The Avon In Spate

There are nine very tall panels to our bay window where the dining table is situated.  This gives us a kind of treble tryptich view of the beautiful lawns and trees beyond.  Over lunch we watched a pied wagtail running around, it’s bobbing appendage providing evidence of the aptness of its name.  A robin was hopping in the background.

Having to wait in for TV technicians, we did not go out until mid-afternoon.  Jackie drove us to Ringwood where she went shopping and I went walking.  From the main car park I walked through Meeting House Shopping Centre, across the High Street, and down Kings Arms Lane to Riverside Walk, along the bank of the river Avon and back to the car park to meet Jackie for our return home.John Conway's tomb 11.12  Still standing in the shopping centre is John Conway’s tomb.  It looks to be about eighteenth century, but is now worn illegible.  Instead of grass and daisies it is adorned by bricks, chewing gum spots, and dog-ends.  The other night it bore an empty drinks can.

Tree in pond, Ringwood 11.12At the end of Kings Arms Lane a village green now has a pond which surely wasn’t planned.  A bare tree does a dance on its surface.

As I approached the actual riverside I was amazed to see the path I would have expected to walk along completely submerged and the gate to it padlocked. Riverside Walk, Ringwood 11.12 Trees sprung out of fast-flowing water and, as Jackie put it when seeing other such waterlogged fields, tufts of greenery stood up like the marsh symbols on Ordnance Survey maps. I walked around some houses and crossed a bridge which had a torrent running only just beneath it.  The Walk itself was on a high enough level to be traversible, but either side of it the terrain was covered with water, with streams pouring into fields.  This was a combination of the Millstream and the River Avon.  It was hard to tell which was which.

Ponies awaiting rescue 11.12As I gazed across a field that was now a lake, I saw two ponies apparently tethered to a horse box on one of the few areas of solid ground.  I wondered if they were about to be rescued from a watery grave.

Walking left along the riverside I came to a road and turned back to follow the other direction, meeting a friendly man who told me some of the local history.  It was he who confirmed I had been watching the Millstream and the River Avon.  He was walking his two small terriers.  This was Mike Hooper, who turned out to have been working at Paddington Station in the 1970s when I had been working in the area.  He had lived in Ringwood for the last twelve years and had never seen the area so flooded.  He said the water level was usually three feet below the bridge I had crossed.  He pointed out new houses at risk of flooding, and a caravan site where the residents needed to wear Wellington boots to cross to their field.  Another man’s huge garden had become a lake.  He told me there had been twenty ponies in the now waterlogged field not long ago, and that they were being moved out.  They had been standing in water.  He thought the two I had seen were probably the last of the group which had been being kept in a field rented from the farmer who owned the land.Swan on field, Ringwood 11.12  Swans, egrets, and other water birds now claimed residence.

After I parted from Mike I saw some activity at the horsebox.  The ponies were being coaxed into it.Pony being led into box 11.12  I spoke to the woman doing this.  She was a very pleasant person who was the owner of all the ponies who had been in the field.  These were the last two being removed.  There had been twenty one in all, and I was watching  ‘the awkward ones’.  One had developed a certain lameness since yesterday.  Whilst the woman, Jeanie, was talking to me, one of her horses emerged from the box.  We were leaning on a stile some yards away.  ‘Get back in that box’, said Jeanie, kindly but firmly.  Like a reluctant dog being told to sit, the animal lifted a tentative hoof, and reluctantly, stutteringly, began to comply.  I learned from Jeanie that the forest ponies, although roaming free, are actually owned by people who have ‘forest rights’.  There are sales of them just as there are of other livestock.  She has some in the forest and some in fields.  On a couple of occasions she has recognised her own ponies in photographs in the media.  A local newspaper has put some on disc for her.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s superb roast pork with crunchy crackling.  I drank more of the McGuigan Bin 736 whilst Jackie preferred the English Three Choirs Annum 2011.

Orlaith

Today we spent six and a half hours in the car on a journey to visit Sam and Holly and their children Malachi and Orlaith, in Homerton, East London.  The return took four of those hours.

