April 13, 2012
Around the front of the house we’ll run.
A tall and ancient oak tree stands
Watching over the green parkland,
And from its branches hang the best
Three clues to lead us on our quest.
A path is hidden in a trench.
What’s so funny about this path?
It’s called a ha-ha, that’s a laugh.
But we’ll follow it to the end with glee
A cockerel and kingfisher stand
Upon two sticks, they look quite grand.
But where can these two birds be seen?
By the bamboo, tall and green.
And hidden in this bamboo deep,
Now, over to our left we’ll see
A wooden bench beneath a tree.
Past that we run towards the dell,
To find the swings we know so well.
And hanging in the dappled light
Let’s follow the path that runs beyond
The daffodils, towards the pond.
And in the summerhouse will be
Another clue, let’s look and see.
OK, that was easy enough.
To the woods beneath the fallen tree,
It’s dark in here and hard to see.
But follow the path into the light,
And the clue will be just on our right.
In the bothy’s porch should be
Now run along beside the wall.
Let’s stick together, one and all.
Where are we going? I beg your pardon?
Can this really be a secret garden?
And what’s this strange washing on the line?
Into the garden through the iron gate
To find a haul of chocolate.
But where to next? We must be near.
Over there or over here?
And how do we solve this final riddle?
Sam, look left and there you’ll see
A gnarled espalier apple tree.
And then, if you search hard until
You find the secret place, you will
Amongst it’s ancient boughs locate
Felicia, look to your right.
A chiminea is in sight.
“But what’s a chiminea?” you ask.
To solve this puzzle is your task.
For hidden in its belly lies
Molly, you must now look straight
Ahead, towards the garden gate.
Four large buildings there will loom
But only one called “The Glassroom”.
And here I think you will detect
December 20, 2010
This was really something to look forward to. Christmas in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, with our daughter, Lianne, our grandchildren, Molly and Sam, and our son-in-law, Louis. The plan was to fly out from Heathrow airport on Sunday morning, the 19th December and stay over until 4th January, a good long stress-free break.
Well, the snow had been around for a few days, but no real expectation that it might get much worse, but we took the precaution of arranging to stay the night at my brother’s place in North London and leave bright and early next morning. Only that didn’t happen. We left home at 6 o’clock on Saturday evening and drove into some serious road chaos. At one point we were stuck outside Colchester for two hours in heavy snow. It was getting too late to call on my brother so we decided to go straight on to the airport, a journey of eight hours that should have been two and a half.
When we got to the terminal building there were many hundreds of people laying on the floor with sheets of silver foil over them. There were no officials from BAA or any of the airlines manning the desks. There was no flight information. No announcements over the public address. Just one coffee place open with a queue as far as the eye could see. So we found a tiny piece of space and lay down to wait for new and exciting developments.
We couldn’t sleep, of course. Not many people did, but you couldn’t help but admire those that could. Most sat in groups playing cards, talking movies or listening to music. Everybody was remarkable calm. At about 4.00am the people at BAA decided that we needed cheering up so they played a medley of Christmas songs over the p.a. beginning with Dean Martin singing, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”. Now I wouldn’t have given them credit for such a malicious sense of humour, but somebody out there obviously though that was an excellent gag.
Then, at around 6.30am came the first information announcement of the entire night. “Due to the bad weather conditions there will be no flights out of Terminal Four for the rest of the day. Please leave the terminal building.” As abrupt as that. Nothing more was said at the airport, and nobody made an appearance to offer help of any kind. It seemed like the kind of shoddy treatment of people that this country seems to excel at. We know that shit happens. We know that you can’t stop the snow. We know that there will be disruptions and we brace ourselves for what might come. But just tell us what that might be. Bring out some people who can give advice. Give us a little comfort if not a little joy.
July 12, 2010
Flicking idly through the pages of ‘Country Living’ Magazine in the front room of your townhouse will give you a distinct impression of how you visualise your perfect country life. In the house of your dreams. Of how you might enjoy your time in a tiny cottage in a remote village were you just able to maybe give up work or forgo the conveniences of city living. The shops, the public transport, cinemas, theatres, museums. How beautiful would be the roses over the door, and the intertwined clematis and honeysuckle clambering up a barge board wall. The vegetables growing in a tiny patch of land at the back of the cottage. Leeks, rocket, runner beans and fragrant sweet peas clinging to a woven hazel wicket fence.
