A Somewhat Abortive Trip

Soon after dawn the strong sun we were to enjoy in a clear blue sky for the rest of today drew up enough moisture from the soggy forest virtually to obscure it from our dining room windows.
Later I walked down to the village shop for stamps, diverting to give Alan, whose work of yesterday is now complete, his prints.
At Seamans Corner I met the postman I wrote about on 2nd February. we had a chat, and this time I photographed him.
I returned via All Saints church, the footpath, The Splash, and Furzey Gardens. All Saints churchyardThe churchyard is now resplendent with daffodils and crocuses.All Saints churchyard logs A heap of ash and several neat piles of logs is all that is left of the fallen yew.
For the first couple of hours this afternoon, I dealt with administration, such as arranging for removals, cleaning, checkout, inventory, and other stuff too boring to mention.
PrimrosesFor a break this afternoon, we drove to Exbury Gardens to walk the Camellia Walk. It was closed. The barmaid at The Royal Oak on Beaulieu Hilltop where we eventually settled for a drink told us they would open in two days time. We also missed the buzzard. This bird of prey was scavenging at the roadside when we passed. We disturbed it and it flew off to a tree. Jackie parked and I got out of the car, camera in hand. It flew off. I settled for a shot of the primroses on the forest verge.
Fawley power stationPonies & Fawley power stationPony & Fawley power station
Pony backlit
Pony brown backlit
Pony brown backlit 2
The above mentioned hostelry lies, according to the young woman who served us, ‘in the middle of nowhere’ on the edge of a heath with the steaming towers of Fawley power station in the background. Ponies feeding at decent intervals on the still boggy terrain caught the rays of the lowering sun.
Sunset through treeThere was a notice in the foyer of the pub asking patrons to consider the neighbours and leave quietly. Since the power station seemed to be the nearest neighbour we thought someone was probably having a laugh.
We decided that this would be the evening when we would try the ultimate test of our new neighbourhood, which is the Indian restaurant, in this case the Zaika in Milford on Sea. On the drive from Beaulieu we watched the sun go down and make way for the moon. At first a strong glow in a still blue sky, as the orb sank down beneath the horizon, it streaked the blue with bright yellow and pastel pink shades reflected in the Beaulieu River, lakes,  and the many pools scattered on the heath.
SunsetSunset 2Sunset 3Sunset & reflections
Whilst not really a match for Ringwood’s Curry Garden, the Zaika was good enough. The service was particularly merit-worthy, being friendly and unobtrusive, and the food was reasonably good. We both drank Kingfisher.
Driving back to Minstead we were beset by a sea mist reducing visibility to that we had woken up to.

Sea Flowers

This morning I made a start on reading ‘Madame Bovary’.
Tree against sky
Bough against skyJohn clearing elderLater, in a successful bid to avoid the rain, I walked down to The Splash and back via the church footpath. The sunshine and showers nature of the day and the speed of the wind produced ever-changing skies, bright blue clouding over in white and grey, and vice versa, with the sun regularly emerging and lending everything still bearing raindrops a brilliant sparkle.
John was busy clearing the elder, that I had thought was a buddleia when I noticed it on 28th January.
CloudscapeCloudscape 1
Wherever you venture into the forest at the moment, you are likely to come across scatterings of what look to me like crab apples, Crab appleslike those on the bank of the stream flowing under Running Hill. Now I think about it, they are almost always near streams. I can only imagine someone is feeding the ponies in this manner when they pause their cropping to slake their thirst.
One stream the banks of which are not so bestrewn is that which runs beneath the concrete bridge of The Splash ford. Stream at The SplashThere, the water flows fast enough for a build-up of spume that echoes the lichen on the surrounding trees.
All Saints ChurchSnowdropsYew - riven
Snowdrops have pierced the sward of All Saints Churchyard, and another riven yew rent in two has somehow spared the gravestones between which part of it has fallen.
Cloudscap with trees
Hengistbury HeadIn fact the rain held off for the rest of the day and Jackie drove us out to Hengistbury Head, making this a two walk day for me. I walked along the beach, up Warren Hill and back along the cliff top to the car park cafe where Jackie sat with her puzzles, cake, and coffee.
This was the roughest sea and fiercest wind I have yet experienced on the Dorset coast. Most exhilarating. Occasionally the incoming surges from the ocean clutched at my feet.
Creamy waves
Sea coming inSea foam formingSpume on sandRolls of spumeOn the shingled edge of the beach I watched the frequent waves rolling towards the breakwaters and turning to cream as they careered up the sand and flung what my Japanese friend Rie Sug tells me her compatriots call sea flowers against the rocks, sending them furling and unfurling along the beach. Our word spume, for this foam, is rather less attractive than the oriental one. This version made the same phenomenon seen at The Splash this morning skimpy by comparison. Rather like comparing the power of a full symphonic orchestra with a piece of gentle chamber music.
Sun on sand cliff edgeSun, sea & sandThe wintry sun that had seemed quite powerful on the occasions it peeped out this morning, when compared with the other elements in play in this wilder environment, seemed rather weak.
Walking along the cliff top I was intrigued by a woman’s voice berating what I assumed to be a recalcitrant child. Peering down I saw that the miscreants were a pair of red dogs.Dogs and walker They seemed to have got the message and were allowed to romp ahead.
Sun, sea, sand & Beach hutsAfter I joined Jackie she drove us along the coast road to Boscombe. We had a brief sojourn in a car park at Southbourne, where beach huts clung to the side of the cliff, as we watched the sun doing its best.
We turned round at Bournemouth and headed for home where we enjoyed another very tasty dinner. This consisted of roasted chicken thighs marinaded in lemon juice, coriander, parsley, and a chilli; accompanied by roasted red and orange peppers, onions and baby tomatoes; cauliflower cheese; mashed potato and swede; and broccoli. Jackie drank Hoegaarden whist I drank Lidl’s Bordeaux Superieur, so the drinks choice was back to normal.


