On The Road

Michael, driving me through the night, was probably skirting Paris when the digits of the clock turned to 00.01 today. We were aware of the metropolis as the dark midnight sky brightened with the multicoloured lights generated by urban living. A surprising number of other vehicles were on the road, most, as we continued further south, heading north towards the capital.
My son had not enjoyed dubious sandwiches he had bought at Calais, so we made a number of stops in search of more sustenance. These were unfruitful, as every outlet was closed. Fortunately there were a number of all-night public conveniences, albeit of variable cleanliness.
The indigo sky was largely cloudless and sprinkled with numerous stars. It was not until about six in the morning that light, then eventually a strong sun, began to emerge behind my left shoulder. Parts of the landscape seemed to be scattered with creamy white pools amid the undulating hills. Nearer to hand, swirling mists, which is what these were, rose from moist fields and drifted upwards to dissolve into the air. The low sun cast long shadows across the pink-tinted countryside.
I regretted that we had ‘no time to stand and stare’ nor, more importantly perhaps, to photograph such evocative scenes.
What happened on arrival must await my next post.
Having borrowed yesterday’s title from one American writer, I turned to another, Jack Kerouac, for today’s.

Loos Of London

On this dull but warm day I walked down to the John Innes park and recreation ground in Mostyn Road, better to acquaint myself with this amenity which I have passed many times without realising it was any more than the garden and croquet lawn which can be seen from the road.

Passing the dahlia garden in Maycross Avenue I noticed a group of large pots of crysanthemums clustered in the middle of the lawn.  A resident emerging from the house confirmed that they were to be planted there. 

Further on, recycle bins demonstrated that someone had had a good night.

The sound of a reversing vehicle led me down a path at the back of a block of flats in Martin Way.  A refuse collection was taking place.  It had taken some skill to back up this narrow route.  Many of the balconies carried full washing lines.

The Civic Centre was now barely visible from Mostyn Gardens (see post of 19th October).

As I wandered through the park I realised just how much is available there.  In addition to the facilities signposted in my photograph, there is a rockery and a bowling green.  The recreation ground provides an extension to the playground of Rutlish School which lies alongside.

My friend from yesterday was pruning and training a climbing rose.  He was keen to show that ‘Council workmen do work’, and that I should make clear he did know what he was doing, despite carrying out this task at the wrong time of year.  He explained that there was so much to do in the park that this was the only time available to work on this plant.

The convenience to which he had admitted me yesterday was again locked, but the interior was visible through a decorative grill which provided ornamentation above the door.  Post-Victorian, it was still designed and built with care.  There was more money available in those days and architects continued to be able to embellish the most practical of structures.  Builders were, of course, paid much less and benefactors were interested in such projects.  My informant told me that the man who had been responsible for maintaining this lavatory had moved on to Westminster where there is money available to preserve the beautiful interiors of the Victorian conveniences which have gleaming brass piping, tiling, and paid attendants.  We are often warned that attendants may be of either sex, which can sometimes be rather disconcerting.  One of these establishments is sited at the junction of Queensway and Westbourne Grove.  If you are taken short at the other end of Queensway you can cross the road and use the facility in Kensington Gardens.  Church Street Market, off Edgware Road, is served by a fascinating mock-Tudor building of indeterminate age.

I claim to be a connoisseur of public lavatories.  In case anyone is wondering, this does not come from an interest in cottaging.  For twenty years I ran all over the capital, carrying my clothes and books in a backpack.  Wherever I was going I would stop off at the nearest loo for a wash and brush up.  In my Westminster Social Services days, when working in the Old Paddington Town Hall, I would run in from  Furzedown, and use the former Councillors’ shower room.  When jogging from there I was not so well provided for.  In one corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which was known as ‘Cardboard City’, there is a fine example of the genre.  This I would share with the residents of the park who made their shanty towns with whatever raw materials were available.  Far from down and out, some of these gentlemen would have an early morning shave.  After my ablutions and change of attire I would go on to fulfill my consultancy role with Portugal Prints, a Westminster Association for Mental Health project which stood nearby, very close to the original of Charles Dickens’ ‘Old Curiosity Shop’.  Railings have now been erected around the ‘Fields’, to prevent overnight sleepers.

In Shirley Porter’s time continental-style automatic cubicles were introduced to the metropolis.  I have to be really desperate to attempt to use these.  Like so many money-gobbling machines, putting in your coins doesn’t necessarily ensure entry.  They don’t always work.  When using these I do so in fear that the sliding door will open whilst I am enthroned; or that I will be unable to escape before the closet fills with cleaning water.  I have actually suffered the first embarrassment, but fortunately not the latter.

Coin operated entry barriers are used at Central London stations.  The current 30p charge makes obsolete the phrase, ‘spend a penny’, the euphemism for ‘have a pee’.  In the old days the slot machines were fixed to the cubicle doors into which you inserted one old penny.  Or you could use a newly-minted one.  If you didn’t need number two, a pee, for a gent, was free.  In most places we no longer ‘pull the chain’, but rather turn a lever or press a button.  These old phrases are just as durable as the roundabout names mentioned on 21st October.

My friend Norman is currently engaged in lengthy buck-passing correspondence with London Underground and Westminster City Council, concerning these barriers now in force at Piccadilly Underground station.  He is worried that, in the event of a fire, people, who have to file out through these gates, would not be able to escape in time.  He is mindful of the Kings Cross fire of 18th November 1987, in which 31 people, who could not get out of the underground system, lost their lives.  These victims are commemorated by a plaque at the station.  One body was never identified.

This afternoon I made a cottage pie for tonight’s meal.  I preheated the oven to 200 degrees centigrade about an hour before I was ready to put the dish in the oven.  I wanted to use a relatively new container Jackie had bought recently, but I couldn’t find it, so I used my tried and trusted Le Creuset.  As I opened the oven door I was aware of a fierce sizzling sound.  It was pretty smoky too. 

At the back of the middle shelf was the bread and butter pudding Jackie had made last night.  In her new dish.  She tells me that, before going to bed, she had told me she had left it in to settle.  I suppose I didn’t think that of any significance, not even thinking about whether she would take it out in the morning.  She points out I was playing on-line Scrabble at the time.

Whilst out at work today Jackie had wondered whether to buy some cream to go with her pudding.  Because she thought it would be moist enough she decided against.  Which was rather sad.  All, however was not lost.  After removal of the top layer of charcoal, the pudding was quite presentable.  Custard would do it.  But there wasn’t any custard powder, nor were there any eggs with which to make the pre-war real thing.  Jackie therefore produced a custard made from skimmed milk, cornflour, brown sugar, and nutmeg.  This was a delicious accompaniment to a very successfully restored bread pudding.  The burnt siena colour of the sauce blended rather well with the tasty afters.

Before the sweet we ate the cottage pie.  Jackie drank Hoegaarden, and I tried an excellent Bordeaux from Lidl.