Monday, 30 July 2012

From London, with love

Right, well, here we are in the first week proper of the Olympics, with warnings echoing in our ears of how this is the moment when it all hots up in terms of traffic.

Indeed, there I was on my bus this morning, getting lost in the sheer gloriousness of Beethoven’s Third, when cutting right beyond the safety of my earphones came the voice of Bloody Boris once again.

It seems to be a sort of game of Russian Roulette, whereby you have no way of knowing whether the bus you hop aboard will, during the course of your own journey, spew out the recorded message from the mop-topped, whiffy-waffy one.

And it came after I had been briefly – well, for about three hours – won over to the London 2012 spirit.

The opening ceremony on Friday night was a revelation; an extraordinary piece of theatre. After the national cringe that came with Bo Jo and the bus in Beijing, it was, first and foremost, a massive relief.

Danny Boyle’s piece was fittingly quirky; something close to a masterpiece of what one commentator called, ‘progressive patriotism’ – and was as far as it was possible to be from the opening to the Chinese Games four years ago; an almost anarchic antidote to that regimented spectacle.

The segment devoted to the NHS was like a wet dream for many left-wingers – understandably, given the lies of the current prime minister about its safety; lies revealed in it’s current dismantling for private profit.

It was a fabulous reminder of how much this institution is cherished, but it was not the start of a revolution – particularly as it sat in the midst of the continuing corporatist orgy and debacle.

Only this lunchtime, sitting outside a small café having a coffee, I watched as a member of Locog’s brand police snooped into the windows of every business in the vicinity, checking to make sure that nobody had dared to use the ‘O’ word in an effort to unfairly gain business from McDonalds or Visa.

And then there is the whole issue of empty seats. While this is apparently not just down to corporate tickets not being used, but to ‘Olympic family’ tickets being unused, together with many that were sent to agencies in other countries for sale and which remain unsold, it is causing further annoyance.

But back to the opening: if the reaction from some on the left was a tad OTT, the reaction from some on the right was an absolute hoot.

Never mind the evening’s reminder of the utter stupidity of Aiden Burley – who, other than a total imbecile, would walk into such an obvious row so soon after the last one, when it emerged that he'd hired the costumes for a Nazi-themed stag do? Career suicide or what?

Because whatever the likes of David Cameron and Bo Jo may really think, they cannot do other than laud Boyle’s extravaganza, as they desperately try to use the entire Olympic experience to sell Brand Britain and boost the economy.

Various people have brilliantly dissected the right-wing objections. One complained at a lack of Shakespeare – presumably either having missed Sir Ken Branagh doing a bit of Prospero while dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel (another lefty icon) or not being able to recognise the speech or not hearing the BBC commentator tell the world that that was what it was.

There really is no excuse for such stupidity.

And as for James Bond and Her Maj – yeah, on a par with Lenin.

By the way, it seems that I was not the only one watching that segment and going; ‘No, it can’t be; not really; no: OH MY GOD – IT IS!’

Who, really, could not have been tickled? The corgis, incidentally, were Monty (13) and Holly (nine) – never let it be said that this blog isn't educational!

The opening rural idyll – a pastoral, complete with maypole, village cricket, herded geese and Elgar’s Nimrod – would have delighted the likes of John Betjemen, JRR Tolkein and John Major, lefties all.

I’m not going to attempt to claim that Parry’s setting of Blake’s Jerusalem is anything other than a bit early socialism – but it has long ago reached the levels of being beyond obvious political tribalism to a point of frequently topping (or almost) polls for an alternative to our dirge of a national anthem.

It was a gorgeous segment – and the Industrial Revolution part that followed was as stunning as it was unexpected and shocking in its quite open reminder that the pastoral was destroyed by what made the country into an global power; those 'dark, satanic mills'.

The forging of the Olympic rings was superb too.

And there, in the mix that followed, were Chelsea Pensioners, Yellow Submarines, Jarrow Marchers and Suffragettes – icons of left-wing nonsense, the lot of them.

