Sunday, 16 June 2019

Father's Day

Double Rainbow over Bury
With Edwin away for the night, it has been a peaceful Father's Day. So yesterday Ann arranged a meal in Bury St Edmunds, and a film, "Sometimes Always Never", a poignant film about an older man (Bill Nighy, though really a "younger" man as he's only in his 60's) whose wife has died, following which one of his sons runs away, and for whom he spends the rest of his life searching, to the neglect of the remaining son. There is an element of The Prodigal Son here, but it certainly drives home the deep sense of loss of a child and how it affects everyone else.

On the way home was a wonderful double rainbow, which Ann insisted on chasing and photographing. I must admit the picture turned out quite good though. It put me in mind of the film we had seen, where the missing son was portrayed as a pale reflection of the strong father, now fading now strengthening, but always in the far distance no matter how hard one ran to catch it.

Today, Ann and I went to the Globe in Clare, one of my favourite watering holes. They generally have a group playing on Sunday afternoon, and today was heavy metal/rock with a lively beat from a good singer. A perfect Father's Day present.

Sunday afternoon in The Globe

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Gatecrashing Shaw's House

Stayed the night in London at Stratford Moxy following meetings. Next morning, as Ann was sipping her first coffee, the fire alarm sounded. Ann insisted she would not go down in her night attire, so I told her we would leave or die together and waited while she got dressed and found her handbag. Finally, as we were ready to join the fleeing throng, the bell stopped ringing. Later, a maid told me it was someone burning the ironing had set it off!

Outside Shaw's writing hut
On the way home today, we stopped off at Shaw's Corner, always a favourite spot. We arrived at 11:00, and noticed the sign saying "Open from 1pm-4pm", but a woman was already opening the doors and told us she was nearly ready to let us in.

"Why does the sign say "1-4pm?" I asked.

"That's when we're open to the public, but we open early for groups," she explained. We showed our cards and waited in the shop area, and three more people joined us. "Right, we'll just wait for the last one," the guide said, but looked surprised when another three people came. "Oh," she said, "they must have made a mistake with the booking. Never mind, we can manage eight as well as six," and she led us off to view the house. We said nothing, and followed as though we were part of the group. This had the big advantage that all the rooms had the safety ropes drawn back and we were allowed to tread the hallowed carpets (albeit in overshoes) and get up close to the original artefacts, in addition to a personalized running commentary.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The death of a woodpecker

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker
Cars were parked all along the road into Clare this afternoon, and twitchers were out in the fields with binoculars and telescopic cameras boasting huge lenses, trying to spot some rarity. Back home, I heard an almighty bang as a bird flew into my window. On the patio, I picked up a colourful bird, but it seemed already dead. I am not knowledgeable about ornithology, but the RSPB site seems to identify it as a juvenile great spotted woodpecker, due to its prominent red cap.

Birds often seem to fly into our windows. I believe the reflection must appear to them similar to the sky, but sometimes they revive after a period of recuperation in a straw-lined box. We've had pigeons galore, a thrush, a blackbird, a coal tit, and even a kingfisher which we ferried to the river at Clare once it had revived, where it shot off as a speck of iridescent blue. Woodpeckers are reputed to have tough skulls to withstand the pounding from their drumming. Alas, this one's skull was not tough enough when it crashed into my window this morning. I just hope it wasn't the bird the twitchers were waiting for, but the RSPB site says these are common birds so I guess they can continue looking in hope.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Back in the Netherlands

Here in Leiden, two hotels have a similar name: "The Golden Tulip" and "The Tulip Inn". Both share the same access, reception and bar, and booking site. Usually we book the superior Golden Tulip, but this time ended up in the lesser Inn, with only single beds and no fridge or mini-bar.

I was awoken at 6 a.m. by a great thump and the bedside light going on. Ann was lying on the floor, he legs kicking in the air and the mattress at 45 degrees under her, the other side waving high off the bed. Somehow it had slipped sideways in the night with Ann on it, until it finally tipped her out and the sliding mattress had flicked on the light switch.

Back into Astellas yesterday for a 'short' contract, collecting the computer and seeing old faces again. Not much has changed since I was here a year ago. I signed in at the desk, and was presented with the same photographed pass I had used when I worked here before, so I could pass through the security barrier without being met, unlike another man sitting with a large "Visitor" badge hanging from his suit. However, walking down the corridor to the lift, I was greeted by a woman I'd never seen before, who said she'd take me up. I asked how long she'd been here. "Oh, since 2007," she said. "I work with Regulatory". We entered the lift and she pressed the button for the 2nd floor. I said I needed the 3rd floor for Safety. "Oh!" she said, "aren't you Dr. Suzzi? I must have met the wrong person!"  and hurried back down.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

An obvious interference

Scruff keeps the chair blocked off
His illness has left Edwin to sleep a lot, for which he prefers my chair, as it is more comfortable than his own, and has an electrically operated footrest to turn it into a semi-bed. Whilst he was very ill, I had no problem with this. But now he is showing some signs of improving, he sometimes leaves the chair to do other things. Last week I came down to find his Scruff sitting in my chair, like the proverbial German blocking the sunbed with his towel. This Scruff is a well-travelled animal that has seen the world with Edwin. In his luggage coming back from Asia once, Edwin found he'd been slit open and searched for drugs!

Listening to the news from the Netherlands today, it was interesting to hear that President Trump is supporting Johnson for PM, that Britain should get on with a clean break Brexit, and proposes that Farage should be in charge of the negotiations. Ann says, never mind about Russian interference in our politics - we have enough to put up with from American interference. But at least it is overt interference - Trump does not do subtle.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

A Happy Day

Ann and Grandad-John at The Mill
Yesterday we should have been in France. We had booked the hotel in Dover for Thursday and Friday nights, and the ferry for a day trip, but our plans were sent cock-eyed by the unexpected illness of Edwin. On Tuesday, he had high fever, swollen tonsils and tender glands the size of marbles, and couldn't swallow. He was started on antibiotics, but on Thursday was worse, with soaring temperature and his glands the size of golf balls. We had to take him back to the doctor, this time with a diagnosis of severe glandular fever. He will be highly infectious for some time and has had to cancel his appointments at university - though he is so ill, he has been confined to bed anyway.

So yesterday, with his temperature down a little and able to sip milk, we went to the Mill at Sudbury. It turned out to be a perfect day, although unexpectedly in England. The sun was warm, we had cream tea with G-and-T on the balcony (though just Coke in my case, as I cannot take spirits now), and walked leisurely in the meadow by the river.

A new otter at Clare
In the morning, I took the dogs for their regular walk in Clare Country Park, where they have installed a number of new visitor notices, including a huge carved wooden sculpture of an otter, much admired by the curious dogs.

Relaxing in the garden today over a bowl of soup and a refreshing Crabbies after cutting the lawn, I was reminded of a story my mother used to tell when we were little. The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle relates how she wished fervently for a slightly better place to live, but on being granted her wish, kept wishing for someplace even better. Finally she wished for a whole palace, but the granter of the wish was so fed up by this time, that they put her back in the vinegar bottle! I think my mother used the story to discourage over-ambition, but lying in the sun listening to the birds I am reminded of how I sometimes wish for elsewhere, and forget how much I already have.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Team work

My son Ben and his family stayed yesterday, and we subjected them to an entertaining evening of Eurovision. We went to the Flying Shuttle for lunch, to leave them conveniently on the road back to Shropshire, but in the carpark Ben noticed he had a completely flat tyre, in a car with no spare. It was already past two o'clock, and to the surprise of all of us, there is no mobile tyre service in the UK! He phoned the AA, and they too are unable to repair tyres, though they offered to send a breakdown truck to provide a lift back to Telford. Edwin found which tyre services were open on Sunday; grandson Luke confirmed the Newmarket Quickfit was closest, just 11 miles away; Matthew phoned to check they had a tyre of that size and offered to bring one down from Kings Lynne; and Ben  pumped up the tyre with a hand-pump and some goo to try to block the hole, while his partner Kaz phoned the AA back to cancel the breakdown truck. We then went to eat while he drove to Newmarket, stopping every so often to re-inflate the tyre. Finally he phoned to say he was on his way back, and we ordered his meal to be ready for him.


