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.



H is for Holidays

My father has still been stuck in hospital (although, fingers crossed, the signs are he may get hone today) so we have been commuting the 4-5 hour journey North to see him. It has, as might be expected, taken a lot out of what should be a joyful and happy time of the year and one I normally look forward to, a holiday which allows me to be social and indulge myself in giving presents (a favourite thing and should be no surprise to anyone who knows me well and has been on the receiving end). So, this holiday is not really going to go down as a classic.

But traveling North does remind me of childhood and childhood holidays, the memory of which can bring some reassurance that whatever current difficulties there is always some memories of family happiness that I can reflect on.

I had a whale of a time on holiday as a child. Up until the age of 11, we always went to the same place, a hired static caravan on a site called Warren Mill, that was a stone’s through from the village of Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast. Of Bamburgh – one of favourite places in the world, and somewhere that I think of as the true quintessential English village – I’ll probably waffle on about some other time. More generally, my thoughts have been to the innocence of childhood holidays. It never occurred to me that going to the same place every year might be boring; it did later as I drifted into my teens. In contrast, the very routine nature was a source of reassurance and something to look forward to. So, we would arrive the same route, saying hello to all the landmarks as we approached the caravan site. At the end, the sadness of going home was accompanied with saying goodbye to the same things, in the knowledge I would see them again the next year. Typically – being a child –  these landmarks included the huge castle and the church, but also the less well known ‘Monster’. Let me explain. The Monster was in fact an old dead tree, of decent size, lying on its side on the top of a rise just North of the village. To my young self it was clearly a multi tentacled beast from beyond, but oddly also a friendly one as it was always there to greet me. The Monster was probably the nearest I had to an imaginary friend. I do not know exactly how old I was when it first became a holiday landmark, but I do recall the excitement of seeing if it was still there as we arrived each year. And it was – albeit, even in my child’s eyes – clearly reduced every year as time and the process of decomposition gradually chipped away at it. But the core hung on, and even twenty years later when I next passed this way as an adult some vestiges still remained.

So, holiday was a routine. We would buy fish in chips in Seahouses, possibly accompanied by me buying some tat from the gift shops near the harbour, that seemed like Aladdin’s caves of exotic things with sea shells, and scorpions entombed in Perspex. Then it would be back to Bamburgh and along the winding road to Stag Rock (a magical place for me) and the great joy of large rock pools teeming with things to catch and examine, a process that would occupy me all day, to the point where one, unusually hot summer I badly burned my back in the sun as I was bending down so much. Even that – I could not sleep on my back it was so bad – had its plus points. Once healed, there was great fun to be had peeling away all the dry skin as though it were cling film, much to the disgust of my parents.

Well, I was a boy after all.

G is for Girders

I grew up in a house where the TV was on pretty much all the time, whether or not my parents were actually watching it. In fact, there was often two TVs on at the same time, one in the lounge and one with my mother in the kitchen. It was mainly for company, but it has resulted in myself having real issues with any level of quiet when I am home. Today it is more likely to be the radio than the TV, but there still has to be some kind of noise in the background or I start to get a bit edgy. This cause no end of amusement with us because the Lovely Wife is completely the opposite and likes nothing better than silence reigning. Therefore, if you ever visit our house you will be able to tell whether I am at home or not the moment that you walk in the door; if it’s quiet, I’m out. If the radio is burbling away to itself in the kitchen then I’m definitely in residence, an indicator that could not be more accurate than a flag posted from the roof.

The other thing that this constant exposure to TV brought was something I have noticed in others as well, which is how much we are victims of advertising. In many cases, certain adverts persist in our heads long after the product has ceased to become available, and they are often more vividly remembered than a lot of the programmes they were interrupting. It is very much a generational thing, where people who experienced them at the same time – especially through childhood – can revel in the shared knowledge that a Finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat; that Iron Bru is made in Scotland – from girders – or wonder if it is possible to get a copy of Fly Fishing by (and some of you are thinking of this ad as you read this aren’t you, the bit where the old man says, ‘Oh, my name? It’s….) J R Hartley.

