The Ash And The Elm

Our slumbering over morning coffee was interrupted today by a thump on the window.  This was a pigeon.  Birds, of course, cannot see glass.  Our would-be visitor bounced off, flapped its wings, and flew off into a fir tree, no doubt having a better view of stars than of our sitting room.  The unfortunate creature’s motion was curtailed.  It was taken short and passed a different one.  Perhaps it was impatient to take up the new tenancy and hadn’t realised we were still in residence.

As I carried the cardboard cartons and the bulging black bags we had filled yesterday down the staircase and across the lawn to the car I was so grateful that I was no longer suffering the intense pre-and-post-op pain along the length of my left leg that had been such an impediment on each of our last two moves.  I was also relieved that in our new abode we are on the ground floor.

I followed my normal route to Norman’s in Neasden.

A tearful toddler in Morden Hall Park had been stung by nettles and her carer was explaining that there were no dock leaves.  These, when rubbed on the affected parts, would have lessened the albeit temporary agony.

Kindly installed by The National Trust, a fresh new welcome board provided me with a memento of my many morning meanderings.

Norman served up a delicious meal of roast guinea fowl with a piquant French white wine followed by a succulent plum flan.

On the tube I finished reading Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie (see 24th. August), a book of poetry designed for children yet containing much to delight the adult.  With deceptively easy flowing metre and skillful use of rhyme and repetition, de la Mare’s magical imagination weaves excellent aids to slumber.  One short piece, ‘Trees’. speaks of what may become our arborial history.  We have largely lost our Elms and, it seems, the Ash is about to succumb to alien invaders.  Next year marks the hundredth anniversary of this ever-youthful work.

Late afternoon we drove off to Minstead to unload the contents of the car, and then went on to The Firs where Danni cooked an excellent roast chicken meal which we ate with Hardy’s stamp of Australia wine.

A Grief Unobserved

Strolling in Morden Hall Park this morning, I encountered a group of volunteers strenuously striving to eradicate ivy from the bases of trees.  They were armed solely with spades and cutters.  They did not have the forks which I had found indispensible in digging out the pernicious tendrils (see 27th August post) that had required so much time at The Firs.  The man was tugging away with hands encased in protective gloves.

Wandering over to the wetlands I noticed a makeshift plank bridge which provided a short cut to the Natural Play Area which I have been terming an adventure playground.  The father of a family enjoying the swings agreed with me when I had told him I hadn’t been prepared to risk it and had taken the long way round.  ‘Especially in this weather’, he remarked.  The playground has been developed by the National Trust in consultation with Liberty Primary School.

Three mallards resting by the Wandle bank, and a young woman who put me in mind of Lot’s wife, were watching other ducks foraging in the swift-flowing stream.

Mallards by Wandle 10.12

I had had occasion to visit the reception area of the Civic Centre on my way through Morden, to hand Jackie some documents for signature.  There I had read a poster proclaiming that ‘Muhammad is the only prophet mentioned in the Bible’.  In Deuteronomy, we are told.  I had been given a copy of the Qur’an on my visit to the mosque on 18th May, but have not got round to reading it.

I have a number of books I have not got round to reading.  One of these was ‘A Grief Unobserved’ by my friend Maggie Kindred.  I determined to rectify that on my return to Links Avenue.  Being unable to put it down, I read it at a sitting.  Described as ‘insightful and sensitive’, this slender publication is designed ‘for parents, carers, and professionals who work with them’.  As a parent and as a professional I have a thorough grasp of Maggie’s subject and can assure you that this small paperback is as good as anything I have read, and more readable than most.  She speaks from the heart with a clear professional head.  We know exactly what life’s journey has been for Em, from her early bereavement, through her further losses in childhood and adolescence, and, perhaps most importantly and optimistically, her painful road to recovery.  Quite appropriately this is seen from the perspective of someone who believes in the significance of nurturing in human development, but no-one should underestimate Em’s inherent strengths.

