Shirley Oaks

Cherry blossom on car 3.13Snow swirled and settled in the garden throughout the day.  Flurries flew about intermittently in Romsey this morning, but all that settled there was cherry blossom.  This was when I walked around the town whilst Jackie attempted to track down fish for the visit of Sam and Holly and Malachi and Orlaith on Wednesday.

Romsey Abbey 3.13I wandered around the Abbey and its vicinity, including the War Memorial Park and the bank of the river Test.  It was blustery and cold.  Bouquets and carved initials 3.13Having just passed through a gateway onto the narrow riverside bearing a notice warning of deep water and asking for the gate to be kept closed, I came across two bouquets fastened to a tree bearing carved initials.  I wondered what the story was.  Certainly the river flowed very swiftly. Further along, a host of daffodils bravely rivalled the clumps of snowdrops now clearly more in their element.Daffodils on Test 3.13

At least around this area of Romsey there is a collection of plaques embedded at intervals in the pavement and on walls and copings, each bearing a different few lines of poetry.  Betty Tucker poem 3.13Mark Harding poem 3.13Since those by the river have been placed in spots relevant to their text, I imagine that is so of all of them.

Our other reason for choosing Romsey as today’s shopping centre was the toyshop.  Before leaving the town we spent ages trying to decide on Malachi’s birthday present.  Hopefully we got it right in the end.

We then had to find the fish, for there had been none available in Romsey.  Perhaps I should have tried my luck in the river.  Aiming for Totton, to continue the search there, we missed the turn-off, which turned out to be fortunate, for we stumbled across a Morrison’s superstore where we found the smoked haddock we were seeking.

Derrick 1966Photo number 4 of ‘Derrick through the ages’, in which I seem to be attempting to simmer, was taken by Jackie in 1966 at Shirley Oaks.  These were the old children’s village style homes for young people in Local Authority care. Near Croydon, this was a laid out estate of forty two large houses, called cottages, each accommodating twelve children.  At that time the project also included a swimming pool, an infirmary, a laundry, a general store, a junior school, and even an unused mortuary.  The individual houses were staffed by ‘housemothers’, many of whom offered ‘families’ of children long term consistent care.  Jackie was one of these carers, in ‘Laurel cottage’, and my introduction to the world of Social Work that was to provide me with a new direction ( see 18th July 2012).  Long since out of fashion as a method of child care, these buildings were sold off to form an exclusive, expensive enclave.  The seclusion that had been considered too institutional, isolating and ghetto-like for troubled children, had become an attraction for those wealthy enough to buy their homes.  Shirley Oaks children were given no experience of life outside the institution until they were thrust into secondary school.  They didn’t go to the public baths and pay their entrance fee.  They knew no launderettes.  A daily truck provided an eneuretic service for the wet sheets which were left outside the back door.  Their shop issued the housemothers with weekly order forms on which they ticked what they needed and collected it once a week.  No money was handed over.  No ‘outsiders’ attended their school.  When a group of boys from outside began to visit a girl in Jackie’s care, a bunch of Oaks boys attacked them with such violence that there was blood on her doorstep.  I was inspired to attempt to do my bit in changing all this.  Perhaps I made a difference to some young lives.

Those children’s housemother made a very tasty chicken jalfrezi this evening which she ate with Hoegaarden and I with Cepa Lebrel reserva rioja 2008.


This morning I finished reading Flaubert’s ‘L’education sentimentale’.  This long nineteenth century novel, more than twenty years in the making, is beautifully written, and has been a great help in brushing up a very rusty vocabulary.  I have needed a dictionary at hand, and have had to be careful not to use some of the author’s antique or purely literary words or phrases in the supermarket.  The writer of the more popular ‘Madame Bovary’, Flaubert must have been very disappointed in this work’s original reception.  The world was not ready for a piece in which nothing much actually happens, until Proust came along, praised it and wrote his own great ‘Remembrance of things past’, as we translate it.  Maybe the theme of the protagonist’s emotional life blighted by an unconsummated love for a married woman was not very fashionable either.  I found his descriptions of scenes, events, thoughts, and emotions inspiring and educational.

La Porte Etroite 12.12I then began ‘La Porte Etroite’ by Andre Gide.  When I bought this 1947 large format illustrated paperback edition in Wimbledon Village’s Oxfam shop earlier this year, the volunteer assistant looked fondly at it and said ‘I did that for A level’.  ‘So did I’, exclaimed another customer.

This afternoon Jackie drove us to Romsey where we visited the Abbey.  Actually begun before the Norman conquest, this building created for Benedictine nuns is largely in Norman style.  One can only marvel at the structure with three tiers of arches and splendid stained glass like that lighting St. Ethelfraeda’s chapel.  How those men more than a thousand years ago, with none of today’s equipment managed even the perpendiculars is beyond me. St. Ethelflaeda's Chapel, Romsey Abbey 12.12 St. Ethelfraeda’s is just one of the side chapels.  It contains, on the left-hand side, what is described as the ancient tomb of an abbess.  Could it be hers?  I notice this is not claimed.

Volunteers were preparing the abbey for a concert this evening.  We had managed our timing well, for we arrived before the concert and after a significant funeral.  Bob Smith, who told me he was the head guide of the establishment, recited a number of stories relating to this place of worship, and I am sure he had many more.  He began with the tale of John Warren, styled ‘an intruder’ in the list of vicars on the wall.  He had apparently got into the list by virtue of his brother’s rectorship in the seventeenth century.  This brother gave him the position although he had not been ordained.  Before Julitta Beatrice Walker came along and took on the research, this list was incomplete.  She filled in the gaps, and became a source of all knowledge about the abbey.  Bob said that what she didn’t know about it ‘could be written on the back of a postage stamp in block capitals’.  Among other publications this Cambridge graduate has written ‘Romsey Abbey Through The Ages’.  As we entered the abbey we had seen piles of funeral service booklets for Judy.  This was Julitta.  May she rest in peace.

Our evening meal was Jackie’s sausage casserole followed by trifle and accompanied in my case by Montpierre reserve Languedoc 2011, and in hers by Redbridge Creek chardonnay made on the other side of the world in the same year.