Auntie Gwen

As I set off in the drizzle to take a walk down the memory lane that is Wimbledon Broadway I thought that my insistence on wearing my summer sandals in this washout of a June was sheer stubbornnes.  (On re-reading this I realise it’s not June, it’s July.  But then you’d never know the difference).  Nevertheless I soon got very warm in my protective clothing and was sweating as I had done in the old YMCA in my thirties when I first took up weight training.  Along the Broadway I was to pass the modern replacement building.

The owner of the tortoise ( see Brendan, 26th. June) discovered in Maycross Avenue was still being sought.  Outside the Bowls and Croquet Club in Mostyn Road the clash of mallet on ball alerted me to the fact that a game of croquet was in progress.

We had played croquet on the lawn at Lindum House where, under Jessica’s tuition, I had learned what a vicious game this gentle-seeming English tradition can be.  This green wasn’t surrounded by the shrubbery into which she had delighted in sending her opponent’s ball.

On the pavement in Hartfield Road an African woman was standing calmly filing her nails.

Throughout my youth, Sir Cyril Black was Conservative MP for Wimbledon (in the days before it was subsumed into the London Borough of Merton.  The bus station is now situated in the street which bears his name, as is Morrisons supermarket which did not exist then, and once was a purely Northern chain.  The sign looked as if a bus had run into it.

Walking along the Broadway I could still hear the glide of the trams (see post of 17th. May) which were the last of the early ones to run in London.  I could smell the coffee roasting in the specialist shop, long since gone.  I passed Russel Road, with Wimbledon Theatre on one corner, where I had attended St. Mary’s primary school (see The Bees, 29th. May).

Hawes Estate agent, I think, is on the site of De Marco’s ice cream parlour and MoneyGram was once a shop selling holy pictures and other mementos.  A sign of changing priorities, no doubt.  Eventually I reached my goal, 9 Latimer Road, the upper floors of which, my godmother, Auntie Gwen shared with her friend Mary Jeffries for many years.

Apart from my parents, it is Auntie Gwen I have to thank for surviving my infancy.  One evening when she was babysitting Chris and me, I am told, we decided to play in an upright roll of lino.  Somehow or other I managed to get my head stuck in the top of it.  There was I, hanging by my chin, my body dangling in the tied up tube.  There was Chris, screaming his head off (he must have feared I was about to be decapitated).  Enter Gwen to the rescue.  She heaved the roll onto the floor and extracted the gasping child.  Apparently I had actually stopped breathing and gone all blue.

When we were very small she would cycle every Saturday to our home in Raynes Park bearing goodies.  I remember eagerly awaiting sets of transfers which could be applied to paper or skin.  They were very flimsy and had to be oh so carefully soaked off in water.  An example was a set of butterflies.

As we became old enough to travel alone we would visit her every Sunday morning for breakfast after Mass (see Miss Downs, 25th. May).  Maybe that’s where I get my penchant for fry-ups from.  After a full English we dunked so many digestive biscuits into our coffee that you could stand a spoon up in it.  When Gwen could no longer do the entertaining I visited her for a weekly chat well into my adulthood.  She kept every present I ever gave her.

Next door to the house in the right of the picture stands Wimbledon Public Baths which is now a leisure centre.  It was there in 1952 that I taught myself to swim.  I needed to do this in order to pass the scholarship.  This was a name applied to the eleven plus exam which would take us to grammar school.  I had no idea what it was, but I wondered how I would be able to pass it if I couldn’t swim.  With that daft conception in my head it is a wonder I did pass it.  Without getting wet.

On my route back, up Morden Road, I passed the industrial estate.  This took me back to my fifteenth summer, when, at the beginning of the school holidays I had tramped the burning streets between there and Raynes Park in search of a holiday job.  I landed one in a printing works where my task was to produce glossy brochures.  It was there that a beautiful girl told me that I looked like Tony Curtis.  Not sure whether that was a compliment or not, the gauche teenager I then was had no inkling of the opportunity I’d obviously missed out on.  Ah, well.  I’ve made up for it since.

Leaving the main road I went along Dorset Road and through Kendor Gardens.  As I entered this park, a man clearing up the grass said: ‘You ain’t from the Council are ya.’  ‘Not likely’, said I, ‘Not when I’m bursting for a pee and the Gents is like that.’

In the circumstances I considered that the word weed was rather unfortunate.  Sadly, most of these amenities are similarly boarded up.  Further into the park, as a little terrier cocked his leg, I reflected ‘It’s allright for them’.

The scent of privet on the footpath leading to the Civic Centre was stronger than the smell of urine.

This afternoon I completed the clueing of an Independent cryptic crossword and sent it off.  It will appear on 12th. July.

Becky sent me a picture of the repast she was to have this evening which would be Cow & Gate’s Grandpa’s Sunday Lunch, no doubt accompanied by flat Diet Coke.  We had roast duck (the first time I’ve done it) accompanied, in my case, by  the rest of last night’s rioja, in Jackie’s, the rest of her bottle of Hoegaarden (I do believe I’ve got the spelling right this time).

Flytipping

The ‘flash of yellow flying’ in the garden Jackie saw this morning turned out to be a greenfinch.  No-one uses this small communal garden in Morden to which we don’t have access, and which is no more than a patch of grass and ground elder occasionally strimmed by the owners’ staff.  It abuts an overgrown railway embankment on one side and a blocked off path on the other.  Small ash trees and brambles grow in abundance on the embankment.  To the side of the flats is a railway bridge.  Walking under the bridge and turning left brings you onto the path up to London Road alongside which is the disused schools sports ground.  All this is why we think we have such a variety of birds and the foxes.

