Please don’t, Stephen


Can you believe this is North Wales?

I have been blogging for almost a year now. Ever since my first two enraged rants I have been promising myself that I would settle down with ‘’Blogging for Dummies” and other how to blog books, and work out how to do it properly with links, and tags and all sorts of other bells and whistles. With my computer literate son home for the summer—the one who won’t let me do Facebook—I hoped this would be a good time. However, he is in serious training for the London/Surrey 100K cycle ride on July 31st. I gather it involves climbing Box Hill and Leith Hill and so far his training has been strictly on the flat in Dubai. So he is spending his days riding up and down hills in Snowdonia and I baby sit. He can’t complain about the heat and, as you can see from the photo, I don’t have anything to complain about either. Except that there aren’t enough hours in the day.

So, though I am again in rant mode, I am only posting something I wrote earlier!

A few days ago I read, possibly in the Mail, that Stephen Fry and his husband, Elliot Spencer, would like to start a family. What I would like to say to him is:

‘Please don’t, Stephen. There are so many infinitely better ways of spending your money and filling your Californian mansion.’

I wonder how I can get him to listen.

He’s clever, well educated (not necessarily the same thing) and, if his early TV programmes are anything to go by, great fun to be with. Remember Fry and Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster and the incomparable Blackadder?

I don’t remember when he ‘came out’. It wouldn’t have been something I would have thought much about one way or the other, though many people think I must be a bigoted homophobe, simply because I believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

I must admit, when Stephen married Elliot Spencer last year I raised my eyebrows and pursed my lips, because Elliot is 30 years younger than Stephen. Then I realized I was being prejudiced simply because they are two men. I wouldn’t have reacted in the same way if they’d been a heterosexual couple like Ronnie Wood who is 69 and who has just had twin girls with his wife, Sally(38).

I congratulated Stephen, in my blog of February 16th, (this is where I need a clever link) on stopping Twittering. I suggested that he would now have time to read the Psalms, which I thought would have greater appeal. I also think he would respond to St Mark’s Gospel; that’s beautifully brief and concise, but with all the depth that an intelligent man would appreciate.

Switch on your smart phone and look at the news anywhere in the world. There you will find reports of millions—yes, millions— of needy children, desperate to know that someone, somewhere, cares about them. There’s a lot Stephen and Elliot could do, without going down Elton John’s route. Adoption is rarely appropriate though part time fostering for holiday and weekends might be an option. But simply showing an interest can make a tremendous difference to any abandoned child.

I am reminded of the actor, Raymond Burr, better known as Perry Mason and Ironside. OK, Burr was something of a fantasist and made up personal stories, including one about losing a ten year old son, but I suspect that was mainly to cover his own homosexuality. There’s no doubt at all about his kindness, his generosity and his philanthropy. He ‘fostered’ over 20 children, many with medical problems. (No NHS in the States.) It’s easy to write cheques but wherever he was in the world he kept in touch with all those children, individually, writing letters and sending cards, week after week, for years.

Celebrities wield an amazing amount of power. People want to look like them, eat like them, dress like them, follow them. If more of them, like Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer, were to set an example in this instance, that could make a big difference, and not only to the individual children who received the letters and birthday cards and photos and knew they really mattered to someone out there.

Perhaps people like Elton John would then stop setting one example—a very selfish one— and find a way to set an infinitely more worthwhile example. Perhaps ordinary people, like Mrs A, who is hell bent on having her own grandchild, would look around for some other way of remembering her daughter, rather than bringing an orphan into the world.

Show a child you care. Show a child he matters. That is giving. Having a baby by extraordinary, unnatural means smacks of simple greed.



Twittering Twits

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In a condition of tremulous excitement

I don’t do Twitter or Facebook, nor something called Instagram. My son does Facebook but says I must not. One reason my family stay fond of me in my dotage is because I do as I am told. (At least about technology!) I must remember to ask him sometime why the embargo.

A ban on Twitter doesn’t arise because I have always thought it was a waste of time. Since the Nice massacre, followed by the Turkish coup I have come to the conclusion that it is much worse than that. Not just a waste of time but often utterly inappropriate and quite possibly an indication of the terrible vacuum at the heart of our society. A frightening symbol of the way we are.

“Twitter”. To utter a succession of small, tremulous notes like a bird. To talk lightly and rapidly, especially of trivial matters; chatter. To be in a condition of tremulous excitement. Nothing to suggest serious thought or considered opinion there, then.

Birds twitter, especially tits—blue, great, coal—they keep up an endless twittering and tweeting as they dart around, hither and thither, always, it seems, in a state of tremulous excitement. Not a good way, I would have thought, to respond to tragedy or disaster. Boris Johnson, our new Foreign Secretary, one of the most senior and important Cabinet positions, has been tweeting.

“Shocked and saddened by the appalling events in Nice, and the terrible loss of life.” Of course, we all feel that. “Busy morning @foreign office receiving latest updates from (don’t appear to have a hashtag on my keyboard!AM) Turkey …” that was 2 hours ago as I write. In other words, he’s doing his job.

I suppose in the old days a message of condolence would have been spoken, on the phone, or sent by Diplomatic Telegram and then reported in the papers. Everything thoughtful and measured. Now, on Twitter, there need be little thought, but there’s a good chance that the Foreign Secretary’s official messages on“Nice” and “Turkey” will get muddled up with the utterly banal and constantly re-tweeted. The danger with this method of communication—a limited number of words sent out with speed and not much time for thought—is that the grave, the serious and the significant, become just another thing on the list. “Right. That’s done! What’s next?” I hope not a Sext. That can get you into a load of trouble.

Would you believe it? As I was writing that last line my one and only husband, deep in The Oldie or The Week, suddenly asked ‘What does Hext mean?’ I googled it and now I know and wish I didn’t. Hate Text. The given examples were disgusting. If this is how many people conduct their lives it is no wonder we are where we are.

I see that 12 Canadian Bishops have spoken out against Same Sex Marriage. I wonder how many of those voting for it were swayed by the Twitterings of the Twits, who know their rights but not their Bible.


This goldfinch is not a twitterer. He will stay still on the feeder eating quietly and neatly.

I am a Knitter and I’m Not in a Closet!


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This is a radish



I know I am not well suited to certain aspects of modern life, but now I have discovered that, according to yesterday’s Daily Star, apart from growing grotesque and misshapen vegetables, I have two other embarrassing hobbies. Under ‘Interesting Headlines’ on the BBC news website I found this information.

Closet Knitters: Britons are keeping embarrassing hobbies such as bird watching and knitting secret “for fear of being ridiculed,’ reports the Daily Star.

I haven’t been able to check on what the Star is basing its outrageous claim and I certainly wasn’t going out to buy the Star to see exactly what it said. The BBC snippet is enough.

Who are they, these journalists who make such extraordinary statements? More interestingly, why do they do it? Moreover, why on earth would you believe anything so silly? In any case, how the blazes can you birdwatch in a closet. The editor should have told whoever wrote that tripe to stop being so silly. If this is the quality of its news why would anyone read the Daily Star?

Far from being embarrassed by bird watching and knitting I do both, at the same time, (as well as thinking about the next blog—that’s real multi-tasking). Everyone should take up either or both of these hobbies, or something similar. They offer enormous benefits for body, mind and spirit.

Through the window or in the garden, there are so many birds to watch and places to watch them from anyone can do it. It’s best to be quiet; it involves staying still and it requires close observation; perfect for contemplation. There’s the fun of watching fledglings wobbling around or a crowd of young blue tits behaving like typical teenagers. Then there’s the joy of spotting more unusual birds like brilliant coloured jays or the fabulous red kite. If you like a challenge try and sort out all the LBJs (little brown jobs) of which there are countless numbers. Warblers—sedge or reed or garden, or a dunnock or a siskin? Something I’ve never seen in my garden is a common and garden House Sparrow, although I installed a terrace of houses for them. You can watch anywhere, inside or out, in sunshine or in rain and it’s absolutely free, though a pair of binoculars helps. (Twitchers call them ‘bins’ but then twitchers do verge on the embarrassing.)

Knitting is not a cheap hobby because one no longer knits to save money; one knits to create wearable works of art made out of amazing yarns from all over the world, unknown to knitters even 30 years ago. As another form of contemplation and almost total relaxation it’s second to none. You can knit plain and purl and watch television, which can be a lifesaver when enduring wall-to-wall sport. You can knit plain and purl and patterns while listening to the radio or a story tape, which is how I got through Dickens’ ‘Our Mutual Friend.’ (What a soppy end that story has.) Or you can tackle a fiendishly complicated pattern of lace or cables, which will demand all your concentration, and at the end of a couple of hours of total absorption in what your hands have achieved, will leave you feeling liberated and refreshed. I don’t understand how that works but it does.

If you doubt me, type ‘knitting’ into Google and see what you come up with. It’s a truly global knitting world out there and provides a fascinating historical study of how people have clothed themselves through the ages, probably beginning with the Egyptians. The Chinese, who so often seem to have thought of almost every thing first, appear to have been taught knitting by Russian prisoners of war at the beginning of 20th century. And they began by knitting camel hair. (Camel hair when they could have knitted with silk!) I bet that’s something not many people know; not even knitters. I’ve also learned a lot of new techniques from knitting sites on the Internet; after fifty years I can finally finish garments so that you can’t see the join.

This is one of many reasons I love the Web. Some of the things I read about social media and trolls who spew out vitriolic hate sound revolting. But then one doesn’t have to read Twitter; to me it sounds a total waste of time.

I expect some men still knit, and I hope they are not in the closet if they do. Lighthouse men, for example, found it was a perfect hobby. Professional knitters were as often men as women in the days when it was a gender neutral activity. I knew a Master of a Cambridge college who was a knitter.

I’m afraid I think the Daily Star is telling lies. Bird watchers and knitters are well-grounded, well-rounded individuals who would never fear ridicule and would never hide in a closet with their worthwhile hobbies.

Is Mr Bumble Right?


There’s nothing like nature and wildlife in general for keeping you well and truly earthed. I’ve just had a whole week of real life. Look at that photo. I daresay the raspberries look fine, except that they are an autumn fruiting variety so they are about five or six weeks too early; consequently they are smaller than they should be and not nearly as sweet. In the middle is a carrot (you may laugh) which is stunted and twisted and is, moreover, smaller than the travesty of a radish next to it. Radishes are supposed to be the easiest of any vegetable to grow, yet look at the pathetic misshapen mite there. I have also seen a rabbit in the rabbit proof vegetable plot.

Nor is that the end of my troubles. For the first time in 20 years a heron has discovered my pond. He devoured a dozen fish for breakfast one morning, leaving me with two, which he had as a small snack the following day.

Finally, there’s Archie. The other evening, when I was called away to the phone, he managed to eat several oatcakes topped with smoked salmon and one of my hearing aids.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother, but then I read something which strikes me as both horrible and bizarre and I think at least I am too well grounded, almost literally, to get seduced along some of the more outrageous paths of modern life.

When will people learn that because something is possible, it doesn’t have to be done, and in many cases it should not be done. What is so frightening is that, in a way, this is typical of the world in which we live, where what we want is all that matters. It can be done. I want it done. Therefore it must be done.

Here’s the headline from a news item on the BBC and in various papers on 30th June, that gave me pause for serious thought—and many worries.

“Woman, 60, wins fight to give birth to her dead daughter’s baby using her frozen eggs.”

The daughter, referred to as AM in the judgement, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in her early twenties, so she had some of her eggs frozen. Apparently, she had never wavered in her wish to become a mother. Just before she died five years later in 2011 she asked her mother to have a baby for her with those eggs. Her mother, Mrs M, says it was her daughter’s dying wish. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) had refused the request because it claimed AM had failed to fill in all the necessary forms with the result that the case has been fought through the courts over the last five years. Finally, the Court of Appeal has overturned the High Court’s decision, calling their judgement ‘flawed.’

Flawed? Something definitely is. This 60 year old (OK, 80 is the new 60, but 60 is still old for motherhood) is now going to fly to New York to be impregnated with anonymous donor sperm before, presumably, coming back to wait for nine months before delivering – who? What? A baby who lost its mother six years before it was born and who has no meaningful father.

I understand all too well what Mrs M has been through and where she’s coming from. What I cannot begin to understand is where she thinks she is going.

The parents have spent years of emotional energy fighting to bring into this world a human being who will effectively be orphaned from birth. Surely, what matters above all else, is the child. The HFEA have been absolutely right to oppose this action. They were able to do so for technical legal reasons, but since they spend most of their time with the products of their work – the babies – they have a much better idea of what is involved and it is the child that seems to be missing in all this.

I read the judgement—all 21 pages of it—wondering what the judges themselves were really thinking as they considered their verdict. They had to apply the law which focussed entirely on whether AM had indeed made clear her wishes and signed enough bits of paper on which to proceed. The baby wasn’t really mentioned; it seemed as if ticking all the right boxes was more important than considering the creation and well-being of an actual human being.

So that’s all right, then, isn’t it. All totally legal, and definitely in line with an individual’s right to have it all. To quote Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist—‘the law is an ass—a idiot.’ Once again, I’m on the misfitting side of Common Sense.




Tommy Tubby




It’s always been a very sobering moment when I’ve told someone that my father fought in the First World War and they ask “Did he survive?”

Had he not survived I would be at least twenty years older than I am, and to be taken for 50 when you’re only 30 is certainly sobering, at least until you can get to a mirror, at which point you realise it’s their maths at fault not your face!

The TV programmes about the Somme have been more than I can cope with, even though my father wasn’t there. This time 100 years ago he was in France but further north and before the battle ended he was in Salonika. Then he went to Egypt, fought his way, literally step by step, to Jerusalem, was wounded so never got to Jericho and then returned to France for the last few months of the war.

Over the last two years, watching programmes about WW1 and in conversations with friends I’ve heard the word “damage” used over and over again, as if that needed to be emphasised. One only has to watch the News to know what sort of “damage” any sort of war causes. And, yes, my father was left damaged; by the time he was demobbed he was extremely deaf, though he rarely mentioned the fact. He had also won the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but he didn’t mention that, either.

But, and it’s a very big but, he would have been horrified if he thought anyone had believed him to be “damaged”.

Most of his friends and colleagues were also old Tommies. They were staunch, loyal, generous and utterly dependable. There were one or two ‘Eeyores’ among them, but most of them had a great sense of humour and also, perhaps surprisingly, a great sense of fun. They had been through unimaginable horrors and having learned to cope they continued to cope. In 1939 they took “Keep calm and carry on” in their stride.

I often wonder what my father would make of Now.

I have no idea if he would have voted to Leave or Remain but he would have been disgusted by the sheer nastiness the referendum provoked. Surprisingly, for someone of his generation, he was not racist, though he was slightly anti-semitic, and loathed Picasso and the Pope. He had learned to have great admiration for the Arab camel drivers in the desert, and though he and his comrades complained about the filth the Turks left behind them he respected their courage as soldiers.

As a cricket lover one of his heroes was W G Grace, whom he watched play many times. Another hero was Leary Constantine, and anyone who could play that beautiful game so elegantly had to be all right.

Then, take football. (Easier for the Welsh than the English at the moment.) If they camped in one place in the desert for more than a few days one of their first off-duty tasks was to clear space for a pitch. He was most generous so I don’t suppose he would have grudged Wayne Rooney his pay. I’m the family member who thinks it ridiculous that Rooney earns three times my school teacher son’s annual salary—in a week. However, he would have assumed that high pay demanded equally high standards of play and behaviour, to say nothing of some sort of repentance and recompense when you let your country down.

The old are set in their ways and we must move with the times. Of course! Where would I be without my iPad and iPhone? If only we could hold on to some of the old-fashioned standards and values that helped to make men like my father. They deserve more than mere remembrance.