Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Thursday, 24 December 2009
To send you good cheer, here's the Gower Wassail from me and the rest of the Wiltshire Wailers at Stourhead last Sunday. Update: sadly this video is no longer available :(
In the meantime until I return, you might also like to have a look at everyone's contribution for this month's festive edition of Out on the Streets. Do also follow the link if you're ready to add your own contribution to the list :)
Since September's OOTS, Leamington Spa station's garden has been voted Britain's best, Ken Livingstone has had a go at Boris Johnson over London's public spaces, Jakarta is giving its petrol stations a green makeover, Karen over at Greenwalks has been looking at street trees and National Geographic has showcased some mouth watering green roof photographs.
Last but not least, Garden Wise Guy says It's Time to Unite in the Name of Ugly ;)
Happy holidays everyone and see you soon!
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
In a slight change to the advertised programme, I'm not going to show you our Christmas tree in the market square, nor the 'corporate-style' decorations from our two small shopping centres*. Instead, I thought I'd show you just those festive lights which makes Chippenham the unique town that it is. Apologies for the fuzziness of the pictures, but they were taken at 10 o'clock at night and are hand held to boot. I was also on my way home after a GNO, so a fair amount of wine had been consumed beforehand ;)
The first picture shows you a couple of the key features. Firstly, a simple shape attached to a lamppost, usually of a single colour outlining a typical Christmas symbol, such as an candle, star or bell. Some are multi-coloured and a few are vaguely animated, but the pictured angel shows the most usual fayre. Secondly, lampposts without shapes usually have a string of lights wound around them and you can see a couple of them in background of the above picture.
Finally, here we are at the end of my walk home and we find the lights displayed by our immediate neighbours. Other parts of the estate may have many more lights on display, but this photo shows a common theme to much of what's appeared this year: there's still blue LEDs, but the warmer looking animated white icicle style lights of previous years are making a comeback :)
* = code for I haven't taken the pictures yet
Monday, 21 December 2009
- The TV and radio are full of talk about the state of betting on whether there'll be a white Christmas this year
- There's the lightest dusting of snow and the traffic is in chaos (yes I know there's much worse around at the moment, but you know we're not truly geared up for it like our continental and north American cousins are)
- The local garden centre brings in a couple of real reindeer for its Santa grotto
- It might be the shortest day of the year, but search very carefully in the garden and the first tiny shoots of next year's daffodils can just be seen :)
- You can't get the lid off the compost bin because it's frozen solid
- You're still behind with all your gardening jobs
- However, garden reality is rapidly being replaced by dreams of garden and allotment perfection next year
- You're not at all worried by any garden pests and diseases
- You're giving everyone a jar of pickles, chutney or jam for Christmas because you realise you can't eat it all before next year's preserving marathon commences
- You're really pleased with the free Christmas wreath/ garland/decorations (select which ones apply) you've made from garden trimmings
- Jack Frost is leaving the loveliest of patterns all over the garden, windows and your car (see Threadspider's recent post for an example)
- You're awake half the night because there's a robin singing on the lamppost nearest the house
- The cats are on permanent central heating duty
- The ground is too wet (or frozen) to dig - the rest of the autumn digging will have to wait until the spring
- You're proudly displaying the Cyclamen you've brought back to life for the 15th year (add the year number of your choice and replace Cyclamen with whatever traditional flowering Christmas present you're still managing to revive)
- You're happy to be out planting garlic - doing anything gardeny or growy at this time of the year is a bonus
- You realise you've forgotten to protect your tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica) for the winter (substitute frost tender plant of your choice)
- You haven't seen your neighbours for weeks
- You love curling up with your favourite garden books and loads of seed catalogues
- What else can you add to the list?
Sunday, 20 December 2009
Saturday, 19 December 2009
This local news story had all the key ingredients needed to make it go national: members of the public raging against decisions made on their behalf by faceless local management; the health and safety angle; rather a lot of money being spent, possibly at public expense [however, the press says the local shopping centre management has stood the costs]; lots of choice quotes from incensed passers-by and local shopkeepers; the use of social media to start a one-sided protest campaign [5,000 followers on Facebook]; plus lots of opportunity to have punning headlines like Why get needled over Poole's Christmas Tree? It made most of the national newspapers as well as the national TV and radio news. This link gives you a flavour of what's been said as well as showing the artificial tree by day and night. I also rather like the local paper's response to all the national publicity which tries to get it back into proportion.
So the shopping centre management replaced the witch's hat last week with a real tree at a further cost of around £4,000: £400-500 for the tree, plus £3,500 erection and decorating costs. The replaced tree has gone for repair because it was damaged by vandals. Naturally, I had to go and have a look for myself and as you can see the new tree is being largely ignored now that it's gone back to looking just like last year's.
