PREVIOUS CHAPTER: TWENTY ONE: VICTORIA ROAD SOUTH
Back from Norway and the housing market seems to be picking up. A viewing of 97 Victoria Road South already on 5th January. What can we find in Portsmouth to suit us? It must be low maintenance (I am tired of doing constant repair jobs), it should have good views of the Solent (one can live in some parts of Portsmouth and not see the sea from one month to the next) and it cannot be on a busy road. It must have at least two bedrooms and a front room large enough to accommodate Erika’s baby grand piano plus, say, twenty other players or singers. And, one thing I am quite sure of: after all the interesting houses in my life, from Weet Ing, to the “railway carriages” in Addis Ababa below Haile Selassie’s palace, to our Swedish lakeside cottage, to Georgian-built Little Anglesey Road, to wonderful Binstead Hall – all of them houses of real character – I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE IN A FLAT.
January: Dan is working with the Eccleston George team on a mighty gun carriage for a canon at Fort Victoria near Yarmouth. I like to see him with this group, partly so that he is not working as much on his own, but mainly because other members are really decent people, who like to have fun yet who possess a range of useful skills. They are good at finding and bargaining for new contracts; they have bright original ideas; they make sure that the books are kept properly and they are paid for their work. Dan’s particular strength lies in his imagination and in devising practical solutions to problems.
Dan later flew to India for five weeks with Adam and family. Erika started on steroids to stop the pain of her polymyalgia. They seem effective, but can have nasty side effects, so more pills are needed to counteract these. Chris Cussens, helpful as ever, set up a website for me to record the ups & downs of carving Jarge. Mostly downs at the start, as Wight Stonemasons, who ordered the Portland stone for my carving last November, then used it for another job.
Difficulty of finding what we want. Character=maintenance+cold, modern=poky or v. costly. On 15th January, Erika and I viewed No 50, Arethusa House at Gunwharf Quays and think it is fantastic. We can’t see the Isle of Wight (as can our friends, Richard and Barbara, in the penthouse flats), but it is right by the water, with balconies and windows looking south-east into the Camber Dock; west onto Portsmouth Point, the harbour entrance, Haslar Creek, St Mary’s Church and Little Anglesey; and north-west, almost round to Portchester Castle.
Looking S. East (from Spinnaker Tower!) Looking West; Looking N West
Our offer was accepted, and the race began in earnest to raise a tidy sum. Suddenly it became even more urgent to sell Erika’s house, which needed much renovation – particularly under the ground floor.
February: Conflict in priorities, between finishing “Jarge” (still polishing with the white powder from Jaipur) for installation on 24th April, and renovating the house. Began carving at one end of Dan’s long, narrow workshop, but also postponed installation by two months – to the chagrin of Shanklin Rotary Club. Very cramped, and bitterly cold for four weeks, but at least at Dan’s I had a kitchen, toilet and bedroom, where I could warm up and sleep over now and then.
On 20th February, Erika’s birthday, Adam sent us a lovely email about his brother: “I have just left Dan at Delhi airport to begin his way, via Helsinki, back home. He’ll be too bashful perhaps to spell out how much he moved people at 71 Sunder Nagar. Savitri and Lydia were literally in tears saying good bye to him yesterday evening, giving him clothing including a shirt and a hand-stitched Manipuri shawl. Indrani said repeatedly what a kind, open person he is and was delighted when he called Indians “glamorous”. All the staff in the building [say] that they have never met a kinder man. They are quite insistent that he should return soon and say he’ll be a good husband for someone. If in doubt, he could easily become a Guru here…”
On 23rd February, Erika accepted an offer on her house from Sue and Mike Smith. On 5th March Adam sent details of his interview with the Dalai Lama, who had very jokily made “horns” over his head with his fingers and pretended to be a devil, as the Chinese government makes him out to be in its hostile public statements.
Horned devil (photo copyright, Adam Roberts)
Björn, meanwhile, is in Umeå, northern Sweden – at minus 22 degrees – on a mission for The Forest Trust.
Visited Dan in East Cowes. He was scrupulously cleaning his house and getting in tasty food to impress an Italian girl, Lucia, whom he clearly cares for. Alas, she never made it (needed to work at an Italian restaurant in Ryde) and I felt so sorry for him. It would be wonderful if he could find someone with whom to share his life as the years go by.
2nd April, Erika becomes an “Omi” (Grandma) again! Richard and Catherine had a baby boy, THOMAS, so we drove up to Newcastle to be among the first to welcome him. He looks fine and well. Overnight at Ampleforth, guests of Calder High School classmate Pat (Harwood) Williams – my co-star in Berkeley Square. Learned that she and, more unusually, her husband Paul both have polymyalgia.
Late April: I cashed in £110,000 worth of National Savings Bonds to have ready as my part of the house purchase – only to learn that the fifth person in our buying chain is a crook. He now wants nearly £4,000 from each of us before he will proceed. Many stressful exchanges between buyers, solicitors, estate agents – and then, as we all refuse to play ball, the crook pulls out. Erika and I miserable as we inform the owner of 50 Arethusa House that we can’t proceed, and learn that he will put the apartment back on the market.
At 3am on the night between 18th and 19th April, Erika got out of bed and went into the study to do some calculations, basically to see if she could release money from a Trust Fund (of which Richard and Andy are also partners, and which was supposed to be sacrosanct) to make it possible to buy 50 Arethusa outright. The boys urged her to go ahead, although there could be a costly risk in her owning two houses if the old one takes time to sell. There followed a busy week arranging the paperwork, but on the 24th we were able to put down our 10% deposit on the apartment and on the 29th contracts were exchanged. A wonderful feeling!
30th April: Hoped to be carving in East Cowes, but spent much of the day trying to repair Dan’s huge Earthquake Machine at the Quay Arts Centre, Newport. Frustrating, but he has done so much to help me with my projects, I owe him many times over. Unfortunately, it was so intricate that I never did get it to work. 8th May: We merged Erika’s and my savings into my current account at Santander, ready to transfer all to the solicitor once home from our Baltic cruise. Dared not leave this till our return in case some hitch occurs and we miss the completion date.
I thought our ship was big – until this one moored alongside
9th-21st May: Took the S.S. Thompson Spirit from Newcastle to Stockholm (a wonderful sunny day with Göran & Rita), Helsinki (made welcome by David and Arja Crawford, one time workers at TFSR), St Petersburg, Tallinn and back to Newcastle. Shocked at the obesity of many passengers and the huge meals they ate. Most on the cruise were old, wealthy, fat and white; most of the crew and cabin staff young, poor, thin, African, Asian or from Eastern Europe.
