Category Archives: memoir

The burglar alarm that phones you . . .


August 12 2000

12 Forsythia Grove                                                                                                                                 Outer Hamlet                                                                                                                                           CORSETTSHIRE  ZY6 4GT

My Dear Ralph

It has been such a long time since we wrote, hasn’t it dear?  I have supposed it must be due to your new relationship with Thule – and recent sojourn to the chilly expanses of Greenland.  And I myself have been engaged in the planning of a “Winter Tree Walk” – and all the boning up on the subject of trees – that that involves.  Of course, the second I had my first thoughts about preparing a flyer, my little, and exactly hand-fitting, camera decided that its years of happy operation were over  – and I have had to go and buy a new one.  I have chosen the towering stem of a local Beech tree to feature on my flyer and it certainly is a most impressive image.  I am not sure whether I should purchase eight or so hard hats to equip any attendees on my tour of trees with?  This may sound slightly over the top, but I will be inviting people into the canopies of very large trees and – on windy/thundery days – one might be slightly more likely to be struck on the bonce by a falling tree or bolt of lighting!  Luckily, Beech trees – with their very thin and wettable skins – conduct electricity very rapidly down to the ground.  And so that particular tree is most unlikely to explode!  Still.  Under the canopy, one would still be under the influence of an electrical charge, and I wouldn’t want to have to perform CPR – particularly on individuals uninsured for personal injury (as they would be).  What do you think dear?

Meanwhile, I have recently been subjected to the most nosy, and intrusive, questioning concerning my actual whereabouts, by somebody who features at two of my work places and isn’t due to fly back to South Africa until September.  This personage is a total stranger and I have been feeling distinctly disinclined to answer questions concerning where I will be, when I am coming, and how long I will be there.  Mulling the whole thing over, I decided that she was either just one of those excessively nosy people or might be interested (with associate) in engaging in some form of summer burglary (burglaries do apparently peak during the school summer holidays).  And although I do reside in a most inaccessible house – in full view of a pub – I did decide to do some research on simple home alarms.  It turned out to be most interesting pet and – despite my massive phobia relating to electronics and actual button pressing – I was very tempted by the type of alarm that detects the burglar and actually phones you up to let you know about it!  (I first heard about this on the news, when it transpired that one of the presenters had had to go home because his burglar alarm had phoned him up to let him know that someone had entered his house.)

I decided to equip the device with a roaming SIM (which searches for the strongest signal on any available network) and the most aggravating aspect of the whole set up was to get this SIM card registered and activated.  The company selling the alarm had put around five videos on how to program it on to their website so, gritting my teeth with steely determination, I trotted over to the library – equipped with headphones – to go and view the instructions and take copious notes!  But actually, it was easy.  I fitted the SIM card, and the batteries, and then linked the “remote” to the alarm.  I then put the number of the roaming SIM into my phone (so I’d realize it was the alarm phoning) and typed my mobile phone number into the burglar alarm.  I did decide to turn off the howling siren effect as, should I be 15, or so, minutes away from the house, the whole street could be paralysed by the 200dB shriek emitted!  I also recorded a short phone message (six seconds long) into the alarm’s microphone – and screwed the whole ensemble high up on to the wall. I did, naturally, check that this stretch of wall was actually in receipt of a telephone signal before I did this . . .

And then I decided to find out whether my efforts had worked and that the alarm did work (I naturally assumed that it would be dead as dodo and sit, silently, on its perch on the wall!)  But actually pet, I walked into the room and the alarm’s red light immediately flashed on and, about five seconds later, my mobile phone started to ring in the room upstairs.  I ran up there and, sure enough, the alarm was phoning to give me the message that I had just dictated into its microphone.  Miraculous!  I felt exceedingly flushed with my success I can tell you!  Technology does move on and sometimes a lot of interesting learning can happen, if one can just push out the boat a little.

Love, as ever

Your Aunt Evangeline




Submissions . . .

Delightful picture of a koi carp at parental demesne

Delightful picture of a koi carp at parental demesne

Phew! I am done writing I think. And it’s time to submit my efforts to an agent. It has taken me quite some months to revise (and revise again) this, my first and on-line, draft. Apart from the obvious typos, there were – on many occasions – glaring faults with plot logic as well as gaping time gaps. I seem, also, to have yakked on far too much about gardening (my real occupation) as well as the historical situation in Kosovo!

