The Royal Chelsea Flower Show is next month. At the end of the week, they sell off some of the flowers. This has to be the funniest article I’ve ever read about gardening…particularly the part about Lazarus Ladies…older women who show up in wheelchairs but are suddenly healed during the sale!

As thousands prepare to descend on Chelsea’s annual plant sale tomorrow, seasoned buyer Damian Barr offers tactics for landing a prize-winning bloom.

Royal Chelsea Flower Show (photo courtesy of the Telegraph).

Royal Chelsea Flower Show (photo courtesy of The Telegraph).

We British are said to be brave and honourable in battle, holding doors open for the enemy, pouring tea and smiling politely all the way from the breach at Agincourt to the beaches of Normandy.

But there is one ignoble exception to this rule. It is brutally re-enacted each year on the final day of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, when exhibitors start to sell off their plants in a fiercely fought War for the Roses.

On Saturday, it’s you against 25,000 plant-hungry veterans. At 3pm, a crowd with the feverish excitement of the guillotine gathers by the main pavilion. Ladies of a certain age giggle as the master of ceremonies, Alan Titchmarsh, appears.

Mass horticultural hysteria descends as the countdown begins. At exactly 4pm, Titchmarsh, carefully straddling the fine line between sex symbol and national treasure, rings the bell. Suddenly, it’s every gardener for himself. Crazed crowds don’t usually disperse so fast without tear gas.

“It’s pretty terrifying,” says Bryony Hill, wife of sports commentator Jimmy and author of A Compost Kind of Girl. “I’ve been to about 25 shows and am always amazed as seemingly sane people, mostly women, go mad fighting over a few plants.”

But these are not just any plants. Society’s green and good, including the Queen, have drifted through gardens designed by the likes of Diarmuid Gavin and Rachel de Thame, so you could end up with a medal-winning geranium that’s been sniffed by royalty. These are plants worth fighting for – so how can you emerge victorious?

Read the rest of the article here

 

One fun cultural thing we learned last week was the rhyme that British kids used to use to remember the long list of English monarchs starting with William the Conqueror.

Apparently it made a point out of omitting any mention of pre-conquest Saxon kings. And there are a number of variations on the end as time goes by. I’ve added the 2012 update because I like it.

Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry three;
One, two, three Neds, Richard two
Harrys four, five, six… then who?
Edwards four, five, Dick the bad,
Harrys twain VII VIII and Ned the Lad;
Mary, Bessie, James the Vain,
Charlie, Charlie, James again…
William and Mary, Anna Gloria,
Four Georges I II III IV, William and Victoria;
Edward seven next, and then
George the fifth in 1910;
Ned the eighth soon abdicated
Then George the sixth was coronated;
And if you’ve not lost your breath
Give a cheer for Elizabeth.

(2012 update)

Now it’s Liz, then we’ll arrive . . .
At Charlie three, then William five.

On Monday we had thought of doing one of the iconic hop-on-hop-off bus tours. But they’re rather expensive (£25 per person), and I’m a bit more familiar with the transit system here now…especially since a co-worker pointed out the “public transportation” option on Google maps. So we opted to take the regular city bus around town for a fraction of the cost. Besides, if you sit on the upper deck, it’s like being on a tour bus anyway.

So we headed off toward the Tower of London and jumped off to change buses at Trafalgar Square. We didn’t make it into the National Gallery but did get a few shots of Hahn/Cock, the 15-foot high blue fiberglass rooster on the fourth plinth, which hosts rotating art exhibits. The artist is a German woman who is thought to be poking fun at “male-defined British society and thoughts about biological determinism.” Gotta love the Brits for picking it as the winner. :)

Hahn/Cock in Trafalgar Square.

Hahn/Cock in Trafalgar Square.

From there we hopped on the #15 bus and continued on to Tower Hill. Stopping briefly at a roadside stand for a pastry, we paid homage to an awesome and sizeable surviving chunk of almost 2,000-year-old Roman wall that was part of the defensive wall first built by the Romans around Londinium. We also admired the statue of the Roman Emperor Trajan, whose full name apparently was Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Divi Nerva fili Augustus.

