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When you walk through a storm

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As the pound continues to fall, food prices and the cost of holidays rise, businesses switch their investment to mainland Europe, the universities struggle to attract foreign students and the NHS, farming, construction and hospitality industries highlight their growing labour shortages, and the Leave EU voters mutter, “Nothing to do with us”, this Blog has sought diversion in harmless pleasures while awaiting the next Tory party inspired crisis known as the general election.

Owing plenty not only to the NHS but also the charities that keep it afloat, this Blog and Mrs Blog, and, in the past, both Blogdaughter and Blogdog, set out each May in the sponsored Brighton Heart Support Trust stroll along the seafront. I think this is aimed in part at showing bystanders that bionic “body parts scroungers” can still put one foot in front of another, and perhaps also at convincing us survivors of the same thing.

This Blog has made full use of the NHS over the years

The weather usually looks kindly on our walk, it provides more opportunity to enjoy the city than when you’re trying to park, and it offers unlimited prospects of bacon butties and donuts on the pier.

 

Displaying great self-discipline, we restrict ourselves to just one sandwich each….

….so we can afford to be a little more self-indulgent at the donut stall.

Mrs Blog and I, both being semi-retired, have taken to walking on the South Downs and  visiting National Trust properties, shops or tearooms during midweek with the result that the world seems full of old people. I suppose they have to be somewhere but they do seem to take a long time to choose a cake.

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On the other hand, we find that children are also best avoided. The housing estate where we live (Mrs B doesn’t like me using that word — I think she has middle class aspirations) has organised a Street Party one Sunday in June. Now, we’re British and, despite recent security warnings, not easily frightened, at least not until the threat level hits “Replacement Bus Service” or “Street Party”. We have accordingly Googled, “HELP! Where else can we be on 11 June??” and will be attending the annual memorial service at the Chattri.

Our cul de sac always overdoes it with these things. This was to celebrate the completion of the draft neighbourhood plan

As it happens, this is a favourite walk destination for us and we have planned to make the service for a while. The Chattri is a fine, marble monument, a listed building, set high on the Downs outside Brighton with distant views of the sea. It marks the spot where Hindu and Sikh soldiers, injured in action in the WW1 trenches and brought to the temporary hospital in Brighton’s famous Pavilion, were cremated if they failed to recover. (Only if they died, as Mrs Blog rather pedantically insists that I point out.) Wiki tells me there were over 800,000 Indian soldiers fighting for the Empire at the time and that King George V felt that the exotic mock-Indian surroundings of the Pavilion might help them feel right at home.  That, and the pier, sticks of rock and Donald McGill postcards, no doubt.

Visiting any scene of “ultimate sacrifice” like the D-Day beaches, Flanders war graves or the Menin Gate is inevitably a most moving experience and to stand at the Chattri and think of those men a century ago, fighting and dying so very far from home, is right up there.

There must be something in the air because I met up with an old school friend a week ago at the Imperial War Museum. (Did I say I was seeking diversion in harmless pleasures?) He was over from where he now lives near San Francisco (it’s always sensible to retain friends in useful places) where they don’t have any history of course. This Blog isn’t really into weaponry and not obsessed about set piece battles, but the IWM is about so much more. It’s one of the best places I know for telling a story and engaging your interest. We spent a good three hours without even making the shop or café, which Mrs B found hard to believe – the shop and café bit. The more or less permanent, extensive exhibition on the holocaust would be hard to beat – and we did take in the equivalent in Jerusalem during a recent cruise – but our starting point was the temporary gallery on “Fighting for Peace”, the story of conscientious objectors, the Greenham Common women and protest marches against the Iraq war.

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The age old scenario: you finish your demo and there’s never enough buses

Adopting our “we’re approaching middle age” practice of buying tickets for midweek matinees, Mrs Blog and I went to see Richard Wilson as the headmaster in Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On at the Festival Theatre in Chichester. Having read the play several decades ago it was nostalgically comforting to hear Bennett’s familiar lines:

“wild horses on bended knees couldn’t have dragged me away”

“it was the kind of library he had only read about in books” and

“I have never understood this liking for war. It panders to instincts already catered for within the scope of any respectable domestic establishment”

That’s about as experimental and challenging as theatre needs to get for Mrs Blog and me.

