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Stand by Ukraine! Ceasefire for Gaza!

[Entries are in reverse date order, latest at the top. Comm­ents and cont­ri­but­ions are wel­come to the em­ail add­ress at the bot­tom.]

Friday 12th July

"Ladies and gentlemen, President Putin."

Sad. And also dangerous, as he's the self-styled "leader of the free world" facing up to China, India, North Korea and Iran. They'll all be quaking in their boots.

This was meant to be the safe, scripted part of his evening as he wound up the NATO summit. When he moved into the unscripted section, answering press questions, he immediately called his own vice-president Harris "Vice-President Trump". The rest was just coherent enough, although I felt I was watching a man at the limit of his competence. At times a hoarse, almost whispering delivery, staring eyes, clutching at the lectern. Supporters say he's always slurred his words. Well, it's really not a good look.

The Newsnight bench, non-committal at the start of the discussion before Biden came on screen, flipped at the "Putin" blunder. The consensus was now that he must stand down, could even do it gracefully. Baron Mandelson came up with an interesting idea, that Barack and Michelle Obama should step in. How would they do that? Michelle as Democratic candidate? Rumours surfaced that Barack's people had even drafted the George Clooney "You gotta go, Joe" piece in the New York Times.

Trump has only had to remain relatively silent as Biden implodes, but he did use his Truth Social platform to post this:

Thursday 11th July

I've taken a few days to recognise fully the first huge win of this election victory.

We don't have to do this any more:

And I got lucky with the footie last night. A few weeks ago I had my little flutter, at much better odds than you'd get today, on both England and Spain. I can't lose.

Sunday 7th July

It was always going to be a struggle for Starmer to say some­thing pos­it­ive about the out­go­ing Sunak, but Keir - no "Sir", thank-you - man­fully erred on the side of mag­nan­im­ity, even if faint. Rishi had done well to be that first Asian PM.

I think many of us are slightly in shock. It's diff­ic­ult to bel­ieve that we are, on the flushed first face of it, leav­ing the mire of the last dec­ade. The car­toon char­act­ers above and their cron­ies made many Brit­ish lives a mis­ery, a long pan­dem­ic of the heart and soul. I have at times felt dep­ressed, angry, dis­gusted, rep­elled, ash­amed, dis­bel­iev­ing, help­less, hope-free.

The new PM did well with the selection of voc­ab­ul­ary in his first speech GOV.UK transcript of Keir Starmer first speech as Prime Minister in Downing Street 5-7-2024. We all want to hear and later ex­per­ience the eff­ect of these words: re­new­al, ser­vice, spirit, bel­ief, trust, healed, res­pect, res­pons­ib­il­ity, re­build, hope, re­dis­cov­ery, dig­nity, opp­or­tun­ity, unite, hum­il­ity.

Not everybody is a fan of Starmer. I have local friends who con­sid­er him a mon­strous liar and turn­coat. I have a pers­on­al bone to pick with him on the non-sel­ect­ion, often men­tioned in these pages, of our in­spir­at­ion­al for­mer coun­cil leader Doina Corn­ell as the Stroud cand­id­ate for this el­ect­ion. But hey, we got the Tories out.

As with the triumph of 1997, the difficult thing will be to wit­ness the er­os­ion of the vict­ory sheen, which must surely come. And the job isn't go­ing to be easy.

One worrying additional thought. I've spent five years of this blog rail­ing against the Tory party. What now?

Saturday 6th July

A startling element, nothing new and now wide­ly ack­now­ledged, of the election res­ult was the vote and seat share pic­ture. My friend Aidan sent me a chart early on in the over­night res­ults show, even before Lab­our was dec­lared the winner, so not up-to-date acc­ur­ate. How­ever, I've not been able to find a bet­ter one since. I've also ed­it­ed it down to my cho­sen high­lights:

Remarkable comparisons. The stand-out disconnect is that Reform had half-a-million more votes than the Libdems but 67 fewer seats (now 66). The Tories achieved 70% of the voter numbers acquired by Labour but 30% of the constituencies won. Farage has a point when he considers that he can be the voice of opposition to Labour, if not in the Commons, but out in the country. Will we - or the incumbents under the current model - allow first-past-the-post to survive?

After all the Eton and Bullingdon Club years, it's interesting to look at the schooling backgrounds of Starmer's top team. The PM went to Reigate Grammar School. His deputy attended the comprehensive Avondale School in Stockport, left at 16. The Chancellor was a pupil at comprehensive Cator Park School for Girls in Beckenham. The Foreign Secretary started out at Downhills Primary School in Tottenham, and at the age of 10 was awarded an Inner London Education Authority choral scholarship to sing at Peterborough Cathedral and attend The King's School, Peterborough. The Home Secretary went to Eggar's School comprehensive in Holybourne and Alton College, both in Alton, Hampshire.

So, some selective and aspirat­ion­al stuff there, but noth­ing like the priv­il­eged shite of Cam­er­on and John­son. Per­haps not com­plete­ly my-dad-was-a-tool­maker, but closer to the ex­per­iences of ord­in­ary folk.

I asked some - possibly rhetorical - questions on the eve of polling. Now you can see how they've been answered: "Who will lose their seats? What effect will Reform have on the Conservative total? Will Farage get elected? How will Labour do in Scotland? Will Ed Davey's antics pay off?"

Friday 5th July


I didn't pull an all-nighter, but have woken up to even better news than when I took to my bed ear­lier.

I'm reluctant to gloat - not the Starmer hope-and-opt­im­ism, pol­it­ics-of-dec­en­cy way - but the dep­ar­ture of Truss (26,195 maj­or­ity over­turned) and Rees-Mogg feels like pay­back for years of pain and des­pair.

Fewer seats for the party than expected, but Far­age and the love­ly Lee And­er­son are in Parl­ia­ment. The Ref­orm sec­ond-place eff­ect has bur­ied the Tories.

Stroud turns back to Labour, handsomely:

In half-an-hour we're all off to bury our won­der­ful - but Tory - friend Anne. She has been spared this morn­ing's news.

23:30 last night:

Reform again ...

23:15 last night:

First declaration. Check out the Reform effect ...

23:00 last night:

National dailies going with a result already ...

Those numbers at the bottom of the Sun front page can only be a place­hold­er dec­lar­at­ion, right? All they're say­ing is that they in­tend to ded­ic­ate the first 10 pages to cov­er­age of the el­ect­ion.

22:10 last night:

BBC exit poll within minutes of the close of voting ...

Thursday 4th July

Today's the day. Google says it's time to vote:

In case you're about to go soft on Sunak, or have been sed­uced by his "Don't Surr­en­der" claims of what Labour will do, here is Jon­ath­an Pie's rem­in­der of why we have to vote the bast­ards out. This is typ­ic­al-Pie shout-y, swear-y stuff, so please ig­nore if it off­ends. How­ever, it's one hell of a summ­ary (not fact-checked, but you get the idea) of how they have blight­ed our coun­try.

That's why I look forward to this better kind of landfill ...

Click to enlarge

... and to some fun results tomorrow morning. Who will lose their seats? What effect will Reform have on the Conservative total? Will Farage get elected? How will Labour do in Scotland? Will Ed Davey's antics pay off?

That's right, there's still an elephant lurking in the room.

Wednesday 3rd July

As we used to say to the kids, one sleep to go. And only two to the results.

I've been looking forward to these moments for the entire lifetime of this blog, indeed every day since 7th May 2010. Everything I've written in recent years has been set against a backdrop of despair at the effect on this country of the mean and corrupt Tory omnishambles. As I've said before, today and tomorrow give us a blessed, almost dream-state antithesis to the last fourteen years - the miscreants are toast and their replacements haven't yet screwed it up. A particular irony after such a soul-numbing period is that we are expecting a fairer, more compassionate, left(er)-leaning government just as the far right takes hold in other parts of the world. I had given up hope of emerging from under the cloud. Fingers crossed.

I enjoyed this front page as I skimmed the dailies on the newspaper racks at Waitrose yesterday:

You had to be an Express reader to think that this was a BAD thing, didn't you? "Hurrah!", I involuntarily cried as I read it out loud, and two other customers laughed with me.

Tuesday 25th June

Clearing out receipts from recent trips to Vienna and Bil­bao, I've real­ised that I love the stor­ies they tell. Un­us­ual mem­ory jogs, quite det­ailed rec­oll­ect­ions trig­gered by sim­ple slips of paper that were never in­tend­ed as a hol­id­ay rec­ord.

Here's one from Bilbao:

Where do I start?

This purchase was a gift from son Ben. We share an inclination to offal. He said, "You've got to have one of these, Dad."

I'm sorry. It's not pretty, is it? Maybe worse. Ben called it a "Basque haggis". I once made him the Scott­ish or­ig­in­al for his birth­day, which al­most co­in­cides with Burns Night. From scratch. I got the proper bits from Broom­hall's ab­att­oir over in East­ing­ton, the full "sheep's pluck", all the in­ter­nal or­gans. Bought a trad­it­ion­al hand min­cer to get the job done. I'll spare you the photos.

Anyway, the bad boy above is called, as you can see in the receipt, Botillo de Bierzo. It's not actually Basque but from comes from the Leonese regions of El Bierzo and Laciana to the west, made with chopped pig pieces seasoned and stuffed into the cecum, smoked and semi-cured. The term cecum comes from Latin caecum, "the blind man", as it's the closed end that forms the first part of the large intestine. You so wanted to know all that, didn't you?

Now, many would say that the ren­owned Gugg­en­heim Mus­eum rep­res­ents the city's det­erm­in­at­ion to re­in­vent it­self after the dec­line of the coal, iron and steel ind­ust­ries which had turned rural Bil­bao and the banks of its river Ner­vión into the belch­ing, smok­ing, rauc­ous econ­om­ic pow­er­house of nor­thern Spain. As you come in from the air­port on the A3247 bus, under the red arch of the La Salve bridge, you cert­ain­ly get a rec­og­nis­able wel­come from the Gugg:

Click to enlarge

I would argue that there's another and equally important building, named at the bottom of the receipt above, the Mercado de la Ribera - or Erriberako Merkatua in Basque:

Click to enlarge

It's a symbol of civic pride too, apart from being a brilliant place to shop for veg, fish and meat, or treat yourself to some pintxos in the large bar section. As you can see in the photo above, it's right at the southern edge of the Casco Viejo, just 5 minutes walk from our B&B on the opposite side. You can sit on a terrace overlooking the Nervión to enjoy a snifter after your shop. There's been a market on the site since the fourteenth century. In the picture below, you can see the covered porticoes of the still present Ribera - or riverbank - buildings. Last visit I bought a traditional Basque beret or txapela in a hat shop there. There's also the bridge and Church of San Antón, which is today still facing the market hall.

