23 May 2021

Oh my goodness! Stop with the rain, please. I think Ms Playchute’s request for a bit of rain for the garden in the early part of the month has been mis-interpreted by whomever organises such things. May is, apparently, on track to be the wettest on record – and we’ve got another week before we’re through!

Some days it’s been consistent, steady, downpours. Other days it’s been showers and glimpses of blue skies and bright sunshine followed by coal-black clouds, more torrential downpours and rumbling, rumbling thunder. It’s been a challenge to get anything done in between all the cloudbursts but that hasn’t stopped Ms Playchute!

Her main task this week has been the erection of a pergola spanning the pathway up towards the rest of the garden. This has always been one of her great landscaping plans, especially since we had to remove the wisteria along the back of the house for the new kitchen. A wisteria-covered walkway up the path will look gorgeous and hopefully provide some pleasant olfactory experiences as one glides through the pergola, glass of wine in hand, toward the sun-dappled lawns, the vegetable garden and the orchard beyond.

Penelope and I are now “experts” in the business of erecting pergolas. I wish we’d had a time-lapse video of our efforts as it would have provided hours of immense amusement and entertainment for a world-wide audience.

Firstly, Lady Penelope excavated two narrow strips alongside the path and her incompetent assistant was instructed to get the pickaxe and remove all the large stones which littered the area. Not a task I particularly relished, I must confess, and one at which I wasn’t particularly talented. Still, a mountain of rocks and stones were removed from each side of the path and Lady Penelope dug in some extremely odoriferous organic matter ready for the planting that will ensue.

Once the groundwork was completed, off we went.

We measured the pathway and we knew the distance between each of the arches. A simple bit of multiplication told us how long the pergola would stretch and, since we wanted it more or less centred over the length of pathway, another trivial bit of maths gave us our starting point. Easy.

Off we set and, in between the showers, succeeded in getting four of the arches up before rain finally stopped play. The next morning, however, there was much scratching of heads and bewildered astonishment – how could we have got our measurements so completely wrong? When we add the remaining arches, the pergola will clearly be in the wrong place and access to the lawns on either side (for mowing) will be difficult.

So, we set about dismantling the previous days’ work and started again. We did our maths (again) and came to the conclusion that we needed to move the whole structure about a metre further up the path.

Experienced pergola construction operatives that we had now become, the four arches were erected for a second time in a flash. We made an excellent team and the pergola went up smoothly and with virtually no head-scratching. We knew what we were doing this time. We even had time for a coffee break between the showers.

Proudly and triumphantly, we started on the last arch. And soon came to the astonishing discovery that we had f**ked up again! It was in the wrong place. Again.

As well as having developed considerable expertise in the pergola erection game, we were rapidly acquiring a similar expertise in the dismantling process.

Third time lucky, I guess. (We’ll leave out the details about using the wrong length bar in two places but that was easily remedied).

So, we now have a pergola in more or less the position we had intended, the box hedge is in the ground, wisteria research is well underway and, in the meantime, the birds are delighted with their new perch near the feeders. But most importantly, Lady Penelope is delighted! Watch this space.

On Wednesday morning the weather folk told me I might have an hour or so shower-free so I went out for a quick cycle round the neighbourhood. And, they were right – no showers the whole way round although I have to complain about the wind – a lot stiffer than I would have liked. The fields of oil seed rape are at their boldest and brightest just now and I really like the dazzling swathe of colour. Penny is not so keen – too garish.

With the mileage from that trip and what I’ve been accumulating on the exercise bike, I completed another mini-section of my Pacific Coast adventure, from Gorda, California to San Simeon.

San Simeon is one of those places you really have to see to believe – what someone can and will do with unlimited buckets of money. Hearst Castle is the Hollywood/Disneyland-style mansion built by Randolph Hearst in the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I remember the first time I visited – our folks took us when we were kids – and I remember being absolutely blown away by the scale and grandeur of the place. I had never seen anything like it. I remember being especially taken with the Roman Pool, an indoor alternative to the Neptune Pool (“the most sumptuous swimming pool on earth”) built underneath the tennis court. I guess I’ve been back two or three other times since and I’ve always enjoyed the visits. So much so that I thought would pop in for a quick visit this time too.

After the bike ride Penelope and I had a Grand Day Out! We had a few errands to run in Banbury so ventured in to town for an extended period for the first time in more than a year, I guess. We bought some birthday presents for a young lady about to turn five, had a coffee and a brownie at Costa and even enjoyed lunch courtesy of el Pequeño Gringo in a new food space in the precinct. The “fully-loaded” burrito was very good and the chap running the stall was very friendly. When I asked him if he knew what pequeño gringo meant he laughed and said that he did. And, it suited him – he was, indeed, a shortish, white, non-Hispanic.

Another Cold War Steve for you to have fun with – a point for each individual you can identify and another for any topical allusions?

And all that chaos leads nicely to . . .

Oh, dear. Where to begin? Incompetence (again)? Corruption (again)? Lying (again)? Incoherence (again)? And that’s all in a couple of days this week! To be honest, I’m not sure I have the energy.

Incompetent? The Indian variant was allowed to surge because of delays in putting India on the Red List? Who would have ever guessed?

At least 20,000 people with coronavirus arrived in UK before lockdown amid lack of restrictions

The Telegraph, 5 May 2021

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

And finally, I suspect this caught everyone’s eye – the nurse who cared for Boris Johnson when he was ill in hospital with Covid resigned from the NHS in a minor blaze of media attention. Very embarrassing but then Boris doesn’t do embarrassment. Or honesty. Or contrition. Or empathy. Or . . .

We’re looking forward to another outing this week – a Garden Club excursion to a private garden in Priors Hardwick just a few miles from here. Tea and cakes to follow the tour – let’s hope the weather co-operates.

Meanwhile, keep happy, keep smiling, keep isolating as much as you can, wear a facemask when you go out and keep your distance. And keep safe.

Lots of love to you all,


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