Week 678

Sunday, 19th December, 2021

A cold, crisp morning which was chilly on the face and hands as I walked this morning. Didn’t go out until 10.00 am because I was watching the final Marr political programme ever. With the chaos going on in government currently, he chose a good day to go out.

Covid, Brexit and Sleaze dominate and thread through every pore of power. With Frost resigning, there are two, major possibilities. Firstly, Brexit is really falling apart. Giving in over the ECJ and now over Northern Ireland look major planks of the right wing extremists policies falling away. Secondly, Frost knows that walking out leaves Johnson incredibly more vulnerable to the lunatic fringe that John Major called The Bastards

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ..

W.B. Yeats: The Second Coming

With Covid raging, Johnson incredibly weak and in hoc to his extremists, he is in little position to be mandating strong, new restrictions even though that is exactly what is required to save lives. Got a Whatsapp message from Julie this morning telling me that they suspect Nigel – who is immuno-compromised – has caught Covid from their son and is being taken to a testing centre this morning.

The Sleaze story might have gone quiet but it will be back very soon. Frost resigned, we believe, on a promise of a top job from Sunak. – probably Foreign Secretary. Frost resigning moves Johnson closer to the edge and brings Sunak to the fore. The rumour is that a newspaper (read probably the Daily Mirror) will be running a scoop on Johnson’s former lovers and illegitimate children which could really pile on the pressure. How much will he want to take before running away?

What do you give someone like me for Christmas? There is almost nothing material I can think of that I want. It is a lovely position to be in until someone wants inspiration. I’ve asked for a delicious bottle of Greek Olive Oil. Hope Santa brings it!

Monday, 20th December, 2021

Cold here today although quite bright. Going to need a few extra layers on to go out walking. I’m certainly going to disappoint the lady who complained I wasn’t wearing shorts the other day.

This is the scene on the Greek island of Evia yesterday. Amuses me to think they have snow and we don’t.

Over night, we took the difficult decision to cancel our Christmas plans. We don’t need government to tell us what we can and can’t do but we haven’t come this far to take a risk for a few hours on one day this week.

We certainly won’t be short of food. Pauline has been doing the catering preparations for quite some time. The cakes were finished this morning. There are two Christmas Puddings, two sides of salmon, Starters to feed the 5,000 and wine to drown the 5 million. We will drive up to Surrey to deliver food parcels and then anyone else who needs feeding should just write in.

Just received a card from our friend and former neighbour, Colonel Vicky. Back in 2010 we found a property in Surrey which fitted our needs at the time. Vicky arrived at the same time. She had just retired and was looking for friends and sailing/golfing partners. She was a fit, energetic mid-50s girl and lovely to get on with. Soon after she arrived, she found she had breast cancer. It was successfully dealt with and she went on with her life. We sold and moved on. She sold and moved on. We continued to write to each other. 

This morning her card brings awful news. Her breast cancer is back but much worse. It is now Grade 3 and Invasive. She is on her second round of chemotherapy and trying to stay cheerful. Life treats some nice people so badly.

Tuesday, 21st December, 2021

Today is the Shortest Day – the Winter Solstice. Everything improves from this moment. Hold on to that thought. The sun is very low. Even so, it does feel distinctly raw outside right now.

Just written back to Vicky having heard about the recurrence of her breast cancer and offered her support. Then I had a message to say that Nigel & his wife had tested negative for Covid which in his condition and at his age could have proved dangerous. I’ve written to him congratulating him on the result and pointing out I’ve considered him quite negative since 1969.

A Ripon friend sent me this graphic this morning and it appeals to my sense of humour. You will smile at least:

I’m going to wear a woolly hat for my walk today. I’ll look ridiculous but feel warm. Age dictates that I ignore the former and embrace the latter. Lovely day which feels very happy and optimistic. I feel so thankful for my life. Just got to arrange the next 30 years!

Wednesday, 22nd December, 2021

Up really early this morning to a sparklingly clear sky of stars and bright moonlight. Just 4C/39F and felt quite cold. Quite a lot to get through today so out to Sainsburys at 8.00 am. The roads are empty. The carpark is quiet. Even the shelves are not well stocked.

Down to the beach for a walk. Very few people out. I prefer it like this. Space to walk, think and talk. Space to breathe, dream and plan.

To the east, the sun was barely rising over Brighton but it was too cold to stay long and the car drive home was comfortingly warm.

Over hot coffee, I took a telephone call from the Diabetic Paramedic at our Health Trust. It was a follow up to my blood tests. She said immediately, I’ve just been checking your blood test results and then had to check I was phoning the right person because there is no trace of diabetes in your tests. The results are fantastic! It is nice when you’ve been trying hard and consistently to do the right things to be rewarded with that sort of assessment. I was going to ask if she would award me a badge in recognition but thought that was probably pushing it a bit at my age.

Pauline is making jam, preparing food for the Christmas meal we won’t be attending, preparing to home-cure smoked salmon for our own meals plus fit in two hours of walking with me. I’m playing my favourite game of ticking off on my database the addresses of all those who have sent us Christmas cards and those who haven’t yet. I don’t stop sending them even if they have because, quite often, they start again if I don’t give up on them. Got cards this year from people we haven’t heard from for quite a while. It’s a lovely surprise when that happens.

We didn’t manage to get to the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy because of the pandemic. I now hope to see the Whistler, Woman in White exhibition next Spring.

There is so much in life left to enjoy. I demand 30 more years as a minimum to experience it!

Thursday, 23rd December, 2021

The morning is amazingly warm in contrast to yesterday. Yesterday morning – 4C/39F – and this morning – 8C/47F. My computer has a new picture each day which appears out of the websphere. Today it is the wonderful Canaletto, Venice Grand Canal.

Going out for an early walk. Out on the walk, we usually pass our postman at some point. He is an old man with a limp which is not a good sign. All around him delivery vans from DPD and DHL and Hermes are zipping to addresses and away. Paul the Postman limps slowly along with his wheeled trolley of letters and cards. He gets nowhere very fast. Even our post boxes all have Last Collection – 9.00 am on them but we can’t believe collection is synchronised around the area by one postman.

Paul the Postman stops to talk to so many people and is obviously much loved in the community. He sent each one of us a Christmas card himself this year and the community collected £500.00 and presented him with it earlier this week. Even so, the postal service is rather homespun in nature compared with last century with two deliveries a day. We’ve still got one or two cards to arrive and I’ve only had three, online greetings this year so tradition has prevailed. Christmas Newsletters seem to be even more popular but one of my favourite cards came from Kath, my former cleaner in school, who always signs herself, from Mrs Fernandez.

This is a man in tune with my own spirit. His name is Phil and he is my cousin’s Australian husband. They live in the Charente region of SW France. I love Christmas almost as much as him. They are very sociable people and love good food and wine but, like me, don’t need an excuse to enjoy it.

Friday, 24th December, 2021

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
No one was stirring …
apart from me.

A mild, even warm, night for Christmas week – 10C/50F. It contrasts so starkly with previous years. Some snapshots from 2009 illustrate this easily.

Our back garden – Xmas 2009

On Christmas Eve, 2009, we were hit by a blizzard. Pauline’s mum was too old and ill to travel to Surrey any more and so we stayed in Yorkshire and drove over the Pennines to collect her from Oldham.