Click to enlarge

I say that the market is important and symbolic because of its persistence, at times against the odds. It feels like the city was determined that it should survive and be useful. The first incarnation of the hall in its present shape was unveiled in 1929. Forty years later it lost much of its purpose, as the new Mercabilbao wholesale distribution centre was opened in Basauri in 1971, leaving the Ribera with only local customers on a much smaller scale. In 1983 it suffered serious damage in the dramatic Bizkaia floods, when in Bilbao more than 500 litres of rain per square metre fell in 24 hours on August 26th. Major structural defects were discovered in 2008 which prompted a modernisation rebuild, with the re-opening in 2012. It's a significant resource, huge, bang in the middle of town. Proper folk, the real gear, no tourist fluff. Ben uses it a lot, knows the traders.

Click to enlarge

Back to the receipt and Mikel Rojo, our man with the botillo. Tocineria and chacineria both loosely translate as "pork butcher's shop"; more accurately, tocina is bacon and chacina is sausage. Here he is at puesto 121 ("position" or "stall") on the primera planta ("first floor"), with some of his offal-y bits:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Yes, I'll own up, I've eaten the trotters roasted and the ears a la plancha, grilled.

There we are, that's the bill scrutinised and dissected. Yesterday I followed the advice of Mr. Rojo and simmered the botillo for four hours, then served it up with some lightly-steamed courgettes to offset the pork meatiness and sting of pimentón:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Interesting, tasty. I'm a committed offal man but even I found this a little challenging. Unlike haggis, there are big lumps. And it's not clear what they are.

Sunday 23rd June

Back from Bilbao (some blogging on that trip in the pipe­line, maybe) for a week now, straight into und­er­whelm­ing per­form­ances from both Eng­lish foot­ball­ers and el­ect­ion hope­fuls. The first have for­gott­en all their nat­ur­al tal­ent and the lat­ter man­age only to bitch at one an­oth­er. Litt­le ev­id­ence of lead­er­ship in eit­her group.

My view is that we need to enjoy to the full the next ten days, a period - which we will later describe as halcyon - in which the Tories are toast and Starmer hasn't yet screwed it all up. There's a single party in evidence around our neck of the woods (despite the presence of Green HQ nearby), promoted by this large poster on the corner at the end of the road. We can only hope that the promise of a Labour victory doesn't turn out to echo the street name. And, returning to the footie, the colours augur well for my chosen tournament favourite.

The return from visiting son Ben also coincided with the sad loss of a dear friend, Anne Creed. Two weeks ago we were lunching with her at our local Trinity Rooms community café, now she's suddenly gone. We're all startled by the emptiness of her absence. She was a talking history of Stroud, knew everybody present and past. Many will have enjoyed her guerrilla garden next to the Golden Fleece pub in Nelson Street. Slate engravings there were provided by former Middle Street neighbour Jim, who has now moved to Painswick but returns on occasion with his work. He was chipping away at an RIP yesterday.

Somebody has left a note on the garden sign in appreciation:

The text reads:


This garden was created by Anne from a piece of neglected waste ground, with the aim of becoming a beautiful place for the enjoyment of all, young and old alike.

To the dismay and disbelief of all who knew her, Anne died unexpectedly on Friday 14 June.

She worked tirelessly in creating and maintaining this garden, using her own money to purchase items, including the bench that has sadly been vandalised.

As a tribute to Anne's memory, please enjoy her garden whilst paying her the respect she deserves by not abusing it and keeping it litter free. (There are bins provided which are regularly emptied by one of her many friends.)

Thank you.

Kind, funny, feisty, big-hearted, she was my only Tory friend (you'd be forgiven for thinking that she was wearing a large Labour rosette in the photo above, but no, it is of course a poppy, a more appropriate red emblem for Anne to display). We would squabble over almost every aspect of party political doctrine, indeed I would anticipate with relish every opportunity I might have to wind her up. But it never interfered with our friendship. After, for a brief moment, a dark cloud of disagreement fell over her face, she would cotton on to my intent, laugh and wink. Special in this age of bitter and often personal political engagement, we could debate without rancour. The only consolation in her passing at this time is that she will not witness the demise of her Conservative party.

If you knew Anne and would like to celebrate her life and pay your respects, the funeral will be held at Cheltenham Crematorium on Friday 5th July at 10:30am, followed by food and drinks at the Golden Fleece from 12:30pm. I don't know how people will fit. We need a cathedral and a brewery.

Sunday 9th June

I may have to give the manifestos a miss - only temp­or­ar­ily - if they come out this week. With luck I should be here in time for lunch:

Bilbao - Casco Viejo from above

Bilbao - tall buildings in Casco Viejo

Bilbao - tapas bar with people outside

Bang on time for the 2024 Euro­pean Parl­ia­ment el­ect­ions, all 61 Span­ish seats up for grabs today. Ac­ross much of Eur­ope a sharp turn to the right is exp­ect­ed. I'm sure we'll be greet­ed around Bil­bao by camp­aign van tan­noys pro­claim­ing among others the most dis­ag­ree­able Vox. There's a cur­ious ir­ony here as we in the UK ant­ic­ip­ate a more left-lean­ing gov­ern­ment. We're not part of the pred­ict­ed shift in the Eur­op­ean parl­ia­ment because our right-wing­ers eng­in­eered the Brex­it dep­ar­ture.

Hasta luego! Or should I say ... from the Basque Country ... Gero arte?

Saturday 8th June

Killer mistake, eh?

In contrast, here's a man who knows how to make an appearance:

I love that Justin Trudeau has to explain who he is. And that the vet, 99-year-old Balt­im­ore-born Mel­vin Hur­witz, asks Zel­en­sky about the good-look­ing woman he's with.

Yes, Sunak's dead in the water - appropriately enough given that's where so many of the veterans' mates perished.

Friday 7th June

If the D-Day commemoration events did any­thing, they put the gen­er­al el­ect­ion in per­spect­ive. Sunak - how could he foul this up? - managed another blunder by sneaking off for more TV preening. Diss the veterans at your peril.

The campaign hasn't grabbed me as much as I imag­ined it would. For years I've been look­ing for­ward to this chance to rid our­selves of the Tor­ies, and be­yond that to see some ret­urn of dec­ency to pub­lic life. In­stead Star­mer low­ers him­self to per­son­al squab­bles with Sunak, Far­age seizes his mom­ent again to be a nuis­ance, Davey emb­arr­ass­es him­self with silly stunts. While we may not have reached the levels seen in New York of a front-run­ner con­vict­ed, the prel­im­in­ary skirm­ishes have been dis­app­oint­ing.

As I've said before, we need the man­if­est­os. Prob­ab­ly next week? Clear­ly arg­ued and sub­stant­iat­ed plans to put the nat­ion right. Any chance? Fewer per­son­al att­acks, less of the Star­mer "My-dad-was-a-tool­maker" blar­ney, stop the here's-an-eye­catch­ing-scheme-a-day non­sense. Some sound policy to serve the people. Sadly, it's un­like­ly that they will states­man up their act, and a dead cert that perma-tanned Far­age will be un­able to keep his enorm­ous gob shut.

Oddly, only today, at 4pm, comes the deadline for candidates to register to stand. Seems a bit last minute, doesn't it?

Thursday 6th June

After a few days of silence, I've felt compelled to comment, or at least take note. Although there's not much to say that hasn't already been covered in television reports, documentary and newsprint.

80 years ago today. The youngest of the veterans in attendance is 96; he was 16 at the time. None of them is likely to be around at the next memorial point in 5 years' time, so this is really the final call. Our lifetimes have been free of most direct involvement in warfare, certainly an existential threat to these shores. BBC journalist Sophie Raworth asked one old boy yesterday what was uppermost in his thoughts; apart from the obvious sadness at the loss of his mates, he said he wished that, particularly in the middle east, people would today talk the language of peace, not war.

Click to enlarge

Unusual for me to follow war stuff, but I've been impressed by the BBC series "D-Day: The Unheard Tapes". Archive material of combatants telling their stories afterwards, lip-synced by young actors in 1940s civvies. Cut with both original film and newly-imagined re-enactment. Not just the beach landings, but also the vast and complex preparation, the earlier glider drops and subsequent first advances across Normandy countryside. The programmes work brilliantly; The Guardian's review says: "TV so good it's worth the BBC licence fee on its own."

Cannon fodder. The Germans had been building these "Atlantic Wall" defences for years. The machine gunners in their wiederstandsnest "resistance nests" sat on top of the cliffs or "bluffs" and could pick off at will the disembarking soldiers on the sand below, with enough ammunition for 48 hours' engagement. The deaths all factored into the planning; allied commanders estimated 30% of the invasion force might die. Success came with sheer weight of numbers.

The archive interviews are not just with the British "Tommies"; there are American veterans, French resistance fighters and civilians whose towns were shelled and bombed relentlessly as part of the assault, and perhaps most tellingly, a German gunner. All ordinary people believing that they had right on their side, following orders to kill ordinary opponents.

Saturday 1st June

Of course he did:

The beyond-belief nature of politics across the pond should remind us of where we don't want to go. We desperately need to see the official general election manifestos because the phoney war this side of the water has been having its moments. Sunak continues his rain-soaked blundering journey as he asks Welsh pub-goers whether they're looking forward to the Euros when sadly their team didn't qualify. Starmer, after threatening to lose the Muslim vote with his prevarication on Gaza, has risked alienating black support by his treatment of Diane Abbott. I suspect they're all a bit twitchy, surprised - even Sunak himself - by the early call to campaign. We need the plain manifesto text to calm us - or rather, them - down.

Friday 31st May


Sunday 26th May

I never saw it coming. Did anybody? The suit is barely dry and he tosses this into the mix:

"Bring back National Service, that's what we need." We've heard those voices for 64 years. Get those kids off their screens, make them show a bit of respect, stop litter in the streets, do something useful.

I've long viewed the imminent general election as the light at the end of the tunnel, the re-awakening of hope after a dismal decade. Not according to Sunak, apparently. Our children must fear the world more than ever. We of the "post-war" generation are now handing over to the "pre-war".

I'd love to know who dreamt up this idea? And how did they keep it so quiet?

Saturday 25th May

This moment will live long in the memory. For six weeks at least, I hope.

It briefly removed her from the front pages, but time and scru­tiny is catch­ing up with this mis­creant.

Friday 24th May

We've waited so long for this, an election to rid us of the mob who have brought shame and mis­ery to this coun­try. Now it's upon us in a rush. Parl­ia­ment is pror­ogued today, diss­olved next Thurs­day. Even Nig­el Far­age, as he yest­er­day once again dec­ided not to stand, ad­mitt­ed he'd been surp­rised. So many MPs out of a job way bef­ore they ex­pected. How brill­iant that Sunak should have start­ed the pro­cess with a mis­er­able fail:

Now we wait for manifestos, to see how dreams will turn into prom­ised pol­icy.

