Friday, 28 August 2009

Summer Garden Party

After all the hard work on our pond we wanted to celebrate – so, we decided to have a summer garden party in our home, which we had on 22nd August 2009.

It was lovely. There were some 50 people there altogether (friends and neighbours) and the weather was wonderful; we were so lucky there.

There was plenty to eat and drink (well, far too much but that’s another story altogether); music (live and recorded) and lots of warm, friendly and lively conversation. People seemed very interested in each other, enjoying each others company. The atmosphere seemed quite special.

Our friend, Les Levidov played the violin; our other friend Dave Black played the guitar; whilst Naomi sang with Les playing. Victor (our middle son) played the guitar and Victor, Gregory (our youngest son) and I sang a song that Victor composed especially for the event, which he entitled ‘Infinite Expansion’. We also sang some other songs. In fact, Victor compiled a song sheet for it, which included songs such as Ralph McTell’s ‘Streets of London’, which he amusingly called ‘Victor Rikowksi’s Twenty Minute Sing-along Extravaganza!’ One or two others sang along with us.

Now, hopefully we will have another winter/Xmas party, and invite some more people - we discovered that our house is bigger than it seems, once the furniture is pushed back! We wanted this party to be somewhat exclusive though anyway. The idea is that for our next party live music will be higher up on the agenda, with sing-a-longs.

People kept coming and going throughout the whole afternoon and evening. The party started at 3pm and ended at about 1am the next day. There was also a barbeque, which Alexander, our eldest son, took charge of. Here is Alexander with the barbeque.

And here are Alexander and Gregory.

I gave lots of guided tours of the pond, as did Glenn!! I felt like a Tourist Information Guide at one point! People also liked the ornaments and flowers that were strewn around the garden and the hanging baskets. Our next door neighbours little girl fell in the pond – that added a bit of drama to it all, but both her and the pond were alright, thank goodness.

There were over a dozen neighbours there altogether, and we introduced some neighbours to each other. Some were quite amazed and amused to discover that they lived so near to each other, yet did not know each other. Another lady (who lives in a different part of the East End of London) met up with someone that she had not seen for years (one of our neighbours). After leaving us she went over to his house for a while. Two other people (a friend and a neighbour) shared an office together in the past, for quite some while - they had no idea that they would both be at the same party; that was very strange. Two other people found that they frequented the same local community centre and another two really enjoyed sharing a creative spark.

There were also a couple of quite heated political discussions - that added some spice! A couple of people said that they only intended to stay for a little while, but ended up staying for several hours. So, presumably they had a good time!

Several people contacted us afterwards – by email, telephone, facebook, face-to-face, text messages, post (snail-mail) etc, thanking us and saying how much they enjoyed it all. That was very nice. It was the first time we had ever done anything like it – the circumstances have never been right for us before.

The digital photos of the event were kindly taken by Victor - Glenn and I were too busy chatting!

Our life continues to change and evolve. Let’s see what is round the corner next.

28th August 2009

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


We embarked on an exciting project this summer – building a pond for wildlife in our garden! We have wanted to do this for quite some time; finally, it came together this summer (2009). None of it would have been possible though, without the skill, enthusiasm, inspiration, determination and hard work of our eldest son, Alexander, who studied horticulture in his late teens at Capel Manor College ( He gained a National Certificate in Horticulture (Hard Landscaping) from Capel Manor and then went on to become a self-employed maintenance gardener for five years. He is the only one of our immediate family (i.e. Glenn, Ruth, Alexander, Victor and Gregory) that is really good at practical work; we are, indeed, all very fortunate in having him and in being able to benefit from his practical expertise, as well as his love and kindness. In addition to the practical work involved, planning and designing the pond also enabled the artistic flair of our three sons (Alexander, Victor and Gregory) to shine through. Here is Alexander:

