Heroes From Across The Pond

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE. THOSE IN GROUPS ACCESS GALLERIES THAT CAN BE VIEWED FULL SIZE.

This morning we carried bags of rubble from the fireplace work, neatly stacked by Barry and Owen, to the Efford Recycling Centre. In the car, of course. It is a sign of the times that what we could previously have placed in the dump’s large skip free of charge today cost us £12.50. One more public service commercialised by outsourcing to a private company. It seems that less and less is covered by our Council tax rates.

Afterwards we headed into the forest and investigated Horseshoe Bottom. This idyllic bowl is frequented by dog walkers and basking ponies.

Black dog and owner

As we prepared to leave the car, a large black dog, complete with owner, bounded up the ridge surrounding the vehicles. As soon as it reached the grass, the animal crouched for a crap. The owner, hands firmly in his jacket pockets, turned his back and set off across the lovely terrain. The dog, now relieved, joined him. It was only as I stepped over the ridge that I realised that there was a row of similar turds requiring negotiation. Clearly numerous eager hounds had sought similar immediate convenience.

Landscape with ponies, discarded bag and dog shit

In order to spare my readers’ sensitivities, I have not photographed the fresher excreta, but this shot shows a sun bleached deposit and a discarded snack packet.

One particular pair of ponies stayed together, moving to a safe distance at the sight of my camera lens.

A grey,

and a representative of a miniature breed kept their own individual company.

Ponies 5

I was some distance from the first couple when they lurched awkwardly to the ground to lie in the sun and scratch their backs.

Jackie on Horseshoe Bottom 1

It was then that I noticed Jackie had left the car and was setting off gingerly down the slope.

Jackie and crow

She kept her eyes on the crows,

Jackie and pony

but steadfastly ignored a pony’s request to have its tummy tickled.

I wondered where she was off to.

Jackie, pony and crow

She had decided to investigate what she thought was a stream at the bottom of the slope. It turned out contain fresh grass and a small pool. She thought the must be a winterbourne, which only fills after wet weather. Some areas are drying out now.

Bright sunshine set the gorse a-glowing.

Pony 8

Towards midday a number of ponies sat down and dozed.

On the outskirts of Burley, a pair of chestnuts bringing up the tail, a string of others queued patiently outside a house from which, they no doubt knew, a householder would soon emerge with lunch.

At Holmsley we diverted to:

New Forest Airfields Memorial sign

New Forest Airfields map

An engraved map shows the location of the commemorated institutions.

The sensitively designed memorial contains a number of dedicated benches where visitors can reflect in peace,

Memorial plaques

and affixed to the railings are individual and group plaques of remembrance. That of Captain Darrell R. Lindsey stands alongside one for other members of the USAAF.

For anyone who does not quite understand today’s title, ‘the pond’ is an affectionate name for the Atlantic Ocean which lies between USA and UK.

Raptor

It was perhaps appropriate that Jackie noticed a bird of prey circling overhead.

The gorse pictured above is one reminder that Susan Hill’s “yellow season” has arrived. Daffodils decorating the verges such as those along Beckley Common Road is another.

This evening we dined on roast lamb, Yorkshire pudding, tasty gravy, new potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and green beans, followed by apricot lattice flan. I finished the shiraz while Jackie drank sparkling water. Milford on sea still has a greengrocers. The quality of today’s vegetables shows the freshness of the shop’s produce.

Terminal Illness

Last night I watched ‘Prime Suspect’, the first of that iconic long-running television series starring the brilliant Helen Mirren. This episode charts Jane Tennison, the female DCI’s gradually earning of the support of all but one of her initially resistant male team. Tom Bell’s superbly odious sergeant is the exception. Such institutional prejudice was a real issue at the beginning of the final decade of the 20th century.

Today was dull, cold, and overcast. This morning I finished reading Susan Hill’s ‘The Betrayal of Trust’, and occupied myself with domestic chores preparatory to my departure for England tomorrow. I had been unaware that Susan Hill, one of our most gifted writers, had written a crime series focussed on DCI Simon Serrailler.

