Friday, 27 December 2019

A year older, and the brain slows down

Clare footbridge collapsed
Today was my birthday. Last year, I celebrated at Addenbrookes Hospital Radiotherapy department. To celebrate this year, I managed to get an appointment with the local doc to get some treatment for my UTI (urine tract infection). I have had ++++ of blood for some time, and PUing (passing urine) is a nightmare of indecision: will it, won't it? I stand waiting for a long age to see what will trickle out, and it is invariably painful and drips like a thawing iceberg. Dr O'Donnell was quick and effective, agreeing that the thick cream-coloured yuk I had provided was suggestive of infection, and gave me a prescription for the necessary antibiotics.

I managed to combine my medical visit with walking the dogs in Clare park. The old iron footbridge was closed off, with a gaping hole where one of the panels had smashed when someone was walking over it. Unfortunately, the poor man ended up with a broken leg.

In the evening, MA, Sam and one of the girls came round (the other had a heavy cold and chose to stay home), bringing an Indian takeaway to celebrate the day. Then Edwin came through bearing the cake with a few token candles, and we drew some presents from the lucky dip Ann always creates, which should have been for Christmas day, but got forgotten. We ended by playing the game drawn by our grandaughter, Picture This. Ann and I played with a slight disadvantage - we would stare at the pictures, slowly an indentification would form in our minds, but the long time gap between mentally indentifying the object and physically speaking the word was so long, inevitably the younger players could shout out the answer within a fraction of a second while we were still trying to focus on the card. If psychologists ever want to study the effect of aging in slowing the brain, they need look no further than to get their subjects to play Picture This.

In the evening, I was shivery, perhaps because of the infection, so Ann heated a wonderful neck warmer that my thoughtful niece Sue had given at the time of my radiotherapy, along with a warm blanket. Ben, for his part, had given a covered waterbottle, so I can tuck up in my chair, beneath a blanket, with neck and body warmed in various ways by caring people. Thank you all, it is good to have such support, and my heart goes out to those who must suffer illness alone. Last year, we lost our holiday to the Holy Land because of my cancer. Our forthcoming trip to Singapore will be our first big holiday for nearly two years, and we are all counting the days and now hours till we can get away. I am determined not to cost us another holiday, and I've told Ann she is to get me on that plane if she has to commandere one of the airport wheelchairs and push me onto it.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019


The guinea pig died today, soon after midnight. Ann and Edwin had taken turns nursing him in a towel, and he died in Edwin's arms. I was already asleep, so they took him out to the side garden and buried him in the light of a torch, wondering at each moment if some suspicious nosey neighbour would call the police, but no one noticed their activities.

MA and the family called round in the afternoon for Christmas tea. Sam told us about a recent job he was on where the woman had made him a cup of tea. He had his hammer strapped to his belt, and swinging the cup up he caught it on the hammer and knocked the handle off. After that, the woman only ever gave him the same handle-less cup.

My darling
What can I give you husband
at this special time of year?
what can I give you
to make it crystal clear
that you are my life
and have made my living sweet
whatever can I give you
to make your world complete?

Ann's poem for Christmas is a rare present indeed - how many people can boast of such a gift? It saddens me how little I seem to do in return. I am unworthy to lick this woman's boots. Thank you my darling for all you have done and all you continue to do for me and the family, everyone of us. You are a beacon of love in this dark, dark world, and we delight in the joy you bring. Your gift to me is your presence in my life; all else is but the false glitter of trappings. May you know peace and joy in the year ahead, for you work so hard and deserve so much, and sometimes get so little in return, yet you keep on giving. Thank you.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Christmas Eve

Lucy was involved in an accident, so close to Christmas too. She had the children in the car and was stationary when another car driving at speed shunted a third car into her. The car in the middle was smashed in, but the driver of the car that hit them grabbed something from the locker and ran off. Fortunately Lucy's car was not too bad. The police clearly thought it was drug-related, but they still insisted on breathalysing Lucy and making her wait with the shaken children while they took statements. The car in the middle was undrivable, and full of Christmas shopping and presents that the owners couldn't easily get back.

Walking the dogs in the park, a young Asian woman was coming towards me in the distance. Dressed in light blue jeans with a dark anorak and hood, and mustard gloves, she appeared to be alternating between jogging and a walk. As she drew nearer, she seemed to see the dogs and turned suddenly to half jog-half walk back, though at such a pace I was keeping up with her even at my old-man's gait. In the open parkland, she turned round to come towards me again. Suddenly, she lurched to one side through the gate into the children's play area, though no child was with her, as though desperate to avoid me. I must check in the mirror when I get home.
Pilot the guinea pig lies in Edwin's arms

I met Ann after her hair, who had mentioned to her hairdresser how Edwin loves the best in life. She quickly replied, "he has champagne ambitions on a lemonade income!"

At the bar, a man was relating how he'd been donated a huge 60-inch television by his mother-in-law. He carefully fitted it to the wall, but then discovered it used more electricity than his hot tub, so he's going to have to get rid of it.

Now, our poor guinea pig, Pilot, appears to be at the door of death. He was lying moribund in Ann's arms while I shredded paper to try and make a softer nest than sawdust and straw. Edwin then took him and cleaned him, but he is barely moving. The dogs sit by his feet watching anxiously, but make no effort to attack him.

out of time
and without warning
you find
you are out of your time
your thoughts and ideas
trip and stumble
while your wayward mind
harks back to a simpler day
when all was knowing
and knowing was all
before technology
twined with adventurous youth
held sway
colouring each day
now the life you once knew
sinks to mean nothing at all
just a sorry shadow
cast in a blurred rainbow

Ann continues to write fantastic poetry, and draws large numbers of readers from round the world. out of time is a moving reminder of how the world we once knew and thought we understood moves on, inevitably leaving us behind, as though we never really knew it at all.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Hazards to hens and thatched cottages

Our friends Rae and Malcolm came round for coffee. Ed is the Post-Grad Representative at his University, and told us about a faculty meeting he'd just attended where one agenda item was to discuss a severe fall between the number of post-grad applications and the number taking up offers of 50%, compared to the previous year of 2%. Underneath was a rider saying, "please discard this item. It was based on a wrong column in Excel."

They told us of their daughter's hens, of which there was now only one left.  It had been attached by a fox, and then some visitors came with a Spinone Italiano - a huge hairy Italian hunting dog. They next saw the dog walking round the garden with the hen hanging out of its mouth. Its intestines had come out, but they pushed them back in, the hen recovered and is still walking round the garden.

Then over mince pies and sherry they mentioned that the mobile barber was in Hundon. I had not seen their van for some years, but I used to go to Mike the Barber, so I toddled off to get the toupee trimmed. I knocked and opened the rear door of the van, but it was not Michael the barber, but Michelle the Hair Stylist. The van was empty, but she said she was chocka, and it was appointment only.

Then to Clare, where I walked the dogs and waited in the Swan while Ann did same late Christmas shopping, and booked me a cancellation with our regular hair dressers. At the bar, one of the men said his occupation was fitting sprinkler systems. One of his companions asked what he would do with a thatched cottage. "Sell it and move out!" he said, "they're total fire traps." He then told how he'd been driving to a job when diverted to a column of smoke he could see. It was a thatch fire, with the elderly couple in the garden by a bonfire, the sparks of which had started the fire. He dashed in to pull out all he could save in the way of photographs and clothes, for he knew there'd shortly be nothing left. The fire engine then arrived, but had no water, so ran a hose to the pond in the garden. They refused to help rescue anything though, because they said any furniture would be a three-man lift. Then reinforcements arrived: because they would be there for some time, a catering truck drew up, complete with tables and chairs for the firemen. Sometime later, the couple saw the man in the pub and said how grateful they were, and they wished there was some way they could repay him. He said, "well there's a bar over there. You can at least buy me a f***ing drink."
A real meal

Taking of fires, this evening I made the meal for us all. This was a big event for one shameful reason - I so rarely do anything more than toast, and even then I always need a knife at the ready to scrape the black away. The last time I prepared a meal, potatoes still had to be bought by the pound, scrubbed and peeled. Edwin still remembers the few times I tried to cook a pizza when Ann was away, and I inevitably pulled them out as a flaming burnt offering. On the only two occasions I barbecued sausages, everyone was severely ill for several days.  But this time I was shamed into it by Edwin, who arm-twisted me into it.

