Category Archives: Journal

Cat flaps, Laptops and Rain – Week 3 : 2021

As my cycling pal, Tim, said ‘You’ve not posted a blog in a while?” “Well Tim, there’s not been a lot to blog about at the moment has there?”

In fact as my first wife commented in all sincerity this morning as she scuttled down the landing – “You’ve got a busy day ahead, there’s a light bulb that needs changing.”

A busy day ahead

Unavoidably we all have to agree that in the UK it is a dreary time being locked down in this wet and very cold weather (if it rains much more I’m going to start gathering animals in pairs.) Even if you do venture out for a walk then all the walkers and dogs have turned paths, over fields, into something resembling the Somme. Cycling is still very important to me but the weather has been treacherous let alone unpleasant. It’s either snow and ice or flooding. In fact it got so difficult to find a way across the various overflowing rivers in North Yorkshire that Anna was called to pick me up during one spin from Pocklington. However by this stage I’d cycled 60 miles and climbed 900m, bear in mind Snowdon is 1,085m high.

Another road impassable in North Yorkshire

In fact, things have got that bad that I was even prepared to answer a long and pointless questionnaire from a Geordie on a dodgy phone line about the exciting (not) Pension Protection Fund. I nearly envied people who worked for a living but thankfully that quickly passed when I realised that now entailed going into your spare bedroom at 8.30am and firing up a computer and only emerging a limited number of times during the day to resolve the need of bodily functions.

Talking of Stupid O’Clock then the cricket is back on as England tour the sub continent. The Sky coverage remains immaculate but the BBC’s Test Match Special on the radio has degenerated into something as trivial as bored housewives chatting on WhatsApp with an occasional mention of what’s happening in the middle. Banal chat includes UK weather (southerners were very excited about snow), various breakfast treats to sustain them through the early hours, had they walked the dog yet? And encouraging the public to Tweet in stupid questions for the scorer eg. when was there last an international century partnership with batsman with the least number of characters in their surnames? ‘Click’’… off.

‘Bants’ with les enfants on WhatsApp

Mrs Ives has various lockdown activities, one of which has necessitated me fitting a lock to the knife drawer: I’m worrying about Anna developing ideas. She’s binging on Scandi Noir from morning to night. Who knew they could make detective series in Iceland or Finland? The regular formula involves a dysfunctional policeman (existing on a secret diet of pharmaceuticals), lots of snow and ice, exclusively operating at night or dusk, clambering over a growing pile of mutilated bodies. All this is understood by subtitles. I breeze in to the lounge thinking it’s the Swedish chefs from The Muppets having a loud argument to find a Volvo driving at high speed toward an empty warehouse, in the dead of night, to rescue a child hostage, a Greta Thunberg lookalike with pigtails, being suspended from a beam just before an elderly lunatic, unsuspected, sub post office mistress intends to lower her into a vat of acid. I turn on my heels.

My search continues around the various TV streaming networks and terrestrial channels for something to watch. Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small is tremendous but was only seven episodes. These were quickly consumed. Call My Agent has had their fourth season uploaded onto Netflix and so not all is lost.

When Anna’s not doing this I am receiving her expert advice. This irritatingly extended to guitar tuning, who knew? To kill some time I dug out an old guitar to reaffirm how hopeless I am at playing it. The first task was to tune it. Despite changing a string I couldn’t tune the bottom E. My electronic tuner just couldn’t hack it and I contemplated buying a new device, to which the ‘font of all knowledge’ casually said ‘there must be an app for doing that’.  Disappointingly she was right. Yet something else I can do with an iPhone.

You hum it and I’ll play it

If you’re house bound then it seems timely to get to those chores you’ve put off forever; I’ve been editing and slimming down my photo library on my PC hard disk. This ran to 23,000 photos and I’m down to just over 19,000 and falling.  The library has documented my cycling trips but the size of the library reflects the benefits of digital photography. That is, you can take a picture of something five times to get the best shot knowing that all you are doing is ‘expending’ megabytes. A more worthy task has been the digging out of an old work laptop and sweeping it of documents and files. I plan to pass it across to a former co-worker who’s a teacher now. He worked in IT and spent some of last year restoring laptops for use schoolwork for children now at home. I know the government’s been chuckling lots of money into resolving this but there are apparently still children without.

