THE GREEN DIARY : Tony is 70!

Three Score Years & Ten in San Sebas-tién

It’s the turn of the 1951/52 Cohort, Friends, and 70th birthdays are falling thick and fast. 

What to do? No inspiration: the Pandemic discourages planning but a miracle occurred on The Green a month ago to change all that.

We were enjoying far too many martinis in the September sunshine with our friend and neighbour, the Auteur, Terence Davies, along The Green from us, when he mentioned that his latest film about Siegfried Sassoon, Benediction, was to be screened at the Vancouver, Toronto and San Sebastian Film Festivals and that he had been asked, naturally, to attend.

Exciting upshot : the San Sebastian festival was in the week of Tony’s 70th Birthday and provided the solution to my dilemma – What To Do For The Special Day?

San Sebastian from the top station of the Igeldoko Funicular

Pandemic hurdles: Vaccination Certificates, Digital Passenger Locator Forms (dPLF) and Antigen Test Certificates were procured; train tickets to & from Plymouth and a night on the Hoe at the Crowne Plaza booked, passages on the Santander Ferry from Plymouth obtained; Spanish car-hire for a week arranged; accommodation at the Parador de Hondarribia, 20 kms along the coast from San Sebastian near Irun on the French border secured – an hotel long desired but never acquired – and, slightly stressed and rather nervous, off we set.

Stressed because any or all of these could have misfired and the omens didn’t look good when the intercity from Paddington to Plymouth was cancelled. Had we travelled on the ferry day, we would have missed it altogether. We have learned to build time into all our travel arrangements especially in Britain where things always seem to go wrong.

There were tests that needed to be procured from laboratories in Spain for our return and these had to be sought only 72 hours from boarding the Pont Aven inbound on a Monday with all laboratory services shut at the weekend! No Antigen Test? No ferry ride! 

Terence kindly arranged comps through the Benediction production office who passed the request on to their Spanish distributors who promised to email us barcoded eTickets. We waited all week for these to arrive and were sitting in a bar opposite the Kursaal a bare hour before lift-off thinking we were fated never to see the film when – gadzooks – Tony’s phone, almost out of charge, pinged the vital PDFs and, once they were certain all the really important people had traversed the red carpet, they allowed us to skip down it and into our pandemically spaced and sanitized seats to watch Terence’s heart-breaking film.

And it is a beautiful film; cherry on top? It  just won the San Sebastián, Jury Prize for Best Screenplay.

Hondarribia is beautiful like he whole Cantabrian coast. Forested mountains sliding into the sea; long, narrow bays in which towns like San Sebastian, Bilbao, Lezo, Errenteria, Hendaye and Hondarribia are tucked into narrow valleys running down to the sea – Zumaia and famously Guernica are on rivers that have shaped these valleys over eons. The landscape is Alpine; the architecture is Alpine – cuckoo clock houses with wide eaves and shingle roofs.

Neat towns, restaurants and bars spilling out under shaded, tree-lined streets; sandy beaches lapped by cool, clear Atlantic water – from the hotel terrace we looked across the lagoon to Hendaye, Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Biarritz in the distance, the halyards on the serried yachts tinkling in the breeze and the ice tinkling in our large, globed Hendricks & Tonics!

Hendaye across the river. France. San Juan de Luz and Biarritz not far beyond. I always think of Franco and Hitler meeting here in October 1940 where the rail gauges still do not align

The Parador de Hondarribia is built into the ruins of a 10th Century castle on the top of the hill dominating the land around, guarding the approaches from France one way and to the South the other – better to stop the marauding Umayyad Caliphate which by the 8th Century had reached the Cantabrian coast and threatened France. They had already reached Poitier in 732 but were defeated and retreated to Iberia.

Did you know that there are 18 Michelin Stars within a 25 km radius of the San Sebastian Town Hall? More than any other in Spain. Not Tokyo, Paris, London nor New York perhaps, but they are all vast: San Sebastián is a small city by comparison and wherever you go there is wonderful food.

Arzak, where kitchen duties are now shared between Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena who are the grand and great-grand children of the original founders, specialises in New Basque Cuisine. It began as a wine inn and tavern in 1897 and been developed over four generations into the restaurant we visited for Tony’s birthday. Getting in there of course is like getting in to see the Pope. Weeks of emails and disappointments; when push came to shove we managed to get a lunch break the day after Tony’s actual 70th which I grabbed as being better than nothing, took an enormous breath, decided on the tasting menu and took out a mortgage. 

Here we are with newly refurbed Arzak in the background, taken from the bus stop across the road! On the site of the original tavern. The first two floors are the restaurant and the top floor is offices and laboratories. Both Juan and Elena came round to say hello and thank us for coming. We were on the second floor where a respectful quiet descended on the cooled air and all were outlanders. On the ground floor there was more animation and a relaxed atmosphere. We think “locals” habituate the jollier (and cheaper?) ground floor.

Unlike the other patrons who seemed mainly American and swept up in limos sporting designer clothing, we arrived in the municipal bus at the stop outside, dressed down in shabby-chic; none of which made the slightest difference to the incredible culinary odyssey on which we then embarked: an amuse-bouche of –

Sunflower shot with cod,
Ear of blue corn,
Chinese bread with “aji”
Sardine with Absinthe

– to unmoor the barque and ease it toward the tide of nine courses with accompanying wines and liqueurs. Supple, delicate in texture and taste it was epicurean drama at its best to end Tony’s 7th decade and usher in his 8th.


The week flashed by. The sun did not always shine; there were hot days and rainy days. 

We walked the town flat. It’s a handsome one, beautifully situated on Bahía de La Concha facing north, an apron of sand in front of the promenade, a view of the open sea through the tall headlands that form a crescent protecting the city, the Old Town tucked under the eastern wing, dominated by the Basilica de Santa Maria.

Couldn’t resist the sea and sand and had to spend a morning on that lovely beach. I have a rule – I must be able to see my feet in the water; muddy, murky water I find alarming. “My dears……what is in there that I cannot see?” 

Some years ago we were in San Sebastian briefly and were told that it is a tradition to cast the cremated ashes of loved ones into the sea from the Fuente de la Atalaya, o de Bardocas on the Pasealeku Berria, the point overlooking the entrance to the bay. Disconcertingly, if the tides and currents are incoming these have a habit of popping up next to you when you are bathing. Little caskets of death marked with names and dates.  But not today! No death today.

Tony remembered that exactly 44 years ago on his 26th birthday he was standing on this very beach. He and some Argentinean friends were travelling Spain, from Ibiza, selling luminous green necklaces at raves and fairs. Even Bob Marley had one – an exceptional endorsement that sold all their product but did not make them rich.

They were a homemade invention the five companions put together in the back of a hire car and sold as far as the Münich Beer Festival where they ran out of plastic rods. He learned his Spanish from the Argentinians they having no English.

On another day we drove the spectacular coast along the Autovia that confidently rollercoasts through, under and over the mountains and valleys to visit the Museo Cristóbal Balenciaga at Getaria, a small fishing village really, where the great man was born and where he now rests.

And of course Pamplona.

I’d never been. Tony was there with his luminous necklaces and Argentinians all those years ago. A fifty minute drive through the mountains. Another beautiful city with its famous annual Festival of Sanfermines and the running of the bulls. None of that now. Not since July.

Tony brought an ancient, yellowed copy of Fiesta (Pan Ed. 1952) Ernest Hemmingway’s story around the running of the bulls written in 1926 and usually called The Sun Also Rises. I read and he re-read the story which is evocative of both the city and the festival though I can’t say the characters impressed too much. Lost souls all who had it in for poor Robert Cohn in an anti-Semitic way that from this vantage I found uncomfortable.

But it describes Pamplona all right – even down to the Irena Café which exists exactly like it did in 1926. It exhausted us both just imagining the drama and danger of the running as we walked the route. Definitely for the young and daring, I fear; it is not on our list! How the lost souls in Hemmingway’s book could even get out of bed each morning on the vast amounts of liquor consumed I can’t imagine. Skinsful of wine – literally – bottles of the stuff and the martinis, absinthes and sundry other elixirs on top of that. I had to reach for the Alka Seltzer just thinking about it.

Plaza del Castillo. The Irena Cafe is behind me

And so our week drew to a close.  Just one, last nerve-racking hurdle – the obligatory Antigen Test. Without it Brittany Ferries will not let us board. It must be no earlier than 72 hours before sailing but the laboratories in Spain are closed at the weekend; and our ferry sails on a Monday. Is 72 hours literal? Or will three full days before our 5.00pm boarding be okay? To stick to the letter we’d need to complete the test on or after 5.00pm on the Friday before sailing. No-one seemed able to tell us! If we couldn’t board then we’d have to stay behind. If we were positive we’d have to quarantine in Santander. The prospects of a relaxed last few days in sunny Spain seemed doomed. 

