The Watson-Laird Gazette 2012
Well, here we are again. Well! What a year it's been, eh! Alice? (Don't we always start the letter like that?)
Well, it's bleak here, sub-zero temperature, and that's just Alice's hands. It's not even mid-winter yet, in fact not even winter for another 10 days and the 32 on the outside thermometer matches Martin's IQ. Actually Martin is in one of his rare good moods. Yesterday he wore his winter coat for the first time since last spring and found fifteen pounds in the pocket. Extra chestnuts and tinsel this year, no doubt...
We've escaped lightly this year, not being mentioned in the Leveson phone-hacking report, and avoided most of the running jumping throwing things stuff during the summer and at least one of us still has a job. Living just a few miles from the Greenwich meridian it seems strange that we haven't crossed over to the European side this year. Our holidays have taken us to Liverpool, Washington, DC and Dublin. More of them later.
Following last year's toe operation Martin got rid of the crutches and returned to work in the New Year, only to shortly find that he was in line for redundancy from British Transport Police. It was dragged on in a state of uncertainty until early July when he became an unemployment statistic.
For those of you who like illustrated gory stories, pictures of Martin's toe at various stages of recovery are on the web site. We received an enquiry about bunion surgery from a web browser who wanted to know why we hadn't updated that page. How odd.
Alice spent her birthday exploring Dr Samuel Johnson's house in the City of London, and Apsley House, also known as No. 1 London, followed by tea at the Wallace Collection for posh sandwiches. (They cut the crust off and charge more.)
Hey, suddenly it was Nature Corner!! We've had endless walks in Bushy and Richmond Parks, visits to the Wetlands Centre at Barnes in SW London, as well as volunteering to take part in four bird surveys in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. We had to count and record every bird we saw on a set route lasting nearly 3 hours. Alice subsequently had to help transcribe our findings on to a consolidated map. Our best finds were heron chicks. “No Martin! they are not fattening up nicely for Christmas”, cried Alice
This is about the point where somebody decides this gazette isn't as funny as last year, but a lot better than 2005.
Our spring holiday was in Liverpool, home of the Beatles and a statue of Martin's singing hero, Billy Fury. 22 years ago Alice studied at library school there, so we thought we'd take back some of her overdue books. We stayed in the Adelphi Hotel, an architecturally outrageously wild memory of bygone days of Liverpool greatness. It was intended to prepare travellers for the grandeur of transatlantic seafaring. We explored old haunts as well as the revitalised areas of Liverpool which survived Alice's tenure there. On one day we tried to simultaneously do a City Architecture tour as well as a Beatles walk. We also visited the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, which Alice said was very good.
Alice finally got rid of the old boiler during the summer, (but Martin is still here, she just updated part of the central heating). We thought that that bit needed clarification, we know what some of you are like after over-doing the Xmas pudding brandy sauce). She met more plumbers than at the Watergate break-in. Which leads nicely into a summary of our holiday in Washington, DC, when we actually passed the former Watergate Hotel, infamous from President Nixon's downfall. Did you notice what a smooth transition that was, from plumbers to holidays? It's reporting like that that makes the Watson-Laird Gazette such a welcome Xmas doormat cover.
Anyway, this years International Puzzle Party was in 'DC' as we learned to call it. We had 5 days in a wonderful B&B just four blocks from the Capitol, (that's the white one with a dome on top), then crossed the city for the puzzle weekend, near the Pentagon, where we had a high-level meeting and a visit to Arlington War Cemetery. We even discovered a memorial, almost unknown even to locals, commemorating four men killed in a boat accident on the river during the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. DC is a fine city, and we walked just about every street, as well as getting out into the countryside. Our 10-mile walk along Rock Creek Parkway was one of our most memorable trails ever, on a swelteringly hot day. We walked from the border with Maryland, to the north of DC, right down to the Potomac river. After the puzzle party, where we met fellow puzzlers old and new, we had another five days in a B&B to the north , allowing us to explore another part of the city.
Locally at home, in May, just a few hundred yards away at the local bus garage we visited an exhibition of old transport, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the last trolley bus in London. There is a famous film of a 1930 trolley bus journey through nearby Twickenham, and into Teddington before passing our house. It was very poignant seeing the bus go past our house, in 1930, with overhead wires clearly visible. Some friends recreated this historic journey.
Other local activities during the summer included a charity open day at a strange garden nearby which was 'designed' like the African countryside with a giraffe and a spouting elephant. More on Africa later. (See how much style and effort goes into this?). On another occasion we went to an open day in the garden at a convent just across the River Thames.
