Car crash despair – and the one factor I overlooked

I have broken my arm. Pause for “armless” jokes. Ok. I did it in a car crash that took place conveniently about 700 miles away from my home, on an island. Our car was virtually destroyed and we were stranded with bruised bodies, a useless ferry ticket and battered expectations. And lots and lots of luggage.

This was not easy to handle – especially the luggage. My wife did not have a broken arm, but she was so badly bruised that her lifting capacity was minimal. Seat belts and airbags may save your life, but they also beat you up badly.

I would have been close to despair, but there was one factor that I had overlooked – other people.

Jean-Paul Sartre is famous for his line that “hell is other people”. In certain circumstances that may be true, but in the circumstances we found ourselves, the opposite was the case. It is only through the kindness of other people that we got through the ordeal as well as we did.

From the outset, passers-by rushed over to comfort my wife, who seemed most badly affected. The Orkney police were extremely kind, as were the paramedics and hospital staff. From the hospital, the police drove us back to our B&B – a distance of over 15 miles and up a rough track.

But our B&B host was the star. She not only overwhelmed us with sympathy and TLC, but drove us to the garage where our wreck of a car had been deposited, helped us recover a large number of items and then helped us sort them out for transport back to Norwich. We would take what we could manage (my right arm was fine), and she would arrange for the rest to be packed up and sent off.

Then (as well as looking after six other guests) she drove us all the way to the airport at Kirkwall, made sure the airline, Loganair, looked after us – they did – and saw us off. What a star.

Earlier, I had rung the holiday company that arranged our customised trip. It was out of hours, but the woman on the end of the phone could not have been more sympathetic, or more helpful. She booked flights, contacted our B&B host and kept on checking that everything was OK.

In case you ever want this kind of holiday (without the car crash) I can recommend McKinlay Kidd. I’m sure legally they didn’t have to sort out these problems, but they pulled out all the stops. And the holiday was great too – as it had been, a couple of years ago, in the Outer Hebrides.

Back in Norwich, after a delightful couple of flights, we were met at the airport by friends and taken home. Happy ending? I’ll let you know. We’re both still in quite a bit of a pain, and I spent three days in hospital, but those other people got us through.

We told our B&B host she was a wonderful person. “No,” she said. ‘I’m just a person.”

I didn’t argue. I was too tired.

We have the technology, but it doesn’t work

Five years ago I lodged a book of poems and photographs with a certain online bookseller, and this week I received a substantial shock. Somebody bought one. I am now big in Worcestershire, but only in the sense that I am very, very small everywhere else. 

Still, this would be quite a highlight of most weeks. In fact it is a massive highlight of the last few days, during which I have been hit by technological failures at an unprecedented level and have had to spend most of my time trying to put them right, or work round them.

I am not even including the television in this. It has been misbehaving for weeks, to the extent that we no longer attempt to watch HD or record it. Most of the time we can now record ordinary programmes, and if we can’t, we can usually find them on iPlayer or the equivalent. Sometimes, however, we are warned that our signal is very poor quality – and indeed it sometimes pixelates itself out of existence. Sometimes it tells us we don’t have a WiFi signal, when we clearly do. It’s quite annoying. 

Is it our BT box, our TV, or something else entirely? Who knows? Maybe it’s just me.

In the last few days, other technology has been failing. My printer won’t work because it says the black ink cartridge is empty. It isn’t. It’s a new one. So was the one before it, which didn’t work either. I gave up and tried to use my wife’s printer to print a couple of documents off, but then her printer wouldn’t work because the computer couldn’t find it. Ludicrously, if she wanted something printed, she had to e-mail it to me, and I could then print it remotely using my computer and her printer upstairs – the one that couldn’t be found by her computer sitting next to it. 

Happily I am too mature to throw printers out of the window or jump on them, but I do think that would be a perfectly reasonable response. Since you ask, her printer is now back working, and I am about to buy a new printer.

Then I tried to install a Barclaycard app and despite entering all the correct information several times, I was locked out of my account. The man on the helpline was apologetic, but there was something wrong with his system (it was slow), and he had to ring me back. He eventually unlocked me, but meantime the Santander site had gone down. Temporarily.

I have a feeling one or two other things failed as well, but my brain stopped working about then; so I don’t remember. All this happened, of course, when my two technological experts, my son and grandson, were out of the country. Now my granddaughter is out of the country too; so I can’t even be beaten consistently at Cluedo.

Still, I’ve sold a book. I don’t actually have any money yet, but it’s something, isn’t it? 

