31 July 2021

Road to Utopia

 Pretty Poison(s)

Years ago I saw a film called Pretty Poison starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld.  It was released in 1968 so maybe I saw it round about then....  It has stuck in my mind, partly because Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates: Psycho) was most effective as the disturbed young man (Dennis Pitt), and partly because I clearly remember the scene where they sabotage a factory which was pouring coloured effluents into a river.  

In my mind that was what the film was about - industrial pollution - and I can still see those pipes of bright fluids spouting into the river water. But now I look it up I find that it's actually about alienated youth, not unlike Terence Malick's wonderful Badlands (1973).

But the title still resonates.  And it tinkles like ice in a glass every time I fix a drink..... which is perhaps why there is the resonance?

A dry martini on a roof terrace overlooking Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome at sunset.....

A gin and tonic in my new home in Norfolk......

A glass of pink wine on a hotel terrace in rural Lazio....

Or a beer and an Arehucas chaser of an evening in the Canaries.....

Yes folks, this is the Road to Utopia.....

Wherever I go I am attracted by the phrase, What's your poison?  Even if it's a rhetorical question, or one whispered by a six foot rabbit (called Harvey) in my ear.....  

And strangely, perhaps, these attractions all have one ingredient in common, which is CH3CH2OH or C2H6O, or ethanol, which, according to my interweb,  has a role as an antiseptic drug, a polar solvent, a neurotoxin, a central nervous system depressant, a teratogenic agent, a NMDA receptor antagonist, a protein kinase C agonist, a disinfectant, a human metabolite, a Saccharomyces cerevisiae metabolite, an Escherichia coli metabolite and a mouse metabolite. It is a primary alcohol, an alkyl alcohol, a volatile organic compound and a member of ethanols. It is a conjugate acid of an ethoxide.....

So gimme a lemonade.....  In a dirty glass.....

I blame my mum and dad....

Or, rather, I thank my mum and dad.  For just about everything.  They never made me drink, but dad's occasional bottle of Tolly Cobbold on the Sunday lunch table, with its enticing neck label of a scantily clad lady, may have influenced me.

Or perhaps it was living in Europe?

That undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

I know it's bad for me.  

But let us be honest, the one thing that leads to death is life.

O for a beaker full of the warm South, 
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, 
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, 
And purple-stained mouth; 
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, 
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


I find great solace in these pretty poisons.  For me a pleasant evening pastime is to sit with a glass and a book.  A pleasure that is redoubled with two glasses; in this case, one of white wine and one with a peach steeped in red wine.  


I do not wish to make light of suffering or illness.  Moderation is almost certainly a good thing, and I am not convinced by Blake's Hellish Proverb that: The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom... Though there is sense in his rider that, You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.

On August 26th this year my friend Truman would have been 109, had his long lease of life not run out a little while ago.  In celebration of his contribution to our collective happiness, friends and family will raise a glass to his memory on that day.  Unfortunately, with Covid and other complications, not everyone can make the trip to Trevignano, but glasses will be raised.  

Just as he raised a good many himself.  Pretty much to his dying day he enjoyed a tumbler of Jack Daniels Number 7, with ice and water, in the evening.

As the song goes:

Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, 

If the women don't get you, the liquor must....

But if you make it to 108 past a few empty bottles of these pretty poisons then there must be worse things?

But back to the film.  Alienated youth is one thing.  Industrial pollution is another.  Neither are good. Both are major headaches.....

Just thinking about it makes me want a drink.....


22 July 2021

Shadow Kingdoms


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 or cows.

I suppose I first became a carer when my children were born, though perhaps I always cared, in some ways, and, indeed, professionally.  I suppose I cared for my pupils when cycling up to the Valley of the Kings in 40 degrees with Elena Kimble on my cross bar (because she couldn’t ride a bike....) for example.....


So, I cared for my children, as one does, and I cared for my wife (who was caring for our children....) 

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.

Then, everything went a bit quiet, as our children decided they preferred us not to care too much (so long as it wasn’t a financial consideration), until.....  My dad got ill, which, I find it difficult to credit, was some fifteen years ago now.  Being well organised, he showed me his filing cabinet, but said he couldn’t give me a date.... and so it goes.  He became ill, and was in and out of hospital. Being the geographically nearest of three sons it was natural that I would to and fro when I could, and take mum to see dad in hospital, or visit them both, or meet them somewhere if the going was good.  This is what one does.  I have no regrets – indeed, it was what I expected and partly, at least, why I moved and took work nearer to their home.


Then he died.  So, I did my best to sort out the arrangements, the finances, etc, and to look after mum.  Of course, I was not alone in this – don’t get me wrong – but I was there.


