Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Sunday, 28 July 2013
Shopping with Monty
Today's post is going to be a wistful, sweetly melancholic, somewhat nostalgic reminiscence of past Summers - or at least that is the plan as I set out. You know me, though. Anything could happen and I will probably end up ranting about some scatological event, peppering the narrative with four-letter expletives.
The attic of our huge house in Surrey trapped the heat on days like this, and climbing up the dusty, wooden staircase to the uninsulated wooden rafters was like walking into an airless oven.
The massive, flat lead roof soaked up the heat of the overhead sun and gently cooked the dark corridors of slightly rotten plank walkways, giving off a musty scent of long-felled timber. The only sound was of a distant drip in a huge, metal water-tank which fed all the cold taps way below.
The original owner had been a keen sportsman, and the first section of rafters were strung with ancient fly-fishing lines, made from a waxed flax which gave off it's own, localised aroma which blended with other, more toxic smells caused by the treatment for woodworm which I had carried out as a child a few years before.
Armed with a little, pressurised glass bottle with a tiny spout at the front, I would select one tiny wood-worm hole from all the hundreds of others, press the metal spout into it and release some of the stinking fluid. A second later, a jet of poison would shoot out of a different hole - maybe 10 inches away from the other - preceded by a little puff of super-fine dust which was enough warning for me to get out of the way before a thin stream of lethal liquid shot into one of my eyes. I spent a couple of days doing this one summer, but I don't know if it did any good. The roof never collapsed, so it couldn't have done any harm.
I guess there were about 10 or 15 sets of fly-lines laid out over the rafters, and they had been there so long that they had frozen rigid into dark, olive-green swags which could not be removed without snapping them into pieces small enough to thread between the gaps in the woodwork. That is why they were left there, and - for all I know - are still there now, petrified for lack of maintenance.
In the centre of one stretch of a wooden gang-plank, there was a hatch about five feet overhead. Because this hatch was covered with a heavy-gauge lead, I had to wait until I was tall enough and strong enough to lift it bodily out of the way and slide it onto the flat roof on the outside before I could access the actual roof.
Once that was done, a gust of hot air would rush past me and be replaced by the cooler air from the outside as I hoisted myself up onto the flat. A blaze of fresh light would temporarily blind me too, and the leadwork was too hot beneath my feet not to wear shoes.
Once up there, the situation of the house was so strategic, that you could see halfway across Surrey (or so it seemed to me) and the hills beyond Guildford were visible as pale blue mirages, shivering in the heat of the mid-summer sun.
Occasionally, a jet-fighter - using our house as a prominent marker - would streak noiselessly overhead at about 300 feet, and we knew that we had to clap our hands over our ears before the sonic boom followed a second later, then proceed behind the plane, crackling and grumbling into the distance like some demented demon chasing it. For miles into the distance, horses and cattle could be seen running amok in panic and trying to break through fences and hedges to get away from the noise. They banned super-sonic flight overland a few years later.
We were surrounded by military, and at night, machine-gun fire and light artillery could be heard coming from Frimley ranges, interspersed with the punctuation-mark thump of a hand-grenade, or the faint tap of a .303 rifle. Flares were sometimes seen, hanging in the night sky for a while before dipping down below the tree line and out of sight.
Parts of Surrey are so strange - stockbrokers living amongst Bronze-Age heathland, and pop-stars living on the edge of the Home of the British Army, with retired generals and colonels as close neighbours.
From there to Art School, where I was - for a short while - a close neighbour to Fieldmarshall Viscount Montgomery of El Alamein. Monty would often be spotted doing his shopping in Farnham, trademark beret on head, duffle-coat and wicker basket under arm, maintaining the public persona right up until death. Like I say, Surrey is a strange place.