Sunday 20 November 2016

For mum

In my last post I wrote we were seeing mum in her nursing home, following her massive stroke in 2014, every three to four weeks. Suddenly that packing, unpacking, repacking is no more. Quite unexpectedly, at 8 pm, on Friday 4th November,  mum suffered a fatal stroke, became unconscious and died, within the space of an hour. She wouldn't have known a thing, my aunt, a retired nurse said. She had taken mum's pulse just before 8 pm and just after. By 8.10 pm the strong beat had stopped. Her long life had ended. I wasn't there but had been quite concerned about her, exactly a month before, and had been anticipating my brother's phone call. He had been talking to mum at 6.15pm that Friday evening. She'd had her evening meal then had a little sleep as he said goodbye. By the time he got into his house the nursing home were ringing. Mum's breathing was abnormally laboured; he had to go back to see her. When he got there she was already unconscious. Even if I had been there her passing was so sudden she wouldn't have known I was there.

When I last saw mum on October 4th she was more frail than I had ever seen her. Speech was an effort, as was eating. I knew, instinctively, life could not be sustained much longer. As a consultant had said, almost two year's previously, mum's body had done its work. I took comfort from those few simple words. Elegantly, practically and succinctly put.

On hearing the news from my somewhat shaken brother, my words to my husband, midst the inevitable tears, were that she was such a nice person. All the tributes we've received have used phrases like 'kind', 'gentle', 'a good Christian woman', 'wise' and 'independent.' My short letter to mum, written later that night - what I wanted her to know - reflected everyone's feelings. My brother and I have been lucky with our parents.

Dear mum,
You were a lovely mother. A mother who wanted her children and always put us first. You lived without fanfare but enjoyed the good things. You appreciated classical music, impressionist paintings, concerts, the theatre, plays by Rattingan, the anarchic humour of Peter Cook, a sherry and good conversation. You were a wit. You liked being taken out to restaurants, on holidays and day trips. And you always enjoyed all these things without moaning nor talking incessantly about yourself.

Rev Dave Wills described you as a good Christian woman. You cared about others but you were wise. Some sob story wouldn't have passed muster with you - but genuine suffering always got your sympathy. And you showed you cared by thought, word and deed, for many years working with severely handicapped young people. 

It's been a hard two and a half years since your stroke, hasn't it mum?  You were never quite as bright again. I thank God you were rarely in pain and could still enjoy your meals. I hope God is taking care of you now. 

God bless and thanks for all your kindness. Ian and I have been very lucky children.

Goodnight mum. Goodnight xxxxx

Saturday 29 October 2016

2010 - Life Begins

It struck me, now many of my friends are retired or semi-retired, how different our lives have become. Mine, especially, I feel. Since 2010 I have, instinctively, it seems, carved out a new life without needing direction nor too much guidance from elsewhere. I remember a friend saying to me, within hours of leaving my place of paid work for the final time, 'So I bet you feel wonderful.' I knew I should have felt wonderful but I didn't, not straight away. I felt the same as I always had. It hadn't sunk in. The pattern of my life was still ... get up before 7am, take painkillers for the inevitable headache brought on by, I now see, chronic over tiredness, hit the road about 7.15am, sit in traffic and hopefully enter the prison ... ahem... the school gates, about 8am. Then the day would truly begin. I felt I'd already been at work for two hours by the time official tasks took over. And even now, six years later, I still have to go to bed at 10pm. I'm making up for all those years of sleep deprivation. I certainly don't leave the house at 7:15am anymore and I don't have a perpetual headache, but I find I tire relatively easily. In other words I like lots of rest.

But in 2016, my daily routine is far less prescribed, yet I feel constantly busy. We have been on five holidays this year plus trips up to see mum in her nursing home every three to four weeks, so there's been a lot of packing. Beyond that it seems unbelievable that I managed 32 years of, as I say, I now see was, chronic over tiredness. Something I guess anyone working in the NHS will recognise. These days I get up before 9 am, but open the curtains earlier, so it appears we are up by 8 o'clock! Thank goodness for sleep-masks, those things you put over your eyes to block out the light. Why do I open the curtains? Well-there are many reasons. 1)We have so many deliveries it seems sensible to appear to be up in case there's a banging at the front door. 2)We have had builders, plumbers, window cleaners, fence repairers here more or less every week since the summer and they tend to arrive around 8am so it seems polite to appear to be ready for them. 3) Richard works very early one morning a week. So we are both awake. May as well open the curtains...

On Saturdays and Sundays I generally leave the curtains closed a little longer but I like to listen to Rev Richard Coles and Paddy O'Connell at 9am, on Saturday and Sunday respectively, over breakfast. Yet for all this getting up later than I did prior to July 2010, when I got an 'early retirement/ voluntary redundancy' package, I'm often in bed by 10 pm, sometimes even 9pm. Sounds crazy but I do read, reasonably rapidly, once there. I'm trying to wean myself off watching catch-up tv on the ipad as the backlighting does keep me awake. But these activities are new to me. A luxury I can afford now my life isn't reserved for going out to work.

In more sweeping ways my life is so changed I would hardly recognise myself, I feel, from the worker I was for all those years. When I first 'retired' I made myself a timetable. Can you tell I was a teacher? Did I stick to it? Did I heck? Yet I felt the need to put structure on my new-found freedom. I worked at our local Cancer Research shop as a volunterr, I did some tutoring at Kip McGrath and went away. Not on the round-the-world-cruise one is supposed to take in 'retirement' but off to Spain.
We did many private views, bought fine art from semi-famous artists and prints from more famous ones.For about two years I cleared the house and sold my wares at car-boot sales. And we had the builders in. By builders I mean: double glazing chaps, (to replace the 125 year old sash windows which rattled and steamed up by turns), electricians - a father and son who provided us with central chandeliers in our main living room, new side lights in our bedroom and my workroom, new kitchen ceiling and bathroom ceiling lights and sockets for a new electric cooker and various plug-ins in what was called 'the breakfast room'. We had new garden fences, and,very recently, new water pipe installations which required the temporary destruction of our many steps to the front door and much of the patio. One of the works I enjoyed most was turning our downstairs wetroom into exactly that-rather than the lumber room it had become. Our breakfast room is now almost a kitchen - with new work surfaces, space for a food processor, a fast-acting plug-in hob and excellent fridge-freezer. I want a new sink in there too-if we can find a plumber to do it. But enough of these building tasks. I haven't spent six years doing the house up. (Well I have and I'd still like better internal doors out to the revamped kitchen - but that may have to be put on hold. Can't get the staff.)

