The Tale of Two Machines

This morning, whilst awaiting my friends from Huis Clos, I left the front door open.  The neighbourhood cats seemed to see this as an invitation.  First the black one which marauds the bar, then a more exotic Persian or something.  Of course, when you politely invite them to leave you have to do it in French, being careful to use ‘tu’ rather than ‘vous’.  It doesn’t do to be too courteous.  I learned this last year one night at 3 a.m., leaning out of my bedroom window to dissuade a large Labrador from tearing open my black bag left out for the binmen.

Kim and Saufiene, full of apologies, turned up an hour late.  They knew it was no use phoning me unless I happened to be in the loo and there happened to be a signal.  They had had to go to Bergerac to collect a bigger car.  Not only did they carry the washing machine into the kitchen, but they also fitted it for me.  There was a pair of Kim’s underpants in the drum.  I suggested his grandmother must have forgotten them.  ‘No, it was me.’, he replied.

I joyfully loaded up the machine with some of the wet towels and set it going.  Within a few minutes the ‘finish’ light was flashing.  I started it again.  Same again.  I stared at the dials, trying to decipher what was wrong.  I couldn’t see anything.  I couldn’t, of couse, open the door.  I’d just have to do what Roger did.  This meant first pulling out the dishwasher, then the washing machine.  As I’d run the dishwasher earlier, I thought I’d empty it first.  Practically nothing was clean.  Hopefully, I should have rinsed the contents first rather than allow them to dessicate and coagulate until the machine was full.  I certainly wasn’t about to investigate that problem.  Most likely I will avoid it by washing up in the sink, as we do in Morden.  I diverted myself by doing a week’s washing up. Towels drying 7.12 Then I handwashed the remaining towels and hung them in the garden.  Then I’d run out of delaying tactics.

Saufiene is taller than me, but he had crawled under the kitchen surfaces to make the connections with no problem.  I had thanked him profusely, saying that my back would no longer let me get under there.  Now I was going to have to do it.  Getting down was one thing, getting up required a little more thought.  Anyway, I managed it.  No-one was there to hear my yelps.  Feeling rather chuffed with myself, I pulled out the electric plug so I would be able to open the door when I had applied the Munns method of draining.  There wasn’t any water in the drum.

Then I tried a very small wash.  Just a T-shirt and some smalls.  The flashing ‘finish’ soon came into operation.  Needing time to think and remain calm, I decided to handwash the towels I’d extracted.  It was then I was reminded that I had turned the water off at the mains before draining the drum which hadn’t needed draining.  I turned the water on and tried again.  Same result.  This was the moment which, those who remember the advertisements will know, calls for a Hamlet.  I hadn’t got one, so I’ll just have to wait until someone more knowledgeable and practical turns up.  Jackie, why aren’t you here?

Life’s not all bad.  I’ve received an e-mail from my accountant saying I have been sent a tax refund of £85.

Having wasted most of the day with machines, and booked my thrice-yearly haircut, walking went out of the window.  My locks shorn, I settled for an amble around the village, before going up to Le Code Bar.  This evening I was well satisfied with duck in pepper sauce, chips and salad, followed by  chocolate sponge which we called chocolate surprise pudding, only miles better.  The pepper sauce was so tasty that I saved some of my bread to mop up the last bit.  One large Stella was sufficient for my liquid requirements.

Friends Indeed

Backlit maize leaves 7.12

Following Judith’s principle of setting off early in such weather as this, at 10 a.m. this morning I walked out on the Monbos road, taking a right turn towards Thenac.  I soon came to a signpost promising to lead back to Sigoules.  Eventually reaching an unmarked T-junction I had a 50% chance of heading for Sigoules.  Fortunately I recognised the road and turned right.  Had I gone left I would have wound up in Cuneges.  That would not have been fun, for, after yesterday, I reckoned one hour would be enough.

On the road out I chatted to a very elderly gentleman engaged in persuading, with his stick, a miniscule fallen branch from the roadway into a ditch.  Our Morden neighbour, Ken, specialises in similarly flipping cans from our lawn into the road.  Sometimes this takes several strokes of his club.  Each man seems to take on a quite opposite sense of civic duty.  Today’s putter raised his hat when greeting me.  The bare-headed Ken usually raises his stick.

Maize is flourishing, and hay is being bound up and collected throughout the area.  A tree standing guard over one of the bundles obviously couldn’t stand the heat.

As I reached rue St. Jacques, reflective light was playfully dappling the surface of the road and the stone walls of Le Code Bar and the chateau between us.  This kinetic illumination was emanating from faceted baubles strung on wires between the bar and its marquee across the road.  Much more pleasant than the similar static white blobs seen all over the streets of London.  They are chewing gum, and don’t move at all.

