The big blow

The weather went a bit mental today. Following a night of torrential (though nothing like Queensland) rain, the wind started. It was a big, swirly, buffeting kind of wind; the kind that normally blows pot-bound conifers over.

One of the smaller planters

One of the smaller planters

After Skyping with mum, doing the shopping and walking the dogs around the Park, I headed into the garden to start making the wire fence which will separate the Wild Flower Patch (that was Emma’s Jungle) from the rest of the garden…and the dogs. One of the great things about wire mesh is that the wind just blows through it. This made erection quite painless.

No, the hoisting of the fence was fine, however, the uprooting of grass and weeds was a bit labour intensive. When Chris the Gardener prepared the Crazy Bed, he worked up to a line of bricks which I’d placed, loose on the ground. This delineated the end of the bed. The line of bricks stayed there for when he laid the wild flower mat as it also delineated the border of the meadow. This is all well and good except that the strip of brick-wide ground was completely covered in grass and dandelions. It was the clearance of this strip that took up most of my time.

Once weeded, I then had to dig a shallow ditch for the bricks to go into. I then started on the fence. I managed the first four metres (or so) before having to call it a day. At the moment it looks a bit stark but eventually, with climbers tumbling all over it, it will look a lot more attractive.

The first bit

The first bit

Elsewhere in the garden, the various plants were treated a bit roughly by the near constant wind but, it seems, they all survived. Best of all, I didn’t have to pick up any fallen conifers now they’ve been transplanted to planters rather than the round pots they came in. And no broken terracotta! That’s definitely a bonus.

Clematis montana before the wind

Clematis montana before the wind

24 years and counting

Today was our 24th wedding anniversary and we celebrated by driving Max all over the county and having dinner at the Chesil in Winchester.

Most of the driving involved going to the Forest Lodge garden centre to buy new wooden planters to stop the conifers from constantly falling over with every breath of wind. The reason we had to make multiple trips was because we could only fit half in Max each trip. While he has quite a spacious back area (for a Mini) I was a bit less brutal with packing (like I was with Sidney). Still, we managed it and we did get to experience the fun of driving Max, pairing our phones to him so we could listen to our own music.

Then we spent the afternoon potting the conifers together. This is usually Mirinda’s job but the conifers were considerably easier to do as a team. They had to be straight and centred and show their best side, after all. Eventually they were all planted, dotted around the terrace giving a bit more height to the view.

Eventually, it was time to head off for the restaurant and we had a lovely run down to Winchester.

The Chesil is a restaurant in the oldest house in Winchester. It was a rectory and was built in 1450. Nothing is level and the doorways are very low. Mirinda and Fi went there during their Winchester stay at Christmas. Fi insisted we should go for dinner. So we did. If you add to that the fact that she was the only person to wish us happy anniversary (we’d forgotten) and I was wearing a shirt she bought me for Christmas years ago, and it felt like we were actually celebrating her.

The meal was lovely (though the venison and chocolate is no longer on the menu) as was the wine. We had a lovely night with the added bonus of getting to drive home in Max. And just to show the difference…Sidney used to take 45 minutes to get to Winchester while Max can do it in just over half an hour. And he’s very comfortable.

Back at home we watched another thrilling episode of 24 (quite apt we thought) before retiring. It was the end of a lovely weekend.

It was also Star Wars day, marked by one TV channel playing back to back episodes of The Big Bang Theory with Star Wars references in them.

Fox and Goose

Today we took Max to the pub. The Fox and Goose pub, to be exact. This was where Kelly celebrated her 18th birthday and our destination the night Claire almost leapt out of the car and into a stream.

max02

Bump it with a trumpet

I’ve seen a lot of musicals in my time (been in a few, too) but today I saw the best one ever. And not only that, I also saw the best performance in a musical ever. The musical was Gypsy, playing at the Savoy and playing a briiliant, perfect Rose was the superb Imelda Staunton. We’d seen her as an incredible Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd a few years ago but her Rose exceeded that and shone like a beacon of perfection.

We combined our visit to the Savoy with a long time coming London Day. Mirinda had wanted to see the Dolls’ House exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood so we stayed at the flat last night (the girls were with Sue) and headed for Bethnal Green from Canary Wharf. Of course, this was after our usual breakfast at Carluccio’s.

I’m fairly certain I’ve never been to Bethnal Green before (actually I thought it was over near Maida Vale rather than East London). It was a bus ride to new adventure as we drove through small lanes and down busy High Streets. We passed a lot of shipping heritage as the bus drove it’s ever wandering way from ultra modern skyscrapers to small brick tenements lining the Thames.

