Put yon bluidy fag oot

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I’m tremendously honoured and thrilled to have secured an exclusive interview with the great Robert Burns to discuss the ban on smoking in public places.

Mr Burns, can I begin by asking you if you are actually a smoker yourself?

Dinna mull your kintyre o’er a skimpie wee roll-up or twa to go with a cup o’ kindness. ‘Tis no great alloa. So now we’ll tak twa or sae cannie nicotine patches, my dear, for auld lang syne and there’ll be nae more hoickin’ an’ phlemmin’ in yon taverns and your tam o’ shanter willna reek o’ bensons from the days of auld. Then may your right gude-willie waught and may your tar for aye gang low.

So, do I take it that you approve of a ban on smoking in public places?

‘Tis airdrie nil stenhousemuir three to me. Awa’ wi’ ye to puff your wee ciggies and to wheeze i’ Scotia’s glens and braes and when we are i’ the taverns and forfar bistros, we’ll pluck yon spearmintie Wrigley from thy pocket and we’ll chew thegither, you and I. Fare ye wal, ye bonnie wine bar lasses wi’ your Marlboro Lichts, your mimsy menthols and your silken cuts and your Pinot from the banks of the fair Grigio.

Have folk in Scotland accepted the ban?

Och, there’s no need for brechin. Fare ye wal, ye grottie ashtray wi’ your squishie stubbies and we’ll see nae more o’ the De’il’s fearful warnings on the pack.

Do you believe that acupuncture and hypnosis can help people give up?

There’s nae connery in acupuncture and there’s none of the prudence of Dunfermline East’s belov’d son Gordon Brown in hypnosis. ‘Tis all throgh the power of the will. So, come awa’ with me and we’ll hurl the zippo in the loch and we’ll gang nae more a-lurkin’ in the smillie office doorways with the mankie lungful and the watery ee. Ye’ll not see us in the frowzy tavern with the gigantic screen TV, the gassy brew of the Danes and tim’rous Belgians and the spewy panatellas.

And what is your view of the ban on smoking in public places?

Let the salmon of fair Loch Fyne stay with their smokin’ habit and the sleekit eels as weel. But I’ll hae nae man waftin’ his smoke rings o’er my parritch or my oatcakes and shortbread, and, if he does it, I’ll gi’e him a kick i’ the partick thistle.

Wasn’t the smoking ban just another case of the interfering nanny state we’ve all become accustomed to, quite frankly?

A nanny’s a nanny for a’ that. It’s a’ for the lads and lasses who’ll nae more dance the threesome reel or the hornpipe or run through the dewy glen without heavin’ and pantin and doubling over like hamilton academicals on a bad afternoon because they have been passively breathin’ those dark clouds sent forth by the clans of Rothman and the folk who abide in yon Stuyvesant.

But there is no ban on anybody tossing a caber in an enclosed space. And what about passive bagpiping? What about children who might be frightened by a haggis after dark? Aren’t these problems just as serious?

Awa’ wi’ ye, ye krankie. Stop your barmie noddle. I’ll tak’ nae more of your fancy billy-connolly. Go lauder yourself on the low road before I gi’e ye a motherwelling ye’ll nae forget.

Finally, Mr Burns, can I ask you, now that you have succeeded in kicking the nicotine habit, is there any chance that you might give up apostrophes?

Storno’wi’ye, or I’ll gi’e ye a gude apostrophe i’ the ee!

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Killing pain on the cheap

brand valuesI’ve definitely saved a fortune of late by adjusting my brand value ethos in the direction of money-saving (OK, penny pinching). There’s no avoiding the fact that Ibuprofen is good for relieving back pain, and fortunately there’s an easy way to reduce the cost as it is no longer classified as a POM.

Now look, I’m certainly no a label junky. I don’t feel the need to wear the latest fashions from Diesel, Calvin Klein, FCUK, etc., which is just as well since they never have anything in my size anyway!

But I am a firm adherent to the principal that an original brand product is better than a supermarket’s own-label substitute.  Baked beans, for example.  You’ll only ever find Heinz Baked Beans or Salad Cream in my trolley, it has to be Heinz: brook no substitutes … 

So it is something of a guilty confession to admit that I have lost count of the number of packets of cut-price Ibuprofen that have been purchased, either by me or for me, in a supermarket over the past five months. Various garishly coloured own-brand products that have augmented the existing selection box of medication adorning my bedroom mantelpiece these days gives me cause to rue the day that I declined an invitation two years ago for my medicine collection to be included in an installation by White Chair Press entitled ‘Make Do & Mend‘.

