Funk. Off.

To paraphrase one of the 21st Century’s greatest philosophers, Ms T. Swift:
“Haters are going to hate, hate, hate. So I shake them off.”
Oh heck, where’s he going with this I can almost hear you being bothered to ask yourself.
A truism in marketing is “love me, hate me, but don’t ignore me.”
But what if the act of ignoring you is construed as hating, and what if you weren’t ignoring them in the first place, but had to deal with one crisis after another and you just needed support, which wasn’t forthcoming.
Which leads me, with a giant tangential leap, to my latest day out.
The Dancing Queen had a course in London last week. Rather than leaving me at home in a funk of my mind’s own making, rather than in the company of James Brown and Stevie Wonder, she suggested I went for a wander around that there London.
We started in a cloud of glitter at Polegate station with hundreds of people off to Brighton Pride, my funk was lifting already, people of every description and label if you are so inclined to label people (be wary of labelling people unless you want to be labelled too), dressed in every colour of the rainbow all out to have fun.
Southern Trains were their usual overcrowded, overheated, over noisy self, but you know that, I won’t burden you.
We arrived at Blackfriars and had an appalling meal at Joe’s Kitchen, frozen chips, a burger prepared without any apparent care and The Dancing Queen’s dinner due to arrive 10 minutes after her course started. To be fair they did reduce the bill, but received an old fashioned look when they asked if I would like to add a tip.
I watched a bit of filming of Men In Black which seemed to involve a green painted car made out of polystyrene on a crane. I’m sure it will look better with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background and after the special effects are added.
I strolled down to the Thames with the intention of crossing The Millennium Bridge, but there were too many people, so decided to take a right and visit The Knight’s Templar Church and have a sit in Middle Temple Gardens, but it closes at the weekend. A church, closed, at the weekend.
The funk had descended well and truly, so I made my way down Fleet Street and popped into St Bride’s church, the journalist’s church and had a mooch around and looked at the spire which was the inspiration for the multi-tiered wedding cake.
I found myself back at St Paul’s Cathedral and sat under the Ginko biloba tree and read my book. I dozed off in the shade with my book in the lap and awoke with something of a start when a pigeon defecated on my shirt. Some language ensued and I knocked the book off my lap to discover someone had mistaken me for a vagrant whilst I was asleep and put a pound coin on my book. Which was lucky.
It was time to meet The Dancing Queen and dash over to Soho to go to the Monmouth Kitchen to meet pals for dinner. It is an Italian / Peruvian fusion place, which filled me with a sense of incredulity, but it was amazing, lovely staff, particularly Hannah on the front desk and Goncalo who served us and made brilliant recommendations.
The Dancing Queen regaled the restaurant with the tale of my shirt’s coming together with a poo, but for some reason said it was a bear. Which added a whole new dimension to my day.
Then we went to see Motown at The Shaftesbury Theatre, so we got some funkiness after all.
So basically, kindness comes in the most unexpected ways:
The lady who sat and listened to the old lady on the train telling her about her 8th annual trip to the same hotel in Guernsey with rapt attention.
The lady leading a tour of London’s parks who almost unnoticed slipped a fiver to a homeless man in one of the parks.
The girl on reception who sorted out a misunderstanding about the number of guests who had booked with no fuss.
And the person who put a pound coin on my book.
The lady who tells me I’m a good writer and encourages me when I’m doubting myself. This blog might prove her wrong though.
But mostly to The Dancing Queen who puts up with the down days and the perceived slights I suffer and buys me a piece of cake.
All in all, a very successful day.

No photos, this time, what do you expect, a bear pooing??

Take a walk on the mild side.

Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher said that each great journey starts with a single step.
Well, I beg to differ, I believe each walk should start with a toasted tea cake.
This explains how Sprout, The Dancing Queen and I found ourselves at The Green Welly in Ditchling one sunny Saturday in June.

Ditchling green welly.
It’s a lovely café and tea room staffed by happy, smiley people who seem to like their doggy visitors as much, possibly more than the human ones.
The Dancing Queen had a delicious granola, yoghurt and fruit compote concoction whilst I opted for the tea cake, why a tea cake – well, if I choose the same thing when I go to an eatery, it will be easier to compare. They didn’t have a tea cake on the menu, but the lady said I’ll see what I can rustle up – and a tea cake arrived with our coffees and a dog biscuit for Sprout, who was allowed to sit at the table.

Definitely a place to recommend.Ditchling Sprout.