Just as I began to settle down to my daily few pages of Flaubert, I heard water dripping in the kitchen.  I waded through puddles to see it pouring from the washing machine.  Come to think of it, the wash I had put on hours before should have been finished by now.  I couldn’t turn off the machine.  Trying not to panic, I turned the water off at the mains and the flow stopped.  I couldn’t open the machine, which was just as well because it was full of water.  As I vainly attempted to mop up the mess the plastic fitment over the mop bucket disintegrated.  It had been left out in the sun and had suffered the same fate as the plastic garden chairs which had collapsed under Michael and me a couple of years ago.  I raided the armoire and chucked piles of towels into the pool.

Then began the process of finding a plumber.  After several phone calls involving answering machines and emergency numbers I couldn’t decipher, I phoned Roger to see if he knew a reliable plumber.  He immediately offered to come down and have a look at it.  Just before he arrived Kim and Saufiene, from Huis Clos came to inspect the work of the shutter installation.  I was then asked to complete a form giving my assessment of the organisation and the work.  For one mad period I was toing and froing between the sitting room and the kitchen; the two patient Frenchmen awaiting completion of the form; and Roger, enviably crouched down by the machine, coming to the conclusion that it was kaput.  The word I used for this condition caused my two French visitors great amusement because it also means ‘I can’t be bothered with it any more’.  Roger dragged out the water- and washing-filled machine on his own, found, and disconnected the electric lead, and proceeded to drain off the water so we could move it out of the way for a new one.  Thanks a million, Roger.  The two Frenchmen insisted on putting it in the hall for us.  Kim said he was short but strong.  I had been asked earlier if I was a poet.  I pointed out that, in French, Kim’s statement was a poem.

Then came a wonderful surprise.  Kim lives with his grandparents.  They treat him like a king.  His grandmother does all his laundry.  His own washing machine is in their garage.  He will lend it to me.  No money is required.  He and Saufiene will deliver it tomorrow.

Outside the bar this evening I enjoyed Le Code Bar pizza with a glass of red wine followed by creme brulee.  The pizza was very tasty with a runny fried egg in the middle.

Keeping up with Judith

On Saturday my pool of Friends to Bank on (25th. July), as I knew it would, increased by two.  Maggie offered to cash me a cheque, and Sandrine insisted I pay for all trips with one at the end of my stay.

Yesterday morning I finished the delightful ‘Wodehouse at the Wicket’, edited by Murray Hedgcock.  This consists of a brief biography of P.G.Wodehouse the cricketer, and a collection of his writings on the subject.  Whilst I found the poetry rather weak, I enjoyed the great humorist’s prose, which also managed to make tales of our national game exciting.  The book was one of two given to me by Steve at my 70th. birthday party (see 1st. July).  In the evening I began the other, ‘The Best Views from the Boundary’, compiled by Peter Baxter.  My friend had chosen considerately and well.

Backlit thistles 7.12

This was the long awaited day of the walk with Judith.  Roger dropped her off at No. 6 on the dot of 10 a.m.  She arrived in suitable walking gear carrying a backpack.  As we set off past Le Code Bar and up the Eymet road, aiming for the Munns’ home in Razac d’Eymet, Judith asked me if I liked to walk at a brisk pace.  Playing the arrogant male ex-marathon runner, conveniently forgetting my age and comparatively new left hip, ‘Yes, I do’, I rashly replied. ‘But I’m happy to walk at whatever pace you do’.  Judith quietly stepped it out up the slope past the retirement homes, and I knew I’d got a job on.  Up and down the hills at a steady scary stride she led me across the D933, or was it 993?, through St. Julien, pointing out the home of Mary and Robin who would be joining us for lunch.

There is a truism in distance running that states: ‘If you can’t talk, you are going too fast’.  Well, I managed to converse.  Just.  Actually we chatted throughout the journey,  only pausing to take sips of water on the move.  One discussion we had concerned the potential menace of loose dogs for walkers and runners alike.  Judith had received a considerable fright a couple of days ago when she had been surrounded by snarling, menacing canines whose owner, ignoring my friend’s plight, was calmly chatting to someone getting into a car.  Quite unconcerned, he eventually called them off.  Years ago, whilst running, I had had a similar experience with two Rhodesian ridgebacks.  Their owner was nowhere to be seen.  For me, there had been nothing for it but to knock on the door of the house from which they had escaped.  I hoped they wouldn’t savage me for invading their territory.  ‘They shouldn’t be out’, said the woman who answered the door.  ‘Too right’, said I.

