Week 575

Sunday, 29th December, 2019

As Christmas week ends, the Blog begins its 12th year of inconsequential babble. For me, it is structure, routine, purpose, context, diary, memory…. Whatever it is for you, Dear Reader, you have my sincere sympathies. The anniversaries come thick and fast around now. Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Wedding Anniversary (41st tomorrow – Thank you, Richard.) New Year’s Eve, Start of New Decade – the 2020s.

Over the years, I have not been brilliant at maintaining friendships in any meaningful way. I have not been prepared to go the extra mile for anyone other than my wife. It’s not that I don’t care but that I don’t care enough. If have to be blunt. I know, because my Mother warned me over 50 years ago that I would die a sad and lonely death through lack of friends and she will probably be proved right. I think, in many ways, she did the same.

However, on retiring and having time to reflect upon my life, I took stock of the support significant people gave me at strategic points in my development. I realised that there were people who went beyond the call of duty – unlike me – to help me find my way. I realised that I owed them the duty of gratitude I should have bestowed at the time but was too much in a hurry to leave that stage of my life behind and move on to the next to do it.

There was my Rugby/Athletics/English mentor who helped me through the time after Dad’s death. I hadn’t seen Vic Roebuck for 40 years and he was in his 90s when I tracked him down. I wrote him a long letter of thanks for all the precious time he had spent on me and what it had meant to me. He wrote back with real gratitude that I had ‘remembered’ him. He died a couple of years later. I wrote to my College English tutor, David McAndrew who had supervised my thesis and started me on the path of life long learning. He provided me with the spark I needed to forge ahead in my academic development. David was in his 90s when I finally tracked him down through the publisher of his last volume of poetry. I actually received an email of thanks from him. He died the next year. At least I manged to acknowledge my debt to them before they went and I recorded it in my Blog with their photographs at the time. 

From the left – Spud Murphy, Mick Holmes, Me, Dave Beasley

As a child, I did not really like large family life or small village life. I found them both claustrophobic. I was desperate to break out, to break away. Of course, as a young lad, I was unable to do either but I was given one, genuine escape by David Beasley. He was/is about 12 years older than me. He ran the village Scout Troop and his wife ran the Cubs. In the Winter of 1957, David put me on the back of his motor cycle and drove me all of 200 yds up the village High Street to the Village Hall to join the brotherhood of males in the Cubs. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me.

As I progressed from Cubs to Scouts, etc, I received huge support and advice from David Beasley. He took me on my first journey outside UK …. all the way to Southern Ireland. In the summer of 1966, just as England was winning the World Cup, we toured around Loch Derg in SW Ireland in a horse drawn ‘tinkers’ caravan. I first learned to smoke and be violently sick on that trip. I learned that Catholic priests got drunk and that Irish horses farted all the time. I haven’t seen David since 1969. I moved away to college and he moved away to live in his beloved Wales with his dear wife, Sue. He was the third person I had to track down and thank and, 10 years ago, I did just that. We have corresponded ever since.

Yesterday, an old scouting friend who has lived in Massachusetts for the past 50 years emailed me to say he had phoned Dave over Christmas only to be told that Sue died in her sleep a week ago. She was just 76. Like Pauline & I, Dave and Sue had led a quiet, fairly isolated life on a remote, Welsh farmstead relying on each other and troubling no one else. I can only imagine how he is feeling now.

Monday, 30th December, 2019

The penultimate day of 2019 and my 41st Wedding Anniversary has opened with an orange light illuminating a foggy sky. My phone says it is just 3C/37F but it is bin day and feels quite mild as I venture out to do man’s work. By 9.30 am, we are out and down on Littlehampton Pier. 

Morning looks like Evening.

The sun is fighting the mist and will obviously win eventually but the battle is beautiful. Everywhere was almost deserted save for the occasional dog taking its old man for a walk. We both rejoiced in the acknowledgement that we lived in such a beautiful place. 

Life is a beach … almost deserted.

Even so, we still did our gym routine and then returned to cook scallops, prawns and Sea Bream in white wine and garlic sauce with Gruyère cheese topping accompanied by roasted endive. What a wonderful, celebration meal.

Tuesday, 31st December, 2019

Overcast and cool this morning to mark the end of 2019. Although we’re going to the gym, we have jobs to do beforehand. It is my job to unstack the dishwasher. So that’s done. It is my job to vacuum the house. So that’s done. Now I am going to turn my mind to New Year Resolutions.

  1. First on the list is actually making the Hotel/Flights booking for Athens in August/September. Prevarication has stopped and that will be done today. Next, I will try to firm up Summer travel with a drive across Spain and a villa in Murcia for June/July. In between these travelling events, we will intersperse shorter trips to France although we would like to arrange a week in Bordeaux at some stage.

  2. Second, we are going to tighten up on our diet starting with a complete embargo on alcohol for 3 months. This will be accompanied by renewed vigour in the gym & pool. Particularly, we are going to start adding a new piece of resistance equipment in to our routine to work on our stomachs.

  3.  I am going to address one of my other, life-long weakness once again. That is learning to program. I have decided to become a child again and learn Python.

I think I’ve written before that I am a strong ‘end-user’. I have no understanding of the ‘back office’ at all. I can drive a car but know nothing about its workings at all. I couldn’t repair one and I’d struggle to change a tyre. I know how to use my body but I have no idea what parts it is made up of or what could go wrong with it. I use lots of computers but, even though I went on a course to teach me, I still could not possibly build my own.

Information Technology I was good at. Computing I failed completely. It always surprised me because, in spite of being an Arts student, I was always good at Maths & Logic. I thought they would lend themselves to programming. I spent £1500.00/€1765.00 on a course to learn how to program but found I was out of my depth immediately and, although I was reluctant to admit it, I just gave up ultimately.

