Friday 31 July 2015

Pigeon Crack and Parting Swifts

I know birds like to take a peck at building mortar from time to time - they need a bit of grit in their diet, and a little help in forming the shells of their eggs - but lately the pigeons down my way have gone crazy for mortar. They're pecking away like crazy, leaving stretches of walls practically mortarless and in need of radical repointing. Suddenly mortar is pigeon crack - they can't get enough of the stuff. I suspect this is because much of the village is a conservation area, so limestone-rich 'heritage' mortars are widely used, offering plenty of calcium carbonate for mortar-crazed pigeons. Where will it all end? Crumbling walls, pigeons too heavy to fly away, paying the price for their addiction...
 Meanwhile, I hate to say it, but it looks as if the swifts have flown - and it's not even August yet. There will be stragglers of course - I heard, but didn't see, a couple this morning - and I certainly hope I haven't seen my last swift of the year; that would be ridiculously early. But the great suburban air show is over, having peaked a couple of weeks ago with some glorious screaming flypasts at street level and soaring aerobatics high overhead. After a shaky start with that long spell of unseasonal cold, things really took off as soon as the temperature rose, and a hot sunny July made for a vintage swift season - and probably enabled the young birds to feed up fast and be on their way south. It's always sad to see them go - or rather to realise they're gone - but the sadness is nothing to the heart-lifting joy of their return.

Thursday 30 July 2015


David Cameron's use of the word 'swarm' in relation to the large numbers of people crossing Europe in the hope of reaching the gold-paved streets of England has caused some to profess loud vicarious outrage on behalf of refugees. Meanwhile the representative body Voice of the Swarm (motto 'Strength in Numbers') has released the following statement:
 'We protest in the strongest possible terms at the implication that swarming is in any way undesirable or deleterious, or that the word 'swarm' can carry any derogatory meaning. This denormalisation of their behaviour can only cause profound offence to swarming organisms everywhere.'

Et ici repose... qui sait?

Pictorial postscript to Locked Church Country. This jolly village baroque headstone is in the isolated churchyard of Tonge.

Wednesday 29 July 2015


Vincent Van Gogh died on this day 125 years ago, having survived an attempt to shoot himself, only to fall victim to an infection of the wound. His brother Theo (who is buried beside him) recorded his last words as 'The sadness will last for ever.' What seems to be lasting for ever is, rather, Vincent's posthumous artistic fame, which continues to grow and grow.

In Locked Church Country

I was back in Kent yesterday, church crawling again - which isn't easy in a part of the county where the churches are all locked. Too quiet it is, and too near the main roads - once pilgrim routes, once Roman roads... But I struck lucky at one church when, after my mobile calls to two key holders proved abortive, I crossed the road to the rectory - as usual not The Rectory but a nondescript Sixties house hard by it - and found the rector by chance briefly at home between calls. She - again as usual a she: nice woman, friendly, northerner - took me back over the road, opened the church and left me to it. To a little gem of a church - plain white interior, chunky Norman nave with massive piers, later arcade to North chapel, chancel rejigged in 1689, as a boldly painted date over the arch declares. In the North chapel some beautiful stone carving, including a piscina set at an angle in a pier between chapel and chancel - and above the chapel altar the faded afterimage of a lovely, graceful Crucifixion group painted around 1300. And in the nave and chancel odd remnants of Baroque murals. And the main altar by Pugin the younger. And, displayed in a little wooden case, a mammoth's tooth - a tooth originally found by one of the builders of the Norman church and set in a pier near the font (also Pugin the younger) as a curiosity. Oh, the inexhaustible wonders of the English parish church...
 Heck, let's make this a competition: a prize of a punnet of finest Kent cherries* to the first person to Name That Church. Clue: it's quite close to this one.

[* subject to availability]

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Bloomsbury, Gloomsbury

Hoping for a good laugh, I tuned in last night to BBC2's new Bloomsbury Group drama, Life In Squares. Disappointingly, there weren't many laughs, even for a confirmed anti-Bloomsburyite like me, and there were moments when it was almost possible to care about these ridiculous people - well, one or two of them. After all, they were young (except in an alarming flashforward near the end) and much foolishness can be forgiven the young. And of course the cast were by and large a whole heap prettier than the original Bloomsberries... Happily, Sue Limb's gloriously daft Bloomsbury sitcom, Gloomsbury, is still available on the BBC iPlayer. Plenty of good laughs there.

