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Showing posts from February, 2009

YAWA - Your Diary for March

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Whenever I think of March, it's in the colour yellow. February's gloom gives way to crocuses, daffodils and primroses in abundance: even the cheery self-sown Lesser Celandine in my gravel path's a welcome sight. I was worried my daffodils might be too late to show you for St David's day tomorrow, but they're just beginning to flower - much later than last year. By the end of this month, I expect most of you will be fed up of the sight of them as we UK bloggers proudly boast about our sunny blooms - Carol, you have been warned!

Daffodils are found in the wild here in England, so rather than telling you about the cultivated daffodil festivals and walks around various gardens, I thought it would be a treat to show you some of the places where they're still found. First stop has to be the Lake District, to the place which inspired Wordsworth's famous poem, no less. Next, we visit the Malvern Hills, close enough to visit Patient Gardener for a cup of tea as well …

Out on the Streets: Your Public Planting

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It seems my posts about public planting have struck a bit of a chord - thank you for your response thus far. It's led to Lucy and I putting together a joint post recently on the roundabout she spotted in Weymouth; Anna has generously sent me a photo of a veggie planting she saw in France for me to use at a suitable point; and a couple of you (thanks Susan and Catmint) requested an opportunity to throw things open for contributions from anyone. That's great and was something I'd been mulling over for a while. Most of the examples I'm using are taken from my neighbourhood or travels and thus have geographical limitations. This is a subject that touches us all.
So I'd like to announce Out on the Streets, a quarterly look at public planting in your neighbourhood and/or on your travels this year. What you choose to show us is entirely up to you - here's some ideas: Choose a site, perhaps the one closest to where you live and show us how it changes through the seasons.…

Interviewing Myself: For Double Danger

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It's February, so there needs to be lots of fun things to do to brighten up the month. My latest find is Double Danger's starting their own meme: it's a bit like doing a mini interview, so I'm feeling like I'm talking to myself whilst putting this post together. Hope I don't mutter too much, can you hear me clearly out there...?
Describe your gardening style. Confused.

What was the last plant you bought? The lovely pale blue Iris reticulata at the RHS London Show's plant sell off last week. I was going to put them into my revamped border project, but after reading James' article a couple of days ago, I'm tempted to try them out in my gravel bed. Perhaps that gives you an inkling why my gardening style's confused - or should that be indecisive?
What were the last seeds you bought? It depends on what you mean by seed. I bought some seed potatoes at Malmesbury Potato Day at the end of January. If you mean packet seeds, then that was the seed order T…

GBDW/ABC Wednesday 4 - F is For...

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... Felines in the Garden
I'm doubling up on a couple of my regular memes this week, to tell you a little more about Skimble and Jess and the role they play in my gardening. As you may have noticed, I call them my 'garden helpers': that's because as soon as I start to do anything in the garden, such as weeding or digging, they're always there, shoving their noses into anything that's going on, trying to lend a paw and generally approving anything I do, particularly if it means they can thoroughly get in the way. Whilst it usually ends with me, gently pushing them to one side and shouting 'gerrrrroff!', I do enjoy their company in the garden. They certainly take more interest in my activities than NAH does!
There's plenty of advice around about pets and gardening, but I have to confess I haven't read much of it. My garden's design didn't really take them into account, because when we made it they weren't here and their predecessor was r…

Allotment Good News Continues

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Last week the National Trust announced it's going to make 1,000 allotments available on its properties. Demand for allotments is soaring (100,000 nationwide apparently) and it appears all sorts of initiatives are starting up in an effort to meet it. I've already reported on the new allotments in nearby Bradford on Avon and according to our local TV news a number of farmers here in the south-west are starting up similar schemes. I wonder if this is because after two poor summers, they're needing to find an additional income, but the current low demand for new properties means developers aren't sniffing around willing to buy up their land.
The Trust are the latest to sign up to Landshare, a great initiative set up by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. This aims to match landowners with spare land with people who want to grow their own, but don't have the land to do so. About 40 National Trust properties will be involved across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in addit…

Regrets, I've Had a Few...

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Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, these few I'll mention. I'll do what I have to do
And see it through without exemption. I'll plan each charted course; Each careful step along the byway, But more, much more than this, I'll do it my way.

With apologies to Frank Sinatra and to any of you who now have this song on your brain after reading this post.
Last week Patient Gardener posed the question What plant do you regret acquiring? Well, there's plenty I could confess to, but I thought I'd share my current bugbears with you which are the main reasons why I'm redesigning the border at the bottom of my garden this year. Apologies for the lack of picture quality today, but I don't have any better images of these thugs to show and perhaps showing them at their worst gives you some idea of why I want rid.

