Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Anniversary dinner

Today is the anniversary of our wedding. Twenty six days since the day snow covered the car to give us a white wedding. We tied ribbons to the car, to give some semblance of a traditional event, but Peter, my brother who was driving us, started the windscreen wipers to clear the snow. They caught the ribbons and blew them off so they fluttered like pennants.

Today is still and warm as an early day in summer. The carpets of snow drops are the finest for years, and still all out, with wild daffodils blooming among the briers, and by the riverbank a solitary flawless crocus was catching the sun.
Wild winter crocus in Clare Wood
We had thought of a celebratory meal out tonight, but decided instead to have romantic fish and chips, and chip butties for Ann with mushy peas. For entertainment, we watched a new video, First Man. Though a bit short on technical detail, it gave good emphasis to Armstrong's character though it did somewhat neglect all the other characters, but I suppose that was only fair in view of its title.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Various visits

Ann at Wicken Fen
Wanting to visit Matthew and Rosie on Sunday, we decided to have an impromptu Saturday night away. Ann found a vacancy in The Lazy Otter at Stretham on the fens and, being members of the National Trust, we used our cards for the first time with a visit to Wicken Fen, an ancient stretch of marshland abounding in drainage ditches and reeds. The cafe was too busy to queue for, being an outstandingly warm February with the schools still off, so we went on to the pub at Wicken which was much quieter, and served a delightful meal.

Only a couple of years ago, Edwin and I walked to The Lazy Otter from Stretham Mill where we'd moored the boat, but now I was tired after a few hundred yards and was glad to turn back for a rest on our bed before dinner.

Rosie and Matts enjoy the sun in King's Lynn
Next day, on to Matts and Rosie in King's Lynn, and a visit to admire their new allotment. More accurately, we could only admire the work they intend to do on an empty plot. It looks big to me, but their enthusiasm for the work ahead is inspiring. Rosie has drawn up a sketch map of where she intends to plant everything, with a wide variety of veg of all kinds, so we look forward to sampling them before the end of summer!

Friday, 22 February 2019

Dumbed down news and spooky Siri

Every day, the BBC News seems dumber than the day before; it seems to be becoming a programme of social awareness, rather than of news. It used to be news from their own correspondents from around the world; now it is the voice of vox pop opinion, and tearful reports of injustice, interlaced with snippets about the lifes of unknown "celebrities" or minor royals.

One reads of continuing harassment and sexual exploitation in the workplace, but in 20 years of working in a huge variety of offices of pharmaceutical companies, I have never seen anything less than respect between my fellow workers, be they people of colour, or with disabilities, or in sexual orientation. Edwin is only 25, yet already he is seeing the next generation coming along, 18-19 year olds are what we might call the "#MeToo" generation; they are more reserved and prudish than the generation of 23-25 year olds, as though the shock waves from the many recent revelations of inappropriate behaviour have served to dampen entheusiasm for innuendo or flirting.

Edwin in the kitchen, talking of some book he'd been asked to cover, said "I don't have the knowledge to talk about that." Siri suddenly turned on and answered him, "No, you don't have the knowledge!" Spooky! His friend in Cambridge has been asked to run Cambridge gay pride this year. It is a big responsibility, but he will manage to act as Edwin's campaign manager. The posters are done now, and very fine too, with a casual b/w picture of Edwin relaxing on campus and extolling his many virtues as a student rep.

I made another silly boobie this afternoon. I thought I had an follow-up appointment with the GU surgeon for the bladder cancer, but when I got there it was the dermatology clinic follow-up for my melanoma! Happily that is OK at the moment with no sign of recurrence.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Jenny Wren's

Another spring-like day, and went to Rodbridge common in Long Melford. They have a tea room there in a converted container called Jenny Wren's Tea Shack, where Ann went while I took the dogs. Unfortunately it had closed at 3pm, but Ann got taking to the owner who agreed to make two late teas in paper cups. As I walked back, I saw a family with two children go up for drinks, but were refused. "Huh!" the man muttered, "It's who you know." They do a wide menu, and we promised to go back to sample it when it's open officially.

Despite the restful day, I still get very tired by nightfall, and am glad to lie in my extendable chair with a warm blanket. Tomorrow I go back to the surgeon for my first official check up, so I await has verdict with some concern, though there is still no blood in the urine.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dreams and scams

Bronte and Byron in Clare castle park
My health is gradually improving, like the weather. Clare castle park was lovely today, and enjoyed by many families with the children off school. The dogs too are always happy there to run loose and wild in the woods.