Eventually someone confirmed that three days would be acceptable and we tracked down a laboratory which gave us the test for €50 a pop 80 hours before our sailing time. 

We held our breath all the way along those switchback roads on that last day driving to Santander through scudding rain and heavy lorry traffic to return the car and eventually board the Pont Aven – no probs. no worries, as they say. 

The Bay of Biscay on a rough crossing seemed calm by comparison.



Tuesday, 21st September we docked on the dot of 2.00pm in Plymouth. High tension – would the taxi be there? Would GWR be running a decent service to London? Would we be presentable for the Oxford & Cambridge Club Players Dinner in Pall Mall?

It was. It did. And we were.



In Spain there were no petrol queues, the supermarket shelves were full, the markets buzzing. Everyone wears masks. Everyone. Even youngsters in the school playground we noticed. It is etiquette. I won’t start a rant. We’ve all seen the news!


We are enjoying the Russian Dr. Zhivago made in 2006 as a series in eleven parts. Subtitled.

The White Lotus from HBO is intriguing us. We shall not be booking into that resort, my dears!

Vigil on BBC1 was wrecked for us by overcrowded story lines and complicated plot structures – but held my, if not Tony’s – attention! Impossible to believe and with all that money spent could the underwater effects look less amateur?

Succession is riveting. We are hurrying through the first two series to be ready for the third. What a ghastly family. King Lear and Titus Andronics rolled into one with the Murdochs, Maxwells, Hearsts and Trumps thrown into the mix. Great television!


Few, sadly but hopefully that’s about to change.

I went to a matinee of Bach & Sons at The Bridge Theatre and loved every minute of it. Talk about dysfunctional families – wow! But oh, that music.

Constellations? We were underwhelmed. We saw Russell Tovey and Omari Douglas but at those prices, for seventy minutes of theatre, crowded to the nines with no lip-service paid to Covid at all, we will not visit the other three couples I am afraid. The two actors were excellent but the piece just went round and round with over-cleverness. “Up itself” is an expression that springs to mind.


Blues inflected Jazz at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho with Paul Jones and John Etheridge was great. We know very little of Jazz but are being gently inducted by Friends Cathy and Richard -G. Hopefully there will be more Jazz outings. I am ignorant – but love it!

Thanks friends for getting this far. The multiple-choice exams will be online, no masks needed. Please bring your own pencils. You may cheat if you wish!

Pedro has left the building!

THE GREEN DIARY : Stay- or UK-ationing?

Paper cups and social distancing! Bill Bailey! At the Royal Opera House! What next? Our first visit to the theatre and, specifically the Opera House since Swan Lake on the 12th March last year. Seventeen months. It seems incredible; and that it should be the most un-operatic show too –  Bill Bailey’s Summer Larks certainly provided a refreshing change.

I don’t have to start with my usual Worzel Gummidge/Bojo and the Shudder of Clowns rant. Bill Bailey did a wonderful hatchet job on the lot of them and had a largely sympathetic audience in stitches. What a pity the tragedy of Afghanistan had not started yet – he could well have had a lot more to add. Shame on us!

We visited Nero at the British Museum before walking down to Covent Garden. 

They are politically re-habilitating Nero it seems, rather like Richard III and other monsters in history, the myths are being unwrapped and we find that Nero may well have fiddled while Rome burned but that he did not start the fires nor was in Rome when they were lit but, rather, at his villa strumming his lyre and seeing the flames engulfing the city from a distance. He introduced many reforms and had some good ideas many of which were inimical to the interests of the Roman elites who saw to it that the social media of the times destroyed an otherwise good man in their quests for power and wealth. 

That, at any rate, is the new air-brushed Nero presented here.

So, no fiddling friends, though it didn’t stop the museum from placing a vast poster of Peter Ustinov laurel’d and lyre’d at the entrance to the exhibition, to remind us of the mythical version.

Lots of headless, legless and armless statues, all looking suspiciously similar, the Julian-Claudian gene evidently a strong one, illustrated the man and his deeds, though rather like Beckett, there was less there than at first it seemed.

The Bow Street Magistrates’ Court now NoMad

Opposite the opera house of course, are the Bow Street Magistrates’ Courts where Oscar Wilde was famously committed for trial at The Old Bailey. The building has been converted by the NoMad chain into a 91 room (sic) boutique hotel though I am sure that can’t be right? 91 rooms? More like 19 surely?

Thirty quid for two glasses of Grenache gives you some idea of what your stay-over bill might look like. It was filled with trendy thirty-somethings and Tony and I were definitely the oldest things in the NoMad bar! It set us up nicely for Bill Bailey.

The rain in London these two days has been astonishing. Tropical downpours reminiscent of the Zambesi valley or Amazon jungle – just stair-rods and vast pools of water which the drains seem incapable of removing fast enough. I’ve never seen anything like it here before. So our walk up to Swiss Cottage for The Two Character Play, one of Tennessee Williams’ late plays now being revived at the Hampstead Theatre –  where it premiered under the direction of James Roose-Evans in 1967 – was somewhat spoiled.

Back to Mistley for the Regatta Fireworks, an annual event in our local calendar; friend H- to stay and much walking and talking.

Vacuum cleaners always remind me of the wonderful film of Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana? I think it was the first time I encountered a modern vacuum cleaner actually, in the shape of “nothing sucks like an Electrolux”! A sausage shaped thing with a hose protruding that forever reminded me of Noël Coward and Alec Guinness! 

I had no idea it had been turned into a (not very good) play; but there it was as part of the Aldeburgh Summer Festival along with others, including Alan Ayckbourn’s rather clunky It Could be Any One of Us, written in 1983 and billed as a comic murder mystery. Great Summer Stock. Thorpeness friends Kathy- and Trevor- always ask us to join them in their annual visit to the festival and this year was a good one. Masked or not, we inch towards normality. Thanks K & T – it’s always a pleasure. 

I have had my hands rapped (it happens often) for using the word Staycation to describe holidaying in the United Kingdom.

Apparently it’s not PC and causes offence to the leisure industry who complain that it subtly downgrades holidaying in Britain implying it to be inferior to foreign vacations. A Staycation I am informed by the Etymological Stalinistas describes a holiday spent at home – rather like the German version, a Balcony Holiday. 

So, Friends what to do? I have come up with UKcationing and hope that will explain more clearly our earlier Summer idylls and our current odyssey with two of our grandsons, as we make a stately progress through the cities of Oxford, Bath and Bristol – to London.

But not before the Vietnamese Reunion with Cousins at Westwood Farm in Semley, Dorset.

Cousin Sophia! Are you taking the picture?

Five years ago we were all on the beach at Mũi Né witnessing and celebrating Cousin Rufus’ nuptials. Sadly neither he nor Diah, currently locked down in Saigon, nor Oliver his brother could be with us but that did not dampen proceedings a jot as family embraced in the bucolic surrounds of Semley, glasses raised to absent friends, an excellent way to remember a happy event in these times.

And so to Oxford.

Putting up at the newly refurb’d Randolph Hotel handily positioned opposite the Ashmolean where breakfast was not included nor rooms ready for the arrival of Team Jabe. No wet room; breakfast á lá carte with a rack of four toasted triangles, a knob of butter and a thimble of Tiptree marmalade weighing in at ten quid. Toasts for five over two breakfasts came to £100! Coffee, eggs to order, freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit and yoghurt – the Greek variety – all priced separately. Times five, times two! Shock horror!

UKationing does not come cheap; and very iffy service all round. John Thaw everywhere and Tony and I were bedded in the Oscar Wilde room. I kid you not. Though I noticed I had a Margaret Thatcher keycard.

But what a city. So beautiful. I’d forgotten. 

Jabe asked us last year if we would travel with him to France during the summer holidays but that was all put into touch by the Pandemic and a much smaller scale UKation was planned and our entourage, Team Jabe, met in Oxford last Monday.

I first came here when I was 12 years old, to be re-introduced to my Godmother Sister Julia SLG (Sisters of the Love of God) at the Convent of the Incarnation, Fairacres; up the Iffley Road, passed the famous 4 minute mile athletics track; and when I came to live in England forever in 1979 I visited her with special permission, every Easter, Christmas and Birthday until she died in 2004. I raced down from Manchester between shows for her funeral and that was the last time I was in the city.

Family legend has it that, thwarted by my Mother in a race for my Father, she became a Nun. Perhaps. Whatever. She was a wonderful Godmother. I adored her and loved Oxford where I was nearly once myself a postgraduate – but that’s another story.

Jabe loved Oxford too; we managed to dip in and out of Exeter, Magdalen and Oriel, gazing at that Imperial monster Rhodes in his niche as we passed by, thinking of the £12,000,000 endowment and how he earned it. 

