Grandparent Duties

Web on leaves 8.12

On this splendid late summer morning I took myself, via Martin Way and Cannon Hill Lane, to Cannon Hill Common.  In Maycross Avenue an elderly couple were struggling to get a large canvas bag into the back of their car.  I crossed the road and volunteered to help them.  The bag contained pruned branches.  As I easily lifted my end into the vehicle, the man exclaimed: ‘Blimey.  You are worth ten of us’.  Given that they were probably no older than me I counted my blessings and told them how I had spent my weekend.  A frog had taken refuge in one of the recycle bins awaiting collection.  There was a lot of fishing going on in the lake, and Alan William Marshall’s memorial bench (see 31st. May) bore a fresh vase of crisp roses.  There are now official notices informing piscators that they must be members of the eponymous club in order to fish.  I didn’t ask anyone whether they belonged to The Wandle Piscators.  Numerous ducks were swimming on the water, and a group were having a camouflaged rest on the bank.  There were clearly a number of grandparents fishing or feeding the ducks with small children.  This took me back to one day when Emily and Oliver were both under three.  I cared for them for the day.  Wondering what on earth I was going to do with them all day, I readily agreed.  As it was a pleasant afternoon I took them to a playground and spent the time pushing swings and trying to keep my eyes on both of them at once.  I have to admit I looked at my watch every half hour or so until the time I could give them back.  Only, joking, kids.  Gramps having a laugh.  On another occasion, when Oliver was about three, I had a laugh with him.  I entertained him for a good hour without having to move from my chair.  He had one of those small bows with rubber tipped arrows, and fired it at a white spot on the wall.  Soon the spot began to move around the room, giving him a moving target.  He occasionally hit it, when it momentarily became stationary.  What I had noticed was that the white spot was the reflection of my watch face.  The smallest movement of my wrist was enough to provide hours of jolly fun with the least effort from me.  For as long as the sun was at the appropriate angle, anyway.

Ten month old Barney was also being babysat.  His carer was calling him the stupidest dog in the world because he was trying to lift half a tree.  This reminded me of the time when I, too, had bitten off more than I could chew.  At a zoo in Australia in 2008, a jam-packed crowd was peering at a gorilla.  What I thought was a small boy in front of me couldn’t see a thing.  I asked his mother if I could lift him up.  They both readily agreed.  Unfortunately the lad turned out to be very fat, and I wasn’t as strong as I had once been.  I grasped him under the arms intending to hoist him onto my shoulders.  I couldn’t lift him further than my chest.  I settled for a bear hug at that level.  I had to grip him so tightly I think he was probably very relieved when I put him down.  I was certainly rather embarrassed.  At least he saw the gorilla.  Maybe I was lucky that the bag destined for the municipal dump earlier only contained sticks.  Mind you, a thorn sticking through the canvas did leave its mark on my hand.

Some of the trees, including a mature oak, had been damaged by the strong winds we’ve experienced this year.  The tree bore a large scar and had lost a huge branch, giving the scene an autumnal appearance.  This reminded my of the centuries old Major Oak in Sherwood Forest which we sometimes visited when Sam and Louisa were young.  The long low limbs of that tree are now propped up by struts, and the area is fenced off.

This afternoon I began reading ‘Count Belisarius’ by Robert Graves.

This morning I extracted from the freezer the ingredients for a sausage and pork casserole.  Jackie popped in at lunchtime with salad items for our evening meal.  Double result.  I got the satisfaction of being prepared to cook, and then the pleasure of not having to.  Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I enjoyed Vina Araya, 2010 reserve Chilean red wine.  Here is a picture for Danni


IMG_0134 Dawn, after another night of rain, broke clear and sunny.  I set off, with no particular goal, to stroll around the streets off Hillcross Avenue.  I have previously mentioned the fact that Morden’s front gardens have been given over to the motor car. Outside this extended car park I chatted with an elderly woman who remembered when everyone tended their gardens.  She said not many people liked gardening these days.  I replied that perhaps that was so, but ‘what do you do with your cars?.  The header picture, from Cherrywood Lane, indicates that some people try to maintain both plants and cars.  The bricked surface shows the edge of the car standing area.

