Category Archives: Journal

AdBlue, Primož Roglič and Sweet & Sour – Week 39 : 2020

I was musing with the Mighty Jessney about how we couldn’t drive anywhere nowadays without relying on Satellite Navigation. He countered about the astonishing emergence of the ‘miracle’ website back in the day where you could type in an address and get a route to it. From here you’d print it off as a map to help you. I think back to some of the car journeys I made shortly after learning to drive in the 70s, how the hell did I find places in Cornwall and London?

Similarly the resolution of small technical matters can now can be resolved easily. I was sat in Halford’s car park wondering about, the mystery liquid, AdBlue. I only took an interest in the stuff when the warning message came up on the dashboard. A quick Google answered all questions of what it is (a mix of urea and deionised water), what it does (reduces diesel engine nitrous oxide emissions), how much to buy, how to pour it in and a video providing advice on when the warning message would switch off. Frankly any hostile nation could bring the world to a grinding halt by switching off the internet: forget bombs, tanks or a virus.

On the subject of bringing the world to a grinding halt earlier this week I was out on an autumnal evening at a Chinese restaurant near Pocklington. I’d often driven past the Plough Inn but never realised it contained a delicious restaurant. The food and service were exceptional. This large establishment had many ‘covers’ but only five customers. I was glad to discover this place but I genuinely wonder whether I’ll go again. It surely cannot survive on such poor patronage? Its fate is simply a function of folk staying at home due to the pandemic.

Whenever I discuss Covid-19 then nobody’s complacent about the virus. They’re befuddled by what you can or cannot do but are all minded to respect the restrictions. However, like me they ruminate whether the tighter restrictions and the fatal damage to so many businesses, the elevation of mental health issues and the lack treatment for those with other chronic conditions is a price worth paying for the not inconsiderable risk of certain groups of people dying from the virus.

Maybe it’s easy for me to say that as I’m not ill with the virus or haven’t lost a loved one. But if I were to have any ‘skin in the game’ then I’d comment that I lost a hugely enjoyable job and impressive pay cheque when the 2008 Financial Crisis came around. Work wise my life never recovered. One might suggest that I was near enough to retirement and had so many other plans for the future that it didn’t work out too badly. That will not be the case with the many ‘casualties’ of closing down our economy again.

As a consolation it does provide moments of levity. BBC’s Charlie Stayt’s incredulity when interviewing Matt Hancock that the latest NHS App wouldn’t be available to people without smart phones! (No shit Charlie…) Also the ‘comedian’ who suggested that students wouldn’t be allowed to go home for Christmas.

With Anna we visited one of her ‘aunts’ in East Yorkshire. The lady and her husband are 87 and 92 years old respectively. Eric is writing up his life story by hand. Before I’d seen the hundreds of pages he’d already written I volunteered to type it all up. Maybe an error! However I’m currently engrossed in the life of a Cottingham schoolboy and his wartime experiences. During the war Hull experienced 1,200 deaths and around 3,000 casualties. On two nights alone in May 1941 around 400 perished. As a consequence 95% of the housing was damaged and 152,000 people made homeless. Obviously not a place for an eleven year old you’d think. In between the air raid terror he collected, during daylight, razor sharp shrapnel from all the bombs and shells that rained down on the city. These were taken to school for swapping purposes. Land mine craters became play areas and the procession of bomb disposal soldiers provided entertainment from the kerbside as they stacked unexploded ordnance near to his home. What’s clear is that today the government would be under immense pressure to pursue unconditional surrender from everyone on social media rather than experience one day of this hell.

We had a ‘staycation’ in East Anglia for a few days. Suffolk is largely a very attractive and unspoilt county. Lavenham was a great and unique place to stay with its ancient preserved houses. From this base we explored the coast and did this in the finest way: on bike. Anna rode the 55 miles brilliantly from Framlingham to Aldeburgh and then to Southwold before back to the start. It wasn’t very flat and she certainly gained her climbing legs. From here we relocated to North Walsham in Norfolk and cycled out to Mundesley, Cromer and Sheringham. This cycling trip was again in brilliant weather but the traffic and folk out and about was immense for a Monday. We know more about a part of the country I’d never properly spent any time in before.

The house in Lavenham, Suffolk used for the home where Harry Potter was born in the films
Chillin’
The Pocket Rocket
Southwold
I used to work for Aveling Marshall in Gainsborough who made these up until the 1980s.Some are still going strong on Aldeburgh, Suffolk beach pulling the fishing boats
An interesting statue in North Walsham!

Continuing with cycling I had a blissful three weeks watching the Tour de France. It was run later this year because of you know what. The scenery as it wended its way through France remained captivating.

