Monthly Archives: August 2015

Hot coals . . . (episode 76)

Image of 'hot coals' by Emilian Robert Vicol (Romania) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image of ‘hot coals’ by Emilian Robert Vicol (Romania)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

August 10 1999

3A Hyde Park Terrace

Dear Mum

Thank you for your message of encouragement received on my ‘voice mail’ yesterday evening. Do you like this new phrase? It seems to be buzzing around the city right now. I suppose it is less clunky than ‘answer phone message,’ but I am not much of a one for fitting in – and following hot new trends – as you know!

I was out because I had been invited round to Richard Parker’s house for a barbecue. He nobbled me a couple of evenings ago when I was standing outside and wondering if my black-painted metal railings, with associated arrow finials, could do with a lick of paint. I had not made my mind up about this neighbour, Mum. He looks slightly feral with a rather bushy moustache overhanging his top lip, and one or two whiskers sprouting out of his nostrils.

However, I duly materialized on his doorstep at 7pm – clad in dusky pink shorts, new white sneakers, and a navy-and-white-striped long shirt – and depressed the door bell. I only had time for a very short, electric, buzz because Richard, who had surely been standing just inside the door, whipped it open and embarked on some lavish compliments concerning my ‘fetching’ outfit. It was not that fetching Mum. I had my black hair held back by a pink ‘Alice’ band because I did not want to go up in a ball of fire near the barbecue. And also I was wearing very little make up.

Richard, who was attired in very little – most notably a black T-shirt and orange shorts – then invited me into his tall, thin, house. We paraded through the hall, and sitting room, towards open – sliding – doors and an expanse of patio. I didn’t have time to notice very much about the d├ęcor, only that there appeared to be a striking contrast between the beige of the carpets and the glitz of all the golfing memorabilia adorning every available surface. Richard was evidently a skilled player if the multiple plaques and cups were anything to go by.

Out on the patio, the first thing I noticed – apart from the fact that I appeared to be the only guest – was a ‘state of the art’ gas-fired barbecue, which was occupying a central position on the stone flags.

“Oh my,” I said. “That is quite some whopper. I was expecting bags of charcoal and one or two briquettes.”

“Yes,” said Richard, who seemed to be positively swishing his tail with delight, “It is a ‘Bonaparte Warrior’ model. It has six grilling zones, three searing stations, high intensity lighting, and the heating capacity of a small rocket.”

There didn’t seem much else I could say to this Mum although, of course, I was actually quite aghast. What sort of person equips themselves with a two-metre-long stainless-steel monstrosity of this type?

And, gazing about the garden, I was also struck by the long sward of immaculate grass interspersed with what appeared to be around 18 white, and sunken, circles.

“What are those?” I said. “Those white things wending their way through the grass.”

“Those, my dear,” said Richard, “are my putting holes. We can have a go at those later on . . .”

I must say, Mum, that the food itself was perfectly cooked, even if completely devoid of any natural aroma. Wood smoke for instance. But Richard himself was the perfect host, filling my plate – and glass – at regular intervals.

I did think he might have forgotten about any al fresco session of pitch and putt but, after about four drinks each, he suddenly said,

“Ready for a go, are you?” And gestured at the lawn.

“If you like,” I said.

I find pitch and putt to be a very irritating game Mum. The ball never seems to go in the direction of the hole and, looking around me, I thought that it wouldn’t take much for it to get utterly lost in the stands of bamboo which flanked us on either side.

Richard then set about equipping me with a metal putting stick and small white ball. But the look on his face had changed and his top lip seemed to be rising in a sort of snarl. He was offering to demonstrate the ideal putting stroke and put his arms around me – one front and one back – in order to do so. And then, I’m sure I’m not imagining this, his teeth chattered in the way that cats do when they sight prey.

His back hand slid down on to my bottom Mum and I felt seized by a terrible tension. As you know, for years, I have been the sort of woman who tries to extricate herself from the worst of excesses, with barely a demur, and who always tries to think the best of the most abusive of behaviours, but perhaps – now – I am starting to change.

