Becky’s Duvet

This morning was spent on more packing up.  At lunchtime, with the help of Paul at number 34 we loaded up the car and visited the Martin Cafe for a fry-up before setting off to Minstead to unload.

Now, during Jackie’s many years spent working as a carer in Merton she learned the safest techniques for lifting clients.  This was, of course, in the days when non-nursing staff were permitted to ruin their backs by lifting inert or, worse, struggling elderly or handicapped people in or out of bed.  No longer being willing either to watch me struggling with boxes full of books and equally heavy items or to take her half across the lawn either at Morden or Castle Malwood, she decided to put her mind to labour saving.  So, in the midst of the packingfest she would take time out to sit on the sofa and think.Jackie sporting Becky's duvet 11.12

Then she came up with a brilliant idea.  She would make a sling from a duvet cover.  Just as those clients years ago had been hoisted out of bed, our boxes could be hoisted in and out of the car and carted across the grasses at no cost to our elderly backs.

The chosen item of bedding had been our daughter’s.  When Becky came up to live in Lindum House in Newark in the mid 1990s I bought her the cover in harmony with the colour scheme of the room which was to be hers for the next three years.  It has served us well.

After decanting more belongings into Castle Malwood Lodge, we repaired to The Firs where Elizabeth was in the process of producing a lamb chop meal to be followed by a Firs Mess.  Hoegaarden anno 1445 was also consumed by Jackie whilst my sister and I drank Hardy’s Stamp of Australia shiraz, cabernet sauvignon 2011.

Iron Age Hill Fort

Whilst Jackie went off to buy a stepladder this morning, I wrestled with my Apple computer.  The ladder was needed because of the height of the ceilings in Castle Malwood Lodge.  Even with this, standing on the platform at the top of the steps, and putting my phobia out of my mind, I could only just reach up, arms outstretched, to unscrew the smoke alarm which was emitting regular beeps crying out for a new battery.  I felt like giving it a battering.

The Apple Mac problem was how to recover each page of my current Listener crossword puzzle, when neither I nor the kindly relative who decided several years ago to clean up my desktop, knew where they were.  And I couldn’t remember much about clues written six years ago.  I managed it.

After lunch we returned to the flat to unpack what we had carried in last night and to check the inventory.  A very thorough job had been done on the inventory on behalf of the agents.  Everything was in good order except that the closer on our front door had dropped and was preventing entry unless someone my height could reach up and push it upwards.  I telephoned the agent who immediately contacted a repair man.  Just as we had got in the car to return to London, I received a call from the Morden landlord tying up details about our departure from Links Avenue.  She had been ill and there had been a miscommunication between her and the agent.  Whilst I was speaking to her I received a voicemail from the maintenance man who wanted to come there and then to mend the door.  We waited for him and he fixed the problem.  He thought someone had been swinging from the bent bar.  Given that he had to stand on the recently purchased stepladder to reach it that seemed rather unlikely.  But you never know.

The garden to Castle Malwood Lodge is entered across a cattle grid designed to keep out the various New Forest fauna. On either side of the road leading to this you are in The New Forest.  The house itself was built in 1880 for Sir W. Harcourt, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Now divided into flats it is a grade 2 listed building.  This means the exterior cannot be changed.  It was built on the site of an Iron Age Hill Fort, with the fascinating consequence that the row of modern garages is situated on top of one of the walls.  There remains a considerable amount of sloping to the lawns that probably reflects the original use of this piece of land.  We will enjoy looking further into the history.

We returned to London and dined at Le Chardon in Abbeyville Road, Clapham, with our friends Wolf and Luci.  Jackie ate haddock, I had rump of lamb, and Wolf and Luci each had dover sole.  Tarte tatin and chocolate cake were the sweets.  Luci and I shared a bottle of excellent Chilean merlot, which the waiter informed me was what I always had there; Wolf drank apple juice and Jackie Stella.

Rump of lamb was a meal which, in Cafe Rouge in Clifton Road in Little Venice a few years ago was the vehicle for my favourite unwitting spoonerism.  When I ordered a lump of ram the waiter, a Croatian who was here to learn English, fell about laughing.

The Ash And The Elm

Our slumbering over morning coffee was interrupted today by a thump on the window.  This was a pigeon.  Birds, of course, cannot see glass.  Our would-be visitor bounced off, flapped its wings, and flew off into a fir tree, no doubt having a better view of stars than of our sitting room.  The unfortunate creature’s motion was curtailed.  It was taken short and passed a different one.  Perhaps it was impatient to take up the new tenancy and hadn’t realised we were still in residence.

