Showstopper

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.

The Chiropractors Could Come In Useful

This morning Jackie drove us to Emsworth, near Chichester, to help Becky in the first stages of moving into their new flat.  She was collecting the keys at mid-day and taking in ‘a few boxes’ before the main move tomorrow.  I became slightly concerned when I knew that Matthew was involved.  This would surely expand the ‘few’.  It did.

Cafe MokaFish & ChipsIt didn’t really surprise us that we arrived some way in advance of our two offspring.  We had coffee in the Cafe Moka, virtually next door, before ringing the doorbell at the appointed time, whereupon we were admitted by the estate agent, who herself, admitted that we were not who she was expecting.  However, by the time she needed to attend to her car parking meter, she had grown to trust us enough to leave Becky’s parents alone in the apartment.

Restaurants

The cafe can be seen from the small balcony, euphemistically termed ‘garden’ by the estate agent, as can the fish and chip shop and various other restaurants opposite.

I was delighted to see that the Chinese takeaway, the:Oriental 'ity

had used an apostrophe in one grammatically correct way.  It is a pity about the comma underneath.

Loaded Able Assignments van

I was right in my assumption that Matthew would stuff all he could into his little Able Assignments van.  And on top of it.  Staircase 27 North RoadThe stairs up to the third floor of the building were not as elegant as those that had so intrigued us at Athelhampton Hall two days ago, but I was to get to know them quite well over the next hour, during the unloading of the vehicle.  (I could have stumbled upon an intriguing staircase photographic theme here).

On the ground floor of this building, there is a chiropractic clinic.27 North Road  This was somewhat reassuring, for if we did our backs in during the process, we wouldn’t have far to go for treatment.  A dentist’s is on the opposite corner; a hairdresser’s across the road from, and a Tesco alongside, the Moka.  As Becky said, she’d never have to go out.

Derrick & MatthewMatthew moving Becky inMat and I got pretty hot and sticky.  Becky got very dry.  At one point Jackie and Becky had repeatedly cried ‘sit!’ in stereo.  Once I had realised Scooby wasn’t present, it dawned on me that I was being addressed by the two ladies concerned for my health and safety.  It must have been the heavy breathing that caught their attention.  Or maybe what Matthew termed the light patches on my dark blue shirt.

So it stood to reason we needed a drink.  This was obtained at the Blue something or other that ‘I disremember’.  I’m sure I will have a chance to reinforce my memory before much time has elapsed.  The staff there were extremely friendly.  As the barman offered me a tray and I thanked him, saying ‘I was wondering how I was going to get the drinks outside in one’, he responded with a smile and: ‘I was going to help you myself, but I thought I couldn’t be bothered, I’ll give you a tray’.  I might get to like him.

Before arriving at the pub we went to check out a choice of Indian restaurants for tomorrow night.  ‘A Taste of India’ stands next to ‘The Spice Village’.  What could have been a problematic decision was made easier by Matthew, whose report on the first of these, where he had once eaten, was that it rivalled Mitcham’s ‘The Raj’.  We booked at ‘The Spice Village’.  The man who took our booking, noticing Becky cavorting to the rhythm of the music that was playing, told her he would try to have it on when we arrived to eat, and to remind him if he forgot.

Emsworth promenade

The tide was out in the harbour, and the day rather changeable, but it was easy to see why it was such a tourist attraction.  Later, Elizabeth told us it was one of Mum’s favourite walks.

Our return journey took us close to The Firs, so we dropped in on Elizabeth and took her off to Eastern Nights for the usual excellent curries, Bangla, and Cobra.  Jackie drove us home in the dark amidst heavy rain.

