Shelley made a brief visit this morning, and Mum, Elizabeth and Jacqueline came for lunch and spent the afternoon with us, largely sharing memories. After an exchange of presents, Jackie provided her excellent watercress soup, samosas, and a vast array of cooked meats and salad. I would like to say this was accompanied by a bottle of Three Choirs Wickham dry white wine that Elizabeth had brought and placed in the fridge. Unfortunately I forgot about it, so we enjoyed it later in the day.
Elizabeth and I scanned a print of a photograph of Chris taken earlier in the year,so that she can send Frances an enlargement. Hopefully we then e-mailed it to her at home where she will make the print. Apart from the poignancy of this being one of the last images of our brother, the cockpit in which he is sitting has significance in family history. On a visit to Tangmere Aircraft Museum, Chris occupies a replica of the SE 5a Scout from 1918. During the latter part of The Great War, our paternal grandfather, John Francis Cecil Knight, trained airmen to fly these planes. From the museum web page we read:
‘SE5A COCKPIT REPLICA
The Royal Aircraft Factory SE 5a scout was one of the most successful British fighter aircraft of the First World War and was one of the first aircraft to fly from the newly created RAF Tangmere in 1918 when No 92 Squadron trained here before leaving for the Western Front. The Museum’s replica was built to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and constructed by a small team drawn from our engineering staff using original drawings and employing the same techniques that were used for the original aircraft’.
The discussion about the SE 5a Scout led Mum to recount her experience of a beautifully sunny day on 27th May 1930. There had been great disappointment in Manchester on the rainswept 16th December 1929, when the huge airship the R101 was expected to fly above the city. In fact the R101 missed Manchester, but would not have been visible anyway in those weather conditions.
Seven year old Jean Hunter was, six months later, on that May day, lined up with the rest of the schoolchildren in the playground of the Jewish Board school in Waterloo Road. Mum attended this school because the prison officers’ quarters, to which her father was entitled, was nearby. There was much excitement and dazzling of juvenile eyes peering into the skies. No sound came from above. Mum thinks that had there been any noise they would have been scared.
Suddenly, slowly, silently, a huge sausage shaped balloon glided overhead. This was not the R101, but its sister ship the R100. The Manchester Evening Mail described the transport thus: ‘Imagine an object with an enormous length equal to that of two football pitches, shaped like a massively long and cigar-shaped dart; cruising at almost roof-top height, with its silvery outer-skin gleaming in the May mid-day sun, and moving so slowly it seemed to hover: Well! I put it to you such a sight would stop traffic even now; and to an age hardly used to air-flight, it must have appeared awesome’.
Three days after little Jean’s eighth birthday on 2nd October 1930, the R101, on its maiden passenger flight crashed in France and burst into flames. This effectively ended the British air industry’s airship adventure, and the R100, that had so awed Manchester’s thousands, was dismantled in its shed at Cardington in November 1931 and eventually sold as scrap for £450.
Before collapsing into bed last night we watched episode 5 of ‘Downton Abbey’. Only 37 more to go, not counting Christmas specials.
Over the festive season, the skin encasing Scooby’s stomach has become rather tight. He was off his food yesterday evening, and this morning he puked up on the kitchen floor. He perked up immediately afterwards, so, in order to liberate his nostrils from the aroma of disinfectant, Jackie took him out to smell the roses. These were frost-covered, as was a pieris that has risked blooming early. This latter plant is one I bought, potted and repotted whilst living in Sutherland Place. Left there until I removed my belongings, first to Michael’s house in Graham Road, and ultimately to Downton in April, it miraculously survived and has taken well to our garden soil here.
Allowing the sun time to come up, I took the woodland walk, this time walking round the field before fording a muddy ditch leading to the stream. It was a little warmer today, so the frost dripped from the foliage onto felled logs and the forest floor. Sunlight streaked through the trees, setting the bracken alight and casting shadows on the rippling, sparkling water.
This evening’s meal was a miracle of mother/daughter invention. Becky produced Chinese Takeaway Pie. She took the left-over dishes from the meal of a couple of days ago, laid them in tiers along an ovenproof oval dish, and covered them with the pancakes that had been provided for the duck. This was gently heated in the oven, and was an enjoyable melange. Jackie’s contribution was Egg Foo Yung – well, all right, egg and bacon omelette. They went very well together. Peroni and J2O was drunk by all except me. My choice was Gran Famila Las Primas 2013.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Click here to see the complete report.
I don’t watch enough television to make it worth while viewing anything that is serialised, because I am bound to miss some episodes. I find it preferable to await the appearance of boxed DVD sets. Thus, those two superb HBO series, ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’, kept me entertained whist I was recovering from my hip replacement operation at the end of 2010. I have so far missed ‘Homeland’, which is well recommended and until now, ‘Downton Abbey’. This began to be rectified yesterday evening because Becky and Ian bought Jackie the boxed set of all five series for Christmas. We watched the first episode.