Not exactly Alan Ayckbourn, though, is it?

Next week we take another adventurous step, this time musically, to the hip coastal resort of Eastbourne. Sorry, that should read, the hip replacement coastal resort.  It’s for a Gerry and the Pacemakers concert and there’ll be pacemakers everywhere. Along with all the other scouse ex-pats on the Sussex coast I’ll take me red and white scarf for the cardiac recoverers’ encore…..

“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your hearts….”

Gerry always gets a great encore at the Eastbourne Hippodrome

 

 

 

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Reasons to be cheerful

2016

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I thought about heading this post “Reasons to be cheerful in 2017” and leaving it blank. Sort of making a point about 2016 and saving me some effort at the same time. A bit existentialist?  (Wikipedia: sense of disorientation, confusion, or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.)

There have been plenty of articles and books about the year 2016 along those lines and I subscribe to the sentiments behind them. Being forced to face the reality of other people’s voting habits, both here and in the US to name but two obvious ones, can only be deeply depressing. One can but hope that reason, integrity, truth and decency make at least a token reappearance on the political scene sometime soon.

It was also of course a year when we lost some famous names, seemingly more than usual. Inevitably some impact on you more than others. I don’t think there’s any obvious logic to this: I have nothing against Terry Wogan, Ronnie Corbett or David Bowie – fine fellows all – but somehow the premature loss of Jo Cox, Alan Rickman, Caroline Aherne, Johan Cruyff speaks to me (to borrow the jargon) in a different way. In the case of Jo Cox MP, of course, the reason for widespread deep sorrow and anger is clear; in others it may be down to a single performance, even a single phrase which burrowed into one’s memory banks and will never leave.

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And what to say about Victoria Wood? I don’t have the words; Victoria would have done. Long ago I selected the Ballad of Barry and Freda as one of my Desert Island Discs for when I was interviewed after winning the Nobel or a Brit Award and it’s retained its place through the years. Anyone who could come up with just one lyric like this deserves to die happy, and I hope she did.

I can’t do it, I can’t do it, my heavy-breathing days are gone.

I’m older, feel colder; It’s other things that turn me on.

I’m imploring- I’m boring- Let me read this catalogue on vinyl flooring! I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight.

Let’s do it, let’s do it, I really want to rant and rave!

Let’s go, cos I know, Just how you want to behave:

Not bleakly, Not meekly- Beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly- Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight!

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But a glance back through trustworthy sources – I’m thinking in particular of this blog – reminds me that there has been, amongst the dross, the occasional beacon. The findings of the second Hillsborough inquest in April, for one, which confirmed unequivocally what more or less anyone connected to Liverpool had known for 27 years – that is, where blame lay for the tragedy and the nature and scale of the subsequent organised deception by the authorities. The authorities, that is, like the police and emergency services, whose priority should have been ensuring that they didn’t make the same grievous mistakes again, not working out how best to cover their tracks – and costing the public at large, as well as the bereaved, vast sums of money and immense heartache in the process. Everton Football Club described the jury findings as the greatest victory in the history of football. I’m not going to argue.

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In the last few days news has emerged that Professor Phil Scraton – Liverpudlian, criminologist, academic, author, member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and responsible for its research – has turned down the award of an OBE in the New Year Honours List. This, because:

“I could not receive an honour on the recommendation of those who remained unresponsive to the determined efforts of bereaved families and survivors to secure truth and justice… I could not accept an honour tied in name to the ‘British Empire’. In my scholarship and teaching I remain a strong critic of the historical, cultural and political contexts of imperialism and their international legacy.”

What a player! When you think of gongs awarded to wealthy folk for funding political parties and other nefarious goings on ….   But I’ll start drafting my acceptance just in case.