As usual the weather was hot and sunny. I was lucky to spend nearly two weeks cycling up the country in July and it is a fine place to be whenever. My schedule was to watch the race live for a little while in the afternoon or watch the highlights in the evening with Anna. It was a terrific race ultimately between two Slovenians with the dead cert favourite, Primož Roglič, losing the race on the penultimate stage. I cannot imagine how crushed he must have been to have got so close but lost it. He had the best team and the man he lost to had no team! The way this works is that despite the individual’s talent they need a team to support them if they stand a chance of winning. Tadej Pogačar ripped up the rule book at the tender age of twenty one. There’s still the Grand Tours of Spain and Italy to watch next. Bring them on.

Poor old Roglič

The Princess Royal, Cocaine & Look What The Cat Dragged in – Week 35 : 2020

I’ve railed elsewhere on the website about the bias and pre-occupations of the media but the following BBC caption truly irritated me. There were quite a few pieces covering Princess Anne’s 70th birthday and some ‘official photographs’ were published. Why would you notate the size of her land holding? Clearly it’s to cast an aspersion? The Royal Family have a lot of land and money; it’s not news but it does feed into the negative mind set of those who might want reminding in order to meet their daily ‘outraged’ quota.

I’m not much of a Royalist (and don’t get me started on the Honours system) but I do think that the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and their two elder children work or worked very hard. They bring a lot of pleasure to the people who’s lives they touch. When the Queen passes I think a number of things will change about how we view the monarchy as an important influence in our lives.

I helped a neighbour pull out a quantity of bull rushes out from in front of his property. They are attractive but soon take over the lake and are difficult to remove. Happiness is a morning in a deep boggy lake up to your knees in mud. I thought he’d found a neat solution to keep the wildlife off his jetty: he built a fence around it. Around here the ducks sit on the jetties. Unless they’re controlled they leave a foul (as opposed to fowl) mess.

So I girded my loins and made a trip to B&Q to get timber, screws and a saw. (You may have read about my procurement of fishing line to put along the top of the fence in another blog).

The present Mrs Ives has captured me in the water playing at being a carpenter. I’m now hoping I have accumulated a number of domestic house ‘points’ this summer (around the garden) to sustain her tolerance of idleness during the winter.

This leisure might include completing more box sets. I often look around Netflix wondering what to watch. Currently it’s Narcos. This has been out for a while but it had been recommended and so I had a look. Based on the fictionalised account of a true story it follows Pablo Escobar’s drug and murder career in Colombia. It’s terrific. The body count is such that you wonder who’s left in Colombia and is there enough global lead to make all the bullets. Anyway I’m into Season 2 and still horrified at the worldwide misery that drugs bring the countries that produce them and the users who fund this mayhem.

Who said community Facebook pages aren’t interesting? Naughty Tiddles!

I popped up to Northallerton in North Yorkshire with my sister, Ann-Marie, on an errand and ended up watching my nephew’s son playing football. Back in the day I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching Sophie (Favourite Youngest Daughter) play netball when she played for the mighty Rufforth. I remember my father coming to watch me play rugby at school. (He would have been 100 years old this week had he lived). Being a dad on the touchline is a complete delight.  Ted’s a true star and scored six of the eight goals that won the five-a-side contest. 

Ted heading for another goal

He’s got his father’s sporting gift and at seven he’s a wonderful time ahead. Due to the age group the team was mixed. At this age the girls have all the physicality that’s needed to compete. I was staggered by how fearless a couple of them were. Maybe there’s something in this women’s football?

Elsie…. don’t mess with her

Eventually the virus put paid to our Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia jaunt in October. We thought it was coming and it has. We book our stuff with Trailfinders and they are very good to deal with. We received all the money back within a couple of days of the cancellation. The holiday couldn’t take place because of lockdowns but they didn’t get tearful when we rejected rescheduling for 2021. They had no other international holiday destinations available either. If there was anything like a silver lining for them then customers who’ve had all the problems with the advent of the virus have had a magnificent partner to help sort out these complications; not least finding me a flight to escape Australia in March. I know this news will crush you, on my behalf. I can console you by telling you that we have a couple of nights in Bakewell, Derbyshire booked as the consolation. It’s always warm and sunny there and it never rains I’m told (cough).

Record Store Day is usually an annual event (this year it’s three) and some special edition records are released in limited quantities. The records can be vinyl LP’s or singles but there’s a scattering of CD’s. The artists are usually legacy acts and many of the releases are of music that resided in a vault somewhere as an outtake or a live concert and this is their first release. Where it’s not the first time the music has been released you may also get coloured vinyl and fancy packaging. Needless to say this drags out the grey market (!) and I joined early last Saturday. Bliss.