All my troubles seemed so far away

We have had Barry in this week to paint the inside of our house. As a result I have been listening to much more music than usual, and I am happy – and relieved – to say that Barry’s musical tastes are very similar to mine, although he is a good dozen years younger than me.

We have run through a fair bit of early Bob Dylan, some Dire Straits, a lot of other 60s material and today I think we accounted for almost the entire catalogue of the Eagles – or the Beagles, as Barry calls them.

He has organised this musical treat for me at the same time as painting the entire kitchen, the stairwell, many doors and much woodwork – and conducting meandering FaceTime conversations with a man in the USA.

Halfway through, my wife and I stepped out of the chaos that is our house and went to the cinema to see Yesterday, which is a whimsical tale about a singer who finds himself in a world where no-one else remembers The Beatles. As a result he is able to pass off a large number of Beatles songs as his own and becomes a huge hit (after some amusing false starts).

The reason we went to see the film is that some of it was filmed in Gorleston, which is a memorably unexotic seaside resort just down the road from Norwich. And yes, there it was, as well as some familiar spots in nearby Suffolk. But that’s not what made the film memorable.

Probably one of the best films I’ve seen for years, it was beautifully paced, and the direction and script were superb – especially one line near the end which made me laugh and cry at the same time. Embarrassing, or what?

The actors were brilliant too – especially, but not exclusively, Himesh Patel as the singer and Lily James as his first manager/girl friend. Do see it if you can, even if your house isn’t being painted.

Of course you can’t go wrong with Beatles songs. You remember The Beatles?

Next week, Barry.

Writing words for oratorios – a nasty habit

The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once observed: “A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits.”

This is undoubtedly true. I was present at a poetry reading only yesterday, and a swift glance round Walpole Old Chapel, in Suffolk, where the reading took place, revealed that here were people who had nasty habits. I don’t know what they were, but then they didn’t know what mine were.

The real question is whether reading poetry aloud is really a nasty habit. Clearly it can be, especially if the poetry is not very good. Pretty much all of the poetry read at Walpole was worth listening to.

And every single one of the poets there could have written better words to Haydn’s The Creation than those supplied for the performance at Norwich Cathedral a couple of weeks earlier. They were excruciating.

Someone said they were Victorian, and so should be accepted. I seem to remember there were Victorian poets who wrote good and beautiful English. (And anyway Haydn is pre-Victorian.)

Let me give you a couple of examples from The Creation:

RAPHAEL: “See flashing thro’ the deep in thronged swarms the fish a thousand ways around…. In long dimensions creeps with sinuous trace the worm.”

GABRIEL: “With verdure clad the fields appear delightful to the ravish’d sense; by flowers sweet and gay enhanced is the charming sight.”

Now that’s what I call a nasty habit, and whoever the writer or translator is (he may have gone into Haydn), we should not be singing his words out loud. How did he get away with it? Is it because lovers of classical music are notoriously careless – or should I say couldn’t-care-less – about words?

Or could they not afford someone who could write English?

In all fairness I have to say that the performance at the Cathedral was brilliant, by instrumentalists and choir. So why do they put up with rubbish instead of words? I may be particularly sensitive in that area, but it spoiled my evening.

Yours, etc. Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells.

Masterchef, eat your heart out

I used to wonder how chefs – or indeed anybody – came up with bright new recipes, using unanticipated flavours, and I have often suspected that most of it was accidental.

Now, with a bit more experience, I know that almost all of it is a result of adding creme fraiche or honey, or both. Practically anything tastes better if you add creme fraiche and honey.

However, the accident theory got a bit of a boost when I invented a new sauce yesterday. New to me, that is. It happened like this.

My wife and I were consuming an average dish of chicken from the supermarket, and it included a sauce described, with a certain amount of hyperbole, as creamy, bacon and mushroom. I was getting toward the end, and I was beginning to wonder if it had been worth the bother of cooking it. It was pretty dull.

I reached across for my glass of red wine (shiraz), which was nearly empty. As I lifted it toward my mouth, it struck something and fell from my hand. In a deft move – the kind for which I have become something of a legend – I caught it in the other hand. I expected the remaining wine to have fallen on to my plate or on to the table, or into my lap. But no – it had completely vanished.

I hope I’m getting the drama of the moment across to you. It was magic. The vanishing wine. Could I get it to reappear in the shape of a rabbit? Probably not.

I then noticed that there was an almost empty tub of Anchor butter on the table, and in it were the entire contents of my wine glass. Not just some of it, but all. Do not try this at home.