It got me thinking though. I can understand why last year's tree wasn't liked: most of the outdoor real Christmas trees I've seen thus far are awash with guy ropes and boarding for health and safety reasons which rather detract from the tree itself, especially during the day. It seems Poole can't win really. Erect a real tree and there's complaints; install an artificial one and there's a vigorous campaign to get it replaced. I suspect what everyone really wants is the kind of unfettered real tree + decorations seen everywhere else around town in the windows of shops and offices.
I've come up with a third way: why not plant a real tree instead? The natural vegetation surrounding Poole is heathland, so a large conifer or silver birch would bring a sense of that back into the heart of the town. I believe it would be far cheaper to plant, maintain and decorate each Christmas than the costs quoted for a six week temporary display and if planted correctly it wouldn't need securing like the current tree does. It would give year-round pleasure and help to clean the air a little. Come to think about it, why don't we do that in all of our towns and cities and call them our celebration trees?
Friday, 18 December 2009
So I was taken by surprise last Saturday when I visited St. Laurence School in nearby Bradford on Avon for the first time. We had an extra choir rehearsal arranged there for the morning as our choirmaster felt we needed it ready for Tuesday's Christmas Cabaret*. The road leading up to the school entrance has a large roundabout with the pictured planting. There were a couple of off-centre columnar conifers to give some height to the arrangement, surrounded by lavender and rosemary to give flowers, scent and attract wildlife, especially bees. All this was edged with a wavy grass to add some movement. Euphorbia were beginning to poke their noses through the soil and a (self-sown?) Verbascum was getting ready to bloom next year.
It might not be the absolute best example of a roundabout planting I've seen, but I felt this one's much better than usual owing to a more exciting combination of plants, some of which aren't used that much around these parts. I was so pleased to see something which not only had year-round interest needing minimal maintenance, but also changed with the seasons. It cheered me up on a gloomy Saturday morning and I expect it'll look even better in the summer, just like Patient Gardener has shown us with the planting by her local library.
* = Saturday mornings aren't that conducive to a good rehearsal as we were a bit tired and grumpy, plus the acoustics in the school hall were dreadful. Thankfully, the actual concert in Trowbridge on Tuesday evening went much better :)
I'm still collecting my photos together of Chippenham's festive tree and lights to show you later, where I suspect I'll give Carrie a run for her money. If you have your neighbourhood's festive sparkle or your town's tree to show off, or even some public planting at this time of year for us to look at, then do post about it over at yours and then add your Out on the Streets contribution to the growing list here.
Thursday, 17 December 2009
I looked inside at the guidance on what can and cannot be recycled via our collection and was pleased to see the source of much bickering between myself and NAH has just been removed. We both agree that recycling is a good thing, but our main bone of contention has been over the relative difficulty with recycling paper. NAH believes it should be made easier for us, almost to the point of not recycling some paper on principle because the job of separating out coloured paper and the removal of windows from envelopes is rather time consuming and tedious. And don't get him started on the type of glue used for sticking down envelopes!
Luckily having an allotment means I've been able to shred our brown envelopes and paper of other hues, plus self adhesive envelopes to use as some of the 'brown' waste component in my compost making. And I have to say, it's mainly me who's been diligently removing any windows from envelopes on Thursday evenings prior to their collection the next day.
However, that's all in the past now as coloured paper and envelopes with windows will be collected from now on, as will our hefty Yellow Pages tome. Previously our old copies of the latter have lain idly around for months whilst we accumulate enough rubbish (i.e. recyclable items which aren't kerbside collected) until we have a full car load to take to the local recycling centre. Any staples in papers don't need to be removed either. Needless to say, NAH is now a much happier bunny about the whole thing.
It's also excellent timing, because of course our quotient of brightly coloured envelopes increases dramatically at this time of year. This change of circumstances applies to Wiltshire, but if you've had similar restrictions on what can be collected in the past, it'll be worth checking to see if your local authority has also changed its rules.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
I was feeling pretty vacant about what to post for V this time around until a couple of days ago when I was reviewing which photographs to feature in my walk around Bristol. I'd also been pondering how best to introduce the concept of Quirky Offices to you, then Voila! the perfect match was found :)
I'm wondering if they're using Quirky in its architectural sense, as I outlined for Q's ABC Wednesday. It's possible, but for some reason I can't get the picture of rather oddly shaped rooms out of my head...
