The hens did not seem at all concerned about the cats.  Were they better at gauging the situation than I was, or was it simply that they had not been attacked so far and hens are not very imaginative?  The smallest hen managed to wander away from the others, and as Mr Fidget crept up on her from one direction while Mr Cool took a detour round the pond to sneak towards her from the other, my nerve cracked and I scooped up Mr Fidget and shut him in the house, warning the SA that I was shutting the cat in because I was worried about their attitude to the hens.

The old lady Maran and her little mate went and scratched around in the back garden, so then I had two lots of chickens to keep an eye on together with the dubious attentions of Mr Cool.  Eventually I managed to catch Mr Cool, and shut him indoors as well.  Finally I persuaded the breakaway party in the back garden to rejoin the main body of hens in the front, and after that we all had quite a nice time until it got late enough for me to chivy them back into the run.  Mr Fluffy showed up before they'd gone inside, but he was not interested in the hens at all and sat on the drain cover by the front door.  We discovered later he'd lost a mouse down there.

I did not like to drag the SA out to help with the chickens, because letting them out was my idea and it was very chilly and the SA  has a chest cold and was trying to keep warm.  So the SA did not see the kittens in full hen stalking mode, and was inclined to think that they were simply fascinated by the chickens and would not actually attack them.  I suppose the kittens are used to seeing the hens in their enclosure, while all other creatures they encounter in the garden run away from them, so free ranging chickens was a huge novelty.  But I don't trust them, especially Mr Fidget who we know has progressed to killing adult rats and who tried to chase the Airedale off when it came calling, until it chased him.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

gravel gardening

There was a slight hiatus in the great compost turning project, because I went out for the day on Friday and meanwhile the Systems Administrator was unable to get out to buy any more long screws because by mid-morning the lane was blocked in both directions by road mending equipment.  But yesterday I painted the repairs to the latest bin to be emptied, and this morning I turned the contents of the next bay along into the empty one.  I did not find any rats.  I painted the newly empty bin with dark brown wood stain and asked the SA hopefully if the SA could repair the front, which I had discovered was not so much retaining the contents of the bin as resting on it.  The SA muttered ominously that there weren't many usable lengths of plank left in the stack on the concrete, and I kicked myself that it never occurred to me to scrounge my parents' old decking when they had it renewed in the summer.  I am sure the SA will manage to find something to fix the front of the bin, but it could be nip and tuck by the time we get to the end of the row, as I saw this morning that the next one along has sprung three planks at the back.

Then, as it was quite warm for the time of the year, I spent the rest of the day weeding the garden railway, and managed to find useful homes for five of my tray of twenty-four rooted sedum cuttings.  They are Sedum album 'Coral Carpet', which grown outdoors in sunlight has leaves of a nice reddish bronze, but grown in a slightly shaded greenhouse in late November goes an unremarkable shade of green.  The leaves are tiny, fat and juicy, and it makes steadily spreading mats grown in the gravel that should halt most seedling weeds in their tracks.  It roots ridiculously easily.  I bought one plant in 2014 and could by now have hundreds of them if I wanted to.  I have not tried propagating it from a single leaf, but the tiniest pieces stuck in compost will root in no time, and I don't think I have ever had a single one die.

All sedums are not equally obliging.  I stuck a divided tray with small cuttings of  Sedum oreganum at the same time, and every one of them shrivelled and died.  I have got it to take in the past using larger and thicker sections of stem, but it didn't respond at all well to having the last inch or so nipped off and put in compost.  It doesn't tolerate over watering in its pot, either, even when rooted, and will show its unhappiness by dropping all it leaves.  Generally sedums are very easy to propagate, but it goes to show that it's worth testing your method on a particular variety before going all out and taking loads of cuttings.  I reused the S. oreganum tray for a dark red, prostrate form left over from my experiments with a green roof on the pot shed, whose name unfortunately got lost during the period it was on the roof.  I now have some in pots and more growing in the gravel, and it seems happy with both situations.  I haven't tweaked any of the cuttings yet to see if they're taking, but it normally roots very obligingly.

I picked leaves out of the gravel as I went, now that they are mostly off the trees, and dead headed some of the prostrate thymes I hadn't already done, and reflected once again how gravel gardening is not a low maintenance option.  Or at least, if you use it as a purely decorative mulch on top of Mypex fabric and are able to rake up the leaves, it could be a lower maintenance option than true gravel gardening.  You have to not mind the sight of bits of Mypex popping up round the edges of your planting holes, and you won't get the effect of things self seeding or be able to grow any dwarf bulbs (unless you cut so many holes in the Mypex that it might as well not be there).  But spreading a couple of inches of gravel on top of the soil will not suppress weeds, on the contrary it will provide a wonderful seed bed, and if the area is anywhere near any deciduous trees or shrubs or hedge then at this time of the year you will find dead leaves lodged in every little drought loving miniature pink and thyme plant.

The new generation of cats do seem to have brought the rabbit problem near the house back under control, and I didn't find any freshly nibbled pinks.  Next year we might get some more flowers from the railway garden, and I might buy some more plants to help fill the gaps.  The last trio of prostrate veronica I planted vanished within days, and that kind of thing puts you off rather.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

more live music

I have just got back from another concert, this time a piano trio at Brightlingsea Studio Music.  I'm afraid it wasn't an unqualified success, as I am jolly cold, and heard too much of the piano and not enough of the strings.  After giving the venue three goes, which seems a fair sample, I'm beginning to feel it is a bit too hit and miss.

The ticket said 7.30 for 8.00 and as I arrived at 7.30, wondering if I should have gone earlier to get a decent seat, I was taken aback by the length of the queue.  After last time when I managed to tuck myself in a corner with a view of both musicians and had a nice time, I was afraid that this time I was going to be back to peering through the banisters, or worse.  On the other hand the queue didn't start moving for another five minutes, which was quite long enough to be standing outside in the dark next to Brightlingsea Creek.

I thought for a moment I would still get a seat in the back row, as three were empty, but as I approached from one end I saw that the chair nearest to me was already bagged by a cardigan, and meanwhile a woman with a companion in tow had got in at the other end.  The stairs looked full, and I opted for the garden room opening on to the main studio, which was lined with green plastic garden chairs.  An elderly chap sat down in one of the other green plastic chairs and began to fuss about where various youngsters could sit so that they would be able to see.  I wasn't going to be able to see either, but that didn't seem to be an issue.  The organiser came and addressed the room, asking us not to allow our handbags to scratch the piano.  Since the elderly chap didn't have a handbag I presumed he was talking to me.  For good measure, he told me not to lean on the lid when I went out.  I told him that I wasn't going to touch his piano and began to feel that wasn't much of a way to spend Saturday night.

At eight he began to address the room while a couple of women talked loudly, telling us how much work it was each time to rearrange the furniture, and I began to feel slightly more unwelcome than I had before.  Yes, hosting any kind of event is generally hard work, but it is incumbent on the host not to say so.  Your guests may express their appreciation, if they are nice, and tell you how much work you must have done and how grateful they are, and you may gracefully lap up their thanks. At five past the trio appeared, and at ten past eight we finally got going.

When the musicians sat down the cellist had his back to me, and all that I could see of the violinist was his hair and his shoes, and once they began to play it was clear that the sound balance was all wrong, as except in the quietest passages I was getting too much piano.  In the loudest passages I was getting really quite a lot too much piano and almost no violin at all.  Then I began to realise quite how cold the annexe was.  On closer inspection it appeared to be made out of perspex and plywood, while the floor looked as though it had been a patio until somebody put a home made garden room on it.  There didn't seem to be any heating, and in the interval I put my hat on.  An elderly lady came and told the elderly chap she had found a seat for him, and off he went.  I didn't know anybody there to chat to, so I stayed put.

We were joined in the second half by a young man and his grandmother, who had evidently found sitting on the stairs in the first half too uncomfortable.  The twenty minute interval ran to twenty-five, and my heart sank slightly when the pianist's introduction to the Tchaikovsky programmed for the second half mentioned that it lasted for forty-five minutes.  As soon as the musicians had taken their second bow I fled, handbag held at knee level and on the opposite side of my body to the piano, ignoring some faint squeaks from the host.  I didn't care whether he was going to close the piano lid or make more speeches by that stage.  I was cold and wanted to go home.

As to the musicians, they were the Busch Trio.  They played late Haydn, Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky. They tour extensively in Europe and have played in the Wigmore Hall and I think they are up and coming and are probably good, only I was sitting in the wrong place to hear or see them properly. I'm not sure I'll persist with Brightlingsea Studio Music.  Being able to hear live chamber music only five miles down the road ought to be a good thing, in theory, but if I've got to arrive forty minutes before the concert starts to get a tolerable seat and maybe spend fifteen of those minutes queuing outside in the cold and the dark, it all starts feeling too much like hard work.  For the cost of a ticket I could buy a new CD, with balanced sound instead of a preponderance of piano, and listen to it in a warm room sitting in a comfortable chair.

