On the final day of winter, the contrast with last year couldn’t be more apparent. This year nothing is dead. Nothing at all.
Even the Echium Pininanas (pictured below), more than 100 of them, have survived the cold. This is the first time in 4 years that any Echiums have survived. And although we can’t relax our guard completely just yet, plants seem to be approaching the spring with confidence.
Cannas in the cold unheated greenhouse are beginning to shoot; Gunnera, likewise, outside. In the kitchen garden the chives, parsley, sorrel and rhubarb are showing strong signs of growth. And the first Camellia of spring (pictured above) has already produced lovely big healthy blooms.
Goodness knows what the year’s got in store, but it’s got off to a splendid start.
The Kusama show at the Tate Modern is the perfect place to take the kids on a wet afternoon. This may seem an odd recommendation when everyone knows that Kusama is sex-obsessed and one of the exhibits is a room filled with phallus-sprouting furniture, but the children present when I was there were having a whale of a time. And Kusama’s story is as good an introduction to modern art as anyone’s.
I tried to persuade my children to learn Latin by telling them it would stand them in good stead when they became interested in gardening, but the very idea made them laugh. “That’s never going to happen”, they said. I think I put them off gardening at an early age. When they were very young they would happily trot along with me, admiring the flowers, when I visited a garden. But as soon as they were old enough to realise that there were more interesting things they could be doing with their time, their opposition became absolute. In fact, before any family expedition I’d be cross-examined to make sure that the trip didn’t involve even the hint of a garden visit, before they’d agree to set out. Part of the problem of course was the horrid Latin names. If only I’d been able to introduce them to the Rock Madwort, or the Bristling Bear’s Head, I could have had them hooked for life. William Robinson, who by all accounts loathed children, nevertheless championed the use of English names for plants. If his view had prevailed things might have been different, as can be seen from this selection of plant choices taken from his Wild Garden (1870).
Let’s all get up and dance to a song That was a hit before your mother was born. Though she was born a long, long time ago Your mother should know, your mother should know. -Paul McCartney
I’ll always adore Annie Nightingale because she picked out the Heroes of She to win the competition for new band of the year at the O2 Arena. She’s the only Radio 1 DJ who’s older than I am and her musical tastes were formed when mine were, which means the Beatles and the Stones. Yes, we were lucky. Annie has been writing about Paul McCartney’s new album “Kisses” which consists of covers of songs recorded by artists such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin, the songs of my parent’s generation. These were songs which I loathed as a child and I’m intrigued to see that McCartney liked them. (My mother redeemed herself by being one of the few people to buy the Beatle’s very first single, Love Me Do). Annie’s question is this: If we have no difficulty in recognising the iconic songs of McCartney’s dad’s generation and of McCartney’s generation, what about the songs of our generation?
I’m grateful to Careth for taking up the Slow Life. She’d had a job at Barclays Bank before working for me, very successfully, as a receptionist at the Newby Bridge Hotel. And then she got an offer she couldn’t refuse, to join a friend in running the riding school at Witherslack. As well as teaching all of my children to ride, Careth has been the provider of the most precious commodity in my garden – horse manure. Her 29 horses produce mountains of it and each year I’ve been very kindly allowed to remove about 50 tons.
Some magnificent multi-chinned women are pictured in Tracey Lawson’s book “A Year in the Village of Eternity”. Her book is the story of Campodimele, a village in Italy whose citizens have a life expectancy of 95, which is 18 more than the Italian average. The author, who now lives in Carlisle, spent the best part of three years in Campodimele investigating the theory that it was something in the diet of the villagers that resulted in their long healthy lives. Her book is a paean to the Slow Life.
A well used expression for the English in Italy was “matti Inglesi”, meaning “crazy English” and not only because they enjoyed gardening. One of the craziest (to the Italians, but definitely not in reality) was Florence Trevelyan, who created Taormina’s most important garden before Casa Cuseni. The outstanding features of her garden were a series of extravagantly eccentric pavilions in rococo, Romanesque and Gothic styles, made largely from architectural salvage.
One of the reasons Daphne Phelps didn’t relish having hoi polloi like me at Casa Cuseni is that she was used to welcoming important people like Tennessee Williams, Roald Dahl and Bertrand Russell as her guests. In fact the locals were so used to seeing the rich and famous there that the local paper had a headline saying that Greta Garbo was due to arrive, but, as Miss Phelps makes clear in “A House in Sicily”, she never made it.
“Sometimes it strikes me as an intricate form of torture. In his book the triathlete Dave Scott wrote that of all the sports man has invented cycling has got to be the most unpleasant of all. I totally agree.” - Haruki Murakami “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” I needed to cross the busy A6 and slightly misjudged the timing, causing a van driver to toot as I shot in front of him. But he wasn’t satisfied with a toot and chased me down a lane and deliberately rammed me from behind, throwing me into a hedge and breaking my arm. I had to walk half a mile with my broken bike and arm to the nearest house, where I called an ambulance.
“Well, the girls can’t stand her ‘Cause she walks, looks, and drives like an ace, now She makes the Indy 500 look like The Roman chariot race, now A lot of guys try to catch her But she leads ‘em on a wild goose chase, now And she’ll have fun, fun, fun ‘Til her daddy takes the T-bird away” - The Beach Boys, “Fun, Fun, Fun”
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.