Week 659

Sunday, 8th August, 2021

Another fitful sleep last night. Woke at 4.30 am. The mornings are a bit darker and the evenings darken noticeably earlier now. The days are shortening. Is Summer over? Schools go back in 4 weeks. Lucky teachers!

Feeling lighter this morning. I always find eating fish for my meal makes me feel better, less heavy and ponderous. Wonderful Sea Bass fillets from the fish farms of Igoumenitsa in Greece for my meal yesterday and Samphire from the estuaries around the coast of North Wales – an excellent place to come from – made a fantastic meal.

I could eat fish everyday for ever. I wish I could reel them in myself. Lots of calcium for regeneration of old bones. Plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D and B2. My new bathroom scales say my bone density is good for my age and, inspite of all this walking/cycling/jogging, I show no signs of knee or hip problems. What’s a dodgy groin amongst friends. Don’t answer that!

Next week, we should have been flying to Athens, Although I feel slightly regretful we cancelled, overall I am relieved. Covid is rampant there at the moment. Wildfires are leading to evacuations across the city and the Peloponnese and daytime temperatures are above 100F currently. Would love to be world-watching in baking sun with an iced Café Frappé. Even as far away as our Cycladic island, the fires from Attica were clouding the sunny skies with smoke drifting across the beaches. Wouldn’t volunteer to experience that especially in the heat. Even wet Wales seems more attractive.

Kamares Beach in the smog.

For those still labouring under the misapprehension that they live in the best country in Europe with a world-beating government, this should give them pause for thought.

Imagine not having a private pension and having to rely on the State alone. Well, it doesn’t bear thinking about for someone at the end of their life. 

Monday, 9th August, 2021

The weather was wet yesterday although we had a wonderfully hot and sunny section for our walk. Overnight, Shakespearian weather – strong winds, torrential rain and thunder woke me at 4.00 am. The dramatist used it to symbolise the breaking and cleansing of the old world, and the reordering of old relationships in a new world. I was up drinking tea and watching BBC news until 5.00 am and then, of course, found it difficult to go back to sleep.

This morning has started off the same way. It will get better … we are told. It’s just that I have to put all the bins out this morning. I really do need a little slave! Anyway, I’ll just have to keep my exercise routine going and look to the future.

Unbelievably, it is 4 years since the death of Viv. Butterworth and we send our heartfelt condolences to Richard on what must be an even more difficult day. We often talk about her and she lives on in our memories.

My weight is reducing and my clothes need replacing. I spent an hour or so of Sunday morning removing 23 long sleeve and 26 short sleeve T-shirts from my ‘casual’ wardrobe. They are going to have to be taken to the Hospice Shop. Some still have their purchase labels attached so haven’t been worn. I must admit to feeling a little ashamed of this self-indulgence but at least I admit it. So, now, my sports/casual wear and my suits/shirts/formal wear all need replacing. I’m enjoying being lighter and I am determined to never return to that size.

In the Gym, I am watching the 2nd series of Bitter Daisies on Netflix. It is a thriller set in Galicia. I can see why it won awards because it is well written. Watching it on a treadmill is a bit of a risky proposition because I am having to read subtitles and stupid people like me find it difficult to do two things at the same time. If you remember, they always used to say about President Ford who constantly had gum in his mouth and fell down the plane steps on disembarking that he couldn’t chew and walk at the same time. I’m a bit like that with my mind constantly somewhere else and, watching a film, I am completely lost in it like a child.

People told me that I would enjoy Line of Duty long ago. I resisted until recently and then we watched Series 1, Episode 1. Halfway through, we gave up and thought it wasn’t for us. We were persuaded to go back to it and got absolutely hooked. We are already well into Series 2. Keeley Hawes is such a good actress and she speaks without subtitles. My problem is remembering which plot I’m in from Bitter Daisies or Line of Duty. The crossover is confusing. I think it will be a sign of success when I feel I don’t need to escape but can just enjoy the real world. I wonder what will make that happen.

Throughout the past 40 years, we have pushed hard to save, invest and improve our financial positions. We tried to balance the pain with pleasure. We didn’t deny ourselves experiences like travel and entertainment but, more than anything else, we ploughed cash into property and always tried to go further than was comfortable.

We experienced interest rates at 15% at one stage and, although it seems small beer now, borrowing £¼million in the 1980s felt pushing it. I know that we didn’t have to find the size of deposit that is required nowadays but just a glance at the chart on the left suggests a big leap of faith is well worth taking for young house buyers. I would advise hurting themselves in the short term for the pleasure of the future.