Orlaith Beth, the latest family member, was born on 15th. November.  Holding this new life in my arms I was reminded of my own daughters, especially Becky with whom there is a resemblance.  But she is Orlaith, not just who she looks like, but a twenty first century child who will know things I could never dream of.

I also thought of Holly’s parents, Gay and Mick O’Neill, who I hope to see at Christmas.  They are not yet able to see their grandchildren as often as they would like, because they live on the other side of the world.  Gay, your turn will come next week.

When Jackie and I arrived, Malachi was at Pre-School.  After his sister had been brought down and presented to her UK grandfather, Sam went off to collect him.  In the meantime Orlaith uncomplainingly was held by both Jackie and me.  She screwed her face up a few times and searched for an absent nipple, but otherwise she slept on until a while later, when she made it clear she was hungry.

Malachi arrived, excited to see us, so much so that he called through the letter box before Sam came to open the door.  After lunch we had to play hide and seek.  He did what all little children do and gave the game away by giggling in his hiding place.  Jackie did a grand job of not finding him in all the obvious places, before his laughter could no longer be ignored.Holly and Malachi 11.12

After this it was drawing.  He enjoyed being artistic alongside me, and helping Holly with a picture.  By the time he got his train set out it was time for us to leave.

On our very lengthy return journey, when I was not asleep, I contemplated my life with children.  In my seventy first year, the only time there has not been a baby or young child in my life was the fourteen months before my brother Chris came along.  I was the eldest of five, and my brother Joe was only three when Michael, my eldest, was born.  Matthew, Becky, Sam, and Louisa followed soon enough; and Emily, the first of six granddaughters arrived nineteen years ago.  Oliver, almost seventeen, felt some relief of pressure when Malachi joined him nearly four years ago.  Orlaith keeps the tradition going.  Thank you, Sam and Holly.

After a pretty difficult journey home we went on to Curry Garden in Ringwood where we had an excellent meal accompanied by Kingfisher beer and a long exchange of life stories with the manager who lives in Bethnal Green, not so far from where we had been today.

Right Said Fred

I took the upper drive route down to Minstead this morning which has a little more forest to walk through before arriving at the road.  This meant passing the new lakes that have formed since we arrived here.  Turning right at the Furzey Gardens sign I continued past the gardens along an increasingly muddy and pool-ridden path until I came to what I took to be the elusive Stoney Cross.  As Jackie said, this is just a few houses.  From there I could see another underpass under the A31, further West than the one leading to Malwood Farm.  The equine hoofprints and piles of droppings lent credence to my speculation that the ponies use these underground passages to cross to the other sides of the forest.  This is not necessarily a definitive answer to how the animals cross the road.  The evidence may have been provided by such as the horse being ridden by the young woman cantering past me up the hill leading to Stoney Cross.  Nevertheless it will suffice until I do actually spot something more conclusive.

A small child’s coat hung on a gate by the waterlogged underpass, which led to very soggy terrain covered in small lakes and piles of equine excretia.  Crossing this would, I felt sure, lead me to the road to Rufus Stone (see 19th November post). There were no footpaths, and it all looked a bit risky.  Then I saw the trail of hoofprints peppered with heaps of poo.  The ponies surely had picked out a route.  I followed it, reached the road I wanted, turned right, crossed over the A31 and returned home.

I have always wondered where and how the forest animals sleep.  I still don’t know, but today outside Furzey Gardens, I saw ponies lying down for the first time.

Before going for my walk, Jackie and I had moved my desk from the sitting room to our bedroom.  On 12th November I had suggested that this item, which was proving problematic to get into the sitting room, might go through the window.  The removal men had thought it wouldn’t.  It did.  This had been how the desk had been manoeuvred into the study in Sutherland Place.  It had gone into the sitting room window, through that room to the dining room, through the dining room window, whence it had been lowered to the basement floor and through a set of French windows.  Before that, in Leinster Mews, it had served as a dining table, which it was to do again in Links Avenue, and, until today, in Castle Malwood Lodge.

