An Unexpected Portrait

Yesterday, by a narrow margin, Ireland won their rugby match against France. This was an excellent contest, and secured the championship for the victors. It went down very well in the Irish evening in support of CAFOD, which we attended with Helen and Bill, Shelly and Ron.
Catholic Aid For Overseas Development is an official agency representing England and Wales. It exists to help third world countries to become self-sufficient in feeding themselves.
Hopefully the evening made a reasonable contribution to the cause. It was certainly enjoyed by people of all ages. Lynden and Clive provided an excellent calling service for the barn dancing which was enjoyed by three-year-olds and those a good seventy years older. The star of the show was Titus, probably the youngest, who was adopted as her partner by the caller, and kept going until the evening ended at 10 p.m.
We were greeted by Helen and her colleagues ladling out steaming platefuls of tender and tasty Irish stew with wedges of fresh, crusty, bread. No encouragement was needed for some of us to emulate Oliver Twist and present our plates for a second helping.  A gentleman in a fluorescent emerald green jacket managed the temporary bar and later presented the questions for the quiz that Helen had compiled. It was a shame Helen had produced the puzzles because that meant that our team were deprived of the input of Bill who would most certainly have lifted our table from its final sixth place.
Children placed a prompt card on each table, for a group performance of ‘Green Grow The Rushes O’. This is a traditional song involving each group at the appropriate intervals to repeat the refrain on their card. Our ensemble were rather chuffed to earn applause for our harmonising.
After the raffle, in which Bill won a Nivea product, we drove him home, leaving Helen, who had not stopped working all evening, to coordinate the clearing up.
This morning I wandered a wide loop around the forest opposite the end of Lower Drive, emerging at Suters Cottage and returning via London Minstead. This was the area I had explored in the mist of 21st January.
I have often wondered how it is that people can come into such a beautiful region and chuck rubbish out of their cars onto the forest verges.Budweiser bottles Today’s detritus included spent Budweiser bottles.Shadows on forest groundFallen tree shadows
Shadows on wooded slopeShadows crisscrossingSun through treesSunstar through tree - image of young womanThe forest looked so different today. Cast by the bright late morning sun shining through the trees, long shadows streamed across the shattered trunks and leaf-strewn terrain.
Sun stars were created throughout the area, none more dramatic than that providing a picture light for what appeared to be the portrait of a young woman etched on a trunk.
Holly regenerating

A blighted holly demonstrated nature’s powers of regeneration.

Forestry Commision gate

Several deer, as elusive as the ubiquitous brimstones that never seem to settle, streaked across the path beyond a Forestry Commission gate. Forest scapeI swear there were two of the butterflies in this forest scape when I pressed the shutter button.

Minstead Lodge

Minstead Lodge, not yet obscured by leaves, can still be seen in its lofty position above the road.

Orange tree and pony

The deciduous trees are beginning to come into leaf. Some of these take on a bright orange hue lending them a glow borrowed from the russet ponies,

When we first moved into our current home, the walls of the flat were occupied by the owner’s pictures. Carefully labelled by Jackie, we packed these up,stored them in a cupboard for access to which we needed a step-ladder, and replaced them with our own. This afternoon we reversed the process.

This evening Elizabeth and Danni joined us and my niece drove us all to Ringwood’s Curry Garden where we enjoyed the usual high standard meal with friendly and efficient service. The restaurant was very full.

