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.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Wine and cheese

Our friends let Ann know that they had something to bring round next time they came, so Ann texted: "Please come round on Wednesday for a wine-and-cheese evening, and you can bring it then." She then proceeded to invite several other couples for the embryonic evening, before Rae and Malcolm texted back to say they couldn't do Wednesday, as they had friends coming to stay! Ann did say they could invite their friends too, but they declined,so in the event, we just had Robin and Yvonne, MA's inlaws.

Robin told a good story about their friend who has a new dog, a bulldog called Boris. It is brown and white, and very friendly, rolling on its back when it sees them. Robin commented about how clean it was, with its white coat gleaming. His friend replied, "Yes, I always take him in the shower with me."
Robin said that must traumatise the dog. "Oh no," his friend replied. "I always keep my trunks on."

Edwin only uses his phone for air and train tickets, but I refuse to trust it in case I delete it, or my battery runs out, so I always print out a paper ticket.  Robin then told a cautionary tale about his daughter and her pertener, Grant. He is a music softwear engineer and does everything on laptops and smart phones, including ticketing. He had two flight tickets on his phone, and when they went through security they scanned her code my mistake and let him through. Juliet followed, but they insisted she'd already boarded and wouldn't let her go through the gate, so she was stuck until someone fetched Grant back from the plane to sort it out. I will stick to paper!

Edwin didn't stay for the wine and cheese, but left to stay with his friend in Cambridge again. They have invited us over for a meal tomorrow, and are preparing dishes already, so that is something we look forward to, plus the chance to meet him for the first time having heard so much about him.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

A day at the sea

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

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

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

Friday, 13 September 2019

Interesting characters in Cambridge and Hundon

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 September 2019


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

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

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

At the Hairstylist

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

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

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

Monday, 9 September 2019

Meetings and partings

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Peaky Blinders and the lost past

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

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

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

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Let my people go!

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 September 2019

Huntigton's chorea and other problems

Yesterday as most weeks I parked behind the Swan to walk the dogs while Ann went for her hair dressing. A car followed us in, and one of the waitresses got out as I let the dogs out. Byron raced up to her, barking like crazy, and the poor woman visibly jumped in shock, for she hadn't seen him coming. Byron is not aggressive, but is very loud. I then waited in the Swan over a drink and apologised for frightening her.

The restaurant was empty but for one lady sitting alone, who greeted me warmly though I had never seen her before. We began talking, and she explained why she was alone. This was her "respite day", when her husband went for respite care, so to escape the drudgery of cooking she treated herself to lunch out. Her husband used to be an aeronautical engineer and lectured at Cranford, but now has Huntington's chorea, a particularly nasty genetically inherited degeneration of the brain. I knew patients with it in my former career, and just how bad it can be to live with. Now it is possible to predict carriers, but then it was not until it was already manifest in mid-life. One of the medical students I trained with also had a parent with it, and she refused to date anyone or marry in case she too got it and risked passing it on to a child.

The old woman on the table had ordered cod and chips, Unfortunately she flicked a large number of peas onto the carpet, just before the waitress came back in, who promptly trod on them. The woman was clearly embarrased and got down on her knees to clean them up with a napkin.

Today we went chasing across country to see more motor homes. We've not had much luck, but Ann has just seen an advert for another one, so we'll look at that tomorrow and keep hoping.

Edwin called from Naples. He has not had much luck so far. He is on the fifth floor of the apartment block, with a central glass lift to get up to it. There is a charge for the lift, with a slot machine he has to put coins in - surely that must be a first? Then yesterday the toilet lock got stuck (luckily with him outside it, though unlucky if he was desperate), and he had to share with the other occupant. Today he was going to visit the catacombs, but there was a train driver's strike, so he had to visit a church instead. Now we hear that there is to be a BA pilots' strike next week when he is due back, so there may be an enforced extension to his holiday!

Thursday, 5 September 2019

In memory of a death

AAAAAEEEEEIIIII!! When on Tuesday a whole swathe of conservative MPs stood with labour to approve a motion against their own government, I knew democracy had died in this country. The bid for freedom has failed and our country is trapped in the eternal cell of the EU. I can no longer listen to the news, it is too depressing. I continue to work virtually full time, and walk the dogs, and listen to music. Last night we watched all the repeats of Extras to try and cheer ourselves up.