Eventually (it took quite a long time to get there) we pulled up outside the museum and hopped off the bus.

Museum of Childhood front door

Museum of Childhood front door

We spent a delightful time wandering through the ages of doll houses. The museum has a massive collection of them and this exhibition traced them through the history of changing architecture and style as they reflected their real world surroundings. From old Georgian mansions to modern coloured perspex houses on split levels. It was an excellent exhibition, beautifully curated.

Keeping up with the Barbies

Keeping up with the Barbies

On the main floor of the museum, there was also a small display of Alice objects. 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first Wonderland book and they are marking it with a display of how Alice has affected fashion over the years. From above, the display looked quite magical; up close it was a fascinating glimpse into how popular Alice was (and still is).

Welcome to wonderland

Welcome to wonderland

My personal favourite object was an Alice dress made from material with text from the book and a few of the Tenniel drawings on it. (There’s a photograph in my Flickr account.)

After the museum (which is a delightful journey through childhood and full of little kids) we had a stroll through the garden next door, admiring the many tulips giving some much needed colour to the otherwise joyless surroundings outside the fence. We then hit the Tube for the trip to Covent Garden, where we joined the millions of other tourists wandering aimlessly around.

After a dinner of pizza, we headed for the theatre.

gypsy

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house (Mirinda thinks we saw Barry Humphries in the audience) and there was a feeling of anticipation of something great about to happen. The musical has received rave reviews (particularly for Imelda) and it was like everyone wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

Saturday night performances on the West End tend to be mostly bus groups from the Home Counties and I think we were in the middle of the Essex contingent. Still, nothing else mattered after the show began.

There are not enough superlatives to truly describe Gypsy. If you take Imelda out of the equation (something pretty much impossible) Lara Pulver as Louise (eventually to become Gypsy Rose Lee) was excellent as was Peter Davison (my favourite Doctor) as Herbie. We last saw Peter in Legally Blonde where I wasn’t so impressed but he was an excellent Herbie tonight. I’d also like to say that the young girl who played Baby June (Isla Huggins-Barr) was tremendous. Her performance was a delight.

But all of that is a mere sideshow because the show belongs to Imelda Staunton. An amazing performance full of pathos, depseration, hope and strength. She shone as the world’s worst stage mother. It will be very difficult to top her performance. I may as well never see another musical because anyone else will just pale into insignificance. A true tour de force. I feel sorry for anyone who will never see this show.

The wonderful Wigrams

I was back at work this week – always a pleasure – busy trying to unravel the Wigrams. And they needed a bit of unravelling.

The Wigram Dynasty started with Sir Robert Wigram (1744-1830). He was clearly someone who wanted to create a family of influence. Starting in Wexford, he first became a surgeon, sailing aboard the Admiral Watson as the ship’s surgeon. He quit this quite soon and decided to become a very rich merchant and shipowner. Eventually he became one of the biggest drug importers into England.

Entering Parliament as a Tory, he stood for and gained the seat of Fowey in 1802, spending a lot of time supporting William Pitt (which becomes obvious in the naming of his last son). This wasn’t all he did, mind you. He was heavily involved in setting up a volunteer army fearing a threat from across the Channel during the French Revolution. Of course, he dabbled in shipping (otherwise, why would I be researching him?) and spent some time securing an Act to improve the Port of London.

He was made a Baron in 1805 and, in the same year, bought into the Thames shipbuilding business of Perry, Wells and Green…which he eventually took over. He was a pretty canny businessman. As well as the shipbuilding, he also sat on the board of a brewery and a ropemaking company.

There is, it would seem, only one area in which Robert Wigram stands out as a bit odd: His children. For starters, he had a LOT! In fact, his first wife died after six, leaving his second wife to continue with the long list of little Wigrams. The numbers vary, depending on your research source but it was somewhere between 18 and 23.

The first six (Robert, Catherine, John, William, Maria and an unamed infant that died very young) all seem normal enough and were quite successful…in that way that a child of a very well-to-do and connected Victorian Baron, can be. Robert (jnr) became a director of the Bank of England in what seems to be a heriditary post, John and William became directors of the East India Company and William was the Member for Wexford.

It was in the second lot of kids that things go a bit awry. The list of names throws up some highly original choices: Eleanor, Money, Henry Loftus, Harriet, James, Octavius, Anne, Charles-Laird, Rev Joseph-Cotton, Richard, Ely-Duodecimus, Edward, Loftus Tottenham, George-Vicesimus and William Pitt.