I am tired of morbidity
and endless pessimism,
Life was meant to be lived
not in some dark vacuum,
but in the hope and optimism
that there are better days ahead,
and, should that seem a false dream,
well, there is an easy way - DEATH,
an ending, a finality
succumb then with final breath—
or smile at strange life,
welcome it with open door,
see it through to acid end.

All too often in life we panic at any set-back, or make rash, unsensible decisions, or argue about the way out of a problem, with friction, bitterness, and lack of accomplishment the only outcome. It was wonderful to see how well a clear objective can be achieved with a great team working in harmony. So in life, if we can set a goal and work together to achieve it, we can achieve a good outcome, without rancour or recrimination.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Learning to socialise

Ann and Edwin have now taken possession of their new cars. Down the road, another neighbour who is the nosiest man I know, was so impressed he shouted up the street to Edwin to ask him about them. He then said "wait till I get my shoes on!" He had been in his socks, but rushed up to Edwin when shod to quiz him about the cars, adding that he had never liked Ann's old one! He will often stop his car and wind the window down to find out what we are doing, and he can spend hours in the middle of the road gossiping to another neighbour. This I can never understand, as the most I usually grunt is "good morning", if anyone greets me, and I hurry on my antisocial way. But last night I went to a "men's night" at our local pub.

This should be nothing unusual, and most writers might neglect to mention it; but for me, this was a first. This is a small group of local men, all with many years of life experiences, some widowered, some not, who meet from time to time. Another neighbour phoned unexpectedly to ask if wanted to go and I broke my usual habit of refusing to socialise and joined them.

Four were there when I entered, but as the evening progressed several more joined the group and we migrated to a larger table, pulling chairs in for each new arrival. I said when asked that I would have a bitter shandy. "Yes, but what do you want to drink?" they asked. All were drinking beer of one sort or another, bar one - a man even older than I, very rheumatic, who had been an engineer with my host and was staying with him. He was drinking Coke, explaining that he was on so many tablets he had to stay off alcohol. The evening finished with the table drinking whisky chasers, which again I had to decline. Alas, my renal failure is too severe now to risk knocking it further out of kilter; both brandy or whisky argue too fiercely with my internals to make the enjoyment of them anything more than a very short-lived business, so it is easier to decline.

I shall not bore readers with details, but it was a companionable evening, with not a word of gossip or of Brexit (or any politics at all, which was sensible). It just shows that one can change even a life-time's habits with a positive outlook, and I look forward more to living again, rather than in the gloom of anticipating death.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Byron meets his match

Resting on a log in a glade in the Nuttery whilst walking the dogs, a voice coming down called, "Oh, your dogs are loose. Mine goes for other dogs!" I called them to me and a women entered with three dogs, one on a lead – a huge black Doberman cross-breed called Roxy. Byron gave a low growl ready for a good bark, then saw Roxy and the growl died in his throat. The dog towered above Byron. She didn't bark or growl, but stood with mouth gaping, great teeth bared like a crocodile's grin, and a malevolent glint in her eye, but then trotted off in obedience to its owner.

So too, I thought, do our plans fail when the rising growl of excitement is choked off, frightened by the threat of reality.  Our early bright dreams faded in the dark reality of life in a dark world; and so many of our ideas were crushed by the first set-back. It is time to reclaim those early enthusiasms and not let the threat of difficulties overwhelm us, nor the looming teeth of adversity in living choke us off. We should strive to live the dream.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Recovery time

Susan and Brian join us from Australia
Today has been a good day, following the black days. The time has come to say "pull yourself together!", and "snap out of it!" It is too easy to wallow in self-absorbed pity, moping about on the threshold of death. Ann is cracking the whip and I must now do more each day to build up strength, and put age and infirmity behind me. The only choice in life is up or down – I intend to go up for a bit longer yet D.V.  Roll on the good times again. 

Susan and Brian, our friends from Australia, came to stay, full of vigour and determined to progress with life despite their own serious setbacks. They are currently doing a two month tour of Europe, despite the general Australian attitude by youth to oldies, which seemingly is even worse than in the UK. Ann has bought a new car full of youth and pep, and Edwin also has traded in his old car for a Peugeot GT! Let the recovery begin.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Depressions of Age

!!!This blog comes with a warning: Do Not Read If You're Depressed!!!

Mid-summer approaches, and the rising sun is now well to my left, not yet dazzling my eyes. Midsummer's day is the saddest day. Not for nothing is it called the longest day, for it is hard to get through. After midsummer, the nights draw in and cold winter looms ahead. As my steps slow, and even going up stairs grows more painful, I am growing maudlin in mind as in pace. It is good to be surrounded by young people, for the old grow old like me. But there is a dark side to seeing youth: the clear skin and bright eye, the energy and hope and optimism that one loses with age, yet yearns for yet. I remember an SF story, where a rich old man grants a poor boy all his riches, to exchange minds with him. Bernard Shaw too, for all he had achieved, looked back with nostalgia in Back to Methuselah.  I read it when young, and thought it a poor play, but now it resonates, and I look on youth with envy, not with joy, and yearn to run and play again as once we did.  How we took our youth for granted, like a spoilt child brought up in riches, never thinking that his fortune might be spent. The only consolation is platitudes: "You can't turn back the clock", or "You had a good life" or "It could be worse". But you can keep your platitudes and stick them where you will; they do not console.

If Death Should be The End

If death is the end, it is better to die
in the cradle without pain or strife;
yet on we live.
Through thought and writing,
by poetry and art,
in children and friends
we live on.
All we are and all we have been
is poured out through them.

When friends die and children die,
do we then die with them?
It is said that when someone dies,
whole worlds die with them.
We each contain a world of thoughts,
of habits learnt and feelings won,
of loves known and memories earned,
worlds awaiting death.

How little passes on;
some trick of speech,
some memory of a distant day's event,
some happy moment.
How little is the recollection now
of once dear grandparents;
yet all that exists of them may be
that tiny and fragmented memory.
Somehow you try to ingrain it
in children of your own.
But you forget, or they forget,
and though their insidious influence
creeps through your every act,
everything that was and made
that individual fades gradually away
into insignificance,
as surely as their name fades
on an old tomb stone until
one can barely read the scratched out lines.


Wednesday, 8 May 2019

The BBC calls me

An article by the BBC today told of the falling numbers of GPs, to which I responded saying how I would love to work as a part-time locum again, but current regulations prevent me returning unless I go through an intense process of re-training and six months of work under supervision as a trainee. I wrote in to suggest that perhaps there should be a new level for people such as me who no longer wish to be principles or take on a management role, but just offer clinical support to our hard-working and over-loaded GPs.

I was immediately contacted by Richard Irvine-Brown, a BBC journalist, who interviewed me by phone to expand on this. If it does get some publicity, perhaps it will be the start of a new grade and  more retired GPs may be encouraged to return to part-time locum work.

Perhaps I may join them, always assuming I am well enough. I do seem to be increasingly tired, and often spend large parts of the day asleep, with little energy to do much in the garden or round the house. I continue to have diarrhoea for which I have to stuff loperamide (Lomotil) into myself, and although my urine is thankfully now free of blood, it does show large amounts of urobilinogen, a breakdown substance from the blood. None of the causes for this look particularly healthy, so I can only wait and see what develops next in this sad body!

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Cuts all round

Last week I was a member of the Labour Party; this week, no longer so. Disgruntled with the two factions of parliament tearing each other apart, I sent in my letter of resignation, and am now a member of the Brexit Party, in the hope that such focus may bring matters to a head and sort out the mess one way or another. For the first time in my life, I am ashamed to be English.

