There’s a school of thought that when a great gardener has made a garden it should be preserved forever, whatever the merits of the garden. Lord Cavendish at Holker Hall inherited a garden, which had been commissioned by his grandmother from Thomas Mawson, one of the undoubted greats. Unfortunately Lord Cavendish thought it was “perfectly horrible”. He wasn’t alone. The moment of truth came when he and his wife were working in the garden one summer’s day and a member of the public asked politely; “Can you please direct us to the gardens?” He tore it out, to howls of protest from garden historians, but to the great relief of the visiting public. Brockhole, on the shores of Lake Windermere, is another Mawson garden. I think the words “perfectly horrible” describe it perfectly. It’s difficult to see how much of the original is left, and I don’t think it would be fair to ascribe any of its present defects to faults in Mawson’s original design. Apparently, 100 years ago it was one of the finest gardens in the Lakes. But it’s sadly neglected now, as the photo below shows.
The gorgeous flower pictured here belongs to the Impatiens tinctoria. It’s not often seen, which is odd, because it’s one of the best plants around. I planted mine 6 years ago, since when it has needed no attention at all. It’s a perennial which dies back completely in winter and then grows into a large bush, about 6 ft across and 5 ft tall, and will flower continuously from July to September. It has proved to be completely hardy, surviving the harsh winters of 2008-10. In other words, an excellent doer.
Written about 1,000 years ago, ‘Sakuteiki, Visions of The Japanese Garden’ is the oldest known book on garden design. It begins with the phrase “ishi wo taten koto” which is translated as “when creating a garden”, but means, literally “when setting stones upright”, because in those days the correct placement of stones was at the heart of garden design. Some of the book is about aesthetics, such as how to make the most of a borrowed landscape, but much of it is about how to placate the Gods, or at least how to avoid annoying them too much.
“The garden has to reach inside you. It should change your heart, sadden it, uplift it. It has to make you appreciate the impermanence of everything in life. That point just as the last leaf is about to drop, as the remaining petal is about to fall; that moment captures everything beautiful and everything sorrowful about life. Mono no aware, the Japanese call it.” - Tan Twan Eng – ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’
“What are your songs about Bob?” “Oh, some are about four minutes, some about five and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve”, he replied. “Bob Dylan is not authentic at all: He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception” - Joni Mitchell
Every university student should read Professor Nutt’s new book ‘Drugs Without the Hot Air’. They may not remember Professor Nutt as the man who was sacked from the government’s Drug Advisory Council because he said, truthfully, that taking ecstasy was safer than riding a horse, but they’ll be grateful for his calm advice on which are the best drugs to go for. There’s no doubt, he says, that alcohol is one of the most dangerous.
Villagers in the Himalayas inscribe their water wheels with prayers in the belief that their entreaties will be carried downstream through their pastures to the ocean. The villagers of Fiesch in Switzerland worship a different God, but their prayers are no less fervent. Several centuries ago they became so alarmed at the threat to their crops through the expansion of the Aletsch glacier that the Catholic Church devised special prayers to save them from disaster.
“The lamb’s neck sweetbread has been marinated in Sardinian olive oil with rocket,” said the manager, pointing with his pinkie at two miniscule pieces of meat. “The sun-dried tomatoes come from Bulgaria”. - ‘The Dinner’ by Hermann Koch The setting for Hermann Koch’s novel ‘The Dinner’ is an expensive restaurant in Amsterdam where you can only get a table by booking five months in advance. The narrator has a lot of fun mocking the food there and it reminded me of a place not far from here where a main course of “ Cumbrian slow roasted belly of pork” turned out to be a piece of meat no larger than my thumb served on an enormous white plate.
“Look, I expect politicians to be stupid, but who is this Dan Poulter cunt?” asked Tim Worstall on his “It is all obvious or trivial except…” blog. To answer his question, Dan Poulter is a young and very good looking Conservative MP who attracted Tim Worstall’s scorn because of some idiotic remarks he made about smoking.
