As the morning stretched out, so did the shadows cast on the lawn by the climbing sun whilst we pottered about inside prior to a trip to Christchurch.
After lunch we drove to Curry’s/PC World just outside Christchurch to investigate the possibilities of buying a new laptop and giving my old one a good clean up. Yesterday I had discovered that I can exchange my NatWest Your Points for vouchers to be used in this store. I have more than enough for a Windows laptop, but nowhere near sufficient for a Mac Book. The vouchers are in the post, so I have deliberation time. The old laptop has been left for the clean. The reason I want a new one is that the old Toshiba dates from the days before built-in card readers, and I’d like to be able to simply slip the card from my camera into the device when I am not near my iMac.
We then wandered around the town. On this fine springlike day crocuses brightened the Priory car park, where we must have secured the last available parking spot. As we left our car, the view of the Priory Church was blocked by a vehicle from which two women and a child were being decanted, so I waited until the man with them had driven off, no doubt in search of the advertised Mayors Mead, to photograph the people and the building.
On leaving the church precinct, my attention was drawn to an ancient ruin peering above the sloping red-tiled rooftops of the town. This Jackie knew to be the castle, so we walked round to have a look at it. Dazzling direct sunlight striated the sward covering the mound on which this small relic stood, so I walked further into the grounds to view the castle with the sun on its back. Whilst I was doing so, my lady appeared from behind the pile, waving her arms in delight at having ascended the steep steps to her goal. The red-legged little girl who shares the shot must have raced up and down the two sets of steps at least a dozen times before settling into the stocks to have her photograph taken in them.
From the top of the mound, through the vestigial castle arches, we enjoyed interesting views of the town, in particular a fascinating display of roofing through the ages.
The town centre juxtaposes the old and the new, with many buildings, such as The New Forest Perfumery, having changed their use, no doubt on numerous occasions over the years. The Perfumery, still bearing its original sign in old script looks to be a building from the sixteenth or seventeenth century. It now houses tea rooms, as indicated by the more modern board outside. Perhaps because our house in Sigoules was built in the eighteenth century and because Patrick Suskind’s 1985 novel entitled ‘Perfume: The story of a Murderer’, is set in the France of that era, I speculated that maybe Suskind’s perfumier worked in a similar setting. The novel focusses on the sense of smell and its relationship with the emotional meaning that scents may carry. Even if the tea rooms serve a vast array of teas and coffees, I doubt that their aromas are likely to match the variety of fragrances that once permeated the fabric of the building.
Jackie and I were immediately transported to our youth at the sight of the Regent Centre, this picture house from the brief heyday of the cinema, sandwiched between a Subway and a Poundshop. The old Regent still shows films, but is now a much broader entertainment centre. Originally opening in 1931 it operated as a cinema for just over forty years, after which it spent a decade housing Bingo. A partnership between volunteers and Christchurch Borough Council has turned it into a theatre, cinema, concert hall, studio and art gallery. This afternoon there were a number of stalls inside, displaying jewellery, models, CDs and DVDs among other articles for sale. Tables and chairs for takers of tea lined the entrance hall. The building is well maintained, and retains its Art Deco style.
This evening we dined on mushroom omelette also containing onions, garlic, and a dash of Worcester sauce; baked gammon; fried potatoes, and baked beans. Lemon and lime jelly floating in evaporated milk was a suitable dessert. I finished the Lidl Bordeaux and Jackie saw off the zinfandel rose.
27th July 2013
The sunflowers seeded in Jackie’s pots by birds, no doubt as a reward for her feeding them, have came into bloom today. They are rather like cuckoos in that they are planted in someone else’s nest. I don’t think, however, that they have pushed out any other flowers.
Just before we left for Mat and Tess’s, I heard a neighing coming, I thought, from a pony that must have found its way over one of the cattle grids. ‘Good grief!’ exclaimed Jackie when she saw the source of the sound. A child, accompanied by a woman with a very long lensed camera, was riding a largish foal around our lawn. We could only assume these were visitors to other residents. We didn’t have time to investigate.
On 12th May and 20th October last year I described how Tess Flower, our daughter-in-law, proprietor of The Village Shop in East Sussex’s Upper Dicker, has transformed the establishment and consequently the lives of her customers. Her numerous innovations have fostered social relationships and made ‘Care in the Community’ mean something real. This has not been without considerable opposition from killjoys.