As I age, I find I do more and more "sillies", such as going for a plate and bringing back a cup, or trying to put the milk in the cupboard rather than the fridge. Usually, the sillies are more forgetful than dangerous, but now I have done another silly, this time to myself. Going to the toilet on one of my regular excursions, I generally know my way well enough to not put on the light until I get into the bathroom. This time, I pulled the door shut ready to click on the light, but had not moved my foot far enough over the sill, and the door sliced into my toe like scissor blades. I could do nothing until I had reached the toilet and sat down, for when I need to go I need to go quickly.

Across the floor were little puddles of blood where my foot had trod. I wrapped a handful of toilet tissue round the toe, which rapidly turned red. Finally the flow was staunched, and with toilet paper wrapped round and wedged between my toes I hobbled downstairs to dress it as best I could, with a great swathe of bandage to hold it in place, and a sock over all in case it leaked through to the bed sheets.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Chronic renal failure - a textbook case study

I am going into pedagogue mode now, speaking as a medical professional to all who wish to learn about chronic renal failure (CRF) from the standpoint of the sufferer. So sit still and learn, or change channels now.

Anatomy. We all know they're somewhere towards the lower back part of the body, one on each side, and we know they must have little tubes connecting them to the bladder in some way. But when they're working and pain-free, no one knows where they are, and no-one cares. Only when they have a problem do we care - then the pain in the lower back on one or the other side points to their location in no uncertain terms.

Physiology. They do a lot of things we take for granted: they maintain fluid balance to prevent a build up of excess water; they constantly adjust the pH of the blood to be not too acidic nor too alkaline but "just right"; they maintain salt balance - not just the sodium chloride we shovel on our fish-and-chips, but all the other salts we usually ignore - potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and carbonates. They also bear some responsibility for regulating blood pressure, stimulating haemoglobin levels in the blood, and helping the immune system to cope with life's traumas and the nasties constantly trying to invade our bodies. Oh yes - on top of all this, they get rid of much of the toxic waste our bodies generate each day from burning food for energy ('good' waste), and breaking down all the rubbish we throw into our stomachs ('bad' waste) - especially from the evil meat, that palatable temptation of the devil to ingest poison in the guise of tempting steaks and succulant stews. Be not deceived - the stuff is poison as I have learnt to my cost. [Oops - I am straying from the true disinterest of the good medical text here.]

Clinical manifestations of CRF. These are the manifestations of each of the functions of the kidneys. Having many functions, it follows that there may be many manifestations. At the moment, I seem to have them all.
I have had erratic hypertension and been anaemic for some time. This leaves me tired; I would add irritable, but I think this is just my normal state, not the CRF. The toxic wastes and acidity of the urine makes it burn like crazy, and I need to keep running every hour or two (dysuria and frequency), or I won't make it in time (urgency), and there are horrid sharp pains shooting up my insides like knives. Last night I woke with bad nausea and had to sit downstairs sipping water with a bowl beside me.  The toxic products irritate the skin, and I now have red blotches everywhere, especially the back and legs, that itch like crazy and bleed easily everytime I scratch too vigorously (generalised pruritis). Additionally, a strong immune system helps prevent cancers developing, and the depressed immune system allows them to develop. I therefore blame the CRF for giving me two independent cancers (melanoma and bladder cancer), rather than the other way round.  In short - and in lay parlance - I'm a miserable wreck.

Management. I have to drink plenty and watch my diet. Basically, I must leave off all the things I like (bananas, tomatoes, oranges, olives and avacado) which have too much salt and potassium, and eat plenty of all the things I dislike (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and onions!). Also, I repeat, leave off the poison of red meat. If the CRF continues to deteriorate, younger men than me might be offered dialysis to rest the kidneys and remove the toxins, or ultimately renal transplant. Neither option is available for old men over the hill, so I shall have to continue on the downward slope.

The only other management options are to hope for a miracle (trip to Lourdes?), and be thankful for someone like Ann to put up with the grouchiness, and administer creams and drinks and manage my diet like an angel!

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Rehabilitation and magic

On castle walls Budapest
After the tortured night I suffered following a carnivorous lapse into meat eating (see Confessions), I have resolved to give the poor old kidneys a chance for recuperation. I did not dare stray too far from the hotel with its salvation of a toilet at a time of urgent need, so I remained behind while Ann and Edwin explored the great metropolis of Budapest.

In perfect weather, I strolled the gardens below the hotel, looking back on the castle walls for which it is famous, then ended up in a little street cafe where I had a modest meal of cheese and salad, washed down with home-made lemonade. Delicious, and hopefully it will prove to be restorative. Passing water is still extremely painful and too frequent, but hopefully there will soon be improvement in the poor old pissaroo.

Yesterday, we all explored local attractions, including the Houdini Museum. This contained a potted history of his birth in Hungary and his fame in America in the early 19th Century. The highlight of the visit was a performance by a stage magician, who asked if we all believed in free will. Most of us shouted back "Yes", but Edwin insisted on shouting "No".

The conjurer asked him his name: "Edwin".
"Do you like shopping Edwin?" - "Yes".
"What shop did you go to last?" - "Tesco's."
"What did you buy?" - "Jackfruit."
"Did you have free will to buy it?" - "No. I was influenced by advertisers."
The magician shrugged and nodded as though agreeing. Then, just as the rest of the show was finishing, he said "It's strange, I had a strong urge to write a note to myself just before the show started," and he fished from his pocket his wallet, opened it and took out a tightly folded piece of paper. This he handed to Edwin and asked him to read it.

Edwin took the paper, unfolded it and read, "A man called Edwin will go into a shop called Tesco and purchase some Jackfruit." Naturally, we all applauded wildly and – having seen Edwin's face – I couldn't stop laughing all the way back.

Thursday, 25 April 2019


Grandad-John in the Flamingo Chair
I must admit a confession to my reading public, one borne with shame and one from whose admittance I must expect ridicule and condemnation in equal measure. We are in Budapest, a most beautiful city where we are taking a short break from the rigours of a peaceful village. Yesterday we indulged in quaint history at the museum of electrical inventions from the turn of the 19th century (old motors, switches, bells, telephones etcetera), followed by a visit to the Museum of Sweets and Selfies - a bizarre collection of colour and toys designed more for young adolescents than grown respectable ladies and grizzled bearded men, but heaps of fun battling through a forest of pink bananas or relaxing in a pink flamingo chair. We followed this by a sudden dive into a gluten-free bakery Edwin had spotted where we indulged in gluten-free beers and a choice of delicious cakes and pastries. But I am glossing over the confession.

Ann in Museum of Sweets and Selfies, Budapest
That evening, being late, we dined in the hotel restaurant where – although nominally vegetarian – I succumbed to a starter of Hungarian goulash. This was filled with large cubes of succulent beef, suspended in a carefully spiced stew of vegetables, and I will not pretend it was not delicious.  But then to crown my sin I selected a dish of wiener schnitzel: a large dish which covered the plate in bread-crumbed Bambi. Retribution was swift. I had forgotten how poisonous red meat is to the kidneys. Mine are already shot to pieces, filled as they are with large cysts and in the throes of advanced renal failure, and they were completely unable to cope with the added load of lethal nitrogenous waste to which I challenged them.  The unaccustomed load of heterocyclic amines and breakdown products of urea and uric acid so irritated my kidneys and bladder that I was awake every hour throughout the night having to run to for a painful wee. 

Today I am confined to my room, unable to stray far from the toilet. Believe me, if anyone suffers from kidney disease, the revenge of the animals can be swift and sure. Today, I am dining on salad leaves and drinking weak tea.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A Philosophy for Life

23 April 2019

I am told by people who generally know these things that my blog posts are mostly vacuous, the kicking of  the empty can down the road of life. My reply is, they are written not to plunge the reader into fits of anguish or self-loathing, but are splashed upon the page simply for my own pleasure; to remind myself that the great world rolls on, delighting in trivia, silly jokes, and minor anecdotes about each other. Occasionally, it gives me platform to rail pitifully against the stupidity or ignorance of our political masters. I know my ineffectual voice is but the clucking of an idle hen, but it helps release the impotent frustration bottled within.