4th September

today she died
her voice muted
as is her smile
buried are her odd sayings
almost lost now
recollections rusty
memories musty
not easy to connect
an hour, day, week
when she was near,
she is dead
and now it is as if
she was never here

Ann's new poem is a tribute to her mother, for yesterday marked the anniversary of her death in 1976, so long ago, yet never forgotten. The poem stands, surely, as a testament to all our parents and the friends we have lost. Though memories fade, the trace of the person exists through Ann and MA, the granddaughter Violet never knew, and beyond them through MA's daughters, and before Ann the ancestors we have traced back on the female side for so many generations.

On a lighter note, Edwin left for Italy yesterday for a week in the sun at Naples. He is going Airbnd to an apartment they have rented with a garden roof terrace, where they plan to have cocktails. Because he and Alice will be self-catering, he took a huge packet of gluten-free spaghetti in his luggage. Surely taking pasta to Italy must be the modern version of taking coals to Newcastle.

Monday, 2 September 2019

I get my crown

Yesterday we saw another three camper vans, and for the first time actually drove them. Two were very rough. The third was in good condition, but has had thirteen owners! We don't know why, but it doesn't sound good that it has had such a rapid turnover by so many people.

Back at work today. Being at work does diminuish my image as Earth Father, but if we can eventually find a camper van,  Ann promises to decorate the van with hippie images, and I will be able to work in remote places, and dress the part. Perhaps then I will wear the laural wreath crown.

I had to break off for a dental appointment to have the crown fitted. It has all been measured up, and Dr Singh had a pretty plaster model of my teeth with the new crown sitting on it to show how it fits and lines up with the other teeth. He lifted it from the model, slapped on some glue, and pushed it onto my stump. Job done. Now I have a brand new spanking white tooth among the old yellowing ones, but it feels very smooth and comfortable. Surely the future is not so far ahead but we will be offered new replacements for all our bits that break or drop off – a wonderful thought indeed, though perhaps it will come too late for me.

Hawk strike
NATURE NOTE: In Florida, cousin Ann has texted to say she's fled to her daughter's in New York to escape Hurricane Dorian. Looking through the window, Edwin saw a large bird of prey swoop suddenly onto our lawn and seize a small bird. After a brief struggle, it flew off with the bird in its talons, leaving but a small circular crown of feathers. Outside the window, Ann spotted a dead mouse in the Ladies' Garden, which had the tell-tale tooth marks of a cat in its neck. Death seems to be closing in round us tonight - a sure sign to batten down the hatches and sit tight through the storm ahead.

Friday, 30 August 2019

The Earth Father

Getting the ticket early in the carpark, I used their toilet block. As I closed the door, piped music started and a recorded voice whispered: "Welcome to this toilet facility. This toilet is protected. You have fifteen minutes available until the alarm sounds. You will be warned when your time is up." The music continued, an insistent beat that slowly increased in tempo and frenzy as I struggled to complete before my position was broadcast to the outside world. It was unbelievable pressure.

Ann rarely has breakfast, so I ate alone - except for four German visitors, big in stature so they overhung their seats, and loud in voice and clothing, filling the room with their strident talk. When they finally left, a woman on the table next to me said, "Isn't it quiet?"

Ann at Glastonbury Abbey
Afterwards, we visited the Glastonbury Abbey ruins, the legendary site of the tombs of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. The whole area was so quiet and peaceful even with traffic on all four sides of the walls. I bought Ann a figure for her room I called Gandalf, but was assured it was really Merlin. Ann is more Arthurian than Lord of the Rings, and in Glastonbury I was clearly out of place to bring up a rival to the mystic throne.

