on changing tastes

This is not just about food and drink, although I might as well start there. As you age your taste buds change as does your sense of smell and both affect how food and drink tastes. What we like or dislike can change as a result, but some of that is clouded by the way regulation has impacted on the food industry.

Recipes have changed to meet new regulations on things like preservatives and additives, and there have been other changes in the interests of profit. The way some foods are grown has also brought about change. In the same way that some cut flowers are grown for looks and have no scent, fruit and veg are grown in ways that make them look good, but have little or no taste.

A combination of these factors mean that when I revisit something that I used to enjoy twenty, thirty or more years ago it does not taste anything like I remember it, or at least I don’t get the same sense of enjoyment as I remember.

The same applies in other areas, and it was literature that got me started on this train of thought. The Berkshire Belle and I are avid readers. We can both get through a book in a day if we have nothing else to do, but she will get through around 5 a week and I am on about 3 at the moment. I tend to read bigger, non-fiction books more so we are probably about even in terms of words read a day.

Recently, having got used to an e-reader, I have been going back to some of the authors that I used to enjoy, but there have been some disappointments along the way. Back in the Seventies I found Neville Shute books in my local library and became hooked. I read all of them and enjoyed most, but re-visiting them has not been a success. I’ve picked on him as an example, but there are others. Stories that I found riveting half a lifetime ago I now find contrived and implausible. Alistair MacLean is another prime example.: His books kept me amused on many a road trip a while back, but leave me cold now (and not just Ice Station Zebra).

Not all tastes have changed though, because I have tried some authors that I could not get on with and still find them wanting. Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway still have no appeal to me at all and I cannot understand why they are so lauded. Another popular author, more recent, that I have also tried again is Terry Pratchett, but his work still seems to just not quite get there for me, it seems to go off in the direction of genius, and then lets me down.

I suppose that experience has something to do with it. I have lived through a lot since I first started to read sixty five years ago, and the callow teenager, whilst not far below the surface in many ways, has turned into an old man who have seen and experienced a lot. My judgement has been influenced by all of it along the way. But is seems odd that whilst I have lost my taste for some of what used to give me pleasure, I have not learned to get on with some of the others.

One constant for me has been music and I still love stuff from my younger days every bit as much as I used to. Within my playlists there is classical music through blues, jazz, pop, rock, soul, country, reggae and other genres through to about the mid-1980s. You won’t find much created since then because I don’t like most of it. In fact after a purple patch from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies things do tail off somewhat, but I still go back to all that and love it as much as I ever did. I am also still finding things from those times that I missed out on, but have now discovered and love just as much.

So have I got into anything new, things that I didn’t like, but now do? Well curry would be one. My first experiences of curry houses on the High Street back in the early seventies was not good and I loathed the stuff in terms of look, smell and taste, but the Hastings Hottie got me into curries gently, serving me up “spicy prawns” as she called them (a prawn curry to anyone else) and we’ve gone from there. The best meal that I have eaten was an Indian one, albeit at a Michelin starred restaurant, and working in North Africa, Thailand and China where I have eaten the authentic curries from those regions has helped me come to enjoy the stuff. I now cook it at home almost weekly.

I also had no taste for whisky until the late 1990s. I had only tried grain and blends by then and was not a fan, but ensconced in a Midlands hotel for a week at a time working on a project one of my colleagues introduced me to single malts in the bar one evening. I tried a few and whilst I could not get on with the heavily peated whiskies of Islay, I have grown to like most of the other regions and have enjoyed Japanese whisky too ( a 24 year old Yamazaki). I am a Speyside fan especially, but in my decanter at present is an Orkney.

A couple of examples there of things that I could not abide, but now enjoy, so I do have the capacity to add some new things to my life. At least I am still enjoying it.

the movies

The Berkshire Belle and I have been together for just over 33 years now, and we have done many things together over that time. We’ve holidayed in four countries, crossed the Atlantic more than 100 times, owned property abroad, eaten in some of the finest restaurants, been to the theatre and to some big gigs, but we have, as yet, not been to the pictures together.

We have come close a couple of times, both in the USA. Once, at a Gulf Coast shopping mall that included a cinema complex, we misread the posters as we walked in from the car park and the film that we fancied wasn’t on until the following week. The other time was down Fort Lauderdale way where we were passing a drive in movie theatre on a daily basis. One night they were due to show Grease and we thought that it would be a bit of fun, but a thunderstorm cancelled the showing. C’est la vie.

