Our Youngest Viewer

PiperPiper - Version 2Before being collected by Andy and Danni to return to The Firs, Jackie and I finished four more cards that we didn’t have the blanks for yesterday.  These demonstrate very clearly the capabilities of the little Canon S100 camera.  I have extracted a very small section of a photograph taken in July to produce a particularly pleasing music themed card.  The cream paper on which it is mounted (not shown here) picks up the colour of the stone walls behind the bagpiper and blends beautifully with the pillars and the Scots outfit.  The clarity of the smaller picture is such that it could be printed on A3+ sized paper.

Shortly before our car arrived, I received a very welcome call from Sam in Ostia.  We had a long chat which lasted well into the journey to The Firs.  I was so distracted by talking to my son that I forgot my camera, and Andy had to turn round and go back for it.


Bluebottle on peachBegoniasAt lunchtime I had a wander round the garden and admired the gladioli planted a year ago; the bluebottles enjoying the compost now filling the bins I built at that time; and begonias in the pots Jackie filled a short time ago.

MaisieThere were few visitors today, but Maisie, our youngest viewer, was delighted to sign the visitors’ book.  A frequent visitor to The Firs, it is fascinating to see the development of Laura’s little girl.  Maybe on this occasion she was intending to make her contribution to the work on display.

Once the doors were closed to the public, Danni and Andy went off for fish and chips from the magnificent Thornhill supplier and brought them back for us all.  On 14th September last year I described our first encounter with The Frying Fish, whose small portions are considerably larger than most outlets’ large. (click here to see post). They are crisp and tasty as well.  Newark’s fish and chips were excellent, and there is strong competition from the more upmarket Seashell in Lisson Grove off Marylebone Road.  Thornhill’s finest beats them all.  It is fascinating how this insalubrious suburb of Southampton has, next door to each other, a superb Indian reastaurant and an incomparable take away fish and chip shop.

Before we left for home Adam, Thea, and a friend of theirs called Rebecca dropped in briefly on their way home to North London from a short break in Cornwall.  We offered to share our family sized portion of chips with them, and although we were already five, I’m pretty sure that had they not already eaten, there would still have been enough for us all.

Taking A Hint

Emily is now a nineteen year old student of Art History at Nottingham University.  As I gazed skywards this morning, whilst waiting for Jackie to unlock the car to take me to the station for my London trip for visits to Norman and Carol, I saw one of my granddaughter’s first drawings.  When asked what she had reproduced with a white chalk line across black paper, she replied ‘an aeroplane’.  She was about two. Jet plane Such are the advances in technology in the intervening years that the camera can now clearly show the two jet streams and the plane itself, not so visible to even the two year old naked eye.

The quiet coach on the outward journey wasn’t.  Halfway along the carriage were seated three elderly women, at least one probably hard of hearing.  One didn’t get much of a word in, but the other two more than made up for her.  Intimate domestic arrangements; stories of cruises; the layout of London streets; how to care for nails; and many other enlightening topics distracted me from my Susan Hill.  Although packed, the return train was much quieter and I was able to finish reading ‘The Magic Apple Tree’, being a record of a year in the country.  I don’t know when blogs began, but this delightful book, first published in 1982, has all the ingredients of one.  The writer even describes gardening; growing, cooking, and eating food; and offers various recipes of her own.  She takes us through the changing seasons and their affects.  I was reading one of my late friend Ann’s volumes. John Lawrence's Winter I bought my own copy as much for John Lawrence’s marvellous engravings as for anything else.

I walked the usual route from Waterloo to Green Park and took the Jubilee Line to Neasden. From Waterloo Station road bridge A footbridge spans the road from Waterloo Station and the South Bank of the River Thames.  Crossing a square and descending some rather loose steps takes one to the London Eye.  At the top of these steps stood a young woman with a child in a buggy.  Her older companion, looking past me, the only person in sight, observed ‘we are going to have to get someone to help you.  I can’t, because of my back’.  Undeterred by my apparent invisibility , I took the hint and the bottom of the buggy.

Piper on Westminster BridgeThe gilt on the Westminster Bridge lamp stands glinted behind the lone piper as he mopped his brow and swigged some bottled water.  He has stood on that spot, puffing away, all through the recent cold months.  Now in shirt sleeves, ‘I’m not complaining’, he said of the warmer weather.

In St James’s Park, I was just in time to alert a woman crouching to be photographed with a little girl that her strawberries and cream were sliding off the folded over cardboard plate clutched in her downward stretched right hand as she concentrated on putting her left arm around the child.  It probably would have made a great picture, but it would have been rather cruel just to let it happen, even for the sake of art.