I visited mum as she coped - so well - with the bereavement; but dementia kicked in, gently, offside perhaps, and she was not able to manage.  So, she moved into care homes....  We sold the house, and, again, because I was there, I dealt with the business and we settled her down....


Or so we thought.


Nothing is for ever.  She had to change home – four times, I think, as they don’t all do what they say on the tin.  But she remained in our vicinity and I kept up the appearances.


Then, eventually, she folded her hand of cards, and was rowed across Lethe.  A serene passing, but not something my wife could understand, as she had already drifted into a form of dementia, the control of language wasting away, like a sandcastle washed by the tides.  As an anecdote, last Christmas, well over a year since we had cremated my mum, Amanda insisted on going to the care home on Christmas Day, only to find, not surprisingly, that we couldn’t get in because of Covid, but also, not surprisingly, because she wasn’t there....


And so I sorted out the death certs, and the banks and the probate and so on, and we moved on, finally, sort of, being released from Hertfordshire, and able to move to somewhere with enough space for a care plan for Amanda....


And here we are.  Amanda, my wife, not quite the wife I espoused, but then in a mirror world I guess she could question the pretence that I was the one she had selected all those years ago...  

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.


And here we are.  


I care. 


And I care because that is what you do.... Till death do us part?  Who now remembers Else (Dandy Nichols)?  Who remembers Al Garnett?  And, inter ales, who might pick out of those memories any real affection or care in the relationship?  Silly old Moo!  


I think it was there.  Johnny Speight had a heart.


We all care, I hope, in our own ways.  Some have heavier crosses to bear, and some walk on water.


At sicksty-seven, Amanda is really quite well.  It’s just that her mind is plated up and the connections aren’t there anymore.  Chewing doesn’t always lead to swallowing.  Needing a wee, doesn’t always mean going to the toilet.  And so I - we - the whole team - are carers.  


Financially this is burdensome. We are currently spending around £2.5K a month to have other people attend to Amanda’s needs some 34 hours a week, though this does not quite mean we can abdicate all responsibility during those hours.  And then, there are still 134 hours a week when, while she may well be resting, she cannot be left alone.


Don’t get me wrong.  I am not lamenting.  Things could be far worse, and I know only too well that many others have been dealt a worse hand than me.  But, for those yet to experience the trials that may come with ageing and slow deterioration, here’s the picture.


You are pretty much on your own.  If you have a heart attack, or break a leg, or perhaps eat yourself into diabetes and kidney failure, the NHS (i.e. the tax payer) will pick up the bill.  For those whose misfortune is to lose their minds (i.e. to suffer from dementia) the responsibility remains with the next of kin, if there are any.


No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

We have been fortunate.  And we are grateful.  We have received support from Queen Square in London and, since our move to Norfolk, from Chatterton House in King’s Lynn, but their resources are limited and stretched.  I cannot help but feel that behind these good people there is a government department energised in getting their agents to keep me alive to look after my wife, so the state doesn’t have to pick up the tab.


And in the meantime?  


Life goes on, all around.  We see disasters here and there on the TV.  We hear of Covid striking down able-bodied postman on our doorstep.  We live on.  We do our best to care, whether for our partners or our family, or for our friends who may have different problems....


I know this is selfish, and who cares?  But I now realise that my carefree life as a youth was a dream.  I had a full life of fun and extravagance and foolishness – and I enjoyed it.  Then I had children and learned to care.  And so it came about.....

And it hasn’t really changed much.  Dad.  Mum.  Amanda. Then girls still seeking true independence.  That seems to be what life is really all about. 



Why should I question it?





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



William Henry Davies

May you stay Forever Young.....

14 July 2021

Where are they now?

 Tigers, c 1960

In the maelstrom of our recent house move, many things came adrift, and I am now in the process of attempting to restore order after the storm.

Just a day ago I happened on this piece of flotsam (above), which floated to my attention in a pile of photos on a bookshelf.  It was still in its presentation card mount, and it has "Tiger's (sic) When I was in Prep 3" written on the back in red ink, in my scruffy hand.  I would have been 8 or 9 years old, and, judging by our clothes, it would have been the summer term of 1960.  I had begun that year in Prep 2, but, with two of my friends, had been moved to Prep 3 during the year, for reasons I am still not clear about.  

If I remember correctly, Prep 2 had Mr Still as form master, a man who inflicted painful punishment on his charges if they made mistakes, usually applying what he called 'inspirationwhich involved pinching some hair behind one of your ears between his thumb and forefinger and twisting it malevolently.  Prep 3 was in the hands of Mr Ireland, I think, who would sit miserably at his desk in the mornings and then suddenly rush to the toilet from which he would return a few minutes later pale faced.  It was only years later that I recognised the symptoms as almost certainly being those of a massive hangover.

