A String Of Pearls


A week ago we had celebrated Shelly’s birthday at a party in her garden sheltering under a marquee from the sun. Today it was the turn of Ron’s 70th.

Raindrops on marquee with upside down bunting

This time raindrops dripped from that same tent. The 70 bunting, blown by the wind, stuck, upside down, to the awning.

Guests under marquee 1Guests under marquee 2

Of the guests, numbering some forty people, only the hardened drinkers availed themselves of the somewhat soggy outside protection.

Umbrella and shoes

It was definitely a day for umbrellas.

Guest 1Guest 2Guest 3Guest 5Guest 4

Most of the guests gathered inside.

Guests greeting

Some, who knew each other, were pleasantly surprised at each other’s presence.

Helen and Billy

Last week’s event had been mostly for family members. This one was largely attended by friends, but grandparents, like Helen putting on Billy’s shoes

Helen and Max

or simply revelling in Max, were welcome.

Shelly and guest

Great aunts, Shelly

Jackie and Max 1Max 1

and Jackie also made much of Max,

Max and pearls 1Max and pearls 2Max and pearls 3

who maintained a firm grip on Jackie’s pearls;


while his brother Billy wheeled his cars across the table.

Stephanie and Max

Stephanie did manage to have a go with her younger son when the older generation allowed it.

Bill doing quiz

Ron had thoughtfully provided a quiz spanning the seventy years of his life ‘in case no-one turned up’. He needn’t have worried about that. Bill

Guest doing quiz

and other guests got stuck into this with bemused enthusiasm.


Donna was perhaps exempt from this game because her partner, Neil, was involved in the marking.

None was more surprised than Jackie and me when we won the competition, possibly because Becky and Ian had arrived after the judging had begun. Our daughter had completed the test on her own and in a hurry, yet scored only one point less than us.

Guest eating jalfrezi 1Guest eating jalfrezi 2

Jackie’s chicken jalfrezi with sag or peas ponir and savoury rice was a great success. All was eaten in a very short space of time except for one helping saved by a guest who wished to wait until he had room for it.

LordBeariofBow’s comment below provides this most appropriate addition:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jg2vtWezWbw   Thanks, Brian.

Shelly’s fish pie and lasagne were also excellent, as were trifle and cakes produced by Jackie’s two sisters. Red and white wine and various beers were imbibed.

The Uses Of Enchantment

200px-Three_little_pigs_1904_straw_houseThe gales are back in force. As the wind howled and the rain lashed at our window panes, tearing down the wisteria outside the kitchen door, I felt like a little pig. One of three, that is. Fortunately in a house made of brick. Had it been of straw we would have woken up exposed to the elements. I refer, of course, to the fairy tale featuring a big bad wolf who huffed and puffed and blew down two of the houses, built of insubstantial materials, with disastrous consequences for the piglets. The wiser, better prepared, porker survived. Other versions have the third brother rescuing his siblings. Either way, it is an entertaining fable, which has given generations of children scary delight.

Not everyone today would agree that this, like many other such tales, is a suitable story for young children. I cannot now remember whether this one featured in Bruno Bettelheim’s 1976 book, ‘The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales’. ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, also featuring a frightening wolf certainly did. All children have fearful fantasies that they need to come to terms with in a safe atmosphere and environment. Bettelheim’s thesis is that folk tales featuring death, destruction, witches and injury, help children to do so. I have more than once referred to the Brothers Grimm’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’, which some people, as with much of this duo’s work, consider too dark. I am, however, in agreement with Bettelheim.

Heinrich Hoffman, for me, is another matter. His ‘Struwwelpeter’, of 1845, at one time the most prolifically published children’s book in the world, is aimed at scaring infants into behaving themselves. StruwwelpeterThe cover of my 1909 copy of Routledge’s English translation illustrates what happens to Little Suck-a-Thumb. There is no possibility of redemption in these cautionary tales – just horrific punishment. Contrast this with what must be Wild Thing illustrationuniversally the most popular children’s book of today, Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ from 1963. Max, punished for ill-treating the family dog is banished to his room, indulges his fantasies, and is finally forgiven by his mother. It is one thing, although not good, for a child to wave a fork to frighten a dog, quite another for an adult to snip off thumbs.

