Although regular fresh droppings provide evidence of the presence of deer in the garden, we have not, until today, seen these timid, delicate-looking creatures for ourselves. We are told they come out at night. Over lunch, we saw two on the far side of the lawn. Jackie fetched my camera as I dare not move. Despite the distance and the window between us they knew we were there and looked straight at us. I could not even risk placing the camera lens against the glass. I managed to get in a couple of quick shots before they were off like one.
After lunch I walked the Seamans Lane, Shave Wood, Football Green route. One of the first houses in the Lane is Agister’s Cottage. The agisters are employees of the verderers whose task is to assist in the management of commoners’ stock turned loose in the forest, and to collect the annual fees for pasturage that these commoners must pay for each animal. Whether the cottage’s name is purely historical or whether an agister lives there, I have yet to ascertain.
Perhaps because this was a Saturday afternoon there were a number of horse riders on the roads today. The first was a little round girl, with a face like the Cheshire Cat, astride a little round black Thelwell pony. They were being led by a large round woman who held the reins of a large black horse in her other hand. Their greetings were cheery. In London Minstead two riders were dismounting after three hours’ riding. Two more approached me alongside Football Green. When they wished me ‘Good morning’ I realised they too had been out quite a long time. Another pair trotted towards Seamans Corner as I returned home.
I asked the couple in London Minstead if they knew the origin of ‘Seamans’. Apart from our being in Seamans Lane, next door to Agister’s Cottage there are two Seamans Cottages. The apostrophe in Agister’s is missing in each use of Seamans. They were obviously comparatively new themselves, and a little vague, but related it to press gangs from Portsmouth. Nick, who lives across the road from them, would know the story. I must ask him some time. What I can do is explain press gangs. They were legal gangs of men who could press men into Naval service. We read, for example, of drunken gentlemen tottering out of hostelries, when they were snatched and knocked on the head, and waking up on board ship. Sometimes, plied with enough strong drink, they just passed out in the inns. The unfortunate victims were then given a choice. They could either sign up for the Navy and get paid; or remain ‘pressed’, in which case they received no pay. Not quite Hobson’s choice, but near enough. The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 saw the end of this horrific, yet legal, method of manning the famous British Navy.
Jackie fed us tonight on a delicious lamb jalfrezi containing succulent Waitrose meat beautifully cooked with a greatly enhanced Patak sauce. This was followed by a Malwood Mess. We finished yesterday’s Pinot Grigio. Noticing that I had all the bay leaves and bits of cinnamon stick on my plate, we decided that the law is that the person who doesn’t cook gets the debris. It is only since cooking myself that I have become fully familiar with bay leaves. There is, of course, a large tree at The Firs, and there was an absolutely huge one at Lindum House. My first encounter with the leaf was somewhat embarassing. When I worked at Lloyd’s Insurance we had our own canteen. Mum had been an excellent basic English cook. We were occasionally fed meals at Lloyd’s with which I was unfamiliar. One day, aged eighteen, I fished a thickish leaf out of my stew. ‘This is disgusting’, I thought. ‘Where has this meal been to get this into it’. So, I took it back to the counter, claiming a bit of privet had found its way into my portion. It was replaced without a murmur. I was too ignorant to feel embarassed then, but I still feel so when I think of my first bay leaf.