Saturday, 26 October 2013

Days of gardening questions

I've always liked listening to Down to Earth on BBC Radio Leicester. It's the longest running gardening programme on local radio and has been broadcast every week for over 45 years, and that's no mean achievement.

Geoff Amos chaired the programme for many years, and Dave Andrews has been the popular presenter for the last decade. But this year, I've had a chance to present this programme too while Dave was away on holiday, and had some extra time off. It's been wonderful fun, and great to meet so many BBC Radio Leicester listeners out and about in the county.

Here's one programme in Huncote we made earlier this summer...on the panel left to right are :Chris Gutteridge, a garden designer who won a silver gilt medal at Chelsea last year; Ray Coombes, who is the most knowledgeable man I've ever met when it comes to seeds and vegetables and Josie Hutchinson, who is a former lecturer at Brooksby College and so warm and chatty.


They are just a few of the panelists who turn each week to either record programmes at churches, community centres, village halls and pubs, or to appear in the studio for a live phone in.
They're wonderful, all of them...Derek Cox is a former nurseryman who has been appearing on the programme for about 46 years, and still has a wicked glint in his eye as he teases other members of the panel, the audiences and me. John Smith owns a fuschia nursery and has also been on the panel for over 40 years, and the very helpful Mike Salotti from Brooksby Hall is another regular.
The two youngest on the panel are nursery owner Helen Osborne who has the most raucous laugh and a great sense of humour, and Ady Dayman, all round good egg and extremely talented cheeky chappie.
Another great stalwart of the programme is the sound engineer Maclolm Pugh who's been in charge of recording the outside broadcasts for over 30 years.


So as you might guess, I've had such fun presenting these programmes and learning so much about gardening from them all.

But there's another gardening programme which I love to listen to and that's Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.

The programme is recorded each week in a different location, and about ten days ago, the team came to the University of Leicester . Eric Robson was in firm command in the chair,  Anne Swithinbank and  Bob Flowerdew were on the panel with Matt Biggs who received a large cheer from the crowd - he grew up in Leicester!)

 I went to watch with Ady Dayman...we were very interested to see how the programme was put together, and sat on the back row like naughty schoolchildren. Well, there was nowhere else for us to go, the hall was packed.

We noticed that as well as Eric chairing the programme with his posh script, there were two sound engineers and a producer....we only have one engineer, and I'm afraid I have to produce myself.

Apart from staffing, in essence, it's exactly the same as Down to Earth...those who ask questions are placed on the front row, they ask what they want to know - "Could the panel please tell me why...." and all the panel  seem to have different ideas on way to deal with a query or a problem.  Many of the questions cover similar topics to those in Down to Earth, such as squirrels in gardens and getting rid of slugs and snails , which seem to have been popular this year!
Anne Swithinbank radiates calm, Matt made everyone laugh and Bob Flowerdew became quite poetic about a certain plant..."When gorse is out of flower, love is out of fashion."
All in all, an enjoyable evening, especially afterwards when Matt Biggs, Ady Dayman and I went for a pint. If we're being pedantic, they had pints , I drank a mojito and we all had a great chat about gardening, broadcasting and more besides.


Today's track is an old favourite....beautifully paced, it's off the seminal album by Neil Young, "After the Goldrush."
 I wonder where my old vinyl copy went to? Still, the track has a very appropriate title which is "Tell me why"


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Blackberry Days Part 2

I honestly thought that the blackberries had all but finished, but I saw my friend Susie yesterday on the lane between our two villages, picking merrily away whilst her two terriers waited patiently. To be fair they weren't the most perfect of specimens, (the blackberries, not the dogs)  but as Susie says, they would be fine for blackberry vodka.

Blackberry vodka? Oh no, I don't do vodka....ever since the olden days.. since the first Christmas after leaving the convent school, I got drunk on a number of vodkas and lime. You will note that the exact number isn't mentioned. That's because I'm unsure of the number - it may have been four or five. No more though...

My first hangover. I thought my head and stomach  would explode, and I vowed never to drink the stuff ever again. I couldn't even stomach the smell of Roses's lime cordial for years either.

So the thought of blackberry vodka even after all these years was distinctly unappealing. Until yesterday.

I blame my friend Laura. I was whizzing down to her place to get something to knit a gash on my arm, which kept splitting open. Another incident down at the allotment in case you were wondering....

Ever efficient, she had a well stocked medicine cabinet cleaned, the wound and patched me up...but unlike my local doctor's surgery ,she also offered me a wee glass of blackberry vodka.