I was very pleased when 'my editor' said she was really engaged in my last 50,000 words. My novel seems to be doing what it should be: involving the reader. So that's a huge change for me. Am I turning into a writer at long last? I certainly read more and take note of the perfectly formed sentence. That's a huge change from my years as a paid worker. All I could manage was a Ruth Rendell murder.  I was very poorly read. In the early days of  retirement I went to the cinema more often than I had imagined and out for cappuccino at our favourite riverside hostelry as often as we could ( almost every day at one point). And I went swimming. But then, as now, not often enough. And now I'm making endless felt and ribbon-swathed Christmas decorations to sell at market stalls. I arrange most of Richard's art sales too. So, yes, I'm constantly busy but am doing what I choose, rather than what has to be done. I don't yet feel the need for a cruise. I'm enjoying pottering, writing, creating, cooking - yes, cooking, and, best of all, time to be me. I'm lucky I managed to leave work while still relatively young and fit. There's nothing like the freedom. I embrace it. So much to do and enjoy. My life began in 2010. Carpe diem!

Sunday 9 October 2016

Follow the crowd?

There's a line in 'Passage to India' by EM Forster - I paraphrase -
                        '... and it will work its way to its end...'
Elderly Mrs Moore, the voice of reason, tolerance and experience, speaks these words. During her visit to India she is horrified at the effects of The Raj; petty officials and their rudeness towards native Indians. In her visit to the fictitious Chandrapore she cannot believe how her son - the magistrate - seems so ingratiating towards the English 'rulers'. She believes he and they are treating Indians badly. Her words '... it will work its way...' refers to her son's fiancee's accusation of rape against an Indian doctor. Mrs Moore believes the 'machine' ie 'the Brits' will take the rape case '... to its end...' British justice will see the Indian punished.

In fact the young woman sees, before it's too late, that she has been buoyed up by the British establishment in bringing a charge of rape. But it won't stick. In court, under oath, she retracts her accusation.British women call her a bitch. She is alone. But the Indian is free '... without a mark on his character...'

Run with the hare or hunt with the hounds - or go your own way? Accuse folks who are 'not like us'?  Is this what is happening to England and Wales as we hurtle towards Brexit? Are some folks on a kind of band wagon which suggests life outside Europe, without immigrant workers, will bring back a nation we love and feel pride in?

I don't personally understand a lack of enthusiasm for migrant workers. If people do a good job and speak English, since I speak nothing but English, pay their taxes, are law-abiding and help get things done, where is the problem? But then I was lucky. I had educated, compassionate parents who taught me not everyone had our (few) advantages.

 I was brought up reading 'Spotty' and 'Ferdinand the Bull'. My father got me reading these stories when I was pre-school age. The tales celebrate difference. I couldn't have analysed the stories as such  aged three or four but I felt for the 'spotty' rabbit who was different from the rest of his family. I liked Ferdinand who preferred to smell the flowers rather than go into the bullring. Spotty and Ferdinand were different. But one didn't dislike them.

When I was nine or so I befriended a girl who was 'poor'. She had no mother and was friendless. It cost me nothing to speak to her and I never cared whether I lost friends as a result. Perhaps I should have cared whether I would lose friends but I never felt allegiance to people who were unkind to others or talked about them behind their backs. I doubt whether it's because I'm a goody-goody. I never felt the need to follow the crowd. And I was brought up to value difference.

While it seems, in some quarters,  migration has to be tackled - although I think there is a sickness, a fever surrounding this issue in Little Britain - it's a passing fad. It will 'work its way to its end' (I hope) and be seen as a hollow tirade. Britain cannot cope without migrant workers.

Nor can Britain cope with poor housing, a run-down social services, an over-stretched NHS nor underfunded schools. While the Tories battle on who will stop them running down a welfare state put in place to help those in need? Who will stop them underfunding services? Where is Labour?

The rhetoric about migrant or foreign workers, nastiness towards 'others' who live here, Amber Rudd, Brexit, Theresa May and infighting in both Ukip and Labour make me feel shame for our nation. Never before this year have I felt so unrepresented by those who are elected to represent us. We are the fifth largest economy in the world. Can we really not build more affordable housing or pay for our services? Migrant workers are not people we should be blaming. An unequal society is - I guess - at the root of the problem. If we are such a rich nation why are so many feeling so aggrieved? ( I know why. I want to know how it happened.)

We are living in unsettling times. The prevailing political atmosphere will work its way to its end.
Let's hope for a truly inspirational political leader some time soon. As a nation we are running on empty.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Young Faces of Britain

Doesn't it give everyone, sportif or non-sportif, a boost to see young Olympians, the soon-to-be married, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny, winning and speaking on the TV? Not only do they work hard, not only are they highly successful, not only are they energetic, full of vitality and health, they are modest, positive thinkers and a joy to listen to. It gives me hope for the future that such wonderful young people can influence others to take up sport or succeed in other ways - rather as Beckham did - without cynicism or triumphalism. They are good to listen to simply because they don't boast or pull rank. They almost don't realise how stunning they are. And isn't it so much better for all of us to be open to such optimism than listening to the ramblings and weary infighting some of our politicians are indulging in?

