Monday, 12 January 2015

The Theory of Everything - a personal view

Jane and I don’t often get to the cinema these days, but thanks to the good offices of a friend we did get to watch The Theory of Everything last week.  It’s the film based on the memoir of Jane Hawking, wife of physicist Stephen Hawking, Travelling to Infinity (a revision of Music to Move the Stars), neither of which I have read – yet.  Clearly the reason I wanted to see it is because I have a similar sort of Motor Neurone Disease to the professor, although my survival won’t be as long as his since I was diagnosed in my early 50s. 

So what did I think of it?  Contrary to expectation, I did not break down in tears or howl – which is strange since it takes very little to trigger off outbursts of embarrassing emotion when I’m watching a remotely romantic or sad scene, as my family will attest.  And the film is emotional, focused as it is on the relationship between the amazing Jane and the remarkable Stephen.  I puzzle as to the reason.  Maybe it’s because I was checking off the familiar symptoms and admiring how accurately Eddie Redmayne (Stephen) had captured them.  It is a truly remarkable performance uncannily capturing, I gather, his mannerisms and his voice (until his tracheotomy).  I recognized the eccentric clumsiness, knocking things on the floor, the tripping over feet, the helpless falling to the ground and being unable to help oneself up.  The alarming choking fits were familiar, as was Jane’s matter-of-fact remedy of thumping between the shoulder blades.  We’re familiar with Jane understanding the inarticulacy of MND and interpreting it clearly for others.  Yes, technically it was brilliant.


I also found Felicity Jones’ portrayal of Jane quite beautiful and, by the real Jane Hawking’s account, very true to life.  In my experience there’s an astonishing strength in MND caring spouses.  As in the film, it is undemonstrative, almost matter of fact.  What the film is unable to show, however, by its very nature, is the emotional toll of the year-on-year care for someone you love who is progressively deteriorating in spite of all your efforts.  It’s possible to debate whether the usual frighteningly rapid types of MND or the exceptional protracted types are easier to deal with, but this truly is a case when comparisons are odious.  Each is equally hard in different ways.  All the film can do is highlight incidents which exemplify the strain imposed on both Stephen and Jane by his illness.  But believe me, being the ill person is easier than being his carer/partner.  The sustained pressure of being sole carer and mother of three growing children beggars belief.

In my view Jane is the hero of the film.  She makes the commitment to love and cherish Stephen in sickness and in health till death parts them, we gather, and sticks to it, despite our and his family’s scepticism.  After an initial diagnosis of two years of life, the marriage in fact lasted thirty years, until it fell apart when an exhausted Jane was replaced in Stephen’s affections by the exciting nurse, Elaine Mason (played by Maxine Peake).  Jane’s close platonic relationship with choirmaster, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), in due course ended in reality in their happy marriage.  The film, I gather, exercises some artistic licence with the facts of Travelling to Infinity, but sticks fairly faithfully to the story. 

For me a crucial moment was when Stephen had gone to the opera and had a coughing fit, which laid him up in hospital (in fact in Geneva) with pneumonia, while Jane had taken the children camping with Jonathan.  Jane rushes to his bedside where he lies unconscious on life-support.  The doctor faces her with the critical decision: shall he withdraw the life-support?  Now conventional wisdom would say, let him have a merciful release from an undignified life of disabling terminal illness.  The doctor adds that the only way to save him is to give him a tracheotomy (an incision in his throat) meaning he won’t ever be able to talk at all.  For Jane it would have been an easy way out and for Stephen a merciful release.  Whether it is her faith in God or her faith in her husband, she has no truck with the doctor’s advice and refuses to give permission for removing life-support.  Gradually, as we know, he recovered, and went on three years later to publish A Brief History of Time, which gave him his fortune and his international celebrity.  As he says in his answer near the end of the film, “However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.  While there's life, there is hope.”  Professor Hawking has lent his support to the campaign for assisted dying.  It’s ironic then that, had his wife in 1985 followed that campaign’s logic, he would not still be alive and have the prospect of fulfilling one of his ambitions, to travel in space.

