Freda’s 70th birthday
7.25pm. A memorable day for Freda’s 70th birthday, a big pile of cards and presents, a lovely drive to Weston: dramatic weather on the return journey, followed by a delightful “Tea and Music” concert at Street Parish Church. Jim & Viola arrived at 6.15pm and sang “Happy Birthday” on the doorstep, and Julia phoned at 6.30pm and Malcolm played “Happy Birthday” on the organ.
We watched Fatal Attraction (1987) on DVD last evening — an excellent film but hardly one to go to bed on, so afterwards we watched the final episode of the first series of The Thin Blue Line, entitled “Yuletide Spirit,” which is our favourite and becomes funnier every time we see it.
About 3–5 inches of snow fell in many parts last night. Here everywhere was awash with water when I fed Mr Blackbird this morning, and there were pools everywhere as we drove across the moors to Weston-super-Mare; wonderful light too, and just beyond “Swan Corner” I stopped the car to take a photograph. At Weston the beach resembled a swamp, strewn with litter, a solitary crow stood disconsolate, while dense fog advanced, obscuring the shoreline about 100 yards away and enshrouding us in near darkness, and the waters in the Channel thundered, the elements in turmoil. Then a brief shaft of sunlight from low down in the SE lit up white buildings on the beach so that they shone with rare brilliance.
We hastened to Marks & Spencer’s and at 11.20am sat down in their Café Revive to enjoy the customary cappuccino and fruit scone, always excellent. The coffee was so hot that Freda burnt her tongue, but a dab of butter relieved the discomfort. Afterwards we looked at the ladies’ fashions, all very colourful but tawdry and cheap-looking, and they were much the same at Walker & Ling, and BHS. Eventually we returned to M & S for lunch. I wasn’t hungry but Freda had soup and a roll, after which we bought a few items from the Food Hall and then emerged into the street where the rain stung our faces and and we were almost blown over by the gale. We clung to each other, arm-in-arm, sometimes being stopped in our tracks as we headed back to Clifton Road and the sanctuary of the car.
We were back home before 3pm, time to open cards and letters and rest for ten minutes before setting off at 3.30pm for Millfield’s Tea and Music at Holy Trinity, Street, as usual. We were there in good time to get front-row seats and talk to people we know. I told Judith it was Freda’s birthday. Had she known, they would have put candles on the cakes, she said.
In spite of the weather there was hardly a seat to be had by the time Ben Charles introduced the concert and the young people who were performing for us, some of them for the first time in public. Declan Gossling (whose parents and brother were sitting next to Freda) played Granados’ Playera on the saxophone; Alicia Crossman, Bach’s Cello Suite on the viola; Huw Allen sang She’s Always a Woman; and Ralph Hughes (oboe) played the 2nd and 3rd Movements of Marcello’s Concerto. After the interval, Declan Gossling re-appeared to sing and play Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues; Felicity Oliver played Love Is (Roach) on the saxophone; Amy Wheeler sang Schumann’s Der Ring. Finally, the highlight of the concert, Angel Lin hastened to the front with her violin to play Bach’s Sarabande from D minor partita. Such talented performers all, but Angel was outstanding. Ben Charles came over to speak to us afterwards and he introduced us to Angel, whom we recognised as the little girl who had, briefly, sat next to Freda at the 23rd January concert. Ben and I talked for a few minutes. “Will you be writing this up in your Diary?” he asked.
So we have had a blessed day; everything has been delightful. Tonight we have watched Coronation Street and since then I have put on Three Coins in the Fountain, which I took Freda to see on our first date on Monday 18th October 1954 at the Futurist. But, except for the Trevi fountain, neither of us can remember anything at all about the film.
7.29pm. There is heavy snow tonight in Herefordshire (Ledbury, where Mrs Lunt lives, is cut off), Gloucestershire and Birmingham where all routes into the city are blocked. A man spent 1¾ hours trying to get out of a car park in Redditch. Here we have had showers of rain.
I washed up before and after breakfast, but not before I had fed Mr Blackbird, who is here as soon as he sees the kitchen light on. In fact, I had fed him sultanas three times before we finished breakfast. All the birds are highly entertaining, and with the bird table directly in front of the kitchen window we are able to watch them very closely while washing up. All are amusing, and none more so than “our” Wood Pigeon, who postures threateningly but is the most pacific of birds and harmless. Having taken possession of the small table, he is then joined by jackdaws and starlings, who refuse to be intimidated. Wood Pigeon is less than a year old. The only real aggression from him was last year when he drove his parents off the table — I believe they have since left the district.
I phoned Jim about 9.25am, Viola answered: Jim was still in bed. I was working on Diary files and thought I might go there this afternoon. Viola left a note for him: he phoned at 2.45pm wondering where I was. Evidently I had told Viola I would go there at 2pm if I didn’t hear from her, but had forgotten the arrangement and had gone up to rest.
