Artificial Carnations

Beginning with Jackie driving me to Southampton Parkway Station, I took my usual route to Norman’s in Harlesden.  This time I walked further than Green Park Underground, crossing Piccadilly and, weaving in and out among the side streets, passing the heavily fortified American Embassy, to Oxford Street where I turned right to Bond Street tube station to pick up the journey as usual.  These streets are all so familiar to me from years of running and walking around them.

On the train to Waterloo I sat with a family of three.  They were very quiet, even when speaking to each other.  The middle-aged mother was reading and conversing with her grizzled husband in Arabic.  He sat calmly, occasionally speaking to the women, the second of whom was their young adult daughter.  Both women were working on the silent screens of their mobile phones.  When the wife passed her device to her husband I was intrigued to see that the script was Arabic.  I was silently reading ‘Wordsworth A Life’.  Soon after Peter arrived with his trolley this all changed.  The man offered to buy me something from the trolley.  I politely declined.  He gently insisted.  I explained I was going to have a Norman lunch.  Then he understood.

As the gentleman and his wife carefully tidied up their snack debris, I complimented them.  There then ensued a most amicable conversation.  I closed my book.  The father is a teacher of Education at Kuwait University.  Their home is in Kuwait.  The daughter is studying at Bournemouth University.  I forget what her current subject is, but she is considering changing to cultural studies.  She did a little bit of interpretation, but not much was required.  We spoke about language and about English mosques.  When I mentioned that we use Arabic numbers, they agreed, and added that they don’t use them themselves.  They use Indian numbers.  I didn’t know that.  Before parting Saleh Al – Rashid (Ph.D) presented me with his card; we exchanged e-mail addresses; and he took details of ‘Cryptic Crosswords and How to Solve Them’.  Mr. Al – Rashid had not been reading because he had forgotten his book.  I commiserated.  It is not much fun being without a book on a train journey.  The young Englishman next to me reading his Kindle on the return journey may not agree.

Children queuing for London Eye 2.13A bridge over the road links Waterloo Station with the South Bank area.   The London Eye stands on the Embankment.  Today strings of schoolchildren excitedly awaited their turns on the famous fairground ride.  From there onwards tourists abound. Photographers, Westminster Bridge 2.13 Cameras are everywhere, their owners either photographing the various symbols of London or their friends in front of them.  The Houses of Parliament and the London Eye are popular backdrops for portraits.  The subject emerging from a red telephone box is a favourite scene.  Since the posers all have mobile phones I doubt that they actually make calls from their props.

On Westminster Bridge the artificial carnation thrusters were in operation.  These women prey on unsuspecting visitors by fastening the buttonholes to their victims’ breasts and then asking for payment.  Seeing me with a camera in my hand they suspected I would be easy pickings.  I’m not.  I was caught once years ago, and returned the flower saying I didn’t want it if I had to pay for it when I hadn’t asked for it.  That was at Piccadilly Circus and earned me a certain amount of shocked abuse.  Today’s brandishers clearly hadn’t learned from our encounter a fortnight ago.  Neither then nor today would I allow the pin anywhere near me.

Caviar shop window-dressing 2.13Oysters were being laid out for the window display in Piccadilly’s Caviar shop.

Norman’s first course was literally fall-off-the-bone lamb shank, followed by crisp apple pie and custard accompanied by an excellent 2007 reserva rioja.

Then it was back to the underground for a trip to Carol’s, a short walk from Victoria Station.  For the forty years I have known it, Victoria Street has been the site of building or road works.  Major refurbishments to the underground station have been going on for at least five.  Lengthy barriers on the other side of the street have been caged off.  I was therefore amused to read a sign prohibiting crossing at that point.  One would have needed the stride of a Gargantua to have done so.Do not cross here 2.13

The very handy 507 bus virtually outside Carol’s home took me right into Waterloo station where I continued my journey as usual.  Jackie was waiting at Southampton when the train drew in on time.

