Flags of Nations


Am I alone in developing an aversion to national flags, and especially the one with which we English are apparently currently expected to drape ourselves?

Do we really need anthems and flag waving in order to enjoy the game?  Are we claiming some kind of superior national character at, say, the Olympics as our heroes defeat the best that Lesotho or Belize has to offer in competition with our relatively limitless resources and skilled deployment of lottery funding in pursuit of medals?

No doubt every nation has and needs its mythologies and we’re well to the fore. Many nations seem to have come to terms with theirs and express surprise that we continue to polish ours. Other than the creepy tax exiles that we now know illegally funded their self-serving Leave campaign, was the devotion of some of the more deluded “Brexit” voters to the kind of “we stood alone” myth (ask the Russians) a key factor in their vote?

Serious decisions were being made at the time of the “referendum to save the Tory party” and there can surely be little doubt that the attraction of, say, returning to a non-existent past will have influenced many. It matters not if your past has just been invented provided it makes you feel good?

My own feeling is that, as a nation, our actual track record hasn’t been too awful, though light years away from what we are still inclined to teach in our schools.  Less so nowadays and the country isn’t what I believe I grew up in. Catastrophes like the EU vote make it clear that any underlying negative national characteristics lie not far from the surface, itching to have their day in the name of “our traditional values”. But, hey, wrap ourselves in a red and white flag (borrowed from Genoa, Swabia, Georgia and a few other cities and nations) and we’re true English, or Brits (bearing in mind that the concept of “Britain” has a shorter history than, say, Twinings Tea), and we can merrily celebrate our moral superiority over the Hun, the French or indeed anybody else. English values eh? Spare me.

The importance of resigning on a point of principle — the principle of saving one’s own career and political party. Wow! English values eh?


To change subject, I can report to those who kindly follow this blog that recent radiotherapy appears to have succeeded in its task of stabilising a large brain tumour which I am obliged to carry about with me, though sadly not preventing it from continuing to work its malice.



Looking back, I don’t believe I’ve talked much in my previous posts about what I have actually been doing for a living?

Well, after some 46 years or so in the fields of town and country planning, the implementation of environmental improvement schemes and campaigning on environmental issues in Greater Manchester and now East Sussex, I am calling ‘time’ with effect from the end of August!

Currently employed part time by the South Downs Society, the ‘Friends group’ for the South Downs National Park, a week or two ago I took the opportunity to address a meeting of the National Park Authority on behalf of both my own Society and the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) to demonstrate clear public support for their work, particularly in the face of some current ‘politically charged’ hostilities! It was important and timely to show our face. We wanted to stress that we and others had campaigned for many years for the creation of a South Downs National Park and a robust, well-resourced National Park Authority and we intended to maintain and support that role for a long time to come!!


On announcing my forthcoming retirement I was surprised and delighted to receive through the post as a retirement present a superbly glossy “coffee table” book, “22 Ideas that Saved the English Countryside” published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, with whom I, and the South Downs Society have worked closely on issues affecting the National Park. I feel deeply honoured. And what a book! What campaigns!

Changing tack again, and for once I make no comment on any of these, but my reading material (books only) since I last posted on the blog (I think this is correct) comprises the following (some are very short!):

The Lido: Libby Page

All Points North: Simon Armitage

Pass Notes: The Guardian

A Shot in the Dark: Lynne Truss

Once Upon a Time in the West Country: Tony Hawks

Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain: Matthew Engel

Every Day is a Holiday: George Mahood

Not Tonight Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small Town America: George Mahood

Mail Obsession: A Journey Round Britain by Postcode: Mark Mason

All Behind You Winston: Churchill’s Great Coalition 1940-45: Roger Hermiston

Trains and Buttered Toast: John Betjeman

A Kind of Vanishing: Lesley Thomson

Whistle in the Dark: Emma Healey

What’s in a Name: The Origins of the names of stations on the London Underground and DLR: Cyril Harris

Do Not Alight Here: Walking London’s Lost Underground and Railway Stations: Ben Pedroche

and plenty more awaiting my attention..

(I know, I should get out more!)

And, as ever, it would be remiss of me not to plug once more my own recent contribution to the great world of books, Northern Soles: A Coast to Coast Walk (apologies but hey!):

Many of you, I know, are not keen on Amazon so here is a link to Northern Soles on my publisher’s website, but I would stress that it isn’t easy to supply copies from Silverwood. Amazon does at least offer you the opportunity to post nice comments, if you find yourself so inclined, which is, at the end of the day, why one writes. In the alleged words of Jeremy Thorpe’s trial judge all those years ago, “It is entirely a matter for you.”

Happy reading!



