Incontrovertible Clarification

In recent days I have begun reading Neal Ascherson’s ‘Black Sea’.
Last night on BBC iPlayer Jackie and I watched John Landis’s 2010 send-up of the ‘Burke and Hare’ tragedy. I thought it perhaps questionable that such an horrific story based on two real serial killers should be thought fitting for comedy. Nevertheless I did, indeed find it funny. All credit to the director; the writers, Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft; and the cast, for achieving that. Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg play the two villains; Pegg the somewhat perplexed follower struggling with his conscience; and Serkis the devious opportunist lacking such a thing. Isla Fisher is the scheming love object, and Tom Wilkinson the crafty surgeon who turns a blind eye to the means of death of the supply of bodies he commissions. Bill Bailey fulfils the classical chorus role, and a score of other well-known faces enjoy taking part in this scurrilous romp. Mind you, not much movement is required from Christopher Lee. This was undemanding light entertainment for someone who had been working at the computer all day.
Regular readers will know I had been retrieving and scanning Covent Garden negatives from my archives. I finished that particular roll of film this morning.  In 1982, when I think I took the photographs, that now very salubrious area of London was still in the process of transformation from the fruit and vegetable market dating back to the seventeenth century into an enclave that boasts numerous outlets for dining on its former produce, as well as meat from Smithfield, fish from Billingsgate, and culinary delights from all over the world. Guitarist 9.82The redevelopment of Nine Elms in Vauxhall, to house the New Covent Garden Market, began in 1971.  Trading began there in 1974.
When we lived in Soho, the old Covent Garden was ripe for speculators who moved in steadily to change what had become a daily craft market where people sold their own work into an outlet for more manufactured goods; and to convert some of the old buildings into classy shops and restaurants. It remains a thriving area, if lacking the old world charm of the ’70s and ’80s. Bustling cafes have open-air seating, and buskers, like my guitarist, still perform to enthralled crowds, such as those I pictured in September 1982. Boy on shoulders in crowd 9.82What my former neighbour John Bussell, a radio 2 producer, would have called ‘serious music’, was also presented to rapt crowds. Musicians Covent Garden 9.82John believed ‘classical’ was a misguided term for what should more accurately be termed serious. I’m sure the more decoratively dressed guitarist would have taken his music just as seriously as those who played with the aid of sheet music.
It seems to be a time for unearthing lost treasures. Slips on stall 6.83Today’s discovery should please my granddaughter Alice, for it was the negative of the framed print she ‘snaffled’ on 2nd September last year. It featured one of the craft stalls mentioned above. Perhaps I had Smithfield Market in mind when I saw this as a visual pun and hung the enlargement on the wall of the dining room in Lindum House. In my post of the following day I recorded that I had been unable to trace the colour slide from which the print was made. That is hardly surprising, because I should have been searching for a negative. I also erroneously dated this in the mid 1970s. This morning’s discovery came with an incontrovertible clarification in the form of the previous frame on the strip.Louisa 6.83 That is a picture of Louisa, born on 24th May 1982, lolling in a large armchair. I think you can work it out for yourself.
Well into the afternoon we took a drive out to The Foresters Arms at Frogham. Incessant rain, with gathering momentum, had fallen throughout the day. Much of it lay across the lanes of the north of the forest; surrounding the trees in vast pools; and turning the heathland into a few dryish winding strips between acres of water. Noisy torrents rushed over the fords. Those few ponies in view looked bedraggled as they squelched about in search of fodder.
Ford overflowing
At Blissford we came to a standstill. Water roared over the concrete and into the swollen stream, sending a wave back up the road as it ricocheted on the teeming surface. In the distance men in an emergency van’s gondola attended to overhead wires.  There was no choice but to turn back and take a wide diversion. Customers in the pub could not believe the photos I showed them were of Blissford. Only when Michelle, the manager, pointed out the telltale farm machinery at the roadside were they convinced.
Headlights in floodwater
The return journey, in the dark, with oncoming vehicles’ blinding headlights magnified by water on our windscreen and by the waves thrown up by Jackie’s own car, and reflected in the lakes the car had to skate through, was even more nerve-wracking for my chauffeuse.
Back in the safety of our flat we dined on Jackie’s tasty and tender heart casserole, cabbage, carrots, and mashed potato and parsnip with a sprinkling of paprika.