Twice I have tried to confront my failure but never with any real conviction. This time is different. I can feel it. I will learn to program in Python!

Wednesday, 1st January, 2020

Warning! This year will include flashing images…

I must admit, our acknowledgement of the New Year was fairly cursory. We drank our last glass of wine for 3 months together, Pauline exclaimed, White Rabbit and we went to bed. That’s what old people do. We heard the occasional firework although most of the people around us have gone away for New Year. I don’t know if they’re trying to tell us something.

Even so, we allowed ourselves 10 more minutes in bed this morning. Over breakfast, the normal conversations of the day took place like, What shall we eat for our meal today? We settled on roast salmon and salad. What do we intend to achieve over the day? Pauline will steam clean the floors downstairs. I will vacuum out the car but, before that, I must cancel my Amazon Prime (temporary, free) Membership. I watched about 5 Premier League games over Christmas and then searched to see if there was any other content I would like to see. There wasn’t but, even if there was, I couldn’t have saved it to my Sky Box so it was pointless. There is nothing I buy that is needed at break neck speed so it’s over.

We’ve had a lovely, long chat with our Sifnos friend, Elerania, who was wishing us Happy New Year and commiserating over Brexit. She was our Notary and her husband was our Dentist. They have two, delightful children. One is studying in Athens and may even come to London to university. 

Kastro, Sifnos

They live in the fortified settlement or castle, Kastro. They all seem well and happy and would like us to visit soon. Who knows …

Thursday, 2nd January, 2020

What a depressing day! Dark, grey and gloomy from start to end. We went out shopping early in the gloom. We swam outside in darkening gloom and we cooked in the garden in near darkness but with the outside lights on at 4.00 pm. It was 10C/50F but felt quite cool. Contrast this with the gorgeous day on Monday pictured in the photo below when the temperature was only 8C/47F but felt much warmer in the sunshine.

Dancing in the Sunshine.

I think it is the very darkness of the day that pushed me on to look for additional travelling possibilities. The Spanish trip is becoming more focussed in our minds and I hope to tie something up very soon. Today, however, I heard from my friend, Brian, who lives in Shaw, Lancashire and we have decided that we must go up to see him at the beginning of April. No travel before then because we are concentrating on Exercise, Diet and being alcohol-free for 3 months. That would all go by the board if we were travelling and socialising so early April it will be.

Friday, 3rd January, 2020

Slightly brighter morning and a bit warmer than recently. We were reading 11C/52F  at 7.00 am. Mind you, it’s not half as bright as the morning in Cape Town where the cricket I am watching is coming from. While I am watching, I’ve seen something completely new to me which is nice.

Mistle Thrush

Do you ever think about birds? I must admit, I rather take them for granted most of the time and then, suddenly, I realise that there are these entities carrying on their lives largely high above our heads. Tweet of the Day precedes Radio4 Today programme at 5.55 am. This morning, it was David Attenborough presenting the Mistle Thrush. Hearing it, I realised immediately that that was the bird I hear every afternoon singing high up in the surrounding trees while I’m swimming at the pool.

Grey Heron

We live above Water Lane in Angmering. Obviously, it is always better to live above rather than below it. In the Winter when the water table rises, a hidden brook runs openly on the surface of the grassland. This year, we’ve noticed two, grey herons fishing there which was quite exciting. Reading up, I realise it is quite a common sight and I do remember herons eating all our fish in the pond of the picnic area in our Repton garden. Even so, I have seen them only rarely. 

Hadida Ibis

An intruder appeared on the Test Match outfield in South Africa which the commentators laughingly referred to as a Hadida. I have never heard of or seen one before. Looking it up, I found that it is a form of Ibis. Nice to learn something new.

Saturday, 4th January, 2020

Yet another grey start to the day and quite cool – only 5C/41F. I was going to cut the lawns this morning but have decided to give it a few days for warmer, drier times. Actually, I was looking back at earlier times as I watched England take 3 South African wickets in Cape Town. Ten years ago this week, I was sitting in the hospital carpark listening to Test Match Special from South Africa as Pauline’s Mum was being prepared for cataract operations. 

Pennines, January 2010

We had driven across a snowy Pennine route. This sort of scene seemed to be a big feature in our daily lives for the best part of 40 years. We have hardly seen snow for the past 10 years and would be quite happy to never see it again. 

Pauline’s been allowed out on her own this morning because she’s got the first of 6 appointments  to ‘improve’ her face. We are still going out to exercise in the early afternoon. Let’s hope the air has warmed up for our venture out to the pool! …..

……. and, suddenly, the clouds disappeared, the sky was blue and the sun shone strongly as we started our swim. Mind you, we ran back to the sauna as soon as we got out. 

By the way, I don’t know if you noticed but today at 8:20 pm and 20 seconds it was 20:20:20 2020.

Week 574

Sunday, 22nd December, 2019

Twas the week before Christmas…… Oh please let it end.

Phil Tuffin in Salles-Lavalette

I am completely in sympathy with cousin, Sue Wilson’s partner, Phil Tuffin as depicted in this photograph. We visited them in the Dordogne a couple of Summers ago and I can testify to his wit and sanity in normal times.

Of course, the Shortest Day has ended with the Winter Solstice. For my part, they mean little although I can easily understand why they stood out and were marked as momentous events by people who lived in a world without electricity, the light bulb and gas central heating. Surviving this low point means one may live to see another Spring, enjoy another Summer and reap the bounty of another harvest. I can see why it could be invested with religious significance through the reliance on the vicissitudes of the weather. 

My ancestors lived here in the Repton Mill.

