Jackie, as is her wont, read me extracts from BBC News this morning, in particular concerning the heatwaves in Australia. The people of Adelaide, in particular, are enduring a temperature of 45.1 degrees centigrade. This made me think of my cousin Gillian who lives there. Gillian is one of the two children of my paternal Uncle Darcy and Aunt Edna. Some years ago when we were approaching middle age and my parents still lived in Morden, Gillian and her husband came over to England for a visit. I met them at Mum and Dad’s home. I had not seen Gillian since she was a teenager and I was about ten. The very next day I boarded a crowded tube train at Oxford Circus. As is often the case, if one is prepared to elbow through standing passengers, picking one’s way over assorted bags on the floor, there was one available seat in the middle of the carriage. I fought my way to it and sat down. Next to my cousin. Had we not met the previous day we would not have known each other.
Some time later, when we were living in Newark, Gillian’s son Ben did the Antipodean roots visit. Naturally he came to stay with us for a day and a night. When this young man who I had never seen before, disembarked from Newark Castlegate station, I watched Gillian’s brother David, with whom we have all lost touch, step down and walk towards me. As I have occasionally pointed out, genes have a habit of repeating themselves.

Two of Dad’s brothers emigrated to Adelaide. Norman left England very soon after the Second World War, in 1948 I think. Darcy followed much later.

I only have vague childhood memories of the marvellously named Norman Knight, but I met him when he came to stay with Mum and Dad for Christmas 1985. In this picture we see the backs of Jessica, Sam and Louisa with my uncle at my parents’ Morden kitchen table.  Behind him is evidence of the commencement of Dad’s obsession with formica. In searching out this photograph I came across another of the same visit illustrating the meal-table of 37 Rougemont Avenue. I supplemented that post with it.
Elizabeth obviously grouped the sports team pictures together in her ‘through the ages’ series.

The next, number 41, is of the Old Wimbledonians Extra A XV rugby team of 1960. I started off in this third team the year I left school.  I was to progress no further than the next one up. I didn’t have Sam’s rugby brain.

I stand fifth from the viewer’s left. Someone has clearly amused me. Although I remember most of these men of varying ages, the only name still in my memory bank is that of Iain Taylor, my erstwhile cricket captain. He sits on the bench, first on the left.
There were a number of players in those days who could just about survive the ninety minutes on the field, including half time, without a fag. One of those is standing first on the left. They would light up at the first opportunity. There was much coughing into the beer jug, which, filled with shandy, circulated before the showers. By the time we’d all cleaned ourselves up in a communal bath into which we had either been preceded or would be followed by players from one of the other matches taking place on the day, colour of the water had changed somewhat. It would contain a mixture of mud, grass, and other matter it is best not to think about. Given that we were all boys together, chunks of dislodged turf were often tossed at fellow bathers just as had been gobbets of grub from school dinners in the refectory. After this we would pay our subs and wander into the pavilion where we were fed a warm, hearty meal produced by the ladies of the club. My recollection is that it normally consisted of sausages and mash. I was usually so churned up from the efforts of dashing about all over the field, bending down and shoving in the scrum, or leaping in the line-out, to be able to eat for some time. Beer was drunk. So were some of the members. Rude songs would follow.
The photograph also shows the heavier, leather, ball we played with in those days.

From the mid-1970s to 1987 I played for Geoff Austin’s old boys, the Old Whitgiftians, at South Croydon, where Jessica took this photograph in about October 1982.  Geoff and I are in white.  Whilst Geoff fixes his eyes on the man throwing the ball into the line-out, I am poised to leap for it.  Assuming I gathered it up I would turn my back to the opposition, and Geoff and the player behind would bind round me.  Either the rest of the forwards would then gather round and we would attempt to push our opponents back up the field; or I would pass the ball to our scrum half who would send it on its way down the line of backs.

My search for this negative among my uncatalogued collection took a very long time and I found it with some other treasures largely from a trip to Covent Garden that September. One of these pleased me greatly. Two framed pictures that hung in the porch at Lindum House went missing in the move.