I lagged a bit after, to the point of missing many of the pop culture references. The idea of using children’s literature alongside Great Ormond Street and the NHS was inspired.

There is an absolute inevitability that not all of the music will have pleased all of the viewers all of the time. But given how much these small islands have contributed to global pop/rock ‘n’ roll over the last decades, it’s hardly inappropriate.

And of course this couldn’t go past without a mention of Rowan Atkinson’s appearance with Sir Simon Rattle – a segment that invoked Les Dawson and Morecambe and Wise; like the brief Bond film, a reminder that we have a sense of humour and can poke fun at ourselves.

Add to that the quite moving choice of people to carry the Olympic flag, the 7/7 memorial and the lighting of the cauldron – which defied all odds to the extent that bookies have returned stakes made on just who would do it – and you had something that managed to combine patriotism, quirkiness, humour and humanity.

Sadly, this was something that went completely over some people’s heads.

Just yesterday, columnist Jan Moir proved to have none of the above qualities as she described the winner of the women’s road race, Marianne Vos, as “some bitch from Holland” in the Daily Mail.

But then, Moir has lots of form. And no, I’m not providing the link here, because I’m not going to help drive the Mail’s traffic.

Just to briefly continue the theme: my mother is what I would describe as a pretty right-wing conservative Conservative, who dislikes immigration in general and detests what the Daily Mail tells her is 'PC'. And discussing the opening ceremony with her, she loved it and thinks it's utter nonsense to describe it as 'lefty'. Which says something about the people who have declared it thus.

We got home to Hackney on Friday evening shortly before the evening ceremonies began, to find around 1,000 people (or more) crowding into the park directly behind us to watch it all on the big screen.

It was noisy. As you’d expect. And as you accept for such an occasion.

My Olympic irritation was not helped over the weekend, though, by having it playing all Saturday (until 10pm), so loudly that I could hear and understand the commentary when inside, with all doors and windows firmly shut. Yet as neighbours on the top floor of our block said, nobody was there watching.

And it was a pattern that was repeated yesterday, albeit with the sound at least slightly reduced.

There have already been some great sporting moments – but by god, this is going to be a long two weeks.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Ready for the beach?

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s ‘that’ time of year. According to the Telegraph, the “average” woman spends over £470 just to get ready for the beach – in some cases, that’s twice as much as she spends on the holiday itself.

There’s the massage and the manicure and the pedicure and the spray tan …

The what?

Well indeed. Some women apparently actually spend time and money getting a spray tan before going and posing poolside. Okay, what someone does with their money is entirely up to them, but I’d suggest that it’s not “average – well, not beyond the ‘beauty halls’ of Debenhams, from which the survey emerged.

But there’s the diet too. After all, when you haul on your cossie, you want to look like – well, a supermodel, of course.

And there is nothing better suited to this than the famous Special K challenge, wheeled out every year on TV, which suggests that it can ensure you look stunning in a red one-piece.

I decided not to get caught up in signing up to the British version to get the information that way – but the TV ad has long given the impression of replacing two meals a day with a bowl of Special K, so that gives us an idea.

According to the Kellogg's US website, the diet over there goes as follows. Every day, you eat:

“Two Special K® meals
“Replace 2 meals a day with any? delicious variety of:
“Special K® Cereal
“Protein Shakes
“Protein Meal Bars

“Two Special K® snacks
“Treat yourself to 2 tasty, anytime? snacks a day:
“Special K® Protein Snack Bars
“Cereal Bars
“Pastry Crisps
“Crackers & Chips
“Protein Water,

“One meal of your choice

“Fill up on fruits & veggies whenever you want.

“Drink beverages like you normally do”.

Does the latter include beer? It is a beverage, after all?

Spot the common denominator of most of the above? That’s right – it’s all a load of Kellogg’s products. Which you’re meant to buy. And rather than actually suggest that our culture of snacking is, in general, part of the problem, Kellogg’s want you to spend more on snacks as part of your diet.

And seriously – who buys “protein water”?

Well, obviously some people do, lured by advertising campaigns that claim that it helps weight loss.