The Dragonfly

This afternoon we visited Elizabeth at The Firs.  I delivered the prints for the summer exhibition and we telephoned her framer to discuss framing my pictures. We had hoped to get down to gardening, but all felt pretty lethargic because it was still rather hot and humid.  We did get some watering and treating of diseased heuchera done; some pruning of wisteria; and some pondering.  After the several weeks’ heat-wave everything was looking rather autumnal. Dragonfly 1 Dragonfly 2Dragonfly 3Dragonfly 4

I have written several times about Oddie’s penchant for snaffling my chair.  A dog is one thing, but a dragonfly is something else.  Our visitor calmy took up its position, mandibles munching away, refusing to budge until it was ready. Adam’s GCSE dragon kept a watchful eye on its enormous living relative. Dragon - Adam's GCSE I have never seen such a large specimen before.  What I’ve always thought of as a dragonfly has simply been a small blue damselfly. Robin juvenile

The plan was for Elizabeth, Danni, and Andy to join us for an Eastern Nights meal in Thornhill.  There was some delay as my niece and her boyfriend were delayed by a traffic accident and a heath fire.  While the rest of us sat in the garden waiting for them, a member of the next generation of The Firs robins hopped around us, following in the clawsteps of our companion of last summer.

The curries were of the usual high standard at our favourite Hampshire Indian restaurant.  Bangla, Cobra, and Coke were drunk. Elizabeth, Derrick & Jackie Danni took a photograph of what she termed the three wise monkeys.

Venturing Out

Mahonia in snow 1.13By this morning, yesterday’s snow had desisted.  The garden and the forest were still well enough covered to offer a myriad of classic winter scenes.  Our Mahonia presented an interesting outline framing the whitened leaves, whilst its yellow flowers peeped through.  A certain amount of thawing had turned a little of the drive’s coating to slush, and rendered the more used roads clear, as I walked the Shave Wood loop.Snowman, Little Thatch 1.13

Little Thatch cottage boasted a seasonal doorman.

My journey today was partly in order to reconnoitre the roads to see if we would manage to drive out later.  I discovered that it would all depend on whether we could negotiate the drive.  Once on the street leading to Minstead it would be safe enough, except for the lane through London Minstead.  This hilly, winding, route was still a bit icy, and the slush would freeze over again later. Snowy forest 1.13Snowy forest 1.13 (3)JPG The roads through the forest were fairly clear, and the streams and ditches were, for the time being, flowing again.Fence on snowy horizon 1.13

There was no sign of ponies today; no animals; no hoofprints; no droppings.Birdshit 1.13

An overhead flier had added a splash of colour to the black and white landscape.

Late this afternoon, with some trepidation and a certain amount of sliding about, Jackie managed to extricate the car from the drive, and take us to The Firs.  We collected my Apple computer and all its added equipment; packed them into the boot and the back seats; and went off to Eastern Nights with Elizabeth.  We enjoyed the usual excellent meal there, and drank Cobra and Bangla.  The food was served up rather quicker than often, so we were able to return home quite early, and safely.

Curry, A Biography

This morning, contemplating my lifelong relationship with curry, I took my usual route to Colliers Wood, turned right into Merton High Street, and continued to Tooting Bec Station where I boarded a tube train back to Morden.

Passing a hoarding on the road which forms a bridge dividing two sections of the Wandle Trail, I reflected that, as you know, Bacardi is not the nourishment with which I would choose to spice up my night.

Since my previous posts are peppered with curry references, I will not point these out.  There will be some repetition as I put it all together.  I have written of the numerous closures of English pubs, which are often transformed into Asian restaurants.  Delhi Heights in Colliers Wood manages to flourish with its fusion approach.

The Sree Krishna restaurant, which I passed on the approach to Tooting Broadway, was discovered by Jessica and me during our time in Furzedown in the 1980s.  We were encouraged by the fact that this South Indian establishment was frequented by indigenous doctors from the nearby St. George’s hospital.  Its food remains excellent, but, good as it is, for family atmosphere and friendliness of service, it cannot match the marvellous Sri Lankan Watch Me on Morden Road.  Sri Lankans were not here in the 1980s.

The crush of crowds in Tooting Broadway rivalled Oxford Street at sales time.  A young boy, bending to pick up a coin, caused a log-jam.  ‘Walk properly’, cautioned his mother.  ‘Nah, it’s my pound’, replied the boy, trying to avoid passers-by as he straightened up.  Further on, a short man, speaking to a much taller one, was heard to utter: ‘I’ve often wished I was three inches taller, or it was three inches longer.  Everyone’s got something like that’.  An interesting philosophy, I thought.

I had run past Tooting Bec station on countless occasions on my regular journey to Harrow Road in those Furzedown years.

