Monday, September 16, 2019

A Very English Institution, by Wiggiaatlarge

Anyone who thinks this is not worth a post will have to indulge me on this, it is a touchstone of that quintessential Englishness that survives by its fingernails in this modern day.

No doubt those who frequent the likes of McDonalds will pass this place by without a thought of what it represents, a last bastion  of a rapidly disappearing age.

We came across it some years back when travelling the coast road in north Norfolk. Having failed to find a parking spot in nearby Cley-next-the Sea (pronounced Cly as in spy, yes and believe it or not there is a place called Cley Spy) we travelled on. All these small coastal villages are solid in the summer months and we normally go there out of holiday times and out of season.

But this time no, so we were looking for somewhere to stop and get a cup of tea and a bun and though we had passed this place numerous times had never stopped as it is not instantly appealing, and its placement means you are past it before you can make a decision to stop; but needs must so this time we made the effort.

The car park is a pretty good indication of what is to come: not exactly accessible and shared with the staff of the village school directly opposite. No space this time so we parked in the road of the T junction, itself a challenge as there is no pavement and you get out on the passenger side straight into a running ditch if not careful.

Everything about this place is of a time. The outdoor tables and benches have seen better days yet are full of on a sunny day of fellow travellers eating and drinking, yet it is when entering for the first time that you are taken aback by what appears to be not a cafe but an antiques shop, library and art gallery all in one untidy heap. After going there for years nothing seems strange any more, the half price book sale has been going on since that first visit and before, some of the 'antiques' gather dust with time and I have never seen anything sold but I could be wrong.

Several local artists have their works on the walls and unframed works and photos are in racks to browse through. I often browse these and they do sell as I notice certain favorite pieces  are missing each time I browse.

The Old Reading Rooms is laid out with an entrance and food counter plus seating and tables and you then go through an arch to another room that has a divider of books and antiques down the middle, you really can’t escape anything in the back room. To the left is another room crammed with works of art, antiques etc in a totally shambolic arrangement, sort of early Tescos where all is shoved in your face, though in this case I don’t think that was the intention, more the case of finding a space and filling it.

The toilets are to the rear of this room at the back of a smaller room that used to have outdoor walking gear for sale - hats, shoes, coats, rainwear. Not much of that left now, a couple of all weather hats and a small asst of anoraks, perhaps this side of the business has not been a roaring success or just forgotten it is still there ? The gentlemen's toilet completes the tour: a long thin room with a hand basin on entry, then for reasons unknown a five-foot metal filing cabinet with a padlock, then the toilet. I have never had the nerve to ask about the placement of the filing cabinet, but I should for the sake of my sanity as every time I go there I ask myself why !

The real reason for any visit to the Old Reading Rooms is naturally not books, antiques or art works but the food and drink, and this is where it gets good. The display in the food cabinet gives a clue to what's on offer: all is made on the premises. You give your order to the always jovial Mine Host, ably assisted by family and some others in the high season; the tray of goodies is brought to your table, a table I might add covered in a plastic tablecloth depicting fruit from probably the fifties. All the chairs fail to match which gives the place a certain frisson; nothing is too much trouble for the owner who will get cushions for those with ‘problems’  and the like, without ever a hint.

To start you get a pot of tea of a standard rare these days, it actually tastes like tea and you get a pot plus hot water to give you about four cups should you need it. The food is on a fairly short menu: sandwiches, toasted sandwiches , panini, jacket potatoes, quiche, pasties (all their own), the list you can see in the photo, even the menu is utilitarian. But the cakes and puds are what make this place stand out - as I said, all made on the premises: deep filled apple pie, lemon meringue, cherry tart, and more; cakes are Victoria sponge, carrot cake, coffee and walnut, two types of chocolate cake and on and on, all are delicious all have that lovely moist texture and all come with cream if you so wish.

The story  would not be complete without giving a run-down on the clientele. It has to be said that this part of Norfolk is full of retirees and many frequent this place, you can tell as all are greeted with first names and on occasions the people coming through the door resemble that outing in Reach For The Sky when the injured patients from the hospital go out to the tea rooms complete with plastered limbs and crutches. By the same token a lot of bikers use the place and others but mainly it is the older section of society, as myself these days, that know a good thing when they come across it and fill the tables on a regular basis.

It is always fatal to say there can’t be many places like this left, but reality says they must be a dying breed, rather like the clientele, still at least the cakes have been appreciated by many and with luck will be for some years to come.

Friday, September 13, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Reynaldo Hahn and Susan Graham, by JD

Reynaldo Hahn was a little-known Venezuelan/French composer.
Susan Graham is an American mezzo-soprano with a very clear and pure voice.
Together they give us some beautiful calming music; a counterpoint to these troubled times.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

A Doctor of What, Exactly? by Wiggiaatlarge

I came across this after following a link on the excellent site of David Thompson.

“ Dr. Gagliano grew up in northern Italy and is a marine ecologist by training. She spent her early career studying Ambon damselfish at the Great Barrier Reef.

"After months underwater observing the little fish, Dr. Gagliano said she started to suspect that they understood a lot more than she’d thought — including that she was going to dissect them. A professional crisis ensued.

