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Closeup of elderflower

#notgoingoutclub blog 09 June 2020

A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson

Hello and welcome to the twelfth post on the #NotGoingOutClub blog, where many of us are now beginning to venture out. Next Monday, more non-food shops will reopen – and I’m hearing hairdressers might be next, which makes my roots very, very happy. But how eager will we be to go shopping for clothes, pots and pans and household non-essentials again? I’m really not sure.

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A few days before lockdown I made my last shopping trip, to a department store where I panic-bought a 2,000-piece jigsaw and an assortment of hastily chosen birthday cards. Shop staff looked nervous, customers backed away from each other and held their breath when walking past – and it just felt like the wrong place to be. Obviously, shops will have thought hard about safety measures, but I can’t imagine that wandering around a department store will be a particularly pleasurable experience for a while.

Nature’s larder

Instead, I plan shopping of a different kind – foraging. A friend got me started when she showed off her jars of ramsons (wild garlic) pesto on Facebook a few weeks ago. If you’re lucky and in a cooler part of the country, you may still find wild garlic plants: both the leaves and flowers are edible, although by June the leaves might be a bit tough, so use the flowers to add a garlic kick to salads.

Missed last week’s blog? Read it here

Get a field guide to make sure you’re picking the correct plants; my friend uses Food for Free by Richard Mabey (Collins Gem). I’d love to hear your foraging recommendations – email me on Here are some other plants to forage for in June:

  • Sorrel. The leaves give salads a tangy, sharp taste, and make good pesto now that the ramsons are past their best.
  • Chickweed. It doesn’t sound too promising but makes a great garnish or salad ingredient.
  • Wild rose (dog rose). Use the petals as a garnish, to make tea or make rose petal jam (apparently, it’s fantastic with yoghurt).
  • Stinging nettles. Carefully gather the smallest, youngest leaves you can find, boil in a pan (stalks removed) for 4 minutes, drain, add butter, season and cook for another 5 minutes. Eat the purée on toast with poached egg or use as a base for soup.
  • Elderflowers. Rinse the flowers in water and use in syrups, jellies or to make cordial. My favourite is gooseberry and elderflower fool, which I usually make with shop-bought cordial. But the flower-laden elder trees in the lanes near our house are calling me…

Pesto made from wild garlic

New age of the drive-in

If you’ve always secretly thought that being an American teenager in the Fifties or Sixties would have been more exciting than being a British one, here’s your chance to find out. Drive-in cinemas are set to be big this summer – it’s the perfect socially distanced yet nostalgic way to see a film on the big screen while the multiplexes are closed.

There are lots of options: Luna Cinema operates at Warwick Castle, Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and the Allianz Park in north London. Each car will have its own wireless speaker, and roller-skating waitresses will deliver pre-ordered drinks and food. Other companies are on the case too, including Car Park Party (Devon and Oxfordshire so far), and @TheDriveIn (touring 12 cities including Newcastle, Birmingham and Manchester) which has dates until October.

Wildlife watch: dragonflies vs damselflies

Who can tell the difference between these two fearsome predators? Not me, until my lesson from expert Ben Keywood from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust. “In general, the delicate-looking damselflies will rest with wings up, while the larger and stockier dragonfly rests with wings laid down,” he says. “Dragonflies also have larger eyes, set closer together on the head, which can give the appearance of a safety helmet.”

There are 17 species of damselfly and 23 species of dragonfly resident in the UK, and they have some brilliant names like darter, skimmer and chaser – some fly at 30mph! They’re most active on sunny summer days, although you can spot them until October, when the last common darter might be seen.

The nymphs of dragonflies live in ponds and ditches, ambushing prey for several years. Then one magical day they emerge and transform. Once they leave the water, the remarkable metamorphosis from aquatic nymph to aerial adult takes one to three hours. But, for all that effort, the lifespan of an adult dragonfly is just a few short weeks – nature at its most puzzling. Click here to see if there’s a wildlife reserve near you and get spotting.

Azure dragonfly sitting on a flower

On the box

Saga’s TV reviewer Benjie Goodhart has recommended two shows for me this week, and I’m not sure I’d have caught either of them were it not for his heads-up. The three-part series, Inside Monaco: Playground of the Rich, started last night, 8 June, on BBC2 at 9pm and investigates the absurdly rich principality where no one pays income tax and it can cost £2,000 a night to moor your super yacht and €40,000 a night to stay in the Princess Grace suite at the Hotel de Paris. I’ll never complain about the prices in our local farm shop again…

Benjie also recommends A Greek Odyssey with historian Bettany Hughes as she retraces Odysseus’s journey home from Troy (a six-part series on Channel 5, starting Friday 12 June). There are shipwrecks, volcanic springs, wide open seas – and a clever mug invented by Pythagoras which stopped people drinking too much wine. I’m torn between wanting one and… not.

Bird of the week: long-tailed tit

I thought I’d cracked it as a pro birdwatcher as I managed to spy two long-tailed tits in the garden recently. Thinking I’d spotted something reasonably rare, I consulted the RSPB’s Caroline Offord. Sadly, my pro credentials will have to wait as apparently numbers of these tiny birds that look like fluffy flying lollipops have more than doubled in recent years, probably due to our mild winters, and they’re now fairly commonplace. However, they’re fascinating little creatures, as she explains:

“You’re likely to see long-tailed tits roaming hedges and bird feeders in little family groups, constantly making little calls to one another – they’re very social birds.”

“Their oval-shaped nest earned them the old nickname ‘bumbarrel’. The dense ball of moss has a little entrance hole where the birds squeeze in and out. Inside the nest is lined with lichen, cobwebs, and as many as 1,500 small, soft feathers. Long-tailed tits use cobwebs and lichen to not just stick their homes together, but to make them stretchy. They actually expand with their growing brood!”

Long-tailed tit sitting on a branch

This week’s sofa culture

  • Reader John Bowdley says he’s enjoyed my sofa culture picks so far, but wonders why I’ve left out Shakespeare’s Globe in London? Well, John, I’m happy to tell you all that the Globe is showing a free play every fortnight on its YouTube channel (you usually pay to watch these online). This week, until 14 June, it’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and from 15-28 June, it’s that O-level favourite A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By the end of this pandemic, I will have reached 'Peak Culture'. I may just have to watch nothing but musicals for ever more.
  • On that note, can you believe it’s been 10 years since Andrew (Lord) Lloyd Webber announced Danielle Hope as the winner of the TV series, Over the Rainbow, to find a new Dorothy to star in The Wizard of Oz? All 11 finalists reunited recently for an online rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, accompanied by the man himself. It’s an amazingly powerful performance that takes you right back to simpler times.

The Royal Opera House, London

  • Get the bunting out – proper live music is on its way back, at least in baby steps. The Royal Opera House will stream its first live concert since March this Saturday, 13 June at 7.30pm, hosted by the BBC’s Anita Rani and the ROH director of music Antonio Pappano. It’s the first of three (and the only one that’s free) and will feature a celebration of ballet and opera music from Handel to Britten. There will also be a new ballet work featuring resident choreographer Wayne McGregor in a socially distanced performance. See the ROH’s YouTube channel to find out more.
  • London classical music venue Wigmore Hall is also dipping its toe in live music, with a series of weekday lunchtime concerts until the end of June. Listen live on Radio 3 from 1pm, or watch a live stream from the empty auditorium on the website. Each concert features only one or two musicians: tomorrow, pianist Paul Lewis plays Beethoven and Schubert, and on Thursday 11 June it’s flautist Adam Walker with pianist James Baillieu.

That’s it from me this week. Stay safe, and see you next week

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