If the election result follows the polls and we com­bine these head­lines, here's a pleas­ing out­come:

There is one large elephant in the room for any Rem­oan­er. Here is an int­er­view with Tory gran­dee and Eur­op­ean Move­ment pres­id­ent Mich­ael Hes­elt­ine (slight­ly men­ac­ing in the shad­ows of his dark­ened off­ice):

Thursday 23rd May

Yes, two months since I last blogged. Kind and loyal read­ers have noted this and asked why, and whet­her I would break my sil­ence. The first part of the ans­wer is that I have not had a great start to the year, but won't bore you with the det­ails. The sec­ond resp­onse is, yes, I will, and here I am. I or­ig­in­ally started blog­ging at the launch of the 2019 Gen­er­al El­ect­ion camp­aign, so the Sunak ann­ounce­ment yest­er­day has app­rop­riate­ly spark­ed me into cov­er­age of the run-up to July 4th. My dear friend Alf Florio, whom I've missed every day, would I hope have app­roved.

I've been trawling through all my usual sources, which I haven't done since March. So what you get today is snippets from those sources.

The print press, podcasters and cartoonists didn't miss Sunak's PR disaster in front of Number 10:

Politics Joe have been ready with a sum­mary of the last 14 years. For "Gen­er­al Strike" sub­sti­tute "Gen­er­al El­ect­ion" - and spot the in­corr­ect ap­ost­rophe:

Most of us are delighted that the farce is nearly at an end. It must be, surely? However, the tim­ing has puzz­led many in the Tory party. Rory Stew­art passed his in­side know­ledge on to Rest-is-Politics mate Al­ast­air Camp­bell:

It's Labour's to lose, isn't it? Sunak has already made a cheap and squa­lid start with his vers­ion of Proj­ect Fear, his exp­loit­at­ive spin on a dang­er­ous world, the emph­as­is on sec­ur­ity. It's hope that we want, sure­ly? And dec­ency. A wide-open goal that foot­ball-loving Starmer will be hard-pressed to miss. Un­less he gets tang­led up in class­ic Lab­our shoot-your­self-in-the-foot dist­ract­ion.

Friday 22nd March

Some personal milestones noted today. I ask your forbearance.

I started this blog on 22nd March 2020, so four years ago. Roughly 900 A4 pages of 14-point text. 37,000 words, my own and quoted. 10.2 gigabytes on disk. 4,900 files: documents, images, audio and video.

The last year's readership was 95% from the UK. The best of the rest: United States, France, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Russia, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, India, Singapore, Canada, Lithuania, Israel, Maldives, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, China, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, North Macedonia. I'm sorry to have lost this year my one read­er from Togo. What's happ­ened in his (or her) life?

My thanks to dear Alf Florio, who died at nearly 94 earlier this year. He encouraged me to start, read it every day and commented often. We all miss him.

While I'm at it, I'll run through the other anniversaries that are coming up. My mother Bette would be 103 on Sunday. In five days I will have been off the sauce for three years. On Monday, 80 days without a fag. The corner shop's sales graph must have fallen off a cliff.

Thursday 21st March

On Sunday evening I had a rant during dinner with friends ...

... Dentistry in England 😡

We know there's a crisis. One of my fellow diners, or rather host, Clare, said that her son Luke had rec­eived a letter from his daugh­ter Nell's school in Bris­tol ask­ing perm­iss­ion (a broad­cast requ­est, I'm sure, rather than the res­ult of ind­iv­id­ual insp­ect­ion) to brush child­ren's teeth at school. A res­ponse to cost-of-living neg­lect, natch. This ref­lects the Feb­ruary news from St Pauls that foll­owed the op­en­ing of a new NHS den­tal prac­tice:

The Mirror is in campaign mode, part­ner­ing with the Brit­ish Dent­al Ass­oc­iat­ion (BDA):

I've tangled more often than I would like with the den­tal prof­ess­ion since dev­el­op­ing an in­fect­ed tooth abs­cess six weeks ago. This was res­olved with anti­bio­tics, but the vis­it sad­ly rev­eal­ed all man­ner of treat­ment I ought to con­sider.

My complaint is not primarily about what my dent­ist plans to charge, al­though it seems a lot. It's more about how money and health care don't sit com­fort­ab­ly to­geth­er.

I am of course a child of the "free at the point of use" NHS, imp­lem­ent­ed by Lab­our four years before my birth. I thought it was worth re­mem­ber­ing its const­it­ut­ion, so I looked at GOV.UK's rel­ev­ant page, part­ic­ul­ar­ly the state­ments bel­ow the head­ing: "Seven key prin­cip­les guide the NHS in all it does." I've cho­sen three:
  1. The NHS provides a comprehensive service, available to all.
  2. Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual's ability to pay.
  3. The patient will be at the heart of everything the NHS does.
Also listed are the "NHS Values": Working to­geth­er for pat­ients; Res­pect and dig­nity; Comm­it­ment to qual­ity of care; Com­pass­ion; Im­prov­ing lives; Every­one counts.

My experiences with our GP practice of 35 years and with Glouc­est­er­shire hos­pit­als echo the above. Ex­cell­ent care (with an ex­cept­ion lev­el of ar­ound 1%), del­iv­er­ed with hum­an­ity.

I can't say the same of my current den­tal prac­tice. Noth­ing wrong with the treat­ment, it's very pro­fess­ion­al. How­ever, that human touch is miss­ing. I have no sense that he ... err ... sees the per­son be­hind the teeth. Bey­ond that, the whole proc­ess feels tran­sact­ion­al rather than strat­eg­ic. Now, that may seem a bit grand for mere toothy matters, but I would like to dis­cuss a plan, ass­ess its imp­act on my life. No, he points at the chair, fixes a tooth, goes to his com­puter, rec­ords his act­ions and sends the det­ail to the rec­ept­ion desk. Where the staff seem in­tent only on inv­oic­ing, eyes fixed on their screens, proc­ess­ing and print­ing my bill. An im­press­ive joined-up IT syst­em, but where do people fit? The heart of the bus­in­ess, which is what it has be­come, is the gen­er­at­ion and man­age­ment of re­ven­ue. Ker-ching. And that is not the case with my NHS doctors. I know that vast amounts of tax­pay­er mon­ey un­der­pin that ser­vice, but it's not in your face when you ask the GP for help.

OK, maybe it's my dentist. I've tried to explain to him and others at the prac­tice what both­ers me. It's diff­ic­ult to get a mess­age of crit­ic­ism ac­ross to some­body who's about to put a drill in your mouth. I should change pro­vid­er, I hear you say, but I've had the same iss­ues else­where. The prob­lem is all about care ver­sus cash. "The pat­ient will be at the heart of ev­ery­thing", claims the NHS. Not in dent­ist­ry. It's the pat­ient's wal­let.

One hopes that the promising noises made by the Labour "gov­ern­ment-in-wait­ing" turn into action. I part­ic­ul­ar­ly like the idea that we should have a "health" ser­vice, rather than an "ill­ness" one. And wind back 76 years to access "based on clin­ic­al need, not an ind­iv­id­ual's ab­il­ity to pay".

Mind you, the dentist has often had a bad press across the years, in both real­ity and fict­ion. Rem­em­ber Laur­ence Ol­iv­ier as Dr Christ­ian Szell in "Mar­ath­on Man"?

Sunday 17th March

Local Crown & Sceptre landlord Rodda, passionate Remoaner, is cel­eb­rat­ing his new­ly-ac­quir­ed Irish pass­port and St. Pat­rick this eve­ning:

Saturday 16th March

I've stumbled upon recent surveys conducted by J.L. Part­ners, an org­an­is­at­ion found­ed by res­earch­ers who were 10 Down­ing Street an­al­ysts dur­ing Ther­esa May's ten­ure and also ran poll­ing at Con­serv­at­ive Camp­aign Head­quar­ters prior to the 2019 el­ect­ion.

Oh yes, he's going down ...

... and dull but with more of a chance ...

Reasons-to-be-cheerful, I suppose.

The concern post-Sunak is, like the Hydra, how many and what kind of new heads sprout after dec­ap­it­at­ion. Part­ic­ul­ar­ly if the stand­out crit­ic­ism is "weak". PopCon waits plot­ting in the wings. The desire for its own "Duce" lurks in the Tory voter's soul.

With Labour, do we have confidence that Old Flip-Flopper will DO THE RIGHT THING?

Friday 15th 'the Ides of' March

As the death-rattle of the Tories spews yet more divisive and distracting ordure, the AI elves of my interconnected digital world must have deduced that I needed cheering up, and where such relief might be found.

MSN, in harness with Edge and Copilot, reminded me that the sequel "This is Spinal Tap 2" is now in production. Originally scheduled for release a few days from now, we might realistically see it in early 2025. The detail that follows is my indulgence. I've never posted it before, and although most of you will already be familiar, I thought it deserved to be on the record in these pages.

If you have been in a nunnery for the last four decades, here's the trailer to the 1984 film:


I won't over-explain the next two clips; you fans will know them from the stills. First, and con­clud­ing with a con­cept that has ent­ered the vern­ac­ul­ar, an equ­ip­ment ov­er­view:


A personal favourite, the pre-gig rider meltdown:


Now, is this follow-up really a good idea? These chaps are old, knocking 80. Two other seniors, Paul McCartney and Elton John, will appear as guests. Can it work? Here they are celebrating their 35th anniversary at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019:

Spinal Tap - 35th anniversary photo 2019

They are good at keeping the joke alive. There was a 1992 album release, "Break Like the Wind". In 2001, they played a "One Night Only World Tour" in Anaheim, California. Tap reunited again in 2007, this time to help combat the climate crisis. "They're not that environmentally conscious, but they've heard of global warming," said director Marty DiBergi (portrayed by Rob Reiner), "Nigel thought it was because he was wearing too much clothing - that if he took his jacket off it would be cooler." A short film was streamed on the Live Earth website: "Nigel Tufnel is now working as a farmhand looking after miniature horses. He plans to race them." Tufnel has a detailed Wikipedia entry: "Born in Squatney, East London on 5 February 1948 ... a self-proclaimed 'fish nut', liking cod and canned tuna because they have 'no bones' ... sits on the editorial board of his preferred in-flight periodical Car and Driver ... his favorite cookies are Oreos, but without the filling ... has stated that if he was not in the music industry he would like to either enter the field of haberdashery or become a surgeon."

I found a clip of a Letterman show interview some years after the film:


Not quite as accent- and intonation-accurate as the film (remarkable in that the three principal band members were born and mostly raised in the USA), but I imagine that was super-scrutinised to perfection. How will they carry it off 40 years on?