We had someone knock casually on the door last week, offering to clean the gutters, which I agreed to. When he'd done, he said the roof needed repairs, with loose cement and tile, and he could do the job for £1400. When I disagreed, he said he could "do it today" for £1000. I asked for his card and a written quote, but neither came. Yesterday a builder friend of Sam's came round to look at the roof. He said the cracks were minor, and there need be no rush to make them good. He also noted all the loose cement the other guys had thrown on the lawn. He would come when he could, and would do it all for £200.

Last night, I dreamt of two old friends, Colin and Ann. With uncanny synchronicity, Colin's sister phoned today, to say she'd just spoken with Ann, and Colin would love to see me. He has bad Alzheimer's, but Ann is sure he will remember me. I explained I had been too unwell to go recently, but now I'm growing stronger, I hope to make the journey soon.

Strange that in the news, three Tories have joined the 8 labour rebels. They seem to be united by a single issue: they are all ardent Brexit remainers. I can't imagine what purpose they will find to unite them once Brexit has happened; they will probably sink like all such single-issue parties.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Political diversions

Left alone for a quiet day - Ann has gone to London shopping with MA and the two girls; Edwin was at Uni all day, so I am left to work alone - at least that has picked up a little, but otherwise not much happening here.

News-wise, seven MPs have deserted Labour to set up their own party. Minor parties in the UK have a poor history of success, so predictions are that they will collapse within one or two terms of parliament as voters desert them. But all new parties, like ideas, must struggle against the odds or there would be nothing new. It will be interesting to see if any more MPs join them, or if they remain a brief flash in the pan of Westminster.

Closer to home, Edwin is standing as Union rep at his Uni, and had an instructional talk today about how to win elections. He has now appointed an official campaign manager, tasked with handing out leaflets and drumming up publicity. I had no idea these things were taken so seriously - but I guess I've never been a political activist. When I was in junior school, I was asked to stand for an election for class monitor. Naively, I told the other candidate I would vote for him if he voted for me. I lost. The most I've done since was a protest march against the invasion of Iraq, and being accidentally caught up in the protest against climate change (see Brussels). But Edwin enjoys political thrust, and unlike me is good with people, so I wish him – and may he do – well.

Please send a comment if you have opinions about the new Independence Group, or remember protests you have joined.
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Sunday, 17 February 2019

Rabbits, candles and leaks

Lighting candles at Walsingham

An unexpected sudden break for one night to Walsingham, when Ann phoned to find a vacancy at short notice. We are staying at The Control Tower, a converted 2nd WW airfield tower converted to B&B rooms. Ann only phoned yesterday so we got the last room - it’s very cosy (small) and cold but a friendly reception with coffee and biscuits. The host reminded me so strongly of the villain from "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit", that I wondered if Nick Park had stayed here while he was working on the film. His name was Nigel, and when he told us he was plagued by rabbits eating all their vegetables, and he was working on ways to trap them and take them to other areas, I could hardly stop laughing.

We visited Walsingham shrine to light candles for those who might need them. We lit a lot of candles; but the church and slipper chapel were deserted so they shone to God alone. Next day we went on to Wells-Next-The-Sea. From the town, we drove one and a half miles out along the breakwater road to reach the sand, but it was low water and the sea of the Wash was another two miles away in the far distance. A lot of families were parking there and walking over the breakwater, the children carrying their buckets and spades for the day was so mild. even in February. One child, looking at the distant sea line, said, "That's funny - the sea's gone dry!" The place should more accurately be called "Wells-Far-From-The-Sea".

Looking for the sea at Wells-Next-The-Sea
On the way home, our peace was broken by Edwin phoning to say the new taps in the downstairs toilet were leaking, and he was having to keep moping it up. We rushed home and carried on moping while Ann phoned the plumber. He had only fitted the new taps a couple of days ago, but he came straight out and fixed it, though inevitably adding, "I don't know why it started to leak like that - it was fine when I left it," as though it was our fault.

Friday, 15 February 2019

In Memoriam

Last night the tumble drier died and dried no more. With a great heap of wet washing to go through, we rushed out to buy a replacement, so going into PC World we asked, "what have you got in stock we can take now?" The guy printed out a list, so we walked up and down stopping only at those on his list. The price varied hugely, but as they never seem to last long how ever much we pay, when it comes to electrical items we have got into the habit of buying the least expensive. We came home with a Hotpoint, plugged it in and away it went, normality restored. Today I took the old carcass to the tip.

