A Short History Of England

PeriwinkleA warm wind swept through overcast Downton and across The Solent this morning when I took my usual walk to Hordle Cliff top and back. Sheltered among the hedgerows, perky periwinkle still trails along the ground.

On my return, I wrote the rest of my share of our Christmas cards and put them in the post.

Simon Jenkins, a former editor of The Times, having completed his six year stint, has recently retired as Chairman of The National Trust. It was in association with that body that Profile Books published his ‘A Short History of England’ in 2011. I finished reading it this afternoon. Jenkins has a thorough grasp of the story of how today’s England has emerged, from the Dark Ages of the fifth century, when the Angles arrived from Germany, to the date of publication.

He writes, in a clear, simple, elegant, and often humorous style, of the country’s heroes; villains; triumphs; disasters; conflicts, both internal and external; and its development into global prominence then partial eclipse. He unravels for the lay reader key individuals and events in our history. Anyone, for example, who can clarify ‘The Wars of The Roses’, as he does, is worthy of admiration.

This concise yet comprehensive single volume deserves to be read by anyone with a wish to understand English history. All is intelligible, and such quotations as are included are brief, illustrative, and pithy. Having sometimes thought their use in history books is rather more to fill out the text than to lend it credibility, I found this refreshing.

Packed with colour illustrations, all of which are credited, the book has a useful index and appendices of 100 key dates; Kings and Queens; and Prime Ministers.History of England jacket

Naturally the choice of the four personages chosen to adorn the book jacket could be debated, but it is interesting all the same. From left to right we have King Edward III, undoubtedly the greatest mediaeval king; Queen Elizabeth I, who gave her name to a Golden Age; King Charles I, who was executed by his people; and Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, who saw us through the Second World War.

This evening yesterday’s delicious curry meal was, with its beverages, reprised today. As always, it had improved with keeping.

The Reluctant Recliner

On another unseasonably warm, mostly overcast, day, Jackie drove Becky and me to Emsworth and back, so that our daughter, who, with her family is still with us, could keep an appointment. I wandered around the town, walking down Queen Street to Slipper Mill Pond, then back up the hill and round to the harbour and the Mill Pond.Dolphin Quay 1Dolphin Quay 2Reflected mastsHullBoat buffersCoot 1Coot 2Egret

First I came to Dolphin Quay, from which I took the footpath along the pond and watched gulls, an egret, and coots scratching around in the silt, or paddling in the shallow pools.

The tide was out in the Slipper Pond and the harbour, but the Mill Pond provided a good swimming area for various water fowl, such as elegant swans; further coots, one of which admired its reflection in a film of water on the concrete; and mallards parading in their colourful mating regalia.GullsMill PondMallardsEmsworth harbour boats ang gullsThe Oyster Trail signThe Oyster Trail

Between the harbour and the Mill Pond runs The Fisherman’s Walk, part of The Oyster Trail which is described on an encased information board.

On our journey back to Downton, I bent my head downwards at some point. Knowing my propensity for falling asleep in the passenger seat, Becky, behind me, assumed this is what I had done. She went on to recount an occasion when, in 2007, she had driven me and Flo back to London from a trip to Newark. Apparently I had nodded off in the front seat and Becky directed Flo, who sat behind me, very, very, gradually to turn the wheel at the side of the chair so that I could adopt a fully reclined position. This had to be done inches at a time in order to effect a smooth drop so that I would not be woken. ‘Mum, Mum’, our granddaughter would whisper at intervals in order to indicate the inefficacy of the exercise. Flo was enjoined to continue until the seat was prone. I remained fully erect, unsupported, and fast asleep with my chin on my chest. Flo then was instructed to reverse the process. Keeping the necessary silence must have severely tested both mother and daughter.

This evening, before the Emsworth family returned home, we dined on Jackie’s superb chicken jalfrezi (recipe), egg korma, savoury rice, and paratas; followed by a choice sweets, mine being egg custard. I drank Reserve des Tuguets Madiran 2010. and Jackie drank Hoegaarden. The others chose sparkling water.

