This photo is of a section of the peacock’s tail, showing the wide range of pebbles which Maggy is using, including semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, for the mosaic which will form the path leading to the aviary in our garden for the Chelsea Flower Show. Thousands of pebbles and stones will be needed, so many in fact that Maggy announced today that she is running short and will have to make an excursion to Anglesey where she has a special licence to collect pebbles from a secret location which is owned by a titled gentleman there. I’m flabbergasted that with time running so short she has the time and energy to travel for five hours for the back-breaking task of hand-picking pebbles. The lapis lazuli are mined in Afghanistan. Formerly, lapis lazuli was ground and processed to make the pigment ultramarine for tempera paint and, sometimes, oil paint. The ultramarine colour of the stone will be a perfect foil for the ultramarine paint on the aviary.
The below picture shows Maggy choosing the stone for the Peacock’s eye. She plumped for the one in her left hand.
Radio Cumbria, after hearing about my dismay at the tie-up between Slow Food UK and the supermarket chain, Booths, invited me to share my thoughts with the listeners to their Breakfast Show this morning and to my surprise they asked Slow Food’s Chief Executive, Catherine Gazzoli to discuss the subject with me. Catherine is the feisty, dynamic, bundle of energy who has done so much to transform the fortunes of Slow Food since she took up the reigns (see my posting of February 4th).
The sun was warm but the wind was chill You know how it is with an April day When the sun is out and the wind is still, You’re one month on in the middle of May. But if you so much as dare to speak, A cloud comes over the sunlit arch, A wind comes over the frozen peak, And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
- Robert Frost
The first thing I do when I unwrap Country Life on a Wednesday evening is turn to the inside back page and read Carla Carlisle’s column.
I wonder if, when Marco Pierre White became the spokesman for Bernard Matthews Turkeys anyone said: “That’s a principled decision. I respect him for that” ? That thought came to mind today when it was announced that Slow Food is to be sponsored by Booth’s supermarkets. Now, as far as supermarkets go, I know that Booths are marginally less evil than the rest. And as it’s five years since I ventured inside a supermarket I thought I’d better check and see, in case I was hopelessly out of date and they have become, as the press release implies, a paragon of virtue.
I was going to use the heading “Seven inches of heaven” and then thought better of it. After three weeks of warm dry weather the spring has caught up and our asparagus has arrived dead on time, on April 24th, which is the average date on which I’ve collected the first spears in the last six years. In a normal year, a year which isn’t wrecked by Chelsea, I’d be eating asparagus nearly every day until the end of May. In fact I’m perfectly content to have only asparagus followed by rhubarb tart every evening, which makes menu planning very easy for Margaret.
Heroes of She’s epic performance at the finals of the Live and Unsigned competition was brilliant. brilliant.
Now the band are busy rehearsing their act for the Regional Finals, at the Willow Club in Manchester on May 9th. Could they possibly improve on their ‘My Sharona/Burning In Flames’ performance? The word on the streets is Yes. In which case they are a certainty for the prize of a gig at the 02 stadium. I can’t wait.
At the election on May 6th one thing is certain- either Tim Farron (Lib-Dem) or Gareth McCeever (Tory) will be elected to represent Westmorland and Lonsdale. At a Chamber of Commerce lunch today at the Riverside hotel, in the presence of three TV crews and lots of local business people they both gave impressive performances and I’ve no doubt that, whoever wins, the constituency will be well represented.
The saddleback sow has produced 14 piglets, some of whom have perfect markings. They are all in perfect health, which is surprising considering the amount of work required just to get a hold of a teat. The squealing of the little piglets is almost deafening as they fight for food. Meanwhile the sow adds to the cacophony with her contended grunting.
No-one puts on a better mating display than Marco Pierre White, which is why his name came instantly to mind when I saw our male turkey put on the over-the-top routine seen in this video. Of course, the words “turkey” and “Marco” are now inextricably linked, ever since Marco became the official face of Bernard Matthew Turkeys. Marco had kept his fondness for factory farming a closely guarded secret and I’m sure it took a great deal of money to persuade him to share this passion with the rest of the world. Of course, none of the turkeys on Bernard Matthew’s farms ever see the light of day, so I doubt whether they ever get the chance to indulge in mating displays. Which is something which Marco should perhaps have thought about before he accepted that shed-load of money from Mr Matthews.
Damson Day is always held in the middle of April to coincide with the damson blossom which is always such a spectacular sight in the Lyth Valley. Except for this year, when everything, including the blossom, is about a fortnight late. But the weather is trying to catch up- we’ve enjoyed a fortnight of clear skies and Damson Day was no exception. Last year, we had a record attendance of 3,000, which will almost certainly be beaten this year. I say “we” because the Damson Dene Hotel is, most appropriately, the event’s main sponsor. Blossom or no blossom, I can’t remember a better atmosphere at the event.
