Empty Summerhouse

Despite a heavy overnight frost and another frozen birdbath, this beautiful Easter morning lived up to it’s coincidentally being the first day of British Summer Time, when clocks are put forward for six months so we all get up early to enjoy more daylight.  Some of us did emerge from our beds in good time.  Some of us didn’t.  Those who did took great delight in a game of shinies, largely at my expense.

Shinies are the reflection of sunshine in wristwatch faces.  These produce little golden discs which, with minimal movement of the wrist, the owner can send travelling across a wall.  Oddie is fascinated by this phenomenon.  Purely, of course, by accident, Jackie managed to put these UFOs into orbit just above my head.  The result was that, in his eagerness to reach them, Oddie’s horny feet trampled over my bare toes.  For some reason this created great hilarity.  Over and over again.

I first discovered this game about fourteen years ago when commissioned to keep three year old Oliver entertained.  He had a child’s bow with rubber-tipped arrows.  As long as I occasionally kept my wrist still, he enjoyed firing at his largely moving target.  I was able to achieve my object without stirring from my armchair.

After coffee I accompanied Mat and Tess to Bursledon Car Boot Sale, where Tess bought several bargains for use in the shop.  The Car Boot Sale is a particularly English phenomenon, where a mixture of items, some old or obsolete, some apparently useless, some hideous, and some interesting, are laid out on the ground or on trestle tables and change hands for amounts starting at about 20p.  Bursledon Car Boot SaleThe occasional stall has more ambitious stock with some kind of pedigree.  There are catering vans and the smell of frying onions is very tempting.  This particular venue was vast and very well attended.  Clothes, fabrics, toys, books, and CDs became more and more higgledy piggledy as prospective buyers rummaged through them.  Mat spotted an extensive set of vegetable stalls, and, after a phone call to check with Jackie, bought a cauliflower and some mushrooms.  Two young men, anxious no doubt to get home, were offering their last two items, a lawn mower and an adjustable office chair for £1 each.  Some time later I saw one of them walking to the entrance carrying the chair and accompanied by a young woman brandishing car keys.  She had obviously just bought the chair and he was being obliging.  In fact he was struggling so much I thought the woman may have had less difficulty.  Near the entrance a couple of men were displaying second-hand laptops for what seemed to me to be optimistically high prices.  I didn’t notice any sales.  I imagine the outside arena where this took place must have been a quagmire most Sundays during the last six months.

In France, these phenomena are called ’empty attic’.  So the English term focuses on how sellers transport their wares, while the French consider where they came from.  Neighbours of ours in Newark were asked by the people from whom they bought their house for permission to store the lightbulbs and other items they had removed from the property in the summer house in the garden.  This was apparently for a car boot sale.  Perhaps their event should have been termed ’empty summerhouse’.

Before Jackie’s excellent roast lamb meal we all went down to the Trusty for a drink.  Just as we were about to leave there we were tracked down by Elizabeth, Jacqueline, Danni, and Andy. Back at the apartment we had a very enjoyable evening. Flo, Ian, (Becky), Oddie and Scooby At one point whilst I was attending to drinks, the whole Becky family joined Oddie on my chair.  They thought it was amusing.

While we ate our meal, the gatecrashers kept us company.  I am beyond recording what was imbibed.

Spring Is In The Air

PrimrosesMat, Oddie and I walked the ford loop via the churchyard path.  Primroses are now abounding in the hedgerows and daffodils mirror the lichen on the gravestones.

Churchyard daffodils

The Herdwick lambs were arousing the interest of a couple of neighbours.  One is quite black, the other pure white.  The farmer explained that Herdwicks normally ‘throw’ black lambs.  A white one is very unusual.

The Furzey Gardens alpacas normally pretty well ignore me when I pass. Alpacas Today they showed a great deal of attention.  It wasn’t until later that I realised they must have picked up Oddie’s scent, which is often not too savoury.

This afternoon there was a definite sense of spring in the air.  The sun shone and the garden birds flitted and swooped about.  I am beginning the recognise the languid loping line of the various tits aiming for the feeder.  I was able to stand very close without frightening them away.  It is amusing how they make for the shrubbery behind their food; perch there until they are sure it is safe to dive for the seeds, nuts, or fat balls; grab a morsel and flit away. Long tailed tit Indeed, one particular long tailed tit seemed less timid than a robin I startled.  Interestingly, there seem now to be three robins vying for territory.  We wonder which one will win out.

While Mat, Jackie and I played Scrabble this afternoon, we watched a number of large rabbits bounding and chasing each other across the lawns.

