The Nigerian businessman sitting opposite me had the power to make millions. I’d flown in from London to negotiate a cement contract with him. His office at the port of Lagos was completely bare except for a desk and two chairs. On the desk was a single book with a familiar yellow and black cover. The title of the book was Teach Yourself Business. It didn’t matter at all that this man, a tribal chief, didn’t have the slightest clue about business and wasn’t afraid to let you know it. All that mattered was that in a corrupt society, without a proper legal system, he had the power to make things happen.
One of the glorious moments in Kate Rawle’s highly entertaining book The Carbon Cycle was when she arrived in Alaska and turned into Sarah Palin. As a vegetarian, Kate had struggled to find suitable food on her 4,553-mile journey through America but found herself questioning her vegetarian principles when she met the moose-hunting Alaskans. This is what she wrote: “I was finding something deeply attractive about the hunting culture- when it was associated with people who lived in these places and who shot to eat or to be safe…
At twelve noon the natives swoon, and no further work is done – But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. - Noel Coward From the start local girl Kate Rawles was determined not to let the side down. If the British have a reputation abroad for eccentricity she would live up to it, if not enhance it.
Which are the most precious, cabbages or pigeons? Well, if I’ve planted the cabbages there’s no argument. Pigeons have been a real nuisance in the kitchen garden this year, virtually destroying our cabbage patch. Fortunately there’s help at hand. Before breakfast this morning my youngest daughter, wearing her camouflage gear, climbed the Prospect Tower which overlooks the kitchen garden, with her 1.78 rifle, ready for the kill.
Stephen Covey didn’t believe in retirement. He was still working when he died, last week, aged 79. It was a good death; he fell off his bicycle. Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” sold 20 million copies, but it was his book on family life, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families which has been of the most value to me. It gave me an idea which helped me solve a difficult problem in our family life. The problem was what to do about Sunday dinner. Every Sunday we would sit down to a roast dinner as most British families do (or used to). But as the children grew older it became more and more apparent that whilst the grown-ups looked forward to the meal, the children didn’t. We were faced with three grumpy girls, under the age of ten, who didn’t “get” the ritual. Stephen Covey gave me the solution. He said that we should involve children in our decisions about family life. All right then, I thought, we’ll be more democratic, and I came up with the idea of The Choice.
I’m intrigued by the difference in the reaction in England and the States to the news that the Damson Dene Hotel has replaced the Gideon bible with Fifty Shades of Grey. In England the response has been overwhelmingly favourable. Everyone to whom I’ve told the story has roared with laughter, whatever their religious beliefs. People have seen it as a bit of fun and almost no one has been offended. The only complaint we’ve had from a guest at the Damson Dene has been when their promised copy of Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t there in their room, because the previous occupant had taken it home with them.
“Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale” - Gabriel Garcia Marquez The respected Lake District hotelier, and my keen business rival, Simon Berry, came to Christianity in a remarkable way. He was a non-believer and his wife was trying to convert him. Simon was having nothing of it but said “If I’m handed a bible, free, in the next seven days I’ll be convinced”. Six days later he was in a second hand book shop when the woman behind the counter took out a book and gave it to him. It was a bible. Simon asked “How much do you want for it?” to which she replied “Nothing”. “Thank you very much”, he said “you’ve changed my life”. He has been a committed Evangelist Christian ever since.
Broad is the Gate and wide the Path That leads man to his daily bath; But ere you spend the shining hour With plunge and spray, with sluice and show’r – With all that teaches you to dread The bath as little as your bed – Remember, whosoe’er you be, To shut the door and turn the key! - Harry Graham- “The Bath”
Borough Market is by far the best farmer’s market in central London and it’s no exaggeration to say that it owes its vitality to Cumbrians. Of these the most vital is Peter Gott. Peter dominates the meat side of things in the market, is good friends with Jamie Oliver and has become a bit of a celebrity in his own right (Jamie catches some of Peter’s glory). In a way, Peter was responsible for me starting to keep pigs, and later to buy a farm, because I wanted him to supply my hotels with his meat but he told me that the toffs at Borough Market were taking all his produce.
This morning I reached into my raincoat pocket and came across a valuable, iconic, work of art. It was one of Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds. I was lucky enough to visit his sunflower seeds installation at Tate Modern when the public were allowed, indeed encouraged, to handle the seeds and throw them into the pile. A few weeks earlier the public had been allowed to walk on the seeds, but Tate Modern banned that in a gesture of solidarity with the authoritarian regime in China.
I’m bemused, bewitched and bewildered by Kirsty Barnby (see here for her website). She’s an auburn haired beauty with freckled skin who belongs in the shades of the far north and yet she has embarked on a career in the searing sun. She’s an eco-warrior who wants everyone to go everywhere by bicycle and yet has set up a tourism business which you can only reach by crossing the globe in a jet. What’s more, her fledgling enterprise is in a place which has a climate and a political setup which is as unstable as anywhere on earth.
Tonight millions of women will be curling up in bed with a good book and you can bet your life it won’t be the Bible. More likely than not it will be Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven’t read the book yet – I’m not in the target audience – but I’m told it’s a ripping good yarn and everyone who’s in the target audience loves it. This made me wonder about the sense of providing a book, the Gideon Bible which no-one reads, and many dislike, in the bedside cabinet of our hotel bedrooms, instead of a book which everyone wants to read, such as Fifty Shades of Grey.
Can gardening lead you on the road to Nirvana? There’s a professor who has spent a lifetime studying the meaning of happiness who believes it can. The professor is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi*, who has developed the theory of “flow” which he describes as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one”. This complete absorption in a task can be something as mundane as weeding or dead-heading.
These pictures, both taken today, show two beds of dahlias, growing side by side, which were planted out at the same time but which have grown at very different rates. The top picture shows dahlias grown in soil which was given a mulch of cow manure and the bottom picture shows dahlias grown with a mulch of horse manure. I’m surprised by how much more fertile the cow manure has turned out to be. As I wrote in February (see here) I was forced to buy some cow manure because my usual supplier of horse manure had run out. I was afraid it would be full of weeds, and this turned out to be the case, mainly grass and nettles. But the faff of pulling out the weeds is more than compensated for by the magnificent power of the fertiliser. The horse manure is weed free and also looks much better when it’s first applied but I don’t think I’ll be so sniffy about using cow manure in the future.
If it wasn’t for a certain Beatle no-one, of course, would be interested in Yoko Ono’s retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery, but she’s embedded in our culture now. She’s a lot like Tracey Emin in that she can’t draw or paint or sculpt, but she has a vivid scatological imagination, which is what makes her interesting. After she’d caught her Beatle and put him in a matchbox she released a film called “Bottoms” which consisted of footage of 365 backsides, some clips of which are being shown at the Serpentine, together with Fly, a film of flies flitting about a naked woman’s body, particularly her vaginal area.
I first got to know Makiko Sato when she pleaded with me to borrow some turf on the eve of judging day at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2010. She was the construction manager in charge of more than two dozen workers at Kazu Ishihara’s Japanese garden, which was next door to mine. It was a pleasure to help her out, not least because she had worked her socks off to create a beautiful garden and she deserved to succeed.
The monsoon arrived late in Bangladesh this year, possibly because it took a detour via Grange-over-Sands. The flooding here was so severe that a canoe was seen on Windermere Road. The heavy rain came with some nasty gales and sometimes I dreaded opening the curtains for fear of seeing a scene of devastation outside. But the damage has been relatively mild; one or two trees have lost branches but the plants seem OK and all the dahlias have stayed upright even though they aren’t staked.
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.