Cross-Pennine route – Xmas 2009

We didn’t know then although we had some suspicions that this was to be her last Christmas at the age of 96. At least we were able to make sure it was a happy one for her though we were aware she was struggling.

It is impossible to know how one feels until an important person in their life leaves them. We all react differently. Pauline and her Mum had an incredibly strong bond which was fractured by her loss although she coped with it amazingly stoically. However, our house is littered with memories that she managed to collect over the years and sustain her into the future.

I know that’s all a bit sad for Christmas Eve but I’m afraid I was given some more bad news this morning. My old friend and flatmate, Nigel, who I was reunited with a couple of months ago after a 48 year hiatus and who is suffering from blood cancer, was suspected of catching Covid and was rushed into hospital last night with severe chest infection and breathing difficulties. Now is not the time for emergencies and I will be keeping in contact over the holiday in case there is something I can do to help.

We got up early, did a two hour walk and then packed the car up and did an emergency dash to the Home for the Bewildered in Surrey. A couple of inmates were even allowed to come to the door – under supervision – to receive a fully prepared Christmas Dinner which they only need to re-heat tomorrow.

Embarrassingly, we were showered with lots of expensive presents which we don’t deserve. I always find it so much more difficult to receive than to give. I don’t know why but I generally feel unworthy. There is something so positive to giving and so self-indulgent to receiving. Just shows how socially inept I am. They may be bewildered but they are lovely people who are generous and caring. When I reach their stage of bewilderment, I may need someone else to care for me because I’m not sure they’ll be up to it.

Saturday, 25th December, 2021

Christmas morning 2021 – my 70th – and I woke at 4.30 am to the sound of torrential rain battering everything outside. Up at 6.00 am and (whisper it) eating BACON SANDWICHES at 7.30 am thanks to Mandy.

Started to receive lovely Texts, Messenger and Whatsapp messages from around the country including from Kevin in Leeds who proudly displayed his new guitars that he received as presents. Isn’t it wonderful to use technology to cover the world with chat and good feeling in an instant from the kitchen? I love it.

Somebody actually told me yesterday that they read the Blog and found it interesting. I was flabbergasted. Mind you, she was from the Home for the Bewildered but, even so, I’ll take that! Done a trawl this morning of Christmases past for photo memories. It really does have its uses. I know I’m weird but, at 5.00 am today, I was listening to a talk by a neuroscientist about memory and the loss of it.

I have a fantastic memory … sometimes …. but on other occasions I find I have huge blanks. Sometimes, I find that the pain of the past has been erased for my own survival. There are somethings that seem so unimportant to me that I make no attempt to remember. I have a fantastic, linguistic memory. Often I write a word then think that I’m not even sure what it means but on looking it up find it is exactly the word that I needed. The other day, I found myself using the words frisson and illicit. Most people don’t use them every day and I could sense readers Google-ing them. Frisson – a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill. Illicit – forbidden by law, rules, or custom. Aren’t they lovely words? Just the feel in my mouth gives me pleasure.

I can remember long strings of numbers after one reading because I hear them musically in my inner ear but I often can’t remember how to get to Tesco. I can see my house and I can see where Tesco is. Linking the two together to form a route is the problem and I’ve had it all my life. That is the reassuring thing. It is not a sign of deterioration over time and, as I’ve written before, Satellite Navigation was actually invented for me personally.

I wouldn’t normally list Mandy as subversive – she looks at the pictures in the Daily Express for goodness sake – but she is having a very good go with us. Mountains of confectionary, glorious bottles of wine and some exercise equipment. Which will win. I think she’s trying to kill us!

Deep Fried Fish Goujons – alternative Christmas Lunch

It was lovely to have an alternative Christmas Lunch of goujons of Monkfish, Cod and King Prawn with roasted Fennel and Asparagus. Wonderful Christmas present wines followed by homemade Christmas Pudding and Double Cream Custard. Can’t wait to get back to the diet.

Week 677

Sunday, 12th December, 2021

I couldn’t have conceived of this day arriving and yet this year has been momentous for all sorts of reasons. However, this morning I mark the first day of the 14th Year of the Blog. It may be inconsequential to most but, as a record of my daily life, it has meaning for me and what else can I offer?  As T.S. Elliot writes in Sweeney Agonistes:

Birth, and copulation, and death.
That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks:
Birth, and copulation, and death.

A dark, dampish start to the morning but incredibly mild. Having returned from France, Christmas planning is accelerated. Pauline has been marzipanning two Christmas cakes – once again, something I won’t get to taste! This morning we have to go out to Hobbycraft for decorations. I have done my jobs and printed out banks of address labels, and 70 copies of the newsletter. They will soon be winging their way to friends and relatives in America, Greece, France, Malta and, of course, many parts of the UK.

Marzipan Done

Out on our walk this morning under low cloud, fine, wetting rain started to fall and made it rather unpleasant. At least it got me clean! Going to finish off in the Gym watching the F1 motor racing and rooting for Hamilton.

Monday, 13th December, 2021

I have an early, Doctor’s appointment this morning. The investigation starts with blood tests. I’m sure I’m dying but aren’t we all? Until then, life goes on.

Christmas cards are going abroad this morning and UK cards out tomorrow. The card pictured above has been on the go, to and from our Norwegian friends, since 1997. Every year a newsletter is inserted and 24 years of to & fro has made it quite a bulky document. The spine has split and is patched up with Gaffer Tape but it appeals to me as an historical document. Nowadays, it goes to their Edinburgh home which we visited three years ago.

Pauline’s laptop is about 5 years old and not good enough for daily use so I’ve been looking for a replacement for her. HP are, in my view, currently the best company in terms of quality and support and that is where I’ve been looking.

PCs are incredibly cheap now and this model doesn’t even have a separate CPU but does include a solid state hard drive, CD read/writer and screen cam..

I must be one of the few people left in the world who have not watched the Norwegian, political thriller, Borgen. It is a drama about a prime minister’s rise to power and how power changes a prime minister. I wonder if Boris Johnson’s watched it. It should be just right for me but it is 3 series of 10 x 1hr episodes. To commit 30 hrs is quite considerable but it could get me across the awful, Christmas period.

Incredibly mild this morning after a warm night that didn’t drop below 11C/52F. It is mid December and I am going out in shorts and tee shirt. Feels good to be able to do it. I’m afraid the news is bad from my doctor’s appointment …. for my friends and family at least. I am expected to live a little while longer.

Tuesday, 14th December, 2021

It’s 6.00 am and I am awake, up and drinking coffee. I am a tormented soul. Yesterday I did a bad thing. Actually, two very bad things. I think it was as a reaction to my medical appointment.

The girl who reviewed my current health was effusive in her praise over my blood pressure, weight loss, skin quality. I don’t say this to brag but to mitigate my ill deeds subsequently. The girl who was reviewing me had a card on the windowsill of her office saying, Just Engaged. As I walked in she said, You don’t look 70! Who was I to disagree? I asked her about the card and she told me she had got engaged over the weekend. She didn’t seem over enthusiastic about it and she immediately pulled up her trouser leg and held her leg against mine, saying, Where do you get that lovely colour from?

She took my blood pressure. I warned her that I suffered white coat syndrome which was exacerbated by beautiful women. She said she would factor that in. Relax, she said. I closed my eyes as the monitor sleeve began to tighten. Suddenly, all hell broke loose and I shot up at the sound of a fire alarm. It was her mobile phone with a call from her boyfriend. It didn’t seem to spoil my blood pressure. She cooed over it. 