In fairness, he did pull all the ingredients from the freezer, and stood over me to make sure nothing was burnt. Between us, and mostly due to Edwin showing me what to do with frozen mash and measuring out the gravy granules, I created (vegetarian) sausage and mash with baked beans. Amazing. At this rate, we'll be opening a Johnie's Bangers and Mash Parlour for Ravenous Wayfarers.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Hit by floods

Floods in Clare
We drove to London yesterday through heavy rain and some deep floods, fearful that the car might be swamped, but fortune smiled and we got through. Ann met her friend Sylvia who lives in London, but we had to show her back to the Stratford Underground Station, as she would get lost on her own. Hopefully she found the right platform.

On returning, I went to meet the Hundon Men's group at our local. We had a newcomer, called colloquially Yorkshire Dave, who reminded me of how soft is that dialect, though he lives in Manchester now. He was visiting one of our group to sing in a "Friends of Friendless Churches" group, set up to fund ancient but unused churches that might otherwise be demolished. They met over 40 years ago at an OU Art and Design course, and Yorkshire Dave still teaches art including a weekly etching class at Rawtenstall in Rossendale, home of some of the Moorhouse ancestors. He has just written a book on Model Villages, but has thus far been unable to find a publisher.

We has a quiet rant about the problem of maintaining modern cars. One guy needed new spark plugs. No local garage could tackle the job as it required the manifold to be removed which needed special tools, so he had to take his car to the dealers in Cambridge. It cost him £393 for four spark plugs. Another wanted to replace the battery in their Mini which had gone flat. He couldn't even find the battery, and that too had to be taken to a garage where they dismantled some sub-assembly to reach it. A third, less lucky than me, had swamped his car in the village floods, and had to have it towed away; it won't be back till the New Year.

Ducks take refuge
Today I took the dogs to Clare to walk in the park. The path by the river was deep in water, and even the ducks were seeking refuge on a log. Getting back to the car, a man said, "you know your front number plate is missing?". I drove furtively home, keeping an eye for the police, thinking it must have been stolen from the car in London. Seemingly, bad people take these plates and fix them to their own cars so they can speed or steal petrol. Ann started to order new plates for me, but then thought, perhaps it had been washed off by the heavy floods. We drove back along the lower road in her car, each keeping an eye out for a plate. Suddenly Ann saw it - on my side, but I'd missed it - and pulled the car in. I leapt out and ran back, but it was someone else's! Then coming back level to the car, I saw my the tip of my plate sticking out of the water in the deep ditch, completely invisible from the road. I had blamed the guiltless Londoners unjustly; it had clearly washed off by my own rush through the water (complete with a complex plastic surround, held on by five screws, now bent), and I had driven both ways down the M11 illegally. We would never have found it had Ann not stopped for the other plate.

Byron wonders where the path went

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Life's music

Debenhams' Sale Con 
In town to collect our dollars for Singapore. In Tui, there were two assistants, one with a family gathered round discussing holidays in Tenerife, and the other on the phone finalizing another holiday. The first was clearly bogged down with the selection of hotels and flights and would clearly be a while; the second soon finished her final confirmation and I thought she would hang up and come over to me, but instead she started a long flirtation with whoever was on the line. "I hate boring people," she said, glancing my way. "I love people who are different. I'm a bit mad, but my gran's madder than me. She's crazy - whenever I go out with her, she always embarrasses me." She continued like this, swinging in her chair so I could see only her back, and showed no sign of finishing or hinting that there was a customer waiting. Finally, the other assistant excused herself from dealing with the large family to come over to the Exchange Kiosk, having recognised me and guessing I would not be long. On the plus side, the pound has continued to climb since I ordered the currency on Friday, and over three days, I was over £100 better off.

I met Ann in Debenhams, where she was choosing a jumper because they have a sale on. On every rail, and above each display, were huge notices announcing "HALF PRICE", but when I took the jersey to the counter, it was only reduced by a small percentage. The woman explained that not everything was half price. I went back to the display to check, and there in minisule writing was a tiny rider, "up to", completely invisible until I was a few inches from the notice. Surely that must count as a con? Even the wording, 'Up to half price', implies the asking price is half or less of the ticket price.

The music in her soul
goes whirling round and round,
there is hope in her heart
for nothing gets her down
there's a smile for the world
a stifling of each frown
for she will never give in
as she turns her luck around.
life, is such a blend of pleasure
with a bitter dash of pain,
life, goes on through stormy weather
and is softened through the rain
for sunshine follows sadness
as a rainbow fills the sky
for life is just a game of chance
which we play until we die

Ann's new poem is a beautiful oxymoron, and is herself to a T. She is always so positive and cheerful and an inspiration to all of us, yet it contains the seeds of inevitable ending and parting that we all must face. When I put it in, I thought it would have no bearing on the mundane events of the day, but as I read it now I know it is Ann's music every day. She will always turn luck around for each of us, but especially mine.

For some reason I can't fathom, outside the UK, the big majority of my blog readers are in Ukraine. I have only been to Ukraine once, when Edwin took me to the Eurovision Song Contest, and I loved the place, though I only saw Kiev. I don't know what is attracting Ukraine citizens to this blog, but you're all very welcome, and I'd love to hear from any of you if you care to comment.

Friday, 13 December 2019

This Tory government is working already

I am busy mastering the world of the acronym. Yesterday we had the Kick Off (KO) meeting with the Clinical Research Organisation (CRO) we have appointed to run our First in Human (FIH) clinical trial; this is a relatively new acronym for what were always called First in Man (FIM) studies, but acronyms like the rest of society must keep up with the times, or die.

I drove through heavy rain and traffic in North London to find a space in one of the many car parks in the sprawling Northwick Park Hospitals, and was feeding a fist full of pound coins into a meter when someone said, "Hello John!" My Line Manager had walked a mile through the rain from the station, and was drenched. We went in together to find a small table at the cafe, for though an hour early we had much to discuss. I broke an old rule to never have hot drinks in meetings, and bought us each coffees to warm and revive us as she pulled a sheaf of paper from her bag. I then knocked my coffee over (fortunately I had drunk most of it), and the dark sea rolled inevitably across the table towards her. I reached out with a handful of tissues, and managed to stop most of it. "Don't worry," she said kindly, "most of it went on the floor."

It was a huge meeting, with more than twenty five people crowded into the room, sitting in corners or standing at the doors, with others dialling in. We were there all day, which included a tour of their facilities which are huge and state of the art, with break-out meetings to discuss our individual roles as we begin to work together. I declined further coffee, sticking to small glasses of water. Finally, after another marathon drive home I could go to vote, and help to change the course of the country.