Friday, 25 November 2016

London again

I was back in London today, this time for my aunt's lunchtime cello concert.  A couple of trips ago it took so long to get out of Colchester's north station car park that, hemmed in by vast SUVs on all sides, I lost track of how far round the roundabout I'd gone and in the dark turned off earlier than I meant to, so last time I tried going from Wivenhoe.  There is only one London train per hour after the rush hour, with the 10.23 being the earliest service I can use my Network card on.  The 11.23 would have been cutting it rather fine for a 1.05 concert, even one in the City, so the 10.23 it was.

The concert was in St Mary-at-Hill off Eastcheap, and looking at the map to see what else was around there I'd spotted Saint Margaret Pattens in nearby Rood Lane.  I always enjoy nosing around churches, and I'd never visited St Margaret Pattens. Rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire and pretty much undamaged by the Blitz, I read that it had the only conventional spire of any church by Wren and the interior included some seventeenth century canopied pews.  Those had to be worth half an hour of anybody's time.

I didn't take much notice of the other visitors as I pondered the painting over the altar and wondered where the stairs led to, until one tall, thin figure wavering between two pews caught my attention and I realised it was my uncle.  His eyesight is not up to much nowadays, and it took him a moment to realise that it was me.  I discovered that somehow, as my aunt wrestled to get her cello case, stool, music and other paraphernalia through the barriers on the tube, he had become separated from her.  And that, having been taking his lead from her up to that point, he was not sure precisely which church the concert was happening in.  St Mary-at-Hill is only just across Eastcheap and around the corner from Saint Margaret Pattens, so I led him there, thankful that Eastcheap didn't have more traffic as it took him a while to cross the road, partly because by now he can't see where he is putting his feet.  My aunt was mightily relieved at his appearance, explaining that she had lost him.  I explained that I had found him again.  It was really very odd and I wouldn't have believed it as a plot device in a film.

The programme was Beethoven and Rubbra.  I think it was the same Beethoven sonata that Sebastian Comberti played at Boxford, but am not utterly sure since I don't have a great memory for classical music unless I've got a recording and have listened to it a lot.  The Rubbra I didn't know at all, though I think I could get into it with sufficient listening.  My uncle is jolly keen on Rubbra who was his tutor at Oxford.

St Mary-at-Hill is enormous inside, much bigger than you would expect from the size of Lovat Lane. It too made it almost intact through the Blitz before being allowed to partially burn down in 1988, so the handsome domed ceiling is actually a late twentieth century reconstruction.  A gigantic organ takes up a large part of the west wall.  The pews have all been stripped out and replaced with orange chairs, which makes the space multi-functional but according to my aunt gives a similar acoustic to playing in a railway station.

After the Rubbra and once my aunt had packed up her kit and I had managed to shoehorn a box of eggs into the bag with her music stand and her mat, we went for a coffee with a friend of theirs who was some sort of many times removed cousin of my aunt, and then I went to the Tate to see their exhibition of Wilfredo Lam.  Wilfredo Lam was a Cuban surrealist (or at least a Cuban artist. The jury is out as to whether he was really a surrealist).  I had never heard of him until the Tate released details of this year's exhibitions, but if you asked most people to name any Cuban artists, Surrealist or otherwise, you would end up with a pretty short list.

His father was Chinese, his mother of African and Spanish descent, and they were both supportive of his ambition to be an artist, so he was able to study in Spain for several years and then moved to Paris where he was taken under the wing of Picasso.  He married but his wife and first child both died young.  He was caught up in Vichy France and spent months waiting to get a boat out.  He returned to Cuba, then in the 1950s returned to Europe, considering himself a citizen of the world. There are photographs of him scattered through the exhibition, and a five minute short film about him at the end that interposes archive film with interviews with his son, and he seems to have been a popular figure in the art world, tall, good looking and energetic.

The gallery notes say that as a young artist he greatly admired Goya, and started off wanting to be a portrait painter.  The earliest works are highly figurative, skillfully done.  A still life of fruit and flowers on a table and a brown tinted view of houses on a hillside to me showed the influence of Cezanne.  Then he fell under the spell of Matisse.  That is not my opinion but the considered view of the Tate curator.  I liked his Matisse blue view from a window, which was a pretty convincing Matisse apart from the fact that it was the work of a Cuban Chinese-Spanish-African.  Then he fell under the spell of Picasso, and never really got out from under it.  He had a brief and perfectly credible stint as an Abstract Expressionist, but returned to the strange, angular, horse-headed, hoof-footed, multi-breasted dream creatures of his post-Guernica Picasso stage, though Wilfredo Lam's dream creatures are curiously nonthreatening, with added shades of Miro.  In fact, I am not sure what they are saying, except that life is strange and amusing and not dangerous.

I liked all of it.  He was good at what he did.  The single thing I liked the most was actually a tiny drawing, more of a comic sketch, of an elaborate dog with a small cat standing on its back, the cat's back drawn up into an arch.  And next to it the elaborate doodle of a turtle with a series of smaller creatures stacked on top of it, the smallest and topmost one of which is brandishing a cocktail glass if you look closely.  Alas, the shop didn't have postcards of them, just as they never have reproductions of the picture you liked the best.  The only trouble was that it felt as I went round that the things he was doing well had already been done, by and large.

The exhibition was not very crowded.  Most people don't seem to want to go and see a Cuban Surrealist they have not heard of.  Come to that, none of the three friends I tried the idea on wanted to come with me, even with the lure of free entry using the Tate member plus guest card. It is on until the 8th of January, if you want to go and see for yourself.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

make your own compost

The Systems Administrator made an extra compost bin using some sections of the planks from the old pot shed floor that were not too rotten, and a stray fence post that was lying about.  I painted it with the odd end of a tub of wood preservative left over from the garden railway, and found a couple of short lengths of chicken wire that must once have been fastened round shrubs to keep the rabbits off them that were just long enough to fit across the bottom and staple to the sides so that rats would not be able to dig their way in.  I was rather pleased with the bin, which cost us nothing, and after giving the wood stain a day to dry off I turned the contents of the next door bin into it.

The neighbouring bin was made out of recycled decking, and already had a wire bottom.  The SA fastened a couple of planks that had come loose at the back with a fresh batten, and I painted that bin as well, except that two thirds of the way across the outside of the bin at the back I ran out of stain.  The following day I was able to turn the contents of the neighbouring bin into the newly refurbished one.  Then I had to invest some money in the compost bin restoration project and buy a new tub of preservative.  This afternoon I painted the bits of the freshly emptied bin that had not rotted away, and asked the SA to mend the large hole in the back.  There should be some more serviceable wood among the old floor boards.

I am out tomorrow, but on Saturday morning if it's dry I will paint the SA's repairs and fasten wire across the base of the empty bin, then in the afternoon turn the next heap and so on until I get to the end of the row.  I don't know if the preservative really makes much difference given that unlike a garden fence the sides of the bins are going to be in constant contact with a heap of damp and decaying compost, and you traditionally avoid setting your wooden fence in direct contact with the soil, but it seemed worth the effort to try to make them last as long as possible.  And it gives the outside of the bins a sort of pleasing visual unity, in a bodged and rustic way.  You can get very fancy with compost bins.  The plant centre used to sell fancy ones shaped like oversized traditional beehives painted in a fetching shade of duck egg blue, and the John Lewis website will sell you a beehive composter (though its corners owe more to the art of the log cabin) for £159.  But I am now up to six compost bays, and five of them are already full.  That would be a lot of money to spend on compost bins.  Actually, I think I am going to need a seventh but I thought that if I finished tidying up the rest of the utility area first to show that I was serious, maybe then afterwards if the compost still hadn't rotted down I could ask the SA very nicely to see if one more bin's worth of planks could be salvaged from the pile.

I have a dark suspicion that rats are or have been living in or under the bins at the far end, towards which I am gradually working my way.  I have been digging the as yet uncomposted plant remains out of each bin with a fork, wearing gloves, wellington boots and at least two layers of clothing on all limbs, keeping a keen eye out for rats.  I haven't seen any yet, but there is a suspicious hole and something has been digging.  Of course some of it could be moles in search of worms.  I pulled the weeds out of one of the wire netting leaf bins while I was at it, and there was a mysterious mound of earth topped with nettles.  I removed them gingerly, but did not find any rats, moles or anything else except a vast quantity of stones.  Molehills are sometimes trumpeted as sources of good, tilled and aerated soil but I'm afraid that depends on the quality of the soil the moles are digging in.  In our garden they are mainly a source of stones.

