Sunday, 21 May 2017

Flanders - 2

Bruges - Brugge - The Bridge

As I enter Bruges, whose name prosaically means Bridge, I meet myself coming out, riding toward me in a carriage drawn by a horse with a noseband that says Do not touch!

I was unprepared to meet my Doppelgänger - perhaps he was as startled as I was - but as soon as I recognised myself, I was gone, the heautoscopic moment was over..... 

But this unsettled me.  Bruges is a city of art. Both a work of art in itself and filled with art. And somehow I found myself confusing the now with the then, there seeming to be a time bridge between the one and the other. People seem to be walking in and out of paintings....

I am attracted to the Hospital of St John, where in about 1477 a wounded German, by the name of Hans Memling, took refuge.  

In gratitude he gifted a number of delicate works to the sisters, including a gothic shrine to St Ursula, which shows her demurely declining to be shot at point blank range.....

Memling may, perhaps, be a bit part player in the world of art, but I found his work entrancing.  This Adoration of the Magi, painted in 1479, otherwise known as the Triptych of Jan Floreins after its patron, would not look out of place in my sitting room, 

And this picture of a woman, painted in 1480, has a dreamy delicacy that went perfectly with the tranquillity of the place.....

And then, when she served us later, in the Cafe Vlissinghe, the oldest inn in Bruges, where Antoon Van Dyck is said to have held court, I was not surprised by her shyness....

There are artists all over Bruges, and it was natural that I bump into Jan Van Eyck on a bridge over a canal.  It is not known where nor exactly when he was born, but he lived, and died, in July 1441, in Bruges, and he was absolutely in the premier league....

I find myself in the Groeningsmuseum, a treasure-trove of painting, guarded by fierce gremlins who may just be left over from the reformation.  Amongst works by Van Eyck and Memling, here is Hieronymous Bosch's appalling (that's a descriptor not a judgement) Last Judgement

and the gruesome Judgment of Cambyses by Gerard David, which shows the surgical flaying of a corrupt judge.....

And then, just as shocking, there is the twentieth century, where I find that two people seem to have stepped out of Edgard Tytgat's 1952 painting of The Tony Herbert Family.....

Get back in the frame!

Outside, another of Memling's models strums a plastic ukulele,  

And, if it wasn't for the sunglasses, I could have sworn these two were somewhere in the crowd on the St Ursula Shrine.....

Slightly overfull of art, I go looking for my Doppelgänger in the Burg, by the great Stadhuis.  But the horses are resting, and a cluster of taxi-men stand waiting for fares.

There's nothing for it, but to melt back into the picture, and believe I was never there. The treachery of images!

Ceci n'est pas une photo.....

Merci, M Magritte!

For know there are two worlds of life and death: 

One that which thou beholdest; but the other 
Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit 
The shadows of all forms that think and live 
Till death unite them and they part no more..

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Prometheus Unbound

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The South Downs Way

What is this life? 


WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

W H Davies

I have been away.  Wandering the hills of my past.

And while I was away, Amanda had two cheques returned as she had changed the dates from 2016 to 2017 without initialling the changes and the bank had rejected them.  I tried to explain that all she had to do was to write her initials by the changes and return the cheques.  But this was hard for her to understand.  As I repeatedly tried to explain, show, clarify, demonstrate, elucidate, unravel and decode the simple addition of a signature or initials to each cheque next to the offending correction, she, and I, became increasingly frustrated, which rather spoiled our morning…..

This, sadly, is what dementia does.

This, sadly, is why I have been away, as in my absence I have walked the 100 mile South Downs Way, from Winchester to Eastbourne - which includes  4,150 metres (13,620 feet) of ascent and descent (not including leaving the way to find accommodation or sustenance).  And I have walked this way, in the company of Ken, my Glaswegian friend and pace-setter, as a challenge to inspire friends and others to contribute to Alzheimer’s Society, to fund research into the various forms of dementia (including frontotemporal which affects Amanda in the form of semantic dementia).  And, to make it a challenge worth supporting, or so I was advised, we did this in 5 days.

The norm, is, according to many reliable sources, ten to twelve walking days, which makes a lot of sense, as then you would have leisure to appreciate the scenery, to duck the storms, to lunch in rustic pub gardens, visit friends along the route and explore the villages, churches and castles that lie so temptingly near the feet of these rolling hills.