Lastly, despite the weather I trust you’ve kept up your vigilance for men in shorts. They still abound in York, although I suspect they’re escaped Geordies breaking lockdown by migrating further south. This unnecessary shank exposure is usually explained by a desire to display a large tattoo they’ve had doodled down their calf and shins. Pray for them.

2020 – A Summary

As a look back at the year I have extracted the highlights and low points of what will be a year many feel lost to the virus. In reality life went on but it was different. I suffered lockdown less than most mainly due to a bicycle, however, I yearn for the freedom to do more next year.

Anna’s Sight Restored

Lined up from the previous autumn was a trip to the east coast of Australia where I’d cycle from Melbourne to Cairns. A couple of thousand miles trundle in a country I’d never visited. A November 2019 holiday in South Africa enabled me to get fit in the winter and I’d worked closely with Leeds Beckett University on a nutrition regime to propel me more comfortably up the coast. Escaping the British winter was a complete bonus and after I completed the ride Anna would be in Cairns for us to see more of the country but a little more comfortably!

However, Anna whilst riding her bike near Hermanus in South Africa got double vision in one eye. All the medics, in South Africa or York, checked to see if there was anything terribly untoward, there wasn’t, and then said it’ll return to normal sometime in the next six months. In the meanwhile she couldn’t drive and would be ‘land locked’ in Acaster Malbis unless a chauffeur hung around. So goodbye Australia and my January flights.

One of us needs the patch (and the other one thinks they’re being funny)

Then on a frosty February morning she looked casually out of the window and not everything was double. A trip to the Eye Clinic followed and she was declared able to drive. The rescheduling of my trip was allowed but Anna chose not to follow me as Margaret, her mother, was scheduled for an operation and she wanted to be at hand. My adventure was back on albeit seven weeks later but now free of bush fire risks. I booked a flight for late February. What else could possibly go wrong?

Australia

I started my trip cycling up from Melbourne into the Victorian countryside. Melbourne was too cosmopolitan and diverse for my liking or my previous understanding of what Australia was like. I’d come to see the men wearing corks off their wide brimmed hats, drinking a ‘tinny’, obsessing about cricket, using the swear word ‘bloody’ and with a proud history of standing side by side with the Brits in whatever war we were fighting. Victoria was wide open, uninhabited and reminiscent of the US mid-west.

Avenel, Victoria. It wasn’t all tarmac!
Overnight beside an Australian Rules pitch in Walla Walla, NSW

To get north the only option was to ride alongside a highway getting soaked by the spray from 18 wheelers dodging dead kangaroos on the hard shoulder as the skies opened. A bus ride saw me complete the journey to Sydney. This city was a complete treat with world class things to see and do.

Sydney
Happy Birthday! 65 and a well known sight behind me
The Queen Mary in town with a certain bridge behind
On my way up north
I will never forget riding across the Harbour Bridge

So across the harbour bridge I headed north up the coast where adventures included losing my passport, getting stung on my butt maybe 20 times by mosquitos in an hour and seeing so many fabulous beaches that I became blasé. Disappointingly the Australians are a hardy and self contained bunch. A ‘pom’ on a bike is no big deal and conversations or engagement was limited although I did pick up one pearl of wisdom from a camper I approached, after I arrived at a campsite and Reception was shut. I was concerned that I would enrage the owners to set up my tent without their permission. He opined that it was ‘always easier to obtain forgiveness than permission’. Noted!

Beaches to die for
When it rained, it rained!
Australian haut cuisine (I’m not joking)
Apparently there are 47 million of them. I only saw a couple of roadkills…

Brisbane was a sensational looking city on an ox bow river and here I found a friendly face and a enjoyed beer with Karl on St Patrick’s Day. He’s a pal we’d made from a wonderful earlier holiday in Sri Lanka. He proved the exception, as Australians went, and bought me a beer or two! After a brief rest it was continuing up the coast although the road was difficult to travel due to the level of traffic prohibiting bicycles. I was liking Queensland and relishing the next 1,000 miles. However, with Britain planning a pandemic lockdown and flights becoming scarce I was soon back in Brisbane trying to find a box to pack my bike in for the flight back to Blighty.

