A Cultural Experience

Early this morning we think we spotted the foxes’ den.  Between the side fence of our garden and the back fences of a terrace of houses there is what was clearly once an access path.  Each end of this has been blocked off and there is now no through way.  It is so undisturbed that one of the residents has put a gate in his fence and extended his garden to the edge of ours.  He has put in a brick path and is growing runner beans, tomatoes, and flowers in carefully tended soil.  (More encroachment is detailed in a further post).  Further down the path is a fence-high heap of sticks, rather like a beaver’s lodge or the nest of a roc, which has gradually, mysteriously, appeared.  Sitting on top of this pile, having the occasional scratch, was a fox cub.  It seems foxes are like dogs, in that they go round and round in circles settling into a resting position that they find comfortable.  Not surprising really.

I suppose urban foxes don’t need to go to earth, because people think they are so cute.  Some time ago I was consultant to an adoption agency in Putney.  There the foxes lived in an Andersen shelter.  Every spring the staff gathered at the upstairs window to watch the cubs gambolling on the lawn.

Just after 11, leaving the fox on his pile, I walked the circuit of Morden Park.  The atmosphere there was quite eerie.  Apart from one young man having a rant into his mobile phone and an ancient, knackered, overweight dog which seemed to have lost its owner, I encountered no other being in this wooded amenity, a short walk from an underground terminal station, and which takes an hour to circumnavigate.  Apart from the rant and the dog’s laboured panting, the only sound, until I came to the stretch alongside London Road, was that of birdsong.  It was almost, only almost, a relief to hear the roar of the traffic.

On this same London Road, on the site of what was once the Express Dairy, lies ‘the largest mosque in Eastern Europe’. Thinking that there was something incongruous about the huge hoardings virtually alongside advertising  Matalan bikinis, I decided to visit it.  Despite their preparing for a special event and it not really being convenient for a visitor to come, I was made most welcome and given a complete tour of what is clearly ‘a multipurpose complex’, with the exception of the womens’ prayer and other rooms.  The area is vast.  Having visited smaller London mosques I was unprepared for this.  In addition to the huge public prayer rooms there are administrative and service blocks containing offices; meeting rooms; a free homeopathic medical centre, residential and eating facilities; a huge sports hall; a library and bookshop; their own television channel broadcasting services all over the world; and no doubt more I haven’t mentioned.  Everything on an extremely large scale.

In the bookshop I was given a copy of the Koran and a book on the philosophy of Islam.

Security was understandably tight, with systems which would grace any airport, but I was given unrestricted access and didn’t have to go through the detector which my artifical hip would undoubtedly have set ringing.  At the moment they are hosting teams from all over the world taking part in a 20-20 cricket competition.  The teams were all accommodated there.  I was shown their sleeping area and welcomed into the dining hall where a wonderfully aromatic curry was being served.  I was invited to partake, but, since I was to be cooking liver, bacon and onions tonight, I declined.  Sadly.

This mosque complex dominates the southern skyline.  It is quite the most elegant building in Morden, contrasting with the 1960s Civic Centre and the rather earlier Underground station.  I had come prepared to make a comparison between the physical nourishment provide by the Express Dairy and the spiritual nourishment to be found in a mosque.  There is no comparison to be made.  As far as I can see this environment provides everything.

Walking through to the centre of Morden and back to Links Avenue I contemplated what I had just experienced.  The dominant sense was one of peace.  In the vast prayer area a smattering of people were positioned for silent prayer.  Here was, however, one contrast.  All was even quieter than the deserted public park I had just walked through.  But there was nothing eerie about it.

Trams And Trolley Buses

This morning the year’s new fox cubs were basking on the lawn with their mother, de-fleaing herself and looking more mangy than last year.  What they were basking in I am not sure, because there was no sun.

After watching the foxes for a while (I almost wrote ‘intruders’, but the fact is we are the intruders), I set off on foot for Wimbledon Village where I bought a birthday present in an antique shop I remembered from our year in the village.  Passing ‘Ely’s corner’ at the corner of Worple Road, I thought of the trolley buses of my childhood.  These were a post tram invention, utilising overhead wires providing the current which was fed to the buses through long connecting rods.  These were much longer than the links used by today’s Intercity trains.  Much delight was taken by all us children when the rods became dislodged.  It was a major undertaking to repair them, which was an entertainment in itself, and, of course, if it happened at the right time and in the right direction, the bus couldn’t take us to school.  In modern football parlance I’d say that was a result.

These buses just ran along Worple Road, providing a transport link between Wimbledon and Raynes Park.  Until the early 1950s Wimbledon sported both trolley buses and trams.

