THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "The Blogger" Feed

Of family, friendship and being alone

You can't choose your family but if I had chosen mine I could not have done better. Post-modernists insist I am "privileged." I am, but not as they imagine. It has nothing to do with race, class, wealth or sexual orientation. Anyone brought up in a loving family under the guidance of both a mother and a father is privileged. It's no criticism of single parents doing their best in difficult circumstances to make that obvious point.

There is an obnoxious but necessary stage of a young man's life when his main focus is on asserting independence. I may have overdone the obnoxiousness in my youthful zeal to break free from my parents' hands-on care. To make things worse, they made the mistake of criticising my choice of fiancée. I responded, as any fool might have predicted, by being loyal to her. She herself (understandably) took against them in consequence.

She drew me (as she would probably have done anyway) into the circle of her own family. Again, I was lucky. That family too embraced me and my late wife's mother became a good friend. I gave her help and advice on practical matters and she was my advisor on softer ones. Her daughter had her issues and was difficult to live with. Her mum knew that better than anyone and quietly provided "after-sales" support throughout the marriage. She was also often my advocate when her daughter was inclined to focus on my faults, real and imaginary. The marriage would not have lasted thirty years without her.

When the late Mrs P died, her mum lost it, understandably. There's no greater tragedy than for a parent to bury a child. Stricken by her grief, she couldn't help me in mine. The Misses P. also needed more support than they were able (though they tried) to give. Fiercely loyal to their mother, it became clear they felt the wrong parent had died. I struggled and failed to help them as their mum would have done if our places were reversed, so perhaps they were right. I would have traded places if I could.

At that point, the nuclear family in which I grew up came back into its own. Mum and Dad never retired from their job as parents. They'd just been – as the French say of redundant employees who can't be fired because of crazy labour laws  – placardisé. Literally, placed in a cupboard. Metaphorically, shunted aside and ignored.

They helped me handle my grief as only they could. They'd known me as a small child before my face closed and I learned to dissimulate. They saw through the brave appearance my friends were keen to accept with relief. I don't blame my friends for that either. Have you ever tried to console a two-metre tall, one hundred and fifty kilo man? There's no way to hug such a beast that doesn't look and feel wrong to all concerned. 

As they become frail and elderly, my parents are still my advisors. I shall miss them when they go. I already miss the late Mrs P's mum, who died recently. The de facto new head of that family – the sister with whom the late Mrs P conducted a lifelong sibling-rivalry feud – has made it clear she sees the Misses P (and therefore me) as "other". Now her mum is gone, we're out. 

What of friends then? We can, they say, choose them. But do we? Most of us have no review process. A pleasant moment or two, often under the influence of alcohol – a shared experience or three at study, work or play and there they are. I watched grief and loss separate wheat friends from chaff friends in my dark days. In this winnowing the results were not (to me at least) predictable. In fairness, I'm not sure I'm not myself chaff. Certainly before grief and loss educated me as to the true value of friendship, I might well have steered clear of a grieving friend to whom I could offer no practical help. So, unlike Miss P the Younger, who formally fired friends who hung back when her Mum died, I am forgiving of those who just didn't know what to say.

As I have faced grief again in the last few months, it has been noticeable this time around – though friends know I consider Freud second only to Marx in evil's premier league – they're suggesting I "talk to a professional". I hear that as "don't talk to me." I have asked too much of them in the last decade and must study deserving of their friendship. It's not possible to placardiser a friend. That cupboard has no locks.

I am tired of being a burden. There's no dignity in it. So far from plotting against me, the universe no more acknowledges my existence than it does that of Meghan Markle. I mention her because I realise I have – shamefully – been adopting her approach to life's disappointments. She's an unlikely guardian angel but mine may prove to be the first life she affects positively – albeit by a powerful negative example. 

In an unguarded moment, I told my Dad the other day, "I just need a win." Whether I get one or not, I need to buck up. I had a long run of good luck and it ran out. Many only get bad luck so, on average, I am still blessed.

My frail, elderly parents are both now under the care of what their local NHS (with Northern bluntness) calls The Heart Failure Clinic. It's the same bluntness with which they brought me up, so my parents can't see why that name bothers me. I suppose I have spent too much time since I graduated from their care with the word-obsessed, over-sensitive bourgeoisie. If there's silver lining to my clouds of despair, it's that I found my way back into their lives before they ended.

Maybe that was my "win", properly viewed? Who knows? Either way, so they can leave this life contentedly and so my friends can see my name on their phone without trepidation, it's time for me finally to learn to live happily alone.


