After The Storm?

Yesterday’s winds had in fact reached gale proportions.

This morning I joined Jackie in the garden and carried out a dead heading operation.

Roses New Dawn, Alan Titchmarsh, Créme de la Créme, For Your Eyes Only, and Winchester Cathedral were among those that received my attention.

Taking a break for lunch and cutting my hair, Jackie continued until early evening. Among her achievements were

the creation of a new bed opposite the greenhouse door; bringing one of her dragons further into view by providing him with a pedestal; and progressing the clearance of the stepping stones through the Palm Bed.

This latter project could be seen from the decking on which we took our pre-dinner drinks in gathering gloom, as could

the tall sunflower, and these two garden views.

My afternoon was spent producing

This evening we dined on pork chops coated with mustard; new potatoes, crunchy carrots, and firm broccoli, with which Jackie drank more of the Rosé and I repeated the Recital.

Immediately afterwards, having now learned that tomorrow’s gentle breeze and light showers has transmogrified into the end of Hurricane Evert, we set about once more laying down the garden furniture raised this morning.

A Knight’s Tale (6: Spanish Flu)

John Richard Evans was the brother of Annie Hunter, nee Evans, my maternal grandmother.  He was therefore my great uncle, and the grandfather of Audrey and Roy, who appear in the street party image featured in “A Knight’s Tale” (5: That Heady, Optimistic, Summer)

As a high wire and trapeze artist, John adopted the stage name Jack Riskit.  Among the countries graced by his presence was Australia, where he met and married a young woman who was to join his act.  This was Holly King, my great aunt by marriage.  Taking the stage name The Dental Riskits, they were famous throughout the Antipodes for a particular line in daredevilry.  I am not sure to which part of Holly’s anatomy the strong wire from which she hung was attached, but the other end was firmly held in Jack’s teeth high above the ring. Given that her husband suspended Holly from his teeth, their stage name was most apt. The views of Jack’s dentists are not recorded

This image from the 20th February 1915 issue of The New Zealand Free Lance newspaper, shows a flyer advertising The Dental Riskits appearing at His Majesty’s Theatre. From the addresses of other advertisers on page 31 I believe this to be the one now termed St James Theatre, Wellington.

Shortly before the end of World War I, the couple came to England. Before then Holly had borne 2 children both of whom died. Their daughter, Ivy, named after Holly’s twin sister was born here but, not long after, Holly succumbed to the dreadful Spanish flu of 1918 – 1920. Following the devastation of World War I, this killer wiped out 100,000,000 more lives across the globe. The great aunt I never knew was then aged 28 years and 9 months. The disease was contracted while performing at Rotherham in Yorkshire and she is buried at Harrogate cemetery. Ivy, brought up by her grandmother, married Jim. They were the parents of the aforementioned Audrey and Roy.

September 1925: Trapeze artists Jack and Betty Riskit perform a gymnastic feat. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Having lost a wife and two children, John later married Betty, seen here performing a different act. Perhaps his dentist had had a word.

These photographs were e-mailed to me by my cousin Yvonne, who knew Jack and Betty well. Performances came to an end when the couple fell 20′ when equipment failed in 1925 at London’s Victoria Palace, resulting in serious injuries. Jack went into theatre management and died in 1955.

The Gruffalo

Jackie spent this pleasantly sunny morning completing a line of granite setts edging the lawn. I carried a few down from the back drive, so I know how heavy they were.

Here is the work in progress;

and here, the completed job, and finally the semi-circle around the gazebo planted up. The penultimate image offers Where’s Jackie? (9)

Danni and Ella came to lunch, which, as the wind was becoming furious, we ate inside. This included a birthday cake Danni had brought for me along with a good bottle of Barolo, and a card containing drawings of monsters by Ella. Because Danni had been pinged by Track and Trace they had been isolating on the actual date.

As usual, Ella made a beeline for her toys and was soon

reading a book with sound effects on the sofa with her mother.

Then, phone in hand, she demonstrated that she has begun to pose when a camera is trained on her.

After lunch we watched

on BBC iPlayer.

Our great-niece has reached the bossy stage, so adults in turn were led off “to school” in the library. She has a few older friends who are already attending school and would like to join them. This is perhaps the next best thing.

Elizabeth had joined us after lunch and was given a tour of the garden by her granddaughter. GeeMa, as the grandmother is known, and I were in turn sent off to replenish the duck irrigator as Ella watered flowers and replenished the fountain standing in the Rose Garden beside rose Twice in a Blue Moon which had been given to us by Becky for the Anniversary of our second wedding. Lady Emma Hamilton rose and very tall sweetly scented lilies are also blooming well.

