a few preparations

Way back in March, I contacted the Norwegian Forest Cat Club, to volunteer to re-home one or two “Weegies”. It had been eight months since the last of my deeply-loved pair of elderly ladies died, and while they will always be in my heart, I felt that the grieving was over and I was ready to move on.

There were a couple of exchanges of e-mails, but ultimately things didn’t work out. Then they got back to me in July, to ask if I’d take a couple of 4-year old brothers. Of course I said yes! Norwegian Forest Cats may take a fair bit of looking after – that massive coat is prone to tangle – and eat a fair bit, but I’ve always felt attracted to them. And after two little old ladies, a pair of rather large (I’m told, about 7 kg each) boys would be a change. And, from the pictures, of course adorable!

Alvenkatt Jimmy Neutron

Alvenkatt Johnny Mnemonic

I knew it would take a while – the previous owners had been a bit casual about innoculations and suchlike, so when they were returned to the breeder they needed a full course. And the breeder is in Hull … and doesn’t drive … and neither do I. Fortunately, the ever-helpful Mary-Rose of the NFCC said she could help: it turns out that her partner (Bob) works during the week in Sheffield, and comes down to Essex at weekends, and had volunteered to assist. Unfortunately, Bob had done his back in, so wasn’t driving. There were assorted further e-mails.

Then an e-mail on 30th September, saying could they come last weekend or this? I preferred this weekend – last weekend was mollocking about with TW4 Production meetings and suchlike, and I had stuff to get ready. So, an Ocado delivery of loads of cat litter, and some IAMS dried catfood of an anti-hairball variety. And the purchase of a much larger cat-flap to replace the (broken, small) existing one – even though they won’t be allowed out for a couple of months. And a set of nice non-tip stainless-steel cat dishes.. And a couple of brushes for grooming. And cleaning and tidying and trying to make the flat cat-friendly.

Yesterday, Mary Rose confirmed that Jimmy and Johnny will be arriving on Friday evening, probably between 8 and 10. Apparently, they are used to eating “Royal Canin” products. A quick web-search reveled a stockist on Kilburn High Road, less than five minutes walk from work … when I got there, there was a bewildering arrang of Royal Canin: for Siamese; for Maine Coon, for kittens under six months; for elderly; for hairballs; for indoor cats with long hair: I decided this last was probably best! £15 for 2 kg – a fortnight for two cats, but if it helps make them feel at home….

So home, cat-flap fitted, tidying largely done. Cat corner now looks like this:

waiting only for a strip of carpet tile to be screed up next to the giant catflap.

I still don’t really believe it’s gonna happen after all these months, but I think I’m as set up as I can be.

grey day

There were fitful gleams of sunshine when I got up, and the plan had been to go for a walk in Richmond Park and try to find the arboretum area, in case of trees with pretty autumn leaves, so across to Richmond I went. Twenty minutes exposure to the freezing winds was enough to convince me that it had been a thoroughly bad plan!

So I retreated to the comfort of the overground again. There have been a couple of new stations that have opened on the Clapham Junction to Willden Junction stretch: the Shepherds Bush one for Westfield Shopping Centre, and Imperial Wharf, which only opened on 29th September so is virtually brand new. So, by District line to Earls Court, change to overground …

a poor imitation of a DLR station?

To be honest, it looks like a poor imitation of a DLR station – much more suited to light rail than to a real gritty urban railway. Completely out of place in Chelsea, and it has the effect of making the urban dereliction around it, and the surrounding developments, look like docklands. Just part of the blanding-down of London, I guess … but the abandonment of distinctive local identities (social and visual) within the complex conurbation is something to be regretted.

So, after a quick skip round the area, up a couple of stops to Shepherds Bush (overground). A slightly better station, still pretty much in a “modern inoffensive” idiom, but the site has dictated a slightly more one-off approach. And one of the new-style overground trains was at the opposite platform, looking very sleek and pleased with itself:

Actuially, they’re not bad: the ride is lovely, and they’re certainly quiet.

Thence, by a circuitous route, to Traflagar Square, to see “One & Other” – the Anthony Gormley thing on the 4th Plinth. (Wikipedia, official website). The safety and security precautions around the plinth didn’t detract from it at all, and I thought it worked – even though the performance when I arrived was a woman repetitively getting in and out of a box, which soon palled! What did NOT work, however, was the support infrastructure on the other side of the square:

Grossly inappropriate and offensive, tacky and tawdry, and with exposed rubbish bins etc down the side of it. In fact, it detracted from the whole thing so badly that – taken as a whole – I think the piece detracts from the square rather than adding to it. Gormley normally manages to get the relationship between work and setting about right (IMO) – this just wasn’t.

