Late bloomers in London’s Regents Park

THE BEST TIME to see flowering roses in the Queen Mary’s Garden (‘QMG’) in London’s Regent Park is in the first half of June. At that time most of the 12000 rose plants in the gardens, created in 1934, are likely to be in bloom. So, it was with some trepidation that we took our friends to see the QMG, Although I did not say so, my feeling was that as far as blooms were concerned, this would be a disappointing visit. To my great surprise, it was not such a pointless visit as I had feared. There were a substantial number of rose plants either in bud or in full bloom.

Seeing the roses in bloom in November made me do a little research. I discovered that there are several varieties of rose plants that flower in autumn in the northern hemisphere. These varieties include (according to an American website): Hybrid Tea, Floribunda, Grandiflora, and Climbing Roses. According to another source, some roses have a very long flowering season that can extend into October and November.

I have no idea what kind of roses we saw during our late November visit to the QMG. However, seeing these attractive flowers made me realise that a visit to this garden as late as November need not be a disappointment if seeing flowers is your desire.

A Turkish delight in London’s Dalston

KINGSLAND ROAD AND nearby in London’s Dalston area is rich in restaurants and other eateries serving Turkish food. Early in this century, “Time Out” magazine rated the Mangal Ocakbasi (now called ‘Mangal 1’) restaurant at number 10 Arcola Street as being one of London’s best Turkish restaurants. For those who do not know, ‘ocakbasi’ means ‘fireside’ and ‘mangal’ means ‘barbecue’ or ‘grill’. When we first went to Mangal, and for many years after that, there were tables alongside the long rectangular pit filled hot charcoal, upon which meat and vegetables are grilled. Recently, the restaurant has been redesigned and the grilling area is no longer alongside the tables.

Lokma

The meat served is top quality. It seems far better than that served in the many other Turkish restaurants we have tried in London. Although there is a wide variety of main courses on offer, the range of ‘starter’ dishes on the menu is not as great as at some other restaurants. If it is starters and meze that you are after, the nearby Umut 2000 (on Crossway) is worth visiting. However, their main meat dishes are not nearly as tasty as those at Mangal in Arcola Street. Having said that, Mangal does serve an excellent freshly grilled aubergine hors d’oeuvre. Desserts are not available, but there are plenty of places along Kingsland Road offering a wide range of very sweet but tasty confectionery.

Our favourite dishes at Mangal are lokma, which is grilled rolled fillet of lamb, and yorgutlu Adana, which is pieces of semi-spicy Adana kebab in a yogurt and tomato sauce with lumps of Turkish bread. The lokma and other kebab dishes are served with generous quantities of fresh mixed salad containing many ingredients. As for drinks, you can bring your own alcohol or buy it from the restaurant. If I order a drink apart from water, I always go for Şalgam, which is a purple-coloured drink containing fermented turnip. This has a deliciously sour taste.

We first ate at Mangal in the early 2000s, when we attended a play in which one of my dental patients was acting. The theatre, The Arcola, was across the road from the restaurant, but has now shifted to larger premises on nearby Ashwin Street (close to Dalston Junction station). We loved the food at Mangal from the very first bite. We have been eating there occasionally ever since then, and the quality of the food has never once faltered. We have been there so often that the older members of its staff recognise us, welcome us warmly, and remember what we like eating. Even though this Turkish delight, frequently patronised by the artists Gilbert and George, is far from where we live in Kensington, it is well worth ‘trekking’ across London to get there.

Our local library saved from closure

THE NOTTING HILL GATE public library is close to where we live. It consists of three main rooms. Two of them have beautiful painted stucco ceilings. The third, which might have once had such a ceiling, does not have one now. However, it retains some wood panelling with an upper carved wooden margin. Each of the rooms retains the remnants of fine stucco work on their walls. The library occupies much of the ground floor of a large house at the corner where Pembridge Square meets Pembridge Road.

I asked one of the librarians about the history of the building housing the library. She believed that it had once been a large private residence, which the last owner had given the local authority many years ago. She told me that in addition to the library, the house has fats on its upper floors. Sadly, the ceilings have to be restored often because there are often water leaks from the upper floors.

A few years ago, there was a real risk that this branch library would be closed by the local Council (The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea). Vigorous protests by the branch library’s many users and other locals saved the place from closure. To reduce running costs, the library is not always open, but access is possible at odd times almost every day of the week except Sunday.

Dr Who and me

CHICAGO WAS MY HOME for the last few months of 1963. My father was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago during that period. While we were in Chicago, President John F Kennedy was assassinated. However, that was not the only momentous event that I recall from that time,

My best friend in London, whom I had known for about seven years, Nicholas Gilks who is no longer alive, sent me an airletter in which he wrote that he could not wait for me to come back to London, not because he was just missing me, but because he wanted me to watch the new, exciting television programme that had begun whilst I was away. The programme, which still runs today in 2022, was “Dr Who”. It was first broadcast on the 23rd of November, the day after Kennedy was shot.

