24 August 2023

Where has all the power gone? Part 2

 And life only.....


To take up where I left off....  After the Power Station and views across the mighty metropolis, I wandered a while, wondering why an Iranian car might need to be on the pavement.....

But it's none of my business....

It isn't my business.

I am only a passer-by.  A passer-through.  I should not be questioning the rights (the wrongs?) of others.  Like when a cyclist approaches me on a footpath and says, Hi.  Good morning! and I want to say, Fuck off, this is a footpath, not a bridle path, I know that if I do, then I will be the recipient of abuse.....

So I don't question an Iranian vehicle on the pavement.....

I was in the National Portrait Gallery, recently reopened after a touch of varnish. I see parliamentarians on the wall while weary visitors take little notice:

And Katherine Parr twinkles down at me from 478 years ago.  The wrinkles of power so flat in two dimensions:

Sunday morning, I return to the 'village' of Harpenden for a memorial gathering to remember my friend Irene.  I stop for a while with Colin, whose late wife was so dear,  then we walk round the corner to socialise with those who still stand.  It is great, but sad, and tinged with my own memories of how we all used to gather in each other's houses, when Amanda was well.....

Colin used to be in the Navy as codes man and so we discuss the use of Enigma machines and the way that his code books used to have lead bound into them so they would sink should circumstances demand they had to be jettisoned....  And he has some Bristol Cream.....  So, so normal....

Then back to Kentish Town for a BBQ with daughter Hannah and friend Michael.  

Under the supervision of Denmark (the Prince of):

I am an atom in the whirling life of London. There is everything going on and most of it is way beyond my comprehension.  

Piccadilly Circus is alive, citizens of the world abound:

Someone sings:

Someone dances:

In Leicester Square someone juggles blades:

Nearby a sincere young man sings:

Though not everyone cares very much:

And there are those who want to keep moving:

And those who don't:

In the French House young women are relaxed:

And outside young men dance (after a fashion):

Opposite the Ritz I spot a yellow car:

And in Berkeley Square no nightingale sings, but I note that a Ferrari is for sale at a few pence less than half a million quid....

Then at the Connaught Hotel, where a single room for a single night will set you back £1,000 at least, there is a nice big white Rolls Royce with a Qatar number plate:

Oh, I would like a Qatar number plate.  No need to worry about parking.  No need to worry about ULEZ, nor the Dartford Crossing.  

And I might like to stay at the Connaught (though I guess I might feel a little out of place....)

Perhaps just a drink? Though an 1893 Sidecar, celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the Sidecar, a combination that pays homage to one
of the finest Cognac from that era (Adet 1893, Cointreau 1980s, fresh lemon juice), will cost you just £1,400.

There are many ways of interpreting power. Money has its effects. Brute strength has its way. The significant reluctance of Nadine Dorries to follow up her threat to resign shows the shabbiness of some tired and shallow people. The fall from grace of a private Embraer Legacy aircraft travelling from Moscow to St Petersburg yesterday suggests that no one is invulnerable.....

But power still throbs through our societies. I remember the thick cables that powered the Electric Arc Furnace at Brown Bayleys Steels Limited, Leeds Road, Sheffield. They were several inches thick, and as the furnace was powered up, they twitched and switched as if possessed. 

I'm out of here.

And if my thought-dreams could be seen

They’d probably put my head in a guillotine

But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

Bob Dylan


I make a point to appreciate all the little things in my life. I go out and smell the air after a good, hard rain……. These small actions help remind me that there are so many great, glorious pieces of good in the world.

Dolly Parton

22 August 2023

Where has all the power gone? Part 1

It's life.....



Although the masters make the rules

For the wise men and the fools

I got nothing, Ma, to live up to



My daughter, Hannah, and I travel to Putney to see my aunt. Eve, my mother’s younger sister, was born in Kerala in 1925, and at 98 she smiles, but cannot get up. She speaks, but cannot hear. Her powers are, inevitably, fading, but we communicate by means of a whiteboard, and drink a glass of water together.  She is less mobile now than when we celebrated her birthday in March, but her spirit is still strong.