Then a completely self-explanatory and self-indulgent pic to take the nasty taste out of my mouth:

and so to home, discovering that the run of feeling really good that I’ve had is comig to an end: back complaining about the weather, and a nasty tickle at the back of my throat that betokens an imminent cold … an early retreat to bed with a Lem-sip sweetened with honey from my sister-in-law’s bees.

Off to Gunnersbury for a Production Meeting and to watch rehearsals tomorrow, if I’m up to it.


getting out …

I’ve had a recent policy on Saturdays of getting out and doing things that I wouldn’t normally do. This is largely to force me to do lots of walking (if I do less than two or three hours twice a week, my back mobility really suffers … and at present I’m more mobile than at almost any point in the past four years, probably due to a combination of warm weather, exercise, and higher doses of glucosamine sulphate). So this weekend it was time for a visit to Kensington Gardens – I don’t think I’ve been there since I was a kid.

In through Lancaster Gate near the Italian Gardens. Spectacular fountains, of course, the white spray contrasting with a rather overcast sky. The view from the top down the Long Water looks rather autumnal!

from the Italian Gardens looking down the Long Water

Actually, there were sunny spells, which got gradually longer and the afternoon was quite hot.

Walking down the west side of the Long Water I passed the statue of Peter Pan. No pix – it was covered in kids climbing on it, and taking pix that happen to have kids in them is something that I just don’t do! Anyway, hardly worth a picture (other than to be dismissive about): it isn’t my kind of art, and seems to me to be lacking a certain wildness or amorality. It’s no wonder that JM Barrie complained that it was lacking a certain “look of the Devil”. However, I suppose it’s fitting: Kensington Gardens is very much the country for those who are scared of nature … a managed romanticised idyll. I suppose all the London open spaces are, to some extent, but I was struck throughout the day in how it presents the appearance of nature through artifice: unlike Hampstead Heath or Epping Forest, and unlike the professedly formal places like Finsbury Park.

Nature seems disposed to co-operate with this approach: the line of seagulls and cormorants perched on the posts might almost have been arranged there:

arranged birds

Walking down towards the Lido the GPO tower kept appearing and disappearing through gaps in the trees. It’s somewhere I have a ridiculous amount of affection for – one of the landmarks that lets me know where I am, an icon of London, and an amazing construction. Anyway, on one of its appearances:

GPO tower

Under the bridge, and so technically into Hyde Park, and the water technically the Serpentine, to visit the Diana Memorial. It’s the first time I’ve seen it, and I’m profoundly undecided about it. OK, the varieties of restlessness of the water accurately reflect her shallow and troubled (and troublesome) nature, and the immediate and superficial appeal to kids and the unreflective is certainly appropriate. But there’s a subtle “wrongness” about it all, really. And I’m not sure if this makes it work, or whether the “wrongness” is actually the wrongness of a second-rate piece. No pictures: lots of barely-clad infants splashing about ! But here’s a permalink to the version of Wikipedia that’s current, that gives info and pix.

A walk back, and up to the Round Pond. Glorious hot sunshine … I sat down to rest for a bit, and fell asleep for two hours! Then a gentle stroll back to Lancaster Gate, looking at the signs of early autumn in the trees and shrubs. Hawthorn berries are out and not yet under attack from the birds –

Home via Liverpool Street Station, as the Victoria line is yet again out all weekend. A quick stop at M&S: feeling lazy, and a bit sun-burned, so got pre-pack roast potatoes, pre-pack stir-fry green veg, to go with the organic chicken sitting in the fridge. Apple pie – home-grown apples and home-made pastry – to follow.


Following my successful boat trip to Kew, I decided to go the other way today! Although I could have caught the boat from Westminster Pier again, I decided to overland it to Greenwich, which gave me a chance to see how the Olympics site is getting on (lots of skeletal buildings, and it begins to look as though it might actually be nearly ready in three years time). Changing at Stratford from Overground to DLR was the first time I’ve been in to the new platforms for either service: hated the Overground ones, loved the DLR ones. But I’m glad of the change – it made it less reminiscent of my twice or thrice weekly trips to Blackheath to see my aunt when she was in the Brain Injury re-had unit there … visits that I always found extremely depressing.

A very short stroll from the DLR “Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich” stop to the river. The Cutty Sark itself, of course, is still all boarded off and being worked on after the major fire a couple of years ago. A small food festival was taking place – lots of cheeses and salamis, some of which looked quite appealing, but I thought it best not to have to carry smelly food round with me for the rest of the day. I wasn’t sure about the “traditional ostrich salami from the Auvergne”, however … though the Hare salami really did appeal.

