The Houdini of Hounslow #shortstory #lifeinagrainofsand

Hounslow Boys’ Home 1931

‘You ready?’

‘I ain’t sure, Jim.’

‘You comin’ or ain’t you?’

‘I suppose. I just never done nuffin’ like this.’

‘S’easy. Just grab the top of the wall.’

‘Oi! What are you boys doing?’

‘Oh cripes, it’s Wacko. Jim? Jim?’

He’d escaped. Like so many times. Over the wall, onto the path, dodging any obstacle. He laughed, the moon catching his smile. He’d pay. Of course, he’d pay, but the price was worth it for the feeling of being free.

47 Gracefield Terrace 1940

‘I’m not sure, Jim. Really. If my dad—’

‘Gie’s a kiss then.’

‘What if you don’t get back?’

‘I’m comin’ back, girl. Don’t you think otherwise.’

‘But if you didn’t and we hadn’t—’

‘Up to you. I don’t mind.’

‘We’ll be quick. Marje says you can’t get up the duff if you’re quick.’

‘Alright. Hold still.’

‘Ethel? What’s going on? Why are you talking?’

‘My dad. Oh God. Go!’

‘Hey! Is that Jim Patterson? Wait till I get my hands on the little bleeder.’

‘No chance, grandpa. See you, Ethel. Be careful.’

Jim fiddled with his fly as he ran. The old boy’s face’s a picture. Hope she doesn’t get too much a larruping for that. I’ll see her right when I get back.

Stalag XII 1944

‘You ready?’

‘Sure. It’s a twenty-seven second sweep. Two guards at eleven o’clock. Trees four hundred yards. No moon. Good luck everyone.’

‘Privates Patterson and Gilbert?’

‘Sir?’

‘Sir?’

‘Stick with me. I can speak some German. Easier that way.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘In ten, nine… GO!’

Jim ran in a semi-crouch, half an eye on the spotlight and half on the lieutenant. The lieutenant wasn’t helped by his gammy leg and began to fall behind when a shot rang out. The lieutenant crumpled with a groan.

Jim turned back.

‘Leave him, Jim. He’d want you to go on.’

Jim shook his head. ‘You go, Steve. Don’t worry, I’ll escape next time.’

‘How are you doing, sir?’

‘Patterson, what are you doing, you bloody fool. Get away.’

‘Let’s look at you, sir, before Jerry get here. Now try not to move.’

‘No good, Patterson.’

‘You’ll be as right a rain in a day, sir. Now let’s try and stop the bleedin’.’

Cries in German filled the air followed by a burst of machine gun fire and several shouts and cries. Then silence. He closed his eyes and squeezed the lieutenant’s hand.

Hounslow High Street 1946

‘Jim? Jim Patterson? Blimey. I heard you’d copped it.’

‘Ethel? Bloody hell, what happened to you?’

‘Ha! Always was the cheeky one. Four kids that’s what happened. Twins last year.’

‘Four! I didn’t know you wanted ‘em so much.’

Ethel squeezed his arm. ‘If Dad hadn’t interrupted us, I might’ve got lucky with you, eh? You might be their dad.’

Jim nodded slowly. ‘So, who’s the lucky fella?’

‘Archie Peasmore. He’s a teacher. Reserved occupation and short sighted. He wanted to fight, you know.’

‘Yeah, course. Is he about?  I want to congratulate him on a fine catch.’

‘ARCHIE PEASMORE, put that fag out and come over ‘ere.’

Jim watched the skinny bespectacled man shuffle across, his head bowed almost as if he expected to be slapped.

‘This ‘ere is Jim wot I told you about. He—’

‘That.’

‘Yer wot?’

‘That I told you about, not wot I told.’

Jim watched as Ethel’s face coloured. ‘Are you trying to embarrass me, Archie Peasmore? Because if you are—?’

‘No, dear, not at all. I’m just trying to point out—’

‘Why don’t you go and find Mam, so we can have a nice cuppa while you take the brats to the park? Do you want a cuppa, Jim?’

But Jim had gone, smiling his gleaming smile.

A22 Blindley Heath 1954

‘What happened? It looks a right mess.’

‘No idea. One minute I’m waiting to pull out, the next this motorbike comes out of nowhere, no lights and just misses me but swerves in front of him. JESUS. It’s gone up in flames. Quick, I hope to God no one is still in that car.’

