Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Emsworth

I Must Go Down To The Sea Again…

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My first few weeks in Weymouth are brim full of experiences, pleasures, delights and precious few disappointments.

Here I am, nestled away in the delightful village of Sutton Poyntz in a deep cleft in the chalk hills in the biblically named valley of the River Jordan.  Behind me, to the north (for an old sea dog always looks towards the water!) is my mountain.  In fact, my recent purchase of an Ordnance Survey map has revealed that it achieves only one quarter of the height needed to qualify as such.  Believe me, when you climb it, as I do most mornings, it seems plenty high enough.  I used to think the miles that I walked with Capone and Carla around Chichester Harbour meant I was fit but in Dorset there are hills!

To the south is the most stupendous view across Weymouth Bay to Portland.  The Jurassic Coast tumbles away towards Lulworth.  The monstrous cliffs of Portland join the town’s Esplanade along the great shingle isthmus that is Chesil Beach and the sky, usually blue, reminds me every minute that I must be close to paradise.

It is not always a peaceful scene and I look forward eagerly to some vicious winter storms.  Last weekend, Portland was hosting its speed trials and, sure enough, a 40 knot wind was blowing across Chesil Beach.  The wind and kite surfers sailing parallel to the road were clearly outstripping the cars and the breeze was very much more than brisk.

I parked up, released the beasts and we set off to walk west over the shingle spine.  The wind was as fierce as any I have known.  Carla whimpered.  Capone struck on.  I struggled.  Chesil shingle is large pebbles, difficult to walk through and with the blast in our faces almost impossible.  As my head peeped over the crest I remembered what real wind means.  Reaching the top I could lean my whole weight into it and riding the gusts, stand like Kate Winslet at the sharp end of Titanic, supported on air, resplendent in space.

We stumbled down the far side, an awe inspiring sight before us.  Eight foot monsters pounding down.  Spray flying thirty feet high.  The majesty of the ocean before us.  The huge, roaring, raging, thundering of the shingle dragged back in the undertow.  A lump in my throat, my tears mixing with the stinging spray.  The overwhelming, compulsive, massive power of it.  I am part of an island race.  The salt must run in my veins because this is being alive.  Nothing can be more complete, more absolute, more real.  Time stands still while the incomparable terror and beauty of nature displays itself.

The walk back is much easier with a helping hand up the hill and in the lee of the shingle mountain the wind now feels gentle and modest.  This is why I came to the ocean.  This is what feeds my soul.

I remember more than 20 years ago standing on the north coast of the island of Iona with my four month old son in my arms and being similarly overcome.  If this is what Weymouth offers me in the first month then i am here for life.

Today, it was blissfully calm.  The sea at Bowleaze Cove was as flat as the millpond at Emsworth.  Above a million feathers of high cirrus cloud, slightly below, scudding cotton wool puffs, dark at the edges, a Dali-esque caricature of a sky but real not surreal.  This is my new home and I love it!

Gypsies, Tramps, Thieves And Estate Agents

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The property market is, once again, difficult for everyone.  In recent weeks we have even been asked to have some sympathy for that most despised group of parasites, estate agents – but I have none.  Truth is that their “profession” is a necessary evil and in good times as in bad it is only those with some standards and, maybe, a little integrity that are worth dealing with.

In the past twelve months I have had comprehensive experience of the estate agents in and around Emsworth, Portsmouth and Chichester.  There have been one or two who have been a pleasure to deal with, who have been professional, efficient and helpful.  Others have been uninterested and disinterested, unethical, inefficient and some are little short of crooked.

First, the positive.  There is one firm that shines out as example to all others – Henry Adams.  I have not bought, sold, rented or let a single property from them but I have viewed many and I can truthfully say that every transaction has been smooth, easy and as it should be.  If only I could say the same for the rest.

Borland & Bound of Emsworth, Charlotte and Alison in their lettings department are liars.  If you stalk the internet property sites, as I know how to do, you can catch the new properties immediately they come to market.  If you’re quick on the draw the truth becomes evident.  Agents which pick and choose who they sell or let to and at what price.  Whether it is their sister’s best friend’s cousin’s daughter or their next door neighbour’s husband who they share a bottle of cheap white wine with every Wednesday afternoon, there are  dishonest people out there that you cannot rely on to deal with you properly.  Borland & Bound told me for a week that they just couldn’t get hold of the landlord to arrange a viewing.  Then I met another prospective tenant outside another property who told me that they’d viewed the Borland & Bound property the day before.  Borland & Bound then told me they’d had a “bad” reference on me.  I ask, from who, on what authority, when did I give you the information or source from which to take a reference?  Is that the best bullshit you can come up with?  I wonder what the truth is?

