Saturday, 11 October 2008

Alan Coren: The Gollies Karamazov

If you're of a certain age, you may remember the satirical magazine Punch (1841-2002), even if you only read it in the dentist's waiting room. For me, the highlight was always Alan Coren's column, which invariably had me in stitches.

To commemorate Alan Coren's death a year ago, his son and daughter have just published an anthology of his work, Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks. It was chosen as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week last week and if you're quick you can listen to the five broadcast extracts here, read by the brilliant John Sessions who does all the voices wonderfully well. So far, I've only managed to hear "Let Us Now Phone Famous Men", and yes, it had me in stitches all over again.

In The Times, there's an example of what Coren did best, in my opinion - the literary parody. This one's called "The Pooh Also Rises". There's also an article about Alan Coren by his son Giles here.

Both Giles and Victoria Coren have, happily, inherited their father's gift of humour. Victoria Coren, a journalist since the age of 14, is probably best known for the TV series Balderdash & Piffle which tested new words or definitions sent in by the public for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary. OK, that doesn't sound funny but it often was. She also writes columns in The Guardian and The Observer. Besides being The Times's restaurant critic, Giles Coren was recently co-presenter (or victim) with comedian Sue Perkins of The Supersizers Go..., a series of programmes in which the pair lived for a week on the dishes of various periods and tested the effects of historical diets with hilarious and sometimes revolting results. He also wrote this (expletives undeleted) in which he vents his anger with some Times sub-editor who went too far with one of his articles.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Gardens I: Levens Hall, Cumbria

The gardens at Levens Hall, near Kendal in the South Lake District, contain the the oldest topiary garden in the world, created by Guillaume Beaumont in the 17th century.

This photo is of one of the more spectacular creations and there are more on the Levens Hall website.

I bet they didn't trim them like this in the 17th century!

There are also high and ancient hedges that you can walk into and see this sort of thing which looks like a setting for The Lord of the Rings.

The flower borders were past their best when we visited in late September...

...but there are photos on the website which show them in their summer splendour.

There's also a fertile apple orchard where the fruit is currently weighing down the boughs, like the Bramleys in this photo:

Speaking of food, as I often do, the Bellingham Buttery restaurant serves tasty meals using produce from the garden and estate. I can certainly recommend the sumptuous fruit cake containing Leven Hall's own Morocco Ale made from an Elizabethan recipe.

The house is also worth a visit. Inside you can see beautiful Spanish leather wall coverings of rare colour and quality, the earliest English patchworks, stunning Tudor carved wooden overmantels and a collection of Wellington memorabilia which was brought to the house when the Iron Duke's favourite niece married into the family.