The mosaic which Maggy Howarth is creating for the Victorian Aviary Garden is 12 square metres in size, which may not sound much but is the size of the average spare bedroom- in other words pretty damn massive when you think that it’s made entirely of pebbles. I went to Maggy’s workshop today to see how things were coming along. It’s about half finished, with the main part of the design, the Peacock, laid out in one enormous piece outside and the rest , including the border, in sections on several large tables in the workshop. I’m completely taken aback by the intricacy of the work and the quality of the craftsmanship. It’s awe-inspiring. We checked the time table and Maggy gave a big gulp when I confirmed that the mosaic needs to be at Chelsea for May 13th, which is less than four weeks from now. Mark, her only assistant, is away installing a mosaic in Gatehead. As soon as he gets back, it will be flat out for them both until the mosaic is safely installed.
We are often asked what is the point of the Lakes Hospitality Association, when the tourism industry is already represented by Cumbria Tourism. There are many reasons, not least that the LHA is independent, doesn’t rely on public funds for its existence and can therefore feel free to speak out on any issue without fear of its funding being withdrawn. But the main reason is that a little bit of competition is good for the soul, it keeps people on their toes and counteracts complacency. Today we reviewed the very long list of the LHA’s achievements over the last year, and one of these was the TV advertising campaign which we undertook to try to counter the sharp decline in trade after the floods.
At lunch today I bought ten ducks which will take part in the annual duck race in Kendal later this year (watch this space) to raise money for the Bob McGie award. This is testimony to the vast amount of alcohol we were given (Champagne to begin with and then a different wine with each course) with our lunch, which was prepared and served by the students of Kendal College. It is one of the best hospitality events of the year. The money raised by the ducks, the lunch and other events sponsors students from the college on trips abroad to widen their horizons and give them the chance to learn about food in another country. This year, trips are being sponsored to Portugal, Dubai and New Zealand. Tony Jackson from Lakeland Vintners, who has supplied the wine to my hotels for nearly 20 years, which in itself shows what a great guy he is, generously donated the wine.
If you have ever wondered why there are so few roses in Grange-over-Sands the reason is that the deer scoff the lot. Deer love roses and indeed lots of other plants. They roam everywhere, in great numbers. The driver of an open top Mercedes was startled one day when driving through Grange when a roe deer jumped into the passenger seat. When we started this garden ten years ago the first thing we did was put up a deer fence all around the garden and a cattle grid at the entrance gate.
Philippa and I are at Painshill Park in Surrey for the recording of an interview for the BBC’s coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show. The BBC need to prepare in advance pieces about each of the show gardens for their “red button” facility and for their website. For this we have to pretend that the garden has been built and that we are at the Show standing in our garden. This requires significant feats of imagination, with which we both struggle , so early in the day.
Last year I picked the first rhubarb on the 25th March. Then, for the next three months I ate it every other day- 43 times in all until I let the crop recover at the end of June. One of the consequences of growing your own food is that you get used to having less choice. I never get tired of eating freshly picked fruit in season, although I can understand how tempting it must be to see the wide choice available in a supermarket.
When Sally and I first visited Kirkstone in January it was so cold that Sally’s toes turned to ice and took hours to recover. What a contrast with today- the sun is so fierce that I have to wear a hat to protect my head from sunburn. I’m at Kirkstone with Philippa and Mark for what will probably be our last visit before the show. We have come to discuss the steps and we need to decide how best to lay the slate which will cover them.
Our garden is surrounded by woodland, including the 60 acres of Yewbarrow Wood which forms the northern border. So we are never going to free ourselves of squirrels. The red squirrel died out in these parts about 15 years ago, leaving only the grey. Although the greys are very numerous we don’t seem to be as troubled by them as some people are, probably because they have a large natural woodland habitat.
This Sago Palm (Cycas Revoluta) spent three years outside, in the Gravel Garden, winters included, after which it became rather the worse for wear. The fronds began to turn brown and so, in the autumn of 2008, we brought it into the Orangery to let it recuperate. It sat there, looking poorly and rather forlorn and for a long time we thought it had given up the ghost. We lost the heating in the orangery in the middle of the coldest spell last winter and thought that would be the last straw. Then suddenly, two weeks ago, just as the weather began to get warmer and as we began to give up hope, it sprang into life. The Sago Palm is one of the world’s oldest plants. Its actually a Cycad, not a palm and is very slow growing indeed, taking up to a hundred years to reach ten feet. A slow life, indeed.
I was with a bunch of media people and someone mentioned that Michael Caine had chosen Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead as his book on Desert Island Discs .Good choice Michael. Not surprisingly very few of those present had heard of Ayn Rand. This included a girl who has a first class degree in English and a Master’s in English and Philosophy. How can anyone who has taken a Master’s in Philosophy not know of Ayn Rand?
The following piece appeared in The Independent today:
'For the first year in its history, the Adam Smith Institute has opted not to award its annual Honest Politician Of The Year Award, explaining that “no qualifying candidates could be found”. Surely not! Anthony Steen was, apparently, nominated after claiming that people were “jealous” of his sprawling second home, as was Sir Nicholas Winterton for airing his opinion of standard-class travellers (“a totally different type of people”). Alas, neither man quite made the grade. Not to worry: “Next year we will give an award for Corrupt Politician Of The Year,” the event’s organisers added. “Corrupt politicians are actually the most honest. When bought, they stay bought.” A new law to live by, then.' Well done, The Adam Smith Institute, for fooling them, although it might as well be true.
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.