She is in the front room of her home, visited briskly three times a day by social workers who get her up from her bed in the morning, help her to the toilet, and then put her back to bed in the evening. Not really very different from my wife, Amanda’s, routines (Although Amanda is in a care home now.)


We do not stay very long. I feel guilty but Eve is tiring and I have a ticket to ascend Lift 109, 109 metres up the north-west chimney of Battersea Power Station, whose website pronounces the following:  






Battersea Power Station’s silhouette has long been a prominent fixture on the London skyline. Built in the 1930s and operational as a power station until the early 1980s, at its peak, it generated one fifth of London’s power. Since then, the building has provided us with a whole lot more than electricity, becoming a cultural icon after acting as a backdrop for an array of films, music videos, album covers and more.


Which, I suppose, was brilliant. Powering one fifth of London’s power.....  But who has the power now? Well, on the 4th July, 2012, on the Channel Island of Jersey, a Malaysian consortium comprising Sime Darby Berhad, S P Setia Berhad and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) acquired London’s iconic Battersea Power Station for £400 million.


For S P Setia, one of the leading property developers in Malaysia, the Battersea acquisition is part of its strategy to seek out good opportunities in selected international markets to expand its operations, in line with its long-term objective to become a global property player. At present, the Group has presence in Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, China and Indonesia.

Sime Darby is a Malaysia-based, diversified multinational employing over 100,000 people in more than 20 countries. They are involved in key growth sectors, including: property, motors, industrial equipment, energy & utilities and healthcare. Founded in 1910, its business divisions seek to create positive benefits in the economy, environment and society where it has a presence.


And all of this may be fine, but I cannot help but think there is an irony somewhere. Wasn’t Brexit sold as Making Britain Great Again, a populist rant against ‘foreign’ interference?  


Standing atop the 109-metre chimney of the refurbished ‘Power’ Station I feel very small, and very powerless.  Almost (in the face of this mega-building packed with merchants, victuallers and accommodation) as frail as my aunt, bless her, is now.


I think, for a moment, about Britain’s greatnesses: – 


RailwaysSeven UK railways are operated or partly-operated by Dutch state railway Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), including Merseyrail, Scotrail and the West Midlands Railway. Seven railways are operated fully or partly by French state railway SNCF, including Transport for Wales and the Thameslink.


WaterworksOver 90% of the English water companies are owned by international investors, private equity funds, and banks. Only 8.5% of shareholders in the water sector are UK pension funds....


Energy:  If you are looking for a British owned energy company within the “Big Six” then you might struggle. In fact, it's only British Gas and SSE who are British owned. EDF, E.ON, Npower and Scottish Power are all internationally owned.....


Car companies:  Morgan is the only entirely British-owned and British-made car company on the list of UK car manufacturers. Only a few hundred cars are made every year at their factory in Malvern, Worcester, hence the waiting list for a Morgan can be up to 2 years.  Rolls Royce and Mini are owned by BMW; Audi owns Bentley; Jaguar Landrover belong to Tata;  the Chinese state motor company SAIC owns MG, and Opel (now owned by Stellantis) wholly owns Vauxhall.... 


Steel: In March 2020, British Steel was bought by the Jingye Group, a Chinese multi-industrial company specialising in iron and steel manufacturing. Port Talbot steelworks are owned by Tata (who, apart from owning Jaguar Landrover, also own Tetley’s tea....)


Energy companies:  Approximately 60% of the UK energy supply comes from abroad: from countries including Norway, Qatar, Sweden and the Netherlands, among many more. Around 60% of the UK's natural gas imports come from Norway, and 30% of it comes from Qatar....


I feel powerless.....  It is all beyond me.  I never have understood economics.  Nor politics.  I don’t apportion blame.  I don’t claim any high ground.


But isn’t there something fundamentally awry? This puny island nation voted by a narrow margin to leave the EU on the grounds that ‘we’ could take back sovereignty.  


Bring it on.....


For them that think death’s honesty

Won’t fall upon them naturally

Life sometimes must get lonely


Bob Dylan


It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)


15 August 2023

What a Wonderful World

Consider the Lilies.....


