Monday, 29 February 2016

Max Headroom

Did you hear the Peanut Senator say that RRRRRRRRRRonald Reagan was just a tttttttttalking head? Guess what! Sssssssssso am I! Gonna run for PPPPPPPPPPresident! Yo!

I wonder how many people now remember that mid-1980s TV character Max Headroom? I actually watched the film from which the later TV shows were derived. In the film, the world is ruled by TV companies in a rather Big-Brotherish way - all of them fighting for top ratings, using some very disturbing mind-warping methods that they'd rather keep secret. But there is a fearless investigative reporter who keeps on revealing The Truth. Until one day they finally get him, and turn his brainwaves into a computer-generated persona called Max Headroom, these being the last words he sees as a living person, at the entrance to a multistorey car park. I think he is riding a motorbike in some chase, and doesn't duck in time. I can't quite recall what happens next, but I think they save his head and extract his consciousness from it. But, when transferred into cyberspace, the head takes on a life of its own, and is apt to say all kinds of zany, indiscreet things about the world in general, and becomes a kind of TV guru.

All you ever see is the head, which is not quite naturalistic, having a plasticky look. There is a constantly-moving background of strange lines and patterns, usually set at a crazy angle. Max seems to be mildly tipsy and not in full control of himself, and his computerised rendition is imperfect, so that the picture (and his voice with it) stutters unpredictably. Sometimes all he does is give you, the viewer, an odd look before erupting into a fresh series of highly original observations about contemporary political figures and the shallow, commercialised preoccupations of the 1980s. He says what he likes.

The TV series was short-lived. It was popular for a season - well, I liked to watch it - then the public got bored, as the public easily did in the 1980s, and so far as I know Max was never seen again on UK screens. I dare say he is remembered by a discerning few as a cult phenomenon. There must have been posters and T-shirts. But I doubt whether there were any Max Headroom Annuals at Christmastime.

Personally, I think the concept was engaging and could have modern possibilities. Take the forthcoming Brexit Referendum, for instance. I think one or other side should revive Max Headroom to speak for their side of the argument. So much better than letting David Cameron or Iain Duncan-Smith do it. I dare say that the 'face' of the original Max Headroom is copyrighted. No problemo. A computer-generated Boris Johnson face will (for instance) do nicely.

And if they want to avoid using the faces of real in-the-news people altogether - so that it doesn't matter what outrageous claims or insults are flung about - they could use the face of some nonentity picked at random, someone nobody has ever heard of, a person who doesn't matter, who can't afford to sue or otherwise make a fuss. I'm sure they'd fffffffffffind ssssssssssssomeone.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

New bracelet!

For somebody who often complains about her unexpected costs, and their effect on her spending power, I do tend to indulge myself at the drop of a hat!

I spotted a silver bracelet in the window of a jeweller's shop in Heathfield called Jocalia, and was amazed to see the resemblance between it and the silver necklace I usually wear when out and about. They would make a superbly matched set. I had to go in and enquire. The upshot was - need you have doubted it! - that I bought the bracelet.

I will tell you the cost: £199. Enough to make me hesitate. I did go off to have a coffee, and to think about it. I said to myself, I really ought not to be spending money on a piece of jewellery when the annual car service is approaching. But I hadn't ever seen a bracelet exactly like this; and I was keen to have one that went really well with my favourite necklace. And if I waited it would be gone.

So I made an Executive Decision. Here it is at home, with the necklace I already had. I think you will agree that they go together very well.

They share exactly the same construction, even the same robust type of hook fastening. They are both 'chunky' and eye-catching. I do so love the silky-smooth feel of silver, and its bright white brilliance, and how it quickly picks up the warmth of one's skin. And when woven into a flexible rope like this - now how do they do that? - both necklace and bracelet look just like little snakes, or, even more so, like sleek garden slow-worms. I've always considered the necklace my most successful and versatile piece of jewellery - it goes with almost any occasion, almost anything I might want to wear. Now it has a companion.

But I won't start wearing them both together as a standard kit! The necklace is special, and important to me in a way that the bracelet is not. The bracelet must first earn its place, by gathering associations around it. At the moment it's just a nice addition to my jewellery collection, and nothing more.

Although the necklace was not the last gift I ever had from M---, it was certainly the last one from the 'old days', before the calamity that was to sever our connection took proper hold. It was a peace offering at the tail end of a fretful day out in Bournemouth in late November 2008. Wandering around alone, I had seen it in a shop window, and was going to buy it for myself. The shop was called Enigma. It was just the kind of Indian shop that M--- liked, and so I had in mind getting her a little peace-offering there at the same time. We were going to meet up at 4.30pm, after dark on that late November afternoon. Here she is, vaguely visible in front of the shop window.

But it didn't go as planned. She appreciated my holding back till we met up again, and wanting to go into the shop with her, but she begged me to let her buy the necklace for me, as a gift. It was a gesture that I immediately understood and appreciated, and so I let her do it, wanting the necklace to be her special gift, and not simply a casual purchase of my own. There was another thing too. It matched one that I'd bought her years before, in much happier days. So now we both had a slow-worm around our necks.

Ever since then it has reminded me of a moment of restored closeness and harmony before, inevitably and so very soon, we fell apart again - this time without hope of ever reviving the friendship and mutual trust that we'd once had. So the necklace is also a reminder that tragedy lurks around every corner, and that you can count on nothing.

And yet that necklace remains cherished, and is one of the very last things I'd ever give up. That must partly be because it is after all an attractive thing in its own right, constantly something I want to wear, despite the troubled aftermath to its purchase, and all of the mixed associations. It's become almost a lucky charm, a kind of talisman. And even though I may wear my pearls, or other nice things, on the odd occasion, most of the time I prefer to put on this particular necklace.

So now I have three pieces of substantial silver jewellery. For there is also the hinged silver bracelet bought in September 2009, seen in these shots below:

The hinged bracelet is awaiting repair just now. After wearing it almost daily for five years, the steel spring in the hinge began to get weak, and it now needs renewing. I know two places where I can get that done, but the cost will be enough to make me let this ride until June or July.

All three have some noticeable heft. Out of curiosity, I weighed them today on my super-sensitive digital kitchen scales. This is the result:

'Slow-worm' silver necklace, 84g
New 'slow-worm' silver bracelet, 68g
Hinged silver bracelet, 51g

And this is what they cost:

'Slow-worm' silver necklace, £80 in November 2008
New 'slow-worm' silver bracelet, £199 in February 2016
Hinged silver bracelet, £120 in September 2009

So what are they all presently worth to buy? Taking the cost and weight of the new bracelet as a guide:

'Slow-worm' silver necklace, estimated current retail value £245
New 'slow-worm' silver bracelet, actual cost £199 in February 2016
Hinged silver bracelet, estimated current retail value £149

And would they be a useful little standby, if I ever fell on hard times? Probably not. I understand that unless it's a rare or unusual piece, you will get only a rock-bottom offer for any metal jewellery you might want to sell at a shop - not much more than its scrap value. At the moment, the price of silver is £0.34 per gramme, suggesting that I'd be fobbed off with these derisory amounts if I decided to sell to raise cash:

'Slow-worm' silver necklace, estimated current scrap metal value £28
New 'slow-worm' silver bracelet, estimated current scrap metal value £23
Hinged silver bracelet, estimated current scrap metal value £17

You can see how the manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing processes all dramatically increase the value of an article, adding (for instance) £199 less £23 = £166 to the price of my spanking new bracelet.

