Notes from a small county - a quirky look at Surrey
PUBLISHED: 16:08 12 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:40 20 February 2013
The winner of Surrey Life's readers' columnist competition, Nick Turrell took the brave decision to swap disposable income for disposable nappies, and now reports on his adventures from around the county each month
The winner of Surrey Lifes readers' columnist competition, Thames Ditton resident Nick Turrell took the brave decision to swap disposable income for disposable nappies, and now reports on his adventures from around the county each month. Abridged cuts from theselight-hearted observations can be found below...
Photo: RHS /Jerry Harpur
By royal appointment?
The first time my brother visited the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, he said it was a day hell never forget. Although the show was excellent, that wasnt why it made such an impression on him. To give you the background, he works for a very rich family and part of his work involves attending high profile social events. On this occasion, he was asked if he would drive them to the show in their convertible Rolls-Royce, and he was happy to oblige. What happened next was quite astounding. After dropping his boss off at the VIP tent, he drove the Rolls-Royce around the corner. It was a hot day so he had the roof down and while he was waiting at the exit he noticed some tourists were taking an unusual amount of interest in him. One couple stopped, stared and began gesturing over to him. I should mention at this point that my brother bears more than a passing resemblance to Prince Edward.
Like most men, I like to think Im a reasonably accomplished driver. I was therefore dismayed to receive an official looking letter through the post recently from Surrey Police the general flavour of which was that I had contravened the 1861 Speed Act or whatever it was, and unless I paid a fine and made the chief inspectors coffee for the next month, Id be sent to a penal colony in the Indian Ocean. They dont hold back with those letters, do they? My crime was that Id been flashed by a speed camera doing 35mph in a 30mph zone in Sunningdale. From the tone of the letter, however, anyone would have thought Id made off with the crown jewels. After I recovered from the shock, I noticed at the bottom of the letter they were offering me a get out of jail free card.
Putting your garden at the centre of community
When I first moved to Surrey 20 years ago, it was a bit of a shock. After the sociability of school and university, where you make friends easily, I was surprised how long it took before we got to know people. Unlike our American cousins, chatting to strangers is not something us Brits feel comfortable with, is it? I was used to living in a street in Sidcup in Kent where I knew lots of people and moved to a street in Thames Ditton where I didnt know anyone. Luckily, I stumbled across a way to change all that. I inadvertently did something that turned strangers into friends, anxiety into acceptance and even helped galvanise my local community (well, eventually anyway...). I designed and re-built my front garden.
Local unsung hero
Every now and again, you come across someone who restores your faith in humanity one of lifes real characters. I discovered just such a person in one of the most inauspicious places; Waitrose supermarket in Surbiton. Ive been shopping there for years and, while the store itself is great, going to the supermarket is not one of my favourite jobs. That is until I met Paul McNaught. Hes not the manager; in fact, he works on the check-out tills has done for as long as I can remember. If youve ever been to this branch of Waitrose, youll immediately know who I mean. Hes something of a local unsung hero
turns out hes an extra in feature films; not your low-budget stuff either, he was recently in The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep and is all lined up for the next James Bond film too. I nearly asked him for his autograph.
A surprise night of luxury
I was immediately surrounded by lovely old trees and parkland, and we could see some chaps playing rugby; in fact, it was the England Rugby squad training. We purred along the long driveway, through a stone archway and pulled up in front of a beautiful old stone manor house. We had arrived at Pennyhill Park hotel. Its amazing how attentive hotel staff are when you arrive in a chauffeur driven Bentley.
Surrey village envy
I have a confession to make; I have village envy. When I first moved to Surrey, I was 20 years younger and so wanted to be as close to the lights of London as I could afford. Kingston upon Thames was about right. It had cool bars, nightclubs, the river and crucially a late train home to Surbiton. As I got older, however, and started taking trips into the country at weekends, I discovered what I was missing. The hills, the views, the country pubs; I took one look and thought... this is what I want.
Occupying the kids in winter
Here we go again: January, the Monday morning of the year. I have only one word to say about January... bleurgh! I know were all supposed to be positive and eager to greet the challenges of a new year but if Im honest I hate January. My New Years resolution doesnt help much either; its the same every year and Ive never managed to keep it. Maybe buy a flat in the south of France is a bit unrealistic. Its not just the weather and the dark nights of January I struggle with. Finding things to occupy young children at this time of year can be especially difficult. And then I had an epiphany. I discovered the delight that is the Educational Museum in Haslemere.
Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark
A couple of months ago, I went to see the brilliant young pianist Daniil Trifonov at the brand new G Live venue in Guildford. Watching him play made me realise that if I were a concert pianist Id definitely have floppy hair like his. Its crucial for adding drama. During the energetic parts, when youre really putting your back into it, the hair flies all over the place, which looks great. He was playing with the London Symphony Orchestra and it was, ahem, one of those evenings where I got more than I bargained for. As I arrived, the whole place was buzzing, the venue looked fantastic and was full to the brim. The music was incredible. Trifonov looked completely at one with his piano, almost unaware of his surroundings, eyes rolling just showing the whites. Which was just as well really because 20 minutes into the performance, during a dramatic crescendo, there was a bang and all the lights went out; over 1,000 people sitting in total darkness. The musicians couldnt see their music or the conductor and yet they played on, not missing a single note
A life with the military
The biggest day in November has to be the 11th, when the nation pauses to reflect for two minutes as a tribute to those who have lost their lives fighting for their country. These two minutes are particularly poignant for me; I know what its like to worry about a family member in the armed services.
