The Highwayman Dressed In Ballet Shoes

On Thursday morning I had two very unpleasant experiences. Firstly, I removed a very large, very dead frog from a pond filter and the smell is one I would carry in my nostrils for most of the oday. Secondly I picked a drowned mouse from the same pond and it was in such an advanced state of decomposition that it ran through my fingers. It was very similar in texture and colour to the Irish Stew we were given at school. This was different to normal stew in that it was a yellowy grey colour and the meat/gristle quotient was more pronounced.

I then whizzed off to Cheltenham for the Literature Festival to hang out with Jekka McVicar, Carol Klein and Judith Hann (who used to present Tomorrow’s World and is now a fromage at the Herb Society.) I was hoping to be surrounded by exciting literary folk – I was looking forward to sharing a pastry with Salman or a slightly off colour anecdote with Martin Amis I was especially excited about the idea of showing Nigella my impersonation of Joe Swift impersonating her (“Oooo, I love a bit of cream on my dumplings”) – I know that it would have made her day. But, unfortunately, they all turn up in the evening. The only celebrity was Matthew Appleby who lurked at the rear and was, I must say, rather scruffy. My job was to interview Jekka and Carol, marshall audience questions and step in in case of a fight breaking out. I also watched Catherine Horwood talk elegantly about her book, Women Gardeners. I have to say I harbour a rather soft spot for the fearsome looking Beatrix Havergall from Waterperry. I like to think that she had an infectious laugh – although that aspect was not covered in Catherine’s lecture.

I told nobody of my earlier dead animal traumas: I had it in reserve in case the sessions were a bit lacklustre, but we were okay.

Sadly, I missed Andrew Marr ranting on about bloggers: for those who missed it he said that “A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting”. I think, however, that I a relatively safe as his spleen was mostly vented at the people who comment on political blogs and I don’t think he is that bothered by gardening blogs (i) although………

I stayed in Bristol on Monday night and misread the name of the hotel into which I had booked myself. I turned up at an imposing building and should really have smelt a rat as there appeared to be no lights, no cars and some old mattresses in the yard. The door was locked and, when I finally, gained entry the reception area sparse. I was cordially welcomed by a neat Scandinavian but was not sure how much I was going to enjoy my stay. Looking around I noticed dormitory rooms and spartan seating: there was no restaurant, Etruscan style treatment area, strewn copies of Somerset Life and nor were the greatest hits of Neil Diamond  playing softly in the background. I am of an age now when I prefer a few light comforts – nothing along the Arabella Sock lines – but my days of sleeping in bus shelters and hedges are thankfully behind me. Fortunately I soon discovered I was in the wrong place: the right place was better although I could hear the fellow in the next door room snoring.

As I was in Bristol I took the chance to take cake with the poised and soignee Lia Leendertz – in a cafe teeming with 92% of North Bristol’s yummy-mummies plus offspring. I then lunched with the sainted Jekka McVicar and spent a happy couple of hours looking at herbs. I also visited Derry Watkins at Special Plants. Her garden is sensational: fabulous plants and a staggeringly good series of tiered hedges echoing the hills across the valley. The garden is open on occasions and if you are in the area you should go: I rather blew it in that I turned up at dusk so had to rush around much too quickly. Go earlier and you get tea as well. This picture is really bad but you could get the idea. I think that it is a garden of which even Ms Wareham approves, and there ain’t many of those.

Just in case you think I was just loafing around the West Country schmoozing young ladies I must reveal that I had work to do as it has been a busy week for talking.

We did a Three Men Live gig in London for the Harington Scheme (of which Mr Swift is a Patron) – we dressed up for the occasion although I am ashamed to notice that my bow tie is at slightly too jaunty an angle. It is difficult sometimes to cope without a valet. Then I spoke to a happy load of gardeners in Nailsea(the Fagus Gardening Club) on Monday then to the University of Bath Gardening Club on Tuesday. This is a picture of the audience just to prove that life is not all about babies, herbs and lemon polenta cake. The observant will notice three noted bloggers adding intellectual heft to the assembly.

I have other things to report but that is probably enough for the moment. I am listening to Out Of My Head and Back In My Bed by Loretta Lynn. The picture is of Jekka’s baby chives.

(i) When I am very bored I have a secret vice: I go and get annoyed by articles in the Daily Mail Online.: I find it exquisitely irritating to go and see that 300 lunatics have commented vindictively about articles concerned Cheryl Cole or Katie Price. There, I’ve said it in public. I have, however, recently realised that you can get nearly the same effect (but without the right wing bile) from reading Anne Wareham’s soon to be published book, The Bad-Tempered Gardener. I have a manuscript copy and bits of it are amazingly annoying. It makes you feel like a rhino getting delicious – but markedly painful –  relief from rubbing against a thorn tree.