This evening, having washed my hands of the Labour party leadership contest, I believed I may as well stand for the post as Owen Smith feels terrorists should be part of talks in the middle East. I understand he helped bring the former IRA to a negotiating table during N. Ireland's peace talks. Surely his latest gaffe is simply nuts? If the Labour party can't come up with better candidates I fear they are sunk. I shall not be voting in this latest leadership contest. My vote last year was for Andy Burnham, but he isn't re-standing and is likely to be Mayor of Manchester. Where have Hilary Benn, Chukka Umunna and Yvette Cooper gone? And why did Angela Eagle fold so quickly - hardly before her leadership election campaign had started? I have never voted Tory but the Labour party is currently shambolic and letting themselves down, imho. I expect historians will show us the party went through similar 'Labour pains' in the days of the defection of Shirley Williams, Bill Rogers, David Owen et al to their newly-formed SDP. I just can't understand why strong leadership seems to be evading Labour. Where are the Labour party heavy-weights? ( Yes, I know it's the summer recess but this leadership contest is like asking which of two five year-olds should be appointed Head of an Infants School. I don't need to state that I am most unimpressed - but there we are - I've just said it.)
If Jeremy Corbyn continues as leader the back benchers will be, at best, unsupportive. If Owen Smith wins - heaven help us. He was an unknown until he threw his hat into the ring. Why can't Labour MPs who have experience in cabinet stand for the leadership party? Are they busily making plans to become a centrist Lib-Lab party so are more interested in splitting?

I find it wearying and life's too short for such Labour party games. On a good day I find myself feeling bored, unengaged, unenergised and more interested in what Theresa May thinks, which is a very dangerous position to take as a lifelong Labour supporter. I'm not bored, am interested and feel inspired by our TeamGB, and I've never been athletic.
Kenny and Trott, Murray, Grainger and so many more are great ambassadors for our great country. They are the face of a Britain I understand and feel hopeful for. Infighting politics makes me tired.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Rio 2016

Back in 2012, watching the opening celebrations of the London Olympic Games, after months, nay, years, of commentators complaining about spiralling costs, legacy and sustainability, my husband exclaimed, ‘He’s done it! Danny Boyle’s pulled it off.’ He was referring to the opening spectacle. A cast of thousands depicting pre- and post-industrialised Britain, intermingled with ‘happy’ children at Great Ormond Street hospital, the great institution that is our NHS, Mary Poppins, our multi-million pound export - ‘pop music’, David Beckham and, let’s not forget, the Queen parachuting into the Olympic arena. A strange mix but it did make us Brits feel we have something to be proud about. Perhaps we take our achievements, as a nation, for granted. Maybe our concerns as individuals, day-day living costs, poor returns on savings, if we are lucky enough to have any investments, too much traffic, not enough parking spaces… make us forget about the good things our country has created. We still enjoy free health care and schools for all, opportunities and wealth, for many, if not everyone. We can expect electric lighting, clean water and sewers to ensure our lives are safe and disease-free.

This year, watching the opening night in Rio, I was conscious, again, of the grumbles about the costs of staging the Olympics. Having read about the lack of sanitation in the favelas, the ensuing pollution in the waters where aquatic sports were to be held, one wonders why nations feel they have to spend so much on stadiums when other priorities – like actually paying essential workers – are left ignored. One can only hope that Tokyo uses the sports arenas they had in 1964, when a tuneful ‘Good Morning Tokyo’ rang out across our black-and-white TV screens. Am I the only one who feels a lump in the throat when nations put on fantastic displays for us to enjoy? We know that Rio residents are, in many cases, suffering and are angry about the money being used for such entertainments rather than for an essential infrastructure. The opening spectacles seem to leave me in two minds. Glad for the sense of theatre and celebration but sad that people still live in slums. Fireworks last but a few moments.

In the athletes’ march past I again felt relieved I live in a country which has freedom of speech and an Olympic team which has opportunities for training so they reach their potential. It was, as in 2012, sobering to see countries such as Sierra Leone offering a much smaller team of athletes than our own. The difficulties people in SL have had to overcome beggar belief. To be able to create a team at all is astonishing, given the tribulations suffered by that African nation. In the march past one cannot ignore the fact so many athletes represent countries where there are repressive regimes, corruption, poverty, war or lack of opportunity. Again, as in 2012, I felt proud to be British. I felt lucky to have been born in a country where so many advantages are enjoyed by most of its citizens. The team of refugees on parade, looking happy and full of life, brought more than a lump to my throat. Not only do these athletes not have a country, they may well have had an horrendous journey in their escape from persecution, they may have had to scrimp and save to afford sports coaches, a gym, a swimming pool or similar. Who knows what sacrifices they have made or what horrors they have escaped from? One can only wish them well and realise that the Olympics opening night is an education. It’s not just about sport.

Count your blessings!

Thursday 14 July 2016

The New Yorker and a new government

The journalist John Cassidy, writing in The New Yorker the day after the EURef result, cut through the confusion with a clarity some of us may have struggled to muster. Even so it would be interesting to delve deeper and discover quite what Cassidy meant.
He began his explanation of the results as follows
     ‘The EU has never been particularly popular with ordinary people in the UK, particularly England.’

I wonder who he means by the term ‘ordinary people’. Does he mean people aged 18-65 who go to work every day? Does he mean folks in social housing or in privately-rented accommodation? Perhaps he means couples with two children with a financed-car and a mortgage. Or does he mean 50% of the population in twenty-thirty-years-olds who don’t possess a university degree? Presumably ‘ordinary’ doesn’t mean yacht-owning, privately-educated well-to-do men and women.  Other points he makes refer to deindustrialisation.
·          ‘Most commentators … were assuming …prudence and risk aversion would generate a swing in favour of Remain
·         The Remain vote was particularly weak in the West Midlands and the Northeast of England, two areas that have been hit hard by deindustrialisation.’