Written at a pace engendered by skillful use of short sentences and crisp dialogue, this is a gripping tale worthy of the author of ‘The Woman in Black’. It is only towards the end of the book that she drops in a couple of clues. The denouement draws together the strands of the lives of the expertly depicted personnel, all of which display the novelist’s gift for characterisation. Her descriptions of place and dwelling contribute economically to our understanding of the people.

But. As one would expect from this author, her book is about much more than the unravelling of a crime. It is a treatise on disability, dementia, terminal illness, and euthanasia.

One evening, late in 1997, over the space of three hours, what seemed to be ‘flu’-like symptoms reduced my wife Jessica to a terrifying inability to swallow. I telephoned the emergency GP service and spoke to a most unhelpful doctor. He refused to visit and told me to give Jessica aspirin. ‘If she can’t swallow, how am I going to give her aspirin?’, I asked. The response was that I should contact my GP in the morning, and if I became concerned in the night take her to casualty.

In the small hours of the morning I drove my wife to Newark Hospital’s casualty department, by which time panic had set in. There we were seen by a man in white, presumably a qualified medic. He stuck a spatula into her mouth, peered into it, and said he couldn’t see anything. He took a blood test, told us to go home, and said we would have the results in three days. I stood between him and the couch, faced him squarely, and asked: ‘If you can’t see anything, why can’t she swallow?’. At that, without a word, he walked out of the room leaving us alone. After what seemed like an age another man came in and announced that we were being sent to Nottingham. There followed a 25 mile ambulance trip.

Within minutes in one of that city’s casualty departments, with the aid of more sophisticated equipment, epiglottitis was diagnosed. I asked the doctor on duty what would have happened had I not stood firm. He replied that at the next stage Jessica would have been unable to breathe and would not have lasted the night. She was treated, rapidly improved, and we thought that was that.

Jessica seemed well, we forgot about the blood test, and I resumed my commuting to London. A couple of days later, in my consulting room 125 miles away, I received a phone call from my GP sister-in-law. ‘It’s myeloma’, she said. I had no idea what that incurable bone barrow cancer was. This is what the test had revealed.

There followed ten years of various treatments, including blood transfusions, two stem cell transplants, and finally, an unsuccessful donor transplant. Initially, periods of remission were such that Jessica was able to continue working as an emergency duty social worker. The months of relief gradually became shorter and shorter, and the relapses longer and she retired on ill health grounds after about five years. She died on 4th July 2007.

I am unable to follow this with what I had for dinner at Le Code Bar. Perhaps I’ll do that tomorrow.

Boxers

Le Roby cornerAs it circles the sky the sun’s rays move around rue St Jacques.  The valerian corner focussed on yesterday is the first recipient; by mid-afternoon the back wall benefits; the front of the house is lit in the evening.  Although still very cold and subject to ferocious winds, the clouds dissipated somewhat yesterday and I was treated to light shows, first of the shadows of next door’s oriental grasses, bowing, bending, and snapping back on the garden wall; then the fragile flickering of leaves of the trees opposite in the kitchen.

Early this morning I finished reading Susan Hill’s excellent novel ‘The Service of Clouds’.  The writing is beautiful, with spare descriptions of nature and the use of various other devices to reflect the theme.  She manages to avoid creating an air of melancholy in what is essentially a tale of sad, emotionally unfulfilled lives.  It is about disappointment, isolation, and loss.  Moments of happiness are brief.  This latter is symbolised by children flying kites which soar aloft, only to plummet when the wind drops.  She brilliantly evokes the experience of the ending of life in old age, and captures the effects of childhood on later years.

It was a bright morning when I set off towards Monbos.  Not far out of Sigoules is a sign pointing to Le Roby.  This time I obeyed the stop sign and followed the arrow.  The road is very short, leading to a few houses behind which is a grass track bordering fields with a view across the valley.

The juxtaposition of pale irises and red hot pokers at the corner I turned, had me thinking of Fire and Ice.  These were the boxing nicknames given to two policemen, partners, friends, and rivals, played by Aaron Ekhart and Josh Hartnett in Brian De Palma’s film ‘The Black Dahlia’.  Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank also star.  As it is worth watching, I will say no more.

