Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head?”
Girl I’m leaving you tomorrow”
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Just like a rolling stone?”
And all of the colours are black
It’s not that the colours aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack”
Saying everything is groovy, when your tires are flat”
But you were never brought up right
You were always spoiled with a thousand toys but still you cried all night”
And your father’s still perfecting ways of making sealing wax”.
But after a while I realized you were disarranging mine”.
No I don’t want your I.D.
And I’ve seen that you’re so far from home
But it’s no hanging matter
It’s no capital crime”
And he likes his fags the best,
Cause he’s better than the rest,
And his own sweat smells the best,
And he hopes to grab his fathers loot,
When pater passes on”
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same”.
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
And business executives
And they all get put in boxes, and they all come out the same”
I hate to do this to you but I love somebody new, what can I do?
And I can never, never, never go home again.”
It’s the time of year for filling in your Wimbledon ballot application form. Forms can be nasty and complicated, but we’re here to help you.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to use that scary interweb thing. You can’t apply online, no sir. We prefer to attempt to transpose your spidery lettering into our creaking old computers ourselves – we find it leads to fewer mistakes. You can’t even print your application form from the interweb. What we’d like you to do, please, is write your address on a large envelope, put a stamp on it, and put it inside another, larger envelope, (or you could fold the first envelope if you prefer, to make it smaller, so that it fits inside the second envelope) put another stamp on the outside envelope, and send it to us. Then we’ll send you a form.
When you get the form, please carefully follow these steps:
1) Please enter your surname in the boxes marked “Surname”. Even if it’s a weird surname like “Smiths”.
2) Please indicate your title in one of the boxes marked Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss. If you’re a Dr, sorry. If you’re a Mx, try again, in about fifty years.
3) Please enter your initials in the boxes marked “Initials”.
4) Please enter your Christian first name in the boxes marked “First Name”.
5) Please enter your telephone number in the boxes marked “Tel. No.”
Note: “Tel. No.” is a commonly used abbreviation for “Telephone Number”.
6) Please enter your post code in the boxes marked “Post Code”.
7) If you live in a house with a number, please enter your house number in the boxes marked “House No.”. We have provided sufficient boxes for any street number up to 999,999. Or 99,999A. Or even 99,999Z. Leave out the commas, though.
8) If you live in a flat with a number, please enter your flat number in the boxes marked “Flat No.”. We have provided sufficient boxes for any flat number up to 999,999,999, so there will be room for your number unless your block of flats is large enough to accommodate the population of China.
9) If you live in a house with a name, stuff you, you middle class git. Your sort isn’t welcome at Wimbledon.
10) Please enter your address in the boxes marked “Address”. Please do not use abbreviations. If you write “Gloucs” instead of “Gloucestershire” we won’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
11) Please enter your signature in the box marked “Signature”.
12) Please enter the date in the box marked “Date”.
13) Please POST your form to: AELTC, PO Box 67611, London, SW19 9DT. This is best achieved by putting your Public Ballot Application Form in an envelope, writing the address on the FRONT of the envelope, and putting a postage stamp on the TOP RIGHT HAND corner of the envelope.
14) If you are successful in applying for tickets, you must use the tickets yourself. Both of them. One for you, one for your bag.
We hope you find these instructions helpful. Our experience is that tennis fans really aren’t very bright. Champagne and strawberries anyone?
The All England Lawn Tennis Club
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Limited
and to be honest, we prefer croquet. Nasty, noisy game, tennis.
He had loved Joyce deeply, but she had never been his ideal partner for the game – being often a step behind his reasoning – and he had long ago learned not to carry out postmortems on bidding or play. She was aware of her limitations, and any criticism would have further damaged her confidence. Bob had partnered her with love, patience and understanding, in cards as he did in life, and she would play with no-one else.
It was different when Bob partnered Geoffrey. From the first, despite more than twenty years difference in age, they had an intuitive connection: they thought alike, and when dummy’s hand was laid out the bidder could always see his partner’s logic. When they failed it was usually bad luck in the fall of the cards: they had a calm examination of what had gone wrong, and each agreed that they would have bid and played the hand as the other had. More often, though, they won.