Today’s title is that of Lizzie Collingham’s book which Louisa had given me and which contains the recipe for Susan’s chicken.

As with so many of my life-changing directions (see post of 18th July), I have Jackie to thank for my love affair with this princess of preparations.  In 1965 she introduced me to dining out, especially on her favourite food.  Having married early, bought a house, and started a family, my sole experience of meals which were not home-cooked was cafe lunches funded by luncheon vouchers provided by my pre-social-work employers.  When we were wed Jackie would save up the cost of a restaurant meal  from her housekeeping money and we would walk up from Raynes Park to the Wimbledon Tandoori in Ridgway.  During our stay in Wimbledon Village in 2011 we returned to that venue to which we introduced Becky.  None of the current staff had been born in our Amity Grove years.  It is now a firm favourite with Becky, and where, to the delight of those who served them, she became engaged to Ian.

The dishes of the Indian sub-continent are colourful, flavoursome, and emit a wonderful aroma.  Jackie loves walking home from the Civic Centre inhaling the splendid variety of smells emanating from Morden homes.  Not everyone likes the heat of chillies, but to me it is manna.  It was therefore natural for me, when I began to stay overnight in my counselling room in Harrow Road, where I had my own kitchen, to learn to cook my own.  This area was full of Halal shops where I could buy all the ingredients, even late at night.  If the recipe called for something I didn’t have, I simply popped across the road and bought it.  The Morden Food Store has replaced those Harrow Road emporiums, and Tooting

Broadway now has such suppliers in abundance.  Balti cook book 10.12It was Jessica who bought the Balti cook book which is my curry bible, well spattered with various spices.

Once I grasped the basics I was able to experiment and produce my own variations.  The preparation of Curried Boxing Day turkey is now a tradition in which my grandson Oliver loves to join me.  Asian spices can also enhance the flavours of some traditional English dishes.  Green cardomoms I find particularly beneficial in adding aromatic flavouring to stews; and garlic, not always included in our recipes, is often helpful.  It was green cardomoms which upset five-year-old Oliver when I forgot to mention I had included them and he bit on one.  The Italian arrabbiata makes plentiful use of chillies.

Only once have I prepared a complete meal, including the breads and complicated rice accompanying meat and vegetable dishes.  I did this in Newark for our friends Jill Tattersall and Tim Cordy.  I began early in the morning and it must have been 9 p.m. by the time we sat down to eat with me all in a fluster.  I even made my own garlic and ginger pastes, clogging up the blender.  Now I take Jackie’s advice and buy the pastes, the breads, and the samosas.  ‘Why make work for yourself?’, she asks.  ‘The Indian housewives don’t’.  I cannot bring myself yet to use the popular sauces produced by Patak or Lloyd Grossman.

Most of what we think of as Indian restaurants are in fact Bangladeshi, almost all the staff of which originate in the Sylhet city district.  I am told the influx began with sailors jumping ship in the UK.  My all-time favourite is the Akash in Edgware Road, at which I have been a regular, often attending weekly, since the early 1980s.  Majid outside akashMajid, the manager, and Shafiq, the chef have been there since its opening some forty years ago.  Shafiq came third in a Westminster-wide competition, beating such famous opposition as Veereswami’s in Regent Street.  It must be fifteen years since I actually placed an order, for, as soon as he sees me, Shafiq begins cooking a meal they have tailor-made for me.  This is a spiced-up naga strength Haldi.  A Bangladeshi restaurant in Westbourne Grove, whose full title, which I cannot remember, contains Bombay, did not change it when that Indian city reverted to its name Mumbai.  When I asked the proprietor why, he replied that he was not interested in an alteration.  His customers would not understand.

Veereswami’s was the first Indian restaurant in London, having been established for the benefit of officers of the Raj on leave in their home country, yet missing the culinary delights of their adopted one.  It now has a modern ambience and decor, with trendy design and staffed by waiters and managers in fashionable dress.  Others who have rejected the traditional famous flock wallpaper are the Tandoori in Woolston in Hampshire, and the Shaan in Churchgate, Newark.  These latter two are notable for their modern artwork and the Shaan, in particular, for the vibrant washes on its walls.  The Shaan is unique in my experience in that white English waiting staff outnumber those from Bangladesh.  The owner was born and brought up in Newark although he still employs native immigrants.  His family run another, long established, restaurant, which survives, in my view, on reputation alone.

