Harvest Mice

Seated in the arbour this morning, Jackie and I contemplated the wildlife around us.  A squirrel scampering across the lawn was no doubt seeking store-cupboards for winter supplies.  Underneath a thin covering of the grass lie ancient gravel footpaths.  These are always the first sections to turn brown in a drought.  A scuffed up part of one of these suggested that even a squirrel could not get through it to bury its spoils.  Squirrels had, however, turfed out small potted seedlings from their containers; rather like cuckoos placing their eggs in foster parents’ nests.   The bird-feeders had been refilled yesterday.  Small birds were feasting from them, whilst the larger, ungainly, pigeons, hyena-like, scavenged for spillage on the ground.  Jackie had emptied the bird-bath yesterday, with the intention of cleaning and refilling it today.  This was because it had been fouled by the pigeons.  A number of tits were flitting down, expecting a drink after their breakfast, only to be disappointed.  So she refilled it and I am sure the birds expressed their gratitude.

The pigeon photographed on 13th. September drinking from the bath could not have been a soiling culprit.  It had been ailing, and eventually succumbed to a marauding cat.  We think a cat, rather than a fox, because it’s clawed body had not been eaten.

Having lunch at the kitchen table I admired the sweet peas which usually adorn it.  Constantly cutting the flowers ensures frequent replenishment of the stock.  Some of these will have come from the cosy arbour mentioned above.  Another container of flowers regularly being filled is the ‘accident pot’.  This sits on the patio between the kitchen door and that of the workroom/garage/potting shed; and is a receptacle for flowers which have been broken off inadvertently during the gardening activities.

Jackie explained the production of the sourdough bread we were eating.  It is apparently the extra length of time in the yeast box which produces the strong flavour.  She spoke of how she had enjoyed making bread for the harvest festivals with Matthew and Becky.  The children used to love making little mice with which to decorate the sheaves of dough.  They had a very special effect, since, by the time they were applied, they were always grey.

Later, we finished putting the pages for the project for Mum into the display albums; then worked on developing ideas for the logo for Elizabeth’s new company, Psychologists for Autism.  Jackie came up with our favourite idea which we played around with to send to the professionals.  Elizabeth has received a draft of a different idea which really isn’t suitable.

This evening Roc des Chevaliers 2010 and, for Jackie, Hoegaarden 2012 helped down her roast pork dinner followed by apple crumble and custard or cream depending on taste.  A few strawberries found at the back of the fridge, although a bit crusty, were still edible.

West Quay

Nasturtium 9.12This was a beautiful, crisp, autumn morning.  It followed a week of rain.  The deep blue heliotrope which had sat on a chamber pot on the two-tone blue garden table had become waterlogged and drowned.  As Jackie and I sat with our morning coffee we had that sense of ‘what now?  the job’s done’.  But that didn’t stop us enjoying the garden.

I walked down Upper New Road to In-Excess in West End High Street in search of more display books for Mum’s project.  They didn’t have any, so I returned via West End Road.  When you read this, and especially what follows, Mum, I hope you appreciate the effort that’s gone into tracking down these folders.

Much of the day, apart from a trip to Southampton, was spent printing out my posts.

