Curry, A Biography

This morning, contemplating my lifelong relationship with curry, I took my usual route to Colliers Wood, turned right into Merton High Street, and continued to Tooting Bec Station where I boarded a tube train back to Morden.

Passing a hoarding on the road which forms a bridge dividing two sections of the Wandle Trail, I reflected that, as you know, Bacardi is not the nourishment with which I would choose to spice up my night.

Since my previous posts are peppered with curry references, I will not point these out.  There will be some repetition as I put it all together.  I have written of the numerous closures of English pubs, which are often transformed into Asian restaurants.  Delhi Heights in Colliers Wood manages to flourish with its fusion approach.

The Sree Krishna restaurant, which I passed on the approach to Tooting Broadway, was discovered by Jessica and me during our time in Furzedown in the 1980s.  We were encouraged by the fact that this South Indian establishment was frequented by indigenous doctors from the nearby St. George’s hospital.  Its food remains excellent, but, good as it is, for family atmosphere and friendliness of service, it cannot match the marvellous Sri Lankan Watch Me on Morden Road.  Sri Lankans were not here in the 1980s.

The crush of crowds in Tooting Broadway rivalled Oxford Street at sales time.  A young boy, bending to pick up a coin, caused a log-jam.  ‘Walk properly’, cautioned his mother.  ‘Nah, it’s my pound’, replied the boy, trying to avoid passers-by as he straightened up.  Further on, a short man, speaking to a much taller one, was heard to utter: ‘I’ve often wished I was three inches taller, or it was three inches longer.  Everyone’s got something like that’.  An interesting philosophy, I thought.

I had run past Tooting Bec station on countless occasions on my regular journey to Harrow Road in those Furzedown years.

Today’s title is that of Lizzie Collingham’s book which Louisa had given me and which contains the recipe for Susan’s chicken.

As with so many of my life-changing directions (see post of 18th July), I have Jackie to thank for my love affair with this princess of preparations.  In 1965 she introduced me to dining out, especially on her favourite food.  Having married early, bought a house, and started a family, my sole experience of meals which were not home-cooked was cafe lunches funded by luncheon vouchers provided by my pre-social-work employers.  When we were wed Jackie would save up the cost of a restaurant meal  from her housekeeping money and we would walk up from Raynes Park to the Wimbledon Tandoori in Ridgway.  During our stay in Wimbledon Village in 2011 we returned to that venue to which we introduced Becky.  None of the current staff had been born in our Amity Grove years.  It is now a firm favourite with Becky, and where, to the delight of those who served them, she became engaged to Ian.

The dishes of the Indian sub-continent are colourful, flavoursome, and emit a wonderful aroma.  Jackie loves walking home from the Civic Centre inhaling the splendid variety of smells emanating from Morden homes.  Not everyone likes the heat of chillies, but to me it is manna.  It was therefore natural for me, when I began to stay overnight in my counselling room in Harrow Road, where I had my own kitchen, to learn to cook my own.  This area was full of Halal shops where I could buy all the ingredients, even late at night.  If the recipe called for something I didn’t have, I simply popped across the road and bought it.  The Morden Food Store has replaced those Harrow Road emporiums, and Tooting

Broadway now has such suppliers in abundance.  Balti cook book 10.12It was Jessica who bought the Balti cook book which is my curry bible, well spattered with various spices.

Once I grasped the basics I was able to experiment and produce my own variations.  The preparation of Curried Boxing Day turkey is now a tradition in which my grandson Oliver loves to join me.  Asian spices can also enhance the flavours of some traditional English dishes.  Green cardomoms I find particularly beneficial in adding aromatic flavouring to stews; and garlic, not always included in our recipes, is often helpful.  It was green cardomoms which upset five-year-old Oliver when I forgot to mention I had included them and he bit on one.  The Italian arrabbiata makes plentiful use of chillies.

Only once have I prepared a complete meal, including the breads and complicated rice accompanying meat and vegetable dishes.  I did this in Newark for our friends Jill Tattersall and Tim Cordy.  I began early in the morning and it must have been 9 p.m. by the time we sat down to eat with me all in a fluster.  I even made my own garlic and ginger pastes, clogging up the blender.  Now I take Jackie’s advice and buy the pastes, the breads, and the samosas.  ‘Why make work for yourself?’, she asks.  ‘The Indian housewives don’t’.  I cannot bring myself yet to use the popular sauces produced by Patak or Lloyd Grossman.