Waiting for Ann later in the Excalibur Cafe, I ordered a latte, forgetting that it is a vegan cafe. "Would you like hemp milk in that?" the barista asked. I made the mistake of choosing to experiment. If ever you are asked to choose hemp milk, take the coffee black. It tastes like old hemp rope, rough and unpalatable, and left its vile presence for the remainder of the day.


is a Glastonbury wind
fuelling lost
hippie daydreams,
a magical mystery
brought from Arimathea,
Arthur with Guinevere
tables we all sit round
and, an awakening
touching souls
scarred by pain
to soar again

I have decided that, in the pantheon of legend, I am the Earth Father, though Ann says I am more like the Earth Grandfather. In this guise I sought a new leather belt to replace my cracked and fraying old one, but most of the shops in Glastonbury are so ethnicy and vegan that they shun leather goods, preferring to deal in wool, hemp and cotton. I did discover one leather shop, though their belts were standard plain leather and buckles rather than anything reflecting my new image. Needs must, however, before my pants fall down.

The Chalice Well

Vesica piscis cover at the well head
Glastonbury never fails to show a different face on every visit. At breakfast in the George and Pilgrim I suddenly remembered mid veggie sausage that I hadn’t paid the car park fee, due at 9:00. It was now 9:40. Ann went out with my purse and sure enough the warden was standing before the car writing down my number. Ann worked her magic and the warden even advised which machine to use as the nearest was broken! If I’d gone out I know I would have annoyed him and the ticket would have been enforced vigorously.

Yesterday we made our pilgrimage to the Chalice Well. Normally a place of quiet sanctuary and reflection and total peace, this time it had an air of busy worldliness. In part, this was because of the August holiday with many extra visitors and children running about splashing in the water, but partly too from a sense of change in the atmosphere. Some tents and marquees were up in the grounds, reflecting some secular use, while at the well head, usually the sanctuary of sanctuaries whose vesica piscis well-cover dates from 1919, some guy was doing a karma routine that included picking off flower heads to pull the petals and lay them in circles round his wooden beads. One white one had seven petals, interlaced with another flower's five pink petals, leaving a gross asymmetry. Someone had also fixed two old sweeping brushes wired to a branch above the well head, whose purpose I could not fathom.

Despite the distractions, there are quite sanctuaries with time for contemplation there. I had bought Ann a ring earlier in the day. Suddenly while sitting in a hidden nook away from the noise, some engraved writing became visible. We hadn’t been able to see it earlier in the shop or the sun.

The Cascade and Pools with Ann 
There too a stange dream was broken. I had dreamt of a mammalian bird giving birth to an egg, with an umbilicus emerging from the vulva to give life to the now external egg. Suddenly as we sat beneath the cascading red waters, Ann said "from here, that does look so like a vulva with its red-coloured slit. Sure enough, emerging from the slit the water flowed down a channel towards the  Vesica Piscis pools with their strange overlapping egg shapes, completely like the dream I had had.

Jerry the barber
We both had our hair done in Glastonbury too, unusually. Ann's included a gentle, relaxing head massage. I had an old-fashioned haircut, a simple short-back and side job with Jerry the barber. The place was decorated with pictures of motorcycles and curvatious blondes, and Jerry was covered in tattoos, and talked about his love of old American cars which he built into gleaming show-stoppers. I mentioned I'd been to Cuba, and it was as though I'd been to Mecca, for his dream was to visit there.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019


Deja Vu

Walking in ancestors' footsteps
treading familiar paths
in a deja vu dream ‒
a fog-like haze of memory
that comes not from experience
but a collective unconscious
whistling on a breeze
finding its home in a whisper
a quiet mumbling
and silent recollection
of  an accustomed scene

I am taking four days off work! Our first proper break for a while, and we're off to Glastonbury to stay at the George and Pilgrims' for some ethnicy peace. A 15th Century Inn, it was built originally for pilgrims to Glastonbury Abbey, though this was long since ruined under the "Reformation". The Inn doesn't take dogs, and with Ed away to present a paper to the British Association of Victorian Studies in Dundee ("Red-brick railway arches, tongues of fire, blots of smoke": The Renewal of he Gothic in the Railway Space of the 1860s), we have Rae and Malcolm staying over to mind the animals.

