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A REGRET OF OLD AGE

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To a school of fish, a flock of birds, a nest of vipers, I choose to add ‘a regret of old-age.’

There is absolutely no point — no practical point — in the inevitability of ageing. It is far better avoided. At all costs. Look at the world population: a significant proportion of people are old, despite the fact that recent trends suggest old age occurs later and later. I remember when my father retired at the age of sixty-five, he had already been old for at least five years. In life, he got perilously close to ninety.

See all these old people. They can be discovered world-wide. They get everywhere. No country, no culture, no tribe, no nation is unique in this. Look at them; weighed down with all the wisdom of the world, and frequently too frail to make use of it. Perceive and understand; how their knee-joints and hips creak and moan at the weight of all their accumulated faults and errors, life mistakes and the wearying of cell and sinew. Yet even in their hearts they retain unbounded joy at remembered triumphs and successes, and at the possibility of further triumphs and successes still to come.

The persistent trouble with old-age is that it gives individual the right length of service to enable them to catch up on all sorts of incurable conditions. The 30/40/50 year old diabetic can seem invincible, can appear to waltz through life maintaining work, house, family. As the condition progresses, more and more bits of life drop-off the score-board. Unless well-managed by the individual, diabetes progressively leads to kidney failure, circulation difficulties, damage to the retina and even in extreme cases but with increasing regularity, amputation. 

Therefore beware the young, the middle aged and the old-age deniers, diabetes can be measured and accounted for, while the loss of mind cannot. This is the greatest offence old-age commits. Mindlessness. Or mindfulness, obscured by a patina of old-age, hiding the memories held within inaccessible grey cells.

So, the elderly progress, (if it can be called progress), towards coping strategies. When one knee becomes an irritant, it remains possible to ascend stairs one step and one leg at a time. Watch this writer going up to bed. The subsequent strategy, ascending stairs when both knees go walkabout, remains to be invented. When knees, hips and back conspire together to make putting on socks difficult, it may be necessary for a third person to learn a new multi-tasking skill. The even greater problem is donning underpants/knickers/trousers, which may be why so many elderly can be seen wearing things like pyjamas and track-suits.

It is quite normal for slim young men to grow into quite corpulent older men and still try to wear the same sized-waist trousers the young man wore. Such self-deception can be discerned in the marks around the waist and the painful over-hang around the belt line. There was a time when sensible older men wore trousers several sizes too large with braces rather than belts. It is now understood what puzzled as a child. My former primary school headteacher, a gentle and affable, loving and caring individual always appeared to be wearing trousers that were very baggy at the waist. His heavy-weight braces were always very obvious, too.

There are messy bits to ageing, messy bits best not discussed in polite society, messy bits which are very personal to the individual. As long as one eats, drinks and has instincts such as desire, then there are consequences. Frequently messy consequences. A discreet veil is best drawn across the details.

The QED of all this, is that once born, each of us should avoid ageing for as long as possible. In so many instances, young people are impatient to grow up, go to the pub, learn to drive, be sexually active and fulfilled, be a social being, a parent, a labourer in the field of gainful employment. Be aware: being grown-up, mature, holding all the knowledge and experience of the world in your hand, is not always what it is cracked up to be.


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Keeping a Writer´s Notebook

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As Open University Creative Writing students, we are encouraged — almost commanded — to keep a writer’s notebook. I am the least organised, least disciplined of individuals, but try to be compliant. A notebook is a relatively cheap asset. There are plenty of pens in my house. There is now a multiplicity of notebooks where I live, and frequently I cannot tell one from the other. There are even notebooks with important items in them which I cannot find.

Early during A802 (the first module of the Creative Writing MA course) I took my enthusiastic and compliant notebook for a journey. Unusually, I was travelling solo. My wife was on a break in England. We live in Spain. I took a day off from household chores and study, to ride the coastal tramway from Alicante to Benidorm. Everything I saw and did, I noted in my writer’s notebook. I noted my several journeys. I had driven from home to Alicante airport where I parked the car and took the airport bus into the city. I had lunch within arm’s length of the tram station Luceros. I even noted my visit to a rather narrow, slightly grubby toilet. Especially, I made notes about my interesting journey from Luceros to Benidorm town. Being a public transport enthusiast, I was content. All my preparations, all my expectations were being realised. And I was making copious notes, which would help with my new-found study-interest, Creative Non-Fiction. There were splendid coastal vistas. We stopped briefly at Vila Joyosa, where the Valor chocolate factory is. I noted the crops, the rugged cliffs and precipitous valleys we crossed. I was glad when we reached the terminus. I was absolutely sure that I had more than sufficient material for a fascinating piece of CNF (Creative Non-Fiction) to fill a hole somewhere in my course.

Today, about to start A803, the second module of the MA course, the opening rubric reminds students that a writer’s notebook is an essential part of the writer’s life. I cannot find my copious notes of that journey. Having admitted that I am the least disciplined of would-be writers, I do keep a writer’s notebook — or rather, lots of them. My great problem is that normally I am not very good at making notes. I think, and work, in long-hand. Most of my notebooks contain new articles, new ideas, fresh stories, all written out in full. If I feel comfortable with what I have written, they are then typed up on the computer, a safe and secure copy kept. Frequently, notebooks are then put to one side, forgotten, neglected — and in the case of the Benidorm journey, misplaced.

All this is the result of my working modus operandi. I write quickly. Words pour out. Not necessarily well-disciplined words, but lots of them. They flow — sometimes stagger — onto the page. No one else could read my writing because it is a hasty scrawl, but once scrawled, I have the good fortune to be a fast touch typist. It is a skill I was taught in my youth, a skill for which I am eternally grateful. That skill, acquired when I was eighteen, has followed me through a subsequent sixty-three years of professional and leisure life. The next problem for someone as ill-disciplined as I, is editing and reviewing. Frequently when I re-read what I have written in haste, I regret it in leisure and reflection. I find the edit and review, the writer’s skill of putting the raw material through the refiner’s fire, painful. 

So, having been reminded of the need to keep a notebook — apparently all the best writers, including Hemingway do it, or have done it — my mind turned to the notes for the Benidorm journey. They have never been written up. The journey is fresh in my memory, but the detail is in the notebook, not in the fog of memory. Which notebook, of the many in my desk drawer, is the unanswered question. 

Having been glad to leave the tram and its uncomfortable hard plastic seat, I looked around for somewhere to be refreshed in the station. A search revealed nowhere suitable. Instinct said there would be somewhere appropriate just around the corner. Just before going just around the corner, I thought to check on the time of the return journey. I had a return ticket, and my car would be waiting at Alicante airport. As I bent to peer closer at the timetable displayed on the station wall, a sudden jolt almost knocked me to the ground. As I recovered my dazed senses, I looked to see who had attacked me, and perhaps more relevantly, why I was being attacked. Strange things can happen in Spain. A burly man, younger, fitter and stronger than me, was holding me upright and apologising profusely. He had been standing with his wife, buying tickets for a journey, had taken a step back and cannoned into me, accidentally. His wife, even more apologetic, thought I should sit down. A cup of coffee was more on my mind. Pulling myself together, and knowing the time of the next tram, I staggered around the corner, where there was a very nice coffee shop, well shaded and almost gloomy. Sitting there, I recovered what senses I have left in old age. My surroundings were a little tawdry but sufficient for me to rest, relax, feel the fading point of impact on my shoulder and realise that no apparent harm had been done.

No notes were taken on the return journey. It was a pretty journey with the sun setting over the sea. It was only looking into the setting sun, that I realised all was not well. A shadow was passing over my left eye. The impact had been on my left shoulder. This was the shoulder my French master had torn the muscles of, when we were playing field hockey for the school staff team against the pupils. Fred Weekes had been a big, big man. I suffered for many weeks as the muscles recovered. As headteacher, it wasn’t long before I promoted him. He was a good teacher, if a misguided hockey player. 

On the tram, when the shadow passed to another part of the left eye, looking to the horizon I could see a regular pattern of little dots floating about, rather like looking through the holes in a sheet of perforated zinc. I was glad to get back to the city. I was glad to get on the circular bus to the airport. I was even glad to point two inebriated Scotsmen towards the main railway station. Whether they ever managed to reach their ultimate destination is unclear. My car was safe and secure where I had left it. In the dark drive home, there was no sign of the shadow across my eye, nor of the spots and dots on the retina. They were obvious in the electric light of my living room. Next day, my splendid local doctor didn’t even look at my eye. I was convinced that there was a detached retina. The floating shadow was, if anything, even more obvious. The black spots seemed to have enlarged overnight. He pointed me in the direction of an eye-specialist at the local hospital next day. There were thousands in the waiting room. I put my slip of paper in the box, as instructed, and was called almost immediately. Apparently, my slip of paper said ‘urgencias’ - ‘emergency’. Summoned into the presence of the eye specialist and her pupil, I was impressed with how charming the one was and how pretty the other. Lights were shining, optician’s lights shining in my eyes. The pupil had been dilated and much was blurred. 

‘I fear that I have a detached retina, following a bump two days ago,’ I offered.

‘I will decide that,’ my charming oculist said. ‘See,’ to her pupil. ‘What do you see?’

They both spoke in English for my benefit. The pretty pupil wasn’t sure what she saw. A machine was adjusted. The specialist looked and pointed something out to her pupil.

‘Ah! Si,’ the pupil said and then gave a torrent of description in Spanish. Presumably she didn’t know all the English words for the diagnosis.

‘No, Mr Cooper. There is no detached retina, I am glad to say. You have a burst blood vessel in the back of your eye. It is that which is causing the shadow and the spots. They will all fade with time. Come back in two weeks.’

Although I hate hospitals, I was looking forward to seeing my charming eye-specialist again. This time my slip of paper was not marked ‘urgencias’. I was now ‘routine’. Again, there were many waiting in the waiting room. It took a long time to be called. The shadow was still there but much less distinct. Spots before my eyes were fewer and smaller. Called into the presence of the specialist, I was shocked to find a man sitting there. A quick examination of the back of the eye.