Memorial beech tree, Clare
Walking in Clare, I was struck by how many memorial plaques there are. A beech tree bears a brass reminder of Max who died 11 years ago, but still hung with baubles, teddy bears and ribbons freshly planted each Christmas and birthday, still remembered as the 5 year old he was. A bench celebrates an old dog-walking companion, Harriett and her Labrador Victor Hugo, that Bronte would espy across the park and race to greet. When she died, Harriett was unfound for three days, and her dog was so disturbed they had to have him put down. High on the wall of the old castle remnant are more enduring plaques to people who died in 1920, but even here occasional flowers are still left, such are the dead revered.
Castle wall memorials, Clare

Tonight I wanted to hear a talk by Carlo Rovelli, a famous Italian physicist whose books I have read. I allowed an hour and a half to go the 20 miles to Cambridge, but the traffic was so snarled up I couldn't move, and as the hour passed for the talk to start, I could only turn round and return home, frustrated and unenlightened. It is like a metaphor for a life. Next time, I shall have to leave earlier.

Eternity Leave

I read a cancer death
described as eternity leave,
and it is perfect,
to the pinpoint,
accurately describing the end,
no sweet smelling flowers
or lengthy sympathetic words
just eternity leave
going on forever.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Hacking down Haverhill

Haverhill willows cut down
Beside Sainsbury’s is a wild park where oft I walk the dogs. Or wild it was until the environmental tree cutters took their power saws to it. It had a fine line of mature willows following the stream in  a vast acreage, now not coppiced but savagely butchered along with the scrub land and surrounding tree line. In whose name do they work such savagery? Certainly not for the wild life nor we who walk here.

I phoned for my blood results this afternoon: they show mild renal failure and increasing anaemia. Probably explains why I get so breathless and tire so easily. Renal failure is certainly associated with bladder cancer, and may account for my severe itching and weakness also. I will start some iron tablets today, and see if they help.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Requiem for days past


The war torn faces
staring from pages
of a history book,
could be Syrian or Yemeni,
different profiles,
different politics,
same harrowed, sunken eyes,
the crawling cat of death
with its blooded claws of red,
ready to pounce on innocent prey,
requiem of yesterday
meets war of today.

Again walking in Clare Country Park, seeing the destruction of the old railway shed in the name of modernisation. It was an original loading shed with a length of siding still running into it, and an old side-loading wagon against the loading platform with a mini-exhibition of old photos of Clare station and maps of the old railway routes (see "Clare is a different place").

Now they are smashing out the walls and raising the roof to add "insulation" to bring it up to modern standards. Most of the car-park is blocked off by their work, and the main entrance to the park is closed; everyone has to tramp through the mud and bushes at the side if they wish to enter from the car-park. They have also fenced off the far side and dug a deep slit trench to lay something or other. The whole scene has an air of devastation.  I am surprised there was no conservation order on the building, such was once its quiet link to Victorian England, and the coming of the railways.

Mike in his army days
Mike has requested a copy of the pictures of his time in the army. He sent us the pictures, framed, many years ago, and I had to dig them out, but today I sent them off. I'm not sure why he suddenly wants the pictures now; perhaps he is recalling times past, as we all do from time to time. He served in Bosnia and looked very much the professional. We haven't seen his new house yet, but he is always meticulously clean and neat, a hangover no doubt from his early army training.

One of the agencies phoned today with an offer of a 6 month contract, but full time and in central London, so I declined it. However, today also came news that there is a bit more work coming through in my present job, so that's encouraging. We should be alright again this week!

Monday, 11 February 2019

Funny signs and symptoms

The problem with cancer is that it turns every ache of age into a threat of worse. Diarrhoea? It must have spread to the bowel! Those mild abdominal pains? It must be invading the liver. Achy joints? No longer a bit of arthritis, but infiltartion of the bones. Mild forgetfulness? It must be brain secondaries.

We all get aches and pains and mild functional change, but cancer magnifies and intensifies them as we wait to see if it is striking somewhere else. I cannot claim it is dread or fear, but an angry annoyance that it might still be there waiting to strike again. On the up side, every day counts as precious as it's driven home just how limited our little lives are.

