A Bit Of A Bummer

Continuous rain fell today, but the temperature was still very warm.

Jackie drove me to and from New Milton for the London train and lunch with Wolf and Luci. From Waterloo I took the Northern Line tube to Clapham Common and walked to our friends’ home in Hambalt Road, reversing the process after stimulating conversation and an excellent lunch prepared by Luci. We enjoyed a tasty chicken casserole, new potatoes, and a tangy melange of some six or seven flavoursome vegetables. Luci’s seasonal pumpkin pie perked up with black cherries. She and I drank a very good Claret from 2012. Wolf, as always, preferred apple juice.

With more than an hour left of the outward journey, a gentleman preparing to sit on the opposite side of the corridor from me, had some difficulty removing his outer clothing. This necessitated his wriggling his rear end in my direction in a rather ungainly fashion. The aisles on these trains are very narrow. It was only after he had managed to place part of the said stern on his seat that I realised the young man was not. In fact he was so fat that one leg was permanently planted in the gangway. When people squeezed past, it was I who, for self preservation, needed to lurch to my right in order to avoid contact with various anatomical parts, depending on the height and contours of the individuals concerned, and whether their fronts or backs were presented to me. The bunch of keys attached to the guard’s belt could have put my eye out. A bit of a bummer, really.

Wine and charcuterie

I have mentioned before how most public conveniences outside central London are no longer kept open. As I left Clapham Common underground station, I noticed that the railings for the lavatories attached to the building were unbolted and open. For a moment I had thought I may be able to avail myself of the facilities. Before descending the steps I noticed the chairs half way down, the board advertising Live Music, and, more importantly, what WC now stands for. If you care to click on the image you will also see it. This was also rather disappointing. I can only hope that some of the original closets have been retained for the use of current customers.

Clapham Common

The street behind the station, beyond the grass bank at the edge of the common, is also more up-market than it once was. I wonder what the generations of crows have made of the changes.

Robin Hood Theatre

Jackie drove me to and from New Milton station today, in order for me to travel to Waterloo to lunch with Carol.

Station garden

The Hampshire station itself is impeccably kept, but the garden attached to the railway buildings has seen better days. It now boasts a collection of discarded supermarket trolleys, burst wooden planters, and the ubiquitous buddleia plants.

On the journey up, I enjoyed a brief spell as an interfering old git. I walked through two of the five carriages before I found a seat. I had to claim it. I came to a halt between two four seat sections. Only four of the eight held passengers. On one side a young couple sat opposite their wheeled case laid across the other two. Alongside them one seat was occupied by a walking stick; another by a backpack. I announced: ‘Well, I need one of these’. A young man politely settled his bag on his knees.

Throughout the journey people stopped, looked at the large case, and silently walked on. Soon, an announcement informed us that more customers were expected, and asked that  luggage be removed from seats. The couple did not move. After a minute or two, ‘excuse me’ said I, and asked the man if he had heard the announcement. ‘I did’, he replied. ‘And you have seen people looking at your case and moving on?’, I continued. There was no reply. In mitigation I said that I knew this was a difficult train for luggage. ‘I’ll find somewhere to put it’, he said, and carried it back down the carriage. After he had done so, another man, who had twice walked on past the case, and must have been standing in the aisle further along, collapsed into one of the now vacant seats and thanked the young man. A woman sat in the other, and also expressed gratitude.

From Waterloo I walked along The Cut to Tas restaurant.

Emma Cons Gardens

In Cornwall Road, SE1, a young woman sat on a low wall, speaking into her mobile phone, in Emma Cons Gardens signThis plot is very small, and contains no benches, but at least they have made an effort.

The Young Vi The Trial

‘High Society’ is still being performed at The Old Vic, and further along The Cut, Rory Kinnear looks down on us from The Young Vic where he is receiving acclaim for his performance in ‘The Trial’.

Cigarette ends

Smoking is not, of course, permitted in our theatres, or in any other workplace or public building. Perhaps that is why the sunken gravel-coated paving around a nearby young plane tree has been converted into an ashtray.

Even before I passed these famous theatres, I was thinking of the Robin Hood Theatre at Averham, just outside Newark in Nottinghamshire. It was the setting of Rumer Godden’s novel ‘A Candle for St Jude’, that brought it to mind. This book was my train reading. Except to say that the action takes place in a private theatre, I will write more about it when I have finished it.

UnknownRobin Hood Theatre’s website describes it as ‘a timber-built private theatre of 1913 set in the grounds of the former Rectory; outbuildings which were once stables are now used for storing scenery, properties and costumes. One such outhouse contains two small dormitories which can accommodate drama students on their occasional visits to the theatre. The auditorium is on one level, the rear half raked, seated in 15 straight rows each containing ten seats. This is a most interesting and much-loved little playhouse. The backstage arrangements are quaint, compact and different.’

