Awake early, I listen to Clare Balding's wonderful Ramblings on Radio 4. She is walking with Sam West, son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales. He is a keen twitcher, and they wander Rainham marshes (very close to London) looking at the local avian population. One fly in the Balding ointment: whenever I used to listen to her program it featured members of the public, not celebs. Sam is a nice bloke, but an actor nonetheless. Couldn't the producer find a civilian who was keen on our Rainham marshes feathered friends?
There is an annoying tendency for all programs to go down the starry route. The ultimate example? Celeb Family Fortunes. Take an awful format whose only saving grace is that it gives members of the public their fifteen minutes of fame. Kick out the civvies, and install "C list" luvvies and their tacky families. And what was wrong with Mastermind anyway? How can it be improved with an over the hill footballer answering questions on the synoptic gospels (actually, I'd quite like to see that) ? But you know what I mean.
Later, Tina and I set off for Whitby. On the M1, we see signs warning of an accident ahead. For some reason, I don't take the next exit, and subsequently we spend two and a half stationary hours wandering up and down the hard shoulder chatting to fellow motorists. Judging by the number of emergency vehicles going past, and the helicopters in the sky, it's a bad accident. I'm glad to be safe, if a little pedestrian.
Our accomodation in Whitby is charming, a tiny cottage in a tiny alley close to the centre of the town. After settling in, we find a pleasant pub and eat dinner with a couple from Nottingham as space is limited. There is some sort of world war two week-end on in this part of Yorkshire, we noticed lots of spivs, ladies in fur coats, and military types as we drove toward Whitby, and our fellow diners fill us in on the details.
Not such a busy day!! Hooray!!! But the first lesson is with H... I get through it, he has made some progress, and he informs me he's decided not to hire a car in which to practice at the week-end. The residents of Basingstoke should breath a big sigh of relief.
Mid morning, I see Liesha, a welcome contrast to H. We have a good lesson, lots of swearing from Liesha, and finally I see Joe, who is getting closer to test standard. We spend the lesson driving on fast roads, concentrating on slip roads and lane changes. Good fun.
At two, I pop over to see my Dad, who seems OK, although a bit sleepy. We try to ring Vaughan (his brother-in-law, my uncle), but only get the answerphone.
Back at home, I go for a run. The low autumn sum bathes my body in it's golden light, the trees have just started to turn orange and red, all is well with the world.
Tina is home when I return, and I manage to find a holiday home in Whitby which is available... tomorrow! We plan to stay until Thursday next weeek. I looked at the weather forecast for t'Yorkshire, and it doesn't look too bad. A few days of walking, lazing, reading, eating, drinking, and a few photos. Perfect. We hope.
On to more important things. Do you know what the width of a human hair is? I'm going to tell you anyway: 0.1 of a millimetre, or four one thousandths of an inch. I know this, because I had to pass the time somehow in Brian's workshop in Oakley, and the nearest thing to hand was usually a dial caliper. And I used to have some hair in those far off days. Although it was falling out quite quickly, as my workmates were keen to tell me.
- So it's 92,960,000 miles from the earth to the sun.
- There are 15,840,000 human hair widths in a mile.
- So it's 5.87 miles from the earth to the sun if a mile was a human hair's width - if you see wot I mean...
- Therefore, if a mile was the width of a human hair, it's 1,584,545 miles to the nearest star (which you will know is Proxima Centauri - you were paying attention earlier, weren't you?).
Is it just me? Or is that totally mind blowing? Galactic scales of distance are just so.... big.
An even busier day :( I start at eight (am) and finish at 6:30 (pm). I see H for the second time. Everything about H's driving jars. He goes past a parked car about a Rizla Green's width from it's doors. I suggest that he should leave enough room for the parked car's door to open unexpectedly. He suggests that if the door opens, and he hits it, it will be the fault of the person who opened the door, so what's the problem? I resist the temptation to kick him out of the car right there, and patiently (for me) explain all the implications and ramifications of his actions.
Other things about his driving: he changes gear with a rapid, forceful movement of the gear lever. I'm not sure his clutch is down before this violent yank on the gears. But it's not exactly wrong. What to do? He has so many faults it's neccessary to focus on the really dangerous ones. Initially, bite my tongue. Later, the sun is in his eyes. I don't think anyone has ever slammed the sun visor down (and later up again) so forcefully. I'm surprised it's not broken off and lying in his lap. I'm reminded of the Fred Bassett cartoon, where Fred encounters "Heavy Handed Harry." The amazing thing is that he has a full licence - he passed his test in Italy and can drive in the UK. He is sensible enough to book lessons with me before buying a car and driving here. I now have a very low opinion of Italian driver training. Do they ever let the clutch come up?