Planning, designing, and building his own pond was something that Alexander had wanted to do for many years. It was lovely to see his skills being brought together in this way; something that we can now all enjoy, rather than just using his skills and hard work for the benefit of his customers. I did suggest to him recently that it might be nice if he went back to some of his customers and took some pictures of their gardens now; it is never too late. He can also tell them about what he is currently doing - studying for a Philosophy degree at King’s College, University of London. Alexander worked very hard as a gardener (too hard in many ways); he was very dedicated and got a lot of praise for his work, some customers even saying that he was the best gardener that they had ever had! Hopefully, in time, he will be able to bring his skills as both an innovative gardener and a philosopher together. For our pond, we also wanted to create something of a magical space; a special inspirational place where one could go to think, contemplate, read, talk, as well as, perhaps, even to write. We are very pleased with the final result; it really all has come together. Here is Alexander and Victor.

The main enterprise took a couple of weeks in all, this summer; although there was also the preliminary work and we spent a few more days after that looking round for suitable pond plants and garden ornaments. The hole for the pond though had been dug a couple of years ago by Victor. As Victor was digging he came across something hard; we realised that it must have been an air-raid shelter. First of all, we thought it was a problem, then we realised the opposite – that it provided us with a shelf for the pond, that smaller pond plants can be placed on! How fortunate it was all turning out to be. Here is Victor and Gregory.

So, we had the hole. What next? Glenn and Alexander visited B&Q getting all the necessary material. There were many visits partly because Glenn was worried about overloading the car – it is only a small Renault Clio. Lots of gravel, sand, cement, rocks and stones, slate slabs, wooden edging etc were suddenly crowding the garden out! Glenn made some further trips on his own. Here is Alex and Gregory.

Then, with all this material in the garden, and with Glenn still going to B&Q our three sons suddenly seemed to be taking off and doing a lot of the work on their own – as can be seen in the pictures on this blog. Meanwhile, I was providing the much needed refreshments and words of encouragement! And here I am!

“How do we want it all to look”, Alexander asked? Victor offered some suggestions. But still – Alex needed to be sure that he was going to create something that both Glenn and I were happy with. The planning stage of this and any other project is, indeed, very important. It is just as important, for example, as the planning that I had to do to ensure a successful completion of the initial implementation stages of the Unicorn library management computer system when I was employed as a Project Officer at the international law company, Clifford Chance. Alex made it very clear to me that it is wrong to think that practical people do not/cannot think. Instead, thinking through practical projects is very necessary, indeed, essential. So, he asked our opinion. Glenn was not very forthcoming; his view seemed to be to just let Alexander get on with it, as he knew what he was doing. He also explained, though, that he partly adopted this attitude/felt like this because of the bad experiences he had about practical work when he was a child. Glenn’s father made him do a lot of practical work, working with cement and fences etc, building paths, driveways and much else (as well as repairing clocks) when he was a child. The outdoor work was very demanding and tiring, but Glenn was never given much appreciation. Instead, he was often told that he was not working hard enough; that, indeed, he was lazy. Glenn’s father got some of Glenn’s friends to help; his father paid the friends and praised their work. Heavens! These thoughts were clearly invading Glenn’s mind whilst he was involved with the making of our pond, and getting the materials. It saddened me; that his family was still dominating and spoiling our lives, to this extent. But such is life!

Personally, I was just so pleased to think that the whole thing was finally happening, that I did not really mind about the detail! Still I could see that my opinion on the planning and design of the pond was very important to Alex, so I gave it. I thought that a lot of gravel around the pond would be a good idea, because as Alex explained to me, this would make it low maintenance. Doing a lot of unnecessary weeding did not seem very appealing, if there was a simple solution, I thought! I also decided that we did not really want too many grey stone slabs; that would not have made it look so attractive. Instead, it would be better to have more gravel; a small table could also then be placed on the gravel. We were very aware of the fact that it was quite a small area, and we did not want to overcrowd it. Victor is very artistic and creative, and he was also very much of this opinion. So, there was general agreement, although we did not consult with Glenn further because of the reasons stated above. We thought it would just have resulted in another stressful situation. We knew that he would like the finished result anyway – as, indeed, he did. So, the work proceeded. Here is Alex and Gregory.

