Giant Jenga

Sunset Sunset behind secret garden gate Last night at sundown I took an amble down to Roger’s field and back. On Downton Lane the light glinted behind the secret garden gate. On a glorious morning, Jackie drove me down to the cashpoint in Milford on Sea, and left me at The Beach House so I could take my usual walk home. The bright blue Solent, tuned into a yachting marina, reflected the skies above; the sun shone; still streaks of salmon clouds had risen to the surface above the horizon; a white-haired jogger plodded, solitary walkers strode energetically, while those with dogs paused periodically for a sniff along the clean gravelled footpath; butterflies fluttered; crows and gulls flew overhead; a small shrew scuttled out of the undergrowth; and thrift and other wild flowers glistened in the sunlight on the clifftop. A passing woman greeted me with ‘it’s a lovely morning’. ‘It is, said I, and I’ve left my camera battery at home’. ‘Oh, no’, she replied, reflecting my own feeling when I discovered I had left the energy supplier on charge overnight. Families leaving Shorefield teemed down to West Road. Younger joggers were out in force. Two small boys, in their eagerness to reach the sea, ran down the slope, the larger lad leaving the smaller panting in his wake. The breasts of another, sadly overweight, wobbled beneath his mesh-fronted T-shirt as he painfully waddled along. In the Country Park itself, basking holidaymakers breakfasted or read on their chalet balconies. A barking dog protected its temporary residence. On Downton Lane, speeding cyclists played chicken with cars, many open-topped, preventing them from travelling at their own preferred speed. Caterpillars on nasturtiums In a recent post, Geoff , thebikinggardener #can i eat nasturtiums wrote of his ambivalent relationship with these plants. As we watered the front garden we were presented, in the form of hairy black and yellow chomping caterpillars, with ample evidence of what he was saying. The older section of our brick path, set almost 100 years ago, has, with the passage of time, soil movement and the incursion of tree roots, become uneven, and dangerous for visitors ending the support of walking sticks; although the bricks themselves remain sound.Brick path During the morning Aaron and Lee have made excellent progress in the task of lifting and levelling them. The original, fiddly, pattern has been lost, but that is a small price to pay. Aluminium Bench Before setting off to Shelley and Ron’s home in Walkford for a barbecue lunch we drove to Everton Nurseries to buy an aluminium bench for the south west corner of the rose garden, and put it in place on bricks we have yet properly to embed. The barbecue was also attended by Helen and Bill, Neil, Donna, and Anthony. We had a splendid afternoon of convivial conversation, superb sausages, lamb and chicken satay kebabs, salads, followed later by fruit salad, strawberries, lemon cake, and cheesecake according to choice. Red and white wine, coke, cider, and beer were all on offer. A surprisingly long section of the mid-afternoon was occupied by a game of Giant Jenga. It didn’t seem possible to me that this precarious pastime could last any longer than a few minutes. A tower of long wooden blocks is built to begin with. Each player must remove one block without upsetting the structure, and place it on the top. Gradually the lower levels are depleted, but the height remains the same, until the increasingly tottering tower finally collapses. The person who made the last successful placement is the winner. Bill

After a few early extractions, Bill is seen here making another.

Neil & Anthony

Quite early on Neil appeared to go to sleep on the job,


but recovered to make a flamboyant removal later on, when wobbling was under way.


Ron, with a flourish, applied his structural engineering skills to the task,

Shelley's HandShelley 1

while Shelley undertook careful all-round investigation

Shelley 2

and slid one out from the bottom, starting another top layer.


Helen couldn’t believe her luck.

Derrick 1

Derrick 2

As the tower began to sway, I didn’t really fancy my chances,

Derrick 3

even after the withdrawal the tower was likely to topple.

Bill 2

Bill’s penultimate attempt warranted considerable contemplation,


as did Anthony’s final one.

I always followed Bill, and each time increasingly prayed that he would upset the structure.

Bill 3Bill 4

Finally my luck was in. This was just as well, because Bill almost managed to withdraw the last block that would have been at all possible.

For the second evening running, we had no need of dinner.