Using the old method of printing with an enlarger and chemicals I had taken the central third of a portrait of Becky and printed it at A2 size. I thought it was gone forever because I could no longer trace the negative. The two rugby playing pictures were on the end of the relevant roll of film. I will therefore be able to repeat the lost effort.
This evening we dined on Jackie’s delicious chicken curry with rice that defies a label.  The base is the wild version of the staple food. Onions, garlic, and mushrooms, are fried with it; a sprinkling of garam masala is applied, and it is garnished with fresh coriander. One day in Morden I had brought back some Maggi stock cubes from one of the Halal shops. This made Jackie think that the Asian cooks must use it. She has added it to her savoury rices ever since.  This one was most delicately flavoured. I drank French Connection Bergerac reserve 2012, whilst Jackie continued with the Gewurtztreminer.

The Years Just Roll Away

This lunchtime, Michael Watts came for a visit and a drink in The Trusty Servant Inn, to which he drove me.  We had an exhilarating chat.  By amazing coincidence he had just come from Alex Kelly in Fordingbridge who, now having set up an Independent facility in the care field, had worked for many years with Helen.  Because Helen Eales was known to have a sister called Jackie, my friend mentioned it to me.  As he, a Londoner, said: ‘It’s a small world’.

Bidding goodbye in the car park, I walked back home.  Turning at the clopping of hooves some way behind me I saw Berry, riding Poppy (see post of 4th January). They had just had a very frightening experience, having been almost hit by a white van careering down the hill.  A police vehicle drew up as we were talking, and Berry reported the incident.

Today was clearly a day for linking up with old friends.  This evening Jackie drove us to Ringwood for a meal in Curry Garden with Geoff and Sheila Austin.  In the 70s and 80s I had worked and played both rugby and cricket with Geoff who has appeared in a number of these posts.  Having spent time with him only once or twice in the intervening years I had never met Sheila.  Jackie was introduced to Geoff once at a reunion of Westminster Social Services Area One Team three years ago.  We were pleased to learn that they had needed to visit Ringwood and wanted to meet us and perhaps have a curry.  Naturally we suggested our favourite venue in this market town.  It is one they had often visited with Geoff’s late mother.

The meal and the service were of their usual excellent qualities.  We all drank Kingfisher.

Such a foursome could easily have resulted in a conversation between the two men swapping stories with which the women were not familiar.  There was naturally a certain amount of this, but we were always able to include the ladies.  We found Geoff’s wife delightful, and she and Jackie developed a particular rapport.  There are those relationships in life which are intense or involved in a particular way for a certain time and which stay with us during periods of long separation or absence.  When meeting again after even many years, they just roll away.  This was one of those.


Fence cloudscape

Continuing with my scanner compatibility problem I telephoned Epson, to learn that the two different downloads Apple advisors had sent me were incorrect.  I dragged those into the trash, and the Epson man sent me another which worked.  It is not quite the same as I’m used to, but I’m getting there.  I have scanned and enhanced the two earlier photographs from Elizabeth’s series, but have decided not to change them in the posts, as it is all part of the story.  Not only that, I can’t be bothered.

Rugby front rowWhile doing this I received an e-mail attachment of an inspiring photograph from my friend Geoff Austin.  Well into his sixties he turned out at the weekend in the front row of the scrum for an Old Whitgiftian testimonial match.  The mud on the hooker’s face is reminiscent of the many muddy hours I spent in the second row in my thirties and forties rubbing my ears against Geoff’s thighs. Purely in order to raise cauliflowers, you understand.  Like me, Geoff can be identified by a white beard.  Before my short-lived first retirement, from the Old Wimbledonians, in 1972, at the age of thirty, I was joined in the second row by a sixty five year old who had been pulled out of the spectators to fill a gap.  I’d always thought our combined age took some beating, but I think Geoff and his colleagues have probably pipped it.  Although we turned out regularly for Geoff’s Old Boys  team every week, Alan Warren, another member of our Social Services Area Team, and I, could not at first appear on a team sheet.  This is because we had never attended Whitgift School.  Geoff had inveigled us into playing one day when his XV was a player or two short.  So I got my boots out again and didn’t put them away until we moved to Newark in 1987.  Forty five seemed to be a bit old to join a new club.  Not too old to be playing, of course.

