The summer solstice. The longest day of the year. After tonight autumn beckons. Still, we have a few more weeks of long light evenings to enjoy before the Christmas merchandise appears in the shops. Tonight we celebrated with Celia and Charlie in their garden. In fact they are probably still celebrating, with various neighbours and friends dropping by, enjoying a glass or several, plunge into the nibbles and relax in good company and chat. A friendly neighbourhood is a wonderful, wondrous thing. Like a good woman, or indeed a good man, it is above rubies.
I’d put a good cat above rubies too. MasterB is out in the garden. I left him rolling luxuriously on the paving stones. He has at last decided that my neighbour Simon is not the devil incarnate, but a perfectly nice human being, and has stopped shrinking to the floor or running away when they meet and instead approaches Simon with his tail held high. It’s good to see the boys bond. What MasterB has not understood is that Simon’s heart belongs to Hartley. I understand it’s the first time he has ever really got to know a cat, and it’s love. ❤️💕💖💕❤️. I was the same with Cat when he marched into my life. Taken by surprise, amazed, enchanted and fascinated, completely enthralled, smitten. Animals, when they choose to interact with you, to befriend you, have an extraordinary effect. They can unsettle you; tip you over, change the way you view the world. Four paws and a tail is all it takes.
Celia’s birthday today and the countdown to our trip to Bellaghy and Belfast via the glamour that is Luton Airport begins. Celia is out tonight with her husband and daughter but we met up this afternoon. Not perhaps the most obvious birthday celebratory gig, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.
I have two small stools with seagrass woven seats. They were gifts from my godparents to my sister and myself back when the world and we were young. I presume my sister didn’t want hers and so it was left with my parents who handed it, along with the one that was mine, to me when I moved to this flat. The years have left their mark. The seagrass is broken in parts, the legs are looking scruffy. I thought I should like to get them repaired and spruced up, maybe to pass to the great nieces. The first price I was quoted was exorbitant, but the second was more reasonable.
A deal was agreed, and today it was time to hand over the first of the stools to John at his allotment which just happens to be at a site both Celia and I have peered at through the wire fence. We walked the short route in April sunshine and began a half hour of magic.
I can hear rain against the windows, but the shutters are closed, candles lit, MasterB asleep on the chair, his nose tucked into his tail. We are cosy and warm. I am listening to A Mediaeval Carol Service from St Bartholomew the Great. It took place a few days ago, but is available to listen to and watch online courtesy of YouTube. I recommend it. Earlier I went for a walk before seeing Michèle for a glass of wine in her flat. She’s been home for over a week now, her ankle getting stronger daily, and she’s obviously loving being back in her own territory.
While I walked I was thinking about Christmas, this year and last, both shadowed by COVID but feeling very different. In 2020 we were making the best of things, not allowed to travel, so nearly all the neighbours were around. We were in it together. It was cold but dry and bright. We could meet outside, observe social distancing, exchange cards and gifts over a glass of something bubbly. But COVID has become a virus of attrition and it feels this year we are wearier, less inclined to find ways to be imaginative in our celebrations, more inward looking.
We’re getting good at this, and into something of a rhythm. I know it will be broken in a couple of weeks when the whole Christmas thing is at its height, but today Celia and I again headed out with boots, packed lunches, backpacks and waterproofs to a neighbourhood in London unlike our own.
Celia is the Walks Directions Chief, and today we did the walk backwards. I would have struggled with this, so fortunately my part was simply printing the route and putting it inside a plastic folder. While I was breakfasting the rain was hammering against the windows, and the wind was shaking the trees. A walk seemed unlikely. Then miraculously it stopped raining, the wind dropped and I changed my nightwear for leggings, several top layers and two pairs of socks.
A few weeks ago we were surprised to find ourselves watching a German Shepherd having a hydrotherapy session in a building we had thought was selling wine. Today we met a standard poodle called Lily who is having hydrotherapy at another facility following amputation of a hind leg due to cancer.
She wasn’t the only dog we saw. Along the river path there were lots of mucky, wet dogs. Dogs running with their owners, dogs rushing down to the water to chase the ducks, dogs sniffing at interesting things in the grass. Some of the owners smiled, a couple said hello. Others looked straight ahead as though we didn’t exist. Lily’s owner was the friendliest and chatted for several minutes about her pet’s ordeal, courage and the benefits of hydrotherapy. Her leg was amputated just fourteen short weeks ago. She’s nine, a sweetheart, a hero and her owners obviously love her to bits.
We set off from Hammersmith station, crossed Hammersmith Bridge, and spent a fair few minutes hearing coxes shouting at teams of rowers through loud hailers. Some of the crews were flying along, aided by the flow of the tide. The path was neither one thing nor the other, semi asphalt and quite tiring to walk along. The little fungi we saw was huge, as though to make up for lack of variety. It was a relief to leave it and walk on fallen leaves at the edge of the nature reserve we had managed to largely miss. Swans and geese gathered at the edge of the water. Why there, and in such numbers Celia wondered. Maybe that’s where people feed them. A flat had a model of a cow on the balcony. A goose sat sentinel on a tree.