Of course there’s nothing new about cut-price painkillers and other medicines. I thought it would be helpful to give other brand conscious friends an insight into some of the other effective medicines which are now available on the shelves of your local supermarket that you might now, instead of passing by without so much of a glance, now see in a prodigious light.

If you need a pick-me-up after a hard outing to the shops I would recommend a bottle of Lidol, or maybe Sainsbury’s Mixture, both of which come in lemon or blackcurrant flavours. The Lidol does tend to cause drowsiness, so it is not advisable to attempt to reverse out of the store car park until three hours after taking it. With Sainsbury’s Mixture, pour a few drops onto a loyalty card and lick it.

For injuries sustained at the delicatessen counter I would suggest Deliceze, a antiseptic soothing balm and just the thing when the person next to you leans across you too eagerly to point to the Stornoway black pudding she wants, causing you to stab yourself in the cheek with one of those cocktail sticks for trying out the minuscule sample cubes of cheese.

I find Deliceze also helps after I have absent-mindedly rolled up my numbered ticket at the delicatessen counter and stuffed it up my left nostril. Of course, three or four squirts with Tescspray will deal with the immediate problem and should stop the bleeding.

Dizzy spells, caused by walking past different barcodes too rapidly on an empty stomach, can be quickly remedied with Barcodet capsules. However, if you are with child – that is if you have a squirming offspring in the pull-down seat in your trolley – it is advisable to consult your nearest shelf-stacker before taking Barcodets.

In some cases your shelf-stacker may wish to refer you to the provisions manager for a second opinion and he or she may recommend Barcodoxon instead. However this can only be administered to you under the supervision of the deputy store manager. That is when you hear those words on the public address system: “Mr Henderson, please, line two, customer services.”

Barcodoxon is a refreshing effervescent mixture (white raspberry flavoured) and is also good for treating check-out stress, but most people are advised to avoid the preserves and beverages aisles after taking it. In a very few cases it has the side effect of making you unable to open the flimsy plastic bags in the vegetable section.

By the way, mild cases of barcode dizziness can also be relieved with Metricet pastilles which are normally taken for tense nervous headaches caused by excessive mental arithmetic when converting from kilos. However, these pastilles are quite effective as a mild pain relief. Some people even take them after minor trolley collisions. More serious abrasions arising from a trolley being driven hard at your ankles are best treated with Trollofen ointment and perhaps a dressing of Waitroplast.

Rashes – particularly allergic reactions on the hands from the fuzz of kiwi fruit when you are trying to pick out the best one – are common ailments. Most store managers now recommend Freezomine cream. This is really for ailments associated with the frozen vegetable aisle, and particularly frostbite from handling the giant packs of peas, but it brings rapid relief to all types of skin irritation.

There are dozens of remedies for stomach complaints and the most common stomach complaint occurs, if you are not so tall, when you lean over the edge of your trolley at the check-out trying to get to the items at the bottom of it. There is always some household item, probably a can of spray for cleaning windows, and the wire edge of the trolley presses painfully into your midriff. This affliction is known to supermarket medical experts as “trapped Windolene”. This soon goes if you chew a couple of minty Trollegels or a Baskocalm. 

If that fails, take an aspirin and go to Boots for your groceries, or ocado.com.

Hosepipe ban imminent?

trumptonToday the temperature was forecast to exceed 20°C over many parts of England.

This means it can’t be too long now before there’ll be a hosepipe ban introduced near you so here are some ideas for what to do with a soon-to-be-redundant hosepipe.

Make a musical instrument: Hosepipes of different lengths produce lovely notes that have been likened to those of a deeply troubled French horn. The most successful exponents of the instrument are the Baroque Nozzle Consort. Their latest CD features the charming 17th century air, When My Lady Walks Through the Dew (arr. Herbert Drench). Their most recent concert, in the rose gardens of Mottisfont Abbey, was sadly rained off.

Fun for pets: Over recent months, the hosepipe dump, on the M3 just before the Winchester turn-off, has grown into a mountain. Show up with your pet – make sure she is not overweight – and for £25 she can have the run of miles of coiled hose.

