Tuesday, September 11, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 19 ~ Au Revoir To The Croaking Frogs

After Dad's funeral, Jnanasalin and I returned home, and home already felt different in tone. There is nothing like a death in the family to alert you to the time limitations preset into our lives. Our future plans suddenly had an urgency, pregnant with a potential that we needed to start tapping into now.  Where were we now with our dream of building our own business? As long as we continued to do what we were currently doing, not much further than Bodham.

We know we have sufficient money saved to fund us for a year. Sometime in the next twelve months, one would hope, Dads house will be sold and his estate wrapped up. At that point further money will filter through. The choice was, either hold on until that point arrives, or begin the venture now. We've chosen to do the latter, because if we don't strike whilst this momentum is here, will we ever? We plan to give Cottonwood 100% of our energy, effort and time, and see what  develops over the next year. Its a risk, but then any such enterprise will have an element of that. If it doesn't work out we'll return to paid work, but at least knowing we've given our dream a good try. With that decision made, we both handed in our notices at our respective work places. We are both feeling excited, with a background of anxiety that I guess is understandable, as our ideas and combined talents are about to be truly tested.

Post Dad's death I've been generally OK emotionally. Just one moment of gushing at the end of Grayson Perry's excellent Channel 4 programme called Rites of Passage (highly recommend) It was the one on death rituals, that got to me, unsurprisingly. The pre-death ritual he devised was just such a beautifully poignant and meaningful expression of a life. It made the traditional Western forms and ways to process the death of a loved one, feel empty and sterile. I have, however, been holding a lot of bodily tension this year, as its turned out to be quite an eventful year so far. Its been worse since Dad died, particularly in the last month leading up to leaving work. This physical bubble duly burst on my penultimate day at work. I was cleaning a sink and whilst making a slight torso sideways turn there was a click and my back became touchy and tenderised. So during the last two days at work whilst training my replacement, I was nursing my back, bruised and brooding, through its snappy moods and spasms.

Last month we were at Overstrand Garden Centre on some UPM (urgent purchasing mission), to buy a pot probably. It was their Autumn Market where they have special craft stands and live music. We've generally try to avoid them, as the Summer event last year had an over-amped lounge singer drunkenly slurring his way through songs from the sixties Summer of Love. It was so in your face as to be unpleasant to stay around, so we quickly exited stage left chased by a bear. For this Autumn event, however, they'd booked in an all female Ukulele Band, but not a ukulele band as you'd normally conceive it. It consisted of ten ladies of 'matured middle age' shall we say, with bright golden hair rinses, who strummed lightly and gaily through a much darker music catalogue than there appearance might suggest. Playing tunes with murderous bad-ass subject matter such as The House of The Rising Son and Bad Moon Arising. The conjunction felt so utterly incongruous, we giggled with delight at it all the way home. Only in Norfolk.

When you've worked around people whose mental grasp of reality is unstable or obsessive, you can unconsciously assume they no longer possess the ordinary feelings and desires of a human being.  The need for independence and intimacy for example. Both of these hard to get in a mental health care home. I wasn't a member of staff, but I was a male in a largely female environment, and I couldn't fail to notice how some residents looked at me 'through different eyes' shall we say.

Feelings of desire weren't limited just to the female residents though. There was Fred for instance, a very local Norfolk born and bread chap, who I'd estimate is in his seventies. He's always been chatty and friendly, briefly talking about the weather, news or local events. Still fit enough to do regular voluntary work for a local farm. In the Spring, whilst I was still wearing work overalls he pointedly asked ' Will you be wearing shorts in the Summer' as if this might be something to look forward to. By mid way through the Summer I am indeed wearing shorts, and he remarked 'Oh, yu got quite a good taan on your legs, does it go all over?' I said 'No' and thought it best to leave it there. Since then I've regularly caught his eyes giving my legs a sly oggle.

Julie is, like Fred, a resident who is relatively free to come and go as she pleases. Originally from King's Lynn, where according to Irish Moira she was a drug dealer. I've no way of confirming this, so like most information I receive via a resident, it has a question mark over it. However, at least a third of the residents in the home are 'drug casualties'. Excessive drug use having welded the synapses in their brain according to an entirely different configuration than in the original operators manual. So it is possible Julie was once one a drug queen. In my last week she said something strange that possibly hinted at this seedier side. She asked me 'where you might buy a lie detector, because no one ever believes I'm a nice person'  which was immediately followed by a mumbled confession about a time 'when I was a teenager, I was put under a restraining order after stubbing out cigarette butts on someones face'

Julie is a gargantuan woman, shaped a bit like a Weeble. Similar to Queen Victoria, she's almost as large in circumference as she is tall. She carries out an elaborate early morning bathroom routine; painting kohl around her eyes; bright red varnish on her filed pointy nails, and platting and coiling her hair into side buns or pig tail. All surrounded by a sickly sweet aroma of musky strawberry. This has its uses, as it disguises the lingering poo smell from her toilet, which she rarely flushes. A regular job in her bathroom is to remove black splashes and scratchy scuffs of red from sink, bath and floor. I had to wait til all this bathroom palaver was over, before I could mop the floor, because her feet and shoes were so dirty they'd leave a record of her movements worthy of the artist Richard Long, otherwise.

Preliminaries completed and dressed in a black jumper with pink hearts all over it, she'd waddle downstairs for the next stage. Sitting outside in a plastic garden chair she can only just fit in, she looks at herself for hours in a petite round makeup mirror, arranging and rearranging the same hairs of her black fringe, over and over again. All down her puff pastry coloured arms are a series of names etched in blue tattooed capital letters, made up of spidery lines and dots. Starting at the top of her upper arm they go 'Julies loves Stuart' then 'Julie loves Pete' then 'Julie loves Mark'  then just above her wrist its 'Julie loves Dad'  concluding with a red heart. Sequentially it paints the suggestion of a storyline I'll never know the details of, that has always struck me as quintessentially sad.

My conversations with Julie have always been pleasant, but like with most residents, quite repetitive. We regularly swap our names, for instance. Whenever I'd be cleaning the resident's kitchen windows she'd inevitably sing the Mr Sheen jingle and say ' my Mum used Sparkle, do you remember Sparkle?', whilst her eyes would wander down to my crotch and she'd begin chuntering to herself, a noise similar to those that Muttley from the Wacky Races made.