My critics tell me that the world awaits depth and insight into the anguish of dying; that I should grip the reader round the throat and throttle the joy and life out of them; that their greatest desire is to see as it were a mirror held to reflect the inner agony and suffering of inevitable extinction. I shall not oblige them. I attended the dying and dead over many years of general practice, and tried to bring ease to pain, or comfort to the bereaved; I have ministered to suffering in a hospice, some of which could not be relieved and brings me to tears even now; as police surgeon I attended fatalities and unexpected deaths by the score, many at their own hand or that of another. Every news item is filled with grief and suffering in the world. This I used to express in poetry, often writing at three a.m. on my way back from some dire night call, and there it lies for any who care to read such things. These emotions do not need repeating; they remain raw and I have no wish to relive them.

For tears, read the news, satisfy yourself with the slaughter in the world, the mindlessness of impersonal violence wielded without purpose. Better to rejoice that most of us prefer to release our exasperation and despair through the grin, not the gun; through bombast rather than the bomb; in trivia rather than travail. I have no wish to emulate Dostoevsky or Tolstoy; had I such talent I would chose to be a Waugh or Wodehouse every time.

And yet... and yet... to be a purveyor of the soul, it should ring true, it should go deep; but this is not a secret diary, filled with secret longings or shame, it is a public document and must respect the sensitivities of others. And so I will continue to intersperse the trivial and mundane with occasional glimpses of the darkness lurking behind existence. I may tell of inner pain and conflicts; but above all, I seek the momentary release that humour may provide, the incongruities that underpin relationships, and the absurdities of our very existence.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Carrying one's cross alone

Today is Good Friday, and for some reason I spotted a lone figure walking down Clare High Street this morning bearing a huge wooden cross over his shoulders, large enough to mount on Calvary. He was not in a procession, and no-one was attempting to help him carry it. Ann suggested it might be the return of Christ, suffering His Passion again, but this time wondering where the crowds were, or where was Simon of Cyrene when he was needed. It seemed to by a metaphor for the present spiritual indifference in much of the modern world.

Granny Annie and Grandad John entertain Lucy and Theo at Linton Zoo
Following from the funeral, Wednesday also saw the visit of Lucy and her partner Andy, with new arrival Theo in tow. At least, he always seems new – though it is nearly two years since they stood in our kitchen to announce he was on his way. Already he is eighteen months and charging round the world with an energy and determination that seems unquenchable. It is many years since we had to entertain a toddler, but a trip to the local Linton Zoo helped divert him. Linton is the ideal size for this, being compact for slow crawlers like me, well able to be viewed in an afternoon rather than a full day, but full of variety and interest for children. Charging round from enclosures of tortoises or tapirs to cages of lions and tigers certainly managed to bring the magic of entertainment and fatigue in equal measures and, after a rest in the cafe before closing time for ices and drinks, they were well placed to toddle off to Lucy's brother, Matthew, to stay a further day with him and Rosie.

Andy is an honorary member of the Society for Acrimonious Divorce (SAD), having suffered a prolonged and difficult transition from the matrimonial state. However, a recent judicial hearing happily seems to be moving things forward at last, and we wish him all speed on this difficult journey.

Stories and a funeral

Zebra at Linton Zoo
I mentioned to Alan (Ann's cousin who lives in Portugal) that I had now finished my short story, called Liberty Jack, following a second dream that gave me the conclusion, and we started talking about some of the stories I have written. Only one has been published, titled The Fairway, which won a literature prize, and was set on a golf course in South Africa. Alan, who has an unlimited fund of anecdotes, immediately launched into his own tale of a golfing incident in South Africa.

He was playing on one of the Durban links and told to beware of the four zebras. During the round, he knocked his ball into a bunker on the third, but when they went up to it, one of the zebras was lying down in the bunker, covering most of his ball. "Can I declare a lost ball?" asked Alan.

"No - you must address the ball where it lies!" his partner insisted.

Talking afterwards of our wine-and-cheese evening on Monday for Alan and a number of friends and neighbours, Ann and I realised that as we have aged, everyone at that evening, save Edwin, had serious problems in their lives of one sort or another. One neighbour who did not come was David, the husband of Janet Newton who died a few weeks ago, and whom we had not seen for some time since the severe progression of her Alzheimer's. Alan left on Wednesday, taken to the station by Edwin as her funeral was at mid-day.

This was held in Hundon village church and we hoped for an inconspicuous seat near the back. Ann even remembered to leave her phone at home, as her ring tone is Annie's Song, which she did not want blaring out in church. Although a good fifteen minutes early, it was already full and we were forced onto a row near the front. Mary-Ann used to baby sit for one of their grandchildren, now a grown woman, and she and her sister sang a remarkable duet called To Where You Are, in perfect, clear soprano voices. The event was extremely moving. The children also read moving testimonials to their mother, who had been given the devastating news that their father, her first husband, had suddenly died in a car crash when they were young. She married David soon afterwards, and the children evidently loved him. He gave a moving address about how he had had to care for her in the later years of total dependency, and how it reminded him of his mother's death when he had had to dress and clean her too. Then the son, Dean, gave what sounded like a confessional: "Mum, you were always there for me when I needed you. I am so sorry that I was not there for you when you needed me." It left Ann and I wondering how our children might remember us when we die. Finally, as the mourners prepared to leave the aisles, we heard John Denver blaring out Annie's Song. The family had chosen it as the final piece of music for the funeral.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Helpfulness, hysterics and hindrances

Hudgies in Clare
Hudgies is a general store in Clare that bills itself as "Ironmonger, Oil & Colourman." It is set out like a period piece in some historic street museum, but is very much alive and thriving.  I have yet to ask for something Mr Hudgie does not have somewhere in the dark recesses of his inner sanctum (I always think of him thus, though it is not his name). He was once a high-flying fund manager with HBSC, based I think in Tokyo. Many people I know who made their money and retired early used to dream of running a small country pub, but this shop was his dream, and he plays the part to perfection. He wears a faded brown cotton warehouse coat that would be a shoe-in for Open All Hours, and he has a small black dog curled up in a basket beside him, perched on a stool.

This week, I asked if he had any glue capable of fixing the hard plastic of our fridge door handle which had broken off. He produced a tube called "Hard Plastic Glue" - and it seems to work a treat. I also asked about the best way to stop my leaky kitchen tap. "Vaseline on the washer", he advised, and didn't even try to sell me a tub. That too seems to have worked, and thus far the tap stays dry.

Ann's cousin Alan is staying with us again for a few days. He is the founder member of SAD, the Society for Acrimonious Divorce, and was back in the UK for a court appearance to try and finalise his divorce to Iris, the Trinidad women to whom he has remained shackled for two painful years since their separation. In court last week, she broke down in hysterical screams and shouts, lying on the floor, her midriff exposed, kicking her legs wildly. The judge tried in vain for fifteen minutes to calm her, then called the usher who was equally unsuccessful, and the proceedings came to a halt until she had burnt through her fury. At last, Alan got a relatively favourable judgement, and is hopeful that the whole miserable business will soon be concluded. He has vowed never to remarry, and we are sworn to remind him should he look to be straying from this vow.

We also had a few friends over for an informal wine and cheese evening. Most of them we invited verbally, with a telephone call. I invited our neighbours across the road personally when I met the husband in the street. After some debate about whether it would be appropriate, we also invited our next door neighbour, Linda, whose husband is still confined to a nursing home following his stroke. I had not seen her face-to-face for a while, so dropped a card in with the invite. When she came, she told us the other neighbours would not be coming, because they had not had a formal invite. I said no one had a formal invite; it was all quite last minute; she got one because I didn't see her. Ann asked how they knew. "I went over to ask if they were coming," Linda said. "My card was so pretty, I showed it them and asked if they had had one." She paused. "Oh, I hope I didn't stir things." 

