Today I scanned the next batch of colour slides from my Streets of London Series. These were all produced in September 2004.

Shaftesbury Avenue W1 9.04

When, in ‘Meandering Through Soho’, I stated that the musical had opened when we were living in Horse and Dolphin Yard, my memory was playing tricks with me. Les Misérables has enjoyed so long a presence in Shaftesbury Avenue W1 that I thought it had been in residence at Queens Theatre during our time there. In fact we left in 1980 and the production began in 1985. Here is an extract from the official website:


Seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries and in 22 languages around the globe, it is still breaking box-office records everywhere. The original London production celebrated its 30th anniversary on 8 October 2015.

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.

Ex-convict Jean Valjean is hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.

Featuring the songs “I Dreamed A Dream”, “Bring Him Home”, “One Day More” and “On My Own” – Les Misérables is the show of shows.’


Regent Street W1 9.04

My memory also fails me in attempting to recollect the name of the kindly gentleman who was my boss during my brief employment at the Yorkshire Insurance company in Leadenhall Street in about 1962/3. I do, however remember that he bought all his staff ties or other similar birthday gifts from Austin Reed, the upmarket outfitters on Regent Street,

Brewer Street W1 9.04

visible from this corner of Brewer Street. I took this practice to heart, and, when I became a Social Services manager myself, gave everyone a birthday card. Since the staff numbers ran closer to three figures, that’s all I could afford.

Essendine Road W9 9.04

Both Essendine Road W9

Morshead Road W9 9.04

and its neighbour Morshead Road were in the patch for which I was responsible.

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Church Street, forming this junction with Edgware Road remains the location of a thriving multicultural general  market. The far end of Church Street is home to a number of antique shops.

Ham Yard W1 9.04

I wonder if anyone has yet built on this corner plot in Ham Yard W1, a very short walk from Piccadilly Circus, or whether acrobats have continued to cover the beams and walls with graffiti;

Bridle Lane W1 9.04

 why was this gentleman standing guard over the entrance to Bridle Lane;

Devonshire Place Mews W1 9.04

 does this gentleman passing Devonshire Place Mews still smoke;

Sutherland Avenue W9 9.04

 is the baby in the buggy being pushed along Sutherland Avenue W9, like Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole now aged thirteen and three quarters, and about to publish a best-selling diary;

Elgin Avenue W9

and were this couple resting the bench visitors to or residents of Elgin Avenue W9.

This series does often raise a series of questions on which to speculate.

This evening we dined, with usual excellent, friendly, service at Lal Quilla in Lymington. Jackie enjoyed her Lal Quilla special, as did I my chicken jalfrezi. We shared special fried rice and a garlic naan. We both drank Kingfisher.



Not Really A Crime Scene


I have received a 4th Anniversary Greeting from WordPress.

Haircut; car tax; filling up with petrol; paying in cheques; a new plant tray. I don’t normally report on the mundane, but this lot did occupy most of the morning.

This was a day of poor light, not conducive to photography, so I scanned some more colour slides from 1980, made during our last few months in Horse & Dolphin Yard.

Regent Street lights 1.80 1Regent Street lights 1.80 2

Just after New Year the Christmas lights still illuminated Regent Street’s night sky which sported several moons and numerous shooting stars.

In February, as often at weekends,

Michael 2.80


Matthew 2.80

and Matthew (clearly in the midst of a perennial growth spurt) played football in Horse & Dolphin Yard.

To take these photographs I must have been standing outside the door of our flat. On another occasion two gentlemen, to my left, somewhat the worse for having consumed a quantity of the cheapest possible intoxicating liquid, sprawled against each other in a corner on the floor. Michael and his friend Eddie were playing with a tennis ball. Soon, my son came running up the stairs to inform me that one of the imbibers had taken their ball. Naturally I descended into the yard to persuade the gent to give up his spoils.

The man’s fingers still clutched the ball, even though he was now dead.

I called the police who arrived quite quickly. The officer in charge, whilst arranging for disposal of the body, instructed me to send Michael inside because he shouldn’t be seeing this. It didn’t seem politic to argue, so I quietly suggested to the fifteen-year-old that he would get a better view from an upstairs window. Up he went.