Sometimes though you do get a blank look, as either by some fluke the person you should have been able to share the joke with managed to miss the saturation advertising (is Fry’s Turkish Delight really ‘full of Eastern Promise?’) or you realise the advert was a regional one. Coming from the North East one of my favourite adverts was for Tudor Crisps (which I am fairly sure no longer exists) where the cheeky paper lad takes a few bags out of his wages and uses them to bribe one of his (dumb) mates to help him with his delivery, involving what at the time was a notorious Tyneside landmark (as with the crisps, I believe the Dunstan Rocket is now gone). I don’t know why this makes me laugh every time. Maybe it is because it reminds me of people I knew (or indeed, at the time, the boy I was) and it is difficult to get more Tyneside in the 1980s then this. I mean it is even the flavour of the crisps featured – Spring onion, pickled onion, and tomato sauce flavours. Class (although there is another version with the boring flavours)

Or maybe I just really like crisps.

Anyway, here it is and I am sure that I ‘ve now got at least some of you to decide to waste some time trawling through your favourite adverts on Youtube is a good idea. Go on, you know you want to, they are all out there somewhere you know.

(I’ll note that this week’s blog was brought on by a conversation over Croft Original Cream Sherry. After all, one instinctively knows when something is right. Apparently.)


F is for Family

Family is a funny thing, something that really is an accident of birth. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t but I think most of us could, in honesty, sift through the complexities of our own familial relationships and pick out the good and the bad.

Family is very much in my mind now as, at the time of writing, my father is in hospital being treated for a pulmonary embolism. I’m very blessed to still have him at all – quite apart from overcoming cancer almost seven years ago, it was probably only the thoughtfulness of the lady who comes into clean for him once a week that he is now recuperating; she thought he looked ill and took him into Accident and Emergency, and they quickly worked out that a blot clot – probably a left over from the cancer beating surgery – had made its way onto his lungs.

Unfortunately for me, it is over four hours’ journey to see my father so I see him only intermittently at the best of times, although I call him regularly. I wish he lived closer, but he would never move down south and he is normally comfortable where he is, in the bungalow I grew up in and where he spent most his married life with my Mum. After she passed away, he took several years to pull himself away from melancholy to a healthier state of sadness and resignation, although the wall to wall terrible made for TV romantic comedies are a bit wearing at times.

I loved my parents, but I would never have been able to cope with living with them once I became an adult and went to university (OK, after I became an adult post university!). It doesn’t take long for a point of contention to arise and it is usually something petty. I wonder if it might have been different if I had siblings, and certainly that would have been a major difference in the current situation. My parents wanted more than me, but in the end, I was all they got, and I’ve enjoyed the complete attention ever since. However, at times like this it would have been good to have had someone else to share the load. Do not get me wrong – the Lovely Wife and many friends I have can point out the drawbacks of siblings too, but it has occurred to me recently that my side of the family is dwindling to virtually nothing; apart from my Dad I have an uncle and his family, and some second cousins I know well, but basically that is it. At some point I will be in the situation where, in reality, my family is the one I have married into and most of the ties to where I grew up will be purely memories. It is not something I am looking forward to of course, but I am interested to see whether it changes my outlook on life and how I see then the concept of home, of family and my place in it, and whether my personal experience can be put into good use helping those who are not as far along the path as I am.

For the moment, I have to do what I can for my Dad, and be thankful for the time I have had with him and the possibility that exists for more time in the future. In the end, that is all any of us can do with the people we love, family or not, as we never know when they, or we, will be no longer there. In this, at least, we must not so much live in the moment as love in the moment.

E is for Education


The cliché was that school days were the best of life. This is clearly nonsensical propaganda. Personally, my best days are scattered through my life and I entirely hope and expect that I still have a few to enjoy (let us draw a veil over the ones that I’m not going to like so much and just get through those). That said, I consider myself quite blessed, as generally speaking my school days were on the positive side, and sometimes, whisper it, rather enjoyable.

