Saturday, October 12, 2013

Happy Wedding Anniversary

Yippee! I think I've remembered an anniversary for a change ! (but I'm not sure) ... :-)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dreaming - One step, two step, three ...

It was a dream that began with a growing realisation there was a problem – but what?

Then a hazy vista of the world unfolded before me …
  (you can click on this hazy vista if you like)

After which there was a final vision, and clarity …


Monday, June 10, 2013


This blog begins with a photograph of my workspace in Kent, followed by the opening lines of one of England's finest poems.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;

As you can see, John Keats was a romantic poet who was worried about his pen, because it couldn't keep up with his brain. Well, if he was worried, I've been going absolutely frantic, because my pen stopped doing any gleaning several months ago. And, truth be told, the brain hasn't been up to much teeming either...

Alas, the photo could have been a self-portrait, if only I had been my unusual prolific self, hammering away at the keyboard. But that was not to be.

Instead, what we see in my workspace is a total absence of any meaningful blogging activity. Yes, someone has switched on the table lamp and the computer has been powered up. But that's it, that's all - zilch, nix, nada, nowt else - a complete waste of electricity, you might say.

Well, I may be unseen in the photograph, but I am standing nearby, with camera still in hand, and I'm gazing out of the window up at the night sky...

When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;

I was pondering these plaintive words as dawn broke, and I watched an incoming North Sea tide rolling up the Thames Estuary. It was then that the bulb in the table lamp expired. It was as if it knew its services were no longer required.

So I replaced the old bulb with a new one. And I distinctly recollect my absent-mindedly tapping a few words on the computer keyboard before resuming my position by the window. Luckily, I still had the camera in hand to catch that moment in time.

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

And that's the bit I've never quite understood - why is there a faery power in unreflecting love? And do you think the fake bougaenvillea looks a bit naff in my Kentish workspace?


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


The upper sixth formers at my school were expected to enrol into the SES.

Alas, the acronym SES (not SAS) stood for School Essay Society. Those of us who were studying science subjects like maths, physics, or chemistry felt somewhat aggrieved by this requirement to enrol. It seemed like a punishment designed by artists and theocrats who believed that a study of their stuff was perhaps more important than ours.

My assigned project for the SES was to prepare an essay and a supporting speech on Russian Literature.

So in addition to my science reading material, I had to plough through novels by Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Lermontov and Dostoevsky (Nabokov was just too new –abhorred by the theocrats, and therefore not on the official reading list).

But the novel that totally immersed me was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It is the only book that I have read from cover to cover, and then again from cover to cover without interruption. Ever since, I have believed it to be the greatest novel ever.

And now, over fifty years later, after a search on the Internet, I know why I found that novel to be so absorbing. In an extract of a letter written to his brother in 1866 (see below), I learned that Dostoevsky had been addicted to gambling, and I was reminded I had also read his book titled The Gambler:

“And I believed in my system. I won 600 francs in fifteen minutes. This whetted my appetite. Suddenly I started to lose. I couldn't control myself and lost everything. So I left to get my very last money, and went back to play. I risked 35 Napoleons and lost them all. I had only 6 Napoleons left to pay the landlady and for the journey. In Geneva I pawned my watch.”

You see, I’d grown up with the ruffle of cards, the clink of chips, and the spin of a roulette wheel. As a child I learnt every card game, and how to play chess, courtesy of a very kind and sympathetic bartender.

Those were the post war days in a Czech Club in London. Everyone was poor, and I remember the club couldn’t even afford a roulette wheel and baize. Instead, they had old playing cards stuck onto a large cardboard base, and the players would place their bets on those cards, after which they would await a shuffle and cut followed by the slow turn of a set number of cards from one of two dealer packs to see who (if anybody) had won. I remember the game was called “Gottesleben”, which even today makes no sense to me, because it translates from German (and not from Czech) to “The Life of God”.

The Czechs and other East Europeans who joined the club had no love of Germans (or Russians for that matter). My heroes were the Czechs and the Poles and the Hungarians who would tell me gripping tales of their war experiences.

I grew up in those communities, and that led me to work my way through school and university in continental restaurants, betting shops, and in a company that provided for the catering needs of the top London casinos. Yes, I washed dishes, waited tables, bounced bad customers, took bets, settled bets, collected from Covent Garden and Smithfield markets and delivered to casinos, restaurants and private customers. In my late teens and early twenties I was on first name terms with the catering managements at many London Casinos and private gaming clubs.

In later years, when I escorted my Mother for a birthday evening at a casino – something that was still a big pleasure for her – I never gambled a penny of the money I had earned. I just watched, even when my Mother had her very small flutter on the roulette. And on those occasions when she won, she’d pass me some of her winning chips to look after, to be cashed in on our way home. Like everyone, she loved to play with casino money, not with her money, and she was emphatic about “being grateful” for a big win. For her, “being grateful” entailed leaving her original small stake on a number that had won for her - to see if it would win again - and tipping the croupier when she left the table with a win.

As I said, these were rare evenings, because her husband – my second stepfather – had committed suicide because of his gambling debts. I was nineteen years old, and all for working full time. My Mother insisted I continue as a student, work part-time, and get a university degree. And she was right. Times were tough, but we survived and I graduated with a degree in Physics.

