In Which Celia and Isobel Go for a Walk in Search of Bluebells

I have so many posts half composed in my head, but unwritten and unposted: stray cats, blogging v WhatsApp, Brexit (again), amazing books, homelessness, climate crisis, MasterB. You get the picture. Maybe in time. But tonight, as we come to the end of Easter weekend, and the sun is shining, the blossom is still blossoming, the air has a gentle, mellow air, quite at odds with the political climate, I want to write about yesterday’s walk in Surrey.

Above the town

Above the town

Farm building

Farm building

Lush

Lush

I was born in Surrey and grew up there. I took its hills, its green fields, its bluebell woods for granted. You still get to enjoy these things in Surrey when your parents aren’t stockbrokers.

Bluebells

Bluebells

In leaf

In leaf

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Notre Dame

I imagine many people woke up this morning thinking about Notre Dame de Paris. I know I did. I was taking a break from watching the news last night, but saw a tweet by @janh1 which alerted me to the disaster. Fire is something I dread, and to see the flames leaping skywards, the black smoke moving across the spring sky, was horrific. Channel 4 news was taking calls from eye witnesses, trying to put together a picture of what was happening. The moment when the spire fell was heart wrenching. Parisiens and visitors to the city stood side by side, watching, helpless. But there is solidarity in a crowd, and at some moment someone must have started singing, and suddenly the internet was full of videos made on mobile ‘phones of the crowd en masse singing Ave Maria as Paris’ cathedral burned. It was beautiful, it was moving, it was intensely sad.

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Why flavour a condom?

Having a bit of a sofa slump this evening after a good, but long, day at work, and catching up on last night’s tv. First up, Gogglebox which had me corpsing with the reviewers as they watched Fizz, three of the four person line up which was the eminently forgettable Bucks Fizz., then gasping with shock and shame at the terrible crisis walruses are in thanks to man made climate change. Of course of not just walruses, and it was a very sobering moment at the end of a programme which had been light and frothy. Then on to Let’s talk about sex, a programme about sex education down the years, with excerpts of past sex ed films being shown to parents and adolescent and pre adolescent children. Danny Dyer and his eleven-year-old daughter Sunnie, are for me the stars of the show. When Sunnie learns her father and her mother were having sex at fourteen, her face is an oh of shock, swiftly followed by asking him if they used protection. He looks at his hand and rubs his nails against his trouser leg as he affirms. You just know he’s lying. Here’s the clip.This is followed by a discussion on how old she should be before she has sex for the first time. Thirty, says Danny. She bargains, beating him down to twenty-two, he’s ready to get her sign the contract. Another glorious moment is when they see an info film about condoms, and different flavours are mentioned. Again her eyes widen; flavoured? Why would you flavour a condom? Her father’s discomfiture should be bottled. Continue reading

Keeping it Sane

It’s been a busy week and a productive one. No, I am not talking about Brexit, though a new extension has been granted by the long-suffering EU until October. It sounds a good amount of time, six whole months, but once you subtract the days the house isn’t sitting it’s more like three. Mark Francois has made an arse of himself (again) by making threats to the EU and reading poetry aloud very badly, yet some people think he should lead the Tory party. Hello? Theresa May, whose air miles must be enough to get her to the moon and back by now, returned to the house and made the same speech again. Is it obstinacy, lack of imagination, or a plan to just wear people down? She does an aggressive upward look, reminiscent of Princess Diana, across the floor of the house to anyone who dares contradict her. Whatever the question was, Brexit is not the answer. Tonight, when the news was on, I deliberately left the room to avoid seeing the Farago announcing his new Brexit party with Jacob Rees-Mogg’s sister Annunziata on side as a prospective candidate. Some huge percentage of the adult population says it is suffering from Brexit related stress and anxiety. Tell me about it. I wake up from dreams about it.
Anyway, it’s Friday night and time for a bit of a break, though I fully intend to watch Have I Got News For You at nine o’clock, and I have already listened to the News Quiz. It’s like a itch I can’t help scratching. As though Brexit anxiety wasn’t enough, I have been worried about MasterB for the last couple of days. He has been under the weather, sleeping hugely, not nagging me much to play, taking only a cursory interest in his food. This morning, before I went to work, I rang the vet practice and talked to one of the nurses, describing his symptoms. If she told me to keep a close eye on things once, she told me a dozen times. Being Chief Litter Tray Monitor, I am well versed in MasterB’s bowel movements. Normally his digestive system functions admirably well, just the odd pungent smell from his hind quarters when he is sitting beside me, or the popping sound of wind breaking in tiny bursts. So I was able to say that yesterday’s deposit was less solid than usual. Today’s was even less solid than yesterday’s, so it seems something has upset his tum. I’m hoping he’s on the mend now as he has just led me to the kitchen and had a few mouthfuls of the wet food in his bowl, and his interest in biscuits has definitely returned. So long as it’s nothing serious, a few days of restricted calories might be just what he needs to shift the stubborn superfluous 500g he’s carrying.