Came home feeling pleased with myself. Went out for a couple of hours walking and finished off in the Gym. It all went downhill from there. Wine with our meal …. and then chocolate!! To be honest, one thing led to another. I woke at 4.30 am hating myself. Why did I do it? Must focus and get back on the path of righteousness!

Positive moves at last!

Nice to see that the world of politics is entering a more positive phase. Twitter is alive with anti-Johnson/anti-Tory sentiment.

The wages of (wine) Sin.

The local news this morning featured a building that was dominant in the landscape of my teaching life – Hills Stores was the name the huge and beautiful Oldham Equitable and Cooperative Society building was known by.

Oldham Equitable and Cooperative Society – Hill Stores

The architect, Thomas Taylor, was commissioned to build this at the end of the 19th century. It must have been resplendent in its day. My sister-in-Law and her husband went dancing there in the 1950s. Pauline did Troupe Dancing there in the 1960s. When I arrived in Oldham in 1972, the building was already in a sorry state. Now, this Grade 2 listed building is on the Victorian Society’s top ten most at risk buildings. Even I’m in better condition!

Wednesday, 15th December, 2021

Another depressingly dull, dank day. It is mild and we have been 11C/52F night and day for three days now but so boringly dark. We need some excitement!

Headline agreement on the serious Press.

The political scene is starting to crank up. The Covid scene is coming to boiling point again. The UK Health Security Agency is warning of a huge wave of millions of infections coming by year end which will require far more stringent controls to avoid considerable deaths. The informed expectation is that family gatherings at Christmas will be severely reduced and pubs and restaurants may have to close through lack of staff because they are infected and isolating. This, of course, particularly exercises Tories who believe that we should be left to take our own decisions although they can never say why that doesn’t apply to drinking and driving or drug taking. See what I focus on in these empty, quiet days. Revolution!

Interesting piece on R4 Today this morning. First, a huge rise in inflation of 5.1% – the highest for a decade. Next was an interview with Banking Chief Executives who are announcing the closure of another swathe of branches on the High Street. They are being pressed to create some cross-bank facility for small businesses which are still accepting cash and need to bank it and some old people who don’t have smartphones and don’t bank online.

The only time I have and use cash is in Europe with a stash of euros to get rid of. I virtually never use a credit card directly now. Everything is paid through my smartphone and Googlepay particularly now the limit has been removed. It must be so difficult for people who don’t use and are scared of adopting these methods. This is always the problem with innovation. A few people are left behind and concern about them is a drag on progress. In this particular case, the pandemic has cut through the problem. Not ‘handling’ things like money has forced the move to alternative payment methods and ushered in the cashless society much quicker.

The scene on the beach …

Back in the mundane world, the walk this morning was hard. My legs are heavy and tight. The lack of sunshine makes it more of a chore but it has to be done. My app shows I have missed just one day completing my exercise regime in the past 11 months. I am determined not to pause until that is 12 months. I have managed 10 miles a day every day since April 6th and that will continue until I drop off my perch.

Thursday, 16th December, 2021

Every morning over Breakfast, we update our entry on the Zoe Covid-19 symptom tracker app along with 4.8 million other people across the country. Each day, infection rates in our local area of Arun are reported. Throughout the pandemic, we have been impressively low but not any more. In the past two weeks, rates have exploded, more than doubling in that time. We’ve got a tester coming from the Office for National Statistics Covid Study for their monthly check-up this morning as well. Got to stop living the high life.

I had done something quite revolutionary. I arranged to drive up to Maidenhead to have coffee with my brother, Bob and his wife, Jane. We haven’t done something like that for 50 years. Eventually, I thought the time was right and texted him. Of course, being daft, I chose exactly the wrong time. He has a shielding member of his family who he wants to see on Christmas Day and, although he is happy to meet us, I had to decide to postpone the reunion. Now, we will wait until the new year. A reunion postponed is an event to be savoured.

Bob & Jane with a couple of happy, little beans!

It certainly looks as if we did our foreign trips just in time. Greece has now moved to much more stringent testing demands for entry and France has reintroduced quarantine. It’s looking like Scotland, Ireland and Wales may close to English travellers very soon to limit virus spread. It’s beginning to look a lot like last year.

Still 11C/52F as I went out on my walk but I wore long trousers because it was so gloomy. A woman walked past – I have no idea who she is. – and rebuked me for not having my shorts on today. We just got home and the Covid tester arrived for an armful of blood. We are so well tested currently, there is little chance of being ‘positive’.

Friday, 17th December, 2021

I try to keep party politics out of the Blog as much as possible but, this morning, it feels as if the tectonic plates may just be on the move as the Tories lose one of their safest seats in the country. It has been Tory since its creation in 1832. Being a world beater, Boris Johnson has managed to turn that around. You can fool all of the people some of the time ….

Christmas is a sentimental time. It recalls friends and relatives. It involves contacts that, often, are only renewed at this time. We receive cards from staff and friends we haven’t seen since the 1970s. They live in far flung parts of the UK and even further flung parts of the world. These contacts always touch me and I make resolutions that I must do something more to keep in contact than an annual card. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Some memories are more important to me than others. I’m not bothered about Christmas but I really value the personal contact across time and space.

The Mabel Connection

Thought I’d feature a card which arrived yesterday. It is from Mabel who is in her mid-90s and lives in Uppermill. For many years, she was Head of Domestic Science in our school. She even taught Pauline at Hathershaw in the 1960s. Her husband died in his 90s over a decade ago. Our only contact is via our card and Newsletter and her card and scribbled note. The unbearable loss of time and space is encapsulated in that card and I always find it so hard to bear.  

This is why it is so important for me to Blog and record, to describe and remember. Life and the events of life are too important

The Sun is Risen.

Back in the real world, the beach was scruffy, deserted and bleak but the sun was pushing up against a blanket of cloud. Lots of little jobs today that amount to … almost nothing. Life is more important than this! I feel isolated from my past in an important way. I have to reconnect.

Saturday, 18th December, 2021

Lovely, sunny day. Did an early walk to blow away yesterday’s cobwebs. On the national front, the government is holding a COBRA meeting this morning with mounting Omicron infections on the agenda. All the informed talk is that there will be a nationwide lockdown with no inter-household mingling mandated as a circuit breaker. The only question is if it comes before or after December 27th.

Posted a card today to a lovely, little girl. She lives in Aberdeen but until recently was our neighbour. She is called Sharon which always struck me as an old fashioned name for someone so young. She split from her husband and moved away to be with her father who has now died. It’s funny and a sign of my age but she must be in her late 30s. Even so, I always thought of her as a ‘girl’.

After all these years of silence, Kevin has taken to sending me ‘stuff’ on Whatsapp. Today it was a Led by Donkies video message about sleaze in the Tory government. At least his heart is in the right place!

With inflation raging – as I predicted – and year end arriving, I am returning to consider what to do with money sloshing around in savings accounts earning virtually nothing. I can’t let it go on any longer.

The climate for buying and managing other properties feels too complicated at the moment. A series of variants and a series of lockdowns would make property management life just too complicated for a simple mind like mine. (You don’t have to agree!) At least in the short term, I need a home for money which doesn’t allow it to be eroded in value by inflation of 5% +. To do this, I don’t want to pay huge, management charges and so I’m considering a passive, FTSE-100 Tracker fund.

