Starting Handles

Field, newly sownStream, ferns, mare's tailsCattle behind cottageYoung man at bus stopSlugCaterpillarMan seated on shingleOn this brighter, balmy, day, the returning sunshine was welcomed by all; by me; by Roger’s newly sown fields; by ferns and mare’s tails on the bank of the stream; by basking cattle huddled behind the corner cottage; by a young man, with the customary electronic device, waiting for a bus; by slithering slugs and by creeping caterpillars on the footpath; and by one solitary wave watcher seated on the shingle.Steps

These are the steps Bob runs up and down.

On my return, whist Jackie continued her autumn tidying, I began the daunting task of digging out the more stubborn roots of bramble and ivy from the back drive. Bolt cutters were required for the removal of more of our predecessor’s metal mesh.Rooting out

As you can see, I didn’t get very far.

imagesMargery and Paul visited us this afternoon, and we enjoyed our usual wide-ranging conversations. Thinking of how times have changed over the last century, we embarked on the subject of early motoring. We travelled back to 1919 when Jackie’s grandfather acquired his first car, and never had to take a test. He would regularly drive himself from Anerley to Brighton when hardly another vehicle was to be seen on the road.Morris Minor starting handle She remembered her Dad cranking up a starting handle to get the car going, and jump into the car hoping the engine would continue running. The dog-legged shaped metal crank was shoved through a hole in front of the motor where its own female end engaged with a male one attached to the starting mechanism. This handle for the Morris Minor most resembles one I remember using to help my Dad get moving. You had to be quite vigorous in your cranking, and hope the equipment didn’t suddenly whizz round and break your wrist.

Later, Jackie and I watched, on BBC iPlayer, episode 2 of the 11th series of New Tricks. It was in the 9th series of 2012 – the last one I watched – that the skilful and watchable Denis Lawson replaced James Bolam as one of the old dogs, (who, according to proverb, cannot be taught new tricks), namely a trio of retired policemen under the management of a female officer played originally by Amanda Redman. Their task is to reopen investigations into unsolved crimes.

As with a number of successful TV series over the years, this comedy-drama began as a one-off – on 27th March 2003. Of the original cast only the everlasting Dennis Waterman remains. Redman has been replaced by Tamzin Outhwaite; and Alun Armstrong by Nicholas Lyndhurst.

Having found the rapport between the original cast members very entertaining, I will need to reserve judgement on the current team. One of the secrets of success of such productions is the chemistry between the actors. In my view this is a little lacking at the moment, but it is worth persevering with.

The supporting cast played their parts well.

Our evening meal consisted of Jackie’s classic sausage casserole (recipe), smooth mashed potato, and crisp carrots and peas, followed by jam sponge and custard. She drank Hoegaarden, whilst I enjoyed Isla Negra Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.