If, at a political level, things have been essentially crap in 2016, decent people continue to make their own contributions. A double page spread in the Christmas edition of the Big Issue highlights just a handful of the many cafes, pubs, football clubs, churches and mosques adding their own kind of hospitality to the efforts of the better known charities, spending time over “the festive period” to prepare and serve hot meals and provide other comfort and support to those less fortunate, and not worrying which part of the world they were born in.

One such venue, hosting a dinner on Christmas Day organised by Liverpool Homeless FC, was the Florrie, or Florence Institute, named as her chosen charity by Radio 2 presenter and DJ Janice Long on this year’s Celebrity Mastermind and a place that provided one of my own 2016 highlights.

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The Florrie before rescue…

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….and after

I’ve been particularly fortunate during 2016 to meet inspiring people and visit some fascinating places. In my first dabble in what I will, when nobody’s checking, call “travel writing” I planned and executed my own coast to coast walk from the Mersey to the Humber, specifically New Brighton, of childhood memory, on the Irish Sea to Spurn Head as a random and slightly weird point on the North Sea worthy of new memories.

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The start of my walk: New Brighton tower, football club, ball room and its “unlucky” demise…

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… and the end: Spurn Head

Some of you reading this (and I have it on good authority that you are doing) have contributed to making this trip so enjoyable en route by providing good conversation, pints of bitter, accommodation, chips and the occasional toe nail surgery. Along with a rugby league game in Castleford, an evening at Mecca Bingo in Hull, a morning at the Pontefract liquorice festival, a (successful!) pub quiz in Liverpool, a visit to the Museum of the History of Policing in Cheshire and an afternoon at the nation’s most luxurious cat hotel near Dewsbury, there have been numerous, sometimes odd, theatrical productions, a ferry, a canal boat trip and a touring waterside theatre, brass bands, more museums, slavers and abolitionists, churches, statues, splendid old railway hotels, a ghost train, swimming baths, pubs, hostels, and more curries, scouse, spam fritters and “full English” than you could shake a black pudding at. There’s been snow and torrential rain on Merseyside, heatstroke on the Humber, Billy Fury, Anthony Gormley, Elizabeth Gaskell and Philip Larkin and an awful lot of walking. And Kay Kendall.

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But what made the whole venture such a joy was being welcomed at so many wonderful community and conservation projects and meeting volunteers and staff making huge efforts to preserve and enhance the social and environmental soul of the country – with little reward beyond the knowledge that their contributions are greatly appreciated by those who benefit from them. While core public services continue to be sacrificed to the false gods of austerity and tax cutting, the nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to those who unflinchingly put their fingers in the dyke and strive to stem the tide. People like Britt at Anfield’s Homebaked project, Anne and Janine at the Florrie in Liverpool, Barry at Victoria Baths, Judith at the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, David at the Huddersfield Canal Society, Jenny at Nostell Priory, Paul at the Sobriety Project, Margaret at Goole Civic Society, Doug at Fort Perch Rock, Brian at Fort Paull.

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Many thanks to all of you for making 2016 a better place. I hope my scribbles can do justice to your efforts – I’ll be back in touch!

Thanks also for your generous contributions to the JustGiving page set up for the walk on behalf of the British Heart Foundation. Over £1300 raised so far and it’s still open so if you’re feeling Christmassy here’s the link:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Stephen-Ankers-the-Road-to-Hull-is-Paved-with-Good-Intentions

I hope the New Year brings you joy and so on and so forth and that you kept all the receipts.

Blogfamily made it to Bruges last week for the Christmas market before the barriers to European travel are erected. We plan to go back in 2017 and spend a few days – Mrs.Blog didn’t allow me time during this visit to take in the museum of chips. I see that its website has a tab for “reservations” so I’m looking forward to checking in for a few nights’ hard earned sleep handily placed amongst the potato peelers and vinegar bottles.

