Sometimes I Couldn’t Keep Up

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Paul Auster’s ‘The New York Trilogy is a series of novelettes, originally published in sequence as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986); and combined into a single volume the following year. The author, born February 3, 1947, ‘is’, according to Wikipedia, ‘an American writer and director whose writing blends absurdism, existentialism, crime fiction, and the search for identity and personal meaning.’

Last night I finished reading the first story which I soon realised was describing a descent into madness. Whose, I wasn’t sure; because of the several identities, realities, and time-frames.

There is also an intertextual relationship with Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is so long since I struggled to make sense of this great Spanish classic that the significance of the link escaped me.

Chapter 2 almost had me abandoning Auster’s tale. However, I saw it to the end and came to appreciate what the author was presenting. I thought it worth persevering with, and was left happy to tackle the next one.

My copy is The Folio Society’s 2008 edition which benefits from the powerfully atmospheric illustrations of Tom Burns, which won the V & A  2009 Overall book illustration Winner for this work. The museum’s website states that ‘the judges commented that these illustrations make great use of colour, capturing the city in a very fresh and original way. They felt the images integrate perfectly with the text and manage to evoke a variety of sensations such as loneliness, complicated relationships and a sense of speed.’ I’d say he was a worthy winner.

This morning, I scanned another batch of colour negatives from my long walk of July 2003. Regular readers will know that this was executed as an exercise in support of Sam’s epic row of the following year; those who followed the link to ‘Nettle Rash’ will also know that this was not without its obstacles.

There were a certain number of occasions when I lost sight of the rower, either because of these or because there were not enough locks holding him up and giving me a chance to keep pace.

Some of the more pleasant stumbling blocks were created by the flora covering the absent footpaths. Although I can recognise a thistle and a wasp, I lack the knowledge to identify the wild flowers or the white butterfly.

There was ample opportunity to focus on the landscape alongside what I think is the Warwickshire stretch of the Oxford canal. Sometimes there was a benefit in being unable to keep up.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s splendid pork paprika, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, and red cabbage. I drank more of the Shiraz and the Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden.

 

The White Garden

Hunting through our house purchase documents for some clarity about responsibility for the huge amount of fencing in various stages of health that borders our property, I was unsuccessful in that, but I did discover the names of the houses in our little hamlet. We are one of four on our side of Downton Lane. In order, progressing along Christchurch Road towards that lane there stand Mistletoe Cottage, Old Post House, North Breeze (the empty bungalow), and Smallacres (now residential care). I will use the correct nomenclature in future. The sum total of my morning’s work on the back drive was the scalping (see yesterday) of just one tree stump. The fencing between us and Smallacres is in not much better SmallacresStump and ivy stemscondition than that we share with North Breeze.  The hitherto unseen rear view of the residential establishment is now exposed. Much of our thick ivy stems and brambles grows through the flimsy wooden structure, so pulling and hoping for the best is out. Surgical skill is required to cut the growth from our side at the point of entry. This afternoon I made a bit more progress. Once I had cut off enough of the thick ivy branches cascading over the stumps, I pulled away the stems adhering to the dead wood. This would produce a shower of decidedly dry brown dust inducing a coughing fit that lingered over lunch. Ploughing 1When I had had enough, I wandered over to Roger’s fields, and was most impressed with the work of the ploughman who had now produced acres of fine cross-hatching on what had been full of forage maize barely a week ago. As I walked along admiring the precision I noticed four tussocks lying on the land. They spoiled the man’s artistry so much that I felt inclined to remove them, but didn’t like to put my footprints on the soil. As the tractor hove Picking up tussocksinto view, it was stopped alongside these blemishes. Out stepped Roger Cobb, who walked across and picked them up. This man is a perfectionist. We spoke for a while during which he told me of a forthcoming vintage ploughing match similar to the one I had photographed in Southwell twenty two years ago. I feel another set of pictures coming on. Ploughman 'getting on'‘I must get on’, said my informant, and took his tractor into the dusk, against the lowering Skyskies. I was slightly puzzled, on this short trip, to notice that my camera battery needed charging rather sooner than I had anticipated. All became clear when Jackie informed me that she had been so impressed with all the white flowers still blooming in the garden that she had borrowed the Canon S100. Here is a selection of the photographs she took earlier:Begonias

BegoniasBegonia small

Smaller begoniasAlyssum

AlyssumErigeron - Version 2

ErigeronCyclamen

CyclamenDiasca

DiascaPansy

PansyCamomile

CamomileGladiolus

GladiolusLobelia

LobeliaImpatiens

ImpatiensJapanese anemone

Japanese anemoneSweet peas

Sweet pea.