DerrickIn my post dedicated to him, I say that Alex Schneideman made me a present of one of his portraits of me.  This is number 21 in the ‘through the ages series’, taken on 17th March 2009.  It seems appropriate to feature it at this time, because behind me in the flat in Sutherland place, are some of the books that now fill boxes in the garage.  Becky has recently quoted Daisy Ashford’s ‘The Young Visiters’ on her Facebook page.  Among the comments this has prompted is Jackie’s regret that she no longer has her copy. Child on Thelwell pony I have assured her that she need have no fear because my copy will be in the box marked Novels A – ?.  Since some of the Bs and Cs can be seen on the shelves to my left, the young writer’s famous tale is probably sharing their temporary resting place.  It is to be hoped that Jackie does not want to read the book before the boxes are unloaded at their final destination.

This morning I walked to the churchyard via The Splash and footpath, and back through the village.  Clopping up the road between the ford and Furzey Gardens was a Thelwell pony, led by a woman in wellies, and carrying a proud little girl.  They were grateful to be photographed.

Mellersh memorial frontMellersh memorial (back)On 16th November, when I was too unwell to attend, there was a ceremony of dedication to the Memorial to Lost Children sculpted by Jeanie Mellersh, whose had been one of the first welcoming faces I met soon after our arrival in Minstead.  It seemed appropriate, on a Sunday of my first real walk since getting over my virus, to pay my respects to the memory of Jeanie and Nick’s grandchildren Yaany & Mimi Mellersh, local children who lost their lives tragically in Turkey two years ago.  I did so.  The white stone memorial stands apart from the graves.  One can only extend sympathy to those left behind.

This afternoon we drove to Hobby Craft in Hedge End to buy the materials for a Christmas present picture frame.  Afterwards we went on to Margery and Paul’s home in Bitterne for the grand finale of The First Gallery’s three week winter exhibition.  Incidentally they sold 6/10 of mine and Jackie’s cards.

The exhibition closed at 4.00 p.m. and the sing song by private invitation began at 4.30.  As smooth as clockwork the conjoint sitting rooms were transformed from a picture gallery to a splendid parlour room for group singing.  Masterminded by Paul with some assistance from the early arrivals, items were whisked upstairs or into the hall to make way for a variety of chairs.  Everything except the pianist was in place by the appointed time.  Margery at the pianoMary, our musician, had been delayed.  This was no problem for the dynamic duo as Margery gamely took over the keyboard and got us under way.

Song sheet collation

Part of the preparation had been the printing off and stapling of song sheets.  This involved various singers supervising the PC, then, by distributing the various sheets on various knees and collecting them up in the correct order, collating them before applying a stapler.

There were two sets of songs; one of carols, and the other of what Paul termed ‘pagan songs’ like Clementine or ‘Enery The Eighth.  Examples of each were alternated in our programme, and great fun was had by all.