The domes covering the entrances to the Greewich Foot Tunnel were glorious. The first tunnel under the Thames, and an early work of I K Brunel, if I remember right. Sadly, the lifts weren’t working, and I really didn’t want to risk an unknown-but-large number of stairs down and up.

entrance to foot tunnel on opposite bank

And so, off down-river by boat. A fairly reasonable £14 for the trip to the barrier, and back up to Westminster Pier. Just next to the pier is the old Naval College – a historic building and suchlike, which comes across as asserting the values of Imperialism:

The Millenium Dome, of course, which is looking a little weather-beaten after a decade:

It still sits among relics of industrial East London, and the much-vaunted regeneration is noticeably lacking: this is less than a hundred metres from the dome:

and to me has an appeal all of its own. Too many hours spent working on Industrial Archaeology / Technical History excavation and rebuilding projects in my youth, I expect, but there’s an honesty about this (shared with the Dome) that too much modern stuff lacks.

The Canary Wharf developments. Whatever I think of them sociologically, they’ve turned into a landmark for London (I used to love seeing the tower on flights back from Scotland: fly straight down until Canary Wharf then turn sharp right along the river was the usual flightpath). It doesn’t for me hold quite the same resonance as the GPO tower – but perhaps for younger people it will, or maybe already does.

Canary Wharf

So, on to the Thames Barrier, and bright sunshine. It makes me feel rather old: having been an enthusiastic proponent of the Barrier some years ago, it’s a shock to realise that it is nearing the end of its useful life, and serious attention must be given to a replacement more able to cope with rising sea levels! Above all, though, it’s spectacularly pretty in the sunlight!

Thames Barrier

Thames murk descended briefly on the way back – this is rather how I actually think of the Docklands area, though I realise it’s a bit of a travesty.

Back up the river, and back to sunshine: I spent most of the time dozing! Lots of London landmarks, of course, but too chilled to take much notice of them, though the Gherkin did catch my eye as we were about to pass through Tower Bridge:

So back to land. Feeling a bit unsteady on my feet, so I went for a sit-down in Victoria Embankment Gardens. While there, I succumbed to the attraction of a bacon sandwich and an ice-cream. Yum!


Still on a boaty-watery theme, I decided to catch the riverboat from Westmister to Kew. It’s something I’ve never done (though I did go on a circular river tour just after I came to live in London – some thirty years ago!). Down to Westminster Pier for 1030h, and it was fairly crowded. A large group of German schoolkids, and lots of Amercian tourists – I suppose it’s to be expected. I’d chosen the 1030 departure because it terminates at Kew – the later ones go on to Hampton Court, and I thought that they’d be pretty unbearable.

leaving Westminster Pier

It’s a fair stroll from Kew Bridge Pier to the entrance to Kew Gardens, and by the time I got in it was straight to the Orangery for lunch, passing a number of the willow sculptures of seeds on the way. I must ask Polly Pollock what she thinks of them!

Lunch was pretty bland and over-priced, and very reminiscent of Kenwood in many ways. After lunch, I had good walk round, though the trees are not yet seriously changing colour. Apart, unfortunately, from the horse-chestnut trees, most of which have been afflicted with the problems that are becoming widespread, and seem to be dying. It feels a bit like Dutch Elm Disease all over again. A shame: chestnuts are part of my childhood memories – not just the conkers, but the avenue of alternating red and white blossomed ones that formed the entrance to Audley House.

The crossing is, I think, new since my last visit (1995, to see the magnolias, ferns and cycads, in preparation for the “Dinosaurs Alive” exhibition I did at Rothes Halls):

Unfortunately, the lift to the tree-top walk has died, so I didn’t venture up. Probably sensible – I got bad enough vertigo going up to the high-level gallery in the Palm House! An obligatory visit to see the water-lillies was warm, though the rest of the day had been “sunny spells” – a bit chilly when the sun went behind clouds, but nice enough in general.

A good day out, and back home by Overground from the Kew Gardens stop. My first trip on the new rolling stock: too few seats for my taste. The “priority” seats do indeed have a different coloured seat fabric from normal ones, but the difference is so subtle that I really don’t think it serves the function of marking them out as distinctive. A triumph of “tasteful” design over functionality – especially as the signs designating the seats are very small and inconspicuous. still, I suppose they tried …

Broads again

So, the annual trip on the Broads. I went down on the Friday afternoon, catching the train by the skin of my teeth! The train from Seven sisters to Liverpool Street was seriously screwed, and the customer information was abonimable – first saying a train was delayed by ten minutes, then fifteen, then cancelled, but the next one showing as being on time … then ten miute late … then fifteen … after three-quarters of an hour of this nonsense I left and caught a cab, arriving at Liverpool Street with four minutes to pick my pre-booked tickets up from the machine and catch the train – I must have had a good twenty seconds to spare before they closed the barriers!