Of course, Tap 2 may not ever see the light of day. They could be pulling my leg. Or I've been duped by fake news.

Tuesday 12th March

Cricket and personal today, two reasons to skip if you wish.

RIP Duncan Fearnley, aged 83, 8th March

Every summer match day of 1964 and 1965 found me at the Worc­est­er­shire County Ground, a 12-year-old crick­et nut and jun­ior mem­ber. What a happy co­in­cid­ence (or was it? See lat­er comm­ents), the first two seas­ons in its 100-years-old hist­ory that WCCC won the champ­ion­ship. Dun­can Fearn­ley was there, al­though all­owed only a bit part in the sha­dow of house­hold greats Tom Grave­ney and Bas­il D'Ol­iv­eira and shire yeo­men Jack Fla­vell and Len Cold­well. Each year that we old lags make our pil­grim­age to New Road I ask my com­pan­ions to list the con­quer­ing 1964 team. Fearn­ley is a name with which they often strug­gle, and in­deed could be swapped out for others who played a minor role.

In playing retirement Fearnley grew his bat-man­u­fact­ur­ing com­pany into the dom­in­ant brand in the world by the 1980s. Sub­sequ­ent dec­ades saw the mar­ket­place change and bat pro­duct­ion moved ov­er­seas to India and Pak­ist­an, but Fearn­ley stuck to his trad­it­ion­al guns, al­beit on a small­er scale. Around 5,000 of his hand-craf­ted bats are still prod­uced each year in the Worc­est­er fact­ory.

For you conoscenti, here are some client names: Sunil Gav­ask­ar, Clive Lloyd, Kep­ler Wess­els, Ian Bot­ham, Graham Gooch, Allan Lamb, Viv Rich­ards, Graeme Poll­ock, Wasim Ak­ram, Ravi Shas­tri, Allan Bor­der, Mar­tin Crowe.

Duncan Fearnley with Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards

I met Fearnley only once, which moment prompts mem­or­ies of the sec­ond per­iod of Lewis ass­oc­iat­ion with the club. I should point out that both first and sec­ond phases were marked by Worc­est­er­shire succ­ess, quite pre­cise­ly. Worth, I reckon, a plaque in the pav­il­ion (or pref­er­ably in the old and sur­viv­ing Lad­ies Pav­il­ion, where I as a young fan was per­mitt­ed to sit, and eat cake), or at least an hon­or­ary men­tion in the arch­ives.

After my father died in 1982, I had a moment of in­spir­at­ion. As a birth­day pre­sent, I gave my mother memb­er­ship of the club. She took to cricket, as in so many as­pects of her life, with an ast­on­ish­ing ab­il­ity to conn­ect to people. Sun­days - and other match days - in summ­er were less lone­ly than they might have been. On her arr­ival at the ground, the gate­men would greet her warm­ly, then man­oeu­vre her and car into an ear­marked park­ing space con­ven­ient­ly close to the pav­il­ion. She lunched in the club dining room, where the staff would always re­serve for her the best table by the win­dow. She sat with new-found friends in the pav­il­ion, fell in with Naomi D'Ol­iv­eira, Basil's wife.

Fearnley became chairman of Worcestershire in 1986 and was inst­ru­mental in sign­ing Ian Botham to the county ahead of the 1987 season. "Beefy" was past his best, yet his pres­ence in the dress­ing room had a gal­van­is­ing eff­ect on the team, and on the crowds. During Fearn­ley's tenure the club en­joyed the most succ­ess­ful period in its history, winn­ing six troph­ies. There you are, as I said earl­ier ... with a Lewis among the mem­ber­ship. With­out, only barren years.

In 1990 a group of members, my mother among them, went on tour with the team to Hong Kong and Aus­tra­lia. Bette was of course treated roy­ally, a knack she never lost. In thanks, she later in­vited play­ers and co-trav­ell­ers to a drinks do at her house, my child­hood home. I was there to supp­ort.

Interesting conversations.

I sat in the drawing room with Tim Curtis, prol­if­ic op­en­ing bat. He had played five times for England but never really kicked on. A prod­uct of the Roy­al Gram­mar School, succ­ess­ful at both Dur­ham and Camb­ridge un­iv­ers­it­ies, with hon­esty and self-aware­ness he told me how he had simply felt un­com­fort­able at Test level, not quite up to it, and had been happy to re­turn to his county car­eer.

In the dining room, canny captain - and Lincoln City foot­baller - Phil Neale merc­il­ess­ly took the mickey out of the young scor­ing mach­ine (ult­im­ate­ly more than 40,000 first-class runs) Graeme Hick, along the lines of "nice but dim".

I ran into chairman Duncan Fearnley in my grand­mother's sitt­ing room. He lam­ent­ed the ex­clus­ion of South Af­rica from world cricket (the coun­try would be re-ad­mitt­ed to the fold the foll­ow­ing year). Hold­ing forth on the sub­ject of apar­theid, in his res­id­ual York­shire brogue he said to me, aware of who I was and in whose house he drank, "Bette's anti, in't she?" I don't know con­clus­ive­ly where he stood on the issue, al­though I suspect he had little time for left-leaning wok­ery. Mind you, as chair­man of the coun­ty that had wel­comed the man at the heart of the "D'Ol­iv­eira Aff­air" he had only three years before em­ployed the nat­ion­al hero who had rej­ected the South Af­ric­an tour shill­ing. He made bats for said hero's An­tigu­an best mate.

My mother told another story from a later occ­as­ion. Fearn­ley threw a party for the same group of people at his gaff, a riv­er­front prop­erty. Taking a breath­er outside, Bette spott­ed Both­am at the bott­om of the gar­den on a lan­ding stage. He seemed rather un­steady on his feet. Con­cerned, she went down to join him and said quiet­ly, "Ian, shall we go in?" He agreed, and they re­turned to the house arm-in-arm.

Sunday 10th March

I'm richer today. A modest gain - but I'll take anything.

My Irish friend Brian Walsh, knowing that I have a pol­icy of plac­ing a small wag­er on the opp­os­it­ion to all­ev­iate the pain of an­oth­er grim Eng­land sport­ing per­form­ance, rang me on Fri­day. His theory was that Engl­and, what­ever the run of form, have one good game in them during the Six Nat­ions champ­ion­ship and that they might well pro­duce it ag­ainst the rec­ent­ly all-conqu­er­ing Irish. He sugg­est­ed that a vis­it to the book­mak­er should re­veal some fav­our­ab­le odds. In­deed, Eng­land 4/1 ag­ainst Ire­land 1/7; I put my pock­et mon­ey on the red rose. An in­vers­ion of my us­ual bet, but I coll­ect­ed. Sad­ly Brian, with whom I watched the ebb and flow - my stake safe, then lost, then safe again - of the game yest­er­day, had not foll­owed his own ad­vice and so suff­er­ed his hab­it­ual life­long dis­app­oint­ment of wit­ness­ing Ire­land snatch de­feat from the jaws of vict­ory, with­out any fin­anc­ial mit­ig­at­ion.

My familiar post-Brexit narrative, that Eng­land has desc­end­ed in­to mor­al bank­rupt­cy while Ire­land has pros­pered in the EU, over­turned on the rugby field. Also dis­rupted more ser­ious­ly in other head­line news:

A day for surprises. Back to the rugby, and my sec­ond team. Are they fin­al­ly com­ing of age? Near­ly 50 years ago I was aware of the grow­ing int­er­est in the game in Italy, spear­head­ed by my loc­al Ben­ett­on Trev­iso club, who in­deed yest­er­day pro­vid­ed among oth­ers the in­fluent­ial cen­tre part­ner­ship of Brex and Men­on­cello.

I've made a promise to myself that I will one day get to the Stad­io Ol­imp­ico for an Eng­land-Italy match, make a week­end of it in Rome - years, tour­na­ment sched­ule and tick­ets per­mitt­ing. I have been there once before, to the old stad­ium in the 1970s, outside, a night spent in my sleep­ing-bag under the ad­jac­ent pines.

Friday 8th March

Are you watching Channel 4's "The Rise and Fall of Boris John­son"? I thought I wouldn't, that I already knew far too much, but moth to a flame ...

It's a profoundly dispiriting watch for this pass­ion­ate Re­moan­er. To re­vis­it the jour­ney to the crime of Brex­it, the desc­ent into Blight­ed Blighty, a coun­try of lies, corr­upt­ion and in­equal­ity, dev­oid of mor­al comp­ass. Do you know what hurts the most? That John­son wasn't even sure about Leave, that he and Gove were shocked to have won.

How did the nation succumb to such a self-seek­ing, an­ach­ron­ist­ic mob? How could vot­ers put their trust in a group whose lives bore no res­emb­lance to their own?

So far, we only see the acqu­is­it­ive lust for power, a test­ost­er­on­ic imp­er­at­ive to be top dog, Boris's dream of "World King". Pol­it­ics as a route to per­son­al glory and val­id­at­ion. There's no glimpse of gov­er­nance to imp­rove the lot of ord­in­ary people.

It's not over yet, as we still have two more ep­is­odes to come (although you can on-demand-binge all four right now Channel 4 - The Rise and Fall of Boris Johnson - C4 sign­up requ­ired). What's more, who can say that John­son's car­eer at the pinn­acle of Engl­ish pol­it­ics is fin­ished? Post-Sunak? Think on.

Tuesday 5th March

Our neighbour has been staying with us for the last few days, as she's in extremis. The stuff I've learnt, after 15 years. I never knew that she paints. Madness. "Only connect". The things you miss out on when you don't.

Saturday 2nd March

Mob rule. Extremists. The politicians are the problem. Do the right thing? Fat chance. We've had enough.

Friday 1st March

A family connection has emerged in the last two weeks to Alexei Navalny. Grandson Marlie's uncle Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol - brother of Marlie's dad Martin - knew Navalny at Yale when they were both members of the World Fellows programme class of 2010.

The Western Daily Press reported on 16th February (spotted by, and cutting courtesy of, Middle Street neighbour Roger):

Here's the Sky News clip referenced in the above:


Emma Sky, director of the Yale International Leadership Center, posted this statement, also on 16th February:

"The entire Yale World Fellows family is heartbroken by reports that Alexey Navalny, courageous Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption dissident, has died. Alexey was a Yale World Fellow from the class of 2010, who embodied the ideals of the open society and dedicated his life to the pursuit of a better Russia. After being poisoned by the state, he bravely returned to Russia, only to face immediate arrest. He defied a dictatorship, and paid for it with his life.

"We will remember his unflagging courage and his selfless sacrifice - and also his mischievous grin, his sense of humor, and his devotion to his family. Alexey was a larger-than-life figure. His life was an inspiration to us all.

