A Vigil

I had some difficulty reading the Oxford History on the train to Waterloo today.  After unsuccessfully struggling to shut out a conversation between two men sitting opposite about a business meeting concerning the creation of a website, I decamped to a seat further up the carriage.  This was not entirely successful; first because their voices continued unabated throughout the journey, and were most penetrating; secondly because even they could not compete with that of a young woman like delivering like a monologue to her friend like mostly about the like stupid people like on Jeremy Kyle, or about like her own like relationship and whether it was like on or off.  Even her sandwich was inadequate to stem the flow.  Her constant repetition reminded me of a similar speech delivered on a commuter train from Newark to London about twenty years ago.  It would have been impossible to calculate how many times the words Tom and Cruise were woven into a young woman’s delivery taking the whole of a journey of an hour and a quarter.

Just, no doubt, for variety, today’s cacophony was supplemented by the speaker system.  Some time after we left Woking, the last stop before Waterloo, we were treated to the automatic announcement welcoming us to this train and listing every single station since its departure.  Twice.  On the way back I sat in the quiet coach.

I chose a different route to walk from Waterloo to Green Park where I boarded a Jubilee Line train to Neasden.  This was across the Golden Jubilee Bridge to Charing Cross station and onwards via St. Martin’s-in-the-fields, Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue, and Piccadilly Circus with a diversion along Jermyn Street.

London Voyages BoatA bitterly cold wind swept across the bridge and I admired the spirit of those in the London Voyages speedboat that rushed underneath it.

Tourists and telephone box

Overlooking Embankment I gained a different perspective on tourists’ fascination with our red telephone boxes.

On the steps of the famous church beside Trafalgar Square, with a companion, 72 year old Nara Greenway is holding a vigil in memory of 117 Tibetans who have immolated themselves.

Nara Greenway's vigil

One of the features of sightseers’ London is the group of visitors being lectured on the city and its history.  The speaker in Jermyn street sounded German to me so I could not tell if he was relating the tale of Beau Brummel, the early nineteenth century dandy who stood behind him.  Beau Brummel's audienceNotes were being taken.

Not to be confused with the memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales, in Hyde Park, the Diana drinking fountain in Green Park was originally erected in 1954.  It stands near a food and drinks outlet near the Piccadilly entrance.  Presumably the vendors do not see it as a serious rival waterhole.  As it was in disrepair, retaining E.J.Clack’s statue of ‘Diana of the tree tops’, the fountain was replaced in 2012 by The Constance Fund which exists to promote the art of sculpture in London’s parks.Diana Fountain The huntress and her hound, perched above their gilded supports, were interestingly silhouetted  against the grey sky.

Norman produced turkey thighs and vegetable bake followed by trifle for lunch with which we shared a bottle of Carta Roja.

School was out as I walked back to Neasden underground station to catch the tube train direct to Waterloo to return to Southampton where Jackie collected me.  Children in various stages of disarray, accompanied by or straggling behind their parents, wended their way home.  One small boy, wearing his bright green uniform jumper with his raincoat hung loosely over his head by means of its hood, carrying his blue plastic schoolwork container, ran on ahead and skidded to a halt when bellowed at by his father.


Before the rain set in, Jackie in particular having got up early, we managed to get quite a bit of planting done, and even start a bonfire.  New and older, refurbished, beds are being filled, and, where necessary, thinned out; some plants being separated and moved.  

The variously hued heuchera make a colourful display.

The patio area, which has received Jackie’s attention all through the year, now looks splendid.

Jackie has, in this area, and in her hanging baskets transplanted her small London garden into Elizabeth’s The Firs.  For the short length of time the sun was out today the flowers could be seen in all their glory.  By about 11 a.m. we gave up, left the planting, the bonfire, and the new bed I was starting, to the elements, and went off, smelling of wood smoke, to Sainsburys to buy wine for Bill’s birthday.  Helen and Bill are hoping to hold a barbecue to celebrate this tomorrow. As we were nearing Sainsburys Jackie mentioned that last week their entrance hall had been totally given over to a display of raincoats and umbrellas for sale.  They had obviously had a run on them because there were none there today.  What they clearly had not had a run on was their stock of garden recliners.  An announcement came over the public address system offering them at a price reduced to £10.  We didn’t think we would have much use for one this year.  We did, however, wonder whether one of the gazebos sold in Hilliers’ garden centre which we visited on the way back, might be a good method of keeping the rain off the gardeners at work.  Later, without knowing this, Elizabeth made the same speculation.

