The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th December 2021

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.

Lily

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.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 2nd December 2021

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.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 29th November 2021: Omicron Days

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.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st November 2021

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.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th September 2021

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?

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 19th September 2021

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.

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The Coronavirus Diaries 16th September 2021

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.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th September 2021

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.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 3rd September 2021

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.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 1st August 2021

One more breakfast in Northern Ireland before I go home. Today was beautiful, bright sunshine and cool winds. Pretty perfect. We walked around Lough Beg this afternoon, admired the carvings of fox, badger and stoat, watched a calf digging in a sandpit – a first for all of us – gazed at the view of Church Island, and read the extracts from Seamus Heaney’s poems.

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin Mary’s son Richard was doing the same walk with his wife. They saw two women who they took to be mother and daughter taking picnic of each other in front of the view. Richard asked if they would like him to take a picture of both them. They did. Afterwards the four chatted. The older woman was Marie Heaney, Seamus’ widow, and the younger their daughter Catherine.

This evening’s walk was also lovely, though for half of it I had the company of Joshua, Cousin’s twelve-year-old grandson, or the Incredible Whinge, as I was calling him by the time Cousin came to take him away from me and leave me and the dogs to enjoy our walk without constant complaints about how far we were walking and how long it was taking. I hadn’t made him come, and when we were barely out of sight of the house and he talked of turning back I should willingly have accompanied him and then resumed the walk on my own. I’ll know next time he says he’ll walk with me to run out of the house before he has his shoes on.

We met Poppy Junior, the gorgeous young retriever, on the way back. All dogs were excited. Westie Boy so far forgot his manners he tried to mount her. Fortunately he is neutered and she seemed to have no idea what he was attempting. Poppy the Labrador wagged her tail, greeted Poppy Junior’s young mistress. If we had had somewhere we could have let all three dogs off the lead to play it could have been wonderful. As it was there were a series of frustrated play bows.

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