Emerging from The Green, I could not resist the temptation to continue onto Cannon Hill Common, where my feet got wet in the sodden grass and I skidded on the quagmire that masqueraded as footpaths.  It had definitely not been a good idea to wear beige trousers fresh from the cleaners. The illustration of a path on Wimbledon Common on 10th. July gives you some idea. There was fishing going on by the lake, where a young mother was explaining to her toddler that ‘a dog is a dog and a duck is a duck and they are two different animals’.

It being a Mordred day, from Cannon Hill I walked back into Morden to pick up an Independent, for which I set a monthly crossword.  Of the missing cats mentioned yesterday, Daisy has obviously returned home, but Diego is still on walkabout.  I have mentioned Mordred before, and an illustration of his work appears on 5th. July.  It is time to explain how he came into being.  About thirty years ago I first ran in the Newark half marathon.  For the event Jessica, Sam, Louisa and I went up to stay with our friends Maggie and Mike Kindred and their daughter Cathy in Southwell.  Little did I know what this trip would lead to.  We eventually moved from Furzedown in South London to Newark in Nottinghamshire, and a lifelong friendship was cemented.  Having discovered that Michael and I shared a passion for crosswords, it seemed natural, when I got bored with reading on my daily commute to London, to set him a puzzle.  He solved it and retaliated.  This exchange continued for some time.  Other commuters, noticing what I was engrossed in, interrupted my work to ask for solutions to puzzles they were solving.  I did not give them the answers, but helped them to work it out for themselves. After a while Mike and I decided to do something a bit more ambitious and write a book which took students through a series of graded puzzles with the object of their being competent to solve a daily cryptic puzzle in any of the newspapers.  I might say that, in doing so, our own solving abilities became vastly improved.  This book became, in 1993, ‘Chambers Cryptic Crosswords and How to Solve Them’.  It remained in print, going into a second, improved, edition for just short of twenty years, until Chambers was finally taken over by a company who did not want to use it.  Not being able to break into a daily newspaper team in those early days, we decided to set what are called advanced cryptics.  These are much more difficult, themed, puzzles found in the weekend newspapers, the editors of which accept puzzles from anyone who can meet the standard.  We began with The Times Listener, generally recognised as the most complex of this genre. Now we had to have a pseudonym.  So Mordred was born.  I have always loved Arthurian legend, and as a setter, fancied myself as an evil Knight.  Mordred was King Arthur’s treacherous nephew.  The ‘dred’ bit fitted nicely with Michael’s surname, and as has been mentioned by more than one sorrowful solver, the whole is a homophone for more dread.  We set a couple of joint puzzles as Mordred until, on the editor’s advice, we split up (although remaining very good friends).  I became Mordred and Michael continues to set as Emkay.

I spent this afternoon doing my head in trying to get some figures right for my accountant, which didn’t much matter because the clouds were gathering again and the rain soon came back.  It was still pouring in the evening when we went out to the China Garden restaurant in London Road for an excellent meal.  Since living in Soho’s Chinatown in the 1970s, when you could get a set meal for £1.00, I have not really found many Chinese restaurants that pass muster.  This one certainly does.  The food is tasty and crisp; the service attentive, friendly, and discreet; and the ambience gentle and soothing.  The rain continued as we left.


As I watched a group of brave people setting up St. James’ Church fete in Martin Way, en route to Cannon Hill Common, I reflected on the fact that most such events have been washed out this year.  Jackie read this morning that the Godiva festival in Coventry, an event which takes a year in the planning, has had to be cancelled because of the torrential rain which has been flooding the Midlands for months.  London has not suffered as much as the rest of the country, and today was bright, although very windy and cloudy.  I wished this parochial effort well.

Along the lake in the common people were fishing.  These included a man with two children and a group of boys.  The man had a fishing licence but was not a club member and knew nothing of the lease to the Wandle Piscators (see post of 31st. May).  The boys were more interested in making fun of one of their group who, in attempting to retrieve something from the water, already with one saturated trouser-leg, was in danger of falling in, than in conversing with me.