Monday 27 July 2015

Wayne Carson, belatedly

I missed last week's sad news of the death of Wayne Carson, who wrote that great pop song Always On My Mind. The intense emotional drama of Elvis's performance (he was thinking, they say, of his mother) and the electro pomp of the Pet Shop Boys' recording both go all out to magnify and exalt the song, whereas Willie Nelson (typically) strips it down to its core and his version is, I think, definitively wondrous. It's a song that could have been written for Willie's unique styling, and it's no wonder it became one of his signature songs. Here he is in the 'official video' version, playing an unusually swanky guitar.
 Carson also wrote at least one other great pop song - The Letter, which gave Alex Chilton's band The Box Tops their breakthrough hit. Hard to believe that Chilton - something of a lost genius of pop (who died five years ago) - was just 16 when he recorded that... The Box Tops were also the first to record Carson's Neon Rainbow and Soul Deep. That's quite a legacy. RIP.

Sunday 26 July 2015

Young Betjeman: 'Wanting to be up to date but really preferring all centuries to my own'

I've been reading Ghastly Good Taste, or a Depressing Story of the Rise and Fall of English Architecture, a little book written in 1933 by the young John Betjeman - reading it not, alas, in the original edition with its typographical extravaganza of a front cover, but in a 'National Trust Classics' reprint from the Eighties.
 The fun begins with the Preface, in which the author professes himself indebted to 'Mr C.S. Lewis, of Oxford, whose jolly personality and encouragement of the author in his youth have remained an unfading memory for the author's declining years'. In fact, Lewis showed undisguised contempt for the young Betjeman, regarding him as an 'idle prig' and effete socialite, and doing his bit to ensure Betjeman's ignominious (if well deserved) academic failure at Oxford.
 There follows Betjeman's introduction to the 1970 reprint of Ghastly Good Taste - An Aesthete's Apologia - which is arguably the best thing in the book. 'I wrote this book 38 years ago,' he begins. 'I was 26, in love, and about to be married. When Anthony Blond said he would like to reprint it, I thought I had better read it, and he kindly sent me a copy. I am appalled by its sententiousness, arrogance and the sweeping generalisations in which it abounds. The best things about it were the fancy cover, which I designed myself... ' and the Street of Taste, or the March of English Art Down the Ages, a deliberately old-fashioned pull-out drawn by Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh (and sadly absent from my reprint).
 By way of introduction, then, Betjeman  treats us to an entertaining 'aesthetic autobiography' up to the date when Ghastly Good Taste was published. This seems to him, he says, the only way to explain the state of mind that led him 'to dash out this book in something like a white-hot fury'. It was the product, he concludes, of a 'muddled state - wanting to be up to date but really preferring all centuries to my own'. And it is undeniably a muddle of a book, though an often rewarding and sometimes glorious muddle, and never less than fun.
 After an opening chapter, written in the form of an address to 'One of the Landed Gentry', Betjeman begins the second chapter thus: 'The first chapter of this book was in the nature of an apostrophe. Those who have understood it need go no further, for the succeeding chapters are but elaborations of the opening theme; those who did not understand it need go no further, since the elaborations will not help them. There is little reason for my continuing the rest of the book beyond pleasing my publisher, and indulging my own pleasure in writing and gaining that money which I cannot come by honestly.'
 It is also quite possible, though Betjeman doesn't point this out, to glean the argument of the book from the running commentary at the top of every right-hand page (another deliberately old-fashioned feature). Taken sequentially, they read:
 'The curse of the expert, the blind man in the street, the smug architect - and his awfully jolly assistants - but what is architecture? Oh! for a faith to work for wholly! The architecture of faith is characterised by logic and fearlessness, is liable to misinterpretation. The loss of faith and the growth of pedantry resulted in an incongruity of style properly called Jacobethan. The fine old English renaissance, this was hard and reasonable and fit for autocrats who will have no nonsense in freak styles from abroad but, instead, honest buildings at once impressive, dignified and original and, withal, Protestant. O natural and unaffected spacious days of the Regency, with your modest terraces, sound sense, no style being all styles and deceit being no style. Then, England knew how to build for the Hanoverians, for the Empire and the towns, and not only for the autocrat. The pride of the purse and the incipient snobbery of aristocrat and plutocrat caused a travesty of Regency styles and an uneducated, machine-made Gothic. But good old vulgarity is preferable to 'refeenment' - from which the great William Morris. In unity is strength.'
 For a short book, Ghastly Good Taste is surprisingly full of long quotations - some from architectural historians but most from miscellaneous literature and letters, including a long correspondence between Lord Ongley and his architect, Batty Langley (and a poem by Betjeman himself). There are also some amusing footnotes by the later Betjeman. A reference to 'hard logic' is footnoted 'About which I didn't then know anything, and still know nothing.' Mention of 'the sham classicism of Norman Shaw' inspires the note 'Who, I now realise, was our greatest architect since Wren, if not greater.'
 Ghastly Good Taste ends with one final flourish, listing the places in which it was written (in the manner of Joyce's 'Trieste, Dublin, Zurich' at the end of Portrait of the Artist):
 'Castlepollard - Capri - Heston-Hounslow - Wiesbaden.'
 Not bad for a book 'dashed out' in 'something like a white-hot fury'...


