Week 639

Sunday, 21st March, 2021

Glorious, warm – 15C/59F – and sunny morning. Been out for an early hour of walking. Sitting, shattered in the kitchen with the conservatory doors wide open as the sun and warmth streams in. Annoying little reminders keep popping up on my iPad telling me to complete the Census form. I love census data. It is so useful for finding people. It is a researcher’s dream. Of course, everybody should fill it out on pain of paying £1000.00/€1161.00 fine if they don’t.

I filled ours in on line a week ago and payed specific attention to two discrete areas. Religion is one. As a life long atheist, I am delighted to shout that and I was pleased to read predictions that, over a 20 year span, those ticking Christian will have fallen from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011 and possibly 48% in 2021. The other area which gave me pleasure was in identifying as European in National Identity. Like so many others, nothing will make me a Little Englander!

Quarry Court

As we were planning to establish ourselves on a remote Greek island with a sizeable and potentially expensive  bridging loan for £60,000.00/€70,000.00, we knew we would need to raise money for the building. We put our home in the country on the market and decided to use some equity from that to help. Effectively, we expected to downsize. In reality, we bought a bigger home in a smaller plot of land. We were never at home to look after the garden so it was a sensible swap.

The Helme house sold very quickly, we paid off the loan and moved into Quarry Court on the day we also set off for a drive across Europe to Greece for a six week stay. We thought we were trading down but it turned out to be a delightful place to live with beautiful views and lovely neighbours. The triple garage was a real bonus! We stayed 10 happy years before moving to Surrey via a temporary let in Huddersfield.

The interim, rented Shoe Box

We had retired from work, sold our home, were spending 6 months in our Greek home and 6 months in UK. It made sense to have a smaller home. Pauline’s Mum died shortly after we came back from Greece in October 2010 at the age of 97. Having sold our Quarry Court home, we had the unique experience of being with her for her last few weeks and we were living in her sheltered accommodation. We actually slept in the Hair Dressing salon of the establishment. It was worth it. She wasn’t alone.

We had bought a duplex apartment off-plan in the heart of Surrey. We needed somewhere to use for Winter which wasn’t too big and could be locked-up and left for 6 months of the year. It was also so much closer to the Channel Tunnel for our drive to Greece. I’d always fancied apartment living but soon realised it wasn’t really for us and we only stayed 5 years – until we’d sold the Greek house.

Monday, 22nd March, 2021

Bit grey although mild this morning. Bin Day – all 3. How will I cope? At 9.00 am, the Covid tester arrived and we both completed our 10th, throat & nose swab test. Another £50.00/€58.20 in the bank. So far, we have been paid £600.00/€700.00 which should buy us a nice hotel room when we can travel.

I’m looking for small things to cheer me up at the moment. This cartoon appeals to my rather warped sense of humour:

Almost at the end of the journey now although I hope not literally. Once again, we looked to buy a new-build property off-plan. Having left Greece, Pauline was desperate to be near to the sea. The difference about property selling in Surrey was the speed at which it sold and the fact that it had almost doubled in value over 5 years. West Sussex is an incredibly expensive place to live if you compare it with West Yorkshire. It is amusing and shocking to calculate that we could buy 120 of our first home in Meltham in 1978 for the value of our current home in Angmering, West Sussex in 2021. How anyone gets on the property ladder for the first time now?

Three months before we moved in.

Who knows what is next? We are never really settled or satisfied. We have become rather addicted to moving and setting up new homes. At one point, it almost became a way of life in itself. In some ways, being itinerant allows one to leave problems in the past like Norman Nicholson described in his poem about a little lad desperate to be older than he is, Rising Five:

The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.
We drop our youth behind us like a boy
Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,
But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,
But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed
In the baby’s cradle, we look for the grave in the bed; 
not living,
But rising dead. 

Sorry if that is a bit of a depressing note to end on but it rather catches my current mood. …..

Well, the grey skies having completely departed. Not a cloud in the sky as we’ve done our walk in strong, warm sunshine. Hope you did too. There is always hope.

Tuesday, 23rd March, 2021

Up early on a grey start to the day but a little pinprick of sunshine has just broken through and I am very grateful for that. Let’s hope it develops over time.

Just received a text from an old friend which has left me very sad. A couple – Pat & Derek – who were on our staff and about 10+ years older than us retired to the Yorkshire countryside. We last saw them three years ago when both appeared well and happy. A year later, Pat was dead of bowel cancer. Today I learned that Derek has been taken in to a care home exactly on the second anniversary of his wife’s death. His dementia had become such a problem that he was no longer able to look after himself. The huge, strong man who had so much life has fallen in to such a decline that he cannot look after himself over a period of just two years. It is almost unbearable to consider.

Im the hooligan in the green jacket – 1971.
Alun Armstrong

I have tried to live my adult life on a calm, controlled and thoughtful level. I am not an actor. My face gives me away immediately. I was quite a good Bridge player because of my memory for numbers and sequences but my face and eyes and body language reflect everything going on inside my head which betrays my game to opponents. I wear my heart on my sleeve and cry easily. As I have written before, music is particularly a trigger. None of these things am I ashamed of. They are part of me. In some respect they are admirable qualities because they speak of honesty and truth. I have never subscribed to the stiff upper lip, be a man approach. I do not feel any weaker because of my character. People who have tried to stand in my way will testify to that!