Mainly this was because I seem to have been lucky enough to blunder through my education without any real plan or direction and managed to pitch the amount of effort in that ‘just enough to get by’ zone (being inherently lazy at work, especially work I was not that interested in, e.g., mathematics, which I always saw as a means to an end rather that something worth studying for its own benefit). It all started off rather simply at my local state primary school where I enjoyed being and (intellectual) bigger fish in a very small pond; afterwards and ever since I have had to cope with being surrounded by people much brighter (and worse, more motivated) than I was. Luckily for me, while I may be loud, I’m not hugely competitive. So, I very easily resigned myself to mid table mediocrity and it has served me rather well over the years, and put me in a good place to support friends who have placed themselves under much more pressure to achieve.

My teachers at primary were the first main blessing, not so much by their teaching as much as insisting to my parents that they get me into somewhere, anywhere, other than the big comprehensive school across the road, onto whose grounds our house backed. Funnily enough the school is question has now been flattened to make way for a new housing estate, which is just a more permanent fate then it used to meet fairly regularly at the hands and matches of the local bored arsonists. My parents did not take much persuading, although the solution at the time meant a private school somewhere and that meant fees. At the time (see, this is all working out here in ways I have nothing to do with) you could get government help if you passed the entry requirements of the school concerned and your parents were on a low income, as were mine. I passed and had a choice in the end, but the most important choice here was that my parents chose to forgo anything for themselves for the next seven years as my fees (plus the other inevitable expenses such as uniform) took up every penny, not that I realised at the time.

I am very fond of Newcastle Royal Grammar, which is where I chose. I worked reasonably hard and it was the kind of school where if that was the approach you took the teachers would respond positively back. The only exceptions were music and games, both of which I was useless at. Perhaps surprisingly considering my lack of fitness at the time, it was the former I truly hated. At least the teachers had no real expectations of me as a great athlete, so largely they treated me with mild indifference providing I didn’t grumble and turned up. Music though… I just couldn’t get my head around it (I still cannot read music) and the staff couldn’t be bothered to take the time to teach me the basics. It is a shame as I love music and singing. But in the end the only time in my life I have been thrown out of a class at age thirteen and it was a music lesson. I was thrown out for coughing, I presume I was not expectorating to the right rhythm or something. Git.

So, that was not one of the best days.

Thankfully, other days were better. But maybe I’ll save some of those for another time.

D is for Doctor Who (Obviously)

People sometimes talk about what their first memory is. For some it may be an experience or event, maybe the first day at school or something that sticks in the mind due to something positive or negative. I know my first memory quite clearly and can date it precisely to Saturday afternoon, January 25th 1975; I was a few weeks away from my 4th birthday.

I was watching Doctor Who.

Specifically, I remember the cliff hanger at the end of episode 1 of ‘The Ark in Space’ where one of the Doctors companions, the hapless Harry Sullivan, opens a cupboard door, to have this huge insect like alien fall upon him. Cue screaming sting into theme music, credits and the painfully long wait until next Saturday (spoiler alert – the Wirrn queen is already dead, and Harry is in no danger – yet –  but you don’t find that out until episode 2. Just in case you were worried).