It is unconfirmed that Actor Manager Sir Donald Wolfit who was born and raised in Balderton, on the other side of Newark, acted there as a schoolboy.

During our Newark years Jessica and I enjoyed several performances in this historic venue.

Lunch with Carol at Tas was a delightful occasion. We enjoyed our usual entertaining conversation, and the food and service was as good as my last visit. We had different meze starters, mine being calamari, and garlic sausages; and both chose an excellent chicken casserole to follow. My choice of wine was the house red. Baklava was our chosen dessert, followed by excellent coffee.

 

Flo Meets Auntie Walisa

Bee on vibernumIn the garden this morning, bees, like this one on a viburnum, were up early;

Rose - Altissimo

a climbing rose Altissimo, already in situ, on the border of the projected rose garden, when we arrived, thrives;

diascia Apple blossom

as does the overwintered diascia (no, Mr. WordPress, not disco), aptly named Apple blossom;

Foxglove

and a multitude of the more normally hued foxgloves.

Here is my final offering in the Five Photos – Five Stories series:

The 2nd of January 1997 was bitterly cold day. Louisa and I were not even sure the trains would be running when we set of from Lindum House in Newark-on-Trent to Amity Grove in South London. But nothing was going to stop us. We had an excited hour and a half on the intercity train to Kings Cross; the usual cramped crush on the Underground to Waterloo; then, through Vauxhall, Clapham Junction, Earlsfield, and Wimbledon, to Raynes Park. Speeding up Amity Grove to number 76 we eagerly rattled on the front door, equally keenly answered by Becky who introduced us to her sleeping daughter, Florence, born on 23rd December 1996.

Louisa and Flo 2.1.97

Louisa tenderly cradled her new niece. I, of course, had to wait my turn.

‘Hang on a minute’, do I hear you think? ‘Who, then, is Auntie Walisa?’. Well, you see, Flo’s cousin Oliver, born to Heidi and Michael a year to the day before this little baby, took a while to be able to say his auntie’s name.

This was also the last time Jackie and I were to meet before the ‘Reincarnation‘.

For our return journey, Louisa and I had quite a wait on a freezing Raynes Park Station platform. Our bones were chilled, but our hearts were warmed.

Late this afternoon Jackie drove us to Redhill, a suburb of Bournemouth, for a visit to her great nephew Billy’s first birthday party. The adults sat inside whilst a number of children played in the garden. The birthday boy himself was peacefully asleep on his maternal grandmother’s lap when we arrived. When he awoke he did his best not to become overwhelmed by the gathered host, and, as is very common, seemed more interested in the wrapping than in his presents. Next year will, no doubt, be rather different.Jackie & Derrick

Helen sent this photograph the following day. Pirates of the Caribbean is playing in the background, and we were issued with eye patches. Get it?

Afterwards Jackie and I dined at a packed Lal Quilla in Lymington. My choice of meal was lamb Ceylon with special fried rice; Jackie’s was chicken sag with mixed fried rice. We shared an egg paratha and both drank Kingfisher. Service, ambience, and food were as good as usual, except that I must remember that their lamb is not the best option.

She Was Indispensable

Morning gloryBidding farewell to Jackie’s Morning Glory, after she delivered me to Southampton I boarded the train for Waterloo for a last weekend’s packing before the final removal from Sutherland Place.  Not a journey you want to make on a hot Saturday morning.  Had a woman, who was leaving the train in a few minutes at Winchester, not offered me her seat, I would have had to stand all the way.  I had already walked through several carriages, struggling past assorted standing passengers and luggage blocking the aisles.  Shortly after this the guard made an announcement telling people with bicycles not in the cycle racks that they would have to leave the train; and another informing customers that they could sit in first class for a £5 supplement.

From Waterloo I took the tube to Queensway and walked the rest of the way.  Roger, the gardener brought me the keys and I set to work whilst waiting for Anne, home in England from Athens for a few days, who had generously offered to come and help me.  It is always good to see our friend whom I have known for many years.  She is not often in England now, so I consider myself most fortunate that she was free today, for she was indispensable.  An expert packer, she aptly took over Jackie’s role as the practical one. First she drove me to Safestore where I bought more storage boxes and bubble wrap.  There was a slight problem driving into the forecourt as the road was blocked by two old red London buses having been hired for a wedding reception.

After this Anne displayed great skill in safely packing china and glasses whilst I got on with the books.  She, as a globetrotter, had clearly done this many times before.  When we ran out of bubble wrap we used my ancient finance files, more than six years old and therefore no longer likely to be required by Inland Revenue.  It was amusing to see invoices and receipts providing a crinkly shell for wine and sherry containers.  Our friend spent all afternoon tackling this task in an impressively methodical way.  She didn’t break anything, but in my one attempt to help her I managed to snap a stem.  I left it to her after that.