To the Bodleian, no access; along the river, no punting of course, but success at the Ashmolean where there was a stupendous exhibition on Tokyo well worth a visit if anyone is in the neighbourhood. I’d never been in the Ashmolean and loved the whole place. There’s an excellent collection of paintings there, in the European section, which we enjoyed.

Much of the city centre has been pedestrianized; great for walkers and the wheelchair; and it’s immaculately groomed. A café society has developed and the fresh air disperses the germs we are told.

Travelling with Team Jabe is an event in itself. He has a specially designed VW van for his collection of wheel chairs and two PA’s who travel with him, this time his brother Tyger and Manager Emily – so we are five altogether.  Irritatingly none of the Parking Garages allowed access. Too tall.

Holidaying in Britain has always been fraught in one way or another. The traffic, the cost of petrol, parking costs, the astronomical expense of accommodation in England and often poor service, all make the experience daunting.

Add to these Grandson Jabe’s special needs and the endless frustrations with accessibility and often indifferent staff, you’d be forgiven for not starting off on any journey ever. Brexit and the Pandemic have only aggravated these realities. In restaurants, café’s and hotels staff shortages are endemic and these have a knock-on effect. 

For further rants, see below!

Blenheim of course. We had to go there, just 25 minutes down the Woodstock Road – it’s all part of the Imperial endeavour and certainly impressive; a sort of massive theme park complete with miniature railway – pulled by Winston, the engine – to whisk you to the walled garden and the maze and back – if you felt like it. We walked. A beautiful sunny day, blue skies with cotton wool puffs; absolutely perfect English weather and when Britannia basks she looks fabulous.

It’s interesting revisiting places you think you’ll never see again and watching the reactions of those for whom it is a first time; hearing what they think. By now we are in London on the last leg and so far only Bristol Zoo has disappointed Jabe he confessed this morning.

I remember my first visit there too, back in 1965, when in front of the Gorilla cage brother David was pelted with turd. It smelled terrible and I think we may well have taken the smell into My Fair Lady which had just opened at the ABC nearby. Loved the movie; hated the smell.

Poor brother David, he was always falling into Devonshire streams, Warwickshire cowpats and other uncomfortable things.

Poor Aunt Barbara, she never knew what to do with us all. “I’m only an artist!” she’d exclaim in answer to all questions. Brother David got into scrapes. At Stratford we were taken to see The Merchant of Venice and he thought he was being helpful during the interval when he returned to their holders all the opera glasses in the dress circle at a shilling a pop. Poor Barbara indeed. I recollect many shilling pieces, or sixpences, being frantically sought and binoculars released.

This picture is from my 1965 diary and reveals that Janet Suzman played Portia, Eric Porter was Shylock and I see Charles Kay played Launcelot Gobbo.

Bath next.

Putting up at the Double Tree by Hilton a few hundred yards from the Pump Room and Roman Baths where we headed immediately. 

On that same trip when I was 12, we were brought here, again by My Aunt Barbara (MAB), and I remember eating in the Pump Room. I think it has been restored to within an inch of its existence since those days and the Roman Baths made far more fascinating than I remember them. Team Jabe had “Champagne Tea” accompanied by a palm-fringed quartet playing Mozart and Bach. Necessary sugar input for the gruelling walkabout this Mendip’d town. Please don’t let your batteries run down, Jabe, we have a ways to go! The thought of deploying the manual chair made us quail!

At 12.

Bath is in good shape. Also well groomed – and popular. Timed entries everywhere of course though not always ramps when needed. The ghosts of Jane Austen and Mary Shelley are all about – and others besides. It basked in sunshine too and it’s easy to see its attraction to Romans and English alike.

Bath Abbey was beautiful. It was the first time we came across a real attempt to contextualise some of our less savoury history. There was none such at Blenheim.

The debate about Rhodes in Oxford rages on. Inside Bath Abbey the subject of our Imperial past is met head on. Personally I am very much against airbrushing history or anything that resembles “cancel culture”. The Slave Trade and its hideousness looms large in this part of the world. 

Mini rant coming up – Slavery should loom large over all Britain since everything we are today is because of the wealth and power generated by our trade and the exploitation of subject peoples throughout our Imperial past.

Bristol next and contextualisation is everywhere. In the MShed Gallery, on the docks, there is a comprehensive history of the city and what made it. There the disgraced statue of Edward Colston lies in a special exhibition dedicated to the events leading to his de-plinthing, and drowning in the harbour. It is an extension to a fascinating, existing exhibition of all Bristol’s endeavours and quite shocking in the virtual holocaust it reveals. There was a lot of interest and I’m glad because surely this is a subject that should be compulsorily taught in our schools? Along with so many social, political and economic wrongs perpetrated in our name through our Imperial Past? I can’t help feeling it can only help mend race relations?

The SS Great Britain

We put up at the Radisson Blu Hotel and here our experiences reached their nadir: it took three and a half hours to check in! In fact they told us to go away and see the Isambard Kingdom Brunel miracle (The IKB Experience) the SS Great Britain; perhaps by then they might have found us rooms.

They didn’t. Tony and I checked in but Team Jabe languished in the foyer for a further hour at least before the wrong rooms finally became available. No accessible wet room, the lifts were not working properly, the rooms had clearly not been properly cleaned, parking in the nearby NCP cost the earth and all this despite the long term planning. It was grubby. Actually, unlike Oxford and Bath, Bristol itself was grubby. End of mini rant!

Travelling with a wheelchair user is a humbling experience. Our grandson Jabe is one of the politest people I know. He has such huge difficulties; often people are patronising; often, too, expectations are not met; promises of accessibility are either exaggerated or broken altogether yet he and his carers, Team Jabe, are patient, polite and show a forbearance and humour that is a lesson in diplomacy and tolerance I find very moving.

Care of course is much debated at present. There is not nearly enough of it, spread so thinly and unevenly as it is, and what there is costs the earth in funding almost impossible to source. A radical rethink not just for the elderly but all who need care and help is long overdue. 

Last leg London. Easy for us as we just checked into our flat. Team Jabe, having changed horses so-to-speak, put up at the Camden Holiday Inn where things were altogether more efficient for a change.

Sit still long enough and someone will take a picture, trying to remember which character you were and where they’d seen you before!

Handy for us and the West End, we embarked on at least twelve thousand steps a day across parks, along canals, via rose gardens to Van Gogh Alive, Madame Tussauds, The London Eye, Fortnum & Mason, Covent Garden as part of a list of boxes Jabe wanted to tick, some of which we’d not been near for many, many years and never thought we’d see again – most unrecognisably worked over and modernised.

This is in 3D: you can walk into the picture.

Jabe is amazing.  He is at Loughborough completing an MA in Mathematics. There is nothing he won’t try. He will paraglide off mountains, skydive from planes, ride any ride, play Boccia for the UK, the list is endless  – if others can do it why can’t he? 

Averaging 12,000 steps a day we covered 120,000 and the only batteries that ran our were ours! Oh….and Jabe ran over my foot in his 350Kg Wheelchair, an occupational hazard said carers Vic & Emily.

Top hole, Jabe! Top hole! It’s been a great little UKation!

Sister Julia SLG, Fairacres, Oxford, 1987.

THE GREEN DIARY : To Mask or Not to Mask…………………..?

Worzel Gummidge – aka Bojo the Clown – and his Shudder of Ministers, have succeeded in further bewildering us all with the great “Freedom Day” last week which seems only to have sown more confusion, information flying at us from every quarter. Friends, best keep wearing your masks – not material ones apparently – and hope that the massive experiment now being conducted here will really lead to the sunny uplands outlined in Professor Neil Ferguson’s latest communiqués.

Fingers crossed!

It’s all Staycation! Staycation! Staycation! Following the success of the North Norfolk meander, it was touchy-touchy, feely-feely the following week and the blessed relief of actually seeing so many friends and clasping them (in my case) to ample bosoms.

So to London for our first extended stay – a week – in sixteen months. Extraordinary feeling. How small our world has become and how timid it makes us feel.

80th birthdays in Kent; Haute Cuisine at The Ivy City Garden: Yay! Someone else is cooking; at Daquise, our favourite Polish haunt in South Kensington, Golonka & Golubki recommended; moving to Primrose Hill and Lemonia for Greek cuisine and more friends, not visited for years. Parliament Hill Cafè on the Heath for breakfast. 

Golonka & Golubki at Daquise

Daquise is at the bottom of Exhibition Road and we decided to walk off lunch visiting the new Pavilion at the Serpentine and the fascinating James Barnor Photographic exhibition at the Sackler next door.

Lets have a cultural breather : fitting in The Noël Coward Exhibition at The Guildhall Gallery – a must – and the Football Final in front of a vast TV screen in Redcliffe Gardens, Turkish meze Deliveroo’d to the ensemble. I didn’t realise we could be so butch.