Makes you think!

But, as the case of my silver necklace shows, it's not the value that matters, but the cluster of associations that cling to the piece. That's why girls who married for love, and not for fortune, and whose bridegroom's cash resources were so slender that only a very plain modest wedding ring could be afforded, still treasure it. It's what it represents: what marriage promised, and all that actually happened, joyful or sad.

Friday, 26 February 2016

New shoes!

I went to the pilates class today, for the first time in three weeks. I didn't of course tackle any exercises that might put stress on my bad toe, but I managed most of them. Afterwards, we (that's myself and my local girl friends Jackie, Jo and Valerie) went to a newish cycling café for lunch and coffee, then we adjourned to my home, with Jo's elderly mum Joan as an extra guest. Neither Valerie nor Joan had been in my home before, and it was a pleasure to show it to both of them, though of course it's only a small bungalow with a bit of a garden front and rear. Valerie paints, and was very interested in the Jo Pryor pictures in my lounge.

It was a great cure for feeling down in the dumps. Thanks, everyone!

It also helped that walking around is suddenly easier. There's been significantly less toe pain in the last day or so, and although it still looks a bit puffy and a bit pink, it's lost the angry hot red look it's had for the last two weeks. This must be down to rest (and possibly the medication, at least the Ibuprofen) finally having some effect.

I haven't been short of medical advice. Three doctors have looked at my case in the last eleven days. The first one at Hassocks, and the last two at Ditchling. The latest consultation was only yesterday. After going down to Brighton for a hair appointment - and some shopping that I'll come to in a moment - I drove north to Ditchling, popping in at 2.00pm on the off-chance of having a quick word with a doctor. I was able to secure a proper appointment at 3.30pm. That's pretty good, I thought. Surely it's unusual to get seen on demand so quickly!

I should explain that Mid Sussex Health Care has three surgeries, two large ones at Hurstpierpoint and Hassocks, plus a little one at Ditchling. You can choose to see any on-duty doctor at any of these surgeries, although if not within walking distance you do need your own transport. The bus service between Hurstpierpoint and Hassocks is scarcely to town standards - only hourly. And it's almost non-existent between Hassocks and Ditchling. But that's the norm in the sticks. Suffice it to say that although all three surgeries are linked by computer, the Ditchling surgery functions in a somewhat detached way, and has a more intimate, villagey feel to it. I like that.

The set-up at Ditchling consists of three youngish lady doctors, all part-time. I've been working my way through them, having seen one earlier this week, and now another yesterday! Both have been notably pleasant and knowledgeable. And I've made friends with the receptionist too. I can see myself going to the Ditchling surgery more often in the future - especially as my impression is that it's under slightly less pressure than the two larger surgeries, and so making appointments at short notice is easier.

Well, the latest 'best diagnosis' - learned yesterday - is that I may indeed have been experiencing a touch of arthritis in that toe. I'm booked in for blood tests in four day's time, to find out what's really up with me: infection, gout, arthritis, or possibly something else.

The infection diagnosis looks less plausible now because the anti-biotic tablets, normally fast-acting, have not had the effect anticipated. As for gout, the swelling and pain is clearly around the toe joints, but it isn't nearly severe enough for gout, nor is it affecting the 'usual' toe (gout is generally associated with the big toe).

So I'm expecting the tentative best diagnosis, arthritis, to be correct. This wouldn't be good news for the long term, even if the condition isn't chronic at the moment. We'll have to see.

One thing is perfectly clear: I must avoid unsuitable footwear. Kati, commenting on one of my recent posts (Corns, on 11th February), advised me to wear trainers if pounding the city streets for any distance, changing into fashion footwear at the destination, and I feel that this is a very sensible suggestion. Last year I discovered Skechers shoes. The pair I bought in Stonehaven last June were supremely comfortable, even if they didn't last long (they got wet, and turned moudly and smelly, and in the end I had to junk them). Yesterday I decided to reinvest in another pair. I bought them from Jones in The Lanes at Brighton. They are smarter than last year's shoes:

Last year's cost £60. This year's cost £57. They are very lightweight, they fit well, and feel very nice to wear - even if you have a tender toe. Shoes like this ought to be kinder to my feet, if I've got some real walking to do. I'll just make sure I don't get them wet!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

A useless woman

My life nowadays seems simple and uncomplicated, and most of the time I'm very grateful for that. A straightforward existence without special responsibilities towards anyone else suits me fine; and believe me, I wouldn't knock it. But sometimes I get to thinking that my easygoing life is in fact rather a sad and empty one, and the word 'purposeless' comes to mind. Such introspection doesn't happen often, or last very long, but I'm working through a bout of it at the moment.

My recent Jury Service stirred up my sense of 'public duty'. I became very keen not only to experience the work of a juror, but to be generally part of an important public process. At least to give my time and full attention to it, and to take it seriously, and apply whatever intelligence I had to the problem of whether the accused person might be guilty or not. When I eventually did get selected to be part of a jury, I was absolutely elated. And when I was sworn in, saying this...

I, Lucy Melford, do solemnly and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence.

...I felt that my status as Responsible Citizen Lucy Melford, The Woman Who Can Read Without Stumbling In A Clear Voice That All Can Hear - And Sounds As If She Means Every Word was established beyond any possible doubt or challenge. A proud moment.

I've already said that the case was stopped on the second day, to permit a retrial, and I've described how events then robbed me of a chance to contribute anything more. There's no point in dwelling on it. But I remain keyed up. And although it's not obviously my fault that I couldn't pull my proper weight, I still feel that my credibility as a citizen has taken a big dent. I'll forever be remembered as the lady who was excused, and went home early.

It's an easy step from there to consider one's worth in a much wider context.

What could I be, but am not?

# I'm not a dutiful daughter. My parents are conveniently dead, and whereas most women of my age are saddled with the care - or arranging the care - or paying for the care - of their elderly mother or father, or both, I am spared all of that.

# I'm not a dutiful mother. I never had children of my own. There are no grown-up sons or daughters bringing their problems to me, or expecting me to rescue them, or to support them when they are beset by a crisis. I am spared all of that.

# I'm not a dutiful grandmother. No children means no grandchildren. I have no child-minding commitments. I am spared all of that.

# I'm not a dutiful wife. I am divorced - long ago - and have nobody new in my life. I have nobody to care for, nobody to worry about as they slip into old age and become brittle. Nobody close, to make me cry with concern or frustration. I am spared all of that.

Somehow things have worked out that I should have a life I can truly call my own. But in my present mood, it seems a rather hollow and lightweight existence. It's not so easy to look other women in the eye, when they have their time and energy taken up with many things that I have sidestepped. Nor am I going to seek any remedy for this. Because it would be totally dishonest of me to say that, given the chance, I would saddle myself with a partner who had a big family full of trouble and strife. Some would rise to that challenge. I'm tempted to say 'any real woman would'. But I wouldn't do it for any inducement. And although it may seem unreasonable to feel bad about that, I do feel diminished as a person. A bit useless.

This mood will pass. I can at least point to one uplifting thing about myself. I'm habitually cheerful. And people obviously like this. It must show on my face.