It is a mission in itself to prepare a proper submission to an agent. The covering letter takes much thought and care, as does the brief summary and synopsis. The experience of penning the latter has given me the opportunity to ask myself if I really know what the story is all about! I have also had to prepare a writer’s CV and some testimonials. Thank you Josna and Peter for your glowing tributes to my efforts at dark comedy.

So we will see. I am as ready now as I ever will be. And if it still not my time, then I will just carry on!

Thank you for your readership, whoever you are, out in the ether.


Evangeline Tankful (DBE)

Gazing into the abyss . . . (episode 93)


1A The Hole
Hope End Street

July 2 2000

What ho! Auntie

You sounded decidedly more chipper on the telephone the other night. So your plaster cast is finally off! How are the ‘kicking sets’ going down at the Outer Hamlet swimming pool?!

I am writing to report on my latest attempt to engage the attentions of Thule. Despite a certain amount of loitering around the corridors of Carpool District Hospital, I never seemed to bump into her. And, then, just before last weekend I observed her in the act of appending her name to a list on the ‘Outdoor Activities’ notice board. I naturally waited until she was out of sight, before sleuthing up to see what activity she had signed up for . . . It was a trip (that very weekend) to Sunless Pot in the shire responsible for the Kendal Mint Cake. Auntie, I added my name, before galloping back to my bedsit to see whether my wet suit was in sufficiently good repair for me to pack in a bag. It was. Only one or two holes in the rubber!

The following morning, along with quite some motley crew of around ten people, I arrived in the canteen car park, prior to climbing into the mini van. Thule was there but, disappointingly, she seemed to be hanging about the person of a character called Dan: the potholing team leader. Dan, as I’m sure you can imaging, resembled – to my jaundiced eye – the sort of chest-beating gorilla that you tend to see on episodes of Tarzan. AH – AH – AH – AH – AH goes that yell, doesn’t it? She did manage a rather cursory hello to Yours Truly, but that was it. I slumped into a seat and proceeded be harassed, rather irritatingly, by the only other female on the trip. I don’t want to appear unduly prejudiced on the subject of appearances Auntie, but she did have buck teeth and, every so often, she gave out a sound of loud slurping. Uncontrolled salivation I think – not necessarily of the lubricious kind – but more related to some physiological anomaly or other. It was only by dint of changing seats after every motorway service station that I managed to shake her off.

It was certainly a long haul up the slopes of Sunless Fell to the pot, particularly as I was assigned to the carrying of about 200′ of electron ladder. This is the sort of ladder, Auntie, that is metal, flexible, and narrow to the point of only accommodating one foot on each of its rungs. At this point, I was rather wondering what I was getting myself into – particularly as, by then, heavy lead acid cell batteries had been allocated to each person, in addition to helmets clad in a sizable light. I think I had been envisaging a little saunter along minor horizontal tunnels!

Sweating, and doubtless puce about the chops, I finally toiled over the rim of the fell and the opening of Sunless Pot yawned before me: vast and black and apparently descending into a void without bottom. Frankly Auntie, I was all for throwing in the towel – especially when I saw the ladder, all 200′ of it – being rolled over the edge, but I couldn’t as Thule would definitely have noticed my ignominious scampering back to the bus. There was also a loud growling sound to be heard and this – peering slightly further down into the chasm – appeared to be coming from a waterfall in full fall. Black and white water was frothing from a ledge.

‘Surely we aren’t climbing through that?’ I chirruped from my vantage point.

‘It’s no problem mate,’ said Dan, flexing his biceps. ‘You can take a breath from under the rim of your helmet. I’ll just rope you on.’

God only knows Auntie, how I didn’t turn and run – craven – back down the slope, but all I can say is, that terror had me rooted to the veritable spot.

I submitted to being roped on and gaped down at the ladder.

‘It’s easy mate,’ said the irrepressible Dan. ‘Just keep your body straight and close to the ladder. It might flex a bit above and below you.’ And then he gave me a bit of a thumbs up and a bit more of a push.

Well Auntie. What can I say? Down I went, foot after foot, breathing from the small interstice of air beneath my helmet rim, as the water roared down upon me. The beastly ladder certainly does flex about and it took all the strength I had to cling on as I descended through the zawn.

