Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Friday, 30 October 2009

Krispy Kreme, please note....

It isn't the most winning of sales techniques to greet a customer's order by adopting a Lady Bracknell tone of mildly outraged incredulity to say "Just the one?"

Friday, 23 October 2009

Sheer frivolity

I suppose I ought to have done my democratic duty and sat down to watch Question Time last night. But it's a long time since I gave up watching controversialists being controversial. What's the point if the only possible constructive contribution to the discussion is to throw something at the telly? Especially if, half the time, you could make a better fist of the arguments being put forward by someone you loathe in support of something you despise. And that's the last position I'd want to be in when the likes of Nick Griffin are on.

Anyway, it was nearly past my bedtime, and who wants to go to bed still chuntering away in high dudgeon? (By the way, what is low dudgeon?) Perhaps I might catch up in the daytime on the interweb - or maybe not.

Truth to tell - and I do hope this doesn't turn out to be some sort of historical parallel - there was a Astaire-Rogers musical on BBC4..........

Monday, 19 October 2009

Apple time

Tuesday is National Apple Day, apparently, and this weekend there was an Apple Festival at Brogdale Farm, the home of the National Fruit Collection.

Here over 2000 varieties of apples are grown, along with 500 varieties of pear, not to mention quinces and cherries, and the collection supports all sorts of serious research.

It's open to visit most of the year, but for the casual day-outer, the interest is either blossom or fruiting time.

For serious gardeners, there are opportunities to buy plants and seek expert (if rather brisk) advice:

"Is there anything I can do about the scab?"

"Yup. Spray".

To save time, there was an ID parade of trays of different apples marked with their names, for all those people with an old tree but no idea what variety it is.

And there was a large pick'n'mix tent of apples and pears for £2 a bag, of varieties I'd never heard of - not just apples (Norfolk Orange, Blue Pearmain, Murfitt's Seedling) but pears (Bergamotte de Strycker, Beurre de Beugny).

This being a Festival, the regular apple-focussed activities and tours of the fields were supplemented by talks and cookery demonstrations as well as other entertainments - food, fudge and craft stalls, a falconry display, a chance to try your hand at archery, the local classic car club display, and live bands while the miniature railway tootled back and forth behind the Egremont Russets.

The guided walk took us past trees loaded with fruit which we were allowed to taste (and pick samples): perfect scarlet or crimson apples like the pictures in children's books (and every other possible colour too), historical varieties from what was claimed to be a Roman variety (small, green, not very tasty and fruiting only every other year), to the Elizabethan costard (large, crimson, delicious, but fruiting only at the tip of each stem, so not commercially economic), and a range of flavours too, with some apples (supposedly) tasting of aniseed, raspberry, lemon or coffee flavours.

It's the names that capture the imagination. The limited range of supermarket offerings simply doesn't prepare you for a world in which you might find D'Arcy Spice tempting the Lady of Wemyss to a Fondante d'Automne, or Mrs. Phillimore having Great Expectations of William Crump, while Leonard Lush calls Scotch Bridget "Sweetie" (and she calls him "Fairy"). (Yes, those are all names of apples and pears).

Anyway, here's my haul from the pick-and-mix (and a few windfalls besides):

Friday, 9 October 2009

Don't squeeze me till I'm yours

I didn't think of commenting on M. Giscard d'Estaing's venture into Cartlandland with his roman à wishful thinking about a tendresse between a tall and sophisticated French President and a beautiful young Princess. There comes a point when it's only polite not to draw attention to someone's onset of senility late flowering of erotic fantasy.

But seeing it referred to today, I suddenly remembered that he once affected to play the accordion, in an effort to show himself as just a regular guy (think David Cameron on the spoons, or Boris Johnson morris dancing). It occurred to me that he was perhaps re-imagining himself in one of Piaf's great hits. It seems he could have quite an effect on an impressionable blonde, with just a comb-over and a squeeze-box (even if, as she points out, a little one):

Monday, 5 October 2009


Monday morning, lowering clouds and seeping drizzle: autumn setting in with not so much a vengeance, more a sigh and a sniff. Hard to imagine that less than two weeks ago we were still in a late summer, perfect weather for a stroll along the Ridgeway to Ivinghoe Beacon:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Wet and wild

One last piece on what I did in my holidays: a pleasant walk along the Thames towpath from where I used to live, there are some forbidding railings and embankments which, in my childhood, looked mysterious and off-limits. And so they were, for these were reservoirs: we would see them on TV, once the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race started to get aerial coverage, but otherwise not at all.

Since then, they have been converted into the London Wetlands Centre, a combination of educational facility and bird sanctuary.

Around two sides of the site, a succession of areas shows different sorts of wetland habitat and the birds that live in them. I'm assuming that some of the birds populating the more exotic habitats (New Zealand ducks in the "white water" section, South American swans and blue-beaked teal in another) have clipped wings - wouldn't they get lost if they tried to migrate? But there are plenty of native mallards, moorhen and other Little Brown Jobs, as well as various sorts of different geese that seem to think they own the place:

These carefully managed spaces also include, with due acknowledgement to their relative artificiality as well as the principles of recycling, sculptures made of scrap materials

These outer areas are mostly focussed on school parties, with different sorts of buildings for groups to congregate, and a collection of fairground games to explain the water cycle and the maintenance of wetland biodiversity.

But as you walk around, there are vistas of apparently isolated wildness. Most of the site is left for non-human visitors. We humans can only look at them at a distance, from various hides:

Choose your viewing angle right, and you could be miles away on the marshes of the Thames Estuary:

But if you look up, you see not only herons, swans and Highland cattle in the water-meadows - you see the expensive apartments whose development helped provide all this:

And you remember it's all within half an hour of central London.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

First of the month

For some reason I have never been able to understand, there is an old folk custom (occasionally honoured in my childhood by my mother) of saying "Rabbit" to mark a new month. So......:

Note for non-British viewers: In the song, "rabbit" is Cockney rhyming slang - rabbit (and pork) = talk.