I had bought this piece from Norman King, the husband of the couple from whom Jessica and I had purchased Lindum House in 1987.  He could not fit it into the house to which they were moving.  His study became my study, and there the desk remained for the next nineteen years.  It has accompanied me on my several moves since.  Psychoanalysts would no doubt call it my transitional object.  Jackie and I found it reasonably straightforward to take it out of our sitting room the way it came in, and to transfer it to our bedroom by the same method.

The reason for this further move is that our recently purchased dining table and chairs were to be delivered this afternoon.  I had explained that the only way the table could be admitted to the room was through the window, and I wasn’t even sure about that.  Chris was optimistic.  For some time after the two delivery men’s arrival, Jackie and I got to know Chris and John rather well.  For Chris, as he actually said, the glass was always half full.  John, cheerful and friendly enough, had his doubts.  The central leaf had already been removed and the winding mechanism employed to make the circumference smaller.  I stationed myself in the room.  Jackie placed a couple of cushions on the window ledge.  The men lifted the table up from the outside and passed two legs through the window.  Table legs, that is.  I grasped them and slid them across.  As far as they would go, that is.  Which wasn’t far enough.  Another window was tried, with the same result.  There was nothing for it but to try bringing the table up the hall and through the door of the room.  This meant moving stuff out of the hall, and putting it into the nearest available bedroom.  Because we didn’t start to move some loaded bookshelves until it had become apparent to John and me that there was no way the table was going through the door, Jackie and Chris had to do this, because I was in the doorway and couldn’t get past John who was hanging on to the table for dear life.  Eventually even Chris was becoming a little less optimistic, until I offered another suggestion.  This was that the casters should be removed.  He brightened considerably at this idea.  I was still trapped in the sitting room, so Jackie provided screwdrivers for Chris to begin removing the wheels from the feet of the table.  This procedure took some time.  I had to assist by holding a torch with which to offer some light to help Chris to locate the screw heads.  Now the bookshelves were moved, John was able to wriggle round the table and tackle some of the feet himself.  Jackie stacked a pile of screws and casters in the spare bedroom and we tried again.  Still no joy.  It just wasn’t going to go.  Jackie suggested that if the winding mechanism were unscrewed it looked as if the table would become two pieces.  Chris was wary about that.

But maybe now there were no casters it could be slotted through the window.  Another bright idea of mine.  Back the men went, through our front door, across the two communal hallways with their very heavy doors, and round the side of the building to the window.  The previous procedure was followed, with the same result.  Chris, who was absolutely determined that this table was going to fit into our bay, then came up with the solution.  It should be up-ended with its length vertical, taking advantage of the height of the window.  It slipped in beautifully, but not exactly a great deal more easily.  Central leaf was wound in, casters screwed back, and we had lift-off.  As the chairs were brought in I had You Tube on full volume on my laptop playing Bernard Cribbens’ 1962 hit record ‘Right Said Fred’.  If you don’t know it, or even if you do, it is well worth a listen.

Jackie christened our new table with a luscious lamb stew.  I drank McGuigan Bin 736 2011 and she didn’t.

Why I No Longer Drive

Last night, on the way to Walkford, in the beam of the car’s headlights, I saw my first forest deer.  They were rather small.  Maybe females, maybe fawns, I am not sure.  It seems they only emerge into view at night.

We had an enjoyable time with Helen and her friend Pete at the quiz night, finally being placed firmly in the middle of a fairly large field containing some apparently professional players.  In Jackie’s words we were so mediocre as to warrant neither one of the cash prizes for the first three, nor of  the two bottom booby chocolates.  Helen says we weren’t mediocre, it’s just that some of the others were especially good that night.  Well, that’s a relief.  Never mind, they served Tanglewood bitter and Peroni on draft, so who really cares.

This morning, it being a Mordred (see 12th July) day, I walked down to the village shop to collect my copy of The Independent; continuing on to Football Field, and back home by the circular route via Shave Wood and London Minstead.  Domesticated horses in the fields were jacketed as a protection against the weather.  Forest ponies, being made of stronger stuff, had only their rough-coated hides for the purpose.

In Minstead I met and had a long conversation with Gladys and Dave who live on the top floor of the Lodge.  They own their flat but need to sell it, because Dave can no longer drive and Gladys doesn’t like to.  They were friends of our owners and know our flat well.  They have occupied the building for twenty four years.