What Geoff forgot to mention was that the lower sides of his club were always a player or two short.  But Alan and I could not officially make up the numbers, because this organisation was a closed club.  This meant we outsiders could not join.  After a game or two with the fourth team, we became regulars with the third.  At about the time I had gravitated to the second side and was being considered for the first, the fact that this was all unofficial and required some steadfast members to be kept in the dark, suggested something must be done.  Alan and I were duly made Associate Members of The Old Whitgiftians Association.  That meant we had to pay subscriptions, but it was a small price to pay.  For me to play for the first XV remained, however, out of the question

Jackie and I moved more belongings into the garage today.  I then ordered some bookcases from IKEA on line.  When asked for my feedback on the remarkably smooth process, I commented that it ‘beats trailing round the store’.

HailBefore venturing for a walk to the church and back via the ford footpath, I waited for the hail to stop.  John, who was mowing the lawn when the thunderous storm came, was forced to divert his attention to raking gravel.  By the time I returned there had been no further precipitation, and our gardener was continuing to mark the centuries old rocky, undulating moss-covered lawns with perfect mowed lines.  John mowingThis man, once a week in the summer and fortnightly thereafter, works like a Trojan on this four acre communal plot.  When we first arrived in November his task was clearing the fallen leaves.  It was then that Jackie gave him his nickname, not Trojan, but Greek.  In that country’s mythology, Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra who was punished by the gods, being given the task of pushing a huge boulder uphill.  Whenever he reached the top the stone rolled back down again.  As John was blowing together one pile of leaves, others were torn down by gusts of wind and followed on after him.  And of course his pile was blown about as well.  Do it all again was the order of the day.  A nice simile.  John will be forever Sisyphus.

As I rounded the house, approaching the back door, I sensed wonderful curry smells.  Not imagining I could be given a brilliant chicken jalfrezi, such as to do all the local restaurants out of my business, so soon after a chilli con carne, I wondered who else in the building enjoyed and cooked such food.  The anwer was no-one.  Jackie was cooking our evening meal which she later served up with pudding rice to follow.  I started on an excellent Bouchard Aine & Fils red burgundy harvested in 2010.  Thank you Helen and Bill for this Christmas gift.

On A Mission

Geoff at Ashley Heath 2.13On another cold dull grey day I put off my walk until after lunch.  Jackie drove me to Ashley Heath, left me there, and I walked back along the Castleman Trailway (see 10th December 2012) to meet her in the Ringwood carpark.  She dropped me off in the One Stop general store.  I realised how aptly named this was when, immediately behind it, I found the site of Ashley Heath obsolete railway halt.  This was on the stretch which runs to Poole, so I crossed Norton Road to follow the path to Ringwood.Castleman Trailway ditch 2.13  The whole of this two and a half mile length is bordered on the right by a deep and wide trench.  Much of this has been to some extent filled in over the years by fallen leaves and other greenery.  It currently carries much rainwater. Ashley Heath moat bridge (1) 2.13Castleman Trailway moat bridge 2.13Ashley Heath moat bridge (2) 2.13 Where buildings back onto this ditch, many of them, especially those homes in Ashley Heath, have gates in their fences and bridges across the cleared out moat, giving their owners access to the trailway and forest beyond.  Dog walkers are always in evidence.  Some way along the track, where there is no sign of habitation, there are the remains of a small concrete shelter.  It contains the usual modern graffiti, but has clearly been there since before spray cans or felt tip pens were invented.  What is it?  I wondered.  Not really big enough for people waiting for trains.  Maybe an emergency phone box?  No wiring in evidence, but then there wouldn’t be by now.  Any ideas, anyone?Castleman Trailway concrete shelter 2.13

As I neared Ringwood the birdsong was first joined and then gradually drowned by the shrill clamour of schoolchildren approaching.  Chaperoned by three adults they came tripping, bounding, dawdling, and lagging along the trail.   I asked one of the escorts if this was a field trip.  No, it was just a walk.  That certainly beats being cooped up in a classroom.