As I carried the cardboard cartons and the bulging black bags we had filled yesterday down the staircase and across the lawn to the car I was so grateful that I was no longer suffering the intense pre-and-post-op pain along the length of my left leg that had been such an impediment on each of our last two moves.  I was also relieved that in our new abode we are on the ground floor.

I followed my normal route to Norman’s in Neasden.

A tearful toddler in Morden Hall Park had been stung by nettles and her carer was explaining that there were no dock leaves.  These, when rubbed on the affected parts, would have lessened the albeit temporary agony.

Kindly installed by The National Trust, a fresh new welcome board provided me with a memento of my many morning meanderings.

Norman served up a delicious meal of roast guinea fowl with a piquant French white wine followed by a succulent plum flan.

On the tube I finished reading Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie (see 24th. August), a book of poetry designed for children yet containing much to delight the adult.  With deceptively easy flowing metre and skillful use of rhyme and repetition, de la Mare’s magical imagination weaves excellent aids to slumber.  One short piece, ‘Trees’. speaks of what may become our arborial history.  We have largely lost our Elms and, it seems, the Ash is about to succumb to alien invaders.  Next year marks the hundredth anniversary of this ever-youthful work.

Late afternoon we drove off to Minstead to unload the contents of the car, and then went on to The Firs where Danni cooked an excellent roast chicken meal which we ate with Hardy’s stamp of Australia wine.

Prolixity Or Concision?

Early this morning I finished reading Robert Graves’ ‘Count Belisarius’, which, I have to say, I found rather heavy going.  I know enough about Roman history to admire Graves’ research and his knowledge of Belisarius’ successful conquests of the Goths, the Vandals, and the Persians; and his relief and defence of Rome during the reign of probably the longest serving Emperor Justinian and his ex-prostitute wife Theodora.  I don’t know enough to question any of his remarkably detailed coverage of individual campaigns and battles.  Since this is an historical novel there may be a measure of invention and embroidery.

The author is evidently fascinated by warfare and its techniques, which I am not.  How this, possibly the greatest, Roman general mastered the terrain, mustered and deployed his troops, and outwitted his enemies doesn’t really intrigue me.  Apart from the perfidious Procopius, historians have focussed more on the military than the private man.  Procopius was one of the tools of the jealous emperor in the Count’s ultimate betrayal and downfall.  Graves has done what he could to fill in our sense of the man, his wife, Justinian, and Theodora.  He refrains from Gibbon’s salacious descriptions of the notorious empress.  I am, nevertheless, pleased to have read ‘Count Belisarius’, whose name lives on in the prolific US television output of Belisarius Productions.

Somewhere, sometime, in the past year or so, I have read an observation that journalists do not make good writers of literature because they do not use the long sentence.  The view was that they are so accustomed to writing immediate, almost staccato, prose that they cannot produce other than short sentences.  Like this.  Be that as it may, whoever awarded E. Annie Proulx the Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Shipping News’ must not have agreed.  Robert Graves, on the other hand, perhaps because he wrote in the first half of the twentieth century, is a long-sentence specialist; that is he manages to string a great many words together, making full use of punctuation – and relying quite heavily on dashes – before allowing himself the luxury of the full stop that brings that particular sequence of words to an end.  I trust the journalist Lynne Truss, who wrote ‘Eats, Shoots And Leaves’, an attempt to address the importance of punctuation, would approve of Graves’ scholarly work.  Probably.

Jessica was once told by one of her teachers that she and her schoolmates were the last literate generation.  I do not believe this bt i mst say txtgs ment tht 4 sur mny pepl 2dy do rite mssgs brfly im not v g at it as u cn c n pncttns gon out th wndw

I am, of course, of the Ronnie Corbett school of narrative.  Ronnie, an absolutely splendid comedian, who was very short, would sit on an overlarge chair and tell a long-winded story which went all round the houses, rambling all over the place before he got to the point.  Shameless.  He was.

Having finished the book I took a last walk towards Wimbledon via Mostyn Road as far as the John Innes Park and recreation ground, through which I travelled, emerging by way of Blakesley Walk onto Kingston Road, turning right there and along to Morden Road; meeting Jackie at Safestore where we purchased our cardboard boxes for the move.