In The Brearley Mould

As planned, yesterday lunchtime Jackie drove Flo, me and Scooby to Shelly and Ron’s for a most convivial lunch and afternoon which stretched into the early evening.  A storm raged throughout the journey, the Modus wheels sending up high waves on either side as it disturbed the numerous pools across the country roads.  Despite still recovering from a cold Shelly produced an excellent turkey and sweet leek pie inspired by Jamie Oliver.  I was particularly impressed my the lightness of the pastry, which I gather is quite difficult to attain.  Ron and I drank Malbec.  I’m not sure what those with a preference for white wine enjoyed.  An excellent apricot flan with ice cream and/or cream was to follow.  Port, Madiera, coffee, and mints brought up the rear.  Later came Christmas cake.
I had been misinformed about the likelihood of being prevailed upon to play Trivial Pursuit. Instead we played an hilarious game of Who?, What?, Where?.  For those who, like me, haven’t come across this before, the idea is that each participant wears a cardboard hat into which is slipped a ticket with a person, object, or place inscribed thereon.  The wearers, in order to establish their unseen identity, ask questions of the other players who may answer simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  If the answer is in the affirmative the victim may ask another question; if in the negative, the next person in a clockwise direction has their turn.  I was no better at this than I am at charades.  It would have helped if I hadn’t assumed that the hats bore some relevance to what was written on the tickets.  This, given that my hat was a deerstalker, caused me to waste two questions on Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.  I  managed to establish that I was a person no longer alive, then forgot that I was defunct.
All in all, mine was not a great performance.  That of Helen and Bill’s son John on the CD ‘John Eales Sings Christmas’, with which we were afterwards entertained, was somewhat better.
Fortunately Flo opted to spend another night with her grandparents, so we arrived home earlier than expected.  It wasn’t until rather later that we managed a little cheese and biscuits, after which I read Giles Foden’s introduction to Benjamin Cowburn’s ‘No Cloak, No Dagger’.
Rob, the ‘general handyman’ engaged by Penyards, who is extremely reliable, effective, and efficient, visited this dry morning, and confirmed our diagnosis that the leak from above was a matter for estate management, who are contracted by all the residents and landlords to look after the property as a whole.  Nevertheless, having been unable to gain access to the flat upstairs because no-one was in, Rob and his colleague obtained a ladder, mounted the balcony from the outside, and cleared a blocked gully.  Once the fuses were replaced the underfloor heating could be turned on to no ill effect.
In ‘Did You Mean The Off Break?’, I wrote of my initiation into Wimbledon College Under 14s cricket team. Derrick in Wimbledon College under 14s cricket team The team photograph taken in 1956 at a time when, at the end of the season, we had all reached fourteen, is number 40 in the ‘through the ages’ series.  Give the Persil-washed condition of our whites, I imagine it must have been before the start of a game.  Just in case anyone has trouble picking me out, I am third from the left of the viewer’s perspective in the back row.  I believe fourteen was the age at which I became a permanent fixture of that particular row in group photographs.  Next but one along stands Roger Layet, who I was, a year or so later, very pleased to persuade to play for Trinity Cricket Club.  A correct, if somewhat painstaking batsman, Roger was an asset to any side.
Iain Taylor, as captain, sits in the centre of the front row.  As  a captain and a cricketer, he was in the Mike Brearley mould.  Both intuitive and insightful characters who could make friends easily, they managed their players extremely well, yet neither was particularly outstanding as a player.  You may think I have a bit of a nerve to describe a man who could captain England (Brearley, not Taylor) in such a way.  Brearley was, however, probably the most outstanding captain this country ever had.  He could manage Ian Botham, for goodness sake.  It was in the Brearley years that our greatest all-rounder – famously aided and abetted by Bob Willis, particularly at Headingley in 1981 – performed his most miraculous feats.  Mike Brearley, indeed, a psychotherapist, was described by Australian opponent Rodney Hogg as having ‘a degree in people’.  And Iain could manage us.  He did, of course, recruit me, so his judgement must be sound.
On Ian’s right (from his perspective) sits Mike Miliffe.  Mike was the batsman who succumbed to my bowling as described in the above-mentioned post.  I was to learn, playing alongside him, how fortunate I had been to succeed against him in the nets.
Our skipper is flanked on his left by Bob Hessey.  Bob was an outstanding fast bowler.  His speed and accuracy was aided by an easy, athletic, run to the wicket and flowing action.  I could have done with that.
Flo is still with us, as is my friend Tony who arrived this evening.  He, Jackie and I dined at The Foresters Arms in Frogham.  In the dark and rain, stepping out of the car and walking to the pub gate, we found ourselves treading on what seemed like hard round balls.  On closer inspection they turned out to be Brussels sprouts, no doubt scattered for hungry ponies.  Unusually for a Thursday evening, we were the only diners.  This was no doubt because most people were partied out after the last few days.  We received our usual warm and friendly welcome.  Jackie and I enjoyed battered haddock and chips, whilst Tony chose sausages and mash.  He abstained from dessert whilst Jackie and I partook of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream.  I had a couple of glasses of Malbec; Tony drank Wadsworth’s 6X; and Jackie drank lager.


