Saturday, September 21, 2019

Eight Years

It has been eight years today since my life fell apart. One day I had a family and a home. The next I was homeless and my wife and two daughters didn’t want to know me any longer. 

During those long years, I have seen my daughters, Edie and Frances, only once – in December 2012. We got on well on that occasion and yet I have never met them again, despite making it extremely clear I wanted to see them. This is my personal tragedy. 

On that terrible day in Priory Street, Lewes, East Sussex, on 21 September 2011, I knew my life had changed for ever. However, I never imagined it would mean I would no longer see Edie and Frances. Since then, not a day has passed when I haven’t thought of them. I wish so much I could see them, speak with them, tell them I love them and how sorry I am that the breakdown of my marriage, and all the things that happened around it, have hurt them. 

There must be many people in the UK today in my kind of situation. Fathers who have made a bad life choice, an unsound decision, and ended up estranged, alienated and ostracised. Society turns a blind eye to this dreadful state of affairs. In the heat of a crisis, it is all too easy for one parent to drive a permanent wedge between the children and the other parent. And before you know it, the children hate the man or woman they once called “dad” or “mum” and say they never want to see that loving parent again.

I really hope this doesn’t happen with Edie and Frances. 

Every morning, on my way to work, I write in a little notebook that I am very grateful that I will see Edie and Frances soon. I am willing for the meeting to take place. I now live in Hove where I have a big notice board of photographs of Edie and Frances which I look at every day. Pictures of them posing at our home in Lewes, out and about on bicycles or climbing trees as children. As the years have slipped by, the board has become more like wallpaper. I know Edie and Frances will look different now but I don’t even have up-to-date images of them.

I spent 21 years with Edie and 15 years with Frances. I loved – and still love – my daughters. Nothing will change that. I would love to see them before Christmas. I would love for them to come to my Master’s graduation ceremony in January. I would love to see them at any time, any place. I would love just to listen to them and to learn about their lives and who they have become. If this happened, it would feel like a miracle. Yet every day I hope it will happen and that Edie and Frances and I will be reconciled.
If you read this, dear Edie and Frances, please, please reach out to me, either directly or through your mother – so we can arrange to meet before the end of 2019.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Edie's Birthday

This week of the year is always a sad and difficult one for me. It is the week that my daughter Edie celebrates her birthday without me. 

She was 29 on Tuesday (19 February 2019) and I wish her well with all my heart. The day she was born, 19 February 1990, was the happiest of my life. I remember cradling her in my arms in the ward at University College Hospital in London's West End. I was overjoyed to have a lovely little baby girl.

My then-partner and I named her Edlyn, a name I recall I found and suggested. To my surprise, almost as soon as Edlyn was born, my partner started calling her Edie, a name with which I was also happy. As she grew up, I adored Edie. I wasn't at home as much as I could have been or as considerate a father as I should have been, but I never stopped loving her - not for one moment. And I always felt close to her. We used to play records, go cycling or walking together, talk. Once we even appeared on TV together. She was my little girl. I would have done anything for her. 

Now Edie has entered her 30th year and it breaks my heart to write that I have missed most of her twenties. I have not seen her since December 2011 - more than seven years, following the terrible family rift that occurred when I split from my ex-wife. Not one day has passed since then when I have not thought of Edie and her sister, my two wonderful daughters, and what a fool I have been to find myself exiled from them.

I am enormously proud of Edie. She was always such an intelligent, studious girl, doing very well at school and earning a place at the University of Oxford, Balliol College, where she read English. Academically, Edie was so brilliant, Balliol would have accepted her to read Mathematics. Indeed, she considered changing to maths while she was there. By the time she graduated, the shutters had come down. I was excluded from her life, facing a wall of silence, an ocean of desolation.

I don't really know what's happened to her since then. My ex hasn't told me anything, and I don't even have a way of getting Christmas or birthday cards and presents to her. Edie and her sister visited my late mum on her death bed in a hospice in Oxford last April - a merciful act which I greatly appreciated. But the condition set was that I and my brothers were not present at the time. This has been going on for so long, I am beyond desperate.

Why can't Edie and I meet and talk? Since my divorce from her mother, I have never been given an opportunity to communicate with her. Not for a moment. The 21 years that I spent living in the same home as Edie appears to have counted for nothing. A lot of people would have given up hope by now, but that's not in my nature. I have two lovely, now grown-up, daughters and I want to see them. It would be good for them and good for me. It'd be great for us all to tend the wound. I would do almost anything for this to happen. I have done everything my ex has asked of me and, as expected, received nothing.

I am extremely proud to say I believe Edie is now training for The Law - to be a barrister. It is something I considered doing, and I am delighted if this is the course she has embarked on. She was always very articulate and logical, with exceptional oratorial skills - Edie will be a brilliant brief, maybe a QC of the future. Who knows? She has reverted to her original moniker, Edlyn, a name that, I have no doubt, one day very soon will be very famous in the courts. Not surprisingly, Edlyn and I have a great deal in common: a quirky sense of humour, love of life and ability to work very hard. Indeed, I think we are currently both mature postgraduate students at the same London university (although at different sites).

I know how tough it is going back to study, particularly at postgrad level. It's expensive, of course, and punishingly hard work. I do between 20 hours and more than 40 hours of study a week for my Master's, as well as working full-time, to get good grades. I am sure Edlyn is working just as hard. I would love the opportunity to see her and help her in any way I can. That is my dream!  

Monday, December 31, 2018

My 2018

It is New Year's Eve 2018 and so a natural time to look back over the year.

This year has been dominated by the death of my dear mother, Heide Wilson (nee Loblich).

Mum (pictured left at my allotment) had appeared in excellent health for most of last year.

Her diagnosis with intestinal cancer, about a year ago, was a great shock. The speed at which the disease took hold was horrifying.

She died in a hospice in Oxford on 20 April 2018 with me and my three brothers at her bedside.

Even now it is hard to write about. I could go on about her life, growing up in war-torn Germany, meeting Dad (who died three years ago), settling in England, her remarkable career in mathematics and her Catholicism.

