Sunset Slicing Slate Skies

Slate-dull as it has been, today we experienced the warmest New Year’s Eve since records began.

Plasterer Martin Paulley, who on 5th will begin the work which will complete the Kitchen Makers project visited to check what he has to do.

After lunch I posted

Later this afternoon Jackie and I collected medication from the Milford Pharmacy and went on to meet Becky and Ian at the Beachcomber at Barton on Sea.

A photographer on the clifftop at Milford had difficulty locating the throughly obscured Isle of Wight;

a child stood too close to the ever-crumbling edge for my comfort;

others walked along the path which has more than once been brought further inland.

Choppy seas slipped back from the shingle before reaching the rows of beach huts.

We emerged from the Beachcomber with the western skies lightened enough for us to see walkers along the seafront and for the sunset to slice the slate skies.

This evening we dined on cottage pie topped with fried potatoes; firm roast parsnips and Brussels sprouts; crunchy carrots and cauliflower; and tasty gravy. Jackie finished the Sauvignon Blanc; Becky and Ian drank the last of the Zesty; and I drank more of the Merlot-Tannat.

A Knight’s Tale (86: More Running)

During the decade of my forties I was to run eighteen marathons and several shorter races, such as

the Windsor Great Park half marathon of 1983. In all, including the training runs, I covered 25,000 miles on the roads.

I must have been the only person in Southern England who slept through the great storm of 1987.  Our neighbour across the road enjoyed no such luxury.  He was having a new roof put on, and spent the whole night hanging on to the ropes and stays which were keeping the tarpaulin covers over his otherwise unprotected upper storey.

I always ran to work in Queens Park in those days.  This was a nine mile journey which I covered daily carrying a back pack containing my clothes and other necessities for the day.  My Area Office was the former Paddington Town Hall where there was a shower room which had been installed for the council members.  I would take a shower, get dressed, go to a greasy spoon for a fry-up, and start working sometime before 9 a.m.  On this particular day, completely oblivious of the night’s destruction, I set off as usual.  I vaguely wondered why a tree I hadn’t noticed before had been felled on Tooting Bec Common, and why there seemed to be rather more traffic jams than usual.  Since much of my journey followed treeless routes or public parks I had no idea that the tree I had seen was not the only arboreal casualty.  Many others were blocking main roads into London.  When I arrived at my building in Harrow Road, I followed my usual routine and then began to wonder why no-one else had arrived.  Had I gone by car I may have learned the news on the radio.  On the other hand, I too would not have arrived on time.

This storm changed the landscape of Southern England.  70% of the trees in the wooded valley in which Chartwell (see post of 19th. May) is set were lost.  Those you see today are in fact their replacements.  Sevenoaks in Kent is no longer appropriately named.

When running a marathon it is essential to drink water at regular intervals.  If you wait until you are thirsty it is too late.  This refreshment is taken in brief sips on the run.  You become accustomed to this by carrying water in training.  On one of our shared holidays with Sam and Louisa and our late wives Ann and Jessica, Don decided to help me out.  Meeting me at regular intervals on a two hour run, he provided the drink stations.  Driving to agreed points on the route, he brought me wonderfully cool, fresh, water.  We called this service ‘Le wagon d’eau’. 

That is why, in properly organised races, there are regular drink stations.  In the Paris marathon, some time in the ’80s, there were refreshment stands like no others.  The first was the only one at which I saw any water.  From it were distributed large plastic containers of Evian.  Those, like me, who managed to grasp one drank slowly and passed it on.  Big mistake.  Other tables contained nuts, bananas, and chocolate, none of which I could bear to think about.  Only at the last oasis did I see anything resembling liquid.  Huge containers of yoghurt.  I grabbed one and guzzled the lot.  Second big mistake.

I was quite used to congestion at the start of capital marathons.  In the London one it would take me ten minutes walking to reach the start line and a futher ten to take up anything like my normal pace.  Paris, however, just had to provide a blockage at the finish.  Ten minutes in a situation that reminded me of the drain featured in

Marshalling during the race was equally chaotic.  There are cobblestones around The Tower in one small stretch of the London event. These always need careful negotiation by the runners, who are left in peace to get on with it.  Not so in Paris, which had far more cobbled areas.  Any spectators wishing to do so seemed welcome to try their luck pacing alongside the contestants.  Cyclists were granted similar freedom.