Our history tells us who we are

Blog 82

Ok, there’s a debate to be had about the value and role of public statues but, personally, I’m way up for the one just unveiled in Parliament Square.

Women’s suffrage campaigner, Millicent Fawcett, has to be one of the great Britons of the 19th and 20 centuries. Why has it taken so long?

Millicent Fawcett, who, through her untiring efforts, helped to improve the lives and prospects of millions

… and therefore not to to be confused with



At least, in the positivity aroused by the unveiling, we have a counterpoint to the horror show circulating around what is being called Windrushgate, or whatever.

That the country should have allowed itself to sink to the point where politicians feel that developing a deliberately hostile environment to selected legal, invited, recruited immigrants and their descendants – those who not only fill vital jobs but, through their taxes as a “working age” population, subsidise the rest of us ageing “white folk” – will be a vote winner is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Promoted by our lowest political life forms like Farage – and there are plenty more – it brings shame to a once decent country and is clearly reflected in the ridiculous, self-destructive Brexit vote, the worst thing to happen to this country in my lifetime.

This is so far from being the country I grew up in and could take some pride in. Brexit will, if it happens, ensure we continue our shift towards economic, social, environmental and political marginalisation. What an achievement.

Meanwhile “in other news”:

While awaiting the start of radiotherapy (and many thanks for all the warm wishes), I have had to undergo a few, what are known as, MRI and CT scans. Essential of course – and I’m totally indebted to our largely immigrant staffed and funded NHS – but, to a lifelong claustrophobe, this is an additional hurdle to negotiate!  In my case by swallowing a couple of sedatives first in the hope that I might not notice that I was being inserted into something like a Chilean miner escape tube.

After one scan we had arranged to meet up with a friend and I was embarrassed to be told later that I’d twice fallen asleep at (on?) our table, due no doubt to my over-enthusiasm for sedation!

While off work I have been able to do a lot of reading and am grateful for the suggestions you have been giving me.  I have always read a lot of non-fiction and now find myself devouring more and more. This week, having last week finished off a biography of Clem Attlee and Helen Pankhurst’s Deeds Not Words,

I’ve read a full account of the disastrous Donner Party (a 19th century California bound wagon train complete with added cannibalism. What, as they say, is not to like?

My experience is that, while I start out thinking that I know something about the subject that I’m reading about, I )soon realise how little I do know and want to dig deeper. Life, it seems to me, is an ongoing learning experience!

But there is plenty of lighter stuff out there! I have a Miles Jupp book (!) on order and a locally based crime thriller, because you just can’t beat a bit of pre-Scandi noir, especially if you recognise the places and even the characters being worked over…

In a previous post I mentioned Stuart Maconie among my list of favourite authors. Very true. But with one reservation. After completing my own book, Northern Soles, about a 2016 coast to coast walk, I was hoping to come up with an idea for another long walk with some kind of social/political relevance and hit on the thought of doing my own re-enactment of the Jarrow march. A little later I discovered that Stuart M had beaten me to it and his book was already in the pipeline! Bummer! Swallowing my instinctive resentment, I simply ordered it and it’s a splendid read.

Very much enjoyed watching the Commonwealth Games on telly through the night (I have a lot of time on my hands just now) and, having a netball-bonkers (and top quality player) for a daughter, there was never a chance that I would miss a single second of the gold medal match against the Aussies! Brilliant stuff!

And my beloved Liverpool FC ain’t doing badly just now either!

Have also been using my “enforced leisure time” to carry out some long-overdue clearance of old papers and now unwanted books. Very therapeutic. And, as a treat, provided Mrs Blog is out of the house at the time, I’ve indulged myself by buying a cheap retro turntable to play a selection of my old 45s!

We had to cancel our June holiday in Barbados but insisted that blog daughter and her boyfriend should carry on without us.  They still need and deserve the break. Mrs Blog has asked them to send us pics of our favourite places on the island so we can share the experience.  I’m not sure about that!!

But we are still arranging to go, or at least be available for,  the odd local event on the basis that it will be better to focus on what I can, or may still be able to do, and not what I may not be able to do.  Indeed we have just booked to see our favourite, canal based Mikron Theatre near Oxford in the summer. I first saw them perform about 50 years ago and the company is, thankfully, still going strong. I have blogged enthusiastically about them before and they featured in my coast to coast walk.

By the way, we sometimes talk about Britain being “overcrowded”.

I thought you might be interested to know (2011 landscape report by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology):

Grassland: 38%

Arable and horticulture: 25%

Mountains, heath and bogs: 16%

Woodland, coniferous and broadleaf: 12%

Urban areas: 6%

…leaving 3% for what? Decking, roundabouts and old mattresses??