Then there was “Zone” of Chichester.  What dreadful 1980s-type “brand” is that and can anyone take a firm with such a name seriously?  I had to try to because some unsuspecting property owner who had exactly what I wanted in Bosham had made the mistake of hiring this firm and apparently causing it all sorts of problems.  After all, business would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, if it wasn’t for those dreadful people we call customers?

It was so much trouble to arrange a viewing.  Five or six telephone calls were never returned and eventually produced the reaction that “we might be able to arrange a viewing in a week or so”.  “Please don’t pester us.  You’re probably not the sort of tenant we want because you’d be on the phone all the time”.

Eventually a viewing was arranged but when I called to ask for directions I was told “I’m far too busy.  Ask someone in the street”.  Then surprise, surprise, “the landlord has a prior offer”, “the property is now off the market”.

It must be unpleasant to have to demean yourself, to lie, to cheat, to deceive but perhaps some of these estate agents enjoy their work.  I can think of no other explanation.

Written by Peter Reynolds

August 20, 2008 at 11:22 pm

A Plug For The Bluebell

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Before I am outblogged by a blogger, I have to put in my plug, plugs and more plugs for The Bluebell Inn in Emsworth.  Until now, mentioned only once in Walking The Dog 2, I have certainly been remiss in failing to acknowledge the important part that The Bluebell plays in my life in Emsworth.  I am, after all, desperate for a free roast beef and horseradish baguette.

I am not a pub person.  Or, at least, I wasn’t until I started frequenting The Bluebell but even here I confess that having walked in in the evening I have walked straight out again after discovering a tribe of boorish, beered-up twenty and thirty-somethings.

During the day though, The Bluebell is a delight.  It is only right that I share the responsibility of propping up the bar with Owain and Sid because otherwise it might fall down and where would Giles and Chris and Nicole be then?

Tom,  the former landlord, who I hold very responsible for the genial atmosphere that prevails is presently recuperating at home. My sympathy for him is, of course, not at all compromised by the three weeks he spent in Cuba with his 19 year old girlfriend immediately before his health scare.

Capone and Carla are made very welcome and I am considering starting a fan club for them as potentially a far more lucrative business than anything else I have ever done!

It is no exaggeration at all, though, with or without a roast beef and horseradish baguette, to say that the food at The Bluebell is exceptional.  I have never been less than delighted with anything from a pot of cockles to a baked sea bream.  They even do the best frozen chips in town!

Last week I travelled to Dorset and, just north of Weymouth, called into The Old Ship Inn at Upwey.  There I selected, for £5.95, a ham and tomato baguette which, when it arrived, was probably a fraction longer than the word itself and “filled” with carefully crazy-paved supermarket ham (we have to go metric here because two millimetres thick doesn’t work in imperial) and a couple of slivers of tomato.  That, combined with ten crisps and two slices of red onion, made me appreciate what I have at home.

The Bluebell does not even deserve comparison with that.  Nowhere will you find finer food at better value and if I’m offered a roast beef and horseradish baguette for saying so, I will, for propriety’s sake (but very reluctantly) give it to my dogs.

http://www.bluebellinnemsworth.co.uk/

Written by Peter Reynolds

July 28, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Masterchef

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Alright, I know it’s sad, I’m sad. I just love Celebrity Masterchef!

The programme has always captured me but this series seems particularly special.  It’s the gorgeous, sweet, delightful Liz, the passionate, intense, slightly bumbling Mark or the precise, determined but equally passionate Andy.

The thing that really gets me is the music.  I think it’s what they call “uplifting House”.  It drives progress.  It drives suspense.  It builds.  It fulfills.  And it turns around again.  It builds.  It drives.  The buzz intensifies. And, it, crescendoes.

That’s what really pulls me in and I love this show!  Food is, of course, a wonderful narcotic and the whole experience of this fabulous television is a rush.

The drama never ceases.  I care deeply for each of the contestants.  As their eyes well up so do mine – again! Triumph and disaster.  Amazing how they compete against each other yet weld together as a team, caring and supporting each other.  It’s wonderful to see the pride in Gregg and John’s faces!

Forgive me while I retch at my own sentimental nonsense but I’ll definitely be watching the final!

Written by Peter Reynolds

July 25, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall And My Future

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I have become an immense fan of Hugh’s recently.  River Cottage was always a programme that I enjoyed but with the assistance of the marvellous torrent site (forget the iPlayer) www.thebox.bz   he has become an obsession.

