Ecky thump is an ancient Lancastrian martial art. Particular to women of a certain age, practitioners operate by spinning on one of their 1 inch heeled black shoes. Heavy handbags are swung in an arc which coincides with the opponent’s head. If the bag does not contain enough weight in and of itself, a half brick or helping of coal may be introduced, to obtain the necessary gravitas. When the weapon connects, the war cry or kai of the aggressor is what gives the sport its name. The response, by way of submission is, of course, “Give over wi’ your bother.” When a referee is called in, the phrase of mediation is “’Ave a care.” The general idea is to incapacitate your adversary before they can beat you to the bargains. The beauty of the game in the hands of an expert is that few contusions are visible upon your antagonist, which may be photographed and produced as evidence in a court of law.
Ilex aquifolium (holly) 'Silver King'

Ilex aquifolium (holly) ‘Silver King’

As promised before, I’ve been on the road to suss out seasonal bargains. Along the route to Preston, there are any number of nurseries and garden centres but Sooty’s is one of my favourites for good quality plants at decent prices. The main sale starts in October, when the current year’s stock including many containers, is flogged at half price. Sadly I missed the early deals but last weekend I made good my lack. If you want colour for a particular time of year, that is the moment to hit the shops with eyes peeled and pulses pounding. My front garden is currently tidy but charmless, so I bought cyclamen, double primulas and a Mahonia to cheer up a dull corner. I got a wonderful heavy pot for the conservatory for twenty-five quid (down from £50) which Attila steered to the car, with me running around him in circles peeping “Don’t chip it, don’t drop it, is it safe for the journey home?”
Skimmia 'Magic Marlot'

Skimmia ‘Magic Marlot’

One thing that I have learned from many years of horticulture and shopping is not to buy anything that is dying, recently deceased or dead as a can of spam. You would not believe the hours that I have spent crouched over a collection of sticks, certain that if I give enough love and care, they will burst into green growth, festooned with flowers in gratitude for my perseverance. It’s happened twice, well, once if I’m honest. Thus I spurned the offer of gnarled brown stems for free, despite the nagging voice in my head which told me perhaps this time… Some sale items will be better planted in the spring; if they are stuffed in the ground now, they may droop under the assault of frost and snow, long before they can establish any roots. I over winter such specimens without messing with them, restricting myself to keeping them from drying out. Beneath surly skies the colour of a three day old bruise, I put the rest of my booty in the soil and watered everything thoroughly, despite the promise of a downpour to come.
Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae

Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae (Mrs Robb’s bonnet)

Since I was not present for the real rummage, I had the shop to myself. The staff are knowledgeable, helpful and friendly and I came away delighted with my purchases. All of the expert hagglers were elsewhere, tussling for televisions and toasters so I didn’t need medical attention, nor did I have to rinse my boots, bag or umbrella after my own enthusiastic participation in the scrum. I have no black eyes, lumps, bumps or abrasions but you can’t win everything.