Week 636

Sunday, 28th February, 2021

The end of February has been marked by the most wonderful day. From first thing the sun is blazing down. It is only 14C/57F but many in the neighbourhood are in t-shirt and shorts. The Sunday Times featured two items this morning over breakfast. The front page had a stunning photo of our local beach at Rustington.

Rustington sun makes the news headlines.

It also featured a survey of the healthiest and happiest areas of the country to live. West Sussex featured prominently. I have to say, we aren’t surprised.

Even so, after watching the early political programmes, we went down to the sea just because we could. We drove through the old part of the village which is so dilapidated but looks typically of faded fishing community.

Even so, there are small boats going out every day. Down here on Littlehampton Marina, squalls of seagulls were marauding some boats as they moved their catch on to the docks. It is nice, just occasionally to stop and stare. It is quite calming. Let’s hope it presages a good week ahead for all of our readers.

Monday, 1st March, 2021

Happy March

New month and new resolve to make the best of life. Have had a bit of a rocky week but have come through the other side feeling more reassured and stronger. Maybe I will write about it sometime. Now is not the time.

What a wonderful day it is Today. The weather is fantastic with bright sun from Dawn to Dusk and 15C/59F. Pauline has had a project. She is a chef. She loves cooking. She is making Beetroot Chutney. It is wonderful with cheese and salad. It will store for a year or more. Chutney making can stink the whole kitchen/house out because of the vinegar. We had a lovely, warm day and an outdoor kitchen for the cooking so no problem at all. 

We did a 5 mile walk at mid day to drink in the sunshine and get our hearts pacing. We didn’t have lunch. I am making a concerted attempt to control my appetite. I do so envy skinny people! I’m never going to be one. We griddled Swordfish Steaks out in the sunshine of the garden and ate it with Greek Salad and a bottle of Rioja. I have a feeling I might sleep well for the first time in a week.

Tomorrow, Dear Readers, Irish Partition politics – a subject which is dominating my thoughts this week. I will be looking forward to editorial suggestions as we go.

Tuesday, 2nd March, 2021

Another gorgeous morning. Up at 6.00 am. Sainsbury’s delivery at 7.30 am. And so the day starts. There follows quite a long Blog Post but it could be interesting if you stick with it. What else have you got to do? Certainly nothing more important.

Grandad Coghlan was born up the steps to the left – 1894
Grandad in WW1

I have recently been accused of living in the past. Very unkind, of course, because I’m a Historian. That’s what we do. Some try to suppress the past for fear of what it may reveal. Others try to embrace it as a guide to the future. During this pandemic and with restriction of movement really stopping us travelling, I have been enjoying filling in the background of my knowledge. My antecedents on my Mother’s side were Irish. My Grandfather was James, Joseph, Jeremiah Coghlan. He was born in Brighton (ironically, just down the road from where I now live) but his parents were from southern Ireland. Unfortunately, the connection is not close enough to claim Irish/EU citizenship.

Buried in Repton

Grandad’s name was Coghlan (an anglicisation of the Irish surname Ó Coghláin) and my Grandma’s maiden name was Curley which is a Gaelic Irish name. Actually, her Mother was Fanny Curley which conjures up a wholly different image altogether. Born in to poverty and second class citizenship, both made good careers for themselves.

Grandma was a highly respected seamstress and tailor. Grandad started as a Cabinet Maker/French Polisher but with huge effort and enthusiasm taught himself the antique business and he became really adept in his own business of buying up old antiques, restoring and selling them at a big profit. There’s a bit of the Irish Tinker in there somewhere but, when he retired from London to our Midlands village, he would march round in his bowler hat, city coat and silk scarf as if he was still in the city. Like me, living in the past.

Set in the rebellion leading to Partition – post WW1

People of my age were brought up with a news backdrop of ‘The Troubles’. Effectively the war being waged by the IRA was on what they saw were the occupying forces of oppression – the English. Not many bother to understand the origins of all this. I wasn’t completely clear myself until I started reading and I have enjoyed watching some dramatisations set in it as well.

Even today the English establishment resist History.

The 18th Century was known, notably by Thomas Paine, as the Age of Reason and it came to an end rather abruptly with the onset of revolution. The French Revolution (1789-99) put the skids under the established order all round the world. The 1798 Rebellion in Ireland can be traced to the setting up of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast, preparing to throw off the yoke of their foreign occupiers. Its aim was to remove English control from Irish affairs. Their bloody rebellion of 1798, however, resulted in the 1801 Act of Union, which brought Ireland tighter still under British control.

The treatment of the Irish was unjustifiable and brutal. As the two dramas featured above make clear, the Irish had little choice and were totally justified in their fight back during the post WW1 Irish War of Independence. They won an uneasy partition which still holds but can never hold until the whole of the island of Ireland is one. It has always seemed so obvious to me although I hadn’t bothered to research the background.

