Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Hospital visits and the lack thereof

Traditional Selfie with Rosie, Matts and baby Snibbling
We drove to King's Lynne on Sunday in Ann's super new Mini, to offer some little support to Rosie through her late pregnancy. Her infant girl is called Snibbling whilst she lies in utero, but unfortunately she is on the low side of the normal weight line for her age. This requires Rosie to sit quietly at home and repeated visits to hospital for scans to monitor her progress. Happily, she has the benefit of her mother (also Ann) in residence to sit with her while Matts is at work. We managed to take them out to a good restaurant to provide a break.

Yesterday she attended hospital again. They did the scan, but her blood pressure was elevated so they added a blood test and made her wait for the result. They said it would be one hour, but it ended up a six hour wait. Covid has proved a cruel disease, separating parents during scans and labour, such critical times for developing early bonding with a new baby. Matthew was at work yesterday, so Rosie's mother went with her, but was not allowed to wait with her, so she had to sit alone in a bare corridor for six hours. Happily, Rosie was then allowed home; but the whole thing is completely uncivilised, even barbaric, for its inhumanity. 

Even worse than the long wait alone, many people are being denied treatment altogether for serious diseases such as cancer or heart disease. I know from personal experience, as I should have a cancer checkup every three months but haven't seen a specialist for nearly nine months, with no future date given. All I get is a phone call asking if I'm still alive. For people in pain or potentially dying, this is more than barbaric, it is cruelty. GPs and hospitals should be ashamed of themselves, refusing treatment to those most in need just in case beds are needed for Covid patients. We went out for a meal last night in case we can't go again with more lockdown looming. We meet waiters and receptionists like everyone else directly though with caution. But GPs are too frightened to meet patients face-to-face, preferring to leave them to suffer or let A&E sort them out. 

I am currently medic for an early-phase clinical study being run at a hospital in London. The study has already been halted because of the first lockdown, but had just restarted when last week we had a message to say recruitment for our study was being put on hold again for a few weeks because they had a Covid-related study to run. So even here, Covid has been given priority over our disease, which is hard for non-Covid sufferers, and leaves us twiddling our thumbs again. It is all madness, my friends.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Birthday's and car days

Ann's (my?) new Mini

Ann has bought a new car, a red Mini automatic. We had gone to the Mini showroom in Bury to look at a Green Mini Cooper on display in the front showrooms, but then wandered round the back of the building and saw the red one parked in an anonymous corner without a price on. It seems it had been brought up from the Milton Keynes showroom for a customer who had looked at it three times, but still couldn't make up their mind. It was due to go back to Milton Keynes on Monday morning for another demonstration, so we only had a short time to consider it. Ann fell in love with it, so on Sunday we paid a deposit ready to collect later in the week. When we finally collected it, the salesperson told us Milton Keynes had already sold it to their customer there! Unfortunately, they hadn't flagged it up on the system before it was sold in Bury, and as the salesperson said, "possession is nine-tenths of the law".

Ann liked her previous Mini Clubman, but not the manual gearbox. Unfortunately, since she fell off the step three weeks ago, her foot is still painful and swollen, so it's possible she's fractured the calcaneus or another tarsal bone. Ann refuses to waste time trying to get into A&E so we've strapped it up, but the pain prevents her from driving. The result is, in effect I now have a second car as I will have to drive Ann in it to anywhere she needs to go. Interestingly, the trim is by "John Cooper", which was the name of my sister-in-law Chris's brother (see Remembering three deaths), so we can remember him whenever we use the car.

Last night was another meeting of the unofficial Hundon Men's Society, but it may be the last for a while if Boris choses to curtail our liberty once more in the name of science.  Five of us attended, so we were well within the Government's new guide lines. The chat wandered across many subjects, but circled for a while round our mortality. One guy used to work in joiners shop in his youth, making coffins. He still lived with his mother at that time, who gave him a Lyons Individual Apple Pie to take to work each day, He described how the coffins were fashioned in the traditional way from English elm, planed to a smooth finish and lined with velvet and a cushion. The bottom of the coffin was flushed with molten pitch to keep in body fluids, and the lining had a deep padding below it to keep the corpse comfy. The padding was made from the wood shavings, but as a young man he always included the box from the apple pie, and an empty box of Wills Embassy cigarettes to bulk up the padding and keep the deceased company.  

I continue work on my paintings, but oils are much slower to complete than acrylic, which dries quickly so one can add new layers. I have now tried my first non-portrait subject, an old Brixham sailing trawler in full rig. The result is tolerable, but I find it is a much harder subject than portraits. I shall stick to painted faces for a while yet.

Brixham Sailing Trawler
Ben is going north today for grandson Luke's birthday celebration. It was to have been held at his mother's, the Great X, when my other son Dan could flaunt his intolerance by refusing to go if I were there. But we are reluctant to mingle with crowds in the north, so the venue has now been moved to Dan's house for him to host it. As things have turned out, we may be needed more down here anyway, as Matt's partner Rosie has a small-for-dates baby. Her care is being transferred from the local hospital in King's Lynne to the regional centre at Norwich for more detailed scans and possible induction, so we are going to see them tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Lanzarote Lament

 Edwin is scheduled to fly home today from his week's 'holiday' in Lanzarote. The holiday was a good idea originally, a chance for the four friends to fly out for fun and sun by the beach on a cheap, off season break. The first hint of trouble was when BA completely cancelled flights to Lanzarote. Edwin, a whiz at all things travel-related, immediately arranged for a transfer of their direct London BA flights to go with Iberia Airlines. This unfortunately involved travelling out via Madrid, and returning via Barcelona, with lengthy waits at both stopovers, but was an acceptable alternative. However, the Iberia flights only went Sunday to Sunday rather than Saturday to Saturday, so he then had to contact the AirBNB owner to persuade them to let them change their days. Also, it was a much earlier flight, so they'd need to get up about 2am to get to the airport on time.

By the time of their flight, Spain and all its islands were blacklisted by the British government, so they faced the possibility of two weeks quarantine on their return. However, three of the four have Brazilian passports, and when they arrived at Heathrow they were told that Brazilians were not allowed to fly to Spain, so only Edwin would be allowed to board. They eventually persuaded the Heathrow officials that all three Brazilians held British residency permits, and were therefore exempt from the ban.

They were not many days in Lanzarote when Edwin developed fever and a sore throat. Andre had to drive him over the mountains to the medical centre where they did a Covid test and started him on antibiotics for tonsillitis. Then next day, Andre and Lucas went down with severe food poisoning, laying on the floor being sick. Edwin became worse, his fever even higher and his throat on fire, so next day Andre had to drive again to the medical centre despite his sickness. There, they said the good news was the Covid test was negative, but the tonsils were in danger of rupturing, and he might not be fit to fly home. They give him an enormous shot of penicilin in the buttocks, making sitting painful in the bouncing car, and leaving Edwin unable to sit or lie on his back. They were due to fly back today, but had to go once more via the medical centre for an 8am appointment to see if he would be certified "fit to fly".  We've just had the message through to say the doctor has given him the certificate, so they're finally heading to the airport for the return via Barcelona. We can only wait on events and see what happens next!