Returning to the present, ‘I might stop to take occasional photographs’, I said.  ‘That’s fine’, my companion replied.  Even that respite was denied me.  I had forgotten my camera.  My bag contained nothing but water, wine, and a book I was returning to Keith.  Gutted.  This was a very pleasant morning with some beautiful scenes in view.  Not that I had much chance to look around me, as I concentrated on keeping abreast of Judith, and ensuring I was not reduced to watching her heels.  As we approached St. Julien, Judith pointed out the incongruity of the church tower, recently painted an excessively bright burnt sienna.  Perhaps it will weather in.

When we arrived at Razac, and Judith pointed out her home, still in the distance, I knew the end was in sight.  On entering, I sat down pretty sharpish.  In the characterful home she and Roger are building to her design, we were to be joined for lunch by the couple mentioned earlier, and other friends, Andie and Keith.  Andie had made an excellent Rita in the MADS production of ‘Educating Rita’ at Issegeac last year.  Roger’s mother is now in residence.  She looked fresh, in a pretty dress with an attractive coiffure created by a domiciliary hairdresser.

Not only had Judith set off early for the walk, she had prepared an excellent tradional roast lamb Sunday lunch, which she completed as soon as she got back, taking time out to wash and change into an attractive long dress.  I, on the other hand, not having brought a change of clothes, dried out in the sunshine.  My claim that Judith had ‘knackered me’ caused some amusement.  The alfresco meal was convivial fun, and we all tried our skill with Roger’s catapult.  Late in the afternoon, as the party disbanded, Robin and Mary drove me home.

Before going to bed I watched Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’, an unrelentingly harrowing portrayal of military training and the exercise of the purpose for which it is intended.  Brilliant, if you can sit through it.

Family Pride

Last night at Le Code Bar I was the proudest man there.  The television room seemed to have been commandeered by raucus English pride.  I sat quietly choking throughout the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.  By the time it finished it was well into today.  Consequently I didn’t wake up this morning until the unheard of hour of 11.15.

I knew that Sam had been involved in the committee adminstration for the whole five years since the bid was gained; that Holly had joined the team a year later as an environmentalist; that Adam had designed and managed a surprise at the end; and that Thea had produce some of the costumes.  Naturally I had told David and Frederick all this.  David enjoyed ragging me with the comment that this ceremony, and, indeed, the whole event, could not have taken place without the Knight family.  In one respect, he was right.  Adam Keenan, take a bow.

First we were treated to a spectacular and stunning live tableau of British social and cultural history.  The Olympic stadium had been transformed into the metamorphosing UK landscapes.  The choreography of the sheer numbers of characters and dancers was absolutely mind-blowing.  I gave up trying to imagine which costumes Thea had designed.  Knowing her, I suspect it was the most colourful.  Being determined to see this through to the end, I was well rewarded.  The lights were dimmed and transformed into a translucent blue.  From a central tunnel, one by one, emerged many magnificent working models of doves of peace.  This had Adam’s stamp all over it.  I doubt that anyone in the vast live audience could have seen that each one was powered by a cyclist.  Even on television this was spectacular.  Flapping their wings, the white doves against the blue of the sky, as they encircled the arena were incredibly effective.  One soared aloft.

We then heard speeches followed by various runners bearing the torch.  A drunken Englishman took pleasure in bawling into everyone’s ears a question concerning who would be the final torchbearer.  I firmly said ‘no idea’ and he left me in peace..  The answer turned out to be a team, each individual lighting points on machinery which rose to meet in the centre.  Well pleased, I went off to bed.

Today, Maggie and Mike collected me for a tour of garden centres, and took me back to Eymet for chicken casserole.  Sandrine drove my taxi home.

A Square Meal

Paella 7.12

Last night Le Code Bar was very quiet.  For this reason Frederick was able to offer me a complimentary glass of wine to drink with him, so I wasn’t quite as abstemious as I’d claimed.  Apparently it is far too hot for people to come out.  He and the staff are very concerned about the cat (see yesterday), which is disturbing for customers.  If only some of the diners would stop feeding it.

After this I watched ‘Ground Control’, a gripping and heart-rending film in praise of Air Traffic controllers, in which Kiefer Sutherland was magnificent in the lead role.  The supporting cast, including Henry Winkler (The Fonze in a previous incarnation) were excellent.