St Petersburg: palaces, fountains & hackers
I felt uncomfortable about the whole cruise experience, but that was nothing compared to my misery following an incident in St Petersburg. As we left the coach after visiting a string of gilded palaces, our tour guide asked me for my email address, which I cheerfully gave her. Only back on board did I remember that St Petersburg is now a notorious centre for crooks using sophisticated technology to hack into western banks and steal millions electronically. I use electronic banking, and had a small fortune at that moment in my current account. What if she fed data from tourists to these hackers? (I worried needlessly, of course: an email address has no bearing on one’s bank account.) I kept quiet about my fears to Erika – sharing them would have ruined her trip – but endured five awful days and nights until we reached Newcastle one drizzly dawn and I slid my card into a cash machine. Did I want the current balance shown on screen or printed, it asked. With Erika close beside me, I opted for the printed slip and held my breath as it emerged. Only then did I confess to her that, if I had seemed strange since St Petersburg, I had been a deeply worried man. ‘I never noticed you were worried,’ she said, ‘though I did wonder how you managed to pack both pairs of shoes in your suitcase last night, to be brought off the ship when we berthed, and came ashore with your stocking feet wrapped in shower caps from the en suite. But then I thought – well, that’s just Glyn!’
29th May: 50 Arethusa House is ours! Heard at 11.30am from Waterside Properties that all the legal stuff (including payment) had been completed. Will start the move next week.
31st May: I took Linnéa to the New Forest and TFSR at Netley Marsh. So nice to be one-to-one. You can discuss things so differently to when in a group, especially if other children are wanting attention. Beautifully warm and sunny. We examined the Rufus Stone near Minstead which marks the spot where, on 2nd August 1100, an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell supposedly “glanced off the trunk of an oak tree” and killed William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror. Foul play was suspected and Sir Walter fled the scene, but an assassination was never proven.
Later, we went to see the many thousands of tools at the TFSR headquarters in Netley Marsh – all bound for village workshops in Africa. While we sat with volunteers and staff during the afternoon tea break, the Chairman of TFSR joined us. Linnéa’s eye grew round with wonder when he told her, ‘So, you’ve been to see the Rufus Stone? Well, my name is Tony Tyrrell – and Sir Walter was my great, great, great (etc) grandfather. Every year the Tyrrell clan gets together for a meal at the Royal Oak pub to celebrate our distinguished ancestor’. Wow!
In June, we finally got Jarge installed into Shanklin railway station, right by the front door. The Mayor was there and a number of Rotarians who spoke quite movingly about their memories of the old porter, how they had tricked him of his customers and now felt slightly ashamed of their youthful smartness.
Jarge, with his trolley, finally back on the station forecourt.
Unwisely, apart from the grand piano, double bed and two huge book cases, we moved most of Erika’s possessions ourselves. Owning both places, we felt we could take our time and put things just where they belonged. But we rushed it, filling boxes so full with books, photo albums and CDs that we could hardly lift them. We soon discovered that, after 36 years in a large Victorian house, Erika had accumulated vastly more goods and chattels than could ever fit into a modern two-bedroom flat. Over half of her belongings had to find new homes and – as Richard, Andy and the auction rooms had no interest in them – a small fraction went on EBay, much more went to charity shops, and more again ended up at the city’s recycling centre. This left us both exhausted, me physically and Erika both physically and emotionally.
During August and September, Erika felt very low, but finally took a coach holiday to Western Austria. Ten days of mountains, lakes, sunshine, local food and Austrian culture worked a miracle and she came home quite renewed in spirit.
Some aspects of Gunwharf we do not like, in particular the outer-door security with its codes and electronic fobs, but as time goes by we appreciate many positives of living here. At Victoria Road South our garden was often littered with empty Coke tins, bottles and packaging from fish & chips: here, the grounds are tidied every morning. Here, yes, we have the throb of ferries passing our windows, but we soon stopped noticing them. In Southsea, police cars, ambulances and fire engines tore past our house day and night, sirens blaring.
Personally, I am happy to be at Gunwharf, though I do not like the name. For nearly half my life, my roots led back to Weet Ing – until 1972, when Sigyn, the boys and I moved to England. Since then, for 39 years ‘home’ has been the triangle: Portsmouth, Gosport and the Isle of Wight. Now, on the very edge of Portsmouth Harbour, I live close to the heart of that triangle. Looking over the water to Alverstoke Church, across to The Island, or back to the spire of St Jude’s Church in Southsea, a few steps from Victoria Road South – I have good feelings about all three.
I have always wanted to live near water, preferably the sea, and here we are within ten yards of it. But the open sea itself is not quite enough. Many shores front a blank expanse of blue without islands or ships to add action and variety, but Portsmouth Harbour must be one of the most varied and interesting stretches of salt water in the world. Twice a day, we see the tide pouring in from the Solent – at times like a river in full flood. Six hours later the harbour level has risen several metres; brim full, it feels much closer to our windows and balcony. Twice a day, these millions of tons of water empty out again into the Solent revealing the dark under-sides of jetties and occasional patches of sand and stones.
The texture of the water surface is ever-changing, currents swirl, upwellings and troughs swap place, considerable waves build up when tide fights against wind, or thousands of tiny dimples form in the lightest airs. Every hour an Isle of Wight ferry churns the surface into green and white as it backs out of the ancient Camber Dock. By early evening, the smooth surface turns slowly from silver to salmon, from salmon to gold.
A summer sunset over the harbour
The skies may also change quite suddenly. A warm sunny afternoon can darken around four o’clock when a tsunami of chilling sea fog drifts in through the harbour mouth. In moments, the Gosport shore has gone and Portsmouth Point, only 100 yards from our window, softens and vanishes. Or a hot afternoon turns ominous as thunder clouds build up over the Isle of Wight: an expectant hush, a low rumble, snake tongues of lightning – and then the rain sweeps across the harbour to assault our windows, cascade onto the promenade beneath and pour back into the sea.
Bound for France, a car ferry passes Portsmouth Point.
September: I have long-term aches and pains – and now turn out to have polymyalgia too! It’s not supposed to be catching, but it’s surprising how many couples seem to have it. Maybe it comes from living in damp, draughty houses, as we have done for many years now. Arethusa might make a difference.
Christmas with Göran and Rita. Dan came over and we dipped candles in the kitchen with Björn and family – an annual tradition still maintained in Sweden by Sigyn’s relatives.
January. Björn checking forests in Northern Sweden and Russia.
February: While Erika was skiing in Canada, I headed off again to Delhi where Anne was celebrating the publication by Oxford University Press of her book, based on her DPhil thesis, on strategies used by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. It is always exciting to see the product of years of mental labour, now finally in print. Now, Anne is developing a new line of research, still with links to the University of Kent and the UNHCR: she is to visit Assam, Nagaland and Manipur – small, isolated States in the far east of India, bordering on China and Myanmar (Burma) – highly sensitive areas, politically. She also wants to investigate social tensions across the border in Myanmar itself, but must play things very cool with the Burmese authorities.