I’m not sure why they picked Trajan for the statue since he came after the conquest of Britain but wasn’t particularly involved in Britain afterward, from what I could tell. But he was one of the better emperors. He also happened to be the adopted father of his successive Emperor Hadrian who built Hadrian’s Wall near the Scottish border…another cool Roman wall on a much larger scale.

Roman Wall.

Roman Wall.

Saying ciao to the Romans, we then crossed under Tower Hill road through the pedestrian tunnel and got our tickets to the Tower sorted. I highly recommend the annual membership to the Historic Royal Palaces if you’re going to visit more than two of the six palaces as it quickly pays for itself.

Once inside the medieval walls, we spent the next three hours perusing the Royal Mint, the Traitor’s Gate, the Crown Jewels, the individual prisoners’ cell rooms in the towers along the walls, and harassing the ravens. I would have to say that my favorite part, and the part I will likely drag my son back to, was the Line of Kings Exhibition, which was an amazing display of 500 years of human and equine royal armour.

The Tower of London.

The Tower of London.

Tower courtyard.

Tower courtyard.

Raven on a cannon.

Raven on a cannon.

Close up.

Close-up.

Tower Bridge in the background.

Tower Bridge in the background.

I had originally hoped to visit the neighboring church called All Hallows by the Tower. But after walking around for hours we were tired and hungry and just wanted to sit down for a bit. So we left the Tower, crossed over Tower Hill road again and planted ourselves at a table in the most creatively named pub in the world…The Hung, Drawn & Quartered. And yes, the walls were lined with portraits of dead people…including William Wallace, Charles I, Mary Queen of Scots and Anne Boleyn.

But the food was good and so was the beer. I had the Hung, Drawn & Quartered Pie, which consisted of steak, onions, celery, Stilton cheese and white wine gravy. And AF had the Cock-a-Leekie pie with chicken, leeks, onion, rice and prunes. Yummy. And it gave us just enough energy to finish out our day with a quick walk through of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

pub

 

This last week was absolutely fabulous. For starters, we had our first visitor to London! And it happened to be my best friend since I was four years old (who we’ll refer to as “AF”). AND I got to take a week off to pal around London with her and see a bunch of things I haven’t seen yet. We even had pretty decent weather…if you don’t count the Saharan dust storm (WTF?)…but at least it didn’t rain.

We managed to pack quite a bit into eight days. She arrived on a Saturday morning and left the following Sunday afternoon. On our first day we relaxed and walked around the neighborhood where we live, wandered up to Primrose Hill for a view of the city, then stopped into a pub on the way home for a glass of Prosecco (cheap Italian sparkling wine that they had on draft!).

The next day we began our tourist adventures. After a bit of a sleep in and a late breakfast to be kind to the jetlagged, we started out with a nice leisurely stroll through Kensington Palace. You can only tour part of the palace because it is still the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Will & Kate), their son Prince George, and Prince Harry. None of whom we saw.

But it has been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century and had some interesting rooms dedicated to Victoria & Albert, Queen Mary and Queen Anne, including a very moving art exhibit dedicated to the 18 children Anne lost (five of which survived past birth but not past childhood). I can’t even imagine.

Coincidentally, this day was also Mother’s Day or “Mothering Sunday” in the UK. So I counted my blessings (which included flowers, chocolates, cards, a gorgeous son and a wonderful husband who was home with said son so I could enjoy a day out), and AF and I continued our day with afternoon tea at the Orangery, which Sir John Vanbrugh designed for Queen Anne in 1704.

After tea we walked back through Kensington Gardens and found the statue of Peter Pan that J.M. Barrie commissioned from Sir George Frampton in 1902. It was erected in Kensington Gardens in 1912. In his Peter Pan story, The Little White Bird, Peter flies out of his nursery and lands beside part of the Serpentine lake called the Long Water. The statue is located on this exact spot and was a lovely way to end our Mothering Sunday outing.

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace.

Queen Anne's 18 Little Hopes

Queen Anne’s 18 Little Hopes.

The Orangery.

The Orangery.

