Letters home, 2001, Oct 29

29 Oct 2001

Dear Mum and Dad

Ivor is improving by the day.  This is not to say that he can leap tall buildings in a single bound but he is out of intensive care, sitting up in bed and is very lively and positive. He still has a little bother breathing because they had to collapse one of his lungs in order to carry out the surgery, but his colour is very good and he’s actually looking forward to going home as early as Tuesday 30 Oct.  He has repaired so quickly that he is weeks ahead of where they expected him to be. He is looking forward to coming home, perhaps going to the Canaries for a holiday and most of all to a slap-up family feast for Christmas. I say best of luck to him, too.  

Elaine and I went to see him in Hemel Hempstead NHS Hospital on Sunday and he even walked us to the door, “Look, no hands.”  They gave him a walking frame to assist him but he reckons it’s more use as a set of bull-bars to push through the crowds.  He says the bit that hurts the most is where they cut through his ribs to get at his lungs and when I suggested they’d hacked into him with a meat cleaver, he pointed to a chap on a bed opposite him who was to have the operation next!

Elaine and I are delighted you like our coat.  We thought that since there are going to be more cold days before Christmas than after, you should use it immediately.  Because it’s designed for English winters and it’s waterproof and nice and long, and has big, velcro clips we thought that it would suit you on your racing machine. We hope you get LOTS of fun out of it. Mum will enjoy her pressy … I hope it doesn’t take too long coming since it was posted at the same time as yours.  Weren’t those St Albans Christmas cards nice?

We are also pleased that Graeme is still at work on that wonderful catamaran and that he still enjoys the work.  The cat sounds huge.  We are also pleased at the progress that Abby and Geoffrey are showing.  They have told us they are off to Norfolk Island with their mum on a week’s holiday.  They will remember this holiday for more than a little while and they are old enough to get a great deal of fun out of it.

Every day in London is an adventure and another day of discovery.  Elaine is on school holiday this week and after I got to work this morning I discovered, on a quick trip to the coffee machine, that outside was a simply glorious day; mild but not cold with a clear blue sky and a golden tinge to the reflection of the sunlight from the buildings.  I rang Elaine immediately and she dropped everything, caught a train and sent a text message to my cellphone from her favourite coffee house opposite The Black Friar pub, just off the City end of Blackfriars Bridge.

Elaine needs only the slightest excuse or the mildest of invitations to leap on a train and go enthusiastically to London. During my lunch hour I showed her things she might like to explore: the remains of Winchester Palace and The Clink jail in Clink St – she had lunch in Porridge, a very attractive little coffee house in Clink St, with reasonable prices, right opposite the ruins of Winchester Palace – Southwark Cathedral, the full-size replica Golden Hind, the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern.

When I met her after work in Doggetts pub, just off the South Bank end of Blackfriars Bridge, she was brimming with all the things she had done in just a mile or so along the Thames, in Bankside.  She had met a Dean of the Southwark Cathedral, a chap called Holman, who had greeted her at the door – as they often do here – and on hearing her Kiwi accent told her a lovely story of visiting his daughter when she was on a 2-year stay in New Zealand. She explored the cathedral and left a candle burning for Jase. She visited the Golden Hind and then went on a tour of The Clink. It’s a gruesome and horrible story, but extremely interesting.

We also found out that Westminster Bridge, for which one of her relatives organised a petition to get built, in 1750, was the first bridge over the Thames apart from London Bridge itself.  The Romans built the first London Bridge and when King Ethelred tore it down when he fought the Danes to get London back off them, the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down …” was born.  Westminster Bridge was built in 1750, so it took 1700 years between the first bridge over the Thames and the next one.

I’m not forgetting that it was torn down and rebuilt several times, but it was always on the the same spot and always called London Bridge. Still is. The old London Bridge – you know, made of stone in the 1170’s with houses built all along the top of it – lasted until 1825-ish when Rennie – who also built Blackfriars Bridge in the 1760’s and after whom the building I work in (Rennie House) was named – built a new London Bridge. It’s Rennie’s London Bridge that was sold to the Americans and is now in Arizona. The new-new London Bridge is a low-slung stressed concrete bridge with not a shred of romance in any foot of it.

Oh, yes! One last thing about old London Bridge.  They used to stick the par-boiled, tar-dipped heads of famous men convicted of treason on stakes mounted on the roofs of the houses along London Bridge.  The first victim was William Wallace (of the movie Braveheart) but another was Sir Thomas More.  