Darkness At Noon

It was a bright and cheerful morning when I set off this morning to walk the Shave Wood loop and survey the effects of yesterday’s storm. Waterlogged forestNo more trees seem to have been uprooted or severely damaged, but there is more surface water than I have seen before.
Lichen and water
Water runs down the slightest incline, be it on the roads or in the forest. Where there is no slope new pools and streams are forming. Ditches follow the same logic. If there is a hill they are fast flowing; if there is a plateau they swell and join the ponds on the open land and among the trees. Tennis ball in ditchA tennis ball bobbed about in one running rivulet.
Streams newly formingMany areas of scrubland normally cropped by the ponies now bear darkened patches and trails that are inchoate lakes and streams. Football GreenAt the moment Football Green retains enough dryish terrain to support animal sustenance.Forest waterlogged Forest poolReflections in poolsReflections on groundTree and sky reflectionsFurther into the forest the skies are brought down to earth in their reflections.
The rose bush that had scratched at the side of the car has been cut back and tossed onto the muddy verge near the Minstead village sign.
Rose hips cut back
Water on vergeTree leaning on branch
At the corner of Shave Wood near the A337 an elderly tree suffering from osteoporosis appears to be using one of its branches as a crutch to prevent it from staggering into the road.
As the wind got up and the rain came down again, with each howling gust the tall creaking beeches caused me to become somewhat wary. Minstead LodgeIn the darkening skies of noon, Minstead Lodge looked even more the Gothic pile. (Thank you, Arthur Koestler, for writing your 1940 novel giving me today’s title). The day remained changeable. Soon after this photograph was taken, we were treated to a rainbow, yet by the time I reached home I was beset by rain falling from dark clouds and buffeted across the cattle grid on Lower Drive.
This afternoon we visited Elizabeth. When Danni returned home with Andy we dined on Elizabeth’s spaghetti Bolognese, followed by a Firs Mess. We began with an English bacchus wine, after which Elizabeth, Danni and I drank various red wines and Andy consumed cider. After this we went home.

Driving Hazards

This morning was cold and bright as I walked down to Football Green, up through the rear entrance to Minstead Lodge, and back home via Seamans Lane.
Mare and foalOn Running Hill I was reminded that last year’s foals are catching up their parents in height. The black mane sported by the younger pony in the picture no doubt has been passed on by its all black father hiding behind the tree.
During my years of commuting from Newark to King’s Cross, I sometimes chatted with another tall traveller, just a little younger and shorter than me. One day, he noticed a still younger and taller man. ‘They are catching us up’, he said. It is, of course, true that, on the whole, each subsequent generation outstrips the previous ones. We have found this when looking at very old houses, like the crick-framed one in Kings Somborne, in our search for a new home. Centuries ago, people were considerably shorter, which is why King Henry VIII, at 6 feet 2 inches or 1.88 metres, was, in Tudor times, considered a giant.
Rose hips
One of the casualties of the recent winds has been a rose bush bent so far across the verge as to screech against the car passenger window when we drive past. Experiencing this in the dark reminds me of M.R. James’s spooky story ‘The Ash-Tree’, in which the eponymous intruder scratches at a bedroom window. At close range in daylight the hips look quite harmless really.
Ever since I saw so many rooks in Morden Park when we lived in Links Avenue, I have tried, with very limited success, to photograph one in flight. Normally they are up and away at first glimpse of me. RooksToday, unless they were crows, I managed it at Football Green. Wherever there are ponies these birds gather together and peck at the grassy terrain.
Cattle gridLike a number of others in the area, the cattle grid to Minstead Lodge is currently filled with ochre-coloured water.
A group of students from the Minstead Training Centre, in the charge of volunteers, were making excellent progress in the building of the goat shelter. I took the opportunity to pop in and visit Noura, who had given me an open invitation to do so on 7th December. Apart from being very personable and friendly, this Head of Care is quite smart. I was given coffee, introduced to the Volunteers Coordinator and the Director, and presented with a volunteers application form. And I’d only popped in because she had asked me to ‘come for a cup of tea’.
Reflectors on stump
On the drive leading to Seamans Lane, the very large sawn stump of a fallen tree now bears reflectors to alert motorists of its comparatively recent presence. It is another driving hazard not quite clear of the tarmac. The ponies, of course, such as those featured in ‘Shoo!’, are permanent encroachers onto the roads. But then they own them, don’t they?
This evening we dined on a selection of our choice from chilli con carne and mixed meat curry with pilau rice, followed by creme caramel. Of course we each had some of everything. I opened a fresh bottle of the Bergerac. The coriander that was already at least three weeks old on 22nd, was, having been kept according to Jackie’s method, still reasonably fresh today.
In order best to extract the flavour from cinnamon sticks when using them in her rice, Jackie softens them by boiling them first in some of the water.