In Bury today to do a bit of shopping and see a film, "Stan and Ollie", a moving tribute to the last days of the wild duo. It's extremely well-acted, in total convincing character, and I recommend anyone who enjoyed their films to see it. Most of the light audience were young: we were the eldest people there. I do wonder what a young audience might think, though. It is such old-fashioned humour, and was already dated and pre-war when they did their final tours of Britain. Nevertheless, their routines formed the backbone of much post-war humour, and it is worth seeing for a sense of the history of comedy.

Saturday, 9 February 2019


Some old friends came round last night – old in the sense that Ann and I were no longer the eldest in the room. Yvonne and Robin are MA's in-laws, so we have known them since MA and Sam married. Rae and Malcolm are the parents on one of the teachers in the village school, whom we met when Edwin was being tutored at home. We had a simple meal –  everyone agreed to fish and chips, from the takeaway in Clare, though Ann didn't eat the fish, and some of the others didn't want the chips. But it was enjoyable and the talk flowed freely over the beer/wine.

Some intimacies were shared, though this blog is not permitted to confess them to a wider public. Rae told us how she met Malcolm; she was only 16 and he was dating her best friend. She lost a friend and won a partner. Later, when Malcolm told us how he does all the cooking and always cleans up afterwards, Yvonne said, "no wonder you had two women fighting over you!"

Yvonne has lived in the local area all her life, and remembers riding the train from Clare to Cambridge when it was still running, before the Beeching Axe. Ann mentioned the conversation about the dypsomaniac we'd overheard in the Swan the previous day (Embarrassments with strangers). "Ah yes, Daphne," she said. "She did like her drink. She was really pretty and used to be a model – then worked as a barmaid in the Bell, and they had pictures of her on the walls. She was only 42 when she died, from alcohol poisoning. But it was back in the 60's!" No signs of dementia in Yvonne.

 I took Ann's car into Nico's car wash today. They had a huge price-list on the wall,  showing the typical cost of a car wash with examples of the type of car in each category. Under "Small cars" they had "e.g. Mini ******". It had been "e.g. Mini Copper", but they couldn't correct it once it was painted on, so they'd blanked it out with electrician's tape.

Every wall in Nico's warehouse was papered with adverts for local businesses. One said, "Earn £500/week for doing nothing" and had a photo of a stash of £20 notes to emphasise it was genuine. Another was a notice about a local accountancy firm for small businesses.  Unfortunately it had other notices stuck all over it for the employees and customers: "slippery when wet"; "no admittance beyond this point"; and "Toilets →". The workers had even screwed in a hook in the accountancy notice, to hang up some of their rags.

One of the biggest and most prominent of notices was for "A. Jones and Son, Heating Engineers". Alan Jones calls at our house every year by sending us a card with the date on which he will call, and that dares us to cancel it on pain of our boiler exploding. He then takes about 20 minutes to take the front off the boiler and vacuum clean the dust inside it, before charging us about £150 including V.A.T. for the privilage of his presence. No wonder he can afford a massive bill board in Nico's.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Embarrassments with strangers

Two ambulances were queued outside the antiques warehouse in Clare this morning after I had walked the dogs. Distracted, I forgot to shut the boot to the car and so drove to the Swan with the dogs peering out of the back! Luckily they didn’t try to escape or jump down in the road.
Ann was having her hair done so I had a coffee in the Swan while waiting for her. It was better than any from Costa or Starbucks and only £2; amazing value with a comfy armchair before a roaring log fire to sit beside. These old pubs could make a fortune if they turned themselves into coffee bars and served morning biscuits, or afternoon tea with cakes, rather than rely on the casual trade of an alcoholic public.
Overheard in the pub, the men were gossiping about heavy drinkers they had known. One mentioned a women they knew, whom he'd told her directly: "You're a dipsomaniac!" "No," she answered, "I am no such thing. I'm an alcoholic."
Another mentioned he'd left the pub one day and a strange women came over to him and kissed him. Suddenly she stepped back and said, "Oh sorry, I thought you were someone else. "I didn't mind," he said, "I just told her she should have gone to Spec Savers."
Ann's mother used to tell a similar story: in a toy shop one day, she seized a blow-up hammer and ran up and hit Ann's dad on the head. He turned round, and it was someone else. Ann's cousin Joyce had a similar tale about her mum who always used to pinch the butcher's bum when he bent down — until one day it wan't the butcher but a total stranger.

Message from Ann in response to yesterday's blog, work-too much and lack of.
The plumber came yesterday to fix our toilet that was refusing to fill. He was telling her that two of his nephews with degrees who live in London cannot find jobs either. One worked two years for the Prison Service and applied to join the Police Force. They told him that he did not have experience with the general public — prisoners are obviously not classed as the general public!!

