Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rubbing Shoulders with Ricky Gervais at the Chelsea Flower Show

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It was Genevieve who drove me to Lyon at 7. 45 for my 9. 45 am flight to Gatwick airport. When we were only about ten minutes from the airport, I remembered that I had left the charger of my camera at her place. Of course, it was much too late for us to turn back to pick it up but she did promise to mail it to off to me as soon as she returned home.

It was heart breaking to say goodbye to Amaury and Louis, and I was grateful that they managed to hold back their tears--though Louis did tell me in English in the car that he loved me and Amaury did give me a little cadeau (a going-away present) for my journey--a red candy lollipop heart--AWWWW!

All went well with my return to Gatwick though our departure was delayed by the fact that there was just one immigration officer for an entire planeload of passengers! Despite that hitch, the pilot made up for lost time as we crossed the English Channel and arrived at Gatwick airport. I had made a booking with the Easybus to take me to Fulham Broadway from Gatwick's North Terminal. Since we had landed at the South Terminal, this involved taking a monorail train to the North Terminal, then rushing to the bus stand only to find that I would make my bus by the very skin of my teeth.

We left Gatwick at exactly 11 am, arrived at Fulham at 12 noon. It had been my intention to race off home on the Tube, leave my backpack at home, then take the Tube to get to Chelsea. I had, after all, in my possession, the hottest ticket in town--a ticket to the famed Chelsea Flower Show, which I had booked many months in advance. It had been a high priority item on my List of Things To-Do when I was in London and I had been thrilled to get a ticket for the very last day--even if this meant that I would have to return from France and rush off to the Show!

Adventures at The Chelsea Flower Show:
But, as happens so often at the weekends, there was some disturbance on the Tube lines and I had the worst time getting from Fulham to Holborn. Changing plans suddenly, I decided to go directly to Sloan Square and walk straight to the Flower Show, baggage and all. What a good thing I had the clairvoyance to carry my ticket with me to France!

All roads led to the Flower Show as I discovered when I got off at Sloan Square. It was a gorgeous spring day in London and I was blessed by perfect weather on which to see the best and most creative work of which British gardeners and horticulturists are capable. As I arrived at the Show grounds, I saw a large sign that said, "Chelsea Flower Show. Tickets All Sold Out". Boy, did I feel privileged to have my ticket in my hand and to be able to participate in this great annual London event. Only ten minutes later, I was entering the Chelsea Hospital Grounds where the beloved Chelsea Flower Show is held annually and there I was looking for the Cloakroom so I could leave my bag and my coat behind. It was rather warm and I was relieved to get rid of the layers I had thrown on in France.

The Chelsea Flower Show is one of the most interesting experiences I have had in London thus far and certainly one of the Highlights of my Year. Being alone, I could go wherever I pleased but I was hard pressed to decide exactly where I should head as the show was spread over a massive area. It took me a while to figure out that there were loads, indeed scores, of dealers and businesses of every sort. Anything that was even remotely associated with the gardening industry in this country had a presence at this Show. I had arrived there at exactly 12. 45 and since the Show closed at 5.00pm that evening, I had about five hours in which to see everything. Never having visited this show previously, I had no idea how long it would take me to survey the exhibits and I decided, soon enough, that I would only look at the shops after I had seen the main attractions.

But first I needed a floor plan. That's when I discovered that there was one, no many, to be had--but for a price! One of the most irritating things about Great Britain is that in addition to making you pay a small fortune for a ticket, you are also then expected to PAY for a program--this is as much true of theater shows as it is of exhibitions of this sort. Nothing comes free! I refused to part with 5 pounds for a hefty book that I would need to lug around in my hand for the rest of the afternoon when all I needed was a single page to help me navigate through the vast maze-- so I passed on that treat! Call me cheap, but I decided instead to ask for directions to the main exhibits--the show gardens that I was keen to see--because I hoped to pick up some ideas for our own gardens at Holly Berry House.

This quest took me past some of the most aggressive salesmen in the industry to a large tent where talks and demonstrations were in progress. Since I was keen to have a little sit-down, I took my place in the tent at the start of a talk and demonstration by one of the UK's most up-and-coming gardeners, one Robert Meyers, who that morning had won the People's Choice Award for the Cancer Research Show Garden that he had created at the Show. He used slides to showcase his gardens on the Amalfi Coast and after a while, I thought it would make better sense to see the gardens themselves rather than to look at a bunch of slides.

So I left the tent and found myself in a large area surrounded by white tents that beckoned, one of which had a long queue snaking out of it. You know, of course, what they say about the English: When they see a queue, they join it! Well, I have to say that I did the same--maybe I have been living in England too long!!