The Listener puzzle mentioned yesterday has been accepted.

We lunched on leftovers from last night’s jalfrezi and began our packing.  As a break from taping together and filling large cardboard boxes, making sure in the process that I would be able to lift them, I had my last shop in Morden’s Lidl.  This had me reflecting that my first trip there had been when we were moving in here and found ourselves without mugs for coffee.  Now we will have a dishwasher the extra four mugs I bought then will come in useful.  As you know, you need more of everything in order to fill the machine.  I don’t like bananas by the way, but you never know what you’ll find in this emporium.

Just think, I could have bought my Wellies in Lidl.  Have no fear, there is a Lidl at Totton, a suburb of Southampton not far from Minstead.

This evening, in our continuing attempts to empty the freezer we ate a melange of cottage pie (for one) and beef stew (for one), with Lidl veg.  Jackie drank Hoegaarden, whereas my preference was for Roc des Chevaliers Bordeaux Superieur 2010.


On another crisp, clear, morning I took my usual route to Colliers Wood on the way to Carol’s.

The pools on the footpaths that had not yet been penetrated by the sun’s rays were frozen over, and grasses and benches were coated with frost which sparkled when the light filtering through the trees caught their drops.

Two women with their children snugly cocooned approached me, having just passed another elderly gent.  One was explaining to her little boy that he shouldn’t comment on people’s ages because some didn’t like to be reminded they were getting old.  ‘Some people don’t mind it’, I called out to them.  This earned me a chorus of ‘excellent’ and a couple of thumbs up.

My previous acquaintance with the magnificent comb-over carried his Sainsbury’s bags.

Time Out was being distributed at the Underground stations and outside Victoria overground.  This, which until very recently  cost two or three pounds, is now free.  It carries a listing of all local and national events and entertainment on offer during the coming week, together with reviews and other articles.  Other free publications include the previously mentioned Metro (11th October) and the Evening Standard, the last of London’s nightly newspapers we once paid for.  Most of these freebies, if not left on the tube, end up on the deck, often juxtaposed with dog-ends discarded by smokers no longer allowed to indulge their addiction inside public places.  In this morning’s Northern Line, those of my fellow-passengers not reading Metro were plugged into mobile devices whilst I scribbled my notes.

The street newsvendors of my boyhood stood with stacks of the Star, the News, and the Standard.  Would-be purchasers eagerly queued to grab one or all of these journals from outstretched hands as they deposited their predecimalisation pennies and ambled away, heads disappearing behind open pages, devouring information about what had happened in the capital whilst they had been beavering away at their employment.  Street scenes in films set in the war years would lack authenticity without shots of kiosks bearing banner headlines about the latest triumphs and disasters.  As fast as sellers handed over a copy they snatched another from their pile.  This was before the era of breaking news on television, which most people did not possess; or the unimagined mobile devices calling up information from around the world at the touch of a button.  Now the distributors often have to exercise all their arts of persuasion to relieve themselves of their heaps of paper.

‘Starnoozenstanna’  was the familiar cry of usually elderly men or young boys wearing, at this time of year, short sleeved fairisle jumpers beneath overcoats, scarves, and Andy Capp flat hats; and open-fingered woollen gloves, as they peddled their wares.  For those who haven’t worked it out, the shout was a vernacular version of Star, News, and Standard.  Andy Capp was a strip cartoon character created by Reg Smythe for the Daily Mirror, a newspaper still costing money.  An endearing, disreputable working class symbol, who never actually worked, wore a flat cap, always had a fag hanging out of his mouth, and had a wife called Flo, he remains a great favourite.

Workmen refurbishing the railings of Ashley Gardens mansion flats in SW1 had this morning transformed the wall surrounding the grand entrance steps into a drinks station.

This afternoon I sent my next Independent offering to the crossword editor.  I also received an e-mail from one of the Times Listener editors asking for the solution grid and notes to one I sent them in 2006.  It is very unusual for it to take such a long time for one of these puzzles to be processed, but a backlog developed after the sudden, untimely, death of Derek Arthur, who was the lead editor, and the items requested were not given to Roger Philips who now carries out that task.  He has, nevertheless, solved the puzzle and I await the verdict.  If the puzzle has reached Roger, that means Shane Shabankareh, his co-editor, is happy with it, so I am cautiously optimistic.  This submission was prepared on the Apple which is in The Firs, so there will be a brief delay in my providing the relevant material.