Ann had already voted, not knowing if I'd be back before 10pm, and we were soon joined by Edwin and his partner. The first thing they did was give us a card, with our present in it: a tourist guide to Hamburg. We looked at it strangely wondering, until they explained that the rest of the gift was air tickets to Hamburg and a four star hotel overlooking the river, for a long week-end in February. We were overwhelmed by such unexpected generosity! Ann had prepared a huge spread for us to enjoy as we stayed up late to watch the results pour in, as surprised as everyone else at the scale of the Tory majority.

Next day, we woke to bright sun-lit skies and a glorious future. I had more blood tests booked for 2:00 pm at WSH. The car park had plenty of spaces, for once the haematology labs were quiet, and my name appeared on the board to go into one of the booths shortly after I arrived at 2:10. The whole thing had been so efficient and quick that I could leave the car park again within their twenty minutes waiting time without having to pay a penny! Boris Johnson is certainly keeping his promise to improve the NHS and its car parks.

Another sign of the Boris Boost is the massive surge in the value of sterling. I had deliberately waited for the election to order the currency for our trip to Singapore, thinking that it would rise, and sure enough there's been massive appreciation. In town, I went to the main Barclays Bank in Bury to try to order it. It is a modern bank, with one counter and a large number of machines to deposit cheques or cash, or check one's balance, but many of them were out of action, and two members of staff were still having to show people how to use the machines even though they've been there for a couple of years now. There was one counter manned (womanned?) by a single woman, but it had a blind drawn down. I told one of the attendant women I just need to order currency, but she said the manual station was temporarily out of action, and it might be twenty minutes before they could get it working again. She invited me to join a collection of other people sitting in chairs or standing around waiting for human service. I declined the invite, and went to Tui's round the corner, where a nice lady took my order with no fuss or wait. Having fixed Brexit and the NHS, we now just need Boris to fix the banks.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

On trying to look young, and actually being young

Every week I have a telecon meeting with my line-manager in the USA. Being the oldest oldie at work, I always try to disguise my age, chiefly by summoning the energy to walk briskly in front of colleagues, trying to stand straight, and not using a stick. I draw the line at racing up and down the stairs, though, which so many of them do in a mad effort to keep fit. There, I alsays have to take the lift, otherwise they might end up carrying me when I collapse in a panting heap on the stairs. I also wear a suit and tie when I have face-to-face meetings, to save the embarrassment of me pretending to look modern in fashionable garb - an impossible task, even when I was only twenty. I also make a careful point of not getting drawn into conversations about children, and at work I never mention having grandchildren, for proud as I am of them all, they do immediately class me as two generations beyond most people in the room.  So this week's telecon took me by surprise. Usually they are very professional, sticking strictly to a script of what's happening, what's gone wrong, and what's going to be done next week. Tonight, the woman suddenly became very personal, asking out of the blue, "do you have children?" and "how many?" and then unexpectedly, "Do you have grandchildren? How old are they?"

Most of my working life in the pharmaceutical industry, by bosses have been women, and they've had women in charge of them. Indeed – apart from in Japanese companies where they don't seem to have met women yet – I've never seen any sign that woman cannot succeed in science, as most of the people working in the pharmaceutical industry seem to be women. But none of them have ever asked me personal questions, and in today's woke workplace atmosphere, I would never dream of asking women I work with if they are married, or have children, so her questions took me completely by surprise. I have never met the woman face to face, so she only knows what I look like from the photo I supplied to go with my email profile, but this was taken a few years ago! She may simply be showing genuine interest in "the rounded person", but it is completely unprofessional, and I can only wonder if she has got wind of my age, and wants to check up on me. It is all very strange, to my suspicious mind.
A Portrait of Edwin

Edwin's partner is talented in many fields, and has produced a marvalous artistic picture of Edwin. Now he needs to retake his driving test to get a UK licence. This week, he passed his theory, and Edwin said he'll take him out. Today, our grandson Luke has also passed his theory, so his dad Ben may be going to take him out. Congratulations to both! I remember taking both Ben and Edwin out when they were learning to drive. I was a lousy teacher, but they each passed despite me. I'm sure they will both be much better teachers, and I look forward to a ride when the two 'L's each get their own car!

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Modern life

Watching Glenda Jackson's wonderful and all too realistic portrayal last night of a senile old woman in Elizabeth is Missing elicited a reminder of the excessive intrusiveness of modern gadgets in our lives. At one point in the play, she shouted out, "Sorry! SORRY!". At which point, Siri in the corner suddenly burst out, "That's OK!" leaving us uneasy about how much Siri was listening to all that was being said. We are going to relegate that gadget to the kitchen.

Long Melford Cross
Last week, one of the companies for which I work circulated an email announcing: "Changes in the EU PVIM SDM TCS membership". Apart from EU, I hadn't got a clue what any of the other initials meant, and the text of the email was even more baffling. I guess modern commerce is passing me by; I have continually to bluff, or nod agreement to some terms I don't comprehend, or else cheat with a suruptitious Google. Having said that, we received a report of unusual liver toxicity in the development program of a rival company, and asked a world-renown toxicologist for an opinion. He responded by saying he'd never heard of the term either, and had had to Google it! The only surprise here is his honesty; I always present my Google-drawn expertise as though I have some mystic knowledge of my subject.

We only have one table in our house, a large oak dining table which is great for large formal meals. But for some time, Ann has felt that it would be great if we could have snacks in the kitchen, instead of on our knees in the sitting room. Many shops and businesses in Long Melford have adorned their doors with huge red-ribbon bows to emphasise their support for local shops, and we spent the last two days doing the circuit of furniture shops, outlet stores and factory warehouses looking for a simple, small table to fit in our kitchen. Despite many recent adverts exhorting us to "Support your local shops" and the brave efforts of Long Melford retailers, in the end we had to order one on line. It was from Argos, but even their local shop in Haverhill has closed, so we had to collect it from their outlet in Sainsbury's, so I suppose it's a modern compromise to supporting local shops.
Celebrating our new kitchen table

The table and its chairs just needed assembly. That evening, Ann served a wonderful dinner to baptise it into service. We have also added a coal-effect fire rescued from relegation to the garage, and had a wonderful, intimate meal in the kitchen, the first in that room for a very long time. Our friends Rae and Malcolm have commented that there was nowhere to sit for a casual cup of tea in the day when they were dog-sitting. Now they can drink tea to their hearts' content. There are times when modern life is best when it's left just as it always was.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The last party

In the morning, I had an unusual message to contact the surgery. There, they said the hospital had contacted them to get my last blood tests repeated, but the receptionist couldn't tell me the results. I don't know if the earlier results were bad, or if the hospital had merely lost them, but WSH does have form on losing results.

This week, Ann had had a letter from her estranged sister Jane, agreeing they should not contact each other, and ending with a mournful lament that she would not see her sister again "in this life". Then another Jane, Matthew's ex, texted to ask for our address to send a Christmas card, adding that "this would be the last one", as it was best they didn't keep in contact now. Is the name Jane jinxed? There seems to be something about it that is determined to have nothing to do with us.

A long farewell to Pilot
Back home, Pilot our guinea pig, who is quite old, has looked to be dying all week, not emerging from his bolt hole nor eating his food. We cleaned his bedding, gave him big cuddles, and some tempting titbits, and today he seems more perky, but we feel he can't have many weeks left. Ann looked up information about dying guinea pigs, and discovered that when they are old, they may take weeks to die, with periods of inactivity punctuated by a sudden revival of interest in the trough. Very similar to old men dying then. Pilot is the first thing our dog Byron runs to each morning, and he always sits by the cage as though guarding him. He is going to miss him so much, we feel we may need to buy another one just for the dog!

