"It allows them freedom from their condition so they can celebrate their bodies."
Very swish: looking like miniature culms of bamboo, water horsetail is a British native. Photograph: Getty Images Now’s the time when garden centre shelves are groaning with bedding plants destined to fill patio pots everywhere. With great reason – no other group of plants is as good at offering never-ending flowers throughout the summer. However, there are downsides. The annual production of millions of bedding plants in heated conditions, only for them to be wiped out and rebought the next year, churns out a lot of carbon. Not to mention the expense of forking out for them every year. Most have lush growth, which means come mid-summer you’ll be out every day with the hose, especially for patio pots. They require slavish devotion and return a hefty water bill. An alternative that can add far more surprise and delight, for a lot less input, are aquatic marginals. With massive architectural leaves and dazzling flowers, the large plants that grow on the banks of rivers or bogs can make excellent subjects for pots. Simply pick planters without holes to keep the moisture sealed in. Glazed ceramic filled with aquatic plant compost works a treat, as will many of the plastic, fibreglass or composite pots that are now sold with holes as “optional extras” to be punched though on their base. In my experience these require far less irrigation than porous terracotta or wooden planters filled with conventional bedding – more like once a week than once a day. For newbies, it’s also easier to get watering exactly right by simply keeping the level topped up to the rim of the pot, which takes all the guess work out of it. Thalia dealbata. Photograph: Linjerry/Getty Images/iStockphoto I love the elegant, boat-shaped leaves of the powdery alligator-flag, Thalia dealbata , that leap above the water’s surface on slender stems. Growing up to 150cm tall, its purple or white flowers that emerge on long antennae above the leaves perfectly complement its glaucous blue and silver foliage. If you crave something graphic and minimal, the water horsetail – Equisetum hyemale – has it in spades. Looking like miniature culms of bamboo, just without the canopy of fluffy leaves at the top, it is central to modernist, Japanese-style gardening, yet is (perhaps surprisingly) a British native. Known for its extremely vigorous growth, it can be a real thug if left to roam in any water feature that isn’t lake-sized, so confining it to a patio pot is the only way to keep its megalomaniac tendencies in check. If you are up for a little more work, in exchange for knock-out visual impact, you have to give the water canna ( Canna glauca ) a go. This has thinner leaves and much more delicate flowers than the big, blousy bedding types, and as the name suggests, requires boggy conditions to thrive. There’s also the wonderful imperial taro ( Colocasia antiquorum “Illustris”) that kicks out enormous shield-shaped leaves in charcoal brown, with acid green veins. As with the water canna, it is not frost hardy so will need lifting in the autumn, overwintered as a house- plant, then planted out again next spring. Email James at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Botanygeek
The babysitter is coming: time to give the house a much-needed clean Photograph: Tuomas Marttila/Getty Images‘That’s not, like, mess mess,’ I say to myself, looking at the plastic bin filled with bubble-wrap atop our fridge. It’s about 2ft tall, bulges with packing tape and – I think – Christmas wrapping paper. I stopped being capable of consciously seeing it about a year ago but, in preparation of our babysitter’s arrival, I’m heaving it to the front door, so it can be taken away with the recycling.She will be our first babysitter who’s not a relation, so I’m finding it hard to act natural, and fretting about appearances. The trick to a good babysitter experience, it seems, is to hire someone who won’t rummage through your things, but to clean your house as if they definitely will. This we did, transforming our house into the antiseptic hellscape we presume respectable people live in; no load-bearing food stains, no unwieldy clutter in every room. We cleaned the fridge door, scrubbed the bathroom mirror and washed out the cutlery drawers, careful to remove the biros and bits of fluff which had therein accumulated.A certain degree of mess becomes invisible to a house’s occupants, and parenthood only makes this worse. Life becomes such a never-ending sequence of larger wars against viscous effluent and bodily ejecta, smaller battles soon seem pointless. So it was that, for the first time in over a year, I noticed that the small saucer by the kitchen door - which once held loose change and a spare key - now holds about 18 quid in change, some crumpled bank statements, a USB stick, and a little bag of earphone accessories for a phone I lost two house moves ago.There are only so many aspects of this slovenliness I can blame on the baby, but I don’t mention this when the babysitter arrives. Instead, I map the frontiers of her patience via lengthy, facile explanations of how every house on earth works. This, she learned with some fascination, was a bathroom and, over here, we