Incontrovertible Clarification

In recent days I have begun reading Neal Ascherson’s ‘Black Sea’.
Last night on BBC iPlayer Jackie and I watched John Landis’s 2010 send-up of the ‘Burke and Hare’ tragedy. I thought it perhaps questionable that such an horrific story based on two real serial killers should be thought fitting for comedy. Nevertheless I did, indeed find it funny. All credit to the director; the writers, Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft; and the cast, for achieving that. Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg play the two villains; Pegg the somewhat perplexed follower struggling with his conscience; and Serkis the devious opportunist lacking such a thing. Isla Fisher is the scheming love object, and Tom Wilkinson the crafty surgeon who turns a blind eye to the means of death of the supply of bodies he commissions. Bill Bailey fulfils the classical chorus role, and a score of other well-known faces enjoy taking part in this scurrilous romp. Mind you, not much movement is required from Christopher Lee. This was undemanding light entertainment for someone who had been working at the computer all day.
Regular readers will know I had been retrieving and scanning Covent Garden negatives from my archives. I finished that particular roll of film this morning.  In 1982, when I think I took the photographs, that now very salubrious area of London was still in the process of transformation from the fruit and vegetable market dating back to the seventeenth century into an enclave that boasts numerous outlets for dining on its former produce, as well as meat from Smithfield, fish from Billingsgate, and culinary delights from all over the world. Guitarist 9.82The redevelopment of Nine Elms in Vauxhall, to house the New Covent Garden Market, began in 1971.  Trading began there in 1974.
When we lived in Soho, the old Covent Garden was ripe for speculators who moved in steadily to change what had become a daily craft market where people sold their own work into an outlet for more manufactured goods; and to convert some of the old buildings into classy shops and restaurants. It remains a thriving area, if lacking the old world charm of the ’70s and ’80s. Bustling cafes have open-air seating, and buskers, like my guitarist, still perform to enthralled crowds, such as those I pictured in September 1982. Boy on shoulders in crowd 9.82What my former neighbour John Bussell, a radio 2 producer, would have called ‘serious music’, was also presented to rapt crowds. Musicians Covent Garden 9.82John believed ‘classical’ was a misguided term for what should more accurately be termed serious. I’m sure the more decoratively dressed guitarist would have taken his music just as seriously as those who played with the aid of sheet music.
It seems to be a time for unearthing lost treasures. Slips on stall 6.83Today’s discovery should please my granddaughter Alice, for it was the negative of the framed print she ‘snaffled’ on 2nd September last year. It featured one of the craft stalls mentioned above. Perhaps I had Smithfield Market in mind when I saw this as a visual pun and hung the enlargement on the wall of the dining room in Lindum House. In my post of the following day I recorded that I had been unable to trace the colour slide from which the print was made. That is hardly surprising, because I should have been searching for a negative. I also erroneously dated this in the mid 1970s. This morning’s discovery came with an incontrovertible clarification in the form of the previous frame on the strip.Louisa 6.83 That is a picture of Louisa, born on 24th May 1982, lolling in a large armchair. I think you can work it out for yourself.
Well into the afternoon we took a drive out to The Foresters Arms at Frogham. Incessant rain, with gathering momentum, had fallen throughout the day. Much of it lay across the lanes of the north of the forest; surrounding the trees in vast pools; and turning the heathland into a few dryish winding strips between acres of water. Noisy torrents rushed over the fords. Those few ponies in view looked bedraggled as they squelched about in search of fodder.
Ford overflowing
At Blissford we came to a standstill. Water roared over the concrete and into the swollen stream, sending a wave back up the road as it ricocheted on the teeming surface. In the distance men in an emergency van’s gondola attended to overhead wires.  There was no choice but to turn back and take a wide diversion. Customers in the pub could not believe the photos I showed them were of Blissford. Only when Michelle, the manager, pointed out the telltale farm machinery at the roadside were they convinced.
Headlights in floodwater
The return journey, in the dark, with oncoming vehicles’ blinding headlights magnified by water on our windscreen and by the waves thrown up by Jackie’s own car, and reflected in the lakes the car had to skate through, was even more nerve-wracking for my chauffeuse.
Back in the safety of our flat we dined on Jackie’s tasty and tender heart casserole, cabbage, carrots, and mashed potato and parsnip with a sprinkling of paprika.

