Friends From Montana And Switzerland

Early this morning I posted

Afterwards I scanned the next three of Charles Keeping’s excellent illustrations to ‘Our Mutual Friend’

‘Georgiana ran up to embrace her’

‘Wegg was holding him in the chair with the grip of a wrestler’

‘Gruff and Glum waving his shovel hat at Bella’

This afternoon we very much enjoyed the company of Jan and Bob Beekman and their daughter DeAna who have come to stay for a few days. Conversation was convivial, wide-ranging and open as we got to know each other in person having become distant friends on WordPress. The 21st century equivalent of fond penfriends.

Jan and De worked out how to access the internet from our router thingy, and Bob joined in the amusement.

Jackie produced one of her trademark succulent steak and onion pies; creamy mashed swede and potatoes; firm carrots and cauliflower; tender leak and cabbage melange; and meaty gravy with which she drank Tesco Finest Pinot Grigio Blush 2020 and the rest of us drank Val de Salis Cinsault Reserve 2020 and Patrick Chodot Fleurie 2019.

She had photographed us all as we prepared to tuck in.

A Knight’s Tale (43: An Engagement)

One week after Jackie and I met we enjoyed our first date. As I have indicated previously, this was the second time I had waited for a girl who turned up one hour late. This rendezvous was to take place at Victoria station and I had no ambivalence about the meeting. So I waited with much trepidation, and was mightily relieved when my patience was rewarded by the beauty running from the train.

We took a walk in St. James’s Park.  I already knew I was smitten, but the moment I fell in love was when, seated on a bench, we had, in unison, both exclaimed ‘cannibal’ on seeing a pigeon pecking at the discarded shell of someone’s boiled egg.  She may not agree, but to me that meant we at least shared a sense of humour.

Soon afterwards we became engaged. The first of these photographs was taken on Wimbledon Common in April 1966; the second at Kelsey Park, Beckenham in October 1967. Her wise parents insisted on a two year wait.

In the meantime she and Michael got to know each other.

Enough Petrol For Sunset

This morning was spent cleaning, tidying, and vacuuming the house, and completing bed-making. After lunch I scanned the next five of Charles Keeping’s inimitable illustrations to ‘Our Mutual Friend’.

‘ ‘There’s nothing new, I suppose’, said Venus’ gives the artist an opportunity to represent the distance between three men in the room by occupying a double page spread.

‘ ‘Yah,’ said Mr Boffin, with a snap of his fingers’

‘Mincing Lane’

‘Mr Twemlow lays down his aching head’

‘The two men looked at one another’

Later this afternoon we shopped at Tesco. The woman on the check-out normally worked in the attached petrol station, which was now closed. She told Jackie that they were receiving uninterrupted deliveries as usual, but were sold out early in the mornings.

This evening we dined on pizza, the remains of Jackie’s arrabbiata sauce, and plentiful fresh salad, with which she drank Diet Coke and I finished the Cotes du Rhone Villages.

Afterwards we considered our tank still contained enough petrol for

a nip down to Milford on Sea to catch the sunset.

We were not the only watchers upon whom

the Needles Lighthouse shone its warning light.

We Haven’t Done Too Badly

On another blustery morning we carried out domestic indoor tasks and I posted

Later Jackie righted most of the fallen pots; I set up a few more, gathered up more tree twigs, and picked up the mirror which was fortunately undamaged.

The Head Gardener cleared some broken plants and tied up others. I took those that had been ripped off to the compost bins. As can be seen the cosmos still attracts bees. Jackie had laid down the chairs in these pictures before the heavier storm. They will remain like this until the gusts are gone.

If you don’t look too closely we haven’t done too badly. So far.

As the afternoon wore on the skies darkened and the gale built up its momentum. By the time we sat down to enjoy our evening meal, heavy rain beat a tattoo on the kitchen roof, and I would not have been surprised to see one or two of the three little pigs flying overhead propelled by the huffing and puffing of the big bad wolf.

Dinner consisted of Jackie’s spicy pasta arrabbiata and tender runner beans, with which she finished the Rosé and I drank more of the Cotes du Rhone.

A Knight’s Tale (42: I Find My Direction)

When my grief at my loss of Vivien had subsided somewhat, my brother Chris and his great friend Mike Ozga took me in hand and out with them to various venues.  We rode around in a little mini.  I don’t remember whose it was.  As we were all six feet two or three we caused great amusement when we unfolded ourselves from this tiny, yet surprisingly roomy, vehicle.  One evening they drove me ‘creeping like snail unwillingly to’ Helen’s twenty first birthday party. 

