Gone to the dogs.

There are two types of dog people in my experience:

Those who hear their dog’s voices, and those who lie.

I’m convinced that, if it wasn’t for Sprout quietly whispering in my ear throughout the day, my somewhat tenuous grip with reality would slacken and I would be cast into a dark place.

I was lucky to be born into a family of dog lovers, the first dog I was acquainted with was Jamba, a Rhodesian Ridgeback who arrived in a crate at Ashford station a couple of weeks after I was born, or it might have been the other way round, I’ve never stopped to think about it, best I don’t. There’s a photo of me and Jamba in his dog basket, one of us has a wet nose and big ears, and the other is a dog. He was huge, he didn’t really like adults, but loved children and was at his happiest when he had his head up the chimney when the fire was lit, I’m not sure if it was the heat he liked or it was just an oddness he had.

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Mark and Jamba, you decide which is which.

 

When he had taken us as far as he could, we came under the watchful eye of Beaumont, what a grand name that was for a dog. I wanted to call him Botham, but when that was vetoed, Beaumont was approved as he was the other captain on a Question of Sport. The host was David Coleman, in the days before Sue Barker, which might also have been a good name for a dog. Barker, not Sue. I recall that my Mum and youngest sister went shopping one day to get a dress for a wedding and came back from Brighton with a Golden Retriever. He even had a role to play at my other Sister’s wedding when he was a page boy.

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Beaumont in focus, as it should be.

 

There were a few years when I was without dog, this, on reflection was wrong.

The Dancing Queen had been together a couple of years, we inevitably discussed having children together:

T.D.Q.: “If we had a baby, what would you call it”

Me: “Mungo”

T.D.Q. “But what if it was a girl”

Me: “Mungo”

T.D.Q. “But that’s a dog’s name”

Me: “Best we get a dog then”.

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So we got Mungo, or to give him his full name, Mungo Mickey Rachel Podcast Procter the third. He was supposed to come out gardening with me, but he much preferred The Dancing Queen’s company ((Editor: who doesn’t) as if anyone edits this….) so he became her constant companion, running in the woods, walks in the park, comfort when the days were dark and joy all the time in between. As darling Mungo’s energies waned, he decreed that his responsibilities would be best if they were shared.

Sprout entered our lives, like Mungo he was a rescue dog, his full name is Sprout Skip Liam Peaky Blinder Eff Off Procter the First, yes he’s a Jack Russell, everyone said don’t get a J.R, they’re full off urine and vinegar, but loyal. He is certainly loyal, and he certainly knows his own mind and seems to arbitrarily decide whether he likes another dog or not and he gets me through the dark and wet days of Winter at work.

You notice I haven’t used the word “owner” once in this blog. Although cat people say dogs have owners and cats have staff, dog people know that they are owned by their dogs.

This blog was supposed to be a Valentine’s Day special in which I talked about the importance of love in my life and how finding that one special person to share my life with had made everything make sense.

Sorry, I’ve got to go, Sprout is demanding I rescue him from the sofa he isn’t supposed to go on.

Sprout sofa.

My favourite walk – Helvellyn.

 To celebrate this week’s brilliant 100 favourite walks on ITV, I’m regurgitating this blog from The Outdoor Guide website to celebrate the glorious Helvellyn winning. And not because I haven’t written an original blog this weekend because the rugby is on. Not because of that at all. I did take Sprout out for a walk and he got muddy. 
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 My favourite walk is and was also my scariest walk. Let me explain. In 1981 my Mum, Dad, my two sisters and myself went to The Lake District for our Summer holiday from the South Coast.

We stayed in student accommodation at Lancaster University with our extended family and friends and used it as a base to explore The Lakes,  where Mum and Dad spent a lot of time in their youth from their homes in Southport.

I think Mum decreed that we should climb Helvellyn via Striding Edge, guided by Wainwright. Being 14, 12 & 9, we kids knew no better than to trust what our parents said.

I have few recollections of the day, other than picnics, Striding Edge, a final scramble up the scree to the summit where,  Dad said “you go ahead Mark,  I’ll make sure the girls are ok”. I think he had seen the fear in my eyes and urged me on.

We had a picnic at the top including almond slices.

Other highlights of the holiday were  watching my 5 & 7 year old cousins, adrift, in a dinghy, on Lake Coniston taking lumps out each other with their oars. I didn’t know what to do, but saw my father crying with laughter. So joined in.

