Monday, February 28, 2011


The photograph represents just a token amount of the EIGHT large plastic sacks crammed full of shredded paper (all painstakingly shredded by yours truly) from the vaults of the outmoded Broadway family filing system. When we had the kitchen “done” last summer, I manhandled the massive, 4-drawer, metal filing cabinet down into the basement. The drawers contained filing amassed over the entire 38 years of our marriage (that sounds as if we’ve agreed to nullify our partnership - I assure you that’s not the case!).
Moira+I are not very good at filing.
We normally only do it when the filing tray pile has developed into a mountain (and, even then, we sometimes just dump the pile in the basement “for when we have more time”). Some time ago, we agreed that this half-term would be used to “sort out” our filing and, amazingly, that’s what we’ve done (well, almost done). Moira organized for someone to come and collect the filing cabinet (thanks to FreeCycle) and, at long last, the basement floor has begun to re-emerge. It’s been quite embarrassing to rediscover all the paperwork we’ve retained – gas and electricity bills from the year dot, old Council Tax bills, old Christmas letters, home insurance papers from our first Thame house, endowment mortage forms that were going to secure our financial future, countless bits of correspondence from my old practice’s accountants, draft practice accounts…. and on and on. Strange also to see the change in letterheadings (eg. graphic style etc) over the years from my former practice, our accountants, our insurance brokers and the like over more than three decades - especially the lack of fax numbers, websites and e-mail addresses.
Anyway, they’ve all gone… and Moira+I now have the makings of a new streamlined filing system – which, of course, we will be updating on a weekly basis from now on!
PS: my favourite discovery was a photocopy of a handwritten letter Moira sent to the tax man in 1985 asking when we might been receiving a small anticipated tax rebate and expressing the hope that it might be before Christmas – it included a drawing (by Moira) of Santa Claus emerging from a chimney with the words “ho ho ho, here’s your tax rebate Mrs Broadway!”. I cannot recall whether or not this cunning ploy was successful!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

family lunch

Lovely to get together with my brother Alan+Lesley+girls for lunch near Gloucester yesterday – and very good that Ruth+Stu+girls were able to join us too. Wonderful also to see Megan+Eleanor blossoming into beautiful young women. Rosa+Iris didn’t let the side down and managed to provide some entertainment without too much distraction to other customers.
We don’t get together as often as we’d like but, every time we do, it feels very good!
Photo: some poor pics of a lovely afternoon!
PS: realised earlier that this would be my 700th blog (why doesn't the man get a life?). Yes, I know, pathetic!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

pumping gas

Last weekend, I was bemoaning the likes of Barclays Bank.
This morning I see that British Gas announced that its operating profits had risen by 24% in 2010 (just two months after it had increased customers’ domestic energy bills by 7%). During the same period, its parent company Centrica doubled its operating profits to 29%. Don’t get me wrong, I accept that it’s good that businesses make a profit (I ran my own company for nearly 30 years), but I resent this world where the shareholder is king and the customers merely servants to the cause.
Later today, we’ll no doubt see Ofgem (it “regulates” the electricity and gas markets in the UK – “protecting customers is our first priority”) coming out with some sort of justification and, once again, we’ll be left feeling that it’s a terribly unfair world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

true grit

Moira, Hannah+I went to the Watershed this afternoon to see the latest offering from the Coen brothers. Beautifully filmed and brilliantly acted (especially Jeff Bridges as a fat, boozy, old guy with an eyepatch in late 19th-century Arkansas, who after a rackety career of gunslinging and soldiering is now employed as a US marshal). Although it was a very impressive film, I have to admit that I came out feeling just a little disappointed – perhaps I’d been influenced by the hype? I’ve just read a review that talks about “an exquisite sadness and gentleness” of its final moments – whereas I had shaken my head in disbelief as, firstly, Bridges’ weary horse – carrying Bridges and Mattie Ross (a 14-year-old girl played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) galloped across the screen like a Derby winner and then, after the horse had finally collapsed with exhaustion, Bridges (remember: the “fat, boozy, old guy”!) sprinted for several more miles cradling Steinfeld.
I think all the whisky he was drinking must have helped!