Never, at the best of times, a party animal, I stood in the Amerland Road flat not knowing where to put myself.  There were a couple of girls in a corner and I thought I might put myself there.  One of them said to her companion: ‘You’re in luck, he’s coming over.’  Unfortunately I only had eyes for the disinterested party. 


Although she was, in spirit, rather like Shakespeare’s schoolboy, she was definitely female.  Claiming to be eighteen, Jackie, I learned later, was awaiting that birthday before taking up her post as a housemother at Shirley Oaks.  Near Croydon, this was a laid out estate of forty two large houses, called cottages, each accommodating twelve children.  At that time the project also included a swimming pool, an infirmary, a laundry, a general store, a junior school, and even an unused mortuary.  The individual houses were staffed by ‘housemothers’, many of whom offered ‘families’ of children long term consistent care.  Jackie was one of these carers, in ‘Laurel cottage’, and the person who introduced me to the world of Social Work that was to provide me with a new direction.  Long since out of fashion as a method of child care, these buildings were sold off to form an exclusive, expensive enclave.  The seclusion that had been considered too institutional, isolating and ghetto-like for troubled children, had become an attraction for those wealthy enough to buy their homes.  Shirley Oaks children were given no experience of life outside the institution until they were thrust into secondary school.  They didn’t go to the public baths and pay their entrance fee.  They knew no launderettes.  A daily truck provided an enuretic service for the wet sheets which were left outside the back door.  Their shop issued the housemothers with weekly order forms on which they ticked what they needed and collected it once a week.  No money was handed over.  No ‘outsiders’ attended their school.  When a group of boys from outside began to visit a girl in Jackie’s care, a bunch of Oaks boys attacked them with such violence that there was blood on her doorstep.  

This was one of the old style self-contained residential villages that existed in those days for children in local authority care.  Visiting Jackie there, I got to know the young people and their stories.  How did they get there?  Who was responsible?  What could be done to prevent it?  These were the questions which exercised me and gave me my direction.  I soon left my insurance desk and began working as an Assistant Child Care Officer in Tolworth Tower in the Royal Borough of  Kingston Upon Thames.  That was December, 1966.

I was inspired to attempt to do my bit in changing all this.  Perhaps I made a difference to some young lives.

The Wind And The Rain

After overnight rain on a morning of winds still over 50 m.p.h. I was blown around the garden while investigating the damage. The sunlight was very strong, but birds remained silent.

The pictures display a range of the comparatively minor disturbance requiring attention when the wind subsides. As usual, individual images are titled in the gallery.

All is not hopeless as shown by these further photographs.

The wind subsided somewhat but the rain returned this afternoon; petrol needs preserving, so I read some more of ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and scanned the next four of Charles Keeping’s skilful illustrations.

‘Mr Dolls collapsed in his chair’

‘Bradley went with him into an early public house’

‘She gave him her hand’

‘The old man looked distressfully at Fledgeby’

This evening we dined on hot and spicy, and tempura, prawns; served with Angela’s authentic sticky rice (supplemented with egg by Jackie) and spring rolls. Mrs Knight drank more of the Rosé and I drank more of the Cotes du Rhone.

A Knight’s Tale (41: My Awful Night)

Vivien and I were married at St Lawrence’s Church, Sidcup on 8th June 1963.

We began our married life in my parents’ house at 18 Bernard Gardens, Wimbledon.  

This was where she proudly brought Michael home and we lived for a few more months until we bought 49 Ashcombe Road, Wimbledon for £2,500 (no noughts missing). 

In Ashcombe Road we did our own decorating and I transformed a rubble heap into a reasonable back garden mostly laid to lawn for our little boy to play in. 

As a recent toddler he helped me push a roller over the turfs we had laid. 

This was not to be our home for long.  In September 1965 I went out one evening  window shopping for a present for Vivien’s 23rd. birthday which was to be in a couple of weeks time.  Forty five minutes later I returned home to find her dead on the floor of the sitting room.  In less than an hour I had become a single parent.

Years later I was queueing for soap in Floris in Jermyn  Street when the young man ahead of me was offered products from Duchy Originals.  “I don’t want any of that stuff.  It goes to charities like unmarried mothers doesn’t it”, was his response.  I leaned forward and said: “I’ve been a single parent as it happens.” “I’m bringing mine up on my own”, said the shop assistant.  He was gone.

Now I must return to my awful night.  Deep in shock I collected Michael from his bed, where, thankfully he had been sleeping; gathered him up in his blankets; and carried him up the road to Bernard Gardens.  My mother took us in and eventually put us both to bed.  In my case that was not to lead to sleep for another three days, when I had stopped crying.  Dad came home a little after our arrival.  I can still hear his teardrop hitting my bedding.  I will be forever grateful to the gentleman, doctor, official of some sort; I have no idea;I was past taking it in, who visited me the next morning to tell me that death had been instant and Vivien would have known nothing of it.  My wife had died in an epileptic fit.  I had always known that she could possibly have an accident, but never dreamt that the condition could produce a fatal collapse.  To this day I don’t know whether he said it was her heart or her lungs that had failed.

