THE GREEN DIARY :               T A B : That’s Africa, Baby!

Our arrival in Cape Town was spoiled by the non-arrival of Tony’s luggage, which BA neglected to load at Heathrow where there was chaos. About a hundred other passengers were similarly affected – so, chaos in Cape Town too with bewilderment at the lost luggage office; nobody knowing what BA’s intentions were.

It took two full days to catch up with us with Tony in borrowed clothes. We were getting ready for a retail therapy session on Easter Monday at the V & A Waterfront but in the end two dusty bags were delivered to the house first at 2.00am when no-one heard the doorbell and then on Easter Sunday afternoon.

 All my luggage was intact, popping onto the carousel in a neat group. It has always been a cause of wonderment to us that though we check our baggage together, in all our travels over nearly forty years, it has never once popped up together. Go figure!

Lovely to see friends again here after so long and sadness that we have not seen everyone.

We have been royally treated at Kirstenbosch – thank you Conradies; and with a wonderful lunch out at Marina da Gama – thank you Ross and Charles; and Jane F. and Jenny R. and Sarah C. and Chris and Liz W. So sorry Jane A. could not make it.

We loved Muratie and Delheim on the wine route, which unaccountably we’d never before visited, and such a fine day too – thank you Jane F, again, we’ll not forget Sneaky in a hurry.

Jane. F with Tony and ‘Sneaky’ our Sommelier and guide at Muratie

And thank you Damon, Riaz and Tabassum for sharing your home with us in Greenpoint, for the cooking lessons and immaculate and tasty currys. I have taken you advice and bought a Wusthof knife!

In complete contrast to the awful news of floods in Durban, the weather here has been warm and sunny with barely any wind, almost too hot for April in the Cape though we are certainly not complaining.

I was born in Cape Town, in Rondebosch, and went to University here.

I started my acting career here. 

I left for London on a one way ticket forty-two years ago to escape Apartheid and its conscript army which obliged me and many others to parallel a civilian life with a military one, posted twice to the Angola border, to D-Formations and riot control in Durban, to monthly shooting parades, guard duties at obsolete vehicle depots and oil storage installations.

Somewhere on the Border!

I hated it and emigrated with relief.

But I have always come back. Friendships and Family are precious. 

The landscape works on your soul. 

Die Aarde.

On the many visits I have always felt a connection here, an attachment; gone out of the way to explore old ground, familiar landscapes; felt comforted by the familiarity, the memories, the sense of being home. The hard thing about this visit for both of usis that we no longer feel any sense of immediate connection, which has coloured everything.

This time there is a detachment, there is no curiosity, no desire to revisit old haunts that we no longer care and with these feelings an intense sadness, which has underlined our time in what is perplexingly the most beautiful country.

In Cape Town, surely one of the most lovely of cities, lying under that iconic mountain, we found evidence of the tragic path this Kleptocracy is treading. The hours of load shedding, the tent cities of homeless, the squalor of the city, the burnt out parliament cocking a thumb at democracy, open talk by many of failed states, of decaying infrastructures, of corruption and outright robbery and a people utterly failed by their greedy leaders.  

The rail network has collapsed; in November 200 kilometres, yes 200 kilometres, of track and about as much overhead wiring was ripped up and stolen. The railways cannot function, cannot repair the network fast enough and those called in to investigate are usually the perpetrators. All the public services are failing and the money for their maintenance gone into the pockets of corrupt politicians. Where will it end?

The obsession with security, the endless barbed wire, electric fencing and big bunches of keys to lock and unlock almost everything it seemed, the fear of violence which can come and go in seconds, randomly, and leave a wake of irreparable physical and emotional damage.

On our last day in Cape Town we picked up a car and with dire warnings from many friends about potholes and fake road blocks, we set off for Arniston driving the coast road through Gordon’s Bay, Rooi-Els, Hangklip to Onrus for a wonderful lunch with Tessa and Ben.

Thank you so much both. How lovely to see you and what a beautiful, panoramic drive it was, the blue of False Bay on our right hand and the rearing mountains on our left, the Hottentots Holland, the Overberg and that rolling stretch of farmland across to Bredasdorp down to Arniston on the Cape Agulhas with always the Langeberg to the north. A landscape of fynbos and farms, the cold green of the Agulhas current, the crash of white surf on bleached beaches, the high blue heavens and vast multi-patterned cloud formations grip the soul and choke the heart.

The Beacon

From Arniston the drive is easy, the traffic light and not a pothole in sight! 

The roads are perfect – past Swellendam, through Riversdale, by-passing Mossel Bay, The Garden Route opening before us and now the Indian Ocean on our right showing a warmer blue, to Wilderness for the warm embrace of Hugo and Helen in their lovely home right on the lagoon. Thank you friends. Lots of stories and never enough time.

In Okavango three years ago on an afternoon drive searching for game, Tony lost his Panama, blown somewhere into the savannah, never to be seen again except perhaps, hopefully, on the head of a prancing baboon. Now in Wilderness we have heard of Patti Zway who, can you believe, is an importer of genuine Panama hats.

We find her and her collection and Tony now has a new one for our onward journey to Knysna and a brief brunch with friend Caro down at the Heads, the sun shining and the lagoon still, reflecting the hills and forests around. 

Still no potholes, the N2, modern and smooth, runs eastward, swinging by Plettenbergbay, Gqeberha – aka Port Elizabeth or, even, PE – to Port Alfred on the Kowie River where we de-camp for three generous nights with Judge Kathy S. and friend Carol, aka Mrs Hayman, who has joined us from East London. Much discussion ensued; the environs were toured and remembered, for this is 1820 Settler country; the beaches visited, a sunny day spent in the Judge’s motorboat on the Kowie river, lined by rocky kloofs covered in Euphorbia. High blue skies and tall, billowy white clouds lent a deceptive peace to a troubled land.

Kowie River

Then onward to East London via Bathurst where we found the Toposcope, site of the scattering of Tony’s Father’s ashes many years ago – such a long way from home – as were all those settlers in times gone by.

Still no potholes, Friends! We by-passed a dusty, chaotic and unattractive East London, crossing the Buffalo, Nahoon and Gonubie rivers through a lush landscape, to find Carol H. in her lovely new home tucked under the dunes, 300 metres from the beach at Sunrise-on-Sea, part of the East London Coast Nature Reserve and the southern most end of The Wild Coast which we walked back in 2007.


Northward, staying on the N2, still no potholes, crossing the Kei river, we arrive at the first set of traffic lights, late-morning in Mthatha, once the capital of the erstwhile Transkei, that infamous invention of Dr Verwoerd and his madcap band – and here everything went pear-shaped!

The SatNav showed that there was some kind of traffic upset jamming the exit, on the other side of the town onto the road to Port St. Johns where we are headed for one night.

Tony is driving.

The hundreds of taxis, all obeying different rules have produced a dusty, milling chaos and we are inching towards a set of lights.

Tony sees in the rear-view mirror an official looking man carrying a walkie-talkie and a cell phone coming along the line of vehicles. He is bending to talk to the drivers.

He reaches Tony and asks where we are going.

“Port St. Johns.”