There were no blue and white tapes applied to keep out sightseers, and no chalk outlines were made. Clearly this was not really considered to be the scene of a crime. Except possibly the snatching of the ball. In the circumstances, I was prepared to overlook that.

Jessica 1.3.80 1

On 1st March Jessica emerged from the flat on her way to our wedding at Marylebone Registry Office,

Jessica 1.3.80 2

and later returned to celebrate among a myriad of bouquets.

Jessica drying hair 3.80 1

In the last Soho picture, later that month, she is drying her hair.

This evening Jackie and I dined on succulent cod fish cakes in fish gravy, new potatoes, cauiflower, carrots, and runner beans; followed by treacle tart and cream. The Cook drank Hoegaarden, and I drank Vineyards cotes du Rhone 2014. Fish gravy, by the way, is white sauce laced with fresh parsley.

Losing Control

12th July 2014 I began the day by posting yesterday’s entry. This afternoon Jackie drove me to New Milton where I boarded the train to Waterloo for a trip to Shampers, Simon Pearson’s wine bar in Kingly Street, where Michael was holding his second 50th birthday celebration.

To walk my normal route to Green Park, turn right along Piccadilly, cross this thoroughfare into Air St, turn left up Regent St, and right then left into Kingly St, on a Saturday afternoon in midsummer, is definitely not to be recommended unless you are intent on recording the experience. But I was. So I did.

The walk along South Bank and up the steps onto and then across Westminster Bridge was like taking on the combined international rugby forwards of the Six Nations and those of the Southern Hemisphere.

A packed speedboat sped under the bridge while cruise ships unloaded one herd of passengers and took on board another. Tourists were wielding every kind of device capable of taking photographs, a

good number of them being selfies, two of the subjects of which claimed to be Absolutely Fabulous, and the other Knight Style.

No-one appeared to see the huge notices closing the crossings at Whitehall and Palace St instructing people to use the underpasses. But perhaps that was just for runners in the 10k run that featured in the small print. St James’s Park was a little easier, but still packed with

people lovingly basking in the sunshine.

Motionless herons kept an eye out for prey from the lake.

Piccadilly and Regent St were almost as crowded as Westminster Bridge.

In Aire St a group were perched on the pavement sketching the view of Regent St through an arch. Having arrived at the venue 90 minutes early, I walked around the corner and sat for a while in Golden Square

where two low-flying aircraft had come to grief; spectators communed with the sculpture; and table tennis was in progress.

The assembled company at Shampers were Michael, Heidi, Alice, Emily and her boyfriend Sam; Louisa and Errol; Mat and Tess; Eddie and his wife Rebecca; and two other friends whose names I can’t recall, but whose faces I know well.

Eddie is Michael’s lifelong friend who often stayed with us in Soho in the 1970s, as, of course, did Matthew and Becky. It was natural with that grouping to recount Soho stories. One I haven’t featured before is the tale of the mechanical digger. One afternoon I was horrified to peer out of our first floor window and see one of these clanking its steady way across the yard, its grabber reaching out like something from ‘War of the Worlds’. The cab was empty. Michael and Matthew were vainly attempting to bring it to a halt. I am not sure who reached up and turned it off. Perhaps it was me. This evening Mat revealed that this parked municipal vehicle had been started with the birthday boy’s front door key. Then things began to teeter out of control.

This narrative prompted Eddie, who had also stayed in many other places with us, to confess about the ride-on mower in Wootton Rivers. He had apparently gone for a ride on this sometime in that same decade, had approached the church, lost control, and crunched the stone wall. Eddie’s recollection is that the wall was undamaged, but that the mower was rather crumpled. It still worked, however, so the miscreant parked it in the garage and hoped that Jessica’s father would not notice.

Eddie’s optimism was not entirely misplaced, as was demonstrated by Matthew’s next story. The owner of the mower, you see, was not exactly in complete command of his vehicle. One day our son was playing in the garden with a group of Pearson cousins. Suddenly panic, and cries of ‘Clear the lawn, everything off the lawn’, set in. Small and medium sized children rushed to and fro, hither and thither, grabbing toys, balls, you name it. ‘And Louisa’, someone yelled, and scooped up the crawling infant. It was then that Matthew saw the mower hove into view. ‘The beach ball’, someone shouted.