So I had a small amount of butter, accompanied by a small amount of wine. What should I do with it? Obviously, I should mix it together and pour in on to the remains of my chicken dish. Why wouldn’t I?

Reader, it was delicious. Transformational. I had created poulet au vin beurre, or something more accurately French.

Don’t tell me – you’ve been eating it for years. Everyone does it. I don’t care. For me it was just amazing. And I never saw it coming.

Did early church have a sharp bit?

Another scroll has surfaced that puts the early church in a different light and paints a strangely familiar picture. What if the first Christians really did operate in the same sort of way as the Church of England? Here are some extracts:

“The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. And Paul saw in a dream a large building made of stone, containing a nave, a chancel and a choir, and other features too numerous to mention. And above it all rose a sharpish arch pointing directly to heaven. And inside it was very cold.

And he told Peter of his dream. Peter asked him what the strange words meant.

Paul said he had no idea, but without love they probably had nothing. He added that an apse, a font and some pews would also be necessary. But Peter kept his own counsel until the next PCC meeting, when he asked about the reserves.

“It is vital to keep back money for repairs,” said Judas (not Iscariot). “We need a contingency fund. There are also health and safety issues. What if the sharp bit falls off?”

Then Barnabas asked if they would need a faculty.

At this point Paul said that in view of the difficulties, he thought maybe his dream had been a vision of the distant future – something they could aspire to, maybe in another country. Perhaps it was more urgent at this moment in time to got to Macedonia, where he had been invited to speak.

But Peter said that Macedonia had human rights problems, and perhaps a visit from Paul would send out the wrong message. This was agreed.

Then Barnabas suggested instituting a parish share based on diocesan requirements, but this was felt to be premature. Paul said he had to leave the next day, but would send them a letter. “

Doubts have been cast on the authenticity of this scroll, especially as it has been dated by geologists as being three million years old.

Getting more than you anticipate

It’s the festival season. Not only have Norwich City reached the heights in the Championship, but tonight a man is walking on a high wire across the market place in Norwich, and yesterday I spoke to quite a large number of Swaffham mothers about the Paston family. All kinds of strange things happen in the festival season.

As a sort of prelude to it all, a few days ago I found myself in Orford, which is in Suffolk, beyond the magical Snape. Orford happens to be one of my favourite places, and I would visit it more often if it were not so far away. As Corey Ford said, “I would go away if it wasn’t so far.” Not many people know that.

My excuse on this occasion was a concert by the Prometheus Orchestra, which I had not heard of but was excellent. It featured a gorgeous Fantasia by Vaughan Williams; a flute concerto played brilliantly by a remarkable woman in a shiny gold dress; and a beautiful symphony by Mendelssohn. By chance we got on the front row, among some very upper class accents and only a few feet from a stunning sculpture of Noah.

I felt very much at home, which is surprising, because my home is nothing like that. 

Afterwards the sun came out unexpectedly, and we found ourselves parked on the quay, gazing out toward Orford Ness, past a boat called Regardless, which apparently does river trips when the tide is in. I felt it should carry on.

Anyway, back to the Swaffham mothers. It was the Mothers’ Union, actually, and I felt that I might have some difficulty interesting them in the Pastons, given that the village of Paston is about 50 miles away, and the family had little impact on the town.

But something interesting happened. The faceless audience that I had imagined (or failed to imagine) transformed itself into a series of distinctive and intelligent individuals who were not only interested but had things to say. 

I guess this happens all the time. In our blindness we put people into bland blocks and attribute predictable attitudes and opinions to them, when in fact everyone is different and for the most part fascinating. Even without the tightrope.

What Jesus should have said

Those of you familiar with the Church of England will not be surprised to hear that it has a Legacy Policy. This fits in nicely with its Safeguarding Policy, its Growth in Service Grants, its Mission Strategy Fund and its eagerness to access Lottery funding.

If only Jesus had such ideas he could have laid proper foundations to the Church as a whole.

“And I say unto you, seek out those with lots of money and get them to leave you most of it in their will. Make it living-watertight, and you will not need to bother my Father with prayers about running costs.

“Suffer little children to come unto me, but make sure you have a Safeguarding Officer, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

It has now become clear to me why I have never been more than a practising Christian with little hope of passing the final exams. I was always against taking a collection at church, because it made it look as if we were begging rather than giving. It’s no use offering eternal life with one hand if you’re asking for money with the other. Or is it?

“And lo, I am always with you, but you may prefer Growth in Service Grants, because then you won’t need to worry about disturbing me.