I was brought up in the West Midlands at a time when there was full employment. Since the days of Margaret Thatcher unemployment has risen and the area has never fully recovered from the demise of the great steel works. When I was growing up our high street had restaurants, Marks and Spencer and high-class boutiques. My family was protected from deindustrialisation as dad was a grammar school headteacher and my brother has worked as partner in a well-established Midlands’ law firm for decades. Friends of mine who still live in my home town talk about the numbers living there who are now on benefits. I never knew anyone on benefits when I was at grammar school in the Midlands. I only met benefits-users in my fifties - and that’s since I started living in prosperous Bath. But, yes, people living in post-industrialised regions have been finding life hard, probably since the 1980s.

Cassidy echoes points made by Prof Curtice of Strathclyde University as referendum votes were counted:
·         ‘The Guardian has published some telling charts … they show gaping class divisions. Those with college degrees tended to opt for Remain…The older and poorer you are, the more likely you were to vote Leave.
·         The British working classes and lower middle classes, particularly those living in the provinces, have delivered a stinging rebuke to the London-based political establishment’
Back to the West Midlands, again.

On another tack I believe Cassidy sums up the Farage-effect well:
·         ‘Although much of the immigration into the UK comes from outside of the EU the Leave forces were able to focus attention on the freedom of movement for workers, which is one of the founding principles of the EU
·         …economic anxieties … underpinned the political anger that fuelled the Leave vote. Nigel Farage … (was) able to exploit these economic worries, directing them against settlers and other easy targets.’
If life is hard you have to have someone to blame. Farage harnessed this need to accuse. 

Let’s hope Theresa May, our PM for less than twenty four hours, genuinely believes her own words. As she addressed the nation she spoke up for those householders who are ‘just managing’ in financial terms. Her speech outside no.10 yesterday, a few minutes after being asked by the Queen to form a government, sounded as though she would seriously consider those who were in insecure jobs. It appeared those who were struggling financially would be at the heart of her government’s policies. Cassidy, back in June, commented on inequality in Britain:
·         ‘…decades of globalization, deregulation and policy changes that favoured the wealthy have left Britain a more unequal place … the legacy of increased national inequality in the 1980s’
Back to Margaret Thatcher who, some would say, defined 80’s Britain. Cassidy also believes Cameron made mistakes:
·         ‘…the Remain campaign was uninspiring in the extreme
·         …it can be argued that Cameron’s mistake occurred as far back as 2013, when, in an effort to satisfy the Eurosceptics inside his own Conservative Party, he pledged to hold a referendum …before 2017
·         Steve Hilton, a former political adviser to Cameron, said “People have expressed real anger at being ignored by the system, and I think this is at the heart” of what happened
·         To get people to turn out and vote in your favour, you  also have to give them something positive to rally behind’

Instead of saying how awful it would be outside Europe the Remain campaign didn’t help themselves by making clear the positive advantages of Remaining.
Personally I am very pleased to see a woman in no.10. I don’t vote Tory but the current state of the Labour party means Theresa May might have little opposition, even with a tiny majority of 12, in the House of Commons. Come on Labour! I am so glad to see the destroyer of schools - Michael Gove - out of her cabinet. One can only hope that May will appoint Secretaries of State for Education and Health who do more than criticise hard-pushed professionals. John Cassidy has summed up the reasons the Brexit vote won. I hope Theresa May helps hard-working teachers, doctors, nurses, teaching assistants, carers, office workers, shopkeepers, bus drivers. These are the people I define as ‘ordinary’. Some of them will be doing more than ‘just managing’. Others will be suffering after years of “Austerity Britain.”
Everyone who works hard can do without the toxic criticisms of Gove, Hunt et al. My only worry is that, as Home Secretary, Theresa May rubbed up the police force the wrong way. If she considers them to be part of the non-elite and she wants to help them, plus others who work hard, she’ll have to put some of the compassion at the heart of Christianity into her politics. Her father was a vicar. Was he a compassionate Christian? If so has any of it rubbed off on her?

Thursday 7 July 2016

The UK needs to make an informed choice

Timothy Garton Ash wrote in The Guardian, Saturday 25th June, under A Farewell to Europe. He stated the beginnings of the EU and some of its current issues go back a long way. In 1989 the Berlin wall came down. ‘As their price for supporting German unification France and Italy pinned Germany down to a timetable for an overhasty, ill-designed and overextended European monetary union. As a result of their liberation from Soviet communist control, many poorer countries in eastern Europe were set on a path to EU membership, including its core freedom of movement. And 1989 opened the door to globalisation, with spectacular winners and numerous losers.’ Back to the workers living in social housing in my earlier post.

Ash commented further: ‘The eastward enlargement of the EU in 2004 was followed by a large westward movement of people and … 2 million of them came to Britain. …pressures on public services – and on housing stock in a country that for decades has built far too few homes – have been felt acutely by the less well-off… Their concerns are widespread…Unfortunately populist xenophobes such as Nigel Farage exploit these emotions, linking them to subterranean English nationalism.’

Where is Farage now? Living off the earnings of his German-born wife now he’s stood down as leader of Ukip? He’s helped bring the country out of the EU and he’s gone very, very quiet. He isn’t the only one demonstrating far-right views. Marine Le Pen speaks a similar language in France, Geert Wilders, Dutch politician and leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, wants Turkey to remain outside the EU. He tried to work with Le Pen, right-winger Strache, for the Austrian Freedom Party, Salvini, heading up Italy’s Lega Nord – The Northern League, and Gerolf Annemans of  Belgium’s Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest). The notion was to form their own parliamentary group in the European Parliament. The Greek Golden Dawn and Poland’s Congress Party were not included so no new party was formed. Now, in the USA, we have Trump showing his true hand. I will not repeat his vicious attack on a variety of peoples but in the view of Ash: Wilders, Le Pen et al are ‘…trumpery European-style’.