Madame ASBO, I'd say is a woman in her late thirties. For weeks you'll hardly hear or see anything of her, then suddenly, without warning, she'll be repeatedly setting off the Fire Alarm, chanting loudly, singing out of tune, hoovering her room for hours, or playing rave music at extreme volume, all of these at any time of the day or night. She's recently been joined next door by Dave The Rave who currently competes with her for musical dominance of this rave culture. Both these people never appear to sleep, and neither does anyone else on that landing get much chance of shut eye either.

When I first started cleaning at the home Madame ASBO was the only resident I felt distinctly wary of. How she behaved seemed done knowingly, for the effect on others.  Now, I believe she was just testing me, like when she'd burst out of her room and shout expletives at me or bellow' what a fucking looser you are' right in my face, as I was casually hoovering her landing. She once stood talking incomprehensible tosh, head bent to face the reception floor as I'm mopping it, and after throwing lewd words and gestures to the workmen opposite, left. There was frequently a sexual undertow to what she does, though few people, I guess, find a shouting mad person alluring. There isn't a single resident who doesn't immediately vacate the room the moment she enters. Quite lonely and friendless, she has an thirteen year old son whom she occasionally meets up with. I feel for the boy, living with the knowledge of his Mother's mental condition, knowing you can never rely on her for emotional support, or for anything really.

Madame ASBO has, however, gradually warmed to me, and recently took to striking up friendly conversation with me. Trying to play matchmaker between myself and a lady who does night shifts, who I chat with in the mornings. There's a coy coquettish quality to the way Madame ASBO interacts with me. One day whilst I'm cleaning her door I heard her speaking from behind it 'Hello my name is Lucy, and I'm alone behind this door' followed by a slightly sinister girly giggle. Sometimes I've felt as though I've stumbled into some creepily camp Hammer Horror movie set.

Mr Ed, aka ~ the Talking Horse or Stinky Stuart, are a few of the names I've toyed with that fail to quite capture his essence in an epithet. He has a ground floor room in the L shaped corridor which, due to the nature of its residents, its proximity to a loo that forever gets blocked, and a general lack of ventilation, always pongs of horse dung.  Mr Ed is another Norfolk born man, but scrawny, dressed like a scarecrow, with a wildly unkempt bush of black corkscrew hair. He totters around at great speed with his zimmer frame, like a demented peg legged doll wearing trousers he's either peed or shat in. Its not just his cleanliness that's challenging, but also his language. His sentences are rambling and garbled, so you can rarely understand him, often working himself up into an angry tirade at staff. What comes over loud and clear are the swear words, that are never complementary about women. Even Irish Moira, a woman not averse to spitting out the odd poisoned invective, once said to me she thought he was evil.

For all her less appealing characteristics, I remain fond of Irish Moira, and will miss her. If only because she provided excellent source material to write about in this blog. Over the ten months I've worked in the home I've seen how her mental state has deteriorated as a result of a series of falls she's had and changes to her medication. Living opposite Madame ASBO and Dave The Rave, can't help either. She's often spun a melodramatic tale, such as the midnight police raid because five pounds has gone from her wallet. Mostly she's emotionally manipulative, trying to get me to clean her room because she says it hasn't been done for weeks, or to fetch her a member of staff, because she's not feeling well or at the point of death. I've had to learn to turn a deaf ear to this or I'd never get my job done. In the last few weeks she's become obsessed with cleaning the resident's kitchen. Well, it has to be said, its more the idea of cleaning, what she does is lightly brush the tea counter with paper towels whilst aggressively and repeatedly banging cupboard doors. She's become defensive and proprietorial about this activity, declaring the moment I appear ' It's clean' or trying to convince me that a visibly filthy floor is fine to leave as it is. That polish is good for nothing.

Her mood is changeable, one morning she's quite the sweet old lady, the next she's uttering 'and you can piss off' as soon as she sees you. The more I clean the more uptight she gets - 'just go away, cunt'.  then she'll goes outside, sucking insistently on a long dead roll up as if trying to breathe new life into it, trying to calm herself down with a ciggy. Popping back in to see if I've finished yet, and if I haven't crying despairingly 'Oh, for fuck sake' and slamming the door behind her. Once, whilst I was diligently cleaning porcelain in a toilet, she flung 'and you can go fuck yourself'  as she tottered by, to which I responded by blowing her a raspberry. Half muffled through a door closing behind her I could hear her shouting 'that's not funny'. The care home Manager said to think of her as like a frog. Baffled at first, it occurred to me later that indeed these are instinctual utterances similar to those of a croaking frog. Instead of 'rib beeb' out will pop a pungent swear word. Expletives turning into abrasive affirmations of presence, rough signs of her affection, or perhaps a mistranslated appeal for love.

Monday, September 03, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 18 ~ Before & After Dad Died

Dad and I in Southwold
The Sleeping Prelude

Dad fell again, breaking his hip this time, dispatched to Scunthorpe General Hospital to have it replaced. The second fall in a year. Yet another long car journey up north to see how he was. We visited him three times in hospital that weekend, but each time he was sound asleep. One could have been forgiven for thinking he was already at the final precipice of death, as he drifted in and out of blurred wakefulness. When the nurses tried to stir him to eat, drink or take medications he'd wildly gesture them away, sometimes swearing as if in a drunken stupor.

However, all we got was one croaky 'hello' on our second visit after a bit of jokey cajoling from me. He was still there, but buried beneath what felt like a wilful blanket of slumber, a dogged refusal to come back into full wakefulness. A few weeks later his condition was much the same even though he'd returned to St Mary's Care Home. Experienced carers recognised the nature of what was taking place, what this state of almost perpetual sleep was a prelude of. So the nature of his care regime was consciously moved from being palliative to end of life. When that end might be was anywhere between a few days to a week, in fact that point was reached a day and a half later. Dad passing away during the early hours of the 27th July 2018.

Dad always had this streak of passive resistance in him, that manifested when he felt he was being pressured to do something he didn't want to. Were any family member to have the unenviable task of trying to persuade him to act on an issue, you'd see the familiar 'I'm shutting down now' look pass over his face. He would be doing no such thing. With hindsight, I'd say Dad had on some level 'shut down' on living much longer, at least as long ago as last year. He'd deliberately stopped taking his medications then, which within a few months did lead to his heart attack and first fall.  After each fall and hospitalisation he fought off anyone attempting to comfort or make him better. Even if these were partly symptoms of his Alzheimer's, Dad's existential will was still being pitted against those of the medical staff's best efforts.