With certain exceptions, such as some, but by no means all, in the West End of London, these Asian restaurants present excellent value for money.  Service is usually attentive, professional, and comfortable, offering napkins and finger wipes, with mints accompanying the bill.  This does not apply to Mitcham’s Raj, although if you can wait several hours; bring your own napkins; ask for a drink for which the waiter can dash out to the next-door shop; try not to tear the soiled paper tablecloths; and help yourself to cutlery; you will find the food exemplary.  Like Eastern Nights in Thornhill, they are dependent on takeaway meals for survival.  The Akash, also has a steady takeaway trade which keeps one dedicated member of staff rushing in and out all night.  This method of obtaining an evening meal has its place, for example if you have young children in bed asleep, or, as once in my case, you are suffering from a fever which only an Akash special can assuage.  I prefer to sit down and be served dishes which have come straight from the kitchen.

And let us not forget that Chicken Tikka Masala has now overtaken fish and chips or roast beef as the English national dish.  This has been specially adapted for us because we like our gravy.

This evening we collected our friend Sheila from her home in Tooting to eat in the Sree Krishna.  It being Hallowe’en they had candlelit pumpkins on the bar, which reminded me that Majeed at the Akash always erects a Christmas Tree.  Sheila drank sparkling water whilst Jackie and I had Kingfisher.  The meal was first rate and the coffee was particularly good.

The Village Shop Revisited

Even the dull weather this morning could not conceal the autumn beauty of the Surrey and Sussex countryside on our drive to Upper Dicker Village Shop (see post of 12th May) to visit our daughter-in-law Tess.  Greens, golds, and bronze glowed through the drizzle.  We stopped to admire the view from a high point on the A22.

We were delivering the birthday present I bought on 17th October (see post).  This is a large ceramic bowl bearing a tasteful peacock and floral design hand-painted in Jerusalem.

Tess was in the kitchen when we arrived and, after greeting her, ordered Big Dickers, chips and coffee (unlimited refills of large cups for one outlay of £1).  The Big Dicker is their brunch, a substantial fry-up with top quality ingredients, including sausages which would grace a first class restaurant.  Today’s special was cowboy baked beans, cooked from scratch with authentic spices.  The cafe section was thriving and customers came in and out for provisions, one young man being trusted with a tab.  The counter assistant asked Tess whether this credit was acceptable and she, knowing the customer, readily agreed.  While her staff member sought a piece of paper on which to write the amount, Tess laughingly offered the envelope which had contained our birthday card.  Several people come here regularly for their weekly shop, and stay for coffee.  The range of good, local, produce on offer is quite astounding.  Food can be eaten in or taken away.

Interesting, unobtrusive, international music played gently in the background.  En route to the WC are, among other items, racks of greetings cards to suit all tastes.  The walls of this elegantly presented convenience are adorned by a Ray Charles poster; a photograph of Nina Simone; what looks like a wartime poster encouraging people to ‘Get Hot’ with hard work; an Aubrey Beardsley illustration; and some original contemporary drawings.  A similar range of artwork, including original paintings for sale, decorate the dining area.  There is a cabinet displaying the merchandise of a local jeweller.  Tess Flower has transformed her establishment into a veritable hub of village life; exactly the kind of enterprise to be encouraged in order to keep our rural communities alive.

After spending some time with Tess, who rejoined us just before we left, we went on to visit Matthew in their home before setting off for West End and The Firs.

Mat, Jackie, and I chatted over a three-way game of Scrabble.  To celebrate a friend’s birthday a group of the village menfolk had chartered a boat for a sea-fishing trip.  They managed to catch one fish which lay floundering in a bucket whilst its captors tried to identify it.  ‘I think it’s a cod’, said one; ‘no, a pollock’, exclaimed another.  The matter was referred to the skipper who came with the boat, and seemed as likely an adjudicator as any.  ‘It’s a pouting’, was the verdict.  ‘It looks like its a-gasping to me’, said Mat.  This ranks alongside his pun mentioned on  31st August.