This morning my language skills were tested to the limit.  I had new windows and shutters fitted by Huis Clos.  Having been most impressed by their organisation and the fact that everyone I had spoken to so far, either in person or on the phone had pretty good English, I thought today’s communication would be a doddle.  Two very friendly artisans from the deep South turned up.  They spoke Spanish as well as their regional French, and had the tell-tale accent complete with lisp.  Their understanding of me was better than mine of them.  I knew I was getting somewhere, however, when there were no windows or shutters to the sitting room.  We sat sharing coffee and talked Olympics.  If they didn’t understand what I said, I found other words which did the trick.  So, coffee over, I said they could leave the back of the house as it was because there was a nice breeze coming through.  ‘As you wish,’ said the younger man, making as if to pick up his tools, and extending his hand  ‘Goodbye Monsieur’, a broad smile on his face.  That was the first and only time they sat down until they had finished.  I am extremely satisfied with their work.  I now have beautifully fitting shutters and secure French doors.

With 44 degrees on the garden thermometer and now no breeze, I spent the afternoon inside and finished John Le Carre’s Single & Single.  This novel, still about the Intelligence game and still intriguing, seemed to me much more humorous than other works of his I’ve read.  I enjoyed it.

At 4.15 I ventured out into the blistering heat and glare of sunlight.  I took the circular route round the cemetery to La Briaude and along the Eymet road back into Sigoules.  The French enjoy decorating their streets with flowers, and Sigoules has more than its share of artefacts from a bygone age filled with brightly coloured blooms.

Along the road to La Briaude a cock was crowing.  Perhaps his clocks keep similar times to those in No. 6.  Crickets were being broadcast in stereo.  Various amphibians were splashing about in the now shallow roadside stream.  Someone had extended their garden across the road onto the edge of a maize field.  Our Morden neighbour (see 18th. May post) would be proud of them.  I was relieved to benefit from the brief shade of the tree-lined road around the hamlet.

There was a bit of a wind by the time I got back.  It did more to dry than to cool me.

This evening it was paella and chicken and chips from stalls in the market square and Stella Artois from Le Code Bar.  As I have mentioned before, every Friday evening throughout July and August the square is covered in long tables and chairs; various food suppliers put up their stalls; Les Caves and others produce the wine; and people swarm in from miles around.  There is a pop group singing a fair number of English songs.  With respect to those who want to sleep, everything closes down around midnight. Given my proximity to the square I’d best join in.  If I didn’t there would be no point in going to bed early.  In any case these are delightful occasions, and at one we met Judith and Roger Munns.

The Paris Marathon

Last night I watched a DVD of ‘Burn After Reading’.  In this film political thrillers and computer dating get the Cohen brothers’ treatment.  That is, they make farce out of them.  David Edwards of the Daily Mirror described it as ‘………comedy genius’.  That is what Joel and Ethan Cohen are all about.  George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt must have had great fun playing their parts to perfection.

This morning I walked to Monbos and branched off to Ste Innocence from where I returned to Sigoules.  This was a two and a half hour trek in the heat of the day.  And I do mean heat.  As I marched along, carrying a bottle of Perrier, a woman getting into her car told me it was very dangerous walking in this without a hat.  She didn’t quote Noel Coward at me, and I didn’t mention that I was suffering a slight hangover after my second bottle of Adnam’s last night.  I had not realised it is 6.7%.

The scratting of crickets in the hedgerows and of cicadas in the trees reminded me of the latter creatures at The Gite From Hell (4th. June).  I could feel the heat rising from the tarmac, the tar of which was, in places, melting.  It clung to my sandals, just as it had in Stanton Road in 1947, when I returned from play covered in it.  I expect my poor mother had to scrap my clothes.  Even the sunflowers turned their backs on the midday sun.

I have described the church at Monbos before (8th. June), but that was when I was not illustrating my posts.

At Ste Innocence I met a Dutchman called Emil who has a house there.  We swapped stories of such impulse buys.

As I staggered back into Sigoules, I thought of the Italian runner in the lead who was disqualified at the first London Olympics because, as he was wandering all over the place, someone helped him across the line.  I wasn’t marching any more.  The ice-cold water I had set off with was now almost ready for the cafetiere.  I put what was left of it in the fridge and got out another bottle which I consumed pretty quickly.  Rivulets ran down my neck for a while.  My soaking T-shirt soon dried in the 40 degree sauna that was the back yard.  I was in neither the shirt nor the garden at the time.  I had been as relieved to enter the cool shelter of the stone-walled No. 6 rue St. Jacques as Jackie would have been.  She wouldn’t have left it in the first place.