After lunch Jackie and I went to Sainsbury’s  superstore in Hedge End and bought the wine for next weekend’s grand event.  We then went on to Southampton’s Staples in search  of the display books.  We were headed for the Retail Village in West Quay.  Elizabeth had given us a Super Red Book, the local map for Southampton.  The map was clear, we thought.  All we had to do was work out where to start from and follow the roads marked.  Easy enough.  Really very soon, having driven along Bitterne Road, we passed a sign welcoming us to Southampton.  Then we hit the traffic.  A continuous stream in front of us suggested that the whole of the West Country was headed for the docks, and probably West Quay.  That, whilst we knew where we were going, simply demanded patience.  Soon it got a bit more complicated.  I was navigating, and Jackie was trying to interpret the road signs.  Tying up the actual road layout with what looks straightforward on the map tends to be rather confusing.  Anyone who has driven before the days of the Satnav will understand this problem.  If only you could pull over and get your bearings.  Not possible without parking where you shouldn’t, or sending another driver into an apopleptic fit.  On one occasion it was a pedestrian we upset.  Jackie, having stopped at traffic lights, had been going to drive straight on.  She was positioned in the correct lane for that when I gently suggested that she should turn left.  This involved a three point turn at the crossroads.  A pedestrian attempting to cross, actually against a red light, got a bit cheeky.  Following a sign to to the south circular road, we ended up in New Road which didn’t seem to make much sense.  Again changing lanes at traffic lights we headed down Palmerston Road and into more confusion.  I have always believed that the Satnav has rescued an awful lot of marriages.

It was with some relief that I espied the familiar blue and yellow of an Ikea building.  I remembered passing that last week when Elizabeth had driven me to Staples.  We were obviously somewhere near the retail village.  This, we now knew, meant a right turn.  The trouble was there were no more signs to West Quay or Retail Village.  Each right turn seemed to lead either to an hotel or a car park.  We had plenty of time to work it out as the traffic was solid. Harbour Parade was what we wanted.  Fortunately we took the correct turning into it.  We still weren’t clear of car parks and found we needed to extricate ourselves from a few.  Reading the directional arrows on the tarmac of these places can send you round and round in circles for some time, especially if the Exit signs are lacking.  Eventually we found ourselves in ToysRus car park, within sight of Ikea.  But we hadn’t found Staples.  It was at this point that I remembered that Elizabeth had approached the Retail Village from the motorway to the north of Southampton.  She had erroneously thought she had gone a long way round.  As we had gone through Southampton we had approached Ikea on our right.  Elizabeth’s route had been with the landmark on her left.  This made a bit of difference,  I phoned Elizabeth, told her where we were, and asked her for directions.  ‘Somewhere between where you are and Ikea’, was the best she could come up with.  It was, in fact, perfect.  Staples emerged into view and we parked outside with some relief.  Jackie, who has, for many years, visited mother and sisters in the area, said: ‘now I remember why we always avoided Southampton’.

Staples had the binders.  I scooped up an armful and we were soon on our way back.  This time on the motorway.  Elizabeth, you were not wrong to use it.

This evening we dined on roast chicken followed by The Firs mess.  Elizabeth and I drank a couple of different red wines and Jackie consumed Hoegaarden.

A Pikey

Keypoint paviers 9.12

Taking my normal route to Cannon Hill Common; with the exception of entering it through Joseph Hood recreation ground alongside; I paused in Maycross Avenue to chat to Keyline paviers.  Proud of their work, the man in charge told me how, with a membrane and a layer of concrete, they eradicated the weeds which I had seen a homeowner in another garden killing off, during a period of several days, earlier in the year.  This carport is there for good.

In the recreation ground, the grass was experiencing what is probably the final cut of the season.

As usual, alongside the lake, the vase attached to Allan William Marshall’s memorial bench was full of fresh flowers; ducks were being fed; and fishing was in progress.

Another grand oak had lost a limb, segments of which now encircle the tree, ensuring that there will be no need to manufacture benches in that part of the common for a long time to come.  Squirrels were racing up trees getting in supplies for the winter.

Walking back along the lake I chatted with Jordan and his friends.  Having the occasional difficulty with his line, there was great excitement when this boy was thought to have caught another fish.  His first catch, swimming around, as if in a goldfish  bowl, in a large orange bucket, was being gleefully inspected by his two friends.  There was some banter about who might be scared to touch the slippery scales.  The young lady, whose shiny patent leather handbag lay alongside other containers on the bank, was convinced the catch was ‘a pikey’.  The young angler was not so sure.  Having explained what I was doing, I had no need to worry about whether they knew what a website was.  Jordan’s male friend pulled out his Blackberry so I could enter the address in it.  I was somewhat relieved it was the same as my own mobile device, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to do so.  His companion told him he just had to e-mail it to Jordan and he would have it too.  Looking back over the years spanning today and my junior exploits described in my post of 30th. May, expanded in Chris’s comment on that of the next day, the advance in children’s equipment and communication skills was mind-boggling.

