Joseph heard the song of the statue in the harbour and she seemed to be singing to him From Joseph Anton by Salmon Rushdie, describing his arrival in New York. Shortly after my elder brother arrived at Rugby School as a new boy he wrote to me at my prep school telling me that he had been beaten for having too many watts in his study. It seems that he’d put a sixty watt bulb in his lamp instead of the maximum permitted wattage of forty. I’d never heard of a watt.
Lim In Chong likes to be known as Inch. Last year at the Gardening World Cup he was quiet, unassuming and just got on with the job. Inch is from Malaysia and at home as well as being a garden designer he’s on the senate of the Christian Church. His plot was in a corner of the site, away from the hustle and bustle and no-one took much notice of what he was up to. Until judging day that is, when we realised that he had created an unusual mesmeric garden which was streets ahead of the competition. He won a gold medal but to our surprise didn’t win the prize for “best in show”. Politics were involved. But in everyone’s eyes he was the honorary winner. Last year Inch was very jealous of the roses in my “Mr McGregor’s” garden and asked my permission to speak to the lady from the Sasebo Rose Society who supplied them. As it happens, we weren’t fighting against each other this year and I was delighted to see that roses featured prominently in his garden, which was called “Eye to Eye”. Judging took place today and Inch finally got his due with the top prize. Last year the winner only got a medal, but this year there’s also a cash prize of Yen 500,000. I’m sure it’s been worth the wait.
The most talented and accomplished canna grower in recent times has undoubtedly been Ian Cooke. I remember being flabbergasted when I saw his canna displays in the old walled garden at Nottingham University. At that time he held the National Collection of Cannas and he had them displayed in several beds with the tall varieties at the back gradually descending to smaller flowers in the front. I noticed that each of the beds had an irrigation system, which released water to the plants on a continuous basis. This taught me for the first time that cannas need plenty of water.
‘Why is this house called a “Castle”?’ ‘It used to be one until they moved it.’ ‘What can you mean?’ Just that. We had a castle a mile away, down by the village. Then we took a fancy to the valley and pulled the castle down, carted the stones up here, and built a new house.’ - Evelyn Waugh- Brideshead Revisited
Twenty years ago today the Chancellor of the Exchequer raised interest rates to 15%, after Britain had been forced out of the ERM; VAT had recently been hiked to an all time high of 17.5%, and the rate of corporation tax on small companies’ profits was 25%. Not that there was much chance of making a profit because England was in the middle of one of its worst ever recessions. This wasn’t the time to be embarking on a new business venture. Fortunately, I was completely oblivious to all that and I invested everything I had in buying the Newby Bridge Hotel in the Lake District.
Grange already has the best butchers and the best bakers in Britain. We also have the best restaurant in Britain, now that L’Enclume, in our neighbouring village of Cartmel, has equalled the Fat Duck’s score of 10 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide. So it seems something of a miracle that there’s now another simply wonderful place to go to – Choco-lori, on Main St.
Spontaneous joys, where Nature has its play, The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway; Lightly they frolic o’er the vacant mind, Unenvied, unmolested, unconfined. - Oliver Goldsmith, “The Deserted Village”
At my last Dylan gig I was dismayed to see so many young people there. What on earth would they make of this wizened old man, croaking like a toad on steroids? For gnarled old Dylan junkies like me there’s no real problem with what he looks and sounds like – we are carried along by our collective memories of how things used to be.
We have said goodbye to the last garden visitors of the year, with a huge sigh of relief. Not that we don’t enjoy having them round, it’s just that we can relax now and let nature take its course. There’s a common misconception that visits to private gardens only got going when Elsie Wagg had the idea for the National Gardens Scheme in 1927. In fact such visits were commonplace; what the NGS did was to coordinate private efforts and to raise money for charity.
My favourite tree in the garden at this time of year is the Persian Silk Tree. I have three, which are strategically placed at the lower entrance to the Italian Terrace garden. You have to push past the branches to get into the garden and at that stage the trees seem to be unexceptional, with long acacia or mimosa type leaves. But as you rise up the steps of the terrace you can see that the tops of the trees are covered in a mass of beautiful pink flowers.
Which are the most poisonous plants in my garden? The yew has to be a strong contender. The yew trees have started to shed their berries now and the ground beneath the trees is covered with bright red fruit, but although it looks lethal this is the only part of the yew which isn’t poisonous and the birds love them. It’s the leaves which are poisonous, but they are more dangerous to horses and cattle than to us. One of the nastiest plants in my garden is the Echium pininana, whose stems are covered in little hairs which will cause severe blistering if touched.
A friend who lives just a few valleys away from here in the Trough of Bowland has been telling me that he’s only got a measly 3 apples this year from his orchard of 10 heritage apple trees. He blames an absence of pollinating insects during blossom time. We’ve been lucky – all our apple trees have cropped well. In fact they’ve never failed. Why this should be, I’m not sure.
When is it that parents realise that they have absolutely no influence over their offspring? I remember being inordinately proud when the first of our three daughters, aged 3, ate a whole bowl of mussels at Belgo. As a toddler she ate everything she was given, and we were very careful to give her the best – no junk food for her. Then she went to school and her influences were her friends first and her teachers second. Before long she was like every other child, with her fads and fancies. Her two sisters followed suit.
Alex James beat me to it with Slow Life. He wrote a Slow Life column for the Spectator, in the same part of the magazine as Taki’s High Life. My guess is that he was waiting to slip into Taki’s shoes, being a High Life man at heart- he’s said to have spent £1m on Champagne and coke when he was the bass player with Blur. But he’s no match for Taki, and he gave up his Slow Life column in 2010. He’s now biding his time as a cheese-maker on his farm in Oxfordshire.
Paloma Faith said this was the first pop festival she’d ever been to where you could get something decent to eat. She clearly loves her food and doesn’t mind the consequences. To prove it, she sang a song called “Cellulite” – in celebration of all those wobbly bits – and gave us a treat by lifting her dress above her knickers and giving her thighs a good wobble. The video below shows an earlier live performance of the song and her hilarious introduction to it. Paloma was right about the amazing food on offer at Feastival, not surprising considering that it was organised by Jamie Oliver and Alex James. Jamie’s Italian had a scrumptious pork belly, but the queues were longest for Mark Hix’s amazing fish and chips. As the photo shows, they were served very simply, in a bun with piped mushy peas. But the best part was the serving girls who were still full of beans after 7 hours on the go. In real life, they are chefs in Mark Hix’s kitchen and they were clearly loving their day out.
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.