Apollo in transit

I am a practical man and a problem-solver by nature. Some say I lack emotional intelligence. Perhaps I do. It's an attribute I find hard to take seriously. When someone claims it, in my experience, it can often be translated as "Hey! I'm dumb but I'm nice". 

That's not to say that I don't have emotions. In the months since last November, I've had too many of them – or perhaps just too much of the same one. Either way, it hurts and doesn't achieve much.

I made a new friend online in recent months. We volunteer together on a trivial pastime project entirely unworthy of our skills and experience. We are both widowers, both retired and of the same generation. He was an engineer. I was a lawyer. We have nothing much in common but get along well. I was excited when he told me his name appears in the NASA Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. Like me, he was a boy at the time, so didn't work on Apollo itself. His credit is for a later technical contribution.

Earthrise
Earthrise, by Bill Anders | Image Credit: NASA

Those who worked on the Apollo Program are among the few government employees I have ever admired.  The astronauts were (and still are) my heroes. My new friend gave me access to the operating manual for the Saturn V rocket and other such wonderful documents. It's hard to explain how much pleasure I took in looking through them. Suddenly it was Christmas 1968 again and I was an 11 year old boy waiting anxiously for AOS (acquisition of signal) from Apollo 8 to confirm that the SPS (service propulsion system) had ignited to achieve TEI (trans-Earth injection).

NASA alway did the best TLAs (three letter acronyms).

My new friend also recommended From the Earth to the Moon, a late-nineties TV series (currently available on Amazon Prime). At the time of its original release on HBO, I was working crazy hours in a demanding career. Any TV I saw was chosen by a wife and daughters with no interest in such stuff. When I organised a trip to Cape Canaveral during a Florida family holiday, they ganged up on me as we were about to set off and told me I was going alone. I was upset but, hey, I had one of the best days of my life.

I'm enjoying the show – including the appearance in the story of my namesake Thomas Paine, the NASA administrator who oversaw the first seven Apollo missions. It's pre-woke and tells the story straight. Yes it portrays the society of the time in which an astronaut could say affectionately to his worried wife (without her flying off the handle, or even looking miffed); 

You take care of the custard. I'll take care of the flying 

But it doesn't use the phrase "toxic masculinity" once.

The costs of this epic endeavour were not just the billions extorted from American taxpayers or the strains put on the astronauts' families. Three men: Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee laid down their lives in grisly fashion on the launchpad during a routine test. As so often in such epic tales, it's not the fallen heroes who are remembered. The glory goes to the ones who come home in triumph. In my book, those men are among the greatest heroes Mankind has ever known. 

One particular scene in the show may (time will tell) help me to gain some perspective on my woes. Two characters – Harrison Storms, an executive at North American Aviation and Joseph Shea from NASA – walk in a park and discuss their fates. Both had been scapegoated for the Apollo 1 tragedy. The script puts these words into Storm's mouth;

You know in my years in flight tests I saw a number of crews slam into the desert floor. Too many. I loved those guys and each time that happened I wanted to die. But I’ve learned that you’ve got to let go of the "what ifs". They’re meaningless and they’ll kill you

In the next episode the script attributes these words to Wally Schirra, commander of Apollo 7, when asked by a documentary-maker how he felt about the Apollo 1 disaster; 

You mourn the loss but you don't wear the black armband for ever.

Maybe Captain Schirra lacked emotional intelligence too. Or maybe he was just wise enough to play the cards life dealt him and not waste it on regret. 

By the standards of most humans, let alone real heroes, I don't have a problem worthy of the name. Someone I love stopped loving me. It happens. It seems to have happened to me a lot, so perhaps there's something wrong with me. If there is, I can't identify it and – at 65 – it's unlikely I can change it. So it may be time to let go of of the "what ifs" and stop wearing the black armband.

I'm not sure the Apollo 1 story would have given me that insight if it were not for the fact that it also woke memories of my young self – a boy full of hopes and dreams – quite a few of which came true.


Where are we now?

It’s been two months since I last posted here. The Last Ditch is not dead but it’s moribund. The same might be said for me.

I have made some progress since Mrs P the Second left last November. I am no longer in purdah. I am going out with my friends. I am making plans for my future. I have progressed from saying that I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me to actually meaning it. That’s not the same as being happy about it  I still feel bereft, lost and lonely.

We have filed for one of the new mutual divorces. We have agreed on the financial terms of our separation. It has not taken many conversations with friends who have experienced divorce for me to realise that I am blessed. Mrs P the Second is being reasonable, kind and considerate. She clearly regrets hurting me and is trying to make this as easy as possible. If anything, I like her better than ever. By this stage of most divorces, the other party and her lawyer would have raised the emotional temperature to the melting point of love. I know how lucky I am (though a smidgeon of hatred might make it easier at this point).