How can I make lists more interesting? They’re lovely lists though, signalling a feeling of normality almost forgotten. Best of all are you, Friends!

To Beckett at the British Museum we walked; rather uninspiring we thought, and very pedantically policed, taking forever, as the 69+’s all had to peer in the gloom at every impenetrable icon and cypher. Why do they insist on such poor lighting? Besides, Henry VIII made sure there was not much left of the Saint to show off anyway. We couldn’t wait for Brown’s, and more of you, dear Friends.

And we got you – at Bill’s in Muswell Hill, a duet with Friend Paul (I can mention your name can’t I, Paul? Great to see you.) – then Lennox Gardens for supper in what turned out to be my Grandmother’s flat renovated beyond recognition but, yes, it was the same street number. 

Granny died years ago of course and the coincidence is astonishing. Thanks Laura for a lovely evening. I shall probably get into trouble for mentioning your name but, hey, it’s been so lovely to be in touch and I wish I could mention you all!

Not finished yet by half. Catch-up morning coffees in Tufnell Park; Table Du Marchè in East Finchley for the evening. Such fine food. I never want to cook again. This is so wonderful.

Are you exhausted by this list? We were and staggered home via Hildenborough, Kent, for the aforementioned 80th birthday, where more of you were warm and lovely.

A day on The Green for laundering and repacking thence to Yorkshire, roof down for the sunny, four hour trip, to Thirsk and a week of reconnecting. Thirsk is where my Bridge Club is – also my Bridge Mentor, Cathy. The pandemic encouraged an online membership and I’ve yet to physically meet the other members, and probably never will, though they are still streaming their Tuesday Tournaments for a while longer. Gazing across the green baize in actualitè , real cards trembling in hand, terror-in-heart, has yet to happen, except at Grandson Jabe’s home Cambridgeshire. But that comes later.

Yorkshire is lovely. I’d forgotten. We’ve been there several times in the past : Godchildren at Ampleforth, visiting performances by friends at theatres in York and Scarborough always entailing stays enabling visits to places like Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Castle Howard, famous for its Brideshead Revisited association. I remember a particular journey to Scarborough to see Friend Paul (again) in David Mamet’s Oleanna which was well worth the terrifying, endless drive through cold rainstorms and failing light – long before Google maps and Tom-toms! 

So it’s been a while; it’s unlike East Anglia, especially Essex. Almost like visiting a foreign country; even the people are different.

Thirsk sits in the broad valley separating the Dales in the west and the Moors in the east and some walking and driving took us, with Cathy, our Bridge Mentor and dear friend, to a Dale and a Moor or two.

Starting in Lastingham, from the Church of St. Mary, an 11th Century Norman gem, built on the remains of a much earlier (circa CE 690), Saxon monastery and famous for its crypt with an apsidal chancel, we set out on a three hour circular walk through woodland and over moors to Hutton-le-Hole through Spaunton and Appleton-le-Moors. 

Where are the thousands of sheep?

Bracken and heather; high, blue skies, thousands of black-faced, horned sheep in urgent need of shearing, eating or both! Beef baguettes and beer in the hot sun set a slower pace home via the kilns at Rosedale Chimney Bank. Quite steep there; had to change gears!

Harrogate was a discovery for us. Lovely town. Lunched at Betty’s of course – and understood why we know so many who’d love to live here – in Harrogate not Betty’s! 

Home of The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Thrillers and all.

To Wharfedale for Bolton Abbey, a beautiful 12th Century Augustinian monastery, also wrecked by Henry VIII but affording a wonderful walk along the river and through the grounds.

Turned south in convoy to Stonely-Kimbolton, Cambs., for a Bridge-fest with Grandson Jabe in hot weather. A weekend of 16 Rubbers and much humiliation for me who succeeded in ending the stay far too full of food and wine and 101 down – the outright loser. Still it was a happy family event and at least it was real; we’d have done no other.

It was so hot – the high pressure hose brought welcome relief!

Back to Mistley via more family in Northampton, Aunt Sally and Tony’s Uncle Trevor, now 93, the week somewhat marred by news from South Africa where rioting, looting and murder have caused paralysis and fear in, particularly, KwaZulu-Natal.

Vasbyt family & friends there, vasbyt! We think of you all the time with hope. Take great care.


The pandemic invents new obsessions, don’t you find? Operation Shoebox Files swung into action last week with the delivery of an Epson FastFoto Digitiser and a solution to the storage and display possibilities of thousands of photographs dating back to 1952.

Just throw them into the rubbish? 

When our heirs comb through our goods and chattels after our departure to Hades/Nirvana, they’ll probably do just that! Chuck it all, along with the gigabytes they have been reduced to.

But then there’d be no project for the pandemic would there? 

Michael and I were old enough for adults’ dinner. To this day I remember the name of our steward, Simon Preston and a 27 year old John Prescott was also in attendance, the Union activist and later minister in Tony Blair’s government.

The machine had to be ordered in advance and space made in the calendar for the hire period.

Friends, there was barely enough time! Nor was I prepared for the emotional and psychological impact of a life literally passing before my eyes. There were moments of darkness I have to confess but also light and humour as the relentless schlick-tack, schlick-tack, schlick-tack of the trusty Epson churned out a lifetime. The Gelopetah-Gelopetah machine we came to call it.

What a life. Could it have passed by so quickly? Is there really so little of it left? Terrifying regret passed over me at moments. Had I appreciated it enough? Did I really do all those things? Were we really there? At such and such in such and such a time and place?

And could we have expended so much money on such badly taken photographs! And bothered to store them in those endless rows of albums in that cupboard – little, Instatmatic’d squares of blurred memories, Polaroid’d pleasantries faded to misty memories.

It has been a tense few days. I undertook the project while Tony was isolating in London before having a biopsy at The Macmillan Centre. It had the effect of heightening the experience somewhat; an awareness of mortality I suppose?

There are some wonderfully photographs, and on balance, I am glad we undertook the project but I was relieved when Envio took away the Gelopetah-Gelopetah machine and glad to have neatly consigned all those pictures, removed from their albums, stacked into elastic-banded years from 1952 to 2021, to a box headed for the attic.

A word of warning, Friends: do not undertake anything similar with Wagner in the background! Especially not Tristan und Isolde!

Done and dusted.

THE GREEN DIARY : Swass-aunty-Nerf!

The Green, Mistley, is in the centre of this aerial shot taken by a drone with the Stour Estuary showing low tide. The Adam Swan Basin and Mistley Towers can clearly be seen. The village dates from the early 17th Century and parts of it are Jacobean. Our terrace, right on The Green, was built around 1736 and is early Georgian.

The buttercups, dandelions and cow parsley have given way to profusions of elderflower, poppies, dog-roses, abundant grasses tame and wild and the full, deep green of midsummer; the fields are ripening and the harvest already beckons.

“June just rains and never stops,

Thirty days and spoils the crops!”

On the 21st June, Midsummer, I wrote : 

“……the temperature is 13˚C and it’s raining. In Scotland this morning there was frost on the ground and today we have had to start self-isolating again would you believe? We’ve been in contact with someone who has proved positive and though we have both had Covid, two vaccine jabs and are showing negative with the lateral flow tests, we still have to hang up our hats for ten days – or until the government officially declare exceptions for those of us who have had the jabs. We’ve had to alert one or two friends; cancel a visitor who would have been with us for three days and abort a trip to Yorkshire, part of a small Staycation Itinerary! It’s a bit of a bugger, Friends!”

But on the 30th day, the anniversary of the Night-of-the-Long Knives, the birth of Susan Hayward, Leonard Whiting, Peter Pollock and a host of famous forgotten names, was my own, Swuss-aunty-Nerf birthday, we made it, with Friend H….. to the Blakeney Hotel in Norfolk for three days under an unseasonable blanket of cloud, drizzle and mid-teen temperatures that chilled but did not discourage us from walks along that magical stretch of coast with its tidal wetlands, huge, sandy beaches, high skies and a bird life that helps you for a second or two to forget the drastic stories of extinctions and climate catastrophes. It all looked very normal-for-Norfolk.

Clay-Next-the-Sea. More grasses and another windmill.

On the way there last Monday, we detoured to check out Winterton-on-Sea:

A Hidden Gem

Bounded by a stunning sandy beach on one side and the Norfolk Broads on the other, Winterton-on-Sea is one of Norfolk’s best kept secrets. Away from the brash bright lights of nearby seaside towns, this ancient fishing village is the perfect get-away-from-it-all destination, whether you want a traditional bucket and spade holiday with the children, a romantic break or a chance to see raw beauty and the wonders of nature. Winterton is also one of the dog friendliest villages in Norfolk…year round.

