Monday, 29 June 2009

The sublime and the ridiculous

On Saturday night I listened to the third of the Reith Lectures, given by the professor of government at Harvard, Michael Sandel. (Incidentally he's the model of Mr Burns of The Simpsons.) The over-all title is A New Citizenship, and he's looking at whether morality has a place in modern politics, now that religion is unfashionable. Saturday's was about genetic enhancement. He talked about 'the one-sided triumph of wilfulness over giftedness', if I remember right. And I was struck how apposite that was to the suicide debate. It's part of a culture which asserts the supremacy of choice over the fact that life is a gift. Clearly from a Christian perspective there are theological flaws in that view, but he was proposing general moral reasons why it's flawed. It's a symptom of the tendency to resist 'openness to the unbidden'. It will transform three key features of our moral landscape, humility, responsibility and solidarity. Far from choice bringing greater freedom, 'Changing our nature to fit the world is the ultimate in disempowerment'. He advocates the reverse: changing the world. Of course he was talking about liberal eugenics, but I was struck by the transfers to the end of life debate. (Lecture 3, about 20 minutes in.) And his analysis seemed to me to contain profound truths, which are often eclipsed by the more utilitarian arguments. Issues so fundamental, it seems to me, have to be discussed on this sort of level, even though it's not easy to package them for popular consumption - which is why TV sound-bite debate is so inadequate.

This morning Jane rang the wheelchair service about my manual chair. Its footplates keep falling down, which is a real nuisance when I'm trying to get into it, and its handgrips keep slipping off, which means Jane is in danger of losing me going downhill. There used to be a nice local firm, Keeps, which looked after the wheelchairs in Oxfordshire; but last year the Health Trust gave the contract to a London-based firm. Anyway, they were helpful when Jane rang, UNTIL she asked could they give us some idea of the time they might come tomorrow, because it helps plan the day. 'Oh yes, madam, anytime between 8 .30 and 5 pm.' Jane laughed. 'Thank you; most helpful!' It's not often, in our experience, that the NHS fails to live up to the Service part of its name, but this was one occasion.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Al and Ad's animadversions

'Al and Ad' have made a very cogent and thoughtful comment on last Sunday's blog, The Final Result. Al, I suspect, talking from experience in hospitals, makes two major points: 1. That protecting the vulnerable is only achieved by assisted suicide being illegal; and 2. That suicide is a form of murder. Even the terribly ill bear God's image and are therefore valuable. Oddly, some might think, he concedes that 'no Christian would condemn someone who did commit suicide'. Anyway, read his comment for a clearly presented and thoughtful view.

Whether my exchange with Debbie Purdy in tomorrow's Independent will come across as well, I'm not sure. The journalist wanted us to cover a lot of ground and of course they aren't sound-bite issues. Nina Lakhani the journalist did a good balanced job, but in the event, the editor, I think, wanted our exchange shortened by about half, and so although you get more of me than on TV (wouldn't be hard!) you won't get the full discussion, or probably my most important sentence: "Actually I don't find my dignity in fighting MND. I find it in the love I receive from those around me and their valuing me just because I'm me. I don't fear that as I lose control and become more and more dependent that will change. And so it may be hard but it will be all right."

Friday, 26 June 2009

Life and death

Today we've said goodbye to Anthony and Ruth Dunnett of International Health Partners UK (, who have spent the last three nights here while working in their warehouse near Banbury. As a charity they 'partner with companies from across Europe to provide donated medical aid to organisations serving children and adults in the most needy communities'. It means that victims of disasters and war as well as people who have no NHS and no money can have access to the best medicines. It's a major concern, handling £10 millions of medical supplies, and very efficient. Working with NGOs and government departments is complicated hard work - but they're good at it. Acting as a b and b for them has felt like being involved in saving lives in a small way. I should have mentioned that they are parents of our lovely daughter-in-law, Penny, and so we are joint grandparents. We sometimes call them the out-laws and have great fun when we both have days off together!