Returning from the funeral I was to find a Health Visitor on the doorstep.  She had not visited before but was making a check up call following Michael’s birth.  He was now fourteen months old.  She fled and never came again.

Michael and I were to stay at Bernard Gardens for the next three years.  Until he was three Mum cared for him alongside my brother Joseph, just three years older.  When Michael was considered old enough he attended a day nursery, where he met his lifelong friend Edward Blakely, and he and I moved to a studio flat at the top of the house which had just been vacated by the Egan family.  I could be sole carer with the advantage of family below who babysat when I went out.  I was able to continue working, collect him from nursery at the end of the day, and, I thought, cook us a meal. 

On the evening I began my new routine, never having cooked before, I decided we’d have spaghetti bolognese.  I cooked up some mince in a saucepan.  No herbs, no spices, no onions, no carrots, no tomatoes, just mince.  Hopefully I used some sort of cooking oil, but I wouldn’t be sure.  I boiled the spaghetti until it was soggy and served up.  I don’t remember whether either of us ate any of it, but I do remember thinking, after I’d tucked Michael up in bed and turned to face the washing up at 9.30 p.m.: “Blow this, he gets a meal at the nursery, I’m going to the caff at midday”, I told myself.

I had, by now, realised I could never stay in an office job. All I needed was a direction. How I found that direction is a further story.

Photographing Windsurfers

After lunch I posted

Later, partly in order to preserve petrol, we took a short drive to Tanners Lane and back. The garage that had been the cause of severe hold-ups two days running as panic buyers queued for petrol, had only a couple of pumps working, so we were able to pass it unimpeded.

Within sight of the Isle of Wight windsurfers were out in force at the end of the lane.

Jackie photographed me photographing them, and also distant passing yachts.

This evening we dined on tasty baked gammon; crisp fried potatoes; moist ratatouille; firm carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli; and tender runner beans. Jackie drank Sud de France Rosé 2020 and I drank Prestige de Calvet Cotes du Rhone 2020.

A Knight’s Tale (40: Not A Book Illustrator)

My first choice of occupation on leaving school at eighteen would have been attending Wimbledon Art School. As the eldest of five, and recognising the family’s need for me to bring in an income, I chose, with no pressure, to do neither this nor apply to University for which my A levels in English Literature, French and History would have entitled me. Instead, there being no such thing as careers advice at Wimbledon College in 1960, I followed the advice of my Uncle Derrick who suggested I apply to the Committee of Lloyd’s, where, as perviously indicated, I soon took up employment in the Autumn of that year.

Had I had more confidence in my teenage abilities, and had my parents been able to send me to art school, I may well have taken up book illustration.  As it was, I needed, on leaving school, to go straight to work.  I also thought I’d never make a Charles Keeping, a John Bratby, or even a Beryl Cook, all of whom have illustrated Folio books.  My first annual salary was about £340, the bulk of which I handed over to my mother.  I kept enough back, however, to be able, upon seeing an advertisement for The Folio Society, to sublimate my desire to illustrate by joining this book club.  A lifetime later I have a large collection of beautifully illustrated, imaginatively bound hardback books, printed on good paper which doesn’t turn brown, with suitable typeface and font.  All these elements are carefully selected to be in keeping with the original writing.  Younger, budding, illustrators are encouraged by an annual competition.  I have the Society to thank for many works of which I may otherwise have no knowledge, and for pleasurable editions of numerous others.

I have some talent at drawing. During the late 1950s I used to sit and draw and paint alongside Kenneth Lovell, an artist who, among other works, illustrated Hulme Beaman’s Toytown series of children’s books.

Derrick & Kenneth

It is Ken who, having been perfectly happy to patronise a man with an impressive camera and two equally striking parrots, stands beside me outside Hampton Court in about 1958.  

My drawing with the artist was a weekly event that had come into being as a result of Mum, through a mutual friend, having been introduced to Ken and showing him my nascent cartoon work ‘Toad in the Wild West.  The original masterpiece is long gone, but here is a rough idea of the eponymous character:

I never did progress beyond my first display board of this tale, but I spent many happy and fruitful hours with my friend from whom I learned all I ever did directly from anyone about drawing.

For several years we would spend Sunday afternoons working and then have tea consisting of delicious sandwiches and a fruit salad.  We were occasionally joined for the meal by Ken’s live-in friend George Edwards, an opera singer.