Most of what we think of as Indian restaurants are in fact Bangladeshi, almost all the staff of which originate in the Sylhet city district.  I am told the influx began with sailors jumping ship in the UK.  My all-time favourite is the Akash in Edgware Road, at which I have been a regular, often attending weekly, since the early 1980s.  Majid outside akashMajid, the manager, and Shafiq, the chef have been there since its opening some forty years ago.  Shafiq came third in a Westminster-wide competition, beating such famous opposition as Veereswami’s in Regent Street.  It must be fifteen years since I actually placed an order, for, as soon as he sees me, Shafiq begins cooking a meal they have tailor-made for me.  This is a spiced-up naga strength Haldi.  A Bangladeshi restaurant in Westbourne Grove, whose full title, which I cannot remember, contains Bombay, did not change it when that Indian city reverted to its name Mumbai.  When I asked the proprietor why, he replied that he was not interested in an alteration.  His customers would not understand.

Veereswami’s was the first Indian restaurant in London, having been established for the benefit of officers of the Raj on leave in their home country, yet missing the culinary delights of their adopted one.  It now has a modern ambience and decor, with trendy design and staffed by waiters and managers in fashionable dress.  Others who have rejected the traditional famous flock wallpaper are the Tandoori in Woolston in Hampshire, and the Shaan in Churchgate, Newark.  These latter two are notable for their modern artwork and the Shaan, in particular, for the vibrant washes on its walls.  The Shaan is unique in my experience in that white English waiting staff outnumber those from Bangladesh.  The owner was born and brought up in Newark although he still employs native immigrants.  His family run another, long established, restaurant, which survives, in my view, on reputation alone.

With certain exceptions, such as some, but by no means all, in the West End of London, these Asian restaurants present excellent value for money.  Service is usually attentive, professional, and comfortable, offering napkins and finger wipes, with mints accompanying the bill.  This does not apply to Mitcham’s Raj, although if you can wait several hours; bring your own napkins; ask for a drink for which the waiter can dash out to the next-door shop; try not to tear the soiled paper tablecloths; and help yourself to cutlery; you will find the food exemplary.  Like Eastern Nights in Thornhill, they are dependent on takeaway meals for survival.  The Akash, also has a steady takeaway trade which keeps one dedicated member of staff rushing in and out all night.  This method of obtaining an evening meal has its place, for example if you have young children in bed asleep, or, as once in my case, you are suffering from a fever which only an Akash special can assuage.  I prefer to sit down and be served dishes which have come straight from the kitchen.

And let us not forget that Chicken Tikka Masala has now overtaken fish and chips or roast beef as the English national dish.  This has been specially adapted for us because we like our gravy.

This evening we collected our friend Sheila from her home in Tooting to eat in the Sree Krishna.  It being Hallowe’en they had candlelit pumpkins on the bar, which reminded me that Majeed at the Akash always erects a Christmas Tree.  Sheila drank sparkling water whilst Jackie and I had Kingfisher.  The meal was first rate and the coffee was particularly good.

Faith

On this clear, yet curiously balmy morning, I walked along the footpath linking the Morden railway path to Lower Morden Lane, turning right into Cannon Hill Lane which meandered a bit before passing the common.  Right again into Martin Way and I was soon home in Links Avenue.

In the wasteland at the back of Hillcross Avenue an optimistic individual had discarded a spotted umbrella. I noticed it.

On Grand Drive I was able to resolve to my satisfaction the significance of the white pavement markings mentioned yesterday.  A helpful initial by a similar sign suggested water.  Two workmen were amused by my activity, so I explained what I was doing.  ‘Take a picture of him.  He’s interesting’, said one.  ‘Don’t take a picture of me’, retorted his companion.  This was all in good humour, so as I turned away, I twisted around and pretended to photograph the man.  Loud laughter all round.  Further on, in Hillcross Avenue, I spotted initials by blue markings, C.P.U.  One of these marks just bore C.  Both Google and Chambers Dictionary give C.P.U. as central processing unit, so I am none the wiser.

Opposite the common in Cannon Hill Lane someone had attempted to brighten up the footpath leading to their front door.

Not far from the Beverley roundabout, in Grand Drive, lies a First Holy Communion shop.  Its display reminded me of my own exciting day, when I still believed in transubstantiation.  As I knelt in my pew with my ‘shining morning face’ well polished, alongside all the other hopeful seven-year-olds, I eagerly awaited, with a certain amount of awe, my inauguration into this magical mystery tour.  The essence of this tenet of Catholic belief is that, in taking communion, we are ingesting the real presence of Christ.  The bread and wine are transformed into His body and blood, only retaining their outward appearance.  Protestants believe this is simply symbolic.First Holy Communion window 10.12

Now, as I was preparing to leave for this morning’s ramble, I had spotted a fresh-faced young couple walking up to the front door of 34-40 Links Avenue.  They stood outside and eventually rang our bell.  Having realised what they were about, I went down to meet them.  The young woman, who, on this occasion, was the spokesperson, began with the question: ‘Do you think that war and suffering will never end?’.  Being familiar with this opening gambit, and noticing an index finger poised at the ready inside a copy of the Bible, I asked if they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They were.  I explained that I wasn’t interested, that I was a lapsed Catholic and therefore very familiar with the New Testament, and had, in recent years begun to explore the Old.  ‘So you believe in the Bible’, she replied, grasping the straw.  ‘I do’, said I, ‘but I don’t take it as literally as some people.’  I was grateful to Catholicism because it had given me principles to live by, although I no longer adhered to the religion.  The man thanked me for answering the door.  I said I had seen them come up the path and knew that they would ring all the bells in turn and eventually come to me.  This was both delivered and received with humour.