We paid a brief visit to town this morning to deliver a note to Clare, but found her sick. We rang the bell and she opened the door from her upstairs flat. She was at the top of the stairs and thought we were “Jennifer” come to help her. We bought bread from Burns and then took the radio-controlled kitchen clock back to Mr Price. But the shop was shuttered, as it was on Tuesday — we hope they are not ill. We were home in 25 minutes.
I had a useful morning completing a few files and copying documents and HTML to disk for Jim. Meanwhile Freda was doing the housework and preparing lunch, after which we watched the first few minutes of Night Train to Munich, which I was recording on DVD. The film, released in May 1940, was originally called Gestapo.
8.43pm. Unexpectedly we went to Wells this morning, had coffee and (between us) the last slice of a Bakewell tart at the Cathedral, and then went to the CGBS, where I got a cheque for Paul Brunsdon. We found there was an Antiques and Collectors Fair at the Town Hall. Freda left me looking at the cigarette cards and postcards on Alan Dando’s stall while she went to Edinburgh Woollen Mill where she used some of her Christmas money from Barbara to buy a body-warmer, £20 reduced to £12.
She returned to the Town Hall to find me and Alan discussing a postcard of the Pelham Arms, Alum Rock. It showed tramcar 793 and had it been reasonably priced I would have bought it because the Pelham was at the bottom of Belchers Lane where we lived at No. 23 in the third house in the terrace on the opposite side. But the card was £20 because it was a transport card and therefore a collector’s item. The card had never been written on, so there was no way of dating it. However, 793 was one of 50 Brush/English Electric tramcars which entered service between September 1928 and February 1929, distinguished by having bow-collectors instead of trolley poles, and they had twice the number of window panels on the upper deck as on the lower.
Nightmare of St Benedict’s Road
8.00pm. I took my Ian Allan Birmingham Corporation Transport 1904–1939 to bed last night and read until midnight. It was only after writing about 793 that I found it contained the very same photo that Alan Dando had on his stall. Had it been £5 I might have bought it, but it was the background I was interested in more than the tram. There is a row of shops just visible, and one of them was a chemist’s. One day, when I was no older than 3 or 4, Mam went inside leaving me on the pavement and she found me crying my eyes out. Alan and I had an interesting conversation. He said the tram was a No. 8, and that was the number of the Inner Circle bus route. How did he know that? I asked, and it transpired that he had lived in Great Barr, Erdington and Sutton Coldfield.
Paul Collins’ book on the BCT is a mine of information and I was absorbed in finding out when the various bus and tram routes which I knew so well actually started. I remember that the No. 28 ran past our door in Belchers Lane. In fact the service started on Tuesday 1st October 1935 and ran down the upper stretch of Belchers Lane from Yardley Green Road, and then along Bordesley Green East; it originated at Kingstanding. If it ran past our door the driver had lost his way!
Just as, in my youngest days, I had a recurrent “black and white” nightmare, which was the remembrance of being born, so I had another traumatic and repetitive dream in which I would be shooting down the steep gradient of St Benedict’s Road at breakneck speed, as though I were on the top deck of a runaway bus, the driver of which had no control whatsoever. It was sheer horror and I would wake up screaming. The bus which ran down St Benedict’s Road, from Hobmoor Road to Coventry Road, was the No. 28. On the few occasions when we have driven along Hobmoor Road, I have always looked down St Benedict’s Road and wondered if there was more to the nightmare than the trauma of being born. And why, in my youngest days did I experience a horror of St Benedict’s Church, which was RC, and also of the “Rosary” (as I always heard it called) which we could see — a square tower plainly visible in the distance from our garden in Belchers Lane?
Except for washing up before and after breakfast and after lunch, and a sleep, I have spent all day working on the “Not Quite Ready” Diary files, in particular our time in Kano, Lagos and Otta in December 1960. [These are now online.]
Disturbed and anxious
7.06pm. A day of unsettled weather — gale-force wind, heavy showers and occasional bursts of sunshine. We feel rather disturbed and anxious, not knowing whether Paul Brunsdon and his men will be able to come tomorrow, unsure whether people at this end of the Close will move their vehicles and allow access to our land. We must trust the Lord in this as in everything. Thank you, Father.
I worked on the Nigeria 1960 Diary this morning, then drove to Norbins Road where I found a parking place — the only one — left for me, and had time to go to Barclays to pay the Visa and to post letters at the Post Office before knocking on Jim’s door a few seconds after 10am. I took him a disk of 11 Diary files, some of them quite long, and 11 HTML. Jim once again posed the question of why, in my record of the War in Birmingham, I write in the present tense. Of course, because no one could know the future; and consciousness is the domain of the eternal present in which I live [in which I am].