We drove to the top of Ditchling Beacon, some brave souls cycle up there, don’t, you’ll only be too puffed out to enjoy the view, and you never see a happy cyclist or jogger for that matter.
The car park at the top, particularly on the sunnier days will say it’s full – it’s a cunning plan on someone’s part, the basis of which escapes me – it isn’t normally full, so smile at the attendant and they will find you a space – say Sprout sent you.

Ditchling sign.
We did the 4 mile circular walk. There are far better people than I who can describe the walk and direct you because, as you will gather, my mind drifts and I find myself following the sound of a skylark, or following a path to the Chattri monument and add miles on to our walk. And there’s a leaflet anyway, you can find it online, I don’t have the technical nouse to attach it.
But what I love about walking is not only being outside seeing the marvellous views over to Brighton or across The Weald, or the fact that being in the open lets you ground yourself and settles the mind, it’s the people you meet. In the course of our 2 hour walk we spotted a very glamourous lady in a fedora, cashmere cape, leather trousers and high heeled silver clogs, after which, at the next gate, we were let through by a well upholstered chap wearing a rucksack and red boxer shorts, he did have walking boots on, and a healthy glow. As we neared the halfway point, a chap in a neon running vest and day-glo swimming shorts jogged past – laying waste to my claim that you never see a happy jogger. The final leg of the walk saw us encounter a lady in cycling shorts and a bra. And if you think I’m being judgemental, I’m not, I love the variety of our country and it’s side. Ditchling Mark.

Here’s a photo of me taken looking Northwards across Ditchling – this could be photoshopped and put into an aisle at a supermarket looking at Baked Beans – although Sprout probably wouldn’t be with me there.
After a restorative ice cream at the van in the car park we set off for The Sussex Prairie Gardens at Henfield – probably my favourite garden anywhere and they actively encourage dogs on leads and provide poo bags, bins and water bowls.
The garden is open from June until October and is so rich and varied that you can visit it 3 times easily in that period and it is like visiting a new garden each time. In June it is lush and verdant and promises what is to come. In August it is at the peak of it’s powers, showy and confident whilst in October it is mellow and slowing down, ready for the burning it has during the Winter months prior to returning to its glory the following year.
There are metal bison or buffalo, is there a difference, there are metal sheep and a crowd of metal people and totem poles and amazing sculptures fashioned from tea pots or driftwood. It is magical.Ditchling bison.
And the plants, oh the plants, blocks of grasses, some that smell like coriander, others with flashes of pink move and sway in the breeze whilst sturdier herbaceous perennials stand tall and provide splashes of purple and red and pink and white. There are paths through the beds and seats where you can stop and watch the action, or sketch, or marvel at the beauty of nature, or wonder, why bison or buffalo for that matter, and remember you are on the prairie.

Ditchling Sussex Prairie.
The gardens are open for 4 hours in the afternoon which provides plenty of time to get there at opening time, make your way through the new tropical garden to the tea room for a sandwich before a meander around the garden before returning to the tea room for tea and home made cake – your correspondent took it upon himself to try the rhubarb cake, and the chocolate cake, and the coffee and walnut cake, all delicious – you may thank me for my diligent research.
The small nursery there only sells what they grow in the garden, so no massed banks of plants that are on sale from Aberdeen to Eastbourne, but gorgeous and slightly unusual specimens.
You note that I haven’t name checked any plants – but if you’re someone who appreciates gardens, what you like will be different to what I like – so I won’t try and influence you. But the Hordeum jubatum is incredible. Please go to this garden, you will feel calmer in it and be in awe that a small band of people can transform a farmer’s field into such a jewel.

After a long day walking, eating and garden visiting, I was peckish. We went to The Bull in Ditchling, one of my haunts from years ago where you could take someone you weren’t supposed to be with for a drink safe that if there was anyone else there you knew, they would pretend not to see you too.
It has changed, but so have I. It was very busy and whilst it is dog friendly, the bedrooms aren’t, nor is the dining room, but the 2 bars and garden are. This lost it Sprout points.
I had a burger which was good, although a touch more seasoning was needed. Again, it’s a place for people watching, whilst we were there Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man et al wandered past, presumably to a fancy dress part, who knows, who cares. Everyone’s different.
I shall research some properly dog friendly places, where they can stay with you. At the moment though I’m planning my next visit to the Sussex Prairie Garden. Sprout is keen to return to the Green Welly. And the Dancing Queen is thinking of doing a Pilates workshop at the garden, if only to stop me eating.
Sprout Points (out of3.8 – he’s a dog, they have a different numbering system):
The Green Welly: 3.6 – they love dogs, they bring a biscuit in a small bowl, one of the staff loves terriers, they let him sit on the seat.
The Walk: 3.4 – sheep poo to roll in, dew pond to drink from, a biscuit from the lovely Kay, an O.T. at school The Old Bloke took a gardening club at (although she might not be there when you go).
The Sussex Prairie Garden: 3.5 – water bowls, poo bags and bins provided, hoses to attack, great cake crumbs and they had a woollen Jack Russel for sale – The Old Bloke bought it, don’t judge him.