“There is a bad traffic jam and you have to detour through a special road to get through. This is a private toll road and you need a card like this one.” He briefly brandishes a card with a bar code on it. “It costs R70.”

We are uncertain about this.

“Can you sell us one of these cards?”

“No – you must go to a special place to get it and you must follow that car, they will show you the way.”

How stupid could we be? Here is the anatomy of a scam.

But the uniform looks genuine.

The SatNav shows that there is indeed a jam of some sort on the other side of town.

£70 seems a small sum of money.

We do not obey.

We inch up to the lights. There is chaos. 

Two men in a white car have swung round to the left, blocking the traffic, indicating they want to turn across us and go left.

There is much shouting.

We think they want us to yield and let them through.

We indicate for them to pass in front of us but they keep waving, gesticulating and shouting. The mini buses are hooting.

There is dust. Chaos.

It dawns on us that they want us to follow them.

We don’t. Tony pulls ahead and drives straight on as indicated by the SatNav.

We inch forward to the next set of lights.

The official with the walkie-talkie catches up with us and tells us that we need one of these cards.

We ignore him and follow the traffic round through various lights, through crowds of people, markets and mess.

Eventually we reach a corner where we must turn left. On our right there is a petrol station and a SparShop. It is on the corner of Madeira and Victoria Streets. We are boxed in by traffic and our officials have once more found us and caught up with us. 

“You will be fined if you do not get this card and you will not reach the Port St.Johns road. You can park here and come and buy a ticket here.”

It seems that is what we must do.

The SatNav is burbling away; there are swarms of people; we are conscious of being the only whites in the whole place: two older men, one wearing a conspicuous pink shirt and driving what is clearly a rental.

It is frightening. The scenarios are playing in our minds.

Tony gets out of the car, goes with the man round the corner onto the petrol station forecourt and the entrance to the SparShop.

I cannot see him.

A minute later he reappears.

“They don’t take cash. Have you got a card handy?”

We are by now very uncertain of our situation.

But in these Covidly days and in high crime areas cash is often not accepted.

I hand Tony my EasyFX Card, which is one of those cards you load with money when travelling, to get better exchange rates in any currency and pay no charges.

He knows the PIN.

He is gone quite a few minutes.

Suddenly there is an impatient knocking at the passenger window.

“Your friend does not know how this card is working. You must come.”

I get out of the car and follow this new man round the corner where things have suddenly got stressful and there is arguing. The temperature is rising.

“The card is stuck in this ATM and won’t come out…….”

“You must push that button with ‘International’ on it,” the man is now right on top of us and there is loud explaining going on, “it is an International card. Tell your friend to push the international button, put the PIN in and the card will come out.”

We do this and it doesn’t.

Only now are we certain this is a scam. What to do? We need the card back.

We are shouting at each other. I demand to know what has happened to our card.

“Have you another card?”

And here is the stupidest thing of all!

“Yes I do.”

“You must put that in, put in the PIN and then cancel the transaction and both the cards will come out.” He snatches my second and only other card out of my hand, shoves it into the machine and shouts for me to put the PIN in. He is leaning over us both. I try to conceal the PIN but to my horror it does not come up as four **** but shows the actual numbers.

The card does not come out after we press the cancel button.

I go ballistic. Tony goes ballistic.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing here…….you fucking scammers… are scammers. I am phoning the police…….and our bank…….”

“Do not worry. You will get your cards back. We are not scammers.”

A small crowd has gathered in the background.

“Come with us and we need to talk to the supervisor. He will get your cards out of the machine……..”

“No, we will not budge from here. Tell the supervisor he must come here now.”

I call up the emergency number for our Lloyds Joint Mastercard.

The connection is poor. The SatNav on the phone is still telling us to turn right. There is yelling, dust, traffic and suddenly we are frightened and alone and white. It is in just such situations, often, that here is when the guns/knives/machetes get taken out and you are dead.

I finally get through to Lloyds. In the melee and panic I cannot remember all the many security questions or their answers and “No, I can’t remember Aunt Barbara’s birthdate…..please can you just block the card……”

“I’m afraid you must go through all the security questions before…….”

“Please take the next turning to the right……” The SatNav chips in.

“For goodness sake we are in a mugging situation here…..just take the number please…..”

“No it is not…….”

“Take the next turning to the right…….”

Tony meanwhile has succeeded in getting one of the cards out of the machine, which is almost snatched out of his hand but there is no sign of the other card which we think came out first and was somehow palmed.

“Tone, please speak to this man in England he is not being helpful…….”

“Please turn right at the next exit……….” Why does the SatNav not shut up?

Music is now playing somewhere. The stress and noise is overwhelming.

“Hello…..hello are you there….I’m Tony Peake the lead name on this joint account……..”

Suddenly two men come round the corner shouting, “Here is your card, you see, we said you can get them back…….”

“Please turn right at the next exit…..” The SatNav again!

“Hello….hello…..yes, Tony Peake…..they have given our card back….we think it has been cloned….just block everything……hello…….”

“Has he gone?”

“The call’s dropped, we’ve been cut off.”

We are alone now and the event is over.

An old man shuffled by, “That is a very bad machine. Do not use that machine. It never gives you money.”

We are both in shock. 

And feel very foolish. 

And it dawns on us that this whole horrible moment could easily have been far, far worse. We could easily be dead.

They say bad things happen in threes. We have two more to go.

Round the corner we get back into the car, which in the haste of the moment I’d left unlocked, the windows open. Thank god, no-one had noticed else there’d have been more tears.

We slowly made our way through the weekend traffic jam to the Port St. Johns road which we discover is new and has no potholes but there is another jam. There is a motorcyclist in FedEx uniform lying dead in the road; he has just been clipped by a speeding car; his motorcycle is a wreck. A few people mill around but there seems to be no feeling of tragic urgency. Just indifference. Lethargy.

We inch by, the road clears and I pick up speed, it’s my turn to drive. A mile or so further along there is what looks like a brown rock in the road, which I have just enough time to steer over.

It’s not a rock, it’s a dead dog and I have miscalculated. There is a sickening wrenching sound and something tears away the underside of the car. In the rear-view mirror I see the dog rolling out from under the car and immediately there is a vibrating, clattering sound.

On inspection part of the exhaust casing has been torn off but the car works and we decide to carry on to Port St. Johns, to some WiFi, to a phone connection, to EasyFX and Lloyds and, now, to Avis as well.

On arrival in Port St.Johns we both wondered why we bothered to put this stop into our itinerary. Perhaps it was because neither of us had ever been there or perhaps it’s because its part of the spectacular Wild Coast, its lovely river and the enormous kloofs it flows through to the sea; but otherwise it is a dump. 

I have already had a text from EasyFX telling me that two attempts at withdrawing 49,999.00 Rands (about £2,700.00) have been made and blocked; but the scammer’s tried several lower amounts which have succeeded and the whole account cleared – about £350.

Attempts at phoning them fail. It is the weekend, the connection is bad and I could only email them.

Tony had better luck with Lloyds and he re-established contact with them to block the account from which they had succeeded in withdrawing round £7,000.00. Lloyds have said this will eventually be restored.