My own son Michael was, at fourteen months old, two months younger than Em when they each lost their mothers.  Vivien’s death was recorded in my post of 17th July.  Readers will recall that I took him up to my parents house where we remained for two and a half years.  We never returned to our home at Ashcombe Road.  I had been unaware that, as Maggie tells us, children always seek the absent parent where they last saw them.  I was, however, instinctively aware that when my toddler son wandered at night about the much larger Bernard Gardens address, he was searching for his mother.  Probably because he was a boy, he had very little speech at that age, and, as Maggie explains, would not have had the cognitive ability to understand what was going on.

So how was I to tell him?  I had not yet discovered the direction explained in my 18th July post, so knew nothing about therapy.  What I did know about was stories.  His mother and I had always read to our son and shown him books and pictures.  I knew of nothing then appropriately written, so I made one up.  Each night as I tucked him in I told him a story about a little boy whose mother had died and what it meant.  Anyone who has read or told stories to small children will know the value of repetition, also highlighted by Maggie.  Woe betide you, though, if you make any changes, leave anything out, or mistake any details, for you will be corrected by the smallest listener.  It must have been a year before the little chap, just before nodding off, asked: ‘why did my Mummy die?’  Then, just as now as I write, my emotions welled up.  They were so mixed.  I felt a deep satisfaction that my way of telling him had worked, but complete impotence as to how to answer the question.  To this day I can’t remember what I said, but his question reverberates in my mind.

So, Maggie, for the simple, clear, and heart-rending; yet positive, way you have presented this necessary work, I thank you.  This should be essential reading for anyone remotely connected with its theme.  It can be obtained from www.pneumasprings.co.uk or www.kindredgamesandbooks.co.uk

Having travelled by car to Thornhill in Hampshire, Jackie and I ate at Eastern Nights, with Bangla and Cobra respectively imbibed.

The Listener Setters’ Dinner

This morning, tramping around Morden Hall Park, I came across two young men examining the construction of a bridge, in preparation for a boardwalk through the wetlands.  As I said, this should save our shoes and trouser bottoms.  This meant I just had to investigate that waterlogged area.  I should have tried out my new wellies, but they are in the car and Jackie had the keys.  I was, however, rewarded by meeting two surveyors who were measuring the terrain.

This reminded me of ‘Under the boardwalk’ from The Drifters’ marvellous 1963 album ‘Up on the roof’.  You can hear it on youtube.

Volunteers were tending the Tending the rose garden 10.12. (2)JPGrose garden.

The small adventure playground contained much activity.  Those playing in there were wearing wellies.

This afternoon I made a lamb rogan josh.  All my balti meals are based on a wonderful little book, Mridula Baljekar’s Real Balti Cook Book.  Jessica bought this for me in a remainder bookshop in Edinburgh on the only occasion she accompanied me to the Listener Setters’ Dinner. Balti cook book 10.12 It wasn’t her scene but she tried it out once.

I had discovered the Listener crossword puzzle when The Times took it over in the early nineties.  Solvers who successfully completed each of the 52 puzzles in a year were rewarded with an invitation to attend.  After Mike Kindred and I realised we were never going to earn our admission that way, we began to set puzzles ourselves.  Mike never did attend, but I enjoyed several of the annual gatherings which take place in different cities throughout the UK.

John Green, who, as a labour of love, checks all submitted solutions, sends all received comments to the setters.  There are many comments.  One of my proudest moments was opening a most complimentary letter of approval from Vikram Seth.  On one occasion one of my clues was inadvertently omitted from the published puzzle.  I received a plain postcard from Georgie Johnson.  It read, simply, ‘was Mordred (my pseudonym), poor bastard, really one clue short of a crossword?’.  There began a correspondence friendship.  In those early ’90s, we didn’t have computers, so we communicated by post.  Jessica suggested I should invite this delightfully witty penfriend to a dinner.  Georgie came to York.  Since we had never met, we arranged to convene in the hotel bar.  I sat waiting with a pint of beer until in walked a most elegant woman who had the poise and looks to have been photographed by Patrick Litchfield in her youth.  ‘That can’t be her’, I thought.  She looked across the room, turned and walked out.  ‘Ah, well,’ I thought.  Then she came back in and I noticed she was clutching a copy of ‘Chambers Cryptic Crosswords’ (see 12th July), which had been our identification signal.  After she joined me she confessed that she had thought ‘that can’t be him.  He must be an actor or something’.  We enjoyed a most pleasant evening which lasted well into the small hours.  In the twenty first century we continue our correspondence by e-mail.

