Tickling Stick

An exhilarating chill was in the air this morning, conducive to a brisk walk under a clear blue sky with a gentle breeze blowing.  By the time I had strode through the town and reached the Morden Hall Park stretch of the river Wandle I had warmed up enough to slacken my pace to a wandering gait.

I had read in the National Trust guidebook on Mottisfont (posted 7th September) that Frederick Halford, ‘one of the great names in English fly fishing’, had, in his early twenties, fished the Wandle. Apparently he was engaged in wet fly fishing at which he had little success.  He went on to be an expert dry fly fisherman on the River Test.  Apparently a wet fly drops beneath the surface of the water, and a dry fly remains above.  It makes sense really.

The park was full of young families, one of which was playing Pooh Sticks (see 21st August).  I spoke with an oriental gentleman, sporting a grand digital SLR with a lens the length of which my little point and shoot model could not match, taking advantage of the exquisite light, and thoroughly enjoying himself.  Actually his pictures were no better than mine, which speaks very highly of my Canon S100.  He could, of course, reach distances I couldn’t, but he wasn’t doing so.  For me, the advantage of a long lens, such as I have on my film cameras, is that you can fill the whole frame with a distant subject.

The low sun caught the wings of an unidentified butterfly.  I didn’t see anyone fly fishing, but clusters of midges above the water and on the muddy paths glinted in the flickering rays.  Clambering through these clouds was like being regularly dusted by Ken Dodd’s tickling stick.  Some of them got right up my nose, hopefully to emerge later in my handkerchief.  Close inspection didn’t reveal any, but then they are very small.

The bed of this translucent stream was clearly visible to the children poking about in it.

The grey muzzle of a terrier trotting by its owners put me in mind of Matthew’s aging Oddie.  I told the couple and shared a joke with the man about this coming to us all.

For lunch today I enjoyed Jackie’s superb minestrone soup, which she has spiced up with a few chillies.

I am posting this a little early because we are about to leave for The Firs, where the Internet connection is down.  So as not to disappoint those who like to know what we had for dinner, we will go to Eastern Nights, choose from the delectable menu, and drink Cobra and Kingfisher.

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.

Oiling The Lion

A pair of socks hanging in a tree on this bright, crisp, morning along the Wandle Trail en route to Colliers Wood reminded me of my rugby boots.  On 25th June I mentioned my ingenious scrumping in Cottenham Park sometime in the 1950s.  Remembering throwing sticks into conker trees when younger, I had decided to chuck my boots into an apple tree intending to knock off some fruit.  Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me to untie the laces that bound them together.  Soon they were suspended like the socks.  More ingenuity was required to get them down.  This involved the park keeper who was a bit put out.  It made me late for the match.  I couldn’t even invent a story which would present me in a better light.  The news had been spread all round the changing rooms.  Bill Edney, Geography master and rugby coach, was also a bit put out.

On another occasion, when playing for the Wimbledon College Old Boys, I lost a boot on the field.  Rather than stop and put it on, choosing to wait for the next natural stoppage, I continued wearing one sole boot.  I must be the only player ever to score a try with ‘one shoe off and one shoe on’.  (My second name is John).  I was probably lent wings to avoid anyone stamping on my stockinged foot.

A lace once came in very handy.  When Alan Warren broke my finger (posted 23rd July), I obtained a spare, lace, not finger, from the referee and strapped the damaged digit to its neighbour in order to carry on playing.

It will now be apparent that nothing short of instant death would have got me off the field before the final whistle.  When I damaged a shoulder which has given me constant pain for more than fifty years, I couldn’t raise my left arm, but I could rest it across the shoulders of my partner in the second row of the scrum.  How daft can you get?

Sam knew.  When I was about sixty and hadn’t taken the field for fifteen years, he played for a Newark side against a pub team.  Reckoning I must be as fit as most members of the probably inebriated opposition, I sneaked my aged kit along when I went to watch.  Just in case.  Sam was not one to carry on regardless when injured, so I was puzzled at his continuing the game with a twisted ankle.  Afterwards, I asked him why.  ‘Because you would have come on’, he replied.  And I didn’t think he knew I had come prepared.