When running a marathon it is essential to drink water at regular intervals.  If you wait until you are thirsty it is too late.  This refreshment is taken in brief sips on the run.  You become accustomed to this by carrying water in training.  On one of our shared holidays with Sam and Louisa and our late wives Ann and Jessica, Don decided to help me out.  Meeting me at regular intervals on a two hour run, he provided the drink stations.  Driving to agreed points on the route, he brought me wonderfully cool, fresh, water.  We called this service ‘Le wagon d’eau’.  Don, where were you today?

That is why, in properly organised races, there are regular drink stations.  In the Paris marathon, some time in the ’80s, there were refreshment stands like no others.  The first was the only one at which I saw any water.  From it were distributed large plastic containers of Evian.  Those, like me, who managed to grasp one drank slowly and passed it on.  Big mistake.  Other tables contained nuts, bananas, and chocolate, none of which I could bear to think about.  Only at the last oasis did I see anything resembling liquid.  Huge containers of yoghurt.  I grabbed one and guzzled the lot.  Second big mistake.

I was quite used to congestion at the start of capital marathons.  In the London one it would take me ten minutes walking to reach the start line and a futher ten to take up anything like my normal pace.  Paris, however, just had to provide a blockage at the finish.  Ten minutes in a situation that reminded me of The Drain (6th. July).

Marshalling during the race was equally chaotic.  There are cobblestones around The Tower in one small stretch of the London event. These always need careful negotiation by the runners, who are left in peace to get on with it.  Not so in Paris, which had far more cobbled areas.  Any spectators wishing to do so seemed welcome to try their luck pacing alongside the contestants.  Cyclists were granted similar freedom.

A French friend, Arnoux, claiming to be there to meet a famous English runner; which, I hasten to add, I am not; smoothed my final passage through the drain.  As I was taking a welcome bath in our friends’ home, up came the yoghurt.  It supplemented the bath water.  I then had to explain why my ablutions had taken such a long time.  It was with considerable relief that, on the ferry home, I learned that even the elite runners had suffered similar embarrassment.  I never ran Paris again.

This evening I exchanged the back garden sauna for the one outside Le Bar for a deliciously tasty fruits de mer pizza with a plentiful side salad.  This was complemented by one glass of rose and a bottle of fizzy water.  After last night I thought I’d be careful.  An excellent creme brulee followed.

The problem with dining alfresco is that it tends to attract the local fauna.  Flies can be dismissed with a wave of the hand, or Australian salute as they tell me in Perth; ants need a well-aimed flick; the cat needed a little more persuasion to desist from climbing up my bare leg in search of my fruits de mer.

Friends To Bank On

On another scorching day Elizabeth drove me to Southampton airport where I boarded a plane to Bergerac to be met by Lydie, waving her arms and striding across the tarmac to embrace me.  She is, incidentally, about a foot shorter than me with the grip of a bear.  I had to drop my bag.  Before paying I asked her to deliver me to the Credit Agricole cash machine in the market square.  Still dopy from the plane, I entered the wrong pin number.  I had to search in my trouser pocket for the correct one, hidden in an electronic device.  So well hidden, that by the time I had retrieved it I had run out of time.  Lydie patiently waiting in the taxi.  Me scrabbling in my trousers, concerned that I was keeping her waiting.  An Englishman just off the plane.  I had to start again.  The machine gobbled my card.

I had given Lydie a list of trips for my friend Don, joining me next week, and me up to 14th. August, the first being in three days time.  ‘No problem’, she said,  ‘Saturday will do.’  Unfortunately this bank is only open two mornings a week , and tomorrow isn’t one of them.  Any visit there also has to wait until Saturday.  Now, my French account is with Barclays.  I originally opened this in Bergerac.  Sometime last year I discovered that that branch no longer does everyday banking.  Without my knowledge my account had been transferred to Paris  I could walk to Bergerac, but no way am I walking to Paris.  There was, therefore, nothing for it today but to telephone my personal banking manager in Paris.  Despite what it says on his card he wasn’t there.  There followed conversations with two different, very helpful, women interspersed with holding, biligual, messages.  Thank goodness, with their English and my French, we got by.  My card has been cancelled and I will be sent a new one which will cost 16 euros.  So far, so good.  But.  They can only send it to England, not to my house in France.  If I could get to Bordeaux, two and a half hours drive away, I would be able to collect my replacement card there.  Patiently, oh, so patiently, I explained that Bordeaux was a very long way away, I had no car, and NO MONEY.  Ah.  I can, however, use my chequebook, I am assured, without the card, although some people will not accept cheques for small sums like 2 euros.  Throughout this I naturally remained my usual calm, unflappable, self.