Derrick and JosephPhotograph number 43 in the ‘through the ages’ series was probably taken by Vivien and printed by her brother Bernard in 1962. Bernard always used a square format. Here, I sit on a cast iron and wooden-slatted bench in the garden of 18 Bernard Gardens to which we had moved as a family a couple of years before, alongside my brother Joseph.
In a fascinating coincidence, my parents and I each produced five children with eighteen years between them. Unlike my Dad, I needed three wives to achieve the round handful.
Dad was a man, of his time, who would never borrow money for any purchase. When, in the late sixties, the large Victorian house began to suffer from subsistence damage, the quotation for repairs was £400. My father could not be persuaded to borrow that sum on mortgage, so it was sold and the remaining members of the family moved to Morden.
Malachi 26.12.13This morning I received a phone call from Sam and Malachi in Perth, Western Australia, and had long conversations with each of them. My grandson chuckled away when I asked him: ‘Why?’. He has, so far, despite distinct O’Neill genetic traits, retained his English accent. The attached photograph is taken from Holly’s Facebook page of 26th December last year.Cherry tree stump
SnowdropsSnowdrops have arrived in our garden. I spotted some as I began my walk of the Football Green/Shave Wood loop this afternoon. They were not far from the sawn-off cherry tree stump, which is all that remains of the casualty that was taped off in December.Feather Trail
A trail of white plumage, reminiscent of Hansel’s breadcrumbs, on Running Hill led to the remains of a large, now unidentifiable, white bird.
At the bottom of the hill, the gentleman who lives at Orchard Cottage opened his gate and crossed to give a pony on the green a tasty morsel. He had to be quick to return to his garden.Jill, partner, & ponies The dark brown creature and its white companion, having had their interest aroused, wanted more and were intent upon laying siege. That is one of the hazards of that particular kindness to animals.
Bonfire in field
Further on down into Minstead, alongside the pedestrian safety path that runs by the most dangerous stretch of road, the smoke rising from a bonfire in an adjacent field blended with the subtle greys of the clouds above.
Tyre tracksPony & oak treeOn Lyndurst Road, just before the junction with Football Green, a number of fairly large trees have fallen recently. Huge tyre tracks provided  evidence that some rather heavy machinery had been used to clear them from the road.
Foraging ponies are looking a great deal more healthy than they did this time last year, when they were so cold and wet and their ribs were beginning to protrude.
Shave Wood signpost
CloudscapeAs I turned the corner at Shave Wood, the skies, having been somewhat obscured by the trees, came back into view. How they had altered since I first saw the bonfire blend. Big skies are a feature of the countryside, and I find their constant changes of hue and formation fascinating. At that moment the artist had laid gentle brush strokes of yellow and indigo over the bright blue base wash.
Minstead Lodge
Visible from high up on the hill approaching London Minstead, Minstead Lodge, like the Gothic pile it is, stood out against the rainbow trout tints in the sky.Sunset From Bull Lane I could look down on the still burning bonfire I had seen from the other side of the valley. The cloudscape painter had changed his or her palette yet again, as the setting sun slowly turned the gold to pink.
BT Openreach technicianA BT Openreach technician high on a ladder clamped to a telegraph pole opposite the Minstead Lodge drive in Seamans Lane was applying some kind of testing device. He agreed that he was quite busy at the moment.
Further on I met Oliver. Not my grandson. A greyhound. His owner’s mother informed me that he had not been fast enough to pass muster as a racing animal, so was in fact a rescue dog. He seemed friendly enough, and ignored the baying of neighbouring hounds who had picked up either his or my scent.
For dinner this evening, Jackie produced roast belly of pork with sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, and vegetables. This is a most underrated cut of meat, that, when of Lidl quality cooked long and slow, offers a most flavoursome meal. Creme brûlée was to follow. I drank more of the Bergerac.