Later, Becky, Flo, and Ian joined us and we all dined on Jackie’s shepherd’s pie followed by Sainsbury’s sticky toffe pudding and custard.  Jackie drank Latitude 35 degrees S; Tess and I drank two different red wines; Ian had Peroni; and Mat, Becky and Flo abstained.

The 3D Crossword

I wrote yesterday about Oddie’s propensity for sitting on my chair.  This means I get a liberal sprinkling of short white hairs forming an extra cushion.  And they are definitely not mine.  Matthew, on contemplating this phenomenon, enlightened me as to the origin of the phrase ‘the hair of the dog’, indicating the cure for a hangover allegedly being a further drink in the morning.  The full sentence should be ‘the hair of the dog that bit me’, that came from the mediaeval belief that the application of the hair of a rabid dog that had bitten someone would cure them of the disease that had been passed on by the biter.  Mat was inclined to think that anyone who did try this was only likely to get bitten again.

Mat and Tess in The TrustyThe little dog sat quietly under the table in The Trusty Servant where Jackie, Mat, Tess and I enjoyed lunch.

For something like two years in the early 1990s I worked on producing a 3D 15×15 cryptic crossword.  Mike Kindred and I had been commissioned to set one.  As he is the half of our partnership best able to tackle the construction of the grid I left that to Mike.  What he created was forty five interlocking grids in our pre-computerised existence.  All I had to do was put the words in and write the clues.  I had to ensure that each word could be read as if running through a cube.  This involved hand-drawn grids on huge sheets of paper.  The black squares were comparatively easy.  Those that required the entry of letters had to be large enough to contain various options, and I had constantly to check that what I wanted to put in one grid would appear in the right places in interlocking ones.  The eraser was an essential tool.  If I have lost you in the technicalities of this, imagine what it did to my head, as I spread my working sheets across the tables in the trains from Newark to Kings Cross; or on the floor or desk at home.  I also had to find room for lots of dictionaries from which to find words that would fit.

Eventually my task was complete. Following the generally accepted grid construction rules requiring a fair distribution of letters and black squares, it was the first ever 3D crossword which didn’t have too many rows of blank spaces. Someone then had to be found to write the computer programme that would reproduce this original work.  We wouldn’t have started on this mammoth venture had we not been assured this would be forthcoming.  A disappointment was, however, in store.  This would cost £25,000, beyond the means of the man who had presented us with the project.  It never saw the light of day.

Derrick c1993Whilst I was sitting in my study in Newark, probably speaking to Mike about current progress, Becky, camera in hand, stuck her head round the door and took photograph number 13 in the ‘through the ages’ serious.

After a salad meal this evening, with which Tess and I drank Reserve de la Saurine 2011 and the others abstained, we played Bargain Hunt.  This is Mat and Tess’s game based on watching the television programme.  We each estimated what items might fetch at auction.  Mat kept the score.

Whose Chair Is It Anyway?

Robert's HouseSam and I walked to Lyndhurst and back this morning.  The return journey was via Mill Lane where we had a brief chat with Robert whose yellow tractor was perched alongside the Mill Pond, some of which was draining into one of the streams under the rough track.

I needed to visit the bank in Lyndhurst to order some euros to take to France at the end of next week.  We did this and for three hours put the world to rights.  Sam’s contract with the London Olympics Committee having come to an end we spoke of interviews and their processes.  This reminded me of two jobs I had not landed.  The second was my last interview before going freelance, because I realised I had gone as far as I could in Social Services.  This was in 1985.  I had applied to be head of fieldwork in a London Borough.  There were only two of us in the waiting room.  The other candidate was an internal employee who was to retire in two years.  He told me he hoped I would get the job.  Why was there no-one else?  I wondered.

It was some way into the interview before I found the answer.  I was asked what would be my reaction should they reorganise the department in two years time and effectively demote me.  Rather naively thinking this might be something to test my mettle, I replied that I would consider that they didn’t want someone of my calibre and get a job somewhere else.  This appeared to be the wrong answer.  The other man was appointed.

Something similar happened during my first team leader interview with a different London Borough.  This time, in 1972, I was faced with a distant semicircle of interviewers in a vast council chamber.  Each of eleven members of the inquisition had a sheet of paper on which the questions were presumably written.  One person read out a question I had just answered.  I apprised him of that fact.  Without a shred of embarrassment he then read out his own allotted question.  In this vast arc of people all seated on a much higher level than me I could not see them all at once.  Two elderly women to my left continued fairly loud conversations whilst I was trying to answer their colleagues’ questions.  They were out of eyesight, even if well within earshot. Eventually I turned to these people and asked them to keep quiet as I couldn’t concentrate.  They seemed to have taken offence at that.  I was unsuccessful. However, the next day the Director of Social Services telephoned me, explained that I had blown it, made it clear that she wanted me, and told me to reapply when it was readvertised, and be more careful.