After some dithering on my part I decided not to do the final dash to the death bed thing. Every visit lately had already felt like the last. The personality I'd known had dwindled away. Each time I'd said goodbye with the intuition I might not see him again. After his heart attack last year I'd had a conversation with Dad that trod gently upon spiritual earth. Though befuddled around the edges by the pain relief drugs he was on, his conversation nonetheless contained beads of clarity. He spoke of seeing people he'd not seen for decades, 'As if they've just walked in from around the corner in the corridor, and they leave the same way, They've never been that far away apparently, just around the corner'. He then did an unheard of thing, for my Dad, he held my hand affectionately, whilst he told me of  how 'its so lovely standing at the top and look down the Hebden Valley and the sun rising on the horizon, its so bright'. Those were the sort of parting words that I could treasure.

The House That Dad Built

Even before he died it was clear Dad would never return to his home. In the early 1980's he'd spent two years designing and building it, using every ounce of his spare time. He'd have been in his mid fifties then and it was the only time I saw him close to complete exhaustion. But he was driven by a lifetimes dream to build his own home. Dad could have these flights of fancy, that my Mum would sometimes have to bear the consequences of. Mostly these weren't of the scale of building a family house, but smaller enthusiasms, such as a new job, or things to do, to collect, the fresh skills he wanted to learn. Dad was the ambitious amateur, not put off by lack of precedence in talent or expertise, he took the attitude that things couldn't be that hard to do, he'd just give it a go. So the house became filled with the detritus of numerous past projects, plus the collections he'd begun but subsequently lost interest in. When I looked around the house with a more acquisitive eye I was left wondering what, if anything, of these possessions I'd want. Just a few tools that either I don't have or are better quality, and a few odd bits and bobs, not really much else.  I didn't share many enthusiasms in common with my Dad, apart from a love of history.

The house is structurally sound, though some of the woodwork in the eaves need attention. Internally it has an older person's aesthetic. Designed to meet their domestic needs, this was the house of Mum and Dad. Potential buyers will need to factor in the expense of altering all of that. Now he's died the disposal of his former possessions stepped up another gear. My Sister, Brother in law and their family because they live closer than I, have borne the lions share of this great task of clearance. I travelled up the Monday following his death to do what I could in the seemingly never ending chucking out of a life times collection of junk and clutter.

Dad in 1999
Knowing Dad Through The Stuff He Kept

As a Joiner by trade, my Dad accumulated racks full of wood, shelf after shelf of half rusted tins and jars containing half corroded nails, screws and fittings. Not to mention all manner of things that he put aside because they might prove useful someday. Going through endless amounts of tat, sorting out recyclable items, is rarely rewarding work. Behind it the emotional thrall of throwing away the symbolic remains of your parent exacts its own particular psycho-physical toll of weary lifelessness There is so little room for sentimentality here, or ecological concerns about how much stuff you are consigning to landfill. You just need to get shot of things, keep your head down, and at some point you'll emerge out the other end and be able to move on.

Clearing a parents house draws you closer to them, by virtue of entering into their private world. Glimpsing what they thought important and how they chose to document it. Dad's approach was, as ever, all his own. My Sister unearthed over twenty plastic folders stuffed with family photos that I went through selecting out what I wanted. Though things were well labelled and filed, the way he arranged the contents within wouldn't always conform completely to logic. As Alzheimer's began to alter his ability to organise, arrangements became more random, prone to following the whim of the moment. Interspersing random newspaper clippings and plant catalogue extracts with family photographs, each moving freely in and out of sequence, backwards and forwards through time. The effect of flicking through these files was like viewing life through a kaleidoscope.

A typical man of his generation, Dad was self-contained, with a secret emotional life, but with an easy going manner and a lovely helpful man to encounter. As my Uncle Trevor put it, 'though a quiet man, he was good, honest and true.'  To me he will forever remain a bit of a mystery. One of the challenges in being his son was trying to understand what moved and made him tick. He'd never proffer spontaneous utterances about what he thought or felt. This made it hard to emotionally identify with him, keeping any desire I had for a better connection at a distance. Being demonstrative or tactile wasn't in the lexicon of his behaviour, his parental feelings for you tended to become manifested through practical tasks. If you wanted a gauge how much he loved and cared for you, you'd have to read between the lines of the jobs he did for you, what he made for you, or by what things of yours he kept. He could be inflexibly opinionated if you didn't manage to avoid 'certain subjects', though he was at base extremely kind, infinitely patient and caring, for whom nothing was too much bother for those he loved or appreciated.

After repainting the entrance door, and clearing, pruning and tidying up the garden as much as I could, I was ready to approach that seemingly disordered pile of stuff scattered across the desks in Dad's den. His den was his bolt hole, a place of retreat. Often he'd spend hours up there, whenever he wanted a bit of peace and quiet, away from the infinite spontaneity of Mum's conversational drift. Emotionally I was holding it together quite well, until I stumbled across a small white plastic bag. Inside this was a small black cap for St Augustine's Primary School, with its school crest of a book, cross quills and a crown above a heart surrounded by flames, The symbolism of which appears to me now to be prescient of the sort of qualities I've tried to develop in myself. This was my first school cap, that I can be seen proudly wearing in early photos.  Such a little thing, to touch so deeply.

The Crest of St Augustine's C of E School, Halifax, Yorkshire
The Heart - the symbol of St Augustine of Hippo
The Sun - part of West Riding of Yorkshire's Coat of Arms
The Black - represents the black cassocks of Augustinian Monks.
The Crown -from the See of Wakefield's Coat of Arms.
The Pens - represents Learning
The Book - represents the Augustinian Rule.
The Crown - represents the Highest Thoughts
The Silver - represents Truth
The Flaming Heart - represents Love
The Blue - represents Loyalty.

Me in 1963

A Gathering Of Those Who Remain 

When you die in your nineties most of your contemporaries have already pre-deceased you, or like two of his remaining sisters, are in Residential Care Homes. So apart from my Auntie Joan, herself 89, but still able to drive across country to a funeral all the way from Chesterfield, and Dad's remaining brother Uncle Trevor, forever mischievous and lively even at 86, it was largely a gathering of my cousins and my Sisters family. Though a handful of people from the Scunthorpe Male Voice Choir that Dad had been a member of, and Natalie his main carer from St Mary's Care Home also turned up.