Ditchling knitted Sprout.

The Bull: 2.7 – you’re not completely dog friendly if I can’t stay the night or eat in the restaurant. Chips are good though.

Please, if you like this new style of walking blog, please comment. Or suggest places for us to explore. Best you include a tea room. If you don’t like it, have a piece of cake, you’ll feel better.

Don’t go breaking my heart.

People leave jobs all the time, I’ve left loads of jobs. That’s the thing with gardening, it’s fairly transient. I will always garden, some gardening jobs seem more permanent than others, but we are all replaceable.
I always thought I would leave the Walled Garden feet first, or at least be composted there. But, apparently not; unless you know something I don’t, I’m still breathing.
It was a wrench to leave, I could have been persuaded to stay, but that didn’t happen.

Mark leaving walled garden.
So my last day came and it was emotional, Ms Can-Do and I avoided eye contact, although she did give me a montage of some of my sane, and less sane, times in the garden, M and I avoided swearing, Jon ate my cake.

 

 

 

And we were joined by my very good friend and hero, Captain Q.
We met at the Walled Garden, and he has become something of a fixture in my life.

Dear old Captain Q sees the world a little bit differently, and, I have to say, better than quite a few others.
He came in, he swept the leaves from the box hedge which we shouldn’t have been clipping in direct sunlight, but I won’t go there just now.

Sorry, back to Captain Q: he had said we were going to have a good final session. And we did.
At 4 o’clock, it was time to go, it was just me and Captain Q, I wanted to say a quiet farewell to the garden.
That’s when Captain Q asked me what I wore to his Mum’s funeral service. What food I ate after the cremation. Who I sat with in the pub on that day. Did I wear something purple.
In the whole scheme of things, me getting a bit maudlin about taking my leave from a garden seems a bit daft.
Captain Q, my wise young friend. My grounding.

I better find another job where we can work together soon. Oh, and somewhere we can take Sprout.
I don’t think the new gardener has a dog, we all know Sprout is irreplaceable.

Sprout sunset.

 

Mum’s the word.

My Mum turns 80 this week, I did a speech, she hasn’t disowned me. Here it is.

So, Mum, Mummy, Mother, Your Mother, Grandma, Grandma Sonia, Grandma Shortbread, coooee, ala, orange juice, root canal….

I have a number of thank-you’s before we get started. Mike and Work in progress for coming to play today, Mum for inviting us to Tanya’s beautiful home and garden. Tanya and Carl for hosting today and trying to hire the marquee, and Natasha stepping in at the last minute to provide a pair of her pants for the marquee. Marquee.

And thank you all for coming today to help celebrate Mum’s 80th Birthday.

Back to Mum.

Just so you know, this speech covers happy times, good times and possibly sad times, but bear in mind that most of these stories and recollections have at least a smidgen of truth attached. And, the speech was okayed by Mum’s big brother, Uncle Andrew….

One fact is, Mum has expressly forbidden me from talking at her funeral, her reasoning being that I would be too upset, which shows remarkable confidence on her part.

Anyway, I would much rather Mum got to hear what I think about her in person.

Sport has always been a big part in Mum’s life, whether it be avoiding getting involved in all the team sports when we used to go and stay with Uncle Andrew and Auntie Rosemary, watching Pat Cash’s thighs at Wimbledon, engaging in marathon matches of table tennis because she refused to be beaten, watching Pat Cash’s thighs at Wimbledon, thinking what a lovely son Johnny Wilkinson would have been, or watching Pat Cash’s thighs at Wimbledon.

She was also an avid supporter in my younger days.

From the sidelines I would hear her shouting “SHHOOOT”, which was fine, but she shouted it at the opposition when I was in goal. Or rugby matches where her refined voice would holler “kill him”, again, to the opposition when I had the ball.