Good to see everyone again! Suddenly Delhi feels much more like home. Collected Edvard and Magnus from the American Embassy School and was dismayed to see several other children coming out and tossing their bags for their ayahs to carry without bothering to greet them or even make eye contact. This side of expatriate (or wealthy Indian) life I really do not like.
Next morning at The Museum of Modern Art we saw an amazing exhibition of silvered metal sculptures, indoors and out, depicting simple aspects of Indian life, but on a massive scale.
Buckets at the Art Museum
6 February: I flew to Kolkata (Calcutta) with Adam and the boys and found it warmer, damper, greener than Delhi, with many vestiges of its past colonial grandeur, some (like the Victoria Monument) maintained to a good standard, but much in a ruinous state. The India Museum has a wonderfully Dickensian aura: vast gloomy rooms filled with rows of heavy-duty, dark timbered, glass-topped display cabinets and dusty exhibits. A time-warp experience, as museums go; not to be missed.
Another spot atmospheric of Victorian Empire was the cemetery on Park Street with its edifices entombing 18th-19th century Europeans, many of them having died from tropical illnesses in their early twenties. Irreverently, we used the large stone slab of one poor victim to play “Ow’s Zat!”, a pocket-cricket game, in which Mother Theresa or Mickey Mouse can – with successful rolls of the dice – outscore Tendulkar, Bradman or Viv Richards. Magnus recalled later how Jesus scored 100 runs!
The Park Street Cemetery, Kolkata
One morning, already sweaty by ten o’clock, we crossed a railway line and found ourselves on the banks of the Ganges, wide and brown as it drifts its way down to the Bay of Bengal. We took a rusting metal ferry up to the old Howrah Bridge and back, then sought respite from the humid heat in an air-conditioned, French style café, where Magnus delighted in – not ice cream, but a loaf of bread, the top removed, and filled with soup.
The Ganges and Howrah Bridge
While in Calcutta I had hoped to find an original painting (at a reasonably modest price) by an Indian artist, suitably striking to stop people in their tracks when they entered our flat at Arethusa House. We visited several galleries, but to no avail, until on the last evening I saw a painting displayed on the ground floor of one exhibition. It was really rather good and cost 80,000 Rupees, or nearly one lakh. (The Indians use lakhs and crores to count large numbers.) At roughly 100 Rupees to the pound, this worked out at £800, which was more than I really wanted to pay, but Adam – who was already by then quite an art collector – urged me not to pass it by if I truly liked it. I decided to bear it in mind, but might just see what else they had in the other rooms.
We went upstairs, and then I saw it –“SHE” – the painting to have back in our Portsmouth home. True, at 10 lakh Rupees I calculated it to be £200 dearer than the first picture, but its quality, colours and design were far superior. Adam offered to lend me £200 pounds to clinch the deal, and the salesman had prepared all his paperwork when my clever son said, ‘I think we should just go over the figures again. Just how many UK pounds sterling is it?’ And the answer came out at: £10,000. We had confused lakhs (10,000) with crores (10 million) – and the painting cost one million Rupees. The salesman stressed that the price was still negotiable, but it could never have sunk to match my modest pocket.
Goodbye to my £10,000 painting…
At Indira Gandhi Airport, on leaving Delhi after two very special weeks – all thanks to Adam and Anne – another drama. I had said good bye to Adam at the main entrance and, with only hand luggage, had passed though the x-ray at Security when they asked me to open my case and explain the metal object within it.
‘It’s only a harmonica’, I said, ‘Just a musical instrument’. They looked dubious, so I gave them a sparkling rendition of Phil the Fluter’s Ball which seemed to go down well; at least they were now all smiles and waved me on. Feeling rather pleased with my little performance, I repacked the case and made for the departure lounge, visited the book stall, idled about, and after twenty minutes wandered over to a screen to check my departure gate. Unsure of the Emirates flight number, I felt in my jacket for ticket, boarding card and passport. Nothing. Checked every other pocket, with the same result. Keeping calm, I opened my case, feeling fairly sure of finding everything alongside the harmonica. No passport, no boarding card, no ticket. Then I must have left them behind at Security after my short, but unnecessary, music show! Why must I do these daft things?
Against a stream of departing passengers, I pushed my way towards the Security hall, caught half-way between panic and the reasonable expectation that the staff would remember me and return my precious documents with the admonishing wag of a finger. They remembered me all right but, no, I had left nothing behind on their table.
Now I did panic. There was no way I could board the flight, particularly since I had to change planes in Dubai, but without passport or visa how could I re-enter India? I groaned at the thought of airport officials ringing Adam to say that his father was in custody and technically stateless; at having to remain in India, possibly for weeks, until new travel documents and air tickets could be arranged; at having to cancel a trip with Erika to Israel in early May… and then I saw them, on a stainless steel table, where scores of passengers had passed during the last half hour, my ticket, passport and boarding card in a neat little pile. ‘Thank you, God’, I breathed, still weak at the knees, then made again for the departure hall.
Adam has a big article in the Economist about Modi’s candidature for the Indian premiership. The Economist recommends Indian readers not to vote for him because of his links with extreme Hindu activists. Erika and I go to Israel for two weeks. Her relatives are kindness itself, but I am acutely aware of the political situation. Lucia and Dan set up house together at Lodgeside and I am delighted for them, but they are terribly cramped with furniture and Dan’s huge bubble machine. Dan and Lucia visit the Ärlig family and Göran & Rita in Sweden. They even see deer and a beaver on Reimersholme – in the heart of Stockholm city.
Minerva Road: my tenants move out and I start a long period of redecorating. 17th May: Annual General Meeting of Tools for Self Reliance at Netley Marsh. Michael Haugh spoke about Sigyn and pointed out how beautiful her Swedish hornbeam was, now completely in flower. 25th May, walk in Shere with Björn and family. Ellie fell in the river while trying to push Linnéa on a rope over the water. A week earlier, they had succeeded and Björn took a magical photo of his daughter apparently flying down the river. Nevertheless I am worried about Björn’s health. He works so hard, drinks too much black coffee, drinks quite a bit and expends sudden bursts of physical energy rushing with one or other of the children on his back. He seems fit, but is often dog tired.
14th May. With Erika, Dan and Lucia for a beautiful walk on St Boniface Down above Ventnor, the woods rich green and the down covered with bluebells. Dan and Lucia clearly so happy together.
12th June: Decided to sell 3 Minerva Road. Am getting weary of the responsibilities of being a landlord. Also, don’t want to have to redecorate all over again in a couple of years. Unfortunately, the house has several major problems: asbestos/slate roof, major damp in the outside walls (hope that removing the cavity insulation will dry them out) and a neighbour who plays loud music every day from noon to 9pm in his shed. The shed stands at the bottom of his garden, far from his house, but right next to mine. Will anyone buy mine?
