As Plato put it: Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.
Whatever the outcome of today’s general election, the lyrics of this fugue will still be true. Unfortunately.
A grey but warm day today. I finished writing my notes, packed papers and books away, swapped magazines with Celia – my copy of Walk for her husband’s copy of The Economist. Their neighbour’s Jack Russell is no more, having had that last trip to the vet on Monday. He used to be such a cheery soul, but his deterioration this year has been sad to see. I have a candle burning in the window for him tonight.
My RSPCA supporters’ magazine I have passed to Joe. In it there were pictures of pets needing homes. Two cats, aged ten, were said to need a home for their twilight years. MasterB has lived with me for ten years and he was three quarters grown when he arrived, so he is probably nearing his eleventh birthday. He is not nearing his twilight years any time soon. Today he has chased balls around the flat (I have the task of throwing them and retrieving them so they can be thrown again), raced around a racetrack that is invisible to the human eye, woke from apparently deep slumber when he heard me in the kitchen, chased and killed a fly. He’s in great shape. But I still haven’t put the calendar together.
After joining a very short queue and waiting a very long time, I finally got some new toothbrush heads today. One reason why each customer took so long to serve was the array of goods on ‘special offer’ at the till. The assistant, who I didn’t recognise and assumed to be new, felt she had to ask each of us if we would like these items. No one did. One was a pack of three face masks for £1. I am guessing shops are now seeing falling sales of masks and want rid of them. The reverse of the rush to acquire and stock them last year. Maybe it’s good time to stock up. Although more relaxed about my mask wearing than before, I am aware it’s getting colder and not only are coughs and colds likely to be more prevalent, so is the incidence of Covid 19.
I’ve been pretty busy, mainly working on a new project which I have to deliver this weekend. Money wise it really isn’t paying, but I am thoroughly enjoying my research. Some of you know what I do, some of you don’t. I tend to be a bit coy about it here as this is my personal, as opposed to my professional space. Those of you who know my professional space also know I am a bit lax about keeping it up to date.
I have two books on the go apart from the ones I am reading for work: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. Giovanni’s Room is for book group which I may or may not attend next week. I read this novel forty one years ago and loved it. I managed to leave it in a pub in Holborn before I had finished it and it was weeks before I got another copy. The title has remained with me along with the knowledge that I loved the novel. Yet when I picked it up last week I found I had entirely forgotten the story. It is like reading a novel quite new to me. Every now and then I get a sort of frisson of pleasurable remembrance; the joy of Baldwin’s prose; descriptions of a Paris now vanished, but which I saw the tail end of. But the protagonists, the plot – nothing. I am slightly intrigued as to my much younger self’s reaction to this book. I know in 1980 I read everything I could find by Baldwin. How or why I discovered his writing, I now have no idea. But I am glad I did.
I had my winter ‘flu vaccination yesterday. I went to the local pharmacy to book an appointment and was fitted in then and there. By late evening my arm was sore and by this morning most of my upper arm was covered in an angry red rash. I felt, still feel, somewhat under the weather though probably by tomorrow I’ll be fine. Why my body should react so strongly to vaccinations I do not know.
Consequently it has been a rather lazy day. I have read a book, made some notes for a job I am doing in ten days, read emails and replied to them. I could quite happily go to bed now, but as it’s not yet five o’clock, I shall stay up a while longer. The day has been grey, windy, not cold enough to put the heating on, but cold enough to close windows and wear socks and a jumper. It’s soup weather. Soup and crusty bread, except I am deliberately buying boring bread as when I have good bread I keep eating it. Boring bread does not exercise the same appeal.
And suddenly it’s autumn. Mask wearing is increasingly erratic. Even I have forgotten to mask up on a couple of occasions. I am hoping this new feeling of relaxation is not heading for trouble. I have been comforting myself seeing figures locally dropping, the warm weather meaning we are outside a good deal and on the buses the windows are generally open. So the sudden drop in temperature is a bit worrying.