I snatched my stick from the hands of Richard Parker and put its whole length between him and me. “I am not here to be mauled by you,” I said. “I am going home.”

It is lucky, isn’t it, that predators can be out-faced like this, for Richard Parker’s face changed and he backed off, growling.

I just wish, Mum, that I had had a niblick sort of golfing stick with me, because I have heard that they can administer quite some crack and lift!

Best love

Your daughter (but not in-law, any longer)



Mole intelligence: EPISODE 75

Image from Wikimedia Commons Thule Air Base (Greenland) This image was released to Wikimedia Commons by the US government in 2005.  It is the work of a US airman/woman (or employee), taken as part of that person's official duties.

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Thule Air Base (Greenland)
This image was released to Wikimedia Commons by the US government in 2005. It is the work of a US airman/woman (or employee), taken as part of that person’s official duties.

August 7 1999

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet

My Dear Ralph

I am sorry dear. I have, indeed, been heavily-occupied in digging a large garden hole and am concerned, in more ways than one, that I might fall into it.

Do, please, be careful not to antagonize your prospective nursing tutor when your course begins in September. You will remember what happened when you got on the wrong side of Miss Fothergill during your (fairly) recent sojourn at the Wortlewell Drug Rehabilitation Clinic? Your escape from surgical lobotomy was by a very narrow squeak indeed – and we don’t want a repeat performance!

Your mention of the lady doctor, Thule Hendrikkson, has provoked several memories of my visit to Thule Air Base in the mid-1970’s. It was just after the conclusion of the Vietnam war and America was once again financially able to catch up with the Russian stockpile of Intercontinental (and submarine-launched) Ballistic Missiles. As I recall it pet, the Russian submarine missiles had an effective range of 3,500 miles and there were 375 submarines deployed in their carriage.

Naturally, the colossal fire power represented by the above was the subject of constant scrutiny by those of us working in the arena of counter-intelligence. I was only an assistant director of the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) at the time, but – one week towards the end of 1975 – I was detailed to fly (with colleagues) to Thule on a liaison mission. You need special attire, believe me dear, to equip you for the bone-frosting chill assailing you when your aeroplane door opens on to the permafrost of NW Greenland. Located at 750 miles north of the arctic circle conditions are unimaginable. And isolated in the extreme.

I myself would not be eager to experience near-permanent conditions of very low light and the probability of sudden white-outs in the form of delta-level storms. It is also very difficult to depart from Thule Air Base owing to the infrequency with which planes land upon the landing strip. We had to stay a whole week and this was certainly an opportunity to observe how some American servicemen whiled away their tour. I was able to discern (through binoculars from our dorm) quite some crates of whisky – and what may have been multiple copies of ‘PlayBabe’ – being stashed in a fairly-proximate aircraft hangar. And, if it hadn’t been for the time it would have taken to don an allocated pair of snow shoes, I would have been importuning for some of these supplies myself (naturally not the ‘PlayBabe’ option) . . .

I do hope that nowadays, in 1998, American servicemen (and women) have more to do during a winter sojourn at Thule Air Base. Perhaps they have built a gym? Perhaps internet technology will have leaped and bounded far ahead? In the summer, of course, for at least four months, there is sufficient daylight for one to join a narwhal-hunting expedition or trips over the ice in a dog-drawn sled. And who could be a philistine (or grump) then?


Aunt Evangeline

A long screw . . . (episode 74)


August 4 1999

401B Concrete Shacks

Hello Auntie

I haven’t received a reply to my last epistle? I hope you haven’t fallen into one of those holes you keep digging, have you?

Do you like the calligraphy produced by my new ‘Flow Ball’ black biro by the way? I think it makes my writing a lot more legible and adds an increased level of plausibility – especially when penning words of at least five syllables!

I have been engaged in helping my chum Reggie (you know, the dog walker with whom I was recently engaged on a ‘dog rustling’ mission). He phoned me up to regale me with a tale involving the horrors of attempting a cat flap installation toute seule.

“Can you help me out?” Ralph, pleaded Reggie. “It is very hard to hold both the inner, and outer, parts of a cat flap stationary when a chap is by himself. The beastly thing keeps warping when I try to screw it to the door.”