Jackie had had a very emotional time at work, when the last hour and a half of the day had been occupied by a farewell party attended by present and former colleagues, each one of whom stepped forward to say something.  She had hoped for a very minor, low, key send-off, but got the opposite.  I would have been very disappointed had this much-loved woman who has given her working life to the people of Merton received anything less.  Mind you, I had starved myself all day in order to do justice to the meal I had prepared, only to be told that spicy foods from around the world had been provided, so she wasn’t that hungry.  She was, however, later on, able to help me eat yesterday’s leftovers and a rogan josh fresh from the freezer.  Yesterday’s wine was also finished off.


On this sparkling autumn morning I bade farewell to Morden Park; to its squirrels, its magpies, its rooks, its parakeets; and the many passing acquaintances I have met there in the last eighteen months.

Jackie, during the next couple of days, will be engaged in much more difficult goodbyes, as she leaves Merton Social Services Department after more than thirty years employment during which she has undergone many changes.

Noticing one of the regular dog walkers trying to coax his reluctant labrador out of the park, I commented that it was usually the dog tugging the man. ‘E don’ wanna go ‘ome’, was the reply.  ‘E’s all right comin’ in, but now ‘e says: ‘c’mon Dad, let me play a bit longer’.  Further on I met a woman with two dogs, talking to a couple with another.  She was saying that the pulling dogs really hurt her arm.  I told the story of my earlier conversation.  They all laughed and she said: ‘If they ‘ad their way they’d stay ‘ere too’.  Later a man watching me vainly trying to capture with my Canon a bright green parakeet sunning itself on a oak branch said: ‘There’s loads of ’em round ‘ere’.  I guess I will become equally familiar with a rather different accent in The New Forest.Morden Park 11.12 (2)

Contemplating fruiting ivy surmounting a wire mesh fence took me back to autumns in Lindum House.  The grounds were surrounded by a lias limestone wall, the material of which was centuries old.  This had been scavenged by early builders from the ruins of Newark Castle which had, during the Civil War, been destroyed by the Royalists as they were about to be defeated, so that Cromwell’s men could not make use of it.  Clambering over this wall was much older ivy than Morden’s.  The stems were very thick and I had to prune it every year to prevent it from endangering passers-by.  It could poke your eye out.

As, in December 1987, we stood at the two-hundred-year-old cast iron gate watching the removal men depart, Jessica had said: ‘This is it, isn’t it?’, meaning this would be our last move.  Sadly, this was not to be, for nineteen years later, I was soon to be widowed for the second time, and to return to London.  There have been five changes of abode since then, not counting the holiday home in Sigoules.  Maybe Minstead will be the last.  It is certainly a very exciting prospect.

Sometimes happily, sometimes not so, I have therefore become quite accustomed to removal men, none so remarkable as the young Maltese who was on the team that moved us from Furzedown to Newark.  He was a huge man with massive, powerful, hands.  He carried a full tea chest of books on one shoulder, whilst one-handedly wielding an armchair in the other hand.  Time and again.  When it came to returning the tea chests to the van, he would, by the corners, grip four in each hand.  This charming character, full of smiles, could not speak English, but his colleagues, whose task he made much easier, told me his story.  He had come to England for what would be a life-saving operation on his pituitary gland.  He was suffering from gigantism and needed medical intervention to stop him growing.  I have often wondered how he is.

For this evening’s meal I made a lamb jalfrezi.  I have never before managed to make one from left over roast lamb, as opposed to balti pre-cooked meat, without it still tasting like an English roast.  This time I worked hard at it and succeeded.  Jackie drank her usual Hoegaarden with it, and, unusually, I drank Roc de Lussac St. Emilion 2010.

Doom Bar

Louisa, Errol, Jessica and Imogen, after the girls had had a grand time playing with the Pig characters, left mid-morning for their return to Nottingham.  Yesterday had been a great success.

Later, it was Elizabeth’s turn to be introduced to our new flat.  She had, of course, seen the outside, but then we had not been in possession of the key. Jackie and Elizabeth had a chat on a bench in a corner of the garden, which is in full view from our East facing windows.

We took over a few more items from The Firs, then had lunch in The Trusty Servant in Minstead.  We all chose Sunday roasts, for which the pub is rightly renowned.  I so enjoyed my real ale, Doom Bar, that I persuaded the others to try some of their own.  This meant I had to sacrifice a couple of mouthfuls to their tasting, but it was worth it to get Jackie, for the first time, to enjoy a proper beer.  Sadly, when I came to examine the bill, I saw it labelled as ‘guest beer’, which means it won’t be there long.  I told the proprietor she could have it back any time.