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

This morning we visited Berry who lives on the other side of the house.  She had invited us for coffee and an introduction to her ancient tree mapping activity.  An amazing array of birds were enjoying her feeders; several different kinds of tit and a woodpecker were recognisable.  I am fascinated by the tree spotting.  The Woodland Trust operate a national system for pinpointing ancient or interesting trees.  Anyone can send in photographs, measurements and grid references of likely subjects.  A qualified verifier then examines the prospect, and, if successful, this is added to nationwide records.  We were shown old and modern maps, all on line in great detail.  I am excited that Berry intends to take me on her next identification session.  She also put me out of my misery over Stoney Cross.  I have several times, for example on 21st February, puzzled over where it was.  In fact it never was a village, rather a crossroads that was stoney.

On another cold day Jackie drove us to the Redcliffe Nurseries at Bashley where she used to take tea with her mother.  I set off for a walk, to meet her back there afterwards.  Right along Bashley Road; left at the Rising Sun; along Holmsley Road to the A35; left alongside Beckley Common; and eventually back to Bashley and the nursery.  The walk took rather longer than anticipated.  The nursery had closed by the time I arrived so Jackie had to wait in a layby across the road.

Car dump, Bashley (2) 2.13Car dump, Bashley 2.13A piece of land just by Bashley Road seemed to be a dumping ground for car wrecks.

Horse trough, Wootton Heath (2) 2.13On Wootton Heath, not far from The Rising Sun public house, stands a horse trough.  I have mentioned one which still stands at the top of Wimbledon Hill, and there are others throughout London.  Nowadays all they contain is flowers.  This one, however, is clearly in regular use for which it was originally intended.  Currently ponies and cattle can be seen drinking from the numerous pools which cover the forest, but there must be other times when they are most grateful for the clear water this receptacle contained.Horse trough, Wootton Heath 2.13

Brownhills, near the junction of Holmsley Road and the A35, contained a string of ponies as we arrived in the car, as I walked past it later, and as we drove home.  None of them can have covered more than a few yards in three hours.

As we arrived at Bashley the sun, which had not emerged for a couple of days, began to put in an appearance.  The Rising Sun was an appropriate milestone. Ponies, Brownhills 2.13 By the time I reached the ponies, shadows were lengthening.

The stretch of the A35 was long enough for me to resort to consulting the Ordnance Survey map to see how far I had to go before reaching the road to Beckley.  Walking along the grass verge doing this, I was aware of a car with its left hand indicator lit, standing in a side road.  As I passed in front of it the shrill blast of its horn made me jump.  The elderly driver wound down his window and asked me where I wanted to get to.  I told him.  He looked rather concerned as it was a long way.  He had seen me consulting the map, so very helpfully asked to look at it so he could put me right.  He then had to fish for his specs so he could read it.  This enabled him to direct me to a short cut which was the one I was aiming for anyway.  This took some time.  He then offered to drive me there.  I explained that I was walking for pleasure.  Eventually I was free to continue.  What I hope this gentleman had not noticed was that, with my legs crossed, I was hopping from foot to foot.  It’s quite difficult to do, but absolutely necessary when all you really want to do is be allowed to get on so you can dive into the nearest bush.

The Beckley Common stretch was really beautiful in the evening sun.  The shadows mentioned earlier were now even longer. Chickens, snowdrops, shadow 2.13 As I was contemplating mine, a familiar farmyard fowl crossed the road in front of me, thus providing a definitive answer to the proverbial conundrum. Chickens, snowdrops, 2.13 This chicken crossed the road to pick snowdrops.

Having driven us home, Jackie produced a delicious ensemble of delicate  flavours consisting of smoked haddock; mashed swede and potato, and cauliflower cheese with mustard.  We finished the Montpierre cabernet sauvignon and had a glass of Sancere 2011 which I liked, but Jackie didn’t.  This was a shame because she would have enjoyed my glass of Montpierre more.

Episode 4 of ‘Call the Midwife’ provided our nightcap.

