An unusual week, or should I say 9 days. 216 hours ago Trent and I were pulling pots of plants out from within and around the polytunnels, bunching them into groups and deciding which might make the cut for the trip to the Malvern Autumn Show.

I’d been asked to dress the stage, all 10m by 3m of it, plus the steps and floor level at the front. My garden design skills stretch little further than ‘throw enough mud at the wall and see what sticks’…we had far too much to take, so we piled in the essentials. An hour’s Darwinian selection left a jammed van and a few too many leftovers for comfort, but when you’ve no room for more than Trent’s idle arse (above) and two packets of Extra Strong Mints you’re unlikely to squeeze in that last 20l pot of Vietnamese coriander.

It’s 120 miles from here to the Malvern showground. It’s almost all motorway. You could stop for a three course lunch served by Albert Riddle at Robin’s Nest and still do it in two hours. Unless you’re Trent. Trent was following in the landrover when we drove up last Thursday, while I drove the van. Trent drives like he still has the handbreak on, as if there is a child on board with a rare kidney complaint, as if he has both the President and a vial of nitroglycerine on board, as if he is being sponsored by the minute to drive there. As if he was in a remake of The Straight Story. Everytime I got out of second gear I saw his red landrover recede into the distance.

Three weeks later (it seemed) we arrived and unloaded. Within minutes Claire Potter, who had dressed last year’s stage so beautifully, brought cakes. Very fine homemade cakes. I managed to save one for my daughter.

It got dark. We stopped and headed for the hotel, which is always marvelous, as is the view from my bedroom window.

Much moving around followed on the Thursday until we got the stage looking reasonably pleasing to the eye. I now feel qualified to offer two pieces of advice: put the tall stuff behind the short stuff and wear your old clothes while doing it. I must remember to include that in the next book. I’ve made a very long and tiring day seem very simple, but essentially that’s exactly what it was – simple, long and tiring. Followed by a long evening being verbally abused over dinner in the hotel by James Alexander Sinclair and Joe Swift.

Most of the weekend was spent on stage, the early part of which being reminiscent of the evening before – ie being verbally abused by James Alexander Sinclair and Joe Swift. Thankfully the not inconsiderable skills of compere and MC Katie Johnson retained at least a veneer of order. Here she is: the meat in a Trent/Swift sandwich.

The rest of those two days was taken up talking about and passing round a few unexpected flavours including szechuan peppers, apricot chillis, yacon, the best english sparkling and still wines; being Debbie McGee to John Wright‘s Paul Daniels while making seaweed pannacotta; talking with Delny Britton about homeopathy*; and making nectarine salsa with Joe. The audience also got to eat nectarines, peaches and figs picked 3 days before in Italy and France and trained up to London, then posted to the showground. In between the nibbling, we talked rubbish which seemed to fit the occasion. Joe accidentally snorted part of a szechuan peppercorn. It all seemed to work rather well.

During any gaps, Joe were called upon to visit the show gardens, stands and exhibits, where we saw flowers (see, above) and got roped into lifting the world’s second largest marrow, although we weren’t called upon to help extricate it from the Toyota Corolla which had apparently carried it to the Show. Here, look, it’s true…and helpfully filed under ‘Odd News’. Although I’m not sure who that fool in the blue shirt is – perhaps the lovechild of Stephen Merchant and Lembit Opik. In the interests of journalistic balance, here’s Joe in need of a haircut.

At the end of both days Joe and I made nectarine salsa, partly because it’s in the new book and very delicious, partly because it’s a fine excuse to make a homegrown version and a supermarket one – you can see the difference in colour way before to get to taste the difference.

A lady came up to me after Saturday’s nectarine salsa demo. She’d loved it, and loved the English sparkling wine even more. She had to have my book. Luckily I had plenty of copies on the table that was between us. Would I mind signing it, no message, just signed please.

I’ve lost what little ability I have to write on account of typing morning, noon and night. My writing always looked good, even if you couldn’t actually read it; now even my signature looks like it was written by a turtle. An ill turtle.

She didnt seem to mind.

‘I love you on TV’ she said as I handed the book over.

‘Thanks’ I said, as I considered how much of a River Cottage fan she must be to have noticed me popping up when forced into it every series or two.

‘Shame you’ve had all your hair cut off..’

Oh dear. Unless she remembers me from the best part of two decades ago with long hair, she has me mistaken for someone else. And I think I know who.

‘And do you have the restaurant?’
‘Me? No’
‘Oh..I see…just for TV is it…well, I MUST say, I’m most disappointed’

She turned on her heel and shot off into the mist.

* Delny was gracious enough to let me start the interview with ‘Now this homeopathy…it is a load of old bollocks isn’t it?’

Apologies for the quality of the images – all taken by mine or Trent’s phone.

  • Tall stuff at the back – yep, you've cacked this designing lark (have to admit that stage does look pretty fabulous).

    By the way, did you and Joe wear those checked shirts in the Express piece for a bet? Just asking…

  • The Malvern stage looks great, top job by you and Trent.

    Just had a nice Amazon delivery from posty today… "A Taste of the Unexpected" which I'm totally engrossed in.

    A best seller for sure….

  • Hilarious!

    Thank you for signing my book. I promise I can tell the difference between you and HFW…

    My son is now insistent that we grow chillies. What have you started


    (Word Verfication: fructing. Does it know your post was about nectarines?)

  • I'm confused. Was it HFW then? And I was SURE you were going to say Anthony Worral-Thompson.
    Sounds like much fun, and the stage looks brilliant.

  • Lia – You're not the only one who's confused.

    Yes, I think HFW (I had glasses on which may have been enough for the dotty old bag)…but Joe thought it may have been just that random 'I recognise you but I don't know who you are' thing that sometimes happens. HFW was accosted int he street by a woman who grabbed him saying 'Oh look it's ….no…no…no, don't tell me …it's it's it's….oh bugger…got it…REESE WITHERSPOON!'

    And you're right you know, apart from me being 3 ft taller, 8 stone lighter, non-balding and without a beard I'm a deadringer for AWT

  • Top post as ever with much hilarity.

    For great pics on the move get ye to an iPhone and many apps of wonder.


  • I think you did a fantastic job with the stage – the photos will never do it justice as the light in the pavilion is always soooo flat.

    well done you – stage – amazing – talks – funny and informative.

    oh – and you look so much better now you have cut your hair.


    see you soon hopefully. x

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