Friday, 11 September 2020

On loosing liberty

 Now I must add my weak voice to the cries of the imprisoned of England. Draconian lock-down rules are being reimposed on many towns throughout the land. From Monday, no more than six can congregate in a private house. Family gatherings are effectively banned. The Greek island we had planned to visit in October is on the quarantine list, even though they've had no cases there. This means we can go, but can't get health insurance. 

Yes, the numbers of people being diagnosed with CV are rising, but they are all young healthy people, the vast majority of whom suffer no ill-effects. Indeed, often they don't know they've been infected. But the critical hospital admission rate and deaths from CV are almost static, suggesting that more vulnerable people (such as me!) are being sensible; we're not going to group raves, or crowding into pubs. We're not even going on public transport or into major centres to work. The whole scheme is madness. Having large numbers of young people getting the infection is probably a good thing, meaning community immunity will be reached sooner, and - assuming there is some degree of immunity once one has been infected - the number of cases should start to fall again rapidly. Any restrictions should be based on rising hospitalisations and death rates; other than that, the young people should be encouraged to go to school or college or work, and to socialise with each other. The only precaution should be to avoid elderly and infirm people, and not to visit care homes. Even this should be guidance, not dictat - it ought to be up to us how much risk we want to take in our lives. These excessive, draconian and thoughtless restrictions are turning us all into prisoners in our own homes - something no foreign power or government has ever done in the history of England. 

The death rate from CV is currently less than the death rate from ordinary flu, and much less than the death rate from other illnesses, such as the cancers and heart disease that are not being treated by the NHS. We were among those who did not applaud and clap the NHS workers each week, and I'm glad we didn't. The hospital wards are empty; the consultants and GPs are refusing to see patients, and my consultations are strictly telephone affairs now. I am better off consulting Google than my GP, for the GPs do nothing now. The government might as well close all GP surgeries, and move the doctors to doing rota work in hospital outpatient clinics, where patients can just turn up, for all the good they're doing patients at the moment.  It would save the NHS a fortune.

Back in the real world, Edwin has phoned from Lanzarote with the good news that his CV test is negative, so he should be able to fly back on Sunday if his temperature stays down. Unfortunately, two of his party (Andre and their friend Lucas) have gone down with severe vomiting. This apparantly was from eating re-heated prawns, always a very dangerous thing to do. I'm glad I'm vegetarian.


Thursday, 10 September 2020

Cut toes and the problems of foreign holidays

 Age brings a number of disabilities, some major others usually minor, but even trivial ones can blow up to cause problems. One of these is an inability to bend sufficiently to cut my own toe nails, so after a few futile aims with the scissors, I asked Ann to cut them. She responded with great enthusiasm, unfortunately unmatched by technical ability. She seized the clippers and began snipping, but unfortunately snipped a few of my toes as well. Blood spattered the bathroom floor, and she reluctantly surrendered the clippers and went for a plaster. I thought it was time to turn to the experts, so a contrite Ann found and phoned a local chiropodist in Haverhill, and today I limped into her surgery. 

We'd had our friends round the night before, Robin and Yvonne and Rae and Malcolm who knew the chiropodist and warned me she could be garrulous. I bared my feet and lay on the couch, but before she began to either cut or speak, we were interrupted by fierce shouting from the street outside, and she rushed out to see what was happening. It was too early in the morning for drunks, but there is a big problem with drugs in the area so it may have been drug-related. The chiropodist thought there was also a problem with mental health patients, many of whom are treated in the community and refuse to take their medication. Whatever the cause, there was a big police presence for one man, and they were still there when I left the chiropodist half an hour later. I had dropped Ann off at Rae and Malcolm's on the way in, and returned to pick her up and share coffee and a cake. 

Meanwhile, Edwin is on holiday in Lanzarote with Andre and two of their friends. He phoned last night to say he has a high temperature and swollen throat. Today he saw a doctor and had a nasal swab test for corona virus and is awaiting the result. If he is positive, they will all be confined to the house they've rented, and won't be able to fly home, so it's a big deal.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Bird strike

Bird strike on the patio window

We had another bird strike on the patio window last week. I saw the dead pigeon lying on the patio when I got up. It was warm, but quite lifeless. Then I noticed where it had hit the window. Feathers were sticking to the glass where its head must have hit, with wings outstretched. The imprint was still clear upon the window this morning, despite the storms and heavy rain, until I finally washed it off. With the low sun shining off the window in the early morning, birds mistake the glass reflection for open sky beyond. Not sure what I can do though, short of putting up netting. Even that would probably not help, for sometimes they hit the upstairs windows, or the front windows in the evening when the sun's gone round.

Today was a day for tradespeople. This morning, a roofer called Josh came round to see Sam's side shed, where the roofing felt has pulled back exposing the wood. This afternoon a plumber called back with a quote for the water pump which has become noisy (a new guy - not the disaster who fitted our dish washer); and this evening our fencing guy, James, came to trim back the trees where they brush against the power lines. When we first moved to Hundon, the electric company used to trim them back (they own the overhead lines up to the house), but now they refuse to, and would probably charge us for the damage if the trees bring them down!

I have been careful to use the neutral term, tradespeople, but even well into the 21st century, everyone has been male: both plumbers, the electrician, fencing person, gardener, roofing man, builders, window fitters and carpenters. Women are so keen to get into "top" professions, doctors, politicians and board members, yet they are still notably absent from traditional trades. It is hard to see where this comes from, if not innate, for all children's books now are "balanced", with an emphasis on women filling all the traditional men's roles. Yet I do not think it can be "inbuilt", for we see pictures from Russia and China where women seem to fill as many jobs as men, so perhaps in England we are still instilling some bias at a  young age? Perhaps it comes from within the family, with father's encouraging their sons to take up their family business? 

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Our nutty neighbour

 I have mentioned before some of the strange beliefs held by our neighbour (5g-nutters-are-loose-in-hundon). Now she is adding to her the list of nuttiness, having attended the anti-mask wearing march and rally in Trafalgar Square this weekend. Thousands of people were crowded together, free of masks, and excited to hear the arch-nutter Piers Corbyn spout his nonsense. If her outlandishness were confined to 5G, it would be harmless except to the damaged masts. If it were just a refusal to wear masks, it could be considered anti-social and dangerous to vulnerable people she coughed on, but not to the wider community. The biggest problem though is the idea held by so many of her group that the whole thing is a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical companies, to make vast profits from a dangerous vaccine that will only cause ill-health. This group firmly believes that all vaccines cause autism in infants. The fact that the Covid vaccine will only be given to adults does not register with them; perhaps she imagines that all adults will become autistic after the injection.

Polio "survivors" in Nigeria

The thing that really disturbs though is the ignorance and denial of the good that vaccination has done throughout the world. Polio, particularly damaging to children under 5 years of age, leads to irreversible paralysis for 1 in 200 infected children, of whom up to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. Today, only Pakistan and Afghanistan still have endemic polio thanks to a world-wide vaccination programme. As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. 

Smallpox has now been eliminated from every country. Cases of diptheria and measles have declined hugely, and now cause few deaths in childhood. The fact that their incidence is rising again following the anti-inoculation propaganda of people like the Hundon fruitcake is an indictment of everyone who argues against vaccination programmes. On their heads alone are the needless deaths of many infants, and I can only hope that they may see their folly before they learn the hard way through the death of their own children.

