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May 2015




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May. 22nd, 2015


Outlander socks


I decided I ought to rename these socks because so much of the knitting was done watching the preposterous Outlander. I’ve now seen the first eleven hours and probably won’t watch the rest when they become available. I got rather tired of seeing the bag-of-bones heroine getting her clothes ripped off in every episode and even more tired of the programme’s anti-Englishness. Query: why is full frontal female nudity considered acceptable for mainstream television, but not male? Is there actually a rule about it?

Back to the socks. I like them, they fit well, you can wear the cuff turned up or down. Unfortunately every attempt to photograph them actually on my feet was a failure. Yesterday evening I started another pair, which will be more interesting to make.

May. 21st, 2015

garden journal

Flower of the week: Solomon’s Seal


A very old cottage garden plant, officially called Polygonatum × hybridum.
I chose this when I saw the sun shining through it this morning. I just love the way the flowers hang so neatly and, when you look close, the green markings.

There’s a plant which comes up every year, right inside the hedge. The one photographed here is an oddity. It pops up in spring, in the grass, on the edge of a clump of daffodils. This means that every year about the end of June, when the daffodils are finally mown over, it gets cut to grass level. Yet it never fails to reappear the following spring. How weird is that?

I struggled with Solomon’s Seal in my old garden because it was always attacked by gooseberry sawfly, which shreds the leaves. Luckily, that never happens here.


In other news, the scaffolders have just arrived for the second day, ready for the rethatching.

May. 17th, 2015

life on mars

TV watch: Je t’aime


A little heads up about a good programme you may have missed. I love French music so Je t’aime, the story of the French chanson was a must-watch for me. It was shown on Friday evening on BBC4 (where else?) and clashed with HIGNFY. I caught up with it on the iPlayer yesterday evening and wasn’t disappointed.

Petula Clark, no mean chanteuse herself, was the presenter. There were people I’d never heard of, people I’d thought must be dead, people (Juliette Greco, Jane Birkin) who look amazing for their age. Everyone from Charles Aznavour to ZAZ agreed that in French music the lyric is more important than the tune; naturally the French think that their songs are more intellectual and better than any others. Plenty of informed, intelligent comment and lots and lots of music. Interesting that the French refer to ‘the Anglo Saxons’, lumping British and American music together as if it were the same. Hmm, it’s a POV.

I’d never seen Charles Trenet performing before. Here's his most famous composition, La Mer.

May. 14th, 2015


Flower of the week: Melittis melissophyllum ‘Royal Velvet Distinction’


What to choose this week, when the garden is burgeoning and the whole countryside greening up? There’s blossom on the single apple tree and aquilegias flowering everywhere. Cow Parsley and bluebells in the hedgerows, Stitchwort, Herb Robert and Speedwell in the wilder parts of my garden. This azalea is ready to burst into its fluorescent glory. I have little vases of Lily of the Valley in the house.

I’ve picked a fairly humble but uncommon plant: Melittis melissophyllum, also known as Bastard Balm. I saw a solitary and rather straggly specimen at the garden centre last year and snapped it up because you hardly ever see it. I was thrilled that it came to life again this spring and made a sturdy little plant. It’s what Christopher Lloyd would have called a rather weedy plant; no structure, no knock ‘em dead flowers but it happens to be exactly the kind of plant I like.


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May. 11th, 2015


Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans


This book from the library has a quote on the cover from India Knight: ‘I’m putting Crooked Heart on the shelf of my most treasured books, between I Capture the Castle and The Pursuit of Love …I couldn’t love it more.’
This is very misleading. If you were to think this book is remotely like either of those old favourites, or that it could hold the same place in your heart, you’d be doomed to disappointment. But, like Ms Knight, I did love this book; so much that I didn’t want to finish it.

It’s about wartime and people who live on the edge. Lissa Evans has a wonderful ability to evoke a sense of time and place and to create remarkable characters. I defy anyone not to fall for the child, Noel. At ten years old, he’s been living in Hampstead with his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. She talks to him as if he were an adult so, not surprisingly, he’s very precocious for his age. Poland was being invaded and the summer holidays were almost over. On the Saturday before the start of the Michaelmas term, Noel went to the library. He had read every Lord Peter Wimsey on the shelves, and every Albert Campion. The tall librarian with the moustache suggested he tried a thriller instead of a detective story. ‘You’ll find Eric Ambler very good,’ she said.’ Mattie doesn’t want him to be evacuated and Noel doesn’t want to go. Eventually he has to and finds himself boarded with Vee in St Albans. Vee is a mercurial character who never has enough money and is always looking for ways to make more, not always honestly. She’s confused by Noel, whom she accuses of talking Latin at her, but finds that when it comes to managing in wartime, he’s sharper than she is.