As Margery was getting into the swing of things at the piano Paul came staggering backwards into the room.  Looking rather like the anchorman in a tug of war he managed to dig his heels into the carpet, and, with head bobbing and hair flying, heave on a taught red rope that disappeared the other side of the door.  As did Paul, rather like a puppet on a string.  Summoning all his strength he got himself and what turned out to be a dog lead back into the room.  Momentarily.  On the other end of the leash was a black labrador seemingly larger than the pony I had seen this morning.  It had its forepaws on the shoulders of a woman whose gradual entry into the room meant Paul could relax somewhat, Gemonly to be jerked across to the piano where Mary, the pianist, helped him secure her dog Gem to the piano stool.  Naturally this created a pause in the proceedings.

Mary at the piano

John, Yutta, and GemMary then took over the ivories.Sing song  All continued comparatively smoothly until Gem took a shine to John.  I felt for him as he tried to manage the farmyard sounds of ‘Old MacDonald’ whilst fending off a besotted dog with strokes of self defence. Nevertheless, the more or less harmonious production continued until it was time for a break.

At the interval we were served with tea and Margery’s exquisite mini mince pies, still warm and delicious.

When the singing was ended, the majority of us stayed and had a very enjoyable half hour or so of stimulating and entertaining conversation.

Elizabeth, Jackie and I then repaired to Eastern Nights at Thornhill for the usual top quality Bangladeshi meal with Cobra, Bangla, and fizzy water to accompany it.

Tour Guides

Today was another Sheila day.  We drove to Sway to collect her and drive her around the unspoilt forest villages to the North of the A31.  To some extent we followed in reverse the route along Roger Penny Way that we had taken yesterday evening.

Sheila had been fascinated by the animals loose in the forest, so it was pleasing that there were so many on display.  The ponies in particular tended to be clustered under trees, gathering what shade they could on another blisteringly hot day.  Cattle and donkeys were also in evidence.

The bloated corpse of a large cow, its softer elements covered in flies, still lay where it had been last night.  A large label printed in red with the words AGISTER AWARE remained attached to it.  As we are bound to report such a dead animal, the notice prevents us doing so when its removal is already in hand.  It certainly needed to be shifted soon.

FoalAs usual, the road tended to be blocked by the living creatures, none for a longer time than the foal that stood gazing into our windscreen for what seemed an eternity until it was persuaded to move.  I made Sheila a print of this young animal which she christened Millie.

In the vicinity of Frogham we revisited Roy to offer to prune his rose for him.  Whilst he was most touched, he said he had a long handled cutter with which he would be able to do it himself.  The donkeys hung about outside hoping for a taste of Camperdown elm (see yesterday’s post).

Roy directed me to what he said was the best view in the forest. Abbotswell car park When he named it I realised it was from the Abbot’s Well car park where Jackie waits for me when I walk across the heath from Roger Penny Way (see, for example ‘A Damsel In Distress’ posted on 25th April).  She can see me approaching from quite some distance.  We drove up there to show Sheila the scene.

We returned to Castle Malwood Lodge for lunch.  Jackie’s garden pots now total 83. Jackie's garden (spare room steps) Those to the western side of the house, added a bit later, now rival the original collection.  As reported in ‘Merton In Bloom’ on 9th July last year, Sheila, as Mayor of the Borough, had presented Jackie with one of her winner’s certificates.  It was therefore most appropriate that our friend should see the current display.

All Saints ChurchyardAfter lunch and a short rest during which Sheila was entertained by an i-Mac slide-show, we visited All Saint’s Church, where we met another couple who were also taking friends on a tour of the area, in particular visiting the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife.

The next venue was Ringwood where we walked along the High Street until it was time to enter the Curry Garden restaurant where we enjoyed excellent meals, Kingfisher, and sparkling water.  Following the failure of the car’s engine cooling system of 12th, we should not have been surprised at the failure of the restaurant’s air conditioning.

Finally, we took Sheila back to her hotel in Sway, drank coffee, and returned home.

A Ring Of Truth

Early this morning Jackie, Don and I shopped in Acres Down Farm shop and went on to All Saints Church, first described on 24th December last year.  While Jackie diverted to Minstead Village Shop, Don and I wandered around the churchyard in bright sunshine, before we all three explored the inside.Blasted yew

Particularly interesting to our friend was the ‘blasted’ yew, a seven hundred year old tree that fell apart some years ago and regenerated itself.Clover and dandelions Daisies and other wild flowers The wild flowers now in evidence include clover , dandelions, daisies, and buttercups.