Monday, February 21, 2011

the diving-bell, the butterfly and the lucky man

I spent a lovely day with Iris and Rosa today (even though Rosa was a little under the weather). In the afternoon, despite the rain, we walked to the harbourside and visited SS Great Britain. We enjoyed fruit juices and muffins in the café and we chatted and laughed our way through the afternoon. It was all effortless and hugely enjoyable - simple pleasures!
After Stuart had collected the girls at the end of the afternoon, I continued to read Jean-Dominique Bauby’s beautiful and remarkable little book “The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly” - you may have already come across it yourself. After suffering a massive stroke, the author was paralysed from head to toe (locked-in syndrome) and he “dictated” the book using his left eyelid.
Within minutes of the girls’ departure, I read the following extract (Bauby had been playing “hangman” with his 10 year-old son) and it made me realise just how fortunate my life has been…. and just how much we take for granted:
My heart is not in the game. Grief surges over me. His face not more than two feet from mine, my son Theophile sits patiently waiting – and I, his father, have lost the simple right to ruffle his bristly hair, clasp his downy neck, hug his small, lithe, warm body tight against me. There are no words to express it. My condition is monstrous, iniquitous, revolting, horrible. Suddenly, I can take no more. Tears well and my throat emits a hoarse rattle that startles Theophile. Don’t be scared, little man, I love you.”
I love you.
Photo: Rosa+Iris eating their Christmas lunch!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

january/february books

More books, I’m afraid:
The Fry Chronicles (Stephen Fry): Incredibly readable. At over 400 pages, the book is probably much longer than it needs to be (Fry acknowledges this at the very start of the book) – afterall, it’s his second autobiography and it still only takes us up to his 30th birthday! I frequently had a sense that I could have skipped a few pages and not lost the general gist - a bit like tuning into the Archers every so often (which I don’t) and knowing you could catch up on the storyline very quickly. Having said that, I do love the way he writes and really didn't want the book to end.
The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane): A simply magical, inspiring book – beautifully written – describing Macfarlane’s journeys around Britain seeking out the truly wild places. I’m really NOT one of those people who simply packs a warm sleeping bag and bivouac bag and trudges off in search of wilderness – especially at night and in the snow(!) – but even I was captivated by his adventures and stories.
All The Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy): I was incredibly impressed by McCarthy’s “The Road” and so decided to read his “The Border Trilogy” (this book is volume one). I found it a difficult book to get into at the start, but really warmed to it in the end. Set in America in the early 1950s, it deals (among other things) with the transition between boyhood and manhood. I’m looking to reading volumes two+three in due course!
Mountains of the Mind (Robert Macfarlane): Another wonderful Macfarlane book. I’m afraid I don’t have a head for heights and so mountaineering as a hobby is a definite “no no” for me. Despite this, I’ve read and enjoyed many books on the subject and this is one of the very best. Essentially, it’s a fascinating history of mountaineering but, like his “Wild Places” book, I particularly enjoyed tales of his own experiences.
What a Carve Up! (Jonathan Coe): This is our book group’s first book (blame Catherine!), so I suppose I shouldn’t really be commenting, to any great extent, here in advance of our meeting on 11 March! The book was published in the mid-1990s and is effectively a condemnation of Thatcher’s Britain. Whilst (as you might imagine) I found this easy to applaud and enjoy – it’s very funny at times, I was also irritated by its preposterous and, sometimes, predictably fantastic storyline. Having just finished the book, I’m left with mixed feelings about it. Maybe I’ll think differently once I’ve had time to reflect.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