Serious frost, its outlines emphasising the patterns of nature, descended upon Downton overnight. Seeking to savour the spectacle I took an early walk to Hordle Cliff top and back. Downton Lane was very slippery. Ice on the pools made its own patterns. The owner of a boxer dog tottered gingerly down a slope, whilst his pet, legs splayed, the claws of its paws scratching the surface, slithered on ahead. Footprints of walkers and dogs, and deeply rutted cart tracks stood proud in frozen mud.
I crunched my way along the more crackly than usual shingle for a while, noticing that frost clung to organic matter, like driftwood and cuttlefish, rather longer than to the colder stones. As I walked down the steps I was momentarily alarmed by a cry of ‘Scooby’. I turned around and saw a Jack Russell/Pomeranian cross, bearing the same name as Flo’s Jack Russell/Beagle. This mixture had produced an animal not weighed down by an oversized head.
Where shadows had fallen across the steps down to the beach, or the sun had not yet risen above the back of a bench on the path leading to Shorefield, the white precipitation persisted.
A house on Pless Road cast its sharp black shadow on the bright evergreen hedge opposite.
All her life Flo has fondly imagined giving someone a slap in the face with a wet fish. Imagine her delight when, Jackie having bought some smoked haddock for this evening’s dinner, Becky volunteered to precede her shower by being the recipient.
We watched three more episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ before Jackie and Becky prepared the classic symphony in white fish dish. We are now as hooked as were the contents of the meal, the accompaniment to which was Wairu Cove sauvignon blanc 2014.
On a clear, bright, finger-tingling morning, I reprised the woodland walk I had taken two days ago.
Becky had walked this route yesterday with Scooby who had been very excited to find himself in the midst of a pheasant shoot. As they entered the woods a flurry of feathers in ungainly flight soared above the trees and gunshots punctuated the stillness. This caused our daughter a certain amount of consternation until she met a gentleman who advised her not to worry because he would just radio on ahead and ‘tell them to stop’ until she had reached the top field. This would appear to explain why trees my so many footpaths off the main one bore signs proclaiming ‘Private. Keep Out’. I had no such drama this quiet, still, morning, although I did have to step aside for a couple of 4X4s, one containing children, and another a keen looking dog that looked as if it might have been used for retrieving game.
Helen and Bill visited us this afternoon and much reminiscing was indulged in. Helen’s tale of once winning a brace of pheasants was rather pertinent. She had been somewhat alarmed when her prize arrived, feathers and all. Like the rest of us, she had no idea what to do with them. Help from an expert in their preparation for the table had to be sought. This in turn reminded me of pheasants I have tasted before, particularly at the farmhouse home of Jessica’s brother Nigel and sister-in-law Judy. There we had been warned to watch out for pellets. If you weren’t careful, you found them with your teeth.
So colourful had been a brace of these birds hanging outside a general store in Beaulieu during a visit in November last year that I had heard a woman asking her male companion ‘are they real?
Before the Poulner in-laws’ visit, I had accompanied Ian and Scooby on the reverse Hordle Cliff top walk. Scooby had had a wonderful time on the shingle where, belying his twelve years, he had romped with a three year old of a similar breed. He later tried to mount a much larger dog, but we’ll draw a veil over that.
This evening it fell upon the Hordle Chinese Takeaway to provide our dinner. The colour and consistency of the plum sauce had me remembering cod liver oil and malt. This was a vitamin and health-giving preparation administered to sickly children when I first went to school in the 1940s. Those pupils who had the good fortune to be ill or undernourished were, on a daily basis, given a full, gooey, spoonful of this, I thought, wonderful stuff. We knew it was wonderful because sometimes those of us who were not ailing cajoled other boys into giving us a taste. We really thought it would have been worth catching something nasty for. I seem to remember Chris did manage to qualify for a short period, but I never did.
Yesterday Louisa posted on Facebook some delightful pictures of family fun in the snow. I imagine the magnificent one I have selected for its sense of movement was taken by Errol with his mobile phone. The nearest we got to the white precipitation was the gulls flying over the nature reserve on my way back from Milford on Sea, where Becky had driven me in order for me to catch the post. They didn’t settle.
Beneath them, a pink-velvet-breasted jay flitted from tree to tree, and another of the unidentified shrubs I had first photographed on 2nd was in full bloom on New Valley Road. No-one has yet named it. Becky likened the berries to Ninja Turtles. Perhaps that thought will jog someone’s memory.
Clifford Charles’s bench at the entrance to the Nature Reserve has received its own Christmas decoration; and halfway down the clifftop near Paddy’s Gap, named after the evergreen shrub Hedera colchica, or Paddy’s Pride, that once clung to the crumbling cliff; a bouquet has been laid in memory of Babs Geany.
