Tribute from Dan’s friends

Hours after Deb informed Brent Council of Dan’s death the tributes have been flooding in on Facebook.  It makes me proud and happy he was held in such affection and esteem by his friends, mainly in the Labour Party. And I am glad there has been recognition for his many positive virtues. If he could see this he could rightly recognise that he had left  a worthy legacy.

Here are some of the extracts, in no particular order:

a kinder more decent man you couldn’t wish for

such a fantastic gent.

dedicated public service and socialist historian who had time for everybody

wit, intelligence and humour.

Also fondly remembered as a Councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham and staunch campaigner for Charing Cross Hospital.

huge loss to the Labour Party

A good bloke and fine intellect to match.

such a decent guy

despite different political backgrounds, shared many views about social and welfare issues then and now. Dan will be missed by all those whose lives he touched with humour and humanity.

Today Brent Labour lost its most decent, its most honourable, its most knowledgable councillor.

RIP Dan. We will make you proud.

Dan Filson? Bloody hell. I met him at Conference after his barn storming speech.

This is really sad,what a political colossus that man was.

Impossible to replace.

I can’t really take it in. Only this week he was badgering me about Scrutiny. He was working his socks off to the last.

A giant in every sense of the word. More of us should be as diligent and hard – working for our local community.

Just a decent, kind, principled man

Makes you realise how short life is and so few us make a lasting impact. Dan won’t be forgotten.

We all owe it to him to be more like him. I’ll try to spend what time I have left as a councillor living up to his rigour, his courage and his pursuit of fairness.

If I end up half the man or councillor he was, I will have outdone myself.

Deeply saddened to learn of the news of Dan’s passing. A dedicated Councillor and kind hearted man.

I can’t believe the tragic news today. My friend, co-councillor and mentor has passed away.

What a decent and amusing man. The party will be a poorer without him.

 

My brother Daniel

Daniel died this week.  He was living in my sister Deborah’s house, and she found him last night.  I feel bad because she is having to cope alone (although I have called friends), as I am still recovering from flu/bronchitis.

I feel bad also because my relations with Dan (as he preferred to be called in later years) were not easy.  I was the hypercritical big sister.  I had invited Deb and Dan to come for Christmas and – if he had succeeded in getting a new birth certificate and then passport in time – this was going to be an attempt to build bridges.  It’s now too late.

Dan has never been easy.  He was an awkward, solitary boy.  Very clever, but without friends at school.  Perhaps the other boys suspected his latent homosexuality; at any rate they certainly sensed his vulnerability and he suffered from bullying when he moved from the local primary school to KCS Wimbledon. He gradually moved down from the class preparing boys for Oxbridge etc and appeared to consciously opt out of achieving, with increased absenteeism.

At home he was equally isolated, and prone to difficult tantrums.  I was nearly five years older and paid him little attention. Deborah was only 18 months older than him and they were close as small children. She has remained his kindest relative.  Dad and he were not on good terms (perhaps exacerbated by the latent homophobia of men of his class and generation) and Mum tended to over-protect him.

At UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) he had a miserable first year isolated in digs and culminating in a breakdown, but then seems to have found what was to be his lifelong source of equilibrium : politics.

He joined the Liberal Party and became active in student politics, ending up taking a sabbatical while he was President of the Student Union – and then dropped out of university just before taking finals.

What a sad waste of a clever boy.  Amazingly he again found a niche which suited him: he joined Inland Revenue at the school leaver level and remained there most of his working life. He actually enjoyed the detail and complexity of tax and believed in its value.

What later prevented him being promoted to where he should have been in Inland Revenue was his growing political activity, now in the Labour Party. Living in a flat in Shepherds Bush most of his adult life, he was elected to Hammersmith Council and in 1992 became Mayor.  He nearly broke Mum’s heart when he said to her: “Dad would have been proud of me now, wouldn’t he?”

He had lived for so long with this sense of failure (it didn’t help having a father and two sisters who went to Oxford) and being dominated by the women of the family.  At last he had something to give him a sense of pride and achievement.  And by all accounts he was a good and caring councillor and mayor.

Hammersmith swung over to the Tories and Dan lost his seat.  That did not stop him caring about the borough and fulminating in particular over the council’s disposal of housing stock. But there is no doubt that this, together with the death of Mum in 1997, helped set him adrift again.

Never a good manager of money (like me!), he seems to have gone on a spending spree on receiving his share of money after Mum died.  He and Ken, his close friend (partner?) for nearly 20 years until Ken’s death in 2011, rented a luxury flat while his flat was ostensibly going to be repaired (never done), bought a car and went on foreign holidays.  He was not helped by Inland Revenue reneging on its promise to revert to full-time employment once he stopped being mayor.