Given how incensed some people become when supermarkets begin stacking their shelves for Christmas in August, I hesitate to repeat Jackie’s quip; when she served up a roast chicken dinner tonight, complete with homemade sage and onion stuffing, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and parsnips, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and gravy, followed by profiteroles; that she was practising for that festive occasion. But she was only joking, and it was delicious. She drank Hoegaarden whilst I consumed more of the rioja.

The Secret Garden Gate

Clerodendrum trichotomum

The clerodendrum trichotomum now wears its autumn colours.

Encouraged by our weekend’s progress on the back drive we decided to clear the other side today. Since most of this runs alongside the back of the unoccupied garden, it is a different prospect – more a question of determining which shrubs are ours and which our neighbours’. We are intent on clipping back rather than taking out. Except for where we started. This was the area behind our compost heap. It is a small inset corner that was completely overgrown, largely with brambles, to the height of the ornamental grass which is all that we have retained. That is as far as we got this morning. Once we had taken out the greenery, we had to remove possibly decades of rubbish that lay beneath the foliage.

Garden gate 1Garden gate 2The major discovery was a secret garden gate leading into the jungle plot. A thick electric cable still adheres to the post. Beyond the fence stand rows of bins and buckets full of rancid water that Jackie is convinced is the source of the mosquitos which plague us. We have both been covered in bites since I returned from France. Having cut her way through the foliage she entered the other garden and skilfully tipped out the foul-smelling liquid without bespattering herself. That should get rid of some of the larvae, although the adults are still plentiful. We also know there is a stagnant pond that Jackie has already done her best to clear. There may, of course, be far more incubators hidden away.

It was when I found evidence of at least a path leading to the gate that I decided to take a break. After all, as you may have suspected, I only took on this task to avoid digging up more slabs in the former kitchen garden.

Ploughing with seagullsAfter lunch Jackie drove me to the bank at New Milton and back. I then walked down to Shorefield post box. With his usual avian entourage Roger Cobb was ploughing his upper field.

Garden gate pathWhen I returned home we continued our work in the garden. Further clearance of the area around the garden gate involved transporting wonderful compost to other parts of the garden. Much of this matter had been stored in plastic bags which were piled up and had, themselves, reached such a level of decomposition to have become virtually shredded. Separating these from the soil was a painstaking task. By the time this was mostly removed, I hope I had unearthed the path to the little gate. But I have learned the hard way that you never know what you might find down there. Even though they would obviously be easier than the kitchen garden concrete, no way am I digging this lot up. Maybe we will one day learn the history of this erstwhile point of access.

For dinner this evening we enjoyed smoked gammon, cauliflower cheese, chips, and baked beans, followed by egg custard. Jackie drank Hoegaarden, and I opened a bottle of Castillo San Lorenzo rioja reserva 2009, and drank some of it.

A Ploughing Contest

Yesterday’s ploughing reminded me of that misty morning of 26th September 1992 when I took a set of photographs of a ploughing contest in Southwell in Nottinghamshire. I could not find the negatives, so I scanned the prints. These images were in such good condition that I had no adjustments to make.

Ploughing contest 26.9.92 001Ploughing contest 26.9.92 002Ploughing contest 26.9.92 003Ploughing contest 26.9.92 004Ploughing contest 26.9.92 005Ploughing contest 26.9.92 006Ploughing contest 26.9.92 007Ploughing contest 26.9.92 008Most of the contestants were very skilfully handling horse-drawn ploughs. The powerful animals were splendidly tacked.Ploughing contest 26.9.92 011Ploughing contest 26.9.92 012

Those tractors that were in operation were not as well-equipped as Roger’s modern one from yesterday.

Ploughing contest 26.9.92 015The Abbey Life cart became stuck in the mud. Watching the efforts to free it, I thought it unfortunate that all the heavy horses were otherwise engaged.

Ploughing contest 26.9.92 009Jessica, Michael & Heidi, Ploughing contest 26.9.92 013

Becky 9.71 002Jessica, Michael, and Heidi could be seen in the sparse distant crowd, and nearer at hand.

Backtracking a further 21 years in my slide collection, I traced a couple of out of focus photos of Becky in the original mob cap mentioned yesterday. This prototype was trimmed with lace from Jackie’s wedding dress. Here is the most acceptable image:

Sam, The Lady Plumber, came this morning and fitted new taps and hoses to the guest bathroom, and fixed the shower to the wall. She confirmed that the freestanding bath in our en suite room should be fixed to the floor, which it isn’t. Now we have an unblocked shower, we are unlikely to climb into it again. Apart from the two occasions mentioned on 24th April, this has never been used. It is free to anyone who would like it. Sam is quick, efficient, pleasant, and careful with your money.

