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September 2014

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Image by Andy Dawson Reid“I was pirouette and flourish,
I was filigree and flame.
How could I count my blessings
when I didn’t know their names?”

Rita Dove ‘On the Bus With Rosa Parks’

We who are the fortunate ones should by now know most intimately the names of our blessings and thus meet no such challenges in the area of numeracy. Our blessings are counted daily and grateful thanks are offered to our gods – whatever form they may take.

This week brings yet another such benediction. We have to be at work for only three of its working days!

Yippee!

On Thursday it is the Kickass Canada Girl’s birthday and – as is our wont – we will be celebrating in some style. We escape in the morning to that favourite haunt of ours – the lovely Georgian city of Bath. Owing to a turn of outrageously good fortune I am in grateful possession of a gift voucher for the night at an extremely prestigious spa hotel, to which we will repair forthwith. Spa treatments for the Girl and extended exposure to sauna and steam rooms for me will be followed by a splendid repast at the hotel’s Michelin-starred eatery – and all as a result of a favour that I did for someone. Truly what goes around comes around.

Sadly we could not afford to extend our stay at this pleasure dome to a second night, and Friday thus finds us downgrading to a rather more humble hostelry. We should not complain though, as this one also has a pretty decent restaurant. We will not be able to tarry in any case as we must make our way over to the Recreation Ground – being lucky possessors of tickets for the Bath/Saracens game on the Friday evening. Those who follow such things will know that the top of the table in this year’s rugby premiership is currently fairly tight, and that as a result this particular clash carries great import.

Saturday will – the Girl assures me – be given over to shopping. There is the small matter of a birthday gift to be purchased, in the form – most likely – of a new outfit. I wouldn’t want to give too much away – however – so we will have to see what transpires.

We are very aware that we are extremely lucky souls and we are filled with gratitude for all of the wonderful gifts that are bestowed upon us. It behoves us not to take these things for granted – and we will do our darnedest so not to do.

Blessings, blessings, blessings…

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidBitter:

Some things are just very sad…

I have mentioned in these dispatches on numerous occasions this particular of the lovely ‘ladies’ by which my life has been blessed. I refer, of course, to Pearl – my beloved Mercedes 300SL – which may be observed here posing decorously on the Cote D’Azur a couple of years back.

No point in beating about the bush. This is a sad occasion. She and I have finally had to go our separate ways.

I have owned the car for more than a decade. In that time we have traveled extensively together. We have toured on the continent. We have driven through the street of Paris and London on summer nights with the top down. We have posed together outside stately homes. She bore the Kickass Canada Girl and I up to the English Lake District on our first major adventure together. She has been an utterly constant and reliable companion.

I always knew that we could not take the SL to Canada, and that she would have to be sold. It was just a question of timing. In the end – because we don’t know how the early part of next year will pan out – I decided that I should try to sell her this autumn. An advert was placed – there was much interest and she went very quickly. I can’t say I am surprised…

Just sad…

Pearl has gone to a firm that restores and deals in classic cars. She will there receive much needed care and attention before finding her way to a new and grateful owner.

Sweet:

The only possible way to consider this turn of events without getting depressed about it is to tell myself that such things represent forward movement towards our ultimate goal – our dream of retiring to BC. The monies realized will be put towards those ‘toys’ without which it seems not possible to truly enjoy the Canadian outdoor experience – the 4×4 – the trailer – the boat…

When other items on the programme are dragging their heels and taking their sweet time it is good to get a sense of things actually being accomplished – of progress being made – and we are grateful for that.

I am also very glad that the Merc will go to a good home.

You might – of course – be feeling slightly nauseous by this point – wondering how such a fuss can be made about an expensive and out-dated mode of transport. Well – if you get it – good for you – and if you don’t – then I guess you don’t… Personally I would much rather experience such enthusiasms and emotions (even should the object of them be inanimate) than not do so.