During Sam’s stag weekend in the Margaret River area of South West Australia the young men arranged a game of touch rugby.  In this form of the game there is no tackling.  You just touch your opponent who must then release the ball.  This was at the end of a day sampling the wineries.  Naturally I joined in.  After all, touch rugby is safe enough.  Sam’s friend, Deutch, 6′ 5” and about 18 stone, forgot the rules and tackled me hard.  Once I got to my feet I took the first opportunity to retaliate.  I couldn’t get my arms around his hips.  It was then that Mick O’Neil, about to become Sam’s father-in-law, sensibly called a halt to the proceedings, because, he said ‘someone will get hurt’.  I think he meant me.

As usual, this morning, I continued my journey to Norman’s by tube.  On the Jubilee line between Green Park and Baker Street, a young woman with extremely shapely limbs revealed by the briefest of running shorts; a ring through one nostril; a diamond stud in the other; and acne on her face cheeks spent her time oiling a lion’s head tattoo which was all that covered her right thigh.  Perhaps she was applying hair care to the animal’s plentiful mane.  Since she was seated directly opposite me, I was somewhat distracted from my book.

Church Road market, in the glory of the sunshine, was a colourful as ever.

Despite having a bad cold, Norman was able to serve up a succulent roast partridge meal followed by apfel strudel.  Sadly he was unable to drink all of his half of the 2009 Dao, so I had to imbibe more than mine.

A Night At The Globe

I began the day by photographing the corner of the garden in which the new fernery is located, so that Danni can see where it is.

Jackie then drove us back to Morden in readiness for a visit to The Globe Theatre this evening.  Sam and Holly had given me two tickets for Richard III for my birthday.  Disaster than struck.  I had left the lead for transferring photos from my camera to my laptop at The Firs.  I therefore walked to Jessops at Colliers Wood and back, to try to purchase a new connection.  They do not sell them, but sold me a Multi Card Reader.  Since I have been using a card reader system at Elizabeth’s, I thought this would be fine.

In the precincts of Abbey Mills Centre by the river Wandle, a heron was offering suggestions to a puzzler.

Walking back through Morden at school finishing time, I was reminded that I had left rural Hampshire for the end of the Northern Line, gateway to the South, as Peter Sellers put it when chanting of Balham.  I had to weave my way through milling schoolchildren, taking care to dodge their icecreams and sticky sweets; make way for mothers pushing buggies; elude shoppers with wheelie bags, endangering my sandalled feet; and avoid motorised vehicles for people with disabilities.  I was back on familiar territory.

Settling down with my laptop I followed the meagre instructions which came with the reader.  Nothing was happening.  I could not download my pictures.  I telephoned Jessops, whose representative said it sounded as if the reader was faulty, and advised me to reboot my laptop and if it still didn’t work return to the store.  It didn’t, so I will return to Jessops in the morning and hope to be able to add photographs to this post.

This evening we travelled by underground to Sam Wanamaker’s gift to the world.  Our mode of changing trains at Kennington is best described in Jackie’s words.  As we approached a train about to leave for Waterloo she reports that I flung myself into the closing gap in the doors and left her standing on the platform.  I turned, held my hand up to the window and raised one finger.  This was to indicate that Waterloo was one stop away.  Contemplating the amused glances of the other passengers, I felt grateful that it wasn’t two stations away.

Some twenty eight years earlier I had been taking Sam and Louisa on the underground for a trip somewhere or other.  Sam was walking beside his sister in her pushchair.  He trotted into the train just as the doors were closing.  Having just taken Louisa out of it, I quickly shoved the puschair into the gap.  The doors simply pushed the wheeled vehicle out of their way.  This time it was Louisa and me left on the platform.  I found a station employee.  He rang down the line.  Two young men on the train who had seen what had happened escorted Sam off the train at the next station.  Louisa and I followed on, and left, the next train at the same station.  A perfectly happy Sam, munching chocolate, was resting in the arms of a huge London Transport man.  Panic over.

Walking along Blackfriars Road Jackie spotted, through a gap in the streetscape, The Shard, hailed as Western Europe’s tallest building.  Sun reflected from this edifice causes the blinds to be drawn in her office on the eleventh floor of Morden’s Civic Centre.  The view of the skyline we enjoyed as we walked along the Thames to the theatre can clearly be seen from that same office window.

We had a meal of meze at The Real Greek, a couple of doors away from The Globe.  This was so good we wished we had had more time.  Our only complaints might have been that the small tables were rather cramped together, and someone had taken a bite out of the bowl in which my excellent beetroot salad was served.  Jackie drank Mythos, a Greek beer she enjoyed.  I was less adventurous and sampled Kronenbourg.