After lunch we looked in at the Hall Antiques market which is a fortnightly event.  Again we made a purchase, this time an elegant little bedroom chair which is now the first item of furniture in situ in our new flat.  On leaving the Village Hall we returned to The Lodge to place the chair inside.  Jackie preferred to wait in the car as Elizabeth and I went back into number 4.  Out of the car I stepped, and headed off to the entrance doors, suddenly realising that my sister was not with me.  I turned, to see her, walking away from the car, bearing the chair.  So keen was I to have another look inside the flat that I had forgotten what we were meant to be doing.  And I had drunk two pints of Doom Bar.

Back at The Firs, during a discussion about Paultons Park, Jackie and Elizabeth realised that, some twenty five to thirty years ago they had each visited this theme park when both it and Elizabeth’s children and Jackie’s nephews and nieces were in their infancy.  Elizabeth remembered a photograph of Adam enjoying an early ride in the company of his mother and Frank Keenan, his paternal grandfather.

After a light salad in the evening Jackie and I returned to Morden.  I kept my driver company for most of the journey, although I did have a snooze midway.

Peppa Pig

Last night, bang on time, at 9.50 p.m. two sleeping children were decanted from their car and carried upstairs to the spare room at The Firs.  This was a very impressive piece of Satnav prediction for the journey of Louisa and Errol from Nottingham.  Apart from one brief interlude around 2.00 a.m. Jessica and Imogen slept soundly until 5.30 when Louisa entertained them until after 7.  Despite the intercom to their parents bedroom, it happened to be me who heard Imogen call for her mother.  She had lost her Bobby, her soft toy she cannot sleep without.  The girls were sharing a large double bed, and somehow Bobby had found himself on the other side of Jessica.  When Jessica discovered him, all was well, and uninterrupted sleep resumed.

In the morning it was good to see that we had scored with the cereals we chose for the children.  Imogen normally doesn’t eat cereal, but she tucked into two bowlfuls.  The parents went off for a day on their own, and Elizabeth cared for the two girls for the rest of the morning whilst Jackie and I went into Winchester to collect the keys for our new Minstead flat.

Louisa and Errol’s two daughters are a real pleasure to entertain.  Both are sweet natured, never complain, and are undemanding.  So, when Jackie and I took them off for the afternoon to Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park, off the M27 at junction 2, we knew we would all have an enjoyable time, which we did.  Whilst our charges were interested in the rides, they got easily as much pleasure from rolling down an artificial hill, and, Imogen especially, from the cartoon’s model figures distributed around the park.  We missed the penguins’ feeding time, but found them interesting anyway.  The feature we did not miss, and the highlight of the afternoon, was the half hour when real live Peppa and George Pig emerged from their house and entertained the throngs grasping at the railings which protected them from being overrun by eager children and their camera-wielding carers.  Jackie, who held Imogen up so she could see properly, could not prise her away from this feature for at least fifteen minutes, and then only after the child had succeeded in shaking George’s hand.

The rides all required an adult to be accompanying a child under eight.  This, unfortunately, meant Jackie and I had to join the girls in the balloon ride.

We ate lunch from one of the fast food outlets that are plentiful in the grounds.  The children enjoyed chicken nuggets, Jackie approved of her spicy bean burger, and I managed to eat my bland Rio Grande cheeseburger; all with chips.  I drank water and the children had apple juice. The girls each had a pencil which needed sharpening in their set meal box.  Jackie just happened to have a pencil sharpener in her handbag. so she sharpened the pencils, but expressed some puzzlement as to why the pencils had not been eaten.  Whilst I guarded our belongings Jackie took the girls off to a stall where they each won a soft toy doughnut.  Somehow or other these doughnuts ended up on Peppa and George’s heads in the schoolroom.  Jackie observed that, although in Paulton’s Park before entering Peppa Pig World, one could buy hot dogs (presumably containing pork), such victuals were not available in the outlets in the porcine area.  This seemed only fair, really.

