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Twigs and paintings

Honestly, I am working on a proper post, but this little idea came up when I was transferring pictures from my phone to my laptop.

Our flat overlooks a communal garden. Before the latest batch of named storms, someone had a clearout of branches and created the pile you see above. On a gloomy February afternoon could there be a whiff of Blair Witch? Maybe I’m reading too much into it. I’ve been writing something with a supernatural flavour to it and I’ve been a bit pre-occupied with the garden. It was a lifeline for me during lockdown, along with other residents who patrolled the space in those days when you weren’t supposed to go anywhere.

Fortunately, this pile was cleared up before Eunice, who would have made short work of it.. I watched the storm from the safety of the flat. None of our trees had any mishaps, although our avian residents were laying low throughout.

This is an old picture of one member of a dynasty of crows whose territory covers the garden. There are about five of them at the moment.

The magpies are just visitors I think. But they’re getting bolder. One morning this ek I saw five of then sitting in one tree. A new family? A crow joined them in the same tree and they moved on, but not straight away. They were back again the following day all in a different tree this time broken up by two crows.

We have wood pigeons, the non-player characters of the garden, gulls (must be rough at sea, as everybody’s Mum and Dad always said) small birds (robins mostly, pretty bold for a tiny bird) and the occasional green bird (the feral parakeets of the south east.)

And squirrels, moving through the net of branches like fish in the water, ignoring the boundaries between trees. They pay hardly any attention to other animals except to scurry up a tree in seconds at the sight of some threat or other.I can hardly believe that cats ever get them.

I once saw a cat make a half hearted leap at one of the crows. He took off, landed again and then gave the cat a damn good talking to, like an adult rebuking a teenager. The cat slinked away.

But back to twigs. After Eunice, the garden was covered in debris from the storm.

Some of these were gathered into another pile.

This sort of stuff does tend to loom large in my mind these days. Although it’s a sombre time of year, the outdoors definitely helps. Before lockdown I imagined my retired life would have involved lots of bus travel and photography but I’ve also been lying low, sheltering from Covid and confining myself to the very local. I’ve also had some medical issues (nothing life threatening) which keep me close to home while I wait for a procedure. So forgive me if I think a lot about the garden.

Really, we got away without much damage as far as Eunice was concerned, and I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much either. Having covered my health experiences on the blog, I have now tested you with nature notes. So perhaps I should turn away from the micro-local and remember Local Studies.

One of the loose ends I managed to tie up before I retired was the case of some missing paintings, which we lost track of during a re-organisation of space at the Town Hall several years ago. With the help of the Mayor’s Parlour staff I was able to locate three pictures which had hung in some now non-existent offices. Such as this one.

A rather nice nocturne featuring Chelsea Old Church, roughly photographed by me just after we got it back. Or this one.

A slightly wonky photo of a painting showing a view looking down Oakley Street. The shop on the left is now a branch of Gail’s bakery.

On the right, Argyll House (possibly the subject of a future post) is currently undergoing building work and is sheltering behind a giant picture of itself.

This painting was frustrating because we didn’t have a decent colour photograph of it. It had been photographed at some point- it was used for the dust jacket of Barbara Denny’s excellent book Chelsea Past, but that was probably in the pre-digital era and the library didn’t have a print or a negative. So I was quite pleased to have it back.

There’s another picture, my favourite of the three, which I couldn’t get a decent picture of (glare etc). I’ll save that for another day. You’ll have noticed I couldn’t remember the names of the painters. Someone will tell me.


I read today about the death at the age of 57, of Mark Lanergan, one of the great singers of rock music. A quick survey of my CDs showed eight albums either solo works, or by Screaming Trees, the grunge band of the 90s he was in. He had a distinctive voice, both rough and smooth, if you can take a bit of music critic writing. I remember reading about his recent memoir Devil in a coma, which details his struggle with illness and thinking he must have been a bit of a handful for the hospital staff.

I particularly liked Blues Funeral and the Last Words album by Screaming Trees. My favourite from that album is Ash Grey Sunday, one of the best opening tracks ever. He made the rest of us look cautious.