 

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In Which Celia and Isobel Visit Woolwich: the Third and Final Part

I think it’s about time I wrapped up the Woolwich visit, or another month will have passed.

The contrast between the couth regenerated area of Woolwich Arsenal and the main shopping drag is marked. Plenty of shops catering for those without a huge amount of disposable income; fast food outlets, garish colours. A huge branch of Tesco, a Primark, a Wilkinson’s, A TK Maxx; no sign of a Marks and Spencer. Oh but some of the buildings were grand, and the evidence of independent shops representing the ethic diversity of Woolwich is heartening. Give me a Turkish deli over a mini Waitrose any day.

The old co-op building caught our eyes and we gazed up at the statue of Robert Mackay who seems to have held every senior position in the venture. I had all but forgotten Woolwich’s strong association with the co-operative movement.RACS are initials familiar from childhood, but I can’t say when I saw them last.

The Woolwich Arsenal Cooperative Society

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Across the street two more buildings in a sorry state were also once part of the RACS. We couldn’t make it out at the time, but my photograph, when enlarged on my laptop, showed the motto Each For All and All For Each. Not Thatcherites then.

Almost Derelict

Each For All and All For Each

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In Which Celia and Isobel Visit Woolwich, Part Two

I realise I need to reel back to the barrier bit of our our afternoon.

You can see the barrier from the station platform at Pontoon Dock. There are worse views. We were a bit puzzled by the hedges which at first sight suggested a maze, then waves, and provided some children with great hide and seek opportunities. It also made it feel quite private as we walked the length of it.

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It turns out the waves are to remind us of the docks, but they also provide a micro climate which encourages a variety of plants and wildlife.

Now I’ll skip back to Woolwich. Beyond the market square there’s a busy road with vehicles of all types roaring along it, and an estate agent branch of a well known swanky firm. We were about to find out why. We had reached the Arsenal, the original home of the football team, now associated with north London, but born down in se18.

The football team

The military used to be in these buildings, but now they have been, as the increasingly heard phrase goes, repurposed. I should say it was shortly after entering this repurposed area that we met Ben for the first time. Or rather Celia did. I missed the moment but turned around from studying the statue of Nike to see she was playing a game of catch with a small boy with curly dark hair, a winning smile and a very inaccurate grasp of how catch is played. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, one person throws an object, often a ball, sometimes a bean bag, in this case a small plastic toy, to another person who catches it. When the thrower throws the object in an entirely different direction from the person who is in the catching role, the game loses some of its flow. I made a lucky catch when by some miracle Ben launched the toy in my direction, returned the toy to him, and we moved on.

Nike

As with the barrier park, what was striking was the feeling of space. The buildings are low, the ground between them well tended. Military space has become residential and leisure space. Work is going on for Crossrail, the Elizabeth Line making Woolwich to central London journey times impressively quick.

New Railway

Elizabeth Line

Our experience of being on the edge of a regeneration zone where Berkeley Homes is involved made us a tad cynical. For all Berkeley and the other developers trumpet the mantra of creating community, their goal is to make money. The communities they want to build are not the people already living in the area, but newcomers with money.

Military History Rended Nostalgic

History as a marketing

Community

An area’s history is sanitised and repackaged in a golden nostalgic vision of the past. I can’t say it’s not seductive. But in our local area I have seen history boards that play fast and loose with neighbourhood boundaries, and where uncomfortable parts of the history are edited out. I imagine it’s the same in Woolwich.

Still, I began to think that MasterB and I could quite happily relocate, and Celia very generously said she’d allow me to live in Woolwich.

Among the older buildings are new blocks of flats. But it was this building which inspired our first real surge of property envy.

Property Envy

Nice Front Door

Later we learned the service charges are £5,500 pa. I currently pay £1,000 in service charges.