The Three Peaks Challenge

Hoverfly on verbascumMost of our verbascums have been ravaged by caterpillars. Some, perhaps protected by hoverflies, have survived. Salvia microphyllaThere are some wonderful scents in the garden. Some simply pervade the atmosphere. Others, like this salvia microphylla, a woody shrub native to Arizona and Mexico, emit their fragrance from crushed, or simply rubbed, leaves. These have odours of mint and blackcurrant. At 7 a.m. this morning, my daughter Louisa set off with her friend Claire to attempt the Three Peaks Challenge. Louisa and ClaireThey must climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, and Snowdon in 24 hours. Having each lost their mother to the condition, they seek sponsorship for Cancer Research. They look beautifully excited don’t they? Louisa is on the viewer’s left. She first climbed Scafell when she was about seven. This was one of my trips made in an unsuccessful attempt, accompanied by Jessica and Sam, to cure my fear of heights. As we neared the summit, the little girl slipped on some scree. That was it for me. Vertigo is much worse when there are children involved. I could go no further. The others made it to the top whilst I remained paralysed.

Today, my lovely daughter, you will make it.

Should any of my readers feel like donating, here is the link: and Claire at Ben Nevis InnLouisa and Paul at Ben Nevis Inn

Jackie shopped early this morning and bought me a nice new pair of gardening gloves. Oh, ‘frabjous (Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking Glass) day’. That meant I could continue clearing the front garden. I made enough progress in this to realise that the invasive lonicera hedge and brambles from next door run down the side of the house at the front as well. I shouldn’t have been surprised really.

Late in the afternoon we drove to West End to visit Mum. The traffic was so bad that the journey took almost two hours. After spending time with Mum we collected Elizabeth and the three of us dined at Eastern Nights in Thornhill, where the food was as good as ever, and the service as friendly. With more staff on than we have known, there was no extended waiting time, either.


On the way home we learned that the two young women and their male companion and dog had scaled Ben Nevis in four hours fifteen minutes, which was bang on target. They looked fit for their next mountain, Scafell Pike in the Lake District.


The Eye Patch

Caterpillars on nasturtium leavesJackie’s nasturtium leaves are being eaten by minute caterpillars hatched from little yellow butterfly eggs.  The sneaky parents laying the eggs on the underside reckon without our eagle-eyed head gardener.

Bee on sunflowerYesterday’s bee was harvesting a marigold.  Today’s perched on a sunflower, confirming my suspicion that these creatures are more attracted to yellow flowers than to anything else.

Jackie drove us to The Firs for a gardening session.  On an absolutely sweltering day this was a difficult task. Madonna lily and dried up pansies and tulip stalks The garden has suffered from months of cold rain, delaying everything; followed by several weeks heatwave making it rather too hot to work and forcing all the tardy growth at once.  A Madonna lily that has just about survived these extremes appeared alongside a dried out pot the contents of which, pansies and tulips, haven’t.

Jackie managed a decent amount of potting up whilst I concentrated on weeding, which at times meant grappling with brambles which had a tendency to get their own back. Compost The compost heaps created last year are beginning to look rather inadequate, as the newest one, despite its walls having been raised a bit a week or so ago, is now looking rather mountainous. Bramble clippings The pruned brambles are piled up separately for burning.

Sweet peasI have already recorded that Jackie planted more than 100 sweet pea plants.  Elizabeth was able to cut a rather good scented display purely for the pleasure of Maureen Allen.

Drinks breaks were welcome.  On one, Paul Clarke joined us and, among other things we discussed the open studio planned for later this month, to which his mother will be contributing some items.  In discussing the widening of the theme from drums to music in general, and the fact that nostalgia is quite popular at the moment, I suddenly remembered a slide I had taken of Chris about fifty years ago.  Complete with Hank Marvin specs, my brother is playing a guitar.  That has to be printed for the exhibition.

