Tuesday 9 May 2023


 Ah..there are suddenly three new posts on my blog...but only because I saw them as drafts after a break of four years.  I can't think why I didn't publich them...and it was interesting to read what I was thinking four years ago.  A different world.  I can't believe how different.  My world hasn't changed as much as the rest of the world I think...aren't I fortunate?

Anyway just to remind myself what I've been up to.  I started working again...but only because the Census didn't want volunteers, so I becane a team leader for our local area for five months.  I had ten people in my team, and despite the challenges of most contact being on Zoom, we all bonded as a team (or at least I think we did).  I've never worked in such a hierarchical organisation as the ONS...there were nine levels of management above me...that blows my mind!  The whole set up was highly systemised and rigorous in planning and implementation...again something totally new to me.  I had a ball, in fact the best job I ever had...perhaps because it was for a limited period and there were no consequences if I screwed up...although I didn't.  And the best thing is I ended up with a civil service pension...a pot of a whole £1000...of course my financial adviser told me to move it to my other pension...but hell, I'm so excited by having a civil service pension, that's never going to happen...even if it pays just £1 per year...when I hit 67.

More to come I think....

Friday 25 October 2019

Out of retirement...

Retirement has been a troubling few months.  I've gone from Plan A to Plan B and onto Plan C.  But now it has been resolved, thanks to the tax man.  HMRC has come good for me.  I may have given up on PR, but there's continued to be the need to look after my properties...landlord was never a popular term, so I have been newly termed a 'Property Manager' which legitimately means I can claim back all sorts of things.  Including my dignity.

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Be careful of the things you hear

Twice in the last week people have said things to me that have been quite devastating.  One certainly wasn't meant to be; the jury is out on the other.  My friend in the office was talking about her 9 year old daughter and said how exciting it was thinking about what she might do when she grows up and hearing her daughter's ambitions.  My friend said I didn't appear to be interested.  But I am, I explained, very much so...but at that age those thoughts never crossed my mind.  Because it was at this age that the boy's mother died, and the only thing I could think of was how would he cope.  I didn't think about whether he would be 'successful' all I wanted was for him to be happy...or at least not sad.  It was an all-consuming thought.  I didn't think much beyond the next day, perhaps the next week if we were lucky.

And that is how it has remained.  I've always just wanted him to be happy...the thought of career has never really been thought about.  I think perhaps it should have been more, but it never seemed that important.  So another when another woman I know, who has a high-flying son in the finance world, said am I happy that the Boy is working driving a boat on a Norwegian fjord, I said "Yes, very".  And it was true, but her reply that 'parents are happy whatever their children do' carried a feeling of 'Really? Really?' in it.

So on reflection, I feel that the Boy and I missed out not having long long discussions about how he was going to be a polar explorer, the Prime Minister, a footballer or a pop star.  Which is a shame, and I wish we had.  I wish there had been nothing on our minds to distract ourselves from these exciting discussions.  As for driving boats on Norwegian Fjords, I am truly happy...he has found a place which brings him contentment now.  Whether it will in the future who knows?  But then if he'd become a banker, who's to say that would have brought him any happiness.

Tuesday 2 July 2019

Be careful what you wish for

It feels as if it's the right time for me to restart my blog; it's been over a year since I wrote...though judging by my drafts folder, I've tried to write aplenty!

I've never fully grasped the concept of 'work'....well, why should I?  I was one of those privileged middle-class kids who went to public school, then university and had a career in public relations.  Given how socialist my views have become, I think I should loathe myself!  Don't worry, I don't and there's no need to send for the therapist....yet.

I had never understood people who define themselves by the work they do..."I'm a lawyer", "I'm a doctor", "I'm a banker"....well who would admit to the last anyway?  All around me I see friends who have reached the end of their careers...they've been dumped by their employers of many years standing in favour of younger and more energetic people, and they struggle to cope with this.  They scrape around until they find something else...usually part time, usually with reduced responsibility and usually not something they would have considered.  I have worked out that for some, no many, that is truly how they see themselves, and their work is something they love, enjoy and can't imagine not doing.  It defines them.  It defines their masculinity.  Me?  I'm quite different.  I saw a job as a means to an end...it enabled me to do what I wanted to do, and if it was fun that was a bonus.  At a job interview when I was thirty, I was asked what was my ambition.  With a boldness that may have slipped into arrogance I replied "I want to retire"...quickly adding that I could only do that when I had achieved great things, whilst secretly thinking, no "I really do want to retire".  I have derived the most satisfaction at work by setting up and running my own business.  It was a mad thing to do at the time, but I made it work.  I enjoyed that everything that went well was down to me, and when it went badly that was also down to me.  But underneath, I still yearned to retire.