When he read that I was walking along the Castleman Trail to Ashley Heath, Geoff Austin told me that he had done the same thing some years ago after his parents had retired to that village.  Recently he unearthed the photograph that appears at the top of this post.  In the picture he is hamming up waiting for a train at the extinct railway halt.  He sent me the photo and said he would be interested to know whether the sign was still in situ.Ashley Heath halt 2.13  Not only is it still there, but it has been cleaned and tidied up.  Not just by the removal of my old friend.

John Conway's tomb protection 2.13Walking through the Meeting House Lane shopping centre in Ringwood I was pleased to see that the tomb of John Conway ( see post of 30th November 2012) is at last receiving the protection it deserves.  Tasteful iron railings were being installed.

We dined on roast duck breasts this evening.  Possibly the most succulent yet non-fatty I have ever tasted.  I finished the Carta Roja.

After this we watched episode 3 of the second series of ‘Call the Midwife’.

The Hornby Train Set

Today I walked to Kingston to meet Geoff Austin (see 22nd. June post) at the Canbury Arms.  Jackie had used Google Earth last night to find the route for me.  She is very good at taking the walk through locations, and I was amazed at the pin-sharp pictures showing me the roads I needed to walk down, and picking out the landmarks like Wickes at the corner of London and Gordon Roads.  Taking the Martin Way route, I crossed Bushy Road into Sidney Road, turning left at the end and on to Raynes Park Station; went under the bridge and along to Coombe Lane from which it is more or less straight through to Kingston; arriving at the pub with an hour to spare.

Almost opposite Raynes Park Station still lies, now undergoing refurbishment, the establishment where Bob Mitchell treated the young Jackie and me to fish and chips after cricket matches and drinks in the Raynes Park Tavern.  Bob was a free spirit who enlivened matches more by his antics than by his cricketing skills.  He was instrumental in my one and only loss of temper on a sportsfield.  I once won the club single wicket competition.  This is a knock out event where members play short individual matches against each other with their colleagues doing the fielding.  In one of the earlier rounds I was up against Charlie Moulder (see 13th. July).  Bob decided to even things up a bit.  When I had scored just one run, as umpire, he gave me out caught by the wicket keeper.  My bat had been nowhere near the ball.  I’d like to say that I was a little upset.  Unfortunately that would be dishonest.  I was in a blinding rage, especially as Bob laughed when I walked past him.  Normally I opted to bowl up the hill at Cottenham Park, because that would slow me down and give me more control.  This time, I knew I would have to bowl as fast as, or even faster than, I could.  So I chose to come down the hill.  Still fuming, I scared the life out of a really very nice man, tearing down with my hair, at that time halfway down my back, streaming in the wind.  The first ball knocked out two of Charlie’s stumps.  Bob was quite unashamed in acknowledging what he had done.  Jackie, on the other hand, was very ashamed of me.  Mr. Cool had got too hot under the collar and behaved disgracefully.  Now I’ve grown up a bit, I too, am ashamed of that performance.  Bob was an incorrigible ladies’ man.  When, in his nineties, a couple of years ago, he arrived at the club’s 60th. Anniversary Dinner with a very attractive young woman in attendance, the story was that she was his carer.  But we all knew better.  We knew that our Bob had not lost his touch.

Wimbledon College Playing Fields 8.12Along Coombe Lane this morning I passed Wimbledon College Playing Fields.  We always walked there from the school in Edge Hill to play rugby and cricket.  It was here that Tom McGuinness, mentioned on 10th. July, scored what I believe to be his only try.  Tom’s eyesight was so bad that he could never see what was going on.  One afternoon he found the rugby ball in his hands.  ‘What shall I do?’, he asked me.  ‘Run for the line’, I replied.  ‘Where is it?’ enquired Tom.  ‘That way’, I indicated.  Tom sped for the line, fell over, and touched down.  No-one saw him.  The fact that we were playing in dense fog had levelled this particular playing field.

