Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bring back Hadrian, the MacMafia are coming

[Re the Rahman case: the comment is valid. I should have made it more clear that what troubled me was absolutely not the Afghan government’s refusal to intervene in the verdict, but the law saying a person can be executed for converting to Christianity. Or any law based on religious bigotry. Especially if you are of the southern religious right and the law is the American Constitution as interpreted - in Roe v. Wade - by the Supreme Court.]

(I’ll be neither rowing nor wading this weekend. I’ll be enjoying bucolic Devon – on a dairy farm so remote that, to my readers’ relief – both of them - I won’t be blogging for a week.)

That’s not to say that we don’t have laws every bit as sinister as those of Afghanistan. My next post could well be datelined H. M. Prison Service, arrested under new laws making it a crime to criticize anything.
It’s about the Scottish Problem. First of all it is important to point out that I have nothing personally against Scots. I like all the ones I know and most that I don’t: Alan Hansen, Eddie Gray and many others, and I love the country. (I dislike only Gordon Brown and Alex Ferguson, so will the person in Stirling please keep reading.) My only objection is their excessive presence in England. Our heavily Scot-infiltrated government, in order to attract voters away from the Scottish National Party, gave Scotland its own parliament.
Not surprisingly, they voted themselves benefits – a nice new building, pay hikes, home care for the elderly, free university education, etc. - that the rest of Britain could not afford. English taxpayers thus finance perks for those across the border without themselves being entitled to them.
For the English, this would be a highly acceptable situation if it meant that the Scots would stay north of said border. But no – not only are they allowed to sit in the House of Commons, but they may vote on purely English matters, such as the structure of London’s Metropolitan Police. But surely, you say, English MPs can vote on Scottish matters, such as teachers’ salaries in Scotland? Sorry, no.
Not only are Scots over-represented in Britain's parliament, but, because we have a chameleon-like prime minister who takes on the nationality of those in his immediate vicinity and a Scottish Chancellor of the Exchequer – and next prime minister; they have surrounded themselves with a ministerial MacMafia from across that very Wall that, 2000 years ago, a Roman Emperor put up to keep them out.
It’s not surprising that they are deeply entrenched in the media – after all, the BBC was founded by a Scot – but so they are in literature, medicine and sport. Nowhere is immune: even Everton’s manager is a Scot, as is Big Duncan, their red-card-attracting striker.
It is not too late to remove them, but it soon will be. Already, many have discarded their kilts and swords and learned to speak and write British, like A. A. Gill. (At least RLS could write in Scots.) It will be a massive task, and will require subversion, bribery and blackmail. What’s Senator McCarthy doing these days? Or is he one of them?.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Indifference: the essence of inhumanity (Shaw)

I really wanted to do a cheerful post today. Despite appearances, I’m not by nature a ranter, but crazy things keep happening about which the word processor (now there’s a rant in its own right) itches to seethe. Today there’s a news item about a man in Afghanistan who is on trial for a crime that, if found guilty, will get him the death sentence. What did he do, you ask, expecting to hear that he was caught blowing up a busload of innocent civilians, or rape or child abuse.
None of the above. The man was denounced by his family as having converted to Christianity 16 years ago. On more detailed investigation he was found to be in possession of, not 500 kilos of cocaine or a couple of dozen Kalashnikovs - but a bible.
The governments of Canada, Italy and Germany, countries which have troops in Afghanistan for the maintenance of law and order, have expressed mild disapproval, and the US has made ‘subdued’ representations on Mr Rahman’s behalf, (Britain and the Vatican have yet to comment - we're too busy, it's budget day). But the Afghan government has said it is a matter for the court and they cannot interfere.
But all is not yet lost – the defence is expected to plead insanity. Maybe it’s we who should be pleading insanity – we who thought we went to Afghanistan to put a stop to the human rights abuses of the Taliban.

