“A woman drove me to drink and I never even had the courtesy to thank her” - W. C. Fields Now, I feel really guilty. I’ve been buying wine off Tony Jackson, the boss at Lakeland Vintners, for 20 years and he’s explained to me why it’s impossible to make a penny from selling wine. Here’s the maths.
It’s deliciously appropriate to celebrate the government’s stern diktat that we mustn’t eat more than 6 ounces of red meat a week with a magnificent roast rib of beef. This is a 5 rib monster, enough to give me and my family at least half a pound of red meat a day, which, together with roast potatoes cooked in goose fat is enough to give the Chief Medical Officer apoplexy. If only.
I’ve spent a lot of time this week interviewing chefs and believe me there are some pretty rum specimens out there, with some gruesome tales of being driven to the limits of physical and mental endurance in under-staffed and ill-equipped kitchens. It seems that some chefs really do work in a “hells kitchen”.
I wonder how many of the fresh faced youngsters at Kendal College tonight know what awaits them in the real world.
Why is it that the I Love NY slogan, which was designed more than 30 years ago, is still so popular that it generates $30m a year in royalties for New York City. An explanation was given on the radio today by the man who designed it, Milton Glaser. He said that the secret of its success was that when someone saw the design for the first time its meaning wasn’t immediately obvious, that it was a puzzle which they had to decipher and when they did, they felt a warm glow of achievement.
“Got up, shaved, did the Spectator crossword, shaved again” - Roger McGough (misquoted)
This week the Spectator has been celebrating the publication of tits 2,000th crossword with a dinner attended by some of its compilers, including Doc, Mr Magoo and Dumpynose. None of those attending had to ask how Dumpynose got his pen name- they all knew that it is an anagram of pseudonym.
A good friend called as I was driving back from the airport with the exciting news that she’s engaged. Her boyfriend had proposed in the most romantic way while they were on a skiing holiday by writing “Will You Marry Me” in the ice on a lake. That’s some precedent for him to live up to.
The prize for the least romantic proposal goes to the Scot who took his girl to the family tomb and asked her whether she would like to have her named engraved on it.
I’ve got the feeling that if Matt Ridley were to read this blog he’d dismiss it as so much New Age tosh. The quote from Thoreau on the title page would really get up his goat. He’d be surprised to hear me say that I, on the other hand, think his new book, ‘The Rational Optimist- How Prosperity Evolves’ is brilliant in every respect and I agree with every word. It’s the sort of book which you want everyone to read because if they do then they might just “get it”. Here’s an extract, which hits the spot exactly:
“Currently we only have 0.5% of the market share of Chinese tourists. If we could increase that to just 2.5% this could add over half a billion pounds of spending to our economy and this could mean as many as 10,000 new jobs.” - David Cameron I had lunch the other day with a Chinaman who was incongruously named Boris. He lives in Shanghai but spends a lot of his time in Europe.
‘Matsu daki ume’ ‘The longer the wait, the tastier’ - Japanese Saying Today my Japanese hosts are giving me a special treat – a meal in an eel (unagi) restaurant. Eels feature only rarely on English menus and then nearly always as a starter of smoked eel, but eels are so prized in Japan that there are restaurant s which serve nothing but eel.
It’s a real pleasure to be back in Huis Ten Bosch, 4 months after the Gardening World Cup, on a clear crisp day to see how our gardens are getting on. The original idea was to take the gardens down straight after the event, as happens in all other shows. But the display proved to be so popular that the decision was made to leave them for a few more weeks which, in the event, has turned into four months.
Today is the first day of the first month of what we in the West call the Year of the Rabbit, but in Japan is the Year of the Metal Hare. I’m celebrating it with my daughter Jo as the guest of friends in their apartment in Fukuoka. None of the superstitions relating to the Asian zodiac are believed in by our hosts, but they enjoy performing the rituals which they have observed since childhood.
In this Slow Life I rarely get the chance to read a novel but a long flight to Fukuoka with my eldest daughter Jo, who is going to study Japanese there, is the perfect opportunity to settle down to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. All 455 pages. The novel is set in Dajima, Nagasaki, 200 years ago when the Dutch occupied the only foreign trading post in Japan.
“To connive at the killing of animals, while being too lily-livered to kill them yourselves is despicable”
- John Seymour- ‘The Fat of the Land’ Jamie Oliver’s mission to take young people off the dole and then turn them into chefs isn’t just a stunt for a TV show. Long after the TV series has ended Jamie continues to recruit young trainees- except that now there are 28 rather than 15.