Of the urban 6%, over half is defined as gardens, parks, verges etc, meaning that around 2.27% of England is actually built on.  Just thought you might want to know as being “overcrowded” seemed important to some people during the Brexit “debate” (debate??)

Again, many thanks for all the kind words of support during my illness and for the interest shown in Northern Soles!

Shameless plug: very much available through all usual channels!




Both Deeds and Words


Followers of this blog will be aware of the huge admiration that it harbours for the eventually successful campaign of the suffragettes for Votes for Women. Indeed, contact with the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, the onetime home of the family, features strongly in my book, “Northern Soles:  a coast to coast walk”, published in March and shamelessly promoted through the blog!

An extremely rewarding – for me — outcome has been the contact made with Dr Helen Pankhurst who readily gave her time and attention to checking what I had to say about her extraordinary family and their work. It was, as they say, a “no-brainer”, to deploy that horrible expression, that Mrs Blog and I would attend the launch in February, at the Centre, of Helen’s own new book, “Deeds Not Words: the Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now”.

And what a book!  Currently being somewhat out of commission healthwise myself, I have the chance to do a lot of reading and Deeds Not Words” comprises a fascinating analysis of what kind of progress we may have experienced in “women’s issues” in the 100 years since the great landmark of “Votes” in 1918. Helen and others have scored “progress” as they see it in areas like politics, money, identity, violence, culture and power – and, safe to say,  winning the vote didn’t on its own guarantee solutions to a range of issues of equality, fairness and decency.  A great read, but be prepared to be angry…  A continuing need for Deeds as well as Words.

Helen is due to feature in May at the Charleston Literary Festival (think, Bloomsbury Set) near Lewes here in Sussex, and I very much hope to make the gig – radiotherapy treatment permitting!

I have also just read in one sitting Alison Macleod’s recently published and splendid collection of short stories, All the Beloved Ghosts. As someone who usually gives short stories a wide berth, this was a welcome reminder that I should be more open in my reading habits! It is, quite simply, a wonderful collection.

I’m also very much enjoying Simon Jenkins’ Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations! I know! How nerdish am I??  Except that it provides a fascinating historical, geographical and social glimpse into some of the finest buildings the country has seen, beautifully photographed and described by a former chairman of the National Trust and founder of the Railway Heritage Trust. Wonderful book.  And, again, not just words but actions implemented (or, sadly in some cases, missed) to ensure the conservation of this vital element of what’s special about Britain.

Talking of the National Trust, it is great to see the new DG, Hilary McGrady, setting out her stall to make the Trust more relevant to a wider population. Not just saving the houses of the rich for the enjoyment of the not so rich but creating opportunities for urban, transient, cosmopolitan communities to share something of the nation’s heritage.  In a voluntary capacity I have been fortunate enough in the last few years to serve on a regional advisory board for the Trust and have very much supported this kind of approach. Again, it will need Deeds as well as Words!

I am currently somewhat incapacitated but hope to resume participation if and when. This question of the Trust’s relevance is something that I was keen to pick up on in “Northern Soles” – so, another shameless plug!!

I have been delighted with the responses I have seen from those kind enough to get hold of the book, and look forward to hearing from more of you! It is, to us the well-known phrase, available through the usual routes! Here, if you prefer, is a link to the relevant bit of my publisher’s website:


May I also say how grateful I have been for the kind expressions of support received during my illness, from readers of the blog and so many others around the world.  I am of course reliant on the skills, resources and Deeds of the NHS to do their best, but the Words of friends, contacts and blog followers provide a wonderful and complementary source of encouragement! It is very much appreciated.

I will endeavour to keep you posted.

Steve A

April 2018.


Art Deco plus Ladybird books = magic!



While politicians seem preoccupied just now with what precisely makes up Britishness, Ladybird books never had that problem. Shiny kids (one of each, and nothing inbetween), a permanently smiley mother with a Cinderella waist who wears gloves to the shops, and a breadwinning dad who deserves to see his dinner on the table when he gets home from a hard day’s work.

The Ladybird imprint began life in 1914 and survives as an element of the Penguin publishing family. It, and specifically its design and distinctive illustrations, are currently the subject of a highly enjoyable exhibition at Bexhill’s De la Warr Pavilion. Followers of this blog need no reminding of its preoccupation with art deco buildings, and the De la Warr is one well worth a special visit at any time. Bexhill’s famous son, Eddy Izzard, may have done as much in recent years to put the place on the map but he doesn’t offer afternoon teas and didn’t sport a precariously wobbling bus on his roof in 2012 in tribute to the Italian Job movie.

So, where were we?