For other posts on the subject of V, have a look at the ABC Wednesday blog.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
After the rainiest November since records began, December has been much colder and drier thus far. As I write this, a ‘continental block’* is heading our way from the east. This means days of clear weather straight from chilly Siberia, and with luck, some much needed sunshine. Snow is also forecast over the next couple of days, which might put paid to some of the blooms on show today.
As well as the expected flowers of the season, I’ve found some surprises and hangers on, plus some green shoots of recovery: a promise of spring to come and much needed in these darkest days of the year. This time next week, whilst our thoughts really need to get to grips with Christmas, it’ll be reassuring that these are nestling out there and at last the days will be getting lighter.
* = high pressure settling over Britain which extends from colder, continental Europe blocking our prevailing low pressure (rainy) systems coming in from the south-west. When this happens, the clash between the high and any low pressure systems trying to extend over Britain, often leads to an initial period of snowy weather in the south-west of England. Once the high pressure system has established itself (assuming it does), it usually leads to many days of calm, cold and clear weather over the entire British Isles. These are the best of days to wrap up warm and head out for a brisk winter walk.
Garden Bloggers’ Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.
Monday, 14 December 2009
My first festive stopover was the aptly named St Nicholas Market: here's the Glass Arcade area with it's simple lights of stars and greenery. However, I felt these were in keeping with the place itself, and the florist on the left was doing her best to ensure there was plenty of real Christmas greenery around. Her wreaths in particular were adorning several other stalls.
Further on was another seasonally aptly named spot. These steps date from 1669, but how they got today's name is hard to tell. At one time this area was part of Bristol's quayside and was full of brothels and public houses. Today, just one of those pub remains: The Three Sugar Loaves which this street sign is adorning. I was standing close to one of the nation's oldest fish and chip shops when I took this photo, reputed to have been frequented by a certain Cary Grant, until he emigrated to the States to seek his fortune.
This took me back into town where I found my first outdoor real Christmas tree of the day. This is in The Centre, right outside the office block where I used to work. Like Chester's tree it's simply adorned with twinkling lights. I'm not showing you the whole thing though, because the bottom of the tree had rather ugly fencing around it and no lights.
Then I walked to Broadmead, where white and blue LEDs again ruled and formed 'nets' of lights above the shoppers. This arrangement reminded me a little of Strictly Come Dancing (aka Dancing with the Stars).
If anyone would like to retrace some of my steps, with details of lots of other things I found on the way, you might like to try this guided walk.
NB If you have a contribution for Out on the Streets, or would like to know more, then this month's kick-off post is the place to head for.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
There were only a couple of shelves of gardening books left: long on volumes by Alan Titchmarsh, plus lots of RHS guides on succulents and irises. However, closer inspection revealed a number of gems were still left: quite a few of those pictured have been on my To Read list for a while and the rest looked so interesting (and cheap) that I couldn't resist adding them to the pile. I'm rather glad there weren't even more to choose from, because I suspect I would have simply bought them all. These were all half price, with a further 20% taken off on the day.
Looking at that pile of books in my garden, I can see a distinct shift in my reading tastes. Once it would have been full of design manuals, how to guides, reference books and inspirational works. Inspiration still figures in my choices, but as you can see I'm now tending mainly towards garden writing plus plant and garden history texts. I wonder if that would have happened anyway as my gardening experience matures, or does blogging and the ready availability of garden advice and reference materials on the world wide web have a part to play?
The answer to that question doesn't really matter for now because the more pressing problem of what to do with all those long dark evenings is sorted for a while :)
Saturday, 12 December 2009
Friday, 11 December 2009
I am so very sorry and embarrassed that your tree had a non functional transformer and in every thankfully rare instance where things like this happen we do our upmost to make amends. In that spirit we would like to offer you a replacement tree – one that works !
Please confirm if this would be ok or if you wish to either return or just leave it as is we will of course respect that.
If you also let me know the order number for the lights when I pass this on to the customer service team I will ask them to do a good will refund toward those.
Thanks for your patience and understanding.
In the meantime the lights I'd ordered on the strength of Karen's review had arrived (ordered Sunday evening, received Wednesday, so well within the 3-5 day delivery promise) and were twinkling merrily outside. I had a think about Ian's kind offer and decided it would be rather greedy to accept both a replacement tree and the lights, so I emailed him back to say I'd just like the lights and also asked whether he wanted the tree returned to enable things to be sorted out with his supplier.
Then I went up to London for my very exciting day out and came home knowing I'd have to wait a wee while for NAH to return so I could tell him everything that had happened. First thing I noticed was a mysterious twinkling going on in the lounge. It was the faulty Christmas tree! And very pretty it looks too - I've taken the picture at an angle (and apologies for the camera shake, but this kind of shot won't work with flash) so that you can see more of the effect. Each branch changes colour as the wheel at the base of the tree circles round.