Meanwhile I'm working on a joint article with Debbie Purdy for 'The Independent on Sunday'. I was really touched to be asked to do it. I'm finding it surprisingly hard, because obviously we have very different views but I really like and respect her. I don't imagine we'll agree, but hopefully we'll inject a bit of first-hand experience into the discussion and maintain our mutual affection!

Last night the news of Michael Jackson's death broke. One of my friends wrote on Facebook something like: 'Hmmm! Last night the BBC interrupted Question Time to announce Michael Jackson's death. Well, I'm sorry he's died, but get a grip...'. I'm inclined to agree, and to wonder whether comparisons with Mozart and Beethoven this morning on Radio 4 weren't a bit OTT. I'm sure he was, as Al Sharpton said, 'a historic figure'; but so are we all. Whether we end up in history's roll of honour only time will tell. I suspect he may not rank with Mozart.... One gathers that he died of a cardiac arrest doing what he was good at and enjoyed - not a bad way to go, really.

Monday, 22 June 2009

More serious reflections

'Death is always tragic,' I said yesterday, and of course it's not true. It isn't always tragic. It's true that the death of the two hostages in Baghdad IS tragic. I had an email yesterday from someone who knew them in Iraq. Yesterday was 'awful', he said. There was so much shared grief over these two young men pointlessly and ruthlessly cut down (one presumes) before their time.

However, in my defence, death is 'the last enemy', and life itself is good. And the taking of life is not. So although it's inevitable, death isn't a positive. It may come as a relief, but that doesn't make it 'good'. It's never appropriate to say, 'Well, it's a GOOD thing THEY died.' It's interesting by the way that the Voluntary Euthanasia Society rebranded itself as Dignity in Dying, and avoids the term 'assisted suicide' preferring 'assisted dying'. On the other side we have Care not Killing, which is trying to make the opposite point. I suppose the implication is that suicide involves intention, and that there is a vital distinction which needs to be preserved. I certainly think that to imply there's no difference between medication intended to relieve pain, albeit shortening life, and medication administered with the intention of ending life is naïve and false.

One thing that Debbie Purdy and I agreed about on Friday was that these are issues which deserve full discussion, in my view fuller than a fag-end of an amendment attached to a bill in the Lords. She felt, I think, that an amendment to provide protection for someone accompanying a loved one to commit suicide abroad was worth having. I feel that this would introduce into British law a principle that isn't there at present. In fact the proposed amendment seems to say that assisting someone to commit suicide abroad should not be treated as 'an act capable of assisting or encouraging suicide'. As Humpty Dumpty said, 'It means what I choose it to mean.'

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The finished result

Well, I thought it was quite the best bit (all seven or eight minutes) of 'The Politics Show' - technically, I mean. Good photography, and nicely put together. The cut and thrust of debate was a bit blunted by my slow speech, but the producer succeeded in pulling out salient points, and making the pictures speak a thousand words. If you want to watch just the bit with Debbie and me, and Jane and Omar, you can find it on : , and then fast forward to 25 minutes in. I'm told Jane and I made a photogenic pair!

The beginning of the show was sad, with the news of the death of two of the Baghdad hostages. We had been hoping for good news. Death is always tragic.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Correction "The Politics Show"

Oh dear, sorry. Tomorrow The Politics Show is on at 11 am NOT midday, as I had assumed. So tune in then, or record it, or watch it on iPlayer, BBC1 at 11 am. It's earlier than usual because of the cars going round and round at Silverstone. I'm sorry to have misinformed you.

I'm quite pleased that a Williams car is 5th on the grid for tomorrow's Grand Prix, by the way. Go, Kazuki. Shame about the LIons. They almost made the most amazing come-back after taking a drubbing in the first half. Given a few more minutes they'd have made it. Next time....