Neither Ella nor GeeMa was permitted a peaceful rest because they were being chased around by “a big pile of poo”.

Eventually the windspeed escalated enough to start blowing things over and smashing them, so we were forced to take the normal battening down the hatches precautions – somewhat late.

Our visitors left at about 4.30 and Ella, who had refused to say goodbye, was asleep before reaching Pennington.

This evening we dined on our second helpings of Red Chilli takeaway food with which Jackie drank more of the rosé and I drank Recital Languedoc Montpéroux 2018

Battered, Bedraggled, Bejewelled

I began a thoroughly wet morning by posting:

During the afternoon the rain eased off and I wandered round the garden with my camera, photographing

battered, bedraggled, and bejewelled blooms, each of which is separately titled in the gallery.

Later, I read more of Charles Dickens’s ‘David Copperfield’ and scanned four more of Charles Keeping’s inimitable illustrations.

‘The younger sister appeared to be the manager of the conference, inasmuch as she had my letter in her hand’

‘The whole of his lank cheek was invitingly before me, and I struck it with my open hand’

‘Kneeling down together, side by side’

‘Jip lay blinking in the doorway of the Chinese House, even too lazy to be teased’

This evening we dined on an excellent takeaway meal from Red Chilli with which Jackie drank more of the Rosé and I drank more of the Shiraz. Mrs Knight enjoyed her sag triple: namely bhaji, paneer, and chicken; as I did my Naga Chilli Lamb, special fried rice, and plain paratha. There is enough left over for tomorrow.

A Knight’s Tale (5: That Heady, Optimistic, Summer)

VE Day was just two months before my third birthday. In fact I have no memory of the original event, but I do have photographic evidence that Chris and I were there.

This photograph depicts a street party celebrating Victory in Europe at the end of that sphere of World War Two.  For anyone below the age of about 75 to imagine the jubilation of that heady, optimistic, summer is virtually impossible.  

Chris and I are in the centre of the front row.  My chubby little brother, then not yet two, looks, as would any other toddler, as if he had no idea what was going on or why he was there.  I, on the other hand, seem to be harbouring particularly pleasant thoughts that I am not sure I ought to have had. A little girl proudly holds my hand. She smiles broadly.  I try to suppress my glee.

Mum, as she always did, would have made our outfits from scratch.  She continued to do this until she could afford not to.  Our first Wimbledon College blazer badges were embroidered by her own hand.

It wasn’t until secondary school that most boys in those days gravitated to long trousers. (I proudly wore my first pair up to the common and ripped them whilst climbing a  fence.  That must have been a pecuniary disaster.)  Shorts worn with long grey socks were the norm.  The hose were held up by elasticated garters. One or two of those in the picture have slipped a bit. The older members of the group could probably share their parents immense relief that they were able to celebrate the end of six long years of war.  That the people were able to dress up at all, albeit in a sometimes strangely fitting assortment of clothes, is a tribute to their fortitude.  Garments continued to be rationed until well into the 1950s.  As can be clearly seen here, designer clothes and trainers were a thing of the far distant future. But look at the shine on the boots and shoes.

This party took place in Carshalton, then in Surrey but now part of Greater London, in the street of Mum’s cousin Ivy Wilson, whose two children, Audrey, third from left in the back row, and Roy, second from left of the middle row, were present.  These two are the link with the first Holly in our extended family who will feature later in the story.

What Had The Child Found?

Early this morning, Jackie took a walk round the garden with her camera.

She photographed the sunflower recently photographed in bud, now winking at a ceramic owl, then viewed from the Palm Bed and the iron urn.

Two of her prize creations are the petunia-and-verbena-planted hanging basket, one of several whose contents have survived the winter, and the Japanese maple taken as a twig from a gravel path.

Current views of the Pond Bed include her earlier redesigned patch; the first Japanese anemone against the backcloth of such a maple; and another featuring towering verbena bonariensis, now ubiquitous in the garden.

The next three images show a garden view including the grey eryngiums; the black eyed Susans planted in a chimney pot fronting a New Zealand hebe; and the Head Gardener’s beautifully trimmed lawn.

Later, after a trip to Otter Nurseries to buy rose feed, we took a drive into the forest.

Lymington River is tidal. This morning a group of kayakers were leaving it as Jackie drove over the railway level crossing and road bridge, swinging past the algae laden shallows, into Undershore Road. Perhaps they knew their tide tables.