Later on NAH confessed all: he'd taken apart the transformer, found a loose wire and soldered it back into position. He'd then left the lights on to welcome me back to our empty house. What a lovely man :)
So now I have both a working tree and outdoor lights, plus a bit of a (nice) dilemma as I'd accepted just the lights. I did film the tree twinkling away, but its picture quality on YouTube is rather poor. However, the film of the lights is slightly better with an interesting soundtrack later on ;)
Note: this video is Veg Plotting's first!
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Like most rebuilding projects at the time, city planners envisaged a Utopian new world for the Barbican area. Their finalised concept is rather like a walled city within London, containing spacious raised pedestrian walkways, a lake, plus numerous 'secret' communal gardens to soften the gloomy concrete. Building work commenced in the 1960s, with much of the residential complex completed in the 1970s. The Queen officially opened the Arts Centre in 1982 and the entire complex was awarded Grade II listed status in 2001.
I don't usually go for this style of architecture, but there is something different about The Barbican. I think it must be the plentiful public open space which helps to take away the usual oppressive atmosphere which I associate with this kind of development. Until a couple of years ago my job often took me to London where I worked with people based in Gresham Street and Old Street. The Barbican is on the way from one to the other and I used to relish my walks through this area on the way to meetings. I was always struck by how most of the residents made sure they planted up their balconies with something colourful to spill and trail over them.
Even on a wet morning in December last week, that planting's still very much in evidence and brought the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to mind. This link has oodles of information if you'd like to know more about the area: including its history, architecture, gardens, and a peek inside some of the flats (aka apartments). A one bedroom flat will set you back between a quarter and half a million pounds at today's prices.
Update 28/6/2014: Today's Guardian has a fascinating feature on one of the residents and his gardening endeavours, who also refers to the "hanging gardens of Barbican".
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
The photographer Yann Arthus-Betrand spent many hours up in the air taking the amazing set of pictures which forms the Earth from the Air exhibition currently showing in Bath. I first came across these images in a Sunday supplement around a decade ago and was blown away. I found them even more impressive when they went on display in the middle of Bristol 5 years ago. There's 120 giant photographs on show and each one was taken from between 100 to 10,000 feet.
This street exhibition has been on tour for a number of years. It's aim is simple: to raise awareness of the issues facing this planet simply through the power of these images and their accompanying narrative. I gave up eating tiger prawns 5 years ago, simply by seeing the damage done to the places in Asia where they're farmed intensively. The city of Bath is using the exhibition to raise awareness of climate change and is aiming to get many people to pledge to make simple change(s) to their daily lives in order to tackle this problem head-on.
The exhibition is free, open 24/7 and can be found around the Abbey and the newly opened shopping centre until January 10th.
Do visit the ABC Wednesday blog for more in the way of U.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
What's it like where you live? Do you have a tree in the centre of town? Is it real or artificial and how is it decorated? If it's a real one, where does it come from? I still remember Kate's horror last year over how a massive tree from Montana gets to adorn the Capitol's lawn. Perhaps your town has other festive displays such as street lights - are they different this year, or the same as always?
I'm also interested in your neighbourhood. Do you and/or your neighbours decorate your gardens in some way? Around here a number of people put lights in their trees or shrubs. Until last year they were usually a tasteful white, but for some reason the collective consciousness decided to have a mass change to blue LEDs.
I'd still like to see your public planting this month too, though of course many of you in the States and Canada will probably find this impossible owing to the snow that's started falling. However, I have a winter example from my trip to London last week to tell you about and of course those of you in the Southern hemisphere will have summery scenes to make us green with envy. One of my strongest memories from my last trip to Australia was how everyone decorated their hedges with tinsel, so I'd welcome any contributions showing us this year's scenes.
Mr Linky is here at the foot of this post waiting for your contributions. I'll keep him open for a bit longer than December to give you plenty of time to post something, especially as I'm sure most of you will have a bit of a blog break this month. I'll also put up a link in the sidebar, so you can get back here easily to add your links. Remember to add the URL of your OOTS post to Mr Linky, not your blog, otherwise everyone will miss out on your contribution as soon as you add a newer post to your blog.
When I started Out on the Streets in the spring I thought it'd only last a year. However, I've been cheered by your responses and I get the impression from last time that a number of you would like it to continue. I have an even longer list of potential posts about public planting than when I started, so I'm more than happy to continue with OOTS if you are. I'd also welcome your feedback: do you think quarterly is about right or would you prefer a different timing? Is there anything which OOTS isn't covering which you think it should? Anything else you'd like to say or ask about OOTS?
