Friday, 27 December 2019

A year older, and the brain slows down

Clare footbridge collapsed
Today was my birthday. Last year, I celebrated at Addenbrookes Hospital Radiotherapy department. To celebrate this year, I managed to get an appointment with the local doc to get some treatment for my UTI (urine tract infection). I have had ++++ of blood for some time, and PUing (passing urine) is a nightmare of indecision: will it, won't it? I stand waiting for a long age to see what will trickle out, and it is invariably painful and drips like a thawing iceberg. Dr O'Donnell was quick and effective, agreeing that the thick cream-coloured yuk I had provided was suggestive of infection, and gave me a prescription for the necessary antibiotics.

I managed to combine my medical visit with walking the dogs in Clare park. The old iron footbridge was closed off, with a gaping hole where one of the panels had smashed when someone was walking over it. Unfortunately, the poor man ended up with a broken leg.

In the evening, MA, Sam and one of the girls came round (the other had a heavy cold and chose to stay home), bringing an Indian takeaway to celebrate the day. Then Edwin came through bearing the cake with a few token candles, and we drew some presents from the lucky dip Ann always creates, which should have been for Christmas day, but got forgotten. We ended by playing the game drawn by our grandaughter, Picture This. Ann and I played with a slight disadvantage - we would stare at the pictures, slowly an indentification would form in our minds, but the long time gap between mentally indentifying the object and physically speaking the word was so long, inevitably the younger players could shout out the answer within a fraction of a second while we were still trying to focus on the card. If psychologists ever want to study the effect of aging in slowing the brain, they need look no further than to get their subjects to play Picture This.

In the evening, I was shivery, perhaps because of the infection, so Ann heated a wonderful neck warmer that my thoughtful niece Sue had given at the time of my radiotherapy, along with a warm blanket. Ben, for his part, had given a covered waterbottle, so I can tuck up in my chair, beneath a blanket, with neck and body warmed in various ways by caring people. Thank you all, it is good to have such support, and my heart goes out to those who must suffer illness alone. Last year, we lost our holiday to the Holy Land because of my cancer. Our forthcoming trip to Singapore will be our first big holiday for nearly two years, and we are all counting the days and now hours till we can get away. I am determined not to cost us another holiday, and I've told Ann she is to get me on that plane if she has to commandere one of the airport wheelchairs and push me onto it.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019


The guinea pig died today, soon after midnight. Ann and Edwin had taken turns nursing him in a towel, and he died in Edwin's arms. I was already asleep, so they took him out to the side garden and buried him in the light of a torch, wondering at each moment if some suspicious nosey neighbour would call the police, but no one noticed their activities.

MA and the family called round in the afternoon for Christmas tea. Sam told us about a recent job he was on where the woman had made him a cup of tea. He had his hammer strapped to his belt, and swinging the cup up he caught it on the hammer and knocked the handle off. After that, the woman only ever gave him the same handle-less cup.

My darling
What can I give you husband
at this special time of year?
what can I give you
to make it crystal clear
that you are my life
and have made my living sweet
whatever can I give you
to make your world complete?

Ann's poem for Christmas is a rare present indeed - how many people can boast of such a gift? It saddens me how little I seem to do in return. I am unworthy to lick this woman's boots. Thank you my darling for all you have done and all you continue to do for me and the family, everyone of us. You are a beacon of love in this dark, dark world, and we delight in the joy you bring. Your gift to me is your presence in my life; all else is but the false glitter of trappings. May you know peace and joy in the year ahead, for you work so hard and deserve so much, and sometimes get so little in return, yet you keep on giving. Thank you.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Christmas Eve

Lucy was involved in an accident, so close to Christmas too. She had the children in the car and was stationary when another car driving at speed shunted a third car into her. The car in the middle was smashed in, but the driver of the car that hit them grabbed something from the locker and ran off. Fortunately Lucy's car was not too bad. The police clearly thought it was drug-related, but they still insisted on breathalysing Lucy and making her wait with the shaken children while they took statements. The car in the middle was undrivable, and full of Christmas shopping and presents that the owners couldn't easily get back.

