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.


You just can’t beat a book!

Blog 80

My most recent post on this blog highlighted two things:

  1. The publication last month of my “Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk”, an account of a 2016 200 mile walk from Mersey to Humber, sponsored for the British Heart Foundation. Kind followers of the blog, either direct or via social media, have been more than kind in their responses and comments, and I am most grateful. All support is very welcome! It is available through usual channels. This link to the publisher’s website may be helpful:


2 . I had just been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, outcome unknown.


This initially presented itself just a few short weeks ago as an unexpected loss of grip in my left hand. A scan at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton revealed the guilty party and an operation to remove the bulk of it was carried out swiftly, which has brought some benefits in “functionality”.  I have been discharged from hospital and am now based at my home in Lewes. Following further scans, investigations and detailed meetings with oncologists and other members of the team, I am now due to undergo a three week course of radiotherapy in Brighton in May, outcome to be monitored in due course.

The publication of Northern Soles has in some ways been timely. Not only in providing me with healthy contact with my “real” life and warm hearted responses, but also in creating a subject for chat with staff when in hospital. I love nothing more than chatting with people about their aspirations and backgrounds, and nurses seemed very happy to share with me, on seeing the book,  their tales of training in Hull or Warrington!

This is probably not the time to share with you any hospital based anecdotes but I will say this. While the techy limitations of a lack of a mobile signal or a wi-fi connection while incarcerated, drove me to distraction, I have continued to take comfort in the solidity of hard copy books, both in hospital and now at home. My own choices during this difficult time will make sense to nobody but me, but they work for me!

Helen Dunmore’s The Siege

Engel’s England: 39 counties, one capital and one man

Histories of Nations: edited by Peter Furtado

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, a new 600 page biography of Clement Attlee titled Citizen Clem. (If there is another genuine contender for the unofficial title of greatest British politician of the 20th century, I can’t identify one…)  As I say, my blog, my choices! Plenty of scope for lighter reading material too.

Next down the line will be Helen Pankhurst’s new book Deeds not Words which Helen signed for Mrs Blog and me at the book launch in the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester just a few weeks ago. Those who have followed this blog or made contact with my own new book will be aware of Helen’s support for my own humble efforts and I will remain in her gratitude and in admiration for her continuing campaigning work. A lovely lady.

If all goes well I still hope that one of my own small book promo events might eventually take place at the Pankhurst Centre.

I will do my best to continue to communicate any progress. I can say unequivocally that the support  received from around the world as well of course as that from close family and friends, is invaluable in any recovery.

Many thanks and much love


When you walk through a storm


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.

Midweek matinee fun

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.

You put your whole self in….

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





Computer says no



“Hallo, my name is Michelle.  How can I help you today?”

“I’m heading off to Barbados next month with Mrs. Blog for some well earned R&R. I understand that I need to take out some additional travel insurance to supplement my basic cover. I do this each year. Something to do with having had the odd operation in the past.”

“Right, we’ll need to go through a few questions, if that’s alright? Will you be taking part in any winter sports activities during your trip?”

“The Barbadian ski slopes have not previously had the benefit of my presence, so probably not.”


Planning my usual relaxing holiday in the Caribbean…



“Have you ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure?”


“Have you ever been diagnosed with high cholesterol?”


“Have you ever been prescribed medication to lower your cholesterol level?”

“I take a statin each day, like many men of my age.”

“The computer says that’s the same as being diagnosed with high cholesterol. I’ll put you down as ‘Yes’.”

“I haven’t been diagnosed with high cholesterol. I’ve never had a high cholesterol reading in my life. The doctor says it’s sensible to take statins to be on the safe side.  Is there a doctor there that I can talk to?”

“Do you weigh less than 17.5 stones?”

“Much less.”

“Can you walk for 200 yards unaided?”

“I can run up and down mountains if that helps.”

“Please just answer the question. Have you ever suffered with a back problem?”

“A few years ago I woke with a stiff back and thought my holiday flight a few weeks later might be a problem, so I went to see a physio for a massage. But not a medical problem, no. It’s just that I understand I’m supposed to tell you everything.”

“The computer says you’ve got a medical condition. We’ll need to investigate further. Has this condition necessitated an unplanned hospital admission within the past five years?”

“I don’t have a back condition. It was stiff one morning. Of course it hasn’t required a hospital admission.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we do have to work through the questions. Would you describe your back condition as chronic?”

“No, but I’m starting to experience some tightening in my chest. I think it’s called stress. Or exasperation. Are you sure there’s nobody else there I can talk to?”

“Do you still take medication for your back condition?”


“Shall I put that down as ‘no’? Do you have any other conditions that you need to declare? You see, if you don’t, it could in the event of a claim make the whole policy void. So, is there anything else?”

“I had a hip replacement last autumn.”

