Cottenham Park

On another cloudy morning I set off for Cottenham Park in what estate agents now call West Wimbledon.  In Maycross Avenue I met another elderly lady.

I didn’t attempt to engage Dolly in conversation.  Further along I spotted another effort at accommodating both pansies and the motor car.

Pansies Maycross Avenue 7.12

Arriving at Raynes Park, I walked up Amity Grove, past number 76, where Jackie and I had shared our first home together, and the Copleston’s house at 112.  The play area in Cottenham Park now occupies the site where I lost my fourteenth summer.

(Please bear with what follows, Judith).

I was playing cricket with some friends and no-one wanted to be wicket keeper.  As a bowler I was no wicket keeper.  However I nobly volunteered.  I stood far too upright and far too close to the stumps.  A wide ball came down the leg side (the side near the batsman’s legs, where it is difficult even for a more agile player to see the ball).  I lost sight of it.  Smack!  A full-bodied strike straight off the bat sent the ball into my left eye.  For the next three weeks the ball was not the only thing I lost sight of.  Home in bed I was suddenly beset with excruciating toothache in that eye.  In the days when GPs actually made home visits in the evening, our lovely Dr. Gallaghan, who worked himself so hard that he died of a heart attack in his forties, came out to see me.  ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ he asked, having placed one hand over my right eye.  ‘How am I expected to know?’ I replied, ‘my eye is all swollen and closed.’  ‘It isn’t’, was his response.  I still feel the cold sweat I immediately broke into on that warm summer evening.

Then it was straight to the Royal Eye Hospital in Surbiton where I spent the best part of the summer of ’56.  Doris Day was top of the hit parade with ‘Qu’est sera sera?’.  I wasn’t allowed to read, and so had to make do with the radio and the salacious comments of the man in the next bed involving me and the nurses.  I didn’t know what he meant, but I did learn the song off by heart.   As a child, I should have been in the children’s ward, but the beds weren’t big enough for me.  For a few days, when the men’s ward became overcrowded, I was decanted to where I belonged.  A box for my feet was placed at the foot of the bed.  My feet were still attached to my legs.

When I came out of hospital, Gurney, the boy who had hit the ball, said: ‘You haven’t missed anything’.  I could have killed him.  The affected eye was always weaker, and, some fifteen years ago, I finally had an operation, for a cataract.  Now it’s fine.  I was first given specs at the age of eighteen.  The optician told me that by the time I was sixty I wouldn’t need them any more.  Rather rashly not taking into consideration that he was himself about that age, I said: ‘When I’m sixty I won’t care’.  I felt rather embarrassed.  And, of course, when I got to be sixty I did care.

The year after this I proudly became the opening bowler for Garrick House Cricket Club, which was soon to merge with Trinity (Battersea, now Oxley) Cricket club who used to play there.

With my sandals squelching across the sodden outfield I reflected that there can’t have been much play there this year.

On the North side of the park lies Melbury Gardens, where I watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, on a miniscule television set. (See post of 27th. May.)

The modern sports pavilion, boasting showers and a bar, now lies on the site of the small hut which passed for a changing room.  After the game, we would wash in a bowl of cold water, always allowing the oposition first go; then it was off to the Raynes Park Tavern for a jovial evening.  It was into this hostelry’s small private bar that, at fifteen, I sneaked for my first half pint of beer.  I didn’t like it much, but persevered, for the sake of male cameraderie.  In those days Jackie helped the late Eileen Oxley; wife of Stanley, one of the three founders, in whose honour the club was renamed after his death; prepare the teas and do the scoring.

On the South side of the recreation ground lies Cambridge Gardens, which, on one memorable afternoon when I had first opened the batting for my club, I had peppered with boundaries.  The despairing bowler said to Charlie Moulder, who was umpiring, ‘he bats like a number eleven (the last man in, who wasn’t usually much good with the bat)’.  ‘He is a number eleven’, said Charlie.  ‘And I keep feeding him’, bemoaned the bowler.

In my late teens, night after night, I played cricket with Mick Copleston.  As we batted until we were out, continuing our innings the next evening, Mick would bat for weeks.  Except when it was raining and we played billiards in his front room.  He beat me at that too.

Today, walking back down Durham road, I passed the Ashby family home.  They moved to London from Peterborough some time in the 1950s when we attended Wimbledon College.  Chris and I were delegated by the masters at the school to look after the Ashby boys.  After travelling under the Raynes Park Station railway arch I overheard a couple having an argument.  ‘I ain’t fucking walking’, wailed the man.  As a 163 bus, which would have taken me home to Links Avenue, passed me on Grand Drive, I rather thought he had a point.  Continuing on alongside a playing field off this road I saw some boys settling themselves to play cricket.  I fell in with one of their mothers who was walking her dog.  Together we negotiated the soggy footpath.

This afternoon we were again treated to summer refreshment in the shape of a very windy, very heavy, rainstorm.  Jackie drove us to Hampshire in the early evening and we dined at Eastern Nights before going on to The Firs.