In the new budget our newly-green government plans to force gas-guzzling cars off the road by increasing the road tax on them by £40 a year: ie. the cost of half a tankful.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring hope's eternal

It’s the first day of spring, but you wouldn’t know it – a high of 8 Celsius in protected areas – and we don’t have any protected areas. (It’s 13 in Villefranche.) The normal harbingers of spring have yet to be seen or heard: no gentle hum of shears or mowers, not a lamb in sight except for the 'frozen meats' section, and only the odd hardy daffodil wanders lonely as a cloud, looking embarrassed at having stuck his neck out so early.
But there is one reliable vernal herald: the Frustrating High Street Card Quest – for this is also wife’s birthday, and I never like any of the cards I see. It's especially important this year because it is a special number. (I will not say what it is but you could divide it by ten or twelve and get no remainder – and she isn’t 120.) But the cards! They get more nauseous every year. I imagine the sales director of the evocatively-named Clinton’s looking at his figures and being content. But that’s not because his cards are good - it's because cards are a necessity, with specific deadlines, so people across the land do what I’ve done and after weeks of searching settle for the least worst. Thankfully there are fewer puke-invoking rhymes these days, but there still seems to be nothing (with the exception of those laughingly classified as ‘humorous’) between the glutinously sentimental and the ostentatious (the ones which say in effect, ‘I know it’s ghastly, but feel the price’). And if you do find one with anything remotely approaching an appropriate text, it has a picture of a kitten on the front.
So happy birthday babe, thanks for another wonderful year and have a great day – and sorry about the card.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Thanks a lot Saint Paddy

Wonderful trip to Liverpool. Yes, a bonding exercise, going with No. 1 (and only) son to watch your favourite football team and sinking a few pints of Guinness together on Saint Patrick’s Day. But also, to me, a nostalgia trip: a return to the city where I was born. Alsop’s, where I went to school; St. Nicholas Church (flattened by the Luftwaffe early in World War II) where my parents married while my Dad was on special leave before going back to the trenches in World War I; Exchange Station where he worked; the Pier Head from which we used to sail to Ireland, or across the Mersey to New Brighton; the theatres to which my parents used to take me; and so on.
Great match. As Everton manager David Moyes said after the game, ‘going in at half-time three goals up was a new experience for me’. (A half-time at which, thanks to No. 1 son, my birthday was greeted over the PA system.) Eye-watering stuff - it matters not that they came out in the second half looking for a while as if they had swapped shirts - Villa inspired, Everton dire. But they got it back together and went on to win.
I guess teams and families are similar in a way, strength in adversity and such: Everton was the club that nurtured Wayne Rooney until he got so good they couldn’t keep him. But when he left, instead of going under without him, they got better – they became a team again instead of a support system for Rooney.
Ah yes, and for anyone who might have been in outer space, the result: Everton 4, Aston Villa 1, which puts us in top half of the Premiership table. Saint Patrick smiled: thanks Paddy for great weekend.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Merseyssippi Blues

Tonight, the 12th century walls of the citadel of Villefranche will echo to sound of – a ceilidh. A ceilidh! you repeat, astonished – not just that I can spell it, but that there should be an Irish knees-up on the French Riviera.
Well yes, for at least two reasons: it’s March 17, St Patrick's day; and St Paddy, although the patron saint of Ireland, is reputed to have been born in England in the 5th century and to have studied on the Isles de Lerins, just off the Riviera coast.
I won’t be there myself - I’ll be on my way to Liverpool with my son, to watch Everton play Aston Villa at Goodison Park. The teams will run onto the field to the tune of the ‘Z-Cars’ theme and I will have a king-size lump in my throat. I always do. I will think of the days when my Dad used to take me to Goodison Park to watch the Blues play, and hope that one day I might take my grandson.
My Dad never saw his grandchildren. I have before me a print from the 1901 UK census. In the “Newsboys’ Home”, at 118-126 Everton Road, in the Parish of Everton, in the County Borough of Everton, Liverpool, lived my Dad; another Newsboy was his older brother, Bert. By that time their father had died and their mother was a domestic servant – the usual refuge for the uneducated.
27 years later, Dad and Uncle Bert, festooned with blue and white rosettes, went to Wembley to watch Everton win the FA Cup. (Everton 3, Manchester City 0.) So you could say I’m an Evertonian both genetically and by habitation.
Furthermore, son and I are going to see Everton win: James Beattie is at last finding form and so are the team – even if there are only seven games to go to the end of the season.
But if they don’t win, it won’t matter - which seems somehow appropriate: St. Paddy’s most famed characteristic was his ability to accept success or failure with equal grace. And so will we – we will remain Everton supporters no matter what.