Once a year
we'd exchange Christmas cheer
most other days
we did not know or care
what neighbours did
or how they were.
Now we are aged
weary of limb
struck by weakened flesh
widow-making death
and sit consoling
laughing as though untouched
by cruel wrinkled life
neighbours together
squeezing out pleasure
some partnerless
some burnt with radiation
one wheeled in adult pram
incontinent and weeping
with eyes that remembered
how legs and arms once listened
and were glad to do his bidding
We drank in sympathy
with quiet desolation
a requiem for lost health
and neighbourly consolation.

We threw a Christmas party last night - a simple wine and cheese evening as befits a Hundon party, for a few friends and neighbours. It was a party for oldies, for none of the children came, and almost everyone had suffered some form of loss or stress in the preceding year. Our next door neighbour came in a wheelchair following his stroke; the neighbour across the road was widowed earlier in the year, and brought another guest who had lost her husband nine months earlier, some of us had dealt with cancer, or advanced renal failure; others had stressful problems within the family circle. But somehow, all this did was to remind each of us how vulnerable life is, and seemed to drive us all to really let go and seize the moments. There was a lot of humour and good banter, backed by solid drinking, but even the few who took only fruit juice seemed to relax and enjoy time away from the problems. Ironically, the couple who were most staid were Paul and Cherry, a pair who'd recently moved to the area, and had no evident problems with health or family. They did not drink much, and left early because he had to visit his 100 year-old mother in the morning, but not withstanding which it was one of our better parties. However, it was hard work and exhausting, even though everyone had left by midnight, and it may be the last one we have.

The boys go partying
In complete contrast, Edwin and his partner went to a firm's Christmas party tonight in one of the Cambridge colleges. It was a fully formal affair, with food and booze laid on and, unlike ours, full of youngsters just beginning to make their way in the world and full of plans and ambition for the future. In contrast, for all its bluster, our party was filled with old people awaiting death. We all know it must come soon, on the timescale of years already run, yet everyone in the room - with the exception of David after his stroke - is capable of work of some type, no one has to use a stick to stand, and all are highly experienced in their diverse fields, but I am the only one still working. There is a lack of hope for the future, and the only forward ambition seems to be of downsizing. I'm not sure when the boys' party ended, but I wager it was a bit past midnight.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Finding joy in variety

Edwin and partner ready for Christmas
Zambia is in the news today after a court jailed two men for 15 years on a charge of homosexuality. News also that forty-seven men are in court charged with homosexuality in Nigeria, where Northern states under Sharia, the Islamic religious law, have the death penalty for people convicted of same-sex offences and other states carry a 14-year jail term. Altogether, the British Commonwealth of Nations has 53 countries, of which 37 criminalize same sex relationships. This was indeed the position of the UK when I was a child, and right through my early years in London, for it was not legalized here until 1967. In the USA, it remained a criminal act until 1991. I was brought up to consider it repulsive as well as criminal behaviour, and it has been hard to change my views. When Edwin told us he was gay, I was stunned for it went against my whole upbringing, but seeing him with his partner has opened my heart and my mind. They had spent the weekend at our home while we were up north, and were still there on our return, dressed in their Chrismas jerseys. They are so happy together, and clearly such close companions, it is a joy to see them. His partner is so bright, and can out-talk even Edwin, for it needs someone of great intellect to match his wit and loquaciousness. He is thoughtful and entertaining, and it is a pleasure to welcome him as a potential new son-in-law.

I am older now
wiser, for sure,
and more and more
I realise how tortured
most of us are
as we try to reach
the dizzy heights
that are coldly set
not by our loving God
but by our fellow men.

Knowing how far I and English law have come, from complete repression to active acceptance, one realises how far much of the rest of the world has yet to travel in terms of compassion, and one can't help but feel that all the petty protesters who gather for what seem like trivial "hate crimes", and vent their ire in vicious tweets, should focus the power of their anger against repression in other countries. Perhaps then the nations could move towards accepting neighbours as people of worth, and value their differences rather than fight to kill them. The Live and Let Live is a small pub in Cambridge, but its name should be a beacon for life.

Working at my desk I was greeted by a brilliant threatening sky, glowing bright carnadine in the early light over a heavy frost that lingered all day. There was no storm, but a bright cold day, and it was pleasant to stomp out on crisp white grass to walk the dogs. The climate of England is as varied as its people, and we are lucky to meet so much variety in one small region of the world.

Winter sunrise over Hundon

Sunday, 1 December 2019

The Great X feeds her foxes

I say goodbye to the old car
I picked up our new car on Thursday. The salesman was showing us the new car when I made an silly error - blurting out to him that unfortunately I had forgoten to put the parcel shelf back in the old car when I took it in for part-exchange. He had not noticed till them, but it came out too quickly for Ann to kick me, so we ended up having to travel north via Milton Keynes again on Friday to drop it off.

On Saturday we met up with Lucy and her gang, before going on for lunch in the village of Hart. We had just ordered drinks to celebrate our grandson's thirteenth birthday when the Great X came in to join us, accompanied by Lucy's brother Ben and his partner Caz, to everyone's surprise: they had travelled up from Telford the night before, and no one but the Great X knew they were coming, although Ann with her second sight seemed to have a fair idea. I then made a pig of myself trying to eat a huge dish of heavy, stodgy mushroom risotto, while everyone else had just a light sandwich. Ann thought the cook must have opened a tin of Ambrosia cream rice and tipped some chopped up mushrooms into it, it was so creamy and thick.  But all that afternoon I had a bad stomach, and could eat nothing else all day, even at the evening meal to which we were all treated by Lucy and Andy. This was held in the Great X's house, which she had decorated with banners and balloons, going to great lengths to make the day special. The only negative was an absence: Uncle Dan could not be bothered to turn up for his nephew's 13th birthday, even though he was staying at his holiday home just a few miles away. His hatred is so great he cannot bear to be in a room with me; anyone else would just appear but ignore me (and there have been plenty of such people!) He does not appreciate the hurt he causes in a family, to his mother, sister, brother, niece and nephew, through total ignorance and burning hatred. Despite this, everyone enjoyed the raucous get-together and reminiscing about their childhood together
The Raby Arms, Hart Village

The Great X is visited by a number of urban foxes, which she describes as being emaciated and starving, because humans are encroaching on their habitat. She is therefore in the habit of saving scraps for them, to help their fight for survival and to encourage them to rear their cubs. Tonight, she saved all the bits of curried chicken left over from the Indian takeaway to throw out for her foxes. She also has a cat which is old, and has grown very fat, so fat indeed that Ben wondered if she had got a new cat, before he realised that the cat was sneaking out and eating all the chicken. It did explain why her foxes always look so thin and ravenous.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Contracts made and broken

Charlie, the salesman at Marshalls who drove to Lincoln to bring back a car without telling us, phoned again this morning, again to see if there was any chance of us being interested. This time he told us, the guy who had paid a deposit on a car we liked even while we were test-driving it, had dropped out. It seems he couldn't get finance for the deal, so from none, Marshalls now have two cars that might have been suitable. No wonder Charlie was keen to get us to walk away from the one we've signed up to.

