Saturday, 30 March 2013

days of the living dead

I've been spending quite a long time with the living dead recently, and I've been having a whale of a time.

I've not become a zombie I hasten to add. No, I've been treating myself to hours and hours with some of the great minds, intellects, musicians, singers and comedians of the twentieth century. At the moment, I'm still having a ball back in the 1950's, where the dead are still very much alive.

It all started back in January here...
A New Year and a treat for 2013

So, I started off with morning coffee tea with  the actress and writer Naomi Jacob, lunch with Joan Sutherland, the opera singer, tea with film director Paddy Carstairs, wine with Alfred Hitchcock, and was washing my smalls as Benny Hill the comedian tried so hard to please.

Over the last few months I've been listening to the most amusing conversations , some stilted ones which just did'nt quite jell,and some which made me want to know so much more about that person..

Most of the people who I'm listening to have perfect diction....received pronunciation for some, their voices conjure up a different world. A different country, a post war world, where one keeps one 's innermost feelings to oneself, and one is oh so polite.

I'm listening to Desert Island Discs...not just a couple of programmes , but the complete archive of Desert Island Discs which is available on the BBC website, in chronological order from the very first broadcast presented by Roy Plomley.

Imagine you've washed up on a desert island. Alone. You can choose eight records to listen to, a book to read, and select one luxury while you're on the island. That's the premise of the programme since the 1940's  - so simple, yet still so entertaining.

As I said, I'm immersing myself in the fifties at the moment, and I've decided to ban myself from listening to current Desert Island Discs programmes for a while...because although the format of the programme is still the same, what you hear is so utterly different. These days there's a real warmth to presenter Kirsty Young's questioning, and the interviewees, as a whole ,are so much more open and candid about their lives.

Back in the1950's, the programmes were amusing half hour interludes, but without the depth of today. For example , the comedian Jimmy Edwards was interviewed for the first time in 1951. He'd attended the same school as Roy Plomley , who devised and presented the show for nearly 2,000 editions.There was a sort of gung ho humour and banter between them, but it wasn't until I googled Jimmy's life that I found out that during the war, serving in the Royal Air Force, he was shot down over Arnhem.

 I remember seeing Jimmy Edwards on TV as a child, and always wondered why he wore such a large handle bar moustache. Well, it was to hide the facial injuries he's sustained in the war, and he was actually a member of the Guinea Pig Club. The club consisted of patients of a surgeon called Archibald McIndoe who underwent experimental reconstructive plastic surgery generally after being burnt in aircraft during the Second World War.

There's so many aural treats here listening to the archive....listening to those who knew names that we are in awe of these days. At school, our choirmaster would always wax lyrically about Sir Malcom Sargent, the composer and conductor, who lived as a child so close by in Melton Mowbray and played at the deMontfort Hall. Thanks to Desert island Discs, I can hear him ...the man who got his big break from Sir Henry Wood...and who continued Wood's legacy of the Proms.

It's all such fascinating stuff. ..why don't you just dive in, and listen to a few programmes? Tex Ritter, Dave Brubeck, Sir Thomas Beecham, Paul Robeson, Count Basie , a very young David Attenborough,...the list is endless....and that's just from the 1950's.....

And you'll find some lovely people who you would really like to have known. I'd never heard of Naomi Jacob, before I began to access the archive, and there's sadly only a five minute clip available, which was recorded six years before she died. A writer and actress, she was such fun to listen to, with such interesting stories. Serving as a VAD in France during the First World War, she got trench foot...yet so jolly with a  wonderfully rich Yorkshire voice.

And there's so many more like her to discover over the coming months. These castaways are waiting for you, as well as me on that desert island.They'll be there with their favourite records'll hear some wonderfully stirring, sad, funny songs and they'll share their luxuries with you too.

Today's track is from David Gilmour..called On the Island. It's a brilliant, live performance of a beautiful song, performed at the Albert Hall . Apparently David wrote about it..."It's an atheistic song, you could say, about how people live on in your dreams and your memories. And that's the only place I can meet up with these people. It's a very sad thing, remembered with joy."


Monday, 25 March 2013

A day of remembering the bookshops in Bristol

I had a trip down Memory Lane last week. Or rather, up and down Park Street in Bristol.

 Visiting my Mum for a few days in North Somerset , I went into Bristol to see a close friend for an afternoon. We met on Whiteladies Road old stomping ground of mine when I worked at the BBC there years ago. I'm not going to tell you how many years ago though...that's classified information.