Mordred

IMG_0134 Dawn, after another night of rain, broke clear and sunny.  I set off, with no particular goal, to stroll around the streets off Hillcross Avenue.  I have previously mentioned the fact that Morden’s front gardens have been given over to the motor car. Outside this extended car park I chatted with an elderly woman who remembered when everyone tended their gardens.  She said not many people liked gardening these days.  I replied that perhaps that was so, but ‘what do you do with your cars?.  The header picture, from Cherrywood Lane, indicates that some people try to maintain both plants and cars.  The bricked surface shows the edge of the car standing area.

Emerging from The Green, I could not resist the temptation to continue onto Cannon Hill Common, where my feet got wet in the sodden grass and I skidded on the quagmire that masqueraded as footpaths.  It had definitely not been a good idea to wear beige trousers fresh from the cleaners. The illustration of a path on Wimbledon Common on 10th. July gives you some idea. There was fishing going on by the lake, where a young mother was explaining to her toddler that ‘a dog is a dog and a duck is a duck and they are two different animals’.

It being a Mordred day, from Cannon Hill I walked back into Morden to pick up an Independent, for which I set a monthly crossword.  Of the missing cats mentioned yesterday, Daisy has obviously returned home, but Diego is still on walkabout.  I have mentioned Mordred before, and an illustration of his work appears on 5th. July.  It is time to explain how he came into being.  About thirty years ago I first ran in the Newark half marathon.  For the event Jessica, Sam, Louisa and I went up to stay with our friends Maggie and Mike Kindred and their daughter Cathy in Southwell.  Little did I know what this trip would lead to.  We eventually moved from Furzedown in South London to Newark in Nottinghamshire, and a lifelong friendship was cemented.  Having discovered that Michael and I shared a passion for crosswords, it seemed natural, when I got bored with reading on my daily commute to London, to set him a puzzle.  He solved it and retaliated.  This exchange continued for some time.  Other commuters, noticing what I was engrossed in, interrupted my work to ask for solutions to puzzles they were solving.  I did not give them the answers, but helped them to work it out for themselves. After a while Mike and I decided to do something a bit more ambitious and write a book which took students through a series of graded puzzles with the object of their being competent to solve a daily cryptic puzzle in any of the newspapers.  I might say that, in doing so, our own solving abilities became vastly improved.  This book became, in 1993, ‘Chambers Cryptic Crosswords and How to Solve Them’.  It remained in print, going into a second, improved, edition for just short of twenty years, until Chambers was finally taken over by a company who did not want to use it.  Not being able to break into a daily newspaper team in those early days, we decided to set what are called advanced cryptics.  These are much more difficult, themed, puzzles found in the weekend newspapers, the editors of which accept puzzles from anyone who can meet the standard.  We began with The Times Listener, generally recognised as the most complex of this genre. Now we had to have a pseudonym.  So Mordred was born.  I have always loved Arthurian legend, and as a setter, fancied myself as an evil Knight.  Mordred was King Arthur’s treacherous nephew.  The ‘dred’ bit fitted nicely with Michael’s surname, and as has been mentioned by more than one sorrowful solver, the whole is a homophone for more dread.  We set a couple of joint puzzles as Mordred until, on the editor’s advice, we split up (although remaining very good friends).  I became Mordred and Michael continues to set as Emkay.

I spent this afternoon doing my head in trying to get some figures right for my accountant, which didn’t much matter because the clouds were gathering again and the rain soon came back.  It was still pouring in the evening when we went out to the China Garden restaurant in London Road for an excellent meal.  Since living in Soho’s Chinatown in the 1970s, when you could get a set meal for £1.00, I have not really found many Chinese restaurants that pass muster.  This one certainly does.  The food is tasty and crisp; the service attentive, friendly, and discreet; and the ambience gentle and soothing.  The rain continued as we left.

Buddy

On this much brighter, yet very windy, and not entirely rain-free, morning I set off by my usual route to Carol’s in SW1.  Links Avenue and Crown Lane were festooned with laminated posters advertising two different, and seperate, lost cats.  Since I saw none proclaiming found felines and there were clear photographs and full descriptions of the missing animals, I am unlikely to get into the Brendan (see 26th. June) situation again.  London Transport police were monitoring the chaotic crowds boarding buses outside the tube station.  Someone had dropped a fresh pasty outside Greggs, the bakers.  Imagine the disappointment at standing with mouth open, expecting to savour that first bite, and the snack slipping from your fingers.

Snail, Wandle trail 7.12

Magpies were drinking from a pool in the very muddy footpath in Morden Hall Park.  I’ll probably never get my toenails clean.

This is one of the fallen trees forming primitive bridges across the river Wandle.

As always in the morning, the tube trains were littered with discarded copies of Metro, a free newspaper.  Aiming for the escalator at a jam-packed Victoria underground station, a woman dragged her wheeled container over my foot. ‘Oh, look what you’re doing with it.’ was my irritated response.  Her male companion had the good sense to hold back when he considered crossing my path at the top.

The gents toilet in Victoria Station was strewn with the usual yellow cones warning of a wet floor.  One bore what I assumed to be a translation in a language with which I am unfamiliar.  It read: ‘Piso Mojado’.  A dog had left a deposit on the pavement outside the Westminster Bank in Victoria Street.

Opposite Victoria Station stands the Victoria Palace Theatre.  I have attended two and a half performances there in the past, one of them augmented by my own.  ‘Billy Elliot’ has been playing there for some years.  It is quite the best stage production of its kind that I have ever seen.  During the first week, for Louisa’s birthday, I took her and Errol to see the show.  At the time the film was one of Louisa’s favourites.  Naturally we had a curry beforehand.

