|Church St, Twickenham by Maxwell Hamilton|
The last two weekends of May were dominated by rugby at the stadium: a weekend of Sevens, the Premiership Final and England v Barbarians combined to jam up the town for four whole days: an insouciant breach of the covenant of trust that the RFU owes its neighbours. Exacerbating the annoyance: on the last afternoon unfamiliar and uncertain traffic police were drafted in from North London and proved cluelessly bereft of common sense: despite the street being completely clear five mins after the kick off they refused to open the road; I phoned Control there and then and told them I was hemmed in by numpties. "There's no need to be rude to me Sir' said the closest numpty, mildly, "and I'm definitely not letting you through now."
The crowds reached 80,000 and some friends of ours who live on the main drag made thousands selling homemade cakes to the crowds from their front garden.
Across the road from us lives Alice. She and her husband bought her house just before the war, new from the builder, for about £300. Just a short time later her husband volunteered, went off to fight and, missing in action, he never came home. She waited through four years of war and then another four years of peace before, losing hope, she declared him dead and she told me that because of the delay she never got the letter from the King that other war-widows received.
Alice never wanted to live on the Middlesex side of the river, but that was what they could afford and there she has stayed, alone but certainly not friendless, for seventy-two years. She is deaf and sleepless and now that the weather is warm and windows are open at night, her radio - talk, not music - wakes me up in small, still hours between 1 and 3; Sometimes it's loud enough for me to even make out the words.
I asked her about the rugby crowds and did they bother her? She said I shouldn't complain, sixty years ago the stadium held 100,000, and anyway it is all much better policed nowadays
Every Sunday morning my mates and I go cycling. The bright warm early morning Sundays in May are the perfect-weather highlight of our year and those weeks we go further. On the last Sunday in May we rode a sweeping circle, never more than ten miles from home, taking in two grand country houses (Syon and Osterley) several miles of the Grand Union Canal and the River Brent, as well as the London Air Parks in Hanworth where a Zeppelin landed in 1936, and the old Feltham Marshalling yards where steam trains once met and were divided and restacked.
A puncture and a canal-path diversion for a broken bridge delayed us and we were out for two hours; half a mile from home my friend Karl peeled off sprinting for the local church where his bell, and seven impatient bell ringers awaited him (when he got there they had gone). His church are running a £14,000pa deficit (the vicar says on her blog) despite making lots of money out of the rugby crowds - car parking. The last two weekends in May - with four games! - were especially profitable.
Our entrepreneurial friends on the road to the stadium had a fiftieth birthday and we were invited for drinks and smoked salmon with sour cream on blini (when I was young smoked salmon came on crustless triangles of buttered brown bread, when did that change?) . At the party was a slightly-well-known Twickenham based actor who is currently appearing in the West End. Tall, blond and striking, she dominated the small back room and the assembled company; Mrs Botogol and I affected not to recognise her, but other guests were fawning and politely praised her work; she beamed. I dropped the name of an even more famous Twickenham-based actor - whom we know from school, and was rewarded by a momentary frown across her peach-perfect brow. I am a git.
Fetching another canapé from the kitchen I introduced myself to our hosts' next door neighbour, who was hovering shyly near the red wine. He told me he had lived in his house, alone, for almost sixty years. I asked him if Twickenham had changed in all that time. "Not a bit", he said, happily, "Not a bit". I wondered if he knew Alice, who has lived no more than two hundred metres away from him, for all that time.
They've never met.