Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Lost on the A14

Ann has gone to Birmingham with MA and the girls to visit the world's biggest Primark and do some girlie shopping. It did not get off to a good start though when the phone went at 09:00 and MA said "We're outside. Where's mum?" Mum had thought they'd arranged for 10:00 and was still getting ready. Hopefully they will meander the horrific queues of the A14 and have a good day, when finally they arrive.
Update at 10:00pm: Ann has just texted to say the A14 is closed and she's following a diversion through country roads, and likely to be another hour away.

I have just finished the new book by Rod Liddle, The Great British Betrayal. At last I've found a writer who seems to sum up everything we have thought about project fear and the Remainers' anti-leave disinformation war. BBC bias against Brexit is so blatant that we routinely joke about it as we point out the latest piece of propaganda. The latest tonight is the report of Johnson's visit to Wales, which has promoted the new Fear-Smear that there will be civil unrest and tractors blocking the roads if we leave. 

However, Liddle did stop the book at the point of May's ignominious exit, so I have written to complement him on the book, and sent the hope that he might eventually be able to write a sequel, The Great British Comeback, if the new Prime Minister can actually succeed at this Herculean task.

Monday, 29 July 2019

The frustrations of Kent

On Dungeness Point
Our away-weekend was a mix of relaxation and frustration. The journey to London was swift and uneventful, sailing through to Stratford and parking with ease in their underground carpark by the hotel. The journey to Dover next day found every approach road blocked by tailbacks for the docks. It took nearly two hours to move a mile, and we finally escaped to have lunch outside Folkestone before making the most of our spontaneous freedom to revisit Dungeness Point, the home of a huge nature reserve, Britain's tallest lighthouse and two Nuclear Power Stations. 

In London on Friday, we stayed at the Staybridge Suites hotel in Stratford, with a superbly equipped room and full breakfast for a modest price. In contrast, the old Churchill Hotel on Dover front, now a Best Western, which used to be the grandest hotel in a grand town, and is one of the few buildings to have survived the intense bombing of the war, should now be renamed the Worst Western. The room is tiny, badly laid out, with tired decor and no breakfast, for a fee that is higher than the smart London suite.  The window is an ill-fitting pre-war sash with peeling paint and an inclination to slam shut when we don't expect it. But we can't leave it open, because a pigeon landed on the sill, began cooing loudly, the stepped through into the room. Ann shooed it out, and we had to wedge the window open just a crack using a folded towel.

Ann at Margate
Next day we returned home determined to have a traditional whirly ice-cream. Our first stop was Broadstairs, where we had veggie pies in the wonderful Chapel Bookstore cum Restaurant cum pub, leaving us too full for our standard visit to the luxurious Italian Morelles, Moving on to Whitstable, the town was packed with revellers enjoying the famous annual Oyster Fair (not famous to us, who hadn't known about it till this moment), so we were unable to stop. Again to Herne Bay, home of many of Ann's ancestors, but again bursting with London holiday makers. Finally to Margate where we could park on the pier, but where there was a dearth of ices. We consequently enjoyed drinks instead, before having one last try on Sheerness at Queenborough, and Minster-on-Sea before giving up our search, defeated.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

The perpetual dichotomy between promises and whoopsies

Robot cleaner before its death

Edwin's friend in Cambridge has a £500 robot vacuum cleaner, and for some time Edwin has been pressurising us to buy one, not appreciating that – in contrast to us – has friend has a small bachelor pad with no stairs. Our arguments were backed up today by the Chemist's assistant in Claire, who bought one and set it to clean her rooms at midnight each day. Until one evening, their dog did a whoopsie which the cleaner duly processed and cleaned up, clogging its innards beyond repair. She had to throw out the whole thing.