Jim lay still, vaguely aware of the flames engulfing his Morris Oxford, his pride and joy. He wondered about the motorbike rider who he’d narrowly missed and asked himself if he had been going too fast. His neck hurt, and he wasn’t sure if he could feel his right leg. He tried a smile that turned into a grimace. Typical if he survived Jerry and died in sodding Surrey.

‘He’s here. Don’t move, mister. Someone’s gone for help. If you hadn’t been thrown clear you’d have roasted.’

‘The motorcyclist? How’s he?’

‘Not good. When he was thrown he hit a tree. Poor sod.’

Jim closed his eyes. One day his luck would run out.

Redhill Hospital 1958

‘Mr Patterson? Your wife asked me to have a word with you. About her morning sickness.’

‘It’s awful, ain’t it, doctor?’ Jim flexed his leg, the ache telling him it would rain soon.

‘Yes, Mr Patterson, it is. It’s very extreme and we do worry about the baby in these cases. However, there is a new treatment that is garnering a lot of good reports that might help.’

‘I’m not sure, doc.  Me old mum didn’t agree with fancy new potions. I sort of feel the same.’

‘Oh, Mr Patterson, this is the second half of the twentieth century. I think we’ve moved beyond old wives’ superstitions, haven’t we?’

Jim lowered his head. He really didn’t want to punch a doctor. It wouldn’t do his application to join the police force much good. But the arrogant know-all, calling his mum an old wife – who’d struggled to bring him and his two brothers up after his dad left – that wasn’t right. Even if she did have to stick them in that home from time to time.

‘So, what’s this treatment?’

‘It’s called Thalidomide*. A miracle really…’

The doctor looked up from his desk and his gaze met Jim’s. Jim held it, not sure what to do. Then the doctor looked away.

‘We’ll manage, doc.  The old way.’

Basement flat, 54 Corporation Street, Hounslow 1970

‘I’ve had it, Jim. Your drinking is too much.’

‘I’m not drunk, Sheila. Honest.  Jober as a sudge, s’me.’

‘Yes, you are. Lost your job, and you’re losing us.’

‘Is temporary, Sheila. Juss—’

‘You need to grow up. We’re going back to Mother.’

Jim Patterson put the whiskey bottle to his lips, a final defiant gesture. His hand fell back as he heard the front door slam; he let the tears flow. He wasn’t drunk, not by his standards, but he knew he would be later and the chances were he’d hit Sheila or the kid and then hate himself. He hated how he was, how he couldn’t hold down a job, and because he couldn’t walk properly, he could barely collect his benefit. It was easy to say why: his mum dying, losing his job with the Force, but he was a better man than that. Was being the operative word, he thought. He was just a burden and they were well off without him.

The same notion as he’d had on and off for a year came back to him in a rush. He pulled himself to his feet and stumbled, stupidly incoherent in his movements, to the kitchen. Hurrying so as not to lose motivation, he pulled the wire shelves and metal trays from the oven and cleared the floor. He remembered someone saying it took only a few minutes to become unconscious and then there was no coming back. He reached for the gas-tap and stopped. He needed to block the gaps in the door. Having finished that he crawled back to the oven, turned it on and lay down with his head inside.

‘Jim? Jim? Wake up? What are you thinking?’

Jim looked at his wife’s frightened face. ‘Are we both dead?’

‘No, you goon. You can’t gas yourself these days with natural gas; not now they’ve changed from town gas. A year ago, and you’d have been a goner. Here, come to me.’

As Sheila cradled his head, Jim wept, ‘I will change. I’ll start at AA tomorrow. You see if I don’t.’

‘I know.’

Sunshine nursing home, Hounslow 1999

‘And if you come this way, Mr Johnson, I’ll introduce you to Jim Patterson and his bride-to-be.’

‘Do inmates wed, Mr Thomas?’

‘We prefer the term ‘guests’. Inmates sounds a trifle custodial. Yes, they do indeed though I’m not entirely sure this is a match made in heaven.’

‘How so?’

‘Well, apparently before the war Jim and Ethel Peasmore were sweethearts and would have wed but for Mr Patterson spending three and a bit years as a POW. He was quite the character, escaping a dozen or so times but never quite making it back home. Meanwhile Ethel married a teacher, thinking he was dead. They’d not seen each other for years until Ethel joined our little community in March after her husband passed. They’re inseparable.’

‘That’s so lovely. They can catch up on all those missing years.’

‘Well, yes, in a way but, see, Jim can’t walk anymore and, well, come and see.’

The two men stood by the part-opened door. Ethel maintained a constant stream of chatter, barely taking a breath.

