Sunday, 9 December 2012

Life's Little Pleasures (8)

This is my eighth post on LLPs (Life’s Little Pleasures).  Post (1), Post (2), Post (3), Post (4), Post (5), Post (6) and Post (7) can be seen by clicking on the links.

Transient Beauty

“There was nothing to be done about such beauty,
except to try to keep it.”
~ Margaret Drabble, The Waterfall

A bunch of fresh flowers or a heartbreakingly perfect rose give instant pleasure, and you’ll smile without even knowing it.  And yet you’re very conscious that they are temporary and you must squeeze every bit of enjoyment from the experience because you will never see these specimens again looking so beautiful.   I gaze in awe at huge, full blown, deeply fragrant, waxy, white magnolias, because I know that even touching them will make them go brown.  It’s all wonderful yet sad, and looking at photographs of them is nothing like the same. 


A handsome human can affect you in much the same way; after all their beauty too is transient.  The pleasure I get from studying beautiful men and women is purely aesthetic and I have no wish to interact with them personally (well alright, maybe George Clooney).  It is as abstract as studying a beautiful painting or photographic image, but with the added pleasure that they walk and talk.  People who have affected me that way are these artists when they were at their best – Jacqueline Bisset, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer O’Neill, Elizabeth Taylor...

...Catherine Deneuve, Grace Kelly, Julie Christie, Jenny Seagrove and Hayley Mills as a teenager;

Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power, Alain Delon, George Clooney, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Christopher Jones (Ryan’s Daughter, 1970) and Rob Lowe. 

Naturally I’m not immune to the physical beauty I’ve witnessed during the Olympics this year and the stunning sight of people diving into swimming pools from great heights or viewing gymnastics generally, but I confess I can’t pretend to be a sports enthusiast.

The Community

“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities;
but to know someone who thinks and feels with us,
and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit,
this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It is heart-warming when people come together for a common cause and are able to transcend the usual social and ethnic barriers.  The Olympics this year have done a lot of good in this regard and I’ve loved hearing the goodwill and witnessing the ‘niceness’ it’s generated.  If only it lasted.


The death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 affected a lot of us in an extraordinary way.  I know this is not shared by everybody, but I was aware of a great common sadness concerning the abrupt end of a life which had been troubled.  She had seemed now to be coming of age as a woman of the world; watching the reaction of millions of people around the world made me realise that I was not alone in wishing that the Royal Family had supported her better and showed a little more warmth towards their subjects generally.  I had kept my critical thoughts to myself, and here was a situation where we all seemed to say the same thing at the same time.  It was a nice feeling.


The 11th September 2001 ("9/11") was a momentous and painful day for the the United States and for the western world.  Much has already been said about the day when the islamist militant group Al-Qaeda organised coordinated attacks on New York and Washington by means of hijacking and deliberately crashing four passenger jets, which brought down the World Trade Center in New York and crashed into the Pentagon. 

I knew nobody directly who was a victim, but the horror we all felt was intense, as was the outpouring of goodwill felt towards all US nationals.  The press have always liked to joke about 'the special relationship', but that was a time when it reminded us strongly that we were allies with a common beginning.  I read about Americans overcome when overhearing nothing but sympathy in conversations on public transport amongst people who didn't know they were there, and how they appreciated the sympathy which had emanated from Buckingham Palace.  It felt good to know we were all the same under the skin.


Wootton Bassett is a market town in Wiltshire not too far from where I live.  It has about 15,000 inhabitants with all the usual charming features typical of an English village.  It came to prominence in 2007, when the repatriation of British soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan was moved from an aerodrome in Oxfordshire to RAF Lyneham close by, and as there was no bypass round the town, the cortege passed through it.  The first such occasion coincided with a monthly meeting of the Royal British Legion, and they decided to stop the meeting to pay their respects as the procession wound its way up the High Street.  Local people and other British Legion branches joined them after that, and a tradition was born.   

In June 2008. when Corporal Sarah Bryant was among the dead, more than 5,000 crowded into the High Street to pay their respects.

This is part of an article by Cassandra Jardine and Richard Savill, from the online Telegraph of 7th July 2009:

The ceremony that has grown up in Wootton Bassett is as simple and moving as the coffins themselves, wrapped only in the Union flag. As the hearses approach, the tenor bell of St Bartholomew's Church begins to toll. Business stops while shoppers and shopkeepers join the crowds lining the pavement. When the cortege reaches the war memorial, the president of the British Legion says a single word – "Up" – to mark the moment when ex- and serving members of the forces should begin their salute. "Down," he says 60 seconds later, as the hearses move on.

"It is a most strange feeling," says Sally Hardy, manager of the Sue Ryder charity shop. "When the bell from the parish church starts to toll and the police stop the traffic, there is just silence. It is a very unusual thing to find in a town. Just about everybody and anybody comes out.”

British Legionnaires from far afield are joined by wounded and invalided Service people who wish to pay tribute to those yet more unlucky than themselves. On the pavement, they stand shoulder to shoulder with relatives of soldiers who have made the same sad final journey, and those whose loved ones are still serving. "They tell us that seeing our respect gives a tremendous boost to the troops serving in Afghanistan," says Maurice Baker, president of the local branch of the British Legion. "They know we are thinking of them."

Many who cannot be there send messages. "Please tell the people of Wootton Bassett," reads one sent this week by a man from Cheshire, "that each one who stands to honour the fallen has a thousand more of us standing unseen at their shoulder."’