If I need a little relaxation, a little soothing, noone does it better than Hugh.  It is, perhaps, ironic, that he shares the name of my younger brother who is the most sour, miserable character, for Mr F-W always lifts my spirits and inspires me towards a gentler life and to chop my onions, crush my garlic and delicately simmer my vegetables.

I confess that I do not always hold entirely true to his philosophy.  My pungent tomato soup tonight was nurtured from my homegrown coriander but the remaining ingredients were Tesco’s onions, garlic and tinned tomatoes and it tasted bloody marvellous.

It looks as if Emsworth is to see the back of me shortly – credit crunch, buy-to-let mortgage, landlord’s wife is pregnant – and I am inspired towards Dorset.  My clifftop writer’s retreat, above the crashing surf, my dogs, my garden, etc, etc.  Protest not! I am paid to dream and to chronicle my ambition and that is where it now lies.

This very week I am travelling west (as every young man should) and hoping that my nirvana is ahead.  I have set my sights betwen Lyme Regis and Swanage and somewhere there I intend to find my new home.

Walking The Dog 5

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Our climate seems to be playing many tricks on us these days. Or at least, so the media frenzy about global warming would have us believe. With my personal experience and memory stretching back only about 40 years it’s difficult to know whether what seems unusual in that context is merely just the ebb and flow of nature. This spring and summer certainly seems to have been missing our normal south-westerly winds. Instead they’ve been coming from the east and closer to due south.

It was the return of a more familiar wind direction that gave rise to another rather embarrassing confrontation with the local wildlife and another failure to capture the event with my camera.

As Capone and I pass by Warblington Church, I suppose it’s my many repeated commands to walk to heel in case of any traffic which means that it has become a habit and, try as I might, I cannot encourage him to “get on” and quarter the ground in front as his half-pointer breeding should favour. He just prefers to walk by my side.

As we swing round past the old vicarage and turn south again down the Pook Lane path to the sea, he changes and forges ahead, often unseen, even on the brightest day, in the dark and dappled tunnel of hedgerow. To both sides there are ditches, thick with nettles and to my right, the west, a field of pasture, foot high with grasses. About a third of a way down we pass two great cedar trees. If you look seaward from the Havant junction on the A27 you can’t miss them. They appear to be three but, in fact, one splits right near the base of its trunk.

Right there, with wind in my face, a russet shape with a great bushy tail wanders along the edge of the field, casual, calm and blissfully unaware, my scent blown behind me before any chance of reaching him.

He is less than six feet from me. His feet at my eye level. Even fumbling for my camera does not alarm him. The wind is strong enough to blow away the noise too. My clumsy camera work continues and he walks right past paying me no notice.

Now I have to turn back slightly and towards the ditch. At last my viewfinder is on but I can’t see him anymore. So I part the nettles with my leg and edge gently into the ditch – until I begin to slide.

Arms and face tingling with nettle stings, I have discovered that the ditch is six feet deep and as I try to scramble back up, who should be there looking down at me with bemusement? Capone, of course, complete bafflement on his face as to what these human beings get up to and why!

The other “environmental” issue that has been concerning me are the vast carpets of glutinous seaweed that have been smothering the beaches. Sid, the Emsworth harbourmaster and fount of all knowledge on such matters, tells me that it is caused by nitrates washed down into the sea from the farmland.

It is revolting stuff, perhaps six inches deep, slippery and treacherous to walk over. In bright sunlight it bleaches quickly and dries to a crispy underlay over which the next tide deposits another layer. I was lucky enough to enjoy a day’s sailing in a 45 foot yacht out of Northney Marina and saw great swathes of the stuff as far out as the Isle of Wight. Then suddenly, with no mention of our local problem, “mutant seaweed” choking the Olympic Games sailing venue in Beijing has become a stick with which to beat the Chinese.

I hold no brief for the Far East at all but surely this is just more media befuddlement, cheap sensationalism (even in The Times!). We love to paint them as the great polluters, as incompetent to manage this great sporting occasion. Look closer to home first, skip the all expenses paid trip to China and please, can someone give us some honesty, some straightforwardness and some real information?

Capone agrees too. “Now get on and throw that stick!”