And if you are asking me if Thule was worth it, then I can only say ‘Yes,’ in a way, because she patted me on the back later on – in the ‘duck’ section – and before the ‘sump’ section – and actually said that she’d seen me about the wards from time to time.

I will tell you about the ‘duck’ section and the ‘sump’ section in future reminiscences!

Toodle pip

Your loving nephew


The other sort of swimmer . . . (episode 92)


10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet

June 25 2000

My Dear Ralph

I seem to be spending slightly more time repining at home than is my wont, and so it is far too tempting to dip my fountain pen into its green inkwell and pen epistles to yourself and Harriet. Do you like my note paper? It is of a weight and colour (deep lilac) designed to complement – and dignify – the ink. I have, further, invested it with a scent, the scent of lavender from my spray bottle, for I am an old-fashioned lady at heart. It is an opportunity, I feel dear, to also send some notion of my character and style.

And perhaps I have needed the uplift of the above, given the style of the correspondence received from the Bright Litton NHS hospital fracture clinic. I have been copied in to a letter that the medical personage at the clinic has sent to my GP. And quite apart from the factual inaccuracies scattered therein, there is one particularly offending sentence, which reads as follows: ‘Mrs Tankful is a self-employed gardener, who has “managed” to injure her wrist falling off a 2′ high stool.’ Beep beep dear. For a start, the medical personage is conflating two separate – and unrelated – facts. I may well be a self-employed gardener, but I sustained my injury indoors and not ‘out in the field’ so-to-speak. And, secondly, having done considerable damage to both my ribs and my shoulder – in addition to fracturing a wrist – it should be obvious to any thinking person that I did not just topple sideways into a flower bed while sitting on a stool (and wielding, for instance, garden shears). You would think – and you would hope – that this type of male would have become virtually extinct by the year 2000! The only plus point, as far as a communication of this quality goes, is that any, even slightly, decent recipient of it, would raise their eyebrows to the heavens (and give thanks that they had not been sent to see such a male themselves).

I was further dispirited by the telephone message I received from my GP surgery (that very same day) which went along the following lines: ‘Hello Mrs Tankful. This is the Empathy surgery here. We are just phoning to notify you that a letter inviting you to attend the Osteoporosis clinic will be arriving shortly.’ OSTEOPOROSIS CLINIC Ralph?! I have evidently had a slight fall indeed! At the age of only 64, I have entered the arena of OLD AGE!

The coup de gras (have I spelled that right pet?) was administered in an article written by a swimming coach that I came across in the Outer Hamlet public library. This rather excoriating piece stated that there were two types of swimmer who break their wrists. The first type, apparently, once clad in a plaster cast, never goes swimming again (perhaps this is because they are unaware that a waterproof cast is, theoretically, an option). But the other type of swimmer is undeterred! The other type of swimmer attends the pool and does ‘kicking sets’ – both above, and under, the surface of the water. So, guess what dear? I will be attending the pool, once I manage to get shot of the water-soluble plaster cast I am currently interred within. And I shall be attempting both ‘kicking sets’ and side-stroke.


Your loving Aunt

Evangeline Tankful (DBE)

Mole intelligence: EPISODE 90


1A The Hole
Hope End Street

June 12 2000

Hello Auntie

It is raining here at Hope End Street; I can just about see it as I gaze through the dirty net curtains – and grimy glass windows – of my bedsit. But (unusually maybe) I am not one of those who see only darkness in the rain. I find the sight and sound of it – sloshing down upon the pavements – to be comforting. I imagine it to be enfolding me in a hug. A kind hug. And it acts as a silencer of the loud and shouting world. I seem to need this Auntie, this gentling of the spirit that occurs under a low sky.

Thank you for your telephone call by the way. Yes. I am more than happy to come round and cut off your T-shirt for you. You must be getting quite hot and sweaty if your plaster cast is stopping you from disrobing and getting into a bath. Still. Those freezer bags you mention sound very useful for the purposes of keeping the cast from getting plastered in mud while gardening. Do you get much trouble from condensation inside the bag?