On A Mission

Geoff at Ashley Heath 2.13On another cold dull grey day I put off my walk until after lunch.  Jackie drove me to Ashley Heath, left me there, and I walked back along the Castleman Trailway (see 10th December 2012) to meet her in the Ringwood carpark.  She dropped me off in the One Stop general store.  I realised how aptly named this was when, immediately behind it, I found the site of Ashley Heath obsolete railway halt.  This was on the stretch which runs to Poole, so I crossed Norton Road to follow the path to Ringwood.Castleman Trailway ditch 2.13  The whole of this two and a half mile length is bordered on the right by a deep and wide trench.  Much of this has been to some extent filled in over the years by fallen leaves and other greenery.  It currently carries much rainwater. Ashley Heath moat bridge (1) 2.13Castleman Trailway moat bridge 2.13Ashley Heath moat bridge (2) 2.13 Where buildings back onto this ditch, many of them, especially those homes in Ashley Heath, have gates in their fences and bridges across the cleared out moat, giving their owners access to the trailway and forest beyond.  Dog walkers are always in evidence.  Some way along the track, where there is no sign of habitation, there are the remains of a small concrete shelter.  It contains the usual modern graffiti, but has clearly been there since before spray cans or felt tip pens were invented.  What is it?  I wondered.  Not really big enough for people waiting for trains.  Maybe an emergency phone box?  No wiring in evidence, but then there wouldn’t be by now.  Any ideas, anyone?Castleman Trailway concrete shelter 2.13

As I neared Ringwood the birdsong was first joined and then gradually drowned by the shrill clamour of schoolchildren approaching.  Chaperoned by three adults they came tripping, bounding, dawdling, and lagging along the trail.   I asked one of the escorts if this was a field trip.  No, it was just a walk.  That certainly beats being cooped up in a classroom.

When he read that I was walking along the Castleman Trail to Ashley Heath, Geoff Austin told me that he had done the same thing some years ago after his parents had retired to that village.  Recently he unearthed the photograph that appears at the top of this post.  In the picture he is hamming up waiting for a train at the extinct railway halt.  He sent me the photo and said he would be interested to know whether the sign was still in situ.Ashley Heath halt 2.13  Not only is it still there, but it has been cleaned and tidied up.  Not just by the removal of my old friend.

John Conway's tomb protection 2.13Walking through the Meeting House Lane shopping centre in Ringwood I was pleased to see that the tomb of John Conway ( see post of 30th November 2012) is at last receiving the protection it deserves.  Tasteful iron railings were being installed.

We dined on roast duck breasts this evening.  Possibly the most succulent yet non-fatty I have ever tasted.  I finished the Carta Roja.

After this we watched episode 3 of the second series of ‘Call the Midwife’.

Stonehenge Sandwiches

After an early brunch consisting of ‘roast dinner soup’ by the chef, she drove us to Salisbury.  I should consider myself fortunate really.  Most people who inhabit country houses need to employ a couple to provide these two services.  I have a staff of one and I don’t need to pay a salary.

As usual Jackie did her thing (touring charity shops for example) and I did mine.  I walked around the Harnham water meadows, eventually crossing the river Avon, turning left and left again down Harnham Road to the cathedral; round the cathedral and, after wandering in the town, back to the carpark.

On entering the water meadows area, where some ambitious landscaping was under way, I exchanged greetings with one man  and his dog.  Much later, on a road on the far side of the river, we again approached each other from opposite directions.  This time we stopped and spoke, and he confirmed I was headed for the cathedral.  ‘I thought you was one of the round-the-blockers’, he said.  I understood this referred to walkers of shorter distances.

Passing from the elegant grandeur of the cathedral precincts and their surrounds, through to the poorer end of the city, I was struck by the contrasts that are experienced in all such places.  (see 10th May 2012)

Feeding the ducks 2.13The river and streams were full and fast flowing.  Waterfowl abounded, especially when flocking to a gentleman feeding them.  One disappointed duck came flapping, late for the feast, as the elderly man folded up his empty carrier bag.