So at the end of last year I told my client of ten years that to celebrate our anniversary I was resigning and retiring.  Ambition achieved.

Except, of course it wasn't.  I still have a lot of professional commitments, do a lot of pro bono stuff, and I also have my properties to run.  The properties have, in fact,  in recent years become more difficult, stressful and time-consuming...they are practically a full time job now.  And if something needs to be sorted, it needs to be done yesterday....my time is often not my own.  The precise timing of severing my client relationship had been driven by how busy I was elsewhere, and also by not feeling the direction they were heading was the right way to go, rather than a desire to put my feet up.

My time may be flexible, but then it has been for the last twenty years, and it is generally in short supply.

And there are unexpected consequences to saying "I have retired".  Peoples' view of you changes in some quite remarkable ways...some acquaintances have made it clear that I'm now irrelevant, others have made me feel like a second class citizen.  Someone even suggested I hadn't stopped work of my own choice...I guess envy may have played a part there.  On one of the committees I attend where I was pushing for change with resistance from the Chair, the response to me was "You have time on your hands now you're doing nothing, I still have a high pressure and responsible job".

So I've stopped saying I'm retired and have even started correcting people who comment on my retirement...it all seems a bit bizarre to them I am sure.  More than that, I have questioned the wisdom of my decision...perhaps I was more defined by my work than I realised and perhaps when I have a quiet moment I am questioning my purpose more than I expected....

Thursday 24 May 2018

Like a boy in a sweet shop

I was reflecting on how lucky I am, and took stock of what I'd been up to over the last ten days:

Event in House of Commons - The price of freedom: 3% GDP for our international interests
Discussed the Rolling Stones with Will Hodgkinson, Rock Critic of The Times (otherwise known as just going to the office)
Rolling Stones at Olympic Stadium

Evening kayak down the Thames - Battersea to Greenwich

Watched TV - Westworld, Patrick Melrose, The Crown...some of the best programmes ever

Donmar - Way of the World
Secret Cinema - Blade Runner
OB Leavers Event at Bancroft's School

London Revolutions - 200 mile cycle round London

Frontline Club - In Search of the “Shell Shocked Marine”: Anthony Loyd talks with Jon Swain and Don McCullen (who took the pictures in the first place)

I do lead a lucky, lucky life

Monday 15 January 2018

A rash decision in Bruges

After the family celebrations of Christmas, we headed off to Bruges.  The Cat's Mother hadn't been there before (amazingly), but this was my third visit.  I first went there on a school trip, and then stayed there when I was cycling London - Amsterdam a couple of years ago.  This time we went on Eurostar, and the journey was just a delight...very simple, very easy.  Though it's worth noting, TCM seemed to have forgotten you can't just roll-up five minutes before it departs, so she had to cancel the pre-holiday trip to the hair dressers at the last minute.

In preparation, we watched the beautifully dark-humoured 'In Bruges' with Colin Farrel and Brendan Gleeson...and then spent New Year's Day finding film locations (it's not too onerous...a small city, and everything takes place in the centre).  Apart from that we did the usual touristy things of a canal trip and all the sights.  It is such a beautiful city at any time of the year, but is particularly special over Christmas and the New Year with Christmas Markets, ice skating in the main square giving it a fairy tale feel.  For New Years Eve itself we had a special dinner at the hotel...there was something quite touching to seeing in 2018 surrounded by people of various European origins.

We spent the four days there wandering round and enjoying the local cuisine, including, of course moules...a dish we both love.  Peculiarly I  developed an allergic reaction, and was covered head to toe in a patchy rash.  After the initial panic that it might be shingles, or even Lymes Disease (not quite oaranoid...I got an insect bite a way back in March and it won't quite heal...the doctor has said, don't worry though!), an allergic reaction was quite reassuring (confirmed by the doctor on our return).  A very strong dose of anti-histamines for a week has largely resolved the problem...and I'm told I should try moules again in about three months "to see what happens"!