6th June: Erika and other ladies perform Arab Egyptian dances at Clanfield. Erika in a dramatic orange outfit still looks young, well and beautiful at 67,: good exercise, good food, good genes….
July: Camping near Cap Frehel in Brittany. Madame, hotel owner, remembers Erika from 2008 when she diagnosed her son as having Asperger’s Syndrome. The French doctors had all failed to do so. “I have often spoken about you since then,” says Madame, shaking Erika’s hand earnestly. Erika feels rightly proud that her skills had been recognised.
17th July: early start from campsite to get to St Malo by 8.00am. I had discovered that Rita, Göran and friends were to arrive at the Hotel de la Cite the night before. Planned to surprise them at breakfast time. Slipped up to the crowded dining room and saw a largish group chatting at one table. Saw dark haired woman with her back to me and tiptoed up to her to give her a kiss. The others noticed me, but I smiled to them, put my finger to my lips, approached her with exaggerated “stage” stealth – then remembered that Erika was still downstairs, so I tiptoed out again, signalling to all to keep the secret. Half way down the stairs I found Erika coming up, so I went back up again, entered the dining room and once more made a theatrical approach to the table, by which time everyone in the room except the lady I planned to embrace had seen my act and watched expectantly. And then, a foot or two from her, she turned slightly and I saw that it wasn’t Rita after all, so – without stopping I made a U-turn and still waving may arms around and prancing like an idiot – skipped out of the room, leaving behind some very puzzled diners. Finally discovered that Rita and Göran were still in their bedroom. Knocked on their door and enjoyed their amazement at seeing us. Breakfasted together at a small café, talking non-stop, and walked in the morning sunshine along the old city ramparts overlooking the sea.
Then on to Paris for the wedding of Clara, the daughter of Madeleine (Arthur’s partner in Meudon). Arthur starting to recover after major chemo and radio treatment for cancer. Still very tired, not eating much. Civil and church marriages and several big receptions/meals including an overnight stay at the Pavillon Henri IV, the building in which the Roi Soleil (Louis XIV) was born. At the dinner, in a large hall on the Terrace St Germain, with its vast panorama over Paris, I followed the formal speeches with a song I’d cobbled together, “Clara, Frédéric – ils se sont marriés aujourd’hui”. This included whacking several ping pong balls across the tables with my ukulele, which livened things up no end and it all went very well. A magnificent thunder/lightning storm during the night.
Heading back to England, our car was stuck for some time at the ferry port in Le Havre, with a long line of vehicles before and behind us. We both sat and read until I looked up and, on impulse, gave Erika a quick peck on the cheek. “That wasn’t much of a kiss!” she protested, so I flung my arms round her and glued our lips together for perhaps thirty or forty seconds, long enough for it to become ridiculous, and maybe just to see whose breath would give out first…. until a sharp rap on the window made us disentangle – all the cars ahead had vanished and a smiling port official, clip board in hand, urged us to get moving.
Back home that night and Adam and family joined us. Sunny days followed, the most memorable being several hours at the CASS sculpture park north of Chichester together with Björn, Ellie, Linnéa, Jim and Dan. The children were great, conferring about many of the art pieces as they filled in their project sheets, motivated to some extent by the ice cream reward offered by CASS for each completed sheet.
Two days later, we drove to Upton, between Norwich and Yarmouth, to take possession of Tempest and Trade Wind (two 30’ yachts) for a week’s sailing on the Norfolk Broads. We had planned a family boating holiday for some years – the setting varying from dinghies on French rivers, to canal boats in England and sea sailing in the Stockholm Archipelago. For practical reasons, and with so many beginners on board, we finally settled on the Broads, and it was wonderful to see it come to fruition.
For me, having Erika, all my sons and their wives and children sharing the joys of sailing (and at times the cramped conditions) was deeply satisfying. Just a shame that Daniel’s Lucia could not get time off work on the Isle of Wight. For the rest: shades of Arthur Ransome’s Coot Club. Everybody had the chance to steer and handle the sails, though the children were still too young to handle a thirty foot boat. Sunshine every day and very warm; a great atmosphere from start to finish. The highlight was perhaps the morning of July 31st when Adam woke to see a large sail hoisted on Tempest (with a huge cheeky caricature by Björn, emphasising Adam’s new closely cropped hair – but still with a long quiff) wishing him a happy 40th birthday.
Magnus, Eddie, Dan, Adam, Anne – Erika, Jim, Linnéa, Ellie and Björn
At noon, while anchored on Barton Broad, a behatted/ bewigged Adam (Captain Hook) and Erika as mate, fought off four junior pirates, armed with hooks, sabres and pistols. Battle concluded, with Hook spitting blood (fake) and tricked by Björn into rinsing out his mouth with a gulp of beer – laced with Tabasco – we settled down to cream cakes and cups of tea, taking in the beauty of the water, the sailing boats, the reeds, distant trees and windmills
All in all, the week would have been perfect but for poor Erika having the boom land on her head when a knot slipped one afternoon. Much blood (real) and an ambulance to the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital. Luckily, it proved to be a flesh wound and she soon recovered, learned to steer & handle the main sheets, and enjoyed the rest of the stay. A great week that I hope that young and old will remember all their lives.
Erika and I came home after the sailing, while the rest enjoyed several more sunny days on the Norfolk coast before the Delhi wallahs flew back to India.
A new experience: several days at the Edinburgh Festival, thanks to an invitation from Paul Turner of Garvald TFSR. Having heard about it for so many years, Erika and I imagined we must be the last among friends and relatives ever to visit the Festival, but it turns out we are among the first. Every event that we attended, Festival and Fringe, was excellent, though we took care to avoid stand-up comics. Feared they would be like the glimpses we get on radio or TV, vulgar and unamusing. There must be witty and intelligent stand-up performers too, but we aren’t sufficiently up with the times to identify them.
Stayed a few days with Richard and Catherine in Newcastle and heard that Imogen (nearly four) had told her grandparents that her doll, Jessica, and cloth dog, Ruby, had ‘come out of my tummy’.
Grandma: ‘Oh, really, so are they twins?’
Imogen, very serious: ‘Yes, they are’.
Grandad: ‘But are they identical twins?’
Imogen, rolling her eyes: “GRANDAD! Jessica is a DOLL, and Ruby is a DOG!”
Richard, Imogen, Catherine and Erika admiring baby Thomas
27th August: 3 Minerva Road SOLD. Good bye to a happy episode of my life on the Island, where most of the stone carvings were produced in the small space of one-third of a garage, and several happy family get-togethers occurred.