Attracted by the hay bale patterns alongside Shotts Lane, I decamped and photographed more of the verges and an opposite field.

A hazy, layered, view of the Isle of Wight was visible from the shingled beach at the end of Tanners Lane, where skin tones perhaps betrayed who were the visitors, and who the locals having hung their equipment on the barbed wire fence. I wondered what the child had found.

I have decided, for ease of access, from now on to separate the instalments of my autobiography from my normal daily diary. Consequently I later posted

This evening we dined on succulent baked gammon; boiled new potatoes and carrots; moist ratatouille; fried leeks and cabbage, with which Jackie drank more of the Rosé and I drank more of the Shiraz.

A Knight’s Tale (4: Shrapnel? And Air Raid Precautions)

My brother Chris was born in the October of that year, and, with Dad still in the Army, Mum decided to move herself and her two boys from Leicester to be near her husband’s family in Wimbledon. She then set about finding somewhere to live. 29a Stanton Road, Raynes Park, SW20,  was the address of the rented accommodation she found. Posher now, West Wimbledon has, according to Estate Agents, replaced the location. The suburb had no Waitrose in 1944. It was to be our family home for the rest of my childhood.

In this 3-bedroomed first floor maisonette my parents brought up 5 children. I believe my earliest memory is of my mother carrying the two-year-old me into what was to be my small bedroom backing onto the railway lines between Wimbledon and Raynes Park. She removed something from the mantelpiece. Later, she said it had been a piece of shrapnel. Since our street was not actually bombed by the Luftwaffe, I’m not sure how it got there.

The sound of trains running alongside was a regular refrain, punctuated by periodic cries of nocturnal track maintenance workers and the clank of their equipment.

Here are front

and rear views of the building taken in 2012. We never kept a cat, so the flap on our back door was a later addition,

as is demonstrated by this image I produced with my paternal Grandfather’s old Box Brownie in 1957. The face in the window is that of our downstairs neighbour, Fred Downes.

Ours was the upstairs frontage to the large sitting room which would become my teenage bedroom after everyone else had gone to bed.

We often stayed at my paternal grandparents’ home at 18 South Park Road, Wimbledon, SW19. The large, well designed, Victorian house, in common with the rest of the dwellings in that long road parallel with Wimbledon Broadway, has made way for hideous blocks of flats built from the 60s onwards. The grand original properties had a life-span less than mine.

It was there that we would sleep on bunk beds in the cellar when there was fear of an air raid. This was the location of my next memory. The image is of a ceiling such as I would recognise many years later in Lindum House in Newark, when my mother told me that that was an exact copy of the South Park Road House. The Lindum House cellar still bore the huge supporting beams that were fitted in case of such an attack. I can therefore safely assume that the Wimbledon house bore the same.

Keeping Up With David Copperfield

On a sultry, largely overcast day, with dribbles of rain and brief snatches of sunlight, Jackie carried out weeding and pruning while I helped with the clearing up, dead headed, and produced pictures.

Each of these images bears a title in the gallery.

Later, I scanned three more of Charles Keeping’s illustrations to ‘David Copperfield’.

The double page spread ‘The horses stopped at the stable gate’ contains the tell-tale sign of broken reins.

‘I had my arms round Mr Wickfield, imploring him by everything that I could think of to calm himself a little’

‘I encountered, at the corner, a woman’s face’

This evening we dined on tasty baked gammon; boiled potatoes; juicy ratatouille; and firm carrots and broccoli with which Jackie drank Cotes du Provence rosé 2019 while I chose Paarl Shiraz 2020.

A Knight’s Tale (3: A Relationship With My Dad)

Throughout the night we were beset by a thunderstorm, and I was beset by a barometric pressure headache.

I wasn’t up to much this morning, but Jackie persuaded me to go for a drive this afternoon. Most of the areas to the east that we normally visit were far too crowded either to park or to photograph with ease.

The exception was the village of Pilley where

ponies spilled across the road outside the Community Shop. The pair occupying the centre of the tarmac completely ignored passing traffic. Tails used as whisks, stamping of hooves, and amazing tolerance were the main defences against the gathering fly population.


Later, I redrafted the third episode of my life story.

There was no National Health Service when my mother brought me home to her parents seven weeks after my birth. It did not come into being until I was six years old. The necessary treatment was free because Dad was in the Army.

We came home to rationing, described thus by Wikipedia:   ‘To deal with sometimes extreme shortages, the Ministry of Food instituted a system of rationing. To buy most rationed items, each person had to register at chosen shops and was provided with a ration book containing coupons. The shopkeeper was provided with enough food for registered customers. Purchasers had to take ration books with them when shopping, so the relevant coupon or coupons could be cancelled.’ 