After a brief committal service at Woodlands Crematorium, it was back to Crowle Methodist Chapel for a remembrance service followed by a buffet at the 7 Lakes close by. A good turn out of people from the Methodist Chapel congregation was handy as most of my family would know none of the hymns Dad had chosen. Yet hymns do have a power to them, no doubt originally composed with the aim of stirring up responses from out of the intransigent mud of faithfilled depths. I certainly started feeling emotionally wobbly whilst singing them. They felt a fitting musical salute to Dad, a bracing praise of vocal trumpeting for his life. You could always find where my Dad was beavering away at a task, by locating the sound of him humming to himself. The tune he was humming was usually well nigh impossible to identify, it more resembled the hum of a contented bee at work collecting pollen.

Parental Influences

The best of my parental influences have served me well, a mostly happy childhood brought up in a peaceful home where I felt loved and appreciated, fed, housed, educated and nurtured. Giving me an ethical basis for getting on in life. There are always less helpful traits you pick up from them along the way; in my case it was being overly self-conscious, anxious, struggling with my self-esteem and confidence. These have proved testing to find ways to overcome, bypass, or at least learn to be less angsty about them.

Throughout childhood a repeated refrain was how much like my Mum I was, mostly it was in physical resemblance, but inferred to be in personal and emotional character too. This became like a family cliche, tending to disguise my own sense of agency and ignoring where I was actually very like my Dad. Though over the years I've discovered for myself what I inherited and learnt from him. I'm clearly an imperfect melange of both my parents personalities, with things that are all my very own mixed in. A bit of a dreamer like my Dad, but one who has been known to cramp the flourishing of those dreams behind an anxious fence of practicalities, that is quintessentially my Mum. Learning how to be more laid back about such things, as Dad seemed always to be, has been a job of work.

I've turned out to have a mix of practical and creative talents. The practical tending to dominate if I let it, doing the logical, responsible thing to which creative fulfilment, artistic endeavour and aesthetics will always play second fiddle. 'Its all very well you day dreaming Stephen, but you have to earn a living.'  says the Northern puritan work ethic hard wired from my upbringing. However, not pursuing dreams, to stifle them rather than actively get behind creative urges has often swamped the joie de vivre in a jungle of melancholy that I had to learn how to hack my way out of. How best to keep practical and creative impulses in a healthier, sympathetic relationship, is still my work in progress.

Moving On

They say we inherit from our parents all that is resolved and fully realised in them, and the rest, though perhaps stuffed into the corners of a battered old holdall, is where all their unresolved unrealised desires fester. The task for any son or daughter is to unpick yourself from the complicated tapestry of what your parents psychologically bequeath  you.  To find what is of value to you, to either cast aside the rest, or set about with a passion to resolve the unresolved, to realise the unrealised, through your own life.  Inheritances don't need to be treated as fate, with an awareness of other possibilities, we can take our parental legacies as a gift that you can either welcome, refuse or exchange.

As only the psychological and photographic archive of my Mum and Dad are now left, it remains to be seen what will flourish in the currently self-transforming perspective, where only their dual absence tangibly remains in reality.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 17 ~ Sweat Rash, Wee & Toast

It goes without saying that cleaning in the middle of the heatwave has, for me, not been a thing of unfettered joy. Breaking out in a sweat rash around my knackers whilst simply mopping a floor. But sweaty, with hands in Marigolds, fatigued in T-shirt and shorts, I've slowly and stoically soldiered on. Most care home residents hunker down in their rooms and rarely come out. But when they do, they emerge manifesting their individual mental quirks in heightened colour, all at the same time. Animosities flare up into incoherent ding dongs, most often between the female residents. Susan who is hyper hyper sensitive to criticism ' I am alright aren't I Stephen? I am a nice person aren't I?' being unjustly accused by Irish Moira of stealing money from her wallet, 'well, all I can say is there was five pounds in there, that's not there now, its gone' .This is a recurring theme in their relationship. where a weak hold on self-esteem meets a weak hold on money and may the best neuroses win.

Mental problems appear to arise out of basic human tendencies or difficulties that for some reason become highly magnified and over-indulged, till they eventually dominate a persons entire world view. I've been reflecting on how challenging false views and opinions barely supported by the facts, even in relatively well balanced individuals, often forces people to just dig their heals in and become even more righteously indignant and angry. Feelings tending to trump facts. I'm also thinking Brexit here too. We are all deluded about reality says the Buddha, but this isn't due to mental illness but to a pronounced human inability to keep the way we feel and our interpretation of situations separate from the factual true reality. What led me to think about this was a situation with The Norfolk Lady.

A few weeks back she was excitedly gossiping to me about someone being pregnant. The first warning sign that this may not actually be so, was when by the next week having one baby had turned into having three babies, and she had told this to everyone who'd listen. But then it went weirder. The Norfolk Lady's constipation still continues, and in her agitated state, not understanding why she's unable to poo and being told to stop telling this story, the two situations got entwined. So the inability to poo was because of what someone had done by way of revenge ' I know they've stuffed a baat-ery up there'.  This idea has then proliferated into ' they're blockin my wee, and blockin my bum, they aut to be sacked'  No amount of patient persuasion that this simply cannot be the case, can undermine the firm conviction that this has actually happened. What to us might appear a self-evidently barmy idea has quickly morphed into a self-righteous opinion, that appears to be getting more and more unhinged from reality by the week.

Imagine everyone around you has an infirm grasp on reality. Each day being pretty much like the next. Very minor events then take on greater significance and import than you or I might give them. The other day Irish Moira approached me with her standard conversational beckoning ' Can I ask you something' which always feels like an invitation to walk right into the trap that it often is. This time the question was 'Stephen, shouldn't you always take medication with food?' I replied - not in every case. 'Well, you wouldn't want to take medication after eating only a slice of toast would you, a slice of toast! which they asked me to do today' and with a 'See you later' she pootled off having self-validated her view.

This week the main residents tea counter was out of bounds whilst its roof and patio doors were being replaced. You'd think they'd be pleased facilities were at last being improved, but no. All Irish Moira could think about was ' they've taken the kettle away for no good reason, every one else has had dozens of cups of tea today, I've only had the one, just the one' looking me straight in the eye and wagging her finger at me, as a warning that, if I hadn't already, I should take note.  The other day she asked me in an innocent tone of enquiry ' Do you know the reason why I'm in here?' I said no I didn't, 'Its because I'm a loony'' speaking this in a matter of fact tone as though it was entirely a neutral statement.