Unpacking the presents I was given on Saturday, I was reminded of Matthew’s performance towards the end of the party (posted yesterday).  He had given me a CD of Adam Faith’s songs, and gave us a perfect rendering of ‘What do you want?’.  Of course, only the older people present recognised it, but this they certainly did.  He explained that he had never heard the singer, but had learned it from listening to his Dad.  But then I think every man of my generation can do it.

On leaving the flat this morning the drumming I heard was caused by a plastic Lucozade bottle bowling along the road.  This was definitely a raincoat day (see 21st. June’s post).  Walking under the railway bridge it was clear that the resident pigeons were doing their best to undo the work of a team of men who had spent a day last week clearing up their droppings.  An emergency vehicle’s siren wailed in the distance.  I would need a four year old to identify the service involved.  Except for rooks cawing in Morden Park the birds were silent.  The only other sound which penetrated the whistling of the wind I was leaning into was the rustling of the leaves in its wake, and, further into the park, the clattering of cars on the metal tracking on the approach to the temporary overflow carpark for Wimbledon tennis.  I wished the wouldbe spectators luck.

Not many people braved the park this morning.  Two Asian boys were walking an American bulldog.  I was quite pleased it was on a lead and not free to frolic with me.  A jogger was leading another wolf-like dog which seemed to have trouble keeping up with her.  But then, if you take a dog for a run, by the time it has double tracked and sniffed at everything, it probably does five miles to your one.

Almost hidden in the undergrowth, like a fallen stone in a deserted graveyard, beside a barely passable track was an old ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) notice.  This was the education arm of the GLC (see post of 29th. June).

On my return I took the overgrown passage (see post of 26th. June) between the park and Hillcroft Avenue, hoping that the fallen branch which had caused me such trepidation last time had been removed.  No such luck.  And even when younger I was no limbo dancer.

The wider opening to the path to London Road mentioned earlier is used as an unofficial car park, commonly used by visitors to the mosque (see 18th. May post).  It is also used as a dumping ground for all sorts of rubbish.  The picture which begins this piece is what it looked like as I began my walk.  A cyclist speeding out of the derelict sports ground to the left of the area photographed almost cannoned into the pile of old broken furniture.  ‘Bastard!’, he cried, ‘Should go to jail for that.’  On my return this had all been cleared.  Full marks to the Council. Flytipping warning This flytipping warning is further over on the park proper.  The penalties threatened would not have satisfied the cyclist.

Briefly going shopping this afternoon, I risked leaving my raincoat behind.  I got wet.

A couple of glasses of Campo Viejo riocha 2010, accompanying one of my sausage casseroles retrieved from the freezer, set the evening up nicely.  Jackie had her customary Hoegaarden.

Surprise

This continues the story of yesterday.

We arrived at The Village Shop in Upper Dicker.  The main street was full of vehicles, as was the small carpark attached to the shop by the village green.  Matthew was standing in the doorway with a beer.  Jackie seemed unusually impatient for me to get out of the car.  Actually Mat had phoned us ten minutes before we arrived, wondering how long we would be.  This in itself was most unusual.  However he wanted to go on a bike ride and Tess had only just told him we were coming.  He obviously didn’t have time now so he’d have a beer instead.

Actually Jackie had been hankering for us to leave Morden at 2.00 and was wanting to have lunch early and tear me away from posting my morning walk.  We left at about 2.10 and this seemed to be important.  Since she had said earlier in the week that it was Tess’s day off and she may or may not be cooking us a meal, and given that we would probably be eating later, it seemed immaterial whether we got there at 3.30 or not.

Apparently I took an age to get out of the car.  Jackie was round to the passenger door in a flash.  I stood and asked Mat what he was doing in the shop on Tess’s day off.  Jackie, being unable to contain herself any more, grabbed my hand and dragged me into the shop.  I didn’t think I’d been any slower than usual, just as I don’t think I’m taking forever to get to the point of this story.  I never spin things out unnecessarily (my Dad always used to get me to spell that word, followed by ‘Can you spell it?’) do I Michael?

Where was I?  Oh, yes, being dragged into the shop.

It was pretty dark in there, coming out of the now bright sunshine.  There were some streamers on a beam, and a greeting message chalked on the menu board.  The message was ‘Happy Birthday’.  Then it hit me.  Almost.  What actually hit me was Malachi who led the charge of the younger grandchildren.  He tackled me just like a rugby forward, quickly followed by Jessica and Imogen. Today’s commentators would call it ‘an awesome hit’. (Sorry, Judith).  There was a chorus of  ‘Happy Birthday’ and then I saw my rather large extended family; mother; siblings (except Joe); five children; nephews; nieces; grandchildren; and perhaps even more surprisingly my old friends Wolf, who had recently had a stroke, and Luci; Don; and Steve who had come to Sussex from as far away as Nottingham, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Somerset and London.  It was particularly gratifying to see all of Jacqueline’s brood (although Illari was missed), made possible I understand by Charlie staying behind to look after the animals. They were all lurking in one side of the shop with wide grins on their faces, perhaps the most dazzling being Wolf’s.  What hadn’t immediately struck me was just how many people were there.  Some people, like Adam and Thea and Sam and Holly made huge efforts to get away from work.  And some were unable to come yet sent their good wishes.  I thought Ali’s excuse of being in Morocco a bit weak.

Becky tells me that the original intention had been for them all to be seated at the restaurant  tables ignoring me, and see how long it took me to twig.  (Yes, this Village Shop serves magnificent food – it is one like no other).  In the event they had been unable to contain the little ones who launched prematurely into the birthday song, wriggled out of restraining grasps, and dashed across the room.

