Propped up by my walking stick, I managed to make my way through the garden and a hundred yards or so down Downton Lane this morning.
The Royal Oak pub car park had a look of spring about it.
Catkins swayed in the breeze.
A pair of doves, which we think must be the parents of the baby that died, regularly feast on suet balls in the bird feeder.
Hairy humble bees gravitated to the equally hirsute pulmonaria,
and the shy hellebores. I had to be quick to photograph this one, because it was about to vanish under the hanging head of the flower.
Sausage casserole (recipe) is far too bland a term for Jackie’s classic dish on which she fed us this evening. Mashed potato, crisp carrots and brussels sprouts accompanied the most tasty melange. The meat content of this particular culinary creation consisted of chunky chorizo sausages from Ferndene Farm Shop; smaller Lidl pork chipolatas; and slabs of lean gammon steaks from Sainsbury’s basics cooking bacon. So much did I salivate on ladling out my helping that some of my own juices slipped down my windpipe, producing a fit of coughing. Finishing the Cotes du Rhone eased this. Jackie drank sparkling water.
It may be of interest that Jackie’s version is a development of mine, which was a development of Delia Smith’s. Delia is a brilliant tutor for all the basic cooking methods. That is why I learned a great deal from her. But I soon wanted to spice her meals up a bit. And Jackie takes this a bit further.
This morning I decided to walk through the Malwood Farm underpass and see how far I got before I gave up on what I expected to be a rather soggy terrain. It probably would have been a better idea to have stayed on the roads, or at least worn Wellingtons instead of walking shoes.
Even before I’d left our garden, I could see that more trees had come down, and the steep downhill track leading to the underpass confirmed this, so I was not surprised to see the extent of the damage wrought by the winds, once I ventured into the forest itself.
The large shrub that has fallen in the garden lies across the stump of the recently deceased cherry tree. I think it is a buddleia.
This is just one of the recent falls on the short stretch to the underpass.
The sight of Malwood Farm in sunlight at the end of the tunnel was welcoming, and the promised return of the wet, windy, weather did not materialise until this afternoon.
The terrain, however, was rather less inviting. It was indeed soggy. Pools lay, and new streams flowed, everywhere. Mud patches inhaled deeply in an attempt to snatch my shoes.
It would have been unprofitable to have tried to pick out one of last year’s safe paths. The way would be blocked by either a quagmire or newly fallen trees, or both. As is usual in these circumstances, I followed pony trails.
The animals are at least a little likely to attempt to avoid the suction underfoot, although I would not have been surprised to find one or two stranded in the mud.
I had thought to take a rain check on the sandbagged ford before deciding on whether to cross it or not. Forget that. I didn’t even venture across the mud bath leading to the sandbags. It seemed politic to stay on our side of the winding stream I call Malwood. I walked along it for a while, then retraced my steps and returned home.
Walking back through the forest to the side of the farm fences, I noticed much beautifully shaped pastel coloured lichen clinging to fallen twigs featherbedded by a mulch of deep dark brown autumn leaves.
My share of the five-egg mushroom omelette with toast that was for lunch, went down very well.
This afternoon I finished reading Voltaire’s story ‘Le Taureau Blanc’. Here the philosopher, in advocating the search for human wisdom and happiness, is having an ironic pop at the fantasy of the Old Testament. At least, that is the sense I make of this fabulous tale.
This evening we dined on succulent sausage casserole with creamy mashed potato, crisp runner beans and cauliflower, followed by creme caramel. I drank more of the Bergerac.
Jackie’s sausage casserole has an interesting provenance. What she has done is perfect my adaptation from Delia Smith. This is the tops.
For four to six servings:
Take 12 sausages; lots of shallots; plenty of button mushrooms; a packet of Sainsbury’s cooking bacon, chopped into bite sized pieces; 3 big cloves of garlic; 5-6 bay leaves; 1 heaped teaspoonful of dried thyme; 3/4 pint of pork stock (if pork sausages – today’s were Milton Gate pork and apple from Lidl which provide a touch of sweetness); enough red wine to cover the contents of the dish.
Red peppers provide a bit of colour, but are not essential. Similarly thickening with the help of gravy granules or cornflower may be required.
Fry the sausages until browned on all sides and set aside. In the casserole dish then fry the bacon and shallots with the crushed garlic. Add the stock and wine; bring to the boil, turn down the heat, add the bay leaves and thyme, pop the sausages back in and simmer for 3/4 hour. (The simmering refers to the cooking heat. It doesn’t mean you have to adopt a suppressed emotional stance).
Then add the mushrooms and simmer for further 20-30 minutes.
Jackie cooks this dish without a lid until the sauce looks rich enough, if necessary adding one of the thickening agents.
The final touch of the peppers may be added in the last few minutes.
The little golden birds that flitted about our windows in today’s glorious sunshine, whilst we enjoyed our super spicy mulligatawny lunch revealed themselves to be autumn leaves frolicking in the wind. They were still swirling around me as I set off in really blustery blasts to walk to Hazel Hill, where Jackie picked me up en route to Totton for another grand Christmas shop. Reminiscent of the bees some were trapped in my clothing as I folded myself up to fall into the passenger seat.
Falling foliage filled the skies like plumage bursting from a pillow fight; plummeted to the ground; paused when plucked by a cross-wind; sped on, and dropped again. Even when apparently safely landed they could be whisked up and transported elsewhere, skipping and falling over each other like children freed from school, or stampeding like lemmings across the tarmac.
Being stripped of their glorious garments as I write, the trees that so recently bore splendid autumnal robes will be bare in a day or two. Already the shapes of the forest survivors are changing as their skeletons are revealed.
Another of the posters I mentioned yesterday carries a more startling message, but you would still need to leave your car to read it, and especially to see the horse.