I have spent all these years trying to educate myself in classical music and opera, eschewing ‘pop’ music as if it would corrupt me. In just the same way, I have told myself that fiction is unnecessary escapism and that fact is where truth lies. In my dotage, I find that the fiction of film is exactly what I need to escape the persecution of fact and some ‘pop’ music speaks so directly to me that I’ve become infatuated by it. These two elements have combined to fix me in this song:https://www.youtube.com/embed/7gzZEtiusO4?feature=oembed

Some would say I am returning to my juvenilia. I say I am going forward to an excitingly invigorating future!

Tuesday, 10th August, 2021

Great sleep last night for the first time for a couple of days. I’ve written before that I virtually never dream or I’m not aware of it at least. Last night, I dreamed I was a ruthless blackmailer. I turned out to be quite good at it with my acumen for record-keeping. I also woke with my face stinging as if I’d burnt it in the sun yesterday … or was it walking through hellfire overnight? Woken up with real optimism this morning which makes me feel good.

This morning has opened dry and fairly sunny and yesterday turned lovely and hot for our walk. According to our forecast, we have a couple of weeks of dry weather to come which will be nice after Sunday night. We have a Covid Lateral Flow Test and Blood Antibody test at 8.00 am. I am expecting two, DPD deliveries including my new lawnmower. Then I have to go down to the surgery for my Shingles injection. How I will cope with the excitement, I don’t know.

Well Thierry, a delightful, gay Frenchman has spent an hour in the sunshine of our garden providing our latest Covid Tests. He is a bee keeper and says this season has been one of the worst. It certainly has been for our figs.

When we were trawling through a box of photograph memories last night, this young man fell out. I last saw him in 1995 just after he left school. He had spent the Summer term after exams at our house doing some building work but he had worked with me in school for 5 years learning computer management skills and become an adoptee, coming out on meals, trips to the coast, etc..

Mark was one of those delightful human beings who made life seem worth living. We still laugh at his expression when we took him to the bakery in our village and bought a freshly, baked loaf. He took one look and then in astonishment exclaimed, No way is that bread not sliced! For me, it was his syntax that made me laugh but, he had never experienced good bread in his life only sliced, white pap. I put out a query to other adoptees and was told last night that Mark had moved to London recently and was living there. May have to look him up.

The influential, political blog, Reaction, ran an article by Deloitte’s Chief Economist this week headed:

UK house price boom is here to stay

Brexit and the pandemic are now making significant changes to the UK’s housing market. But their effects are likely to be more pronounced in narrow sub-markets (micro) rather than come in the form of broad-based (or macro) changes. As migration slows and post-pandemic hybrid working arrangements transfer households from cities to suburbs or adjoining towns and villages, demand is likely to be better distributed geographically.

This might mean weaker prices in urban conurbations but strong demand in adjoining areas. As people place greater emphasis on space, demand for small flats is likely to weaken while pushing up prices of larger properties with outdoor space.

Worth bearing in mind as I was considering investing in inner-city apartments. I have gone back to reconsider Spanish holiday apartments which are likely to be more popular than ‘communal’ hotel environments for some time to come. The development in Aguilas, Murcia is still available at circa £120,000.00 and there are plenty more starting around £75,000.00. As soon as we start European driving again, Aguilas must be a priority.

Aguilas Development – Still at the drawing board stage

Of course, a major setback will be the use of our smartphones which provide so much service abroad normally to access information apps and radio/tv media. Now, we will have to pay at least £1.00 a day to even access the network all as a benefit of Brexit.

Wednesday, 11th August, 2021

Quite a grey start to the day this morning at 6.00 am. The long-range forecast says we can expect no rain for two weeks but temperatures are not expected to be great.

About 10 years ago or so, I fell out of bed in my sleep while I was in Greece. I hit my head on the bedside cabinet and ripped my ear on the sharp corner. It bled for hours and I should have had it stitched but that is not easy on a small island and I just left it to heal. I did it again last night, crashing into the bedside cabinet and cutting my arm and almost taking out my left eye. I must stop being so vigorous, especially with my groin! My arm is already very painful from my Shingles jab yesterday.

Took delivery of a new lawnmower yesterday and was outside trying to start it around 7.00 this morning. Took a while to get used to a new system but I got there. I love that sort of techie challenge. It is cordless like my current one. It makes mowing the lawns so easy. I was always put off by the effort of starting classic petrol ones and hated corded electric even more. It takes about an hour to fully charge and runs for around 40 mins which is plenty. I’m actually inclined to do the house vacuuming because the machine is also cordless.

Of course, now I need to get rid of the old mower. We have excellent Recycling Sites around here but, recently, they are requiring us to book a slot for visiting. It’s a bit of a pain but retirement makes it easier.

The day has turned lovely, warm and sunny. Blue sky and 22C/70F. We’ve done our walk, been to Sainsbury‘s for Courgettes to griddle in the garden this afternoon with Tuna steaks and now I’m going in the Gym for an hour. It will help me calm down and stave off the next topic a while longer.