Your remarks about the nature of heroism reminded me of a novel by Patrick White (he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1971) called ‘Riders in the Chariot.’ I don’t know if you are familiar with it Auntie? It has four main characters, all of whom might be identified as ugly in the view of the world. One is a deranged heiress; the second is a coarse-looking washerwoman; another is a professorial Jew, and the last is a syphilitic aborigine. They are: Mary Hare, Mrs Godbold, Professor Himmelfarb, and Alf Dubbo. The remarkable thing about them though is that they all exemplify the virtues of goodness, kindness, and compassion. They are riders in the chariot of God, otherwise known as the Zaddikim. It was one of those books that can change a human life and I have always kept it, albeit getting more and more battered – and caked with dust – with every passing year. I would take it to a desert island because I would never tire of the mortifying acts of casual cruelty described and these characters’ efforts to offset them. Perhaps I, too, was a child not set in a popular mould – made ugly by shyness – and who now aspires to reach out a hand to very ill people who lie in their hospital beds. People who need me.

On the nursing front, by the way, learning methods have taken a downhill turn owing to the introduction of ‘study modules’ on the library computer.  In my opinion, remote learning has an alienating effect on the learner for, once you have completed one set of multiple choice questions, the page vanishes forever from the tangible world into a digital realm from whence it is unlikely to reappear.  All such increases in technology seem to correlate, I feel, with a loss of humanity.  I really feel quite depressed by it Auntie; nursing care on hospital wards has similarly vanished down the computer toilet in this way.

Your loving nephew


A broken wrist . . . (episode 88)


10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet

May 22 2000

Hello Pets

I have become hors de combat and it is painful even to cough or waggle a finger or two around. Honestly, after so many – injury-free – years as a horticulturalist, I fear I may have become blase even during manoeuvres around the house (which is where I managed to fall, stepping down from a table on to a chair).

I was up on the table, indeed I was up on a window ledge, during the course of siting something called a mobile wireless device as high up in the room as possible. But, as I stepped down on to the chair, I must have been a trifle incautious and the whole thing tipped to the left. I crashed to the ground dears, whacking my head and rib cage on the floor, and bearing a considerable amount of impact on my left wrist. I don’t think I was knocked out, but the word “concussion” has taken on a whole new meaning since that moment.

When I finally had the electromotive force to get up off the floor, I fortunately recalled the phone number of my chum Lord Sloth of Denbigh Dale (a.k.a. the Cosy Old Sock) and gave vent to some considerable importunings to come round forthwith. When he arrived, I said,

“Have you changed the registration plate on your car? It does not look quite the same as usual.”

Lord Sloth gave me a strange look and said, “What have you done to yourself Lady Beaver? You have a large bruise to the left of your eye.”

“Yes,” I said. I seem to have hit my head and the writing on my wall calendar looks a bit fuzzy.” I expect I will be alright in a minute.”

Round at Lord Sloth’s demesne, I said, “I’m sure I’m doing an afternoon shift for the care company this afternoon. The thing is, I can’t actually remember the name of the care company or the time I usually start it.”

“Oh,” said Lord Sloth, who started to turn the page of any number of old-fashioned paper directories and reading out the names of local care companies.

And finally we came across it or, eventually, I remembered it.

“Why don’t you give them a call?” said Lord Sloth. “You could ask them what time you usually start.”

“How can I phone up and ask them that?” I hissed. “It would look most odd.”

“Well, don’t you know Eloise’s number,” he said. “You could phone up and ask her.”

“Who?” I said. “Never heard of her. Who is she?”

“The person you normally work with,” rejoined Lord Sloth.

“Oh,” I said.

Eventually, and after one or two hours had elapsed, I decided that, actually, I probably shouldn’t go at all as my left arm, by then, was nearly-completely unusable and my rib cage felt like it had been crushed under a train.

“Why don’t you go to A&E and ask for an X-ray?” remarked the ever-reasonable Lord Sloth.

“Certainly not,” I rejoined. It is only a little strain. And, anyway, it is a trip on the bus, followed by a long walk up the hill to the hospital.”

“I will take you,” said Lord Sloth.

“Hmmph,” I replied.

Well, the long and the short of it pets, was that – two days later – on Saturday – I had a conversation with a citizen called Claude in the High street. Claude said that, when something similar had happened to him some years ago, he too had not thought he had broken anything.

“Oh?” I said. “What happened?”

“Well,” he said. “They X-rayed my wrist and said I’d broken it. They then informed me that they had to put a torniquet round my upper arm (to prevent the drug they were using ever reaching my heart and potentially stopping it). And when they did that my arm started to jump around uncontrollably. They then summoned an ‘ape’ to pull on the hand and get the bones back in the right position.”