In those days, I worked in the reference library at the BBC. It was the perfect job for me, my first after getting my degree...working on lots of interesting programmes, finding out lots of information, goingout filming occasionally and meeting the most unlikely and interesting people in the BBC canteen at lunchtime.

I loved it all....but if I did manage to tear myself away from the place,  I would leave the booklined  Reference library and push off down to Park Street.

It may be dominated by the imposing Wills Memorial Building which was opened in 1925...but the attractions that Park Street had to offer me were all the bookshops.

They were all branches of Georges. Art bookshops, two if I remember correctly, an academic bookshop, a second hand bookshop. Were there five or six altogether ? I adored my quiet interludes perusing the shelves, buying books ,inhaling the perky, fresh as paint perfume of the newly published books, and the pervading mustiness  and acidy tang of the old secondhandbooks.

Georges had been started by seventeen year old William George in 1847 and was sold to Blackwells in 1929 which kept the old business name on the front of the shops. They're not there anymore....but there's one branch of Blackwells on Park Street.

That stands next door to what was the main Georges shop on the corner
Here it is, back in it looks very's now a Jamie's Italian restaurant.
But further down Park Street I noticed the Last of a chain of three small remainder shops. Seeing a huge sign saying that every book costs £2 , I dived in...and within five minutes found two paperbacks on my wanted list. Now that's what I call a result! On the way out though, I noticed the for sale sign attached to the shop sign. So is the shop for sale or one of the flats above?

As I walked back up the hill there was one more bookshop though...

Obviously raising money for a very good cause, the shop was busy....but it's a pity that the only new bookshops I've seen opening recently are charity bookshops. Low rates for charities on the high street plus low prices of books on the internet make it very difficult for independent bookshops to survive these days

But it was a lovely afternoon on park Street, remembering happy times in bookshops gone by...

Today's track is one that I really like...Oh Saci by the Bookshop Band.

Now this band intrigues me....they write songs about books and play them in bookshops  sometimes with the author. How good is that? Breathing life and music into and attracting customers into bookshops. How good is that? I hope they can come to Leicestershire soon.....

Click on the link here to listen....

Friday, 22 March 2013

A day out at the Edible Garden Show

Last weekend my friend Laura and I toddled off to a special show at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire.We moaned about the driving rain on the over there, but thank goodness it was only rain. Today there's snow outside, ice and a biting, gusty wind to freeze the nadgers off a badger....

We went to this

Neither of us had been before ....but we were well prepared, with bags, a big four by four (to take all our purchases home), comfortable shoes, boots and rainwear.

On our way in we pitied the poor stallholders outside, huddled up trying to escape the rain, but once inside, we tried to be methodical...working our way around the huge main hall row by row so we didn't leave any of the 160 plus stalls unvisited.

First things first.. a  few little practical necessities, such as plant supports and something for a broken hose for Laura , bamboo socks and angora socks  for both of us...

A wander into the smallholder marquee, where I fell in love. With these....

I've never thought about owning a goat, although my dog Boo was  friendly with a rather jolly old goat who used to live in our village....but after seeing these...oh they were gorgeous. Perhaps I could keep a couple? Giving myself a mental slap for even thinking about it, we moved swiftly on, where we admired the hens and pigs.

Moving through back to the main hall, we found , by sense of smell, the specialist food tent..burgers of every description....and water buffalo ice cream...

By now, feeling peckish, we wandered along the food stalls at the far end of the hall. Each stall attracting those wanting to try and buy....who were hoovering up the free samples of jams, cheeses, bacons, relishes,dressings, breads, oils and vinegars.

We spent a while at the Wolmersley Fruit and Herb Vinegars stand, where I was bowled over by their intense flavours and the banter from Rupert Parsons. Their raspberry vinegar is simply divine..I shall be using that alot.....and the apple and apache chilli jam tingled my tastebuds.

I caught sight of other bottles bottles..

Those who know me understand that I'm utterly incapable of walking past wine anywhere....and luckily Laura is of the same persuasion....we tried  a few wines including a beautiful prosecco from Bat and Bottle, a specialist wine importer  from Oakham. Now Ben and Emma are the sort of people I'd like to go on tour with . A wine tour around vineyards...quaffing and buying.They're very knowledgeable, full of fun...and they drink buckets of the stuff. Just like Laura and I....