Some years earlier, soon after Becky had returned to London from Newark, I arranged to meet her at Victoria Station to take her to the Victoria Palace to see one of the opening performances of ‘Buddy’.  She didn’t turn up.  Since this was most unlike either one of my two reliable daughters I waited an hour.  The only other person I have ever waited for that long was her mother on our first date, again at Victoria Station.  Having finally given up on Becky, wondering what on earth had gone wrong, which probably affected my mood, I went to the theatre, explained the situation, and asked for a refund.  This was not possible.  I asked to speak to the manager.  He was unavailable.  ‘OK,’ said I, tearing up the tickets which I threw into the office, ‘you have these, they’re no good to me.’  Storming out of the theatre in high dudgeon, I walked straight into Becky.

Somewhat shame-faced we returned to the ticket office where I sought admission.  There was now a different booking clerk.  We could not gain admission because the show had started and anyway I didn’t have any tickets.  I quickly replaced my blown gasket and again asked to speak to the manager.  This time I was invited to wait for the intermission when he might just possibly be available.  He did indeed materialise.  The jigsaw puzzle that was the shredded tickets was fished out of the wastepaper basket, pieced together, and closely scrutinised.  We now found that the manager was sympathetic to our plight.  He had actually appeared before the intermission but invited us to wait until then and enter the theatre during the break.  We were given two much better seats and tickets for a future complete performance. Is that ever likely to happen again?   ‘That’ll be the day’.

Our evening meal tonight consisted of Jackie’s Penne Pasta and my Mehti Ghost and rice; each made some time ago; and each served up on the same plate.  Jackie had a small bottle of Hoegaarden and I had a couple of glasses of the Campo Viejo 2007 reserve rioja which Danni gave me for my birthday.

Mugging

Although with light, intermittent rain, it was a drier day today, so I set off for Wimbledon Common.  On the footpath linking Maycross Avenue with Martin Way stood a very tall, very beautiful, redhead closely studying her indigo fingernails, reminding me of the African woman on 3rd. July.  As she made way for me she glanced up and gave me a dazzling smile which set me up for the day.

As always when climbing the steep incline that is Wimbledon Hill, I thought of Jack (posted 13th. May).  Entering the common I set off through the wooded area for Queensmere, where I had often wandered as a boy, when the tree in the header picture was still standing.  I failed to find the lake, and none of the other walkers I met could guide me to it.  I got rather lost here, as I had done one day when still in primary school with my friend Tom McGuinness.  Since we were forbidden to do this trip on our own and couldn’t find our way home, I did not return until 9 p.m., by which time my parents had involved the police in a search.  Had we had a dog then my dinner would have been in it.  I was sent straight to bed without a meal, but fortunately Mum relented and brought me a delicious tray of home-cooked food.  Somehow that beats breakfast in bed.

It was among these trees that I was subjected to my first mugging.  I was a rather large ten year old and had beaten a fifteen year old in a school playground fight not long before.  I had admonished this lad for bullying a friend of mine.  He had therefore challenged me to a fight at lunchtime.  With considerable trepidation I had, at the appointed time, been led into the centre of a ring of what seemed to be the whole school.  I can still hear the cries of ‘Fight, fight’, and feel the pushes of the excited audience whenever I stepped back a bit.  Like all bullies, he was a coward, and collapsed as soon as I fought back.  I was, however, no match for the three teenagers in the wood who sat on me and searched my pockets.  Fortunately I had no money.

I never had another playground contest, although I was prevailed upon to join the boxing club at Wimbledon College.  Not actually being interested I used the fact that my parents couldn’t afford the subscription as an excuse to decline.  Unfortunately I was then told I would not have to pay.  I knocked someone out in training and that was the end of that.  Some time afterwards, a boy called Rickards, much smaller, but very handy with his fists, who kept a list of those he could beat up, decided it was my turn for the treatment.  I offered no resistance, and was duly beaten up.  I still remember the acute shame, but no way was I going to hit another boy.  Mohammad Ali was much more successful when standing with his arms hanging down; perhaps he had more nimble footwork.

Some thirty odd years after the attack on the common I was walking from my counselling room in Harrow Road, W9, along Portnall Road, when I noticed a left trainer with a leg in it very close to my own left leg.  The next thing I knew was that someone was sitting on my back-pack which was on my shoulders.  I also carried a bag of books.  Although I remained standing I began to feel myself losing consciousness.  I was aware that an arm was around my throat and I imagine pressure was being applied to the relevant point in my neck.  It was not unpleasurable, rather like the moment of succumbing to gas and air at the dentist’s.  Nevertheless I realised I’d better shift the arm, which I managed to do, just as I felt another pair of hands  ferreting in the back pocket of my trousers.  By then I was down on one knee, still clutching my bag of books.  Still rather dazed, I rose, and turned to face my assailants, who decided to run off into the warren that was the Mozart Estate.  In those days I would have stood a fair chance of catching them had I not been too dazed to run.  Instead I walked after them, which was not much use.  I passed a middle-aged man leaning against a skip.  When I asked if he had seen two hooded young men he looked at me with hazy eyes, and said: ‘Want some hash, man?’.  ‘What am I doing here?’, I thought.  It was not until afterwards that I realised that the winder of my Longines wristwatch had gouged a hole in the back of my hand.  Perhaps that was what they were after.  Fortunately it has a very strong bracelet.  All they managed to take was a train ticket for my return journey to Newark.  Unless one of them was keen on a one-way journey to the Midlands, I imagine they were rather disappointed.  For about a month thereafter I retraced that route hoping to come across my attackers again.  Eventually I realised how stupid that was and put it behind me.  I still have the watch, and alternate wearing it with the beautiful Tissot given to me as a retirement present by my friend Jessie.