I’m back centre. Don’t know the poseur front right.
I wonder who splashed out for this?

However, there are times when I would be grateful for the ability to act and to shield my feelings. At College, I took subsid. Drama because it seemed to naturally fit with English Lit.. A lot of it was rolling around on the Hall floor in the darkness pretending to be trees or ghosts which was never me. I spent an enjoyable few days as an extra on an ITV police series in 1971 but mainly because the professionals like Alun Armstrong, were so interesting. The Drama goup had to put on a production and I appeared in Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt which I can’t say I was either good at or particularly enjoyed. I am better analysing the text.

Great Costumes

Just like yesterday, the afternoon has turned Mediterranean with clear blue skies and strong sunshine. Been out for an hour’s walk. After spending so many years living in Greece, I find my skin tans very easily. Even March rays are giving me a colour.

Wednesday, 24th March, 2021

The start of the last week of March already. We are well in to the Spring Equinox and clocks go forward at the weekend. In Europe – C.E.T. – this may be the last time. They voted to keep their clocks unchanged and this will make an interesting difference when we/if we ever start travelling again.

I lead quite a strong interior life – thinking, reading and writing. Looking back, I always have. I love physical activity and need it desperately to make me feel alive but I live in my head a lot. The former friend and ex-colleague who I wrote about yesterday moving in to a Care Home for Dementia sufferers made me think over night about my own memory which someone described recently as ‘Dodgy’. Although I don’t think I am at dementia stage yet, my memory has always been extremely selective.

I was lying in bed trying to recall the name of an artist from my past and try as I might, it just wouldn’t come to me. I fell asleep worrying about dementia. I’m sure this happens to most of us at times. I woke up this morning and her name popped straight into my head.

Briget Riley aged 39 – now aged 89.

As that name arrived from outer space aka my memory, it brought with it a book I read at around the same time. Although we probably didn’t verbalise it or even acknowledge it at the time, it was an early introduction to socialism in action. I became a student just as the student protests of 1968 were being softened and addressed by European governments.

Socialism in Action

There was a broad movement in opposition to the Vietnam War all over the United States as well as in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. Mass movements grew not only in the United States but also elsewhere. In most Western European countries, the protest movement was dominated by students. The most spectacular manifestation of these was the May 1968 protests in France, in which students linked up with wildcat strikes of up to ten million workers, and for a few days the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government.

I was no radical. I had come from a very middle class, conservative home and very sheltered even stultifying village life. I had never eaten fish & chips out of newspaper for goodness sake and my Mother sent me off to college in khaki slacks, a striped nylon shirt with a mustard-coloured cravat topped off by a newly bought and very expensive £50.00/€58.00 country gentleman’s jacket which I quickly sold to my friend in digs, Nigel. She thought she was doing her best for me in spite of my protests and she was devastated to see me come home in the green coat I bought for £5.00/€5.80 from Millets. She called it a toilet attendant’s coat.

My memory may be dodgy but also rich and selective. I will resist being disposed of yet by anybody.

Thursday, 25th March, 2021

Pleasant but quite cool morning. I’m feeling a bit of a lethargy today. Pauline has been buying clothes and is now vacuuming and steam cleaning all the downstairs floors while I am reviewing travel plans for the coming year. I have jobs to do but just can’t be bothered. 

We recouped all the cash we laid out last year for travel which amounted to about £10,000.00 all together but we allowed one booking to be carried over because of the generous deal on offer. We had booked a suite for 4 days of late August at the Electra Palace Hotel in Athens. We paid in full around £1200.00/€1400.00 long before the pandemic hit in March. It was the first time since 1981 that we hadn’t visited Athens at least once each year. We’ve also got £700.00/€815.00 tied up in flights as well which we deferred. They will have to be rolled over again unless things change rapidly.

Sunny Breakfast with a View.

We have been regulars at this hotel and they offered to roll over our booking for 18 months and return the cash in full if we didn’t use it. Throughout the last horrible year, we have expected to be there in late August 2021 but, recently, we have begun to have some doubts. We genuinely thought we might be driving in France in June. I’d love to go back to Paris. It seems years since we were there. It appears as if we may have to put dreams of France off a while. All of this is depressing but I am holding the faith. It will happen!

Now I’ve got that out of my system, I’m ready for some exercise. Actually, just before that, my cloud photo storage system’s memory for today is the picture above. We were in our Greek home for school, Easter Holidays and Greek Easter 2008. Half a lamb was collected from Apostolos & Moshca and our lemon trees were fruiting heavily. There is nothing better than picking lemons from your own tree and splashing its ultra-fresh juice on hot, roasting lamb. Must do some exercise!

Friday, 26th March, 2021

We were told it would be raining here today but at 11.30 am there is still absolutely no sign. We were up at 6.00 am for a Sainsbury‘s delivery at 7.00 am. Beautiful, sunny morning. We were doing our walk by 9.00 am. The only problem with all of that is what to do with the long day stretching out when we get home.