There was just time to stuff a peppermint in my mouth before heading off to interview the lovely Alys Fowler...who was running herself ragged at the show, giving talks about edible flowers and herbs for salads and fruitful crops to big crowds at the experts theatre, and talking to lots of people. More about Alys in another blogpost...

Also strutting his stuff , and equally passionate, about growing your own more exotic edibles,  was James Wong . He was inspiring lots of people to buy his book " Homegrown Revolution"  and seeds from Suttons. When I say people, many of them were women of a certain age!

I though had my eyes on a number of other products that I liked the look of....I bought a couple of grow bag frames for growing some tomatoes in the courtyard here at home...they were light and portable...and then I saw these..

 I've had my eye on one of these after reading about them....but it was good to see them in the flesh as it were. I'd love one of these ...planted with cut and come again salads, plus some dwarf beans, strawberries and carrots that I can pick without breaking my back. On the wish list for when I save some more money though.

But that's what I enjoyed about this show....lots of really practical products to help us all who want to grow our own food, plus expert advice and demonstrationsfrom both enthusiasts, celebrity chefs, celebrity gardeners, plus knowledgeable helpful people from associations and societies.too
We 're a growing band of enthusiasts too - the number of us growing our own fruit and veg have gone up from 34 per cent in 2008, to 43 per cent today. And despite the rain last weekend, there were lots of us at the Edible Garden Show at Stoneleigh.

Next year the show moves to Alexandra Palace...where the organisers hope to increase both exhibitor and visitor numbers. I wish them well, but.....and it's a fairly big but. What's wrong with Stoneleigh? It's accessible, has a central location, there's space for the show to expand...and I heard both exhibitors and visitors  questioning the move. Of course, I'm biased, Stoneleigh is close to home.....but will the Edible Garden Show attract us down to  Ally Pally next year ? Hey this space.....

 Today's track is from the Lumineers  ....Ho Hey....a real sing along song ..and I do like their energy! Could do with some of that during the growing season!


Monday, 11 March 2013

seedy and snowy days

The holiday at home continues....the snow that was promised over the weekend arrived yesterday...

and there was more last night and this morning.

The weather is in a capricious mood today. One minute snow is falling with a sideways swipe, there's a biting wind. Five minutes later the sun is out...making everywhere look fresh and clean....

and then rewind....the snow is back.

All the gardening both at home and on the allotment I'd planned has had to take a back seat.  With so much to be done, it's frustrating.

I can still sow seeds though. Broad beans and Alderman  peas were already sown a few weeks back and are tucked up in the cold frame and plastic greenhouse outside.

But there's lots more to sow....these I got from Seedy Sunday at the beginning of the month.

An annual event, it's held in a nearby village....we all take a few packets of seed....and you get vouchers for each packet to swap with what else is there. It's very busy, with lots of jostling to get close to the seeds on offer..there's lots of people talking plants, the composting gurus from leicestershire County Council are there along with my favourite stallholders, volunteers from the Heritage Seed Library.

They're so knowledgeable, so enthusiastic ..I could talk to them for ages...but in the end come away with two lots of peas.

Peas are in the top three of my favourite crops to grow. Eyewateringly expensive to buy in the shops when fresh, I just love their sweetness, and crunchiness when eaten raw.

Clarke's Beltony Blue - which is a wrinkled heirloom variety of pea and was donated by Mrs Anderson. It was grown on her great grandfather’s farm in Co. Tyrone since at least 1850 (but possibly as far back as 1815). Apparently it's tall, with beautiful pale pink and rich maroon flowers followed by purple pods .Can't wait to see these grow.

As for the purple flowering russian peas ....they were brought back from Russia by a lady called Valerie Fordham -they're tall with pink and purple flowers.

I'm also growing again this year peas I've been saving each year for a while...they're yellow mange tout peas, ...yes, yellow mange tout! They're described as being incredibly rare...I got them from the Real Seed Company about four years ago...and with the exception of last year, they've done me proud.

There's some interesting varieties of beans I'm going to sow this year too.
I've bought some of Sarah Raven's organic Speedy Dwarf French beans ..which I've not grown before , but only take sixty days to mature.

From Seedy Sunday , I managed to get some of Mr fearn's Purple Flowering climbing beans..
I got these just for the name really, but have since found out that “They grow very well in a cold greenhouse – avoid hot sun or outside growing". That's from the donor Bernard Fearne who's been growing them since the war. ...but unfortunately I haven't got a cold greenhouse . I'll give them a whirl though....