Today, having failed to find Queensmere, I had to settle for the famous windmill, where there is now an information centre.  Having been out for more than two hours I’d had enough.  Continuing down Windmill Drive and along Parkside, I returned to Wimbledon village where I boarded a 93 bus to Morden, having done some shopping in Bayley and Sage.  It was quite fun to leave a posh shop with my veg in a Lidl carrier bag.

At the bottom of Wimbledon Hill the bus driver called out: ‘Can’t you stop those kids ringing the bell?’, at which point a schoolteacher disembarked, followed by a string of primary school children descending from the upper deck, with another teacher bringing up the rear.  They all trooped off the bus, and as we drove off, we were entertained by the first teacher conducting an inquest on the pavement in what I thought was a vain attempt to find the culprit.

Today’s deluge came later, just as I was crossing the road to put some documents for my accountant in the post.  I got wet.

This evening I had intended to cook up some minced beef, but Jackie got home early and got started on it straight away.  The result was I didn’t have to cook and it was a better meal than I would have produced.

Merton In Bloom

IMG_0110

After a night of rainfall which seemed to have abated, I decided to tramp the sodden terrain of Morden Park.  I didn’t have much company and, as I had just washed my hair,  when the rain came down again, it didn’t much matter that it got wet.  Saturday’s Mud Island came to mind.  Flies were savouring the evidence that someone had recently been taken short.  I’m pretty sure it was human excreta because I don’t know any dogs who use toilet paper.  But then, it was yet another foul day.  Flashes of orange moving along the distant tree line were two postpersons cycling through to Hillcross Avenue from London Road.  A solitary jogger was taking advantage of recent mowing.

On my return, having parked by the side of the path from Links Avenue, a police dog handler was about to exercise his charge.  We spoke about flytipping (posted 2nd. July).

This evening we visited the Sree Krishna restaurant in Tooting with our old friend Sheila Knight (unrelated).  The Sree, at forty years old, claims to be the oldest South Indian restaurant in South London.  It is an excellent establishment which tonight gave the lie to my conviction that the quality of the poppadoms is a good indication of the standard of what is to follow.  Tonight’s poppadoms were a bit tired and I didn’t like the pickles.  The rest of the food was very good, although Sheila’s masala dosai couldn’t match those served at the Watch Me in Morden Road.  I patronised the Sree Krishna once or twice when living in Furzedown in the 1980s.  I remember that in those days a strong recommendation was that the Indian medics from nearby St. George’s Hospital frequented it.  There were none in evidence this evening, but then there were only about half a dozen other diners.  It was a Monday night.

Sheila and I had met on our Social Work training course in 1969.  It was she, as Mayor of Merton, who had presented Jackie with one of her certificates as the winner of Merton In Bloom competition for the best front garden of a certain size sometime in the 1990s.  Jackie won this title for the seven successive years she submitted the tiny plot attached to the house in Amity Grove that I had bought in 1968.  The header photograph was actually taken at The Firs yesterday, but reflects the planting experience Jackie had gained in packing her small London garden with such profusion.  She filled every inch of the ground, and then began hanging baskets from anything and everything that didn’t move.  An elaborate watering system extended from a tap outside the kitchen door, which not only irrigated the garden itself, but also drip-fed window boxes on the first floor.  Heath Robinson would have been proud of it.  When she arrived home from work today she brought masses more plants destined for Elizabeth’s ‘hot bed’.  This had involved a trip to the garden centre at Morden Hall Park.  Whilst there she had visited the National Trust shop where she noticed several copies of ‘The Magnificent Seven’, by John Turpin and Derrick Knight.  Published by Amberley Press, this is a book about London’s seven Victorian landscaped cemeteries, for which John wrote the text and I took most of the photographs.

On our return home we noted that The Raj (26th. June) was full.

The Stump

Between showers today we got quite a bit of planting done.  We managed to insert three different varieties of fuchsia; a centranthus; phlox; two types of lingularia; various cranesbill geraniums; nasturtiums; two heliotrope; comfrey; two companula and a verbascum, all under the guidance of Jackie who has masterminded the garden design, building on Elizabeth’s original ideas.  An obsolete bed I had cleared a couple of weeks ago was seeded with grass; and Jackie and I re-staked a wisteria.