Otherwise, it's been a quiet day. Just the agency I work for who rang to say, "you know that three-month extension you've agreed to and signed the contract for? Well, the company now say they only have funding for two months." So they're sending a new contract. I can understand one individual dreaming of a new car beyond his means, to be brought down to reality by a harsh bank, but it seems that even large multinational companies employing tens of thousands of people worldwide can't work out their finances two months in advance! Perhaps I should have waited before I splashed out on a new(er) car after all - but I trusted them to honour a signed contract.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

The trials of buying a car

Saturday was our granddaughter's 13th birthday. We toasted her with bubbly, and sang happy birthday as the cake was brought in. Sam then produced a super roman candle to celebrate, put it in the cake, and spent half-a-dozen matches trying to light the thing, before the children pointed out he'd pushed it in upside down. Finally it went off with a brilliant fizz of sparks, and she was truly 13.
The new car waits in the rain

Yesterday we continued our search for a car with a return visit to Marshalls of Cambridge, but could find nothing we liked. They showed us details of another car that looked perfect, but it was in Lincoln and they would only bring it down for us to view if we paid a deposit of £1000, which we declined. We then went on to Milton Keynes which had a better selection and agreed to buy one.  We stopped at St. Neots for dinner, only to find the pub we usually use had a notice in the door stating it would be closed from 5.30pm at night until the next morning. They must have seen us coming, but we got something in the pub next door.

Ann waves to her fans
We had the dogs with us, so I walked them round the carpark while Ann looked for a shop to get them some nibbles. I got back to the car and watched as Ann walked back towards me. Suddenly she stopped and started waving like crazy to a man on the pavement across the street. He had a camera and started taking photos of her, and she continued waving until she abruptly saw me and stopped in shock - she had thought the guy over the road was me, and said "he had two dogs with him, and I was so pleased when I thought you were photographing me."  We left quickly, and agreed it was as well we were changing the car before we went back there.

We finally got back late in the evening to find a recorded message from the salesman saying, because the company would not authorise bringing the other car down from Lincoln, he had driven up of his own initiative to bring it down for us! I felt badly about it, but he didn't tell us he was going to go, so I had to phone him and say we'd got one now.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

It's time to change

I am not an elegant eater. In fact, I'm a bit of a slob. Whatever and wherever I eat, the food seems to wander in directions other than where it's aimed. I attempted a scientific analysis of this strange effect, but the answer was too simple: I do not concentrate. I eat whilst reading the newspaper or watching television. I have dinner in my chair reading a book, and food falls from my fork. I was reminded of how bad I am when the dog began licking my jersey; it is time to put it in the wash and rethink my strategy at the trough.

My car has now travelled near on 90,000 miles. It is not old, but well-used and developing the clunks and squeaks of an old man's joints, so I suspect the suspension is protesting at our Suffolk lanes. Ann says it's the rough way I drive, but it's not – it's the rotten roads and potholes.
My XF navigates the Suffolk Lanes
Either way, yesterday we visited Marshalls in Cambridge to look at a replacement. The salesman had only been there for three days, so Ann knew far more than he about the cars; but he made up for it with knowledge about how to hold a customer all afternoon so they can't go and look at any other showrooms. We were there so long it had grown dark, and Edwin and his partner came to join us to see the cars. They had only just returned from Sheffield where Edwin had delivered a paper to the Brontë society. In the end, we came down to one model that we liked; we were on the test drive, and the salesman said three people had already test-driven it, so it was in demand. We thought, "Oh yes, typical sales pressure," only for the manager to come through and say they'd now sold it while we were out on the test drive! Then, to our surprise, Edwin invited us to eat with them, and – unbelievably – Andre offered to treat us! We ended up having a wonderful Thai meal in some hidden back-street pub they knew. But even there, eating with great care, I saw bits of noodle had somehow littered the chair under me and the floor round my space when I left.

Last night, I dreamt of Judah. His face was clear, and he invited me to join him in a room full of people. He was a friend of mine from 30+ years ago, until his wife threw him out. He then lived in a one-room rented flat somewhere in the back-end of Middlesbrough, where he went into a decline and was found dead in his bath. To my shame I never made the effort to find out where he lived or visited him. I ended up as a pallbearer at his funeral. There were six of us, for he was a big man, and we struggled under the weight of his coffin with the undertaker fussing around as we shuffled along, nervous that we might drop it and telling us not to hold the handles – they were only cheap plastic for decorative effect. I believe in a universal spirituality, where our souls merge with the Universe after death, but I don't accept the literal interpretation that we all meet up in a great heavenly party. So thank you Judah – but I don't want to join you just yet.

Ann loves to play tricks on me. Once, she hid under my desk for ages until I came in, just so she could jump out at me and make me jump, as she knows I always do. Sometimes she hides things so I think I'm losing my memory. Yesterday she hid one of my slippers, to see me search for it. Today, she had hidden a pair of frilly panties in the sleeve of my jersey. The annoying thing is, I can never catch her out – she see's my tricks coming before I've finished thinking about them.

Friday, 22 November 2019

On hypertension and strokes

Looking through my window I see over next door's garden their washing line again hanging with sheets and underwear, and I know without seeing him our neighbour has returned home. He was admitted to hospital in a dramatic ambulance call following a second stroke. Happily, it was not a full stroke, but some form of secondary seizure, from which he has recovered, but it must be a warning that he remains at risk of further damage. His wife had just bought a specially adapted car, with the front passenger seat removed and a rear ramp up which she can push the wheelchair, so he can sit in state beside her.

Ann is planning a wine and cheese evening, and we are discussing whom to invite. Some years ago, our parties were lively affairs, for we were younger with more energy, there would always be children, and we could fill the house with relatives and friends, often in fancy dress. Now no children come, and we are all old and sober. More distant relatives don't travel far, or are no longer on speaking terms. Many neighbours have moved or died and we are debating about inviting new ones whom we don't know, or our immediate neighbour who may not be able to come in his wheelchair. The music now is Alexa, commanded to play 60's music, but nobody dances. However, our friends are good friends, and these get-togethers are a great chance to meet, for there are few casual or chance meetings, and we always have plenty to chat about.

My blood pressure has been consistently alarming recently. We only have four houses on our road, in three of which the man has suffered a stroke. I do not want to be the fourth, so yesterday, I saw Dr Bone who reminded me of my own abrupt manner as a young GP. Asking what he could do for me, I said "I've got blood pressure". "Yes," he said, "everyone has." He then looked at my charts over the past few weeks. "It's going up and down more often than a newly-wed's nightie," he concluded, but this is modern PC; we used to say, "Like a prostitute's panties." Like all doctors these days, there was no examination. They seem to rely completely on the hospital reports. We had only the skills we were taught; but no one seems to listen to the heart anymore, or check the ankles for oedema, or the pulse for character. Even the respiratory consultant didn't listen to my chest. Dr Bone did however review my prescription, and suggested some increases to the doses, so hopefully we can hold sudden death at bay for a little while longer.

Monday, 18 November 2019

All men are oversexed

My three-month cystoscopy check up at West Suffolk Hospital was clear – no recurrence thus far of the bladder cancer, and they won’t need to see me again for six months. The whole thing was so quick we escaped without even incurring a parking charge! We celebrated with a whisky (me) and wine (Ann) in the Dragonfly Inn, and this time I remembered to sign my car reg at the bar so should escape a fine, unlike the last hotel where I parked (see Hospital chit chat). But the sad little limp stub that the girls gripped to push up the cystoscope has fallen a long way from its former glory. But my lost virility did bring to mind some ugly thoughts about male sexuality.

Societies through the ages have accepted that men in general are oversexed. Many men will shag anyone on two legs who moves, and sometimes things that can’t move, or even things that move on four. Yet too often it seems, the sexual proclivities of men are their own nemesis. They range from the vicious Rotherham sexual abusers and the cunning of Jimmy Savile, Jeffrey Epstein, or Harvey Weinstein, to the relative minor misdemeanours of a duke, a Jeffrey Archer, or numerous others in the public eye. Reading the news, we often hear as a plea of defence, “I am oversexed”. No, all men are oversexed, but most are well-constrained by the societies they live in, for all societies historically have enshrined strict rules with severe penalties for straying from their norms. This may be against men who might be stoned for homosexuality, but – more often – is against women, with enforced modesty to protect tempting weak males, to death for adultery or sickeningly, even for being the victims of rape.