When we returned, I decided to tackle the problem of a rejected e-mail password.  This time I got BT’s representative on the telephone to reset a completely new code.  As usual, Jackie being the primary account holder, he needed to speak to her first.  Unfortunately he got the wrong end of the stick and changed her password.  This required putting right and involved a box filled with ‘funny writing I can’t read’.  All this took time and I had to interpret the ‘funny writing’, fortunately getting it right.  The man kept having to put us on hold and check with his supervisor.  Eventually he returned to me and reset the replacement password.  It worked.  For about an hour.  Then the new one was rejected.  I have now come to the conclusion that my BT Yahoo account has been well and truly hacked.  I can’t face it any more at the moment.  So don’t send me any e-mails.

My head still full of the computer problem, I sat in the garden watching the birds with Don, whilst Jackie prepared the evening’s barbecue.  The company and avian interest helped calm me.  Don is one of three friends I have who are pretty knowledgable about birds.  He helped me distinguish between the various tits who visit the feeder. Blackbird juvenile I observed that it was becoming possible to identify birds some distance away on the lawn by their outline shape, their posture, their gait, and how they hold their tail-feathers.  Apart from the pied wagtails, the blackbirds brought me to this conclusion.

Talking birds with Don, it was natural for me to mention my friend bo Beolens, who has written a number of bird books and who, as Fatbirder, runs an international birding website. This turns out to be one of Don’s favourites on his computer. Lesser Antilean Bullfinch I proudly brought the site up on screen and showed him the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch which illustrates bo’s Barbados page.  The photograph was taken by me in Barbados in 2004, when I was there to see Sam arrive at the end of his Atlantic row.

Late in the afternoon Becky, Ian, and Flo arrived with Scooby and Oddie.  We then enjoyed the various sausages, chicken tikka masala and array of salads Jackie had produced in the kitchen.  That seems to me to be the sensible way of preparing a barbecue.

Oddie in Derrick's garden chairOn 28th March I described how Matthew’s dog, Oddie, always dives into my chair whenever he has the chance.  Because Mat and Tess are on their way to visit Sam and Holly and their children in Croatia, Becky is looking after Oddie and therefore brought him with them today.  Would you believe it?  Even in the garden he nicks my seat.

It was natural that with Becky and Don together, we should tell some Lindum House stories.  One of today’s was of the intruder.  One balmy evening as we sat in the snug watching television, about twenty years ago, we heard someone coming down the stairs.  As usual in the summer, we had left open the double doors at the front of the house.  A young man was then seen to walk past the window, making his way to the bottom of the garden.  I set off in pursuit.  He started running.  So did I.  After him.  He began to climb the fence between us and the Parletts in Lindum Street.  I grabbed him, pulled him down, and frogmarched him into the house.  Calling out to Jessica to telephone the police, I sat on him at the foot of the stairs.

I soon realised he was drunk.  He kept going on about a fishing contest with the Working Men’s Club.  After the event, he and his friends from Grimsby had gone off drinking in Newark.  He was making his way back to the Club.  His team coach was parked outside in the road.  It dawned on me that all this had a ring of truth.  It would be easy enough for me to take him out to check on the coach.  I asked Jessica to cancel the emergency call.  She attempted to do so, but it was not possible.  It stands to reason, really.  The uninvited guest could have been standing with a gun to my head.  Actually he was lying between the bottom step and my embrace.  For the whole forty five minutes it took for the officers to arrive.

As, after satisfactory explanations, I took him up the drive to the open gates, down the path towards us walked about five of his mates.  They had made the same mistake.  And sure enough, there, on the road between us and the Club, was a coach. Lindum House, you see, was a Victorian reproduction of the former grand Georgian house next door that now hosted social activities of the town’s working men.

Preparing For The Hunt

Emery Down 3.13An icy wind held this beautiful day in its grasp and ensured that my morning walk to Lyndhurst and back remained freezing.  Even by one o’clock when I returned, much of the terrain was frozen, ice covered the pools, and a thin layer of snow remained in parts.Misty & mistress 3.13

Misty and her mistress were dressed for the conditions.  This whippet’s owner was pleasantly impressed when I complimented her on the colour coordination they were displaying.  I don’t see how I could have missed it as their fluorescent glow gleamed in my direction from way down the road.