From the 1950s to the late 1970s Ladybird books were a national institution, pocket sized and collectible and costing just two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) throughout that time. Their Key Words Reading Scheme featuring Peter and Jane helped millions to learn to read (though not me, I’m afraid – my first language was French thanks to the HP sauce bottle permanently on our dining room table.)

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Ladybird book offered a vision of an innocent world where learning to read was fun, nursery rhymes were enchanting, science was enthralling and its effects entirely positive, and history was heroic and written from a very British standpoint – presented as an exciting adventure largely instigated by heroes and occasionally heroines from the United Kingdom. (This may have been where Margaret Thatcher derived her views on the history syllabus for the nation’s schools.) Modern life was seemingly bathed in the bright sunshine of eternal summer.


Design was always a key element of Ladybird’s success. The format of the book – 56 pages printed in full colour from a single sheet of 40 x 30 inch paper – was born initially of necessity during wartime paper shortages. The simple but clear layout – a single page of clear text with an accompanying illustration on the opposite page – was a fundamental aspect of all Ladybird books.

Viewed from today many of the series present an image of Britain which by the 1950s was already becoming a tad unrepresentative (though no doubt helping to shape the UKIP manifesto.) This from The Story of Cricket:  “The women and girls wear pretty summer dresses, and the men and boys take off their jackets. The spectators often eat ice-cream or drink orangeade.” And not a non-white player in sight – in 1964.

Shopping with Mother (1958) has always been a favourite and takes pride of place in the exhibition. Every High Street shopkeeper (Mr. Smith, Mr. Brown – and not a single misplaced greengrocers’ apostrophe) bears the kind of smile that you should worry about if the wind shifted. Mother is relaxed and almost euphorically content throughout her two hour expedition, the young daughter carries a shopping basket that neatly matches her mum’s while eyeing up dolls in the toyshop, and young son in tie and blazer selects a very grown-up hammer from the hardware shop to take home as his treat (and that certainly won’t go in his hand luggage.) Not a sign of a tantrum or pressure on mum to come up with the Fruit Gums – “Oh, yes please, mummy, if I’m good may I eat a plum this week?”

Ladybird were always helpful in distinguishing between books suitable for boys and girls, the former being schooled in healthy pastimes like do-it-yourself nuclear fission, while the latter were encouraged to master the sophisticated techniques of dishwashing and egg boiling.

I’m fortunate to have in my possession a later, revised edition of one of the most popular of the Ladybird books, The Wise Robin.


Here is a brief extract:

“Hey babes,” said Mrs. Robin to Mr. Robin, “What I want, what I really, really want, is some of that lovely tinsel that I can see hanging on the Christmas tree in that semi over there where those stereotypical humans with the shiny children and the smiley Golden Retriever live. Please, please, pretty please, could you just pop in there and pick some up for me so we’ll win Best Decorated Nest again this year? I can’t bear the thought of those swallows migrating over here and taking what’s rightfully ours.”

“Why me? I really don’t fancy it.”

“Because you’re the man, as it were. I’d do it myself only it’s my role to sit here grooming myself and waiting for you to fly home with stuff. And I’ve got the girls coming round to plan the hen party – though not for the hens obviously. Go on, shift yourself!”

“Cool, I hear where you’re coming from, ok? But I’m sure, if we wait till January, I’ll be able to get my beak on some tinsel going cheep. I have a seriously bad feeling about that family. The candles on their tree are REAL, an absolute fire hazard, I kid you not. If you’re so bothered, why don’t you go and get it and I’ll stay and tidy up here?” 

Cont on p.42 after the ads for McDonald’s and Starbucks  

Later series of Ladybird books reflected the social change taking place across the country


Ladybird by Design is at the De la Warr Pavilion until 10 May, entry free.  http://www.dlwp.com


Gongs, bats and ethical basket weaving

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So, once more my nomination for Mrs. Blog has been grievously overlooked in the New Year’s Honours List. For “services to the retail trade” I can think of no more deserving candidate. I mean, what more does a woman have to do??

At least, among this year’s awards, I can see two names which regular readers of this blog will know are close to its heart, those of Margaret Aspinall and Trevor Hicks, key players in the Hillsborough Family Support group since 1989.

And, more locally, I’m very pleased to see recognition for “Batwoman” Jenny Clark, founder and driving force behind the Sussex Bat Hospital, whom Mrs. Blog and I had the pleasure of meeting at Weald Woodfair a few years ago. For many years I believed that moles, even if they didn’t actually wear velvet smoking jackets and walk upright, were approximately two foot tall. Similarly, I understood bats to be the size of a small pterodactyl and prone to sweeping down upon unsuspecting lambs and primary school children who refused to wear their balaclavas in winter.