I was prepared to enter into this discussion to some limited extent because I respect what they are doing.  To my mind, whatever anyone’s faith, if truly believed, with consideration for others, and doing no harm, it can only enhance life.  That is why I have no problem with Islam, especially as its adherents have done so much to lift Morden out of the doldrums.  In the immediate aftermath of the 7th July 2005 London suicide bombings, two young Muslim men set up a stall on Oxford Street offering explanatory literature about their beliefs.  I stopped and commended their courage, although I declined their material.  Throughout the centuries and into modern times fanatics of all creeds have used religion to mask their true motives for causing mayem.

I have, in my time, chaired one fostering and two adoption panels.  I had to temper the approaches of one or two members who were so anti-fundamentalism that they were suspicious of any different religions.  What was important to me was what applicants’ beliefs meant to them and how they would affect their practical and emotional child care.  The blood transfusion issue was sometimes, of course, an insurmountable problem.

When Jackie came home from work she showed me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita which had been given to her by a colleague.  This is described as ‘an ancient text that…….provides disciplines that allow one to experience God in all things’.  She could not have known how today’s theme had developed.

I had laid out the ingredients and begun to fry onions for a pasta sauce, when Jackie arrived and took over.  This for me, was ‘a double result’.  I did not have to cook and the sauce was, with the addition of chillies, turned into an arrabbiata.  I am always tentative with these fiery ingredients, as I like them much hotter than anyone else.  It seems more politic to simply leave them out.  The delicious meal was consumed with Hoegaarden by Jackie, and Mondelli chianti 2009 by me.

No Dinner

Today having dawned crisp and clear, I circumperambulated Cannon Hill Common, my companions, as in Telegraph Woods yesterday, being magpies and squirrels scuttling about.

In Maycross Avenue a new set of paving was about to replace a front garden. Pavement markings 10.12 The pavement was disturbed and carried a series of markings the like of which I have often seen in cities.  I imagine they are alerting paviours to utility pipes that must be preserved.  The exact colour scheme escapes me.  Perhaps white or blue for water, and red for electricity.  Next time I see the road up I will check.  That won’t be long.

Three, silent, unexcited, and rather beautiful dogs waited in Cannon Hill Lane.  When their proud owner emerged from the Mini-Market he informed me that they were not huskies, but the larger Alaska Malamuts.

I was just in time to see caterers providing ducks with the last crumbs of their breakfast.

Four years after his death, Mr. Marshall’s memorial bench bore its usual vase of fresh flowers, roses this time, augmented by a container of cyclamen which should survive the winter.

As I returned down Cannon Hill Lane, a young boy, cycling up and down the pavement, had me wondering whether it was half-term.  I don’t think so.

Back in Links Avenue I struggled to get my head into crossword clueing mode.  Jackie has told me that, under the Minstead regime, as she, who will be retired, will be in charge of the kitchen, I will get no dinner until I have written a clue.  Maybe I should take a leaf out of my friends Maggie and Mike Kindred’s book and work steadily through the morning, but as I start my day with a ramble I can’t see that happening.

This evening I did have some dinner, on three counts; the first is that I cooked the sausage and gammon casserole I took from the fridge this morning; the second is that I made very good headway with the clues; and the third is that the new regime hasn’t started yet.  With our meal Jackie drank Hoegaarden, whilst I enjoyed Muriel, which, I hasten to add, is a superb 2007 reserve rioja purchased in the co-op, and well recommended.

Disorientation

It was just as cold this morning, signalling the end of British Summertime, but without the sunshine.  I walked to the municipal dump, the first stretch, as far as the initial roundabout, being a repeat of yesterday’s journey.  At the roundabout I went straight on up Botley Road, eventually arriving at Shamblehurst Road.  Jackie, who was to meet me there with the already loaded car, passed me a minute or two before I reached the dump.  So, we thought that was pretty good timing.

Glove on barbed wire 10.12

As I entered Telegraph Woods I couldn’t miss a child’s glove hanging from the barbed wire fence by the entry gate in Telegraph Road.  I reflected that some unfortunate, possibly sobbing, had travelled home with tingling fingers.  If this were an infant in a buggy that would be a much more painful experience than that suffered by one striding along in warming exercise.