I could tell a schoolboy cricketing story or two, but perhaps the one above is enough for Judith’s tolerance in any one post.

The grandeur of the houses along Coombe Lane West, and those on the private roads off it, contrasted with the more humble dwellings and shops in Norbiton, where now live a number of people from Korea.  Among those catering for the incomers, there are still traditional shops near Norbiton Station, including a butcher’s with a novel way of announcing its presence.  The trails of pigeon droppings crossing the road on either side of the railway bridge caught my eye.  I decided they had been made by rows of birds perched on the top of the bridge, rather than one unfortunate with the runs.  I thought it best not to look up.

Passing Warren Road, one of the private ones mentioned above, I reflected on ‘Shern’ children’s home which was once there.  (On 25th. August I post a correction to this.  ‘Shern’ was in fact in New Malden.  It was the baby nursery in this location.)  On the far side of Norbiton are council estates which housed many of the families who were clients of Kingston Children’s Department, as it was in the ’60s, before the Seebohm Report led to the creation of Social Services Departments.  Whilst it would not be appropriate for me to publicise any of their stories, I have fond and clear memories of those who were my responsibility in my first employment as an Assistant Child Care Officer.  With time out for training, I was there six years.  During my first summer every one of the boys resident at ‘Shern’ was on my caseload.  They thought it strange that on each visit I would only see one of them.  Eventually they grasped that this was my way of emphasising the importance of each individual.  This, of course, meant that I made rather more calls to this establishment than was the norm.

Whilst waiting for Geoff I spoke to Louisa on the telephone.  Yesterday she had published on Facebook a photograph of Jessica and Imogen playing with a Hornby Train Set the girls had found in their garage.  This antique toy, in full working order, was still in its original box.  Winding it up and setting it going was giving hours of pleasure.  Suddenly the parents of little boys were asking if they could come and play with my granddaughters.  Louisa had asked me if the train set had been mine.  Well, I suppose I am antique enough.  I knew it was not mine, and that it had been a find of Grannie Jess’s.  Yesterday I hadn’t been sure whether this had been in a car boot sale or on a skip.  Overnight I had recollected that this treasure had been salvaged from a skip outside a house that was being cleared.

Geoff and I had an enjoyable time over lunch reminiscing about our days in Westminster; a couple of games I had played for his cricket club; and rugby at the Old Whitgiftians.  He told me about his period in 2011 as Deputy Mayor of Kingston, during which he officiated at 202 events.  I was shown a selection of some of the more interesting photographs in which he and his wife, Sheila, generally had smiles on their faces.  As a Councillor, this long time resident of Kingston was required to research much of the town’s history.  He was able to tell me that the residential development on the opposite corner of Elm and Canbury Park Roads to the pub lay on the site of the former Hawker factory.  This was where all the First World War Sopwith Camel airplanes had been built.  By the outbreak of the Second World War the old factory could not cope with the now larger planes that were required, so the enterprise was moved further down the road.  But no-one told the Germans, which is why the area suffered heavy bombing.  The propeller from a Sopwith Camel is mounted in the grounds belonging to the residences.  Anyone wishing to seek more information on this should visit

Miraculously the Canbury Arms survived.  It was therefore able to provide us with lunch of sweetcorn and tarragon soup followed by beef and mushroom pie, chips, and salad.  We each made the same excellent choice, and drank a local brew called ‘Naked Ladies’.  Neither of us could manage a sweet.

The K5 bus which took me back to Morden is a ‘Hail & Ride’ facility running once an hour.  This means that, on certain sections of the route, you just hail it like a taxi, or, if on board, ring the bell and it stops for you.  It is one of Geoff’s achievements as a Councillor that this threatened service has been retained.

