Yesterday afternoon Jackie drove us to Leatherhead for what has become an annual family trip to see a Pat O’Connell Gilbert and Sullivan production.  This year it was ‘The Gondoliers’.  Jackie’s cousin Pat is a freelance director.  The Godalming Operatic Society are clearly satisfied with his work because they keep asking him back.  As usual, we were entertained by a polished performance from this amateur group.  There are some real stars there; good voices, with stage presence.  The costumes were splendid.  The sometimes elaborate choreography worked well, and the customary introduction of up-to-date jokes rewarded close attention.

As usual we ate first in the Italian restaurant nearby.  The G.o.S. G. & S. members traditionally dine there.  Our table included Pat, Christine, Shelly and Ron, Helen and Bill, and Jackie and me.  Pat and Christine’s daughter Olivia, who normally attends, was herself performing at the Manchester University Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s presentation of ‘The Grand Duke’.  Her father quipped that she either had had to be a singer or she didn’t eat.

The restaurant had a pulsating atmosphere; the service was friendly and efficient; my minestrone soup was delicious, and originally presented in a bowl made of pizza bread; my sirloin steak was succulent and cooked to perfection; my vegetables were overcooked; my chips were limp; the house red wine was very good.  Maybe I should have chosen a totally Italian meal.  Last year a problem was caused by the waitress having forgotten Shelly’s meal.  This year Shelly wasn’t provided with a wineglass, although she was to share the bottle of white wine.  We considered that a small measure of progress.

Leatherhead’s Travel Lodge, just around the corner from the theatre, is basic but comfortable and reasonably priced.  We had a good night’s sleep there, then the eight of us assembled in the foyer and repaired to Annie’s cafe for the traditional breakfast.  On the way up to the little cafe that looks very like an old-fashioned tea parlour, with small lace-covered tables, a man we recognised from last year stood in the centre of the road and told us that there was a car coming, but we would be okay.

This gentleman we now know as Michael entered the cafe whilst we were there, stayed until just before we departed, and left having exchanged banter with another isolated customer.  On our previous visit Michael had stood in the centre of the room and engaged us all, severally and individually, in conversation.  It was only when we were leaving that we had realised he was blind.  The two other individual customers today, one with a guide dog, were also unable to see.  One woman in particular, who did not wear the dark glasses sported by the dog owner, looked very careworn and troubed as she entered, pushing her basket through the doorway.  In her later conversation with Michael, in which I joined, she proved herself to be lively and witty.  These customers were all well known to the waitress.  I speculated that there must be some sort of care facility for blind people nearby.

After breakfast we all went our separate ways, in our case home to Minstead.

Elizabeth with balalaika 3.13This afternoon Elizabeth came, as arranged, to make a selection from my blog photographs, for potential use on her website.  If you knew my sister you would know that something would delay her arrival.  This time it was the fortnightly antiques fair at Minstead Hall.  It would have been impossible for her to pass it unentered.  She arrived with a broad smile on her face clutching a balalaika she had just purchased.  Well, you never know when one might come in useful.  And she thought it looked beautiful, which it does.  Not only that, but she might learn to play it.

After tea and scrumptious carrot cake she had bought from the village shop, we got down to the business of trawling through hundreds of pictures.  She made quite a collection.  Added to those of her own she is considering, that should normally ensure another twelve months deliberation before the final choice is made.  Unfortunately she only has twenty four hours.

Bindweed 8.12Of her choice she has picked out three for specific mention.  The convulvulus, taken at Morden last summer, has appealed to Elizabeth because she has fond childhood memories of picking the blooms and squeezing the bottoms so they popped out.  These grew profusely along the railway path (see 11th May last year) alongside Stanton Road.

We searched a long time for ‘New Forest pines’.  I was puzzled because I hadn’t noticed any.  This was a picture Elizabeth had chosen from a recent search through my posts.  That was how she had deciphered her own note.  She was unable to read it clearly and passed it to me for my opinion. Ponies 2.13 ‘Pines’ became ‘ponies’, and the photo was found.  I had realised that the problem had been compounded by my not having included ‘New Forest’ in my title.

Despite the last picture having been clearly labelled ‘Dawn across the lawn’, Elizabeth’s notes had referred to ‘sunset’.  That was another that proved difficult to identify. Dawn across the lawn 1.13 Eventually the error dawned on us and we were able to find the relevant illustration.

While we were engaged in this exercise, Jackie produced one of her excellent soups, followed by delicious roast pork with perfect crackling, and a choice between bread and butter pudding and rhubarb crumble.  The chef drank Hoegaarden and Elizabeth and I shared a 2011 reserve Cotes du Rhone.

Having watched the beginning with us, Elizabeth left Jackie and me to finish episode 6 of ‘Call the Midwife’.


View from kitchen window 12.12

Clear frosty light sreaked across the lawn outside the kitchen window this morning.

