Monday, 14 October 2019

Shopping in Birmingham and London

Kurdish anti-Turkish protests
Cutting through the grounds of the cathedral in Birmingham this weekend, we found ourselves attached to a large and vocal protest. The Brummie Kurds were making their protest against the Turkish invasion of Syria and brutal massacre of the Kurdish population there. They were shouting in Kurdish, working each other up with repetitive chants of hatred, culminating in burning the Turkish flag to great cheers. Later, Ann took me through the world's biggest Primark where I was easily persuaded to buy a Peaky Blinders cap (minus the razor blades).

Next day we travelled to my brother and sister-in-law's house to see them and their children, plus our great-nieces and nephews. We went via the old Coventry Road, to pay homage to Ann's childhood home. We stopped for a drink at the old police station, now a pub called The Old Bill and Bull. Ann recalled the last time she was there as a teenager, after her younger sister ran away from home and ended up in the care of the police.

Ann at The Old Bill and Bull
At Richard and Chris's, we were able to meet Ben and Kaz and Luke, as well as R&C's side of the family, so it provided a good get-together. Next day, we came to London for one night in preparation for my meetings next day. Tired of eating out, we decided to make a picnic in the room, so visited Marks and Sparks foodhall, where I waited to pay while Ann disappeared to visit a few shops. In the queue ahead of me, a man was arguing with the girl on the till about the cost of the items he'd bought. He had seven items, and the bill was £7.30, which didn't sound excessive to me, though I don't know what he bought. The till girl was young and pretty, but completely unable to speak. She rang the bell to summon the supervisor, then wrote down in laborious capitals the customer's complaint, for her supervisor to deal with. She gave me a soft complicit smile, then checked me through as the supervisor patiently went through the other man's seven items, pointing out the correct price of each until he agreed it was correct.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

The Bell in Clare

The Bell in Clare under new management
The Bell Hotel in Clare is a magnificent old coaching inn, with fine oak timber frames and a mix of dining areas. When first we moved to Clare, it was very upmarket, serving top class meals, with linen table cloths in a Tudor dining room of great splendour. Over the years it went through a series of new owners under Green King, but each time it seemed to lower its standard, and the recent managers were very strange indeed. They issued an edict banning people in "working clothes" from the pub, meaning they lost their regular beer drinking clientelle. Then they only served one menu, so even at lunch time we could not get snacks or bar meals, but could only choose from the expensive and elaborate evening menu, which was good quality and small portions, suitable for a high class West End venue, but not for a lunch time pub serving casual tourists or people who just wanted a light lunch.

Eventually they were driven out of business and the place closed again, but this week we heard it had reopened so called in to see it. The new manager is a very young man, and all the regular bar staff have left, so he was helped by a young boy who looked about 16, but must have been a bit older to be allowed to serve alcohol. The place was empty but for one old stalwart who used to haunt The Swan, but never seems to get on with the landlord of whichever pub he's in, so is trying The Bell again. I asked for a bitter shandy, but was told they don't yet have any beer! Then we asked for the menu, which was a standard bar menu of items such as "cod and chips", "egg, ham and chips", "steak and chips", but nothing vegetarian, and certainly nothing marked gluten free for Ann. I ended up with just tomato soup, and Ann had egg and chips. They too only offer the same menu throughout the hotel, and unchanged in the evening, so I don't think we will go there for a special meal: it will be back to The Swan.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Family problems

Star Crossed

do not resemble John Boy
or ma and pa
smiling besides the log-burning fire.
are more Montague and Capulet
vendetta writ large
in poisoned epithet.

Over the weekend we travelled north to the remote outpost of Hartlepool, to stay with Lucy and her new blended family. Or as many of them as chose to attend for Grandson Theo's second birthday, for even on a neutral day such as this should be, family divisions were writ large on both sides, by the absence of those who should have been there. Even my ex-wife made every effort to be to her new grandson's birthday, yet Andy's mother and sister, and my ex-son, the boy's uncle, could not bring themselves to attend, even to celebrate a little innocent who knows nothing of such vendettas. Ann too is within a mile of her sister and niece, yet the rift is wide as an ocean, uncrossable by we who yearn for peace and stability rather than the rancour and bitterness of unforgiving and unending blind feuds.