An Inspirational Visit

Accompanied by a couple of friends we lunched on excellent fish and chips at The Trusty Servant.  I drank a pint of Doom Bar.  After our meal we attended Minstead Lodge where Noura met us for a tour of this huge building, probably a Victorian reproduction of an earlier manor house.

It was Noura’s day off, because the establishment, apart from the residential students and some staff, is closed at weekends.  However, she came in from her home in Ringwood to accommodate us.  Her husband and two year old daughter also gave generously of their time and wandered around with us.  What was once a family home was bought with a generous legacy and turned into a Training Project for people with learning disabilities.  Martin, whom I’d met soon after we arrived in Minstead, had set up and directed the place for twenty five years, until recently moving to a liaison role with Furzey Gardens.

Kitchen Garden, Minstead Lodge

I had had no idea what a thriving community it is, or how extensive the house and grounds are, so found the visit most informative and spiritually uplifting. Garden, Minstead Lodge One of our guides was a gentleman in transitional accommodation before a move to independent living in Totton.  A delightful and courteous young man, he took pride in showing us round, telling us what the various activities were, and, I suspect, pulling Noura’s leg.  He was clear that he would continue to come and work here after he had moved.  After twenty years in residence I am sure he would need that continuity.  His special area of expertise was feeding and caring for the animals.  We were shown horses, donkeys, and goats all of which answered his call.  The geese were less interested, possibly because their feeder passed us on his way to their field as we came away from it.  Noura’s daughter was particularly fascinated by the chickens, and clutched a couple of what looked like pigeon feathers she had found earlier.  Those preparing for independence in this way live on the upper floor of their current building.  Our guides seemed very willing to give us all the time we needed, in taking us through the communal rooms and the gardens.

There are a number of finely crafted wooden tables and chairs made, seamlessly, out of single enormous trees.  These were made by a local craftsman as payment in kind for professional services rendered by the owner.  Crib figures, Minstead LodgeTable in window seat, Minstead LodgeOne held crib figures, behind which, clearly recently having descended from the chimney to the open fireplace in one of the panelled reception rooms, could be glimpsed a diminutive Father Christmas.  Others stood by window seats from which views down the valley and across the forest could be enjoyed.  The kitchen garden was impressive, and plants were on sale outside the reception area.

The link with Furzey Gardens and the Chelsea Garden was evident on the walls in the form of superb reportage paintings in the style of those decorating the sister project. Kevin making a leaf  We were told by staff member Andy that each resident and staff member of the Lodge made one of the stained glass leaves woven into the walls of the thatched building that features in the winner of Chelsea gold.

After our lunch a light supper of cheese on toast and apple pie and custard sufficed for our evening sustenance.

‘They Don’t Cook The Veg’

Last night I began reading ‘Her Brilliant Career – Ten Extraordinay Women of the Fifties’ by Rachel Cooke.

Early this morning I received an e-mail from Alex Schneideman attaching rebalanced copies of my two historic photos from yesterday. They were so pleasing that I substituted them for my own versions in that day’s post.  The experience made me determined to crack a problem with my Epson V750 PRO scanner, which should have restored the colour balance, a facility which had mysteriously disappeared.  After much trial and error I discovered that the auto exposure function, without which certain others would not come into play, had been disengaged.  I can now sort out the colour again, but haven’t yet managed to resuscitate the dust removal feature.  I have also found ‘levels’ to which Alex alerted me, in the iPhoto edit function.

Not that I particularly needed it, light rain refreshed me on my walk down to Football Green, up through the grounds of Minstead Lodge, and back home via Seamans Lane and Running Hill.

Horse alertIn and around the village and forest,  no doubt as a response to the increase in animal deaths on the road, there have appeared a number of small laminated posters warning drivers not to kill ponies and horses carrying people.  These, affixed to gateposts and wayside trees, are all no larger than A4 and cannot be read from moving vehicles.  I don’t know how practical it would be, but it seems to me that we need something about the size, and in the simple, spare, language, of the yellow Animal Deaths warnings on such as Roger Penny Way.

