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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Castle Rascals

I love it when they get the weather wrong. Clouds and rain, they threatened, for Bank Holiday Monday. No, said Mother Nature, I shall grant you glorious sunshine and cloudless blue skies. Thank you, said we.

Off we sped to Castle Combe for some rambling. I’ve never been much of a rambler. I have some friends who ramble on every weekend. I’ve always been half jealous, half ‘no thanks, see you in the pub.’ But as I seem to be ageing with the speed of light, suddenly a six mile walkathon seems more appealing to me on my bank holiday than the bed – sofa –bed – sick bucket routine that used to be my hungover days.

That’s the old Kim. I even bought some rambling shoes to carry me through my six miles. We downloaded a map from the good people at Google and set off. First stop, the Castle Inn, where we might have started the day with a chilled and perfect pint of Stourpress cider. Well, old habits die hard…

In the wind pocket that was the pub garden, my skin warmed under the blazing sun. I had to keep reminding myself it was April. Who’d have thought it. With the cider giving us the energy we needed to commence adventure, and the pub garden beginning to fill, we set sail.

The ‘we’ in this tale, is my boyfriend Gareth, and I. Gareth held on to the map. With all his might. What is it with men and maps? I wasn’t even allowed to peek over his shoulder. He’d whip it out at every turning and junction, sneak and peek while turning it slightly away from my preying eyes, then demand ‘Over here, to the left,’ while jumping over a turn stile, the map sinking quickly back into his pocket.

I was quite happy to leave him fussing over his new GPS system and trying to plot our route on his phone while I breathed in the lovely country air and thought about how many calories I was burning just by plodding along. Loads, was the conclusion I came to.

After about 15 hours, Gareth’s GPS system told us we’d covered 1.6 miles. Only 4.4 to go! Twenty minutes later, it informed us we’d now covered 1.4 miles. Ok. We’re somehow managing to back track while only going forwards. Perhaps it’s time to put the GPS back in your pocket, Gareth, and just enjoy the scenery? He did, begrudgingly.

We passed couples with dogs. We were jealous. We passed eccentric country estates and cosy cottages. We were jealous. We passed over-energetic, sugar rushing children and exhausted parents. We were not jealous.

It was a blissful walk. Six miles flew by. The only bit I did not enjoy was the 100M or so you have to walk alongside a busy main road in the middle of the hike. But it soon passed and we were back in the glades and fields in no time.

Yes, Castle Combe is a tourist trap and yes, I did pay £3 for a lemonade when we got back to the village. It hurt. It hurt my wallet and my pride. We also splashed out on some overpriced scones (I’d burnt enough calories to justify it, I decided) and they were scrumdiddlyumptous.

I don’t think walking is something I could do every weekend, but on a day of sunshine such as this, I’d have been a fool not to. The views were stupendous, people actually said hello as we crossed paths, and I learned what a kissing gate was and what the history of the village was. (Something about red wool. I might not have been listening.) Plus, it was free. Which was lucky, as it meant I could afford the lemonade.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

The shame of fame

So, you’re famous. Well done you. Now, thousands of people are going to be watching your every move, idolising you, imitating you, loving you. With great power comes great responsibility. Spiderman could handle it. Can you, Paris Hilton?

You’d think famous people would take on this burden with a little more skill. And some do, I know. I won’t generalise too much as it isn’t fair on the Shakira’s of this world. Oh. You don’t know about Shakira? Not enough do. I’ll tell you later.

Most of the silly little famous people who deface our weekly magazines, our red top newspapers, our websites, our clothing chains, our coca cola cans, our billboards, our every breath, are not up to the job. What’s with Paris Hilton getting let out of jail early? That seemed a trifle unfair. She was sentenced to 45 days in prison for violating a probation order (for drink driving). Four days into her sentence, she was released for ‘medical reasons.’ That judge needed a good talking to. Paris Hilton should have served her time as a lesson to all her fans. If you get caught drink driving, you will have to do the time. Not, if you, mere mortal, get caught drink driving, you, mere mortal, will have to do the time, but I, princess of the parties, will not do the time for my crime because I didn’t really like jail very much. What kind of lesson is that?

Madonna’s latest adoption. We all expected her to waltz in there, grab Mercy, sling her in the back of the private jet and be off. Yes, she’s minted, and that would be a nice alternative for someone who otherwise faces a life of poverty and neglect. But Madonna, let’s not forget, is also over 50, always on tour, divorced and has three children by three fathers. If you took away the Madonna, would that divorced, 50 year old mother of three (by three different fathers) be able to bypass Malawi's strict adoption policies? Unlikely.

If your daily goings on are going to be splashed all over the tabloids for all to judge, then all the more reason for you to be made an example of. Young women can’t be seeing Paris Hilton ‘find god’ in jail, be let out early, then go back to her pink and fluffy life without a second thought to all the humanitarian schools she promised to open. It teaches young women that if they say ‘that’s hot’ and bleach their hair, they can get away with criminal activity.