On Saturday evening Maureen and I drove over to Mark and Jane’s cottage in ‘Akenfield’, a cottage completely filling the bill of everybody’s ideal country residence, for a wonderful evening eating in the garden. Jane cooked Moroccan lamb with apricots, aubergine and mozzerella casserole and cous-cous, followed by polenta cake and a side dish of wild cherries picked from the hedgerow that afternoon. We took with us presents of Maureen’s home made bread and some fresh peas, plus the bottle of robust vin de pays. We were introduced to Jane’s crazy friend Jill, a healer and follower of lay lines who lives in a van and has just returned from eight years living in Spain, so is now readjusting to life in the old country. So we sat in the early evening sun on this quiet lane used only, it would seem, by solitary dog walkers and occasional cyclists, and we watched the sun set while Mark placed candle lamps in the trees. This was perfection. Thank you Mark and Jane for a beautiful evening passed in idyllic surroundings and in excellent company. This is the life.
Yesterday we took Felicia to Heveningham Hall Country Fair. There seems to be so many events and festivals in the area at this time of year, including Latitude next weekend, Helmingham Hall Classic Cars on the 25th and small music events around and about, like Hachfest at the end of the month, where my good friend James is playing on Saturday night with his band Brigade. So much to do in the country, so little time to do it.
Heveningham Hall is a vast palatial pile sitting in hundreds of acres of gracious rolling parkland, which gives the impression that the owner and occupier must be at least a Queen.
Felicia so loved this day and was very disappointed to learn that its only once a year. So at a gentle pace we started, of course, at the fun fair where she enjoyed the usual kids rides but then dragged me onto the twister (terrifying), then to the fresh strawberry stand, on to the orangery with Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’ being performed outside, which she loved. Then Punch and Judy, fish and chips, sitting on the grass, Hello Kitty balloon, heavy horses, birds of prey, tiredness, sleep in the car and bouncing back to life on reaching home. A perfect day. A perfect weekend.
July 3, 2010
Today is Sam Packer’s ninth birthday. Sam is our very handsome grandson, whose date of birth narrowly missed American Independence day, although that will in time prove a blessing because, as he now lives in Michigan State, he would not want his birthday overshadowed by such national celebrations.
Sam is a really talented sportsman, particularly tennis and football which he adores and plays regularly in Grosse Pointe. At home he is a major Manchester United fan, but we can overlook that minor fault. The picture on the left shows him scoring yet another goal for his ‘soccer’ team, Tottenham (that’s more like it) in Grosse Pointe.
Happy birthday, Sam, and have a fabulous day.
June 28, 2010
Yesterday afternoon our old friend Sam Choo, who we met in the early nineteen eighties when he was manager at The Rasa Sayang Malaysian restaurant in Frith Street, Soho, came out to Suffolk to see us for what may be the last time, as he and his family are going home to Singapore. When I had a commercial art studio in Frith Street during the eighties, The Rasa was on the ground floor of our building and became, effectively, our staff canteen, and as a consequence we became good friends with all the restaurant staff. On two or three occasions we held company parties for clients at The Rasa, and many staff birthday events were held there.
This place also served the finest Singapore laksa known to humanity and this was always my favourite dish. Well, apart from chicken or prawn satay, or deep fried prawns in batter with sweet chilli sauce, or hokkien mee, or mee hoon goreng, and occasionally they had the most delicious soft shelled crab. Oh, somebody stop me! Maureen knew when I’d been to the Rasa because my tee shirt would be spattered with what was know as laksa flack, splashes of turmeric stains flipped up by the noodles. Oh, dear. Perhaps the thing that kept the Rasa so particularly close to my heart was the fact that I could eat alone there, something I generally feel uncomfortable about, but if I was working late (which was often) I could go downstairs and have a bowl of laksa and a Tiger beer, and if they were not too busy Sam or Yong or Simon or Tong Tong would come and sit with me for a while. Brilliant.
But sadly the restaurant closed sometime in the nineties and the staff dispersed around London, and we lost touch. But Sam kept in contact with us and when he emailed me a month or two ago suggesting we get together before he left we immediately agreed. He and his family had been out to Suffolk before about fifteen years ago and cooked for us and some friends on that occasion. So yesterday we invited a few friends to join us in the orchard here at the house and, in the best of summer sunshine, we had a great BBQ lunch. This is the life.