But that’s just me…

 

DSCF0501

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Bake on

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThose souls who reside in the United Kingdom and who still consume the products of the organisations both private and public that engage – for better or worse – in the televisual arts, will have been unable to avoid over the last year or so the nationwide enthusiasm for the category of comestible cookery that utilises prolonged dry heat by convection rather than by radiation… known more commonly as baking!

I refer – of course – to the ‘Great British Bake Off’.

The Kickass Canada Girl is a fan. I don’t mind it being on in the background. The recent ructions on the show – which need not detain us here – have done little to impinge on its overall veneer of gentle British whimsy which has proved for many a welcome corrective to the endless diet of so-called ‘reality’ shows.

Naturally, our broadcasting and other media corporations – never known to go easy on an expiring equine – have parachuted aboard the passing bandwagon and all things bakery related have now been hailed as the best thing since – er – sliced bread!

Thus is was that I found myself on a recent Saturday morning listening to one of those Radio 4 (a sort of talk radio, for north American readers) programmes that is a miscellanea of items comprising in the main interviews with interestingly ‘normal’ people (sometimes in extraordinary circumstances but just as frequently not so) only to discover that this particular episode had a ‘baking’ theme.

One interviewee in particular caught my ear. Louise Johncox – a journalist who writes for publications such as The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian – comes from a long line of bakers and confectioners. Her father ran a tea shop for more than forty years in the Home Counties and she grew up surrounded by the smells and tastes of fresh-baked bread, cakes and patisserie.

The object of Mrs Johncox’s appearance on the radio was to promote a book that she has recently had published. The Baker’s Daughter is a charming cross between a memoir and a recipe book. Mrs Johncox speaks well and passionately on the subject and has a clear love of all things related to the baker’s art.

Given my ambivalence on the subject you might be surprised that I am expending precious words on it. Well – as you might have guessed by now – there is a hook. Mrs Johncox’s father’s tea shop – Peter’s, Weybridge Ltd – was located in the small Surrey town in which I grew up.

Peter Johncox and his wife Frankie moved to Weybridge in the spring of 1960 – in the same year as did my parents! I was six at the time and I remember this delightful emporium existing virtually unchanged throughout my adolescent years. Peter’s was famous amongst other things for its Welsh Rarebit which I swear – no doubt erroneously – that I can still remember. The recipe for this treat is – fortunately – included in the book. The tea shop stayed open until after the turn of the millennium, by which point Peter Johncox had become too old and infirm to continue its management.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWhat really took me by surprise – as I listened to Mrs Johncox’s reminiscences on the radio – was just how teary I found myself all of a sudden. My mother never drove a car and thus could for many years be seen trundling her shopping bag on wheels the mile or so from our house down to the centre of town to do the shopping. Once all had been crossed from her list she would repair to Peter’s for a much need cup of tea and – mayhap – a sweet treat – as a means of recharging the batteries for the fully laden return trip up the hill!

My mother died in 2010 – a mere two years before Peter Johncox. Peter’s – as with so many other such familiars – is long gone, and I rarely now find myself with a reason to visit Weybridge.

The book is a delight – both as a culinary treat and as a reminiscence of times past. I thoroughly recommend it.

 

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Photo by W. L. Tarbert on Wikimedia CommonsI have – to this point – made no comment on this blog or anywhere else regarding the recent campaign which culminated in yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence.

I am a Scot by (slightly remote) ancestry. Though I have never lived in Scotland I know parts of the country pretty well. I was rightly not entitled to vote in the referendum and therefore thought it appropriate to maintain a dignified distance and to say nowt!

I know that the nationalists will be hugely disappointed by this morning’s results. I really do believe – however – that the outcome will in the long run prove to have been for the best for of all of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

What has been fascinating has been to observe how the referendum has re-invigorated political debate in Scotland. The Scots have given the rest of us an object lesson in how to address, debate and resolve complex issues. They have done so in the main in spite of the blandishments of the politicians rather than because of them. Voting has quite clearly not split on party lines but rather with disregard for them.