Despite popular myths, I suspect that neither Professor Hawking's determination to fight the disease nor Jane’s care actually served to prolong his survival.  Motor Neurone Disease is implacable, and no amount of will power makes much difference to its course.  The truth is that at diagnosis it’s hard to tell the variant of the disease, and that the average survival is two years.  However there are different sorts, as I’ve indicated.  And it is the passing of time that proves if you are destined to outlive the average.  Clearly giving up hope and receiving poor care would contribute to an earlier demise, but MND marches on whether fast or slowly.

What is the power and the attraction of the film?  I suspect that for most people it is the paradox of the brilliant scientific mind trapped in an increasingly helpless body – and the incredible determination of both central characters that not even the greatest odds should defeat their resolve.  It’s also a love story of course, of a peculiarly poignant kind, or to be more accurate it’s two or three love stories.  Maxine Peake captures an ambiguity in Elaine’s relationship with Stephen, which never has quite the tenderness that Jane demonstrated for him.  There’s admiration for the great man and a hint of professional ownership.  It’s an impressively subtle performance.  Charlie Cox, the fourth in the love story, gives a restrained performance of the widower, Jonathan, which well reflects the tension of his attraction to Jane and his respect for her position as Stephen’s emotional and physical mainstay.  I thoroughly believe the film’s account of the dynamics of the four central characters.

Eddie Redmayne has deservedly won an award for his bravura portrayal of Hawking.  I very much hope that Felicity Jones, in her equally demanding role, receives the recognition she merits.  That gritty determined commitment which constitutes caring for a loved one is far from flamboyant but is heroic.  I hope she receives an award for all the Janes who never get the recognition they deserve, and whom she sensitively and strongly represented.

The film is called The Theory of Everything – the elusive object of Stephen Hawking’s scientific quest.  I’m left wondering whether the meaning of everything isn’t more important and whether Jane hasn’t found it already.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Diverse Church six months on

One of the many downsides of MND is that it limits one's freedom of movement, not just in the small matter of daily living, but also in the bigger things of choosing how often to go out. It's a major operation, comparatively, to get out to a meeting, for example. I was sorry, last week, to miss two quite different meetings.

One was on Thursday, organised by the Oxford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship, entitled, "Evangelical witness in this diocese in the light of Pilling, Bishop Alan Wilson, and the appointment of a new Bishop of Oxford." In the light of the accompanying write-up and attached paper, this promised to be a meeting resisting any ground being given to the gay/equal marriage move in the Church of England. I wouldn't have minded saying a bit. I don't know whether I will hear any feed-back from that meeting. The other meeting was on Saturday in London organised by the Two:23 Network, a group who describe themselves: "Two:23 is a network of Christians, connected by LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues, who have discovered that God loves us just as we are. This realisation frees us unashamedly to include and encourage all to discover the love of God for themselves, pursue the call of Christ and live in a way that cherishes others just as God cherishes us." I suspect the two meetings could scarcely have been more different - except that they both included worship. Now that's interesting....

I did listen to the talk given by Sally Hitchiner at the Two:23 meeting, which you can find on their website. She was talking about the group she was instrumental in founding for young Christians struggling with the faith and sexuality, called Diverse Church. It's an impressive and widely encompassing group, which supports and gives hope to youngsters who had none before. I can't give an adequate account of its scope. For that I recommend listening to Sally's talk (on http://two23.net/). Here are two contrasting quotes from it. "Being gay and a Christian is rather like finding you have incurable cancer." "Finding Diverse Church and discovering that you can be gay and a Christian is like finding Narnia."

Two things I picked up are that it's a pastoral group, rather than a political one. In other words, it exists to care rather than campaign. The other is that it's undogmatic, except for insisting that God loves each of us as we are and as we were created. And so the group includes gay young people who live together or want to find a life-partner, those who have decided to stay celibate and one married to someone of the other sex. They all accept and affirm each other. Something they have in common is that they have all suffered acutely, usually from hearing the message that God considers them, or their feelings, an "abomination". Not surprisingly many have felt or been excluded from their churches - and it seemed from God Himself. You can see a couple of their stories in this film: Christian, it gets better.

One of the most moving initiatives Diverse Church has started is handing over its Twitter feed to one member each Friday who uses the day to tell their story. I regularly follow it. It is a brave thing to undertake, as although it is done using only initials, the potential is there for hostile reactions. For many, I understand, it's the first time they have "come out" telling their story, 140 words at a time. Somehow the gradual way the stories unfold echo the tortuous journey many of the members have traveled, and emphasise the joy they experience when they discover acceptance for who they are. In my view, Diverse Church (which is not a church in the conventional sense, but encourages the Church to be as diverse as was intended) is a remarkable group of young Christians. I've learned from them. I think the Church needs to listen to them.