The Globe is a replica of Shakespeare’s famous original.  In The Bard’s day those who could afford them sat on hard wooden benches under a thatched roof.  Those who couldn’t, known as groundlings, stood in the central enclosure, open to the elements.  So it is today.

Neither of us knew the play and we were therefore surprised at its comic nature. The theatre was jam-packed with spectators, and we had to force our way through the groundlings to reach our bench, which was fully occupied.  The play having just begun, we stood silently on the stairs until a steward approached, moved another couple out of our places, and, equally silently, ushered us in.  Almost polished away by the many bums on these seats, our numbers were just discernible.  This splendid production held our struggling attention until a wave of activity in the central open area, punctuated by the patter of raindrops, rendered what was happening on stage inaudible.  The cast soldiered manfully on.  I say ‘manfully’ because, as an authentic rendition of Shakespearean times, women’s roles were being played by men.  Suddenly the activity in the pit became frenzied.  The downpour drummed on the roof.  The lighting illuminated vertical sheets of rain.  Torrents bounced off hastily donned hoods and scarves.  Shirts and blouses of those who had come unprepared became transparent second skins.  Hair was plastered to scalps, and rivulets ran down necks.  Some who had brought umbrellas were told to close them.  A few who sat on the stairs we had vacated were instructed to leave and stand in the rain because they were blocking an emergency exit.  Staff, and the occasional fortunate child, were issued with clingfilm wrappers by a young woman circulating among the rapidly diminishing throng of saturated, unsheltered, spectators.  Whilst this continued the cast strutted their stuff on stage.  I am sure they must be quite accustomed to such interruptions.  After all, Shakespeare’s groundlings made an awful din.  It will, however, be apparent from the attention I paid to all this going on in front of me that I had lost the plot.  So had Jackie.

P.S. Dated 21st January 2014. Roger Lloyd-Pack, who was speaking as the Duke of Buckingham through the worst of the din, died a week ago. A splendid actor, may he rest in peace.

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.

Pooh Sticks

On this rather dull morning I wandered along the Wandle bank in Morden Hall Park; came out onto Morden Hall Road; turned left, then right into St. Helier Avenue; right again along Bristol Road; left into Central Road; then crossed London Road into Morden Park, through which I made my way back to Links Avenue.

Building works which have been continuing for some months now, upon inspection turn out to be the first London example of an Archimedes Screw.  This is a micro hydro-electric turbine, a modern waterwheel which will harness the power of the river Wandle to generate enough electricity to provide for the renovated stable yard.  A working model is already installed there.  The workmen were just finishing their break.  Mothers and children were enjoying the rose garden, as was a gentleman reading.  I admired Morden Cottage on my way to the bank.

Having been long intrigued by two statues situated on the far side of the bank, yet unable to get close enough to examine or to photograph them properly, I asked a man strimming some weeds if he knew a way across.  He suggested swimming or paddling.  Since this didn’t seem a very elegant method, I enquired at the Property Office.  Unfortunately my informant was correct.  Anyone carrying out general maintenance has to wade across.  This is a deliberate attempt to protect these relics from vandalism, which they have already suffered.  The shop does not carry postcards of these works of art.  So I did my best.

On my way past the rose garden I had seen a woman showing a little girl the water flowing under a small bridge.  I had suggested you could play Pooh Sticks here.  Whilst the adult smiled at this and acknowledged that you could, it didn’t happen.  En route to the Property Office, I met Ruby and her mother, with her little brother in a pushchair.  I had heard Ruby’s Mum saying that when they had gathered enough sticks they could play a game.  ‘You’re not going to play Pooh Sticks are you?’, I asked, hopefully.  ‘Yes, we often play it’, was the reply.  They were making their way to an ornate bridge across the fast-flowing stream.  They were happy to be photographed in this activity.

Hello Ruby.

Another bridge, this time in Central road, across the railway, afforded an alternative view of the mosque, of which I had been given a tour on 18th. May.  In Morden Park the marquees had been removed, and the hay from the meadow was being baled up.  What has not been removed is the flytipping. (see yesterday’s post)

This evening Jackie and I enjoyed a varied salad.  I drank some Carta Roja Gran Reserva 2005.  Jackie’s tipple was Hoegaarden.