At Last,

Wednesday 21st December

I seem to have been rushing around for a few days, and indeed I have.  The journey back from France, mostly through the night, grabbing snatches of sleep where we could, the inevitable unloading of the car.  Then on Saturday re-loading it with presents and wine and off to my sister’s.  We have a family tradition of all meeting up the weekend before Christmas to exchange presents and to see each other, as we will all be with our respective families on the 25th.  That too was quite a long drive to Northampton and back.  A really lovely day was had by all, six of my grandchildren were there and Mum and Dad of course.  But my wife and I were both nursing colds that got steadily worse as the day wore on.

Sunday was another family get-together of a few friends and relatives of my wife’s family; and although feeling pretty groggy with cold it was another enjoyable if rather hectic day.

I was up early on Monday as I had to go to the Restaurant to pick up paperwork and see my boss for breakfast.  Then another train to Derby to see my son and his wife and my granddaughter Elizabeth.  She really is a cutie, and we had a good evening.  Up very early and train back to London yesterday and back to work for filing and final meeting with the managers.  Then home, cold worse is anything, and feeling quite exhausted.

Today, we have nothing to do, a peaceful day beckons…..hahaha.  Although I am sure that someone will be writing a list pretty soon.


 ‘Why?’ she later asked herself, should she have felt like this ‘Isn’t it normal that you should be closer to your mother and father, to mummy and daddy, than anyone else.’  She really didn’t know, but it was true in Jane’s case that she loved her sister with an intensity she should have maybe felt for her parents, but they were always second in her affections, and she couldn’t really say why.  It seemed more than natural to her at the time and it was only as she grew older that she questioned it.  Only then, when she realised that siblings’ love for each other was almost always more than exceeded by the love for, and by, their parents, did she begin to wonder why.  Maybe it was because she was always with her sister; they played and ate and bathed together and they slept in the same room and often in the same bed too.  When the rain was splashing on the window and the wind would rattle and shake the panes, her sister would hold her blankets open and say the words she was hoping for, ‘Come on then’ and Jane would jump out of her cold sheets and hop in, into the warmth Harriet had made in her cosy little bed and be instantly safe, enwrapped, cocooned in an all-enveloping warmth, and she would fall into such a deep safe sleep; unlike anything she ever slept on my own.

*  * *

Although June knew it was stupid of her she felt it must only be a matter of time before Ted would want to see her again. Nothing had been said between them, no plans made, and no final goodbyes either.   Maybe he was waiting for some kind of a sign from her; some signal that she was ready; ready to take off where they had left it she supposed. Though no words had been spoken she sometimes thought she could detect something, some tiny sign of complicity; on the few family occasions where they would be together, though polite and trying desperately not to give herself away she was scanning his handsome face for some sign, some clue that he still felt the same about her.  She couldn’t be sure but just the way his hand lingered in hers for just that touch longer than it should have as they said their ritual goodbyes, the way his smile seemed directed solely at her, the way he turned his head when he spoke to look at her.  These were the tiny clues she pinned her hopes on, while all the time telling herself what a fool she would be if she allowed herself to start with him again.  And how could they be doing it in barns and old sheds at their age, she would be thirty soon.  No, this time around they would have to be far more careful – that is if he still wanted her.  And she was terrified that he might not want her anymore.  Her sister Julie was pregnant for the third time now, two boys under five already and another one on the way, so she and Ted were still at it like rabbits she supposed.  Maybe Julie was enough for him; maybe he was tired of her, June, now.  In one way this would be a blessing, at least it would put an end to it all.  She just wasn’t sure how she would cope if he didn’t need her anymore, she couldn’t bear it if he didn’t care anymore.  She could put up with not seeing him again, with that side of it being over for good, it was just the not being loved, the not being wanted by him that she couldn’t stand.   She knew that she was stuck with Phil now, of course, it wasn’t that she didn’t love him, and the girls too in a way.  Of course she loved them; it just never seemed enough for her, steady unexciting Phil and the girls.  ‘Was this it then?  Was that all there was from now on, boring but reliable Phil, precocious little Harriet and Jane still as much of a baby as she had ever been.’ She wondered.  And what would become of her, June?  What would she become when the girls grew up and left her, would she just be another old woman stuck in a dull marriage with occasional visits from grandchildren to lighten the gloom?  She shuddered when she thought about this possible future.