I’m filling up with tears as I write this, almost as much as I did when Michael made his loving speech.  Before that those who could had filed over for hugs and kisses.  I then went round and greeted the less mobile.

Louisa and Jackie had, I remember, had one or two private phone conversations in recent months.  These two and Michael had arranged the guest lists, with Louisa doing the bulk of the photographic coordination.  It had been difficult to track down my friends because my address book is out of date, details now being stored in my Blackberry.  Jessica’s book had helped.  An inspirational false trail had been laid by Jackie planning for us to be at The Firs on my actual 70th. birthday on 7th. of 7th.  I had suspected something was in the wind and therefore thought it would be then, not just because, as she had said ‘you don’t want to be just us here in the flat on that day, do you?’, but because Elizabeth has the necessary accommodation.

Elizabeth played her part in the organisation, joining Louisa and Jackie in the collection of photos through the ages, starting at about six months.  They were gathered from various family members, computerised, and put on a slideshow which played throughout the party.  Elizabeth sat up half the night producing this.  Some of the pictures I had never seen before.  As was noted by more than one person, I am usually the one behind the camera.  Whilst that has hitherto been the case, with the advent of digital cameras and the number of photographs everyone now takes I think my traditional role is now redundant.

Sarah, one of the staff members who helped with the catering, took the group photographs with Alex’s camera so that we could all be in them.   It was Alex, incidentally, who marked my last fortuitous set of sevens with a rosette (she makes and markets them) when I reached retirement age in 2007.  “Birthday Boy 7.7.7” appeared in the centre and the middle ribbon read ‘Official Old Git’.  I wore it proudly all day.  It now adorns our bedroom wall in The Firs.

Now, the catering.  I have mentioned above the quality of The Village Shop’s food (see post of 12th. May).  Today it was superlative.  There was a range of salads, French bread, cheeses and biscuits, perhaps for those who didn’t like curry.  Because Tess knew absolutely that for my day to be complete there had to be curry.  There was.  Two.  Delicious.  And poppadoms.  And chapatis.  And rice.  And chutneys.  And drumsticks.  And wine.  And beer. And cake.  Not only did Tess produce all this wonderful food, but she managed the organisation of the day and the rapid clearing up afterwards.

The cake came later.  Suddenly the lights went out.  ‘Happy Birthday’ started up again.  Three small grandchildren rushed expectantly to the table at which I was sitting.  Then a huge platter bearing the glow of candles with Tess’s feet and legs underneath it advanced towards me.  The minute Tess put the plate down three little sets of cheeks puffed up and the candles were out in an instant.  In the same minute the sweet decorations surrounding the edges of the perfectly formed 7 0 cake began to disappear down tiny throats.  It looked as if it had been ravaged by locusts.  Becky photographed the locusts.

Earlier, we had all got outside for the obligatory group photo.  It was at this moment that Frances chose to present me with the headdresses.  These were apparently a present from Mum who had delegated the shopping to my sister-in-law who had had quite a job finding them.  Well done Frances.  The story of the headdresses has appeared in an earlier post, but, since I can’t remember which one, I am going to have to repeat it.  I am told I have been banging on about it for years.  I am sure that’s not true, but, just in case, I hereby undertake never to mention it again.  When Chris and I were small I woke up one Christmas morning to find him scoffing all the chocolate out of my stocking.  I had also been given two Red Indian (as we called Native Americans then) headdresses.  As I had two and Chris had none, I then had to give him one.  This seemed to me like adding injury to injury.  We had been recounting this story a while back and Mum said she’d get me some for my birthday.  I’m sure it hadn’t been me who raised the subject.  She didn’t let it rest there, for among the pile of generous presents was a huge bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.  It took me quite a while to get around to opening the numerous gifts, for which I thank everyone.

Many more stories were told during this event, especially as the cousins and their children extended the event into the pub.  Some, like the cricket ball in the eye, may find their way into further posts. Reindeer Perhaps I’ll just mention Father Christmas’s Reindeer which was, as often, wheeled out for the occasion.  On one of our first Christmas mornings in Newark when Sam and Louisa were small, Jessica and I were awakened by excited cries from these two rushing up the stairs.  ‘Mummy, Mummy’, they shrieked, ‘Father Christmas has left a reindeer behind’.  For some reason their mother was convinced I’d had something to do with it.  As they rushed into our bedroom she turned to them and said: ‘Your father’s an idiot’.  The reindeer is a large wooden carving from Bali.  Father Christmas told me that.

In yesterday’s post I recorded that I had disturbed a group of three magpies.  This, according to the rhyme signifies a girl.  Today Holly informed me that the baby she is expecting is a sister for Malachi.

Eventually I was persuaded to make a short speech.  I pleaded that I’d had no time to prepare anything because I’d been deliberately misled into thinking there might be an event next week; because I’d thought that would only be small; and because I’d had too much to drink and could never drink before making a speech.  No excuses were accepted and I remember finishing by telling everyone to log onto the blog site today.  Anyone who didn’t know how to do it should ask Jessica (5), Malachi (3), or Imogen (3) to teach them.

I cannot name you all individually, but you all know who you are and that you will remain in my heart forever.

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

Piper

As I watched a group of brave people setting up St. James’ Church fete in Martin Way, en route to Cannon Hill Common, I reflected on the fact that most such events have been washed out this year.  Jackie read this morning that the Godiva festival in Coventry, an event which takes a year in the planning, had had to be cancelled because of the torrential rain which has been flooding the Midlands for months.  London has not suffered as much as the rest of the country, and today was bright, although very windy and cloudy.  I wished this parochial effort well.