Lastly, I was out on my bike yesterday and was struggling up a hill for over a mile leaving the Yorkshire Wolds village of Bishop Wilton. (This 50 mile circuit brought up 4,500 miles for the year). It hits 15% but averages 8%: I wasn’t cycling very fast. I heard some metallic sounds and feared for my gears when I realised it was horses hooves on the tarmac behind me. Slowly but surely they advanced to draw level. Ahead of us both was a lady with a pram and a horse baulked. Riding at 6mph up a hill is not easy at the best of times for balance but having Trigger towering over you is a further challenge. Slowly but surely the recalcitrant nag was persuaded to go past only to start projecting great clumps of dung in my direction on the road. I usually don’t need a reason to weave on a gradient but I had even more incentive at this point. The rider cheerfully commented that the horse obviously didn’t like me. I had worked that out.

Katrina & Matt’s Wedding – August 8th 2020

It seems like only yesterday that we were at York District Hospital and Katrina was making an appearance. That was 1991. So fast forward 29 years and Katrina was marrying.

Favourite Eldest Daughter

Just thinking about the intervening years makes my head spin. The mental montage includes crawling along on my hands and knees with her on my back when she fell off and broke her arm (she loved the Barbie pink plaster cast), the ridiculous happiness of her visit to Legoland in Denmark, a time when no upset couldn’t be solved with ice cream (orange), my discovering late on Christmas Eve that Santa’s Barbie Camper Van was a two hour assembly kit job, her watching ‘Dumbo’ so many times, many birthday parties with all her school friends at our house, always happy with a book and her own company, being a Brownie, cricket in the back garden, taking her to accompany me to Blues or Country concerts, her school concerts, being Deputy Head Girl, her first student vacation job in France as a cleaner on a large campsite where she managed to drop her mobile into a WC and living in an awful tent that would have been rejected by migrants in Calais, the stressful task of finding accommodation in Berlin with her mother for her university year out, graduation from Manchester University on a sweltering hot day, a variety of jobs in London (NHS, NBC and NSL)  culminating in being the HR Officer for a multi ethnic selection of parking wardens in Westminster City Council, who gave her a parking ticket when she resigned! (and lots of money as a gift), arguing a different point of view to her father’s politics, finding Matt, her now husband, and then moving to Manchester as her career developed with a design engineering consultancy still in HR.

And ultimately becoming a very impressive woman who was a fully fledged adult. Where did the time go?

Anna and I are so proud of our daughters and each of their milestones is imprinted in our heads and hearts. I feel the girls are the best of me or, in other words, me at my best. How could anything feel better than that? Not that I claim much credit for their talent, beauty and personalities but I was around for the journey. So onto Manchester during a further localised Covid-19 lockdown for the nuptials.

Beautiful cake made by Sophie

The party allowed to go to the civil ceremony at the Registry Office and the Wedding Breakfast was limited to 11 people. However the happy couple got their certificate and seemed over the moon and so happy, which is really the important thing. After the ceremony we reconvened to dine outside on the top of Hotel Gotham in Manchester. The weather was very kind as we ate in the sunshine.

Speeches were brief and I welcomed Matt to the family: we’ve known him for several years and I’m sure he has the measure of us all now. From his memory, he recited a poem he’d written for Katrina, which was a very romantic thing to do. They sent their love to all the absent relatives and gratitude for lots of presents. We hope to make good the absence of family in due course, because of the virus, and bring the family together and drink a toast to their health and happiness.

The lights of our lives
Matt, Katrina and Matt’s mum, Anne
Sophie and her aunt, Catherine
George, Jeff and Harry

BMW, Trouser legs & Wedding blues – Week 31 : 2020

After my dash through France it’s been back to Acaster Malbis hoping to repel that restless feeling for a little while. As I put away my cycle touring kit and noted how the stairs were making my aching muscles complain I mentally noted that it would be a while before the road beckoned. Now after the discomfort has eased I’ll be peering at Google Maps thinking about the next trip in the near future! My addiction.

However, all the focus was on the wedding of Katrina and Matt. Clearly these are difficult times for mixing and movement of people with the pandemic. Despite a few casualties on the guest list we were looking forward to August 8th. And then Boris stepped in and made the wedding breakfast verboten in Manchester. As you can imagine such a decision means numerous communications from the couple to let folk know about the cancellation as well as the venue, flowers etc. The bride seems to be stoic and maybe when we reschedule some of the ‘casualties’ can join us. The marriage will proceed but even that has limits on the numbers who can attend. Poor Katrina and Matt.

I used to be a vision of sartorial elegance about 30 years ago. The work place was a venue to attend in expensive suits and crisply ironed cotton shirts. The thought of having stubble would have affected my health. Today I am forever in Levis and some form of T shirt and Craghopper. In fact I have several colours of the latter but haute couture they ain’t. I have a couple of suits in the wardrobe but I cannot remember when I last wore them: the daughter’s graduations? As the wedding countdown commenced the ‘outfit’ needed pulling together. The good news was that the suit fitted but the trousers were so wide, at the leg, that I contemplated using them as an awning for my tent.