Too late. The mower steamed over and flattened the large round beach ball. It is believed that the driver remained unaware of the tragedy.

These, and many other stories were enlivened by various excellent wines chosen by Eddie, the professional. I was particularly taken with the chilled Brouilly.

Piccadilly Circus

The food was superb, My starter was squid, followed by grilled sardines, chips, and salad, some of which Louisa snaffled. I had to desert the party before the cheese and dessert.

I walked back to Piccadilly Circus and took the Bakerloo Line to Waterloo, and thence to New Milton and from there home by a Galleon taxi.

Sitting opposite me on the train from Waterloo were a young Chinese woman attempting to sleep, and an older Englishwoman attempting to talk. I returned the conversation for a while then indicated my desire to return to my book. Soon peace reigned as my companions slept. They departed at Southampton Central, but very soon afterwards I had to abandon the book, as the train filled up to capacity, and a drunken, acknowledgedly ‘chatty’ young man full of Jameson’s sought to entertain us all. Giving up, I closed ‘December’ by Elizabeth H. Winthrop.

The taxi firm is to be recommended. They operate from a shed outside New Milton station.

John Lawrence

Regent Street lights 12.64Reindeer was the theme of 1964’s Regent Street lights.  I was there that December, never dreaming I would one day send the image around the world as an advent calendar picture.

I very rarely read a book twice, especially by accident.  In my ‘Bookmarks’ post I explained one of my methods for ensuring this.  When I recently began to read the Folio Society ‘The Best of Raconteurs, I felt sure I had read this collection of anecdotes, but a quick glance didn’t trigger any memories, except for one extract from Jessica Mitford and another from Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.  I knew that I had read the books from which they were taken.  Not only that, but there appeared to be no marker enclosed.  Imagine my dismay, then, when last night between pages 236 and 237 I found a very thin till receipt from Headmasters (my hairdressers at the time)  of Wimbledon Village dated 11.11.10.  There is no escaping the fact that I have almost finished reading a book twice.

Pondering the receipt’s date I realise that I read the book in my post-operative state in our Ridgway flat.  Still on pain relief and precautionary blood-thinner; suffering from an infection picked up in my two nights and one day in hospital; and recovering from the anaesthetic required for a hip replacement, I wasn’t really very with it.  That’s my excuse, any way.  It is absolutely nothing whatever to do with my age.  Now, where was I?

Enhanced by John Lawrence’s delightful illustrations, the selection made by Sheridan Morley and Tim Heald consists of snippets of a few lines, or pieces ten or more pages long; some humorous, some descriptive, some historical, some salutary.

The artist is one of my favourite book illustrators.  His deceptively sketchy style belies the careful work that has gone into making the numerous humorous and lively little vignettes scattered amidst the text.  The cover boards of the slender volume bear representations of examples of some of the contributors seated around an after dinner table. Folio Raconteurs As the front cover alone shows, Lawrence has provided images of such articulate accuracy that we immediately know that we will be treated to pieces from the pens or the mouths of, clockwise from top left, Joyce Grenfell, Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Morley and Dr Samuel Johnson.

This afternoon I made a start on Voltaire’s ‘Le blanc et le noir’.

Threatened with a storm to render our journey dangerous, we set off earlier than usual for the annual prebendal choristers’ carol service at Chichester Cathedral, after which, along with Becky, Flo, and Ian we are booked into The Crown at Emsworth for our dinner.  By the time we return home it will be too late to post the events, so I will report again toorrow.

Mrs St Barbe

Piccadilly Circus from Regent Street 12.63Piccadilly Circus from Regent Street in December 1963 is today’s advent picture.  The circus was originally created in 1819, although it has undergone various alterations in the almost two centuries that have elapsed since then.  Having been used for advertising since the early 1900s, this is possibly the oldest and most famous site in the world sporting illuminated advertising signs.  The lighting was first provided by incandescent light bulbs that gradually made way for neon which in turn finally bowed out to LEDs in 2011.

