Losing Control

12th July 2014 Westminster BridgeCrowd on South BankI 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.Motor boatCruise ship A packed speedboat sped under the bridge while cruise ships unloaded one herd of passengers and took on board another.Selfies 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.Crossing Closed sign 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.Crowds in St James's ParkLovers St James’s Park was a little easier, but still packed with people lovingly basking in the sunshine.Meadow and fountainHeron

Motionless herons kept an eye out for prey from the lake.Crowd in Regent Street

Sculpture and observerToy planesTable tennisPiccadilly 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.

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.Piccadilly Circus

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.

The Village Shop Revisited

Even the dull weather this morning could not conceal the autumn beauty of the Surrey and Sussex countryside on our drive to Upper Dicker Village Shop (see post of 12th May) to visit our daughter-in-law Tess.  Greens, golds, and bronze glowed through the drizzle.  We stopped to admire the view from a high point on the A22.

We were delivering the birthday present I bought on 17th October (see post).  This is a large ceramic bowl bearing a tasteful peacock and floral design hand-painted in Jerusalem.

Tess was in the kitchen when we arrived and, after greeting her, ordered Big Dickers, chips and coffee (unlimited refills of large cups for one outlay of £1).  The Big Dicker is their brunch, a substantial fry-up with top quality ingredients, including sausages which would grace a first class restaurant.  Today’s special was cowboy baked beans, cooked from scratch with authentic spices.  The cafe section was thriving and customers came in and out for provisions, one young man being trusted with a tab.  The counter assistant asked Tess whether this credit was acceptable and she, knowing the customer, readily agreed.  While her staff member sought a piece of paper on which to write the amount, Tess laughingly offered the envelope which had contained our birthday card.  Several people come here regularly for their weekly shop, and stay for coffee.  The range of good, local, produce on offer is quite astounding.  Food can be eaten in or taken away.

Interesting, unobtrusive, international music played gently in the background.  En route to the WC are, among other items, racks of greetings cards to suit all tastes.  The walls of this elegantly presented convenience are adorned by a Ray Charles poster; a photograph of Nina Simone; what looks like a wartime poster encouraging people to ‘Get Hot’ with hard work; an Aubrey Beardsley illustration; and some original contemporary drawings.  A similar range of artwork, including original paintings for sale, decorate the dining area.  There is a cabinet displaying the merchandise of a local jeweller.  Tess Flower has transformed her establishment into a veritable hub of village life; exactly the kind of enterprise to be encouraged in order to keep our rural communities alive.

After spending some time with Tess, who rejoined us just before we left, we went on to visit Matthew in their home before setting off for West End and The Firs.

Mat, Jackie, and I chatted over a three-way game of Scrabble.  To celebrate a friend’s birthday a group of the village menfolk had chartered a boat for a sea-fishing trip.  They managed to catch one fish which lay floundering in a bucket whilst its captors tried to identify it.  ‘I think it’s a cod’, said one; ‘no, a pollock’, exclaimed another.  The matter was referred to the skipper who came with the boat, and seemed as likely an adjudicator as any.  ‘It’s a pouting’, was the verdict.  ‘It looks like its a-gasping to me’, said Mat.  This ranks alongside his pun mentioned on  31st August.

Having run out of milk, in order to make tea and coffee, Mat took a pint out of the freezer and put it in the microwave.  Noticing it had been spinning therein for some time, I suggested he had a look at it.  It was safe enough, and still cooking nicely, but it had reminded me of a bottle of wine.  Jessica’s brother Simon Pearson, who had once managed a Wine Bar of the Year in Victoria Street, and now owns Shampers in King Street, parallel with Oxford Street, had recommended 50 seconds in the microwave to bring a bottle of red wine up to the required room temperature.  I have used this method ever since, although metal screw-top bottles do present a problem.  One evening years ago, I set the microwave, placed a fine bottle inside, turned it on, and forgot about it.  After about five minutes, ‘Dad’, asked Mat, ‘how long did you set the microwave for?’…….. I had set it for 50 minutes.  It needed a spell in the freezer to make it potable.

Another hour and a half saw us in The Firs, where we decanted some items, such as yet more plants, and, Elizabeth being out, repaired to Eastern Nights where we enjoyed excellent curries, Bangla, and Cobra; and the proximity of a family including a laughing baby who would have been a hit on youtube.