Alas, five days means no time to stop and stare.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

We stayed Sunday night in Winchester, hard by the house where Jane Austen died.  I hoped this was not an omen, and when the chef did not appear to cook breakfast at the Wykeham Arms I breathed more easily, suspecting we had been spared for the moment.  

Then,  having whispered a prayer in the glorious Cathedral,

and raised our swords to mighty King Alfred, we set off.

The first day’s walking took us out across the streaming M3 and into rural Hampshire.  We passed through the village of Exton and then climbed Old Winchester Hill, which is topped by a magnificent Iron Age fort and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  It was breezy and fine, and the views southwards towards my birthplace at Portsmouth were breathtaking.

We then dropped down and left the trail to find our first night’s accommodation which was just out of the picturesque village of East Meon.  We dined at Ye Olde George Inn, and, as our hostess was unwell we breakfasted there as well, which was lovely, and then rejoined the way.

Up on the chalk downs there is a real sense of being away from it all.  From some of the highest viewpoints there are views of distant conurbations, such as Worthing, Brighton, and Newhaven, but much of the time we are enveloped in the English countryside, mostly tilled and trimmed by centuries of agriculture, though there are also woodlands and open grassy areas. 

For about ten thousand years people have travelled these paths, and in places have left their traces in burial mounds or fortified enclosures.  Villages have ancient churches, some with Saxon or Norman origins; ruined castles, such as that at Bramber, and timber frame farmhouses, hold stories of the changes of our social and political past.

Unfortunately we have no time to stand and stare, so all the landscape and human endeavour and natural beauty and local interest begins to blur as we tread on, mile after mile, marching left, right, left, right, left…… left, and then skipping to the deuced rhythm of I had a good job when I left, but it served me jolly well right!  that I learned from Mary on the roads near Little Weighton.  The surface is dry, and hard, and feet and legs start to resist and react, though, fortunately, neither of us blister or cramp….

Night follows day; the thrush whistles out the light, and the robin starts us off again.  Day follows day.  Mile after mile.  I think of Harold’s army, trudging south to Pevensey from their northern actions, when the 200 miles between London and York or vice versa usually took two weeks;  in 1066 the Saxons managed 22 to 25 miles a day on the way to Stamford Bridge and then, having withstood Harald Hardrada, they had to return to face William of Normandy…..

Though the way is quiet at this time of year, and we find immense bubbles of time when we are alone but for the sharp reprimands of birds who wish us away, we do meet fellow travellers.  Some, in flashes of youthful energy, or attempts to reclaim such, speed past, their lycra shimmering against the natural dyes of the hedgerows.  Others, like Frank, sprawl comfortably on a bank to rest the feet, while attempting to phone ahead for a camp site. 

Frank - at ease with sore feet and a forty pound pack.

Everywhere, everyone, is kindness.  We hear no talk of elections, nor referenda.  When hosts and fellow walkers alike find we are walking for charity, their instinct is to donate. 

Rebecca and Lesley, at Ditchling Beacon

We swap tales with hosts and companions, and at times enlist the support of sundry walkers to snap our tee shirts. 

Chris, from Kew.  Walking in absentia.

Chris, who is free to roam the national trails in his mid seventies since his beloved wife died of cancer four years ago, warns us of the ups and downs of the seven sisters.  

Andrew - at one with the landscape.

Andrew, whose roots lie in the local chalk, has been exercising on these hills all his life. 

Anna - the key to the future.

Anna, who is scouting for locations for commercial shoots frames us against a view of Eastbourne, such as my mother might recognise from the war, were it not for the carbuncular block of flats between us and the pier.

The way has touched a few historical nerves for me.  The distant sight of Portsmouth, not only reminds me of the days when as a child I watched Russian ships docking from our High Street flat, but also recalls our wedding, when Amanda and I visited David, the then Dean of Portsmouth, to finalise arrangements.  Later on signposts for Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill take me back to my father’s parents, and their haunts.  At the end of the trail we are not far from where my mother’s mother lived at the start of the war, and where my mother served in the WAAF, in mission control, plotting the whereabouts of Bomber Command.