I can only imagine how my ancestor, pictured above outside their home of the Repton Mill in the second half of the 19th century, coped with the cold and darkness of these days. How did they manage with non-flushing, outdoor toilets, a water supply trough just outside the front door and almost no access to medical help?Their life was dark, cold, hard working and with few comforts and yet they were some of the wealthiest of the village blessed with home ownership, with a regular income from the flour mill and farmland and animals to almost guarantee a reasonable diet. Imagine the position of the labourer with unstable employment, income, lodgings and provisions.

Our house has been pervaded with cooking smells throughout the weekend as Pauline prepares food for one meal on one day this week. We had the luxury of downloading and reading electronic newspapers, watching football matches on huge televisions, exercising and pampering ourselves in the gym and spa facilities at the Health Club and then returning home to griddle Tuna Steaks in the garden. Even our toilets flushed, our taps ran hot indoors and the central heating was switched on and off over the web. It is only in retrospect that we fully realise how good life can be.

Monday, 23rd December, 2019

Bloody Christmas. It takes normal life over. Have you noticed that people exiled from their culture such as ex-pats are even more desperate to try to revive old memories than people living here currently. I’ve noticed British ex-pats in Greece are desperate to relive their past Christmas experiences by recreating elements of home abroad. Some of them even voted for Brexit which suggests a distinctly loose grip on reality. Here, we are playing it low key. We’ve even been to the gym while others are exercising in Sainsburys.

I quite enjoy watching Premier League football. I think we can lay claim to one of the better competitions in European football. It is still debateable whether Brexit will affect British team make-up. We will have to see if it becomes a points-based system, those at the bottom of the League may struggle. I watch mainly through Sky but also BTSport which I get by dint of my Broadband subscription. Now, there is a new contender on the scene. Amazon has bought the rights to all the post-Christmas week games. That involves 9 on Boxing Day and another 2 on Friday. To access them, one needs to be a member of Amazon Prime. I’m not a member of Amazon Prime……..

………..I am now! I’ve got access to 9 Premier League games on Boxing Day and another 2 on Friday. I’ve taken out a ‘free’ 30-day trial of Amazon Prime. Oh life is good! Must remember to cancel before January 22nd, 2020!

Tuesday, 24th December, 2019

Christmas Eve? Oh no! This whole saga isn’t over yet. Still, keep your head down and it soon will be.

We send about 70 cards each year and I’ve just been through and ticked off all who didn’t sent us cards this year. It comes to 17. A few have let us know in advance that they are cheapskates and are not sending cards this year. One or two have died and the rest have just gradually fallen away. Mike who retired from work about 20 years ago has stopped writing. Trevor, who we last worked with 13 years ago, has suddenly stopped sending cards. Mabel, who taught Pauline in the 1960s and must be approaching 90, has suddenly stopped contacting us. We haven’t been told that she’s died. Our rule is that we don’t stop however many people do. We continue to be faithful to our friends.

We’re driving up to Surrey tomorrow morning with a Christmas Dinner for 9 in our car. It has all been sourced, prepared and packed ready for finishing off on the day when we arrive. We will set off around 7.00 am. The turkey, which is the only thing we don’t provide and we are told weighs 6.5kg, will need to go in by 9.00 am  if it is to be ready for 2.00 pm. All the starters are ready, the puddings are ready and the vegetables are pre-prepared for finishing. Two types of stuffing is cooked in advance and ready for the big reveal. Two, large Christmas Cakes are ready for transportation. Presents for the kids are bagged up. It should all be over and us back in the peace of our own home by 9.00 pm.

The meter in the room ….

For some one who is obsessed with data capture and logging, I was surprised by my wife this morning. Our power smart meter was flashing red this morning. It sits under my computer and has done for over 3 years. I have become a bit complascent about it but I still regularly check our daily usage. Today, instead of green, it was flashing red. I had no idea why until Pauline pointed out that she was boiling the kettle. She’s known for a long time that high usage forces the light to turn from green through amber to red. You learn something every day!

The Health Club was quite busy today but it’s closed tomorrow. No idea why. Back on Boxing Day to work that Turkey meal off.

Wednesday, 25th December, 2019

My 68th Christmas Day. It has been one of my least favourite days in the year since I was about 5 years old. There is nothing you can do about it but keep your head down and wait for it to end. We were up at 6.00 am and drinking tea. It was dark outside and my phone said just 3C/37F.

By 6.30 am, I was filling large plastic boxes with all sorts of food including the Christmas pudding which was made about 18 months ago plus a steamer to cook it. All the vegetables were pre-prepared, stuffing was already cooked. Fruit flans were cooked and just had to be assembled. Custard/Crème Anglaise was boxed up for reheating. The starters – smoked salmon pate with melba toast and duck terrine with garlic bread were packed in too. The more delicate foodstuffs went into the car’s fridge.

By 8.00 am, we were off on the drive up to West Byfleet, Surrey on the most beautiful morning. The drive itself is always delightful and was even more so on very quiet roads. More than anything, the weather was delightful and sunny. Soon after we arrived, I took a photo at the bottom of the garden. Compare this with all those ghastly, stereotypical images of Christmas Day pedalled perpetuated in popular culture.

Sun on the water at the bottom of the garden.

Compare this with all those ghastly, stereotypical images of Christmas Day pedalled perpetuated in popular culture. More like this will do well for me.

Pauline’s meal went well and the turkey was the best I can remember. We experimented with not stuffing the turkey and not covering it with foil but basting it regularly. It proved wonderfully moist and flavoursome. Of course, a lot could be down to the turkey itself. The Christmas Pudding was made in Autumn 2018 and had definitely improved with age. I had two helpings. Well, I had gone out for an hour’s walk while others were cooking, etc.

We started for home around 7.30 pm and were back an hour later. However nice the people are, I always heave a sigh of relief when I re-enter my sanctuary and so it was this evening.

