A Professional Clean

Last night I began reading ‘Moonfleet’ by J. Meade Falkner.

On this fine June day I took the same walk, with amendments, as yesterday.  Following on from one of that day’s themes, I was only a few yards into Crown Lane when a cyclist rushed past me on the pavement, spurning the allocated cycle lane alongside her in the road.

This time I went through Morden Hall Park, turning right at Phipps Bridge tram stop and coming out onto Morden Road.  As I passed through the garden centre I saw a couple of notices proclaiming A RIVER RUNS THROUGH THIS SITE PLEASE SUPERVISE YOUR CHILDREN.  I gave some thought to little Kate Brown who is remembered in the eponymous post of 23rd. May.  Mowing was in progress in the park, creating that sweet smell which had originally alerted me to the presence of the water meadow at Colliers Wood on that same day.

Walking down Mitcham Park, in the Cricket Green preservation area, I stopped and spoke to a couple working in their garden.  The woman was fiercely protective of her home town’s reputation, whilst her husband expressed the view that it deserved its current negative one. He referred me to Google where I would find a site describing Mitcham’s chavs.  She said his glass was always half empty.

Having been guided by Becky, much more of the final stretch was through Mitcham Common.  On passing the lake I encountered a man, having discarded his bicycle, sitting on a wonderfully naturally smoothly moulded tree trunk.  I quipped: ‘If that were in a West End shop it would be very expensive.’  ‘I know,’ he replied, ‘that’s why I’m enjoying every minute of it.’  It is perhaps a measure of how bucolic a journey it is possible to make across 5 miles of S.W. London that I was carrying a letter to post and did not pass one pillar box en route.

Our daughter continues to do remarkably well.  Despite having just endured a major operation she expresses some embarrassment at the cleaning of the flat we have undertaken.  By ‘we’ I mean Jackie with some minor assistance from me, the sous-cleaner.  She does not know that her flat’s needs are nothing compared to the one we rented on The Ridgway in Wimbledon Village.

As a child, I had always dreamed of living in Wimbledon Village, so when Jackie and I sought a second time around home together it was natural that I should seek a flat there.  The estate agent had insisted on a professional clean of this furnished property.  The owner kept delaying occupation, saying she would clean it herself.  I once visited and found our landlady standing with a limp rag in her hand indicating black discolouration on the ceiling which she said had been caused by a previous tenant’s joss sticks.  On the morning of the moving day she phoned me saying that the professional cleaners had delayed and asking me yet again to defer taking up residence.  I refused.  That meant we (the same ‘we’ as mentioned above) had to knuckle down and fumigate the place.

The curtains were filthy and hanging unevenly from crooked curtain rails.  When Jackie washed these the colours were revealed.  The fridge contained mould in abundance, the ice cubes being full of indescribable matter including hair; the cooker was rusty, greasy, and rancid.  It took all Jackie’s considerable skills to make it usable.  At one point I dropped something down behind the cooker and had to move that to extract whatever it was.  I regretted it immediately, because there was a long-standing oily mass underneath, including a number of cigarette filters.  The elderly kitchen cabinet doors didn’t fit and were streaked with unpleasant looking matter.  The washing machine didn’t work but a new one was on order.  When the new one was delivered one of the men moaned all the way about having to cart it up three flights of stairs.  He did not get a tip, despite my having once been a furniture remover and knowing how important are these earnings supplements.

The dining table had a glass top laid into a groove glued tight by decaying food.  The unmatched chairs had cigarette burns in the seats.  All the carpets in the flat bore similar tell-tale round holes. An ashtray contained a couple of stubs, and underneath the sofa there were piles of rubbish, mostly cigarette filters.  The sofa covers had suffered at the claws of cats.

A reproduction chest of drawers in the bedroom did not close properly.  This was because, although each drawer was numbered, they had not been fitted in the correct order.  The antique brass bed had two missing corner post knobs.  The owner had assured me that they would be replaced.  They weren’t, so Jackie used tennis balls to fill the vacuum.  Stains on both sides of the mattress caused very unsavoury speculation.  The wardrobes were full of the owner’s own clothes which stank of cats, with whose hairs they were liberally threaded.  The doors would not close and the free-standing one threatened to fall apart.  Most of the apartment’s windows were insecure, but you’d have to be a very determined rock climber to scale the walls of this large Victorian building.  They were also caked in grime and no way was either of us going to sit on the crumbling cills at such a scary height to attempt to scrape that off.