Back to the effects on Britain. Farage is a millionaire. Having brought us out of the EU I am sure he won’t suffer personally. As Ash writes ‘We will pay the economic price for years to come. The costs will probably fall especially hard on the less well-off who voted for Brexit.’ And why did we have to have a referendum? Jeanette Winterson writing in The Guardian, also June 25th, ‘What did surprise me was that Cameron and Osborne would risk the first full-power Tory government in decades on a gamble with an unelected cartoon character from a time-warp. Nigel Farage is ridiculous. But he has won. There was no need for a referendum. What was needed was a firm cross-party consensus explaining why the EU is not the problem facing Britain.’ 

As people having been moving since the fall of the Berlin Wall we have had migrant workers in Britain for many years. We rely on them. What we haven’t had is reasonably-priced housing, council housing to replace those sold off under Thatcher and proper funding for the NHS and state education. It seems to me the choice made by 52% of the voting population to leave the EU was a bad one. But where were the facts? Who knew what they were voting against? Voting against a lack of good, affordable housing and employment opportunities should be aimed at a British elite. Not the EU. 

We may actually have more immigration, not less, now that France is suggesting we roll back the borders from Calais. We may become a much smaller economy, especially if Scotland votes to leave the UK.  As Polly Toynbee wrote in the same edition of The Guardian ‘Soon those leave voters will find they were swindled. The foreigners will still be there. No new homes, hospital appointments or nursery places freed up by a migrant exodus.’
‘…Future US presidents will fly over us to the EU.’ Toynbee puts the blame squarely at Cameron’s feet and echoes Winterson’s surprise at Cameron and Osborne’s stance. ‘But in the end it was (Cameron’s) government’s relentless small-state austerity that tilled the ground for popular rebellion… He closed the Sure Starts, libraries, leisure centres and day centres that once held communities together. He accelerated right-to-buy so close-knit estates lost a third of flats, sold off to private landlords to fill with exploited migrant men. He is slicing away the lifeline of tax credits.’

And we have come out of the EU because of this? I doubt the EU made the decision for all the above closures, the rise of private landlords and abandoning the tax credit system.
As I write Farage is no longer on our screens, Cameron has resigned and Osborne isn’t on the ballot papers for the Conservative party leadership. Boris Johnson was speaking in the House of Commons only hours ago stating that migrant workers were welcome. Yet two weeks ago he was fighting to leave the EU, won, and at the same time lost. To Michael Gove.  

One chink of light in this shocking, confusing fall-out is that should Theresa May become our next PM she has said she wants a Britain for all strata of society not just for the elite. Let’s hope she is our next leader. I don’t vote conservative but she is the most sensible choice and as a country we need to start making sensible choices again. First inform the people so they can make an informed choice!

A let down

                                                  After the Brexit Vote

We were on holiday in Guernsey, a non-EU bailiwick of the UK, for EU referendum day.  Our postal vote, sent in on June 3rd, stated we wished to remain. I hardly slept the night of June 23rd, too eagerly engaged with the BBC news as the votes came in. Yes, even Guernsey is not beyond the reach of the internet. Indeed signals were excellent. But the news, at 4.40 a.m., UK time, showed Brexit was winning by a million votes. Birmingham, predicted to vote Remain, did not follow anticipated voting patterns. We were OUT of the EU.

Ian Jack, Guardian Opinion, June 25th, wrote ‘Just as the pound was reaching its peak, Iain Duncan-Smith said: “Turnout in the council estates is very high.” It was about a quarter past ten.’ (Fifteen minutes after the polls had closed and the BBC’s live EURef programme had started its overnight broadcast.)
To my mind that comment about council estates seemed very class-ridden. Ian Jack said canvassers for Remain had told him “The Greens got the Tube stations, Lib Dems did the shoppers, Labour went “round the estates”.’ 

So Britain still has council estates? I thought social housing had been all but demolished, during Thatcher’s reign, to around 10% of former council-owned housing stock. Yet now the council estates' vote seemed so pertinent in the EURef. I D-S had hit on something. Ian Jack quoted Michael Sandel, an American political philosopher, on the British working class. “The sources of their dignity, the dignity of labour, have been eroded and mocked by … globalisation, the attention that is lavished … on … financial elites.” The working classes had plenty to protest about.

Jack continued: ‘On Sky TV Michael Gove spoke of how his father’s fish business in Aberdeen had been “destroyed by the European Union.” In fact, a report in The Guardian showed that the senior Gove had sold his business rather than closed it.
Believe Michael Gove if you will but since this article was written he has already managed to get Boris Johnson out of the running for Conservative Party leadership and gone against his own words – he had said he wouldn’t run for party leadership.  Yet he is, today, a fortnight after votes were cast, hours away from being second in the running for PM. Theresa May is way ahead in the votes for party leadership - and she voted to remain. Thank heavens for small mercies. May might be one of the few adults around capable of running the country since EURef.

On the same Saturday Philip Aldrick, writing in The Times stated ‘British industry has been left reeling by the European Union referendum result as fears increased that carmakers based in the UK and big aerospace companies such as Rolls-Royce and Airbus would transfer work abroad.’ Those companies used to be based near the school where I taught; it had a non-privileged intake. Some reports say such areas are worse off now than in the Depression of the 1930s. How will Brexit help those people who have already suffered from unemployment and worsening prospects? If big companies move off our shores working class labourers will have fewer choices after Brexit than before. Did Michael Gove point this out  to voters in his rush to greatness? Derby-based Toyota has likely had the go-ahead to build new hybrid cars scuppered since EURef. Again it will be workers in these industries who suffer the most. It’s the poor what gets the blame.