Sim picked me up at Saxmundham, so we could visit the tackle shop there. The owner was just back from a few days on the Broads, and said that it was fishing excellently – which all sounded rather encouraging.

Saturady morning was the usual trip to pick up the “fresh” food, Sim already having got the tinned and non-perishable stuff. Geoff arrived just as we got back, so it was a quick coffee and off: we’d been given a start time of 1330h this year, as opposed to the normal 1430. There was a little hanging about as the staff were actually on lunchbreak when we arrived …

Sim and Geoff on Stalham staithe

I soon persuaded the guy who turned up that we’ve done it innumerable times before, and he let us off without demonstrating anything, let alone making us do a test drive. We’ve had this boat before (in 2006) – Dream Gem 2, the one where the rear cabin is only screened off with a curtain.

As before, that was me. There have been a couple of changes, though – including a new fridge: a bigger one, with a latch closure (slightly difficult to get the hang of at first) replacing the traditional sort where a golf tee has to be put through a couple of holes to keep the door closed!

Straight down to the River Bure, as usual. we fancied a change for the first night, so instead of turning lweft, then in towards South Walsham Broad, we turned right and went in towards Ranworth Broad, stopping about a hundred yards before the habitations begin. An excellent spot, fishing was fair and very varied (perch, bream, roach etc) – this is one of Sim’s bream

A wonderful harvest moon came out orangely, reflected in the water – almost impossible to capture on camera, but this was my best effort.

Sunday was fine and breezy – a good day for sailing types, and they look very pretty (though many of them are pretty shit at signalling where they want our boat to pass).

Monday was up through Horning, which looked particularly picture-postcard in the sunshine

We had a serious try for pike and perch mid-day in Salhouse Broad, but there was little sign of anything wanting to bite. Back down through Horning again, and I tried for ages to get a decent picture of the reed-beds. For some reason, it’s a scenery that particularly appeals (and I have a large litho. of reedbeds over the fireplace in my front room). Frustratingly, they are almost unphotographable, though these are the best couple of efforts.


Monday night was spent just up from Barton Broad, and a rapid boat-cleaning before handing it back at 0900h on Tuesday morning. Lunch at Sim’s, and the mid-afternoon train back to London.

catch-up: bits and bobs

It was great to see Sim and family. We had a very pleasant supper in the garden, then Anne went for a snooze, Phoebe retreated to the spare room with Sim’s laptop for facebook-type stuff, and Sim and I had a game of scrabble. A pretty good overall score – well. Sim had 3 7-letter words, which helps! – so perhaps we’re not getting quite as mentally decrepit as we sometimes think we are.

Taxi booked for 0245, so I waved them off, had a relaxing bath, and got to bed around 0400h. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t wake ’til mid-day.

In to work for about 1430h – not really feeling very engaged. I’d obviously overdone things, as my hip was hurting badly, and I had a lot of weakness and numbness in my right leg. Left work at 1800h, intending to go for a walk on the Heath on the way home, but decided that I really wasn’t up to it.

Saturday was glorious hot sunshine – flaming June a couple of days early. I still wasn’t really up to walking, but did bits and bobs in the garden, a spot of sunbathing, quite a lot of watering, and suchlike. Also made a start of laundry – not only the bedlinen from Sim’s visit, but the late-spring wash of the winter wooly jumpers before putting them away.

Sunday was a meet-up for the Beggars opera crowd, over in Ealing. I nearly didn’t go – engineering on the Victoria line and Overground meant taking the little chuff-chuff to Liverpool Street, and an age on the Central line. However, I’m very glad that I did.

Debbie, Fran & Geoffrey, Jonathan & his partner Bruce, Robin, Mick, me. Debbie and I arrived (at Carluccio’s on Ealing Green) first at around 1345, and others drifted in. Food was OK (I had pate, and grilled asparagus) – mush of it was rather on the rich side for me, especially as summer trousers have revealed an expanding waistline! Fran & Geoffrey, and Bruce, left after a couple of hours – the rest of us continued until about 1830h when Mick and I left … Good conversation, if not infrequently rather ribald! Punctuated every hour or so by me needing to get up and stand for ten minutes or so …

I’d put on new TENS electrodes in the morning, as I know from experience that they tend to slip around if I get sweaty in hot weather. As it happened, the electrodes stayed put … but the sockets on this batch are ust slightly to large for the lead, and I had to make two visits to the gents (down precipitous stairs) to sort out the wiring and re-plug myself ! It’s days like today that I really appreciate the TENS unit: I certainly couldn’t have managed without it. As it is, of course, it was an evening for lying flat while my back went through all kinds of interesting spasms … hope this is all sorted by tomorrow, as next week (run-up to Open Studios) is busy!