Look At It This Way - May 16, 2014

Eric and Sharon Rawcliffe of Green Farm Cottage
Eric and Sharon Rawcliffe of Green Farm Cottage
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I’ve been on gardening leave. Literally. I’ve left it alone – for ages.

In fact I’ve spent far more time in other people’s gardens than I have in my own in recent weeks.

Helping write Lancashire Home and Gardens (one of The Gazette’s sister publications) saw me exploring two gardens open under the 
National Gardens Scheme next month: Dale House Gardens at Goosnargh (June 28-29) and Green Farm Cottage at Lower Green, Poulton (open June 22).

If you get a chance to visit, do so. They are beautiful and owned by lovely chatty people (such as Eric and Sharon Rawcliffe, pictured) who make time for the things that matter in life. All the donations go to charity.

It’s worth giving your garden a miss to see them.

One thing I miss from my Gazette years is covering the flower shows: Holker, Southport, Tatton. I’m still going to Southport but on a coach trip organised by Blackpool Carers. Last time I went on a coach trip I was leading a party of Gazette readers to the Gardeners’ World show in Birmingham.

It was hell. I cultivated a semi-demented holiday rep-like smile on the off chance any of the thousands in the NEC centre were off my coach.

You could tell the ones who were because they were the only ones who didn’t avoid eye contact.

And, thanks to Alan Titchmarsh, they all came back hours later carrying identical willow trees in full blossom, each allegedly the last.

It looked like Birnam Wood marching to Dunsinane across the car park.

Gardening’s great therapy but I’m no expert.

I used to help judge Blackpool in Bloom long ago but was dropped after the Great Hanging Basket Border War – when one set of highly competitive Blackpool landladies hit our front page.

But it got me off the hook. I used to get traumatised by gardeners asking “what type of plant is this?” replying “a yellow one” never really 
cut it with them.

Then there was the time the minibus carrying judges stopped outside my home – to inspect my neighbour’s front garden.

I had to fake illness to avoid joining the tour – and one judge came back saying: “It’s very nice but the garden alongside lets it down a bit.”

But here’s my reason for avoiding the garden... we have been visited by a near biblical plague of asylum-seeking frogs since the neighbour’s pond became a patio patrolled by a large cat with a healthy appetite for hopping creatures.

So the frogs, distant relatives of the taddies my brothers and I used to bring home in jamjars years ago, have set up a refugee camp in rain-filled pots in our less manicured garden.

So now I go on raids to sneak frogs across borders of other people’s gardens – ushering them towards ponds or water features.

And I’ve learned one thing. The more elaborate the water feature the less likely the owner is to welcome a real frog.

Even those with Buddha Meditation Fountains would rather have plastic frogs, stone birds, twee ducklings, even a giant gorilla. A proper frog?

Hop off!

Minefield leaves me very little sympathy for the super rich celebrity tax dodgers

The only certainties in life are death and taxes – and even the super rich find time, and taxman, catches up with them eventually.

We may whinge about 
income tax but we’ve had to pay it since Pitt the Younger needed to fund the Napoleonic Wars.

Frankly, I don’t blame him.

I’d even cough up an extra five per cent today if it meant subsidising a French finishing school for customer service or getting rid of Golden Delicious pappy-apples.

(And I’ve got French 
inlaws! Boff!)

I’m currently navigating HMRC’s minefield as a self -employed self-assessed sole trader – thwarted by alleged helplines which throw up 
every option but the one I need. Super rich celebrity tax dodgers – press Number 
10 please.”

Struggling to juggle codes, national insurance, and eke out a living leaves me with little sympathy for 
millionaire Gary Barlow. But should he lose his OBE for tax 


But I do think a knighthood for Ken Dodd – cleared of tax evasion, remember? – is long overdue.