Father Christmas apparently decided that what this blog most wanted to open on Christmas morning was two coffee grinders and two bags of beans (coffee – no beanstalk in sight). His representatives in Sussex, Mrs. Blog and Blogdaughter, are currently occupied with the instructions. Mrs. B tells me that the coat and special writer’s hat she bought me a few weeks back were my main presents and that we’re economising this year in case Donald Trump gets his way and we all end up living underground burning old copies of The Guardian for warmth and buying slightly used spam on the black market.

Hoping that enough of us will still be around in 2017 to make up a four for bridge, I wish you all you would wish for yourself. Unless of course you support Manchester United, Brexit or UKIP, in which case I can’t help you.

 

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Myths and Miscellany

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It’s good to be properly mobile again after months of poorly-hip-based inertia. This blog headed to London (wherever you’re reading this, I expect you’ve heard of it) a week ago to see an exhibition at the Royal Academy called “100 Buildings, 100 Years”, promoted by the 20th Century Society with an accompanying coffee table book. As its title may suggest, this features a sample of buildings representing each year of the past century, some of which are no longer with us as they were demolished before society as a whole appreciated their value.

Founded as The Thirties Society, the 20th Century Society exists to safeguard the heritage of architecture and design in Britain from 1914 onwards. Its creation was in part a response to threats such as the fate of the art deco Firestone Tyre factory on London’s Great West Road, demolished over a bank holiday weekend in 1980 just before a preservation order was due to come into place.

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Now you see it, now you don’t…

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The achievements secured in this country in terms of recognition and conservation of our built heritage have not been reached without huge effort by individuals and organisations. (I recall from a visit to Miami Beach some years ago that its wonderful collection of art deco buildings was, similarly, saved only by its designation as a “US historic district”.)

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I’m pleased that I made it to the RA exhibition just before it closed but I confess that, for some of the featured buildings, I had to be told by the accompanying information boards just why they were special. But that’s true of any period. As followers of this blog may be aware, it loves art deco (remember its rapturous support for the restoration of Saltdean lido), whether or not it actually understands what it’s looking at.  I have to say, I had expected the display to be in, you know, some sort of gallery rather than what felt like the corridor to the toilets. Many of the photographs on display would probably be bigger in the coffee table book, and that can’t be right.

To Liverpool the following day, taking Mrs. Blog – without too much of a struggle – to see the Reds against West Ham. (How are you expected to fire up your team by singing “I’m forever blowing bubbles”? Just as well they can never come up against the All Blacks and their haka.)

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Quick lads, we need more bubbles…

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After the game, to meet friends in the Philharmonic “dining rooms” on Hope Street – an opportunity to combine very sociable chat with beer and the most ornate pub, and gents’ toilets, in the UK, so they say. Which says something about priorities.

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Ladies, eat your heart out…

 

The Friday night before the game, however, did bring out one of my (yes, OK dear, one of my many) failings. We ate well in an excellent Indian restaurant which we’d visited before on Liverpool’s waterfront. But a deadly combination of over-ordering, over-generous portions, Mrs. Blog’s determination to shed 14 stones in time for our Barbadian holiday, and my own inability to leave anything on my plate, delivered me into what is known in the Blog household as a food coma, scarcely capable of getting back unaided to our hotel. I apologise to those who will wish to remind me that there are others who could have made better use of this bonanza – I recall only too well being instructed at school that I should think of the starving millions and eat up my gruesome lunch: it was never made clear how this helped them.

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Please admire the determined grip on the wineglass…

Believe me, I have tried to leave stuff when full but it isn’t easy. Is that a post-war thing, imposed unwittingly by my parents? I feel the need to allocate blame, you understand, rather than admit greed.