Over at (“living large on a small budget”), it's described it as containing “little more than regular water, sugar, whey protein, and calcium mixed together.”

And it concludes: “It is less nutritious than a glass of low fat milk.”

Yet reading the comments that follow reveals vast numbers of people looking for easy, quick diet answers – and being entirely happy to say that the article is flawed. Is it too cynical to suspect that some of the replies might be corporate?

The idea behind protein water is that it takes the edge off your appetite. Well so does water. And you can get Adam’s Ale out of a tap. A lot, lot cheaper than any product that you buy.

Looking up adverts for protein water in the UK, it seems to roll in at something like £20 for 12 bottles. In the US, Wal-Mart sells 10 sachets of Kellogg’s ‘Special K2O protein water mix’ (available in assorted flavours) for $5.48.

Two of those (or a similar Kellogg’s snack) per day? So that box gets you through five days.

Looking at Amazon in the UK, you find that Kellogg’s Special K red berry bar (23g per bar) is £19.90 for a pack of 10. Special K double chocolate meal bars – £17.99 for eight.

This stuff isn’t cheap. And Kellogg’s is far from unique. There is a whole, vast industry out there with a massive need to keep people insecure about their self image – so that they’ll keep spending money on the things that they desperately hope will miraculously give them that Baywatch body.

So it was with a modicum of surprise – and pleasure – that I happened upon this article in free magazine Stylist the other week.

It’s not often you see anything sensible written about dieting – it doesn’t earn much in advertising revenue – but this is a rarity.

They’re right: diets do not work.

And just in case any of you are wondering, I am neither spending £400 for assorted treatments nor dieting before heading south in a fortnight.

My limit is drinking plenty of water – a bit of exfoliation and a bit of moisturising cream. I'll have my hair hacked back again – but it's a waste of time having colour put in when I'm going to be spendin as much time as possible in the sun and salt water.

Oh. And as for the diet? That'll be proper food.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The event that just keeps on giving. And giving

Boudi feels the Iams Olympic effect.

I am in grave danger of being worn down by the Olympics before they even start.

On my bus this morning, there was even a moment when an on-board tannoy played a recorded message by our favourite mop top, Bo Jo, telling us something or other about there being an event on and people being in town because of it.

To be honest, it wasn’t actually easy to hear it properly. I did, however, manage to control my instinct to scream out: ‘shut the **** up you great Tory twok!’ but it was a close-run thing.

Such messages are also playing on train stations and the Tube. It’s like a cross between Big Brother and the Carry On films – a particularly surreal sense of government announcements to tell you the bleedin’ obvious.

Is there really anyone in London who does not, by now, know that the Games are here and, with them, more people, together with traffic restrictions?

It’s hardly been unreported.

And then there are the new swathes of advertising all over the place.

There are banners around with the Olympic logo on. Okay: for street furniture, they’re fine – although I'm sure that nice Eric Pickles had declared war on such things.

Then there are the BT phone boxes that now have Olympic-related ads on them.

And the latest tranch of ones to appear in the centre of London are just utterly crass.

They are hung in pairs on lampposts, and many are straightforward adverts. Some, however, show pictures of assorted members of the GB squads.

And they have nice sponsorship endorsements on them – mostly, it seems, from Proctor & Gamble, the US company that owns a number of well-known brands.

TV ads have been telling us for weeks that Olympic swimming champions need to wash their hair with Head & Shoulders before a race.

Now in the guise of ‘proudly supporting’ the athletes, they have liberally dished out loads of brands to different sportsmen and women.

Thus heptathlete Jessica Ennis’s picture on one of these ‘supporting’ banners has Olay below it.

For one swimmer, it’s Max Factor – because a girl does need her lippy in the pool. A Braun shaver for a synchronised swimmer – and Pampers nappies and Fairy for Paula Radcliffe because – well, presumably because she a mum and not because of that little episode at the 2005 London Marathon.

If you wanted to show support for the athletes, couldn’t you just do it without turning it into an utterly tacky advert?