call this a TV. Pointing to the milk I’ve left on the table for the baby, I tell her that it’s milk I’ve left on the table for the baby. Hearing myself say she can help herself to whatever she likes from the fridge, I realise I’m just role-playing adults I’ve seen in American movies, and decide it’s time to go.I returned after a lovely time in the pub to find the house as I left it. Our baby remained mostly asleep and our sitter was not an inveterate rummager, nor an undercover health inspector. I give thanks for her time and wave her off from the door, happy to have passed a test that was almost entirely in my own head. Walking back inside I find the bubble-wrap bin is under my arm, and is soon back in place above the fridge. A jolt of change is good, but we needn’t be too hasty, after all.Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats
An FA-run centre where girls can have a go at the beautiful game. Photograph: Rex/ShutterstockSSE Wildcats, for girls aged 5-11 There are more than 1,250 FA-run centres across the country, where girls can try football, train and play. Weekly sessions after school and at weekends.Soccercise A football-themed workout for girls and women, Soccercise combines a variety of exercises with a football. Suitable for all fitness levels, it is designed to be an introduction to football, used as a pre-match warm-up or fitness class.Five-a-side Played on a smaller pitch with only five players on a team instead of 11, this is physically challenging and designed to give players more ball time.Walking football Played at walking speed and on a smaller pitch, this is a new format aimed at both new players and veterans working on their fitness or recovering from injuries.Where to start? Visit thefa.com to find football near you, or contact one of your local county FAs.• Rachel Pavlou is the FA national participation manager for women’s football.As told to Alexandra Boulton
‘I need to take a hard look at my habits and honestly appraise the way I work.’ Photographs: Getty; AlamyMy next tour is approaching in September, so I am doing what I always do at about this stage, which is spend more time looking at my working methods than working. My garage/office is strewn with Post-its, cards, folders, notebooks, yoga mats and multicoloured pens, all purchased in a quest to unlock a magic way of working that will ensure my ascension to next-level creativity.What has actually happened is that I could probably open a stationery shop. A friend recently commented on the clutter, which is obviously a bad thing. I then spent a good half an hour looking up the best ways to organise your office and am now the proud owner of an empty desk-tidy.Part of this journey has involved working out the best way to manage my time. Usually, if I have a day to write, I will spend the first hour thinking about how I am going to structure my day. I will also spend time helping my kids to get ready for school. Then I spend an hour making and eating breakfast, because balanced nutrition has suddenly become very important. I will then watch an hour of YouTube for some “inspiration kindling”. I will then look up time-management techniques because I am so depressed about the way I’ve wasted my morning – before realising it’s lunchtime. After lunch, I will watch some more YouTube, because it’s difficult to be creative on a full stomach, before writing for about 45 minutes. My kids will come home from school and I will play with them until their bedtime, before entering into a mental tailspin about my work ethic that keeps me up so late that I wake up exhausted. And then off we go again.I have decided this needs to be tackled. I need to take a hard look at my habits and honestly appraise the way I work. I have accepted that if I don’t start writing as soon as I am showered and ready, then my day will descend into a procrastination masterclass.I have also accepted that the psychology of having a whole day to write is too much for me. I think I’ve got acres of time, and so have no sense of urgency, and will happily spend hours looking into the bands featured in the Transformers movie. I have read that, when you are writing or working on something creative, and your attention wanders, your brain is processing and working on what you have just done. But I find it hard to believe that my brain is really taking five hours to fully process the seven minutes I have managed to spend focused on one thing.I have recently discovered the Pomodoro method. You split your time into 25-minute chunks: a short work sesh, and then a little break, and then your next bit. There is a real sense of achievement as you get more and more productive sections of time under your belt, as well as that gaming element of wanting to beat what you have achieved before.The only downside is that often ideas take longer than 25 minutes to formulate and consider, and so 25 minutes is an actual constraint. You can be in the middle of a complex idea, see your 25 minutes is up and then all you’re thinking about is your reward toast. Working around this flaw is infinitely better than spending my day testing different porridge recipes. (Cook with almond milk in a pan before adding a tablespoon of peanut butter and a dash of cocoa. Nailed it.)