The view on my run into Queensland
(Refugee Englishman) Karl and yours truly enjoying some St Patrick’s Day libation
Favourite breakfast stop in Kin Kin, Queensland
No option other than to join the other British millennials and get a bus back to Brisbane and a flight home

Such adventures throw up many memories many of which come back to you over time as little things remind you. Eg. I still would like to walk on the beach at Hawks Nest, NSW and then have another fabulous breakfast at The Benchmark on Booner restaurant again. Other moments will enter my head as I search for sleep one night. The full blog is available by clicking this link.

Brilliant Weather and DIY

So back in Britain and confined to barracks I discovered Zoom and Teams and also spent days on my knees repointing the patio. Walking and catching up (digitally) with old friends was a daily task as we endured the isolation. Strict alcohol consumption regimes were enforced as you can enjoy yourself too much. Supermarkets bemused me as they were ‘super spreader’ environments that undermined all the other actions taken to protect us.

Anna went into overdrive befriending folk who were afraid or discouraged from doing essential shopping. She was often collecting shopping lists, and probably more importantly, spending time on doorsteps talking to these elderly folk and giving them some much needed conversation and company. A true angel. Her mileage to and from my father -in-law’s care home must have and is stretching into thousands of miles and usually it was to talk through a window as below.

Not the shabbiest transport for her

His other daughters were as attentive as they could be but living in either Manchester or London meant they were often prohibited from travelling. As her less capable assistant I was recruited to cook a few meals for one neighbour who gamely didn’t object to my chicken chasseur or bolognese sauce. He’s still alive! My other help was selling some stuff on eBay for one neighbour: I was surprised by how much his jigsaw and drill fetched. My other actions to obtain an MBE included two mornings in the lake extracting bullrushes out of thick mud in front of another neighbour’s house who needed some brawn.

The weather made everything tolerable but the virus was a mystery in terms of how it really spread and controlling it; after the Dunkirk spirit the whole pandemic went even more toxic as hounding the Government turned into a blood sport by the media. Literal questions ‘of how do feel about killing so many people Prime Minister?’ This hostility made me want to be abroad even more.

Lockdown DIY

Anna’s Landmark

Plans were made to celebrate Anna’s ‘seventy less ten’ birthday (thank you Favourite Youngest Daughter, Sophie, for this gem) with fine dining and some time away as a family. The virus stopped not only the family decamping to somewhere but also the daughters appearing only by the screen on her iPhone. Rescheduling was made for the autumn (but that booking also got cancelled). Anyway she doesn’t look that old in any case!

If anyone celebrated Anna’s landmark it was me! This milestone kicked in a occupational pension and she kindly used some of the dosh for me to buy a new expensive bike, my first in 12 years. So a top of the range Cannondale with electronic gear change, 28mm wide tyres and disc brakes became my dream ride up and down the country lanes. That takes my collection back up to five bikes. Only five? I hear you say…

Margaret

For the residents of care homes the virus was a danger and social disaster. They were rightly imprisoned and communication was through windows often shut to keep the bad weather out. Meanwhile you tried to eyeball your relatives as you talked to them on mobiles. It had to be thus, but what a regime. For my mother-in-law, the most social of ladies, this was a burden made worse by a delayed operation to alleviate excruciating pain caused by a hip. She had a few days of joy on the announcement that they were now scheduling a date for her to have that operation in late spring.

There were risks known to us all. Due to her other conditions it went wrong and she passed away; it was a terrible shock. For her daughters it was doubly distressing as they hadn’t been in her presence for over three months. The care and attention that would have been lavished on her by the family as she resided in hospital was not possible. It hailed on the day of her sparsely attended funeral. After having been her son-in-law for over 30 years even I was unable to attend the service due to the restriction on numbers attending. Left was a widowed husband not used to being apart from his lifelong companion.

Lockdown One was Over

Many things were relaxed. Trips to the household wastes sites was now possible. After all those weeks of sorting and throwing away I could now deposit it with City of York Council. Deep joy. Shops started to open and money could be spent with organisations other than Amazon. The threat of the second wave was known but in the meanwhile we enjoyed the changes. 

