Knight & Colbourne Candles

Jackie, for the second time in two days, drove us to Southampton Parkway to collect Alison who had come for a brief visit.  The M27/A31 going west was almost at a standstill with people pouring in from other parts of the country to take advantage of what seemed to be the first real day of summer.  Deciding to avoid the motorway on our return, our driver took a different route that was still busy enough to turn a twenty minute journey into one lasting an hour.

Eleanor and Henry are a couple of resourceful young folk who occupy different parts of the Lodge.  Two days ago they developed a car cleaning project.  As there are seventeen flats, all of which often also have visitors, this could be quite lucrative for our ten and nine year old neighbours.  We had actually been asked for the names and numbers of the most likely punters.  This afternoon they sought Jackie’s advice on how they could expand their empire.  I was invited to join in the discussion.  It had occured to them that some people might like their shopping done at the village shop, but as this was a good twenty minutes walk away it needed careful co-ordination.  They offered the opinion that most residents of the building, ‘not you of course’, were quite old and therefore likely to require such a service.  Given that there is only one couple who are marginally older, I suppose we should have been flattered.

It was Eleanor who had tolerated the attention of Jessica and Imogen who had been so smitten on their recent visit (see 12th May post).  I told the children that Jessica and Imogen’s Mum had, when she was not much older than Eleanor, gone into business with her friend Matthew.  They had made and sold candles.  Eleanor wasn’t really into candle making.

Louisa and Matthew Colbourne, great friends still, had been very like Eleanor and Henry.  Ever resourceful, inseparable, and immensely loyal, what began as a sale of refreshments in the garage developed into an established company, with a bank account, producing hand-crafted candles.  Their parents had to dragoon their friends into the garden to purchase curled up sandwiches and luke-warm orange squash, but the candles sold themselves.  They really were quite good.  It was a proud Dad who took Louisa and her business partner, in their very early teens, into the bank in Newark to open their official company account.  Like all candles, it eventually fizzled out, but it was very exciting while it lasted.

Back lawn, Castle Malwood Lodge

It was quite late in the afternoon today when I set off to walk the two fords Q.  Starting with the back lawn of the Lodge garden, the early evening sun lent a gorgeous light to the landscape. Running Hill Midges appeared to be floating on the beams, and long shadows produced dramatic affects. Hedgerow Hedgerows chirruped and sang, for all the world as if they were flocks of joyful birds.  Hedgerow 2

For the first time this year my sandals came out and my feet went into them.

On my return we were joined by Eleanor’s parents, David and Nicky.  We had a drink together before they repaired to their barbecue and we came inside to consume Jackie’s chicken jalfrezi (recipe) with her savoury rice which has really taken off.  I drank Blason des Papes Chateuneuf du Pape 2011 with this.

Field and branch

I had met Nicky before when I had had the temerity to offer her running tips as our paths had crossed twice when I was on a walk and she was on a run.  She had told me later that I had been very helpful, which was a relief, but I hadn’t connected her with her daughter.