Another highlight was dancing the can can with the family to Bad Manners at the weekly disco.

All fairly humdrum and just another family holiday.  Well, it was,  and it wasn’t.

The following Summer, Dad died of a heart attack aged 45. So, it was our last family holiday, but the memories I have of it are of halcyon days,  I don’t think it even rained that week!!

I was 50 last year, Tanya 50 this year as well as Mum being 80.

I go back to The Lakes every year. We tease Mum relentlessly about taking such ill prepared and young children up Striding Edge.

We were blessed to have such a wonderful Dad for a short time, who helped us appreciate nature and humour. And a Mum who has been our rock.

I have included some photographs, you will notice Mum dressed extremely sensibly and my youngest sister, Natasha, in what appears to be shorts and sandals, it is well known within the family that to get Natasha to wear anything other than a bikini during the summer was a battle of wills!! It still is, but she won’t thank me for saying that, or sharing the photo’s….

The yellow rose of….

No one was as surprised as me when I decided to go to Plumpton College and train to be a gardener. I was 36, I had always worked in banks or offices and the closest I had been to the soil was when I used to throw myself around in mud under the pretence of being a goalkeeper. But to be a gardener was what I was going to do.
On reflection though, I suppose, at some stage I was always going to garden, either for myself or for other people, it was in my blood. I don’t mean my Great Grandfather mowed the lawns at Blenheim Palace or anything like that, but I think it comes from my Grandma.
Grandma lived in Southport, she worked in a bakery (perhaps I was predetermined to love cake too.) and made the most fabulous vanilla slices and parkin, but it’s the smells that are the most evocative, a roasting chicken with sage and onion stuffing cooking takes me back to her kitchen, as does the smell of the tea in her wall mounted leaf tea dispenser.

The smell of the yellow roses in her garden, which, in my memory were always in flower, no matter when we went to see her, lives on too. Even today a yellow rose is my favourite and I’m sure many of my customers have seen me stop to smell their roses. I came across a yellow rose, in Sussex, in January, in flower this week. It’s probably fitting that a yellow rose signifies friendship and joy.

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But it’s the soil, the smell of the soil that I best remember, which sounds a bit odd written down I know. Judge me if you like, as I said to The Dancing Queen the other day “You do know I’m a bit odd don’t you”, she hasn’t responded yet, perhaps she’s waiting to break it to me that I’m the most normal person she knows. But, perhaps not.

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Where was I, The sandy, peaty soil in Grandma’s garden was black and fertile and pungent and sometimes, just sometimes, I get a whiff of that scent down in Sussex’s chalk and clay soil which is clever to say the least. I daresay one or two customers have seen me sniff a handful of soil. I’m not sure what that signifies.
Which leads me on to a couple of weeks ago when I was in a lovely customer’s garden, it was cold, it had been wet and I was trying to light a fire. But, because it was cold and had been wet, my hands couldn’t determine if the kindling was dry, so I lightly brushed the kindling against my cheek to check on it’s dryness. It was then that two things happened, firstly I discovered that dried nettles still carry a sting and secondly my customer came out with a cup of tea. Jon claims he didn’t see her coming to the bonfire, as does Sprout and Mrs G, in her usual polite way asked if “I was quite alright” as she backed away, rapidly, laughing. I did get the fire going though.

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Back to Grandma’s garden, she had old, gnarled apple trees, she had perfectly manicured lawns and she had a compost bay at the back of the garden which backed on to a builder’s yard with all the lovely smelly diesel lorries, in the days when we didn’t know it was wrong to like smelly diesel lorries.
I also remember that Grandma had the best garden, the tidiest garden, the best smelling garden and it wasn’t just the soil that made it so, it was the hours of hard work she put in and the skill she had. I never got to tell her that my love of gardening comes from her and my Mum and, even if I had, I’m not sure what she would have said. Grandma was from that stock where effusiveness wasn’t part of her make-up. Heaven knows what she would make of her Grandson writing about feelings.
She would probably think I was a little bit odd.

Whatever the weather.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment”.

Mark rain.

Well, until such time as I sign a deal with an outdoor clothing company, I beg to differ. The company that creates the first truly waterproof pair of workman’s boots will be praised to the roof tops or fell tops. Until then, I will have to rely on my Sealkskinz waterproof socks. (Shameless plug).

