Well, gardening and cats.
The evenings will soon be drawing in but we can still catch a chance to incinerate some meat outside or put the world to rights by the chiminea, and there’s plenty of time yet to enjoy the pleasures of other people’s labours through open garden schemes.
Blessed as this blog is with a capacity for relaxation and generous appreciation of landscape and colour, untrammelled by any detectable gardening knowledge, effort or skill, I’m a natural for appreciating other people’s efforts. Show me a picture of a colourful garden, opening hours and the promise of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle and I’ll be there.
Now in its 87th year – and with over 3800 gardens opening across the country in 2014 – the National Garden Scheme has consistently been a major fund raiser for charities like Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie and Help the Hospices. In the last decade the NGS has donated £22 million to its beneficiary charities – mainly nursing and caring.
I love visiting gardens in the NGS every year and took the opportunity one afternoon this month to explore the delights of half a dozen domestic gardens in Bexhill, East Sussex. Mrs. Blog and I met up with two close friends at the town’s most famous building to begin our explorations. Those kind enough to have read last week’s effort may be aware that this blog has a weakness for things art deco (I was banging on about Saltdean lido) and I believe Bexhill’s wonderful De La Warr Pavilion is generally viewed as belonging to this style, or near enough.
My extensive researches (the Wikipedia entry) reveal the town to have been home at various times to John Logie Baird, Spike Milligan and Fanny and Johnny Cradock, as well as Eddie Izzard. Not to mention being the setting for the second murder (of Betty Barnard, the flirty waitress) in Agatha Christie’s “The ABC Murders”. Or, rather, it wasn’t the second murder of Betty Barnard. You know full well what I mean.
Signs at the town’s outskirts proclaim Bexhill’s status as “Birthplace of British Motor Racing”, arising from the hosting of the first motor race in the UK in 1902. It’s been a little quiet in the town ever since, which no doubt suits its extremely elderly population very well. It has been said that the majority of Bexhill’s residents came to the town to die, but then forgot why they’d come.
But, and not for the first time, I digress.
What can I say about the gardens that we visited? I have no useful information or advice to offer as I don’t know one end of an anterhin antirhh daisy from the other but I can report that the Macmillan people laid on an excellent afternoon tea in one of the gardens. I remain full of admiration for the dedication which the owners bring to bear on their creations. I came away feeling a high degree of embarrassment at my own inadequacies in this respect and a renewed sense of resolution to sit about in other people’s gardens more often.
Here are some nice photos that we took. I have no idea what they show.
If there is a link between the words above and the next part of this blog, I haven’t been able to spot it, but you can try. But I just wanted to say something about cats.
I never saw myself as a cat person. We had dogs when I was young. I took the view that, if you wanted something that ignored you and relied on you merely for nourishment, a pot plant would be cheaper. I have, however, mellowed over the years and became – despite myself – quite fond of Peanuts, our ginger ex-tom, who recently reached his target age of 20 before gently expiring one night in front of the telly.
But I have also shared my home with at least one cat that simply didn’t like me. Bridget had been a “rescue” cat in every sense. Along with her siblings she had been bundled into a black bag and dumped into the River Irwell as a kitten. Nice. She had been pulled out by a passerby and handed into the veterinary surgery in Old Trafford where the wife then worked, from which it had been a short journey to Chez Blog.
Mrs. Blog fed Bridget through a pipette from when she was tiny and the kitten clearly imprinted on her. I have no idea what she made of me. While Mrs. Blog and Bridget always seemed to be on first name terms with each other, she and I tended to manoeuvre around each other warily and negotiated an uneasy cohabitation. (I mean Bridget and me, but I suppose….)
It always seemed odd to me that I was obliged to provide food and shelter for this intruder who clearly resented my presence. Her appeal, as far as I was concerned, was further diminished in her old age when she acquired a range of unsightly, though apparently benign, external tumours which made any attempt at stroking a distasteful experience for both of us. That, and the tendency, when stroked, for her to raise her tail and thrust her pencil sharpener into your face.
One evening, as I lay comfortably stretched out on the sofa watching, no doubt, some instructional documentary, Bridget suddenly took it into her head to jump from the floor onto my chest and remained facing me. It was hard to tell which of us was the more tense when we realised our situation. Neither party moved, fearing some apocalyptic outcome. Eventually, and affecting a nervelessness that I didn’t feel, I worked my mobile ever so slowly out of my pocket and texted a succinct and urgent cry for help to Mrs. Blog upstairs. It seemed an age before she arrived in full UN peacekeeping mode and the shedding of blood was avoided.
Our black Labrador Molly knew her place in the family hierarchy, which was some way below the older cats and more or less on a par with me. It was an easy source of cheap laughs to roll a favourite ball close to a dozing Bridget, then encourage Molly to fetch; the ensuing unreleased tension could last forever. And one would often find Molly cut off at the wrong end of the upstairs landing by Bridget, sleeping, totally unaware, outside the airing cupboard.
But that’s enough reflections on things cat for now. There will be more, and all true, in “It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half”, the tale of my heroic, and not entirely successful, efforts to survive life with Mrs. Blog, my in-house vet. I’ll be sure to tell you as soon as it comes out.
And here are some scary pics of cats. Don’t look at them just before you go to bed.
Have I also got time to mention “And Now on Radio 4”, which I’m reading just now? It’s by Simon Elmes and tells you all you need to know about the Spam Fritter Man, why the Today programme stopped having a keep-fit spot and what Ruth really thinks about The Archers. The cover quotes Stephen Fry, “Radio 4, the radio station that is still the best reason for living in Britain”, and I’m not going to disagree.