Hi, folks.

Hoping to avoid the rush hour traffic Jackie and I set off for The Firs earlier than usual, to be met by a snarl-up at the far end of Hillcross Avenue.  This had been caused by another taxi breaking down (see 26th. September).  This time, actually on the roundabout.  We got through this quite quickly, but the journey still took almost two hours.

Jackie, Elizabeth, Danni and I ate at the Eastern Nights.  Eventually.  Jackie drank Bangla, I had Cobra, and the other two shared a bottle of Cote du Rone.  Eventually.  The food was as wonderful as ever.  Eventually.  As we waited for an hour and a half for our meals we became aware that the two staff out front, both working their socks off, both very pleasant, yet rushed off their feet, were prioritising the takeaway service.  The phone was going all the time, and one or the other of them was rushing to answer it and take the order.  People who came into the restaurant for takeaway meals long after us, were being presented with their food long before us. I had decided I would speak to them about this the next time we went in on a quiet night, but after this length of time I had had enough.  I went up to the bar and leant on it waiting for one of the men to come.  At that moment, out from the kitchen came our hot-plates.  As our waiter left those on the table and approached me, I had a quick rethink.  I asked him for another pint of Cobra.  It still seemed best to speak quietly about the problems at another time.  The others all agreed.

Banknotes And Phonecards

Today was a Mordred (posted 12th. July) day.

I took my usual route to SW1 for coffee with Carol.  A flattened frog, having attempted to cross the sodden footpath in Morden Hall Park, hadn’t made it.  As I slalomed around the pools, a cyclist who had crept up behind me deftly avoided me as I crossed her path.

The warning notice on the tramway which divides the National Trust property from the Wandle Trail must have been inspired by the push-me-pull-you from the 1967 film, ‘Doctor Dolittle’, starring Rex Harrison and Anthony Newley.

An announcer at Victoria politely requested travellers to ‘stand on the right and walk down on the left of the escalator’.  This seemed to me to be an impossibility.

In speaking with Carol, I mentioned a collector I had once disappointed.  When Louisa was very young she had become interested in foreign banknotes.  I took great delight in scouring Newark market stalls for samples with which to enhance her collection.  In her teens she moved on to other things and returned them to me.  Learning of my friend’s interest I offered them to him.  And was unable to find them.  When moving back to London in 2006, I unearthed them and sent them to him.  He was very pleased.

Phonecards required me to be a bit more adventurous.  In the 1980s, when Louisa began collecting them, I was working in London, which is, of course, full of phoneboxes.  These cards contained a reader which recorded the time left available on them.  When exhausted, they would often be abandoned in the boxes.  Rich pickings for someone prepared to tramp the streets and, if necessary, cross the road to forage.  They would come in sets.  I remember one celebrating a Pierce Brosnan James Bond film, the name of which escapes me.  I would happily try to fill in the gaps for my daughter, proudly presenting them on my return to Lindum house in the evenings.  It was a red-letter day when I found one of the first cards ever issued.  Since this was some time after its publication, I imagined it had been deposited by a tourist on his or her return to England.  I once mentioned this obsession to a friend of mine.  Now, these boxes also contained cards of another nature.  Often bearing obviously lying glamour photographs, sexual service advertisements were frequently pasted on the walls.  My friend got quite the wrong end of the stick and pulled my leg unmercifully.  Cursory glances into today’s telephone boxes on my return to Victoria demonstrated that these wares are still being marketed through this medium.  Most are now torn off, leaving stubborn fragments attached to the glass.  They look rather like a price label attached to a present, or a charity shop paperback, which you cannot completely remove.  Whilst carrying out my research I rather hoped that no-one watching would also get the wrong end of the stick.