A Re-opening

Blackberry blossomCherry blossomThis was a warm sunlit day. Not only were the last of the summer blackberries ripening in Downton Lane, but  fresh blossom was turning to fruit, and a Japanese kaiga painter had reproduced a pattern of pink cherry against the clear blue sky over Shorefield.Shadows of five-barred gateIsle of Wight, The Needles, lighthouse

Long shadows were cast, and the Isle of Wight, The Needles, and their lighthouse stood sharply alongside The silver Solent.

A Re-opening

I am optimistic about the re-opening of our neighbouring pub, The Royal Oak. The new tenants, Debbie and Carl Millward, are experienced publicans who should be able to resuscitate the necessary atmosphere of a country hostelry. This evening they opened for drinks. Food should be available in a day or two, but  this evening what was available was generous bar nibbles, so we all had an enjoyable couple of drinks and convivial conversation with the publicans and Debbie’s parents Jill and Ken. There was a good attendance of local people. .After this Jackie collected takeaway fish and chips from Old Milton and we enjoyed them at home with mushy peas and pickled onions.

Our Christmas Fairy

Our fairy helper was very busy overnight, embellishing every corner of the house with Christmas decorations. Here is a selection:Christmas decorations on windowsillChristmas decorations on mantlepieceChristmas decorations on mirror

One string above the photograph of Flo on the sitting room wall is particularly pertinent to the season. Beginning with our granddaughter’s first conscious Christmas Jackie, for a number of years, produced an annual fairy dress for her. This, the second, was the first of a series Granny actually made from scratch. As the festive season progressed, her tiny tummy expanded, and the garment became gradually tighter, but the little fairy adamantly refused to take it off.

Christmas decorations on Flo's pictureChristmas decorations in kitchenChristmas decorations at bottom of stairsChristmas decorations in sitting room

Ragged robin straggled among fallen autumn leaves on Downton Lane when I took my Ragged robin and autumn leavesHordle Cliff top walk this morning. Apart from the presence of its avian namesake perched Robinon a clifftop post it was hard to believe that this was mid-December in Albion.

Mallards on streamTwo pairs of mallards scooted along the Shorefield stream, where I had to be quick to take this shot.

Feeling rather smug at having written half our Christmas cards in time for second class post this afternoon, I flourished my fountain pen, the top of which flew across the room and under the sofa. This meant, I thought, a painful grovel underneath for its retrieval. Our lithe Christmas fairy, however, was much more up (or down) to the task, and fished it out for me.

This evening Becky and Ian came to stay the night and take Flo home tomorrow. We all dined on Jackie’s superb roast lamb meal followed by rice pudding covered in raspberry jam and/or evap. I finished the Madiran, Jackie drank Hoegaarden, Ian Leffe. Becky drank rose wine and Flo J2O.

Decorating Day 2

For some reason best known to themselves Flo and her family take a perverse delight in occupying my chair on their visits. This reached its pinnacle on March 31st 2013. On that occasion Matthew’s Oddie joined in on the act. He was often the sole occupant but the post ‘Whose Chair Is It Anyway’ describes how this did give him logistical problems. When I Chair decoratedcame downstairs this morning I found that the chair had been festooned with decorations. Since our granddaughter goes to bed much later than we do, there can only have been one culprit.

I reversed my Hordle Cliff top walk this morning. In Shorefield Country Park, where the tilt Trees and caravansBlackbirdof trees adjacent to the footpath to the sea demonstrated their vulnerability to the ocean breezes, blackbirds scurried in the hedges and foraged on the lawns.

Kite surferA lone kite surfer sped skimming over the surface of The Solent, the horizon of which bore a silver lining.

Balloon on streamBlackberriesOn Downton Lane the MacDonald’s balloon had floated under the bridge and become snagged further along the stream. A few feeble blackberries in the hedgerows were continuing their attempt to ripen.

Christmas lights in study 3Christmas lights in study warming panChristmas lights in study desk areaChristmas lights in study 2Decorating the house continued throughout the day. By the evening my study area, through the arch in which could be seen the Christmas tree in the sitting room, was looking quite festive. The colour combination of Flo’s leaves and the warming pan was particularly inspired.

Christmas lights through kitchen window.The kitchen carried its own bunting, and also benefited from the lighting on the wisteria arbour outside.

Further projects will not be fully ready for publication until tomorrow.

This evening we dined on the rest of the plentiful Happy Wok meal. Jackie drank Stella, Flo chose water, and I began a splendid bottle of Reserve des Tuguets Madiran 2010.