The museum has closed and is to relocate. It occupied an enviably large space, no doubt now destined to become flats. This underlines one f the conflicts of regeneration, where conservation and archives collide with profit. It’s the ideal place to have a museum telling the story of the area’s past, but the economic argument wins each time because we place a higher value on money than we do on education.

This was Woolwich

I am very doubtful about giving the responsibility for telling history into the hands of people whose prime motivation is to make money from it. Inconvenient truths can be lost very quickly.

To be relocated

Once the museum

We peered through the windows into the empty spaces beyond. It reminds both of us of the naval dockyard at Chatham. Who knows if that might yet be turned into desirable homes.
Naturally there is some public art, and a fair amount of ordinance lying about, now less defensive than ornamental. Children climbed on cannons.

Engine Mount (don’t ask me, I don’t know)

Assembly, Peter Burke Assembly, Peter Burke

Cannon Balls

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In Which Celia and Isobel Visit Woolwich, Part One

Brexit has sapped me of energy so completely I thought I might be coming down with some ghastly lurgy. Not even the birth of a new baby in the family on Friday was enough to revitalise me.
However, a trip to SE18 was wonderfully restorative.
We set out after lunch for the Thames Barrier. There’s a great deal of redevelopment by the park on the north side of the Thames next to the barrier, but even so, what struck us was how quiet it was, how calm. Compared to our patch of inner city, this was spacious and unpopulated. I felt I could live with views like these of the river.

Thames Barrier

Rays of God

Exposed Foreshore

A tug bringing empty containers came up the river to the barrier, passed through and beyond, making for the City. This containers are filled with London’s rubbish and towed away to be burned, buried or composted.

Tug and Containers

Nearing the Barrier


There was one block of flats we both agreed was very stylish, the design owing something to an ocean going liner of the Queen Mary type. Oddly I didn’t photograph it. I made friends with a young cockapoo called Dobey who was finding his first spring immensely exciting, and Celia sat and listened to the birds and the quiet. A pair of magpies were carrying on a conversation with each other, one bird in a tree, the other perched on a balcony. Continue reading

Prescient

Some people are saying they had no idea the country would be in reduced to such a state by the 2016 referendum and its result.

Where were they looking? What were they thinking? I have a little crystal ball someone gave me but I have never managed to see anything in it. But clicking on the related posts after the last one I wrote, I was struck at how prescient they were. Which suggests to me it was all pretty obvious then as I am no political pundit. Mind you I didn’t foresee Theresa May being praised for her heroic sacrifice of her career, praise that she put the country first because of her strong sense of duty. Call me naive, but I should expect any Prime Minister’s first priority, first loyalty, to be to the country, not their own career path. Perhaps that is why we are in the state we’re in now with Boris Johnson or Michael Gove being talked about as future Prime Minsiters, people we know have no scruples and enormous ambition. Theresa May has been quite happy to sacrifice 48% of voters who took part in the referendum, to sacrifice honesty and fair dealing by upholding the result and calling the dirty dealing regrettable, quite happy to sacrifice jobs and livelihoods of people who already have less than little.
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Back to Brexit

You would think that there had been no march on Saturday, no five million plus signatures on a petition asking for Article 50 to be revoked. Europe is talking about it, the world is talking about it, the UK government isn’t. No. The day after the march our esteemed Prime Minister met renowned Brexiteer MPs, people who would be quite happy to leave the EU with no deal. The Prime Minister followed this meeting up with a speech where she spoke about the British People (yep, they’re being evoked again but apparently my birth certificate lies and I am not one of them) and how they would not countenance not leaving the EU. No mention of the march, the petition, the fact that the referendum was advisory and not binding, and had it been binding it would have been declared void because of illegal activity by the Leave campaign.
Not. A. Word.
There’s the usual baloney about respecting the ‘will of the people’ respecting ‘the result of the referendum’. Nothing about respecting those who march peacefully, who follow the rules, who do not threaten civil disruption, public mayhem if this goes ahead, who engage in debate not rhetoric and meaningless slogans. Continue reading

Pet Remembrance Day

The Big Cat

Freddy


Despite the pictures of the Big Cat and Freddy, the story I am about to tell is about a dog. Or rather two dogs. I never met them, but I was telling a neighbour the other day that tonight I shall be lighting a candle to place in the window and remembering Cat and many other animals I have known and loved.
This neighbour knew Cat and expressed surprise that it was already eight years since his death. In all the time I have known her she has never had a pet. I didn’t know she had ever had one at all. It turns out she had. This is her story of her two dogs, Digby and Shane. Continue reading