“Has it dislocated since it was carried out?”


“Are you awaiting further surgery on the hip?”


“Are you receiving medication arising from the surgery?”


“Do you have any other conditions that you need to disclose?”


I suppose I should mention that I tripped over the kerb… 



“I thought I had dandruff once when I was at school but it turned out to be ash from a bonfire in the grounds. Don’t put that down for goodness’ sake! It was a joke.”

“I’m sorry, sir, the computer doesn’t let me delete information once it’s in there. Have you ever had surgery, or are you on a waiting list for surgery, arising from your dandruff condition?”


“If that’s all then, sir, let’s run this through and get you a quote. Let me see, ah, here we go. It appears that we can’t provide you with the cover you’re seeking. But if you wanted to go to Spain, the computer says that would be ok.”

“I don’t want to go to Spain. I’ve booked flights to Barbados. Why can’t you cover me? You managed alright last year and the year before that. What’s changed, apart from you not wanting to provide a useful service?”

“The computer won’t tell me. But it’s possibly down to the hip surgery you’ve told me about.”

“So, let me get this clear. By seeking medical intervention, having a successful operation and being now pain free and more mobile, I’ve succeeded in making myself uninsurable?”

“I can see where you’re coming from there.”

“Can you? Are you telling me that I’d be better off – from your point of view – by ignoring any illness and struggling on with incapacitating health problems, rather than seeing a doctor and having it sorted? Is that your official position? Perhaps you should give that greater publicity?”

“These questions are carefully designed by health experts to accommodate the necessary risk factors so we can offer an optimum level of cover to all of our valued customers, it says here.”

“It’s been a great way to while away the last hour. Thank you for your time. I’ll just have to hope that I don’t suddenly feel the need for an emergency foot massage on holiday.”

“Will there be anything else I can help you with today?”


Mrs. Blog faces up to the disappointment that I may not be able to accompany her on holiday this year…


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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.


Now you see it, now you don’t…


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”.)


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.)


Quick lads, we need more bubbles…



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.


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.


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.


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…





Some Things are Best Left Unseen


I have just returned from the deepest, darkest recesses of the worldwide web in search of illustrative material for this piece. Reader, I must tell you there are places you do not want to go – beyond even the hideous halls of cat videos and the bottomless and nausea filled caverns of Jose Mourinho interviews. I have scoured this resource of infinite horror, but I have found nought to compare with the reality that I wish to portray.

In the hours following my hip replacement operation – three long weeks ago now — the recovery nurse captured the offending area on my iPhone. You will appreciate that capturing one’s posterior for posterity has not been a frequent pastime for this blog, but Mrs. Blog has ruled that the outcome was so unprecedentedly repulsive that its circulation on the world wide web would give rise to trauma amongst even the most robust, and the possibility of premature death in the ranks of the more vulnerable – though it was not clear whether she was referring to the appearance of said backside before surgery or afterwards.

I will admit this: I am now supported by a purple, glowing mass of vast proportions, which, when the lights go out at night in the hospital, continues to illuminate most of the town of Haywards Heath. If the hospital were in Lewes, I fear I would be in contravention of our national park’s policies on dark night skies.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

I was fortunate enough to be allotted an admission date at the hospital immediately after a very sociable weekend involving house guests from Manchester and a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe. I spotted on the calendar in Mrs. Blog’s handwriting, for the Sunday evening, the words “Pre-Op Drinks”, which seemed like a jolly way to spend one’s last night of freedom. Disappointingly, this turned out to be Mrs. B’s reminder for me to consume the distinctly wholesome, non-alcoholic concoctions provided by the NHS by way of nutritional supplement. Certainly an excellent way to prevent any attempt on my part to ignore the looming prospect on the morrow.

Once delivered to the hospital, I was swiftly issued with paper pants, a gown open at the rear and a pair of knee length compression socks. I have to tell you, this is not a good look for me and, when combined with the “loose fitting shorts” that I was asked to supply, brings to mind nothing so much as the image of a disreputable scoutmaster.

I should point out that I have some history when it comes to the replacement of worn out body parts. Indeed, when I am eventually obliged to arrange some terminal one-to-one facetime with my maker, I suspect she/he may be a tad miffed at the number of my original working parts which I have subsequently felt obliged to upgrade. Anyway, some few years back, when having a full knee joint replaced, I awoke from the sedative during the operation and could both hear and smell the chainsaw working its way through the bone. (We lacked more sophisticated forms of entertainment in those days.)

Having failed to be awake enough this time round to take a selfie on the operating table, I also felt disinclined to take one when the catheter was being inserted back in the ward. (Oh, come on, you didn’t really think this blog would be too sophisticated for references to bodily fluids and naughty bits?)
I recall being strongly advised on a previous hospital admission to set aside any current (in my case, theoretical) “diets” and, as an aide to healing and recovery, eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. This advice I took to with some enthusiasm, to the extent that I am still pursuing it some seven years on and can heartily recommend it.