I arrived home just before Beryl, Hazel and Ilse left. Three packets had come for me, all from Britannia — the 5 CDs I ordered last month: Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Nutcracker suites, Vaughan Williams’ Hugh the Drover, Holst’s The Planets, and The Cambridge Singers’ Lighten Our Darkness, which includes the Office of Compline. I played the Symphonie Fantastique immediately on the computer, a 2006 remastered re-issue of Sir Colin Davis conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in 1974.
After lunch I washed up, then had a sleep, after which I updated my CD and DVD lists; I had also been to the post and taken a last photo of the Monterey Pine, all lit up in a late burst of sunshine before nightfall.
Death of a great tree
5.22pm. Paul Brunsdon, Simon and Peter arrived at the bottom of the garden, the NE corner of the woodland, around 10am. One of them called on our neighbour and explained what they would be doing; they pulled back a section of the chainlink fence and cut down the hedge so as to gain entry. Soon Peter had climbed into the pine tree, and with an ingenious system of ropes and pulley and powerful chainsaw the higher branches of the secondary trunk were falling safely on our side of the fence. By the end of the afternoon the whole trunk had been removed.
I spent the greater part of the morning placing sphagnum moss around the damp NW corner of the pool. Since we plan to move the three water tanks against the chainlink fence Paul siphoned the water into the pool, which is full of frogs. Later in the morning I dug up dozens of weeds from the lawn.
When I came indoors I found a letter from Alan Dando and a print taken from the photo of “The Pelham”, which we were discussing on Saturday — so very kind of him. I took to him from the first.
After lunch I was more exhausted than for some time and went to bed for perhaps two hours. By that time it was raining steadily but the men were still working. I signed a card for Mary & Pete in Canada, whose wedding anniversary is next Tuesday, and posted it in Tor View Avenue.
It was a miracle that the men were able to work today. I slept only lightly; a fierce gale was blowing. I both dreaded the felling of the pine tree and at the same time was apprehensive, fearing its postponement. But by breakfast time the gale had subsided to a gentle breeze; wood pigeons and magpies alighted in the branches for a final time. Then they flew away and the great tree was perfectly still, at peace, and I turned sadly away.
7.47pm. Eleanor Lorimer took us for last night’s practice. It was held in the foyer — so very much better for rehearsal than the Concert Hall — and we ran through both the Puccini Messa di Gloria and the Vivaldi Gloria, were dismissed by 8.50pm and home soon after 9pm. We then watched Fawlty Towers (“The Germans”) and The Thin Blue Line.
Entirely contrary to the weather forecast the sun has shone all day and although it was 10am or later before Paul and the men were here, the work was substantially completed by the end of the afternoon.
I worked in the office most of the morning. I wrote to Alan Dando and then scanned the photo he sent me yesterday, and the three cards I bought from him on Saturday. Then at midday we went shopping. After lunch, too tired even to do the washing up, I lay down on the hearthrug and went instantly to sleep, awaking refreshed within an hour. I went outside and the transformation of the garden was incredible: only part of the trunk remained; Paul had carried out a major clearance in the woodland. With the sun shining from a cloudless sky the garden was filled with light. Freda soon joined Paul and me and we discussed what still remains to be done: several trees to be coppiced in the woodland, the yew tree trimmed, dead wood to be removed and much else.
8.18pm. We are watching last night’s Coronation Street on DVD. Earlier we saw The Avengers. I heard Steed say to Emma, “We must adopt a nudist guise” — presumably Emma Peeled off.
Paul Brunsdon and his team finished in the garden about 2pm. They have done a great job and will return D.V. to finish work on the water tanks — we may put in one or two more — and on the chalet, which requires a new base. After breakfast we drove to Wollen’s to see if they had any more of the Ferham 50-gallon tanks. They had only one in stock. Paul has an account there and will place an order when we have decided how many we require.
We spent the morning in the garden tidying up while the men reduced the remaining trunk of the pine (which they had left as an architectural feature) to a low platform, on which we asked for the 40th wedding anniversary pedestal to be placed. It looks fine there. Two or three more trees, painted with a “C” yesterday, were coppiced today, and Paul significantly reduced the size of the yew. For the first time ever, we saw the sun shining over the entire surface of the pool.
While writing this I have had a phone call from Andrew Bullock, thanking me for the gift I sent at Christmas. He is a lovely man and I wish we had someone like him here who would preach the Gospel and confidently affirm the Christian message instead of apologising for it. We talked for 15–20 minutes. Andrew told me they had indeed prayed for my brother Paul at the All Saints/All Souls, and I was moved to ask him to pray for the situation here and especially for [our parish priest].