My mother burnt many things into my “world view”. If my brother and I felt full before we’d quite finished our meal, we were told to leave the vegetables and just eat up the meat before being allowed to leave the table – I presume the meat was the part that had cost the money. We were obliged to eat up all the fat on the meat as that was supposedly the part with most of the goodness in, even if it made you feel sick (see previous blog about my cardiac history.) Some of my mother’s “life principles”, I now suspect, may not be true – eating up my crusts, for example, would make my hair curl (I think this was viewed as a positive) – while others are probably very wise (I am now congenitally incapable of running with scissors even if my life depended on it.) I have lost count of the number of comestibles which, I was assured, would put hairs on my chest – this has turned out to be true – but, on reflection, it’s as well Mum only had sons.

Could you help me out here please? I imagine there’s a helpful support group on the web but it would be good to know of any direct experience, to confirm or deny what I have faithfully carried with me since childhood:

  • Does eating tomato skins give you appendicitis?
  • Does too much butter cause jaundice?
  • Eating cheese late in the day automatically means nightmares, right?
  • If you fall asleep leaving the electric blanket on, you get piles?
  • You have to burp your rubber hot water bottle, otherwise, if you squeeze it in the night (and who doesn’t?), the hot water will force its way out? Does anyone know anybody to whom this has happened? Or have we all been suitably careful?
  • There were, I believe, a whole range of activities which would, if pursued, have stunted my growth, which was seen as undesirable.
  • It is dangerous to put on a silly face or cross your eyes on the grounds that, if the wind were to change, “you’d stick like it”.
  • Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.
  • Chewing gum takes seven years to pass through your system.
  • Going out with your hair wet means you’ll catch a cold.
  • Sitting too close to the TV makes you go blind.

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Major surgery just waiting to happen…

I spent my childhood in fear of the consequences of these behaviours and have tried to lead my life accordingly. Mrs. Blog tells me that her mum insisted that, if she shaved her legs, it would encourage the hairs to grow back thicker – I don’t remember this one, but perhaps my mum never caught me at it.

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Should have listened…

I understand that I am not alone. Listening to the talkSPORT channel the other day, along, no doubt, with a million or so white van drivers, I heard of a boy who had been informed by his dad that the French writing on the side of the HP sauce bottle (“Cette sauce de haute qualite…”) explicitly warned on health grounds against its consumption by anyone below the age of 18 – but I expect the father may have had his own motivations for this one.

None of this, I suppose, really explains why I feel under so much pressure to clear my plate at every sitting. Perhaps Mrs. B has it right after all – I’m just greedy.

I will point out that, on the morning following my food coma at the Albert dock, I was in our hotel dining room bright and early to tackle the brunch that came as part of our hospitality package. Mrs. B said she just fancied a coffee but, hey, we’d already paid for the hotel spread. And you just have to knuckle down and battle through it, don’t you?

 

PS   I’ve just finished reading “Unexploded” by Alison Macleod. It contains a paragraph in which one of the main characters reads aloud an extract from Virginia Woolf’s “The Years” with more punctuation than you can shake a stick at. It finishes with the heroic construction:

…. a tide that comes twice a day without meaning?”’”’

How about that? I shall henceforth make it my life’s work to devise a sentence to beat that collection of five successive punctuation marks.

Or I may go and have a lie down. I think I may have just eaten too much…

 

 

 

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Honestly, there’s nothing worse…

 

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  1. I was home from hospital following heart bypass surgery a week earlier. Although it was high summer, I felt shivery and was still wary that my new internal wiring might somehow pop apart if I moved too quickly. I knew I was facing a period of recuperation, both physical and mental.

A close friend arrived on a social visit and snuffled audibly as she came through to the lounge. “I’ve picked up one of those summer colds,” she muttered. “Honestly, there’s nothing worse, is there?”

“Well, possibly,” I replied.

From that brief exchange Family Blog acquired a handy new all-purpose perspective-reminder.

“Dammit, I’ve just cut my finger on a sheet of paper!”

“Oh dear, there’s really nothing worse, is there?”

 

“This broccoli’s gone cold.”

“I know, there’s nothing worse.”

 

I’m sure you get the picture. What’s the useful equivalent in your house? At least it’s an improvement on realising how many catch phrases I seem to have appropriated into my conversation over the years from old comedy programmes.