‘He doesn’t say much, does he?’

‘Could you? She’s uninterruptable that one. We all feel a bit sorry for Jim, but he confirmed he is happy with the wedding plans and the doctors are sure he knows his own mind.’

‘So, when’s the big day?’

‘Tomorrow. We have a licence for civil ceremonies. Shall we say hello?’

Pushing through the door they approached Ethel and Jim. It only took a few moments to realise Jim was not asleep but dead. As they waited for the ambulance and a female staff member comforted Ethel, Mr Johnson said, ‘Perhaps he had a lucky escape after all?’

*Thalidomide is an infamous drug that was prescribed to help pregnant women who had debilitating morning sickness. It soon became associated with appalling birth defects in the new born.

This short story first appeared on this blog in 2016 as part of Nanowrimo. If you enjoyed it, it and its 29 fellows can be found in the anthology Life In A Grain Of Sand that is current on offer as a giveaway if you click the title. The offer stays open until Sunday

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Bring On The Empty Horses #flashfiction #humour

A small homage to David Niven, English actor and his extraordinary autobiography of the same name

‘Is Reverse Trojan? You yankee doodles love.’ The Russian offered another spinach samosa.
‘Ivan, mate, wtf?’ The American flossed his teeth, ensuring both a perfect smile and providing a string for Langley to check for any drugs.
The Russian smiled his best vodka-topped smile. ‘These Syrians love their ‘orses, no? We steal their favourites and run them up to the gate. They are like ‘Wah, woah’, let them in. But they are full of trackers and microphones and cameras. We now inside Citadel. We have knowledge of their plans. Bingle!’
‘It’s bingo. I get the Trojan bit. Horses. But Reverse?’ The American disinfected the neck before swigging quickly and slipping a nano-recorder into the bottle.
‘They empty. We use empty ‘orses!’ The Russian tipped the remaining booze into an ashtray and set it alight.
‘That stinks. They won’t swallow that.’
The Russian shrugged his steroidal shoulders. “Is on fire. Of course they not swallow.’
‘Your plan, dullard.’ The American rubbed his waxed chin. ‘Though we could build animatronic horses, exact copies of the originals. That would be the bizz.’
‘Da, Da, yankee doodles always want show off his toys. ‘Look at me, my ICBM is bigger than yours.’ Bullshit.’
‘How do you get their horses? What’s your cunning plan, Baldrick?’
‘Who Baldrick? He not have Kremlin clearance?’
‘He’s a figure of speech, you moron.’
‘You think I know fuck nothing, when really I know fuck all!!’
A short knock disturbed them and a square jaw appeared.
‘Yes?’
‘Da?’
‘Er, news just in from Central, sirs. The Brits apologise but they’ve just bombed it. They wanted to know if it was important.’
As the American’s gaze met his Russian counterpart’s the super-heated nano-recorder exploded. The Russian, his eyebrows aflame, smiled. ‘Now that is real booze.’

Posted in humour, short story | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Verb Love #poetry


Her past was tense, poor Sally McGraw
Perched on that fence, neither either nor or,
Plucking a flower, he loves me or not
Driving her crazy, forget-him-the clot.
But Harold McGee’s principle weakness
Is plain, you see – a crippling shyness;
Harold loves Sally, and that awful defect
Will not stop them marrying, their future is perfect.

Posted in humour, poems, poetry | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

How To Be A Green Poet #booklaunch #booktour #poetry

Orfordness beach

Back when I was small a green poet would have been (a) Irish (b) naïve or (c) somewhat mildewy. Today it clearly means someone who both pens verse and is looking at greener alternatives for how we use our fragile planet.

I really do make no excuses for my utter and unshakeable certainty that, as a species we need to be far more aware and caring of everything around us. I’d like to say it’s a lifelong belief and that as soon as I was aware of how greenhouse gasses were affecting the planet, my behaviours and attitudes changed. Sadly no. I was introduced to with notion of a planet being warmed by us rather than nature in 1974 by my extraordinary history master who had us read about Gaia theory as proposed by Professor James Lovelock.

Since then my understanding – it’s climate change rather than global warming that is the issue – and the width and depth of the problems – careless abuse of resources, the egregious over development and unsustainable farming practices, the fixation with non degradable plastics to name a few – has grown and, because I am passionate that it is part of my responsivity to do what I can to hand the planet on in a better condition than I received it (clearly that’s not happening any time soon) it has impacted my poetry.