So says their Blog. We were very taken by the Hermanus Roundhouses, an hotel we were convinced had to be owned by South Africans. There we call them Rondavels and Hermanus is a famous beach destination in The Cape. Hermanus. A good Dutch name. But how wrong we were. At the Winebago Coffee Stall on the beach we were told by a local that it has been in a Norfolk family for generations – without the benefit of any South African or Dutch input.

Of course there was a lot of Dutch help centuries ago when they taught us how to drain polders, build dykes and install windmill pumps around The Broads and the flatlands of East Anglia, to control flooding and drain fields. Hermanus may have come from there, who knows?

Once in Blakeney we fitted into a routine started last August when a small window opened in the run up to the Second Wave. Lots of sunshine then but sadly not this time. Wells-next-the-Sea was pleasingly spruced up and the wonderful walk along the Beach Road dyke onto the beach and around the headland onto that wide, white, empty, sandy beach to Holkham and back through the woods, despite some drizzle, was a delight.

The usual pattern of streaming, walking, reading, cooking and other delightful domestic pursuits make it difficult to say more as we approach the final lockdown date. These past eighteen months have certainly encouraged introspection, don’t you find? I have started writing little stories based on amusing events and thought I’d end with one here as I approach the 35th anniversary of my first visit to Positano in July 1986. Have a little look why don’t you, and tell me what you think? It’s completely free and the usual multiple choice exams will soon be coming up and I would expect you all to have researched well and be au fait with everything on The Green! I am thinking of adding oral tests as well, to give a more three dimensional picture and to make it easier for you to tick the correct boxes and pass the exams!

I’ve called it THE BRICK DROPPER

“In July the sun is hot,

Is it shining? No it’s not!”

THE GREEN DIARY : Red, Amber or Green?

We’re green on The Green it would seem. The second May Bank Holiday brought children and grandchildren Staycationing briefly; how lovely it was and with perfect sunny weather bringing relief from the tedium of lockdown. 

Frances Macmillan comes to Tea-on-the-Green in pink. A low key, Amber event!

Frances Macmillan has been our postmistress for thirty years. Now she has closed her little shop with its huge selection of sweets in jars along the shelves behind the counter, the bread, the newspapers and milk so handily available for those emergencies, not to mention other vital victuals, to retire and leave us. Only the red pillar box will remain as a reminder of our sub-post office, though for how long we know not.

And into our Tea-on-the-Green to celebrate our new freedoms, to thank Frances and revel in the weather, who should appear among us on her 20,000 mile walk around the British Isles but Karen Penny, on her way up the Stour from Harwich to Manningtree. Incredible journey raising awareness and money for Alzheimer’s Research; £85,000 of the £100,000 goal reached and still the whole east coast to go to get back to John O’Groats. It fair made our heads spin. If anyone would care to donate click on the link :

Terrible sound quality. Hardly any volume – but interesting nonetheless!

I’ve called this entry Red, Amber or Green? because the 21st of June, midsummer, is the date for the masks to be whisked off and normality resumed – it is presumed. Lingering doubts round the Delta variant may change the traffic lights and we are holding our collective breath while Bojo and The Clowns juggle their political acts and the scientists urge caution.

We’ll see.

In the meantime its full speed ahead on duet- quartet- and sestet-dinners at home and abroad in Thorpness, Wivenhoe, Brondesbury Park, Thurston – not forgetting Snape for a picnic, a walk, and some Scriabin, Britten and Schoenberg, John Wilson conducting The Royal Academy of Music Strings; and in “Orlando’s Garden”, Brightlingsea, where rain stopped play and we were moved to All Saints Church and Orlando Jopling’s talented String Quartet and Singers took us through Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Purcell and even a twiddle or two of Porter & Hammerstein!

John Wilson conducting at Snape.

Friend and neighbour Sarah – glimpsed here at tea – has donated a fantastic booklet from her rapidly dwindling library (as she prepares to leave us and move north – so sad), Geoff Gostling’s Shotley Peninsula Walks. I have a ‘thing’ about doubling back or backtracking on walks or hikes. Circles or loops are my walking ideal and this booklet is fantastic as it highlights all the circular walks near us, across the Stour in Suffolk on the Shotley Peninsula. So there’s lots there to investigate in our rapidly warming summer.  

The Shotley Peninsula is beautiful. It’s the thin strip of land separating the Orwell & Stour Rivers with Manningtree at the head of the Stour and Ipswich at the top of the Orwell – the rivers meet at Harwich and Felixstowe. 

Low-lying and high-ceilinged, there is much history here. It is reputed that Anne Boleyn’s heart is buried at St. Mary’s Ewarton near Shotley.

The landscape is a darkening green, the Bluebells and May have made way for the Poppies, Buttercups, the smell of mowing, barley and wheat, rapeseed and grasses

At St. Mary’s Shotley, if you tiptoe respectfully through the cemetery, down the steep slope you come upon thirteen German graves, including ein unbekannter Deutscher Soldat. They are the graves of some of the earliest casualties of the Great War of 1914-18, of 13 sailors of the Kaiserliche Marine.

The tragic events unfolded on August 5th 1914, the day after the outbreak of War. HMS Amphion was off Harwich when a German minelayer was spotted. The Royal Navy ship gave chase and sank the minelayer, but took on board 46 survivors. However, in the early hours of August 6th HMS Amphion itself hit one of the mines with the loss of at least 131 personnel. Other ships took off survivors but the hapless Amphion then struck another mine and sank. Some of the burials are here at Shotley.

Across the river in Harwich on another day, we walked family Julie, Zac and Fin through the old town where Henry VIII started the navy in 1543, where the Mayflower was built and launched and captained via Plymouth to America by Christopher Jones whose house still stands opposite our favourite pub, The Alma, in King Street; they’d asked to see it and we walked the pier, through the wilderness where the Redoubt and Beacon Hill Batteries, built in 1657 as reinforcement against the Dutch and French, are overgrown by brambles, cow parsley and wild flowers, the stark, broken concrete of later reinforcements facing out onto the brown North Sea, stubbing our toes.

We found this plaque not realising that the Kindertransport first landed here; thousands of innocent, Jewish children escaping the horrors of Hitler’s Europe, before travelling on toward Liverpool Street Station and unknown futures without their mothers, their fathers, their Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents and tortured elders.

Let’s Never Forget. Such a lot of History here.


I don’t know why this story has suddenly popped into my mind. It comes out of nowhere and is entirely irrelevant to traffic lights, lockdowns or clowning prime ministers but ten years ago I went to New Zealand to visit my brother and say hello to my oldest friend in the world, Helena. She and I grew up in Pinelands, Cape Town where we were next-door-neighbours. At two I was playing in her sandpit together with her brother Janek and we have been friends ever since.

Helena lives in Masterton and when I stayed with her, she took me away for the weekend to her retreat at Oreti Village in Pukawa on Lake Taupo.

On one of the days we drove round to Taupo town and among other things visited the Spa Thermal Park where there is the famous Bungee Jumping Platform started by A.J. Hackett as the first commercial venture of its kind in the world. 

It’s terrifying.

The landscape round about is beautiful. The views from the platform high above the Waikato River just below the Haku Falls are breath-taking. 

Into this chasm people pay good money to jump with an elastic band tied around their ankles.

“Do you want to have a go?” Helena said, sipping some coffee.

“Are you crazy? Never in a month of Sundays would I do that,” I replied, peering into the depths.

The place was deserted. Just two German tourists, a young couple, obviously recently married, gazing in trepidation at the gushing river below. A young New Zealander was supervising the jump.

She was already strapped up and ready to go but was having serious second thoughts.

“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. Take as much time to decide as you like,” said the New Zealander, “no one is forcing you and no one would ever push you!”

“Komm schon Hannah,” the young husband, lets call him Karl, started to coax her, “es its sicher. Haben Sie keine Angst. Alles, was Sie tun müssen, ist aussteigen.”

“Karl! Stress mich nicht. Kann ich das Geld nicht zurückbekommen?” Stop pressuring me, can’t I get the money back etc etc, she wailed, our Hannah!

“Schau Schatz, ich geh dir gleich hinterher und dann haben wir es geschafft! Komm schon, wir können nicht den ganzen Tag dauern!” He’ll follow her, he promises, and they can’t waste time etc etc, he wheedled, our Karl.

“Du versprichst mir?” You promise?

Big mistake!

Helena and I were riveted. Would she jump? It was like watching a thriller, never sure of the outcome. Might he even push her? No, we thought, the New Zealander would never allow that.

Suddenly she jumped.

There were two types of jump: one where the elasticated cord was adjusted to allow the jumper a ducking in the water before spronging up and down dripping wet or another measured to extend just short of the water then spronging dryly up and down.

Hannah had elected the dry jump. She gradually slowed down and was then gently lowered into the arms of two boatmen who uncoupled her , set her upright and rowed her to the shore where a Landrover was waiting to drive her round the hill back to the top to witness Karl’s efforts.