A Beautiful Setting

Jackie drove me to the station a little later this morning for a trip to London to see Carol.  Posting my last of these train journeys on 23rd of this month I had expressed the intention of using the Quiet zone carriage.  Today there was a nerve-wracking queue for tickets.  I obtained mine just in time, but some didn’t.  Ahead of us all were two women with three five-year olds and one younger child.  While those in charge debated their optimum ticket option the four infants, voices emitted at maximum decibels, dashed about doing their utmost to trip everyone up. As I settled into the Quiet zone, who should come tripping and tumbling up the aisle?  You’ve guessed it.  Oh joy!  Winchester, the first stop, is only seven minutes away from Southampton Parkway.  That is when ‘are we at London?’ began.  Maybe in order to make themselves heard, the mothers’ utterances were often loudest.  Everyone was very excited by a game of Scissors Paper Stone initiated by one of the adults, who, incredibly turned out to be the quieter.  When the other parent began a simultaneous game of I Spy I began to be a bit confused.  Was ‘something beginning with S’ sky, scissors, or stone?  And would stone represented by a fist qualify? A detailed description by the louder Mum of an Indian train journey complete with a graphic picture of the toilet that was a hole in the floor around which everyone had pooed was particularly savoury.  Have I mentioned that all this was going on a good few seats behind me?  Clear as a bell.  But not a mobile phone ring tone, so presumably legal. I didn’t even start on my reading.  No way could the book have competed with the amplified audio version of this well-travelled voice.  Why, oh why, had she not fallen off that mountain?  And why did she have to open that parachute? On a whim, having plenty of time, I wandered around the Kennington side of Waterloo station, as far as Lambeth North underground.  Station Approach Road which brings taxis and buses to the side entrance of the London terminal was my route from The Pill Box, a small, then modern, building when, from 1963 to 1966 I had worked there for Mobil Shipping Company’s insurance subsidiary.  Park Plaza HotelThe Park Plaza Hotel now stands on the site of a pub named after the building’s shape, above which were Mobil’s offices.  In those days I commuted to there from Raynes Park. Station Approach Road Graffiti now decorates the lower approach. Lower MarshFrom Kennington Road I back-tracked for a nostalgic walk along Lower Marsh.  The London Eye, then not even a proverbial twinkle, is just visible from this street where I regularly lunched with my great friend Terry Taylor in a cafe that served shepherd’s pie that tasted like moussaka, and rice pudding and custard.  The thoroughfare is now so completely changed that I was unable to find this establishment. Passing a stall that sold antique glass and brass, I heard the vendor’s neighbour asking him what he thought of Boris Johnson’s chances of becoming Prime Minister.  I told him of an occasional commuting companion on the Newark to King’s Cross train who had, in the late ’90s, predicted Boris for ‘the next Tory Prime Minister’.  This led to a somewhat awkward discussion about the state of the country and the self-seeking nature of politicians.  I changed the subject and asked about my cafe.  He didn’t know it, and, anyway, he hadn’t himself been a twinkle in 1963. I sat for a while in Waterloo Millennium Green which wasn’t there then either.  Lower Marsh MarketMany people sat here to consume foods from the mult-ethnic preparations on offer at the stalls now strung along what was once part of Lambeth Marsh.  Here I conversed with Steve White, who, like me, was in search of ‘remembrance of things past’.  A really nice man, a builder whom I will recommend to Michael, although twenty years younger, he shared many of my own memories.  Ten years after I had watched flats being demolished behind The Pill Box, as a child living in another block, he watched further buldings making way for St. Thomas’s Hospital.  When grown up, he had drunk in that pub. Steve White in Millennium Green Steve remembered this piece of land when it was ‘all concrete’, and was delighted to be photographed in what he thought was now a beautiful setting.  He was rather chuffed at the thought that his image would travel around the world this evening.  One of the strings to his bow is gardening, which is clearly why the Green appealed to him. After this, vowing never to venture on it again until the tourists had all left, I fought my way across a jam-packed Westminster Bridge and into Victoria Street.  It was a relief to stagger into Great Smith Street and through to Carol’s home in Rochester Row, stopping on my way to enjoy a hearty all day breakfast in The Laughing Halibut on the corner of Strutton Ground. Knackered commuters are, if you discount snoring, much less noisy than exuberant excited children and their guardians.  I was therefore able to finish Ralph A. Griffiths’ contribution to the Oxford History, ‘The Later Middle Ages’, and make a start on John Guy’s ‘The Tudor Age’, on my return journey. My chauffeuse was there to greet me at Southampton; to drive me home in comfort; and to feed me on chicken jalfrezi (recipe) and savoury rice followed by an Aldi choc-ice.  She drank Hoegaarden whilst I consumed Kingfisher.

Sorting The Sheep From The Goats

On 24th May last year, I mentioned Worldwide on-line Scrabble. It was just before then that Becky had introduced me to this phenomenon. There is a very companionable network of people of all ages and nationalities who enjoy this game. It is possible to have numerous contests in progress at any one time because those on the other side of the world from each other do not all play at once.

Through this medium I have enjoyed more than 3,000 games and corresponded with many new friends.

Alfred Mosher Butts, during the Great Depression was a jobless American architect who invented and developed the game as entertainment for his own family. ScrabbleLike my friend Mike Kindred, the games inventor, he made the prototypes himself.  This pastime first saw life commercially in 1938, and by the time of his death in 1993, was popular the world over. I wonder whether he ever imagined how it has developed with the assistance of the World Wide Web.  A real board, tiles, racks, pencil, paper, and even dictionaries, can now be dispensed with, as we sit pressing keys.

The on-line facility is administered by Facebook, and has, until an arbitrary date last Sunday, been a free service without advertisements.  On that day the plug was pulled on all our existing games, 53 in my case;  the statistics of our performance were wiped out; and most importantly of all, we were no longer able to play with some people with whom we had formed long-distance corresponding relationships.  Overnight we were presented with a newly designed board with strange-looking icons, and a set of statistics, for all except three players, starting from the new date.