We had a trip to the Peppa Pig toyshop, which was in grave danger of competing with the brassrubbing session with Matthew and Becky described on 17th October.  When Jessica chose Peppa Pig’s Teddy, I was quite happy with that.  Imogen then chose two smaller characters.  Which meant Jessica had to have something else.  So Imogen grasped another, which was a larger one, George’s dinosaur in fact……… and so on, not ad infinitum, because I drew the line at four.  I’ve learned a little bit about drawing lines in the intervening years since that trip to St. James’ Church.

The last half hour or so of the trip took place in the indoor soft play area, the best part of which was the long slides which were perfect for shooting down alongside your recently acquired soft toys, each of which had to make the descent in turn.

We then met Louisa and Errol at Castle Malwood Lodge and impressed them both with our new abode while their two daughters played with the Pig family on the sitting room floor.  Back at The Firs Mum and Danni and Andy joined us for a roast lamb meal prepared jointly by Jackie, Elizabeth and Danni.  Apple pie, tarte tatin, and bread and butter pudding, were the desserts on offer.  Red and white wines, Stella, and cider, were imbibed.  Before the meal we were entertained by fireworks provided by Danni and Errol.  Louisa said this was the first year they had been able to have fireworks without a child being very frightened.   A fun evening was had by all.

A glimpse into the chidren’s bedroom revealed that they had gone to bed with the entire Pig family.

Tickling Stick

An exhilarating chill was in the air this morning, conducive to a brisk walk under a clear blue sky with a gentle breeze blowing.  By the time I had strode through the town and reached the Morden Hall Park stretch of the river Wandle I had warmed up enough to slacken my pace to a wandering gait.

I had read in the National Trust guidebook on Mottisfont (posted 7th September) that Frederick Halford, ‘one of the great names in English fly fishing’, had, in his early twenties, fished the Wandle. Apparently he was engaged in wet fly fishing at which he had little success.  He went on to be an expert dry fly fisherman on the River Test.  Apparently a wet fly drops beneath the surface of the water, and a dry fly remains above.  It makes sense really.

The park was full of young families, one of which was playing Pooh Sticks (see 21st August).  I spoke with an oriental gentleman, sporting a grand digital SLR with a lens the length of which my little point and shoot model could not match, taking advantage of the exquisite light, and thoroughly enjoying himself.  Actually his pictures were no better than mine, which speaks very highly of my Canon S100.  He could, of course, reach distances I couldn’t, but he wasn’t doing so.  For me, the advantage of a long lens, such as I have on my film cameras, is that you can fill the whole frame with a distant subject.

The low sun caught the wings of an unidentified butterfly.  I didn’t see anyone fly fishing, but clusters of midges above the water and on the muddy paths glinted in the flickering rays.  Clambering through these clouds was like being regularly dusted by Ken Dodd’s tickling stick.  Some of them got right up my nose, hopefully to emerge later in my handkerchief.  Close inspection didn’t reveal any, but then they are very small.

The bed of this translucent stream was clearly visible to the children poking about in it.

The grey muzzle of a terrier trotting by its owners put me in mind of Matthew’s aging Oddie.  I told the couple and shared a joke with the man about this coming to us all.

For lunch today I enjoyed Jackie’s superb minestrone soup, which she has spiced up with a few chillies.

I am posting this a little early because we are about to leave for The Firs, where the Internet connection is down.  So as not to disappoint those who like to know what we had for dinner, we will go to Eastern Nights, choose from the delectable menu, and drink Cobra and Kingfisher.

Maureen Potter And Plasticine

This morning I took the Kindor Gardens route to South Wimbledon, turned left into Kingston Road, right into Russell Road, left into the Broadway, and back to Links Avenue by the Mostyn Road route.

From a balcony in a block of flats in Morden Road, a pair of foxes and their cubs were surveying the  traffic.  A little further on I passed Watch Me, our favourite Sri Lankan restaurant.

In Russell Road I paused outside St. Mary’s Primary School and pondered over my early years of education.  It being half-term, I was unable to gain access, which was a disappointment.  The school I knew, of much smaller proportions, of course, than I remembered it, has been extended and altered.  The playground area, scene of the greatest horror; the greatest deviousness; and the greatest triumph of my primary school years, was now a block of rooms.  To the right the main building had been extended and there was a new structure alongside it.  There is a modern main entrance, above which lies a bas-relief in memory of Father Rankin S.J., who was, in my day an influential Jesuit and possibly Auntie Gwen’s favourite priest.