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In reality, as I have come to accept, both species are somewhat smaller in stature but no less fascinating. Jenny brought a few of her delightful charges to her stand at Woodfair and, with Mrs. B bluffing a bit of bat-based veterinary expertise, we were privileged to handle one or two of her “clients”.

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It’s all a matter of scale…

…and specialised yoga positions

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Fulfilling this blog’s noble mission to inform and educate, I think I’m right in saying there are no fewer than 18 species of bat in the UK but, with the Greater Mouse-Eared reduced to just one of its kind (which is a bit sad when you think about it, unless it has real relationship issues), that may not be a cause for complacency. Wikipedia tells me there are three “vagrant” species of bat in this country, which conjures up to me quite an appealing image of waywardness but something that UKIP may have a view on.

For thirty years the bat hospital has provided succour to long term residents as well as shorter term care for those that may be returned to the wild. I for one am delighted to see this recognition to Jenny Clark and her collaborators. To read more, click here:


I have come to terms with the realisation that “It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half” isn’t going to bring me the Nobel prize for literature, nor an invitation to read extracts to a Saga cruise. I rather fancied the idea of including in my powerpoint presentation just after the ship’s evening buffet an illustration of a hysterectomy to remove a diseased womb from a cat.

A diseased womb from a cat…

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…not to be confused with the cruise ship special “poulet a la creme”…

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I am however still excited by the reviews that the book is earning in media as varied as Spirit FM, Sixtyplussurfers (I think they surf the net, not the briny), Ponybox, Vetnurse and Alligator World.

Before Christmas there was a live chat with Talk Radio Europe, broadcasting from Malaga to British ex-pats – I can only assume you get nostalgic for tales of fleas and dog vomit when you’ve been abroad for a while. And there’s an outstanding invitation to both Mrs. Blog and me to be interviewed live on the breakfast programme on BBC Radio Sussex once we’re both fully recovered from the flu.  Mrs. B says she doesn’t want to do it until she can look her best – I’m not sure she’s quite got the hang of “radio”.

Last week brought an interview on The Latest, a Brighton based TV channel “in front of a live audience”.  I imagined that my appearance on stage would involve much dry ice and whooping (by me, mainly).

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The reality was a little more subdued but highly enjoyable nonetheless. With promises of free drinks all round, I corralled a handful of friends and neighbours into making up the numbers at a small recording studio near a very windy seafront near Palace Pier. Mrs. B saw this as an excellent opportunity to try out on me the Remington “Rotary Trimmer for Nose and Ear Hair” which Santa had kindly left for me at Christmas – though I was keen to ensure that this didn’t involve destroying any valuable bat habitat that I might have been unwittingly carrying about with me. At the studio I was preceded by other locals equally deserving of a wider audience, chatting about their new book on ethical basket weaving or a macrobiotic approach to quantitative easing. I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by an American comedienne so at least there were some gags in there.

No hint yet as to whether my first royalty cheque will cover that round of drinks at the recording studio, but you never know…

Meanwhile, Mrs. Blog has announced that our combined recovery from a medical condition that we used to call “winter” shall be facilitated by a repeat trip to Barbados – as soon as possible. I am under instruction to make necessary arrangements, using where possible the Airmiles accrued by Mrs. B so assiduously through her conscientious deployment of credit card(s) and thus “free at the point of sale”. I have today requested a quote from a hire car company operating on the island and was tempted to try out the optional extra of Satnav to see if the Bajan version came across as more “chilled” than our British equivalent.

Mrs. B is, as I write, about to set off for the first of what will surely be a series of pre-holiday scouting trips to check out appropriate beach and evening wear – for both of us. I must pretend to be busy to avoid being taken along.

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And so the countdown begins.






“A Dog’s Life” in hospital?