Nasturtium leavesBy mid-afternoon everything had calmed down and I could cease my internal rambling and walk the Hordle Cliff top route in reverse. Water bubbles balanced on nasturtium leaves sparkled in the sunlight.

When we arrived at Downton at the beginning of April a flood around a manhole cover on a bend a short distance from our back drive was being pumped out. Today the lake is back. FloodThe flood warning sign has lain in the hedgerow all summer. I fished it out and leant it against a tree. Without this warning the car in the picture would have rushed through the water the driver would not have seen on the blind bend, and given me a cold shower. Pool reflecting skiesOther pools reflected the skies at regular intervals.

Broken umbrellaThe skeleton of an umbrella no longer fit for purpose lay abandoned in a bus shelter that has also seen better days.Skyscape with dog walkers

Even the dogs on the cliff path showed no interest in descending to the shingle below.

This evening’s dinner consisted of rack of pork ribs marinaded in chilli sauce, served with pilau rice and green beans, followed by ginger pudding and custard. Unless you are of a certain age you will not remember the runner beans that, by the time they reached the greengrocer’s, had tough skins with strong cords running down the sides. If you do remember, you may have helped your mother top and tail them, deftly stripping off the stringy bits. Now, the young vegetables reach the supermarkets in tender condition and you just toss them into the boiling water or the steamer. With our meal Jackie finished the Pedro Jimenez, and I began the Rawnsley Estate shiraz grenach mourvedre 2012. Incidentally, it was competition from the Australians that forced the French to name the grapes on their wine labels.

‘A Complete Dump Set’

Our last batch of visitors cleaned and tidied their rooms in an exemplary fashion. Jackie and I did, however, spend the morning on laundry and bedding changes, among the other normal tasks in preparation for Elizabeth’s stay, beginning tomorrow.

A visit to Efford Recycling Centre followed. Spoils from dumpWe transported a carload of cardboard storage boxes to the dump and returned with two folding chairs, the obligatory plant pot and hanging basket, and a rather nice bevelled mirror.

As I paid Debbie Deputy Manager for our spoils, I commented that I hoped ‘you folk receive the money from these sales’. She explained that she and her husband Andy, who bears the title Manager after his name on his T-shirt, own the business, and hope to use the money earned in this way to pay the staff. If there are insufficient proceeds they have to cover the wages themselves. I went on to compliment her on what a good service it was, illustrating my point by telling the story of the painted table. As reported on 25th July, Jackie, having been unsuccessful in a search among second hand shops for a small table for use beneath the pergola, had visited the dump purely as a purchaser. Debbie told me that dealers often buy items from the recycling centre and sell them on at a considerable mark up.Painted table

Table and chairsAll the neat little table had needed was a coat of paint on top, which Jackie gave it. She now has what she calls ‘a complete dump set’.

On our way home we popped in to Giles’s in Milford on Sea to return the umbrella he had left behind when he and Jean visited us last week. He hoped I would have noticed that the gamp was evidence that he had patronised the ‘poshest restaurant in town’, Pebble Beach in Barton on Sea, which is in fact in the same terrace as the more humble Sails Coffee Shop. The item had been a freebie on a rainy night.

This afternoon, in between gardening projects, we each attended to the laundry. Jackie working on path edgesJackie continued work on redefining the stone edging to some of the paths, and I cut the grass.

This evening we drove to Becky’s in Emsworth for a surprise birthday meal organised by Ian, to take place in Nicolino’s Italian restaurant opposite their flat. Becky was certainly surprised to see us so soon after their holiday with us. By the time we have finished it will be too late and I will be too tired and emotional to post this, so I am posting it now, and will report anything of further interest tomorrow.