I have often written about our regular trips to The Firs, but have not yet explained how these came about.  Elizabeth has a lovely garden attached to a house which was the home of Richard Barbe-Baker (see 26th. May post).  As she is now on her own in the large house, the garden has proved too much for her to manage.  Jackie and I have each, for different reasons, in recent years, had to leave gardens of our own, and been unable to find suitable accommodation in London which includes one.  In my case I left an acre in Newark when I returned to London after Jessica’s death. The three of us have always got on very well; it therefore made sense for us to spend most weekends at The Firs. Jackie and I enjoy the company, the hospitality, and, mostly, the exercise. Elizabeth enjoys the company and the help.  Another happy coincidence is that Elizabeth’s home is 10 minutes’ drive to Southampton airport from whence I travel by Flybe plane to Bergerac en route to my house in Sigoules.

My individual project for the day was making a feature of the stump of a false acacia felled some years ago.  Retaining as much moss as possible I weeded it a bit, took up some couch grass, and composted the hollowed out centre.  The centranthus mentioned above is now part of this, as is a staked climbing fuchsia.

For afternoon tea we were joined by the artist Margery Clarke and her son Paul, who have become good friends.  This was in honour of my birthday.  Margery had made me a birthday card, but Elizabeth could not remember where she had put it.  She had phoned Paul in the week to see if she had left it at their home.  She hadn’t.  Margery came armed with a duplicate ‘to save [Elizabeth] embarrassment’.  However, after a frantic search before the artist’s arrival, Elizabeth did find the first card.  I now have two Margery Clarke originals.  Each is slightly different, Margery having wittily incorporated the theme of crosswords into a 70th. birthday card.

Given that we’d had what Danni called a ‘quaint’ tea of cucumber sandwiches; scones, cream and jam; and lemon cake, neither Jackie nor I thought we’d be able to manage either of the culinary options Elizabeth proposed.  We therefore picked over the leftovers with a glass of wine/beer.  This was after we had set a bonfire. There had seemed to be a break in the weather so Jackie had got one going and I had joined her in breaking up material for it.  A very bad decision that turned out to be.  No native American or Australian rainmaker could possibly have had the success we did in conjuring up the opening of the heavens.  By the time I’d got the tools away and we’d fled inside, the bonfire was extinguished and my shirt had become a second skin. Nothing for it but to open a second bottle of wine.

Rather later than usual we returned to Links Avenue where the concrete path from the road to the front door was full of snails risking their lives.

Three Score Years And Ten

Well, I’ve made this milestone.  I believe the psalms, from which this title is taken, suggest it’s all downhill from now.  I shall regard every day as a bonus.

Thanks to Chris and Frances for this optimistic card.  Quentin Blake, the illustrator, has provided the artwork for at least one Folio Society (post of 5th. July) publication.

Steady rain was the order of the day.  Gardening, early on, was out.  We stayed in. Eventually the rain stopped and I decided to go for a walk, giving the wind time to blow away the clouds.  I thought I’d best take my umbrella from the hall stand.  It was not there.  Ah well, I thought, I’ll risk going without it.  I don’t keep a raincoat at the Firs, which is where we were.  Walking along Beacon Road I reflected on the coincidence that Lindum House in Newark, which was our home for nineteen years, is in Beacon Hill Road.  The eponymous beacons are a reminder of times gone by.  They were set as a warning against invasion.  They were lined up on high ground so that each one was visible to the next.  One would be lit at the first sign of enemy ships;  the rest would follow in turn, and within a short space of time there would be a chain of flaming fire stretching right across the land.  I believe they were used to alert the nation to the arrival of the ill-fated Spanish Armada in 1588.

This, however, is the summer of 2012, so I imagine that no beacon would have stayed alight very long.  I hadn’t any particular direction in mind, but whilst still in Beacon Road I received guidance from above. The rain.  Diving down Southern Road, into Western, and through to Telegraph, I decided I’d go into West End and buy an umbrella. Realising, by the time I got to the bottom of Telegraph Road, that I’d overshot West End, and I’d probably not find an umbrella there, I decided to go for broke and walk to the Hedge End Superstores along Botley Road.  By the time I arrived at M & S I was so wet there was really hardly any point.  Nevertheless, I did buy a raincoat.  I ask you, a midsummer birthday and I go in search of something to keep me dry.  Never mind, there is always a silver lining; on the way the battery on the camera had gone flat and I had not brought a charger with me.  I therefore visited the nearby Curry’s and bought one to keep at the Firs.

Passing the Ageas Bowl, Hampshire’s County Cricket ground, until quite recently named the Rose Bowl, I felt fairly certain there would be no play today.  Marshall Drive is named after two great West Indians.

On my return to The Firs I was informed that my umbrella was in the boot of Elizabeth’s car.  Elizabeth had prepared another birthday morning for me, with lots of carefully chosen, delightful presents.  One was a cheese knife wrapped in a paper napkin.  We considered this might be useful on any future trip to The Raj (see 26th. June).

Having decided to give up gardening for the day, this afternoon we drove to a couple of garden centres the other side of Wickham.  The rain by now was quite spectacular.  The skies were darkened so that most cars had their headlights on.  The windscreen wipers were going like the clappers, and could not cope with the showers of spray rising from the rear wheels of the cars in front.  From the sides of the cars great waves were flying up from the lakes forming at the sides of the road.  On our return, in some parts only the central white lines were not covered with rainwater.  Some drains were gushing the water back up, forming unsavoury looking brown fountains.  In the first of the garden centres, appropriately named Mud Island, the woman on the till told us she could count on two hands the number of customers she had had that day.  And we were three of them.  Rain clattered on the roof and poured down from the straining gutters.  The sky had become a grey pink which would have looked good on the petals of some of the unusual fuchsias we were seeking.  On our way through Wickham we had seen a damper thrown on a ruined wedding.  Large umbrellas were taking refuge.  The photographers had no chance.