It was on this day 70 years ago that the result of the 1945 general election finally became known (it had been a very long drawn out count because so many voters were overseas with the armed forces). At 10 Downing Street, the Churchills listened in stunned disbelief as the full extent of the calamity became apparent - a Labour landslide. The loyal housekeeper rose to her feet and headed for the kitchen with words that sum up so much more than a mere election result: 'I don't know what the world's come to, but I'm going to make some tea.'

Wednesday 22 July 2015


Back home after a complicated family day (a vomiting bug on the rampage - though happily I seem to have escaped so far), I was cheered to find my post about vintage BBC-banned songs on The Dabbler...

Tuesday 21 July 2015

The Iniquity of Oblivion

In a famous and beautiful paragraph in his Hydriotophia, Or Urne Buriall, Sir Thomas Browne writes:

'But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity. Who can but pity the founder of the pyramids? Herostratus lives that burnt the temple of Diana, he is almost lost that built it. Time hath spared the epitaph of Adrian’s horse, confounded that of himself. In vain we compute our felicities by the advantage of our good names, since bad have equal durations, and Thersites is like to live as long as Agamemnon without the favour of the everlasting register. Who knows whether the best of men be known, or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembered in the known account of time? The first man had been as unknown as the last, and Methuselah’s long life had been his only chronicle.'

As it happens, today is the anniversary of the infamous burning down in 356BC of the great temple of Artemis [Diana] at Ephesus, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. The name of the arsonist Herostratus lives on, yes, but despite the best efforts of the horrified Greeks, who decreed that it should never be mentioned again, under pain of death. The historian Theopompus ignored this, and so Herosrtatus's name has come down to us - as, incidentally, has that of the architect. He was a Cretan called Chersiphron, assisted by his son Metagenes. Like Herostratus, they are known for but one thing.

Monday 20 July 2015

Galorious Abundance

Well, what a difference a change in the weather can make. A few weeks ago, I was lamenting how few butterflies were on the wing, despite mostly dry and sunny weather through May and June - dry and sunny but simply not warm enough. Now, however, we have had a few mostly warm/hot weeks - and oh the difference... Down in Sussex at the weekend, I took a morning stroll around a former meadow that is now edged with brambles, ragwort and drifts of purple thistles, and the sheer abundance of butterflies was quite wonderful to behold. Huge numbers of Skippers (Small and Large), Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Ringlets galore were flying, along with Tortoiseshells, Commas, Peacocks, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Small Coppers (my first of the year), Marbled Whites (plus [the unrelated] Large, Small and Green-Veined), Common Blues - and, as a glorious surprise, a passing White Admiral gliding majestically over the scene. This was more like it - this was butterfly abundance on the kind of scale I remember from boyhood summers. All thanks to warm sun - and the benign neglect of a meadow. As the Met Office has just issued a dire forecast of grim weather coming our way, I'm sure we can look forward to this glorious sun continuing to shine.