But it is her unconditional love and great kindness I remember.

I still find it hard to believe she has gone.

It is more than 14 months since I have written a blog; the shock of her loss has something to do with that. I have just not felt like putting fingers to keyboard to write about my life; it's too raw.

I have been working - for a homelessness charity - and that has gone well.

And I've been studying for a Master's in Voluntary Sector Management at a business school in London.

When I last wrote, in Back To School, I indicated I intended to put a lot more effort into my university studies this time round than I did back in the 1980s.

I managed it. It is a tough course but I put my nose to the grindstone and gave it my all, or as close to my all as I could. Mum encouraged me.

Over the academic year, from October 2017-September 2018, I put in 1,360 hours of study - reading text books, writing assignments, attending lectures and action learning sets.

The course is very vocational and useful, covering everything from strategy, diversity and governance to resource management and managing people and quality to organisations, leadership and change, and much, much more.

Oftentimes I found it challenging but managed to get a distinction for the year and, indeed, a distinction in every assignment and exam, except one essay for which I got a merit.

I surprised myself and have decided to do the second year, starting in a couple of weeks from now, to complete the Master's.

Some of my fellow students were just as hardworking as me and even more successful.

Others took my old approach to study and put in far fewer hours. For my part, I was glad I made myself work so hard, filling 13 large notebooks, not just because of my scores, but because I learnt a lot that will help me, and is already helping me, in life.

I am sure Mum would have been proud of my efforts. When I was young I lacked the maturity for study. Now I can do it and have a taste for it.

The year otherwise has been a bit of a blur.

And since the first year of my course finished in September, I have been catching up, sorting out issues and life admin.

I have taken a few photographs during the year, some of which are featured in this blog post.

By October, I felt pretty drained. I was fortunate to be able to work for a week in Bratislava, Slovakia.

A change is as good as a rest, as they say.

Two years ago tonight, I gave up alcohol - the best decision I have ever made.

Somehow it has worked for me. I don't miss drinking at all; it made me foolish.

Yet some friends have fallen away as a result of me not drinking alcohol, others I see less often.

I have taken responsibility for my life.

There is so much to do, so much to live for. I get more done now and am generally happier.

Of course the sadness never leaves me: the sadness of losing my parents; the deep sadness of losing my niece, Emily, and the sadness and pain of losing contact with my two daughters, whom I haven't seen for seven years now.

Last night I lay awake in bed trying to think of what I could write.

There is never a day when I don't think of my daughters. There is never a day when I don't think what a fool I was to lose them. Or wish they would get in touch.

But not every problem has a solution.

Every day I write down that I will see them soon but I don't really know if I will ever see them again.

And pathetic as it may sound, I have no options; there's nothing I can do. Except hope and wait.

I love my daughters. It would fantastic if 2019 was the year in which they reached out to me.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Back to School

It is some 33 years since I last did any academic study but, suddenly, I am a student again!

A strange feeling. From 1980-83, I was an undergraduate at the University of Hull where I was reading, or rather ignoring, Physics Studies.

A disastrous student, lazy, inattentive, uninterested, I crashed through my three years at Hull, ducking out of lectures and avoiding other contact with my tutors. It was a miracle I emerged a BSc. at all, and it was by the skin of my teeth.

I spent my time at Hull University pursuing a raft of extracurricular interests: cycling and climbing in my first year, then DJing, doing lighting for rock bands, student journalism, and, of course, drinking and seeking the company of women (not very successfully).

My undergraduate years passed in a haze, a blaze and a blur. My postgraduate year of Journalism Studies at University College, Cardiff, was not hugely different.

I tried a bit harder but could not concentrate, spent my time listening to jazz bands, dancing in reggae clubs, with all that that entailed, and drinking. I flunked my local government exam, before, eventually, getting a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism Studies.

Now in a different epoch I am back in the corridors of academia, studying a Master's (MSc.) in Voluntary Sector Management at a prestigious University of London business school.

Since the course officially started on 6 October, I have somehow put in around 65 hours of private study - averaging more than 20 hours a week.

I'm part-time but 20-plus hours' study a week is vastly more than I ever did when I was full-time in Hull or Cardiff back in the day.

Zero hours of private study would have been close to the mark then.

Admittedly, it has not been easy. I am working full-time as well, so I study while commuting morn and night, and at lunchtime, and at weekends.

I have never written essays before or used references, critical thinking or reflective practice. I am brand new! I am trying my best but I do get tired.

My first assignment is due in on 1 November, the second on 8 November, swiftly followed by another intensive weekend of lectures on campus.

My current assignment is an historical one, set by a history don. A baptism of fire for an ancient physicist!

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Eight months ago I took a momentous decision. I gave up alcohol.

After 37 years of boozing - all of my adult life - I decided that enough was enough. No more drink!

There was no spark for this life-changing decision, just a gnawing recognition that my life thusfar had not gone as I would have liked. Something needed to change.

As a result, I have been healthier and happier. It has not been easy. . . but it has not been as hard as I'd imagined it would be.

For the first few months, I felt quite ill. My metabolism had to learn how to cope without alcohol.  It didn't like it.

But now I feel better than I have done for a long time.

I started drinking seriously at the age of 18 when I landed a holiday job in a pub, The Old Harry (now called Butler & Hops), on the High Street, Poole, Dorset.

As a barman there, you were allowed to drink the beers (but not the spirits) while working, and, with typical gusto, I took full advantage of this parlous perk.

However, it was when I went to study at the University of Hull in 1980 that drink really took hold of me.

I found alcohol hugely addictive and was drawn to activities where drinking was tolerated or, better still, encouraged.

I drank all through my three undergraduate years studying, or rather not studying, physics, and my one post-graduate year learning about journalism at University College, Cardiff.

Journalism appealed to me as I was inquisitive and liked writing. But, mainly, I can now see now with the benefit of hindsight, because drinking was a major part of the way of life of a journalist in the 1980s.

By the time I started work at the Hull Daily Mail in 1984, I had a serious thirst.