‘Is good. No return. Goodbye,' as he dismissed me.

There is still no sign of the notebook with the notes of the journey to Benidorm.


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Here we go!

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Here we go. A803-20 is on line and choices have to be made. Having focused and concentrated on CNF (Creative Non-Fiction) through A802, there wasn't a lot of decision-making to do. I hope that some of the writing that I have done during the lock-down and through the University vacation break will come in useful. There are many words there: 80,000 odd in 'Palimpsest 1937 - 1960', my 'growing-up' memoir; a similar number of words in 'Plague Diary', a still-to-be-edited version of the 100 postings to friends and family during the heavy Spanish lock-down from March 2020 and I continue to develop 'Finding Rosalind', my response to the unnecessary premature death of a friend with mental health complications. So, I ask myself where does a new character - a fiction character - born yesterday in a brand new (it had to be red in colour) exercise book - come into all this? Although I'm excited about getting to grips with A803, I am currently pre-occupied with Henry Absalom and his little red notebook. I should have some idea of what happens to him in the end. Many possibilities are swilling about in my head. I think his poor down-trodden wife will triumph, that he will lose control of his children, that he may even be murdered by the beautiful Miss Richards who is about to seduce him. Consider the female spider after mating. There is much worldly wiseness to consider. Perhaps that should be 'worldly foolishness' if he cannot withstand Miss Richards´s wiles. There will be a resolution of some sort, bless him and his controlling fixation. He and I are going to have a love/hate relationship. He who controls - as Henry does - will be controlled, but by whom? Ah! What power there is in the writer's grasp.

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My Giddy Aunt

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 5 Sep 2020, 17:42

It was my Auntie Bessie who used to say that: My giddy aunt. I'm not sure which of my many aunts was the giddy one. Auntie Bessie also said 'Blarowast' instead of 'Blast' when she wanted to swear. I was never sure what the difference was between ´blarowast' and 'blast' other than a narrow upbringing suddenly widened by the Second World War and her nursing career.

However, I am surprising myself by saying 'My giddy aunt!'. The exclamation mark is there to be noticed. My surprised exclamation is because I have just discovered that I am a published author. Only in a very small way, perhaps. But a piece of my writing has arrived in the world of print and is broadcast world-wide on the internet.

Some time ago, during the major lock-down in Spain, I wrote a daily diary - a ´Plague Diary´, if you like - sending it to a circle of friends and family. One of the recipients contacted me regarding a book that she, her brother and others were drawing together, asking if any of my writing could be used. So there, published in a book, is one of my entries, among the many contributions, from many people, from all over the world.

A Kindle version of the book is available through Amazon. It is called ´From Love Comes Hope´, published under the editorship of my friend´s brother, Peter Lihou and Acclaimed Books, with authorship attributed to my friend, Maureen Moss herself and a range of others. Below is my entry from the book.....

'As this lock-down progresses, we become more aware of the small things of life. There is more space and time to do that, now that the hubbub of traffic has largely faded away, now that we are not bombarded by the noisy posturing of so called celebrities who have done nothing in the world except be briefly famous, frequently notorious, making a great deal of money as a result. It is interesting that even the rowdiest of newspapers have to focus on real news and not have to invent stories about pop-singers, soccer players and soap actors and actresses. Although I notice that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are not to be allowed to live their lives in peace. Yesterday, I took Tilly the dog out for a short walk. No car was seen. I saw one other person on the other side of the road. Things were noticed that in a busier world would just have been passed over. There are noticeably more birds around. That can’t be a bad thing. Because the world is quieter, bird-song is more noticeable. I’ve always loved the evening ‘about to roost’ song of blackbirds. Until yesterday, I’d never really heard it in Spain. Tiny spring flowers in a multitude of colours spring up on all the waste ground. Tilly ignores them but she does love to chew a juicy blade of grass. 

 As the pavements are deserted, they begin to take on a different life. Because there is less foot-fall, ants are beginning to predominate. Between paving stones, small heaps of grounding sand are appearing, the sand that the workmen have used to level and secure the paving. The ants are totally unaware of the virus and continue to create their complex underground palaces. They have always been there, on the waste-ground margins, in gardens, sometimes a nuisance in houses but now they begin to take over the territory that man would normally call his own. A sign perhaps that when humankind has morphed into some other form of existence, ants will still be there, then at the top of the food chain. 

The men who were building a new house just opposite our house are no longer working. At the bottom of what will be a new street of houses, a children’s play park has been built. In Spain, it is usual to put in infrastructure first, planned buildings afterwards. When I first bought a brand new house in England, the other houses on the small estate were completed long before the builder put in the finished access road. Here, the services are put in and details added like facilities for children before building is finished. Interestingly, not far away from us, a new facility, yet to be built, for the ‘Third Age’ - in other words, we oldies, an old folks home - has all its infrastructure including a children’s play area! The new play area near our house holds a fascination for Tilly. Perhaps she has seen a cat there some time and remembers. She stands at its entrance almost transfixed. It remains pristine. Roped-off. There are no children.Tilly is also fascinated by an occasional gecko. She would dearly love to catch one but they are far too nimble even for Tilly. 

In the middle of being aware of new things to see, balmy evenings are remembered, sitting on the terrace of the local hotel with a sundowner. The hotel’s position is superb, at the top of the hill leading out of the village and only a few hundred yards from our house. The land falls away from the hotel terrace, giving a full and totally clear view of the mountains. In winter, the setting sun fades behind the closest, small local mountain, to the left. As midsummer approaches, the sun gradually moves to the right until at the height of summer, it is setting behind a much higher and more distant mountain, bathing the terrace in a warm rosy glow. And under terms of lock-down, the hotel is closed and no one can enjoy this privileged view. Yesterday, during a day of glorious sunshine, I was wondering if it was approaching time for shorts, and possibly the abandoning of winter vests. Not yet. Today is overcast, although my BBC Weather forecast for this area says zero chance of rain. The time for shorts will come. Shortly. I see others wearing them. But I have always been a coward. 

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay ‘virtually’ close.

Geoff Cooper, 2020

Lihou, Peter. With Love, Comes Hope: Stories & Inspiration during the 2020 Pandemic (p. 230). Acclaimed Books Limited. Kindle Edition. 

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THE ROOM

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THE ROOM


There was a room in my Grandmother’s house that was rarely used, except to pass through. It was necessary to pass through it from the living room to access the stairs to go to the upper floor. The upper floor had two bedrooms and a bathroom. Originally the house had possessed only an outside toilet. The bathroom was a later creation.

Grandma, my Father’s Mother, called it her ‘Best Room’ and just as a Sunday suit was kept for Sundays and special occasions, the ´best room´ was kept for best. The rest of the family called it ´The Sitting Room’, except that hardly anyone ever sat there. Our house, the house where Mum, Dad and I lived, was quite similar in size and layout. We had a sitting room that did get used regularly. I did my very reluctant piano practice there, and it was used for my other Grandmother to die in. She had months in bed there until her death in 1947. At least when she was there, I had no agonising piano practice to do, only the agonising knowledge of an agonising and impending death.

Granny Cooper’s ‘best room’ was a different matter. Apart from passing through it, I can only remember two occasions it was used. When the war was over in 1945, and when all the men had returned - Dad and Uncle Jack from the RAF, Les and Ted from the Army - and when Elsie was on holiday from her job in London and Ruthie had left the ATS - there was a big party. It must have been New Year. No food was allowed in Granny’s best room. That was all served and eaten at the table in the kitchen, men sitting down first, then the women and children afterwards. There wasn’t enough room for all to sit and eat at once. I remember Ruthie, standing back to the fire in the kitchen range, skirt hitched up, warming her backside. Older sister Renie was shocked and said so. Middle sister Elsie, a woman of the world just smiled. I'm not sure if eldest sister, Annie, noticed. She probably was busy with the twins who were difficult, or arguing with her coal miner husband. And Granny, being a peace-maker shushed everyone up. She liked no difference of opinion in her house.

It was only after the meal was over, the dishes washed and the kitchen table cleared, that the sherry bottle and the home-made ginger wine appeared and everyone moved into the best room. A deck of cards was produced and placed on the until-now-unused and well-polished mahogany dining table. The men got a small glass of sherry. So did Ruthie and Elsie, both of whom were women well versed in the ways of the world. Annie and Renie, the oldest of the sisters sipped a tiny glass full of ginger wine. Renie, strictest of strict Methodists winced as she sipped. Mum, a reformed Anglican, who had signed ´the pledge´, had ginger wine. There was ginger wine for Granny and a half glass of ginger wine diluted with water for the children. There were a lot of us children. Pre-war privations and the war itself had not restricted procreation. Nancy was there and her twin sisters. Drew had not yet been born, nor had Jennifer. Cousin Anne was there but not her yet-to-be-born sister Pauline. Cousin Raymond and his sister were there. And, of course, me.

All the dining chairs around the table were occupied and arm chairs and the settee drawn up. The adults played cards. I sat on the arm of a chair watching Mum play. I was surprised that she knew the rules because we never played cards at home, but she did know the rules and embarrassed no-one. Dad was careful to make sure no-one knew which cards he had. Mum cared less about who saw her hand. Most of the cards had numbers on. Numbers bored me. I preferred the ones with pictures on when they came out, especially the joker. Except that they picked the joker out, put it to one side and didn’t use it. That seemed to be a pity. The joker was much more interesting than the ace or the jack.