Thursday 16 July 2015

A James Centenary

It was on this day 100 years ago that Henry James, in a rare affirmative foray into the world beyond the personal (as he might have put it), became a British citizen.
Carl Van Doren in The American Novel describes the moment thus:

'The war shattered his peace beyond repair. This lover of art who had not taken the trouble to form an opinion concerning the Dreyfus case, who had little more to say of the Boer War than that it doubled his income tax, who had vaguely hoped that the war with Spain might educate Americans as imperialism had educated the English, who had looked with candid contempt upon the Irish aspirations for freedom, now woke to the crisis of the world with a passion which ceased only with his death in 1916. There was nothing complicated in his loyalty, nothing critical in his attitude toward the drama being enacted. His “Europe”—France, England, Italy—had been assailed in utter wantonness; the barbarians were pounding at the gates and might at any moment break in to befoul the pavements and violate the shrines of his sacred city. His own distant country looked on without lifting a helping hand, and he saw no better way to signify his protest and his allegiance than by becoming a British citizen in 1915, declaring “civis Britannicus sum” with a Roman boast, and ending his career, as he had begun it, on the note of romance.'

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Missing the Wonks

Hugely relieved though I am to be shot of office life, I must admit it had some advantages - notably that much-maligned entity known as 'technical support'. For all their shortcomings (in the matter of speaking comprehensibly, for example), the little army of asocial wonks with dubious dress sense certainly had their uses. Whenever there was a breakdown in the technology on which my work - like most people's - was totally dependent, these useful chaps (and they were nearly all chaps) could usually be relied upon to turn up, work their incomprehensible magic and quickly fix whatever it was that had gone wrong.
 Now that I'm retired, it's down to me to take care of these things - and  as someone who is to tech-savviness what Stephen Hawking is to ballroom dancing, this is not a happy prospect. I work on Apple Mac rather than PC - which limits the potential for catastrophe - but still things need to be done from time to time, and I am the last man on Earth to do them. For the past few days, I have been attempting a couple of what you might think were pretty straightforward jobs: installing Microsoft Word (for Mac) so that I have some word processing ability, and setting up the printer I bought some while ago so as to have a printer at my disposal that will, er, print things.
 My first attempt to acquire Word fell at an early hurdle - attempting to install something called Yosemite, which I was told I'd need in order to run Word. Yosemite took an unconscionable long time a-loading, before crashing somewhere along the way, losing me my internet connection and leaving me with what seems to be a half-loaded Yosemite - and, of course, no Word. The printer project began promisingly, inasmuch as I assembled, loaded and fired up the printer without any problems, inserted the disc, followed the instructions all the way up to 'ready to print' - and then found myself unable to print as the printer 'could not be found'. Somewhere along the way, I must have missed something - something rather crucial...
 All this is of course immensely frustrating - not least because I haven't a clue how this apparently magical box of tricks called a computer works. I am reliant on the priesthood of techies - and of course the young, who seem to take this stuff in with mother's milk (maybe it's time to let my three-year-old grandson have a go?). Meanwhile, however, a breakthrough: this morning I managed to install Word after all, by the simple expedient of going for the earlier version (ignoring the discouraging onscreen messages). It loaded up a treat, much to my surprise and delight. I guess there's a lesson in this... Yes of course - go retro, back to the future!

Monday 13 July 2015

A Monument

Over the weekend I enjoyed an afternoon's walking in Kent.
 'Kent, sir - everybody knows Kent - apples, cherries, hops and women' (as Mr Jingle so succinctly put it) - and indeed a providential punnet of fresh-picked cherries from a roadside stall was one of the highlights of this walk, through gently rolling orchard and arable country west of Faversham. But the grand climax came, fittingly, at the end, in the picturesque village of Lynsted. The parish church of St Peter and St Paul is an imposing, rather muddled flint building - a patchwork of various periods - that happens to contain one of England's greatest church monuments.
  The monument to Christopher Roper, 2nd Lord Teynham (died 1622), is a rare example of a signed work by that elusive genius Epiphanius Evesham. It stands in the South chapel of the church, and it's apparent at a glance that this is a work of startling originality, displaying a level of craftsmanship infinitely superior to the provincial Jacobean monuments around it. The composition is quite extraordinary, combining two standard monumental forms of the period - the reclining effigy and the kneeling mourner at prayer - and breathing dramatic life into them. These are entirely convincing naturalistic likenesses of individual human beings, not emblematic figures frozen in conventional hieratic gestures.
 Lord Teynham reclines as if asleep, his beautifully moulded right hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword, his open but unseeing eyes turned to a point somewhere between the altar and the expected Heaven. His widow (who commissioned the monument) kneels behind and above him, praying at a priedieu - and grieving. This is no conventional 'mourning figure' but a woman of flesh and blood and soul, bravely enduring the agony of loss. The face is quite startling, even unsettling, in its lifelike expressiveness. It is hard to turn away from her.
 Those two figures alone would be enough to make this a most remarkable monument, but there are wonders below, in the form of two exquisitely carved alabaster panels depicting Lord Teynham's offspring. On most Jacobean monuments these are little more than a row of kneeling ninepins distinguished from each other only by conventional emblems of status. But here Evesham has carved individual, naturalistic portraits of each - the two sons on the right, turning their backs on hawk and hound to mourn their father, and the five daughters on the left, openly grieving (while still attended by their lapdogs). Each panel is beautifully composed and carved with quite extraordinary delicacy and skill, and each figure lives.
It is surely one of the great wonders of England that an obscure parish church can contain such a masterpiece.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Over there...