A French friend, Arnoux, claiming to be there to meet a famous English runner; which, I hasten to add, I am not; smoothed my final passage through the drain.  As I was taking a welcome bath in our friends’ home, up came the yoghurt.  It supplemented the bath water.  I then had to explain why my ablutions had taken such a long time.  It was with considerable relief that, on the ferry home, I learned that even the elite runners had suffered similar embarrassment.  I never ran Paris again.

Punch Drunk

After lunch I girded my loins and prepared to do battle with BT. After 45 minutes and an initial misdirection I was helped to access my account by a very helpful assistant named Jen. The problem concerned a different account and I really can’t be bothered to go into it here even if I could get my head around it. Believe it or not the “Bill” I hadn’t been able to access turned out to be a credit.

Having thus cheered myself up I posted

I then scanned four more of Charles Keeping’s excellent illustrations to “A Tale of Two Cities”

‘Sydney Carton drank the punch at a great rate’

‘He leaned and elbow on her table, and covered his eyes with his hand’

‘He sat munching and drinking near Madame Defarge’s counter’

‘She laid her face upon his breast’

This evening we dined on tender roast lamb; crisp roast potatoes; crunchy carrots; firm Brussels sprouts, sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, mint sauce, and meaty gravy. Jackie, Becky, and Ian drank Vineyards white Zesty, while I drank more of the Merlot-Tannat, which involved opening another bottle.

A Knight’s Tale (85: I Was Stitched Up)

Runners in the London Marathon must run down The Mall, around the corner facing Buckingham Palace, and along Birdcage Walk to the finish, just out of sight, on Westminster Bridge. 

Crossing St James’s Park’s Blue Bridge into Birdcage Walk in September 2012, I remembered my nephew, Peter Darby-Knight, bravely struggling to walk to the finish, having injured his knee, many years after my own London runs.  I had also watched my granddaughter Emily, on two occasions, representing Croydon in the mini-marathon which takes place on the morning of the major event. 

A flock of feral pigeons being fed by tourists reminded me of the mass start to the marathon in Greenwich.  It takes ten minutes walking to reach the line, and quite a bit longer to find room to get into your stride.  On one occasion I was tripped by a man who tried to pass me in this melee.  I ran the race with blood trickling from my grazed knee.  He also fell.  I didn’t help him up.

In the first London race in 1981, Michael and I had watched the two leading men finish hand-in-hand as they crossed the line.  Then, the taking part was all.  Like the Olympics, that spirit has evaporated.  Winning is all.

My son, who the following year would be eighteen, and therefore eligible to run, suggested we do it together.  Taking up the idea in earnest, I trained for it.  Thinking that, as a rugby-playing fast bowler, I was fit enough, my first session was a five mile run from Croyon College to our home in Furzedown.  When I’d finished I could barely walk.  I tottered stiffly down to the box at the bottom of Gracedale Road to post a letter.  As I turned the corner on my return, who should be striding down the road but John Bussell.  John was a neighbour who had said I was completely mad to contemplate the venture.  Quick as a flash, I straightened up, denied my pain, and lengthened my step, to greet him.

Michael had more sense, so I ran the race alone.  Despite the strenuous competition at the elite level, there are still many thousands of people for whom just taking part is a magnificent experience.  I was fortunate enough to participate three times.  Then, the Canary Wharf business complex was a heap of rubble.  We wondered what was going to be built.  The elation of running this race with the streets all lined with row upon row of cheering spectators can only be imagined by non-participants.  Jazz bands are playing, and the world is watching on television.  If you are thinking of trying it, do not accept one of the many pints of beer which will be proffered outside the pubs alongside.  Rather, enjoy the hoses which may be played on you in hot weather.

Coming along The Embankment you will have your first sight of Big Ben.  Your heart may sink when you realise you still have four more miles to go.  Do not be tempted, as many are, to walk along the underpass where you cannot be seen.  If you do, you are unlikely to start running again.

In 1982, Matthew and Becky ran along the footpath beside me towards the finish.  That would not be possible now.

On that day in September 30 years later, entering the park opposite Buckingham Palace, a jogger, attempting to leap the low railings which form a border, tripped and went sprawling.  Fortunately on the grass.  Some years ago, en route to Victoria where I was to board a train to visit Wolf and Luci in Dulwich, I did something similar.  Intending to run there from Harrow Road, in the darkness, off Edgware Road, I tripped on a chain closing off a church car park. I had thought I was still on the footpath.  Back-pack in harness, my feet still attached to the chain, I came a right cropper.  My hands firmly on the tarmac, I was unable to prevent myself from pivoting, head first onto the unyielding surface.  The priest took me in, administered first aid, and called an ambulance; and Wolf and Luci visited me instead.  In hospital, where I was being stitched up.  I bear the scar to this day.  Our meal was a little late that night.