Yesterday, while waiting for my prescription to be made up, I bought a mocha and a sandwich in the café in Waitrose at Burgess Hill. No table was free. So I asked a lady sitting on her own whether I could share the table with her. She was very happy to. We immediately began to chat. I told her about my toe, and how it had hurt before, after walking around graveyards full of bumpy, lumpy ground last year, on a 'genealogical afternoon'. She was into genealogy too. We then swapped several interesting bits of family history. I eventually had to go, and said I'd enjoyed my half-hour with her. She said the same, and added that it was all the more pleasure for her because I had been so cheerful. Ha! Kindred spirits, I thought, because she had been pretty upbeat too.

I offer this as evidence that being cheerful matters. And perhaps this is a way that anyone can be a good citizen after all. And a woman worth knowing.

Toe Story - the saga continues

I went to the doctor's yesterday. It wasn't the chap I saw last week. This was the lady who successfully dealt with my aching arm last October, and I thought a painful toe might be more her thing.

Well, she had a good look, and touched and pressed the digit. The redness and swelling indicated to her one of three things: an infection, arthritis, or gout. The first, an infection, was the most likely, so she prescribed a course of 28 Flucloxacillin 500mg capsules, one to be taken four times a day. This is an antibiotic containing penicillin which should deal with the infection, if it is indeed that. I began taking the capsules yesterday afternoon.

I'm thirty hours into the treatment, and to be honest there isn't much change yet. The toe still looks swollen and inflamed. I suppose it's now more 'dark pink' than 'red', and it's slightly easier to walk without pain, but any walking is still an awkward thing to do. I went out to the letterbox not far away earlier on, partly for some fresh air. A distance of just over half a mile, there and back. Walking in my roomy Dubarry boots was all right, but hardly comfortable. I was limping.

It's Wednesday evening. If there isn't a marked improvement by Friday I am to phone the doctor again, with a view to getting an x-ray at the hospital, so that they can look inside the toe.

My Dad suffered greatly from arthritis, but somehow I'd be surprised if it were that. I can easily bend the toe, and there is no sensation of a toe joint not being as it should be. The x-ray may reveal otherwise, of course.

As for gout, well I'd be astonished if the level of uric acid in my body were so high. But again, let the tests reveal.

I still don't see why only this toe should be affected, nor what might have brought the trouble on, beyond walking a longer distance than I usually attempt in ordinary flat shoes. And yet I wore the same shoes when walking around Edinburgh and Aberdeen last summer. I probably walked further then than I did on 8th February, when my toe first began to hurt.

I hope this doesn't turn into a saga without end. I want to be back to normal now, or, if those further investigations are necessary, then at least by the middle of March.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Britain and Europe

The Prime Minister has returned from mammoth negotiations, with a set of European concessions that do not inspirit and inspire. It's much as expected really. I don't think anyone in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland ever thought that Mr Cameron could achieve a startling breakthrough, and he hasn't.

It was perfectly clear that he was up against the leaders of an implacable array of twenty-seven semi-federal states, who - whatever they said - were content with the European Union as it was, and wanted no tinkering. For them, the EU was a big country-in-waiting, a potential super-state resembling the USA. It had grown over decades to become integrated, centrally planned, with overarching executive, judicial and fiscal institutions that transcended the lesser internal mechanisms of its member states. It was already beyond major change. New members could join the EU, but had to abide by its rules. It was essential to uphold the treaty that bound every part of the EU, and to insist that all states fell into line on core principles and goals.

Britain had been a member since 1973, but had always been a malcontent. Britain was the Eternal Troublemaker, and yet too powerful to be openly rebuked. I think that Mr Cameron's aggressive bid to wrest a degree of independence from the EU was felt to be a good opportunity to bring matters to a head. To let Mr Cameron see that Europe was ready, if need be, to let Britain leave. No matter what diplomatic regret might be publicly voiced. As regards the 'negotiations', why should the EU offer anything at all? Accordingly, there wasn't much on the negotiating table. Really only sops. Mr Cameron has taken them, but they change nothing much. Britain's relationship with the EU hasn't been fundamentally repositioned. Frankly, it's failure.

So do we accept the EU's authority with good grace, and pitch in, heart and soul? Or do we now secede from the Union? The Referendum is on 23rd June. The focus will shift from what the politicians think and say, to what the general public will do when it votes.

And not before time. There has been too much high-blown political and economic argument, too much media and business-leader scaremongering. I think the public have had quite enough of being pushed around and influenced, and will vote as their gut feelings dictate. Meaning that deep down many people - most perhaps - have already made up their mind. Well, after all, if they are my age, they've had forty-three years to consider the matter.

I am not a follower or admirer of the strident and (in some cases) obnoxious political people who insist we must get out of Europe. But I do want this country to have full control over its own affairs. Specifically:

# I don't trust distant, impersonal bureaucracies. I think a fully-empowered government close to home would be better than any kind of government on continental Europe, no matter how benevolent.

# I want our own present and future governments (of whatever colour) to have complete freedom to decide what our laws and policies should be.

# Let the EU be 'our friend across the English Channel', but not our master.

# I think that standing apart from the EU will enforce fresh thinking on how to revitalise our economy. And we would be able to pursue an entirely self-sufficient energy policy.

# I want pressure taken off the things that suffer when immigration is uncontrolled and the population gets too high, or too weighted in ways that place strain on, say, the NHS. So I'd certainly like to see much better border control.

Hmm. It looks as if I have shifted from being an uncritical fan of EU membership to being a fan of friendly independence from mainland Europe. Of course, such thinking is typical of an older person who cherishes what she likes about the The British Way Of Life. And that may seem awfully fuddy-duddy and out of touch. But it's still a point of view. And I am very keen to vote. Politicians please note.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Empire expands

No, this isn't a Star Wars post. It's about my growing collection of downloaded 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey 10km x 10km Explorer map tiles, purchased online for viewing on my mobile devices, chiefly my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. Each tile bought adds to a little more to the territory covered by this large-scale mapping. The OS's latest Explorer mapping is very clear, and rather beautiful, and easily lets you imagine the landscape it represents. For someone fascinated by detailed maps since childhood, it's hard not to buy a few more tiles every week or every fortnight.

Six weeks ago my coverage - the yellow and orange squares coloured in on this base map - was this:

Now it's grown to this:

As you can see, there's been a push into the west of England - mostly across Devon and North Cornwall - so that I have one continuous map from Newquay to Dungeness. And I now have a presence in the Cotswolds, which I will be visiting again soon. Far to the north, off this section of map, I also have a number a tiles covering the middle part of Shetland.

With Sussex as my base, I am gradually extending my personal Explorer Map Empire into all my favourite holiday areas, whether regular or just at the planning stage.

I admit that almost every part of this coverage is duplicating paper maps I already possess, some of them bought as recently as last year. But although paper maps give you a wide view of the countryside, they are awkward to carry and handle. Whereas what could be more convenient, a small section of the same map on the screen of one's showerproof phone? A lit-up section one can magnify and see clearly? It's an incentive to get out of the car and start walking, which must be good for anyone. And I need the exercise badly!

So long as I keep the expansion within sensible bounds, it's perfectly affordable. I pay (at most) £1.99 per tile. This isn't much for 100 square kilometres of mapping! What else could £1.99 buy me? The equivalents - within a few pence - are things like these:

# 2 hours' on-street car parking in Brighton, away from the city centre.
# One hour's car parking in The Lanes underground car park in central Brighton.
# One city centre single bus ticket in Brighton.
# One soft drink in a pub.
# 2 mp3 tracks from Amazon.
# One ice cream.
# My usual cash donation to a charity, if moved to contribute.
# The tip on a £20 meal.
# One copy of Radio Times (well, almost).
# One birthday card.