A murder mystery in Sudbury

Following her checkup, Ann had a second visit to the dentist's on Friday. This is something Ann never minds doing, and this was only to the hygienist so she actually enjoyed her visit, the first since lockdown. Coming back, we stopped at the Mill Hotel in Sudbury for a drink overlooking Sudbury Water Meadows, a huge flood plain flanking the Stour, popular with dog walkers and used for cattle grazing. The Mill is a beautiful old building, converted as its name suggests from an old water mill. The water wheel has been retained following the conversion and now sits slowly turning in the centre of the restaurant, covered in by glass panels.

Ordering at the bar, I overheard the bar staff talking about a local murder inquiry we'd just read about. Sure enough, when we walked through the field later, our way was blocked by police tape, and a lonely policeman stood eyeing us from a small gazebo-like tent set up to keep him from the rain. It seems that two bags of human bones had been found dumped in the river, along with a shopping trolley. This is not the normal news for quiet Suffolk, but to date no more details have been released: not even the age or sex of the victim, so it remains a complete mystery.

On Saturday, Ann fell headlong from the step outside the back door. Her foot is very swollen and bruised, and she's taking painkillers with the foot bandaged and kept off the floor. Then yesterday, walking in Clare park, I caught my foot in a fallen branch, brought down by the storms, and went flying full length. Unlike Ann, I was not hurt, only annoyed, for I fell flat into the muddy path so the landing was soft. Unfortunately, Bronte was just before me and I also fell onto her, so she acted like falling onto an airbag. The poor dog yelped in surprise, but happily she too was unhurt.

Then yesterday, on Bank Holiday Monday, we were invited out for a cream tea in Cambridge. We were greeted at the door by Edwin, the MaƮtre d', and offered Champaigne as we were escorted to our seats, for the boys had prepared a full English cream tea. We started with a selection of thin-cut sandwiches laid out on a smart cake stand, followed by scones with jam and cream cooked fresh by Edwin, and then a wide selection of small cake deserts prepared by Andre, all accompanied by a selection of special flowering herb teas prepared in a glass teapot to watch the petals open as the teas brewed. The whole experience was amazing, and fully up to the standard of tea at the Dorchester. Later, Andre showed us his new hunting game, Horizon, for the PS4, and Edwin demonstrated his skill at designing cars, and with a Pokemon game. We got home late.

Friday, 21 August 2020

Flight to Edinburgh

 We flew from Edinburgh on Thursday for some away time. We were the first flight to leave City Airport for 4 hours, and the airport was deserted. We moved through security in record time, and a few people slowly gathered for our flight, but even that was barely a quarter full as so few were on the plane. Edinburgh airport too was like a ghost town with so few people. We wore masks the whole time (even in the taxi down to London and again in the taxi to the apartment), so it was good to finally get here and breath freely once more.

The woman greeting us was a cheerful hippy type in a long colourful dress and relaxed manner, reflected in the fresh apartment - one of Edinburgh's old stone buildings just behind the Royal Mile, with ultra high ceilings and vast rooms, expensively furnished in an eclectic style. She warned us to be careful with the dishwasher as she'd just had the engineer in because the door wouldn't shut properly. Soon after she left, the door wouldn't shut at all and the front fell off completely. What is it about dishwasher engineers that seems to turn them into useless tools? (See "how-to-fit-dishwasher")

On Thursday night we had a Deliveroo Thai meal to save shopping or cooking. It was supposed to be mild, but burnt our mouths out! But Friday made up for it with tea on the Royal Yacht Britannia, and a meal at one of our favourite veggie restaurants.

Our son Ben loves the Rebus books, so asked us to look up the "Ox" pub mentioned in the books as his local watering hole. It was favoured by Rankin because it is an old backstreet pub that was favoured by the Edinburgh police and has a unique atmosphere. We tracked it down after a long walk, but alas it was closed due to the Covid outbreak, with no sign of when it might reopen, so all we could do was take photos of the outside. It's official name is The Oxford Bar, so named because the Oxford University publishing house had business premises nearby. Interestingly, on the same street is another pub which was also closed for the duration, looks almost identical, and is called The Cambridge Bar.   

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Sunny days and warm nights


We enjoyed al fresco fish'n'chips last night, in the company of our friends Rae and Malcolm. The local pub is not serving meals at present, but they are accommodating take-aways, so they were ordered by phone and picked up from the bar. It is surprising how quickly time passes in the company of friends, and we ended in full darkness, picking out stars and constellations from between the passing clouds. Rae and Malcolm usually go to France each year for their break, but not this year. Everything is so uncertain, they will not risk booking the travel and will holiday in the UK.

On Sunday, we don't get the paper delivered, so following my Sunday routine I drove to Clare early before the heat got up to walk the dogs the long round behind the Swan. I went across to the paper shop, donning my mask as I went, and bought the Times.  I know the Sunday Times is a broadsheet, but this was a tabloid size, so I wondered if they had switched over to the new format.

It was still well before nine o'clock when I got home, so I got a bowl of cereal and took the paper to read on the patio. To my surprise, there was a Telegraph delivered on the mat and I wondered if the paper shop had suddenly started Sunday deliveries. I picked it up and noted it said in bold letters, "Saturday". I looked at the Times then, and noted it too said "Saturday". I must be getting a little dopey - somehow I was a whole day out. At least we ended up with two crosswords to complete.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Clearing out rubbish

We have started to reduce some of our excess rubbish and unwanted things. As I mentioned in my previous blog, this began last week with a trip to the tip to get rid of the old dishwasher and barbecue, but with Covid it is no longer a straightforward business of just turning up with ones rubbish. We had to make an appointment nearly two weeks ago, and we got a ten minute slot to unload everything. Only one person is allowed out at a time, and we had to wear gloves and a mask, so Ann stayed in the car. With half an ear missing, I have trouble keeping my mask on. I was struggling up the steps with the heavy old barbecue in both hands when the mask suddenly slipped off round my missing lobe, and was hanging from the other ear by its elastic. I had to continue up the steps till I could  dump the barbecue, with my head tilted wildly to the other side hoping the mask would not blow away.

Then at the weekend, I tried to get rid of two of the four old bikes cluttering the garage. I had put them up for sale on Gumtree for £20 each, but had no takers even when I reduced them to £10 each! So I took two of them out to lean against the tree by the road, and made a large notice saying "FREE BIKES" which I glued to stiff cardboard. They both went within the hour, and whoever took them even took my notice, so if I want to try the same with the better of the other two bikes, I'll have to make a new sign. The other bike is quite rusty, so will probably end up at the tip on my next trip.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Our first barbecue of the year

Lucus cooks the barbecue
On Friday, we got to the tip after making an appointment two weeks ago. We had a 10 minute slot, and only I was permitted to get out wearing gloves and a mask. But we finally got rid of the old dishwasher, and our old barbecue which had rusted up. The stores are now very low on barbecues (it is well into the season), but we managed to find a good one in the sale at HomeBase with a double grill to segregate the meat from our vegetarian dishes,  and we finally had our big barbecue yesterday.