I like Hargreaves Lansdown and Fidelity which I’ve used before but I can’t decide how much to commit. Around 20 or 30 years ago, I didn’t worry about that at all. I just got stuck in. Being 70 has made me so much more cautious and I don’t like it. I am Aries the Ram after all. I don’t believe a single word of Astrology but I can’t believe how closely it fits me: “Qualities of Aries are courage, physical vibrancy, a strong will, bold directness and lust for life.” Of course there are some parts of Aries that don’t apply to me: “The irksome traits of Aries are being pushy, lacking any subtlety, wilful and arrogant.” Nobody could accuse somebody as wonderful as me of being arrogant! However, we Aries are risk takers. What is happening to me?

Just thought I’d include this item from social media to cheer up the sad and bored. There is always a bright side.

Week 676

Sunday, 5th December, 2021

Quite tired when we got home after 2½ hours of M1 +M25 driving. I was driving so that Pauline and her friend could share a bottle of Prosecco with their meal. I drove Christine back to her home after a long and lovely Lunch with lots of talk. Her husband died 4 years ago. She still lives in the house they bought together almost 50 years ago. I sat in her husband’s customary chair. She has three grown up sons which helps but she lives alone and clearly finds it difficult. I felt terrible driving away, leaving her to spend the evening alone having drunk more than half a bottle of wine. It will have felt very lonely.

When we got home, we called in at our local Asda for petrol so we were ready for our French drive on Monday morning. In the bus shelter on a cold and windy evening was a youngish couple with push chair, a small baby, another toddler and huge bags of shopping. They were spending their Saturday evening getting the bus to do the shopping. I couldn’t imagine it and it instantly saddened me. As we drove away about 20- mins later, they were still sitting there, huddled against the cold wind and waiting for a bus. Every instinct in me screamed, Offer to drive them home. but Pauline cautioned me to curb that feeling. Covid has made these connections so much more problematic. They stayed in my mind all night.

Glorious morning today with lovely blue skies and strong, winter sunshine. Going out for an early walk because I have quite a few jobs to do before we leave tomorrow morning around 7.30 am. Clean the car, pack the car’s fridge and prepare all the paperwork for the crossing each way. Of course, yesterday, as we drove home, we heard that an extra testing hurdle had been added. We have to get a test in France before we return. Doesn’t worry me. If they don’t let us back in, I’ll cope.

Holyhead Ferry Terminal

My mind has turned to the The Menai Strait, to Anglesey and to the Holyhead ferry Terminal. I was last there 55 years ago and it didn’t look like this. It was night time, very dark and the ferry was full of drunken Irish. I was 15 years old and so excited. I have no idea what it cost because I didn’t pay but now it would be about £400.00 return including the car. I have a sister in Ireland who I haven’t seen for over 10 years. I think I’ll have to go over and visit her and fancy checking Anglesey out again.

This chap is my contemporary. His politics aligns with mine and he has taken to writing to me recently from his home in the Scottish Highlands. Social Media is so wonderful. It can cross 50 years and 730 miles at the touch of a button. Pity he doesn’t know how to use an apostrophe!

Monday, 6th December, 2021

Up at 4.55 am and out walking at 5.00 am. Dry, warm and quiet. In a couple of hours I came across just two others. A young girl jogging who I would have cautioned against the risk and a blue light darting across the park which turned out to be a man throwing a ball for his dog with an illuminated collar. Actually, this is a wonderful time to be out and experiencing the world. The mornings are getting lighter earlier and the birds started singing at 5.35 am today.

Red Sky in the Morning as we drove down.

By 7.30 am, we were on the road to Folkestone. Wonderful drive today with no hold-ups. Almost no lorries which tells you something. We arrived about 40 mins early.

Tunnel Terminal Christmas – Isolation

The Tunnel Terminal at Folkestone was almost empty. Normal times they are not. About 20 vehicles on the train instead of 220. The terminal was deserted. We sat in our car until called to load. The crossing was quick and easy and we drove off and straight to our Hotel. Our Suite was ready and it looks as if few guests are booked in for tonight. This hotel is predominantly used by UK visitors and they are in short supply at the moment.

Le Touquet Plage

John Ridley and John Morris contacted me this afternoon to wish me well and express regret that they weren’t here too. John Morris had wistful memories of Le Touquet which is one of my favourites as well. I offered to meet them there if they could stagger through all the barriers put up at the moment. I know they haven’t got a chance!

Tuesday, 7th December, 2021

Up at 6.00 am (GMT) on a cold – 3C/37F – morning. Outside, Christmas has visited the Channel Tunnel Constructors’ Memorial.

It was dark but the sun rose quickly to reveal a beautiful morning. I know I quote it with monotonous regularity and I’m sorry but Wordsworth informs the way I see things and Intimations of Immortality plays straight across this scene …

The watery sun of a Winter Sky

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come ….

A couple of hours walking left me thirsty and starving but I controlled myself with coffee and a banana. Soon we are going out Christmas shopping but, first, we will walk down in to the village to the Pharmacie to enquire about Lateral Flow tests required before we leave.

We had to take our tests within 48 hours of arrival in UK so couldn’t do it until 3.00 pm. The people at The Pharmacie are delightful. Aren’t all French women delightful? Of course we both tested Negative and received paper and digital copies of our certificate. I did all the uploading online and received clearance to travel on Thursday afternoon. 

Millions of Calories at the Chocolate Shop

We visited three fantastic chocolate shops later in the day and managed to splurge hundreds of Euros on stuff that I will never taste. So much French chocolate even feels immoral but we will spoil people on Christmas Day with it.

Wednesday, 8th December, 2021

Woke up early to heavy rain outside and quite windy. After orange juice (from a bottle) and tea, went down to the hotel’s Gym. The Hotel is very quiet for lots of reasons.

It was popular with Brits. Brexit has hit British traffic. It is a relaxed hotel with a fine dining restaurant. Covid has killed the hotel & restaurant trade. It has lovely grounds to be enjoyed in the Summer and Winter weather makes it less attractive.

Our Suite is on the top floor – or prison landing – and looks out over the extensive grounds which appear distinctly sodden this morning.

The Gym was completely empty so I didn’t need to wear a mask which made it much more bearable. Had to listen to French ‘Rap’ music in the Gym which drove me close to suicidal and definitely urged me on to work harder and faster in order to escape the utter madness! Cycled 25 kms today and I’m beginning to feel it now. In between rain/hail storms, we’ve driven out to source Christmas food and presents. Bonkers really as it’s all for one day but it has to be done.

Thursday, 9th December, 2021

A wet and wild day and night gave way to a cool and dark morning at 6.00 am (CET) / 5.00 am (GMT). Out on a 2 hr walk, the ever-present lights of the Eurotunnel Freight Depot polluted the sky but lit the path.

Walking at that time in the morning and in that location is quite magical. In the course of the two hours, the sun comes up and totally transforms the stage.

We nipped down to Auchan for some late fresh produce and then drove off to the almost deserted tunnel. The sun was out. The queue was short and we were on a train around 2 hrs earlier than planned.

The drive back was wonderfully quiet and quick. As soon as we were back, I unpacked the car and then carried out the necessary Day-2 PCR Tests, uploaded all the data online and then drove out to post them off via a Priority Post Box.