Geoff Austin’s Shoes

This was a typical March day.  Yes, I know it’s not March, it’s June.  Struggling into the blustery wind, feeling the cold, and scanning the threatening skies, you would never know.  In fact the only week we’ve had so far this year deserving of June’s epithet, ‘flaming’, was in March.

Battling along, clutching her fascinator in a desperate attempt to keep it on her head, a possibly decorative, well dressed, young woman looked somewhat out of place among Mitcham’s less than elegant shops in London Road.  Obviously on her way to an event, her headgear matched her dress, so she wouldn’t have wanted to see it rolling down the road like tumbleweed.  She reminded me of my neighbour in Gracedale Road during the great storm (post of 2nd. June), clinging desperately to his home’s tarpaulin covering.

As I passed the police station I narrowly, nimbly, avoided being entangled in the leads of two sheepdogs on the end of a flustered woman they had just dragged over the zebra crossing.  Later, along the East side of the common, I was surrounded by no less than nine unleashed, excited dogs in the company of a solitary walker.  Had they been leashed I would probably have been well entangled.

Tacked to a tree by the lake on the common was a warning: DANGER THIN ICE.  I wondered if there was more severe weather on the way.  A heron stood on watch in the shallow water.

Setting off to Becky’s in jacket and buttoned up raincoat, yet stubbornly continuing to wear sandals instead of more sensible shoes and socks, I thought of the extremely hot summers of 1976/7 when I had walked everywhere with no footwear at all.  A very witty newsagent, whose shop, on the corner of the junction between Harrow Road and Ladbroke Grove, was next door to my workplace, once asked me what I did about dogshit.  I said: ‘I look out for it’.  Quick as a flash, he replied: ‘I try and avoid it myself’.

On one occasion, having forgotten my emergency brogues, I was called upon to chair an unexpected conference.  As I deemed it unseemly to attend, let alone chair, a formal meeting barefoot, I borrowed Geoff Austin’s shoes.  For saving my embarrassment, thank you Geoff.  Some years before, I had attempted to borrow something else from Geoff.  I had been called upon to drive the then manager, the delightful Muriel Trapp, to another meeting.  Muriel was only a couple of inches shorter than me, so she had almost as much difficulty getting into the passenger seat of Geoff’s two-seater MG Midget as I did the driving seat.  Having got in I could neither move my legs to operate the control pedals nor get out of the car.  My knees were in such close proximity to the steering wheel that I couldn’t turn it.  Having dragged me out Geoff did the driving.  For extracting me from that embarrassing situation, thank you Geoff.

When I arrived at Westmorland Way, Becky, who has been avidly following my posts, produced a fascinating album of creative writing she had kept from a course she had attended one summer some years ago.  This was very impressive and I think it a shame she hasn’t continued with it.

Late in the afternoon the heavy, prolonged, shower that exploded over Jackie and me when we took Becky’s heavy sofabed cover to the launderette was more like an April phenomenon than a June one.  We managed not to get the cover clean and to compound the problem by melting the fabric by putting it in a hot dryer.  It looked like a snake in the process of sloughing.  There was nothing for it but to cut the label off to identify a replacement only available in IKEA and make the trip to that emporium, which was the worst penalty I could have incurred.  It seemed to be rubbing it in when I received an e-mail on my Blackberry offering a 20% discount from Homebase.

Back in the abovementioned 1970s I had been sitting in my local Soho launderette watching my washing circulating when a film crew came in, ushered everyone else out, and asked me to remain to stay in shot for a scene featuring in a television drama the title of which I have forgotten.  On transmission evening we all sat in front of the telly eagerly awaiting my star performance.  In the launderette scene it was momentarily possible, unless you blinked, to see an elbow which could just possibly have been mine.  Michael & Piper 6.77Shortly afterwards, filling the screen, was my son Michael, with his dog Piper, striding down Dean Street with a huge grin on his face.  I think you’d say I had been upstaged.

A Sainsbury’s deli counter curry meal completed the day.  Becky’s minute portion was liquidised.