Week 626

Sunday, 20th December, 2020

Hands up those who have managed 12 full years of a diary. That’s 625 weeks. That’s 4368 days’ records. No, I thought not. Actually, mine was a bit sketchy in the first few weeks but retirement has definitely given it full rein. As a digital autobiography, it has proved incredibly useful. I will be 70 in this Blog Year and seriously hope to post a Year 26 Blog notice. I mean, 83 is nothing nowadays, is it?

Two members of the Barnes family aged 94 & 56.

It is amazing what can happen in a life over 12 years. I draw strength from what has gone before and really look forward to what is to come. I will let you know at the age of 82 whether it has been as good or, perhaps, even better.

Monday, 21st December, 2020

The shortest day of the year and it has opened dark and damp. We were up at 5.45 am on a day when we will be doing quite a lot of driving. The enveloping chaos on the EU/UK borders – something which prefigures the outlook for post-Brexit Britain – will lead to panic buying in the last days up to Christmas.

Because of the Covid danger, Pauline and I go shopping at unearthly hours to avoid others. This morning was Sainsbury’s at 6.00 am followed by Asda at 7.00 am. Back home for coffee. Pauline is making Rabbit & Pork Pâté with Lemon & Thyme for our Christmas feast. The rabbit is French which makes all the difference.

Pauline has so much culinary skill and even more enthusiasm that she produces so many lovely dishes. We virtually never buy pre-prepared food of any sort. For weeks, Pauline has been making Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings, Vanilla Ice cream, etc..

She has been researching our fish medley Starter which will be King Scallops, Monkfish and Langoustines with a Gratin crust. I am salivating as I type. Main course will be Citrus Glazed Goose with Chestnut and Pork Meat Stuffing accompanied by honey-glazed roast parsnips and carrots. Pudding will be Homemade Christmas Pudding with Homemade Vanilla Ice cream.

The biggest challenge will be not eating rather than binging on this lovely stuff. We’ve already put weight on through eating too much and certainly drinking too much. As ever, we are going to punish ourselves in the New Year. We are in Tier 2 but it doesn’t look as if we will be travelling abroad until at least June. This gives us 5 months of purgatory to pay for the future enjoyment. We can make a big difference in 5 months. Anyway, we are setting off for Tier 4 Surrey this lunchtime to deliver Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings and one or two other cooked treats to Pauline’s family. We won’t be having any contact with anybody en route and, when we get there, we will drop the presents at the door and stand well back before beating a hasty retreat to sunny Sussex.

Our little village of Angmering popped up on Countryfile last night. It looked a nice place to live. I am not a big lover of villages but it is possible to live here and still remain anonymous.

The village is expanding rapidly as town dwellers desperately want to escape to a safer environment. Locals cannot afford to remain but have to move out to buy a house. We are comfortable in a village which has fantastic connections to all the things we want to do. My only regret is that it takes over an hour to drive to the tunnel but, currently, that is an asset!

Tuesday, 22nd December, 2020

What a depressing day. Dark, wet, cool. I took a long phone call from my old friend and mentor while I was a youth in my home village of Repton, Derbyshire. It was the first year anniversary of his wife, Sue’s death. They were married and inseparable for 50 years. They lived an isolated life bound tightly together on a remote, Welsh farm.

Dave indulged his passion for the Great Outdoors and for manual labour while Sue enjoyed horse riding and looking after 16 donkeys, a clutch of geese and some hens. I can only imagine how the loss of one’s partner like that feels and I don’t want to experience it although it will come to us all one day.

For all his resilience, Dave is struggling to come to terms with his new situation. The horse and donkeys have gone to new homes, the geese are still there but the hens have stopped laying. Dave is busy all day maintaining the property but Covid has stopped his sons helping out. I resolve to phone him more often. I know how much the younger me owed him. I have also emailed my friend in Massachusetts who also knows and respects Dave so that he can lend a hand in cheering him up as well.

British carrots grown in Spain.

On Saturday morning, we applied for new passports. Yesterday, we received texts to say our requests had been noted and today, less than 3 days since our application, we received texts and emails informing us that our new and old passports were in the mail. Have you ever known a government service like that? In a pandemic? Unbelievable! The only thing we can think is that the current situation is putting others off applying and the service is looking for customers.

The UK (shambles) government are so committed to increasing home production of fruit and vegetables that they have annexed Spanish farms to grow them on. Just open up the carrots to see.

Wednesday, 23rd December, 2020

Will reading stop?

Whilst everything else decays and falls off, my eyesight has steadily improved over the years. I rarely wear my distance glasses which were always on my face in my youth. Sometimes I find I’ve driven miles before realising that I hadn’t been wearing them. With age, people require longer arms or adopt glasses to read small print. I do wear reading glasses but, increasingly, can usually manage without them when pushed.

Well, I’m likely to find out soon. I spend most of my time with my half moons balanced on the end of my nose. I have three pairs – one chipped, one mangled and one which snapped this morning. With possible shut down of shops in the New Year, I may have to resort to on-line purchase. The problem is my prescription is almost out of date and I don’t understand it. I’m thinking of driving to Barnard castle to calibrate it.

Driving back from Waitrose

We were at Sainsburys for 6.00 am to buy plastic, freezer storage boxes for Pauline’s latest project – Don’t ask! She is organising the copious amounts of herbs we have harvested this year. We had to be at Waitrose for 9.00 am to collect the goose. When we arrived, the queue snaked all round the outside of the building. Pauline walked straight to the front and was waved through because she was only picking up an order by appointment. The others were looking to browse/shop and numbers in store were being strictly controlled.