A trip into town to a tailor saw him suggesting taking an inch off. It was agreed. I also bought another suit. There was 25% off at M&S and with another daughter likely to pledge her troth I thought this reckless outlay may get some further wear. Another feature of my current daily uniform are trainers. I don’t wear proper leather shoes. In fact I had two old pairs in my drawer where the soles of rubber perished! I kid you not. Anyway that was another investment!

I’ve been quite successful with the hair clippers and it looked tolerable. As you might pointedly observe then I don’t have a lot to manage. Anyway I thought for the wedding I should have someone who knows what they’re doing tidy my barnet up. Wonderfully it was Jessica behind the clippers. Her cutting is good but her banter is world class – I wrote a blog on one sitting that may engage you. The word ‘blog’ is a link. Anyway her ‘news’ from the lockdown included the story of the unfortunate man who staggered in with half a haircut. His wife had set about the project but abandoned the cut halfway through after being disappointed with her work.

Another was about a close relative who’s a hairdresser. Despite the lockdown he’d set up a hairdressing salon in his garage for the local ladies to surreptitiously attend. One older woman did express some anxiety that her daughter was unhappy she was having her hairdressing appointments in lockdown and would report her. The hairdresser shrugged this off laughing and told her not to worry until she added that she was a police officer! So as I stopped laughing and we moved onto other topics she calmly advised that she now had an allotment and was growing strawberries and carrots. You have never met a young millennial who seems less likely to be living the ‘good life’. How she doesn’t have a Channel 4 slot is beyond me.

Time to get out all those old Leeds United Premiership shirts

I feel that as you get older then little surprises you. You clearly identify all challenges ahead. My car is nearly 6 years old. It’s fine, however, if I don’t replace it then the car will depreciate to be worth pennies and the next car will cost a fortune as we’re starting from scratch. (Yes, there are many way to finance a car but part-ex and cash works for me). So I girded my loins to visit the BMW dealership. I had a gloomy feeling that despite the plush surroundings and supposed professionalism I wouldn’t buy a car: the deal wouldn’t be right. Some backroom operative who operates the salesman like a puppet would scupper things. Also I felt that the market hasn’t got a lot of product floating around to make them anxious to move cars.

A man looking pathetically happy with a home grown courgette/zucchini

Needless to say lots of attentive care by the salesman was evident. We looked at his group’s database and found a couple of cars that worked as the correct spec and price. I was looking at ‘nearly new’ as the difference over the new price was nearly 30%. The next task was to test drive the models. I later returned to do this. All was good and I found a car I liked, a 3 series. So we went back to the database. The car from yesterday mysteriously had another 5,000 miles on it? We found another, all good.

In my research on the part-ex I’d checked a guide and also we’d posted the car into the ‘We Buy Any Car’ website. It said £11,610, which was lower than the guide but fair enough. This is the least best way to dispose of a car in terms of return but I was reconciled. The dealership managed to offer £10,500. There was no review of their offer or particular interest. I walked. Of course I could cash the car at ‘We Buy Any Car’ and return laden with money but I doubt I will. They’ve had their chance. No doubt I’ll regroup and eventually sort something out.

There are events when you receive information where afterwards you can recollect where you heard the news. This came to pass on my bike ride in France. Tragically a family friend and lifelong close friend of my wife’s reported some frightening developments as regards her health. In a short number of weeks she’d died of cancer. When this happens to someone quite young you prospect around for explanations of genes, weight, lifestyle or an unfortunate life changing event. There was no such comforting explanation for such an honest, energetic, hard working, bright and cheerful lady. We’re dealing with quite a shocking hole suddenly appearing in our lives.

Life’s not a rehearsal, dust off that bucket list and start ticking them off.

Mint Sauce, Packet Soups & Gooseberries – Week 27 : 2020

Officially we’re still in lockdown. However, the restrictions have got so vague and the public’s adherence so patchy that it really has been hard to know what’s correct. Even if you could work out what exactly was the situation in England the other parts of the UK have their own regimes. Frankly the mortality statistics informed me a long time ago that the vast majority of the population are safe but unfortunately can carry the virus. Those who aren’t safe seem, to me, to be in no particular hurry to come out of lockdown anytime soon. That is the correct thing to do. With this in mind it seems very adventurous to tell you that I’m flying to the south of France next week with my bicycle (and a humungous quantity of Waitrose’s packet soups). The government have sanctioned travel to a number of countries including Gaul.

These were already pre-Coronavirus booked flights and even if you could contact Ryanair then the reality is that to move the flights would cost the same again in amendment charges. So it was either abandon or for me to at least use some of the booked arrangements. The present Mrs Ives was coming along but for one reason or another has decided to remain at Mission Control. (I suspect my eventual repair of the porch ceramic tiling was such a thing of beauty that the lure Carcassonne paled into insignificance.) I will be blogging. It will be here under ‘Travel’.