Back To The Akash


For the third heat-wave day in succession, Jackie drove me to and from Southampton for a London trip.  First port of call was Carol’s, to whose home I struggled over Westminster Bridge and down Victoria Street.  This time it was mid-afternoon in 30+ degrees.

The international teeming throng offered neither let-up nor pavement space. London Eye concourse Wherever possible, leaders of groups held up all kinds of devices for their followers to keep in their sights.  The journey from Waterloo to the comparative freedom of Victoria Street probably took twice as long as normal.  I considered myself fortunate that I wasn’t a tourist or a sightseer intent on visiting places of interest.

JesterOn South Bank various entertainers, such as the jester exchanging high fives with little boys, set up pitches.  Before reaching the concourse Charlie Chaplin strode by on his way to his performance venue.  The artists must have been sweltering under their costumes.

The Thames is, of course, a tidal river.  As I fought my way through the pulsating populace I wondered about descending to join the gulls clambering on the rocks and silt below. Low tideThere was no way down, which was probably a blessing.

After I had finally made it up the steps to Westminster Bridge it was a male hand that thrust the camera into mine. Steps to Westminster Bridge In vain did I attempt to explain to the three young Italians that, because of the height and angle of the sun, they would be backlit in their determination to have the famous clock face featured in their group portrait.  I had a go in French which was just as alien to them as was English. Three Italian lads They did understand my comment that my Italian was non-existent, but pointing at the sun and swivelling myself around didn’t cut much ice.

Shut Guantanamo demo

At Parliament Square a silent demonstration pleaded for the closure of Guantanamo detention centre.

There were several ice-cream vendors about.  Two men in their thirties were debating where they could find shade to sit and eat the treats.  I suggested a park a short way down Victoria Street.  This didn’t interest them as they had to attend a meeting at Guildhall.  Mind you, the cooling delicacy would probably have run all the way down their forearms and dripped off their elbows onto their trousers long before they reached the oasis.  They wouldn’t then have cut very impressive figures at the discussion.

Brolley man

Quite a few people, risking poking others in the face, were using umbrellas as parasols.  One gentleman used his as a beacon for his followers.

From Carol’s I walked along Broadway to St. James’s Park underground station where I boarded the Circle Line tube to Edgware Road, along which I walked to the Akash (see post of 31st October last year) for a meal with Jessie.  There is no air-conditioning on the packed tube trains.  On the Circle Line the temperature was 34.2 degrees.

I enjoyed the usual delightful meal with my very good friend Jessie.  Majid, Zaman, and Shafiq gave me their customary warm welcome and once again produced my favourite repast without my having to order.  It was as if I’d never been away.

We took our coffee outside, where Majid was happy to serve it.  As he placed the pot on the table, I asked him to return to the doorway for a photo.  He had his back to the Akash. Majid outside akash The Christmas tree alongside him is probably one of those he always sets up for the Christian festive season.

Jessie drove me to King’s Cross whence I took the underground to Waterloo and thence to home.

Would You Like My Seat?

Rain continued throughout the day as it done all night.  Jackie drove me to Southampton for the London train.  The forest was even more waterlogged.  The lanes leading to the M27 were, in places, completely covered with rainwater running off the fields and overflowing from swollen ditches.  Yesterday’s bedraggled pony was dry and comfortable compared with the poor creatures we saw today.  Visibility on the motorway itself was much reduced.  Windscreen wipers were going like the clappers, fending off the driving rain.  Even when the glass was fleetingly clear, the road ahead was a swirling mist of spray thrown up by other vehicles’ wheels.  During the last two or three miles, some of which was in nose to tail traffic, the red petrol warning light was flashing.  Jackie calculated that the nearer we got to the station before she ran out of fuel the less I would have to walk.  I speculated about how far I would have to push the car.

