At 10 a.m. this morning we began work on clearing Bev and John’s wall that abuts our back drive. Knowing that I would not have the energy to tackle it after all the other shrubs and trees that threatened our neighbours’ foundations, I began with the fairly mature beech tree which was the worst offender. I need both an axe and a saw to cut it down to a stump that will be left for Jackie’s lethal application. Flora and fauna alike, except for the unfortunate prey of the spider

becoming more engorged as I watched it at its feast, basked in the morning sunshine.

We have stunning clumps of Japanese anemones of various colours, and the recently planted winter pansies, some in the chimney pots, perk up cheeky faces.

Gladioli, one of which provided the canvas for a portrait of a fly that would have done justice to Whistler in his white period,

looked almost translucent against the light.

Bees seem to enjoy the orange dahlias.

A woodlouse, climbing up our neighbours’ wall in an effort to escape my attentions, was soon overhauled by a baby spider.

Hidden beneath a hebe, which we have reduced in size and will retain, was a hart’s tongue fern that seems to be the only one we have. Jackie rapidly transplanted it.

‘Where there’s smoke there’s hope’, was a mantra we, as children in Raynes Park, invoked when trying to breathe life into illicit bonfires we enjoyed on the then much wider patch of railway land at the back of 29a Stanton Road where we grew up. I thought of this as I watched weak wisps of smoke struggling through the fire this morning. It was almost three hours before the first welcome crackle of flame was heard, but, by 1.30 our neighbours had

a wall that Banksy would no doubt find enticing.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, Banksy is a pseudonymous U.K. based graffiti artist who stencils his work on vacant walls. Whatever you think of the idea of defacing other people’s property, you would have to agree that this man is an artist who, overnight, can enhance its value. Collectors like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will spend thousands of dollars or pounds on a piece. In October 2007 they acquired a number of works at auction for a total outlay of £1,000,000.

An earlier project of mine, which, so far has not seen any kind of publication, was called ‘Streets of London’, consisted of (more than 1,000) photographs of London streets with the constraint that the name should appear in the frame. In May 2008, because it in itself seemed an interesting scene, I photographed a corner of Acklam Road, W10, just off Portobello Road.

Three days later, I passed the same corner, to find a white wall embellished by a Banksy. Interestingly, this artwork already bore a protective perspex covering. Now, at least one of my street pictures has been published.

We dined this evening on slow roasted, tangy smoked gammon, cauliflower cheese in a mustard sauce, new potatoes and carrots, followed by egg custard dessert. I finished the rioja and Jackie drank the last of the weissbier.


The Paris Marathon

Last night I watched a DVD of ‘Burn After Reading’.  In this film political thrillers and computer dating get the Cohen brothers’ treatment.  That is, they make farce out of them.  David Edwards of the Daily Mirror described it as ‘………comedy genius’.  That is what Joel and Ethan Cohen are all about.  George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt must have had great fun playing their parts to perfection.

This morning I walked to Monbos and branched off to Ste Innocence from where I returned to Sigoules.  This was a two and a half hour trek in the heat of the day.  And I do mean heat.  As I marched along, carrying a bottle of Perrier, a woman getting into her car told me it was very dangerous walking in this without a hat.  She didn’t quote Noel Coward at me, and I didn’t mention that I was suffering a slight hangover after my second bottle of Adnam’s last night.  I had not realised it is 6.7%.

The scratting of crickets in the hedgerows and of cicadas in the trees reminded me of the latter creatures at The Gite From Hell (4th. June).  I could feel the heat rising from the tarmac, the tar of which was, in places, melting.  It clung to my sandals, just as it had in Stanton Road in 1947, when I returned from play covered in it.  I expect my poor mother had to scrap my clothes.  Even the sunflowers turned their backs on the midday sun.

I have described the church at Monbos before (8th. June), but that was when I was not illustrating my posts.

At Ste Innocence I met a Dutchman called Emil who has a house there.  We swapped stories of such impulse buys.

As I staggered back into Sigoules, I thought of the Italian runner in the lead who was disqualified at the first London Olympics because, as he was wandering all over the place, someone helped him across the line.  I wasn’t marching any more.  The ice-cold water I had set off with was now almost ready for the cafetiere.  I put what was left of it in the fridge and got out another bottle which I consumed pretty quickly.  Rivulets ran down my neck for a while.  My soaking T-shirt soon dried in the 40 degree sauna that was the back yard.  I was in neither the shirt nor the garden at the time.  I had been as relieved to enter the cool shelter of the stone-walled No. 6 rue St. Jacques as Jackie would have been.  She wouldn’t have left it in the first place.

When running a marathon it is essential to drink water at regular intervals.  If you wait until you are thirsty it is too late.  This refreshment is taken in brief sips on the run.  You become accustomed to this by carrying water in training.  On one of our shared holidays with Sam and Louisa and our late wives Ann and Jessica, Don decided to help me out.  Meeting me at regular intervals on a two hour run, he provided the drink stations.  Driving to agreed points on the route, he brought me wonderfully cool, fresh, water.  We called this service ‘Le wagon d’eau’.  Don, where were you today?

That is why, in properly organised races, there are regular drink stations.  In the Paris marathon, some time in the ’80s, there were refreshment stands like no others.  The first was the only one at which I saw any water.  From it were distributed large plastic containers of Evian.  Those, like me, who managed to grasp one drank slowly and passed it on.  Big mistake.  Other tables contained nuts, bananas, and chocolate, none of which I could bear to think about.  Only at the last oasis did I see anything resembling liquid.  Huge containers of yoghurt.  I grabbed one and guzzled the lot.  Second big mistake.

I was quite used to congestion at the start of capital marathons.  In the London one it would take me ten minutes walking to reach the start line and a futher ten to take up anything like my normal pace.  Paris, however, just had to provide a blockage at the finish.  Ten minutes in a situation that reminded me of The Drain (6th. July).

Marshalling during the race was equally chaotic.  There are cobblestones around The Tower in one small stretch of the London event. These always need careful negotiation by the runners, who are left in peace to get on with it.  Not so in Paris, which had far more cobbled areas.  Any spectators wishing to do so seemed welcome to try their luck pacing alongside the contestants.  Cyclists were granted similar freedom.

A French friend, Arnoux, claiming to be there to meet a famous English runner; which, I hasten to add, I am not; smoothed my final passage through the drain.  As I was taking a welcome bath in our friends’ home, up came the yoghurt.  It supplemented the bath water.  I then had to explain why my ablutions had taken such a long time.  It was with considerable relief that, on the ferry home, I learned that even the elite runners had suffered similar embarrassment.  I never ran Paris again.

This evening I exchanged the back garden sauna for the one outside Le Bar for a deliciously tasty fruits de mer pizza with a plentiful side salad.  This was complemented by one glass of rose and a bottle of fizzy water.  After last night I thought I’d be careful.  An excellent creme brulee followed.

The problem with dining alfresco is that it tends to attract the local fauna.  Flies can be dismissed with a wave of the hand, or Australian salute as they tell me in Perth; ants need a well-aimed flick; the cat needed a little more persuasion to desist from climbing up my bare leg in search of my fruits de mer.