Never ask a Cambridge student for directions. They are trained to never acknowledge ignorance of any question, and will always willingly provide an answer, even if the truth lies 180 degrees away from the direction they suggest. I first came upon this phenomenon when I was a teenager, listening to Radio Three (or The Third Programme as it was then called). A Cambridge graduate was being interviewed for his favourite piece of music. "When I first went up to Cambridge," he confessed, "I was asked in someone's rooms which was my favourite Brandenburg. I knew little about music, and took a blind guess, 'Number 3'", which they then played. By coincidence, I had recently jointed World Record Club to learn a little about classical music myself, and they had sent the Third Brandenburg as a complementary E.P. to thank me for joining. I have enjoyed it ever since, but now all six Brandenburgs can be fitted on one CD.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when Boris took to the podium to outline our future. As a breed, politicians generally attended Oxford, but I suspect that this institution ‒ steeped in history and classics degrees as it is – is even more rigorous in never admitting ignorance than Cambridge, which should have a more scientific attitude to ignorance and inquiry. We are promised the earth; nothing is impossible; we are moving to the golden uplands of prosperity and delight, with good housing for all. "Oh good," I think, "bring it on!" No politician ever admits to doubt or uncertainty, nor do we the public expect them to. We look for reassurance and hope, for bright skies ahead. We live in expectation of a miracle worker, but are always doomed to disappointment. Still, I must admit it is good to see the glowing rays of optimism shine for a few hours at least, before they are greyed over by the gloomy clouds of reality that beset Theresa May. Perhaps, just for once, we really will have a saviour who can solve the dichotomy between promises and achievements. That would be a saviour worthy of the name. Or perhaps - like the robo-cleaner - Boris will plough his merry path, promising to clean up everything before him, until he too hits the shit.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

A scan and hot weather

Yesterday I had my first CT-scan since the diagnosis of cancer last year. The two technicians had beautiful smiles, which I knew would disappear when they tried to cannulate my arm, for the veins are very poor now. Sure enough they missed the vein and I ended with an extravasation of contrast dye, but they did succeed in finding a suitable landing site on my wrist. I had to wear a hospital nightgown and lie uncomfortably on my tummy with arms outstretched while the machine pushed and pulled me through the X-ray device. Every few minutes, an anonymous voice boomed out orders in rapid succession like an American Drill Sargent on the parade ground: "BREATH IN! BREATH OUT! STOP BREATHING!!!" It was so loud Ann and the other patients waiting outside could hear it shouting, leading a few of them to wonder if they could face the voice. Finally it was done and I staggered out in flapping nightgown, a cannula strapped to my wrist and a large icepack wedged at my elbow over a swollen bruise. Those other patients not already discouraged by the voice now wondered what they were in for. Now I must wait for the result when I see the oncologist again in two weeks.

Later I walked the dogs in Clare Park. The heat was intense even in the early evening, and by the river we met a fellow dog-walker who recognised our two from the kennels, where they had played with her dog. This was a golden retreiver called Ellie, that enjoyed diving in the river for a swim. Five girls had stripped down to their bras and panties and began to jump into the water too, leaving their clothes heaped on the footpath. It all took me back to my own boyhood, when in the heat of summer dad would drive us to a large torpid river where we'd strip and dive in from the bank, feeling the mud with our toes and thankful to cool in the shade of the trees over the water, while mum prepared a picnic. 

The front of our house has developed a large crack in the brickwork over a large window which, lacking a lintel, has sagged under the weight of the bricks. We were expecting a builder on Monday to replace the window, fit a lintel, and repair the brickwork. On Sunday he phoned to say the window wouldn't be ready till Tuesday. On Tuesday he phoned to let us know the window makers had suffered a fire in their warehouse, so now it would be Thursday. Tonight he phoned again to say they won't get the new glass till Friday and could he come then? No he couldn't, we said, as we would be away Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately next week is already fully booked for him with other jobs, so God knows when he will eventually arrive.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Remembering the Moon Landing

Yesterday, the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. Along with most people who were: a) old enough to be aware of the event, and b) Still young enough to be alive and have ones marbles - I remember where I was at the time: on Isle of Wight ferry out of Portsmouth for Fishbourne. The ferry captain was relaying it through the Tannoy system, so we could hear live broadcasts streaming from Apollo 11. Most summers, I went there to stay with Colin and his family, friends from my first days at University. I used to dream of flying rockets, and was an avid reader of all the children's space adventures, especially Journey to the Moon, serialised on radio each week. My boyhood pastime was to build mock control panels from sheets of paper, covered in dials with movable pointers held by split pin brass paper fasteners. We had no television in London, and I don't remember them having a television on the IoW, so the Captain's relay was all I heard of it.

Looming closer is my first follow-up scan since I was first diagnosed with cancer last summer. I confess to some apprehension, wondering what might be found, or if I'll be given the all clear till the next one. I shall update this bulletin on Tuesday.

Yesterday, we had lunch in the Red Lion, Suffolk's only veggie pub. The grub is good, with a big and varied menu, but the portions were far to large for we two oldies. We both left a good half of the main dish, which besides being such a waste of food, looks as though we're insulting the chef by not eating up. Why oh why can these places not offer smaller portions? We would gladly pay the full price for the joy of finishing a meal without being bloated, or looking wasteful.