No Play Today

Today was dank, dull, and overcast, in stark contrast to the glorious sunshine of yesterday.  Jackie and I stayed at home. This morning was spent on domestic tasks, and after lunch we watched Stephen Spielberg’s fascinating film ‘Catch Me If You Can’ on BBC iPlayer.
We had some considerable frustration in actually finding iPlayer and subsequently the film on television.  This is because the system of navigation has been changed and I, for one, hardly ever used the old one.  Nevertheless we enjoyed the production enough for Jackie to read Wikipedia’s version of the story of a juvenile con-man who impersonated a series of professionals and defrauded numerous banks out of millions of dollars in the late 1960s.
The opening credits tell us that the film is ‘inspired by a true story’.  Frank Abagnale Jr is the lead character, played brilliantly by Leonardo di Caprio, who as a rather older actor manages to be a quite creditable teenager who conducted his fraudster adventure before he reached the age of eighteen. In the process he impersonates a teacher; an airline pilot; a doctor; and a lawyer. The initial bravado and excitement, progressing through self-doubt and ultimate signs of panic are well portrayed. There are touchingly tragic elements to the story of this young man who set himself off on a roller-coaster ride and really rather wants to get off but doesn’t know how to do so. Tom Hanks is the FBI agent chasing his fugitive across half the world.  He presents a clever mixture of haplessness and useful observation and intuition.  Christopher Walken is convincing as the conman father on whom we are given to believe Frank has modelled himself. Wikipedia describes a very different Frank Abagnale Senior.  But then, the film does not claim to be a biopic and dramatically this works very well.
Di Caprio’s character is finally caught and imprisoned.  Through a developing friendship with Hanks’s FBI agent he is eventually released and works for the Investigation Bureau’s fraud squad.  Wikipedia confirms and expands upon this.
Number 41 in the ‘through the ages’ series of photographs features Garrick House Cricket Club, which I joined as an opening bowler in 1957.  This photograph was taken in the summer of 1958.
Garrick House cricket team
Garrick House in Southampton Street, Covent Garden was the home of theatrical publishers Samuel French Ltd.  The cricket club was that of the firm.  By 1957, no-one playing for the team worked for the publishers.  They therefore handed over ownership and all the kit to the current body of men. The club was, a year or two later merged with Trinity (Battersea) Cricket club, for whom a number of the Garrick House players, including me, turned out.  It was Stan Oxley, seated in the centre of the picture, who was one of the trio who formed the Battersea club, and spent his life as its Secretary, who recruited me, first for the team above, and the following year for the much stronger Trinity.  There was then no conflict of interest because Garrick house played on Saturdays at Cottenham Park, and Trinity was a wandering Sunday side.
From left to right on the top row stand Peter Gwilliam, Ray Chard, Norman Vigor, Mike Vaughan, and me.  Seated are John Baker, Jack Niblett, Stan, John O’Rourke, and Tony Woodward.  Bob Mitchell sits on the grass.
Peter was a classy batsman and occasional wicketkeeper lacking similar class. Ray was a powerful all-rounder whose input was somewhat variable.  Norman was a talented and stylish batsman and useful fast bowler, who married Eileen, an England off-spinner. Mike could turn a game with his powerful hitting, and was a good wicketkeeper.  Modesty prevails for the next one.
John Baker didn’t play often, but was a strong batsman and fast bowler.  Jack Niblett was the Alec Bedser of the side.  He resembled the great Surrey and England medium paced bowler in size and delivery, but lacked his variation. Jack, very successfully, wore down the opposition by placing the ball, from a remarkably short run-up, exactly on the spot just outside the off stump, at an unexpectedly brisk pace. Every time. Ball after ball. If you wanted to score off him you had to take a risk. I often thought he bored them to death. Matthew 9.71 He was definitely a number eleven batsman. Stan, I’ve mentioned above.  He was the hub of the club, and after his death sometime in the 1980s the club was renamed Trinity (Oxley) Cricket Club. John O’Rourke was not happy. He was a less than successful pace bowler. Tony was a keen photographer. He once borrowed a couple of my slides to submit to a photographic competition. He didn’t pass them off as his own, but they did receive some commendation.  One, unfortunately I’ve lost.  The other, taken in September 1971, of Matthew peering through my sister Jacqueline’s back door window, he entitled ‘No Play Today’.
Bob has featured before.  He was a fairly reasonable spin bowler and occasional batsman.
This evening we dined on battered haddock and chips, mushy peas and pickled onions.  Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I enjoyed Les 3 Lys Crozes Hermitages 2010.

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.