Tuesday, 8 June 2004

Venus & Madonna

Ford Castle grounds (sketchbook, coloured conte) Posted by Hello

Venus successfully completed its Transit of the Sun today. I suppose there never was any doubt that it would do so. However, the Weatherman had given me similar assurances that I would have no difficulty in viewing same, while I could expect to sit about being scorched on the hottest day of the year.

Round about 9 o'clock this morning, the skies over Stately Zip Mansion did their best to conceal the fact of the Sun, let alone the Transit, by putting on a thrilling display of black rainclouds. Lightning flashed and the accompanying crashes of thunder set off every car alarm in the street. That was Venus done for the day. Still, I saw it on the telly, didn't I, so that's alright.

We did get to the Alnwick Garden, however.

And what a mixed blessing that was. The Phase 1 Cascade is fine, the biggest in the country. But almost everything else is a sea of mud, concrete and noise. Dumper trucks jockeyed for position with elderly grey-haired ladies, most of them in wheelchairs. Down from Scotland in big charabancs, I trust the ladies didn't feel cheated.

I don't know how the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland - for it is their Garden - have the nerve to charge full price (£4.00) for permission to come in and have a cup of tea on a building site.

Except that they have the nerve for anything. The Garden is being built with £50m of Lottery money, which might sound OK until you realise that it's not a public garden, it's their land, their garden, and the public have to pay to get in.

And lest we forget, the public had to stump up £22m for the Madonna of the Pinks this year to stop the public-spirited Duke from flogging it to the Getty Museum.

Putting aside such socialist-inspired carping, however, there were small moments and places today of real pleasure.

Sheltered from the rather cold breeze, we found a handy wooden bench next to a circular pond and yelled at one another over the roar and gurgle of the fountain in the middle of it. And there CJ produced her picnic, splendid as usual. Poached salmon with Bearnaise sauce, potato salad, spicy couscous, green salad, washed down with my contribution, a bottle of Chardonnay.

Oh, and a special word for the ornamental garden and its attendant gardener, full of tales of heavy cow manure mulches and liquid manure feeding. Unfortunately, the delphiniums were only just opening and most of the roses were not yet in bloom. Suckers for punishment, we may well go back when the roses are out, and give His Grace some more money.

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