I've been back doing a lot of decorating in the house, first in our craft room, then the lounge, and now the bathroom. After this is finished, that should be the end of  my 'housey' tasks for a while and I can then focus time and effort on re-engaging with Cottonwood work.  Nevertheless, I always find decorating a pleasing transformational process, seeing the style of a room evolve. Now the lounge decorating is completed we can decide with what sort of flooring we want to replace the worn, grubby carpet, with its embossed nylon swirls of pale brown leaves. We've discovered that this carpet design is, horror of horrors, still being made, and our particular colourway is called 'California Dreaming' which is a trifle ambitious for beige.

With the continuing heatwave the air quality even here on the coast has deteriorated. One week huge harvesting juggernauts powered through local fields kicking up huge amounts of straw dust in their wake, that fell like snow everywhere, such as on my freshly glossed window sills, for instance. There have also been hundreds of crop wildfires across Norfolk, I guess most are due to spontaneous combustion, but one suspects some have had a little human help too, accidental or otherwise. I awoke one night with a sore head,raw throat and tightness in the chest, with the smell of smouldering smoke filling our bedroom. Outside we couldn't see any fire but the smoke hung in a dense smog over the surrounding fields, whilst the sky above us was actually crystal clear.

I've decided to temporarily deviate from my year of Japanese novel reading. I just needed to read something not quite so aesthetically refined and cool in emotional temperament. So I read an EF Benson, Mapp & Lucia story, for a bit of lightly tossed relief. I've recently begun reading My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk, after watching a fascinating documentary about him and his writing. This is not remotely undemanding reading, Initially I found myself waiting for it to grip me. It is self evidently rich with evocative writing, but the way its structured is unusual, and it has taken its time in capturing my imagination. I'm two thirds of the way through its six hundred and fifty pages, as I write, and it has finally developed a bit of story momentum, It reminds me a bit of The Leopard by De Lampedusa another monumental book that really tests your patience, but is worth it for the killer conclusion, that makes everything you've read previously be seen in a different light. We await to see if My Name Is Red proves worthy of my hours of commitment.

The effect of resigning from the Triratna Order upon me has, as yet, not been that noticeable. But then the lead up to this decision was so protracted it left plenty of time to both contact and process emotional reactions and attachments. It feels as though nothing has changed, even though it has. I am happy to live in a detached limbo, to not prematurely seize the initiative. Quite what I'll do is still an open question. I keep reminding myself not to run for the safety of joining another group or institution, that has proved to be such a double edged situation for me. There is the reassurance and support that comes from belonging to something purposeful, but this comes with commitments and duties that eventually I find too restrictive. Eventually the chafing and desire for liberty wins out. Jnanasalin does go occasionally to the Norwich Buddhist Centre, and in fact gave a talk their on Dharma Day. It still feels a bit odd to not be accompanying him, to be there and show support.  But I've not been out of the movement long enough for me to just casually turn up, without it feeling like its a much bigger deal than that.

I've had yearnings recently to return to my regular weekly study in a local cafe of Dogen's Instructions for the Tenzo.  A practise I started doing when we lived in Cambridge and have been really missing. I need to just settle on which of the many local cafes would be the appropriate venue.  Maybe I need to test them out for the requisite qualities before I decide:~
Good Coffee?
Good Cakes?
Will You Feel Comfortable Studying There?
How Noisy Is It?
Will You Be Left Alone?
How Pram Or Child Repellent Is it?

Friday, July 20, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 16 ~ Flower Fecking Festivals

A season of shallow fruitfulness is upon us, where seemingly every weekend is garlanded with a Summer Fair, Fayre, Fete, or some other such artificially contrived event. Each town along the coast has its own festival week.The Sheringham Carnival Committee works extremely hard to maintain and further extend its seasonal events calendar. In previous weeks Sheringham has had the Lobster & Crab Festival, one of many vintage car rallies and then there was the Dad's Army weekend. Yes, countless folks dressed up as Captain Mainwaring, Jonesy or Pike, continuing in the same appalling vein as the 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers Weekend,' sorry, I meant 1940's Weekend. The second weekend in July was the Lobster Potties Morris Dance Festival and the Methodist Church's Flower Festival.

Lobster Potties was celebrating its 25th Anniversary grandly by holding a world record breaking attempt at the largest number of people dancing the same dance at the same time. The current record being 144 people for 5 minutes from 2016. The call went out to the world of Morris and the world of Morris responded, the official count was 300+ people for 7 minutes 45 seconds, which makes one feel the current record holders weren't trying hard enough. It was an awesome thing to see, and a fitting way to mark their anniversary. The rest of the day alternating mixes of Morris folk dance groups do their best routines up and down the main streets and promenade. Its a really colourful and lively event, and quintessentially so English in character, ie, entertainingly barmy.

As a Morris dancer of old (that was 30 years ago it has to be said) I absolutely love this weekend. We would make a bee line for this festival as a reason to visit Sheringham even before we moved here. These days we have our favourite teams that we must see, such as the black and white patterned bizarreness of Pig Dyke Molly and the extravagantly be-feathered hats and Gothic darkness of The Witchmen. This year we added the 'steampunk' side Slack Ma Girdle from Suffolk to this selection. Brought by the celebration and world record attempt, a group came over from the Netherlands, and their was the delightful rarity of more than one Rapper side.

Rapper is a sword dance where five dancers weave in and out holding on to a double handled 'sword' for dear life as they move in increasingly convoluted and tangled turns to emerge miraculously out the other end in a clean formation. A well rehearsed Rapper side is a startling and impressive thing. I once attempted to learn rapper, its fiendishly difficult, requiring precision and focused concentration, one wrong move and the whole thing grinds to a potentially painful log-jamb. Unlike most Morris, in Rapper there is little room for casually bluffing your way out.

Unsurprisingly, the Morris Festival is not universally liked in Sheringham. To enable the weekend to happen bits of the main streets and promenade are closed off. So folks who don't appreciate their set routines being altered, their liberties slightly adjusted or their desire to be able to drive into town and park right in front of the shop they want to visit, thwarted, don't appreciate it that much. Some shops allege its bad for business. This year the World Cup's been bad for business, but you don't hear anyone dare say that aloud. It is clear that even after twenty five years the town's shops have not embraced the spirit of the Morris Festival in the same way they do the 1940's Weekend, with special windows etc.

