Mist beset the forest today as I walked the ford loop.
On the gravelled area outside a bungalow in Minstead a car was parked and the boot opened. A small black and white spaniel, tail flat on the ground into which she was trying to vanish as she looked backwards – for all the world like Fred Basset having swiped the sausages – scuttled out of the gloom. She was closely followed by a shriek of panic, as a tall thin figure, arms and fingers outstretched, rushed around the car, urgently crossed the road, gesticulating wildly, and tried to grasp the dog’s collar. This, I thought momentarily, must be Worzell Gummidge.
Fred Basset is an eponymous cartoon character, created by Alex Graham, which first appeared in the Daily Mail in 1963 and has since been syndicated around the world. Fred’s emotions are portrayed in both facial and bodily expressions. Worzel Gummidge is a walking, talking, scarecrow popularised in the 1980s television series based on the books by Barbara Euphan Todd. For some reason Becky thinks that, after having been subjected to Jessica’s face-painting a couple of years ago, I looked like Jon Pertwee in the role.
‘She’s in season’, cried the scarecrow. ‘Oh, I see’, said I, as Worzell’s fingers tried to grasp the wriggling spaniel’s scruff. With one last grab the dog was collared. ‘I’m looking after her for someone’, the foster parent continued. ‘So, I’d hate to lose her’. I silently reflected that I hadn’t imagined that was the worst that could have befallen the bitch.
I imagine the dirty-grey sheep were on their hillside as I passed, but the only sign of them I saw was shreds of fleece clinging to thorns and barbed wire. Their static tumbleweed bodies would have been shrouded in the mist.
Near visibility for pedestrians was, today, unproblematic. Quite different from London in the 1950s, the worst decade of smog. This is a term coined by compacting elided versions of ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’. One nickname for London is ‘The Smoke. The capital in those days was frequently visited by fog exacerbated by smoke from the burning of coal. It had been a problem in industrial towns since the previous century. The return home from school in December 1952 was expected to be in the dark. Normally, when we got off the trolleybus (see post of 17th May) at Arterberry Road, even at night time, we could see the pillarbox at the corner of Stanton Road in which we lived, and the street lamps rendered the crossing as bright as daylight. Not so, soon after 4 p.m., when the great smog hit ‘The Great Wen’, another name for London. Imagine a gas lamp in a Victorian alleyway, glowing a dull, weak, egg-yolk hue, its halo vanishing into the darkness, and offering no practical illumination. This is what the street lamps of Wimbledon, and the headlights of passing cars looked like for a week of winter evenings. They had no impact on the pea souper that penetrated our lungs and our living rooms. Alighting from our bus, Dad having come to meet us, we felt our way along fences to the corner of Arterberry, peered into the depths of Worple Road, and hoped the lack of feeble car lights would persist until we tripped over the kerb and into Stanton Road on the other side. We then had to progress down to the dog-leg around which, over the road, lay our home. Readers will know from my post of 16th October that there were very few cars on these roads at that time. Those that did emerge, crawled along, their drivers blinking into the gloom. I really don’t know how the bus drivers managed.
I do not exaggerate these conditions. I see the all-enveloping obscurity blanket still. In 1956 the Clean Air Act, which introduced smokeless zones, came into effect. It was a direct result of the virtual blackout of December 1952.
This evening, accompanying my Roc des Chevaliers 2010 Bordeaux Superieur and Jackie’s common or garden Hoegaarden, we dined on her Spaghetti Con Carne Arrabbiata With Mushrooms. We do not believe the TV chefs are onto this yet, so, for those of you who wish to impress your friends with your culinary expertise, I have permission to reveal the secrets of this marvellous meal. As a basis you take left-over chilli con carne from the freezer. This should originally have been produced from a Coleman’s mix with the necessary additions of supplementary chillis, onions, cumin and coriander. Cook this up with Sainsbury’s extra lean minced beef and a further two chopped chillis; two very large onions; two cloves of garlic; sun-dried tomatoes; and mushrooms, in beef stock. Lay it all on a bed of Waitrose, or, in truth, anyone else’s, spaghetti, and I guarantee you will be the talk of the neighbourhood, especially if it is followed by Aldi’s Christmas pudding.