My work took me out into the cold of the day. I didn’t make any money, today was prep, taking photographs, making the most of the blue skies. Rain is forecast tomorrow. I walked between Park Lane and Bayswater, traversing Hyde Park. London is rich in parks, and although I have visited Hyde Park many times, I can’t truly say I know it. It is vast. I walked through bits I knew, then bits I didn’t recognise to more bits I knew. It was lovely.
After Bayswater it was back through the park to Belgravia, a part of London I don’t like much. It’s all big white houses which look alike to me. A bit of luck as I left the park, the Horseguards, Lifeguards in their red, were making their way back to their barracks and stables. These are sights I missed during lockdown. The daily panoply of pomp with beautiful beautiful horses.
The woman intent on her ‘phone did not deserve the black Labrador politely nudging her leg to ask her to throw his ball. A less polite dog would have looked around the circle of grass and seen there were other humans paying attention to their dogs, throwing things for their dogs, talking to them, patting them, and left her to her little screen in search of a new significant person. Me perhaps.
Celia and I had finally found a spot to eat our respective lunches. She had a neat plastic box with sandwiches and bits and bobs, I had a falafel wrap I bought in a branch of Sainsbury’s just after we left Wandsworth Cemetery. We’d walked some way since then, following the Wandle Trail which is bizarrely almost devoid of anywhere to sit. There was one bench and it had a nice view, but it was in the shade and yesterday was cold. Just how cold I think we both realised when we stopped moving and sat down to eat our lunch. I’d vetoed a couple of places Celia had suggested. Somehow lunching with a view of a depot of refuse trucks on the opposite bank did not meet any of my criteria for fine dining. Then there was a depot of builders’ lorries. Fortunately Celia spotted the bench in sunshine just away from the path and we settled there. While we ate, a man, a woman and a child turned up and started planting bulbs beside us. This being Wandsworth not Walworth they did not speak to us, nor we to them. I was in Battersea today, also part of Wandsworth, and only one person responded to my smiled hello. A young couple with a baby and another black Labrador – black Labrador ownership seems very high in Wandsworth which has to be an indication of at least some good qualities – looked at me as though I might be an axe murderer disguised as a woman at the edge of her prime having a very bad hair day. The one person who spoke to me had two dachshunds. Wandsworth is also rich in this breed of dog.
The forecast for the weekend had not been promising. If you only had one word to describe it that word would be cold. Add sleet to Saturday’s forecast, and you’ll understand why we thought Sunday the better day for our excursion. The cold combined with increasingly short days steered our attention to a shorter walk closer to home. The Ramblers’ website turned up quite a few self guided routes, and we plumped for one between Balham to Wimbledon just over five miles long.
Balham has gone upmarket in recent decades. It’s a place of coffee shops, shops selling expensive baby clothes, a branch of Planet Organic. There is a branch of Aldi, another of Lidl, so not everyone can be well heeled, but it certainly gives off an air of comfortable middle classness nowadays. The charity shops are excellent.
We turned away from the tube station and into a network of roads I have never visited. Some very grand houses. We looked. I stared. Then in minutes we were down a track and walking parallel to the railway on a part of Wandsworth Common entirely new to me. The skies were blue, the dog walkers were out, we were wrapped up. All was well.
Celia got a cup of coffee and I used the loo at a café we both agreed we would not be visiting again. Then more Wandsworth Common, more blue skies, more dogs, and a bench to sit where Celia finished her coffee and we both watched a group (a flock? how many birds does it need to be a flock?) of pigeons having a communal bath, a tern watching them and looking bemused.
From the walk notes we learned the common was despoiled by Spencer family, as in the Earls Spencer, the current one being the brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they set out to exploit the common as thoroughly as they could, cutting down trees, extracting gravel, creating illegal enclosures. One oft repeated claim made by the landed gentry is that they protect and preserve the land. Wandsworth Common may be the exception which proves the rule, but somehow I rather doubt it.
Brrr. We have had such a mild autumn the sudden drop in temperature which makes it clear Winter has arrived is an unwelcome shock. Cold weather is seldom something I enjoy, but this year with hikes in fuel prices it is even less welcome. I don’t like a hot home. I prefer to add layers rather than strip off in overheated rooms, and the climate crisis makes such choices greater than wondering if I can pay the bills.
The very idea of climbing into a fragile, overcrowded boat and crossing even a narrow river in this weather would terrify me, and I don’t think I’d be alone. So what horrors are people who are prepared to try to cross the English Channel in such conditions fleeing? It really doesn’t take much imagination to understand that if you are ready to take such risks, you don’t have a comfortable safe home to return to. Yet our government and many people in these islands talk of migrants and refugees as though they are heading for the UK attracted by the idea of a welfare state that will care for them, that it’s a considered choice and one that is casually taken. Refugees are fleeing situations where they face torture and death. Norman Tebbitt MP famously told people in this country to get on their bikes and look for work outside their home area. It’s a refrain reworked with similar words by politicians today. Unless of course your search for work and a living wage means you come to the UK from elsewhere. Then you are an economic migrant, a phrase loaded with disdain. Nobody climbs into an overcrowded boat to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane in winter to come to the UK if they have positive choices at home.
I have just reached for what is probably my oldest poetry book, or rather the one I have had the longest, When We Were Very Young by AA Milne. Some lines from a poem in it I liked when I was a child were going round my head, but I couldn’t quite remember how it went. The poem is Puppy and I. When I reread it I knew why it had it been in my thoughts.