Please send a comment if you would like to share some embarrassing moment you had with a stranger.
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Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Work - too much and a lack of

The employment market is very deceptive. My own job is winding down, and may finish soon, but new work seems in short supply. Ann says I can start to do all the jobs round the house that need fixing.

Two of Edwin's friends, both with MAs and experience in a number of jobs, are unable to get work. Northern Alice lives near Nottingham in a job where she is unhappy, but cannot move. She even applied for a job in Leeds, but they refused to interview her, saying she was "out of the area", though she had told them she wished to move. Another friend in Ashford could not get a job even in retail over Christmas. Low paid jobs in London would not cover the price of his rail fare, so they too are out. Are the political statistics deliberately deceptive? We do wonder.

Since Ann's cataract was removed, she is suddenly seeing all sorts of things she was blind to before. Especially dirt and dust. "Why didn't you do it?" she wonders, but I seem to have an inbuilt blindness to it. Now Ann sees it everywhere and has gone about in a frenzy of cleaning every floor and surface she can find. She says when friends come now, they'll think they are in the wrong house, and will ask "Where's Miss Havisham gone with all her cobwebs?"

Brexit drags on, with Nigel Farage haranguing the BBC for their bias against Brexit. Even though the BBC is supposed to be neutral, and even with more than 50% of the country in favour of Brexit, their bias is obvious. Their news items are always slanted against Brexit; their discussion panels are heavily weighted with remainers, and they ignore worthy news items that are pro Brexit, such as Nigel Farage's impressive rant against Juncker and Barnier. Yet for all this bias, and the lack of political will in parliament, a majority of the people still wish to leave the EU. For me, the reason is simple: I hate being told what to do, and rebel against it. Just the fact of the EU dictocrat stating we are foolish to want to leave makes me harden against them.

Please send a comment if you've experienced a lack of work opportunities, despite the hype to the contrary.
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Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Clare wilderness

Clare park has a tract of wild wood where I love to walk the dogs, away from the regular paths. Few people know it, so I generally have it to myself, a place where the dogs can run among the trees and disturb nobody. In the summer, some people had decorated the trees with ribbons and laced woodwork, to make a magic grotto reminiscent of the woods around the Tor at Glastonbury, but the park rangers soon ripped it down.

What was once wilderness
is now just torn shrub,
caterpillars tearing roots
yelling for yet more life,
Nature has been raped
its innocence rotted to decay,
and we are all the poorer
for nature's death in our today.

Today I entered to find the foresters have been working to cut back the wilderness. Great iron caterpillars have gouged up the earth, tearing up the moss, bracken, snowdrops and early bluebells to leave muddy ruts that catch the feet and cling to the dogs paws and my shoes. They have cut back the undergrowth and cropped the trees, leaving great mess of broken branches and ripped up shrubs, blocking the intimate paths between the trees. What a wild mess the wood is. Wilderness is such a rare and precious amenity it should be encouraged, not pruned back. Soon there will be no wild areas left, and we shall all be the poorer for it.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Hartlepool visit

We paid homage to our some of our grandchildren yesterday with a trip north to see Lucy and her new partner Andy and the children and the newest one Theo plus Aaron. Lucy laid on a great tea and they surrendered their own bed for us. They have a fabulous old house with walls like battlements and a gated entrance. Unfortunately it still needs much doing, especially the plumbing but it will be great when all is done.

Barry, the Great Ex’s second husband, died just five years ago. He too had cancer though much further advanced than mine when it was discovered. He was a devout Christian and believed he would be cured by miraculous intervention so refused to discuss his dying. This meant he couldn’t talk about finances or insurance or funeral arrangements he might want.

Today we met up with Mike for lunch in Sedgefield and then two of Ann’s oldest friends Lorna and Nicky. MA was their bridesmaid and they have several pictures of her on the walls. LOrna is artistic and has done some beautiful tapestries with such fine detail and subtle colours they look like paintings. Finally we took the road south as it was growing dark, deciding to stay somewhere en route to break the journey. We looked in vein as far as Newark, a most barren town. Ann started to phone round and even Ben and Kaz started a remote search to help. Finally Ann found somewhere - the Allington Manor Hotel, a fine ancient house which creaks with ghosts. They don’t serve dinner but the pub across the road did, and we could retreat to the hotel for drinks before the fire.