Not that this sort of Olympic bonus is just for the athletes.

You can also have Olympically clean dishes, thanks to the P&G’s dishwasher products. Although given that the Olympics are Greek, shouldn’t we dispense with the dishwashers – and smash our plates instead?

And I was tad concerned to realise that Iams, the cat biscuit (I had no idea that this was a P&G product) now comes complete with Olympic branding too.

What will the impact be on The Girls? Will Boudi take Queen B grouching to new heights? Will Loki be even faster through the trellis into Tom’s garden next door? Will Otto actually turn around and tell me that the steak at the weekend was infinitely better than any biscuit and she wants more of that straight away please?

Yesterday, the sport itself began with the start of the women’s football.

Which was a relief, to be honest – even if the stadium for the GB side’s opener was hardly full, and then there was the cock-up later with the wrong Korean flag: oops.

Perhaps that will stop everything else feeling so utterly intrusive, if not downright offensive. Although given that the council has now decided that the park directly behind the flats that I live in is now hosting a big screen for the entire affair, plus sports ‘taster’ sessions, the former seems unlikely.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Ode dear, what can the matter be?

In an echo of the first modern Olympic Games, London mayor Boris Johnson has commissioned an ode.

In those days, poetry was an Olympic event – indeed, as explained here by Mary Beard, Baron de Coubertin himself won a prize for one of his own efforts.

But this evening, at the big gala at the Royal Opera House, Bo Jo will remind us of his own classical education by intoning the poem – in both Greek and English – to the watching billions.

Don’t worry though; we don’t have to wait. The Telegraph published it here.

Charmingly, it’s every bit up to the standard of de Coubertin.

And inspired by the spirit of heightened cultural endeavour that has arrived in the metropolis, alongside the sporting kind, I offer up my own humble response; my own ode to the Pindaric ode.

You can make up your own minds whether it’s an ode to joy or not.

Ode to some event or other

The summer has arrived at last
Together with a sporting cast,
To jump and run in this fair town –
So woe on you who wears a frown!

To mark this rather splendid time
We must not whinge or ever whine;
And don’t dare jest, lest you provoke
The wrath of Coe’s policing folk

There’re guns on top of peoples’ flats
And rules made up by tin-pot twats;
Beware of spilling custard dears,
When highlighting your cash cow fears

Boris says the lanes must be
For those ‘who work’ – not thee or me;
He’s had a little ode penned too
About this farce to bill and coo

The legacy, we’ve all been told
Will last until the Earth is cold;
Or at least until the day
When corporate sponsors fly away

Food banks may well be on the up,
As austere plans now prove a pup;
But since man can’t live just on loaves
A circus into view now hoves

Saturday, 21 July 2012

'Is it here yet?'

‘Are all these people waiting to see the torch too, mummy?’

‘Yes, I think so, dear.’

‘Is it here; is the torch here yet, mummy?’

‘I think it’s coming … yes! Oh no. It’s lots of police. Look, they’re from the Met and they’re waving and being friendly, and – look, can you see? Some of them have got Wenlocks on their bikes.’

‘Is this it now?’

‘No, no – it’s a man collecting money for our soldiers. He’s got an inflatable torch – you see? – although he doesn’t really look very happy.’

‘Can you see it, mummy? Is it coming now?’

‘Almost! Oh, hang on. No; no. It’s a big blue lorry covered in … ah, it’s Samsung. There are lots of very happy young people though, and they seem to be giving away nice blue flags.’

‘Is this is coming now, mummy?’

‘It could well be … oh, no; not yet. It’s a big red lorry this time, with lots more young people handing out bottles of (non-diet, I see) Coke and something that might be a frisbee or a picnic plate.’

‘Is it here now, mummy?’

‘I’m not sure, maybe: no, it’s a big green bus from Lloyds Bank. There are lots more jolly young people – there are an awful lot of jolly young people today, aren’t there? This time, they’re handing out green streamer things.’

‘Is this is, mummy, is it coming now?’