Our Data and Cell phone usage soars. Later we discover these calls and attendant access to websites on G4 have cost round £300!

With Avis we had little luck. The nearest office was in Mthatha, which was closed as it was a weekend. They want to know where we are going next. To Pietermaritzburg I say, a six hour drive away via Lusikisiki, Flagstaff and Kokstad along roads so indescribably badly maintained that we feared the car would literally be shaken to pieces and the tyres shredded. 

The next day was a Sunday and the Avis office in Pietermaritzburg is at Oribi Airport, open only between 1.00 and 8.00pm.

We clattered our way there the next day across the Transkei and got to the airport at 2.00pm to find the Avis desk unattended.

Potholes. So far only between Lusikisiki and Kokstad, from there to Pietermaritzburg a few but not too bad. It seems the main routes are being cared for. The Hertz man told us the Avis man didn’t bother pitching up if there were no scheduled drop-offs or pick-ups.

I phoned the central office in Johannesburg who has arranged a car swop, which at the time of writing, can only be three days hence.

It has not been a pleasant weekend and we have both been shaken by the experience and the realisation that things could have been far, far worse.

With huge relief we collapse into the arms of friends in Pietermaritzburg for the next venture!

Next with friends Bobbi, Kippie, Vonnie and Mike; Lorenza and Michael C. not to mention Sarah vd M., we venture to Lotheni in the Drakensberg, along appalling roads, to Symes Cottage for three nights in a new landscape no less inspiring and peaceful than any before: clear blue heavens and unpolluted starlight; grassland and streams; baboons, monkeys, eland, jackal are around. Gaslight and oil lamps; candles and matches – why are they so difficult to strike? LPG fridges and freezers, the lingering smell of paraffin, good food and wine and such wonderful company: thank you dear friends.

Then it’s time to replace the broken Toyota with a Suzuki ‘Desire’, and head for the family in Durban. A great reunion; it’s been several years since we have embraced and we are set for two more adventures to replace the cancelled repositioning cruise that was to have returned us to Europe via Suez, a sudden and unexplained end to the grand idea of three weeks at sea. MSC cite only “operational difficulties” and return our money.

But another Jane, Jane B., has in the meantime flown out to discover her roots and was to have joined us as part of a group of nine returnees who in the past months have dropped out one by one, usually because of Covid, so that we are now a party of three. 

Plans are hatched. First the Suzuki ‘Desire’, an under powered little thing, needed to be replaced by something higher off the ground, more powerful and robust. To Avis we go for our third vehicle in a month while  Bro-in-Law Alan invokes his membership of the Bateleur Club and manages to get us all into the Phinda Mountain Lodge (  ) for three days of  game drives, luxurious comfort in a setting beyond dreams.

Good eating and drinking, great companionship and above all some of the best game viewing ever. We’d stayed once before in the Phinda Forest Lodge and had been spellbound by that, but did not see as many animals then. Now we were wowed by leopard, lion, elephant, rhino., cheetah, warthog, hippo., crocs., baboons, monkeys, every antelope you can imagine, birds of every kind in “seven distinct habitats, a magnificent tapestry of woodland, grassland, wetland and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, rivers, marshes and pans. Home to 1 000 hectares (2471 acres) of Africa’s remaining rare dry sand forest, the reserve is situated in close proximity to the unspoiled beaches and spectacular coral reefs of the Indian Ocean, offering an unmatched combination of bush and beach adventures…….” 

Game drive with Jane B. & Alan Bro-in-Law

You get the drift?

We didn’t want to leave but of course there are endings to all things and now Jane B., nursing a terrible cold but bravely missing nothing for this her 80th birthday treat, we set off together on our last adventure, back to the Drakensberg, this time to Champagne Castle, for the last four nights of our stay.

View around Cathkin and east towards the hotel and the Midlands. With friends Charné & Johann Prangley

Champagne Castle Hotel was where as children we were often taken, usually in the middle of winter, in the July school holidays, dry and sunny but cold too then with sometimes snow on the mountains. There are a lot of memories here, most of them good. The last time we were here was in 2006 when we brought my mother for a week. It was Tony’s first visit and we never saw the mountains at all nor did we walk. It was February and it rained the whole week, with clouds covering the mountain. Mother fell and cracked her skull and we played endless games of Scrabble with an Afrikaans language set that had no ‘c’s but lots of ‘y’s and plenty of ‘k’s!

This time it was glorious and a cure for Jane B.’s nasty cold which, thank heavens, was never Covid.

Down from the Underberg through Winterton, Loskop and Estcourt to the N3 toll road, no potholes but terrifying drivers, down onto the Midland Meander past Mooi River and Nottingham Road to Rawdons for tea, then a short visit to my old school Michaelhouse in Balgowan, onto the dusty Curry’s Post Road to Howick stopping for lunch at Halliwell’s.

On to Hilton for last farewells with friends there; down Town Hill by-passing Pietermaritzburg, crushed almost by vast undisciplined container lorries and more scary traffic, slowed by jams in an early dusk and the heart-stopping drive through Camperdown, Inchanga, up under Botha’s Hill to Kloof in time for showers, gins and out to Lupa for the Last Supper with family, Jane B. feeling much better.

The Last Supper.

We three flew out from Durban with Emirates via Dubai, to Gatwick and courtesy cars to take us home.

It’s been fantastic. Much in South Africa shocked and saddened us but much else was beautiful and friendships endure. We are sad we did not see everyone, did not get to Johannesburg but it’s not possible to do everything – und vee vill be beck!

A day after we returned Durban was struck again by more floods and massive rain storms.


THE GREEN DIARY : COVID + Omicron BA.2 Again!

Two years ago almost to the day, we returned from Madeira and came down almost immediately with Covid. It was not a pleasant experience and we were quite ill.

Last week we came back from Madeira, having meticulously observed all the local masking and testing rules, three jabs behind us, only for Tony to test COVID+Omicron BA.2 and spend his first week back in bed while I have tested Negative.

At our favourite Polish Restaurant, Daquise. Courtesy © Dame ‘Mary Mouse’ Herbert Photography® 

There can only be two places he caught it: on the flight from Madeira or in Heathrow. Take your pick; and this time round so very many of you, dear Friends, have come down with this version – albeit rather more mildly and perhaps less threateningly than the 2020 version.

But Friends, as Tony reached the sunny uplands of negativity I plunged into the dark valley of positivity  – a full ten days afterwards!

Upshot – none of our plans to visit friends, to go to the theatre and generally segue back into the scene, came to fruition.

We only made Cabaret with its new cast of the excellent Fra Fee, Amy Lennox and Vivien Parry – Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley having walked off with all the Oliviers the night before – to carry on with this brilliant production. We allowed ourselves the full experience: the little tables crowding the small stage with their lights , their telephones, their gins and champagne cocktails; and of course the three course meal served in stainless steel tiffin boxes reminiscent of the lunchboxes of The Lunchbox.

