Well, I’ve made this milestone. I believe the psalms, from which this title is taken, suggest it’s all downhill from now. I shall regard every day as a bonus.
Thanks to Chris and Frances for this optimistic card. Quentin Blake, the illustrator, has provided the artwork for at least one Folio Society (post of 5th. July) publication.
Steady rain was the order of the day. Gardening, early on, was out. We stayed in. Eventually the rain stopped and I decided to go for a walk, giving the wind time to blow away the clouds. I thought I’d best take my umbrella from the hall stand. It was not there. Ah well, I thought, I’ll risk going without it. I don’t keep a raincoat at the Firs, which is where we were. Walking along Beacon Road I reflected on the coincidence that Lindum House in Newark, which was our home for nineteen years, is in Beacon Hill Road. The eponymous beacons are a reminder of times gone by. They were set as a warning against invasion. They were lined up on high ground so that each one was visible to the next. One would be lit at the first sign of enemy ships; the rest would follow in turn, and within a short space of time there would be a chain of flaming fire stretching right across the land. I believe they were used to alert the nation to the arrival of the ill-fated Spanish Armada in 1588.
This, however, is the summer of 2012, so I imagine that no beacon would have stayed alight very long. I hadn’t any particular direction in mind, but whilst still in Beacon Road I received guidance from above. The rain. Diving down Southern Road, into Western, and through to Telegraph, I decided I’d go into West End and buy an umbrella. Realising, by the time I got to the bottom of Telegraph Road, that I’d overshot West End, and I’d probably not find an umbrella there, I decided to go for broke and walk to the Hedge End Superstores along Botley Road. By the time I arrived at M & S I was so wet there was really hardly any point. Nevertheless, I did buy a raincoat. I ask you, a midsummer birthday and I go in search of something to keep me dry. Never mind, there is always a silver lining; on the way the battery on the camera had gone flat and I had not brought a charger with me. I therefore visited the nearby Curry’s and bought one to keep at the Firs.
Passing the Ageas Bowl, Hampshire’s County Cricket ground, until quite recently named the Rose Bowl, I felt fairly certain there would be no play today. Marshall Drive is named after two great West Indians.
On my return to The Firs I was informed that my umbrella was in the boot of Elizabeth’s car. Elizabeth had prepared another birthday morning for me, with lots of carefully chosen, delightful presents. One was a cheese knife wrapped in a paper napkin. We considered this might be useful on any future trip to The Raj (see 26th. June).
Having decided to give up gardening for the day, this afternoon we drove to a couple of garden centres the other side of Wickham. The rain by now was quite spectacular. The skies were darkened so that most cars had their headlights on. The windscreen wipers were going like the clappers, and could not cope with the showers of spray rising from the rear wheels of the cars in front. From the sides of the cars great waves were flying up from the lakes forming at the sides of the road. On our return, in some parts only the central white lines were not covered with rainwater. Some drains were gushing the water back up, forming unsavoury looking brown fountains. In the first of the garden centres, appropriately named Mud Island, the woman on the till told us she could count on two hands the number of customers she had had that day. And we were three of them. Rain clattered on the roof and poured down from the straining gutters. The sky had become a grey pink which would have looked good on the petals of some of the unusual fuchsias we were seeking. On our way through Wickham we had seen a damper thrown on a ruined wedding. Large umbrellas were taking refuge. The photographers had no chance.
We dropped off at another garden centre on the way back, seeking agricultural sand which had not been available at the others. About ten or a dozen staff were seated at the garden tables and loungers in the showroom. They were only too pleased to serve their only customers. We hoped that tomorrow the weather would be kind enough to allow us to plant what we’d bought.
This evening the three of us, along with Mum, Danni, Joseph and Angela drove to The Lone Barn at Hungerford Bottom for a pub meal. Joseph and Angela had been unable to attend last week. They brought me a magnificent hand-made Chinese silk embroidered tie and scarf set in exactly my style and colours. Danni gave me an excellent bottle of wine and book of Hampshire place-names from her and Andy. Coincidentally the publishers were Amberley Press, who published ‘The Magnificent Seven’ a book of the seven Victorian landscapes cemeteries, for which I had produced the photographs.
An even more amazing coincidence was one of the carts hanging from the ceiling of this great old barn. These were all wooden vehicles. One, ‘for daily deliveries’, bore the address 181 Haydons Rd., Wimbledon, SW19. Mum, 90 in October, told us how, when Chris and I were babies, during the war, she had lived in the very same Haydon’s Road. And here we were, in deepest Hampshire. One day a bomb had struck the house across the road and Mum had instinctively dived across my body leaving Chris sitting beside us. Fortunately all was well. Mum said that her biggest problem during that time had been to decide which was the worst prospect; risking the bombs, or facing the mice in the cupboard under the stairs. I find it amazing that we, in 2012, can listen to a lucid woman, who happens to be my mother, who lived through those times.
We then went on to talk about the 7/7 London bombing of 2005. Whilst that was going on I had walked from Little Venice in N.W. London to North Road just north of Kings Cross Station. Completely oblivious of the event, two minutes after the Edgware Road bomb had exploded in the underground, I had walked past that station. I continued my walk, wondering why everyone was being disgorged from the underground stations, and why diversions were preventing me from taking my normal route. Marylebone Road was full of bewildered passengers on mobile phones which could not access networks. None of the tube staff had any idea why people were being sent out of the stations. The redevelopment of Kings Cross was going on at that time, and the sight of vast numbers of men in hard yellow hats, having been evacuated from the site, filling the streets was astounding. I was receiving text messages from anxious friends and relatives to whom I could not reply. Why, I wondered, was everyone asking whether I was all right. It was not until I reached the foster home that I was visiting and saw the news on television that I realised what had happened. The foster carer had been one of those anxiously trying to make contact. I had not received her message.