Monday, 11 April 2011

A tale of three parts

Snake's-head fritillary near our safe house
"Gallia est omnis divisa in tres partes" (All Gaul is divided into three parts). I'm glad to say my last week had nothing in common with Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars, except falling into three parts. These may conveniently be labelled the shires of Devon, Cambridge, and Oxford.
The stream in the valley

Part 1 - Devon.
Returned to our remote 'safe house' where we chilled out, enjoyed the neighbouring walks (Jane and Jess) and the views (Jane and me). Among other things the farm has wild flower meadows, enjoyed by the local bees and containing flowers as common as violets and unusual as snake's head fritillaries.
One of the two beehives

Budleigh Salterton front from the hill
As well as visiting Jane's parents, we spent most of Wednesday exploring down and up the Otter Trail (from Otterton to Budleigh Salterton). Bit of a facer there :-( . The public toilets at the east of the prom were being refurbished, and I'm sure they'll look very nice soon, but there was no notice of apology or indication where the nearest ones might be. We asked one workman. He wasn't local, so he shouted to his mate on the roof. "Where's the next loos? These folk is desperate." (Not really.) "800 yards along the front, up there!" He omitted to tell us one vital fact....
Man from Mars (note the aerials)

Very pleasant it was, sitting in the wheelchair, with the sound of the waves on the shingle and the cry of the gulls, and the sun shining on the lee of the cliff. Jane however had to push me. And it's not a gentle incline at the western end. In fact as the metres extended to kilometres, the lady we asked suggested we go through the village "as the slope's easier". I'm sure she was right but navigating a street with a wheelchair and a dog put us off, and Jane opted for the one in five hill. Undefeated, we reached our destination. The Gents had metal security gates and steps leading down out of sight. So round the corner in search of the Disabled. Nothing - just Ladies, with again a turnstile arrangement and steps down. Well, Jane availed herself, before pushing me back more than mile to the car - to be greeted by a couple of swallows. "Summer is a-cumen in" - I couldn't remember whether it's one swallow or two that don't make a summer. Whatever - it was a thoroughly summery day, topped off by a shared cream tea at Otterton Mill with its very friendly and obliging staff - including access to limited but adequate disabled facilities.
One obliging swallow
We had to come home on Thursday afternoon to be ready for Part 2, and so Part 1 ended with a relaxing morning and lunch at the cottage, disturbed only by a helicopter inspecting power lines.

Part 2 - Cambridge
Ridley's Walk (or Dewey's, for our generation)
It's 40 years since I left Cambridge. Consequently my old college, Pembroke, invited me to a Feast, along with my contemporaries, of course. A feast is not much good for me, trying to eat and mumbling to make myself understood against a background of decreasingly intelligent chatter, but an opportunity to see my long-lost (and highly intelligent) buddies seemed too good to be missed. So we arranged to go to tea first, to stay overnight and to have breakfast, and hope to see friends at greater leisure. And it worked well, with the bonus of a quiet meal with our good friends, Nic and Martin, with young daughter Hannah near Huntingdon.

The Guest Dormitory M4a
Our guest room had the advantage of being very conveniently situated, even if it looked as though it was awaiting the final phase of college modernisation. The weather of course was perfect - clear skies, blossom out... completing the illusion that student-life was one blissful summer. Sadly, again, we had to tear ourselves away from the realms of nostalgia to return to an altogether inferior place, the Holiday Inn in Oxford.

Part 3 - Oxford
Matt Jones & Team Diddy present £5100+
We were heading for the local MNDA Branch AGM, and considering the time we left Cambridge were creditably on time. There were the usual reports and elections. Perhaps the most significant fact I picked up was that expenditure was 30+% above income - of course need for help for MND patients never diminishes and demand is constantly being renewed. Although the MNDA has a very committed support base, clearly the squeeze affects its income as much as the next charity.

During the lunch break Tracy the MND Centre's speech therapist showed me the programmes for iPads, iPods and iPads for synthesising speech, as well as the different controls and speakers you can use. Unlike the old systems you can get English voices (and even Aussie), not just American, and they're much cheaper than the old market leading Lightwriter. I don't absolutely need one yet, but I can foresee it being a useful technology.

Kirstine Knox waiting (Colin Blakemore lt)
Then, after some technical projection problems, we had the MNDA's big boss, Kirstine Knox, talking about the scope and future of the association. She sent her young daughter fast asleep, but the rest of us were quite interested!

Glad to be home!
When we returned home, there were two NHS letters awaiting me: one from my consultant, Dr Donaghy, telling us he was retiring before my next appointment. It's a bit of a blow, because, as you know, I liked and trusted him a lot. However, he is handing me on to Prof Talbot who runs the MND Centre, and is also an exceedingly nice man. The other I though would be from the hospital summoning me to have my tooth removed, but no, it was from Didcot Dental Clinic summoning me for a full assessment at the end of the month. When Jane queried it by phone, she was told the waiting list at the hospital was "sometimes over a year" and that a specialist dentist would be seeing if something could be done in the clinic instead, and no, they wouldn't do treatment then.... Hmm. Is this the beginning of decay in NHS provision, I wonder.


  1. So I needn't have worried after all!

  2. What brilliant adventures you've been having Grandpa...and well done Granny for pushing you up such a steep slope! Lucy, Faith and I walked around the Great Orme on was a long 5 miles, but the ice cream half way round helped! Sending much love, Charis

  3. Elizabeth Jones11 April 2011 at 23:11

    So glad you and Jane enjoyed your 'expedition'.. Apart from the 'hiccup' with conveniences, sounds like all went well. Looks like you had nice weather. Love your dog and the hyacinths - gorgeous. I was saddened to hear your MNDA report re outgoings being 30% over income...:(
    Take care Michael. By the way I have been doing lots of work on my book...Yeh...!
    Love and Blessings to you and Jane, Liz xoxo