Air ambulance lands at Sturmer

Edwin told his new partner of our divisions, and he responded by relating some within his own family, wide in scope and devastating in impact as they are unexpected to the casual outside observer. These are truly universal problems, as captured by Ann in her new poem, and I suspect every family contains them somewhere in the dark, hidden recesses of their secret closets. We suffer the actions of wilful sods, as families suffer the consequences of sudden unlooked for illnesses, as we were reminded driving home from Tesco through the tiny village of Sturmer in Essex, when we were halted by the air ambulance landing in an adjacent field to deal with some poor patient. No doubt struck down with equal viciousness by uncaring fate, the consequences will be felt by the immediate family as much as by the victim. Yet even this dramatic physical event will have less impact than poisonous vendettas that kill relationships and may last for generations, affecting far more than the immediate family.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Orgy in London

I was late for the first meeting, thanks to a minor crash on the M11 and unprecedented queues at Stratford for the central line, where we could only shuffle forward a little as each train came in, until with flailing elbows I could squash onto the third or fourth train. Being on board that carriage was the nearest I have been to what an orgy might be. Bodies pressed tightly together, everyone engrossed in a secret, weird other world of headphones, all swaying in intimate proximity in complete rythm, yet embarrassed to put arms anywhere that might touch another human, I finally burst into the meeting after the introductions a full ten minutes late, so none of the team visiting from the Netherlands knew (or probably cared) who I was as I grabbed the last chair.

Going back to the hotel later, a man entered the lift with a huge pram filled with a case and other luggage. Another man said, "They're getting bigger and bigger these days!" Then walking through the Stratford Centre, I noticed one of the film titles: "Hobbs and Shaw". Thinking it might be a new historical type biopic from one of the Arts Houses about the influence of one of our great philosophers on a brilliant playwright, I stopped to read about it. Turns out they're typically violent American vigilante types bent on stopping some mad science-fiction mayhem sweeping the world.

Ann could not come with me, which is a huge regret. Two friends who might have doggie-sat have a family crisis, so were unable to come round. It only happened at the last moment, so we were too late to book kennels, and Edwin is staying away all week working in Norwich and Cambridge. So I sit alone, keeping a lonely vigil before the keyboard. I continue to do silly things, though, even without her. I had left my kitbag at a previous hotel, so had to pack another. In my hurry, I grabbed a tube of toothpaste and flung it it, not realising Ann had already packed one. I thought it tasted bland - then I realised I'd cleaned my teeth with Canesten. At least I shouldn't get thrush in my mouth.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Psychoanalysis with the tarot

loneliness hits her face
with a hornet sting
she picks up the phone
and tries to ring
a friend
to hear a sugared voice -
but darkness brings fear
and ghostly shadows
cast silhouettes
onto an empty wall
awakening haunting dreams
of how things might have been

Every day Ann writes a poem, always concise, insightful, sometimes of her frustrations with a life subject to fate's whims rather than her choices. Sometimes they are nostalgic; sometimes filled with anger at the stupidity in the world, in politics, in neighbours, in family; often about the annoyances of living with me. She has the powerful ability of complete empathy, able to enter the hurt and anguish or disturbing anxieties of others, and many people share their inner pain with her, like a priest in the confessional but without the guilt. I long ago gave up any pretence at a private, inner life, for she could read me before I knew my own thoughts, and there could be no secrets from her.

Using the tarot, she does not claim to read the future, but uses the revealed cards to explore the person's inner feelings and troubles, often leading them to insight of themselves that might take them forward over difficult choices or anxieties. In the olden days it might have been called witchcraft; now it is a form of psychotherapy and if she ever chose to take paying clients, she could be very rich from it. But it remains a private thing, for a few confiding friends and family.

Ann is not widowed yet, and still has full contact with her children and most of mine, yet today's poem looks at loneliness in total bereavement, seeing in the lines a woman cut off from her past, her memories, her family, with no one to share photos or common chat of her children's young lives, nor her own childhood. I do not think in Ann's case it is prophetic, for she is someone who will always have friends and family support, yet she can enter the heartache and unbearable loneliness of others who do suffer, and cry at their pain and yearn to give comfort. It is a deep and lonely gift in its own right, and even in the midst of companionship and a life shared, it reflects the aloneness we all experience from time to time, for her poem has that wonderful quality of all great poetry, of being specific yet universal.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Strange gestures

fuck parliament
On so it goes on
round and round
like a bloody carousel
until we are all dizzy
or insane
or both
I can't remember now
which way I voted
not that it matters anyhow
democracy is dying
throat garrotted
heart ripped out
parliament a ship of fools
prancing wildly about
while we watch
wringing hands in despair
until our knuckles disappear
into the cold night air.
I wonder how many misunderstandings in life are caused by the right sentiment being misinterpreted. Coming home from Bury, I accidentally over-ran some "Keep Clear" road markings approaching the traffic lights. Sod's Law decreed that as I stopped, another driver stopped who wanted to turn right, but couldn't. They glared at me till I moved off, and in an attempted gesture of reconciliation I tried to give a "sorry" combined with "it wasn't deliberate", but somehow ended up blowing her a kiss. Ann thought it funny, but I was glad I couldn't see the driver's face as I did it.