 

Mutant Seaweed

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An article in Friday’s Times tells of the difficulties facing sailors competing in the Beijing Olympics due to an invasion of mutant seaweed described as “thick as a carpet”.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/olympics/article4221527.ece

We are suffering from the same problem in Chichester Harbour and I can personally testify to the deep pile quality of this very unpleasant weed.  I consulted the authority on such matters, Sid, the Emsworth harbourmaster.  He tells me it is caused by nitrates seeping down into the harbour from farmland.  I have seen great swathes of it as far as 10 miles out and around the Isle of Wight.  The tide brings it up to the beach and deposits it in layers four to six inches thick.  It is difficult and slippery to walk over and is bleached almost bright white and crispy by the sun in the space of a day.  Then the tide brings another layer up and massive areas of the foreshore become clogged with it.

Written by Peter Reynolds

June 28, 2008 at 11:32 am

Walking The Dog 3

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Walking The Dog 3

 

The fields have been ploughed and scattered this week.   My memory tells me that the ploughing should take place in the depths of winter so that the frosts can break up the great clumps of soil but that’s not the way it’s done in Emsworth.

 

Instead the local farmer brings in contractors who arrive in huge leviathan beasts, each worth a brace of Aston Martins, that devour the stubble fields and transform them into finely graded seedbed.

 

Think of the effort of lifting one spade of compacted soil.  The plough carves down three spades deep and four spades wide with each of six blades.  The earth surrenders to its mighty force and is exposed rich red and raw.  Then a massive grader, its huge weight hauled at speed across the fields smashes the soil into powder.  Only then does the farmer drive out his John Deere, looking puny by comparison and sets it to seeding and raking.  In the space of three or four days the work is completed.

 

The new scenery brings out a burst of fresh exuberance from Capone.  He gallops across the fields, his energy enough to lift any mood.  His sheer joy at being perfectly expresses the purpose of a dog.  He and the intimate experience of a walk with my best friend is the most powerful of therapies requiring no theory or structure, just the doing of it.  Perhaps more like a meditation or prayer.

 

With age the individual senses diminish in power but I find that there is a greater discernment between them.  I hear birdsong now like I never used to.  The pleasure of the birds, the sea, the sky, the light and the breeze is all so much more intense and the unreserved, joyous companionship of my dog makes it all the more so.

 

The most extraordinary things happen every day to those of us that indulge in this most universal hobby of walking the dog.  Last week, and I kid you not, from behind an isolated cottage, flew a second world war US fighter plane at no more than 200 feet.   Breaking every civil aviation rule in the book, it sent Capone and me diving for the nearest slit trench convinced that we were its target.

 

Regularly the Chinooks fly over Chichester harbour, their massive thumping beat pulverising the air.  If you happen to be wading through a large area of eight foot tall bullrushes it is so easy to imagine the rattle of M16s and the threat of napalm descending from above.

 

 

 

 

But the real dangers that lurk here are of a more rural nature.  The most marmalade orange, malevolent cat saunters along the church wall, a half dead rat clamped in its teeth.  The nasty fat corgi, its belly dragging on the ground and while Capone ambles by it leaps up and bites him on the back of the neck!

 

Spring is accelerating towards summer now.  The grasses and nettles in the hedgerows are lush.  The trees are turning a deeper green and filling out their magnificent silhouettes but the earliest crop in Emsworth is the forest of masts that’s sprouting everywhere you look.

 

 

Peter Reynolds 14-05-08

Walking The Dog 2

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In memory of a fallen comrade

Walking The Dog 2

Apart from herons and wealthy, attractive, single women (which seem to be virtually extinct), the main focus of our daily rambles is sticks.

Of course, sticks come in all shapes and sizes but Capone prefers something, shall we say, robust. I suppose the ideal is about four feet long and perhaps three inches thick but the crucial factor in stick style is the way it is carried. It must be held at one end, not in the middle. I think Capone believes this is more flamboyant in the same way the way that a quiff or fringe sweeps back or a fighter pilot’s scarf flies to one side. Of course, even the most perfectly fashioned stick is merely debris on the ground until I have thrown it. Then it becomes the most exciting, the most important thing in life and if it is thrown into the sea he would swim until he sank before giving up the chase.

At the weekend we tackled Thorney Island, all the way around – an eight mile walk in a force eight gale. Out along a one mile dyke, straight as an arrow, then pass through the MOD security gate keeping to the public footpath beyond. The oystercatchers are still here on Thorney although in much smaller numbers but another mile or so on and we put up a roe deer. In the open, not as you usually see them in woods. It ran and Capone ran too but made my heart burst with pride when he responded immediately to the signal, dropped and looked back at me. We watched it run two, three hundred yards inland and continued on our way.