*  * *

Writing Lists

Monday 19th December

I used to write lists, long time ago now – and it certainly helped to focus the mind.  A bit.  But I often forgot the list, especially when shopping; but the fact that I had written the list, detailing the things I needed to buy meant I remembered them when I got in the shop.  But don’t you find that even with a list you still sometimes miss things; and worst of all of course, buy lots of stuff that wasn’t on the list at all.

Nowadays I don’t like writing lists, I seem to remember pretty well what I have to do in my head; and the great benefit if I forget something – there isn’t that un-ticked item on the list staring accusingly out at you, you can even forget that you have forgotten…

I think that often the habit of writing a list is actually a substitute for actually doing the things that are on the list.  The same as meetings where nothing is decided, nothing achieved – but smiles all round and an agreement to have another meeting next week to discuss progress (of which there won’t be any, but let’s have another meeting about it anyway).  I hated having meetings at work; I knew only too well what had to be done and just got on with it.  If I needed to discuss something with someone I just spoke directly with them; i didn’t need to arrange a meeting, or have a list with me.

For many people writing the list is the achievement, especially for those in Management positions; detailing work that other people have to do can be quite satisfying.  Seeing all those tasks written down gives one an enormous feeling of accomplishment, especially as all the items will have to be completed by someone else; after all – someone has to supervise people.  The best list-writers however go one stage further; they arrange a meeting, where they ask each attendee just what their tasks for the day/week/month will be (what is to be done, they ask, as if the thought had never struck the humble worker before). They dutifully write this all down, get it typed up and e-mail it back to the person who provided the information in the first place.  This is called Management, and it is quite exhausting.  Of course by the time one receives one’s list half the tasks have either been done or are now found not to be needed.  But the list-writer can sit back with a massive sense of achievement having sorted everyone else’s lives out for them, and after all writing lists can be quite tiring; now they can relax – until tomorrow when another list will have to be written.

Welcome back to Tory Britain

Sunday 18th December

Here we are again, after 6 and a half years, we are well and truly back in Tory Britain.   The NHS is in perpetual crisis, starved of real investment, told to make do, the victim of unnecessary and costly re-organisation, it limps on.  Ambulances are waiting for thirty minutes outside clogged up A. and E.  Routine operations are cancelled for the Winter, beds are blocked by the elderly because there is NO care in the community.  Community?  What community?  The fifty billion extra promised by Cameron before the election has been quietly forgotten; after all – he is now yesterday’s man…

Welcome to Tory Britain.  Education is still a mess; despite years of Academies and billions given to free schools we have slipped to 42nd in the World’s educational standards. Swivel-eyed Nicky Morgan was sacked and her replacement doesn’t even believe in grammar schools but has to trumpet the new party line….

Welcome to Tory Britain.  Housing is now just for those who already own houses, or buy-to-let landlords or a few lucky youngsters whose parents can afford to help them on to the ladder.  Private rents are rising fast and unscrupulous landlords are the new norm; councils are being forced to evict people whose kids have grown up and left home and the bedroom tax is being applied even to those with disabled children….

Welcome to Tory Britain.  Companies already making large profits are having Corporation tax cut; the rich cannot be expected to pay high taxes anymore, and inheritance tax thresholds are rising too.  The deficit is rising again, but hey – money is still cheap, mind you – better keep those cuts in place a while longer….

Welcome to Tory Britain.  Whose clever idea was it to let private companies run our prisons?  How else are they going to make a profit except by cutting staff?  Then when the riots begin, the Police will have to sort it out….

Welcome to Tory Britain.  The bastards John major complained about are now in charge.  Europe is still the fault-line running through the party and another whole Parliament will be consumed by Brexit while the country stagnates….