On The Dabbler, something on Cicadas.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

It's Not a Bank, It's a Horse

I haven't been watching much television lately - and yet somehow I keep coming across this utterly nauseating ad for Lloyds Bank. It really has everything, hasn't it - apart from any content, that is, least of all any content suggesting that it is a bank commercial (it seems to be about, er, horses, if anything).
 Like most people, I have stuck with the bank I opened my first account with (such is our banking system that it's too hard, and anyway pretty pointless, to change) - and that first bank happened to be Lloyds. In the 40-plus years that Lloyds has been 'by my side', our 'relationship' has been characterised by sullen indifference punctuated with bouts of annoyance, from mild to raging - and I suspect that is true of most account holders and their banks. Which, no doubt, is why their advertising 'people' urge the banks to forge a heartstring-tugging emotional narrative that entirely ignores the dismal realities. Still, it's good to know that the banks - despite having by their reckless stupidity crashed the economy, and despite being in the process of paying billions in fines for having played fast and loose with their customers' money - can still afford to make glossy megabudget commercials to tell us how much they care, and always have done. Pshaw!

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Visiting London

Having lived in and around London all my life, Visiting London is something I don't often do - visiting, that is, in the sense that a visitor, keen to see the sights, visits. Yesterday we had a visitor with us, in the shape of a three-year-old Wellington-raised grandson who has long been fascinated by the great London icons - the Tower, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the Eye - and was eager to see them for himself. He'd already ticked off a few on this visit, and we thought we'd take him for a ride on the Eye as a post-birthday treat. Here's what happened, with a few handy tips for visitors - not necessarily three-year-olds.
 First we thought it might be a good idea to take the open-top bus tour, hopping off at the Eye. After ten minutes or more waiting in a shambolic quasi-queue (at Victoria) while the sales staff struggled to get their card readers to work, I found myself at last in a position to ask for three tickets. This, I was informed, would cost £90 - yes, £30 a head. You can take the wonderful Circle Line cruise around Manhattan Island (a journey that can reduce a man - well me anyway - to tears) for little more than half that. Welcome to London.
 Deciding against paying 30 sovs to enjoy the snarled-up London traffic and inhale the city's distinctive blend of particulates, we sped by Tube to the Embankment, crossed the rather beautiful footbridge to the South Bank, and took it from there. Here's a tip for three-year-olds: the London Eye looks fine in a view but, close to, it's too big to take in, the queues are epic, and the wheel turns way too slowly (also, at this time of year, once you're up there, most of what you see is trees - this is a wonderfully green city). Sam did not need to be told this; an icecream, a run around and a spot of lunch were clearly a much better idea.
 After that, we took to the water, taking a cruise boat from Festival Pier downriver to St Katherine's and then back to Westminster Pier (total cost for three: just over £30). This is the way to see London - from the river (especially on a warm summer's day) - and it was a novelty for us long-term Londoners too, as the city has only recently woken up to the possibilities of its river. In my childhood the London Thames was a toxic industrial drain, on which the city - then soot-black and skyscraper-free - understandably turned its back. Now, increasingly, it is the glory of London - and certainly the best way to get around. If only that skyline weren't so sorely disfigured by some of the most stupidly ugly buildings in the world. But, sitting happily near the prow of our boat, we took in the dome of St Paul's, the Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Monument... And, walking back through Westminster, the Abbey and Big Ben. All that was missing were bobbies on bicycles two by two, and the rosy red cheeks of the little chil-dren.