Walking the dogs in the park, a young Asian woman was coming towards me in the distance. Dressed in light blue jeans with a dark anorak and hood, and mustard gloves, she appeared to be alternating between jogging and a walk. As she drew nearer, she seemed to see the dogs and turned suddenly to half jog-half walk back, though at such a pace I was keeping up with her even at my old-man's gait. In the open parkland, she turned round to come towards me again. Suddenly, she lurched to one side through the gate into the children's play area, though no child was with her, as though desperate to avoid me. I must check in the mirror when I get home.
Pilot the guinea pig lies in Edwin's arms

I met Ann after her hair, who had mentioned to her hairdresser how Edwin loves the best in life. She quickly replied, "he has champagne ambitions on a lemonade income!"

At the bar, a man was relating how he'd been donated a huge 60-inch television by his mother-in-law. He carefully fitted it to the wall, but then discovered it used more electricity than his hot tub, so he's going to have to get rid of it.

Now, our poor guinea pig, Pilot, appears to be at the door of death. He was lying moribund in Ann's arms while I shredded paper to try and make a softer nest than sawdust and straw. Edwin then took him and cleaned him, but he is barely moving. The dogs sit by his feet watching anxiously, but make no effort to attack him.

out of time
and without warning
you find
you are out of your time
your thoughts and ideas
trip and stumble
while your wayward mind
harks back to a simpler day
when all was knowing
and knowing was all
before technology
twined with adventurous youth
held sway
colouring each day
now the life you once knew
sinks to mean nothing at all
just a sorry shadow
cast in a blurred rainbow

Ann continues to write fantastic poetry, and draws large numbers of readers from round the world. out of time is a moving reminder of how the world we once knew and thought we understood moves on, inevitably leaving us behind, as though we never really knew it at all.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Hazards to hens and thatched cottages

Our friends Rae and Malcolm came round for coffee. Ed is the Post-Grad Representative at his University, and told us about a faculty meeting he'd just attended where one agenda item was to discuss a severe fall between the number of post-grad applications and the number taking up offers of 50%, compared to the previous year of 2%. Underneath was a rider saying, "please discard this item. It was based on a wrong column in Excel."

They told us of their daughter's hens, of which there was now only one left.  It had been attached by a fox, and then some visitors came with a Spinone Italiano - a huge hairy Italian hunting dog. They next saw the dog walking round the garden with the hen hanging out of its mouth. Its intestines had come out, but they pushed them back in, the hen recovered and is still walking round the garden.

Then over mince pies and sherry they mentioned that the mobile barber was in Hundon. I had not seen their van for some years, but I used to go to Mike the Barber, so I toddled off to get the toupee trimmed. I knocked and opened the rear door of the van, but it was not Michael the barber, but Michelle the Hair Stylist. The van was empty, but she said she was chocka, and it was appointment only.

Then to Clare, where I walked the dogs and waited in the Swan while Ann did same late Christmas shopping, and booked me a cancellation with our regular hair dressers. At the bar, one of the men said his occupation was fitting sprinkler systems. One of his companions asked what he would do with a thatched cottage. "Sell it and move out!" he said, "they're total fire traps." He then told how he'd been driving to a job when diverted to a column of smoke he could see. It was a thatch fire, with the elderly couple in the garden by a bonfire, the sparks of which had started the fire. He dashed in to pull out all he could save in the way of photographs and clothes, for he knew there'd shortly be nothing left. The fire engine then arrived, but had no water, so ran a hose to the pond in the garden. They refused to help rescue anything though, because they said any furniture would be a three-man lift. Then reinforcements arrived: because they would be there for some time, a catering truck drew up, complete with tables and chairs for the firemen. Sometime later, the couple saw the man in the pub and said how grateful they were, and they wished there was some way they could repay him. He said, "well there's a bar over there. You can at least buy me a f***ing drink."
A real meal

Taking of fires, this evening I made the meal for us all. This was a big event for one shameful reason - I so rarely do anything more than toast, and even then I always need a knife at the ready to scrape the black away. The last time I prepared a meal, potatoes still had to be bought by the pound, scrubbed and peeled. Edwin still remembers the few times I tried to cook a pizza when Ann was away, and I inevitably pulled them out as a flaming burnt offering. On the only two occasions I barbecued sausages, everyone was severely ill for several days.  But this time I was shamed into it by Edwin, who arm-twisted me into it.

