How do my tommies grow?

Our rescheduled barbecue happened this evening. It was very much an on again, off again affair with rain and sun and rain and sun throughout the afternoon and evening. It was quite the variable day.

I was prepared to cook in the kitchen even after I’d lit the barbi-bags. Eventually, though, it was decided to proceed. And it was lovely. Mind you, the rain started as we finished up so our timing was pretty good.

I tried two new skewer recipes from Sabrina Ghayour. One, chicken strips marinated in a concoction featuring membrillo, was delicious.

The other was a bit bland and didn’t actually stick to the skewer (story of my cooking life) because I didn’t get the quantities quite right. I’ll need to work harder on that one.

But, the big story of today was not the dinner success. It was all to do with my venture into growing my own produce. Today was Tomato Day #1.

Tomato Update

Today was the start of my personal Salad Growing Adventure. I set up my little crop in the greenhouse with a little help from the RHS boffins and a number of conflicting blog posts from elsewhere. The results will now depend on my continuing tending and nature.

Each tomato plant is different. Back left is Moneymaker, front left is Ailsa Craig. Back right is the delightfully named Shirley and front right is Roma (plum).

Watering, feeding and tending will be my regular tasks now until the growing season has ended. Just what I needed: another project. Mind you, it makes a change to have a project I can eat. Hopefully.

I should mention that this is not the first time I’ve produced edible plants. I once accidentally planted a couple of strawberry plants which completely overran the Hot Border. New plants still managed to pop up on a regular basis through the years.

I’m hoping the grow bags will confine the tomatoes to one place.

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The hedge bed – year 9

Possibly the biggest change to the Hedge Bed (Day-z Bed) this year is the inclusion of water and electricity access running along the base of the fence. Both are as a result of the greenhouse. Both have made the greenhouse a lot more usable.

Mirinda wants to hide the fence in the Day-z Bed. To do this she will need to find shade loving climbers to quickly and effectively range over it. This will be an ongoing project.

My ongoing project is tomatoes.

Now we have a greenhouse and it is empty of the over-wintering plants, it is a chance to grow edible plants in it. For my first foray into this, I chose tomatoes because they are easy and it’s quite late in the season.

The reason it’s late in the season is because of the plague. Trips to garden centres have been impossible. I could have bought online plants but this was a new venture (for me) and I wanted to see and touch the bits and pieces I’d need for it. Which is why we went to the garden centre at Forest Lodge today.

This is the first time Mirinda has been to a shop in months. She was a bit concerned with how draconian the experience would be. It was obvious I’d have to go with her.

The experience was rather odd. Usually buzzing with activity, the whole place was quiet and still with the occasional trolley appearing around corners then once more vanishing between the bushes.

To be honest I found the whole experience delightful. I’m never that keen to go to the garden centre but going to an almost empty one makes things far more pleasant. Mirinda just thought the whole thing was eerie and not pleasant.

Of course, any unpleasantness was not enough to deter her from piling our shopping trolley high with plants, pots, compost and stakes. Okay, to be fair, the stakes were mine for my tomatoes. And four tomato plants were also mine. And I really should own up to the two tomato grow bags. But the pots were hers.

In a bit of expert timing, we managed to be outside at the garden centre just as the rain started. This proved to be a very good way to soak my t-shirt. Back at home, having changed said t-shirt, I decided to wait until the rain eased up before emptying Max.

Actually, the weather also determined our meals this weekend. We’d planned a barbecue for today and Persian roast chicken for tomorrow. I thought it made more sense, having checked out the forecast and looked out the window, to do it the other way around.

And so we had a Saturday roast, which, while delicious, flew in the face of western culture and made us feel quite daring and slightly uneasy.

The rain, which fell on and off all day, managed to decimate some wild carrot. This happens every time the weather becomes unpleasant. So much so that I wonder at the success of the tall skinny plants. Half the time they are strewn over the path, flattened by a downpour.