It was a gambling game, so Granny didn’t play, nor Renie. Granny’s long-dead husband had been a Methodist lay-preacher as well as a butcher. For Granny, gambling was a sin. The players gambled for match-sticks. Two boxes of normal sized matches had been divided up and a big box of smaller smokers’ Swan Vestas. Dad, Ted and Les smoked but never in the best room. Ruthie smoked, too, but no one was supposed to know that. Only ´fast´ women smoked. Mum and Dad did quite well for match-sticks but Ruthie had most. Ruthie´s husband Ted, who had driven an Army lorry in Africa and Italy, lost most of his match-sticks and began breaking in half the ones that he had left, so he could continue playing. We knew Ruthie would give him some of hers because they had been courting all through the war and had just got married.

I don’t remember how the party ended, but I do remember standing at the Bute Arms bus stop to catch the last bus home to our village. It was a brilliant star-lit night, very suitable for a frosty mid-winter. Mum knew the names of all the stars. She was a teacher and taught me their names. Now that I am old, I have forgotten them all, except for the Great Bear and how to find the Pole Star, should I be at sea and get lost. 

Years later, I spent time in Granny’s best room again. Mum was having a baby in 1951. It had been agreed that it would be best if I stayed at Granny’s house to be out of the way, and so that I could walk down the hill to my Grammar School. I wasn’t included in the agreement discussions. It mattered to Mum and Granny that I went to the Grammar School. No one else in the family went to the Grammar School, except my cousin Jean on the other side of the family. In any case, she lived about 60 miles away, went to a different Grammar School, so she didn’t really count in the story of The Room. More importantly, it mattered to me that I went to the Grammar School, because normally I travelled to school in a bus whose headboard read ´Scholars´. Not ´Pupils´, or ´School-bus’, or ‘School-Children’ but ‘Scholars’. If the bus conductor didn’t get the headboard roller just right, it sometimes read half ´Chopwell´or ‘High Spen’ and half ‘Scholars’ but that didn’t matter because it was the only bus that left from our bus stop and the only bus that went down to our school and we knew the driver.

I was glad to be a scholar, because I never felt that I was clever enough and being a scholar might teach me to be clever like Mum. Dad wasn’t clever in the same way. He was skilled. His customers at the shop liked him. He was popular with people at church and at his bowls club. But he wasn’t clever like Mum.

It had been agreed that I would stay with Granny and Auntie Renie while my sister got born. There were two problems. I was the agreement, but hadn't been part of the agreement through discussion, and my sister was a brother. A third problem was that I was totally miserable, possibly because I missed my Mum and partly because I was no longer in my school bus being a scholar. Despite the fact that Granny and Auntie Renie were as kind as kind could be.

It did mean that I got a lot of time in the best room. Because I hadn’t got a feel for the best room, because I’d only spent time there for a family gathering, I was uncomfortable there. It intimidated me. I was easily intimidated. I still am. There was no-one in that room to ask about homework if I was stuck. At home, Mum was always at hand and knew how to help me with an answer without telling me what the answer was. She always seem to know what to do to find out. My intimidation might just have been that I was home-sick. There were lovely comfortable arm-chairs in the sitting room and a big settee to sink into. You could stretch out on the chaise-longe under the window to watch the traffic go by on the main road. Care was needed there, in the chaise-longe, because it was old; the fabric was worn, precious and easily torn. In an alcove beyond the dining table and chairs, there was a writing bureau. The drawers were locked. I never found out what secrets were hidden there. I didn’t think Granny was the sort of person to have secrets. But there was a drop-down lid which made a good writing surface. The room also had a fine tiled fire-place — not at all like the fire place in the range in the kitchen in the next room. Although there was a coal-scuttle and fire irons, no fire was ever lit in that fire-place. I was allowed to switch on the electric fire if I was cold when in there. The fire-irons were as pristine as the day when they were bought at the local iron-monger's. Clean, shining, unused, part gleaming decorative brass. So gleaming that I hesitated to touch for fear of leaving finger-prints.

Penny Guisinger in ‘Creative Nonfiction’ Issue 60 says, ‘…we were all readers long before we became writers´. Granny and Auntie Renie didn’t contribute to that thought. They had no understanding that reading could be homework. For the duration of my stay, the ´best room’ became my after-evening-meal-homework sanctuary where I would not be interrupted by the outside world, although I frequently dreamily watched the passing traffic on the main road beyond. It was never recognised by my hostesses that reading could be homework. Settling into a comfortable armchair to read one or the other of my text-books, I would be told by someone just passing through, ‘You can use the writing bureau, you know´. There was no understanding that reading was homework and that by reading, I was developing writing and learning skills.

Granny and Renie were kind to me — but there was no meaningful conversation like there was at home. Mum was the intellectual. Dad was the one who knew what was going on in the world. I fed off them in a way I was unable to feed off Granny and Renie. It was a merciful release when Dad came to Granny’s house with the news that Mum and the new baby were home and I could return.



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A Long Time Later

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It is ages since I last wrote anything here. That's not because I haven't been writing. During the first 100 days of Spanish lockdown because of Covid I wrote a daily blog to a circle of about 40 people; family, friends, other OU students. All of those posts are now gathered together into my ´Plague Diary´- a document saved on my computer. I have also completed an initial version of my ´growing up´ memoir. That is now 80,000 words long starting with my birth in 1937 and going as far as the first year of my professional life in 1960. In fact, I've been writing so much, that I have burned out my beloved iPad. As a result, I have invested in a new laptop computer which I am enjoying a great deal, although there are irritating features due to my lack of computer/technology expertise. 

At present, the main problem is that I don't seem able to access the App Store. There are four pre-installed apps which announce that they need an update and when I ask for the update, the computer refuses to update saying that the apps were bought by an identity different to me. When I ask to install different apps - like my banking apps - the computer says they don't exist. There will be a solution somewhere, somehow.

However, I am enjoying the keyboard, despite the fact that it is a Spanish one with Ñ and Ç, ¿ as well as ? and ! as well as ¡. In fact, I am enjoying the keyboard so much that I am well on the way with my account of the chaotic life and premature death of my bi-polar friend. I am at the stage where I have written chapters reflecting on the documents I have relating to her life and chapters emptying my memory and my wife's memory of her but now need access to some key milestone dates. I hope that her sister will be able to provide information regarding those. At present, I am a little over 13,000 words.

One way or another, I have been spending a lot of money recently. The Open University has a further six thousand, six hundred and sixty pounds sterling of mine; my registration fee for a further year of study. This new computer cost one thousand four hundred euros. And, as my son was on holiday in Southern Spain with his wife and daughter, I travelled by train to see them. Train fares and two nights in a hotel added about four hundred euros to my spending. But it was worth it to see them.

My train journeys were interesting. It is the first time I'd been in an AVE train, the Spanish high speed train. Because there is no direct cross-country line from Alicante to south-western Spain, it was necessary to go via Madrid. The Alicante-Madrid leg was very fast, even with several intermediate stops. The train from Madrid to Jerez de la Frontera was long but given I was travelling in an Alvia Media Distancia train it was remarkably quick. I have no idea how fast the AVE was travelling as the display system was not working. However the Alvia display worked and there were frequent instances of 250 KPH. However, at no time were there refreshments of any sort on the train - a Covid precaution. Another Covid precaution, after my ticket was scanned and verified, I was handed two hand sanitising towelettes. I was disappointed in Atocha station. It is complicated and long-winded. I thought it would be impressive with facilities. There were facilities - many of them closed. I had read a great deal about the architecture of the old engine shed - which was impressive - but most of the facilities there were roped off because of the virus. Despite the rules and regulations resulting from the virus, I was surprised how many people were travelling. Trains were not packed, but there were few vacant seats. I am very fond of Alicante terminus station. It is spacious, clean and has ample facilities. The station at Jerez was interesting for the wall tiles and its facilities were good.

So, this is me winding myself up for A803. It promises to be more demanding than A802 and that was demanding enough. I have been notified that I am fully enrolled. The module web-site opens up first week in September and the course proper the first week in October. A first assignment is due in November. I hope that new life breathed into writing already done might suffice for some of the many assignments on this module.

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Reading aloud

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It has been a few days since I last wrote here. However, I’ve been blogging daily to my distribution group, ‘Friends, Family and Church’. It started at about twelve people and now it is 40. So many people have joined in, responded and re-blogged. 

     I’m having a lot of sleepless nights at the moment; not sure why, not anxious or nervous. However, last night’s sleepless night thoughts revolved around reading and reading aloud. When an idea gets into my head, I just can’t get it out of there. This is where my mind was last night.

     I’ve always enjoyed reading and reading aloud. As a child at primary school, my head teacher, Fred Elsey, taught me about reading aloud. I’m not sure whether or not I liked Fred but I certainly respected him. He had three messages about reading aloud. First, the reader is reading, not shouting, at the person on the last row at the back of the hall. He said that this was called projecting your voice, a skill practiced by all good actors. Second, the reader should hold anything at chest height, below chin level with the voice projected above the reading material, not into it.  Finally, he taught me to take my time. He would say, ‘If you come to a comma, pause and count one, a semi-colon count two, colon count three and a full stop count four. Then breathe.’ It was good advice. It stood me well when singing solo. Especially when trying to fill a theatre like the Theatre Royal in Newcastle or the Empire Theatre in Sunderland. Trying to sing to the back row of the Upper Circle or to the top of the Gods is a real challenge. And it was good advice when acting on the stage, knowing how to use the ‘empty spaces’ that Peter Brook wrote about.

     So, in a life of teaching, I’ve loved reading aloud to children. And I’ve loved hearing children read to me. Just occasionally when tired, I’ve dozed off listening to a child read. More recently, members of the writers’ club that I attend, have praised the clarity and quality of my voice when reading my work to them. I was taught to have an expressive voice. It has been one of my best assets in professional life. One fellow writer even said that my voice sounded like Alan Bennet’s. That’s very flattering. However, my accent is Tyneside not Yorkshire. These days, Jeanie, my wife, says I mutter. There are three factors in that possibility: one, Jeanie has a slight hearing loss and prefers not to wear her hearing aids, two, my muttering may be her selective hearing and three, my false teeth do not militate for clarity.