Nothing substantial or lasting in that list! I'd argue that £1.99 spent on a section of mapping that I can keep forever, and use as often as I wish, isn't bad value for money.

Mind you, the overall cost does mount up. But it can't mount up too much, because all these map tiles take up space on one's phone, and there is an upper limit to what can be downloaded and stored. I presently have 3GB left in my phone's memory. At perhaps 10MB per tile, it would take only another 100 tiles to use up 1GB of that remaining space. So the Advance Of The Invincible Empire will grind to a shuddering halt fairly soon - by the early summer I'm guessing! But 100 more tiles might be all I need. I don't actually want nationwide coverage. There's no point in having Explorer coverage of [the names of various unattractive places were inserted here, but I thought better of it].

If however the Empire is unstoppable, and must gobble up the country unchecked, then the only proper solution will be another phone with a bigger memory on board.

Tomorrow the Samsung Galaxy S7 is going to be announced, and I understand it will be on sale worldwide from 11th March. Obviously, I'll be reading its specification - and the first reviews - with great interest. I'd want one with a minimum 64GB memory (128GB would be even better). But a version with a mere 32GB (what I have now) is likely to cost - at launch - about £600 to buy SIM-free, or £55 a month on a two-year contract. Ouch.

Fortunately I can't upgrade until late May, and my current contract doesn't run out until early August. That's not any kind of problem - indeed, I'm rather glad of these timing constraints! I don't actually want to spend a lot of money on a new phone, not this year! Or if I do, I want time to think it all out very carefully.

Sequel 1 (Marshmallow to the rescue!)
I said above that there was only 3GB of internal storage left on my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. Further OS Explorer mapping has to go into that, and nowhere else. It can't go onto the 64GB SD card, like my music and pictures can. But I may not need to buy a new phone in order to get more storage space for my maps! 

Android Marshmallow (Android 6.0) should be coming to my S5 sometime in the next couple of months. And one of its features is that you can format an SD memory card so that it becomes part of the phone's ordinary internal storage. It must an ultra-fast card, and a durable one too - my Sandisk UHS-1 card will be OK - and so I could expect that all the spare storage on the card - some 24GB at the moment - would become usable for any purpose, OS Explorer mapping included. 

Wow, 24GB to fill...

If all of that really is possible, then I can definitely defer buying a new phone until 2017, or even 2018. (I like my S5 very much, and dwindling internal storage is its only problem)

Sequel 2 (Damn, too many snags...)
Oh dear. Further reading suggests that making my 64GB SD card part of the phone's internal storage won't work without some drawbacks: 
# The phone will slow down, because adding or retrieving data from a card isn't as swift as it is from regular internal storage. (The phone will use the card as its preferential storage place) 
# The card will be much more intensively used - it will get fried - and it won't last so long.
# Everything on the card will get encrypted, so that nothing on it can be read by a PC; nor can anything be copied or transferred from the card to a PC, nor from a PC onto the card. Which (for one thing) makes selective manual backups impossible. 

Clearly this isn't the answer after all.

It pays to keep a diary

I keep various diaries. Some are just big spreadsheets, recording (for instance) my money transactions, with all kinds of detail. Others are just lists, with dates. And some are narratives - again with dates and much extra detail. My diaries can of course be cross-referenced with each other. They can pinpoint (for example) where I was on the day, or at which shop I bought something, who I shared a meal with, or where I took photographs. All my diaries are completely consistent with each other. In particular, the one I call Money Diary can't be faked, because it has to record all the correct running balances, which have been reconciled (to the last penny) against the bank and credit card statements. I therefore can't falsify dates and amounts spent, nor insert or omit particular items. It's a completely reliable record - one that can be checked.

A lot of unnecessary hard work? A symptom of an empty life? Or autism? Well, I often have reason to look up when I paid for something, or what it cost, or where I might have been on a certain date. I have the historian's instinct.

And if ever the police ring my front doorbell, and ask me to assist them in their Buried Body In The Garden Midsomer Murder Enquiries, it will be really cool to to give an instant answer to such insinuating questions as:

'And where were you, Miss Melford, on the afternoon of 26th May 2010?'

Many people would be dismayed with such a question, and would writhe suspiciously, unable to establish their whereabouts and therefore an alibi. But I would simply look in one or other of my diaries - there on the phone in my very hand - and reply:

'Why, officer! I've recorded three things in my Money Diary that I did that day: I bought fuel at Tesco in Burgess Hill; I paid a local man called Paul for painting the facia boards of Ouse Cottage in Piddinghoe; and I bought food at Sainsbury's in Newhaven. You could ask Paul about the time I paid him. And the petrol and food purchases will be on my credit card statements. Which I have copies of. I think you can easily see, officer, that if I was doing these things in Sussex, and can prove it, I clearly couldn't have been burying bodies in Midsomer!'

To which the expected reply must surely be:

'Quite so! We will have to eliminate you from our enquiries. Sorry to trouble you, Miss.'

Do I need to say more? Diaries, meticulously maintained, can be very handy.

And in connection with my bad toe - sorry to go on and on about it, but I can hardly ignore the subject at the moment - I've now remembered that I had some trouble with it last year. I wrote about it in my 2015 Caravan Diary. I was staying near Lyme Regis at the time, and had spent a day visiting a number of churchyards in search of graves, doing the family genealogical thing. It's the passage in bold in what follows:

2015 0416 to 0421 Curlew Farm, Trinity Hill, Axminster, Devon EX13 8SZ (Caravan Club CL)
6 nights. Arrive Thursday, depart Wednesday.   

I arrived in sunshine after a smooth journey that I did not rush. It felt quite warm. Rather a change, I thought, from last month in Devon! I didn't have the site to myself: one other caravan was already there, and two others arrived on Friday. But on Sunday two departed, leaving just two of us again, widely separated.

The weather got colder, however. Although Saturday was still sunny, a stiff breeze had sprung up, dashing any thoughts of a lightly-clad stroll along the beach at Sidmouth! By Sunday afternoon, the breeze was less, and the bright sunshine and blue skies made it all seem lovely - at least if adequately clad! Monday was a beautiful day. Then the chilly breeze returned. It remained very sunny, however, and I had to admit that for the amount of continuous sunshine I enjoyed, this part of my holiday was the best for a long time.

As had become traditional, I went into Lyme Regis on my first night. On Friday I went to Sainsbury's in Exeter (Pinhoe) to buy more leggings, then on to Killerton, the other place [M---] and I went to on my birthday in 1994 - and I was still wearing the little silver ring she bought me on that long-ago occasion. On Saturday I visited Á la Ronde and Exmouth. On Sunday it was Portland. On Monday I headed inland, seeking out Dommett gravestones in various churchyards on the Devon/Somerset border. On my last day, Tuesday, I went into Sidmouth, and then in the evening Lyme Regis again, for my first fish and chips of the year.

One thing slightly compromised my peace and quiet on Saturday and Sunday - a model aircraft rally was being held in the field across the road. So, from mid-morning to dusk, there was the buzz and whine of tiny engines as model planes and helicopters were put through their paces. But most of it was avoidable simply by going out as normal.

When phoning Peg on Friday evening I learned that Mavis had died. I immediately wanted to go to the funeral, if the date wasn't impossible for me. Richard told me that it was on Friday 2015 0424, so I could go. I felt I would be representing Mum. Thank goodness I'd packed a suitable dress, jacket and shoes!