We had another successful shopping trip, discovering an excellent art materials outlet and finding some treasures in Lidl’s central aisles.
As mentioned a couple of days ago, Vivien and I began our married life in 18 Bernard Gardens. We had two rooms, one of which was a kitchen. Only later, when I returned alone with Michael, did I move into a flatlet at the top of the house recently vacated by Mr. and Mrs. Egan and their two children. In December 1963 John Egan had not been born. Frances was their first child and, for that Christmas, fifty years ago, they asked me to photograph each of them with their little girl who was a good playmate for Joseph. Those pictures are the next two in the ‘posterity’ collection.
!8 Bernard Gardens had been bequeathed to my father by his Auntie Mabel. A very large house in Wimbledon, it had several tenants which my parents kept on. Joe Jasmy eventually accompanied them when they moved to Morden. It was his cousin who had moved out just before Vivien and I needed somewhere for a while. The Egans were the other residents.
This evening we enjoyed Jackie’s sausage and bacon casserole, crisp vegetables, and duchesse potatoes masquerading as browned macaroons. Here a plug for the bacon that enhances these casseroles is in order. It is Sainsbury’s cooking bacon, which comes in thick toothsome chunks. It is well recommended, but if you use it, no more salt will be needed. Our sweet was a lemon merangue pie my maternal grandmother would have been proud of. And that is saying something. Jackie had the last glass of Palastri and I finished the Roc des Chevaliers.
This beautiful late summer day completely dispelled yesterday’s mood. With no particular goal in mind, I walked the length of Hillcross Avenue and into Lower Morden Lane. Turning right alongside the cemetery I took a footpath to Worcester Park, backtracked to another pointing to Trafalgar Avenue, which brought me into Cheam, and travelled left along the A24. I Slipped into Morden Park at the first opportunity and returned home to Links Avenue.
Whenever she drives along Hillcross Avenue, Jackie points out the confusion created by the speed limits in that road, which are constantly alternating between 20 and 30 mph. The changes are often obscured by trees. The proud owner of a tree in Matthew’s (not!) favourite type of garden informed me that the features displayed are obtainable in any good garden centre.
The footpath runs alongside the Merton cemetery where Vivien (see 17th. July) is buried. I contemplated her grave, which I could see through the railings. In fact I had veered towards the cemetery, but realised I would be able to see what I wanted from the path.
Other footpaths are signposted along this main one, providing a veritable network linking numerous streets. At point 58 in the system, I was tempted to turn off and follow one. Being unable to choose between the two streets indicated on either side of this, I continued in a straight line. Turning round at Worcester Park, I retraced my steps and took the path to Trafalgar Avenue.
Accompanied by her mother, a ten-year old girl was leading a large horse. No doubt they had come from Green Lane Riding Stables which lie on the main path. The Trafalgar Avenue route is bounded on the right by a very long wall built of concrete slabs. This is completely covered in graffiti, sprayed with varying degrees of skill. A boy on a bike, dragging a panting Boxer dog behind him was being very impatient with his labouring and inquisitive pet. His cries of ‘leave it’ reminded me of my experience on 18th. June.
Trafalgar Avenue consists of a row of pleasant bungalows on the right, opposite a flowing stream alongside the screened backs of other houses. As always when in Cheam, I thought of Don (see posts of 1st. to 8th. August).
The facility provided by the Great Outdoor Gym Company was being put to good use by a young man. Waiting until he was taking a pause between circuits I conversed with him about the relative merits of the modern equipment and the barbells I had used in my twenties and again in my thirties and forties. He invited me to have a go on the bench press. I pleaded age and infirmity. In my twenties I had used the earlier YMCA building in Wimbledon. When Matthew and Becky were small and visited us in Soho, I would take them to the Jubilee Sports Hall in Covent Garden for them to have fun on the trampoline. Seeking an activity for myself, I chose to pick up weights again. The hall’s availabilty as a sporting venue was under threat, and, as part of the campaign to preserve it, a Chinese photographer produced a superb set of blown up illustrations which lined the entrance staircase. I featured in one, pushing up a bench press. Michael’s friend Eddie, was playing football in another. It was in this hall that I played my first game of Badminton. An ungainly pit-a-pat performance. I happened, rashly, to mention this to Carol Elstub, my deputy at the time. She told Ken Coleman, one of the Assistant Directors of Social Services. Ken, she said, played Badminton. She told Ken I played Badminton. She flattered me. A game was arranged. Ken turned out to be a Middlesex County Coach. Never mind, he taught me the game. We played regularly for some years. I would never beat him, but I did often manage to make him angry with himself. Our games took place in Queen’s Park Jubilee Hall, a short walk from my office. This particular venue is bound to be mentioned again.
Illustrating his sparkling wit, Matthew tells a great story about his adult days in the gym. One of the other users, rather full of himself, proudly flexing his pecs, boasted: ‘look at these. Himalayas’. Quick as a flash, Mat crossed his forearms above his knees, one of which he grasped in each hand, and asked: ‘what are these’. His companion had no answer, so my son provided it. ‘Pyrenees’.
I made a sausage and bacon casserole for this evening’s meal. This was consumed with the aid of three glasses of Terres de Galets Cotes du Rhone 2011, bottle number 71041, in my case; and, you’ve guessed it, a glass of Hoegaarden in Jackie’s. The bacon was Sainsbury’s cooking bacon which we can thoroughly recommend. All other ingredients, including the vegetables, courtesy of the excellent Lidl’s. This store is, incidentally, introducing Polski Smaki, or the taste of Poland, from 6th. September. If anyone has any ideas of how to avoid continually dropping the nutmeg, whilst grating it, into the mashed potato, I would be pleased to hear from them.