The Playhouse Theatre has been completely turned upside down with a stage in the round where the proscenium used to be and tiered seating in what was once the wings and backstage. It’s very effective and the show itself so poignant, moving and, with what’s going on in the world today, the rise of fascism once again, the cruel evil of the war in the Ukraine, inflation, environmental crises, extremely relevant. It was worth the mortgage we took out to see it and the relationship developed between the five main characters, The Emcee, Sally Bowles, Fraulein Schneider, Herr Schultz and Clifford Bradshaw were all intensely well played, Vivien Parry and Elliot Levy as Schneider & Schultz particularly so.

Go, Friends, if you can.

Otherwise there is little to tell you. We are still in the season of vouchers. Untraveled plans to visit family & friends in South Africa not seen for years are being unrolled and we are now on a countdown to run the gauntlet tomorrow, to Cape Town, via strikes, pandemic-induced staff shortages, airport chaos, VeriFly Apps that sometimes don’t work and the usual stress of travel in these strange days.

The Ukraine hangs over us all. It beggars belief that Europe is once again plunged into a war so cruel, so unnecessary. We appear to have learned absolutely nothing from our history. 

And the lies that are told. By our leaders.

This is a short rant! We all know who the liars are though we have yet to behold the consequences of their lies.

This is not a good time dear Friends. No it is not.

Take great care.

THE GREEN DIARY :  Madeira – Snap, Crackle & Pop!

View from a room

Parkinson’s Law, the old adage that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion, can be applied to our stay here in Madeira. With two months in hand there is no hurry to do anything. Put off today what you can do tomorrow suits us well and we tend to wait for the weather to prick our consciences and coax us out of the apartment.

The weather is changeable. There have been quite a lot of rainy, windy and cloudy days, not cold, hovering round 20ºC, interspersed with sunny, hotter days when really there is no excuse not to venture forth onto a Levada which, after all, is one of the reasons we are here.

Our first walk: The Levada Piornais – about 15 kilometres

It’s lovely. Home from home. Our apartment is on the sea at Ponta da Cruz in the São Martinho district at the end of the hotel strip that stretches west along the south coast from Funchal. The big balcony faces south and we get the sun all day with spectacular views over the sea.

We are away from the winter gales and cold; the shabby, dishonest mess that England is in at present and the incessant unhappy news. Thank goodness. 

It’s good to be back though Covid and the arrival at 70 seems to have slowed us down a little. The snap, crackle and pop of blister pill-packs accompany the breakfast organ recital of aches and pains : flat feet, lumbago, arthritic knees, backs and hips, sciatica and breathlessness! 

We are now almost exactly halfway through our stay with a further month stretching ahead as I write.

This is another Tarry Tours odyssey and Richard is with us of course and we have been joined by family too. We are all agreed that “up” is bad, “along” is good and “down” inevitable. Of course neither “up” nor “down” can be avoided and there is a lot of  both in Madeira. Fortunately the miraculous Levadas afford miles of “along” as they follow the windy contours of the mountains, impossibly precipitous, perilous and exciting; the views are breath taking; depending on how high we are, the weather can change. It is an island of microclimates at different altitudes, the fauna and flora changes, too, through these altitudes. Family Belinda & Philip are not included in these reservations – they strode up and down the mountains shaming us with their fitness and barely puffing.

Flat is music to our ears!

The Levada Nova – advertised on the App as ” Moderate” with abysses and warnings of vertigo!

The engineering here is incredible. Before, even, Portugal’s entry to the EU, the work here to make the island accessible is nothing short of phenomenal. The Levadas alone are a miracle. Clinging to the rocky cliffs and conducting water along impossible mini-canals perched thousands of feet above the tight valleys  where vertigo  is always present, passing through hewn tunnels, under cascading waterfalls and always with breath-taking views across valleys down to sunlit seas under cloudy skies. 

Back in the 90’s it was realised that to develop tourism here, the most important export, it would be necessary to make the island far more open and more easily explored.

At least 150 tunnels have been hewn through the granite to create a quite astonishing network of vias rapidas around and through the island making journeys that once took eight hours possible to complete in under an hour. The airport alone makes one gasp: a vast concrete platform on stilts stretches out, over the sea, towards the north-east at Camacha to receive and dispatch planes, the motorway winding underneath it towards Machico and passengers praying that all will be well at this tenth most dangerous airport on Earth!

And it’s high too. One of our walks was up to Pico Ruivo at 1,861 metres (6,106 feet) the highest mountain in all Portugal; we chose carefully, watching our Weather Apps because you’d not want to be up there in the wrong weather, particularly at this time of year. A few Februaries ago there was deep snow up here while down on the south coast you could be lolling in a lido and swimming in the sea.

The climb is short, only 5.5 kilometres, but steep; lots of stops for breaths and taking in the views on the way up and quite a speedy return down as the clouds closed in and we were enveloped in mist. “Down” is much faster even though the knees, methinks, do protest a lot!

We have clocked up fair distances along these miraculous little canals; often as much as 15 kilometres, never less than eight. Short distances from habitation can find you in wild, lonely but beautiful valleys; empty and quiet but for the buzzing of bees and twittering of birds, redolent of scents of mimosa, laurel and eucalyptus .

For a few days we hired a car. It extends your range more easily. Interesting driving here, I can tell you. The hairpin bends, the gradients – like the South Col – are demanding of driving skills. I was glad of automatic gears and power braking. Some of the roads are so narrow you pray you’ll not meet any oncoming traffic, especially a bus. 

We have used buses and taxis and BOLT. Uber no longer operate. BOLT is a similar service but has far fewer cars, only about forty-five, the allowable limit, which means that the waiting time can be quite long especially if you are in an inaccessible part of the island. Uber said they couldn’t provide a decent service with so few cars and so pulled out of Madeira. I think the yellow cabs were quite relieved.

Home from Home it really is: we are a team of one sous- and two –chefs. There is an abundance of excellent food all over the island and right next door to us. Pingo Doce is the big supermarket chain, along with Continente and are stocked with everything. Their selection of fresh fish, shellfish and seafood generally, their fresh meat and vegetables are excellent and there is no excuse for us not to cook up a storm at home and produce fine food for ourselves. 

Part of the seafood selection at our local supermarket, Bingo Doce

And it’s cheap. I can’t believe how it’s possible that, bearing in mind practically everything must be shipped in, the costs are so low by comparison with, say, the Co-op in Manningtree or Waitrose and Tesco in Colchester – at home. Wines, beers and spirits are all priced lower with wine almost as cheap as fizzy drinks! A reasonable, quaffable white for example can come in at as low as €2.50. Gins, Aperols, Camparis, Vodkas are all lower than at home. 

It’s true the fresh vegetable selection is not as wide as, say, Waitrose. Almost everything is available but just not at the same time. You always know when a shipment has arrived from the mainland when there is suddenly a huge abundance of, say, broccoli one day and beans and carrots another! Fresh herbs do not come all at once either but if you wait a day or two, they will.

Madeira has been declared a special economic zone and this could mean that product is not taxed as much and is therefore cheaper at the end point. I am not an economist but I would guess this might have something to do with the lower prices.