The shop lies at the end of the small village green. A few objectors to almost every event she has introduced spread fears of rowdiness and late night noise, none of which ever takes place. The cafe area of the shop closes in good time for people to sleep. The only sounds are from the muted music and gentle hubbub of civilised conversation within the confines of her building.
Some years ago, to the delight of the long established residents, Tess reinstated the defunct annual Dicker Day. Those few incomers who have no idea of what a village green is all about, made their usual objections. The event has fortunately been revived by the new owners of The Plough Inn, who are hosting it this year. Tess is generous in her support of this.
The fact that today’s event was beset by, at times, torrential rain did not deter the crowds that had come to The Dicker from the surrounding areas. It had a slightly different flavour from earlier times, but doubtless benefitted from the shelter provided by the pub. The numerous garden tables all had generously proportioned umbrellas attached. Unfortunately the one I sat under dripped steadily onto my jacket. Tess told me that the new publicans have thought of everything. There is even a basket of blankets for those feeling the evening chill.
The banner announcing the event got a bit soggy, but at least the colour didn’t run.
There was a bouncy castle; a raffle; face painting; and a lively young female singer. A hog roast and burgers were obtainable during the day and the meals we enjoyed in the evening lived up to Tess’s billing. As I said to Peter, the new proprietor, any food Tess praises is bound to be excellent. He certainly values her judgement as much as we do.
We didn’t arrive home in time for me to post this on the day, so I am doing it the next morning. As far as I can remember starters were a spicy carrot soup for me; pate for Mat; some kind of pancake roll for Tess; and halloumi for Jackie. Our main courses were haddock and chips for Tess and me; burger for Mat; and salmon and cod fish cakes for Jackie. Summer and sticky toffee puddings and a cheeseboard followed. Becky and Ian, somewhat tardy, joined us while we were on our desserts. It was a good thing they brought their dog Scooby along, because he did a good job of dislodging and disposing of the piece of Tess’s cheese that had found its way into my sandal. It saved me from the difficulty of getting down under the table. Peter made up a small portion melange for Becky. Ian enjoyed his asparagus and peas risotto. I can’t be sure who drank what, but there were a couple of bottles of New Zealand Marlborough pinot noir; some white wine; and various beers dispensed.
Somehow Jackie was able heroically to stay awake for her two hour drive back to Minstead, which is more that I did, although I did manage, intermittently, to keep her company.
Today’s dawning put me in mind of the old adage: ‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning’. This was a morning of heavy frost, frozen pools, and slippery tarmac.
I walked to Lyndhurst via the A337 and back by way of Emery Down. The purpose of my trip was to collect my eye ointment. Jackie had taken the prescription in yesterday and so diverted herself making other purchases in the chemist that she forgot to wait and collect it.
As I crossed the cattle grid to our lower drive the sudden swish of fallen leaves alerted me to the starting, leaping, and bounding off in unison of three startled deer who disappeared deep into the forest. Their superbly synchronised scuts and elegant rear limbs would have graced an Olympic swimming pool. Four unperturbed ponies nonchalently continued chomping at the bracken, gently rustling the foliage underfoot. Their inelegant legs were matted with dried mud.
The building pointed out by Lindsey yesterday as having been the Post Office is Hungerford Cottage which lies on Running Hill shortly before Seamans Corner. Villages throughout Britain have, in recent decades, lost their Post Offices. Another example is Upper Dicker in East Sussex, home of the Village Shop run by Tess Flower posted on 12th May. That shop once included a Post Office counter which, despite much local objection, was withdrawn about three years ago. Incredibly this was just after Tess, as a recent subpostmistress, had been sent on a training course by the Post Office decision makers.
When a small car containing two women who asked me directions stopped in Lyndurst road I was rather pleased to be able to point the way to Minstead Lodge in Seamans Lane.
Four more ponies, which I have seen before, were grazing by the twig circle I noticed two days ago. I reflected that these animals are often seen at this site. I then remembered that last night, driving back in the dark, I had recognised the pony from outside Perry Farm just a bit further up the road than usual. Arriving at Seamans Corner two and a half hours after I had passed the first quartet of ponies, I saw that three of them had made it this far down Running Hill. I now begin to understand how Jeanie, who I met on the 30th November, recognises photographs of her ponies. They seem to have their own preferred or allocated territories and, contrary to my uneducated original impression, they do not all look alike. Obviously they have different colouring, bearing different shades of white; and browns ranging from ochre to chocolate; with white, golden, black, or brown manes.
I am beginning to know my equine neighbours; those streets that do have names; the names of some buildings I pass; even one or two actual people. Hey, I’m almost a local.