Andre takes a turn with the barbecue
I am not permitted to cook them, as I've previously mentioned, since on my only two attempts I poisoned everyone badly, so we can only hold them if we can persuade a visitor to do the cooking. This time, we were fortunate that our visitors were Edwin and Andre, plus two of their friends, Brenda and her husband Lucas, also from Brazil. Lucas used to work with Andre but now works for ARM and is the barbecue expert. He and Brenda moved here in January and rented a house in Cambridge, but were immediately faced with our cold wet winters and lockdown, so they couldn't go out and meet anyone. Even worse, all their furniture was in a container ship unable to dock in the UK, so for over three months they had only a mattress on the floor, two chairs and a small table they'd bought from a local shop. They are quite gregarious, so were glad when they could finally escape the confines of their rooms. 

Brenda holds a degree in law, but is here wanting to learn English, and  hopes to apply to Anglia Ruskin to take a further degree in psychology. In the meantime, she is working as a volunteer in Cambridge, helping it to raise money to protect unwanted animals. They have a dog in Brazil, but have been unable to bring it over yet, and it will have to be quarantined when it arrives, so she was delighted to meet our two animals. After the barbeque, but before desert, they took them for an ultra long walk of one and a half hours. Bronte was exhausted on her return and retired to the bedroom; she wouldn't even come down for a treat!

Edwin, Brenda, Ann, Andre and Lucus

Saturday, 1 August 2020

The death of a fly

Ann has an aversion to flies: they're dirty, unpleasant creatures that love to visit the filth before coming in to feast off our food. We bought one of those modern fly killers, an ultraviolet lamp array set behind a grid of high voltage wires, so if one of the devils goes to the light, it should be zapped and fried, but so far not a single fly has fallen for the temptation of basking in the sun. Since becoming vegetarian we have seen far fewer, as they no longer breed on the decaying meat in the bin, but still a few get in from somewhere.  So today on the hottest day of the year, the doors and windows remain firmly closed, Unfortunately, one still got into the kitchen as I was eating lunch. Suddenly, I leapt back in mid-mouthful. Ann had leaned across the table and whacked me hard on the arm with a thick bundle of paper, saying "got it!"  "Yes," I said, "it's lying on the table. It nearly went in my soup!" Ann of course just laughed, thinking it very funny to make me jump while managing to kill a fly at the first blow.

Ann was invited to visit M-A today for a "girlie" afternoon to watch Mama Mia. M-A had four fans blowing to try and keep them cool, but she is does not like entertaining. The food provided was some popcorn, and one of the drinks Ann had taken round for the girls. However, she has been a godsend during the lockdown, bringing shopping and prescriptions and running other errands, so like most people, there are many pluses. 

As with humans, pigeons mate throughout the year and we currently have a breeding pair just outside our kitchen in the forsythia bush. They used to nest in the trees lining our garden, but since their recent desecration (see weird-omens) the birds are nesting where they can, so this one is at eye level just two feet from where we can stand looking at it. We watched as the eggs were incubated and hatched, and now as the chicks grow, for the mother leaves them regularly to feed from seed dropped on the grass by sparrows, clumsily trying to mimic the coal tits on the bird feeders. So today the chicks were looking back at us in record-breaking heat, quite large now and overhanging the nest, wondering if we had food for them.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Completing another portrait.

Matthew; acrylic on card
The portrait of Matthew is now finished. He and Rosie are coming over in a couple of weeks, so I will present it to him then. I'm gradually progressing through all the children, and hope to do one of Ben next. He too has said he will come over when Matthew's here to meet up, but I'm not a very fast worker, so not sure if it will get finished before then.

Everyone gets junk email and scam mail, usually from a poor widow in Nigeria who want help in repatriating her dear dead husband's unclaimed millions, but for the first time, I've been sent the same time of scam request, but as a letter. The weird thing was, there have been almost 40 identical letters addressed to me, but each with a different street number, though the name and postcode remained the same. Whoever sent them clearly doesn't appreciate that the houses on our road only go up to number five, and number 4 wasn't built anyway, so the larger number of the addresses on the letters don't even exist. The first batch came yesterday, but today another batch of 14 arrived. The postman just thrust them into Ann's hand and said, "more letters from your mysterious friend!"

I have started to reread my Terry Pratchett books. When we ran the antique shop unit, I bought a whole box full of first editions, some of which were signed and are now of some value. There are a few gaps, but I want to start from the earliest volumes with "The Colour of Magic" which is missing. I have sent for it from Abbe Books. A first edition is hugely expensive,  but even a second hand hard cover is costing about £14, but I like the feel of the large hard backs, so I shall splash out rather than just buy a cheap paperback version.

I have spent the afternoon assembling a new barbeque. The only times I've cooked a barbeque, guests were badly poisoned on both occassions, but the boys are coming over on Saturday with two friends and they will cook this one. I dragged out our old barbeque which has been stored outside for many years but it was very rusty, hence the new one.

Monday, 27 July 2020

A first oil portrait

We continue emerging from lockdown, with a few visits to local pubs, and lunch in a restaurant on our return from Sheringham. We only went in for a soup or a jacket potato, but they had only a fixed-price menu with a choice of 2 or 3 courses. We opted for the 2 courses, sharing starter and desert.
Colin Buckland - oil on canvas

I have completed my picture first oil on canvas portrait of my old friend, Colin. Many mistakes were made, but oils can be very forgiving, and everyone says at least you can recognise who it is. In the eulogy delivered by his son, Tom, he said, "While conducting he was said to be able to bring in the sopranos with his left eyebrow while keeping the lid on the basses by glowering at them with his right – all the while keeping perfect time with his hands." Certainly, Colin's eyebrows were expressive and I wanted to capture them in the portrait, along with his look as though he was smiling at the world from some secret knowledge. I am currently painting a portrait of Matthew, and hope to capture all the children and grandchildren, completing one of Ben next.

We continue to have minor disagreements with our new neighbours. Their new sheds are built very closely to our new boundary fence, and I requested that they ensure the guttering won't overlap our fence. They responded by sending a copy of a land registry map with their property outlined in red, and a strong letter advising that if we had any dispute about where the boundary lay, we should take it up with the land registry office. Now he is working on his shed roof, he looks straight down through our patio window to my chair, so I'm having to keep the curtain closed in the day, or else sit in a different chair, as I am sensitive about being stared at.

Autumnal things seem very early this year. Walking the circuit in Clare behind the Swan, I found ripe blackberries already, and some of the chestnut trees are already browning. The shortening days seem cooler already, though it is not yet August.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Days out under the new normal

Pub grub new normal style
Our first break away post-lockdown saw us heading for Norfolk. Unsure what we'd find, we stopped for lunch at a suitable looking pub just before Fakenham, The Crown, that boasted "meals served now" on the board outside. No lights were on and the front door was locked, but they had set out tables at the rear with marquee covers, and a mobile canteen was set up in the carpark serving nachos and burgers, with orders taken at the table. The waitress, who was also the owner, was doing everything on her own. She took the orders, cooked and served the food, and went into the backdoor of the pub to get the drinks. I guess the rest of her staff were still on furlough, but the whole thing seemed to work very well.

We came to Sherrington without high expectations, and were not disappointed. The town is typical small British seaside, with few redeeming features. In its favour, they are managing the new separation rules well, with clear arrows dictating one-way flow for pedestrian traffic on either pavement, and clearly marked queuing areas for the shops that people seemed to follow fairly well. But those same pavements were crowded, the pubs were bursting, the beach busy. High groins of stone blocks break up the beach so it is difficult to stroll along it, with only occasional steep steps down for access, and we were glad to get away again. Instead, we drove round the coast towards Yarmouth, stopping at a wonderful pub near Hickling Broad for lunch.