But perhaps I'll do better with the "Sarah's Old fashioned black". I couldn't resist trying these too as although they come from Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, it's said that these beans seem to thrive in the British climate.

My seed stash this year seems to be larger than lots more sowing to do..but I'm also planning to visit the Edible Garden Show at Stoneleigh this weekend,  the only national event dedicated to growing your own fruit, vegetables and home produce.  Will I see you there?

So the stash will no doubt get Oscar Wilde wrote "I can avoid everything except temptation." And with so many exhibitors there, I know I won't come home empty handed.

Today's track is from New Zealanders The Black Seeds.....I kept humming this song as I wrote about Sarah's Old fashioned Black seeds...

I love this band, especially after seeing them last year here...

This song is called fire...recorded live in Denver...


Friday, 8 March 2013

Mad March days

What a difference a year makes....this time I was in Perth, Western Australia. Long hot days by the beaches staying with my youngest son, who was in his second year there.

It was a wonderful month.While he worked I would go to my favourite beaches...


and Coogee..

I would dream, write, watch the waves, watch people and swim. Being able to walk into the water without squealing in shock , without every single part of of my body erupting into goosebumps - the end of an Australian summer is a joy.

I'm on holiday again for a few weeks. Staycationing? Well, that's too grand a term for it.....I'm staying at home....resting and relaxing. Or so I thought.

The first few days the sun shone and it was bright...actually bright, and warm enough to take off my jacket as I worked in the garden.  But March isn't a marvellous month here weatherwise...and the last few days have been grey...with today being particularly misty...more like November.

 Boo and I went for a walk in the nearby countryside dodging the puddles and mud ....

It's hard to believe that these were taken a few hours ago  - at two o'clock in the afternoon.

I couldn't help comparing and contrasting....this month with this time last year. And this time three years ago...when I was also in Western Australia with my daughter

And six years ago when I was with my eldest son too.....

Yes, I'm getting itchy feet....and yes Australia, I'm addicted to you. You're an expensive habit though ....I don't think I'll be seeing you this year .

In the meantime I need to see some sunshine....but I'm not holding my breath this weekend.There's an amber warning for snow,frosts or heavy rain....

Happy Holidays!

Today's track is from a band I managed to see in Freo last year at the Fremantle Arts Centre. I was on my own on a baking hot Sunday afternoon...I saw that the Stillsons were playing in the Courtyard there.
The stage was shaded .the audience moved around to avoid the sun , sitting under
 the trees and drinking ice cold beers to stay cool.

A lovely, laid back afternoon watching them play... vocals and gorgoues guitar work from Justin Bernasconi , Cat Canteri on drums and backing vocals with some beautiful pedal steel guitar from Ben Franz.  This is one of my favourite tracks  of theirs ...


Sunday, 3 March 2013

a day of sunshine and snowdrops

It doesn't take much to make me happy. My glass is always half full, I'm always ready to have a laugh, and I love life.

But, to say it has seemed like a long winter is an understatement. A cold, grey, wet and snowy season which has sapped most of my inner reserves of optimism, and joie de vivre. Not being to go into the garden or out without freezing to death or being drenched makes me miserable.

There have been a few days where the sky has actually been blue...and these have stood out as beacons of hope, that the light of sun will shine again and that spring won't forget to visit.

Yesterday was one of those days. It wasn't exactly warm....but the sun shone, bathing everywhere in a glow of comforting sense of that a corner is being turned.

Even in the dullest days recently, it's been wonderful to see all the snowdrops....but in the sun yesterday they sparkled and put on a show....

To see the daffodils in bud at the top of the garden by the piggery was a thrill

And the pretty pink hellebores were a  sight for sore eyes.....

Plants are like people....sun , warmth perk us all us all a treat.....yesterday showed the promise of the spring and summer to come.

And  as I walked the hundred and fifty paces down to our village church with my darling daughter and her best friend to check exactly how many people could be seated in there for a very special wedding next year, we sang in the sunshine ( well I did...the others were laughing...) and my natural optimism bubbled up again.

Then as we came out of the church the sunshine beckoned.....and all was well with my world....

And you know what...the sun is shining again today's track has to be
" Lovely day" by Bill Withers. Like the sun, this track never fails to put me in a good mood.