My little sister, Catherine (Cathy), lives about 5 miles away from me. In the 6 years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen her 5 times. Two of those occasions have been when I invited her to my house and 3 have been by pure coincidence. We have met in Tesco carpark, in the Garden Centre and today, we met in Sainsburys.

Spot the Criminal!

We were supposed to be in quarantine but had to post our tests off so we stocked up in Sainsburys and met this shadowy figure not wearing a mask. It was lovely to see her and her husband, Laurie.

Now I am dreaming of home and cool, white, Egyptian cotton sheets and ….

Good to hear tonight that our work to appeal the Parkingeye charges P&C received and expected to receive have been repaid and rescinded in full. I knew they would be and I wouldn’t have let it go until they were. Just love those fights with petty Bureaucracy. They are so easy to defeat and yet so brazen in their contempt for little people! P&C had two fines cancelled and one that they had paid repaid.

Friday, 10th December, 2021

Yesterday, we performed a DAy-2 PCR test and drove down to the Priority Post Box in the village to send them off to Zava for analysis. We are supposed to quarantine until we receive a negative result. It’s bonkers really because we had to go out to the post and to Sainsburys last night and so we are going out for a walk this morning on what is a wonderful, sunny day with sharp, clear blue sky.

The lake is coming back ….

Leaving the French landscape behind, we are back to walking through the park. Looks like it rained heavily in the night although I didn’t hear it. I was quite tired.

Lots of Jabbing at the Community Centre

Our walk takes us through the park and round the Community Centre that has almost entirely been taken over by Covid vaccinations. Most days, the carpark is packed and Hi-Vis jacketed volunteers are organising entry/exit. The council have recently even spent money erecting this tribute to the NHS. Of course, the complaints about roll out of the vaccination program were expressed, the Tories called it the NHS Vaccination program. As soon as they felt able to claim a success, it suddenly became a hugely successful government program. This sort of duplicity was always likely to fail eventually and so it is:

The Party’s Over …

Johnson’s own dishonesty was always likely to be the fatal flaw. Those who support him have tended to say, Well he’s not perfect but he’s doing his best. as if he’s some Primary School kid who needs encouragement. He’s not and it has all caught up with him. Today, the YouGove Poll for The Times shows Labour with a 4% lead over the Tories.

This afternoon, the Covid Testing company emailed us to confirm we were still negative and were released from self-isolation. We were confident of that even though there was an announcement of a new, French Covid variant found in Marseille this morning.

Saturday, 11th December, 2021

A mild, grey day which felt a little empty. The resurgence of pandemic has prompted us to order more masks and more Lateral Flow tests. The first will be FFP2 masks and will be delivered by Amazon. The tests are free from the Surgery Pharmacy. We order those via the NHS app and collect them immediately. The peak of this latest wave is predicted to be at the end of January and we expect considerable new restrictions long before then so now is the time to act.

A couple of hours of walking was followed by Christmas preparations. About 70 cards to be written. Books of stamps to be purchased and stuck on envelopes. Database -Spreadsheet layout of sheets of addresses to labels printed and stuck on envelopes. Before that an editing job – Whose died? Whose moved? Etc.. I am in the process of producing the annual newsletter. It’s been an eventful year full of surprises to recall.

Christmas Card Production Line Begins

Cards to go abroad must be posted by Monday. Presents to be sent will need posting boxes so they have been sourced. and shredded Christmas paper to cushion the contents prepared.

Trial Salmon Dish

It was agreed recently that the meal we will prepare for the family will not involve TURKEY for the first time I can remember. My sister, Cathy, told me they were going out for a Curry on Christmas Day. Maybe the trend is away from Turkey! Instead, we will eat roast Glazed Salmon. Pauline is a technician and always trials her meals. I usually have to eat it at least twice before she settles on a formula. This picture features the first trial which will be rejected. It is layered salmon with pesto filling and citron topping. Nice but not good enough. The next attempt will involve honey & orange I’m told.

I don’t know why I do the newsletter these days. I print it in colour and send it with cards. Why do we send cards? I would happily send email attachments but one or two people don’t have any and most send cards anyway. I feel it is only polite to reciprocate. Everything will be done by tomorrow and then we can get back on with our lives – whatever that is.

Week 675

Sunday, 28th November, 2021

After a cold night with a magically clear and star-studded sky, the morning has opened distinctly cool at 1C/34F but with azure-blue and gorgeous sunshine. Isn’t life good? Well, we soft Southerners do feel the cold more easily than the peasants in the North who have long been inured to it with their diets of spam sandwiches and fishfinger butties but preparation is all and I don’t have any ‘Thermals’.

Damart Families are Happy Families

Going to have to search out the Damart catalogue that comes through the door on a regular basis.

I have got a woolly hat & gloves + Fleece for my outdoor walk and I think I’m going to need it today. Thank goodness we’ve got efficient central heating which we control over the web at the touch of a smart phone app. Everyone should use Hive or its equivalent.

Well, I’ve spent the weekend updating my circle of friends from College on current news and wishing them well for the coming month. One drew my attention to an article about the Horn Blower headed: Ripon’s first female Hornblower; ‘I feel very proud. It only took 1,131 years!’ For those who don’t know, the ancient city of Ripon has had a Hornblower closing the day at the obelisk in the city square since the year 886 and they have just appointed their first female one. Seems a bit premature to me although she is only an Assistant!

A female Hornblower? … Whatever next?

We have a busy few days coming up at the end of the week. Friday to Gatwick to collect P&C from America. This has now been complicated by the forthcoming requirement to take a PCR not just a Lateral Flow Test on Day-2 and then to quarantine until a negative result is confirmed. Hotel in Milton Keynes on Friday night. I then become a taxi driver on Saturday so Lunch with Pauline’s friend, Christine, can include wine. Monday we drive back down to the Tunnel and off to France for a few days Christmas shopping. Once again, this has been complicated by the introduction of PCR tests which have to be sent away and we have to quarantine until a negative result is emailed. Pauline has a hair appointment the day after we return so she will be scabbling around tomorrow morning trying to bring it forward to this week.

What a difference a day makes …

This is the same shot I took yesterday on Littlehampton Promenade. What a difference a day makes. Yesterday was grey and cold. Today is bright and … cold.

Monday, 29th November, 2021

Identical opening sentence to yesterday. After a cold night with a magically clear and star-studded sky, the morning has opened distinctly cool at 1C/34F but with azure-blue sky and gorgeous sunshine. Strangely, my mood is diametrically opposed to yesterday when I was happy and relaxed. This morning I feel dissatisfied and uncomfortable. Why?

As the government is struggling to get to grips with the threat of the new, Covid strain on the one hand and with the threat of their Libertarian Right Wing on the other, so we are rapidly readjusting our arrangements in the light of the likely narrowing of possibilities. The change of testing regime at such a moment could really cause us difficulties. The requirement to isolate until a negative test has been posted will also cause us trouble.

However, for the Tories in general and Boris Johnson, in particular, the government have really got problems. Confected migrant crisis – we are in net, negative migration at the moment. Confected Brexit crisis – everything that they don’t like was negotiated by them and signed off by Johnson. The Tories and Johnson’s standing in the party are losing ground quite rapidly to Labour currently. Now their British Exceptionalism theme is under threat because of a resurgence of a new Covid strain. The Far-Right want to deny it’s happening. Oh, we’ve got to learn to live with it. (Code for: We’ve got to learn to die with it!).