Thursday, 26th December, 2019

The day has opened dark and wet. Not at all inviting. After breakfast, we drove to Sainsburys because we had used a lot more milk than expected and needed replacement. The store has an underground carpark which is perfect when the weather is wet.

When the weather is wet in the South, it tends to be cold and wet in the North which means snow. And so it was 10 years ago. We brought Pauline’s Mum over the Pennines from Oldham. She couldn’t face being driven all the way to Surrey. It was a beautiful time. Our last Christmas with her.

Our last Christmas with Mump.

Just look at the snowy, Yorkshire background to the shot above. Actually, it isn’t typical of Christmas Day anywhere in UK but it is a wonderful memory.

Worlds apart and a decade later, we are here in West Sussex – both parentless. It is a strangely, rootless feeling. We are the limit of each other’s microcosm.

At the bottom of Sea Lane.

We went down Sea Lane to the coastal path. The tide was turning and the sea was fiery in the cold, light rain. We only stayed long enough to take the air and blow the times away. Home and hot coffee and we are back on an even keel. Christmas is over and we are on to New Year.

Friday, 27th December, 2019

If I was called in for my Dementia Test today, I would fail.

Question 1 – What Day is it?

Question 2 – What is the date?

Absolutely no idea. Failed!

Today started off beautifully bright and sunny and cold but turned warmer and grey. We were going to the gym but got caught up in jobs – I cleaned the interior of the car while Pauline made about 2 litres of Turkey stock in the pressure cooker which I set up outside in the garden.

We have a 2-ring hob which allows us to do this outside and save the house being permeated with the smell of fatty, turkey stock. This stock will serve us for quite a few weeks as the basis for soup. 

The Thinker

In the early afternoon, we nipped down to the beach to blow the cobwebs away. Actually, there was no breeze at all and the temperature was mild and calm. Back home, Pauline recreated Christmas Dinner but this time with sprouts and bread sauce. It was absolutely wonderful.

Saturday, 28th December, 2019

Heard this morning via my lifelong friend from America that my old friend and mentor, Dave Beasley’s wife has died in her sleep of a heart attack at the young age of 76. These things come as such a shock to the system. One is faced with the stark reality of life and death immediately. Pauline keeps reminding me that we should do what we want to do NOW and now prepare for a time we may never see. I’m more cautious and like to prepare for scenarios of longevity.

On that theme, we’ve already booked November in Tenerife. Unfortunately, Easyjet flights are not available until April 2020. I’ve put it in our calendar to remind me. We’ve been looking at booking a week in Athens at the end of August.

Acropolis Suite, Electra Palace, Athens centre.

The hotel is available and cheaper than last year. The flights are available so we will tie that up in the next few days. We just have to confirm a property for June/July in Spain and book ferry crossing Portsmouth – Bilbao and foreign travel for most of the year will be blocked out.

Week 573

Sunday, 15th December, 2019

It has been rather like April today. Sunshine and showers. Not cold but not warm. It has been a day of office work and kitchen preparations. I’ve done my final proof-read, re-edit and printing of the newsletter. It’s amazing how important these proof-reads are. We have received professionally published and printed leaflets from Lib. Dems. and Conservatives in the last few days with the most glaring errors in them.

Now, I know that I should be the last one to cast aspersions because my Blog is littered with spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. I even fail to get the correct date on my entries for days on end but my defence is that I am chiefly writing this for my own records and often very late at night. When I have time, I try to review the week on a Saturday and correct the most glaring errors but, often, they pass me by. Now Pauline is like a hawk. She could sub-edit for England. If my laziness and sloppiness annoys you, sorry but ‘tough’!

November 2020 in the sunshine.

After working hard and watching the most dire football matches for a while, we decided to decide about re-booking the villa in Tenerife for November 2020. That shows optimism and faith in a future. The price is almost identical to this year’s so there is little to think about. It will cost us £5,150.00/€6170.00 plus the flights for 30 nights.

Monday, 16th December, 2019

A nondescript day which gave us opportunity to complete tasks. We took out huge piles of Christmas cards for posting and then went on to Sainsburys for specific items for Pauline’s Christmas lunch. These are things on her ‘To-do’ list which was written on our return from Tenerife two weeks ago. I have done everything on my list apart from the last two. One I’ve been putting off for a while which is to find a new and better home for a lot of our savings. There seems no short or even medium term prospect of better investment rates for cash savings so I have got to look at invest bonds for a large proportion of the non-urgent cash.

I can’t allow our instant access accounts to drift on as they have fallen to just 1.2% but it’s shocking to find that locking our money away for 5 whole years would add less than 1% extra. I can’t see myself going for more than a 2 year fix at the moment.

Tuesday, 17th December, 2019

In 1984, Pauline and I flew to Athens late on Friday evening, June 22nd. We arrived in the early hours of the morning at Ellinikon International Airport and waited outside for a bus to take us to Piraeus Harbour. It was hot, sweaty and the bus was packed with island-hopping travellers and their rucksacks. We were very tired and, when we got down to the port at about 3.00 am, we went to the ticket offices and bought tickets for the 5 hr journey to the island of Sifnos on the F/B Ionion.

In those days, Boulis had a taverna on the keyside and he employed a young relative to wait on tables. That young man was John Kalogirou. His English was good and my Greek was non-existent. We talked and I learned that he came from a family home in Piraeus. He learned that I was a teacher. We were both called John but I was forever known as ‘teacher’. Whenever we were near, I would hear a voice shouting out: Ah, teacher! and there was John Kalogirou.

Beautiful view for a meal in the sunshine.