That early phonecard, issued by BT (which in those days did truly stand for British Telecom) has now been superceded by a myriad of companies issuing cards without a reader; and the mobile phone has severely limited the call for public phone boxes.  Louisa eventually also donated that collection to me.  I don’t know where it is now.

For this evening’s meal I created a totally new version of chickem jalfrezi.  It never is quite the same as previous efforts, but this time it was an almost total invention because I’ve lost the recipe.  I’ve made it enough times for that to be no real problem, it just makes for variety.  With it, we drank Kingfisher and Cobra 2012.

Trilby

Cyclist negotiating pools

Heavy rain was forecast again for today.  As a weak sun was putting in an occasional appearance I set off early for lunch with Norman, hoping to get my walk to Colliers Wood in before the deluge.  I was lucky.  The footpaths through Morden Hall Park and the Wandle Trail, except for dogs, once more required the slalom technique.  The animals did create quite a splash, so it was best to steer clear of them.  As I paused to contemplate a photograph, two small, punchy looking terriers wearing scary chain collars tore round a bend and cornered me.  When their owner came into view she cried: ‘Wayne, leave him alone’.  Wayne and his companion both desisted.  I quipped that that was more polite than I was accustomed to.  ‘People’, I said, ‘usually shout ‘Leave it’ (see post of 18th. June).  She replied that she could be horrible.  Glancing at her familiars, I thought that maybe she could.  Maybe the dogs upset my equilibrium, for the photograph was out of focus.  The rain set in as I reached Abbey Mills.

Emerging into the sunshine from Neasden underground station, I was soon aware of the unmelodic blasting of car horns.  Turning the bend by Harvest garage on my right, the cause became apparent.  There was a vast tailback along Neasden Lane.  A 4X4 had left the garage, managed to cross the road, and come to rest on the nose of a sports car on the opposite side.  The sporty driver was somewhat disgruntled.  As were a host of other motorists.  The 4X4 backed up, leaving the centre of the road clear for other cars.  Only for those in one direction.  Which stream would give way was still open for negotiation.  I left the rowdy scene, and further up the road came across a vehicle with its front wheels on the pavement.  The crews of two police cars, who had obviously pulled this one over, were taking details from its Eastern European occupants.  Just before the roundabout where the Lane joins the High Road, a taxi cab had broken down.  The driver spent a long time on his mobile phone, whilst I was sitting reading outside St. Mary’s Church.  Eventually a truck from J. Madden garages came to pick it up.  The scene was a bit too close to the roundabout for the breakdown man’s liking, but he was cheerful enough.  On my return to the station after lunch, traffic was solid on both sides of the road.  A police dog car, its sirens wailing, wasn’t making much headway.  Not a good day to be driving in this part of London.

The pools on the Neasden Lane pavements, pitted with sunken paving stones, were deeper and wider than those described earlier.  This time it was small children who enjoyed splashing about in them.  Their parents took their chances with the slow-moving traffic.

By the time I reached Church Road market, which was its usual vibrant self, it was raining again.  An enterprising stallholder was cashing in on the weather.

Norman provided an excellent meal of boiled bacon followed by rhubarb compote.  The wine was Palataia 2011 Pinot Noir, a surprisingly good German red.  Danni, please note I don’t need an evening repast after a Norman lunch.

Obediently keeping to the left on the way down the steps on my return to Neasden, I was confronted by a phalanx of women carrying buggies, with a man directly ahead of me, walking up the stairs, deep in a paperback book.  I stood patiently facing him until he emerged from his novel and stepped aside.