And so we haven’t been as yet, and I doubt that we will now having heard from friends and family the sort of behaviour that seems to prevail in such places now. The other likely deterrent is the sort of films that are on release: There is little that appeals to us.

We have seen a number of films that have been released since we got together, but only on TV. Mostly these have been romantic comedies; the Bridgit Jones films, Four Weddings and a Bus Garage (or whatever it was) and so on, plus all of the Harry Potter series as a few examples. But mostly our film watching involves films from before we got together and often from our respective teenage years through the fifties and sixties.

Some that is nostalgia, but more of it is about style and wit. These days it seems that if there is no violence or sex every couple of minutes the audience can’t cope. There is little sign of witty dialogue nor that other quality of silence where the images are allowed to tell the story. We will take a British 1950s B movie over pretty much any contemporary film. But that’s OK, we understand that we are not the audience that movie makers are targeting these days.

That is how the world works. Time passes and things change. When I talk to the youngsters at work their idea of entertainment is so different in the same way that my parents could not understand, or enjoy, the things that I liked in my teens. I would not have wanted them to: It was the kiss of death if my Mother said that she quite liked a song that was one of my favourites. The perennial generation gap is one of the things that moves the world along.

I have lived through several phases of the generation gap from childhood to being a great-grandparent(I might even have great-great-grandchildren – I’m not in touch with some of my offspring). The world is theirs now and they are welcome to it. I am fortunate enough to have the love of a good woman and can enjoy what time we have left. Will we ever get to a movie theatre together? Probably not, but we are, in some ways, still behaving like teenagers in love and maybe on one of our US trips we might just get to do a drive-in movie. Like they used to in the movies. That could be fun.

on joining things

I have been a member of all sorts of clubs, associations, trade unions, professional bodies and the like. I have also been a member of many teams, both professional and sporting. I have been an officer of several of these bodies, usually elected by the membership, or a sub-set of it. I general though, I do not like being a member of anything and am very much of the Groucho Marx viewpoint: I don’t want to be a member of any sort of club that would have me as a member.

It may be due to my solitary childhood where I had to make my own amusement has left me with a preference for my own company and a reluctance to share. I am a private person to a degree, but can be very sociable when I have to. I have spent almost the whole of my working life having to be sociable; barman, salesman, boss. All of these require feeling comfortable with others as a key skill. Perhaps it is because I have had to do it to earn a crust that makes me happy when I can switch off the charm.

Over my working life after I got into management one of the things that I loathed was sycophancy. I know that I held up my own advancement my nor just refusing to play that game, but by actively going against that flow. I was not a Yes Man and didn’t want that sort on my teams either; I much preferred to work with people who would challenge my thinking. The thought of joining a club of like minded people somehow fills me with dread.

Something else that I loathed in my professional career were those p[eople who put themselves before the organisation that we worked for and I have found that unions, membership organisations, charities and clubs are full of that sort of person in their committees. It is why I have never lasted very long as an officer of such organisations. I want to be there to further the interests of the membership, not to have to deal with vanities and egos.

Being part of a team in a working environment is one thing and I still have that. It’s one of the reasons why I am still working at my age and, somehow, I doubt that I will ever fully retire. I started work nearly 60 years ago just before my 11th birthday in a Saturday job and have worked consistently since. It is a drug I can’t give up it seems. But being part of a working team is one thing, to join a club, or whatever, is another. The older I get the more solitary I get and, apart from the Berkshire Belle, I do not seek the company of others.

I am still interested in other people, and am happy to talk to them when I encounter them, But I don’t seek out that sort of contact. I am aware that I don’t have too many years left now and every minute becomes more precious. I do not want to waste any of them on things that are not going to bring pleasure and that precludes being part of some group, club or whatever. There is a constant stream of suggestions as you get older about groups to join. I walk for exercise and often encounter groups of folk approximately my age. “Walk with us” they suggest, but I can’t think of anything worse. Others have enticed about U3A and how I could get into that, but, having had a look, no thanks. The Men’s Shed concept almost appealed, but not enough to make me want to join in.

