Saturday, 30 August 2008

Top Talk - Eastenders here I come

Top Talk

It seems Ray MacAllan is rarely off our screens. “I’ve been kept busy, he admits , “I’ve been in Eastenders, Coronation Street, The Bill, Holby City, Honest and Dream Team. And I’ve got a big part coming up again in Eastenders,” he adds, “that’ll be exciting.”
“You won’t have much time for gardening then?” I venture boldly.
The popular actor agrees, quite cheerfully. “I only ever do the really basic stuff anyway. To be honest I don’t like picture postcard gardens, I much prefer a natural garden. When I lived in the Peak District there was a huge natural rockery in the garden. It was beautiful. Wherever I’ve lived, Mum has always come around and given me advice on what to plant and prune. As I’ve changed houses the advice has varied hugely. I’m lucky now as I’ve only got a small garden and my nephew has his own landscaping business so he helps me out. It’s nice to have a beer and watch him!”
Ray is on his way to his weekly Tai Chi class. “We are out in the park tonight,” he explains. “It’s so beautiful, surrounded by peace and quiet - just listening to the birds singing. I love to meditate next to running water too; it all makes you feel at one with Nature. When filming is hectic, it’s a great way to relax.”
“It annoys me when we mess with Nature,” he continues, “we should pull our socks up and be looking for other forms of energy. I know it’s controversial but I’m all for wind farms. There’s a large one between Sheffield and Leeds and it actually looks quite soothing and meditative. And we should make more of the sea’s energy and power. Surely the technology is available? If we can put men on the moon we should be able to harness the Earth’s natural energy; the sun and the wind. “I run through our beautiful Parks and woodland and get annoyed when I think how we are depleting our Planet. Nature is so giving; we must learn not to take so much or at least to give something back.” Ray is putting something back by running the New York Marathon for Leukemia Research and will appreciate all support and donations. Contact him directly at for details of how to contribute.

Date for the Dairy

IOG SALTEX is at Windsor Racecourse from 2-4 September. Its must see for anyone in the landscaping, grounds care, sports facilities and amenities sectors. With live working demonstrations, new product launches and over 500 stands and stalls, it’s a great day out and an annual holiday for many grounds men, landscapers and forestry workers. For free registration contact 08445576500
See You There
I will be opening Llangynidr Agricultural Show and Fun Day tomorrow (Sunday), which also incorporates the Village’s 65th Gardening Show. It promises to be great fun and the night will be danced away with a disco and a traditional hog roast. Come along and say ‘hello’; for more details contact 01874 730287

Great Balls of Fun

I know a few people who think they can walk on water but now anyone can. The amazing Walk on Water Ball is a 6 ft diameter inflatable ball that actually allows you to ‘mess about on the water’. A little extravagant at £229.00 but a lotta of fun. And if you prefer dry land, then check out the gigantic 3 m high Rolerball that accommodates two strapped-in people and promises the most awesome adrenalin rush. For the large garden and large pocket at £999.00, but worth just visiting the site to watch the video.

Did You Know?

Although temperatures for last year’s August Bank Holiday reached 24 degrees, in 1996, 1986 and 1976 Wales had wet and windy Bank Holidays with gales and thunderstorms. What will this weekend bring?

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Just in Time North to South on Horse Back

Top Talk

I caught up with ‘Belonging’ actor Steffan Rhodri as he came back from horse-riding. I’ll be ‘living’ in the saddle soon,” he explains, “so I’m preparing.” Also known for his role as Dave the bus driver in Gavin and Stacey, Steffan is taking part in the ‘Amswer Justin Time Horse Ride Challenge’ that is raising money and awareness of pancreatic cancer; a disease that claimed the life of talented TV director, editor and performer Justin Smith.

Leaving Tallacre Beach, near Prestatyn in North Wales at 11 o clock on August the 25th Steff, together with Shan Cothi, Brychan Jones, Brychan’s wife Sian, Justin’s sister Branwen and friend Chris Lewis will be riding the (roughly estimated) 287 miles down through Wales arriving in Ogmore on the 14th September. “I’m the least experienced rider,” confesses Steff, “but I have discovered I’m very good at mapping the routes and finding little bridle paths and Rights of Way. And we’ve also organised some amazing events and concerts at various towns along the way.”
The Twin Town actor, continues, “ I think the most magical thing is going to be seeing Wales as a spectacle. I feel I know Wales well as an Actor but really it’s only the towns, and roads between them, that I ever see. I’m looking forward to riding over mountains, through valleys and rivers.”