I took the advice and reapplied.  This time the interviewers were on a stage in front of me.  I was the solitary spectator in the stalls.  I was asked a question which was going to flummox me.  At that point the tea lady came on from stage right.  A break was taken.  The question was forgotten.  I got the job.

After lunch today Mat and Tess joined us.  We had enjoyable afternoon together until Jackie and I took Sam to Hamble where he was to participate in a sail training course.  Our son and daughter-in-law shared Jackie’s sausage casserole followed by rice pudding with us.  Red and white wine was imbibed.

Oddie on my chairBefore dinner I engaged in an interesting competition with their Jack Russell terrier, known as Oddie.  Most dogs who sit at your feet staring longingly are after your food.  Not Oddie when gazing up at me.  He is willing me to leave my chair so he can dive into it.  I, on the other hand, am determined to stay in it long enough to keep him out.  This went on until Jackie moved into the kitchen to prepare our evening meal.  The kitchen being down the hall, Oddie had a problem.  How could he keep an eye on both the chair and any possible perks that may be available in the kitchen?  He couldn’t of course.  That meant constant anxious to and froing between the two rooms.

The Photographic Model

Birdfeeder & titsWith the aid of Dave Farrow’s ‘A Guide to the Garden Birds of Britain & Northern Europe’ we are trying to learn our birds.  This morning we think we identified a nuthatch; and great, coal, and long tailed tits; on the bird feeder.  There was also a robin, but we are fairly sure we can spot one of those.  The pole holding the feeders has gone a bit wonky, but gravity works quite well on the hanging items, even if the fixed trays are on a bit of a tilt.  I just thought I’d mention that in case anyone thought the photo was askew.

Once we had completed the building of our second Billy bookcase, we looked up to see wisps of thistledown floating around the birds.  I do believe I can honestly use ‘we’ in this context today.  Full of confidence, we had a coffee and built a third bookcase in good time to collect Sam from the railway station.  The thistledown turned out to be snow, but it was wispy, light, and, despite continuing throughout the day, not settling.

After lunch Sam went through the fourth assembly at a rate of knots.  He did allow me to bang a few nails into the backing sheet.

Derrick c1977Photograph number 12 in Elizabeth’s scanned series was taken by a young woman aspiring to be a professional. I do hope she managed it.  In about 1977 she had a portrait project to complete for her qualification course.  Unfortunately I can only remember the name of her mother, who worked in my Social Services Office.  This was Liz McKay.  The student daughter asked me to pose for her and produced a very pleasing set of black and white pictures.  It was more than thirty years later that Alex Schneideman, a true professional, was to repeat the compliment.  We will come to one of his pictures a bit further on ‘through the ages’.

The original scan was taken directly from the print, as the photographer, of course, kept the negative.  The result was covered in dust and minute hair marks.  I therefore had another iPhoto challenge, requiring quite a bit of retouching.  This was simple and successful.

Sam, we hope, had a nice relaxing time until dinner.  This was Jackie’s arrabbiata with fusilli.  Thoroughly enjoyable.  Sam and I drank Roc des Chevaliers bordeaux superieur 2010.  Jackie, as usual, quaffed her Hoegaarden.

Robin Ghyll

Even at midday today a block of ice filled the birdbath.  After lunch I walked the Shave Wood loop.  Apart from Ari and Jackie who stopped their car for a long chat, I saw no other humans. Only three ponies were in evidence.Pony camouflaged  One tore dead branches from a fallen tree, perhaps for the lichen.  They certainly are experiencing food harder and harder to find.

Many forest car parks, like the one at Hazel Hill, have been padlocked for the winter.  Now we have passed the alleged first day of spring, they have been opened up. Hazel Hill car park I see no sign of people rushing to fill them.

Derrick 8.79We are going back a couple of years in Elizabeth’s ‘through the ages’ series.  The featured picture, number 11, was taken by Jessica in August 1979 during one of our holidays in the Lake District.  Before I explain the location, I need to confess to spending a couple of hours locating ‘Pictures’ on my iMac.  This is because I decided to scan and adjust Elizabeth’s version of the photograph, which was the wrong way round and bore some faint but unfortunate parallel lines across it.  In fairness to my delightful sibling, when she first scanned this for one of Mum’s birthdays perhaps ten years ago, equipment was not so good, and how was she to know it was my right hand on which I was resting my face?