I would rather play with my toys on my own; To quote another Hollywood luminary, “Include me out”.

life log #10

Between us, although mainly myself, the Berkshire Belle and I have been keeping the NHS busy lately. I have had my annual diabetes check (results not back yet), we have booked in for our Covid boosters and will try to get our ‘flu jabs at the same time. here’s also a new app to install that allows video appointments. On the non-NHS front, but still medical, I am off to the fang-puller to talk about an implant to replace the tooth that got knocked out in a fall about a year ago. I’m also due for hearing and eyesight tests that I need to make appointments for, and I’ve had this morning my letter about my annual diabetic eye test. Seventy years of use, and abuse, have taken their toll.

One result I do have from the diabetes test is my weight on the surgery scales which I assume must be accurate. When I weight myself at home I do it wearing just my underwear, but at the surgery I was on the scales fully dressed, including shoes, and with car keys, ‘phone and wallet in pockets. 121 kg is too much, but probably more like 117 kg and that is about 10 kg more than I would like to be seeing. I am writing this at the end of a two month period in which we have had a variety of birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate and that has involved some good eating. No excuses, but, with Christmas coming up, I need to get a grip.

Finacially we are reasonably comfortable at the moment and have no worries over the energy crisis other than what a series or power cuts might do to our web stocked freezer. However, we are trying to cut back on consumption and have both turned the heating down a degree and cut back on the hours that it runs for. We have taken various devices out of service; the Alexa dots for example, and are carrying on with our usual efforts like only putting as much water as we need in the kettle. Such things are ingrained in people of our generation perhaps.

I once of my former professional careers I used to manage a large property portfolio and dealt with energy bills in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. Finding ways of reducing those costs was always a priority. Reducing consumption was only a vehicle for reducing cost, but such things become habit. Any home we might only be saving pennies rather than thousands, but every little helps and if we are working towards helping to stave off power cuts then that’s fine.

The Wonder of Wokingham and I both remember well the scheduled power cuts of the early 1970s. She was in RAF quarters back then with two young children and I was working as a stock controller. We saw the cuts differently because of those lifestyles, but neither of us want to have to go through all of that again. Today we all have so many more electric devices than back then. In the time of the last cuts not everyone had a TV, now it seems that most homes have one in every room. Then most rooms downstairs had two single power sockets and upstairs rust one. We have seven in the kitchen now and there is something plugged into all bar one of them. It is a different world and we have to face up to our excesses.

I have had another couple of weeks off work and we have tried to get out and about a bit more. That has left little time for the garden and garage, but I have been doing a bit in both. Autumn maintenance in the garden and getting the garage cleared out a bit so that I can get back to using it without risk of being buried under an avalanche. I have started getting some things off to auction so that should see a few extra pennies dropping into my piggy back over the coming months. Other stuff will go to charity and the rest to the council tip. We just have too much stuff.

Collecting is habit forming and I am especially guilty of it, to the point of an addiction at times. Fortunately some of what I have collected has accumulated in value (a lot has not), and it is the former that I am firing off to the auction rooms. None of it was bought as an investment, I bought it because I wanted it, but there comes a time when I realise that you have things that have been shut away in cupboards or the loft and start to think that it is pointless. There is little satisfaction, for me, in k=just owning something and so I have hardened my heart and started to move it on. If it generates some cash then that is doubly welcome.

With the Hastings Hottie and I having both seen milestone birthdays in the last few weeks we have decided to face up to another harsh reality and we are going to having lasting power of attorney documents drawn up in case either of us loses our faculties. We took out funeral plans earlier in the year and, whilst these things are depressing, it is worth sorting out. Having been through the problems of a parent with dementia I understand how hard it is and, should I fall foul of that, I would not want the Berkshire Belle to have to deal with the fallout without the relevant piece of paper to allow her to manage me.

Cheerfull topics are required now, so a few words on how the garden recovered from the heat and drought. We did loose some things and others were badly scorched, but most plants have recovered. As I get through the Autumn tidy up I will have a better idea of where we have issues. My move to more and more containers planted seems to have worked and we are looking around to see if we can find a few old chimney pots to add some variety. Containers can be moved and so I can shift them around as I like.