Sweet delights: If you have one of the old-fashioned black rubber ribbed hoses, Mrs Dawnay’s Traditional Liquorice Factory will send a truck to pick it up. They can’t pay cash for it, but will exchange for slightly damaged jelly beans – 150 beans (usually the green ones) per metre. Keep a short length of hose for use as a blowpipe to shoot jelly beans at the family. Tremendous fun at children’s parties or in wedding marquees.

Brighten up your snake: Many snake owners are disappointed because, although their pet may be deadly poisonous, it can still look drab. This is where reptile boob tubes come in. Paint a length of hose with brightly coloured contrasting stripes, insert your snake and, hey presto, one snug and fashionably dressed ophidian. It’s advisable to seek help from an expert when inserting the snake, as the rubber tubing can coil itself round you and give you a nasty squeeze.

Create a gourmet treat: A length of hose, stuffed and stewed, makes a delicious meal, somewhat like the German Sprincklerwurst or the French andouillette – though the French dish normally uses rotted bicycle tyre inner tubes. Stuff your hose with chopped shallots, bacon lardons, fresh pesto and flaked almonds, marinade overnight in balsamic vinegar and 71 crushed black peppercorns. Stew in red wine for two and a half weeks and serve on a bed of desiccated grass. (It’s better to use low calorie green plastic hose for this dish.)

Wheels of fire: This is a clever way to brighten up your garden with the old disused reel of your hosepipe. Attach fireworks and watch it roll round your parched lawn giving off colourful sparks and explosions. You can also collect a few of those rotating sprinkler attachments for use as small windmills. Make your own bonsai wind farm.

Leggings for flamingos: Thigh-length hoses are just the thing for today’s fashion-conscious flamingo. They seem delighted with the kinky boot effect and, in wildfowl reserves, as summer wears on they’ll be cheered up as they stand about in dried-up pools.

Beat the smoking ban: Take a 20-metre length of hose to the pub, lay it out so that it extends through the window, then exhale your Marlboro Lights through it without troubling other drinkers. Sadly, the Government will soon spot the health hazard and amend the legislation to protect bar staff from passive tripping.

“Destroy [morons] with intellect”

"You're so vain"

"You're so vain"

The BBC has won countless awards for its most excellent website, and quite deservedly so. It is held up as an exemplar right the way around the globe. Covering news, television and radio programmes, help for students taking examinations, gardening, poetry, religious affairs, technology and … well the list is endless.

In 2003 some bright spark at the Beeb had an inspired idea to promote digital literacy in Scotland’s remote island communities setting up Island Blogging. The service grew and grew, indeed it grew so much that it became an unwieldy administrative burden to the moderators involved, and the limitations of the software application used to publish individual blogs was really rather dated by the end of 2008 when a decision was reluctantly made to terminate the service.  

Island Blogging (IB) on the BBC website had run its course, it had certainly served its purpose in bringing communities together in a new and extremely innovative way. Islanders talked to fellow islanders and to the world. Whilst by no means unique, Island Blogging certainly had a following that extended well beyond the waters of the British Isles with comments being left by visitors from a multitude of nations from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe and beyond.

A new ‘IB’ service was set up by an entrepreneur with the right skillset to drive the concept of IB forward and take advantage of advances in software applications that would give IBers more control over their individual blogs, add photographs easily, and a whole gamut of additional features that, unfortunately, the BBC service had been unable to deliver for one reason or another. Whilst everyone lamented the loss of the BBC service, all looked forward to the new service and could see the benefits of making the switch.

I don’t know the full ins and outs or the whys and wherefores of why the original owner of ‘new’ Island Blogging decided to bow out, though I do recall slow response times were an issue that was getting worse rather than better, but a saviour stepped forward who was prepared to take on the mantle of administering. Everyone was very grateful for the willing volunteer to step into the breach, take on a not inconsiderable workload and drive new development and facilities that genuinely benefitted all, bloggers and visitors alike. And he deserves all due credit for such initiative and commitment.

The new ‘owner’ of Island Blogging (www.islandblogging.co.uk) is not an islander, but rather someone who aspires to move to the Isle of Lewis in retirement. He is not, then, of the islands. An Englishman, non resident. His association with the Western Isles is aspirational rather than real. But I won’t hold that against him … not yet at least.

