Friday, 29 March 2019

Memento mori

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

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

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

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The war drums sound

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

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

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

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Women advance their cause

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

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

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

Monday, 25 March 2019


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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 March 2019

More medical problems

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

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

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

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Of strokes and a death

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

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

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

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The dentist

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

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

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

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

Monday, 18 March 2019

Troubles with tax

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Matts and Rosie make dinner

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Problems with pets and the EU.

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 March 2019

Centre Parcs

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 March 2019


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

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

Betsy Marston

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Work continues but in new directions

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Visit to Luxembourg

March 1st, the first day of spring, and I am awoken by a shrill alarm at 3 a.m. to catch an 8 a.m. flight to Luxembourg. Edwin likes to be early for these things, so we arrived at Terminal 3 by 5 a.m. for breakfast. We used the Cathay Pacific lounge rather than the BA lounge as not many people know they can, so it is underused. Edwin had a soup and freshly prepared dim sum. Landing in Luxembourg, we were greeted with a tannoy announcement asking for me to go to baggage handling as they had last my bag, having failed to load it at Heathrow. They promised to put it on the next flight out and deliver it to our hotel.

Colin and Ann at Roodt sur Syre station
We took a taxi to Colin and Ann, but their road was closed by a digger laying concrete blocks, so the taxi dropped us at the foot of the hill. Naturally, Colin and Ann live at the very top of the hill, leaving me breathless by the time we got there, but I was glad then I wasn't lugging a case with me. I have known Colin for nearly 60 years, and was best man at their wedding. Alas, he is now very bad with Alzheimer's and does not know me. I could see the light of possible recognition circling in his eyes with the thought that he ought to know me, if only he could grasp the name - but it never came to him. He is as tall and slim as ever, and looks to a casual eye as astute as ever, but he has a carer in to wash and dress him each morning and can speak but a few mumbled incoherent words. Beside him, Ann who was always tiny looks diminished and tired. She is unable to leave the house without him for more than a short while, for he has a tendency to wander and look for her.  He was also Edwin's godfather, but of course had only a total blank look for Edwin who is now 6'3" of solid bearded muscle and sophistication.

We took them for lunch at an old bakery, where the servers were dressed up in drag or clown's gear for the Luxembourg carnival, but the atmosphere was decidedly un-carnival sitting beside the silent shell of Colin, who once could recite reams of Housman or sing any of a thousand songs from pure memory, holding us in raptures with his classical guitar accompaniments. Ann still drives, and took us to the station to say farewell.

At the hotel, we ate early and I was so tired a fell asleep fully clothed, to be woken by a banging on the door. They had my case, returned by BA, and brought it up to the room. Edwin unfortunately, beside being unrecognised by his godfather, had further bad news: he did not win his election for faculty rep. It was won by some unknown woman who hadn't even put up any posters!