When the rules break down, there is wild anarchy or war, with rape high on the list of crimes. In times of peace, rules are broken by criminal groups working outside the law to run prostitutes or sexual slaves, often smuggled from poor countries on promises of dreams. Prostitutes have been part of society since recorded time, and probably existed in communities even earlier, plying for food or flints. The oversexed male has always demanded ready access for their demands. In ancient times, and more recently in western society, male partners have been legally obtainable. Prostitution will not disappear. I cannot speak for the female perspective, but it certainly makes sense to legalise it rather than drive it into criminality and the evil it engenders. In the meantime, one can only be glad the law goes after those who exploit women for male gratification, and hope for the maximum penalty it can inflict.  We still have so far to go even in advanced modern societies.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Some famous (near) contacts

Much has happened in Hundon recently. The Hundon Facebook Page posted a comment by Brian Bolland who wrote: "I don't usually promote myself among fellow inhabitants of Hundon but, the other day, a Hundon friend asked me if I'm still doing my cartoons. I realised he and most Hundonites don't know what sort of thing I do - but they might be curious. This hefty 145 page magazine of my work is soon coming out (note the price) and I thought I'd put its cover up here. Not all of it is suitable for showing to the very young or to the vicar." Ann asked Ben if he'd heard of him, and Ben said he was his favourite comic artist and his hero! So Ann has sent for his new book for him to enjoy. He did the artwork for Judge Dredd, some of the Batman Joker comics, and Superman among much else, and is a top illustrator.

Thinking yesterday about the last time I had a parking fine (see Hospital chit chat) was maybe nine years ago when I went to see a play by Dan, "Another Biafra" about an ethnic war in which he played a white consular official. I was working with GSK near Heathrow and had to drive across London in heavy evening traffic, so was tired and running late. Near the pub-theatre, the streets looked quiet and I found a street parking place with no yellow lines, and where the only signs were "No parking on match days."  I naturally had no idea who was playing where, let alone if it was a match day, but it was, so I came out of the play to be greeted by a big yellow parking ticket, which explained why no one else was parking in those streets. Hitherto Ann and I had made an effort to see all his plays, but I think that was the last play I saw before he stopped speaking to me, so I guess it was a portent.

We successfully escape
Yesterday too, we visited Matts (who has never stopped talking to me) and Rosie in King's Lynn, where we tackled a superb escape room. A mad scientist (aren't they all) had released a deadly virus, and we had one hour to find the antidote. Escape rooms are a bit like life itself - some are more fun than others, but they all require different sets of skills with everyone working together to succeed. One of the tasks required knowing Morse code (the crib was hidden in one of the locked boxes). Only two other people had done it without that: a scout leader, and someone who worked out the sequences by logic, which showed my age for I could decipher it from memory having learnt it in the Air Cadets in my youth. I can only surmise that no one anywhere learns Morse code now.

Afterwards, we had late lunch in a new restaurant in the town. At the bar, Matthew and I were standing in the queue to order behind Jimmy Carr, who's appearing at the Corn Exchange. He ordered then took a table near us. Several people went up to him for selfies, but he was eating alone. I guess a stand-up comic on tour does not meet many friends, and every meal and hotel stay must be lonely, despite the accolades and welcome from the sell-out audiences.

On a sadder note, as we readied to go out, an ambulance drew up next door. David had had a second stroke and was briskly whisked away with his wife Lynda. Another neighbour stopped us as we left to tell us what had happened. She added that Lynda had screamed over the fence for help, hoping I might go round, but alas to my deaf shame, there was no way I heard her with all the doors and windows shut. But another neighbour working in his garden did hear, and he went round.

An ambulance arrives for our neighbour

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Hospital chit chat

Attending West Suffolk Hospital for yet another appointment (this time for respiratory medicine), I went into the consultant's room and took a seat. Ann followed, shut the door, and sat demurely in the corner. "Who's that come in with you?" asked the consultant. "She's my wife," I explained, "did you think she was another patient who'd followed me in?" The consultant smiled, "no," she said, "I know we have a waiting list, but we haven't started holding group consultations yet!"

Later, going in for the blood test she'd ordered, I noticed a bottle of water hanging from a high window by a long string round its neck. Naturally curious, I asked why she hung the water up like that. "The window catch is broken," she explained, "so it's to keep the window closed". "That's a clever idea," I complemented. "Yes," she added, "naturally a woman thought of it." From me, that would have been a sexist comment, but she said it sweetly with a smile. I just said, "Yes. I thought it must be something to keep the water cool, I'd never have thought it was for the window."  I added that I thought the sexual equality war had been won, but why didn't there seem to be any male phlebotomists? She agreed it was a shame, but she didn't know why. "We did have a man once for a few weeks, but he was a doctor in training." We then got onto a discussion about the difficulty of drawing blood from a vein one could not see, but the satisfaction when you succeeded by feel alone, so it was a long and interesting chat while she kept poking me for my own hidden veins.

I believe God has a sense of humour, but sometimes it seems directed squarely between my eyes. Yesterday, I was marveling how long it has been since I got a speeding ticket or a parking fine. Today, an evelope came marked "Important. Not a circular" with a notice inside saying I must pay £100 parking fine, or £60 if I payed within 10 days. It seems that I had triggered a hidden parking camera when I picked Ann up on the train from London. She came into a tiny village station with a pub next to it, and my mistake was to use their carpark which I've used many times before, but not to see the notices now saying there was zero waiting time, and pub users should pay at the bar with their car registration. I was there for barely 10 minutes to attract such a fine, but there is no appeal and no escape. Well thank you, God. I guess you haven't got much else to laugh at in the world at the moment.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Who benefits from Farage's challenge to the Tories?

The intervention of Donald Trump on Nigel Farage's radio show was intriguing. He suddenly popped up to support Farage, stating that the Brexit deal renegotiated by Boris Johnson was "a bad deal", and pleaded for Boris to work with Farage to renegotiate the deal. This has led Farage to take an even harder line on Brexit, and to threaten sabotaging a Conservative victory by placing Brexit candidates in every seat in the country. To everyone except him and his devotees, this risks a Labour victory and the loss of Brexit altogether, with years more wrangling and division in both Britain and the EU. The question therefore is, cui bono? Who benefits? To me, there seems to be a clear answer.

It is in Russia's interest to destabilise Europe, to which end they were already accused of rigging the referendum by subtle media influences, and they are almost certainly supporting the extreme left wing in continuing to protest and plot against Brexit and the government. Now, just when Boris has secured a deal and got it over the first hurdle in parliament, Russia is keen to keep the pot of strife boiling. If Boris wins the election, there will be a relatively clean and rapid Brexit, Europe will sail on untroubled, and Britain will continue to be a thorn in the side of Russia rather than in the EU, with the potential to increase its power, wealth, and prestige in the world. Their only recourse now is to work all out to prevent the Tories from winning, preferably with a Labour win, or failing that with another hung parliament. Donald Trump suddenly intervening to prop up Farage against Johnson and split the Brexit (and hence Tory) vote is having just such an effect. Peter Fleming, in The Sixth Column, portrayed the new warfare by Russia as a continuous undermining of the British character by provoking a constant stream of hidden interference with trust and integrity. This has now been happening for over three years, and it all smacks of another conspiracy – this one based on the original premise that Russia has influence over Trump following their help in rigging his election  and they are now calling in the favour.