Mallards and coots were basking in the occasional shafts of sunlight.  Another duck was shepherding her chicks.  A cormorant on the far side of the lake was poised for the kill (of fish, not chicks).  Three magpies I disturbed on the path fled to the safety of a solitary tree.

Having emerged from the Joseph Hood recreation ground, alongside the common, a woman was training her Labrador puppy to cross the road.  This prompted me to tell her the story of Piper.  Piper was the dog who helped Michael upstage me in the launderette television scene (see post of 22nd. June).  Some thirty odd years ago, when my son was still a teenager, we lived in Soho where Michael did a paper round. Michael & Piper 6.77 One morning he came back with a mongrel dog of uncertain age.  Naturally he wished to keep him.  Now, we lived in a tiny first floor flat in the middle of Chinatown.  It seemed to me that it was unreasonable to keep a dog there.  I was, however, outnumbered by two to one.  Here was I, doing my best to have a quiet, uninterrupted, bath and I had both Jessica and Michael in tears pleading with me for my agreement.  Feeling a heel (not one of those in the bath), I stuck to my guns for a while, but eventually reached the following compromise.  Michael was instructed to take the dog back where he found him and put a note on his collar, and if an owner couldn’t be traced we would keep him.  Silly me, I didn’t tell the boy what the note should say.  The note, which Jessica kept for the rest of her life, read: ‘If you know this dog, please return him to his owner.’  This was followed by our telephone number.  Michael much later confessed that he had not left Piper at all, but simply brought him back home saying he wouldn’t stop following him.  The dog was well cared for and had clearly been loved.  I often wondered whether something had happened to his original owner, and, if not, what the loss meant to him or her.

Where did he get his name from?  Well, he had been found on a paper round, so what better than the Cockney version of paper?  Piper he was.

Why did the woman training her dog in the art of crossing the road remind me of all this?  Piper was a wanderer, well used to negotiating West End traffic.  He always used zebra crossings.  Off he would go walkabout, on his solitary expeditions, safely trotting across the striped paths at which all the cars had to stop.  One day we had a telephone call (yes, a telephone on a landline, as was usual in those days) from the police.  He had turned up in Hyde Park.  Would we come and collect him?  We explained that he knew his own way home and could safely negotiate the traffic.

My listener was treated to a truncated version of this story and found it very endearing.  Not so endearing, which saddened her, was Piper’s demise.  After we moved to Gracedale Road in Furzedown Piper continued his wanderings, although at this time only when he could escape.  He was by now very old, deaf and blind.  One night we received a call from someone who told us that he had been run over on a zebra crossing.  Michael and I collected the body and buried him in the garden.  A sad end, indeed, but Piper had enjoyed a long and heathly life and perhaps would have chosen this way to go.

In the afternoon we drove to Mat and Tess’s home in Upper Dicker in East Sussex.  Alongside the A23 the limbs of a shattered oak sprawled in homage to the severe winds that have been blowing for weeks now.  Cricket matches were in progress.

For some reason best known to Jackie we went straight to their village shop.  I was puzzled by this because I thought it was Tess’s day off.  What happened next is too important to share a post.  It will therefore receive its own tomorrow.  A clue is that I have not rounded this one off with details of our evening meal.


Animal Found 6.12On this fine summer’s day I set off for Cannon Hill Common, with the vague idea that I might be able to take some nature photographs with which to illustrate this post.  In Maycross Avenue I spotted an RSPCA notice fixed to a post announcing that a tortoise had been found.  Without anything particular in mind I photographed it.  I then began to wander aimlessly, hoping I might find a new route to the common, but sensing I was moving away from it.  There now seemed no purpose to my walk.  I was covering streets I’d never traversed before, and, as these roads between Hillcross Avenue and Grand Drive seem to go all over the place I hadn’t much idea where I was until a bus stop signed in the direction of West Sutton suggested I might be heading for Grand Drive.  This was indeed the case and I walked up to the end of Hillcross and along it for a while until diverging onto the path between the gardens of that street and Morden Park. Overgrown path 6.12 This was almost a bad mistake, for the path was very overgrown and at one point I had to crouch low to wriggle under a fallen branch spanning the fences on each side of the path.  At one time I would have happily crawled through what was effectively a tunnel, but now it’s far too much effort to get on my hands and knees unless there’s something else I can do whilst down there.