A building at the left hand corner of Regent Street partly obscures the Coca Cola sign that was first plugged in 1954.  As far as I am aware this is the only product that has continuously graced the circus in the intervening years up to the present day.  Coca Cola C 1954I was 12 when the young lady in the photograph put the finishing touches to the original C.

Anyone who has seen the recent photographs of our own Christmas decorations may have some idea of the number of large containers, stored full in the garage throughout the rest of the year.  Now empty, they were this morning returned to their home, to be brought back, refilled, and replaced, after the festivities.

After this, mild as this December so far is, it was time to prepare for winter’s inevitable onslaught.  Most of the plants in Jackie’s temporary garden were annuals.  These pots for these required tidying away.

Now for the birds.  Jackie stopped feeding them during the summer because she was tired of cleaning their droppings from her plants.  Mind you, if they hadn’t been so prolific with their guano which contained various undigested items, we would not have enjoyed the sunflowers.  The birds will soon begin their struggle to survive and the plants have all but given up the ghost.  So we filled up the feeders.  No doubt, like last winter, it will take our avian visitors a day or two to become confident that the only shots aimed in their direction will be from my camera.

Lunch today came with instructions to eat an inordinate amount of cucumber.  This is because, having stocked up yesterday in preparation for the hoards we expect next week, Jackie found one in the car park.  I trust it will not be repeated.

This afternoon Jackie drove us to Lymington where we visited the St Barbe Museum, where the town’s memorabilia are housed in a former Victorian school begun with a donation from Mrs St Barbe.

This being a museum of the area including various seaside holiday destinations like Milford on Sea,Women's bathing costumes I imagine it was appropriate that the entrance lobby contained a display of women’s bathing costumes from the 1900s to the 1970s.  It struck me that as the covering of the female form grew more scanty so must the bodies that would be eventually just about contained within the garments.

The history of the area is told in posters with accompanying photographs and prints on the walls of two large rooms.  One example is the photos of Barton on Sea’s cliff collapse of the last century.  A long floor to ceiling cabinet displays artefacts down the ages from prehistory to decades of the 20th Century. Record Player 1930s I was intrigued to see at the rear of the 1930s section an HMV record player similar to the one that Chris and I had enjoyed in the 1940s, behind a cup and saucer very like a pair that Ali and Steve gave to Jessica and me in the 1990s.  Jackie and I still have the cups and saucers, but the record player suffered somewhat because my brother and I had no gramophone needles, so one of us wound the handle while the other held a rather blunt pin in the grooves to play the music.  I am not sure whether the records or the machine lasted longer.

Bob the BarberousThe rest of the exhibition consists of remarkable tableaux with excellent artwork, and outstandingly good models of humans.  The first example of this which quite entranced me was the smuggler Bob the Barberous (sic).  I was repeatedly tempted to prod him to see if he was real.

The display I could not at first get near was of Marsh and Mud, and contained aGun punt punt gun mounted on a gun punt.  The reason I could not reach it was because it abounded with primary school children leaping all over the place and creating a row that would have drowned out the sound of the weapon itself.  I then realised why the attendant had apologised in advance for this phenomenon, and decided to view the exhibition widdershins.  After the marauding infants had departed the custodian examined the wig of the occupant of the punt to ensure that it was still securely in place.

In another scene, Jackie was startled to look up and see a male diver about to descend upon her.  Fortunately he was wearing a 1920s outfit.

There is a well-stocked shop and gallery of well-crafted and reasonably priced art works.

This evening we dined on chicken kiev, ratatouille, mashed potatoes and swede, broccoli and brussels sprouts.  I finished the Isla Negra.

Inky Fingers

Regent Street lights maintenance 12.63 Regent Street lights maintenance 12.63 - Version 2In December 1963 the lights in Regent St were treated to general maintenance or maybe just the attention of a window cleaner from his gondola.  I was able to capture this for today’s advent picture. Anyone who has received a handwritten missive from me will know that:Fountain pen Inky fingerThis does sometimes  result in unfortunate inky fingers, and is awkward for anyone left-handed attempting to add her signature to a Christmas card which still bears wet lettering, but I think nostalgia is worth the risk.