The garden isn’t getting too much attention at the moment, but another couple of weeks work on the garage should have that sorted out and I can get the garden ready for Winter. It has been an odd year again, but now that we have the fences sorted out I can have a more normal run through next year all being well. No doubt there will be odd weather again, it has become the norm, but I now have nearly 600 litres of water storage to help me over any drought conditions and I have improved the drainage in the garden to cope with the odd monsoon. The new fences give us some shelter from high winds and so we are in a better position too start a new year than ever before.

on writing and story telling

Like most people I started writing at school where essays were regularly required on a range of topics according to the subject being taught. Although we were usually given a target number of words, 500 being common, we were rarely kept to this, 10% under or over would normally be OK and, of course, you had to have addressed the subject.

The only time that I can remember being given a specific target was as a punishment when I was found with a Free Nelson Mandela badge on my duffle bag, such adornments being forbidden, and was told to write two essays, one in support of his release and the other in support of his continued confinement and both of which were to e exactly 500 words. I had a week, and delivered both. I’m not sure if they were read, they were not commented on, but the words were certainly counted.

After I had left school my first couple of jobs involved me writing about properties for sale and here an economy of words was required to attract people rather than bore them. After those jobs I moved into areas where the only writing that I did was to fill in forms and, this being the early days of computer input, such forms were filled in using capital letters set into pre-printed boxes. My handwriting skills faded along with any ability that I might have had to write.

In the late 1970s I moved into a job where I wrote invitations to tender for major engineering and construction projects. I had to re-learn handwriting to a standard good enough for the typing pool to interpret and how to tell stories in a way that would produce responses that would do the jobs that were were asking for. It was another opportunity to be economical with language in order to be very specific.

Then I got into computing and wrote programs using the very structured language of business machines (BOBOL was my genre, for want of a better word). It was story telling of a sort, in that you told the computer what to do to make things happen. It was an intellectual challenge to apply the specific syntax required, but was almost like learning to write in a foreign language. It was called pseudo code and was a staging post between English and the machine code that would be generated from it.

Business report writing followed that and here I was back in the world of writing in my native tongue, or at least sort of. It was story telling in that you had to write words that would lead to a conclusion and the tale that you had to tell did not always lead conclusively to the end that was required. There was a skill in biasing the facts so that the reader would follow your path to where you wanted them to go. Paths that might have led to other conclusions needed to be there, but written of in such a way that the reader would not choose to follow them. This allowed for the situation where the chosen solution proved to be the wrong one, but you could show that the right option had been there, but was not selected. The technical term for this is arse covering.

Until the advent of desktop computers and word processing in the mid-1980s the typing pool ruled business correspondence and the typing supervisor’s word was law. The house style ruled and no matter what you wrote it would be tidied before it was allowed out (unless you had upset them; I recall a colleague who misspelled warehouse with an h after the w and did not make the next letter clearly an a. The result was a proposal for an whorehouse). One could learn a lot about writing well if one courted that typing pool supervisor.

I became reasonably good at writing business correspondence in all forms and it was some help in advancing my career until Business Speak, or Management Speak, came to the fore and my penchant for writing plain English went out of fashion. The ability to write, or speak, completely meaningless bollocks became the skill to have. I loathed it.

My first efforts at blogging came after I went freelance as a business consultant. A web presence of some sort was necessary to keep my name out there and I dived in looking for my cyberspace voice. It was in an airport lounge in the US that I found my muse. I was sat with one of those yellow legal pads that are the norm over there scribbling down ideas for blogs. Sat next to me was a rather frail looking lady and we began to chat. She was a journalist who also worked as a freelance editor and was suffering from terminal cancer. She had been making a visit to former colleagues and was heading home to die, but she took one of my business cards and said that she would look at my writing. Her advice was to aim for 600 words each week and to say something at the beginning of each blog that I could bring the story back to in the last paragraph. “Become a columnist” she advised.

I took that on board for some time and if you dig back into these musings you will find that I hit 600 words week after week and a lot of those blogs I am quite proud of when I look back on them (which isn’t often). It was hard work and I admire the people who do that sort of thing for a living. When I began to earn money from writing features three years of banging out 1600 words once a month was hard enough, but to write a daily, or even weekly, column is a talent that I admire immensely.

As may be obvious if you are following me I have begun to write regularly again. I am trying to find my way back into writing more often if not regularly. Part of the issue is having something to say. but there are five part completed novels sitting in my files and to get one of those over the finishing line would be an achievement. I could re-visit some of the other books that I have written and revise them perhaps (they are still selling).