Along the lake in the common people were fishing.  These included a man with two children and a group of boys.  The man had a fishing licence but was not a club member and knew nothing of the lease to the Wandle Piscators (see post of 31st. May).  The boys were more interested in making fun of one of their group who, in attempting to retrieve something from the water, already with one saturated trouser-leg, was in danger of falling in, than in conversing with me.

Mallards and coots were basking in the occasional shafts of sunlight.  Another duck was shepherding her chicks.  A cormorant on the far side of the lake was poised for the kill (of fish, not chicks).  Three magpies I disturbed on the path fled to the safety of a solitary tree.

Having emerged from the Joseph Hood recreation ground, alongside the common, a woman was training her Labrador puppy to cross the road.  This prompted me to tell her the story of Piper.  Piper was the dog who helped Michael upstage me in the launderette television scene (see post of 22nd. June).  Some thirty odd years ago, when my son was still a teenager, we lived in Soho where Michael did a paper round. Michael & Piper 6.77 One morning he came back with a mongrel dog of uncertain age.  Naturally he wished to keep him.  Now, we lived in a tiny first floor flat in the middle of Chinatown.  It seemed to me that it was unreasonable to keep a dog there.  I was, however, outnumbered by two to one.  Here was I, doing my best to have a quiet, uninterrupted, bath and I had both Jessica and Michael in tears pleading with me for my agreement.  Feeling a heel (not one of those in the bath), I stuck to my guns for a while, but eventually reached the following compromise.  Michael was instructed to take the dog back where he found him and put a note on his collar, and if an owner couldn’t be traced we would keep him.  Silly me, I didn’t tell the boy what the note should say.  The note, which Jessica kept for the rest of her life, read: ‘If you know this dog, please return him to his owner.’  This was followed by our telephone number.  Michael much later confessed that he had not left Piper at all, but simply brought him back home saying he wouldn’t stop following him.  The dog was well cared for and had clearly been loved.  I often wondered whether something had happened to his original owner, and, if not, what the loss meant to him or her.

Where did he get his name from?  Well, he had been found on a paper round, so what better than the Cockney version of paper?  Piper he was.

Why did the woman training her dog in the art of crossing the road remind me of all this?  Piper was a wanderer, well used to negotiating West End traffic.  He always used zebra crossings.  Off he would go walkabout, on his solitary expeditions, safely trotting across the striped paths at which all the cars had to stop.  One day we had a telephone call (yes, a telephone on a landline, as was usual in those days) from the police.  He had turned up in Hyde Park.  Would we come and collect him?  We explained that he knew his own way home and could safely negotiate the traffic.

My listener was treated to a truncated version of this story and found it very endearing.  Not so endearing, which saddened her, was Piper’s demise.  After we moved to Gracedale Road in Furzedown Piper continued his wanderings, although at this time only when he could escape.  He was by now very old, deaf and blind.  One night we received a call from someone who told us that he had been run over on a zebra crossing.  Michael and I collected the body and buried him in the garden.  A sad end, indeed, but Piper had enjoyed a long and heathly life and perhaps would have chosen this way to go.

In the afternoon we drove to Mat and Tess’s home in Upper Dicker in East Sussex.  Alongside the A23 the limbs of a shattered oak sprawled in homage to the severe winds that have been blowing for weeks now.  Cricket matches were in progress.

For some reason best known to Jackie we went straight to their village shop.  I was puzzled by this because I thought it was Tess’s day off.  What happened next is too important to share a post.  It will therefore receive its own tomorrow.  A clue is that I have not rounded this one off with details of our evening meal.

Derelict

Derelict house, Morden Park 6.12

My attention today was turned to Morden Park.  Although it brightened up later, the morning was a good ten degrees colder than yesterday, blowing a gale, overcast, and occasionally drizzling.

Instead of circumperambulating (I just coined that) the park, I decided to ramble across it.  This proved beneficial, although on what I thought was my return journey a discarded sweatshirt I had seen earlier alerted me to the fact that I was going in quite the wrong direction.  I did an about turn and soon had the mosque (see post of 18th. May) in my sight, telling me I was on the right track.

I was to have a series of meetings.  The first was with a scantily clad couple sitting on the grass attempting to have a picnic.  Especially as the woman was wearing a strapless sundress I told them they were stalwarts.  They were already regretting their decision and said they wouldn’t be staying long.  Although the young lady declined to be photographed she did say I was welcome to write that I had ‘seen the mad couple’.  On the far side of the park, at Morden Park House, a beautiful building which is now the Registry Office, a wedding had just taken place.  The bride, also in a strapless dress, was, despite the danger of goosepimples, looking very happy and very lovely.  The photographer, much more suitably clad in a warm coat, periodically dived into her bag to change lenses, advising her subject not to get cold.  Some chance, I thought.  I didn’t ask if I could take a picture.

Abutting the park itself is a now derelict former GLC (Greater London Council, an earlier governing body) sports ground containing disused tennis courts and cricket nets which are still used by young Asian men.  Apparently there had been a long-running battle between the Council, who wanted to sell the land for a golf driving range, and the residents of Hillcross Avenue who opposed the plan.  I was therefore amused to see a man with a golf club with which he was driving a tennis ball for his dog to chase.  As  I caught up with him and began to chat we realised we had met back in the real winter in Morden Hall Park.  Then he had been smoking a pipe which he has recently given up after 40 years.  His moustache was still nicotine stained.  Further on I discovered that there is a Council-maintained nine-hole golfing range in the park.  The man practising his putting whom I engaged in conversation told me that the masses of parked cars on a roped off section of the grass were occupying a supplementary carpark for Wimbledon tennis.