"Last year, at the World Fellows' 20th reunion, we saved an empty seat for Alexey in the front row. He will no longer be able to occupy it, but a place remains for all those around the world who continue in his path. His spirit is uncrushable. He lives on in all of us."

Much talk of legacy. Let's hope so.

Funeral today.

A tweet from his wife, Yulia Navalnaya:

And from Kira Yarmysh, former press secretary and assistant to Navalny, his spokesperson:

4pm. This morning there was a link here to the live stream ment­ioned above, which I've now removed. At 9:30am, I was one of around 125,000 people logged in, the number growing all the time.

Sunday 25th February

A break from the Westminster débâcle. A bit self-indulgent, but, hey, after the last few weeks ...

Son Ben the bilbaíno food scribbler - Instagram pen name Ben­et­az­kua - be­comes ever more prol­if­ic, not just on what he cooks and eats, but also about the ass­oc­iat­ed Basque hist­ory, pol­it­ics and geog­raphy. You could learn some­thing here.

"The Basque Country, said in English, sounds like a simple reference to a region of Spain. Paìs Vasco, the literal translation in Spanish and the name of one of seventeen administrative Spanish regions, sounds equally free of confusion. However, the slightest of critical looks at this convenient simplicity embarks us on a long, complicated journey of land and language, people and power.

"Paìs Vasco, or Euskadi in Basque, both being the area recognised by the Spanish state as Basque, is made up of three regions: Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba. However, Euskal Herria, the left-leaning choice of name for the Basque Country, that which makes reference to the 'Basque-speaking people', consists of the three regions mentioned previously plus Nafarroa, but goes on to include the three regions on the French side of the Pyrenees in Iparralde: Lapurdi, Behe Nafarroa and Zuberoa. This historic process of separating people, places, language and culture has been intentional on the part of European imperialist powers and carries a long, bloody history that is far too complex to summarise here.

"Nafarroa is often regarded as the home of the Basque Country, despite it being a separate region according to the Spanish state. One reason for this is that at its largest the Basque Country spanned the Pyrenees, stretching as far as Leòn to the west and Catalonia to the south-east, the seat of power was Iruña and the area was known as the Kingdom of Nafarroa. Basque, or Euskera, was an official language, it being spoken by kingdom officials.

"Nafarroa is now a large, inland region that continues to be very Basque speaking in the north but less so in the south. Iruña is a city famous for its yearly abuse of bulls and Tudela for its artichokes. It has no coast and, stretching into central Spain, is very dry in parts. Sounds like home to a regional cuisine of river fish and cured pork, right? 'Trucha a la Navarra' or Nafarroa-style trout is exactly that. Get a trout, fill it with jamòn, bake it or fry it before finishing it off with a classic glug of extra virgin, sauteed garlic, vinagre and parsley."

So there you have it. A little florid at times, needs slimming down ... but I quibble. I'm just pleased that he's writing.

I'm also delighted that he has booked the venue for the summer fam­ily hol­iday in July. Nine of us, an age range of 75 years. I can barely bel­ieve that they still want to be with the old git. It's this house near Ponte de Lima in north­ern Port­ug­al (the old­est vila or chart­ered town in the coun­try), called Casa no Monte da Facha:

We stayed in Ponte de Lima 37 years ago, when Nikko was six and Ellie eigh­teen months, Ben as yet unborn. We rented the mayor's summer house on this side of the water, crossed the medieval bridge into town to shop at the market held on the river bank you can see on the far side. I also got into trouble, along with my Persian friend Bijan, for keeping our two young boys out at a fiesta well into the small hours in the large square at the end of the bridge. I look forward to our return.

Saturday 24rd February

We went to the Gaza ceasefire vigil yest­er­day ev­en­ing. Maybe 50 sil­ent part­ic­ip­ants, inc­lud­ing the us­ual Stroud­ie sus­pects, among whom feat­ured a con­tin­gent from the Middle Street Fri­day Lunch Club (our name), now a boom­ing pay-as-you-can (we do) don­at­ed-food cooked-by-vol­un­teers ev­ent held in the Trin­ity Rooms round the corn­er from our house.

Mostly those of more advanced years. It's some­thing we can do. I rem­em­ber, years ago when the child­ren were litt­le and work was full-on, ap­ol­og­is­ing to my moth­er-in-law Sheila, a comm­itt­ed Qua­ker and Amn­esty mem­ber, for not join­ing her on a sign­if­ic­ant cent­ral Lon­don march. She said, "Don't worry. It's what we're for now."

One disappointment. Parked near where we stood were two mot­or­cycles. Short­ly before our sil­ence was due to end, their teen own­ers app­eared, started and warmed the bikes up for sev­er­al min­utes while putt­ing on their hel­mets, gunned the eng­ines and took off. "Aha!", I said to my friend And­rew from Chal­ford, "they'll be part of the local sens­it­ive and pol­it­ic­ally-en­gaged youth." A shame.

In contrast were the horn toots of pass­ing mot­or­ists. Bet­ween five and ten poss­ibly, all in supp­ort. Yes, I can tell a pos­it­ive toot. And my fellow prot­est­ers con­curred. Diff­er­ent from other exp­er­iences of att­end­ing such events in town, when you may more often be en­cour­aged to eff off back to your posh vegan home.

During the afternoon, I had toyed with the idea of making a poster to stick on our MP Siob­han Bail­lie's off­ice win­dow. In the end I didn't, dec­id­ing that it might be at odds with the sens­it­iv­it­ies of my co-vig­il­ants. I im­ag­ined it some­thing like this (after John Mil­ton and the suff­er­ing of Sam­son):

I told Andrew of this plan. He said that he had writ­ten imm­ed­iate­ly to Siob­han, and had rec­eived an ans­wer. Prompt­ly too, the day after the deb­acle acc­ord­ing to the email date and time stamp: 22 Feb­ru­ary 2024 at 14:41:37 GMT. A broad­cast reply of course, as she ex­plained: "As I have rec­eived over 300 emails about this vote, I have prep­ared this res­ponse to be sent to all of you to avoid people wait­ing. There is no dis­res­pect in­tended."

The email is too long to post here in-line, and I'm not yet fully sure what I think about it. It pains me to say so, but she des­erves some cred­it for gett­ing out a res­ponse. She doesn't own up to any spec­if­ic Tory con­trib­ution to the shamb­les, "the proc­ed­ur­al shen­an­ig­ans and arg­um­ents I wit­nessed bet­ween the SNP, Labour and the Speaker." But I do detect some guilt and emb­arr­ass­ment, and aware­ness of how we con­stit­uents feel. You can make your own mind up; here's the letter: Siobhan Baillie MP email reply re Gaza ceasefire Commons non-vote 22-2-2024

An odd silence on the digital front pages this morning, nothing about the fate of the speaker, nor in­deed about a ceasefire vote. Marina Hyde wrote a piece yest­er­day in The Guar­dian, but not really about Gaza or the vote, more on the dang­ers now threat­en­ing those inv­olved in the demo­crat­ic pro­cess. If you're int­er­est­ed, here it is: Tears, shouting, procedural tantrums: just your standard day in the Commons, until democracy took a sinister turn - Marina Hyde

Friday 23rd February

I was very tempted to stay silent on this matter. You all saw the del­in­quent be­hav­iour in the West­min­ster "Moth­er of Parl­ia­ments". How­ever, hav­ing said be­fore the Wed­nes­day Comm­ons dis­grace that my ren­ewed scru­tiny of the news rev­ealed above all shame­ful pol­it­ic­al fail­ure to DO THE RIGHT THING, I can't let it go with­out not­ing just how crim­in­ally and neg­lig­ent­ly wide of the mark were our el­ect­ed rep­res­ent­at­ives.

Have I Got News For You tweeted, rather mildly IMHO:

"To re-cap last night. The SNP ambushed Labour, who blackmailed the speaker, who broke the rules, which saved Keir's blushes, which gave the Tories the excuse to pretend to be angry so they could withdraw and not lose the vote, and the SNP were angry their plot failed, so neither put party politics aside to vote for a ceasefire they claim to want, meaning parliament's a mess but not as much of a mess as Gaza, which last night's events did nothing to help."

Something like that. Only worse. Toys out of the SNP pram at Labour's hij­ack­ing of the Scott­ish opp­os­it­ion day, the rul­ing party leaves the cham­ber. Mean­while ... Gaza?

Rather reluctantly, I post two video comments.

First, a visualisation from Turkish public broadcaster TRT World - a bit dodgy maybe as some comm­ent­at­ors con­sid­er the or­gan to be an Erd­oğan ad­min­ist­ra­tion mouth­piece - of the Is­raeli mil­it­ary op­er­at­ion.


And another from Led by Donkeys. "Israel has killed over 11,500 Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank since October 7th, when 36 Israeli children were killed. It's impossible to imagine that number. This is what it looks like. A line 5km long."


Sorry. Needs to be said, to be recorded.

The Stroud Gaza ceasefire vigil will con­vene once again, as it has done for months, at 6pm this even­ing out­side our MP's off­ice.

Wednesday 21st February

Dog days at the moment, although I may be starting to bark again. I said I wouldn't go on about giving up smoking, and I won't, but ... into the 47th day without a gasper and my brain is still predominantly withdrawal-useless. I seem to spend a shameful amount of time buried under a duvet quelling the urge. What should I expect after 50 years of self-harm? All coughing is gone, airwaves clear, pulse rate dropped (now, of course, I'm beginning to worry that it's too low, aaaargh), my "Savings Not Poison" spreadsheet demonstrates a healthy but regretful uptick, yet somehow I can't properly connect to the benefit. The trigger points still abound and throw me off-course, inches from a first puff of lapse. Poor me.

I have however been reading more than ever, hitting the Stroud library big-time. It's now in a temporary and valiant (bless the staff for their ingenious tenacity) pop-up in the Five Valleys shopping centre, the old site summarily closed to RAAC and the new one delayed by flooding. Wedged between national building idiocy and climate denial.

After a period of self-protecting reduced news diet, I've watched and read a little more in recent days. What strikes me - 'twas ever thus, at least in the years (app­rox­im­ate­ly) since that nat­ion-split­ting ref­er­en­dum - is the capacity of politicians to NOT DO THE RIGHT THING. In Gaza it has been writ large. Trump makes sure that the narrative is all about him as he incurs mounting financial penalties, disses NATO and bleats witch-hunt. Badenoch (is she bad enough for you?) dares to say that the Post Office scandal started under Labour (true) while glossing over 14 years of Tory (lack of) involvement. The PopCon wing of the party meets to debate yet meaner app­roach­es to gov­ern­ment, jock­ey­ing for power not seek­ing sol­ut­ion.