Weather plays an important role in the life of outdoor folk, and we’re all outdoor folk really, whether we work outside all day, all year round, or choose to spend our leisure time outdoors; walking or gardening or dog walking, or, as an old customer once said to me, without a hint of irony, as I stood outside her kitchen door, dripping wet: “You won’t believe how wet I got going from my car to the supermarket this morning”.

However, I think it’s on the bleakest days that I notice the light a bit more. Normally, after a day of near solid rain, a patch of blue sky (enough to make a Dutch boy a pair of trousers as my old Gran used to say) will appear at 3pm and the sun will have a go at warming and drying the place up and the day won’t have seemed so dreary. Especially if there has been a potting shed or glass house to tidy up; it’s amazing how conscientious a tidier-upper I can be when it’s raining outside.

In the Winter, if there’s Sun at 3pm, then there will be a sunset at 4ish (As my old Gran never said, but it seems to be true, but don’t take my word for it, study the skies.) I understand the hopefulness of a sunrise and what it will bring to that day. But give me a sunset, the fireworks of red and pink and purple and gold and sheer “ta-dah” of a sunset, almost saying to the moon, “follow that, if you can” and the moon will follow, but it can’t compete, because it can’t compete, because it’s light is more melancholy, but just as necessary because it plays a supporting act to the flamboyant leading light .

Heather sunset.

There are a couple of gardens I work in that have amongst the best sunsets, they are both near The South Downs with lots of trees silhouetted around. But nothing beats the sunsets of the South Coast, Cooden Beach or dear old Brighton are my favourites. Walking westwards along the prom, watching the sun dipping and almost fizzing into the sea as starlings swoop will always gladden my heart and which is why I want to retire to a beach, and spend my days phoning radio shows and my evenings throwing a ball for Sprout with The Dancing Queen next to me.

Cooden Beach sunset.

Sprout sunset.
Sprout, in the sea, at sunset..having “sprouted” horns.

 

I do apologise, I drifted off for a moment there, I was supposed to be bemoaning the British weather and the travails of working in it all year round, but really, it’s not that bad, skin is waterproof and tomorrow’s another day and most customers bring out a cup of tea and we do have the beautiful British summers to look forward to….

 

DON’T. BE. SCARY….

Jolly good.

ComeoutsidewithSprout

Julia and Mark.Picture the scene, if you will:

Your correspondent finds himself in Las Vegas, attending a wedding and white water rafting through The Grand Canyon, not at the same time, with The Dancing Queen.

If that wasn’t surreal enough I then received a phone call….

They were phoning on behalf of a production company who were filming an itv walking show with Julia Bradbury, and would I like to appear…. I left a polite pause of approximately 1 second and asked how much I would have to pay for this privilege.

I have to admit, I have “history” when meeting people in the public eye:

I was lucky enough to get tickets for the midnight book signing of the last Harry Potter book. The Dancing Queen and I took our children to meet J K Rowling. As they were going to meet a “famous person”, I laid down the rules –…

View original post 1,047 more words

DON’T. BE. SCARY….

Jolly good.

ComeoutsidewithSprout

Julia and Mark.Picture the scene, if you will:

Your correspondent finds himself in Las Vegas, attending a wedding and white water rafting through The Grand Canyon, not at the same time, with The Dancing Queen.

If that wasn’t surreal enough I then received a phone call….

They were phoning on behalf of a production company who were filming an itv walking show with Julia Bradbury, and would I like to appear…. I left a polite pause of approximately 1 second and asked how much I would have to pay for this privilege.

I have to admit, I have “history” when meeting people in the public eye:

I was lucky enough to get tickets for the midnight book signing of the last Harry Potter book. The Dancing Queen and I took our children to meet J K Rowling. As they were going to meet a “famous person”, I laid down the rules –…

View original post 1,047 more words

DON’T. BE. SCARY….

Julia and Mark.

Picture the scene, if you will:

Your correspondent finds himself in Las Vegas, attending a wedding and white water rafting through The Grand Canyon, not at the same time, with The Dancing Queen.

If that wasn’t surreal enough I then received a phone call….

They were phoning on behalf of a production company who were filming an itv walking show with Julia Bradbury, and would I like to appear…. I left a polite pause of approximately 1 second and asked how much I would have to pay for this privilege.