So – we tend to eat in and treat ourselves to meals out around once a week, being fairly strict about where we go. There are a plethora of generic, “International” restaurants with higher prices and unsurprising menus so we try to find places that specialise in local cuisine, Madeira style. Lots of Seafood of course but also pork, beef, lamb and rabbit. These are all things we have easily found in Pingo Doce too.

A lot of food is grown here on the literally thousands of impossibly steep terraces that hang on the cliffs, painstakingly built largely by manual labour over the hundreds of years that these islands have been occupied. Bananas of course; apples, grapes and market garden vegetables too – even strawberries. At different levels and matching the microclimate, cacti grow in amongst the fynbos or maquis making parts of Madeira remind us of Corsica or the Cape.

We like Fado. Not everyone’s cup of tea but its dramatic mournfulness has a certain appeal. Sabor a Fado is our favourite, in the Old Town, and we have visited several times. The food there is traditional too:  plenty of seafood especially Lapas (Limpets) and Espada (Black Swordfish, available in few places in the world), Castanhetas and of course plenty of Tuna. The Espetada Madeirense , cubes of beef that are hung from skewers, well seasoned with garlic, course salt and laurel is good too. Bolo do Caco, a local bread is excellent, specially when filled with garlic butter as a starter, though you put anything into it really. Picado or Picadinho, small cubes of meat fried and seasoned in garlic and pepper with olives is brought on a platter to be shared. Good with a beer in the sunshine at lunch.

Fado – Not everyone’s cup of tea!

Fado’s not the only music we’ve listened to here. There are some good concerts too held in various places not least the Teatro Municipal Baltazar Diaz, a miniature 19th Century opera house where we were introduced to the Russian pianist Yuri Bogdanov who played a wonderful programme of Bach, Chopin and Schumann on his first visit to Madeira. 

There are no beaches here to speak of. Swimming is in tidal pools off the rocks. This is basically an enormous volcanic mountain reaching from the depths of the sea to the pinnacle of Pico Ruivo at over 6,000 feet. A few resorts have created beaches out of imported sand but mostly the coast is lined with Lidos letting into tidal pools but always with a swimming pool too. Most hotels have swimming pools of course and some are connected to their own, private Lidos.

We have had a few days hot enough to bask in these lidos and swim off the rocks. The water is ‘refreshing’ to say the least! We are also content to loll about on our balcony which is a suntrap with views, books and ‘devices’ to hand.

Ponta do Cruz : our block overlooking the Lido seen here. There are many of these lidos all around Madeira.

There is a fantastic photography museum in Funchal,  Atelier Vicente, which we visited one rainy day. It’s in a rather beautiful old building in the centre of town and was filled with fascinating photographs of the islanders, the island and old black & white views emphasising just how rugged and impenetrable it was before the massive investment in road, tunnel and viaduct building took place.

Before the astonishing airport was contructed, the only way here was by sea. 

The English connection here has been a long one. Portugal is our oldest ally and Madeira was a stopping place for a lot of shipping bound for South Africa. The Union Castle Line stopped here and I was intrigued to find a photograph of the Pretoria Castle anchored in the bay.

My mother and father met on the Pretoria Castle, she returning from Scotland after her training at the Edinburgh Infirmary and he on his way back to Kuwait round the Cape to visit his parents, my grandparents, there. They’d moved to George, along the Garden Route, from England, to retire.

There were pictures of seaplanes too and the first air services here in the 1930’s, were from Southampton twice a week. 

And now Vladimir Putin has rather wrecked things. The invasion of the Ukraine is a terrible piece of news. Is the world as we know it changing before our eyes? How ironic that the last time we were here, Covid was the bad news. We returned to London and almost immediately caught the virus and the world has not been the same, really, since then. Now, two weeks before we return this time, once again, it seems, the world will have changed even more.

It is a sad day. My blog seems rather irrelevant under the circumstances. I don’t much feel like continuing now, dear Friends, but thank you for getting this far and being with us on what has been a very lovely two months.

Much love to you all – lets pray we are not on the brink of World War III.

Sunset from our balcony

The Green Diary : Dry January? Wintering in Madeira!

Durham Cathedral

“There’s a lot of history there,” the receptionist at the Indigo Hotel in Durham told us, “ parts of Harry Potter were filmed in the Cathedral, you know. You’ll enjoy it!”

Not quite the comment we had in mind for our first visit to this beautiful cathedral. We were on our way to join friends for a few days at Cragside near Rothbury in Northumberland.

Durham Cathedral is one of those places that you always mean to visit and when you do, you wonder why it’s taken so long to get round to.  It is simply magnificent. How many times have trains to and from Edinburgh paused there with the cathedral dominating the skyline and beckoning us for too long ignored?

“Durham was amongst the first locations in Britain to be awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status.  Today Canterbury also has it but they are the only two. Durham got it because it’s the only place in Britain where Norman architecture still exists as it was first built.  In other words it never went Gothic.”

So we were told by a trusty guide. 

“There were just over 20 building projects ordered by William the Conqueror when he arrived.  All bar Durham were built with flat wooden roofs. You can see the type in the Galilee Chapel. [Annexed to the west end of the cathedral]   The area around Jarrow was the ‘silicon valley’ of the Saxon world.  They we’re building stone churches while others were using wood and thatch, got stained glass from Italy, and a Precentor from Rome to teach the Irish monks how to sing the liturgy.  So, not far fetched for them to experiment with a vaulted ribbed roof. It was the first ever in Europe, and crucially predated St Denis, in Paris by 50 years.  As a result, it never needed repair, nearly always the pretext for going Gothic.  Just an interesting note, We refer to the architecture that followed Romanesque, as Gothic.  The medieval masons referred to it as Opus Francigenum – French Work.  It was only in the 17th Century they began to use the term Gothic.”

The Galilee Chapel is beautiful. Bede is buried there and it shows clear evidence of the influence of the Mezquita in Córdoba – replicated in the Norman style.

The Nave with its gigantic pillars is inspiring in its proportions and simplicity and we look forward to another more detailed visit with Friend Cathy who knows the building inside out.

We met Cathy and Friend Natalie for lunch  at the Potted Lobster, under the loom of Bamburgh Castle, home of the Armstrong family, whose Estate at Cragside, Rothbury we stayed on for three days and were on our way to visit. Never mind the weather!

The Four go off to Cragside! Well, Kielder Water actually.

Cragside Manor was the home of William Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong, founder of the Armstrong Whitworth armaments firm. An industrialist, scientist, philanthropist and inventor of the hydrolic crane and the Armstrong gun. Armstrong also displayed his inventiveness in the domestic sphere, making Cragside the first house in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power. The estate was technologically advanced; the architect of the house, Richard Norman Shaw, wrote that it was equipped with “wonderful hydraulic machines that do all sorts of things”. In the grounds, Armstrong built dams and lakes to power a sawmill, a water-powered laundry, early versions of a dishwasher and a dumb waiter, a hydraulic lift  and a hydroelectric rotisserie.

Storm Arwen put the kybosh on a thorough investigation and Omicron too. It swept through Scotland and Northumberland in November doing terrible damage. That and Omicron closed much of the Estate and the Manorhouse was also closed. There was a lot of damage evident.