Even today, when I take Sprout to see his Grandma Shortbread, and I suggest that maybe, just maybe, he has had enough shortbread and pizza crust, she will say, jokingly, I think, “Shut your whole mouth up. Or I will punch you in the head. With a knife”.043

We bicker, and, from the outside, we do say some rather unpleasant stuff to each other, but we do make each other laugh. Hopefully. And that, to me, is Mum’s greatest attribute, her ability to laugh and make me laugh. She has known some very sad times, namely when I asked, at the age of 35 if I could move home as I had decided to give everything up and go to college and become a gardener. She didn’t bat an eye, and said of course and supported me to do something I wanted to do, or at least until she could persuade Nancy to take me under her wing.

On reflection, I was always going to be a gardener, and it was Mum’s doing. On the odd occasion that I misbehaved at the dinner table, I would be sent to the top of the garden to think about my behaviour, I was up there for hours sometimes, looking at the butterflies on the Buddleia, rubbing the Stachys or bunnies ears between my fingers or just trying to remember why I had been sent up to the top of the garden.

She has given me my love of nature – the tree colour in Autumn, the ever changing scenes of the sea, climbing Helvellyn – which has scarred us for life- and picnics on the beach; she used to take us to Saltdean beach for breakfast from Tupperware containers before school.

Her culinary talents have been mentioned and again those are some of my favourite memories, Mum and food – meat and potato pie, shepherds pie, fondues, Christmas cakes and puddings. And her contribution to French cuisine, that not many of you will know about.

I was 6 months old, she had a Rhodhesian Ridgeback puppy, Jamba, so naturally Mum and Dad decided to have a French student. When he went home, he wrote a letter thanking them for their hospitality and complimenting Mum on her culinary skills – particularly the cornflakes.

Mum is very proud of the fact that she doesn’t have favourites, and that isn’t because she dislikes us all equally. She has a huge capacity for love and to make us all feel loved, no matter how little we may feel we deserve that love at times.

Tanya and Natasha, you may have gathered, come from the more refined side of the family and would like to distance themselves from anything scurrilous said.

But it was Mum’s guidance that made Natasha the lady she is today, Natasha once said to someone she was frightened to go home as Mum would be cross. On hearing this, the friend said, your Mum never gets cross – Natasha, aged 10 replied, she does, flames come out of her nostrils and smoke out of her ears. When this is the threat, you learn to behave very quickly.

Tanya, has inherited Mum’s kindness, shown by letting her move in whilst she moves house. Mum hasn’t told Tanya that the sale has fallen through and she will be here permanently.

Mum must be the only person who, with 80 approaching, decides to move house, to a bigger house, with a bigger garden. There fact that it has no bath or downstairs toilet leads me to think she is returning to her Northern roots. But we all hope that you will be very happy in Lindfield.

I’ve completely overrun Mum’s schedule, but I was never really terribly good at keeping to Mum’s schedule.

Hopefully, we’re going to have some cake and something fizzy now. So, on behalf of everybody here I would like to say : Mum, Grandma, Sonia we love you, you are amazing.

And that is really the truth.

Let’s see if publishing it gets me disowned….

Write, right.

My Mum has just moved house, this meant I had to go up into the loft and sort through the 2 boxes I told her I had up there. In fact, I had almost convinced myself there were only 2 boxes of my stuff up there. I was almost as surprised as her to find 6 boxes, 3 bags and a tray up there.

But, my goodness, there were some treasures: photos and medals from my Grandfather’s service with the RAF before, during and after the war.

granddad-medals.jpg

Photographs of my Father as a boy (bottom right) and even his blazer from King George Fifth School in Southport.

Dad school..jpg

A vinyl copy of Now That’s What I Call Music 4.

But there were also old school reports of mine.

I wasn’t a terribly good student, in fact, although I could read, I didn’t really bother until about the age of 12, when Mum and Dad had to go to a meeting at school about my lack of engagement, the rather inspired teacher knew I loved football so suggested they started getting Shoot!! Magazine. I have barely stopped reading since (although I have left Shoot!! behind), even a cereal packet will do, sometimes an operating instructions manual – just going to prove I’m not a real man, which man admits to reading instruction manuals??

Noting this lack of engagement (not laziness) I received some extra tutoring and then took the Common Entrance for Brighton College. No one was more surprised than me when I passed, so off I went. People tell me it has changed beyond all recognition and it is one of the best schools in the country now, which tells you all you need to know about how I got in when I did.

We weren’t a natural fit, Brighton College and I, some teacher’s engaged me and got the best out of me, I think it is no coincidence that they were sports teachers who also taught academic subjects. I think of Messrs Stainton-James, Silk and Orton as the best teachers I had.