As a young man in 1973 I have to admit I was somewhat disgruntled to note the founding of Virago, proclaiming itself to be ‘a feminist publishing company’ dedicated to championing women’s talents.  It seemed rather an aggressive name.  And why did women need a segregated outlet?  After all, some of my favourite writers, as various as Elizabeth Gaskell or Virginia Woolf, had been published.  But then, there was Mary Anne Evans, who had had to choose the male pen-name of George Eliot.  And, come to think of it, The creator of ‘Cranford’ was presented to the world as Mrs. Gaskell.

Her Brilliant CareerThe book I finished reading last night ‘Her Brilliant Career’, subtitled ‘Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties’ by Rachel Cooke incidentally makes quite clear why Virago was necessary.  The dust jacket bears a sticker announcing ‘Virago is 40’.  Fancy that, a publishing house whose nascency I remember is now middle aged.

The fifties were my formative years.  I was seven when the decade began, and eighteen when it ended. Mum, Derrick, Jacqueline, Chris & ElizabethPhotograph number 38 in the ‘through the ages’ series was taken right in the middle of Cooke’s period, in our grandparents’ garden in Staines.  Elizabeth is toddling, Chris and I each hold one of our then youngest sibling’s hands, and Jacqueline stands, smiling, behind.  Mum and my brother appear to have been scalped and I have virtually lost my head altogether.  Once more, parallax had struck.  Or maybe the photographer only had eyes for the girls.  Chris sports the famous blazer badge.  Mine must have still been on the frame.

Once Chris and I had entered our teens, I was vaguely familiar with some of the more famous names in the book, but had really no idea of the magnitude of their achievements.  A woman of her time, my own mother sacrificed her book-keeping career to concentrate on rearing her family, only to return to work when we children were all fairly grown up.  She got on with life with none of today’s labour-saving machines to help her.  Dad brought in the money and she managed it.  I do not wish to suggest in any way that we experienced Mum as resenting her lot.  That is just how it was. 

Rachel Cooke’s women were not having that.  They forged the way for others.  This book is well-written.  Offering pen portraits of her subjects and their lives, it also provides a snapshot of the age from the female perspective.  The designers of the jacket could not resist decorating it with glamorous young ladies, albeit in fifties fashions.

The work/life balance continues to be a struggle for everybody, not the least for women who wish to have a family.  It does seem as if the children of the book’s subjects did rather miss out.  Inevitably, I imagine.  Even now I don’t think we have enabled maternal women to have satisfying careers outside the home without great cost to their domestic lives.

Virago should continue for a long time to come.

Regent Street lights 12.63 002

Today’s advent picture is another detail from the Regent Street of 1963.

This morning I began reading Voltaire’s ‘Le Monde Comme Il Va’, which I would translate as ‘The Way of the World’.

This afternoon Jackie drove us to M & S at Hedge End to satisfy my need for trousers.  As she turned a bend in Seamans Lane she was forced to stop by a stationary car ahead that was surrounded by living equine sculptures. Ponies on Seamans Lane ignoring JackieThe other driver seemed content to sit it out.  He can’t have known how long the ponies can remain as still as yesterday’s pirate.  Jackie alighted to do something about it.  Leaving our car, she tried raising her arms and repeatedly shouting ‘Shoo!’.  She was ignored.  She tried taking a step back, leaning forward for purchase, placing her hands on its warm, furry, rump and pushing the cream coloured beast stationed in front of the car.  The occasional head was turned, but this, too, was of no avail.  The animal didn’t flinch.  Finally she took to bruising her hands by clapping them into each other in an attempt to startle.  This worked, and we were on the move.

