No internet in Tuscany

— and sharing bedroom with grandchildren – and left card reader for getting photos out of camera.

So, will write about my visit to old friends, Christine and Sally, and the trip through Italy, later.

4 June.  Arrived home  – to a thunderstorm.  But I’ll try to catch up this weekend.

‘British values’

A trip to Otto’s classroom gave me a disturbing insight into what is happening to Government controlled education. Imagine what a class of five and six year olds make of this poster on their classroom wall:

British‘ values. Just British?

Union Jack motif. In the run up to Brexit?

Democracy, Mutual Respect, Individual Liberty…….  Meaningful concepts for six year olds?

i was perplexed, and fuming that this ‘nice’ Dulwich primary could be so doctrinaire  all was explained by Kate when I got home  this is not the school, but rather Southwark Council, implementing government policy



Battersea Park

A lovely Sunday in Battersea Park (which is unrecognisable from my childhood). The children weaved around, narrowly avoiding runners. They both learned to cycle young – Willow was scarcely three when she started. Then they took advantage of the relative calm (the fine weather had not been forecast) to take out a pedallo.

I the park is beautifully landscaped and we lunched at the Italian cafe, watching a young family of coots, whose nest was feet away from us. And to complete the menagerie, two scavenging storks landed on nearby cafe tables.

UFR. Down Memory Lane.

The main purpose of this trip – apart from seeing family – was to take part in the 50 year Upper Fisher Row reunion in Oxford

Upper Fisher Row is a scruffy little cul de sac in a practical and picturesque location.  Half way between the town centre and the station, tucked away behind Worcester College gardens, it borders onto a tributary of the river the end of the Oxford Canal which is separated by a towpath from the end of the Oxford Canal.

In the Sixties most of the inhabitants had lived there for decades, if not generations. I remember that the old woman who lived in a tumbledown house at the end of the road – Miss Jones, I think – was the granddaughter of a Victorian poacher, famous for being able to punt faster than the Salters paddle steamer – and thence escape from the police.

Then suddenly there was an influx of alien beings: Oxford graduates, mainly doing postgraduate degrees.  At number 13a there  were three girls, who included Jane Caplan, an old, old friend responsible for my moving to the street. Then there were three boys at number 9a, and more old friends, George and Teresa Smith, at number 8a. Through them and Jane I managed to get number 8, which I shared initially with Pat Laverty, an anthropologist. All four flats were owned by the same landlord, all in bad shape . I reckon mine was one of the most inconvenient, with the bath under the kitchen table, and the loo at the end of a passage, its walls dripping with moisture from another tributary trickling behind the house.  Later, when George and Teresa moved to Durham, Chris (now on the scene, sharing my tiny room and bed) and I took over 8a.

It was  a great life. We were all in our early 20s, embarking on interesting careers, living in Oxford in at a time of change (Chris and Mike Rosen were actively involved in student politics of 68, while I was reporting on events for the Oxford Mail, but also as a stringer for the Guardian and other nationals).  We were in and out of each other’s flats. I remember, for example, some great communal lunches at 13a, though I have no idea how we fitted to in.  And other interesting people passed through or visited.

Since then this core group of about ten people has remained friends and in touch. A few years back – none of us can quite remember when! – we met up again.  A pretty impressive bunch by then (apart from me), mainly academics, with several professors and one vice chancellor, plus a World Bank economist, one national journalist and Michael Rosen (harder to categorise!) .

And then this year, thanks mainly to Jane Caplan, we met again – roughly 50 years since this semi- communal life in UFR began.  The programme: lunch at Jane’s house in south Oxford, a visit to Upper Fisher Row, and then tea at George and Teresa’s house in North Oxford.

What was great about the day was the appreciation that this was still a very special bunch of good friends. There were 11 of us, including some partners. There was lots of talking – about education and politics, for example – and plenty of reminiscing.  But virtually no mention of health problems or grandchildren!  Quite an achievement for a bunch of pensioners.

The ritual visit to Upper Fisher Row was dampened by the relentless rain. What I found fascinating was how little the road had changed.  How come, when all the land around has been redeveloped or gentrified, UFR seemed unchanged?  Still dilapidated, still with its lace curtains, the only sign of change was that the house of Miss Jones was no longer there.

Presumably our old landlord, Mr Delamare, is no longer around. But how come the bull dozers have not flattened the place. Some detective work was agreed on. And we have to come back in a few years, Maybe to celebrate this era, which came to an end in about 1971/2.

Ready to travel

The first half of May whizzed past in a whirlwind of appointments.

I completed my four sessions playing in a quartet in Anduze, actually managed to practise the Piazzolle for my cello lessons, and played baroque music a couple of times with Charles and Pierre (followed by delicious lunches which swallowed up the afternoons).

