12 July 2024

Dignity in Dying.....

Another one bites the dust.....


The Grim Reaper has struck again – in my family, twice in six months.  First Amanda, my partner of some forty-five years.  Now, Meadow, our cat, my friend for nearly seventeen.


Some may say there’s a difference, and, of course, there is, but having lost my wife in February, it seems a cruel twist of fate to lose my remaining housemate so soon after.


Not everyone will agree with me – they rarely do – but I don’t see life as being anthropocentric. Yes, OK, I will admit that I am a little wary of total equality – I mean, I will swat a mosquito against the hotel wall if it needles my sleep, and I think I would prefer a world without crocodiles or slugs – but that apart, life is life and this world only makes sense because there is life on it (for the moment).  


I am not a Jain, nor am I vegan, but I do sometimes feel sorry for the carrot I chop up into my pasta sauce.  But, bear with me, that is not the point of this piece, (you sigh?)


The simple point is that our cat died quietly and simply with a lethal injection administered by the vet, here, in my study, just two hours ago. She had been ill for a while, losing weight and eventually not eating or even drinking.  The vet believed she had a lymphoma in her intestines. I tried to nurse her (the cat....), but she lost strength and agility and became thin and very unsteady.  Although I would (I think) have preferred Meadow to shuffle off in her sleep, oblivious of anything but cat dreams, organisms don’t usually do that, as they struggle to survive (otherwise some would not live at all).


As indeed was the case with Amanda.  Her diagnosis of dementia came in in her mid-fifties, her death at the age of sixty-nine.  The first few years were manageable, though little difficulties became big ones, and slowly she lost the capacity to speak or to reason, or to look after herself.  The last few years were a torment for her, unable to communicate and eventually unable to move.  

From this......

Yes, I appreciate there are many reasonable arguments against pulling the plug on a human life.  Yes, it is somewhat different to that of a pet animal – not least in that no relative is going to say they disagree....  But, although Amanda and I never actually discussed assisted dying – and that may well have been because we didn’t realise how it was going to be until it was too late – I am confident that had she been able to speak or write or communicate in some way, she would have asked to be released from the mortal coil long before the agonies took her breath away.


To this......

And I know that when my time approaches, if I am able, I will book myself a place in Switzerland, or Belgium, or wherever will have me, to avoid the indignity and the pain of an extended demise.


Meadow was suffering, but she faced her end with a calm resignation.  No fuss.  No attempt to have one last chase around the garden. She went willingly (or so I imagine).  If only Amanda could have called in the vet..... 


Now rest in peace, my loves.  Thank you both for all the years of love and happiness. 


For what it is worth, I would support the legalisation of assisted dying. I would advocate safeguards, though I don’t think it should be made too complicated.  If possible, the dyee (is there such a word) should be able to have an opinion, but where this isn’t possible, then the next of kin should have a say, and at least two doctors should also be consulted.  I don’t (yet) know how the system works in Switzerland, Belgium or other countries, but it would seem that it has been working for some time and I haven’t read about too many people who have requested a reversal of the deed.


I suspect that one of the obstacles in this country may be our parliamentary system where Members of Parliament are fearful of making decisions (or taking stands) that may be either against their party lines or potentially unpopular. There are also religious considerations, but I personally don’t believe that any god should have the last word, so, even though you may believe that, please keep it to yourself. 


So, if Meadow can be relieved of her suffering in such a clean, painless and dignified way, why the hell can’t I?


RIP Meadow Gibbs


Post Script:  I have just read today about the ordeals of Miranda Tuckett and Sue Lawford, both of whom were arrested and held in cells after returning from accompanying a British woman who took her life at Dignitas in Switzerland. They were arrested and investigated on suspicion of encouraging suicide. Miranda Tuckett, who is researching a doctoral thesis on Britons going to Switzerland to take their own lives, is bringing a high court claim for damages abasing Dyfed-Powys police for false imprisonment, breach of her academic freedoms and assault and battery (The Guardian).


Assisted dying in this country is not without its history and it is time to legalise it.  I once knew a nurse (whose father, for the record, was a prison governor) who told me that in her hospital it was not uncommon for doctors to write on severely ill patient’s notes, Brompton Cocktail, TLC.  She was in no doubt that the dose administered was intended to be fatal.


This is what Wikipedia has to say:


Brompton cocktail, sometimes called Brompton mixture or Brompton's cocktail, was an elixir meant for use as a pain suppressant dosed for prophylaxis. Made from morphine or diacetylmorphine (heroin), cocaine, highly-pure ethyl alcohol (some recipes specify gin), and sometimes with chlorpromazine (Thorazine) to counteract nausea, it was given to terminally-ill individuals (especially cancer patients) to relieve pain and promote sociability near death. A common formulation included "a variable amount of morphine, 10 mg of cocaine, 2.5 mL of 98% ethyl alcohol, 5 mL of syrup BP and a variable amount of chloroform water." Brompton's cocktail was given most in the mid twentieth century. It is now considered obsolete.


In popular culture it also came to be associated with medical euthanasia. According to legend (and perhaps in fact) doctors would provide a large dose to terminally ill patients who wished to die.