There are several poems in my new poetry book that touch on this subject and my attitude towards it. In hosting me on her equally concerned blog Pam Lazos, lawyer and author (hey, another one) inspired me to explain how that poetry came about and how it developed over some several years.

Here is the link. Do please visit and give Pam’s blog a good look round; you’ll surely find something to both enjoy and inspire…

Thank you Pam

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The Garden – Mid October Update #garden #october

London has a pretty heavy amount of rain which makes up for some dry spells in the summer months – who knew, we can do sunshine in England. Surely it rains all the time?

Okay, I know you’re all anxious to know about my autumn garden works, esp. my on going battle to achieve the perfect lawn. As avid readers know, the current plans involve a family wedding hosted here in August 2021, when I intend there to be an absolutely perfect lawn, 90% of which will be covered in a marquee. But, and here’s the thing, I’ll know its perfect underneath and if anyone who’s lost the will to live by the interminable speeches takes a moment to lift a corner, I want dazzle, I want glistening emerald, I want herbaceous pizazz!

august 2019, just before the last wedding… it can be done!!

Okay…

In the process of preparing it for the autumn weed and feed we cut, scarified and aerated it. That was last time and it looked like this.

And this

Ten days later and it was looking like this

Lots of new growth and a sharp green hue. Which is encouraging but it needs a good winter of Goldilocks weather and a calm spring. In any event we will do the while thig again in April and then keep it watered – much to the terror of the Textiliste who so isn’t into watering lawns, but needs must… my needs!

it’s going ok, isn’t it?

As for the rest well we’ve still a lot of building works and reshaping works being undertaken.

And there is my newly tidied working area with the cunning use of pallets as a recycled holder for the canes and poles that provided support for the displays.

And there’s a fair bit of colour.

And Dog… of course

Sorry, this is Dog..

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Where? There! #flash #flash!friday

He’s in every photo. Crowds, anyway. The boy with the sad eyes. Ever since… well, you know.

Even John looks for him now. It hurt, at the start when he said he was ‘just some student’ but even he couldn’t deny how odd it was, him in every crowd scene. Sometimes it takes while to find him, but I do.

Today he began to fade. I knew he would. When he became a man. Thirteen. I’m glad.

I’m not sure how John will take it. Best not to say….

Written for the Flash!friday prompt, use the picture, include a student and 89 words…

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Chore Bores #carrotranch #flashfiction #morganandlogandoamerica

This week Morgan and Logan are still traversing the States and butting up against the Language

‘Morgan, can you pick up your clothes? This place is a sty.’

‘Yes, mom, I’ll get right onto my chores.’

‘I know we’re in the States and I said we should embrace their culture, but in what world does ‘culture’ encompass their bastardised version of English?’

‘Hey, who yanked your tail?’

‘Everyone wishing me a good day and not meaning it.’

‘Like you always say you’re sorry and you don’t mean it.’

‘That’s different. Anyway we don’t do ‘chores’, any more than we do yard work.’

‘You liked it when that blonde said you had a cute accent…’

‘Nonsense.’

This weeks prompt at the Carrotranch is

October 15, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about chores. It doesn’t have to be a western ranch chore; it can be any routine task. Go where the prompt leads!

Posted in carrot ranch, creative writing, flash fiction, logan and morgan, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Taking Stock(holm) #holidays #sweden #stockholm

In 2009 the Textiliste and I holidayed in Stockholm as part of a cross Scandi break. This is a repeat of a 2015 post based on my journal and memories

So what springs to mind when Stockholm is mentioned? Abba? Socialist utopia? Large tax bills? Neutrality? Nobel Prizes? Herring? I suppose all of these.

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The first impression however is  of water. It is everywhere. And how visual the city is. Lots of quirky views, a mixture of buildings and styles. What Stockholm has managed well is to redevelop itself gradually, keeping a lot of the old and interspersing it with bits of new. Sure, you’ll never please everyone but it opens to a visitor without an excess of anything. Of course if you don’t get bombed you don’t have to rebuild in a generation. So far as ensuring a nicely balanced set of municipal architecture is concerned, remaining neutral during a major world war has a lot to recommend it.

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In summer 2009, we stayed in the heart of the old city on Gamla Stan – an island that houses the Royal Palace – in a quirky hotel carved out of an old warehouse. The First Hotel promised a view of the water from every room, only in our case that was via one of those mirrors you use at the end of your drive to see round a blind corner. I didn’t take to it, in all honesty. Which perhaps explains this rather bitter commentary in my journal on the behaviour of another guest:

There’s something universal about certain actions. Namely, you do not steal another man’s toast. You’re in a hotel, at the buffet and the toaster pops up. Do you (a) assume another guest planted said toast and will return; or (b) the hotel mysteriously knew you were coming and set the toast to cook, just in time for your arrival? So when my toast has been half-inched (I know who you are you Scandinavian Medusa) I am rightly pissed off.