It was while placing a support within a bush of wild carrot that Mirinda lost a ring. It fell off as she struggled. It was lost. She was distraught. I suggested, for the millionth time, that perhaps wearing rings while gardening was inadvisable then set to finding it. Which I did. Which in turn cheered Mirinda up immensely.

The same can’t be said for the wild carrot. I had to chop it up, cutting stem after stem until it was no more. The ring was settled on the ground in the hardest to reach spot only made accessible by the chopping.

Foodwise, today’s brunch featured a new addition thanks, in part, to Sabrina Ghayour. She has a recipe for zatar coated halloumi further coated in breadcrumbs before frying. Of course, breadcrumbs are a no-no at Chez Gaz so I substituted pork scratchings. It worked remarkably well.

At the end of the day, our Saturday roast was a superb way to round off the day. My fingers are crossed for the barbecue tomorrow.

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The pine woods are calling

Today I moved my office out to the terrace following Mirinda’s suggestion. She had popped her head into my office and gasped, saying it was very much like a sauna. There was a breeze on the terrace, she said, and I should take advantage of it. It was an excellent idea.

Obviously I had to move around depending on the position of the sun but the tree helped. Besides, I reasoned, the same thing happens in my office with essential curtain placement throughout the day. And, of course, the sun stops being a problem once it’s passed over the extension and onto the roof of the house.

And so, for the five hours I chose to work through, my view was of the entire garden looking towards the back. I have to say it was very pleasant.

I think a lot of the heat in my office was leftover from yesterday because the temperature had dropped a bit today. Not so much sweety bonbons, more sweaty bonbons, as they probably don’t say at La Diva Kabaret.

Speaking of sweety bonbons, I recently bought some Wild deodorant. It comes with a refillable container so no plastic to dispose of and three start off blocks of stuff to insert. One twist and away you go.

My order arrived today and I started test running it. If it works as well as (or better than) the old roll on then I might just keep using it. If I can then convince Mirinda to use one, the need for plastic roll on disposal will vanish.

The deodorant was well tested late in the day when we ventured up to Frensham for our daily walk along with about 500 others. Though, to be fair, most of them were partying on the sand. We, rather than encounter them, walked around The Inclosure.

The Inclosure is my name for it. It probably doesn’t have an actual name. It is a big old paddock with a wire fence all the way around it. It looks like pasture and has an electric fence inside but there was no livestock there today. Given the area, it’s probably for horses.

As you start to walk around it, you enter a corridor with another paddock, surrounded by pine trees, on the other side. It makes for a long, sandy passage. Fortunately the wire fence features very big holes so it almost vanishes, giving the corridor a big open feel.

A view looking up the green corridor between fences

Once you reach the end of this corridor, the path opens up into a pine forest, criss crossed by paths and tracks, moss and spiky sticks for Emma to chase.

The beauty of a pine forest is that the tall trees provide a lot of shade. According to Mirinda, it’s also very handy on a wet day for precisely the same reason. The canyons created by the trees also provide a pleasant breeze. And the smell emanating from the pine proves that a pine scented air freshener is very artificial.

Possibly the best thing about The Inclosure Walk is the lack of people. We did encounter a few couples and dogs but, basically, it felt nice and deserted. The same can’t be said for the pond which was very noisy with families and loud music.

Given the beauty of the location and the sounds of nature it’s beyond me why people feel the need to pollute it with loud music. Most annoying. Fortunately we didn’t have to put up with it for long. We left them to it and returned home.

The pine woods at Frensham Little Pond

In a bit of marvellous news this evening, I had a group email from Dr Bennett saying we had passed 29,900 people records on the SGW site. Now the push is on to hit 30,000 before her time with the project ends.

I reckon if I finish Epsom and Ewell the total will be easily reached.

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One hot day in June

I think I’ve stopped being an Australian. The heat today was really too much for me. As Mirinda pointed out it was nothing compared to a Sydney summer. I’m certain I’d be the butt of many jokes back home discussing my lack of Oz toughness. Of course I’d just challenge them to a snow fight.