In fairness, he did pull all the ingredients from the freezer, and stood over me to make sure nothing was burnt. Between us, and mostly due to Edwin showing me what to do with frozen mash and measuring out the gravy granules, I created (vegetarian) sausage and mash with baked beans. Amazing. At this rate, we'll be opening a Johnie's Bangers and Mash Parlour for Ravenous Wayfarers.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Hit by floods

Floods in Clare
We drove to London yesterday through heavy rain and some deep floods, fearful that the car might be swamped, but fortune smiled and we got through. Ann met her friend Sylvia who lives in London, but we had to show her back to the Stratford Underground Station, as she would get lost on her own. Hopefully she found the right platform.

On returning, I went to meet the Hundon Men's group at our local. We had a newcomer, called colloquially Yorkshire Dave, who reminded me of how soft is that dialect, though he lives in Manchester now. He was visiting one of our group to sing in a "Friends of Friendless Churches" group, set up to fund ancient but unused churches that might otherwise be demolished. They met over 40 years ago at an OU Art and Design course, and Yorkshire Dave still teaches art including a weekly etching class at Rawtenstall in Rossendale, home of some of the Moorhouse ancestors. He has just written a book on Model Villages, but has thus far been unable to find a publisher.

We has a quiet rant about the problem of maintaining modern cars. One guy needed new spark plugs. No local garage could tackle the job as it required the manifold to be removed which needed special tools, so he had to take his car to the dealers in Cambridge. It cost him £393 for four spark plugs. Another wanted to replace the battery in their Mini which had gone flat. He couldn't even find the battery, and that too had to be taken to a garage where they dismantled some sub-assembly to reach it. A third, less lucky than me, had swamped his car in the village floods, and had to have it towed away; it won't be back till the New Year.

Ducks take refuge
Today I took the dogs to Clare to walk in the park. The path by the river was deep in water, and even the ducks were seeking refuge on a log. Getting back to the car, a man said, "you know your front number plate is missing?". I drove furtively home, keeping an eye for the police, thinking it must have been stolen from the car in London. Seemingly, bad people take these plates and fix them to their own cars so they can speed or steal petrol. Ann started to order new plates for me, but then thought, perhaps it had been washed off by the heavy floods. We drove back along the lower road in her car, each keeping an eye out for a plate. Suddenly Ann saw it - on my side, but I'd missed it - and pulled the car in. I leapt out and ran back, but it was someone else's! Then coming back level to the car, I saw my the tip of my plate sticking out of the water in the deep ditch, completely invisible from the road. I had blamed the guiltless Londoners unjustly; it had clearly washed off by my own rush through the water (complete with a complex plastic surround, held on by five screws, now bent), and I had driven both ways down the M11 illegally. We would never have found it had Ann not stopped for the other plate.

Byron wonders where the path went

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Life's music

Debenhams' Sale Con 
In town to collect our dollars for Singapore. In Tui, there were two assistants, one with a family gathered round discussing holidays in Tenerife, and the other on the phone finalizing another holiday. The first was clearly bogged down with the selection of hotels and flights and would clearly be a while; the second soon finished her final confirmation and I thought she would hang up and come over to me, but instead she started a long flirtation with whoever was on the line. "I hate boring people," she said, glancing my way. "I love people who are different. I'm a bit mad, but my gran's madder than me. She's crazy - whenever I go out with her, she always embarrasses me." She continued like this, swinging in her chair so I could see only her back, and showed no sign of finishing or hinting that there was a customer waiting. Finally, the other assistant excused herself from dealing with the large family to come over to the Exchange Kiosk, having recognised me and guessing I would not be long. On the plus side, the pound has continued to climb since I ordered the currency on Friday, and over three days, I was over £100 better off.

I met Ann in Debenhams, where she was choosing a jumper because they have a sale on. On every rail, and above each display, were huge notices announcing "HALF PRICE", but when I took the jersey to the counter, it was only reduced by a small percentage. The woman explained that not everything was half price. I went back to the display to check, and there in minisule writing was a tiny rider, "up to", completely invisible until I was a few inches from the notice. Surely that must count as a con? Even the wording, 'Up to half price', implies the asking price is half or less of the ticket price.

