And here’s to the NHS!

I never cease to marvel at the amazing legacy our grandparents and parents have given us, after the trauma and turmoil of two world wars – our National Health Service.

Yes, there are (many) things about it that could be better.  Yes, it has been hammered by successive Tory governments, and continues to be so.  Yes, it has been starved of training and goodwill for staff, and now has to rely on poaching staff from other countries.  But, but, but….

My extended family has good cause to be thankful for it.  My mother and my mother-in-law both received excellent care at different times in their lives for different problems.  Our children and their partners have at times needed to rely on it, and it has served them well.  I have recently had (minor) surgery to restore some lost vision and prevent further deterioration.  The treatment and care I received were speedy, effective and exemplary.

And none of us had to worry about paying for it, none of us had to fear the financial consequences of receiving medical care, or the health and other consequences of not being able to afford to do so.  None of us had to make those difficult choices, or were prevented from making choices because we simply couldn’t afford the necessary treatment.

A far cry from the place Big Business, Big Pharma, and much of the Tory Party and their friends would like us to be in.

I find all the talk of the ‘impossibility’ of continuing to fund the NHS in these ‘times of austerity’ completely unconvincing, especially when I recall the times in which it was first established.  On the contrary, we all make choices about how to spend whatever (much or little) money we have, and governments are no different in that.  Tax cuts? or increased tax paid by all, for increased benefits for those who need them?  We make the choice every time we vote.

As a society and as individuals, we can choose to see paying tax as a public good and something to be celebrated.  Because in my opinion paying tax and sharing out what we have more equally is the first step towards a fairer, more equal, healthier, happier, and ultimately safer and more cohesive society.

We listen and watch with envy the vast difference in the life chances between our children and their partners and friends, and those of our Danish friends (and indeed our nephew and his wife in Sweden).  We marvel at how the Danish ones have all been able to buy their own (modest but more than adequate) homes.  How (financially) free access to university and training courses have enabled them to achieve professional qualifications and find reasonably paid work with good working conditions.  How excellent maternity and paternity rights and pay have enabled them to have the children they dearly want.

But all that comes at a price.  They (and everyone else) pay far, far more in taxes then we do.

We could make that choice.  I would make that choice.  Would you?  If only our political system were such that those of us who do make that choice could have our voices heard, loud and clear.

And as for me, today, I’m rejoicing in the fact that my gradually reducing vision has been restored, that my world is brighter and bigger than I realised, and that I can now open my eyes when I want to.

Earlier this month, in the run up to the opening of the 2016 Olympics, we watched a fascinating BBC TV programme about the making of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics.  We marvelled at the atmosphere of optimism and pride that we shared at that moment; and felt sad to see where the intervening 4 years have brought us.

But for now, let’s remember that astonishing opening ceremony, that moment when we came together and celebrated our country and our heritage, and most of all our NHS.

“Play the drum for your mum, and she’ll watch it on TV”.  

Boom boom.  So many dedicated volunteers, so much given for free.  If you want to relive it for a moment, watch it here.  And if you’re in the UK and would like to catch the TV programme, you can watch it here (an edition of the Imagine series).

Posted in Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

While we’re away: a bit of a yarn

Who could resist the wonderful colours?  Certainly not me: when I’m away and visiting a market or strolling through a new town, I always search out the wool shops, the haberdasheries, the fabric stores and the market stalls.  Oh, and the fruit and vegetable stalls.

2015-09-05 10.12.09

Market haberdashery stall, Padova

And I’ve just remembered that in September in Fanoe they have a whole knitting festival!  (One day my friend??  you know who you are…..).  Plus they have several yarn stores on the island, of which Christel Sayfarth’s (see photo below) provided the most glorious of colours and designs (way beyond my ability though…).

2016-06-14 13.17.24

One of many amazing creations by Christel Seyfarth, to be seen in her shop on Fanie

2016-06-14 11.54.47

Over 80 and still running one of the town’s yarn shops. An inspiration!

2016-06-15 15.16.38

Detail from a Fanoe home/museum (hand knitted cotton towels)


Detail inside Strik, Aarhus


Detail inside Strik, Aarhus

2016-07-12 12.01.07

And let’s not forget the vegetables: beetroot on market stall, Freiburg

There’s always the temptation to buy, but it’s the overall effect that is so stunning, and somehow buying just one or two colours would be like choosing just one (or two) colours from the rainbow: it would miss the point.  Though as Malcolm would confirm, that rarely stops me.

Posted in Community, Craft, Inspirations, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

June and July: the allotment update

There seems to be a bit of a pattern emerging here doesn’t there.  That is, not keeping up with the posts.  And it’s not just the posts I’ve fallen behind with – some parts of the allotment have been lacking attention too.

But never mind, as ever, there’s still next year (and the one after that).  I do have plans for the future, and now I have time to put the plans into action.