At first everything was fabulous. It was like Barack Obama taking over from the shambles that was George W Bush.  New features came along, help guides published to assist those exploring blogging for the first time, helping with publishing pictures and lots of handholding exercises to coax new bloggers along.  What a lovely honeymoon.

But then I’m afraid things started to go awry. I became aware of a not-very-nice side to the new site owner. People who I knew (and won’t, I think, object to my referring to them as ‘novice bloggers’) started telling me that they were getting snotty or derisory emails from the site owner, clearly impatient at their inability to learn even basic blogging practices.

I was told that the tone was very much If everyone else manages to do it then why can’t you, you idiot?. This belies impatience, a lack of comprehension that different people learn at different speeds and some will always need a little more help than others. It is the sign of a good website manager that guidance is provided for the lowest common denominator, not the highest.  If you can’t handle the plodders (for want of a better expression) then website management isn’t for you if you want to be successful.

Recently a rich seam of debate was opened by the site owner on his own Island Blog (you’ll remember that he doesn’t actually live on a Scottish island) about what should happen to people who leave an island and return to the mainland, or perhaps weren’t resident on a Scottish island at all. Should they be asked to leave (or exterminated)? Was it right that non-islanders were blogging.  

I was singled out as a good case in point. Due to ongoing ill health I left Lewis at the end of March and returned to the south of England to be cared for by a friend, but I’m here with the full intention of returning to island life as soon as I am able. Someone questioned whether it was right than an ex-islander who was easily the most prolific IBer (since I’ve not been able to work since last Christmas, time is something I have plenty of right now) should be allowed to remain on the site.  

The argument went that surely it was inappropriate to the whole concept of Island Blogging that non-islanders had sites? One of the most vociferous of these was a man born and brought up in Stornoway but now living in Edinburgh. Ironic or what?

I countered that until my enforced exile I was resident and that I fully intend to return, indeed I’m still on the electoral roll for the Western Isles (which is far more than can be  said for the site owner or the Edinburgh exile). But that was poo-pooed as a red herring. Not sufficiently robust, it seemed, to win hearts and minds of the troublemakers who wanted me gone.

I suggested a democratic vote amongst existing Island Blogging bloggers as to whether ex-islanders (for whatever reason they were in exile) should remain or go. And that I’d happily abide by any democratic decision thereof, as I was sure others in my situation would also, but to have a policy determined by autocracy or a wild debate in a blog posting was simply unfair. My suggestion was utterly ignored. Unfortunately it was too straightforward, too simple, and could so easily have gone the wrong way!

Much more fun to have a vicious debate and hurl acidic remarks hither and thither. I’m ashamed to say that I joined in, as much in personal defence as anything else. I realised quickly that it was the wrong thing to do and backed off. Matters got to the stage that I thought “I know when I’m not welcome” and decided to call it a day and leave Island Blogging before I was pushed.

And thus I went about making preparations to depart. I popped a graphic on my blog stating that it was my last blog posting, that I was leaving because I knew when I wasn’t wanted, so I’d go elsewhere and I entered a comment in the particular discussion about this 2009 form of ethnic cleansing that if the site owner would kindly send me an extract of my blog entries, I’d go quietly. I (politely) asked twice to be sent an export file of my blog postings so that I could depart with my intellectual property.

And then all of a sudden I discovered that my blog had been archived, taken off line, and as far as I could tell, deleted completely. I didn’t receive any form of communication from the site owner, nothing at all (and this has been repeated several times since with others relating the same experience). All my postings over the past six months had gone, vamoosh! I asked again in the site owner’s blog comments list what had happened to my content, nothing. Zilch. Zippo.

About three days later I received a vicious email from the site owner accusing me of fabricating a tale about being on death’s door some weeks previously. That was his interpretation, and wrong at that. The people closest to me were (and are) aware of the particular circumstances. The words that I wrote at the time were completely true, but I never said that I had only ‘months to live’ (fact: if I have surgery on my back then that outcome would become the case, but since that is not now likely to ever happen for exactly that reason the point is no longer material).

I was informed that if I ever wrote anything derogatory or criticised the individual on the Island Blogging site I would be banned permanently, thus preventing me from participating in the bloggings of friends I had made across the Scottish isles, not just the Outer Hebrides. I certainly did not want that to happen, and so I backed off. I preferred to avoid further confrontation.

The email I received also attached files purportedly containing all my blog postings from the previous six months. But can I import them into my new blog? NO. So that’s six months’ creative work down the drain, my diary of the anguish I’ve gone through since my accident in January lost to some disk storage system in the ether. Well, I’ve put it behind me, I’ve moved on.  

Or so I thought.

Seven days ago, entirely out of the blue, I received a notification from PayPal of a reimbursement of £25 from a named individual. It was the donation I had made early in the year for the new IB website. I didn’t ask for the money to be refunded. I was quite happy to have left it in the ‘fund’ for the benefit of all. I have to say I was consternated to receive the money back, I couldn’t see the point, except if it were intended as some kind of two finger gesture telling me to f&%k off.

And then, in the past seven days I’ve received numerous emails from current or former ‘new’ IBers who expressed their own dissatisfaction with the way that my own departure had been treated, and relating their own experiences of poor site administration. One had had his blog archived without notice when he published a posting saying that he was going to leave IB because he was fed up with the autocratic site management and a nasty publication of his personal financial status when he queried the matter of donations for site maintenance. He now can’t even access the site, let alone leave comments.

Another lamented the dictatorial attitude of the site owner over the question of ex-islanders or people not resident on a Scottish island, and highlighted the material point that the site owner himself is not such a resident and so was hardly qualified to rule arbitarily that non islanders should be forcibly exiled from Island Blogging.

And yet another, fed up with the constant references to people who were out to cause trouble (but who were actually trying to have a factual discussion on the whole question of this abhorrent ethnic cleansing), were deciding to leave.  I know of five IBers who have deliberately left Island Blogging directly as a result of the site owner’s behaviour towards themselves or directed at other individuals which they considered highly inappropriate.

Another blogger elsewhere in the blogosphere wrote some time ago a post on why one should or shouldn’t blog. One of the reasons he gave not to blog related to adverse comments. He said:

“You can’t handle the trolls. If you can’t handle the odd jerk showing up uninvited, then blogging may be less appealing to you. Once in a while someone logs on and starts a fight. It’s a little like someone arriving at your home, walking in, and lighting the sofa on fire. You can either ban them, delete them, put up with it, or stop blogging. I don’t think this is a good reason not to blog – but it’s a reality. Fortunately photographers tend to be a civil lot and if you fill your blog with big words, the jerks tend to stay away.” 

The IB site owner followed up that quote with the following statement:

“One of the keys to dealing with the morons is that mention of ‘big words’. Someone wrote to me recently and said that [name of another IBer] had the best way of dealing with bad comments and that was to simply publish them and then destroy them with a superior intellect. That really is the answer but not everyone has that ability. We do all, however, have the ability to publish comments and let our friends draw their own conclusions. It does require a certain amount of courage but you should know that your enemies will never prosper in the company of your friends. In the bad times simply turn to your friends, even those you have never met. Above all, don’t give up.”

Morons? Destroy with superior intellect? In this hypocritical and insulting statement he destroyed any rationale he may have had for his numerous site administration faux pas. Instead of allowing people to publish comments and permit friends and others to drawn their own conclusions, he started deleting the blogs of dissenters or banning individuals from accessing the site. In doing so he has contradicted himself terribly. 

This is a very sad state of affairs. The concept of Island Blogging, started in 2003 by the BBC, and continued in late 2008 and then 2009 by a new administration, has now descended into an anarchical state of the highest order. It serves no useful purpose to alienate island residents, particularly those of the island that the site owner himself aspires to retire to in a year or so’s time. Certainly no way to influence friends, rather more successful at engendering enemies I should’ve thought.

In terms of the original concept of promoting digital literacy Island Blogging still has a role to play. It is a useful vehicle for helping non-islanders learn about island life, common interests in the extreme weather conditions, problems with ferries, shortages in shops during bad weather, difficulty in accessing personal healthcare (written with feeling), and life in general. But that doesn’t mean the collective community needs to exist any longer as it stands.

Unfortunately I think the concept of Island Blogging has been irreparably damaged by the recent debacle and peoples’ direct experiences of it. It didn’t need to happen in the first place, and the original discussion – started by the site owner himself – was very poorly moderated from the start and quickly got out of hand certainly did not help matters.