Bob felt the familiar tingle of anticipation as he turned over his cards, and held them close to examine them. Not bad, there might be something on here…Geoffrey was clearly very strong in spades, his own Q-10-6-2 could support that…soon they had arrived at six spades, and Bob laid out his hand with his usual quiet assurance.
One of the opposing pair let out a small grunt, and there was a long moment when the three players all stared at the thirteen cards on the table. Finally, with a tiny shake of his head, Geoffrey took the black queen out from under the ten of spades and placed it under the six of clubs.
Bob stared closely at the rogue card and put his hand to his forehead.
“Don’t worry about it Bob” said Geoffrey. “These things happen.”
Not to me, thought Bob. Not until now.
He sat and watched their opponents clinically take advantage of his mistake. Geoffrey fell one trick short. Perfect bidding, almost.
On his journey home, the taxi driver tried to make small talk, but Bob was in his own thoughts. At 89, he now felt truly old. Old and useless. He knew he had played his last game of bridge. When he reached home he was soon asleep in his armchair.
Fearful of mutiny by an angry mob of Striders, I thought it best to reconnoitre the walk route on my own, without pressure, so I could make my mistakes unobserved. And I had made one or two, but managed to recover and regain the route before long. So I arrived at the Cherry Tree, nestling in rural Oxfordshire, in good spirits. I bought a pint, ordered my food and confirmed with the barmaid that the pub would be able to accommodate about twelve hungry and thirsty walkers of a certain age on a Monday lunchtime, subject to reasonable notice.
I chose a small table by the wall, sat down with my drink and fiddled with my phone while I waited for the food. I was feeling quite contented, but perhaps I appeared lonely: a woman approached the table and addressed me.
“Would you mind if I joined you? It’s rather better than eating on one’s own.”
I wasn’t sure I agreed with her: I’ve always been comfortable in my own company, and after a morning of walking, with occasionally stressful navigation, I wasn’t in the mood for making the effort to be sociable. But she was no drunk or weirdo – a well dressed woman in her fifties: it would have been rude to turn her away.
She introduced herself as Clare, rather formally shook hands and sat opposite me at the small table. We were too close not to talk, and I assumed that she wanted to converse rather than sit in silence. So we exchanged small talk. My food arrived before hers, and she gestured me not to wait, which meant that she was doing more of the talking.
She was partner in a firm of accountants in London and she had taken the day off. She mentioned that her husband was a partner in the same firm, who commanded a huge daily charge out rate. When the conversation turned, as it will, to the weather, I mentioned that it had been one of those rare summers when I wished we had a swimming pool. She responded that she couldn’t say that, as they had one at home.
In a wide ranging and superficial conversation we agreed that Lord Carrington had been a gentleman, and that Boris Johnson certainly was not, we discussed our respective careers, and then she asked me if I had any children. So I prattled happily about our older daughter, smart, diligent, funny, analytical, and our younger daughter, a small force for chaos, art student and singer in a band. Eventually it was time to return the question. I was about to step on a mine.
“And you? Do you have children?”
“I had two of my own. A son and a daughter. And a stepson. My daughter died in a road accident in July.”
“I…oh God…you mean last month?” She nodded.
“She was 26. She was driving home from work on a country lane and a truck came round a corner on the wrong side of the road. She died immediately.”
I floundered at the enormity and horror of what she had just told me, and feebly attempted a few words of sympathy. She continued.
“She was six months pregnant. The baby would have been my first grandchild.”
So far she had been composed, but was now making an effort to hold the tears back. I continued to mutter platitudes and shift in my seat. After a few minutes we had both finished our meal and I wished her well and we said an awkward goodbye.
I resumed my walk, once again getting gently lost in the west Chilterns, reflecting on her courage in exposing her grief to a stranger in the pub, and hoping she found it somehow therapeutic. And I thought of some things I could have said which might have been more helpful. And Clare went home, I hope, to continue her slow healing process. One day at a time.