We did manage to get our landlady to remove her clothing (from the wardrobes, not herself), but she left some of her belongings in the loft and in a well on the approach to the flat.  This meant that she would want to visit to collect stuff.  She would make appointments and not turn up, or arrive unannounced.  After a while the lavatory seat split and provision of a replacement was delayed because the owner wanted to inspect the break before authorising the purchase of a new one.  She failed three appointments to do that before the agent advised us to buy own own and submit the bill to him for reimbursement.  On a cold winter’s day we duly went off to buy an undamaged loo seat.  Returning with our purchase who did we find sitting, wrapped in furs and wearing a scarf and boots, surrounded by shopping bags and cigarette ends, smoking a fag on the broad steps up to the front door, but our landlady. Having made and not kept an appointment to collect them from the loft, she had come for her ski boots.  I asked her where she was going skiing.  She told me that she wasn’t, implying that the question was rather stupid. She hadn’t been able to get into the loft because she hadn’t got a ladder.  When I offered to help she said she didn’t want them now.   I think you’d say she was somewhat eccentric.

Who cares?  I had arrived in Wimbledon Village.

After one of Jackie’s tender lamb casseroles we drove home and disturbed the peace of Mother Fox in the front garden.

Cyclists, Geese, Ducks, And Tourists

This morning I walked to Becky’s home, meeting Jackie who had driven there.  The route took me via the Mitcham cricket green and across the common.  Walking along Cricket Green on one side of the eponymous conservation area, with the flamboyant clubhouse alongside Mary Tate’s almshouses across the road, one is reminded of how beautiful Mitcham was in days gone by.

Along one stretch of Morden Hall Road half the pavement has been designated for cyclists.  I have never seen a cyclist using it.  London has many such stretches of pavement reducing the width of pedestrian footpaths.  The only one I have ever seen used is actually the first one I experienced.  That is on a stretch of road between Balderton and Newark in Nottinghamshire.  Cyclists may have availed themselves of this, but the ratepayers were less than happy about the expense.  Bicycles ridden on the undesignated pavement can, however, be a menace on the busier inner London roads.  They often speed along, weaving in and out among pedestrians, and steaming around corners with frightening disregard for their or other people’s safety.  I was once clipped on the arm by one on the pavement in The Strand.  As this was in my running days I set off after him and caught him up at traffic lights.  He was rather surprised.  Perhaps not only because I didn’t hit him.  I just had a quiet word.

The roads, of course are unsafe for cyclists, choked as they are with drivers of varying ability.  I don’t really know what the answer is, but surely it can’t be Boris’s Bikes which add more riders to already densely occupied streets. Interestingly, the only pavement- encroaching cyclist I’ve ever seen challenged by a policeman was a man mounting the kerb to replace a Boris Bike in a rack alongside Westminster Cathedral.

Having rounded the cricket green and on approaching the A236 roundabout on the wide pavement I was overtaken by a cyclist who wobbled past me on the inside and teetered across my path into and across this major road weaving his way through the cars approaching the junction before continuing his journey along the opposite footpath.  I swear I had my earlier thoughts before this happened.

Much of my continuing  journey involved crossing Mitcham Common.  Only ever having driven and, I admit it, albeit 45 years ago, cycled along the major roads through the common, I had not realised what a pleasant amenity this is.  The path I took between Commonside West and Windmill Road has at some time in the not too distant past been planted with an avenue of oaks.  A lake in the middle of the common was home to large number of Canada Geese including a mother shepherding her troop of goslings and hissing at me.  These large birds which are now rife in our public parks and canalsides were introduced into this country as long ago as the end of the 17th. century.  It was about the middle of the 19th. century that fortunes were made in Peruvian guano, that is sea-bird droppings, which was highly valued as a fertiliser.  Maybe there is an opportunity for an entrepeneurial individual prepared to collect the masses of Canada Geese excretia, just as Mr. Figg, one of my childhood neighbours, collected horse droppings left by the rag-and-bone man’s steed to spread on his garden.

My path across the common was twice crossed by a skein of what I took to be tourists under the direction of a guide.  They would occasionally stop for a lecture or explanation.  As I watched them file after their leader I was reminded of the duck that had once taken over the pond in our garden at Lindum House.  She came in off the road and trotted down the drive followed by a string of her babies; inspected all the walls and fences bordering the garden, the ducklings following in single file; and when satisfied finally settled her family on the small pond which I had dug myself.  Perhaps the goslings also influenced this memory.

I met a postman when nearing Becky’s flat, and we had a laugh about the chaotic street layout and house numbering in the area, Westmorland Way being the most confusing.

After a day with Becky Jackie fed us all on an excellent chicken casserole after which she and I returned to Morden, both by car.

‘Leave It!’