We clearly relaxed, perhaps a little too much as on the last day, we overslept by a couple of hours and nearly missed our train home!  What a disaster that would have been!

Saturday 9 December 2017

Ello, ello...photo time

I mentioned once before, I think that I like to devote my spare time to photography, and also that I posted my efforts to a particular website... Ello.  If you'd like to see my efforts, click here which will take you to https://ello.co/notabene

The site has encouraged me to think about my photography and try and get better...and I can't help but admit that I like that my pictures have been viewed over a quarter of a million times.  For some of them, if you click on the picture there is a mini-gallery of related images.  It has also encouraged me to join the Royal Photographic Society, and to consider applying for the LRPS award...but I find it a little daunting at the moment

I can't say which is my favourite, but here are a few that are as good as any

                                         Unexpected Amsterdam

                                         The cyclist

                                                         Brighton in motion


                                         Ground zero


                                         The Tower of the hill

                                          For the homeless there is no light at the end of the tunnel

                                         21st cafe society

                                         Contemporary architecture near the Old Bailey
                                         Fire lilly from Amsterdam

Monday 4 December 2017

The refugee issue

This is a piece written by my son.  I am extraordinarily proud of him, and hopefully you can see why when you read it 

"While a student at school (having left in 2013) I took a great interest in the German language, spending a year living in Kitzbühel, Austria before taking up my place at the University of Edinburgh, where I (eventually) settled on the degree of ‘German and Scandinavian Studies’. Since starting in Edinburgh, I continued to visit and work in Austria, as well as learning Norwegian, and working in the Western Norwegian fjords during my summer breaks from studies.

As with most modern language students, the third year of my degree is to be spent abroad, and as I am a dual honours student, I chose to split this between working in Germany, and studying in Norway. Since September I’ve been living in Mainz, working as a teacher in the towns of Bad Kreuznach and Wiesbaden.

Since 2015, Germany has (for the most part) welcomed hundreds of thousands of the 1.3 million asylum seekers Angela Merkel decided the country had a national duty to suspend the Dublin accords for, with the famous phrase ‘Wir schaffen das’ (We can do this). Germany is particularly well suited to achieving this, given the two previous major migration events in the country’s recent history: The 1955-1973 ‘Guest workers’ from predominantly Turkey, Spain, Greece and Italy, invited to participate in the manufacturing increase as part of the West German ‘Economic Wonder’, and the 1990s ‘Resettlement’ of Germans who had been sent to keep German national Catherine the Great company in the 18th Century, who had since found themselves firmly within the Soviet Sphere of influence. Compare the 438,190 asylum applications of 1992 with 441,800 filed in 2015, and we begin to see clearly that while history does not necessarily repeat itself, it very often rhymes.

Whilst my personal mandate during this part of my year abroad has been to work predominantly as an English language assistant, to ignore the impact of current migration events in Germany is to ignore both the history of the nation, and its current culture. As such, I was given relatively free reign to design my teaching timetable as I saw fit and in September and October I would spend my mondays on a farm in the village of Ingelheim, looking after children who lived in the nearby asylum center. The importance of giving these children the chance to get some fresh air, away from the former military camp they are calling home, to sit on horses, feed sheep and relax cannot be understated. The level of German is hugely variable, but clues as to the journey that has been taken can be found; one child was able to understand most of what was said to him, and the social workers knew he was using actual words to respond, but couldn't make out the language. I realised he spoke a mix of German and Swedish, apparently having been in Sweden for some time before his family ended up being sent back to Germany where they had been registered, but not yet recognised as refugees.

In the nearby town of Bad Kreuznach, one of the schools I work in runs “German as a Second Language” courses (Deutsch als Zweitsprache or DAZ) parallel to the “normal” school day, from learning the alphabet up to the level required for University studies, accommodating for the 80% of students attending who come from a migration background. Teaching the German language, often without having another one to communicate it is a unique challenge, and the staff here do exceptional work in bringing their students up to the required level, many of those who arrived in 2015 about to leave secondary education with great marks and university level language skills. Imagine trying to explain the term Past Participle, when your students understand neither word, and you will have an idea of what my classes have entailed. Watching students from all over the world helping each other to understand, translating for new arrivals, is truly heartwarming. As one member of staff remarked “our playground looks like the UN, just with less shouting”. The challenge of a parents evening where you rely on an 11 year old to translate the fact that they haven't done their homework to parents also trying to learn German requires an enormous amount of mutual trust, and a sense of humour - rarely does it take an extra two sentences and pointing to others in the room to translate ‘I didn’t do my homework 3 times in a row’.

