Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local
I haven’t often eaten slow-cooked ox-cheek. With or without charred sprouting broccoli, garlic mash and feta mousse. It was the main course at a dinner I attended in London recently. Very tender and tasty. Just falling off the bone.
I haven’t often listened to music performed on the Chernihivka bandura, a niche musical instrument steeped in the history and heritage of eastern Europe. It featured in the programme given by the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral Choir at St Mary’s Church in May in aid of the Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal for Ukraine. A distinctive, evocative sound.
Two rather unusual diary entries, I think you will agree. But mostly, life is more predictable. More relaxingly everyday. Even, you might say, run-of-the-mill?
My sister came to visit. We went for a walk in Knighton Woods. Too early for the grand display of rhododendrons in full flamboyant flower. But the midday sunshine filtering through the rapidly greening trees provided the ideal setting for catching up on each other’s news. A family with young children was relaxing by the lake, engaged in the well-established ritual of watching the ducks and drakes and especially the little troupe of ducklings. Perhaps daring to share the crumbs left over from their sandwiches. A sort of toddler ‘rite of passage’.
We are still getting our papers delivered. This was something of a necessity during the tight lockdown days. Now, it’s a little mini-luxury that we’ve got used to. Down at Webb’s, they are sorting out our orders well before most of us are out of our beds. Very occasionally, if one paper has failed to be delivered to the shop, they’ll graciously substitute another one. Then Nico dons his motorbike helmet and is on his way to bring us up to date with the world before breakfast. I try to remember to unlock the porch door before seven on Saturdays when the combined weight and thickness of our reads makes his task of getting them through the (respectfully large) letter box very challenging. Better for him just to drop them on the mat!
I nipped out to post a letter yesterday. A matter of a few yards. It took me half an hour: I met Cliff, walking his daughter’s dog. “I’m going to bore everyone rigid for years to come,” he announced. “I can’t stop talking about it!” I knew at once what ‘it’ must be. I think I got in first with my congratulations, even before he drew breath to continue. “We have our first grandchild.” An everyday event really. But not for him and his wife. Not for any of us. A new person had arrived. A life-changing event for the family. He shared the picture of the eight-week-old miracle. We gazed with shameless, glorious, grandparental barmyness.
We’ve been to Peebles in the spectacular Scottish Borders. A week beside the fast-flowing River Tweed. The municipal flower beds planted and tended by the ‘Bonnie Peebles’ group. The fish and chips to die for at Jim and Jack’s in Northgate. We had supper at The Crown: David opted for Balmoral Chicken (chicken breast stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon and roasted). A royal dish. He tried it out when we got home. Very successfully. Of course, the first thing you need after a 400-mile drive is a cup of tea. My milk was in the freezer. No problem. A short walk around the corner to Gillian’s with small milk jug in hand and the problem was solved.
I met a man from St Petersburg at the Sainsbury’s self-checkout. Well, not exactly ‘met’. The staff helper was busy further down the line. But I was able to guide him over the sequence of hurdles that lay ahead: how many bags, if any, had he used? What method of payment would he select? Would he require a receipt? He was effusive in his thanks. I said, “I’d love to visit St Petersburg.” (But inwardly, I thought: “Probably not yet!”)
If I had to choose my favourite bit of household kit, I think I would plump for the rotary dryer. If I were trying to sound eco and green, I would probably say it was to do with the satisfaction of harnessing wind and sun power. But no, it’s not that. There it stands, conveniently, right outside my kitchen window, on the patio, compact, wrapped in its sturdy protective sleeve. (Beware of leaving the sleeve off in October when the spiders flock in and have an exquisite and intricately engineered web fest amongst the circling lines.) If you wish, you can hang up an entire load of items without moving an inch. I have my nice peg bag, home-designed and made some years ago when I was having a creative DIY phase. I select the spot where I will avoid being blinded by the sun. I recall perhaps the long washing line from the French windows to the cherry tree at the end of the garden in our childhood days, with the forked prop holding it up in the middle. I get pegging. Everything nice and neat and well spaced out, pants and bras discreetly hidden on the inner rungs. On really windy days, “Good drying days!” as our mother would say with a hint of glee, it does what it says on the label: it rotates, whirls round, even. And some of the smaller items (are ‘proper’ hankies seeing a revival?) will be ready for collection almost as soon as you’ve emptied your morning cup of coffee.
So, there you have it: a proper sort of diary. Snapshots of our suburban life; comfortably mundane; somehow or other well organised and cohesive; rubbish and recycling on Tuesdays; garden refuse collection on Wednesdays; familiar, secure, neighbourly; absolutely nothing to hit the headlines. But thousands of desperate souls are risking their lives in small rubber boats or in shambolic queues in Calais in the hope of sharing it with us.