Perhaps it feels like the festival is imposed on them. Its often cited as one justification for blocking any plans to pedestrianise the main streets during the Summer. However rammed and uncomfortable they get, with full to bursting pavements you can hardly walk on, this is not seen as a deterrent. No one appears to consider that a pedestrianised street with no event on might be an entirely different experience to one with an event. Nor what other opportunities there might be, to say move the regular weekly market down into the High Street, freeing up car parking space, or hosting Sunday Craft Fairs, Farmers Markets etc etc. Local, small c, conservatism can feel stifling of energy and creativity.

Other North Norfolk towns have adapted to their main streets descending into semi-hibernation in the Winter once the tourists depart. Sheringham, however, is unique in having a high street regularly used by the local people through out the year.This liveliness is one reason we chose to move here. I can understand the desire to not upset the apple cart, precarious as it might already be. Particularly in this prolonged pre-Brexit limbo, where the consequences for 'Just About Managing' shops is unknown.  The future prospects for Sheringham's shopping centre longer term may not continue to be that vibrant and the case for pedestrianising its main street may yet arrive at its day of inevitability.

Flower Festivals are an odd beast, are they a craft, an art or neither? The Japanese being a subtle aesthetically sensitive country were able to elevate it to an art. But looking at the exhibits in the Methodist Church Annual Flower Festival  the jury is firmly out on art and unsure about craft. Flower Festivals it seems must have a theme, preferably a vague one. These can then be twisted to any indulgent fancy or delirious dream you can construct around cardboard. This years theme 'Golden Moments' resulted in an impressive breadth of subject matter, from the RNLI, the birth of a baby, Eurovision, the Release of Nelson Mandela, to the creation of the Internet.

There appear to be only two ways to interpret a theme, to be slavishly literal or to fill it with leaden, and occasionally dubious, symbolism. The Mandela display was a case in point, it had no picture of Nelson, but it did have a generic African mask and a huge giraffe head made of papier mache. Another display, please note, assembled by the collective creativity of three people, was about saving refugees at sea. This was a series of rectangular trays, with blocks of oasis pricked with gypsophila floating on a pale blue sea of badly rucked cloth. All very well meaning no doubt, but so clumsy in its execution as to teeter towards insensitivity.

These attempts to inject profundity into the simple aesthetic of arranging flowers, betrays a lack of confidence in the beauty or skill on show. They have to be about something else more worthy of appreciation. At best, flower arrangements can be astonishing things of beautiful symmetry. Here though the forms and shapes used can lack imagination, or seem repetitive or cliched. Why do flower displays have to rise to a mountainous peak of gladioli?  I'm lead to believe that the world of church flower arranging has its semi-professionals who devise an arrangement for 2018, and then troll it around a circuit of church flower festivals, to anyone who'll have them.  So there are Themes, variations on Themes and blatant Travesties of Themes.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 15 ~ Five Ways Of Dealing With Uncomfortable Blockages

Blousey Flowers in Sheringham Park

1) Not Purged Enough Yet To Be Purified
Working in a care home you need to be at ease wiping up the remains of other people's pee and poo. Encountering a toilet blocked with faeces compacted under moistened toilet paper, can be quite a regular occurrence. Fortunately I'm not responsible for the breaking the papier mache seal and unblocking it. My job is just to remove the technicolour splatter.

Some residents, unsurprisingly, do develop obsessions around toilets, toilet cleanliness and the effectiveness of their pooing in general. One such is my big voiced Norfolk lady, who keeps mental notes on the timing, of not just her own, but other peoples bowel movements. Last week I asked why one of the residents seemed always to be on the loo. Another resident resorted to the polite euphemism of saying she had a problem downstairs,' She can't poo!' my Norfolk lady loudly interjected. This week, I don't remember exactly how we got back onto the conversation of poo, but I've a faint recollection it arose out of politely asking how she was. But obviously something much more pressing was on her mind.

'Not too bad,
apart from the laxatives am tekkin
I can't undr stan it
Wy hee wont let me av more than one senapod,
when it says I need to tek four.
I no I messed miself once, but that was a lorng time ago
and anyway I no I'm not tekkin enough
ones not enough, I no its not enough, cos
I'm only getting an inch when it should be two.
I dunno whats wrong, whats causin it
I think there must be some sort a blockage.'

2) Change The Context & Conditions ~ Resigning from the Triratna Buddhist Order.
There is often 'some sort of blockage'  and not just of one's bowels, Taking many forms physical, emotional, mental or spiritual or a confusing melange of all four. Something can be up in one's psycho-physical being but you haven't quite sussed out it's true nature yet. An intractable blockage has bedevilled my spiritual life and practise throughout pretty much all my time as an ordained Buddhist. Though essentially an emotional blockage, the consequence has been that bit by bit the vitality of meditation and my sense of engagement with life in the Triratna Buddhist Community has taken a long dwindling and downward path.  I believe I am still a Buddhist, but my commitment to do so within the context and practises of the Triratna Order does not seem credible to me anymore. After two years of difficult deliberation I've decided to resign as an Order Member.

In the past I'd have just walked away, this is the first time I've submitted a resignation. sent by e.mail on the 9th June. The official notification will be sent out at some point soon. But regardless I've got on with carrying out my planned ritualised process of departure. On the 9th itself I performed a traditional Triratna Sevenfol Puja where I wore my Order Kesa for the last time. Thus began a series of daily rituals involving reading, pujas, plus the creation and destruction of a painted mandala. This is the process documented in the sequence of photos on this blog. All concluded on the13th June 2018, the 18th anniversary of my joining the Order. when I symbolically brought the cycle of my life in the Order and broader involvement in its Sangha, to a close.

I have understandably been nervous, tense, churned up and sad at times during the period leading up to this. Though after all this time actually submitting the resignation didn't feel at all traumatic, I mostly felt relief.  For the time being, my order name Vidyavajra better represents who I am, so I intend to continue using it. I don't intend to make a big announcement nor plaster the details all over social media.  What you read here will be all I'll be posting online. My friends in the Order will be able to read a fuller explanation of my resignation via the Order website. I'm willing to make my resignation letter available to friends and acquaintances within the wider Triratna Buddhist Community if they are interested. Before you ask, no I don't know what I'll do next. I may just enjoy the open space for a while, then see what, if anything, arises.

3) Reignite The Fire ~ Cashing In On Your Impulses
With the garden provisionally finished,and the resignation no longer pending but delivered, there is a feeling of some positive energy becoming unblocked, of something else arising. I believe its an impulse to pick up Cottonwood Workshop and put renewed energy into that. As yet this is only a desire emerging from the shadows, but there's not been even that for some time. One is still left with the question of how one gets from being a cleaner to a Cottonwood Cafe?