This evening’s meal consisted of Jackie’s succulent cottage pie followed by apple crumble. I finished the McGuigan Estate shiraz and Jackie didn’t.
Even the dull weather this morning could not conceal the autumn beauty of the Surrey and Sussex countryside on our drive to Upper Dicker Village Shop (see post of 12th May) to visit our daughter-in-law Tess. Greens, golds, and bronze glowed through the drizzle. We stopped to admire the view from a high point on the A22.
We were delivering the birthday present I bought on 17th October (see post). This is a large ceramic bowl bearing a tasteful peacock and floral design hand-painted in Jerusalem.
Tess was in the kitchen when we arrived and, after greeting her, ordered Big Dickers, chips and coffee (unlimited refills of large cups for one outlay of £1). The Big Dicker is their brunch, a substantial fry-up with top quality ingredients, including sausages which would grace a first class restaurant. Today’s special was cowboy baked beans, cooked from scratch with authentic spices. The cafe section was thriving and customers came in and out for provisions, one young man being trusted with a tab. The counter assistant asked Tess whether this credit was acceptable and she, knowing the customer, readily agreed. While her staff member sought a piece of paper on which to write the amount, Tess laughingly offered the envelope which had contained our birthday card. Several people come here regularly for their weekly shop, and stay for coffee. The range of good, local, produce on offer is quite astounding. Food can be eaten in or taken away.
Interesting, unobtrusive, international music played gently in the background. En route to the WC are, among other items, racks of greetings cards to suit all tastes. The walls of this elegantly presented convenience are adorned by a Ray Charles poster; a photograph of Nina Simone; what looks like a wartime poster encouraging people to ‘Get Hot’ with hard work; an Aubrey Beardsley illustration; and some original contemporary drawings. A similar range of artwork, including original paintings for sale, decorate the dining area. There is a cabinet displaying the merchandise of a local jeweller. Tess Flower has transformed her establishment into a veritable hub of village life; exactly the kind of enterprise to be encouraged in order to keep our rural communities alive.
After spending some time with Tess, who rejoined us just before we left, we went on to visit Matthew in their home before setting off for West End and The Firs.
Mat, Jackie, and I chatted over a three-way game of Scrabble. To celebrate a friend’s birthday a group of the village menfolk had chartered a boat for a sea-fishing trip. They managed to catch one fish which lay floundering in a bucket whilst its captors tried to identify it. ‘I think it’s a cod’, said one; ‘no, a pollock’, exclaimed another. The matter was referred to the skipper who came with the boat, and seemed as likely an adjudicator as any. ‘It’s a pouting’, was the verdict. ‘It looks like its a-gasping to me’, said Mat. This ranks alongside his pun mentioned on 31st August.
Having run out of milk, in order to make tea and coffee, Mat took a pint out of the freezer and put it in the microwave. Noticing it had been spinning therein for some time, I suggested he had a look at it. It was safe enough, and still cooking nicely, but it had reminded me of a bottle of wine. Jessica’s brother Simon Pearson, who had once managed a Wine Bar of the Year in Victoria Street, and now owns Shampers in King Street, parallel with Oxford Street, had recommended 50 seconds in the microwave to bring a bottle of red wine up to the required room temperature. I have used this method ever since, although metal screw-top bottles do present a problem. One evening years ago, I set the microwave, placed a fine bottle inside, turned it on, and forgot about it. After about five minutes, ‘Dad’, asked Mat, ‘how long did you set the microwave for?’…….. I had set it for 50 minutes. It needed a spell in the freezer to make it potable.
Another hour and a half saw us in The Firs, where we decanted some items, such as yet more plants, and, Elizabeth being out, repaired to Eastern Nights where we enjoyed excellent curries, Bangla, and Cobra; and the proximity of a family including a laughing baby who would have been a hit on youtube.
This continues the story of yesterday.
We arrived at The Village Shop in Upper Dicker. The main street was full of vehicles, as was the small carpark attached to the shop by the village green. Matthew was standing in the doorway with a beer. Jackie seemed unusually impatient for me to get out of the car. Actually Mat had phoned us ten minutes before we arrived, wondering how long we would be. This in itself was most unusual. However he wanted to go on a bike ride and Tess had only just told him we were coming. He obviously didn’t have time now so he’d have a beer instead.