I get home at 6:40, wolf down my dinner, and Tina and I collect t'Lockes for an evening at the Haymarket theatre with Sean Hughes. We get there on time, but Sean doesn't. There are problems on the motorway. The show starts half an hour late, which gives us a chance to get stuck into the bar.
Sean's performance is wonderful. We've seen him twice before. The first time (twenty ish years ago) was excellent, the second not quite so. Tonight, he doeas a show loosely based upon his father's recent death from cancer. This is a coincicence, we didn't go tonight for any reason other than that we like him. Sean is on top form, and although he has just a bit of a beer belly, and a slightly older visage, he still exudes boyish enthusiasm and Irish charm. It's a shame when it finishes, and we drive home happy.
Watch Sean's Show on YouTube. Never has the fourth wall been so comprehensively broken down.
An early lesson with Joe at 7:30. After, we chat for a while about technology and the Nobel prizes which are currently being announced. Joe's (Chinese) company is in the USA's bad books, as well as other western countries doesn't want his company controlling parts of their telecommunications networks. Unlike the UK, who welcome his company with open arms, on the promise of 700 jobs. It doesn't sound very many to me.
I go for a run before seeing Alisha at lunchtime.
Sunday! I greet the morning around four, and listen to the radio and try to get back to sleep. I give up around 5:30, and make coffee - tea for Tina. Soon the sun is lightening the eastern sky in a very promising way so I head out in the car with camera and tripod to catch the sunrise. Within ten minutes fog has settled over everything, it's just amazing how it can form so quickly. I think about driving to Watership down, where it's possible that I will get a view over the top of the fog, but cba, and head home sans photos.
Later in the morning I visit Dad, who is on good form. One of the staff says he has been very awake and alert all week, which is good news. Before I leave, I help Dad to the dining table for his lunch, and as he walks his trousers fall down. It's a bit like a Brian Rix farce, he keeps slowly walking, oblivious, and I try and hitch his trousers up and fasten his belt.
At home, an email awaits from Jackie in Canada. We connect on Skype and Jackie, Paul, Tina and I chat and look at each other on our mobile screens. They are watching Saints v Fulham over breakfast and show me snippets of the match on their TV. It's amazing to think of our voices and video whizzing across the Atlantic in less time than it takes to click my fingers. It's Canada's thanksgiving over there, they are going to visit Paul's Mum for the traditional turkey dinner.
Ken and Carol call round in the afternoon, having spent some time with Dave and Dorothy (Kens's aged parents). We drive to Watership Down (what a coincidence), and walk for two or three hours. It's a lovely afternoon, the sun has burnt off the fog at last. We take a route Tina and I haven't walked before through Andrew Lloyd- Webber's estate at Sydmonton. There is much to see, beautiful avenues of trees, the ripening fruits of autumn, moss, lichen and fungi everywhere, so I am happy taking lots of photos.
On the way home Ken prises open his wallet and treats us to ice creams. He has wine gums, which I tuck into as he drives.
Tina has to work :(
Trowbridge beckons for me - I need to check my Dad's house. The A303 is quiet, and Dad's house is very tidy. It's almost as if someone has been in. I'm not complaining, and chat with Dominic next door - who is recovering from major surgery to his knee. I drive back using an alternative route via Devizes, where I stop. I manage to find a parking space, and wander around the town with my camera. I find a barbers, and a charming man shaves my head - "number one, please." He has a short, grizzled beard, hair like mine (if I let it grow a bit), and is a conservative ten years older than me. The Wiltshire accent never sounded finer than it does coming from his mouth, it's so pleasant to chat about inconsequential things.
Ken texts me, he says divorce is imminent, as he and Carol are off to Ikea in Southampton. Good luck, matey. We exchange lots of texts, which is always fun. Ken gets his suppositories from Ikea - he has to put them up himself... (apologies to the sensitive reader - I've tried to keep this journal chaste, but it's a tough job).
After strolling around the town, eating a bag of chips (bliss), drinking a mocha (double bliss), and taking some photos, I head off. When I get to Upavon, I park and wander around the village. Tina and I have driven through lots of times, but never stopped. In the church, I meet a woman arranging flowers. I compliment her on the wonderful display of hedgerow plants on the window sills, where the stained glass works a kind of magic on the old man's beard, rose hips, and other anonymous plants my ignorance cannot identify. She could be straight out of the Archers, a stalwart of the community, putting in time and effort which might not be appreciated by all. Or she could have a massive crush on the vicar...
Home about three, before Tina. I wash my car, and drive to Halfords to purchase some "L" plates (contain your excitement, dear reader), before returning to wax the infernal machine. At this juncture, Chris and Nigel arrive, having been out (again) on their bicycles - to South Warnborough. It's good to stand in the low sunlight and chat.
Tina cooks a delicious beef stir fry, then I write this entry, listening to favourite music, before realising that the whole evening has passed by so very quickly.