I left home in September 1969 and we had never had a television at home before I went. It felt strange because all the lads at Grammar School would be talking about things they’d watched the night before but which I knew nothing about. My parents theory was that it would be too distracting from our homework. Most of my access to popular culture was from the radio and stultifying post-war singalongs like Workers’ Playtime and The Cliff Adams Singers which Mum loved. At school some of the older boys talked about Dylan and Baez and I managed to hear some and they felt as if they were speaking my language.

There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Oh please let it shake my windows. That’s exactly what I needed. I needed to be somewhere else and that’s when I first heard Go Now by The Moody Blues.

It was one of those seminal moments and it is no exaggeration to say that when I first heard it on pirate Radio Caroline, I thought something had exploded in my head. It was like a signal that was talking to me. I had never been so affected by anything like that before. I had enjoyed the frisson of anarchy that early Beatles had provided as a backdrop to my teenage years but this was something entirely different.

And go I did. I wanted to go to Newcastle University to read English Lit. but I had no conception of the competition at the time for Arts Degrees. When I went up for interview, I was shown in to a candidates room with the most wonderful collection of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen in my life. Never had I wanted to go to university so much but it was all too late. I hadn’t worked hard enough for the 3 x Grade A A’ Levels that they demanded. As so often, the girls were snatched away before I got started.

I grabbed at anywhere that would get me away from home and there were girls. I found an all-women’s training college that was accepting a handful of men. In that interview, they were begging me to take the place. Would I be able to cope with so many young women and only 19 other men? I told them I would do my best. I didn’t need to. I was taken off the market in the first week.

On my first day, I was driven up to Ripon by my mother. Mr & Mrs Boyd were letting out their top floor to students. We carried my trunk up those steep stairs and heard a very loud noise coming from one room. It was a small, communal room with a table and chairs. On the table was a record player blasting out a noise I had never heard in my life. Under the table was a young man who was going to be my Digs companion for the next two years. Nigel, like so many of the other lads in my year, was so much older than me although I didn’t know it at the time. The noise he was playing was Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room. My mother looked at me as if she had delivered her eldest son to an alternative circle of Dantes Inferno. She left very quickly for the peace of her quiet Midlands village and never returned.

Saturday, 27th March, 2021

The most beautiful day after a wonderful sleep. Early walk again today. We are expecting an extended warm period over the next week so the garden furniture will be brought out and cleaned up for early use. Goodness knows when we will get abroad. I was even looking at hotels in Paris yesterday and then the news that Pas du Nord had gone in to tougher lockdown measures rather put me off.

You, who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so, become yourself
Because the past is just a goodbye

Teach Your Children – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

At the risk of boring you, I am going to continue with the theme of My Music including a story that I have never spoken to anybody about in 50 years. I busked my way through much of college time doing as little as possible. I remember talking in a tutorial about a Joseph Conrad novel, The Secret Agent for about 20 mins having only read the blurb on the back of the book. I was very pleased with myself although I learnt later that my tutor had been in despair.

I was just too busy learning what life was about, learning what sort of person I wanted to be, learning a code to live by. I wasn’t even that sure I really wanted to be a teacher. I learnt I hated discos but I loved music. The college discos were playing Motown which I really didn’t appreciate and Elton John was also particularly popular. He did little for me either although I liked his piano playing.

My Lit. Tutor, David MacAndrew

In our final year, I had to write a dissertation and with the help of my dear, old friend, David MacAndrew, I chose to write on the poetry of Cumbrian poet, Norman Nicholson who I’d done a poetry reading with at Leeds Town Hall. It is the only time I worked really hard and enjoyed it. I actually spent time in the Library researching.

I knew a lot of the students who worked in the Arts Block and they had practical Exhibitions to put on instead of a thesis. They had to put in hours of work in this separate building before they were finished. On the ground floor of that building was a piano. The room was always empty and quiet and I sat there in the evenings while the others worked upstairs on their exhibitions. It was a lovely opportunity to have the piano to myself. Night after night I played down there alone. I was teaching myself a slow, sad tune. The left hand was syncopation and the right hand overlaid cadences of sadness.

One evening a figure appeared in the room as I played. It was a lady with grey-white hair scraped back into a bun like a typical, spinster school ma’am. I think her name was Miss Rimmer – a teacher in the Art Faculty. So you’re the source of this sadness night after night, she said. Yes, I’m sorry, I replied. No, not at all. I’ve been enjoying it, she said and left. The next evening as I played, she came in and said, Move up. and she sat next to me on the stool. Much more expertly than me, she took over the left hand and we played for a few minutes. With a twinkle in her eye, she was gone. We never spoke about it again but I learned that the piano is the most moving instrument to accompany the human condition as I will describe in the dramatic developments of the next stage of life in Sunday’s Blog.

One, final coda to this stage: David MacAndrew and Tony Axon – my English tutors – and a lecturer who I did a brief Philosophy unit with all tried hard to persuade me to stay on for a 4th year to complete a Degree. I assume it was a B.Ed.. Possibly I should have done but was just too keen to get in to the next stage of life. I wanted to build a life. I thought I could do it. It proved harder than I expected.

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