Then on to Ipswich Marina, well known to us from our boating days, and still a lovely place to sit in the sun and sup wine. We did notice a disproportionate number of old people on the boats, some quite infirm with sticks. One old couple with a few bags of shopping made a valiant effort to scale the ladder of their huge power boat. It must have been over 40' long, and looked new, costing probably over £250,000. They clearly had spent their savings on it, but could hardly get aboard. The old lady struggled for a while trying to undo the zip of the canvas awning, but had to give way to her husband who finally managed to get into the cabin and help her in. There was a stiff breeze blowing, and the huge freeboard of the boat would be difficult to handle at low speed in the confines of the marina and the Ipswich lock. I would like to have seen them moving the boat, but I can't imagine the woman jumping ashore with the lines, so I guess they just use it as a floating picnic table most of the time.

Friday, 19 July 2019

A Hundon Summer

It was a week for nature study. At the weekend, a fledgling Blackbird left its nest in the tree behind us, and flew into the patio window. It was so small and light and uncertain in its flight that it struck without much force (unlike the unfortunate Woodpecker of an earlier blog), and landed on its feet where it was hopping about, clearly wondering what it was supposed to do next. The mother flew down and chivied it into the bushes, and was seen over the next few days continuing to fly behind the bushes with a variety of food in its bill. Finally, we were rewarded by seeing the new fledgling take to the air; a short flight onto the gate and the table outside our window, a victory for maternal strength and patience. Though still without its tail feathers, it is now mobile enough to fend for itself, and hopefully evade the many vicious cats that lie in wait for these beautiful creatures.

Here in Hundon we have a surfeit of wildlife, with hares in the field, swallows darting above, and then at dusk a colony of bats swooping low for their insect feast over the gardens front and back. I look across the fields, laid out with ripening corn, and imagine how they have not changed much in a hundred years. In 1919, they would have had steam-powered threshers and harvest power, and perhaps Suffolk Punches to pull the ploughs; and a hundred years before that, in 1819, still the same fields and hedgerows, but harvested by hand by huge gangs of men who lived in the tithed cottages now developed for wealthy London commuters.  Yet despite all this wealth of nature, I feel that it is slowly being depleted. It is just an impression that there are fewer insects now spattering the windscreen of the car; fewer swallows and bats; hedgehogs are scarcer, and the bird song more muted, apart from the populous pigeons that fill every tree and mess every surface. But we all remember more favourable older times, when the world was less populous, and nature more abundant. It is felt by every age, and its sadness and sense of loss grows more intense each year.

On Sunday, we were invited to Rae and Malcolm's for a take-away Chinese. They live an an idyllic bungalow off the High Street of Haverhill, and just a short walk to all the fascilities of that town. Despite the convenience of their location, the house is silent, and sitting in the large conservatory in the warm evening, with its open door, we were in a secluded walled garden, once part of the estate of Anne of Cleves house,  which was built for her in 1540 by Henry the VIII, but is now the town's only remaining ancient building after the great fire of Haverhill in the 17th Century. They often see an urban fox slinking along the wall in the twilight, but tonight we looked in vain.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Buried thoughts

Buried thoughts

It’s a memory best forgotten
It is dead and buried deep,
It’s the dream that's lost on waking,
By a girl who cannot weep.

It’s a sound that calls to silence,
It’s the beauty fading fast,
It’s the hope that now lies broken
Through a time that cannot last.

It’s the moon through clouds of shadow,
It’s the raindrop in the sea,
It’s a cause of wars and battles
Lost to myth and history.

It’s the poem never spoken,
It’s the story never told.
In the darkness, in the twilight,
It’s the rope you cannot hold.

JHM 7 July 2019

Friday, 5 July 2019

Pragmatism is the one true faith

Lying on my chair for three days in a nest of cushions, hobbling about with a stick, and dosing myself up with various pain-killers, reminds me of how vulnerable we are even to relatively minor ailments. A pulled back is nothing on the scheme of ill-health, but is sufficient to immobilise and cripple. So too is society vulnerable to small shocks. The frenzy of the social media, the intolerance of varied opinions, the prejudice against those who dare to be different, brings home just how rapidly civilisation can collapse if we do not constantly work to maintain its good health.