I stared dubiously at Claude and said, “Perhaps times have moved on since then. Who knows.”

Anyway. This conversation had the effect of getting me to the bus stop. And at the bus stop (with shelter) was the local alcoholic with the long brown hair and strange white face. I wished I’d phoned Lord Sloth at this juncture. And then another unusual lady also turned up, followed up by somebody slightly more normal.

The bus arrived some 20 minutes later and I accelerated towards it, leaped on board, and asked for my ticket. The driver, however, was looking through the window in rather a distracted manner and then started to shout:

“HE’S NOT GETTING ON THE BUS. HE’S NOT GETTING ON THE BUS.” We all looked at the man with long brown hair. And then the driver started to shout, “GET ON THE BUS. GET ON THE BUS” to the other two ladies who were waiting. They, of course, froze before finally struggling in together and getting jammed in the door as it closed.

Phew pets. This whole thing was turning into a bit of a strain.

At the hospital – having spilled a cup of Mocha all over the waiting room floor – I was summoned by a nurse into the treatment room. She looked at my Michelin tyre-size hand, all blue and black, and said,

“Hmmm. It is the amount of bruising descending the inside of your wrist that I am worried about.”

And, indeed, the bruising did seem to have seeped for a whole 7.5cm down the inside of my wrist.

“However,” she went on. “It is Saturday and X-ray is closed. You will have to come back on Monday.”

And this, dears, is where matters have rested – apart from the unfortunate incident with the young men in baseball caps whom I encountered in the over-ground tunnel en route to the bus stop. Always be wary of young men clad in caps which read something like, “F . . . O . . . OR I’LL NUT YOU” when visibly incapacitated in an arm sling, toute seule and out of sight of the rest of the world.

Your loving relative

Evangeline Tankful (DBE)

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


La Belle Epoque . . . (episode 72)

image by 'gameanna'

image by ‘gameanna’

July 30 1999

The Victorian Pub
Parade Street

Hello Mum

I am sitting just inside the Victorian pub on Parade Street – waiting for a woman called Amanda Jones to arrive. She has expressed an interest in starting a poetry café with me, but is now 30 minutes late! However, this has at least given me the opportunity to study an old pub in minute fashion, having already been engaged by its dark-red tiled exterior and sign of a Victorian gentleman clad in a top hat, black suit, and stick equipped with a silver handle and ferrule. Perhaps he is intended to be Charles Dickens? Inside, I have been engaged by the plush, red velvet, couch upholstery – pinned into place by velvet-covered buttons – and by the swaggering red drapes hung alongside, and above the windows. The bar counter is a magnificent beast indeed for, at intervals along its mahogany length, are marble pillars connecting it to a curlicued plaster ceiling. But it is the glass, Mum, that is most enthralling: the frosted, round, lamp covers (the lights are electric now of course, not gas) which run – in a row – above the counter; the colourful fruits of a row of reverse-painted mirrors hung upon the walls and, in pride of place, an acid-etched mirror with an oak frame. This tall/wide work of art has Greek key work at top and bottom and its central image is that of a delicate urn, containing flowers. This is a truly wondrous pub interior and, with or without Amanda Jones, it is worth time spent inside it.

Sitting nearby are a young couple who have, apparently, just been staying at the very large hotel opposite the pub, and whose name is La Belle Epoque. It is an enormous white confection Mum with, as you might expect, a foyer entrance staffed by a doorman disporting airs of a superior kind. The young couple – who are American and looking very chic – are engaged in venting their, very uncomplimentary, views about their stay inside this edifice. Their principal complaint relates to the unendurable nocturnal cacophony they have been subjected to. It seems that their room was situated above the hotel night club and that partying did not end until 3.30am. And, even then, sirens from ambulances heading to St Saviour’s Hospital wailed past unceasingly. When they did complain, it was to a rude and uninterested woman on reception, who told them that the only other free room (for a successive night) was over a delivery entrance! And just to add insult to injury, they were informed that only Platinum members of La Belle Epoque could be assured of being assigned a room quiet enough to sleep in. This just goes to show, doesn’t it, that even premium payments of £500.00 per night do not assure one of civil treatment and a restful night in one of the ‘best’ of London’s hotels!

Well Amanda Jones has missed her chance. I am going to have to set up the Parade Street Poetry Café all by myself! I think I am reaching the point Mum – when I know I can.

Best love