My booze habit was deeply entrenched. I enjoyed long drunken evenings in the pub and nightclubs, and lunchtime drinks, whenever I could slip them in.

In fact, hindered by phobias, anxieties and a lack of confidence, particularly with women, I assayed to stay drunk as much of the time as possible.

For me, booze was like rocket fuel. It gave me confidence and energy to live. To forget my fears. To be who I naively thought I wanted to be.

Embarrassing and shameful incidents happened to me because of booze, but I felt I needed it, and almost no one would ever tell me otherwise.

I drank my way through years at Hull and as a senior reporter at the Coventry Evening Telegragh, and onto London's Fleet Street, where I worked on the Daily Star - a paper that was awash with booze.

They loved me there because I could drink the best of them under the table.

I had a loyal partner (and later wife), Edwina, and, in February 1990, our first daughter Edie was born; it was the most wonderful day of my life.

At that magical time, I should have given up the booze and focused on my family.

But, to my eternal shame, I didn't.

I continued, on a befuddled, downward spiral through the failings, the missed chances and the lost years.

In June 1996, our second daughter, Frances, was born. It was another joyful day.  I loved the time I spent with my children, but didn't find anywhere enough time to be with them.

I went on drinking as if it were going out of fashion.

And so the years rolled on. My relationship, my family life, my career and my health all suffered.

But booze had its sticky tentacles around me, squeezing out the life.

Exactly six years ago today, on 21 September 2011, the eve of my 10th wedding anniversary, I returned home from my nine-to-five PR job in London to find the locks had been changed on my house in Priory Street, Lewes. 

My marriage had broken down beyond repair. Suddenly I was homeless. Although I did not realise it at the time, it was also the end of my relationship with my children, Edie and Frances.

I was allowed just one meeting with them, at my parents' house in December of that year. After that, nothing.

Now I am stone cold sober, I can see clearer. In so many ways I had badly let down my family: Edwina, Edie and Frances. I am deeply sorry for that and I always will be.

Being around some of the time and paying the bills was not enough.

I had lost my moral compass. They deserved better. They deserved to be cherished. They deserved the best of me.

Of course, now it is too late. "Sorry" carries no weight. They have made it pretty clear they don't want me in their lives. I have been banished. Forgiveness or redemption is a hope too far.

I am clean now. After 37 years of almost continuous drinking, I have conquered my habit, my addiction, my demons.

I've cleaned up my act.

Although I have done it through sheer will power, and without professional help, I know it is permanent.

When I used to drink, my wife Edwina would say, "You'll never change", and yet, amazingly, I have.

I've changed "for me",  because I desperately wanted to - and not for any ulterior, cynical motive.

I wanted to become a better person and, in that, unlike so many facets of my previous life, I have been successful.

Naturally, I miss my Edie and Frances.

There is never a day when I don't think fondly of my daughters, now aged 27 and 21, and wonder where they are that day, what they are doing, worry about them.

I can't help it. I am always looking out for them in the street, although I know it is unlikely their paths will cross mine.

I guess I just have to learn to accept the ineffable sadness of their absence in my life.

If only I could have given them the man I've become, when I had the chance. Things would have turned out very different.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cooking Delia: 2, Bread

When I began "Bread", the second chapter in Delia Smith's Cookery Course, I felt a little nervous but really had no idea of the horrors and humiliations that awaited me. Soon I truly understood why bread is pain in French.

The chapter started with Delia Smith quoting Horace's Epistles - "You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she will ever hurry back, to triumph in stealth over your foolish contempt" - before embarking on a lecture on the milling of flour and commercial baking of bread: "Nature has indeed been driven out, not by a pitchfork but by a mountain of machinery". She was writing in the late 1970s.

She went on to explain the anatomy of a grain of wheat, milling old and new, and flour: wholewheat (wholemeal), 80-90 per cent extraction, strong white, plain. and how to store flour.

Delia then came to the substance that, although I did not know it at the time, would be my nemesis: YEAST. When she wrote that it is "possible to buy a duff batch", I should have taken her more seriously. I forgot that crucial comment in all her talk about liquid, salt, sugar, fats, how a loaf of bread is made and storing bread. Let's fast forward to my so-called baking.

1. Quick and Easy Wholewheat Bread. 

I followed the recipe to a "t", weighing out a pound of stoneground wholewheat flour, mixing two teaspoons of salt and then warming in the oven for 10 minutes. But I should have known I was in trouble when I prepared the dried yeast by stirring into 13 fluid ounces of hand-hot water, stirring in a teaspoon sugar. I waiting for a froth to form, and waited, and waited. . . Nothing happened. I should have known it was "game over" but, slightly disconcerted, pressed on with the rest of recipe, kneading and proving etc. when there was no point. I was working with dud yeast. Like an idiot I baked it with sh*t yeast.

On inspection, the dried yeast was three years past its sell-by date, so I bought some fresh yeast the next day, and repeated the long process all over again.
Not bad at all. I found I had to bake it for longer than the recipe recommended, leaving it in for an hour and even then it was a little moist. But it was edible - and my first baking success (sort of).

2. Victoria Sponge Cake.

I had intended to just plough through the baking chapter after my partial success, on second attempt, with the Victoria Sponge Cake. But Mother's Day dawned and I skipped ahead to Part Two of Delia Smith's Cookery Course to attempt a Victoria Sponge Cake.

The result was a bit thinner than Delia's - but not at all bad. 

I then went on to cock up Oakmeal Bread, Soured Cream Soda Bread, Quick Wheatmeal Rolls, Poppyseed Rolls, Breakfast Baps, Chapattis and Hot Cross Buns. I had intended to describe in excruciating details how each of these culinary disasters occurred - I even wrote it out in my copybook - but now I can't face it. I started this chapter of Delia's cookery course and this blog posting in March and it is now mid-August. Baking, and particularly yeast, has stopped me baking and given my writer's block. So I am conceding defeat. . .

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Surprise

It is more than five years since I split up from my ex-wife and also since I was last allowed to see my daughters, Edie and Frances.

So I was surprised to receive a large package around a month ago, sent by my ex, containing mementos and possessions that I had forgotten all about.