Those of you who are new to OOTS might like to have a look at the link in the previous paragraph which explains a bit more on what it's all about. I also wrote wrap-up posts for March, June and September's editions, so you can see the wonderful variety of contributions everyone's made to this topic so far. You really can write anything you like, as long as it's about public planting. The Out on the Streets label will give you all the posts I've written for OOTS and the Public Planting one will also give you these, plus everything else I've had to say so far about our public spaces.
See you soon, Out on the Streets!
Monday, 7 December 2009
Our local BBC region had decided to mark the event with the gathering of a massive scratch choir to open their BBC South West Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony held at the University of Bath yesterday. A rather strange mix in my view, but an opportunity not to be missed. So I duly sent off my email application and promptly forgot about it. 2 weeks ago I finally got a reply back to tell me I was in :)
Team Bath at Bath university is the south-west's regional sports centre of excellence and hosts quite a few of our national squads such as hurdles, bob skeleton and the modern pentathlon, so it was exactly the right venue for the day's events. Needless to say everywhere we went there were lots of rather fit looking young people training for all kinds of sports. Grenville Jones was our choirmaster for the day: some of you may remember him from TV's Last Choir Standing, where his Bath Male Choir did rather well.
Around 250 of us gathered at 9.30 am in the Fencing Salle and Projectile [shooting] Room, where Grenville was assisted by the ever cheerful Francis on the piano, for the workshop to get us ready for our performance at 5.30 pm. It soon became clear we wouldn't be doing the 'straight' performance dowloadable from the BBC's website which I'd practised a couple of times. The final hallelujah's were to be interspersed with claps, a smaller choir would sing a couple of lines, and the fusion band the Zen Hussies would also perform.
A hectic couple of hours ensued with us only getting through the beginning and end of the performance accompanied by lots of scratched heads trying to make sense of who was meant to be singing what from the wordsheets we'd been given. Once I'd cottoned on the word Handels on the sheet meant the main choir things were a little clearer, but both major and minor adjustments to what the performance would actually be like were being made constantly, which meant our concentration could never flag.
At 12 and 3.30pm we decamped to the studio for technical and dress rehearsals respectively. This meant a long trek to one of the main sports halls. At 12 this was in complete chaos: wires trailed everywhere, cameras and lighting were being fixed onto the floors and temporary platforms, plus an enormous boom camera threatened to take off anyone's head who got in the way. Dozens of people were frantically hiding wires under matting or using what seemed like miles of gaffer tape to prevent them becoming trip hazards. Around 20 tables were being wheeled into positions with their attendant table decorations and place settings to seat the awards nominees and their guests. No-one was allowed onto the studio floor at this time in shoes: socks only - odd socks in the majority of cases - was the order of the day.
After lunch and an hour's rehearsing the middle part of the piece, the scene on our return to the studio didn't seem any less frantic at the dress rehearsal either. Our seating positions were changed for what seemed like the umpteenth time and finally we made 2 central bands of singers on either side of the audience seating areas. We rehearsed our cues and found we were also going to sing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: a big clue to the kind of team (Taunton rugby) that had won the Team of the Year award.
Dress rehearsals completed, we stayed in our places whilst the rest of the audience arrived and fitted themselves in around us. There was one final rehearsal for everyone as the warm-up man put us through our spontaneous applause and cheering paces. Then the sporting celebrities and their guests took their places, the TV presenters took theirs, the floor manager counted us down to the start of the programme, our first cue was called and whoosh we were off!
The performance itself was rather a blur, both in how well we performed and also because a couple of smoke machines were being used to add 'atmosphere' to the studio. Most of the lighting was rather dim too, except where a presenter was making an award or a TV interview recorded, so we spent most of the 2 hours recording time in semi-darkness. There were displays by Bath's rhythmic gymnasts and Team GB wheelchair basketball players to entertain us in addition to the 12 awards made.
I was particularly pleased the swimmer Stephanie Millward won the 2012 Paralympian Hopeful award. NAH has trained with her in the past and a 'phone link to Brazil had to be set up for her award interview because she was competing in the world championships there. She'd just grabbed a haul of eight medals, including four gold :)
Jenson Button won the main award, but wasn't there to receive it, so we had to make do with a pre-recorded interview. We then reprised the final part of the Hallelujah Chorus to close the show; received a quick thank you from Ali Vowles, the BBC presenter - and the wife of my former photography tutor - who'd joined us for the day (and also sang - she sounded rather hoarse on the news this morning!) on the way out and that was it. It was a great experience that's left me wanting to take part in the entire performance of The Messiah. There are regular scratch choir events for this - I must seek them out.