She's made quite a lot this year as well as other fruit vodkas and gins.

I smelt it first, fruity but clean. I took a tentative taste...and I began to smile. Bursting with blackberries, it also was so smooth, I polished the glass off faster than you can say "Hallelujah". My decades long aversion to vodka was cured in a couple of minutes.

On my way back up the hill, I bumped into Susie, who was still blackberrying. I think she's out to outdo Laura in the quantity stakes....they'll be getting a still next.

So guess what I was doing this afternoon? Walking Boo around the village , picking about 500gms of  blackberries to make a bottle 's worth.

Which I have done, and which will now be put away until Christmas. Or perhaps not - depending on my willpower.

Today's track is from Josh Kemp, a Midlands musician in his early twenties, who I met the other week at the launch of Oxjam. He's a engaging songwriter, with some gorgeous love song lyrics, but he's also such  a good guitarist. What's more, he really made me laugh with this song taken from his new EP Sofa Surfin.

His hangover was far more extreme than mine ( I just lay in a darkened room) ....but I expect it strikes a chord with many....


Friday, 18 October 2013

days spent back in World War 1

You'll have to forgive me, I've been a little emotional since the beginning of October.

I'm spending most of my waking hours in the early twentieth century working on the biggest project that the BBC will broadcast to mark the centenary of the First World War next year.

It's a special  project across all local radio Stations called World War One at Home.
My job is to search out local stories which will surprise, show the huge impact World War I had on us here at home, and remember those who gave their lives between 1914 and 1918.

It's fascinating work , and I'm coming across interesting, heart warming, desperately sad, and riveting stories which will be broadcast next year. Those stories just won't appear on local radio though, they'll be across the BBC website too, and they will be archived for posterity at the Imperial War Museum.

For someone who's loves history as much as I do, this is a dream project to be working on, to make sure that what happened won't be forgotten by today's generations and those in the future.

Last week, I went to Belgium, to visit the area around Ypres, or Ieper as it's also called.  The name became synonymous with destruction, trench warfare, and the slaughter of half a million soldiers in the battlefields nearby during the four years of the war.

The Flanders Field Museum in Ypres...

Ypres was destroyed by German troops during the war,with a hardly a building left standing. But it was rebuilt, recreating the layout of streets and the buildings.

The sacrifice that so many British and Commonwealth soldiers made there is remembered every night at the Menin Gate Memorial at a very special ceremony which takes place at 8pm sharp. The ceremony, and the names of 58,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers commemorate those who died but whose bodies were never found.

Wreathes and crosses are left there every day by visitors, well wishers, and families of the dead

And as my eyes scanned the rows and rows of names, and where they came from, my heart grew heavier and heavier, my throat grew tight , at one stage I felt as if I couldn't breathe as I realised the scale of the slaughter around here.

 Of course it's difficult to see each name, but in each pillar, there's a niche
where there are books listing the names of everyone commemorated . 



Traffic is usually streaming under the Menin Gate, but at 7.45pm, it is halted, and the crowds stand ready

 The Last Post is played by men from the town's fire brigade, wreaths are laid, and then everyone moves quietly away at the end of the simple fifteen to twenty minute ceremony, all moved by the
The traffic begins to flow again under the Menin Gate, and Ypres come back to life once more.

There's no track today, but here's the link to a feature I made about the ceremony and the people I met there..... please listen....

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The day I drove the happy accident to her new home....

There's a new addition to our family.....and even though she wasn't exactly planned , she's absolutely adorable.

Her name is Winnie and she's eight weeks old. She's a dog, not a case you were wondering.

My eldest son and his gorgeous girlfriend moved into a cottage in the country a few months ago, and were desperate to buy a new puppy. They came across Winnie, and that was it, they fell in love with her.

Today was the day to pick her up...unfortunately my son's girlfriend was in the Cotswolds earlier, so I got the chance to help bring her to her new home.

Here she is in the car...

Isn't she cute? Now, you may be wondering what breed of dog Winnie is...and I wouldn't blame you. And thereby hangs a tale.....I shall call it the tale of the happy accident.

Winnie's mother Roxy is a scruffy terrier of dubious heritage. There's obviously some patterdale in her , but what else, I haven't a clue. Border terrier perhaps? Anyway, she's black and grey in colour, and when I say scruffy...I mean it, her wiry fur stands up as if she's been plugged into an electrical socket and she has a tail like a bristly brush. A loo brush. Having said she's quite dainty, if a little forward if you get my drift.