Newt 1Newt 2Having this morning established that I had, indeed, begun to unearth a complete row of concrete slabs yesterday, I set to and extracted a few more today. The future rose garden is looking more and more like a building site. Removing all the unwanted materials will be a long. slow, process.

As she was scraping earth from a building block that had been buried several inches down, Jackie disturbed a drowsy newt, hiding in a crevice. Very, very gingerly, she cleaned up the stone, and, with a trowel, transferred her amphibian friend to the side of one of our tiny ponds. She took the photographs herself.

Later this afternoon we bought a new shower head and flexible hose, from City Plumbing in New Milton, for the shower Sam had worked on, and went on to Curry’s at Christchurch to order a Kenwood dishwasher, the fitting of which will be our plumber’s next assignment.

It was, of course, Jackie who attached the shower head. Sadly, the Mapperly family will not be able to avail themselves of this facility tomorrow, because they all have bad colds and need to defer their visit.

This evening we dined at our local pub, The Royal Oak. I enjoyed possibly the best sirloin steak ever in an hostelry, whilst Jackie chose her favourite butterfly chicken. My dessert was apple crumble served in a cup with a jug of custard to dispense when you had made room for it. It was delicious. Jackie also enjoyed her Mississippi mud pie. She drank peroni and I drank an excellent rioja.

The Hat

A comment from Becky on yesterday’s post prompted me to delve back into my photographic archives, and scan three more ancient colour slides.

In June 1971, we went on a family holiday with Ellie and Roger Glencross to their cottage, The Haven, in Iwade in Kent. Matthew and Glencrosses 6.71Here they are, on the beach, with Matthew in the foreground:

Matthew, Michael, Becky and Jackie 8.72The following August, Jackie, Michael, Matthew and Becky – seen posing outside The Haven – and I, spent a week there on our own. Michael displays his ever-paternal response to his brother and sister. The children had yet to learn that it is infra dig to wear socks with sandals, and this was the era of hot pants. It was in this low-ceilinged cottage that I learned to tape newspapers to the beams so that I would see them and bend my head to avoid bashing it. This ploy didn’t always work.

Michael and Becky 8.72Jackie, who crocheted the hat that Becky is wearing in this picture on the beach, tells me it is not a mob cap, such as the one appearing on yesterday’s market stall, but a successor. In any case, almost everything in that display was sold. Becky did, however, wear the prototype mob cap. After she had been pushed around Raynes Park sporting it in her pram for several months, a maternity shop, called One and a Half, in Wimbledon Village began selling mob caps. Jackie is convinced they followed her lead.

So excited was I by the above exercise, that I stayed in my dressing gown until I’d completed it. Well, that’s my excuse, anyway. I wasn’t looking forward to tackling the concrete slabs I had abandoned two days ago. I did, however, take up the task again this morning. This involved wielding the grubber axe in order to penetrate the iron-hard soil on one side of each buried block, and gravel and hard-core on the other. The next step was, when the obstruction looked possibly loose enough, to give it a good kick; to discover that  it still wouldn’t budge; and to repeat the process until it did. Prising it up was done with whatever garden tool was nearest to hand, until there was enough space to get my fingers underneath it and heave it up.

I had thought there were just three slabs in the row, until I came to the corner and found there were more, extending along the long side of the bed. Anyone wondering why I didn’t know these were there, should understand that they are mostly covered by two or three inches of weed-infested earth. Bee on cosmosAfter four of the extra ones, I stopped for the day. After all, it was still hot enough to keep the bees buzzing.

This afternoon I walked down to the Spar shop to replenish our stock of sparkling water. This gardening lark is thirsty work. The rooks, chasing each other across the skies, are back in residence.Ploughing1Ploughing 2Ploughing 3

Roger Cobb was ploughing his maize field.

Bev and John are our only neighbours likely to be affected by a bonfire. I always ring them before lighting one. This was the call I had tried to make two days ago that had alerted me to the problem with my mobile phone. I attempted to telephone them again this evening before burning more branches. I had the same problem. And I couldn’t find the reset button. So I rang O2 at Christchurch. The man who answered the phone knew only of one reset which would wipe all my information. He suggested I took the battery out and put it in again. I did that and it worked. Except that I got a voice telling me my stored numbers were not recognised. I waited a bit and tried again, successfully getting through to Bev. This time Jackie helped with the combustion and we made quite good progress before dinner which consisted of her delicious chicken curry and savoury rice. We finished the Cuvee St Jaine.