The fact that the turnout was more than 84% – from the massive 97% of the population that had registered to vote – is truly staggering – particularly given that disenchantment with the political process has over recent years become endemic throughout these blessed isles. The Scots showed the rest of us how to energise an issue – how to take debate away from the political elites and to return it to the drawing rooms and kitchens – to the bars and cafes – to the street corner and to the garden fence!

The challenge for the political classes now is to work out out how to enthuse voters throughout the UK with similar passion, enthusiasm and commitment for the regular electoral process. Perhaps the now almost inevitable movement towards a federal framework for this patchwork nation will have the desired effect? Perhaps a re-focusing away from the whims and fancies of the 1% would help? Perhaps a determined ambition to renounce cynicism and self-interest would do the trick? Who knows…

In any event, it is good to see the Scots – as so often in the past – showing the rest of us the way. This evening I will – I believe – raise a glass of good cheer to them…

Here’s tae us, wha’s like us? Damned few an’ they’re a’ deid.

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Saturday last saw the final match of the season for the itinerant band of cricketing misfits for whom I still – on occasion – turn out. The fixture took place in a gloriously bosky setting in the Surrey hills, at a venue which – though I have long known of it – I have never previously visited.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe ground at Holmbury St. Mary is the highest in the south of England and is reached by means of an unmade and deeply rutted track that might feel more familiar to residents of the Canadian wilds than it does to the natives here.

The track up Holmbury Hill is – however – considered a great improvement from the early days of the club, when all concerned had to trek up a narrow path carrying all of the required gear and equipment – not to mention foodstuffs and water, of which there was at the time no supply on site. At the end of the day – of course – everything had also to be laboriously carried by the weary contestants back down the hill to the village.

It struck me – as I journeyed hence – that the occasion might actually represent for me rather more than just the end of another season. It is quite likely that I will not get to play any cricket at all next year, since I anticipate that the preparations for our move to Canada – not to mention the event itself – will occupy much of our time and efforts during the temperate months.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidBy the time we are suitably established in BC I will be sixty two years old and somewhat long in the tooth for this sort of carry on. I have written previously concerning the cricketing scene in Victoria – the which would seem to be in good health – but I doubt that it will prove a broad enough church to provide a haven for a geriatric veteran of dubious ability such as myself.

If indeed that turns out to be the case then my cricketing days are over and I will have played my last match.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI came late to the game – having effectively given up on it (as a participant – not as an enthusiast!) subsequent to my notably undistinguished career at school. I took it up again in my mid 40s at a time when I was re-evaluating many things in my life and have played consistently since. Though never achieving my fondly held ambition of scoring a fifty I have nonetheless derived a great deal of pleasure from the game – not least from some of the characters that I have encountered and from the wonderful mise en scènes in which the sporting drama is frequently enacted.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPerhaps – now that so many more things in our lives are changing – it might indeed be time to call it a day. Who can tell?

If this does turn out to be the case then this particular game was sadly not (the sylvan setting aside) one which by which I would have hoped my egress would be marked. We had not played the opposing side before (themselves also a wandering side) and it turned out to be a dramatic mismatch.  Having humiliated us in short order – and presumably not feeling that they had had their money’s worth – they insisted that we stay on for a further 20/20 game… so that they could crush us all over again!

I – for one – did not stay on for the beers!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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(With apologies to Angela Carter!)

Whilst whiling away some sun-filled moments on the boundary last weekend – during the penultimate cricket match of the season – I became aware that I was surrounded by the results either of some over-enthusiastic avian preening or mayhap – and on a darker note – of some nocturnal vulpine carnage.

Either way a photographic study seemed to be called for:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

 

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Image from PixabayIt is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.
Charles Spurgeon

Last Sunday’s Observer newspaper contained an item on the emerging field of ‘happiness studies’. I kid you not! And when it comes down to it – given the current state of this terrene body – who could argue that anything that leads to an increase in happiness be anything but a good thing?