Back to The Guardian. John Harris said the ‘...signs of discontent have been obvious for years... In Peterborough in 2013 we found a town riven by cold resentments, where people claimed agencies would only hire the non-UK nationals who would work insane shifts for risible rates.’ He continued ‘Last year 3.8 million people voted for Ukip. The Labour party’s vote is in seemingly unstoppable decline… Jeremy Corbyn might be seen as that problem incarnate. The trades unions are nowhere to be seen, and the Thatcher-era ability of Conservatism to speak to working-class aspiration has been mislaid.’

The working classes feel let down and the referendum gave them voice. Sadly as the country makes plans to leave the EU it seems their lives will likely be further blighted. Their issues are closer to home. Leaving the EU will make things harder for them, not easier. Did Brexiteers know what they were voting for? What now for the impoverished living in council housing? They have suffered from austerity, reduction in local services, underfunded schools and a stretched NHS. Will leaving the EU help their plight?

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Pause - Brexit - Pause

It has been more than a month since my last piece. There are good reasons for that: we did get away to lovely Guernsey - a jewel in the English Channel. That explains the first pause. In addition we have been glued to news channels, newspapers, online news, the radio 4 Today programme - yes, even in tranquil Guernsey. Unsuprisingly Brexit has caught our attention.

While others were queuing to vote on June 23rd we were sunbathing on white sands in the bailliwick of Guernsey, a non-EU member, having used our postal vote on June 3rd. No resident of Guernsey had a vote, of course. The BBC online news stated '... The Channel Islands are not part of the UK.' We learned a lot - more than we wanted - on that fateful day.

I watched the results of the referendum until 4.40 a.m. I hardly slept thereafter as the news was not what I wanted to hear. I hadn't voted for Brexit. I felt PM David Cameron should not have called for a referendum and should not have allowed Nigel Farage - an MEP who wants the UK to be independent - the oxygen of publicity.

Friday's newspapers, on the 24th of June, revealed little as they had gone to press well before that fateful hour. At approximately 4.45 am the Brexiteers had gained too many votes for the Remain camp to be able to overtake them. The papers could only report on this in the Saturday editions - the day we travelled back to Bath. One of the very few pleasing elements in the post-EURef gloom is that Bath voted to remain. I was going home to a city where there weren't huge swathes of unemployed, poorly-paid, poorly-educated people who wanted to leave the EU. ( According to Professor Curtice of Strathclyde University such groups of people were more likely to vote to leave the EU.) I have taught  for many years in depressed areas - people's lives are stresed - their finances pinched - their opportunities reduced.  I would be less likely to meet people who shouted racist abuse at migrant workers. Bath has two universities.
( Professor Curtice suggests graduates generally want to remain in the EU). Many under-graduates and comfortably well-off post graduates reside here. Our local shop is run by an Asian couple who come to our parties; he is a graduate. Frequently we are driven in a taxi by a chap from Turkey and other times by a young man from Iran. A good friend of mine is Mexican, another is a Bulgarian post-graduate and the host for our Brasserie Writers. A third is from Sierra Leone and yet another is Latvian, also a post-graduate. I would be horrified if any of them were told 'to go home' now that the Brexiteers have 'won' the vote and we are to leave the EU. But Facebook is full of stories of racist verbal attacks. The EURef has unleashed a level of nastiness I can't remember since seeing graffitti shouting 'Blacks Go Home' in the 1960s.

I am fortunate to be living in Bath. It is indeed largely populated by an educated population who, if not wealthy, are comfortable. Of course Bath has its non-graduates and its poorer areas. I haven't been back from Guernsey long enough to chat to people I know who live in social housing. How did they vote? That conversation is yet to be had. Would their attitudes be in line with Professor Curtice's findings?

To move on from the immediate post EUref commentary I need to return to my title: Pause - Brexit - Pause

We are now in the second pause phase.
This pause is universal. The world holds its breath. As if some rocket launch had knocked planet earth out of its orbit, causing it to hurtle off its axis, crashing into the sun, the notion that the UK will leave the EU has had cataclysmic effects. And our parlimentarians don't seem to know what to do next. I would think the rest of the world must be looking at the UK in astonishment: a) how did we come to decide to leave the EU and rock financial certainties and securities?  b) what on earth are we doing about it? Surely losing our PM and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, losing two-thirds of the opposition party and rumours of losing Scotland from a non-EU UK must look to other nations as if little England is suddenly nothing bigger than Guernsey - and, in parts, far less beautiful.

One French journalist had commented that if the UK were to leave the EU it would be no more important on the world stage than Guernsey - which is doing very well - but he had a point. How long this  pause  will last is anyone's guess. No-one has a plan for  who, what, when article 50 is triggered.
I have been scouring the press for some inkling but until today journalists have analysed voting patterns and causes. I will write about that in my next entry. Meanwhile back to the pause.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Roller Coaster

Thankfully Richard had some excellent news about his early-stage prostate cancer cells. All readings were normal - so the radiotherapy has blasted them away. A bonus has been he hasn't had any ill effects either. Well done the Royal United Hospital Bath. We were so pleased with the help he's received we raised money for the RUH from his Open Studio over May Day weekend. A win-win situation. If the weather holds we can raise a bit more at our garden party on July 2nd. A percentage of the proceeds from sales of Richard's prints and cards will go to the RUH funds for the new cancer unit. It cost £8 million+ and so much has been raised they 'only' need £1 million+ now.

So that's the good news.

That's the down ride on the roller coaster - the fun bit. But the hard slog up to the top of the ride has yet to be achieved. We are very slowly trudging up to the pinacle. Mum's house is - as I write - having a trench drilled through the drive, garage and conservatory. Why?