If your fingers do become pigmented in this way, and you are using blue ink, it is advisable not, unless you have a knife and fork to hand, to accept a Welsh rarebit made with Cheddar cheese, otherwise the topping is quite quickly inclined to resemble Stilton.  Incidentally this selfie (a word too up-to-date for my last year’s iMac, which insisted on underlining it in red), took a certain amount of sinister dexterity.

If you drop a full bottle of washable writing fluid down the trousers of your best dry clean only suit, that gives you a real problem when the professionals can’t eradicate it.  Four years ago mine had to be written off altogether.  That, of course, required no ink.

Back to the point.  Although I write my cards with a fountain pen, I normally address the envelopes in biro in case it rains.  The ink for the pen is washable, so it will run if it gets wet and the sorting office won’t be able to decide where to send the envelope.  At midday today I was to regret having deviated from my normal practice yesterday in order to avoid crossing the room for a ballpoint.  This is because I walked down to the postbox in steady rain to deliver another batch of cards to the box at Seamans Lane.  I had to find a little plastic bag in which to wrap them.

On Running Hill a certain amount of feller’s debris on the tarmac; a new heap of logs, and a gap in the foliage, on the verge suggested another tree had come down during last night’s powerful winds.  As usual, it had been removed post haste.

There is probably nothing more disappointing for someone who has spent all day setting up festive lighting than to find a set failing when switching them on the next morning.  Especially when that particular string is about ten feet off the floor.  This, of course is what happened.  Close inspection revealed that the transformer was faulty.  Although the bulbs were fine, you can’t buy a transformer without another set of these. Hall decorations So, especially as Helen had suggested we may not have enough lights, a replacement was required.  Off, therefore, we figuratively trotted to Totton where we bought some more in the Poundstretcher shop.  And a few more things, while we were there, in Lidl.

Once the repair job had been completed Jackie decorated the hall in a similar vein.

This evening Family House in Totton were hosting a private function.  We were unable to go there and settled for the Lotus Chinese restaurant in New Milton which Jackie once patronised with her mother.  She remembered it from ten years ago as providing not first rank, but good enough, food circa 1956.  Nothing, apparently had changed, except that there may have been more layers of grime on the higher positioned ornaments.

They do not stand on ceremony at Lotus; more a question of lying down on it.  Not until we were leaving did the rather taciturn yet friendly-ish waiter reveal himself to be quite a conversationalist.  Neither possessed of a trolley nor long arms, he brought out each item of food individually and dumped them on the table.  The starters of splendid spare ribs and prawn toast made up for what was lacking in presentation; as did the prawn chop suey; sweet and sour pork; beef in black bean sauce; and special fried rice.  We drank T’sing Tao beer which came in small bottles plonked alongside half pint glasses embossed with the word Strongbow.  I settled for one drink because to have asked for another would have involved disturbing the one staff member’s newspaper reading, and that didn’t seem quite fair.

As we entered, our host had turned on a portable CD player so that we could be entertained by a lilting soprano voice which was much more pleasant than the shriller version it might have been.  When it got a bit wobbly just before the end, he rose from his chair and set it back at the beginning.

Admittedly it was a wet early Sunday evening, but we were the only diners.  On the positive side, the two men who came in for takeaway meals knew the waiter well and had good talks with him.  On our departure he asked if we were local, and pressed for my former mother-in-law’s name because he said he knew those of most of his customers.  He was the man Jackie remembered, but Mum Rivett didn’t go there on her own.

Lyndhurst lights

Driving through Lyndhurst on our way home, we admired the Christmas lights, nicely enhanced by the wet roads.

‘Did You Mean The Off Break?’

Regent Street lights003

Today’s advent picture is again of the Regent Street Lights from December 1963, showing yet another differently coloured central star.  I think there were none exactly the same.

The early picture of me that I worked on this morning is not a ‘through the ages’ one.  I was actually looking in my old print file for one of those, but Elizabeth still has the originals from which she produced an album for Mum and the later digital set for me.  She’s only had them for twenty years, so I must be patient.