Me at afternoon tea at the Orangery.

Me at afternoon tea at the Orangery.

Sharing a small tea.

Sharing a small tea.

Fairies on the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.

Fairies on the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.

One of my best girlfriends directed me to this great article. I now feel the need to reprint it below in its entirety, because it’s so true. :)

london

1. So the Louvre may have the Mona Lisa but our galleries are not too shabby either. There are 240 museums in London compared with just 153 in Paris – and the best part? A ticket to a museum in Paris will set you back between £4- 12 but the best London attractions are free.

2. Paris may have a longer history with fashion but according to the Global Language Monitor – an index which evaluates the uses and trends of language – London claimed the title ‘fashion capital’ in both 2011 and 2012. A combination of headline-grabbing models such as Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne, trendsetting fashion brands such as Burberry (right) and London’s unique and colourful streetstyle mean the Brits deserve the honour.

3. There were tears in Paris in 2005 as the International Olympic Committee announced London would be the host of the 2012 Olympic Games. The British delegation beat the Parisian effort by 54 votes to 50. The choice meant London is the only city to have hosted the Summer Games three times. Poor Paris, the city has only hosted the Games twice – the last time in 1924. Better luck next time.

4. ‘Get Lucky’ chart-toppers Daft Punk are from Paris. But London is home to The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Dizzee Rascal, Elton John … do we need to go on?

5. Construction on St Paul’s Cathedral started in 1087 and although it has since been repaired and rebuilt, the site is still older than the Notre Dame de Paris, which started building work in 1163.

6. Football is way of life on both sides of the Channel, but Londoners have more opportunity to watch the beautiful game. There are more Football clubs in London than Paris.

7. And the seventh reason why London is better than Paris? Even the French prefer it. There are 400,000 French citizens in the UK with the majority living in London. The British capital is now the sixth biggest French city with a larger Gallic population than in Bordeaux or Strasbourg.

If you’ve come across it at all, it’s probably been something along the lines of a mango chutney served on a fish or chicken dish at a restaurant. At least my experience with it in the US has been limited. But in the UK, chutney is as common as grape jelly.

So what is it exactly? It’s simply a condiment like salsa or relish that contains some mixture of spices, vegetables, and/or fruit. It’s traditionally Indian, which explains why it’s so popular in the UK since one of their largest immigrant groups is from India. As a matter of fact, India provides the second largest immigrant group after Ireland with a population of 729,000 in the 2011 census.

I’m a big fan of sweet and sour together, so I recently picked up a jar of fig and balsamic chutney at Marks & Spencers, and OMG is it good. But I felt I was doing it a disservice by simply slapping it on some cheese and crackers. So I looked up a few other uses for chutney and found this list on About.com.

1. The Classic: Chutney with Indian-style Curries

Simply spoon some chutney straight out of the jar and serve it alongside any curry recipe.

Chutney from Cornwall.

Chutney from Cornwall.

2. The Party Spread

Chutney plus cream cheese is a yummy combination. There are two ways to serve it: 1. Place a block of cream cheese on a plate and spoon the chutney of your choice over it. Serve with crackers and a small spreading knife. 2. Pulse the cream cheese and chutney together in a food processor or blender. If it seems too thick, add a splash of milk. For a lower fat but equally tasty version, you can make this chutney spread using labneh (yogurt cheese).

3. The Sandwich Booster

Mix equal parts chutney and mayonnaise together. Spread on bread and add the main sandwich ingredient of your choice (chutney goes especially well with ham and with cheese). [You should’ve seen my husband’s face when I told him about this one.]

4. With Grilled Cheese

You can make this combination either as an open-face sandwich or on crackers as an hors d’oeuvres. If making the open-face sandwich, lightly toast the bread first. Spread a layer of chutney on the toast or on crackers. Top with thin slices of cheese. A tangy cheese such as a sharp cheddar is a good choice. Broil the sandwich or crackers just until the cheese melts and starts to bubble. Serve hot.

5. With Lamb and Game Meats

Chutney pairs beautifully with the rich flavors of venison and lamb as well as duck and other richly flavored meats. Just serve a little on the side of the roasted meat or poultry, or if you prefer, spread a little of the chutney over the meat just before serving.