In brief the last 15 years of Dan’s personal and family life have been a sad downwards spiral and he mysteriously ended up with no money, no home and disappearance of his share of family possessions like the silver.  Despite his lifestyle and lower income we still cannot work out how he got through so much money.  At the same time his health deteriorated, with ropey arteries, stents which were now failing,  gammy knees and his only functioning eye not in good shape.  And since Ken’s death he has been pretty miserable.

When things came to a crisis a few years ago and he faced homelessness, Deborah took him in and it was soon clear he was no longer looking elsewhere for a home.  It has been hard on both of them, with Dan preferring a comfortable life style (with things like central heating), while Deb’s idiosyncratic life style is definitely more spartan!

Ironically Dan’s arrival in Kensal Rise gave him a new purpose in life: he joined the local Labour Party, was elected as councillor to Brent Council and had recently been appointed Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee – a sort of local Margaret Hodge.  His experience and abilities were clearly finding new outlets and recognition.  He even appeared on telly this autumn, making a speech at the Labour Annual Conference! So in this other, public, life, Dan has been flourishing.  And all power to him, he achieved this in little more than two years

What was intended to be a couple of paragraphs has ended with me reflecting on Daniel’s life, with many regrets and a sense of personal guilt that I was part of the problem and not part of the comfort to him.  He was an odd throwback to a previous era in dress and behaviour and could be particularly crass at conversation in family situations.   But we should have done more for him, somehow.

Episode Cévenol

My brother in law, Peter, is here and the weather is foul.

A week ago we were having fine autumnal weather, good for walks and lunches outside.  Then, red skies in the morning, and last week, all the locals were forecasting almost with glee that we would have an épisode cévenol – a period of relentless, torrential rain.  ‘Cévenol’ because the wind is coming from the south, from the Mediterranean, when it comes up against the hills and mountains of the Cévennes.

Yesterday was a complete washout and today the approaching thunder and lightning mean that there is no longer any internet connection and I’m writing this offline.

Its such a pity as within one week the colours have turned to their most glorious autumnal hues, despite the heavy rain.  But we are about to have a day of wind and I fear the leaves will fall.

Flu

Pah, I’ve got flu!  I was having lunch with a friend on Saturday, started the meal OK, then started sneezing, thought I had a cold coming.  By the time I got home it was the full works – blocked nose, sneezing, headache, shivery, aching limbs, temperature….

I watched the clocks go back automatically at 3am, sat out most of the night, hoping to get better and here I am again feeling very sorry for myself. (Poppy is getting VERY bored.)

I reckon I picked up a virus on the Albi outing on Thursday.  I collected my flu jab on Friday and was going to have it administered tomorrow.  Too late….

I think that this shows that I made the right decision not to go to London at Christmas; my immune system is clearly on the zero needle.

Tuesday evening update

Saw a doctor today – the other one in Maelle’s cabinet – and got a whole sackful of things for nose, throat, lungs and so on.  I noticed an immediate difference after a session inhaling eucalyptus oil (people here are very keen on des huiles essentielles – concentrated plant oils.  I’m happy to have a go at avoiding anti-biotics if possible.

My blood pressure was very low (9/5), so I was told to rest and stop my high blood pressure for a few days.

 

Albi

I’ve just been on my first outing as a local OAP.  I’ve joined Lou Rossignol club des ainés and yesterday we went on a coach trip to Albi, site of one of the most magnificent cathedrals in France.

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Photos of the Albi 2015  outing

Up before dawn, we set off in the dark on the three and a half hour coach trip .  (Trips like this remind one how big France is, in width as much as length.)  I really should get up earlier; it is so wonderful watching the sun gradually light up the hills, though as we passed from the department du Gard into first Aveyron and then Tarn, the sunny dawn turned into a grey, cold day – what a contrast to the day before (and today).

But still, it is a beautiful journey, with the steep hills of the Cévennes giving way to a richer, more rolling countryside, with the odd glimpse of a chateau or manoir. We were a friendly bunch of about two dozen (more animated than this photo suggests!).

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Easy-going conversation occasionally slipped into song, usually led by Jacqueline Ruer, an old friend from choir days.

I passed through Albi three years ago. in glorious blue sunshine.  Yet despite yesterday’s grey skies, the cathedral still took my breath away.  Built in the 13th-15th centuries, it is an immense brick edifice, its exterior resembling a fortress rather than a cathedral.  All the might and power of the Catholic church, recently victorious against the Cathars, is displayed in this gigantic, deceptively simple, magnificent exterior, all of it in  lovely red brick.

Then you climb up the steps to the entrance and inside your visual mind is blown away by an extraordinary single, high nave (there are no side aisles or transepts). Literally every inch is decorated.  There are, as you might expect, some religious scenes, such as the splendid and scary Last Judgement, a huge mural by Flemish craftsmen, painted on the curved walls of the bell tower.  Even more spectacular are the roof vaulting’s Renaissance frescoes on a blue background. Painted by Italians from Bologne in the early 16th centur, amazingly they have so far not needed restoring.