Yesterday morning I finished W. Somerset Maugham’s novel ‘Catalina’.  Maugham is an excellent story-teller and this literally miraculous tale involving the machinations of a scheming prioress made very good light reading, perhaps especially because the characterisation lacked complexity.  There was a cameo appearance by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

This morning I walked through Morden Hall Park, along the Wandle Trail, and across Colliers Wood High Street to the Wandle Bank Water Meadow which I explored before retracing my steps.  On the outward journey there was a familiar after the storm sense all around.  Slugs and snails were in evidence.  This had me reflecting that thrushes are a seriously endangered species.  I am told that slug pellets have killed off these birds because their source of food is poisoned.  In Newark we enjoyed an acre of pellet-free garden.  So did the thrushes.  We had no slugs or snails, except those whose shells we could hear the thrushes bashing on the stone paths.  I saw no snails on the way back, perhaps because the sun had given up its unequal struggle with the clouds lowering overhead, or maybe because thrushes are alive and well in Morden.

Brambles and nettles were burgeoning and often difficult to avoid along the Wandle Trail, especially when slaloming around the puddles on the footpath.  Along the Merton Abbey Mills stretch I had plenty of cause to be grateful for the work of Payback (see post of 24th. May).  I noticed a few fallen trees, at least two of which now made primitive bridges across the river.  Fishermen were stationed at intervals, particularly where the water was fast-flowing, as at Abbey Mills.

The Water Meadow had of course not been mown since the sweet smell which had alerted me to its presence as described in my post of 23rd. May.  The Wandle itself runs alongside the small park which contains a serpentine stream, perhaps a tributary, currently choked with fallen cow parsley.  As I was passing a group of dog walkers exchanging the usual tales of their pets, whilst the said pets were play-fighting, one of the animals which looked just like a wolf detatched itself from the others and, wet-nosing my hand attempted to frolic with me.  ‘Leave it’ said it’s seemingly Korean woman owner.  ‘Leave it!’.  With what I hoped was a humorous expression, pointing at myself, I said: ‘I like the it in leave it.’  I’m not completely sure she got the joke.

In the late afternoon we collected Becky from hospital and drove her home.  She is very well.  As you approach the estate on which she lives there are frequent ‘sleeping policemen’, being  humps in the road designed to force speed reduction.  Jackie seemed to be leading a convoy of extremely patient cars who had to follow her driving very slowly out of consideration for Becky’s comfort.  I don’t know about Becky but I certainly appreciated riding over the bumps more gently than usual.

After a takeaway curry from Deshi Spice in Mitcham Road and a bit of tidying up we left Becky and Flo to their own devices.  Becky’s repast was tinned tomato soup.

Six Leg Byes

A much calmer day met us this morning and Jackie and I had a relaxed time before lunch and driving to Becky’s flat to give it a good clean in anticipation of her return home tomorrow.  Hopefully our daughter will be pleased with the result.

We then took Flo to the hospital where we were all delighted with her mother’s progress.  Flo had not visited yesterday because she had been taken to see ‘War Horse’, an arrangement which had been made months ago.  She therefore noticed a huge difference from the post-operative state Becky had been in on her first visit.  Becky was up and about and even led us to the ward day room where we could all sit comfortably.  She looked remarkably well.

On the way from the flat in Mitcham Jackie was overtaken on the inside by a small motorbike bearing an L sign and a pizza parlour’s name.  Beware the pizza deliverer.  They all carry L plates and obviously acquire the bike with the job.  What lessons do they have, I wonder?

Passing Mitcham cricket green, as we always do going to and fro Becky’s, Jackie asked me if I was aware what an historic ground this was.  I responded with the tale of Len Heddy and Ethan Swaby which took place sometime in the 1960s.  I explained that I had never played for a team good enough to compete with the then very strong Mitcham Cricket Club, but that I had played once or twice against one of their stars.  Most clubs at that time introduced guest players for mid-week games.  This is how Len got to play for my club, Trinity (Battersea – now Oxley) and Ethan was loaned by Mitcham to our opponents.

I only ever faced one bowler faster than Ethan Swaby.  That was Keith Boyce who, whilst playing for the West Indies was turning out for Essex County second eleven as he was earning his residential qualification to be able to represent the county fully.  He delivered three balls in my direction.  I didn’t see any of them and the third one bowled me.  To me, Ethan was much more frightening, because he employed a lethal bouncer.  A bouncer is a ball which after hitting the ground climbs high and is generally aimed at the batsman’s body, throat, or head.  There is no point in bowling a bouncer unless you are really fast, otherwise it comes through quite gently and should be easy to hit.  Consequently, at the level I usually played in, you didn’t experience too many bouncers.  I therefore never learned the sensible art of getting out of the way.  As will be seen, neither did Len.  On the day in question I received one of Ethan’s fearsome specials.  I saw it come out of his hand; I saw it hit the pitch; I watched it come straight at my nose; somehow I brought the bat across, made contact, and watched it rocket to the boundary.  I can still feel the draft of air created by my bat coming across my face; I can still hear the smack of bat on ball; I can still feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck when I realised what a near miss I’d had.  This was of course in the era before everyone wore protective helmets.