We also have a connection with Southwark Cathedral.  Apart from the fact that Helen Hinkley, Mum’s grandmother, lived just around the corner from it and must have gone there at some time, since she was a devout Christian, it was in Southwark Cathedral that your cousin Richard Blake was ordained.  Richard was the son of Ellen Tearle and Harry Blake.  You will remember the photo of the wedding being held at Levi’s smithy with the large family portrait with your father in the right hand side. The bride was Ellen.  

There was never to be a better wedding than the first Tearle girl to be married, Ellen – to her first cousin, Harry Blake.  Their children were Norah, Gladys and Richard.  Norah is still alive, in Norfolk. I have spoken to her quite recently and I think you have written to her on occasion.  Richard Blake was an Anglican priest in South Africa.  He wrote to me once – a kind, gentle, intelligent man who was very highly thought of.

A week or so ago I had to go to Old Street for a Windows 2000 course.  I knew it was in the north of London just outside the City, but I wasn’t perfectly clear, except that I had to leave the train when I got to Farringdon, two stops from Blackfriars.  A very nice chap with a beautiful, full-featured Cockney accent told me the way to go when he saw me looking in my London A-Z. In a very short time I was walking along Clerkenwell Road, which you just follow along until it becomes Old St and I realised that on my right was the remains of an old courtyard and I had a quick look because I had a few minutes to spare.  I was at St John’s Gate, built in the 1550’s.  It was once a courtyard for the Knights Templar and became the centre for an organisation called St John of Jerusalem whose main concern was care for the injured and then the establishment of the St John Ambulance.  I was a zambuk for most of my high school years and here I was at the very centre of the St John’s world.

“The man who is tired of London is tired of life.”  Dr Samuel Johnson. 

I had found the location of the church of St Mary Le-Bow, the source of the Bow Bells, and I was dead keen to go and see it so Elaine and I took the train to Blackfriars a couple of Saturday mornings ago to see what we could find in and around the City, just by walking.  When we came out of Blackfriars Elaine reminded me that Iris had told us that the plot of now-vacant land behind the Black Friar pub was once called Times Square.  It was where The Times of London was printed and distributed and Iris worked there then.  

We walked along past St Paul’s Cathedral to Bow Lane, which is a little shopping lane, closed at the moment for repairs, but right there was the elegant tower and spire of St Mary Le Bow, another of Christopher Wren’s little church masterpieces.  We bought some lunch and waited for the bells to ring.  As far as I could tell there were 3 of them and they are beautifully tuned and very melodious, though not very loud. On Saturday, with almost no traffic about, the City is very quiet. Some people who say they are Cockneys must have very good hearing, says Ivor.  On the outside wall of the church (closed on Saturday!) was a plaque for John Milton, saved when his church in nearby Bread Street was demolished.  The divine poet, John Milton; I had never associated him with London.  I rang Norah to see if she knew where Fred was born, but she said she didn’t know, so soon I shall go to St Catherine’s House and get his birth certificate and then I shall visit the place.

We had a highly amusing and very entertaining night out with Jo and Neil in their last week in London. Jo Mark is the daughter of Jimmy Mark who leases our farm block.  We met at the Sherlock Holmes statue at Baker Street Station. Baker Street is a most interesting place. 221B Baker St is in the window of the Abbey National Bank.  Of course it was a fictional address, but the bank has put a little tableau of Holmes and Watson in the window in recognition of the fame they have brought this street. But there are lots of three-storey houses still there exactly the sort that Holmes would have lived in. There was also an Elvis shop. We couldn’t stop laughing.  We had dinner in Pizza Express and then after-dinner coffee down the road in a delightful little coffee and dessert place. I had an ice-cream parfait with my coffee.

Elaine’s just had her 50th and although it was fairly low key, it was still an enjoyable time.  I got her a heart rate monitor to help her at the gym and just so Mum wouldn’t accuse me of only buying her tools, I also got her a very nice silver dragon on a silver chain for her to wear with a black t-shirt – which I also supplied. We had a most enjoyable dinner with our St Albans friends at a local Mediterranean restaurant and in a week or so I shall take her on the Eurostar to Paris for the weekend.

The news about Joni is all good.  She has just been made Brand Manager of Fresh-n-Fruity, New Zealand’s biggest brand.  AND she’s in the middle of buying a new house.  It isn’t quite hers, yet, and anything can happen, of course, but she has done the paperwork and it all looks in pretty good shape.  The house is a terrace of  two-bedroom apartments in Ellerslie so it’s very central for her friends to visit her, but only 20 minutes to work on the more or less traffic-free side of the motorway to and from work.

Keep up your bowls and keep happy and healthy.

Lots of love

Ewart and Elaine