Towards the end of 1983, Sam participated in a mini marathon organised by his nursery school in South West London’s Furzedown.

Becky, Louisa, Jessica 10.83

Even when supported by Becky and Jessica, Louisa didn’t think much of the idea of joining in.

‘What Has Gone Wrong?’

This afternoon I posted

Afterwards, having read enough more of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, I scanned another five of Charles Keeping’s extremely expressive illustrations to this Dickens novel.

‘Father and son, looking silently on at the morning traffic’

‘ ‘How say you? Are they very like each other?’ ‘

‘Both resorted to the drinking-table without stint’

‘ ‘What has gone wrong?’ said Monsieur, calmly looking out’ gives the artist an opportunity to employ his device of sandwiching a slice of text between the bread of two parts of a picture, thus indicating the space between them.

‘The Marquis took a gentle little pinch of snuff’

Mat, Tess, and Poppy having returned to Sussex late this morning, the rest of us grazed this evening. Jackie and I enjoyed tempura prawns and her tasty savoury rice with a slice of Tess’s excellent Christmas cake. I drank Côtes de Gascogne Merlot-Tannat 2019.

A Knight’s Tale (84: Charles And Betty)

When I walked past it on 15th August 2012, as often, before 10 a.m. opening time, when it would open, there was a queue outside Merton Citizen’s Advice Bureau.  These offices, now found all over London, are charities where people in need may obtain information, and at certain dedicated times, free legal advice.  Relying on various sources of funding, their opening hours are restricted.  This put me in mind of Charles and Betty Wegg-Prosser.  By the time I joined the Beauchamp Lodge Settlement Committee in 1974, Charles was no longer actively involved, although Betty was in the chair, where she remained for some years until I took over the position.  She was still a lively and influential member.  As a leading Labour Lawyer, Charles had, I think, founded the Paddington Citizen’s Advice Bureau.  This was a couple who gave a great deal to the poor and underpriveleged of Paddington.

Wikipedia has this to say: ‘Charles Wegg-Prosser (16 August 1910 – 7 October 1996) was a British politician and solicitor.

Wegg-Prosser attended the Downside School, then studied at Oriel College, Oxford, and became a solicitor. In 1934, he joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF), soon becoming director of the group’s Shoreditch branch. For the April 1936 edition of the “Fascist Quarterly”, Wegg-Prosser wrote “The Worker and the State”, denouncing Communist governments as “controlled, not by national workers, but by parasitic Jews” and Fabianism as a “Jewish racket.”

At the 1937 London County Council election, he stood for the party in Limehouse, and the party then relocated him to Paddington.[1][2]

Wegg-Prosser became disillusioned with fascism, making contact with anti-fascist activists, and leaving the BUF at the end of 1937. He then began speaking out against the group’s anti-semitism and fondness of dictatorship, and was admitted to the Labour Party, on a year’s probation. He served in the British Army during World War II.[1][2]

In 1945, Wegg-Prosser was elected to Paddington Metropolitan Borough Council, soon becoming chair of its finance committee, and then leader of the Labour group on the council. He stood unsuccessfully in Paddington South at the 194519501951 and 1955 UK general elections. He campaigned against Peter Rachman, was the first chair of the North Kensington Law Centre, and was the first Labour activist to be elected to the governing body of the Law Society.[1][2][3]

A New Wisteria Arbour

This afternoon I published

and printed pictures of Poppy taken on Boxing Day, but not posted on my blog, for Jackie and Tess.

Martin Bowers completed his work on the replacement Wisteria Arbour today.

He meticulously measured and positioned posts; fixed them temporarily first, and permanently once he was happy with the alignment. Finally he applied a finishing layer of cement to smooth the level of the prop pits.

My choice from the Boxing Day leftovers for dinner this evening was tender beef in red wine with creamy mashed potatoes. We each helped ourselves individually over a period of time.

A Knight’s Tale (83: Jessica Caps Me)

From 1974 to 2007, I was a frequent visitor to Beauchamp Lodge, the tall, nineteenth century building on the corner of Harrow Road and Warwick Crescent (No. 2).

Settlements are charitable community organisations which either run or house activities, such as Adult Literacy schemes and various projects for young, disabled, or elderly people.  There are also facilities for minority groups, often accommodating them until they are established enough to obtain their own premises.

One of the tenants of Beauchamp Lodge in the ’70s and ’80s was an Adult Literacy Scheme. When they moved on they left their bin behind and I snaffled it as a memento. That organisation existed to bring together volunteer teachers and those who wished to learn to read. I don’t think it is still functioning.