I’ll also note the sad passing of Gary Brooker. A Whiter shade of pale is one of those classic songs that form part of the cultural background for anyone of my age. For anyone really. My late friend Carl Spencer was a real fan of Procul Harum. I remember his favourite was Conquistador.

When you sit on a draft for days, as I often have, events overtake you, whether it’s the war in Ukraine, or closer to home, the death of a resident of Kensington and Chelsea. Writer and ilustrator Shirley Hughes had died at the age of 94. Most parents will have memories of reading books to their children particularly the Alfie books (the one with the cement mixer was Matthew’s favourite). And of course that childhood tearjerker Dogger. I met her once at a library event and she was a lovely person, just as you would wish a children’s author to be. Sympathies to her family and friends from book lovers, parents, teachers and librarians.

Good luck to all the brave people of Ukraine.

I saw a report of a demonstration in the UK which featured a lttle girl who had drawn her own poster with the slogan “Putin is a poo”, with a nice picture of a steaming turd. Fair comment.

Another local resident:

Our Covid story

I don’t want to go on ann on about Covid as I last mentioned it a couple of posts ago. Nearly a year ago. But for me, this is an anniversary story , a tale from the pre-vaccine, pre-omicron era, when things were slightly different from how they are today. All the fragments I wrote during the first lockdown are faintly apocalyptic (or at the very least novel), because we didn’t know what was going to happen, or how all this would end. Also unreal, because the apocalypse wasn’t actually happening. For some of us of course it did. For me, Cathryn and Matthew, there was no tragic ending but the last days of 2020 and the first of 2021 did mark the end of a chapter in our lives. Now we’re in the midst of a new crisis I can’t help thinking of this time last year. I guess you could say it’s local history.

  1. The Menu Planner

Every year since .. I don’t know.. Cathryn has written a menu planner for the Christmas / New Year fortnight, some more elaborate than others. This dates from the time when everything in the outside world was closed for several days around Christmas. The fridge is still full to capacity at this time even though you can go to the shops from Boxing Day onwards. The planner is attached to the fridge with magnets, along with relevant recipes, and other purely decorative items. For 2020 it also serves as a prompt for my memory.

The consensus in the flat on Christmas Day was that I had brought home some kind of flu. We all felt a bit rough in a non-specific way. There was no hint of any of the advertised tell tale signs of Covid 19. But it was a bit odd that we were all at the same stage of whatever it was. We got through Christmas dinner and opening presents all right. Just a bit low key. No-one was particularly annoyed that the tree and decorations were absent. That should have told me something.

Looking back at the menu planner I seem to have cooked what I was supposed to have cooked. and the holiday season proceeded…. or did it? Matthew thinks that I didn’t follow the planner at all, but that we actually grazed on cold meat and buffet type food from the fridge. His story is that I was clearly ill on Christmas Day with a cough (I don’t remember that) which he and Cathryn had the next day, suspiciously quickly. I followed the plan on Boxing Day but wasn’t very happy with the results.

We watched the first episode on DVD of a crime series that had been on Sky. I have been known to nod off occasionally when watching TV but this was the first occasion when I realised it had ended and we had all spent part of the running time asleep. (I have the ability to wake up as the credits are running, and appear as though I watched the whole thing.) We have never attmpted to watch this DVD again.

2. The Fall

This is a date I’m sure of: 29th December. A man was coming to fix our washer /dryer. He was coming early in the morning, about 7.30 so I decided to just stay up. We keep pretty late nights. Cathryn and Matthew had just gone to bed. I got up off the sofa to go to the kitchen, or the toilet. I’m sometimes unsteady on my feet and have tripped in the street a few times in recent years. (Once crossing the road at Fulham Broadway. Two kind young people hauled me to my feet. Once round the corner from our flat during lockdown- No-one to come and help you then.) I lost my balance and bounced off one wall, into another which had a pile of books against it. Once on the floor these books rained down on me. I couldn’t seem to get to my feet. I remember thinking what a way for a librarian to go – imprisoned under a pile of books. Of course I had a way out. I called out to Cathryn and asked her to get Matthew up to help me (she ‘s disabled so couldn’t do anything personally). Which he did. In a confined space this was more difficult than I thought but he managed it. The books ended up in a handy box and I was deposited back on the sofa at about 6am. (Remember, most accidents happen in the home, as the Grim Reaper will remind you when he knocks at the door.)