The graphics accompanying this are trending on social media and are fairly representative of the current flow certainly on my wing of politics. I love people. I don’t know if I would be considered a Socialist but I love people. I am incredibly moved by people’s circumstances especially if they are less than my own. I instinctively want to help. Some, cynical people, doubt me and, sometimes, I doubt myself but I do try hard to be true to my principles.

Πάμε βόλτα / Let’s go promenading on a Monday morning ….

Today, our exercise involves two visits to Worthing town centre. Pauline was ‘feverishly’ buying outdoor coats. She accepted hers. I rejected mine. She was happy. I couldn’t care less!

Tuesday, 30th November, 2021

Olaf Palme

Woke at 5.00 am today on a grey morning. I’ve got quite a few things to get through. Firstly, I’ve had to buy two, new PCR Day-2 tests for our French trip next week. The Lateral Flow tests I bought for £55.00 are now redundant. I have had to buy two more PCR tests for £138.00. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate the return of the initial payment so it is a little less painful. Secondly, I’ve got to prepare PDFs of the documents required to show at the border and in shops, etc to prove Covid-Health-Status.

I am interested in people and, particularly, people through time. I remember very distinctly the shock at the murder of the Swedish Prime Minister, Olaf Palme, who was shot dead in the street in 1986. I was 35 and Palme was 59. Like Palme, I considered myself a social democrat. His murderer was never found. Someone was initially imprisoned but subsequently cleared. Another man, who was long considered a suspect but eventually committed suicide, continues to be a shady prospect. At the moment in the Gym, I am watching this process played out in a drama.

Soon, I will be moving on to the story of Marseille, the Provence city on the French Mediterranean coast. It’s been on my list of places to visit for years. The city has long been a rich source of crime and deprivation seeing a confluence of French North African migrants and the drugs trade. The migrants live in deprived areas of high rise, shoddy apartments. The drugs trade operates rather like the Italian Mafia and the Mayors of Marseille have long been tainted by large amounts of money and the numerous murders associated that trade.

Marseille was founded as a Greek colony and later was a focus of the French Revolution before becoming a centre of French, post-colonial migration from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The Netflix series I am going to embark on, explores modern Marseille through its Mayor played by Gerard Depardieu. Sex, drugs and political power in the Mediterranean sunshine – what’s not to like?

Port de Marseille

Just as the pandemic began to strike, I was looking at apartment rental in Marseille so we could explore the culture. The idea was that a month or so there would get us in to the life of a Marseillais.

Had some lovely correspondence from North Yorkshire. Kevin managed a Whatsapp post. Emails from Julie and John Ridley. Both lovely, friendly tone. John Ridley was effusive in his friendship and has suggested that he would like to come down here to visit us with his wife. Because I am an avowed atheist and I’m always ribbing him about his Methodism, he headed his email with a coat of arms reading: Nisi Dominus Frustra (Without the Lord there is Frustration). You can say that again! I issued invitations to them all when we met recently. It would be lovely to entertain them here.

Wednesday, 1st December, 2021

Happy December to all my readers. Incredibly mild for the time of year. Being data-driven and obsessive, every first of the month has a number of obligations. As regular readers will know, that includes recording power consumption for the previous month on my spreadsheet and comparing it with the same time in past years. Yes, Bonkers, I know but … I am.

In the past, we have become accustomed to spending the month of November away in the sun. Because that hasn’t happened this year, I expected a large increase in power consumption but, because the weather has been so mild, we haven’t needed the heating and consumption has been quite low. As all readers will know, it is through data that we know the world and you can rely on me to record it.

However, I am no more bonkers than local newspapers. The MEN featured a major news story yesterday. Pupils throw Snowballs. Can you believe it? This was a Hold the Front Page Shock Horror of Snowfall in Rochdale which encouraged Langley pupils to throw snowballs into a bus as it passed.

Here, in the sunshine, it looks rather grim but we definitely had our fill of cold, snow and pupils slinging ice balls at each other. It was interesting and quite alarming to find the Health & Safety changes that  made us legally responsible, under Public Liability law, for the potential injuries that such traditional winter larks wrought upon us.https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ehek4WPuXZY?feature=oembed

I was looking at the possibility of returning to Sifnos in the Summer and came across this film made about 4 years ago but set on the island and using all those backdrops that we know so well. I even spotted our house in the background. The acting, like so much Greek TV, is awful but the events leading from a ferry journey to walking the streets of the port and the Hora are so evocative that I have embedded it here.

On Sifnos, the Geraniums would easily get through the Winter still flowering but ours are still going in West Sussex. A bit faded I admit but I may get another Summer season out of them at this rate.

Thursday, 2nd December, 2021

Difficult day yesterday. I spent the morning preparing documents for entry and exit from France. This has been made more urgent because we will be away from home on Friday & Saturday. I sat back with a sense of satisfaction in the early afternoon feeling that everything was in order. I made sure we both had on our smartphones:

  • photos of our passports
  • Pdfs of the French Declaration d’Honneur
  • NHS app with 3 x Covid jabs listed.
  • French app – TousAntiCovid  
  • Pdf copies of the above
  • UK Passenger Locator Form
  • Day-2 Testing codes

All this just for a short trip to France? Just as I relaxed, we noticed the tickertape on Sky News saying France had reintroduced the entry requirement of a negative Covid Test result even in those full vaccinated. These have to be taken within 48 hrs before travel. How could I arrange that with 4 days until we travelled and how much would it cost?

Early searches suggested it would be very expensive and quite slow to arrange. Costs ranged from £120.00 per person with a 4 day turn around which would be cutting it far to fine. Eventually, we found a company who would deliver today and return our test result within 12hrs for … £22.00 per person. Even so, this raised stress levels.

This morning, and we still don’t know why, just before Pauline went out to the hairdressers, our mobile banking app went down. Another 20 mins of nervous energy spent at 7.30 am sorting that out. I managed it but could do without the stress!

Goring High Street

Drove Pauline to Goring for her haircut. The fairly mundane High Street was busy but freezing in spite of the sunshine. I did some walking while the haircut was done. Back home to meet DPD delivery of these extra tests and then out to Town to collect some new, ‘smaller’ trousers!

I have not really enjoyed Christmas since being a child. We have always ‘celebrated’ in the most minimal way. I certainly haven’t felt the need to do what so many of our neighbours do down here and even my sister who lives 5 miles away which is light up their homes. I’ve heard someone say they needed cheering up so started their lights in November. I need cheering up but lights certainly won’t do it!

The Jump of Doom

I don’t know if it’s just me or a common response but I often have the weird desire to jump when I look in to the watery abyss below. In these temperatures, it would be certain death from hyperthermia so there is no chance but that temptation/compulsion is there.

Gorgeous day but freezing!

Had to drive back into Worthing to collect … more clothes for me!!! I can’t cope. I’ve never had so many new clothes in my life.

Friday, 3rd December, 2021

Up at 5.00 am on a cold, dark and wet morning. In the Gym for an hour. Orange juice, shower and out on the road for 6.30 am driving to Gatwick Airport. I felt quite flat and the drive was horrible in dark and rain which refracted all the lights annoyingly. Worked out the intricacies of the Short Stay Car Park arrangements just in time to meet P, C & D from their Florida flight.

Drove them back to one of our old stomping grounds – West Byfleet. Always feels strange to return to these familiar yet unfamiliar places, to know instinctively where I am going yet feel uncomfortable in that knowledge.