Whilst this work has had some truly wonderful moments, and been incredibly rewarding, it can be exceptionally tough at times, in particular when all some of these kids want to do is go home, not sit in a classroom and learn a language they had never heard of before arriving here. Especially difficult was finding out from a colleague about a family whose paperwork had not checked out, and that the little girl we had got to know over the course of several weeks in my case, and months for my colleagues, was being deported. That will stay with the people who work here for a long time.

But so will the smiles once the words ‘Schneller!’ or “Nochmals!’ (Faster and again) have been learned by the swingset. Or the moment this week when a young chap from Eritrea explained with barely hesitation that he had been to the doctor yesterday, and would pick up his glasses next week, having worked on the past and future tenses for two weeks. Completely selfishly, helping others to learn German has done wonders for my own, and teaching English in another school has provided a good mix of work to keep me engaged in both sides of the language teaching component of my current semester.

I would thoroughly recommend anyone to seek out a spot where you can assist with teaching languages, and particularly seek out those who have arrived in a country with nothing but a desperate desire to be safe. Get to know them, laugh with them, and accept that they will speak the language better than you far faster than anyone might have expected.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Whole lotta love

We go to a lot of gigs and theatrical performances.  We're very lucky that way.

When I was at school, I spent my latter years as a boarder.  We all had our own room, and at the end of our corridor was a kettle, a toaster, bread, milk and most importantly a record player.  At home I listened to 'lovely' music.  At school I was subjected to everyone else's taste...Black Sabbath, early Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Led Zep.  I kind of tolerated it, and occasionally after we'd sneaked out to the pub behind the teachers' backs I probably quite enjoyed it.  Three years ago, and I can't remember why, I bought a CD by Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zep.  I was blown away...absolutely loved it, listened to it time and time again, and bought pretty much his entire back catalogue.  I became desperate to see him live, in concert, but he never seemed to...until this year.  A fabulous new album, a new tour.  As ever tickets were almost impossible, and I just couldn't get them in London....so we bought tickets for Plymouth.  A 500 mile round trip.  We stayed over, of course after a six hour drive and had a nice time wandering in the old town.  The concert was fantastic...it more than lived up to expectations.

But what made it all worthwhile was the next day, when getting some fresh air, we bumped into Mr Plant himself.  He was very friendly indeed, and was grateful when we pointed him in the direction of the Plymouth Gin Distillery.  I was as excited as a small boy in  toy shop...but hey, why not!

One of my favourite songs from the album: 

Thursday 9 November 2017

Sins of the father

The thing about being successful in our society is that it enables you to buy stuff.  The more successful, the more stuff, and better stuff.  We buy it because we like it.  And if it stopped there all would be fine. But we are emotional beings, and we form attachments to stuff...your favourite coffee mug, the old jumper that keeps you warm in winter, and so on.  I have been lucky because at a relatively young age, my favourite mug did get broken, but I was told and quickly took on board that it could be replaced.  So for me stuff has generally remained just stuff...though some stuff, presents, for example, I have an emotional attachment to.  Probably the downside to that thinking is that I may buy something, but when something better comes along, I want the new thing...so in some ways it has fed my insatiable desire for stuff.

The one thing I have bought and have broken the rule about emotional attachment to is my bicycle.  Man and machine in perfect harmony, it has taken me thousands of miles up hills and mountains, down valleys, along the straightest of roads, and down narrow, twisty country lanes.  Every yard, every mile has involved sweat, and sometimes tears.  It has given me great joy and an immense sense of success.  There are the obvious big rides London to Brighton, London to Paris, London to Amsterdam, Exeter to Essex, London Revolutions, Birmingham Velo London to Cambridge, London 100  and many more.  I have a fantastic set of medals to remember my endeavours. But there are the smaller rides which have been just as rewarding - cycling round the road track at Lee Valley Velo, doing my short circuits up and down hills to get fit.  I have momentarily faced death when I've been knocked off by thoughtless drivers.  This year has in some ways been the most rewarding - an injury in March kept me out of the saddle for weeks, and generally I have spent the months since regaining my strength to keep me pedaling.  Despite some tricky times when I thought I wouldn't be able to turn the pedal another revolution and could hardly bear to look up from the tarmac on a seemingly ever-steepening hill, I can say I have loved every minute of riding.  And in truth I bonded with my cycle.  I never once thought of replacing it, never looked at another bike and thought I want that one.