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Buying a motor-home (2) and (3)

On the domestic front, the kitchen tap had developed an annoying drip, so I replaced the valve with a spare I had. Now the drip has stopped, but it has started to leak from the handle and is drenching the draining board. I have sent for another valve, and hope that will finally cure it.

Overheard in Sainsbury's this morning, a father told his son he had "big ideas". The boy answered without hesitation, "When I was little, I had little ideas. Now I'm big, I have big ideas!" He was only about five, but is clearly going places.

Shopping has never been my favourite sport, but today I find the going heavy and am glad of the trolley to lean on. I seem to get tired too easily. and was glad to lie on the bed for a short while when we got back. We looked at Mobile Homes and caravans on Wednesday and again yesterday, but we still can't decide which we want. Some friends steer us one way towards the vans, but then another group say I'll never manage a caravan. Most of them are very tat or very expensive.

Ann's hairdresser in Clare is one of the clumsiest people we know. She invariably slips with the spray and drenches Ann's top, to the point where Ann deliberately puts on older clothes to visit her. Ann asked if she had ever nicked anyone's ear. "Oh yes, a few times," she said. "Once I cut part of the lobe off. It didn't half bleed." This time, she told Ann her father had fallen off a ladder and fractured his collar bone. It must run in the family. She also mentioned a Camper Van her husband's friend had converted himself. He bought an ordinary van for about £500 and put a mattress and primus stove in the back. He successfully toured France in it, and brought it safely back.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Filling a role

Ann has gone to Cambridge with Mary-Ann and the girls, on a shopping spree. Thus left, I continue with writing my new short story, and get my own lunch. This invariably comprises gorgeous Italian plum tomatoes on toast – a simple, tasty and nourishing meal that I take with unhealthy salt and lashings of butter melting into the toast. If Cameron and George Osborne had threated a shortage of Italian tomatoes as part of their scare tactics to frighten us into Brexit, it might have had some effect. As it is, though tempted to stockpile by buying a dozen tins at a time, I will ride out the storm. Let them do their worst: I am sure Italian tomato farmers will be only too pleased to reopen their trade links to a country where their produce is truly appreciated.

On a scale of one to ten, my acting ability is close to zero. I cannot remember lines or act in character of dialect, and to see me tread the boards would be the dread of any audience. Yet somehow, placed in any situation, I have a wretched tendency to assume the role of the moment. In Yorkshire, Scotland or Ireland, I lapse into a pseudo patois as though a native striving to sound false. In business, I wore an ancient suit that might have served some local councillor on a bad day. As a sailor, I loved to strut the decks in my nautical cap, issuing orders with the nautical language I was keen to master. As a manager, I issued instructions without consultation or any real expectation that they would be followed, and as a country doctor, I wore tweed jackets and pretended to a knowledge and certainty I could never possess.

Now I am officially a cancer victim and doing little paid work, I see myself lapsing into the role of retiree: shuffling about, lying under a blanket in my chair, drinking hot milk and going to bed early as though willing myself to be a caricature of an old man. At least I am aware of this failing; now I must resolve to do something about it, to pull myself back from this brink and take on some new challenge. I will keep my eager readers abreast of how this turns out, but in the end only they, as external observers, can really comment on my progress or decline. I have made a start to be both more energetic and more creative. I have cut the lawn (a small lawn but requiring vast reserves of energy on my part), and I have started a new short story. All my stories, and many of my poems, came in dreams, and for this one too I woke in the night at about 2 a.m. with the story complete in my head, and immediately went to the computer to capture it. I know from experience that, left till morning, it would fade and be forgotten.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Put this diseased rabbit out of its misery

Lying in the dark, I hear the soft whooshing in my ear of each pulse beat. It is reassuringly in a regular sinus rhythm, not too fast, though probably a harbinger of blood pressure, stenosis or aneurysm, thus does the mind work at this early hour. The incessant tinnitus has eased and it is the only night sound above the gentle snores of Ann, for the birds are not yet singing, nor is Sunday traffic out. I leave my snug bed for the inevitable call of nature, breaking my sleep each night. It is like an alarm clock and the most reliable part of my body. Thus the strident sounds of age do greet the day.

A friend of Edwin's has decided they don't wish to be addressed by either gender, he or she being too restrictive. I am not sure if they wishes to be addressed in the plural as "they", or in the truly gender-neutral of "it". Ann thinks they have a good point, though. She believes gender constructs are purely of human origin, and we'd all be better off if everyone were neutral: just "people", with no differentiation by gender, race or religion. I can see her point, but carried to its logical conclusion, names and modes of dress would equally become neutral. We should meet people as equals, and address them in purely neutral terms. We could make friends without knowing anything of anatomical gender, and if we chose partners, we might not discover their gender until they shared our bed. Books like Men are from Mars, Women from Venus might be retitled Some are from Mars, Others from Venus. It makes for an interesting concept.

I try not to comment on Brexit, but occasionally the anger bubbles up like an erupting volcano. Our government is running in circles like a tormented rabbit infected with the parasitic virus of myxomatosis, screaming with pain. Our only hope now is that the EU will put a gun to its head and take it out of its misery. Now I am angry enough to have joined the new The Brexit Party, the comeback party of Nigel Farage. It will almost certainly lead nowhere and peter out, but I feel impotence in any other protest at the moment. Even the Labour party meetings I have attended refused to discuss it.

Please send a comment if you have opinions about the new Brexit Party, or wish to join the gender-neutral debate.
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Saturday, 6 April 2019

Buying a motor-home (1)

It should have been easy - the brief was to go online and find a few local places that sell second-hand motor-homes - but it was never more difficult. The old jalopy that I drive sits under a great maple tree and is regularly encrusted with bird excrement (I am being polite for this blog). Therefore first thing this morning, I went to the local carwash to spruce it up ready for the day's jaunt. The carwash started its splash routine, jerked into life, then promptly stopped. I waited a few minutes, but was reluctant to open the door in case it suddenly started again, so drove out to park up. I went back into the shop to report it, but the man said, "you shouldn't have driven out!" I pointed out that in that case, they should have clear directions pinned up about what to do when there's a machine failure.

But back to our search for a motor-home. We specified within a radius of 30-50 miles, but still they come up in Devon or Aberdeen. We specified a certain price band, but invariably they hope one can stretch the budget to meet their prices, usually double our price limit. Finally we narrowed the search to four places in Suffolk. The first specialised in caravans and had only one motor-home, beyond our budget. The next two were either new sales, or very pricey, nearly new vans that were gleaming monstrosities, far bigger and dearer than we want. The last place boasted a family business in continuous operation for 45 years at the same site in Stowmarket. The sat-nav first led us to a caravan park near by, which we trudged round in the cold drizzle, but it had no vans for sale. When we finally tracked down this wonderful Stowmarket site, it had gone into receivership and closed down. Someone had entered a comment that we only found later: "well why didn't you close down your website too!" Amen to that.

Yesterday, Ann and I bought me a new coat. It doesn't sound much to write about, but for me clothes shopping is always a major trauma, and I need Ann to coerce me and to help choose. As usual, I bought the first one I saw, which was more than I usually pay but is very smart. I immediately wore it and carried the old one away to dispose of. It was well quilted and not in bad condition, but it had grown a bit tight on me, and the zip had a habit of popping open sometimes when I bent down. Walking back to the carpark while Ann continued shopping for herself, I used a narrow alley that looked threatening even in the day. Wedged among the detritus between the large commercial dustbins was a nearly-new sleeping bag, doubtless hidden by some homeless person while he went begging, so I hung the coat up on the dustbin beside the bag for him to find. If he wants it, I hope it proves useful.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Good news

Grandad John Celebrates
Yesterday, after a week of fearful anticipation, I went in for my first follow-up cystoscopy. I had barely given my name to the receptionist when I was called in by the two young GU nurses and told to drop my pants and lie on the couch. They inserted the anaesthetic cream then – without giving it time to take effect – pushed up the fibre-optic cystoscope, inviting me to look at the screen and see for myself whatever they found up there. The pain is intense, though, like the largest needle inserted inside and poked about, so most of the time I had my eyes screwed shut and my fists tensed up. The news, however, was good - no sign of recurrence, and minimal residual inflammation after the radiotherapy! So I am a free man for another three months. This illness has divided our friends and relatives into two camps, those who came through and gave support and practical aid, especially to Ann when she needed it most, and those who didn't.