Saturday was World Aids Day, and Diverse Church's Twitter feed led its followers in a moving prayer, sentence by sentence, with which I finish. I felt as if the person tweeting was praying from his experience and his heart.

Lord,
I'm glad I can talk to you.
You’re always there -
even when my head is somewhere else.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed,
ashamed, afraid to face the future...
It’s hard living with a stigma.
It’s not what people say.
It’s what they don't say.
It’s the knowing smiles,
and the sheepish looks.
They all add up to a feeling of accusation.
Lord,
I’m glad I can talk to you
Nothing surprises you.
You’ve been where I’ve been
You’ve felt the discrimination
Experienced the betrayal
the hurt
the name calling
the whispering in corners
the religious prejudice.
Lord,
You make me feel whole again
You include me in
You make me feel understood.
Your extravagant generosity
leaves me speechless.
Words fail me as I try to say
Thank you.
You draw me
You give me a place in the picture
You tell me
I belong even when I can't believe.
Lord, you’re unbelievable!!

Heavenly Father, tonight we pray for those whose lives have been overshadowed with the fear of HIV. The prejudice they fear they'll face...
Tonight we pray for the people who are living with HIV/AIDS. Here. Abroad. Anywhere. We pray for protection over them. Love them.
Place your tender hand over them and let them know your presence. Let them know that you're carrying them through the darkest days
and walking with them even in the days they're feeling better. Heavenly Father, help to eliminate the stigma attached...
Help us to stress the importance of being tested, the importance of talking about it, and the importance of living without fear of being discriminated.
Heavenly Father, give us the courage to speak out to those who think the illness isn't 'their problem'. Let them know it is their problem...
It's their problem, because we're all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all created in one image, we all eat of the same bread...
we all pray to the same God. The same God who created us all in His image.
Tonight, and in the days and nights to come, just give those whose lives have been affected the love and courage they need...
Give them someone to talk to, someone who will listen and someone who will just make a cup of tea when things get too tough...
Show them your love that way. Use us to do your will.
In your name, we ask this and pray. Amen!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Dignity's own goal

Dignity in Dying (formerly The Voluntary Euthanasia Society) ensured that the story of retired Maths teacher, Jean Davies, starving herself to death got maximum media coverage. This 86-year-old euthanasia campaigner wasn't terminally ill, but had a number of underlying conditions. I listened to the live interview with her daughter, Bronwen, who's a nurse in Cardiff and who cared for her mum over the last few weeks of her life, on Radio 4's Today Programme this morning. Sarah Montague did the interview, which is headlined "My mother said she had had enough" on the audio clip.

Bronwen Davies was very honest - a refreshing change from the frequent fare of political prevarication heard on the programme. What had been her reaction when her mother had told her she intended to stop eating and drinking? "I was very angry because I wanted to spend more time with her, and I wanted to go on holiday with my husband! Then I realised I was being purely selfish." But she admits, "I didn't want her to die."

It was something Jean had been contemplating for a couple of years. "She'd read somewhere that it was possible for somebody to simply stop eating, stop drinking and you will eventually die.  And we all know that's true. Hunger strikers are the example that spring to my mind." In fact she stopped drinking just two weeks before she died. 

Was the decision to starve herself, rather some quicker means of ending her life, partly, effectively, a continuation of her campaign? "I think it occurred to her, after she had started her course of action, that this could be something which would attract attention - as indeed it has done - and she took the decision without consulting me or any other members of the family, as far as I know, to contact old colleagues from Dignity in Dying, to ask if her story might be one in which the press might be interested. So she sought publicity after her decision."

You've answered the point in a way, that she was aware of the campaigning. I wonder, do you think the law should be changed? "No. I have found that this process has made me realise - I mean… I'm not a member of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, as my mother had been for many years - and I am of the view that it's perhaps not necessary to change the law in this country, because I think if people realised that they had the power to end their lives by stopping eating and drinking - you're still entitled to medical care to relieve any symptoms - my mother didn't need any painkillers, but they were prescribed for her had she needed them - I think that, if people realised they had the power to take matters into their own hands and to take responsibility for their lives and the end of their lives in that way, there may not need to be a change in the law."