“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power drives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!”

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“If I went round sayin’ I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me…”

 

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” I didn’t know we had a king. I thought  we were an autonomous collective.”

 

“What have the Romans ever done for us?”

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“All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

 

“Wild? I was absolutely livid!”

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“I’ve got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is – neither have you.”

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“Your right leg I like. A lovely leg for the role…”

 

Or, from Mrs. Blog’s surgery, “This hamster/gerbil/guinea pig is no more. It has ceased to be…”

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“The Norwegian Blue prefers kippin’ on its back”

 

Anyway, touch wood, the NHS and I (the former mainly) seem to be winning the great Sussex “dodgy hip” war and I can start planning a return to what I like to think of as “normality”. My daily visits from the intravenous drip fairy should end soon, though I gather I shall remain on antibiotics (and therefore an alcohol-free zone) for an additional six weeks which, by my anxious study of the calendar, seems to take us precisely to New Year’s Day. So, when the bells ring at midnight, stand back…

When I return to work, will anybody have noticed my absence? “Been away, then? Anywhere nice?” More worryingly, will they have decided that I’m dispensible?

After much deliberation those in charge of Lewes bonfire celebrations resolved to make the best of a bad job and press on without me on the 5th. Stuffing the head of Alex Salmond with fireworks and detonating it will no doubt have helped my own bonfire society members in some small way to get over my enforced absence. I loved the way that some sections of the national media, attacking this action as “racist”, questioned in all seriousness whether we would have treated any other national politician in the same way. Solid research there, boys. Try Angela Merkel, George Brown, Condoleezza Rice, Osama Bin Laden, George Osborne, George Bush, David Cameron (almost every year), Camilla – and that’s just in the last few years. I shouldn’t worry Alex – it means they probably like you, and you would have had reason to worry if you hadn’t made it to the top of the pyre this year.

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Many of you will, I know, have been worrying about the fate of our veteran Renault Scenic which failed, by just a few hundred yards to get me home from hospital last month. I’m afraid – not in pique, but having done the sums – that we said our farewells on the garage forecourt and pocketed the scrap money. It was a tearful moment – bound to be, receiving just £90 after all our outlay over the years.

In truth, although it wasn’t quite like losing a family pet (see earlier posts), Mrs. Blog, the Scenic and I go back a long way and have many memories: those romantic runs to the Civic Amenities Site (sigh), the pre-Christmas weekends in Normandy (that’s all for my personal consumption, officer), those amusing scrapes (well, scrapes anyway.)

While mobility-reduced I’ve been fortunate to have had hospital and home visits from a number of old colleagues and friends from school or university days. Highly enjoyable in every case, let me stress. But one visit did present me with an unexpected dilemma etiquette-wise.

Is there a recommended course of action for responding to a situation where somebody you haven’t seen for a long time suddenly acquires an unmistakeable fragment of egg mayo right on the end of their nose? I mean, it’s not like he brought it with him or anything; it had clearly formed, until moments before, a very minor but integral element in one of Mrs. Blog’s sandwiches. This – again, I must stress – is not to impugn the structural integrity of Mrs. B’s fine creation. But, one moment it wasn’t there, the next it was – and family Blog couldn’t take its collective eye off it.

With hindsight it was of course self-evident that I should have acted immediately, and with gusto. “Unusual dietary customs you appear to have picked up on your travels since we last met, old boy!” or something similar. But, for whatever reason – perhaps a little social awkwardness after all the years that had passed, or a misguided assumption that the problem would correct itself – I failed to act. Can he not spot it for goodness’ sake? Will it fall off through natural causes? How long does something like that take to compost itself? I know not why but, crucially, I didn’t act straight away and we were doomed.