tax avoidance

Last November, I blogged about tax avoidance… and that there were some high-powered people who argued that the UK didn’t have a spending crisis, but that it had a tax avoidance crisis.
So I was absolutely furious to read an article in this morning’s Guardian which indicated that Barclays Bank had been forced to admit that it paid just £113million in UK corporation tax in 2009 – a year when it made record profits of £11.6bn (that’s 11,600million).
In other words, its tax bill represented just 0.974% of its profits!
Stunning. Sickening. Derisory. Just plain wrong.
So, at a time when most of us are being devastated by the billion-pound cuts to essential services that we all depend on, Barclays is paying out bonuses of £2bn and its CEO, Bob Diamond, is in line for a bonus of more than £8million. It’s important to understand that Barclays is not the only company accused of tax-avoidance in the UK - others include Boots and Vodafone.
Once again, clearly, we’re NOT 'all in this together'!
I’ve just signed up on the Robin Hood Tax website. Please do the same!

Monday, February 14, 2011

dad from hell and fears for the future

I’ve been haunted over the weekend by something I witnessed outside The Galleries shopping centre in Bristol on Saturday. It involved a young family – a father and a mother (I assume) and two young boys (say 3 and 5 years old). It all happened within the space of perhaps a minute. It seemed as if the mother and the youngest child had been a little late getting to a pre-arranged meeting point. “Dad” was absolutely FURIOUS – not in a huffing and puffing sort of way, but ABSOLUTELY furious. Dad was the only person making a noise – the other three remained completely silent. Dad was shouting a torrent of appalling abuse – he must have used the “F” word at least 30 times in this short period. He was SCREAMING at the woman and literally spitting out his venomous diatribe. It was really frightening and it was utterly sickening to behold.
The bewildered boys simply looked on; there were no tears, but they looked absolutely petrified. The mother remained silent. Perhaps unfairly, I got the impression that this was in no way a rare event and, by the level of the father’s rage, I couldn’t help thinking that the relationship was probably a violent one.
Since witnessing this, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the woman and her sons… in my head, I’m urging her to leave her partner and I fear for what the future holds for the boys. Have their lives already been stained forever? Will they simply “inherit” their father’s parenting “skills” and regard them as normal?
It would have been futile for me to have intervened and yet I feel massively guilty for not doing so.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

gail's big birthday weekend

Moira+I spent a wonderful weekend in Devon to help celebrate our lovely friend Gail’s 50th birthday. We stayed with great mutual friends Mags+Jeremy at their home in Gurton village. Friday night was spent at the Island Street restaurant in Salcombe (and, crucially, being able to watch the Wales v England rugby game!); a fantastic Saturday lunch at The Old Bakery, Kingsbridge – with Gail, Ian, Rachel, Esther, Sid, Rachel, Mags, Jeremy, Ken, Debby, Cara, Moira+me all in attendance; more food+drink at Gail+Ian’s in Aveton Gifford (plus a hilarious game of charades) on Saturday evening; a beautiful walk down the estuary from Aveton Gifford to Bantham on Sunday morning – ending up at The Sloop Inn for lunch.
Gail is a very, very special friend and it was an absolutely brilliant weekend!
Photo: before the food had arrived (left to right: Rachel, Gail, Debby, Ken, Ian, Cara, Moira, Sid and Rachel at The Old Bakery, Kingsbridge).

Friday, February 04, 2011

kielder challenge 2011

Kielder Challenge is probably the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of my job. Each year four pupils from our school plus four pupils from Fosse Way School (a very special catering for young people with physical disabilities and/or severe learning difficulties), get together to compete in this national outdoor adventure event and competition which has run for over 25 years.
Yesterday, the pupils met for their first training/introductory session. It was very humbling watching them bond together so naturally and easily (and almost instantly!) - LOTS of laughter!
Whatever the outcome of our endeavours, it’ll be a life-enhancing experience for all of us taking part.
Photo: Megan, Charlotte, Alihan, Roxy, Becky, Andrew, Chris and Charlie.