After Ruby’s owner had been unsuccessful in stopping his dog from tearing down the slope and bashing her head on my shin, the walk through the wood was silent and solitary.  The distant monotonous drone of the M27 provided a trance-inducing backing to the crackling of my footsteps, and rustling of leaves disturbed by the scurrying of magpies and the scampering of squirrels; these last laying up winter stores such as the contents of the chestnut shells strewn about the paths and undergrowth.

Traversing the M27 by way of the bridge on Botley Road was almost surrealistic.  Steady streams of traffic whoosh whooshed past my right shoulder, while others with regular whoomphs rushed at me from my left.  The volleys from the left would disappear beneath my feet, yet my brain was not registering the height distance separating the motorway from the road I was walking on.  As I looked straight ahead, it was my peripheral vision picking up these moving stimuli, registering vehicles as if on my level which were in fact many feet beneath me, giving me momentary disorientation.  The experience was akin to having your brain blasted by exciting film extracts shooting across a multiplex cinema screen from all directions in a trailer which gives you a series of fast-moving images and deafening sound in an excessive sensory overload.  And it was windy.

After unloading the first batch of bags of garden refuse, we drove back to The Firs, pruned a cotinus, loaded up the rest of the autumn debris, returned to the dump, and unloaded it. Having lunched in the kitchen we repaired to the garden room for coffee and our regular entertainment provided by the wildlife overwintering in this country. Then we witnessed the solution to one of the garden’s many conundrums.  Last weekend Elizabeth bought about a dozen bags of horse compost which we stacked up beside what is left of the bracken variety.  When we arrived yesterday it was apparent that something had been tearing holes in these strong plastic bags.  We could only imagine foxes had been the perpetrators, but what on earth could they find of interest in horse manure?  Today, as we watched, a jay flew down, trotted up to the bags and began stabbing away at them and their contents.

This evening we finished off Jackie’s chicken curry and shared three quarters of a bottle of McGuigan’s bin 156 Chardonnay 1911, before returning to Morden.

Out In The Cold

This morning we awoke to bright blue clear skies and a much lower temperature.  I walked through Telegraph Woods, round the Ageas Bowl, into Botley Road, and, believe it or not, found my way to Jessops to collect some ink cartridges I had ordered last week.

It was cold enough to tighten the skin on my cheeks and the backs of my hands, and set my fingertips tingling.  I do have some excellent leather gloves that Becky bought me many years ago, but I tend not to wear them when out walking.  This is because I discovered in my teens that once I have been tramping for half an hour my circulation combats even freezing cold, and my hands are as warm as if covered in fleecy lining.  I have, of course, never tested this in Canada or Siberia.  Flickering leaves desperately clinging to buffeted branches in the woods lent a liquid lambency to the sunlight slipping through the trees which provided enough shade to cause an even greater fall in the temperature.  This reminded me of the density of the much more expansive Stapleford Woods near Newark through which I often ran on my twenty mile Sunday morning outings.  Particularly in the winter, when the road through never shed the early morning frost or snow,  the temperature would plummet as I entered this stretch.  This phenomenon was much more welcome in the heat of the summer.

I returned via Botley and Telegraph Roads.  Traffic on the M27, which I crossed by road bridge, was really hotting up, and Jackie and Elizabeth were chatting over coffee in the conservatory.  When seated in this garden room now, we have to take all dead leaves off the plants and collect up fallen petals.  That way we have a continuing fine floral display.

After lunch Elizabeth went shopping for presents; I heavily pruned two buddleias and bagged up their debris; and Jackie shopped for an evening meal.  Jackie and I then drove to the dump with a car full of garden refuse bags.  The dump had closed fifteen minutes before we arrived.  Stopping off at In-Excess for bird food we returned to The Firs.  Jackie waited for me to open the door.  ‘Haven’t you got your keys?’, I asked.  ‘No’, she replied.  ‘haven’t you got yours?’.  ‘No’, said I.  ‘Don’t you keep them on the same ring as your car and all your other keys?’    I’m sure you know the answer.  Well, Elizabeth wasn’t back, so we couldn’t get in.  By this time Jackie was rather cold, so she suggested we drove to Haskins Garden Centre and had a coffee in their restaurant.  So, off we went.  Haskins was open and thriving.  But their restaurant wasn’t.  Killing time by one partner wandering round inspecting potential gifts from a place where she wouldn’t normally look for them, and trying out perfumes not to her taste, whilst her companion hangs around glassy eyed is not really to be recommended.  But we did it until we were bored enough to venture back to The Firs.  Still no Elizabeth as we drove in one drive entrance, wondering what would be on offer on the car radio.  However, before the handbrake was off, my darling sister drove in the other side.

By now the leaden indigo of the recently clouded sky, tinged with the pink glow of sunset made us think we would not be surprised to see snow tomorrow.