Ben Ainslie: British challenger for the next three America’s Cup competitions, has won the decision to construct, test and launch super-yachts from a new building going up across the water, right outside our front window. We had opposed the original siting of the building in May, but Portsmouth Council jiggery-pokery ensured planning permission, and we recognise that the scheme could indeed be good for the city, providing jobs and attracting visitors. From our point of view, now the die is cast, testing the super-yachts will make for entertaining traffic congestion in the Camber, and if we ever tire of watching, perhaps we can rent our home to an America’s Cup sail-racing millionaire!
10th September: A 20kg canister of resin has arrived at our flat, giving off powerful volatile fumes, even with the lid screwed tight. Dan has asked me to carry it over to the Island to save extortionate commercial delivery fees across the Solent. I boldly agree, but then realise that it is too dangerous to take into the catamaran to Ryde. Instead, I drag it onto the car ferry and up to a breezy corner of an upper deck. Even there, I catch constant whiffs of the chemical and am glad when we reach Fishbourne and I can pass it over to my inventor-son. But why does he need this stuff?
He is starting a new project at Sandown Zoo: The National Poo Museum (motto on T-shirt, already printed: “Have You Been Yet?”). Poo, he explains, is highly interesting. Did I know that alone among mammals, the wombat leaves cube-shaped poos? Why? Possibly to stop them rolling off logs and rounded stones while marking their territory ‘at wombat nose level’. Just how they produce a cube remains a mystery. The zoo can provide a range of animal and bird samples, all of which would need to be dried and then encased in spheres of Perspex. Hence the resin. Within an hour, I am climbing up and down a ladder passing trays of fresh excrement from lion, jaguar, fox, antelope and porcupine – but no wombat – to Dan on the flat roof of a Sandown building. He hopes that the sunshine will dry them out in a week or so. (It doesn’t. He later builds a device to dry specimens in a large metal tube, using filters and warm air.)
19th September: To Chilworth and taught Linnéa and Jim to play conkers. They soon got the hang of it and are now looking into ways of hardening their conkers prior to battle.
7th November: Björn reports that he is growing a moustache – part of an international volunteer scheme to draw attention to men’s attitudes towards healthcare and cancer. Well done! Can’t wait to see him.
19th November: Began to write my life story, starting with Bob Roberts’s family.
20th December: With Björn, Ellie, Linnéa, Jim, Adam, Edvard and Daniel to Southampton to see Saints play Everton. Wonderful to watch the children’s excitement in that huge crowd at St Mary’s, especially as Saints piled on the pressure to win 3-0. Björn mentions that they plan to have a loft conversion done next summer: the children are getting bigger and they are cruelly short of space.
21st December: A very tasty and traditional Christmas dinner at Chilworth, cooked by Björn, with Adam and Edvard over again in Europe from Delhi (they had nipped over from Oslo). He has been invited to interview for the upcoming Chief Editor post at the Economist. He doubts that he will get it, being still relatively young and without experience on the business/economic side of the magazine, but feels he will lose nothing by trying for it.
8th January: Erika and I land in highly-commercialised Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on a package tour of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, unaware of just how many temple visits are planned for us over the next eighteen days. Day 1 started well enough, with a boat trip on one of the nine arms of the mighty Mekong River delta, landing for some hours at a “traditional” island village that prospers from coconut produce, fishing – and tourism. Day 2, and the temples begin – some old, dark and musty, with tanks of “lucky fortune” fish outside; others brand new and gaudy, inside & out, one with a giant concrete Buddha just constructed, brilliant white, beaming at the tourists as they stumble out of their coaches.
More interesting to me was the vast network of narrow tunnels, west of Saigon, dating back to the US-Vietnam War (1955-1973) in which North Vietnamese combatants lived for months on end. They emerged at night to defecate, wash, eat and dig deep holes – full of sharpened bamboo spikes – for hapless US soldiers to fall onto.
More signs of this war cropped up again as we headed north: the world-famous My Son temple complex near Hoi An, largely destroyed by US bombs, a downed American B52 bomber on display in Hanoi; a military hospital deep inside a jagged island in Halong Bay, safe from aerial attack
A small corner of amazing Halong Bay, with its 2,000 limestone islands riddled with caves, some used by North Vietnamese as stores, shelters, hospitals etc. during their war with the USA.
A street-cum-railway in central Hanoi
In Hanoi, while Erika and the group were shepherded past Ho Chi Minh’s tomb and admired the city’s 900 year-old library, I slipped off to revisit curious streets remembered from my stay with Göran and Rita in 2001. Thanks to the wondrous smartphone, I could send them a live commentary from some of their own favourite haunts. In the old city, shops providing a similar service tend to occupy the same street – textiles, hair-dressers, metalwork, undertakers… Unfortunately I missed taking a poignant photo of an advert for Marlborough cigarettes right next to an undertaker’s display of gravestones – but I did get one of a street where people worked, strolled and generally lived life within inches of a railway line, still occasionally in use.
In contrast to turbulent, dynamic Vietnam, Laos felt delicate and peaceful – which it certainly had not been between 1964 and 1973, when the US dropped more than two million tons of explosives on the country during 580,000 bombing missions.
Upper reaches of the Kuansi Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos
In Luang Prabang, today a gentle and charming town on the Mekong River (already mighty, far upstream from its delta), we enjoyed the delicate tastes, sights and crafts on offer. Perhaps most memorable were our long boat trip up-river between rocks and rapids, to take in three more temples and a visit to the Kuansi waterfalls – so beautiful that Walt Disney would surely have offered to buy them for relocation to California, had it been technically possible.
Finally to Cambodia, Siem Reap, and Angkor Wat – which even I had to agree is a truly outstanding and astonishing temple complex. It is the largest religious monument in the world, and one would need days to inspect all the temples on its 162 hectare site. In particular, I remember a stone frieze, a bas relief rather like the carvings I do on the Isle of Wight – but this 12th century masterpiece depicts wars between gods and devils, is exquisitely carved, stands nearly 2 metres high, and is 500 metres long.
By the time we reached the capital, Phnom Penh – hot, dusty, noisy – I’d had my fill of ghastly reminders of wars and death, so I skipped the standard visit to the Killing Fields Museum. To the dismay of our tour guide, Erika and I also opted out of a rickshaw ride to yet more temples (tourists pedalled by elderly men, in blazing sunshine and 30 degrees heat) preferring a massage (Erika) and a wander round the city market.
Lest this account of our tour sound too grumpy, I must add that it was well organised, with excellent guides and pleasant travel companions and we saw much more than the few sights mentioned. We came home after twenty day well pleased with the trip – and completely exhausted.