I’ll have mine with ice and a twist of lemon, thanks.....

Every eight days a Briton travels to Dignitas for help to die. The absence of an assisted dying law forces dying people to take drastic measures to control their death.  

For more on this, please see:


4 July 2024

Italia Bella

Eros in Italy  (No, it's not quite what you think....)

It is hard to know where to begin - and hard to imagine the end..... 

Every beginning is an end, and every ending is where something new begins, perhaps?  Fifty years or so ago my life had a new beginning in Rome, and then, some years later, with Amanda, we started a new life in Trevignano Romano, on the shores of Lake Bracciano.

Nothing matters as much as love.  Eros.....  Love, love as concentrated affection between people.  And Amanda and I bathed for years in the music of Eros Ramazzotti - not a household name in the UK, but a borgataro from Cinecitta Est who has sold more than 60 million records around Italy and the world.  

I'm a peace loving man 
But I'll take the blows 

This is not about him.  This is about love in many ways.

I love Italy.  Not the Italy of Mussolini.  Not the Italy of Andreotti.  Not the Italy of Berlusconi and not the Italy of Georgia Meloni.

I also love the archipelago around Britain (including Ireland) which is not to say I love the United Kingdom, nor the Flag of St George, nor the successively appalling governments of recent times.


I love these lands and their peoples, their contours, their freshets, their customs, their flora and fauna, their drinks and their foods......


Maybe I have 
No grounds to feel jealous 
But I'm just a guy 
Who's gotta say it like it is

I am in Tolfa, whose ruined castle on the hill is a symbol of just how difficult life was when feudalism was the rule and rich and poor had almost nothing in common (except life, perhaps.....)

Yes, the ruins look down on the town:

And on the country:

But from these insecure heights, the sound of a band wafts up on the evening breeze.  Strains of Verdi, tunes from Rossini, ooms and pahpahs gild the soft evening air:

I must be sure of your love 
On that I exist 

It is the Sagra del Prosciutto, and for four Euros I have the most delicious ham sandwich with a glass of robust local red wine that could be desired (by a meat eater, admittedly!)  Eros may have been passionate - but he had to eat......

A smile can be many things - often associated with fear - but here a gentle lifting of the lips signifies an enjoyment of the things that matter.....

I'm a peace loving man 
But I'll take the blows

Anyway, I have to move on......

Difenderò l'amore mio 
Come solo so battermi io 
Posso farlo però 
Solamente se c'è 
Più di un motivo 
Per esser sicuro di te

It is only music.  It is only words.  I pass through Bracciano where plaques on the walls remind us that Anthony Burgess (Scrittore e Musicista) lived here, and Comm. Peter Nichols OBE (Il Grande Giornalista Scrittore Inglese) lived there.....  [I remember the day the latter died:  E morto quel'inglese, someone cried....]

I make a detour to Canale Monterano, a discarded cartridge of my life, where Gian Lorenzo Bernini left two stone lions:

And Amanda and I ventured gingerly within the walls of the Chiesa e Convento di San Bonaventura, tenderly imagining life as it might have been before malaria and the French Jacobins drove people away.....

Is there someone 
To whose heart you would run 
Just tell me now 
Darling, I will be gone

And so, back to Trevignano Romano, where Amanda and I created a nest in which to raise our two fledgelings..... Back to witness solemnities of marriage. Not, as here, in the Parochial Church of Santa Maria Assunta, crowded by alarming baroque decorations:

But in the tranquil garden of Tenuta Il Possesso, where the smiling Lady Mayoress proclaims my daughter Sarah shall be wedded to Marcel under the flickering shade of an ancient olive tree:

Tutto ciò che sento mio 
Il mondo che ho costruito 
Intorno a te 
Per questo io pretendo 
La tua lealtà

There are some cool dudes in this town.  It has grown since we first came here, and all things change, but there's a good vibe.  The family gather to take Amanda for a final swim in the lake, our tears salting the otherwise calm and sweet waters.  We drink spritzes and smile, comfortable in our memories, sad in our hearts, but happy in the continuity that we share.....

Late in the evening, a sprinkling of fairies delight the village with their innocence - Italia Bella!

And then my last evening is spent alone, just me and my memories under the great pines of the piazza:

In the morning  it is the sky that is crying:

I don't back down 
When I've got my feet on the ground 
I'm a peace loving man 
Posso farlo però 
But I'll take the blows 
Solamente se c'è 
As long as you want me 
Più di un motivo 
That's all I need to know 
Per esser sicuro di te 
That's all I need to know 
Per esser sicuro di te

Eros Ramazzotti/ Adelio Cogliati / Vladimiro Tosetto

Have a wonderful life, Sarah.  It is what your mother would have wished....

29 June 2024

Arrivederci, Roma

Arrivederci, Roma, Goodbye, au revoir

It is now nearly fifty years since I first set foot in Rome, and then it was only thirty years since the end of the Second World War.  How times change?  But then it is over two thousand years since the death of Julius Caesar.....  But who's counting?  Tomorrow may never come, so carpe diem, as someone once said.....

I get drunk drinking my tears.....