A coronavirus flashback. Have you been watching "Breathtaking"? Two down, one to go tonight. Praise is due to ITV - what a follow-up to Mr. Bates. There's no surprise that Jed "Line of Duty" Mercurio is involved. The drama has traces of the same DNA, hit-the-spot impact and accuracy. It has so far covered the days in March 2020 when I was first compelled to start these pages, then "Cor­on­av­irus Blog", en­cour­aged by my dear friend Alf, whose recent loss deep­ens the eff­ect for me (we would have dis­cussed today's post). How terrified we were. Death lurked in the air, actually. The vaccines lay nine months to a year ahead. The series has as its focus the NHS staff that had to face the threat. Ill-equipped. As if you needed to be any more app­all­ed by Bar­on­ess Mone, or scorn­ful of the blith­er­ing John­son and Han­cock. Yes, we were aware of NHS ser­vice and sac­ri­fice, the risks and loss they ex­per­ien­ced, we banged our pans in the street, but the prog­ramme hurls the fear and comm­it­ment scream­ing out of your screen right from the heart of ITU.

Coincidentally - a gift last week with an un­in­tend­ed conn­ect­ion - my current read is "Hotel Milano" by Tim Parks. It starts with the narrator Frank Marriott attending a colleague's literary funeral in Milan just as Italy and the city are locking down. Thousands are trying to leave before Lombardy restricts travel. Flights are all sold out. He holes up in the five-star Hotel Milano. It's emptying rapidly. The reception desk has a red tape placed in front of it to keep guests a metre away, then the staff start to erect Perspex screens. They allow him to go for a walk, but only after completion of an auto­dich­ia­raz­ione form which states that he needs to go to a pharmacy for special medicine. It's a lie; he buys Ibuprofen. That's all I know by page 82. Quite spooky and weird. My very first post in this blog on 22nd March 2020 contained a piece from friend Chris Taylor in Udine: "Yes, the situation is dire. We'll follow the rules and hope for the best. May the UK avoid the worst! But don't count on Bojo."

There is now change in the air, isn't there? Well­ing­bor­ough and Kings­wood have spoken. Starmer has fin­ally shifted on a Gaza cease­fire. Even the heir to the throne has dared to break - light­ly - royal prot­oc­ol. We're all heart­ily sick of the self-seek­ing bull­shit. And I hope Sunak is work­ing on his post-el­ect­ion job in Cal­if­orn­ia.

Back briefly to the smoking thing. The stand­ard ad­vice to be busy and find dis­tract­ions, or even pur­pose, is bec­om­ing in­cont­est­able. It's the first mom­ent that I've felt that the time aff­ord­ed by ret­ire­ment is not al­to­geth­er good for me.

Wednesday 14th February

More family Instagram. It's that day again, so Nikko has a "flash" session in Vienna - mini off-the-shelf tattoos (designed by him, natch) at around €125 a pop, selling out!

Friday 9th February

I know I haven't written much recently about national and international issues, not felt up to it. However, as these pages still go under the title of Climate Blog, I can't avoid this:

Great timing when we also read:

The disappointing thing for most of us is the sense that Starmer is still running scared of the "unelectable" tag. Do I want a government to be elected that doesn't stick to principles, do the right thing, just craves power for its own sake? No.

Stroud's Dale Vince expressed his views on Channel 4 News last night (5 minutes). Less damning than most, still promoting Labour as the best choice at the next general election.


He really has become quite the media darling, the go-to eco-com­men­tat­or, also int­er­viewed yes­ter­day on LBC, Times Radio, BBC 5 Live and Radio 4. Deservedly so, I reckon. He's clear, cogent and informed.

You may care to watch him present (2.5 minutes) a year ago at the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee inquiry, giving evidence on how to accelerate Britain's transition from fossil fuels and secure its energy supplies. He's very good at exposing the madness of current UK policies, how we are not just shying away from necessary change but also missing huge opportunities.


The music wasn't really playing in the inquiry chamber, right? YouTube overdub.

Not unexpectedly, I received this morning a call-to-arms email from ...

"Today it was confirmed that for the first time, the world has breached 1.5 degrees of global warming across a whole year. This is bleak news - going above this threshold spells catastrophe for communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

"And yet, on the very same day, Keir Starmer is teetering on the edge of scrapping his flagship climate policy - a commitment to invest £28 billion a year into the kind of common-sense climate solutions we desperately need. We can't let this stand.

"On days like today it's tempting to lose hope - hope that politicians will do what's needed, hope that the worst impacts of the climate crisis can be prevented, hope that one day we will live in a world where everyone has what they need to thrive.

"We refuse to accept that things have to be like this. We refuse to stop fighting tooth and nail for a better future for everyone.

"The £28 billion was never supposed to be an end point - it's the bare minimum that's needed to turn around the dire situation this country and our climate faces. We need our next government to deliver a Green New Deal - a real plan to tackle the climate crisis and fix our broken economy.

"Keir Starmer, Rishi Sunak and the rest of the political establishment would love us to lose hope, to look away, to let them 'get on with their jobs'.

"But we are on a mission to take power out of the hands of the billionaires and oil executives who benefit from these u-turns, and put it in the hands of our generation - it's time to force the government to work for us.

"This year, we're going to run the biggest youth electoral campaign in British history - throwing our energy behind real leaders that will champion the Green New Deal.

"And we'll make sure that from now, through the election and for the next 5 years, Keir Starmer won't have a moment's rest until he commits to the bold action we desperately need."

Thursday 8th February

Yesterday we celebrated another remarkable and much-loved Middle Street and Stroud friend:

It was a relief not to be in a gloomy church, as Wendy was not a believer, at least not in any god; she certainly believed in the political left and the NHS, which she had served for many years as a nurse. Instead a hundred or so of us were packed into the Trinity Rooms, decorated with lights and bunting, and afterwards many squeezed into her old cottage at number 26.

Masses of photos chronicling her life on the walls of the kitchen:

Tributes at Trinity from family, poems, music. She loved the arts - in all their forms - and was an accomplished painter. Here's the back page of the order of celebration, with one of her recent poems.

And Happy Birthday to Alf Florio. He would have been 94 today.

Monday 5th February

Having come late to Instagram, I've been digging into the fam­ily out­put, spec­if­ic­ally (to­day) that of Ben's part­ner Soph. It's really a very live­ly mark­et­ing tool. Im­press­ive that she uses so much Span­ish.

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Different strands to what she does, like retreats in lovely places, the cooking done by Ben:

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She's fascinated by anatomy, draws a lot:

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Paints on people's bodies too. Some nice video:

Sunday 4th February

Looking on the bright side is something we all need to do. Often we don't man­age so well, strug­gle with a pos­it­ive men­tal att­it­ude. My friend Ian just sent me this photo of a sign out­side a pat­iss­er­ie in Blooms­bury, London:

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Should try harder, right?

Why would you put this outside your café? An odd way to att­ract pun­ters. Un­less you're tapp­ing into the tort­ured in­tell­ect­ual her­it­age of the area. Or maybe that's what too many crois­sants do to you.

Saturday 3rd February

I discovered yesterday that son Ben has also become something of an online scribbler down there in Bilbao, with a focus on Basque foodiness.

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I've been rather slow off the mark in noticing this, mainly because I don't really get Instagram. I suppose there's a clue in "insta" and "gram". Not an issue with others close to him as you can see from his followers: sister Ellie and her dog-walking business, partner Soph and her yoga, brother Nikko and his Viennese tattoo studio.

Benetazkua Google-translates from the Basque as "blessed". Nice if you feel like that, eh? Ben WhatsApped me this explanation: "In my understanding it's Bizkaiera, or the dialect from Viscay, for de verdad, meaning 'for real' or 'genuine' or some such like. My house[mates] suggested it and it's obscure enough that plenty of Basques don't know what it means either!"

Here's a recent post:

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I've never encountered this fish in the UK and have no idea what it's called. Any ideas?

In Spanish it goes under a few names, primarily zapatero (meaning cobbler), but also palometa and castañeta. Its best name, however, or rather best story, was told to me by a fishmonger in the port of Ondarrua. As she was skinning them she announced that it's also known as japuta, coming from the phrase hijo de puta, meaning 'son of a bitch'. Although a bit of research reveals that japuta is actually of Arabic origin, it didn't take a genius to infer that removing their thick skin wasn't her favourite of tasks.

Here they've just been barbecued and dressed with a classic sofrito of olive oil, garlic, vinaigre and parsley.

I really must get down to Bilbao soon for a good lunch.

Friday 2nd February

A light has just gone out, at least in the temporal world. My dear friend - and the man who convinced me to continue with this blog - Alf Florio died the evening before last. He would have been 94 next Thursday. I'll write a few words here. They may be less than accurate, but his wife Geraldine, also a loyal reader, will correct me. There will be more words in future days - about one of the loveliest people I've ever met.

Alf and I only bumped into each other in recent years, but we've been in almost daily contact since the beginning of our friendship, possibly because he has always read, commented on and contributed to these pages. I pass his and Geraldine's house most days on my way back home on my bike from errands in town. If the time is appropriate, I knock on the window and pop in for a cup of tea and a chat. Not yesterday, as Geraldine and family would have been too busy. I swear I could feel Alf's absence on my left as I cycled up the hill.

I've learnt a lot about Alf's life and family during our frequent conversations. There was more I wanted to discover. Maybe to this end, but not only, I sent the email below to him last Tuesday. The context is that Alf was a catholic priest in Soho in the 1960s. Tales to tell, right?

"Alf, your birthday is coming up, innit? I'm sure you have family plans, but I have another offer for you at around the same time. It's mainly a question of whether we think it's all too much of an effort.

"I have long wanted to suggest to you that we take a day trip up to Soho for a nice lunch and for you to show me your old haunts, tell a few stories. Lunch at the charming and not too pricey Mediterranean Café in Berwick Street. Train to Paddington and cab to and from Berwick Street (or there's a very good bus from outside Paddington station). Saunter round Soho. My treat.

"Too much? Charlie xx"

I had no reply, but that was because Alf had been taken into Glouc­est­er Roy­al Hosp­it­al at 3am (that morn­ing?) in con­sid­er­able pain with what was deemed to be panc­rea­ti­tis. Ger­ald­ine has since told me that he rec­eived the email - and was pleased to do so.

Too much indeed. Geraldine and I exchanged mess­ages about vis­it­ing, and I said I'd send Alf a Whats­App. Which I did:

He had already died. Geraldine let me know yest­er­day morn­ing. I sent an­oth­er Whats­App:

Never done that before.

Thursday 1st February

A short contemplation today of my childhood hometown of Worcester.

Eh? "I beg your pardon", I hear you say. Yes, that's Imran Khan, 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan, former superstar captain of the national cricket team and winner of the 1992 World Cup. Now banged up in Rawalpindi jail for offences of corruption and leaking state secrets.