My greatest primary school shame occured after Mrs Chapman’s lesson at the end of the day.  There had been a spate of lost coats.  These were suspected to have been stolen.  I went to my peg and found my coat missing.  Full of trepidation, I reported this to the rather frightening teacher.  I was told to sit down at my desk and wait.  Off she strode to fetch the caretaker..  Together they scoured the buildings for my clothing.  Whilst they were gone, and it was growing gloomy in the otherwise empty classroom, I had a terrifying thought that set me aquivering.  The clouds were darkening in Mrs Chapman’s face as she returned without the coat.  What I said next brought on the thunder.  Bottom lip trembling, ‘Please Miss’, I blurted.  All female teachers, married or not, were ‘Miss’ in those days, and Ms had not been coined.  ‘Please Miss’, I repeated, ‘I’ve just remembered.  I didn’t bring my coat today’……………  The calm after the storm was deadly.  Mrs. Chapman never bothered to send you to Miss Bryant for the cane, she administered a few hearty slaps herself.  At least they were on the palms of your hands.  Perhaps it hurt her more than it hurt me.  Then I had to go home and explain to my Mum why I was late.

Mr. Hyde, on the other hand; actually both of them; wouldn’t hurt himself with his method.  He used the flat of a ruler on the backs of your fingers, whilst clasping them to keep them still.  With his dark hair and visage; his hairy nostrils and digits; and his fearsome eyes enlarged by thick lenses, he looked every bit the alter ego of Dr. Jekyll.

Miss Flaxman favoured a barrage of energetic open-handed blows on the backs of your legs.  A large red-haired amazon, I don’t think she ever took her coat off, for it always seemed to flap about when she stung your calves.  She had to bend down to reach small legs, which meant her head was a bit close so you had to try not to fart.  The strange thing about these latter two is that they would steam into you until they were exhausted.  His nostrils would flare and flare, and she would become redder and redder in the face.  Their breathing would reach a crescendo and eventually quieten, when they would stop.  Rumour had it that they were what we now call an item.  Perhaps these performances reflected a certain amount of sexual frustration.  They were Catholics, after all.

Corporal punishment takes me to my greatest deviousness.  Mrs. Braniff, unusually for her, had decided to send me to Miss Bryant to be caned.  Perhaps she had dished out her own quota for the day.  Well, I didn’t fancy the cane, so I nipped round into a corner of the playground and hid for what seemed a reasonable length of time, after which I returned to the classroom hugging my hands to my sides.  I suppose I thought that if I was sussed I’d only get the cane anyway.  Actually, I got away with it.  In the words of the the song, ‘I disremember what’ my misdemeanour had been.

I don’t want to give the impression that all my teachers were vicious beasts.  Miss Downs deserved her own post on 25th May.

My greatest triumph was the heroic fight recorded on 10th July.

Now to my greatest horror.  This was my first day.  My grandfather had taken me to school, and, cock-a-hoop, I strode in, waving him goodbye.  I had a new set of clothes and was embarking upon a new adventure.  Then I turned the corner into the playground…………….  It was full of screaming children, including girls, and most of them were much bigger than me…….. I got home to Raynes Park before Grandpa.  There are no words to describe the absolute terror represented by these dotted lines.  I was off like a shot.  I suppose I must have got the bus, but I really don’t remember.  The next image I have is of bashing on the front door until Mum came down to me.

Naturally Mum calmed me down and returned me to the torture chamber.  She may have fed me, may have accompanied me on the bus.  It’s all a blank, not even a blur.

I was presented to Miss Mulvaney.  Miss Mulvaney smiled, took my hand, and led me into her classroom.  ‘We are having plasticine this afternoon, and here is Maureen Potter to look after you’, she said.  I was flabbergasted.  There, beaming in her half of our joint desk, sat the most angelic creature I had ever seen.  She had a lovely round face, the image of which I cannot conjure up, but the impression of which has remained deep in my heart.  As this motherly child took my hand my stomach leapt.  Not for the first time that day, but this time it was a wholly different sensation.  I was in love for the very first time.  Miss Mulvaney knew what she was about.

We enjoyed the plasticine too.  Why is it, incidentally, that however bright the original colours are, this material always turns brown?

After a massive Sainsbury’s North Cheam shop in preparation for the Thompson family Firs weekend, Jackie and I returned to Morden and had Moby Dicks at the Morden Superfish.  We couldn’t eat a sweet, Jackie in particular thinking that the Spotted Dick on offer would be one dick too many.  I drank a glass of Pinot Grigio and Jackie a Carlsberg.