Meeting Debbie Purdy

I think I'm experiencing a sort of post-traumatic stress! Don't you get flashbacks and relive the past? Yesterday we spent a sunny day in Regent's Park. The last time we'd been there was 37 years ago, when Jane and I went to see 'Twelfth Night' in the Open Air Theatre - a romantic tryst, as Gillian commented. This time it was rather different. We were there to meet Debbie Purdy and her husband Omar Puentes on camera, for the BBC. As I've said, it was for the Politics Show on Sunday morning, and the idea was to have us meeting up somewhere to discuss the issue of assisted suicide because it's meant to be debated as an amendment in the Lords next week. I felt that I was a lightweight compared to her, having appeared on TV a lot and honing her arguments in the process, which I've never done, and of course my voice being as it is felt like a handicap.

Anyway meeting her was a pleasant surprise. We were both in wheelchairs, hers electric, mine powered by Jane - which helped. We're both living with 'terminal illness', MS and MND. We both have incredible loving partners. But of course we differ in our views on assisted suicide. She wants the possibility; I don't. She wants someone who assists her (and those like us) to take our own lives to be immune from prosecution. I want that to remain a discretion but not a norm, in order to protect those who might be vulnerable to pressure or persuasion. The producer wanted to see if we could find any common ground.... I'll not spoil her programme by saying whether we did or not!

But at least we didn't come to fisticuffs, and we got on really well, I think. At least I really liked both her and Omar (who has a jazz CD coming out in the autumn, by the way). And we talked away almost non-stop on and off camera, and that's saying something in that we met 12 and parted at 4. I guess she wouldn't mind my saying she talked more than me, but that was mainly an effect of my speech difficulty. She's a really positive person. At one point we talked about faith. She said she didn't have my strong faith. I told her sometimes I hung on by a thread, and actually I didn't think 'religious' faith made pain and dying easier to experience. And I tried to say that everyone has a faith in something; everyone has presuppositions that underlie their opinions. So having a faith doesn't invalidate opinions. We also talked about the sort of society we'd like to see. When I talked about a compassionate one, Debbie questioned whether compassion meant allowing people suffer without a way out.

Anyway the producer, presenter and cameraman were endlessly patient, wanting to get the best out of us and I'm sure wanting to end up with an excellent finished product - which I have no doubt it will be. They had quite a bit to contend with: a curious pigeon, an inquisitive child, theatre noises, missing taxis, a temperamental camera, passing clouds, wind and so on. But they never seemed to lose their cool. They didn't disillusion my impression of Wednesday. Great professionals. For us the bonus was Regents Park itself: there was a beautiful bed of delphiniums and beds of massed roses, and the park itself, all on a beautiful mid-summery day. After a late lunch (4ish!) we were able to wander by ourselves beside the lake through the gardens to the east gate. And happily the journey home took an hour less than coming in, which was amazing for a Friday afternoon. I think we were on the only motorway (M40) which wasn't snarled up a bit or a lot.

It was a good day, all in all, but the only problem was that I spent quite a bit of the night reliving our conversations and thinking what I might have said better. I need to break the traumatic cycle! Fortunately I have a date to watch the Lions v South Africa rugby match with Peter at The Bay Tree this afternoon, which might do the trick.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Thoughtful interlude

Tomorrow we're due to be going up to London to discuss the assisted suicide amendment with Debbie Purdy. She's been a doughty campaigner for legalising it for quite some years now. I don't know if she wanted that option from the moment she was diagnosed with MS. I'll probably find out tomorrow. For me, when I was diagnosed with MND, I didn't think I needed the option and still don't. You can see why the BBC producers thought it would be 'interesting' to put us together! But of course there are wider issues than our personal preferences, as there are amendments being proposed to the Coroners and Justice Bill in the House of Lords next Friday, stepping towards making it legal to assist someone take their own life for compassionate reasons. As I've said, it's a more complex issue than it first appears. Most people apparently think, 'Why not help someone die who's in pain and really wants to? It's their life, after all.' But the state's job is FIRST to protect the vulnerable, such as children. And if my right to choice endangers the rights of others, such as the disabled, the elderly and the chronically ill, then their right to life needs to be protected. At present we have a system where the Director of Public Prosecutions has the discretion whether to prosecute someone, for example, who takes a loved one to Zurich to commit suicide, and in a 100% of those cases has chosen not to, i.e. to temper justice with mercy (as Portia might have put it).