Sunday was lovely, which was great as Celia and headed off, booted and with packed lunches for Haslemere on the Surrey Sussex borders. We had each bought our tickets on Saturday though at different London stations. I had the better deal at Charing Cross with my ticket for some reason being £2 less. However, a couple of hours later the likelihood of my going anywhere was remote. I had sat down on the floor to do something necessary at the computer. When I finished and stood up my left ankle felt as though it had gone to sleep. I expected it to wear off in a few minutes, but instead it became increasingly sore and I hobbled painfully down to the neighbourhood gathering that was the annual Sausage Sizzle. Unsurprisingly I didn’t have sausages. I took a butterbean and pesto salad.
After breakfast I had managed to drop my ‘phone on my foot and it seems this ankle pain was a delayed reaction to the trauma. Anyway, after sitting for a while on the sofa with bag of frozen peas wrapped round my ankle I had an early night, swapping the peas for Ibuprofen gel. It worked. In the morning my walking skills were restored. Hurrah!
The walk instructions warned at places it could be muddy, but we hadn’t had rain for weeks (a situation that has changed this week with a dramatic downpour yesterday morning that included bouncing hail, and several heavy showers today) so we were quietly confident.
When we left London, the only hint that it was autumn was the mist. With sunrise now happening just before seven, it takes a while for the day to wake up. I have done several walks around Haslemere, it’s a lovely town surrounded by great countryside; the perfect combination. You may well recognise the first place if you have followed this page for some years as I am pretty sure I have posted a very similar picture, with a robin in it, or maybe just a reference to a robin. Obviously any walk with Celia at this time of year is going to feature fungi.
The trees were still green. We actually got almost excited when we saw a few brown leaves. Blackberries worth picking were in short supply, but I got enough to add to the crumble I shared with Octavia later. There was a fair amount of up. The walk notes used the word steep more often than I like, but it was nice steep, through woodland and on paths that twisted rather than heading up in an unrelenting slog. I kept checking the treeline to see how much further we had to climb.
I do love a fingerpost, and there were quite a few. The first three quarters of the walk were well way marked, so combined with the instructions we had no problems finding our route.
Why this footpath over a stream is described as shuttered I do not know. Can anyone explain please?
I woke up with a sore throat. It didn’t go away. I took two paracetamol and considered my slightly stuffed nose. Cold? Covid 19? A couple of hours later my nose was clear and my sore throat was sore no more. A slight cold maybe. Nothing more serious. On the bus the other day there were five of us on the upper deck. I was the only one masked. On the lower deck all five had masks, but two were wearing theirs under their chins. There are lots of tweets about Covid 19 being over. But the evidence says otherwise. I don’t want us to return to lockdowns, I don’t want us to live sequestered lives, but it does seem we can learn to socialise safely, with masks, and some people don’t want to do that. I don’t have a solution, but I think I shall probably be steering clear of crowded venues for some time to come. Maybe for ever.
Tonight we enjoyed a neighbourly game of Cluedo. Last Sunday four of us convened to play Equaliteas, a game devised to raise awareness about women’s enfranchisement in the UK. We enjoyed it so much we made another date for tonight. So six of us sat down around Celia’s table. It was my game in the sense that I brought the board and pieces. There are new versions of Cluedo. Mine dates from the 1960s. We began by rubbing out the pencil marks on our Detective Notes. Quite a few bore my childish handwriting. It was fun. Usually Michele and I are otherwise engaged on Sunday evenings, and we are already wondering which night of the week can be our games night this winter. Cluedo is a less chatty game than Equaliteas. I have never played it with the full complement of six players before. It was a novel and interesting experience. When I was a child I usually played it with my friend Marion. Charlie struggled with the idea that his character could be the murderer yet he would not know until the crime was solved. Reinhild got a pad of paper and a pen and worked at the solution. Next time we may have to go the whole Line of Duty hog and have a whiteboard, photos and coloured markers.
I have Scrabble, Ludo, Monopoly as well as Cluedo. Celia has Carcassonne which I have never played. I saw a game called Shakespeare the Bard in a charity shop. I may need to return and buy it. I also have decks of cards, and Lexicon which I haven’t played in decades. My father and I used to play cribbage, but I have forgotten how to play. The winter is suddenly full of possibilities.
So now for the first walk of Celia and my series of three. No walk this weekend as Celia was away until last night and I have been working.