Friday 3 July 2015

Among Middle England

Yesterday to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show as guests of the excellent Macmillan Cancer Support charity - Uh-oh, I've morphed into Jeffrey Archer. Must be the heat... Fact is Mrs N had a couple of free tickets to the show, courtesy of Macmillan, for which we and our fellow guests had only to be crocodiled to the press tent and submit to a presentation, before being released into the Show. The tent was hot, but the presentation was fine (and there were a few Small Skippers darting about inside, looking for the exit). And then we were free to see what we could of the show.
 The Hampton Court Flower Show is Chelsea for Mr and (especially) Mrs Middle England - on a larger scale than Chelsea and in a stunning location, on the banks of the magnificent Long Water, but not quite a fixed point of The Season, don't you know. Which is fine by me; I always find it immensely heartening to see Middle England enjoying itself, in its quiet, amiable, unassuming way. Hampton Court is a showcase not only of flowers and gardens and all that goes with them but of that sturdy, enduring niceness that is peculiar to Middle England. Decency, fair play, emotional reticence, good manners, leaving others alone and hoping to be left alone in return - there is a great deal, a very great deal, to be said for these social virtues, and all were on display (though display's hardly the word) at Hampton Court. As was the fact that flowers - like dogs and the weather - are among the very few things that help Middle England over the formidable hurdle of talking to people they don't know: 'Where did you get that beautiful Hydrangea?' It's hard to believe there's much wrong with the country - with the world - when among these people (though, alas, one knows otherwise)...

 I see that this day was, in 1976, the hottest day of a famously hot and long-lasting summer - nudging 97 degrees. At Lord's the MCC, for the first time ever, allowed its members to remove their blazers - though not, of course, their ties. I wonder if Jeffrey was there.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Yogurt, Amateurs and Admirals

Well, as I've remarked before, this has so far been one extraordinarily busy retirement - busy not with Work as I used to know it but, infinitely more agreeably, with a ceaseless whirl of family and domestic activity - so much going on that it's all a bit of a blur and I scarcely know what day of the week it is. As anyone who has spent much time with babies and toddlers will know, it's a delightful but draining business, one of the side-effects of which is that the brain turns to yogurt - in my case, strained Greek yogurt, teetering on the brink of expulsion from the neurozone. Add to that the effects of the current stupefying heat and the result is a pretty lamentable state of affairs in the old cerebellum. Indeed I have more than once found myself barely capable of coherent speech; what comes out at the first attempt is a kind of half-formed incomprehensible burble.
 Yesterday, however, I was for a while out of the whirl and taking a short walk on Ashtead Common, in the hope of finding White Admirals, Silver-Washed Fritillaries and even, if luck was on my side, perhaps a Purple Emperor. As I drew near a particular spot where on many years I have seen early Silver-Washed Fritillaries, I saw that an elderly (well, older than me) couple were looking intently at the oak trees and the undergrowth of flowering bramble - surely in the hope of seeing butterflies.
 Usually the only people I see looking for butterflies - and I don't see many anywhere - are rather joyless grey men in grey anoraks with fancy binoculars and cameras. I avoid them. But here today were a couple of kindred spirits - amiable amateurs, happy to look and hope and enjoy. I gave voice and was understood at the first attempt. The husband told me they were hoping to see a Purple Emperor, having had that pleasure a couple of times in previous years. We all looked around us for a while, with no luck on any front - Emperor, Admiral or Frit - before they moved off, still looking. After a while I followed at a distance behind them, on a usually rewarding woodland path - but still with no luck.
 After a while I caught up with them. They too had not been lucky. We commiserated briefly with each other - had we come too early? - and admired the mighty veteran oaks in our view. They told me of some lectures they had been to about Wimbledon and other commons (from which the lecturer had sometimes absented himself to attend to his marital difficulties, leaving a video presentation in his place). We agreed that London is singularly lucky to have so many of these ancient oak-studded commons preserved around its periphery (thanks, very often, to the far-sighted philanthropy of the Corporation of London - those were the days...).
 After we had taken our leave of each other, I headed off on a wide loop back to the railway station - and was rewarded with the sight of first one, then two beautiful White Admirals, one gliding away into the woods, flickering in and out of vision, and the other briefly ahead of me on the path, then out of sight among the trees.


Max again on The Dabbler today - and Oscar...