Well, “Dr Who” was certainly a fine programme. I used to watch it at the Gilks’s home because we did not have television at our family home, and never ever did. To reach my friend’s home, I walked. On the way, I used an unlit pathway that runs between Hampstead Way and Temple Fortune Lane, where Nicholas lived. Frankly, the ominous Daleks that starred in the programmes every week terrified me so much so that I was afraid of walking home along that pathway in the dark. So, Dr Gilks, my friend’s father, used to accompany me to that dark passageway and waited till I reached the far end of it. For this, I was very grateful.

Today, a sunny Sunday morning, the 20th of November 2022 (almost 59 years after Kennedy’s death), we walked along the Hammersmith riverside and reached the Riverside Studios, where we stopped for a coffee in its superb new café. Standing next to the doorway and pointing its weapons at the tables in the café stands a real-life Dalek. Why is it there you might ask. The answer is that between 1964 and 1968, “Dr Who” was filmed in the Riverside Studios, which was then a BBC studio complex. Furthermore, and worryingly, it was from the water beneath the nearby Hammersmith Bridge that the Daleks commenced their attempt to invade the Earth.

Luckily, the sun was shining brightly and there were plenty of people out and about. So, there was little chance that my childhood fears about the robotic Daleks would be awakened.

A quirky little open space in North Kensington

OVERLOOKED BY GOLDFINGER’S brutalist block of flats and hemmed in by Elkstone Road, Golborne Road, and the tracks of the Great Western Railway, there is a small patch of ground that serves as a little haven. Usually occupied by a few local characters, this space measures about 40 by 13 yards. It is The Elkstone Road Garden Oasis.

A curved wall at its northern end is covered with well painted murals depicting musicians and other figures, who I guess might be portraits of people well-known to those who use the garden. There are plenty of plants in this little oasis. Some of them are plastic artificial flowers picturesquely positioned. Others are real. Some of them have little notices next to them, identifying and explaining something about them. There are also printed notices that contain worthy thoughts about life. Amongst the rather tatty chairs, tables, and a small bookshelf, there is a wooden bench with a label stating that it was donated to a parochial organisation by the Chelsea Physic Garden. An online article published in 2018 (https://communityreporter.net/story/oasis-north-kensington-4-jun-2018-1249) revealed:


“The Elkstone Road Garden Oasis in fact, a small strip of land with a history of being neglected and abused. Originally rescued by the work of MIND volunteers the Oasis is now being managed by the Chelsea Physic Garden, which enjoys a somewhat longer history being created in 1683. Building on the work completed by MIND the Physic Garden, with grants from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Band Trust, City Bridge Trust and Turning Point, seeks to provide the local community with a beautiful space, in which the people who live in this area, adults and children, can enjoy being involved in the world of plants and wildlife. Colville Primary school are already participating in developing the garden, with visits every Thursday by Year three pupils. This is a popular activity and always provides a healthy injection of enthusiasm into the Garden.”

Long before Trellick Tower was constructed in the early 1970s and when Elkstone Road was named ‘Southam Street’, the area now occupied by the open space and that where Trellick Tower now stands was covered with rows of small, terraced houses. Unlike the nearby Meanwhile Garden (running alongside the Grand Union Canal), which is well-documented, the small, rather quirky open space I have described above seems to be slightly ‘off the radar’.

An artist and teacher in West Hampstead

WHILE I WAS STUDYING to become a dentist (in the late 1970s), I used to attend an etching and engraving class in a studio in West Hampstead’s Sumatra Road. The class was supervised by the owner of the studio, my mother’s cousin Dolf Rieser (1898-1983). Like my mother, he was born in South Africa. They were both born in King Williams Town, but he was 23 years older than her.

An engraving by Dolf Rieser

Dolf ‘s childhood memories evoke South Africa as it was at the turn of the century (19th/20th) and are recorded in his unfinished autobiography (dolfrieser.com). Here is an extract that gives a flavour of them:


“The climate of King William’s Town was particularly difficult to bear and my mother suffered greatly especially where her nerves were concerned. I vividly remember her awful attacks of migraine when she had to stay in a darkened room. In the end we decided to leave South Africa, as I shall relate later on . My uncle, my mother’s brother, was at that time living on the border of Basutoland. He was running a small trading post and also kept some horses and sheep. This place was right up on the high plateau and was called Moshes-Ford after the famous Basuto chief, Moshes. My uncle invited us up to him for a holiday and I think we first took a train and then had to continue by horse and carriage, which presumably was also the postal service at the time. I remember well an “ooutspan” for lunch near an immense field full of dried bones and skeletons. These were the remains of the “Rinderpest” which shortly before had nearly wiped out the cattle of South Africa. I played football with a cow or ox skull, very much to the annoyance of the grown-ups. The following night we had to spend at the German Pastor’s home and I remember how impressed I was with the enormous bed and unknown eiderdowns.”