This walk was the one we have done before. Several times. It’s a good one. Guildford circular via Compton. Last autumn I did it with Nicola. Here are some pictures.
There were blackberries as we had hoped. But we didn’t want to pick in the morning and carry all day, so we picked and ate. Had I been living in Guildford or anywhere along this circular route during lockdown it would have been. walk I should have been happy to do every day.
We met the man with the aged Labrador as we left. Coco was back in the boot of the car and raised her head when she heard her master speaking to us.
I had been hoping for apples for sale at the farm table, but it was bare. At the fingerpost I wasn’t’t sure if this was a lost boot or a memorial. As a teenager, The Withies Inn was considered quite classy. I don’t even know if it still exists.
So onto, or I think that should be back to, the walk Celia and I took 4th September. It was a shorter walk, closer to home. Celia’s daughter and her family were staying. We had a window of five hours. I found a choice of walks locally. Celia picked the one which included One Tree Hill. After taking the bus, we started at Nunhead Cemetery which was enjoying an open day.
The cemetery was humming. The dead may have been pretty quiet, but there were stalls, animals from Surrey Docks City Farm, alternative Morris dancers who brought a goth vibe to the usual bell ringing and handkerchief waving. We walked by the memorial to the boys from our neighbourhood who drowned when they had been anticipating a holiday in Leysdown. There’s a not very good novel about it by Stella Duffy who also lives or lived locally.
It appeared Peckham Rye was also having a Day. Their’s featured dogs and a rather snazzy poster. As I have mentioned the Stella Duffy I’m going to remind you that there is a very good novel by Muriel Spark called The Ballad of Peckham Rye. It even mentions the Walworth Road, and has one of my all time favourite lines: There are classes within classes in Peckham. I read it years before I came to live in sunny south London. Does that mean anything? Probably not, though that sentence has stayed with me since I was a teenager.
Out of the cemetery and a tiny detour to stare at the house where my great grandmother lived with one of her married daughters. My father loathed his grandmother. He had to kiss her through her veil. She loved cats, so my father loathed them too.
We met a man walking a very pretty miniature Pinscher. the dog was called Moses, he was a rescue and came with a basket. I don’t know the man’s name. He told us he understood how the Duke of Edinburgh felt. I don’t know about Celia, but I felt I had missed something. Fortunately the man explained. If he draws level with Moses, the little dog is not amused. The man has to remain several steps behind. I have a not very good picture of Moses. We were on a very shady path. As you’ll see, One Tree Hill is a misleading name.
Days have passed, maybe a week, maybe more, since I posted. I have not been ill, not been lying in a darkened room. I have been stressed, but I have still been active. There’s been work for starters, so no staring at a blank wall emptying my mind.
And Celia and I have resumed our out of town walking. So three Saturdays, three walks. The middle walk was fairly close to home, but one I will gladly do again. I had thought I might write and post photos of all three tonight. Then I downloaded thirty-one pictures from yesterday’s walk. The other two will either have to wait or not get written about. That would be a pity as this blog is essentially my diary, albeit with bits of my life expurgated to protect myself and others.
The first thing to say is that we didn’t get lost. Celia and I have such a track record of getting lost (and thus finding unexpected delights before we find our way again) I feel that needs to be said. The second is this not the first walk, or even the second we planned to do yesterday morning. The first was discarded because of transport problems. The second I printed out and helpfully left on the window sill at home. It started from Otford and finished at Eynsford. Celia was keen to see Shoreham. On the train we found an Otford circular via Shoreham. Bingo.
The forecast said it would be cloudy all day, and that is how it started. having climbed a steepish hill we looked at the view and saw a white cross on the opposite hillside at Shoreham.
But soon we were shading our eyes and grateful to walk through woods filled with filtered sunlight. Celia is a bit of fungi fan, so this specimen, glowing in isolation caught and held our attention for several minutes. What is is it?