Wimbledon College c1956001

The forgotten treasure I did find is a Wimbledon College school photograph from about 1956.  It has enabled me to illustrate posts featuring Richard Millward, in the centre of the picture’s front row, and Tom McGuinness, fourth from the right in the rear tier from the viewer’s perspective.  I stand on the far left of the middle row, with an expression that I clearly didn’t think too flattering at the time my sister raided my album for Mum’s 70th birthday set.  I have retained the creases across the image, because they add some authenticity to the period.  The print probably came home stuffed into a satchel.

Certain further memories came to mind when perusing this image.  Iain Taylor, standing on the far left of the bench supporting the back row, was the captain of the Under Fourteens cricket team who secured me my first matches.  Being a friend of mine he asked the headmaster, who rejoiced in the wonderfully appropriate name of Father Ignatius St Lawrence, S.J., to give me a trial for the team.  I had never played before, but Iain got me to bowl a few balls in the nets and seems to have been impressed.  With ‘Iggy’, as the head was predictably known to the boys, standing as umpire I was instructed to send my nervously delivered missives down to the team’s best batsman.  I bowled him four times before Iggy had seen enough.  One of these dismissals was with a deliberate slower ball that turned sharply from the off, that is opposite the batsman’s legs, side of the pitch and hit the middle stump.  The deviation was probably caused by the ball striking an extraneous object when it landed.  Turning to me at the end of my spell, Iggy asked: ‘Did you mean the off-break?’.  ‘Yes, father’,  was my coolly delivered reply.  All priests were of course our fathers.  I was in.  Later, out of earshot of anyone else, I asked Iain: ‘What’s an off break?’.

Fifth from the viewer’s left at the back of the picture, stands a lad I cannot feel so smug about.  This is Vaughan, whose first name escapes me.  He was my partner in my first year at the College.  Partner was a definite euphemism for what I now consider to have been a rather cruel incentive scheme.  Boys were sat in pairs throughout the year.  At the end of each term our marks for work were totted up and set against each other.  The winners went on an outing called the ‘Victory Walk’.  The losers stayed behind and wrote essays or something similar.  I never went on a victory walk, and considering how hard I tried, with or without an incentive, that seemed decidedly vicious to me.

Not a very gifted academic, Matthew Hutchinson, the fifth boy from the left of the middle row, was the first person of whom I was truly envious.  I can draw a bit, but Matthew was the most talented natural artist I had ever met.  What I would have given for his free-flowing skill.  I do hope he made something of it.

Now we come to the brains of the class.  No-one could emulate the two who flanked Richard Millward, which is probably why they did.  Gordon and Rogati came top in everything and I swear they didn’t even break into a sweat.  Given their names I think my readers will have no difficulty in determining which is which.

Jackie & Christmas decs

Christmas decorationsChristmas decorations 2Christmas decorations 3With minimal help from me, work continued apace on Christmas decorations.

Once the stepladder had been put away, we dined on Jackie’s chicken jafrezi and pilau rice which greatly enhanced the bottle of Isla Negra cabernet sauvignon reserva 2013 which I opened and from which I drank a couple of glasses.

The Forest Is Not Immune

Last night I began reading The Folio Society’s ‘The Best of the Raconteurs’.

Glass window displayToday’s advent calendar picture is of a display in the window of a shop that I cannot remember.  Again taken in December 1963 it was probably in Regent Street.  The cabinet containing the various vitreous containers, in which the glass madonna is more or less centrally placed, was bordered with holly which I removed for composition’s sake.

This morning further work was undertaken by Knight Enterprises on cards, four of which were for family December birthdays.  This afternoon I walked beneath dismal drizzle down to the postbox and back.

FlytippingFor several days now, Jackie’s passage along Upper Drive has been impeded by heaps of garden refuse.  I rather hoped that someone else would move it.  Alas, in this I was disappointed, so I tackled it on my return from sending off the cards.  Someone had driven a heavy enough truck to have gouged the grass and tipped its contents mostly onto the tarmac.  I had intended to kick all the rubbish into touch, but the branches of trees, the cuttings from aged rose stems, the massy holly and ivy, were so enmeshed that this was not possible.  I had to use my hands to extract from the piles and throw into the forest greenery that tended to be rather prickly.  It will no doubt, in its own good time, merge with its surroundings.  On the other hand, if we have another severe winter, the animals will see to it.  The last dump of detritus on this spot was more builder’s junk, and was removed by the Council services within a couple of days.  The New Forest is, we have discovered, not immune from flytipping.