‘If you go on talking to poor Peter like that I shall have to give you a damn good hiding!’

The house reminds me of Citizen Kane and Xanadu or Hearst’s San Simeon. Cragside lours down on the Coquet Valley, peering through the tall conifers; quite creepy in some ways, a little fairy tale-like, magical almost and it was a great disappointment no to look inside though some of the enormous estate was open to wander through.

It was sunny but cold. The house on the Estate, Park Cottage, took some warming up once we’d moved into it; but was enormous and very comfortable – our base for three nights.

To Kielder Water National Park the next day, an overcast chilly one, to enjoy the rugged grandeur of the park where walking was once again hindered by huge fallen conifers, blocked pathways and closure signs. A bleak but beautiful part of England – even in winter, specially in winter I should say. Nothing open here in the way of pubs or eateries, just not enough passing trade. Emptiness and peace.

Kielder Water National Park

On the last morning we parted at the gates, Cathy and Natalie for Thirsk and Tony and I for the five hours to Mistley in time to pack up for Madeira. Thank you Friends for a special break. We want to return in the summer to do Durham Cathedral properly and Cragside’s interior, formal gardens – the Rhododendrons should be out in June.

And here we are at Ponto da Cruz in Funchal, wintering until the middle of March.


I’ve been trying to use my blog as a sort of diary, to keep up with things, in an effort not to forget; to be able to page back and remind myself of the journeys and times we have shared together. I started this website almost two years ago to keep in touch with Friends during the pandemic when we were closed down.

I’ve also tried to edit some of our other journeys into stories that would remind us and perhaps intrigue you and here is my first effort. It’s a letter to my Mother & Father written in 1999 after we had completed a fascinating journey to Egypt which turned out to be the first of many journeys in the 21st Century. Please do have a look if you’d like – there will of course be the usual multiple choice exam in due course and tests for the Pedro-of-the-Green  League Tables. And, as usual, you will be able to complete them online! No stationery or pencils needed of any kind.


THE GREEN DIARY : Happy Christmas one and all!

I’m back in London with Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Hammersmith for the second and last tranche of staffing and management duties. The Secretariat or Charlottery, is running like a well oiled machine with expertly and freshly served  kibble-shaped bikkies, clinically proven to reduce plaque and combining fibre matrix technologies, and Science Plan chicken chunks & gravy – all by Hill’s and Veterinarian Recommended – a diet to tempt all feline epicureans. She is fastidious and dainty and has the appetite of a sparrow though her neediness for ecstatic experiences, strokings, tender touches, jumpings on and off, on and off, on and off  beds indicates an indecisiveness bordering on psychosis but which the current staff are able to satisfy, exhausting though it may be. She is of course a spinster though her predilection for men borders on embarrassing. Poor Libbie, Charlotte’s other manager, with a big heart and a love of all animals, gets no attention at all. I have tried to explain to Charlotte that she should really treat the servants with greater even-handedness but she gazes at me through those big, green Marschals quite unperturbed by the hurt she inflicts on the feelings of those not privileged to been in the orbit of her affections.

And so we approach Christmas on an uncertain path. Omicron seems to be queering the pitches of holiday and party planners with different signals emanating from the Downing Street Circus where Bojo and his Shudder amuse and confuse, deceive and ashame us with hypocrisies and mendacity.

Lets see where the science leads us, not our leaders!

In the meantime this was an interesting view from South Africa.

Lovely reunion with friends at the Polish Ognisko Restaurant in Exhibition Road. Always a great place to go but it’s what happened as we walked there from our bus stop at Princes Gate. We turned right into Exhibition Road. It was dark save for the sodium glare of the street lights which shone over a cluster of policemen and their van, and a traffic warden, all inspecting a sleek, magnificent, state-of-the-art, stealth-bomber grey, all-electric Porsche Taycan which had been illegally parked and dumped on the corner of Exhibition Roads and Princes Gate.

The police told us it was uninsured, unlicensed and customised and accessorised so that it’s value was well in excess of £150,000. It had only a back number plate. 

“It’s been abandoned by its owners,” said the cop, “they’re members of the Royal Family of Qatar and on their way home in a private jet. Rather than pay shipping and court costs for recovery, fines and so on, they’ve just abandoned it.”

“What will happen to it? How will they get it back?”

“They’ll just buy another one when they get home. They don’t care.”

“Can I have it?” I joked.


“It goes to the car pound and if never claimed will either be auctioned off or just destroyed.”

“Good god!”

We walked to Ognisko’s for quite a lot of buffalo grass vodka, Kopytka Dumplings, Blinis and Kaczka Pieczona – don’t ask! But it was all very nice. 

I like Polish cuisine. We often eat at Daquise in South Kensington and in fact had a merry time with friend Mary Omond there last week.

We saw a preview of a revived  Peggy for You last night at the Hampstead Theatre. Directed by Richard Wilson who was sitting in our row taking notes. It opens tonight but not to a full house. The Omicron scare is biting and people are staying away. Once more the entertainment and leisure industry are taking a hit. It’s a pity because this was a wonderful production. I never saw the Maureen Lipman version back in 1999; in fact I’ve never seen it at all though I did read Simon Callow’s Love is Where it Falls when it was published, also in 1999. Tamsin Grieg is excellent in Alan Plater’s play which I found funny but also moving.

Writes Michael Billington in 1999:  “Drama like sex, should never be rushed. Hollywood producers and agents are pimps turning her [Peggy’s] writers into whores: “If any of my clients are rich,” Peggy claims, “it’s entirely by accident.” 

And a play to her is an event that should tell us something we don’t already know………Plater’s play transcends gossip to achieve the dignity of metaphor: his agent-heroine suddenly stands for all those who believe that art is more important than fame or profit and that living requires more courage than a drunken suicidal death.”

Talking about postponements and cancelations in this run up to Christmas we have had a few already. We’ve just learned that Tony’s son Zac is stuck in a ski resort in Tignes for Christmas because of the new French rules preventing unnecessary cross-channel visits. So we’ll not see him or grandson Tyger for the duration. Sadness.

Zac in the French Alps. Do we feel sorry for him? No!

Still, just in time Friend Jane B- and I squashed in a visit to the Portobello Electric to see Steven Spielberg’s offering of Sondheim’s slightly re-worked Westside Story which has been controversially received though I can’t think why. We thought it excellent. Does anyone else have an opinion on this? See it on a big screen.

Lloyd-Webber’s new Cinderella was diverting too though I do find his music repetitive: old themes re-visited and blatant use of others’ tunes. Did I hear some Gilbert & Sullivan coming through there?

But it was brilliantly staged with clever use of the revolve in the Gillian Lynn Theatre and a whole new take on the Cinderella story which more than made up for any other short-comings.

And Verdi’s Macbeth at Covent Garden was sensational too. Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 production revived with Simon Keenlyside and Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi in the “Jock & Jean” roles were mesmerizing. Why I’ve never seen this opera before defeats me. I think it’s one of his best. Daniele Rustioni conducted. Rumour has it that he may well be taking over from Antonio Pappano who has been in residence since 2002. A popular choice.