My first thought was that this blog would be so inferior to the trip up Australia in February and March (Victoria and New South Wales at least) but then I thought the French cycling would be hillier and more difficult, the heat more intense, the food better and the scenery more sumptuous. So it may not be such a bad writing project. France is my premier cycling destination. Everyday seems a pleasure even in the rain! It is a sparsely populated and large country with lots of roads. Campsites are plentiful (and usually full of Dutch holiday makers). As always there’s some doubt about my final mileage or how I’ll get home. I’d like to get the ferry back from Zeebrugge in Belgium. However, at the moment that route’s not open and it may be Rotterdam. This sails into Hull and then I’ll trundle home. The distance should be around 1,000 miles (or 1,600 kilometres for people who like to exaggerate). Anyway tune in to follow my progress.

In other news I’ve moved into rearing livestock. Well at least these chaps suddenly appeared in the garden. 

As you can see from the photo it appears the sheep are looking at me with the kind of look that suggests I’m the interloper. I found the hole in the farmer’s wire fence and ushered them back with threats of administering mint sauce* should they return. Last year I cycled to Vienna. My bride flew out to join me on my arrival. In her hasty departure from York she inadvertently switched off the electricity supply to the fridge. It wasn’t a pretty odour on our return. My displeasure was increased by the demise of the frozen gooseberries I had originally picked at the local ‘Pick Your Own’ farm. As you can see supplies have been replenished and my first gooseberry crumble devoured.

If I can find one benefit of the virus it is that the football season was suspended. It was a mercy because it meant that I could briefly stop having kittens about Leeds United. Up to the break they had been going well and resided at the top of the league. Not one Leeds fan, I know, genuinely didn’t think that we’d not bottle the promotion. Therefore all the anxieties and misery returned as the season resumed. So far we’ve lost a game, won a game and drawn another. Last season we fell apart at this stage. ‘Groundhog Day’ comes to mind this time around. Escaping the country for a couple of weeks can only be seen as a respite from this tortuous set of remaining fixtures.

Lastly I think I mentioned that a local resident, Carol, puts amazing images on Twitter. I have to show you her latest gem. This was taken in the fields near us. She’s on Twitter @Natwalk101. This amazing snap got 902 likes.

* For overseas readers then the British have for centuries put mint sauce (finely chopped mint leaves with vinegar, sugar and water) on roast lamb. I accept that this explanation doesn’t overcome the observation that the sheep probably can’t understand my barked threats…

Trees, Synapses & Goodbyes – Week 23 : 2020

So, a long time no speak. 

I suppose apart from the mundane there hasn’t been a great deal to write up due to the restrictions of lockdown. (Yes, that hasn’t been a barrier to posting a blog in the past). 

Like most homeowners stuck at home our garden has never looked as good. I was unable to avoid that long and tedious job of repairing the pointing on the paving around the house. That was a restoration job but we also were removing things and had four trees cut down on the property boundary. The initial quote came in at £1,600. After a bit of shoe gazing the tree surgeon said £1,400. We said we’d think about it and promised to ring him. Funnily enough at this point it became £1,200. It’s not a great feeling to ever take down trees but they were forming some form of hazard to the neighbours and always needed expensive maintenance.

A beautiful walk with the present Mrs Ives amongst the rhododendrons

As a Yorkshireman I can find spending money a painful initiative. Nevertheless the coffers have recently been depleted by paying the daughters’ student loans paid off and I bought a new bike. It was my first new bike in eight years. Given my annual cycling mileage of between 4,000 and 6,000 miles this means my other bikes regularly get rebuilt. I’m now quietly thrilled at owning a Cannondale Synapse Disc with Di2. Which brings me onto cycling. After the rude interruption to my trip up Australia I have continued to ride around our beautiful county. One of the changes has been getting used to the new cyclists who clutter the roads around us. 

These are the folks who have discovered two wheels as part of their daily exercise regime. There is good and bad with this. The good is that they don’t realise that as regular cyclists that cheery waves and greetings are completely verboten. A steely forward stare is the approach of most Yorkshire lycra clad cyclists as they fret over losing a few seconds by turning to wave. If that’s the nice bit then the absence of helmets still freaks me out: the first part of the body to hit the tarmac will be their head when they come off. Also I’m appalled at some of the major roads that parents lure their small offspring onto. Children shouldn’t be dealing with trucks and speeding cars.

God rode a bicycle

Pilates still forms part of the weekly schedule. The present Mrs Ives would do it every morning. I can generate enthusiasm for a couple of days. This in turn has led to other core strength demonstration challenges e.g. can you get over the stiles, we encounter on a walk, without needing to hold onto the rails? As Anna doesn’t read my blogs I can admit she’s better at this than me and I’m nursing an injury where I hit the stile so hard with one knee I’m surprised it is still standing.