So what has all this to do with Dostoevsky?

Well, as I said earlier, I’d never gambled in a casino. But I’d watched, and was familiar with the intense focus of the gamblers on a turn of a card and the bounce of the ball along a spinning roulette wheel. I was fascinated by their compulsive, obsessive and superstitious behaviour. And I believe that Dostoevsky had the same insights into these facets of human behaviour as I had.

There were times when I imagined a starting stake of my own and played that through in my mind as the reality unfolded. Of course, I always lost my imaginary money. But on the last time I went to a casino with my Mother, I placed two imaginary bets on the same number for two successive spins of the wheel. And in reality, that was the winning number, twice in succession. I guess that sort of crazy luck may have been experienced by Dostoevsky, but in his case it was with real money, and he became addicted.

Well, I’ve just celebrated my 70th birthday by doing some island-hopping around the Canary Islands. I stayed in a well-known hotel in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. I learned that the hotel had provided a home for the city casino until two years ago, when it moved into more modern premises in the dockland area. Well, I hadn't visted a casino for twenty years, so I decided to pay this one a visit. And for the first time ever, and in rememberence of my mother, I decided to have a flutter on the roulette.

For my first bet, I put chips on 8, 18, and 28. The wheel spun, and the ball fell into the number 18 slot.

I was mindful of my Mother’s dictum to “be grateful”, so I left my winning stake on number 18, but with a difference. I quadrupled that original stake. And number 18 won again.

And I remembered my Mother’s second dictum about “being grateful”. I gave a sizable tip to the croupier before collecting my winning chips, cashing in, and walking out. My visit to the casino had lasted for precisely two spins of a roulette wheel
Bless you Mum. I very much doubt I’ll ever visit a casino to play again. If there ever was the slightest trace of a gambling addiction in me – well, I’ve certainly buried it in style, haven’t I?



Monday, December 17, 2012

Five steps down to Heaven...


My Mum screamed when she raised the hinged pinewood lid up from the bath to lean it back against the kitchen wall. There was a rat in the bath, but it didn’t move. It was dead. I don’t know why, but even now, so many years later, that simple scene from my childhood remains a vivid and enduring image for me.

At that time, the worst of the Blitz was over – or so it was thought – and we’d returned to London to live in rooms high up on the third floor of a terrace house in Notting Hill. The terrace was similar in design to that shown in the above photo, except the front door was sheltered by a large porch that was supported by two impressive columns. And there were exactly five steps leading down from the porch to the street.

I’ve had a look at the house as it is now on Google Street View. Nothing much has changed over the past 70 years, except for the outside paintwork that I remember as a dull flaking grey but is now a smart white, and today there are far prettier curtains and modern blinds in the windows. It looks positively cheerful and upmarket now. All the same, I’m glad I’m not there anymore. Too many bad memories, I suppose, like waking up and crying because of “Bobbies”. That was my name for the doodlebugs.

But I digress. It wasn’t the flaky paintwork, the blackout curtains or the war that made the house such a depressing place. It was the ogress, our landlady at the time, who was far more frightening. She was very much older than my young Mum, and shorter, and quite bent with a dowager’s hump that made her turn her head sideways to look at people. Her hair was unkempt, grey and straggly, and she always wore a black woollen shawl that was thrown over her shoulders and tied into a fierce double knot at the front.

She lived alone in the basement flat, but spent most of her days sat in a spindly wooden chair just outside the main front door on the porchway. This enabled her to monitor the comings and goings of all her tenants and their visitors. There was no alternative route for the tenants – we all had to use the porchway, and that’s where the weekly rents in advance were paid.

The landlady wasn’t nice. She’d bare her teeth and snarl at me when my Mum wasn’t looking, and there was one time when I was sure she deliberately tried to trip me up with her walking cane.

One day, my Mum gave the landlady her money in the rent book, just like every week. But the landlady gave the rent book back unsigned. My Mum didn’t notice until we were all the way up to the top of the house, and she rushed back downstairs. I followed, but by the time I’d navigated our three flights of narrow stairs down to the front door, both my Mum and the landlady were arguing.

The landlady was getting up up from her chair just as I arrived and the worst happened. I tripped over the front door threshold, which sent me stumbling onto the porch and into the back of the chair, knocking it forward so that the seat hit the landlady behind her knees. That’s when the landlady fell all the way down the steps, cracking her head on the side railings and again on the pavement below. And the chair followed, careering down the steps to land on top of her.

Mum was kneeling next to the landlady, trying to use the shawl to stem the blood flowing from the landlady’s head, and was shouting for help as I picked up the landlady’s purse. As more and more people arrived, I gave the purse to my friend Miffy for safe-keeping.

We never saw the landlady again. It was several weeks later, just before Christmas and just after the landlady’s son had given all the tenants formal notice to leave, that my Mum received a small and anonymous parcel through the post. It contained the huge sum of fifty-five pounds, eleven shillings and three pence.

I’m sure I recognised Miffy’s handwriting on the outside of the parcel. And I should have mentioned, if I haven’t before, that Miffy (that is his nickname – from his initials MIF) lived with me and my Mum at the time.

He was My Imaginary Friend then, just as he is today.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Just a week or so...

Just a week or so, back in Tenerife... . So, here's a song for us all... .