As you’ll see this sort of incident rather coloured my view of Stockholm.

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It is easy to walk Stockholm though we orientated, as the guide book recommends, via a boat trip. I’ve done this in cities the world over: Paris, Berlin, even New York, you name it and, increasingly, I find them boring. I tend to sleep. Which I did here so I don’t really know if this one was any good. All part of my antipathy to being on water I suppose.

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We did end up at the Town Hall, which I described thus:

– a huge, turn of the 20th Century red brick edifice – a cross between a Gilbert George Scott Power Station and a Venetian Palace which was more impressive inside.

We were most taken with the Gold Room – where the Nobel Prizes  were formerly dolled out – utterly O.T.T. And a mosaic frieze that was done in 10 months, the rush leading to a few errors, as I recorded here:

Mind you, the artist made some mistakes – a rider loses his head in the ceiling. Possibly St Eric, patron saint of Stockholm – not a recognised saint, but revered by the Swedes. Recent research suggests he was killed in a drunken brawl – the first binge saint perhaps.

We had to visit The Nobel Museum, a homage to conscience. Alfred Nobel invents dynamite, realises he’s done more for safe-breaking and general mayhem than any man before or, until the A bomb, since and leaves his money for a load of prizes esp the Peace Prize. Now the Peace Prize is fascinating, reflecting the studious care with which the Swedish panel asserts its world view. It is, necessarily, highly political and is a very good test of one’s prejudices – if you think the prize worthily given, chances are you think the recipient is potentially a freedom fighter; if not then they are a terrorist. But it  has done good and for that it is to be applauded. I could have spent a lot longer here.

We stopped for an unpronounceable Swedish cake – I thought it smelt of Chanel perfume, the guide book said cardamom. It tasted rank. But then Eccles cakes probably represent something repellent if you don’t know them.

I liked the Cathedral though in a rather half hearted way apparently

The Cathedral is, externally, unimpressive and inside its plaster walls having been removed reveal original preserved brickwork – it looks recent not 350 years old. It’s plain, in a  Lutheran way, with some fabulous adornments. George and the Dragon feature highly – the dragon being Denmark – also a neat little painting of a freak light effect in the April Sky on 1530 being much more accessible than the enormous ‘Last Judgement’ opposite. 

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a model, sadly but this is how it would have looked..

The best though we saved for our first full day – the Vasa Exhibition. This extraordinary piece of nautical ego set sail as the Leader of the Fleet in the 1630s and sank within a mile of its maiden voyage – something about not taking account of the weight of cannon when designing the lower port holes so in rushed the water. This fine vessel was lost in 30 metres of water, presumed rotted away but in the 1950s, with diving techniques much improved the sea bed was checked and some of it was found just beneath the surface. A major operation was undertaken to expose what was left and, amazingly a huge amount was revealed. It took 7 years and the Swedes had to invent many new techniques, but they brought it to the surface.

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And now…

That though was where the real difficulties started because, freed of its preservative silt and water it began to fall apart. Since the early sixties a waxy water had been run over the remains and gradually it has stabilised and is increasingly on display. What an amazing labour of love. Stockholm is worth a visit just for that.

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Amazing craftmanship

We took in some other sites (and here’s what I wrote)

Skansen: An open air museum with buildings from all over Sweden …. housing areas where brown bears, wolves and elks live and breed. There are European bison breeding as well – they look well. The lynx, however, pace to and fro in that familiar, if tragic, damaged way animals have when upset by captivity.

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Norsike Musseet: …houses a range of displays across interior design, folk art, the Sami people, tableware and how Swedes celebrates various festivals. A liquorish all-sorts 

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Modern Art Museum: A shame this, with a random mix of works with little if any coherence and an audio guide utterly convinced of everything’s sexual context. His explanation of one surrealist work – two high heeled shoes trussed together like a chicken being roasted – was extraordinary as well as gynaecologically impossible and, after a time dull. 

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Stockholm has many beautiful places to sit, drink coffee and think or people watch or read. You aren’t hassled or hurried and you can be at your ease. You can eat well too if expensively.

