A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
Hello, and welcome to my ninth weekly #NotGoingOutClub blog post. Or, as I’m half tempted to rename it, the #NotGoingOutMuchClub – now that we are finally allowed out. Sort of. A bit. Some of us.
That’s just it: life has become a little more complicated after so many weeks of simplicity. Lots of people I talk to now feel genuine uncertainty about how much to go out even though restrictions have been eased (apart from those shielding, who have to stay in until the end of June). I know from reading your letters that the over 70s object to being lumped into one ‘vulnerable’ group – and quite right too. But, as reader Helen Hickson asks, how to balance the risk? “I’m desperate to buy plants for my window boxes, but I also don’t want to be part of the problem.”
It’s something I’m grateful not to have to grapple with right now – because as far as I can see I won’t be going out for the foreseeable. Our new goldendoodle puppy Perry (named after the pear cider rather than Harry Enfield’s grumpy teenager sidekick) arrived by pet taxi from Wales last week. He’s absolutely adorable but I’d forgotten just what hard work it is. It really is like having a new baby – you know, where breakfast conversation revolves around whether your little darling managed to finish his feed or sleep through from midnight till 5am….
I don’t know whether you caught Monty Don on Radio 4 last week discussing the death of his beloved golden retriever Nigel, but it left me with a lump in my throat. As he so eloquently put it, at times of uncertainty and anxiety, pets are the perfect antidote. “They leaven that [feeling]; they hold it steady, they tie you to a better reality.” I couldn’t agree more, though I think our elderly chocolate Labrador Scrumpy (named after apple cider – my husband is from Somerset) might have a different view on the arrival of his bouncy baby brother...
Gin and bear it
British gardens are overflowing with rhubarb, and if your waistline has had enough crumble, take a leaf (or rather stalk) out of reader John Chandler’s book and make rhubarb gin. He offers us his recipe: 500g rhubarb, 200g caster sugar and 400ml of gin. Wash and trim the stalks and cut them into 1-inch lengths, add them to the sugar in a large jar then leave for 24 hours. Next day, add the gin and shake, then leave for 3-4 weeks before straining. Just don’t drink it with tonic, he advises – on the rocks is good, or with a touch of soda water to bring out the elegant pink colour. In fact, rhubarb isn’t the only DIY drink to try. Last year my husband and I tried our hand at blackcurrant vodka (a great success), blackberry vodka (not so great – too sweet) and even horseradish vodka. The less said about that one the better. As my friend said tartly after sampling it: ‘now that’s a bottle for laying down and avoiding’.
On the box – the search for TV-Lite
For some reason it’s becoming harder to find escapism-TV right now. I’m sure all these gritty lockdown dramas are superb, but when you’ve been up with a baby – sorry, puppy – since 5am, what you really want is TV-lite. First Dates Hotel is perfect (Thursdays, Channel 4, 9pm); I feel I should be apologising for liking it but a combination of the gentle wit of maître-d’ Fred Sirieix and the intelligent editing which reveals more of the contestants’ personalities than they might care to, mean it’s a staple in our house.
I’m also excited to catch up with the new series of Harry’s Heroes (ITV tonight and tomorrow at 9pm). This time Harry Redknapp and his veteran footballers are off on a European tour to face a German Legends team. And on Friday, it’s Peter Kay’s Car Share (BBC1, 9.30pm). So that’s me all set. If you’ve got any TV-lite recommendations or guilty TV pleasures, please let me know and I’ll pass them on. You can always give a false name…
By your bookcase I shall know ye
The upside of socially distanced TV news production is that we get to nose into the studies and sitting rooms of the great and the good – and the bookcases they invariably choose as their backdrops. And, boy, do they reveal a lot about the personality of the interviewee.
There are the self-consciously over-curated (almost all politicians), the hilariously self-promoting (when authors pull out their own books and display them face-on) and the gloriously, genuinely higgledy piggledy (here’s looking at you Sir Michael Palin, Val McDermid and Monty Don). If you enjoy this game as much as I do, check out the Bookcase Credibility account on Twitter, @BCredibility. You’ll never look at your bookcase in the same way again…
Wildlife watch: have you spotted a badger?
We’re all used to urban foxes and their antics, but I never knew badgers could tip up wheelie bins and attempt to snaffle peanuts from bird feeders. For a stocky, short-legged animal they’re really rather agile, according to the Wildlife Trusts. Even if you live in a built-up area you may see one; in Brighton, a study showed a higher density of badgers in urban parks than in the surrounding countryside. They live in social groups called a clan, and the largest underground setts could be up to 100 metres long with 50 entrances.
You can tell if badgers have been visiting your neighbourhood by watching out for coarse hair (white at the base and tip) caught on fencing or wires. Their prints look weirdly like a human hand, with five digits and quite broad in shape. Each pad also has a long claw. “The best time to spot badgers is always at dusk when they are at their most hungry,” says Emily McParland of Essex Wildlife Trust. “From May, they may emerge on warm evenings a few hours before sunset. In the summer the ground is harder and their diet of worms less abundant, so they might be tempted to scavenge in gardens. They love peanuts and can sometimes be tempted into gardens with a nutty treat.” Catch them on Essex Wildlife Trust’s badger camlink.
A summer fly past
May is also a key time to see swifts, says Caroline Offord at the RSPB. They are one of the last summer migrants to arrive in the UK and the first to leave, staying with us for less than four months. “Swifts are incredible birds, spending most of their lives on the wing and only landing when it’s time to nest. After flying its nest for the first time, a young swift may spend two or three years in the air, eating, drinking, sleeping, bathing and even mating,” she says. But their numbers are down, probably because our houses now lack nooks and crannies to nest in (they return to the same spot each year to breed). We can help by reporting nesting sites to their new web-map, Swift Mapper.
This week’s sofa culture
* If you want to curate your own bookshelf, the Hay Festival Digital (Friday 22-Sunday 31 May) should provide some inspiration. This year’s virtual festival line-up is as good as the real thing, with 100 ‘writers and thinkers’, well, writing and thinking. Highlights for me are the Wordsworth 250th anniversary celebrations (with Margaret Atwood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonathan Pryce and Vanessa Redgrave), Hilary Mantel and Roddy Doyle. See hayfestival.com for the line-up and to get involved.
* I can’t hear enough of Michael Bublé’s new charity song, Gotta Be Patient, which he recorded with the group Barenaked Ladies (not as they sound – really) and the incredible Mexican singer Sofia Reyes. Catch it on YouTube; all proceeds go to Covid-19 charities.
* Catch Gillian Anderson playing Blanche DuBois in the highly praised Young Vic production of Tennessee Williams’ classic play A Streetcar Named Desire this Thursday, 21 May, the latest in the brilliant weekly National Theatre At Home series. It’s become a weekly ritual in our house – free culture while drinking rhubarb gin on your sofa, what’s not to love?
As Tennessee Williams wouldn’t have said, that’s it, folks. Stay safe, have a great week and see you next week.
PS As I write this, I am waiting for the postman to deliver the latest edition of Saga Magazine which is out this week. I hope you love the cover as much as our cover star Colonel Tom did when I presented him with a framed version at his home last week. For details of that encounter see last week’s vlog and click here to subscribe.
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