When Jackie eventually gained access to The Firs she made an excellent chicken dopiaza which we ate accompanied by Kingfisher since 1857, in her case and Montpierre Reserve Fitou 2010 in the case of Elizabeth and me. We then repaired to the sitting room for a gawp, which is explained in my post of 2nd June.  Since this is carried out in various stages of somnolence I am posting this episode before it actually took place.  I may not be in a fit state afterwards.

A Grief Unobserved

Strolling in Morden Hall Park this morning, I encountered a group of volunteers strenuously striving to eradicate ivy from the bases of trees.  They were armed solely with spades and cutters.  They did not have the forks which I had found indispensible in digging out the pernicious tendrils (see 27th August post) that had required so much time at The Firs.  The man was tugging away with hands encased in protective gloves.

Wandering over to the wetlands I noticed a makeshift plank bridge which provided a short cut to the Natural Play Area which I have been terming an adventure playground.  The father of a family enjoying the swings agreed with me when I had told him I hadn’t been prepared to risk it and had taken the long way round.  ‘Especially in this weather’, he remarked.  The playground has been developed by the National Trust in consultation with Liberty Primary School.

Three mallards resting by the Wandle bank, and a young woman who put me in mind of Lot’s wife, were watching other ducks foraging in the swift-flowing stream.

Mallards by Wandle 10.12

I had had occasion to visit the reception area of the Civic Centre on my way through Morden, to hand Jackie some documents for signature.  There I had read a poster proclaiming that ‘Muhammad is the only prophet mentioned in the Bible’.  In Deuteronomy, we are told.  I had been given a copy of the Qur’an on my visit to the mosque on 18th May, but have not got round to reading it.

I have a number of books I have not got round to reading.  One of these was ‘A Grief Unobserved’ by my friend Maggie Kindred.  I determined to rectify that on my return to Links Avenue.  Being unable to put it down, I read it at a sitting.  Described as ‘insightful and sensitive’, this slender publication is designed ‘for parents, carers, and professionals who work with them’.  As a parent and as a professional I have a thorough grasp of Maggie’s subject and can assure you that this small paperback is as good as anything I have read, and more readable than most.  She speaks from the heart with a clear professional head.  We know exactly what life’s journey has been for Em, from her early bereavement, through her further losses in childhood and adolescence, and, perhaps most importantly and optimistically, her painful road to recovery.  Quite appropriately this is seen from the perspective of someone who believes in the significance of nurturing in human development, but no-one should underestimate Em’s inherent strengths.

My own son Michael was, at fourteen months old, two months younger than Em when they each lost their mothers.  Vivien’s death was recorded in my post of 17th July.  Readers will recall that I took him up to my parents house where we remained for two and a half years.  We never returned to our home at Ashcombe Road.  I had been unaware that, as Maggie tells us, children always seek the absent parent where they last saw them.  I was, however, instinctively aware that when my toddler son wandered at night about the much larger Bernard Gardens address, he was searching for his mother.  Probably because he was a boy, he had very little speech at that age, and, as Maggie explains, would not have had the cognitive ability to understand what was going on.

So how was I to tell him?  I had not yet discovered the direction explained in my 18th July post, so knew nothing about therapy.  What I did know about was stories.  His mother and I had always read to our son and shown him books and pictures.  I knew of nothing then appropriately written, so I made one up.  Each night as I tucked him in I told him a story about a little boy whose mother had died and what it meant.  Anyone who has read or told stories to small children will know the value of repetition, also highlighted by Maggie.  Woe betide you, though, if you make any changes, leave anything out, or mistake any details, for you will be corrected by the smallest listener.  It must have been a year before the little chap, just before nodding off, asked: ‘why did my Mummy die?’  Then, just as now as I write, my emotions welled up.  They were so mixed.  I felt a deep satisfaction that my way of telling him had worked, but complete impotence as to how to answer the question.  To this day I can’t remember what I said, but his question reverberates in my mind.

So, Maggie, for the simple, clear, and heart-rending; yet positive, way you have presented this necessary work, I thank you.  This should be essential reading for anyone remotely connected with its theme.  It can be obtained from www.pneumasprings.co.uk or www.kindredgamesandbooks.co.uk

Having travelled by car to Thornhill in Hampshire, Jackie and I ate at Eastern Nights, with Bangla and Cobra respectively imbibed.

The Rosewood Wine Table

Taking a slightly longer route to Colliers Wood to visit Carol, I walked down Morden Road and turned right into Merton High Street.

British Summer Time not yet being over, and it being what Larry Grayson would have called ‘a grey day’ anyway, it was, at 8.30 a.m., still quite dark.  Somnambulant pedestrians ambled along, whilst young children ‘creeping like snail’ or being dragged along, trekked ‘unwillingly to school’.  Some, clutching the sides of buggies, struggled, uncertain of step, to keep pace with their younger siblings comfortably esconced.