"Plants were inching their way into her life. As Dr. Gagliano tells it, she’d been volunteering at an herbalist’s clinic, and had begun using ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew that induces visions and emotional insights (and often nausea). She says that one day, sober, she was walking around her garden and heard, in her head, a plant suggest that she start studying plants.

"In 2010, she travelled to Peru for the first time to work with a plant shaman called Don M.”

The whole article in the NY Times is here with more of the same being dressed up as research……..

These types of article always suggest that we as humans have missed something in plants, that plants have a mind system like ours trapped within themselves and all that is needed is a vehicle to get inside and discover the truth.

Plants of course are quite remarkable in that they have evolved to survive a particular environment over thousands of years, in many ways matching the creatures that have done the same, so that fertilisation and the continuance of the species is ensured. The interaction in many cases is amazing, but is a single act repeated every year in most cases and is a reflex action, not thought as the likes of the good Doctor would imply.

Prince Charles would have us believe we can talk to plants and that hugging trees is good for you; who knows it might be good for him, in a world where you can be anything you want to be perhaps he will come out as an oak... indeed some people actually suffer from paraphilia who are sexually aroused by trees or by touching them, but this is an avenue of interest only for the like minded.

But why do we seem to be bombarded with items like this, that are expected to be read as fact, as with the fads of veganism where we are told in no uncertain terms that going without meat will enhance your well being - though we are now told it will also give you a higher chance of a heart attack and earlier dementia ! And also save the planet by eliminating farting cattle, they never think things through with their statements.

It will be interesting if this theory on noxious gases being eliminated by getting rid of cattle comes to pass. I see difficulties in several areas: in India the cow is a sacred animal, no touchee there; the herbivores which migrate across Africa in their millions; the re stocking of the American plains with buffalo; and the people of Argentina who live on beef and make their living from selling it. I expect there are more implications but that is enough to get some perspective of the nonsense spouted by so-called scientists, doctors even, and star-struck acolytes that never seem to see anything other than from their own narrow and often very badly based science.

The agenda and subsidy market is an extremely crowded space yet still they come all jockeying for that righteous place at the top table where they can demand more, more for them that is, and in the process diminish the masses. I am awaiting the suggestion that we will be returning to rationing for everything for our own good, the suggestion by a think tank, no doubt paid for by the same people that they would like to impoverish.  Proposing the abolition of the private car is a fair start - again I don’t believe they have thought it through, and so it goes on.

It could end up that talking to trees is the safe option, before we all go "bark-ing" mad.

Friday, September 06, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Béla Fleck and Banjo, by JD

That odd musical instrument the banjo conjures up images of hillbillies and rednecks playing bluegrass and country music and, thanks to TV and films, images of toothless, retarded country dwellers suspicious of city folks (the film Deliverance springs to mind.) But that shows the power of propaganda to shape our perceptions.

The banjo is every bit as sophisticated as any other stringed instrument and a lot harder to play well. Alongside John Hartford (already featured in this series) one of the best banjo players is undoubtedly Bela Fleck who takes it out of Bluegrass and produces something quite extraordinary by using it in jazz, rock, Celtic music, African music as well as classical. (He is named after Bela Bartok after all!)

In the current lineup of his group The Flecktones he has three equally gifted musicians in the Wooten brothers and Jeff Coffin. Together they have created something quite unique!éla_Fleck

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement - Problems? What Problems?

Can anyone deny that the EU's representatives have dragged their feet and exaggerated difficulties in the Article 50 negotiations?

Compare M. Barnier's wilful obstructions with the way in which the EU's founder, Jean Monnet, handled the task given to the League of Nations in 1921, of resolving the dispute over Upper Silesia between Germany and Poland. This involved Polish steel, German coal, German factories, Polish factory workers. As Monnet says in his memoirs:

"The signatories of the Versailles Treaty had originally decided to give the whole territory to Poland. After violent protests from Germany, however, they agreed, in accordance with the nationality principle, to organize a plebiscite. Voting took place in March 1921. the results rather favoured Germany; but the voting pattern made only one solution possible: partition on the lines of ethnic majorities. The Germans were in a majority in the towns of the industrial area in the East. Between them and Germany itself lay a zone mainly peopled by Poles. Both Berlin and Warsaw tried to pre-empt any settlement by seizing territorial hostages. The Polish Army occupied the region, and the Germans riposted with the Freikorps. Allied forces had to intervene."

And yet, using independent arbitration overseen by the League's Secretariat, mutually satisfactory arrangements were made:

"The German-Polish Convention signed on May 15, 1922, contained no fewer than 606 separate items: it was thicker than the Treaty of Versailles. The achievement was greatly admired. Although every step had been difficult, nothing had proved impossible, given the political will to succeed. The technical experts had done wonders in many different fields - co-ordinating rail systems and customs duties, building monetary union, protecting minorities. It was their job. Solutions which had seemed inconceivable the previous day became natural in the broad new context worked out for them. To me, this seems inevitable. I have never over-estimated technical snags."

Get on with it!

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Parliament and Brexit: a long shot?

