It being Jackie’s birthday, I can now reveal the nature of the present bought in Wickham’s antiques centre last month. It is a bronze Japanese vase from the Meiji period (mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century). Gold and silver inlay depicts a splendid cockerel with an incredibly long tail perched on a branch of cherry blossom. This is a most elegant piece with which Jackie is delighted and which has the approval of my Japanese friend Rie Sug. En route to Morden Hall Park for my daily ramble, in the middle of Cedar Close, waiting to join a traffic jam in Links Avenue, was a car the driver of which was eating something she was scooping from a tub. Well, ‘why not?’, I thought, then remembered a scene from twenty-odd years ago. I was in a traffic jam driving down Park Lane. Every so often I would lean to my left and bend over the empty passenger seat. My slow trip down this thoroughfare on the edge of Hyde Park was punctuated by flashing headlights from the car behind. It didn’t seem particularly significant to me, although I was a bit puzzled. When I arrived at my Westminster destination to meet my friend Ann, she greeted me with: ‘Get the crossword done then?’. She had been the following driver. Although she could not actually see what I was doing, she knew me well enough….
As I saw the Jubilee bunting blooming all over Morden, much being put up by Asian shopkeepers, I recollected that morning in 1952 when we witnessed the dragon’s tears. Miss Bryant was an extremely fearsome headmistress. Hitherto the only tears associated with her were those of pupils who were in for it. The cane was, of course, wielded in those days. You did not want to be sent to Miss Bryant. This time, Miss Bryant came to us. That in itself was an event, as she toured the school with the dreadful news. This calm, contained, diminutive, yet terrifying woman burst into our classroom in tears to announce: ‘The king is dead!’. I can assure you there is no more effective way to imprint an image for life on a child’s memory. It is a sobering thought that most people alive today have known no other UK monarch than Queen Elizabeth II.
Passing the Civic Centre and arriving outside Iceland I was presented with the sight of a young woman wearing flesh-coloured tights, no knickers, and a short t-shirt, bending over a buggy. It was only after I had done a double-take and taken my eyes off her backside that I noticed a woman in a yashmak standing nearby. I have often wondered what goes through the minds of women such as each of these when encountering the others. There is much evidence of such differences in London in modern summers.
In the park itself roses are now in bloom and the aroma of horse manure has subsided. At one of the footpath junctions I met a man standing with a dog chain around his shoulders looking nowhere in particular. I asked him if he had lost his charge. ‘No’, he said, ‘she takes her time these days, she’s 87 in our years’. A large, labouring, nondescript, dog soon came painfully into view making her way along the path. There ensued a conversation about joints, those of dogs and humans. I mentioned that my mother had had a hip replacement when the same age as the rather disabled dog is now. This opened the way for him to express his worry about whether he would need one, and me my pleasure at my recovery from mine. What we had been able to do in what my son Sam would call our ‘able-bodied’ years, and can now no longer achieve. It comes to us all.
I finish this post having consumed a bottle of excellent Malbec at the Buenos Aires Argentinian steakhouse at the bottom of Wimbledon Hill Road. Jackie had an Argentinian beer which I might have remembered at the beginning of the evening but which currently escapes me. We also had meals. I enjoyed a steak such as to put me off ever ordering one anywhere else. It was as good as the last I had eaten there, on St. Valentine’s Day. Jackie had an equally enjoyable lamb dish. The starters and sweets were of similar quality. Fortunately it was Jackie who sampled the small bowl of tiny magenta coloured flakes which turned out to be salt. From our window seat, opposite a modern block housing nothing but a row of classy estate agents, we could observe Wimbledon’s decidedly cosmopolitan population walking up and down the hill. We had some sympathy for the man who had to walk in and out of the restaurant five times to satisfy his nicotine craving. We finished off the evening driving to sit outside 18 Bernard Gardens where we had first got together in 1965.