I cry at the drop of a hat and I’ve never been too proud to admit it. It is usually for other’s pain rather than my own. I have spent three or so hours exercising in the gym while watching these dramas play out and weeping copiously. It is not a pretty sight watching an old man on a jogging machine running with tears filling his eyes.. It is so hard to believe that human beings can do such unspeakable things to their fellow man. If you watch no other film in life, Ken Loach’s award winning film: The Wind that shakes the Barley is a must. If you have a strong stomach for fortitude and tragedy, the mini-series Rebellion on Netflix since 2016 honours the 100th anniversary of the start of the Easter Uprising in 1916.

It was tantamount to treason to express support for the IRA during the early part of my life. The establishment would brook no idea of it as the border violence continued and the UK mainland was bombed. The history was immaterial. It took Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam to change this view and just last week, Roy Greenslade, former editor of the Daily Mirror, has revealed that he was an active supporter of the cause but couldn’t reveal it because he would lose his job. This week and because of his revelation, he lost his job. Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.

Wednesday, 3rd March, 2021

A pleasant, mild if slightly greyer morning. Even so, the world seems to be announcing a move forward. All around us here, the trees, bushes, woodland banks are budding, shooting, displaying Spring flowers and resounding to the gorgeous sound of birdsong.

I  have written about this before so regular readers will know that I love post landing on the mat. I am rather like an overenthusiastic puppy who hears the stimulus sound and bounds to be first to get it. Actually, over the years, my wife has learnt not to interfere. She leaves me to collect and open all post. I even love ‘junk’ mail but, recently, it has become far too targeted for comfort.

I will be 70 in just under 5 weeks time. Age has never really worried me in the past. I haven’t had a wish to go back and be younger. I don’t fear death. Pauline refuses to even acknowledge it. She asserts that she will never die. Both our fathers died at 49 and the genetics did concern me but reaching 50 allayed that concern. However, we both realise that the impending landmark of 70 is significant. For me, although I am reasonably fit and healthy, it is suddenly starting to feel a little bit like time is running out. There are so many things I want to do but time is running out and Covid & Brexit are, in part, stopping me doing them.

I am Type 2 diabetic although in complete remission and have atrial fibrillation which makes me a bit more susceptible to Covid. For that reason, we have been extremely careful over the past year. We were both very shocked when a lovely neighbour in her 40s pushed a note through the door recently saying she hadn’t seen us for a few days and were we alright; did we need any shopping done?

That lovely gesture from our neighbour absolutely shocked us both. She clearly saw us as old and vulnerable. All my life I have seen the vulnerable as in need of my help. Suddenly, the boot was on the other foot. It made me almost feel vulnerable myself.

That vulnerability seems to be being exploited by the commercial world. I put my life out for all to see and my demographic is available to be exploited. I know I can expect this sort of targeting but it doesn’t fit with who I see in myself. A well know sportsman died this week at the age of 82. My first reaction was, That seems very young. He was involved in sport and fitness. Since my youth, I have not been although the past 12 years of retirement have seen me try to readdress this.

I hope I live to 101 and get to resolve so many of my desires. I have made mistakes across my life that I have been trying to address in retirement. Some have been done and some are still pending. However, I am not yet ready to address my funeral. Actually, I have already told my wife that, when necessary, she can put me out in a bin bag and leave me out for the waste collectors. I will try to die on a Sunday night because Black Bag is collected on Mondays.

Thursday, 4th March, 2021

Grey, mild and overcast day. I’m watching Test cricket from India where the weather is quite different. I usually run this on the TV in the Office while doing other work. And so it is today. My Masters Research Degree is in political history. I like politics, history and research. I have been doing it for years.

The web is so valuable. To find people and explore connections I use Ancestry.com192 People Finder and UK Census Online. Actually, the Census is coming round again very soon.

While one side of my family originated in Ireland, the Sanders (son of Alexander) side are rooted in the English Midlands. I was born in Repton, the capital of Murcia. In Anglo Saxon times, Paeda was the first Christian King of Mercia and his son was called Piddock. The surname Piddock was first found in Somerset where they held a family seat from early times and their first records appeared on the early census rolls taken by the early Kings of Britain to determine the rate of taxation of their subjects.

The Piddock Family motto was:

Seigneur, je te prie, garde ma vie / Lord, I beseech thee, save my life.

Putting aside the ‘Lord’ bit, I’m beginning to feel that way myself. It is the age old wish. The difference is that we are more likely to be granted this wish than our ancestors.