On the whole, Alexander really knew what he was doing – he learnt to design ponds as part of his course at Capel Manor College. He guided and advised the other two as well as working very hard himself. First of all, an old carpet was laid down in the hole. This was followed by black pond liner and weedblock was placed around the pond. The four of us then decided that it would be good to make a pretty effect round the edge of the pond and I thought it would be nice to make it all symmetrical. Some grey slabs were placed either side of the pond (6 in all), and lots of small, pretty stones were cemented in at the back and between the grey slabs. We thought the result was wonderful; very pleasing and really effective. 9 further grey slabs were then placed around the pond. It was all now really starting to take shape. Here are Alex, Victor and Greg.

Next, the steps had to be built. Alexander was the only one who had any idea about how to do this; he learnt how to build brick walls at Capel Manor. He explained to me that it was a very skilful job. This was all completely new territory to me. I had no idea that it was such a skilled and complex job. The first step took him about ten hours. Gregory was beside him, passing him the necessary materials, and just trying to be there for him, offering him advice, words of encouragement, as and when he could. They ended up working into the early hours of the morning; it was also all proving to be quite stressful for Alex. Glenn came out and said that they should stop because they might disturb the neighbours. However, they were being very quiet and it was not possible to stop just like that, in the middle of it all. Anger was building up and more stress was being created. I decided to go to bed!

The next day, Alexander was really worried about this step; he thought it was all wrong. He said that he thought he should break it up; heavens, after all the hard work he had put into it! I tried to reassure him but it was difficult. It must also be remembered that he had not done any work like this for some 3 years. I then suggested that it might be helpful if he looked in a book; books can give one tips, advice and ideas, and also not make one feel so alone. Well, I think that most people know how I feel about books by now! Luckily, we found a couple of books about ponds on our own shelves; ones that people had given to Alex in the past. He also did some searches on the internet and found some useful tips. Fortunately, he then felt reassured that he was on the right track after all.

Alex then decided to build a smaller step under the other one. Then, the two steps were finished; it looked lovely. We wondered why we had been quite so worried – but it is easy to say that in hindsight.

Then, Alexander, Victor and Gregory inserted some wooden edging, made a very attractive rockery and laid down the rest of the gravel; some of it going round the 9 grey slabs. Glenn bought a white bench and placed it on the gravel. Wow – everything was really starting to shape up. We also took lots of digital photographs at various stages of the project (a select few of which are now on this blog). Here is the rockery.

Time to celebrate and to have a barbeque, we decided. All the food tasted really good!

Then, the final stages – buying some attractive garden ornaments (ducks, bird bath, hedgehogs etc), and some pond plants, including a lovely lily. Glenn drove us out to various garden centres and nurseries in order to get all this stuff. That all proved to be really enjoyable. At Glenn’s suggestion, Victor also painted an old bin dark green which was placed next to the rockery with some plants in it; that was also quite effective. Suddenly, we spotted a frog in our pond already as well – how lovely that was! Then, Glenn put up a bird box and put some more plants in the rockery.

Here is Glenn, watering the plants.

All that is now left is to put a few more plants on the rockery, to place some sealant on the pretty stones round the pond for protection, and to put a log table in front of the bench (which we have ordered). Then, later on we can get a few small fish (such as loaches and minnows) and some more snails.

All in all, building our pond for wildlife has proved to be a very interesting and worthwhile project, which should give us many hours of enjoyment. It will be fascinating to see what wildlife goes into it, and how things shape up, change and develop. It was also lovely to see our three sons working so well together and getting on so well. Long may all this continue! And here they all are.

11th August 2009