To be able to write for pleasure is a great thing and as long as I can stop it becoming the chore that it did at one time then maybe I can get back to a regular pattern. If you are happy to read what I write then it is nice to have an audience.

on drinking

I am talking here about alcohol, but not just that. It came to mind because the Berkshire Belle was doing a survey on-line and was asked about our family consumption of booze and soft drinks amongst other products and the survey didn’t seem to want to accept an accurate answer.

There was a time, thirty years or more ago when we first were together we used to keep a wine box in the ‘fridge and would have a glass when we got home from the office and top that up when we sat down to eat half an hour or so later. At weekends we would have a bottle of wine on the table on each of Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings and would often have a gin and tonic on Sunday afternoon. Not a vast intake, but that was how we were.

Now we share a bottle of wine that lasts us for both Friday and Saturday dinners, or possibly Saturday and Sunday if Friday’s meal does not suit wine (a curry for example). On a bank holiday weekend we might splash out and have two bottles, or perhaps a gin and tonic on the day that we don’t have wine. Otherwise through the week we are largely alcohol free.

I do sometimes treat myself to a bottle of beer whilst cooking our meals; cooks privilege, and I do use alcohol in cooking quite often. Our consumption of alcohol has diminished considerably, not that we were boozers to start with.

Neither of us likes to lose control and many of the opportunities that we had for social drinking came through work where we had an almost paranoid desire not to do something that we would regret or, worse still, do something that we did not remember, but that others would. I became a master at making one bottle of beer last all evening to the point that I think more of it evaporated rather than went down my throat. The Berkshire Belle was a mistress of the art of circulating and leaving drinks behind her all around the room having just wet her lips on each.

I first got drunk at a works party when I was about 19. I was told the next day that people had been pouring unwanted spirits into my pint of beer. Hilarious, but on the way home I had lost my beautiful hand made leather wallet. The hangover was something too. The next time that I got drunk was at a do at the Cafe Royale. It was a similar cause, but this time it was the First Lady that I was married to who sabotaged me, swapping her continuously refilled wine glass for my rapidly emptying ones. I should have noticed, but I was in my brief spell as a pompous pratt and was too busy bending the ears of our fellow diners to notice until it was time to go and I had problems standing. A few brain cells had enough function to get my lady and I to a taxi and to our hotel, but I had a stinking headache the next morning.

By that time I was working in London in a very boozy environment. We took it in turns to take one lady director home every afternoon and it was not uncommon to have to put her over your shoulder to carry her in to her home. It was a lunchtime session at that job that put me, if not on the wagon, walking alongside. Our team was breaking up on conclusion of a project and we went off to a wine bar near St Pauls in London a few yards from our office. there were six of us to start with, but all of a sudden there was just Helen and I, both of whom were supposed to be testing software that afternoon. We finished the bottle we had before us and went back to our test room, put the coffee pot on and started work, b both now realising that we had really tied one on that lunchtime. As darkness fell, it was early December, we packed up and, between us, we found enough cash for Helen to get a taxi home to Hackney.

I headed off to Liverpool Street station and a train back to Marks They up in the top right corner of Essex and about an hour away on the train. Asleep before the train left the station the peculiar rhythm of the rails not long before my station awoke me and I got off in the right place for the short walk home. There I found my mother-in-law was visiting and I sat down alone to eat my tea, kept warm in the over. Then I went for a shower, came downstairs and cooked myself another meal. No-one was impressed, and nor was I when I got the credit card bill through as saw what I had spent in the wine bar.

This isn’t just about booze though, because I just like the physical sensation of drinking. I can down a pint of water in one go and frequently do. I like the mouth feel and the sensation of swallowing and a good pull on a glass of something cool is a great pleasure. Fortunately I like the taste of good wines and some spirits. I got into wines fifty years ago whilst working for a wine merchant and can sip a good wine to make it last. I have also developed a taste for single malts, except for the peaty ones and can make a gentleman’s measure last all evening.

On my travels I have always asked to try local brews, alcoholic or otherwise. In Bogota I drank Columbian coffee and Club Columbia beer. In Tripoli I drank coffee Arabic style. Asking for a local drink or dish helps break the ice when travelling and whilst I might not be a great fan of what I get, trying something different always opens the door to finding a new favourite. Working out in China and Thailand I tried various black and green teas all of which I liked to some degree, and it is a mug of tea that I will finish this musing off with.

