Friday, 29 May 2009

Barca, burial and blitzen

What a pleasure the UEFA Champions League Final from Rome was on Wednesday night - unless of course you were Mancunian of the red variety! As a dispassionate spectator (?) I loved the skill of Barcelona against whom I thought Man U looked a blunt instrument. They didn't seem to tie them down as effectively as Chelsea had, and of course after the first early goal they seemed to lose heart. Some things impressed me though: for example there being a bann on selling takeaway alcohol around the stadium and at all metro and railway stations from Tuesday evening to Thursday morning. Can you imagine that in London?

And even more impressive was the passing mention in the commentary that Barcelona is owned by its fans and doesn't have lucrative sponsorship for the team shirts, but themselves advertise UNICEF on their shirts, and donate €millions to UNICEF.

Yesterday we buried my aunt's ashes in the 'family' grave near Salisbury. All my brothers and my cousin John were there. The sun was shining. And I enjoyed being retired and not doing the duties. Afterwards we were kindly given tea in the garden of my aunt's lovely old house by the present owners, Trevor and Hilary. I realised that we are now the senior generation of the clan. A solemn thought.

In the evening we relaxed watching 'Springwatch', and badger clan in Essex. Then I switched over to BBC1 'Tourettes, I swear I can't help it'. What a moving programme! I've mentioned Tourettes Syndrome before, the condition of violent uncontrollable tics often vocalised in swearing. The programme was very informative, and focused on a couple of 'sufferers' including John Davidson, a lovely man in his 40s. Halfway through they were talking about the problem with forming relationships, which you can understand, and he said something like, 'I’ve just found it so hard to find someone who I can trust, someone who loves me for who I am, likes me for who I am.' THAT is the point: 'loved for who I am'.

Tomorrow we go to the DLF retreat in Wales (where we went last summer), while the workmen move in to gut our kitchen. We're hoping the weather continues like now, not like Holland this week, where they had the heaviest thunderstorm for 30 years, as this great photo of Otto's shows.
Photo: Otto Veninga

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Big events

At last something serious has driven expenses from the news top spot: North Korea testing a nuclear device and then two short range rockets.

On a personal level, yesterday I finished reading 'Nicholas Nickleby', all 600+ pages. Dickens certainly knew how to tell a story. I'd not read it before. Now there's a story of the potential of money for evil - and for good. Sadly, a film could never do it justice and so I imagine it's message will be lost.

I also listened to the best piece of radio I've ever heard. Even better, I think, than listening to the 1956 Ashes Test Match when Laker took (19 wickets) and Lock (1) tied the Australians up in knots and Sheppard and Richardson scored centuries in the best English team I remember. The programme was called 'Twin Sisters: Two Faiths' ( John, my best man, had put me on to it; he knows the producers. It is such a rich picture of contemporary Britain, its tensions and its tenderness, focused round two identical twins and their mother, who has terminal cancer. It is a great programme. Do listen to it.

Saturday, 23 May 2009


What, you may well ask, is Jane doing hanging up washing on a warm Bank Holiday weekend? Good question. You'll notice it includes a duvet cover and a shirt. Picture the scene: Saturday morning, Jane's gone downstairs to let the dog (who hasn't barked for once) into the garden and make a morning drink. Meanwhile I have got on my vest and shirt, and struggled back into bed in a half recumbent position. Jane returns with drinks. Mine is halfway to my mouth, when the telephone rings. I can't help it. I jump, at least my hand does; the drink goes everywhere, over the duvet, down my shirt. At least it's not coffee.