Some people may not be bothered about stats, but the more competitive of us enjoy trying to improve, or just hold onto our positions.  I personally don’t mind starting this from scratch, but do want it to make sense.  After only four completed games, Becky’s highest word score is 88; her highest game score is given as 85.  For those who don’t know the game, a word is part of a game.  Becky’s are not the only set that don’t compute.

There is a facility for starting a new game with a friend.  I merrily put in the names of some friends I had been playing with for months.  They were not known.  On the other hand, a row of Facebook friends, many of whom do not play Scrabble, was presented to me as containing potential opponents.

So, Barbara, if you read this, please understand I will not rest until I have found you again.

For many years Chambers Dictionary has been the standard one for use with Scrabble.  Not since last Sunday.  The only rather good improvement I have found is that it is now possible to play in a number of different languages.  Once you have realised that the standard one in use is American.  Most of us, of course, didn’t think to check that.  Our first games therefore rejected many familiar words until we sussed it.  And of course, it is not possible to select a different reference source during the course of a game.  Even the British English dictionary has changed.  The chosen one is now Collins.

There are a number of spritely young things like Barb and Christian around on the circuit, but most of those, like me, who have enough time to spend playing Scrabble, are a little resistant to change.  It’s not that we are stuck in the mud, as I am sometimes when I venture into the New Forest, but just that our memory sticks are a bit full.

Now why has this happened?  The cynic in me puts it down to commercialisation and the profit to be made from advertising.  Yes, the games are now interrupted by advertisements.  Ah, but you don’t have to have them.  You can pay for your games to be ad-free.  Either way, a profit is made.  Q.E.D. (For those who didn’t have the benefit of a Jesuit grammar school education, these three letters at the bottom of the proof of a theorem, stand for ‘quod erat demonstrandum’, or ‘so it has been proved’).

Having spent far too much time trying to get my head around this novelty, I walked the Football Green/Bull Lane loop. Soay sheep in field of buttercups The tinkling of bells in a field just after I entered the lane, heralded the presence of what I thought were rather small goats, the kids almost obscured by buttercups. Soay lamb I watched, fascinated, as these horned creatures enjoyed the pasture.  Pondering about the collective noun for goats, I thought it must be a herd, but on the other hand, perhaps it was a flock.  This uncertainty helped me with identification, for, further up the hill, a woman was sweeping her gravel driveway.  I asked her.  She confirmed it was a herd.  ‘Have you seen some?’, she asked, sounding intrigued.  ‘Yes, in that field’, I replied.  ‘They are not goats, they are sheep, Soay sheep.  They are prehistoric’, was her clarification. I thanked her.  Well, they did all have horns.

Jackie produced a tasty liver and bacon casserole dinner followed by dutch apple pie for our evening meal.  I finshed the Carta Roja with it.

The Story Of The Raincoat

Minstead road markingsIt is many years since I visited the cinema during the daytime, possibly not since my teens.  Emerging from the gloom of the colonnaded arbour that is Running Hill in leaf bearing a steady drip of rain from the now adequately dressed branches of the trees, the dazzle of the new road markings at Seamans Corner reminded me of the blinking reaction on leaving the darkness required for viewing the silver screen and encountering the sunshine of London streets.  There must have been some bright days in the 1950s.  Many of the cinemas in their heyday had doors near the gents marked ‘Push Bar To Open’. This was how you got out.  It was also worth sussing out before you entered, because if someone had not closed it properly you were in in a flash.  I’m not much of a cinemagoer now, and receive enough pocket money, so I wouldn’t know if this method of ingress and egress still exists.

As I returned up the hill, having, appropriately for today, walked ‘The Splash’ ford loop, I was reminded of the times there were problems with the film projectors in my youth. Sometimes the reel just snapped, sometimes it needed replacing. A grainy crackling would be heard and the screen go blank.  It was just like the splattering of the rain on the canopy above my head.

When we lost the picture, there would be catcalls and we would all look up at the projectionist’s window.  Through the fanned out beam from his equipment threaded wreaths of cigarette smoke, just like the swirling spray obscuring the vehicles in front of us on the M27 during today’s later drive to Hedge End to buy Jackie’s birthday present of bird-watching binoculars.

16th April 2009 was a very different day in Bergerac than it has been this year either in Hampshire or Aquitaine. Derrick This was the day I bought my French raincoat.  It’s a pity it wasn’t a trench coat.  Wouldn’t that have rolled off the tongue?  The purchase was recorded on 24th.  Elizabeth was there, with Chris and Frances, to witness the event. She can even prove it, for she took photograph number 19 in the ‘through the ages’ series, after the thunder storm  that made it necessary. Derrick walking away from pigeons She had been there, moments earlier, in the glowing sunshine smiling down on Bergerac old town, as I walked away from the pigeons towards the glorious flower displays which she subsequently immortalised.  Then, my maroon velvet jacket sufficed.