Still, I’d rather not have to wait another 27 years.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Don’t count your clichés…

It’s been a good day for clichés. I guess the Cliché Watch staff were late to work and missed the morning news programmes. Before 10am we had had ‘litmus test’; ‘moved the goalposts’; ‘level playing field’; not one, but TWO of that weather forecasters’ and traffic reporters’ standby: ‘but the good news is’s; and innumerable ‘the bottom line is’s. (Not sure what the plural of ‘bottom line is’ is.) Oh shit, is ‘not one, but TWO’ a cliché? Still, when in Rome, I say.
Someone counted the clichés in Hansard (report on proceedings in Parliament) over a whole year. The five-lengths winner, with some 900-plus uses, was ‘at the end of the day’. If politicians attend on 90 days a year, which I think is about right, it means that on average ‘at the end of the day’ aired more than ten times a day.
Cliché machines were in overdrive at the week-end in the obituaries of John Profumo, who, 40 years ago, when he was a minister in Harold MacMillan’s Tory government, had an affair with a prostitute. He had to resign, of course, but not for the affair – he had to quit because he lied. He told parliament ‘there was no impropriety in my association with Miss Keeler’. How values change: today our beloved prime minister lies to parliament every day with impunity; and ministerial affairs with prostitutes are almost obligatory. And a US president said, ’I did not have sexual relations with that…’ and stayed president.
I suppose it’s a bit of a cliché to call a journey ‘an odyssey’. But everyone does it: especially travel writers and chefs (would you believe An Odyssey of Jewish Food?). An amazing play I saw last night was based on the original: Homer’s The Odyssey, a very clever show setting Odysseus’s ten-year travels in the context of illegal immigration. Appropriately it was in an unfashionable theatre in an unfashionable – unless you’re an immigrant from Poland or Ireland – suburb; but everything - acting, sets, sound and visual effects, and music were amazing. The musician, Peter Troake – yes, apart from a bit of percussion by the actors there was only one – played everything: acoustic guitar, mandolin, Greek bagpipes, cimbalom, drums, accordion, tin whistle and tenor sax. And he acted a bit.
Virgil said of Odysseus’s generous gift of a wooden horse to the Trojans: ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’. A 3,000-year-old cliché brought to life.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Happy birthday to me - and St. Leander

Had a birthday yesterday – stopped making a fuss about them years ago, but the older you get the more fuss other people think they should make of them – lest it be your last I guess. But Monday birthdays tend to be quiet affairs – here in suburbia most decent restaurants are closed Mondays, and people don’t feel like going out anyway. But we found one that we hadn’t been to for years and it was as morgue-like as we had expected – wife, daughter and me sitting there trying not to chew too loudly lest we woke the waiter. Then an old friend and former neighbour, with whom I share the March 13 birthday, arrives, place livens up, cakes, candles and much singing of ‘Happy Birthday’, great meal and a good time had by all.
Wife, just home from eye surgery, sports a tasteful multi-coloured eye which we shall call 'spectrum minus only red': yellow, blue, indigo, violet and black. I sport a T-shirt bearing the words ‘I didn't do it’. I buy her an eye-patch and parrot but she is not amused.
On the subject of dates of birth, the conversation got to changes of values of abstract things according to one’s age. To us wrinklies, time is about the most precious commodity there is because you know there’s a finite amount left and you can’t bear to see young folk squandering it - lying in bed until noon, say - as if they expected to live forever. Impecunious youth thinks that money is the only big problem, but that tends to reduce in significance as the gray stuff increases. No, to us it’s all about health: yet kids can eat junk, sunbake, smoke and snort stuff, while knowing full well what it does to them.
Don't we have any values in common with youth? Well, yes, there is one – but even that has different attitudes accorded it by Anno Domini – you can manage on less of it, and it has to be shared with the right companion.

Yes, I can't bear to drink good wine alone. And I lied about the parrot.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Not that I'm one to complain...