We dropped off at another garden centre on the way back, seeking agricultural sand which had not been available at the others.  About ten or a dozen staff were seated at the garden tables and loungers in the showroom.  They were only too pleased to serve their only customers.  We hoped that tomorrow the weather would be kind enough to allow us to plant what we’d bought.

This evening the three of us, along with Mum, Danni, Joseph and Angela drove to The Lone Barn at Hungerford Bottom for a pub meal.  Joseph and Angela had been unable to attend last week.  They brought me a magnificent hand-made Chinese silk embroidered tie and scarf set in exactly my style and colours.   Danni gave me an excellent bottle of wine and book of Hampshire place-names from her and Andy.  Coincidentally the publishers were Amberley Press, who published ‘The Magnificent Seven’ a book of the seven Victorian landscapes cemeteries, for which I had produced the photographs.

An even more amazing coincidence was one of the carts hanging from the ceiling of this great old barn.  These were all wooden vehicles.  One, ‘for daily deliveries’, bore the address 181 Haydons Rd., Wimbledon, SW19.  Mum, 90 in October, told us how, when Chris and I were babies, during the war, she had lived in the very same Haydon’s Road.  And here we were, in deepest Hampshire.  One day a bomb had struck the house across the road and Mum had instinctively dived across my body leaving Chris sitting beside us.  Fortunately all was well.  Mum said that her biggest problem during that time had been to decide  which was the worst prospect; risking the bombs, or facing the mice in the cupboard under the stairs.  I find it amazing that we, in 2012, can listen to a lucid woman, who happens to be my mother, who lived through those times.

We then went on to talk about the 7/7 London bombing of 2005.  Whilst that was going on I had walked from Little Venice in N.W. London to North Road just north of Kings Cross Station.  Completely oblivious of the event, two minutes after the Edgware Road bomb had exploded in the underground, I had walked past that station.  I continued my walk, wondering why everyone was being disgorged from the underground stations, and why diversions were preventing me from taking my normal route.  Marylebone Road was full of bewildered passengers on mobile phones which could not access networks.  None of the tube staff had any idea why people were being sent out of the stations.  The redevelopment of Kings Cross was going on at that time,  and the sight of vast numbers of men in hard yellow hats, having been evacuated from the site, filling the streets was astounding.  I was receiving text messages from anxious friends and relatives to whom I could not reply.  Why, I wondered, was everyone asking whether I was all right.  It was not until I reached the foster home that I was visiting and saw the news on television that I realised what had happened.  The foster carer had been one of those anxiously trying to make contact.  I had not received her message.

The Drain

Setting off in the steady rain that passes for summer 2012, for Wimbledon Station en route to Waterloo to meet my friend Tony, I realised I had left my camera behind.  Ever the optimist, I went back for it.  AgapanthusThe owners of the agapanthus in Maycross Avenue had no fear of a hosepipe ban, but I was slightly anxious for my Canon’s electronics.  This time I had no doubt; my persistence with sandals was definitely sheer stubbornness.  The soles are now worn quite flat and becoming somewhat slippery on the wet pavements.

EDF’s claim on the Waterloo concourse would so far seem to be in vain

Yesterday I mentioned my first annual salary.  This was earned in the old Lloyd’s (insurance) Building.  It had contained the original ‘Room’ where all the underwriters carried out their business.  By 1960, when I began, a second Lloyd’s building, which has itself been superceded, had been built, and my building was occupied by the back room boys, such as me.  I dealt with marine insurance claims under the management of Mr. Goodinge, who once gave me a collection of his excellent shirts; and alongside people like Ray Denier who took seven wickets on his first turn-out for my cricket club, and Ian Frederick Stevens, otherwise known as IFS, who was a soulmate for a while.  More importantly, my secretarial work was done by Vivien, who was to become my first wife.  When the time comes I will write a post about Vivien.  This building, known as ‘The Dome’, had no natural light.  You could never tell what time of the day or year it was, or what the weather was like.  It was here that I knuckled down to what I was assured was a secure pensionable job.  This, then, was more important than strange concepts like job satisfaction.  By correspondence course I set about qualifying for the Chartered Insurance Institute and thought that would be my job for life.  It wasn’t until I became a twenty three year old widower with a baby son that I knew I could do this no more.

The insurance world held me for the first six years of my working life.  I commuted daily on the very route, but on very different trains, that I used today; first from Raynes Park, then after marriage and the purchase of a first house, from Wimbledon itself.  The trains in those days had carriages with which viewers of period dramas will be familiar.  During the rush hour those carrying commuters from Waterloo into Surrey would become packed.  One evening two of my classmates who made such a journey were the first to occupy one of the compartments.  Each stationed at one of the windows, they pulled grotesque faces and leeringly beckoned to other would-be passengers to enter.  In that way they kept the seats to themselves.  One evening, travelling back to Raynes Park, the train became fogbound.  We remained stationary right outside my home for an hour and a half.