We arrived in good time for the train, which had been cancelled.  The next one to Waterloo would not arrive for over an hour.  I was advised to take the cross-country train to Newcastle and change at Basingstoke.  This was delayed.  Fortunately by only five minutes.  Just like my last trip to London, the train only had four carriages and the London travellers had to join an already crowded group.  I secured a seat by asking a woman to remove her bag from it.  Whilst I was sitting down Jackie texted me to say she had made it to a garage.

The train from Basingstoke was of three coaches.  Because of the crush of people boarding, the replacement guard could not get on.  Those passengers who had managed to do so would stand in the aisles divesting themselves of their coats and feeding their luggage to the racks, while the rest of us waited for them to settle.  As I arrived in the carriage I announced: ‘The guard cannot get on the train until the passengers do.  That means we won’t be going anywhere until he does.  Coats can be dealt with later’.  This was delivered and received with humour.  One man, proving his point, stood up and took off his coat, saying ‘that’s difficult to do without hitting someone in the face’.  This was greeted by general laughter.

The only seat I could reach was being obscured by a gentleman’s backpack.  He was leant over it, looking for all the world as if he had something to hide.  When I asked him to move he said he hoped the seat would be taken by a Swedish blonde.  ‘Bad luck’, I said, ‘you’ve got me.  You have to take what you can get today’.  In fairness, he did then offer his seat to a young woman who declined it.  Maybe he didn’t fancy me.

From Waterloo I took a Bakerloo Line tube to Picadilly Circus where I did some more Christmas shopping.  On Vigo Street I lost my temper.  One of my betes noir is people who poke you with their umbrellas.  In one short stretch of this street linking Regent and Bond Streets I followed a young man marching along with complete disregard for the crowds on the narrow pavement.  His action was so savage that I could hardly believe what I was watching.  His umbrella was like a scythe cutting a swathe through corn.  He travelled very speedily, never relaxing his grip or slackening his pace.  He struck one man and two women in the side of the face.  He also collided with another umbrella, almost wrenching it out of a woman’s grasp.  After the third viticm whinced in pain, I went after him.  I had to quicken my pace.  As I neared him I called out, three times: ‘Hey, you with the umbrella!’.  He ignored me.  I was almost upon him when he turned to climb the steps to a building.  I cornered him and told him what he had done.  ‘No, I haven’t,’ he retorted.  ‘Yes you have’, I bellowed.  ‘And the last woman was in considerable pain’.  He walked into the building.

I continued along to Green Park, caught the Jubilee Line to Neasden, and walked to Norman’s. Traffic light reflection 12.12 London is as wet as Hampshire, and Harlesden’s cracked, uneven, paving stones harbour numerous pools.

Lunch was lamb shank followed by bread and butter pudding accompanied by an excellent Spanish Tempranillo.  Then I was off to Carol’s by tube.

On the Jubilee Line train, diagonally opposite me, sat a trim middle aged man wearing a woolly hat, a bomber jacket, jeans, and trainers.  His copy of the Metro served as a tube wrapped around a can of drink, which he did not touch on the journey.  He entered the carriage talking to himself, which he continued to do for a while.  Soon, he must have tired of his own company, for he sought another conversationalist.  Even though all the seats were occupied, when he said ‘ere, nu”y professor’ I instinctively knew I was the target.  I decided to humour him.  Eventually this meant abandoning my book. He ruined my concentration.  He did, however, approve of reading as being ‘more human than all these robots’.  The expansive gesture that accompanied this comment made me aware that the majority of our companions were attached to mobile electronic devices.  Apparently I look very like his psychiatrist, so I must be one.  Unless, that is, I worked for Old Bill.  He felt sure he recognised me.  Before I left the carriage he gave up his seat to a young woman who, in stark contrast to the rejection I had witnessed this morning, gratefully accepted.  He continued to talk to me until I got out at Green Park.