A snow fight! Oh, how I’d have loved a snow fight today.

Rather than enjoying some non-seasonal frigidity, I was in my office learning how to build and use an online database. In fact, this was basically the opposite of a snow fight. My poor over heated, over taxed brain was threatening to melt onto my laptop.

To think I used to be a database administrator (at Global Beauty so many years ago) who could whip up an Access database without really thinking about it. How things have changed. And not just for me. The whole world of relational databases is a boggy mire of barely understandable techno babble.

Anyway, after a day of staring at a screen (with a few moments outside with a beer) I had one option possibly sussed. I’ll have to reassess it once my brain has cleared.

The only other thing I did today was make lamb and pistachio rissoles with cacik and sautéed veg. While my database skills have waned, my kitchen ones are in the ascendency.

Dinner on the terrace on days like today is a must.

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No sign of Toad or Ratty

Pamela, at the fish and meat counter in Waitrose, said she thought it was Old Father Time slowly approaching her from the fruit and veg. She claimed it was the beard and the walking stick. I suggested I wasn’t quite old enough though she should be glad I didn’t have a scythe.

As I left Waitrose and headed down the Lion and Lamb Yard towards Boots, I noticed that Laura Ashley is closing down.

Laura Ashley has been in this building for as long as we’ve been shopping in Farnham. In fact we’ve bought quite a few bits and pieces there. As I sit in my office, the side curtain protecting my screen from the sun, was from Laura Ashley.

Apparently the chain went into administration back in March. It is now looking for a buyer and closing stores as their stock is moved out.

Bernard and Laura Ashley started the business back in 1953 and saw it climb to all sorts of international highs. The chain was in trouble anyway but the plague hasn’t helped, being the last nail in an inevitable coffin.

It’s a good thing Farelli isn’t still living here. Laura Ashley was a store specifically designed for her and she was a regular customer. Maybe the downturn in their business was a direct result of her moving back to Oz.

Business closures aside, I was glad to see a lot of action in the Borough. There were more people than I’ve seen since the beginning of Lockdown and, obviously, many more shops open. Part of me misses the desolation but a much bigger part is glad to see the town returning to some sort of life.

In Boots I had to pick up a prescription and was once more served by the lovely Hannah. I may have to change my view of Boots. Once somewhere I dreaded visiting, it’s now become almost a delight. The friendly staff make a big difference.

Back at home we suffered under the unrelenting sun (it reached 31° today) until after six when we ventured out to walk the Tilford River Walk.

The Tilford River Walk follows a branch of the Wey as it meanders through meadows and reeds, leading to the pigs. It looks all very Wind in the Willows as you walk passed families at play on the bank and in the stream. Dogs chasing things into the water and then shaking themselves all over strangers.

And lots of delight and laughter.

A perfect walk for a hot day.

What Stupid Thing Did Donald Trump Say Today

The president of the United State of America has no idea what the ’19’ in Covid-19 means. Not only that but he’s happy to admit it to his voters. This says far more about his voters than it does about his mental incompetence, something they all share. Clearly.

He’s like a demented old man talking about a war he was never part of while trying to impress his grandchildren with talk of how numbers were different in his day.

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Relaxing the rules

Today we walked around Frensham Little Pond. Outside of hot weekends in the middle of summer, I can’t say I’ve ever seen so many people enjoying it. Picnics, kids splashing, dog walkers, jugglers, clowns, acrobats, cyclists, a whole panoply of humanity. It was gloriously non-plague.

Of course, a lot of people maintained the social distancing edict but big groups weren’t that bothered as they stood around baskets of food, blankets and smoke spewing disposable barbecues on the beach.

While I thought the entire atmosphere was one of joy and happiness, I wasn’t keen on the barbecues. Having been to Thursley yesterday, they were enough to send a shiver down my overheated spine. Still, maybe they’ll dispose of them properly.