Update: The BBC have now put up their recording of our performance on their website :)
Friday, 4 December 2009
Of course I personally knew hardly anyone there, though pretty well everyone was a familiar face. However, I had an instant result as the first person I bumped into was Cleve 'most snoggable male' West. The magic words 'Psssst I'm VP' was sufficient to generate a satisfying hug and pecks on both cheeks and the invitation to 'come and meet some people'. I'm most grateful to Cleve for making me feel welcome instantly. After that it was a mad whirl of introductions with a fair number of smiles of recognition as soon as the real name on my badge was translated into that of my alter ego. Martyn was also there, sporting a very thin moustache and award winning hair, who made sure I met Lia, whose sparkly hat I have to say would have made Arabella (literally) green with envy.
Then at last, some people who actually know me arrived! The first was Jekka McVicar, who greeted me with 'Oooooh it's you' and allowed me to photograph her escort, the controversial gnome Borage. You may remember his presence at Chelsea earlier this year ended in uproar and Jekka confided that the subsequent publicity and his appearance (at around 4mins 45secs in the link) on Have I Got News For You has gone to his head rather and as you see from the photo, he's turning to the demon drink. Then Victoria greeted me with a massive hug and 'At last, someone I know', which was a surprise as I thought she'd know everyone. We had a chance for a lightning catch up, interspersed with me meeting Nigel (yay, at last) plus Valerie McBride-Munro, the Guild's chairwoman.
We were then called into lunch, where I found myself seated at the Marshalls table, who were also the main sponsors of Chelsea this year. I was sandwiched between Mark Gregory and Graham Clarke. It was great to talk to them about my trip to Chelsea in May and to get the insiders' view of what goes on there: I'll tell you much more in a later post. Lunch was lovely - full details over at Victoria's - then just as things were threatening to degenerate into a post lunch snooze, we were awakened suddenly by the PA system bursting into life to welcome us to the awards part of the ceremony.
Thankfully this was briskly handled and helped by very few people choosing to make an acceptance speech. I had a massive OMG moment when the names for the best blog award went up as Veg Plotting was on there. James won of course and rightly so, but I was really chuffed when he urged everyone in the room to read my blog during his acceptance speech. That merited an enormous hug afterwards. James' table was a most successful one, as the double award winning Mark Diacono was there, as well as Martyn, who picked up a fair few shortlisted mentions for his sins. Whilst there, I also bumped into Matthew Wilson, who told me he'd just put the finishing touches to his eagerly awaited TV programme, Landscape Man, now due to be aired early next year.
Then it was back to the reception area for afternoon tea, plus more meeting people, thanks to Victoria. I also managed to track down Emmat, whom I'm sure you'd like to know is looking very well - there's hardly any evidence of her bump, yet. Victoria and I decided not to go to the post awards party (nor the alternative pub venue), but to decamp to the nearest Starbucks instead for a really good gossip and catch up.
I had a brilliant time and I haven't told you half of it. However, that would entail lots more name dropping [yes, you've done enough of that for one day - Ed] and lots of compliments that were made about my blog. I'd rather stay up here on cloud nine and hug them to myself for now, if you don't mind :D
Update: As well as Victoria, Cleve, Jane, Mark, Nigel and James have now posted their versions of last week's event. Each gives a fresh perspective which in my view serves to highlight one of the strengths of blogging :)
Update 2: And in 2010, we did it all over again, only this time the bloggers surreptitiously snaffled lots of the other awards ;)
Thursday, 3 December 2009
- Think about well known phrases associated with finance and the financial crisis
- Choose one of these phrases to play with
- Dream up a whacky promotion which has nothing to do with your core product, beer
- Negotiate with companies to display the promotion in unusual places
- Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice what's happened to her supermarket trolley
- Et voila!
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Thanks to Juliet, I'm the proud owner of a eensy weensy hazel sapling (Corylus avellana) ready for Tree o'clock, Saturday's world record attempt for the most trees planted in an hour. Juliet's article linked to places giving away free trees and my local Homebase is one of them. You can choose from 6 of our native species: birch, cherry, field maple, hawthorn, hazel and rowan. All are good trees, varying in size, are attractive to wildlife and there's bound to be one of them which would look good in your garden.
If you'd also like to take part, then here's the list of places offering free trees. If my local store's anything to go by, then there should be something left for you, even at this late stage. You need to plant your tree between 11am and 12pm on Saturday 5th December, take a picture of your self doing so (make sure the time and date is set up correctly on your camera) and email your picture to the organisers by Friday 11th December in order for it to count towards the world record attempt. Of course you don't have to take part in the attempt itself, just planting a tree no matter how small, is a hugely beneficial thing to do for your neighbourhood :)
There's currently nearly 270,000 trees pledged for the attempt, which will also count towards UNEPS Billion Tree Campaign.