Home for coffee and the clouds parted; the sun came out; the temperature rose to 14C/57F and the world looked better. We are actually going out for a walk this afternoon. Haven’t done that for a few days now.

Thursday, 24th December, 2020

Gorgeous day! We pottered around until mid morning. Pauline prepared the goose for tomorrow and I did my customary, anal-retentive activity of going through the Christmas Cards, ticking off those who had reciprocated and putting red marks against those that haven’t. Actually, very few have failed to contact us this year apart from my eldest sister, Ruth, who has obviously written me off. Quite surprised, really. Haven’t heard from her at all. I’ve even had a lovely card from my fellow reclusive brother, Mike so something’s gone wrong in Bolton. Is Tier 57 not allowed to write to people?

Can’t tell you how much this means!

It seemed a shame to miss the sunshine so we went for a walk on the beach. There were a few others out there doing exactly the same.

Christmas Eve walk.

I began my Blog on Christmas Day, 2008. Tomorrow, will see the true beginning of Year 13. It has reached the stage when my, obsessive compulsive character will not allow me to stop. I cannot end a day without recording it. As another year begins and many of us resolve to keep a diary, I thought I would draw your attention to some of the great exponents. Of course, they can’t compare with me but, as also-rans, they are worthy of note.

  1. The most famous of all English diarists, Samuel Pepys, began his diary in 1660, just before he secured a position as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, and brought it to an end nine years later because he believed (mistakenly) that his eyesight was deteriorating so badly that he risked blindness.
  2. Virginia Woolf kept a diary that ran from 1915 to her death in 1941 which is eminently emulatable although she ended her life by drowning herself in the River Ouse at which I draw the line.
  3. Tony Benn kept a diary and refused to go to bed without recording the events of his day. Latterly, it was an audio diary that he recorded on tape. I relate to him completely although I didn’t quite have the interesting daily events to record.
Preparing the Goose for tomorrow.

Friday, 25th December, 2020

The Blog wishes you all a happy day as it starts its 13th year. Let’s hope we all see 14. I woke up thinking, I don’t have to drive up to Surrey today. Because we are not going up to Surrey, we had a leisurely breakfast and then I did my Boxing Day routine of ‘Bringing the Christmas Address List up to date’ and printing out the address labels for 2021 so that Pauline’s alright if I die. I’m sure most of you do exactly the same thing. I’ve even left Ruth’s address on there in spite of the fact that she hasn’t contacted me. I live in hope.

We are free for the day. By 10.00 am, we were nipping down to the Marina. Actually, there were plenty of people about. We walked down to the Jetty in the sea and were surprised to see a boat returning from a night’s fishing.

Fish for Boxing Day.

Got Pauline to pose for me on the Jetty but it was so cold in the cutting sea breeze that we couldn’t stay out long.

We drove home for coffee followed by a bottle of champagne and pottering through the day. Pauline was cooking Forcemeat stuffing and Bread Sauce. This was a tradition in the Sanders household. We loved bread sauce with Turkey and game. An onion stuck with cloves is simmered in milk and, when the flavours have been absorbed, white bread crumbs are folded in. Pauline adds butter and double cream which makes the whole thing wonderful. It is magical and evocative for me. I haven’t eaten it for the past 40 years because our hosts aren’t keen on it. This year, oh, this year! We are indulging ourselves.

Saturday, 26th December, 2020


Ruth has sent me an E-Card. I always knew she would. She’s lovely really. I don’t care what the rest of the family say about her. Funnily enough, it arrived just as I was sending a picture of her Penthouse Apartment to my friend in Massachusetts. I love these weird connections. I start a conversation on Facebook or Twitter and, suddenly, two, totally unconnected people from my past who have never met and never will take over that conversation and develop an on-line relationship which I can stand back and watch.

Never has this been more noticeable than the past few years as the Class/Education/North-South divide has been exposed in this crazy, Brexit debate. I’ve had University friends debating with past work colleagues and family members. Recently, a girl I haven’t seen for fifty years was debating with a cousin who lives in France. They didn’t need me at all. I love being the observer.

Goose Roast – definitely dead.

When it comes to food, I’d love to be the observer but I find it so difficult not to be a participant. We spend all our days eating fish and salad and, suddenly, thrown into a rich meal of roast goose, stuffing, bread sauce, roasted root vegetables feels all too much. Our bodies aren’t acclimatised. Our Christmas meal was wonderful and we both enjoyed it but the autopsy found that we both felt it was all unnecessary. The Goose was lovely but not spectacular. An £80.00/€90.00 5kg bird actually only does 4 generous portions and the carcass does not produce a pleasant stock. It was pleasing to change from Turkey but next year, we will spend that money on a wonderful fish – probably Turbot or John Dory which we don’t usually splash out on.

The fish medley gratin was fabulous and the Christmas pudding with homemade ice-cream was gorgeous but it was all too rich. Our stomachs can’t cope with cheese and cream as they used to. Maybe next year will be a minimalist Christmas.

Ruth & Kevan – Christmas 2009

You would be hard pushed to say that this photograph above was taken 11 years ago until you look at the one below taken on the same day in 2009.

Add 11 years to these hooligans …. and hide!

