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Very Capable

In order to take my mind off the interminable but important tedium of having platelets sucked out of my bloodstream I popped into a discount store in Luton this week and picked up a book. As I looked with some envy at the huge bloke in the bed next to me who only had a mere 56 minutes to deliver his contribution compared to my epic 78, I tried to concentrate on making myself feel better. Incidentally I am very happy to be back donating platelets even if it is a bit uncomfortable, and bless those forced to undergo dialysis, which is pretty much the same machine. Being not the biggest person in the world (despite the middle age paunch) I seem to be resistant to giving up the good stuff in my blood. This not only meant my arm wanted to drop off by the end of it but I was forced to watch ‘Escape to the Country’ and get irritated by the people who say they want X, Y and Z and are presented by X, Y and Z (with a cherry on top) and still decide they don’t like it (maybe it is the cherry come to think of it, I’ve never been a huge fan but my late and wonderful Nana would not have accepted Christmas cake without cherries, and generally she knew her stuff).

I’m digressing again, sorry folks. The book was a Hugh Dennis scribed thing about being English and while I wish it had been funnier I did find myself laughing along to one thing in particular – a fantasy scenario of Capability Brown with his branded white van popping off to do another job in the middle of doing Blenheim Palace (on the grounds he managed to restructure the grounds of about 170 stately homes in the UK he certainly git around). The Lovely Wife and I have a running family joke that Capability Brown was actually a franchise operation of the Eighteenth century, but actually that was probably not far from the truth. For the uninitiated, Capability Brown’s oeuvre was to sweep away formal gardens and replace them with a park landscape that put the house in harmony with the land around it – even if that meant fiddling with that to create something that looked natural but was actually completely artificial with altered topography and water features. And he was pretty damn good at it too, as is clear from the fact that so many of these created landscapes survive today – people were either taken in completely and feel they are actually natural, or maybe his grasp of the aesthetic was really that good in the first place.

I like Capability Brown, which I appreciate is not a usual aspect from a British person (to like someone that was a huge success, normally we like to push people off their Ha Has in to the ditch). He had a good product that was properly attuned to the time, and had a high work ethic. That should always pay dividends in my opinion.

I do find it quite ironic though that when I volunteer at Wrest Park House and Gardens in Bedfordshire, pretty much the only example of a proper period formal garden, Versailles-esque, in the country, not only was Brown employed there , there is even a monument to him on the site. But Jemima, Marchioness Grey, who was in charge at the time, either did not have the money, or, as I prefer to think, liked the gardens so much that she only got Mr Brown to dabble around the edges and to leave the bulk of the garden untouched for us to enjoy. An engaging lady it seems – she was a patron and friend of one of my personal heroes, the brilliant actor and theatre owner David Garrick – I like to think that she and Brown got on well, and that maybe he was happy to do something more subtle and sensitive than the normal product.

Well, the thought helped me through the donation, anyway.

Two appeals – first, if it is possible, do consider being a blood donor (it will cost you time and a little discomfort but it will save someone else’s life, especially if like me you are a rare blood type) and two, and far less important, visit Wrest – and admire one of the more unusual gardens left to us in the country.


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