Flowers with man behindIn order to do this post justice, Elizabeth sent me her photographs by e-mail.  Flowers BergeracFlowers, BergeracNothing, of course goes smoothly on our broadband, so once again BT rejected my password and refused to deliver this evening’s illustrations.  I had my routine conversation with the technician who took over my screen and solved the problem.  Given that I was rather less than patient, his tolerance was greatly to be commended.

Jackie provided a liver, bacon, and sausage casserole with a plentiful variety of well-timed vegetables followed by rice pudding, for our dinner tonight.  Lovely grub.  I drank some Carta Roja gran reserva 2005.  I’ll be sorry when Sainsbury’s stop selling that at half price.

A Woman Paid My Fare

A full moon illuminated the kitchen at 3.30 a.m. this morning. Baby blackbird and tits Somewhat later, but still too early for the sun to have turned the corner, a large fat baby blackbird monopolised the dish on the bird feeder, repelling all other boarders.  It confused us by attacking an adult blackbird that had at first been feeding it.  Was this the case of a tyro turning on its tutor?   Or just an ungrateful child?  Later, when it descended onto the lawn, and began calling for food that the parent provided from the dish, we realised it was the latter.

BerryOak 3I spent this morning on an ancient tree hunt (see 1st May) with Berry.  My friend was very excited because we found and recorded twelve suitable trees in a little under four hours. oak 4 Berry and AlderWalking under the Castle Malwood Farm underpass, we zigzagged across the forest in the vague direction of Sir Walter Tyrrell.  So fruitful was the trip that we didn’t quite reach the Rufus Stone car park before turning back for home.

Oak 5Oak 11Most of the trees were large oaks, some, like one that was a bit knackered, more notable than ancient.  Notable is acceptable.  An interesting rarity which almost caused Berry to get her feet wet, was, we think, an alder.  Growing by the stream, it proved quite difficult for Berry to get a tape round to measure its girth.

I, of course, did manage to get my feet well and truly wet, not by putting them in the stream, but by falling foul of a quagmire.  Jackie, who cleaned up my kit afterwards, had an opportunity to remember the time, during our first incarnation, when she had given my rugby kit similar treatment.

Perhaps the most fascinating example was found in a group of trees that had fallen in a storm. Berry at oak 10 A huge oak branch, at first looking like a whole tree, had brought a beech down with it when it snapped away from the trunk that was more than five metres in girth.  My task was to produce photographs for the Woodland Trust website.

So rich were our finds that we began to get a bit blasé, and say things like ‘we’ll do that one another time’, or ‘not really notable’.

There were an unusual number of other walkers about today.  In my previous excursions this way I have never seen another person.

After a late lunch we drove to The Firs for a gardening session.  Mum had come as well, and Elizabeth was already into weeding when we arrived.  Elizabeth and Jackie’s main task was extracting the weeds, and mine was mowing the lawn.  Danni helped all three of us in different ways.  Mum and lawnBefore mowing the lawns the edging had to be trimmed, and all encumbrances, like tables, chairs, gardening tools, and Mum, need to be moved out of the way.

Naturally, all were reinstated when I had finished.

Tree peonyOf all the plants which are now re-emerging in the garden, Elizabeth is possibly most pleased with the tree peony which, like others, has benefitted from the soil improvement undertaken last year.

Elizabeth produced an excellent roast chicken dinner for us all, followed by apple crumble. Jackie, as usual, drank Hoegaarden; Mum passed; and the rest of us enjoyed Prestige de Calvet Bordeaux 2011.

As always, when we are all together, reminiscing was embarked upon.  Mum reminded me of how Chris and I had collected wasps, drunk on fruit our grandparents’ trees, and stuffed them in a matchbox which we buried and kept unearthing to see if they were still alive.  This, naturally, led to the tale of the bees (see 29th May 2012).  In relating this, now, for the first time I remembered how I had completed the bus journey without any money.  A woman in the seat opposite had paid my fare.

A New Audience

Horse chestnutA bright, warming, sun lit the horse chestnut candelabra in the garden this morning as I set off to walk the two A31 underpasses route this morning.  A cool caressing breeze offered welcome refreshment.   As the day went on it remained bright, but didn’t really warm up unless you were directly in the sun.