Later this evening Mo and John dropped in and collected my obsolete iMac, and a huge bag of DVDs to play on it, to take to Sigoules for me when they go back to France next week.  It was good to see them.

Chicken jalfrezi

Dinner this evening was Jackie’s juicy and spicy chicken jalfrezi, her savoury rice which defies labelling, and brilliant cauliflower bhaji.  I don’t have a thousand words, so the photo must paint the picture.  I finished the Cliente Rojo.


As a young man in 1973 I have to admit I was somewhat disgruntled to note the founding of Virago, proclaiming itself to be ‘a feminist publishing company’ dedicated to championing women’s talents.  It seemed rather an aggressive name.  And why did women need a segregated outlet?  After all, some of my favourite writers, as various as Elizabeth Gaskell or Virginia Woolf, had been published.  But then, there was Mary Anne Evans, who had had to choose the male pen-name of George Eliot.  And, come to think of it, The creator of ‘Cranford’ was presented to the world as Mrs. Gaskell.

Her Brilliant CareerThe book I finished reading last night ‘Her Brilliant Career’, subtitled ‘Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties’ by Rachel Cooke incidentally makes quite clear why Virago was necessary.  The dust jacket bears a sticker announcing ‘Virago is 40’.  Fancy that, a publishing house whose nascency I remember is now middle aged.

The fifties were my formative years.  I was seven when the decade began, and eighteen when it ended. Mum, Derrick, Jacqueline, Chris & ElizabethPhotograph number 38 in the ‘through the ages’ series was taken right in the middle of Cooke’s period, in our grandparents’ garden in Staines.  Elizabeth is toddling, Chris and I each hold one of our then youngest sibling’s hands, and Jacqueline stands, smiling, behind.  Mum and my brother appear to have been scalped and I have virtually lost my head altogether.  Once more, parallax had struck.  Or maybe the photographer only had eyes for the girls.  Chris sports the famous blazer badge.  Mine must have still been on the frame.

Once Chris and I had entered our teens, I was vaguely familiar with some of the more famous names in the book, but had really no idea of the magnitude of their achievements.  A woman of her time, my own mother sacrificed her book-keeping career to concentrate on rearing her family, only to return to work when we children were all fairly grown up.  She got on with life with none of today’s labour-saving machines to help her.  Dad brought in the money and she managed it.  I do not wish to suggest in any way that we experienced Mum as resenting her lot.  That is just how it was. 

Rachel Cooke’s women were not having that.  They forged the way for others.  This book is well-written.  Offering pen portraits of her subjects and their lives, it also provides a snapshot of the age from the female perspective.  The designers of the jacket could not resist decorating it with glamorous young ladies, albeit in fifties fashions.

The work/life balance continues to be a struggle for everybody, not the least for women who wish to have a family.  It does seem as if the children of the book’s subjects did rather miss out.  Inevitably, I imagine.  Even now I don’t think we have enabled maternal women to have satisfying careers outside the home without great cost to their domestic lives.

Virago should continue for a long time to come.

Regent Street lights 12.63 002

Today’s advent picture is another detail from the Regent Street of 1963.

This morning I began reading Voltaire’s ‘Le Monde Comme Il Va’, which I would translate as ‘The Way of the World’.

This afternoon Jackie drove us to M & S at Hedge End to satisfy my need for trousers.  As she turned a bend in Seamans Lane she was forced to stop by a stationary car ahead that was surrounded by living equine sculptures. Ponies on Seamans Lane ignoring JackieThe other driver seemed content to sit it out.  He can’t have known how long the ponies can remain as still as yesterday’s pirate.  Jackie alighted to do something about it.  Leaving our car, she tried raising her arms and repeatedly shouting ‘Shoo!’.  She was ignored.  She tried taking a step back, leaning forward for purchase, placing her hands on its warm, furry, rump and pushing the cream coloured beast stationed in front of the car.  The occasional head was turned, but this, too, was of no avail.  The animal didn’t flinch.  Finally she took to bruising her hands by clapping them into each other in an attempt to startle.  This worked, and we were on the move.