Anyway, that's tomorrow's conversation. But as you'll know from reading my book, I don't pass judgement on those who are in a dark place. How can you? I love Gerard Manley Hopkins' sonnet, 'No worse there is none', written about his desperate depression:
"O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep." Don't underestimate it if you've never been there, hanging over the abyss by your fingernails. (Of course, he says it better.)

Today, by contrast has been a quiet day - the weekly shower, ordering more of my books for my depleted stock, another visit to Zoe at The Mill (where I saw two of the moorhen chicks with one adult - Zoe tells me there are three in all) and now relaxing in the conservatory. A thoughtful interlude.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The BBC arrives

Well, would you believe it? The BBC is here - right now! In sleepy old Grove - except it wasn't all the time when they were interviewing me. For some reason, the council decided to mow the verges right outside our conservatory and the blooming mower went backwards and forwards and the filming had to stop. Anyway it's now rolling again. And if you want to see the result it'll be on The Politics Show (BBC1) on Sunday - just before the Grand Prix. I don't know which will be more exciting. Presumably Button will win - again. The film crew are really nice, Rebecca, Martin and Gillian. And I have to admit they work hard and long hours. I think it's a good use of the licence fee. You might even see the new kitchen in shot - not forgetting Jess the dog.

Oh yes, what are they here for? We're being interviewed about the amendment in the House of Lords about assisted suicide. Lord Falconer's introducing one to legalise accompanying someone to commit assisted suicide abroad. It's not an easy subject! But Jane and I have been extensively interviewed, and Debbie Purdy and her husband Omar are being interviewed tomorrow.

....We were shattered after 3 1/2 hours of filming this morning, and the crew looked quite tired too. But they weren't finished yet. After filming with us they were off to London for another session with a politician or someone. And then the same again in Bradford tomorrow. Back to film in London on Friday, and then presumably putting it all together on Saturday. I'd want a week's holiday after that. Anyway I take my hat off to them. I just wanted to rest this afternoon. But it was a great experience, for which I say thank you.

Meanwhile, don't miss BBC1 Sunday midday for our two minutes of fame, or perhaps notoriety! (And just possibly witness this blog being written!) But seriously the issue is terribly important and sensitive - and it's much more important that we're engaged with that.

Derry put me on to a good article on MND by David Hart, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, businessman and novelist, called 'Despite it all, I feel lucky to be alive'. ( The title says it all really.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Much Talking in the Vale

Yesterday we had a very sociable day. In the morning we met Elizabeth Berner for coffee in Oxford. I never met her late husband, Tim, but wish I had. He also had MND, but had a different attitude from many of us. He disliked the way that MND is demonised and that campaigners play on the idea of victimhood. I must say I share his views, and in fact I owed the last word of my book to a letter of his. The illness is of course awful, but it can be an experience of good things such as beauty and compassion. The light shines in the darkness. That's why it can be redemptive. Time flew as we talked. It was so nice to hear about a man whom I have found an inspiration.

In the afternoon we went back to Stanford in the Vale to visit the annual summer Festival. We thought we'd spend an hour there, but in the end it was more like two and a half. It was non-stop talking of course, and good to meet so many old friends from the village. However I must confess I'm glad to have retired and to know that Dr Tim Rose will be taking over after the summer holidays.

Friday, 12 June 2009


I'm happy to report that there is friendly life in Grove. Well, we knew that already, as our neighbours are still friendly despite building works on and off here, which must have been a tad annoying, and we'd been for lunch with Mandy and Charles in their riverside poustina. But today we went for coffee with Colin and Barbara, whom we'd met at the Vale Elim Church three weeks ago. This was our first social invitation from 'Grovers'. I went in my wheelchair and Jane took my stick so that I could get in. It's a significant landmark, being welcomed into someone's home.

After that we went on to the poustina, where Zoe, a friend from Stanford, who's had severe ME for 19 years, was having a holiday. Zoe and I have quite a bit in common, and so an hour passed quickly. She has come through a lot and remains amazingly positive. Jane came back with the dog to accompany through the village byways.

And so the weekend is here. In Stanford it will be the Festival (where this blog began). However I'm no longer vicar; and so it's over to others. Rumour has it that the new priest in charge and his family may be there. They're in for a treat. Even without the Red Arrows, who were booked in, but just a couple of weeks ago cancelled - something to do with not having enough fuel. Sounds like cuts in the defence budget to me. If MPs can't have moats, then the people can't have fly-pasts. So there!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Television and turtles

Just watching 'Springwatch' and film taken off Aberystwyth, just A FEW MILES north of Aberaeron. Not porpoises, not basking sharks, but a leather back turtle. Huge excitement! Could it have been what I saw off the cliffs by Aberaeron last week? The film certainly looked like what I saw in the distance. I think it might have been. Well, well. And Jane tells me that she saw part of the invasion of Painted Lady butterflies when she was out walking one afternoon on holiday.

This morning I did my interview about assisted suicide here. An early start we had, but Clare, one of the crew, was held up for an hour and a half on the M25, presumably a result of the tube strike. In the meantime John and Matt set up the lights and cameras, and then Clare arrived, and filming began. Talk about stress! I had to think, and try to be coherent - and it was hot in the conservatory under the lights. In the end they took over half an hour's film, of which eight minutes will go into the final DVD - as long as it's good enough. Then they were off to see Mark Hampson, the disabled rugby player.

The post brought the audio version of 'My Donkeybody' which the Torch Trust for the Blind has produced. It's nicely read by one of their volunteers. Sadly, in a way, it's not on general release, but available only to the visually impaired. So if you know someone whose eyesight makes reading impossible, follow the 'Literature' link on their website ( There's an interview with me going out on their programme at 4 pm on Sunday 5th July on Premier Radio.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

A new villain and an old hero

What's happened to Romeo the robin, you may well be wondering. Well, he's gone quiet at night, which I assume means he's happily mated with Juliet and busy with paternal duties. Not that we've seen any young robins in our garden. However, his role as nocturnal persecutor has been taken over by... Brutus the blackbird. I've already mentioned how he woke Jess up early one morning with his alarm call. Well, now he's descended to new depths. He's now taken to doing it regularly. For example, this morning (AT 4 AM, WOULD YOU BELIEVE??) he started off with a sort of half-cock alarm, which was like a dripping tap, poop, poop, poop! And of course Jess went off barking furiously. Jane got up, and told her to be quiet - which she was. Then we nodded off. But Brutus hadn't finished; half an hour later he gave us a full burst of alarm and set Jess off again. Fie on thee, villain!

Now you may think I'm neurotic about these avian 'friends' and haven't learned the lessons of Springwatch. Well, all I can say is, 'Check this out: .' If that's not malice aforethought, I don't know what is. Don't give me any of that territorial behaviour nonsense, Mr Packham. That's sheer malice. I think there's clear evidence of a global conspiracy - and Brutus is part of it.

This afternoon I had my annual visit to my consultant. Dr Donaghy, at the JR. It poured with rain and we had to park in the underground car park. The neuroscience clinics are on the top floor of the West Wing (not in Washington) and we didn't have long to wait. Dr Donaghy is such a nice man. He originally diagnosed my MND. Treats you as an intelligent being. He's very perceptive; checked my spasticity and suggested I try Baclufen to relax my leg muscles. It may turn them to jelly! And it may make me sleepy - in which case I'll stop. He reckons I'm irrepressibly optimistic.... I'm not sure about that but my life is not at all bad.

Tomorrow, I'm being interviewed and filmed for a DVD about assisted suicide. And then, it looks as though you see basking sharks on Springwatch in the evening, if you want to see what the one we saw in Wales was like.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


It's nice to be back home again. The new kitchen is almost finished, and is a distinct improvement on the old one. There are one or tweaks needed, but, as Jane said, having listened to the world news this morning, they really don't matter. That's another thing about being back here: having access to DAB radio and the BBC World Service. I switched to it this morning because I was so fed up with the insularity of domestic radio. On came Shell's court settlement about human rights' abuse in the Niger Delta, a harrowing report of the dire state of terror in Zimababwe (You thought it was all over? Not a bit of it.) and a rather different view of Iran from the politically slanted one we normally hear - a vibrant society where surprisingly 'normal' life goes on. I suppose it was Zimbabwe which really struck home. Oh yes, Gordon Brown's meeting with the PLP got a mention, but it was in perspective. I'm going to listen to more World Service and less UK parochialism, I trust.

By the way, I must congratulate my Dutch friends on their cricket team's victory over England in the 20/20 World Series on Friday. Cricket never struck me as Holland's sport. And on Sunday, Roger Federer achieved his goal of winning all four of the Grand Slam tournaments. I love watching him, because he's such a beautiful stroke-player and so focused, and so emotional when he wins. You know that tennis is more than a profession for him; it's a passion. I think talk of his being 'the greatest of all time' is fairly fatuous. You can't make comparisons from different eras. But it's certainly a pleasure to watch him now.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Life is good even when it's bad (Wales episode 2)

Tuesday : This is Aberaeron. I don't know why I like it so much, but I suspect it's a place where prayer is valid AND for us it's connected with the holiday when Paul proposed to Penny, which I remember as a beautiful sunny family holiday. Anyway that was our Tuesday expedition, west over the hills, through Lampeter and down the Aeron valley to the coast. We parked on a headland south of the town, and while Jane and Jess walked, I sat and enjoyed the seascape. I think it was porpoises we saw (though my cheap binoculars weren't much help). It might have been a whale! No, it wasn't it was a basking shark. I'm sure; they weren't leaping, but the dorsal fin appeared above the shadow now and then. Wow! That is awesome. (Just seen them on 'Springwatch'.) After lunch we drove into town and parked in the shade and went walkabout, ending up by the harbour surrounded by its painted houses (see picture). The observant may notice I have a sweater on my knees: this is not in case it gets cold but to protect them from the sun. A wise precaution, though sadly they hardly betray signs of having seen any sun now. Vanity of vanities.
Wednesday : We headed south, again for the seaside. Sadly, I missed the turn and so sent Jane through the former mining villages behind Llanelli. It wasn't exactly the scenic route, but a bit of history. However we eventually reached Pembury, our destination. Long-term blog-readers may realise that this time I was able to join Jane and Jess on their walk through Pembury Forest, thanks to the wonderful Beamer Tramper which you can prebook and borrow (free) from the visitors' centre. The Tramper is the Land Rover of disabled buggies, which is just as well, since we managed to wander into rutted forest tracks. Half way we had our lunch in the sun by a track passed by joggers, mountain bikers, a dog-walker, and some horse riders. We ended up at the beach, which is vast and sandy, but were too mean to have an ice cream (£1.50 a go). No doubt at weekends and in holidays it's crowded, as there are 8 tarmaced car parks, plus spare grass ones.
Thursday : The forecast said the wall-to-wall sunshine was going to break, and so we'd planned to go somewhere where we could leave Jess in a shaded car park without her being roasted, viz. the National Botanical Gardens. Earlier in the year than our last visit, so different flowers were out, like the bottle brush trees in the Norman Foster glasshouse. It's a great place for disabled access, and also for fluffy birds like Romeo the robin with their authentic calls. I and another bloke had great fun in the gift shop, prodding them all and trying out all the calls. We must have sent the assistants spare. We had our meal out for the week in the outdoor café - which reminded me of France - formidable. And as you can see, the sun still shone.
Friday : Well, the weather did begin to break today and from that point of view I made the wrong choice in heading north rather towards the coast again. However it didn't rain, much, except when we were having lunch in the car. We hadn't taken waterproofs with us; so it looked as if Jane would get soaked walking the dog. However we were in the woods near Beulah just north of the home of bog-snorkelling and Jane bravely reckoned that the trees would provide some shelter and off she strode into the wilderness. On this occasion the sun shone on the righteous, and after an exhilarating climb through the forest she returned. As a reward I treated her to coffee and cake in the Coed Tallwm Forest Centre in whose car park we had parked. As you can see, it has disabled access and facilities as well as a warm welcome from the host who also owns the surrounding woodland. It's an undiscovered treasure, which deserves to be better known (OS878542; On our way back via Abergeswyn we saw a blue haze on the hillsides, which turned out to be masses of bluebells among the bracken shoots - amazing. And so back to the cottage and our last session of 'Poldark', which we'd begun to watch. Thanks, Ruth and Anthony, for the loan. As well as the romance and Cornish scenery, it's a tale of vicious commercial rivalry, which made me wonder whether the business world is still as unpleasant as that. Maybe 'The Apprentice' confirms that it is.
It really rained on Saturday, but not before Jane had packed the car. And so ended a thoroughly good holiday. Thanks, Jane, for taking me to lovely places. Thank you, God, for amazing scenery and great weather (this year). I really appreciated it.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Welsh retreat

Well, it wasn't thunderstorms! Far from it. Except on the last night when there was an earthquake not so far away in Port Talbot (3 on the Richter scale) - not that it disturbed our sleep! So for a quick update of our doings last week, when it was rather hot, you may remember, climatically, I mean, rather than politically. (I rationed my intake of news severely, as I'd had a surfeit of bile.)
Saturday : We travelled in mediterranean temperatures, having lunch by the Brecon/Monmouth canal, and arriving to a right royal welcome, tea, bara brith, vases of flowers and wine in the fridge. The important thing about this cottage, besides the hospitable hosts, Kenneth and Gill, is it is disabled friendly. Lots of room and a wet room. And it has a lovely view of the River Towey (Afon Tywi) to the Black Mountain (see above). Being Wales, the main sport interest on TV was rugby and we just caught the end of Britain's got Talent, when the dance group Diversity won, while Susan Boyle received rather patronising comments from the judges, half excusing the media persecution she'd received during the week. No wonder she had a nervous collapse afterwards.

Sunday : got up early to go to church in Llandovery, parked the car down the road in the shade for the dog, extracted the wheelchair, and then Jane pushed me all the way back only to discover that the service wasn't at the usual time because it was the fifth Sunday. Of course!! Five of us in all trailed away, disappointed. We decided not to wait an hour and find 'the other' church where there'd be a united service in Welsh... and so drove the scenic route back to the cottage, where we spent the rest of the day enjoying the sun. I began to read 'Vanity Fair' while Jane took Jess for a walk. As Jess relaxed in the shade of the house, a red kite swooped low and circled. I whipped out my mobile phone and put it on to video, but I never got the unique footage of a dog being seized and carried off into the sky. Presumably the kite realised Jess wasnn't dead meat. We even missed Songs of Praise, which was a shame, as it was Pentecost Sunday which I think is one of the most exciting Sundays in the year.

Monday : more sunshine, and we went exploring in the Usk Reservoir area. It was new to us. Sadly the picnic places I'd identified had no shade and were inaccessible by wheelchair anyway. But on the way we did see an extraordinary sight - completely pink sheep, almost flourescent pink, not just one or two, but hundreds. They clearly hadn't just been marked by the rams, because it was ALL over. Perhaps it was an experiment in ready-dyed fleeces.... Eventually we found a promising place at the edge of a Forestry Commission wood, where there was shade and sun, as well as footpaths. While we were eating an open top veteran car rolled up. It turned to be an Alvis, one of 20 (1926-32 era) apparently that were touring in the area. I thought too late about taking a photo, but we saw a number rattle over the cattle-grid and pull away up the hill. But I did take one of Jane and Jess after their walk. On our way back home, we saw several red kites circling near the road and realised we were right by the Black Mountain 'feeding station', about 15 minutes after they'd finished. Aptly it's next to a pub painted blood red. Coincidentally 'Springwatch' showed another feeding station that evening.