Forest floor

Fresh growth of all kinds is piercing the forest floor.  Near the edges of the woodland new spring flowers emerge daily. Bracken Young bracken, just two weeks ago crouched curled and cowering from the cold conditions, now stands proudly erect, flaunting its youth beside its withered forebears.

Clay pitted by ponies

In parts the ground is hard clay pitted by ponies’ hooves; in others the darkened soil warns of a quagmire beneath.

I nearly found my way between The Rufus Stone and Castle Malwood Farm without a hitch.  Not quite.  I am now recognising a few fallen trees and just about know which way to turn when I cross the stream. By the stream However, crossing the stream is only a first step.  What to do when you get to the other side is not always clear, and clambering over sleeping giants that once rose aloft gets more and more difficult as the months pass.

Castle Malwood Farm

We drove to Shelly and Ron’s home in Walkford for a barbecue lunch which extended into the evening and was shared with Helen and Bill and Jackie Ryder and Malcolm.  Ron presented us with skewers of sausages, swordfish, beef, and chicken tikka. Shelley's fruit flan Shelley provided an array of fresh tasty salads and a fruit flan that was so full and artistically presented that it wasn’t until it was sliced that I realised it had a base.  The barbecued items were tender and cooked to perfection; in other words to a correct even temperature, not burnt to a crisp one side and raw on the other.  And they didn’t taste of firelighters.  The various beverages included red and white wines and beers.  Cheese and biscuits and mints accompanied coffee.

As always at such gatherings, tales are told, jokes are shared, and there is much reminiscing.  A consequence of the forty year hiatus in my relationship with Jackie’s family is that we fill in the gaps in our histories; I have a completely new audience for my stories; and Bill has the opportunity to share his with someone who hasn’t heard them all before.  The musical activities of Jackie’s nephews and nieces led the conversation in the direction of musicians, which gave me an opening to speak of Tom, posted on 24th August last year, and tell of his A level in guilt quip, given on stage in Newark.

As we entered Minstead early in the evening a flock of excited sheep came streaming up the hill, various young farmers following in their wake.  They appeared to have escaped from somewhere.

‘I Can’t Put A Ticket On That’

BlackbirdBlackbirds have begun to visit the bird feeder without flying off at the first sign of a human.  Until comparatively recently they would stand on the bay hedge beneath the goodies, patiently waiting for spillage from the other birds.  Now they take their own place at the table.

Jackie's garden

Leaving Jackie’s corner garden behind, we drove to The Firs for a weeding session.

There was a star shaped crack in the centre of the windscreen, fortunately well clear of the MOT failure position.  This had been inflicted last week by a stone thrown up by an overtaking vehicle on the motorway.  It needed repairing, so we stopped at Sainsbury’s superstore in Hedge End, where Screen-Care UK, in the form of Ryan, did an excellent. efficient, and friendly, job.  Screen-Care UKWatching the young man perform with a kind of injection needle, it occurred to me that his arms were quite accustomed to needles.

Forget-me-nots

Weeding required in scented bedForget-me-nots flourished throughout The Firs garden, and the amount of weeding required was daunting, especially in last year’s new beds, now sprouting rich new grass.  The three of us worked on the beds and made some impact.

Weeded bedThe fledgeling robin we had seen last year was now an adult, and certainly appreciated the work on the scented bed. Robin This little bird was enjoying a few worms and seemed to be using grass to clean his teeth.

Geoff with eucalyptus crossI described the moving of the eucalyptus on 13th September last year; and the first useful purpose found for it on 5th of this month.  Elizabeth’s creative friend Geoff has been commissioned to make a cross with some more of this dead tree.  He showed us the result, which has a pleasing flowing shape.  He still has some of the wood.  Watch this space for any further artefacts.

Gardening over for the day, we repaired to Eastern Nights for the usual excellent meal; Cobra, and Tiger beer.  The conversation turned to classic cars Dad had owned, a Singer Hunter and a Daimler.  This led me to relate a story about Rob and his Jaguar 240 g which had been beautifully restored with a wonderful dark green paint job.  On one of the family visits to Newark, possibly twenty years ago, I found myself with my then brother-in-law in a shop in the town with the ‘marvellous toy ‘ parked outside  where it shouldn’t have been.  We emerged into the daylight to see a traffic policeman, pad in hand, scratching his head in bewilderment.  As Rob unlocked the vehicle, the man, full of wonder, asked ‘Is this yours?’.  When the owner replied in the affirmative, the constable said, with awe, ‘Well, get it out of here.  I can’t put a ticket on that!’.