And Queer Life, Queer Love has been published and launched, a new anthology in which Tony’s sweet story, Man Dancing is one of forty-two. I’d be crackers if I didn’t recommend it! Give it a whirl, Friends!


There have been Covid postponements and cancellations of course. I’m sure all of you have been affected in this run up to Christmas? 

Tomorrow I relinquish my position here on Charlotte’s staff and Lateral Flow Tests willing join what’s left of the family in Cambridgeshire. 

May I make passing mention of some other film streams I have enjoyed here at Charlotte’s home – she even joined me briefly on the sofa during a news cast but was unimpressed and retreated rapidly when Jon Snow appeared. Nothing personal I’m sure, and she hates violence. Passing was lovely; moving and beautifully filmed. And Tik…Tik…Boom! too. 

Benedict Cumberbatch’s latest offering, The Power of the Dog was intriguing though I don’t think I saw it at its best. My date at the cinema was Covid cancelled and I watched it on the small screen at home. I don’t think that helped! Jane Campion’s epic style production with sweeping landscapes needs a huge space to view properly so I think I’ll re-visit it.

Otherwise what, dear Friends? Oh yes – the Christmas Lights in London this year are the most spectacular I have ever seen with many, many more areas lit up, not just the usual Bond, Regent and Oxford streets – I think it’s a concerted effort to cheer us up and persuade us to get into the festive mood. 

And on that note we both wish you, Dear Friends everywhere, a very very Happy Christmas and a Healthy New Year. Please stay in touch!

THE GREEN DIARY : The Charlottery!

Living and Sitting with Charlotte

I am cat sitting for Friend H, in London at the moment, while she winters in Cape Town for a few months. Charlotte is a sweet, shy creature and views me, like all cats, with a disdainful eye, rather as if I were a particularly difficult staff member who is unlikely to come up to scratch. And that’s the thing of course: dogs are managed but cats are staffed. I think I may have posted about this before as she and I have looked after each other in the past. Sometimes she melts a little and will present her little, slim, black-furred body for strokings and has even been known to purr during these moments of ecstasy. Then I feel privileged and to an extent, vindicated in my role as loyal carer and Equerry to this Duchess of Hammersmith.

Charlotte’s domain is behind Kensington Olympia and its been revelatory to live here these few weeks. When I came to live in London 42 years ago, I shared a flat with dear Friend L. in Westgate Terrace a few hundred yards from the Earl’s Court Underground station.

I knew no-one here at all really. Just Friend L., a ways away in West Hampstead Friend P. and, here in this very house, where I now slave for “herself”, friends R & H were a godsend for a lonely, barely-outed gay actor from the sticks of Apartheid South Africa.

I got to know West London very well; this was my first stamping ground before I moved into the arms of my beloved Tony in Camden via Pimlico and Amsterdam.


The Reguliersgracht in Amsterdam where I lived for several months while rehearsing and playing in Anthony Akerman’s Somewhere on the Border the audition script for which I picked up from Tony Peake’s office at Cori Films in July 1983 – which is how we first met.


Notorious Dolphin Square! In Pimlico:

Its been bright and sunny and not very cold while I’ve been here and I have not let the grass grow.  How it has all changed in these forty years.

Vast shopping complexes have opened in Shepherd’s Bush, the Hammersmith roundabout has become a huge conglomerate of marbled office blocks, bus and rail stations gyrating traffic in all directions. In the olden days, in between theatre and television jobs I helped run the Riverside Studio Box office under the then auspices of Tammy Collins (FOH) and Peter Gill (AD) where many acclaimed productions went on under the most ramshackle conditions in those cavernous old film & TV studios.

Each year the Dance Umbrella had its festival, with particularly complicated, un-computerised ticketing arrangements, all manual; charts with thick red felt-tipped ticks and crosses, awkward books of tickets, COBOs and Comps; the telephone endlessly shrilling.

Friends R & H helped me into this welcome cash-in-hand job and the wonderful Christopher Hahn (now General Director of the Pittsburgh Opera via the San Francisco & Los Angeles Opera Houses) aided and abetted. I would not have been able to remain an actor without these sorts of jobs.

Christopher Hahn

To-day I lunched at Sam’s in Crisp Walk with Friend A. and I was absolutely amazed at the changes that have taken place since I appeared there a few years ago in Sylvester Stein’s Who Killed Mr. Drum. 

The place is unrecognisable. The studios are still there; the cinemas are still there but the entire building has been turned outward toward the river, with views of Hammersmith Bridge, there is a promenade linking the bridge all the way down to Fulham, south-facing, glassed apartments line the Cote de Thames and there is light everywhere. 

Sam’s is great. Thank you for introducing me to it dear Friend A. and for the perfect seating, the sun pouring in and that beautiful, albeit broken-down bridge, its larger Doppler traversing the Danube in Budapest, elegantly swooping across the river. 

It’s broken. Closed except for pedestrians.

“People have been very kind,” John Gielgud was once heard to say though under very dissimilar circumstances to my own. He had been charged with indecency and was referring to the warmth and support from actor friends in rehearsals. 

“You’ve been a naughty boy, Johnny,” Coral Browne was reputed to have said, “now come on and lets get back to rehearsals….!” 

I am only a temporary widow as Tony visits our family in Canada and I staff the Charlottery.

But friends have wined and dined me; I have been schooled further in the complexities of Jazz by Friends C & R; an evening at Kings Place last Monday  – Chick Corea : The Vigil Songbook with Tim Garland, Jason Rebello & Friends – revelatory for me as a newboy.

Ceviche at Canary Wharf

To Brentford for pasta with Friend J; to Canary Warf for Friend R’s. wonderful company and  glorious Ceviche, the best in the world; dinner in Dulwich; an evening in Southfields : much discussion, argy-bargy and fab food with Friends D & D and P & O (sic); luncheon in Streatham – see the movie – and of course far too many Martinis at the American Bar with Friend L. wining and dining at the Wolesley followed by an introduction to The 2 to 5 Hertford Street Club where baroque eccentricity meets chic chintz in a labyrinth of Georgian drawing and dining rooms, bars and other crannies.

To bed with Nurofen and goodnight diary!

And I’ve not forgotten Dame MM……and our Ivy lunch in Kensington on Saturday. Far too much chatter!

Nor have I forgotten bridge dates in Sheen and Clapham with Families H and R-W. Splendid all – especially if I win, which in the case of the R-Ws I didn’t – but a fine evening nonetheless.

A Song of Reproduction – the original Flanders & Swan

Lunch in Streatham with Flempots!

A whirlwind of friendship. Thank you all for your kindness and generosity. I think I shall cat sit more often! I am promised Loulou’s in the next tranche of Charlottery!

Charlotte likes to watch television though she has been rather bored by The Morning Show finding Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston a little over the top and Succession and the horrendous shenanigans of the Roy Family left her in shock and she retired to bed. I did not and watched them both as one would a Cobra, bingeing Apple TV+ for The Morning Show to complete before the trial week is up. Twenty hours of freebie. Am I a cheapskate?


THE GREEN DIARY : Armistice – 11 November 2021

In a few minutes we shall fall silent for two, as we remember.