I am determined to stay alive and, in the past 8 weeks, I’ve walked/cycled/jogged 310 miles or 499 kms. No wonder I’m tired! Looking forward to my meal of homemade salmon fishcakes and homemade baked beans. And so to dream ….

Friday, 5th March, 2021

Me aged 19

Had a text conversation with my skinny, little sister, Liz late last night. I hardly ever use text messaging. I much prefer email where I can write in paragraphs and integrate pictures into the text. It is much more conducive to expressing developed thoughts. However, I’ve been using it a bit more recently and quite enjoyed it. It was certainly lovely of Liz to take the trouble out of her busy schedule running London’s Health Service.

… and very daft.

I phoned my very old sister, Ruth, this morning. Of course, she is never in when I phone but I spoke at some length to her lovely husband, Kevan. We don’t speak often but, for someone so much older than me, he is extremely understanding and easy to talk to. My motive was to discuss the fact that I had just received an invite to their wedding – on July 1st, 1972. Even he was a bit surprised.

I’ve had a wonderful, difficult, lovely, painful contact from an old friend in the past couple of weeks. It has evoked so many memories of when we were so much younger. I have always been obsessed with the passage of time and the inevitability of events. In the past few days, these obsessions have melded together. I knew this moment would come.

The Boy who would be King! – The painful transcience of Youth

My friend has very kindly sent me a stash of memorabilia which is almost uncomfortable to look at. The passage of time really is a terrible thing. All those hopes and dreams dashed, unfulfilled. In those days, I was going to be a world-renowned poet, a widely published novelist, a genius of letters revered by all. I became a teacher in Oldham. Obscurity incarnate!

Bearded like the Pard

I must admit, I’d forgotten how gorgeous and precocious I was back in the early 1970s. How dreams can be dashed and yet we make new lives for ourselves and move forward. 

My wife and I have done challenging and exciting things in life – things I could not have anticipated. We have done interesting jobs in Education. We have bought and sold lots of lovely properties including buying a field, designing and building a house on a Greek island. We have driven around Europe together until it is almost second nature and we have moved, gradually from North to South of the UK in the process. 

We have weathered some incredibly hard times together. In the early 1980s, we had a near fatal car crash which saw us hospitalised and me as close to dead as a living man can be. We had to fight enormous professional pressures from threats to Pauline’s career to attacks on our health and welfare. We have survived all that and, in spite of scarring, carried on.

However, I have always lived with a weight deep inside me. (I’ve carried a weight round my middle but that’s another matter.) It is the weight of responsibility that I can never and do not want to shirk. I will never resile from it. There are significant people in my life who are owed so much more than they will ever know. I have spent my retirement attempting to at least acknowledge that debt. If any of them are reading this now and I know some are, I acknowledge it again now. That debt will always honoured if never fully repaid. 

Saturday, 6th March, 2021

Wonderful sunny and warm day. Sounds like it has been the same across the country. Before our 5 mile walk, however, the highlight was a haircut for me. When I was the age illustrated in yesterday’s Blog, I swore I would never get my haircut. It may have been an instant response to my Mother’s insistence that I had a short back and sides every 6 weeks at home. The local barber was often berated by her for not cutting it short enough. From the age of 40, my father had a bald circle on the top of his head and I swore I would kill myself if it happened to me. I even borrowed a Drama Props Department ginger wig and wore it for my 6 weeks Teaching Practice to avoid cutting my hair.

I don’t want to get even more boring and I have mentioned this before but I haven’t paid for a haircut since September 1969. I have no idea what a haircut costs now. It was 5 shillings for my last one. If I have my haircut about every 6 weeks, it would have been done about 440 times since then. I’ll leave you to work out the savings I’ve made.

In September 1969, I was taken in hand by a new and less experienced hairdresser who did it for me with a razor-comb. That is not a euphemism. I thought the ‘slashed’-look was trendy and it was ‘free’. In my early years of teaching and after my hairdresser had moved on to promotion, I thought I would use the razor-comb myself. How hard could it be?

Sunday evening, bottle of wine, scruffy, dinghy flat, poor lighting, distant mirror, first confident scrape of the razor-comb. Total horror at completely bald patch at the side of my head. Bit of blood. School tomorrow. I had to finish the haircut without too many more disasters. As I walked to school in the morning in my pin-sharp suit, I looked like a total disaster above the ears even though I looked gorgeous below them.

I haven’t had to kill myself although I now enjoy short hair. I’m thinning and lightening but not balding or grey. My wife cuts it expertly every 6 weeks. Symbolically, I sit on my Father’s ‘Richard Chair’ under a hairdresser’s cape for about 40 mins. I’m not the most patient customer and I try to conspire to be watching some interesting discussion programme or sporting event while the operation is performed. At least I lose a bit of weight periodically.

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