There have been over 100 such occasions and the monarchy has thanked the town by awarding it the right to call itself henceforth Royal Wotton Bassett.  Most have been recorded by the media in the south west region where I live, and every time I see them I feel a shiver of pleasure and pride that I should be living in a country with communities such as this.


Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive

Lyme Regis on the south coast - a sequence 
which I enjoyed catching as two boys 'set sail' 


Saturday, 1 December 2012

"Don't it always seem to go...

…you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”
 (Joni Mitchell)

I had never thought about the role of my car in the fabric of my life until I lost my driving licence a month ago.

As a diabetic I’m allowed only a 3-year licence.  Every 36 months I must justify to the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) why I should be allowed to continue to drive.  Every 36 months I reassure them that I look after my diabetes and don’t get hypoglycaemic attacks (excessively low blood sugar), though of course I know when my glucose levels are going down beyond my comfort zone, and what I should do about it.

This year I had a 10 second episode with my left eye, when a third of my vision went grey.  I told my doctor, and the health system went into overdrive getting me checked for a TIA or minor stroke (I hadn’t had one), plus eye hospital checks, retinopathy checks, diabetes checks at every level, monitoring and so on.  Everything came up negative.  So when the usual paperwork came through from the DVLA I knew I must tell them about this, and I did so in detail, with dates and details of all medical appointments. 

I wasn’t entirely surprised when they replied that they required me to see my GP during which he should complete their own tick questionnaire.  During the interview, one of the questions the doctor asked me was whether I was aware of an impending hypoglycaemic attack. 

“Oh yes, very much so”, I replied, and described the symptoms.  “Good”, he said, and ticked the Yes box.  Unbeknown to me at the time, the question had been phrased in the negative, i.e. “is the driver unaware of an impending hypoglycaemic attack?”  The No box should therefore have been ticked.  A double negative…

Two weeks later I received a letter from the DVLA telling me my driving licence had been revoked because I clearly could not identify when I had low blood sugar.  I could re-apply in 12 months for a new licence provided I could satisfy them that I had learned to do so. 

12 MONTHS!!  That was when I realised how important my car is to me – transport to and from my employment at two Bristol hospitals, part-time driver to my 85-year old partner, impulse shopper, visits to relations and friends on the south coast, running down to the local shop for a missing ingredient while preparing a meal, space to rant, laugh and cry in peace, babble like a halfwit, pick my nose or enjoy blissful silence with nobody to notice.  My own space.

Once I had established with the DVLA that it had been my doctor’s mistake, I took a day off work and made an urgent appointment with him, taking with me a carefully worded letter as if from him to the DVLA explaining the mistake.  Although he hadn’t kept a copy of the form, fortunately he immediately acknowledged the error and accepted the letter as being what he would have said.  Once on the surgery’s headed notepaper he faxed it through, and I posted the original as confirmation.  The following day I wrote a letter to them explaining the error - all this in the 48 hours after my receipt of their letter.  Both letters stressed how important my car was to my employment.  And after all, the problem had not been of my making.

I considered that I had acted promptly; while cursing that I would have to make other transport arrangements for a week at most, as John was willing to drive me to work it would just be a brief blip and not 12 months.  I sat back and waited to hear from them, keeping my fingers crossed that I would not have to bus it to work, which would have represented a 2-hour commute in each direction, door to desk.

That was a month ago. 

I became increasingly distressed as phone call after phone call was made to the DVLA.  When you make the call, you go through multiple menus before being able to speak to a human being, and a wrong choice places you in a loop and you have to hang up and start again.  The human I eventually spoke to was always different to the time before, and though they expertly called up my information on their screens after half a dozen security questions fired at me to make sure I was who I said I was, the answers were always vague.  (“It’s in the system”.)

I eventually heard that they had accepted what my doctor had said, and they would ‘allow’ me to re-apply for a driving licence from scratch.  I wouldn’t even have to pay the fee!   Subsequent chasers (going through the same rigmarole) prompted questions from them such as had I faxed the form?  What about my former expired licence?  (Couldn’t fax that… )

John drove my car once during that time just to check the engine was still ticking over, and parked it carelessly on the drive with two wheels on the grass.  And there it remained for the rest of the time, the smothered grass waiting for release and the milkman pleased that it gave him a clearer path the other side to make his deliveries...

At one point a friend suggested to me that if this had happened to me while I was still living in Argentina, the bureaucracy would have been a hundred times worse, and the whole situation more stressful.  Well, no, I replied.  I would have bribed somebody at the outset and it would have been job sorted.  Alternatively there are frequent bus services everywhere, unlike in the UK, where most people like me live isolated from bus routes. 

The new licence finally arrived today, after a month’s worth of fuel for John driving to the hospital twice a day and doing all my errands for me.  I learned from looking up driving forums on the internet that the question on that form which caused all the trouble is frequently ticked incorrectly, and the DVLA have showed no signs of changing the wording.  Some people have even had to resort to getting letters of complaint written by their Member of Parliament or pay for medical examinations by more senior clinicians.

It makes me wonder whether it was worth being honest to them about my eye condition.  I was blabbing on to myself about the whole sorry affair in the car as I drove home from work today, with classical music going full blast and in between picking my nose.


Photo Finish
- from Lonicera’s digital archive

The Maldives - Kuramathi

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...