From Sainsburys we went on to Wickham where we found a present for Flo.  Before arriving at Wickham we stopped off at the vineyard for a tasting.  Although I could manage, at a pinch, to recognise the taste of strawberries in one of the wines, I struggled with some of the other fruits which differed from the grape.  What was more difficult was to discern any aroma other than the charred wet wood lingering on the fingers holding my glass.  Having sampled everything in sight we came away with six bottles and two tea towels.  Jackie thought it was quite ridiculous of me to buy two French tea towels to take to France.  It seemed perfectly logical to me.  We returned to Elizabeth’s for lunch, and, as so often when eating, the subject for discussion was the efficacy or otherwise of various forms of dieting.

Over breakfast Elizabeth and I had discussed Cottenham Park, the theme of yesterday’s post, and she had also remembered trips to Dundonald Recreation Ground in Wimbledon. The path along which we would have walked is featured on 11th. May.    As a little girl she had been disconcerted by the gaps between the flooring planks of the bridge over the railway to that destination.  Being able to see through them to the railway lines, to her so very far, below, she thinks is when she discovered her fear of heights.  My similar awareness came much later when, in my early forties, deciding that the guttering of our house in Gracedale Road needed attention, I bought a nice long ladder.  Starting to scale it, I began to get a bit wobbly.  The ladder remained firmly fixed; it was I who was unsteady.  I never did get to the top, and, for all I know, the guttering still needs attention.

My paralysis was always worse when there were children involved.  I feared for them as much as for myself.  A few years before I bought that ladder, in 1973, I had, alone, taken Michael, Matthew and Becky to North Wales for a few days.  The little ones went running towards the pitch dark waters of a lake.  I was concerned that they might fall in and called them away.  Had I known at that moment that it was an extremely deep disused slate quarry I would not have been half so calm about it.

Much later, when Sam was about ten, and therefore older than Mat had been in 1973, we were walking as a family in Cumbria.  On our return journey I was faced with a sheer rock face we had to climb.  Looking back now it wasn’t much more than fifteen feet or so, and we had come down it with no difficulty.  The problem for me was that I could not see beyond the skyline at the top. Emptiness beckoned.  Sam clearly sensed my fears.  He took my hand, said: ‘this way Dad,’ and led me up.

Later still, again in the Lake District, the family and Ali and Steve wanted to climb up from Grasmere, across Striding Edge, to a summit whose name I can’t remember.  Striding Edge is a notoriously narrow ridge with a sheer drop of thousands of feet either side.  No way was I going that way.  I took a softer route, but, seeing it as part of my marathon training, I ran all the way up.  I was going great guns until I slipped on some scree and looked up to see a straight line on the horizon above me.  My brain produced a similar affect to the time mentioned above.  I sat down.  After a while I gritted my teeth, rose to my feet, and began to climb.  Pretty soon I sat down again.  This went on for about three quarters of an hour during which I’d covered about fifty yards, but had reached the top.  The sheer drop I’d feared turned out to be a very wide path about as wide as Oxford Street.  ‘What a twit’, I thought.  I then strode along to the agreed meeting point, glancing across the wide open space to Striding Edge.  I could see my family silhouetted against the skyline on the sharp bit of an enormous razor blade.  I sat down again.  Gradually piecing myself together I managed to arrive at the summit at more or less the same time as the others.  Somewhere there is a photograph to prove it.

Until I began my reguIar flights to France I always had similar discomfort on a plane.  This was mostly on takeoff and landing.  It is now no longer a problem.  Should I go on climbing expeditions with the same regularity?  I don’t think so, somehow.  I understand Tom Cruise is rather short; nevertheless watching him at the beginning of ‘Mission Impossible’ was a tall order for me.

This evening I made a beef rogan josh.  Elizabeth and I committed the crime of drinking red wine with it; Marques de Montino Reserve rioja 2007.  Jackie had the Co-op’s Jubilation beer.  There were a couple of slight hitches over the samosas, which were from Sainsburys.  I called the ladies for their food and Jackie asked me if I’d done the samosas.  I hadn’t.  ‘How long do they take?’, I asked.  ‘Oven. Top. Ten minutes.’ was the reply.  Elizabeth turned on the oven.  I waited a while and put the samosas in.  Ten minutes later I was ready to serve up.  Unfortunately the samosas were cold.  What had I done?  The cooker is a Belling range model and I had put the samosas in the top left section which happened to be the grill.  The bottom left oven had been blasting away with nothing on its top shelf.  Something got lost in translation.  However, the meal went down very well, and as, as always, I wasn’t quite sure what my method had been, Jackie told us the story of the Victorian parlour song ‘The Lost Chord’.  You may need to Google it.

During the ten minutes or so that we were finally waiting for the samosas we did a tour of the garden to admire the work that Jackie had been able to do during intervals in the rain. It was then that we realised we had been engaged in a triple role reversal.  Jackie had done the gardening, Elizabeth had been hanging pictures, and who had done the cooking?