Ah, but there was a purpose to my meanderings.  I was clearly being guided by whoever or whatever is above.  Some distance along Shaldon Drive, which I couldn’t find now without a map, there was another notice pinned to tree.  Have you guessed it?  Yes, it was a notice offering a reward for the return of a lost tortoise.  Naturally I rang the number on this sign.  When I explained that I may be able to help the woman who answered to find her tortoise she and I both became rather excited.  She asked me whether I’d remembered the number on the first poster, and, of course I was able to say that I had photographed it and arrange to call her back when I had summoned the image to my camera screen.  I explained what I was doing with my walks and why I had taken the picture.  When I called back I was also able to give the date when the animal had been found and this seemed to fit.  As she was currently at work she would let me know later whether it was her tortoise or not.  I asked her his name, saying that, of course the story would be blogged.  Now this allegedly slow-moving creature had travelled quite a distance, so perhaps I should not have been surprised to find that his name was Brendan, after Brendan Foster the 70s Olympic champion runner.  By coincidence, I had known Brendan’s wife’s sister who was married to my friend Tony, and Brendan had undertaken to look out for me and give me a mention when commentating my first London marathon.  Unfortunately he had been unable to pick me out in the crowd, which was actually just as well, because I was running in someone else’s place.

Jackie came home early this evening so we could visit Becky.  We decided on a takeaway from Deshi Spice.  Four people perusing the menu, making choices, then changing their minds; with one person, Jackie, writing down the orders took the usual age to organise.  Jackie rang to place the order.  No reply.  Becky had a look at the menu brochure.  Closed on Tuesdays.  Just like Paris where everything is ferme Mardi.  Not good for Jackie’s nerves.  As Becky felt up to it we decided to go out for a meal at The Raj in Mitcham.  We had been there before, but it had changed hands since our last visit.  It was empty but for one sole middle aged woman seated with a meal and one gentleman waiting for a takeaway.  None of the tables were set.  We were shown to a table, spread, like the others, with a paper tablecloth.  The adjacent table was similarly covered, except that the paper looked as if someone had eaten their meal straight off that, having dispensed with plates.  We certainly didn’t have any. Nor cutlery.  Nor napkins.  One of what we realised was the only two staff took our order.  Then we sat.  And we sat.  And watched Mitcham passing by or waiting at the bus stop across the road.

Whilst nothing was happening I received a call from Sue, Brendan’s owner.Missing tortoise! 6.12  Unfortunately the found tortoise was not Brendan.  Brendan was 70 years old and the foundling was a baby.  Great disappointment all round.  In fact this was the second  other tortoise found since Brendan’s disappearance.  So, if any of my readers come across a tortoise, exactly contemporary with me, answering to the name of Brendan, please telephone Sue on 07809095005.  She would love to hear from you.

Getting a little impatient after half an hour or so, I wandered into the kitchen and asked if we could have our drinks.  The man who had taken our order, now on kitchen duty, said he was making them.  Given that they all came out of bottles I returned to our table hoping that something had been lost in translation.

Eventually the popadoms appeared.  Now, it is my firm belief that popadoms are a clear indicator of the quality of Indian food.  These were excellent.  Maybe, just maybe, our patience could be rewarded.  Still no drinks, however, nor any napkins or cutlery.  Actually there was an item on the menu labelled Aloo Cutlery.  We were wondering whether we should have ordered that.  I went over to the cutlery rack and brought a container over to our table where we all helped ourselves.  Jackie and Becky had serviceable napkins in their handbags, and I helped myself to the half one under the popadoms. We could see a secondhand one left by the woman at the table opposite but Flo, ever resourceful, tore off the corner of the tablecloth for hers.

Finally the drinks arrived.  My Cobra was lukewarm, but no-one else complained about theirs, and it might have caused untold delay had I mentioned it.  Then came the surprise of the evening.  We were all served together with a perfectly presented and deliciously prepared array of excellent food.  When we’d almost finished our meals the napkins arrived.  If you are not seeking sophisticated ambience, don’t mind helping yourselves to cutlery, bring your own napkins, and can live with rather grubby surroundings, but want first class Bangladeshi food, then Mitcham’s The Raj is the place for you.