Salisbury cathedral 2.13I was experiencing views of Salisbury cathedral made famous by the paintings of John Constable.  On this slate grey sunless day, no way was I going to rival the artist’s masterpieces with my camera.  I did my best.

Harnham Road, leading to the cathedral, is a small, interesting, street of terraced houses; thatched on the right, and tiled on the left, as I walked down it.  The river runs along the back of those on the left.Harnham Road 2.13

The Salisbury visit was a break in our journey to Chris and Frances’ home in Wroughton, Wiltshire, for a private viewing of a photographic exhibition featuring some of my brother’s pictures.  So on we went, across Salisbury plain, which is covered in tumuli.  On the A303 we passed a stone’s throw from Stonehenge, now fenced off, where it was once possible for Jackie and Helen, as young girls, to clamber up onto one of the fallen sections of the monument and watch the sunset as they ate their sandwiches.  Less dramatic, but far more prolific, are the stones at Avebury which we passed as we neared Wroughton.

Frances had been caring for their grandson James.  His Dad, Paul, having come to collect him, stayed on to see us for a while.  James is a dear little chap who is beginning to look very like his grandpa at that age.  Clearly teething, he made no fuss. He weighs up visitors very carefully before committing himself.

Frances then gave us an excellent meal of beef stew and mixed fruit crumble.  The crumble was unusual.  Frances had made it during the brief window of opportunity created by James’s afternoon sleep.  She wasn’t sure exactly what farinaceous mix she had used to create it.  Or even whether it was farinaceous.  No matter – it was very toothsome.

The three of us joined Chris at the exhibition and admired all the photographs.  Chris has specialised in 3D prints which are most effective. There were several pairs of special glasses for viewing these.  The photographer was very patient in protecting them from the sticky fingers of a small boy who had been diving into the complimentary bowls of sweets and crisps.  A display of street scenes was fascinating, and a particularly interesting shot of Oliver taken at Louisa and Errol’s wedding completed his section.

We returned home directly from Swindon College.

Where Is My Poncho?

After lunch on another bitterly cold day, I walked through London Minstead to the Cadnam roundabout where Jackie picked me up and drove us to The Firs to visit Elizabeth.

Horses in blankets 2.13I was envious of horses in their jackets.  One even wore a scarf.  In fact I contemplated the illicit acquisition of equine accoutrements, then thought better of it, surmising that a heavy horse’s hoof probably carried more clout than the long arm of the law.  In the 1990s I must have watched ‘Doctor Zhivago’, or some other long coat epic, for I bought a made to measure Burberry with a warm lining insert.  It was so long I probably looked ridiculous, especially when we didn’t have Russian snow for it to flap away, and as my regular readers will know, I didn’t wear wellies.  The flapping around the ankles was likely to unbalance me, especially when going down stairs.  I left it on a train.  By mistake.  I went back a few minutes later.  It was at Kings Cross, a terminal station.  In that short space of time the coat had disappeared, and never turned up at the lost property office.  I hope the thief was continually tripping himself up.

After delivering me to my sister, Jackie went off for a Sainsbury’s shop.  We had coffee on her return.  In the interim Elizabeth and I had discussed the prospective art exhibition she will be holding in August on the theme of drums.  Danni’s boyfriend Andy (not quite an anagram, but at least an onomatopaeic one), as am drums (worth a look – www.amdrums.co.uk) as well as being an excellent drummer, makes beautiful instruments.  His drums will be there, as will work by a variety of artists and photographers, one of which will be me.  I took a series of photographs in 1976 of Ondekoza, an absolutely stunning Japanese drumming group, then only seven years old (the group, not the members), performing at the Soho festival.  I am to make some prints for the exhibition.  My colour slides are still at The Firs.  My scanner and printer are now at Castle Malwood Lodge.  So I unearthed those 37 year old slides which are still vibrant, and will be reproduced in various sizes.