Actually Jackie had been hankering for us to leave Morden at 2.00 and was wanting to have lunch early and tear me away from posting my morning walk. We left at about 2.10 and this seemed to be important. Since she had said earlier in the week that it was Tess’s day off and she may or may not be cooking us a meal, and given that we would probably be eating later, it seemed immaterial whether we got there at 3.30 or not.
Apparently I took an age to get out of the car. Jackie was round to the passenger door in a flash. I stood and asked Mat what he was doing in the shop on Tess’s day off. Jackie, being unable to contain herself any more, grabbed my hand and dragged me into the shop. I didn’t think I’d been any slower than usual, just as I don’t think I’m taking forever to get to the point of this story. I never spin things out unnecessarily (my Dad always used to get me to spell that word, followed by ‘Can you spell it?’) do I Michael?
Where was I? Oh, yes, being dragged into the shop.
It was pretty dark in there, coming out of the now bright sunshine. There were some streamers on a beam, and a greeting message chalked on the menu board. The message was ‘Happy Birthday’. Then it hit me. Almost. What actually hit me was Malachi who led the charge of the younger grandchildren. He tackled me just like a rugby forward, quickly followed by Jessica and Imogen. Today’s commentators would call it ‘an awesome hit’. (Sorry, Judith). There was a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ and then I saw my rather large extended family; mother; siblings (except Joe); five children; nephews; nieces; grandchildren; and perhaps even more surprisingly my old friends Wolf, who had recently had a stroke, and Luci; Don; and Steve who had come to Sussex from as far away as Nottingham, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Somerset and London. It was particularly gratifying to see all of Jacqueline’s brood (although Illari was missed), made possible I understand by Charlie staying behind to look after the animals. They were all lurking in one side of the shop with wide grins on their faces, perhaps the most dazzling being Wolf’s. What hadn’t immediately struck me was just how many people were there. Some people, like Adam and Thea and Sam and Holly made huge efforts to get away from work. And some were unable to come yet sent their good wishes. I thought Ali’s excuse of being in Morocco a bit weak.
Becky tells me that the original intention had been for them all to be seated at the restaurant tables ignoring me, and see how long it took me to twig. (Yes, this Village Shop serves magnificent food – it is one like no other). In the event they had been unable to contain the little ones who launched prematurely into the birthday song, wriggled out of restraining grasps, and dashed across the room.
I’m filling up with tears as I write this, almost as much as I did when Michael made his loving speech. Before that those who could had filed over for hugs and kisses. I then went round and greeted the less mobile.
Louisa and Jackie had, I remember, had one or two private phone conversations in recent months. These two and Michael had arranged the guest lists, with Louisa doing the bulk of the photographic coordination. It had been difficult to track down my friends because my address book is out of date, details now being stored in my Blackberry. Jessica’s book had helped. An inspirational false trail had been laid by Jackie planning for us to be at The Firs on my actual 70th. birthday on 7th. of 7th. I had suspected something was in the wind and therefore thought it would be then, not just because, as she had said ‘you don’t want to be just us here in the flat on that day, do you?’, but because Elizabeth has the necessary accommodation.
Elizabeth played her part in the organisation, joining Louisa and Jackie in the collection of photos through the ages, starting at about six months. They were gathered from various family members, computerised, and put on a slideshow which played throughout the party. Elizabeth sat up half the night producing this. Some of the pictures I had never seen before. As was noted by more than one person, I am usually the one behind the camera. Whilst that has hitherto been the case, with the advent of digital cameras and the number of photographs everyone now takes I think my traditional role is now redundant.
Sarah, one of the staff members who helped with the catering, took the group photographs with Alex’s camera so that we could all be in them. It was Alex, incidentally, who marked my last fortuitous set of sevens with a rosette (she makes and markets them) when I reached retirement age in 2007. “Birthday Boy 7.7.7” appeared in the centre and the middle ribbon read ‘Official Old Git’. I wore it proudly all day. It now adorns our bedroom wall in The Firs.
Now, the catering. I have mentioned above the quality of The Village Shop’s food (see post of 12th. May). Today it was superlative. There was a range of salads, French bread, cheeses and biscuits, perhaps for those who didn’t like curry. Because Tess knew absolutely that for my day to be complete there had to be curry. There was. Two. Delicious. And poppadoms. And chapatis. And rice. And chutneys. And drumsticks. And wine. And beer. And cake. Not only did Tess produce all this wonderful food, but she managed the organisation of the day and the rapid clearing up afterwards.