In those early days, we travelled around the island by bus. The bus stop in the square of Apollonia was outside a taverna rented and run by a Greek-Cypriot called Savvas. He was an absolutely excellent cook and Pauline, particularly, loved his dishes. At some point, and I’m not sure when but Savvas was eased out of the tenancy and moved to another taverna in Platys Gialos. Shortly afterwards my friend, John Kalogirou, turned up as its new owner under the less than subtle name of Beautiful Sifnos (Ωραiα Σiφνος).

Although his garden tables were blessed with the most wonderful, mountain views, he never seemed to be very busy. His cooking and that of his little wife, was pleasant but he always seemed to be teetering on the edge of failure. It was good to see him wishing his customers Happy Christmas today. Looks like things are still going on.

Wednesday, 18th December, 2019

This morning, I started the day by settling our destination for November 2020. We will go to Gatwick on October 31st, fly to Tenerife on November 1st and fly back to Gatwick on November 30th. The villa we so enjoyed this year was available so I secured it. Unfortunately, Easyjet flights to Tenerife are only available up to October 2020 so far so that will have to wait.

Easier than driving and cheaper.

I have now got to turn my attention to properties for rental in June-July 2020 in Tarragona/Salou and ferry crossings from Portsmouth to Bilbao. It is planning these sorts of things on grey winter days that makes life worth living. The ferry journey is 24 hrs but only leaves twice a week. The Brittany Ferries ship looks luxurious especially if we choose a Luxury Cabin. The drive on from Bilbao to Tarragona is just over 300 miles and will take about 5 hrs. Just perfect!

I didn’t really want to leave it but I had to go to the gym. The workout was completed with such a headful of travel plans that I hardly noticed the time or effort and the swimming outside was absolutely wonderful. On these days of cooler air temperature, we like to follow up with a short spell in the Sauna and then I have 20 mins in the Jaccuzi/water massage area while Pauline is doing girl things in the changing rooms. It only takes me 7 mins for a shower, dried, dressed and out and, even then, I’m usually waiting for my wife. About 6 mins to drive home and, within 30 mins we are eating corn on the cob and griddling swordfish steaks on the Griddle/Plancha in the garden. Can life get any better? Well we have got to get through Christmas!

Thursday, 19th December, 2019

A dry, grey start to a day which, eventually, turned wet. We had to do our weekly shop at Sainsburys and Tesco. This is a great time of year for us. Supermarkets are hugely discounting fresh, whole salmon for the Christmas celebrations. Today, Tesco advertised their salmon as half price – £5.50/€6.43 per kilo for whole fish. Each fish weighed about 3.8kg at a price of about £21.00/€24.55. Pauline is an expert at filleting. In fact, she relishes it. We bought two, whole fish and will probably buy two more just after Christmas when they are being discounted for New Year.

Filleted, Skinned, Pin-Boned and Portioned by a skilled Chef.

Pauline called at the Doctors’ Surgery this morning to pick up a prescription. As she waited by the desk, she heard staff informing patients that there is a 3 week time lag for new appointments. It feels a hostile, atmosphere for anyone unfortunate enough to fall ill. Welcome to the Tory world of non-entitlement. It really emphasises the need to take responsibility for one’s own health because the State is certainly going to struggle to do it for one.

My brother, Bob, has a medical condition which he has been waiting to be operated on. It is a serious condition and should be treated urgently. Recently, he has been rushed to hospital with complications which cannot be separated from this delay in treatment. He is making no fuss about it but I’m not that stoic and would be lobbying everybody I could to get it dealt with. I wish him well in seeking a resolution. Talking about brothers, I heard from my little brother, Mike, for the first time in a couple of years. I found it quite emotional. I must be getting old.

Friday, 20th December, 2019

The reverse of yesterday. Heavy rain over night has left reports of flooding in the south east. Multiple vehicle accident closed the road to Gatwick this morning, the M23 is closed in both directions around Crawley and will be for the rest of the day. The train line to Brighton – some 10 miles away from here – is closed because of flooding and we read of a flood closing the road one way out of our village. We always predicted that Brexit would have this effect!

Now, at 10.30 am, the sun is out and all is well with the world …. apart from politically. Although the media is obsessed with Christmas, Sunday is the Shortest Day marking the lowest point of the year. Every subsequent day gets longer and brighter with a renewal of energy. The fight must go on.

We haven’t seen any Winter yet and, maybe, that is to come. The skimmias mass planted at the front of our new house are certainly packed with berries which all the old wives seemed to think presaged a hard season for birds but it will be  winter of discontent for many.

Saturday, 21st December, 2019

Exactly 25 years ago, a Norwegian lad who had taught at our school and then moved on to lecture at Edinburgh University sent us a Christmas card with a small, paper  insert wishing us season’s greetings and telling us briefly what had happened over his last year. We reciprocated with this card which has been shuttled back and forth alternately over the subsequent years. It has had to be repaired with grey, insulation tape on its spine and is stuffed full of newsletters so it will hardly close but it is still going .. and coming.

It makes fascinating reading for us. Almost everything we said we were going to do, we actually did … eventually. In 1997, we told Bjorn that we must go up and see him and we did … in 2018!

Angmering is quietly festive which suits our tone completely. It is important to mark the passing of the year without indulging in the self-deception of religious ritual. This is the Shortest Day and tomorrow opens on the Winter Solstice. We will do our annual cooking of the Christmas meal at Pauline’s family’s home and then retreat to the peace of our West Sussex village. After celebrating our Wedding Anniversary on December 30th, New Year the following day, we will get back into healthy routines of diets and exercise.

Week 572

Xmas Newsletter 2018

Sunday, 8th December, 2019

When we returned from Tenerife a week ago, we both wrote lists of jobs we had to get through over the next couple of weeks. We have both being addressing them assiduously and I have only 2 remaining out of 10. One of those two jobs is to write my Xmas Newsletter. 