It is perfectly plausible that the call from Trump and the things he said live on air to Farage were orchestrated by someone other than Trump; why else would he place a spontaneous call to a British chat show, even one run by his friend Nigel? Why else would he suddenly change his statement that there will be a quick and open trade deal between Britain and the USA into a claim that no trade deal will be possible under the present terms? It is all hugely influential in disrupting both the general election and the ultimate outcome of Brexit, to the detriment of both Britain and Europe. None of this is of any real interest or benefit to the USA, but it is clearly of great benefit to the Russian bear, and I fear they are the culprits behind the present disturbances to what should have been a clear victory run for the Conservatives, but may yet be a road to disaster. I will not accuse Farage of seeking to delay or avert Brexit for the selfish personal gain of continuing on the EU gravy train as an MEP, nor of wrecking the deal to maintain his public position as the popular voice of anti-EU sentiment and the face of Brexit, but I fear that he is so smitten with the glow of being a favourite of President Trump that he cannot sense malign influences. He cannot suspect that Trump's imagination may be a little limited, or that his ideas might be manipulated by an external agent. We can only hope that common sense might prevail, but common sense is always in short supply in politics and entirely absent in an election.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Misfortunes deserved and undeserved

Yesterday, at our friends' for coffee and discussing where we might move to if we downsize, they asked if we would want to stay near Edwin. Ann was just saying, "no, we can go anywhere now because he is so independent", when the phone rang with him saying his car had broken down, and he might need to borrow Ann's!

Edwin has always been lucky in life, but now seems to be plagued by misfortune. He managed to get the car to the garage in Cambridge with its red light glowing menacingly and - to him -meaninglessly. They won't even be able to look at it until next week. Now his bike has been stolen, a beautiful lime green contraption that he used to go all over Cambridge. He had a lock for it - a great beast of a thing that would have taken a determined thief an arc-welding set to dislodge - but it was in the 'secure' bike shed at his friend's flat, so he thought he would not need a lock there. Sometimes we invite misfortune in; he is reluctant to learn from the advice or experience of others, but is certainly getting his own experiences now. We hope he will learn from them.

Ann had a routine appointment at the dentist, and I met her in a pub in Hadleigh, meanwhile enjoying looking at the menu while I waited. She came in at 2:30, so I went to the bar to order. "Sorry, the kitchen's closed now. You're two minutes too late!" the woman said, adding that the chef would not be flexible. Talk about crap service - it's no wonder pubs are shutting at the rate of 18 per week.
Blanche de Bois

Blanche was right
the kindness of strangers
is more dependable
than the kindness of family
or even of friends.
I have found in my life
that those related by blood
are the furthest away
while a hand on my hand
and a kiss on my cheek
from a kindly newcomer
is all that I need
and all that I seek.

There have been a few people in our lives where each word must be carefully measured, but it makes for a complete lack of honesty or transparency and gradually they have fallen away, perhaps from a moment's unguarded tongue, or the failure to restrain some spontaneous comment. Generally we are better without them, and are glad when they go. Getting home, we found a letter waiting from Ann's sister, Jane, from whom we haven't heard for 18 months since the great falling out (see A-health-bulletin).  We have fallen out and made up on many occasions, usually when she slammed the phone down or sent a note saying she doesn't want any more contact. It was her 65th birthday this week, and she must be getting mawkish; it was filled with self-pity and hidden envy, with no hint of contrition or wish for reconciliation. She and her husband never seemed to make much of their chances, then always blamed it on bad luck. We always had to fill our mouths with cotton wool when speaking to her for fear of upsetting her, for too often we could see where the root of her misfortune lay. She does have a painful and difficult life after losing her daughter and husband in quick succession, and with little money coming in to tackle life's fences, so our feelings towards her are inevitably tinged with sympathy.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Dignitas and caring for people

In the Swan after walking the dogs and waiting for Ann to have her hair cut, the publican from the  Globe, another Clare pub, sat with his Staffy dog. He was talking sadly about a close relative who needed care and was in a home, but still had her mental facilities, saying she just wished to die, because she had lost her independence and didn't want to be a burden. Someone said, "you could take her to Dignitas." The man said, yes, but then you would end up all over the papers, and get prosecuted. "If she were a dog," he concluded, "you'd be prosecuted for cruelty to animals, but because she's a person, you'd be prosecuted for cruelty to people!"

Back home, Edwin phoned to say has car had started loosing power, and a red light had come on.
Ann advised that with a red light, he'd better stop immediately and get the breakdown services out, but he decided to risk it and limp on to the garage in Cambridge. "Is it overheating?" Ann asked. "Oh no," said Edwin putting on his mechanic's hat, "it can't overheat - it's a cold day." We both think he ought to go to motor maintenance classes as a priority.

One of my jobs is to cover for someone who has been absent for three or four months following a mental breakdown. She was managing the safety monitoring for three developmental drugs, which were handed to me in her absence. Now she is back on a part time basis, and being eased slowly back into work, so today they asked me to hand one of the products back to her, with me in a supportive role.  I fully understand how a large company has to support people with mental illness, and cannot be seen to be harassing them in any way. I work 20 hours per week to cover these three products, while she will be working 24 hours per week and will only have one product, with lots of support. But they are hard work, and I'm not surprise she had a breakdown. However, to compensate, they are going to give me three more products to fill up the time gap! They must want me to experience her stress to build up empathy. I have one big advantage, though - I am in the happy position that I don't have to stay if it gets too heavy.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

The bells are ringing

Yesterday, I fixed the bell with the broken tab (see I-hear-no-bell) by the simple method of strong glue. I held it for some minutes while it hardened to prevent the top popping off again, as Ann looked out of the window. "What's the matter?" she asked in her accusing voice, doesn't it work if you let go?" That night, getting ready for bed with rain lashing down outside, the bell suddenly started ringing without stopping. I rushed down in my pyjamas, and there at the door was Ann, laughing like a maniacal hyena. "You horror," I said. "I thought the rain must have got in and short-circuited the thing!"

Today I went into London for a 07:30 meeting (they start early with Japan, to match their afternoons". Driving down at 5am, the roads are thankfully quiet and I could park easily at Redbridge. However, the tube was as busy as I've seen it, even at that ungodly hour, with the platform crowded and standing room only in the train. One of the adverts above my head proclaimed, "IT'S TIME TO LEAVE THE SINGLE MARKET". We just can't escape the Brexit propaganda, I thought, then read it more carefully as my nose rocked before it. It was an advert for a dating agency. They could have said, "THE BELLS ARE RINGING".

It had been a frosty night, and towards the centre of the carriage, an early morning couple who had got on much earlier were sitting huddled in anoraks, the fur-lined hoods turned up to keep out the cold. At each stop, more people pushed in forcing me closer till I was standing before them, then at Loverpool Street (they were very affectionate), he left. Another young man, closer than I, swung his rucksack off and moved to sit down, then noticed me, and immediately stood aside to offer me the seat. Ahh - the privilege of age. Who said kindness is dead? He then had to swing his rucksack back up, knocking three people on the shoulders. In the absence of her mate, the girl started playing Candy-Crush, and looked equally contented.

In the meeting, my immediate boss, who is a super-efficient woman while still being ultra pleasant, was complaining about not being able to have her breakfast. "It was lovely last week," she said. "I sat in the park in the sun, and a squirrel came up and shared my sandwich. I always have the healthy option: a bacon sandwich in whole meal granary bread and no butter." She said it with such a straight face, I didn't have the heart to laugh.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

I hear no bell

Ask not for whom the bell tolls - it tolls not for thee. About two years ago, I fitted new wireless doorbells to the front and back doors, each with a different tone, and with a shiney white plastic box that plugged into the mains. About two months ago, they both stopped working, so this weekend I decided to treat them to new batteries. There was one problem though. When I searched for the bells, they had disappeared. Someone had taken them out and hidden them - there is no other explanation. Ann and I searched every shelf and cupboard, and behind the books in the hall where the bells had been, but discovered nothing. Neither of us have taken them out, and we can't think of anyone else who might, or any reason for their going, but it did explain the lack of functioning bells in the house.