In 1971 he was enrolled at Worcester Royal Grammar School, as part of a deal with the County Cricket Club (WCCC), whom he would represent until 1976 when he wasn't at Keble College, Oxford. He was already a capped Test player on arrival - and school mates would ask for his autograph.

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He's the looker in that team, isn't he?

Mind you, in cricketing terms there are some other fine players in the sec­ond photo, notably Glenn Turner and Basil D'Ol­iv­eira, WCCC roy­al­ty. Imran has never gen­er­at­ed equ­iv­al­ent fond­ness at New Road.

I didn't catch on to his presence at the school (a stone's throw from my parents' house) nor at the cricket club. I'd moved away to Cambridge University in 1970 and shelved my teenage passion for WCCC until 1980 when I returned from Italy. Imran turned 19 in the autumn he entered the school, quite a ripe age. He crammed his A-level studies into nine months. I imagine Keble College was rather more attracted by his sporting prowess.

I doubt Worcestershire was a great fit for the el­ig­ible and (all­eg­ed­ly) hed­on­ist­ic Imran. The trad­it­ion­al fan­base was rural: fruit-grow­ers as round and rosy-cheeked as the Pear­main apple, most unlike the sleek and urb­ane Pash­tun dropped in their midst.

In the 1980s he played for Sussex, presumably more comfortable around the fleshpots of the south coast and within striking distance of his favourite London night clubs. Not as easy in the current rail climate. Nonetheless, they'd still only be a replacement bus service away.

The grammar school has always been keen to draw attention to its role in the advance of its most famous alumnus. Perhaps a little less so recently.

Meanwhile ... Happy St. Brigid's Day!

Her saint's day has grown in importance, matching that of St. Patrick, to the extent that a public holiday was inaugurated last year.

Here's the entry on GOV.IE from January 2023:

In Ireland, the first of February marks the beginning of Spring and the celebration of Lá Fhéile Bríde, St Brigid's Day. Like many of other feast days of the Irish calendar, Brigid predates Christianity - her roots lie in the Celtic festival of Imbolc, the feast of the goddess Brigid, celebrated at least five millennia ago. In old Irish, Imbolc means "in the belly", a reference to lambing and the renewal Spring promises."

"An inspiring programme of cultural events taking place across the National Cultural Institutions has been announced today in recognition of the first Bank Holiday for Imbolc/St Brigid's Day. As the first Irish public holiday named after a woman, St Brigid's Day provides a unique opportunity to acknowledge the critical role that women have played in Irish history, culture and society."

"In Celtic mythology, Brigid was a triple goddess - of healing, fire, and of poetry - and the Christian saint who took her name, born in 450 AD, carried some of those same associations as the patron saint of poets and midwives."

The festival of Imbolc is, of course, being celebrated here in Stroud too. An event titled "The Swelling Seed" was held last Sunday at Hawkwood eco-college just outside the town. I've also discovered that there is a venue behind number 50 London Road called the Goddess Temple. Here's an ann­ounce­ment on its Face­book page:

"Imbolc Dark Moon Dreaming on Thursday 8th February at 7-9pm. Explore the divinatory powers of mugwort tea, join us in circle for energy cleansing and restorative meditation. Guided journey into your dreaming cave ... emerge feeling deeply rested in yin energies with a sense of what you're seeding at this time of Imbolc."

Hmmm ... yes, this is Stroud. Welcoming spring, which is a happy thought.

Thursday 25th January

One more piece on smoking and then I'll stop. I prom­ise. Not only to avoid bor­ing you fur­ther, but also bec­ause the very act of app­ly­ing foc­us to the prob­lem may be mak­ing it worse.

At the heart of it is a very specific urge, at any time of day or night, which hits me per­haps not like a run­away ex­press but at least like a slow stop­ping-train. With an un­wel­come thump. I want to draw cig­ar­ette smoke down into my lungs. What kind of mad­ness is that? Against nat­ure. The only thing you could poss­ibly want in your lungs is air. In fact, just writ­ing about such ab­surd­ity has helped me get through a diff­ic­ult mom­ent ... yes, at 4am when I should be asleep.

It's not really just one releasing action, although that first drag is central. The panic would also be eased - past tense, is that a good sign? - by the walk down to the corner shop, because I knew the nicotine hit was only minutes away. The removal of the packet's cellophane and silver foil ... also delicious, seconds to go, lighter at the ready.

Different from the experience of my friend Charles, who popped by yest­er­day to offer supp­ort and have a nat­ter. He has all but stopped. Mind you, what has he giv­en up? In 50 years he has never in­haled a cig­ar­ette. So for him it must be the other bits, the rit­ual, the en­act­ment of habit.

More friends have delivered kind messages. Friend and neigh­bour Ger­ald­ine Flor­io wrote of her guil­ty smok­ing while preg­nant in the ear­ly sev­en­ties, and rem­ind­ed me of the need to shun trig­ger­ing ev­ents and places, of which thank­fully there are far few­er in 2024: "I recall that old Cath­ol­ic ad­mon­it­ion to 'avoid the occ­as­ion of sin'".

My Irish correspondent amused me with an an­cest­ral mem­ory:

"My maternal grandmother was a secret smoker as it was un­seem­ly back in her day for a lady to be seen smok­ing in pub­lic. She had got into the habit bec­ause she had four young­er broth­ers who used to smoke. It is said that the smok­ing was one of the reas­ons she could­n't join the nuns with her old­er sis­ter. I rem­em­ber that when she ran out of cig­ar­ettes she would roll a quiet one of her own us­ing her Bas­il­don Bond blue writ­ing paper and my grand­father's loose pipe tob­acco, Old Bendigo."

Flippin' 'eck, that would be a tough smoke, wouldn't it? You could flush rats out of a cellar with less.

I've thought some more about the absence of phys­ic­al pain. I have a number of friends who have suff­er­ed per­sist­ent and ex­treme pain in rec­ent years. How do they proj­ect that con­dit­ion into the fut­ure? Will it ever go away? How do they with­stand it, to­day, to­night, to­morr­ow? The prayed-for hor­iz­on of rel­ief must look un­reach­able.

I, on the other hand, while I won­der when the crav­ing will sub­side, only have to pro­ject and ant­ic­ip­ate a state of ... "no pain". Hmmm. Get a life, Charlie.

Tuesday 23rd January

I ask forgiveness for banging on some more about this. I'm into Day 18 as a non-smok­er and still not out of the woods. OK, there's no real phys­ic­al pain, I'm not in Gaza ... but I am up and writ­ing at 4:15am, which can­not be sens­ible.

People have sent me messages of "well done" in recent days - my friend and loy­al read­er Alf Florio in an email, sis­ter Vicky 'phoned - and I shall try to hang on to their en­cour­age­ment.

I have a theory, based on years of experience and yest­er­day's scour­ing of the Int­er­net, name­ly ... There is no truly tell­ing and in­sight­ful dis­cuss­ion of add­ict­ion out there, one that goes right to the heart of an in­div­id­ual strugg­le. Yes, the NHS web­site has a def­in­it­ion and a list of re­comm­end­ed supp­ort ser­vic­es. You have the 12 Steps. There are many spec­ial­ist org­an­is­at­ions, such as ex-England-foot­ball­er (and rec­ov­er-ing/-ed al­co­hol­ic) Tony Adams's Sport­ing Chance. Nic­ot­ine re­place­ment ther­ap­ies ab­ound. Diets gal­ore. TV prog­rammes tell per­son­al stor­ies, often mov­ing­ly, as in the case of that other foot­ball­er, Paul Mer­son (devastated by gambling). But, despite the size and comm­on­place-ness of the prob­lem, I have yet to see any­thing to which I would have the res­ponse of "Yes, that's ex­act­ly how it feels" or "That would def­in­ite­ly work, I can try that". I have never met a GP - and I have known some brill­iant ones - who is gen­uine­ly ex­pert in the sub­ject, who, if you were to ask how you might add­ress your con­dit­ion, would say: "I can fix this with you, and here's how." On every occ­as­ion that I've spo­ken to my doctor, who has in­var­iably ag­reed that it's the high-prior­ity issue, I've had a re­fer­ral. Maybe to the nurse at the end of his or her sur­gery corr­id­or. Once I was pointed at the main Glouc­est­er­shire off­er­ing, which turned out to be staffed by women con­sid­er­ab­ly youn­ger than my daugh­ter with­out, bless 'em, a clue how to deal with a then 60-year-old man.

Really, there's nothing convincing. No proper con­sid­er­at­ion of the "mind", how it sub­verts and und­er­mines.

It may be that the exp­er­ience is bey­ond the scope of science to ex­plain, too in­tang­ible. I talked a couple of days ago about loss. After giv­ing up on prev­ious occ­as­ions I've felt en­vel­oped by a fog, adrift with­out any rel­iable sense of con­trol. A vague­ness that def­ied easy res­ol­ut­ion.

20 years ago I stopped for about six months. Then I went to a conf­er­ence in San Diego, Cal­if­or­nia. At 3:30am, jet-lagged and un­able to sleep, I went down to the hot­el foy­er in­tend­ing to take a stroll out­side, fell into con­vers­at­ion with the man on the desk, heard him say "Fancy a smoke?" and ... Bang! Just like that, half a year of effort wasted.

How was that possible? I'd beaten the weed. I knew every reason there was not to return to the habit. All blown away - excuse me - in a puff of smoke.

That's the scary thing. It's all on a knife-edge. Bizarrely, so was the mom­ent of giv­ing up 18 days ago. Until the sec­ond that I thought "Right, that's it" in the small hours of Sat­ur­day 6th Jan­uary, I had no idea I was going to quit. I cer­tain­ly wan­ted to do so, but I could­n't im­ag­ine how and when it might be poss­ible.

It's as if the logic doesn't count. The rat­ion­al person isn't in charge. The moor­ings are loose. So I suspect that's the task, the key. I need to anch­or my­self to the com­mon-sense truths, make them real: I'm not spend­ing mon­ey on pois­on; I have a better chance ag­ainst the maj­or health risks; I'm not in pain.

One piece of advice pops up everywhere: "Keep busy". With less thinking. I've felt unable to do that, but now is probably the time. Even if I have to trick myself into act­iv­ity, engage the mind in its own sub­ter­fuge.

There's something else as well, sort of at the other end of the scale. At times in the last few days, I've had the thought: "It's OK. This isn't a problem. It's not too bad to feel like this." And made it to the next minute, hour, day. No big deal.

Compared with Gaza.

Sunday 21st January

I don't normally post anything seriously personal on this blog. Maybe an emotional rant against Brexit, or European family news, but not genuinely "me" stuff. Today I make an exception. I've not written a great deal this year, certainly not daily, and although that has been caused significantly by dismay at world news, it's mostly because of something more private. It's a big deal for me. More than 50 years in the making.