A welcoming luminous glow emanated from cafes whose occupants were dozing over breakfast.  On the low brick wall opposite the Civic Centre several smokers were seated, some, no doubt, having a drag on their last fag before boarding the tube.  Sleepy customers were propping up the forecourt pillars watching for buses.  Others were waiting for shops to open or collecting cash from the dispensers.

The street lamps had been extinguished some time ago, but, on the left hand side of Morden Road the red tail lights of vehicles trailed along.  Pale yellow headlights shone on the right.  This colourful composition was syncopated by the alternating green and amber of the traffic lights.  Passengers streamed up the steps of the tram stop, and rushed towards Morden, some possibly to open up the shops.  Others were strung out hoping for buses, the first of which was due in eight minutes.

A crocodile of schoolchildren, two by two; chaperoned by teaching assistants, one, heavily pregnant bringing up the rear; filed into South Wimbledon tube station.

On the crowded platform at Victoria a minuscule young oriental woman cannoned into me from behind, bouncing off.  ‘Sorry’, she said as she squirmed past and wriggled into a packed compartment.  As she stood, facing outwards, no doubt hoping the closing doors would leave her feet intact and press her into the mass of passengers behind, I gave her a soft smile which seemed somewhat to assuage her embarrassment.  Rie, you are perhaps familiar with this method of boarding trains.

Pigeons outside Westminster Cathedral were attempting to shelter from the rain beneath a plane tree which didn’t have much plumage left.

Mention of Eccleston Square in my conversation with Carol reminded me of Auntie Gwen (see post of 3rd July) and her papal medal.  My godmother had worked for more than fifty years in the Pontifical Mission Aid Society in that street.  For this she had received her treasured commendation, which I had inherited, and which was, I believe, stolen in a burglary at Lindum House, along with a fob watch my father had given me.  I cannot be sure that is when I lost these heirlooms because I did not miss them until some time after this rapacious intrusion.  What was obviously missing was a rosewood wine table and a small reproduction station clock given to Jessica and me by seventeen-year-old Michael.

Wine tableThree days after our return from holiday Jessica spotted the table on a stall in Newark Market.  Soon after we arrived in this historic market town in 1987 I bought this table from Joan Stevenson in the Old Chapel antiques centre.  We did not know each other at the time, because we had bought the house from the Kings who had only been there four years; but Joan and Ralph had brought their family up in this splendid Victorian house.  Jessica called the constabulary, and the stallholder admitted also to having the clock, so these two articles were returned to us.  When I told Joan this story she said that she was most relieved, for she had noticed the table on the stall and imagined that we had sold it because we hadn’t liked it.  She explained that it clearly belonged in our home, as she had bought it from previous occupants who had lived there for thirty years before she and her husband had acquired the house.  It must have had a mind of its own.  Neither the burglars nor their fence can have been very bright.

The table and clock are two of the very few items I was able to bring to London when I left Lindum House.

This evening we dined on resuscitated cottage pie and phoenix-like bread and butter pudding (see post of two days ago).  I finished the Lidl Bordeaux and Jackie had another glass of Wickham Celebration.

Captive Audiences

On the soggiest section of the Wandle Trail during my usual walk to Colliers Wood for a visit to Norman, Oscar came lolloping towards me, lascivious tongue flopping, and muddy paws flailing.  At the very last minute this playful young alsation veered off right, having responded to his owner’s sharp command.  The man informed me that ‘he was only saying hello to’ me.  ‘It’s only his paws I was worried about’, I replied.  The bottoms of my Austin Reed fine woollen trousers were already besmirched enough.  Maybe the saliva and no doubt wet nose wouldn’t have been too pleasant either.

A multitude of autumn leaves provided covering for picnic tables across the Wandle in Abbey Mills, whilst a single one.quivering in a spider’s web was about to disappoint its resident hungrily catapulting towards what it thought was juicy prey.

As I boarded the Jubilee Line at Green Park, there was only one available seat, although several people were standing.  A very strange-looking man, who I had noticed through the carriage windows from the platform, sat opposite me.  I soon realised why this vacancy existed.  He wished to engage me in conversation about my book, and kept chuckling to himself, presumably amused by the inoffensive young woman next to me, at whom he gesticulated with regularity.  Fortunately he disembarked at Swiss Cottage.  This reminded me of one of my commuting journeys from Kings Cross to Newark.  I was sharing one of the four-seater arrangements with a young man and an elderly woman who insisted on conversing with our fellow-passenger.  At the top of her voice she really bent his ear.  Other occupants of the carriage gradually moved further and further back and into the next compartment until we three were in sole possession.  Eventually I rose and settled myself at the far end, leaving the very patient young man to his fate.