On Monday I somehow hurt the toe on my right foot next to my big toe. As the evening wore on, it became tender and ached. It was much the same next morning. As I hadn't stubbed it, and it didn't look obviously inflamed, I wondered whether walking over the rough ground in the churchyards I'd visited could have sprained some ligament. Within a day or so the pain had gone.

Acquiring 4G on Demelza made little difference in these parts. Mobile phone reception was good for calls, but on the slow side for the Internet. I was reminded again and again that out-of-town Sussex was very well served with all kinds of conveniences, but out-of-town Devon was not. That said, I could still imagine living very comfortably down here. I suppose the tug of Devon will never go away.

So, the rough ground in one or other churchyard had in some way put a strain on this toe, inducing temporary pain that disappeared 'within a day or so'. Perhaps I'd strained and weakened some structure inside the toe, and it had never quite recovered - making it susceptible to a repeat injury.

One churchyard, at Otterton on the south edge of Somerset, had been particularly difficult to walk around. I was wearing only ordinary flat shoes. The sun-baked ground was especially lumpy:

I spent some time there, checking out the inscriptions on every gravestone. It was remarkable that I didn't turn an ankle too.

So now I have a small diagnostic clue to give to the doctor, when I see her in three days' time (it's another doctor this time, the young one who put her finger on that trouble I had with my left arm late last year). I shall suggest to her that it could be a badly-inflamed ligament. I wonder what she'll say.

That Caravan Diary extract from last year is completely typical. I do the same wherever I happen to be pitched. For years now, I've been producing screeds in parallel with whatever I post on my blog. Hardly a day goes by, at home or on holiday, without spending some time writing something!

That last remark in the extract remains true: I was reminded again and again that out-of-town Sussex was very well served with all kinds of conveniences, but out-of-town Devon was not. That said, I could still imagine living very comfortably down here. I suppose the tug of Devon will never go away. I can't see myself moving now, but I shall always be wistful for the West Country. Thank goodness I have the means to visit it.

Friday, 19 February 2016

A cricketer's grave

No real change to report with my bad toe, but I've abandoned the ibuprofen gel and I'm using tablets instead. It seems to be slightly more effective for pain relief. And possibly for the swelling as well, for the digit in question looks less puffy today.

I tried an experiment too. I remembered that my brown Dubarry boots had plenty of toe room, and when I tried them on they did indeed allow me to 'walk' without exerting pressure on my bad toe. I say 'walk' because it was a careful series of movements, rather than anything done in a natural way.

At least I could drive comfortably in those boots. So I went down to the beach at Seaford, just to get out and enjoy a change of scene, and possibly go for a very quick stroll along the promenade. But the very strong cold breeze kept me inside Fiona. However, I did get to stretch my legs a bit inland, at Seaford Cemetery of all places. It was much more out of the wind.

For some reason the grave of M---'s Aunt Nellie's husband Walter Stephen Fox had popped into my mind. I'd searched for this grave in April 2006, and had actually found it - this was when I was still engaged in helping M--- with her family genealogical research. I'd taken photos of the grave and its position at the time. Here are three of them:

As you can see, Walter's grave was close to a distinctive clump of trees. The gravestone said this:


Two things strike me about this wording. First, it has a telegraphic brevity. It's too clipped. It needs a few extra words, to make it less like a newspaper headline. Perhaps there was a communication problem with the stonemasons. Second, there isn't a hint of any religious feeling - something that was surely still the conventional thing to express in 1954. Walter was, after all, born in 1882, and I'm thinking that as a conventional child of the Victorian age, he would have wanted on his gravestone some mention of a happy resurrection in heaven. 

I actually know quite a bit about him, as I do about Nellie. M--- had access to many photos and other documents relating to their lives, both pre-marriage and post-marriage, and I still have photographic copies of the whole lot, along with derived notes of my own. I can't of course discuss Nellie - she's part of M---'s family, and out of bounds to me - but Walter married in from outside the family, and so he's fair game. I can write something about him. I hope I do him justice.

These are the notes I made in 2006, taken from the documentary evidence and the photos M--- had:

Walter's family
Walter sent a postcard to his mother Annie on 1906 1024 to 38 Langborough Road, Wokingham, Surrey.

Walter had a brother George, who (rather unluckily) was killed at the very end of the First World War, in 1918, actually dying after the cessation of hostilities (presumably of wounds). The CWGC website gives details of George’s (and therefore Walter’s) parents. George’s wife is named.

There is also a photo-postcard from someone called Alex - a clergyman - who may have been just a friend of Walter’s. His address on 1907 0710 was 52 Hulbard Street, West Ham. He was writing to Walter at 54 Dudley Road, Ilford, Essex.

How Walter met Nellie
[M---] says it was through an introduction agency. He was 13 years older than Nellie. They did not have any children.

Walter’s job
Walter was described as a ‘Secretary’ on the 1927 marriage certificate, and his death certificate in 1954 describes him as a ‘Wholesale Grocer’s Secretary (retired)’. On the back of the 1954 grant of Probate is the stamp of ‘James Bradbury & Son Ltd, Wholesale Grocers & Provision Merchants, Brentford, Mdx’, with the handwritten endorsement ‘Registered 14th Sept 1954’. Presumably Bradburys had to see the Probate in connection with Walter’s pension - as as former company secretary he might well have received one - and perhaps Nellie was entitled to something as the widow. Clearly Walter worked for Bradbury’s for a long time, and had an important position in the firm.

Among Walter’s earlier photos is one of a staff outing for the employees of ‘Bradburys’, and there is a later photo (about 1930) which includes Walter and some crafty-looking characters who must be the directors. One of them seems to appear in a still later works outing photo. 

There was no trace of Bradbury’s in an Internet search (including the Companies House website) in late April 2006. It could have been taken over, but [even] if not, Bradbury’s wouldn’t have survived much beyond 1980. By then the heyday of small retail grocers on street corners (which firms like Bradbury’s supplied) was over. Supermarket chains were beginning to get a stranglehold on their market.

Walter himself
He was clearly actively interested in sport when young, football in the early days around 1900, then cricket in the 1920s and later. The photos show him in cricket gear when in his 50s. The impression is that he must have been pretty fit most of his life. But [M---] recalls that he was deaf in one ear. He died aged 71 of a ‘coronary thrombosis’ and ‘ulcerated tubercular glands of neck’. His gravestone describes the death as sudden.

His grave
In Seaford cemetery. [Found by Lucy] on 2006 0401 – see the photos. 

I researched the house at Seaford where Walter died - called Prem Mahal - and put together these early-fifties maps:

This was the house itself back in 1954 or shortly before:

In 2006, some fifty years later, it looked like this:

And these were the notes I made:

Prem Mahal was the name of a bungalow at the west (seaward) end of Bishopstone Road, Bishopstone, Seaford, East Sussex. By 1951 it was numbered 1a Bishopstone Road, and by 2006 the name had been long forgotten. The postcode is BN2 6BR.

The property was built on a slope, and included a spacious back garden with - like the house itself - wide views of the (then) almost undeveloped downs opposite, and the sea over to the right. In front, rolling up to the house, was a sloping front garden, mostly lawn, with a curving driveway that led to a garage on the west side. The provision of a garage might have been a little unusual for the time (late 1920s to mid-1930s). [Lucy] researched the Indian name of the house (Prem Mahal) and found that it means ‘Palace of Love’ - which probably [suggests that] the first owner [was] a retired civil servant, back from colonial service in India.  