This evening we drove to Bartley to admire the renowned houses with external Christmas decorations.Chrisrmas decorationsChrisrmas decorations (1)Chrisrmas decorations (2)The main event was slightly different this year, but equally over the top as last.

After this we drove on to The Foresters Arms at Frogham for a very Forester's Armsenjoyable dinner, entertained by the Hyde Church choir singing carols to the accompaniment of their own brass band.  We shared bread, olives, and cajun skewered chicken for starters; Jackie followed this up with stacked venison burger, whilst I had sirloin steak.  Both meals were very good, except that my medium rare steak turned out to be well done.  My sweet was Tart Tatin and Jackie’s was ice cream.  We each drank Villa Rosa wine, mine being Merlot and Jackie’s sauvignon blanc.

‘If It’s Worth A Photograph……’

Regent Street lights001Today’s advent picture is similar to the first, but has a different coloured central star.  This seems to me to offer far more variation than one would see today.  It is worthy of note that there are very few pedestrians admiring the window display and the vehicles on Regent Street in December 1963 are all taxis or buses.

As we set off for Southampton Parkway this morning, foraging ponies loomed out of a heavy mist weakly penetrated by a myopic sun resembling a haloed full moon shrouded by thick clouds.  Visibility on the A31 was most meagre.  There were some clear patches on the M27 giving layered views of the bordering forest trees.  Foreground silhouettes would give way to a barely visible row followed by bright golden ones.  The pattern would be repeated into the distance.

By the time my train had reached Waterloo the sun’s warmth had drawn most of the mist up into the ether. Westminster BridgeHouses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge That which lingered over the Thames presented dreamy views of Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.  London Eye, Westminster Bridge, Houses of ParliamentAn oriental gentleman resting a super-long lens on the parapet of the Golden Jubilee Bridge told me what stunning sights he had just seen from the top of the London Eye.  I apprised him of the reason I was unable to emulate him.

Bangles stall

The Christmas fair on South Bank flourished.  One of the stalls sold its own version of festive lighting. Christmas decorations stall Like Catherine wheels they spun, expanded, and contracted.  The timing of this photograph was a delicate matter of trial and error.

Blue CockerelCrossing The Strand and walking through Trafalgar Square I was afforded a clearer view of the blue cockerel poised either to drink from the fountain or to peck at Nelson’s other eye.  I now understand that the sculpture is not French after all.  It is the work of German artist Katharina Fritsch who describes it as ‘feminist’.

Pirate living statueOn the piazza before the National Gallery a diminutive, motionless pirate perched on his own plinth.  Dropping £1 into his hat I said: ‘If it’s worth a photograph, it’s worth a donation’.  Silently, without moving any other, even facial, muscle, like a jointed puppet, he raised his glass in acknowledgement.  I don’t know whether he had been aware I’d shot him.

From the square I walked up Haymarket to Piccadilly Circus and along Piccadilly itself to Green Park where I boarded a Jubilee Line train to Neasden and thence to Norman’s. Eros in a bubble Eros, presumably in preparation for the revelries to come, is now encased in a bubble.


A bagman I had seen over the years in numerous parts of London adjusted his load after having effected bicycle repairs.

Fortnum & Mason WindowFortnum & Mason Window (1)

Fortnum and Mason’s windows reflected the seasonal mood.

At Green Park I was to regret parting with my last coin.  I needed a pee, which can now only be obtained by inserting 30p into a machine.  So I had to ask the man at the ticket office to change a £10 note.  The smallest coin he gave me was 50p.  The machines don’t give change, so what once cost one old penny was subject to 120x inflation.

Norman fed us on a roast turkey and Christmas pudding lunch with which we shared an excellent bottle of Vacqueras 2011, after which I took my usual route to Carol’s and then on to Waterloo.  Jackie collected me from Southampton.