There were a lot of interesting items from my years in Coventry and Hull, which I examined and filed away, in among a certain amount of junk which I threw out.

But the most precious item for me was a card sent to me by one of my daughters, Edie and Frances, when she was little. I had forgotten all about it and it is so lovely. I have put it beside my bed.

Every day I think of my daughters. Edie (Edlyn) is now 27, but I have no idea where she is or what she is doing.

I spent 18 years bringing her up with my ex, but there has been no contact.

Frances is about six years younger than Edie, and will be 21 on 30 June 2017. I believe she is in her second year studying history at the University of Oxford.

Every day I write in a little notebook that I will see them again soon. I have to cling onto hope. How I wish it will come true.

I wonder what they are doing this Easter, if they are with their mum (who won't talk to me) in Lewes, or in Oxford or somewhere else.

We spent so many Easters together before the big split.

I wish they would get in touch and come to visit me.

I don't even have the photos I took of them when they were small. My ex kept them.

For the moment, almost all I have to remember them is this.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cooking Delia: 1, Eggs

At the tender age of 55 I have decided to take up cookery. Why? A few reasons really. Firstly, I feel bad at having spent most of my adult life relying on others to cook for me. When I was married, my lack of cookery skills was a bit of a family joke. And when I occasionally gave it a go, I arrogantly rarely bothered with recipes and, like a typical lazy dad, made a hell of a mess.

Secondly, since I gave up drinking, I have become more interested in food, and, finding myself at home a great deal, started following Masterchef Australia, a vastly superior TV show compared to the UK version. It inspired me.

Thirdly, I have a shelf of cookery books that I never read or use. They include one of the few cookery course I have come across, or at least the first two volumes of it: Delia Smith's Cookery Course, Part One and Part Two. They are 1979 paperback editions of the books published to accompany the BBC Television series Delia Smith's Cookery Course, broadcast on BBC2 from November 1978.

I honestly cannot when or where I acquired them. I believe it was in the past four years  for a couple of quid at a car boot sale. Anyway, if I am to cook, I need to learn. There is no way I could afford to hire the Queen of Cookery Delia Smith to teach me personally, so I might as well let her do it through her books.

One thing I have noticed about modern cookery books is that most are like coffee table books, full of glossy pictures and far too large and swanky to be practical to easily used in a small kitchen. They contain recipes but don't really teach you to cook at all. They are designed to be bought, not used.

On the other hand, Delia Smith's Cookery Course is a convenient A5-or-so size, not expensively produced and leaves no stone unturned. As a systematic bloke, I took it page by page, reading the Contents, studying the Conversion tables and the Introduction, which enthused me with the line: "The whole idea is that an absolute beginner to cooking can start here." That's me!

The next chapter, Equipment, was also very useful, full of tips about saucepans, tins, casseroles, baking utensils, whisks, slices, spatulas, knives et cetera.

A perusal of my kitchen cupboards informed me that I possess quite a bit of useful kitchen equipment but would need to purchase more in due course to get anywhere near a full Delia Smith set. No matter.

On to the cooking. I decided to cook every dish in the course - in order. Every dish that is not involving a lot of booze which is most of them.

 The first cooking chapter is Eggs, starting with What's in an egg?, followed by a 1970s guide to buying eggs: "If there's one thing we can thank our membership of the EEC for, it's the compulsory date-stamp on egg-boxes. . ."

After also ploughing through Free-range eggs, Brown or white?, How fresh are they?, Storing eggs and Beating egg whites, I was grateful to get on to the practical cooking:  

1. Boiling an Egg: I have to confess I have boiled an egg before but in an inaccurate, untimed fashion. But I found Delia Smith's tips and timing produced a superior result: "Simmer for exactly one minute, then remove the saucepan from the heat, put a lid on and leave the eggs for a further five minutes (size 4) or six minutes (size 2)." Perfecto! Onward and upward.

 2. Hard-boiled Eggs: Again, I had attempted this before, but following Delia Smith's approach made for better hard-boiled eggs.

 3. Poached Eggs: I am partial to a poached egg but have never really cracked it (excuse the pun). Without Delia, I would never have thought of poaching eggs in four centimetres of barely simmering water in a small FRYING pan! Yet, it worked so much better than anything I had tried before. Now I am a convert to the Delia way of poaching eggs.

 4. Scrambled Eggs: Believe or not, although I love scrambled eggs I had never previously tried to make them. Delia Smith recommended the "Escoffier Method" - essentially cooking beaten and seasoned egg in foaming butter - and it was yum! I ate it with smoked salmon.  

5. Fried Eggs: Now, fried eggs is a dish I have made a lot over the years. But I have been doing in butter or olive oil. Delia's technique of using lard and basting the top of the egg was an improvement.
6. Baked Eggs (eggs en cocotte): To make this, I had to go out to buy something called "ramekins", which are little porcelain pots. I broke an egg in each, added salt and pepper and a knob of butter above each yolk. The strange thing was you then put the remekins in a meat-roasting tin, pour in enough hot water to go halfway up the sides of the pots and then cook in the oven. Who would have imagined that? Delicious! I felt quite proud of myself, having completed the basic egg-cooking tasks. But then a greater challenge. . .  

7. The Basic Omelette: I am shame-faced to admit that, although I like omelette, I cannot recall ever making one myself. I tried to follow Delia's recipe precisely but cannot have been successful because my first omelette was a bit burnt and not very tasty - the result, I suspect, of using too much butter and heat.  

8. Omelette Savoyard: This, my second omelette ever, went better. It combined the egg with cubed potatoes, chopped bacon and onion.

And I used the new technique (well, new to me) of putting the frying pan under the grill - to melt Gruyere cheese on top. My Omelette Savoyard did not look as pretty as the picture of Delia's in the book, but it was still tasty.

9. Egg and Lentil Curry: I love a curry but tend not to use recipes when making them, and I had never used eggs in one before. I followed this recipe almost to a "t" - frying onion in a pan, adding celery, carrot, peppers, and then stirring in lentils and garlic.