Does his appreciation of the countryside mean he’s also a keen gardener? “I’m the World’s Worst Gardener”, he claims adamantly. “I had an allotment once and after spending a day trying to clear it I gave up. I hated it. Dad was a good gardener and my sister has followed in his green footsteps but in some weird sort of transaction I am more like my Mum and would rather do the cooking. In fact,” he admits, “in every relationship I have had I’ve made it clear that I will do the cooking to avoid gardening – it’s always been a kind of trade off.”
For more details, the itinerary, event information and to make a donation to the Welsh based Charity, pop into or call Harlequin Agency 07966704548

Seasonal Spuds

Enjoying the taste of new potatoes straight from the garden at this time of year reminds me to prepare a later harvest for Christmas dinner. There is still just time to plant Carlingford tubers, known as Christmas New Potatoes, in large pots or tubs, so they can be moved into a shed or greenhouse to protect from frost. Available from or call 01473 688821. Dearer than other seed potatoes, they are worth every penny.

Back to Our Roots

Alternatively, have the’ new potato taste’ at Christmas by storing August’s potatoes. Lift new potatoes now and place uncooked, unwashed and unblemished potatoes in a biscuit tin. Cover with slightly damp silver sand (not builder’s sand: silver sand is low in iron oxides and salt and is used in children’s sand pits) which can be bought from most garden centres and DIY Stores. Then bury the tin about three feet deep and dig up on Christmas Eve. This old-fashioned method of storing veg is known as the ‘clamp’ method and works well with any root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot.


I think there is a niche for a ‘summer wellington boot’. And coming close to that, for kids anyway, is a fantastic range of waterproof footwear from They stock little frog, bumble bee and ladybird shoes and ankle boots that would make Gok Wan weep. Also available are ‘paint your own’ wellies – ironically, a great idea for keeping kids amused on rainy days. Call 077767 497443 for more details.

Saturday, 9 August 2008


Top Talk
Coronation Street actress Vicky Binns starts the conversation by admitting she often goes back to her Mum and Dad’s to relax, by pottering around their garden. “It’s the nicest place in the World,” she tells me, “I have got a small flat in Manchester and it drives me nuts being without a garden.”
I wonder if Vicky, who plays Molly in the popular soap, gets involved and helps out? “Good grief, no,” she laughs, “I just listen to Dad telling me about all the things he does to keep the garden looking so good.”
“We were in the garden the other day and Dad said, ‘smell those’ pushing a bunch of sweet peas in my face. It was amazing it immediately reminded me of being a kid. Scent is so emotive. I was 10 again. Dad told me that he loves lobelia because it reminds him of his childhood when his Granddad used to grow it. Dad used to call it ‘low- belia’ she shrieks with laughter.
Vicky does however, have aspirations to grow all her own vegetables one day. “My last landlady and I grew some veg and tomatoes in grow bags at my last flat,” she recalls. “It took us about 4 months to grow one pepper which we cut in half and stuffed to share. And our tomatoes were quite good,” she adds. “I really don’t have much time at the moment,” she explains, “ as I have a heavy story line. I love being busy and we’ve got some new actors starting soon which is exciting. I think I’ve been in every episode for the last three weeks.” Vicky is obviously, and deservingly, very proud of ‘Molly’s’ forthcoming marriage to the Street’s loveable mechanic Tyrone.
I ask if Coronation Street is home to any keen gardeners? “I don’t think so,” she considers, “everyone is pretty busy. I don’t hear any one talking about gardening, though some of the cast are in to ‘keeping fit’ and love walking and running outdoors.”
Is it true Vicky has made her own Keep Fit DVD. “I was actually approached by someone to do that. She giggles, “they asked me how did I fancy losing a bit of weight and doing a dance video?
Was she offended? “Not at all,” she giggles even more, “I am very much aware of who I am and how I look and it was a great one-off opportunity to have a proper trainer and to get fit. ‘Dance It Off’ was great fun and hopefully inspired ‘normal’ people like me to get into shape and improve their confidence. I’ve managed to keep the weight off too.” She adds proudly.
It’s hard to imagine the likeable, light-hearted actress having any grievances but she stresses that her natural instinct is to hate waste. “I hate throwing anything away and all the plastic packaging drives me mad. Why put lovely organic fruit in layers and layers of plastic?” She rants. “I would love to boycott the supermarkets but it’s all about convenience.” She explains. “Back to being busy; life is so fast-paced today.”
And almost by way of explanation she makes her apologies as she is called back to complete her scene.