Who is that one in the red hat? I want him on my side! I suspect Ruth would happily go back to 2009 although I’m not sure I would.

Week 625

Sunday, 13th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 9 (again)

A depressingly grey, breezy and cool morning not improved by the smirking, Tory faces populating our television studios telling us not to be worried about a No Deal Brexit with one breath while telling us to prepare for hardship to come in the next. The trouble is, the barmy, British Brexiteers want to believe the former and close their eyes to the latter. A hard rain’s gonna fall!

Rosemount Point, Byfleet, Surrey

On such a depressing day, I am choosing to return to the archives in search of better memories. Around this time 11 years ago, we were retired and looking to move South. We had set off for Surrey to look at what we considered a ‘posh’ and expensive apartment which would be a good Lock-Up-&-Go for the 6 months we were not in Greece. They were just finished being built and there was an apartment left but our house in Yorkshire took too long to sell and we lost the Surrey one.

The Pinnacles, Woking, Surrey

Fortunately, after we had sold our house in the North, we found a duplex apartment built on the site of a former Convent. Although it was perfectly adequate for our temporary needs, we couldn’t have understood its real value. The property we lost has risen and fallen in value over the past 11 years and is now on sale at barely 15% above the price at which we were prepared to buy. The property we did buy and owned for a little over 4 years, almost doubled in value when we sold. Since then, other owners have really struggled to sell and have accepted prices nearer to the one we originally paid. It is not often that fate works for one but, on this occasion, it did massively.

We are imagining the next few months. We will be successfully vaccinated by … say March. We will need a month for that to take effect. By April, we can drive abroad and stay in a hotel. The first place we will go is the hotel in Coquelles which immediately refunded our booking as the pandemic struck.

We don’t forget good, honest service and will go out of our way to reward it. We will use this hotel where we book a suite as a base from which to visit friends and places in Nord Pas de Calais. My Grammar School friend, John Whetton in Arras will be on the list.

The phone rang at 6.30 this evening. It was a lady called Audrey wanting to speak to John. Pauline answered but quickly realised it wasn’t me she wanted. It was a wrong number. She engaged the lady in conversation and found out she was 94 years old. Pauline asked her what number she really wanted and she read back our number exactly from her phone book. Where are you? Pauline asked and, instead of replying generally, Audrey gave out her precise address which is about 10 mins drive from us. Pauline told her, We are in Angmering. but said it wasn’t safe to give out her address to total strangers. She said, You’re right I suppose but you could come round for a chat if you like. Just phone to make sure I’m in. I’m very active you know. We are going to take a Christmas card round for her tomorrow and we will call in as soon as it’s safe.

Monday, 14th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 10 (again)

Actually, I freely admit to breaking Quarantine rules this morning. I drove Pauline to Waitrose where she bought a little Stollen cake and took it round with a Christmas card to our new, best friend, Audrey who phoned by mistake yesterday. It turns out that she has a lovely, big, seaside bungalow in a gated development. She told Pauline yesterday on the phone that she was becoming forgetful and, true to her word, this morning she couldn’t really remember speaking to Pauline yesterday afternoon at all. However, she was pleased and grateful to receive a gift and card. She invited Pauline in but she declined because of Covid which made the old lady laugh and we left.

My Corona

If you are my age, you will remember these things. The one on the right is my Corona Typewriter. I have no idea how much it cost in 1975 but it wasn’t significant. If you wanted to buy one now, it would cost you £250.00/€276.00 but I don’t think you could get an ink ribbon for it. In 1975, I was doing a much-belated Degree course and this typewriter was my essential tool. I was also living in a dive of a flat in a (very recently) former brothel with a coal fire to heat it. I was teaching by day and studying by night. I was also, as ever, dieting!

This morning, I received a letter which I wrote in the hovel of a flat in 1977. Watching the episode of The Crown last night which featured Heath’s 3-Day Week and National Power Cuts, I was immediately transported back to that flat and listening in the darkness to Chopin Nocturnes on a battery driven Cassette Player by the glow of the fire. We really knew how to live in those days.

The rest of this letter, which I haven’t included, went on to talk about my study of the poetry of W.H.Auden. I was doing my final year study for my B.A. in Twentieth Century Poetry from Thomas Hardy, Auden, Eliot, Pound and Rainer Maria Rilke through W.B.Yeats and Dylan Thomas to Larkin and Hughes. If I’d wanted to plan my own course, this would have been it.

As my wife said to me this morning when she read the letter from my 26 year old self, You’re still weird now. If I’d known you were that weird then, I would have thought twice. So, thanks to Chris & Kev. I’d hoped to bury that!

Tuesday, 15th December, 2020

Quarantine Over (again)

Lovely day for a jog!

We went out early to Sainsburys so Pauline could source ingredients for a Pickle that se is making. I went on my run for the first time in a while and it felt good.

A lovely day for a walk on Littlehampton Beach.

After coffee at home, we decided to use our new, won freedom by nipping down to the beach for a walk. The tide was crashing right up the beach and on to the esplanade where people were walking.

Great day to fill our lungs with sea air.

There is something special about being able to just nip out to the beach without effort and to walk with the sight and sound of crashing waves and foaming water at our side. We both returned home feeling enlivened by the outing.

Wednesday, 16th December, 2020

Lovely morning although a little breezy. Sunny and bright. I’m going out for a PSA blood test. Pauline is receiving a ‘snagger’ to fit a cowl over an air vent which is noisy in the loft during strong winds.