The Guardian is featuring this morning an article on a really important topic for people of my generation – the Care System. The problem is that no government is prepared to take on such a thorny issue because it involves forcing difficult funding decisions on people. Because I have no children and no one to leave my estate to, I was always attracted to my assets being sequestered after my death to pay for it – notoriously dubbed the death tax. I am really not worried about dying and I’m certainly not worried about my estate. You really can’t take it with you!

Building up a good savings pot is important for enjoying life but equally important in those final years to death.  I don’t think the public sector is ever going to provide truly acceptable conditions and we will have to fund it ourselves if we can.

On the edge of our Development, work is well on the way on the construction of a 64-bed Hallmark care home which will provide residential and dementia care. The luxury development is being constructed at a cost of £11m on a 1.9-acre site. Of course, it won’t be cheap but it will include a café, a state-of-the-art cinema, a hairdressing salon and therapy room. Spacious bedrooms will have their own full en-suites with showers and all bedrooms on the ground floor will have access to their own patio. Other innovations will include an ice cream parlour, reminiscence lounge, garden room, and an outdoor roof terrace. I’m putting our names down. We can grow old together in luxury!

Thursday, 12th August, 2021

What a lovely day it turned out to be after an uncertain start yesterday. Really warm for our walk. This morning looks as if it’s going a similar way. Apart from a Sainsbury’s and a fish delivery early on, we have a clear diary today so we might go down to the beach.

All the main roads around the outskirts of our village are being redeveloped – widened into dual carriageways to cope with the additional traffic brought about by house building. I often wondered what sorts of jobs people do who move here. A lot of the high-end housing is snapped up by London commuters or techie homeworkers but the Service Industry and, in particular, Retail Supply and Delivery is massively expanding.

An Amazon Warehouse & Distribution Centre was opened about 5 miles away and long lines of these vans started to stream through the village in mid-morning out on delivery. It must have been very annoying for villagers and complaints have finally re-routed them but the L.A. has had to balance the creation of lots of new jobs against residents’ irritation. The MEN yesterday featured a new Amazon Centre in Kingsway Business Park, Rochdale which will create around 150 new jobs so valuable to the area but something to watch.

I moved to Oldham with my little friend in 1972. I don’t mind admitting that it was a massive culture shock for me. I had never lived in a town in my life. I hadn’t even spent much time in any town at all. I was particularly struck by the awful state of the buildings in general and the domestic dwellings in particular. Blake’s phrase, Dark Satanic Mills seemed to be written with Oldham in mind. I remember searching for a flat was so depressing and soul-destroying that I began to think we had done the wrong thing.

This is Barker Street which ran between Rochdale Road and the Market. This is the time we arrived in Oldham. I gulp when I see it and wonder what the hell I was doing in the town. I don’t even really remember why we went there in the first place.

No one who regularly shops in supermarkets can have failed to notice the signs of supply chain problems. Last week it was bottled water. This week it is French/Italian cheese and quite low stocks of fresh fruit and vegetables. Racks spread wide but thinly to disguise the shortages.

This morning, I read a really interesting and informed Twitter thread about serious shortages in the Construction Industry not just of labour which is affecting Agriculture as well but materials. Social Media is full of cartoons like this but the situation is much more serious than that. The knock-on effects for all of us could have major implications.

The headline is that construction costs have gone up about 40-60% on average. Electricians will not quote for jobs now unless they are immediate starts as the wholesale cost for cabling/copper is only guaranteed by the wholesaler for 3 days. Fixed price quotes are now a thing of the past. Cement and plaster have doubled in price. Some timber has tripled. Many Brickyards have zero bricks in stock and some roof tiles now have a 48-week lead time. Almost one whole year.

Our new, Italian neighbours had two tiles fly off the roof in the recent winds and no one can source the right colour replacements. I stupidly smashed a huge, conservatory window 10 days ago. The glazier came round within 4 hrs but he warned us there were virtually no replacement units available and we still haven’t got one. Fortunately, it crazed the outside pane of the double glazing but didn’t affect the inside.

All this might sound fairly trivial but it has huge implications for the economy in general and the housing market in particular. It will create two opposing pressures. The U.K. economy is underpinned by housing/building. The eye-watering increase in cost will inevitably lead to higher house prices, but they’re already so unaffordable that too much of an increase could lead to a collapse. This could, potentially, trigger a U.K. ring-fenced credit crunch. If that happens, everything will get more expensive for the U.K.. Interest rates and inflation would go through the roof. Do not be retired in that environment.

Friday, 13th August, 2021

The date suggests that this will not be the luckiest one but don’t worry, dear reader, that’s a lot of nonsense.

In my beginning is my end ….