Tall pines sighed unceasingly when beset by the howling Easterly. The shorter hollies creaked, and flustered clusters of swaying ivy lent life to those deciduous trees that remained leafless.  Serried rows of last autumn’s bronzed beech leaves wobbled a bit, but clung stubbornly, upside down, to their perches.  Blackbirds, undeterred, went about their business in the hedgerows and ditches.Ditch 3.13  Such a good job had been done of clearing the ditches (see 7th March)  outside Sinefield that I doubt there would be much there to interest these foragers.

As I approached Emery Down, a group of barely visible deer scampered deeper into the forest.

The smoking chimney of The New Forest Inn was even more inviting than usual on this cold day.

Just as I had climbed up past Saint Michael and All Angels church on the way back, Jackie rang me to ask me to buy some carrots. It may have been cold enough for Christmas, but they can’t have been for Santa’s reindeer in March.  I didn’t fancy trooping back down to Budgen’s where I had just done our shopping, so we agreed I’d divert  to the Village shop to see if they had any. New Forest Inn Chimney 3.13 This meant using the church footpath, which is now just as muddy as ever.  My reward for this was the sight of daffodils now joining the crocuses in bloom among the gravestones.

Having walked approximately eight undulating miles, as I passed the telephone box I wasn’t looking forward to the steep climb up Running Hill – so named for the number of streams it harbours – when Castle Malwood came to my rescue.  An electrician asked me for directions to this conference centre which lies around the corner from us and has a very dangerous entrance onto the A31.  He clearly needed a guide.  So he had to give me a lift.All Saints churchyard 3.13 Which was just as well because his Satnav was attempting to send him up a badly made up road that had no access to the building.  And because I was a bit tired.

After lunch there was another job lined up for me.  Jackie had had a wonderful idea for an Easter Egg hunt for Malachi when he comes tomorrow.  Anyone familiar with these games will know that the searcher is presented with a clue that leads to the first egg which lies with the next clue, and so on until the end.  The clues could not be in writing because my grandson is not quite four.  When Flo was little Jackie had made drawings for the clues.  But I now have a digital camera and a shiny new iMac.  I expect you saw that coming.

Fourteen photographic prints of bits of household objects or equipment, all at four year old height level, were required. IMG_3850 I expected this to take all afternoon.  The photo-shoot was simple enough.  Loading the results into the computer was now easy-peasy.  Cropping and other adjustments that would have taken hours with Photoshop, could not have been quicker or simpler.  The printer was already plugged in.  Ah.  The first problem was that I had not selected the printer or synchronised it with the Mac.  Now where was the CD for the software?  A box asked me if I wanted to download the software.  I ‘accentuated the positive’.  In four minutes the software was downloaded.  No CD required.  Fourteen prints took even less time.  I think I love my iMac.

With this success I got rather trigger-happy and pressed ‘Publish’ instead of ‘Save Draft’ too early for those who like to know what we had for dinner.  So now I’m having to ‘Update’ this post.  Well, it’s going to be roast chicken.  I will drink some more of the Cepa Lebrel, and Jackie will have some Hoegaarden.

‘That’s Not A Yew Tree’

On the forest strip alongside our Upper Drive, as I set off to walk via Furzey Gardens road; the ford; and the footpath to All Saints church, I met the unusual sight of four foraging ponies. Pony sun-dappled 2.13 Their sunlit-dappled coats blended in so well with the trees that it was only the swish of a rebounding, suddenly released, holly breakfast branch that alerted me to the presence of a brown one that could have been a trunk or a shrub, or both.  Because the church footpath would require the use of wellies I was suitably attired to venture into the mud and heaps of soggy leaves to wander among the animals who actively ignored me, simply getting on with their meal.  Pony breath 2.13Just as the ponies’ camouflaged coats reflected the strong sunshine, the steaming swirls of their breath were demonstrative of the temperature. It is amazing to me that three rain-free, sunny, days have been enough to dry their fur and enable them to shake off the mud that matted it.  Some pools nevertheless still contained cracked ice.

All Saints churchyard 2.13At the top of its hill the churchyard basked in sunshine, although its carpet of spring flowers was frosted.  I wandered among the memorial stones, noticing that many were now so worn as to be illegible.  The more recent ones told a story. Graves of Sarah and James Woodhouse 2.13 It took Sarah Woodhouse, for example, exactly twenty years, to lie again alongside the contemporary husband, James, who had accompanied her in life.  Long widowhoods seems the lot of so many women. Louisa Wells' rosary 2.13

A rosary is reflected in the brass plate attached to the wooden cross still marking the grave of Louisa Wells who died just four months ago.  A sheet of paper attached to the reverse asks that the myriad of pots of flowers should not be removed as the writer will keep it tidy.  A well-stocked vase on the recent grave alongside this one had toppled over.  I picked it up, rearranged it for balance, and wedged it in the loose soil.  I was struck by the number of vases of flowers that marked this cemetery.