June 22, 2010
Today, June 22nd, one day after the midsummer solstice, is the sixth birthday of our beautiful granddaughter Felicia. And it does seem so appropriate to such a sunshine person to have her birthday in the very middle of our favourite season. So it was, on this day six years ago, Felicia was born in Torquay, Devon, to our daughter-in-law Modupe and our son Paul, who met and fell in love while Paul was working as a volunteer in Nigeria, and who decided to stay on in that difficult country for ten years before returning to England to make their home. And the very precious result was the delightful Felicia. Happy birthday, Darling.
June 6, 2010
So in the end I did boldly go camping. ‘Never again’, I said. ‘Never again’, I always say. But I allowed myself to be persuaded by my very persuasive wife, and set off at an ungodly hour of the morning from the sunny South to the frozen North of England, to that bleak and beautiful wasteland that is The North Yorkshire Moors. And we were, as always, greeted on our first night’s stay by the obligatory gale force winds and driving rain. How does that happen? Every time. It’s never forecast and is always unseasonal, and we get it. But I withstood manfully and uncomplainingly all that the elements could think to throw at me, as you can clearly see from the picture on the left.
And another thing. For the second camping holiday in succession we have an inflatable bed that has deflated by morning. How does that happen? Six months old and punctured. And in the morning the weather is grey and damp and cold and Northern. I awake deflated.
Fortunately my son, who has inherited his father’s resilience and pragmatism in the face of this grim northern climate, wraps himself in arctic clothing and simply gets on with the many tasks in hand like tightening guy ropes, stressing braces and battening hatches and all the other basic hurricane procedures. Felicia, however, has awoken to the realisation that her inflatable bed has deflated.
Things have not started well. But hold on. What’s that unfamiliar shining object making a brief appearance in the sky? Can that really be sunshine? In June? In Yorkshire? And look, the tent’s drying out. The holiday seems to be beginning.
We take a drive across the moors heading north to Beck Hole and one of The World’s loveliest pubs, the Birch Hall Inn. This tiny place by the side of a tumbling river can hold no more than about a dozen customers inside, serves it’s fabulous local beer through a small hatch in the wall and offers just a roll or a pork pie by way of solid nourishment. But what a gem!
Next day we are emboldened enough to go walking. We find on the Ordnance Survey map a gentle stroll from the tent, through the woods and along the valley, a distance of about three miles, to bring us to a hotel called The Everley which has a garden overlooking the valley from the other side, and serves the most excellent food and fine Yorkshire beer. Things are getting better and better. I love Ordnance Survey maps and in time I’ll write a little eulogy to them, I’m sure. They are unique to the UK and one of our great institutions. Read them well and you can know exactly what kind of terrain you may be up against in your chosen route, and in this case it was obviously gentle and we were able to walk in flippy floppy plimsolls. Deep joy in the morning!
As the week progresses the days are becoming sunnier and we’re off to the beach with Paul, Dupe and Felicia to splash in the sea and paddle among the rock pools. Felicia just loves the fairground attractions and demands rides on scary stuff like the dodgems and the big wheel, and we old ‘uns are dragged onto these stomach churning, bone breaking ‘amusements’. What larks!
Then we are back to less trivial matters and another glorious little pub is discovered. The Moorcock Inn (titter ye not!) just a few miles away at Langdale End is that perfect English pub tucked away along a small country lane heading nowhere that you’ve always wanted to find. Here again the beer is served through a tiny hatch in the wall, and I’ve no idea exactly what the appeal is about such an arrangement except that it is unusual and age-old and I love it. You are offered only one choice of local bitter here which changes whenever the barrel is empty. And the bars inside are like well preserved Victorian parlours, complete with the most beautiful marquetry-inlaid upright piano. With the number of pubs in this country closing every week at an alarming rate we are very fortunate to still have beauties like these, but as is always the case, we must use them or lose them.
And then, all too soon, the week is over. With a tearful sob its time once again to pack away the tent and load it into the car. Its been a fabulous week under canvas, communing with nature. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Camping? I love it.
And I’m reminded of the Alan Sherman song from distant decades ago, ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.’ which concludes, ‘Wait a minute. It’s stopped hailing. Guys are swimming, guys are sailing. Playing baseball. Gee, that’s better. Muddah, Faddah, kindly disregard this letter.”