We have now each had 6 negative Covid-19 tests and been paid £350.00/€390.00 for the privilege. We will have another 10 tests each over the next 10 months which will be reassuring and profitable. We each received our £100.00/€111.00 this morning which is better than a poke in the eye but could, possibly, more usefully directed if the cost of that process wasn’t prohibitive.

This is OURS!

While I was out at the surgery – the 2nd surgery because the main one was solely occupied in providing Covid-19 inoculations. They will do 1000 jabs in 3 days this week. – Pauline was filling in idle time completing 3 Christmas cakes and completing production of her homemade pickle. I don’t like her to get bored without me. By the way, the cake decorations are 53 years old. Pauline bought them as a 16 yr old school girl doing Home Economics. We both like that sort of circularity.

Thursday, 17th December, 2020

Gorgeously sunny and reasonably mild morning. Actually, there was a cloud burst of torrential rain around 4.30 am and I got up half an hour later because I couldn’t get back to sleep. I couldn’t face the continual scenes of Worklife-Past which suddenly began to play across my mind. I was back in school, walking the interminable corridors I inhabited for so many years. When I made a cup of tea at 5.00 am, the sky was light and the sun was coming up. It seemed a bit early. Ten years ago today, we were in Yorkshire and coping with heavy snow. At least life is easier here. It’s the second half of December and I’m cutting the lawns this afternoon.

Tesco shopping for Pauline. Walking for me. Back home by 9.00 am and then out again after coffee. We drove down to the Local Tip to dump the original computer chairs. I am being forced to sit on the first pair of new replacements. The second pair of new replacements are supposed to be delivered on Christmas Eve. I bet they won’t be.

The Establishment was complaining about The Crown on Netflix so it sounded worth watching. I am about as anti-monarchy as one can get without committing murder but this dramatisation of the historical background to my life affected me in a way I didn’t predict. Of course, the whole premise on which their position is founded remains just as untenable but I found myself genuinely sympathising with the psychotic characters the family ‘business’ threw up. The complete and utter loneliness of The Queen Mother, The Queen and Prince Charles is shocking. The aimless, lack of purpose of Philip, Margaret and Diana is painful and destructive. And for what?

Pauline’s got to repaint a section of the ceiling this afternoon. I was opening a bottle of red wine with a ‘plunger action’ cork screw. The cork went straight down into the bottle followed by Rioja fountaining up in my face, on the kitchen floor and over kitchen cupboards. As I was wiping everything down, I suddenly spotted a wide pattern of spray stains across the ceiling. It wouldn’t sponge off so Pauline is tasked with restoration today. We have a 5 litre tub of paint set aside for the walls and ceiling. The slightest mark that appears gets touched up immediately.

The delicious bite of Manzanilla!

There are some compensations that come with Christmas. I’m allowed to drink sherry without being seen as a maiden aunt. It’s a bit of a stretch, I know, but who drinks sherry these days? I love ice cold, bone dry, Manzanilla sherry. I only ever seem to drink it on special occasions. Pauline has bought me two different Bodega’s offerings to contrast and compare. Well, someone should do it. Why not me?

Friday, 18th December, 2020

Up at 6.00 am on a dark and damp morning. The temperature says 11C/52F but it feels distinctly cooler in the breeze. I drive Pauline to Sainsburys and then set off on my walk. It is not pleasant. The roads have taken on a lot of rain over night and large, kerbside puddles with cars wizzing past make me nervous. I don’t fancy a soaking. the air is damp and uninviting. Still, I work up a sweat by the time it’s over. Pauline and I arrive simultaneously and drive home for coffee.

Regret the passing of Stilton

We have an appointment with 3 fresh salmon at Tesco at 9.00 am so we are out of the house quite quickly. One of the things about the poor management of this government over the entire period of the pandemic is that decision making has been late and indecisive and communication has been muddled and duplicitous. As a result, the population have found it difficult to plan their lives. I couldn’t care less about Christmas but the freeing of restrictions will be paid for with a very heavy price of infection and death. Two weeks ago, the infection rate was down to 14,000 per day which is bad enough in itself but, yesterday, it was more than 35,000 within 3 days of relaxation. Everything has consequences often unforeseen.

Turkey farmers, sprout producers, Christmas Pudding manufacturers, Stilton Cheese producers will have brought their production lines to a climax just as we are slimming down or cancelling our celebrations completely. Prices are already being cut hard. I’ve given up buying Stilton altogether. It’s just too rich for me nowadays but Pauline collected 6 full sides of fresh, Scottish salmon at half the normal price. Today it was just £5.50/€6.10 per Kilo. Let’s hope it doesn’t impact on future production.

I don’t know if I’ve told you but I’m not a fan of Brexit and it will have so many unexpected downsides that the Brextremists wouldn’t even have considered. One would have thought that everybody had taken the problems of integrated supply lines in the manufacturing industries and the food import/export lines in to account, would have considered integrated defence and the Schengen Information Systems as important for future development but I wonder how many considered the Website Domain extension – .Eu?

My web domain is www.jrsanders.eu. I only use it as a shell link base at the moment but I am intending to redesign and update it. I am a committed European. My website is European. From the end of December, this will not be viable. We lose the .eu extension. My webhost has offered me a work-around which involves registering my domain with their Belgian office and continuing as if nothing has happened. If only the rest of our arrangements could be sorted out as easily.