8What I also found was a 1976 slide of me in my poncho.  This was how I kept warm then, and could have done with it today.  I have no doubt no-one who has never fancied themselves as Clint Eastwood in the Spaghetti Westerns would think I looked ridiculous, but if I knew what  had happened to it I would retrieve it and wear it tramping around the freezing forest.   When I got back home I tried to scan the slide and attach it to this post.  On 20th of this month I  explained how the computer can do my head in.  Well, I have not used the professional scanner for three years.  I scanned the picture very well, but I couldn’t save it in Jpg format which is what it required for the blog.  So I sat and cursed the first person I had engaged to teach me how to use Photoshop.  Not only was he one of those people who has to do it for you at a rate of knots, so it is impossible to take it in, but he attempted to arrange things so I could scan direct from Photoshop.  The result has been I cannot scan unless I go through Photoshop.  Whenever I turn the computer on I am told there is a ‘shared library error’.  I have never found a way since then of saving to jpg.  After a couple of hours at this, I was in a foul mood and hadn’t written a word of this current masterpiece.  So I reverted to the memory stick Elizabeth had given me of the photos she had collected and reproduced to project on a screen for my ‘Surprise’ party on 1st July 2012.  And I couldn’t get up any pictures.  What appeared seemed to be a game.  In duplicate.  I really lost it then.  And phoned Elizabeth.  I got her voicemail.  Deep breaths.  Glass of wine.  Start again.  Exit the first game.  Exit the second.  Eureka.  Pictures.  One of which you see today.  You may not think it was worth it.  But if anyone recognises the garment, I would be grateful for its return.

Prunus Pissardi 2.13At least in the garden of The Firs the Prunus pissardi has not been deterred by the weather, and is beginning to bloom.  Jackie couldn’t resist pointing out to me that this flowering cherry had a Turdus turdus (blackbird)  perched upon one of the branches.  Poor Matthew.  With parents like us he didn’t stand a chance to be other than an inveterate punster.

Our evening meal was an excellent roast chicken with all the trimmings followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard.  I drank Carta Roja gran reserva 2005 and Jackie had Hoegaarden.  Having been grateful for the glass of red wine which helped me write this, I managed to knock it over onto the pale green carpet.  Fortunately I knew how to deal with this.  I learned soon after we moved to Newark.  I had had a very large area of dining and drawing rooms fitted with a green carpet.  The very first guests to sample this extravagance were Ann and Don.  Poor Ann managed to overturn a full bottle of red wine onto our glorious purchase.  Jessica steamed into action.  Salt was applied in bucketfuls.  Bottles of liberally spilled white wine were added,.  The next morning the carpet was as good as new.  So was Ann.  We’ll have to wait until morning to discover whether I will be equally relieved.  In the meantime I am having a refill.

A Fortuitous Teaspoon

Flurries of snow occasionally accompanied me as I walked this morning to the Royal Oak at Fritham, where Jackie met me for lunch, then drove me back home via Fordingbridge, in time for the kick off of the Wales versus Italy rugby match on television.

Ponies on heath 2.13On the other side of the A31, I eschewed the cycle track, and, taking some guidance from telegraph poles I had noticed two days ago, struck out across the heath, following pony trails. Icy heath 2.13 The rumpled mud across the flinty terrain was still hard, and ice still crackled underfoot, which was just as well in some spots.  When water was trickling downhill it was rather marshy. Otherwise bracken and desiccated droppings provided a soft carpet.  I passed some groups of ponies on the open stretch, and soon after I reached the road to Fritham a string of them decided to cross the road and held up the traffic.  Having walked by the side of the road for a while, I too crossed over and took a diagonal towards Fritham.