The other cycle I own is the one I rode when my son Fred, then 13, and I cycled from Brighton to Buckhurst Hill....that was the most remarkable bonding experience imaginable.  It was a most amazing achievement for him, and something I hope he remembers all his life.

So perhaps you can understand my devastation when, this week our garage was broken into and my motorcycle and my two bicycles were taken.  A tracker device on my motorbike has meant it has been quickly recovered...with relatively little damage.  But my bicycles have gone for good.  I'm devastated.  Heartbroken, because at the moment it feels that with it's disappearance, so too my memories of my cycling triumphs, and disasters, have been damaged.  I am very sad.

Tragically, the two people arrested when my motorbike was recovered appear to be a father and son.  The son is a twelve year-old boy.  That makes me weep.  How could a parent do that to a child?  That child's life is blighted, and generally experience shows, his life is ruined.  There is a pattern to people who get involved criminal activity so young and it is so rare that they make good, that when t does, it makes headlines.  There is not a strong chance they will be convicted either as there was no witness to the crime itself, and that is a tragedy in itself because the lad will feel that he's got away with it, it will boost his confidence to carry on breaking the law.

At home, we are increasing the security measures again, gradually turning a home into a fortress.  Every time we have had someone either break-in or attempt to break in we've added another layer of security.  It's not nice, it doesn't encourage a feeling of comfort and cosiness.

No one is a winner from this.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Out of Africa

It was an extraordinarily happy moment when my son and his girlfriend joined us in South Africa for our safari holiday.  Apart from that, here's the video...sorry it runs to  twenty minutes, and redefines the old phrase about coming round to watch my holiday movies


Thursday 14 September 2017


We headed off to Florence for a few days.  The Muffins were already there staying in an apartment; we checked in to the Four Seasons.  To get to the airport in London, we traveled by Tube for less than £3, we were collected from Florence airport by the Hotel car.  It was a Bentley.  I think I'm a little embarrassed by this.  Florence was boiling - 38 degrees; you could hardly move. One evening we had a picnic in the Hotel grounds - a beautiful hamper in a secluded area.  It was quite magical.  One meal out was quite memorable because I ate ' wild beast in sweet sauce'  that'll be wild boar in chocolate sauce...very traditional evidently.

Other than that, I took a lot of photos whilst we wandered around.

Wednesday 9 August 2017

On your bike (again)

I enjoy a good cycle ride...you may know that already.  Last year my 'major' rides were London Revolutions (200 miles in two days circling London), London to Amsterdam and the classic Exeter to Essex... The first tow were organised events, but the latter was just me and my bike, a ruck sack and Google Maps braving 240 miles...I loved this ride as it gave me a real sense of satisfaction.  This year I toyed with the idea of Lands End to John O'Groats, but in February disaster struck.  Excruciating pain in my left hip/pelvis down to my knee....I could barely walk.  I have spent many hours with doctors, physios, osteopaths, in scanning machines and with sports masseurs without being given a definitive answer...or indeed cure.  I'm currently with a cycling specialist and whilst I can still feel pain, I'm a lot better.  Better enough that in June I did a 100km night ride around London.  I love night cycling, especially through cities...the sights and sounds are amazing...you certainly realise that London never sleeps.

And then last week, I rode the Prudential London 100.  That's 100  miles.  In the past I may have worried about my rate of progress, but this time I was more concerned about finishing.  Even though it started from the Olympic Park, which is within spitting distance of home, a requirement to be there 2 hours before departure time meant that I was up at 4.00 am and in the starting gate at 5.30....bloody hell I was tired before I'd turned a pedal!  Anyway, a few aches and pains in the first 26 miles disappeared and my confidence grew even when tackling the extremely challenging Leith Hill and less challenging but infamous Box Hill...after that it was all down hill (well nearly...bloody Wimbledon!).  I finished, got an enormous medal and am very pleased.  The aches are still with me, but my confidence has returned.