A robin and a blue tit saw off a nuthatch from the bird station. Really it was the robin who did the business, the tit being like the little kid who eggs on the bully to snatch some of the glory. The robin then stood guard, looking threatening, while the tit, knowing he didn’t belong in the same space as the toughie, head deferentially bowed, waited his turn. Modern technology found a wonderful new way to send me ballistic this morning. We received a phone call from the handyman who is to fix a few things in the flat. One item was not on his list. Since, without the agent’s say so he could not fix it, unless we contacted them we would need to continue flushing the lavatory with a piece of string which gets soggy if you drop it in the water. Rob, the handyman, asked us to call the agent. That was when the fun started. After dialling the number I was asked by a machine to enter my password. Well, how do you do that on a mobile phone? I also had an e-mail telling me the device would not receive messages because the password was incorrect. Thinking this may have been to do with my having reset my e-mail password on the BT account, I followed the directions given to do that. I was not allowed to do it that way, so I tried another. The new password was rejected, and the phone locked. Now, my mobile phone is on an O2 account, as my regular readers will already know. The home phone, in Jackie’s name, is a BT account. So you will be able to imagine my surprise, and mild expletives, when I got the same password request on the home phone. My expletives became even milder when Jackie got the same response on her pay as you go T-mobile. Eventually, I received a call from the home phone on my mobile. Jackie had now discovered that that had begun to work without the machine’s interference, as had her mobile. I could now receive calls, but access nothing else on my locked phone. There are seventeen apartments in this building. During this fiasco our entry buzzer was activated. Hoping it was our Rob, Jackie answered the door to a deliveryman who was trying to access number 15. Ours was one of only two buzzers he had managed to get to work. Rob arrived in good time. He was unable to access the loo until I got out of the bath. My ablutions had been delayed by the shenanigans. Whilst soaking comfortably I contemplated ‘Murder In The Lounge’, posted on 25th August last year. That story was about a cat fight. What I didn’t mention then was that the people next door were out when I returned the perpetrator’s collar, so I put that through the letterbox and left an answer phone message. My neighbours did not receive the message, and what is more, their entry phone did not take messages. Nevertheless, as I pressed the buzzer, a machine from inside the hall asked me to leave a message. So I did, and when I heard nothing more from my neighbours whose cat, after all, had left my sitting room looking like a pile of feathers after a predator had made a kill, I thought that rather churlish of them. So, did that buzzer short circuit with the telephone, or was the timing pure coincidence? And, if that was possible, could the deliveryman, trying all the buzzers in turn, have managed the same thing? It was, after all, only after he left that Jackie managed to use the phone. Or have I simply gone mad? Never mind, I thought, the birch on the lawn now sports fresh green leaves, and the sun casts its rays through our huge mullioned windows. There was, however, nothing remotely amusing or cheerful about the way the rest of the morning was spent. I was rash enough to telephone O2 about the locked phone. First of all the advisor suggested the earlier problem must have been related to the number we were trying to ring. That made sense to me. She then took me through the very lengthy process of unlocking my mobile. I had to enter, ten times, the password that kept showing up as incorrect. She could then reset it for me, but all the information carried by my phone would be wiped. I did this, and watched all my contact information; e-mails; saved messages; texts; and anything else I haven’t thought of, represented by a black line progressing across the screen. Twice. When she reset it, the password I had been using all along worked. Perhaps I have gone mad. This is exactly why I have always been reluctant to keep all information in my mobile phone’s memory. But I’ve often been a bit lazy in this respect. So, if you ever want to hear from me again, please send me an e-mail with your contact details. If I don’t receive any of these, I will know where I stand, and I just don’t know what I’ll do with myself. After lunch, with all this buzzing in my head, Jackie drove us to Elizabeth’s, where she continued planting bulbs and seeds and I cut the grass. This was slightly problematic in that I couldn’t get the mower going again. I was just about to throw in the towel, when, realising that would only clog up the works even more, I remembered Elizabeth’s technique, displayed on 20th, of pushing the machine along, jerking it up and down. A few yards of shoving what looked like a giant snail with hiccups did the trick. We were pleased to see the early, red, rhododendron has benefited from the bracken compost and the removal of diseased buds last summer. Before I could put my mind to this, I gleaned some family phone numbers from my sister and inserted them into my mobile. If you are a family member do not assume I now have all your details. Danni cooked a superb roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings for the four of us. Pudding was apple and blackcurrant pie. Danni and I drank McGuigan Estate shiraz 2012; Jackie drank Hoegaarden; and Elizabeth drank water.