Ever the optimist, I assumed it would be possible to make good use of time spent in hospital to learn a new language or refresh my grasp of quantum physics, but in the event, it has all just been too, well, busy. There’s always something to be measured, jabbed, swallowed, drained, wiped up, drizzled into a vein, or passed. Decisions have to be made on the choice of tomorrow’s breakfast cereal while being connected to a drip or suffering some other bodily indignity.

There’s an initial period post-surgery when the effects of anaesthesia produce a sense of wellbeing unlikely to extend far into the next day. For me, on this occasion, my early ambitions were wrecked on the shores of very low blood pressure, low blood oxygen levels and considerable blood loss and I was unable to rise from my bed for three days to begin the physio programme. The supply of somebody else’s donated “full red” proved the key to me switching from a horizontal to a vertical plane. I am more than grateful for this, of course, but I do wonder about the extent to which I will have acquired any personal characteristics from the donor(s). If you should, in the future, spot me with a copy of the Daily Mail in my hand, or hear me talking about the possibility of voting for UKIP, I would be most grateful if you could, discreetly, bring it to my attention….

Once the magic qualities of the new blood (“very nearly an armful”, as Tony Hancock’s Blood Donor had it) kicked in I was soon up and about and challenging fellow in-mates to Zimmer or crutch races – I’ve always been competitive. The layout of the ward meant it was possible to complete a satisfying “lap” along the corridors, and back to one’s starting point. Stimulated by the “pursuit” race format from the velodromes of Stratford and Glasgow, I was extremely tempted to see if this could be replicated around our circuit, with competitors starting off on opposite sides of the building. Before I could put this into practice however, it occurred to me that one’s opponent might simply drop out and go back to bed – or hide in the TV lounge – and you would never know.

You will not want the gory details (and I’m not keen on them myself) but I was discharged on crutches after five days but, sadly, readmitted less than a week later with far too much of the red stuff gushing through the bandages – this blog really should have had its own health warning.

It appears that I have acquired somewhere along the line one of those award winning celebrity bugs you see on the telly and am to be confined to the ward for a number of weeks. This, I must tell you, does not, for me, constitute a major source of humour but I felt a blog coming on nevertheless and this is it. Apologies if it reads a little more self-absorbed than usual, and fails to meet this blog’s usual production standards.

I confessed in an earlier blog to an excessive pre-occupation with crime thrillers on TV. This may account for me having requested that an armed policeman be on guard outside my door whenever I’m put on a drip (though, in my experience, they almost invariably get “taken out” before the drip is switched to fatal effect.)

The array of drugs that has seeped through my system in the past three weeks has been impressive, and with a rich variety of side effects, including some strange and troubling dreams and nightmares, However, I am reminded of a recent exchange I had with blogdaughter:

Self: “I had a really weird dream last night.”
Daughter: “Did you dream I was the kind of person who’d be interested?”

That said, I will make reference to my 85 year old mother in law who fell and broke a hip while in our care in France four years ago and, while under the influence of anaesthesia in the local hospital, became convinced that she was being held against her will in an underground garage. When I was allowed to join her by the French hospital staff, who were struggling to restrain her, I asked what she thought their motive might be. “Body parts”, she replied mysteriously.

I mentioned this one day to Fred, who cuts our grass and stuff. In return, he told me how he’d been preoccupied while in hospital recently with waves of planes dropping bombs nearby and had refused to let the nursing staff check his blood oxygen levels as the bombers were using the little red light on his finger clamp for “homing” purposes.

Now, that’s not an effect you can get on a couple of pints of bitter. Or, if it is, I’ve been drinking the wrong stuff.

How, I hear you ask, is Mrs. Blog coping with all this. On the positive side, she’s looking forward to carrying out my stomach injections that are part of the anti-DVT measures when I’m eventually sent home. And she likes to invest in new furniture whenever I’m away, “to cheer the place up”. On the other hand, she is struggling with the recycling boxes in my absence, and fears she may be obliged to reacquaint herself with some of my bodily parts that she thought she’d said goodbye to.

I’ve memorised all the notices in the ward and counted and recounted the ceiling tiles. I’ve put back the dance classes – it seemed wise. There was a little bit of excitement this morning when I dozed off immediately after being issued with my pill bucket and had to hunt for them later amongst the tangled bedclothes. I found one more than the records indicated I should have been given, but one turned out to be a Tic Tac, so that was ok.

Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve got a busy afternoon ahead. Somebody will be here shortly to check my blood pressure, and there’ll be the lady that changes the water jugs, and I have to make sure that I’m by my bed when the tea comes round. Don’t want to miss that. Talk to you later.