6. Tempura Dipping Sauce

Combine a tablespoon of chutney with 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon mirin or other sweet white wine, and 1/4 cup chicken, fish or vegetable stock. Serve hot with tempura. You can either just mix the ingredients and heat them in a small saucepan for slightly chunky sauce, or first puree the ingredients in a blender before heating them.

7. Almost Instant Homemade Ketchup

If you compare the ingredients of ketchup to chutney you’ll notice that they have a lot in common: vinegar, sugar, spices, and fruit or veggies (you know that ketchup doesn’t have to be made out of tomatoes, right?). In fact, the only difference is that chutney is chunky and ketchup is smooth. So go ahead and puree your green tomato chutney, for example, and now you’ve got green tomato ketchup.

8. Glaze That

Puree chutney in a food processor. Dilute the resulting paste slightly with water. Use to glaze meats and poultry for roasting.

9. Chutney Dip

Combine equal parts chutney and salsa with a handful of fresh cilantro (coriander) or parsley in a blender or food processor. Pulse a few times – you don’t want it to be totally smooth, but rather to still have some texture. Adjust salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.

10. With Roasted Sweet Potatoes or Winter Squash

Preheat the oven to 400F/204C. Peel and seed the winter squash or scrub the sweet potatoes clean (no need to peel them). Chop the potatoes or squash into 1-inch chunks. Spread a sheet of parchment paper in a roasting pan. In a large bowl, combine the veggies with chutney, using about 1/4-cup chutney per 2 pounds of vegetables. Transfer to the roasting pan and spread into an even layer. Roast until the sweet potatoes or squash are tender, about 30 – 40 minutes.

And there you have it. So if you’re looking to “spice” things up in the kitchen, break out the chutney!

We haven’t made it to The Royal Ballet yet…or any live performance venue for that matter. One of the ballets that I would’ve really liked to have seen this season is The Sleeping Beauty.

Sleeping Beauty was my favorite of all the Disney animated movies when I was a kid…although I remember being terrified of the evil queen in her dragon form. And the costumes and sets for the ballet look absolutely amazing. But timing and total lack of effort on my part have led to the rest of the season being pretty much sold out.

Glancing over their webpage, I see they do have the DVD on sale for only £24.99! Which is approximately $40 USD. Or…you can go on Amazon and buy it for $22 USD with free shipping.

I’ve always found videos of live performances to be a little less than inspiring. But then, I’ve never had a 60” TV before either, for which I can thank my husband. So I might just give it a shot.

My son is home sick today and has been in bed asleep for most of it. So I’ve been hanging out on the couch and watching random British daytime TV. I’m not much for searching out their version of soap operas, so I’ve been cruising through the documentaries.

One of them really caught my attention, British Isles: A Natural History, and was all about the industrial revolution…the potato famine in Ireland, coal production and cholera epidemics in London…and cemeteries. I’ve never been a big cemetery haunter, so to speak, but I find them peaceful and touching and am just as impressed by an elaborate mausoleum as the next person. I also like concrete sculpture, for some reason.

So my curiosity was piqued when I discovered that there are seven MASSIVE Victorian cemeteries in London, aptly called the Magnificent Seven. Due to the overcrowding of local graveyards after years of epidemics, “Parliament passed a bill in 1832 encouraging the establishment of private cemeteries outside London, and later passed a bill to close all inner London churchyards to new deposits.” (Wikipedia)

Over the next decade seven cemeteries were established:

Kensal Green Cemetery, 1832
West Norwood Cemetery, 1837
Highgate Cemetery, 1839
Abney Park Cemetery, 1840
Nunhead Cemetery, 1840
Brompton Cemetery, 1840
Tower Hamlets Cemetery, 1841

Kensal Green is a mere two miles from us (and has guided tours). I’m not in a big hurry to visit it since we learned on our Cotswolds trip that our son apparently has no respect for the dead and has no qualms about running across their graves, which I’m sure horrifies us more than the deceased. But if he is up for a good walk…

“The 72 acre Cemetery of All Souls at Kensal Green (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) was planned not merely as a repository for the deceased but as a vast landscaped garden, through which visitors could promenade and enjoy the park-like atmosphere. An 1833 water-colour shows sweeping green acres of grass and trees, interrupted only by curving avenues and neo-classical buildings, all very much inspired by Georgian ideals of landscape and architecture.