I don't know why the contents of the bins hasn't rotted down more.  The usual mixture of old flower stems, spent potting compost, poultry litter from the hen house, vegetable peelings from the kitchen and a few light woody prunings went in, but they haven't done much.  We don't add grass cuttings because the lawns are so weedy, so the compost is probably a bit light on nitrogen, and I wonder if it was too dry over the summer since we had barely any rain for the best part of ten weeks.  I could water it.  I could add something like 6X concentrated poultry manure to boost the nitrogen content, though rather like building the bins I grudge spending money on making the compost.  I could just wait.  And persuade the Systems Administrator to build yet another bin.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

your views are important to us

Our postman is no slouch.  He came early this morning to beat the resurfacing works in the lane, so early that we had not opened the gate for him.  He brought my pink dress, which I have not tried on yet since I was too idle to change out of my gardening clothes and now I am avoiding even opening the parcel until I am fresh out of the shower, and a letter from the National Gallery.

The letter was a puzzle.  It was a two parter, part fund raising appeal and part something else, in a nice thick Basildon Bond envelope that I am sure was not the cheapest envelope they could have bought that would have done the job.  I was not sure what to make of the part that was not a fund raising appeal, or whether it was even genuine or really intended to warm me up for the request for money.  Apart from the fact that I have booked tickets for temporary exhibitions from time to time, I did give them the last of the cash on my CAF account towards the appeal to buy Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, and I have got a National Art Pass, so I can see how they could easily have got hold of my details.  It is a pity that in their attempt to personalise the whole thing they addressed me by a weird mashup of the nickname I am always called by and my middle initial, which I do use but only with my proper first name, so ending up with a combination I never call myself by and nobody who knows me personally would think of using either.

Apart from money, their archivist wants me to 'contribute to the rich tapestry of stories so that generations to come can connect the history, heritage and significance of our great national institutions to their own lives.  Please write to tell us why you love the Gallery and what these wonderful paintings mean to you'.  By way of illustration he enclosed a perfectly nice postcard of a seventeenth century Dutch portrait of a boy with a little essay on the back by somebody called David about why he liked the National Gallery, and a piece of paper headed up with the weird mashup of my name plus my full postal address, on which I was supposed to write my own short essay to be added to the archive.  Or I could email them.

This seems to be a thing nowadays.  The Radio 3 breakfast show includes a slot for a listener to explain why they love the piece of music Radio 3 is about to play.  The woodland charity, totally unbidden, sent me a spiral bound notebook in which I am supposed to invite people to write down their memories of trees.  Or they can do it online.  You cannot leave an art exhibition now without passing a noticeboard on which people have written their thoughts about the exhibition on postcards, unless there was an interactive touch screen inside the exhibition for them to record their thoughts.  I rarely listen to the Radio 3 breakfast show because I find the presenters annoying, nor have I asked anybody to write anything in the spiral bound book.  I don't stop to read the postcards.  And I don't know who David is so why do I care about his favourite picture?

Sometimes it is nice to know what other people think.  If I'm at a gallery with a friend I am interested in their reaction to the art, because I'm interested in them.  And sometimes they have spotted something I haven't.  But if I'm about to listen to a piece of music it really doesn't help to know that somebody I don't know and am never going to meet likes it because it was the first piece they played in the school orchestra, or they heard it fifty years ago on their first date with the person they are now married to.  Those are lovely memories for them.  For me, not so interesting. If a music critic were to tell me that the music was booed at its first performance, or suppressed by Stalin and not played in public for a quarter of a century after it was written, that would be an interesting bit of historical context.  If they were to tell me that the violins would repeat in the third movement the theme first introduced in the opening bars by the horns, I could strain to listen out for it and I might learn something about the music.  Knowing that a complete stranger first heard it when their university friend played it to them on a wind-up gramophone and so it reminds them of their friend (or the HMV dog) really doesn't matter.

I'm not anti all customer feedback.  We found the excellent curry house in Barnard Castle by dint of looking on Tripadvisor and seeing it was the most recommended local eatery by a country mile, and sure enough it was very good.  Buying clothes online it's useful to know if other customers found the cotton thin, the shade of blue darker than it looked on the screen, or the sizing so huge they had to go down one from their usual size.  Especially when several people agree that the material was practically transparent, the blue surprisingly dark or the boots enormous.  If a book has numerous reviews on Amazon you can generally work out quite a lot about what sort of a book it is, even if you ignore the reviewer's conclusions, just as you ignore comments that the blue or the boots were lovely, because their idea of loveliness might not be yours.

I don't know what the National Gallery will do with the pieces of paper, or the emails.  Will they archive them properly, with an index, or just shove them in boxes until they end up in a skip in twenty years' time?  Archiving and storage are not cheap.  I thought that on balance I'd rather the gallery put its finite curatorial resources into researching or restoring some of the actual artworks they've got sitting in storage.  Who knows, there might be another School Of that turns to be a By. The archivist invited me to give permission for my words to be published, with or without my name and details, or to say how long I would like it to be closed from public view (which makes it sound quite exciting, like Cabinet papers).  Only I have a dark suspicion it is actually rather pointless.

But maybe it is mainly an exercise to make me feel they are listening to me, like the email from the Tate with an email address I could respond to if I didn't use Facebook, only when I did respond the message was bounced back because it was invalid.  There is a detective story by Dorothy L Sayers in which the murder victim, who believes something about themselves which it would be a plot spoiler to reveal, is sent a coded message by their murderer arranging to meet them (and, as it turns out, murder them).  Lord Peter Wimsey on discovering the message points out that the first bit, that panders to the victim's belief, is sloppily coded, but the part relating to the meeting is highly accurate.  Ergo, it was the meeting that mattered to whoever wrote the message.  I remember the story sometimes when I am not sure what is going on in a given situation: what part of the situation is the other party paying attention to, because that's the thing that's important to them.

I really don't know what the National Gallery wants this time, my views or my money.  It doesn't really matter, since they are not getting either of them, the views because I don't see who would be interested in them, and the money because the CAF account is long emptied and since quitting the City my Art Pass and my Tate membership are as much as I can manage.

Addendum  Of course, what is cardunculus if not my views on life addressed to people who don't know me?  But since it has scarcely gone viral it is largely read by people who do know us.  And it quite often contains useful snippets of gardening or cookery advice garnered from first hand experience.  And it is all done for free in my spare time, without the aid of Basildon Bond envelopes or the salary of a professional archvist.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

no through road

The Systems Administrator returned from the supermarket and announced that they are finally repairing the potholes in the lane.  I was thinking only yesterday that they had been taking their time about it.  Coloured paint marks appeared round the holes and crumbling edges months ago, but then nothing further happened other than the paint slowly fading, until about six weeks ago a second set of paint marks appeared, this time in white.  They too were beginning to wear off, and I was beginning to wonder when the council would actually send people to mend the road instead of merely reassuring us that they knew about the problem.

The lane is not very big and as such can't be expected to be a high priority on the council's list, but it is the only means of access to the half dozen or so houses and farm business units stretched along its length, and the further half dozen houses on the lettuce farm.  Plus the lettuce farm itself, whose articulated lorries can't be helping the state of the lane, but which pays its taxes and probably expects passable road access in return.  In fact, the lane carries much heavier traffic than a dozen houses and a couple of farms would generate because it is used as a cut through by drivers wanting to avoid the inconvenient traffic lights on the main road.  They slow things down considerably in the rush hour because there is no room for any right hand turning filter lanes, so once the car at the head of the queue wants to turn right that's probably it for that phase of the lights, everybody else in the queue having to wait to try their luck on the next go once the right hand turner has scuttled across on amber as the lights change.

Anyway, the lane is now being mended so hurrah for that.  The pot holes along the edges were getting to the tyre menacing stage, and the non-residents using it as a short-cut do have an unnerving tendency of charging along it at forty, as if they did not expect anybody else to be using it, and to show no signs of slowing down or pulling over when they meet me coming the other way. Friends who live along other lanes tell me that this is a general phenomenon of modern rural life, not confined to our lane.  Why I am supposed to climb half way up the verge in my poor old Skoda while they motor past at speed in their BMWs I do not know.  It can't be purely classist based on make of car because they do the same to a friend who drives a rather slinky black Jaguar.  I sometimes wish we still had the Landrover or the truck, then I could just stop in the middle of the road and wait to see if they could stop too.