Having bought the present I walked back down the hill for a fry-up at the Mica, finally setting off back to Morden.

Whilst waiting on a red light at the ungated level crossing being approached by a tram in each direction I sensed that a young oriental jogger was going to continue on through the path of the trams.  She didn’t look from side to side and ignored the light.  I held up my hand indicating that she should stop. She took no apparent notice of me, glanced to her left, and ran on.  The tram that was the most dangerous missed her.  She was wearing specs with very thick lenses.  Maybe she couldn’t see.  Maybe she had confidence in her speed.

Today’s trams between Wimbledon and Croydon make use in part of disused railway tracks.  They do not run down Wimbledon Broadway as did the early trams of my boyhood.

This evening we ate gammon steaks, courtesy of LIdl, cooked by Jackie after I’d done the preparation.  This was after a telephone supervision session.  For those unfamiliar with Lidl I would say they are our most economical store providing food of excellent quality at very cheap prices.  In addition to the usual food supermarket offerings they have most interesting central aisles.  You never know what will be on offer there: perhaps a bathroom cabinet, a microwave oven, bikers’ gloves, socks, business suits, children’s toys; you name it you may, fleetingly, find it.  It’s better than a jumble sale because it’s all new and top quality.  When we first arrived in Morden, because my belongings are in four separate places, I found myself without underpants.  This was when I discovered that Morden does not have a mens’ clothes store.  ‘I know’, I thought, ‘I’ll try Lidl’.  And would you know, there they were, in the central aisle, two lovely pairs of Joop’s best.

The Deen City Farm

This morning having been the one for bin collection, the foxes had created their usual mayhem on the lawn.  I do wish our neighbours would double-wrap or rinse their waste food products.  Before I could get to the rubbish someone had again cleared it up.  Was it our helpful stranger and her toddler assistant?  Or perhaps helpful fairies?

I spent some little time revising a couple of clues for next week’s Independent cryptic crossword, and so went out later than usual for my walk.  I met Jackie coming to pick up the car for a visit to a client.  Again an encounter with her determined the direction of my walk.  She was going to the Phipp’s Bridge Estate in Mitcham.  I therefore travelled with her there and she dropped me on that side of Morden Hall Park so I could walk from there.  I took the path onto the Wandle trail and soon realised that I was close to the Deen City Farm which is situated alongside the trail.  I had often noticed the farm on my trips to Colliers Wood.  Today I decided to visit it.  It is a charitable community project and a godsend to the residents of Mitcham’s estates and beyond.

Passing the magnificent chickens and flamboyant turkeys, the visitor encounters preening waterfowl and sprawling rabbits, all huge specimens.  There are sheep, goats, llamas, cattle and horses.  Indeed, the farm also has a riding school.  The community garden is well stocked with flowers and a number of vegetables.

Those children there today were all pre-school and mostly accompanied by their mothers who had walked the same path from Phipp’s Bridge.  There is an ample car park for those who come from further afield.

There are a number of these community projects in our cities, ensuring that children who otherwise would have no experience of country life have the opportunity to gain such pleasure.  Some of my own grandchildren, who do eat well from natural produce and do visit the countryside, were once amazed to see me shelling peas.  They had never had any but frozen ones.  Not that there is anything wrong with Bird’s Eye, which are often fresher than those that have been in the shops or on the market stalls for a while.

Louisa and Errol, near their home in Nottingham, have the White Posts Farm, to which Jessica and I took her and Sam when they were little; and Malachi had his third birthday party in the city farm in Hackney.

I made a beef curry this evening.  This went down well, especially accompanied by Cobra beer.

Susan’s Chicken

After another wet, wintry start to the day, by just before mid-day it had brightened up and I set off to the Civic Centre to take Jackie her lunch which she had left in the fridge. This decided the direction in which I would take my walk today and I headed on through Morden for Morden Hall Park. Such apparently insignificant events often determine our paths through life.  Although it was now sunny it was very cold and I had to step it out to get warm.

Ragged robin surrounding the entrances and a coot incubating eggs in a nest in the middle of a stream welcomed visitors to this National Trust park.  Buttercups and daisies sparkled in the lawns, everything having that post-rain clarity.  Roses were in bud.  May and horse chestnut trees were blossoming and cow parsley was abundant.

This evening we dined on Susan’s chicken.  No, there is no grief-stricken child mourning the loss of her pet.  The recipe for this dish is contained in Lizzie Collingham’s book ‘Curry: a biography’.  The author has this to say: ‘This recipe was given to me by an Indian lady from Madras who had spent much of her life in Zambia.’  The book was given to me by Louisa several Christmases ago.