Even with the crowds, the pond still looked lovely.

Sadly, for the first time in ages, we weren’t able to sit and contemplate the pond at Carmen’s Spot – someone was sitting there – but otherwise, it was lovely to see and hear so many happy people. You could almost forget the misery of the last few months.

Speaking of the last few months, the government announced today that there will be a relaxing of the Lockdown restrictions from July 4. This relaxation will include the re-opening of pubs and restaurants (as well as other establishments).

It will also mean a reduction in the social distancing distance from two metres to…well, our useless prime minister was not particularly definite in what the distance is supposed to be reduced to. People are saying one metre but he rather confusingly said that the new social distance will be “one metre plus” which means anything from 1.001 metres to infinity. I guess.

I really wonder what kind of moron elected Boris Johnson. He is seriously the worst prime minister this country has ever had. In fact, he is so bad, we’d be better off with Larry the Number 10 Cat.

Still, moving on from that nonsense…I have to admit to really looking forward to the day we can eat at a restaurant again. Without a mask of course. I did read a tweet from someone about wearing a mask to a pub and/or restaurant without considering how you would put things in your mouth through the mask. I think people who are too afraid to leave their houses should remain in their houses, where they feel safe, and let the rest of us enjoy life.

Speaking of restaurants, Chez Gaz dished up a delicious cod and chorizo for an al fresco dinner tonight. It was delicious.

To be brutally honest, we didn’t see any jugglers, acrobats or clowns at Frensham Little Pond today.

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Here come the thundering monkeys

Every night, when Mirinda’s ready to climb into bed, she stands at the bedroom door and yells out “PUPPIES!” to signal that it’s pre-sleep cuddle time. After a bit of coaxing from me, they suddenly get animated and make a run for it. They race up the stairs, knowing that the bedroom door is slowly closing and wanting to get to the bed first.

I have no idea why they need coaxing. It could be because they’ve both been chilling in front of the TV and are a bit sleep muddled. Or it could be because Emma feels that Freya needs telling off late at night. Or maybe it’s because they are simply exhausted from a day of eating bones and walking around Thursley.

Today marked my first visit to Thursley since the big fire. I’m glad to say that the green is returning. It starts with grass then the heather will reappear. Trees will start to shake off the blackened bark and sprout green shoots.

The gradual but rapid regrowth reminds me very much of Australia. The ability for nature to heal itself so fast is amazing.

Also amazing is how there are huge swathes which were unaffected by the fire.

The Thursley fire covered 150 hectares and left a vast landscape of black. In fact, it still smelled of old fire and ash today as we walked through. This is roughly a third of the common.

Apart from the incredible job done by the firefighters over three days, the common is criss crossed with lots of sandy trails which, I assume, acted as natural firebreaks. This has the eerie effect of having nothing but blackened earth one side of a path and lush greenery on the other.

Sadly, though, this fire followed a bigger conflagration during a heatwave back in July 2006 which destroyed around 60% of the heathland. By 2010 it had started to look regenerated enough to stand on its own for a bit. I guess we had ten years of bounty.

No-one has said how the fire started. The fire service and police say that investigations are ongoing. Unlike Australia, fires are not a naturally occurring event here in the UK. Woodland and heathland fires are caused accidentally or deliberately by humans.

I’d put my money on someone discarding one of those awful British disposable petrol driven barbecues before it was properly extinguished. But then, I hate them because of the black patches in our park caused by stupid people using them on the grass.

Anyway, apart from my personal opinion, our walk around Thursley wasn’t all burned ground and black skeletal trees. Away from the once boggy bit, the trees are not singed and the heather was starting to blossom. With your back to the devastation, you could almost believe it had never happened.

One of the few remaining sections of boardwalk

But back to the puppies nightly ritual.

As they raced, full speed up the stairs, I shouted out “Here come the thundering monkeys!” Mirinda responded with “That’s a great title!

So, there you have it.