As you approach the most southerly point on Thorney you see to your right the end of Hayling Island and to your left, East Head at the tip of West Wittering. Between is open ocean and a direct line to the Falklands. A couple of months ago when we first made this journey, I spotted an Army Land Rover ahead and we found two men laying the foundations for a bench in memory of a “fallen comrade”. Now, the bench is there. It’s not the usual railway sleeper design. It’s much more elegant and the inscription reads “In memory of Steve Jones, 264 (SAS) Signals Squadron & the crew of ‘Hilton 22’”.

These were our boys, shot down just north of Baghdad three years ago. If I had a son who died a hero in the service of his country, I could think of no more poignant and intense place to remember him amidst the wind, the sea, the sky and the solitude.

Capone and I duly honoured their memory and sat for a cigarette, he accorded the privilege of sitting beside me on the bench for such a special occasion. We remembered them, lachrymose old Welshman that I am.

Thorney turns much warmer and gentler as you move to the east side away from the wind. Nearly seventy years ago, other young heroes took off from here during the Battle of Britain. Now the RAF sailing club provides the local excitement and past Thornham marina and Emsworth harbour back to the mainland.

A pint of beer never tastes better than when you deserve it. So with aching legs and an exhausted dog we made a brief stop at the Bluebell Inn before home for sustenance and sleep.

In the back garden lies a pile of sticks, proudly retrieved, collected and preserved. Out there in the wind and the rain a pile of sticks fashioned into a bench remembers much more than another walk with the dog.

Peter Reynolds 02-04-08

Walking The Dog 1

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When I first saw it, my heart went into my mouth and then dropped in to my stomach as I realised I was looking at a pterodactyl. Loping away from a low branch, it’s massive wings somehow rolling up and then unrolling in an unbelievably slow movement, it rose gracefully, magnificently away from me.

Regaining my composure, with my trusty Kodak Digital at my side, I still managed to miss the chance of a great picture and Capone, my faithful, four-legged companion, just looked at me in disgust before doing his own loping away towards the sea.

Ever since then I’ve been hunting the heron and its mate, for there are two of them cruising the farmland, woods and foreshore between Emsworth, Warblington and Langstone. I’ve seen it perhaps half a dozen times in as many months, once just three feet above my head as I walked down one of Havant’s more exclusive residential avenues. Every time I fumble for my camera, it uncurls those great wings, folds its neck up in dinosaur style and leaves me in disarray.

Every day produces something remarkable in this little haven on the south coast. Across Chichester and Langstone harbours the Portsmouth Spinnaker tower glints bright white in the sun. Crowds of brent geese grow bigger and individually fatter by the day and the oyster catchers screech low along the water’s edge, swinging in formation to display the dazzling zigzags along their backs.

When the brent geese first came in from their summer home in the arctic, they would gather in one huge flock of perhaps five hundred in a field just above the sea. Capone would put them up in a force five south-westerly and they would head seaward in a cacophony of honking, flapping wings getting them nowhere, directly into the gale. I would walk on with them above and all around me, hanging motionless, creating a world of noise and feathers and wind and dog and insignificant me.

Warblington cemetery contains a piteous children’s section where the gravestones are decorated with teddies, windmills, rubber ducks, Rupert and Peter Rabbit. Every day that two minute walk touches me but never more so than on Christmas morning. Then, the really remarkable thing was the intense, beaming smiles that both the bereaved mothers gave me as they tended their child’s grave. Walking into the south-westerly that morning made my eyes water as never before.

The March storms brought both drama and damage, the fields along the coast displaying lines of seaweed 40 yards further back than usual. Other dog walkers who live right on the foreshore told me their roof tiles were tinkling like a xylophone. Parts of Emsworth were flooded. The sea overflowing the mill pond wall filled the empty eight and a half acre pond in half an hour and brought down great lengths of the inner retaining wall. I found myself up to my knees in overflowing sea as it swept in round the sailing clubhouse and caused chaos in the dinghy park.

This morning I left the warmth of Nore Barn Wood and struck out across the most heavily pigeoned stubble field I know. Then to my right a white object caught my eye in the middle of the boggy area that runs down to the stream where the pterodactyl had first frightened me. Capone and I diverted and plugged our way towards it but it was still, inert, probably one of those plastic bags that Emsworth has virtually done away with. We trudged on, me avoiding the cow pats, Capone stepping in every one and relaxed into the warm morning sunshine, another storm promised for the weekend.

It rose again, elegant and yet ponderous at the same time, lofted up and away and gone.

Peter Reynolds 20-03-08