A new visitor alighted on the bird table today. Jackie was able to view this creature from the hide she had constructed in the kitchen. As usual, as for the would-be panda photographer in the Kitkat television advert, when I arrived with the camera, the bird disappeared. She had to look it up in Dave Farrow’s ‘A Guide to the birds of Britain and Northern Europe’. At first studying the illustration for an apparently rare garden sparrow, she eventually settled on the female blackcap. A pied wagtail did battle with another bird that it saw off so quickly we couldn’t identify it. A blue tit showed a preference for the fat balls.
In celebration of a much brighter day, blossom has come to Castle Malwood Lodge garden, and fresh lemon coloured leaves are beginning to festoon Running Hill. I chose the first ford Q walk this morning. A distant cuckoo intruded upon the conversation of other forest birds, just as its chicks will intrude upon their unwilling foster parents.
The lambs that caught my eye as I walked towards the bridle path were black with white faces. Two of them vied with each other for either shelter or suckle under their mother. In a display of modesty the ewe, as I peered in their direction, waddled awkwardly off. How, I wondered, did those thin legs support that ungainly, wool-covered body? Her offspring hopped and skipped over each other, trying to latch onto their moving target.
At the top end of the path I tried a new route by taking Tom’s Lane. On a bend I soon saw a notice that made me change my mind. I was first inclined to ignore it, because it had probably been there some time. However, around the bend there were two houses, neither of which possessed a gate. Discretion was called for, so I retraced my steps and took Forest Road, beside which bony cattle basked in the morning sunlight. Walking back through Newtown, watching ponies grazing, I marvelled at the amount of unrelenting mandibular exercise required to feed these animals for a day. It is little wonder they don’t do much else.
On two occasions I had differing reasons for being grateful for the sense of hearing. About to approach the hill back into Minstead from ‘The Splash’ ford, the familiar clopping of an as yet out of sight horse drawn cart alerted me to the photo opportunity that was on its way. I was therefore able to take up a suitable position. As the carriage passed me the riders laughed at my poised lens. ‘I’ll bet you have lots of these taken’, I cried, as I clicked. ‘Just a few’, was the reply.
There is a particular blind bend on the road up to Seamans Corner. As usual I walked up the narrow road on my right hand side, so I would face cars coming towards me on their left. Round the bend sped a car I had only heard. The driver was looking in the direction of her passenger. Had I not pinned my back to a thorn hedge in anticipation, the vehicle would have hit me.
This afternoon, my granddaughter, Alice, visiting Soho with her Mum and Dad, sent me a photograph of the front door of Nos. 1 – 2 Horse and Dolphin Yard, where Michael had lived with Jessica and me during the 1970s. It was the roof of this building that formed part of the route to Michael’s rabbit pens described in my post of 21st May last year.
Jackie’s luscious lamb’s liver casserole followed by bread and butter pudding was for dinner. This was accompanied by Hoegaarden by Jackie, whilst I finished the Piccini.
On a drowsy Sunday morning the birds were our main focus of attention. Wagtails are always on the lawns, but in recent days, attracted by the mealworms, they have ventured onto the feeder, much to the chagrin of the robins, who are quite vicious in their suggestion that this is their territory. The visitors’ tail feathers are ever at the ready for take-off. These timid newcomers to the feeder spend so little time there that I was unable to photograph them until Matthew stood in hiding to the right of the window, watching a wagtail crossing the lawn in flight to the mealworm tray and warning me of its approach. I stood poised on the other side, and just managed to take the photograph. At least one robin regularly scuttles under the box hedge. To a nest, perhaps. Nuthatches and various tits took their turns to feed. Visible high above the distant forest trees, a buzzard glided overhead. Over lunch, a wren, wings fanning like a hummingbird, seemed to be stripping moss from the underside of the balcony above, no doubt for home building.
The day remained dull and heavy, yet cold. As I waited until our son and Oddie left for his home, after a very relaxing and enjoyable time with us, it was late in the afternoon before I walked the ford loop via the footpath to All Saints church. At the stream opposite the Study Centre I met a black labrador with its owner on a lead. I wondered why the owner, Sarah, was wearing Wellies, and soon found out the answer as the dog dragged her into the water to investigate a couple of apple cores. As I stepped down to engage the woman in conversation, we both noticed, perched on the dried mud bank, a Bog Arum lily, otherwise known as a Yellow Skunk Cabbage. Neither of us had seen one before. The labrador had to be dissuaded from giving the plant a closer examination.