And, poignantly, we reach Beachy Head with helicopters and emergency services in peak action, scouring the sea at the shoreline, and driving iron stakes into the cliff top to secure abseil ropes.  It was here a little less than twenty years ago that my little cousin Isobel found her peace, and all the activity is something of a shock after the days of quiet walking.  A paramedic asks if I am all right, a kind but somehow bittersweet enquiry.  I stumble over Edgar’s words to his blinded father in Act 4, scene 6, of King Lear:

Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles…..

And he concludes, as I would:

I'll look no more;
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.

More recently Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy commemorated this place neatly in White Cliffs:

Worth their salt, England's white cliffs;

And rounded her ode with:

in painting, poem, play, in song;
something fair and strong implied in
what we might wish ourselves.

Stretched, strained, cramped and stiff we pass on and reach the 100th milestone at the edge of town.  A pint of Harvey’s Best in the busy Pilot Inn, and then a lift to our resting place, and we enter our recovery period. 

Back to civilisation - the view of Eastbourne Pier from our hotel window.....

With the joy of retrospect it has been a wonderful walk.  A hundred miles of the best of England’s chalk lands, hills blest with lark song and butterfly dust.  And, with the ever-surprising support of friends and acquaintances from the now and the then (even some of my students from forty or so years ago!) we have been walking at a rate of at least £40 per mile, totally over £4,000, (and perhaps yet more?) raised in support of Alzheimer’s Society.

Thank you Ken, for your patience and pace.  Thank you Penny for seeing us to the start and collecting us at the finish.  Thank you all who have contributed to the funds which I hope may eventually result in managing or even curing this strange blight on our minds we call dementia.

And thank you Amanda for everything:

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.

Psalm 23

I am home now, resting and recovering.  It was a challenge, but it was great.  I loved the open skies and grassy folds.  It was really worth it.

This trek was organised by Paul Allshire of Discovery Walking, to whom we also owe much gratitude, at

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W H Davies

And, having read this piece, should you wish to contribute to Alzheimer’s Society,
please go to:

In Memoriam

Isobel Alice Olivia Baker

1964 - 1998

Friday, 5 May 2017

I remember it well..... Postcards from the here and now

My family, and other vegetation.....

Primary Colours

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That dazzling April moon, there was none that night

And the month was June, that's right, that's right

It warms my heart to know that you remember still the way you do
Ah, yes, I remember it well



*     *     *     *     *     *

And, for all of these and more, I'm walking in the great outdoors:  

100 miles of the South Downs Way, May 8th - 12th 2017, in aid of research into Dementia through support for Alzheimer's Society.  

Please donate, even after the event, via:

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And, for those interested in knowing a little more about the particular kind of Dementia which is affecting Amanda, here are some notes from the Alzheimer's Society

Frontotemporal dementia and younger people

Frontotemporal dementia is much less common than other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia. However, it is a significant cause of dementia in younger people – that is, those under the age of 65. Frontotemporal dementia is probably the third most common cause of dementia in this age group and some studies even place it second most common. It affects men and women roughly equally.

Frontotemporal dementia is most often diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 65. However, it can also affect people younger or older than this, and it is probably under-recognised in older people. Even so, this ‘peak age’ for FTD (the age at which it is most often diagnosed) is much younger than the age at which people are most often diagnosed with the more common types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Being diagnosed at a younger age is likely to present someone with a different set of challenges. They may still be working, have financial commitments or dependent children, and want different services and support.


The symptoms of FTD dementia vary depending on which areas of the frontal and temporal lobes are damaged. A person may have one of three main types of FTD:

behavioural variant FTD

progressive non-fluent aphasia

semantic dementia.

As with most forms of dementia, the symptoms can be very subtle at first, but they slowly get worse as the disease progresses.

Behavioural variant FTD

This is the most common type of FTD. Two thirds of people with FTD are diagnosed with this type. During the early stages, changes are seen in the person’s personality and behaviour.

A person with behavioural variant FTD may:

lose their inhibitions – behave in socially inappropriate ways and act in an impulsive or rash manner. This could include making tactless or inappropriate comments about someone’s appearance

lose interest in people and things (apathy) – lose motivation, but (unlike someone with depression) they are not sad

lose sympathy or empathy – become less responsive to the needs of others and show less social interest or personal warmth. They may also show reduced humour or laugh at other people’s misfortunes. This can make the person appear selfish and unfeeling

show repetitive, compulsive or ritualised behaviours – this can include repeated use of phrases or gestures, hoarding and obsessions with timekeeping. It may also include new interests, such as music or spirituality

crave sweet, fatty foods or carbohydrates and forget table etiquette. They may also no longer know when to stop eating, drinking alcohol or smoking.