A field beyond the village shop contains the only oak currently completely devoid of foliage.  Dead oak treeThis one has been naked as long as we have lived here.  Probably because it is dead. Further along, a shower of orange leaves from a live specimen descended like a shimmering macrame screen behind the deep green back of a double decker bus. The stout branch immediately above the cascade imitated the action of a seesaw.  It had been clouted by the vehicle.  Maybe the driver had lost his way.


A gaggle of geese could be discerned through a gap in a beach hedge bordering the track up to Minstead Lodge.

After lunch I changed the colour balance of those ‘posterity’ pictures I have already posted.  We then produced a Christmas card which it would not be sensible to reproduce here, because I don’t expect the prospective recipients would really appreciate a preview.

This evening Jackie produced a succulent sausage casserole, with mashed potato and swede, and crisp, colourful vegetables of which my Uncle Ben would definitely disapprove.  In 1983, when I first ran the Bolton Marathon, Matthew and I went up to stay with my uncle and Auntie Ellen.  Ben bemoaned the catering firm that had just taken over his works canteen.  He complained that, because they had been trained in nutrition the staff didn’t cook the veg.  Now aged 92, my uncle is of the generation that believed vegetables were not palatable unless they had had the life, the colour, and the nutrients, boiled out of them and into the water which would then be thrown away..

Our cauliflower was white; our brussels green; and our carrots orange; not grey, brown, and yellow.  With them Jackie drank a Palastri spritzer and I some Roc des Chevaliers bordeaux superieur 2011.

A Precarious Career

Horses and carriages are not an unusual sight in the lanes of Minstead.  As I walked down toward Football Green this morning, a horse pulling an old carriage containing two gentlemen trotted towards me directly into the sun, which glinted from the windscreens of the convoy of cars keeping pace with it. Horse and carriage Like any other considerate road user, the animal nodded acknowledgement to the driver of a New Forest Council drain clearing vehicle I had seen operating further up the road.

GoatsFrom Football Green I took the road through the grounds of Minstead Lodge training project, where Dave had told me I would see goats that he and Gladys had seen as kids.  That is when the goats were in their infancy, not my friends.  I did indeed see the goats, and geese, and donkeys.

Leaving these grounds and turning right down Seamans Lane I again took the Suters Cottage route across the forest.  Dead trunkDead trunk 2Walking under the dead tree I had photographed yesterday, I was rewarded with a sight of some of the wonderfully weird shapes these fallen trunks metamorphose into.  A fox and a rhino, perhaps?

Runnin HillKeeping straight across the wilderness I eventually emerged a little further up Running Hill.  It is very clear that the forest across the road from our Lower Drive does actually link with Shave Wood.  I had once asked a woman returning with her dog: ‘Does that lead anywhere?’.  She had said it didn’t.  Well, I suppose if all you do is park your car on the forest verge and let your dog out for an euphemistic walk, you wouldn’t know, would you?

Today I finished reading my friend Michael Kindred’s autobiographical work, ‘Once Upon a Game’, being a description of his ‘precarious career as a games inventor’.  For two reasons I am mightily relieved that I can wholeheartedly recommend this entertaining book.  The first is because Michael is a very good long-standing friend and, in the world of cryptic crosswords, colleague.  The second is that I feature as one of his collaborators.

Michael’s capacity to entertain is at least twofold in this piece.  The first strand of this talent is in his descriptions of the process of creativity from the, sometimes failing, germ of an idea to the shop shelves.  I found his story of how the very successful board game ‘Bewitched’ came into being fascinating and provoking of much admiration.  Without giving too much away I can record that his observation of a discarded but saved ‘just in case’ magnet from a kitchen cupboard door mechanism, led to an idea for the game that produced a surprise element that immediately captivated the minds of the Waddington assessors.