I have resolved my PayPal problem.  Pictures can continue.

To celebrate, with our rogan josh Jackie drank a bit more of the Wickham medium white 2010, and I dipped further into the Era Costana rioja 2009.

Banknotes And Phonecards

Today was a Mordred (posted 12th. July) day.

I took my usual route to SW1 for coffee with Carol.  A flattened frog, having attempted to cross the sodden footpath in Morden Hall Park, hadn’t made it.  As I slalomed around the pools, a cyclist who had crept up behind me deftly avoided me as I crossed her path.

The warning notice on the tramway which divides the National Trust property from the Wandle Trail must have been inspired by the push-me-pull-you from the 1967 film, ‘Doctor Dolittle’, starring Rex Harrison and Anthony Newley.

An announcer at Victoria politely requested travellers to ‘stand on the right and walk down on the left of the escalator’.  This seemed to me to be an impossibility.

In speaking with Carol, I mentioned a collector I had once disappointed.  When Louisa was very young she had become interested in foreign banknotes.  I took great delight in scouring Newark market stalls for samples with which to enhance her collection.  In her teens she moved on to other things and returned them to me.  Learning of my friend’s interest I offered them to him.  And was unable to find them.  When moving back to London in 2006, I unearthed them and sent them to him.  He was very pleased.

Phonecards required me to be a bit more adventurous.  In the 1980s, when Louisa began collecting them, I was working in London, which is, of course, full of phoneboxes.  These cards contained a reader which recorded the time left available on them.  When exhausted, they would often be abandoned in the boxes.  Rich pickings for someone prepared to tramp the streets and, if necessary, cross the road to forage.  They would come in sets.  I remember one celebrating a Pierce Brosnan James Bond film, the name of which escapes me.  I would happily try to fill in the gaps for my daughter, proudly presenting them on my return to Lindum house in the evenings.  It was a red-letter day when I found one of the first cards ever issued.  Since this was some time after its publication, I imagined it had been deposited by a tourist on his or her return to England.  I once mentioned this obsession to a friend of mine.  Now, these boxes also contained cards of another nature.  Often bearing obviously lying glamour photographs, sexual service advertisements were frequently pasted on the walls.  My friend got quite the wrong end of the stick and pulled my leg unmercifully.  Cursory glances into today’s telephone boxes on my return to Victoria demonstrated that these wares are still being marketed through this medium.  Most are now torn off, leaving stubborn fragments attached to the glass.  They look rather like a price label attached to a present, or a charity shop paperback, which you cannot completely remove.  Whilst carrying out my research I rather hoped that no-one watching would also get the wrong end of the stick.

That early phonecard, issued by BT (which in those days did truly stand for British Telecom) has now been superceded by a myriad of companies issuing cards without a reader; and the mobile phone has severely limited the call for public phone boxes.  Louisa eventually also donated that collection to me.  I don’t know where it is now.

For this evening’s meal I created a totally new version of chickem jalfrezi.  It never is quite the same as previous efforts, but this time it was an almost total invention because I’ve lost the recipe.  I’ve made it enough times for that to be no real problem, it just makes for variety.  With it, we drank Kingfisher and Cobra 2012.