Seated on a wooded path cuddling her pet dog was an elderly woman I had met before.  I asked her where were the treats she was usually feeding to Woody.  She had forgotten them.  This tiny animal is a Chihuahua/Jack Russell cross.  (My attempts at spelling Chihuahua were so abysmal that I had to resort to Googling dog breeds beginning with C.)   She had had 5 rescue dogs before, but was not allowed to adopt another because of her age.  Given that she is in her eighties, this was clearly reasonable.  However, this elderly person manages a fairly brisk daily walk with a rather fortunate little companion, the only substitute she would tolerate for her late husband of 60 years.   As I shook hands with her on departing, I realised she was quite arthritic.  Answering a private advertisement she had had to travel to Wales to obtain Woody.  It wasn’t only Woody who was to be disappointed this morning.  The woman’s grandson attended Hatfeild Primary school which lies alongside the path.  At playtime he likes her to wait by the wire fence so he can see the dog.  On this day she was late.  (My spelling of Hatfeild is correct.  It is the name of a landowning family who once occupied the area.  I am grateful to Jackie for this information as she often has to tell her work colleagues that a number of streets have not been similarly named in error.)

Enclosed within an overgrown copse at the entrance to the former schools sportsground is a derelict house.  This once attractive building, for as long as we have been in Morden has been seemingly securely boarded up and covered in graffiti.  I have often wondered what it looked like inside; whether it was GLC staff accommodation; and whether it might be for sale.  Today the thick plywood coverings had been removed from the ground floor windows and doors. It is now full of rubble, some of which someone has used to smash their way in.

As I left the area a cheerfully optimistic young Asian came through the broken down fence, through which I always gain access, wielding a much-used cricket bat.  Other, traditionally attired couples were quietly making their way along the path for their regular trips to the mosque.

For ‘us tea’ I made a sausage and gammon casserole.  It went down well with an excellent Cotes du Rhone – Terres de Galets 2011.  The wine was from Sainsbury’s; the meat from Lidl, equally as good as anyone else’s finest.

As a footnote I might add that when it became defunct the GLC handed over its property to local Councils.  The burden of maintenance then fell on the recipients.  In that manner Beauchamp Lodge Settlement, the charity mentioned in yesterday’s post, 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 Anne Mallinson, was able to purchase the building, sell it on, and move elsewhere.  This did prevent the building from becoming like the house in the former sportsground.

P.S. On 17th March 2015 the derelict building was to feature in the T.V. programme ‘Homes Under the Hammer’

Dinner with the Mayor

Setting off early this morning for coffee with my friend Carol, I took my usual route through Morden Hall Park and along the Wandle Trail to catch the tube at Colliers Wood.  This was a dull, humid and rather unpleasant walk.  Some of the fallen trees were being sliced up into large Swiss rolls.

By the time I left Carol’s, just before midday, the sun was out and we had a very fine day.  The whole of London seemed to be basking and sweating in the heat .  I decided to wander around the area of Victoria, which I know very well.  I thought I might stop and read in Grosvenor Gardens, alongside Buckingham Palace Road, and did indeed settle on a bench there. I didn’t read, however.  It seemed too much to struggle against the glare of the sun on the paper, and I was much more interested in what was going on around me.  There were many other readers squinting away.  It was then I noticed a young woman, shielding her eyes, lying reading from her Blackberry.  She managed, despite being in the full sun, to look remarkably fresh.  Seeing the potential for this day’s header, I photographed her.  Now, of course, no way could I publish this picture without her permission.  With trepidation I then approached her and sought her blessing, offering to delete the picture if she wasn’t happy.  She was happy, and took the details of my blog.  So, anonymous young lady with a Blackberry, I thank you.

Further along the side of Victoria Station I noticed another far less fortunate young woman.  She lay in a doorway surrounded by her bedding and her bags; her head lolling; her eyes shut; her mouth open; motionless, with a soggy, unlit and unsmoked roll-up adhering to her bottom lip.  Feeling rather guilty I moved on.  Unhappily this is not an unusual sight in central London and most of us prefer to leave such situations to those in authority.

As often when I visit Carol, I had taken the route past City Hall, which holds many memories of my time in the 70s and 80s as a Westminster Social Services Area Manager.  Some of this period was during the infamous Shirley Porter era.  Those memories are best kept to myself.

I can, however, take this opportunity to tell another footwear story.  For some 15 years or so I was Chairman of Beauchamp Lodge Settlement, a charity situated in Westminster.  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 almost everyone was in today, 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 her chair back 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.

This evening we visited Becky and Flo and partook of a Deshi Spice takeaway accompanied by Cobra Beer.  Becky continues on good form and is wondering why she had  been warned that this would be the worst week.  Hopefully she will continue to wonder.

Self-seeded Poppies

Although it brightened up a bit later, this morning was dull, heavy and overcast; almost as if it hadn’t slept well.  I took a turn round Morden Hall Park then decided to go in search of a tortoise around the Hillcross Avenue area. (see yesterday’s post), and reward myself with a Martin Cafe fry-up.  I didn’t find Brendan, but the breakfast was as good as ever.

California poppies, Morden 6.12

On the way to the park I saw a man pick up a fallen branch from the street and stick it in the shrubbery in the garden of a woman who, although working on her beds, had not seen this happening.  I extracted the branch and, as she was looking at me rather strangely, thought I’d better explain what was going on.  We then got talking about gardening.  She was an elderly woman suffering from asthma and was unable to get out into her small plot as much as she’d like.  Her children kept trying to persuade her to get a gardener, but she was determined to do it herself.  She was interested to learn about our activities in The Firs.  Pointing out her California poppies, of which she was clearly proud, she said they were all self-seeded.  When I asked her if I could photograph them she looked at me with an even more puzzled expression but had no objection. Poppies 6.12 The Icelandic poppies in the picture above were growing on a path between two houses in Hillcross Avenue.