Came in on Easyjet last night, 45 minutes late – I don’t mind that, it happens – but I was rather annoyed to hear the Flight Attendant (or whatever they’re called this week) say, ‘Would you please leave the aircraft as quickly as possible as we have only eight minutes to turn it around’.
Wait a minute, isn’t the reason that you’ve only got eight minutes the fact that you were late taking off? And have you ever tried getting off a Boeing 737 quickly? I imagine an emergency disembarkation - flames are licking at the starboard engine and you’re in row 29 waiting for the woman in row 28 to find her make-up case…
…and I got to thinking about all the fatuous statements made by airline crews. As we were taxiing to take off, that same Hostess/Stewardess/Flight Attendant said, ‘As we have a very full flight tonight we will not be providing our usual drinks service’. What’s that? You only do drinks if you have a handful of customers? At what level of occupancy do you decide that the aircraft is so full of pesky passengers that you will deny them the privilege of purchasing a few millilitres of throat-burn for 6 pounds? I noticed they managed to get the ‘Duty Free’ trolley around easily enough - could this be because there’s more profit on a bottle of Chanel No. 5 than there is on a cup of coffee? (And do you think we don’t know that there’s no such thing as Duty Free between two European Union countries?)
Another one that gets me is ‘We apologise for our late departure - this was due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft’. Well yes, but since you are the same people that crewed the incoming aircraft, it sounds like you’re saying, ‘We’re late because we’re late’. Why can they never tell you the real reason? We’re grown up.
(When I got to England and switched on the news, there was Stelios – owner of Easyjet – showing off his apartment in Monaco.)
So I made a decision: we’re flying British Airways next time. It may cost twice as much, but you get a free cardboard sandwich, the drinks trolley does come around, and it’s free - even if the wine does arrive 20 minutes after you’ve finished your meal.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Spring in the air

I always feared that there might be a finite number of anti-Bush stories, jokes and cartoons, that, once exceeded, would tip the needle on his popularity meter over onto ‘Sympathy’ - the ‘poor bastard, he hasn’t a friend in the world’ syndrome – affecting first California and spreading gradually across the country. (The NE states will probably retain their immunity.)
So my New Year – well, March 7 – resolution is not to forward any of the 47 jaded, cliché-ridden Bush jokes I received yesterday, and henceforth not to use the B word. Even Cntrl+B is out. (WORD just excelled itself – it says, rightly, that Cntrl+B is plural! Sorry WORD: Cntrl+B are out) But I am free to comment on the irony of a guy who shall be nameless riding yee-haw into a second term on a fear ticket and the continuing democratization of the Middle-East, telling a democratically elected government (elected on a genuine fear ticket) that they must try to be less aggressive – like us. Septic tanks!
Blair, on the other hand – a different B word and fair game – shows his contempt for the poor suckers who elected him and the parliament that keeps him in power by saying that he is responsible only to God. (Presumably a Christian god – nay, an RC one.)
As Big Daddy would say, ‘there’s an odour of mendacity around here’.
Meanwhile here in France, la grippe aviaire gets ever closer: a migrating duck literally drops dead over the marshes of the Rhone delta – and not from lead shot – not a dozen miles from France’s 3rd largest city. Truculent farmers (as is their habitude) say stuff you to the government – we will transport our fowl anywhere we want. But not yesterday they didn't – yesterday they were busy flooding the autoroute with zillions of gallons of wine in a protest aimed at achieving ‘a total ban on the importation of wine from overseas’. Tough if you were one of those farmers trying to move your turkeys illegally to another Département so you wouldn’t have to vaccinate them; and even tougher if you were busy trying to produce wine that was fit to complete with the foreign product instead of only for flooding autoroutes.
Over in Britain they refuse to be panicked by a few frightened Frenchies: the government’s chief scientific adviser (Professor Sir somebody) tells us that ‘even if we had H5N1 [the deadly version] among the chicken population in Britain’ our chances of catching bird flu are 1 in 100million. (Beware of Professor Sirs bearing figures - that’s less than 70% of one person!) Let's hope the ostriches don't catch it - whose going to bury their heads in the sand?
And the Côte d’Azur basks in vernal sunshine: only when I went to switch off the central heating last night did I realise that I’d forgotten to switch it on. Must go now – got to nip over the border to Italy to have a nice lunch and top up the Valpollicella and Pinot Grigio.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Villefranche: 'source of myth and inspiration'

