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February 2005 Blether:
© 2005 Patrick Vickery

The Cumbrian Blether

'Blether' is a Scottish word meaning a good chat (a good blether), often a long and lazy relaxed chat at that, and sometimes over a dram or two of whisky!

e-mail Patrick at: aldieburnplants@aol.com

Patrick Vickery lives in the Scottish Highlands with his wife, three children, two dogs, two goats and an assortment of smaller animals. They live in a two acre wood in a wonderful part of the world.

Patrick runs a small Garden Nursery (part-time), is a Garden Writer (part-time) with a particular interest in the humourous side of things (especially the things that go wrong!), and works part-time as a Special Needs Teacher.

Patrick's first gardening book  In Pursuit Of Perennial Profit - The Pot Of Gold At The Bottom Of The Garden. ISBN: 186163148 has recently been published. A 'how-to' book - a book that shows how to make your garden productive in a variety of ways, for both expert and gardening novice alike, at minimum cost and in an innovative and self-financing way, using a raised bed system of propagation, and concentrating primarily on hardy perennial plants that can be raised and grown outdoors without the aid of a polytunnel or greenhouse.

Available direct from the Publisher at: Capall Bann Publishing, UK; from bookshops; or from Amazon.co.uk via the Internet.

more info:

In Pursuit of Perennial Profit - The Pot of Gold At The Bottom of the Garden...

As a garden writer of international repute (the man who bought you such gems as ‘how to prune your roses with a lawn mower’, ‘eradicating black spot with tuna pasta left-overs’ and other such innovative techniques for the horticultural emboldened), and on holiday in the Lake District for a week, I had resolved to write nothing at all about anything in particular, only I hadn’t reckoned with the Texet Touch Panel Organiser (‘TTPO’ for those of us who like the occasional abbreviation to baffle the non-technical of this world!) complete with memo pad and 200K memory given to me by my youngest daughter last birthday. The wonders of technology, eh?

Back home in the Scottish Highlands, our relaxing Cumbrian break over and listening to a Gallic tune on the portable CD player in the kitchen (a group called Cliar singing “Cumha Choire Cheathaich” – yes, not easy to pronounce, is it, let alone translate?), I decided to access my Texet Touch Panel Organiser holiday notes and compile a few lines: ‘From a Tourist’s Point of View’ sounded like a good title for starters.

But where to begin? Tourist’s are a double-edged sword, are they not, bringing with them much needed income of course, but oh....oh....what an inconvenience: road congestion, lack of parking, crowds on the high street and so on and so forth to mention just a few of the things that come immediately to mind, although no doubt there are numerous other irritations to contend with in such a beautiful corner of the world.

Now is there a Cumbrian word for ‘tourist’, I wonder? A number of years ago now, at a party - South of England - a guest arrived late and announced by way of explanation that he’d just run over a ‘grokel’ on his bicycle. A grokel? A grokel? Well, what’s that then? Well, it’s a road bollard, of course, obviously, obviously, or so I deduced at the time, although I was soon to be enlightened when it was explained to me that this was, in fact, the local terminology for ‘tourist’. So there you are. Make of that what you will. But enough of my bletherings. Onwards.

We stayed in Glasonby, a quiet hamlet of rugged ragged charm in the Lazonby/Kirkoswald vicinity of the Eden Valley, a delightful 100 year old house that nestled snugly next door to the owners residence, a converted barn ‘sort of thing’ (a feature of this area, I noticed, converted barns), and a very nice couple they were too, with many a balmy evening’s conversation over the garden wall continuing unabated despite our dog’s insistence on mashing their magnificent shrubs in a vain attempt to get better acquainted.

Now I visited Cumbria once before, 20 years ago, and recall certain aspects well. Lovely countryside, pleasant indigenous population, lack of parking in the more popular locations as mentioned earlier (blame Wordsworth, Ruskin and Potter for that) and – of course - the famed Cumberland sausage, a tasty morsel that I looked forward to consuming with relish, although for some reason never quite managed to acquire. My son, on the other hand, did manage to acquire a most delicious Cumberland sausage-shaped marshmallow (heaven’s forbid!) from the Tourist Office in Carlisle (odd thing to sell in a Tourist Office, don’t you think?). Delicious anyway, though obviously not quite as delicious as the real thing would have been. The other thing that springs to mind when wittering on about this particular part of the world of course, apart from parking problems and marshmallows shaped like Cumberland sausages, is the ‘Cumberland Gap’. Where is that? Lonnie Donegan sang about it in the fifties or sixties, didn’t he, made the charts if I recall correctly, number one perhaps, but where is it? Somebody will know.

Anyway, driving down from Easter Ross we arrived late, traffic jams on the M74, highly annoying traffic congestion, that sort of thing, and bought fish and chips, very tasty, from the centre of Penrith. (A good fish and chip shop, that). In hindsight, of course, this is where I should have bought my Cumberland sausage. Only it was not to be. Didn’t think about it at the time, you see. Plenty of opportunity for that later, or so I reasoned.

So there we were, sitting outside our lovely Cumbrian house, fish supper scoffed, glass of wine in hand and with plenty of time to reflect on the rare beauty of the place with its uninterrupted views of Glasonby and beyond towards Melmerby Fell and the Penines, a stunning panorama of unspoilt countryside with not a midge in sight. Perfect.

We had a good week. We did many things. The Tollbooth Craft fair at Keswick, the Puzzle Place at Ambleside, the innovative Photographic Art Gallery at Wetheriggs Pottery near Penrith, strawberry picking at Great Salkeld, a meal at the Shepard’s Inn in Melmerby.......the list goes on and on.....and meandering car trips, of course, through local villages with their neat gardens and uncut village greens, the strident hedgerows and the lush roadside verges of bracken, hardy fuchsia, nettles, docks and vibrantly assorted weeds, a sheer abundance of ragged rugged delights to behold – wonderful imagery.

All was not well, however, no, no, certainly not. Unfortunately my wife, Liz, did her ‘back in’ mid-way through the week (picking up a t-shirt of all things, as can happen in such cases) so a trip to the local surgary in Kirkoswald for consultation was required. A nice place, the Dr’s waiting room, open and welcoming, convivial conversations with a lady who’d been bitten by her cat (well somebody’s cat anyway) and another whose voice was fading rapidly (she was a touch hoarse, you see) on the healthy benefits of a relaxing Cumbrian holiday. Very apt. Then before long it was time for home. We didn’t make it to Sellafield for a guided tour this time, nor Appleby either. Next time perhaps. So much to do and not enough time to do it, don’t you think, but always good to depart wanting more.

Home now, the Texet Touch Panel Organiser consigned to the kitchen drawer until our next holiday and time now to return to my more normal mode of writing - “a serious look at the non-serious aspects of all things gardening” and such like, the “Gardening Blether”. Extraordinary, isn’t it, how gardening – particularly the more disastrous aspects – can hold such an appeal.

My next literary project, by the way, for anyone who’s remotely interested, is a cautionary tale about exploding bananas - “The Banana Blether”. Dangerous things, bananas, you know. Fine on their own, of course, but in large bunches, well anything can happen. Chicago, 1946, is a good example. More to come about the Chicago banana incident at a later date, so watch this space.

(Copyright 2004 Patrick Vickery)