Excepting only vegetables and bread, every consumer item we now take for granted, from food to furniture; from suits to sweets; from butter to Brylcreem; was in such short supply that if you had insufficient specific stamps there could be no purchase. 

This is a pictorial image from displaying one adult’s weekly food allowance per week. There was some variation in quantity according to supply, but this was probably the correct allocation when I was a baby and couldn’t eat any of it anyway.

In the early summer of 1943, my Dad may have been on official leave from the army, in which he spent the war years and a couple more.  It is he in whose arms I seem to be struggling in this photograph. Mum, who was there at the time, assures me that I knew Dad well and was fond of him, so I must just have been distracted as the picture was  being taken by my maternal grandfather.  It is not every child of those years who had the opportunity to form a relationship with his father.  I will always be grateful for that, and for the efforts my parents went to to nurture it.

Grandpa Hunter not only held the camera, but he developed the film and printed the shot in a complicated darkroom process.  

This of course was long before four year olds like Malachi, his great-great-grandson, who had his own WordPress blog, could take a colour photo with a mobile phone, download it, and post it around the world on the very same day.

This evening we dined on succulent Hunter’s Chicken; boiled potatoes; firm cauliflower, and tender runner beans, with which Jackie finished the Sauvignon Blanc, and I finished the Syrah.

A Knight’s Tale (2: I May Not Have Existed)

I was seven weeks premature, and weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces. Those weeks were spent in hospital with my mother, who I believe suffered from eclampsia, yet who was told by nurses not to worry and that she should bring me back when I was twenty-one because I would grow to be over 6 foot, dark, and handsome. The first two points are objectively true; the third is subjective. This was perhaps the first time I was lucky to survive.

Like all infants, I was totally oblivious of the world around me. I was aware only of food, excreta, and sleep. Even when I discovered my fingers I didn’t know they were mine.

Rather later, I came to understand that I had been born slap bang in the middle of one of the most important events of world history. Not only was WW2 a terrible conflagration inflicting enormous hardship on my young parents, but it changed the shape of the world and the interrelations of its peoples forever. Had this not happened, my parents, and those of many wartime babies, would never have met.

Firstly it is worth noting that had my father not survived, for example, Dunkirk in 1940, I would not have existed. This was the period, from 27th May to 4th June, when it seemed that almost everything that floated left the south coast of England to sail or stagger across to France to gather up our retreating soldiers under fire from the beach.

This flotilla of 700 little ships consisting of merchant marine and fishing boats, pleasure craft and lifeboats,  assisted in the rescue of 338,000 British and French troops cornered by the German army.  Some simply ferried waiting soldiers, some of whom stood shoulder deep in water for hours awaiting their turn, to the larger ships waiting off shore.  

Others carried their passengers all the way to Ramsgate.

Many of these vessels had not been in the open sea before and often leaked especially alarmingly for a non-swimmer like Dad.  His job in the evacuation process, until his turn came to clamber onto an ancient fishing boat and pray all the way across the Channel, was to repeatedly drive out to and beyond the front line to load his truck with exhausted comrades.

The only story my father ever told about this experience or anything else from the war was that each time he drove back to the invading front from the packed beach, the German voices grew ever nearer, until he drove his vehicle into a ditch and legged it to join a queue for the leaky vessel that took him back to Blighty. He was 22 years old.


It is perhaps apt that I should feature the second instalment of my life story today, because this was the first occasion post-Covid 19 that Elizabeth has been able to bring our mother to our home for a visit.

Mum was able to see much of the garden colour, and was intrigued by the idea of a water feature operating from solar panels. She knew she had been to a garden like this before, but wasn’t sure it was ours. She congratulated Jackie on her creation.

One bonus of having a small group together is that we can enjoy different conversations and silent moments without pressure to focus on one person.

We even briefly included Danni and Ella in a FaceTime conversation with Mum. I wondered how many people approaching their 99th birthday could enjoy the experience of communicating with their 2 year old great granddaughter in this manner.

Jean was shyly appreciative of the complimentary messages of goodwill sent by so many people from around the world via this blog.

She was also delighted by the posy Jackie prepared for her to take home.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s flavoursome sausage casserole; boiled new potatoes; sautéed mushrooms, leeks, and peppers with crisp broccoli. The Culinary Queen drank more of the Sauvignon Blanc and I drank more of the Syrah.