A bit later on Len came out to bat.  Miraculously I was still there at the other end.  I need at this point to explain a couple of cricketing terms for the uninitiated.  A leg bye is a run made after some part of the batsman’s anatomy has been struck by the ball and ricocheted off into the field.  Usually it comes off the batsman’s pads, or leg guards.  A six is scored when the ball is hit over the boundary ropes without bouncing first.  Now, the boundary is quite a long way, and for the ball to clear it without bouncing it needs to be helped on its way by a hefty clout, invariably involving a cricket bat.

So now we have Len, a new batsman quaking at the crease, and Ethan, having had a rest, a refreshed bowler straining at the leash.  Ethan tears in and releases the ball.  From the safety of the other end I try unsuccessfully to watch it through the air.  I see it rear up from the pitch; I see it strike Len on his unprotected head; I see it fly off into the distance; I see Len drop like a stone; amazingly, I see Len stagger to his feet, apparently uninjured.  We all rush to his assistance, but he is, indeed, fit to carry on.

We then thought about the ball which was being thrown back from the boundary by a spectator.  Incredibly, the umpire was signalling six leg byes.  The ball, which had bounced off the so aptly named Mr. Heddy’s head, had cleared the boundary without bouncing.  I have never known any other instance of six leg byes in all the years I have been playing and watching cricket.  Had I not witnessed it I would never have believed it.

After the hospital visit we brought Flo back to Links Avenue for one of Jackie’s tasty penne pasta meals and eventually returned her to her own home.

Bayko Building Sets

Driving up the A3 towards Chessington the car was buffeted; leaves, twigs, paper, and other debris were blown everywhere; potted garden plants were lying on their sides or rolling about; and some shrubs were down.  The strong winds had not abated.  Watching trees bending in the blast I wondered just how fierce had been the gales of a fortnight ago, when I was in France, to have felled enough trees to block roads and railway tracks in and around London.  As will be evident from my post of 2nd. June entitled ‘The Great Storm’ I always, one way or another, seem to miss the big ones.

Our destination was the Chessington Garden Centre where Jackie bought some plants and equipment for Elizabeth’s garden.  Having done so, she stayed behind for a coffee whilst I set off on foot along Fairoak Lane in the direction of Oxshot.  As I left the building I noticed a number of people around a frail-looking elderly woman who had been helped into a wheelchair.  The back of her head was covered in blood of which there was a pool on the car park tarmac.  An ambulance was being awaited.  The attendant directing traffic away from the scene said that the injured person had unaccountably collapsed.  I found myself speculating that she had been blown over,  and as I leant into the gusts along the wooded Fairoak Lane I thought that that had not been such a wild idea.

The wooded roadside was littered with broken branches and uprooted plants.  In the fenced off wooded area surrounding Chessington Substation of the National Grid there were a number of fallen trees.  I imagine these must have been casualties of the recent gale-force winds which had swept the area.  Having passed the entrance to the electricity station I reached a made up road going through the wood uphill to the right. This freshly tarmacked path led to a much less well made road, the dust from which at times had the appearance of a sandstorm.  My eyes and mouth were filled with grit, and when I stopped for a pee I made very sure I stayed downwind.

The shrieking of children told me that I was at the back of Chessington World of Adventure.  I had, indeed, stumbled on what must have been an overflow car park.  That oriented me to the road on which the Garden Centre was situated, and I returned there.

The vehicle in front of us as we left to go back to Links Avenue was an open-topped car whose only occupant was clinging with one hand on the end of her outstretched arm to a large pot containing a tall shrub which occupied the passenger seat.  We couldn’t see her other hand but rather hoped it was on the steering wheel.  As the plant teetered back and forth we kept our distance until she turned off.

En route to the A3 in the area off Grand Drive there are a number of what I call Bayko Building Set houses.  These are usually bay fronted and follow the design of the Bayko houses of my childhood.  I fondly imagine it is that way round rather than that the building sets replicated already extant houses.  Jackie has the same memories and we both got as much pleasure from these as today’s children do from Lego.  There must have been an overlap during the fifties between the two kits but Lego was clearly the winner.  Maybe it was a health and safety issue.  Bayko had a bakelite base drilled with holes into which thin metal rods were fitted vertically forming supports for the bricks which formed the houses.  I doubt that Hamleys today could sell toys containing such parts.  I seem to remember three colours; green for the base, doors and windows; red for roofs; and red and white for bricks.  I think the older ones had brown bases.  There were channels in the edges of the bricks into which the rods were aligned.  You could make dream houses – especially those with the bay windows.  This equipment was certainly around before the war and freely available post-war and throughout the 1950s.  I could, I know have Googled this to check my facts, but it is important to me that my memory is exercised.  Can anyone add to or correct what I have written?