Welcome to Tory Britain.  There is no money for anything anymore.  Except HS2, and Heathrow runways, and repairs to Buckingham Palace and Trident of course. But Social care is crumbling, the NHS still underfunded, local councils struggling to keep services running, but there simply isn’t any money, especially as we will have to hire who knows how many negotiators and civil servants just to get out of Europe, let alone to try to make trade deals elsewhere….

Welcome to Tory Britian, where our Prime Minister cozies up to oil-rich Shieks and sells them weapons, while they indiscriminately bomb their enemies in the Yemen….

Welcome to Tory Britain where Brexit means Brexit and it will be Red White and Blue, and that is all you need to know.

They seem to do things better in Paris

Saturday 17th December

Well the journey back was not so bad after all, in fact one of the best we have ever made.  We had a couple of sleeps on the way but drove mostly through the night and got a much earlier crossing (tunnel, so what exactly is the verb?) than we had planned.  Now most of our friends who drive back avoid Paris, preferring a slightly longer route via Reims.  When you mention the word Paris, there is a visible shake of the head and the sound of air being drawn in over pursed lips and teeth.  But we have done Paris for a long time, and sometimes we have to slow down a bit; once or twice we have even stopped altogether for a few minutes, but mostly it is pretty smooth.  Our SatNav guides us through the spaghetti maze of intertwining roads into and out of the capital city; once (and never again repeated) it even took us on a spectacularly long, and I mean several kilometers, tunnel, a six lane motorway in fact under the West side of the city, brightly lit all the way too).  We always do a few tunnels on the journey back, and they are clean and wide and well-lit; it seems that hills and valleys present no problem for French road-builders, a tunnel of two kilometers here and a viaduct of several hundred meters there – no problem.  But Paris, with a good SatNav is really no problem either.  In fact it is Motorway all the way, at one point 8 lanes each way, and we simply bear left or right as we are instructed and suddenly we are over the Seine and on the Peripherique, and then heading for Charles de Gaulle airport (we drive under the runways) and off to Calais. No hold-ups, no traffic lights and no snags.

What a difference approaching and getting through London.  Stop, start, traffic lights and roundabouts and no main North South or even East West route at all.  And a major disgrace no decent six lane bridge or tunnel.  We crawl towards the Victorian BlackWall Tunnel and though being constantly renovated it is an antique with grubby white tiles and a decrepit dirty feel to it.  Unbelievable that in the 21st Century in our Capital city we still have only two hundred-year old tunnels under the river (and one is single lane!!!).  The French certainly do it differently; they plan and simply knock down whatever is in the way. “You want six lanes? Are you sure that will be enough? Why don’t we make it eight, and let’s go the shortest route possible while we are about it.”  We sailed through Paris, and though only a couple of miles from the Blackwall tunnel, we crawled through London.

Travelling, travelling, travelling

Thursday 15th December

We are heading back to England later today, car loaded up with wine, and presents for children, grandchildren, my sister’s family and Mum and Dad.  And I am not looking forward to the journey.  I don’t drive and am a reluctant passenger at best.  A lot of the journey will be in the dark; Winter really is the worst time of year to drive back.  But as Harry Chapin once sang, “it’s got to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good.”   And once there we will see everyone.  The grandchildren are all growing up fast; the three older ones are young adults with boy and girlfriends already.  I suppose the next milestone will be becoming a Great Grandad, how old must you feel then?

And thankfully my parents are still alive and going strong, where many of our friends out here, many younger than us are parentless already.  Like my own mortality, we hope it’s a while off yet.

And my daily blog, which I have rarely missed may not appear quite so regularly.  Have patience, normal service will be resumed shortly….