I announced that I had to remain on the sofa indefinitely and would Matthew let the repair man in please? He humoured the old fellow and supervised the visit. I used to scoff at plans with annual payments for white goods but have become a convert in recent years. (I was called up recently and asked if I would like to add the dishwasher to the plan. I replied that I was the dishwasher. I would have asked if I could get covered by the plan and get an upgrade: Dave 2.0 but I thought better of it. The people who phone you up have a job to do after all, and probably don’t need flippancy.)

It never once occurred to me as the sun came up and I sat on the sofa that perhaps this fall was a symptom of something. It does at least provide a date. After that day I think I must have had the Kent (now Alpha) variant of Covid-19.

Matthew also had a moment around this time. His legs gave way after getting up from the toilet. Fortunately, the toilet is conveniently narrow at this point and supported him. We were at a stage ,we thought, of riding the disease out. So Matthew got back to his chair. We had run out of paracetamol so he found a pharmacy which delivered. A man on a motorcycle came, so there was no need to leave the flat.

3. The Samurai

Cathryn wasn’t well. At this point we were still thinking flu, not Covid, but she has form with respiratory conditions, so I was watching out for signs of anything worse. She was mostly sleeping, but what was I doing? Was I dozing on the sofa, or watching TV? What was Matthew doing? We were both convinced that Cathryn’s condition was unusual. At some point one us called 111, but later Matthew was calling an ambulance. In one of those conversations he had to work quite hard to convince the person he was talking to (somewhere out of London) that they should send someone..

The two ambulance guys came as a bit of a surprise for Cathryn and she didn’t want to go. She really didn’t want to go. (She actually thought they had come for me) But eventually they and Matthew prevailed. I hung about a bit in the background. I decided that my role would be to take the blame. Cathryn doesn’t remember the journey apart from the cold air when they entered the Chelsea Westminster Hospital through some unexpected entrance. She isn’t sure where she went exactly. She remembers a “plastic room” which seemed to have been created by partitioning a corridor. She was still trying to convince them that she should go home when a doctor told her she should be glad she was there. Either that night or the next day someone told her that it had been touch and go for a while. She was getting oxygen through a C-PAP machine, which she was used to as a treatment for sleep apnea. She recalls a conversation about signing a DNR.

She isn’t sure where she slept that night but eventually she found herself in a room overlooking Netherton Grove. (A cul-de-sac on the western side of Chelsea Westminster Hospital) There was a balcony with many plants. It became apparent that a samurai warrior stood in the undergrowth. His job was to guard her. I’m glad he was there. He faded away in daylight but returned for one more night. She looked for him later but he had evidently returned to wherever he came from, his task completed. Cathryn is infamous in the family for seeing faces in curtains and other surfaces. Call it pattern recognition, rather than hallucination.

4. Rescue.

Matthew and I sank back into the general detritus of Christmas knowing that Cathryn was safe (but probably annoyed). I slept on the sofa. The following day it occurred to us that neither of us were very well either. There was a further phone call from me to either 111 or a Covid hotline (it was beginning to dawn on us). The person I spoke to was impressed, I think, by how incoherent I was. It was decided that some kind of visit was needed. A personable but impossibly young fellow with a backpack turned up. He was called Andrei. I was convinced he was Italian but I’m not really a reliable witness at this point. He tested Matthew’s SATs with an oximeter and they were in the toilet, alarmingly so in fact. It was a wonder that Matthew was still conscious. Mine weren’t much better. He called for two ambulances. So a total of four women were then in our living room. It was Matthew who had the presence of mind to bring our phones and a charger. But we both left in whatever we were wearing at the time. Two ambulances waited for us outside.