The day started badly when I broke a wine glass which splintered to every corner of the kitchen, taking ages to clear up, but finally the last shard was cleared. The dogs always fret when they see the cases packed, but Rae and Malcolm came on time and the dogs were delighted to see them. We went via the A303 hoping to see Stonehenge, but a few miles down it Ann decided we should see another camper van at Burnham-on-sea, so the sat-nav redirected us north to the M4 and Bristol. On the way came the breaking news that Boris Johnson has prorogued parliament. It only adds a week to the time parliament would be shut down anyway for the three-weeks of conferences, but you'd think from the urgent howls of protests that Johnson was cutting all contact with the continent! The opposition say he's stopping time to debate the issues - but they've been debating them for three years, and we're fed up with it.  One MP even claimed she'd made a special study of German politics and the rise of dictatorship. She was virtually calling Johnson another Hitler - it's unbelievable. We are delighted he's got the guts to go for it and get on with it.
A Norfolk Wherry Ale Van
on the road before us

Finally we reached Burnham-on-sea which looked a miserable place, with many glum faces, and a so-called pier that is an insult to a stump. The persistent rain didn't help, and the Camper Van was in poorer condition than the older version we had first seen in Suffolk.

HOT NEWS: My many readers have mentioned that they couldn't post comments to this blog. Though no bad thing in general, I like to listen to what others think, and I believe I have now fixed the comments button so it works! Please feel encouraged to use it as appropriate.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Bin day is sheep day in Hundon

We had our other two grandaughters overnight. Ann asked about one of their school friends. "Oh, she died..." they started to say, to great gasps of horror. "She dyed her hair," they added, completing the story. "She had red hair, but was bullied so much about it that she's dyed it brunette now." Yet another sad tale to add to the-tormented-life-of-gingers. One would think that schools ought to consider prejudice against hair colour every bit as demeaning as prejudice against skin colour, but they don't. For some reason, they seem to think it isn't real prejudice, or these children "can take it".

Putting the bins out
The behaviour of our neighbours has reminded me what sheep we all can be. Our dustbins are emptied on Tuesdays, so last night I put ours out, although no-one else in the road had, making me wonder if they would be collected a day late because of the Bank Holiday Monday. Later that evening, I noticed that everyone on the road had put theirs out too. This morning, everyone on the road still had full dustbins; clearly they had been right and I wrong, but they all copied me! More fool them.

My car is due its 80,000 miles service, so I thought I would treat it to the real deal and phoned Jaguar at Cambridge (our nearest dealer now) to book an appointment. You'd think just booking a service would be a sinch. I was put on hold, but gave up after 20 minutes. I then tried to book the appointment on line, as they boasted this was easy. It was not. The web site would not let me progress beyond entering my car reg, so I gave up on that too. Finally I booked with Suffolk Trade Centre up the road, who sold me the car. Charlotte, their super-efficient receptionist, answered the call on one ring and the car's booked in for next week.

On a lighter note, Sam told us about a plumber mate of his who regularly takes Friday afternoons off. A while ago, he had had a tattoo put on his arm, but the tattoo artist wasn't open at weekends so he went on Friday afternoon. Once he had the first one, he became addicted to them, and now has a body covered in tattoos, always taking Friday afternoon off from work then coming in on Monday to reveal his new addition. He used to go to a tattoo parlour on Mill Road in Cambridge, but Edwin told us it has recently burnt down - the second place there to do so. We immediately wondered if this was intentional arson; perhaps the Peaky Blinders have moved up market and started to practice their protection rackets in Cambridge.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Global warming comes to Hundon

Seeking the shade in Clare Wood
On a delightful walk yesterday through Clare Wood with our grandaughter and the dogs, making the most of each spot of shade in what was recorded as the hottest day on record for late August. Temperature records are certainly being broken world-wide as we race towards thermal Armageddon. We, like so many, have strong pluses in contributing to this with our cars and flights, but on the negative side of the balance we are three vegetarians, which saves something in the CO2/methane battle. Ironically, we enjoy the sunshine and warmth, and the milder winters, but this too is balanced by coastal erosion of some lovely sites, especially round our East Coastal areas such as Dunwich Church, now underwater. But on a more historical note, Saltburn used to have a Roman Lighthouse which was lost centuries ago, and the last ice-age only ended 10,000 years ago when glaciers stretched across England and sea levels were so low the North Sea was a crossing point to Holland; so erosion is not a recent phenomenon; just its fast pace is new.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