A Tradition Upheld

Ever since she was a small child, Flo has helped her Grannie put up flamboyant Christmas decorations. Festive trees, having priced themselves out of the market last year, are now half the cost they were then. We all got up early to buy one from Ferndene Farm Shop.

It has also become tradition that Grandpa has to be ‘put’ somewhere whilst the ladies create their masterpieces. I was therefore dumped in Vaggs Lane to walk home. As you will know, this was no hardship. I walked the length of this thoroughfare, along Everton Road, and right into Hordle Lane to home.

Burnished beech leaves brightened the sunlit hedgerows along the verges in Vaggs Lane, Beech leavesVaggs Lane vergeAlpacaswhere a herd of alpacas were outlined by the sunshine.

A Great War memorial stands in Everton Road. The incised names of the Hordle fallen are accompanied by those of the relevant battlefields, some more infamous than others. War memorialThis morning red roses and cyclamens, and yellow tulips bloomed alongside the wreaths.

The now rather soggy unclaimed bear in Hordle Lane still sits on the wall opposite the Peppa Pig mobile phonechildren’s nursery, and another tot has dropped the case from her Peppa Pig mobile phone. MushroomFurther on, an upturned mushroom revealed a pattern of purplish striations.

When I returned home, the front door was furnished with a more joyful wreath than those I had seen earlierChristmas wreath. Apart from the dressing, this had been made from foliage from our garden and branches trimmed from the Christmas tree.

Christmas lightsBy the time darkness had arrived, we had a string of coloured lights in the front garden, Christmas treeand somewhat later the indoor Christmas tree was embellished to Flo’s satisfaction.

We had to dine on a takeaway this evening because the kitchen was full of boxes of decorations. It fell to the Ashley Chinese, The Happy Wok, to provide it. Jackie chose Stella, Flo sparkling water, and I the last of the cabernet sauvignon, to accompany it.

Helen’s comments on yesterday’s post have enabled me to add details of others present in our wedding photograph.

Two Weddings

Hampshire Window Surgeon, Jason, visited this morning, fixed our Velux window, and took details of the necessary Everest window maintenance from which to send us a quotation. Over coffee we also had a good conversation with this engaging gentleman.

After this, postman Mike, noticing I was walking down Downton Lane, clutching a letter, on my Hordle Cliff top walk, stopped his van and relieved me of it. Such is his friendly service.

Our friend Judith Munns had commented on Facebook that she recognised the family likeness between her mother and Jackie in the Statuesque Beauty post. These two, Wedding photo 2.3.68and two more worthy of that description, appear in our wedding photograph, taken on 2nd March 1968, that I scanned and retouched on my return. Sisters Sheila and Helen flank the group. My Dad stands next to Sheila, and Mum peers over my right shoulder. Jackie’s Mum stands next to Chris, and her Dad smiles between them. My sister Elizabeth and the bride’s Auntie Maureen each succumbed to off-stage distractions in different directions. In the back row Mum Rivett’s brother, the sisters’ Uncle Dennis, cranes his neck to see above my mother. His wife Elsie stands beside him, and his son, cousin Patrick is at the other end of the row. Patrick now successfully directs Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, notably those of the Godalming Operatic Society, the performances of which it is a family tradition to attend.   Michael, festooned with confetti, looking up quizzically, holds Jackie’s hand. She was more or less the same age in this photograph as was her mother in the picture that prompted Judith’s observation.

I have today become Facebook friends with my cousin Yvonne Burgess whom I have not met since we were small children. From Spain, where she now lives, she sent me a Ben and Ellen wedding photophotograph of her parents’ wedding, taken some time around 1940, coincidentally the possible date of the Statuesque Beauty picture.  My mother is the standing bridesmaid, and my maternal grandparents are on the left, Grandpa Hunter stands behind my seated Grandma. Uncle Ben was a Military Policeman during the war, so Dad had to be very circumspect when he went AWOL whilst courting Mum.

Late this afternoon Jackie drove us to Emsworth to collect Flo for the weekend. Before returning we, with Becky and Ian, dined at The Spice Cottage restaurant in Westbourne. Ian and I walked there, and the others joined us by car. The meal, with which most of us drank Cobra, was excellent, and the service friendly and efficient.