You then sprinkle in flour, Madras curry powder, ground ginger and turmeric. For precise details, see Delia's course or website. I then added boiling water and simmering until the lentils were soft.

Separately, I boiled the eggs, peeled and halved them, before adding to the curry with yoghurt just before serving. It went well. I used cinnamon instead of ginger, which I had forgotten to buy, and served with chopped parsley and raw onion slices. You can also serve with chutney.

It looked no oil painting but tasted good. I learnt that you should read the whole recipe before going out to buy the ingredients.

10. Poached Eggs with Cream and Watercress: I liked the sound of this one. First, I made a white sauce out of butter, flour and milk, cooking for seven minutes. I then "collapsed" - a new cooking concept for me - watercress leaves with butter in a saucepan, before adding to the sauce and stirring in grated mild Cheddar and Parmesan cheese.

You were supposed to whizz it then in a liquidiser but I don't have one, so I went crazy with a whisk. The sauce went back into the pan, cream and lemon juice were added with salt and pepper. I poached eggs in a frying pan and poured the sauce over and sprinkled on some more Parmesan. A nice dish! You were supposed to serve with rice which I put on too late.

The key to cookery is. . . . . . . . . . . timing! Below are some more images of my efforts. Enjoy!

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Giving Up

I have given up drinking alcohol. If this does not sound like a big deal to you, it is for me. I have been drinking fairly steadily since the age of 18 and, after 37 years, have decided to call time.

I cannot say it has been - or is - easy. Whether in a big or a small way, I had come to rely on alcohol, relaxing at home in the evening or drinking out with friends. For the regular drinker, the processing of alcohol becomes part of your metabolism and, when you stop completely and indefinitely, your body has to learn how to function without it. This is not really about withdrawal. I was not drinking enough to experience those symptoms. It is more about your body not being on constant red alert for the next influx of toxins, and the brain realising it is on its own from hereon in. No more using alcohol as a crutch!

Why did I decide to do this? What happened? Nothing noteworthy. No imminent-death warning from the doctor. No AA Gill moment. No dramatic intervention by friends and family. No accident. No embarrassing incident. I simply had the feeling that my life was never going to be right if I kept drinking; the inner-knowledge I have made a hash of things and should have done better.

My family circumstances are central to this. Never a day passes when I don't think about my estranged daughters Edlyn (known as Edie) and Frances. Over the past five years I have made many attempts to get back in touch with them. During my divorce proceedings, I was constantly asking to see them. I lost count of the number of letters I wrote to my ex about it, through her solicitor or directly. But, apart from one meeting in December 2011, my now-ex-wife was successful in persuading them not to see me. I believe she was determined to punish me after we split up, but has done so at the expense of taking our children's loving father from them. It's broken my heart.

Not long ago - 19 February 2017 - was Edie's birthday. She turned 27. Edie was 22 when I last saw her. Of course I wanted to wish her 'Happy Birthday', to give a present - and a hug. But I have no address, no landline, no mobile number, no email address for her. I do not even know where she is working or living. I know almost nothing about her life since 2011. And any attempt to contact her through her mum, my ex, is either ignored or meets with a level of rage that is off the scale. I have been completely cut out of Edie's life. It is as if I am dead to her. I no longer exist.

I see far clearer now I am teetotal. If I had not been drinking, the circumstances that led to my marriage split and locking out of my home would simply not have happened. My judgment was impaired. Drinking was the root-cause. With my ex, I got into a vicious circle. My drinking led to arguments, arousing her ire, causing me to withdraw into myself and turn to drink again. I had almost constant career difficulties and was obsessed with keeping my work going and the money coming in to support my family. I even moved away from home during the week so I could do a job in the Midlands to keep paying the bills. In truth, I hated being away and during that period I started to become estranged from Edie and Frances. When I returned home to Lewes, I found I was a stranger in my own home. Increasingly, this arrangement seemed to suit my ex. She ruled the roost and often I was verbally attacked by her in front of the daughters who lost their respect for me. My opinion came to be of no value in that house. Although I was living with my family during those weekends, I felt isolated and alone.

My relationship with my ex had broken down over a very long period. I loved her from when we met in the late 1980s but it was a difficult relationship, and we were probably never really compatible. When we moved to Lewes in 2002, she would take me outside to say she wanted a divorce. That blew over at the time but, in later years, arguments would flare up over the slightest thing. I began to feel afraid in my own home. I was walking on eggshells. I believe that my mental health was seriously damaged by what happened and by my drinking - a downward spiral. I was going mad. I wasn't thinking rationally or making life-decisions in the way I should have done. My judgment was shot. I was desperately lonely and not thinking at all.

It is interesting how being completely dry gradually peels away the layers until you find your real self and start to realise what you want. Yesterday lunchtime was an example in point. I set off from the office at around 1pm heading for Borough Market. On the way, I encountered a road accident and tried to help a woman who had been run over by a cement-mixer lorry, staying with her until the ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. At Borough Market, I saw a blackboard with the phrase 'Before I die I want to. . . ' printed on it, and chalk beside it. I found myself picking up the chalk and writing on the blackboard, completing the sentence: 'Before I die I want to. . . see Edie and Frances again.'

On the way home I reflected on my day and that I don't know how long I am going to live. Excepting perhaps those who are terminally ill, none of us knows how long we will live. Life can be taken from us so suddenly. You could die on the highway any day of the week. I am still raw from the recent death of my cat, Mr Cheeky. And so many people I know have died. When every second is so precious it makes me sick with worry that I have no contact or even a way of contacting my daughters Edie and Frances. Last night I had a most vivid dream about them. We were in a cafe, having tea and cake. We were talking and laughing and joking, and happy together. At the end I asked for their addresses and they readily gave them to me. Suddenly I was in floods of joyous tears. We were as one again.

I would do anything in my power to see Edie and Frances again and to be in regular contact with them. 

After five years of estrangement, five long years in exile, it would seem like a miracle but, since I managed to give up drinking, I am starting to believe in miracles.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Mr Cheeky 2013-17 RIP

When something very bad suddenly happens, it can be very hard to cope with the resultant anxiety and fear. Then, when a second terrible thing subsequently occurs, the shock, pain and grief can be unbearable.