It began to rain. Rain was not forecast. We grumbled a little, but not much, which was fortunate as it soon stopped, started again later, stopped again. We read plaques on benches, looked at door knockers, read information boards, admired Gustav Holst’s and Ninette De Valois’s houses, recrossed the river at Barnes, and had lunch in a shelter looking at an empty bandstand.
The notes told us to look for a sculpture of storks on a nest. It didn’t say why the sculpture was there. Anyway, we found it; then a sign to a food market where I bought some biscuits, Celia bought some radishes, Celia used the loo and I met Lily. To my mind, this was the point where the walk picked up and became more interesting.
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.
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.
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.
It’s odd, or perhaps interesting is the word I want, the things that give you street cred. In my case it’s never going to be my clothes or anything else about my appearance, though in my defence I can claim to have been a precursor of several clothing trends: Levi shrink to fit straight leg jeans when everyone else was in flares, a tweedy jacket several seasons before they featured on catwalks, and Adidas Stan Smiths decades before they became the in footwear. All of these were accidental, driven by economy and thrift.
Today was different. I was walking home from MCQ, a wonderful treasure trove of a shop owned by Clyde, and Mary Portus’ idea of a vision from hell. I was carrying my newly repaired amp. A man sitting outside a café on the Walworth Road beamed a huge smile at me and made continuous eye-contact. “NAD,” he said, “A 3020. Nice. Very nice.” I was beaming myself as I continued my journey home.
Some simple interactions like this can do so much to lift the spirits. I don’t think I’d recognise the man if I met him tomorrow, and I reckon unless I was again carrying my amp, he wouldn’t even notice me.
My MCQ collection was just one of the things of my to do list. I was working via Zoom in the morning so at home, tied to phone and internet. The flat needed cleaning. With the windows open these past weeks the amount of dust is startling. I am very glad I do not have asthma. I took some fabric to Rocket Van. They are going to photograph it for me to include in the virtual yard sales. They have turned down my Tourlet Lulu. I am realising people are prissy about second hand portable toilets, however little they have been used and however much they have been cleaned and disinfected. I’d hate it to end up in landfill, so I shall have to keep trying. Anyone here who goes camping/glamping/champing or makes long car journeys where public toilets may not be available, or whose toilet is unusable thanks to building work, or if you are just having problems with an on-board toilet on your boat, please get in touch. I can share pictures.
Nearly midsummer, and the humidity has been building steadily this week. It was the upper twenties centigrade today but it felt oppressive rather than hot. Celia and I walked round to the book group’s alfresco poetry evening at a slow slow pace. The first drops of rain fell as we started, but they were pleasant and occasional. Then the rain got going. Umbrellas appeared, I put on my waterproof poncho and hid my books underneath it. The water pooled in my lap. After two rounds we called it a night and returned the chairs and cushions to the TRA House. Maybe a rerun in a couple of weeks. Already the air feels fresher, and there is no wind so the windows are wide open and no rain is coming in. Storms are forecast for tonight and more rain tomorrow. I realise I should have rescued a couple of plant pots which are in wall planter with no drain holes. By morning the seedlings may have drowned.
It’s a week for exhibitions. I don’t know that I’ll get to Alice at the V&A, but tomorrow I shall be at the BM for Becket. Celia, Charlie and I shall travel together on the 68 bus, but my entry ticket is half an hour before theirs, so we shall tour separately. The last time I was at an exhibition with Charlie he was round it in half the time it took me. We are warned a third wave is either imminent or with us, so how long we can enjoy these cultural pursuits is questionable.
A month or so ago I hadn’t read anything by Maggie O’Farrell. Now I have read three of her novels and I am hungry for more. Today I finished The Vanishing act of Esme Lennox. It’s not as good as Hamnet, which is luminous, but it’s still a damn good read, and one which made me think.
I’m on a bit of a reading jag. Celia lent me me Never Leave the Dog Behind by Helen Mort, which I devoured in three sittings. As well as the Maggie O’Farrell I have started on Dog’s Best Friend by Simon Garfield – you may see a canine theme going on here, and I have dipped into the first few pages of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. A year ago I was struggling to read fiction. Right now it feels like an escape.
Toady I had to go to Mayfair. It was busy. The sun has finally got its act together and was shining merrily in blue, cloudless skies. On the buses the signs telling you to leave certain seats free have been removed. I was horrified when a young maskless women perched on the edge of the seat next to mine. There were quite a few young and youngish women, dressed to the nines, with fake tanned bodies, no masks, both on the bus and in Regent Street. Where were they off to at ten o’clock on a Saturday morning?