Young women can’t be seeing Madonna decide it’s time to add to her brood, pick a country, pick a child, and expect the laws to be bent especially for her. It teaches young women that if you sell enough records, do enough yoga, scare enough people with your weird veins, you can have whatever you want. Disregard the law, folks, just get famous like me!

Good work on the stirling music career, Maddie, but if you could just abide by the same governmental laws as the rest of us, that’d teach young, impressionable fans that no amount of money can buy you a child. Good work on the, er, what do you do Paris? But if you could just do your paltry 45 days then it would teach young, impressionable fans that fame can’t buy you a get out of jail free card.

Shakira? Well, since you ask. Shakira is thought of as a princess in Colombia. Not a princess like Paris. She doesn’t turn up in a diamond encrusted car, wearing a diamond encrusted dress, to the opening of an envelope. Shakira is thought of as a princess because she has donated $40 million to the victims of natural disasters. In 1995 she founded the Pies Descalzos Foundation, opening schools for under privileged children. She’s helped thousands of children who couldn’t otherwise afford to get an education. On her 32nd birthday she opened a $6 million school in her hometown of Barranquilla.

For Paris Hilton’s 28th birthday, she cruised by private jet to Las Vegas. You ought to require a license to be famous. And Paris ought to be denied hers.

Shakira sings and dances for a living, but when she gets off a plane, people swoon because she saves lives. She embraces the great responsibility that comes with the great power of fame. Just like Spiderman.
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Little Miss Chief

The giant wagon wheels and life sized exotic animals outside the Chief Trading Garden Centre in Oldland Common were always enough to unleash a little curiosity when I drove past, but not enough for me to stop and see exactly what kind of garden centre sells elephants and gorillas.

Until today.

I’d been longing to grow some tomatoes ever since I left my piddly London flat for the green and supreme hills and vales of the west country. I’d heard tomatoes were low maintenance, and that’s the kind of gardening that appealed to me. I was given a bonsai tree once. Big mistake. The poor little thing didn’t have a hope in hell.

As winter finally gave way to spring, it was time to embrace the Green Lady within. Throwing caution to the wind, and forgetting the Bonsai lesson, I decided to up the stakes. Why not bung in some herbs too and see what happens? Taking my urge to live the good life by the reins, I invested in some rosemary, thyme (even I know they're like salt and pepper, you just need both) parsley, mint, and sage. Goodbye Grazia. Hello Gardener’s World.

It was a need for some compost for these little fellas which led me to drag my boyfriend to the Chief Trading Post, a garden centre which, we were to discover, puts all others in the shade. We came for compost. We stayed for the paradise within.

What an incredible experience. I’ve been to garden centres before, I know they supply trinkets and gnomes, fridge magnets and patio slabs, but this one really goes above and beyond. We spent a few bewildering hours wandering around the jungle-like greenhouses and pretending we owned a farmhouse, just so we could imagine where we'd put the wagon wheel swinging seat and hand carved rocking chair.

Inside, things only got better. Having decided we’d grow both tomatoes and strawberries in our grow bag, and having garnered advice aplenty from the multitude of cheery workers, we sat down for a well earned scone. Well, all the dreaming about farmhouses whilst going ‘ooh’ at big benches and bright flowers was exhausting work. Any excuse to use the sentence 'lashings of strawberry jam' gets my vote. The food was delicious, and if I haven’t already driven home how happy the employees were, I’ll reiterate. Working Easter Saturday didn’t deter these folk from some witty banter and encouraging guidance to a pair of novices like Gareth and me.

The café, or high tea saloon, to use the proper name, is immersed in a labyrinth of cacti, so humongous they’re bursting through the roof, giving the whole scone scoffing experience wonderful charm.

If I were five years old, I’d be off gallivanting through the maze of sand pits, plants, lions, gypsy caravans and hanging baskets. If I had children, I’d bring them here for a day out. I’d teach them all about plants and let them take home (to the farmhouse) one fruit or vegetable to grow for themselves. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I can barely keep these herbs alive, let alone a child.

Floating from our lovely garden centre experience, we came home and got green fingered. Much to my delight, Gareth , who I thought might head straight to his laptop and leave me to it, joined me on the patio for some potting. He re-homed the tomatoes while I tended the herbs, which I'd forgotten to water since buying a week ago and were on their last legs. Nothing a bit of baby bio won't sort out, I'm sure. ‘Doesn’t it make you feel at one with nature?’ I asked, encouraging Gareth's green side. ‘I’m very at one with my grow bag,’ he replied with the kind of dead pan tone that reminded me not to push it.

As we surveyed our makeshift garden, fingers muddy and herbs looking rather like a child who knows the babysitter doesn’t have much faith in their child caring abilities (wilting away from us slightly. Cowering, you might say) we smiled satisfactorily. The whole experience can be summed up in no other word than delightful.

My god. I’m using the word ‘delightful' to describe my past times. Look out Grandma, there’s a young pretender to your rocking chair.

I think I need a stiff drink. Luckily I’ve got some homegrown mint, barely making it past week one in my care, ready to fulfill it’s destiny and become a mojito. Pass the rum, I need to regain my youth.

The Chief Trading Post LTD Barry Road, Oldland Common, BS30 6QY 01179 323 112
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