     Still, when I write, the words appear aloud in the silence of my mind. I think this is one reason why I write so rapidly. I can hear the phrases and sentences in my head as they appear on paper or on my computer screen. The ability to touch type is another element. Not a poet, I can hear and feel the rhythm and pulse of what I am writing.

Ancient Geoff


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Suddenly the Good News

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No. In this case, not the Gospel teaching about the life of Jesus Christ. I have just noticed, on my neighbour’s pergola, his vine has put forth a few tentative pale green leaves. It reminds me of Noah and the Ark. How glad he must have been to see the dove with green olive leaves in its beak. The not-so-good news, but nevertheless welcome, is that his vine tendrils will soon be invading my fence, threatening the little orange bush, the struggling lemon, the bird of paradise plant and the hibiscus. We cannot have everything in this world. I can live with his tendrils.


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The Unassuming Heroes

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I’m not a hero. However, many years ago, I was awarded the General Service Medal (GSM), because I served in a place of danger during my time in the Royal Air Force. I was never called upon to do anything particularly brave, although there were nervous times, nervous circumstances. The medal comes out twice a year, worn on my Royal Air Force blazer: Remembrance Day and Battle of Britain Day. It means a lot to me, if not to many others. Some day, one of my descendants will own it.

     There will come a time, after the current world wide crisis, that citizens will realise dawn still breaks, that there are still seasons of the year, that birds sing and flowers bloom. Beaches will still be tide washed. Everyone, throughout the world, will breathe a sigh of relief. Then, we may forget the unassuming heroes who have kept us - and the rest of the world - going. 

     Now, there is water in our taps. Electricity continues to surge into our houses. We can cook. We have shelter. Doctors, paramedics and nurses labour to care for us. Food supplies are still available. Vulnerable children and the children of key workers go to school, with teachers and headteachers at work. In caring about the vulnerable, in caring for the vulnerable, they make themselves vulnerable. These are the people in the current front line. These are those biting the bullet, standing by their guns. Society, even a much reduced society continues to roll along. Perhaps that should be ‘limp’ along.

     Afterwards, we may recall the names of Sir David Attenborough, of Greta Thunberg and Chris Packham and remember why we know them. Even Donald Trump might join the converted.

     In April, 1942 the island and people of Malta were awarded the George Cross, for fortitude through isolation and attack during the Second World War. When the current crisis is over - and with patience and discipline, that time will come - there will be awards. Rightly or wrongly, there will be awards for those deemed to be worthy of Officer of the British Empire (OBE) and Member of the British Empire (MBE), joining the ranks of senior civil servants, actors, pop stars and those with sporting prowess.

     When the dire threat of this virus has subsided, then may be the time to recognise those, who because of their responsibility and sense of duty, have put themselves at risk, continuing to serve the rest of society. Then, there should be a new order, automatically given to those who also serve. Not to those who over-shop, generating shortages for the genuine needy. Not for those who flee from their natural setting in their mobile homes trying to escape the virus and unwittingly, thoughtlessly taking it with them. 

     Not everyone can be ‘Sir’, ‘Lord’, ‘Lady’ or ‘Dame’. But it would be possible for those who have served on behalf of others through all this, to be awarded a token in acknowledgement, a medal to wear with pride and to pass down the generations, letters to put after their name, in thankfulness and remembrance. 

      It will take a more inspired, poetic mind than mine to suggest what those letters might be. I can suggest some limp ones, some more mundane: CO (Cared for Others); SF (Stood Fast); SV (Served the Vulnerable). Perhaps the Queen, isolating at Windsor has already thought of initiating this. Possibly Boris Johnson, earnestly addressing the public from number 10 Downing Street, is currently too busy to do so. But we shouldn’t forget. Under any circumstances.


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Re-assuring

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Lovely and reassuring here in Spain to have a long video call with my elder daughter and son-in-law today. They are both headteachers, now expecting to keep their schools open for key workers’ children and for vulnerable children. Weekends, too, and over what would have been the Easter holiday. Their elder daughter, Maisie, is in healthcare, so she is also in the midst of it. Their younger daughter is O level year, delighted to have no more German but also pleased at the idea of predicted results because hers have improved significantly as the school year has progressed. They seem very tired but remain cheerful and stalwart. Their main worry is that one or other of them becomes infected, then all must self isolate for the full period, which affects the work load and responsibility of others. Much more weighty decisions to make and responsibility to carry than I ever had in more than 40 years in teaching, headship and school inspecting.

     Our kind friend, Nicky, who normally runs the Bistro restaurant near us, has been shopping today. As she is younger than we are, she has brought us vegetable essentials, pausing only briefly at our back door. We were running a bit short of fresh vegetables, although frozen vegetables, meat, eggs and milk are still sufficient in the fridge and freezer.

     Jeanie my wife, prompted by Facebook, has just reminded me of the story of Noah and the Ark. He only took two of everything when he had his time of self-isolation: please remember that when shopping.

     I’m actually going to venture out this afternoon. In my car. Half a kilometre down the road to the recycling skips. Can’t let the waste paper bin overflow and there is plastic and glass to recycle. The communal food waste skips (no individual rubbish bins here in Spain) are still being emptied daily. Then half a kilometre back home. 

     I’m still keeping an eye on the Statista.com web-site which reports daily about the virus in many places in the world. Spain has become a more infected place than Iran (if Iran’s reporting is correct), putting this country one notch higher up the list. Our autonomous region, Valencia, remains well below the average incidence for Spanish regions - 18.4 (Valencia) against 38.0 (Spain average) - and very well below the worst affected region which has 147.0 (La Rioja) and 101 (Madrid itself).

     Stay safe everyone. Keep studying!




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Lock-down odd consequence

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Now here is an odd consequence of the lock-down in Spain. Because I can’t say to Jeanie, ‘Let’s go out for a meal’, - which we frequently do under normal circumstances - because I can’t take the dog down the road to the hotel bar for a drink, because I can’t get in my car and drive to the coast, I am so much better off financially. I have more in the bank than I normally have at this point in the month. I know that is not the case for people of working age here in Spain and for most of working age in the UK but I last went to the cash point 14 days ago - usually I visit the money machine twice weekly - yet I still have money in my wallet. The money I usually give to church on Sunday is remains in my pocket. Usually I give a small note to Peter, an illegal immigrant who is a regular worshipper at our church. I wonder how Peter and his family are getting on; Joy, Peter himself and Destiny, their toddler son. Our bills get paid. The luxuries do not happen.

     I’ve not been out of the house for three days now. Jeanie’s daughters think she should wrap me in bubble wrap. I’m not sure that I like the thought of trying to breathe through that. I would prefer cotton wool. It is softer and easier to breathe through. Jeanie is still venturing out several times a day to walk Tilly, the dog. Meeting no-one on most occasions. It is so quiet. We think two of the couples who have holiday apartments on this Urbanización have gone back to England today. Their cars are not there. We had seen them and now their places are locked up. Given the incidence of the virus here compared with UK, that may have been a good idea. Very few others are in residence. However, we feel as safe and secure as can be. I’ve been watching the incidence of Covid19 in the different regions of Spain. There is a very good statistical web-site with daily updates. Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque region are the worst affected in Spain. Here in the Valencian autonomous region, we are well down the pecking order, and well below the Spanish overall average for the condition. Not wishing the blight on anyone, long may our well below average position remain until the crisis passes.

     We were able to do a big shopping last week before the crisis broke, and so far, there is more than enough in fridge and freezer, although we are beginning to run out of fresh vegetables. Jeanie has a younger friend who will shop for us tomorrow. 

     We are trying to stay in touch with friends and members of the church congregation by telephone and Internet. Currently, everyone appears to be well. A relative of a friend who visited Barcelona from England has the virus but appears to be recovering well since return to UK. I’ve contacted all the members of what had been my church choir. No problems there at present. Jeanie, my wife and our church pastor, is preparing to put a Mothers’ Day virtual service on the church website for Sunday. I’m writing a meditation and intercessory prayer with a twin theme: Mothers’ Day and a reflection on the current crisis. I’m also recommending to church members, most of us in that delicate category, ‘Elderly vulnerable’, many of us with underlying health issues, that they may find Open University free short courses under Openlearn, a stimulus to stave off boredom. I did several before embarking on A802 and found that experience very valuable.

     I’ve heard from each of my three children. At present they, my grandchildren and partners are all well. My children are all key workers. They are facing much more complicated decisions and responsibilities than I ever faced in professional life. Sarah is head of a special school currently under emergency planning. She thinks that due to the delicate nature of her pupils, her school will stay open but under instruction from health services. My son, a primary school head, is expecting to keep his school open, even over weekends. Many of his pupils’ parents are key workers and he, of course, is a key worker himself. However, I’ve been able to monitor him and my granddaughter on Twitter. His school has a regular Twitter feed and today I’ve seen my granddaughter, Antonia Lily with friends in her year group enjoying an early Easter egg-hunt in the school yard. Rachel, in California is holed up with Joe and Sam but Grace in university in Los Angeles has chosen to stay in halls of residence for the time being. Rachel’s health centre place of work is within walking distance and that works well for her during the early part of this emergency.

     It does mean that I am able to focus a little more on course work. I was falling behind a bit. However, because Jeanie is not out of the house on choir, band and church duties, I am expected to respond to conversation rather more than usual!

Keep safe everyone,


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Block 3 CNF Workshop feedback

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I feel much happier about my Workshop feedback this time. What my readers have said, relates very closely to what I have written in ‘My Nearly Sister.’ Some of the praise for my writing has been quite fulsome. Being a coward, I like fulsome praise. One thing worried me: a comment ‘keep an eye on formatting’. I think I keep a close eye on formatting and I’m not sure what that comment related to. Some of the commenting was re-telling my tale back to me - in words and with emphases that I didn’t chose; occasionally there were attempts to re-write my tale and change its sense of direction. I was writing from my memory, factual stuff that is permanent and unchanging.