Once Upon a Group

For those who are intrigued by the actual mechanics of the games; how these developed; the intricacies of the processes of playing; and the rules, there is a different kind of entertainment.  I have to confess that my brain doesn’t easily grasp such concepts, so I did skip some sections.  If you have a mind like Maggie and Mike’s rather brilliant daughter Cathy, I can assure you that you will be too gripped to skip anything.  Super-intelligence is not however necessary for enjoyment of these sections, for Michael does have the ability to make them simple, which benefitted the children at the Southwell primary school where he played a once-weekly play-testing session.  I am sure the visits of Mr. Kindred were most popular.  The expertise in working with groups, of both Michael and his wife Maggie, was put to good use in the production of the very popular ‘Once Upon a Group’, the first book to come out of the 4M stable.

Just as our work on cryptic crosswords and related books involved Michael and me bouncing ideas off each other, so the games creation involved a similar relationship with the late Malcolm Goldsmith.  My friend and I shared much fun, as did he with Malcolm.

The light-hearted nature of this professional autobiography does not conceal the nerve-wracking aspects of the author’s chosen career.  Creativity is an intensely personal process which, as he says, needs the reinforcement of appreciation and acceptance by others.  To persevere in the face of the inevitable disappointments requires great courage and resilience. The need to make a living from the products, and their likely short-lived nature, puts timescales on the work which create considerable pressure.  The inventor can never rest on his laurels.  New ideas must always be forthcoming.  The classics such as Scrabble and Monopoly were produced in a different era.  I don’t know about Monopoly, but Scrabble was developed as a family game having the benefit of many years’ play-testing before it reached the public.  As Michael states, the support of a good wife is also rather helpful.  A daughter who loves games is equally a considerable asset.

The book can be obtained from

Jackie produced perfectly cooked lamb chops and crisp vegetables for our evening meal with which I opened Campo Dorado rioja 2012 that Matthew had brought from the Upper Dicker Village Shop.

Conversation Breaks

Ford to Newtown 12.12

This morning I disturbed our cervine trio on the upper drive.  I had intended to walk my  ampersand, but took a right turn just before reaching the usual ford.  This road, unsurprisingly, also had a ford.  Passing Newtown I took a bridleway up to the main road towards Emery Down and returned by my normal route.

There is a small green at the point where the Newtown road joins the bridleway. Stone circle 12.12 On this green has been formed another strange perfect circle.  This one is made of large pebbles.  The other circle, discovered on 4th December, consisting of twigs, seemed, on my return journey, to have been reinforced.

Towards the end of the bridleway I came across three women talking.  Two were on horses, the third was on foot.  Berie and friend on horseback 12.12One of the riders was Berry, who lives at number 1 Castle Malwood Lodge.  The pedestrian was the mother of the other equestrian.  I mentioned that Alison, whom I had met some days ago, had asked me if I knew Berry.  We chatted for a while.  Later on my walk my path crossed with Berry’s again.  I asked her if it would be possible for Flo to have a ride whilst she is with us.  It would.  Berry will let us know when.

Near Seamans Corner I met Martin, who is the Father Christmas lookalike I had first encountered on 17th November.  He was, as usual, pushing his severely disabled adopted son in his buggy.  For the first time we stopped and had a long talk.  Bearing in mind my profession it is quite a coincidence that Martin set up Minstead Lodge school for people with learning disabilities twenty six years ago.  Last Friday was his last day as Director.  The school is also involved with Furzey Gardens, and Martin is changing his role to become the public face of the two agencies and how they interlink.

I also spoke for some time with Anne, who lives in a large house in the village, the garden of which is now somewhat waterlogged.  Today’s walk was punctuated by conversation breaks.

This evening Jackie excelled herself again with a wonderful roast lamb dinner.  Jackie and Ian drank Stopham Estate English pinot blanc 2010 which was very enjoyable; Becky had Diet Coke best before March 2013; and I finished the Fleurie.  As I write, Scoobie is crashing about in the kitchen gnawing at the bone which Becky says will last for days.