In the Jubilee Line train, opposite me a man in a navy blue pin-striped suit sat next to a woman wearing a navy blue pin-striped Trilby.  He had boarded the train some stations after her.  They were therefore not otherwise together.  I had already clocked her unusual appearance, including a large, gentleman’s style, watch strapped to the outside of her black sweater sleeve.  Joining the man on the Victoria Line interchange platform, I apprised him of the juxtaposition.  He was rather amused, especially as he had not noticed.  I wondered if the elegant young woman had read George du Maurier’s eponymous novel, ‘Trilby’.

The London Marathon

The London Eye from St. James's Park 9.12

It being a much brighter day, I set off for Green Park, travelling by underground.  As I left the flat, it began to rain.  This proved to be nothing more than a shower.  I thought I would walk around this public open space which, when we lived in Soho, was a local haunt.  The station has been improved, now offering an exit straight into the park.  For some reason which escapes me, I walked out into Piccadilly, turned right into St. James’s Street, down into The Mall, and across into St. James’s Park.  This was where, nearly fifty years ago, I had first fallen in love with Jackie, when, seated on a bench, we had, in unison, both exclaimed ‘cannibal’ on seeing a pigeon pecking at the discarded shell of someone’s boiled egg.  She may not agree, but to me that meant we at least shared a sense of humour.  Runners in the London Marathon must run down The Mall, around the corner facing Buckingham Palace, and along Birdcage Walk to the finish, just out of sight, on Westminster Bridge.  Entering the park, I witnessed a scramble of pigeons, in the demarcated feeding area, being fed by tourists.  In fact, everywhere, especially in the fenced off designated wildlife section, people were photographing and feeding the livestock.  I missed a wonderful photo opportunity when a young woman straightened up, having shot a squirrel.  I asked her to repeat the photograph so that I could take a picture of her taking her picture.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortuitously, she didn’t understand English.  For which she and her male companion were most apologetic.

Crossing the Blue Bridge into Birdcage Walk I remembered my nephew, Peter Darby-Knight, bravely struggling to walk to the finish, having injured his knee, many years after my own London runs.  I had also watched my granddaughter Emily, on two occasions, representing Croydon in the mini-marathon which takes place on the morning of the major event.  From the bridge I reprised a photograph I had first taken in the early 1960s.  The scene is now dominated by The London Eye.

The pigeons mentioned earlier put me in mind of the mass start to the marathon in Greenwich.  It takes ten minutes walking to reach the line, and quite a bit longer to find room to get into your stride.  On one occasion I was tripped by a man who tried to pass me in this melee.  I ran the race with blood trickling from my grazed knee.  He also fell.  I didn’t help him up.

In the first London race in 1981, Michael and I had watched the two leading men finish hand-in-hand as they crossed the line.  Then, the taking part was all.  Like the Olympics, that spirit has evaporated.  Winning is all.

My son, who the following year would be eighteen, and therefore eligible to run, suggested we do it together.  Taking up the suggestion in earnest, I trained for it.  Thinking that, as a rugby-playing fast bowler, I was fit enough, my first session was a five mile run from Croyon College to our home in Furzedown.  When I’d finished I could barely walk.  I tottered stiffly down to the box at the bottom of Gracedale Road to post a letter.  As I turned the corner on my return, who should be striding down the road but John Bussell.  John was a neighbour who had said I was completely mad to contemplate the venture.  Quick as a flash, I straightened up, denied my pain, and lengthened my step, to greet him.

Michael had more sense, so I ran the race alone.  Despite the strenuous competition at the elite level, there are still many thousands of people for whom just taking part is a magnificent experience.  I was fortunate enough to participate three times.  Then, the Canary Wharf business complex was a heap of rubble.  We wondered what was going to be built.  The elation of running this race with the streets all lined with row upon row of cheering spectators can only be imagined by non-participants.  Jazz bands are playing, and the world is watching on television.  If you are thinking of trying it, do not accept one of the many pints of beer which will be proffered outside the pubs alongside.  Rather, enjoy the hoses which may be played on you in hot weather.