This is just one of the annoying hazards of MND, an overreaction to sudden noises. Normally it doesn't matter, but sometimes.... There was the time when we were going to my nephew's wedding, staying overnight in Riverside Barn, a beautiful B & B. Everything was incredibly tasteful. I was in my suit etc for the wedding. We were having breakfast. I was lifting the coffee cup to my mouth - and the doorbell went, and so did the coffee, everywhere, including over the carpet, the tablecloth and my wedding shirt. Sue, the landlady, was sweetness itself; she even accepted another booking from us a year later. And we diverted on the way to the wedding to buy two new shirts (the first didn't match my tie!). And so, today, my apologies to Jane for a rather tedious chore on what's turning out a sunny holiday weekend.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Journalists and the mob

I have a cousin who's a journalist; so I won't speak ill of them as a class. But I'm not sure that quite a lot of them haven't lost a sense of perspective. It's not easy physically handling a newspaper when you have MND; so I depend chiefly on radio and television. And it sounds to me that all that's happening in the world is happening in Westminster or various sporting venues. Take Question Time, for example, the hour's programme where an audience fires questions about topical issues to a panel of politicians, journalists and public figures. Last night it was scheduled for 10.40, but for some reason (!) got moved to prime time 9 pm. Usually the questions, some of which are preselected, cover a range of topics. Last night they were monotonously predictable. Every one was about MPs' expenses, the questions were not wanting answers and after 20 to 30 minutes just repeating points. And I wondered, 'Is no one interested in the "trial" of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma? Or Barack Obama's change of policy of military trials of Guantanamo Bay suspects? Or the Tamil Tigers defeat? Or the offensive against the Taliban in the beautiful Swat Valley? Or the refugees in Sri Lanka or Pakistan? Or Iraq? Or the Gurkhas? Or even the car scrappage scheme?'

It is as if the media want to confine public concern on one spot, like we used to do on a sunny day with a magnifying glass, and then enjoy the conflagration, regardless of the consequences. For me it had added poignancy because I'd just been chatting to someone with a terminal illness for whom just surviving was a struggle. Where is the sense of perspective? So today when I heard Nadine Dorries' blog mentioned at midday as giving a different view about the Telegraph's modus operandi, different from the rather smug account of the deputy editor, Ben Something, in QT last week, I was interested to read it. As my friends will know, I'm not a Tory by inclination, but I recommend a reading of the last few entries of her blog to balance what we've been fed for the past fortnight: . However, looking back over my blog, I suppose I've also fallen prey to the feeding frenzy. Sorry. But praying for rather than sniping at our politicians might achieve more good.

Back to earth

Yesterday I went for my longest drive yet in my trusty electric wheelchair. Mandy and Charles had invited us to lunch at their lovely old mill house on the far side of Grove. Grove is great for wheelchairs, with a lacework of paths and tracks. So it was down to The Bay Tree and then along the brook, through the houses and out to the garage and then to the mill. Charles and Mandy have had a ramp made specially for their 'poustina', the old stable which they've converted into a small retreat by the brook. It's a beautiful peaceful space - or was until I turned up. There's something special about having a meal together with friends, isn't there? The word 'companion' comes from the Latin 'bread together', i.e. someone you share food with. I like that. We eventually sat out in the garden looking down the stream, beautiful. Before long they'll be generating electricity with a turbine in the mill race. How green is my valley! And then it was the return journey, all negotiated safely.

In the evening I found the MNDA chatroom for people with PMA and PLS for the first time. Enjoyed quite a chat with Moira whom I'd met at the Spring conference in Taunton. She's lost the use of her voice; so the internet chatroom is brilliant. We found we had a common acquaintance.

This morning, yet again, the dog began barking when the blackbirds started alarming at 5 am. She's a pain and a pest.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