[M---] had the impression that Nellie and Walter lived at Prem Mahal for a while, not just for a short holiday, perhaps renting it. Walter died there suddenly in March 1954. The Death Certificate shows that he was visiting, and that his normal home was still Adelaide Terrace in Brentford. So he and Nellie were indeed only on holiday. A local directory for 1951-52 lists W H Bellemy as the person in residence, and he was presumably the owner and a friend of theirs. (This can in theory be checked with the Land Registry, but their charges are too much) A few of Walter’s later (or last) photos show Prem Mahal, and one of them has a lady sitting outside the front door. She doesn’t seem to be Nellie, and may therefore be Mrs Bellemy.  

[Lucy] visited Prem Mahal on 2006 0519. It wasn’t hard to decide which bungalow it was, as the layouts of the front drive and side path were the same as in 1954, and the building itself was essentially unchanged. But at some point it had acquired a completely unsympathetic roof extension on its landward (east) side. It looked as if the bungalow had been converted into a number of rooms to rent. [Lucy] took some photos from the road, but this made two of the residents (young men in their late twenties) come out to protest. It seemed that certain people in other bungalows further up the road had been making complaints, and they had thought [that she, Lucy] was photographing with malicious intent. They changed their attitude when [she] explained the actual purpose of [her] visit, and something of Walter Fox’s connection. They became a lot friendlier, eventually pointing out a driveway which led to the rear, inviting [her] to go up and see the property from there. They also suggested that [she] speak to a man named David next door at number 1, who was a longstanding resident interested in local matters, and who might have information on the Bellemys and the bungalow. They themselves weren’t locals, and had no idea that the bungalow had once been known as Prem Mahal.

Those young men were pretty aggressive until they realised why I was so interested in their house! Then they couldn't have been nicer.

And, finally, here are some photos of Walter from 1900 onwards - just a few out of many I possess of himself and his family. On the back of one of these photos, cricket is described as his 'first love'. I think he must have been incredibly keen.

That's the photo showing Walter standing (left) behind the three directors of Bradbury's. Have you ever seen men with craftier faces? Devious wheeler-dealers and no mistake! Let us continue.

Personally, cricket leaves me unmoved. But Walter clearly revered the game.

All this certainly adds meat to the bare-bones information on the gravestone! You feel you can, in large measure, appreciate what he may have been like as a real person of flesh and blood. And this only skims the surface of all that might have been known, but is now lost. Even as it is, though, it's a positively encyclopaedic collection of facts and photos compared to what I know of Mum and Dad's own parents. I was - and remain - envious of any family that has preserved an extensive collection of old family documents and photos. If you have such an archive, you must regard it as precious, and never throw it away.

Back to today, and my very careful footsteps through Seaford Cemetery. It would have been painful to trip up or stumble. I quickly found the clump of trees, but being there on the spur of the moment, I hadn't come armed with those location photos from 2006. I couldn't see the gravestone, and I failed to find the grave.

I wondered if they had removed the gravestone for some reason: there were a number of graves without one. And yet it wasn't a tall affair, that could flop over and crush somebody. I'm thinking perhaps of some absurd 'health and safety' directive. Maybe it was just being cleaned up.

If any member of Walter's family reads this, then please forgive my interest in him. It would have been the same with any well-documented life that came my way. Mum and Dad weren't interested in preserving much of the past, and we were a small family anyway - so in consequence there is very little left for me to examine and cherish as 'my' family history. I feel starved of forebears that I can know. My personal background is full of 'missing persons' whose histories I can never now discover. In such a situation it's surely natural enough to 'adopt' another family, a family that has documents, and pictures with names and captions. It fills a gap, an emptiness.

Walter would have been thirty-eight when my Dad was born in 1920. I only vaguely (and briefly) knew Dad's father. But, up to a point, I can get to 'know' Walter and other people like him, and they supplement the meagre 'real' family.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Not just excused, but released

I've now been released entirely from my present Jury Service. I had a phone conversation with Annie at the Hove Crown Court this afternoon. She was very sympathetic. I explained that the toe was no better - still red and swollen and painful to walk with - and it was my belief that it wasn't a blister at all, but something more serious. No ordinary blister would go on and on like this. It might be an inflamed ligament, or something called bursitis. Anyway, I had another appointment with the doctor lined up for early the following week, and I hoped then to make some headway on diagnosis and treatment.

I definitely wouldn't be recovered enough to walk painlessly during the following week. In fact I couldn't say when that might be so. So she released me from any further duties this time around.

We spoke for quite a few minutes, and I did unburden myself a little. I felt I hadn't pulled my weight. I'd been liable to give ten days of jury service, but I'd attended the Hove and Brighton Courts on only four of those days, and had sat in a jury for only two days. This wasn't at all my idea of 'two week's public service'. At the same time, I felt cheated of the full juror experience, for the only case I did any work on had been halted, so that a retrial could be arranged.

She agreed it was disappointing for me, but I must reconcile myself to how it had turned out. And I might get selected again in the future, but the computer did the choosing, and it was - indeed had to be - an entirely random process. So this might have been my one and only opportunity to serve on a jury.

I asked what I should do about claiming expenses. Frankly, I'd be embarrassed to claim any at all! But she said I must. They couldn't end up owing people money due to them, and it would be perfectly proper (and keep their accounting arrangements in order) if I submitted my claim in the normal way, and claimed what I was entitled to. Hmm. I suppose so.

It hasn't of course been a complete and unsatisfying waste of time. Not by any means. I did see something of how the court process works, even if I didn't take part from beginning to end. I had the thrill of being selected for a jury, and the experience of being sworn in. I saw the judge, the barristers, and the various court officials at work. I saw what a defendant looks like when caught up in the machinery of the law. I heard quite a bit of evidence on a subject I'd hitherto not known much about.

Most of all, I met and chatted to a number of other jurors and learned something of their own lives. It was quite clear that several of them took to me, and certainly myself to them, and it's a huge shame that we probably will never meet again.

I try not to think about it too much. The bad toe has been getting me down, and from time to time I've felt quite weepy in the last day or two. I feel very upset about not even saying proper goodbyes to all those very pleasant people.

But I'll get over it. I'm not up to pilates tomorrow, but perhaps I could manage to get to whatever après-pilates event might be arranged, and sip a bit of wine. Let Fiona take the strain.

Let's send a few texts and see what results!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016


It's the second week of my Jury Service. There was nothing happening yesterday (Monday), and so I went to the doctor about my bad toe, which had become noticeably red and swollen. The doctor found no signs of infection, and decided that it was a 'deep-seated blister' - never heard of those before! - which would disappear with time. Meanwhile I was justified in resting the foot as much as possible. That meant it was OK to drive in to Hove, and have only a short distance to walk.

But when I phoned Hove that afternoon, I was instructed to go next day (today, that is) to the Brighton Law Courts instead.

This presented problems, as it's difficult to park in Brighton for a full day, except at vast expense (say £15) in one of the multi-storey city centre car parks. There are a few on-street parking places that let you stay there for as much as 11 hours (for say £5), but they would be a bus ride away from the Brighton Law Courts - and there was no certainty that I'd find any of those spaces free. So Fiona would have to remain at home.