The pub itself was not taking diners, but the gardens were quintessentially English, with deep-set varieties of flowers and shrubs round the borders and nooks and alcoves set with hidden tables. It was a hot day, but I'd done another silly - leaving the dog leads in the house after my morning walk with them, so we couldn't bring them into the garden. All we could do was leave the car windows open while having a quick drink and a plate of chips, while drooling over the most tempting menu.

We made up for it in Yarmouth where we headed for our favourite ice-cream van for soft creamy Italian ices. He is there everyday, including the worst winter days, parked on a verge outside the town near the docks. Most day-trippers might not know he was there, yet there was a long queue which moved quickly, and the women behind me told me they drove miles just for this ice-cream, as we did.

Today we visited the shrine at Walsingham. That too is very different. A nun at the door was regulating admissions to one person/couple at a time. Candles cannot be lit there, but the nun offered to light them on our behalf.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Coming out of Covid lockdown

Four times did the new neighbour promise to replace our damaged party fence, and four times he failed to deliver, though I had offered to pay half, or even all for the materials. So today, we have a professional replacing the four panels, with concrete posts and a neat top trellis to finish. James was recommended by several people responding to a note from Ann in the local FaceBook pages, and he was brilliant. In when he said, bringing the materials round early this morning, and starting the job by nine. He got four panels and the concrete posts in by midday, and for a very reasonable price. Having lost the old trees and their wild life of birds and bats, we will grow new trees and shrubs to blot out the unsightly work rooms he is constructing that now dominate our garden.

This afternoon, Ann managed to get back to the dentist for a checkup. This meant she could make her friend Sylvia, who lives in Romford, jealous as her dentist is still only seeing emergencies. We even got to our old pub in Halstead for a drink as we always used to after visiting the dentist, though in the beer garden and served at the table rather than inside to queue at the bar. This is more like the continental way of doing things in bars and cafes, much more civilised, and I'm all for it.

After all these months and three lost trips away (including going to Center Parcs with Lucy and the children; to Lucy's reunion party; and to Thailand where we should have been this week) we met by chance one of Edwin's old teachers from the short time he attended Hundon primary school, over 20 years ago. We talked for a long time. Like Edwin, her son - who now wants to be a journalist - read English Literature at Anglia Ruskin. She and her husband own a holiday let, and gave us a sheet with the details, so we have finally booked a few days away by the coast, to a cottage where we can take the dogs. I therefore cancelled the papers when I walked the dogs in Clare this morning.

The assistant in the paper shop had clearly had her hair done, in a great bouffant style, tinged subtly with a purple dye. I am PC enough to know to be careful with complements these days, but I did risk saying I'd noticed her hair, and how smart it looked. The other assistant too had her hair piled in waves, though untinted, so I ventured to say "I see you've had your hair done too!"

"No," she said. "I haven't managed to go to the hairdressers yet. I go next week." Oops. I tried to revive my blunder by adding, "well, you certainly do a good job yourself," but it didn't sound very convincing. She has always been a little cold to me, but now she will be permanently frosty.

Monday, 6 July 2020

How to fit a dishwasher

We had Edwin and Andre to stay overnight on Friday. They had much to discuss and stayed up until nearly 2 a.m. chatting to Ann, long after I'd gone to bed.

On Saturday morning, the plumber arrived to fit the dishwasher. He had been due in the afternoon, but was suddenly banging on the door at 8 a.m. following cancellation of another job. Everyone else was in bed, but he started and they were soon up. But we could not get into the kitchen - he had blocked access to the cupboards for the plates, the spoons, the bread bin, and all the essentials for breakfast, so Ann's intention to provide a good breakfast for everyone to start the day were thrown to the wolves. Meanwhile, the plumber struggled to push the dishwasher back into the hole the old one had emerged from. He ended up lying on his back, kicking and pushing the front to try and lever it in, though at the end it still protruded a little on one side. He had told us that he'd never fitted a dishwasher before; now he was demonstrating this.

The boys left early to go shopping, and sight-seeing in Lavenham, ending up with a good lunch at the Swan to compensate for their hunger. Finally the plumber finished, and switched the machine on. The lights lit up, so he said the job was done and left. We put some utensils in to try it, but despite the lights, it made no noises and didn't seem to be progressing. We struggled for nearly two hours, reading the manual, trying different combinations of buttons, and despairing that we might need to inform the manufacturers that their new machine didn't work. Then I discovered that he had neglected to turn back on the main water feed at the back of the cupboard.

After that, the machine clearly made good water-entering sounds, and began to churn round to clean the pots. Suddenly it stopped in midcycle. I pulled the door open, and there was a puddle of water at the bottom, with an error symbol flashing. Back to the instruction book - the code said that there was a blockage, which seemed obvious. But it was now late in the day, and I could do no more. I went to bed, overslept, and even missed the evening quiz. 

Next morning, I had to pull the machine back out into the middle of the kitchen. I quickly found why he had had so much trouble getting it back, and why the machine didn't empty: he had looped the drain hose up behind the machine instead of feeding it out through the bottom, and it had folded double and was completely kinked. The fitting instructions even contained a big picture of the hose with a cross through to warn against the practice, and a warning not to kink the tube! I dared to squeeze it back into an approximation of a circle, hoping it had not developed a split, and fed it through the correct way. The machine now slid easily and perfectly back to where it should have been. I replaced the kicking board but now the door wouldn't open properly - he had fitted the door cover too low, leaving a gap at the top, but too low to clear the kicking board at the bottom. I now had to remove the door, redrill the screw holes, and fit it proberly. Finally all worked. All that is left is to await the bill for his work - surely a sarcastic account of what he'll claim he's done.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Country pursuits

Streaking fox
Training on the long reins
From my window in the early light, with a low mist still on the fields, was a fox attempting to cross the horse's field. This was no urban fox, fearlessly feeding from dustbins, but shy and wary as any traditional country fox. It kept creeping forward, attracting the attention of the horse which each time began to move towards it, at which point the fox ran back to the hedge. Not that the horse was aggressive, but more curious. Finally, after several forays, it had courage enough to streak past the horse and under the fence. The owner of the fields is a specialised trainer who takes in other people's horses to break them in or teach them good techniques. He has built a series of jumps and circuits, and they can often be seen doing circuits on a single rein. I saw something new this week, though, when they came up the road on long reins - a special technique for teaching them to respond to commands on the reins before they take a saddle and rider. Unfortunately I had a dog on the lead in each hand and they trotted past too quickly for me to photograph, so I've cheated and pulled this one off the web.