The lambs in the field by the church path are growing well. This evening they were more interested in feeding with their dams than in frisking and frolicking about.
In the later Newark years I took to using ‘the smoking shed’. This had nothing to do with kippers. My pipe was becoming less popular indoors, so, for a smoke and a session of creativity, I set myself up in a brick-built outhouse. This had electric light and a power point into which I plugged an oil-filled radiator. The roof was of slate. I sat at a long work-bench which sufficed for a desk, and my reference library sat on shelves which had once held tins of screws and nails, and other assorted stuff in jars. The marvellously atmospheric black and white photograph that is number 16 in ‘Derrick through the ages’, was taken through the window by Elizabeth, as I worked on a crossword, in about 2002.
Dining on Jackie’s lamb curry and savoury rice, followed by bread and butter pudding, we reflected on how much and how recently rapidly our world has shrunk since the Portuguese were a world power. Here we were, eating one of this country’s favourite foods, imported from the Indian subcontinent, which is renowned for its use of the chilli, itself transhipped to India from Mexico in the very early sixteenth century by the countrymen of Vasco da Gama. I drank Kingfisher, an Indian lager and Jackie had Hoegaarden, a Belgian beer.
It was a long morning. Knowing that Matthew was coming straight on here for the weekend after dropping Tess and Jo off at Gatwick airport at 5 a.m. got us up early. Mat and Oddie arrived at 6.45. Soon after this I realised it was also a cold morning, and indeed, the harsh weather is back. So, when Mat, Oddie and I walked down to the post box and back, I regretted not wearing an overcoat. Incidentally, have you noticed how often a dog cocks its leg when traversing new territory? Especially when Oddie is on a lead, we have to wait for him every time he adopts his seemingly unproductive three-legged ballet stance.
We then had a trip to Romsey where Jackie and Matthew wanted to arrange an Interflora bouquet for a funeral. A suspicious e-mail caused some delay with this. When Jackie logged on to check the florist, she discovered she had a message purporting to come from me. I had apparently sent this spurious message to myself and three others in my address book, including my French branch of Barclays Bank. This required a call to BT who reset my password to ensure that this did not happen again. Naturally it meant going through all the usual choices offered by a machine, then a wait for one of the advisors, all of whom were busy at that moment. Never mind, I am well used to this now, and the man I eventually spoke to, by the now familiar process of taking over my screen, sorted the problem. Fortunately I realised I would have to change the passwords on each of my e-mail accounts. Had I not done so I would have probably gone ballistic when trying to access e-mails on my iMac.
When we eventually did get to Romsey it was cold enough for me to feel sorry for the market stallholders. After arranging for the flowers to be sent, we wandered around the town, where Jackie bought an hydrangea from one of the stalwart sellers to plant in a rather beautiful pot that our neighbour Jean had brought all the way from Australia. On a nearby fruit and vegetable stall, two young men displayed all the usual patter associated with the East End of London, ‘like budgies, going cheap’, for example. Seeing delicious looking pies on another we rather regretted that our freezer was full. Whilst watching Jackie make her purchase I became engaged in an interesting conversation with two women, probably mother and daughter. As the younger one walked past me, she half turned, without looking at the person she was addressing, and said ‘you don’t do that at my house’. Sensing she had made a bit of an error, as the older woman followed on, I replied ‘I’ve never even been to your house’. This caused some amusement. Having woven their way through the stalls, they approached in a similar manner from another direction. This time it was a question from the daughter. ‘Do you want to go to Waitrose?’. ‘No thanks’, was my response.
Jackie and Matthew both rather like the Daily Mail crossword, so we had to buy the newspaper and take it to Lineker’s cafe where we drank coffee. For once in my life I was pleased to tackle this puzzle, just to keep warm. I hasten to add that neither Mat nor his mother are fans of the newspaper, but they do, unfortunately, like its crossword. We know that, on such an occasion, there will be much amusement as I complain about the terrible clues, which would never get through my usual editors. We take it in turns to write in an answer. Almost invariably I explode at my turn, with such as ‘it’s got to be this word; but this or that is wrong with the clue’. The glint in Matthew’s eye was not just because he was struggling with a clue, but it is his standard expression for when he has sussed his photograph is being taken. There was a campaign in London, designed to shame people into drinking less. Posters carried a picture of a recycle bin full of wine bottles and drink cans. The caption indicated that the householders were known to like a drink. For that reason I always feel rather embarrassed when there is a Daily Mail in our transparent recycling bag.