I then drew 90 euros on my NatWest account.  This, of course, will cost me a transfer fee.  And I’ve just transferred almost everything in my current account in England to my French one in order to pay for replacement shutters and windows, the work to start in two days time.  I may even go into overdraft, incurring another fee, despite having more than enough in a special interest bearing account which earns peanuts.  Now I know why NatWest have changed their Gold Account to a Black one.  Somewhat stymied.

It was definitely time to visit my friend David in Le Code Bar.  David readily allowed me to run up a tab for the duration of my stay and let me have cash if I needed it.  Given that this is a very recent friendship I would call that a generous display of trust.

Never mind.  The house is as I left it in early June.  The agapanthus is blooming for the first time; the lizards are basking in 38 degrees; and I am growing my own tomatoes on a plant which has forced its way through the boards of my compost bin.  There are potatoes coming up in a bed I composted last year.

I’ve just missed the annual wine festival, the bunting for which will stay in the village for the rest of the summer.  UK, of course, has been similarly festooned since the football world cup and the Queen’s jubilee, and now awaits the London Olympics, for which I will also be absent.  I have exchanged Union flags for floral flourishes.

Once I’d settled in, I paid a visit to my friends Garry and Brigitte who live next door.  Unfortunately for me their magnificent house is up for sale; sadly for them the market is depleted.  We had what, for me, is essential, a pleasant conversation with people who  speak the correct French I learned at school with a Parisian accent, delivered at a pace I can understand.  It is good for my ears which cannot pick up the local accent.  Rather like a French speaker trying to understand a Geordie.

In Carrefour I had a cheque accepted without a card.

This evening I dined alfresco at Le Bar.  I sat under a lime tree sadly devoid of caterpillars (see yesterday).  There were, however, a number of flies seemingly interested in my steak and chips; and the occasional wasp attracted by my Adnams Innovation.  Take note of the latter, Don.  Creme brulee was to follow. I was well satisfied.

From Lattice To Web

I began this extremely hot cloudless day with a walk through Telegraph Woods.  Alongside Telegraph Road, into which Beacon Road forms a T junction, lies this ancient elevated woodland.  I believe the name comes from the fact that the fire beacons prepared as a warning against the Spanish armada (see 7th. July post) were superseded by the telegraph system.  There is, however, alleged to be the remains of an armada beacon surrounded by Douglas firs just inside the woods. Even older remains are said to be those of an Iron Age hill fort. Using the steps set into parts of the very steep terrain one could believe it would have been difficult to penetrate.

Hearing a rhythmic rustling I looked up into an extremely tall beech tree in time to see, descending in stately fashion down the trunk, a curled up leaf looking like one of the caterpillars that did a trapeze act from the leaves of the lime trees that lined the Stanton Road of my childhood.  These creatures only had feet at the beginning and end of their lengths and therefore formed a series of arches as they rolled down the trunks.  Are there any entomologists out there who can identify them?

Given that woodland once extended to the very boundary of Elizabeth’s home and that today’s deer may have a collective historical memory it is perhaps not unusual that in some years her garden has been invaded by ungulates devouring her spring shoots.  I was nevertheless surprised to see a fossilised stag embedded at the foot of a tree.

I walked through the woods to Hampshire County Cricket Club’s Ageas Bowl.  At the back of the cricket ground lies what looks to be a very serious golf course.  Some golfers were already out playing, or dragging their caddies into position. Others were gathering for the fray.  Some riding in golfing cars, which must have a name I don’t know; others with bags of clubs slung over their shoulders, or carried on wheels.  What they all had in common was an air of material comfort.   From the central mound in the wood there is an amazing view through the trees onto the rolling landscape and beautifully tended greens.

I finished off a new edge to a bed this morning, then had a coffee with Elizabeth.  We got talking about how far photography has come in the years since the second third of the nineteenth century.  I often wonder what William Henry Fox Talbot in particular would think if he knew that photographs produced with the press of a button could, through the intermediary of a bit of wire and a box you plug into a wall, be immediately transmitted around the world and instantaneously printed. In 1835, when he obtained his tiny grey picture, just over an inch square, with his own little wooden camera obscura, of a latticed window at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, little could he have known what would be done with a thumbnail in today’s computer.  Fox Talbot referred to his cameras as ‘mousetraps’, which is indeed what they look like.  For many years to come, sending photographs to others had to be carried by ‘snail mail’ or personal delivery in gradually developing forms of transport.  Now we have the world wide web.

My header photograph today comes from the municipal dump where Elizabeth and I took the garden refuse left over from the weekend’s bonfires.  We decided on this over lunch, for which, fortuitously, I ate a Sainsbury’s latticed pork pie.  Bonfires, now that we have long sunny days at last, have been upsetting the neighbours.  Instead of burning our pruned material we bagged it up and took it to the recycling centre.  It needed two trips and the first thing we saw as we re-entered the drive after the second was one we had left behind.