However, I think the three students that read my work have grasped nettles and got to the quick of things.

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Covid19

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Wednesday, 18 Mar 2020, 10:20

The injection site needs to be prepared before the needle goes in. A diabetic speaks, talking of using life saving insulin. Not a drug addict. There is sufficient insulin in the fridge to last over the immediate emergency but not enough rubbing alcohol to prepare the site. As a result, the local ghost town has been visited. There is a small pharmacy there.


Ghost town is not very far. Just across the road. Given Spain is in lock down, there is a surprising amount of traffic. At the pedestrian crossing, wait and watch. Not all drivers observe the crossing. The men building the house opposite are there. Six of them this morning. Two laying bricks, one with plans in his hand and three others having a discussion but not actually building anything. A tall house, but not tall enough to obscure the view of the mountains.


A woman in the clothes shop smiles at the dog as the diabetic and his wife walk by. Her shop is securely locked but she is still tidying her display of fashionable dresses, her racks of modish sweaters.


Two delivery vans still operate. Apparently delivering to closed businesses. Otherwise the place is deserted, except for dog walkers. Several of them. Dog walking is allowed. 


And the odd gossip monger.


There is a great deal of gossip.


‘Down in the village they are queuing at the butcher’s shop.’


‘Right down the Main Street and around the corner.’


‘And at the village pharmacy.’


The diabetic, his wife and the dog visit the little pharmacy, not the one down in the village where there is a queue. Someone is at the counter, so they wait outside. Only one customer inside at a time is allowed. The dog has to wait outside, anyway. In the window, along with the Father’s Day display, there is a notice ‘Perros No’ and a picture of a crossed out dog. Inside, the wife finds very little of use. The pharmacist offers an expensive alternative to rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol would have been preferred. It is what they are used to. The hospitals have it all.


What happens now to Spanish Father’s Day?


‘Madrid residents desert the city for the coast.’


This is the coast. Facebook had this piece of gossip first. Then the local paper.


‘Madrid man with Covid19 comes to his Murcia holiday home and visits local supermarket.’


Local newspapers publish parish pump news. This could be fake news.


Meanwhile on television, a film clip of the clogged motor way south from Madrid, city dwellers desperate to flee the plague, ready and able to spread it to some new site. The news goes on to report that the former president of Spain, his wife and the former mayor of Madrid are safe, having arrived with their security staff at his luxury villa in Marbella in the Deep South of Spain. On the same news programme, other city dwellers, remaining holed up in apartments, applauding from balconies to show their appreciation of health workers down below. 


‘You’re not allowed to use cash. Card only. Money spreads the virus. Bank cards can be disinfected. Wash your hands for twenty minutes.’

Or was it twenty seconds? The elderly are easily confused.


Our hands have never been so clean.


Frustrated by the lack of alcohol, the diabetic, his wife and dog visit the tiny supermarket that is allowed to stay open. The old man and the dog, weary from the walk, sit down on a chair outside the property next door to the supermarket. When it is open, this property is the Indian restaurant but given the current directive, it is securely shut up. Outside, two or three tables and sufficient chairs for customers who wish to drink and smoke. No smoking inside, of course. From next door, from the supermarket, out pops the assistant.


‘You’re not allowed to sit down there.’


No introduction. No pleasantries. No apology. No consideration for other. Just:


‘You’re not allowed to sit down there.’


Now, if the seat had belonged to the supermarket, it might have been reasonable. Almost. To the weary old man and his dog it was Iike a wounding thrust in the side. So he heaved himself up and propped his body into a corner of the railings until his wife had found what she wanted inside the shop. No ordinary bread. No milk. No tissues. No toilet roll. Washing up liquid available. A loaf of currant bread. 


If those tables and chairs are not to be used - by official directive - should they not be stacked away somewhere, instead of being left invitingly available.


‘Good job we did a big shop last week.’


The walk back home. Whatever else is happening in the world, dogs still need to be walked. Dogs are still interested in each other, even if owners are not supposed to mix and associate. The birds still sing. Because the world is quieter, the birds are even more noticeable. The flowers still bloom. So many tiny spring flowers star the waste ground, almost but not quite hiding the cigarette packets, the discarded tin cans and the broken shards of glass. Despite much of the world coming to a halt, ants are as busy as ever. Super-human strength moving burdens much larger than they are. No virus there, then.


Meanwhile on the building site, two men still build and four discuss plans.


‘Have we got enough coffee?’


‘Where did you leave the keys? You might have left them where I could find them.’


Despite the eerie calm, there is tension in the air.



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Virus lock-down

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Wednesday, 18 Mar 2020, 10:21

LOCK-DOWN


Now this is odd. Spain - and much of the world - is in lock-down because of Covid19, the latest corona virus strain. Yesterday afternoon, Jeanie chaired an elders’ meeting at church to discuss response to a directive from the church authorities. Decision - church will be closed now until the beginning of April. It will be difficult to identify a week in my 82 years of life when I have not gone to church on Sunday, often more than once, often on more days than just Sunday. It will be a very strange experience to wake up tomorrow and know that there is no church. I’ve managed to find a suitable place of worship wherever I’ve travelled in the world: during my time in the Royal Air Force in Cyprus; attending St. John’s College, York; Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, even Tunisia; the United States of America, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand. And now, an empty space. We are an elderly congregation. Many of us are in that category said to be in more risk from the virus: the vulnerable elderly with underlying health conditions.

But it is not only an empty church space. Our choir rehearsals have been stopped and the concerts we were preparing for are cancelled. We have a message from our Spanish language teacher, ‘See you on the other side of the virus. No Monday lesson.’ Jeanie’s band practices are cancelled: she will not be out on Tuesdays and Fridays with her clarinet. I’ve not had confirmation that my writers’ circle meeting on Wednesday is cancelled but it must be, as all bars, restaurants have been ordered to close. And no public market in Almoradi today. Life is just one big empty space.

Knowing that bars, cafes and restaurants were being ordered to close by midnight last night, we decided to go out to one of our favourites, The Bistro, before it was too late. When we went, early, the place was deserted. By the time we had our main course, it was packed and beginning to consider turning people away, so many had the same, if rather belated, idea as us. In fact, because it was going to be a ‘special’ occasion, we decided to break our Lenten vow of no alcohol and have a bottle of wine with the meal. The wine was delicious, only serving to demonstrate what we had been missing. I’m sorry to say that I also had brandy with my coffee and then went to the Bistro Bar next door and had a gin and tonic.

Our friends who run the Bistro restaurant are despairing. The winter season has been very quiet. They have been operating very close to the margins, especially since they enlarged the premises. They’ve made a really good job of gearing up. Now they are ordered to close until April but also ordered to pay their staff as if they were still working. So, overheads still to meet, no restaurant income and staff wages to pay. That is a very bad balance sheet for them - and probably for other small businesses. Times are very hard.

It is really eerie. We have plans. Our life revolves around the daily, weekly, monthly diary. Now there is only an empty space. Our big luncheon group for Mother’s Day is now scuppered. Food shopping is a question of ‘buy what you can get’ without a great deal of choice. We have guests on Sunday and Thursday. Can we feed them? Will Easter, and all the preparations leading up to that, be a blank. Friends were supposed to go on holiday, on cruises. No break for them. Will the OU conference on 24th April still be on? Will any theatres be open? We have theatre tickets for 23rd and 25th April in London. Will we get to London? Where life is normally so clear, so certain, so organized and arranged, everything is now up in the air.

Complacency in retirement. What complacency? 


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A Dry Lent

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Normally, I ignore Lent. This year is different.

It is very easy to be a drunkard here in Spain. No one needs to try very hard but we don’t usually see many drunks. All sorts of alcoholic drinks are readily and cheaply available. Being an alcoholic doesn’t cost much. There is more alcohol in my house than I have ever had before. Wine in abundance. Beer in the fridge - mostly for visitors. It is rare that I drink beer. Not an acquired taste. However, I do enjoy cider, especially on a hot day. That doesn’t last long in the fridge. 

When I first came to Spain, my habitual nightcap was a small glass of Famous Grouse Whiskey. It was possible to buy three one litre bottles at Carrefour for about £30, a fraction of the cost in the UK. Some of those three one litre bottles remain in the drinks cupboard. I have discovered Soberano, a local brandy, sweeter and below the usual proof standard of proper French cognacs. Soberano is now my usual nightcap.

One of the problems here in Spain is that restaurants often provide a free half bottle of wine or a small carafe with a meal. It is very easy to get carried overboard with this. Our nearest cheap and cheerful Chinese restaurants does just that: half a bottle of wine or a beer with any meal, a small glass of (rather weak) Sangria to start with and once the bill is paid, the offer of a shot glass of schnapps. And then, it is difficult to resist a cana, a small glass of beer, to quench the thirst. Out here, thirst needs to be quenched.

Accordingly, on the first of January, once the New Year festivities were over, I vowed to have a month without any alcohol at all, just to prove to myself that I am not an alcoholic.

‘Hang about,’ my wife urged. ‘I want to do that with you but my birthday is in January. Wait until Lent and we can go dry together.’

Foolishly, I agreed. The consequence is that I sacrificed thirty one days of going without alcohol in January, for the forty days and nights of Lent. Two days in, we are dry. No alcohol. Only 38 days to go.
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New blog post

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I’ve been a union member all my life: first as a member of the National Union of Teachers when I qualified, subsequently a member of the National Association of Headteachers and now in retirement, a life member of the N.A.H.T. I believe in the right of workers to join together for their own good and for their protection.

As a young man I was a activist, attending every meeting, taking on posts of minor responsibility, attending conferences and even making an occasional poor speech. 