Lodger

Katrina (Favourite Eldest Daughter) was now tired of being cooped up all day and night in a Manchester city centre flat with only two rooms. This, during the lockdown restrictions and working from home, became a prison. So she tripped across the Pennines stayed with us for about a month disappearing into the dining room to don her headset and deal with the rest of Europe (as her job demanded) occasionally popping out for food and drink. However, after 5pm she was then frog marched around the village and the woods to get her daily exercise, pumped for information about her busy working day and then sent into the kitchen to create fine food for her father. It worked for us!

Some chaps in a local wood we spotted on a daily walk
These chaps made it out of ‘lockdown’ and into our garden. On shouting mint sauce they returned whence they came

In fact with all this walking from March until today I became profoundly aware of the seasons. From damp, colourless and gloomy shuffles around the wood albeit with sightings of deer we progressed to lots of newborn lambs, carpets of bluebells, remarkable giant rose coloured flowering rhododendron bushes, hateful horse fly bites in the long grass and birdsong everywhere.

Slowly it changed as the lambs went to the dinner plates of Yorkshire, the flowers died, the heat disappeared and the verdant vegetation started to turn to the colours of autumn. The journey continues.

France and Leeds United

By July I was granted permission by Anna to use a flight that had been booked in February to go to Carcassone in the south of France. On an empty Ryanair flight I flew into the heat with my bicycle and a 1,000 mile ride home. It soon became clear that despite all the reporting in the UK that our handling of the pandemic was a disaster that the French had little or no meaningful control or protocols for social distancing or face masks. They just had a bigger country where there were less people packed together. My ride was hard, much more demanding than Australia, but it was great to be back out there doing what I love.

The route
The Langeudoc
The Auvergne
In Champagne- Ardenne

Even better was not being in England suffering the trauma of the final few games in the Championship following Leeds United’s attempt to get promoted. I was in Bar-le-Duc the night it happened. However I can also tell you where I was in the French wilds when we scraped past Barnsley or when Pablo Hernandez got the winning goal at Swansea. After a couple of weeks I was in Belgium and Holland as they went back into lockdown. 

(Obviously I continued to cycle back in Yorkshire and clocked up over 6,000 miles for the year. That’s the equivalent of York to Beirut and back!) Click here for a trip to the link.

Wedding Bells

If I had frustrations then nothing compared to Katrina and Matt. They’d had written in the diary their wedding for months. It was to be held in Manchester, one of the worst places to be hit in the country. This meant the arrangements had to be changed and generous relatives disappointed by having their invitations revoked. However, on a sunny day in August it took place. A reception on the terrace roof of a multi storey city centre hotel was perfect; speeches were made, glasses raised and cake eaten. The day was a joy and the troths were pledged. One daughter gone.

Katrina & Matt
The sadly small gathering due to Manchester’s lockdown
The toast!

Signs of Mortality

One of truly grim aspects to growing old is that the statistics kick in and people you know pass. They die much younger than is expected and usually with short illnesses. A long time school friend of Anna’s seemed the picture of health by running half marathons and seemed irrepressibly bouncy. From my recollection of Sally being sat on our sofa last Christmas to discussing her quickly failing health whilst sat on a bench whilst taking a break from a long day in the saddle in France. The cancer took her and on another sunny day we were at York Crematorium still wondering what had happened. With these events it always make you remember life is not a rehearsal.

Short Staycations

Buying an affordable bicycle became a challenge as bike shops sold everything they had but simply couldn’t replenish. Anna fortuitously got sorted with a local shop and was now the owner of a racing bike. The world was now her oyster and a few nights away at Hadrian’s Wall and in the Borders saw her ride up and down a few difficult hills. This time in Norfolk it was flatter but she faced a greater distance. We stayed in Lavenham and saw some seaside towns on two wheels. After my overseas adventures then these were her only holidays.

Admiring the flowers near Hexham
Lavenham

Getting a Grip

Eventually it appeared the end might be in sight as vaccines are received and people start to get inoculated. The lockdowns had been partially successful as large groups of people continued to ignore the government’s instructions to wear a mask, keep a social distance and wash their hands. As we emerge from this time what damage has been done to jobs, retail, careers, other aspects of health etc? It will all unfold.