Actaeon, in Greek mythology, was a great hunter. He was grandson of Cadmus, who I seem to remember founded the city of Thebes. Anyway, the point is he was a huntsman. One day he was out hunting with his hounds in the forest, when he had the misfortune to come on a pool where Artemis, the goddess of hunting (Diana to you and me), was cooling down with her nymphs. Now for a mortal to see a god, or goddess, clothed but much less naked, is not good news. Her nymphs quickly made a scrum round her, but not soon enough for poor old Actaeon. He'd already seen her, and SHE KNEW he'd seen her, and she was not best pleased. In fact she was distinctly disgruntled, and took it out on Actaeon. Artemis and her minions took themselves off, and Actaeon was left to reflect on his fate, and reflect is the word.... He felt a bit peculiar and as he looked into the water he saw that the lovely lady had changed him into a stag, and then, uh-oh, he realised that she had given his hounds the 'tally-ho'. They came crashing through the undergrowth, saliva drooling from their jaws, and saw, oh joy! a stag at bay. They weren't the brightest of mutts. They didn't see their master anywhere, but they did see this rather juicy dinner, and so from all sides they set to. With bared teeth they tore him limb from limb. And so, rather nastily, Actaeon perished at hands, or rather teeth, of those he had cared for and fed for many years. Ovid, the Roman poet, reckoned that Artemis did it because she was jealous of Actaeon's prowess as a hunter and his pride. She felt hunting was her special province. Be that as it may, the outcome was the same.

I was put in mind of Actaeon by events this week in the House of Commons, with the Speaker, Michael Martin's two statements on Monday and Tuesday. What an unedifying spectacle it was! It reminded me of the bloody end of a hunt, with hounds tearing the cornered animal to pieces, while the hunt followers urging them on with voyeuristic excitement. On Tuesday afternoon, in the shortest of statements, Mr Martin announced that he was stepping down for the sake of the unity of the House. Afterwards Mr Punch (aka the Hon D Carswell) gave sanctimonious comments to the media, but enjoyed the limelight like a youngster blooded at his first kill. The hunt-following press were cock-a-hoop at 'this piece of history'. They loved it: another scalp, the biggest yet! But I wondered whether it was more a matter of a Glaswegian shop-steward daring to step into the realms of millionaires and the political élite. Maybe Ovid was right; it was a matter of jealousy. No doubt there was a hope that a big scalp would pacify the anger, not of the gods, but of the mob. It certainly had the feeling of a Westminster lynching.

On the way home today we listened to Prime Minister's Questions, which really had the feeling of the day after a blood-letting. Led by the Prime Minister, member after member paid tribute to Mr Martin, saying how kind he'd been to them and how faithully he'd served the Commons. Even Nick Clegg, Lib Dem leader, who yesterday had been baying for his blood, said what a grand chap he was. It was like Cassius paying tribute to Julius Caesar. The truth is however that Mr Martin's not the problem. Anyway, I must stop showing off my classical education. I'm sounding like the Tsar of London. And I'd rather think about the very pleasant 24 hours I've spent with two lovely people unspoilt by ambition. They're the sort who just quietly have a positive influence on those around them. I guarantee they've never fiddled an expenses claim in their life. There are more of their sort about than you'd think if you believed the news. Funnily enough, they have a connection with Parliament because my father-in-law taught a member of the cabinet all he knew, and may have forgotten, about geography. As you can see, they are still very happy after 61 years of marriage. Think about it.

Devonian diversion

After a bit of a fraught weekend, we’re now down in Sidmouth, at the west end of the Jurassic coast in Devon, staying for a night with Jane’s parents. They’ve just had their central heating replaced. They were married in the post-war period (rationing and all that); and so they’ve been used to making do, and they’ve made do with ‘the most antiquated system’ their gas man had seen for many a long year, made do and shivered in winter. This year he condemned the boiler as unsafe, and a couple of weeks ago they had the whole system replaced. Apart from new radiators you’d not know anything had been done. They’ve completely made good and redecorated through the house. And they’re in their 80s. Respect! So that’s where Jane’s dynamism comes from.

We came via the A303, using the route familiar to us from when we visited my Aunt Susan (the Enigma code buster). It takes you past Stonehenge. It’s an absurd sight, an assortment of rocks, with sightseers circling round at 50 yards distance, but unable to get up close and touch them. What are English Heritage or whoever worried about, I wonder? No one’s going to slip a stone in their anorak pocket and nick it, are they? Billions of sticky fingers would do less damage than the weather. Still if they do want to protect them from human contact, I think they ought to stick up fibre-glass replicas (or reconstituted stone) somewhere nearby, and let people swarm all over them, like at Lascaux where they keep the cave paintings shut up nearly all the time and have replicas open to the public. I really think people are short-changed at Stonehenge at the moment. If you want a prehistoric ‘hands-on’ experience, I recommend Avebury, just up the road.

A few yards beyond Stonehenge on the other side, there’s an encampment of pigs, lots of shelters, a couple of yurts, and pigs happily rootling around in the mud or with their snouts in the trough. Coincidentally, as we’re passing, we’re listening to Radio 5 Live, and there’s the breaking news that the Speaker of the House of Commons is going to announce his resignation at 2.30 in the afternoon. I feel sorry for Mr Martin, because it’s really not his fault that MPs have exploited the allowances’ system. He’s not perfect; so doesn’t fit all the prerequisites of a scapegoat (though come to think of it, I’m not sure he had to be without blemish). But it does seem to me part and parcel of the blame culture which we love to indulge in, to make us feel better about ourselves.

By the way, talking of expenses, when I was training to be a vicar, before we left we had a talk from a clergy tax expert, giving advice to the green curates-to-be. The only bit of his talk I remember was that travel to the supermarket was a legitimate expense, because we were bound to meet parishioners there and have ‘pastoral’ conversations!! I suppose the same could be said of going to your local pub. I never claimed for either. I fell to wondering if bishops claim for their membership of the Athenaeum Club, or members of General Synod for posh hotels and posh meals in London. Fortunately, I’ve not heard too many clergy berating MPs recently. Hopefully we’ve been too busy checking our own expenses and consciences: what’s the phrase – ‘wholly and necessarily incurred in one’s job’?

The trouble with the A303, as against the motorway, is that you can get stuck behind a tractor, which we did before Honiton. Anyhow we made it in good time and then the hardest bit of the journey lay ahead for me, the path. It looks like Great Gable to me. It may not look like it, but it's at least 1 in 3, I'd say. Round the corner there are nine steps to the front door. So in one hand I take my ergonomic walking stick, and hang on to Jane for dear life with the other, and begin the ascent. Fortunately Jane doesn't let go. I’m told I did it in five minutes today, which isn’t bad. Tomorrow, I'll come down in the wheelchair as I find coming down harder and more scary than going up.

Friday, 15 May 2009

A mixed day

Ouch! The doctor phoned the results of my blood tests through this morning. And my chloresterol levels ARE high, not dangerously, but she wants to see me and take my blood pressure. If THAT's high, I am in trouble! Meanwhile, I'm starting a starvation regime - a great shame, because early on an MND nurse told me that patients often lost weight and recommended cream (in moderation), for example, in mashed potato, which seemed great news to me at the time. Heigh ho! Cut out the biscuits. Another snag is that nuts are highly recommended, like walnuts; and the trouble with that is my tendency to choke on bits. That applies to oats as well, which are also good. (By the way, if any of my friends and family are reading this, IF YOU EVER INVITE US TO A MEAL, PLEASE DON'T STINT ON THE CREAM AND THE CHEESE. This is NOT going to stop me enjoying my food!)

Then I had my three-monthly visit to the dental hygenist. I think she could tell I had been making an effort, because she wasn't as severe on me as sometimes. I was interested to read in Richard Coles' blog about his dentist, who would keep him upright and work from in front. There are times when I gag in the dentist's chair. When my MND started, it was really horrible being tilted horizontal with the saliva running to the back of my throat. However they've learned to work in shorter bursts now, which helps. As a reward for good behaviour she gave me two tubes of vile toothpaste, meant to be good for gums but tastes like kaolin morph.

While we were in the Oxford direction, we went and had our (low-fat) lunch with our friend, Shelley. She is one of the nicest people I know and we've been friends with her and Ian for 25 odd years. She introduced us to Bisto, their new young dog. And then it was on to Headington Baptist Church where there was an exhibition in Oxford Art Week, including a sculpture and three paintings by Sarah Lomas, a friend of Jane's. No sooner were we through the door than I was recognised by someone I didn't know, 'I've just finished reading your book this morning!' It was a taste of celebrity. I don't think I handled it very well; I didn't have that slightly disdainful interest. Anyway it turned out we had a number of mutual acquantances. Meanwhile Sarah and another of Jane's friends were there. The paintings by the way were visionary, and the sculpture in Portland stone was great. So all in all an eventful day.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Apologies. I didn't quite get the details of the royal visit right yesterday. 'Informed sources' tell me that Prince William's visit, though reported yesterday, actually took place on Friday. And you may have seen the BBC report says Mrs Marshall didn't ring but wrote a letter to the palace. I'm sure they're right, though I can't for the life of me see why they insist on calling her 'Ms'. She's a great grandmother, for goodness' sake! That's some sort of correctness gone bananas.

Meanwhile, Jane is getting fed up with my listening to the MPs' expenses' row. I don't blame her. So my text for today is Matthew 7 verse 3: ''Why beholdest thou the mote (meaning 'speck of dust' not 'moat', water round a castle) that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam (tree-trunk) that is in thine own eye?' Which is Jesus talking about judging others. Sometimes I think that journalists protest too much, as Hamlet said. So that's it, folks. I'll try and shut up on the subject...!

On a more cheerful subject, the garden has been full of fledged young sparrows, fluttering their wings and making their parents work overtime. So far, none seem to have fallen prey to our local sparrow hawk. Sadly the same can't be said of our goldfish. Not that a sparrow hawk or even a heron has been at them, but unfortunately two of the six have expired for reasons unknown. I must do some research on their behalf.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Royalty next door

Well, he would have been, if we'd still been in Stanford.... In the old vicarage in Stanford, now a residential home called The Grange, lives Mrs Catherine Marshall, aged 109. She's been concerned for some years now that the Queen appears not to have changed her yellow dress on the card she sends Catherine on her birthday. So she rang the Palace to let them know, last year, I believe. Today the Queen's grandson, Prince William, popped in to assure her that another dress was coming up. They chatted among other things about the best way to mash potato. What a turn up for the books!

'We all do it...'

Yesterday we had to get out early. I had at last got round to having a blood test. I'm regularly checked for my valproate (which I take to stop fits) level and liver function. But this one was special. It was a fasting test because I was having my sugar and chloresterol levels checked, which I'd asked for after finding out that two of my brothers had high chloresterol levels. It would be foolish, I thought, to add an avoidable complication to my MND. So the vampire nurse stuck the needle in, while I looked the other way, and extracted two test tubes full of my blood. She's very good, I have to say. And now I wait until Thursday to find out whether I have to give up cakes, croissants and cream and go to a diet of porridge and fruit and veg....

Meanwhile the Parliamentary scandal rumbles on with accounts of swimming pools and country estates. Stephen Fry, the well-known political guru, was interviewed last night and said something like, 'This is all a storm in a teacup. I've done it. You've done it. We all do it (i.e. fiddle our expenses). It's not that important. It really isn't.' In one sense he's right. Politics is about far more important things such as tackling world poverty and injustice, restoring the economy and caring for the vulnerable.... But he's also profoundly wrong. 'Little' things are symptoms of big conditions. So little acts of kindness are signs of a kind heart. And conversely when 'minor' fiddles become accepted as normal, it's a sign that our norm has become crooked. Stephen, not Fry, told me at the weekend that taxi-drivers hand out blank receipts to business clients as a matter of course. The implication is, 'Fill it in yourself, guv, and make a few quid in the process.' In fact, I subsequently learned that they'll hand out a stack of blank receipts. Well, to be blunt, it's not honest. But it's endemic in our culture. And that IS important. A culture that is endemically dishonest contains the seeds of its own self-destruction. I wish that Stephen Fry, without sounding sanctimonious, had said something more like, 'Journalists are the last people who should be throwing stones about fiddling expenses, and neither am I nor most of the population, because we all do it, but we shouldn't; and LET'S CLEAN UP OUR ACT, all us, starting with each of us.'

Monday, 11 May 2009


My friend, Zoe, sent me this interesting donkey link: . As she said, it's not obvious what it means, but it's interesting.

I've just finished Andrew White's latest book, called 'The Vicar of Baghdad. Fighting for Peace in the Middle East' (Monarch, £8.99). It is a fascinating and tantalising book. Fascinating because of its insights into the situations in Gaza and Iraq. Andrew was in Iraq before the war and so is more trusted than most Westerners. Tantalising because of what he can't say. He works in highly sensitive negotiations concerning release of hostages, for example.

His comments about the way we talk about religion (pages 138-9) are, I think, very important. He points out that we use the word, 'extremist', to label someone who takes their religion seriously; the complimentary opposite we call 'moderate'. Actually people who take their faith seriously don't want to be 'moderate' about it. If it's worth believing in, it's worth being passionate about, but that doesn't mean being violent or violating others. So Andrew prefers to talk about 'serious Muslims', and 'serious Christians'. That's a better affirmative term than moderate, which in effect means sharing Western liberal (secular) values.

On a personal level, reading the book gave me pause for thought. Andrew has Multiple Sclerosis which affects him rather like MND affects me, but he is totally committed to his work in Iraq. You get the impression that he will work there until he drops, or until an angel instructs him to stop. And I felt that I had comparatively quickly retired from a far easier job, and wondered whether I'd just given in weakly. Coincidentally interviews for my successor are being held at the end of this week, and so I'm hoping my doubts evaporate when he's appointed.

'Mistakes were made...'

OK. Maybe I was a bit naïve in my last post. However, as the parliamentary expenses/allowances scandal unfolds, that quote from the history of the Jewish kings sounds all the more poignant: 'no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly'. And that was at a time when national life had been rock bottom. And we need to remember that there are some MPs who ARE honourable and haven't got on the gravy train. Charging home improvements and making capital gains does give the appearance of publically funded property development, for private gain. I suppose a committee of the great and the good will be assembled to sort out the mess and restore the honour of the House. The truth of course is that honour is not achieved by the creation of systems or the imposition of rules. It's a matter of the heart. It would be a miracle if we were to see a change of heart in the collective body of the House of Commons, but I've little doubt that as a result of the present furore MPs' salaries will be increased.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


I was very struck by the BBC report of the meeting between Gordon Brown and Joanna Lumley, the TV 'star', the front person for the campaign to allow Gurkha veterans the right to settle in the UK. "I trust him," she said of the PM. "I rely on him and know he has now taken this matter into his own hands." Now she may have been being devious and laying a trap for the PM as cynical hacks took pains to maintain. Two things struck me: one was how unusual it was to hear someone talking about trust in the public sphere. The day before I'd read a bit about the history of Jerusalem, when the king ordered the temple coffers to be opened, and the cash handed over to the workmen "for buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly." And I can't see that being done these days. It would all be accounted, double-checked and audited. Because we don't trust people to deal honestly, we have created a cumbersome system of checks and balances; and it wastes so much time and costs so much money - and even then isn't water-tight. People still fiddle the books.

The second thing that struck me was the culture of cynicism which is fostered in some parts of public life. Mr Cameron says of Mr Brown, with a touch of sarcasm, 'I don't doubt he went into politics with the best of motives...' leaving the unspoken implication, 'but now he's lost them.' Political journalists delight in the conspiracies and plots, and highlight politicians' failures and weaknesses, but are silent about their achievements. We are fed all that's rotten in society and very little of what's wholesome and worth celebrating; and so, oddly enough, we too become cynical and mistrustful.

It's a shame more of us don't say, "I trust him," and mean it. It might even begin to reverse the vicious spiral we have got into.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


There was an ironic, bizarre even, juxtaposition of news items yesterday. There was Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, publishing the names of 16 of the 22 people she's banned from entry into the UK. 'I believe in free speech. I want to defend that, but I don't think that free speech should be a licence to preach or to promote hatred, or to exhort other people to carry out criminal acts,' she said. At the same time we heard that the Australian campaigner for voluntary euthanasia, Dr Nitschke, had been questioned at immigration but ultimately allowed to enter for a series of meetings. Presumably the authorities were checking with the Home Office whether euthanasia or assisting suicide are criminal acts. Last time I heard they were. Seems to be a case of double standards, I'm afraid.

However, I'm not opposed to the debate about euthanasia. It's clearly a hot topic. There is a campaign to legalise it, allied to a movement to legalise assisted suicide for the terminally ill. It seems reasonable to say, 'It's my life, and my choice when to end it.' I spent yesterday talking about it with three severely disabled women in Southwark. All of us were agreed that legalising it would be dangerous and undesirable. Before long you should see the outcome of the day on a DVD from Care Not Killing. They've already made one with doctors talking, which I think people ought to watch before deciding the issue. And I hope that the campaign will fail. Instead let's improve palliative care, caring for the dying.

Monday, 4 May 2009

More friends

Otto and Mirjam catching up with emails
'Golden Rain', overlooking Nürburgring Drive, as I call it. Boy racers seem to regard it as their testing ground especially at anti-social hours of the night. The speed limit is meant to be 30 mph.

We've had our friends, Otto, Mirjam and Anne, staying with us over the weekend. They're from Holland and we met them last year for the first time at New Wine in Somerset, when it rained rather a lot. They came in the middle of the week and sat right in front of us, because Anne, like me, was in a wheelchair. She has had one leg amputated after having bone cancer. She is 17 and has acute special needs, but we got on very well. She loves worship music and even having a prosthesis doesn't stop her dancing. We are delighted because in September they are coming to study in Bristol for a term, so we should see more of them.

We learned from them that the Dutch for Laburnum is Golden Rain, which is rather apt. At the moment, there is a couple of amorous pigeons trying to nest in our laburnum, who have been making a bit of an exhibition of themselves. I think they may have been raided this morning in the early hours, as there was a great hullabaloo in the garden about 4.30. Birds alarm calls all over the place, the dog barking, the whole house woken. In the morning there were strands of laburnum on the grass, signs, I imagine, of a treetop struggle, and today there's no sign of them on their nest.... It's a harsh world out there.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Friends (and foes)

I'm aware that you may get the impression from this blog that having MND is not much more than an inconvenience with a possibly unpleasant end. You need to remember that my variation is Primary Lateral Sclerosis, the sort that affects the upper motor neurons (i.e. in the head, as opposed to the spine, I think), which is one of the slowest types. One person I know who has it reckoned it just prolonged the agony, but the truth is that it also allows you longer to enjoy life. So I'm grateful to a lovely widow who commented on my last but one post, Jane, who provided the link to the blog which she and her husband, Richard, kept in the 21 months between his diagnosis of pulmonary onset ALS and his death. (It's .) That gives you more of a measure of the potency of MND at its most rampant.

Someone else whom I've I had contact with recently is Jerry Lyons. With Del Deanus he's co-writing Del's story. Del was a promising football player with Spurs Youth, and went on to management. A couple of years ago, he was diagnosed with MND, and he's just begun a blog (Visit to read it. But please don't stop reading mine!)

We were a bit worried after my last sunny post, as Jane had seen no sign of our friendly goldfish. We didn't think a heron would have found them that quickly, but feared that some predatory newt lurking in the pond's muddy depths had finished them off, for breakfast, dinner and tea. I know that they have a predilection for tadpoles. Nature can be ruthless. The garden is alive with the sounds of birds, including baby sparrows in the next door garage roof and starlings under our tiles. One morning it was full of alarm calls as the stealth bomber sparrow hawk swooped in on a raid. It was seen off by an angry blackbird, but I fully expect to see an unfortunate ball of feathers seized before my eyes while I sit at the laptop in the dining room one of these days.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. At teatime yesterday Bryan, home to sort out my laptop's airport, inspected the pond carefully and eventually found six happy goldfish. Panic over!