No, not a complaint about the devoted care I continue to receive at the gentle hands of the NHS but, since admission on 15 September, I’ve been through the whole lunchtime sandwich menu several times, I’ve had two full hip replacement operations plus a “clean out” – all on the same hip – and had to learn to walk again three times, I know the unedited medical history of too many strangers and, after four weeks, my hair could probably do with a wash. I’d rather like to go home now, please.
Where were we?
My last blog related the gripping story of my chance encounter, and ongoing struggle, with a celebrity bug. Personally, I feel it’s not really a level battlefield when one’s opponent is the sort of creature that thinks it reasonable to hide out in one’s nether regions. I understand that, in terms of numbers, it has me licked, but on my side I have a supporting team with a lot of letters after their names and the interests of my posterior very much at heart, and the opposition can’t lay claim to that. Result, I feel.
Actually, the results are still awaited, but, if our side proves to be getting the upper hand, I hope to be on my way shortly. It’s just as well. Having been here so long, I’ve been asked if I wanted to make a cash offer for my little room under the right-to-buy legislation and I have been looking at some matching paint and curtain options. Just in case they want to move me into the main ward at any stage, I’ve threatened to scent mark my territory.
Despite my trusted supply of Muffles wax ear plugs (potential sponsors of this blog, please note “product placement” options), I’ve heard “our” end of too many phone conversations since I’ve been here – my room is immediately behind the nurses’ station:
“Yes, I imagine it is very messy – and, yes, I can see how your neighbours would have been a bit surprised — but I don’t think he needs to be readmitted for that.”
My capacity for decision making has been reduced to the daily choice between custard and pineapple upside down cake and whether to reply to a text from home before or after I do the hip stretching exercises. I ask auxiliary nursing staff if it’s ok to get changed or washed.
My world view is also undoubtedly overdue a refresh:
Mrs. Blog (who is undoubtedly storing up an ominous amount of credit by catering to my bruise creaming requirements): “How are you doing today?”
Me: “Blood pressure’s been a bit low all day, they’ve given me something for the swelling on my right ankle and I managed to you know what for the first time this morning.”
Mrs. Blog: “And what have you been doing with yourself?”
Me: “Watched Loose Women on the iPad, read the menu card twice and brushed my teeth. Though that could have been yesterday.”
Mrs. Blog: “Have you been following the Ebola crisis and the latest efforts against the terrorism in Syria and northern Iraq?”
Me: “I’ve asked if they can do an egg mayo on brown at lunchtime. It would make a nice change from the white.”
Mrs. Blog: “Your brother was on the phone last night to see how you were doing. They’re off to Kruger to mark his ‘big one’ on Thursday.”
Me: “I find, if I get a fourth pillow under my knee, it helps me sleep.”
Mrs. Blog: “Well, it’s good to see you’re on the mend. I’d better be heading home. The roads were absolutely flooded on the way here, the wipers are very dodgy and I think the gear box may have gone.”
Me: “OK. Can you remember to bring the cordial in tomorrow?”
There are still things that puzzle me after my weeks in here. Every single time they give me any heavyweight painkiller or put a drip in me they ask me to confirm my date of birth. If I were an imposter, sneaking into the hospital to assume this blog’s identity and undergo three major surgical procedures on its behalf, what would be my motivation? And my mental state? And just how essential was that unmissable arrow drawn on my right thigh before they took me down to surgery – was the huge wad of padding covering the existing wound, just three inches higher, so hard to spot?
I have way too much time here to contemplate my navel. I found myself recalling an earlier stay in hospital when, as a teenager, I had a cartilage removed following a rugby injury. At night, I remember, the nurse sat in the centre of the long ward, spotlit. You were made to feel distinctly guilty if you called for a bottle and she would make sure you waited a long time for it. A plea for a second bottle, to hold in reserve as it were, was regarded in much the same way as young Twist asking for a second helping of gruel.
There were four of us, youngish chaps, in a kind of bay at one end of the ward, and nurses would sometimes wander down for a chat, a flirt and a quiet smoke – on reflection that seems scarcely credible now. (I’m rarely on the receiving end of much flirting.) One morning there was a whispered warning as matron approached and our friendly nurse span round to talk to her, concealing her cigarette behind her. It was only when matron marched away that the lad in the next bed to mine let out a bravely suppressed groan from the still smouldering cigarette , stubbed out on his wrist. Halcyon days of the NHS.
Yes, I think it’s time I left, and I sincerely hope that my next blog will embrace some other subject, posted from home. Please excuse the self-absorption and reduced presentational standards, and accept my warmest thanks for the very kind wishes that you have sent.
On a totally separate subject, this prolonged stay in hospital has meant something of a clash with the publication of a light-hearted book about my life’s heroic struggle to remain normal(ish) while growing up and living with vets, particularly Mrs. Blog who vets in a professional capacity when not over-committed at M&S.

This excellent tome is called “It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half” and is out this month. My timings are now awry, thanks to The Wonderful World of Bugs, and I have already turned down one request for a live radio interview over the phone in fear that it might be interrupted closer to hand by a query on the quantity of leakage from my wound or whether I have opened my bowels today.

I have taken the liberty of reproducing below, in a boring monochrome format because I can’t master the technology, a kind of flyer thingy which should provide far more information than you could ever want. I apologise for the published price, for which I am not responsible, and I do know it’s available for much less. If you should happen to buy and enjoy, please “share” and “review” in appropriate places. If you don’t, please feel free to keep your feelings to yourself. Talk to you soon.



As the brother of a vet and the husband of a vet, Steve Ankers can’t escape the fact that All Creatures Grunt and Smell!