I had been warned that a prospective new tenant was to visit this afternoon.  A young family came to view with the estate agent.

Shortly before I left Sutherland Place three years ago I watched an elegant middle-aged woman painstakingly renovate and redecorate the outside of a shopfront in Chepstow Road, just around the corner from Westbourne Grove, that had suffered some neglect.  This was soon to re-open as Otto, a pizza house providing cornmeal crust products.  Jackie and I enjoyed it so much that we visited it several times in the last days here.  The woman was the mother of the very personable new owner.  When I visited it this evening, I was asked if I had eaten there before.  I was happy to relate this story and to congratulate their success.  It is now a very vibrant eating place to be highly recommended to anyone finding themselves in the area in search of a meal. Otto's pizza This evening I enjoyed a pizza with extra jalapeno, a crisp, dressed, side salad, and a glass of excellent Rioja.  The establishment was buzzing.  Their third birthday party is on the 18th September.  We are invited.  I regret that we are unlikely to attend.

Mumbai

As I sat down in the London train to which Jackie had delivered me this morning I was greeted by a beaming smile, reminiscent of Tenniel’s Cheshire Cat, from the gentleman diagonally opposite. I knew immediately what I was in for.  It only took a few seconds for me to learn that he was travelling to Winchester.  I calculated that I could probably tolerate the open, friendly, naive, vulnerable chap’s conversation for the requisite seven minutes.  He belonged to a local history society and was bound for an event at Winchester cathedral, the Dean of which he knew personally.  He was able to tell me what he had eaten on the last such occasion two years ago.  This congenial 73 year old fellow keeps himself active through his interests.  As he fished inside his raincoat for his ticket I noticed the tell-tale collection of badges affixed to his jacket lapel.

Soon after my recent acquaintance’s departure, a sleepy bee dropped onto my lapel.  I flicked it off.  Straight into a blonde woman’s hair.  Making an immediate bee-line for that I dashed the creature to the floor with the flat of my hand.  The lady was a little surprised.  The furry little insect landed beneath a family occupying the seats behind.  The father scooped it up with a piece of card, and, with two of his young progeny, one sucking her thumb, in his wake, went off in search of a window.  He wasn’t going to find one he could open.  Indeed, he didn’t.  As he returned he announced that the bee had just changed carriages.  I said he had adopted the technique of someone I know, who shall be nameless, with snails which are chucked over the garden fence.  This must be an acceptable activity because we saw Alan Titchmarsh do it on his latest garden creation television programme.

O2 QeenswayFrom Waterloo I took the tube to Queensway whence I walked to Sutherland Place for the next book-packing session.  When this was finished I retraced this journey to Southampton where Jackie was waiting to drive me home.

Queensway’s opening hours and its O2 shop stopped me panicking in 2007.  During Jessica’s last months my mobile phone was indispensable.  It suddenly packed up on me one evening.  I hot-footed it to this shop where it was replaced and I was back in long-distance communication.

WhiteleysI can never pass Whiteley’s department store without thinking of Shirley and Edward.  I often wonder whatever happened to them.  Edward was the small son, contemporary with Michael, of the Whiteley heiress who was the partner of Ivan who was my friend forty five years ago.  Jackie, Michael and I were invited to join them on holiday in Shanklin.  Michael, Shanklin 9.68 - Version 2 copyOn one of our days on the beach, complying with his request, Jackie buried her stepson up to his waist in the sand.

The differing child care practices of the two families proved rather stressful.

Deviating a little on my journey today, I was fortunate to be walking through Leinster Square when a brief storm struck. Stair rods on Boris's Bikes I was able to shelter on the steps of a grand colonnaded terrace and watch stair rods descend on a rack of Boris’s Bikes.  When the rain abated somewhat I saw a swarthy gentleman emerge from a basement flat bearing an armful of new umbrellas packed in cellophane, no doubt intending to take advantage of the weather on some stall somewhere.  By then the gutters were flowing with water and evasive action was required to avoid a supplementary shower thrown up by the wheels of buses along Westbourne Grove.

In my post ‘Curry, A Biography’ of 31st October last year I mentioned the reluctance of the proprietor of ‘Star of Bombay’ to alter the city’s name to Mumbai, which, to me, seemed appropriate. Star of Bombay I see his mind remains unaltered.

On our way back from Southampton we stopped at Goodies in Netley Marsh for fish and chips.  I drank tea and Jackie had diet coke.