The first three of my years of employment were spent in Leadenhall Street.  From Waterloo mainline station it was necessary to travel on ‘The Drain’.  This was the name given to the Underground journey to Bank station.  I can’t quite remember how it worked, but, at one end or the other of this daily grind there was a long tunnel through which thousands just like me tramped to their destination.  You had to go at the pace of the slowest.  It felt like a scene from a film about zombies or prisoners of war.  Looking back this seems an awful mole-like existence.  But security was all, and we made our own fun, pulling each other’s legs and taking some amusement from misprints in memos and the joys of the German language.  The Westmonster Insurance Company caused some glee and we became hopelessly incontinent whenever we came across the shipping company whose name sounded like ‘dampsheepfarts’.  There were side streets off Leadenhall Street with provisions stores, probably long since demolished to make way for the huge temples now erected in further homage to Mammon.  I remember a butcher’s which, at Christmastime had turkeys hanging up like a film set for ‘A Christmas Carol’. (In fact what I remember is probably the still extant Leadenhall Market entered from Gracechurch Street – added 22.12.2020)

On the train today I began reading John Le Carre’s ‘Single & Single’.

This evening we drove down to The Firs.  Traffic was very slow on the A3 until we had passed Guidford, because of intermittent heavy rain.  Before arriving at Elizabeth’s we stopped off at Eastern Nights in Thornhill for an excellent curry meal

The Folio Society

Moonfleet Spine

On this hot, humid, and overcast morning I set off by my usual route for lunch with Norman in Harlesden.  I was very sticky by the time I reached Colliers Wood.

A heron landed in a tree in Morden Hall Park before taking off, no doubt aiming for the river Wandle.  On the trail joggers were taking their exercise.  One, a young mother, was, one-handed, pushing her toddler in a three-wheeled buggy; although I stood aside when approached by a couple, it was clear one would have to drop back.  I speculated which it would be.  I was right. It was the woman.  She certainly looked the fitter of the two.  I hoped this was the reason.  A fisherman was unravelling his line.  Deen City Farm (posted 16th. May) was filling up, probably because at last it wasn’t raining.

On the Underground there were constant announcements warning of the congestion expected during the forthcoming Olympic games.  A busker (see 14th. June) was playing an accordion at Green Park.

Norman fed me with gammon, all the trimmings, and a fruit flan.  We shared a bottle of Cona Sur 2008, a superb full-bodied Chilean pinot noir, purchased in Morrison’s, which I had given him for his birthday.  He gave me a couple of CDs which I will unveil on Saturday, my birthday.

His pedestrian street, as many others in The London Borough of Brent’s NW10, now has allocated residential parking occupying exactly half of the not over-wide pavements. In 1966, when I learned to drive I had been taught  that it was an offence to mount the kerb in a motor vehicle.  The kerbs in these roads have not been dropped, so, at least in Brent, this is apparently now legal.  An elderly Somali gentleman was feeding a vast flock of pigeons in Preston Gardens (that’s a tiny street, not a park).  Fortunately Flo has grown out of breeding several generations of them on her Mitcham balcony.  On the way up to Neasden underground station two cyclists sped past me on the footway, one displaying the crack in his bum.

On the tube I finished reading J. Meade Falkner’s novel Moonfleet.  This late nineteenth century work is a marvellous tale well told.  It is at least equally good as those of the better known Robert Louis Stevenson.  When she knew I was about to read it, my friend Heather commended it.  She did not exaggerate.  The theme of smuggling features as a decoration to the front cover binding of my Folio Society edition, and the header photograph above displays the spine of the book in its customary slipcase.  The description of Elzevir Block and John Trenchard’s, albeit brief, ordeal in the hold of a Dutch prisoner ship bound for transportation and a life of slavery, reminded me of the horrors of Alex Hayley’s ‘Roots’ and Robert Hughes’ ‘The Fatal Shore’.  This latter volume is a history of the origins of modern Australia and desperate plight of those transported in the convict ships.

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.  Fifty two years 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.  Michael Manomivibul illustrated ‘Moonfleet’.  Maybe he is one of those.  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 finished reading the abovementioned ‘The Fatal Shore’ on Christmas day 2007, on the plane to Perth, where I spent a couple of days with Holly’s delightful and most hospitable parents and brothers before being driven to a winery in the Margaret River area of South West Australia for the wedding she shared with Sam.  I had a far more comfortable journey than had the early transported convicts.

This is a  copy of the solution to an Independent cryptic crossword I designed to commemorate the event.  Read the highlighted perimeter letters clockwise from top left.

By coincidence, just after his own birthday this March, Norman shared with me an excellent bottle of wine his niece in Queensland had sent him.  This had originated in Margaret River.

No-one Forgets A Good Teacher

Although it had rained all night the day was a bit brighter and the drizzle lighter.  Setting off for Wimbledon again, in Martin Way I met the reformed pipe smoker (see 29th. June post) walking his two Alsatians.  Scaffolding was going up and a hedge being strimmed in Mostyn Road.

Walking along Wilton Crescent I remembered the excitement engendered by Angela Davies, the first girl who set my teenage pulses racing.  We had met at the school dance, the only occasion on which we were officially allowed contact with the pupils of the Ursuline Convent.  I had spent a very uncomfortable few days attempting to learn the waltz, at which Angela considered I still wasn’t much good.  Nevertheless she didn’t seem to mind the last one, and we were to share a delightful nine months in 1959.   Today, on my return up this road my paths crossed with a robin scampering into one of the established gardens in this beautiful preservation area.