With the intention of cutting our losses and starting afresh I bought two more bells from B&Q, and fixed the first one to the front door. It didn't work. It works perfectly in my room, but never when it's screwed to the wall, so I gave up and tried the second bell. Again it worked perfectly from anywhere in the house when I carried the bell push about, so I screwed the backplate in place, pressed the bell push home, let go, and it fell off! The little plastic tag that clips it in place was broken off, so there's no way to fix it. So this afternoon, I went back to B&Q to buy some glue and a simpler bell. Now I just have to wait for the rain to stop, and in the meantime hope visitors will use the knocker.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Winning and losing

Ann had a day in London yesterday to meet her friend Sylvia. They meet in the M&S bridge cafe of the Westfield Centre where they can chat for three hours over a cup of coffee. Ann thought they ought perhaps buy a second cup, but Sylvia never wants two, so they make it last. They are not the worse offenders though: some people were on their laptops over a cup of coffee when they arrived, and were still there when they left. It is rather hard on the cafe when it's lunch time, and some people come to eat but can't get a seat. But not so bad as one pair Ann noticed, who bought a cup of coffee then proceeded to eat their own sandwiches from a Gregg's carrier bag.

Sylvia is a tiny woman from the far north of England. She always dresses elegantly and – though in her seventies – is as energetic as a woman of half her age, and always able to cap a story with another. When finally they went shopping (or more accurately, looking at all the clothes that wouldn't suit them), Ann mentioned she has to be careful because of her 'fat legs'. Ann's legs are not fat, but it is something she has always been self-conscious about. Sylvia immediately replied that she's always been self-conscious of her skinny legs ever since a teenager, when a boy told her: "the last time I saw legs that thin was when I was putting rings on my pigeons!" Sylvia has lived in London for most of her life, but quite apart from any debate about leg size, this sets her firmly in the North. What teenager in the South East would keep pigeons?

We rose early to watch England lose the world cup. After their brilliant win against the All Blacks last week, we looked for miracles, but you can only play the best game ever once, and it looked as though everything had been used up with that magnificent win. The Springboks ran rings round them, and certainly deserved their win. What sort of sportsmanship do England show though, when they refuse to wear their silver medals? For most of those players, being second best in the world is likely to be their best ever life experience, and they spurn it! Wales or Scotland would have loved to be second.

 "For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes - not that you won or lost -
But how you played the Game."

Their attitude is diabolical, and a miserable example to the rest of the country, but fully in line with the modern attitude which seems to not accept that life has runners-up, and we can't all win everytime. It used to be enough to take part - play up, play up, and play the game! Now, it is accepted that to lose is to become yet another remoaner.
To add to today's loss, Middlesbrough lost against Derby, their eigth loss in a row! Now there's a loss we can moan about — wouldn't the Boro love to be second in the league right now.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Hairy tales

At the hairdressers for a tidy and a trim with Julie. She does a very good head massage, and could probably make a good living doing that as a side-trade. I appologised for the horrible scurfy rash in my scalp, but she kindly said "bits in the hair are no problem unless they move!" She entered hairdressing late, having worked as a manager with M&S for years, but her second husband was a hairdresser, and she started working with him as a manager until someone offered her training for her NVQs in hair styling. She was usually mistaken for a teacher rather than a pupil, and one of the girls in the class had just left school, and had been in the same class as Julie's son. I never before realised how much hairdressers had to learn beyond the wash and cut. She had to take written exams on the chemicals and allergies, on health-'n-safety, and on recognising infestations. Hence her insouciance at a mere bit of dandruff. But she was excused the maths course because she had an 'O'-level in maths.

In the chair opposite, I could hear another client boasting to one of the other hairdressers, "I've been letting my hair grow. I haven't been to the hairstylists for years." The hair was down nearly to the shoulders, and coloured bright yellow blonde. The hairdresser started combing it back. "You've been having a snip at it, haven't you!" she accused her.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Happy birthday

Happy 25th Birthday Edwin
Last night we celebrated Ed's 25th birthday. Edwin had just come back from Haworth the night before, cycled to the station to catch the 7am train to Norwich where he was teaching all day, and finally cycled back to their flat in Cambridge at 7pm to get ready, so we couldn't eat before 8pm, and we had the restaurant to ourselves. But a very good meal, and a pleasant time for all. Carluccios even took our birthday cake to light the candles and bring it round with plates and cake forks for all, and provided a free bottle of wine! The food and choices are excellent, so we hope they don't go under like so many of their rivals.

Families at war

Families at war
not thinking of consequence
just fighting for the upper hand,
not the higher ground
but bittersweet revenge,
and the innocent are crushed
as in any military conflict
left in a bloodless coup
behind a barbed wire barrier
that nothing can break through

On Saturday, we'd had a different meal - a takeaway Chinese delivery - with Rae+Malcolm and Robin+Yvonne. They are all good friends, and honest with themselves and each other, generating a remarkably open atmosphere where discussion flowed freely and problems in families and politics could be aired without taboo or censorship, or coming to blows. Between us I think we put the world to rights, and it is always relaxing to be able to talk without too much concern in case the other party takes umbrage. Ann, as always, sums up our several family conflicts and problems with a pithy poem. She always speaks to a far wider audience than her immediate circle, for her poetry has a universality that captures human frailty everywhere, without boundaries of time or place, and she has a large and international following on her Wordpress site.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Hospital visits, then and now

A busy week keeping the Health Service employed with two visits.
The first to the respiratory laboratory to breathe hard into pipes and tubes, all recorded on modern screens with hidden computers calculating tidal volumes and expiratory rates. Nothing dramatises the huge change in modern medicine since I was a student, when we breathed into moving cylinders that recorded our breathing by scratching a line on a carbonised piece of paper, which we fixed by spraying with hair lacquor.
Second to a dermatology clinic, where I stripped to expose the extent of my dreadful rashes. They are now my greatest torment, keeping me awake at night, and even waking me with their terrible itching, so I wake scratching and bleeding in the bed. It is a monster that has taken over my body, demanding attention and grabbing me by the skin on any part it fancies, leaving wheals and sores. It is an embarrassment to myself and my family as I desperately battle against the temptation to poke and rub. In company, I end up sitting on my hands, or suruptitiously pinching myself hard to distract from the pain of the irritation.  The consultant was sympathetic fortunately, and has prescribed some stronger cream and an antihistamine to ease the irritation, plus an appointment to the allergy clinic in case there is anything obvious causing it within my environment.

St Thomas Hospital Nightingale Ward
Ann has found a series of old black and white documentaries from the film archives, and showed me one on the health service in 1958, 10 years after its foundation. It was fascinating to watch, but apart from the equipment, little seems to have changed. Then as now there was a strange rivalry between the GPs and the hospital consultants; a gaggle of trainee doctors followed on the ward rounds, with little hope of becoming consultants themselves;  and still there was bed blocking by the infirm elderly, and a desperate plea for more money and hospitals to cope with the backlog. People say it is the envy of the world, but in that case, why has no country in the world adopted it themselves? Perhaps they prefer to pay for private care, or go through the strictures of insurance claims. Or perhaps, like so many in the USA, they prefer to die untreated, rather than suffer the indignity of anything that smacks of socialism or care by the state.