For more Treats Today, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
And the meadows their beauty have lost.
Now winter has come and 'tis cold for man and beast,
And the streams they are,
And the streams they are all fast bound down with frost.
'Twas down in the farmyard where the oxen feed on straw,
They send forth their breath like the steam.
Sweet Betsy the milkmaid now quickly she must go,
For flakes of ice she finds,
For flakes of ice she finds a-floating on her cream.
'Tis now all the small birds to the barn-door fly for food
And gently they rest on the spray.
A-down the plantation the hares do search for food,
And lift their footsteps sure,
Lift their footsteps sure for fear they do betray.
Now Christmas is come and our song is almost done
For we soon shall have the turn of the year.
So fill up your glasses and let your health go round,
For I wish you all,
For I wish you all a joyful New Year.
Source: Tune and text from the singing of the Copper family, Sussex: a family who've been singing and preserving songs for generations.
This was my favourite of the songs we learned at the Forgotten Carols Workshop in November. It's rather apt for today as we've just had our first hard frost of the winter. That's it for now as far as my Dahlias are concerned :(
Garden Bloggers' Muse Day is hosted by Carolyn Choi at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.
Monday, 30 November 2009
Anytime: Want to blow away those winter blues and cobwebs? Getting out for a brisk walk during the daylight hours, particularly on a cold, crisp, clear morning could be the perfect antidote. Here's some ideas of where to go.
Throughout December - Christmas Markets, Fairs and Fayres. Many of our towns and cities hold some kind of Christmas market, usually in early December. I've had the pleasure of attending events in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, York and the Eden Project so far. This website has details of all of these, plus all others in the UK and much further afield in Europe and the USA. A great way to get in the festive mood.
Until 8th December: The Mistletoe Festival in Tenbury Wells continues. Mistletoe auctions will be held on December 1st and 8th, and the Mistletoe Queen will be crowned on December 5th. If you're buying fresh mistletoe for your decorations this year, it's likely to have come from here.
5-6th: Tree Dressing Day. A new 'tradition' started by Common Ground in 1990, to celebrate our trees by decorating them on the first full weekend in December. Note that these decorations are not usually Christmas ones, though judging by what happens in Chippenham, it's also the time when most people put theirs up.
8th: Holy Thorn Ceremony, Glastonbury. The eldest pupil at St. John's School will cut the branch from the legendary winter flowering Glastonbury Thorn, which will be sent to the Queen as a Christmas greeting.
21st: Winter Solstice. Be of good cheer, the days will be getting longer from now on :)
25th: Happy Christmas everyone!
26th: Boxing Day aka St. Stephens Day in Ireland. The traditional starting day for pantomimes and for mummers plays to be performed. Marshfield's is the closest one I know of and other ones not far away from here are at Gloucester and Langport.
31st: New Year's Eve. Hogmanay in Scotland is the event tonight. However, if you want to party in Edinburgh, you'll need to get your tickets in advance. Here's all the details you need. If you're looking for something more dramatic, then Stonehaven's Fireballs Festival could be just the thing. Across the border in Northumberland, there's also flaming tar barrels in Allendale, a tradition dating back to medieval times.
Sunday, 29 November 2009
So you can imagine my delight when the nice people at Dobbies offered to send me a sparkly Snowtime Fibre Optic Sunburst Christmas Tree for me to try out. A package promptly arrived from Scotland via Parcel Force and as I was away on holiday at the time and my neighbours were out, it was taken to my local post office for me to pick up later.
I unpacked the box this morning and assembled everything within a mere 5 minutes. There's 3 legs to attach to the base, the tree's branches (a single unit for this 4ft tree) to slot into it, plus the transformer to plug into the base and the wall socket. The base also contains the light and the revolving disc to drive the changing colours within the fibre optic lights spread throughout the tree. There's 175cm (just under five feet) of cable from the transformer to the plug, so you'll need to put your tree fairly close to the socket, or else use an extension lead (with care!) if you want to put the tree further away.
With everything duly assembled and all the branches pulled down into position to make everything look much more tree like, I then switched it on... and nothing happened :(
Being the electrical and electronics engineer that he is, NAH of course has just the right equipment to hand to test things out and was able to quickly confirm the transformer's as dead as a dodo. I'd noticed when I unpacked the box (which was in good condition) that the transformer had come out of its carton. On closer inspection, the carton wasn't fully taped together and its protective cardboard packaging wasn't taped around it either. NAH thinks this may have been enough to damage the transformer whilst in transit from the manufacturer or from Dobbies to me. Alternatively it might not have been working before it was put in the box.