It was triggered by this New Year thought: "Nothing good will happen in 2024 if I continue to smoke." So I stopped, the morning of Saturday 6th January.

I haven't smoked for two whole weeks, and it's been grim. I've felt unable to do much else. Sleep has been the best release, but there's a limit to how much you can avoid being awake.

This question has encouraged me: "How badly can this really hurt?" The answer is, in truth, "not much". It's not real pain. Yet the mind plays barely believable tricks. Every moment when I would normally have lit up a fag - and shamefully there are many - I've been gripped by panic, an absurd sense of not knowing how I'd survive the next few minutes. The word "loss" comes into my head, of missing an old friend. What loss would that be, then? Of spending money to suck a toxic stick of paper and leaf? Of increasing the risk of ill health? And what kind of friend? "Giving up" is the wrong phrase.

Some years ago I built a spreadsheet titled "Savings not poison" and entered daily amounts that I had NOT spent on alcohol and tobacco, the totals of which were then projected through 1, 5, 10 and 20 years. I don't need to do that anymore. The maths is simple now. I can readily estimate the savings of not consuming either drug at all in a matter of seconds. The annualised number is so large that I can't bear to say it out loud. Dreadful if I look back, but promising if I consider the future.

I'm still at risk. It's fortunate that I renounced alcohol nearly three years ago. Had I not, I'm sure I would be overindulging big-time. There are so many moments associated with the blessed relief of lighting a cigarette. The good news - and for 10 days I thought that I'd never have any - is that the urge may be slowly fading.

During a car journey close on half a century ago, I said silently to myself with absolute certainty: "If only I were to marry this woman next to me, I would never smoke nor drink again." It didn't happen. No knot was tied. But I've got there in the end.

And now I have, who knows what else is possible?

Tuesday 16th January

As I slowly blogged into 2024, I tried to look on the bright side. But honestly ... how?

And then Iowa declared:

Saturday 13th January

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, Stroud cel­eb­rat­ed the life of a dear friend.

A proper send-off at Woodchester Priory. Car park and church filled to over­flow­ing. The rit­ual of a Cath­ol­ic mass int­er­wov­en with Irish move­ment and mus­ic.

His wife Bev conducted singers, led a Cel­tic dance round Mike's coff­in and del­iv­ered a beaut­if­ul trib­ute. I part­ic­ul­ar­ly en­joyed her acc­ount of their wet Wok­ing­ham wedd­ing in sum­mer 1975 (Mike had rel­at­ive­ly rec­ent­ly rec­eived dis­pens­at­ion to leave the priest­hood in a letter from the Vat­ic­an). They left the fest­iv­it­ies on their Honda CB­500 Four, Bev's feet en­cased in plast­ic bags to ward off the driv­ing rain, and rode all the way to Sic­ily.

I wrote on Tuesday after neighbour Linda's St. Law­rence good­bye: "At such a fun­er­al you can learn how you might bet­ter live your own life."

Again such messages were strong, none more so than (from E.M. For­ster's How­ard's End): "Only conn­ect!" Mike touched many people and places: fam­ily roots in Don­eg­al, the churches where he play­ed the or­gan, those mus­ic­ians he taught or acc­omp­an­ied, the It­al­ian lang­uage groups in Stroud and Chelt­en­ham, U3A walk­ers and cycl­ists. The gen­er­os­ity and aff­ect­ion he showed in his life flowed back to him in ab­und­ance on this day of fare­well.

Friday 12th January

Stroud in the national press. A serious matter.

Wed 10 Jan 2024 16.14 GMT

Name: The Stroud monkey.

Age: Unknown.

Appearance: Like a regular monkey, only pres­um­ab­ly a bit more midd­le class.

Why is there a monkey in Stroud? OK, for the sake of utt­er trans­par­ency, I have to point out that there are no conf­irmed mon­keys in Stroud.

Oh. But there is probably a monkey in Stroud.

Where's your proof? A Facebook post by some­one who said they saw a mon­key in Stroud. Spec­if­ic­ally ac­ross the fields from Whites­hill to the main road.

Listen, any crank can write any­thing they want on Face­book. Some­one else saw it run­ning north, head­ing to­wards Pains­wick.

OH MY GOD, THERE'S A MONKEY ON THE LOOSE IN STROUD! Yes, by all acc­ounts - or at least two acc­ounts.

What sort of monkey? A chimp? A gorilla? Well, first of all those are apes and not mon­keys. Sec­ond, the wom­an who first spot­ted the Stroud mon­key said that her moth­er-in-law grew up in India and is con­fid­ent that it is a spect­acl­ed lan­gur.

Right, that's interesting. What are you doing?

Nothing. Are you Googling: "Can a human beat a spect­acl­ed lan­gur in a fight?"

Yes. What does it say?

Apparently, a langur moved into an aban­doned house in a vill­age in the Ind­ian state of Hary­ana in 2022, and spent its time att­ack­ing child­ren, vand­al­is­ing cars and push­ing people off bi­cy­cles. Bet­ter leave it alone, then.

So, to return to my initial question, why is there a mon­key in Stroud? The lead­ing the­ory is that some­one was keep­ing it as a pet, and it esc­aped.

Is that even legal? Apparently, yes. You can, if you want to, walk into a pet shop and, with­out a lic­ence, buy a mon­key. The Born Free Found­at­ion est­im­ates that 5,000 prim­ates are kept as pets in the UK, many of which live in in­corr­ect­ly sized cages and suffer social is­ol­at­ion. The gov­ern­ment did plan to stop this, but quiet­ly drop­ped a prop­os­ed an­im­al wel­fare bill in June.

That's grim, even the loose Stroud monkey can be blamed on the Tor­ies. Not as grim as the thought of a spect­acl­ed lan­gur, trad­it­ion­ally found in warm count­ries such as Thai­land and Mal­ay­sia, try­ing to surv­ive alone during a freez­ing Brit­ish win­ter.

How unbelievably sad. But let's think pos­it­ive. Now that people know there's a mon­key loose in Stroud, they'll be look­ing for it, and this aware­ness might ex­ped­ite its safe re­turn. It should­n't be too hard. A monkey es­caped from Paign­ton Zoo in Aug­ust, and they found it very quick­ly. And in Nov­em­ber, a lion es­caped from a cir­cus near Rome, and was loc­at­ed and coll­ect­ed with­in sev­en hours.

And if the monkey remains loose? It can always scav­enge food from Jas­per Con­ran's far­mers' mar­ket in the centre of Stroud. Hope it likes art­is­an­al cheese.

Do say: "There's a monkey on the loose in Stroud."

Don't say: "You wouldn't get this tom­fool­ery in Glouc­ester."

Hmmm. Is Stroud's reputation spread­ing? I sup­pose the journ­al­ist may live here, close to his/her neigh­bour­ing wokey read­er­ship. The Guar­dian is more heav­ily stocked than any other news­pap­er in our local Wait­rose, and sold out soon­est on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing, by a Cots­wold coun­try mile. And is the author re­in­forc­ing the Glouc­est­er ster­eo­type? Where (all­eg­ed­ly) you're much more like­ly to bump in­to a tatt­ooed skin­head than an org­an­ic baker.

Thursday 11th January

Another January pick-me-up is that 2024 should offer us a chance to rid ourselves of the crony cheats and liars that have been in government for so long. Unless Sunak really wants to cling to power until next year.

We're holding our breath:

Where would you put your money? Here are the three(/four) options ident­if­ied by the Institute for Government (IfG) think tank. Click to enlarge:

You can read more detail at the IfG website, including a discussion of what might influence Sunak's choice, in the explainer "When will the next UK general election be?": IfG website

Sunak would presumably like to go long into 2024 to see his strat­eg­ies (too grand a word?) take hold, like a fur­ther drop in inf­lat­ion. Or will van­ity lure him into 2025 so that he can claim a prem­ier­ship of over two years, dist­anc­ing him from the shame of the Truss­ian brief ten­ure? Fewer small boats in Jan­uary too. Whom will the hot-topic acc­el­er­at­ing Post Off­ice scan­dal exp­os­ure treat most kindly? Can Ed Davey even make it to the ballot box? Will scrut­iny of Starmer's time at the DPP in­duce a wobble? Sunak's clear­ly go­ing for the "I sorted it" act­ion-man glory app­roach. By the way, Change.org not­if­ied me yest­er­day that a pet­it­ion has been launched to con­fer a knight­hood on Alan Bates.

So many of us are desperate for a real change in our politics, in both the manner and substance of government. Will we see it?

Wednesday 10th January

We're all hoping, aren't we?

The best early result is from Mr Bates et al.

Absolutely what we've been missing for years. As actor Julie Hes­mond­halgh (who plays Suz­anne Ser­combe, the part­ner of Alan Bates) has said of the drama, "This has come out at ex­act­ly the right mom­ent. We are at peak lies, corr­upt­ion and crony­ism. We have had en­ough." The beg­inn­ings of come­upp­ance for the bad guys. The inn­oc­ent get closer to ex­on­er­at­ion. There's a way to go, but what a start. Con­grat­ul­at­ions not only to ITV, but also to Com­put­er Week­ly and Priv­ate Eye.

Did you ever see a bunch of ord­in­ary people less like­ly to be crim­in­als? Click to en­large the photo and study the exp­ress­ions on faces: joy, rel­ief, tri­umph, vin­dic­at­ion, tog­eth­er­ness, pride. Laugh­ter and hope that they must have thought they'd never exp­er­ience again.

Some useful bits:
  • Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry (ongoing) - YouTube channel: Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry
  • "Mr Bates vs The Post Office - The Real Story" (sign up): itvX - The real Mr Bates
  • Justice For Subpostmaster Alliance (JFSA) official site: JFSA website
  • The Private Eye 2020 special report: Private Eye - Justice Lost in the Post

Tuesday 9th January

So, I've finally stumbled into 2024. HNY and all that. You'll have noticed that I haven't written much for a while, and yes, it's world news that has rather beaten the desire out of me.

The turn of the year has also been marked by the pass­ing of three friends and neigh­bours. But yest­er­day was bet­ter than sad, in­deed full of joy. Stroud turn­ed out in num­bers to cel­eb­rate the life of Linda from num­ber 69.

St Lawrence was packed at 12 noon. Tales were told of love, kind­ness, gen­er­os­ity and wel­come.

At 4pm, there was a wake at Star Anise. Full again. Her friend Pom had made paper cups and bas­kets each hold­ing a pho­to of Linda. We were in­vit­ed to take them away.

At such a funeral you can learn how you might better live your own life.

© Charlie Lewis 2024
Email: charlie_c_lewis@hotmail.com