However, unions, and industrial action, can be a thorn in the flesh. My parents were both youngsters in a mining community in the 1920s, a time of intense industrial action, a time of strikes, both a long miners’ strike and the General Strike. It appears that my maternal grandfather was not a striker. My aunt, born during the miners’ strike, tells the tale of a brick being thrown through the front room window of their terraced house the week she was born. She got that tale from my mother who was already a teenager. Apparently grandfather continued to go to work. He was the safety overman down Emma colliery where the family lived. Had he not gone down the mine to check that  necessary supports were in place, there would have been no seam to work when the strike was over. 

Mother used to relate another tale of that time. Because the buses were on strike, she had to walk from Ryton, Tyne and Wear to Blaydon, a door to door distance of four miles there and four miles back after school. On one occasion a limousine stopped and offered a lift which she was glad to accept. Making polite conversation, the driver asked what she was learning at school, what her father did. Receiving the answer, ‘He’s a miner’, the next question was, ‘and is he working or is he on strike?’ Being told that grandfather was a safety overman and still working, the driver said, ‘Good. Give this to your mother.’ It was half a crown, not an inconsiderable sum of money in those days. The driver was the mine owner. Grandfather was not enamoured with mother’s story. She was ordered to throw the money into the nearby River Tyne. Mother, being mother, didn’t exactly disobey. The coin was dropped into a still river pool, where her younger brother Tom was able to retrieve it later.

Father’s tale of the time is even less positive. In dad’s early twenties, oldest of four brothers, his father was a local butcher. Three butchers shops in three mining villages, a field to rear livestock for slaughter and a small private abattoir. During the hard times, valued customers were given credit which they were unable to pay back. The business went bankrupt. Father remained a skilled butcher. He was the most adept grocer I’ve known, frighteningly fast and skilled boning a side of bacon. And we once kept a pig which father slaughtered and cured when the time came.

My own association with industrial action is unfortunate. As headteacher of a large school, I was glad most of my staff were union members. However, membership was divided between three associations. During times of unrest, and there were quite a few in my time, my school became a vulnerable target for shut down.  Many of our pupils travelled from distant hamlets and farms. Transport arrangements were a nightmare, especially when one union or another decided to close the school down, which they did in relays, never together. I’m sure action was not directed at me personally but I took it personally, as our neighboring school, with less vulnerability was never affected. It caused much damage to parental perception that took ages to overcome.

I hope university tutors and lecturers, currently taking action, get satisfaction. Equally, I hope there is no collateral damage to students.

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No longer a citizen

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 1 Feb 2020, 17:04

Well! That’s it. Done and dusted. Boris Johnson, the right wing of British politics, the cheats, rumour mongers and liars have their way. Resident in the E.U. I am no longer a citizen of that organisation. 

I wish it were otherwise. I had thought that jingoism died during the First World War with Wilfred Owen. As a child of the years of the Second World War, I hated and feared anything German. My childish nightmares were about Adolf Hitler.

Two salutary lessons were learned post-war. First, my parents invited Walther Rehm to our home during Christmas 1945. Father had recently been released from his service in the Royal Air Force, ironically enough Bomber Command. Walther was a ‘no threat’ prisoner of war, of low rank. As such, privileges were granted: he was able to visit our church, occasionally he could spend a night away from his prison camp. He was a joy. Hitler would have loved him. Tall. Blond. Blue eyed. But a gentle man. Kind. Thoughtful. Anxious to look and learn. He and father got on well together. Mother, a teacher, gave him English lessons.

And he taught, too. He taught me my first few stammering words of German. Without formal skills in German, I can still count up to ten. In his Bavarian accent. We sang together, ‘Silent Night’, in its original language. When he returned to Germany, I was no longer having nightmares about Hitler and Germans.

Some years later, I was part of an exchange trip to German from school. Father had warned me of the devastating damage he had seen flying over Cologne. I knew we were going to a broken and run down country. I was prepared to be humble and condescendingly kind to the nation Britain had defeated. 

How wrong I was. How my eyes were opened. How humiliated I became.

Cologne was still in ruins. Little rebuilding had taken place. The Dom tower still stood aloof from the rubble.

But my broken hosts had.a car. A shining, gleaming, brand new Mercedes Benz. We had no car. My hosts had a wonderful house with private bathrooms. The pit village house I had lived in had an outside toilet. They had servants. My family, butchers by trade, had employed domestic servants until the 1920s. Never in my time. Then, the business - its three shops, its abattoir, its one or two fields raising its own livestock for slaughter - was lost to the industrial strife of that period of British history. Collateral damage. 

My nascent social and political outlook began to formulate the belief that it was better for humankind if we became joiners together rather than separators and dividers. I felt this confirmed what I was being taught in church, through the faith I was acquiring. And the gutter press, the biased and privileged owned spreader of falsehoods, today plasters front pages with Union Jacks and exultant banner headlines ranting ‘freedom’. This does not feel like freedom.

I now feel separated and divided. And wronged. 

Much is being said about ‘heal the nation’. Yet, the rowdy yobs on television last night seem intent only on glorifying their ‘victory’. In so many cases the TV interviews appeared to be an excuse for further self indulgence. Rubbing the noses of those who want to be E.U. citizens in the dirt of the lies and prejudice that has been spread.

I regret yesterday more than anything else that I have regretted in my 82 years as a British citizen. It seems we have learned nothing from history.

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World Holocaust Day

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 1 Feb 2020, 17:05

Written for World Holocaust Day


Having visited Israel several times, having worked and holidayed in the Middle East, having visited Auswichtz twice and studied the treatment of Jewry under Hitler and National Socialism, I am currently more in sympathy with the Palestinians than with the politics of Israel. However, I believe it is imperative that what happened in Hitler’s concentration camps should never be forgotten.


Shadows of black.

Elusive shades of grey.

No colour.


Silence.

No birdsong,

No waiting train

On adjacent track.


No scent of rain

On living grass.

No welcome puppy smell.

Only the stench

Of impending death,

Of living death.


A bitter taste.

The rancid, bitter taste

Of human hate,

Of human waste.


I am ZW037782D,

5030468 the living dead.

You are a number,

Some letters.

He was 204610.


The symbolism of the numbers and letters: they all belong to me; or perhaps I belong to them; the first is my British National Insurance number, the second the number given to me when I joined the Royal Air Force and finally the number of my membership of The Poetry Society. I am more than a number. Humankind is more than a number.


And an incident.


With my three children in Israel on holiday. It would be about 1983. We crossed by boat from Tiberius to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee for a visit to a kibbutz. The journey over the sea had been serene and calm. By late afternoon, the temperature had become oppressive and during the return, a wind had got up. The lake is subject to rapid weather changes. Think of Jesus and the disciples in a boat, Jesus stilling the storm. An elderly lady was finding the rocking of the boat distressing. We had wet wipes and she was glad to accept one. Lifting her hand to wipe her brow, the numbered tattoo on her arm was noticeable. She had survived the death camps. 


I suspect that there will be those who see some of what I have written above as anti-Semitism. That is not my intention. I have seen the desert in Israel bloom. I have appreciated Israeli hospitality, organisation, culture. I regret - and believe it wrong - that more and more territory occupied by Palestinians for generations and indeed for centuries, should be appropriated for more Jewish settlements. I cannot think that this will do anything to further peace and harmony in the Middle East.




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Angry Again

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 1 Feb 2020, 17:07

I am angry again.

     It is Saturday - outside the supermarket

      Jeanie is inside, shopping for the weekend.

      The dog and I are waiting in the car. Tilly still needs company and we have only brought her out for a walk after the shopping.

      James is at the car park gate.

      He is begging.

     James is tall, strong, good-looking, ambitious, healthy - and black.

     He has a family - a stable relationship - a wife and first child, a son, Happiness. James wants to work. He is desperate to work.

     The question to be asked is, ‘Why doesn’t he work. Why beg when fit enough and strong enough to work.’

      The answer, ‘He entered this country of Spain illegally, undocumented. By law, he cannot own or rent a property, he is not allowed to work and earn money for his family. ’

      His ambition is to live a settled life. Not to beg. A life caring for his family. A life enabling him to hold up his head. To be proud. He is a refugee but doesn’t want to be a refugee. He has no status. No identification. No National Insurance number. He cannot apply for status. He cannot apply for a driving licence or take driving lessons. He wants what we have, a life free from persecution, from strife. A life where his family can grow up in an atmosphere of calm. He is from Nigeria where Christians and Muslims are in constant friction, one against the other. His wife is a victim of family persecution,

     He came to Spain illegally to try to achieve his ambition. Here, he has no health care. He has no passport. His wife has a passport and his child was born in Spain. They are able to receive health care.

      Now, in Spain, the situation is that any government sponsored charity, any government aided organisation, wants nothing to do with him and his family. If an illegal is helped or supported in any way, potential grants, subsidies, charitable support can be at risk. So Caritas, so Reach Out, so social services cannot or will not help. There is no organisation that can allow him to be put to work. This is why many of his fellow countrymen, and other illegal immigrants from the African continent, can be seen hawking illegal, contraband items on sea front promenades, watching carefully for the local police and doing everything possible to avoid them. Rather than run from the police, James has chosen to beg at the supermarket gate.

     Spain has many economic migrants. Those with a Hispanic heritage - particularly from Latin America - have citizenship rights. Those who come illegally from the African continent generally have no rights.

      James is a church going Christian here in Spain, respected well enough within his congregation. Yet it is other hard nosed Western Christians, not from his congregation, who have tried to separate him from his wife. They are devoted to each other, loyal to each other but have not gone through a conventional Western marriage. It has been said,

     ‘You are not married. You must live apart. Your child is illegitimate. Living in sin, you cannot be baptised in the Faith.’

      This is the church at large which was given the the instruction,

      ‘Go forth and speak to the nations in my name, the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.’

      He who taught love and self sacrifice, He who healed, who asked for little children to come to Him, who welcomed the outcast and the vulnerable.

      James and Patience and their son attend our church, have been baptised and are welcomed and loved. Our church, mainly comprised of senior citizens, old age pensioners, does what it can to support and help. Illegally. Despite this, because of circumstances that beset him, James still needs to beg outside the supermarket this morning.

      I am angry at this uncaring world.



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Workshop Reflection

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Friday, 24 Jan 2020, 17:54

Workshop Reflection


As postgraduate students, we are expected to be reflective. I don’t think it is possible to be reflective in a vacuum, into space, nothingness; even if not expecting an echo, not possible to reflect into empty cyber space. Which is why this is addressed to my blog. To which the question must be added: will anyone ever read this?


I’ve found the Workshop experience interesting but disturbing. There are two sides to the coin and each is multifaceted. The two sides of the coin are, of course, experiences as a reader-critic and experiences as the one read-criticised. 


I was excited at the concept of being a voiced reader-critic. Everyone who reads is a critic. Views, opinions, ideas are realised in the mind. Being part of a Workshop concept, each reader finds a voice. Having spent a lifetime marking the work of children, I had thought this would be an extension of that; ‘marking for adults’. In some ways it was without the grading, but it set me off on the wrong foot. With children’s work, one is always looking for ‘correctness’. That is dictionary perfect spelling, appropriate and exciting vocabulary, correct sentence structure, observation of the conventions of written English, allied with the beginning of a way with words that enlivens what has been written, that conveys graphically the picture in the child author’s mind.


Starting like that was an error. I was shocked and rather disturbed to be able to find many ‘errors’ in some of the work I was given the read. Passages marked as sentences that weren’t sentences even given latitude for the passion of a creative mind. Passages that were sentences without capitals and full stops but not apparently intended as ‘stream of consciousness’ devices. This hindered my ability to look deeper into what the author was actually trying to say. And slowed, impeded, the narrative flow. Looking for clues to explain this, I came to the conclusion that two of the authors I was reading were people speaking English as a second language. In some cases, the quality of the language was imaginative and varied but figurative writing, similes, metaphors appeared to miss the mark. There was clearly a strong desire to use literary strategies but without impact. And there were misconstrued colloquialisms.


One of the things that I failed to pick up, because my view was obscured by semantic challenges, was that I had been given almost 4000 words in one piece, when the university specifically said between 500 and 2000. This piece was in a genre completely strange to me, and although I felt able to comment on it, at times I felt that I was floundering through a morass. A morass that contained some very strange concepts and some very strange vocabulary. I worry that this has negatively affected my feedback to that writer. There was OU advice about word count and how to treat longer pieces, which I managed to neglect.


I found the OU format for feedback to be generally useful. In the old days, marking pupil’s work, I had a similar way of marking and analysing. However, the university’s response areas were much more detailed than mine had ever been. As a result, I didn’t always want to respond about a particular point in the writing. Sometimes one of the OU points didn’t stick out. At times there was nothing good to say and nothing critical to comment on. It was the last area of the format that confused. I know that I am not alone among students to have been confused about that. It appeared to be the case that ‘all bases had been covered’ with a summary box and then - a final summary box was revealed. I am aware that some students just put n/a, or a bland one sentence comment. I tried to write a summary, a précis, if you like, of what had been said in the previous boxes but found this very repetitious.


Where my comments were perhaps rather more strident than I would have liked them to be, I tried to refer directly back to OU guidance which some of the writers I was given appeared not to have read, or chose to ignore.  


On the other side of the coin, comments received about my writing were generally encouraging. Despite the fact that all my life I have resented criticism, no matter how well intended it has been. However, I was puzzled by some comments. In my critiques, I always tried to respond to what the writer had written, not to what I thought the writer should have written. I believed this was what was required.


In some cases, those reading my work wanted to change my characters, or the plot, or modify the setting, or add more detail when one of my greatest problems is keeping stories within word limits. I found myself surprised that readers focused their appreciation on characters other than those I felt were central.


Elsewhere, it was suggested that some minor characters could have been cut from the story. However, had that been done, it would have left my central female figure, naked, on an isolated river bank, screaming for help, with no one to hear her. In that case, she might still have been there today. In my view, the minor characters identified were an integral part of the story and vital to the plot.


Perhaps in summary, I need to recognise that I may be an impaired story teller and a worse editor, with a badly misleading critical stance that no-one in their right mind would wish to tolerate. I think I also need to recognise that I'm probably very arrogant about taking/not taking guidance.


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Review work returned

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I’ve just been reading and re-reading the reviews of my story ‘Still Waters’ by other students. Interesting reading. I’m more comfortable with the second read, than I was with the first reading of what they have said. I’m terrible with criticism, even with constructive criticism. What surprises me, is what others see in my writing that I don’t think I’ve put there. ‘Still Waters’ is intended as a short story, complete in itself, with no further to go. In fact, it is a re-hash of something written about a year ago for the local Writer’s Circle. It got a lot of appreciation there. Fellow students who have subsequently read it, are quite complementary but want to put their own construction on the story: to miss bits out that I feel are essential to the story; to add bits to it, that in my view would change its nature and my style. That’s probably just arrogant on my part. In my reviews of the writing of others, I’ve tried to comment on what they have written, rather than what I think they should have written. My difficulty was that two of my fellow students appear to have English as a second language and that has complicated things.

So, today, heart in mouth, I have re-edited my TMA02, its commentary and my EMA proposal. I think it is as refined as it is going to get. I’ve found the editing difficult. I enjoyed writing the original story and was relatively comfortable with it. Two people made really helpful comments when I posted it on the draft TMA forum. Subsequently, I’ve edited and re-edited it about four times: that is five different versions of the original story. Then I got muddled up about what went where. Then I tried to put into practice what others had said. Then I tried to include aspects of the teaching on the course. Consequently, I became very confused and then ratty with myself and with my wife. But not with the dog. I think it is now as final as it is going to get. But, when I re-read it before posting tomorrow, you can bet there are alterations to make. It just never seems to be finished. Then when it does get posted, I will be seeing all sorts of flaws and necessary corrections and amendments. Hey, ho! Just get on with it. The EMA proposal started out at 600 words and needs to be about 300. I’ve done that but only by missing out lots of connectives and sentence subjects. More note form than prose. Hope that’s OK.

The ‘Gota Fria’ is still doing its thing outside. I shivered and shook all through Spanish today - because I got soaked walking the few yards to the hotel where the lesson takes place. I chill so easily these days. The dog has been reluctant to go out and get wet. And we have had no water. I had assumed that it was because of the storm. No. A stop valve has not stopped in the technical hut, resulting in a four foot flood of water swamping some electrics. Tony called later this afternoon to say that he and Glen have sorted it for the time being and we can make a cup of tea and flush the toilets. Until the plumber comes. The airport is still closed. 40 kilometers away. It must be really bad up there. And Jeanie is showing me ‘Facebook’ photos of snow nearby. Hopefully not coming down to us.

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A new choir

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 11 Jan 2020, 11:03

I’ve always sung in choirs. There was a time, in the innocence of youth, that I had aspirations to be a professional singer. In light opera. With the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. As a teenager I lived in the Gods at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle whenever the Gilbert and Sullivan light operas were being performed. Then my voice broke. The wrong way. It just wasn’t good enough. 

So, Jeanie has encouraged me to join a new choir. It is a very young choir, in its second season and full of people almost as old as I am, so its youth needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Andante - at walking pace. Appropriate for me these days.  Jeanie sang with the choir last year and being the ever dutiful husband, I attended its pre-Christmas concert. I was charmed. The conductor teaches at a local international school and joined her adult choir with her pupils’ choir in the concert. She knows what she is doing with the baton. 

The next concert will mainly feature John Rutter’s ‘Requiem’ which Jeanie and I have both sung previously. I love it. There is something magical about the sound Rutter creates. And he is like that in real life too. Some years ago, we were fortunate enough to attend a ‘Day with John Rutter’ workshop in the parish church in Corbridge, Northumberland. It was magnificent. About 500 people enjoying making music at the direction of a master. Not just a master of music. There is something so very human about the man. A man that anyone could delight in. The whole day was a triumph. He is skilled, knowledgable, has an easy manner of delivery that inspires and he has a joyful natural touch with it.

I missed my teenage aspiration to sing but there is always a tune in my head. Often just a snatch of two or three notes. It is strange, as a boy, my mother always wanted me to learn poems off by heart. I frequently disappointed her. I recall the very able but infuriating girl, daughter of the people who ran a bed and breakfast in Callender where we were staying. Every night, she recited a different poem for my mother. Dad didn’t seem particularly interested. Conversation would turn to what I could recite. It was very little. But if I’d been asked to sing - I wasn’t - I could have sung a song, with correct words and in tune. It never happened. When mother became bed ridden and had lost the power of speech, I used to read poems to her. It was possible to see by the faint smile on her lips and the residual sparkle in her eyes, that the verses meant something to her. She could memorise in a way I never could. Yet I find it so easy to memorise a tune.

John Rutter’s clever and inspirational musical themes are my current constant companions.

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What an adventurous life!

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The New Year has been pretty adventurous. Having a well settled but lively dog can be fun. Tilly brings a lot of pleasure into our lives. However, she has a mind of her own and has had two escapologist adventures. She has a relatively lightweight harness that she wears during the day. It clips onto her lead when out walking and into the car seat belt when driving. She has suddenly discovered that when her lead is taut, she can slip the harness and escape. She created chaos when Jeanie and I were doing minor errands in the village. I had charge of the dog while waiting for Jeanie to finish what she was doing. I took Tilly to sit at the outside tables of ‘La Mesa’, the small cafe near the village square. Suddenly she was gone. I had the lead tight to stop her tangling herself around the tables and chairs. Suddenly there was an empty harness and she was off, up the road, over the square and onto the Calle Mayor, technically the main road but never very busy. Not only had she escaped from the harness but also at the same time - beyond reach, beyond the ability to do anything about it - she had left a doggy deposit in the middle of the pavement outside the tobacconist’s shop. It is no fun at the age of 82 trying to run uphill to catch a dog while worrying about what to do about the dog mess glaring at me from the pavement. The dog was caught. Fortunately Jeanie turned up soon afterwards and while I was holding the dog in solitary confinement, Jeanie removed the dog mess before anyone stepped in it.