I was in Hastings, and I witnessed a strange thing. I was walking along the front, near the fishermen’s shacks and the miniature railway when a juvenile Herring Gull smashed into the top of a metal flag pole. The bird plummeted awkwardly to the ground, stunned - at least. And then, within seconds, the air was filled with the sound of concerned adults – gulls which either knew the youth or recognised it as one of them – and they were clearly concerned. Their cries were a mixture of, Get up, little one, get up, and What happened here?  Is he/she all right?  Fifty or more gulls all wheeling in the air crying, watching, disturbed, concerned.


Very slowly, and dazedly the little one raised its head, looking uncomfortable as it regained consciousness - but it was alive. The crowd dispersed, leaving only a few (close relatives, perhaps?) to watch how the story would end.


Later that day, I was in Winchelsea, where my uncle Peter (one of my godfathers) and my aunt used to live.  My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, died in 2014, and is buried in the graveyard of the church of St Thomas the Martyr, Winchelsea, just yards from their former home.  Peter and his wife, Theresa, had five children, and we were all gathering to celebrate the life of my aunt, who died in November 2022.  A service in the church was to be followed by the interment of her ashes in her husband’s grave.


And so they came. From Australia, from Spain, from France, London and the Midlands, etc. melding as a family to remember their lives together and to celebrate their parents.  


Not exactly like Herring Gulls, but I couldn’t help but feel the uniting power of family as we gathered.....  It is surely a common feature of life that caring is important, and that the closer you may be related the more you care. This may not be universal, and there will be exceptions.  But family is so important.

The family, August 2013


I have sixteen first cousins (though sadly they haven’t all survived) and these relationships have been a sustaining element of my life.  Of course, we do not/cannot meet that often, but one of the distinct features of family is that even after years of separation you can pick up on the threads of past encounters. We have known each other all our lives, give or take, and our parents were the natural coefficient that brought us together.

Theresa, Anna and Peter, Winchelsea, April 2012


My mother, Anna, had two brothers and one sister. Her younger brother, Peter, met and married Theresa in a flurry of love in 1963.  I remember well their first visit to our family home.  Theresa was light and frothy, a Saumur amongst red wines, and her tinkling, descending-scale laughter was etched on my mind from the very start.

Peter and Theresa's Golden Wedding, August 2013


I will confess that I never knew her as well as I felt I knew my uncle, but throughout the years, visiting her and the family in places from Weybridge to Tarvin to holidays in Lowland Scotland to retirement in Winchelsea, she always made us welcome, however inconvenient we may have been.  

Anna, Peter, Theresa, Eve, August 2013


When Peter was in hospital toward the end of his life, I met with Theresa and we shared something of the unhappiness of things unravelling. And then, when Peter was no longer there, I visited her in their home in Winchelsea with Amanda, who was already suffering from her particular dementia. We took tea and she smiled sweetly.  I have no hesitation in saying that, with the possible exception of my wife, Amanda, Theresa was the gentlest, sweetest person I ever knew.  If only more had her qualities....


Then the end game. And the end. We don’t need to rehearse details. The ending is not what we want to remember. We must hold the positives. The good times. The shared meals, the walks, the sunshine in the garden, the flowers, the strutting cats, the freshly laundered bed linen that says, You are welcome, and the tea, by the fire.....

Yew Tree Platt, Winchelsea


It isn’t the same for Herring Gulls.  Wild life is wild, and, beautiful, and we have come away from that. We care for each other, but, generally, not by flying round in circles, squealing. We take our place in church pews and shed sad salty tears and then turn to each other and smile, in remembrance. 


But, in fine, it remains the same. We are, essentially, close to our friends and family, and we feel love for our kind.  I love my family, and every loss, every memory, matters.



Thank you, Theresa, for being a part of our lives.



Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.


Luke 12:27 KJV


After the memorial. After the reception. When the family had departed. I went back up to the church, and stood under scudding clouds, in brisk air, to view the grave where now aunt and uncle were together again, 

to stand outside the house where we had all stayed at times, to wander back down across the fields where once we had walked and talked.

The sun was slipping away, deepening the colour in the sky, but every darkening is a lightening somewhere else.  The dying day is also the beginning of a new one.


Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.


As that extraordinary Zen master, William Shakespeare, put it:


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.