Saturday, 19th December, 2020

A lovely, bright and sunny start to the day although we weren’t intending to go out at all. After breakfast, we were due to renew our passports. They expire today along with the past decade. Unfortunately, our renewal will not identify us as Europeans which we are.

We went on line and had to do just three things:

  • Record our old passport details.
  • Take a passport photograph.
  • Pay a £75.00/€83.00 each.

Everything went well until we submitted our photographs. I had complied with every stipulation:

  • Use a plain, light-coloured background
  • Keep even lighting and no shadows
  • With a plain expression and face in full view
  • No headwear
  • Eyes fully visible
We will buy covers to hide the humiliation of this thing on the left.

The website rejected my photos because they said the lighting was not bright enough, the colouring was not natural enough and my eyes were not open enough. How can one show disdain with open eyes?

We tried three times with rejection each time and were so annoyed that we went out immediately and had it done at the Post Office as the Christmas post crowds built up behind us. The process to 15 mins and cost us an extra £16.50/€18.25 each. It was a cheap price to pay for such efficiency and what lovely people!

Week 624

Sunday, 6th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 2 (again)

We woke up with a purpose this morning. I have to complete, spell check, proof read, amend and print 60 back-to-back copies my Christmas News Letter. Pauline has three Christmas cakes to cover with marzipan and 60 Christmas cards to write and have stamps affixed to their envelopes. This takes much longer than one expects. 

Football matches, newspapers and breathing have filled up most of the rest of the day. Pauline had to renew our car insurance. We have driven the same model of car never older than 2 years or so for the past 15 years. Ten years ago, our insurance cost was £440.00/€486.00. Our renewal cost this time will be £401.00/€443.00. 

This time, for the first time for many years, we will have to apply for a Green Card to drive in Europe. This is the sort of thing the mad Brexiteers were desperate for. It makes one despair! However, we intend to be vaccinated as soon as we can and to restart our travels this Summer. We will fly to Athens in late August for a pre-booked (roll over booking from this year) flight and hotel. If it looks possible, we may do a Portsmouth -Santander trip and rent a villa for a few weeks in Murcia for the Summer months. We may do a month in November and again in February 2022 in the Canaries. Our minds are open to all of these possibilities predicated on the vaccine keeping us safe. For now, we are quarantined (sort of).

Monday, 7th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 3 (again)

A dismal day that opened with quite a sign of frost and soon turned wet. We are not going out other than, possibly, to the local post box. Today is completing Christmas cards. I’ve printed out about 40 newsletters. Pauline has written about 60 cards. I have printed and she has labelled about 60 envelopes with addresses. Most have now got stamps on them but the International ones are still to be dealt with.

This year will involve kitchen scales and the Post Office website where we are paying for and printing out our own address/stamp labels for international postage. It’s great fun!

Pauline has been toiling away for hours on the kitchen table with cards, envelopes, labels and stamps all coming together.

A Christmas card elf in Quarantine.

BT has just contacted me to say that my full-fibre broadband contract is up for renewal and they can offer me an upgrade from 350mbs to 900mbs for £10.00/€11.00 extra per month. What is there to consider?

Our wine buying trip to France on Friday was intended to save us 50% of the price we might pay in UK. Sometimes, people doubt such too-goo-to-be-true claims. This morning, I thought I would make a fairly idle check. I bought 60 bottles of Rioja which Tesco sells at £8.50/€9.40. It would have cost me £510.00/€564.00. Actually, I paid £2.99/€3.30 amounting to a total of ££179.40/€198.00. These savings are ridiculous saving but nice. Unfortunately, we will never see them again…unless we move abroad.

Tuesday, 8th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 4 (again)

Our lives are graduated by deaths. They are inescapable. If you are a regular, you will know that I am obsessed with time and its passing. My Blog is essentially my attempt to control and direct this obsession. More than 57 years ago on Friday, November 22nd, 1963, John Kennedy was shot dead in his car. I was 12 years old. I didn’t have a radio or television so that I first learned about it at 9.00 am on the Saturday morning as I got on the Grammar School coach in Wetmore Park, Burton upon Trent to go to play a rugby match in Birmingham. Another lad whispered to me, Have you heard that Kennedy’s been shot? Even at that young age, the news hit me like a brick in the face. For my generation, Kennedy represented the modern world in to which I was travelling. It felt like a hope had died. I have never forgotten the image of that precise moment with its smell of adolescent boys mingling with sports liniment and leather boot dubbin.

On the 16th of August, 1977, Elvis Presley died at the age of 42 of drug abuse at home. My generation had already rejected him just as we rejected our parent’s culture but it did feel like a real moment in time. I was living alone in a grubby little flat in a former brothel in a grimy, post-industrial, northern town. A year later, I would be preparing to get married and live in the first house we would own together.

On Sunday, 31 August 1997, having flown home from Athens the day before, we woke up tired to the news that Princess Diana had died in a car accident in Paris. Pauline immediately suggested that it wouldn’t have been an accident and that feeling has persisted over the years. Diana was making waves in the British establishment, very welcome waves that were rocking the monarchy. We weren’t bothered about her per se but the movement she was creating we had longed for.

On this day, 4o years ago, John Lennon died in the street. The Beatles had been the backdrop to my teenage years. Their ubiquity had almost begun to irk. One had almost become inured to the sound of their presence in every public space. They had been expropriated by alternative performers and played out in supermarkets, shopping malls, lifts and anywhere else that someone thought the silence needed to be filled by musak.

