There’s a fierce rivalry between the adjacent villages of Crosthwaite and Underbarrow. Each has a pub called the Punch Bowl and in that respect I think it is fair to say that Crosthwaite has the upper hand. They each take pride in their floral displays and here Underbarrow is the undoubted winner. I travel through the villages nearly every day on my way to the Damson Dene and I’ve seen some brutally low temperatures this winter- the worst being -17 C.
Things are springing to life in the garden, but it’s time to think about death. In amongst the new growth there are signs of death everywhere after a brutal winter. We thought we were badly hit last year, but this winter has been far worse. The biggest casualties have been the cordylines (Cordyline australis, sometimes known as the Torbay Palm).The victims have for the most part been the younger plants, those less than ten years old.
I well remember my grandfather describing a conversation between two rather dour wool merchants in Bradford: “How’s business?” asked the first “Terrible” came the reply “How terrible?” “Why, hardly better than last year” “How was last year?” “Best we ever ‘ad”.
When it comes to dourness Bradford wool merchants have got nothing on Cumbrian farmers. I’ve been fascinated to watch them at livestock auctions in the past and to see that they are on no account to show any signs of happiness, let alone contentment.
“A woman drove me to drink and I never even had the courtesy to thank her” - W. C. Fields Now, I feel really guilty. I’ve been buying wine off Tony Jackson, the boss at Lakeland Vintners, for 20 years and he’s explained to me why it’s impossible to make a penny from selling wine. Here’s the maths.
It’s deliciously appropriate to celebrate the government’s stern diktat that we mustn’t eat more than 6 ounces of red meat a week with a magnificent roast rib of beef. This is a 5 rib monster, enough to give me and my family at least half a pound of red meat a day, which, together with roast potatoes cooked in goose fat is enough to give the Chief Medical Officer apoplexy. If only.
I’ve spent a lot of time this week interviewing chefs and believe me there are some pretty rum specimens out there, with some gruesome tales of being driven to the limits of physical and mental endurance in under-staffed and ill-equipped kitchens. It seems that some chefs really do work in a “hells kitchen”.
I wonder how many of the fresh faced youngsters at Kendal College tonight know what awaits them in the real world.
Why is it that the I Love NY slogan, which was designed more than 30 years ago, is still so popular that it generates $30m a year in royalties for New York City. An explanation was given on the radio today by the man who designed it, Milton Glaser. He said that the secret of its success was that when someone saw the design for the first time its meaning wasn’t immediately obvious, that it was a puzzle which they had to decipher and when they did, they felt a warm glow of achievement.
“Got up, shaved, did the Spectator crossword, shaved again” - Roger McGough (misquoted)
This week the Spectator has been celebrating the publication of tits 2,000th crossword with a dinner attended by some of its compilers, including Doc, Mr Magoo and Dumpynose. None of those attending had to ask how Dumpynose got his pen name- they all knew that it is an anagram of pseudonym.
A good friend called as I was driving back from the airport with the exciting news that she’s engaged. Her boyfriend had proposed in the most romantic way while they were on a skiing holiday by writing “Will You Marry Me” in the ice on a lake. That’s some precedent for him to live up to.
The prize for the least romantic proposal goes to the Scot who took his girl to the family tomb and asked her whether she would like to have her named engraved on it.
I’ve got the feeling that if Matt Ridley were to read this blog he’d dismiss it as so much New Age tosh. The quote from Thoreau on the title page would really get up his goat. He’d be surprised to hear me say that I, on the other hand, think his new book, ‘The Rational Optimist- How Prosperity Evolves’ is brilliant in every respect and I agree with every word. It’s the sort of book which you want everyone to read because if they do then they might just “get it”. Here’s an extract, which hits the spot exactly:
“Currently we only have 0.5% of the market share of Chinese tourists. If we could increase that to just 2.5% this could add over half a billion pounds of spending to our economy and this could mean as many as 10,000 new jobs.” - David Cameron I had lunch the other day with a Chinaman who was incongruously named Boris. He lives in Shanghai but spends a lot of his time in Europe.
‘Matsu daki ume’ ‘The longer the wait, the tastier’ - Japanese Saying Today my Japanese hosts are giving me a special treat – a meal in an eel (unagi) restaurant. Eels feature only rarely on English menus and then nearly always as a starter of smoked eel, but eels are so prized in Japan that there are restaurant s which serve nothing but eel.
It’s a real pleasure to be back in Huis Ten Bosch, 4 months after the Gardening World Cup, on a clear crisp day to see how our gardens are getting on. The original idea was to take the gardens down straight after the event, as happens in all other shows. But the display proved to be so popular that the decision was made to leave them for a few more weeks which, in the event, has turned into four months.
I would have completely forgotten about Daphne Phelps’ book, “A House in Sicily” if it wasn’t for the mouse. We were doing some spring cleaning (a tip- don’t leave it for five years, things can get out of hand) when I found that a mouse had whiled away an afternoon by chewing away at the edges of a newspaper cutting which I’d roughly inserted into the book. Fortunately, the book itself was unharmed.
Today is the first day of the first month of what we in the West call the Year of the Rabbit, but in Japan is the Year of the Metal Hare. I’m celebrating it with my daughter Jo as the guest of friends in their apartment in Fukuoka. None of the superstitions relating to the Asian zodiac are believed in by our hosts, but they enjoy performing the rituals which they have observed since childhood.
In this Slow Life I rarely get the chance to read a novel but a long flight to Fukuoka with my eldest daughter Jo, who is going to study Japanese there, is the perfect opportunity to settle down to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. All 455 pages. The novel is set in Dajima, Nagasaki, 200 years ago when the Dutch occupied the only foreign trading post in Japan.
The idea of Slow Life is to take the principles of Slow Food, which are “good, clean and fair”, and extend them to life in general.
Here in the Lake District, the air is clean, the pace is slow and the atmosphere is calm. If we don’t grow food ourselves, we can buy it in friendly small shops, where you know the quality is going to be the best.
This blog is a celebration of the Slow Life, with forays into the world of design, music, the arts, gardens, and my particular weakness, Japan.