Having run out of milk, in order to make tea and coffee, Mat took a pint out of the freezer and put it in the microwave.  Noticing it had been spinning therein for some time, I suggested he had a look at it.  It was safe enough, and still cooking nicely, but it had reminded me of a bottle of wine.  Jessica’s brother Simon Pearson, who had once managed a Wine Bar of the Year in Victoria Street, and now owns Shampers in King Street, parallel with Oxford Street, had recommended 50 seconds in the microwave to bring a bottle of red wine up to the required room temperature.  I have used this method ever since, although metal screw-top bottles do present a problem.  One evening years ago, I set the microwave, placed a fine bottle inside, turned it on, and forgot about it.  After about five minutes, ‘Dad’, asked Mat, ‘how long did you set the microwave for?’…….. I had set it for 50 minutes.  It needed a spell in the freezer to make it potable.

Another hour and a half saw us in The Firs, where we decanted some items, such as yet more plants, and, Elizabeth being out, repaired to Eastern Nights where we enjoyed excellent curries, Bangla, and Cobra; and the proximity of a family including a laughing baby who would have been a hit on youtube.

A Pikey

Keypoint paviers 9.12

Taking my normal route to Cannon Hill Common; with the exception of entering it through Joseph Hood recreation ground alongside; I paused in Maycross Avenue to chat to Keyline paviers.  Proud of their work, the man in charge told me how, with a membrane and a layer of concrete, they eradicated the weeds which I had seen a homeowner in another garden killing off, during a period of several days, earlier in the year.  This carport is there for good.

In the recreation ground, the grass was experiencing what is probably the final cut of the season.

As usual, alongside the lake, the vase attached to Allan William Marshall’s memorial bench was full of fresh flowers; ducks were being fed; and fishing was in progress.

Another grand oak had lost a limb, segments of which now encircle the tree, ensuring that there will be no need to manufacture benches in that part of the common for a long time to come.  Squirrels were racing up trees getting in supplies for the winter.

Walking back along the lake I chatted with Jordan and his friends.  Having the occasional difficulty with his line, there was great excitement when this boy was thought to have caught another fish.  His first catch, swimming around, as if in a goldfish  bowl, in a large orange bucket, was being gleefully inspected by his two friends.  There was some banter about who might be scared to touch the slippery scales.  The young lady, whose shiny patent leather handbag lay alongside other containers on the bank, was convinced the catch was ‘a pikey’.  The young angler was not so sure.  Having explained what I was doing, I had no need to worry about whether they knew what a website was.  Jordan’s male friend pulled out his Blackberry so I could enter the address in it.  I was somewhat relieved it was the same as my own mobile device, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to do so.  His companion told him he just had to e-mail it to Jordan and he would have it too.  Looking back over the years spanning today and my junior exploits described in my post of 30th. May, expanded in Chris’s comment on that of the next day, the advance in children’s equipment and communication skills was mind-boggling.

Hi, folks.

Hoping to avoid the rush hour traffic Jackie and I set off for The Firs earlier than usual, to be met by a snarl-up at the far end of Hillcross Avenue.  This had been caused by another taxi breaking down (see 26th. September).  This time, actually on the roundabout.  We got through this quite quickly, but the journey still took almost two hours.

Jackie, Elizabeth, Danni and I ate at the Eastern Nights.  Eventually.  Jackie drank Bangla, I had Cobra, and the other two shared a bottle of Cote du Rone.  Eventually.  The food was as wonderful as ever.  Eventually.  As we waited for an hour and a half for our meals we became aware that the two staff out front, both working their socks off, both very pleasant, yet rushed off their feet, were prioritising the takeaway service.  The phone was going all the time, and one or the other of them was rushing to answer it and take the order.  People who came into the restaurant for takeaway meals long after us, were being presented with their food long before us. I had decided I would speak to them about this the next time we went in on a quiet night, but after this length of time I had had enough.  I went up to the bar and leant on it waiting for one of the men to come.  At that moment, out from the kitchen came our hot-plates.  As our waiter left those on the table and approached me, I had a quick rethink.  I asked him for another pint of Cobra.  It still seemed best to speak quietly about the problems at another time.  The others all agreed.