Selfie in the Bell as we celebrate
We went on to look at camper vans as a possible way of enjoying Britain on the cheap, then for a celebratory meal in the Bell that evening. At the next table was a family, two boys, their mum and the step dad. Only the man was talking through the whole meal, and I had my back to them, so didn't know the boys or the mother were there until Ann told me, once they'd left. The Bell has been nicely updated, with a reasonable though pricey menu. The food was tasty, but very rich and filling, leaving me bloated, with bouts of diarrhoea through the night. The penalties of rich living when too old to enjoy it; moral: enjoy it while you may.

Today, we went to see the newly released "Keeper", the story of an ex German POW, Bert Trautmann, who went on to be the first foreign player signed for Manchester City. It showed the depth of prejudice against the Germans after the war, which I well remember from my mother who hated the race. She was Lancastrian, where the film was set, but had spent four years as a nurse in Leicester Infirmary during the intense bombing of that city and Coventry, and knew at first hand the horrors brought by that war. The film brought out the usual negative reviews of the critics for an upbeat, romantic film, but we love what they call "cheesy" films, and enjoyed it, and the countryside and accents of post-war Lancashire brought back memories of the visits we made to my grandparents at that time.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Some family history

I delved a little deeper into our genealogy, and have uncovered my 5-greats grandparents: Paul and Ann Moorhouse, married in 1782. Ancestry continue to make more documents available on line, and this came from a photocopy of the baptism record for my 4-greats grandfather Roger Moorhouse, leading to the church marriage registers in Goodshaw Chapel near Rochdale. 

Edwin has a friend who works for a couple forever fighting. The wife is in hiding from the police for assault, and now the husband drove his Bentley into work - literally - crashing it through the wall of the office! His friend was lucky not to be in its path.

We've just heard news that the wife of our neighbour over the road has died. She had severe dementia and declined quickly, before being admitted to a respite home and getting pneumonia. Next door, our other neighbour remains paralysed by his stroke, and is still in care. Ann continues to write her deep, disturbing or moving poetry. She also writes humorously, though more rarely these days. I include "Unisex" because it amused - we need to lighten up a bit to take us away from the parlimentary wreck of the Theresperus.


It won't be very difficult
to know who has gone before
as women wee on the seat
while men pee on the floor!

Monday, 1 April 2019

Mother's Day

At No 4 Restaurant for Mother's Day
We celebrated Mother's Day with a Johnny Cash tribute show at the Apex (a brilliant and realistic performance celebrating 50 years since the San Quentin performance), and a meal on Sunday at the No 4 restaurant in Bury with Edwin. Ann doesn't welcome flowers, chocolate or jewelry, but I gave her red roses (dead things) anyway as part of the traditional day.

Ann has thought of death often these last few days, in dreams and day-time reverie, and in much of her poetry. Coming home, she mused on the myriad bodies laid in Suffolk soil over thousands of years of history, in fields and ditches and graveyards, all now forgotten, not even ghosts in memory, and wondered that nothing more can happen to the spirit, that once the last memory of the person has died, their spirit too has gone for ever.

I too have mused on death, but they tend to be stupid, morbid thoughts that I generally suppress, such as wondering if my aftershave will last longer than me, or if I'll need to buy a new one, or thinking of the grandchildren going to University, and wondering that I might not witness it, or on a more frivolous note, wondering if I'll live long enough to see us exit Europe! More seriously, I cannot help believing against all the lack of evidence that there is a spiritual side to our lives that continues in some form. But that is the nature of faith - the opposite of evidential certainty, but the basis of hope.

We choose someone who
we wish to spend our life with,
share happy memories
with photographs we smile at
and, eventually, we die with.
We little know the dying comes too soon,
then one of us goes on alone
howling at God's moon.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Memento mori

Today we mourn the passing of Brexit day. It has died, not through one terminal defect, but by a thousand slices to its heart. None of our representatives has the mantle of a hero in the fray, or can ride from the field with valour. Mrs May alone has stood firm in purpose: some may suppose too firm, to the point of rigidity, and like the oak in a storm she has been felled when a willow might have bent to the gales. Now we will see the worms crawl from the earth to consume the carcass.

Interesting to read Sarah Vine's article praising May's ability, determination and general character. This is the same Vine who, married to Michael Gove, encouraged him to stab Boris in the back and stand for leader in his place. Now she is working to establish his credentials as a good and loyal Tory who worked tirelessly for his party's flawed policies, even as these ran in total contradiction to his own stated views. He is already a runner in the next leadership race, but way behind Boris in the popularity stakes; I speculate that Sarah Vine is already helping with some plot to take Boris down.

I hold no candle for any of them. May has not even had the courage to exit cleanly, but is clinging on in a desperate attempt to "secure her legacy" - as the woman who got us out of Europe! I do not think she will succeed, but will go down in history as "the woman who failed to get us out". I can now see no future for the leave campaign; I fear we will be dragged as in a vortex to an inevitable lengthy extension and ultimate humiliation as we crawl back into the black hole of subjugation and gradual decline.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The war drums sound

An interview with a labour TUC leader this afternoon saw her perpetuating the ageist myth. Asked how she reconciled the high number of leavers in working class areas with her claim that Brexit will impact on jobs, she explained that the young workers in the north had voted to remain; it was just the unemployed and retired elderly there who wanted to stay. I have been doubly slimed – I am the working elderly, yet she says my voice was of no importance; only the voice of young workers "who voted to remain" should carry weight. I judge that the war of words is only just beginning!

Ann and Edwin have gone into London to meet their friend Sylvia, while I watch the dogs. In the park, the woodpecker was drumming his tree like a war drum. I used to be taught that he did this to forage by encouraging insects and grubs to emerge, but this must be wrong – they only make the drumming sound in the spring, and I'm sure the insects don't pop out spontaneously for the rest of the year, or he'd starve. No, the drumming is clearly a mating ritual that ceases within a few weeks. I have only once seen one, two years ago when I moved slowly for half-an-hour beneath the trees with a crick in my neck. I took a photo then, but lost it when I updated my camera.

Tonight, I attended another Labour Party meeting. Not a lot seems to happen at these meetings, but they pass motions encouraging an end to child poverty or the shortage of doctors in Haverhill, and pass the resolutions on to the local MP or other appropriate group, where they are quietly ignored. Elections for the local council are to be held in May, and I was asked to stand for the Hundon ward, which might have been flattering except that at the moment the candidacy is vacant and they are desperate. However, I do not feel I could do the role justice. I have zero ability to bring diplomacy or tact to a meeting, and am too intolerant to suffer the shortcomings of others, for I know I have enough of my own to cope with.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Women advance their cause

I fully support female equality. I wish to state this at the outset because some unkind critics have suggested I may be a covert misogynist. I am not. I delight in women's achievements, and am glad to see them finally progressing up the equality stakes. They should get equal pay for the same jobs, and there should be no bar to progress in the boardroom, or to funding applications in academia. Indeed, from the number of female presenters and commentators we now see on television, I believe the balance is being redressed well, and the average should soon overtake the number of males. This is a good thing. Indeed, women are advancing in all fields so rapidly that their successes will soon out-perform those of men.

Women are certainly our equal, and in many ways our superiors. A recent study of brain scans in foetuses suggested that there are some innate differences in the structures according to gender. This was conducted in foetuses to avoid any later social influences. This has now been firmly debunked by a neuroscientist in a new book, who showed that the research was badly biased, and there are probably no important differences. However, such is the rate of progress in women's ambitions that, should such differences ever actually be shown to be present and of statistical significance, I believe that women will be fully justified in claiming that such differences signify a superiority in females, and lend force to their advancement in society beyond mere equality.

At least a world run by women will be more just, sensible and peaceful. No matter how much equality they get, I judge that female leaders such as Thatcher, May and Aung San Suu Kyi of Thailand will never match Genghis Khan, Trump or Stalin for severity, ineptitude or cruelty.

Monday, 25 March 2019


A good weekend in Birmingham meeting son Ben and Kaz, and brother Richard and Chris. We stayed in the old Rotunda in the heart of Birmingham, now converted into wealthy apartments and renamed Staying Cool. Ann's father had worked on the building during its construction in the early '60s and when it was offices Ann herself had taken a comptometer course there, something now confined to commercial museums and Wikipedia.

Ben has a stressful job helping people on low income or income support to sort out their debts and finances. It is not an easy job. He may struggle for them to obtain some money to help them through, but the following week when he returns, they have blown it on a pedigree dog or a huge television rather than pay of the rent arrears, then they expect to get another payment.

One heart-breaking story he told was how the drug gangs recruit young school children, offering huge payments that outdo teachers' salaries, then use threats against them or their families to keep them there. Children who wish to leave, or may have been robbed and can't pay the money they owe, face the threat of amputations, which have occasionally happened: but this doesn't seem to get in the news much. The police find it very difficult to get information, for even other children who are aware of it at school, are too frightened to report it on.

The family in Birmingham, Staying Cool
On a lighter vein, we strolled from Staying Cool to take refresh in The Alchemist, a lively spot on the circuit of the youth of the city before they hit the nightclubs. The place was awash with early celebrants in the throes of tanking up and we had to elbow our way through the door to face a barrage of noise and lively faces. Then, two girls stood and offered their table to Ann and Chris, gave them big hugs and said tables were like gold dust on a Saturday night, but we could have theirs! It brightens the spirit to see such thoughtfulness. We proceeded to enjoy our fizzing, smoking concoctions in comfort, despite the noise and press of people. Brummies are the nicest people.

Friday, 22 March 2019

More medical problems

West Suffolk Hospital is notorious for loosing test results. They have lost a few blood tests, ECGs, X-rays, and a full batch of respiratory tests. Once, they lost all of Mary-Anne's heart tests. But I finally managed to extract my blood test results from the GP after repeated visits and phone calls to the hospital. They showed stage 3 chronic renal failure. To put this in perspective, stage 4 requires dialysis, and stage 5 is "call the undertaker".

When Lucy heard the news, she immediately said she would be willing to donate a kidney, if required! How caring is that - the last thing I would have expected or wanted from anyone. I have been getting tired and can only walk slowly for some time now, and my taste has changed so even coffee tastes sour. I had put it down to post-radiotherapy, but perhaps it is the effect of having anaemia and being uraemic due to the kidney failure.

Yesterday came unhappy news that baby Theo was very ill, with diarrhoea and low blood sugar. He was rushed into hospital with a blue-light ambulance and kept overnight on a drip and antibiotics. This morning he was more alert though still with the diarrhoea, but the good news now is that he has been allowed to return home, so we all hope for a quick return to good health.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Of strokes and a death

Every mornng since returning from India, our neighbour Linda has left for the hospital early and come back late to be with her husband David, who had a major stroke out there. Today I saw her washing the car which David used to polish each morning but today it was covered in the mud of neglect, and managed to talk with her. David has been moved to a rehabilitation unit for physio and speech therapy, and this was the first day she had got for herself. But even as we spoke, the phone went and the unit said he had interpreted his limited words to say he wanted her there, so she lost the day.

Although my Japanese company has gone quiet, Galen are still sending work from Northern Ireland. Today I had a training morning for a new approval system, which ‒ unusually – actually looks easier to use and with better options than the old.

This afternoon, Mary-Anne and girls came round. They had some sad news – gravely announcing the death of their new budgie. They had only had it for a week.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The dentist

A visit to the dentist is always dreaded, and today came fully up to expectation. With the dentist himself I was fortunate: a couple of X-rays, a bit of poking round, and the message that the teeth were all still there and functioning normally, with no change in outlook to the dental bulletin. But then the bombshell: "We'll just get the hygienist to clean them up a bit." 

The dentist only spent ten minutes with me, but the hygienist made up for that with a full half-hour of total torment. "Just try to relax," she cooed, with the soothing tones of Beria calming a victim bound for Stalin's gulag. I was taut enough for my rigid legs to be in the air, forty-five degrees from the couch like a man with tetany. My lips would not relax from the gums, and my dry tongue kept attempting to push the instruments aside in reflex protest. Luckily this emissary from hell had fixed dark protective goggles over my eyes, so she could not see the desperate terror behind the mask.

I believe, on the whole, I behaved well. I didn't swear or scream, and I forced my legs back to the couch to simulate a relaxed state. I brought my head back in line with the light, and managed to crack my mouth open a little, enough for the white-coated monster to quickly slide in a suction pipe and mirror, followed rapidly by a screaming drill. Each tooth was attacked ferociously, as though she intended to root them out like unwanted weeds at Kew. She finally finished, and proffered a small plastic cup of green swill to remove the blood and debris. I stood and shook my head, thinking the teeth might fall and scatter like beads from a broken necklace, but by some miracle they were still intact, and I had survived for another year.

When Ann came out from her check up, she was smiling and boasting of her super white teeth. "They're always so gentle and understanding there," she said, "I never mind going to them."

Monday, 18 March 2019

Troubles with tax

Chris, who runs the antique centre in Clare, intercepted me this morning as I walked past to collect my prescription. Ann always tries to avoid him, and won't walk past the centre when he's there, as he is very talkative. I think it must be an Irish trait. We opened the conversation by swapping our medical states and discussing symptoms - always an easy topic of conversation as we become more elderly. He confirmed that he is continuing with plans to convert the centre into apartments, and has shut half the units, asking people to leave or double up if they had two units. Our old unit is one that is going, so it seems we judged right to leave last year, otherwise we'd have been thrown out this year. It is going to change the character of Clare when it finally closes, as antiques have defined the town for many years, and it has featured in both Lovejoy and the Antiques Road Show.

The chemist asked me to complete a questionnaire when I finally collected the prescription. It seems the NHS demand they give these out from time to time, to check up how their pharmacies are performing, and asks a lot of detailed questions about the length of wait, and the cleanliness and politeness of the assistants. I knew his father Mr Smith Snr well during my time as a GP, and remember his son Mr Smith Jr. joining some years ago when he was fresh out of pharma school, so needless to say I answered every question very positively. I imagine most of the people who bother to return the forms are regulars and motivated to complete such pointless things, so I dare say we all give him A-stars.

This contrasts markedly with Inland Revenue, who are threatening to send the bailiffs in for an unpaid bill, which I have paid, and which our accountants say we don't need to anyway as it is a software error on their part. He has contacted them three times that I know of, and they say they are aware of the error but are still waiting for the computer engineers to sort it out! I tried phoning them this afternoon, but could get nothing but hold music and the message that demand for their services is exceptionally heavy. The call costs 12p/min, and when the total estimated phone bill reached the level of interest they say I owe, I rang off. My God, they take enough from us with their threats and claims, but are very reluctant to send any back or talk about their problems.

The letter from grandson Luke ("Matts and Rosie make dinner") mentioned that he enjoys programming and may decide to become a programmer. At the present rate of progress of Inland Revenue, he'll get his degree and be able to work for them and fix their problems in the time they are taking to sort them out.

This weekend, we planned to visit a number of people during our forthcoming trip to Birmingham. Alas one of them has not yet replied; last time we offered to come to see them, they suddenly found they were away that weekend. Ann and I joke that they haven't replied this time because they're busy trying to book somewhere else for this weekend. Perhaps we are not meant to visit just yet.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Matts and Rosie make dinner

Two events to recall yesterday. First, Edwin left for a weekend in Birmingham with one of his friends. He took a full hamper of booze with him (mostly vodkas) to stay in an Airbnb apartment. He has sent some videos of them making merry in a nightclub, which looks like an exciting rave and very lively. Oh for the energy of youth again! He also visited Cadbury World, which he describes as stuck in the '90s, and unchanged since he visited with us as a young boy, but they have now stopped all the tastings that used to make it interesting.

Matts and Rosie entertaining us
Second, Matthew and Rosie came for the afternoon, and made is a late lunch. As I sat watching Wales thrash the hell out of Ireland to take the Grand Slam, our two gallant visitors took over the kitchen to prepare a major three-course meal. This was a real boon, as both Ann and I have been feeling increasingly tired: me from fighting the disease, and Ann from her deep concern and all the extra work she is having to do; so to have people come round and take on a meal, and tidy everything away afterwards, was a double bonus and worth highlighting. Matthew always takes a photo record of every meal he eats, so naturally he had to snap this one: this time as a selfie to include the four of us.

Today, we were still well filled from the meal, so just bought cheeses in the local farm shop for a light snack. Also, our grandson Luke sent a long letter with some photos, a rare treat indeed and proving that the art of letter writing is not dead. I am now challenged to reply to him by letter rather than by email, but he writes much better than I.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Problems with pets and the EU.

Writing a blog is a strange experience. I meet no famous people; I am not caught up in momentous events; even the impending changes of Brexit have no direct impact. I may add a minor aside, but any deeper thoughts seem to be just a reflection of news items. The only direct consequence for me is that the Japanese work has dried up as the company retreats from the UK, and Galen have registered a new business unit in Ireland to deal with the EU, and our QPPV (qualified person in pharmacovigilance) now has to appoint a separate new person to cover Europe. Like so many people interviewed I want to scream “just get on with it!” If we just quit it could not be worse than these stifling fruitless debates, and all would rapidly sort out.

So I’ll talk instead about the dogs. We took them to the vets yesterday for their annual injections. Byron is a bit of a coward, so hid beneath the chair and had to be pulled out when he immediately jumped onto Ann's lap for protection. Bronte had not problem with the injection, but kennel cough is given by nasal drops, and she struggled like a bronco every time the vet approached her. I did not realise how much strength a dog has in its head. Two of us with three hands gripping the head could barely restrain her, but finally they were in - although the vet did need to open a second vial. Then Bronte started retching and coughing as though she had been poisoned, and managed to bring up a pool of phlegm onto the floor, for the vet to clean up.

Afterwards we visited our friends Robin and Yvonne, with a long chat about the problems of relationships. Being loving grandparents ought to be a simple and joyous time, but occasionally problems may arise in interpretation of the role. We just hope all sorts out before too long. 

Mary-Anne has now added a budgie to their menagerie. They hope to teach it to speak, so I look forward to hearing what words it acquires. Her hens have continued to lay throughout the winter, giving her a large accumulation of eggs. Ann has sent her some egg boxes, so I speculate that perhaps she will begin to make some pin money selling fresh free-range organically produced eggs.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Centre Parcs

This weekend we have come to Centre Parcs for a spell of relaxation.
I have hired a bike to get about, as I walk slowly and would delay everyone. I don't seem to get to the venues any quicker though, as I regularly get lost in the maze of roadways crisscrossing the grounds.

Two months after my radiotherapy, I had hoped to notice improvement, but I'm still waiting. Ann looked at the Macmillan cancer site, and found a few people who said it took a year for things to settle, though they too had been told they would be bad for only a month or so. Perhaps oncologists have a secret plan to tell all patients to "give it a month", to prevent despondancy decsending.

This morning I am alone, as everyone has gone to play bowls or have coffee. I had hoped to try a short bike ride, but it is only 4 degrees outside and still raining, and I am no masochist. The main thing about this venue is the peace - the cabins are set in thick woodland in Elveden Forest, and it is silent. I don't get up till late, and still enjoy an afternoon nap.

Coming home, I am still trying to get a blood result from two weeks ago to see if I am getting more anaemic. The hospital say they have sent it to the surgery, and the surgery say they haven't got it from the hospital. I keep phoning one, then the other, but nothing available yet. Telephone ping-pong is no fun, especially as the oncologist's secretary is only in on Mon and Thurs, and the GP surgery will only accept requests for results between 2-4 pm. But I keep trying.

Thursday, 7 March 2019


We have just received a poem from the widow of my American cousin, who died suddenly last year from West Nile virus. It is one of the saddest and most moving we have read, getting to the heart of a loving relationship - and its ending. I reproduce it in its entirety, for all who have suffered loss and are grieving.

Alone is the saddest word
Even though we know we are separate
We disguise what we cannot deny
By loving and allying ourselves with a partner
If we’re lucky
We tell ourselves we are protected,
No longer alone, joined and safe
We happily live with this delusion
Until we can’t
When, stunned by a bulbous intruder lodged in an artery,
Our partner’s heart ceases to beat
The gurney holds just one
And when our partner slips away
Aloneness settles over us like a fog
We are exposed, defenseless
No one has our back or loans a front
Everyone else seems ballasted
We could say our companion is just travelling
Or busy in another room
But we can’t
We become anxious
We want to flee or hide
We cry at odd times, such as when someone asks,
“How are you?”
It was not supposed to end this way
The final curtain call was a future event
No one would be left alone
What happens when everything changes?
First, there are no tears
Numb, you move and talk by rote
You do not allow yourself to fall apart
You exist in a parallel universe
With your best friend forever gone you write an obituary
Though the person who knows you best
Will never write one for you
You accept that you will die alone
You become a seeker
You ask, “What is the point of being alive?”
You make a list
Your love your family
You like politics, reading, thinking
You find your friends stimulating
You are warmed by the kindness of people
All solid reasons
None convince you
You fear you have lost the will to live
You rant at the random hurt of the world
Still, you get up in the morning
You do this day after day
You do this though the clothes you’re wearing
Are the same clothes you wore yesterday
You feed your dog and look in her eyes
Grateful to be welcomed
You get up because that is what
Your body has been trained to do
You get up because the life force
Pushes you to persist, even when it’s clear
That the point is that there is no point
Yet you decide to keep looking
For reasons to stay engaged
You tell yourself your missing partner
Would want you to do that
But you do not delude yourself
You are tired of deluding yourself
You feel sure that for the foreseeable future
The point of it all has been lost

Betsy Marston

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Work continues but in new directions

There is now a hiatus in my work as the immediate work has been moved to Japan.They haven't dismissed me, but are keeping me "available" in case they suddenly need to move ahead. Unfortunately, I am one of the modern brigade on zero-hours contracts, so our income has suddenly diminished; but fortunately this gives me time to do some of the jobs about the house that have been waiting. Some have been waiting for some time.

Last week I repainted the saloon that is Edwin's office, and the downstairs toilet. Now I have the back door to paint. There is certainly never any shortage of this type of work.

Our toilet seat cover had developed an alarming split, after I used it as a seat to pull on my socks. Yesterday we duly went to the local B-and-Q to spend an hour looking for a new one. Most of the time there seemed to be discussing which of us could remember correctly what shape and size it was. We wandered up and down in the company of another woman on an identical hunt, who phoned her partner to ask, but was still non the wiser. Eventually we wandered down together to pay for them, so the woman on the till could tell us both they couldn't change them if they'd been opened. I guess a number of people coming in for toilet seats must be in the same uncomfortable position. At least the manufacturers try to be helpful: their instructions include: "Choice of bottom fixing."

An email in my inbox this morning offered to "Free up your flow." It was unclear if this was cash flow, or if the junk mailers had somehow learnt of my urinary problems. Either way, being spam, I deleted it without daring to look too closely.