The park itself was quite quiet this morning, although the meadows were peppered with junior schoolchildren on a field trip.

This afternoon was spent writing clues for The Independent Crossword.

A liver casserole Jackie made earlier (some months earlier) provided our evening sustenance.  Hardy’s of Australia produced the 2011 Shiraz/Cabernet to accompany mine, whilst Jackie drank her customary Hoegaarden Blanche.

Brendan

Animal Found 6.12On this fine summer’s day I set off for Cannon Hill Common, with the vague idea that I might be able to take some nature photographs with which to illustrate this post.  In Maycross Avenue I spotted an RSPCA notice fixed to a post announcing that a tortoise had been found.  Without anything particular in mind I photographed it.  I then began to wander aimlessly, hoping I might find a new route to the common, but sensing I was moving away from it.  There now seemed no purpose to my walk.  I was covering streets I’d never traversed before, and, as these roads between Hillcross Avenue and Grand Drive seem to go all over the place I hadn’t much idea where I was until a bus stop signed in the direction of West Sutton suggested I might be heading for Grand Drive.  This was indeed the case and I walked up to the end of Hillcross and along it for a while until diverging onto the path between the gardens of that street and Morden Park. Overgrown path 6.12 This was almost a bad mistake, for the path was very overgrown and at one point I had to crouch low to wriggle under a fallen branch spanning the fences on each side of the path.  At one time I would have happily crawled through what was effectively a tunnel, but now it’s far too much effort to get on my hands and knees unless there’s something else I can do whilst down there.

Ah, but there was a purpose to my meanderings.  I was clearly being guided by whoever or whatever is above.  Some distance along Shaldon Drive, which I couldn’t find now without a map, there was another notice pinned to tree.  Have you guessed it?  Yes, it was a notice offering a reward for the return of a lost tortoise.  Naturally I rang the number on this sign.  When I explained that I may be able to help the woman who answered to find her tortoise she and I both became rather excited.  She asked me whether I’d remembered the number on the first poster, and, of course I was able to say that I had photographed it and arrange to call her back when I had summoned the image to my camera screen.  I explained what I was doing with my walks and why I had taken the picture.  When I called back I was also able to give the date when the animal had been found and this seemed to fit.  As she was currently at work she would let me know later whether it was her tortoise or not.  I asked her his name, saying that, of course the story would be blogged.  Now this allegedly slow-moving creature had travelled quite a distance, so perhaps I should not have been surprised to find that his name was Brendan, after Brendan Foster the 70s Olympic champion runner.  By coincidence, I had known Brendan’s wife’s sister who was married to my friend Tony, and Brendan had undertaken to look out for me and give me a mention when commentating my first London marathon.  Unfortunately he had been unable to pick me out in the crowd, which was actually just as well, because I was running in someone else’s place.

Jackie came home early this evening so we could visit Becky.  We decided on a takeaway from Deshi Spice.  Four people perusing the menu, making choices, then changing their minds; with one person, Jackie, writing down the orders took the usual age to organise.  Jackie rang to place the order.  No reply.  Becky had a look at the menu brochure.  Closed on Tuesdays.  Just like Paris where everything is ferme Mardi.  Not good for Jackie’s nerves.  As Becky felt up to it we decided to go out for a meal at The Raj in Mitcham.  We had been there before, but it had changed hands since our last visit.  It was empty but for one sole middle aged woman seated with a meal and one gentleman waiting for a takeaway.  None of the tables were set.  We were shown to a table, spread, like the others, with a paper tablecloth.  The adjacent table was similarly covered, except that the paper looked as if someone had eaten their meal straight off that, having dispensed with plates.  We certainly didn’t have any. Nor cutlery.  Nor napkins.  One of what we realised was the only two staff took our order.  Then we sat.  And we sat.  And watched Mitcham passing by or waiting at the bus stop across the road.

Whilst nothing was happening I received a call from Sue, Brendan’s owner.Missing tortoise! 6.12  Unfortunately the found tortoise was not Brendan.  Brendan was 70 years old and the foundling was a baby.  Great disappointment all round.  In fact this was the second  other tortoise found since Brendan’s disappearance.  So, if any of my readers come across a tortoise, exactly contemporary with me, answering to the name of Brendan, please telephone Sue on 07809095005.  She would love to hear from you.

Getting a little impatient after half an hour or so, I wandered into the kitchen and asked if we could have our drinks.  The man who had taken our order, now on kitchen duty, said he was making them.  Given that they all came out of bottles I returned to our table hoping that something had been lost in translation.

Eventually the popadoms appeared.  Now, it is my firm belief that popadoms are a clear indicator of the quality of Indian food.  These were excellent.  Maybe, just maybe, our patience could be rewarded.  Still no drinks, however, nor any napkins or cutlery.  Actually there was an item on the menu labelled Aloo Cutlery.  We were wondering whether we should have ordered that.  I went over to the cutlery rack and brought a container over to our table where we all helped ourselves.  Jackie and Becky had serviceable napkins in their handbags, and I helped myself to the half one under the popadoms. We could see a secondhand one left by the woman at the table opposite but Flo, ever resourceful, tore off the corner of the tablecloth for hers.