Who in their right mind plants Berberis in their border? Not only that, one of them is at the front! If you enlarge the above picture, you can see I must hav…

Chelsea Gets Pruned For 2009

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First James found he couldn't get sponsors last year, then Cleve West withdrew his show garden recently. Now it's official: Chelsea has been pruned into a much smaller affair. Instead of the 22 show gardens seen in 2008, there will be just 13 or 15* on offer in May. In view of the usual sponsors attracted to the show - investment companies, banks etc. - I suppose there was an inevitability about it all, but a 30-40% drop rams home how tough times really are.
It looks like visitor numbers will also be down. Last week I had an email from the RHS offering me the opportunity as a member to buy 4 tickets instead of the usual 2. Perhaps this year, there won't be the usual complaints about overcrowding. I do hope that's the case. However, a friend of mine went to a Chris Beardshaw talk recently where he told the audience the space usually reserved for the show gardens will probably include some of the smaller designs. If that happens, I'm concerned the organisers might hav…

May I introduce You To...

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... some of the new plants for my revamped back garden border. 1 tree (Pinus mugo), 3 Euphorbia characias 'Portuguese Velvet' and 2 clumps of Iris reticulata, all bought for the bargain total of £15 at the RHS Show's plant sell off late Wednesday afternoon. The Pinus is from Capel Manor College's show garden, the Euphorbia from NDG's and the Iris from Jacques Armand nursery's show stand - that's the same company I bought my Gladiolus callianthus from at Malvern last year.
Manoeuvring 6 carrier bags of plants on the Tube during rush hour was a little tricky, but as you can see everything got home relatively unscathed. Those of you who've watched the plant sell off montage shown at Chelsea's closing TV coverage every year will be able to picture the scene exactly. What the programme doesn't tell you how sore your arms are the next day, especially after you've taken the wrong turn at the Tube station and gone down the Victoria line's deep …

RHS London Plant and Design Show

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Wednesday saw this wide eyed country mouse head off to the big city to peruse the goodies at the RHS London Plant and Design Show. There's been a lot of criticism lately of the RHS' decision to cut the number of London events, so I was keen to see whether this had translated through into the show itself. It hadn't - plenty of people were there and the nurseryman I spoke to was happy with the RHS' event publicity (it had been poor in the past apparently), the show's quality and how this translated into sales at his stand. He predicted if this trend continues, then the recent falloff in exhibitors should be reversed.

The above collage gives you a flavour of the show - click on the picture to enlarge it if needed - the 2 largest pictures are an overview of Lindley Hall where most of the nursery exhibits were sited, plus part of Capel Manor College's show garden in nearby Lawrence Hall. The 3 pictures at the top right are close-ups of the delicious Hepaticas on disp…

Our Choir Has a Website

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Well to be truthful our choimaster's got a website, but it's designed not only to promote his work, but for us to use it too. From now on we can find the song sheets for the new ones we're learning plus YouTube videos where available. There's also a 'singalonga' section which is structured like the practice CDs we've had previously. There's the full version of each song, plus its breakdown into each of the parts. You'll also find photos of various singing events - I'm to be found in a couple of them...
I'm particularly enjoying the YouTube video of So Happy Together at the moment.

ABC Wednesday 4 - E is for...

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...Echeveria
Here's how not to look after your tender plants like the above Echeveria during the winter - leave them outside to fend for themselves. True, I'd been lulled into a false sense of security as they'd survived unscathed for several winters, but that doesn't excuse my not rushing out to rescue them as soon as a severe frost was forecast. Luckily I'd potted up some offsets last summer and so far (touch wood) they've survived round the corner where they're westerly facing and snuggled right next to the house. There's just enough left for me to start over again. The pictured healthy plant is about the same size as the one I bought originally, so I know some TLC and only a season or two will mean I'll soon have a potful of them again on my patio. They're tucked up in the cold frame now, just in case. It seems my Echeverias are in good company - a lot of the gardens tended by the National Trust here in the south-west have reported damage to …

Who's Got 'Shares' in Your Blog?

Taking a look at my site statistics is often a journey of discovery. How many visitors, where do they come from, and what weird and wonderful searches* find me here. A week or so ago I was intrigued by a visit from a site called blogshares. My initial thought was my content was being ripped off again, but the reality turned out to be quite different. Remember my Blogsworth story and comment follow-up? Well, blogshares turns out to be a variant on that theme. I haven't researched the site in great depth as my brain started to melt a little the more I read, but it turns out there's a fantasy shares game based on blogs instead of companies.