2016-06-28 17.27.47

So, back to the present.  As ever, June is the month where everything starts producing for real, and in July it really takes off.

I harvested the onions and garlic – a good crop of onions again, marred only by the beginnings of neck rot in some of them when the weather was relentlessly wet and I hadn’t yet brought them in; my best-ever crop of garlic – heads that look like other people’s garlic, rather than my usual teeny tiny misfits.  And tasty too.

We began eating the new potatoes as always early in July.  Absolutely wonderful, as they always are.  We usually cook enough for two meals at a time, and eat them plain boiled the first night and then as a salad or crisped or fried over second time around.

At the end of July, the main crop potatoes are ready for harvest, but they will have to wait until I have time.  I’m just hoping I won’t lose too many in the meantime to blight and slugs.

Courgettes have been producing in abundance since mid June, and the cucumbers have now joined them.  Unlike some people, I can never have too many of either of these crops, and will happily eat them every day.  Plus I give some of them away to family and friends.  Which is lucky.

2016-06-28 17.27.26

After a slow start, the rhubarb has gone bonkers and is growing like mad.  I’ve given lots away, and have some in the freezer to use during the winter.  I love it, Malcolm hates it, so I don’t bother with pies crumbles or the rest, just plain lightly stewed with root ginger and some sugar – perfect with plain yogurt.

The strawberries have been fantastic this year and truly delicious, but unfortunately we went away just when they were at their peak and came back when they were over.    No strawberry jam for us this year, despite the abundance.  Lesson learnt.

Another great success story has been broad beans.  Despite me getting the autumn sown ones both sowed and planted out late they have done us proud, and for the first time ever was able to pick and enjoy early broad beans, and I’ve now picked the last of them.  Definitely one to repeat.

2016-06-28 17.55.27

This year I got the tomatoes planted out slightly earlier than usual and this too has paid off.  We’re not getting so many we can’t keep up, but a steady flow of a few ripe tomatoes each day is more than welcome.  I do still need to find some tastier varieties though – I’m finding these a little bland.

That row of autumn-fruiting raspberries I began planting last year and finished this spring has done brilliantly, and is already producing fruit.  Again, they need to be picked regularly several times a week, and being away hasn’t aided that.  More thought needed for next year and beyond I think.

My very late sowing of climbing french beans seems to have succeeded in evading the slugs and snails, so far at least, and I have high hopes of having enough beans to keep us happy for a while.  These were planted from seed I saved last year.  I’d like to do more seed saving and swapping in future.

2016-08-01 10.46.40

The hens are doing very well, and producing plenty of eggs for us and our children whenever we see them.  I have several friends and neighbours very happy to look after them when we’re away, which involves little more than visiting them once a day to top up their water, make sure they’re well, and collecting the eggs.  This month I bought a large hopper feeder, which means I can leave them a month’s food at a time.  I’ve made a covered space behind the hen house for this, which has also freed up some space inside the henhouse.   There are two current problems – one is some pecking (which I’m trying to treat / prevent using Stockholm Tar), and the other is the ever-present foxes – my neighbour lost all his hens a couple of weeks ago, so vigilance and sturdy fencing is definitely required.  Both of which I have, but it does need a careful eye on the integrity of the fencing.

2016-07-31 12.50.55

Still to come

I managed to sow and plant out a few leeks ready for the winter.  Not as many as I intended, but better than the none-at-all I managed last year.

I am hopeful that my globe artichoke (moved several times but hopefully now in its final position) will produce some flower buds later this year.  If not this, then I’m sure next.

Some but not all of the asparagus roots have taken – I hope enough for it to look more like an asparagus bed next year, and who knows, maybe for us to cut some the year after that.

The apple trees all have some fruit on them, though not nearly as much as last year.

And now the fails.

Several attempts at growing parsley have failed this year.  Likewise, rocket, carrots, coriander and spring onions.  Slugs and snails did for all of them.  I planted three squash plants, only two of which have survived.  Same problem I fear.

Peas and mangetout you already know about

I decided not to risk sweetcorn this year, as my badger baricades are not yet complete and I know I have no hope of success without them.

Fruit – I have neglected the soft fruit bushes a bit this year, but plan to do more on that part of my allotment during the autumn and winter, ready for a good season next year.  Having moved the gooseberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes, late in the spring to their new long-term home, it’s not surprising that I haven’t had much from them.

Flowers – a few of the flowers I planted out succeeded (mainly the marigolds and nasturtiums) but most went the same sluggy way as the rest of the fails.

2016-08-01 10.47.23

Future plans

I have some more construction plans, including making the fencing more secure, more stable, and prettier.  I want to tidy up and plant the small area where I have my mini shed, including creating a small covered sitting space for when the rain comes down, and put up some guttering to fill the water butt there.  There’s nothing quite like being inside/outside when its raining, I just love it.  And I want to grow something over the shed.  I’m still considering a kiwi.