Many years ago I was a member of the Civil Emergency Corps and on one overnight exercise in the pouring rain we had been searching for casualties. Soaked to the skin and with the night sky beginning to lighten we were told that all casualties had been found and we were standing down. Arriving back at the base we got the news that one casualty was missing after all and in our search area; we had to go back. By the time that we had found our man and returned to base there was no milk left and the tea in the urn was well stewed. Still, it was hot and we were cold. Then one of the team produced a flask of rum and poured a tot into each much. Never have I enjoyed a drink more. It may have been stewed and black and I do not like rum, but it still sticks in my mind some 52 years later.

life log #9

Today I hit 70. When I was younger that seemed like an ancient age, but having got there it somehow doesn’t. I am fairly fit and healthy, some bits are a little clapped out with wear and, perhaps, abuse. Generaly though I am doing OK and am grateful for that. The love of a good woman helps a lot and the Wonder of Wokingham does police me well to curb some of my excesses. She is the good angel on one shoulder to counteract the demon on the other who urges me on to bad habits.

These are worrying times though. Inflation is rampant and it gets harder to make ends meet. We are not too badly off because we have the fruits of many years of hard work behind us and I am still, albeit part time these days, working. Like many we are cutting back on our spending and consumption at the moment because we don’t know where all of this is going. The government, despite all of the shrieking on social media, are doing a good job at trying to address both the short term and look at the longer term. Hopefully things will improve, but if a certain lunatic in Moscow presses the button it won’t matter anyway. Some of us have been here before…

But let’s look on the bright side and assume that we do not vanish into the mushroom cloud. Christmas is coming and we have that to look forward to. There are things that we can do to help ourselves. One thing that the Berkshire Belle and I have done for years is to start putting something extra in the shopping trolley each week to start building up the Christmas stash. There are lots of things out there that will keep to beyond Christmas and New Year: The shops are full of things already. We still spend the same amount of money maybe, but it gets spread out over three months or so and doesn’t seem so hard.

Another thought for this year is to maybe consider a Turkey crown rather than a full bird. It will cook in less time so that saves a bit on your energy bill and it certainly saves on some of the waste. Buy one now as they are freely available. A lot of the supermarkets are also flogging off beer and soft drinks that they have been caught out with overstocks after the sudden drop in temperature. Check the best before dates, but there is plenty on sale now that will last past Christmas and you can cash in on the savings. It won’t be on sale in December.

We decided not to take a holiday for the third year on the trot and I am using up my work holiday weeks to try and take us around on day trips. It costs money to travel of course, but we are trying to amuse ourselves without breaking the bank. At this time of year the weather is not always conducive to walking around, but we are making the effort to get about and explore a bit. It helps to make us feel that life is returning to pre-Covid times a little, although that virus is still lurking around and the cooler weather does seem to suit it.

We have had invitations for another Covid vaccine dose, but having tried to book we have no centres within about 50 miles which seems ludicrous for a town with over 160,000 citizens. We wanted to wait as late as possible before getting jabbed on the basis that the protection would be stronger through the really cold months and so we have left booking an appointment for now. I have an appointment at the doctor’s for an annual blood pressure test and a blood sample in a week’s time and they may well give me my ‘flu jab then. If they offer the Covid one I’ll take it just to get it out of the way.

In the garden I am not up to much at the moment. Just a little light maintenance, but the leaves will soon be falling heavily and I will have all that to clear up along with doing the late season pruning. When we had the fencing done we thought that we had lost some things, but they have all come back and we are thrilled with that. It was a strange year in that the foxes did not do anything like the damage that they did in 2021, but I had held back on some planting just in case and I also had to put off some jobs whilst waiting for the fencing guys to do their stuff. Because the new fence was about 5 weeks late I did not do some of what I had planned either. Then came the really hot spell and we lost some things to that instead. Overall I am fairly pleased with progress out there though and, with no major infrastructure works to come next year I can look forward to doing things at my own pace.

Stay safe wherever you are.

PS: With Sod’s law in full swing I have just read that there may well be a turnkey shortage this Christmas. If you can buy one now, get it. There were plenty in the shops this week.

on ethnicity and nationalism

Perhaps I am straying into dangerous waters here, but it what I am musing on on this morning so here I go. It is on my mind because I have been reading some of the media coverage of the build up to the soccer World Cup competition and the words of one fan have started me off on this topic.