When I departed Carol’s I took a bus to Waterloo where I eventually caught a train back to Southampton. Waterloo Departure board 12.12 At Waterloo the departure board received the undivided attention of numerous passengers awaiting information about delayed trains.  Suddenly a mass movement akin to a shoal of sardines swooping to escape the net signalled that a train had been announced.  My journey was cramped, but I was one of those fortunate enough to obtain a seat.

Jackie drove me home, where the deer awaited us on the lawn.

Three Score Years And Ten

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.

Raincoat Or Umbrella?

It seems we had our one summer day yesterday.  Today’s forecast was for widespread rain over the next few days, becoming colder each day.  Consequently I set off in warm and humid weather for lunch with Norman.  This involved the usual walk to Colliers Wood to board the tube for Neasden from where it is ten minutes on foot.

On such a day with such a forecast I always have two dilemmas.  The first is do I pay attention to the weatherpeople?  Mostly I don’t, but this time I decided to do so.  In fact, although there were signs of rain wherever I went, I only experienced one flurry of light rain.  The skies were, however, so threatening that it made sense to go prepared.

My second decision is whether to take an umbrella or wear a raincoat.  I settled for no jacket and my Daniel Hechter raincoat purchased in Bergerac a couple of years ago.  This had been a gorgeous sunny day in August until, as is not unusual, we were hit by a spectacular thunderstorm whilst I was showing Chris and Frances the sights of Bergerac Old Town and I was totally unprepared.  We happened to be standing outside a men’s outfitters.  I dived inside.  They only had one on the racks.  Miraculously it fitted me.  Sorted.

Once I had a Burberry but I left it on a train.  This is one of the reasons I have trouble with umbrellas.  I generally keep an umbrella for two trips and two years.  The first trip is when I’ve just bought it in similar circumstances to the Bergerac raincoat.  The second is usually about two years later when the brolly gets left on a train or at a bus stop; in a cafe or restaurant;  in fact anywhere it’s not raining.  I can live with losing one through such carelessness, but the one I lost in Soho seemed a bit out of order.  I had left the soaking wet umbrella at the foot of the stairs to our flat in Horse and Dolphin Yard, a mews between Shaftsbury Avenue and Gerard Street.  Another family member had left the door open.  My weather protection vanished.

The thief ventured no further into the flat.  An intruder on another occasion did come up the stairs and I found him rooting around the bedroom.  Someone was a bit careless about that door.  This young man claimed to be looking for a woman.  As I didn’t think he was likely to find one in the drawers he was ferreting amongst, I politely indicated that I didn’t believe him and it would be in his best interests to depart.  He did so rather rapidly.  Not so another unwelcome visitor.  This time a couple of soldiers on leave actually rang the bell, again looking for a woman.  This was late at night and one of them was rather threatening, so my response wasn’t very friendly.  His mate looked somewhat uncomfortable and warned me that the other man was likely to kill me.  Sizing him up and considering my chances, I decided upon discretion and quickly closed the door.

After lunch which consisted of stuffed pork steaks rolled in bacon, roast potatoes, and veg., all courtesy of Mrs. Waitrose; accompanied by an excellent Turkish red wine (Trio on the label), I travelled by tube to Victoria where I caught a train to Mitcham Eastfields from where I walked to Becky’s.  Our daughter had taken herself off in her car to visit her friends at her workplace – just six days after her operation.  You can tell she’s my daughter. Thirty eight years ago I discharged myself from Westminster Hospital 5 days after an appendicectomy and drove myself home.  It seems inconceivable that in those days I could have parked my car outside a Central London hospital, left it for that period, and found it awaiting my collection.

At Victoria a pair of policemen bearing what to my uneducated eye looked like automatic rifles were strolling among the crowds on the main concourse.  Although not by any means a daily occurrence it is common enough for no-one to be taking any notice.

A light salad was followed by a drive home.