Beauty is a must as far as I’m concerned, and next year I want to create a flower cutting bed.  This requires me to completely clear the old raspberry bed, now overgrown with couch grass and docks.  Not a pretty sight at the moment, but it will be.  Just give me time.

The plans must also include fitting in keeping the allotment productive (and increasing the productivity still further) alongside going away for periods of time.  I want to work out how best to do this: to achieve a balance between enjoying being out there, and enjoying being away other places.  I think this mostly means me finding a rhythm that works for me and my growing, and for us as a couple with more time on our hands.  I don’t want to be constantly saying no to spontaneous trips so that I can catch up with myself, or stick to a self-imposed routine.


Posted in Allotment, Food, Frugal, Gap year, Growing, Local, Local food, Retirement, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Gap Year: June’s adventure

Oh my goodness, I can hardly believe how long it is since I posted.  There is SUCH a lot to catch up with.   Which I shall do gradually, over time.

First of all, I need to talk about our June Gap Year adventure.

We went to Denmark.  And what a  wonderful time we had.  Can I call it an adventure?  well, I’m not sure, but in a way it was – we’re still trying on this ‘retirement’ malarkey for size, and seeing how it feels, so in some ways everything feels like an adventure.  I knew I was returning home to just two more working days, and that gave an extra excitement to everything, because now anything (or almost anything) is possible.

Most of the photos below were taken by Malcolm.  But I suspect you won’t need me to tell you that, they’re several cuts above my standard.


Lupins, bed outside kitchen window

It was a trip of two halves.


The new ‘indoor-outdoor’ sitting and growing space

We spent the first few days with our friends at their house, enjoying just being there with them – but also enjoying our usual round of visits, local trips, and time with our Danish ‘family’, with the usual (high!) standard of Danish hospitality and hygge.



Malcolm and I spent a day together exploring Aarhus, and fell in love with the place (again).  We mooted the idea of me maybe going there to study and live for a term, an idea that had to be put on hold some years ago when parents needed us to be around.  We’ve been gently exploring and poking and prodding this idea since our recent visit, and I think a core of a germ of a plan might just be forming.  I’ll let you know where it ends up, if it sticks.


Aros, in Aarhus


Aarhus streetscene, weekday afternoon in the Old Town


Of course there was a yarn shop to visit. Strik in Aarhus

For the second half of the trip, we went to a house they had rented on a small island off the west coast of Jutland.  Fanoe.


We thought it would be impossible to beat the beauty of of the places they’d already taken us in years gone by, but we were wrong.  This island was just perfect: very peaceful, very gentle, very quiet, very beautiful.  Even the weather was (mostly) spectacularly good, and very different from the wet weather forecasted.




It was a celebration of her 60th birthday, and included the Danish side of their (our) extended family.  The week they had booked the house for was one of comings and goings – the four of us to start with, later joined by his two brothers and their partners, who each left one or two nights later, leaving just the four of us again.  Then the ‘girls’ and their husbands and children arrived.  And then we left them all there for the last few days, as we needed to be home for some work commitments.



So lovely to spend time with our ‘not nieces’ and their growing families.  One of the benefits of having known each other for so very long (she and I since we met at secondary school) is that we have grown up together, we’ve known each other’s partners for as long as we’ve been together, our children have grown up together.  We’ve known the brothers and their families almost as long.  They feel like family to us (but without the baggage most families accumulate and carry around).

On the island we mostly took it in turns to cook the evening meal, aided by the fish van that came every day outside the local shop – run by a Dane who knew the English name of every fish and gave us good advice on how to cook it.  And we had fresh home-baked rolls every morning.  Baked by me! – the ‘fruits’ of a master[mistress?]-class I demanded from her – she had been baking all our breakfast rolls while we were at her house, and despite baking all our bread at home for decades, I’ve never managed to back rolls as light and delicious as hers.

And now I can authentically produce delicious Danish-style home-baked rolls for breakfast, and know it to be true when she says “oh it’s really easy, they take no time at all”.

2016-07-24 09.08.16

Sunday morning breakfast

So this week, when I had an early morning ‘business meeting’ at home, I promised the person I was meeting with fresh rolls to go with our coffee.  He was a bit surprised – we’ve never met before and he said that he’d never been offered rolls before.  So maybe this will be the start of a new trend. (They were, by the way, delicious.  Though I say it myself….)

Posted in Community, Family, Gap year, Inspirations, Local food, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

FUBAR*. What next?

What an extraordinary week this has been.  Both on a personal and, far far more importantly, on a national (and international) level.