That is how I feel about the theft, on Sunday, 4 December 2016, and death, on Saturday, 28 January 2017, of our beloved ginger cat, Mr Cheeky.

Mr Cheeky was the most loving, charismatic, characterful and loyal cat that I have ever known. By sheer dint of personality, he ran his manor around Brunswick Street East, Hove, Sussex, with an iron paw. He knew everyone - and went everywhere. A crack in a doorway or an open window was an invitation to Mr Cheeky. He saw it as his catly duty to visit, engage with and entertain all the people in his territory - the three-and-a-half streets around our home.

There was a quiet dignity about him, an undeniable presence. Whenever I went out, strangers would come up to tell me stories about Mr Cheeky's visitations: how he had played with their small children, patiently sat in on band practices or picked up their previously timid puss to join his feline gang, prowling the streets of Brunswick. Never would they say he had come begging for food or been a nuisance.

The simple fact was Mr Cheeky loved people - and people loved Mr Cheeky. One of his many haunts was G-Whizz Cycles - an Aladdin's cave of a secondhand bicycle store - which Mr Cheeky loved to inspect on his rounds. The owner told me that Mr Cheeky had a remarkable confidence and fearlessness; he was proud of every square inch of his territory and, while always friendly and affectionate, no one could doubt that has was master of all he surveyed.

Mr Cheeky also loved other cats. He was a born leader - not a loner. He sought out like-minded felines and recruited them to Mr Cheeky's Army - for daytime fun and noctural manoevres. Most notable of his comrades was Django, a sleeky black cat who lived on the next street along with three daddies, all young musicians and graduates of the local pop music colleague, BIMM. Within days of us adopting Mr Cheeky, he became fast friends with Django. They would hang out together on street corners, go round to each other's homes for play dates - and drop into the local pub, The Bottom's Rest, where they would work the room and were greatly adored by clientele and staff alike.

When the three musicians moved out of their house and were unable to take Django with them, Mr Cheeky invited him to move in with us - and he has been happily living here ever since. Mr Cheeky and Django were in total harmony, although there was never any doubt who was top cat. Django played Sergeant Wilson to Mr Cheeky's Captain Mainwaring. Mr Cheeky would show him the way, however ill advised. And shy Django was happy to oblige, always allowing Mr Cheeky to eat first or instigate a game of chase. Whenever we went out, Mr Cheeky and Django would follow us like our shadows until, eventually, we gave them the slip on the edge of their territory.

We had got Mr Cheeky from Hove charity Lost Cats. I will never forget our first meeting. Going from cat to cat at the sanctuary, you received a mixed reception: some were painfully nervous, others bored. We were told that Arnie, as he was then known, had returned from an operation and would be tired. However, he made an enormous effort to be affectionate, and I immediately took to him. In the adjacent hutch, an identical ginger was even more enthusiastic. You could almost hear him say: "Take me home, Daddy, take me home!" Then we realised that it was the same cat who had merely nipped round the back to have a second go at enticing us. He succeeded and soon Mr Cheeky, as we renamed him, was coming home with us.

Mr Cheeky's backstory was that he had been abandoned and lived on the streets for a month or so before being handed into Lost Cats. The young Mr Cheeky was an adventurous and daring kit, anxious to explore and make his mark on the world. Indeed it took him some time for him to get used to his new territory and he did have a near-miss soon after he came to live with us. But once he had recovered, he became very streetwise on his patch, which is not busy with traffic, and really seemed to enjoy his life.

Of course, there were alarming moments, including the time he climbed more than 100ft. over a Brunswick Square house, sliding down scaffolding on the other side. Or when he entered a neighbour's house through the open upstairs window. But steady-footed and fearless, Mr Cheeky knew what he was doing.

He was a great comfort. When he first arrived, I was on gardening leave and then I spent more than a year working from home. Mr Cheeky was my constant companion. When he had been out for a patrol, he would stop at my desk upon his return - to give me a detailed update of what he had been doing, what was going on. It really was as if he was briefing me. And if I took a power-nap or siesta, Mr Cheeky would join me, often putting his head on the pillow and stretching out like a human. As my girlfriend Laura King has explained in her account of Mr Cheeky's life,  he loved to cuddle up.

When he disappeared in December last year, it was very worrying. Mr Cheeky had been sleeping on his favourite chair in our living room. It was the end of the evening and we were just about to close the cat flap. A few days on, it came out that Mr Cheeky had been stolen by a young couple - the theft had been recorded on the CCTV camera of the neighbour who lived opposite. Trusting and friendly as always, Mr Cheeky had been caught and, although he struggled to free himself, the evil couple took him away. Although we didn't know it at the time, by snatching him those scumbags had signed his death warrant.

Laura and I did everything in our power to publicise the case - to try to get him back. There was a lot of publicity, including on regional ITV and in Mail Online and The Sun online. For a day, Mr Cheeky was the most famous cat in the world, even appearing on a breaking world news website and an American news site. The media were on the whole extremely professional, although I was staggered by an Italian reporter from Brighton's fairly amateurish Latest TV who asked if the people who had snatched Mr Cheeky were not rescuing him (although, to be fair, the news editor, having viewed the tape, later phoned me to apologise for his reporter's misconduct).

But when the blaze of publicity failed to yield immediate results, lazy Sussex Police reacted by immediately closing the case. In truth, they had never attempted to investigate the crime or had any intention of doing so. To describe the call centre-based civilian assigned to us as an "investigator" is beyond a joke. The investigative skills of a baked bean were on display. These days, it appears, policing is all about doing it yourself.

We trudged on without any help from the police, searching for Mr Cheeky, putting up posters, handing out flyers and following up any leads that came our way. But it seemed there were a lot of ginger cats out there - and none of the tips produced Mr Cheeky.

As the weeks turned into months, I felt despondent. I wondered if Mr Cheeky was still in the country. I was mystified as to why the £300 we had offered had failed to generate a single hot lead. The CCTV footage had proved too poor to get a decent-quality screen grab of his abductors, but surely someone knew something about the crime?