‘Yes, dear … this is ... oh no. It’s a man on one of the mayor’s Barclay’s Bikes; he seems to be protesting about something. He has a notice on the front that says something about Barclays pensioners being duped.

‘I’m surprised he’s not been asked to leave the procession. I’m not sure this is the time or place for political statements.’

‘Is this the torch now, mummy? Is it here now?’

‘Yes dear, this is finally it. Can you see?’

‘Is that it, then, mummy?’

‘Well dear, you got a flag. What else can you want?’

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Grumbling for Britain

In the past, the Olympic Games have included demonstration sports as well as the usual events.

Boules was one of several demonstration sports in 1900, in Paris, rather unsurprisingly. There was Finnish baseball in 1952 in, err, Finland, and roller hockey in 1992 in Spain.

It seems to be a great opportunity to spread the word more widely about a national activity that hasn’t made it globally.

Well, roller hockey aside, since that’s played in far more countries than Spain (nearly 60) which indeed, is also far more than American football (18).

I can't help feeling that British organisers have rather missed a trick on this score. We could have done grumbling as a demonstration sport. We’re really rather good at it.

In fact, we’re so good at it, that columnist David Arronovitch has recently been complaining about the rest of us complaining about the Sporting Event We’re Not Really Supposed to Name – which feels a tad like unfair practice for our demonstration event.

Of course, one of our most popular topics for complaint is the weather, and since the last few months seem to have provided us with deluges of Biblical proportions, there’s been plenty to feel peeved about.

After all, we’ve not had much of a ****** (word banned by Locog), so there’s been little opportunity to get out in the sun and working on giving the skin a ****** (another word banned by Locog) glow.

It’s been enough to turn your hair an elegant shade of ******.

Such an event would best be carried out with the aid of a beer – we do like to moan over a pint – and since Heineken is the official beer of the Sporting Event Which Must Not Be Named, this might be useful, since it would give competitors an additional reason to whinge.

It seems a fair bet (there are no official bookies, it seems) that we’d claim ****, but certainly a ***** of some colour.

And all this would be happening in the city of ****** in the year **** – brought to you by Samsung and Panasonic and McDonalds, timed by Omega and with hair washed (before the event) by Head & Shoulders, courtesy of Proctor & Gamble (which is presumably the bankers’ branch of choice too).

Because we can, we’ll fly in on British Airways, drive to the event in a BMW, wear an Adidas kit and sugar load, courtesy of Cadbury’s and Coke, before the starter pistol sounds.

And when we’re all pissed on the official beer (which is perfectly pleasant to drink when sitting outside a café, alongside the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam), we’ll suddenly suffer a fit of tourettes that would make the gods on Mount ******* blush, and we’ll start saying the words we’re not allowed to say by edict of Locog – only to be disqualified from the competition.

Distraught and bitter, we’ll be escorted away by squaddies with a limb or two missing, multi-tasking as guards while they wait to compete in the **********.

We’ll stagger out of the arena, wheeling through the glossy new shopping centre that’s next to the ****** Park, and on towards Stratford station to catch a train back into the centre of ******.

We’ll be back in town before ****, so in excellent time to further drown our sorrows before last orders.

But that’s where it’ll all go further awry. We’ll slip and be permanently injured on the detritus left by people feasting on the products of the corporate ********; detritus that hasn’t yet been bagged and binned by those being housed nearby in a temporary shanty town and paid peanuts to clean up.

And this will thus ensure that we’ll be able to do it all over again in September – this time not as ********* ordinaire, but as ************, in the ********** *****.

Who could have known that the BBC’s sitcom about the ********, ****** ******, would have got so much so right?

Truly, my friends, this will be a year when the ******* motto, ******, ******, ******** will need changing to Slower, Lower, Weaker to describe our own situation in the face of the exploits of William Hague's bag carrier, Seb Coe, Locog and the *******, their corporate friends, in the pursuit of ever-expanding profits and stomachs.

What a bunch of ******* *******.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The currant time is now

It is, quite wonderfully, the blackcurrant season.

The blackcurrant has been cultivated in Britain for something like 500 years – and has long been thought of as having healthy properties.

They have good levels of potassium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B5 – and various other things that won’t do you any harm either.

Work published in the likes of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and Molecular Nutrition and Food Research is also showing that they might have benefits in preventing heart disease, cancer and even conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Blackcurrants are a particularly good source of vitamin C.

According to Roy Vickery’s Dictionary of Plant Lore (Oxford 1995), blackcurrants were well known as a cold cure, even if people didn’t really know about vitamins.

He recorded anecdotes of people putting blackcurrant jam into hot water for just this purpose.

During the second world war, with the shortage of availability of fruits high in vitamin C, blackcurrant production was encouraged by the British government.

And from 1942, almost the entire blackcurrant British crop was made into cordial and distributed to the nation’s children free.

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Ribena, the company famous for its blackcurrant drinks (and which made that cordial in the war years) boasts in adverts and on its website, that “nearly all of British blackcurrants are used in Ribena”.

Now setting aside the recent history of concerns about the amount of sugar in Ribena’s drinks – and about claims of vitamin content – that’s just a damned shame.

Because blackcurrants are fabulous in more ways that just heath ones – and can be the basis of some supremely grown-up treats. Once you’ve tasted a real blackcurrant dish, you’ll realise that this is not a humble fruit, but a quite magnificent one.

Last year, I made a big error. Having only really discovered blackcurrants as a grown-up delicacy on our trip to France, I missed most of the season.

When I got back, desperate to find some, I was almost too late. So utterly had I relegated this gorgeous fruit to the back of mind, that I lost a sense of just when the season is.

Indeed, a reader of this blog pointed that out to me when I posted about it.

There’s been no such issue this year. On Saturday, on Broadway Market, the Chegworth Valley stall had plenty of punnets, so I grabbed an initial half dozen.

I’ll be getting more next week, if they’re available again.

There really are so many things that you can do with this wonderful fruit.

And here are just a few ideas.

Blackcurrant sorbet

Take approximately a kilo of blackcurrants, rinse gently and then pop into a large pan with approximately 75ml of water and 300g of caster sugar.

You can pick them over carefully and put each one individually into a bowl, or you can pull them off the stems with a fork – or you can actually pretty much just decant the lot into a pan, since you’re going to sieve it all anyway.

Put the lid on and bring gently to a simmer, stirring once or twice to make sure everything is cooked evenly.

Once the sugar has dissolved, strain it through a sieve, using a ladle or spoon to press as much of the goodness through.

Here’s where you do the tasting. If you like it sweeter, then add a little more sugar. It’s worth remembering that the freezing process will cut the sweetness a little.

Check it after an hour and give it a whisk to break down any ice crystals, then return to the freezer. And continue until it’s fully frozen.

Blackcurrant fool (for four)

Make the syrup as above, using approximately 250g fruit to a heaped teaspoon of granulated sugar, and a dessertspoon of water.

Now this really is where you do not want to add extra sugar – you’re going to combine the fruit syrup with rich, naturally sweet cream, so there’s no need. You want that tartness to still come through.

Once you’ve got your syrup and allowed it to cool, whip into approximately 280g of double cream until you start getting soft peaks.

Then decant and chill for an hour or two.

If you feel so inclined, decorate with a sprig of mint.

Blackcurrant sauce (for use with duck or venison; serves two)

Make the syrup as above, using around 150g fruit with a dessert spoon of water.

Once you’ve got your syrup, add a pinch of salt and a glug of a gutsy red wine.

Many recipes for fruit-based sauces like this use cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur, but as it’s essentially a boozy Ribena – and sweet – the red wine gives more body and a much more complex flavour.

Simmer gently to thicken and serve as needed.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Forty days and 40 nights?

Yesterday was St Swithin’s Day – and joy unconfined, it was sunny! For, after all, that means 40 days of fine weather to come!

A bishop of Winchester, St Swithin seems to have lived the sort of life that, before it ended in 862, hadn’t provided much for the hacks of the time to write about.