Act V scene 5



Consider the lilies.....






 In Memoriam


Theresa McMullin


February 1st 1938 - November 21st 2022


6 August 2023

Piano Concerto No. 2 (Rachmaninoff)

Going out with the tide.....

This morning I rose early.  Yesterday it rained, miserably, soaking my hopes of a useful BioBlitz at Wild Ken Hill, but today dawned well, despite the wind.

So I determined to walk to RSPB Snettisham to see and photograph the Whirling Waders before walking on to see (my wife) Amanda in her Home at Heacham.  

I was underdressed and the northerly wind was brisk and chilly, but eventually 32,000 Knot rose from the rising tide on the Wash, together with a large number of Oystercatchers, and whirred overhead to the shingle bars in the safety of the tideless lagoons behind.

Every day is different, but when the conditions are favourable, the human observer on the shore may see shoals of birds flinging themselves up and overhead.  The RSPB promote these as "Snettisham Spectaculars," or "Whirling Waders."  Many visitors confuse them with "Murmurations" as in the great flocks of starlings that fall to roost in many places.  Locals may refer to them as "Tangles of Knots".....

It doesn't matter.

Bird watchers, twitchers, photographers and others (including me) gather early in the mornings to see these wonders.  Over the winter thousands more Knot will join here from their breeding grounds in the far north, so they can feed from the rich mud of the Wash.

Behind the Sea Wall there are lagoons of safety, protected from the rising tides, and it is to these that these canny waders retire when the waters become too difficult.

Spooked perhaps by the turbulent winds they take their time to settle, but in their thousands they do eventually find a tiny space of sanctuary until the tide begins to fall and they can return to the muddy spaces where they can sift and forage.

But I have to make tracks.  I have miles to walk, to visit Amanda in her Care Home, where the tide of her life is going out.  I walk nine miles overall and my knees and feet are tired and bruised.  Nothing really.  The upside is that as I enter the Home I think that perhaps she recognises me and brightens.....  There is no way of telling, as she is non-verbal now, but it heartens me to imagine that perhaps she knows who I am.

She would love the clouds of birds.  She would be delighted to walk the shingle paths and see the watchers by the water.  But, we have to genuflect to the ghastly truths of life.....

Then, in the evening, alone in my capacious home, I tune the radio to a Promenade Concert and a young man (Alim Beisembayev - born in Kazakhstan in 1998) plays Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Number 2.  How does he do this?  His fingers dance across the keyboard, his mind controls the pressures applied, but he has memorised the work and doesn't leave the orchestra behind.....  Not only dazzling, but beautiful.

Romanticism is not (yet) dead.  Tears come to my eyes as I wish Amanda could enjoy this too....

Although this is not connected to the flowing music of Rachmaninoff, Chapter 30 of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield rises in my mind:

The probability of his ever doing so, appeared to me, when I saw him, to be very small. He was lying with his head and shoulders out of bed, in an uncomfortable attitude, half resting on the box which had cost him so much pain and trouble. I learned, that, when he was past creeping out of bed to open it, and past assuring himself of its safety by means of the divining rod I had seen him use, he had required to have it placed on the chair at the bed–side, where he had ever since embraced it, night and day. His arm lay on it now. Time and the world were slipping from beneath him, but the box was there; and the last words he had uttered were (in an explanatory tone) 'Old clothes!'

'Barkis, my dear!' said Peggotty, almost cheerfully: bending over him, while her brother and I stood at the bed's foot. 'Here's my dear boy—my dear boy, Master Davy, who brought us together, Barkis! That you sent messages by, you know! Won't you speak to Master Davy?'

He was as mute and senseless as the box, from which his form derived the only expression it had.

'He's a going out with the tide,' said Mr. Peggotty to me, behind his hand.

My eyes were dim and so were Mr. Peggotty's; but I repeated in a whisper, 'With the tide?'

'People can't die, along the coast,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'except when the tide's pretty nigh out. They can't be born, unless it's pretty nigh in—not properly born, till flood. He's a going out with the tide. It's ebb at half–arter three, slack water half an hour. If he lives till it turns, he'll hold his own till past the flood, and go out with the next tide.

With love from North-West Norfolk