Very funny and touching, all fans of James Herriot and Gerald Durrell will love this new book

Available from 20th October 2014 through all good bookshops and internet booksellers

“Hilarious & eminently readable” Terry Jones

(Monty Python comedian, actor, writer & director)


by Steve Ankers

ISBN: 978 1 86151 199 7 Paperback 198 pages

RRP: £12.99 out 20 October 2014 Also available as an ebook

Published by Mereo Books an imprint of Memoirs Publishing

Amusing, bizarre, tear-jerking, side-splitting, harrowing and occasionally downright disgusting
encounters with pets (and owners) of all varieties, shapes and sizes …

“It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half” by Steve Ankers will have you laughing out loud and will
touch the heart of any person who has ever cared for an animal.

When your brother and your wife are both vets, there is no escape from call-outs in the middle of the
night, disrupted dinner parties, uneaten Christmas lunches, weddings thrown into disarray by escaping
animals, and having to act as the stand-in (untrained) veterinary nurse in emergencies. Life may be
chaotic and unpredictable when you’re a vet’s “other half” – but it is certainly never boring!

Steve Ankers wouldn’t have it any other way ….

Now Steve’s hilarious true-life adventures with animals and their owners are available for us all to read
in his inspiring account of lives spent working closely – sometimes TOO closely – with animals.

In Steve’s book you’ll meet …

• thespian camels who star in a village nativity play • a cat who ate a Chihuahua but spat out the tail

• a dog who ate a Cliff Richard cassette • a vulture who travelled hundreds of miles on a car roof-rack

• Afghan-hounds who compete (somewhat skittishly) at a dog-racing track • Robert the retired race
horse who hates crisp packets • a duck that thought it was a rabbit • a cat that wanted to be a
goalkeeper plus • and the cat who found its way home from Scotland to Sussex

and discover …

• how to rugby-tackle a fully-grown escaped alligator • how to handle a 3m, 57kg python who has
toothache • how to tactfully repel the advances of an amorous Llama without either party getting hurt

• the correct etiquette to employ if you ever find yourself holding hands with a famous actress inside a
bovine rectum • and how to track absconding peacocks in the dead of night •

“ … entertaining, enthralling and totally engaging …filled with spirit and good humour
…brilliant” Marie Carter, (Editor, Pets magazine)

Press and Media: please contact

Elly Donovan PR elly@ellydonovan.co.uk tel: 0790 508 7779 / 01273 205 246 http://www.ellydonovan.co.uk

twitter: @EllyDonovanPR facebook.com/Elly Donovan Linked-In: Elly Donovan PR


Better Read than Dead

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This is about books. Not literature. I have no pretensions in that direction. I have been to Hay on Wye but not for the book festival. I’d be worrying all the time about the toilets.

Books have always been important to me. They were around the house when I was young. Both of my parents were keen readers and I suppose it rubs off.


We may have lived modestly but  there was always a good book to hand on the upstairs landing

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My father devoured books on any subject. He would bring back from the library half a dozen at a time, fiction and non-fiction, and, whatever the rest of the family might be doing, he would sit and read, impervious to distraction. It was a given that we would join the local library wherever we lived.

My mother told me that her own parents took a less positive view of books. If she was seen with one in her hand, it must be because she didn’t have enough to do, so tasks would be found. I worry that an element of this may have been passed onto me. While I’m comfortable reading a newspaper at any time,  night or day, and indeed would feel lost without one on a train or in a doctor’s waiting room, I still experience a sense of guilt at picking up an actual book – and especially a work of fiction – during daylight hours, unless I’m on holiday. Still, as Mrs. Blog will confirm, I’m getting over it. You have to work at these things.

Mum also had a thing about the physical presence of a book, and that’s definitely something I’ve inherited. She would relish the quality of the paper, the cover and even the smell and this may explain why I experience an actual wave of pleasure and anticipation on entering a bookshop. It’s not just a case of popping in because I need something to read, like forcing myself into Homebase for a packet of screws. The scanning of the shelves, the leafing through the contents, the buying (and use of the loyalty card), are all part of the project. Is that too weird? Is that what blogdaughter is undergoing in a shop full of tops?

My fondness for the very “look” of a book doesn’t extend in the same way to second hand books but explains why I’m ultra-careful about damage. If you put your mug down on my book, there’ll be words said. In this blog’s code of criminality folding the corner of the page is on a par with dunking your digestive biscuit.

This love of books in physical form doesn’t fit well with e-books, and it places a high value on the presence of bookshops. I’m saddened when I hear of their closure, and particularly of small independents.



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This is the 8th annual Independent Booksellers Week: click here for more on cherishing our bookshops.



I think it all stems from the ending of the fixed book price agreement. No, wait! Don’t go!