The assistance I gave Ken on one of the Toytown books was a tracing exercise.  Nothing to do with ancestry, this was a method of transferring draft drawings onto display boards for the production of the finished work for publication.  Ken would illustrate the stories of Larry the Lamb, Mr Grouser, and many others in bold colour with firm outlines in pen.  The final drafts of those in which I had a hand were handed to me drawn on good quality fashion plate board.  I would trace these onto fresh tracing paper.  Taking a soft pencil, I would cover the backs of these sheets with graphite, then place the paper face up on the finishing board fixing it firmly in position with a tape something like Sellotape.  I then took a sharp, harder, pencil and traced over my  work, leaving a print on the board.  The artist would ink over the prints and then apply the colour.  I felt very proud to have been entrusted with this task.

When Helen and Bill unearthed my 1965 drawing of Jackie, the story of which will come later, I decided that the very small frame consisting of a piece of board fixed to glass by passe-partout could do with being replaced.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I found, on the ‘smooth surface’ of a George Rowney & Co. Ltd “Diana” Fashion Plate Board behind the drawing, 

some of my own efforts at reproducing Ken’s characters.  I had done these to satisfy us both that I was up to making adequate tracings.

When my bereaved sister-in-law Frances, was working her way through the unenviable task of sorting through Chris’s effects some real gems came my way. None more amazing than this postcard. The stamp on this missive I mailed to my family when we were still living at Stanton Road, shows that first class post in about 1958 cost 2 1/2 pence in old money. Today’s decimalised equivalent is fractionally more than 1p. On January 1st, 2021 the price was raised to 85p. A very early portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is featured. The postmark is illegible, but the content tells me that this was sent from Ockley, where I spent a summer holiday with Ken and George.

When Chris asked me to help him write up his family history, he praised my writing ability, but commented that I had ‘verbal diarrhoea’. What I managed to cram into an area of 63 square centimeters on this small card is surely evidence of this.

In case you can’t read it, here is the text: ‘Dear all. I hope you’re having as nice weather as I’m having. Well done Chris. Send Prof my congratulations. Thanks for the letter mum. I had no idea so much of interest would be crammed into two pages. The first day I ran 3 mls and walked 5. The second day I walked 1! The farm animals come so close to the garden that I can draw them. Last night the farmer, who brings his cattle down the main road twice a day, got into an awful jam on the main road in the dark with them – cars were tearing down at 80, and not seeing his notice. Also Jacqueline there’s a mare with a baby foal which gallops over when anyone comes to the gate. After painting the house yesterday Ken and I went blackberrying – we got loads of them in a very short time. Probably today I will go down ‘weird’ St and do a watercolour. Ken’s cooking is as wonderful as the rest of his housekeeping. P.S. Will catch early morning train home Monday morning so have some dinner for me. Love Derrick.’

I was not the only one writing during this week. Dad was not a letter writer. On my return home he presented me with an unfinished, pencilled, missive that he had not posted. It was a beautiful tribute to me as his son. I carried it in my wallet for years – until the wallet was stolen. He died on Christmas Day 1987. I still treasure the lost letter.

Angela’s Photoshoot

Beneath oppressively leaden skies on an unseasonably warm morning we carried out some tidying of the garden.

Enjoying the sounds of gentle birdsong in the trees; raucous geese honking overhead, and the

clinking and scraping of Jackie’s tools as she trimmed the grass and weeded brickwork, I concentrated on sweeping fallen beach leaves and dead heading in the rose garden and elsewhere.

The bonus of the weather conditions was the diffused light in which to photograph

Summer Wine (too high to reach with secateurs); crisp, pink, Just Joey; constantly blooming white Winchester Cathedral; and the seemingly everlasting Crown Princess Margareta.

Early this afternoon Joseph and Angela visited. Our sister-in-law, a superb Chinese cook, came laden with authentic cooking including some ingredients not available in this country. She brought paper plates so washing up would be negligible; non-alcoholic beers and rosé wine. By the evening she had finished the preparation and served starters of prawn crackers, spring rolls of flavours never experienced here, prawns in garlic, and runner beans with an intriguing taste. Later, came a complex curry and steamed rice to which more prawns could be added to taste. Lemon cheesecake and strawberries were to follow. I finished the Fleurie, while the others drank non-alcoholic beers or rosé wine.

Before settling down to the cooking, Jackie and I accompanied Angela on a

photo tour of the garden.

In addition to her favourites from this collection, I printed her copies of a number of my photographs including this one of

Joe and me from about 1963, and another of

Mum and her five children from 2011.

Elizabeth joined us later.

We have plenty of left overs for another day.