I didn’t intend to do travel on the blog – seems a bit like taking work home - but I guess I can tell you about the place where I live. I didn’t choose Villefranche – it chose me. I was driving along the coast road one day when I realised that a big horse race(that’s a big race – not a race just for big horses, though many of them are: thought I ought to make that clear) was on in England and I needed to stop to point my short wave antenna at the booster station. That was over 20 years ago, and it was what the French call a coup de foudre: I fell in love, and the longer I stay here the better I like it.
So this is about Villefranche – I hope you don’t find it too literary, but that’s because it was here I wrote my book, The French Riviera: A Literary Guide* – little plug there, but so subtle you probably didn’t even notice it. Many towns have poetic links: Ambleside with Wordsworth, Hull with Larkin, but Villefranche-sur-Mer, the little port on the French Riviera, has inspired poets for centuries, from Dante to the Rolling Stones.
It lies 5km east of Nice and 13km west of Monaco, on the Bay of Villefranche facing the sun, its hills forming a natural amphitheatre - ‘as if in a box at the opera’, as Jean Cocteau, the town’s ‘poet laureate’, put it. To complete the theatrical illusion, the precipitous slopes of the Southern Alps are its backdrop. Cocteau called the town ‘a source of myth and inspiration’.
The town’s history is recorded as far back as 130 BC, but its ‘modern’ age began in 1245, when Charles II of Anjou offered tax reliefs to encourage people to live there - Villefranche means, literally, free town. (The town still attracts tax exiles: the Rolling Stones recorded their aptly-named Exile on Main Street here.)
Although the hills above the town have not escaped a sprinkling of opulent mansions, Villefranche has managed to retain much of its 18th century atmosphere. The ochre and terracotta houses huddled around the Baroque church confirm - as do the surnames on its war memorials - its Italian heritage: it became part of France only in 1860. Yet the town is so typically Provençal that it could be a film set – and often is: films shot here include Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, the James Bond thriller Never Say Never Again, de Niro’s Ronin, and the Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner epic Jewel of the Nile.
Its population of 8,000 more than trebles in holiday times - and that doesn't include a quarter of a million cruise passengers. With a natural harbour deep enough to accommodate the world’s biggest ships – it was once the Mediterranean base of the of the US Sixth Fleet - Villefranche welcomes more than 250 cruises a year.
The old port has many historical and literary links: Pope Paul III was here in 1538; George Bernard Shaw stopped off in 1896; Ernest Hemingway disembarked in 1934 on his return from Africa; and the Irish navy came by in 1948 to take the long-exiled bones of the poet W.B. Yeats back to Sligo. Between the wars, the Hotel Welcome, in prime position dominating the harbour, attracted dozens of writers, many of whom, like the Waugh brothers, Evelyn and Alec, came to pay homage to W. Somerset Maugham, who lived his last cantankerous years on nearby Cap Ferrat.
In Cocteau’s time, the Welcome changed its character when the fleet was in. ‘On the first floor of my hotel–brothel’, he wrote, ‘the sailors dance and fight day and night.’ Across the street, a bronze bust of the artist bears his testimonial: ‘Villefranche, […] Pray Heaven it may never change’.
It does change, but not very much. Villefranche is change-proof: there are no tower blocks because there’s nowhere to build one, and with the exception of the busy Basse Corniche that traverses the town, there’s little traffic because the terraced streets that wind down to the old port are too narrow to admit cars.
Although the US Navy left in 1967, the American landings continue: a third of the cruise passengers come from North America. The sumptuous villas peppering the Villefranche hillsides no longer house European royalty: they belong to stars of entertainment and sport, like Tina Turner, U2’s Bono, Riverdance creator Michael Flatley and cyclist Lance Armstrong - while, overlooking them all, astride the peak of Mont Boron, stands the Château Elton John.
Despite – or perhaps because of - its proximity to more publicized attractions like Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo and St. Tropez; Villefranche has remained pretty much unspoiled.
Is it still ‘a source of myth and inspiration’? Of course - otherwise I wouldn’t be here!

* - (Published by Tauris)

Friday, March 03, 2006

So much to learn, so much to unlearn

A word for wrinklies who thought they were keeping up moderately well with today’s rampant technology; advances in IT and the internet; and personal entertainment devices beginning with ‘i’ or other italics. (Is that why Tiscali is its anagram?) And who may even be relieved at being able to free up their brain cells from having to remember the intricacies of programming in numeric code, or such even more cutting-edge tools as BASIC and COBOL.
But let me tell you: when it comes to raising children, you’ve forgotten just about all you ever knew – and such knowledge as you do retain is Neanderthal.
Has the past quarter of a century selectively erased all that expertise? Or has the technology of child-rearing advanced so far in this period that your methods are now obsolete?
You know what I’m talking about: ‘Don’t let her go near the top of the stairs, Dad – she might fall down them’.
‘Oh, is that - gravity? Gee - thanks for telling me about that son. We never had to contend with that when you were a baby. It’s a miracle you survived.’

