Sunday, 15 September 2019

A day at the sea

On the Broads with First Venture, 2007
A quiet night away in the Werry Hotel on Oulton Broad. We were last here when we brought our boat First Venture up to the Broads 12 years ago, and it doesn't seem to have changed one scrap. It still looks as far behind the times as it did then, a perpetual twenty years lagging anywhere else in decor and menu. Waiting for the lift back to our room, an old man and his wife were waiting ahead of us. The man entered the lift, the door closed, and he disappeared, leaving the three of us standing. "Where's he going?" asked the woman, "he's sure to get lost." Ann asked if she'd been enjoying her stay. "We came to bury my step-mother-in-law," she answered enigmatically, so we weren't sure if it had been a good day or a bad day for her.

Pier Hotel, Gorleston-on-Sea
We went for a walk across the old wooden lifting bridge and watched another old man reversing his boat to his waiting wife and young grand-daughter. The little girl was hugging a soft white toy otter, and pleaded with her grandad to help her onto the boat. He gave her a hand on, and she coyly thanked him, then proceeded to jump on and off the boat with great agility. She clearly knew from an early age how to flatter the old man.

All too often I leave my hat at places, so next day we had to retrace our steps by 30 miles to collect it from where we'd had lunch the previous day. We went via Gorleston-on-Sea, and had coffee at the Pier Hotel, made famous by the recent Beatles tribute film, Yesterday. It has perfect views over sea and sands, and even the gluten-free cheese cake was superb. We just wish we had chosen to stay there instead of the Werry,

Friday, 13 September 2019

Interesting characters in Cambridge and Hundon

An old colleague from Leiden was visiting UK this week, and asked to meet up in Cambridge. Edwin too is back from Italy but staying with his friend in Cambridge, so as I haven't seen him for over ten days, I suggested we could all meet up at The Eagle for a quick drink in the RAF Bar. Romanus is German, and lives near Nuremberg. He has never been to Cambridge before, so I gave him a quick introduction to The Eagle pub, which was where Crick and Watson rushed into to tell the world they had discovered "the secret of life", after they'd cracked the code of DNA. What I didn't point out, and had forgotten until we were there, was that The Eagle was also a favourite hangout for RAF personnel serving on airfields in East Anglia during the war. The RAF Bar is so named because its walls are covered with signed photographs of aircraft and RAF officers and men who gave them to the pub at that time. Even the ceiling is coloured deep ochre from the cigarette smoke of those days, but can't be cleaned or painted over because it too is covered in old RAF signatures. A typical entry read "Flt Lt Browning. Battle of Britain August 1940".

With Edwin as our guide we walked among the old colleges and backs to end at the Varsity Hotel where we had a classical English afternoon tea at Romanus's request. The day was clear beneath the deep blue sky of a warm autumnal day, and with tea on the 6th floor we overlooked the city in a brilliant light, presenting Cambridge at its very best. However, I couldn't resist mentioning that it had so many old original buildings because Churchill had agreed a pact not to bomb Heidleberg if Hitler didn't bomb Cambridge. Romanus's comment was of surprise – not at the pact, but that Hitler didn't break it.

Going down in the lift we were joined by five women, one of whom was applying some scent. The others immediately wished to try it, spreading it copiously on their necks and wrists. One of them commented, "we'll all smell the same now, like members of some strange olfactory sect".

Back home, Ann had been excercising the dogs by throwing the ball for them. Twice she threw it over the hedge into the road, to the dogs' frustration. On the second time, a little boy brought it back, saying "Is this your ball, missus?" which makes a change from the ball coming into the garden followed by a boy asking to have his ball back! Meanwhile, an old lady was walking up the road talking to herself, then stopped at the gate and tried to give the dogs a biscuit from her pocket, but they refused it and just kept barking at her. She told Ann she was going to walk round the village to find someone to talk to, but the thought of inviting her in to talk was a step too far and Ann didn't rise to that challenge.

Thursday, 12 September 2019


Going down to London for a meeting, the M11 motorway signs had a new message: "Freight destined for the EU may require new paperwork after 1 November". Perhaps they know something the rest of the country doesn't yet? Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the news (see Let my People Go!), the courts have decided the government does not have the right to prorogue parliament and start a new session. Perhaps they would like to use the law to choose when we hold an election? Maybe even change the result if they don't like the incoming political party? No doubt the judges would like to make the laws instead of merely interpreting them! The whole system has entered Never-Never Land, and I now live in hope for Peter Pan to fly through the window and lead us by the hand out of this mess. Nothing else can save us but a magic miracle. M-A has sent a lovely picture of a pub-sign that sums it all up.