The cake came later. Suddenly the lights went out. ‘Happy Birthday’ started up again. Three small grandchildren rushed expectantly to the table at which I was sitting. Then a huge platter bearing the glow of candles with Tess’s feet and legs underneath it advanced towards me. The minute Tess put the plate down three little sets of cheeks puffed up and the candles were out in an instant. In the same minute the sweet decorations surrounding the edges of the perfectly formed 7 0 cake began to disappear down tiny throats. It looked as if it had been ravaged by locusts. Becky photographed the locusts.
Earlier, we had all got outside for the obligatory group photo. It was at this moment that Frances chose to present me with the headdresses. These were apparently a present from Mum who had delegated the shopping to my sister-in-law who had had quite a job finding them. Well done Frances. The story of the headdresses has appeared in an earlier post, but, since I can’t remember which one, I am going to have to repeat it. I am told I have been banging on about it for years. I am sure that’s not true, but, just in case, I hereby undertake never to mention it again. When Chris and I were small I woke up one Christmas morning to find him scoffing all the chocolate out of my stocking. I had also been given two Red Indian (as we called Native Americans then) headdresses. As I had two and Chris had none, I then had to give him one. This seemed to me like adding injury to injury. We had been recounting this story a while back and Mum said she’d get me some for my birthday. I’m sure it hadn’t been me who raised the subject. She didn’t let it rest there, for among the pile of generous presents was a huge bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. It took me quite a while to get around to opening the numerous gifts, for which I thank everyone.
Many more stories were told during this event, especially as the cousins and their children extended the event into the pub. Some, like the cricket ball in the eye, may find their way into further posts. Perhaps I’ll just mention Father Christmas’s Reindeer which was, as often, wheeled out for the occasion. On one of our first Christmas mornings in Newark when Sam and Louisa were small, Jessica and I were awakened by excited cries from these two rushing up the stairs. ‘Mummy, Mummy’, they shrieked, ‘Father Christmas has left a reindeer behind’. For some reason their mother was convinced that I’d had something to do with it. As they rushed into our bedroom she turned to them and said: ‘Your father’s an idiot’. The reindeer is a large wooden carving from Bali. Father Christmas told me that.
In yesterday’s post I recorded that I had disturbed a group of three magpies. This, according to the rhyme signifies a girl. Today Holly informed me that the baby she is expecting is a sister for Malachi.
Eventually I was persuaded to make a short speech. I pleaded that I’d had no time to prepare anything because I’d been deliberately misled into thinking there might be an event next week; because I’d thought that would only be small; and because I’d had too much to drink and could never drink before making a speech. No excuses were accepted and I remember finishing by telling everyone to log onto the blog site today. Anyone who didn’t know how to do it should ask Jessica (5), Malachi (3), or Imogen (3) to teach them.
I cannot name you all individually, but you all know who you are and that you will remain in my heart forever.
And so to car, to Links Avenue, and to bed.
Another fine spring day saw Jackie and me driving down to Upper Dicker in East Sussex for a family meal with our son Mathew and his wife Tess.
In the sunlight the suburban roadside crop of dandelions rivalled the yellow splendour of the countryside’s fields of rape. Trees were now fully plumed with fresh green leaves and all was bright and clear.
We stopped for a late lunch at The Barley Mow in Selveston. This is a large friendly pub serving real ale and excellent food. Jackie had a tasty omelette with scary chips and I had a first rate ploughman’s.
Mat and Tess live in a pretty Edwardian terraced cottage the gardens of which are filled with flowers. It was warm enough to sit outside until time to eat the wonderful salads, home made quiches and pizza meal Tess had prepared.
Desserts and coffee were taken in the village cafe/restaurant/general store which Tess runs. The desserts, like the cakes, pasties etc served in the cafe, were all home made. Since taking over this previously run-down establishment about 5 years ago the couple have transformed both the shop/cafe/restaurant and the life of the village. What was once little more than the tuck shop for St. Bede’s school opposite is now a well stocked shop, thriving cafe and meeting place for residents and often passing visitors. In the recent past if you wanted eggs, bread, or even milk after 10 a.m. you’d best drive elsewhere. The place was bare and drab. Now it is well stocked with everything one could possibly dream of in a village shop and more. Fresh local produce is a speciality and meals are well prepared and cheerfully served. It is well decorated; has tasteful, interesting, pictures on the walls; and always has characterful music from all over the world playing unobtrusively in the background.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m proud of them.
Driving back through sunset over the Sussex downs was a delight. Jackie drove and, as usual, I nodded off about halfway, coming to about 10 minutes from home. You see, I am perfectly relaxed when she is driving.