(For the avoidance of doubt, the images below have little to do with the text, but I figure we could all do with uplifting a little.  And I took them recently at a kite festival in Denmark.  Which, also for the avoidance of doubt, is a member of the EU).

Personally, it was the week when I did my very last paid work.  Ever, I think and hope.  From now on the work I do will be voluntary and unpaid.  I thought that was going to be the really momentous bit for me.

It was the week when we were part of a college reunion for students from the 1970s – a trip back to the (then women’s) college I went to in Oxford, meeting up with old friends and lost acquaintances.  I thought that was (just) going to be fun.

Far more importantly, it was the week when the UK (or more accurately, parts of England and Wales) voted to leave the EU.  I thought that was going to be a close but in the end  sane result.

How wrong I was.

2016-06-16 14.33.06

During the past few days we have lamented, discussed, debated, and pondered endlessly on what the referendum outcome will mean.  It has been, is, and will be very painful, profoundly disappointing, and very very scary.

As it turned out, the St Anne’s reunion was more than timely.  We were treated to a fascinating and illuminating (and also really, really worrying) lecture by Professor Neil MacFarlane, Professor and Fellow in International Relations and specialist on Russian foreign policy and the regional dynamics of the former USSR.

2016-06-16 14.42.32

After the evening meal there followed a passionate and moving speech by the Principal, Tim Gardam.  He reflected on the education, experiences and careers of those of us who were privileged to be St Anne’s students in the 1970s compared with the experience of the current and future cohorts of students.  They being the generations that have been sold down the river by the referendum vote (my words, not his).  He emphasised the part that our generation has played in working in and for public services of every kind as well as the voluntary and commercial sector; and the vital covenant between the generations that requires us now more than ever to work to heal the rifts, understand the hurts, and support all our young people to a future that is as good as it can be.

2016-06-16 14.09.22

But, it is what it is, and we have to find a way to face up to it, to understand it, and to move forward with it.  It’s a shame then that so far the politicians who caused this crisis have been distinctly absent, only to appear to lie and renege on what they said during their campaign; and apparently reluctant to face up to the monster they alone have created.  Little wonder that trust in politicians and political promises is at such a low ebb.

2016-06-16 14.18.19

I came away from the weekend refreshed by having spent time with like-minded, thoughtful people; reinvigorated by the intellectual stimulation of the two talks and many lively debates and discussions; and with a growing commitment to doing anything I can to try to mitigate the dreadful damage threatened by the referendum decision, but also the dreadful damage caused by lying self-serving politicians and years of neglect and harm to already impoverished communities around our country.

Meanwhile, family and friends who live and work in other EU countries consider their options and take steps to seek another nationality.  Migration isn’t just a one-way street.

2016-06-16 14.27.00

*FUBAR? look it up


Posted in Community, Family, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The morning after the night before

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne. 1624

No idea how to live with the result of yesterday’s vote.  No idea what it means for this country (by which I mean UK).  No idea what it means for Europe and the wider world.  No idea how to make sense of a successful campaign that showed contempt for facts, for knowledge and for experience.

Today is a much sadder day than the day before yesterday, and I am little comforted by knowing that almost half those who voted voted the same way I did.  I fear our voices now count for nothing.

How to make sense of the senseless and the scary?

Take a moment to remind ourselves of the hopeful words of Jo Cox MP in her maiden speech:

…..we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

2016-06-12 14.28.23

Posted in Community, Inspirations, Poetry party, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The poetry party revisited: Kin, by Deborah Harvey

The previous day I had managed to find and organise a date for us cousins to have our annual gathering – not until the autumn, but better late than not.

I was sitting finishing off the last knitting on the shawl, listening to R4.  The poetry programme came on (Poetry Please).  The introduction to the next poem made me laugh out loud – a reference to a phrase in the poem – ‘an argumentation of uncles and aunts’ – oh yes!  I recognise that.

The poem was new to me.  Kin, by Deborah Harvey, a poet who lives nearby in Bristol.

Another phrase resonant for me in connection with my family: ‘cacophonous cousins’.  Oh yes indeed.  We’re a noisy bunch when we get together.

2015-09-19 14.08.00

The poem uses the metaphor of ‘a parliament of starlings’ for a description of her family, and is a delight.  You can read it here on her website – I hope you will.

And what a lovely phrase – ‘a parliament of starlings’.  If you’ve ever listened to Yesterday in Parliament or PMs questions, you’ll understand why that phrase is so perfect (for good or bad).

How interesting that birds have such descriptive words associated with them.  Though I think ‘parliament’ is usually applied to rooks (and owls?).  The collective word for the image below is a murmuration of starlings.  And a very beautiful thing is it is to see*.



*the image here was taken by Malcolm at Ham Wall RSPB Reserve in Somerset early in 2015.  I wrote about it here.

Posted in Community, Family, Nature, Poetry party, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments