Sunday, 25 July 2010

A Tribute to Elspeth Thompson

Photo courtesy of

Today I found out the sad news that Elspeth Thompson, gardener, writer and craftswoman died four months ago. For those of you who haven't come across her work, she wrote books such as The London Gardener :Guide and Sourcebook, and The Urban Gardener. More recently she had written books on crafts and making things, such as Gorgeous Things to Make with Love.

Her writing was a real inspiration to many including me. Sometimes felt that if I liked something, it was only a matter of time before she would have written a book on it. This sometimes spooked me in a "parallel lives" kind of way, but more often made me feel connected in some way to something bigger than myself. I loved the way she transferred so much enthusiasm into her writing, and passed on that creative urge to her readers.

The very sad thing about this is that I didn't know until I read a very moving account by her husband in this weekend's paper. She had battled for years with depression, and despite the fantastic talent she possessed, she was unable to go on. She left notes to people including her 6 year old daughter, telling them she loved them and she was sorry. Then she took sleeping tablets and put stones in her pockets and walked into a river.

Perhaps because of also having a 6 year old daughter, perhaps because of the shared interests, I found this unbearably tragic. Depression is a terrible illness, and one that isn't taken seriously enough in our society. I constantly hear colleagues whingeing about someone being "off sick with depression/stress" as if it is a skive. Crikey, there are better ways to skive.

Someone who clearly had so much talent and so much to offer the world finding it so hard to go on that they took their own life, leaving behind their beloved child and husband. It rings true, though. Because if we are honest, many of us go through low patches in life where it seems too hard to carry on. Each person has a lot to offer, especially to those who love them, and it is all too easy to forget that. When I read the moving account from her husband about how him and their daughter have had to carry on, it moved me to tears. How terribly tragic that if she could take back that last action, she almost certainly would. Her husband was certainly right when he concluded that she was so ill that she did not know what she was doing.

So here, in tribute to Elspeth Thompson The Wonderful Weekend Book . Enjoy every bit of life while it lasts. None of us ever really know when the end will come.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Lancashire is a land of contrasts.

On the one hand, it has some of the most urbanised and densely populated areas of the UK. The industrial revolution has left a legacy of dark satanic mills (most of which are now trendy loft apartments) and the town planners of the 20th century have left some fairly drab town centres and huge, unloved housing estates.

On the other hand, there is some of the most lush, untouched countryside in England. There are lovely villages, towns and a standard of living that those of us in London can only dream of. The combination of superb countryside and rich urban commuters have led to some brilliant places to visit to celebrate the local cuisine and culture.

As someone who grew up there and has since been a frequent visitor to the region, I get an increasing sense of regained identity in a region once so demoralised by the loss of many local industries since its industrial heyday.

At the weekend, I was lucky enough to be taken to one of the places celebrating Lancashire's gourmet culture, Bashall Barns. This is a farm shop and restaurant in a remote location near Clitheroe. As a dairy farm, they use their own milk to make their very popular ice cream, which is sold in the resturant and in tubs at the shop. Flavours that day included toffee, chocolate and vanilla, as well as seasonal British flavours such as gooseberry and rhubarb.

There is also a delicious selection of local specialities for which many ingredients are sourced in Lancashire, such as Goosnargh chicken and duck, Lancashire cheese and Bury black pudding. The food was served in generous portions, (as I have come to expect in the North) and the friendly staff gave a very warm welcome. Overall a fantastic experience. The farm shop itself had the famous ice cream, as well as local vegetables and beer brewed on-site.

They also had a really good selection of gardening and self-sufficiency books.

Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area, which of course is very unlikely! You might need to take a detour especially.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


It has been so hot and so dry, I am starting to feel like we are in a record drought, at least locally. Surely a hosepipe ban must be just round the corner? Perhaps I have a short memory, but for all the grass to be brown, dry and dead by this point in July is unusual. There's been no decent rain for 6 weeks. Plants in the garden look very stressed, and are succumbing to weird, new insect attacks with strange symptoms.

Because we can't get to the allotment every day to water, our crops are pitifully small. I have peas that have barely grown out of the ground before flowering, potatoes that look more like chilli peppers in terms of plant size (photos will follow). I know from friends who are managing to water often, this could be a record summer for the diligent gardener. Sadly for me the lazy gardener, this will not be the case. Our soil is very dry at the best of times, but now it is like a desert. I have learned to welcome the highs and the lows equally, knowing that without the failures, the successes aren't as precious. Gardening alone has taught me this valuable life lesson.

The lavender up at Mayfield is looking brilliant at the moment, and really is an inspiring sight.

The lavender festival at the Stanley Road Plots is a couple of weeks away:

Carshalton Lavender Weekend 24th - 25th July 2010

Fortunately lavender thrives in dry conditions! When it comes to gardening, the expression that springs to mind is "every dog has its day".