Finally the drinks arrived.  My Cobra was lukewarm, but no-one else complained about theirs, and it might have caused untold delay had I mentioned it.  Then came the surprise of the evening.  We were all served together with a perfectly presented and deliciously prepared array of excellent food.  When we’d almost finished our meals the napkins arrived.  If you are not seeking sophisticated ambience, don’t mind helping yourselves to cutlery, bring your own napkins, and can live with rather grubby surroundings, but want first class Bangladeshi food, then Mitcham’s The Raj is the place for you.

As we left we all stepped over the half-eaten fried chicken leg deposited in the doorway, presumably by a customer of Dallas Chicken on the opposite corner of the street.

And so to Links Avenue and bed.

Graham Road

130A Graham Rd., Initials 6.12

Having spent an hour this morning ‘getting my head round my new camera’, in the process being surrounded by various connecting leads; a CD Rom; a lead with a plug on it; a ‘getting started’ booklet; a charger; oh, and a camera, and not really having got very far except for a couple of out of focus pictures of a sofa and cushions, it was fairly obvious where my feet were going to have to take me.  This was a round trip to Jessops in Wimbledon.  Actually the two pictures featured today were taken en route to Jessops, so it wasn’t all bad.

I fell at the very first hurdle.  The camera is so small that you are enjoined to fix its strap so that you can wrap it around your wrist in order not to drop it.  This initial instruction I was unable to perform.  Anyone who read yesterday’s post will know that my camera was a display model.  This meant that it probably contained an already charged battery.  I felt fairly confident in skipping the battery charging section.  There were other setting up procedures which to my uneducated eye staring at the various icons, numbers, and letters on the screen may or may not have been carried out.  One of these, said to be essential, was the setting of time and date.  I didn’t want these printed on my pictures, so why were they essential?  Pass.  Panic.  Perambulate.

Off I trotted to the experts.  An elderly couple in Mostyn Road were amused to see me photographing all sorts of stuff, like (out of focus) convulvulus.  I explained it was my new toy, and the woman said that after five years she hadn’t really got her head round hers.  ‘I’ve got lots of pictures of my feet, fridge door, mantelpiece…..you name it, because I keep pressing the wrong bits’.  ‘I’ve just done that,’ said I.  We had a laugh and I moved on just in time to see that I was being approached by swarms of boys from  Rutlish school presumably freed by the bell.

I had hoped by now to have completed the cyclists theme begun on 19th. June.  However, despite the danger of seeming to have a bee in my bonnet about them, I have to report that two of the boys in the leading phalanx were coming straight at me on the pavement doing slow motion wheelies abreast of each other.  The boys alongside them had to make way for me.  By the time the next lad on a bike approached me I had had enough of stepping out into the road and held my ground.  He bruised my knuckle as he swerved across my path.  At least he was trying to avoid me, and did apologise.  I decided to walk into the school and have a word.  I was seen by a gentleman in authority who may or may not have been the headmaster.  He was neither owning up to being the boss nor offering his name.  If I could identify the boys by picking them out after having waited at the school entrance the next afternoon something may possibly be done; otherwise it was all rather difficult because if the boys were told to cycle in the road the school would be in trouble if one of them ‘got whopped’.  I politely stated that of course I couldn’t identify the boys and wasn’t looking for retribution, rather some sort of ruling or guidance from the school.  Perhaps I would like to come back later and speak to the police officers attached to the school.  No, I wouldn’t.  I was thanked for bringing the matter to his attention.  C’est la vie moderne.  I was reminded of a walk along the Ridgway in Wimbledon village just over a year ago.  A 200 bus was being marshalled by two police officers ensuring that the melee of schoolboys from Wimbledon College were keeping some semblance of order.  Some lads were being turfed off the bus.  I told the representatives of law and order that had I behaved as the boys were doing when I was at the school 50 years ago I would have been before the headmaster in the morning.  I was in fact no angel, but when I did anything out of order outside school, like getting my rugby boots stuck in an apple tree which I was trying to scrump, and consequently being unable to play a match, or wittily (I don’t think now) changing a street name with whatever was the then equivalent of a marker pen,  I was inevitably shopped and for the high jump.  Am I showing my age?  Am I being an old git?  I don’t care.  Maybe I was a bit out of sorts because I was struggling with my camera.  I don’t think so.

130A Graham Rd., 6.12

As always when I use the Graham Road route I experienced a glow of pride when I walked past number 130A.  This extremely tasteful new-build was created by my sons Michael and Matthew and Michael’s small and friendly workforce.  Michael’s firm, Able Assignments, had done some structural work for the woman who owned the house next door.  She had wanted for some time to sell part of her garden for development but wanted craftsmen she could trust.  Having been pleased with his work, his manner, and his reliability, she invited my son to buy the plot and build a house.  No. 130A is the result.  I believe this property is an exciting hybrid of old and new ideas.  Many of the features, such as high ceilings; ceiling roses; deep skirting boards; and solid wooden panelled doors, were inspired by the Victorian architecture of Lindum House in Newark.  These are combined with top quality modern kitchen, bathrooms and entry system, with more than adequate storage space.  I wouldn’t mind living in it if I could afford it.

The man at Jessop’s put me right on various issues, sorted the settings, and explained that the out of focus pictures were so because the flash was turned off and therefore not operating when there was insufficient light, resulting in camera shake.  He immediately reassured me by telling me that most people couldn’t attach the strap, and showing me why.  I hadn’t gone ten yards out of the shop when I had forgotten how to zoom in on a picture I had taken.  Back in I went for a repeat lesson.

Whilst cooking this evening’s Methi Gosht I managed to slice the skin off a broken knuckle with the lid of a ghee tin.  The knuckle is one of two I broke playing Rugby many years ago, so it sticks out a bit more than it should.  I am not going to seek sympathy from my friend Judith Munns, because she’d probably think it served me right (the break, not the cut).