I do tire of being a cleaner, but once you become a cleaner, you apparently have to stay one. Stating on your CV that you're a cleaner is a bit like admitting you were once sent to prison for money laundering or murdering your wife. Permanently staining, not just your character, but also your potential, in the eyes of others. Factor in that I'll soon be sixty one and my employment potential can feel a teeny bit ring fenced.

I have to believe that the initiative is still mine to forge a way out of this situation. It would all be too depressing otherwise. Perhaps it is time to reignite the fire of that 'business in utero' of ours~ Cottonwood Workshop. Jnanasalin has recently completed the remaining admin for Windhorse Trading, so what was once his office space can now be converted into Cottonwood Central, a fully operational craft room. Well, this is our intention. All our initial thoughts have centred on how we want to redecorate and review the room layout. As yet we're not back making anything yet, but we've committed to a colour scheme, bought the paint and I've started the decorating.

4) Write About It ~ If You Want To Understand It
I'm approaching the half way point in my year of reading Japanese literature. So far what I've noticed concerning their literary style is that its notable for subtle understatement, particularly of feelings. The Japanese appear to be as emotionally reserved or blocked as the English are often caricatured as being. One way of breaking through such blockages is to write about them. The Japanese don't really do detailed internal dialogue, descriptions of people, places or landscapes, or even particularly strong narratives in their novels. Its mostly about the spinning and sustaining of a gossamer like mood. You can reach the end of a novel and wonder quite where the drift of all that has taken you. At least that's the traditional classic style. Apart from Murakami I've not read any other modern day writers so I cant say yet what the contemporary literary zeitgeist is like

Soseki, Kawabata and Tanazaki are three of Japans greatest novelists from the early 20th Century. They come from the generation brought up in the immediate aftermath of Japan opening up to trading with the West, when the country underwent a huge social and economic change. Their novels often feature characters who journey from modern cities to more traditional rural areas, or visa versa, in search of meaning or purpose. Naive idealistic men encounter or fall in love with highly intelligent independent women, whose quirky eccentricties influence and intrigue them, though they remain entirely an unknowable enigma. Being enigmatic has its perplexing as well as its alluring aspects. One human can never truly fully know another, female or otherwise, hampering our ability to not just understand, but  also to have empathy for what is 'other.' 

I've just completed Junachiro Tanazaki's A Cat, A Man, And Two Women, which I found to be a complete and utter delight. The novel explores the triangular relationships between a man, his ex-wife and current wife, through a cat that each of the women tries to use either to hold onto or to regain the affections of the husband. Throughout the book the husband just dotes and pours attention on the dratted feline more than he does the women. He just doesn't understand why the women in his life get so demanding and angry with him. Tanazaki has a dry wit and his manner of writing is clever whilst being deceptively simple in its form. He uses this three way relationship to explore how human beings often cling to the idea of possession as a cover for something more broadly existential, often a fear of being abandoned, alone or lonely. Highly Recommended.

5) Discover How To Best Communicate With It
'Wha yu gotta beard fo?' she says every time she sees me. As I've said previously I think this is her way of saying 'hello, I know you'. But the difficulty for me has been how to respond to it, she definitely wants a response, but exactly what has flummoxed me. I've tried ignoring it and just getting on with my work. I've tried taking it seriously and entering into a conversation about why I have a beard. But, curiously, that just perplexes her, she looks shocked or frightened, as if I've spoken to her in the voice of a demon.

Though I have had a sort of a breakthrough, the other week she was stood in a doorway and she started singing Frere Jacques, so I decided spontaneously to join in. All was going quite well, then she, like me, began to find the whole thing of two people at opposite ends of a corridor singing a nursery rhyme, a tad bizarre. She quickly retreated, like a cuckoo into a cuckoo clock, behind her door. Today she stood, again in the doorway, she gazed right at me and said the usual ''Wha yu gotta beard fo?' and I just said ' Hello Mary, how are you?' to which she replied in a gummy distressed voice ' I don't no, I aint got any teeth'.

More  Blousey Flowers in Sheringham Park

Friday, May 18, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 14 ~ Climbing into Monty Don's Trousers

Maybe its a sign of advancing age when your role model becomes Monty Don. A man full of genial encouragement like a treasured bachelor Uncle.  Rambling about his garden splitting, replanting and snipping at bushes. With his hair like it was washed in rain water and left to dry in a breeze at the break of dawn. Dressed in crumpled shirts that look like he slept the night in an armchair after an long evening of conviviality with red wine. His trousers sewn together with hope and held firmly up by braces, his ginger dogs loyally following his every wellington covered step. Yes, our gardening enthusiasm has now reached its horticultural peak, we devotedly watch Gardeners World every week. So quiet and laid back, its a soothing addiction.

Never having had a garden of our very own to develop, we've surprised ourselves by how we've embraced the purpose of growing things. What started off as, 'our garden needs something putting in it' has rapidly progressed to avidly measuring how much the pea plants have grown overnight. I never imagined I'd feel excited by a leaf shoot appearing on a jasmine plant. It shows how proprietorial we've become, that its now all about 'Our Garden'.

Handmade furnishings in Japanese Indigo Print fabrics  

Every weekend for the last month, we've made one, sometimes two, visits to our garden centre of choice in Overstrand. Just when we think we've finished, we suddenly think, 'Oh, wouldn't it be good if we had.....' and off we'll tootle. To buy lettuce plants, tomatoe plants, planters or a hanging basket, whatever the latest fetish is. Rather than watch the royal wedding, we went on an essential quest to find the right colour of pea gravel to edge our front entrance pavement.

Jnanasalin is as bitten by the bug as I am. It's quite endearing to see him being so attentive and nurturing, watering or feeding the plants with care and dedication. Gardening as a project has been easy to get our teeth into. Ideas are relatively quickly realised, just plant, regularly apply water, stand back, observe and wait whilst nature does its thing. Niether of us finds our current employment in any way satisfying or creative. So in the absence of the cafe project developing momentum, its been good for us to find an honest bit of creative diversion to salve the heart of some of its emotional strain and yearning.

But boy have we had some waiting to do. Waiting for the dratted weather to warm up mainly, so I could clean, sand and repaint the decking. Then there was the arbour and pavement border fences to paint and assemble. And we had to wait for Spring to arrive, its here, then its not, its here, then gone again. Delaying not just our planned schedule, but the onset of plant growth. So its been one prolonged practise of cultivating acres of space to be patient in, reinforced just a  teeny weeny bit by faith that whatever Monty says will happen, will eventually happen.