It seems it started out as an academic exercise, which then turned into a more widely played game. Nearly eight million blogs are being tracked and registered players get a 'fund' of $5 million to invest. Blogs are categorised into Industries: thus gardening blogs can be found under Hobbies/Gardening & Horticulture - there's jus…

Gulp! What Have I Done?

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This little lot arrived a couple of days ago. I have 14 weeks to get myself to the point of being able to power walk a marathon with the top half of my body just sporting a bra*. Thank goodness it's through the night: I don't want to put off the locals.

It seemed such a good idea that Friday afternoon back in October when S proposed we do something a little more challenging...

You can find out more about it here. According to the schedule, training starts next Sunday. I thought I'd better start straight away, so you could say I'm in training for the training at the moment. Wish me luck!

* = since I applied to do this, NAH's idea of Moonwalking is to walk backwards with his bum sticking out ;)

GBBD - After the Snow

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The snow's almost gone. It's lain around for the longest period I can remember since moving down here 25 years ago, but the flowers are emerging as if waking up after a nice little nap. If anything they seem to be a bit perkier after their ordeal and I wonder if there's some truth in the alternative name given for late spring snowfall - poor man's fertiliser.

New this month are the crocus and winter aconites shown at the top of the collage. The aconites are just clear of the snowline and will soon be forming a river of gold in the top part of my front garden. The crocuses are just peeping through and should open more fully in the next few days. Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles' is showing what a stalwart she is for the winter months. The snowdrops are the lovely double form - from the back garden this time. I can't tell you how many there are as some of them are still buried in snow. The primroses are now in their eighth month of flowering. Elsewhere violas, wint…

Tagging Along: A Quick and Easy Photo Meme

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Frankie over at Veg Plot tagged me last week with a neat photography meme. All you have to do is to go into your computer's photography folders, go to the 4th one listed, find the 4th photograph there, post it on your blog and then write a little about it. I expect Frankie thought I was a shoe-in for a nice flower picture or scenery to show you: little did she know one of my earliest forays into digital photography was this picture of a Terex Autospade!
When I mentioned these to Soilman at his hilarious first webcast last Sunday*, he thought Terex Autospade sounded like an American secret agent and I can see his point. However, this unlikely looking object is an absolute godsend during the autumn digging season as it uses the principle of the lever to take the back breaking work out of digging. Mine was my first ever purchase on eBay as Wolf discontinued their manufacture about 30 years ago. However, I see that another company has started making them again recently - appropriately …

Blogging for Darwin: Kew Herbarium

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I spotted this blog swarm (yes, it's new to me too) over at Emma's yesterday and having invited the man of the moment to my fantasy dinner party last Saturday, I just had to take part.
In the mid 1990's I decided to career change out of computing, did a masters degree in freshwater biology and ended up working at an environmental charity in Oxford. There I wore many hats, one of which was arranging an annual programme of volunteer weekends. Having started out as a volunteer on a number of these myself, it was a joy to be involved at the opposite end of things.
In the spring we'd have three weekends based at the herbarium at Kew, where the task was to help catalogue the ferns - the first such computerisation of part of the plant collection. The herbarium isn't usually open to the public, so it was great to have a peep behind the scenes. It's enormous - a vast room full of cupboards, yet still managing to be light and airy. Inside each cupboard are stacks of fol…

RHS People's Gardener

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The first of the fortnightly winners for the RHS People's Gardener award outside the BBC. Click to enlarge to see how the photographer has thoughtfully captured the foliage hat on Tina's head. Picture courtesy of the RHS.
I've just received my first ever press release, thanks to the RHS. Not only that it's actually targeted at garden bloggers viz:
Please see attached press releases about the People’s Gardener competition. The search is still on and we would love your bloggers to nominate themselves or someone they know. So how could I resist telling you about it? ;)
I won't give you the contents of the press release as the above link to the RHS website tells you everything you need to know about the search for the nation's best community gardener. Each fortnight 4 nominees will battle it out on Alan Titchmarsh's chat show to go through to the finals in early April, which will be decided by public vote. The first showdown was on February 2nd, so it's early …

ABC Wednesday 4 - D is for...

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...Daffodils
This may be a gardening blog (of sorts) but that doesn't mean everything's perfection here at VP Gardens. In fact it was described as a 'normal' garden by James in Gardeners' World magazine last month (see sidebar quote to the right) and I think that's a real compliment. As a 'normal' gardener it also means I'm free to write anything about my own experiences - successes or failures - and today I'm 'fessing up to one of the latter, warts and all.