I suspect that final answer was unexpected, but it reminded me of my conversation with Tony Nicklinson who complained that it was unfair because, he said, I could take my own life and he could not take his. It was untrue on a number of counts. For one thing, I told him, he could refuse treatment for any infection - which in the end he did, dying of pneumonia.

I take the position of Bronwen Davies, Jean's brave and honest daughter. The law doesn't need changing. As it is, people have the power to take responsibility for their lives and for the end of their lives. In publicising this case, Dignity in Dying have provided evidence against their own campaign to legalise assisted suicide.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

"Keep your mitts off my NHS"

Last week there was a speech at the Labour Party conference which, in my opinion, knocked the spots off any I've ever heard from a politician of any colour. I know politicians usually enter politics out of conviction, but they nearly all seem to get sucked into the slimy world of focus groups and spin. Power,  or the love of power, does corrupt. It was beautifully constructed and delivered by 91-year old war veteran, Harry Smith. He described his childhood in depressed Barnsley and the death of his sister of TB, as the family couldn't afford treatment for her. "My childhood was not an episode from Downton Abbey." Watch it here: Harry Smith on the NHS

I was reminded of this when I went to our local surgery on Monday. I wanted to ask my GP some things, and I needed a regular blood test. First it was to the phlebotomist (the nurse who specialises in blood tests). Not only did she take it to test my drug level and liver function, but "Why not do these others while we're at it?" she said. I lost count of them. Then she said to Jane and me, "Have you had your flu injections yet?" The answer was no, although Jane had had her letter. "Would you like me to do them now - get them out of the way?" And so she did.  And saved us an expedition.

Then we sat in the waiting room for a bit, until the doctor came and summoned me. The major question I wanted to discuss was about the pneumococcal vaccine. As I'd written to my friends who have slow forms of MND, "I've received a letter from my local surgery, headed 'Pneumococcal Vaccination'. It says, 'Our records show that in the last month you had your 65th birthday, congratulations!' Then it goes on to explain it's usually a one-off jab to protect against a number of infections including pneumonia. 'We would like you to be vaccinated now....' In the old days, pneumonia used to be called 'the old man's friend'. (As Net Doctor puts it, 'pneumonia is called the old man's friend because, left untreated, the sufferer often lapses into a state of reduced consciousness, slipping peacefully away in their sleep, giving a dignified end to a period of often considerable suffering.') I'm not sure whether I want immunity from pneumonia. I wouldn't mind dying sometime. I'm inclined to say yes to the yearly flu jabs, but no to a lifetime pneumonia one. I wonder what others think about this." My GP listened and heard exactly what I was saying. I don't imagine she had ever had a patient with MND raising that dilemma before. She didn't hurry to reply. In the end her answer reassured me. The vaccine doesn't give complete immunity and by the time I'm ready to pop my clogs it will probably be even less effective. In the course of our conversation we talked about whether I would want treatment and resuscitation at the moment, were I to get an infection - to which the answer was Yes. Life may be limited and frustrating, but it's definitely good, and I'd like to enjoy this gift while I may. There will no doubt come a time when I say, "Don't interfere anymore, thank you," - which, you will appreciate, is entirely different from, "Please have me put down."

I also had three others things to ask her, including about respite care. At no point did I feel she was clock-watching. She was focused on me. We concluded at the end that I would have the pneumonia jab, and Jane had the good idea that I might have it then as well. So we asked the receptionist if there was a chance. And there was. She fitted me in with a nurse. Thus I left, after about an hour, having had blood tests, flu and pneumococcal jabs and a consultation with my GP. Now that's what I call service. And at the point of delivery, it cost me nothing. Of course I and my employers have contributed over the years. But it's worth it. That's the National Health Service. The practice, by the way, is Newbury Street Wantage.

