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.