I'm a great one for never getting round to things, but even I'm appalled at how bad I've been at planting out my bulbs for this year's spring display. I finished off planting up the tulips last month and was surprised to find 3 large bags of daffodils hiding at the bottom of the large cardboard box in which I'd been stowing my bulbs in the garage. I was even more surprised to find most of the bulbs are still viable and just beginning to show some shoots. Perhaps there i…

Come With Me to the World of Giant Veg...

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I partly solved my book problem a couple of weeks ago by joining my local library where I was delighted to find 2 books on my Amazon wishlist. The first was The Biggest Beetroot in the World: Giant Vegetables and the People Who Grow Them by Michael Leapman. I've found this subject most intriguing since seeing them for the first time at Malvern with PatientGardener last September. I've finished the book, so here's my review:
The most frequently asked questions when giant vegetables are displayed are how and why do they do that?
This book explores both these questions in some depth and introduces us to some of the characters (both male and female) who grow some of the largest vegetables in the world. It turns out it can be pretty much a full time occupation with some of the competitors not taking a holiday for years.
It isn't a hobby for reducing your carbon footprint. In order to succeed, vast amounts of heating a lighting during the winter months are needed. Ingenui…

The Roundabout: Lucy's Discovery

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From having a guest post from The Garden Monkey on Saturday to today's joint one with Lucy - isn't blogging just great when friends hop along to join in?

Over the weekend Lucy over at Pictures Just Pictures has been out and about in Weymouth. Unusually for a seaside town it also had some snowy scenes last week like the rest of Britain, though I suspect things are back to normal now. Lucy sent me this picture as a contribution to my Public Planting series as she knows I have a particular interest in roundabouts. But before I wade in and say something, here's her thoughts about it:

Foord Roundabout Weymouth – 7/2/2009

The council and the undertakers who sponsor this roundabout (Rose Funeral Service) must be very proud of this roundabout. Not only is there a bench on the bank ahead, there's one behind where I was standing to take the photo so, if you wish, you can sit and look at it in comfort.
Indeed they pay a lot of attention to this area. Low growing evergreens guide ped…

How Advertising Works in Chippenham 4

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Decide to show advertisements on petrol/diesel (gas) pumps at your fuel stationAccept one from a company promoting energy saving and display accordinglyWait for a blogger with a camera to notice the odd juxtaposition of product sold versus product advertisedEt voila!Click on the picture if you need a closer look. Click here for the previous item in this series ;)
NB Don't worry if you couldn't make yesterday's Dinner Party meme, I'm leaving the link on the top righthand sidebar for a while if you'd like to join in. It's been such fun and fascinating to see everyone's choices, my thanks to everyone who's taken part so far. I already have some ideas for a few other memes to while away the winter blues :)

It's Dinner Time!

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It's been a tough week trying to choose my dinner party guests since I announced this meme on Monday. My list has changed several times a day and at one point everyone's names began with a C and were likely to be a bit curmudgeonly. I nearly left it like that just to prove Alan Titchmarsh wrong, but decided on a different mix in the end.

My first guest is Charles Darwin - the man of the moment as his bicentenary is next week. His experiments and observations in his garden and greenhouse at Down House were central to the evidence he gathered over a period of 20 years for TheOrigin of the Species. Some of the techniques he developed are ones I've used in my own studies and I'd love to talk to him about the importance of his garden, daily walks and thinking time. Judging by a letter auctioned locally recently he could be a tad snippy, but I'm assuming the convivial company I've assembled here will put him in a good mood for us.

My second guest is a local man and pho…

Guest Post: Dinner with The Garden Monkey

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I'm so delighted The Garden Monkey (GM) has not only agreed to do a guest post for me today, but it's also part of my Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? meme. GM needs no introduction from me, so without further ado...
I tend to think that inviting guest to a dinner party is like putting together a cocktail. Get the mix wrong and it’s terrible. Get them right and it will be both refreshing and intoxicating.

So who would I invite to a dinner party?

Firstly, I would invite Geoff Hamilton and Christopher Lloyd, partly because I revere them both, but also to see how well they got on. Christo makes some fairly chippy comments about St. Geoff in the book, “Dear Friend and Gardener“, calling him, egocentric, nervous of competition and lacking in humour.

I'd also invite William Robinson because he didn't seem to get on with anyone - I do like a party to have a bit of fizz.

Aware that this guest list is so far entirely made up of deceased males, I'd balance that up with Germaine…

Public Planting: Do We Care About It?