I don’t drive either.  Perhaps twenty years ago, I visited a good cafe in Islington for lunch on my way to my consultancy at the now closed adoption society, Parents for Children.  Deep in The Times crossword, I was vaguely aware of a male figure taking a seat at a table adjacent to mine.  I was completely unaware of his departure a very short time afterwards.  Reaching for my brief case which I had placed on the floor beside me, I was completely unaware of that too.  It was gone.  After I had looked all around me, it gradually dawned on me that it had been nicked.  It was the proprietor who told me of the man’s rapid departure.

I had done what no sensible person ever does.  I had everything in that brief case: my wallet, cheque book, mobile phone, books, favourite pipe, lighter, and just about everything else except my biro and copy of The Times.  I couldn’t phone to cancel the cards.  I couldn’t pay for the meal.  Fortunately the cafe staff helped me out with coins for a wall phone and didn’t take even a contribution for the food.  I did, of course, return the money soon afterwards.  I reported the theft at Islington police station, knowing full well I would not see my belongings again.  The system, however, is that you must waste your and police time to provide a crime number for the insurance company.

One item in the wallet had been my driving licence.  I duly collected a form for a replacement from Newark post office, filled it in, wrote out the cheque and stuck it in my ‘to do’ tray.  This was because I needed a photograph for the new style licence to replace my old paper one which had needed no picture.  Several years later I came across this paperwork and managed to get a couple of photographs out of a machine, this being no mean feat in itself.  Of course, by then the £2.50 or so cheque I had written probably wouldn’t have been sufficient.  So I put it all back in the tray for several more years, whilst I got around to checking.  It could be there still.

Not driving was really no problem during the years I was commuting to London.  I used public transport all week and Jessica drove at the weekends.  This is because I didn’t mind who drove, and she couldn’t bear not to.  It seemed quite a satisfactory arrangement.  After her death and my return to live in Central London a car would have been a liability.  Even running across London was quicker than driving.  Finding somewhere to park was a nightmare, and paying for it exorbitant.  And, of course, with a London address, I was given a senior citizen’s Freedom Pass which meant public transport within all six London Transport zones was free of charge.  And you could get quite a lot of cab journeys for the cost of running a car.

Where we are living now a car is pretty well essential.  But now I have a beautiful chauffeuse who has her own car.

This evening my chauffeuse served up very spicy arrabbiata followed by Sainsbury’s creme brulee.  I finished the Brindisi red and Jackie the Montpierre sauvignon blanc.

Falling Into Pits

Mice in dustbin (crop)11.12As I set off in the pouring rain for a perambulation around Minstead, I stopped to put a bin bag in our recently emptied dustbin.  The bin was not empty.  It was occupied by two bedraggled mice, one making sudden attacks on the other, which looked rather cowed.  They were clearly in danger of starvation, and one perhaps of cannibalism.  Had there not been shelter over the bins, which had their lids strewn about haphazardly, they may have drowned before they starved to death.  As a reward for their posing for me, I gently placed the bin on its side and, in turn, they scampered off.

I chose the Upper Drive route which has more forest before you reach the road.  The recent pools are now becoming lakes, and the rivulets down the road steady streams.  A silent, statuesque, pony, head drooping, planted across Seamans Lane, stood looking damp and forlorn.  I turned off right in the direction of Emery Down.  Reaching the ford, I now knew what it was all about.  A torrent poured down the hill leading to Furzey Gardens.  Drivers spurting and spraying their cars across the stream would certainly need to test their brakes when they reached comparatively dry ground; and I would have made my trouser legs even more soggy than they already were had I not used the footbridge.  I walked up the hill, turning right at a T junction leading to Minstead Hall, whence I returned by the lower drive to Castle Malwood Lodge.  Climbing up this steep road I took care to keep to the central camber where all I had to negotiate was debris from the storms, as opposed to the water flowing down the sides.

This afternoon Jackie decided to clean under the grills in the bay window.  We had discovered that these concealed under-floor heating, and the smell of burning dust was a bit strong.  The ornate cast iron grills are rather heavy.  Rather like the sides of a sofa or an armchair, these spaces, when explored, yielded trophies.  Hoping for a krugerrand the best Jackie could manage was a 2p piece.