The elasticated rope was being wound up and the supervisor turned to Karl, “Do you want to get ready then?” he asked.

“Nein, I vill…vait fur mein friend…..”

“He’s scared. He’s not going to do it, is he?” said Helena.

The Landy appeared round the corner and an elated Hannah ran onto the platform, “Es is fantastisch! Ich hatte noch nie in meinem Leben solche Angst, aber jetzt habe ich es geschafft!”

Such elation from our Hannah, such a sense of achievement, “Warum sind Sie noch nicht bereit, an der Reihe zu sein?” Why are you not getting ready?

“Nein. Ich will es nicht und ich habe jetzt keine Zeit. Ich denke, wir sollten gehen.” Our Karl bottled out and Hannah was livid, betrayed. The little drama unfolded before us while we sipped our coffee.

“Aber du hast es versprochen. Du hast gesagt, wenn ich springe, würdest du springen. Wie erbärmlich du bist, was für ein Feigling!”

You promised. You are a coward. Why did you put me through this?

A full-scale domestic row blew up.

We finished our coffee and left the Bungee Jumpers to their broken vows.

That was ten years ago.


THE GREEN DIARY : towards an amber Solstice?

The daffodils have given way to the bluebells which, in turning, are giving way to the buttercups, dandelions and Queen Anne’s Lace. 

Friends, it is glorious. 

Every year I am overwhelmed by the beauty of Spring and the push towards Summer. The English countryside bursts with growth. The grasses, the wheat, the barley, the oats and even the garish rape – all are a rapture in this landscape of ours.

We have lived in Mistley for twenty years and thought we’d covered, in that time, pretty much all the walks and sights in this East Anglian lowland of muds and estuaries – but yesterday for the first time, we discovered Dodnash Woods and Valley and were astonished that it has taken us so long to go there. Of course we’d heard of it for years and been urged to visit it but never have – until yesterday.

Here is a poor photographic attempt to project the idea. The breathlessness you can hear in my voice on this little video is a residue of Covid from a year ago. I have no “puff” any longer. Rather annoying. We both get very tired all the time too. Age thou art shamed………..

There was in the 11th Century, an Augustine Monastery in this little valley we are told; there is a block of stone remaining attesting to this, with a railing around it to protect it from the sheep; but no notes. It is believed to have been founded in 1128 by Baldwin de Toeni and was in use until Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall in 1525. Whether Henry VIII destroyed it along with so many others no-one seems to know though it is a rather water-meadow’d little valley and could not have been a comfortably dry place to live! 

              to a young child
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1884-1889

“Yes yes yes – we are longing to travel about and will defo. try and see you sometime,” said one of you, Friends, “and eating & drinking goes without saying of course.” But I do know what you mean about rather repetitive chats. In fact we find that lapses into complete silence are not uncommon – and rather alarming, for those of us who used once never to stop talking!

This is an owl which Mabel, one of our fast growing Pixies-of-the-Green popped through the door. Soon we will not be able to call them Pixies, time flies by, and their adorable eccentricities, their divine innocences will fade away. (Too sentimental? Cloying? I hope not! They are very special.)

Reflecting on the effects of the pandemic on our sanity, I have realised that a degree of infantilisation has crept into our lives. The list of nicknames we use has grown ever longer and short cut methods of communication get ever shorter. Passing through kissing-gates is a good example. We learned about them over eighteen months ago from Friend L—–, on a long hike up the Gipping valley from Ipswich to Stowmarket. 

I knew they were called kissing gates of course but not how you traditionally traverse them: the first person passes through the gate, turns round, bangs the gate shut and kisses the second person who passes through the gate, bangs it shut and so on until all are through. Terrible bad luck she told us, not to complete this little tradition at each gate. It then took us twice as long to get to Stowmarket because on that route there are hundreds of these gates. An eighteen miler in eight hours with a lot of kissing!

This tradition during the pandemic and our gradual infantilisation, along with holding hands, has been revived on our walks as an expression of tenderness at a tough time and seems not to have frightened the cows or any passers-by who may or may not have caught us in the clinch!

L—– introduced us to another thing that neither of us had heard of, not for our use naturally, the SheWee. A sensible device though I was shocked to find that in parts of the Islamic world these devices have become vital in maintaining a woman’s dignity where Sharia in its extreme form forbids a woman to crouch for natural purposes. Since many hundreds of thousand of women work the fields, in fundamentalist theocracies, this device has a practical and, almost, life-saving purpose.

You learn something new every day.

Julie’s House by Grayson Perry, Wrabness.

The 17th May brought Friend L…….(another L) , our first visitor for nearly a year, to stay for two nights. It felt extraordinary I must say. We have become institutionalised by the lockdown I think? Don’t you feel? We have to start learning how to be with friends again. How to socialise. Conversations dry up don’t you find, in the absence of anything new to say? In the past ten days since then, we’ve celebrated a birthday in a pub, had another visitor, Friend M……, to stay, are expecting family to join us at the May Bank Holiday weekend coming, played oodles of bridge online, been impressed with Kate Winslet’s Mare of Easttown, riveted by Dominic Cummings’ appearance in Parliament rubbishing Bojo the Clown and some of his minions, notably Matt Hancock. It’s almost as exciting as a BBC Boxset!

June’s calendar is full.

Julie’s House. Love it or hate it!

We are grappling with the notion of Amber? Does anyone have a view on Amber and its actual meaning? Do we Come or Go, Talking of Michelangelo? Do we make up our own rules or not? I ask because unless the Bojo Clowns don’t make it clear, we cannot get our travel deposits back or know whether or not to travel at all. Apparently neither do the airlines nor, really, the government!

Happy Birthday, Mali!

Mind you, a visit to Minsk might not be appropriate at the present time – my travel insurance doesn’t cover state-sponsored terror or the consequences of mid-air kidnappings by Migs!

And so, forward Friends to the sunny uplands, we hope, of midsummer and an amber Solstice. Away with the rain and cold weather : do you remember the Flanders & Swan weather chart song?

Farmers fear unkindly May,
Frost by night and hail by day;
June just rains and never stops,
30 days and spoils the crops!



The Ventera Group logo.


I admit to being quite extraordinarily stupid. I hang my head in shame but need to share the reason – as a friendly warning to others that might be tempted to do as I did.


I thought I’d have a little flutter on Bitcoin a few months ago and ventured $1,000 for a share in one tiny fraction of a coin.

It was on the way up.

In order to invest this tiny amount I found a trading company called Ventera Group – their logo is below – at first very friendly and encouraging. And indeed, for a short period, seemed to be profitable – enough to lure me, stupidly, in.

It wasn’t long, as we all know, before Cryptocurrencies in general and Bitcoin in particular have not only languished but, since the adverse withdrawal of Elon Musk’s support, nosedived in value. 

The Trader I have been dealing with who communicates via WhatsApp and who calls himself John Edwards, a name I am now sure is fake, managed to persuade me to pump more and more money into my “account” – “to cover my margins” and “save the situation”, hanging in until the tides turn. 

How stupid could I be? I expect no sympathy from anyone but would urge any out there tempted to venture into this wild arena, not to do so.

To cut a long story short and seeing that my “account” appeared still to be in credit and having appeared not to have made too much loss, I decided to withdraw what appeared to be left using the Company’s Withdrawal Request facility online, with no result whatsoever other than a message saying my request was cancelled because to withdraw I’d have to “close my position” and this would result in a recall which I could not cover with any amount and that there would be nothing left.

In effect – there IS nothing left and after a shouting match with this Trader who called me stupid (which of course I now realise I am) and that my silly amount of money meant nothing in the sum of things, slammed the phone down and any attempt to get any sort of proper explanation has been met by rudeness and prevarication.

It was mooted that more money pumped in would help; I said there was no more; they said then that would mean I would lose everything.

I have emailed the company an asked them for some sort of clarification and  received this reply: 

Good day,

I have escalated this message to management for them to intervene.

At your service, Benjamin Duck

I have strong doubts as to the actual existence of Mr. Benjamin Duck and have had no response since,

Their initial promise that I could add or withdraw funds whenever I needed provided I gave them notice of seven days was a bald-faced lie. 

I have subsequently discovered that this company is unregulated and that there is no recourse to any Ombudsman and no hope really of recovering a penny – it would seem. Unless I employed the services of a company that specialises in recovery but charges so much for these services that it’s just not worth employing – guaranteeing only 80% success anyway!

The other thing that came to light was that I thought we were trading Bitcoin but by yesterday it became clear we’d progressed through the newly Nasdaq-launched Coinbase IPO and now seem to be trading in Netflix and Amazon – though how one can lose money on those dead-certs I do not know. And what happened to Bitcoin en route is a mystery.

Upshot : don’t go near these people, Friends. They are scammers.