Back home we lunched on marvellous pasties, sausage rolls, bread, and salad Mat had brought from the Upper Dicker Village Shop (see 12th May last year). Continuing with the puzzle afterwards, Matthew made a point of seeking out the worst clues, just to wind me up.
Jackie made an excellent lamb curry followed by bread and butter pudding for our dinner. Matthew and I drank Piccini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo riserva 2010. Oddie had Butcher’s Senior beef, liver, and rice.
Before Jackie drove me to Donna-Marie in Poulner for my very occasional haircut, I walked the Bull Lane/Trusty Servant loop.
A knotted mass of mossy tree roots in the strip of forest alongside Upper Drive always has me wondering whether Celtic designers, all those centuries ago, had gained their inspiration from similar natural phenomena.
At the bottom of Running Hill the narrow road forms a bridge over one of the streams that gives it its name. There is no street lighting in the lanes of Minstead, which is why those of the Trusty Servant Inn are such a welcome sight when coming off the A337 after dark. Our neighbour Ari tells us that he strapped reflectors onto the railings of the narrow bridge as a warning to drivers after one steered his vehicle into the metal posts and was killed instantly. It is rather a sad coincidence that there was a fatal accident on the A337 at about the time I walked across the bridge and thought of this public service of Ari’s.
From the hairdresser’s Jackie went on to Sainsbury’s in Ringwood. I walked there after the cut, and arrived just as she was emerging from the shop. On the way back we called in to In-Excess garden centre for birdfood. No doubt because the weather is changing, this establishment was packed and the car park like a fairground dodgems. I went inside alone and left Jackie manouevring. Once having entered the quite extensive parking area it was very difficult to get back out.
I can’t tell you much about ‘Derrick through the ages’ picture number 15a. In Elizabeth’s slide show it doesn’t even warrant its own number, rather like a modern house that’s been built in a piece of garden donated, for a no doubt enormous nominal fee, by the owners of a Victorian mansion next door. Maybe that’s where it was taken. On a late twentieth century balcony. Mind you, the background doesn’t look much like something erected in the nineteenth century. From the look of me, the picture was taken in the early twenty first century. I look pretty relaxed, so it was probably taken by someone I was happy to be with. I sprouted my current beard about three years ago, so it was before then. It’s no good going by the clothes, because I’ve had them all ages. The specs are some kind of clue because it must be seven or eight years since I wore that pair. Elizabeth tells me I removed the print from one of my own albums for inclusion in one she made for Mum’s eightieth birthday. That narrows it down a bit more. It must have been at least eleven years ago. So, dear photographer, if you are reading this, please make yourself known, and fill in the missing details.
I read a little more of Henri Troyat’s novel ‘Grandeur Nature’ which I began a day or two ago.
Whilst eating our dinner of Jackie’s chilli con carne followed by Sainsbury’s treacle sponge pudding, accompanied, in my case only, by Estevez reserva cabernet sauvignon carmenere 2011, we watched the rapidly changing skies without leaving the dining table. Clouds ranging from various shades of ochre, to pink, and to indigo moved across clear blue ethereal patches; and the evening sun streamed across the garden picking up the freshly burgeoning leaves on the forest trees. As we watched, we became aware of a shower of rain. ‘There should be a rainbow somewhere’, said Jackie. And, suddenly, transiently, there it was.
Another warm day meant we could admire Jackie’s flowering violas and tagetes seedlings whilst lunching in the garden.
On 5th March I had got hopelessly lost and therefore considerably delayed when looking for Ditchend Brook en route from Godshill to Frogham. Studying the Ordnance Survey map afterwards I discovered the route of this waterway winding through the heath to the left of Roger Penny Way coming from Cadnam. When Jackie suggested a trip to Frogham this seemed the day for an expedition along the stream. She drove me to Ashley Walk car park and met me at the said village. The footpath over the heathland from that point crosses the gorse-bound brook. Eschewing a straight path that avoided the natural meanderings of the gravel bedded clear peat-coloured water, I threaded my usual way along the pony tracks sprinkled with dry droppings. The animals clearly chose to wander within easy reach of their drink. Had I not done so I would not have noticed two, hopefully successfully hatched, duck eggs hidden in the bushes.
The stream descends gently from the height alongside Roger Penny Way to its end in a valley below. In this fairly flat area, basking in the lazy, hazy summery afternoon, lay a number of cattle including the rare Belted Galloway, or ‘Belties’, breed , contemplating the water and hoping for shelter from the scrubby trees. Beyond them stood many ponies. A trio of these, abandoning their observation of two mallards swimming across a still wet pool, began leading the hopeful march towards me. They were disappointed to discover I had nothing for them. These poor creatures, most of whom are displaying bony ribs, have had a hard time of it this winter.