Full Steam Ahead

Anna chose to look up some of Margaret’s old friends. One such couple lived in east Yorkshire and I’d met them once before in 33 years of marriage! Eric is 92 years old and writing up his life story. It’s a hell of a life leaving school in Hull at 13 years old and going to work on a farm. It didn’t help that it was wartime and Hull was being blitzed. From here a career on the railway began in the glorious age of steam with Eric on the footplate where after National Service he found his way to East Africa and Tanganyika . Foolishly I offered to type it up not realising he’s already written 200,000 words! What a story, it’s a compelling journey told in bright technicolour through different times and attitudes when you can only but marvel at the deprivation, dangers and the simpler times. What a joy to stumble on this project.

So with the vaccine being rolled out we can contemplate a return to the new normal, whatever that is. A deal on Brexit was concluded that seems to offer few downsides that I can see for Anna and me. So here’s to 2021, with just the small matter of Premiership survival to trouble my sleep.

Happy New Year.

Mariah, Fascism & Dairylea -Week 51 : 2020

You’ll be relieved to learn I’ve got into the Christmas spirit. This is evidenced by adding my Crimbo tunes to my iPhone. This decision was taken whilst listening to Mariah Carey in a cafe, it came as a shock! Apparently I’m all she wants for Christmas. It will shortly be the time for lists and before you ask then my favourite Christmas record is “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon. It looks like both sprogs will join the Ives peloton on Christmas Day. However it would be an understatement to say things are a little uncertain at the moment. As regards the virus then the first vaccines have been administered to some folk on the street. I’m glad to say I’m a few age groups behind these octogenarians but I can hear the hooves of the arriving cavalry. 

The badger has been back. We’ve hosted it four times now and an untidy chap/chapess it is. However in the spirit of Christmas I’ve given him a name. Picking up on names like ‘Frosty the Snowman’ or ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer ‘ I’ve called it Bastard – ‘Bastard the Badger’. His fourth trip to our garden resulted in considerable damage and over an hour of attempting to restore the lawn. It’s like a jigsaw of gaps and little pieces of turf.

Anna attempting to repair the lawn

Unfortunately the gaps and the turf don’t match. Bastard has ripped up the lawn in such a way that it’s impossible to repair it properly. I was prepared to forfeit all my Christmas presents to buy a contract for someone to shoot it. Apparently they are a protected species and you need a licence to kill one. Legislation was passed in 1992; clearly the MP’s didn’t have one visiting their gardens overnight as they trooped into the Lobby. I suspect ruining my lawn isn’t a good enough reason to despatch him to that giant sett in the sky. Our particular problem arises with their sense of smell, it’s 800 times more powerful than a human and it’s been detecting delicious chaff bugs beneath the turf. Ridding ourselves of this badger candy is impossible. Fencing or netting seemed the only solution. As a consequence we spent £60 at B&Q to slow his progress. After this investment one neighbour casually asked me how we were getting on with our nocturnal intruder? Repressing my nervous tic I reported the situation. At this point he casually commented he’d seen it departing our garden via the open gate on the drive. So maybe lawn covering strategies are unnecessary and shutting the gate might be an answer? Watch this space, I need to organise psychotherapy shortly.

In my transcribing of Eric’s epic life story (as reported in earlier blogs) I have regularly had to type up the phrase ‘bungy sandwiches’. This delicacy is a cheese sandwich, however, such was the quality of cheese that it led to constipation; hence the name. In researching this further then rationing meant that the production of most varieties of cheese was stopped until 1954. That’s nine years of ‘bungy’ cheddar being the only cheese you could buy. Can you imagine the riots and street protests today if this was the only cheese you could buy? The stoicism of the war generation and its fortitude with rationing was literally heroic. If there was a plus then waistlines were more trim and folk were healthier. 

If there were problems today with cheese I would advocate various cheese Tiers. Tier 1 would be all cheeses banned other than Dairylea. I’ve always been suspicious that this and Babybel aren’t dairy products but petroleum derivatives. Tier 2 would allow production and consumption of all British cheeses. (Maybe not much of a concession I grant you). Tier 3, or ‘Tier Barnier,’ would allow all cheeses other than French or that rubbery smoked German stuff that comes in an orange plastic sheath. Clearly this can be relaxed when they move on the Brexit trade deal.