The plateau at the top was rather breezy and snow was more consistent, although not enough to settle.  Concrete strips on this flat area, seeming to go nowhere, are all that is left of a Second World War aerodrome.  I was struck by how much narrower these landing areas are than those of today.  Two days ago I scoured the hoofprints for a representation of the Olympic rings.  Today I had forgotten about this. Hoofprint Olympic rings 2.13 Suddenly I looked down and there it was.  That seems always to be the way.  In the 1970s I occasionally cycled to work in Harrow Road from our flat in Soho.  One day one of the tyres was punctured.  I didn’t have a suitable lever.  Whilst I was bent over struggling to remove the tyre with my fingers, I looked down into the gutter.  There was a teaspoon.  In a central London street.  Just the job.

Fritham, hill to Royal Oak 2.13I would like to be able to say that I did not take a wrong turning in the sprawling village, thus adding an unnecessary mile to my journey, which in any case ended at the top of a hill.  Unfortunately I cannot.  I therefore arrived half an hour late, subjecting Jackie to the embarrassment of trying to keep a table in a pub which was heaving with adults in walking gear, their children, and soggy panting dogs, many of whom had nowhere to sit.

We each ate a Ploughman’s lunch.  Jackie had Peroni and I drank Ringwood’s Best.  The return drive, mostly on B roads, was picturesque.

The first rugby match, in very wet conditions, was naturally a bit scrappy.  Wales won.  A totally different game at a dry Twickenham made for a frighteningly physical fast-paced contest.  For the first three quarters of the game France were unrecognisable from the team that had lost their first two matches, but they fell away after some key players were substituted.  England won by ten points.

Our evening meal was Jackie’s rich liver casserole accompanied by Montpierre reserve sauvignon blanc 2012 for her and Saint Emilion grand cru 2010 for me.

A Sad Duty

On another cold day I put off my walk until after lunch.  A day or two ago we had been talking on the subject of soups.  Jackie had mentioned that her favourite was watercress.  She made one today and it was very tasty.

A31 from Malwood Farm track 2.13As I left the flat, the first flurry of snow greeted me.  It didn’t amount to much.  I walked under the A31 again, this time by the Malwood Farm underpass.Malwood Farm underpass 2.13My intention was to then walk across the forest to the Stoney Cross underpass.  I knew there was no footpath in the direction in which I wanted to go.  Today I found out why.  Eventually it was clear I was wire fenced in on all sides except the narrow space by a cattle grid that I had slithered through.  So, back I tracked, coming out on to the other side of the A31.  I walked along there for a while, until a crash barrier petered out, and I decided that to fight my way through the undergrowth was preferable to withstanding the drag of passing lorries. Rhododendrons 2.13 It turned out not to be.  Clambering over fallen trees and battling through holly and rhododendron bushes, I persevered until a branch poked me in the eye.  I then battled back to the roadside, to walk the comparatively short distance to the Rufus Stone road, and from there across the heath to yesterday’s cycle track, under the second underpass, and back home via Furzey Gardens.

I have mentioned before that people in the forest are expected to inform various authorites of sightings of sick or injured animals.  Jackie read recently that an average of two ponies are killed on the roads in this large national park each week; usually by hit and run drivers at night.  It is actually an offence not to report collisions with the livestock. Dead deer 2.13 On that final stretch of the A31 roadside lay a dead deer with a car number plate not far off.  I normally carry the card with the emergency numbers on it, but I didn’t have it today.  I rang Jackie and asked her to text me the phone number I required.  She did so.  It is the Forestry Commision who wish to be informed about dead deer.  They were grateful for the call I made.  I was informed that this was a ‘hot spot’ for deer emerging at that point.  Even in death, this beautiful creature looked so elegant that I trust my readers will understand my publishing the photograph.

I followed muddy pony tracks over the heath.  The rest of the walk was uneventful, possibly because I was thinking of the poor doe.

Jackie produced a leftovers fusion meal for dinner tonight; lamb jalfrezi, chicken in chilli and black bean sauce; with the addition of fresh samosa, spring rolls, and savoury rice.  Delicious.

We watched a repeated episode of ‘New Tricks’.