The route from there was familiar to me. Feeling confident, from Burnt Balls and Long Bottom I walked parallel to, but lower down than, Hampton Ridge as far as Chilly Hill. At this point I checked with a cyclist that I was on the right track to turn and walk up to the ridge from where it was a gentle downhill stroll to Frogham. The young woman, who was the only person I met on this idyllic afternoon trip, confirmed I was headed in the right direction. I apologised for stopping her on an uphill stretch. ‘Don’t worry’, she replied. ‘I’ll be walking myself in a minute’. Off she pedalled around a bend. As I turned it myself I saw what she meant. There she was, pushing her steed up an almost perpendicular climb. At the top she was crouched over the bike in some disarray. She looked up, her hair dangling in her eyes, and looking somewhat flushed. ‘Are you strong?’, she asked. Well, I was certainly going to be, wasn’t I? It’s not often a Knight comes across a damsel in distress. Of course, I know nothing about bikes, but I have got a bit of brawn, so long as bending of neither of my two rugby shattered finger joints is required. There was a thingy sticking out that should be flush with the frame. It seemed to be in place for casing the brake or gear cables. I had to place my palm around the sharp end of it and apply as much pressure as I could, trying not to give away the fact that I was in danger of administering the stigmata to myself. Fortunately I was able to demonstrate that I was sufficiently strong, and the young lady was able to wobble off without discomfort to her lower limb.
Jackie arrived back at the Abbot’s Well car park at the same time as I did. She had thoughtfully gone off to buy me a bottle of water, for which I was most grateful. Today has been a day of glowing gorse and a bank of pastel primroses. On the Cadnam roundabout on the A31 cascades a bank of these latter plants that has attracted us every time we have passed them. This afternoon Jackie parked at a safe distance and I took my chances among the traffic to walk back and photograph them.
Dinner was Jackie’s chilli con carne with which I drank Piccini chianti reserva 2009 and she didn’t.
Today was warm enough for us to lunch outside, using a small table and folding chairs on the stone path leading up to the kitchen door. Jackie’s small garden outside there is taking shape. This afternoon we drove to Aldi at Romsey for potting compost, a Polish Spirit clematis and a few other items.
Last night, as Jackie drove me back from Southampton there were, unusually more deer than any other animals on the road. We realised the truth of Sisyphus‘s (see post of 19th March) observation that these timid creatures have been more desperate for food than usual this winter, and would soon be less venturesome in the garden of Castle Malwood Lodge, when we noticed leaves and even flowers on one stem of these plants that have been regularly stripped to the bone since last November.
As I walked down to the village shop and back cattle and ponies shared cropping rights on the verges of Minstead’s lanes. Maybe because their roots have been waterlogged for so long, there seem to have been a great deal of fallen trees in the forest. It only appears to be those that encroach upon the road that are logged up and removed. A vast trunk by the roadside in the village has clearly been there for some time, and is regularly used as a community noticeboard.
We haven’t had a ‘Derrick through the ages’ picture for a while. Number 15 in the series was probably taken by Jessica in about 1995 in the garden of Lindum House. I don’t remember whose teeth marks are imprinted on my bottom lip.
This evening Jackie drove us to The Woolpack at Sopley, a delightful pub where we spent a very enjoyable evening with Helen, Bill, Shelley, and Ron. The food and wine were excellent. They even served fish and chips in newspaper in the traditional manner. As is probably common in groups of a certain age, one topic of conversation was stiff necks. This prompted my story of my first encounter with Jasper Nissim, the male half of Newark’s osteopathy partnership. Having been subjected, all my life, to pain in my left shoulder and a stiff neck emanating from a fifty two year old rugby injury, I was persuaded by other members of my family to put myself in the hands of this Newark Rugby Club fly half. The fly half position is the one occupied for so long in the England team by Johnny Wilkinson, the playmaker of the game. One task of the second row forward, one of the two big heavy men who formed the engine room of the pack, was to disrupt the life of the fly half.
The position a second row forward does not want to get himself into is lying on a clinical couch with his head in the hands of a fly half. Nevertheless, there I was, prone on the bed, Jasper gently tweaking my resistant head from side to side with gradual increase of movement. ‘Second row forward, weren’t you?’ ejaculated Jasper. ‘Yes said I’. ‘Well’, he replied, giving my neck a vicious twist, ‘you deserve all you get’.