I have returned to my oil painting of Colin. Bob Ross, on his program The Joy of Painting, likes to beat his brushes to get the cleaner out, saying, "You have to beat the devil out of it". After I had primed the canvas and applied a background of colour, I followed his advice and started to beat the devil out of my brush, a large flat 1½" brush. The metal ferrule holding the bristles flew off into the dustbin and I was left holding just a bright yellow handle. Bob's advice is not always good, so now I clean my brushes by wiping them carefully with tissues. Oil is a slow medium: the oil-based paints stay moist for a long time and blend easily, but also streak if one tries too many layers. It is slowly taking shape, but it is easy to overwork it and take away a good effect that one likes.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Weird omens

Swan and cygnets in Clare park
It has been a strange day, triggered by the dishwasher failing last night, and this morning, the model stork by the pond suddenly seeming to leap into the water head first just as we turned to look at it, as though on suicidal intent. I had to call into the accountants in Sudbury this morning, and passed two cars that had collided on the empty roads - surely as great an omen as any in Shakespeare, and forcing me to drive with extra care on my own journey, aware that today the world stands askance. In the park, a solitary swan rears her head guarding her cygnets with wild threat, and when I walked in some woods at Sudbury, I became disorientated and lost my way as though it were some great forest.

Now it grows dark, a time when we used to welcome the bats swooping round the garden. I loved to see them, symbols of wild nature hunting insects in seemingly random flickers, but since our neighbour cut down all our trees, there are no bats. I am sure that it is illegal to damage their habitat, for they are a protected species, but this vandal cares not a fig about conservation or nature, as Ann wrote in her poem (in eco-vandalism). He continues to cover his garden in concrete, today bringing in a concrete mixer that has been churning all day, and he still has not replaced the fencing panel he removed behind the saloon, despite his promises to do so.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Another portrait for the portfolio

Grandson Luke
On Saturday, Edwin and his partner came round for a meal to celebrate their release from quarantine after getting back from Luxembourg, and us being able to meet another group. It was Luke's turn to organise the quiz, and that was really well organised, and he chose some great questions for us. The boys went upstairs and used Granny Annie's computer, while we used mine downstairs. I think we came last! We then had very late desert after the quiz was finished, and they didn't leave until 11pm.

I've finally finished Luke's portrait. I believe the original looks a bit better than my photo and it's reproduction, but the learning process is slow. These portraits have all been in acrylic, which is a good medium with a wide range of colours and good mixing and spreading potential, but one has to work quite fast to blend shading as the paints dry so quickly. I intend to return to my first oil picture tomorrow. This process is much slower, but the first layers have dried now so I can continue to build it up and add elements. I must say, oils are a very satisfying medium, but completely different from the water-based acrylics, and one has to take time to complete the picture.

I am continuing to work 'half time' - mostly just mornings. So far it has been quiet - just a couple of telecon meetings each week. I believe their office in London remains closed, so they're all working from home too - I don't want to travel into London yet, as I am one of the "high risk" people, so I am definitely trying to avoid any contact with people outside the family. I take the dogs for a walk each day, but it is generally round the fields, and if I see anyone coming the other way then one or the other of us moves off the path until we have passed each other.

For today's rant, I need look no further than the actress Florence Pugh having to apologise for cultural appropriation after admitting wearing cornrows as a teenager. It used to be that imitation was considered a sincere form of complementing and flattery, but no longer. For a woman to style her hair in cornrows is hardly a way of insulting someone of another race - it is a statement of admiration for how they do things. If this carries on, we should condemn Meghan Markle for wearing her hair straight and setting it in a bun or ponytail - that surely is appropriating British culture, the very thing she has turned her back on. Add to this the sudden pressure to remove stained glass windows and white statues of Jesus and Mary from our churches, and there will soon be nothing left of Western culture. In Africa and many other equatorial countries, Christ and the Madonna are portrayed as black, but why not? No one claims these figures are more realistic than white figures, for surely we know not what the true face of Christ looked like.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Time for the fight for justice to move on

The paving slabs outside our kitchen had grown black with grime, so today I went at them with a power hose to blast them clean. I had nearly finished when, under the kitchen window, I suddenly felt the rain coming down again. I was already quite wet from the water splashing up round my feet, so didn't worry too much, and determined to finish the job. When finally I went back in to clean up, Ann was laughing by the open window. "I was throwing water over you," she said, "and you didn't even notice!" I told her I had noticed, but took no notice of it. That's so typical of Ann - she has a wicked sense of humour, but it's usually directed against me, probably because there's no one else around.

Having said that, MA came this morning with the girls, and this afternoon the boys came to celebrate their release from quarantine following their visit to Luxembourg. Ann prepared one of her wonderful meals, a casserole with all the veg trimmings, and a good selection of puds including a classic sherry trifle. Delicious.

There has been much fuss recently about "Black Lives Matter". This is true, they do matter, as do Asian and white lives. What does not seem fair however is the wanton destruction of our British heritage with so little protest in its defence. We are not even allowed to state "White Lives Matter" without the catch-all condemnation of "that's racist!" No, it's not racist. Our lives matter too, and our history matters. We all acknowledge that slavery was wrong, but slavery was abolished in this country in 1807, over 200 years ago. It is time to move on. White people in the UK make up 86% of the population; people of Black ethnicity make up less than 4%. So small a percentage deserves respect and equality, but not total dominance of the airwaves, and certainly not the right to dictate our history by ripping down statues willy-nilly. Black people make up 5% of managers and directors, which is a fair number; and they make up 16% of people in professional jobs. This does not sound like prejudice to me, for on these figures black people are succeeding and doing well. No, the real thrust of the modern anti-slavery movement should not be against the past, which is gone, or against statues of long-dead people with whom this tiny minority disagree; they should turn their sights to where they might actually make a difference to people's lives: to modern slavery in Africa, or to the sex slave trade across Europe, or to support people like Malala, fighting for the rights of women abroad. Perhaps then they might achieve something worthwhile, rather than celebrating as victory the toppling of dead bronze.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

eco vandalism

Freddie Mercury
The inner artist is progressing slowly. I've finished a portrait of Freddie Mercury, a singer whom I love and was keen to capture a likeness. Also, I've started my first oil painting - a very much more difficult exercise, but a road I was keen to tread since being given an easel and box of oil colours by our friend Robin. I am keen to do a memorial portrait of my friend Colin, following his recent death. It is hard starting without lessons, but Ben bought me a book on beginning to paint in oils, and there are a number of good videos on YouTube that are helpful, though every artist seems to have their own technique, no two of which agree. It seems to be a case of "do whatever's right for you". Bob Ross's series on BBC is helpful, with good tips about mixing colour and creating background skies and landscapes, but he uses a three inch housepainter's brush and never paints people or animals, let alone portraits in close-up. In the end, I am just having to experiment with mixing the paints, blending the colours, and building up the picture and learn as I go along.

The boys continue in quarantine, but are released this weekend, so Ann has invited them over for a celebratory meal as part of our "household bubble". More bubbly characters than those two it is hard to imagine, and we are delighted to be their first port of call after release from house arrest.

On Monday, Rosie had her scan to check all was developing well, and to determine the sex of the child. Matthew decided to announce it to everyone in a mass video call; to cut a long presentation short, it's a girl. They haven't chosen a name yet, but Lucia, who seemed to have predicted it correctly, now said she ought to be called Olivia. We all agreed that was a lovely name, but of course it will be for Matts and Rosie to decide, and it was too soon for them to announce anything yet.
eco vandalism

I am cursed by neighbours
destroying God's good trees
sawing, chopping, felling -
no dream of conservation
but the striving desperation
of watching woodland fall.
But, for every one he destroys,
I will plant not one but two,
I will spoil the despoilers view
cover him with emerald green
until his house cannot be seen
and beech, elm and crawling leaf
will suffocate and bind his limb
to still his hand from eco sin.