Meanwhile, Storm Angus and its aftermath has caused the Orwell Bridge to be closed for twelve hours, bringing the whole of Ipswich to gridlock.  It made the Radio 2 traffic bulletin as well as the East Anglian Daily Times.  The trouble is that the Orwell crossing is the lowest bridging point on the river Orwell.  It carries the traffic not just for Woodbridge, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and all points north up the coast but for Felixstowe docks as well.  Felixstowe is the UK's busiest container port and while the train takes some of the strain, quite a lot still goes by road.  Direct all that road traffic through the centre of Ipswich and the result is predictable chaos.  I can't see any solution, short of building a new dual carriageway north of Ipswich to link the A14 and A12.  Which is not going to happen.  In the meantime the Orwell Bridge looms more than 40 metres high over the river and is closed in high winds, at which point the east coast is cut off.

The postman did not come, what with the Lane Closed signs, and nor did any deliveries.  The SA is waiting for a new chainsaw blade and I am expecting a pink dress.  A middle aged lady one, corduroy, with pockets.

Monday, 21 November 2016

more live music

This is a late post, and will be a brief one, as it being late I should like to go to bed soon.  We have just got back from seeing Blazin' Fiddles at the Colchester Arts Centre.  They didn't end their set until gone eleven, having expressed their regret midway through the second half that they had only just discovered that the arts centre had a curfew, and they finished in such a whirl of energy that it was easy to believe they were just warming up.  Looking at their touring schedule it was actually their fifth night in a row of performing, and they have at least another week before they get a break, on a mad route that takes them all over the country.

They are a Scottish band and have been going for ages although by now only one of them was in the original lineup, and they are famous if you are into folk music, otherwise you have almost certainly not come across them.  I'd only heard them on the radio but had a hunch they would be fun live, and they were.  There are four fiddlers, from Orkney, Shetland, Inverness and Nairn, or as the founder member put it, two Viking goddesses and two Highland trolls, plus a keyboard player and a multi-instrumentalist who is mainly tethered to her guitar.

They alternated between the fast and noisy and the slower and quieter in about the right ratio for a gig.  The wall of sound produced by four top notch traditional fiddle players going flat out and backed up by keyboard and guitar is impressive but could get samey over an entire evening, while you'd feel cheated if the whole concert had consisted of demure solos and duets.  I didn't think about it at the time but the Systems Administrator has pointed out that their fiddles were all fitted with wireless mics, which is how they could all walk around the stage without ending up with a muddle of cables like a maypole dance gone wrong.

It was my third live musical encounter inside a week, and provided an interesting contrast to the other two.  Last night, lieder in a consecrated church, tonight wild Highland music in a deconsecrated one.  It's good to support live music.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

we christen the stage

Today was the day we tried out the new stage for real.  Six of us converged at the church after the morning service to put it up.  The ideal number would probably be three, though two could do it pretty comfortably, and as we all stood in each other's way and gave contradictory advice about which piece should go where next I thought that six was certainly too many.  But it is a new toy, and we all need to learn how it works.  The vicar, and the vicar's guide dog, and two other priests came to admire it, and we all agreed it was a very fine stage, and we'd be even more pleased with it once we'd seen it supporting a piano with our own eyes.

The only potential snag was that we had mislaid one of the bolts for attaching the steps to the front edge, but luckily the community across the road has a well stocked workshop and the guardian of the old stage was able to find a replacement.  I think he was an engineer in his working life.  At the practice session with the new stage he was talking to me about left hand threads as if that helped, and I realised that to an engineer the idea that anybody might find clockwise and anticlockwise confusing, particularly if they were looking at it upside down and had already been fiddling with it for ten minutes was completely alien.

When I next saw the stage it had a piano on it.  Success.

The performer for tonight's concert was the youngest and least established of the artists in this season's programme, a singer supported by a sponsorship scheme for selected musicians at the start of their careers.  The music society is signed up to the scheme, which entitles and obliges us to one and one only heavily subsidised concert per season.  Obviously we hope we'll manage to pick out the artist in the brochure who goes on to become a household name, then we can preen ourselves that we saw them here first.  Tonight's singer was pretty good, and that's according to some of the other members of the society who know more about classically trained singers than I do, as well as my untutored opinion.  The church was gratifyingly full for a relative unknown.  The only problem was that nobody knew quite when they were supposed to clap.  The music society's audience knows to follow the convention (which I'm all in favour of, though some people seeking to broaden the appeal of classical music condemn it as stuffy) of not clapping between movements, but there was a spatter of slightly tentative clapping between every song during the first half, until at the start of the second half she asked us (very nicely) to save our applause for the end of each cycle.

I preferred the Strauss she opened with to the Britten she ended on, but that says more about Benjamin Britten than her.  I didn't think much of his version of Waly, Waly, which he managed to conclude with the floating verse about how love is fine when new but fades away, instead of the more interesting and Waly, Waly specific lament that if the singer had known at the start how it was going to end she would have boxed her heart in a cask of gold and sealed it with a silver pin, which is way more interesting.  And Britten leaves out the verse in which the singer wishes her baby was born and sitting on its nurse's knee and she herself was dead and gone, the green grass growing over her.  That is the big reveal.  The problem isn't just that she's heartbroken, it's that she's pregnant.  I learned from the translation of the Strauss supplied in our programmes that waterlily translates literally in German as water rose.

So the new stage was well and truly launched.  Our previous page turner who had been very reliable for a couple of years had disappeared off to music college and we had a new one, presumably also recommended by one of the local music teachers as being good enough at sight reading to turn the pages at the right moment and responsible enough to be trusted to turn up.  Her mother told the membership secretary that it was the girl's first ever paid music job and apparently she was thrilled.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

two trips to the garden centre

This morning I went and bought more mushroom compost to spread on my new crescent of flowerbed.  Eight bags went on remarkably quickly compared to applying compost to the established borders, when you are working around the crowns of the existing plants, and weren't enough to finish the job, so after lunch I went back and bought another eight bags.  In an ideal world I'd have designed the front garden so that there was somewhere for bulk loads to be tipped, but I didn't, so bags it is.  The local garden centre supplies it by the truck load, or by the thirty litre bucket, leaving a bottomless bucket in the yard so that customers can measure out their purchases. The bucket has had its bottom cut off, and the theory is that you stand it in your bag, fill it, and then shake the contents into the bag.  Following the recent rain the current load of mushroom compost is lumpy and about as sticky as treacle, and clumps together instead of shaking through the hole, so I stood my bags in the bucket and filled them until it looked about a bucket's worth. The garden centre supplies a plastic shovel as well, but I take my own stainless steel spade since life is too short to try and dig spent mushroom compost with a plastic shovel.

I noticed on my first visit that the garden centre had got both pot grown and potted Christmas trees.  The Systems Administrator and I had already agreed that this year we had better not get a full sized tree or put lights on it.  It's a shame, we both like Christmas trees, but the kittens are still very kittenish in many respects, and we were pretty sure they would want to climb the tree and chew the light cable.  Spending the festive season plucking cats out of the tree and pleading with them not to electrocute themselves, alternating with picking up the shattered remains of cherished baubles, sounded like hard work.  I had suggested that I could get a small tree and decorate it with the ornaments that would not break, with no lights, while the SA proposed putting lights along the top of the bookcase in the study.  A nice little pot grown tree could be just the thing.

I checked the plan with the SA at lunchtime before going back for the second load of compost and the tree.  The key thing to check is that your tree is pot grown and not merely potted.  These came with shiny tags promising that they had lived in pots from seedlings and been repotted several times.  That is what you need.  A potted tree has merely been dug out of the ground and stuffed in a pot.  This is likely to be a shock to its system from which it will not recover any the better for spending a couple of weeks in a warm room.  It may or may not survive, or drop half its needles in the meantime.  I spread the pot grown trees out a little so that I could see their shapes properly, and picked out the tallest, bushiest and most symmetrical one.  It was a very nice plant, almost three feet tall excluding its pot and about as much across, and I felt quite affectionate towards it as I put it in the car.  I shall nurture it very carefully next year, and if it does OK it can stand outside the front door next Christmas.  Not a bad morning's work, having an excuse to charge a new pet conifer to the housekeeping.

Meanwhile, the Systems Administrator managed to salvage some usable lengths of wood from the old pot shed floor, and has built an extra compost bin, and Mr Fidget caught a fully grown rat.  All in all we've had a productive day, though I don't suppose most people's idea of a nice trip to the garden centre includes loading two boot loads of steaming ordure into plastic bags.

Friday, 18 November 2016

back in the garden

I am not sure my account yesterday of why I was vaguely disappointed by the Picasso exhibition was very coherent, since I seemed to be simultaneously grumbling that it was hard work and complaining that it wasn't bigger.  My journey home had left me slightly jangled, and more so the knowledge that the trains had got a lot worse since then and that the Systems Administrator was still out there somewhere.  I think what I meant was that I would have liked some more paintings, big, colourful, energetic ones, in a show that was quite heavy on graphics, and the graphics to have included more of the beautiful fluidity of line Picasso displayed in the Vollard Suite.