Octavius means 8th, Duodecimus means 12th and Vicesimus means 20th but the numbers don’t work so well. Octavius was the 12th child, Duodeimus was the 20th and poor old Vicesimus was 24th. Perhaps Sir Robert wasn’t very good at Latin. Those strange names aside (and I do wonder how much bullying they underwent) I’m not sure what the explanation for ‘Money’ is. Though my favourite has to be Loftus Tottenham. Fancy being named after a football team…

But, of all Sir Robert’s kids, easily the most successful was the (as it turned out) appropriately named Money. He was a shipbuilder (as well as many other things that made him wealthy) with the variously named Wigram and Green firms. And it was Money’s boringly named son, Clifford, that I researched today.

Clifford was a director then Deputy Governor of the Bank of England as well as being a partner in the shipbuilding firm of Money Wigram and Sons. He donated a load of corroded copper to the museum. It was from the bottom of ships and showed the effect of saltwater on the metal. Boring but true.

Goodbye Sidney, hello Max

Anyone who knows me will verify that I have little interest in cars. I have always seen them as a means to get from A to B and beyond that, I’ve just never been interested. I find it utterly bewildering that people can stand and enjoy the horrendous noise generated by some of them while sitting at traffic lights. And who knows why people enjoy the fumes.

However…that all changed a little bit today because we went and picked up our new car, Max. And I am in love with Max. He is a new, five door hatch Mini, in British racing green. He is a thing of beauty. Both inside and out.

On the outside he sits sleek and low with a promise of fun while inside he looks like the cockpit of a Star Wars X-Wing fighter. In fact, Nick, the Salesman spent a goodly amount of time showing Mirinda how to make him work. It’s quite complex but everything is clearly essential. Like the switch which changes the colour of the lights in the footwells and doorhandles through all shades of the rainbow. Like the individual seat warmers. Like the pop up screen which displays information only the driver can see.

Basically, it’s a marvel of technology and, as Nick warned us, FUN!

Mini fun styley

Mini fun styley

I’m so overcome by this new experience that I can’t write anymore. Well, except to say goodbye to Sidney who we left with Nick. Long may Aunt Vera haunt someone else.

All weather Chris

This morning I took charge of a rotovator. It turned up just before Chris (and new guy Gus) drove up. At the same time, Rodney decided to pop in for a visit (and ate all the dog biscuits). Madness reigned for a little while.

After weeks of sunshine, today the weather could have been a bit kinder. Poor Chris and Gus started off stripping Emma’s Jungle in a light drizzle that Chris said would help with the ground preparation. He claimed that the dampness would drift away by 1pm (according to the weatherman who, we know, is ALWAYS right) so they ploughed on….literally.

And then, just before lunchtime, the sky turned black and the rain bucketed down. It was a rain of Biblical proportions. Chris and Gus kept going but, eventually, they decided to stop and wait for it to pass. Not that they stopped working. Chris was concerned about the strips of wild flower meadow sitting on the pallet on our drive. They man-handled it all into their van. Then they had lunch.

Of course, the rain didn’t last long, just enough to turn Emma’s Jungle into a quagmire. This made it somewhat heavy going for the rotovator but Chris persisted, removing mud from the tire treads every few feet.

Speaking of the rotovator, particularly after the problems they had last time, this time, while it started, the machine wouldn’t move. Chris was on the phone immediately, ready to blast them. It was a simple problem, quickly solved. Apparently the wheels have special safety pins in them to stop the machine moving in transit and the delivery guy had left them in place.

And so, Chris spent the next hour churning up the muddy ground.

He’d told me earlier that the ground, once stripped, chopped and levelled, needed to be well watered before the flower meadow mat was laid. This was clearly no longer a requirement as the ground was truly soaked. The two of them then spent the rest of the afternoon laying the mat.

Originally, Chris had booked them in for two days but, to their credit, the two of them finished everything by 4pm today. And the results are fabulous. When the wild flowers start popping up, it will look beautiful and, hopefully, alive with bees. And, possibly best of all, it only needs to be mowed once a year (some time in August).

Emma's Jungle after

Emma’s Jungle after

It’s all a bit flat and messy at the moment but this won’t last long. In fact, before dinner, I spotted a few white flowers already starting to reach for the sun. Now I just have to build a fence around it to keep the dogs out.

Poor Chris and Gus left wet and mud spattered, heading for the pub for (at least) a beer.

Close up of the meadow

Close up of the meadow

As for me (and the aforesaid dogs), I spent the day inside, sorting out admin things (successful surprises for Christmas, a successful convertable for France, unsuccessful insurance for Max). And, of course, we all went for a walk late in the day and managed to get caught in the final drizzle of the day.