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nomnomnom

The Oestermarket is now a rather posh Harrods food hall of a place but for both a glutton and a gourmand (such as me) heaven. But for all that, I wasn’t really in love with the place.

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coffee and a bit of a read… of my work emails…

We caught the ferry, overnight, to Helsinki. I should have expected to feel rather flat, facing a trip on water. That’s why I described the terminal as

… a tacky, sticky place which doesn’t aim to compete with the airport – the pound shop mentality at work…. Too much neon, too many own brand, no deli pretensions. Heavens I am a snob [ha, some self awareness].

There’s a lot to like in Stockholm. But for me Copenhagen and Helsinki outscored it on so may levels. This rather moribund feeling is reflected in this poem, written n the ferry

Stockholm

Stockholm wears its neutrality

Like a heavy top coat.

Many kings tried

To join in, and

Be a part of mad manic Europe.

Grandiose plans

Across several centuries.

They made Vikings heroes

So they’d have someone.

But today?

It knows,

It just knows,

It can’t,

And it can’t be bothered.

It’s settled for the life of a watcher,

A looker on;

While the rest of us

Smash each other to bits;

They smile on us

Like parents.

Bless, you have to let them go, don’t you?

And when we try and patch things up;

They present us

With peace prizes and their socialist altruism

To admire, envy even,

Knowing it’s as unavailable

As all those adult pastimes.

There’s this calm acceptance; a rising above.

I bet it’s cold on their moral high ground,

Looking down the map at the rest of Europe.

Smug b******s.

Posted in holidays | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

A Fine Surrey White

I’ve been walking with a few of my former law colleagues for a few years now, usually twice or three times a year. This Year of the Turnip has put paid to most of that (we had grand plans to visit Italy – one of our number is married to an Italian and was prepared to use both local knowledge and connections to facilitate our Grand Plans). That wasn’t ever going to happen so yours truly, who loves a map and a bit of planning came up with an 11 miles circular walk from the twelfth highest point in Surrey, some ten miles south of where I live, on the North Downs. Now don’t scoff – it’s a priceless 735 feet above sea level. It seems high enough when you’ve done ten of the eleven miles and the rain drops have begun to join together to create an horizontal water feature.

Anyway, we weren’t there for the stunning views…

It was the company and the undulating mileage. Really.

No Dog, though. Eleven miles is beyond the recommended max these days.

Box hill is steep. And chalk. Combine these with water and you have what in other climates and countries passes for a ski slope. The fact that none of us had to use the agreed warning ‘coming through!’ if we lost our footing was one of those minor miracles.

At the bottom of the slope, the cutely named River Mole gushes merrily across our path. Those in charge have decided to have their fun with these things…

Which reminded me of a previous visit with my then newly acquired dog, Blitz, Dog’s predecessor. Like Dog he didn’t like water which I hadn’t learnt to that point. That I did at this particular moment when jumping onto the first stone and not being followed remains something of an embarrassment. As I tipped back and sideways, inexorably heading for the river I was conscious of a little girl watching me with rapt attention. As I surfaced, the little girl turned to her open-mouthed parent and asked ‘Why did that man do that, daddy?’ The parent decided to stick as close to his truth as possible. ‘I don’t know, darling, and neither does he, I think.’

For the record I made it safely. There were the odd wobble or five but nothing ventured…

Beyond the sanctity of the far bank of the Mole there is an enormous estate, which is reputedly the largest winery in the UK – Denbies Vineyard has 265 acres.

It’s Rose won some international award so it’s good. I believe.

I don’t drink wine so, meah, but my companions waxed lyrically (and frankly long) about it. The vines look nice.

The path we were on is part of the North Downs Way. England and Wales are criss-crossed with LDPs – long distance paths – often following ancient trading routes that followed the high ridges. In part the North Downs Way is also the Pilgrims Way which links Canterbury Cathedral with Winchester Cathedral. In 1986, my father was made redundant as was a friend from way back. Together they decided to set themselves the challenge of walking the whole of the Pilgrims Way, joining in with the North Downs Way where it starts at Farnham and continuing beyond the Pilgrim’s Way end to the end of the North Down’s Way in Dover on the south Kent coast. They chose this partly because they used to live within a mile of it, near where Dad had gone to school in Caterham. I joined in for a long weekend, not sure how I’d get on with these old boys. I loved it and this was the start of an annual walk with the old sod that covered many other LDPs over the next 12 years.