As we left we all stepped over the half-eaten fried chicken leg deposited in the doorway, presumably by a customer of Dallas Chicken on the opposite corner of the street.

And so to Links Avenue and bed.

The Wandle Piscators

This morning we awoke to birdsong.  Yes, song.  No more raucous chattering of magpies.  Could the plague have passed?  A different, territorial, conflict took place.  From our window we joined the audience of a wren and a wood pigeon watching a stand-off between two robins.  The victorious combatant joined them on the fence and they were all lined up, respectful distances apart, surveying the terrain.  Maybe congratulating themselves on having survived the various avian threats.  It was a bit like a surviving gladiator joining the spectators in the Colosseum.  During the afternoon a couple of the predators returned to the trees on the embankment.  A wandering cat caused them great consternation and silenced the rest of the birds.  They didn’t silence my rest, though.  They simply disturbed it.

In fact another kind of invasion seems in the offing.  I mentioned in a previous post a man having commandeered the patch of unused land alongside our garden fence.  He is now nailing supports to our fence – not just the posts, but the more flimsy panels in between.  We are simply tenants and don’t have access to the garden which is really the home of the foxes, otherwise I might go and have a word.  However, when he started belting these nails in and shaking the fence I thought I’d better ring the landlord and let her know (I know, I know, the word land lord is not appropriate for a woman, but the two of them seem happy with it).  I got an answerphone on which I left a message.  Later in the evening, not having received a reply, I went to investigate.  His runner bean canes are not actually touching our fence, but what he was nailing in place was a rambling blackberry.

En route to Cannon Hill Common I stopped and chatted to the younger proprietor of the Martin Cafe.  This, of course, meant that I was bound to go in for a fry-up on the way back.  So I duly did.  It seemed only right.

On the common there were masses of dog roses in full bloom festooning other shrubs, and brambles were beginning to bear blossom.

Walking along the lakeside I noticed, attached to a couple of trees, laminated flyers stating that, from tomorrow, fishery in the lake would be managed by The Wandle Piscators, a private club.  Whilst, admittedly, the club invited new members, it would no longer be legal for the general public to fish these waters.  Was this another nail in the privatisation coffin which has been built to contain public service and real freedom to be an individual?  I pondered on this, and whether the ban would extend to free spirited small boys gathering newts, as I continued my walk.

This took me past a group of mothers and toddlers happily feeding the ducks on bread.  I think it was in Regents Park that I once spotted a notice advising people not to give the birds bread and advising of the dangers to them inherent in this.  I thought it best not to mention that.  It is, after all, one of the greatest pleasures of young children and an excellent way of occupying them and providing a social outlet for their mothers.  I don’t think that, however polite and genteel an informant such as I may be, I would have been seen as anything other than a killjoy, if not an interfering old git.

Further along, strapped to a bench inscribed IN LOVING MEMORY OF ALLAN WILLIAM MARSHALL, who died in 2008, there was a vase filled with fresh flowers in clean water.  Someone mourns him still.

Beyond the lake I took a footpath parallel to the common which brought me out onto Grand Drive.  Was this the route taken by those two small boys all those years ago?  Unless Chris remembers I guess I will never know.  Up Grand Drive, left into Southway and I was soon back on the common having a last stroll back along the lake and on to Martin Cafe.  This time I chose to stop and chat to the one solitary angler I had noticed first time round.  I wondered what was his view on the Wandle Piscators?  Well, he was going to join.  He saw no harm in it although he would rather it wasn’t happening.  If it improved the quality of cleanliness and management it could be a positive thing.  He didn’t think £25 per year was too much to pay for any potential improvement.  He confirmed what I had surmised, that this was the club that fished the Wandle in Morden Hall Park.  They were therefore an established organisation.  What I didn’t tell him was that the National Trust litter picker had told me that the fishermen left lots of rubbish.  My companion here was therefore likely to be disappointed in his hope that under new management the litter bins might actually be emptied before they had begin to spill their contents. He, himself, had been fishing here about ten years.  There were others, however, in their fifties and sixties who had regularly fished there since they were seven years old.  They had formed considerable opposition, but to no avail.  I guess progress means regulation.