The SA had gone for a curry with some old colleagues, and rang at ten fifteen to say that there were no trains and no information about when there would be any.  By then the internet was claiming that the lines into Liverpool Street had been reopened and services were resuming.  The SA finally got home well after midnight, the train having terminated early at Colchester leaving its sorry contingent of passengers who had hoped to travel further to pick up a replacement bus service.  The SA's car was not at Colchester but at Wivenhoe.  I don't entirely blame Greater Anglia for the fact that their wretched trains keep breaking down, since they are about a hundred years old and the company has ordered new ones now their franchise has been renewed.  I do blame them entirely for the abysmal lack of information every time anything goes wrong, which makes an already bad and stressful situation immediately worse.

But today was another day.  I finished digging up the edge of the lawn in the far bottom corner of the garden where the trees had grown out over it since the flowerbeds were designed about twenty years ago.  The SA was tired of trying to mow into that corner, bent double to duck under lowest branches of the golden deodar, and it looked scrappy.  The idea of the bottom lawn is that during the spring and summer the grass is allowed to grow long, with a mown path around the outside, and the path didn't work when you had to contort yourself like a limbo dancer to get under the trees.  It did not act as an invitation to circulate as a good garden should, and when we did walk around the lawn we ended up trampling into the edge of the long grass, which was messy.

It was terrible grass.  Patches of it peeled away in handfuls, needing almost no further digging, and when I did need to fork clumps out it came up easily, earth still as mere as builder's sand after goodness knows how many decades laid to turf.  I'd marked out what I thought was a fair curve with a length of rope a few weeks ago and glyphosated the strip around the edge that I didn't want, so it was obvious which bits to strip.  Compared to digging out the two rose beds lump by lump from the top lawn it was a quick job.  The rose beds took weekend after weekend of work, partly because I was reusing all the turf lifted to make a path to connect the top and bottom lawns.  You couldn't dignify the stuff in the far bottom corner by the term 'turf'.  Once I'd shaken off as much soil as I could the rest went in the brown recycling bin for the council green waste service to take away.

I began mulching the new strip of flowerbed with mushroom compost, but ran out.  I might go and buy another car load tomorrow before the next lot of rain.  I didn't go this afternoon, feeling that I'd done enough digging for one day, and instead went on weeding around the compost bins in the utility area.  The wire leaf bins have filled up with weeds, and given the time of year I need them to put leaves in.  'Tai-haku' has dropped all its leaves, which are still lying in neat, thick drifts on the lawn near the tree, and it would be a good idea to collect them before the next lot of wind blows through.  The wild gean by the septic tank and the little oak tree haven't really started shedding yet, but when they do that will be a lot more leaves than 'Tai-haku' produces.  It's a shame that I let goose grass grow over the leaf bins, so the next lot of leaf mould will be infested with its seeds, but there it is.  We do what we can.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

a concert and an exhibition

I went to London today for the last of their series of lunchtime concerts with Lawrence Power.  This time he was playing with the Vertavo String Quartet, which once again I had never heard of if I were being honest about the extent of my musical ignorance.  But there are a great many string quartets in the world, and the Vertavo are from Norway, so I have some excuse.  Now I've seen them live I shall notice if they crop up on Radio 3.  The five of them played something Schubert wrote when he was only fourteen prefaced by something by Mark-Anthony Turnage that wasn't in the programme, followed by a short Beethoven fugue which segued directly into Brahms' clarinet quintet in B minor recalibrated by Brahms for the viola.  The last was utterly and sublimely beautiful, and the old work friend I went with pronounced himself highly satisfied with it, especially the first two movements.  I like LSO St Lukes very much indeed, and if I worked at Silicon Roundabout I would make sure my colleagues knew not to schedule any meetings for Thursday lunchtimes between 12.30 and 2.30 from October to May.  Alas, I have to ration myself as I can't get to London that often, and I haven't booked another one until February.

Then I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Picasso Portraits.  I hadn't managed to find anybody who wanted to see it with me, and though it's on until early February I thought I'd catch it rather than suddenly find I'd left it to the last minute.  The Daily Telegraph review said it was a Must See, the friend who came to today's concert wouldn't come because his wife wanted to see it, and Picasso was one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.  I'll bow out of any discussion about whether he was the greatest before it starts because I dislike rankings tables when it comes to art (or many other things).  But when I went to see the British Museum exhibit their recently acquired complete set of the Vollard Suite I found it very, very exciting.

Today's exhibition, not so much.  I have only now Googled it and seen that some others were a teeny bit underwhelmed.  One criticism is that there isn't as much in it as you might expect from a show that takes up all of the portrait gallery's ground floor rooms where they stage temporary exhibitions.  There are great big bits of blank walls between the pictures.  Complaining that an exhibition ought to have more in it feels rather vulgar, like eating at a fine restaurant and grumbling about portion sizes.  It smacks of buying books by the yard because they do furnish a room.  But with tickets costing nineteen pounds without concessions (well done, Art Pass) part of me expected more entertainment.  Quality is all very well but actually I do care about the width as well.  I'm vulgar that way.

Beauty is an equally dodgy topic.  Nowadays we are not supposed to demand beauty from art.  I have an unfortunate weakness for it, also colour.  Visual beauty does not preclude greatness, look at Turner.  Picasso ran through quite a lot of wives, mistresses and lovers in the course of his career, but while he may have appreciated female beauty in the flesh he wasn't concerned about painting it most of the time.  Many of the portraits in the exhibition are very indicative of his sitter's inner state, very energetic, very clever, but they are tiring to look at.  I looked, I mentally digested, I clocked the similarity of Tove Jansson's Moomin illustrations to Picasso's (by then or shortly to be) estranged wife (number two?) with their children, I spent some extra time with his paintings of his first wife, but I didn't linger.

I thought about calling into the Taylor Wessing photographic prize exhibition which opened today, but decided that after Picasso my capacity to absorb any more portraits was exhausted.  It's lucky I went home when I did, as the 16.44 I caught out of Liverpool Street was running half an hour late for most of its journey.  The guard made periodic announcements apologising that nobody had told him the reason for the red danger signals and promising to tell us more when he knew it, even appealing that if any passengers knew more via their devices then perhaps they could tell him.  But a mere half hour late was a bagatelle (and will just qualify for a Delay Repay claim if they don't try to say it was only 29 minutes) compared to what came later, when the 17.50 Norwich train broke down between Harold Wood and Brentwood, blocking a vital crossing so that no trains could divert around it and services out of Liverpool Street were suspended.

Addendum  The cats were not pleased that we had both been out all day and swarmed around the kitchen screaming at each other while I tried to make poached egg on toast.  Just as I put down part of a second tin for them the toast set off the burnt toast alarm and the cats scattered in panic and bolted out of the cat flap.  I have never understood why the alarm is apparently calibrated to sound at the first whiff of burnt toast, while the ground floor can fill with visible smoke from the wood burning stove blowing back if we try to light it when the wind's in the north and the alarm will not go off.  The house is made of wood, after all.  Not toast.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

the stage arrives

The music society's new stage arrived.  We agreed to meet at nine in the church for a trial run putting it up, and as I drove past I could see the rest of the committee with the stage on its purpose built trolley, progressing up the road from the Chairman's house in a slightly wobbly procession. Once I'd parked and joined them I discovered the reason for the wobbles was that the wheels were not set quite right on the trolley so that it threatened to topple over where the road had a pronounced camber.  The man from the staging company who had come to supervise the handover pronounced himself not yet satisfied with the design, and said he would take the trolley back with him in his van for modifications, and it would be returned to us by early next week at the latest.

Putting the stage up was about as chaotic as you would expect from seven people who had never seen it before.  We could probably recoup the cost of buying it by offering team building mornings to local firms in which their staff would have to cooperate to erect it.  It took some time to establish which way round the 1.5 by 1.0 metre boards were supposed to go, and that the sensible place to start was by the foot of the pulpit, the steps to the pulpit being one of the immovable objects we had to work around.  Amid many cries of Move that one that way, and If you shift that one over we can slot this one in here, we got all eight boards lined up the right way round in a four by two array, and fastened together.  Only one leg needed chocking, which was quickly done once the Chairman had gone to fetch the bits of an old wooden wine box to use as packing.  Adjacent boards were held together with two bits of aluminium moulded to fit the profile of the edges of the boards and tightened with bolts and wing nuts once in position, and the steps at the front came as a single unit held in place with two captive bolts.