On the tube in London I saw another poster that gets my vote for the worst advertisement of the year. The heading is completely negative, and takes up so much room there is no room for a strap-line to draw people in, and the descriptive text is so small anyone wanting to read it would have to press against the knees of the person sitting below. I have no idea what the product is, and could not make it out from the width of a tube train. I used to help with writing adverts for pharmaceutical products, and a much better title might be: "This is revolutionary", with a strap line to suggest the target audience or give a hint of what they're selling.
Worst advert of the year?
On a lighter note, at the meeting the big boss has asked me to represent him at a series of bid-defence meetings where three companies are pitching for a multi-million pound contract. His email specified: "Please make your [medical] opinions known to the study team. You have an important voice - don't be shy." At last, someone has recognised I have an important voice - though I had always hoped it would be the voice of my poetry (see Exile Poetry) rather than for pharmaceutical development.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

At the Hairstylist

My regular stylist, Paula, was away when I got to D'Fine this morning for a trim before London, so I ended up with Amber, the youngest stylist, waif-like and the face of a nymph, who still lives with her father in the house in which she was born. On either side sat people talking about the most important things in their lives - themselves. On one side the man boasted of how important he was, and the responsibility of his job (unspecified).  On the other, a woman gave a detailed account of her thyroid, its management and problems. When it was time for her to pay, she said she would have to "wait for my husband to come, as he has the money. Men!" Her hairdresser was Kelly, who has had many misfortunes of her own but didn't broadcast them, "Yeh, who'd have them?" she agreed. The obvious answer was only too clear - the only ones who'd have them were the ones they got, though Kelly is lovely and her husband decorated Edwin's bedroom and is fine. She is forced to make polite conversation by her position, but wouldn't it be great if she could say what she really felt.

During the session, a uniformed man came in waving a technical bit of kit, and saying he'd come to check all the electricals and was surprised no one was expecting him, as he'd made an appointment. He then proceeded to pull out all the plugs one by one and push them into his tester. He pulled out Amber's plug half way through my beard trim, leaving it dead in her hand, then satisfied he attached a green sticker and moved on. Finally, needing his form signing, he asked who was in charge. Paula being away, no one seemed eager to act in her place, but then the eldest stylist said she guessed it must be her and signed his chittie.

Getting home, our neighbours were in the drive, Linda waving a car pressure hose and David watching in his wheelchair. Until his stroke, he always used to maintain the cars and was getting frustrated trying to instruct Linda with only one arm to wave and limited vocalisation,. But he is certainly improving and I could understand many of his words, though at critical moments one can see him reaching for a word in his mind, yet unable to get it out through his mouth. It must be so frustrating, for he clearly understands what is said to him. In some ways, In some ways, his position is like the hairstylists, who know what they would like to say, but are blocked by societal norms from expressing it.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Meetings and partings

Surely meetings are the bane of business life. Today I had four, of which one could have been done by email questions, and another was just listening, my presence swelling the huge number of participants. This may feed the egos of the organisers, but does nothing to feed the soul. One company I work for even has meetings about meetings - pre-meeting meetings to decide what will be on the agenda, and post-meeting meetings to discuss how the meeting went and if it met its objectives. The only plus is that they are all attended from home, where I can enjoy a cup of tea and a Mars bar, rather than wasting still more time travelling, or walking down endless corridors.

Now the weather has turned toward winter, and the first cold spell has arrived. The swallows have already deserted us early this year – though there did seem many fewer than in previous years even at the height of summer – and the holly is thick with berries, a sure sign of a harsh winter to come. I sit under a thick blanket, a certain sign of my age. When we lived in Saltburn, we used to laugh at soft southerners who wrapped up when they visited, but even Lucy who still lives "up North", and who should be used to such weather, says she is hugging a hot-water-bottle.

The only rays of sunshine through the constant drizzle outside the window are that: Bercow has resigned before he was forced out, and Boris has prorogued parliament, so  for several weeks we shall be spared the constant traumas to the senses of this fractured government. I am currently reading A Confederacy of Dunces, but the characters therein are but shallow shells to the real life dunces claiming to represent us and trying to plot our future by steering us onto the rocks of disaster. Let us trust that Britain will truely be great, and come through this storm to triumph. It is the mast to which I cling to try and survive the mental wreckage.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Peaky Blinders and the lost past

I shall not bore people with an account of the camper-vans we have continued to see. Suffice to say we have travelled many miles but are still looking. They are too old, or too high a mileage, or have a poor layout, or are too expensive, or are too rough and noisy on the road. I never thought a choice could be so hard or protracted, but like so much in life there are pluses and minuses, and they seem to balance each other to the point where, like Buridan’s ass, we can't make up our minds. We must therefore leave it for a while, and let our minds settle.

