Monday, 25 May 2015

People just come and go: The end of Mad Men

People just come and go and no one says goodbye.
Don Draper, Season Seven, Episode Fourteen.

Spoiler alert, obviously.

It's all over now. I don't know what I expected to happen in the last episode of Mad Men, but it certainly wasn't Don sat cross-legged at the top of a cliff, meditating. Nor was it an actual advert.

I wasn't thrilled with the Benetton-esque, corny advert for the most famous drinks company in the world, a company that has a poor ethical record (sorry Matthew Weiner, but the groundbreaking inclusion in the 1970s of an Asian woman with a pottu doesn't change my feelings about that). The company has allegedly left people wanting clean water, polluted the area around manufacturing plants, and even the Southbank can't escape its all-branding eye: the London Eye is now red in its debt.

Then I remembered something awful: when we were about to leave primary school, my friend Claudine and I would walk around the playground during break time, singing the 1987 advert. Several girls complained to our teacher about how annoying we were, warbling that stupid song all of the time, and Miss Higgins told them, "They're just feeling sad about leaving, so they're singing to show how sad they are." I didn't realise that at the time, but I guess that's what we were doing. So maybe world-famous-drinks-company adverts are about endings as much as togetherness? Appropriately enough, the Mad Men finale aired a week after my last day of lectures at uni, when we said goodbye to some tutors and students who wouldn't be returning in September.

I looked up the 1987 advert and saw that it was re-released in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it was filmed in the beautiful St George's Hall in Liverpool, using 1000 children.

Happiness is...a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you are doing is ok. You are ok.
Don Draper, Season One, Episode One.

A few years ago, I wrote about Mad Men and hoped that Joan would reclaim her maiden name and get the chance to do the creative work she was clearly capable of doing. Starting up her own company with both of her surnames, after leaving her boyfriend and the horribly sexist McCann-Erickson, was even better. What a change from the woman who showed new secretary Peggy Olsen around the office ten years earlier, saying, "With any luck, you'll end up living in the country and you won't have to work at all." I was so pleased for Peggy, too - even though I cheered at the Harris-Olsen proposal, I kind of understood how she wanted to carry on working on her own terms (well, sort of) and at her own pace. I also think that she didn't want to leave Don behind again. But as Stan said to her before they (OMG!) got together, "You have to let him go."

I didn't bawl my eyes out, although I suspect I will when I'm ready to watch it again. But I did get a lump in my throat when Sally cooked dinner for her brother Bobby after he miserably tried to fend for himself, and a knot in my stomach when Don said his goodbye-for-nows to Peggy and Betty.

I didn't quite have the stomach for a Harris-Olsen Bloody Mary the next morning, but this jam on toast was a breakfast substitute for an Old-fashioned.

You're born alone and you die alone, and this world just dumps a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget.
Don Draper, Season One, Episode One.

Like other people who didn't want to believe Mad Men had ended and were stuck in denial (only anger, bargaining and depression to go until we reach acceptance), the following night I went right back to the beginning and started watching the first season. I forgot how much younger the men looked, how even Ken Cosgrove was as sexist as the others at the start ("You've got to let them know what kind of guy you are - then they'll know what kind of girl to be"), how adorable Sally was as a child, and how wide-eyed and sweet Betty was at the beginning. And if you don't believe me, watch this scene with Betty talking Sally through first kisses. Like Lori in The Walking Dead, Betty wasn't exactly a fan favourite, but I really liked her. RIP Mrs Robinson.

We're all so lucky to be here.
Betty Draper, Season One, Episode Two.

No use crying...

I saved my first, perfectly-formed delphinium to use in my new, second-hand vase. I arranged it with some white scented hesperis (sweet rocket), white roses and 'Nora Barlow' aquilegia from the garden and greenhouse. But as I turned around so I could move back to quickly photograph it, I heard a crash.

Gutted. After much cursing (sorry neighbours for the morning wake up call) I chucked the flowers in this old, first-hand vase, and they don't look nearly as good.