A Beautiful Setting

Jackie drove me to the station a little later this morning for a trip to London to see Carol.  Posting my last of these train journeys on 23rd of this month I had expressed the intention of using the Quiet zone carriage.  Today there was a nerve-wracking queue for tickets.  I obtained mine just in time, but some didn’t.  Ahead of us all were two women with three five-year olds and one younger child.  While those in charge debated their optimum ticket option the four infants, voices emitted at maximum decibels, dashed about doing their utmost to trip everyone up. As I settled into the Quiet zone, who should come tripping and tumbling up the aisle?  You’ve guessed it.  Oh joy!  Winchester, the first stop, is only seven minutes away from Southampton Parkway.  That is when ‘are we at London?’ began.  Maybe in order to make themselves heard, the mothers’ utterances were often loudest.  Everyone was very excited by a game of Scissors Paper Stone initiated by one of the adults, who, incredibly turned out to be the quieter.  When the other parent began a simultaneous game of I Spy I began to be a bit confused.  Was ‘something beginning with S’ sky, scissors, or stone?  And would stone represented by a fist qualify? A detailed description by the louder Mum of an Indian train journey complete with a graphic picture of the toilet that was a hole in the floor around which everyone had pooed was particularly savoury.  Have I mentioned that all this was going on a good few seats behind me?  Clear as a bell.  But not a mobile phone ring tone, so presumably legal. I didn’t even start on my reading.  No way could the book have competed with the amplified audio version of this well-travelled voice.  Why, oh why, had she not fallen off that mountain?  And why did she have to open that parachute? On a whim, having plenty of time, I wandered around the Kennington side of Waterloo station, as far as Lambeth North underground.  Station Approach Road which brings taxis and buses to the side entrance of the London terminal was my route from The Pill Box, a small, then modern, building when, from 1963 to 1966 I had worked there for Mobil Shipping Company’s insurance subsidiary.  Park Plaza HotelThe Park Plaza Hotel now stands on the site of a pub named after the building’s shape, above which were Mobil’s offices.  In those days I commuted to there from Raynes Park. Station Approach Road Graffiti now decorates the lower approach. Lower MarshFrom Kennington Road I back-tracked for a nostalgic walk along Lower Marsh.  The London Eye, then not even a proverbial twinkle, is just visible from this street where I regularly lunched with my great friend Terry Taylor in a cafe that served shepherd’s pie that tasted like moussaka, and rice pudding and custard.  The thoroughfare is now so completely changed that I was unable to find this establishment. Passing a stall that sold antique glass and brass, I heard the vendor’s neighbour asking him what he thought of Boris Johnson’s chances of becoming Prime Minister.  I told him of an occasional commuting companion on the Newark to King’s Cross train who had, in the late ’90s, predicted Boris for ‘the next Tory Prime Minister’.  This led to a somewhat awkward discussion about the state of the country and the self-seeking nature of politicians.  I changed the subject and asked about my cafe.  He didn’t know it, and, anyway, he hadn’t himself been a twinkle in 1963. I sat for a while in Waterloo Millennium Green which wasn’t there then either.  Lower Marsh MarketMany people sat here to consume foods from the mult-ethnic preparations on offer at the stalls now strung along what was once part of Lambeth Marsh.  Here I conversed with Steve White, who, like me, was in search of ‘remembrance of things past’.  A really nice man, a builder whom I will recommend to Michael, although twenty years younger, he shared many of my own memories.  Ten years after I had watched flats being demolished behind The Pill Box, as a child living in another block, he watched further buldings making way for St. Thomas’s Hospital.  When grown up, he had drunk in that pub. Steve White in Millennium Green Steve remembered this piece of land when it was ‘all concrete’, and was delighted to be photographed in what he thought was now a beautiful setting.  He was rather chuffed at the thought that his image would travel around the world this evening.  One of the strings to his bow is gardening, which is clearly why the Green appealed to him. After this, vowing never to venture on it again until the tourists had all left, I fought my way across a jam-packed Westminster Bridge and into Victoria Street.  It was a relief to stagger into Great Smith Street and through to Carol’s home in Rochester Row, stopping on my way to enjoy a hearty all day breakfast in The Laughing Halibut on the corner of Strutton Ground. Knackered commuters are, if you discount snoring, much less noisy than exuberant excited children and their guardians.  I was therefore able to finish Ralph A. Griffiths’ contribution to the Oxford History, ‘The Later Middle Ages’, and make a start on John Guy’s ‘The Tudor Age’, on my return journey. My chauffeuse was there to greet me at Southampton; to drive me home in comfort; and to feed me on chicken jalfrezi (recipe) and savoury rice followed by an Aldi choc-ice.  She drank Hoegaarden whilst I consumed Kingfisher.

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.