Trilby

Cyclist negotiating pools

Heavy rain was forecast again for today.  As a weak sun was putting in an occasional appearance I set off early for lunch with Norman, hoping to get my walk to Colliers Wood in before the deluge.  I was lucky.  The footpaths through Morden Hall Park and the Wandle Trail, except for dogs, once more required the slalom technique.  The animals did create quite a splash, so it was best to steer clear of them.  As I paused to contemplate a photograph, two small, punchy looking terriers wearing scary chain collars tore round a bend and cornered me.  When their owner came into view she cried: ‘Wayne, leave him alone’.  Wayne and his companion both desisted.  I quipped that that was more polite than I was accustomed to.  ‘People’, I said, ‘usually shout ‘Leave it’ (see post of 18th. June).  She replied that she could be horrible.  Glancing at her familiars, I thought that maybe she could.  Maybe the dogs upset my equilibrium, for the photograph was out of focus.  The rain set in as I reached Abbey Mills.

Emerging into the sunshine from Neasden underground station, I was soon aware of the unmelodic blasting of car horns.  Turning the bend by Harvest garage on my right, the cause became apparent.  There was a vast tailback along Neasden Lane.  A 4X4 had left the garage, managed to cross the road, and come to rest on the nose of a sports car on the opposite side.  The sporty driver was somewhat disgruntled.  As were a host of other motorists.  The 4X4 backed up, leaving the centre of the road clear for other cars.  Only for those in one direction.  Which stream would give way was still open for negotiation.  I left the rowdy scene, and further up the road came across a vehicle with its front wheels on the pavement.  The crews of two police cars, who had obviously pulled this one over, were taking details from its Eastern European occupants.  Just before the roundabout where the Lane joins the High Road, a taxi cab had broken down.  The driver spent a long time on his mobile phone, whilst I was sitting reading outside St. Mary’s Church.  Eventually a truck from J. Madden garages came to pick it up.  The scene was a bit too close to the roundabout for the breakdown man’s liking, but he was cheerful enough.  On my return to the station after lunch, traffic was solid on both sides of the road.  A police dog car, its sirens wailing, wasn’t making much headway.  Not a good day to be driving in this part of London.

The pools on the Neasden Lane pavements, pitted with sunken paving stones, were deeper and wider than those described earlier.  This time it was small children who enjoyed splashing about in them.  Their parents took their chances with the slow-moving traffic.

By the time I reached Church Road market, which was its usual vibrant self, it was raining again.  An enterprising stallholder was cashing in on the weather.

Norman provided an excellent meal of boiled bacon followed by rhubarb compote.  The wine was Palataia 2011 Pinot Noir, a surprisingly good German red.  Danni, please note I don’t need an evening repast after a Norman lunch.

Obediently keeping to the left on the way down the steps on my return to Neasden, I was confronted by a phalanx of women carrying buggies, with a man directly ahead of me, walking up the stairs, deep in a paperback book.  I stood patiently facing him until he emerged from his novel and stepped aside.

In the Jubilee Line train, opposite me a man in a navy blue pin-striped suit sat next to a woman wearing a navy blue pin-striped Trilby.  He had boarded the train some stations after her.  They were therefore not otherwise together.  I had already clocked her unusual appearance, including a large, gentleman’s style, watch strapped to the outside of her black sweater sleeve.  Joining the man on the Victoria Line interchange platform, I apprised him of the juxtaposition.  He was rather amused, especially as he had not noticed.  I wondered if the elegant young woman had read George du Maurier’s eponymous novel, ‘Trilby’.

A Little White Lie

Having heeded the weather forecast, I sweltered under an albeit open raincoat on my usual walk to Colliers Wood en route to Carol’s in SW1, then to Norman’s in Harlesden.  Later, I was grateful for the coat’s protection.

Outside a Halal shop in Morden, a delivery man, obviously having risen very early, was indulging in a welcome stretch.  Perhaps my smile was not as kind as intended, because he responded similarly with arms still fully akimbo.  This meant he exhaled rather earlier than he would have liked.

In Morden Hall Park, a woman was walking two ‘Churchill’ dogs.  Or maybe one dog and a stunted Martin Clunes.  For the benefit of my non-UK readers ‘Churchill’ is a model animal in an advertisement for insurance who carries on banter with the fine, humorous, actor, who has chops rather like his.  A mass of mangled slug corpses suggested that slugs are not yet extinct in the park.