Talking of the war then I’ve been reading the regular articles in The Driffield and Wolds Weekly newspaper that has been carrying a ‘special feature’ week after week on air crashes during the war. In the area were many RAF airfields, all operational during the war. The loss of life was considerable through bombing raids over continental Europe but the loss of life on training flights over the county are frankly numerous and terrible. There are too many to report here but the inexperience of the crews seems to have been the reason. In November 1943 a Halifax took off for a test flight for an ‘air and gun test’. There were six crew on board plus a female civilian passenger. Miss Dorothy Robson was an expert on bombsights. She instructed crews on their use and worked across Bomber Command. In the test flight the aircraft flew into the ground in East Yorkshire. The crew’s ages were 20, 27, 20, 20, 25 and 25 with four from the UK and one each from Canada and Australia. Dorothy was 23 years old. The aircraft only had had five hours of flying time.

Dorothy Robson

I then got to thinking about the financial cost, let alone the human one. Google tells me that a Halifax bomber cost about £45,000 in 1945. In today’s money that is £1.75m. (As a comparison a much more sophisticated, faster and heavier Boeing 747 costs £65m for the entry level model). Would you then let these raw young men with no real proper flying experience, by today’s standards, and without several years of examination and graduation (through types of aircraft) to fly a 25 ton Halifax plus over 5 tons of bombs on board (and enough fuel to get to Dresden and back)? It’s a considerable gamble and was a sign of the times and desperation to end a hateful war. Today can you imagine a news conference with some sanctimonious journalist, worried about their viewing figures, standing up to berate a politician about the lack of training, management involvement and astronomic cost in such tragedies? We’d have never got a bomber in the sky or defeated fascism.

In my last blog I reported on our every other day alcohol regime. This was to stop us boozing during the boring days of lockdown. Another regime change involves the burning of 300 to 400 calories a day. These are easy to lose calories and the solution is known to you all but I’ve only just quantified it. The plan is to walk 10,000 steps a day, which equates to 400 calories being burned. My ideal calorie intake per day is between 2,000 and 2,500 calories: you can see what a bit of a walk helps you burn. It’s not all great as I’ve found as after walk I like the odd biscuit or two and maybe a mince pie with a cup of tea on my return! In fairness I should put on my coat and do another lap after this snack break! 

However I have been moving this year. I’m 111 miles short of 6,000 miles this year. That is a long way and probably a lot more than I’ve driven. The cycling has taken place in the most different of places: either down wet local muddy lanes in chilly drizzle, up gruelling mountain sides with a heavy touring bike in the Central Massif, France in 35℃ or riding in Victoria, Australia past endless fields seeing only the occasional pick up whilst avoiding stopping and being covered in flies. I’ve loved every mile.

Interesting signage in Victoria

Lastly, it has been a year of watching some TV and it may be interesting to share the highlights. Eurosport and ITV were fabulous on their coverage of the grand cycling tours – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta e España. I sat and watched hours of it. The countryside was sumptuous and often the racing was exciting. Even the present Mrs Ives was alongside me on the sofa. It’s only taken 26 years for her to catch the bug. Netflix threw up some gems. Call My Agent was a French language drama comedy set in a Parisian actor’s agency. Office politics and wacky actors with their hysterical ways and enormous egos were either calmed or massaged. The principle actors were compelling and over three seasons I got to love them. The Eddy was another Parisienne setting. This time at a jazz club with an American pianist owner who gets caught up in acres of malarky. The soundtrack was fantastic. A further season is in production,  bring it on. The Queen’s Gambit was a very unlikely plot about a child genius and her ascent to the top of the chess world via an orphanage, lots of alcohol, pill dependency and shady Russians.

Predictably I watched the fly on the wall documentary about Leeds United. Take Us Home was wonderful as in season 2 we got promotion! (I couldn’t watch the series until I knew it had a happy ending). In addition I watched quite a few films on the streaming services. This also included inside my little tent before I fell into a deep slumber in a foreign field. Which is where you must be after all this. Hasta la vista (baby).