S – is also for Carly Simon

Wednesday 14th December

Oh Carly, once you were up there with Carol King, James Taylor and almost as good as Joni and Neil Young.  In the incredible wave of talent emerging in the early Seventies you were riding high.  Especially after your two great albums ‘Anticipation’ and ‘No Secrets’ it seemed you could do no wrong and would carry on developing for a few albums more. But gradually you drifted into a ‘Middle of the Road’ style and slipped way off my radar.  All that edginess was lost in the gloss of overproduction and mass audience appeal lyrics.  Did you lose your muse, or get rich too quick, or just give up on being a real artist? Who knows….

But despite that it is still a joy to play those first few records.  That voice, possibly one of the very best in the music of the Seventies still sends a shiver down my spine on songs like ‘I’ve Got to Have You’ with its’ longing and desire, and oh, that brilliant saxophone solo.  She came to real fame with the song ‘You’re So Vain’ on ‘No Secrets’ and the guessing game begun as to who she was singing about; her lovers reputedly included James Taylor , Mick Jagger and film star Warren Beatty.  But it was a brilliant song, with the cleverest lyric.

I still bought a few of her records as the years passed, and despite her distinctive voice, clear as a bell, the songs never hit the heights of those two early albums.  Oh well….

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Rudeness, Civility and Deference

Tuesday 13th December

When I first came to London I was shocked at the rudeness of people.  Having come from a small market town, ‘changeless as canal water’ (Viv Stanshall) where politeness bordered on deference, the right hand automatically rising to, but not quite doffing the cap to ‘important persons; teachers, bank managers, solicitors and doctors’, it was truly a shock that the order of the day here was kick and shove, and make sure you elbow those weaker than you out of the way.  As the bus pulls in any semblance of an orderly queue disintegrates in seconds as the mob surges forward.  On the Underground it is dog eat dog, and the thought of giving up one’s preciously gained seat for a lady, pregnant, old or just a female, is shrugged off and bystanders simply ignore it.  In fact they ignore everything, to speak to another traveler is taboo, even to smile is frowned upon and labels you as some sort of pervert.  Young men sit with legs splayed almost occupying three seats but to complain will possibly result in violence, so, cowed, you try to squeeze into the limited space available.  Of late I have taken to, when shoved out of the way by someone, smile and say ‘Thankyou’.  Not that this is any more successful but at least it makes me feel good (if not a tad sanctimonious).

Here in France we are still in the world of civility.  You say Bonjour Monsieur or Madame to everyone, and they automatically reply with their own smiling Bonjour.  Two or sometimes three cheek kisses are obligatory for people you know. Cars (mostly) seem happy for pedestrians to cross the street.  In shops you wait patiently while the cashier has a friendly conversation with her neighbor; only in the larger Supermarches are you hurriedly served.  But of the triumvirate of Citizen rights “Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite” it is equality that is most respected.  There is no deference here, nothing really approaching the brutal English class system.  Respect maybe, but not that deference, expected and still often granted to our upper classes.  And Civility makes such a difference, even when you are slightly moody and it is raining, the morning dog walk is transformed by those polite smiling ‘Bonjours’.


Monday 12th December

 Such an Idyllic Childhood….

Jane was born just two years after Harriet. She was the younger daughter, and grew up with her older sister by her side, leaning on her sister, trusting that her sister would always be there for her, arguing and fighting with her sister, resenting her superiority, being jealous of her natural good looks, but never for one moment believing she would not be there. Why should she not be?  She was her older sister and her dear Harriet was always and would always be there for her.  That was how it felt for little Jane, always in her sister’s shadow, but somehow protected sheltered too from the harsh bright sunlight.   Her sister was her rock, her protector, her friend and the other part of herself.   Her sister made her complete; she was first and foremost her older sisters’ younger sister.  Being a sister defined her far more than being a daughter did.

What of her parents you might ask, and all she could say was that yes, they were around, they were there all the time, but it was her sister she was close to, it was her sister she needed and it was her sister she loved.  She was just two years older than Jane, still close enough to play with, to be her companion, her confessor, her conspirator and her guide but not too old to be ashamed to be seen with her, to neglect her for her own friends; in fact Harriet’s friends became Jane’s friends and were always closer to her than the girls in her own class would ever become.  ‘My sister and I’, that was how she saw herself, how she looked upon herself, ‘Jane’.  It was never just Jane herself, she was always with her sister and she accepted herself as her sister’s sister first and foremost. As if her relationship, her being a sister, and a younger sister to an older sister at that; was more important even than being herself, just plain and simple Jane.