Mind you, despite being broken in the middle, the delphinium lasted another six days.

On the same morning as Vase-gate, I made a small posy of my flowers for Sara, the Garden Museum's sustainability trainee, who has just left to go on maternity leave. No disasters with that, fortunately! There were calendula, tagetes, aquilegia, and gorgeous-smelling sage and thyme.

And on Saturday I made a posy with another delphinium and my first few nigella.

Brews and bells of Ireland

By some marvellous synchronicity, on the day Ireland said yes to equality (see The Pansy Project, which I've mentioned before), I was given a bundle of presents from Ireland: lots of Irish breakfast tea and Irish flower seeds.

I've only been to Ireland once - a fleeting weekend in Dublin five years ago to meet some friends who were staying there. I spotted these coffee pots when we went for tea one afternoon. I'd love to fill them with flowers!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Pensiveness and peonies

I did two very special "Sorry you're leaving"/"Good luck" gifts this week. I had planned to use forget-me-nots (for obvious reasons) and cowslips for pensiveness, but couldn't get hold of either. In the end, I used new season Sarah Bernhardt peonies, which start off like this...

Before opening a little...

And eventually look like this when fully open. They smell incredible, and they are so fluffy I just want to stroke them like a rabbit!

There were also cerise stocks, green hypericum berries and lilac freesias from the market.

Mixed up with lots of flowers from the garden: the first white, red and peach garden roses, dainty aquilegia, including the exquisite 'Nora Barlow' from Higgledy Garden (which has finally flowered after I sowed the seeds twenty months ago!), lavender 'Folgate', pittosporum 'Oliver Twist', scented white hesperis (a.k.a. sweet rocket - these are autumn-sown from seeds, which I got at the Hardy Cottage Garden Plants stand at the Wisley show), alliums in purple and white, osteospermum, and delicious-smelling herbs such as lemon verbena.

There was plenty to make two similar-but-different bouquets, in reused glass jars.

They were delivered on the bus, in the much-needed sunshine. They went to two surprised lecturers, who seemed happy with them and didn't need cowslips in order to be thoughtful!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Iris Day and the prettiest ranunculus

As we woke up (or not for those who stayed up all night) to the news of the election result on Friday and felt whatever feelings the results brought up for us personally, across the Channel, preparations were under way for something celebratory.

The iris is the mascot of Brussels, apparently, and so at the start of May each year, they have a festival to celebrate Iris Day. I think it fell on the Friday this year, with the festival on the Saturday and Sunday. I only heard about Iris Day on Friday night, and by coincidence I had been on the hunt for irises earlier that day! I wanted white ones but couldn't find them anywhere and so got purple ones from a florist.

I had ordered flowers from The Flower Union, a florist and grower of flowers just outside London, which they kindly delivered to the Garden Museum where I was to made a pedestal for a post-wedding party. I brought along ivy, hesperis and wild roses from the garden, and the irises (which were the only flowers that were specifically requested).

The Flower Union provided beautiful ranunculus in the softest pink and yellow shades, alstromeria, apple blossom, lilac, dainty white orlaya, viburnum, and pittosporum.

The flowers are each so beautiful. And the scent of roses started to fill up the windy porch.

There were a few stems left over, so I made up a little posy of ranunculus and hesperis to sit alongside the cake. The cake is safely hidden away in its box here, but I was given a sneak peak at it - it was a work of art! The mother of the bride had hand-painted birds and flowers all over the tiered cake.

This is the sort of wedding party I adore - family were helping set things up in the morning and it was lovely to meet some of them and to see how special the wedding and their family were to them.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

From a 1979 scene in Kramer vs. Kramer to Election 2015

You won't get me campaigning for a party here - my political beliefs have been a rollercoaster since my primary school teacher asked us to write letters to the prime minister to defend nurses' pay - but with an election on people's minds in the UK (and Alberta!), I thought I'd share something unusual that happened when I was young.