Maybe I was distracted by the nostalgia, maybe my mind was numbed by the talk of vintages, but I missed a turn and we reached a point that seemed to be in the wrong place. That’s the thing with the brilliant OS maps we have. If you know how to read them, they will get you out of trouble eventually. In this case I was right, in the sense that my missed turning meant we approached Denbies Farm from the wrong direction. Once I worked that out, it was easy to point confidentially to the right direction. The fact that, by the time I did the others were laughing uproariously didn’t spoil the satisfaction. Much…

Beyond the valley lies Ranmore Common, which is largely wooded, though the throbbing metropolis of the same name is rather pleasant and probably has a population of, rounding up, five.

In truth it’s pretty much the church and a couple of houses. My companions seemed oblivious to its beauty, but then they were all lawyers so that probably explains it. They do like talking, mind you…

I wasn’t being shunned; I’d just been watering an oak sapling… come on, I’m in my sixties, what do you expect?

After Ranmore we wended our way through a lot of woodland paths with few if any views. Eventually we emerged around Norbury Park where Marie Stopes of contraception and women’s health fame lived before she died in the 1950s. There was a lot of wall and green fencing so we never did get to see her pile and we were rather bemoaning our lot when we stumbled upon this little gem in the middle of nowhere…

Things were sogging off rather – Emma had gone shrub hunting – yep, same as me – and Chris took advantage of the free marshmallows and handy fire…

By now the rain had set in, making a dive into the river Mole look like the drier option.

The coffee bar turned out to be a godsend because the pub in Mickleham…

turned out to be shut. Ah me, thank you Covid.

So all that was left was to climb back up every one of those 700 and whatever feet to the National Trust car park at Box Hill and buy a rather delicious cheese and onion pasty. As one of our number said as they tried to cool down the roof of their mouth, the Germans must have a word for the inevitable burning that follows biting into a delicious looking hot pastry however much you’ve blown on it first; heissenschiessentongenbuggeren or something…

And for those who can’t get through a post without Dog making an appearance…

Posted in Friends, miscellany, walking | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments

Bacon Sarnies And The Tivoli: Travels In Denmark #holidays

My repostings about my recentish holiday in Finland made me want to revisit my 2009 excursion to Denmark and Sweden (we went on the Finland and then Tallinn and I might take us there too). This though is me on Copenhagen…

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The aim of travel is to broaden your mind. With my levels of incompetence here and here, travel when attached to holidays usually involves unconscionable amounts of sitting, waiting to sort out my messes so my arse tends to broaden as my mind atrophies.

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I might look relaxed but you can bet there’s a worry in their somewhere… and what can I say about the stomach – I was still a lawyer?

A few years ago, disillusioned with the inevitable summer heat we experience here in England, we opted to cross Scandinavia by earth bound transport and chose as our stopping off point Denmark. Ok, we flew there but after that it was trains or boats or Shank’s Pony (that’s an old expression my dad used when he meant walking – who was Shank or Shanks, I wonder. Well, I clearly don’t wonder much because frankly I can’t even be bothered to open another tab and google him/her/it. The Archaeologist will know and put it in the comments – he really is an excellent resource).

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Lost? Me?

Anyway, Denmark. What did I know about Denmark? Mermaids? Casual approach to sex? Bacon? Not sure if all these are linked somehow – David Cameron might know (here if you’ve not caught up with the ‘alleged’ exploits of our apple-cheeked ex PM).

I was looking forward to decent bacon. Makes a change for the usual crap served on the continent which they laughingly call breakfast. I mean there’s nothing to it. Continuefast would be a better name for the sparse droppings you get. Hard boiled eggs (please, these are like stomach IEDs); dusty cereal in which a raisin performs the function of a five pence coin in a Christmas pudding with everyone praying they are the one to find it; or cheese. For pity’s sake you can’t eat cheese for breakfast – that’s like sharing underpants, it’s just gross. So the civilised Nords had to do something better, didn’t they? I mean it’s bad enough relying on their immaculate English to get by without having to resort to one’s own nation’s breakfast to find a suitable level of sustenance to start the day.

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Do I have to be in one of these photos? Really? If you ever start a blog don’t you dare post it!

Back tracking to the beginning, the flight was fine – on time and I didn’t share my own bit of personal space with anyone else hanging over the sides of the armrest (ha, who am I to judge?). I don’t ask for much but spending an hour or so at ‘Guess Your Neighbours BMI’ is not my idea of a good start to a holiday.