W.C., Le RobyIrisesA garden in the little hamlet offers a different iris colour scheme.

I wondered whether the door marked W. C. on a rather ramshackle outbuilding was still in use.  It seemed a long way to go from the house in the middle of the night.

GrassesThe grasses on the track were like those that grew on the railway path behind 29a Stanton Road in which I grew up.  Today the stems are soft and a fresh lime green.  Later in the summer they will be dried out and yellow as corn.  Just as they were when we, as children, used to slide our fingers up their stiffness, making their seeds fly off.  It was fun to aim them at each other.

Soon the track was taped off and I could go no further. Donkey, Le Roby A donkey beneath a lichen-covered pussy willow tree in a field of buttercups, seemed, at first, to be my old friend on the Pomport road.  This one, however, was younger and better kempt.

Santas on drainpipeTwo intruders out of their normal time were scaling a drainpipe.  Perhaps the weather has confused them.  I found myself wondering whether they were early or late.

It was just as well I’d gone out earlier because Clement arrived to check the work soon after I had returned.  Saufiene having been in Tunisia, as I knew, his partner had been unable to phone me because he didn’t have my number.  I gave it him.  He had visited on Saturday when I was out.  I expressed my disappointment at the lack of completion, and gave him my French snagging list on which he complimented me.  He agreed with all my observations and, indeed, found a few more.  He said he would give Thierry a slap and bring him here tomorrow to finish off.  When I responded that he might ‘get one back’ he said ‘You don’t know me.  I’m a great boxer’.

This being a bank holiday, even the bar was closed.  Showers had begun at mid-day, so I have dashed up and down to my perch outside Le Code Bar in between precipitations in order to post this, after I had lunched on a Carrefour pizza.  That means I ate it, not that I used it as a plate.

Taking A Hint

Emily is now a nineteen year old student of Art History at Nottingham University.  As I gazed skywards this morning, whilst waiting for Jackie to unlock the car to take me to the station for my London trip for visits to Norman and Carol, I saw one of my granddaughter’s first drawings.  When asked what she had reproduced with a white chalk line across black paper, she replied ‘an aeroplane’.  She was about two. Jet plane Such are the advances in technology in the intervening years that the camera can now clearly show the two jet streams and the plane itself, not so visible to even the two year old naked eye.

The quiet coach on the outward journey wasn’t.  Halfway along the carriage were seated three elderly women, at least one probably hard of hearing.  One didn’t get much of a word in, but the other two more than made up for her.  Intimate domestic arrangements; stories of cruises; the layout of London streets; how to care for nails; and many other enlightening topics distracted me from my Susan Hill.  Although packed, the return train was much quieter and I was able to finish reading ‘The Magic Apple Tree’, being a record of a year in the country.  I don’t know when blogs began, but this delightful book, first published in 1982, has all the ingredients of one.  The writer even describes gardening; growing, cooking, and eating food; and offers various recipes of her own.  She takes us through the changing seasons and their affects.  I was reading one of my late friend Ann’s volumes. John Lawrence's Winter I bought my own copy as much for John Lawrence’s marvellous engravings as for anything else.

I walked the usual route from Waterloo to Green Park and took the Jubilee Line to Neasden. From Waterloo Station road bridge A footbridge spans the road from Waterloo Station and the South Bank of the River Thames.  Crossing a square and descending some rather loose steps takes one to the London Eye.  At the top of these steps stood a young woman with a child in a buggy.  Her older companion, looking past me, the only person in sight, observed ‘we are going to have to get someone to help you.  I can’t, because of my back’.  Undeterred by my apparent invisibility , I took the hint and the bottom of the buggy.

Piper on Westminster BridgeThe gilt on the Westminster Bridge lamp stands glinted behind the lone piper as he mopped his brow and swigged some bottled water.  He has stood on that spot, puffing away, all through the recent cold months.  Now in shirt sleeves, ‘I’m not complaining’, he said of the warmer weather.