Jackie produced a delicious sausage and bacon casserole (recipe) for our evening meal.  This was followed by an excellent Victoria sponge cake from the village shop.  I drank Unico Brindizi Riserva 2007.  Jackie didn’t imbibe because she was driving us to The Amberwood pub quiz in Walkford.

I will report on that tomorrow.

Brickbats

We were promised pleasant weather today, and when we set off late morning to Elizabeth’s, it certainly looked that way.  By midday the rain had begun again, just as we arrived at Bursledon Brickworks industrial museum.  When we left, a little more than two hours later, it was teeming, and continued to be so for the rest of the afternoon.

The trip to Bursledon had been arranged by Elizabeth for Mum to have a tour of the works on this their open day.  Paul Robinson is a member of Elizabeth’s bookbinding class in Winchester.  He is also a volunteer at the Brickworks, which was the last steam driven factory of its kind in the country.  He patiently, amusingly, and informatively, gave us two hours of his time and attention.  Mum managed, on her two sticks, to last the course.  When it came to going upstairs, Paul carefully strapped her into a stairlift and stepped up alongside her to assuage her fears.

Until the rain set in for keeps, we had wandered around the outside area where people were being given rides in trucks tugged along by steam engines and trains; and where there was a display of steam driven vehicles and engines.  Looking at the stacks of different bricks lining the railway tracks, I speculated about whether any of the recycled bricks I had used to build the compost heaps earlier in the year could have been made at Bursledon.  Speaking to a woman polishing the brass on one of the steam engines, Mum told of her childhood in Manchester where children with chest infections were led to steam rollers so they could inhale the supposedly curative fumes emanating from the creosote being laid on the roads.  This was a free expectorant before the National Health Service made such medicines available to all.  I remember these engines in the Stanton Road of my childhood.  There would always be lots of sticky black tar with an intoxicating smell.

Upstairs, the display areas, where we were shown bricks, plasterwork, chimney pots, and war horses, were on slatted floorboards with gaps in between them.  The war horses were small terra cotta horses which people had paid to make and decorate as a fundraising activity.  One display was of a model roof and chimney pots showing the various ways in which lead had enhanced roofs. It was in a bit of a dark corner.  In order to make it easier for Mum to see it, Paul unplugged an electric lead and plugged it in somewhere else.  ‘Oi.  You’ve turned off my light’, came a cry from below.  ‘You’ve turned off mine’, cried Paul.  Good-naturedly he gave the man back his light.  Which was just as well, for the complainant was Santa in his grotto.

We were shown a plaster cast sculpture of a man who, at the age of 92 had still worked  a nine hour day creating hand-made bricks at the rate of three bricks a minute, which was a better rate than anyone else.  They were all on piece work in those days.  One area which had long queues was where children could make such bricks.  They paid £1 and could take their creations home with them.

Some years ago Paul had been told how the men working brick making machines gained their lunch or loo breaks.  Scattered around the floor would be broken off bits of brick. These would be picked up and thrown into a kind of hopper in the machinery.  The result was that the machine would sieze up.  This gave the men the opportunity to take a rest.  These fragments were called brickbats.  Nowadays the word has come to mean criticism.

By the time we had returned to The Firs for lunch and Elizabeth had taken Mum home, we were just in time to take in the end of The First Gallery 38th. Christmas show and stay on for a couple of hours carol singing.  This is the gallery of Margery Clarke who has featured at times in these posts.  On 22nd November I explained the link between Norman, Margery, and Alvin Betteridge.  I was therefore very pleased to see some of Alvin’s work on display, and to buy Norman a Christmas present of an owl made by this potter.

The carol singing was an entertaining mix of traditional carols and more secular works like ‘Enery the Eighth’, and Old Macdonald.  The pianist was accompanied by her rather young black labrador who got very excited at the dog verse of ‘Old Macdonald Had A Farm’.  After the singsong there was a raffle for the prize of a bear made by animal sculptor Suzie Marsh in aid of Animals Asia’s campaign to end bear bile farming.  Elizabeth bought her tickets at the very last minute.  She won the raffle.