It started off as one of those little jokes, those tricks so many parents play on their children to try to persuade them to take a little exercise.
After roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with Nana and Grandad, and once the dishwasher was happily chugging away, we tried a strategy to get our little darlings tired out by bedtime.
“Who wants to explore No Dragon Wood?”
Rebecca and Emma cried out in enthusiasm, tempted, as we hoped, by the exotic promise of the name. So we set off, and it was only when we reached the wood that Rebecca thought to ask us –
“Why’s it called No Dragon Wood?”
“Because there are no dragons here.”
She mulled this for a few seconds, and I sensed she was considering a complaint. But the logic in the answer persuaded her, and by now she was enjoying the outing. She giggled and carried on walking.
Of course a trick like that works just once, but as the girls grew older they discovered for themselves that a walk in the country could be enjoyed, and the route through No Dragon Wood – which continued to be shown on maps with the less romantic name of Bottom Wood – was a frequently chosen option.
There may have been no dragons, but I felt sometimes there was magic of a kind there. It nestled close by the M25, and the roar of that mighty motorway was ever present, louder still in winter. Perhaps this discouraged other visitors, but for me the place had an eye-of-the-storm peace. And there were very few houses nearby, putting it out of reach of all but the most energetic dog walkers. This meant that if one of these more energetic walkers, to give a random example, had a mind to sing loudly as he walked his Labrador through the wood, he could be fairly confident that none but the dog would notice. It was rare to meet another human there.
And perhaps the path through the wood once followed a regular course, but it was rarely maintained, relying on the few feet that walked there to improvise new routes around the many fallen trees. So it now wound its way up through the woods in drunken swirls, with moss-covered logs frequently strewn across.
Emma even used it for an art project, writing stories and making strange videos based on No Dragon Wood. It had become embedded in family mythology. So when one day I saw that the battered old stile had been replaced by a smart new metal kissing gate, I sensed an opportunity.
I sought out the fellow who administered the Chiltern Society’s Donate-a-Gate scheme, to ask whether a plaque with some appropriate wording could be attached to the new gate. I explained the story, and suggested that a more whimsical inscription might make a change from the many sombre benches and gates in memory of much missed Grandma, who loved to walk in these woods. He was very helpful, and gave me the good news that although his scheme was focused on central Buckinghamshire, and the gate was actually a short distance into Hertfordshire, the Society was on this occasion prepared to make an exception and take my money.
I consulted the family on the wording, and Rebecca came up with an extra line – “No dragon related incidents since 1415” – a phrase heavy with unanswered questions, and which hinted at the impossibility of proving the negative.
And the plaque was duly installed and celebrated. We have walked through that gate many times in the last few years, congratulating ourselves on our little joke.
But this evening my wife and I are on the M25, heading home after a short break on the south coast, and we run into stationary traffic: we are being diverted off the motorway one junction short of our destination. As we inch towards the exit, we can see armed police by the roadside, police helicopters, huge military helicopters, and in the distance, just to the left of the motorway, a huge plume of smoke rising into the air.
Three days after my wife and I moved into our first house together, the previous owner arrived unannounced at the front door. He was a confident young barrister with a wife who was heavily pregnant: an aspirational couple, which no doubt influenced our decision to buy the house at the top of an overheated market.
I was upstairs when my wife opened the door, but I had no difficulty in hearing him, as he declared his business in his best courtroom voice. He went through a few loose ends arising from the house purchase before producing with a flourish an object for us from his bag.
“AND THIS…IS THE GRILL PAN HANDLE”
Of course. It must, we thought, be often the fate of the humble grill pan handle to be separated from its parent grill pan: the grill pan stays in the oven and is going nowhere, while the handle is sent on its travels with the other contents of the utensils drawer. You’d think removals people would get used to that one. Anyway, we gratefully accepted it and saw it happily reunited with its parent. But the manner of its return stayed with us, and for some years our kitchen would resound to dialogue like: