Wednesday, 11 December 2019

On trying to look young, and actually being young

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

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

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

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Modern life

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The last party

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 2 December 2019

Finding joy in variety

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

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

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

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

Winter sunrise over Hundon

Sunday, 1 December 2019

The Great X feeds her foxes

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

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

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

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Contracts made and broken

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

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

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

The trials of buying a car

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 24 November 2019

It's time to change

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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 November 2019

On hypertension and strokes

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

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

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

Monday, 18 November 2019

All men are oversexed

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

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

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

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Some famous (near) contacts

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

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

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

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

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

An ambulance arrives for our neighbour

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Hospital chit chat

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

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

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

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Who benefits from Farage's challenge to the Tories?

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

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

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

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Misfortunes deserved and undeserved

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Dignitas and caring for people

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

The bells are ringing

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 November 2019

I hear no bell

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

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

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Winning and losing

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Hairy tales

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

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

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Happy birthday

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

Families at war

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

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

Friday, 25 October 2019

Hospital visits, then and now

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

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

Monday, 21 October 2019

Holidays at home and abroad

Rosie and Matts prepare a spread
This week is hard, as we are looking after MA's animals while they are on holiday, which requires us to visit three times a day to deal with fish, hens, guinea pig and dogs. However, Matthew and Rosie are on holiday too this week, and came down from Kings Lynne to prepare a fantastic spread for us. They have begun special diets and shared them with us, using vegetarian and gluten-free ingredients to prepare a magnificent curry with rice, noodles and special vegies. They brought, prepared and cooked everything, and even cleared away fully afterwards. We are indebted!

For ourselves, we have chosen a New Year holiday to try and make up for the holiday we lost last year, when our lives were interrupted by my radiotherapy. Hopefully this year will run more smoothly, and we will have a long, warm break in a foreign city where we can chill out and forget work and worries for a while. Here's to Singapore and a great New Year.

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.