One of the subjects of the article was a study by two American professors – Amit Bhattacharjee and Cassie Mogilner – a prominent finding of which was that the older people get, the more content they are with ‘ordinary’ experiences. “In fact” – the piece proclaims  – “the potential to be content with everyday pursuits eventually grows equal to exotic trips or pricey restaurant meals.

Whilst I would not claim to have quite reached this point – my fondness for the delights of  Epicurus being yet strong – I am becoming aware as I age of a significant re-orientation in this general direction. I now discover much pleasure in really quite simple things.

When I was young I quite naturally burned with the desire to achieve things – to become ‘someone’ – to make some kind of mark. Though not, perhaps, particularly ambitious in the conventional way, I really was quite desperate to be taken seriously – certainly in artistic and creative terms but also in my chosen career – or, should I say, in the career that had apparently chosen me. I obviously required considerable levels of validation – of affirmation – from others if I was to achieve a sufficient degree of self-esteem that I felt comfortable about my place in the world.

This restlessness must have made me quite a difficult person to live with – or even to be around – and I should perhaps offer my apologies to those that had to endure it. Youth – as Shaw has it – is indeed sometimes wasted on the young!

Though much has since changed, this is surely not merely a case of all passion being spent. The passion is rather now considerably more focused than once it was – such being essential when one must work with a more circumscribed supply of energy and life-force.

We are, as a species, by our nature hungry for knowledge and imbued with the desire to create. The path to happiness – as has been pointed out by many more learned than I – lies in the adoption of ‘projects’ that allow us to exercise these basic needs – but with the proviso that we must be able to set achievable targets by which our progress may be measured. If we have either taken on too much and are unsuccessful in our endeavors – or have not challenged ourselves sufficiently – the outcome is unhappiness…

As we advance in years and – hopefully – in wisdom, this careful balancing act requires finer and finer control. If we are fortunate we will by this point have acquired the skills through which successful outcomes may be achieved.

You will have noticed that this brief discourse on happiness makes no mention of love. This is not because I consider this fundamental to be unimportant – or even worse, antithetical – to happiness, but more because its very great import means that it must needs have a forum of its own.

Happy days!

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Image by Andy Dawson Reid

…things will be different!

 

Einstein had it right with this incontrovertible aphorism:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

It is widely acknowledged throughout the circle of my acquaintance that I habitually suffer a not inconsiderable degree of discomfort at this calendrical juncture. This has – of course – much to do with the onset of the new academic year (and with all that that implies) – not to mention the increasing impingement of that which is – by me at any rate – the least favoured of the seasons.

Proof of this sad state of affairs can be educed from my postings from around this time over the past several years, such as this, this  and even this – although I feel sure that you have far better things to do with your time than to subject yourself to my historical moans and grumbles.

Recent levels of stress emanating from my place of employ suggest that this year will be little different. There are reasons – however – to hope for an alternative outcome – that this time things will indeed be different.

Two years ago – in a somewhat precipitate post – I rashly announced that I was about to embark upon my last year at work before retirement. The gods – naturally – wasted little time in punishing me for this hubris and – as you are doubtless aware – I am still here…

Well – I now grit my teeth – gird my loins – summon up my courage – and make the same pronouncement again… this time with nobs on! I am contemplating several possible scenarios. The worst case has me retiring at the end of the summer term next year. The most optimistic has me packing my bags and waving good-bye in January. The intermediate options might involve working a reduced week in the new year to see me through. Negotiations with my employers commence almost immediately.

The Kickass Canada Girl is – at the same time – examining her possible courses of action. She would also love to slow down. One thing of which we are certain is that – once we have sold our UK property – there is very little to hold us here. Our retirement projections – though of course flexible – are all predicated on a start date of January 1st 2015.

Now – this is clearly a much more positive and realistic declaration than that which I made two years ago. This – of course – simply reflects just how much water has flowed under the bridge since then.

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