The fiddliest bit was applying the velcro strips along the front edge to hold the fabric valance which we had ordered in order to make our new stage look smart, though in fact it is hidden by pews for the most part.  The man from the staging company stuck it along the whole of the front edge in one long strip then we needed to cut it where the panels joined.  The Chairman said we needed scissors and I volunteered that I had some nail scissors in my handbag, but somebody else went to fetch the church scissors.  They turned out to be chunky kitchen scissors that were too big, and I produced the nail scissors, whereupon the rest of the committee were amazed and the Chairman said she thought I had been joking.  I don't know why.  I have a torch in my handbag as well, and a pen, a pencil and an eraser, and in the days of paper Sudokus I used to travel with a pencil sharpener.  We discovered a tiny design error when we tried to fit the valance behind the steps, which is the only section of valance the audience will be able to see unless they are sitting in the front pews, as the bolts supplied to fasten the steps to the front were too short once they had to go through the thickness of the fabric.  Unless somebody nips down to B&Q to buy longer bolts before Sunday then our young soprano and accompanist are going to have to manage on a stage without a skirt.  And we will need to make sure that next time we put the same boards the same way round at the front, unless we want to apply more velcro.  The man from the stage company left us with the rest of the roll just in case, but it should be straightforward as long as we stack the trolley in the right order.

Altogether it was a most ingenious system and felt reassuringly solid when I stood on it.  Once we had got used to it I reckon it would take a couple of people no more than half an hour to erect, tops.  Maybe three people to get the laden trolley up the ramp out of the church.  We didn't try that bit today because once we'd dismantled the stage again it was left stacked in a corner until Sunday's concert while the trolley went off for modifications.  There was one dissenting voice on the committee who was vehemently against the stage, on the grounds that we would never be able to move the fully loaded trolley, and it would be most galling if they turned out to be right, and that was the final hurdle at which the new stage project fell, after running such a promising race up to that point.

The old stage was still in the church awaiting volunteers to help move it back to its home across the road, and as the pieces of the old stage were stacked in the corner where we wanted to put the new stage, and the new stage was blocking the access needed for the trolley to transport the old stage, it all turned into one of those fox, goose and river puzzles.  The floor boards of the old stage really are horribly heavy and awkward, and as I helped lift them into the garden trolley we use to trundle them over to the commune and back one of the men on the committee hissed to me that he wasn't being sexist but I really shouldn't have to do that sort of thing.  I thought it was very sweet of him, though if he were to call round sometime when I was hedge cutting and see the Systems Administrator and I moving the Henchman platform around the garden he would understand why I was not fazed by the stage.  The old stage is really dreadfully heavy, though, and awkward to grip because the flats don't have any sort of a rim or frame to hook your fingers around when you lift them.

I have agreed to go back over on Sunday morning to help put the new stage back up again, this time for real.  I must remember to put a small pair of mole grips in my handbag, in case of any problems with the wing nuts.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

unconventional cuttings

The kitchen window is turning into a plant hospital.  The Systems Administrator has noticed, and asked yesterday What's that, staring at the latest occupant with furrowed brow.  I asked whether the SA minded my having them there and the SA said No, not at all.  I could understand the SA's puzzlement, since it was a singularly unprepossessing and unpromising looking specimen.

It started with a couple of cuttings of Fuchsia boliviana.  This was one of the substitutes from Other Fellow Fuchsias, a frost tender upright bush capable of scrambling to prodigious heights according to their website.  It grew rapidly with huge furry leaves and sent up a second stem.  I hadn't planned on growing it, but became rather fond of it and started looking forward to the red tubular flowers.  Fuchsia flowers in their native lands are pollinated by humming birds, you know.

Unfortunately I took the website's advice that it would need a big pot too literally, too early, and moved it on to a seven inch pot or thereabouts over the summer.  When we got back from holiday the big furry leaves were drooping, a sign easily interpreted as meaning that the plant is short of water, but that can also signal root death from overwatering.  I can't blame the housesitters.  They did a jolly good job overall, faced with an array of plants with wildly different requirements capable of catching a professional nursery assistant out from time to time.  I nearly killed another of the fuchsias myself earlier in the year, but managed to save it by drying it out and keeping it on the dry side for a couple of months while it recovered.  I tried to do the same with F. boliviana, but to no avail, and I was soon able to lift both stems out of the pot, the roots having rotted entirely.

I left them propped up in the corner of the conservatory where it had been growing through a jasmine, until such a time as I should be down there with a compost bucket.  When I came to clear away the corpse some time later I noticed that the stem tips and the last couple of sets of leaves were still green and firm.  Nothing venture, nothing gain.  I cut them off, put them in a pot of compost and covered them with a plastic bag.  Mid October would not be my first choice of time to attempt to propagate a tender species fuchsia, especially after the source of cutting material had been languishing with no roots for several weeks, and I didn't fancy their chances in the greenhouse, so I put them on the kitchen window sill where the Aga would maintain a fairly steady and not too low temperature.

They remained green and perky, and the tips have even grown, though whether there is any activity at the bottom end of the cutting where it counts is a moot point.  I was annoyed to discover the other evening that they were being attacked by tiny aphids.  I sponged off as many as I could with a piece of damp kitchen towel, and today sprayed them with insecticide.  I am fairly sure that using pesticides on cuttings is not recommended, and as fuchsias weren't specifically mentioned on the label there's the risk that they may not like it, but it didn't seem sensible to leave them infested with sap sucking insects either.  A leaf fell off the smaller of the two today, which doesn't bode well.  We shall see.  If neither takes I might even buy another next year if Other Fellow Fuchsias have any more, as I have got quite keen on the idea of growing it by now.

The second casualty was the orange flowered Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata from Dibleys.  I went into the conservatory yesterday to check the watering (which does not want to be done too often at this time of the year, when a bit of benign neglect can come in handy) and found the collapsed remains of the plant on the floor next to its pot.  Puzzled and irritated, since I was fairly sure I had not overwatered it, I prodded a finger into the pot and unearthed a vine weevil grub.  Ah.  And likewise bother.  I went to fetch a bucket to clear away the remains, consoling myself with the thought that Dibleys did still list it, the last time I looked at their website, but as I was about to chop up the lower portions of stem to fit them more neatly into the bucket I noticed some strange, knobbly offshoots.  Outgrowths that looked remarkably like nascent roots.

The good old bizzy lizzy is of course a kind of impatiens.  They haven't been offered much in garden centres in recent years because they started suffering from their own special kind of downy mildew, but I grew them when I was a kid.  My mother was most obliging about letting me keep them on the kitchen counter, and cuttings rooted so easily you could do them in a bottle of water. I wondered if Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata would be similarly obliging.  Rather than use a milk bottle I stuck the likeliest looking piece in a pot of compost where it made a weird looking leafless cutting, two pinkish green fleshy stems reaching forwards like snail's horns.  I didn't put it in a plastic bag since I was afraid of something so juicy rotting to mush, and it didn't have any leaves to lose moisture anyway, but I did put it on the kitchen window sill because I thought that it too might enjoy the heat of the Aga more than the dank air of a frost free greenhouse.

Which is where the Systems Administrator noticed it.  It is very lucky I did not marry somebody houseproud, as I should have driven them quite mad or else to the divorce courts a long time ago.  I will let you know in due course if either specimen roots.

Monday, 14 November 2016

a relapse

The Systems Administrator returned from Cheltenham with a fresh cold, or the previous cold had revived itself.  The SA said it only came on during the latter part of the final day of racing, and so had not spoiled the trip.  I thought that standing about on a wet and chilly racecourse had probably contributed to the relapse, but it seemed churlish to labour the point.  That's the trouble with colds, once they start getting better you feel you have to get on with life.  The racing trip was agreed weeks ago with the SA's close friend and former colleague, and the hotel booked, and you can't go around cancelling things you have been looking forward to and letting down your friends on the grounds that you did have a cold and you are worried that if you go out you might get another one.

I am truly sorry for the SA's suffering.  It is a dismal business to give up days and weeks of your life in favour of sitting in a chair in front of the fire, nose streaming, chest tight and powers of concentration gone.  I am also mildly disappointed on my own account, since I was hoping the SA would fit the new windscreen wiper blades to my car and build me an extra compost bin which I need very badly, and I was looking forward to the SA hacking down some more brambles in the meadow before his recent enthusiasm for the project could start to wane.