I await developments – it may be a long time.

THE GREEN DIARY : May Bank Holiday 2021


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         

   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         

   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush         

   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush         

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         

What is all this juice and all this joy?         

   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,         

   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,         

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,         

   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.    

When I lived in Dolphin Square years ago I had a flat that overlooked the extensive courtyard garden complete with water feature and an avenue of trees. It felt very hemmed in there; after all, the building is at least twelve stories high, a sort of luxurious fortress. 

How they got there I do not know, but two Mallard appeared in the pond of a  Spring morning and went through the rituals of courtship. I have heard that female Mallard are serially raped each season but that once a choice has been made, the final couple, if I can call them that, remain steadfast. I have heard it said that this is so among many waterfowl and other animals.

Be that as it may, Mr & Mrs Mallard of Dolphin Square hung around for a few weeks surviving on grubs in the water and the odd crumb thrown into their pond by sentimental, passing residents. The time came for her to lay – but where? The pond was too small and there was not enough privacy for nesting so they had to head out and this is where we all wondered what would happen. How would they become VTOL certified? 

Mr Mallard went on an exploration round the courtyard and finally encouraged Mrs M to follow him; with breath-taking aeronautical skill their formation of two-in-line circled the courtyard, gaining height. Round and round they went, higher and higher they climbed until they finally, after five minutes, cleared the roof of Dolphin Square to disappear into the blue, across the Embankment and onto the Thames.

Several weeks later they re-appeared and stayed for the rest of the summer very happily in the pond disappearing one day in the Autumn, we thought never to be seen again – like the Snow Goose.

But they reappeared the following year; at least I assume they were the same pair; I like to think so at any rate, and the whole cycle was repeated.

Mistley Swannery

Our own nesting Blackbirds here in Mistley two seasons ago reminded me of Mr & Mrs Mallard of Dolphin Square SW1 : they had three chicks and infinite difficulty encouraging their babies firstly to get out of the nest, secondly flap bravely about on the ground while being exhorted to use they flying gear and learn to fly and thirdly, get enough lift to clear the Wisteria and back gate to the big, new world awaiting them. In the end I had to open the gate as the poor little mites didn’t have the featherage to cope. I think the parents were grateful and I remember thinking of my Mallard in Dolphin Square who had to teach their young to swim and fly.

Stour Riverside at Manningtree – an exceptionally high, Spring-tide.

It is a miraculous time of year and nature is in full swing as we have seen on our many walks.

I’ve tried to keep a mini diary and if I don’t write for about 4 days I have no idea what I did. It’s quite scary how there are so few memories and nothing to trigger the few that I have. When will this all be over…….?

So writes one of you, Friends; in fact we seem to be sharing similar experiences.

The past year has been a time for much navel-gazing, I guess. Not a bad thing I suppose, a bit of contemplation might be a good idea though often it can lead to bleaker, darker thoughts. There are certainly longer silences in the company we keep and its been generally agreed that because of the lockdown and the complete domination of Covid, there really is little to talk about beyond pleasantries. There is no news where once no news was considered good news! Now it make one wonder whether we are losing our sociability, forgetting how to engage, getting out of practice with our talents to amuse! The road map is blurring and disappearing.

No amount of zooming and streaming and webinars and binge-watching can make up for actual rather than virtual contact though I find that my anxiety levels go up when I move out of my pandemic-routine comfort zone! 

En route across the rapeseed fields from Stonely to Little Staughton

The May Bank Holiday weekend has come and gone; our duo-bubble duly vaxed to the nines, went up to Stonely-Kimbolton to see the grandchildren also max-vaxed, care-managers and all. Our bubble floated across the fields of Cambridgeshire in on/off weather, racking up the footsteps on our androids and freezing outdoors in local pubs. The Costa-del-Sol it is not! But how lovely to see family again and they were all there to celebrate son Zac’s 49thBirthday. Astonishing that Tony has a son who’s now in his fiftieth year. I just cannot get my head around this! Where has it all gone?

Sobering thought indeed….

The weather? Well, April has been odd. Here on The Green its been a sunny month largely but a cold one. Any thoughts of martini’s and fizzy outside on the lawn in glorious sunshine are discouraged by the pneumonia-inducing northerly breezes off the North Sea and from Siberia!

To London then on Bank Holiday Monday for Medical Maintenance – dentists, audiologists, bloods; pinched nerves, scans and tests; teas, lunches and dinners in back gardens and on freezing patios in West London with some of you, Friends. How lovely it all is despite the situation, to see familiar faces once again not through the zoom-glass darkly. Roll on June for full life support and the actual, physical touch.

This afternoon we will be told which countries are to be given green-light status in the Covid Roadmap to travel-bliss; which orange, which red. Its so exciting as the digital eVouchers clunk into the electronic travel folders as any plans bite the dust. It turns out not many are green lighted and there is this anomaly – visit New Zealand for instance as that has a green light, and family & friends, but you’d still have to stopover for two weeks in a government sponsored isolation hotel at vast expense, for two weeks. Who wants that? Staycationing and what the Germans call “Balcony Holidays” are IT!

Cwytching is a new word I learned, a Welsh word, in Wales it means “an affectionate hug”. They are doing it there already; we will have to wait until June to clutch to our hearts content.

And of course the elections yesterday. What to say? Bojo and his Shudder of Clowns have been buoyed up by substantial gains in England while the Nations indicate their distrust and loathing of his mad rule. Will there be a United Kingdom and longer? Will we have a little, mini war with France over Fishing Rights?  I shall have to ask Friend Roger who lives on Guernsey, what his views are and whether he is suffering power cuts!

I haven’t the faintest idea, Friends! Onward to the sunny uplands of Summer and a season in the sun.

Bon Chance, Non Voyage!

THE GREEN DIARY : Easter 2021

At last the children are back at school. So refreshing to see.

The Equinox has been and gone, the clocks gone forward, the daffodils, the hawthorn, narcissi and tulips have all burst forth. It’s Easter and Spring has sprung. Oh the relief. The days grow quickly longer and the sun is warmer. A year has passed in the company of Covid and our lives have changed.

Restrictions are gradually lifting and we have walked, tea’d  and outdoor’d with friends in greening gardens, a strange nervousness underlying all as if some boundary had been crossed into unknown territory with a departure from such tight and familiar routines. Like that feeling of apprehension setting off to school after a long break. Odd.

We have both now had our second jabs of Astra Zeneca and hope the rest of the world can have them all soon; after all – no-one is safe until everyone is safe. Our reactions have varied – not good for either and particularly bad for Tony. They warned us that they who had it may react badly. They were right!

“Cut flowers…….heavens!” my arty Aunt used to jokingly ape her grand- and my great grandmother who regarded such things as decorations for weddings and funerals. Why bring flowers into your home when they look better in the garden! This of course pre-supposes that all people have access to herbaceous borders in walled gardens and vast bucolic vistas across tree-lined greenswards easily viewed from drawing rooms and terraces.

My arty Aunt arranged a good bowl and thought our granny and great-granny a snob!

This is a selfie-in-acrylic by Cousins Sophia & Hugh of Cousins Sophia & Hugh, Peg and the gaminely glamorous Estée Lauder, their ageing Indian Mynah about whom I have often written.   

Artiness runs in that branch. Such talent all round. My wonderful DoP Cousin turned 70 this week! Congratulations Stephen!


These are our “cut flowers” and here are Gerard Manly Hopkins’ Binsey Poplars felled in 1879:

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.

 There has been much felling in our woods too. Some of it good but much of it ominous. More housing, more roads, more people and their cars; more rubbish for this gentle land with it’s soft, green contours, thrown carelessly down or out to lie indestructibly in ditches and on paths with dog shit in black bags being offensively foremost. But I’ve had this rant before I hear you say, my friends! Enough!

There has been such a lot of time for reflection, hasn’t there?

We have of course, like you, carried on with the endless films and TV programmes that have enlightened, entertained, enraged and moved.

Here are a few since last I blogged. Not all, but a few. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Rebekka Martensen

The Black Messiah

Flare LBGT Festival @ the BFI, Tove and all!

Elizabeth R

The Valhalla Murders

Keeping Faith


Me & My Father (Nick Broomfield’s Homage to his Dad)



The Father

Ute Lemper on  Marlene Dietrich

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Hungarian)

Line of Duty (of course)

Maggie Smith in Conversation (naturally)

And more webinars, Friends: Blithe Spirit with the Oxford & Cambridge Club and a sweet interlude with the young ladies & gentlemen of the Stukeley Meadows Primary School,  to whom I read  Mitch Johnson’s new book Kick , a touching story of Budi, an enthusiastic  supporter of Real Madrid, from the slums and sweat shops of Jakarta. The children were so appreciative and sent me this beautiful card along with 54 letters! So touching. I’ve never had feedback like that in 45 years!