And their home was happy enough too, or at least they had no reason to ever feel unhappy; their parents certainly loved them, there can be little doubt of that. It is just that niggly feeling you sometimes get when it doesn’t quite feel natural, this parental love they all talk about, it never felt absolutely right to the two little girls.  It was more like a game they were playing, saying all the right things, and Jane for one certainly felt them most of the time, but it was like a play, it all seemed to be written for them by someone else, and though word-perfect, the older Jane grew the more she felt that they were mostly just words, and even as the realisation slowly came upon her, she would never have dreamed of not being there; in the play, she just wasn’t the author that was all.  And though you couldn’t imagine not saying them, these automatic words of love they all trotted out, you didn’t need to imagine not meaning them.  It sometimes felt as if she couldn’t really trust them, her parents, a vague sense of insecurity, as if she always knew it couldn’t last and that one day it would all be over and she would be alone.  Alone with her sister she meant, there was never the slightest feeling of doubt about her love at all.

*  * *

‘Come on Jane’, thought Harriet, maybe a bit too loud ‘It isn’t that hard, anyone can read, just follow my finger and listen to what I am saying’.

“Can you see that word there, that’s Janet, not Jane, your name – but a bit like it, only it has a ‘t’ on the end, so that’s how you remember it’s Janet, not Jane see.  And that word is Peter, Peter is a boy, you remember what I told you about boys when we saw Aunt Julies boys the other day, don’t you.  Boys are different from us girls, they’re not so nice, they like to fight all the time, and they don’t wear pretty dresses like we do, do they.” And putting the book down she whispered into Jane’s always receptive ear “You’ll learn all about boys when you are older like me, though you’re such a dunce Jane, you will never know as much as I do, that’s for sure” and then smiling reassuringly she continued “Now what shall we do today, I know, I’ll be your mummy and you can be my baby. No Jane, you can’t be the mummy, I’m the oldest so I get to choose.  It just happens that way, that’s the way it is.  I am your older sister and I get to choose first.  You get to choose second, so that’s not so bad is it.” And Jane nodded and had to agree with the undoubted wisdom of her big sister Harriet.


Sunday 11th December

Life is full of contradictions.  On the surface things seem to be getting uglier; the anti-immigrant rhetoric has been allowed to become respectable – and yet on a personal level people have never been kinder.  Many Tories are still fulminating about gay marriage, but teenage kids are far more accepting than we ever were.  We are concerned and cry at images of children plucked from the sea as they desperately seek refuge across the Mediterranean, but we bristle at the suggestion that Britain should accept asylum seekers who have crossed so many borders and are trying to get across our tiny channel.  We say the Russians are committing war crimes (and they may well be) in clearing Alleppo of rebels, but the news bulletins tell us little of what our so-called friends, the Saudis are doing in the Yemen.  And so it goes on…

And on a personal level, we bewail the fact that our Grandchildren will not be able to afford houses of their own, but are secretly excited at the inflated values of our own cheaply got properties.  We are concerned at the lack of funding of our health service – but go to any Doctor’s Surgery and it is full of people with minor ailments that would almost certainly clear up if left alone.  We complain that we are all being pushed down the Internet road, but log on to ebay or Amazon for the latest bargains.  And so it goes on…

But what else can we do?  The recent upsets of Brexit and Trump may well be down to this feeling of helplessness in the face of the contradictions in Life today.  And like most commentators, I don’t have the answers either.  I too despair of the news, and yet look forward to another evening of music and wine….but what else, short of a Revolution can we do.  Oh, and if anyone out there is thinking of starting one, let me know…I will happily man the barricades, or more likely duck down behind it and hedge my bets by checking the exchange rates and buying euros…..hahaha