A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
Hello and welcome to my eighth weekly blog post for Saga’s #notgoingoutclub. Eight weeks! It’s the longest I have ever gone in my adult life without a trip to the hairdressers or the beauticians – and my goodness it shows! Much more of this and I may have to start following Hollywood superstar Kiefer Sutherland’s example and ban all mirrors from my home. I thought his minder was joking when we were asked to cover them up in the studio when we shot him for a Saga Magazine cover last year!
Anyway, that’s quite enough of my tress stress, I’m now determined to focus on roots of a different kind because nothing promises the arrival of summer more than the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It’s genuinely one of the greatest privileges of being a magazine editor that I get to go every year. You never know who you’re going to bump into among the rose bushes – I’ve met Bill Nighy, Joanna Lumley, Alan Titchmarsh and one year I found myself chatting to Dame Judi Dench about, of all things, her passion for trees, and the secret woodland she’s created at the bottom of her garden.
Of course, there will be none of that this year, but the organisers are determined to salvage something – and the show will go on, just online from 18-23 May. The good news is that we can all take part. From next Tuesday (19 May) on the RHS website there will be daily virtual garden tours, lunchtime Q&As with RHS experts and displays of work by horticulturalists replicating what they had planned to create for the event. If inspired, you can buy some of the plants that would have been on sale at the event.
Best of all, if you think you have your own award-winning garden, you have until next Monday (18 May) to enter the #MyChelseaGarden competition and win tickets for next year’s event. There are four categories: back garden, front garden, indoor garden and kids’ corner garden. Submit pictures of your masterpieces here and prepare to impress the judges, who include Monty Don and RHS director general Sue Biggs.
I’m not sure mine is quite up to it, but I know how many of you have beautifully tended gardens, so here’s hoping for a Saga winner!
On the box – doggy tales…
Peanuts creator Charles M. Shultz once said that ‘happiness is a warm puppy’. As viewers of my weekly video will know, my family is about to discover the truth of that when we finally welcome our newest member this week. We are all beyond excited, and on the basis that pets are the best therapy – even just watching other people’s – can I recommend the ITV show How to Keep Your Dog Happy, narrated by Martin Clunes? Last week we saw former Spice Girl Geri Horner and Gok Wan try to bond with their new dogs (with amusingly mixed results – I do hope this isn’t an omen!) It’s episode three tonight (8.30pm, 12 May) looking at doggy intelligence. We’ll meet cockapoos on assault courses, Chinese crested dogs learning tricks, a border collie who herds turkeys – and then there’s the not-so-smart but gorgeous Cooper who loves nothing more than getting stuck under his owners’ side table multiple times a day. Mind you, at the moment, there are times when I kind of know how he feels!
…and lockdown stories
Did you get a chance to catch ITV’s intriguing new short drama series Isolation Stories, which was on for four nights last week? I didn’t, but reader Neville Jones says I should give it a go on ITV Hub. Each drama is only 15 minutes long and features characters in lockdown. Of course, with normal TV filming at a complete standstill right now, the directors had to get a little bit creative. So they were all filmed by the actors and their families at home. Directors watched footage on their phones and gave advice on camera positions, lighting and scene composition as they recorded. Amazing! We see a heavily pregnant (in real life) Sheridan Smith, Robert Glenister and his actor son Tom plus (Neville’s favourite) Eddie Marsan and his two young sons, with David Threlfall playing a grandfather trying to talk to his family through the patio doors. Clever stuff!
As the evenings get lighter, we aren’t the only species emerging from winter teatime torpor. I’ve discovered that May is the perfect time to spot a bat in your garden – and the best time is when the sky begins to darken, as opposed to when it’s already dark. When they’re flying they’re actually hunting, and for such tiny animals they do rather pack in the food. Ruth Testa from Devon Wildlife Trust tells me the UK’s smallest and most common bat, the pipistrelle, only weighs as much as a 20p coin but can chomp through 500 insects an hour.
Britain is home to 18 species of bat including Daubenton's bat, below (although there are 1,300 worldwide). The largest is the noctule, which is usually the first bat to venture out in the evening, just before sunset. They tend to fly high and in straight lines. Pipistrelles are early risers, too, but have a jerkier, more erratic flying style. Making our gardens insect-friendly really help attract bats, which have suffered huge falls in numbers since the 1940s, says Ruth. “Leave a log pile in the corner, have a small pond, or plant up a pot with some night-scented flowers – bats will thank you.” The Wildlife Trusts have compiled a list of moths – and hence bat’s - top ten plants. How many do you have? I reckon I have about four, so could do better…
• Argentinian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis) • Buddleia (Buddleja davidii) • Common Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) • Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) • Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus) • Hebe spp. • Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) • Miss Willmott's Ghost (Eryngium giganteum) • Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) • Tobacco Plant (Nicotiana alata)
Know your chiff from your chaff
In my latest attempt to become a bird watcher, I’m trying to identify the song of the chiffchaff. Caroline Offord from the RSPB says it’s one of the most simple bird calls, but also one of the most delicate. From now, right the way through the summer, you may hear it coming from trees and hedgerows. It’s two tone, staccato ‘chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff’ that tends to come in shortish bursts. “Wait patiently and you'll see it flit about among the twigs, a dainty olive-brown warbler snatching tiny insects from the leaves,” she says. “While the male birds concentrate on their song, defending their patch, the female is left to raise the chicks on her own, in a nest close to the ground.” I just won’t tell the cat that bit.
Visit the RSPB’s online birdsong identifier to hear the chiffchaff’s call, among others.
Sign of the times
We’ve all heard the exhortations to learn a new language to occupy our minds when we can’t get out, but I have to confess that French made my heart sink at 16 so I’m not sure it will be any better at 55. But what about sign language? Eagle-eyed reader Michael Samuels, a retired teacher and fluent signer, spotted a news story about enterprising teenager Tyrese Dibba from Birmingham, who is deaf and partially sighted. The 15-year-old has launched a series of free videos teaching British Sign Language in partnership with the charity Sense. Sign up for free and you get five videos over five days. It’s an absolutely inspired idea – no wonder thousands have already signed up. Amazing work, Tyrese.
That’s it from me this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog, and that I’ve given you at least a little inspiration for passing the time. Sometimes it seems never-ending, doesn’t it? But, as reader Jenny Littleton wrote to me last week: ‘it really helps me to think that in the great scale of our lives, eight, nine or 12 weeks isn’t forever. This will pass. I keep myself busy by writing lists of things I want to do when this is all over, and remind myself that when I finally get to do them I will treasure them so much more because of the new perspective I now have.’
As ever, please do keep writing in with your own suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and stay safe, everyone.
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