In St James’s Park, I was just in time to alert a woman crouching to be photographed with a little girl that her strawberries and cream were sliding off the folded over cardboard plate clutched in her downward stretched right hand as she concentrated on putting her left arm around the child.  It probably would have made a great picture, but it would have been rather cruel just to let it happen, even for the sake of art.

An authentically dressed, youngish, woman stood at her easel endeavouring to capture in pastels a gorgeous display of flowering cherry blossom. Pastel Painter, St. James's Park When asked if I could photograph her she said she wasn’t happy with the painting.  She had one with which she was much more satisfied in her portfolio case.  It was clearly a day for taking a hint, so I asked if I could see it.  She took pleasure in unwrapping it for a private viewing.  It was indeed very good, but of a different scene.  I explained that I was more interested in her and her activity than in simply recording the result.  She was both happy and relieved.

For a change, Norman having had an operation four days ago, I brought the food and he produced the wine.  Jackie had selected and bought the stilton and cauliflower soup; the gala pie salad; and the brioche bread and butter pudding.  The wine was an excellent Greek cabernet sauvignon.

Afterwards I visited Carol, then returned home by the usual routes, Jackie waiting at Southampton Airport Parkway to drive me to our flat.

Whose Road Is It Anyway?

Coal titsBack home in Minstead the coal tits on their feeder made up for the elusiveness of the small birds in Sigoules.  After a morning spent preparing my papers for Philip, my accountant, I took a later than usual ford loop walk.  Upper driveUpper drive was looking resplendent in the mid-afternoon sun.  The deciduous trees, not yet in leaf, displayed their shapely naked limbs.  Elsewhere, hedgerows and other, smaller, trees were producing young, yellow-green, budding leaves.  Daffodils still thrust their way through thorny hedges.  Susan Hill, in ‘The Magic Apple Tree’, her record of a year in the country which I began reading yesterday, calls spring a ‘yellow season’.  After the masses of dandelions, marigolds, and buttercups in and around Sigoules, and now us, too, being treated to its awakening, I see what she means.  On this very pleasant afternoon there were even a few brief April showers.

Ponies on roadA car that sped past me on the very narrow road to the ford, barely wide enough for a pony to straddle it, came to a sudden halt around the next bend.  Hearing its approach I had stepped smartly to the side.  No such courtesy was offered by the seven or eight ponies that idly blocked the road.  They ambled up and down and from side to side investigating possible fodder.  The driver just had to wait.  Also waiting, in a side road, was a tourist driver who wasn’t sure what to do.  I gave him the benefit of my vast, all of five months, experience, and helped him and his passengers on their way. Ponies on road (2) Mind you,  I was very wary about passing the rear end, by which was all the space that was available, of the first  horse.  Having negotiated this back passage safely, I arrived, after walking up from the ford, at what passes for the main road through the village.

Cow following meSusan Hill speaks of cattle being sent into Buttercup Field at the beginning of May, having been sheltered for the winter.  Obviously, in the New Forest the freedom to roam comes a bit earlier.  This was brought home to me as I started up the hill through Minstead.  A strange lowing sound from behind me alerted me to the fact that I was being followed up the road.  Indeed, the only sense I could make of the increasingly agitated, closer and closer, mooing was that the tagged cow wanted me out of the way.  I soon realised that it was keen to join its companions who had taken possession of the road and more or less covered Seamans Corner.  At a rough estimate half the bovine population of the New Forest now blocked the roads and stripped what was left of the foliage.Cows on road  As I approached the Corner, Cow in hedgeapart from the odd cow occupying the usual headless stance, pausing only to plop their own recycled fodder offerings, they were all following me up the road.  It was just a wee bit disconcerting.  I must admit that I did occasionally take a sneaky look to make sure there was no pizzle in sight.  Had I seen one, I’m not sure what I would have done. Cows on road (2) Watching tradesmen negotiating these natural obstacles I often wonder how their time-sheets are affected.

Jackie produced her usual excellent arabbiata with mixed pasta for our evening meal.  I had cherry pie for afters.  Jackie drank Peroni while I had some Marques de Montino  reserva rioja 2007.