Work continues to gather pace, but we still manage to spend some time in the garden and visit a number of garden centres to buy screening plants, to shield off the barren fence where our new neighbour has butchered all the trees. Once, our garden was a haven of peace where we would hear no more than the murmur of insects or birds calling each other, but no longer. On teleconference calls, I have to shut the window to keep back their noise, or even close it against their yapping dogs, even on these hot days.

He has a massive garden, four times the size of ours, but has turned the thing into a chewed up mess, and is now busy concreting a large part of it to take new buildings for their proposed joint businesses. The whole place has taken on the aura of a building site, with him, his brother and son shouting constantly the whole day as they break up foundations with a sledge hammer or rattle what sounds to be piles of scrap iron, the whole business accompanied by what seems to be a ritual of cursing and swearing.

We respond as Ann writes: by planting more trees on our side of the fence. We are slowly building a screen of green to fence him off. Even now they are at the front bellowing at each other. I am working in my room at the back, but still they drown out the birds and the peace.

Monday, 15 June 2020

The boys return and I have a hospital trip.

Edwin and Andre returned safely from Luxembourg yesterday. Their only delay in the whole journey was the customs at Brussels train station, where they were subjected to two separate interviews to review the purpose of their journey to the UK. Having convinced the customs officers that they were only transiting Belgium with a view to returning home, they had to complete quarantine declarations and agree to remain in isolation at home for two weeks. Those poor boys have sacrificed a great deal to support us in Luxembourg at the funeral.

The eulogy delivered by his son, Tom, has been put on line by the church, and I will paraphrase a small part of it here as it sums up so perfectly, if briefly, the life of a giant.

Colin Buckland
He tirelessly sought to acknowledge and bridge differences, learn from others, encourage dialogue, build consensus and collaboration for the good of the next generation. He was the most inspirational teacher and his fairness was universally recognised. For his dedication to all his students,  he is remembered with fondness and love. He was a true Catholic, a man of profound and robust faith that was secure enough to tolerate his highly-intelligent, scientific mindset and the human fallibility of himself and others without judgement or condemnation. His bookshelves were like his mind: tolerant, well-informed, strong and broad.

He was a joyful man with a highly-developed sense of humour most strongly characterised by intelligence and warmth. His love and skill for music defies description. The people and music that he leaves behind are testament to that. He was said while conducting to be able to bring in the sopranos with his left eyebrow while keeping the lid on the basses by glowering at them with his right – all the while keeping perfect time with his hands. Polymath. Inspirational. Kind. Intelligent. Fair. Non-judgemental. [He is remembered for] his musicality, his voice, his warmth, his humour, his faith, his generosity, his love, his humility, his legendary eyebrows.

He set an example for us in the best possible way. He was also a romantic and had a deep love of the sea and sailing. He could quote poetry by heart at the drop of a hat. Thank you for all the joy, wisdom and love that you brought to all of us.

Today, returning to earth with a jolt, I had to attend the hospital for my six monthly cystoscopy check for the bladder cancer. It was a strange experience, with everyone wrapped in masks. The hospital though was eerily quite, the carpark almost empty, the corridors quiet. I had to arrive only five minutes before the appointment, and Ann was not allowed to accompany me so had to wait in the car. We had put gloves on, but the nurses doing the cystoscopy made me throw them in the bin and clean my hands with disinfectant. They say that gloves carry disease from door to door, and if I leave them on I'll carry any hospital bacteria or viruses back with me and deposit them on my clothes when I get dressed, and the car door handle when I return to the carpark.

Anyway, the good news after that spiel is that my bladder remains completely clear, and I can be left for another six months until my next check up.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

The memorial service for Colin Buckland

Edwin in abstentia at Ann's birthday
Today, Saturday 13th June, is Ann's birthday. I rose early and took the dogs out at 7am, for the day was brilliant sun and blue sky. Too often if I leave it, such days cloud over or rain comes, though today it is still set fair despite the poor forecast. Ann, who was born on a Friday, has always held the 13th to be auspicious, but today her celebrations are muted, for today also is the memorial mass for Colin Buckland, and Edwin is away with Andre in Luxembourg, to represent we who cannot be there. Ann asked for me to make her a card this year, so I have done a small portrait of Edwin, to remind us of his presence even though he will not attend the birthday celebration.

We started the day watching the celebratory mass for Colin streamed live from Luxembourg. Edwin sent photocopies of the service, which we printed out. Colin's son, Tom, gave a homily, and his daughter, Sarah, has invited them to the village of Roodt sur Syre where the ashes were interred, to see the woods where he now rests. I have few pictures of Colin and me together, as generally one of us was holding the camera, but I've found one from our sailing days, when we sailed into Brightlingsea, anchoring off-shore and taking the dinghy to the town quay. We were sometimes mistaken for brothers, and that night we had fish-and-chips and a drink, and someone offered to take our picture.
We two at Brightlingsea
Back in Luxembourg, Edwin and Andre met up with Colin's daughter Sarah. They hit it off well, and she's invited them to meet up in Oxford. Tonight they are eating at one of Colin's favourite restaurants recommended by Sarah, for a commemorative meal, then tomorrow they start the trek home, hopefully crossing borders as freely as they entered.
Birthday tea for Ann

In the afternoon, MA, Sam and the girls came with Ann's presents. The day was hot so we could sit out, with our own sandwiches and 2 meters apart, but we shared a cake and bottle of fizzy. The girls had decorated the garden with imaginative birthday posters and balloons, so we had some semblance of jollity despite the oppressive restrictions.

Wearing our gloves and facemasks, we visited a garden centre yesterday to select a tree, choosing a magnolia which I have planted to celebrate this day of both birthday and death. Above the saloon, we have raised the Brazilian flag which was to have been in honour of Andre and Edwin, so we can still think of them as the flag flies freely in the brisk Easterly wind.

Friday, 12 June 2020

The Great Escape

Leaving England
A message from Edwin, just after 6 a.m. to say they were on the train and heading for King's Cross on the first leg of their journey to attend Colin's memorial in Luxembourg.
At 8 a.m. came another message, to confirm they were through the customs barrier and in the departure lounge at St Pancreas and ready to board the Eurostar, then a note to confirm they were crossing France on their way to Brussels. Nothing much was open at St Pancreas station, and no food or drink is served on the train, but they had the forethought to pack sandwiches and a flask, feeling more like fugitives trying to escape across the border than solemn mourners.

A friend of Lucy, a former labour MEP until 31 January when we left the union but who still lives in Brussels with her Belgian husband, had offered her phone number to help out if there were any problems. However, they left the station precinct easily with no further checks, and took possession of their hire car. Petty bureaucracy dictates that, having been in the UK for more than a year, Andre is no longer allowed to drive here but his licence is still valid in the rest of Europe. They were offered a Fiat, but Andre does not like driving that model so they took a Vauxhall Astra Estate, a much larger and more comfortable vehicle. 

Leaving Belgium 
A couple of hours later, hearing nothing, I texted to ask if they'd crossed the Belgian border. "No," came the answer, "we've stopped at Ikea for some shopping." They are so laid back those two; they could have had beds in their car. They soon reported they were on their way again, and with the border only about 5 km further on, they sailed through with no checks at all, and made for their hotel.