While on the subject of books, Damon Galgut’s newest book has just been published in the US and the UK. It’s wonderful. Queue for a copy!

Then The Father finished us both off. Achingly sad as anyone who has experienced  any or all of the dementias would surely agree?

“……..What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust…………?”

When we lose our reason, we are nothing.

It’s been It’s a Sin that has most affected me though. It so reached into my memory and what I discovered there was not entirely happy. I know some of you were unimpressed by this series and found it “inauthentic” and “unrealistic” and “unbelievable”. I did not think so. It chimed with my own experiences and I found its essence all too true and sad. It was of course, heightened drama but even so, its points were clear – to me at any rate.

That is another story for another time!

A touching story from Friend Maud in Amsterdam:

“This afternoon I listened to a podcast called ‘Sterk Water’ (Strong Water, by which they usually mean alcohol/jenever in Dutch). 

But this time it was about Terschelling, my favourite island. 

Thirty years ago a boy from Harwich called Peter threw a bottle into the sea with his name in it. The bottle came ashore on Terschelling. 

The man who found it gave it to Coby the girl next door.

Peter was 14 and Coby 15 I think. They started a correspondence. 

Five years later Peter visited Coby on Terschelling for the first time. Love at first sight. They married, started a drugstore on the island and got a daughter. 

In 2010 Peter died. 

I thought what a beautiful story. Since he was from Harwich I had to share this with you.” 

Miraculous. Thanks Maud!

To London for Bloods and Dentistry yesterday! The Gasman did not cometh!

Blow winds, wrack your cheeks………and dine out!

THE GREEN DIARY : towards The Ides of March

The Beast from the East melted away many days ago and temperatures soared into the teens. Everything has turned to mud but the sun has shone forth and we have turned the wintery corner toward Spring.

The snowdrops are out. The daffodils are peeping.

The beginnings of the glorious Bluebell season can be glimpsed as green tufts. Early. We expect them in April/May but with the weather see-sawing who knows?

Along the Stour and at Alton Water

It’s an anniversary.

A year ago we returned from Madeira never for an instant suspecting what awaited us. The map ahead was unclear; now we look back and wonder how much like ours your map has been?

We went to London after we returned from Madeira.

On the 2nd March we went to the Park Theatre to see La Cage Aux Folles.

On the next day the opera house for Fidelio. Only on the 4th did we return to Mistley and watched Parasite at the Curzon in Colchester.

Friends Mandy and Richard came to lunch the day after that.

I see that oven cleaners came on the 6th followed by lunch out on the 7th with friends near Maldon. Could we get more mundane and, no, we don’t have an Aga!

Then to London on the 10th. Do you see where I’m going with this? 

The 10th was the critical day for me I think. I attended the clear ear clinic in Harley street where my audiologist who was Spanish and had just returned from Spain, suctioned my ears; we breathed intimately over each other with not a mask in sight. 

That afternoon, Cyrano de Bergerac at the Crouch End Picture House. Still no masks

No lockdown instructions had yet emanated from the Downing Street Clown Office, nor any sort of plan at this stage. 

The next day, the 11th March, we lunched with Friend Helen in Hammersmith and dined with Friends Oona and Paul in Crouch End – again. They expressed surprise that we had come to see them – already we were starting to become twitchy.

Thursday the 12th saw us at Covent Garden for the ballet, Swan Lake – but we noticed a distinct thinning in the audience and started to worry that perhaps things were not right.

All this on tubes and buses and still no masks.

Friday the 13th found us in Camden’s Jamon Jamon tapas-ing with friends Rose and Rob and in the evening we hied us to the brilliant Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter. There our friend Jane Balfour cried off and we could find no replacement at all.

Alarm bells now started ringing!

On Saturday the 14th March  we came to Mistley but the Village Quiz in Lindsey with friends Jacqui and Mali we were supposed to attend  was scrubbed as Downing Street at last imposed restrictions; which we now know were too little too late. Impromptu dinner with Friends Ruth and Miranda.

Uncle Vanya was taken off three days later on the 16th March but on The Ides of March, the 15th, our 35th Anniversary, I came down with the virus followed shortly by Tony and we spent the next several weeks getting over what turned out to be a nasty experience.

I would not wish this virus on anyone. 

We have been here ever since.

954+ meals have been planned, prepared and eaten.

Mounds of popcorn too.

100’s of kilometres have been walked.

Many games of BridgeBase Online have been played.

Hours of webinars and zooms and play readings.

Locktails and zoomebrates.

Books, films, mini series, documentaries and endless news – most of it bad.

Multiple Clicking & Collecting.

Deliveries, deliveries and more deliveries of fish, of food and wine.

Notional shares purchased in FedEx, Amazon, UPS as piles of cardboard boxes proliferated to be recycled.

Blogs, blogs and more blogs! (You poor people!)

Then in the summer Bojo and his Shudder of Clowns stupidly lifted restrictions with we know what result – Covid numbers through the roof.

Thank you Bojo for a brief staycation in August 2020.

A short Staycation in Norfolk was squeezed in and a visit to family at August Bank Holiday; dental procedures happened, masseurs briefly visited along with oven cleaners, again, and a plumber. 

One funeral has been zoomed and I have nearly set fire to the kitchen on several occasions and cut most of my fingers during the hours and hours of food preparation! So far no-one had either fallen or been pushed into the cellar!

Swathes of tickets to the theatre were vouchered off or refunded; trips to America, to Canada, to Germany, to South Africa were all cancelled and flights vouchered too, along with a proposed revisit to Madeira.

In another brief moment of madness, Bojo and The Shudder allowed us with special permission, to visit long missed family in Canada at Christmas where we all locked down in quarantine together for three weeks, just squeezing the to-ing and fro-ing between international travel restrictions.

At Heathrow on our return no-one asked to see our test certificates, take our temperature or even enquire where we would be quarantining.

The media have been full of news of these lunacies.

But, miraculously with the year not even out the wonder of science has produced a vaccine which we went to London to receive not three weeks ago!

That is the great and good news.

And Trump has gone!

Other good news has been that after twelve years the village of Mistley has finally won its fight to remove the ugly fence that was installed back in time to ruin the view over the Stour Estuary and cut us off from the river to which access has always been free for many hundreds of years.

Thank you, Misteliers for your hard and patient work. The fetes, the sales, the sponsored walks, dinners-out, cook-ins, quiz evenings, annual calendars and of course even the theatrical talents of some were stretched to their limit to raise the legal fees for this victory.

Our self-styled Burgomeister, Herr Villy “don’t-mention-the-war” Meston, gave us Dame Edme, an unforgettable evening in local theatre history where we witnessed a titanic performance of mirthful malapropisms unintended by the author but very funny nonetheless.

“Big bosomed, bold, becalmed benign,

Stands Dame Edme foursquare on the Mayflower Line! “

The things we did to raise a quid!


The Supreme Court today delivered judgement on the challenge by TW Logistics to the registration by Essex County Council of part of the Port of Mistley as a Town and Village Green. 

The Court upheld the registration as a Town and Village Green of land which inhabitants of Mistley have used for lawful sports and pastimes (the legal definition of a Town or Village Green). The inhabitants of Mistley now have their village green.

The decision stems from the erection of a fence along the edge of Mistley Quay installed 12 years ago which attempted to prevent the use of the Quay by local residents. Ian Tucker, who lived on the Quay, applied for registration of the quay as a village green. Following a ten-day public inquiry Essex County Council registered the relevant part of the Quay as a Town and Village Green. 

TWL challenged registration in the High Court and subsequently, on appeal, in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court on the grounds that the registration was incompatible with commercial use of the port and would criminalise many port activities. The Supreme Court ruling confirms existing law and provides that the public activities on the Town and Village Green may co-exist with those of the landowner. The fence on the edge of the Quay will not be removed as a consequence but it is now an unlawful obstruction on the Village Green and steps can, and will, be taken to remove it.

The long drawn-out battle was won with the support of very many residents of Mistley and the local area who will now be able to continue to enjoy use of the Quay as they, and their forebears, have for many years. Success would not have been possible without the support and determination of Essex County Council.

Simon Bullimore, the Chairman of Free the Quay, said: “We are all delighted with the result after such a long battle. The next stage will be the removal of the fence which is now finally established as an obstruction on the village green. We hope that TW Logistics and Mr Parker, who owns the business, will now change his mind and talk to us about an environmentally and aesthetically acceptable form of safety barrier along the quay edge, allowing traditional use of the village green”.

Nancy Bell, who lives on the quay said: “It is such a relief that the registration of the village green has finally been confirmed. The fence went up when my daughter Daisy was a toddler; she is now 14. She has never known anything else on the quay. I am so happy that we can now look forward to enjoying the restoration of the quay to its historic setting”.

Hints of Spring in the air.