The Hundon Summer Festival of Music

Last night I attended my third meeting of the Hundon men's group at the Rose and Crown, our local hostelry. I mentioned I could only stay an hour, as daughter Lucy was coming to stay with our grandaughter. We had a new member, Bob - the chairman of the local parish council. He had got the job when the rest of the council walked out. It seems they all wanted to stand again, but had to reapply for their positions. They put their applications in with the Clerk, who forgot to pass them on, so they didn't get them in before the deadline. Therefore there was no proper handover, and papers were everywhere to be found and sorted before he could pick up the threads. David congratulated him on his position, and said he had worked miracles: ,after waiting for years for the potholes to be filled, the day after he was appointed our road was resurfaced from the top to the bottom of the hill! Amazing.
Hundon Summer Festival at the Rose and Crown

Today Edwin and Lucy have gone to Ipswich to see Ed Sheeran. I walked round the fields with the dogs and our little grandaughter, and ended up back in the Rose and Crown, so had to stop for a quick drink in the beer garden. They were setting up the stage for a great musical event - the Hundon Summer Festival. This is clearly in direct competition with the Ipswich event - so Ed Sheeran, eat your heart out. We can stand in our garden and hear it.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Camper vans

Ann gives a van a critical scan
We have decided to think about considering the possibility of buying a camper van. You might notice a slight air of uncertainty about this decision, but it is a big step and a large outlay if we get it wrong, and we did consider it a couple of times before (see Buying a motor-home-1 and Buying a motor-home-2 and -3), but nothing came of it. Anyway, the upshot of our deliberations was a visit to a fine house in East Bergholt to look at an old van there. Old in years, high in milage, but in good general repair. Hence our hesitation and long discussions. We enjoyed our time caravanning in our youth (i.e. our 50's), and loved the boats we had, but feel that they are now too much hard work. We quite fancy the idea of the open road, and just trekking off at weekends as the fancy comes, and hence the new interest in camper vans. I will keep everyone posted about our progress or otherwise.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

More use of NHS resources

My follow-up cystoscopy was done this morning. Today three women stood round me to push and probe inside the bladder. They attempt to anaesthetise the urethra with an anaesthetic gel, but the pain of the gel is as great as the subsequent pain of the cystoscope: an intensely sharp needle being thrust deep inside. To say it is uncomfortable is an understatement, but the view on the screen is astounding - a huge magnification of the intimate passage through my penis and into the bladder. Every muscle of the bladder wall is enlarged ten-fold, and exposes vast areas of redness impregnated with raw blood vessels. All the inflammation I see is explained as the after-effects of the searing radiation I received over eight months ago from the radiotherapy, which literally burnt away at the original site to obliterate any residual rogue cells. But thankfully, no recurrence of the tumour which led to all this poking around, so the news is good. They give me a tissue to wipe myself, and I get dressed then go out to Ann to break the glad news.

However, continuing the theme of my good health and its maintainance, I still get very breathless and tired on any exertion, and tonight saw my GP to discuss the incidental findings of scar tissue and bronchiectasis in the lungs. I notice that GPs never perform physical examinations any more - no one has actually auscultated my chest for years. In the old days, I would have been tapping for resonance, looking for any glands or deviations of the trachea (in laymen's terms, changes in the lungs give difference resonances on the chest wall, or can displace the windpipe). He didn't check my BP or heart for any signs of failure, which can also lead to breathlessness; or my veins for raised venous pressure or ankles for oedema for other signs of heart failure. In fact, the whole consultation took about two minutes, but he did refer me to the respiratory clinic for investigations, so that shall be sufficient judgement on his methods. Once again, I am thankful that the NHS provide all this, for I have no private insurance and I could certainly never afford these multiple treatments.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Good health and haute cuisine

Good news on the health front today. I need not give my notice yet at work. The oncologist gave me the results of the scan which shows no recurrence, and blood tests which show no further deterioration in my anaemia or renal failure. I can consider future plans for a bit further ahead and put my will back in its envelope. I still get very tired in the evening and walk slowly and breathlessly, but he explained that by saying that my lungs have some scarring and bronchiectasis, but could not tell me how I had acquired the damage or if I can do anything about it, except to make an appointment with the GP and see if he can sort it out. Back to normal, in other words. Happily our GPs are not so unavailable as in some areas; Ann made an appointment tonight and I get to be seen on Thursday.