It's great to be back in the city.  I meet friends and visit old haunts. Some things haven't changed:

The Basilica of Saint Praxedes, or Santa Prassede

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere

There is a sunny positivity about the city.  I cannot help but smile:

All will be well

Even though some folk may have seen better days:

I walk past places that hold fond memories, like this restaurant on Via Panisperna, where the waiter and the chef played opera music on their radio while we ate and on one memorable night we pushed the chairs and tables back after dinner and danced to a harmonica for someone's birthday.....

And past Trajan's Forum, where in the early hours of a moonlit night, Antonio and I played hoopla with bicycle tyres over the broken columns:

By the Teatro di Marcello, which includes the Palazzo Savelli Orsini, I pay my respects to Iris Origo, author of War in the Val d'Orcia, who acquired this piece of history in the 1950s:

In Trastevere, close by where I used to live, I seek out the quietude of the forecourt of the Church of Santa Cecilia, who was martyred on this site:

Then, wandering past No 169 Via di San Francesco a Ripa, where I lived for seven years, I take a drink in the Caffè di Marzio, where my flatmate Malcolm Farr, Editor of the International Daily News at the time, was stabbed in the stomach one night.....

I wander down the Via della Lungara and detour into the Orto Botanico di Roma, ring necked parakeets (there weren't any of them in the 1970s) squawking in the palm trees, a puff of smoke drifting up over the Gianicolo from the 12 o'clock gun:

The bougainvillea gorgeously in flower and the acanthus modelling for Corinthian columns:

Near here Raphael wooed his baker's daughter while decorating the Villa Farnesina; then a few paces further along someone exploded a car bomb outside the Regina Coeli prison one night, coincidentally blowing me out of my bed - though it is quiet now as a breeze flutters the flags of Italy and the European Union......

Maderno's Fountain cools the Piazza in front of St Peter's, 

While tourists flock up and down the Via della Conciliazione (will the UK ever be reconciled?)

And gaze at the city from the heights of Castel Sant'Angelo (Hadrian's mausoleum) from where Benvenuto Cellini made a dramatic escape in 1537, with knotted linen and a leg-breaking jump to round it off.

Time for a little lunch......

Though not at Pierluigi's, which was founded in Piazza de’ Ricci as a small osteria by Umberto Pierluigi in 1938.  I had many wonderful fish lunches (the risotto all crema di scampi is still beautiful) here in the 70s and early 80s, but then Roberto Lisi took over and eventually transformed the small family-run trattoria into an expensive and refined restaurant, now managed with his son, Lorenzo.

No, long lunches in the heat of the day are part of my past, and a glass of fresh white wine and some light snacks are more my idea of heaven, as here at the Antica Enoteca, Via della Croce.  This too used to be a simple place where you could buy loose wine cooled in a marbled refrigerator - now it, like so many places, has gone up-market, but it is still a pleasant place for refreshment:

There is so much to see in Rome - a lifetime is not enough.  The Spanish Steps, next to the room where Keats died (and near the hotel where Tony Soprano met his caviar-infused fate) lead up from the Fontana della Barcaccia towards the Pincio and the gardens of the Villa Borghese:

Across town I bypass the crowds around the Colosseum:

And instead head for the relative peace (hardly a tourist to be seen) of the monumental ruins of the Terme di Caracalla, which is hosting a photographic exhibition (as well as preparing for the opera season - my dad saw Aida here in 1944, and I also saw her here in 1978, remarkable for her age.....)

This bath complex, covering 25 hectares (62 acres) was the second largest in Rome.  It was opened in the year 216 and remained operational until the mid sixth century.  The complex included two libraries (remember them?) and was built over some recently discovered Roman houses whose paintings were exquisite:

As it is some of the mosaic floors are immaculate, using tiny pieces of red and green porphyry, basalt and white and numidicum marbles:

But it is the enormous space that is breath-taking:

Dwarfing the likes of Mat Collishaw, Carlos Labrador, Cecil Beaton, Ilse Bing, Fosco Maraini,  and many more in the photo show:

Outside the sun rains down through the umbrella pines:

And I wander back to my hotel, past the Irish College, stopping briefly (the lovely cloister was closed) at the Basilica e Monastero Agostiniano Santi Quattro Coronati, the only fortified Abbey in Rome:

It is late afternoon, and still very warm, but beneath my room a never-ending procession is passing by, with much music and good cheer.  It is Rome Gay Pride 2024, and it dances its way past for almost two hours, happy in harmony and sunshine:

I am not sure what Mark Anthony would have made of it - perhaps he might have joined in?  Ovid would certainly have taken part....  But, hey!  times change.....

And the sun dims as the corteo disappears past Santa Maria Maggiore:

And night falls.  I will leave Rome again in the morning.  

So, Arrivederci Roma - Until we meet again......

Oh, I nearly forgot!  Someone scrawled a message on a wall for me!

Live and smile about your troubles - I love you Ric!


This post is dedicated to my daughter Sarah and my new son-in-law Marcel

Love to you both

Roma, Roma, Roma
Core de 'sta città
Unico grande amore
De tanta e tanta gente
C'hai fatto innammorà

Antonello Venditti