Celia and I went walking yesterday. It was a dull morning and it got no brighter as the hours went by, but that didn’t stop us enjoying our walk, and we met a lot of puppies. Puppies and adult dogs who were all expressing their joy in that uniquely canine way; a joy that is gloriously infectious. You’d have to be pretty jaded not to smile. My favourites were a young yellow Labrador called Zelda who would have liked to say hello only there were so many wonderful, interesting smells that she simply had to investigate first, and the older golden Retriever who on seeing Zelda, approached her on the leaf strewn path in a semi crawl, her tail wagging furiously, finishing with an ecstatic play bow.
We left Waterloo on the 9.30 train to Guildford where we changed platforms to travel one stop to Wanborough. A claggy footpath across a field left our boots (and my trousers, Celia seems a cleaner walker) filthy and heavy. I used my walking pole to keep me from slipping. Celia would probably have used hers too had she not left it on the second train. We spent a few minutes at the end of the next field cleaning some of the mud off. Then it was just a step to Wanborough’s Great Barn and church. The church was open and tiny. It looked as though it was still lit with gas lighting. We read the leaflet, mooched in the churchyard, gazed at the Manor House next door, a house opposite it, and then set off again.
The next section was up a slope, through an avenue of yew trees. At the top we faced a daunting task, crossing a dual carriageway to a central section and then another dual carriageway on the other side. The traffic was steady. We were joined by a man who was more comfortable with the crossing than we were. We all survived, but had the morning be shrouded in mist or low lying fog, I think I should have happily turned back.
Once across though we were in the Greyfriars Vineyard. The man strode ahead while we read the information panels and admired the view. We dawdled through the vineyard stopping to see which grapes were grown where. There was a sign to a shop. Neither of us felt prepared to buy a bottle of wine this early in the walk to carry home, but Celia had the bright idea that they might sell wine by the glass. We were so intent on this we missed the sign about the vet rehabilitation and hydrotherapy referrals, so were somewhat surprised to find ourselves looking at a swimming pool where a German Shepherd was being encouraged to exercise. It seemed reluctant at first, but toys did the trick, and soon it was reaching a paw out to the physiotherapist when she stopped to talk to its owner to nudge her into more play.
The shop was open, but alas wine not sold by the glass. Celia got into shopping mode and bought several champagne stoppers as Christmas stocking fillers, and we both bought small bars of organic vegan chocolate. The young woman who cheerfully invited us in despite our mud encrusted boots told us how the vineyard had been started as a hobby by two vets who had the practice some thirty ago.
A few squelchy bits of path followed, but nothing like the early field. Then through some woods, over a manicured golf course, more woods and past a house called Questors which looked like it could feature in an Agatha Christie novel, and onto the North Downs Way. We were heading for the A3, but fortunately we went under it rather than risking our lives crossing the carriageway. Before long we reached Watts Gallery where we ate our packed lunches at the picnic tables before going into the café for cake, and in Celia’s case, coffee. We managed to resist buying anything in the shop, though I rather fell in love with a coat I definitely don’t need.
Big news: I am plaster cast free. Oh the joy. My wrist is stiff and a bit sore, I have to make sure I don’t lift heavy objects, I have a splint to wear when I am not exercising or engaged in an undemanding activity, and my sling is still a good idea when I am out and about.
I had been trying not have my hopes too high before attending fracture clinic this morning. Obviously I wanted the X-rays to show everything was healing well, but I didn’t want to pre-empt anything and come crashing down in disappointment. The waiting area is airy and light. We are all spaced out, or rather the seats are. Some patients might have been actually spaced out, I shouldn’t like to say. Michèle had been there yesterday. I don’t think there’s a way we can make our appointments chime, though it would be nice. Instead I wondered if I were sitting where she had sat yesterday (no, she was in the area reserved for wheelchair users), and that made me wonder about a series of narratives, tales of different people sitting in the same spot throughout the day.
I settled down to read more of The Sun is Open by Gail McConnell. Two weeks ago I became suddenly a fan, having previously been entirely ignorant of her work. It was while I was in Northern Ireland. Two days after Uncle Bill’s 100th, there were the annual John Hewitt Birthday Readings. For a while I have thought I’d like to attend, and that thought was cemented last year when Roger Robinson and Sinead Morrissey did the readings and had a discussion online. So Fiona and I had tickets. Only Fiona was not well, so I attended alone.
What a friendly welcoming bunch the John Hewitt lot are. A lovely man, very dapper and with silver hair took my name and made me welcome. I didn’t recognise his name, but it turns out he’s a literary agent and an actor. We were chatting, and he told me Tome French, one of the poets, was already inside ( I was the first member of the audience to arrive having allowed myself lots of time as I didn’t know where the venue was and thought it more than likely I should get lost). I picked up a book of poems by another of the poets Siobhan Campbell and was immediately taken by her work. Lucky perhaps, as she arrived while I was reading it. I bought two books of her poems as gifts, and decided to leave it there. The third poet arrived, Gail McConnell, dressed in black but with a bright yellow checked jacket.
I recognised some members of the audience from other literary events I have enjoyed down the years. People were talking to each other and it would have been easy to have felt excluded, but somehow I didn’t. It was as though I was included, though silently in the warm embrace of the John Hewitt Society.
It was a small audience, an intimate audience. I settled down in my seat. As it was in a lecture theatre at the university there was a comfortable ledge to rest my beslinged arm and throw my coat. I didn’t take notes. The lights dimmed. The evening began. The poets read in alphabetical order, so Siobhan was up first, then Tom, then Gail. I am not actually on first name terms with the poets, but I think if I were to move to Belfast I might be soon.
It’s dark by six o’clock, I have seen at least one pub decorated with holly and fake snow, restaurants are taking bookings for office Christmas parties, but most significantly The Ginger Ninja 2022 calendar has arrived. I shall check out the postage costs tomorrow and post them on the Ginger Ninja calendar page here. If you are interested, let me know and I’ll put your name on the list.