The farm has been hemorrhaging money. When I bought the farm five years ago my bank manager asked me whether it would “wash its face”. “Of course”, I replied “once I get the hang of things”. The truth must be that I never quite did get the hang of things because the more we did, the more money we lost. Here are two examples of the difference between the dream and reality.
“I put up a petition annually for as much snow, hail, frost or storm, of one kind or another as the skies can possibly afford us. Surely everybody is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a winter fireside, candles at four o’clock, warm hearth-rugs, tea, a fair tea maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies on the floor whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without”. - Thomas de Quincey- Confessions of an English Opium-eater
Both my younger daughters are learning the guitar and are practising with Make You Feel My Love. They think the song is by Adele and were horrified to learn that it is by the dreaded Bob Dylan. “Dreaded” because they have spent a good part of their young lives begging me to turn Dylan off whenever I play his records. Dylan will welcome the boost to his coffers- will he ever get round to spending any of it? Adele’s cover version of Make You Feel My Love has re-entered the top ten this week, making it the first song in chart history to make the top ten four times in the same chart run, having moved 78-24-44-76-102-4-11-20-17-27-19-9-12-9-21-31-26-33-31-27-7.
Is it possible to give it all up and subsist on five acres? So many people, including me, longingly dream about it- but John Seymour did it. His book, The Fat of the Land begins with this paragraph: “Here we all sit, Sally my wife, Jane who is five and a half, Ann who is two and a half, and Kate who is seven (days), a mile from a hard road, with no electricity, no gas, no deliveries of anything at all except coal, provided we take at least a ton, and mail, and the post woman gets specially paid for coming here.
There’s a fun half hour to be had at the Gilbert and George exhibition of postcard art at the White Cube gallery in St James. The exhibition is of dozens of collages of identical size, each consisting of 12 postcards arranged in a square with a thirteenth in the centre. The postcards have been collected over the years either from telephone kiosks, where they usually have something to do with transexual sex, or from shops selling tourist tat, where the theme is London and the union flag.
After admiring Anne Hardy and Clarisse d’Arcimoles’s pictures at the “Newspeak: British Art Now” exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery I was pleased to have the opportunity to see them in person this evening at a talk about their art. This year a billion photos will have been taken, instantly, without much thought, in many cases using something we would not recognise as a camera.
Countryfile got in touch with me after seeing this blog. They wanted to know if I could really survive without using a supermarket. Good God, is it really so outlandish? I’m sure that Grange isn’t the only small town with no supermarket, but lots of good independent small shops. Living in Grange makes it easy for me to keep my pledge and I was chuffed that Countryfile did some filming in Grange to prove the point.
The rain has been relentless and the north of the county is under water again. Nothing new there. But the most dramatic pictures come from the other side of the world, from Queensland, where entire suburbs have been drowned. These suburbs must have been built by supreme optimists because the lowlands of Queensland are forever being submerged.
One of the great mysteries of a visit to Japan is why the most efficient nation on earth has the most hopeless taxi drivers. They seem to spend half their time asking people the way. One of the reasons is that house numbers do not run consecutively, they run historically- that is in the order in which the house was built. Thus No 1 Tokyo Road can be a mile away from No 2 Tokyo Road.
“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today” - Indian Proverb One of the special treats to look forward to at Christmas time is the arrival of the new Chiltern Seeds catalogue. “Chiltern” is a little misleading as they are based just round the corner at Bortree Stile, Ulverston. I think it’s the best seed catalogue there is. It’s the only one I need. Chiltern Seeds are the best not only because they have an eclectic selection and are completely reliable, but because their catalogue is a joy to read. Here are a couple of typical extracts:
Surely there’s nothing more innocuous than a tomato, and yet until the mid-nineteenth century it was thought to be poisonous and too dangerous to grow in a garden. It’s fascinating to read in Victorian gardening literature how attitudes gradually changed. By the end of the century eating a tomato was thought to be as harmless as drinking a cup of tea. Except that tea was, for a time, thought to be a dangerous drug. This quotation is from the medical journal, the Lancet, in 1872:
Apropos of nothing, these stories, first about Bono and then about Madonna are as revealing as they are amusing: At a pop concert in aid of a very worthy charity Bono proclaimed: “Every time I clap a child dies in Africa”.
To which a member of the audience shouted: “Well stop fucking clapping then”
The Hungarian magazine Blikk interviewed Madonna. The questions were asked in Hungarian and then translated into English.
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.