Lennon had ceased to mean a lot to me but I had come within inches of dying myself just 6 months before. In June, 1980, we were driving to school when a lunatic, coming the other way, went out of control on the bend and drove straight through our new car. Ambulance men thought I was dead. I was hospitalised for two weeks with brain bruising and off work for the best part of a year. It changed my life. Unlike Lennon’s, however, my life started again.

Wednesday, 9th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 5 (again)

Up at 6.00 am on a dark and dank morning. Tesco’s Delivery are expected between 6.30am – 7.30 am. They arrive, helpfully and comfortably after orange juice and tea, at 7.30 am. We don’t usually have our shopping delivered so, on this occasion, I took advantage and ordered lots of heavy, bottled water

Until recently, I could have only dreamed of this.

A year ago, my broadband download speed from fibre-to-the-cabinet was 33mps. For the past few months, I have had fibre-to-the-door and a download speed of 330mps. Yesterday, that download speed was ratchetted up to nearly 900mps. This is an incredible magnification and means we are almost up to the Gigabit delivery we have been hoping for. I could happily work from home now but I won’t. Aaaaaahhhhh!

Even so, our Office/Study is one of the most used rooms in the house. Five years after the furniture was fitted, the chairs are showing deterioration. We have two new ones arriving today.

Should last until we’re 75.

I will order a new Desktop computer from HP in January and then look to replace our two laser printers with a wireless one soon after. I want us to be able to print from two computers and two iPads wirelessly which will make life so much easier.

Thursday, 10th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 6 (again)

A dark morning with a brooding sky but relatively mild not dropping below 8C/47F over night. I’m feeling fat. it’s going to be a long, hard session in the gym this morning.

Just in case you didn’t receive our Christmas card and the Poison Dwarf may have missed it, here is a copy. We’ve chosen a robin this year just to make a change.

We tended not to include a copy of our newsletter to regular Blog readers because it is basically a review of the year which is chronicled in greater detail across the Blog. However, it is so well crafted that I include a copy here.

I think I was drawn in by the similarity with the dining chairs which are so comfortable. Well, the Hospice Shop will benefit from my foolishness and we have already ordered two new ones.

Friday, 11th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 7 (again)

A mild but gloomy morning. We have an early, wet fish delivery. It comes from a local supplier based on the mouth of the River Arun as it runs in to the sea. It is delivered direct to our door in boxes packed with ice. Today it was fresh, King Scallops, Fresh Monkfish and frozen, raw King Prawns. The quality is, as usual, fantastic.

Pauline’s Dream

Pauline’s dream is to eat big, fat scallops. She will do on Christmas day for her Starter. This Christmas will be our first alone for 40 years. We have always shared it and one of our company has a serious allergy to shellfish. This year, we are taking the opportunity to indulge our choices. We will have a

Scallop, Monkfish & King Prawn Gratin – First Course

Every year we eat turkey. I’m sure most of you do too. This year, we are free to break out and we have ordered a Goose. Pauline has been enjoying researching cooking recipes and these are the accompaniments we have chosen:

Roast Goose – Main Course

  • Herbs (rosemary, sage, bay and thyme)
  • Spice like cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, star anise
  • An orange & lemon, halved
  • A few crushed garlic cloves
  • Aromatic veg like carrots, onions, celery/celeriac, fennel, parsnips
Succulent, Aromatic Goose accompanied by Rioja

Homemade Christmas Pudding & Homemade Vanilla Ice-cream – Sweet

Life has been made a little easier today by the announcement that our quarantine has been reduced to 10 days which means we are free after the weekend.

Saturday, 12th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 8 (again)

All the way from Acton, Massachusetts

I don’t do Christmas but I do like getting post. I run like a an over enthusiastic puppy to collect it every time I hear the postman. Today, I received a card from my old friend, Jonathan, who has lived in USA for at least 45 years. It is probably nearly 50 years since we met. I always intended to go over but things got in the way. Well, this morning, I walked down High Street, Acton, Massachusetts and found Jonathan’s house.

Unfortunately, I was only on Google Earth but it was an enjoyable experience and helps me to ‘place’ my old friends in time and space.

By the way, the new, computer chairs we ordered and which I was so looking forward to using turned out to be absolutely rubbish. Hard, un-cushioned seating with thin, unforgiving arms, they looked and felt ‘cheap’ which I don’t think they were at £125.00 each.

L-R : Old chair, New chair, Dining chair

I think I was drawn in by the similarity with the dining chairs which are so comfortable. Well, the Hospice Shop will benefit from my foolishness and we have already ordered two new ones.

I’ve let Pauline choose and order these so that the blame is deflected away from me. Meanwhile, my penance is to sit on very hard chairs until the new ones arrive. I can feel it cutting off the blood supply as I type.

Week 623

Sunday, 29th November, 2020

Lovely bright, mild day. Sunday, political programmes, newspapers. The Tories are revolting! No, the Tories are revolting against the lockdown conditions. If you ever thought Trump was an aberration, make no mistake. He was just Toryism writ large. A few decades ago, Thatcherism saw unemployment as a price worth paying. Now Death is a price worth paying as long as it isn’t their own. This strain of right wing, populist thuggery is so depressing and we must eradicate it. Trump’s been dumped. Next must be the Tories.

It’s still November but Christmas has come to our street. This morning, neighbours all around were holding ladders for each other as their lights went up. This evening they are being tried out.