Next week promises to be busy. Ann's friend Sylvia is coming up, but booked the wrong day when I will be working in London, so Ann will have to meet her alone. On Friday, another friend, a German I worked with in the Netherlands, is coming to London and wants to meet up. I don't think he has visited Cambridge yet, so we may be able to entice him to get the train up rather than me go down to London again.

Downstairs, Ann is watching Peaky Blinders. I try to avoid these films of violence, having seen as much blood and gore as I ever wish to see in real life, so I have left her in peace over a cup of tea. The series is set in Birmingham, with many of Ann's old haunts from when she lived there, so that's another reason for her to watch. I don't think I have seen any film or television play set in Coventry, the home of my youth, but if there were one I would not want to watch it for that reason. I couldn't wait to leave the place, and have never felt any urge to return. Once, Coventry was the engineering centre of England, with a myriad of different car manufacturers that read like a roll-call of famous vintages: Alvis, Armstrong Siddeley, Daimler, Hillman, Humber, Lanchester, Lea-Francis, Singer, Standard, Sunbeam-Talbot and Triumph.  In the late '50s and early '60s, the UK had the world's second largest car-making industry and was the world's leading car exporter. They used to say that somewhere in those backstreets would be someone who could make anything that anyone could dream up. Even our school had a fully equipped engineering department with professional lathes, milling machines and metal-working equipment the equal of any, where we learnt the skills of technical drawing, welding, riveting and foundry work. Now Jaguar is the only one left, and they are owned by Tata Motors with engines that were built by Ford. Health and safety have long since stopped children using such violent and dangerous equipment, and all those streets could show is a whole string of closed down factories and lost talent.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Let my people go!

I have kept my resolution not to watch any news broadcasts on radio or TV, since the collapse of democracy at the hands of the Brexit saboteurs (see In-memory-of-death), but it has proved impossible to escape it completely, as news headlines flash up on my phone or from the newspaper stands, or Ann mentions that "Now even Boris's brother has stabbed him and left him for dead". So despite my blood pressure rising inexorably with mounting anger and frustration, I will address a few words on it further.

Parliament and the "Lords" (God rot them) have flung all tradition and precedent asunder to crawl from their rocks to challenge the people's will. Boris alone seems to be fighting for us, and it is surely a lonely battle. Now he threatens to ignore this new law - a law made against all popular will - and may refuse to ask for a Brexit extension. However, my tuppenny suggestion is that he should go to Brussels, and give them the message, "I have been told to demand an extension." Then, having followed the unpopular will of the very vocal but unrepresentative rabble, he can add the deeper message:
"If you do grant this extension, we will continue to fight bitterly as we sit in limbo. I and the British MEPs – who mostly support Brexit – shall use every power we have in Brussels as to thwart all legislation and budget planning. We shall be leaving the EU, come hell or high-water, and if I am frustrated this time from doing so, then as soon as I have the power to call a general election I shall work with all the power I can command, along with Nigel Farage, to obtain a commanding majority in parliament. I will return as Prime Minister, and this time there will be no deal. Therefore your wisest act now is to Let My People Go!"

Back in the real world, we had a message from Kate, the sister of my long-standing friend Colin, to tell us that his Alzheimer's has advanced and he has developed Parkinsonian symptoms and become violent towards his wife, Ann. His daughter has flown out to Luxembourg to sort things out with a view to getting him into a care home now. Colin is Edwin's godfather, and Edwin and I visited them earlier this year (see Visit to Luxembourg), though he didn't recognise us then. Ann is only tiny, and must be nearly 80. She has coped well until now, but this becomes too much and we can fully understand why he may have to go into a care home.

Meanwhile, life goes on finding us out again this morning test driving yet another van. One we had wanted to see had placed the ad then they went on holiday so we can't view till they're back – how frustrating is that. But then, Edwin also placed an ad to sell his old Apple computer before promptly leaving for Italy! He has had many inquiries, and a young girl of 14 finally came round this morning with her mother and her elder brother, who's 16, as advisor. We ended up having to phone Edwin in Naples to speak to the brother with technical details, but it worked: Edwin agreed a price, and they handed over the readies and took the beast away.