The sun was so strong that it appeared to be burning the colour out of Cotinus leaves.

For our evening meal Elizabeth and I drove out to The Phoenix in Twyford where we had good basic pub food in a cask ale establishment.  I had faggots, chips and peas augmented by one of Elizabeth’s sausages, which still left her with two.  My starter of stilton and broccoli soup was excellent.  We both took a chance on Punter beer, which paid off.  Noticing two Stanton Road lime trees, I was disappointed to find no caterpillars.


Roots 7.12

This was another beautiful, hot, summer’s day.  Having spent a large part of yesterday reducing the span of a wandering Philadelphus, or Mock Orange, this morning I tackled its  rambling roots.  Armed with a large fork, an axe, and a back, I set to.  It wasn’t until three and a half hours later that I was satisfied I had reclaimed this tiny patch of land.  My back’s OK but my right wrist feels the strain of trying to pull up obstinate, well embedded arborial foundations.  First I dug all round them, then had a tug.  When they wouldn’t come, sometimes I had to dig a bit more, or, as a last resort, wield the axe.  I had to remove a lovely old blue brick from the path through the pergola, so I could get at lateral growths underneath it.  That was easily repositioned.  I imagine John, from yesterday’s post, would have had everything out, and the area replanted, in no time.  As it was, Jackie had to wait until I had staggered to a halt before she could put her wilting plants to bed.

It is Alan Warren’s fault that my wrist feels the strain at such times.  This is because, for the last thirty five years or so the third finger of that hand has been prevented from bending by calcified material on the first joint.  It was Alan who put it there.  We were both playing rugby for the same side, The Old Whitgiftians.  We both dived for the ball at the same time.  Alan got the ball; I got a broken finger.  Alan, dear soul, has completely forgotten about it.  I remember every time I try to pick up a handful of change in a shop; or when someone assumes that unscrewing the top off a jar would be easy peasy for me.  I have to bring the wrong fingers into play when performing basic tasks.  Come to think of it, even handling a mouse is a bit awkward.

Rambling roots is, of course what this blog is all about.  Roots are important to us all.  Alex Hayley wrote a seminal novel about them.  I would not have met Pauline Lines had it not been for Sam’s mother-in-law Gay O’Neill’s desire, from Australia, to trace hers.  Pauline turned out to be a cousin living in Cheam, to whom I was introduced at Sam and Holly’s wedding.  In fact, Gay’s Facebook identity is Geneholic O’Neill.  My brother Chris has a similar keen interest in genealogy, and is tracing the family membership back through several generations.  My mother is the custodian of our living memory bank.  It was she who could identify the huge portrait I have of Elizabeth Franks, my maternal great grandmother.  I may not be around long enough to give out similar information to the next generations, but maybe this project of mine will help.

What I am focussing on is my own life, current and past; and others who have been part of it.  This is why I write about what I see and experience today, coupled with sometimes rambling memories which come to me.  Memories aren’t usually summoned in order, but appear as and when they feel like it.  They are like a random photograph album without captions.  They are what the recipient makes of them, and no two people’s recollections of the same event are likely to be the same.  Sometimes it is their memories that are divergent; sometimes they just experience the event differently.  Elizabeth, twelve years the younger, and I have often noticed how we had different experiences of upbringing in the same family.  It is serendipitous that I should be living in Morden in a period of life when I have both the time and the ability to go rambling.  Morden wasn’t a large part of my childhood, but it is near enough to Wimbledon and Raynes Park to give me easy access to those places that were.   Mum tells her stories in her own way.  They are informative, but when she and I recount the same event, our versions may differ in immaterial or significant detail.  So is it with my recollections.  They are mine, not necessarily the gospel according to anyone else.  I, of course, think they are infallible.

This evening Jackie returned to Morden and I stayed on at The Firs as I am off to Sigoules on Wednesday.  We went off for an Eastern Nights meal, only to find that they are not open on Mondays. The Purbani in Hedge End provided an acceptable alternative.  We had been there before and liked the food but thought the place was desperately in need of a facelift.  We particularly remembered the carpet which had appeared so worn and greasy in parts as to have been lino.  As we entered Jackie said: ‘You never know, they may have a new carpet.’  They had.  And all new linen.  And the meal was just as good.