“Honestly Reggie,” I said. “Can’t you do anything by yourself? Last time I helped you out, someone got the wrong end of the stick – and we could have been arrested!”

“Please Ralph . . .” said Reggie.

“Oh, alright,” I said. “What on earth are you going to do when I start my student nursing course?”

But Reggie simply rattled off the address and banged down the phone.

Tutting somewhat, I materialized round at Swish Town House some ten minutes later. Reggie was sitting in a pile of screws (in three different lengths) and holding a rather mangled-looking cat flap whose flap would not flap.

“What have you done with it?” I said, crossly. “Where’s the old one?”

The flap on the old one did at least flap, even if the rubber flange running the whole way round it had perished clean away.

“Put the new flange on the old flap,” I said, “And we’ll try again.”

Trying again did not yield up success, and the beastly thing simply buckled once more!

We sat and cogitated.

“Where are the old screws?” I eventually said.

“Here” said Reggie, picking them up.

Well, do you know Auntie, the old screws (medium length) had had their tips sawn off to make them shorter.

“Let’s try them instead,” I said to Reggie, who looked like he was about to start weeping.

He started to screw them in and I shouted jovially from my side of the door,

“Unless our luck changes, Reggie, I think this is the nearest we are going to get to an actual screw for quite some time.”

I thought I discerned sniggering from the other side of the door, shortly followed by what sound like,

“YES!! YES!!! YES!!!!”

The cat flap was on and the flap was flapping!

I think I may have missed my vocation in life Auntie. Is there anything that requires fixing round at your premises?

Yours on the crest of success


Diverting a water course . . . (episode 73)

Garden snail.  Image by Simon Howden.

Garden snail. Image by Simon Howden.

August 1 1999

My Dear Harriet

I am so proud of you darling. To grow into your own woman is an achievement in its own right. And all too often it is an attainment unrecognized, and unappreciated, by the majority.

I myself have been engaged in renovating a water garden which, for many years, has lain – hidden – beneath a carpet of trumpet-flowering bindweed. And, just recently (and rather annoyingly) a Spring has found its way to the top of its steep slope. I have been tramping, in my steel-capped wellingtons, through a soggy morass and, this week, I have sat on a stone, retaining, wall to examine the situation – and work out what to do.

The Spring appeared to be seeping – in measurable drips – from two places at the base of the wall. It was threatening to overwhelm a Yucca and I had, already, removed the Skimmias from a sopping pit. I have long been longing to create a waterfall – albeit one which water trickled over – and some way beneath me, on the slope, and beneath the paths, was a pile of large, tumbled, rocks. It was to there that I decided to divert the water.

First of all I created a simple, rustic, path across one half of the garden, at the top. I toiled across it with small rocks, and parts of paving stones, until I could hop from rock to rock. And then I laboured across again, with bucket after bucket of driveway gravel. I stationed this between the paving stones. The result was satisfactory. I could now get across the slope without sloshing through the mud.

And then I turned my attention to the watercourse. I decided to divert it – in two channels – around the roots of a long-dead Hebe (what is Hebe doing in a water garden, after all?). Assisted by the fact that the sub-soil is a solid yellow clay, I dug a small pond, lower down, to collect the water in. Most satisfyingly, water started to trickle towards it. I think about 8m then separated the new pond from the ‘waterfall’ stones beneath it. So I dug a trench: across my path, and then across another, low, retaining wall, and then across another path, and down the slope – until it reached the fall. I used the topsoil – comprising, in a large part, clay – to make a high bank on either side of the new waterway. It was wonderful dear, to be able to accomplish all this, despite nearly four hours elapsing and feelings of prostration setting in!

I studied the result from the top retaining wall. It looks aesthetic and – as good as that – it looks functional. I am now intending to suggest to the garden owners that we plant Iris sibirica (a water iris) on the bank which I have created. And then we could lay cobble stones amongst the irises, which would make the whole side of this water garden look landscaped. As, indeed, it is.

Yours, ever