After months of negotiation with mum's insurance firm my brother has managed to get them to see that the cracks in mum's bathroom, kitchen and above the landing are caused by root damage from the massive trees on the field next door. The foundations are being weakened - slightly - just enough to create structural problems. Last month a result; the trees have been lopped in half. Equally important soil samples showed roots from said trees had broken water pipes and upset the water table under mum's house - hence the cracks. So now the pipes are being replaced. Hoorah! But it'll take another year of monitoring the fissures to see if the damage has been stopped - or if the cracks in the brickwork are continuing to widen. A new kitchen and bathroom are waiting to be installed in mum's house. It may take yet another twelve months before work on those installations can even start.

But it's been a very sad few days as mum's health has deteriorated such that she barely has the energy to speak. This is largely, though, in her own hands. If she drank more water, tea or juice she would revive. One nurse even mentioned bringing in the hospice and instituting end-of-life-care. So we were upset to hear this. My brother is having to travel north - and is exhausted - visiting a member of his wife's family in intensive care. What a terrible few days. We thought we would have to cancel our Guernsey holiday and my brother still doesn't know if he should go away this weekend and have his early summer break.

So we sit in the buggy on the roller coaster waiting for good news: we want to plunge on the down-rides and have some excitement - away from the doom, gloom and difficult situations. Our short holiday in Devon, in full sunshine, was upset by health news. Let's hope the next time we see mum she's got some strength back, is drinking and can hold a conversation without being so depleted of energy.  "Where there's life there's hope" has never been more pertinent.

Monday 18 April 2016

The Digital Age - passwords - grrrr

So - using email, texting, using your own printer, making your own photographs - it's all so convenient, and quick. Yes, for the most part, that may still be true. But what about this scenario?

A fortnight ago I was inundated with emails from someone who said I was using her email address. I had inadvertently used it once - because icloud wanted me to use another email address other than my own as icloud, or was it Apple? id. So many fruitless hours fiddling and talks with Apple later I signed in, changed my password and signed out. No problem. No problem? It took over 2 days to get all that sorted.

Another scenario. I tried to use my ipad to air print with a printer my aunt uses. I had her password but forgot to change my wi fi password once I got home. So which password is this then? Yes I had travelled home, I had sorted things at my mother's house, I had visited her in her nursing home three times in two days. I was tired and had a cold. Thankfully I have the sky hub password on my iphone and it's clearly labelled on the new hub. But how do I change it to a memorable password? How many more wasted hours were spent trying to sort that? I did get my ipad connected to the internet again but no luck with sky hub password change. That only took 24 hours fiddling. Then I went down big time with some flu-like symptoms. No surprise there then.

Tonight my iphone won't receive emails and I buggered my ( very old) printer which kept referring me to 'documentation'. If they mean the handbook that would take another day of searching ... Thankfully, despite the fact I had only 4-5 hours sleep last night, by pulling out a few cables, switching the printer on and off, then switching my lap top from which I was trying to print, on and off,  the thing finally starting printing again. I'm sorry but each of my devices, in some way or other, needs a great deal of time spent on them.

Yes I have got them all running again but why do we need so much knowledge and time for these semi-expensive gadgets? Meanwhile I still haven't seen TV I recorded from Sunday night. Perhaps if I use my ipad for itv player it might let me watch The Durrells? Or do I need a password for that too?
Meanwhile I'll spend ages trying to get the thing to work and,guess what, I still won't have seen the programme. Time consuming or what? I thought computers worked for us - not the other way round.


Friday 8 April 2016

How do I get the balance?

A few weeks back I wrote the final chapter of my novel. I hasten to add I'm not especially ecstatic, more mildly pleased, as it's only draft one and I know how much editing will be required, even though, in essence, the work is complete.

It begins in December 1918, just after the end of WW1 and the novel ends in France just before the outbreak of WW2, in September 1939.  England has declared war on Germany, but France hasn't entered the war.

In some ways it would be easy to think my novel is about the inter-war years. In fact it's a tribute to the relatively few women who got the vote in 1918, and who forged ahead, in difficult times. They lived and worked through The  General Strike, The Depression, during a time when there was a lack of free health care, non universal secondary education and poor contraceptive choices. The women who voted for the first time in Britain in 1918 had to be thirty and either married or householders in their own right. In my novel the central character is Eliza. She got the vote in 1918 and succeeds with none of the advantages of modern times.

I have spent something like six weeks working on these last 20,000 words. The whole is now 92,000 + words. I am pleased to have achieved writing the novel but my social life has gone through a down turn, I haven't been swimming for three weeks and I seem to have spent a lot of time behind a screen!

However I have managed a Creative Evening, my Writers' Group, pub quiz and Book Group. We are planning a garden party in July so we are prepping the garden in readiness. I feel I have had a busy few weeks but tomorrow - ah tomorrow - I have promised myself a day of rest. This will include a walk, sensible eating and other physical exercise, but no sitting behind a screen, growing roots through the cushions on my sofa, nor typing at my desk. Perhaps I should be like Barbara Cartland and have a secretary. That way I could dictate my novel, get up, walk around, do step ups and get fit while getting my novel written. Or maybe I could speak into a voice recorder while I'm going out for a jog. Either way there is a tension between the creative urge and the need for physical activity. One feeds the other but both areas of my life seem time consuming.

Our next plans are for the Open Studio at the end of this month. That also takes a lot of planning. Cards to label and package, bio in the brochure, paintings to be framed, prints to be made. I also plan to bake cakes and biscuits to raise a little for the Cancer Unit at the RUH. It's all laudable, creative planning. But again it doesn't help me keep fit!

Perhaps I need to invent some form of exercise I can do while planning other things. But in order to invent a new form of exercise I will have to sit down and come up with some scheme. Back where I was. The tension between brain activity - or creativity - and physical activity. I am physically lazy but mentally active. How do I get the balance?