So, up in the loft, I found my leaving report and the report from the English teacher was telling:

“Despite his obviously limited writing style, he should just do enough to scrape a pass”

Inspirational words. Oh how they have driven me on to succeed. I’ll show him I thought.

Actually, not a bit of it. I hadn’t thought about it again until this week.

I would love to be able to say that I have contacted this teacher to say that I have developed my own obviously limited writing style to a point where it actually seems people want to read it.

But I can’t, because I have no recollection of him, his name or even being in one of his lessons. And I couldn’t read his writing.

So, in this exam season, some will do well, some will do badly and some will continue to do their own thing all the way into adulthood and beyond with a gentle nudge from parents and loved ones. Everyone has their own style, some won’t have it knocked out by the educational system – we need poets, we need musicians, we need writers, we need free thinkers, we need kindness and putting others first. We need people who would rather get muddy and learn a job by doing it, not by being taught it from a text book. We need shelf-stackers who do that job to the best of their ability whilst learning to act or because it is the very best job they can do.

Sorry, I started to rant.

Anyway, I showed that teacher. I didn’t do enough to scape a pass. I failed.

I didn’t, I passed, but in the whole scheme of things, it has not affected my life one little bit.

I still read and I still write. I win.

On a lighter note.

I’m going to keep this blog a little lighter, hopefully less emotional and I have no intention of mentioning death at this stage, but where we end up is anyone’s guess. If this was in any way edited I would promise to cut it out at the edit, but then it wouldn’t still have the stream of consciousness vibe to it, would it. (Stop waffling –editor).

A few years ago, Flash and The girl etc etc had spent Christmas with their Father and were returning on Boxing Day. The Dancing Queen decreed that we should make the house look like a welcoming Christmas grotto full of wonder, and candles. I don’t like candles, I’ve never liked candles, they always smell synthetic and quite frankly, you might as well burn money.

But The Dancing Queen had issued the decree, so candles it was.

When she went to collect the children, I set to work. After another turkey sandwich and a mince pie or two. Ok, I calculated that it would take an hour for them to return so I sprinted around the house with a few tea lights after 50 minutes.

They returned to Santa’s grotto and we commenced the annual “See How Much Wrapping Paper Mungo could eat” festivity.

The kids were thrilled with their haul of presents and took them to their respective rooms to inspect more closely. The Dancing Queen popped to take the neighbour a mince pie.

There followed a series of events which, to this day, make me shudder and might give you an insight into the family life of a neuropathically abnormal family.

As I walked up the stairs I caught a glimpse of Flash flying through the air re-enacting a dive he had seen on Match of the Day – perfectly normal – he landed on the side of his brand new wooden bed which then disintegrated.

Whilst I was enquiring as to his health, I suggested he popped downstairs to watch some tv. He didn’t argue.

After 10 minutes staring at the broken bed and realising it wasn’t going to repair itself, I too went downstairs.

As I entered the living room, Flash was dutifully watching the tv. However, I couldn’t help but notice the flames from a tea light going up the wall on to the tinsel. When I calmly asked Flash why he hadn’t seen fit to mention the flames, he pointed out that he had been told to watch the tv and keep to himself for a bit.

I blew the candle out, except it wasn’t a candle, it was a tealight, so the liquid went up the side of the holder, against the wall. And onto my face.

I think I might have cursed, mildly, at this stage.

As I dashed to the bathroom, Flash pointed out the hazards of tealights.

In the bathroom, I doused myself with water and held a damp flannel to my face, whilst biting on a rubber duck to try and stop expletives being shouted.

There was a rather urgent knocking on the door, it was The Girl etc etc:

“Mark”

“In a minute”

“MARK”

“One second my love, I’m a little busy”

“MARK!!!!”

“Yes, The Girl, etc etc”

“Well, you know that new blind you put up in my bedroom”

“I do, isn’t it lovely”

“Not any more, I pulled it too hard and it fell off it’s runner and has fallen out of the window”.

This series of events lasted 7 minutes.

The Dancing Queen returned from our neighbour.

The bed was replaced, the blind was replaced. All returned to normal.

So, there you go, no death, just a mild singeing and an insight into an autistic household.

Just the same as having “normal” kids, but different.

 

A bit of kindness.

I always thought the word kind was a bit like the word nice, a bit of an anodyne platitude, a bit overused and, well, a bit dull.
A bit like writing a bit, a lot.