There is rain everywhere. My eyebrows and eyelashes have ceased to function, and I'm blinking furiously to get the water out of my eyes. It doesn't exactly sting, but is uncomfortable, nevertheless. My glasses are useless, and I peer over the top of them to make out the road ahead. I'm pedalling hard up a steep hill, leaving some picturesque New Forest village behind me. Tim is somewhere either in front or behind, I just know he's there. Cars pass in a shower of spray, but I feel quite safe in my cocoon of soaking waterproofs. The sunlit morning is a pleasant memory, and no more. Just why I'm wearing a stupid, wide grin is anybodys guess. I swear at the cars who pass too close, and silently approve the drivers who leave more room. At the top of the hill, my fingers push the lever to change to the big front cog, and I pedal away. Bliss...
Tina heads off to work, and I head off to Dibden Purlieu (I always have to Duck Duck Go (Google it) the spelling of t'Welches home town. It's the mass of vowels at the end which foxes me) to meet Tim for our cycle. He makes me coffee and we exchange pleasantries. Tim gets out maps, and asks me if I have a preference as to our route. Anywhere is good for me. Tim has a neat racing bike but unfortunately the frame has broken where the rear de railier is located. This means he has to ride a touring bike, a heavier and slower proposition.
The morning is bright and sunny, my misgivings about the weather might prove unfounded. We head west and slightly north toward Fordingbridge. We manage to stay on roads where traffic is sparse, and stop for refreshments at a picnic area. Tim has a flask of coffee, which I greedily share, and then we're off again. After Fordingbridge, we head south to Ringwood. The New Forest looks mean and moody, our elevated road gives us views for some distance on both sides. After Ringwood, we head home via Burley, Brockenhurst, and Beaulieu (excuse me while I Duck Duck Go... what is it about the New Forest and vowels??????) and that's when out meteorological luck runs out. The heavens open, and the last couple of hours are wet. But fun.
Back at Dibden, Tim makes me coffee, and Dorothy arrives home. She, too, has cycled - to work and back. Dorothy doesn't pretend that a bit of rain is a big deal, she just gets on with it... daily.
The drive home isn't as bad as I thought it might be, and Tina is there to welcome me back. Later, we sit and play music over and over - at the moment I can't stop listening to "Across the Universe" - one of John Lennon's finest - it feels right, somehow.
I have quite a busy day today. First lesson at 7:30, last one at 2:15, not many breaks in between. At 9:15 I chat to Liesha's Mum while Liesha returns from dropping her daughter at play school. Liesha's Mum is Irish, and we have a good chat about the Emerald Isle. When Liesha returns, there is some good natured banter about Liesha's propensity to swear, which I find endearing.
In the evening I put my bicycle into the back of my car, in preparation for a cycle with Tim, tomorrow. The weather forecast is... varied.
Carol sends me a poem by Maya Angelou, who sounds a fascinating person. I must read one of her books.
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
I have a couple of lessons in the morning, the first one is with Shadreck. I got an email from him telling me that he has postponed his test until the beginning of November, and could he book a lesson? His driving is better, by November he might stand a chance of passing. A few more lessons, an early finish, and home.
Tina and I spend a quiet evening, and I receive a lovely email from Carol with some poems by Thom Gunn. Here's one:
A Map of the City
I stand upon a hill and see
A luminous country under me,
Through which at two the drunk sailor must weave;
The transient's pause, the sailor's leave.
I notice, looking down the hill,
Arms braced upon a window sill;
And on the web of fire escapes
Move the potential, the grey shapes.
I hold the city here, complete;
And every shape defined by light
Is mine, or corresponds to mine,
Some flickering or some steady shine.
This map is ground of my delight.
Between the limits, night by night,
I watch a malady's advance,
I recognize my love of chance.
By the recurrent lights I see
The crowded, broken, and unfinished!
I would not have the risk diminished.
I collect Ashley for his second test at 9:30. The examiner was Gordon, a lovely big Scottish man who isn't often at Basingstoke. Ashley didn't want me to sit in the back so I go for a coffee with an AA instructor. A nice bloke, with a very shaky hand. I hope he's OK but I don't mention it. He tells me about tests of his which the examiner has abandoned, and also that the last six tests he's presented have failed. I sympathise. Back in the waiting room, Renata (another instructor) also has tales of abandoned tests. To be honest, I would be mortified if the examiner though my learner so bad that they stopped the test. Each to their own...
Ashley gets back and Gordon calls me over to the car to hear the de-brief. Ashley passed - phew. Gordon and I exchange pleasantries, and I take Ashley home. At lunchtime, I see a new customer, Umar, a very nice man.
In the evening Tina goes out with a friend, and I watch a bit of football on the telly and retire early.