I gather that one of tabloids had a leader comment today which started: "With dreary predictability, GPs’ leaders have raised objections to David Cameron’s hugely welcome plan to restore that most basic mark of a civilised society – the right to see a family doctor at any time, morning to evening, seven days a week...." Besides being transparently part of a policy of squeezing small practices out of existence - surely The Daily Mail looks back further than ten years to the golden days when one- and two-man practices were the norm? - , I reflected my elderly in-laws' experience over the past fortnight. Their sizeable GP practice lists 111 as its out-of-hours number. My mother-in-law has had resort to it three times in the past fortnight, and according to her the service has been excellent. It sounds as though it was in every way - keeping her informed, the doctors visiting, the follow-up and the quick coordinating with their GP. I recall receiving a visit from a lovely emergency doctor a few years back on Christmas Day. The system works now. I can see no way in which Mr Cameron's plan will not soak up any new money he offers - and more. Thus we shall end up with fewer resources spread more thinly, and worn-out doctors with even less time to spend with each patient.

As veteran Harry Smith ended, "Mr Cameron, keep your mitts off my NHS!" And that applies to all of you meddling politicians. Keep your mitts off our health service - and our education service.

PS I'm told I should have mentioned how nice our practice nurses are. They are very good. My second jab was quite pain free.

Friday, 29 August 2014

British Blame Culture

A lot of awful things have been in the news since I last blogged, so much so that I have, unusually, resorted to turning off the news from time to time. There's been Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and close to home Rotherham. In different ways they are all horrific.

What has struck me in much of the news coverage and comment is how prevalent is the culture of seeking to attach blame. This morning yet again John Humphrys of the Today Programme was belabouring his interviewee (a representative of local authorities) about the sexual abuse of under-age girls in Rotherham. "There must be someone to blame" was his repeated point. He wanted his interviewee to agree that local council officers (like police officers and like Shaun Wright, the councillor responsible for children's services) should be "punished". Humphrys seemed to want a few scapegoats, a few heads to roll. However as history tells us, scapegoats may make people feel better, but they don't ever solve the problem.

He clearly had failed to hear Kier Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, yesterday, who pointed out that what was wrong in Rotherham, and no doubt, in many other communities across the UK was a matter of culture, but in this case a culture of disbelief of certain sorts of youngsters, and of young people in general. A culture is a shared responsibility, a communal one. An exceptional individual may stand against the prevailing tide, but unless the community, across the generations, in all sectors, stands with them the tide will not change. In the meantime we simply avoid the issue and evade our own complicity by blaming a few (or many) individuals. The fault also lies in ourselves. 

I confess I'm not immune from the blame-game myself. On an entirely trivial level I found myself fulminating against the "unfairness" of the eviction of Iain Watters from the Great British Bake Off, after his gloriously original baked alaska had been removed from the freezer by another of the bakers and thus ruined. He binned it! Actually one learns now that there was a certain amount of manipulation in the editing to elicit just such a response. It makes, of course, for "better" TV and higher viewer ratings.

With the unethical exclusive stake-out by the BBC when South Yorkshire Police raided Cliff Richard's Berkshire apartment, and the publishing of his name before charge, one wonders whether the BBC has lost sight of its ideals in the pursuit of populist appeal. Has it become the British Blame Corporation? 

Might it not be a good idea to stop the blame game? Let's stop saying Gaza was Israel's fault, Ukraine was Putin's fault, Iraq is ISIS's fault, that the state of education was Michael Gove's (or teachers') fault and the NHS Michael Lansley's (or nurses') fault. As Lewis Hamilton has wisely written on his Facebook page, following the incident when Nico Rosberg took him out at the Belgian Grand Prix: "Nico and I accept that we have both made mistakes and I feel it would be wrong to point fingers and say which one is worse than the other...."

Thursday, 31 July 2014

"Love Letter"

I have never had a book dedicated to me before, but there it is at the front: "Dedicated to Michael Wenham". I feel I have to declare the fact, because I am about to recommend it, and I'd hate anyone to feel they'd bought the book under false pretences. And of course I am chuffed and honoured! The book is Love Letter by Karen Jones. It's the third in her trilogy of "Babe's Bible" novels, following Gorgeous Grace and Sister Acts. For those unfamiliar with this unique series of novels, they interweave a contemporary plot with a storyline based on books from the Bible - a gospel, Acts, and an epistle.

Should you think that the Bible's is a different world from our own, this book might both confirm and change your view. It will change your view in that Karen shows how human nature and dilemmas remain the same. It will confirm your view as she demonstrates how the historical and cultural context differs. This is in my opinion is one of the great gifts of the whole series, and not least of Love Letter. In this case it gives a context for Paul's letter to the Ephesians and for 1 Timothy. There's no claim that we are given the context, but we are reminded that the letters are written in some particular context and it is foolish to read them as if there were none. Paul was writing to people he knew in circumstances that he knew about.