A small part of me was relieved to find that I was not the only person to catch a relapsing cold. Not pleased, but quietly relieved, after the past two winters when people's reaction to the news that I had another cold 'What?  Another one?  You've only just had one!' felt as though it was growing steadily less sympathetic as the months dragged by.  Behold, I am not a solitary malingering freak. These things exist.  I very much hope that the SA's will not turn out to be an exact rerun and hang around until next April.  I fetched firewood in, so that the SA would not have to go out to the woodshed, and fed the SA on a nourishing lunch of curried parsnip soup and a nourishing supper of mince and pea curry followed by mincemeat and apple tart.  It's a shame we don't have any chicken stock on the go, but I'm sure that all that turmeric must be good for colds.

It was raining when I got up, to add to the general picture of winter decay, and I thought regretfully that perhaps I should have left the cleaning until today, but it had got to the point where I just wanted it finished.  I'm sure rain wasn't forecast for today at the point when I decided to spend yesterday cleaning.  The rain had passed by mid morning, so I was able to return to the brambles for another session with the pick axe.  It began again before it got dark, so I called it a day and went to pick up my click and collect order of John Lewis opaque tights from Waitrose, and stock up on firelighters which I forgot to buy the last time I was out.  Waitrose had run out of firelighters and I had to go to Tesco, where they were on special so I bought four boxes, plus some more cat food.  The man behind me in the queue said that I had an unusual basket of shopping.  I thought it was not so unfortunate as his basket, which contained a bottle of rum, a pack of four cans of beer and a couple of bars of chocolate.  But it seemed inappropriate to say so and I just said I'd forgotten to buy firelighters last time and now they were on special, and he said he thought I'd been planning some barbecued cat food.

When I got back from the supermarket the SA was fiddling with my keyboard and had just removed a piece of fluff from under the t key.  I think it's better than it was, though s seems a bit sticky now.  Alas.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

more cleaning

As I'd started cleaning I thought I'd carry on, so today I cleaned the kitchen.  I did not have any great or interesting thoughts while I was doing it, which leaves me rather short of blog material. One of the kittens must have eaten a mouse straight after breakfast because I found a great streak of undigested sick by the television, with lumps of barely chewed up mouse in it.  This left me in a quandary for the rest of the morning since I didn't know which kitten it was that effectively hadn't had any breakfast, having sicked it all up again.

An intensely metropolitan friend, who rarely ventures outside the M25 except when she flies abroad on business, was talking some months back about getting a cat to deal with the mouse problem in her house.  I tried to explain to her why having cats did not mean that you never had to deal with dead mice and recommended an electric rat zapper, but she said I was grossing her out.  If the prospect of tipping an intact and definitely deceased mouse out of a metal tube upsets her then a haunch of mouse complete with tail and surrounded by sick is going to gross her out a lot more.  I don't think she got a cat.

The t button on my keyboard has got very stiff and keeps not registering.  I am hoping the Systems Administrator will be able to sort it out for me.  It is a particular nuisance because my email address has a t in it, and I have managed to buy something online while supplying invalid email details, meaning the confirmation email and any further correspondence won't reach me.  If there is a problem and an actual human being looked at the address supplied they could probably work out what was wrong with it.  I have tried wiggling the t key, but that doesn't seem to do any good. Perhaps the keyboard is full of cat fluff.  The laptop is only just over a year old and shouldn't have broken yet.

I did notice something mildly amusing the other day.  The woodland charity talk I gave at a church in Colchester was held in a meeting room also used by a preschool group, so as well as some tiny chairs and tables there were some child friendly displays on the wall, including the letters of the alphabet, each with an illustration, a is for apple, b is for ball and so on.  J was for jelly, to judge from the accompanying crenellated jelly mould shaped picture.  But does anybody make jelly in a mould nowadays?  Do people even have jelly moulds?  We certainly haven't, and we possess a stock pot and a potato ricer.  I tried to think of a concrete noun more suited to the life experience of today's three year old, but the first alternatives to spring to mind were equally archaic.  Jumbo, jim-jams.  Jogger would be good, or even jug would be better than jelly (though do people have jugs nowadays?  Most people use milk straight out of the bottle, unless they are making a real effort to be smart.  I use measuring jugs for cooking and a big jug if somebody gives me a bunch of tall flowers, and that's about it).

The stuck t will drive me mad.  I hope he Sysems Adminisraor can fix i.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

useful tasks

It rained all day.  It was forecast to rain, and I'd made plans accordingly.  A stately progress through Colchester to do various errands and bits of shopping, followed by cleaning.  I grudge spending good gardening time indoors cleaning the house, so wet days are when I catch up, unless we've got people coming round and I am obliged to sacrifice myself.

A recent survey on the amount of housework people do and attempt to quantify its financial value has been doing the rounds in the papers recently.  I was surprised that it didn't include shopping, not fun shopping like mooching round a book shop if you like books, or a shoe shop if trying on shoes is your thing, but domestic duty shopping.  It takes ages.  I went into Halfords to buy a pair of new windscreen wiper blades since the rubber strip on the passenger side wiper of my car has started flapping about, and to the animal feed supplier to buy grain for the hens, and to the new Aldi to see what it was like, and to Tesco to buy the things that Aldi didn't stock, or at least I couldn't find them (turnips, Worcester sauce, suet, free range chicken, dried pulses of any description).  And I went to the bank, and to WH Smith to buy a 2017 diary, and visited The Range to get more pots for freezing soup and some adhesive labels for the pots (WH Smith didn't have any the right size).

In passing I tried on and bought a pair of boots that I have been eyeing up on the Schuh website. Rather frustratingly, they were advertising reductions on virtually every kind of boot they sold except for the ones that I wanted.  I could have waited to see if mine went on sale too, but my nerve cracked.  They are black and modelled on biker boots (though with much thinner leather than I imagine real protective motorbike boots have) and I have wanted a pair for about two years. Another survey declared that women over 53 should no longer wear jeans, though why any woman of any age should take any notice of the views of a bunch of random strangers, or perhaps self-selected ones who chose to complete the survey, beats me.  If they don't approve of jeans they probably don't approve of biker boots either.  Woman over 53, get thyself to Hotter.  I am sure that Jenny Eclair wears biker boots, or if she doesn't it is because she doesn't like them, not because she feels they are not age appropriate.

Of all these things only the boots could count as a personal indulgence and not a domestic chore, and the round trip took nearly four hours.  I am sure that buying turnips and poultry feed should count as housework.  When I got home the kittens were going stir crazy because they had been kept inside all morning by the rain, and Mr Cool was attempting to climb the ethnic rug that hangs on the hall wall to hide the dodgy plasterwork.

In the afternoon I cleaned the downstairs cloakroom and the ensuite bathroom.  The trim has come unstuck from the edge of the bath, and I cannot get it to snap back on again.  Housework shades into DIY.  And I fired off the latest salvo in an attempt to organise some of my old City colleagues to get together for lunch.  I have a theory that the time taken to organise a group of people to do anything increases exponentially with the number of people.  In this case the number is four, but one of them is away from the 10th December until the 20th, and I won't have any through trains between Christmas and the New Year, so we're already looking at January.

Friday, 11 November 2016

reclaiming the meadow

I spent an energetic morning digging bramble roots out of the meadow with a pick axe, where the Systems Administrator had cut them down, and musing on how things had come to this pass, when we were having to reclaim part of our own garden.  Garden restoration is only required following a failure of garden maintenance, according to one of the lecturers in historic gardens at Writtle when I was there.  Well, yes and no.  Even the most scrupulously maintained gardens can need refreshing every so often, as plants age and die or time and weather take their toll of built structures.  No amount of assiduous trimming and weeding will hold off the hand of time for all time.  In this case, though, we are fully justified in concluding that there has been a failure of maintenance, big time.

The question then is Why?  And does it matter, given that the garden is something I do solely for my own amusement.  It isn't a heritage landscape and it doesn't open to the public, so if parts of it are overrun with brambles it is nobody's business but our own.   The pat explanation for why the meadow ran out of control would be that the garden is simply too big.  That can't be the answer, though, because people manage larger areas than this by themselves, both garden owners who don't have outside help, and professional gardeners.  I am always interested to discover the number of gardeners responsible for the upkeep of any garden I visit.

It would be fairer to say that there is too much of the wrong sort of garden.  If I didn't insist on doing pots of tender plants and bulbs, and raising my own plants from seed, and having the sort of planting schemes with naturalised bulbs that require fingertip hand weeding, it would be easier to stay on top of all the big stuff all of the time.  But I like pots and propagating and even hand weeding, and it is my garden and the whole point of it is to do what I want to in it.  I could spend all my time strimming, and driving about on a lawnmower, and hoeing between clearly defined groups of big, beefy perennials in my borders once  a week to keep the weeds down, but I don't want to.