Did You Know?

The Anglo-Saxons called August ‘Weod Monath’ which means ‘weed month’ – referring to the rapid growth of weeds (grass and other plants) at this time of year.
Watch the Weather
I am a self-confessed gadget-girl and my latest temptation is the new weather-forecasting watch from Oregon Scientific. Measuring barometric pressure to bring you a simple-to-read forecast, it is apparently amazingly accurate. It is also waterproof which is quite a selling point for those of us working outdoors this summer! £39.99 from

Left, Right, Left, Right

Next Monday (11th) is International Left-handers Day. Apparently on average, left handed people have higher IQ’s; famous left-handers include Prince William, Marilyn Monroe and Leonardo da Vinci and 1 in 4 Apollo astronauts were left-handed (250% more the normal level). And now there are tools, including secateurs, edging shears and tape measures, for the ‘lefties’ too. I was told, ‘if you have to ask why left-handers can’t use ordinary tools then you must be right-handed’.
For more information, a range of tools and a chance to join the Left-Handers Club, visit or call 0208 7703722

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Top Cooking

Top Talk

Author and broadcaster Gilli Davies admits she was lucky to be ‘in’ at the beginning of TV cookery programmes and was therefore, able to promote the benefits of local food production. “I stumbled into it,” she told me. “I had trained as a secretary and worked in fashion and at the time I was a nanny for a couple who owned a pub. One night they were short staffed so I put the baby to bed and went to the kitchen. It was just wonderful, I immediately knew wanted to cook. I later started writing by taking over a cookery column and that led into broadcasting – none of it was planned but I absolutely loved it. I worked with Nick Bailey from Classic FM and set fire to his studio once or twice,” she laughs.

Does the popular author grow her own veg? “I have grown a lot in the past. We love peas and beans so we just grow those now. And we’ve got raspberry canes and currants in the garden. Herbs have always been very important to me and I’ve got a lovely herb bed just outside the kitchen window full of different sages, bronze fennel, sorrel, rosemary and bay. I love cooking with fresh herbs and using them in salads. I love broad beans with parsley sauce but I’m working on a recipe that keeps the herb but not the white sauce. Maybe a herby vinaigrette?” she says almost to herself. “Rhodri Morgan once challenged me to make a fat free Welsh cake. I managed it and sent him the recipe based on a fat free yoghurt.”
Gilli’s real passion is sourcing her ingredients. “ I love shopping on the wing, foraging for the ingredients and then putting a dish together with what I’ve found. The fun is sourcing the produce.

When I was based in Wales, she is now based in Yorkshire with husband Peter Cliff, I had to travel to London to meet with producers of Welsh produce. The logistics were daft but it inspired me to write about Welsh food and in the series Tastes of Wales we simply celebrated local food. I’m not too precious about organic produce. I think it is more important to be local and at the very best, straight out the garden. Organic beans from Kenya are just not the same.”

Gilli’s latest book Celtic Cuisine can be purchased from all good bookshops or visit for more details of Gilli’s cookery school (‘for men too,’ she adds).

Gilli’s Green Tips

Gilli and Peter have spent the last two years concentrating on ways to change their energy consumption. “We have put in solar panels which heat all our hot water and have cut down our electric bills enormously. She says and adds proudly, “I drive a Skoda 1.8 which does an amazing 55 miles to the gallon. I also play lots of golf which takes ages and keeps me out of the shops, stops me spending money and collecting all that packaging.” She laughs.

Fire Service

Recently voted Best Gardening Product of The Year, the enamelled Fire Bucket barbeque might come in handy now we are actually having a summer. Some bright spark has transformed the traditional fire bucket to provide a funky, portable barbeque for alfresco fun. £24.99 from or call 01923750075. The same company also have the great Tennis Fly Swatters. The fabulous electric bug-zapping, tennis racket style swatters are an effective and entertaining way to annihilate flies and mosquitoes for only £9.99.

Did You Know?

Houseflies hum in the middle octave, key of F and take off backwards; mosquitoes have 47 teeth and are twice as attracted to the colour blue than any other.