I did not know exactly what lay inside this enticing tent but in about ten minutes I found out and how delighted I was! This was the tent that showcased the flower arrangements of a bunch of the country's most astute hands. The arrangements made with fresh cut flowers towered around us on all sides. So many brides-to-be were taking pictures of the prize-winning exhibits and, of course, I sorely missed the use of my camera. Since I had no time to go home to download my Lyon pictures, I had no memory space left and could only treat myself to two or three pictures at most at the flower show.

It was not long before I realized that the show is overwhelming and that after a point your eyes take things in but you do not really 'see' them anymore--quite the way your mind behaves, for instance, in a museum. Oh, everything was spectacular and I certainly received my money's worth in that one tent, but there was still SO much more to see!

But then I was hungry and I desperately needed to find lunch. I headed off in the direction of the Food Court and after checking out all my choices, I decided I would opt for a large baguette filled with gourmet sausages: I had a Roast Pork and Apple one and a Venison one and I have to say that they were both outstanding. Served with fresh tomatoes and an onion relish which was delicious (featuring caramelized onions), it made a very satisfying and very reasonably priced lunch in a place in which EVERYTHING was overpriced! Knowing this, apparently, a lot of people had the good sense to carry picnic lunches and they sprawled on the lawns wherever they could find a spot to land their behinds...and they they opened their sandwiches and their cakes, their strawberries and their cheeses, their quiches and their scotch eggs and how great a time they seemed to have as they munched and sipped thier Pimms.

But for the exhibits which were very reasonably priced and would begin to be sold off at 5 pm, I found the place just insanely expensive. I mean I would not mind walking out with a colossal bunch of stargazer lilies for ten pounds...but I had my backpack that I had to drag along and I had another errand to run at Marks and Spenser (lingerie that I had ordered last week) that needed to be picked, of course, I had to pass up on the opportunity to purchase something memorable at the flower show.

I have to say that I completely enjoyed people-watching as I found a chair on which to eat my baguette and sausage lunch. Everyone was very suitably dressed for a warm summer's afternoon in London. There was many a straw hat around, adorned with large bows and ribbons. There was a lot of quiet pearl jewelry and some showy silver pieces, but most folks wore very casual khaki pants and loose cotton blouses or tank tops. Yes, they made purchases as was obvious from the loads they were dragging along: a new support for their tomato plants; a new wire basket for their flower arrangements, a new ornament in copper for their gardens. What a joy it would have been for me to pick up something small if I hadn't to think about carting it back to the States with me.

Then, I found the really large tent that was filled with every imaginable flower under the sun. As people ogled the vast arrangements of cut flowers in their deep baths of fresh cool water, they could choose their next lot of plants and flowers to place in their beds at home. Of course, being a lover of orchids I spent the longest time in the section devoted to these magnificent blooms and I did see some rather unusual grafted specimens in the most vivid colors. There was also the Rose Bower, so beautifully constructed, and so pleasingly perfumed. I did spend quite a long time there admiring the soft pink David Austin roses (my favorite kind) and was surprised to see that this was the only part of the flower tent that did not have any of the plants for sale. I wondered why!

It was while I was at the show gardens, the most popular part of the show, that I had my brush with celebrity--and I mean that literally. There I was looking at some unusual garden sculptures when I found myself rubbing shoulders with the person standing next to me. I turned around, said "I'm so sorry" and found myself looking straight at Ricky Gervais! Of course, for a few moments, I thought I was seeing things, but no, there he was, large as life, wearing a prominent pair of shades (as were most of the people at the show including myself as the sun was strong and the glare was annoying). So he couldn't have been wearing them for anonymity. In fact, he smiled and moved quietly away and I realized that while he would not wish to be recognized, he wasn't trying to walk around incognito. And yes, I soon realized that quite a lot of people recognized him too but they all respected his need for space and left him alone.

I did consider--and in all fairness I have to admit this--asking if I could take a picture with him because as everyone who knows me well knows that I am a huge fan, not so much of him as of the show--the BBC version of The Office which I have watched in the States on our local PBS channels long before the apology of the show which is the American version with Steve Carell (whom I rarely find funny) ever came into existence. But to actually see the writer and creator of the show standing right next to me, literally rubbing shoulders with me, was just too much!

Deciding that I had to behave myself, I did not request him to take a picture with me. However, I have to admit that I could not resist the temptation to take his picture, discreetly, so that he would not feel as if he were being hounded by the paparazzi. While he stood to admire some of the exhibits, I walked several feet away and took his picture as my brush with this comedian had simply made my evening!