Some people may find it rather sad that my first memory is of a science fiction show and not something ‘real’, but I do not at all. In fact, I’m rather proud of it and it says a lot about me that I’m perfectly happy to be said. I’ve obviously been a diehard fan ever since then and I have never been ashamed of it (this may seem strange to younger readers, as the rebooted show has a much broader appeal than the ‘classic’ series ever did – although not in ratings – but for a lot of my younger life to be a Doctor Who fan was to invite ridicule). We did not care. We had our show, and even after it was cancelled in 1989 I was one of those that persevered through the Dark Time, until the Second (well, third, if you count the 1996 TV movie, which you should, if only so you claim Paul McGann) Coming. Many happy years were spent as a child on Saturday nights getting terribly excited and waiting impatiently for Basil Brush to end so I could take my position behind the folding chair in front of the TV in the middle of the living room (the sofa was up against the wall so not available for cover). It was especially fun when my Nana was staying, as she hated the programme and her tuts of disapproval at how silly it was added to the enjoyment, and as I got older it became a mutual running joke. The show influenced me in many ways, mostly positive (as, at its best, it always is). It fuelled my reading (although my English teacher did despair that my reading record contained mostly Target book novelizations of past episodes. At least, he did concede, I was reading a lot. On a slightly more negative side the show made me somewhat ambivalent to firework displays, which I link directly to November 1978 where, for some reason I could never understand, my parents decided that going to a firework display with my cousins was a better idea than watching episode 2 of ‘The Stones of Blood’. This, at a time when there were no repeats, no DVDs no iPlayer – no chance of ever seeing it. The episode was starting as we left the house. I do not think I was very good company (they never made the same mistake again). My time in the scouts was curtailed when the BBC, in an act of stupidity, moved the programme to the same night. There was never any choice of who was going to lose out, and the woggle was never worn again.

It is some satisfaction that when the show came back, the driving forces behind it were fans like me, of much the same age (although obviously hugely more talented). I still look forward to it, although watching now is not usually the visceral experience it was a child. But it is part of me.

And just in case anyone is wondering what I think of a female Doctor – bring it on. I’m interested to see what they do with it, and the show has a flexible enough format to adapt to the world as it is now. My only problem? It’s fiction. I think the world could do with the Doctor now. But we need to sort out our own mess.

C is for Camping

It came as some surprise to me that the Lovely Wife was under the impression that I did not like sleeping under canvas, that I objected to the concept and practice of camping. This is not true; it is just we have not done very much of it in the time we have been together. In fact, other than camping in a friend’s back garden – there not being enough crash space in the house at the time – at parties is pretty much the only time I recall that we have spent under canvas together. That will change next year when we go to my first proper festival – Wilderness – and I am quite looking forward to the challenges of that and hoping the weather behaves for a festival that includes plenty of outdoor activities. But camping is something that occupies a small but memorable part of my history, mainly regarding when I was young.

The problem with camping for me is that it is a case of opposites; it is either a massive amount of fun or an utterly awful experience. More than perhaps anything else it is weather dependant. I can enjoy a week trudging around the countryside in waterproofs or running in driving rain, providing there is somewhere warm and dry to change into new warm and dry clothes. If you are in a tent this becomes much harder as the even if your tent is up already when the heavens open – and I shudder at the memory of one holiday when a bunch of us lads were trying to get our tents up as the rain torrents fell, which resulted only in everything being soaked and an entire change of plan where the tents were spurned in favour of hastily arranged B&B and hostels for the rest of the holiday – even when they are up in time the water just seems to get in somehow leaving things just a little on the damp side. Then again, as I say, if the sun is shining and glorious, it can be quite idyllic. Until the tent gets too hot.

But I have very fond memories of camping, especially with the scouts as a child. Yes, we were shoved in a tent like sardines (and the tents were very, very old as I remember, the type with separate groundsheets so inevitably everything that could find its way into the tent would. Yes, there was the inevitable dodgy food, and you cannot throw several pre-teen boys together without them trying to humiliate each other by playing strip pontoon (or some other equally pathetic game when everyone was supposed to be asleep). But there was a good atmosphere and you were away from home just long enough for it be exciting and not too long that you got homesick. Our scout leader even had a repertoire of stories around the inevitable bonfire as we waited for the half cooked ‘baked’ potatoes to be vaguely edible. He told with relish, for example, of the Mad Shepherd, who bit the ankles of unwary boys causing them to bleed to death, a story on the so utterly ludicrous to not be frightening at all, but told in such a deadpan and convincing manner that – I kid you not – everyone was very careful to keep their ankles inside the tent for the remainder of the camp.

Ah. Happy days. Enjoy your camping, but watch out for the Mad Shepherd. He is still out there somewhere… And he is still hungry…