Edwin cooked for us tonight, a feast of stuffed marrows using the veggies that Rosie and Matthew had grown on their allotment (see Adding colour to life). He made the stuffing from rice flavoured with garlic and herbs and covered in cheese, with a special sauce he had created. They were delicious and were a full and worthy tribute to the glorious veggies. Edwin does a lot of original cooking now with his friend in Cambridge, and is considering putting together a recipe book about converting an ardent meat eater to the delights of delicate vegetarian cuisine.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Adding colour to life

Selection of veggies from Rosie and Matthew's allotment
Rosie and Matthew have a huge allotment between them, and have successfully grown a wide variety of vegetables that are just coming into fruition. They seem to specialise in rare or exotic items such as golden beetroot, or yellow cucumbers, which are amazing. Yesterday they brought round a wonderful, plump, ripe tasty selection of their produce, and Edwin is going to stuff the marrow and cook it for us. They also brought the added gift of a rare black cheese that we first sampled at their house. It is delicious, but very expensive. They are so generous, and always seem to bring something welcome but unusual.

The wonderful variety of the colours and the roundness of the veggies put me in mind of my Damien Hirst coaster mat. I found it in Clare and immediately put it to use next to my chair in the living room. Bright and cheery, I loved it and thought it added colour and modernity to the room. It didn't stay long. Ann pounced, saying it didn't match her decor and would have to go! It has now been relegated to my desk, where it sits before me and holds my tea in glorious Technicolor spots. Perhaps I should add that, when I say I found it in Clare, it had been dropped on the pavement, not in the art shop. Now Ann keeps sending me photos of other spotty things as she says I like them so much, including Damian Hirst covering a nude model in spots. I find all sorts of things on my walks, but I've yet to find one of those.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Up to the Nines

Waiting in the sun
Nines Global Buffet is an amazing all-you-can-eat diner in Cambridge serving top class food from a wide variety of cuisines, at modest prices. We visited for the first time with Matthew and Rosie, who'd come to us for the day, bringing the fruits of their allotment. Unhappily, Rosie was struck with severe nausea after her main courses and before she could start her dessert, so we had to leave for some fresh air to allow her to recover. Matthew walked her over to some bushes by the carpark, whilst Ann and I waited in the sun for her recovery. We had intended to go on to do some bowling, or perhaps to sit in the garden at Grantchester, but in the event we had to drive them at a sedate pace back home. She lay on the couch and slowly the colour came back to her cheeks, until she was well enough to face the journey back to King's Lynne.

Friday, 16 August 2019

How to make a bad impression

A few weeks ago, I lost half of an upper molar when it cracked off and I spat it out. I thought a small stone had weaselled its way into my meal until I felt the jagged edge, so today I finally got to the dentist for a crown to be fitted. This procedure is carried out in two halves, the first being the longest and hardest when he injects the gum then proceeds to drill out the cavity to prepare for the fitting. I will not describe in any detail the incredibly noisy, high-pitched whining and sensation of torture as I felt my skull being excavated, for this is well known to anyone who has had a filling, but I suffered it bravely without incident. The trouble came when he prepared the mould for me to bite into for the tooth impression. Every time I bit down, my teeth started an uncontrollable chattering, so that the jelly in the mould was pushed in all directions, and left not a single bite imprint, but a huge impression of someone chewing his last meal.

Each time the dentist tried it, the same thing happened. I wasn't nervous, and the rest of my body was calm and still - only the teeth were chattering. He asked if I was cold and offered a blanket, but I was not cold. Finally he asked about my food intake, and I admitted to having only a light breakfast of cereal (unsugared) many hours earlier. I had deliberately missed any lunch or snacks to keep my mouth clean. "Ah," he said, "I think you're hypoglycaemic!" and asked the nurse to bring me a drink of sugar water. Sure enough, this did seem to do the trick and my mouth remained its normal steady self after this. "Well done," he said, as though it was my accomplishment that had achieved success. "We'll see you in two weeks when the crown is ready. It will be much easier next time - we just glue it in."