“Every lamb that is born is born to have its throat cut” - Beatrix Potter The Head Chef at Whites, the Gentleman’s Club for toffs, said, with more than a hint of pride, that he’s only been asked to prepare a vegetarian meal three times in 12 years. This will be because toffs are as likely to pop out and shoot their supper as they are to shop for it, so they don’t have any illusions about what’s required to put meat on the table.
The redcurrants shone so brightly in the sunshine that you could see them from over the bay and yet the birds didn’t seem to bother much with them. Half of our redcurrant bushes are in the open, with no netting to protect them, and there were some signs, from feathers and droppings, that the birds had been there, but the losses were minimal. I think the ants got more, and there was some mould damage because of the rain. But today we harvested 50 lbs (about 22 kilos) of almost perfect berries, which is as good a day’s work as we are likely to achieve. We can enjoy those summer puddings with a clear conscience.
Gore Vidal famously said: “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little”. He’s also attributed with the corollary “It’s not enough to succeed, others must fail”. He’s right, there’s nothing more enjoyable than seeing someone fall flat on their face, particularly if they’re in the same business as you. This week there has been a spectacular fall, in the drubbing received by Forman’s restaurant from the press and their customers because of their disastrous decision to charge £75 for breakfast*.
When I got out of the car at Newby Bridge tears were streaming down my face. It was if I had been training to stand on a podium listening to the National Anthem with a gold medal in my hand. But these tears weren’t of joy or sentiment or of my deep and abiding love for my coach, they were tears of laughter.
My mother believed that the French called us Rosbifs because our faces turned bright pink at the first hint of sun. The insults of the French bounced off her, although she did concede that they could sometimes be condescending. Condescension is a term of art in France (they have 50 words for it) and they used it to maximum effect when Mark Cavendish won the final stage of the Tour de France and Bradley Wiggins walked off with the yellow jersey.
By rights blueberries shouldn’t thrive in my garden, and they didn’t use to. Blueberries need acid soil and ours, on limestone rock, is neutral at best. I have two blueberry bushes and they were very feeble, hardly managing to produce any fruit at all. So I dug them up, removed all the soil and replanted the bushes in ericaceous soil. They have responded magnificently. Blueberries are unusual in that they produce their fruit gradually, with ripe berries on the same branch as immature ones.
There’s a foodie triangle in the Lyth Valley with six of the best places to eat in Cumbria. First there’s The Punch Bowl Inn in Crosthwaite which is in the Good Food Guide and the Michelin Pub guide. Then there’s The Mason’s Arms at Strawberry Bank, a Camra favourite, which is Pub of the Year 2012. Not forgetting my own Damson Dene Hotel at Crosthwaite, which receives a steady stream of five star reviews from Tripadvisor and has their Certificate of Excellence. Two more pubs and a restaurant, The Hare and Hounds at Bowland Bridge, The Brown Horse Inn at Winster and the Lyth Valley restaurant, are among the best in the county.
The Lyth Valley road used to be the main route to Windermere but it’s now a quiet backwater with a jumble of lanes leading off it, down which many of these places are to be found.
“Do you mind if I take a yew log from your woodpile?” asked the chirpy visitor at one of my garden open days last year. “Of course not, go ahead” I replied, thinking, but not saying, “Cheeky bugger”. Actually it’s nice to be asked. Open days are liberally interpreted as “open house” days as visitors, mainly of the fairer sex, fill their bags with cuttings, or worse. The truth is, I don’t mind at all; I take it as a compliment and no harm is done.
In 1947, when my great-grandmother was 93, she had electricity installed for the first time in the cottage where she had lived for most of her life. After the tallow lamps had been replaced by electric lights she was persuaded to buy a washing machine. When the men arrived, at 9am, to install it she said: “You’re much too late – I did the washing at six and it’s already on the line”.
It was very funny to hear that the Banks called us muppets behind our backs. Muppets are the business customers who the banks fooled into buying products which they didn’t understand so that they could pocket huge commissions. I’m a muppet. And this muppet fought back. I became a muppet when I signed on the dotted line of a “hedging” agreement which my bank, Yorkshire Bank, assured me would protect me against rises in interest rates. When interest rates fell I was shocked to find that my friendly bank was charging me double the agreed rate.
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.