I don't blame Dobbies at all for this problem and I see they have a clear returns policy shown on their website where faulty goods can be returned to them within 28 days for either a replacement or a full refund. I've emailed Ian at Dobbies - who asked if I'd like to review a tree - to see what he'd like to do next and to show there's no hard feelings, I've ordered some outdoor Christmas lights on the strength of Karen's review. Ours finally gave up the ghost last year, so I'd been planning on getting some anyway and hadn't found any I liked locally.
If a tree's more your thing, then you might like to know Ryan has a giveaway for UK readers over at his blog at the moment. You can choose any tree, artificial or real from Dobbies range and if you leave a comment there before the close of Friday 4th December, you may be lucky enough to have Ryan's glamorous assistant pull your name out as the winner!
NB OOTS alert! It's nearly time for our quarterly look at public planting. December will be a sparkling festive edition where I'll be asking you to show us your neighbourhood's decorations. There's more to come on introducing this to you in the coming week, but I know how some of you like plenty of notice so you can get your cameras out ;)
Saturday, 28 November 2009
First up is this sparkly new bit of bling, courtesy of Kitchen Garden, aka The Constant Gardener with her vegetable growing hat on. I also see Rothschild's Orchid has given this to me this week, so that makes it double bling. Rather cheersome, after a week of wind and wuthering weather. Thanks both of you, it's much appreciated :D
As usual I'm going amend the rules for this award so that they work for me. I see it's been doing the rounds of most of my regular gardening reads already and I'm confident it's only a matter of time before everyone I have in my sidebar links, plus all my bookmarked favourites will receive this award. So instead of nominating 15 of my gardening friends, I'd like to draw your attention to a non-gardening blog which I've come across recently via my site statistics. It's called White Girl, Arab World and chronicles the life of Shirley Dockerill, who's called the Middle East her home for the past 25 years. It's a fascinating read, which is helping me to understand a completely different culture, and that's precisely what best blogging's all about.
A fascinating watch for me last night was Carol Klein's Gardeners' World special on women gardening pioneers. She covered such a wide range, from the 'herb wives' of medieval times through to the appointment of Inga Grimsey as RHS Director General in 2006. In between were stories of artists and writers; the woman I always think of as one of the first guerrilla gardeners; the first women horticultural trainees at Kew in the late 1890s; the first women head gardeners at Sissinghurst; the role of the Women's Land Army during WWII and much more besides. It was a return to the kind of intelligent gardening programme we've been crying out for and my only criticism of it is I wanted to know even more. If you missed it and you live in the UK, do seek it out on the BBC's I-Player over the next week or so.
Finally, I'm pleased to see my latest guest post on Encounters With Remarkable Biscuits has gone up today. It's more of a non-encounter really, but you'll need to head over there to find out more...
Happy reading and viewing everyone!
Friday, 27 November 2009
We'd decided that the ferry was a holiday 'must do' and this was my first ever visit to Liverpool. Here you can see one of the classic Liverpudlian vistas: The Three Graces aka the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building (from left to right). NAH and I think the view's been spoilt somewhat by the brand new Pier Head ferry terminal in front of the Royal Liver Building: you can just see the Liver Birds - legend has it that if they fall off then Liverpool's prosperity will cease. Needless to say they're very well tethered on their perches!
Liverpool has the most Listed Buildings in England outside of London, so the hop on, hop off city bus tour was a good way to see a number of them and to get an overall feel of the place. We stopped off at Mathew Street, home of the Cavern Club where it all began for The Beatles, but didn't have time to visit either of the museums dedicated to the Fab Four. NB The Cavern Club shown in the link is not the original, but a mere shadow of its former self. There's some rather kitsch street furniture around there, which will be turning up over at Sign of the Times shortly. A quick run around Albert Dock with its many museums rounded off our flying visit before we boarded the train* to head back to Cheshire.
* = I need a need little rant here - it cost us £3.20 return from Hooton plus 80p for a day's parking at the station and the parking was manned by a cheery man at the pay station on the way out. I went to Bath on Saturday, a shorter train journey which cost me £4.50, plus £4.50 (unmanned) car parking. Rip-off southern Britain or what?
Thursday, 26 November 2009
* = a thinly veiled excuse to have the largest slice of chocolate banana fudge cake ever in the tea room :o
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
So I wended my way down to the garden centre, where I was instantly stopped in my tracks. There was just too many of the darn things to choose from. Whilst I can appreciate the differences between anvil and bypass types, what hope do I have when faced by a plethora of numbered options, such as the Felco range sports? So I retired in all of a dither and got NAH to re-sharpen my secateurs, which then fell apart in September.