Coming out I was greeted by Ann's smile. She had waited knowing I would be somewhat distressed, as I always am at the dentist. She took my hand and led me to a garden centre to buy me a big slice of Lemon Victoria Drizzle cake, with lashings of lemon icing on the top. My serenity and my blood sugar were soon fully restored.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

One of our sheep is missing

Caring for the sheep
Clare park has installed a number of wooden sheep as part of their revamping operation. Unfortunately, the rustlers have been at work and one has disappeared. Farmers beware – not even wooden sheep are safe anymore from predators.

I received an encouraging though unexpected email today from a Professor at Washington University in the USA, who is editing a special edition of a journal called Galaxy, and has requested a new paper. I wrote back to say I was interested and outlined a topic suggestion, and she replied saying that will be ideal and she looks forward to getting it!

The first of our bikes has sold to a man called Dan from Clare. He only moved here two weeks ago from Gran Canaria, where he worked privately in "currency exchange" whatever that is. He wants the bike to cycle to the shops, and  also brought his 14 year old daughter, Ananda, so she can take her GCSEs in England. She too wants a bike, but didn't like the look of any of our rusty wrecks.

Ann meanwhile has gone to Lakeside Ikea with Mary-Anne and the grandchildren. They love going there, and always manage to persuade Ann to go with them. They then convince her that she must need whatever attracts them at the moment, so I never know what she will bring back! Last time it was two enormous circular trays, large enough to carry the dinner for a family of six. But they are always such fun to be with that it is time well spent (though strangely, I am never invited to these shopping jaunts).

Ann returned late, with the two girls helping to bring in her shopping. I told her about the bike, but her comment was "I didn't want to sell that one. Now I'm going to have to buy a new one!" Oops.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Perseid Meteors

Tonight was peak viewing time for the annual display of celestial pyrotechnics that is the Perseid Meteor Shower. Edwin is away again for a few days, so Ann and I took the dogs to the top of our local hill, which is also the highest point in East Anglia and lightless on the farm track. The moon was nearly full and there was some cloud cover, so it was far from a dark night, but still clear enough to see the brightest meteors in their final fall. Come midnight, we drove into Clare park, me still in pyjamas and slippers though Ann was diligent enough to dress first. It is a creepy place at night - a couple of camper vans sneaking a cheap night, a few cars, the old castle outlined in the moonlight, and strange noises in the creepy shadows, though not a soul was about nor another vehicle on the road at that time. Just us and the dogs, shadowed in the bright moon, but we did see some spectacular meteor trails.

£15 anyone?
We have found five old bikes in the garage and side-shed, collected over the years from the days when we were energetic enough to do such things. Now, we need to get rid of them, so I've started to place them on Gumtree. I posted Ann's old shopper at £25, but following her advice (i.e. "You should give them £25 to take it away"), I've reduced it to £15. Someone actually phoned today, so perhaps it will sell!

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Swan Lake and unexpected links

A link between Great Grandad Ted and Cousin Betty?
In one of life's strange linking loops of coincidence, I received an email from Ted, the great-grandfather of our grandson Luke, suggesting that he was genetically related to one of Ann's cousins in California. This links Luke, if somewhat remotely, to his Grannie Ann which is great - she has always been fond of him, and this coincidence seems to bring them closer. Ted is 94 and bright as anyone. He is fully computer literate, and able to produce huge, complex family histories from various programmes he uses. We are sorry never to have met him, for he wasn't at Ben's wedding, and says he is now too infirm to face up to meeting new people.

Again by coincidence, Ann and Edwin were out in Switzerland over the weekend to meet this cousin Betty and her husband, who are over doing a tour of Europe. They rapidly discovered that Switzerland well justifies its ranking of "most expensive place in the world". Just a short taxi ride cost them £60. At dinner, the wine was £100 for a bottle, so they had to make it last for the meal and go round all four of them. Betty and Don paid for the meal - it must have cost a fortune, and it was only in a 3-star hotel!

Swan Lake

violent wings,
no velvet down
but an angry battering
male aggression,
no nurturing softness
death's masculine tragedy.

Last night we went to a filmed performance of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, made famous to us in Billy Elliot. I did not know quite what to expect, being so used to the classical "Bolshoi" treatment, but we forget that swans are equally male as female, and can be very aggressive, and I was bowled over by the sheer aggressive power of these male swans. Their ferocity was deadly, and the whole updated interpretation of the cold mother and the desperate yearning for affection of her son the prince was as riveting as it was convincing, bringing to mind our own Prince Heir and his turning to nature for the affection he craved. I highly recommend seeing it to all ballet buffs.