My parents had paid their way through university or college with housekeeping jobs in hotels, sorting post and delivering for the Royal Mail, working in shops, washing up in restaurants. Anything that would pay their lodgings. And unlike my student life in Swansea, these lodgings weren't relatively new single rooms in student accommodation, but the box room in a family's house, sharing the toilet in the back garden (I can't even imagine!) and staying in the library until closing time because it was heated, unlike their room in the freezing North East. Once they moved to London to start their careers, they still lived separately with other families, as they had before. At one point my dad was doing a three-hour commute each way, every day. One bus, one tube, one train, and another bus.

My point is, they've always had a strong work ethic.

My mum gave up her paid job once my sister was diagnosed with "brain injury" (the autism diagnosis didn't emerge for another fifteen years). She officially became a carer - although technically we all were and have remained carers to my sister - which meant she got a pittance of an "allowance" from the government. She spent six to eight hours a day carrying out a complex physical and mental therapy programme, with the help of kind, local strangers who had responded to our handwritten leaflets asking for voluntary helpers. I remember posting those door-by-door in our town.

I carried on going to school as normal, and adjusting to the change in circumstances at home. My dad had started working more weekends, which meant that on some weekends he would take me to his place of work (probably to give my mum a break from looking after two hyperactive kids) and I would have a fantastic time. Have you seen Kramer vs. Kramer? That scene where Dustin Hoffman takes Justin Henry to his new office, and his little son runs around, spinning around on the chair, looking out of the window and going "Wow!" That was me. I would make hot chocolate using the drinks machine, which was the most luxurious thing in my small world. And I would draw huge pictures using the draftsman's drawing board.

But I had no idea that the reason my dad was working so much was because we were struggling financially. That his friends at work who didn't need the extra money and would rather spend weekends with their families would give him their weekend shifts because they knew he needed them more. That the quarterly trips to the institute that organised the therapy for my sister cost a lot of money, and one national-average salary plus a tiny carer's allowance couldn't cover everything. Oh, and our local authority said that if we refused their "help" (which was to put my sister in a school for severely disabled children, a school that had a terrible reputation for its lack of care and education) then we would never get funding for any sort of treatment we wanted to try ourselves.

So I got a shock one day when the doorbell rang and our local Salvation Army officer was at the door, with boxes and bags full of groceries for us. There were huge packets of cereal, washing powder, toilet paper, and I can't remember what else. I couldn't understand it.

Years later, I asked my dad about it, expecting him to be embarrassed by the charity. He said we could never have survived that period if it wasn't for that extra support, and he's incredibly grateful.

So in all of the news, commentary and statistics that have been thrown about leading up to this election, the thing that has stood out for me is the number of people using food banks. The Trussell Trust says more than one million people in the UK were given three days' emergency food and support in the last financial year. Of that million, almost 400 000 were children.

I'm fortunate enough not to need a food bank now, but knowing that my family, who were hard-working and certainly not "poor", could find themselves in a situation where they needed donated food and washing powder to survive...well, I wouldn't want anyone to be in that situation.

And that's all I wanted to say about that.

So happy voting, whether you're voting for a particular party, a particular person, or making your frustration with the system known by spoiling your ballot paper! Here's hoping for an intelligent and compassionate government.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Pretty ballerinas

My 'Black Jack' and 'Artist' tulips have failed to make even the most timid of appearances. After months in the soil, there is not a bit of growth to be seen. Meanwhile, my old tulips grow away, gracing me with lots of leaves...and no flowers.

But I've had two minor successes.

The first, and most prolific, is 'Spring Green' - a beautiful white and green tulip that my old supervisor, Leigh at Wild at Heart, recommended I grow. It's taken a few years, but I can finally see what he meant!

The other, moderate success is 'Ballerina'. I heard they were beautiful and scented, and the name made me think of my dancer friend, Helen. The big container looked like it had been absolutely demolished by snails a month ago, but a few Ballerinas soldiered on and graced me with this.

The scent is incredible. I think it's the strongest-smelling tulip I've grown.

My last bulb posies for this year, I think. With the last of the scented 'Geranium' narcissi.