7 February: With Linnéa and Jim to Langfords on Albert Road, my favourite shop in Portsmouth. The ground floor is stacked with curios – dolls, medals, clocks, ironwork, leather shields & sharp spears, piles of yellowing Beanos and Dandies, chimney pots, urns, tiny vases, jewellery and much more. You must climb the stairs cautiously, as further objects take up half of each tread. The upper five rooms – each lit by a weak electric bulb and smelling of damp – are piled even higher with furniture (some with price tags in pounds, shillings & pence) such that the staff surely cannot know what lies underneath what. Here, too, are paintings, books and strange architectural objects, presumably props and scenery from ancient shows at the Kings Theatre nearby. Downstairs again and we buy a few old Dandies from two women at the till, both well wrapped up, wearing fingerless gloves. The whole has a slightly sad, Dickensian feel to it. The children say they enjoy the visit, but I sense that Langfords does not move them as it does me. Will the shop still be around in five years’ time?
21st February: to London and the launch of Global Justice Now – a new and more dynamic name for the somewhat tired World Development Movement. I am delighted to find old friends from Tools for Self Reliance – Sarah and Charles Hirom, Robina Richter, Harry and Ruth Iles. The analysis of power (behind the unequal distribution of wealth in the world) that Global Justice Now makes is very close to my own view and I am delighted to see such a huge crowd attending, and to see such young participants from many cultural backgrounds. I sign up to make an annual donation to GJN and take an active part in its campaigns.
Late February: I notice blood in my urine, report to my G.P. and on 6 March have a hospital scan. The screen displays a 2cm bladder tumour. I am shocked and scared, though the nurse assures me that in 85% of cases such tumours can be removed by keyhole surgery. Erika and I agree, of course, that I must inform the family and close friends. Everyone very concerned.
7th April: Operation to remove tumour. Much bleeding and clots in the urine. Visited by Dan, Lucia, Anne, Erika, Jim and Linnéa. Poor Linnéa has her own medical problem. Hit in the face by a football at short range, she is now being sick – sometimes twenty, sometimes forty, once over a hundred times a day – and must carry numerous small plastic bags with her. The doctors say she has Post Traumatic Syndrome and ‘it will pass in three months’. We all feel this attitude is not good enough. Surely something more can be done for her?
11th April: More bad news: We learn that the whole tumour cannot be removed – it is too deeply seated – and I must have a CT scan and then wait four weeks for results and histology before any further action is possible. Frustrating. Time is ticking on. Björn is in Java and Sumatra, travelling by plane, ship and river boat to some very isolated Tropical Forest locations. By chance, he passes through a couple of towns that were home to Rita when she was a young girl, just before her family escaped from Indonesia. In one, she recalls, she tasted bread for the first time, and so enjoyed the taste – and being so hungry – she ended up stealing the loaf.
24th April-5th May: Dan is greatly exercised by TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, a scheme designed by Europe and the USA to build a joint trading bloc. He (and others, amongst them Global Justice Now) feels that it will undermine our democratic institutions, making them subservient to powerful business interests, as these will be able to sue governments if they feel their profits are reduced due to social reforms. To draw attention to this scheme, Dan decides to take his boat (slogan: “TTIP – Selling Democracy Down the River”) up-stream from Bristol to Bath and the Kennet & Avon Canal. Many of the ten days prove cold and rainy, and several nights he sleeps on or near the tow path. He manages to discuss the issue with a few of those he meets, one of whom uses a drone to photo him dramatically close to a weir in Bath. But, however worthy the aims, his experience sounds grim.
Watch out, Dan: rough waters ahead!
8th May: General election, and the Tories are back despite pundits and opinion polls forecasting a Labour win. The Labour party in complete disarray, wiped out in Scotland by the Scottish Nationalists, and Ed Milliband resigning as Leader of the Opposition. At least UKIP did badly, too.
12th May: Bad news from Queen Alexandra Hospital. The scan shows the cancer is more widespread than simply the bladder, with spots in the lungs and lymph nodes. Discussions as to which treatment plan to follow: radiotherapy, chemotherapy and/or an operation. The operation would be major, lasting nine hours, removing the bladder, with six months needed to recuperate. And for the rest of my life I would have to wear a urine bag strapped to my leg. At nearly 78, I do not feel I can cope with that, especially since chemotherapy would also be needed as a follow-up. Every bit of new information seems to make matters worse! Erika, Björn, Dan and Adam sit in on various discussions with the medics. At times, I can hardly grasp the import of each new development and feel grateful for their intelligent support.
13th May: This morning, perhaps in response to Dan’s successful April Fool’s prank of a year or two earlier, brother Adam presented him and Lucia at Lodgeside with a litre bottle of Coca Cola. In its cap he had lodged a sweet. When Dan undid the cap, the sweet dropped into the Coke making it effervesce and pour out. Dan, swearing, grabbed the bottle, trying to squeeze the cap back on, which only made matters worse. He rushed to the sink, the brown liquid squirting every which way, onto the ceiling and onto one of Lucia’s unfinished paintings… A chastened Adam spent the rest of the morning with mops and cloths, cleaning walls, ceiling and floor. Ah, well, better luck next year.
16th May: After a dreadful wait of 112 days since referral to hospital with suspected cancer, chemo treatment has finally started. Despite the nausea, weakness, dizziness and hiccoughs (last night I counted 140 – it is completely exhausting), I am relieved that SOMETHING IS NOW BEING DONE.
25th May: Björn, Linnéa and Jim watch England beat New Zealand at Lords, sitting right under the commentary box. That evening, on TV’s Test Match Special, Jim’s high-pitched scream of delight is broadcast to the nation – caught on the commentators’ microphones – as the last NZ wicket fell.
3rd-4th June: For the past two weeks I had been losing a great deal of blood in the urine, sometimes in great clots which were hard to pass. We rang the help line, but they said it was normal. Yesterday morning we were at the hospital preparing for a second dose of chemo and I felt terribly ill. Erika rushed off to find a wheelchair, into which I collapsed and fainted. By amazing good fortune, the Matron of the Urology Ward happened to pass by, Erika explained my condition, and she admitted me on the spot. My blood count proved dangerously low and over the next two days I receive 8 units of blood by transfusion. What a wonderful service that is. I must make a (financial) donation!
18th July: Adam and Anne have invited Linnéa to join them for a week in Cornwall. How thoughtful. And what a good idea to have the cousins get to know each other in this way. It will also help to develop Linnéa’s confidence at being away from home, and Björn and Ellie’s at letting her go on an adventure. When the Delhi wallahs move to Paris, Linnéa could perhaps join them there, too?
Family dinner at Arethusa
24th-26th July: The whole family here at Arethusa House, where we celebrate an early birthday for Adam and me, with Adam cooking an “Italian dinner” (bravely, in Lucia’s presence) and Lucia giving us one of her rather magical paintings, which now hangs in the hall. A delight to have everyone sitting for hours round a long table in the front room. Quite Italian, in fact.
Erika’s moment of fame in the Sunday Observer
On the 25th, quite a stormy day, we watched Ben Ainslie’s team take part in the America’s Cup race, and win. The children cut up two dozen lemons, made real lemonade and sold it to spectators on the promenade below our flat. Adam had lent them £10 to buy fruit, sugar and paper mugs; they sold drinks for £20; quite a successful Capitalist return! We also stood in the crowd with placards urging the GB team on to victory. Erika couldn’t have been more pleased next morning to find a photo of herself in the Observer, holding a “GO, BEN, GO!” sign.
13th August: More bad news. My first nine cycles of chemotherapy being completed, but a scan shows no improvement, so it will be stopped. Luckily, the cancer itself seems pretty stable, but the ineffectiveness of the treatment comes as a huge disappointment. No alternative can be tried until the body has completely rid itself of the poison – which at least gives us some weeks’ break. Adam, Dan and Björn have been scanning the Internet for new options and have discovered that Southampton General Hospital is trialling a new immunotherapy drug, MPDL 30, which stimulates the body’s own immune system and has been getting very encouraging results for bladder cancer in trials elsewhere. Intuitively, I lean towards this approach and apply to join the trial.
Still feeling very low, and wondering just how long I have to live (Will I even reach eighty? Somehow, that feels important, albeit two years away), I want to use this window of opportunity to meet Sigyn’s brothers and sisters, and our dear friends Göran and Rita in Sweden.
18th-21st August: Stockholm with the Dahlgrens. Brilliant blue skies and wonderful warm weather. The islands green and summery. How good to be back. We talk and talk. Birger, Rose-Marie and Kajsa will join us on the 21st – travelling from central Sweden to Stockholm for just the afternoon – but I am apprehensive at how things will go. I hope we will not get too emotional, all too aware that Gerhard (Kajsa’s husband) and Sigyn both died of cancer. However, Göran and Rita serve champagne and nibbles to welcome our visitors and after twenty minutes’ quiet talk the atmosphere turns to joking and laughing. How well they handle it. I feel deep gratitude, yet again, to such kind and sensible friends and family. Nevertheless, when they leave – and Erika and I depart next day for the airport – the chilling thought is there: shall we ever meet again?
23rd August: Anne and the boys move into their Paris apartment. (Amazingly, she had earlier managed to find this and an excellent nearby school, in two brief visits). Until mattresses arrive, they use camping mats on the floor. In the week before Magnus and Edvard start at the Ėcole Jeannine Manuel, Anne has to open a bank account, get Internet installed and arrange for gas, electricity and insurance, all with her limited French. The container arrives from Delhi, and she must unpack heavy furniture, books, kitchenware, clothes, toys, pictures and sculptures and get everything into the right room, into cupboards and onto shelves. And she succeeds, of course.
In leaving India, the Delhi wallahs had faced a dilemma – what to do with Sweetie the cat. Five years old and hardened by fights with fierce moggies in Sunder Nagar, Sweetie stood little chance of being adopted locally. Nor could she be left in the street to fend for herself. Nor would they dream of getting a vet to put her down. No, Sweetie must come to Paris, and Adam must bring her in September. Vaccinations were given, certificates acquired, plus an air ticket and special cat bag. Sweetie was to travel under Adam’s seat on the plane.
On 10th September, Adam passed through Security at Indira Gandhi Airport, in one hand a piece of normal hand luggage, in the other a strong canvas bag – squirming, twisting and squealing– that soon raised official eyebrows. He showed his documents, but they fell short; he must produce yet another paper from the Air France desk. He offered to go back for it, but returning was not allowed: they must bring the paper to him. Could he phone them? Yes. Could they possibly give him a number? No. The cat bag squealed in protest. With help from Indrani at the Economist office back in town, the number was found and Adam could finally ring the Air France desk, just 100 metres away.
Once on the plane, his troubles really started. For the next nine hours, the Delhi cat miaoued, clawed, scrabbled, whined and urinated. Poor Sweetie? Poor Adam!! As passengers muttered, groaned and exclaimed at the widening smell of cat pee. Landing at dawn, and too tired to parley with Parisian animal health officers, he marched straight through the RIEN A DECLARER exit. Within the hour, Sweetie would begin a new sophisticated life in the French capital.
30th September: Excellent news – I have been accepted for the Immunotherapy drug trial at Southampton General Hospital. Good to be getting on with things again, even though the eight-week break from treatment has also been quite a relief. Björn, Dan, Erika come with me to meet Dr Crabb (appropriate name for a cancer specialist) and learn that, yes – I can take part the trial – but, by random selection I am one of the 50% who will not receive the acclaimed Immunotherapy drug, but standard chemotherapy treatment (Paclitaxel). Once again, I feel my luck has deserted me, though Dr Crabb says Paclitaxel is “Gold Standard” and insists that the experimental drug itself does not suit everyone. I remain disappointed, but won’t opt out, since trials depend on control samples too.
4th October: Sunday walk in the New Forest with Erika, Dan and Anne Snowdon – a colleague from Portsmouth Polytechnic in the 1970s and still bright and positive as ever. A while back, she had asked if I would write her a reference for a job at a college of further education. Knowing that she had long been a school secretary before joining the Research Unit, I wondered why – now in her eighties – she wanted yet another secretarial job. ‘Oh, it’s nothing to do with college admin.’ She chortled. ‘I’ve applied to be a nude model in the life-drawing classes!’ I wrote her a great reference.
Passing through Netley Marsh, we looked in at Tools for Self Reliance. No one around, so we just wandered about the site. Some of the farm buildings look a bit tired, but others seem in good shape and the large TFSR block is superb with its new roof and large solar panels. The current team of volunteers, staff and trustees are coping well despite the national fall-off in charity donations.
This evening, I suddenly felt moved to ring Harry Iles, now in Abergavenny and one of the most impressive activists I recall from TFSR days – a natural enthusiast, artist, socialist, speaker and inspiring teacher. Our conversation set me thinking of the many other wonderful friends who saw Tools for Self Reliance through its first sixteen years. Each had his & her special qualities, but all shared a commitment to practical support for working people in the poorest countries, and – just as vital – to informing people in the UK about the powers that profit from poverty and inequality. I am still convinced that the voluntary element helped to keep our approach democratic. Did Keeping Something Alive catch this spirit of solidarity? I never hear the word these days. Global issues seem ever-more complicated, but at least “Global Justice Now” feels to be right on message. It deserves support, even if just financial.