The pandemic being over, I am making travel plans. I intend to tour all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie locations in New Zealand on an epic road trip next January/February for example. I hope my spirits will have sufficiently revived by then to make a good travel blog of the journey. I’m not shipping Speranza though. I will do it in a hire car.

Having no wife to leave my assets to tax-free I am revising my estate-planning. I’m responding to the wicked, perverse incentives of Inheritance Tax by planning actively to destroy the modest wealth I worked so hard and long to build. I hate that, of course. Those perverse incentives, born of envy and malice, will destroy our civilisation one day.

An Ancient Greek proverb said a civilisation is where a man will plant a tree to shade his grandson. By that definition IHT is uncivilised. No UK-resident family will ever own a global company in the way the Porsche family does. Much English energy that could have been expended on wealth-creation will be wasted. But “equality” (defined as “all being equally insignificant in the face of state power”) is more important to most English people now than productivity. Especially to the leftist “Deep State” Establishment wedded to that state power.

Open Web Page
Felicity

Those readers who know me will be unsurprised that I plan to destroy my wealth by automotive depreciation. My much-loved maternal grandfather was a store man at the Bentley factory in Crewe. He died young and still in service when I was sixteen. The company (then Rolls-Royce Motors of course) sent a car and bearers to his funeral. Talking to his co-workers I learned that grandad, though he had no interest in cars himself, had marked me as a petrol-head. He’d persuaded his craftsman colleagues to make me a scale model from offcuts of real cars. He was almost fired when caught trying to smuggle it out for me and was forced to destroy it in a furnace. Ever since hearing that story for the first time at his funeral, I’ve had an ambition to commission a new Bentley. 

I have already worked out the configuration for “Felicity”, as she is to be known. She’s to be a V8 Flying Spur in a burgundy colour. I plan to place the order when the divorce is final. My financial advisor is clear I shouldn’t tick off the Family Court judge by placing it sooner. Mrs PII is a robustly independent feminist who wants nothing from me but continued friendship, but our courts still see marriage as a financial transaction.

I’m not sure what the lead time is so this may take a while. I’m hoping to take my mother to the factory to collect Felicity. I plan to have Bentley place a plaque in the engine compartment that says “Commissioned in memory of” my grandfather. If you know Mum don’t spoil the surprise please. She hates all extravagance and is quietly horrified by all this. I’m hoping the plaque will make her smile. 


Thoughts at year end

It's easy to identify wrong choices after the event but it's important not to lose your life to regret. Every door you choose to open, leaves not one but many closed. Who is to say which of the others would have led to better paths? If real life gave us a video game's opportunities to go back and make other choices, even three lives might still not be enough.

At dark times in my marriage to the late Mrs P., I sometimes remembered a time at university when I considered ending our relationship to pursue another woman. In those fantasies, the alternate Mrs P. and I lived happily ever after in fairy-tale style. In truth, that potential relationship would have had its issues too. I might well have married the other lady and found myself fantasising that I had chosen Mrs P. instead.

In a way, the last six months of the late Mrs P's life were the best of our marriage. The problems that had often made us miserable were put into perspective. Faced with the real problem of her cancer, they hardly seemed worthy of the name. Just as we'd grown together in the struggles of our early lives, the shared focus on her survival brought us close. As I took care of her in ways she'd never imagined I could, her insecurities about my love disappeared. Focusing on her care made me, for a while at least, less selfish. Things that might once have made me angry suddenly seemed far too trivial to fret about. Some of that perspective never left me. I am a calmer man than I was if not a wiser one. 

When Mrs P. died, I discovered how complex grief is. Among many things, I grieved the loss of my hope that one day we'd solve the problems of our marriage. It may well have been a forlorn hope; clung to rather than embraced. Perhaps if she'd survived her cancer our new perspective might have made for a perfect marriage? But she didn't. In these matters, as in so may, you just can't tell, so why waste time speculating?

In the month since Mrs P. the Second left me, I have experienced grief again. I have wished I never met her. I have cast aside every happy memory in dark thoughts. Yet the truth is she may well have saved my life. In my grief at the time I met her, I was taking no care of myself. That I lived to experience this new loss is painful but without her I might not be here to experience it – or anything else.

We don't learn much from success in my experience. It tends to make us complacent and stale. It was the success of the Kodak company – proprietor of arguably the world's best-known brand – that made its leadership dismiss digital photography when one of its employees invented it. Off he went to a competitor and off they went into the dustbin of commercial history.