The cleaners were just leaving the house as we arrived. The next big job after getting them home was to organise the conduct and despatch of their Covid PCR tests. Left to their own devices, they wouldn’t have had a hope of doing these successfully. After the expending of more nervous energy, the tests were done, the online forms filled in and, because they now have to quarantine until the results come through, we took them to the Post Office for despatch to the Lab..

Can you believe – a Holiday Inn?

They’ve all gone to bed to sleep off their 12hr flight. We walked to Tesco – about 30mins each way – to buy them a copy of the (shhhhh) Daily Mail. Now we are going to drive about 90 mins to Newport Pagnell to stay the night at the Holiday Inn before meeting up with Pauline’s old, College friend for coffee at her house and then Lunch at a local, Greek restaurant.

Saturday, 4th December, 2021

Well the attractive, Georgian house exterior didn’t quite live up to its billing inside. It lacked the modern comforts of sound and heat insulation. It was too noisy and alternately too hot and too cold. The bed was only a Double. We’ve been married so long we need at least a King-size! We had a Suite but it reminded me more of a Student Flat. I certainly won’t be using it again.

I was up and wandering round the hotel at 5.00 am looking for the Gym. Fortunately, I wandered in to the Kitchens where a young University student was preparing Breakfasts. I was taken up to the Gym by an IT Student from the University of Bedfordshire. We talked IT for a few minutes which was riveting at that time in the morning and then I did two hour’s workout.

We are having Lunch in a Greek restaurant so the workout this morning has been essential. Now, after a shower and cups of tea and coffee, the day is absolutely beautiful and sunny with clear, blue sky. Can look forward to the day now. Plenty of banter to come. We are meeting a self-proclaimed, Mouthy Londoner for Lunch so my style of sarcasm will be right in place.

Had a lovely time with Christine. I felt so sorry for her. Her husband’s cancer at 60 had been declared ‘free’ by age 62 and then reoccurred by age 68 and that’s when it beat him. Nice people should not have that battle.

Week 674

Sunday, 21st November, 2021

… at 5.00 am

A gorgeous morning although I was up at 5.00 am making a hot drink for my wife who is unwell. Pauline has a heavy cold and has been suffering for a few days. Fortunately, I have not caught it. It is definitely not Covid. We have been tested ‘negative’ 31 times over the recent past and the last one was two days ago. I am on duty today and will be cooking!

The sky outside is clear blue with strong sunshine but the temperature outside is only 7C/45F which is quite cool. Not sure if shorts and tee-shirt will do for my walk this morning. Hard to believe that we are nearly at the end of November already. In fact, because Pauline was unwell and I was awake early, I found myself thinking about my age and that there is so much more behind me than in front. It is scary and is the reason why I feel I’ve got to get on with things rather than sit around. There is no time to waste!

I have been trying not to waste time in pushing my exercise program. It is 228 days since I turned 70 and, since then, I have covered 2300 miles / 3,700 kilometres in exercising. It feels good to be back to fitness and it gives me the impulse not to sit still writing but to get outside doing. Today, I’ve set myself patio cleaning and house vacuuming as well as walking. 

The walk was sharp but delicious. Walks are always times to think. It’s interesting how the movement of walking stimulates the brain and moves thought patterns on. I always find conversation is more fluid when walking and never really understood why.

Today, the Mediterranean richness of the light pulled everything into sharp focus. I woke up this morning thinking about age. I know too much self-reflection isn’t necessarily good for one but I am an addict. My thoughts were crystalized as I walked past the developing Care Home (specialising in Dementia Care I think) on the periphery of our Development. Must get my name down while I remember!

Everywhere we walk there is decay – not to depress you, Dear Reader. Autumn is rapidly advancing and its debris is everywhere in our path. Let’s hope the Winter passes quickly and we soon see the green shoots of Spring. There I go again, wishing my short time away!

Wonderful meal today even if I say so myself. An economic, one-pan special of Chicken Thighs marinated in lemon, oregano & garlic and roasted with peppers, chickpeas and asparagus. Success again. The wine helped!

Monday, 22nd November, 2021

A happy marriage definitely involves separate bathrooms. I remember but don’t really remember living in a large, family home in the 1950s with no central heating and one bathroom. We had a second toilet and Mum & dad had a wash basin in their bedroom but the whole thing seems so centuries ago.


Unfortunately, I had 5 sisters which didn’t help. Of course, boys/men don’t really wash … they just pretend to but the girls take it all so seriously! In those days, baths were the thing and the water was heated by a Back Boiler which rather limited the number of people who could use it each day.

Nowadays, I hardly ever have a bath but I love showers. My wife has the biggest bathroom but I have the biggest shower and with a body like mine, it’s needed. In the Mediterranean, they can’t understand the British love of baths. They can’t understand people wanting to wallow in the water already dirtied by their bodies. Showers are de rigueur and, of course, they use less water for places that are hot, dry and where water is at a premium.

For me, there is something special about standing under a powerful force of hot water after exercising. And the water is always hot. We no longer have to wait for the heating to build up. The facility is there immediately we turn the taps. These are things we couldn’t have conceived of when I was in Primary School and using outside toilets in the school yard in the middle of Winter.

Gorgeous day outside with clear, blue, Mediterranean skies and strong sunshine. Still only 7C/45F but beautiful. Let’s hope we have a good day. At least we will be clean!

Tuesday, 23rd November, 2021

Another beautiful morning but cold – only 4C/39F at 7.00 am. A silver half moon is shining out of a crystal clear sky with sunshine coming over the horizon. At least there is no frost because I cut the lawns two days ago.

Something very strange has happened to me this year. Well a few strange things to be honest. Exercise is one change. For years I’ve been going to the Gym but, since developing a gym in the garage, I’ve taken it much more seriously. Walking outdoors is another thing and improved diet is a third.

On yesterday’s walk, and not for the first time, a man called out, You’re half the man you used to be! I pointed out that my wife had been saying that for years but it was nice to hear. I’m always amazed that people are noticing me at all although I suppose my radiant beauty does shine out and illuminate the area.

Really, the change that has most shocked me is my attitude to Fiction. For an English Lit. graduate and former English teacher, you would expect me to be a big reader of Fiction. As I’ve written before, almost since my initial Degree, I’ve not read Fiction for pleasure but always seen it as ‘work’, as historical evidence, as an empirical challenge. That was accentuated when I did a research Masters and I read 19th Century literature for its representation of historical ideas.

The world of Netflix

Fast forward to this year. Although I’m still centrally interested in politics and political philosophy & ideas, I have found myself gravitating back to Fiction on television. This has been partly because the post-Brexit political scene has been so unpalatable and partly because I needed distraction while working out in the Gym. I’ve been watching things I would never have even considered in the past. Call My Agent, for example, is a light, French series of inconsequential relationships so out of my experience that I could not believe I was getting sucked in and enjoying it but I was quickly hooked and binge-watched the whole 24 x 1hr episodes in the gym.

I’m now moving on to Glória – a Cold War, Espionage thriller set in Portugal and Germany. I like spy fiction I’ve found. The thing I particularly like about the Netflix platform is that it is cheap and universal. I can watch it on television, iPad or smartphone anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, 24th November, 2021

Overcast and cool morning. Had to go out to collect a parcel which UPS failed to deliver properly yesterday. Why Amazon can get it so right but others have such a poor service reputation, goodness knows. I ordered yet another smart watch, another Garmin. I use mine so much throughout the day to do so many things from telling the time to checking the temperature, to monitoring my activity and heart rate, to reading texts, emails and news flashes on the move that it quickly becomes scratched and battered.