The cafe project was one in which a small staff was augmented by trainees who either had mental health problems or special educational needs.  One day one of the people on placement who had psychiatric ill health asked me if I’d bought my Lottery ticket.  I said I didn’t buy any because I considered I had no chance of winning.  Quick as a flash he replied ‘that man who won several million last week wouldn’t have done if he thought he had no chance’.  I had to acknowledge the sense of that argument.

Beauchamp Lodge Settlement was set up in 1938 by Diana Marr-Johnson, to alleviate the poverty, loneliness and despair experienced by people caught between the aftermath of the Great Depression and the onset of World War Two.

The building was owned by the Greater London Council until that body was dissolved in 1986 and handed over its property to local Councils.  The burden of maintenance then fell on the recipients.  In that manner Beauchamp Lodge Settlement received it’s eighteenth century building from Westminster City Council at a peppercorn rent of £1.00 per annum.  Eventually, being unable to afford the considerable maintenance, the Committee, through the intervention of Councillor Anne Mallinson, was able to purchase the building, sell it on, and move to a far less imposing property on Harrow Road.

Having joined the Committee in 1974, I soon found myself in the Chair which I occupied for 15 years. Afterwards I rented rooms for my Counselling Practice. One of the many incarnations of the building was as a hostel for young women music students, one of which, in 1908-9 was the famed New Zealand writer, the subject of an April 2013 newspaper article in the Ham & High, subtitled ‘The turbulent love life of a very serious writer’.  Who knows? On one of my overnight stays I may have slept in what had been her bedroom.

Sometime in the 1980s Anne Mallinson, who served on this Committee, and was at one time or another Chair or Vice-Chair, was the Mayor of Westminster.  Anne was kind enough to invite Jessica and me to one of her mayoral dinners at City Hall.  In those days, as part of my marathon training, I ran everywhere, carrying my working clothes in a backpack and diving into any suitable public toilet to clean up and change.  Since there are very suitable facilities at City Hall, that was the plan on the evening of the function.  Now, my attire for the event was to be formal dress wear which would not have been appropriate for my working day. Jessica was therefore delegated to drive to the City Council headquarters bringing my evening wear for me to change into and I was to meet her there.  I arrived in as hot and sticky a condition as was almost everyone on that hot summer’s day, grabbed my box of clothes, and entered the gents in City Hall.

Having had a good wash I then began to dress.  Ah!  No shoes.  They must be in the car.  No such luck.  Jessica had forgotten them.  All I had were my best New Balance running shoes.  I wanted to go home.

Nevertheless I decided to brazen it out.  During the pre-dinner drinks, when circulating among the guests, I vainly hoped no-one would notice.  I found myself in a group with the rather important guest of honour.  When his eyes, having strayed to the floor, rapidly looked up and swiftly focussed elsewhere, I said: ‘Congratulations.  You’ve spotted the deliberate mistake.’  Of course I then had to tell the story, which turned out to be a most convenient ice-breaker.

Not to be outdone, Jessica managed to cap this.  She was placed between two eminent elderly gentlemen.  One of them, politely drew back her chair to help her into her place.  With her back to this courtesy, therefore being unaware that her seat was no longer where she thought it was, she promptly sat on the floor.

A Few Flowers

After two days of heavy hosting we relaxed in a slumped heap except for Jackie’s short walk around the garden to pick

a few flowers.

This evening we all dined on yesterday’s left overs. Ian and I enjoyed chicken jalfrezi and pilau rice, while the others chose beef in red wine with mashed potato and vegetables; this was followed by Tess’s delicious Christmas pudding and cream. The contents of some half-empty wine bottles were decanted into glasses and finished.

Boxing Day 2021

This morning I posted

This afternoon we hosted Jackie’s annual family Boxing Day event. Because of Covid It had been two years since the last one.

Snacks were laid out on the kitchen table from 3.30 p.m. onwards. People helped themselves, as we all conversed, making up for lost time, until we were split into two teams of 9 for Ian’s traditional quiz based on the year just ending. He had done very well this time as he assembled it in twenty four hours since we had thought it might not take place. He also provided all the drinks, and acted as sommelier. Billy attached himself to Anthony’s friend Lori of whom I didn’t manage to produce a good picture; Nephew Max and granddaughter Poppy also palled up and enjoyed playing together. After the quiz we all tucked into Jackie’s curries and beef in red wine.

Participants are named in the gallery images which can be accessed by a click on any one.