People-watching

rue St Jacques from garden on corner 2.13

Last night I watched ‘La Dame En Noir’, the French version of ‘The Woman in Black’, a gothic treatment of Susan Hill’s ghost story.  Directed by James Watkins, this was beautifully and terrifyingly filmed in marvellously muted colour.  In order not to spoil it for future viewers I will simply say that Daniel Radcliffe is superb in the lead role, as is the supporting cast, especially Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer.  Hearing dubbed French supplemented by subtitles in that language I was able to follow it well enough.  Afterwards I watched it in English.  The actors’ voices were then much more part of the performances.

I’m a pretty tough cookie when it comes to the supernatural, but, even on second viewing, I lost count of the number of times a shiver ran up the back of my neck and tugged at my facial muscles.  The last film scene that had that effect on me was the revelation of Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho.  That was in my teens.

6 rue St Jacques through disused garden gate 2.13Except for the climb back into Sigoules, my walk today was comparatively flat.  On the D17 towards Monbos a woman from the boulangerie was delivering bread to homes on the outskirts.  I took a right turn to Le Bricoty, right again to the Cuneges road and finally right into my village.  The two tracks off the main roads are heavily pock-marked with various materials providing in-fill.

It was just as well that I returned as the church clock was striking noon, for Sandrine was waiting outside to take me to the airport.  ‘It’s Tuesday the twelfth’, said I.  Once again confusion had arisen when booking with her mother last Friday.  Tuesday is ‘mardi’; noon is ‘midi’ or ‘douze heures’; the twelfth is ‘douze’.  Sandrine was perfectly relaxed and most amused.  As she speaks perfect English I said: ‘Lost in translation again’.  We parted with ‘Mardi douze [at] midi [or] douze heures’ from me, and a good shared laugh.

Soup 2.13Pizza slice 2.13Frangipane tart 2.13Yesterday’s soup in Le Code Bar was even better the next day.  This was followed by a large slice of delicate pizza.  The sweet was a toothsome frangipane tart.  Unfortunately I managed to lose the photograph I took of the main course, so I will have to paint a pastoral picture.  This was a beautifully presented terrace of tender duck breast medallions lying at the foot a glistening rocky hillock of dressed pasta garnished with cheese.  The usual lettuce leaves provided a deciduous foliage, and what could be seen of the huge chromium oval platter was a surrounding lake.  Once again I was full to bursting.  Stuffed for the next twenty four hours.

After lunch the fierce wind and I chased last autumn’s maple leaves around the garden.  Since neither I nor my neighbours have such trees I’ve no idea where they are coming from.

I usually have two books, one in English and one in French, on the go at any one time.  On completing Marguerite Duras’ ‘Emily L’ this afternoon I was struck by several contrasts between, and one coincidence in, that and Juliet Barker’s life of Wordsworth.  The French novel is short and concise; a small format paperback with large print running to 152 pages.  The English biography is immense and dense.  It is a large format hardback comprising almost 900 pages of very small print.  Although I didn’t know it before my reading, the novel also features the life of a poet.  It will be some time before I finish the biography, so here I’ll just say a bit more about ‘Emily L.’.  The novel uses the fascinating device of what Jackie would call ‘people-watching’.  The four main characters occupy a bar overlooking the Seine.  The French narrator, falling out of love with her male companion, concentrates on an English couple clinging to love despite the woman’s destructive alcoholism.

The thoughts of the Frenchwoman and her conversation with her man, always using ‘vous’ rather than the more intimate ‘tu’, are interspersed with the words of the husband across the room.  His wife mostly looks at the floor whilst he soliloquises.  Emily is the successful poet who has lost her muse.  We learn why.  An excellent story of the sadness of dying romance, it is given pace by the brevity of the sentences.

People-watching in restaurants is clearly an universal phenomenon.  When in Le Code Bar I listen to all the voices around me, hoping to catch a few words of French.  The speakers’ confidentiality is quite safe with me.  I don’t understand enough.