I have to admit, I have “history” when meeting people in the public eye:

I was lucky enough to get tickets for the midnight book signing of the last Harry Potter book. The Dancing Queen and I took our children to meet J K Rowling. As they were going to meet a “famous person”, I laid down the rules – be polite, look her in the eye, don’t say anything controversial, don’t say anything scary. Needless to say, they carried it off perfectly. Only for me to become a gibbering wreck when I shook her hand and told her that “I love you, and you are one of my favourite human beings ever.” She said what lovely children we had. As we left, I said to The Dancing Queen “I think that went very well, don’t you.” she gave me a quizzical look and muttered something about being scary.

I bore this in mind when I met Caitlin Moran and asked her if she would like to be my imaginary sister. As we left, I said to The Dancing Queen “I think that went very well, don’t you.” she gave me a quizzical look and muttered something about being scary.

Don’t be scary is my mantra now, so when I met the Rev. Richard Coles and told him I would look after his dacshunds whenever needed, I was just trying to be kind. He wished me well. As we left, I said to The Dancing Queen “I think that went very well, don’t you.” she gave me a quizzical look and muttered something about being scary.

So, on the day of filming I left the house to The Dancing Queen’s wise words, take Sprout, he’ll give you something to think about, AND. DON’T. BE. SCARY.

I got to the local pub in good time and introduced myself to the team, including Gina and Holly from The Outdoor Guide. Julia then arrived, greeted me with a big smile, a firm handshake and the words: “It’s lovely to meet you, I’m looking forward to today, I’m just going for a pee”. That basically sums Julia up, really down to earth and good fun.

We discussed how I got into gardening, what I used to do, the Smuggling history of East Dean and how the filming would go. We walked to where the filming was going to be done and a small crowd had formed and some of the locals were being particularly fabulous. When I said to Julia she would be better interviewing them she said “There are hundreds of people like them in London, I like speaking to real people”.

Then, right then, was when Ms Bradbury became one of my favourite people. She even had a photo taken with me, which The Outdoor Guide have been good enough to let me show you.

When filming was over, I took my leave and wandered back to the garden, I hadn’t been scary, I would be cut from the show and it would all be a happy memory. But I did feel a bit big headed.

At least I will stay grounded, as I got back to the Walled Garden, Sprout The Gardener’s dog, gave his views on the matter and “left a message” on the path for me to pick up.

And later on, when I got home, regaling my story to anyone who would listen, our friend’s daughter aged 7, when told I was going to be on the telly said. “I don’t know why, you are very boring.”

And I am, and I delight in that, I don’t crave attention, quite the opposite, but it doesn’t mean exciting things don’t happen.

Fast forward 9 months:

I received another phone call, this time I was in a customer’s garden with my pal Jon:

“Hi Mark, it’s Julia, I’m just popping down to East Dean to do a walk with a group from Rambler’s Holidays and I thought it would be a really nice idea if we had a chat in front of them about filming and what you used to do”.

Obviously, I don’t crave attention, and the thought of standing up in front of a load of people to talk about myself scares me just a bit. So I gave it a good, long think, I think it might even have been 2 seconds and said of course, see you there in 20 minutes. Jon, to this day still laughs at the dust trail I left.

We did the chat thing, Julia read an extract from her book of the TV series in which she had quoted one of my blogs (and the bit where she likens me to a rather camp Alan Carr lookalike) and then I took the group to the walled garden I have developed from bare bones and showed them all the glorious fruit and veg. And I got a photo taken with Julia.

After they had all left, I was just about to leave to go back to work when Kirsty, who runs the Estate, came to ask how it had gone. I was telling her how basically marvellous I was when I felt a warm sensation on my leg. There he was, Dear Sprout, bringing me down to earth again by peeing on my leg….

12 months later, another phone call:

“Hi Mark, Julia here, same again today??”

Obviously, after 3 seconds thought I said of course, and where.

This time, it all went really well, and my confidence has grown, so, when Gina asked if I would like to join them all for dinner at The Grand in Eastbourne that evening, I played hard to get and made them wait a whole nano-second before saying yes please.

I didn’t take Sprout, although he is my comfort blanket, I can’t pass him off as a guide dog in hotels, what with him being basically untrainable.

Sprout sleep.

Gina and Julia have the ability few people have, certainly in my experience!! of appearing interested in everything one says, they also love a double entendre, so if you want to break the ice with them if you are lucky enough to meet them, ask them how to harvest rhubarb.

It is through meeting the team at The Outdoor Guide that I have gained the confidence to write and put my words out there, and occasionally even edit them before I do.

I now write a blog, I’m hoping to write a book or two and I try not to be too scary.

Having said that, I did film something for an upcoming walking show Julia is presenting, and I think I look really scary.