Swans at Clare Park

Monday, 5 August 2019

A visit to the dentist

Ann very ill last night with D and V, cause unknown. We had had a lunch out, but she only had a veggie burger and chips with no bun, and the bar staff had assured her it was gluten free, but that is all we can think of, for she is very gluten-sensitive.  In the midst of it all, Edwin phoned to say he was staying over with his friend in Cambridge, and they were off to Norway the next day for a few days away. He flies straight off to Lucerne with Ann at the end of the week, and will immediately go on to another friend in Nottingham, leaving Ann to maker her own way home. We won't have seen anything of him for nearly a fortnight, and he's away intermittently throughout the summer. It will be very peaceful, but his dog misses him and sleeps on his bed, with a look of mournful sadness as though to say, "What have you done with my master?"

Last week, eating a light meal, I suddenly felt a piece of grit in my mouth. Spitting it out, I saw it was enamel-coated, so had an emergency visit to the dentist today to sort out a cracked tooth. He took two minutes to tell me it had cracked clean across, and I would need a (very expensive) crown, so I have to return for two visits. I hate the dentist, but I must admit it was painless today, apart from the hit to the pocket. On our return, a letter from the hospital makes an appointment for my next cystoscopy checkup. I still haven't heard any results from the scan, so must keep pressing them to find out if possible. It is my body, and they ought to let me know, but even the GP doesn't have a result.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Witches, Mediums and the Tarot

Last night was my second Hundon men's group meetings at the Rose and Crown. It was smaller than previously, with only four of us sitting outside in the warm evening. It grew more and more chilly as darkness fell, and someone asked if anyone wanted to go inside? But we each said no, we were fine: a bunch of old men, none wanting to admit to weakness before the others. Finally, Derek's wife Jean turned up to drive him home, they having moved to Clare a while ago. "You're still outside?" she asked, "Aren't you cold?" Waking home with a neighbour from the group, he said "it did get cold sitting out."

Derek had mentioned that Jean had been to see Ronnie Buckingham, a famous medium who had visited a packed Hundon Hall earlier in the week. This immediately drew the skepticism of the group, all engineers or practical men, who wanted to know what he said, or if he could tell anything of Jean's past that was genuinely unknown to anyone else. Jean was reluctant to say too much, but admitted she went for the entertainment value, which is fair comment. His method is to announce he has a message coming through, perhaps from someone's parent, or partner, brother or sister or a child, and ask if anyone has lost such a relation? Inevitably someone will admit to having some close loss, and he then sounds them out with a series of half-formed questions, gradually teasing the story from the emotionally vulnerable subject and making it sound as though he, Ronnie, is presenting these hidden facts from the beyond. But I kept my views to myself, for Jean was understandably abashed by the doubters and reluctant to say too much.

In my GP days, one of my patients was known as the Billingham witch. Velma had a flat hidden above the shops, reached by stairs and a common walk-way. So many people visited her, a neighbour had painted in large white letters, "The witch is at 10a, not 10", with an arrow to guide people away from his door. She looked the part with long, midnight-black hair, decks of cards and a crystal ball on the green baize table, mystic symbols pinned round the walls lit by candles, and the curtains half shut against the sun. She always offered to tell my fortune, and wanted to know  my birth sign, but I used to tease her and say she ought to be able to tell me. She also offered to put a curse on anyone who upset me. She never gave me my fortune or pronounced her curse, but she did make a good cup of tea and bacon butties and provided a welcome break in a busy day.

I know, though the Hundon men's group don't, that Ann does Tarot readings, but that is not hocus-pocus. She uses the cards to explore the hidden conscious and help people express emotions, fears or memories they may have suppressed. Ann never claims to "read the cards", but uses them to express ideas within the subject in a form of Jungian analysis. Like an analyst or a doctor, she keeps her confidences and doesn't reveal what people have told her, but all who go to her appear to be greatly helped, so – as a great believer in deep or primitive motivations in our lives – unlike a medium or simple witchcraft, this is something I do agree with.