Well actually, we have to admit that the technology of child-raising has moved along. When my kids were babies, the baby mavens said we had to lay them down on their stomachs.
I remember I did have trouble accepting this at the time. We were never given any medical justification, but logically it seemed crazy – after all, you weren’t supposed to give children cling-film to play with lest they suffocate themselves, but you were positively encouraged to put them to sleep with their spongy little nose in direct contact with any type of surface with the weight of their heads on top of it.
Some women who adopted this technique were convicted of murder; some of them on the evidence of the same highly respected paediatricians who had recommended the practice.
Then, a few years ago, the baby gurus made, literally, a 180-degree turn: babies should be laid on their backs.
The incidence of the strange phenomenon that came to be known as ‘cot death’ plummeted and the change was trumpeted as a triumph for medical science. And the mothers were released from jail and allowed to join their families – if they had any families left. And the expert paediatrician, although a laughing stock, was cleared to continue to practise. And, presumably, if called, to give expert evidence.
So maybe we should admit it: we don’t know beans about kids.
But I would like to hang on to gravity.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I guess that's what they call serendipity

It didn’t seem like a life-changing decision at the time. On the scale of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus it would barely have registered. I just thought I needed to get some discipline into my reading habits. I used to read like a kid in a candy store - there was always another book that looked more exciting than the one I was reading.
I remembered that, when I was at college 40 years earlier, my reading routine was governed by a study programme and not subject to passing whims. So the answer, I thought, would be to take the first year of an Open University arts course. The broad theme of that year was the Victorian Years: the art, the music, the philosophers, the architects, the engineers, the explorers and the writers of that highly inventive and productive age. No blinding revelation - just a slight change in direction – not so much a U-turn as an OU turn.
To someone unused to study, it was tough. But it needed to be: it meant studying at home after work; getting up in the middle of the night to watch television programmes; attending tutorials; studying video and audio tapes; researching a testing written assignment every month; an intensive summer school at Manchester (that most Victorian of cities) University; and reading, reading, reading.
At the end of the year I was mentally exhausted – but smitten. Still with no intention of completing the degree course, I signed up for another year. I chose another period in history: that quiet 18th century revolution in intellectual, scientific and artistic thought that became known as The Age of Enlightenment. I emoted to Mozart, raved over Reynolds and Gainsborough, and revelled in written works that, in my previous existence, I would not even have picked up: Gibbon’s irony-packed Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or Voltaire’s unexpectedly bawdy Candide.
There was no stopping after that. The Enlightenment was followed by the plays of Shakespeare, two years of French, and a year of modern English literature. By this time I was finally learning to read: not more quickly, but more deeply
Somewhere along the way, a decision had been made by default - that I would finish the course. All this was against the background of a fairly testing job – setting up a business and travelling world-wide. So when the job started to interfere with my studies, I retired and became a student. The degree course ended with a year studying the art and architecture of 14th century Italy, which took me on study trips to Venice, Padua, Florence and Siena.
At no time did the adventure lessen, and my feelings at the end of the final examinations were not of relief, but of loss. Seven years after that fateful non-decision, I put on my rented cap and gown and, applauded by my family, walked on to the stage of the Royal Festival Hall to be get my degree – the oldest student there.
If you thought that graduation was the end of the story you’d be wrong: it was only the beginning. In the seven years since then, the group with whom I toured northern Italy have become close friends, and we meet at least three times a year to visit London art exhibitions, and have extended our studies independently, with art trips to Spain, France, Italy, the Czech Republic and Latvia and, this year, Estonia.
A bonus was that the discipline of having to write an essay every month had improved my writing skills, so I started to turn my travel experiences into revenue. And when the OU opened its own library last year I gave them a copy of my first book – A Literary Guide to the French Riviera (shown above). It seemed a small return for all that they had given me.
As decisions go, it may not have ranked seismically alongside Cortes’s burning of his boats in the Yucatan, but it was a metaphorical boat-burning, because there is no going back.
And my reading: is it now planned, ordered and disciplined? Well, no: it’s as chaotic as ever. I still have five books on the go in the bedroom, half a dozen in the lounge and at least two in the loo. But I’m married to another book freak, who keeps me in bookmarks. I guess that’s what they call serendipity.