Christmas has arrived …. unfortunately.

Any sort of Brexit is a disaster as the people in the Sunderland Nissan plant who voted for it are suddenly realising, as the fishermen in their droves who voted for it are suddenly realising and the farming community who voted for it in the belief that the EC subsidies would be maintained and markets would be enhanced are suddenly realising. Even more surprised are those brainless holiday home owners who liked to spend half the year abroad and half at home in UK as we used to do. Suddenly, they are screaming, We woz robbed. when they learn that they can only spend 90 days in any 6 month period. We only wanted to keep out the immigrants, they said as they temporarily emigrated to their European home. At the risk of sounding Biblical, You reap what you sow.

We are hoping to get across the Channel this week for a final shopping trip. We’ve booked the Tunnel crossing and just hope the French still let us in. I will keep you updated.

Monday, 30th November, 2020

Cool and little bit misty this morning. The view on Sifnos this morning is even less inviting. Given the lower quality of home building, heating and insulation on the island, it will certainly feel damp and cool.

Sifnos this morning.

I was amused yesterday to read that Greeks, who are experiencing quite a difficult second wave of Covid infection having done rather well in the first phase, attribute the second wave of the pandemic to the opening of tourism in summer practically without restrictions. People on Sifnos are saying just what the right wingers in England are saying about the control conditions imposed on them by central government. They observe that there is no infection on the island but they are being controlled just as much as Athens and Thessaloniki and where infection is rife. Like the right wingers here, they don’t seem to combine the two ideas and realise the movement of people could change that position completely.

Of course, France is under lockdown with limitations on citizen’s movement from their homes other than for specific reasons. They and we when we travel have to complete a form stating the legitimate purpose for our movement.

We have ordered £550.00/€615.00 worth of wine but have to travel to pick it up. We have been instructed by the company to tick Box 2 which says we are permitted to run errands to purchase basic commodities available in a business allowed to provide that service. Who knows whether it will work. Last time we went, we filled in the same form but no one asked us for it.

Tuesday, 1st December, 2020

Locked Down too long!

Happy December 2020 to you all. Special best wishes to Bob. Tomorrow sees the end of the second lockdown. We are expecting just one more in the New Year after Christmas jollities are over. Of course, we are volunteering for an extra lockdown by attempting to drive to France on Friday. 3  – 4 hours shopping will result in a ‘nominal’ quarantine of 2 weeks. Actually, we will take another test on Thursday for the ONS programme we are in although it will be at least 6 days before the result returns. 

We are a little unsure what the French Border Force will say to our application to enter but we will take it as it comes. It will be a nice day out to Folkestone otherwise although we are going rather early in the morning and it is forecast to rain. 

News from my brother has prompted me to seek an urgent prostate test. Pauline & I walked down to the surgery with a written request for my doctor. 

Flu will be replaced with Covid soon.

What a beautiful day for a walk. The sun was strong in our eyes, the birds were singing as if Spring had begun and there was no time like the present. All around us the world was bursting with optimism. I must admit, I still feel optimistic about life. This afternoon, Easyjet contacted me about a flight to Athens we have rolled over for late August 2021 and my heart leapt with anticipation. Our Octogenarian neighbours across the road say they will be spending Christmas at home without family just as we will but they are looking forward to flying back to Australia sometime in the new year. We look forward.

Wednesday, 2nd December, 2020

Busy and quite cool morning. Up at 6.00 am. How dark it is. Out by 6.45 am and still dark, cold – 5C/41F – and uninviting. Did my 5 mile walk as the sun rose with a pleasing pink light.

The road to Brighton backlit by a salmon sunrise.

My hands and nose were cold but my body was sweating by the time I got back to the car. As soon as we’d arrived home, I received a phone call from my doctor, not much more than 18 hrs after writing to her, offering a consultation prior to a prostate test. Very impressive.

Harbingers of my past – Joseph’s head held by Bluetac.

Skinny Liz sent an email round the family yesterday with a photograph that engendered fear & dread. It was of the the figures that Mum would trot out every Christmas and feature in a straw-topped Manger on display in the Lounge which we children were, generally, excluded from. As a confirmed and hardened atheist, for me this display is merely sentimental in value. It also represents one of those intangible links between brothers and sisters.

For me, the figures still strongly evoke authority, coercion, narrow mindedness allied to blind faith which I felt dominated my life at home. Ever since I was able to reason for myself, I have rejected what these figures represent. Having said that, the fact that they are over 80 years old (Even older than Ruth) and were taken by Liz in boxes with London stamps on them and wrapped in copies of The Guardian dated 1975 makes them interesting and moving. I’d love to know who was reading The Guardian in our house then.

Thursday, 3rd December, 2020

Very strange morning – cool with heavy rain in the darkness as we got up at 6.30 am in readiness for a workman to arrive and build some heavy, wooden furniture in our garden. Rather him than me as his frozen, wet hands sparked up an electric drill in a downpour.

We’ve got the next Covi-19 test today. We need the money. I also had a phone call from my doctor offering me an immediate Prostate Specific Antigen or PSA test in the next few days. This is such a fantastic service. She told me that I would automatically be referred to my local hospital for follow up.