Chris 2.66.001Fortunately my slide library has assisted my memory.  On our return to Minstead I couldn’t wait to retrieve the picture.  Under the specs Chris is wearing an eye patch.  I cannot remember why this was necessary.  It is unlikely he fancied himself as a pirate.  The photograph was taken in February 1966, on the day of Jacqueline’s marriage to John Clancy, whose cigarette lights up the background of our parents’ living room at 18 Bernard Gardens, Wimbledon.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s chicken jalfrezi and savoury rice, with trifle to follow.  She drank Hoegaarden whilst  I began a bottle of Maipo reserva Merlot 2012.

A Close Encounter

Apart from one slightly alarming stretch, I found an attractive and varied route today.  Walking out on the Monbos road to the signpost on the road to Thenac, I followed a loop into Sigoules which turned out to be a ramblers’ footpath much more welcoming than many of those in England.  Posts bearing a yellow ring, and a wide mown path clearly marked the way.  In the UK you often have to mount rickety stiles, and are likely to meet cattle or crops in a field which has no clear passage through it.  Naked ramblers have been known to take to these paths in protest.  I was rather relieved that I wasn’t likely to come across any such unattractive specimens here.

Apples on tree 8.12On the way out of Sigoules a young man was trimming the hedgerows with a long-bladed powered instrument.  The football pitch was being watered with a sprinkler.  A racing cyclist sped past.  A tractor driver dismounted to adjust his load.  A cock provided a clarion brightening the rhythmic plaint of a sombre bachelor woodpigeon.  An occasional bee provided the drone, and crickets clacked constant castanets.  As Bergerac has just had a flamenco festival, I half expected Spanish dancers to come round the next bend.

Higher up the hill and alongside the slopes overlooking the fields and hamlets below, all was pretty well silent.  On this somnolent morning the dominant sound up there was the regular rustling of my footsteps on the recently mown coarse grass.  Grasshoppers leaping about reminded me of those Chris and I had collected in our childhood.  We enjoyed trotting out with jamjars into which to entrap all kinds of poor creatures.  We weren’t knowingly cruel, for we always included a lettuce leaf or other greenery for food, and pierced holes in the lids. In my fifth year, staying with our grandparents in Durham, it had been caterpillars that got the treatment.  When we dropped the jar in one of the corridors of the house, Grandma wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the sight of a carpet of crawling grubs fleeing grasping little fingers.

The ramblers’ walk began with the welcoming shade of a wood with private hunting grounds on the left and open fields to the right.  Apart from a fairly isolated hamlet and one minor road to cross, the rest was through fields of fenced-in cattle and open vineyards.  On a mound at the edge of the wood perched an ancient circular tower.  For collecting water?

Slowly descending, I came to a few houses, one of which seemed to be involved in market gardening, with the inevitable vines.  The area was littered with farm machinery from various ages, none of which I could identify.  Then I saw the notice.  Since it was rather faded and I could see no boundary fences whatever, I speculated that it might be a relic of the past.  I didn’t really convince myself, so I thought I’d better keep my eyes open.  The sign said: ‘Beware of the dog’.  Round the next bend it was my ears which alerted me to the canine presence.  Following a ferocious yapping, a small terrier shot out of a yard.  Simultaneously noticing a dead rat, I thought I’d better be careful.  Out flew a second.  Dog, not dead rat.  Then another.  With three terriers vociferously encircling my ankles, just no doubt to add piquancy, out ambled a young Alsation (dog, not person), soon to join in the furore.  ‘Just keep going.  Don’t act scared’, I told myself, desperately trying to keep my pheronomes in check.  Difficult to do when fur is brushing your legs and scratching the mosquito bites which you hope are going to be the only kind you’ll receive this trip.  I have to admit I did slacken my pace a little.  From behind some bushes a voice called out to the dogs.  Rather hopefully, I uttered: ‘Bonjour.’  No reply.  Eventually I discerned a very elderly, very bent, gentleman who said something to me I couldn’t decipher.  As he was grinning, I waved and passed on.  Phew!  Given that there were four dogs, I considered that the notice had been sneakily misleading.

Eventually I could see the whole of Sigoules laid out to the right, and walked down the edge of a fallow field, emerging by the fishing lake.  The church clock chimed noon as I entered rue St. Jacques.

This evening’s fare at Le Code Bar was Calzone and salad followed by chocolate mousse.  A couple of glasses of rose complimented it.