We made an early evening visit to Becky in hospital, where she was looking really well, her usual lucid and amusing self.  She was able to get in and out of bed, although at one point was stricken with considerable pain as she moved about.  This required some liquid morphine which Becky said tasted like Bailey’s.  She has no memory of her cardboard hat and will no doubt need Flo’s photograph to convince her.  Everything she had been told leading up to and after surgery she was able to tell us.  Apparently the surgeon described three options that were available and said he couldn’t be sure which would apply until he’d ‘gone in’.  He wanted to know her preferences.  She said ‘surprise me’.

Jackie’s beef casserole with a couple of glasses of Marques de Alarcon 2011 tempranillo/syrah completed the day

P.S. I am grateful to Jenny Pellet of Charactersfromthekitchen, a blog well worth visiting, for the link to this article from the Grimsby Telegraph:

DURING the 1930s plastic technology was in its infancy, writes Jeff Beedham.

Mr Charles Bird Plimpton (1893-1948) was a plastics engineer and inventor living in Liverpool.

In 1933 he had invented and patented Bayko “An improved constructional toy” made from a type of Bakelite.

By 1934 Bayko building sets were on sale in Britain’s shops, produced by Plimpton Engineering Ltd, Liverpool and Bakelite Ltd, Birmingham.

The concept was simple. A brown Bakelite base with a grid of holes at 3/8th of an inch, centres that accepted 1/16″ diameter steel rods of various lengths.

Bakelite brick tiles embossed with a brick bond pattern with grooves each side were then slotted between the upright rods, creating realistic walls.

Doors and windows of various widths could also be slotted in.

The original sets were in dark green Bakelite but by 1939 more realistic colours of red and white bricks, with green doors and windows in the latest Art Deco style, topped by red tiled roofs were adapted.

After the Second World War production resumed but in 1948 Charles Plimpton died, leaving his wife Audrey to run the business.

The Bayko building sets No’s 0 to No 6 and accessory sets were aimed at both girls and boys and marketed worldwide.

In 1959 Audrey Plimpton retired, selling the business to Meccano Ltd of Liverpool who since the 1930s had regularly advertised Bayko sets in the Meccano Magazine and sold them at approved Meccano dealers throughout the world.

Meccano modified and marketed Bayko until 1967.

I remember having a No 1 Bayko building set during the 1950s, but the thin steel rods and smaller brick tiles (a health and safety nightmare today) were prone to being sucked up by the Hoover.

In the early 1980s, when Gregory’s cycle and toy shop in Hainton Avenue closed down, I purchased several Bayko accessory outfits that had languished in the stockroom since the 1960s.

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in this constructional toy with a Bayko Collectors Club being formed.

There is currently a comprehensive exhibition of Bayko models in Liverpool Museum to celebrate the 80th anniversary of this forgotten toy that gave so much pleasure to generations of boys and girls.

‘A Girl!’

In the ten days I had been away the streams in Morden Hall Park had swollen and the coot family were thriving.  The roses were now in full bloom and groups of schoolchildren accompanied, I guessed, by intrepid teaching assistants were on a field trip.  Those plumbing the depths of the fast-moving water were able to plunge their sticks in a bit deeper than the boy I had seen a while back assuring his Dad that it was ok to do what he was doing.  As I did a turn round the Park the wind was blowing up a gale just as it had done almost 42 years ago the night Rebekah was born.  Twigs were flying around like a disintegrating witches broomstick and rose petals were strewn around like confetti.

This could not have been more appropriate, since our daughter had been born in a thunderstorm.  Insisting that she wanted another boy Jackie went into labour that August with the backdrop of a truly Gothic sky.  Becky is the third of my children, but the first of the daughters whose births I witnessed.  I still retain the image of that chubby, sleepy, head, with eyes clenched shut like a dormouse having been disturbed from hibernation, crowned with thick, black, damped down hair.  Even more indelibly etched on my memory is her mother’s reaction to being told she had a little girl.  When Jackie expresses joy her smile illuminates the room.  She gave just such a dazzling smile on that occasion, but it is her voice which will ring in my ears as long as I live. Lingering ever so slightly, lovingly, over the last letter,  ‘A girl!’, she cried.  She had expressed a wish for another boy because she dared not hope for a girl.