Thomas Allom's "A birds'-eye view of Kensal Green Cemetery: 19th century." (Photo courtesy of the Museum of London.)

Thomas Allom’s “A birds’-eye view of Kensal Green Cemetery: 19th century.” (Photo courtesy of the Museum of London)

“The cemetery was divided into a consecrated Anglican section and an unconsecrated zone for Dissenters. By 1842 there were nearly 6000 interments. Today there are 130 listed tombs, memorials and mausoleums, many of them designed by distinguished architects. The cemetery became a designated Conservation Area in October 1984, supporting a diverse variety of wildlife and the Friends of Kensal Green was established in 1990.” (Byrnes, Andie. “Freemasons and Ancient Egypt at Kensal Green Cemetery.” PetrieMuseum.com)

Famous residents include novelist William Thackeray (d. 1863), artist John William Waterhouse (d. 1917), artist’s wife Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (d. 1909), poet’s wife Lady Anne Isabella Noel Byron (d. 1860), random royalty such as HRH Princess Sophia (d. 1848) and HRH Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (d. 1843) and royal staff members like Mary Ann Thurston, nurse to the children of Queen Victoria (d. 1896), and one cremation plaque that may or may not belong to Freddie Mercury of Queen (d. 1991).

The tomb of HRH Princess Sophia.

The tomb of HRH Princess Sophia.

So my hubby’s heading over to Germany shortly for a week of training in Frankfurt. I thought of trying to go with him and doing some fun tourist stuff with our son while he was working, but Frankfurt looks like a pleasant place to live but not a particularly interesting tourist town.

I’ve been to Germany only once before and for a very short time. When I was living in France for school in 1992, I did a whirlwind rail trip through Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Liechtenstein and Germany. I remember two main things: tracking down a lovely little beer garden in Munich and spending a couple days with a friend who was spending a semester at the university in Heidelberg. Not really a lot of site seeing done in Germany, so I need to come up with at least one fun family trip to take while we’re here.

The first thing that comes to mind is Neuschwanstein, the 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace in Bavaria that inspired Disney’s castles. A little research reveals that there are a ton of fairy tale castles in Germany…and even a famous driving route called The German Fairy Tale Road.

This route connects the towns and landscapes that were the inspiration for their most famous fairy tales. You can hike in Little Red Riding Hood’s forest, visit the castle of Sleeping Beauty, and climb up the tower from where Rapunzel let down her hair. According to About.com, almost all the towns along the Fairy Tale Road offer family-friendly activities, such as puppet shows, parades, concerts, and lovely statues of your favorite fairy tale characters.

And there are other great drives, like the Romantic Road that leads you from the Franconia wine country to the foot of the German Alps; the Castle Road that is lined with more than 70 castles and palaces and goes from Manheim to Prague; and the Wine Road in Rhineland, which is the country’s oldest scenic drive.

Since our son is still too young to drink or be the designated driver, I think the Fairy Tale Road sounds like the best option. Here’s a fun site called Family Vacation Critic that has more info on Fairy Tale Road attractions. Or we could combine a couple routes and drive down to Prague to visit some friends that should be posted there this summer! Now we just have to find a good time to take another week off of work.

Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale Road Map.

Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale Road Map.

Neuschwanstein Castle.

Neuschwanstein Castle.

A bronze statue by Gerhard Marcks depicting the Bremen Town Musicians located in Bremen.

A bronze statue by Gerhard Marcks depicting the Bremen Town Musicians located in Bremen.

Erlebnispark Steinau, an amusement park in Steinau an der Strasse, childhood home of the Brothers Grimm.

Erlebnispark Steinau, an amusement park in Steinau an der Strasse, childhood home of the Brothers Grimm.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and are not attributed to any government organization.

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