Duchesses and Ladies, BBC Presenters and a £57,000 Lavatory

19 May

Hello again. It has been far too long, for which I am so sorry. I’m going to post some snaps from where I’ve been – some will seem wildly out of date now that the lilacs are flowering and the copper beech in the garden is in full leaf but no matter.

Hope to be back in the swing of things after Chelsea press day, tomorrow.

First, to Cerney House Gardens near Cirencester, open for the NGS at the end of April. The long cold winter we’ve had had delayed everything and deer had been sniffing out the choicest tulip buds for an evening snack. Ergo, the garden was a thinner than most years at the at this time, I am told, but the array of daffodils was cheering.

Having spent the past few months commissioning summer features on conservatories, summer houses and similar structures, I was particularly taken by the greenhouse. I loved the dirty gloves, the abandoned coffee mug, the chitting potatoes. Cerney House is owned Lady Angus, who also makes, with help, I presume, a superb goats cheese which is sold at farmers’ markets in these parts.

The knot garden, looking rather bleak, I’m afraid.

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Daffodils in great variety – only a few shown here

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The glorious greenhouse

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A couple of an outbuilding – I love working buildings which smell of engine oil and have unusual implements stacked up in dark corners

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On, then, to Oxford, ahead of May Morning, a day of carousing and revelry on May 1. Festivities begin at 6am when the Magadalen College choir sings from the top of Magdalen tower. Perhaps the greengrocer’s apostrophe here was included in a fit of spring-time enthusiasm.

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Home, along the A40, through Asthall, Widford and Swinbrook, where adjacent to the Windrush river lies what must be the loveliest cricket pitch in all England. Asthall Manor nearby is the former home of the five fantastically eccentric and aristocratic Mitford sisters: Diana, Nancy, Jessice, Unity and Deborah. Deborah, now Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, still owns a pub at Swinbrook – it is called The Swan Inn and there are lots of framed pictures of the family inside, should you be interested in such things and care to look. But the cricket pitch…isn’t it beautiful?

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The end of April and still bare trees and a puff of wood smoke coming from chimney. Do you see the handsome pheasant in the foreground?

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I hope I’ve balanced all the Ladies and Duchesses in this post with mention of May Day but in case this is rather too full of titles for your taste, here’s Suffolk and a few snaps from a bank holiday weekend near the coast.

Being so flat, in winter sometimes oppressively so, especially when subjected to the east wind which howls in across the marshes, Suffolk is perfect for cycling. We found some bikes in the garden shed, pumped up the tires and set off for Darsham where, wonder of wonders, Libby Purves was shortly to open a £57,000 church loo. I am sure the church treasurer said it had cost £57,000, although this seems an outrageous figure. Ironically, the loo is twinned with one donated by the church to a community in Bangladesh. One loo in Bangladesh, mind. How many Bangladeshi lavatories could £57 000 build? I didn’t take a picture.

Elegant bike at the ready. Rope swing on the right just waiting for children and the summer holidays.

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Church yard – loo not included

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Later, some boats at Orford. According to the community newsletter, Nic Robinson, who seems to live there, was due to give a public talk about his life in the coming weeks. It seems this part of Suffolk is Ground Zero for BBC presenters. Lovely smell of the sea and mudflats, with crayfish and other local seafood for sale from wooden huts on the shore. There was also an ice-cream van selling ice-cream sandwiches but we were being grown-ups and so passed it by. More’s the pity…

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Finally, a tender snakes-head fritillary from the garden. Beautiful.

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A Bird in the Hand

3 Apr

This evening, a simple, local supper.

Leftover pheasant, bought months ago from Paul the butcher and kept in the freezer until last week, cooked with celery, as he advised. Leftover rice. Leeks and winter leaves from the farmer’s market. Wild garlic.  Tossed in a pan. Delicious.

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Easter Foraging

1 Apr

On a long drive yesterday, through valleys so deep and wooded Google maps lost us, we spotted an elderly man, in full hunting kit, complete with deerstalker, walking down a hill, walking pole in one hand, rifle in another. Mildly concerned for his own safety, we wondered to ourselves if he ever actually shot anything, or if the get-up was an excuse  a good reason for escaping a house full of visiting family. There was, no doubt, a nip of single malt from a hip flask to steady a hand, perhaps, and ease the nerves.

Below, a few snowdrops we gathered from a hillside on the same trip. Also picked the first wild garlic of the season which I have been eating with kale from the Stroud farmers market ever since. Delicious.

Milk bottle, for want of a better receptacle, from my Brixton days, I think. Am pretty sure it didn’t come from someone’s doorstep.

Both Stroud and Brixton were rated among the 30 coolest places in England by one of the papers recently. (There’s a paywall on the website  – yes, it’s that paper, a copy of which I read most often in a sandwich shop – so I can’t link, unfortunately, to enable you to see if you, too, inhabit such esteemed territories.) Had better make sure the Harris Tweed and Hunters are at the ready. Expect the old man would be able to recommend an outfitters reassuringly oblivious to the hype.

Happy Easter, all.

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Springtime in Paris

29 Mar

Today, some snaps from a weekend in Paris, which I took a couple of weeks ago but haven’t had a chance to put up  – this long weekend is lovely but it has made this week rather busy. It was a Eurostar trip: we caught the train after work one Friday and were back in London by Sunday evening. I’ve called this post Springtime in Paris in an attempt at English irony: there was no spring. Well, not much anyway.

We’ve started thinking of these city breaks as inspiration trips. Expect this sounds rather pretentious but the rule is that there’s no pressure to see any of the sights: it is enough simply to hear a different tongue and wander by  (to say flaneur here really would make this seem pretentious). The change of scenery is enough.

Something from St Germain first. We stopped for a small market, those macaroons, handcream, which, I noticed yesterday, is also favoured by Jane Cumberbatch , plimsolls for the three days of summer we’ll have later in the year, and lots of window shopping and pressing of the nose against the glass of galleries and antiques dealerships.

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Then a bike ride along the Seine on one of Paris’ brilliant dual-carriageway cycle paths. I’m not a great cyclist and so was pleased to have got by with only one potential encounter with a Citroen. ‘You nearly went splat,’ my fella said. He can so alarmist. The car was miles away. Truly.

Along then, to the Promenade Plantee. New Yorkers may like to think they’re awfully smart on elevated parks and redundant railway lines with their Highline – I’ve blogged about it here in the past – but the Promenade Plantee pre-dates it by a long way, having been designed in the eighties and early nineties as part of a larger regeneration programme around the Bastille. The original railway line is reported to have operated between 1859 and 1969.

While the Highline is all soft, informal planting from Piet Oudolf, it stuck me that this was a very Parisian arrangement and also of its time: symmetrical and clipped with trained roses and reflective pools.

With this winter dragging on, the surrounding buildings were beautifully stark. We were the same height as the branches of the trees.

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I loved the facades of these buildings, which you just wouldn’t notice if you were on the ground 10 metres below or if the trees were in leaf.

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French shutters.

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And some of 80s architecture. I liked the contrast between the old buildings and these new blocks. It felt a little like London’s East End – isn’t there an elevated railway line around Bethnal Green which could benefit from a similar treatment?

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About the only sign of spring.

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A little Parisian insouciance.

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Guardian at the Pont du Caroussel on the river, near the Tuilleries.

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Final shot, near Gare du Nord and a nice, safe distance from the crowds heading up to the Sacre Coeur.

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