The chap concerned admits that he has concerns about going as a fan because of his sexual leaning, but he feels that he needs to go as an English fan and wants to support his team in the competition, even though homosexuality is against the law where the tournament is being held. Sport does encourage nationalist fervour; it makes money out of it, but it is it worth putting yourself at risk over?

I used to enjoy watching sport and, like music, seeing it live enhances the enjoyment so I can understand, to a degree, a desire to go to a World Cup where the opportunity to afford the time and cost may only come around once in a lifetime. I have seen the England football team play in a World Cup qualifiing game at Wembley and, further back, have watched the England cricket team at Lords in test matches against the West Indies and India, but my interest in these was not so much in support of my country as an opportunity to watch the sport being played at the highest level: I did not care too much who won.

My ethnic background is, for about three generations, English. Beyond that it gets a little murky as I am, like most British people, a bit of a mongrel. My surname is classic Welsh; I am a Son of Owen. However that misleads because many people from Wales moved to Ireland where the surname is also common. Some of my ancestors moved there to get away from invaders, forced West by an influx from mainland Europe, or from Eastern tribes who were also faced with continental immigration: The problems of today are nothing new for, if you think about it, there wasn’t anyone here at the beginning and we are all ancestors of immigrants.

My family background on the ;paternal side can be traced back to Ireland and that trail goes cold with a fire that destroyed parish records back in 16 something or other. So my Welsh ancestors had gone over at some point before that, but here comes a small irony in that one of the biggest moves of that sort came after the Norman conquest when Bill’s mob took Welsh people as serfs (slaves if you prefer) over with them.

Now the ironic thing is that the Norman’s achieved their conquest of the UK with help from, amongst others, mercenaries from the Germanic states, (Germany as we know it did not exist until the latter half of the 1800s). My background on the maternal side can be traced back to those Germanic people so there is a good chance that my Mum’s andcestors either chased my Dad’s lot out of their homes or were part of taking them forcibly to the Emerald Isle.

I do understand the difference between English and British. My passport has me down as a citizen of the United Kingdom and, if asked, will say that I am British. That is an inescapable fact; I was born here. Technically, having be born in Berkshire, I am English and there have been many times when in the company of Scottish, Welsh or Irish (both North and South) people I have allowed my Englishness to come to the fore in banter, but I have never really felt strongly about it. Having a laugh over where I come from is one thing, but I can’t take it seriously.

Something else that I understand is that the European Union and Europe are not the same thing. I am glad that I am no longer a citizen of the former, but have long seen myself as a European. Whilst I have Celtic blood physically I take after my maternal side and am tall, blue eyed and lean towards fair so perhaps there is something in that that colours my judgement. In any case, England is in the United Kingdom and that is, in turn, in the continent of Europe.

I am an ethnic mongrel if you go back down the family tree a bit and that is maybe why I have no strong ethnic feelings nor nationalist ones. I was born here in England, have lived most of my life here and will probably die here. I like my country, but I have liked many of the places that I have visited around the world and would have been quite happy to have moved to some of them. Would I fight for my country? Yes, in the sense of defending it, although I’m not sure what use a seventy yer old would be these days. I suspect that that is just a base instinct about protecting one’s territory.

Perhaps it is that same base instinct that comes to the fore in people like the one that I mentioned early in this musing, that makes you want to support your country’s sporting squads. I can only speak for myself. I came into existence as a result of two people having, I hope, a good time. For me the location happened to be in Southern England and that hangs a label on me. I have some pride left in my country and I am not ashamed to be British, even if I don’t like what has become of the place in many ways. I just cannot get impassioned about my nationality in the way that so many others do.

Nor can I get excited about my ethnic background, although there may be something in my genes that has made me feel so at home in Northern Germany from my first visit to Kiel in the mid-seventies and then working in Hamburg and Hannover in the nineties. It could also have something to do with the way that I have felt so comfortable on the Emerald Isle for it was long after working in these places that I found out about my roots.