A kaleidoscopic sunburst greeted me as I emerged onto the clifftop, which, together with the shingle beneath, was as populated as Paddington Station at rush hour.
Walkers with their eager, tongue-flapping dogs; and excited children grappling with windbreaks, on clifftop or shingle beneath, basked in splendid light.
The boys and girls seen with their red banner in the picture below trailed along the windswept shore until their leader, a little blonde child, like an injured royal standard bearer, fell over. Her companions turned tail and left her clutching the cloth in an effort to retain it. A passing woman helped her to her feet, and still clutching it, she signalled that battle could recommence.
I have mentioned before, the boxes of books on sale for Save the Children stacked outside Hillbrow. The weather is still clement enough for this noble effort to continue. I bought a fine copy of Rosemary Verey’s ‘The Scented Garden’. Twenty or thirty years ago I was privileged to visit this world famous gardener at her home, Barnsley House, near Cirencester in Gloucestershire. Her daughter Davina was a school friend of Jessica’s. This young woman, as she was then, owned an antique printing press with which she produced fascinating greetings cards reproducing illustrations from her mother’s historic herbals. I don’t believe she ever used a particular 16th century woodcut featured in her mother’s 1981 publication, which appears to reveal that ‘builder’s bum’ is not solely a modern phenomenon.
This evening we dined on tender roast lamb, crisp roast potatoes and parsnips, perfect pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon), green brussels sprouts, and orange carrots and swede mash, followed by Harrod’s Christmas pudding by courtesy of Norman. I finished the Parra Alta malbec, Flo drank J2O, and the others imbibed Provincia di Pavia pinot grigio blush 2013.
As I stepped out of our front door this morning I was attracted by a veil of mist hanging over distant trees. This determined a left turn and a walk across the field of brassica, through the woods to the road near Taddiford Farm, and an about turn back to home.
From the middle of the field I looked back to the strip of houses that is Downton. Our blue painted house is visible on the far left. Also in evidence is the Downton Service Station sign. Father Christmas, perched on the garage roof of ‘Badger’s Meadow’, surveyed the traffic on Christchurch Road. On my return, I had a long talk with Mark, the owner, who had moved here some years ago from Worcester Park.
On a whim, I photographed the same woodland scene on four different camera settings. The first was automatic, then came the positive film effect, then vivid, and finally black and white.
Crossing a bridge over the stream, and seeking to create the impression of non-existent sunshine, I continued to play with my settings. So absorbed was I, that at one point I inadvertently retraced my steps earlier than I had intended. Fortunately this was soon corrected.
The more recently planted trees sported tubular shields, no doubt to protect them from nibbling by wildlife, probably of the cervine variety.
Foresters had sawn others, some of which bore interesting fungus, lichen, or simply discolouration, and fallen leaves carpeted the paths, which were not particularly muddy.
The mist still shrouded the more distant trees.
Ian went out for his walk just before the rain set in for the day. He returned looking like a drowned rat, which was interesting, given that we had just seen a real one disappearing into Scooby’s favourite corner of the garden.
One of my stocking presents was a copy of ‘New Forest’, Georgina Babey’s contribution to the Tempus Publishing Images of England series. This is a fascinating social history of the area through the medium of captioned photographs. I devoured this at opportune moments yesterday and today. The cover illustration is a detail from one showing ‘a steam engine transporting logs in Lyndhurst High Street during the First World War. The Steam engine is called Queen of the South and was owned by M. Slater of Eling. It is standing opposite the Stag Inn’. The buildings behind the transport are still there. One is now Honeyford’s butcher’s.
Yesterday Jackie roasted two turkeys, but we didn’t even finish one. With all the other goodies provided for yesterday’s lunch there was plenty left over for us to graze at will today. A delicious mixed meat and vegetable broth in the evening completed the day’s nourishment.
This Christmas morning began with a phone call from Sam, Holly, Malachi, and Orlaith in Australia. Despite the fact that they were in their car en route to their third party of the day, we had a reasonable enough reception for me to learn what presents the children had received. Such is the miracle of today’s technology.
Scooby then took Ian and me for a walk alongside the waterlogged track through Roger’s fields, alongside the wood with its naked, wind-bent, gnarled trees, across the muddy field and eventually back up Downton Lane, with its own arboreal arbour.
Dandelions were still seeding, and another, peach coloured, rose has bloomed in the garden. We didn’t quite have enough of that particular flower for me to repeat the 1974 Christmas Day bouquet, but it was a close run thing.
Before lunch we opened our stocking presents. One of mine was socks. The said lunch, laid on by Jackie, was such a plentiful array that, knowing what was coming later, I forced myself to be as abstemious as possible.