The vibrancy of Church Road market transcended the dullness of this day.  When photographing these delights I was prevailed upon to convince some people that I was not ‘an Inspector’.  The facades of shops in the street itself bear witness to the constantly metamorphosing multicultural nature of this lively area of North West London.  I am sure if I were to walk along here in a year or two there would be different nationalities represented.  Already the wonderful West Indian takeaway food shop of comparatively recent years has disappeared

Norman served up a roast pork dinner with blackberry and apple pie.  He admitted that his hand had slipped when lacing the custard.  My half of the Mondelli 2009 chianti would have been sufficient without the brandy.

Loos Of London

On this dull but warm day I walked down to the John Innes park and recreation ground in Mostyn Road, better to acquaint myself with this amenity which I have passed many times without realising it was any more than the garden and croquet lawn which can be seen from the road.

Passing the dahlia garden in Maycross Avenue I noticed a group of large pots of crysanthemums clustered in the middle of the lawn.  A resident emerging from the house confirmed that they were to be planted there.  Further on, recycle bins demonstrated that someone had had a good night.

Recycle bins 10.12

The sound of a reversing vehicle led me down a path at the back of a block of flats in Martin Way.  A refuse collection was taking place.  It had taken some skill to back up this narrow route.  Many of the balconies carried full washing lines.

The Civic Centre was now barely visible from Mostyn Gardens (see post of 19th October).

As I wandered through the park I realised just how much is available there.  In addition to the facilities signposted in my photograph, there is a rockery and a bowling green.  The recreation ground provides an extension to the playground of Rutlish School which lies alongside.

My friend from yesterday was pruning and training a climbing rose.  He was keen to show that ‘Council workmen do work’, and that I should make clear he did know what he was doing, despite carrying out this task at the wrong time of year.  He explained that there was so much to do in the park that this was the only time available to work on this plant.

The convenience to which he had admitted me yesterday was again locked, but the interior was visible through a decorative grill which provided ornamentation above the door.  Post-Victorian, it was still designed and built with care.  There was more money available in those days and architects continued to be able to embellish the most practical of structures.  Builders were, of course, paid much less and benefactors were interested in such projects.  My informant told me that the man who had been responsible for maintaining this lavatory had moved on to Westminster where there is money available to preserve the beautiful interiors of the Victorian conveniences which have gleaming brass piping, tiling, and paid attendants.  We are often warned that attendants may be of either sex, which can sometimes be rather disconcerting.  One of these establishments is sited at the junction of Queensway and Westbourne Grove.  If you are taken short at the other end of Queesway you can cross the road and use the facility in Kensington Gardens.  Church Street Market, off Edgware Road, is served by a fascinating mock-Tudor building of indeterminate age.

I claim to be a connoisseur of public lavatories.  In case anyone is wondering, this does not come from an interest in cottaging.  For twenty years I ran all over the capital, carrying my clothes and books in a backpack.  Wherever I was going I would stop off at the nearest loo for a wash and brush up.  In my Westminster Social Services days, when working in the Old Paddington Town Hall, I would run in from  Furzedown, and use the former Councillors’ shower room.  When jogging from there I was not so well provided for.  In one corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which was known as ‘Cardboard City’, there is a fine example of the genre.  This I would share with the residents of the park who made their shanty towns with whatever raw materials were available.  Far from down and out, some of these gentlemen would have an early morning shave.  After my ablutions and change of attire I would go on to fulfill my consultancy role with Portugal Prints, a Westminster Association for Mental Health project which stood nearby, very close to the original of Charles Dickens’ ‘Old Curiosity Shop’.  Railings have now been erected around the ‘Fields’, to prevent overnight sleepers.

In Shirley Porter’s time continental-style automatic cubicles were introduced to the metropolis.  I have to be really desperate to attempt to use these.  Like so many money-gobbling machines, putting in your coins doesn’t necessarily ensure entry.  They don’t always work.  When using these I do so in fear that the sliding door will open whilst I am enthroned; or that I will be unable to escape before the closet fills with cleaning water.  I have actually suffered the first embarrassment, but fortunately not the latter.

Coin operated entry barriers are used at Central London stations.  The current 30p charge makes obsolete the phrase, ‘spend a penny’, the euphemism for ‘have a pee’.  In the old days the slot machines were fixed to the cubicle doors into which you inserted one old penny.  Or you could use a newly-minted one.  If you didn’t need number two, a pee, for a gent, was free.  In most places we no longer ‘pull the chain’, but rather turn a lever or press a button.  These old phrases are just as durable as the roundabout names mentioned on 21st October.

My friend Norman is currently engaged in lengthy buck-passing correspondence with London Underground and Westminster City Council, concerning these barriers now in force at Piccadilly Underground station.  He is worried that, in the event of a fire, people, who have to file out through these gates, would not be able to escape in time.  He is mindful of the Kings Cross fire of 18th November 1987, in which 31 people, who could not get out of the underground system, lost their lives.  These victims are commemorated by a plaque at the station.  One body was never identified.