I saved the scan to ‘Pictures’ which has a different icon than ‘pictures in iPhoto.  I couldn’t work on the picture from ‘Preview’, and I couldn’t find the separate ‘Pictures’.  After much frustration and a reluctance to phone Apple helpline yet again, I found how to move the picture to iPhoto.  It didn’t really need any enhancement, but at least I can now manage any that do.  If I can remember how to do it, that is.

Now, to the holiday.  The family of Jessica’s sister Sue Trevelyan owned the house at Robin Ghyll near Langdale in the Lake district.  We would sometimes stay with the Trevs, sometimes on our own, taking Matthew and Becky with us.  On this occasion our friends the Biebuycks accompanied us.  This was a large, spacious, house shared by the Trevelyan brothers, and available for all their relatives.  A dry stone wall surrounded the rocky garden that overlooked the Lakeland hills.  There were numerous popular walks, some of which, (see ‘Vertigo’, posted 14th July last year) scared the life out of me.  It was on one of these holidays that I discovered the delights of Theakston’s ‘Old Peculiar”.

Billy bookcaseIf the truth be known, I probably chose to wrestle with the computer to avoid tackling the assembly of the IKEA bookcases which were delivered this morning.  But I couldn’t put it off for ever.  Were I to claim that I, or even we, unpacked these heavy boxes; studied the picture book instructions; checked the contents and laid them out in a sensible order on the floor; collected the necessary tools together; and built the furniture, I would be stretching credibility.  So I won’t.  This afternoon, Jackie was the surgeon.  I performed the roles of hospital orderly and theatre nurse.  We settled for one operation.  There is always another day or three for the others.

Last night’s jalfrezi meal and Kingfisher was repeated this evening with the addition of mixed fruit crumble.  Delicious.

He Wanted To Read The Gas Meter

This morning I walked the church path via Furzey Gardens road loop.  I had a long chat with Audrey and passed the time of day with two horse riders.  That was it. This afternoon we decided to ignore the weather and amble round Blandford Forum in Dorset.  It was far too cold to amble.  As we got out of the car we knew that.  We concentrated on our shopping.  Jackie parked in a car park marked ‘town centre’.  It didn’t look much like a town centre and we weren’t sure where to go.  We asked another woman who had the same problem.  We found a small sign pointing to what looked like a back alley which actually took us over a fast flowing stream, under the overlapping floor of a building, into what seemed a poorer part of this Georgian town.  We were soon in the town centre, diving from charity shop to charity shop in an attempt to get warm.  We didn’t leave them empty handed.  The woman from the car park was in each and every shop.  I also found a framer’s where I bought a frame for the Mottisfont Trout (see post of 23rd) picture; a branch of Wessex photo who stocked the inks for my Canon printer; and a computer shop where I bought a mouse mat. Solar Energy in streamIn the stream we crossed to reach the shops, someone had obviously decided there was not going to be much solar energy around this year.  The advertising board had been dumped in the water. Practically everyone in town was swathed in scarves, wearing gloves, and sporting a variety of overcoats. Black Headed Gull Even the black headed gulls in their summer plumage looked as if they had made a mistake.  One seemed particularly confused by it all. It was a shame that we were just too cold to do justice to wandering round this attractive and historic town, but we saw enough to know that in better weather it is worth another visit.  The young man in Wessex photo, not stocking it himself, had telephoned the Ringwood branch to see if they had A3+ paper size.  They didn’t, but would happily try to get some for me.  We stopped off at Ringwood on the way back to order some. In the Blandford branch of the photo shop a man carrying a portable device that I recognised but couldn’t quite place, stood aside patiently waiting whilst the one shop assistant served another person, then me, made the phone call, talked paper sizes with Jackie and me, and began with the next customer.  I think that if the helpful young man hadn’t asked the visitor what he wanted at that point, he would have been waiting there still.  He wanted to read the gas meter. Derrick 9.82Photograph number 10 of the ‘through the ages’ series is a reminder of a much warmer time.  This, I believe, was taken by Ann Eland on one of our joint holidays with her and Don,  in Brittany in September 1982.  By then I was being asked whether I had highlights put in my hair. Jackie's jalfreziJackie produced a superb lamb jalfrezi, pilau rice, and cauliflower bhaji for our dinner this evening.  We both drank Kingfisher.  I then ate sticky toffee pudding, and she had chocolate cake.