I was not so keen on the large collection of statues, but I was much taken by the extraordinary non-religious patterns on the walls, surrounding for example, the tall windows. Their most unusual, geometric motifs are the sort of decoration you might find in a mosque.  I wondered if there had been a Moorish or Arab influence but surprisingly the guidebooks say almost nothing about them.

This is the Cathedral Sainte Cécile and, as you might expect of a building dedicated to the patron saint of music, it has one of the largest and best organs in France.

After this visual feast it was time to eat, in a restaurant near the cathedral.  This was an excellent meal, beautifully presented, reminding us that the Gard is not exactly tops on the French gastronomic map.

In the afternoon we visited the Palais de la Berbie, home to the Toulouse Lautrec museum. Again, resembling a fortress rather than a palace, it was the home of the bishops and is as splendid as the cathedral, which it predates.

These days it is a museum, housing in particular, the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. I have to confess that I was ignorant of the quantity, quality and range of Toulouse Lautrec’s work, aware only of the paintings and posters from the last part of his life in Paris.  What was so great about this museum – the largest single collection of his works – was starting with the excellent pictures of his teens – pictures of horses and portraits of family, friends and servants – then seeing the lively and stylish portraits of his twenties, and then the already familiar depictions of the sub-life of brothels in Paris.

I have been converted into a huge Toulouse-Lautrec fan and retain in particular memories of, for example, the energetic horse pictures of his adolescence, the touching picture of two women friends (les Deux Amies),  a youthful bacchanalian scene which made me think in its shock factor of Manet’s Déjeuner sur L’Herbe, the abstract back view of a redhead (quite a lot of effective back views).

The museum is enhanced by its superb setting, with the red brick walls and vaulting of the palace forming a stylish backcloth.

Inevitably exhaustion set in; I had not the energy to look at the other exhibitions in the palace – another, more leisurely overnight visit is required – and only managed to totter round a little of the old city centre, but enough to appreciate that this city enjoyed centuries of comfortable living producing stylish houses.

By the time we returned to the bus, it was raining lightly.  As we left Albi, the bus heating system seemed to go into overdrive, misting up the driver’s windows and making us wilt.  Then disaster, the windscreen wipers packed up, no doubt related to the electrical misbehaviour.  Not only was it raining but we soon passed into thick fog or cloud. Bernard, the poor driver, braked to a sudden halt every ten minutes or so and wiped the windows down with newspaper and towels.  I noticed several nervous passengers quietly fastened their safety belts. Bernard struggled along for an hour until miraculously we passed a garage which was still open and whose mechanic managed to fix the electrical fault, to much cheering from the passengers. (Apparently bus breakdowns are a known feature of past pensioner expeditions.)

Lina Passport, the club president, joked cheerfully that this adventure was a little bonus offered by the club.  She and the other committee members were impressively efficient.  I look forward to me next oap outing.

Autumn has arrived

Last week the weather was fine but distinctly chilly, yesterday morning the autumn mists were here.

Today we are back to blue skies. But the hillsides are beginning to put on their autumn colours.

Oncologist visit

Yesterday’s visit to my oncologue in Montpellier, Doctor Kerr, was to be a routine affair.  It is too early for the doctors to do scans or MRIs to check if there is still a cancer – that happens next year.  It is more a checkup following the radiotherapy sessions of the summer.

I had to wait a long time as there was an emergency case: a teenage boy was wheeled in on an ambulance stretcher, covered in tubes and oxygen mask.  His unsmiling parents watched as the stretcher was wheeled past.  His father reached out and touched the stretcher in a gesture of anguished impotence which really upset me. The occasional sight of really ill patients serves as a reminder that there are so many people worse off, and it is particularly gruelling when they are young.

I heard Dr Kerr take leave of the family before coming to the next room to see me and liked the warmth and concern in her voice when talking to a patient she obviously knew well.  It made me feel apologetic about producing my list of trivial concerns following my treatment.  Dr Kerr said immediately how well I looked and was clearly pleased with how I had fared during the radiotherapy.  She too reassured me that the bladder and intestine problems were temporary and I could expect to return to normality in a few months time.

I raised the subject of the dreaded compression stockings, which I hate, and had confidently expected that she would agree with me that since I have no signs of swollen legs, I could just use them when travelling or immobile.  But no, I have a life sentence of compression stockings if I do not want to risk oedema.

The trouble is that with the complete removal of lymph glands in my abdomen the lymph nodes in my legs, which normally carry fluid out of your legs, no longer have anywhere to go.  I had already been told by the surgeon that eventually the body will create other channels for taking fluid out of the legs but this will never be as efficient as the lymph glands.

Why do I hate them?