Anyway, "Tiger's" (sic) refers to our house, so the front row here would have been the gods from Prep 4 and the back row the squirts from Prep 1.  Quite what our house did, or who was in charge, I now forget, though I assume we competed against lions and warthogs or some other beasts, in football, cricket, athletics, ect ect....

So who were my housemates? It is strange, perhaps, that I have only seen one individual from this group since our various ways parted over the years at school.  One or two stayed on to the sixth form, but several departed prima.  But it is also strange that I remember every face, and something of their characters, even at this distance of time.

The back row are perhaps the vaguest.  From left to right as you look at the picture there's Croke, Tanner, Ede, Folkard and Knowles (and, yes, we knew each other mostly by surnames, though some may have acquired nicknames along the way).  Of the five I can only tell you that Folkard, with his dimpled smile, who was a gentle soul, became an accomplished 'cellist.  The one in the middle, with a slightly tense grin, was Simon Farmer, whose elder brother, Michael, was for many years one of my elder brother's best friends.  They lived on Castle Hill, I think, and we may have visited their home some times.

Tanner, who has something of a blank expression, must have been a boarder, as that tie denotes.  I know nothing else about him.

The next row would have been my exact contemporaries, and there were some characters there.  Cavill - John his first name - stayed on to at least O Levels, and I believe we may have been friends for some of that time.  I may be making this up, but I seem to remember he boarded for some of the time, but later commuted from somewhere like Aylesbury, or Chesham Bois?  I recall he made us laugh.

That's me, with the dark hair and nervous lips, next to him, and then there's Julian Alcock, another boarder, who may have lived in France, as you may discern from his facial expression (??? What do you mean?  Ed.  Just imagine a Gitane drooping from those lips.  Maybe a ballon of vin ordinaire in the right fist?  Oh, Hell.  Am I a racist?  You need a therapist, Ed.  Next thing you'll have him in a beret with a string of onions round his neck and a bicycle under his arm.....  OK OK, but I nevaire leeved in ze UK when zey 'ad 'Allo 'Allo!

Next to him is Alex Mackintosh, the only one to have his top button done up without a tie.  He lived up Cross Oak Road, on the left, not far from the Millers....

Brown, Andrew? was the son of the vicar of St Mary's, Northchurch, where my grandfather had been choirmaster and organist many years before, and where my granny had helped stitch the Mother's Union flag (or was it Women's Institute?  I expect it's still there.). The happy look on Brown's visage suggests a well balanced home life, and in truth I think it might have been.  Later on, perhaps when his father retired, they lived up a lane behind the Rex, and I remember going to a teenage party there one time.

You know the kind of thing.  A beer.  A cigarette.  You don't feel very well.  The person you fancy is with someone else.  The music is loud.  It's hot.  You get into conversation with someone in the kitchen who asks how you don't know you are a figment of their imagination (Steve Harrowell asked that question).  You stumble into the garden.  It's time to go home.

Now Lockhart (Nick, possibly? or Simon?) was, I think one of a family of builders.  And he resurfaced not long ago as one I could have met up with after bumping into two of my old classmates at a memorial service for John Davison, a much loved friend and teacher from our teenages.  I had a subsequent email inviting me to maybe meet up with some others from the dim and distant, and I sort of hesitated.

And the moment was lost.  

But perhaps Lockhart is still there?  Somewhere.    With his engaging and innocuous smile.

Next to him is Hopkins. 'Hoppy.'  A naughty boy.  He lived in the lock keeper's cottage at Dudswell, on the Grand Union Canal, with about twenty (I exaggerate) siblings and would rarely be consistent about attendance or convention or anything.  He used to bring mice in to class in his pockets.  He could also, I am reminded, swallow his tongue.....

Probably became some kind of entrepreneur..... Look at the face.  "What me, Guv?"

And then Marks.  Might have been Lawrence?  Or John (more likely).  A surly, embittered expression.  A boarder, and not a happy one.  Broken family and resentment.  Difficult to know and not one that reached out for friendship.  Given to anger and pain.  Frequently beaten by staff. I really do hope he found peace.

Hargreaves - smiley, laughing, not a care.  The polar opposite of Marks.  Played football like a stick puppet, but laughed like a waterfall. I hope he too found happiness....

Then Manders. Paul.  Son of a hardware merchant in the High Street who loved dancing.  Ever such nice people.  He (the father) died on a cruise ship, in his chair, resting after dancing cheek to cheek with his lovely wife.  Just like that.  And Manders had such a sweet nature.  Not a shred of malice.