Effectively having no government, the vacuum is filled with screaming, baying monsters, and the country has fallen to the rule of cold lawyers, lacking direction, inspiration, or the power to enact new laws. It used to be that, when a government lost the power to control parliament, they could call an election and let the people decide. Now Cameron has removed even that ability with his "fixed term parliament act", and only paralysis and pandemonium are left.

Sunrise over Hundon

With the Autumnal Equinox, the dawn sun rises directly before my room before making its way across to hide behind the neighbouring house in midwinter. Walking with the dogs in Clare by the silent river, on a sunlit autumnal carpet of brown and gold, calmness and peace keep the screaming world beyond the edge of consciousness.
Oh would that the world could walk in such peace; but we must enjoy each tranquil minute whilst we can, and be glad that we can still sample it if but for a moment.

Now I am having to prepare slides for our Japanese colleagues before they attend three presentations by CROs (Clinical Research Organisations) vying for business. They ask what experience the CROs have had with adverse events in clinical trials, which is a bit like asking what experience fish have with water. Running trials and handling AEs is their bread and butter, and all three we will be interviewing are among the biggest global companies, with decades of experience. Still, they seem happy to pay me for this, so I will add it to the slides.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Upward path

upward path
I did not know
the path to heaven
was paved with so many
wicked intentions,
Had I but guessed -
heard a warning bell -
I might have picked
the road to hell.
Ann's poem sums up much of what we all feel. It is so tempting  just to jump ship and leave behind the expectations of conformity and common sense. So often the 'right' path is filled with obstructive people making life miserable, and I sometimes wish I had given myself over to the teachings of Epicurus and pursued pleasure and self-indulgence. But we are where we are, and go on day by day taking what is thrown at us by uncaring fate.

Last week we were invited to dinner with Edwin and his friend in Cambridge. He is from Brazil and a vivacious, intelligent person with a magnificent command of English, and who cooked some traditional food which was among the best we have tasted! They will now come to us at the weekend for a traditional vegetarian English Sunday dinner. Meanwhile, Edwin started his first day as a lecturer at UEA in Norwich, having to get up before dawn to catch the train there. Among his students is a Professor of Geography who has chosen to take an additional degree in English Lit for a bit of relaxation!

North Sea Observatory
We spent the weekend driving to the Motorhome exhibition in Lincolnshire, but were disappointed that there were only a few second-hand vans, all pricey and in uncertain condition. We sat in one for a quiet rest, but another visitor joined us and began telling us how she was widowed suddenly ten years ago. Her husband left no money, but then her mother died leaving her an inheritance that she spent on a camper van, and has been travelling in them ever since. She gave some practical advice too, telling us how one van she had bought had a leaking radiator, another a bald tyre, and a third had the engine blow up. "You have to be careful to get them checked properly," was her concluding advice.

We stayed at the smart  Petwood Hotel. It was used by the 617 Dambusters squadren during the war, and the officers' mess is still intact as a museum filled with mementos and pieces of equipment from that time, with several paintings of the raids.

Ann at the Romany Museum
On Sunday we visited Chapel-St-Leonards, to follow the footsteps of  "On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons" by Laura Cumming. A remarkable biography that is both mystery and detective story. The area is much changed since her mother's childhood time, with many caravan and chalet parks, and the North Sea Observatory which puzzled me, as I wondered how anyone could construct an observatory in such a low-lying and misty area. It turned out to be just a tearoom with a view, but a magnificent modern design for all of that. We then turned for Anderby Creek, a quiet unspoilt stretch of coast with a Cloud Bar - a type of Cloud Observatory, with concrete sculptures of clouds and a few mirrors to view the sky without craning ones neck. Finally home via the Romany Museum at Spalding, a real eye-opener to a way of life usually unseen with many finely restored Gypsy caravans and photographs. The founder's daughter even made us coffee and brought it to us while we watched the video by her father.