Coming along The Embankment you will have your first sight of Big Ben.  Your heart may sink when you realise you still have four more miles to go.  Do not be tempted, as many are, to walk along the underpass where you cannot be seen.  If you do, you are unlikely to start running again.

In 1982, Matthew and Becky ran along the footpath beside me towards the finish.  That would not be possible now.

Today, entering the park opposite Buckingham Palace, a jogger, attempting to leap the low railings which form a border, tripped and went sprawling.  Fortunately on the grass.  Some years ago, en route to Victoria where I was to board a train to visit Wolf and Luci in Dulwich, I did something similar.  Running there from Harrow Road, in the darkness, off Edgware Road, I tripped on a chain closing off a church car park. I had thought I was still on the footpath.  Back-pack in harness, my feet still attached to the chain, I came a right cropper.  My hands firmly on the tarmac, I was unable to prevent myself from pivoting, head first onto the unyielding surface.  The priest took me in, administered first aid, and called an ambulance; and Wolf and Luci visited me instead.  In hospital, where I was being stitched up.  I bear the scar to this day.  Our meal was a little late that night.

These days, I walk.  It’s safer.  As I did this afternoon, along Buckingham Palace Road to Victoria, where I boarded a tube train to begin my return to Morden.  A blustery shower greeted me as I emerged from the underground and walked back to Links Avenue, listening to the rythmic sound of an empty Carlsberg can playing chicken amongst the traffic.

This evening, I served up a roast chicken meal.  Jackie finished yesterday’s Kingfisher and I drank the last of the chianti.

Sometimes It Does My Head In

Grass 9.12

Steady rain continued as I set off to walk to Staples in South Wimbledon and back.  Kendor Gardens was a playground for big fat brown slugs.  In order not to drip all over the stationery products, I took off my sopping raincoat.  This time the store was open, but had only one of the display books I was seeking.  Well, it’s a start.  I shopped at Sainsbury’s on the way back.  Lethal finials of umbrellas, held at the ready, were out in force, and had to be avoided.  A balding gentleman clasped a soggy copy of The Times to his head.  Only children in covered buggies seemed at all dry.  My trousers clung to my lower limbs as if they had just emerged, unrinsed, from the washing machine.  A pile of vomit I had noticed on my outward journey had become a bespattered pool.  In Crown Lane the gusts of wind almosr brought me to a standstill.

The conker season is suddenly upon us.

Late in the afternoon the clouds cleared and the day brightened.  I didn’t.  This is because I had printing problems.  As my regular readers know, I am working on a project for Mum’s ninetieth birthday.  I began printing my blog at The Firs last week.  When I came to the pages containing colour photographs, I could not get the correct colours.  This turned out to be because I needed a different paper.  I had only printed a couple of days worth in foggy mists before Elizabeth put me right.  I continued the work, leaving those pages uncorrected, thinking I would sort them out later.  In West End I am using my Canon Pro900 printer.  This, without my knowing why or how, had printed the pages in landscape.  I found it rather pleasing and decided to use the format.  Serendipity, I thought.  Until, back in Morden, I tried to do the same thing with my Epson printer.  The first time worked perfectly.  I printed a beautiful landscape page 1 of the ‘A Condundrum’ post.  Whoopee, I was on a roll.  Not for long.  I spent an hour or so trying to do the same with ‘Choosing a camera’.  Nothing doing.  It was either portrait form or blank paper.  After a while, all tense and frustrated, I decided to cook a spaghetti bolognese.  Fortunately this was far more successful than either the printing or the similar meal described on 17th. July.

The superb chianti which accompanied my meal helped to disperse my clouds.  This was Mondelli’s ‘Editione del Fondatore’ 2009.  Jackie filled the tankard I had bought her at the municipal dump on 17th. September with Kingfisher.  And drank it.

When I imported my last two photographs into my laptop, I couldn’t find them.  This took another period of time, with the assistance of Three Barrels brandy given to me by Becky and Ian.  (Nearly finished, folks).  The computer is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it does my head in.