Followed by Niggles.  James Niven. aka Jim nowadays.  One of three boys to friends of my mum and dad.  Residents of Anglefield Road and sporty types.  James was the lead guitarist of our supergroup and still aims to make a hit.  The one person in this picture that I have met with in recent years. And hardly changed a bit - still the same skinny cool guy I never really knew.

The front row begins (left to right) with an anomaly.  But Molyneaux was exactly that.  I think he belonged in the back row, being younger than anyone, but he simply wouldn't have shown, so they brought him forward.  He was an absolute clone of his dad, a minister of the cloth, and little David could have preached a fine sermon even in Prep 1.  

Then we have the cheery Morecambe.  I know nothing of him, though I can recall his unusually deep laugh.  Notice he is one of two who wear a watch.  A sure sign in those days of wealth and, perhaps, status.  

Then Rudd. Andrew (not Amber). A good natured soul who later learned a few folk songs with me in our back room, strumming our guitars and thinking we might one day be cowboys.

Then Ian Phillips. A sporting star and probably good at absolutely everything.  He certainly excelled at swimming and cricket and being favourite and all that and was almost certainly the Captain of Tiger's (sic).  Nothing would go wrong for Ian.  He even went out with Jackie Short (after me, I think).

Penultimately Jim Townsend.  Possibly the only one in this picture with more than a smidgen of ethnic minority blood, though I haven't explored anyone else's DNA.  He was certainly one of the first of this disorderly group to own and drive a car, despite his propensity for rolling it in the ditch.....  But that would have been some six or seven years later.  He was a good sportsman too, and, as you can see from his posture, a confident and likeable young guy.

As for Hurst, the blond on the right, look at his arms.  Now look at the whole picture.  Hands on knees, hands in laps, hands behind.  Only Hurst adopts the closed position (with the exception of Marks behind him, who had his own set of angst).  But he smiles.  The cold, hard smile of Greta Garbo - "I vont to be alone....!"

What has happened to this pride of Tigers?  Where are we all now?  Somewhere, perhaps, another of this motley crew is asking the same question, wondering where, and why, I am....  (Though I really doubt it.). 

Life is so mysterious and exciting.  I mean, look at our shoes.  Look at our hair.  Look at our collective girth.  It would be a strange picture of a group of kids today that didn't include a few lads on the chubbier side.  And of course we wouldn't all be so white, or unadorned, or perhaps so well? (And there would probably be gurls....)

I do hope that my notes here will be taken in the spirit of wonder and kindness intended.  My reading of faces is entirely amateur and unreliable, though I did mingle with these chaps on a daily basis.  

I think what is important to me is that we all meet and play with many other beings, but perhaps we rarely think about them (or is that just me?) I can still almost smell these boys, and still their personalities, their idiosyncrasies (barely hinted at above) shine through the sixty or so years of our lives since the snap of that shutter.

But there is something else.  If you look really carefully over my right shoulder there is another face straying past the scene.  Someone who probably didn't know what was going on.  Not a Tiger, obviously, but perhaps a lonely soul, wishing he could be a Tiger, just for one moment.  He is the one who perhaps deserves our attention.  The one who doesn't fit into the picture at all.

Where are they all now?

Where are we?

4 July 2021

A Prayer to an Unknown God

 Dear Lord and Father of Mankind....

Reapers, Grim

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive my foolish ways!
Reclothe me in my rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In deeper reverence, praise.

Swan, Mute
We used to sing this hymn lustily at school.  We sang it in 1966, in a three ton truck jolting up the hills from Warcop, after the World Cup Final (a mere twenty-one years after the end of the war).  We sang it at my father's memorial service.  Although I never knew it was about intoxication, it is certainly one of my favourite songs.

But, I digress.  Dear Lord, I want to confess....

I pray you will listen, discreetly of course, whoever, and wherever you may be.  You must be busy.  I will be brief.

Goose, Greylag

I am a good-for-nothing.  I am unkind.  I am thoughtless.  I am self-centred - I have lived a life of self-indulgence and laziness.  I have never made the extra effort to offer anything to others.

I know that's not unusual, but I want to get it off my chest.  I need to tell you that I am not excited that the England football team have just beaten those poor young Croatians.  And I will be even less content if Southgate's boys get through the next round.... leave alone how upset I will be if they win the final.  Not that I am anti-football.  I do enjoy a good game, and played with great enjoyment in times well past..... I just hate the way this now plays into the jingoism and gloating insularity of the mob, which, I regret to say, currently includes the prime minister and his servile cabinet.  To my mind, this brutish nationalism is a form of racism, a thuggish celebration of completely misunderstood historical accidents.  Scratch any Englishman or woman and just under the surface there will be some trace of immigrant.