Along the Wandle, a solitary Eastern European fisherman was trying his luck.  He thought his photograph ‘very nice’.  A family of ducks was surveying the scene.  Carrying bags of shopping was a man sporting a magnificent comb-over.

Two women on Boris Bikes (see 19th. June) sped weaving through the tourists over the stone sets in the precincts of Westminster Cathedral.  These bikes, sponsored by Barclays Bank, are, in my view, a rather doubtful innovation of the Mayor of London, with the idea of getting more people on bicycles in Central London.

Speaking with Carol about fire alarms reminded me of a burglar alarm on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue when Jessica, Michael, and I lived in Horse and Dolphin Yard in Soho.  On the outside of a shop, very close to our bedroom window, this device was constantly being set off.  Once activated it would not desist from ringing.  The police could never either trace a keyholder or get one to come out and turn off the noise.  One of their problems was that the establishment often changed hands.  On one occasion when it was doing my head in, and the police were unable to help, I decided to take it off the wall.  Armed with a screwdriver and a hammer, I climbed a ladder, hoping no-one was looking up my dressing gown, and set about it.  This was a very complicated procedure in which I had to completely dismantle the offending article and prise apart some wires before the ringing would stop.  Fortunately I had no need of the hammer.  When I returned to bed, hoping to sleep, Jessica suggested that I should tell the police what I had done.  I did.  Five minutes later I was arrested.  On being escorted into the police station I was greeted with calls of ‘ ‘ere, that bloke rings a bell’, and ‘don’t get alarmed mate.’  I think it was the highlight of their evening.  The sergeant informed me that they were not prepared to charge me with criminal damage, but they had to give the owner the opportunity to do so.  And I hadn’t actually damaged anything.  I’d carefully collected up all the bits.  I’d have had more sleep if I’d stayed indoors.  Unsurprisingly, the owner was not interested in pursuing the matter.

Some while later, intent on repeating my misdemeanour, I was halfway up the ladder when a policeman politely asked me what I was doing.  When I told him, he said I wasn’t.  ‘Oh, OK’, I replied, and went back to bed.  Eventually I tried a more subtle solution.  By this time the outlet was selling clothes.  After a particularly bad three nights, I persuaded a shop assistant to give me the phone number of the current owner.  The next occasion on which our sleep was disturbed, I telephoned him.  ‘Whoooaahr’, said I, with a sharp outlet of breath, ‘I think you’d better come out here’.  Now he was alarmed.  I went on to tell him that his shop had been burgled.  In their haste to get away the perpetrators had strewn jeans all over Shaftesbury Avenue.  Naturally, in telling this little white lie, I remained anonymous.  We were never troubled again.  Our neighbours were quite grateful.

I was a bit early for Norman, so I sat for a while on the middle of three benches outside St. Mary’s Church (see 19th. July).  An African man, on the left hand bench was, on his mobile phone, supported by quotes from the bible, expounding his philosophy on the nature of women and the problems they cause.  I wondered what the two Muslim women on the right hand bench would have made of this.

Always a colourful and thriving affair, Wednesday is Church Road market day.

Norman provided a lunch of rump steak beefburgers, followed by summer pudding.  We shared a bottle of Melini reserve chianti, 2009.

This evening I took a 93 bus to The Rose and Crown in Wimbledon Village and walked across the common to the Hand in Hand in Crooked Billet to meet Michael.  Fifty-plus years ago, when I drank there with my own father, this greatly extended Young’s pub was a small spit and sawdust independent establishment run by four sisters.  As I was a little early I wandered across the green to look at a grand house into which, some fifty years ago Dad and I had moved a family.  In the garden was a man, probably in his fifties, having a cigarette.  I told him about the removal, in particular that we had, with a piano we were bringing in, damaged a skirting board at the bottom of the stairs.  This man told me his family had owned the house for about that length of time.