It is a tasy dish, a fusion between African and Indian cooking.  It is the only recipe I have ever seen which calls for powdered aniseed.  For a long time I had to make do without the aniseed, until I tracked it down in the wonderful, comprehensive, Spice Shop in Blenheim Crescent off the famous Portobello Road in W2.

I washed my meal down with some Marques de Montina 2007 reserve rioja while Jackie had her customary Hoegarten Blanche.

The Martin Café

The cold, wet and windy weather is back.  Children’s recreation grounds on my walk to Raynes Park and back were deserted.  Silence rained where yesterday had resounded the cries of happy youngsters.  Even the birdsong was subdued.

My pit stop on this route was, as usual, the Martin Café.  I would like to explain why I consider it one of, if not the, best in London.  And, especially during ten years of road running, I became somewhat of a conoisseur of such establishments.  First of all it is frequented by builders (and at least one man who walks from Merton Civic centre shunning the myriad of eating places in Morden itself).  Builders and (in inner London taxi drivers) are a sure sign of good food, reasonable prices, and large helpings.

The Martin has it all.  I can only eat their breakfasts after a good hour’s walk, and I am no longer rash enough to take the chips option.  I stick to the three rashers, two eggs, large sausages, and loads of whatever else comes with my choice of their 10 breakfast options. There is never a trace of grease or fat on the enormous oval plates.  The bread is fresh, crusty, and what we used to call doorsteps.

So, if you want a good meal come down to the Martin in Martin Way, but take lots of exercise or starve yourself first.

This evening we had more of Jackie’s delicious beef stew and I finished the wine.


On another lovely spring day I walked through to Wimbledon and up the hill to Wimbledon Village and back.

In Mostyn Road a Range Rover was decanting a young family.  As the children spilled out a small boy admonished his sister with the words: ‘You’re wrecking my part of the car’.  This was reminiscent of the claim to a chair he had been sitting in previously by my grandson, Malachi when aged just 2 3/4. It  was further evidence of the importance of territory even very early in life.

Passing St. Mark’s Place at the bottom of Wimbledon Hill Road I embarked upon the long, steep climb up the hill thinking of Jack.  Jack was not one, but several successive generations of carthorse, similarly named, stationed in St. Mark’s Place for the first half of the 20th. century.  So difficult was the hill for horses pulling carts up that they needed assistance.  Jack was accordingly hitched to the wagons lending his muscle to the task. There is still a trough at the top of the hill, although it is many years since it saw any water.

This evening we had a beef casserole cooked by Jackie and I had half a bottle of Marques del Romeral 2005 reserve Rioja.

The Village Shop

Another fine spring day saw Jackie and me driving down to Upper Dicker in East Sussex for a family meal with our son Mathew and his wife Tess.

In the sunlight the suburban roadside crop of dandelions rivalled the yellow splendour of the countryside’s fields of rape.  Trees were now fully plumed with fresh green leaves and all was bright and clear.

We stopped for a late lunch at The Barley Mow in Selveston.  This is a large friendly pub serving real ale and excellent food.  Jackie had a tasty omelette with scary chips and I had a first rate ploughman’s.

Mat and Tess live in a pretty Edwardian terraced cottage the gardens of which are filled with flowers.  It was warm enough to sit outside until time to eat the wonderful salads, home made quiches and pizza meal Tess had prepared.

Desserts and coffee were taken in the village cafe/restaurant/general store which Tess runs.  The desserts, like the cakes, pasties etc served in the cafe, were all home made.  Since taking over this previously run-down establishment about 5 years ago the couple have transformed both the shop/cafe/restaurant and the life of the village.  What was once little more than the tuck shop for St. Bede’s school opposite is now a well stocked shop, thriving cafe and meeting place for residents and often passing visitors.  In the recent past if you wanted eggs, bread, or even milk after 10 a.m. you’d best drive elsewhere.  The place was bare and drab.  Now it is well stocked with everything one could possibly dream of in a village shop and more.  Fresh local produce is a speciality and meals are well prepared and cheerfully served. It is well decorated; has tasteful, interesting, pictures on the walls; and always has characterful music from all over the world playing unobtrusively in the background.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m proud of them.

Driving back through sunset over the Sussex downs was a delight.  Jackie drove and, as usual, I nodded off about halfway, coming to about 10 minutes from home. You see, I am perfectly relaxed when she is driving.