You will know that I hate Xmas at the best of times and I am incapable of writing Xmas cards. I have a problem using a pen at all after years of keyboard communication and the last time I started to write Xmas cards, I carefully inscribed:

From John & Pauline Sanders

Pauline caught me after about 20 or so and immediately shredded them. She explained that it was too formal. My counter argument was that we often receive cards from Jane & David and I don’t know which of the 3 couples we know with those names it has come from. My argument didn’t seem to succeed.

Xmas Newsletter 2018

Actually, we were told last year that Ruth & Kevan were no longer sending Xmas cards and this year Jane & David have followed suit. It is a difficult debate that we’ve been having for a while but have not yet resolved. Actually, we have a number of contacts who still don’t have access to computers and email.

Dave Beasley, my old scoutmaster from Repton who is in his late 70s has never mastered computers and my friend Caroline from Oldham who is about the same age still sends me postcards from all round the world because she doesn’t use email. There are people who we like the annual contact with who we never see or hear from otherwise and don’t know if they have emails either.

For now, we will continue to send Xmas cards although I am only going to send my Newsletter in printed form to those who can’t be reached with an email attachment. I will still be obsessing on robins which symbolise for me wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are popularly used as symbols of bright, friendliness in starkly cold scenery whereas, in reality, they are successful, vicious fighters in a harsh world.

Monday, 9th December, 2019

Lovely day – cold but bright. We’ve begun receiving Christmas cards and will have to write ours in the next few days. For those who can’t wait, this is what you are likely to see.

Christmas 2019

Thank you to Richard for indulging my robin-infatuation by especially cutting out a robin and sticking it in to his card this year. That shows true respect!

Our village always does its bit to celebrate the festival. The pollarded trees in the square are illuminated and a Christmas Tree is erected. They held their annual Christmas Fayre last week and carols were sung. 

Angmering Village Square

We have done our regular Health Club exercise regime. Outdoor swimming was exhilarating but quite cool as a strong breeze blew across our backs as we swam. The sun was going down quite rapidly which saw the temperature drop quickly. We came home and griddled tuna steaks outside where I had mowed the lawns earlier today. For mid-December, it is pretty good going.

 Tuesday, 10th December, 2019

Out early this morning into heavy traffic around our area. Pauline was going to a DPD drop-off site to collect a parcel. She was collecting an order of 3 new pairs of  Sketchers trainers. It was a 3-for-2 offer that she couldn’t resist. She’s obviously committed to long term activity.

We also called in to our Doctors’ surgery to collect repeat prescriptions and take them to the attached pharmacy. The surgery had a notice up informing us that this system would soon change and that the paper prescription would soon be withdrawn nationally in favour of electronic requests direct to a named pharmacy. This should have been obligatory a long time ago but one can clearly see the need for in our Clinical Practice where long waits for printed prescriptions are accompanied by regular mistakes – Today our prescriptions were handed to us with someone else’s clipped to them. – and regular waits for them to be signed by a doctor.

Buying off-plan in Surrey – 2009.

Exactly 9 years ago, we were making our last visit to view the building progress of our duplex apartment in Surrey and to sign the final purchase documents. This is what we say:

Today we have once again done our full Health Club regime although outdoor swimming outside was chilly in the air. Actually, we felt wonderful after it and particularly after a few minutes in the sauna and a few more in the jacuzzi.

 Wednesday, 11th December, 2019

A chilly morning of sunshine and showers. We were out early to follow up some tasks including a visit to our local fisherman who had a joint of tuna for us. It weighed 3.5 kg and cost £83.50/€99.00. The tuna was sourced from Cadiz in Spain. In fact, he had little local fresh fish on his counter this morning and he explained that recent strong winds had kept the fleet harboured. We left with an order of sword fish to be collected on Saturday when his supplier had been to Billingsgate Market.

The beach area was deserted and wonderful. We waked for a while and took some photographs. The simple beauty of the scene is quite breath taking. Pauline is absolutely bowled over by it and it is fascinating to find how much warmer the air is and how exciting the movement of the water can feel.

Worthing Beach

We were just preparing to set off for the Health Club when the skies opened and a storm of torrential rain accompanied by hail began to beat down. Even as we drove along the road, we questioned whether we should continue. As we proceeded, two rainbows appeared in two areas of the sky. We went as far as to go round the roundabout and head home before changing our minds and going back towards the Health Club. We were very glad that we did. We completed our full routine plus swim even though a return of the rain hit us outside in the pool absolutely drenching us even though we were already soaking wet.

Back home, we basked in our feeling of fitness as Pauline baked salmon steaks which she topped with home-made pesto and served with tomato salad. The Christmas cards are piling up and making us feel inadequate. It is my job that is holding everything up. Tomorrow is our supermarket shop but then I must print address labels so Pauline can get the main batch off to the post.

Thursday, 12th December, 2019

A cool, blustery and grey, wet day down here on the South Coast. We went out early in heavy rain to vote at the local Community Centre. The carpark was absolutely packed and we thought there must have been a huge rush of enthusiasm but it turned out that a popular Toddler Playgroup was going on in the room next door.

Actually, the temperature was 11C/52F but the strong breeze made it feel much colder. It is such a depressing light and strong rain certainly dampens the spirits.

In spite of this, we went to the Health Club vowing only to do our gym routine today. However, as we finished, there was a break in the rain and we decided to go out and swim. In order to do that, we have to walk from the warm changing room through the steamy indoor pools area and outside across a flagged patio to the pool. Today, it felt cold and the pool was visibly steaming. Once in, we swam happily for 20 mins or so and then the rain returned. Very quickly, it became heavy and cold on our backs. We ran back in and to the sauna. Still, at least we tried!