It is common for a person with behavioural variant FTD to struggle with planning, organising and making decisions. These difficulties may first appear at work or with managing finances.

In contrast to those with Alzheimer’s disease, people in the early stages of behavioural variant FTD tend not to have problems with day-to-day memory or with visuospatial skills (judging relationships and distances between objects). Someone with FTD may go walking without obvious purpose but, unlike a person with Alzheimer’s, will often find their way home without getting lost.

Recent research shows that FTD can also affect the sensitivity of people with dementia to physical or environmental stimulation such as temperature, sounds and even pain.

It is unusual for a person with behavioural variant FTD to be aware of the extent of their problems. Even early on, people generally lack control over their behaviour or insight into what is happening to them. Their symptoms are more often noticed by the people close to them.

Language variants of FTD

In the other two types of FTD, the early symptoms are difficulties with language that progressively get worse. These difficulties become apparent slowly, often over two or more years.

In progressive non-fluent aphasia, these problems are with speech – ‘aphasia’ means loss of language. Common early symptoms may include:

slow, hesitant speech which may seem difficult to produce – a person may stutter before they can get the right word out, or may mispronounce it when they do

errors in grammar – a person may have ‘telegraphic speech’, leaving out small link words such as ‘to’, ‘from’ or ‘the’

impaired understanding of complex sentences, but not single words.

In semantic dementia, speech is fluent but people begin to lose their vocabulary and understanding of what objects are. Common early symptoms may include:

asking the meaning of familiar words (eg, ‘What is “bread”?’)
trouble finding the right word, leading to descriptions instead (eg ‘the thing for opening tins’), or use of less precise words (eg ‘animal’ instead of ‘cat’)

difficulty recognising familiar people or common objects.

In the early stages of both language forms of FTD, other mental abilities (such as memory, visuospatial skills, planning and organising) tend to be unaffected.

Later stages

The rate at which FTD progresses varies greatly, with life expectancy ranging from less than two years to 10 years or more. Research shows that on average, people live for about six to eight years after the start of symptoms but this varies widely

As FTD progresses, the differences between the three types become much less obvious. People with the behavioural variant tend to develop language problems as their condition progresses. They may eventually lose all speech, like a person with one of the language variants.

Similarly, over several years a person with a language variant of FTD (especially semantic dementia) will tend to develop the behavioural problems typical of behavioural variant FTD.

In the later stages of all types of FTD, more of the brain becomes damaged. As a result, the symptoms are often similar to those of the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The person may become less interested in people and things and have limited communication. They may become restless or agitated, or behave aggressively. At this late stage, they may no longer recognise friends and family, and are likely to need full-time care to meet their needs.

Treatment and support

Researchers are working to find effective new treatments for FTD, but there is currently no cure and the progression of the disease cannot be slowed. Treatment tends to focus on helping the person live well by easing their symptoms and supporting them and those around them.

Supporting a person with FTD usually requires input from a team of professionals. These can include a GP, community nurse, psychiatrist and speech and language therapist. When someone has problems with movement or co-ordination, support from a neurologist, physiotherapist or occupational therapist is often needed as well.

Caring for someone with FTD can be particularly challenging, because of the person’s age and the changes in behaviour and communication.

Behavioural changes

Many people with FTD continue to lead an active social life for some years following diagnosis, but changes in their behaviour can begin to make social situations more challenging. It can be less stressful for carers if they try to accept awkward and potentially embarrassing behavioural symptoms as part of the disease, rather than confront or correct the person, unless the behaviour poses a risk of harm.

The person with dementia will generally lack insight into their condition or the impact of their behaviour on others. They will also generally not have much control over their actions. When a person with FTD behaves inappropriately in public, it can be useful for the carer to try to remove any triggers for this behaviour, or distract the person with something else.

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How often I've thought of that Friday, Monday night
When we had our last rendezvous
And somehow I foolishly wondered if you might
By some chance be thinking of it too?


I Remember It Well 

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.