You would think that a lesson had been learned. Not a bit of it. Yesterday when Jeanie was out at the ladies fellowship meeting, it was my delegated duty to take the dog for a walk. We walked in relatively orderly fashion to the hotel. Not a long walk but one with a well defined destination. Tilly has been to the hotel several times and has met all the people running the place. It was a lovely afternoon and time for a drink. As food is served in the main room where the bar is, Tilly and I would have to stay outside, on the veranda overlooking the Vega Baja. I hooked Tilly’s lead over the top of the fence and went inside to order a drink. Pleasantries were being exchanged with Richard at the bar when screams from outside were heard.

‘The dog’s escaped. She’s on the road.’

Hastily abandoning my drink, and leaving all my loose change on the bar, I scurried outside to see a brown flash pounding its way up the footpath towards home. Pursued by a woman and her daughter who had been sitting on the veranda enjoying the sun, then me, then by Richard’s girl friend who had been sitting at the bar, then by Richard who had abandoned the bar and taken the hotel mini bus to try to get ahead of Tilly. It was rather like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, with Tilly as the piper and the rest of us as the rats. There was no way that Tilly was going to come back, despite desperate entreaties. We got as far as the urbanisation car park. No sign of Tilly. Turning the corner ahead of us, she had found some escape route. The next problem was that the top end of the urbanisation where the car park is is gated. This prevents all and sundry taking a short cut through our properties and deters undesirables and summer holiday drunks coming back from the bars and restaurants. I had no keys. Coming out with Tilly for a walk, there had been no sign of the house keys which have the post box key, the swimming pool key and the car park gate key on the same ring for convenience and safe keeping. Or, in this case, for inconvenience. Having taken Tilly for an early morning walk, Jeanie hadn’t bothered to put the keys back where they are kept and walking to the hotel I wasn’t going to need them. Until Tilly escaped. And I now had no way of getting into the urbanisation to see if she had run home. Aware of the commotion in the car park, a couple sunbathing on their rooftop solarium called down to me to see what was the matter. Having explained, the husband kindly came down and allowed me through. Arriving at home, half expecting and desperately hoping that the dog was on the front patio, no sign. Convinced that we had lost the little rescue dog and that it would need to be rescued by someone again, called for her, not really expecting a response. Pause. silence. Then from around the hedge on our drive, the escapologist appeared, eagerly wagging her tail and looking pleased with herself.

She was shut up inside the house and I went back to the hotel where my drink and loose change were still on the bar.

Priority - new collar or harness that can’t be slipped.

Two disappointing discoveries this morning. I took a quite expensive, rather smart pair of trousers out of the wardrobe when getting dressed. I had an early morning appointment with the nurse. The trousers have clearly shrunk because they are about four inches too small. Unless I have put on weight recently. OK. I have put on weight. Insulin injections have improved my appetite and that is showing around the stomach. So I wore a rather more voluminous pair of trousers for my visit to the nurse. Blood tests again. She said that it might hurt but I felt nothing. Back home, having gone to the surgery fasting, as instructed, prepared for my insulin injection and breakfast by checking blood sugar readings. High. Rather surprised how high - 178, when these days it is more normally between 60 and 100. Chinese meal last night? Wine with the meal? Brandy at the hotel watching football? Four Roses chocolates before bed? Possibly a combination of them all. Despite all my physical activity chasing the dog. Need to watch that.

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Tilly

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We have an addition to the family. I didn’t think I could ever be ecstatic about a dog. Well, almost ecstatic. Not as ecstatic as my wife.

We visited Linda Jean, animal rescuer, in Benidorm, while away for our Christmas break staying in nearby Albir. I wasn’t too enthusiastic - and less enthusiastic - when Jeanie, my wife, rang Linda Jean’s door bell. An immediate cacophony of barks, growls and scrabbles at doors confirmed that, as soon as the door opened, I was going to be eaten alive. Jeanie had seen a photograph of a small dog, Tilly, that she felt she could be interested in, having mistakenly re-homed lovely Sophie on leaving England for Spain.

As dogs poured out of the opened gateway, a huge one, with wolf like eyes, stared me full in the face and licked my hand, while a host of smaller dogs clustered around our feet. 

‘Don’t worry,’ said Linda Jean. ‘He’s my guard dog until you are welcomed in. Then he is the softest of them all.’

There were so many dogs, I fully expected to enter a morass of dog smell and dog poo. Not a hint of it. Although there were teens of dogs in the living room, it was all orderly and ordered. Dog baskets lined up around the room. Dogs sitting on every surface. I chose to sit on what appeared to be a vacant settee and was immediately inundated by dogs wanting to share my knee, wanting to lick, wanting to be petted. 

Subsequently, Linda Jean showed us the rest of her establishment. A separate pen for a new mother dog with nine puppies. Two separate pens for two families of puppies almost ready to be homed. A very large open enclosure where Linda Jean feeds her 23 cats. 

Meanwhile, Jeanie made a bee line for the settee, where Tilly was sitting quietly and rather timidly. She is a small brown dog, of undefined breed, but very pretty. A rescue dog, having been brought in after living on the street, foraging for what she could get. At that stage, pregnant. Her first visit to the vet confirmed that her puppies were dead and the placenta infected. She has clearly been very badly treated. Scared of people when they move, especially men. Trembling at the sound of any moving vehicle. 

Jeanie, having bonded with Tilly - she does like her belly to be scratched (the dog, not Jeanie) where she had the major operation - we agreed to offer Tilly a new home. This meant a hasty visit to a Chinese supermarket (they are all over the place in Spain) for dog bowl, lead, car harness, dog food, dog bed, grooming equipment.  

Picking Tilly up on the way home from Albir was a shade traumatic. For Linda Jean and for Tilly. A six page questionnaire was completed to confirm the adoption of the dog, a copy for us and a copy for Linda Jean. A dog passport was handed over to us, a donation towards rescue home running costs to Linda Jean. Linda Jean’s parting with Tilly was such sweet sorrow. A great deal of care has gone into the little dog’s recuperation. Tilly got into her dog harness. Was strapped into the car. And shook and trembled every one of the more than 100 kilometres home to Algorfa.

The journey was also traumatic for Jeanie. Half way home, she realised that she had left her handbag behind at Linda Jean’s house. The bag contained purse, wallet, mobile phone, bank cards, Spanish identification documents and driving licence, both our passports and all those other things ladies carry in voluminous bags. That involved a hasty return to Benidorm for Jeanie on Sunday after church. 

Tilly has settled much better than we could have expected. Now walking on the lead, rather than having to be dragged. She has been to the outside part of a local restaurant where she settled under the table as we ate. She has been down to the hotel and met Kata and Katalina while we had drinks on the balcony. She was welcomed into the Chandelier Showbar and fussed over by the owners. She has shopped inside the pet supermarket in Torrevieja. And she has had rides in both cars without trembling. She now knows where our upstairs bedroom is and enjoys stealing slippers from the bedside. She is eating well - including carefully taking treats from the hand - but so far, no dog poo. That needs to be kept an eye on.

So the three of us are settling in. Tilly becoming more confident with us but still very nervous of strangers.

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Ready for the Christmas break

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Well, that’s one more old age task dispensed with this evening. Because of my age, my Spanish driver’s licence needs to be renewed every three years. The three years is up in February 2020. I no longer have a UK licence as I have no UK address. The authorities like to get applications in early. They take a long time to issue in Spain.

The process is more or less routine but not as routine as in the UK. Here, a fitness to drive test has to take place. Not an ‘on the road’, or theory test. There is an aptitude braking and steering test on a device rather like a gaming machine with handles. The handles control two ‘cars’ on separate rolling roads that go both ways at once. I hate it. There is an eyesight test. Brief questions about medical condition, a stethoscope listen to heart and chest and finally blood pressure readings. If successful, and I’ve not heard of anyone failing, a photo is taken, a temporary licence is issue and 35€s is coughed up. A new full licence is sent out from ‘Traffico’ the licensing authority in due course.

I was able to tell the doctor that my cataracts have been removed and my driving vision is much improved. He wanted to know how my diabetes was and seemed happy with the much reduced blood sugar readings. My blood pressure was much better than before because of the blood pressure medication. So he was quick to sign me off. I now have a folded piece of paper in my wallet alongside the soon to expire long term one. Good. I’d hate to be put off the road living out here with no public transport.

So, down to considering things Christmassy and going to Albir. I have so many clothes, what to pack is a bewildering issue. We may be taking friends to Benidorm on our way. He is suffering and is unable to walk/drive and she doesn’t. It is only a small diversion. Jeanie’s pre Christmas events are almost finished: one singing engagement, one last church service.

We are hoping that Phyl has got off to Tenerife this morning. When we were with her for supper last night she was really low and still missing Ken her late husband a year after his death. I hope three days in a good hotel and a seven day cruise does her good. She didn’t want to go. Of course, our mutual friends, Rick and Jose are away on their holiday and she is missing the fuss and attention she gets from them.

Jeanie and I may be about to acquire a dog. We miss Sophie, regretting rehoming her before committing to Spain. J has been in contact with a dog adopting agency in Benidorm and we may meet this pooch while we are away. I love dogs but I’m not sure I want to be tied down again. On the other hand it might ensure that I get more exercise. We have been discussing it for some time and looking at adoptadog adverts. We will see.


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