Five years ago a small group of South African friends visited the Ypres Salient and the Somme for the 100thAnniversary of that terrible battle in that ghastly War-to-end-all-Wars, with emphasis on Delville Wood where so many South Africans died and where there is a beautiful memorial designed by Herbert Baker and where, incredible to relate, I stumbled upon my Great-Uncle Alexander Keay’s name listed as missing during that battle and then found him at Thiepval where we attended the Armistice Remembrances on the 11th November.


An extract from my diary reads:

11.00am.,  11th November, 2016.


It’s a sacred public holiday in France today.

A glorious, sunny day; blue skies but a chilly stillness.

Thiepval is a massive memorial dominating the heights above the Somme River valley and offering a panoramic view of the epic struggle that raged exactly 100 years ago here from July through to November. Our views were perfect : the stillness, the Autumn colours, the mown lawns with the tiny hamlet of Thiepval and its little church backing the monument where we collected with hundreds more for the short ceremony at 11.00am European Winter Time. The Royal Hampshire Constabulary provided a fitting band and a short ceremony, the sashed Mayor of Thiepval saying words which were translated through the British Legion representative……The church clock chimed eleven, the Last Post was played, two minutes silence ensued, then we were at ease. The main event, complete with bilingual prayers, hymns, wreath laying and the band, played out at 12.00 to coincide with ceremonies in Britain at GMT.

Our thoughts went out not only for the Great War warriors but all the millions of fallen in all the wars then and ever since.

It was made all the more poignant for me discovering my great-uncle’s name at Delville Wood the day before. A. Keay. My mother’s maiden name was Keay. At Thiepval this morning amongh the records I found his name:

KEAY, Lance Corporal, ALEXANDER, 228. “C”Coy. 4th Regt., South African Infantry, October 1916. Age 22. Son of Andrew and May Evelyn Keay, of Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. Grave Reference: Pier and Face 4C.

Altogether a very moving moment.

He was Lance Corporal in the South African Infantry and went missing at Wallencourt Butte which we had visited yesterday and where there was such confusion and mayhem that no bodies were ever recovered and the men were listed as missing. And so my mother’s uncle, Alexander Keay, my great-uncle, brother to me grandfather Ralph, went up on the lists without number and has his name carved in section 4C on the memorial.

No one in our family has ever visited him though our grandmother often spoke of him and wept. I immediately phoned my cousin Avril in Johannesburg to share this moment and we were both much moved.

Great Uncle Alexander. Just one personal discovery among millions; for to these places pilgrims come in their thousands, searching for connections, for some understanding of a world gone mad.”


THE GREEN DIARY : Black Dog, get thee behind me!

It’s been a while since I last posted. What an Autumn it has been one way and another.

Well Friends, it’s not over yet. Autumn I mean. The world is in such a state at present it’s quite difficult not to feel a sort of paralysis: Pandemics, climate crises, Anglo-French tensions, inflation.

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Sleaze, Sleaze, Sleaze.

Pass the Quaaludes! The Mandies? The Quack! Ha! Rants-in-my-pants! Wake me when it’s over!

But I wanted to share our joy at the news yesterday of our dear friend, Damon Galgut’s winning the 2021 Booker Prize for his beautiful book The Promise.

Here is a link to the announcement made by The Guardian:

It’s been an incredible privilege to be Damon’s friend over all the years he has been writing; As another dear friend wrote, “It has been a long and happy road to walk with Damon, and this richly deserved recognition is so heartwarming……….then to see the singular Damon lope as he went up onto the stage with that familiar anxious smile … followed by words so typical of the man, gracious and generous of spirit, well, what more does one need?”

I second that. Congratulations dear friend!

Chatto publisher Clara Farmer with Tony, Damon and Caroline Wood, his new agent.

Other news since my last post has been thin on the ground. Here and there, to London and back we have been. Dipping our toes into the theatrical and cinematic water in some trepidation as mask wearing is thrown to the winds while the scientists say that they shouldn’t be.

Indecent at the Menier Chocolate Factory was revelatory: a play by Paula Vogel, It recounts the controversy surrounding the play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch, first produced on Broadway in 1923 for which the producer and cast were arrested and convicted on the grounds of obscenity.

And then of course there was Leopoldstadt after many false starts beginning in March last year when our tickets were cancelled because of the lockdown; and re-issued twice more only to be withdrawn. As we understand cut down from three to two hours and – legs crossed – no interval. A cast of many in a complex weaving of family history between 1900 and the end of Nazi Europe in 1945, we both thought it brilliant though it has had mixed reviews and there are certainly the occasional  longueurs. We thought it an elegiac almost Chekovian piece complementing well the TV documentary Alan Yentob put together on Stoppard for the BBC’s Imagine series. It was beautifully staged, lit and acted by a superb ensemble. It also complemented the wonderful Indecent we saw the day before. And we were incredibly moved by it. Neither of us were confused by the web of family relations and interactions as we had feared we might be.


Good to be in front of the large screen again. Apart from Terence Davies’ Benediction in San Sebastian in September, the last time was in August 2020, with grandchildren, to see the impenetrably  complicated Tenet. The new James Bond film No Time to Die which was a Curate’s Egg we both thought. But diverting enough with its problematic ending leaving many questions unanswered. I’ll say no more.

Then again with the grandchildren to Dune – the remake. Epic. Great soundtrack. I even understood it though it helped to have recorded the book years ago and seen the original film which was not nearly as good as this. The cinematography is mind-blowing and the film has to be seen on the largest screen possible to do it justice; and then there’s Timothée Chalamet – who is everywhere these days – being beautiful.

Television, mainly streaming:

We continue to watch Succession as one would a cobra – transfixed by the Roy family’s pure awfulness and mesmerised by the performances and the writing. 

Two other TV series have intrigued: Maid an American drama series inspired by Stephanie Land‘s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, created by Molly Smith Metzler and starring Margaret Qualley as Alex and her real life mother (being brilliant), Andie MacDowell playing her screen mother. 

Then The Boys an American “superhero”  television series we were put onto once more by our influential grandchildren! And Squid Game? Sorry. Gave up fairly rapidly on that. What a dreadful premise. Yukkel-Stukkel I don’t know what to say!

Then down memory lane for a bingeing visit to Jewel in the Crown which I found to be as fresh as ever and just as absorbing and wonderful as I remember the first time round to be – the quartet too. I recall reading the entire saga in 2000 when I shipped from Durban to Tilbury on a three week container vessel transit. A brilliant read.

The Jewel in the Crown

What else in October? 

Oh yes. I was fined for speeding on the M25 now re-branded a Smart Motorway. I was going 59 in a 50mph variable speed lane and given the choice between three points on my licence and a £100 fine, an appearance in court or a “Motorway Awareness Course” costing £100 sans three points. What’s to decide. I took the course on Zoom with eleven other sinners and learned all about Smart Motorways of which there are only two and a half in Britain and which I subsequently discovered are very controversial and extremely expensive to build. There you go. I’d never heard of a Smart Motorway before. Have you? And I was caught speeding on a section of the M25 which is normally 70mph. 

Smart Motorways?

That’s all folks! 

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.