‘Look At That Book’

Bathroom floor Downton LaneBluebell WoodTractor ploughing, gulls, rooks, Isle of WightCattle, tractor ploughing, gullsJackie spent most of the day cleaning and renovating the rancid master bathroom. This floor, unevenly tiled in some kind of rubbery squares, gives an example of what she was dealing with. The difference she has made is evident in this photograph taken as she began. When I returned from my walk the whole surface was the colour of the clean ones you see. From Downton Lane I took the path through the fields and alongside the bluebell wood, into which I deviated. The tractor ploughing against the backdrop of the Isle of Wight on the horizon attracted its usual entourage of gulls and rooks. When I reached the road I turned left and continued on past the bottom of our lane to Milford on Sea. Cattle alongside this route seemed oblivious of the then distant ploughman. Weeds pushing up tarmacAs I marvelled at the weeds and grasses forcing their way through the tarmacked surface of the narrow path to Milford, I thought fondly of Dickie Hamer. Father Hamer, S.J. was the gentle, well-loved, Jesuit priest at Wimbledon College who guided us towards O Level French. I don’t remember why we called him Dickie. Perhaps his first name was Richard. It was he who had first told us of the power of something as slender as a blade of grass to battle its way into the sunlight in search of the energy for photosynthesis. One day, as he took a tour round the classroom, he admired the drawings Matthew Hutchinson had made in the margins of his exercise book. ‘I’ll have some of that’, I imagined. So, on another occasion, I started embellishing my pages. When Dickie reached my desk, instead of the hoped for praise, I received disappointed admonishment. ‘Look at that book’ exclaimed the schoolmaster. I hear his voice, see his face, and feel the shame to this day. The experience was worsened because I knew I could never match Matthew’s art.Catch cricket and young MumsCatch cricketCatch cricket 2Catch cricket 3 A game of catch cricket was in progress on the Hordle Cliff top. When the ball was hit in my direction and I failed to grasp it, all round hilarity ensued. My unspoken excuse is that a cricketer accustomed to pouching a hard leather bound ball cannot catch a bouncy one designed for tennis. And anyway my effort was one-handed with the camera hanging from my wrist. Moreover, one bout of shame is enough for any one day. Books for charityI returned by the Shorefield route at the beginning of which is a house that in dry weather has baskets of books outside for sale in aid of children’s charities. A couple had parked their car and stopped to make a selection of purchases.

This afternoon I made a start on the garden. In the immortal words of Captain Lawrence Oates, ‘I may be some time’.

For one of my birthdays in the early Newark years, Jessica gave me a cast iron replica of the Nottingham Castle benches. This has accompanied me on most of my moves since, and brought to Downton from storage by the splendid Globe Removals team. There are twelve hardwood slats linking, by bolts, the very heavy metal sides. Whilst at Sutherland Place I replaced some of the deteriorated wooden sections with iroko I had cobbled from a picnic bench. The bench has been dismantled for transit. I decided to put it together again.

The cast iron pieces lay beneath the heaviest skip pile consisting largely of IKEA contiboard. I shifted all that and dragged the iron out. Then I couldn’t find the nuts that held the bolts in place.Weeding pathSawn trunk

So I had to do something else, and made a start on weeding the paths. I didn’t get very far before diverting myself by looking up at the shattered tree. The main trunk of this as yet unidentified plant had obviously suffered in the winter gales. I had to cut the top off. There was no time like the present. I sawed off the damaged section, lopped up the branches just coming into leaf, and carried them to the far end of the garden where there has obviously been a bonfire at some time.

All this time Jackie continued to work like Helen, or maybe another Trojan, upstairs, apart from a small break when she pruned a climbing rose in an effort to preserve my scalp when walking underneath it.

Trailing weedI suppose every garden has its pernicious weed that defies all efforts to eradicate it. Ours I recognise, but cannot name, from the garden at Lindum House. It is a long trailing and climbing creature with velcro epidermis that clings to anything. The creeper emanates from a buried, elongated lichee like object burrowing underground. All I will have time for this year will be to pull the greenery up by the handful before its little white flowers appear.

Extracting one such cluster revealed this fascinating little plant:Plant - unidentified

Each set of petals is about the size of a daisy. I don’t know what it is.

This evening we dined at The Jarna restaurant, the decor of which was described two days ago, when I vowed to return with my camera:The Jarna decor - Version 2Booth in The Jarna

Sam was doing deliveries himself tonight. Tiger windowAt one point he went out into a heavy shower of rain. He placed his container beside his car whilst he opened up the boot. JackieThis could be seen through the tiger left in the window glass otherwise covered by a laminate.

Ceiling lights of different hues imparted their glow to the diners, to their napkins, and to Sam’s head as he took the orders. Ours was green.

The food was good too.

P.S. Jackie put this comment on Facebook: Just done some research, seems that Ladies bedstraw is slightly different, it is Gallium verum , the weed in our garden is Gallium aparine , AKA- catchweed, everlasting friendship, Robin-run-the-hedge, even sticky Jack, and my favourite, Sticky Willy!!