I made up my mind to use public transport instead, walking to Hassocks station, catching the train in, and then taking a bus to as close to the Law Courts as I could get. The number 7 bus was ideal for that. And I wouldn't have to mess around with coins for the bus fare. Nowadays it's a flat £2 for a single journey anywhere in central Brighton; and having installed the Brighton & Hove Buses app on my phone, I would buy two such single tickets online, simply activating them as the bus approached. They would be displayed on my phone screen, which I'd show to the driver. It was all very easy to do. They even emailed me a receipt, which I could print out for my eventual expenses claim. I really can't fault the technology here.

But that walk to the station bothered me. It would have to be taken slowly and gently. The doctor had given me some ibuprofen gel to ease the pain and reduce the inflammation.

However, I went to bed on Monday night with my toe looking redder and feeling more sore than before. The gel wasn't doing it any obvious good. It wasn't easy to get to sleep. If it was a blister - and not something more serious - then it was clearly pressing on something inside the toe, to my considerable discomfort. I did not enjoy a serene night.

Next morning - today - the toe was very tender indeed. Frankly I didn't feel like going in. Walking was very awkward, and rather painful. But of course it was impossible to phone and get hold of anybody to explain: I'd have to grit my teeth and make a personal appearance. This I did. I will say the usher on duty at Brighton, Annie, was most sympathetic. So were my fellow-jurors. Within the hour, Annie had confirmed that I could be excused service that day - a considerable relief, as I just couldn't see myself hobbling around the Law Courts for hour after hour, and all the time my toe getting worse. And what would happen if I got caught up in some case that went on and on?

So I was free to go home. I made some goodbyes. Annie would ring me later. She did. She had decided to excuse me for the rest of the week. Which meant, effectively, that my Jury Service was over.

Now some would have been rather glad to hear that! I wasn't. Although the novelty of Jury Service had worn off somewhat, I hadn't had the full experience I'd been looking forward to.

But in any case I'd got off very lightly. It bothered me that I'd put in an appearance for only four days out of a theoretical ten. This was hardly pulling my weight as far as 'public duty' was concerned. Nor was it fair to most of the other jurors, who would have suffered more inconvenience and disruption than I had. Having a painful but minor foot injury shouldn't give anyone an advantage.

So I told Annie that once my toe was better I'd be happy to put in another week, so long as my booked holidays were respected. I could tell from her reaction that this was much appreciated. They can always use an odd extra juror, if they are available.

Whether they actually take me up on that remains to be seen. I half suspect they will have to say that the system isn't geared up to any arrangement of this sort, and I should just consider myself lucky that so little was asked of me. I might of course be summoned again in the future, although my age is against that happening.

Oh well, it could have been worse. I could have been required to turn up every day, and yet never get selected for the jury box. At least that did happen once.

But it hasn't given me enough juror experience to base a book on. So Lucy Melford, the exciting new novelist, isn't going to be writing a best-seller called Guilty As Charged, M'Lud nor its sequel Keep Your Wig On! unless she uses a very fertile imagination!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

A messy expenses claim

My first week of Jury Service is now over. I did finally get chosen to serve as a juror. I was sworn in, and then heard two days of evidence. But it went nowhere, and we were discharged from the case. It's absolutely impossible to say any more about it, since the retrial, if it happens, must not be prejudiced.

So the supposedly rich experience of sifting the evidence in the jury room has yet to come. At least I know how it feels when affirming, all eyes upon you. I said the words without hesitation, very clearly, with the right stress, and without stumbling over any of them. Nor did I dribble, fart or drop anything. Nobody clapped, but I fancy I got an appraising look from the judge. No, I didn't really. I'm just making that up.

This was the only case I heard last week. There was in fact a dearth of cases coming up - apparently something quite unusual - and I found myself only just justified in spending that £25.20 in advance on a weekly train season ticket. We were in the end asked to travel in on only three of the five days. Buying three daily train tickets at £8.50 each would have come to £25.50 - a narrow whisker more. I now fully appreciate why they tell jurors to pay for their travel strictly on a day-by-day basis, and not get season tickets!

The expenses form claim will be messy, though, because I used my car on the third day. And without prior authorisation.

But I had a proper reason. That toe I mentioned - the one that at first seemed to have developed a corn - began to look puffy and red and swollen. Was I perhaps looking at a blister? I wasn't sure - it wasn't like the usual sort of blister. It didn't improve as the days passed, it only became gradually more uncomfortable. I drove in on my third day's attendance because I couldn't face all the walking that taking the train would entail.

So there's a mileage allowance and a car parking fee to be put on the expenses claim form now. I'll have to append a special typewritten note, to explain what was going on to justify this unauthorised departure from plans, and the extra cash spent, and hope that they will be reasonable. I'm sure I'll have to continue driving in - so I'll discuss the situation with the ushers when I next attend, and see what they say.

Between now and then I'm seeing a doctor at my local surgery. Not my usual one, but any doctor will do for a swollen and painful toe. I booked the appointment online this Sunday morning. It's at 8.40am tomorrow. Now that's pretty good, I reckon, to get an appointment - in winter - at such very short notice!

I don't mind that it's not my usual lady doctor, but a man. It's about a toe, after all, not anything more intimate. But I did want to see him anyway, as lately he has been assigned as my 'registered doctor' and as we have never spoken (I don't even know him by sight) it would be good become acquainted, even though I remain entitled to ask for any of the doctors at the big Mid Sussex practice, and won't ever be obliged to see him again. I must however quote his name if ever requested by a hospital (or whoever) to state 'who my doctor is'. This man is responsible for all my practice records, and for dealing with enquiries about my health and treatment from outside bodies who need to know. Well, chance (and a very sore toe) have brought us together for a consultation.

I dare say he will tell me that there's nothing much wrong with my toe, and that my best ongoing care route is through a podiatrist. I will listen to his recommendation if he knows who is best locally, but otherwise I have identified a practice in a nearby town and will go there. The lady concerned has the right qualifications and sounds nice; but the clincher is that I can park close by and for nothing. I don't mind at all driving a few miles more in order to park conveniently - especially when any foot pain is involved!

The Potters Field

The Potters Field is the title of a detective novel set in the autumn of 1143, featuring the rather worldly Benedictine monk Cadfael, and set in and around Shrewsbury - as are most of the other twenty-odd Cadfael books, all written by Ellis Peters, the nom-de-plume of Edith Pargeter. She wrote this particular book in 1989. I have the paperback version, bought in Horsham in January 1996, when indeed I last read it. It's the seventeenth in a long series of Cadfael detective mysteries set in the first half of the twelfth century. I've just finished it. Lately I've been working my way through my entire collection of Cadfael novels: only three more left to read.

So why mention this one? Well, it had personal resonances. You may see what I mean if I outline the story.

Shrewsbury Abbey has acquired a large field from another abbey, formerly used for grazing. It is also the location of some worked-out claypits, and a disused cottage and kiln, that was once the home of a potter and his wife, both now living separate lives. They had been married for fifteen years. The wife, a spirited dark-haired Welsh woman, loved her man passionately. His devotion to her was sincere, but quieter. There were no children, but they were happy with each other.

Then, quite suddenly, the potter realised that his true vocation was to serve God as a monk. This entailed his leaving the cottage and abandoning his wife, who incidentally remained legally bound to him in marriage and was not free to make another life for herself. The fact of marriage remained. The life they shared seemed the true reality to her. She was distraught at losing him, and would not be reconciled to his going. But he felt driven by his intense and urgent calling to enter the abbey as a novice, and then take full vows as a monk. He did all he could to provide her with some money and the means to live. But she wanted only him, not his goods, and she became embittered and resentful. At their last meeting, she told him, viciously, that she had found a lover, someone else better than him to look after her. This was her bitter farewell, but nobody knew whether it was really true. The potter looked only ahead - to where he was drawn - and embraced the routine of the Abbey, his new home, and became utterly content with his new life.

