Daffodils On The Quarterdeck

My life for the past week has mostly been spent in waiting rooms.

Train waiting rooms used (many years ago before most of you were born) to be very comfortable with roaring coal fires and little shops that sold tea and buns (qv Brief Encounter). There used to even be a small bar on Sloane Square Underground station where you could knock back a swift half in between District and Circle lines. They are now mostly quite uncongenial with rudimentary heating, pierced steel benches and the slight smell of cat pee (although how that happens I have no idea: unless Network Rail sprays it around out of a can with the precise purpose of stopping vagrants setting up home in the corner). The notable exception is Plumpton station in Sussex which has leatherette sofas and low tables. Mind you it has also always been closed when I have passed through so it might just be a big tease.

Dentists waiting rooms, in my childhood memories, consisted of dark wood coffee tables with neatly lined up copies of the Illustrated London News- a magazine that does not really exist outside such places – and an ominously loud ticking clock.

All hospital waiting rooms have the same high backed, wipe clean chairs that are perfectly comfortable for the first two hours but get a bit wearying thereafter. By my calculations (and Mathematics is not my strong point (i)) I have spent about 17 hours in such rooms over the past four days. The reason is very dull: I had something called a basal cell carcinoma just under my eye. A very benign and uninteresting condition that happens to lots of people: especially gardeners and cricketers. However, it still had to be dug out  with a sharp spoon and examined and stitched up and stuff which involved a great deal of waiting over four days and about three pints of local anaesthetic administered through umpteen different injections. The waiting continues today as I am just off to have the stitches removed: always an entertaining way to spend half an hour.

But better out than in, as they say. Wear sunscreen ,people, and ensure your children do as well. I now look a little like the survivor from a Prussian duel (especially as I have just had a severe haircut) with a long scar running close to my eye. Very dashing if you like that sort of thing. In order to make full use of this, I am buying into the full stereotype by being measured for a tight Hussar’s jacket, shiny boots with clickable heels and I am changing my name to Helmut von Schnickenschnick.

I have also been to visit York Gate. This is a garden of which I have heard lots and seen many pictures but never visited. I even wrote a series of  questions on the subject of the garden for a radio quiz a few years ago. Nigel Colborn and I were in charge of quiz mastering and one of the contestant’s specialist subjects was York Gate. Amongst the questions were: The pond at York Gate was constructed to mark which occasion in the Spencer’s lives? Answer: Frederick and Sybil’s 25th Wedding Anniversary. Thank goodness for the internet. The garden, in reality, is delightful. Very compact (only an acre) and beautifully looked after by David Beardall the head gardener – as was I: we had a delightful afternoon topped off with cake made by his wife, Tina. It is owned by Perennial, the horticultural charity which looks after distressed professional gardeners so it is expedient for all of us to rally round – just in case. Go and visit if you find yourself mooching around Leeds.

The picture is of the view from Westminster Bridge. I am listening to Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) by the Delfonics.

(i) I failed my Maths ‘O’ level five times which was somewhat of a record. Eventually I was smuggled off to a different school to take a CSE in which I scored a triumphant Grade 1. The questions must have been extremely basic with nary a whiff of the Quadratic Equation. One of my major humiliations in Maths was at about age 9 when I was convinced that I had worked out the answer to a question. My hand shot up “Sir, Sir!” I carolled like a smug little swot “Please Sir!”. The Maths master (who had already marked my card as a bit of a dodgy character and one unlikely to justify his decision to go into teaching rather than brewing or Estate Agency) fixed me with a hopeful eye “Yes, Sinclair?”

“The answer” I chirruped (ii) “is two tooths”. Even to me this sounded a bit wrong. “or two teeth, Sir. You know” said I wildly writing in the air with my hand “2/2”.

Hysterical collapse of all parties.

“2/2” sneered the Maths master (whose name, I have just remembered was Johnson and  had a line of Parker pens in his breast pocket) “as everybody knows does not exist. 2/2 =1. And anyway the answer to the sum is 342” (or something like that). From that moment on I realised that Maths and I were not only never going to be bedfellows but we would probably never even shake hands politely. Thank goodness for the pocket calculator.

(ii) I did a lot of chirruping in those days. Especially when in the choir for which duty I looked gorgeously angelic in a red cassock and starched ruff.