As regards anything other than leisure I had one morning on Microsoft Teams as a pension trustee. I was shocked at how dressed down all the other attendees were. I maybe didn’t expect suits but the look was casual. It’s probably not surprising that if you let actuaries pick their own wardrobe outside of a suit it is likely to be the kind of stuff Alan Partridge would call ‘smart casual’ circa 1987. I was also hoping they’d be sat in front of an interesting bookcase where you can try and read the spines of the books they have on the shelf behind them – no such luck here.

“Now she’s doing horse, it’s June”

Sadly of late events are focussed around Margaret, my mother-in-law’s passing in May.

She had trouble with a second replacement hip and was scheduled for another operation prior to the hospitals’ prioritising Covid-19. This delay left her surviving on morphine and being unable to sleep in a bed. From the start of the lockdown conversations were held through her care home’s window on the mobile. Assessing how she was coping was difficult during this strange, cold and brief audience. When the local hospital felt they could now entertain some elective surgeries she was top of the list. She was delighted. However, given her advanced years, 89, she had a number of other health challenges that brought a risk with any operation. The surgeon was explicit about this. She knew and accepted this. A successful operation had her up and walking in the hospital but in a matter of 11 days she had a stroke and then pneumonia. These were battles she couldn’t win.

The hateful coronavirus didn’t take her but it did mean that it was March since her three daughters had had proper contact with her. In the end one daughter had an unsatisfactory telephone conversation with her post operation. Then Anna had the opportunity to formally break the lockdown constraints and enter the ward for a last ‘end of life’ visit. Unfortunately Margaret to all intents and purpose had slipped away at this time; she got to hold her hand and talk to her. Heart breaking. No words. 

Of course the funeral had restricted Covid-19 attendance rules. I had known Margaret for 35 years but was left outside avoiding the rain and hailstones. (I accept all Covid-19 restrictions, no complaints).

It seems hard not to acknowledge the turbulent world around us in this blog as I write. The USA appears to be on fire and in London rent-a-mob hooligans are wheeling bicycles into Police horses or defacing monuments of national heroes. I certainly long to be packing up a tent and thinking about a day ahead in a foreign country with nothing to worry about other than finding a coffee as soon as possible and hoping the sun shines.

Physics, Pilates & Anna – Week 19 : 2020

Anna (first wife) has acquired entry into her seventh decade on Planet Earth. She had a lockdown birthday at the end of April but we tried to make a fuss. A number of her friends did pop round with flowers whilst keeping the mandatory distance. Gals (sorry Favourite Eldest Daughter for this lapse into political incorrectness) are all very social and it was hard for her to let this landmark slip by so tamely especially with the daughters in Manchester. I hope when it is all over we can celebrate it properly. An observation about her cards was how many had a ‘60’ on them, mostly from the women! What happened to being eternally 39?

She’s also been a star shopping for some of the more elderly residents on the street. I have been making a couple of meals for one chap and was able to sell a Black & Decker Jig Saw on eBay for another chap. He had no idea what to do. I was worried after volunteering a selling price that it would fall short. Fortunately it did a lot better. On handing across the dosh he wanted to give us a tenner. That’s not the point of doing all this is it?

These marooned residents need food but they also need company. A long conversation is a kindness and they happily chatter away (even to me!). The chap who’s suffering my meals worked for The National Coal Board. This life of being down the pit now seems too dangerous to contemplate. Health and safety in the 70s and 80s isn’t what it is today. He was telling a story of his interesting life as an engineer when he recounted working at one pit for an awful manager with some stories of his bullying and intimidating behaviour. It sounded Dickensian. I did leave him reflecting on some of my personal experiences…

I was never very good a Physics at school. I’d dropped it by the time I had to pick my O Levels or it dropped me. My recollection of the subject, other than bimetallic strips, was that it could occasionally approximate to maths with homework that involved equations and the like. The day we had to present our efforts involved the master, David Welch, walking around the classroom checking the answers. The seating meant that mine was the first work he inspected.

I made a game attempt at the task but usually came up with the wrong answer. For this I would get hit around the back of my head. The Geography teacher, Mr Hartley, could also deal out corporal punishment for wrong answers. Barbaric really and useless as regards the learning experience. Welcome to the 60s and 70s.

With all this limited movement I’m still driving the Morgan. I pop out for the shopping and make rare excursions in it. I half expected to get flagged down by Plod to justify why I’m out in it! To keep fit I obviously ride my bike, as before, but in addition to walking we do some Pilates classes. (These are configurations of exercises we’ve learned and can remember from a class with an instructor). Anna was introduced to Pilates last year and loves rolling around on the floor. I started about eight years ago and am a lot less keen! It is a good thing to do and keeps us moving and free from some muscular aches and pains. I’m one of the oddities at our weekly class (during normal times) being male. More men ought to do it. I like to think I provide the girls with a little eye candy in what must be their humdrum lives.