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Frosted public planting - Chippenham - in early January
I didn't expect to be returning to public planting so soon, but after last week's post on the subject, Anna (thank you!) sent me details of a recent article in The Telegraph which needs a little comment and debate right here, right now.
Harvard Professor Martha Schwarz claims that the poor standard of our parks and other open spaces is due to the British public attaching less importance to them than we do to our own gardens.
I think it's great that people want to express their individuality through their gardens, she said. However, the romanticised ideologies attached to this are holding Britain's back from thinking about the wider issues that face their landscape. By this, I do not mean only the British countryside, but the space "in between" buildings, which is a notion people in Britain struggle with.
She has a point, but my preliminary research into this topic shows there are other factors at play. The …

Snow Time

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It's rare for us here in south western England to get plentiful snow, but last night the perfect conditions happened for it - the cold continental block (i.e. high pressure from northern Europe) we've had over England for the past few days clashed with a moisture laden south-westerly stream of air coming up from the Atlantic. The result? A good few inches of snow - the most for 25 years - enough to have a really good scrunch around in today, build lots of snowmen with snowpets and have giggly snowball fights. As for our cats, they did go out in it first thing this morning but didn't even bother to complete their usual circuit of our house before returning to central heating duty.

NAH was out with his trusty snow shovel to clear the road, then he and I had a good old tramp through our newly muffled world. I also ventured up the hill this afternoon for coffee with Threadspider and returned with lots of pictures to put into today's slideshow. Whilst there I heard Wiltshire…

Bramley Apples: The Lowdown

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This post's for Petoskystone, a welcome regular who asked why Bramleys are the only British apple she'd heard about when I published February's diary a few days ago. As it's also National Bramley Week, now seemed a good time to respond.

What I didn't make clear earlier is that Bramley is a cooking apple and yes, it's pretty well the only apple available for these purposes, making up 95% of sales. There are plenty of other varieties, but they're mainly grown for private consumption. In terms of overall varieties (cooking, dessert and cider), the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale has over 2,000 of them, so Bramleys aren't the only British apple by a long chalk. Sadly most of them aren't for sale in the shops - a quick check locally on Monday revealed Bramley's, Cox's, Egremont Russets and Braeburn are on sale: there were other varieties available (NB including Washington Red Delicious, Petoskystone as well as Royal Gala, Jonagold, Golden De…

ABC Wednesday - C is for...

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... Collection
Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated by rocks. Walks on the beach have always seen me with my head down seeking out shells and unusual stones. I astounded my parents at the age of 10 when I dragged back home a suitcase full of rocks found in and by the river North Tyne, picked up during my first holiday away from them. One turned out to be an unusual fossil, so I was hooked.
Fortunately for me my school offered Geology to A Level: I had a very indulgent two years just looking at and handling various rocks and minerals. Our field trip was to Dorset - its magnificent geology and coastline now acknowledged as World Heritage status. I still haven't figured out why I didn't study it at University - I went for a more applied option instead (with oodles of geology though) - if I'd known my graduation was going to coincide with the 1980's recession, perhaps I might have chosen differently and gone for a subject closer to my heart.
I still go fossilin…

Spuds We Liked

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Malmesbury had its first ever potato day on Saturday, so of course I couldn't resist going to have a look and renewing my acquaintance with 'Taffy Tatty', one of the great characters of the potato world who grows around 400 varieties to gold medal winning standard. Here he is, telling us a joke about what it's like in heaven for allotmenteers who go there. In front of him is an impressive display of potato varieties, some of them extremely rare. Sadly there was no sign of the Lumper potato variety this time (he does usually have a plate of them on show) - this was the variety which succumbed to potato blight in the 1840s, thus sparking off the potato famine so devastating to Ireland.

Potato Days are an initiative started by Garden Organic in the 1990s. They were concerned at the lack of varieties available in the shops and set out to change this. Now potato days are held all over the country at this time of the year, but this is the first time one's been held so clo…

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

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February's my least favourite month - to me it's gloomier than November, feels so much longer than January and deliberately gets in the way of much nicer things like my birthday and wedding anniversary in March. Not to mention Spring.

I thought some good company's needed to brighten things up a bit and what could be better than a dinner party? Don't worry about the food, music, whether the dining room needs decorating or indeed the weather (though you can tell us about all that if you want), I'd love to see who's on your guest list - of course they must have an interest in gardening or nature. You can invite figures from the past, present, future or a mix; celebrity, learned or your gardening buddies - it's up to you. Anything goes, though do keep it to 3-5 guests because I want you to be able to hear all the gossip so you can tell us all about it. I'm also interested in why you've chosen them and any thoughts you have on anything which might happe…