That little girl has always been a determined, caring, and courageous decision maker.  Perhaps it was consideration for her Dad that caused her to wait more than thirty years to change the spelling of her name to that which both she and Jackie preferred.  I had registered the birth not realising that I had not spelt the name in the way her mother had wanted.

Whilst I was walking in the park Rebekah was on the operating table in St. George’s Hospital undergoing potentially life-enhancing treatment which is not without its risks.  The spelling of her name had been a decision which changed her signature.  Today’s implementation of a far more courageous one may change and extend her life.  That is why my thoughts were of her, not of what I began this post with.

Jackie and I collected our granddaughter from school in Mitcham in a raging tempest and drove her to visit her mother in St. George’s Hospital, Tooting.  By the time we arrived at the hospital the rain had ceased for the day, but the powerful wind continued so as to put the World Cup supporters’ flags flying from Mitcham’s bedroom windows seriously at risk.

A drugged and drowsy post-operative Becky largely dozed through our visit but still managed to display flashes of her trademark witty humour, such as fixing her mother with one eye when she disapproved of what had been said, or placing her small cardboard sick repository on her head as a makeshift hat.  When a pharmacist with a foreign accent was trying to find out from the rest of us what, if any, medication she was on and whether she had any allergies she opened both eyes, removed her oxygen mask and pronounced something unpronounceable followed by ‘and no’, thus quite lucidly answering both questions.  We stayed a couple of hours.

It was with relief and exhaustion that Jackie, Flo, and I ate at ‘The George’ on London Road, Morden.  This is a Harvester pub offering perfectly good yet very cheap basic pub food offering a wide menu (largely grills, burgers and pasta) with a vast range of unlimited salad and dressings to which you help yourself, and similarly available bread rolls.  Tetleys or Old Speckled Hen were the beers on offer, or you could have a variety of wines, juices, etc.  Flo and I had fish and chips which neither of us could finish.  My beverage was ‘the hen’.  All this is served with friendliness and efficiency.

Busking On The Underground

Drinking a complimentary coffee in Le Code Bar prior to my departure for England I watched a ceremony on T.V. commemorating French soldiers killed in Afghanistan.  David told me another had joined them.  Why, oh, why do we not learn from history?  How many more young military men and women (not to mention countless forgotten civilians) must be killed across the globe over issues that, in a short space of time, will be unresolved and unremembered except by those who have lost loved ones?

Leaving behind the first cloudless day in Sigoules, by means of Sandrine’s taxi to Bergerac; Flybe’s plane to Southampton; I don’t know who’s train to Waterloo; London Underground’s tube to Morden; and my feet to Links Avenue, I returned to a muggy Morden at least as warm as my French village.

Feeling rather travel-drowsy on crossing Waterloo Underground station I was revived by the sound of a very good guitarist playing at the bottom of the escalator.  As long as I can remember there have been buskers operating in the London Underground system.  For many years they were seen on their way by London Transport Police.  Now, however, they can be allocated officially sponsored pitches.  I don’t know how they qualify but it seems to me they have brightened up what can sometimes be a pretty drab experience and possibly improved security.  I have heard pop and folk singers with voices; classical violinists, male and female; flautists; plenty of other guitarists; and a trumpeter, to name a few.  Mind you, I have also heard singers without voices and fairly poor instrumentalists using electronic backing for their efforts.  But they are now part of the system and in my view can only enhance it.  Many of them, in mid melody are able to thank people for donations.  Late one night at Leicester Square there was a deafening noise from an electronic system supporting some kind of rock group.  This was not pleasant and I was pleased to get in the tube and away from it.  They were also partially blocking a passage between two platforms, and certainly not on an officially recognised pitch.  It was all rather aggressive and alarming.  Maybe they were moved on.

Another unpleasant alternative is men (usually men) moving from carriage to carriage, having a few strums on the strings, passing round the hat, and moving on at the next stop.

The passages in the Underground, especially late at night or when there is no-one else about can be quite eerie places.  It just may be that the presence of a busker could deter anyone from alarming behaviour and provide the lonely traveller with a sense that someone friendly is present or available.  I well remember the very long tunnel at Finsbury Park which 20 years or so ago I used to frequent.  This was quite scary, whatever the time, if no-one else was about, or even if they were.  I don’t know how many official pitches there are, and suspect they are only at the most lucrative central London stations, but I wonder if there is a way of increasing them to everyone’s benefit?  Probably not.

This evening Jackie and I ate at the Watch Me Sri Lankan restaurant described on 25th. May.  It was good to have a curry again.  You can’t generally get a decent curry in France, although I have found one in Bergerac.  As has been seen in the last few posts, there are compensations.

