A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
Hello and welcome to another week of my #NotGoingOutClub blog. If you watched my vlog last week you’ll know I braved my first lockdown clothes shopping expedition – and boy was it good to hand over an actual credit card and come away with a bag containing something other than food.
The joy of a pint in a pub garden
We all have a long list of things we’re desperate to do once life gets anywhere near normal. Having ticked the ‘new top’ box, my next wish (after, of course, a hairdressing appointment – 16 July and counting for me!) is really simple: to sit in our local pub beer garden with a cold glass of beer and the obligatory salt and vinegar crisps, and chew over life, the universe and everything with my friends and neighbours.
Some pubs have been truly entrepreneurial in their approach to lockdown, offering takeaway beer in customers’ leftover milk cartons and plastic jugs, deliveries of mini kegs of beer and cider, and some, like ours, are doing a roaring trade in click and collect takeaway food. One, in east London, even has a ‘Tactical Beer Response Unit’: you call them and a van turns up at your door, with barman on hand to pour your pint from the van’s built-in taps. While we wait for news on reopening, find your nearest pub doing takeaway at the Campaign for Real Ale’s online guide whatpub.com.
But it’s the beer garden I’m holding out for, and I’ll be supporting my local, The Green Man in Eversholt, as soon as I’m able. Pubs occupy a special place in our hearts: they’re the beating heart of communities, where all generations mingle (while sneaking a look at the football on TV). But they were already under huge pressure before lockdown. The wonderful landlady of my local, Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown, was out campaigning for a cut in beer duty earlier this year to help more pubs survive tough times. As she says, ‘Pubs are a part of British heritage – an emblem of the high street and the heart of a quiet village – and they should be protected.’ Quite so. Roll on opening time!
On the box
Tonight it's the first episode (and a double bill at that) of Alan Bennett’s new Talking Heads series (BBC1, 9pm). Who can forget the original series of monologues in 1988, which were such classics they even made it onto the GCSE syllabus? The new series features ten of the original episodes with new actors, all filmed during lockdown with social distancing measures in place, plus two new ones written last year.
First on the bill is Imelda Staunton in A Lady of Letters – Patricia Routledge’s original role as angry Irene Ruddock, who sits at her window planning letters of complaint and scowling and prying at the world. Saga’s TV reviewer Benjie Goodhart tells me Staunton is ‘genuinely spectacular’, so I can’t wait. The second episode is An Ordinary Woman starring Sarah Lancashire, which Benjie says is, well, dark. Catch all the episodes on iPlayer after the double bill has finished at 10.10pm.
Lockdown has brought us the sublime Mr Alan Bennett, but it has also brought us… Celebrity Snoop Dogs on Channel 4. Yes, dogs go into celebrities’ houses wearing cameras on harnesses so we can try to guess who lives there – a bit like a canine version of Through the Keyhole. But instead of Keith Lemon we have Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud, who will apparently comment on everything from the homeowner’s décor choices to their shoe collections. It starts on Friday at 8.30pm on Channel 4, and I’ll be watching – no doubt with my new puppy Perry sprawled out next to me on the sofa!
Lockdown may have brought us some dodgy TV (see above) but it has brought unexpected advantages to our wildlife. Take the incredible bee orchid, which is thriving because we’re no longer mowing the life out of our verges, meadows and grassy areas. Record numbers of this small but amazingly intricate bloom are being spotted this June. “It’s one of your best chances to spot this exotic-looking flower, which may only flower once in its lifetime,” says Sophie Cowling from Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.
The bee orchid gets its name from its brown, furry, velvety centre with yellow markings. It has evolved to look eerily like a bee in order to attract male bees, who try unsuccessfully to mate with the flower. Instead, pollen is transferred and the flower has achieved its goal of pollination. It’s quite widespread around the UK; spot it in grassy areas and meadows. “The mesmerising diversity of plant life in grassy areas, if managed well, supports an incredible web of life, from a haze of thrumming insects and butterflies whirling in the breeze, to flocks of beautiful birds and so much more,” says Sophie. The Wildlife Trusts are campaigning for a national network of meadows; find out more here.
How do you get rid of slugs?
All this rain might be good for my embryonic veg patch, but it’s also meant that slugs and snails are on the march, turning my hostas into lace. As my teenagers have banned me from using ‘cruel’ slug pellets, I am on the hunt for something else to deter the pests. Gardening friends tell me that beer traps, half grapefruits, and crushed grit and eggshells don’t really work.
Alan Titchmarsh recommends hand-picking at night if you only have a few pots or plants to protect (although he says you have to take your slimy charges on a car journey because they have an incredibly well-developed homing instinct). Funnily enough, the teenagers have also vetoed that idea. Reader Joy Bragg suggests copper, which sounds intriguing. Apparently, slugs can’t move across copper, so if you place a ring of copper tape around pots or a copper collar around vulnerable plants in the ground, you’ll keep slugs away. I know many of you have pristine gardens and hostas that don’t resemble Brittany lace, so do tell me what has worked for you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your slug and snail secrets.
Bird of the week: great tit
If you hear a bird call that sounds like ‘teacher, teacher’, chances are it’s a great tit, according to Caroline Offord of the RSPB. Of the six tit species that breed in the UK, the great tit is the largest. It has similar plumage to a blue tit but with a distinctive black head and white cheeks. The chest is bright yellow with a black stripe running down from the throat. Males and females are similar but the stripe in males is wide and sometimes extends down to the legs.
Great tits are extremely vocal and can have around 40 different calls. Many think the ‘teacher, teacher’ call sounds like a squeaky wheelbarrow or a bicycle pump. It is a woodland bird, which has readily adapted to man-made habitats and can be quite aggressive at a bird table, fighting off smaller birds. They feed primarily on insects but will happily take sunflower seeds and other tasty treats.
This week’s sofa culture
- The Glastonbury Festival would have started this Thursday – the 50th to be staged in those muddy Somerset fields. I’m happy to report that the anniversary won’t go unmarked even if we can’t pull on our wellies and head down the M4/M5 this year. Organisers Michael and Emily Eavis have announced a programme of virtual gigs and previously unheard recordings from past years for a multi-platform ‘Glastonbury Experience’ (on BBC2, BBC4, iPlayer, Radio 6) from 25-29 June.
- Just when I thought I’d run out of venues showcasing online performances, New York’s Lincoln Center is streaming musicals for free during June under the tag ‘Broadway Fridays’. Act One, the story of Broadway legend Moss Hart, is streaming until 3 July). Check out their website for a veritable feast of free music, opera and theatre.
- Never let it be said that I don’t bring you high-brow news. Reader Alan Taylor tells me that a series of eight introductory lectures given to first-year undergraduate philosophy students at the University of Oxford is now available to listen to as a podcast. He promises me that the lectures are ‘surprisingly digestible, even for someone who didn’t even go to university, let alone Oxford.’
So we started with pubs and ended on (bar room?) philosophy… On that rather elevated note, that’s all from me this week. Stay safe, enjoy your week, and see you next time.
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