Gervais walked around in a casual black hoodie with a casual pair of off-white Bermuda shorts and an outsize pair of sneakers. He has had a rather trendy haircut, the sort of layered kind that creates a distinct ridge at the back, and his hair was an unusual nut brown. He walked around very casually, not attempting to attract attention in the least. With him was a blond woman, equally casually dressed and not indicating any consciousness of her celebrity companion. She wore a black hoodie too and not a scrap of make up. Certainly it was clear to me that neither one of them wished to stop traffic--all they wanted to do was survey the exhibits just like any one of us. Occasionally, they exchanged a few words at a stall, then moved on. Yes, there were people who looked at them as they stopped to pet the black Labradors at one end of the open arena--were these guide dogs for the blind? I wasn't sure. While they patted the dogs, a few people gaped at Gervais with wondrous smiles on their faces but he seemed oblivious to their attention and moved on.

I have to say that I was both greatly impressed by his composure as well as moved by his humility. Here is a man, one of the world's most famous and most successful comedians, in the midst of one of the busiest exhibitions in the world (the show was fully sold out, by the way). And yet, he could go about his life just like any other human being. This is the kind of success that I believe all show biz folks most wish they could have--strong, satisfying careers in entertainment but the ability to live normal lives without being stalked by the public.

I spent the rest of the afternoon examining more of the show gardens and they were wonderful. Of course, for most of us, these will remain fantasies as we neither have the time, the money or the sweat equity to pour into the creation of gardens as lavish as these. But it was great fun to imagine myself in some of the more traditional gardens--the cottage garden kind. There was one red, white and blue garden, for instance, with which I fell completely in love. This was sponsored in part by The English Garden magazine as well as a couple of French companies and it featured the facade of a French cottage with Provence-blue shutters surrounded by a cottage garden with plants in the colors of the French flag. Set in front near the main door was a wrought iron table and two chairs with a porcelain tea service that strongly urged me to get out there and have a cuppa! Needless to say, this garden was mobbed by women who sighed all over it and took pictures back home that they will, no doubt, drool over all summer long.

Posing for a Picture with a Chelsea Pensioner:
Just when I thought I could not have had more fun, along came a Chelsea Pensioner. These are war veterans who have served their country well in military combat. The few I saw at the Show were decorated with impressive medals. They have reisdence rights in the quarters adjoining the Royal Chelsea Hospital and it is not unusual to see them hovering around in their uniform scarlet coats with their medals tinkling on their chests. The pensioner smiled at me and wanted to know where I was from. I smiled back and we spent a few minutes chatting together. Now while I had exercised enough restraint not to have requested a picture with Ricky Gervais, I was not going to stop myself from enjoying the rare privilege of being seen in the company of one of these venerable old men.

"Would you mind posing for a picture with me? I asked nervously.

"Not at all", he responded. "Where would you like me to stand?"

"How about right here?" I said, selecting a small raised garden complete with stone sculpture and white Easter lilies.

And so I had my souvenir of my visit to the Chelsea Flower Show--one I will alway cherish.
By that point in the evening, it was 4 pm and I had seen the most significant of the exhibits, had rubbed shoulders with a celebrity, heard part of a lecture by a renowned landscape designer and had chatted with a military veteran. I was tired and the thought of getting home to relax was tempting. Leaving the activity of the Show behind me, I found a bus heading towards Marble Arch where I alighted. I went straight to Marks and Sparks, picked up my order and was back home on the Tube and in my flat not too long after.
On opening my door, I realized how much this flat has come to seem like home in the nine months that I have spent here. The blinds were down and the cool darkness into which I entered was very soothing indeed. Though I was drooping with fatigue, I could not relax as I had two more important things to do: I had to make two calls--to Llew and to my brother Roger, both of whom share a birthday on May 23! But, then I discovered, to my disappointment, that I had no calling credit left on my cell phone. I had no option but to trudge down to Sainsburys to buy myself a voucher so I could make those calls and so, off I went to the supermarket.
A few minutes later, I was back home and on the phone making trans-Atlantic calls to Roger holidaying in South Carolina with his son, and then to Llew, of course, who was in Southport expecting the arrival of Chris and Chriselle later that evening for dinner. Two lovely long chats later, I was ready to spend a while soaking in a scented bath...but I still had to unpackand do laundry. So with those tasks accomplished, I finally treated myself to a shower and a bite of dinner and a bit of TV.

Overall, I have to say that I had the afternoon of my life! The Chelsea Flower Show, an event which I had long anticipated with the greatest excitement, had been just marvelous and I can only say how grateful I am that I was able to see it despite my crazy travel schedule and everything else that I have tried to fit within this year.

1 comment:

Chriselle Almeida said...

Hahaha- What fun! Only you, Mom..this would only happen to you! ;)