An authentically dressed, youngish, woman stood at her easel endeavouring to capture in pastels a gorgeous display of flowering cherry blossom. Pastel Painter, St. James's Park When asked if I could photograph her she said she wasn’t happy with the painting.  She had one with which she was much more satisfied in her portfolio case.  It was clearly a day for taking a hint, so I asked if I could see it.  She took pleasure in unwrapping it for a private viewing.  It was indeed very good, but of a different scene.  I explained that I was more interested in her and her activity than in simply recording the result.  She was both happy and relieved.

For a change, Norman having had an operation four days ago, I brought the food and he produced the wine.  Jackie had selected and bought the stilton and cauliflower soup; the gala pie salad; and the brioche bread and butter pudding.  The wine was an excellent Greek cabernet sauvignon.

Afterwards I visited Carol, then returned home by the usual routes, Jackie waiting at Southampton Airport Parkway to drive me to our flat.

The London Eye

This morning Jackie drove me to Southampton Parkway railway station where I boarded a train to Waterloo for lunch with Norman and late afternoon coffee with Carol.  From Waterloo I walked along the Embankment to Westminster Bridge which I crossed, continuing into Birdcage Walk, and taking the route to Green Park underground station detailed on 25th September.

Passing The London Eye on the Embankment I thought of my trip on this modern landmark, erected to celebrate the second millennium.  I gazed on it  from Westminster Bridge, on which a bagpiper was in full flow.

Ten years ago, after a river trip celebrating Norman’s 70th birthday, Jessica and I took a flight on the Eye, for which numerous people were queueing today.  It was a very cold, cloudless day in March, and the view, for those who could look at it, of the serpentine River Thames and its world-famous cityscape, would have been stupendous.  It was with much trepidation that I bought the tickets along with more film for my camera so I could photograph the scene from a great height.  This was one of my many unsuccessful attempts to cure my acrophobia.  At that time I had not yet conquered my fear of flying either.

The Eye is a vast wheel on the circumference of which, at regular intervals, are fixed ovoid glass people-containers.  This construction rotates excruciatingly slowly transporting passengers from ground level to the skies and back down the other side.  I understand that most people subject themselves to this ‘flight’ for fun.

Entering the transparent pod in which I was to endure the next forty five minutes of my life, I made an immediate beeline for the central seat and remained there throughout the ordeal.  So paralysed was I that I was unable even to load the camera, let alone look at the view.  What made the experience even more terrifying was the two small children clambering on and swinging precariously from the handrail which circled the glass walls of the capsule.  My brain simply computed an unprotected rail suspended in mid-air, from which they were bound to fall.  As with all phobias, there was no point in applying logical thought to the situation.  When perched at the very top of the wheel you are looking down on the Shell building, which is pretty tall itself, and it takes ten minutes even to start the descent.  Not an experience I have any intention of repeating.

On the Embankment wall opposite the Aquarium, once the headquarters of the Greater London Council, a vociferous seagull was holding forth.

There was a film crew on Westminster Bridge, their equipment trained on a group of Japanese.  The forceful wind tearing along the Thames was so strong as to blow a very slight young woman off balance and into my arms.

St. James’ Park was still full of tourists with their cameras.  Squirrels were queueing up to have their photographs taken, especially if the photographers’ assistants held tasty morsels of food in their outstretched fingers.  Later, I was to read in A.L.Rowse’s history of Elizabethan England that John Norden’s map of Westminster in his book ‘Middlesex’, published in the 1590s, contains illustrations of ‘deer leaping in’ this very park.

As I walked along Piccadilly I became aware that I was approaching the source of a repetitive chant which turned out to be a chorus of ‘Barclay Brothers, pay your taxes’ outside the side entrance of the Ritz, one of London’s most salubrious hotels.  Presumably these two men, residents of Sark, are having a holiday in London and someone has got wind of it.  They have been accused of forging a fortune and ferreting it away in offshore accounts to avoid paying their dues.

I took the Jubilee Line to Neasden and walked to Norman’s  where I was fed on lamb shank followed by jam rolypoly accompanied by a very good red Bordeaux.  Norman gave us a housewarming present of a dish made for him by Alvin Betteridge at Chandlers Ford in the late 1960s.  Alvin turns out to be a friend of our friend Margery Clarke.

After this it was by tube to Carol’s, then to Waterloo where I caught a commuter train back to Southampton to be collected by Jackie.  Looking around me on board this transport in which I had been fortunate to find a seat, I was relieved that my commuting years are over.

As I felt Jackie struggling to keep her steering level whilst being buffeted by winds on the M27 I had some idea of what that slender young woman on Westminster Bridge had been up against.