As I approached the lych gate to let myself out of the churchyard, I noticed a gentleman down the lane leading up to it, photographing something directly into the sun.  Rather intrigued by this I walked to his viewpoint.  Silhouetted against the bright blue sky, with the sun providing a glaring corona,  was a familiar skeletal arboreal creature displaying long nobbly fingers, and signs of amputation of large lower limbs.  I greeted the very friendly and cheerful elderly photographer.  Despite his hearing aid it was clear that he needed to lip-read me.  He and his wife, who remained in the car, had spent weekends and worshipped here for many years.  They had now to attend services in another church which had a Loop system for people who are hard of hearing.  Without that benefit he cannot hear what is going on.

Yew & Oak, All Saints churchyard 2.13It soon became clear why he was photographing the oak tree.  ‘Do you know that tree is 700 years old?’, he asked.  The penny then dropped, for I too had read the descriptive brochure supplied in the porch.  ‘Is this the one mentioned in the leaflet?’, I tactfully enquired.  ‘Yes’, he replied, ‘the one by the lych gate.’  Pointing out that there was another tree the other side of the gate, which I thought was more likely to be the correct one, I asked what information the leaflet had provided.   ‘It is a yew tree’, was the answer.  ‘Well, that is a yew tree and it has fallen down and been regenerated’, said I, helpfully.  ‘Do you know?, he responded, indicating the oak, ‘I thought that wasn’t a yew tree’.  We both went back into the churchyard and photographed the correct tree, in context.  My companion, who certainly had all his marbles even if he didn’t know his trees, was most grateful.  He said I had saved him much embarrassment from family and friends, who, when shown the original picture, would have said: ‘That’s not a yew tree’.

Trusty Servant Inn 2.13Rounding the Trusty Servant Inn I returned home and accompanied Jackie back to the pub, where we enjoyed the monthly village lunch.  My choice was fish and chips and Doom Bar ale; Jackie’s was lasagne and Peroni.  Given that we are told that this sunshine will soon come to an end, we decided to make hay and took a trip across the sun-streaked forest and hazy heathland to Fordingbridge.  We had a mooch around there, bought a few books, and a top for Jackie, and returned the way we had come.  Lots of donkeys joined the ponies in shaving the forest floor.

For our evening meal Jackie produced an all-in-one pie of left over beef stew and mashed potato including some fresh vegetables.  As long as no-one is going to imagine the meat is pony, I think this should be called verderer’s pie.  It was jolly good whatever it is called.  This was followed by mini Co-op syrup puddings which were perfectly acceptable.  The drink distribution was the usual Hoegaarden and red wine, in this instance Carta Roja gran reserva 2005.

We finished the day by watching, on BBC i-Player, episode 1 of the second series of ‘Call the Midwife’.  This is intriguing, exciting, and nostalgic entertainment.

P’tang Yang Kipperbang

Dresses 2.13For some time now Jackie has been collecting toys, books, and dressing up material for visits from grandchildren.  She has now taken this a stage further.  Buying such as Disney Princess dresses in various stages of use and abuse from her favourite charity shops, she has washed, ironed, mended, and added flouncy petticoats and sequins to the originals.  Now they are nine.  They are too good to dump in the dressing up box, and must be hung up.

Ford approach 2.13All Saints from footpath (3) 2.13This morning I walked the two fords ampersand, amending its shape by walking up the footpath past All Saints churchyard.  The track alternated between a quagmire and a clear gravel river bed.  The last time I took this path the two horses in the adjacent field were grazing in a blizzard.

Spring bulbs in churchyard 2.13Snowdrops around gravestone 2.13There was such an array of spring bulbs emerging in the graveyard that I was almost afraid to walk in it.  Careful as I was, it was almost impossible not to tread on any.  Snowdrops and crocuses were in bloom, while daffodils were coming into their own.  They provided a  thick pile carpet of a white, golden yellow, and purple abstract design on an emerald ground.  Treetrunks and gravestones were festooned with these harbingers of spring.