Avocet v Egret

No, Lord, forgive me, but I don't like these modern 'conservatives'.  I didn't vote for them, and never will.  I didn't vote for Brexit, either - though of course I see now how wrong I was in opposing it.  The facts, of course, speak for themselves, and how I could have erred in arrogance I no longer understand.

Egret v Avocet

Of course I sympathise with the fishermen, the sheep farmers, the publicans, restauranteurs and hoteliers, but they are just remoaners set in their blinkered opinions, happy enough when they can exploit others, but up in arms when they can't make a living.  Can they not see that 'Sovereignty' is the thing?

Avocet and Egret
And the desirability of sovereignty, Lord, is quite unrelated, as you will know, to any kind of inequality, dominance, exploitation, or even slavery.  [Just ask the Jesuits!]

I mean I have employed people.  I will confess I have paid people to clean our house, though in my misunderstanding I truly supposed they wished to work for me and to be paid.....  But that is another story.....  I digress.  Again.


Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all my strivings cease;
Take from my soul the strain and stress,
And let my ordered life confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

No, Lord, I just have to confess that I don't like everybody [pace, Hilly, this doesn't mean I dislike everybody... it means I do not necessarily like every single person, but I do like some people!], and I am deliberately mean to people, even, sometimes, to my own sick wife.  I would ask you to forgive me, but what right have you to undo my sin?  Who are you anyway?  I went to your house yesterday, and you weren't there.....

I even went to St Botolph's at Trunch, where there is one of only four font canopies in England (the others, in case you have forgotten, are at St Mary's, Luton; Durham Cathedral; and St Peter Mancroft's, Norwich) - but you weren't there!

And today, I went to the Church of St Mary, Syderstone, this afternoon, and you wouldn't even let me in!

And then, to add insult to injury, I get home and find a note from the local vicar telling me she recently bought a small plant and found a pretty pot to put it in.... And, guess what, it flowered!  And this is a metaphor.  As she explains, the word gospel was originally used by the Roman military to proclaim 'The rightful ruler has come' ..... So she concludes, My plant thrives as I give it care in the right environment, and we, likewise, thrive when we have the rightful ruler......

Right on, Caligula!

Lord, give me strength!

Swans pretending to be ostriches to avoid the good news

Sorry, Lord, I know I go on a bit.  

But, as I was saying, I am not a good egg.  I think bad things, like, perhaps this Covid thing is like you flooding the world when Noah was around?  I mean, maybe there are too many of us?

Back to the Byrds/Birds.....




No indeed, you are right.  To everything there is a season.....

I'll give you a metaphor now.  I was at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve at Hickling Broad,  and a very nice man on reception told me that an American Plover had been spotted at a certain point if I wanted to try and see it.  He said 'Ploh - ver,' where I would have thought 'Pluvver' was more normal, but leave that for the moment. 

So I meander round to the viewpoint, and find an army of twitchers, some in full military gear, armed to the teeth with huge cameras and telescopes....

All staring out across the pond at something I couldn't quite determine.

So I took this picture:

Which, as everyone will know, is not an American Plover.  It is, in fact, a Black-winged Stilt, whose name in Czech, for football fans, is pisila cáponohá (and in Danish it is Stylteløber).  {The Italians, never shy of a touch of class, call it Cavaliere d'Italia.}

Now here's the thing.  Were the mass of ardent ornithologists gazing at an American Plover, which I couldn't see, while not seeing this pretty rare visitor?  Or, were we all looking at the same bird, while the gentleman at the gate had seen something else?  

(Yes, OK, so that's not a metaphor..... But it's a damn fine conundrum!)

But it has got long legs.....  (and there is currently - 05/07/2021 - a Pacific Golden Plover at Cley Marshes....  perhaps the same individual I missed at Hickling?  Ho, Hum....)

Anyway, Lord, if you're there.  I just want to tell you I don't know what I'm doing.  And I would appreciate some help, but the thing is, I don't believe in you.  My wife used to believe very much in you, or so she claimed.  But then she got ill, and prayed and didn't get better. I couldn't see how you could be a good Lord, and Father of Mankind as well, and let her, of all people, get sick in such a devastating way.  

Were you punishing me?  Because, if so, why make her suffer?

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

O still, small voice of calm.

Adapted by Garrett Horder from The Brewing of Soma by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1872

Tune 'Repton' 
Hubert Parry, 1888

They are coming.
The reapers are coming.....