“And I will make a way in the desert and streams of Lottery Funding if you can cope with the paperwork and put all the key posts out to tender.

“And there will arise a Mission Strategy Fund which will enable you to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, unless someone claims you are being intolerant, in which case you will be up before the magistrates. You may then be crucified. In the Press and on TV.”

And the people had no idea what Jesus was talking about, and they went away sadly, because the other things he had said earlier seemed so right.

Pathways, kinks, apples and speed gangs

My wife and I went for a walk in Bacton Wood the other day. In case you want to follow in our footsteps, I should warn you that Bacton Wood is not exactly in Bacton. It is sometimes called Witton Wood. I don’t want to be more precise, in case you have a dog. There are quite enough dogs in Bacton Wood already.

Someone has made an attempt to direct people round two or three marked walks. The one we chose was interesting, but it would not be unfair to say that a totally random placement of the guide posts would have been just about as helpful.

It goes toward confirming my suspicion that there is a law that states that anyone put in charge of a road or track must have no concept of what is needed. For example, the sparkling new Norwich Northern Distributor Road (or Broadland Northway, as it is much less known) has a very large kink in it that can only be explained by the constructors merrily setting off in one direction, realising it’s wrong, putting in a roundabout and coming halfway back again. 

And while we’re on the subject of roundabouts, whose idea was it to design them like an apple, so that it seems obvious that people have already turned left when in fact they are mysteriously still on the roundabout and about to hit you when you pull out? I know anyone within any sense would shift into the middle lane to go straight ahead, but drivers have been so indoctrinated into driving timorously that changing lanes rarely occurs to them. 

Which brings me to speed limits, without which local newspapers would go out of business. Take it from me, nobody walking through a village has the slightest idea how fast passing cars are going. But people of a certain vociferous type know it must be too fast, because it’s a car, and if they can get into a gilet jaune and start a gang of speed watchers, they’ll jump at the chance. 

I have driven in Norfolk for well over 50 years, and I can tell you that the main problem with Norfolk drivers is that they drive too slowly. They are also incapable of overtaking, but I blame that on the inept road organisers who brainwash them into thinking that speed kills. Slow drivers are far more dangerous, because they don’t concentrate, they do other things at the same time, and all the other drivers get so tired of the endless processions that they doze off. Since almost all accidents are caused by not paying attention, this is a Bad Thing.

Police and councillors trot out all the old misleading statistics, but despite the plague of “safety” measures that afflicts us more and more, road deaths are roughly the same now as they were in 2012. All those speed cameras and ridiculously low limits have never had the desired effect – unless by “desired effect” you mean extracting huge amounts of cash from people who are driving perfectly safely.

Measuring up trees in the wind

It was certainly a mistake to start writing about warm weather, as I did last time. Inevitably it has since turned damp, cold and extremely windy, and made the weather forecasters very happy – or at least enthusiastic.

At the top of our road men in hi-vis jackets (gilets oranges) are measuring up trees as if they intend to cut them down before the wind knocks them over. They taped off a footpath for a while, but as far as I can see nothing else has happened, which is Normal for Norfolk. They are probably waiting for the result of the Brexit vote so that things become clearer. Or they may simply have lost interest.

As has become something of a habit at this time of year, we escaped from Norfolk for a few days to reassure ourselves that roads were just as bad everywhere else, and indeed in many cases worse. No-one, after all, is building smart (aka moronic) motorways in Norfolk, where there are no motorways of any kind. Nor do we, like the otherwise relatively sane county of Derbyshire, have blanket 50mph limits, which make driving tedious and therefore more dangerous.

Buxton, our ultimate destination, remains as stunning as ever. I’m not sure why. It may have something to do with geometry, or the juxtaposition of curves. It may be the way it attracts snow (though not on this occasion), or encourages people to walk.

Coincidentally, one of my local councillors is also keen on people walking. He would like to have a car-free Sunday in our fine city of Norwich, but I’m afraid he just falls into the category of people who are really selfish – not, as Oscar Wilde pointed out, because he wants to do things his way, but because he wants everyone else to do things his way as well.

Cars are not evil. They are quite useful in carrying people and things to places where they might otherwise be unable to go. They also benefit the sick and the elderly, which can hardly be said of bicycles – especially when it’s damp, cold and windy.

I could also point out that if everyone in the UK stopped using a car tomorrow, it would have no effect on global climate whatsoever. But I won’t, because that would make me a climate change denier: any schoolchild could tell you that.