Recent politics presents a reversion to simian behaviour - screaming and throwing sticks, or in this case an equivalent nearest object, milkshakes. Intolerance of others is endemic in the system and the beliefs of modern politics as much as it is in so much of religion. Trump represents support for Israel. Corbyn's secret agenda to not prosecute anti-Semitic behaviour courts the Muslim vote, which is much stronger than the Jewish vote. Hence Khan's response to Trump, and the strong anti-Trump campaign in the Labour movement, and Corbyn's refusal to attend a state banquet in the presence of Trump. He can afford to lose the votes of the Jewish community, and fend off the critisism of the Chief Rabbi: it gains him a huge undercurrent of unvoiced support, enough even to overcome the strong Brexit support in Peterborough.

No one person can always be right; no single belief system is infallible; no one political system has the sole answer to all the world's woes. So must we be vigilant to oppose strident -isms that always insist they alone are right. If we are to adopt any -ism, let it be pragmatism, and try to pick the best from each person's ideas, for we each have something to contribute, if only a tiny part of the whole.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Nostalgia and gulls

Watching "Yesterday", the new film reflecting the life of the Beatles, it seemed a nostalgic view of the Fab Four seen from a distance, but without any of the original music or film tracks; just a single singer who beat out the songs as though recalling the moments in a world that has forgotten them. It was a nostalgic trip, without grit or unexpected twists, lacking the violent death or even the inspirational Ono of the originals. It seemed somehow to be a cheap, cut down version of the past, as though made to attract the fans without the meat of reality. It was, however, good to recollect how much brilliant and original music they gave us, and reflect on how much loss there must be in our own world from genius that never flowered, like the sound of a single hand clapping, or the death of an unripe flower through lack of water. Also, much was filmed in Suffolk, so it's always good to see the county and coastline represented.

At the car park in Haverhill, a solitary gull was feasting on discarded chips. It flapped past silently without its usual raucous call. Gulls are my favourite bird, for their versatility and power of survival. They are the most human of all animals, for they hunt fresh fish, or scavenge dead ones; they survive off flesh or bread; they can walk, swim, dive, fly or glide; they can nest on wild cliffs or roof tops, and live in great colonies or in solitary isolation, and their communication is a great squawking. I miss the call of the gulls and the sound of the sea.

Last night, Edwin returned to us from the monastery in Kathmandu. He was unusually quiet after his enforced silence and abstinences, but the lateness of the plane and the hour meant it was already past 2a.m. on his clock, before we picked him up. We will perhaps hear more of his journeys when he awakens, probably late, today.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Ladders hats and benches

We narrowly escape crashing into the Moon
Our grandson Luke came to stay for a few days, and following a longstanding promise, we took him to a new escape room in Haverhill. This involved solving many logical puzzles to restart the systems of a rocket about to crash-land on the Moon..We survived this ordeal with a little help from the mission controllers, and managed to escape for a group picture.

Up the ladder in my new hat
Following the announcement about my lost hat, Lucy generously sent a new soft floppy hat, ideal for working in the few hot summer days England enjoys. I seized the opportunity to do some gardening and basic repairs, including repainting the Dragoon Saloon, now converted to an office for Edwin.

The hat protects my scalp well enough, but leaves the brain inside to stew in its own devices, and as absent minded as ever. After walking the dogs in the park at Clare, I returned home to  find my glasses missing. They had been on my nose when I left, so I worked backwards to conclude they had been left on the bench I'd sat on. This bench is dedicated to  Harriet Loram who died two years ago. I knew her well as a fellow dog walker of a greedy Labrador called Victor, after Hugo. She was a history scholar who helped set up reading groups in the library, and in 2015 helped organise the 800th-year commemorations for Clare's role in signing Magna Carta in 1215. She died alone and was undiscovered for several days. Her dog was then highly disturbed and would settle with no one else, and had to be put down. Returning to Clare as soon as possible, I retraced my steps to the bench. Someone had picked up the glasses and perched them on the side arm of the bench, which seemed to be wearing them so they were staring emptily to the blue sky, like a miniature Easter Island effigy.
Harriet Loram memorial bench in Clare
On my wrist that evening was a tiny black spot - could it be some minute insect or parasite? From experience of living in unsavoury places, I have a high respect for the malevolent benefits of small insects, and try to avoid intimate contact. It seemed to move as I watched, but it was probably the movement of my own uncertain arm that gave it the semblance of a jerking life form. Once recently, I discovered such a visitor while sitting on the toilet, and – panicking that it was the harbinger of an infestation of lice – I collected it in a small jar and took it to my local doctor for analysis. Though he confessed he had never been faced with this type of request, he duly looked up what form he needed and sent it off. A few days later the report came back that it was a harmless garden insect. This time, after watching for a while, I finally flicked it off, and any potential life was extinguished.