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A stroll along a woodland path

One of the things I love about art is its immediacy. Often artists are hit by an idea from their surroundings or their contemporary experiences. Their art can be a glimpse into the way they see the world. Sometimes this can be quite confronting; other times comforting.

Today we visited an NGS garden owned by a couple, one of whom is an artist. David Paynter is a dab hand at most types of artistic endeavour. His garden is littered with his work. He also dabbles in poetry. When he finishes a work he is often compelled to write about the effect the piece has on him. This expression is via poetry.

One of the pieces that really affected Mirinda was called Janis.

Utilising the concept of the Roman two faced god Janus, it features a head with two faces, one open and smiling, the other encased in a mask and head-covering, eyes closed. It is poignant, up-to-date and frightening.

And here is David’s accompanying poem:

Janis by David Paynter
Masked and faceless
But oh, so welcome
When the chips are down.
Tired and faceless
In the face of death,
She cares until she can’t
And then she cares some more.

Unmasked she’s you or me
With friends and fears and faith.
A smile for a better future,
Another face for another day.
But while we wait,
She’ll care until she can’t
And then she’ll care some more.

At first glance Mirinda was put off and dismissed it as horrid. But then, slowly, the piece worked on her and, with the poem as commentary, she realised what the work was saying. Art doesn’t have to be ‘nice’ to be effective.

We spent a little time chatting with David and his wife. Every year they hold an art festival in their garden for the Surrey Artists Open Studio events. This year the dates are a little bit later than normal. As it turns out, that’s good for us. Having never heard of it, we are definitely going come October.

Apart from the art that will be on display, it’ll be worth returning to the garden. It is an amazing garden. In fact, Mirinda almost had us making an offer on the whole place.

It’s called Whitehanger and it nestles perfectly in a protected valley, on the edge of the South Downs. It is secluded and magical and everything perfect in the world. But, apart from my hysterical esoterics, there is also much to say about the garden in realistic terms. There are many different areas and spaces created. Also the way the garden isn’t upstaged by the Huf Haus (it took seven days to build) is beautiful.

Of great interest is the book which shows how the entire place has been created from pretty much nothing to glory in merely ten years. It shows you what can be achieved if you really, really want it.

I rather liked the different spaces, or rooms as Alan would say. My favourite was definitely the Woodland Walk, complete with Alf.

We spent a wonderful hour wandering the garden and even stopped for a cup of tea (we took a flask with us) on a bench. It was certainly a wonderful thing to do on the first day of summer.

But, brilliantly, we could take the girls! Of course they were perfectly well behaved though Freya was ridiculously interested in the chicken.

A couple of questions, apropos of nothing

How come if we’re such a rich country, we can paint a flag on a plane but can’t fund a decent police force?

How come we are so concerned with people dying of Covid-19 that we let others die of cancer?

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A family visit

I had forgotten just how exhausting it is hosting a dinner party. It’s been so long since we last had guests that it had slipped my mind. I remembered as I made my weary way up the stairs just before 11pm tonight.

It had been planned for a fortnight, our first visitors since Lockdown. Mirinda asked Will and Will would have bitten her hand off if he hadn’t been the other side of a laptop at the time. He was much in need of social interaction rather than distancing. And Masha agreed.

I started planning my menu.

I figured tapas was the way to go. Our guests had only a gluten issue so there were no food type embargoes. I went with variety. And, I think, produced a nice mix.

Along with the main tapas on the board above, I also prepared marinated olives, chorizo and manchego, alioli and a hot, spicy dip.

I also planned it to such a degree that it only involved half an hour actual cooking before serving. That way I was able to socialise with our guests when they turned up rather than be chained to my (albeit open plan) kitchen.

When our guests arrived, Masha was immediately taken with the extension. She thought the whole effect of the doors and the garden and…well, everything, was like that moment when you arrive at your accommodation on a beautiful holiday. She not only received the full guided tour but actually accepted it. And asked questions.