5. Hospital

I’ve already written briefly about my week long stay in hospital. Once the medication started to work my mental equilibrium returned. I had access to television and was occasionally allowed to go down the long corridor to see Matthew and Cathryn who were both on C-PAP machines initially. One particular nurse handled most of these excursions. I won’t name her here, because all the medical staff did a good job., but I’d like to thank her especially, for going the extra mile, not only with me but with Cathryn.

I can’t say I was ever worried particularly, and I went from being mildly disturbed to being bored with the routine quite quickly. But as I’ve said, I was not an entirely reliable witness. I was given a large number of pills including the well known Dexamethasone along with unknown antibiotics (the fact that I don’t know is continuing evidence of my mental state – normally I am obsessive about medication.) I spent much of my time alone so I assume I spent a lot of time watching daytime TV. There was a lot of coverage of Covid and later there seemed to be something going on in Washington, but all the television I watched in this period seems to have had a background of melancholy.

I didn’t know how seriously ill I was, (a bit of pneumonia, I was told although I didn’t feel that bad) but I’m sure it would have been quite worse had we not been in hospital. Towards the end of the week Matthew and I were moved to another ward with adjacent beds. In our turn we persuaded doctors to let us go, and we went home one after the other, back to the flat after a Christmas that was hardly there. I left the hospital in a pair of borrowed pajama trousers, a t shirt and a dressing gown. Fortunately, we’re not far from the hospital. I curled up on the sofa and watched the Star Trek movie about the whale. Matthew’s departure was slightly easier. Of course, once we were home, we were both still vague and disconnected. We discovered German kebabs, a concept suitable for disconnected times. Cathryn was let out one evening a couple of days later. The whole business seemed to have been a short sharp shock.

When I went out to the local shop the people in it looked like strangers, extras in a different story, not survivors like me (or so I felt). I couldn’t believe how calm they were. I never could understand how unconcerned people around me were.

It was not the end of our dealings with the hospital. We had signed up for a post-Covid study and were able to spend time with medical staff who were interested enough in our progress to do many tests and scans, which told a more objective story. The scans of our lungs were particularly instructive.

6. What did we learn?

We had no idea of how ill we were. That’s the essence of our Covid story. We reached out to a beleaguered NHS, not quite knowing what was going on, and they took us in and looked after us. They did that for a great many people in this country.

This all happened a couple of variants ago, in the pre vaccination era. Some people then seemed to think the whole thing was a hoax or a conspiracy. All I can say from my own experience, is that it wasn’t. I think that having Covid, or having a close friend or relative who has had it is one of those experiences that divides us into two camps.

We’ve been through a lot this year, medically speaking. The Alpha variant is history. It looks like its successor, Delta, has gone the same way. We’ve had vaccines and boosters. Those first visits to medical centres and (in Matthew’s case) colleges are also part of the historical narrative. The story is less of an apocalypse. But let me get back to you on that in a future year.

I wouldn’t claim to have had long Covid but I think it did take me a long while to feel entirely myself again. I don’t want to over share but I’ve had another continuing complaint this year. I once jokingly referred to this period in life as the hospital years not realising how true that was. I’m probably still not myself, but maybe a reasonable facsimile.

I hope you all had a safe Christmas. It’s not my favourite time of year. I would prefer it to happen in summer so perhaps on some level I belong in the southern hemisphere. Just a thought.

Finally, my thank sagain to my friend Isabel who was a lifeline at the end of the phone during my hospital stay. This is a detail of our Christams tree from 2021.

Blog extra: more Ghosts

In the end I was in a bit of a hurry when I posted Ghosts of 1923 (Isabel lit a fire under me to get me moving), and a bit rusty when it came to using WordPress so I missed the best “ghost” picture’. So here it is, with a couple more. This is a close up of the picture of the bus stop I did use in the main post.