  • Wearing them was hell during the hot months of the summer.
  • Mine are covered in runs and holes and I’m only entitled to two new pairs every few months.
  • You have to use a contraption for putting them on and a shoehorn to take them off. I’ve actually got quite good at putting the stockings on but it is another thing to do when dressing, plus you can say goodbye to travelling light.
  • Now that I’m more mobile, my main problem is keeping them up!  They gradually slip down to my knees and walking to Serres this morning I had to heave them up three times.  Fine when you are strolling through deserted countryside…

My final little (apologetic) moan to Dr Kerr was to ask if she could explain why I have lost about half my hair, given I did not have chemotherapy. Understandably she did not think this was very important and was probably caused by the operation and the difficult month that followed, but she has recommended blood tests to eliminate various things such as thyroid problems.

My journeys to and from Montpellier were pleasant affairs.  I was greeted by the four taxi drivers (bit of a relay system)  like an old friend.  We are so lucky to have this service, though goodness knows how long it will survive.  One leg of the journey back I shared the taxi with a dialysis patient.  Imagine doing this journey several times a week for the rest of your life!

Airbnb

Six months ago I had scarcely heard of Airbnb. Strange, because this online accommodation service has apparently been running for quite a few years. It has apparently ruffled the feathers of the hotel and guesthouse community, as people are undercutting them when letting a room, apartment or whole house. Never mind the rights and wrongs, it is usually cheaper than commercial rental prices, and that is its main appeal.

I had my first Airbnb experience last week, when going to Cagnes sur Mer with Sara. We had already researched and booked a (perfectly satisfactory) hotel room in Cassis using the standard hotel booking sites like Tripadvisor and Booking.com.

The Airbnb site is quite different: not only are you looking at a host of solutions offered by private individuals but the site is completely different. It is easy to specify what you want, slick to use, the language is modern and not the usual stuffy commercial lingo, the confirmation message included a map and photos of the flat,  there are reminders in the days running up to your booking, and the ongoing dialogue with the ‘host’ is efficiently handled. (I reckon it is essential to have a mobile phone at the very least to use the service.)

I had some initial problems with the app I downloaded for my iPad and I learnt the hard way to complete all the necessary information as a prospective renter before before attempting to make a booking.  There are quite a few security hurdles – a good thing – such as scanning in your passport and providing a photo.   (My Facebook id got rejected because of lack of use!  I can’t remember what was accepted in its place.) But now I know the ropes and know that next time booking will be a doddle.

I booked a studio flat round the corner from James and Céline’s flat.  It was modern – in a somewhat dauntingly impersonal but secure modern block – comfortable and cheap.  It was the owner’s second Airbnb experience, so we were both novices.  I learnt the hard way to get proper information about which of the mean anonymous doors on the first floor led to her flat! And she now knows to remember to include it in the address.

Now I plan to advertise my gite using Airbnb. (First I have to get round to writing a French version of my pages!)

Cagnes-sur-Mer

Finally, we reached Cagnes-sur-Mer and the home of Sara’s son, James, his partner, Céline, and their eight-year-old daughter, Lois. The next day Sara’s daughter, Lucie, her husband, David Greig, and their son, Rory arrived.  (Rory’s sister Annie couldn’t come as her term at St Andrew’s has started.)

It was great seeing James and Lucie again.  The Macaulays were our next door neighbours in Edinburgh, so I really regard myself as an honorary aunty to the family.

Here they all are (except Céline who had to prepare for a training day which threatens to upset the weekend plans) at the pizza place round the corner.  In the afternoon we sat in the tiny garden on the very comfy seats made out of wooden palettes!

Cassis to Toulon

On leaving Cassis, we continued on the coastal road, stopping aat the top of the hill to look back at Cassis.

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The idea had been to meander along the coast from Marseille until we ran out of time and needed to head straight for Cagnes sur Mer, probably when we reached Toulon.

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After the view deteriorated: the peninsula with La Ciotat turned out to be a huge industrial wasteland.  I knew of course that the Mediterranean has been spoilt by an endless ribbon of building.  Nonetheless it is still very depressing to see the reality. For every scenic beauty like Cassis (though here too you have to avert your eyes from the hinterland), there are countless other towns that are simply ugly sprawls.

But there were patches of unspoilt, or relatively unspoilt beauty.  I think it was from Sanary sur Mer that the coastline got more interesting.  The wind was still ferocious and the waves were beating onto the shore. Even the palm trees were bent horizontal.

Wind-swept palm tree
Wind-swept palm tree

We stopped to watch wind surfers performing amazingly difficult and dangerous manoevres.

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If you have a good internet connection you can watch this short movie clip.  The crackling noise is the wind, and the camera shake is me being blown over!

The final bit towards Toulon took us on another beautiful, unspoilt (one-way) road, through a hilly parkland (teeming with walkers) and a view towardsToulon itself.