As I continued chopping and musing I decided the Systems Administrator's frozen shoulder had a lot to answer for.  The SA was out of action for any kind of heavy duty work with a saw, let alone working above waist height, for the best part of a year, which left me with all the hedges to do. Hedges are time consuming, there is no denying it, but when things reach the point where if you don't reduce the width of the hedge running the length of your drive by at least a couple of feet then you are never going to have another oil delivery, well, you cut the hedge.  It took me the best part of a month's gardening time to cut the Eleagnus back, and another great hunk of time the following year to get the hedge along the boundary with the lettuce field back under control. When you see pictures of large and fabulous gardens in glossy gardening magazines and the owners are said to do all the work themselves, look out in case there's a mention that they get somebody in to do the hedges and heavy work.  It makes a huge difference.

The two very cold winters we had on the trot three or four years ago played a part too, because they killed so much in the more formal part of the garden.  I had to largely remake the island bed after the first, because I'd lost so many less hardy shrubs, cistus and rosemary and pittosporum, then the following year the replacements were killed and I had to do it all over again.  Several hebes died, and olearia.  Digging out the roots took ages, and meanwhile weeds sprung up in the unexpectedly vacated ground where previously the shrubs had been doing a pretty good job of suppressing them.  Sorting out the back garden had to take priority over the meadow, which was rather left to its own devices, because you can see the back garden from half the windows in the house.

The meadow has a central strip of long grass with a path mown through it and shrubs and small trees to both sides, in the style of a very mini arboretum.  That was the idea, anyway.  We rapidly discovered that we couldn't let the grass continue around the shrubs, because mowing was impossible and it kept creeping up to their stems and suffocating them.  My idea was to have a ground covering layer instead of easy going, somewhat shade and drought tolerant woodland edge plants, but in recent years they have kept getting dug up or eaten by rabbits.  And yes, I could have had the grass going around every shrub and surrounded its base with a black plastic mulch mat to keep the grass off it, and then strimmed the grass, but I didn't want to.  I hate strimming.  The aging cats didn't help, as they stopped going that far, but I met two of the kittens up there today (plus Our Ginger, who seemed to be following Mr Cool.  They have a complicated relationship) so with any luck the rabbit problem will diminish for the next few years.  We need to mend the fence in places, though, where trees have fallen on it, and raise it in others.  The fence as originally built was to the recommended height for rabbit fencing, but we know they can jump over it because we've caught them on camera doing it.

And I'm sure some of the problems with the meadow are down to bad plant choices and poor design. Things that have not done so well as they ought to, or died outright, creating gaps for weeds and extra work and expense in replacing them.  I am not the first gardener to have fallen foul of mismatched ambition and encroaching scrub, and I won't be the last.  Frank Ronan in one of his end piece articles for Gardens Illustrated recently described his mixed border, which was downhill of an area of long grass where despite his best efforts weed seeds blew in and he could never keep up with the weeding even before he started living in the US for much of the year.

Happily, the Systems Administrator is back on the case chopping things down.  Rabbits do not eat primroses and they do not eat hellebores.  Or box.  I shall be planting a great many more.  I shall soon discover whether they eat Solidago rigida and Teucrium hircanum 'Purple Tails' because I've got a couple of trays of each just waiting to go in the ground.  Some of the original shrubs that have not been smothered by brambles or fallen trees have made quite good specimens.  I shall spend the winter evenings planning what else could go in the gaps.  Gardening is so much a process of learning by doing, however much you read about it at the beginning.

Thursday, 10 November 2016


I went to Tate Britain today, to see the Paul Nash exhibition.  I like Paul Nash.  The first Nash painting I was aware of was his Landscape from a Dream which was used (cropped) for the cover art of my 1972 Penguin edition of GK Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, and from that beginning I gradually discovered that he was at various times a landscape painter and a war artist as well as a surrealist.  The Imperial War Museum owns some of his major war paintings, the Tate permanent collection holds some of his work, and The Dulwich Picture Gallery ran a very good exhibition in 2010, so there has been no shortage of opportunities to view over the past few years, but I'm always happy to go again.  The BBC is rerunning a documentary on his life first shown in 2014, which you have (at the time of writing) twelve days to view so you can even get the background to the current exhibition before you go.

As my companion for today's visit observed, it is pretty bad luck to end up serving as a war artist in two world wars.  Paul Nash's working life was bookended by world conflicts.  He had barely started his career when the Great War broke out, and he scarcely outlived the second war, dying from the asthma that had been steadily worsening for years at just fifty-seven.  As I now know from Wikipedia, the Egyptian stone hawk statue that he painted in Landscape from a Dream was placed on his grave.

An air of melancholy pervades the exhibition.  Obviously if you go to a show of work by a major war artist you can't expect non-stop laughs, and perhaps knowing more about his life than I did when I went to Dulwich coloured my view.  Plus, London on a drizzly afternoon the day after Donald Trump was announced as President elect of the United States is more of a downer than an upper.  Paul Nash did not have a happy life, one feels, with the enduring trauma of his experiences in the first war, his deteriorating health and deteriorating marriage, topped by another war.  His muted palette throughout and the empty, eerie strangeness of his surrealist period feel as though they were painted by a nervy, introspective character and are quite sombre or edgy works for the most part.  I still like them, though.  Whoever said that art always had to be cheerful?  Paul Nash was very good at trees and the sea, getting under their skin in a way that not every artist does.  I don't suppose his actual trees or the beach at Dymchurch looked like that, but he understood what they were about.  The war paintings are superb.

As we were there we went to see the Turner prize entries.  I still don't seem to be on the same wavelength as conceptual art, even after watching Dr James Fox's BBC programme about it and reading Grayson Perry's book based on his Reith lectures.  I tried hard to see the exhibits as art, or to put aside all notions of what art is and see them as something interesting, but to me they still looked like piles of junk and as if somebody was taking the piss.  One of the artworks was a vast pile of pennies, representing the amount of money the authorities deem the minimum necessary to support a family of four for a year, less one penny so it showed the annual income of a family below the poverty line, and my friend hissed that she had a terrible urge to surreptitiously add an extra penny then only tell the Tate at the end of the exhibition that she had ruined their artwork. Actually, the pennies were about the most fun thing in it.  My reaction to the first room full of junk was that I should submit the mess on my desk as an entry, or better still photograph my desk every day for a year to document the shifting mess and then submit the photographs.  But it would still not count as Art because I am not an Artist.

When I got home the only cat in evidence was Our Ginger, the kittens having got fed up with our both being out all day and disappeared off somewhere.  The first to reappear was Mr Fidget, carrying a very large mouse which he insisted on eating, before being copiously sick in the hall.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

raining on the parade

It began to rain last night after I had gone to bed.  The Systems Administrator told me that when it started all three kittens hurried inside in quick succession, looking damp and irritated that their night's fun had been curtailed.  It was still raining when I got up, and the kittens' fractious air conveyed that this had been going on for quite long enough.  They are not used to long periods of rain.  During June when it was wet they were still kept inside, and since they were given free range of the garden there has only been a handful of wet days.

They ate their breakfast and then congregated by the glass front door.  Mr Fluffy stuck his head out of the cat door at one point, discovered that he was getting wet, and retreated to the kitchen, grizzling.  Eventually Mr Cool shouldered his way out, to reappear an hour later with soaking feet and the hairs of his back made wispy with moisture, carrying a small, wet and very dead mouse, which he ate.  Then he reposed in a box in the kitchen for a while before going outside and repeating the exercise.  Mr Fidget curled up on the chair in the hall for a while then played at banging the cat flap, pretending he had forgotten how to use it.  Only Our Ginger understood that there is nothing to be done about rain, and caring nothing for the US presidential election he lay down in front of the Aga and went to sleep.

I have lost all respect for the Americans.  We did not have the heart to listen to banshee lamentations and post match autopsies on The World at One and sat eating our Seasonal Soup Of The Day (What Leftover Vegetables Are Hiding In Your Fridge?) in near silence.  A celery stick, a brown onion (best before 9 September but still good), a carrot (fairly new), an odd leek left from making a chicken and leek pie, chicken stock from the same chicken that went into the pie, and some little pasta bows for soup from Tesco, if you want to know.  It was a good soup.  The secret's in sweating the onion and celery for a long time in butter, then putting the finely sliced leek in near the end so that it doesn't go slimy.

It was still raining after lunch.  Mr Cool disappeared back outside, Mr Fidget reverted to banging the cat flap, and Mr Fluffy nipped out then came to prance over my pile of Gardens Illustrated magazines with wet feet.  He was very resistant to having them dried on a piece of kitchen roll, and it is lucky that the magazine is printed on such shiny paper that I could wipe most of the damp and the mud off.  I have to go and give a garden club talk later.  Seldom have I felt less like going out and enthusing a room full of people, but I'm sure I'll like it when I get there.