This evening we drove to Bartley to admire the renowned houses with external Christmas decorations.Chrisrmas decorationsChrisrmas decorations (1)Chrisrmas decorations (2)The main event was slightly different this year, but equally over the top as last.

After this we drove on to The Foresters Arms at Frogham for a very Forester's Armsenjoyable dinner, entertained by the Hyde Church choir singing carols to the accompaniment of their own brass band.  We shared bread, olives, and cajun skewered chicken for starters; Jackie followed this up with stacked venison burger, whilst I had sirloin steak.  Both meals were very good, except that my medium rare steak turned out to be well done.  My sweet was Tart Tatin and Jackie’s was ice cream.  We each drank Villa Rosa wine, mine being Merlot and Jackie’s sauvignon blanc.

Anticipating The Shot (2)

Early this morning, Jackie read out extracts from a debate on the BBC News website on the subject of municipal Christmas decorations.  Opinions concerned comparisons of the quality of those of today, when we are all strapped for cash, with those of yesteryear, when our memories are possibly coloured by the glow of childhood magic.  Between now and 25th December I will feature a daily picture ‘I made earlier’, so my readers may judge for themselves. I did, admittedly, focus on London West End’s Oxford and Regent Streets, some of whose cast-offs seem to turn up later in our small towns.  A little late in starting, and possibly finishing early if I don’t find enough subjects in my archives, let us think of it as my advent calendar.

This year’s Regent Street display, albeit in the dull light of late afternoon, was featured in my A Double Six post. Christmas lights Regent St 12.63 It seems to me that it loses out to that same street’s decoration of December 1963.

It was Mike Vaquer, a colleague in the Yorkshire Insurance Company for which I worked in 1963/4, who recommended the Kodak Retinette 1b, introduced me to the pleasures of colour slides as a medium, and took me with him for a year or so to photograph the West End decorations.  The two of us eagerly awaited these annual trips, each descending on the capital from our respective suburban homes. Mike Vaquer 12.64 Mike was a little older than me, didn’t have a family, and could therefore invest in a top of the range Pentax.  Mind you, he still needed a rangefinder attachment.  I photographed him on our 1964 expedition.

Advent calendar

For those of my readers unfamiliar with them, an advent calendar consists of a scene printed on stiff cardboard containing 25 little doors, one of which is opened each day from 1st December until 25th.  They enthral children, and adults who haven’t forgotten the eager anticipation that comes with them as the great day beckons.

Christmas cards

We spent the morning making, writing, and addressing Christmas cards.


PonyFroghamThis afternoon Jackie drove us up to Abbotswell car park at Frogham.  She stayed in the car whilst I wandered across the heathland.  I walked in the opposite direction to my journey from Godshill, along a wide track behind the strip of mostly comparatively modern houses in the village.  Eventually the path met the road and I took a narrow footpath down the flinty terrain to the left. Golden tree on heath Rooftop in treesThis area was criss-crossed by such paths, generously signposted by cairns of pony droppings, and often leading to houses perched on the slopes and enjoying marvellous views across the forest.

During the period I was there, three different monoplanes chugged overhead across the clear blue sky with its smattering of clouds.Plane

The acoustics in the scooped out valley were such that sounds carried across the bowl, and I could hear conversations before the speakers came into view.  At one point, two voices belonging to a couple concealed by scrub above me descended in my direction at the same time as hidden others penetrated the branches of trees below.  Something told me there was a potential photograph waiting by the bed of a stream.  Poised, I focussed my lens on a gap in the trees and waited for the shot. Horseriders on heath Two riders, who eventually proved to be three, emerged and trotted, chatting, up the slope.  Soon after I pressed the shutter, a young couple with a golden retriever appeared from the higher ground.  During our ensuing chat they told me that a herd of deer were often to be seen where the riders were.  They are identified by one which the young man called an albino.