I am who I am and I feel no need to get excited about where I came from. It is all in the past and I can’t do anything about it. All I have ever been able to do is to try and work with the cards that I have been dealt. I have spent moire than half of my adult life with the woman of my dreams and am very content in my own little world. Life has been hard at times, but I have been very lucky along the way and am content with my lot. I don’t need to feel that sense of national or ethnic identity that seems so important to others.

on immortality

Someone commenting on my upcoming 70th birthday got us into talking about life coming to an end sooner rather than later. This has been on my mind recently anyway; the Berkshire Belle and I took out funeral plans last year. My demise certainly is not too far off in relative terms for reaching the three score years and ten that was, when I was a lad, reckoned to be one’s expectancy as a man.

I long ago came to terms with death, probably some time in my forties and have no problem with shuffling off. I have loved experiencing life and death will be the last experience I get. I would prefer not to linger or suffer too much pain in my demise, but accept that it is coming.

As an atheist I do not believe in any afterlife. Once my heart stops I will be gone and that’s it. Quite honestly the thought that there might be more appalls me regardless of whether it is upstairs or down (and I have no doubt that I would be going down). Life is hard enough without having to go on forever. This line of thought caused some distress to one of my religious friends who thought that it was a bleak outlook, but I don’t think so. It gives me comfort to know that it will, one day, all be over.

I have enjoyed most of my life so far. There are times that I try to forget and there are things that I have done that I would, with hindsight, prefer not to have done, but all of the steps that I took along the way led me to the Berkshire Belle and the love of my life. There is nothing to regret about prior relationships because they all taught me things that helped when it came to the big one. Likewise I do not regret my first marriage because it produced two children of whom I am proud. I regret the pain that comes when relationships end, but such things are all part of life.

None of us ask to be born, but we turn up, planned or not. What we do with the hand that we are dealt is largely up to us. There are always external factors that we can;’t control, but we can choose how we react to the slings and arrows and that will shape us. I have had a good life, even if I was, at times, bad. I am still reasonably fit, most of me still works pretty well albeit that some bits are well past there prime. I am still working as my eighth decade approaches and am making do with what I have.

Whatever talents I have do not include any that might make me immortal. I can’t paint or make music that will stand after I have gone. I write, but none of that is likely to live on too long after I go and I have not invented anything that might advance to race. I will not care once I am gone whether or not I am remembered and I am happy with that.

I have spent more than half of my adult life, almost half of my life for far, with the woman of my dreams and I am content. Immortality? You can keep it; I don’t want it.

on HM Queen Elizabeth II

I was going to write another humorous post for today. Her Majesty was well known for having a good sense of humour and I felt that a funny story on the day of her funeral would be appropriate. However, the connection between my mind and my fingers has failed to come up with anything that I am happy with and so instead I thought that I would share my only experience of being in her presence.

Belfast is one of those wonderful maritime cities around the UK and I fell in love with the place back in the mid-1980s even though it was tough place to love back then with The Troubles at the height. I was flying back and forth, staying there a few days at a time at most, other times in and out on the same day and, because of security concerns, not seeing much more than the airport at Aldergrove and our offices in Queen Street and Tomb Street. Two of my colleagues were murdered in separate incidents at that time.

Over the tears things got better and I was able to move around the city on my own in perfect safety. By the early 2000s I was again a regular visitor and on one sunny day I had been to a couple of morning meetings, had lunch and was walking out from the city centre to call in at one of the sites that I managed down at Clarendon Dock.

I was enjoying the architecture when I turned a corner and encountered a crowd. Barriers lined the street to keep the crowds on the pavement and there was a heavy police presence. As I squeezed along between the back of the crowd and the railings I became aware that many of the crowd were expecting something to happen at any moment and I paused as a motorcade pulled up outside a building opposite.

A huge cheer went up as the doors of the building were opened and The Queen and Prince Philip emerged, p[asuing on the steps to wave to us all long the street. Then they were into the car and away. It had been a magical moment and completely, for me, out of the blue. It is the only time that I saw my monarch in person and the twenty feet that separated us the closest that I would come. It remains a very special moment for I am an unashamed royalist and have the utmost respect for the way that HM The Queen ruled. I was born between her ascension to the throne and her coronation, so I have lived my live so far as an Elizabethan.

I have said my own goodbye in private and today is for others. I am not that good with funerals (I won’t be going to mine), so today I might look in on some of the event on TV for we British do this stuff so well. Other than that I will be having a quiet day with the Berkshire Belle, the queen of my heart.

Hoping that your day passes well too. Stay safe.