Chicken Chasseur, Cine & Sledmere – Week 42 : 2020

My Favourite Eldest daughter was instructing me how to prepare dan dan noodles when I, also thinking I was on a roll and might impress Ancoats’ answer to Nigella Lawson, added the weekend might also see me stretching to prepare chicken chasseur. The response started with her expressing incredulity at my developing culinary prowess and then recalling that she thought I survived on Birds Eye chicken pies and peas? (There is some truth in this). As an after thought she lamented that she personally hated chicken chasseur because it was always served at school. I’m now planning my next blog to be called ‘First World Problems with Private Education Menus’ with a foreword by Marcus Rashford.

The badger has returned with more lawn digging. Anna sought neighbourly advice and was advised that one villager had erected an electric fence around their lawn. This runs off a car battery, which I suspect nullifies the added benefit of converting the stout carnivore to a crisp. However, further solutions, literally, were promoted such as liberally covering the ground in male urine. This apparently isn’t Bertie the Badger’s favourite tipple. Given their nocturnal raids and my trips through the night this might not be an impractical arrangement.

Reminds me of the phrase “Today’s news but tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapping’

I was discussing Sledmere House with Shirley. This stately home was out her way, eight miles north east of Driffield. It is a truly spectacular property not least for the first floor library that looks out on to magnificent sculptured grounds. The house and grounds and stables had a Downton Abbey feel. No sooner had I opened my big mouth than I was being handed across a c400 page book “that I might like to read”. Oh no! Anyway I thought, out of a basic courtesy I should have a look, not least so I could spout something from it (if not necessarily plough my way through it) when I handed it back. Well, what a page turner! The house was built, the first time in the 18th Century and the family and occupants led remarkable if not commendable lives. The family fortune came from originally being merchants in Hull and then it seems from being landlords over vast areas of East Yorkshire and the nice little earner of breeding champion race horses. Along the way we had periods in Parliament, illegitimate children, international travel, alcoholism, military service, prodigious production of children, a world class library, adultery, Spanish flu and entertaining Royals whether the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) or the last Queen Mother. Most of this before it burnt down. Not what I expected. You must go and see this palace, grounds and various buildings, including a chapel and stables, when the virus departs and maybe beg, borrow or preferably steal the book.

As a man with a PhD in procrastination then this gift can be balanced by suffering from that other male condition: hoarding. Lurking in the loft awaiting a day when I could be bothered to sort things out are a vast collection of old 16mm and 9mm cine films. These are mainly my grandfather’s from the late 1940s and early 1950s. The plan is to have them converted to a digital format for viewing.

We’ve all been here haven’t we?

There are also some Super 8 cine taken by my father that include hours of Valetta harbour wall from a boat trip when holidaying in Malta. Funnily enough he found it difficult to corral an audience to view his latest picture show after this epic. The intriguing/difficult part of viewing my grandfather’s cine film will be trying to recognise my long departed forebears. Hopefully my sister will have a clue; even Anna may be able to help. She’s been hard at work on ancestry.com putting together her (Pettersen) and the Ives family trees. Who knew I was able to trace Irish and Russian antecedents? I’m actually part Polish but the place they descended from was occupied by Russia at the time! (Old habits still die hard). On the cine boxes is the home address of my grandparents at this time in Leeds. How amazed they would be that I could sit at my desk and simply go to Google Street View and look at their old property today.

So more lockdown. We’ve cancelled exotic holidays, done the garden, spent £000’s on the house and even done some of those wearying chores that always remained on the ‘To Do List.’ Now excitement centres around trying to get to 10,000 steps or whether it’s ‘Alcohol Night’. The latter is a joyous event that comes around every other night in Acaster Malbis. We thought it unwise to allow a looser regime to help us through the incarceration. Fortunately I can ride my bike but the weather is increasingly wet, cold and dark. How long until spring and the vaccine? Pray for me.

Anna takes a mean snap

Jabs, pods & gobs – Week 43 : 2020

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?

Anna talking to Eric (Samantha, the chauffeur’s choice, in the foreground)

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.

Pathetic attempt to earn ‘Brownie Points’ by painting the breakfast room (failed)

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.

The badger problem (Anna initially checked the internet and thought it was a raccoon)

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.

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.

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

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?”

Concert List Page 1

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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.

Parking Ticket

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.