"Paddington": My concern is that pulling out of alliances makes the multi-national companies more powerful. They will fill the power vacuum, and are basically not answerable to anyone.

Me: I share that concern but according to Costas Lapavitsas the multinationals already work hand in glove with the EU. The UK is a big enough economy to have a chance of standing up to them, if there's the political will - which to judge by the hysterical ignoramus children we have in Parliament is a long shot.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Nature the Great Leveller, by Wiggiaatlarge

Having worked in horticulture in various capacities including running my own garden design and build company one does over the years learn to respect nature and its vagaries.

Gardening and agriculture are both involved in working with and against nature to achieve the result we want, whether it be crops to put food on the table or a garden to enjoy and hopefully relax in.

It is rare for two years to be alike and the different types of weather dictate growth, the timing of crops and flora and the crop output in the food section. All the weather throws at us can be mitigated to a degree in the form of plant protection and fertilizers that can boost a poor year in the sunshine department as examples, but never totally.

This year has been a bit different: the early heat, the heavy following rain, the humidity and a repeat of all three have provided - especially the humidity - a perfect breeding ground for pests and fungus. It has been the worst year I can remember.

I have lost three mature eight-foot shrubs. Two I originally thought to be die-back from the incessant wind - we have also had dessicated leaves and causing early tree leaf drop - but inspection proved it to be a disease that killed the two to the ground.

The third was Verticillium Wilt, a spore fungus that waits underground until conditions are right and enters the shrub/plant through the root system and cuts down the uptake of water in the stems. You can cut back and hope new growth will come back untainted but that is a bit of a long shot so the only way is to remove the shrub and burn the infected plant; this will not rid the ground of the spores so you have to plant something that is not affected by it. The plant/shrub I lost was a rare species, Cotinus, American smokebush, that had reached a stage when it was glorious in colour, both during the year and in the autumn.

Mid season saw not a new pest but an ever more prevalent one: Lily beetle. I grew a lot of Lilies in the past but their susceptibility to fungus disease made me reluctantly give up the unequal struggle; but recent years saw me return to growing them as the price has fallen dramatically from those early days and the culture growth used to raise these bulbs now means they are a lot ‘cleaner’ than before and you can expect a reasonable innings out of them.

Yet along comes the Lily beetle in an attempt to make me give up again. The bright red beetle comes from underground and lays its eggs under the leaf. They hatch in an amazingly short time and then cover themselves with their own shit, to put it bluntly, to make themselves unpalatable to birds !
Unchecked, they can strip a lily plant in a couple of days, but if spotted you can creep up on the red buggers before they go upside down and fall to earth as their defence mechanism dictates and take great delight in putting your boot on them; but they do return and it is easy to miss the emerging young, so spray is the order of the day and spray and spray……

Having repelled the red buggers all was serene in the garden until a couple of days ago. I noticed what I thought was simply a bit of die back on my topiary box, but on checking a couple of days later I soon saw it was the dreaded box blight. I have dealt with box blight over the years and it has a mixed result on the box. Some are only mildly disfigured and recover. No box is actually killed by the disease, but many really don’t respond and many are not worth the effort in saving; it is a mixed bag.

Where it has the most damaging affect is with topiary, as topiary is a manicured plant cut to a shape, having a large dead hole in the middle of that plant rather destroys the whole purpose of topiary, so there is in those case little choice other than to burn on the now very busy garden bonfire.

Inspecting all my topiary revealed that only two large variegated cones so far have escaped the blight and I have moved them in their pots as far away from the infected ones, probably too late but time will tell. For me it is not the expense of these plants: the two spirals shown here would cost north of £500 each from a specialist nursery and my two large variegated cones are almost impossible to find never mind the cost, but it is the fact I grew these from basic plants myself from scratch. The two spirals have taken around twenty years to reach their current size, and to see that destroyed almost overnight leaves me using a lot of bad language to no avail.

But that is nature. The strange thing re the box is that there is another pest spreading across the country for which there is no antidote: a moth that lays eggs and the caterpillars emerge and destroy the plant almost overnight. It has spread from its native Japan where it does have a predator, a hornet, but it has no adversaries outside of Japan so far. So box is in danger already of virtually disappearing from gardens after centuries of cultivation. The biggest box nursery in the UK has admitted that box is in a perilous position. They themselves have launched an all-out attempt to stop the caterpillar - after all, it is their livelihood - by constantly spraying using substances that are not available to the public and inspecting thousands of plants and removing by hand anything they find and killing it.

But spraying eight times a year and the rest is not viable in the domestic garden so who is going to buy box as and when the word gets out? So box is likely to go the way of the Elm until resistant cultivars are discovered or bred, never a quick process. What with Ash trees disappearing fast and Oak under threat there could be a large change in the landscape soon; though in many cases these diseases peter out or are confined, there have been many examples of recovery or resistance in nature such as the recent Chestnut scare and the London Plane trees some years back, both have stopped being infected.

So all in all not a good year in the garden and a lot of work, as that which thrived has grown like the proverbial and an extra hedge cut is called for. You really, really can never win with nature if it decides to fight back.