One of the unusual highlights of early summer was a visit to Docklands in East London to try out the new cable car across the Thames. For about £3 it must surely be one of the best cheap attractions in London. The views over the city are fantastic, looking down on the O2 Arena and as far as the Olympic Stadium.
For those of you who are keeping up, we're about half we through, both the year and the Gazette. Now that's what I call planning!
We mentioned the Olympics there, did you notice? We didn't watch much of it, although as the bikey bit went though Teddington, Alice did walk a few hundred yards to see what all the fuss was about. Our main Olympic memory of the year happened a little bit before the sporty bits, actually, but we'll tell you about that after this year's ever-popular Page Three Bird.
Ah, instead of the ever-popular Page Three Bird this year we have a hunk of beef for all you ladies. This is Splinter, a mosaic made by Alice, over many wet Sunday afternoons. The sight of Alice in protective goggles, sending razor-sharp shards of glass flying across the room still keeps me awake at night.
The UK Land Registry is slowly digitising all the property records, and after doing ours they sent us the original. We discovered that our house was built in 1910 by a syndicate of four businessmen, one of who was Baronet Fulwell, who twice represented England in the Olympics and won silver medals both times. (We'll probably be getting a Blue Plaque soon). That Wiki thing tells it like it is, “Sir Frederick (Charles) Maitland Freake, 3rd Baronet (7 March 1876 – 22 December 1950) was a British polo player in the 1900 and 1908 Summer Olympics.”
In 1920 he succeeded to the Baronetcy of Cromwell House and Fulwell Park, created on 23 May 1882 for his grandfather, the architect, builder, and philanthropist Charles Freake. (Charles famously only allowed straight chimneys in his buildings after his solicitor told him about soot wart — a form of cancer of the scrotum prevalent in child sweeps. (Isn't this the best Christmas letter EVER?!?!?) Straight chimneys allowed brushes to be used for the entire chimney length and would have saved many Victorian working class children from a painful and premature death.) Wait until that comes up in a TV quiz!
Now we were told, when we moved into this house in 1995, that the architect of this block of four bijou residences lived at the one two doors along, which has a balcony (like the Pope has) because he wanted his house to be slightly different to all the others.
Fulwell Park, (about a mile from Teddington), now demolished, was the temporary home to the deposed King Manuel II of Portugal, where he tried to recreate a Portuguese environment, as the attempts to restore his throne (1911, 1912 and 1919) kept on failing. Local roads still have Portuguese links.
The title Baronet Fulwell became extinct on the death of the fourth Baronet in 1951. Martin is thinking about reinstating it as he likes the sound of 'Martin, Baronet Fulwell'.
Any way, back to the Gazette. We spent the Diamond Jubilee day walking across Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park in the pouring rain and missed the whole thing. The following day we walked along the River Thames just where the Royal Family boarded the Royal Barge. Another interesting walk we did involved exploring the hidden and unknown alleyways of the City of London. (This is better than bragging about the (under-)achievements of off-spring or discussing unpleasant ailments or exotic holidays...).
Oh, holidays, we had an excellent week in Dublin, walking along the River Liffey, exploring the Guinness brewery and chatting with Molly Malone, (Crying "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh".) the well-known purveyor of seafood, in Irish folk-lore and rugby songs. She's also known as the tart with the cart and the trollop with the scallops. Oh, and the dish with the fish.
If we're going to fit in a couple of pictures and a puzzle, we'd better start to wind down. Every year in London certain unusual buildings are open to the public on one weekend in September, and this year we climbed to the top of the wonderfully-named 120-foot high Pimlico District Heating Undertaking tower. Its original use was to reduce heat waste from Battersea Power Station and to supply housing that, needing no coal fires, could be built without adding to London smog.
We also visited Benjamin Franklin's London home, saw Hank Wangford and The Lost Cowboys in a local church, and made many visits to our local theatre (including a rare amateur performance of 'Calendar Girls') and also seasonal walks around Kew Gardens.
We've got a real puzzle for you this year, it's something we saw on a post as we walked along the path by the side of the River Mersey in Liverpool at Easter.
We don't know what it is, perhaps you can tell us.
Well that's about it for 2012, more of our adventures appear regularly on
Have a wonderful Christmas and a great 2013, we still don't know what we'll be doing on the big day because Alice's mother broke her foot while on safari in South Africa.
Click here for The Watson-Laird Gazette from years past.