We walked across fields, past barns, were warned, were objects of curiosity, saw views down valleys. I think my favourite bit, and there were so many good bits it’s hard to choose, was when we entered a wooded paddock where a notice warned of us of hardy animals kept there to help with the bio culture. I was expecting sheep, maybe ponies, perhaps highland cattle or llamas. But we had barely walked a few yards into the paddock when there was the noise of hooves and animals coming down the path and three very healthy looking bullocks came to check us out. They were curious, not aggressive, but I wondered if their curiosity might put us in danger. We stopped. They stopped. Hello, I said, we’ve come in friendship. We don’t want to harm you. I’m vegan. Celia isn’t.
Celia may hold that against me to the end of my days.
One of the bullocks mooed. It was like a summons. More crashing through the greenery and a lot more cattle appeared. They stared at us then made up the hill. It seemed for a while they were tracking us along a higher path that ran parallel to ours. I’d love to be one of the volunteers who checks on them. What fun, what a privilege, to get to know them as individuals. Just before we left the paddock there was another long loud moo. It sounded like the all clear.
Friday again already. Unbelievable. The week has flown by. The opera was great last Saturday, both music and venue, both of which got good reviews in The Guardian. And that’s not even starting on the good company. Celia and I hatched a last minute plan to go walking on Sunday. We plumped for a walk we have done several times which takes in the cemetery where my great grandmother and Lewis Carol are buried, views across to Guildford cathedral, farmland, woodland, Watts Gallery, uphills and downhills, horses in fields, a country pile, a lake, the river Wey, and, most importantly for this time of year, blackberries.
We ended at a pub which used to be called the Jolly Farmer and is now I think called The Weyside, drank our half pints of cider, shared a packet of crisps, and got the train back to London. It was good. Monday, being a bank holiday, was grey and dull. I felt no regrets about getting on with paperwork. Work on Tuesday, and suddenly it’s Friday again. Michèle lent me a book called The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell. It was published in 1938 and has been republished as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. After Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, the change of style took a few chapters for me to find the rhythm. There was quite a lot of ‘ere, and, laarst, to conjure the accents of the Rotherhithe community. At first this grated, but I got over it and would happily read more by her. However, although Michèle lent me two further books from the series they are both by different writers, both new to me. I am just embarking on Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert. For fans of detective fiction, this series is a goldmine.
B&J, Celia, Mr Celia, Hartley, Romeo and I convened in the garden this evening over a bottle or two of wine.
There was more than a suggestion of autumn in the air.
Actually this was useful as tomorrow evening we are all, save Mr Celia who’ll be at the Cricket, off to an outdoor event, listening to Octavia’s niece singing in a Handel opera. Celia found her layers wanting within minutes, and although Hartley was doing his best to warm her by sitting on her knee, one of my fleeces was needed. I was trying out a combo of jumper (US sweater) and body warmer, which worked for the most part but there was a bit of a cool patch between the bottom of the warmer and the waistband of my jeans. B&J were rugged up. So it was something of a warmth dress rehearsal. I plan to take a blanket with me, possibly a flask, a quilt might be going too far. Maybe not.
It was lovely to have the gang reunited. Pre-Covid, Celia and Mr Celia hardly knew B&J. Now Celia says she can’t imagine life without them. They have all been wonderful carers of MasterB when I have been away in Ireland or more recently at das Boot. There are moments when the look in MasterB’s eye suggests he is wondering when I shall be away again so he can have the love and attention he deserves. Nothing in the diary at the moment, but there is Uncle Bill’s 100th in October.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, which is a reminder that there are worse things than Covid 19. I remember the date as it was also our wire haired dachshund’s birthday. Obviously she was born much later. The fact that we continue to manufacture and stockpile nuclear weapons, and some regimes have made it clear they are happy to deploy them, is also a reminder how callous and cruel human beings can be. Much of the time animals are much better company. Not that our dachshund was angelic. Like most of her breed she was stubborn and opinionated. A big dog in a small disguise.
Yesterday I rang the vet practice to make an appointment for MasterB’s boosters and annual check up. The receptionist exclaimed that she loved his name, and then referred to him as an older animal. Older? MasterB? No one has told him. He may be in his eleventh year but he still thinks he’s a youngster, a rather large kitten. But her words made me blink and wonder how many more years I have with him. Last year the vet pronounced him to be in perfect shape, perfect health, to have a perfect coat, to be simply perfect in every way. I had to agree. Now I just want him to stay that way.