Setting off early en route to The Firs for four days, we stopped off at the Lower Morden Garden Centre; joined the hordes of hopeful gardeners ignoring the drizzle on this dull and gloomy day; and contemplated the curse of the English Bank Holiday. Here we were, hot on the heels of the first weeks of genuine summer warmth, and the temperature had dropped significantly and the skies clouded over. Just when the nation is warming up to celebrate the Royal Diamond Jubilee. In all areas of habitation that we drove through much bunting was in evidence, none more so than that festooning Loomie’s cafe at West Meon. This establishment caters, almost exclusively it seems, to bikers. Their steeds were all lined up in the extensive parking area and in their leather jackets they were milling about just like so many genuine insects.
The forecast for the West End area (of Hampshire, not London) is not good (it’s not good in London either). Nevertheless when we arrived we were welcomed by sunshine and were able to admire the fruits of last weekend’s gardening.
As the day went on it became more and more windy. Wine bottles on the table outside were knocked over by the billowing oilcloth covering it which was subject to the gusts. Watching Jackie and Elizabeth mopping up the spillage and battling to batten down the cloth took me back to the ‘great storm’ of 1987. Jessica, Sam, Louisa and I were then living in Furzedown in the London Borough of Wandsworth. I must have been the only person in Southern England who slept through the whole phenomenon. Our neighbour across the road enjoyed no such luxury. He was having a new roof put on, and spent the whole night hanging on to the ropes and stays which were keeping the tarpaulin covers over his otherwise unprotected upper storey.
I always ran to work in Queens Park in those days. This was a nine mile journey which I covered daily carrying a back pack containing my clothes and other necessities for the day. I was employed in the former Paddington Town Hall where there was a shower room which had been installed for the council members. I would take a shower, get dressed, go to a greasy spoon for a fry-up, and start the day sometime before 9 a.m. On this particular day, completely oblivious of the night’s destruction, I set off as usual. I vaguely wondered why a tree I hadn’t noticed before had been felled on Tooting Bec Common, and why there seemed to be rather more traffic jams than usual. Since much of my journey followed treeless routes or public parks I had no idea that the tree I had seen was not the only arboreal casualty. Many others were blocking main roads into London. When I arrived at my building in Harrow Road, I followed my usual routine and then began to wonder why no-one else had arrived. Had I gone by car I may have learned the news on the radio. On the other hand, I too would not have arrived on time.
This storm changed the landscape of Southern England. 70% of the trees in the wooded valley in which Chartwell (see post of 19th. May) is set were lost. Those you see today are in fact their replacements. Sevenoaks in Kent is no longer appropriately named.
During lunch Elizabeth suddenly let out a cry of pain. In her haste to take a bite she had fastened her gnashers onto her own finger. This led Jackie to suggest that today’s blog should be entitled ‘biting the hand that feeds you’.
After a trip to Arturi’s garden centre for potting compost and bedding plants I dug more of the bed begun last weekend. I found it harder today. Maybe it was the humidity; maybe the fact that the weeds and grass were bigger; or, just possibly, last night’s bottle of Malbec.
Jackie made bangers and mash (a rather more sophisticated version than Desperate Dan would have enjoyed), and this was helped down by a Portuguese Pinot Noir. We then had what we call a gawp. This involves watching a piece of recorded television. Tonight’s choice was Wycliffe, a rather gentle detective series set in Cornwall and starring Jack Shepherd. As usual I slept through it on and off, waking in time for the denouement, which Jackie missed because she was falling asleep and went to bed. Between us we probably saw enough to know when it is repeated that we have already seen it. If not we’ll probably sleep through it again. We’re never quite sure whether Elizabeth saw the whole thing or not. But that doesn’t really matter because she never knows whether she’s seen them before until about half way through anyway.