Will has been to our house before (management meetings that Mirinda organised, during which I had to make myself scarce) so other than the bountiful flowers and sunshine, was not so surprised.

Oscar and Sacha weren’t impressed at all apart from with rearranging Mirinda’s miniature gardens. Actually, rearranging sounds a bit organised. ‘Scattering’ would be closer to the truth. Still, they had fun and I think a change of scene did them good as well.

After lunch we all went to the park for a walk to the castle which Oscar was quite keen on until he realised it was further than he thought. His scooter made a handy seat as he headed off in front of us then settled his butt down on it, in the middle of Avenue, waiting for us adults to catch up. He may have grizzled a bit too.

Still, we eventually made it to the castle where the kids were less than enthusiastic.

Then we found the Adventure Playground. That’s where the enthusiasm kicked in. We lost Oscar almost immediately to the delights of everything while Sacha became a victim of her swing addiction. As Masha said, she hasn’t been on a swing since Lockdown began and that’s a long time for any kid.

And we weren’t alone. The park was fully utilised with family groups dotted around, making the most of the longest day with picnics and play. As I said to Will, it’s only been since Lockdown that the park has been so full of people. He agrees with me that it’s lovely to see. Of course, he lives near Greenwich Park so knows what a crowded park really looks like. Still, our little bit of green looked delightful today.

There was even a BLM rally going on on the ski slope. And, while the family groups scattered around didn’t bother, a lot of the BLM group had masks on. Well, some of them did. It looked a bit odd, particularly after the rally when they all started hugging each other.

While on the subject of parks, today we were booked into Sunday in the Park with George at the Savoy but, obviously, it was cancelled. I booked it late last year and had been really looking forward to it. While I was disappointed, having lunch with friends was a lovely result of the cancellation.

Eventually we managed to pry the kids off various bits of playground structure and headed back home for a bit of tart. Then, sadly, our guests had to make their weary way back home.

What a simply marvellous day it was.

Sacha didn’t join us at the table because she was busy with her garden re-arranging.

And a massive thank you to Masha who brought over a whole load of fermenting food for me. She makes her own kombucha as well as kimchi and kefir. She told me that she grew up on kefir. It was just something they had every day as kids in Russia.

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People I’ve missed

A tiny black blur raced along the path today. Missile like it aimed for my legs. And then it connected, clung on and shook like a washing machine on uneven ground. It was Luna who I haven’t seen since this almost three month long Lockdown started. And I saw Vivienne as well.

I have been worried about Vivienne given I haven’t seen her for so long. In the pre-plague days I’d see Vivienne and Luna most mornings as they returned from their school drop off. Or from Starbucks at the regular noisy parent meet-up.

Actually, if I really think about it, I reckon I’ve missed the large, shouty crowd that would pile into Starbucks every school morning, making it next to impossible to concentrate.

Of the people I’d regularly see and chat to, Vivienne was the only one I hadn’t seen. Seeing her this morning was a very pleasant surprise.

You’re alive!” I declared as she caught up with Luna.

She was her usual jovial self, laughing off my concerns. She and her family have had a reasonably good Lockdown and, Vivienne admitted, it has been a good family time.

I didn’t see the Lady from St Mawes though and it’s been a few weeks. My concern over Vivienne will now shift to her. I didn’t see the Woman Who Has Had Everything either but I saw her yesterday so I’m not worried. Surprised she hasn’t had the virus but not worried.

Rather than worry, most of my day was spent in food preparation ahead of tomorrow.

I marinated pork, chorizo and olives as well as making gazpacho and an almond tart. It kept me very busy. Still, it means I’ll have it a lot easier in the kitchen tomorrow.

Mirinda spent most of the day in the library either talking with work people or attending a virtual conference via Skype. I heard a lot of laughter during both, which made me happy in turn. Particularly while I washed the extension floor.

Meanwhile the weather, though gloomy and wet early on, mostly remained dry.

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