If that sounds rather serious and theological, be assured these books are far from dull and heavy. The second great gift that Karen has for us is bringing Bible to life. We realise that the characters who flit in and out of the New Testament were people with histories and hang-ups, personalities and problems, just like us. We discover that there were tensions within contemporary Judaism which spilled over into the developing Christian church, and that the Roman impatience with the Jerusalem hierarchy was well on the way to the ruthless destruction of the city in AD70, and it is within that broad context that Paul was writing to the young churches and church leaders. Karen vividly recreates the history and its impact on her characters.

However, as I said, the novels combine a contemporary plot with the Bible-based story. In fact that narrative is written by Grace Hutchinson, the woman minister, of the modern story. Events in her ministry are what drive her time and again to examine the Bible story and what it says to her and her friends today. She works in outer London and encounters the most painful of modern life-situations, both herself and in the area in which she lives. I don't want to spoil the plot at all, but for me once I had reached James and Marie in hospital of Love Letter I was hooked.

Perhaps the publisher's advertising line will provide enough of a clue. "Karen Jones' unique trilogy of contemporary fiction for women, based on the stories of women from the Bible, concludes in Love Letter. Grace and Chloe's lives have changed immeasurably over the last decade. Grace's talents and wisdom as a priest have been recognised and she receives a unique calling which will change her life for ever. Chloe, by contrast, discovers that there are still no easy paths through life and the decisions of various members of her family cause her to question the very bedrock of her faith. Grace and Chloe's relationship is about to be challenged to the core. Love, sex and betrayal, forgiveness and healing are once again the powerful themes in this heart-rending saga." I'd demur from the publishers in one detail: it's not only for women!

What I also admire about the three books is how Karen kept tabs on all the characters in the two strands weaving together, and progressed the storylines in parallel. I have to confess I was moved to tears at one point (my family would say that's not difficult!). I believe Karen started on the project in order to bring the Bible to life for a younger member of her family. I imagine she succeeded! For anyone who thinks the Good News of grace is only for the religious, sissies and the soft, this is the perfect antidote. It's seriously hard core and contemporary good news.


Have I any reservations? Only one - and that is the proof-reading, to put it kindly, appears to have been rushed. However that's being pedantic. After all New Testament Greek had no punctuation. And it didn't interfere with my enjoyment. Highly recommended holiday reading. (Darton Longman Todd, £8.99)

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

On a personal note


I'm sure I'm not alone among people with MND in being amazingly grateful on a significant day which after diagnosis I'd never expected to see. Our 40th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated a week ago, was one of those big days. All our family made it home for the big day. When we returned from church, there was a brand new pergola built in the garden awaiting us, with a rose and honeysuckle to go with it. A celebratory lunch with a rather fine wine followed.  

The week continued with a cream tea on Monday, a barbecue on Wednesday, and going to the ballet in London on Saturday. The last proved quite an adventure as we hadn't factored in an anti-Israel demonstration (no comment) which closed off all the roads from the A4 (which we were on) to Theatreland and created a tailback all the way to the Hammersmith Flyover (5 miles from our destination). Our satnav gave up the struggle, wanting us to continue the way we were heading, and so, with an hour and a half in hand, we made for the south - only to find Putney Bridge closed for repairs! 

The long and the short of it is, having crossed south of the river, we made reasonable progress and arrived at The Coliseum a mere half hour late! There, at last, we found ourselves treated wonderfully well, whisked into a box in time to see the tail end of Act 1 and all of Acts 2 and 3 of Coppélia, which was great fun and lovely music. I must say that the staff at the theatre were consideration personified - and the facilities first-class. The ballet's going on tour in the autumn (the English National Ballet) and, if that's your sort of thing, I recommend it. It's a very optimistic production, beautifully but not fussily danced.

One more recommendation if you're looking for somewhere to eat in the Trafalgar Square area, try the St Martin's Crypt - accessible, atmospheric, reasonably priced and not too crowded. Our good friends from Wimbledon took us there after the performance.

And in case you're wondering, the journey home was a breeze - well, for me. Jane of course was driving, and I have to say she's a match for any London cabby!