My Arabic is still going painfully slowly, and my Arabic script writing is even more illegible than my usual handwriting.

I had to fit in the usual trips to the doctor, to the podologue to fit the insoles which are supposed to help my painful foot (no change so far). And – en route to the airport – a last minute unscheduled session at the dentist.

On top of all this, the jacuzzi has packed up and my technical support person is away. the motor is supposed to come on s couple of times a day to operate the filtration system, but it is stuck and running constantly. So at the last moment I had to find someone to come in daily to manually switch it on and later off. I fear I am going to have to replace the central electronics, but can do nothing until the friend returns. Fingers crossed it will be in operation as visitors start to arrive next month.

Quand meme, and despite the threat of the strikes spreading to air traffic controllers, the Montpellier to London flight on Thursday passed uneventfully.

Computing support

I continue to have a role as a computing support person of dubious qualifications (the main one being that I know more than the people I help). I have had three people ‘on my books’ over the past fortnight.

The trouble is that two of them were Windows rather than Mac users.  I sussed out soon that Christine Capieu, my first visitor, had a sick PC.  I was tempted to try to reinstall her operating system, but then decided that life was too short to become a PC specialist and pointed her at the the only local shop in le Vigan.  Today Christine was back, complaining that the technician had messed up her machine and she could not print. I soon realised he had upgraded the system and Christine had to look in a different place for the print command.

I have been spending much longer helping my friend Yves Jaffrenou.  His latest work is being self published so he has to come to grips with some complex formatting.  I have set up a series of styles and tried to get him to understand them.  But then a new problem: his PC was making strange noises and closing down.  Some rapid research on the internet and I said I thought  the error codes implied the machine was overheating, but also that I thought he needed to reinstal his machine.  Again, I packed Yves off to the shop, where I’m chuffed to say the diagnosis was confirmed.

The third call for help should have been easier, as it was Charles having problems with his Mac (the same model as mine), and indeed the problems were easy to sort out.  But I do find it frustrating when people don’t make any attempt to understand how their kit works and are not prepared to invest any time (given they are all retired) to take in some very basic principles. They prefer to write down laborious ‘recipes’ for what to do in a particular situation  and these don’t help them address similar but slightly different problems.

But then, I continue to be completely dumb about cooking, sewing and gardening 🙂



Weather, Health – and Arabic

Yes, it does seem sometimes as if all I can write about is the weather and the state of my health.  Sad isn’t it?

But then, in a normal year I would not be writing this in May after yet another day of torrential rain, culminating in a thunderstorm which cut phones and internet for a couple of hours. Last year the heatwaves had started.

No photos of the latest in the health saga: a visit to my lovely GP, Maëlle.  We discussed the latest efforts to diagnose and treat the (new) pain in my left foot and the (old and ongoing) deterioration in my right shoulder.  I said I wanted to avoid surgery as long as possible, but Maëlle wants to make sure this is wise.  So after the imminent two weeks in England and Italy, I have appointments for xrays, echography and a visit to the surgeon for a second opinion.

It is not just the prospect of another interruption in my cello playing; I think I am weary of the challenges of major surgery.

Meanwhile, one of my distraction exercises is my Arabic class, where we continue to make very slow progress.  Last Thursday was the birthday of Robert, the husband of our teacher, Halima.  She had made an impressive cake and we all sang Happy Birthday in Arabic.

سنة حلوة يا جميل
سنة حلوة يا جميل
سنة حلوة يا روبر
سنة حلوة يا جميل


Cancer +1 year

A year ago today I was operated on for cancer.  So far so good: no sign of the cancer having spread.  But it has not been easy; lots of side effects, many of which will be there for good.

And fatigue. Not surprising given that I had three major operations in three years and a total of eight months in hospital.  In many ways the arthritis – shoulders, neck, hips, knees, and now foot and ankle – are more wearing than last year’s surgery and radiotherapy. Plus the prospect, which I try not to think about, of more replacement surgery.

Bouncing back is harder this time, but I’m trying.  Learning Arabic, taking up the cello again, planning rash and costly home improvements, looking forward to travel and visits.  Looking forwards. It all helps.


Spring at last – or is it?

I supposed ‘unsettled’ is the best way to describe the weather this year.

The sun comes out, the nightingales, cuckoos and frogs arrive.  The wild cherry blossom on the hills gives way to the magic of the young green leaves unfurling, and gardeners (not me!) start their frantic preparations.

And then we get let down – again – by rain, cold or wind.  ‘La Main Verte’, the May day coming together of gardeners and producers struggled and nearly was blown away in the  cold, windy conditions.

Then things calmed down, temperatures went up and we have had some lovely days and nights.  But Météo France warns of yet more unseasonable weather ahead.