Then - seven weeks and five-and-a-half days after he was stolen - came the terrible call.

Mr Cheeky had been found in Cromwell Road, less than a mile from home. Dead.

He had been run down by a motor vehicle, and, we believe, killed instantly.

Was Mr Cheeky trying to escape his captors? Had he panicked and run? We still don't know. He was killed trying to cross Cromwell Road at around 11am on Saturday (28 January 2017). He was so close to home, yet so very, very far.

A kindly passer-by took his crushed body to the nearest veterinary surgery, Wilbury Vets, who checked his micro-chipping, found it was Mr Cheeky, and called Laura.

We went to the scene of the crime, next to 100 Cromwell Road. It has been a hit-and-run driver. We talked to some locals who thought Mr Cheeky may have been living in one of the houses around there - big, bedsit-land abodes occupied by the peripatetic and anti-social. Laura told our Sussex Police "investigator" who true to form suggested that we investigate - more DIY complacent Sussex policing.

Today, devastated, we picked up Mr Cheeky's little body from the vets. They were very kind. Looking at Mr Cheeky's face, there was a grim determination, captured from the moment he died. He was trying to get away, but it was not to be. His trusting, daring nature had been his undoing in a world not as pure as his. A world sprinkled with evil people.

We took him home. Over the past seven weeks, I have often wondered if Mr Cheeky would return home. But I never imagined the terrible sadness that would accompany him.

We put him, shrouded in the blanket from the vets, on his favourite chair - the one he had sleeping on during that fateful night of his abduction - and lit some candles and incense and placed beside him the flowers kindly brought by our neighbours.

His friend, Django, came in. Django slowly walked up and put his nose near Mr Cheeky's. Joy turned to sadness and fear as the truth dawned: his companion was back but was gone. Ever so gently, Django walked backwards and sat in the hall, his fur standing on end, looking at his friend for the last time and saying: "Goodbye, old chum."

After an hour, we took Mr Cheeky to his final resting place where he was buried deep in the Sussex soil with my grandfather's Russian spade. Mr Cheeky was interred in his blanket and a Jump The Gun cloth bag, with full Mod honours.

We are going to plant a flower bed on his grave - the sort of display he would have loved to bask in.

 As we laid him to rest, I read:

We have entrusted our brother Mr Cheeky to God's mercy,
and we now commit his body to the ground:
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:
in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our frail bodies
that they may be conformed to his glorious body,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To him be glory for ever. 

My voice was cracking and tears were steaming down my cheeks.

It is hard to credit the bad luck that befell the innocent, lovely Mr Cheeky. To be stolen. To be taken from those he loved most. To be mown down in his prime.

Mr Cheeky led a good life and I believe that for the years he was with us, it was a happy one. He was a little being with a big heart who has died far too young. His presence and spirit lives on and we will never forget him.

Mr Cheeky 2013-17 REST IN PEACE

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

This Is Your Song

This Is Your Song

For Frances

Raven, Sweet Warrior!
It is your birthday,
It's been so long,
Mere words cannot express
how much I've missed you,
Young Warrior. This is your song!

Raven, Young Warrior!
It's your birthday,
One score years on,
I wish you what
you wish yourself,
Brave Warrior. This is your song!

The swollen river of my tears
won't wash away our long lost years.

Raven, Brave Warrior!
The gulf betwixt us
profound and long,
Yet you could bridge
that deep crevasse,
Wise Warrior. This is your song!

Raven, Wise Warrior!
Your quirky genius
and humour's gone
from my life like
that balloon int' Hackney sky,
Raven Chick. This is your song!

The swollen river of my tears
won't wash away our long lost years.

Raven Chick, Warrior!
You're doing well,
where you belong,
Sometimes your presence I sense
though we're not close,
True Warrior. This is your song!

Raven Warrior Fair and True!
Swimming gamely through the air!
Brilliant Girl; Unique One!
This old cracker mourns
time's tragic tide,
My Warrior! This Is Your Song!

The swollen river of my tears
won't wash away our long lost years.

 (xxx - vi - mmxvi - felix natalis)

Monday, September 07, 2015

Memories of Dad: Walter Robin Balmer Wilson 1932 - 2015

Two weeks ago, on Tuesday, 25 August 2015, the funeral of my father, Robin Wilson, took place at the Oratory Church of St Aloysius, Oxford, followed by burial at St Michael's Churchyard, Cumnor. Dad had died on Thursday, 13 August, aged 82.

Looking back on his life, I am struck by his great gentleness and kindness. He was a loving father, a quiet and scholarly man who enjoyed being at home with his family. He relaxed by reading about history, language and religion, making copious notes in his beautiful handwriting. He also loved working in the vegetable garden, growing food for our dinners.

My early memories of Dad are from when we lived in Aylesbury and then in Oxfordshire in the mid to late-1960s. I remember the excitement of receiving a big tricycle that he and Mum gave me one Christmas in Aylesbury - and my grandfather - Dad's Dad - visiting and giving me a helpful push on it.

When we moved to Cumnor in Oxfordshire in the late 1960s, I recall the time Dad spent with me and my brothers in the garden. When I obtained my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, he was very happy to pose for me. I recall him, showing me his vegetable plot and pulling out a huge carrot destined for Mum's delicious winter stew.

Dad taught me how to use a bow and arrow - the arrows had a rubber suction pad at their end to limit the damage they could do. He also erected a little round, metal-sided swimming pool to splash around in. We were in heaven! I would shoot arrows at it which would stick on the side.

We also played in a tiny tent which he had erected for us, and Dad took my elder brother and me blackberrying on our bicycles. One night we rode back as the sun was setting, our bags bulging with berries. I can rarely recall a happier day.

Dad had an interesting background. His father had worked as an oil company executive while embarking on his own enterprises, buying a petrol station and dreaming of launching a greyhound track in Chester, to my grandmother's horror.

Dad was quite different - studious rather than entrepreneurial, working hard at Worcester Grammar School and being offered a place to read history at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, a.k.a. Teddy Hall.