That’s when the first small hiccough occurred. The hotel hadn’t heard of us. There are knowing looks between the long married and there’s THE LOOK and this particular LOOK spoke of many similar trials and some seriously hard to shift emotional scar tissue. ‘It must be a mistake.’ If she can do the LOOK I can do the VOICE – a commanding timbre that has shaken many a incompetent minion to the core of his/her being. Despite the fact that all this did was reinforce the stereotype of another British holidaying knobend, the delightfully fragrant receptionist kept smiling and allocated us a small cupboard until our room – now found but booked, or so they said, from the following day – could be made available. As a quiet female voice put it ‘I thought they were an hour ahead, not a day?’

To defer the moment when we actually saw the reality of our temporary home, we left our bags and went for a wander.  Our hotel was close to the Tivoli Gardens so we thought we’d have a dander. In my journal I describe it thus

‘like a full scale toy, part paste boulevards making Paris’ seem pokey by comparison’

What on earth did I mean? I remember the place was full of other tourists and a lot seemed to be British, which was disappointing. But this brings back no memories whatsoever. Anyway the next entry describes the harbour which was:

‘… full of small fish based restaurants. We are seated at one sweet little place, the sun is still high even at 7.30pm – what do you expect, I suppose…’

Leaving aside the eccentric grammar this does remind me that we enjoyed the extended sunshine and the fact it was mostly sunny when we were there. The lifestyle was essentially al fresco and relaxed as this suggests. We wandered off to find the mermaid. She was small, much smaller than I anticipated but quite stunning for all that.

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Very glad she wasn’t next to us on our flight

All told we spent three nights in Copenhagen. One morning we set off by bus to find Louisiana an out of town, modern art facility with a significant collections of culture. Bit of a liquorish all sorts really but some notable pieces in a wondrous setting, south of Seeland overlooking the placid sea. We saw ancient American carvings, weird pictures from Warhol, lumpen pieces of steroidal sculpture from Henry Moore and a somewhat smug display about green energy and how buildings can be designed for a future without oil – which in truth seemed more a way for major architectural practices to advertise their wares.

Back in Copenhagen the rain fell – apologetically but without embarrassment. We ate in Christiania – a kind of artist retreat modelled that would have been better if it hadn’t been quite so self regarding. I climbed a curving tower at Our Saviour’s Church – the stairs are on the outside – and admired a mizzly panorama that many more worthy and certainly more devout than I have enjoyed – while in the distance the huge Oresund Bridge told of a modern world beckoning.

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But overall, yes, I’d go back

Our final day, before an early train across the said bridge, took us to the Botanic Gardens and then the Copenhagen City Museum. I was just getting to grips with the 19th Century transfer of powers from an absolute monarchy to a democracy when I was unceremoniously shown out. Apologies but no embarrassment: Denmark in a  nutshell.

I wrote a poem on the train as we left Denmark for Stockholm.

Copenhagen

Some cities are blond.

Berlin is bottled, rather faux.

Barcelona has its Gaudi streaks

And Paris its ice-cold indifference.

And Copenhagen?

A froth of insouciant openness

 A light haired Scandanavianism.

Tivoli, frivolity

Mad punks and mer-people.

They have three bikes for every person

And yet they’re just so sane;

Calm reflective, dreaming spires of a people

Attitudes piercing the sky.

 Cool Copenhagen,

Cafe culture.

Even when the porn is free

There’s not a boob in sight.

Careful, self-controlling, orderly;

It should be repressive

But it isn’t:

No jay-walkers

Because you just don’t.

No litter

Because you just shouldn’t.

No swearing

Because you don’t need to.

I’ve had fun

Without trying

Because I just could.

Posted in holidays, miscellany | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

Mr Dandy And The Milkshake #flashfiction

Millie waited for her father at the back of the class.

‘That’s all. 500 words by Tuesday, okay?’

Millie wondered why they all groaned. Were they hungry like her?

As the class filed out, she eased forward to her father’s desk. He looked up. ‘Hi, kiddo. I just need my bag. You okay to do a drawing?’

Millie nodded. This was the best bit. Her stomach rumbled.

‘Hungry? Won’t be long. Here,’ he pressed a stick of chalk in her hand as he hurried out.

She’d done this before, drawn pictures on his special wall. Last time it was Mr Dandy, the stick man. He was nice. She scratched him and his hat and then a cow and a glass. Finally she drew the door and waited.

When her father reappeared, he smiled. That man again. Distracted, he wondered why she only drew him on this blackboard, and didn’t see Millie as she wiped away the little milk moustache.

Posted in children, creative writing, flash fiction, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments