At least he wasn’t dead, that was the best that could be said so far since his decision to reply to the Facebook post. As a writer Nicholas had merely set out to do some research for his latest novel, how easy was it to find your old classmates on the internet? Typing in Clacket Lane Junior School had produced a screen page of blue headings, but he didn’t want to know about the latest Ofsted report or the summer fete. Typing in 1968-1972 narrowed the search considerably; there was a nostalgia group for the anonymous town where he had spent his childhood, a history page that celebrated a few tenuous links to national events and famous persons… he almost missed the reunion announcement.
Could it really be fifty years since that last summer; the celebration of the school’s centenary, prancing round the maypole dressed in Victorian clothes. His wife had been more excited than he was, urging him to attend, despite his pleadings that he just wanted to know if it was possible to meet up with the past, he didn’t actually want to meet his old class mates, he was appalled by the thought.
Old boys and girls could join the closed FB group, go on twitter, email or even phone the organiser Caroline Hepworth, nee Burton… Caroline Burton, it would be her, milk monitor, teacher’s pet. She was organising the get together at the Holiday Inn; that was a contradiction in terms, who would want to go on holiday to that God forsaken town, unless it had changed a lot.
Nicholas emailed her and got a reply ten minutes later.
Hi Nicholas, don’t remember you but please join the group, it’s really interesting hearing what everyone’s been up to in the past half century lol.
He groaned as his wife brought him a cup of coffee. ‘Does she have to rub it in, half a century?’
‘A good way for you to get more readers’ said his wife brightly.
‘I’ll join, but I’m not posting anything, let alone pushing my website.’
He read through the posts; memories of pranks played on teachers and each other, gentle teasing where once there had been bullying, tales of exotic travels, brilliant careers and wonderful children. No one had mentioned Nicholas. In some of the profile pictures he could recognise the child in the middle aged face, others had cheated by posting school pictures or snaps of their dog, cat, motorbike or grandchild. But with only some of the names could he conjure up a memory of the child.
The next day things took a sombre turn. Caroline’s post was pinned at the top of the page.
Martin Fletcher’s wife has emailed to say he passed away last November after a brave battle with cancer.
Nicholas recalled Martin well, though he was in the other class; top of the school for his sporting achievements, he could beat anyone in a playground sprint, scored most goals at football, whacked the rounders’ ball with a strength that gave a glimpse of his potential when adolescent testosterone kicked in.
Martin Fletcher had barely crossed his mind for fifty years, but the shock of his mortality was like a kick in the stomach. The comments scrolled down the page, people were still typing them in, but Nicholas the writer could think of nothing to say.
Incongruously the next post was up beat.
Hey guys, great to catch up with you all, bet you didn’t recognise me in Game of Thrones, well the name on my equity card says Zane Swartz, but back then I was Peter Potts.
Frail, pale Potty, who would have thought it? His profile picture was the last school photo taken at Clacket Lane, Peter with his hair combed neatly. It was unlikely that anyone would recognise him behind beards, shields and spears. Nicholas clicked the Like button, everyone was Liking each other. Nicholas decided it was time to join in, at least he was still alive.
Remember how Mrs. Walker always told me off in English for not writing enough, guess what, I write long novels now.
He paused then put a link to his new website. There was no way they could know he was self published and was never likely to give up the day job.
The next day no one had Liked his post, let alone left a comment, perhaps they were still overwhelmed by the latest bad news.
Susan Fielding, everyone remembered her, all the girls wanted to be her or at least be her friend. Not surprisingly she had gone on to be head girl at grammar school. Perhaps others would have remembered Nicholas if his father’s work had not taken him to the other side of the country soon after he left the junior school.
Still, mustn’t complain, his life had been okay, while Susan’s obviously had not, she had taken her own life. News had filtered through via someone’s aunty who knew the family. Caroline had posted a hasty comment pointing out that it was not helpful to debate how or when it had happened. She was going to remember happy days with Susan at grammar school.
A sad comment from Howard.
I’m gutted, she was my first love
Howard, he of the Adonis looks, probably be called a gay icon now, presumably not gay as he had ‘gone steady’ with Susan during their years at the church youth group. He had not seen her since she left for university. While Nicholas had been battling acne and crippling shyness, Howard was enjoying dream teen years with Susan.
Nicholas was lost for words yet again. Would he put a sad emoticon to add to the list of comments on Susan? He logged out, glad that he was invisible to the rest of his year at juniors.
He went a whole week without being tempted, then promised himself to just go on once more, to post an apology that he could not attend the reunion as he would be out of the country; he was tempted to say he now lived abroad, but in the unlikely event someone looked at his website they would see him described as living in the dead centre of the country. Unfortunate choice of words, perhaps they would think he was also dead.
New post from Caroline.
Amazingly, all except one pupil have been tracked down. What happened to Nigel Palmer, no one seems to have seen or heard of him since the last day of juniors. He was such an unusually talented boy, he could be anywhere in the world.
Nicholas logged out, but his brain had not logged out, his author’s mind was racing; every other pupil’s life was being recorded in more and more detail, but he was only interested in the missing boy. Nigel, a lively, entertaining, often naughty boy; Nicholas had admired his courage in the face of authority; who was the man he became? He was determined to find out.
A piercing scream rent the air, a blood curdling cry that penetrated Jennifer’s brain and shattered what was left of her nerves. Instinctively she covered her ears and prayed for silence. For a moment there was blissful silence as the victim drew breath.
‘But I wanted to open my banana myself’ cried the little boy.
For the umpteenth time that day Julia wondered why on earth her brother Gerald thought she would enjoy looking after her great nephews for a few hours. What had possessed her to agree?
With her nerves already torn to shreds she had absent mindedly started to unpeel the fifth and last banana of the bunch. The two boys had constantly pleaded hunger since lunch and had not believed she had no Monster Munch or Peppa Pig yoghurts in her house.
One more hour to go, how to distract them…
Across the floor were strewn the toys they had brought from home, quickly abandoned after fierce arguments as to who owned which Lego figures. Drawing had resulted in a nasty stabbing, obviously a mistake to sharpen the pencils. The cat had been a distraction for a few seconds until it fled to hide under her bed.
There was always the last resort, television, totally against her principles turning them into zombies staring at a screen, but needs must. However, when she looked in the Radio Times she could find no young children’s programmes, what was the matter with the BBC, what happened to Blue Peter?
The doorbell rang at last.
‘Is that Grandad?’
Julia looked at her watch, a few minutes early, supposing it wasn’t Gerald, but the window cleaner coming for his money or her new curtains being delivered…
If it was not Gerald she was going to scream…
No more trips to the chemist to collect your prescriptions? No more standing in a queue while the beleaguered pharmacist looks for lost medicines and other customers collect paper sacks full of their repeat prescriptions? Yes, no more trying to say your address and post code, your voice muffled by the masks we are still wearing in a ‘health care setting’. I heard the other day that in future we will use our 3D printers, which we will all have by then, to print out our tablets, probably combining more than one drug. Leave your computer on overnight to calculate the exact dose to suit your body mass and genetic make up. These tablets will be far more efficient, your doctor or consultant will no longer have to guess a dose that will work, but not blast you with bad side effects. Of course there is always the possibility we patients might accidentally give our computer the wrong instructions…
One thing many of us probably know about breast cancer is that you have to take tablets for five years after your main treatment, probably tamoxifen which comes from Yew trees. Looking this up I was rather disappointed to discover that it is taken from the bark of the Pacific Yew from North America. I had always fondly imagined scientists at dead of night picking berries from ancient yews in English churchyards. The early Christians built their churches on Druid sites; the Druids planted Yews as they regarded them as sacred; proven right because the Yew held the magic of healing.
It turned out that I am prescribed Anastrozole and I can’t find any romantic or ancient origins for it. Like tamoxifen it is a hormone inhibitor to protect against the types of breast cancer that love oestrogen. This is a tiny tablet to take once a day and because oestrogen is good for your bones I also have to take a very big tablet twice a day called imaginatively Adcal – D3, full of calcium and vitamin D3! Luckily these big tablets are chewed.
On my final appointment with the oncologist he said five to seven years, funny, he said five years earlier on! Perhaps I will be on Anastrozole long enough to be printing out my own tablets. Every breast cancer patient is under the hospital for five years after the main treatment, with breast care nurses at the Ladybird Suite – at my hospital, presumably other hospitals have other cute names – who can be contacted any time.
With one in seven women getting breast cancer ( six in seven Not getting it! ) at some stage, the system seems to run on very efficiently, with charities like Breast Cancer Now providing a great deal of information and help, from leaflets at the hospital to phone and on line help always available.
Rounding off this week’s May walks, saunter across Tuckton Bridge to the Christchuch side of the River Stour.
Where are you now and who is watching you?
Perhaps you won’t get lost if you follow the path…
…and don’t annoy The Green Man
You have reached your destination.
Gather here for the monthly Win on Waste; to the delight of green thinkers or anyone on the obsessive spectrum you can save all sorts of household items unwanted in your council recycling bins. From stamps to old toothbrushes. At a glance the most popular donations seem to be medicine blister packs and bras. The various items are donated to charities, community groups and artists. Exactly how they use them I am not sure, but ‘follow the milk bottle top’ could be a topic for a blog…
Do you have local community collections?
When we got married and moved into our police flat I knew I never wanted to be without my own home again. We didn’t own it, but home only needs to be where you are settled safely, not necessarily owned. Home also fans out to your own street, town and country, but our own tiny spot in the world is unique for most of us who rent or own only one home. An Englishman’s home truly is his castle and you don’t have to be English to want your own castle. In the five years previous to our wedding I had lived with grandparents, aunt and uncle, been a lodger with two very different families, stayed in a motel and experienced institutional living. Now a few days after my 24th birthday ( which seems very young now ) I had my own kitchen and window box – oh and not forgetting a new husband as well!
In the natural order of things, in times of peace, houses outlive their owners. The new house my grandfather bought in the 1930’s for his young family is still standing, extended and improved like most suburban houses and home to other families over the years. With the death of my uncle that first family are all gone. Google reveals that the Victorian terrace I was born in is still standing and looking much the same from the outside. My parents rented the top half and when they said we were going to buy our own house, when I was six, I couldn’t understand it as we already had a home. The house they bought is also still standing. If you come from landed gentry or royalty your home may well have stood for many centuries and may stand for centuries to come.
When we see whole towns wiped out by fire, flood or hurricane we may see survivors and be glad for them that they still have their families. But it is still devastating to lose everything, your home and your town. If we lose loved ones our home is still more than bricks and mortar, it is a sanctuary and a place full of memories.
Watching the terrible invasion and attacks on Ukraine, millions of us felt a connection because they were people who had ordinary lives like us and in the space of a few days lost their homes or had to leave them. The fact that millions of people in the world are homeless or live in slums and refugee camps does not make the suffering of the Ukrainians less. Rightly or wrongly there seems to be a real possibility to help them until they can return that we can’t realistically do for the whole wide world. Close neighbours such as Poland have come up trumps with their welcome while in the United Kingdom we are hampered by post Brexit bureaucracy.
Whatever obstacles are put in the way doesn’t alter the fact that many people in Britain have volunteered to take people into their own homes and that is a gift far greater than money. To share your home with distant relatives and strangers for an unknown amount of time is not a decision to take lightly. Supposing they never leave, don’t speak any English, don’t fit in with your routine… Many of us will applaud others while being secretly relieved we can’t because we only have one bathroom, have a full house already, need space when family come to stay…
When we were first married a friend of ours, mainly through his own fault, was jobless and homeless and came to stay with us for a few days… yes you guessed, we thought he would never leave and in the end lied that relatives from Australia were coming to stay! We have had Australian relatives living with us without problems and my son and daughter-in-law are well on track to buying their own house and moving out soon. Would I have some Ukrainians or any homeless once I’m on my own? Well there is the question of only one bathroom and family needing to stay when they visit…
Have you ever taken in strangers to your home?
Spring is here and gardeners rejoice. Even non gardeners who can only recognise daffodils enjoy the splashes of colour popping up. But few gardeners are up to date with the important terms connected to many blooms, so here is a handy guide.
Daffodillydallying When you linger in graveyards on a sunny spring day, tiptoeing among the swathes of daffodils to read interesting gravestones.
Primulary A garden, or more accurately the totally neglected piece of ground around your home, that you attempt to improve in a panicky couple of hours when you hear your garden fanatic parents are coming on a visit. You buy a dozen ubiquitous primula and stick them in the ground. Alas, your relatives will not be deceived into thinking you have lovingly tended your garden all year.
Cyclamental An obsessive condition where the sufferer is unable to go in the greengrocers or a DIY superstore without buying several pots of cyclamen.
Heliboring is a situation viewers of Gardeners’ World may be familiar with or perhaps you have family or friends in this situation. Among the viewers’ gardens and places of interest visited each week by Gardener’s World will be an avid horticulturist who has the national collection of Aquilegia ( see Aquilegiance below ) or Hellebore. This gardener has no interest in any other kind of flower, or any interest in anything else. They do not go on holiday or even out for the day as they must patrol their acres of 3,000 varieties of gladioli or delphinium, pollinating and preening.
Aquilegiance Loyalty to one species of plant, even though you will never attain the rarefied position of owning the national collection. Gardeners with such loyalty spend their weekends and holidays visiting famous gardens and searching for their special favourites. Their Instagram account features exclusively pictures of their favourite blooms.
Campanulaship That happy state when you feel the need for no other company than your campanula. These jolly bell shaped varieties inspired Liszt to write La Campanella, though he may have borrowed a few notes from Paganini, who probably also preferred the company of flowers and who doesn’t?
Florasaurus is the official guide to floral terms and derivatives.
‘…so next week it’s back in the hall; of course you can wear masks if you feel more comfortable doing so and the chairs will be spaced out.’
The chairman’s announcement was greeted positively by most members at the zoom meeting of the Lens Lovers camera club. Down in deepest Devon the local village hall was slowly coming back to life with activities, from Beavers to barobics, that had last been enjoyed early in 2020.
Paul Gibbons, New Member of the Year 2021, was horrified by the news, how was he going to get out of this? That he was a brilliant photographer was never in any doubt, all the images he shared on screen were his. The travels financed by his ill gotten gains had provided the opportunity to snap polar bears before they snapped him as he liked to joke. He did not mention that he was in a helicopter at the time. From the sands of Namibia to the trains of Siberia, from the Antarctic research station to local Devon scenes, he had tantalising tales for show and tell and had given regular talks far more interesting than their guest speakers.
It was Paul’s mother who had passed on the link to Lens Lovers’ zoom meetings; a friend from the old holiday home days had thought she might be interested. She wasn’t, she never wanted to see a camera again after her husband’s photography fatality, but she thought it would be an excellent diversion for her son during his lockdown. She had assumed he would tell the members he didn’t actually live in Devon.
Paul had not intended to deceive the club, but he had looked up their website and saw members had to live within a fifteen mile radius of the village hall to join, even for zoom meetings. At the time it had been a bit of a laugh, but he had become pathetically addicted to the fortnightly meetings. The many photos of socially safe lockdown rugged walks brought back childhood memories of more innocent times and then later the happy family holidays with his now ex wife and estranged children.
Zoom camera club hardly compared with his world wide adventures, but it was more exciting than Facetime with his mother and the weekly ‘Moving Forward’ sessions with the group. With digitally produced scenic backgrounds anyone on Zoom could be anywhere and his tropical island setting gave no clue to the cramped misery of his bleak bedsit.
Paul put on a smile for the squares of friendly faces as he rubbed his chafed ankle.
‘Yes, great news, though I might not be at every meeting, I think it’s time I booked a holiday.’
‘Oh well done Paul, does that mean you’re in remission?’
For a moment he wondered what Barbara was talking about, then remembered he had implied he had Multiple Sclerosis to explain why he had not been on the local outdoor shoots for fit, covid free members. Why had he mentioned holidays, he could have got away with implying he was still CEV, clinically extremely vulnerable. Though last week he had lied that he had just had his fourth vaccination.
‘Lucky you’, said Eddy, the oldest member ‘the only place I’m going is down Memory Lane.’
‘Well we are looking forward to meeting you in person Paul’ urged the chairman ‘and the hall is very disabled friendly, no trouble with your wheelchair and you can bring a carer, even if they are not a member.’
‘Oh thanks, all being well then…’
The only place Paul would be going on holiday was Memory Lane.
He glanced down at his electronic ankle tag, as if it might have miraculously disappeared. Even if he was living in Devon and not hundreds of miles away in a dreary city suburb, his curfew did not allow him out in the evenings.
When you get back into town and nothing is quite how you remembered…
Is getting back to normal life post Covid realistic? Are we Post, what is reality and what is normal life? No, don’t know and goodness knows…
Pandemics, epidemics and natural disasters have been normal for humans since we started wandering around, or at least wandering around in large numbers. Natural disasters were not disastrous before there were human settlements to destroy. Unless you were a dinosaur; even for them, getting back to normal life after a meteorite collision was never going to happen. Even Gaia was probably upset with giant meteors, just when she thought she controlled everything.
But for those of us who thought we were leading a privileged, or at least comfortable safe life before Covid, getting back to normal is what we both crave and fear. Some of us cannot have our old life back, while others are glad of the opportunity to start a new normal. Few of us believe our leaders have handled the crisis well all the way along. Every nation and state seems to have had different rules and while England is rapidly dispensing with restrictions ( I think, unless it’s all changed again ), on the other side of the world ‘Saint Mark’, Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan, continues to try to protect the citizens of the Hermit Kingdom from Covid and the outside world.
‘In Western Australia, where there has never been a major Covid outbreak, Mr McGowan warned WA residents more restrictions could be implemented as new infections rise. With the state’s grand February 5 reopening now shelved indefinitely, tourism companies on the west coast will be unable to benefit when the rest of Australia flings open their doors to foreign tourists on February 21.’
Of course it helps when your state is bordered by ocean and desert with only two roads in. Life has carried on more or less as normal. I don’t think people have been prevented from leaving, but they might not be able to get back in.
So where is normal life happening? The fewer restrictions the more worried are the hierarchy of the vulnerable. Clinically Extremely Vulnerable at the top perhaps, CEV a term to distinguish from those merely immunocompromised? However people are classified and however many jabs they have had – we’re up to four now – those worried about their health or their loved one’s health are still sticking to Zoom meetings, shopping on line and isolating.
But going back to normal is not good for the planet. However heart breaking this pandemic has been, Covid will not reduce the population enough to save Gaia, or rather keep her safe for us to live on. Have most of us forgotten we are meant to be saving the planet, have we forgotten how sweet the air was during that first world lock down, when streets were empty of polluting vehicles and people saw mountains from their city windows for the first time?
The new normal is unlikely to be a return to the simple life, or a rapid scientific breakthrough to heal Gaia while keeping our lifestyles. So it’s back to reality, unless you want to hide from reality with all the new skills you learnt during lockdowns. Have a pyjama day and hide under your duvet watching Netflix and ordering delicious meals from Deliveroo.