The Tempest


My legs this morning took me to Cuneges and back, a feat my hip would not have allowed eighteen months ago.  This was a long, hilly, walk, and although the weather was cool and overcast I soon raised a sweat.  A couple of years ago I did part of this trip with Chris and Frances and Chris took a stunning landscape photograph of which I would have been proud.

On the approach to Lestignac I passed a bunch of bullocks which quickly lined up alongside their wire fence to watch me go by.  I still have a photograph, taken in Cumbria many years ago by my friend Ali, in which I am sitting with a book in the garden, completely oblivious of the string of similarly stationed cattle reading over my shoulders.

Cuneges, a village larger than some, does, I knew, have a bar, but it was closed, so for refreshment I had to make do with the occasional light rain.  It is home to a number of artisans, one of whom is a plumber whose services I was unfortunate enough to require at the very beginning of 2009.  In December 2008, just a week after completion of my purchase of No. 6 rue Saint Jacques, S.W.France was hit by the greatest storm in living memory.  The gales were even worse than those that buffeted the U.K. in October 1987.  The consequence was that Maggie had had to telephone me to tell me that my recently acquired house had been flooded.  The cellar was full of water and there were several inches of it in the ground floor.  Multiple disaster had struck.  The gales had thrust water under the French doors at the back, and the local underground stream had strayed into the cellar, completely filling it.  Because of a three day power cut across the entire region the auxiliary generator installed for just this eventuality failed to function.  The trapdoor into the cellar was swollen and had to be forced, breaking some of the tiles laid over it.  To make matters worse the inferior plastic piping distributing water throughout the house had sprung a leak and burst.  Now I have a copper system which cost a pretty penny.  Maggie and Mike had managed to get emergency help to pump the place out, and obviously I had to come over to organise repair work.  The house was freezing, damp, and full of soggy mats and plumbers.  I stayed with Maggie and Mike.

Le Code Bar lunch today was kuskus with a delicious ‘three meats’ stew followed by profiteroles accompanied by a glass of red wine.  After yesterday’s word play Frederick wanted to know if I was ‘satisfied this summer’.

The sun having slunk away for the day I consoled myself with Flaubert’s sublime prose and began Somerset Maugham’s ‘Catalina’.  As usual the skies cleared in the evening.

I watched ‘Frost/Nixon’, an electrifying film about the series of interviews of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) by David Frost (Michael Sheen) directed by Ron Howard and based on the stage play by Peter Morgan.  Taking place in 1977 these led up to the final confrontation, perhaps the most devastating public political admission of my time.  This episode finally put paid to Nixon’s hopes of a return to any sort of office, and revived the career that Frost had apparently thrown away by risking all on the project.

Jeux De Mots


The overnight rain having somewhat abated, I set off to do yesterday’s walk in reverse.  Apart from offering variety, this provides a downhill return to the house.  As the sun was making an effort the saturated stone pavement sparkled and the friendly roadsweeper was doing has best with the windblown debris.  Sigoules was emerging from the storm so there were more people on the street.  The rain had not quite given up, therefore raindrops glistened on the greenery and kept ‘falling on my head’, especially when the trees received a gust of wind.  My M & S linen suit just about survived the trip but by the time I got back the sun had conceded defeat.

After my blog came lunch at Le Bar.  I asked David who had dreamed up the title?  He said he had.  It had been a toss up between the one chosen and ‘The Parralel Bars’ as in gymnastics.  We found we shared the pleasure of play on words.  It gets better and better.  I was tempted to finish this sentence with ‘innit?’ but thought better of it.  Forswearing it completely was beyond me.  (Couldn’t help myself, Jackie.)

Vegetable soup; then melon with delicious garlic sausage and a slice of salami which could cure my dislike of that meat where the fat is visible; a succulent melt-in-the-mouth pork casserole  containing mushrooms and olives producing a delightful piquancy to follow.  In serving me this Frederick said he knew I liked chips every day, but today it was rice.  Would I like chips?  I said I was happy with rice.  What about ‘a piece of two’?  I said rice was fine.  I got ‘a piece of two’ delivered with a smile.  One small glass of red wine sufficed.  Yesterday, as I was paying the bill, David asked me if I were satisfied.  To me it had sounded like ‘that summer’ and I produced my ‘English, don’t quite understand’ expression.  We cleared that up today.  I’d also introduced him to our cockney phrase ‘what’s the damage?’.  He countered with the French version: ‘what’s the pain?’.