On this, the first hot summer’s day we have enjoyed this year, we gardened all day.  I had an unfortunate hiatus of about two hours during which I vainly tried to get my printer to produce the right colours in a print I was attempting to make of the picture of Harriet featuring in yesterday’s post.  I needed to get back to digging to work out my frustration.  If I know the equipment is at fault, I can cope with it.  If I am the problem I can live with it.  If I don’t know which it is it does my head in.

Jackie focussed on planting, and Elizabeth and I on clearing an overgrown area and re-discovering a lost bed.  One result of this year’s weeding and pruning has been exposing paths through the cruciform pergola.  We are now hoping to position features  visible through these walkways from different parts of the garden.  The bench containing plants ready for their final homes, somewhat blighted by the washing cradle in the background, gives some idea.

One of Geoff’s garden sculptures, now clearly visible, generously provides a feeture at the opposite end of this section.  The unobtrusive boundary fence mentioned yesterday is about to be stamped on.

Especially on a day like this, showers for the workers are necessary, as is frequent washing of hands in order to partake of drinks and snacks.  This involves visits to the bathroom, which contains a glass cabinet which Elizabeth uses to show her collection of old glass artifacts.  

Not shown in the header picture is the Victorian ceramic cold cream pot, complete with lid.  It is mainly this which, every time I see this display takes me back to the days of The Mudlarks. No, not the pop vocal group of the 50s and 60s.  Us.  The early 1980s were our mudlarking years. Strictly speaking I think mudlarking is confined to activity on the Thames.  Scavengers would, in Victorian times, and probably long before, search at low tide for anything valuable that may have been dropped in the river.  Waterside  taverns provided rich pickings.  When Matthew and Becky were small  I would take them off to a site near the river at Kingston.  This wasn’t actually on the riverside.  It was a patch of land, owned by the Council, which was about to be built on.  It covered the site of a Victorian midden, or rubbish dump.  We, and some other enthusiasts were given permission to dig here for lost treasure.  The only proviso was that we must fill in our hole when we had ransacked it.  Except for John, we all found the returning of the soil pretty tough after having dug it all out.

John was a small, wiry,  immensely strong Jack Russell of a man who would grab a shovel, get stuck in, and disappear down his hole sending up showers of earth like a terrier down a foxhole.  John’s bag would be full of finds while I was still thinking about it.  His hole would be filled in before mine had been dug.  For a time this was wonderfully exciting family entertainment.  We found lots of stone beer bottles and hot water bottles, marked with the names of brewers and manufacturers long since part of history.  Most prized by the children were the lozenge-shaped lemonade containers with marbles in their necks.  The fizz would force these glass balls to seal the bottles.  We did not find many complete ones because Mat and Becky’s Victorian predecessors had already had the marbles.  And, of course, we found little ceramic pots like the one in the photograph.  Medicine bottles, and Mexican Hair Restorer were often blue.  We saw how the shapes of Bovril and ink bottles had changed over the years.  I am looking at a James Keiller & Sons Dundee Marmalade pot from that era as I type, and Matthew and Becky still have some of those early spoils.

Only on one occasion did we go mudlarking in the true sense of the word.  If you dig a hole  on the side of the Thames it is even more imperative to fill it in.  Sometimes people avoid this process and allow the action of the tide to do it for them.  Then you get a quagmire.  As we found out.  We went hunting below a waterside pub.  All we managed to find was a few ox’s jawbones and teeth, and heaps of oyster shells.  No gold coins, nor even silver ones.  When we decided the tide would soon be coming in we made for the safety of the embankment.  Jessica, pregnant with Louisa, went striding off in her billowing Monsoon skirt and green wellies.  And disappeared.  She was in a quagmire.  With great difficulty, I fished her out.  I suppose you could say that was our only successful find that day.

Jackie decided at one point this afternoon to take a break, sit on a garden chair, and survey the scene.  She was joined by this little chap who flew down and sat on her knee.  Thereafter he was quite fearless in his foremanship.

Rather late in the evening we sat down to a meal of chicken in barbecue sauce, cooked in the oven. Why anyone would ever want to cook outside, over a grill most difficult to keep alight and smelling unpleasant when they could use kitchen equipment, I will never know.  Elizabeth and I drank Gran Familia Las Primas  2011, and Jackie had the Coop’s French Lager.  Whilst eating Jackie’s fluffy and tasty bread and butter pudding, we reminisced about Dad’s bread pudding . The only dish Dad ever produced was a real command performance.  We never knew what he would put in it.  Probably neither did he.  Elizabeth and I decided that the year it was inedible was when  he applied a liberal sprinkling of Galloway’s Cough Syrup.  Elizabeth is convinced that one year Mum prevented him from adding boot polish.  This surely has to be apocryphal.  But just in case it isn’t I’m not asking Mum.