Sarah, Colin's daughter who is organising the whole thing, texted a welcome and even offered to ferry them from the hotel to the church tomorrow for the service. So now they will relax in the hotel, able to go for drinks or coffee and cakes with no hindrance. They still have to wear face masks when out, but other than that they are free from lockdown and able to lead a fairly normal existence.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

On religious intolerance

Birthday gifts
If all goes to plan and they succeed in getting to Luxembourg for the funeral on Saturday, the boys will be away for Ann's birthday. So when they came round last night to collect Edwin's passport and funeral garb for their trip tomorrow, they also brought Ann's birthday present, insisting she could open it while they were there. It was a gift of three of her favourite wines, each attached to a gift wrapped book relevant to the region or type of wine. That was so thoughtful, and we both look forward to reading their selection.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, a woman of exceptional talent and ability, has reminded an opposition member in the House that she was all too well aware of religious prejudice, having been subjected to Paki-bashing at school, and having to fight her way up a very difficult ladder to succeed. This type of prejudice is all too apparent in films such as East is East, and Blinded by the Light.

Some while ago, Edwin and I were invited to the Royal Society of Medicine to see a presentation to the neurosurgeons who had treated Malala following her severe head wounds. We had the privilege of meeting Malala, the activist for female education and youngest Nobel Prize laureate, with her parents, and also a representative from the Pakistani embassy who gave a glowing presentation about his country, leaving us tempted to visit. Her "crime" was to believe something others did not - in this case, that girls should recieve an education.
Malala at the RSM

As a medic, I have had to work with people of many different nationalities, and generally people are no more nor less varied in one culture as they are in another, whatever their racial characteristics, or what beliefs they cling to. As has been stated many times, it is not differing religions or race that trigger hatred, but intolerance of those who are different. The current unrest and protests round the world against racial discrimination led us to think about aggressiveness in general, so much of which is driven by religious intolerance, examples of which abound.

The nature of being a spiritual person is not how we worship, or who or what we worship, but to acknowledge that there is some power beyond that which can be seen. I am not particularly religious, but would describe myself as spiritual. Girders in the Sand presents a picture of the evolving god. As the elements are beyond their components of protons, neutrons and electrons, so are the proteins, genes and chemistry above them in variety and form, and the living cells are above them in complexity as individuals are above the cells that compose them. So an evolving god is as much beyond anything that can be imagined as human societies are beyond the individuals that comprise them.

We can but approach the unknowable through human representations: Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, Budda - all figures suggesting something beyond imagination. Religious wars and intolerance are fights against human imagination, therefore against ourselves. Yet beyond this, something remains - beyond our power of thought, yet drawing us forward, through music, art and architecture to something beyond ourselves. Perhaps then, when we see the unity of all things, racial and religeous intolerence will fade away.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

A funeral is announced

On Monday, after the news came to us of Colin's death,  we broke the house arrest imposed by this totalitarian regime and drove to Cambridge for a meal with the boys. Edwin had been to three shops to get the ingredients so he and Andre could prepare something special. They even bought in two bottles of Pinot Gris, a wine favoured by Colin, so we could toast his memory. We took the dogs in the car, and walked them in the local park, though they were not allowed in the apartment. We celebrated well, and got home about 1am without being stopped by police. What sort of state are we living in when free adults are forbidden by law to use common sense and take small, calculated risks?

Can it be but two days of grief? The hours seem longer. Today came messages from Kate and Teen, Colin's sisters, and a direct call with his daughter, Sarah. Following Luxembourg custom, the cremation has already taken place, but no one including family is allowed to attend. Instead, they are given the ashes soon afterwards. The interment of the ashes will take place in the woods above Roodt-sur-Syre on Friday, attended only by his wife Ann, the two children Sarah and Tom, and the parish priest. Sarah and Tom were able to travel out from England on Friday, but they both still hold Luxembourg passports and speak fluent French, which helped their passage across the border. On Saturday, a memorial mass will be held, for unlike in England, conditions in Luxembourg have been eased and churches are not closed to grief or silent reflection on a passing life, unlike here where the church remains barred and I had to spend a quiet moment in the ruined priory again.

Edwin has announced that he is determined to travel to Luxembourg to represent us at the service. He intends to travel by Eurostar, hoping to persuade the authorities of the essential nature of his journey. Now, he is coming over with Andre to collect his passport and funeral attire. He has a letter stating that theirs is an essential journey, so now they have booked their rail tickets and car hire. Hotels in Luxembourg also are open for business, so they have booked that too and will stay two nights over there. He has never driven abroad before, but Andre still has his Brazilian licence, so they've booked the car in his name.

It was good to see them again, though so briefly as we passed the things to them, including the loan of my black tie. If anyone can make it through the bureaucratic jungle of restrictions, it will be Edwin, so we wish him safe journey.

Monday, 8 June 2020

The Day is Dimmer Now

Colin Buckland
 8th June 2020

He was a good man
never raised his voice
or had an evil word to say
walked not in fear of God
but holding God's great hand
not lighting a flickering candle
but one almighty flame
which rose unto God's heaven
in Colin's blessed name
My eyes are smarting still, unable to contain the welling tears. The man I have known for nearly 60 years has left us. We met on the first day of term at our new university, both reading physics, both making a bee line to sign up for the sailing stand. At 18, neither of us could sail, but went each week determined to practice, and to learn the hard way through many capsizes. We shared flats together in London for our three years together, and his home, first in Watford, then the IoW when his parents retired there, became my own. We were still sailing together until Ann and I sold our last boat.

The news came through this morning at 8:15, within half an hour of his death.

Even the dogs sense the loss, sitting at my feet with ears laid back, tails low and eyes heavy, pawing their sympathy as though sensing grief. Excepting my brothers and his sisters, with our parents passing we became the two who had known each other longest. Closer than a brother, he was my best friend and  utterly dependable and honest, ever in good humour, with a ready song or poem to his lips to entertain or lift our hearts. He had the joy of knowing from an early age what he wanted to do with his life: become a teacher, first at a school in Sierra Leone where he met his wife, Ann, then in Cambridge, finally at the European School in Luxembourg where he worked until he retired. He was one of those rare people who did exactly what he had set out to do: help youngsters to delight in learning so that, whatever their own vocation, they might reach their potential with a love for science and the curiosity and wonder it engenders.

Music was his other great love and passion, winning many eulogies for the work he did in founding and supporting local choirs in Luxembourg. Ann and I met up with him in Edinburgh soon after we started our lives together in Saltburn, when he and his choir went to the Festival to present the world premiere of a St Andrew's Mass they had written. We had little money then, and slept on the kitchen floor of the apartment they had rented. People kept coming through in the morning, stepping over us to make drinks.

Now, we wished to light a candle and add a prayer in his memory, but the churches are locked as though the state is trying to suppress religious freedom. We went therefore to the Marian Shrine at Clare Priory, which is an ancient wooden building with open timbers to one side, only to find they have added a glass protecting wall across it, and the ancient interior is being decorated, so all chairs and candle stands were gone. We therefore went into the ancient ruins where the alter still stands open to the air, and there in an ancient niche we placed our candles out of the wind and stood in silent, prayerful memory to a great man. The world is darker now, the silence lies more heavy by his going.

The Marian Shrine being refurbished

Lighting candles to Colin at Clare Priory