L is for Lamb

In the course of my father’s illness and the multiple trips North to see him and try and manage what needs to be managed we have gotten to know the road rather too well, and various parts of it have reached landmark status for us, including my all time favourite Industrial Estate – yes, I have one – which goes by the marvelously twee and inappropriate (considering what it actually looks like) name of Honeypot Lane Industrial Estate. We have also had the thrill of watching the gradual progress of various sets of roadworks and the impact of the changing season.

One of these signs is when we start to see lambs starting to appear. I think it must be one of the foremost signs that winter is coming towards its end when little blobs of white gambling fluff start appearing. That said, off the A1 this year the eagle eyes of the Lovely Wife noted a single field with lambs before Christmas – early indeed. They are getting fat already so it looks like what might be a bit of a gamble on the weather has appeared to have paid off for this farm. However so far it just seems this one field in 250 miles of motorway, the other fields are still only full of fat sheep waiting to drop.

It is not doubt that lambs are cute, and it never fails to amaze me that these curious and active young animals turn into the plodding denseness of the adults before ending up in the pot. Because in the end that is where most of them are destined for. I have never flirted seriously with giving up meat, although there are some definitive positives to doing so if done well. I do not have any conflict with liking and animal and then eating them. Where I do have issues is with how well an animal is treated during its short life. It is horrifying to think of how animals have been treated, in some places and cases still treated, so badly. Thankfully the situation has improved and there are many places I have been to where the meat was local and could be seen still in animal form out the field at the back (as was the case with some particularly nice Durham lamb from a farm shop off the A66). They animals look healthy and well, and the meat was appropriately delicious – I don’t care whether there is actually a connect there or it is all in my head, and frankly I don’t care. Coming from a reasonably rural area when growing up it was always a bit matter of fact regarding livestock and where our meat came from which I know was not everyone’s experience. Sometimes it was more in my face then others – in particular the time we were on holiday on a farm and my parents were asked if they wanted some game. They said yes, and were a little taken aback when the farmer appeared with a couple of freshly shot rabbits and (an entirely illegally shot, as I now know) wild goose. My mother, never a shrinking violet, got stuck in while my Dad hid, and although she did not have a problem with the blood and guts she was heartily sick of plucking the bird, although the results were delicious.

Ethics are an individual thing and everyone needs to choose what fits their conscience and that includes campaigning for better conditions as this can always be improved. I am still eating meat and do not see myself going vegetarian any time soon. I’m going to be passing the lambs again this week, I hope they are enjoying themselves, shame they do not know the smile their antics bring to me.


K is for Kissing

One of the joys of what I get to do for a living is spending a lot of time in Brussels working at a trade level in Industry technical working groups (the topics are not always that interesting but at least I get to wave my science background around a bit sometimes). The real pleasure though is not so much debating the minutiae of global product regulations as much as meeting a lot of very interesting people from all over Europe and indeed globally. Mostly this is a wonderful opportunity to understand other ways of looking at things and realising my own narrow minded little views might need some tweaking. However, there is one issue. The greetings.

Everyone seems to do it differently and clichés aside there is not even consistency within people from the same country. Is it a handshake? Is there kissing involved, air or otherwise. On one side, on both sides? Which side first? Does it matter? I’ve been doing this for the best part of two decades and I confess that I still not understand it. Quite often the only defense is to smile broadly and hold out my hand in that ‘I’m British, I’m being friendly but still… keep your distance, please.’ Not that this always works. There are some colleagues who I would best describe as ‘Forces of Nature’ and if they have mind to envelop you in an effusive greeting then, well, you have to just go with the flow.

Some of my friends might find this apparent reticence of mine as being a bit odd. I’m a person who likes to hug and be hugged; I confess. I grew up in a family that did things that way and married into one that also shows love through physical contact. I’m aware that this is not the case with everyone, and some of my best friends are included in that category but I think I have at least learned with most of them where they are comfortable and some more recent friends have been on the receiving end of a blunt ‘are you are hug or no hug person?’ which has gone down surprisingly well – I think people appreciate you taking the time to think of their comfort before learning through potentially painful trial and error. I wish I had learned that lesson much earlier.

But for me kissing and a good bear hug are different things. One is more intimate than the other and it left me wondering why that is (obviously I’m talking about ‘chaste’ kissing not the full on ‘behind the bike sheds’ sort of stuff). Possibly in my case it is that while I grew up protected, warmed and comforted by my mother’s hugs, it was my late 20s before I really kissed anyone properly and that was in a romantic (as it turned out, only for me) context. So I guess that the association in my head is that one is a far more intimate act than the other and therefore leads to the discomfort when the lips approaching are not those of my Lovely Wife.

But I cope. After all, the important thing is showing respect – and liking – for people we know, spend fun time with or work with.

My worry, and why we should all show some caution, is to keep whatever contact with our fellow human beings appropriate and comfortable with the other person concerned, something that has and is often ignored in all areas of society. Ask them if it is alright. After all, as a Brit, shaking hands is a matter of relatively little intimacy (though sometimes of much weight depending on the situation) but in some cultures is not at all the way to proceed.

At least asking shows sensitivity and respect, and there is not enough of that about.

Oh, and I am always open for a hug. If appropriate.