Other exercise has seen us walking around the local area. On one such ramble we came across a lady carrying a Nikon camera with a long lens. This native finds locations to perch, mainly in the undergrowth, and then take some exquisite images of the wildlife. She then posts her images onto Twitter. (She can be found at @Natwalk101). The breadth of life she finds near us is a surprise. The biggest draw are the deer who run around a forest nearby. We’ve got a bit blasé about them but I may venture out with my proper camera shortly.

The Fear of clay, masking tape & scissors – Week 15 : 2020

In some ways ‘it’s a long time no speak’. Obviously my recent bike ride up Australia was followed by many of you but I suspect the majority didn’t follow my restless and fruitless search for a koala or (live) kangaroo on two wheels. I really not sure what to think about the four weeks after it’s premature end. Some great scenery, interesting communities, banter and the childish joy of riding a bike to come to mind but something was missing.

Since my evacuation from Down Under and re-integration into ‘lock down’ Britain it has been a mixture of experiences. The first was the reality that it hasn’t affected my diet, exercise regime, opportunity to listen to music or write. 

However the limits on movement and the continued close supervisory presence of the first wife has been different. Evasion of various stipulated outstanding tasks, by her having better things to do with her talents, has been difficult. A protestation that glossing some yellow skirting boards due to a lack of masking tape saw her texting a neighbour who (at a discreet distance) turned up at the door with said product. I never did like him…

It was a blow to my tactics. Other things on the list included turning over the flower beds and weeding. Frankly, any budding fundamentalist terrorist flirting with the idea of Western destruction could have his fervour nipped in the bud with the threat of several days of standing, with a spade, on a hard clay soil complete with hiding toads to first dig into it and then remove various roots and weeds. Continue reading The Fear of clay, masking tape & scissors – Week 15 : 2020

The Guest List, Aortas & My Cartier – Week 6 : 2020

I’ve been lucky enough to be on the guest list when attending a gig with the Mighty Jessney from Vixen 101 but never in my own right. So it was a thrill to collect my free tickets at The Sage in Gateshead to see Country music star, Brandy Clark, on stage.  It’s not so much the avoidance of the cost but I now felt part of the music industry. If I consider how many albums I’ve reviewed on websites, and in the press, then a little ‘recognition’ was splendid. Under ‘Music’ I have a review of the concert. Check it out, she was magic.

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We made a weekend of our trip to the North East. We stayed at a very modern and swish B&B near Hexham. This enabled us to visit Carlisle (impressed) on the west coast and avoid the rain. The next day was a walk on Hadrian’s Wall. After a mile or two stumbling up and down rocks, hills and mud we made a decision to do it again!

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Sadly I hit a pheasant driving into York. It simply strolled out in front of the car and there was nothing I could do. Horrible. When I got to my destination in York I checked the front of the car and extracted a few long feathers from the grill. On my I return I drove past the spot where we collided. There was no sign of the bird. I hope it was not fatally hurt and had just wandered off. Unfortunately that couldn’t be said for the one I ate on my stay up in Hexham. We dined at the Barrasford Arms, near Hexham, and the menu was a delight and I had game by way of a change.

When my then employer, Moores, was bought by an American company in 1996, the directors received a bonus. I bought a coveted watch – a Cartier Santos. I think it cost about £1,600. As a smart executive I was wearing Jaeger suits, shirts and ties and the watch was a compliment for all this sartorial elegance. (Nowadays I’m often found wearing fleeces, jaded jeans and a Swatch or maybe my Apple Watch). The Cartier usually sits safely secured in the house. However the battery does eventually expire and a visit to the jeweller is necessary to replace it. To maintain the waterproof seal and have an expert eye cast over its workings I take it to an approved Cartier specialist. As with all luxury items, with moving parts, the cost isn’t just about the purchase price. To replace the battery, check it over and replace a fragment of blue glass on the winder it cost £218. An expensive business you’ll agree.

For whatever reason we’ve been in and out of Boots (the chemist/pharmacy) over the last few weeks. The visits are for various reasons but latterly it‘s been to try and buy some hand disinfectant gel. This had meant visiting many outlets. The north of England has been gripped by coronavirus anxieties and the gel has sold out in most places. The chap in one of the Leeds city centre Boots told us that he was also out of facemasks. Anyway I am struck by how tired and run down so many of the shops are. A quick Google suggests that the company is considering about selling out to a private equity company. Let’s hope punters, in the interim, don’t abandon them in a fashion that they are abandoning their stores.

