Jackie spent most of the day cleaning and renovating the rancid master bathroom. This floor, unevenly tiled in some kind of rubbery squares, gives an example of what she was dealing with. The difference she has made is evident in this photograph taken as she began. When I returned from my walk the whole surface was the colour of the clean ones you see. From Downton Lane I took the path through the fields and alongside the bluebell wood, into which I deviated. The tractor ploughing against the backdrop of the Isle of Wight on the horizon attracted its usual entourage of gulls and rooks. When I reached the road I turned left and continued on past the bottom of our lane to Milford on Sea. Cattle alongside this route seemed oblivious of the then distant ploughman. As I marvelled at the weeds and grasses forcing their way through the tarmacked surface of the narrow path to Milford, I thought fondly of Dickie Hamer. Father Hamer, S.J. was the gentle, well-loved, Jesuit priest at Wimbledon College who guided us towards O Level French. I don’t remember why we called him Dickie. Perhaps his first name was Richard. It was he who had first told us of the power of something as slender as a blade of grass to battle its way into the sunlight in search of the energy for photosynthesis. One day, as he took a tour round the classroom, he admired the drawings Matthew Hutchinson had made in the margins of his exercise book. ‘I’ll have some of that’, I imagined. So, on another occasion, I started embellishing my pages. When Dickie reached my desk, instead of the hoped for praise, I received disappointed admonishment. ‘Look at that book’ exclaimed the schoolmaster. I hear his voice, see his face, and feel the shame to this day. The experience was worsened because I knew I could never match Matthew’s art. A game of catch cricket was in progress on the Hordle Cliff top. When the ball was hit in my direction and I failed to grasp it, all round hilarity ensued. My unspoken excuse is that a cricketer accustomed to pouching a hard leather bound ball cannot catch a bouncy one designed for tennis. And anyway my effort was one-handed with the camera hanging from my wrist. Moreover, one bout of shame is enough for any one day. I returned by the Shorefield route at the beginning of which is a house that in dry weather has baskets of books outside for sale in aid of children’s charities. A couple had parked their car and stopped to make a selection of purchases.
This afternoon I made a start on the garden. In the immortal words of Captain Lawrence Oates, ‘I may be some time’.
For one of my birthdays in the early Newark years, Jessica gave me a cast iron replica of the Nottingham Castle benches. This has accompanied me on most of my moves since, and brought to Downton from storage by the splendid Globe Removals team. There are twelve hardwood slats linking, by bolts, the very heavy metal sides. Whilst at Sutherland Place I replaced some of the deteriorated wooden sections with iroko I had cobbled from a picnic bench. The bench has been dismantled for transit. I decided to put it together again.
So I had to do something else, and made a start on weeding the paths. I didn’t get very far before diverting myself by looking up at the shattered tree. The main trunk of this as yet unidentified plant had obviously suffered in the winter gales. I had to cut the top off. There was no time like the present. I sawed off the damaged section, lopped up the branches just coming into leaf, and carried them to the far end of the garden where there has obviously been a bonfire at some time.
All this time Jackie continued to work like Helen, or maybe another Trojan, upstairs, apart from a small break when she pruned a climbing rose in an effort to preserve my scalp when walking underneath it.
I suppose every garden has its pernicious weed that defies all efforts to eradicate it. Ours I recognise, but cannot name, from the garden at Lindum House. It is a long trailing and climbing creature with velcro epidermis that clings to anything. The creeper emanates from a buried, elongated lichee like object burrowing underground. All I will have time for this year will be to pull the greenery up by the handful before its little white flowers appear.
Each set of petals is about the size of a daisy. I don’t know what it is.
Sam was doing deliveries himself tonight. At one point he went out into a heavy shower of rain. He placed his container beside his car whilst he opened up the boot. This could be seen through the tiger left in the window glass otherwise covered by a laminate.
Ceiling lights of different hues imparted their glow to the diners, to their napkins, and to Sam’s head as he took the orders. Ours was green.
The food was good too.
P.S. Jackie put this comment on Facebook: Just done some research, seems that Ladies bedstraw is slightly different, it is Gallium verum , the weed in our garden is Gallium aparine , AKA- catchweed, everlasting friendship, Robin-run-the-hedge, even sticky Jack, and my favourite, Sticky Willy!!