After a light lunch Jackie drove us to Mat and Tess’s in Upper Dicker where we, together with Becky, Flo and Ian, joined our son and daughter-in-law for a belated Christmas celebration.  Tess had been ill at the end of December.  We exchanged presents and pulled Flo’s crackers.  Matthew couldn’t resist tossing a packet of Jacob’s Cream Crackers onto the table to save me going to the other room for the party type.  Tess serving up 2.13As always we enjoyed good family time with a deal of hilarity.  Tess, a superb cook, produced an excellent tagine and couscous meal.  Somehow the meat dish was always full.  Her homemade Christmas cake, still moist, was to follow.  Whilst I had been in France there was a repeat showing of P’tang Yang Kipperbang on Channel 4.  This was a wonderful film about adolescent yearning set against a cricket commentary from the legendary John Arlott, originally shown on that channel’s second night in 1982.  Whenever it is repeated it is a must for family viewing because Mat and Becky, along with many of their classmates, were extras in the film.  We were entertained by renditions of their respective performances.  Mat in particular came in for a certain amount of parody.  It seems that he took his acting role seriously, but that wasn’t wholly appreciated at the time.

An interesting issue of historical accuracy was raised during the filming.  The production was set in that post-war period before there were any black and Asian children in Wimbledon.  Those young people were therefore unable to appear in the film.  Given that those who did appear in the film were given a fee, £5 per scene, I do hope those who were excluded were similarly compensated.

Pinched Buttocks

Running Hill in snow 1.13

Discussing Tens machines this morning Jackie mentioned that she can’t find hers, and assumed it has got lost in one of our several moves.  A short while later, we spoke about the potential for photographing, in the snow that has fallen overnight, a subject for next year’s Christmas card.  I said that one card I’d always wanted to produce was from a photo of a manger scene Becky had painted years ago in Newark.  She had designed the float for the Caribbean Club’s contribution to a parade.  I had a print of it, but didn’t know about the negative.  When I left Lindum House a box of negatives went missing.  ‘There’s a storeroom somewhere full of all the stuff that gets lost in moves’, said Jackie.

Ford - Church footpath 1.13Snow fell steadily today, coating Minstead to provide romantic images.  As I set off down Running Hill, a four by four vehicle, its brake lights piercing the falling snow, travelled downhill, without mishap, very very slowly.  Sky and distant landscape merged into a backcloth of sludge.  The snow on the ground was, however, virginal white.  My goal was the churchyard.  I hadn’t gone far before Berry called me from behind.  She was walking up to the field to tend her horses.  We accompanied each other as far as The Splash, at which point she turned right and I took the footpath from the ford to All Saints church.

Car tracks 1.13At the ford there is a rather sheltered parking area.  Car tracks in the relatively shallow precipitation layer made a pattern which required the addition of two sets of initials separated by L to complete the picture.  The footpath was very muddy under the snow, but I was wearing wellies so I retained my footwear and kept my trousers clean. Horses in snow 1.13 (2)

Two horses grazing in the blizzard looked up when their owner called them, then carried on powdering their noses.All Saints Minstead Churchyard in snow 1.13

I felt a bit of a vandal ruining the thick white carpet covering the churchyard as I left my footprints all over it.  No-one else had yet disturbed the view.Yew Tree cottage in snow 1.13

Garden in snow 1.13The trees bordering our garden continued to gather snow, occasionally letting fall flurries echoing those blown off houses earlier at Seamans Corner.   At first sight these billows had looked like the woodsmoke I often smell there.

As the roads became more difficult we wondered whether we would have another night of pinched buttocks.  This is because our lavatory seat has riven in two.  We’ve tried to close the gap by taping it , but the tape seems to split too.  Consequently, unless you are very careful you are nipped when enthroned.  A man was due to bring and fit a new one at nine o’clock this morning.  The poor chap was stuck in traffic.  He insisted on perservering and eventually, to  our relief, turned up soon after two.  The fitting was too small, but, for our convenience, he left it and will return with a bigger one next week.

Rather rashly, we set off to drive to The Firs.  We didn’t get very far.  About a car’s length.  Backwards.  With wheel spin.  We weren’t going anywhere.  So we decided to return the car to the parking spot.  No way.  Spinning wheels going nowhere.  Jackie went inside to get some dishwasher salt.  She spread it about a bit.  It didn’t help.  I set about kicking snow out of the way.  Adam, who lives upstairs, said there was some grit in a box.  We didn’t have anything to carry it in.  Jackie went back to the flat and emerged with a grill pan and a broom.  Meanwhile Adam had found another broom.  I gathered some panfuls of grit which we dispersed on the swept snow.  Jackie had another go at driving back to where she’d come from.  All ten yards.  Eventually, with a push from Adam and me, she made it, and we returned home to thaw out.