Defiantly, the egg remained in place as the long afternoon progressed. What could, and should, have been dealt with swiftly and painlessly, had now become seemingly intractable.  I contemplated reaching across the table with a view to a casual swipe with my elbow but I doubted that I could pull this off with anything like aplomb, and without inflicting facial damage. There were even hurried family whisperings in the hall, but no workable solutions emerged. Blogdaughter exchanged urgent text messages with friends around the country but to no avail – plenty of witticisms and unhelpful advice but nothing you could actually deploy to unscramble the situation, as it were.

In the end, Eggman disentangled the Gordian Knot without any intervention on our part. He returned from a visit to the bathroom sans oeuf and the issue was never mentioned. Any future visits to Chez Blog will no doubt be preceded by careful menu planning on our part.

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Beware casual metaphor…

 

Now that mobility is returning and the blogfamily social calendar actually has some boxes filled in, there should be a healthier assortment of subjects on which to hold forth. We missed the great poppy event at the Tower because I couldn’t fancy the travel and the prospect of playing bumps-a-daisy with strangers on the Underground with a second-hand hip joint concealed about my person, but I like the sound of the new attraction on Tower Bridge, which should be just the ticket for Mrs. Blog’s next sponsored charity challenge.

For somebody with a confirmed dread of looking down from great heights and who just scaled the roof of the O2 arena on behalf of Lost Cats Brighton, the new glass-floored walkway at an upper level of the bridge (“one primary objective was making it look as real as possible, like a big gaping hole in the floor”) might give her food for thought…

Now that I’m getting back into circulation, I’m able to take advantage of one or two of the offers that have come for interviews to promote this blog’s recently published, learned treatise on the trials and tribulations of co-habitation with a veterinary surgeon, “It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half” (Mereo Books, available through the usual outlets in hard and e-versions and guaranteed to meet all those existential Christmas present crises.)

I particularly enjoyed this week’s live chat down the phone line with a lovely presenter from Talk Radio Europe, broadcasting to an audience of ex-pats living in Spain. When you’ve been living outside the UK for a while and tune in for news of reassuringly familiar tales from “home”, it must be nice to hear some bloke from Sussex banging on about how to catch a wallaby in a wedding dress (the bride, not the wallaby, nor I, was wearing the wedding dress), what to do if your dog swallows a Cliff Richard tape, how to react when a large bird of prey hitches a lift beneath your roof rack and why it’s ok to hold hands with a TV star up a cow’s backside.

Thanks to those of you who have bought – or claim to have bought – “It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half”. Please feel free to share your positive reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, preferably before taking the risk of reading it…

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Blogging? What was I thinking of?

So, why have I started to blog, I hear you ask?  Because I’m working my way through a writing course and want to try my hand. 

And what will I be blogging about?  Anything really, provided I — and both of my followers — find it interesting, and preferably amusing. The blog on ballroom dancing (all true, by the way) was in response to a suggestion from a kind reader who liked the previous one about the burger bar. I claim to know something about environmental stuff after 40 years in the business so there might be some blogs on that. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see some words on travel, holidays, sport and on having what passes for a good time at my age, with the occasional grievance thrown in. What with the wife being a vet and all, I have a store of good animal stories, so look out for them. That enough?

 

PS Can I just say something? I’ve just finished reading an excellent book which Santa gave me (I have read other books since Christmas, I’m not that slow a reader) — Visit Sunny Chernobyl by Andrew Blackwell: Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places. (Arrow Books). Witty, well informed, depressing, challenging. Read it! Wish I’d thought of writing a book like that.

And while we’re at it, the sankersblog award for best travel writer goes, as it will every year, to Tim Moore for Do Not Pass Go, French Revolutions, Frost on my Mustache, Spanish Steps, Nul Points and others, every one of which I have read and thoroughly recommend. Great writing, very funny.

And finally, can I also commend the 37th annual panto of the Lewes Arms Dramatic Society, being performed all this week in, not altogether surprisingly, Lewes, East Sussex? Robin Hood this year but it doesn’t really matter, it’s the same jokes. In the warning words of the programme, “Adult themes are present throughout the show, but fortunately they are balanced by the sort of juvenile smut that you have come to expect from a LADS production”. I love Lewes!

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