J is for January

Poor old January. No one likes you. Unless perhaps just maybe you have a birthday in the month, and even then the problem is that everyone is hungover – in terms of energy and financial cost if not also literally – from Christmas and New Year that no one really is in the mood for celebration. My birthday is in late February, and by that point most people are back on the party track, especially if it gives them (and me) and excuse not to give up alcohol for Lent (again). My Father’s birthday is in early January and we were up again to see him and to ‘celebrate’, as much as is possible when he still in hospital and his condition becomes increasingly complicated, and not in a good way. But for a while he enjoyed opening presents and looking forward to reading the massive pile of books I have bought him – we all have to stay positive. He also insisted that the box of Walnut Whips go home –  or else the nurses would snaffle them (he does like them, but to be honest it is more of a family joke, my revenge for the many years that he threatened me that the only thing I would get for Christmas was a ‘Matchbox with Smarties’. He always delivered too, although of course in addition to the proper presents). It was good to give him something to smile about, and then get told off by the potential Walnut Whip snaffling nurses for not telling them it was his birthday. He loves that. He’s a cheeky old sausage, and I love him massively and wish I could do more to help at this juncture. We’ll be up again soon.

But getting back to this month, I quite like January. It is a time for new beginnings, the turn of the year. We are finally freed of the wall to wall Christmas marketing circus (albeit in return for ‘look at this nice holiday in the sun you can have’ replacement, and the Valentines stuff is already wall to wall, Easter eggs starting to creep through). People are making efforts to be more healthy, do more exercise and a handful will even continue to try into February. The bird feeders have never been busier – we went to the Wildfowl Trust (WWT)  at Washington and sat in amazement in a hide watching pretty much any woodland bird you might imagine, including Goldcrests, Tree Creepers and Nuthatches as well as more tits and finches than you can shake a stick at come to visit a set of feeding stations – if you ever want to feed the birds, this is the month to start (on the same subject, our inability to clear  up wind fall apples again produces the delight of a garden full of thrushes, mostly blackbirds (who put aside their territorial leanings briefly and studiously ignore each other as they feast on Bramley) but with a Field Fare that thinks everything is only there for it). With the leaves still off the trees – but the buds starting to appear – it is never easier to see a Kingfisher on the river, a flash of azure and orange that, possibly the Jay aside, must be our most attractive bird. These are the things I hold onto in January. These are the things keeping me smiling, when mostly I want to cry at the moment. I’m all for ‘Dry January’ but for me I’d like the welling of tears to be something I would have the opportunity to lay aside for a while, but I’m suspecting that’s a bit of a forlorn hope. We soldier on.


Soundtrack: ‘January, February’ by Barbara Dickson, beloved by both my parents and the least cool thing in my CD collection (OK, that’s a lie; that probably is the best of Val Doonican, but his cover of ‘Elusive Butterfly of Love’ is still a lovely thing).

An update (I is unfortunately for Illness)

It has been quiet here, partially due to the holidays but mainly due to family issues as things continued to be rather more dramatic than anyone really would like. A lot of people have asked me how my father is doing and I appreciate the interest and good wishes. It has been a bit of an up and down period I am afraid, and as things stand it is a waiting game although with cautious optimism that the outcome will be positive.

After getting home just before Christmas my father had a few days settling back in before being readmitted with internal bleeding, the drugs he was on to help destroy the clot on his lung having caused a stomach ulcer to rupture.

When we arrived at the hospital we were immediately contacted by a nurse and sat down in a quiet room by the consultant who was straight up with the seriousness of the situation. Although they and managed to stop the bleeding by basically throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the problem, in his state of health, my father would not be able to cope with the bleeding if it started again. The next few days, we were told, would be crucial, but if he made it through them without a relapse then the risk reduced substantially.

That was a difficult evening and I was very grateful for the support of friends and family.

As I write, my father is still with us which we are very thankful for. He is still in hospital as they have a balancing act to perform between the risk of re-bleeding on one hand with getting rid finally of the original problem of a blood clot on the lung (which is still restricting his oxygen intake) on the other, two issues with diametrically opposed treatments. At the same time, he has been bedridden for the best part of two weeks and is weak and uncomfortable so they need to get him moving again under his own steam.

The result is a he is getting bad tempered and bored.

I understand him well, as I share the reasons. Neither of us are terribly patient people, you see. Especially with anything that is out of our direct control. So for him at the moment it is ‘when can I go home?’ and ‘When will I feel well again?’ both of which are questions that depend on his treatment being successful and then the matter of how long it takes to get enough strength back in his legs after being bedridden for some time. I share that frustration but have the detachment to know that there is no point in rushing things, in some respects it appears that happened just before Christmas and the results were catastrophic. In addition, we are both from the ‘glass half empty’ side of the spectrum and tend therefore to focus on the negative things and not on the good news. The combination of impatience and negativity is not a good mix. That said, while the descent into grumpiness for both of us is fast, so the cheerfulness can return quickly when things change for the better. So, we wait in hope that the treatment works, that the physio guys get him moving and he can be back home – safely this time – and we’ll continue to be blessed with his presence. But I’ll be honest; I cannot really say anything with any certainty at this stage based on recent events.