A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
Welcome to the tenth post on the Saga #NotGoingOutClub blog, where we’re bringing you ideas and inspiration for making the best of this odd ‘new normal’. I often wonder what the last nine weeks would have felt like without the (mostly) glorious weather, which has given us a chance to embrace our inner gardener by tending our window boxes, balconies and gardens. No wonder seed sales are up six-fold on last year and the Royal Horticultural Society has been inundated with queries. The veg-growing trend is going global: think roof-top plots in Singapore, and in Russia they’re turning over gardens to veg. We’re all land girls (and guys!) now.
How does your garden grow?
I know many of you have immaculately tended gardens and impressive vegetable patches, so I hesitate to even mention my own embryonic efforts at growing what my gardener friends snortily call ‘starter crops’ of rocket and radishes. The fact that my tiny veg plot now looks like the parched and cracked Serengeti is possibly not altogether positive. The man I clearly need in my life (with apologies to my husband) is the wonderful Alan Titchmarsh. Did you catch the first in his new series on ITV last night, Grow Your Own at Home? (8.30pm)
It’s an absolutely charming show, filmed by Alan’s wife Alison at their Georgian farmhouse in Hampshire, to observe social distancing rules. And, yes, his first crop was radishes, which cheered me up no end. We also follow the progress of three other gardeners as they create raised beds, an indoor pizza garden (the herbs rather than the dough) and transform a messy, overgrown space into an oasis of calm. In episode two on Monday 1 June, Alan will be showing us how to grow strawberries, which are surely more exciting than radishes. Which fruit and vegetables are you growing in lockdown? Let me know – and give me the benefit of your wisdom and advice – by emailing email@example.com.
How many of these 27 classic films have you seen?
I now have a Normal People-shaped hole in my TV viewing life, having eked out this absorbing drama for as long as possible. So I’m grateful to reader Nina Luckington, who points out that 27 Silver Screen Classics are now on BBC iPlayer. The films were all made by RKO Pictures, one of the ‘big five’ studios of Hollywood’s golden age.
Some I’ve seen and loved – Citizen Kane, Top Hat, King Kong and Bringing Up Baby. But others I haven’t: check out Fred Astaire in wartime romance The Sky’s the Limit, Cary Grant in Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House and Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons. The thing that really strikes you is how short most of these films are by modern standards – around 85-95 minutes. These days you’re lucky to get out of the cinema in 120 minutes, and some films are a decidedly flabby 130 minutes.
Felt tips at the ready
To me, colouring is up there with gardening as a wonderfully soothing, calming activity. (Well, that and a large G&T!) I’m clearly in good company as Prince William’s revealed Kate is a big fan, too. When my children were young, I used to – rather shamefully – over-direct their colouring endeavours (I bet Kate does the same), so that the result hung triumphantly on the fridge was probably more my work than theirs.
When adult colouring books became a thing, I was only too pleased to have an excuse to restock on felt tips, and it’s no surprise that colouring is making another resurgence in these tricky times. If you have a printer, there are loads of free designs available on the internet (Google ‘colouring pages for adults’). Johanna Basford, the talented illustrator credited with starting the whole trend, has launched a free 12-page colouring book called Flourish on her website www.johannabasford.com/flourish to help people stuck at home, and the artist Sir Michael Craig Martin has designed an ‘NHS Thank you’ poster to download.
Smile, you’re on camera
If you could do with a laugh, take a look at the pictures submitted for the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards www.comedywildlifephoto.com. Check out the sceptical-looking owl and the big cat cubs punching each other in the nose. If you have your own funny wildlife snaps, dig them out – entries are open until 30 June, and you could win an incredible safari for two in Kenya and a Nikon camera and lens.
The Wildlife Trusts has a challenge for us this week: to connect with nature in some way every single day during the month of June. Their ’30 Days Wild’ campaign has been running since 2014 and more than one million people have taken part. They’ve just released research from previous years and discovered that the benefit of doing something ‘wild’ every day for a month makes people 30% healthier and happier, feelings that last for two months afterwards. That would have surprised me before lockdown, but now that I’ve spent more time outside – walking, gardening and just drinking cups of tea – I totally get it.
You can get involved with this year’s event here. So far 75,927 people have signed up, and there are ideas for families, for individuals and for those in care homes, including wildlife gardening ideas from Monty Don.
Can you spot a spotted flycatcher?
This warm spring weather has been good news for the spotted flycatcher, one of our loveliest summer visitors, according to the RSPB’s Caroline Offord. With its understated grey-brown plumage and streaked pale breast you might think of this as just another little brown bird. You’d be wrong: this is a captivating bird to watch. It perches on a branch or twig beside an open area, awaiting its prey. Then, when a particularly tasty-looking insect buzzes nearby, it launches itself into the air to grab a flying snack before daintily returning to its branch. Stinging insects like wasps are thrashed against the perch to remove the sting, but others can be swallowed easily.
They spend much of their time high in the canopies of trees, only given away by their high-pitched “t-ssipp” calls. The warmer the spring, the earlier the flycatchers nest and the more eggs they lay. You can spot their nests sometimes in holes in trees or manmade nest boxes; they’ll be attracted to your garden if you have a prominent perch from which they can hunt down their prey.
This week’s sofa culture
- Ballet fans can’t miss the latest in the English National Ballet’s Wednesday Watch Party series. From tomorrow, Wednesday 27 May, you can stream the company’s 2018 performance of Swan Lake, recorded at the Liverpool Empire during their UK tour. Go to www.ballet.org.uk/onscreen/watch-party-swan-lake and click the link to YouTube or Facebook to watch, from 7pm. It’s available until Friday 29 May.
- If that gets you in ballet mode, catch a more modern offering, The Cellist from The Royal Ballet from Friday at 7pm. It’s inspired by the life and career of Jacqueline du Pré and set to a score by Philip Feeney. See www.roh.org.uk/streaming.
- I’ve always wanted to see Cirque Du Soleil live, and now I get the next best thing – a free show online. There’s 60 minutes of whimsy and delight in Crystal and Axel, their first-ever ice shows. Catch the Crystal, Axel episode on YouTube.
- I can scarcely believe it’s been almost 10 years since Matilda The Musical opened in London. As a family we’ve seen the Roald Dahl classic twice, and I know of others who go every single year – it’s simply magical whatever age you are. Now the original cast, who of course are all now adults (some are holding their babies while singing), have recorded a version of When I Grow Up to raise money for the NHS. Tell me you can watch that and not shed a tear!
On that note, I’m off to water the Serengeti, AKA my garden…
Stay safe and catch up next week
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