Tonight’s repast was my sausage casserole, using Sainsbury’s pork and herb sausages and bearing less and less resemblance to Delia’s original.  I finished off the Minervois whilst Jackie had a Peroni.

And so to bed and a few pages of ‘The Remorseful Day’.

A Pair Of Sandals

The magpie wars continue.  Not simply in our garden and the adjacent railway embankment, but also on Cannon Hill Common, where I walked today.  Parakeets in an oak tree were particularly excited by them.  I’ve never seen so many magpies.  There are two on the grass and two in a fir tree in the garden as I write.  And their warning cry gets on your nerves after a while.  It really grates.

Jackie was visiting a care home off Grand Drive, so she drove me to The Paddocks, award winning, Allotments alongside the common.  The plots on this site, the paths between them, and the various communal facilities, are all well tended.  I would imagine that every variety of fruit, vegetable, and flower, capable of being cultivated in this country may be found there.  It would take a day or two thoroughly to explore it.

The lovely morning sunlight dappled the wooded paths in the common itself, and set sparkling the buttercups, clover, and numerous other spring flowers in the well tended meadows.  I had to ask a dog-walker for directions to the lake to which, sixty years ago, Chris and I had walked from Raynes Park to collect newts.  I don’t recollect any other wildlife on the lake then, but then perhaps I was only interested in newts.  The lake is an eighteenth century brick pit which has been filled in.  Renovated in 2007 it now supports, and sports, a wide variety of wild life.  It is not just parakeets that are newcomers to Cannon Hill Common since 1950.  There are mallards, coots, cormorants, and many other waterfowl and birds feeding on the pond life; the lake has been stocked with dace, carp and other fish; there are frogs, and, of course, newts; and bats come seeking insects, perhaps the dragonflies that are in evidence.  I would speculate that the newts are descendents of those Chris and I did not catch.  Yellow irises and other water-loving plants were in bloom.  Beams of sunlight caught a myriad of insects.

Walking back to Links Avenue, it being earlier than usual, I was able to walk past The Martin Cafe without entering.  A rare occurence.

This afternoon in Lidl I got my come-uppance for yesterday’s comments about ‘take care’.  Not noticing a wet patch on the polished floor of the store I slipped on it, slid across the aisle, and bashed my forearm on a metal rack.  C’est la vie.

I had bought the sandals I was wearing, and in which I had just retrodden a childhood path, in Barbados in 2004.  I had walked around the island in them, so much so that I became known as ‘the white man who walks’.  The local people thought this a sign of not being quite right in the head.  One morning I walked the ten miles from our hotel to Bridgetown along what passed for a main road.  Whenever I checked directions I was told I should be on a bus.  Not that there appeared to be any bus stops.  If you wanted one you leapt into the road and gesticulated.  It may have been marginally safer to have been riding on one of these ramshackle vehicles which went careering along the winding roads than to have spent my time jumping into bushes to avoid them.  I am not sure.  If there was a speed limit no-one adhered to it.  Actually I did ride back and the journey was remarkably comfortable.  Unfortunately I had wasted valuable time standing in the wrong queue.  A certain amount of local knowledge was required to station oneself correctly.Chattel houses003

Chattel houses002

Chattel houses001

Along these roads people lived in chattel houses.  These are portable homes, stout, and some very old. Bougainvillea001 (1)Although people didn’t seem to worry about outside maintenance, the insides looked spotless and the adults and schoolchildren who emerged from them were beautifully turned out; womens’ dresses and children’s uniforms vying with the display of the ubiquitous bougainvillea.  This made a long walk which finished in the full heat of the day seem very refreshing.  My memory of the juvenile tramp from Raynes Park to Cannon Hill Common was much less so.  It was hot, dry, dusty, and to two small boys it seemed a very long way.

This evening we had Jackie’s Bolognese sauce with penne from the freezer.  Mine was accompanied by a couple of glasses of Pont St. Jean Minervois 2010, whilst Jackie had a glass of Sancere.

And so to a game or two of Scrabble and bed.