The music in her soul
goes whirling round and round,
there is hope in her heart
for nothing gets her down
there's a smile for the world
a stifling of each frown
for she will never give in
as she turns her luck around.
life, is such a blend of pleasure
with a bitter dash of pain,
life, goes on through stormy weather
and is softened through the rain
for sunshine follows sadness
as a rainbow fills the sky
for life is just a game of chance
which we play until we die

Ann's new poem is a beautiful oxymoron, and is herself to a T. She is always so positive and cheerful and an inspiration to all of us, yet it contains the seeds of inevitable ending and parting that we all must face. When I put it in, I thought it would have no bearing on the mundane events of the day, but as I read it now I know it is Ann's music every day. She will always turn luck around for each of us, but especially mine.

For some reason I can't fathom, outside the UK, the big majority of my blog readers are in Ukraine. I have only been to Ukraine once, when Edwin took me to the Eurovision Song Contest, and I loved the place, though I only saw Kiev. I don't know what is attracting Ukraine citizens to this blog, but you're all very welcome, and I'd love to hear from any of you if you care to comment.

Friday, 13 December 2019

This Tory government is working already

I am busy mastering the world of the acronym. Yesterday we had the Kick Off (KO) meeting with the Clinical Research Organisation (CRO) we have appointed to run our First in Human (FIH) clinical trial; this is a relatively new acronym for what were always called First in Man (FIM) studies, but acronyms like the rest of society must keep up with the times, or die.

I drove through heavy rain and traffic in North London to find a space in one of the many car parks in the sprawling Northwick Park Hospitals, and was feeding a fist full of pound coins into a meter when someone said, "Hello John!" My Line Manager had walked a mile through the rain from the station, and was drenched. We went in together to find a small table at the cafe, for though an hour early we had much to discuss. I broke an old rule to never have hot drinks in meetings, and bought us each coffees to warm and revive us as she pulled a sheaf of paper from her bag. I then knocked my coffee over (fortunately I had drunk most of it), and the dark sea rolled inevitably across the table towards her. I reached out with a handful of tissues, and managed to stop most of it. "Don't worry," she said kindly, "most of it went on the floor."

It was a huge meeting, with more than twenty five people crowded into the room, sitting in corners or standing at the doors, with others dialling in. We were there all day, which included a tour of their facilities which are huge and state of the art, with break-out meetings to discuss our individual roles as we begin to work together. I declined further coffee, sticking to small glasses of water. Finally, after another marathon drive home I could go to vote, and help to change the course of the country.

Ann had already voted, not knowing if I'd be back before 10pm, and we were soon joined by Edwin and his partner. The first thing they did was give us a card, with our present in it: a tourist guide to Hamburg. We looked at it strangely wondering, until they explained that the rest of the gift was air tickets to Hamburg and a four star hotel overlooking the river, for a long week-end in February. We were overwhelmed by such unexpected generosity! Ann had prepared a huge spread for us to enjoy as we stayed up late to watch the results pour in, as surprised as everyone else at the scale of the Tory majority.

Next day, we woke to bright sun-lit skies and a glorious future. I had more blood tests booked for 2:00 pm at WSH. The car park had plenty of spaces, for once the haematology labs were quiet, and my name appeared on the board to go into one of the booths shortly after I arrived at 2:10. The whole thing had been so efficient and quick that I could leave the car park again within their twenty minutes waiting time without having to pay a penny! Boris Johnson is certainly keeping his promise to improve the NHS and its car parks.

Another sign of the Boris Boost is the massive surge in the value of sterling. I had deliberately waited for the election to order the currency for our trip to Singapore, thinking that it would rise, and sure enough there's been massive appreciation. In town, I went to the main Barclays Bank in Bury to try to order it. It is a modern bank, with one counter and a large number of machines to deposit cheques or cash, or check one's balance, but many of them were out of action, and two members of staff were still having to show people how to use the machines even though they've been there for a couple of years now. There was one counter manned (womanned?) by a single woman, but it had a blind drawn down. I told one of the attendant women I just need to order currency, but she said the manual station was temporarily out of action, and it might be twenty minutes before they could get it working again. She invited me to join a collection of other people sitting in chairs or standing around waiting for human service. I declined the invite, and went to Tui's round the corner, where a nice lady took my order with no fuss or wait. Having fixed Brexit and the NHS, we now just need Boris to fix the banks.

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.