‘I stacked my basket high.’ Photograph: Getty ImagesLast year, I wrote about becoming (sort of) middle class after growing up skint. My feelings haven’t changed: I still feel this life is not my own, and that I am merely a tourist passing through.But I have my moments. Like when, over Easter, my teenage cousin was talking about Jesus, using the Arabic word Isa.“I’ve been thinking about Isa,” she started. “Great!” I replied. “It’s never too early to think about an individual savings account.”It’s the imperceptible stuff – the behavioural codes learned from birth, the way people banter over a table – that I stumble over. Frankly, I think most of it is designed to exclude, and is quite daft. (My favourite faux pas is to go to a restaurant with my posh pals and, if my food hasn’t arrived, fail to say: “Please don’t wait for me.”)Yet I envy the confidence that some of these peers project. It’s like magic. I remember a security guard saying to one, while he searched his bag: “You’ll have to bin that water and buy a new one.” My friend just looked at him very closely, and in a soft, clipped voice said: “No, I don’t think I will.” The guard stepped aside.I mention this because of what happened at Waitrose. I don’t usually shop there, but I was passing. I stacked my basket high and paid for the goods at the self-checkout. But there were no carrier bags to be seen; only impatient customers behind me, tutting. I felt judged. I panicked. So I put all the things back in the metal basket, picked it up, and walked home with it, leaving passersby to wonder what they’d seen.I found out later that you have to ask for bags, by which time I’d returned the basket. The funny thing was that nobody said a thing. Politeness, probably, or perhaps I had finally cracked it. Could it be I project a certain confidence after all?
My fianc e is an alcoholic and, although he has admitted it , we go round in circles when he returns to hiding cider in his bag. He blames his drinking on work stress (he is a chef) and he was diagnosed with anxiety two years ago. Medication helped, but as soon as he feels better he stops taking it and goes back to drinking , even at work . The last time he had a panic attack it was so serious I had to call an ambulance. We have two small children and I can’t cope . What do I do? How do I protect my family? When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments that appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed. • Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site. • If you would like fellow readers to respond to a dilemma of yours, send us an outline of the situation of about 150 words. For advice from Pamela Stephenson Connolly on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns. • All correspondence should reach us by Wednesday morning. Email firstname.lastname@example.org (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms
"[The migraines] were completely debilitating. I was always having time off work because the pain meant I couldn't get out of bed - no amount of painkillers would work."
‘I think a society can be measured by how its strangers interact.’ Photograph: Getty ImagesI am often in agreement with Jean-Paul Sartre’s idea that hell is other people, particularly other people on a sweaty, height-of-summer bus, or in a bar queue, or “whispering” in cinemas. But this makes it all the more pleasing when I find commonality and shared enjoyment with strangers.One of the best examples of this is when watching sporting events. I cannot tell you the number of high fives given and received with fellow Liverpool fans in random pubs – my best mates for 90 minutes, and without the lifelong lie of pretending to like their spouse. I have hugged people from every walk of life after a ball ricocheted off the crossbar and over the line in the final minute.The bucolic version of this is the nod-and-smile that walkers exchange as they pass, wearing bucket hats and boots, fleeces with shorts: always an outfit for two seasons. We smile as if to say: “Look at this! Nature! Not social media!” It’s like sharing a secret, except it is hectares big and smells of pine and cowpats and not-work. I’m also what my friends call a “mingler”, by which I mean it is not uncommon for me to end up playing Scrabble with people from the next table over at the pub, exchanging niceties and numbers.There is a beauty, too, in strangers coming together in collective annoyance. The mutual eye-roll on a delayed train or the group tut at jobsworth security guards. Conversely, there is the symbiotic ecstasy of a gig encore; the drunken, raucous laughter in the loos with people whose names you won’t remember in the morning.Despite the stranger danger we were warned of as children, strangers can represent safety, too: the women who don’t know each other, but come together when a threatening situation unfolds; the men who step in, too; people, splashed on the front pages, who come to the aid of others in extreme danger or natural disasters.It is said that a measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable. I think it can also be measured by how its strangers interact: how they intersect, rub along and share spaces, experiences and moods. From something as simple as a door held open, to the stranger who pulls you by the collar from an oncoming lorry, to the fellow booers of George Osborne at the Paralympics.It might be going too far to say that heaven is other people, but I will never not love the interchanging of spirit, or the quasi-religious experiences that can be shared with someone you don’t know from Adam.