There is another plotline, about Vee’s son and his dishonest activities but it’s the Noel/Vee relationship which matters. The book shows the other side of the ‘in the war we all pulled together’ memory which people like. This is a world of spivs, skivers and dishonest ARP wardens who steal from bombed houses. ‘Everybody’s at it,’ is the attitude. For all his apparent sophistication, Noel nearly gets himself into great danger, alone in London during the Blitz. Surprisingly, considering her usual selfishness, Vee worries about him: ‘He’s ten years old!’ She hunts for him and the odd couple find a way of creating a new life together. This book is funny, sad, poignant, utterly beguiling. I want everyone to read it.

May. 8th, 2015


Coming Up Roses


Not another gardening post but a reference to the number of books around which are about rose gardens. It seems the way to get a book published is to set the story in an old English house with big gardens where roses are grown commercially. My reading of The Rose Garden was followed immediately by The Rose Girls. This was my choice of pre-publication free Kindle book for the month (there isn’t much choice, TBH). Three sisters live in an old, beautiful but crumbling manor house in Suffolk. For three generations their family has run a business from the house breeding and selling roses. Now that their mother is dead, can they keep everything going without sacrificing the house? Each sister had her own difficult relationship with their mother (ghastly woman!) and of course, each has her own love life to cope with. Lots of detail about roses (all named and described, which is nice) and a story you want to know the end of. It will be out on 1st June.

But I’m getting tired of books which are ‘all right’ and went to the library yesterday in search of stronger meat.


Unfortunately, our library is small and the only way to get recent books is to order them. That’s easily done online but then you have to read the book as soon as it’s ready for you, and who knows whether that will be the right time to read it? The pic above shows my little haul. One non-fiction title by an author whose books I’ve enjoyed before; reliable Simon Brett; a Gladys Mitchell because I’ve never read anything by her. I’m on/off, love/hate with Douglas Coupland’s books; let’s hope this is a love. My next read will be Crooked Heart which I snatched off the ‘just returned’ shelf the second I saw it there. I absolutely loved Their Finest Hour and a Half.

May. 7th, 2015


Flower of the week: Lathyrus vernus


This choosing a flower of the week lark gets harder as more and more flowers open every day. I’ve picked Lathyrus vernus because I love it, especially the original true blue plant. I had several varieties in my old garden.

The one shown here I bought a couple of years ago as ‘Rainbow’, from the sales table at a Plant Heritage (NCCPG) meeting, always a good source of unusual plants. If the seller grew it from seed it may not be ‘Rainbow’ at all, but it is very pretty. Lathyrus vernus is a low growing little plant, good for the back of a border because it doesn’t look like much after it’s flowered. It’s totally hardy. Last year, slugs got at this particular plant and this is the first year I’ll have a decent display. I must remember to save the seeds and see what I get from them.


May. 4th, 2015


At the Market

It was freezing cold at the market on Saturday, as it remained for the rest of the day and Sunday. Apart from fruit and veg, my only purchase was a bundle of old photographs. They’re mostly late nineteenth century and I like the fact that nearly all have the name of a local (to me) photographic studio on the front, sometimes with ornate detail on the back. I buy these to convert them to images for cards. The photo of this young girl is later than the others but I took a fancy to her. She reminds me of Winifred in Ballet Shoes.


May. 1st, 2015


April Books


Expo 58, Jonathan Coe
White Holiday, Viola Bayley
Good Husband Material , Trisha Ashley
Wish Upon a Star, Trisha Ashley
A Vintage Affair, Isabel Wolff
The Museum of Things Left Behind , Seni Glaister
The Confectioner’s Tale , Laura Madeleine
Memoirs of a Professional Cad, George Sanders
The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
Famous Writers School, Steven Carter
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Apr. 30th, 2015


Flower of the week: Tiarella


Tiarellas are such pretty plants, and so good in shade. You have the benefit of attractive foliage which is semi-evergreen and in spring, spikes of little fluffy flowers rather like those of London Pride. The plant above is ‘Iron Butterfly’. After the cut, ‘Tapestry’.
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