I’ve accumulated 5,300 miles on my bike. This is the total distance I’ve cycled this year; it’s probably further than I’ve driven in a car. For a year blighted by the restrictions of Covid-19 it’s worth noting that my miles have been achieved in Yorkshire, East Anglia, Northumberland, Scotland, Australia, France, Belgium and Holland. As it’s October (just) then I’ve more tarmac to cover for the rest of the year but it won’t reach my biggest total, in 2014, of 6,775 miles.
One of the ‘new norms’ is talking to my father-in-law, Eric, through his room window. The care home does have a ‘pod’, which is a relatively recent new construction for meeting relatives, but that’s often booked up. So it’s back to talking to him through the window. In cold or wet weather the window is shut and the parties speak to each other on the phone whilst looking at each other, either side of the pane. With autumn here and winter coming then it will be the modus operandi for the next few months. The only hope of getting in the same room is a vaccine. Not easy for families is it?
Talking of inoculations then I’ve tried to spend a lifetime avoiding injections. It’s not natural to stick metal in your arm. My terror started when at lunch in the Ford canteen in the early 80s I was canvassed to see if I’d like to give blood? The very thought of it had me feeling faint and I ended up in the company sanatorium lying down. As you get older then the damn things are harder to avoid and two DVT’s meant a grim regime of daily blood taking etc. Despite my intensive period of being stabbed, I have never got over the phobia. So when the local doctor’s surgery emailed about a flu jab I ‘parked’ this opportunity for more metal to be stuck in my arm. At the same time one of Anna’s elderly gentlemen (yes, even older than me) accosted us as we walked down the street very agitated. He couldn’t get on the NHS website to let him book a flu jab appointment. So step forward ‘Mr IT’. Our friend came round and he was correct; the website link was awful with the necessity to click one calendar nearly 1,000 times for him to put in his date of birth: not easy on a smart phone.
As I’m sorting out the NHS website challenges it did seem timely/manly to book my own appointment. I did. You’ll note by this later communication that I did survive after the stabbing. At the drive-in centre I was asked if I was allergic to eggs? I replied in the negative and was then asked if I had any other allergies? “Only needles”, I honestly replied.
I must be a nice guy or have a Retail Fairy God Mother. I turned up at a cycle shop to try on and collect some cycle shoes. They’d had to order my size in and then forgot to do so, however, they did eventually arrive. (No wonder the internet is viewed as a cost effective place to buy stuff with few stock out issues and easy return procedures). Anyway, they fitted like the proverbial glove and I made my way to the counter to pay. “You’ve got £25 credit on your account”. This was news but in fairness this year I must have spent something toward £5,000 at this establishment. I was happy to forget this credit until another day and pay the required price (higher than the internet!). This couldn’t be done – ’the computer says no’. So instead of paying £74, I paid £25. I came away thinking I must return and pay something extras on another visit. The dentist had made me two mouth guards. This dentist I’ve been frequenting for, probably over 20 years. The guards came to £170. I was staggered and challenged the receptionist, on the phone, in a gentle way. In gentle Yorkshire I said “How much?” They are basically two pieces of moulded plastic I wear when sleeping. (I needed some new ones because I left my last good one in the washroom of a campsite outside Sedan in Northern France. How that discovery must have delighted the cleaners). So I turned up with my debit card to collect and pay. The dentist appeared anxious I was unhappy on the phone. I explained I had been a little shocked but after a long cry and a bottle of Scotch I’d moved on. “We don’t want to leave you unhappy and you’re a long time patient.” No, I was good, here’s the debit card, do your worst. “Well how about £150?” In my mind it costs what it costs but rather than risk an arm lock on needing his services to restore a broken incisor we agreed at £160.
As the lockdown continues then smaller matters are elevated to topics of conversation. The current ‘house rules’ are that we don’t drink everyday or night but alternate nights starting at 6pm earliest. This does mean you wake up with a childish delight realising that the day is ‘alcohol day’. Such are Anna’s cravings she did ponder aloud whether as October 25th would mean the clocks going forward then was 5pm the same as 6pm? We agreed it was.
Other wifely developments include watching the Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a España on TV. To the less aware these are the two major three week professional cycle road races. Coverage is daily either live or as ‘highlight’ programmes. In fairness she has seen the Tour de France in the UK and France but to find that we’re not fighting over the remote control goes to show I was right all along and she should have picked up on this great sport three decades ago (no, I haven’t said this to her). Rumours abound about her migration to clipless pedals: I’ll keep you posted.
In my September blog I mentioned my job of transcribing Eric’s journal. This is a work of many pages where he’s written up his life, it started in 1928. When I last wrote he was a schoolboy on the outskirts of Hull. As I’ve typed more he’s now had a stint as a farmhand working 15 hour days that seems literally barbaric for a young teenager. Now he’s working at the local railway station as a porter. This entails many jobs and in wartime it is quite exotic on occasions with the African American GI’s, ‘ladies of the night’ going about their work and assorted drunks on the track. It is a page turner. Here is an excerpt:
“At times the back shift provided more than its fair share of unwelcome frights and alarms. At ease, seated comfortably, one dark and gloomy night, we were startled by a woman running the length of the deserted platform in high heels, before hammering frantically on the office door. The sound of her hard to come by high heels alerting us to this being something out of the ordinary. In a refined and educated voice, she sobbed “there’s a man laid on the line”. The senior porter, having survived the horrors of WW1, appeared unmoved by this tearful announcement. “Whereabouts is he?” He cheerfully enquired. “Near the Station Master’s house” the woman whimpered. Turning to me, he ordered “get your lamp, we’ll go and see”. What for me had, until then been a quiet evening turned quickly into a nightmare. Dropping into the ‘four foot’, visions of a ghastly mangled body struck me with the force of thunderbolt. In the dark, frightened by what I had to face I hung back, as the senior porter, his headlamp flashing around, strode on purposefully, between the tracks. “Here he is” he announced. Petrified and shaking, not wanting be any part of it, I kept my distance as the body was examined and rolled over. “He’s dead alright.” I was solemnly informed “Dead drunk I reckon. Let’s get him up on to the platform before the next train hits him.” Between us we manoeuvred the man onto the platform and into the nearest waiting room, where we left him, in the tender care of the lady in the high heels.”
I have to advise that the household has increased to three. We have had two visits by a badger who has set (geddit?) about ripping chunks out of the lawn in search of larvae and insects. Frankly it would avoid a lot of damage if he or she laid out their demands in a note at our front door and I’d find a fishing tackle shop for maggots or some such delicacy. As the Favourite Youngest Daughter commented on a WhatsApp post about this problem – ”bastard”. Quite.
Lastly I leave you with an observation that you will now be struck by. Why are there a lot of men over 50 years old wandering around in shorts. If you go to a supermarket or busy town area there will be someone, usually, overweight disporting these trousers. I wonder whether the cold has disorientated them when selecting their clothes for the day? Sightings will abound now I’ve told you this. No, please don’t thank me.