Old & New

The current one on the left is becoming a bit the worse for wear so I’ve bought a new one which will do all the above plus play music and pay contactless without my phone or cards. Yesterday, UPS sent me a text to say they would deliver today. I went out for a walk yesterday afternoon and 10 mins after I’d left the house, they put a card through saying they had unsuccessfully tried to deliver. So, this morning, I’ve had to drive out to a collection point to pick it up. I now have the enjoyment of setting it up.

Next week, we are going to visit Pauline’s old College friend, Christine. We will first go to collect P&C from Gatwick airport on their return from Florida and then go on to a hotel in Newport Pagnell for one night. We are going to have Lunch with Christine in a Greek restaurant which will be nice and then drive back home before setting off again on the Monday to the Tunnel and a few days in France.

Thinking of taking the train into Gare du Nord and spending the day in Paris. Haven’t been there for a while and it would be nice to spend a crisp, Winter’s day walking the streets and visiting the shops and restaurants. It will be much more relaxing than driving round the Champs-Élysées three times as our sat.nav. once forced us to do on our drive back from Greece. This morning I ordered the Day-2 tests which we still have to go through when we get back. At least I got a 15% Black Friday discount.

Thursday, 25th November, 2021

Feeling happy and lively this morning. Beautiful morning as hell freezes over. Love these skies. they are so photogenic. Perfect day for a ‘selfie’! Waiting for it to warm up a little before going out walking. I’m enjoying getting to grips with my new watch. I’ve set it up without reading the manual … which is a typical ‘man thing’. I will download the full instructions after I’ve tested intuition to the max.

It is quite good fun using the music app to find things I like to listen to on my watch dovetailing in with my phone. 

We have the complex problem of arranging to collect an elderly couple, one of whom is partially sighted, from a flight landing at Gatwick North. Nowadays, you can’t just drive up to Arrivals and grab their suitcases. We have to book the Short Stay Carpark and hope the flight isn’t delayed. The website says it will cost us £35.00 for the privilege even if they are on time. Lovely!

While the temperature is going up outside as the sun takes effect, I am catching up on correspondence. I owe emails to Nigel, Julie, Christine and a Whatsapp to Kevin. I had a chat with a girl from 50 years ago the other day. I had no idea who she was but she knew me. It turns out that she had been the girlfriend of the unfortunate Bob Stephens who died very young of lung cancer. There are some amazing connections like that which give me pleasure. 

David Roberts, who seems to spend his time roaming the country and goes back to Ripon with incredible frequency, posted this advert for the Developers of the old Lecture Building at the College which is finally going under residential conversion. It is amazing how many of the past students express interest in returning to live there. It’s not something that would appeal to me at all. I’m more interested in people than places.

Absolutely freezing this afternoon as we went for our walk. I don’t know if it was the cold but I got terrible stomach cramps as I walked and really had to fight hard to complete. After a rest, I did a Gym session to complete my day. A shower followed by the most wonderful meal of Green Salad and Griddled Sea Bass fillets with Asparagus. There are only one or two things nicer in life than that but I won’t list them!

Friday, 26th November, 2021

Went to bed with a sore throat and painful ears. Slept well and got up early feeling full of life. Pauline is still suffering a bit with this horrible cold and the chat among old College friends is of many suffering from a horrible, persistent cold bug that’s ‘going round’. I refuse to be ill at any time! Watch this space.

It feels really bitter outside this morning and rather overcast. It is only 8C/46F but feels a lot colder. I am going out wearing CLOTHES today. To Rustington to buy fruit & vegetables and Christmas Cards. Later to Worthing town centre to collect new clothes ordered for ME!

Our Marks & Spencer is opposite the pier beach. Down there, the temperature was slightly warmer but, with sea breeze, it felt even more bitter. As you can see, there was no one on the beach even strolling and I didn’t stay long

Tempus Fugit

We were reflecting on one of our favourite topics this morning – the passing of time. It will be six years in March since we moved here from Surrey and over eleven years since we left the North of England. I always think of myself as cultured and sophisticated (irony alert!), of course but as soon as we start to speak to people down here, they say, You’re from the North.

It shocks me because I think I speak with fairly open vowels as my Mother, born in Croydon, taught me. She always mocked the Working Class voice and talked of Received or BBC ‘Estuary’ English speech. Certainly, Working Class or Dialect voices were rarely heard on the BBC in the 1950s and Announcers tended to affect a cut-glass pronunciation. Now Regionalism is in and ‘Posh’ is mocked.

I always remember being shocked and just faintly amused by a senior teacher in my school when I arrived in 1972. He said, I’m going there me. I had never heard that grammatical construction before nor had I heard of goin’ up the brew to the ginnel or wearing Keks. When Mum read stories to us as children, all ‘working class’ characters were given the same, guttural pronunciation. We knew what it was meant to convey – a lesser, lower status.

It was rather like golliwogs which were thought toys or collected with marmalade and had no racist connotation at all. Of course they did but it was so embedded in the culture that even many black people didn’t see it or voice it. How life and culture has changed over my 70 years. It leaves one wondering what those born now will look back on with amazement.

Saturday, 27th November, 2021

Quite a cold night – down to 3C/37F – and only vaguely sunny this morning but what people in our area long to see is SNOW. They almost certainly won’t and many here have never seen snow here in their lives. It was a constant factor in our Winter lives for 40 years traveling backwards and forwards over the Pennines and I will be pleased never to see it again. I checked my records for this time in 2010 and we travelled down from Huddersfield to Folkestone on a wine-buying trip in France but had to turn back because of a blizzard. We had a hazardous journey home and the next night went down to -19C/-2F which was the coldest we had ever experienced. Later that week, we completed a purchase of a property in Surrey and collected our new car. Busy times 2010!

Winter has returned over night to the North of England. The section of the M62 and A62 which we used every day in our professional lives was blocked over night and, although it will be passable this morning especially in a 4-wheel drive, I can well do without the additional risks. Of course, it can be beautiful. You only have to look at this Lowry-esque picture of Heaton Park today but it is not enough to persuade me. At least I am walking round our house this morning in shorts and tee-shirt but with no need for the central heating on.

Heaton Park Today

Our car insurance was up for renewal this week – two named drivers. Last time it was £392.00 and the automatic renewal was £420.00 this time. My wife, who doesn’t give a single penny out when unnecessary, went online as a new customer with LV and was offered the same cover for £361.00. She phoned the company and told them that is what she wanted and saved us almost £60.00. I’ve no idea how that compares with other people but it seems quite economical to me.

Bridget Riley across the years

Bridget Riley was an artist of significance in my student days for all sorts of reasons. She seemed to hold the zeitgeist in her eyes. Mary Quant, Carnaby Street, The Beatles, The Stones, Le Corbusier, Seurat and Pointillism all came together in her work. I have thought about her only occasionally over the years until a retrospective exhibition of hers was announced in Woking earlier this year. I have illustrated her here looking back from the age of 90 at her younger self. For me and my people it is poignant. Life is poignant, isn’t it?

Our walk on the Promenade today was definitely cooler than usual. Come back Summer. All is forgiven!