I was reading the thoughts of an ex-pat in Greece who for some unfathomable reason actually wants Brexit. I can’t think my way through the process that went on there. I want the freedom to take a European partner, to move away and live in another European country but I want to reduce the chances of all other British citizens and, particularly the young, to travel, work, settle, access Healthcare, etc. in other European countries. I want it to be more difficult to sell to our nearest trading partner and to ensure British need visas to travel by demanding EU citizens need visas to visit Britain.

His view is that MPs are servants of the people. Of course, that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the real situation. MPs are not delegates to do their constituents’ bidding. They are representatives charged with doing what they consider best for their constituents. A delegate would say to the suicide bridge jumper: You’ve made your mind up. You know jumping will have serious and very painful consequences but who am I to stop you? In fact, I will help you with a push if you request it. A representative would talk them down and say: Don’t do it. I’m telling you, you will regret it if you survive the fall at all. I will show you a better way and help you access it. That is how representative democracy works by eschewing the dangerous and ill thought out populist ways.

Friday, 13th December, 2019

A strange day of wind and cloud. Not terribly cold but not very inviting. We drove down to the fisherman’s hut to pick up a joint of Swordfish. Another 3.5 kgs of fish and another £88.00/€105.50 in cash. 

We were feeling the pain but we will revenge it! We walked on the beach road and watched the sea consume the shore in fierce and devastating ways. That is how we will deal with defeat!

We will not be cowed by this set back. We will fight on the beaches and everywhere else until we defeat this excrescence on our body politic.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

like the waves beating out its pain on the rocks, this struggle feels an elemental one and all of us must stand up, examine our position and fight this right wing populism.

Saturday, 14th December, 2019

Xmas Newsletter 2019

Today, as Christmas cards arrived and many enclosed newsletters, I decided that I should push myself to complete my own. I had been in two minds – about cards at all never mind the newsletter but there are so many people from our past who we only catch up with once a year at Christmas time, I decided that it would be churlish and counter productive to stop now.

We send out about 70 cards each year and a number go abroad so we have to get on with it now. Only about half of them get a newsletter but that is quite a production to compose, edit, proof read and print back-to-back. We have an address database for the envelope labels so that cuts down the work a bit but Pauline has already put quite a lot of time in to writing them.

Xmas Newsletter 2019

In spite of spending a fair amount of time in the Office this morning on my allotted task, we still went out to the Health Club and did our gym routine followed by the most wonderful half hour’s swim outside. As we swam, the strong, low sun bathed our backs in warmth. Squirrels ran acrobatically along the hedges and fences trying to remember where they had buried their winter food stores and high up in the tree, a single Song Thrush sang out so loudly the music echoed from the surrounding, sunlit walls.

These are wonderful times for mid-December. Even the grass is still growing and the lawns are luscious green. We finished the afternoon griddling tuna steaks in the garden before the light fell and the Easyjet flights high overhead were reduced to winking lights across the sky towards Gatwick. It’s not beginning to feel a bit like Christmas – thank goodness.

Week 571

Sunday, 1st December, 2019

Happy December 2019 to everyone. It’s quite chilly outside but we’re still wearing shorts. We’re going to go down fighting ….. and shopping.

We were out early to Hobbycraft of all places. It is somewhere I am unaccustomed to but, obviously, many people are. When we parked up, there was a queue waiting outside for doors to open. Pauline has hit the floor running and, since the aircraft hit the tarmac, Christmas planning has been full throttle ahead. Cake bases and transporters were the order of the morning. Pauline is in her element in this environment.

Happy in the Baking& Icing aisle.
Happy in the Baking& Icing aisle.

I’ve been given the task of sourcing long sliced smoke salmon as Pauline plans fish starters. We bought a couple of 250g packs of smoked salmon from Sainsburys yesterday and it is delicious but cut in small, flimsy pieces. They are not good for wrapping a terrine of other fishes. Strangely, it is not so easy to find. I love smoked salmon and have been considering investing in an outdoor smoker to do my own but not in time for Christmas Dinner. It looks like I may have to order a side of smoked salmon finely sliced for home delivery.

Very old firm – established in year 2000.

I have found a family firm from Grimsby who will deliver a finely sliced kilogram side of smoked fish for under £30.00 which looks like a good prospect.

Pauline may be busy but certainly doesn’t have a job list as long as mine. As well as a Formula 1 race plus two football matches to watch, I have holidays to research and book, financial investments to reassess, a Xmas Newsletter to write and design, and computer software to renew. Actually, one of my first jobs today will be to find a good price for and renew our Norton 360 Premium – including antivirus, Secure VPN and Password Manager for 10 devices (Computer/Laptop, iPad and smartphone).

Monday, 2nd December, 2019

I know I say it every year but I cannot stand Christmas. It seems so meaningless and unnecessary. It disrupts normal life and encourages one to break routines. I particularly can’t stand recent trends which encourage the desire to decorate houses with lights. Our neighbours are fairly prosperous, middleclass folk who hold moderate views on life and politics but so many of them feel the need to display their new homes in full illumination at this time.

It’s started already!

This has happened every year that we’ve been here and I’m shocked to find that I’ve grown to just accept it.

It’s been an absolutely gorgeous day of blue sky and strong sunshine. Not warm but not too cold either – around 9C/48F. We drove to Rustington for Pauline to have her haircut and then set off to Surrey to visit C&P. P is still not well after a couple of spells in hospital. We stayed and chatted for a couple of hours and the drove home – taking my Tenerife trees which they had been tending for me while we were away with us. After just 2 hours driving, I was quite tired this evening. I must be out of practice.