I remember very well the first time my young brother left for active duty in Afghanistan. Waving to him as his car drove away, not knowing if that would be the last time I saw him, was tough. A tour of duty is usually six months; it feels like six years. Every time you hear a radio report or see something on TV about casualties, you tense up.
His involvement with the army has meant I have more empathy with soldiers and their families, and its that empathy that made my recent experience so moving
What are they wearing these days?!
I cant believe its happening so soon. The thing I swore wouldnt happen to me; well, its happening already. Ive started looking at what young people wear and asking myself, what the hell are you wearing?
To give you an example, I was at Pembroke Lodge caf in Richmond Park recently, admiring the view, when people started arriving for a wedding reception. Theres something intriguing about seeing folks arrive at a wedding and clearly the rest of the caf were enjoying the relaxing art of people watching. It was immediately apparent the guests at this particular reception had money. Money yes; grace and style? ...err, no
Surreys best secret view?
I can hardly believe its been 20 years. Thats how long Ive been watching BBCs Countryfile on TV. I love it. Those of you that watch the show may remember that recently the viewers were invited to write in with their favourite view of the countryside. This view however had to be their own secret one; not something everyone else already knew about.
This got me thinking. Did I have a favourite secret view in Surrey? The answer was yes. I stumbled across it some years ago, quite by chance, when I took a wrong turn out from the village of East Clandon. Ive never been so glad I went the wrong way; it has become a favourite sanctuary of mine ever since
Gardeners Question Time
I was listening to the radio the other day in the car, when Gardeners Question Time came on. This made me chuckle to myself. It reminded me of the time when I went to a recording they held at Merrist Wood College in Guildford.
Have you ever been to a BBC radio broadcast? Its quite exciting but completely without glamour. In the case of Gardeners Question Time, the live studio audience is usually made up of the local gardening society or Womens Institute. The room is filled with plastic chairs, silver hair and diseased plants. At one end of the hall, theres a table with a green snooker style cloth over it. This is where the panel of experts sit.
When the crew arrives with all the recording gear, the sight of the equipment causes a noticeable buzz of excitement amongst the audience and nerves start to tingle. This set-up process also does something extraordinary; it makes the people in the audience regress to 1950s England. If youve ever heard Gardeners Question Time, youll know what Im talking about.
Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
The last time I went to the Hampton Court Palace Flower show, I saw something that had me giggling for days afterwards I was strolling around when one garden in particular caught my eye; not because of its horticultural excellence but because there was a half-naked girl sitting in it. She was wearing only a tiny bikini and had obviously been hired to attract attention to the garden As I stood there smiling to myself at the shouts of over here, darlin, give us a smile from the dogs dressed as photographers, I noticed the wooden bench the girl was sitting on. It had obviously been handmade and the legs had been carved into something resembling sea shells. But whilst it certainly looked beautiful, it didnt look altogether stable... What followed was both pure comedy and pathos...
Banned from your local library?
About a year ago, I was very nearly banned from my local library in Thames Ditton. This was a new one for me, but on reflection the librarian probably did have a point though there were no signs stating that a grown man couldnt ride a childs trike inside the library.
Let me explain. When I was growing up, my father was very strict; not someone who messed about. Quite how he managed to produce me, the complete opposite, is a mystery.
As a result of my Dickensian upbringing, I promised myself that if I ever had children Id have plenty of fun with them. So, when one day my two-year-old son asked me if he could ride his trike to the library, it was music to my ears...
Fly-fishing in Surrey
For me, May is all about fly-fishing. Especially during the first two weeks of the month. Known affectionately as duffers fortnight, this is when beginners like me are most likely to catch something.
I cant wait to get down to the picturesque waters at Albury again. This is where I caught my first rainbow trout and consequently it will always be somewhere special for me. There are some memories you carry with you forever. My first fish is right up there with my first car and first girlfriend.
The tranquillity of the riverbank on a May evening is the perfect antidote for escaping all the current gloom and austerity in the world. Standing there watching the wildlife, occasionally dipping into my book by J.R Hartley while the herons show you how its done, is very soothing. In fact, it reminds me of a lesson I once learned from a goldfish, about never giving up hope...
Auctions are not only for the rich
When I moved into my current house in Thames Ditton, my wife and I were thrilled to finally have some more space. We could start doing proper grown-up things like inviting people over for dinner. So, as soon as the boxes were unpacked, we arranged a long boozy weekend lunch with some friends. Then we realised; we had the space but not enough chairs.
Having just gone through the expense of moving, we certainly didnt have any money left to go out buying furniture and Ive never really liked Ikea. Our house is more shabby chic than that well, weve got the shabby part; still working on the chic bit. We were in a bit of a pickle until my brother suggested I try the local auctions....
A visit to RHS Garden Wisley
The RHS garden at Wisley ticked all the boxes; nice caf for my caffeine addiction, and lovely open spaces. More importantly, there was a huge heated greenhouse. The day we went, it was particularly cold, so as soon as we arrived I got the children out the car and into the pushchair in record time (20minutes!). I then set off like one of those speed walkers. Yes, the wiggle and everything. I didnt care; it was freezing. Opening that greenhouse door and being hit by the tropical temperature was bliss. They had even laid on some exotic butterflies especially for us. RHS Wisley is now firmly on my to do list; in fact, by the time you read this the National Trust places will be again, too.