A hamper of goodies from Margaret & Tony

We’ve got this age old dilemma of cards or not cards this Christmas. I know Ruth will be saving postage again but we can’t quite bring ourselves to do it yet. We drove out to buy an armful of stamps. We were out for about 5 mins and came home to find a Parcelforce card on the mat to say they had been unable to deliver a parcel. The postman had left it 6 mins ago. We got in the car, shot round the area and found his van. He’s a lovely man. He handed over the parcel which had an Ebay inscription on it. Had I ordered something from Ebay by mistake?

It was a sizeable box which we opened immediately we got it home. like small children at Christmas. And that’s what it was, a Christmas present from our lovely, Huddersfield friends, Margaret & Tony. A hamper of goodies from our favourite farm shop just half a mile from where we used to live a decade ago. What joy!

Friday, 4th December, 2020

Oh, what a day! Up at 4.00 am to pitch black rain and not warm. Driving out at 5.00 am to Folkestone. Lovely, quiet roads. I really enjoy night time driving. The drive should take us 90 mins or so. We also build in a 30 mins contingency so estimate 2 hrs. Although it looks as if we are closer to the Channel Tunnel to a Geographical illiterate like me, actually, we have to drive North to get South East. On that basis, we should have driven in to the Tunnel check-in by 7.00 am at the latest.

Experienced Blog readers will know that I have no idea where I am going even in my locality never mind on a longish journey like this whereas Pauline loves navigation and route planning. In many ways, although we’ve driven this route from Surrey and Sussex for a decade, Pauline would rather try a new way each time just to test herself.

Cick & Enlarge to follow the pilgrimage.

Driving North on the A24 – A272 – A23 – M23 – M25 – M26 all went well. On to the M20 and it all started to go pear shaped. We were informed that a lorry had jack-knifed and gone through the central reservation around Leeds Castle area. We were diverted on to the A20. That’s no big problem because it runs parallel but it was busy. With so much traffic pushed on to a smaller road, just one, unattended roadworks caused miles of tailback costing us lots of time. Not only did we miss our check-in time but our Departure time as well.

A deserted Euro Tunnel terminal
Euro Tunnel Toilet

As we inched our way through Kent, we began to see SNOW. We had pledged to never see that stuff again. We were plagued with it in the North! The further we inched, the thicker the standing snow got. Ploughs had been despatched to clear the road but it was banked up at the sides. Through the roadwork blockage and we were on our way at speed with a totally empty road ahead. When we arrived, we were allocated the next train with just time for a cup of coffee and the toilet. We reflected that we would never wee there again as Europeans. (Ah!hhhh!)

The train was on time but very quiet and we drove off into sunshine. Straight to Calais Wine Store with no sightings of Asylum Seekers other than those poor souls huddled together at a soup caravan. The wine store was totally empty. We were the only customers. They had paid our travel through the Tunnel. If we had booked it ourselves, it would have cost £250.00/€278.00 day return. In return for our travel, we pledged to spend a minimum of £500.00/€556.00 on wine. In doing so, we would save around £520.00 on UK prices for the same wines. This is and has been for years a great deal. This is, almost certainly, our last visit and we bitterly resent that.

A quick drive on to Auchan for some food. You can’t beat a French chicken, some cheeses and then Pauline likes to browse the Utensiles de Cuisine (Kitchen Tools) section before we leave.

Pauline in the Kitchen Gadget section – Auchan, Coquelles.

As we are about to leave, a massive hailstorm hits the area but we have no time to wait. A run to the car and we drive back to the Terminal Tunnel sous La Manche. We were waved straight through on to the next, available train. The French asked us for none of the official ‘permission’ papers. The UK force reminded us we had to quarantine and then waved us through. We were back in Folkestone by 13.55 (UK time).

As soon as we landed, we found that the M20 motorway was still completely blocked all lanes driving West. Pauline perked up immediately. Here was a real life challenge. She decided that we would take the local, A259 coast road home. What a brilliant idea that was although the sat. nav. didn’t like it.

Cick & Enlarge to follow the journey home.

We drove through Hythe, Dymchurch, Romney Marshes, Rye, Hastings, Bexhill, Pevensea, Polegate, Lewes, Shoreham by Sea, Worthing and home. We were back home by around 5.30 pm – later than expected but safely and having really enjoyed our journey.

Saturday, 5th December, 2020

Quarantine Day 1 (again)

We didn’t get up until 9.00 am! Can’t remember how many years it has been since we did that – probably after a drive back from Greece some 6 years ago. First thing Pauline did was book a Sainsbury’s delivery slot for Wednesday. Interestingly, we picked 6.30 am – 7.00 am and it was ‘free’. I wonder why? Many other slots were only charged at a £1.00/€1.12 but we like ‘Free’! 

The day will be filled by many jobs but, particularly, Christmas card signing and addresses + stamps printed and affixed. They will be posted on Monday. I have to complete my Newsletter to accompany the cards. After only 4 hrs sleep on Thursday night and 6 hours of driving after so little across this past 12 months, we are both rather tired and not inclined to do much at all. We are already on episode 3 of Series 2 of The Crown. We may watch some more tonight.

End of an era!

We have just taken our last trip abroad as European citizens. It is something we will never forgive or forget. However, our current passports were issued on 19th October, 2010 and we now have to apply for new ones. On that day, we were both only 59 years old and we went to the Registry Office to register the death of Pauline’s Mum after 96 years of tenacious life. We also had to put out the money for her milkman in the brown envelope she had pre-prepared. It was the momentous end of an era. We will be almost 80 yrs old when we next have to get new passports. We are determined to do it and will work to make them European again.