The figure on the left is the ghost of a very stylish looking young woman. Smart coat, smart hat and a perfect stance. You see enough of her to think she was probably very attractive. Not enough to identify her, perhaps fortunately. The man next to her is dimmer, but stylish in his own way, hat and overcoat.

The picture below, used in the last post shows all the ghosts waiting at the bus stop.

Here is the “man behind the fence”. I have seen instances of only part of a person’s body being visible on the print. Can you remember the disembodied pair of legs in a Hedderly photo? So he could have been in front of the fence. But I prefer to think of him standing behind the bars.

And here is a woman standing next to a container for grit or sand. A woman’s face, I think and a coat. The lower part of her body is also dim.

Finally, this group of three women, looking at the photographer. Note the odd piece of street furniture on the right, also a kind of ghost.

Michael Nesmith

Nesmith was the only member of the Monkees to have a musical career after the heyday of the Prefab Four. I remember the TV show obviously but also his carefully crafted sometimes tongue in cheek solso material. As I sometimes do, I commemorated the news of his death by dowloading a couple of tracks for my MP3 player. The other day “Rio” came on while I was in Marks and Spencer, making me smile. I have the vinyl version of the LP “From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing”. A lovely relaxed song I haven’t heard for years. On the way home I selected one of my favourite songs by him or anyone, “Some of Shelley’s Blues”. A special song for me, and perhaps others.

Anne Rice

Soon, an author will be interred in one of those distinctive mausoleums in New Orleans. Quite appropriately. Vampires are ubiquitous theses days, possibly past their peak, but still hanging in there. (By the skin of their teeth?) The trope has given us plenty of rubbish, including the sparkly vanilla vampires, but we have had many entertaining versions of the idea- True Blood (and the novels the series was based on), Kim Newman’s historical fantasies,to name but two. But apart from Stoker himself, it was Anne Rice, who in her first few books gave us the modern vampire.

Thank you, Michael and Anne.

Another Covid Christmas is heading towards us, so I hope you all stay safe and happy. Next time I’ll be revisiting my experiences in the last Christmas season, but before then, have a good Christmas.

Whose mews?

First, I’d like to thank all those who identified the mystery mews at the end of the last post, Ennismore Gardens Mews. As that was so successful, I have another group of unknown (to me) mewses which also need to be named. They’re all locations I think I should know but somehow don’t. And I’m quite sure some of you will be able to provide the answers. Some of them should be very easy, some perhaps not.




“Garden Mews”, according to the signs. But what garden mews? And “private” as it says on the gate.

No shortage of signs here either.




Parking is restricted “by order of the Grosvenor Estate”, which might place it outside, or on the borders of the Royal Borough.

Below, a relatively short mews, surrounded by tall houses.




But no signs visible.

The next one is less of a mews and more of an entrance.





It slopes down into a dark space. But the arch is interesting.

This one is another that feels very familiar.




It’s a little battered in this picure. It may have been improved since. The pictures were all taken about the same time but I’m not committing myself to a date. 70s or 80s?

This one looks like there might be a turn at the end.




There are several mews streets between Gloucester Road and Queen’s Gate. One of those?




This is the most elaborate of today’s selection so once again I feel strongly I should know it.

And this one coud be the other end of one of the others.




The graffitti doesn’t give much away,



Another dilapidated arch, and a slight slop downwards.

This is another tunnel rather than an arch. I want to say Onslow….. ButOnslow what?




Finally, to add a bit of symmetry to proceedings, here’s one I do know, which didn’t quite make the cut last time.

The low but wide Morton Mews.





Just off Earls Court Gardens, it no longer has a helpful road sign.



Thanks to Neil Smith, Edward Towers, Hugh Levinson, Gregory Hammond and from the Planning Department Jose Anon and Carolyn Goddard who all spotted Ennismore Gardens Mews. Good luck to evryone with this selection.

Grenfell Tower

Many of the posts on this blog are related to the history of North Kensington, and many of our readers live in the area. As a mark of respect for all those affected by the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower on Wednesday morning there will be no post this week.

Our thoughts and sympathies go out to residents, their families, friends and neighbours.

The Local Studies team

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