If the current management policy continues I can’t help but feel that it would be better for people to break away from the IB site and establish their own independent WordPress.com blogs (or any other blogging software such as Google’s Blogger). To that end I’d be pleased to help you get started, but be assured of one thing on this point, I will get you started and support you as best and sensitively as I can, but it will be you who are in charge of your editorial policy and destiny, not the other way about.

I’ve deliberately wanted to let the dust settle and my personal anger abate. Indeed I’d decided I wouldn’t write anything at all, and told people that. But I received two emails today asking me to speak out, to put my point of view across, and after reading of how they themselves had been treated by the same person I decided enough is enough.

I anticipate two things will now happen:

  1. I will probably get banned from accessing islandblogging.co.uk or from leaving comments on blogger’s postings. Having made some extremely good friends on IB, particularly individuals in Lewis, Orkney and Shetland (they know who they are), that would be a hardship indeed
  2. A barrage of criticism from the site owner and other cronies in his pocket regarding my own departure or about my supposedly feigned death’s door episode (which I categorically did not state).  

In the case of 1) above then that is something I shall, with sincere regret, have to live with and hope that my IB friends will communicate with me in other ways beyond IB. As for 2), then I will not enter into further debate and discussion on whys and wherefores, for I don’t see how it will serve any positive benefit, plus (to be frank) I’m sickened by the abuse and vile behaviour of individuals that I am refraining from identifying specifically.  I’d rather just move on and forget the thing.

But that said, and this is the reason for my posting now, I do think all existing IBers must reflect upon whether autocratic management of the IB service is in the long term interests of both the individual IBer and the wider IB community if such autocratic behaviour results in alienation and expulsion, not to mention considerable anger amongst users and visitors alike.

In conclusion, supposing that 1) above does come to pass, and since I was not permitted the opportunity to publish the following sentiment on my own IB blog before the rug was pulled without notice, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to my Island Blog for their comments, kind remarks, good wishes, sympathies, etc., and general support of me at a time when I truly valued the Island Blogging community experience.  I’d still be there now if it weren’t for the present unpleasantness.

To misquote Carly Simon “you probably think this [blog] is about you” (you know who you are). If you do, then you’ve missed the point. There will always be differences of opinion, heated discussions need to be carefully and actively moderated with impartiality rather than by an individual who stands back and watches an entirely unnecessary bloodbath unfold, apart from throwing in the odd unhelpful comment or gesture to keep the blood spurting around. But guillotining disagreement or dissent does not fix the fundamental problem.

The reputation of the whole enterprise has been irreparably damaged by such irresponsibility. Considerable goodwill has been destroyed and online friendships broken up. The fallout has been extensive and far-reaching, and continues to wreak havoc and mutterings across the ether.

So, not statesman-like Barack Obama then. More like Gordon Brown who has made such a bloody mess of things himself and has caused the rehabilitation of both presidential Tony Blair and dictatorial Margaret Thatcher by his current bungling administration which lurches from crisis to crisis.  

If my access to Island Blogging is barred and/or I’m prevented from commenting on peoples’ IB blogs it will be proof positive of my argument that you can’t disagree with the big man or you get the chop, rather more akin to a junta where dissent is subdued by violence and other unwarranted interference in peoples’ lives. 

That would not be a positive development … for anyone.

Oh happy day!

I can’t remember the last time I saw my cousin Stephen and his wife Sara. They live in New York but came over to England a few weeks ago for the birth of their eldest daughter Claire’s second child.

They made a special trip down from London to the New Forest today to visit me and Marion. We met them at Brockenhurst railway station and after a circuitous drive through the forest we arrived back home and enjoyed a lovely, impromptu, picnic in the garden conjoured up by Marion seemingly from nowhere.

Afternoon tea followed, served on a tablecloth and with Marion’s grandmother’s 1928 Royal Winton ‘Marguerite’ china tea service which was brought out in their, and Teacosy’s, honour.

And a good time was, I think, had by all concerned. Until, that is, the weather broke and raindrops started to fall.

For myself I overdid it a bit today and have paid the price in discomfort terms this evening. I was unable to join Marion on the run back to Brockenhurst station when Stephen & Sara departed back to London. Which was disappointing.

It was so good to have them visit, the first members of my family I’ve seen since Christmas.

Breakfast with The Queen

FX helping TC take a picture of TSM taking a picture of them!

FX helping TC take a picture of TSM taking a picture of them!

After the Travelling Teacosy’s return last night from a weekend in sunny Dorset, it was allowed a jolly good rest overnight, and then awoken from its slumbers at the ungodly hour of 5am and drive two miles down the road to Calshot Spit.

Whereupon, right on cue at 6am, came Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 – home again from New York after a six day trans-Atlantic crossing.

I arranged the general ‘arrival’ shots, plus pictures of Chorlkie taking pictures of our valued guest meeting The Queen, so do pop over to Chorlkie’s blog to find see the close-up pictures of their historic encounter!

Just click each image to see a larger version.

And then it was back home at 6.15 for our own breakfast and a jolly good rest after our early morning exertions.

This afternoon I’ve two American cousins visiting us for the day, so we’ll take the opportunity to show them around the New Forest, and Teacosy will be coming along for the ride.

We hope they’ll enter into the spirit of the occasion and partake in the general silliness (but who knows)!

Were you stung at Chelsea?

If you were at Chelsea this week I hope you stopped by my unhealthy show garden. It was rather tucked away, just behind the stall selling organic wind chimes. 

At the entrance I planted some lovely examples of the sapling the Whippy Ash, whose eye-level branches are particularly supple and spring back surprisingly quickly when the person in front of you pushes past them. I created a narrow avenue of these leading to my very special patio.

stinging nettlesInstead of laying stone slabs for the patio, I gave it a genuinely rustic flavour by using old cattle-grids. Ladies in high heels stumbling to the left had a chance to appreciate the giant non-fruiting blackberry bush; or, if they lurched to the right, the Nettle Bower – a first for Chelsea, I think.

As you would expect, herbs played an important part in the garden. There was a fine selection of rare traditional plants, such as Sexton’s Jinx, Old Matilda’s Allergy and Shooting-Pain-in-the-Squire’s-Eyebrow. You would also have been able to admire the bronze leaves and the tiny pink flowers of that delightful herb Hornet’s Friend, which certainly lives up to its name.

To help visitors identify some of these lesser-known plants, I stuck little labels next to them with the names written in Latin in very small letters. One was particularly noteworthy as, when crouching down, visitors would be sure to discover Widow Watson’s Pincushion. You can identify it by its spikes, rather like those of a sea urchin.

Standing up suddenly after reading the labels probably made many feel a bit giddy. So to the left, just beyond the concealed pond, there was the welcome sight of the Rotted Bench. This old piece of rustic furniture was home to no fewer than 126 different species of lichen and fungus, including, I am proud to say, Swagman’s Pong, which is normally found only in uninhabited parts of Australia’s Northern Territory.

The Rotted Bench formed part of the wildlife conservation feature of the garden, as was the habitat of many kinds of wood-eating beetle and also directly above my miniature tropical swamp where the larvae of many flying insects thrived. On warm show evenings visitors were able to sit and admire the swirling, ever-changing shapes of the swarms of midges and mosquitoes.

Thanks to sponsorship by the manufacturers of an anti-histamine nasal spray, I was able to fulfil a long-held ambition to create a Pollen Pavilion. Whilst standing in tall grass, visitors were able to enjoy some of the country’s most prolific pollen-producing trees, shrubs and flowers. Many visitors came up to me with tears in their eyes, to tell me how much this feature had meant to them.

If you are thinking of creating your own unhealthy garden, you might want to follow my example and place a collection of stone slabs or boulders in a strategic position. I chose some blocks of lovely mellow Cotswold stone and put them in the middle of a path where they looked particularly attractive.

It is essential that the stones are exactly the right size. In other words, they should be small enough to convince a person that he or she will be able to lift them, but heavy enough to make it a mistake to do so. Thanks to this, they can be sure of having a back pain or a throbbing foot that will last them all the way through those long winter months.

The new fashion for the “overgrown look” in horticulture is also a great asset in creating your own unhealthy garden. Hazards such as rakes can be amusingly concealed in long grass and overcrowded flowerbeds.

Many suppliers now stock pre-rusted cast iron barbecue set parts which can be distributed round the garden in strategic positions to get a nice toe-stubbing effect. They also do heavy-duty bird-feeders which, when suspended from overhanging branches, make a very satisfying clang when you bump your head on them.

My favourite product is the new Wilkinson Lawn Sprinkler, known as “The Irregular”. It lies dormant, then suddenly spurts into life when you are least expecting it …