I walked through London Minstead to the A337 and back to meet Jackie by Seamans Cottages to be driven to Southampton.  In Seamans Lane a boy spun around on a skateboard, as I slid along on the slippery road.  A smaller lad was busy cracking the ice on the surfaces of the frozen puddles.  Further on another boy bounced up and down on a trampoline in his garden.Hens 12.12  A cock crew in Hazel Hill Yard where hens seemed to be queueing for his attention.  Outside Perry Farm a wagtail shared grazing rights with a forest pony.Mossy branch 12.12

The reason we were going to Southampton was to buy some  Infected Eye Optrex for my eye which is a bit sore again.  Having looked it up on the Internet we saw there was a Boots open in Unit 6 of the dreaded West Quay shopping centre.  This being a Sunday that seemed to be our only opportunity.  We couldn’t find it.  After driving around for an age we saw a Boots sign on the back of a building, drove as near as we could to the front of it, and started to walk to where it should be.  Unfortunately we asked a couple if we were on the right track.  They were adamant there was no Boots in West Quay.  What we had to do was walk to the multistorey carpark, take a lift to the seventh floor, then from there traverse a bridge across the road and into the High Street where we would find the only branch of Nottingham’s finest.  It was only five minutes.  It was in fact ten, despite the fact that we were hurrying.  We queued for the antibiotic which is available without prescription over the counter.  The assistant refused to sell it to us because I hadn’t been to a G.P.  I exploded.  We returned to the car.  I had remained convinced that had we walked fifty yards around the corner before asking the couple for directions we would have found the West Quay Boots.  I just had to satisfy myself, so we drove around and there it was.  Jackie wanted to try our luck there.  I didn’t.  She was determined to do it even if it meant leaving me in the car.  Seeking another parking spot, the next arrow on the tarmac she followed took her out of West Quay and into the main road.  Even she had had enough then and we returned empty-handed to Castle Malwood Lodge where we were due to give lunch to Mum and Elizabeth.

I am now firmly of the opinion that anyone wishing to lay out a town in the most confusing manner possible would do well to take inspiration and ideas from Southampton.

After lunch we all visited the fortnightly antiques fair at Minstead Hall where Jackie bought a tablecloth for our new table and three Asterix books, allegedly for visiting children; and Elizabeth bought us housewarming presents of a 1930s wooden jigsaw puzzle and a substantial glass cakestand.

Elizabeth 12.12We then had a portraiture session in which I produced a choice of photographs for Elizabeth to put on her website.

As Mum struggled to her feet from the sofa, I spoke of a game I had played in yesterday’s Santa performance.  I would ham up struggling to my feet and stand looking vaguely into the middle distance, carefully not noticing that Lisa and Dan were placing a toy hedgehog on my seat.  I would then sit down, feel the prickles on this actually very soft object, and jump up grimacing in pain.  I did not repeat the roar that had been a feature of my impersonation of Mr. Bumble, the Beadle from Oliver Twist, of which this little charade reminded us all.  When Sam, Louisa, Adam, and Danielle had all been small, they would approach me at the meal table, bowls in hand, and ask: ‘Please, Sir, may I have some more?’.  My reply, eyes bulging, red-faced and hoarser and hoarser with each repetition, would be: ‘MAAWWAH?’.  And there would be repetitions.  As with yesterday’s hedgehog, adults tire of these games much sooner than do children.  Mum remembered that when Louisa played Mr. Bumble it could be heard on the other side of Newark.

This evening we revisited Friday’s roast pork; I drank Piccini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2009, and Jackie had some more Three Choirs.

Doom Bar

Louisa, Errol, Jessica and Imogen, after the girls had had a grand time playing with the Pig characters, left mid-morning for their return to Nottingham.  Yesterday had been a great success.

Later, it was Elizabeth’s turn to be introduced to our new flat.  She had, of course, seen the outside, but then we had not been in possession of the key. Jackie and Elizabeth had a chat on a bench in a corner of the garden, which is in full view from our East facing windows.

We took over a few more items from The Firs, then had lunch in The Trusty Servant in Minstead.  We all chose Sunday roasts, for which the pub is rightly renowned.  I so enjoyed my real ale, Doom Bar, that I persuaded the others to try some of their own.  This meant I had to sacrifice a couple of mouthfuls to their tasting, but it was worth it to get Jackie, for the first time, to enjoy a proper beer.  Sadly, when I came to examine the bill, I saw it labelled as ‘guest beer’, which means it won’t be there long.  I told the proprietor she could have it back any time.

After lunch we looked in at the Hall Antiques market which is a fortnightly event.  Again we made a purchase, this time an elegant little bedroom chair which is now the first item of furniture in situ in our new flat.  On leaving the Village Hall we returned to The Lodge to place the chair inside.  Jackie preferred to wait in the car as Elizabeth and I went back into number 4.  Out of the car I stepped, and headed off to the entrance doors, suddenly realising that my sister was not with me.  I turned, to see her, walking away from the car, bearing the chair.  So keen was I to have another look inside the flat that I had forgotten what we were meant to be doing.  And I had drunk two pints of Doom Bar.

Back at The Firs, during a discussion about Paultons Park, Jackie and Elizabeth realised that, some twenty five to thirty years ago they had each visited this theme park when both it and Elizabeth’s children and Jackie’s nephews and nieces were in their infancy.  Elizabeth remembered a photograph of Adam enjoying an early ride in the company of his mother and Frank Keenan, his paternal grandfather.

After a light salad in the evening Jackie and I returned to Morden.  I kept my driver company for most of the journey, although I did have a snooze midway.