By all accounts he was a very serious young man with a great interest in Roman Catholicism to which he had converted from Anglicanism.

He found he had a vocation to the priesthood, and, rather than taking his place at Teddy Hall, began his Oxford studies instead at the Jesuit college, Campion Hall, where he read Classics.

The direction of his life changed again after he started corresponding with a girl he had met on a train in Germany. It led to romance and a decision to marry rather than enter formation for the Catholic priesthood.

After graduating from Oxford University, Dad had to do national service in Germany. With the passing years, his time in The Army was viewed through rose-tinted glasses.

Although I am assured he was not at all keen on the military life at the time, afterwards he liked to talk with enthusiasm about his service as a general's chauffeur, and particularly the stark contrast between his dignified and sober boss and a hard-drinking, boisterous American general who was the life and soul of the party whenever he rolled up in his Jeep.

My parents married in my mother's home town, Bremen, in northern Germany, and he and Mum moved to Derby where he embarked on a career with British Gas.

He started as a management trainee, a role he said came with a company bicycle, which, at first as least, he kept in their bedroom - to ensure it remained pristine.

Dad became a commercial sales manager, working in gas board jobs in Scunthorpe, where I was born, Aylesbury, Oxford and Poole in Dorset.

In Poole, he would shift his working day forward in the summer months to try to come home early to take us to the glorious beach at Sandbanks in the family motor, a formidable Morris Oxford.

We enjoyed many happy times at the beach, jumping the waves, crashing through the white water, and having sprints along the sands. Although not as tall as his sons, Dad had a real turn of speed over 100 yards.

I have vivid memories of life with him in Broadstone, Poole.

Looking back, he was a remarkably tolerant father in many ways, although his natural cautiousness, particularly about road safety, meant we were strongly discouraged from riding bicycles on the roads until we were in the sixth form.

In his own way he always tried his best for us.

When I failed my 11+ exam and was sent to Poole's secondary modern school, I was very unhappy. He and Mum moved heaven and earth to help get me transferred after one just term to Poole Grammar School. When we received notification of my transfer, a riotous night of celebration and barley wine drinking ensued at our home in Charborough Road.

Dad had his own philosophy. He did not generally believe in over-exerting himself. His words of wisdom to us included: "Burst not thy boiler!", "Throttle right back", and "I do what I can, I can no more."

However, at times he worked incredibly hard, on projects such as digging a very deep trench in the front garden to try to divert an underground stream which had been flooding my bedroom (our house was built on the side of a steep hill) and converting, decorating and insulating our new house when he and Mum moved from Poole back to Oxfordshire.

He was a proud grandfather and was delighted when his first granddaughter was born in 1990.

When she was a toddler, he would her horsey rides on his back. And he also loved his four other granddaughters.

There was a serious side to Dad but also a fun and mischievous side. He enjoyed a good gossip about politics and was not averse to stirring things up a bit.

For years he was nicknamed "Gwalt" - from Gwalterus, the Latin for his first name Walter, which we had espied on his graduation certificate - and, somehow, the name became synonymous with naughtiness.

Sometimes, he would march far ahead of us in the street in Oxford, gradually disappearing from sight, or join a passing religious procession, vanishing into a college chapel for Evensong!

For his amusement, he compiled his own Anglo-Saxon dictionary, free of words of Latin and Greek derivation, and some of them his vocabulary. Sometimes he would correct me when I said "telephone" or "horizon", substituting his preferred words "farspeaker" and "skyline"!

He loved to watch his granddaughters playing when they were little.

 One of my favourite photographs is of Dad and his granddaughter Emily on playground swings.

Life with Dad was full of surprises. He did not like travelling through London, even on public transport, so once when we embarked on our annual holiday, he hired a couple of Jaguar limousines to bypass the Metropolis.

On the other hand, journeys in the Morris Oxford could be very long and demanding.

The joy of seeing the sea at Weymouth after a seemingly interminable drive from Oxford was immense.

And, later, on trips from Poole to Oxford, we were offered a round of ice creams for every minute the Morris Oxford brought us late to the 9.30am mass at Blackfriars.

So many ice creams were won by me and my brothers; most of them, of course, never materialised!

On motorway, 50mph was considered a great velocity in the Morris Oxford. Generally, 'A' roads were preferred.

Dad could be anxious, especially when we were learning to drive, but there was a more general peacefulness about him.

He loved the outdoors, whether among his apple trees, playing garden cricket or going the dreaded Sunday "run in the Cotswolds" - a lengthy car excursion.

I regret that during periods of my life I did not see as much of him as I might have done, although in recent years I have visited a lot.

His disease, Alzheimer's, was very gradual at first, but became much more severe in recent years and, particularly, this year at Freeland House, Oxfordshire, where the carers and nursing staff were wonderful.

Dad was a regular at Blackfriars, Oxford, for decades. He and mum had attended their 9.30am mass from the days when Geoffrey Preston OP and Malcolm McMahon OP were part of the community there.

Dad also enjoyed the tradition of the Oxford Oratory, St Aloysius Gonzaga, with his Latin mass.

So, in a way it was fortuitous that a ceiling issue had put Blackfriars' church out of action, so the Prior John O'Connor celebrating Dad's Requiem Mass instead up the road at St Aloysius.

He would have loved the hymns, favourites such as Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation, and Tell Out My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord, and the stirring organ music.

Dad loved playing the organ and was such a fan of J S Bach (1685 - 1750) that he has taken Johann Sebastian as baptism names when he entered the Roman Catholic faith.

Fr. John spoke very well about Dad, taking our stories about him and perfectly capturing his unusual amalgam of gentleness, faith, eccentricity and humour.

Dad would often leave a church service with the jaunty remark: "A useful little mass!"

This was his final mass. Afterwards, the funeral cortege drove up to Cumnor where he was laid to rest beside the village church, St. Michael's, as the heavens wept.

It is hard to get used to life without him. It feels there is a big void. We are left with happy memories and golden photographs of Dad, some of which I share here.

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