We had planned a visit to Eastern Nights at Thornhill.  Jackie’s smoked haddock and a shared bottle of Cimarosa Chardonnay 2012 was a very satisfactory substitute.

Happy New Year

New Year Fireworks 1.13 (2)

Jackie and I have reached the stage where, not only do we prefer to avoid the crowds and watch New Year celebrations on television, but we can’t even stay up to do that, so we watched them this morning on BBC iPlayer.  I had a bit of a hangover.

From 2006 to 2009 I lived close enough, in Central London, to have walked to the Embankment for the event.  I didn’t fancy fighting my way through boisterous crowds of people a fraction of my age, to stand in the cold for a glimpse of a display I could otherwise enjoy in the comfort of an armchair.  So, when I didn’t fall asleep, I became a couch potato for the evening.  For New Year 2008 Anne and Burhan al-Jaf, perhaps correctly surmising I would be alone, invited me to join their party at home in South East London.  We had an exciting time viewing my neighbourhood fireworks on screen at our ease, vainly peering into the melee for a sight of my hosts’ teenage daughter Yerevan and her friends, who were young enough to want to be there.  Thank you, Anne and Burhan, for a night to remember.

Today was bright and sunny, if frosty early on, thus offering the respite another Anne had hoped for yesterday.  My walk was to the church and back.  This morning, after patronising the village shop, Jackie visited All Saints church.  She accurately described the church as ‘cosy’, and reported the placement of a pipe and floral tribute on the tombstone of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife. All Saints Minstead churchyard 1.13 Naturally I had to go and look at it.  Conan Doyle tombstone 1.13The pipe may have been there for some time, but the roses, in a plastic container bearing a £3 M & S label, were fresh.

This is not the first Conan Doyle burial site.  A devoted Spiritualist, Sir Arthur was first buried in an upright position in the garden of his home at Crowborough in East Sussex in 1930.  His second wife was interred alongside him ten years later.  It was not until 1955 that the couple were moved to Minstead, as had been Lady Jean’s wish. Face on Bannister gravestone 1.13 Given the beliefs of the creator of Sherlock Holmes, I wonder what he would have made of the face emerging from the blend of salt and lichen adorning the tombstone of Edmund and Mary Bannister who died some thirty years apart in the nineteenth century.

On my way down into Minstead I had been greeted by Anne and Audrey who wished me a Happy New Year from the garden of Orchard Gate.  On my return I spoke with two young Dutchmen and a little boy who were admiring Champion and Primrose.  One of the men held up the boy so he could commune with the horses whilst his companion photographed the scene.  They had just moved to Southampton where they would be living for eight months, and were exploring the countryside.  They were smitten with the beauty of the forest.  They had climbed the stile and tried the footpath leading from the gate.  As one of them said, they realised ‘it was a bad idea’, especially when the little lad lost a wellie to the suction of the mudbath.  The men, of course, were both well over six feet and spoke perfect English.  Whenever I speak to modern Europeans I feel pleasantly humbled by the fact that they are all likely to speak English.  Anne al-Jaf is Belgian, and Burhan Kurdish.  When I attended their wedding in Anne’s home town more than twenty years ago now, hosts and guests were from various parts of Europe and Kurdistan.  Much of the proceedings were conducted in English, as the most likely common language.  I am not certain now, but I may have been the only person of my nationality present.

Kalu (see 28th December 2012) now answers when called by name, and bows on command.  More and more he makes me think of Tom Paxton’s song ‘The Marvelous Toy’, which can be heard on youtube.

The freezer was raided for our evening meal, which offered a choice from, in descending order of chilli strength, chilli con carne by Jackie; lamb curry by Jackie; and turkey jalfrezi by Derrick, with Jackie’s pilau rice.  This was followed by Jackie’s bread and butter pudding.  The only Indian restaurant I’ve ever experienced serving – no doubt catering for the indigenous population – traditional English puddings, is Newark’s Shaan.  I had to starve myself all day to stand the slightest chance of eating their steamed sponge puddings after a delicious curry meal.  Tiger beer accompanied my meal; Hoegaarden Jackie’s; and Orange juice Flo’s.

Our meal was taken against the backdrop of Kalu’s wandering around the room making interesting sounds each time he came to an obstacle.  Should he find himself stuck he would up the tempo and Flo would have to go and rescue him.