My Methi Gosht was accompanied by Cobra beer, Jackie’s with Hoegarten.

Choosing A Camera

Having been promised rain all day today the weather was kind to us and turned out much brighter than yesterday.  We therefore had a good morning’s planting.  This was a welcome change for me, having spent a year preparing soil by digging, weeding, and composting.  This seemed much the lighter option.

Jackie, Elizabeth and I went to buy Mum’s shopping and take it round to her, after which we paid a visit to Jessop’s.  It is so different now than in the days of my youth when no shops and very little else were open on Sundays.  As a child I could never go down the road for a loaf of bread.  We had to plan ahead and there was no room for impulse purchases let alone cameras.  Yesterday we had discussed the purchase of a camera but had not wanted to stop the gardening as we had expected rain today.  ‘No problem.  Jessops will be open tomorrow,’ was the solution.

I have been a keen photographer all my life, but have stubbornly insisted on using film.  I have a very good Canon and an even better Leica and will continue to choose colour slides and negative film for my main work, unless of course the experience I have sought today convinces me otherwise.  Over the last few years I have been working my way through thousands of slides and negatives from as far back as 1963; scanning them with an Epson; giving them the Photoshop treatment; and printing them on my Canon printer.  I’d never really need to take another photograph.  Rather like I’d never need to buy another book.

Unbeknown to him it is my friend Dominic who is the reason for the Jessop’s trip.  Having read a number of my posts he was complimentary but said he thought they could be enhanced by photographs.  Because of their purpose these pictures should be as instant as possible, making a move to a digital camera inevitable.  Yesterday I asked Elizabeth to photograph the rose arch mentioned in that day’s post, so that I could start the requisite illustrations.  Jackie then offered to buy me a digital camera for my birthday.  I snapped up the chance.  I am adding two pictures to yesterday’s publication.

Let us return to the trip to purchase the camera, which we had thought would only take a matter of minutes.  First we had to choose.  I’d gone in with two recommendations which narrowed the field somewhat.  I thought I’d best tell the assistant something about me, primarily that I’d never used digital equipment, but also what I did do.  He was somewhat surprised.  Then there was the consideration of all the different features, most of which I didn’t understand.  Then there were all Elizabeth’s more experienced and informed questions, most of which I didn’t understand.  Eventually I told the young man he obviously knew what he was doing and I would therefore like to know which he would choose.  He acknowledged a bias, and, indeed Elizabeth pointed out that he was sporting a Canon logo on his t-shirt, yet chose an updated version of the very same camera I had helped Elizabeth choose two years ago.  That was good enough for me.

Unfortunately the business of paying was even more prolonged.  Firstly, the only example of the specific camera that they had in the shop was the display model.  I asked for a discount on that.  The manager said it was not possible, but I could have some free printing.  As I’d already explained that I only wanted the camera to illustrate my blog I said this would not be of any use to me.  After a lengthy discussion involving the assistant toing and froing between me and the manager we were awarded a reasonable discount.  By this time, Jackie, whose patience had worn thin during the choosing process, was pacing the store like a caged tigress.  The first indication we had had of this was when she rushed around the shop pointing in turn to each camera in a row saying: ‘Would you like a black one, a red one, a pink one, a blue one……’  I was then asked for my e-mail address ‘in order to activate the discount’.  I was just about to give it when I thought I’d better mention that Jackie was paying for it so perhaps it would be her address they’d like.  This was indeed the case so we had to interrupt her march for a time.  Three or four trips were made by our friend in the Canon T-shirt to other parts of the store through a private door, it seems to collect bits that went with the camera.  Jackie continued her pacing.  The display camera had to be unscrewed from it’s stand, which set off the alarm.  Jackie was unperturbed.

Finally we arrived at the till.  Unfortunately the till’s computer was not speaking to the salesman’s computer so the discount had not been applied.  By this time our friend had gone off to advise someone else what they should buy.  Jackie went off for a pace whilst I called our original salesperson back.  He had to involve the manager who managed to unlock the problem and asked us if we’d like to purchase a second memory card at half price.  Even if I thought 1000 pictures on the one card I had would be enough he wondered had we thought what a good Christmas present it might make someone.  By this point Jackie was waving her card around with a wild expression in her eyes.  I do believe she would have said yes to anything.  I’m sure I caught the word ‘Whatever’.

Having taken the least line of resistance we agreed to the additional purchase.  The manager went away happily totting up his commission.  The check-out girl amended the entry in the computer and Jackie almost relaxed.  The bill was presented.  Unfortunately it was £20 more than it should have been.  This just happened to be half the price of an additional card.  I asked the young woman if this could be the problem.  She looked at her screen and denied the possibility.  The manager was sent for.  Jackie almost wilted.  The manager took his time.  I walked round and looked over the young lady’s shoulder.  I was right, the second card had not been reduced by 50%.  By this time even I slapped the desk  as I said: ‘OK. Take off the second card.  We don’t want it.’  Our friend Shannon (by now we knew her name), looking very relieved, took the card out of the equation just as her boss arrived.  He looked somewhat disappointed.  Perhaps he was just mentally reducing his commission.

Thank you Dominic.

Back at Elizabeth’s, after a later than expected salad lunch, Jackie was let off the leash to get back to her planting.  My contribution was a very little more ground preparation.

Before Elizabeth’s chili con carne meal with red wine, I helped Danni go over a teaching session she was planning for a course in which she is participating.  I’m proud of her already, but this, in my view, simply confirmed her abilities.

And so to Links Avenue and bed.