I’m in no position to pontificate on the economy of book publishing and selling. Two (at least two) reasons: first, I don’t know anything about it, and second, I buy loads of books online as well as through proper shops, independent and chain. But, as I understand it, the agreement in place in this country until its revocation in 1995 (and I actually remember the fuss at the time. I’m like that) was based on the idea  that a network of well-stocked, high quality bookshops is necessary for the publication of a large variety of books, this being “a good thing” for the nation’s cultural life. If supermarkets, which stock their shelves only with  the current blockbusters, are permitted to sell these at a reduced price and these books represent a large proportion of book sales, bookshops with their higher operating costs and wider stock range will lose out. The “Net Book Agreement” fixed the price, prevented discounting and allowed the publisher to guarantee a sufficient profit margin for specialist bookshops to operate.

This kind of protectionism may be out of favour these days (and online sales now offer even greater competition), but many nations have retained pricing agreements or are considering their reintroduction. On the one hand, the ending of the agreement has meant that many books are now cheaper and, if that means more books being read, I’m all for it, but it also seems to mean a narrower range of books being published and an accelerated decline in the number of bookshops. (It may also be that cheaper books mean fewer visits to public libraries). You may wish to draw parallels with the impact of supermarket chains on other specialist shops in the high street, but I couldn’t possibly comment. At least not in this blog.

Despite these concerns, there’s clearly a lot of books out there and I’m unlikely to get through all of them, even if I overcome my feelings of guilt about reading in the hours of daylight.

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Mrs. Blog and I own too many books now. They’re hard to part with because, well, they’re part of your life, who you are, who you were.

I’ve always read a lot of non-fiction, not all of it of great moment. In the words of Jerome K Jerome (Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow):

“It is in the petty details, not in the great results, that the interest of existence lies.”

…which is an approach to life and reading that has come in handy occasionally in quizzes. But I’m getting better at reading fiction, which probably makes me less boring at dinner parties (though Mrs. Blog says this isn’t the case).

I do find it slightly unnerving that, having finished a book, I’m buggered if I can remember what happened in it. I think there’s a word for that but can I remember it??

But at least I usually know what the book is about at the time. An old university friend, a devoted reader himself, once told me that his less academic younger brother found that books didn’t come naturally to him. One brief conversation had gone along these lines:

“So, what have you been up to today at school?”


“About what?”

“About thirty pages.”


I also believe I read “normally”, whatever that might mean (apart, that is, from my habit of reading scary books from behind the settee). I haven’t learned to speed read and I’m not sure that I want to. But I do at least read in the right order. Another friend of mine makes a point, if reading any kind of thriller, of checking out the end of the book, and of each chapter, well in advance so that her enjoyment of the read can’t be damaged by worrying about what might happen. She already knows. She is also a supportive follower of this blog which means she will already by now have read what happens at the end, even though I haven’t yet written it.

Can I lighten the mood a little here and finish with a vague and entirely meaningless kind of top ten? Just some stuff that I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order. No need to mock, I don’t care. I’ll probably have a different list next week. I’d be interested to hear yours.

  • Anything by Lynne Truss
  • Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)
  • Anything by Tim Moore, almost entirely travel books
  • Jetlag travel guides: Molvania (a Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry); Phaic Tan (Sunstroke on a Shoestring); San Sombrero (a Land of Carnivals, Cocktails and Coups)
  • Harry Potter: all of them
  • Way too much crime stuff eg the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
  • The Onion (“America’s Finest News Source”) and its spin-offs
  • Loads of other travel stuff like the Lonely Planet guides, Pete McCarthy (The Road to McCarthy; McCarthy’s Bar) and anything by Jan Morris
  • The Shipping News (Annie Proulx)
  • Sharp Objects; Dark Places; Gone Girl (all Gillian Flynn)
  • Piles and piles of history stuff. You name it.

So that’s eleven? Get over it. It’s my blog.


I asked Mrs. Blog to nominate her ten. Here they are:

  • 50 Shades of Tartan
  • Veterinary Medicine for Dummies
  • Marks and Spencer Store Locator (Global Edition)
  • Anyone But England (Andy Murray)
  • Map Reading My Way
  • Marks and Spencer Guide to Refunds
  • Awa’ and Bile yer Heid, and Other Scottish Terms of Endearment
  • The Optimisation of Quantum Theory: Towards a Systematic and Regressive Median Analysis of Criteria Based Entropy. A Beginner’s Guide
  • Calling All Kittens
  • A Housewife’s Guide to the Offside Rule (Vols. 1 to 4)

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At the end of the day, as I haven’t quite got round to saying to Mrs. Blog, a woman is just a woman, but a book is a good read…