The transformation of our garden spaces from how they were less than a year ago, has been dramatic and inspiring. Both our front and back gardens are small and the way previous tenants set them up, makes them unsuitable for the traditional cottage garden. That suits us fine as we're just not old fuddy duddy enough for the twee nostalgia of country rusticism.

In the front garden, we had to banish a truly ugly satellite dish, give away five pavement slabs laid out in a cross formation, then dig out and replace the horrible white fibreglass pavement edging. Keeping the lawns of blue shale pieces and the cotoneaster hedge, we now have a simple yet stylish garden based around beds of jasmines, japonicas, acers, convolvulus and hydrangeas, edged with grey coastal flint pebbles.


Whilst for the back garden we've made creative use of containers and planters, so it has developed a quite neatly ordered structure. Now the decking has been repainted, the fences and arbour are in place, so the decked area is totally unrecognisable to how it was even a few months ago. The lavender bed and herb pots we planted nine months ago in September last year are now in a full and abundant flourish, as is the rhubarb bed.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 13 ~ A Cheap Holiday In Other People's Fog.

It's a good job we don't mind a holiday where the weather turns out a bit adverse. We aren't sun seekers and don't throw a complete wobbly when it drizzles. For all bar a couple of days the majority of our week in Whitby and North Yorkshire was shrouded in fog, admittedly in varying degrees of density. Whether we travelled over hill, dale, moorland or skimmed the edge of the coast, our view ahead, behind, on either side was..... limited. So the dramatic landscape glories of the North Yorkshire Moors were never fully unveiled to us, being effectively concealed behind a curtain of atomised sea moisture. There were, however, other unexpected delights. The fog itself often created a unique and mysterious experience.

We'd kept holding out for a nice dry bright day before climbing the steep steps to the moist and muddy headland of Whitby Abbey. Such a day never did arrive, so by Friday we voluntarily gave money to English Heritage without knowing how much of this world heritage site we'd actually be able to see. Approaching from the headland car park, we could barely see a thing, other than the vaguest of vague suggestions of a fleeting shadow. As we drew closer, the ruins, partially submerged in mist, emerged, along with an atmosphere that was the very quintessence of gothic mystique. I have to admit at this point I became quite a lot more excited than perhaps Jnanasalin was. I madly snapped away whilst Abbess Hilda moaned in my ear about the trials and tribulations of running a unisex monastery on top of a cliff. Abbess Hilda was it would seem quite a far sighted venture capitalist on the quiet, as there's a sign on the way into town directing you to the Abbess Hilda Business Centre.

Whitby as a resort is surviving pretty well, probably due to its bi-yearly Goth festival weekends that draws thousands of bizzarely dressed individuals trying to banish their introversion  but who also purchase chips, lager and Whitby Jet. There are empty shops but also new replacements, like a deli and trendy eateries. We drove through quite a few seaside resorts and Scarborough and Bridlington's shopping centres are way bigger than they can sustain, resembling a tramps mouth with several teeth missing. Fortunately these dreary encounters were usually lifted by something culinary or stately. Our visit to Bridlington being improved by a cafe called The Northman and a visit to a magnificent Elizabethan House called Burton Agnes Hall a few miles out of town, that had fabulously intricate plasterwork and wood carving.

On one particularly foggy day we drove over the moors to Malton. Like many market towns you enter into Malton through what looks like an arse end of run down dirty frontages, tatty takeaways, lurid nail salons, the ubiquitous Heron Food Supermarket and countless long abandoned retail projects. On first impressions we thought we'd made a very very bad mistake in coming there. But once we found The Malton Patisserie, ate overpriced cake in frilly paper wrappers, and gazed out the window at the Farrow & Ball sign in the shop opposite, we visibly relaxed, finally we were amongst 'our people.' Malton proudly self-declares itself as Yorkshire's Culinary Capital, and it is the sort of the place where there is an 'artisan' round every corner, and some of them do actually make the things they sell. Its also a great place for truly gorgeous home ware and furnishings, we'd fallen upon a middle class heaven.

Malton is close to Castle Howard a lavishly decorated house designed by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, which manages to be very grand whilst actually being quite small. I've always been a bit partial to a bit of extravagantly over the top 17th century interior decorating, so needless to say, I loved it.

They had an exhibition of a sculpture by Mat Collishaw called Centrifugal Soul of a 3D Zoetrope, which was quite mesmerising and beautiful. The video does its best to capture what is really a lived experience

There were culinary highlights too, with a number of revisits. To Whitby's finest cafes Sherlocks and Marie Antionette's with their magnificent range of cakes. We also discovered a new eatery Sanders Yard where they do fabulous platters and a great range of breakfasts. Six years ago when we were last in Whitby, we walked to Sandsend and had a cauliflower soup in a bistro that was literally jaw droppingly good. So a return to the Bridge Cottage Bistro was a must. This time we ate a twice baked souffle with delicately roasted carrots, petite turnips, stem broccoli and asparagus in a light cheeesy sauce. It was a meal beautifully balanced with even the slice of sourdough, butter and sea salt that preceded it playing a part. We enjoyed it so much we went back for brunch on our last morning and had Buck Rarebit ( Welsh Rarebit with an egg on top ) which though simple fare was immensely tasty,satisfying and filling nonetheless. If you're ever near Sandsend ring ahead to book a table.

Hubby on Saltburn Pier

The waitress in Bridge Cottage Bistro obviously judged us correctly when she recommended we visit Saltburn By The Sea. So feeling spontaneous we drove straight up the coast to Saltburn, a resort built by a Victorian Quaker, with a pier, funicular railway, plus a small town which these days has reinvented itself as foodie heaven with some pretty smart home ware stores filling out the rest. We have found a new favourite place to visit, and this was when it was deeply dipped in the midst of mist.

However, all holidays include the long journey home. To ease the 250 mile drive back we made a number of stop overs. One was to see my Dad in Scunthorpe. He seemed OK and in a more talkative mood than usual. He's lost quite a bit of weight, but I think the Care Home ensures he eats better and no longer exists largely on a diet of cake. The other stop was in Lincoln, which these days has developed its old centre around the Castle and Cathedral into a smart mix of medieval picturesque and contemporary, it was quite a delight to spend a few hours wandering around before continuing on our journey back to the cosy familiarity of the rolling landscape of Norfolk