Lastly, I finish with medical matters. Before you worry..  I’m feeling great and behaving as regards diets, exercise and nearly always remembering to take my medication. However as the clock ticks well past 60 then the interest that the NHS is taking in my wellbeing is unnerving. I’ve gone an age group related routine regime to check for bowel cancer every other year. Not a nice project to administer when it comes round! Then after a visit to the surgery over something else I had my cholesterol levels checked. Another random visit had the doctor taking my blood pressure and don’t get me started on prostrate health… I went through the whole investigation and my lasting memory is asking the assistant practitioner what his training was for the rectum test.

So thinking I’m clear of more blood samples and prodding I was dismayed to see the latest letter drop onto the mat. This was an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening. This main artery can burst and there’s a 15% chance of survival if it does fail. So catching it can be a useful thing to do but the leaflet went on to advise that 2.4% don’t survive an operation to repair the aneurysm even if it hasn’t burst. Gulp.

So I tripped into the surgery for the ultrasound scan noting that over 1% of those scanned have a problem. I’m delighted to say I have no problem but I’m watching the door mat with anxiety for the next test the NHS has on it’s plan.

 

Bob Dylan, Gary Glitter & Hyundai – Week 4: 2020

As January grinds on I still dream of cycling in hotter climes. The warm breeze on my face, a clear blue sky, the hope of finding a sandwich in an hour or so and the open road ahead. Unfortunately Anna’s double vision is unchanged and I remain in Yorkshire. After the eye specialist consultations and their advice to wait for natural healing we await improvement. In the meanwhile my starring rôle as the chauffeur in ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ continues. To be fair Anna is catching buses and has been donning bicycle clips with no complaints

As a consequence of being at home then the phrase ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ comes to mind and I have been rummaging  amongst  old documents. You can see Page 1 of a list of concerts I attended during 1971 to 1975. I even include the ticket for the Argent concert – note the entrance price. The list includes seeing David Bowie twice in a week. There are some artists I have completely forgotten such as Tim Buckley and (cough) Gary Glitter. You’ll be comforted to know that I only saw Gary as I waited for Vinegar Joe at the old Bradford Park Avenue ground on a sunny afternoon. Other memories of that afternoon include some bloke wandering past me, as I sat on the pitch, whispering did I “want to score some dope?” I think my response was “who are you calling a dope?”

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Another nostalgic thought about the Argent concert is that I probably happily drove into the town centre and parked up near the centre for nothing and strolled to the Town Hall. Today I’d be parking about half a mile away and paying at least £5 to leave the car in a multi storey for three hours. Happy days.

Whist I’m going down memory lane then you’ll note that Mount Park Road in Ealing was not a ‘lane’ I should have parked on. I was spending a year in London with a car at the tender age of 18 years old. I was at Ealing Technical College beginning my Economics degree.  I now prefer its current designation as The University Of West London. Anyway the fine was £2.

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I expected selling a car through We Buy Any Car.Com. would be commercial rape with some oily salesman. You’ve seen the adverts on TV. We sold a 12 year old Hyundai. The car belonged to a lady now unable to drive and resident in a care home. We got knocked down a bit on the price due to an administration charge and the fact it had some dents. However, it was quick and easy and with little aggravation. More surprising was a 68 plate 5 Litre Ford Mustang on their car park. Apparently dealers don’t want to touch these types of ‘muscle cars’ as they sit on their forecourts for ages. I cannot imagine how many thousands the previous owner lost on this misadventure.

On my bike rides I often ride through Saxton: a pretty village near Tadcaster. It seems to have it all (for it’s population of 1,000+). A calm rural setting with it’s own cricket field, pub, church and a primary school. Surrounding the settlement are large arable fields. I feel as much outrage as the locals to see that some pond life has dumped all this rubbish and cleared off. The reason for doing this is that they can’t be bothered to drive the nearest Household Waste site or that they are avoiding paying commercial charges for disposing of this stuff properly. Frankly if the new Government brings back public flogging for these animals then it will be appropriate.

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Now with a few dark and cold nights on my hands I signed up for an evening course at The University of York – ‘Bob Dylan, The Nobel Poet’. This dissects Bob through the ages in terms of his lyrics. We’re looking at the message (or not!) and the origins of the lyrics composition. They’re about 17 on the course and most are devoted Dylanologists who love the man. I don’t love him but he may the most important composer and artist of 20th Century popular music bar none. (Sorry Paul and John).

I had never seen the harbour so calm as it was at Whitby. My first wife deigned to be taken to the coast for lunch and a walk along the pier. How could you pass up the chance for a ride in a Morgan on such a sunny day? Yes, I spoil her.

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You’ll be pleased to see our ceiling has a new patch on it. If the plumbing has been sorted and it gets painted over I somehow feel I will have lost an old friend I made contact with last year.