My previous one-scener blue moon trips to London have now turned into weekly or twice-weekly trips into the City for my temporary stint as interim speechwriter at the Guildhall. I face down forlorn memories of my commute two decades ago into Greyface Gormenghast Gritty Thameslink, the grimmest railway station in Britain. I would slope into the concrete maw of the City near the brutal Barbican and try to get through each dreadful day. Twenty years on, the City now seems brighter and sprightlier. However, every tiresome journey is expensive and risky, and has often involved delay with associated profuse loud-spoken apologies. This is a shock after years of mostly friction-free travel throughout France, Germany, and Switzerland. Thanks to the hospitality of my friend Debbie, I have been able to stay in London to reduce trouble and cost when working in the office two days together.
Lunch-times, I try to stretch my legs, a process that has gone from a familiar saying to a health necessity, so I have visited the London Museum nearby which has an excellent permanent exhibition on the history of London. I also revisited the Barbican, now with flowery corners, water-lilies spreading in the rectangular lakes, and generally more signs of life than on my last visit twenty years ago. In a clearing stands the simple church of St Giles without Cripplegate, first built in 1090. The bombing of Cripplegate 850 years later flattened the church, which had already been burnt out by fires in 1545 and 1897 (but not in 1666). Planners envisaged and started to build the Barbican estate and arts centre in the mid-1960s from a sacred bomb-hollow nearby, then painstakingly reconstructed the church from its original design despite the shrieking brutalism of the images taking shape around it. Architecturally, I admire the audacity of the age. Anyway, a book sale was taking place in the church. I bought the full text of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions and an illustrated copy of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. I then sat on a pew listening to restful music from a quintet in the transept led by the composer drawing in the air with a baton. The quintet featured a cornet, two violins, a drumkit, and a piano played on strings scratched by a stick.
Dog-walks have shrunk to a couple at the weekend, and my average weekly steps have declined precipitously. But the week now has a lot more shape and I have to keep procrastination to a minimum. Saturday mornings have regained their sense of blissful release, especially after I managed another park run in Haywards Heath with Ella, followed by an Ella-and-Sam signature breakfast of scrambled eggs and avocado on toasted bagels, while Maisie, their Rottweiler, pushed her large head between the chair and my stomach at regular intervals. We had another Sunday family roast-and-three-veg for 14 with all three daughters and partners, the preparation of which engaged Alli much of the day while I was on taxi driver duty in different combinations, driving into Brighton during the morning and having the luxury of an hour walking around the North Laine, stopping for a coffee, buying shaving cream, and getting my hair cut before driving the 3Js – Jessie, Jurrat and Jaxon – back to Burgess Hill for the family day and back to Brighton the following morning. Jaxon has been a victim of the firework season and for a while lost his confidence in leaving the flat. He is now improving but plans are being made for New Years’ Eve. As the month ended we were all ‘in the wars’: Sam, with damage to his knee while playing rugby; Alli, with a lower back pain caused by housework; I, with arthritic knees and occasional painful lower back caused by being old and overweight; cousin Ollie, knocked out by a man who punched him for no reason in a sandwich bar in Shoreditch. We are all just muddling through.
The sloe season has been slow, and the pickings slim. However, I garnered about 800 grams over three months from the ungenerous hedgerows this year, compared to nearly four times as much last year. They are now sugared and bottled in gin, rather late for Christmas but good for any subsequent lockdowns or New Year snowstorms. The mild November weather also produced an extraordinary crop of rare Octopus Stinkhorns, or Devil’s Fingers (clathrus archeri) found by Jessie in the garden under a eucalyptus tree that was shedding its bark.
Our cousins Richard and Madeleine and their splendid motorhome called in on their way back to England’s far south-east from the south. Alli and I then spent a couple of fruitful familial hours with them downloading on our respective recent family histories. Such happy incidents as these are easily but rarely created (eg by quick thinking and a telephone call) and are always memorable. I promised to return the huge favour of their visit quickly.
On the last day of the month we celebrated my indefatigable mother-in-law Kay’s birthday. We had a proper party with cards, presents, group photos and champagne, a five-star evening dinner of roast duck, cranberry sauce, gratin dauphinois, green beans, and a desert of home-made apple crumble and custard cooked expertly by Alli, attended by the whole family.
Yours from Fall to Advent,