Near Dundonald recreation ground a driving instructor was speaking into his mobile phone as his tutee executed a perfect reverse around the corner I was crossing.

As often when rounding Elys Corner, I thought of Richard Milward.

Throughout my childhood the bus conductors (London buses in those days were staffed by two people) had cried: ‘Elys Corner’ when reaching the original building.  It is to Richard Milward’s history of Wimbledon that I owe the information that the founder of the department store that bears his name had offered inducements to the conductors to advertise his emporium in such a manner.  Among the stories featured in that book is the one of Jack (posted on 13th. May).

Knowing they would have a display of Richard’s book, I popped into Fielder’s, stockists of excellent art materials and bookshop near the bottom of Wimbledon Hill.  The display corner had been given over to tennis for the moment, but the manager of the book section happily created the pictured group for me.

 

A most inspirational teacher, Mr. Milward dedicated his life to teaching history at Wimbledon College.  He was one of those pupils who never really left the school, returning after university to take up his life’s work.  Learning about the Tudors and Stuarts we would eagerly await ‘Sid’ striding into the classroom with a rolled up chart under his arm.  This would be hung on the wall to illustrate the day’s lesson.  Richard Millwardc1956These were beautifully produced maps and diagrams which brought the subject alive.  He had made each and every one.  He was, like me, a cricket fanatic.  I still have the history of cricket he inspired me to write and illustrate as a homework exercise.  His nickname, ‘Sid’, was taken from a lesser known bandleader who once performed at Wimbledon Theatre.  The title of this piece is taken from a one-time advertising slogan for recruitment into his profession.  It was so true.

Quite different was ‘Moses’, whose remit was European History, so named because he was an ancient priest.  His teaching aid was a small dog-eared, equally antique, exercise book from which, seated in his pulpit, never taking his eyes off the page, he would churn out notes he must have made much earlier, as if he were reciting an oft-repeated sermon.  For some reason, Moses always picked on me.  Until one miraculous Monday morning, he didn’t actually know my name.  He had decided to climb down from his perch and wander round the classroom.  Passing my desk and glancing at my exercise book, reading the name, he asked: ‘Knight?  Are you the famous bowler?’.  ‘That’ll be my brother Chris’, I replied.  ‘But didn’t you get eight wickets on Saturday?’, he continued.  Well, I had. (I also got seven on the Sunday, but as that was in a club match I thought it best not to mention it).  From then on the sun shone out of my backside.

Another priest who also used me as a butt was Fr. Bermingham.  He did it so often that one of the boys ran a book on how many times this would happen in any particular lesson.  Quite a bit of pocket money changed hands.  Now, as I sat in the same place for both periods, in the centre of the front row, because I was just beginning to realise I should have my eyes tested, I thought it might be politic to move.  I therefore took up residence right at the back, to the left of his area of vision.  As if on cue, quite early on in the proceedings, he opened his mouth to speak, looked in what he thought was my direction, closed his mouth, and scanned the rows of grinning boys.  Eventually lighting on my similarly smiling face, he said: ‘Ah, there you are Knight, like a great moon over the horizon’.  At least he knew my name.  However, he had just given me another one.  For the rest of my schooldays I was known as ‘Moon’.

Please don’t get the impression I was a victim.  Most of the masters, like Bryan Snalune, who may get a mention when something appropriate crops up, actually liked me.  In fact, Frs. Moses and Bermingham probably did as well.  Their observations were generally meant to be humorous.

Our garden fox was well camouflaged today.

This evening The Raj in Mitcham was revisited.  In order fully to appreciate the flavour of the Raj it is essential to read the post of 26th. June.  So attracted by the description of our previous visit was Ian that he insisted on savouring the experience himself.  Alda joined us with some ambivalence.  Now we were six.  I must say we were initially disappointed.  The tables, albeit with paper tablecloths, were actually laid.  Only one of the papers on the the two tables which were pushed together to accommodate us bore the evidence of previous use.  A mound of excellent poppadoms was served on time.  The drinks quickly followed.  Given that they had probably come from the shop next door, we were fortunate to find them, this time, cold.  The bottles of Kingfisher still bore their price labels, and the charming cook/waiter/whatever who served us had, after all, said he would go and buy Becky’s orange juice.  The second round was more successful as Flo was presented with a large Kingfisher instead of an orange juice.  Things got better as we had to wait an hour and a half for the main meal,  having previously each received a really good onion bhaji starter.  We could forgive our server for not realising we had wanted these with the main meal, and, in any case, we needed something to soak up the Kingfishers while we waited.  Eventually the chef asked us if we were ready for the main meal.  Ready?  We were desperate for it.  This time the paper napkins arrived with the food.  Once again we were treated to magnificent food all round.  It truly is a miracle that these two men can produce such a wonderful meal.

It was Ian who became the first to sample the loo.  Unfortunately there was no toilet paper.  He decided to pass.

No other customers graced the establishment.  Mitcham does not know what it is missing.

The final disappointment was that the Dallas Chicken customers had let us down.  There was no chicken leg to step over as we left the restaurant.

And so to car, to Links Avenue, and to bed.