The ’Rinderpest’ was a disease that afflicted cattle.

During his classes at Sumatra Road, he would regale us with stories of Paris in the 1920’s and 1930s, when he was there learning etching an engraving in the studios of both Stanley Hayter and Joseph Hecht. One story that sticks in my mind is how he used to attend the same Parisian café as Pablo Picasso. The great master sat at one table alongside the the other leading artists in Paris, and junior artists like Dolf sat close by at another table.

Dolf was an excellent teacher. He showed us how to etch and engrave. However, what impressed me most is that he had the ability to look at his students’ works in progress, understand what we were trying to achieve, and then provide constructive (rather than prescriptive) advice.

I really miss Dolf, even though it is so many years since he died. He had a wonderful sense of humour, was a wonderful raconteur, and, having once trained as a biologist (before becoming an artist), a wonderfully adventurous approach to his métier.

A trade union for actors and actresses

WHILE DRINKING IN the first-floor bar of the Duke of York’s Theatre (‘DOY’) in London’s St Martin’s Lane, I noticed an interesting small commemoration plaque. But before discussing that, first a few words about the theatre.

The DOY was opened in 1892 with the name ‘The Trafalgar Square Theatre’. Later, it was given its present name in honour of the Duke of York, who later became King George V. It was designed by the leading theatre and music hall architect Walter Emden (1847-1913). Amongst the many plays performed in this beautiful fin-de-siecle theatre where JM Barrie’s play, the precursor of his book, “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” which was premiered in late 1904. The theatre was bought by the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) in 1992. Since its opening, many successful plays have been performed in it. The play we watched in mid-November 2022 was “The Doctor” by Robert Icke. It was a lively and engaging play that was crammed a bit too full of dilemmas that trouble us today.

The plaque, which I noticed whilst waiting to enter the auditorium was put on the wall of the bar to celebrate that on the 1st of December 1929, a mass meeting of actors and actresses was held in the theatre. Those assembled resolved to form the ‘British Actors Equity Association’. Above this plaque, there is a framed document with many signatures below the words:
“We the undersigned, hereby pledge ourselves that we will not enter into any engagements with Theatre Managers on conditions which would deny our right to refuse to work with non-members of Equity.”


Amongst the signatures on this undated document, I was able to read those of Flora Robson, Hermine Baddeley, Violet and Irene Vanburgh, Marie Burke, Reginald Backs, Robert Donat, Sybil Thorndyke, Leslie Henson, Godfrey Searle, and many others.


This document marked the birth of the actors’ union known as Equity. As the document suggested, and like many other British trade unions, Equity adopted the closed-shop policy. When this was made illegal by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s, joining the union required evidence of having experience of a sufficient amount of paid professional work.

I must admit that I am not sure whether seeing the memorial to the foundation of Equity was not more exciting for me than watching the play I had come to see.

A thatched church and Alfred Lord Tennyson

THE POET ALFRED TENNYSON made his home in the village of Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight (‘IOW’) from 1853 until his death. His presence there attracted many Victorian cultural figures to the village either as residents or as his visitors. In 1907, fifteen years after Tennyson died, the Bishop of Winchester visited Freshwater and decided that the village needed a better church than the rather primitive one being used at the time. The Reverend AJ Robertson, who was Rector of Freshwater in 1907, made a watercolour painting of the type of church he hoped would be built. It included a thatched roof. Such a church as he had envisaged was designed by the architect Isaac Jones of Herne Hill in London, and constructed on land donated by Tennyson’s eldest son Hallam, Lord Tennyson (1852-1928). It was Hallam’s wife Lady Emily (1853-1931; née Prinsep), who gifted the new church’s porch and suggested that the church be dedicated to St Agnes.

St Agnes is the only church on the IOW to have a thatched roof. Much of the building was built using stones from what had once been the home of the scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703). The use of old stones makes some people believe that the church is older than it really is. One of the old stones has the date 1694 inscribed on it, a reminder of the origin of the stonework. The interior of the building is well lit by natural light through its many windows. The timber framed ceiling is fine as is the beautifully carved chancel screen. The screen with delicate bas-relief carvings of plants was created by the Reverend Thomas Gardner Devitt, who was curate of St Agnes between 1942 and 1946.

In brief, this thatched church is charming. In appearance, it manages to combine a feeling of mediaeval antiquity with the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was in its heyday when St Agnes was built. Seeing it was one of many delightful experiences we enjoyed whilst spending a week on the IOW.