Tuesday, 3rd December, 2019

Yesterday it was Hairdressers and today it is Beauticians – both for Pauline and both necessitating driving to Rustington. It makes her happy so it makes me happy. We were out by 8.30 am and home by 11.00 am.. I just enjoy driving anyway so not a problem. It is quite a chilly morning and the car is so stuffed full of technology that, after a month away, I am having to learn it all over again.

We park in our garage but we have a number of heated aids which make driving more enjoyable. For a number of years we have had heated seats. This new model has regulated heat on the seats with 3 separate settings. It also has heated wing mirrors in case of icing up which doesn’t really apply in the garage. Thirdly, it has a heated steering wheel which is absolutely lovely on a cold morning.

One of 3 Steering Wheel Control Blocks

The other side of the wheel has multiple choice buttons for telephone, sat. nav., radio, etc.. and then there are the controls for heated seats, climate control, etc.. It is a lot to absorb and familiarise oneself with and, having just got to grips with it all, a month away seems to have set us back a little.

We returned to exercise at the health Club this afternoon with a full gym workout followed by a lovely swim outside under a low, winter sun that was falling behind the yew hedge line.Back home, Pauline griddled swordfish steaks out in the garden which we ate with mixed bean and tomato salads. Lovely end to the afternoon.

Wednesday, 4th December, 2019

A gorgeous, gorgeous day although cool. It didn’t get above 9C/48F throughout the day although it felt warmer in the strong sunshine. W drove down to the fish trawlers to buy some fish, walk in the sunshine and take some photographs. Behind the fishermen’s hut, a cormorant was enjoying himself, diving, disappearing below the sea and reappearing with a bill stuffed with silver fish, flashing iridescent in the sunshine.

A cormorant fishes for its Breakfast in the Littlehampton Harbour.

We drove back via the Garden Centre because our large Bay Tree blew over while we were abroad and cracked its pot. We had to source a new one. That done, we went home and prepared for the Health Club. We did a full workout. The pool outside was delightful. Pauline cooked duck salad and then prepared to meet women neighbours who had agreed to walk down to the village Christmas fayre together. I could not imagine anything worse than that.

Thursday, 5th  December, 2019

It’s been an enjoyable day with plenty of sunshine and getting increasingly warmer. After a cold start, we reached 10C/50F which made swimming outside even more comfortable as the pool steamed in the sunlight.


My job today has been starting to plan our forthcoming travel in 2020. I have been doing this tentatively for months and particularly looking at a Summer trip to the Spanish coast of Murcia. I have gravitated a little further up that coastline to Tarragona and Salou and am now looking for villa rentals in that area for around two months in May/June/July.

Salou Marina

We will drive down to Portsmouth and then take the ferry to Bilbao/Santander which takes about 24 hrs rather like the Italian/Greek ferry we took from Ancona down the Adriatic to Patras. It will cost around £700.00/€830.00 return which is a little cheaper than the Adriatic ferry.I hope to have this trip tied up by early New Year so I’ve got to get on with it. Looks exciting though.

Friday, 6th  December, 2019

Yesterday, the temperature peaked at 10C/50F. This morning at 7.00 am, we have started at 11C/52F although it has rained over night.

We received a parcel yesterday although it was taken in by our neighbours because we were at the gym. It was addressed to someone called Derek but at our address. I began to think my wife had taken a secret lover and was keeping him in the back bedroom. She denies it and we put out a message on our Development’s Facebook page advertising this parcel and searching for a Derek who lives at our house. Within a couple of minutes, we were told where he really lives and, within a couple of hours, 145 people had viewed and commented on our post. The embarrassing thing is that Derek lives immediately behind our house and we didn’t know. This morning, Derek’s wife, who we recognised as someone who has been seen in the garden behind our house, came round to collect the parcel.

Before we went to Tenerife, I made a major purchase. One of my bugbears when cleaning the car is to deal with the uncomfortable sloping inside of the windscreen. I also usually hoover the mats, treat the leather seats and then turn my attention to the dashboard and inside windscreen. In this order, I end up dirtying the carpets and having to redo them. I’m not a natural cleaner. In October, I laid out £4.50/€5.21 with free delivery to order a tool for this job from Amazon.

It was supposed to arrive within days but I was eventually told delivery would be delayed. We went away for a month and, on return, had a card saying the Post Office had tried to deliver unsuccessfully 3 times. It was back at the depot waiting for us ….. except that it wasn’t. When we got there, it had been returned to sender 2 days previously. ‘Sender’ turned out to be China. No wonder it took so long to arrive. I must stop going automatically to Amazon. I’ve found and ordered the one above on the right from Halfords for just £6.00/€6.95.

Saturday, 7th  December, 2019

A grey morning which doesn’t look too inviting outside. Fortunately, we don’t need to go there other than a trip to the gym. Today is not a day to be on the roads. Stressed workers getting increasingly frenzied over Christmas purchases are driving everywhere. People are to be avoided.

I must admit to having an ambivalent relationship with humankind. I love people but on my terms. I find people endlessly fascinating but much in the way an observer, a writer does. I like to sit at roadside café tables watching the world go by rather than intervening in the world. If I meet someone new, I want to find everything out about them, their biography, and I do. People are happy to talk about themselves and I am happy to listen but I don’t want to develop a relationship with them. I never want to get that close. I prefer my position as an outsider

A Grey Day in Worthing.

I realise now that I have always been like that. Do you hate parties? I do. I will go to great lengths to avoid them. I haven’t gone as far as to break a leg but I have considered it. Looking back, even as a young man I always sat on the outside edge of gatherings looking in not joining in. It is my nature. Any connections I make are on my own terms. For example, I hate having visitors to my house although I don’t mind visiting others’ houses in the knowledge I can leave at any time. I don’t want my own space invading. Does that make me weird? Maybe but I’m old enough now not to care.