It was only after he was adopted as the patron of the restored Winchester Cathedral, over a century later, that stories of miracles started to pop up – including one where he mended a basket of eggs that some men had maliciously broken.

But these days, he’s best remembered for the bit of weather lore that declares that, if it rains on his feast day (15 July), it’ll rain for a further 40. If the weather is fair, however, it’ll be fine for those following 40 days.

He’s not unique.

The French have St Medard (8 June), Urban of Langres, and Saints Gervase and Protais (19 June), all of whom are credited with an influence over the weather.

In Belgium, there is St Godelieve (6 July), while on 27 June, Germans mark Siebenschläfertag, which might be the German word for a dormouse, but is Seven Sleepers’ Day – which commemorates the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, a story that crops up in both Christian and Muslim traditions, and which was, far more recently, the basis for the superb Terracotta Dog, the second of Antonio Camilleri’s wonderful series of Montalbano detective novels.

Remarkably, there’s a bit of a scientific basis for all this weather lore.

Sticking with St Swithin, around the middle of July, the jet stream settles into a pattern that usually holds steady until the end of August.

It simply depends whether the jet stream beds down for high summer to the north of Britain – or lies across the south of the country.

If it’s the former, the forecast is good. If it’s the latter … well, just look at the current situation.

But it was fine yesterday – and it’s raining today.


St Swithin got it wrong.

Rats are being driven from the sewers by the rising waters; puffins are drowning in their burrows; butterflies and bees and many other insects are being badly hit, together with bats and many, many more of our natural cohabitants of these islands.

But the slugs and snails are having a veritable ball.

Well, I knew I’d picked a perfect year to start gardening.

At least yesterday provided some time to actually get into the garden and do something that will – hopefully – be productive.

The Other Half gave me a hand to clear some dead hedge out of the way in the bit of carpark I’m slowly colonising.

While he was sawing away, I pruned the vine that has been spreading rapidly around the nearby communal bins. As I’ve previously explained, the contracted gardeners just haven’t been seen in an age, and so such things are getting so overgrown that you can’t get to the bins without having greenery flapping into your mush.

My communal efforts concluded, I turned over the patch where, in theory at least, I’d been hoping red onions and parsnips would take root.

The new riddle even came out to help get rid of some of the stones.

Once that was done, it was time to create three drills, each approximately 1.5cm deep. In the first one went seeds for Swedes.

In the second was sown turnips and, in the third, carrots.

And then the really careful bit. A trio of small bamboo wigwams, spaced evenly along the bed, now support a massive piece of enviromesh, pegged into the ground with an awful lot of pegs, to not only make it reasonably taut, but to help protect against the bloody slugs and snails.

Then it was a case of standing back, allowing myself a modicum of satisfaction – and crossing fingers.

The rest of the gardening project is in a range of stages. The nasturtiums have gone a bit mad – gloriously so.

The vine in a pot in our own garden is growing steadily upward, while three bunches of grapes develop. Grapes! In my garden! In Hackney, for goodness sake!

The chilies are just beginning to produce fruit. And the tomatoes …

Oh my: there are six now at quite advanced stages of growth, while loads more tiny green orbs are appearing each day. It’s almost ridiculously exciting.

The broad beans are shedding their flowers and turning into real bods, which are lengthening and fattening by the day.

The peas have produced flowers – if only a few. But hey – that’s incredible really!

The strawberries have finished, but in considering what I’ll do next year, they’re already near the top of the list for serious expansion.

Given what the weather has been like in the time since almost everything was planted, it’s probably close to a miracle that anything has grown to a point of being edible.

I’m giving up on the radishes and spring onions.

The former are actually producing flowers, but absolutely nothing to eat below the soil. The latter – well, there are stems, but nothing else.

The plan now is to strip out the three planters in question – and start again with some more radishes, but lamb’s lettuce in the other spaces.

Weather permitting, of course.

Oh, and you may find it useful to know that, improbable as it may seem, if ever there’s a drought, you can pray to St Swithin.

Presumably, water company executives have been starting meetings on their knees for months.