The Railway Path

Yesterday I wrote of Kevin Lydon’s observation about the pretentiousness of my choice of cinema.  This needs a little clarification.  He thought I should be satisfied with the films on offer at the three circuit cinemas and one fleapit in Wimbledon, or the independent one in Raynes Park.  He had a point.

Today was a very pleasant day for a walk, being warm yet cloudy with a cool breeze.  Perhaps reflective of the change in the weather there was a great deal of scaffolding going up en route.  My walk was to Wimbledon then on to Raynes Park along the railway path which links the two towns.

The railway path is much better surfaced than in my youth; snickets have been opened up to the various turnings off the parallel Worple Road, offering access to their residents and a path through to Worple Road itself; and a high stout metal fence is now in position preventing access to the railway embankment.  The area fenced off from the public has been widened and the wasteland consequently reduced.  Throughout the two mile stretch every available wall or fence is covered in graffiti, the materials for which were not available in the 40s and 50s.

A crowd of lads from a local school shambled along listening to music downloaded on various items of equipment at which my teenage mind would have boggled.

I paused for a while outside the back of my childhood home in Stanton Road, reflecting on the fact that the upstairs maisonette for which my parents cannot have paid any more than perhaps £2 per week, now fetches £1,400 per month in rent.  The railway land at the back having been narrowed and more securely fenced, it is no longer possible there to build dens; light bonfires; weed and flatten areas to make sports fields; or scale the traditional iron railings to mess about on the embankment.  Because Stanton Road is on the ‘right’ side of the railway it is, according to Estate agents, now in West Wimbledon.

On my way back through Wimbledon Chase I was hooted and waved at by a car driver who turned out to be my old friend Dominic Birtwistle.  I had just bought some of the ingredients for the sausage casserole I will make this evening.


Coffee this morning with a friend in SW1, followed by lunch with another in NW10.  I began with a walk to Colliers Wood, mostly through Morden Hall (National Trust) Park and Merton’s Wandle Trail.  The boundary between the two is a modern tramline.  The Wandle is one of London’s lost rivers; the trail being a stretch of wooded land alongside the water.

Most of the people in the congested High Street running through South London past Colliers Wood and on through Clapham must be oblivious of this pleasant walk.  I suffered such oblivion when, as a teenager in the 1950s I regularly walked from Raynes Park to Tooting to visit an art-house cinema. I had the 1/9d for admission, but not the extra few pence for bus fares.  Kevin Lydon, a schoolmate, thought this was pretentious.  When I think of how many unintelligible subtitled black and white films I sat through I’m sure he was probably right.

From Colliers Wood I travelled on the tube to Victoria and on to my friend’s flat in Rochester Row.  After coffee it was off to Harlesden for lunch.

Turning right out of Neasden tube station the contrast between the High Street there and Victoria Street, SW1 was marked.  The wind gusting up the hill on a less rain sodden day would have carried blinding and irritating dust from the commercial recycling depot at the bottom of the hill.  The pavements were so uneven as to be bearing pools of water which it was difficult to avoid.  The older, smaller, St. Mary’s Church with its graveyard seemed a world apart from Westminster Cathedral; and The Burren in Roundwood Road, a friendly Irish pub, humble in comparison with the grand Victorian pubs, such as the Windsor Castle in Francis Street, which are to be found in Victoria.

Victoria’s buildings are mostly enormous; commercial ones usually modern and with walls of glass, residential ones usually older stylish and elegant blocks of flats.  It’s all rather grand and overbearing.  The only large modern building in this part of NW10 is the Magistrate’s Court.  There are blocks of less opulent looking flats, but most dwellings are terraces of small family homes, the older, larger ones often converted into two flats.

Victoria Street is well populated by modern shops, including a large department store, and City Hall itself.  Church Road, the local shopping centre for my friend Norman, is full of small shops which have seen better days and which are constantly changing hands.  Many of these latter shops are run by immigrants, the latest of whom are from Somalia.  The Road has a strong sense of community and the shops are stacked with produce attractive to those who live there.

As a schoolboy I had to walk because I didn’t have the busfare.  As a pensioner I only walk when I want to. Thanks to the Freedom Pass I am able to travel free and freely using any form of transport in the 6 London Transport zones.  This includes overland railways.  It is a marvellous facility which really lives up to its name.

Helpful Passer-By

Jackie tells me that when she went out this morning she encountered a passer-by helpfully picking up all the foxes’ leavings which had been strewn over our lawn (from a neighbour’s black bag!) and helpfully putting all the bits of rotten food into our not yet emptied, carefully packed, recycle bin!  The young woman said she didn’t mind doing it and called upon God to bless Jackie.  What could she say!!