7th October: After months of waiting for planning permission and checks for asbestos in the ceilings, Björn and Ellie report that work has started on their loft extension. Half of the roof will be raised to maximise head-room, Velux windows to the north will give fine views of the Downs and large floor-to-ceiling windows south will look south along the garden, across their little stream, to the woods and fields beyond. Best of all will be the extra space, with a big bedroom and en suite for B & E, plus good sized rooms below for Linnéa and Jim. So, a bathroom and toilet on each of the three floors – excellent! All the family will have to sleep in the sitting room for two or three weeks, but it will be worth the disruption.
1st November. Morning call: Adam and family report from Paris that they are cycling beside the Canal St Martin. Golden weather; leaves drifting down from trees on either side. Curious little bridges. I tell him of the time that Sigyn and I reached down and pulled a man out of the Seine at the point where the canal joins the river. Poor chap: he had jumped in, promptly changed his mind and wanted out again.
Afternoon: Paul and Margaret Dawson, friends of Erika and David since the early 1980s, invite us to a knitting group to be launched in Southsea by Jo, their daughter and Erika’s Goddaughter. We will meet monthly to make blankets and woolly hats for migrants and refugees stuck at Calais. I am sceptical, wondering how Jo will transport and distribute the material, but she says that this will be handled by CalAid, a national charity. The Dawsons have been such good friends to us over thirty years, and I think of the struggle that TFSR had in its early days, so we agree to go along. Erika gets off to a good start, knitting swiftly, row after row. First Margaret, then Paul, demonstrate casting on, but I am all fingers and thumbs. (The last time I knitted was nearly seventy years ago, a string dish cloth, at Calder High School.) After two hours, I have put 38 stitches onto my needle, but Margaret is all encouragement, urges me to take home a large ball of blue wool and to keep going till I have a strip 1.25 metres long. Later, she rings to say, “Sorry, I should have said 1.5 metres’. It seems an impossible goal.
Evening: Björn emails to say that Linnéa and a school friend have won first prize for the best Halloween pumpkin in Chilworth. Photo attached of a snarling wild cat, carved with fine saws rather than a treacherous knife. It is startlingly good.
5th-9th November: Dan joins us for a few days in Paris. It is so handy: pile into the car, drive ten minutes, board the ferry, wave at our flat as we cruise by into the Channel – a good night’s sleep, and we land at Le Havre around 8.30 a.m. The motorway to Paris is empty for long stretches and we reach rue du Laos before noon. Great to be back in France, and in such warm autumn sunshine, too.
The apartment is remarkably like their one in Delhi, with a large living/dining room, high ornate ceilings and a long corridor. Of course the many paintings, sculptures, wall hangings and dark furniture – collected over ten years in Africa and Asia – make it feel familiar, too.
Magnus at the oar, but Eddie leading by five lengths at the Bois
Activities begin almost at once – a good meal, then out to play ping-pong at public tables close to the Eiffel Tower – everyone pretty evenly matched, though Adam probably had the edge. Games at home, reading through the boys’ schoolwork. Another day, all go to the Palais de la Découverte (a public demonstration of how rats learn to navigate mazes, another on electromagnetism, and a wonderful exhibition on the properties of light). Then on to the Bois de Boulogne and rowing on the lake: it aroused such memories of 1966 and my wedding day.
Another day, visit Arthur and Madeleine, passing by rue du Progrès in Meudon – which we note to be a cul-de-sac. Sad to see him so reduced by illness and the side effects of his treatment; and we are shocked to learn that Mado, now, is seriously ill and must soon have bone marrow replacement. She is so caring of Arthur, urging him to eat and keep his weight up, though he scarcely responds.
The days pass too quickly and we are soon thanking our famille parisienne (no longer Delhi wallahs) for making us so welcome in their new home. Wonderful to have them so close again.
My knitting, taken along to Paris with such good intentions, remains untouched until we are once more on the cross-Channel ferry. Off the French coast, I make one last effort – and give up as the lounge heaves and sways. Erika and I retreat to a darkened cabin, only emerging as the ship finds calmer waters off the Isle of Wight. Nevertheless, I think I’m getting the hang of this knitting business. It is quite addictive.
18th December: Poor Björn, Ellie, Linnéa and Jim! It is now nine weeks since building started and they are still sleeping together on mattresses in the front room, half of which is taken up with boxes, toys, furniture and clothing, carefully arranged under dust sheets. Much else fills the garden shed. I marvel at Ellie’s capacity to find shoes and school uniforms of a morning, and to remain patient and cheerful under all this pressure. The builders say the top floor will be finished within two weeks – or maybe three. Already Ellie and Björn are filling, sanding and painting the walls of the children’s bedrooms, evenings and weekends, and though they had hoped to join the rest of us in Paris for Christmas, their top priority now is to get the middle floor done and the children’s beds installed before the start of next term. Very sensible.
20th-28th December: Dan, Erika and I drove to Paris, again, via Brittany Ferries – poor Lucia stayed behind as Christmas and New Year are the busiest time of year for the Michelangelo Italian Restaurant in Ryde. At least, Dan will be back on the Island to join the Otterbecks (our kindly next-door neighbours at Binstead Hall) for the New Year’s Eve dinner and entertainment at the restaurant. Doubtless, he will stay on when other guests have left, to help staff with the washing up!
We felt quite at home in the rue du Laos and picked up again on the ping-pong, cards and other activities, as if we’d never left off. Some changes, though: to avoid overcrowding, Erika and I slept at HAPIMAG on the rue St Honoré, an easy metro ride from Adam’s. For Christmas Eve we had Norwegian treats, with Adam taking a selfie that got us all in. He also cheated shamelessly when racing Anne to bite their way to the middle of the last sausage: when Anne opened her mouth for a new bite – he sucked!
Christmas 2015 in Paris
Christmas Eve was full of fun, with generous presents to us from Rita and Göran. Anne and Adam gave the boys trottinettes (stylish scooters – not the simple efforts we rode as children) and a drone. None of us had flown a drone before, and all acquitted themselves well, though they are tricky to control.
Ready, steady… GO! What’s he up to now? GOT’IT!
Another delicious spread on Boxing Day, when Young Arthur, his wife and daughter, mother Deborah and her partner, Peter, plus Annie McStravick joined us for the afternoon. After crossing the Atlantic with us on Amity, Young Arthur had formed the band Moriarty, which later had some great hits and performed all round the world. He and Adam wrote the words to Moriarty’s best-known song, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy” one rainy afternoon in Deborah’s apartment on the Ile St Louis. As we sat round the table, though, we settled for the old English song, Green Grow the Rushes Oh! [Watch video of it here].
30th December: We have a consultation with Dr Crabb in Southampton. I report that the Paclitaxel has left my feet very numb, and even the tips of my thumbs and a couple of fingers. He is concerned and proposes that we discontinue the chemotherapy, hoping that five goes will have stabilised the cancer, at least for a while. I shall have a scan on 2nd February and get the results on the 10th. Let’s hope he is right.
What a year.