About seventeen weeks ago , Roxy's owners went on holiday for a few weeks, and parents were drafted in to look after her. Well they did, but Roxy was in season...and in a moment of lust, madness, call it what you will, she escaped into next door's garden. In the garden was a randy cocker spaniel who couldn't look this gift horse in the mouth. A female in season coming to call...well ,he wasn't going to say "No" was he?

The result was Winnie, her brother and two sisters...none of whom look alike ,although they do look like spaniels. Scruffy spaniels...

Here she is with her new owner....

Winnie is mainly black, with brown paws and a few white flashes,  but when I first saw her from behind, I thought she'd sat in a bowl of porridge. Her bottom is a fawn colour , a round fawn shape, which if you had a bow and arrow , would make an excellent target.Very unusual, but I have to say she's the sweetest little puppy, very affectionate and playful.

Here she is with me - have a closer look at her....her face, not her bottom!

Winnie has already melted my heart...indeed, she really is a happy accident who will bring so much joy to my son and his girlfriend. And if she's not a pedigree dog, who cares? We certainly don't - we love her for who she is.

The only one who might be slightly wary, and even sharp with this little bundle of loveliness is my dog Boo, who is sitting next to me here at the computer, as if butter wouldn't  melt in her mouth......

She's very protective of me and may be slightly territorial or snappy when this little whippersnapper comes to call. When I came home this afternoon, she knew that I'd been holding another dog. She sniffed, she cried, and looked at me as if I was a traitor. But Boo is going to have to get used to Winnie, because she's coming for a sleepover in two weeks time. I'll let you know how they get on.....

Today's track is a song I had swirling around in my head this afternoon thinking about our happy little accident and how if Roxy hadn't have snuck into next door's garden, Winnie wouldn't be here...

It's by  Counting Crows , one of my favourite bands back in the nineties and it's called "Accidentally in Love".


Friday, 4 October 2013

Blackberry days

It's the right time to be baking. And not because of the Great British Bake off either, although I do love the programme in a perverse sort of way. Mary Berry is a national treasure and I admire the talent and fortitude of many of the contestants...but as an impetus to improve my baking!

Don't get me wrong, I adore cooking...and I am particularly partial to home made cake, tray bakes, and biscuits. What I call homely baking. I'm a whizz with  banana and chocolate loaf, apple cake, blackberry loaf, and Bridget's biscuits .They're all very simple things that can be whisked up at the drop of a hat, and don't take too much effort. My Lemon drizzle cake and Turkish orange cake taste lovely, but I wouldn't score highly on presentation.

You see, I'm rather slapdash when it comes to cooking and baking. I throw things in, roughly measuring them on my old sweetie scales as I go along and hoping for the best. I'm what my mother  calls "kack handed" - I tend to end up wearing as much of the cake mixture as goes into the oven, and flour just seems to drift and cover the kitchen .

The thought of being precise, being judged and being what I call downright fanciful, just gives me the heeby jeebies when it comes to baking. There's quite enough pressure in my life thank you without sweating my guts out on a set in the middle of nowhere with lots of other contestants who are lovely but wanting to beat me at the same time.

So it's not the Bake off which is getting me itchy and twitchy to start baking's the time of year. Autumn. There's been so many blackberries this year, and I can only freeze so it's time for a blackberry loaf.

Now I don't know where this recipe came from...or when...but it's written on a scrap of paper, in my handwriting.

It's really easy to make, and can keep for about five days. Having said that, this loaf doesn't last's very moreish.

I give you a Blackberry loaf for a kack handed cook....


3 and a half oz of butter
2tspn baking powder
8oz plain flour
1oz oats
5oz of sugar
2 ad a half oz blackberries
6 fluid oz milk
a beaten egg

So here's what you do....

1.Grease and line a 1 lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

2.Sift the baking powder and flour into a mixing bowl then add the oats, sugar and half of the blackberries. Mix together

3. Melt the butter in a saucepan , then stir in the milk and egg. (Careful don't want scrambled egg!)

4.Put the mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix, before turning into the loaf tin. Sprinkle the rest of the blackberries on the top of the mixture.

5. Bake in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius...that's 350 fahreneheit for about 50minutes to an hour until firm to touch.

6.leave in the tin for about 5 minutes, the put on a rack and sprinkle with a handful of sugar.

And there you have it...a very simple loaf, which wouldn't win any prizes when it comes to beauty and fiddlyness in the Great British Bake off...but which is simply lovely about elevenish with a strong cup of coffee.

Today's track is "Blackberry Way" ...not by the Move or ELO...but by the Wonder Stuff. I really like this version...