Not long afterwards, his wife apparently left the cottage, and was not seen again. People thought she had returned to her kinfolk in Wales.

Then, within two years, Shrewsbury Abbey acquires the field and decides that most of it should be ploughed up to grow crops. In the course of the first ploughing, a female skeleton is discovered, and Cadfael gets deeply involved in uncovering who she is, who killed her, and why. (And if you have never read the book, I won't spoil the surprise by revealing what happens!)

Returning to how and why the potter forsook his wife, his view was that he could do nothing else. He was distressed by her grief and unwillingness to let him go, but the call from God was paramount. He utterly believed in that call, and felt absolutely compelled to respond as he did. He was overwhelmed. He felt great concern for his wife, and saw her plight, but had to go where his feelings were driving him. And because he felt the matter was out of his hands, it did not occur to him that what he had done to his wife might be considered selfish or reprehensible. So thoroughly and completely did he give himself to God, and such was the peace and fulfilment he found, that until the body was unearthed he never gave her another thought.

I said there were personal resonances here. Obviously The Potter's Field is not an exact parallel with my own history - no skeletal body, for one thing! - but there is this matter of years invested in a mutual enterprise, and then an overmastering calamity - beyond one's control - comes along unexpectedly, leading tragically to the destruction of a perfectly good relationship. Is there blame? Is there any question of guilt? Is bitterness justified?

I'm thinking of course of what happened to M--- and myself. I know that M--- felt herself disadvantaged and made vulnerable by the unfolding events of 2008 and the three years that followed, and robbed of a future she had hoped to share with me. Indeed, no other future seemed so worthwhile. Financially she came out of it without loss, but this wasn't all about money. It was about loss of trust, loss of certainties, loss of affection. For her the parting was bitter. She heaped blame and recrimination upon me, and accused me of wasting fifteen years of her life. Some will say I certainly did, and that I should feel shame and remorse.

And yet in many ways her situation was also my situation. We mirrored each other. I too became disadvantaged and vulnerable - and (financially speaking) have stayed that way. And I too was robbed of a shared future, and now feel there is no point in trying to build another one with somebody else. I didn't thrust bitterness and recrimination at her, nor did I accuse her of wasting fifteen years of my life; but some would say I had as good reason to say so.

And yet, what good would it do - now - to rake over past events and apportion blame? I haven't been able to do as the potter did, bury myself in a new life and forget the old one. I think about the past rather a lot. But nothing can be recovered from it. It has to be let go. The only worthwhile thing is to plan for whatever might be enjoyed in the time remaining.

I don't know what M--- has made of her life. So far as I know, she doesn't publish anything on the Internet - nor was it ever her way, to put her personal thinking out there for the public to read. I'd like to think that we are both making the best of things. But, given the bleak finality of our parting, we will almost certainly never get back together now. I can't see how that could happen.

It disturbs me to think that M--- might be worried, or ill, or in trouble, and myself never knowing about it. It saddens me to acknowledge that if she ever perished I would probably not be informed. To her family I must have become either a pariah - the bad person who made her so unhappy - or an irrelevance hardly now remembered. I might as well be hidden behind a nunnery wall, so far as they are concerned.

People slip in and out of your life so easily. Too easily by far. It seems that nothing is forever.

Thursday, 11 February 2016


Well, one corn anyway! On the side of the toe next to my big right toe. It's suddenly appeared. It's pretty uncomfortable. I do have some proper cushioned pads to prevent further rubbing, but really this looks serious enough to warrant a podiatrist's attention. Not yet, though. I'm not even through the first week of my Jury Service. The appointment must wait.

I'm rather prone to foot problems, forever stubbing toes (with consequences for toe nails), and I have had blisters, small bursas and callouses galore. Also a bout of plantar fasciitis some years back. The right foot generally suffers more than the left; but wear is always even on both shoe soles, so it's not clearly flowing from some walking defect. I never wear heels - I don't even possess any. I have escaped developing any bunions, but corns come easily and seem more frequent than they used to be.

Even so, I was surprised that this one has been created in just a day! On Monday in fact (it's now Thursday). On my first day at Hove Crown Court. My journey there and back - something of an experiment - intentionally involved a fair bit of walking. But only in sections. Yet when I worked it out afterwards, I found that the total walking distance was as much as four miles. That's rather more than I usually do on hard town pavements. It must of course have been down to the shoes worn, and yet they were good shoes - the flat black pair by Hotter in this photo:

Perhaps, despite their short-distance comfort, they were just the wrong sort for four miles of tramping! Even if the tramping was discontinuous, done in sections, with rests in between. And yet I've never developed any corns from wearing them before. Well, I'll see what the podiatrist says.

More money to be spent. Sigh.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Butter Test outcome

Just a quick note. Over the last week or so I've used up the Essential Waitrose butter, then the Lurpak butter, and I'm now back with Lurpak Spreadable, to round off the test. But it's already clear what I'll be using for the future - the Lurpak Spreadable.

This is not to deny the pleasure I had trying the two other butters. Both were creamy and of course more 'natural' - the Lurpak Spreadable being 'only mostly butter' as it was combined with rapeseed oil, plus some mysterious 'milk culture'. With the 'proper butters' I felt closer to green grass and contented cows.

It was also satisfying to unwrap the pat of yellow butter and tip it into the china butter dish. Both butters looked great in it. So much nicer than a plastic tub! The dish seemed to keep the butter fresh enough, even though it was out of the fridge for much of the day, in order to keep the butter soft enough to spread. I did wonder how this might work out in the summer, though. Probably I'd be messing around somewhat, popping the dish in and out of the fridge at intervals, to stop the butter turning runny on the one hand, or to prevent it getting unmanageably hard on the other.

As for flavour, the Waitrose (a cheap, basic butter this, not one of their premium offerings) was fine for cooking but seemed lacking as a spread. The Lurpak butter definitely beat it, cooking as well but tasting creamier, and in every way nicer. So I'd definitely regard Lurpak as the better choice, despite its much-higher price.

When it came to the Lurpak Spreadable - which although still 'butter', might feel by now damned as a 'processed product' and therefore 'inferior' - I attempted to make it all fair by transferring it from the plastic tub to the butter dish, just like the other two butters. This would at least make it look the same. I wouldn't be prejudiced by the plastic tub.

Well, after a week or more without using the Spreadable for anything, I instantly liked it for flavour. In fact, to my mind it trumped the two other 'real' butters. It was also a lot simpler to keep it in the fridge all the time. So it wins, on taste and convenience.

I know it's quite unnecessary, but I think I'll continue with the butter dish, even though I could revert to the plastic tub. The Lurpak Spreadable definitely looks like real butter in that dish, and somehow I get more flavour. I'd even say it acquires enhanced status as a healthy dairy spread, when taken from that dish. It's a psychological effect, of course. Like loose-leaf tea made traditionally in a teapot might seem a better thing to drink than the water-stain from a teabag, made in a cup.

Ironically, butter will play no part in tonight's cooking. It's haggis tonight, boiled up in the oven. Plus carrots and broccoli and onions and gravy. I'd better turn my mind to it soon, if I want to eat early!