After this entertainment the three of us dined at Eastern Nights on the usual excellent food; Bangla being drunk by Jackie, and Cobra by Elizabeth and me.

Shopping

I took a short walk, just over a mile each way, to the village shop this morning.  I reserved a copy of The Independent for next Tuesday 27th, which is a Mordred (see 12th July) day.  I also picked up a couple of credit card sized cards displaying the New Forest Animal Emergency Hotlines.  ‘It is the law’ that you must report not only accidents to, but also sightings of sick or injured ponies, cows, donkeys, dogs, pigs or sheep.  ‘Forest animals have no road sense and have right of way’.

Rain was steady, and persisted throughout the day.  Pools in the forest were larger.  Water ran down Running Hill, which we have learned is the name of the road that abuts our Lower Drive.  There were sections it was best to avoid when cars, even with the drivers slowing their vehicles down, were passing.  Apparently the winds I experienced two days ago on Westminster Bridge reached force 10 in the Solent that night.  Another shop customer told me her shed had blown down. I remembered that yesterday’s Gardeners’ Question Time on BBC Radio 4 featured questions about the effects , both positive and negative, on plants of the weather in this exceedingly wet year.  Apparently mulch is rich and delicious, and shrubs that like water are flourishing.

We visited Elizabeth this afternoon and accompanied her to two shops in Portswood. On the way we returned to the village shop and bought some New Forest Blue cheese for her.  The first of the two shops we visited together was for her to investigate some possible furniture in Amber Antiques; the second for us to investigate International Stores as a source of spices for my curries.  The outcome was not quite as expected.  Elizabeth left Amber Antiques empty handed, and we bought a dining table and six chairs, a 1930s repro from an earlier age.  Those were the days when reproduction furniture was as well made as the originals.  Not normally being emotionally equipped for haggling, I managed to impress Jackie by getting 10% off the cost and free delivery.  The name Amber Antiques made me think of Acorn Antiques and Mrs. Overall.  The so named shop was the situation of a Victoria Wood mini-series.  Mrs.Overall was the cleaner beautifully played by Julie Walters.  ‘Dish of the Day’, the play we had watched in Minstead Hall a week ago featured a ‘waitress’ who I had whispered to Jackie reminded me of Mrs. Overall.  The key comic plot of the play was that this character, who was in fact running the restaurant, being the only staff member there, was in reality the cleaner.  The amateur actress had done a marvellous job of modelling herself on one of our most popular actresses.  I first became aware of Julie Walters opposite Michael Caine in the excellent film ‘Educating Rita’.  Incidentally, I believe the only time Maurice Micklewhite ever said ‘not a lot of people know that’, was in a drunken scene from that film.  Given that that is the catch-phrase of almost anyone who tries to impersonate him, I do hope it was an ad-lib.

I was delighted last year in Issigeac in the Dordogne, to see my friend Andie Kendrick in the role of Rita in MADS production of ‘Educating Rita’.  Andie was made for the part and the part made for Andie.  It was hard to believe she was so comparatively new to amateur dramatics.  Roger Munns did a good job with the lighting, and Judith of directing.

Back to the shopping trip.  International Stores turned out to be just the job.  Everything needed for a curry was there.  Indeed, almost every nationality is represented in this vast emporium.  This is so different from the International Stores of the 1970s, the last incarnation of which was Somerfield.  Somerfield in Edgware Road two or three years ago did, however, have an ‘ethnic aisle’.  It was Elizabeth who did more of the shopping this time, as I am wary of buying spices too far in advance of their use because they tend to lose their flavour if you do.  Mind you, I do have some dried fenugreek leaves which refuse to free the spice rack from their aroma after at least five years.  And it may be some time before I make another curry.  Jackie, you see, has laid claim to the kitchen.  Well, there is always the Boxing Day turkey.

Tonight Jackie drank Montpierre Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 whist I imbibed Piccini Chianti Reserva 2009.  We also ate her excellent chilli con carne (recipe) and delicious bread and butter pudding.