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Birthday Weather on International Women's Day

As my birthday is in mid-March the weather is usually sunnier, the flowers brighter and the days longer - all much better than in the previous months of January and February. And, despite having  come out of a relatively warm, wet season - in other words a mild winter - it suddenly feels like a cold, bleak run up to my birthday.
Yesterday a gang of us went to the Thermae Spa - in splendid sunshine - and we came out feeling invigorated and rested all at the same time. After that lovely experience we saw more friends for a drink in Bath - then went out to a local pub. A great day all round!

Today, however, has been grey, cold and uninspiring but, thankfully, the narcissi are still flowering - despite their early blooms in January - so their yellow petals have enlivened a dreary day.
Please, please can we have sunshine on my birthday? We will be in Devon then and I'd like to enjoy the sea air - not have three days feeling cooped up. It is spring now, isn't it?!

Despite the dull skies this morning I enjoyed opening my birthday cards and making plans for a garden party in July. This includes arranging two or three musical entertainments for the evening. By then it should be warm and light at night and we can sit out lapping up wine, food and live music.  Perhaps I am simply too impatient and want to celebrate my birthday in the sunshine - in warm, spring days - we need them after a wet, overcast winter. Everyone felt so happy in the sun yesterday - and now we are back to the gloom, it seems.

I am, however, pleased I have completed 70,000 words of my novel and that puts a spring in my step. I have two major scenes to write. It seems fitting that, on International Women's Day, I can talk about my novel, which opens in 1918 on the day some women in Britain got the vote. I am preparing chapters on The General Strike and details about Jennie Lee, a great inspiration to other women, who, initially couldn't afford to go to university, but was helped, left Edinburgh University with a degree and became an MP. Another scene I have yet to create is of another kind of woman altogether. She was wealthy and well connected until, in 1939, she had to flee Italy, where she had led a a very comfortable life. Her life becomes impoverished, whereas my central character, through steadfastness, prospers.  I am reminded of the weather that day in 1918 - when eight million married women got the vote - "it had been an uncommonly warm,wet winter."

Monday 22 February 2016

5:2 and all that

Yes - another 21 days and I'm still managing the 5:2 diet.My jeans seem tighter than ever and my weight goes down after diet-day then back up on ordinary-meals days. Am I doing something wrong?
My diet days consist of:
porridge - with hot water and blueberries* ( which are not exactly the same as bilberries ) 148
small green apple*                                                                    40
1 hot cocoa.                                                                                 22.  (210 subtotal)
soup - 1/2 a pot*                                                                      100
salad*.                                                                                          20
another green apple*.                                                               40
1 or 2 nairns oatcakes with fruit.                         (1)  44
1 or 2 boiled eggs and more salad.                       (1). 70. (484 subtotal)
Lots of water
Blueberries for a snack*.                                                            8
Late night cocoa.                                                                       22 (514)

* my five-a-day

I'm still swimming and walking. Hopefully moving furniture and gardening count as exercise as it's rained so much it's been impossible to do anything but short walks some days.
The 5:2 diet does train your body to eat and want less - but I've yet to see this on the scales!
My headaches seem better this month but I have had a few days off as we had to go to see the family - eating habits changed somewhat!


My office now has its desk in it. That's furniture moving par excellence. So I have to get on and finish my novel. No more disturbances now!

Condor Ferries managed to completely change their timetables - 3 months after we booked. So we are now on less good seats and having to be at the ferry in Poole by 9.15 on day 1 of our Channel Islands trip. To avoid complete exhaustion we have booked a B&B 5-10 mins away from the ferry.

It's been gloomy out, no ice, but such a lot of cloud and rain. Bring the sun herewith!!🌞
Had enough of winter. Thank you so much ...🌞

Thursday 21 January 2016


We had a jolly home-grown Hogmanay with friends who live locally. A great start to 2016.Another party at the beginnning of January was fun too, and enlightening - it always is when meeting new faces. I can also celebrate my self-discipline, aswell as my indulgence! I have got back my swimming bug, and we walk to shops or into town instead of taking the car. So exercise is taking more of a priority - and it has to! Soups are the great lunchtime mainstay - so nutritious and no empty calories. A balance in all things. Must look after the body as well the indulgences. In so doing I have tinkered with the 5:2 diet.

Having tried the 500 cals fast as part of the 5:2 diet I realise that may be a bit harsh for me - don't want to trigger migraines - but I can up it to 600 calories and see how I go. 1300 calories seems reasonable for dieting but experts suggest 1000 per day would be counter-productive. I then read 2000 calories a day is usual for a healthy woman. May have to rethink the 5:2!! Food and me. Either eating far too much 🌭🎂🍗 or hardly anything at all 🍒🍏🍲 !

I do love fruit and salads, which is good, so I couldn't quite see the point of the 500-calories-diet leading to the abandonment of the 5-a-day rule.
Far too confusing for little ol' me. If I lose a stone in weight I'll be happy - but can't risk having migraines. So must be sensible. However that new year's resolution is 21 days old and is sustainable - so I hope I'm still swimming, walking and losing weight in another 21 days.

Speaking of celebrations: we going away to Guernsey for my 60th birthday but for the actual day itself we will be in a lovely room with a balcony overlooking the sea at Sidmouth. There is a spa and warm pool in the adjoining hotel so that will be fun. Topaz cottage in Sidbury has been reserved for us at a discount so that can be our 35th wedding anniversary treat. I hope as many girl friends as possible can join me in the warming waters of the Thermae Spa just ahead of my birthday - a party without the catering and clearing up!

In the summer the family are coming from London, the Midlands and Cornwall, we hope, to join us for a summer-time BBQ and more celebrations.

So that's the first six months of this year taken care of. Better do some writing during the rest of 2016.
I lack discipline! I just have too many things to celebrate. But can that really be so bad?

           💻.      🖨.      ⏱.     📒.     📖.      📝.      Or      🍾.       🍰.     🌞.    🎷.     🍓   🎤