It being rather too damp to sit in the garden, I remained inside this afternoon.  A lizard came in to visit me, realised its mistake, and scarpered.  By early evening the weather seemed to have cleared up a bit so I decided to take Le Carre down to the fishing lake and sit for a while.  As I closed the door the heavens opened and stair rods descended.  After ten minutes this ceased and the sun enlivened the streams filling the gutters.  Weighing up the odds I decided to stay put.  By sunset there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

I finished ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ this evening.  This long novel was hailed in the 70s as Le Carre’s finest and the best spy story of his age.  It is indeed an excellent book provided you can get through the first half.  Despite our being, through the medium of cinema, familiar with the work of George Smiley I found section 1, effectively an introduction to the machinations of espionage, a little difficult to follow.  After the action begins in the second part I could not put it down.  Le Carre’s prose is flowing, elegant, and detailed and he has a flawless grasp of his chosen milieu.

I Could Not Lose


Not only was my garden recliner still soggy inside this morning (it had looked dry so I sat on it to my regret) but also a bird had left a deposit on it.  I was momentarily grateful that the cows I had seen yesterday do not fly.

Today I retraced yesterday’s steps, this time taking a side road to the left after the fork to Eymet, signposted ‘La Briaude’ . I had passed a field dotted with poppies and large daisies giving the effect of a pointillist painting.  The cattle were still lying down.  They knew what was coming.

The route to La Briaude, which itself turned out to be a small hamlet, was flanked by trees with a stream, no doubt replenished by the recent rain, flowing down one side.  After the few houses I came to a T junction and, with my not impeccable sense of direction, turned left.  In the distance, through a gap in the trees I soon saw the huge vats of Les Caves.  This gave me some relief and after a while I reached the cemetery not far from my house.  I now have a suitable circular route which I much prefer.

Just by the cemetery there is a large pond to which last spring Jackie and I had traced the source of a deafening rhythmic croaking which went on through the night.  Upon investigation we found that the water was almost completely obscured by a writhing mass of mating amphibians.

Passing Le Code Bar on my way out I had been called over by Frederick and David to be introduced to the local baker and newsagent whom I knew and a Basque man I had met a couple of evenings ago.  As always in these situations I focussed on the faces, not the names which I have consequently not retained.  No doubt I will get another chance.  Not understanding a word the Basque said took me back to the other night.  The bar had, fortunately only for 20 minutes, had a power cut and Frederick had come to my house to see if I also had one.  My electricity was uninterrupted and I suggested we contact the couple in the chateau between our two establishments.  As the entrance to that building is in the town square I took Frederick round there explaining that he would have to do the talking because I couldn’t understand a word my very friendly neighbour said.

Lunch at Le Code Bar today consisted of egg-noodle soup; melon and a really good coarse pate (the only kind I like); succulent thick lean slices of beef cooked to order with chips; and most flavoursome strawberries. I drank just one glass of red wine.  As I told him, David had been absolutely right to advise me to come at lunchtime.

This afternoon, until persuaded indoors by torrential rain, I made a start on weeding and clearing the small patio garden.  This essentially means extracting the ubiquitous ragged robin which seems to have been the major beneficiary of last year’s composting; and doing battle with ivy.  I don’t suppose the lizards were overjoyed, but they do have the place to themselves for most of the year.  I then sat down with Flaubert and dozed off, which is hardly surprising since I don’t normally do lunch, especially not such as that provided by Le Bar.  Suddenly siesta makes sense.

This evening’s viewing was of the England-France football match at the bar.  It was a 1-1 draw, so honours were even.  I am not particularly interested in football and these are now my two national teams so either way I couldn’t lose.  Had it been Rugby that would have been quite different.  The French don’t play cricket so no conflict would arise there, although I would be pretty partisan.  It was the conservative politician Norman Tebbit who had claimed that the true test of an immigrant’s loyalty was which team they supported in a sporting contest.  Don’t you believe it.  In my 19 years in Nottinghamshire I never lost my allegiance to Surrey County Cricket Club.  When my West Indian friend Frank, Rebekah and I used to go to Test Matches at Trent Bridge together, despite having spent his working life in England, if his compatriots were playing there was no doubt whose side he was on.  Nevertheless he and I both maintained a loyalty to Nottinghamshire and England if the teams lodged in our hearts were not playing.  When they reached retirement age Frank, his wife Pansy, her brother Joseph and his wife Liz all returned to Jamaica, where their roots were, despite having lived in England so long.  Fortunately Liz and Joseph left their adult children, all born in England, behind, because their son Errol remained to marry Louisa, my youngest daughter.

Arranging the seating in Le Bar, David diplomatically placed me next to Val, an Englishwoman who, like me has a holiday home in the village which she visits sometimes alone and sometimes with family.  She had not been in the bar before and, being by herself, had entered with some trepidation because she wanted to watch the football.  After the match David asked me if I wanted to eat.  I said, ‘What!  After that lunch!’.  Val went home ‘to cook [her] tea’ and I returned to Numero 6 to settle down with John Le Carre.