Strange pattern to the days at the moment. For the 3rd day running, yesterday opened grey and damp but turned gloriously hot and sunny. Today is fairly overcast at 6.30 am. Completed my 183rd consecutive day of exercise goal. I’ve gone so far, you would have to shoot me to stop me now. Pretty sure I’ve got a hernia in my groin but I’m not prepared to let it affect my routine so the doctor will have to fit a solution around that.

Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.

Finally, the glazier has given us a price for the window unit replacement and it is excellent at £160.00 although I don’t think he has been able to source one yet. Must be more careful with my strimmer in future.

The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

On this day in 1961 under the auspices of Kruschev, The Berlin wall was erected. The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin. Construction of the wall was commenced by the German Democratic Republic on 13 August 1961. The Wall cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin. I was 10 years old and I remember my parents’ discussion about it around the dining table.  

Berlin Wall being erected – 13th, August 1961

I was 38 before it fell and, when it did, few were prepared for it. The West Germans took great risks and invested huge amounts of money reintegrating their backward Eastern half. They have even elected an East German citizen Chancellor of Germany for the past 16 years. Now, European internal borders are completely open other than to Brexit Britain. I do miss the long, cross Europe drives

I can’t sleep through the moments
All the moments you’ve stolen ..

Fresh, dressed, Devon Crabs for our meal yesterday with green salad and tarragon tzatziki in the sunshine was absolutely wonderful. Actually, it was so good, I ate too much. Must control myself!

Sorry about all the quotes interspersed this morning but they have been flooding through my mind over night and it seemed the best way to clear it. All but the last couplet come from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: East Coker. The only explanation I can offer is that an item about a crime in East Coker came up on a newsfeed yesterday and it immediately triggered a memory of the long poem that I last read in the mid-1970s.https://www.youtube.com/embed/7my5baoCVv8?feature=oembed

If you want to know how juvenile my humour is, turn your volume on and listen to this clip. I almost fell off my chair shrieking with laughter.

Saturday, 14th August, 2021

Many years ago, when I was about 14 years old, I went caving with a group of boys. The experience is hard to visualise unless you were there but, essentially, we went out of the sunshine through an increasingly narrowing cave entrance to a rapidly dark and confining tunnel. Eventually, we were crawling on our hands and knees in water and pitch darkness through a tight tunnel where we couldn’t stand up and could only go forward or back according to the person in front and behind us. I can remember the ‘trapped’ feeling rising in me. Although I didn’t know the term, claustrophobia at the time, that’s clearly what I was experiencing and it was a useful learning experience. That is how we test ourselves.

Woke up this morning with a sense of sadness and distance. My past seems untouchable and down a tight, dark tunnel in which I’m stuck. My future is dark and unknowable. I can’t go forward or back and am reliant on those behind and in front. I am suffering from temporal claustrophobia.

My 14-year-old self got through the tight tunnel and was able to stand up in the most beautiful, high-ceilinged chamber. The nightmare was that, to get back, I had to go through the whole experience again. The nightmare of time is that we can never go back but only move forward into the darkness.

Once again this Saturday morning, the light is poor and vaguely grey. Lovely afternoon and evening of hot sunshine … again yesterday. The Mediterranean corner of our garden was flooded with warmth. The fig trees and Canarian tree and Mediterranean herbs were all loving it. Beautiful, crescent moon last night and warm overnight.

On this weekend each year, the Greeks go on holiday for around 2 weeks. In teaching times, we would already have been there for a fortnight and, suddenly, the island and its shops would become flooded with double the number of customers. In retirement, we would have been there for 4+ months already and were preparing to book hotels and ferries for our return drive through Europe in a couple of months.

The Windmill Supermarket aka Sainsbury’s

For all the lovely weather, the gorgeous, warm sea-swimming, the delicious taverna food and the stimulating challenge of coping with a foreign language and culture, there comes a time when change is desired. Of all the things we longed for, a well-stocked, British supermarket was high on the list. The Windmill Supermarket was lovely. Run by Maria, it supplied us with fresh oranges from her father’s orchard and eggs from their own chickens, pork from the next-door farm, etc. but so many of the staples one gets used to at home were difficult to find.

These sorts of projects are always risky.  Must admit I’ve always thought that taking a risk was the only way to move forward. I am a risk-taker although I do try to think things through and do due diligence as well. Buying land and laying out £200,000.00 in a building project on a small, Greek island was always going to carry an element of risk. It paid off and gave us a lot of pleasure but it took some nerve.

It’s impossible, said Pride.
It’s risky, said Experience.
It’s pointless, said reason.
Give it a try, whispered the Heart.

If you want something better. If you want something to change. The only way is to hold your nerve and take a bit of risk. The rewards can be enormous. Some old people in a Care Home once told us: Don’t hold back. Do it. You only get one life and it is short. We regret not having followed our dreams. As they spoke, they were confined to an immobile, old age in fraying chairs and watching the traffic pass on the road outside – not able to go back and waiting for their future to come them.