Some time after my two conversationalists had left, they came into view by a house on the same level as the stream.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated that, and, needing to be quick before losing sight of them, snatched at the camera, and took an out of focus picture.


Shortly before sunset we repaired to The Foresters Arms for a drink before returning home, ready for our evening meal which consisted of chicken marinaded in lemon and piri-piri sauce and roasted with red and yellow peppers; ratatouille; roast potatoes and parsnips; and brussel sprouts, followed by lemon meringue  pie and cream.  I drank a glass of Roc de Lussac Saint Emilion 2011.

‘They Are Her Friends Now’

After a frosty night we were treated to another crisp, clear, and cold morning, so Jackie and I made an early start for a trip to Milford on Sea.

ForestForest (1)The morning sun on the trees bordering the A35 beckoned beguilingly, so Jackie parked on a suitable verge for me to go on a photo foray. Deer in forest As I passed through a walker’s gate into the woods I glimpsed, in the far distance a group of siren deer.  This time I was a little quicker on the draw and did not allow them to tempt me off into the unknown as, sharpish, they scarpered.

From Paddy’s Point car park in Milford on Sea, I walked down steps to  the beach and along the shoreline, grating on sliding shingle, Beach with hutsas far as the The Needles (1)end of a row of beach huts from whence I climbed up more steps on the crumbling cliff and back along the top to the car.  Every few yards along the path was placed one of a row of memorial benches dedicated to people who had spent their last years contemplating The Needles from this point.

Gull surfingGullsAlong the shoreline unceasing, gently receding, wavelets in the slowly ebbing tide, covered, then revealed, glistening pebbles and glimpses of sand.  Bobbing up and down, a seagull sedately surfed until seen off by another.

Peacock butterfly & shadowBack in the car, as we blinked into the bright morning sun making its way up the clear blue sky, a rather ragged peacock butterfly rested for a few moments on the windscreen before flitting off to oblivion.

Bonfire on Isle of WightYesterday I had noticed a bonfire across the Beaulieu River.  Today we brunched in The Needle’s Eye cafe from where I watched smoke from another on the Isle of Wight playing along the sides of what appeared to be hills.  My full English breakfast and Jackie’s tuna in baked potato were very good.  You are always given marmalade with the full English toast.  I never eat the sweet spread. Don’t get me wrong, I love marmalade.  I just don’t think it sits right with a fry-up.

We stopped for a little Christmas shopping in New Milton on the way back.  As you leave Bashley there is a sign by the roadside warning that there are pigs on the road.  We have occasionally seen them but they were absent today.  This prompted me to voice my puzzlement about how it is that all the various different animals are allowed to roam in the forest but, sticking to their own localities, don’t seem often to get lost.  I was soon to receive the answer.

After a rest we drove out to Frogham to witness the sunset across the heath from Abbots Well car park.  This is the point from which Jackie watches me finish my walks across the heath.  The sunset sat well on the pond.Sunset

The track into the car park is pitted with deep pools.  A nasty grating thump somewhere in the nether regions of the car didn’t seem to have done any damage.  Following us in was a 4X4 which had much less difficulty negotiating the tricky terrain.  Heathland from Abbots Well car parkThe driver got out and studied the heath through a pair of field glasses.  He explained that he was looking for a cow that had been missing for eight weeks.  He had just found it, and was trying to work out how he was going to reach it. Miraculously, because I had several times walked over that terrain, I was able to be of some minor assistance.  Either that, or the gentleman was being very polite.

Apparently, the animals are safely left to roam because they like to stay with their friends. Cattle on heathland from Abbots Well car park - Version 2This particular cow, which, because of its black ears, he recognised, through his binoculars, among a group of white ones, had not been out much before and had wandered off alone.  After all this time the cattle she was with were now her friends.  Off went our acquaintance to spoil a marvellous friendship. 4X4 in heathland Jackie soon spotted him driving across the heath.

The Forester’s Arms in Frogham has been closed when we have attempted to visit it before.  It has reopened under new ownership, and we very much enjoyed the atmosphere there as we stopped for a drink on the way home.

Jackie then produced a splendidly spiky chicken jalfrezi with fragrant onion rice, followed by spicy bread pudding and custard.  I finished the Saint-Emilion whilst Jackie drank Hoegaarden.