This afternoon I made a cottage pie for tonight’s meal.  I preheated the oven to 200 degrees centigrade about an hour before I was ready to put the dish in the oven.  I wanted to use a relatively new container Jackie had bought recently, but I couldn’t find it, so I used my tried and trusted Le Creuset.  As I opened the oven door I was aware of a fierce sizzling sound.  It was pretty smoky too.  At the back of the middle shelf was the bread and butter pudding Jackie had made last night.  In her new dish.  She tells me that, before going to bed, she had told me she had left it in to settle.  I suppose I didn’t think that of any significance, not even thinking about whether she would take it out in the morning.  She points out I was playing on-line Scrabble at the time.

Whilst out at work today Jackie had wondered whether to buy some cream to go with her pudding.  Because she thought it would be moist enough she decided against.  Which was rather sad.  All, however was not lost.  After removal of the top layer of charcoal, the pudding was quite presentable.  Custard would do it.  But there wasn’t any custard powder, nor were there any eggs with which to make the pre-war real thing.  Jackie therefore produced a custard made from skimmed milk, cornflour, brown sugar, and nutmeg.  This was a delicious accompaniment to a very successfully restored bread pudding.  The burnt siena colour of the sauce blended rather well with the tasty afters.

Before the sweet we ate the cottage pie.  Jackie drank Hoegaarden, and I tried an excellent Bordeaux from Lidl.

Grids

The curry stains I had managed to splash over the front of my white shirt in the Woolston Tandouri last night, even after an application of ‘Vanish’, required a second spell in the washing machine.  Treating curry stains with this solution is truly scary.  What begins as a bright orange colour is transformed into a raging red.

It was such a murky morning when I set off to wander through the streets linking Morden, Raynes Park and Wimbledon that most vehicles had their headlights on.  It was so eerily silent in the minor roads that all I could hear was the echoing of my footsteps and their rustling through fallen leaves.  In Maycross Avenue the stillness was broken by the voices of two gentlemen in a garden.  One asked the other if he was ‘golfing today’.  He replied that he thought he would go to the gym where it would be warmer.  Actually it wasn’t cold.  Further on, the clopping of a woman’s heels alerted me to her presence.  She responded to my cheery ‘good morning’ in a tone which reflected the mood of the day.  Later, the distant hubbub of schoolchildren let out into a playground enlivened the atmosphere.

Raindrops on cherry branch 10.12

On my return up Mostyn Road I approached the keepers’ hut in the John Innes recreation ground in search of the gents.  One cheerily offered to unlock the convenience for me.  He led me through to a wonderful old Victorian facility, undid the padlock which was so low on the ground that I had to admire his flexibility, told me to make myself comfortable, and politely asked me to let him know when I had finished so he could close it up again.  This presented me with relief and a problem.  I couldn’t find my way back.  I’d had no idea of the size of this park.  I was like a rat in a maze.  When I eventually found the man I apologised for having taken so long.  This will not surprise my regular readers who will be aware of my aptitude for getting lost.

Further on I stopped to chat to a roadsweeper who was vainly trying to clear the footpaths of soggy fallen leaves.  He complained that other council workmen were supposed to come along with machines to help him by piling up the debris, but they never did.  A couple of doors away a man was piling up leaves on his own gravel forecourt.  I said that at least he was helping the sweeper.  ‘Oh, he’s just given me bags to put them in’, was the reply.  The Council employee said that the resident could sweep them onto the pavement.  The other man said he was happy to fill the bags himself.

The bulk of today was to be spent writing crossword clues.  Jackie, over coffee, had managed to inspire me to make a start by asking me about the completed grid for my next one, with which I am rather pleased.  Even for the daily cryptic puzzles I always have a theme.  I never state these overtly but often flag them up somewhere in the puzzles.  It gives me great pleasure looking at the comments on line when the hidden themes are spotted.  Today’s must remain a secret until after publication.

I usually have a few completed grids awaiting clueing, sometimes working on several at once.  Given the constraints my themes set me, in the early days before PCs the grid-fill used to take a long time, ploughing through dictionaries to find words that would fit and drawing the grids by hand.  I now have an excellent application called ‘Crossword Compiler’.  This can fill a blank grid at the touch of a key.  Needing specific words or letters to fit a theme makes this more complicated and takes a little more time, but it still cuts down the labour.  I enter what I need manually and the Compiler, sometimes after a bit of tweaking, does the rest.  I still have to write the clues, following the generally accepted rules, and making sure the words and references are suitable for the demography of the particular newspaper.

This evening I made a sausage and gammon casserole which we enjoyed with Terre de Galets 2011 for me and Wickham Celebration rose 2011 for Jackie.