The next stage in the proceedings was the main present opening, which was effected with the aid of a shared bottle of Asti. Whilst filling up the herk bag, I thought of Helen’s observation that she had been unsuccessful in having this coinage of her father’s accepted as a neologism. As I understand it, the scouts for the Oxford English Dictionary will submit new words once they have been published. Scouts please take note that I have now published this word twice on WordPress.
Scooby’s favourite gift was his hedgehog, which he rapidly eviscerated.
Later this evening we dined on baked beans on toast. Here is a photograph of it:
Mine and Becky’s was accompanied by Les Galets de Saint Louis Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2012; Jackie’s drink was Dino pinot grigio 2013, and Ian’s Peroni.
Last night Jackie and I met Flo, Becky, and Ian in The Family House Restaurant in Totton where we dined in celebration of our granddaughter’s eighteenth birthday. We had our favourite set meal, M3, which consists of prawn cracker appetisers; starters of sesame prawn toast, chilli spare ribs, seaweed, and a sweet chilli dip; next came crispy duck, cucumber and spring onions, and plum sauce in a plentiful supply of pancakes; and finally special fried rice, vegetable chop suey, chicken and black beans, and shredded beef in chilli sweet and sour sauce. Apple juice and Tsing-Tao beer was imbibed. Then came the surprise. The music to ‘Happy Birthday’ started up, the whole of the packed restaurant joined in the singing, and our charming and witty waiter advanced upon our table with a magnificent knickerbocker glory which he placed before the birthday girl. The staff could not have known that mango, the main ingredient is Flo’s favourite fruit.
This Chinese restaurant is a business run by a most delightful family originating in Hong Kong, and including the proprietor’s British born wife. They are always very friendly and Mum’s cooking from the kitchen is excellent.
This morning, on their way to Barton on Sea, Becky, Ian, and Scooby dropped me at the bottom of Lower Ashley Road from where I walked to New Milton to finish my Christmas shopping. Afterwards, I walked back along Christchurch Road and they picked me up at Caird Avenue.
Atop a thatched roof in Lower Ashley Road perches a finial pheasant. Further along, a snowman appears to have found the warm weather too much for him and has flopped onto another roof. A nearby garden’s gnome has been surrounded by more seasonal figures.
One house, all the year round is decked by memorabilia suggesting it may be masquerading as a public house. This is a street of truly idiosyncratic garden design.
It was market day in the town. Father Christmas visited the stalls in his more modern transport than the traditional reindeer.
Flo helped me wrapping presents this afternoon. Before dinner all the older adults went for a quick drink at The Royal Oak, where Ian initiated an interesting conversation about favourite films. ‘Shane’, of course, was the first one that came to my mind.
This evening we dined on pork rib racks in barbecue sauce and savoury rice. Please don’t imagine this was the contents of a doggy bag brought back from The Family House, because it was Jackie’s own production. I finished the cabernet sauvignon.
Thanks to Facebook comments from Jackie and from Barrie Haynes, I was able this morning to add some interesting detail to the thatching description in ‘A Christmas Rehearsal’.
Jackie then drove me to Milford on Sea where I did a little Christmas shopping then walked back home by my usual route.
The fierce headwind on the clifftop was so strong that, had I not hooked my shopping bag over my arm, I would have undoubtedly watched it soaring aloft among the crows and the gulls, which were themselves struggling to remain airborne. Ornamental grasses bent into the banks.
On her visit yesterday, Margery had said that she was fond of pictures of the sea, so I attempted to produce some she might like. There were so many damaged, and therefore closed off, sets of steps leading down to the beach that it was a while before I could descend and slither and slide along the shifting, crunching, pebbles, to watch the roaring, oscillating, ocean crash into the shingle and the breakwaters. An intrepid young woman walked a pair of dogs along the shore.
It was actually a relief to reach the comparative shelter of Shorefield where, on West Road someone seemed to have abandoned the attempt to freshen the 10 m.p.h. sign with Tipp-Ex. Or maybe this was a misguided effort at erasing it.
As I crossed the footbridge over the stream, I noticed a flicker of movement at the water’s edge. Leaning on the rail, I pointed the camera, pressed the shutter and hoped for the best. It was then that a woman peered over my shoulder and asked me what I had seen. I didn’t know. ‘It’s not a rat, is it?’, she asked, rather timidly. ‘Let’s have a look’, I replied, zooming in on the shot. If you care to do the same you will see that it was a great tit perched on a stone, probably having a drink. Refraining from mentioning that I had found a dead one in our garden, I assured my companion that I had never seen rats in that location.
This evening we are on our way to The Family House at Totton where we have booked a table for Flo’s eighteenth birthday celebration. I doubt that I will be up to writing any more, even if I am awake, when we return, so I will report on the event tomorrow.