When I look back on my life, I realise it was the errors and losses that helped me grow. In fact all that was best in my career arose from my very worst mistake. I have often used that story when counselling friends and colleagues worried about career choices. I tell them "make the best choice you can, but don't worry too much. The bad choice might lead to great things too."

With that positive thought I wish you all, gentle readers, a very happy new year. I hope that 2022 will be a better year for all of us.


Grief, loss and hope

I apologise for posting once more about my personal life. It’s not in my nature, I hope, to overshare. The Oprah Winfreyite idea that everyone has a personal “truth” that it’s somehow brave or noble to bare disgusts me. It’s self-indulgent and morally-corrosive. Having begun a sad story here however, I didn’t want to let lie the impression it must have left.

I have felt sorry for myself since that post. Apart from two doctors’ appointments I’ve stayed home alone thinking dark thoughts and kept away from friends and family. There was perhaps an element of improper pride in that. I didn’t want the people who love me to see me broken. 

Today I had a drink and a meal with an old friend. A simple and yet a powerful thing. We touched on my grief and my reaction to it, but mostly we talked of things I blanked out in my self-pity. It was enough to help me see that, though I’ve suffered a blow, my life is still good.

We began, for example, to hatch a plan for a trip to Japan — for whose culture and food we share an affection. I would love to make that happen and document it here. COVID has put travel (and blogging about it) on hold but it would be good to do more. To take better photos, a wise man once advised, “stand in front of more interesting stuff”. It would be good to dust off my photography gear and do just that.

Yes it’s hard to be rejected by someone you love. It’s sad when a relationship breaks down, for whatever reason. Being dumped is certainly not good for that self-esteem the Winfrey-ites value above all but so what? How we feel about ourselves is often a poor guide. The Kray Brothers did not lack for self esteem, for example. The world might have been better if they’d had less of it. Amour-propre used to be considered a bad thing.

Ultimately there’s no value in being with someone who doesn’t want to be there. The only good human relationships are consensual. That consent having been unexpectedly and disappointingly withdrawn, a good libertarian must blink back his tears and move on. My soon-to-be-ex wife has her story and I love her enough to hope, in the end, it’s a good one. I’m sorry I won’t be in future chapters but hey ho.

Thank you, gentle readers, for your words of support and encouragement. They helped. I apologise to those of you (and those of my family and friends) who reached out directly and were ignored. I did not mean to spurn your help, I just wasn’t ready to handle it gracefully.

I am sorry to have troubled you here with problems that were no concern of yours. Please let’s say no more of it and move on with dignity.


The blogger at bay

The second Mrs P., who led me from my grief at the death of Mrs P. to a new and briefly happy life, has left me. She met a new man at her work. 

Our age difference (almost thirty years) was always a risk. For years before we married I told her that – good though it was for me – our relationship would never work for her in the long-term and that she should find someone more suitable. A religious friend told me I was selfishly putting my own happiness before hers; denying her the prospect of a full life, children etc. I was too weak to take his advice to break it off for her sake.

Perhaps it really was selfish on my part. I tried not to fall in love with her, but failed. I convinced myself that she knew her own mind and that – crazy though it seemed – I was blessed. So much for that nonsense.

Today I am paying the price. I am the old fool there is no fool like and this feels like the end of more than just my marriage. When I told one of my best friends – a younger man I mentored long ago – it was noticeable how quickly he passed from sympathy to boasting of his own achievements. In that moment, I felt like a wounded old lion, skulking off into the veldt to die alone.

My sense of loss is in some ways greater than when Mrs P. died. She, after all, did not choose to leave me. That thirty year relationship was fraught at times and far from perfect. I was no more the ideal husband than she was the ideal wife, but – robustly critical as she often was – she did not reject me like this. Unlike our daughters whose reaction to my remarrying was implacably hostile. They refused to come to the wedding and have mostly spurned me ever since. Another price I pay for folly.

I am not sure what this development means for an already-faltering blog. In COVID times, it's become apparent that the vast majority of my fellow-citizens are as far from my view of politics, economics, justice and morality as it is possible to be. I was already posting infrequently because I felt my cause was lost. The pontificating of a broken and bitter old man is even less likely to win anyone over. 

I shall read and write a little every day. I shall exercise and try to take care of my health. I shall focus on my hobbies and perhaps make a solitary road trip or two. The story took a dark turn but it is not ended yet. 


Sweet 16

I started this blog sixteen years ago today. Since then I have written the equivalent of several novels in short posts mostly about civil liberties. The British Library is archiving it apparently. One day an historian may analyse just how wrong I was about everything. The Don Quixote in me hopes he'll instead explain how wrong politicians, apparatchiks and social "scientists" were not to agree with me!

Their mightiness in comparison to swordplay have never been clear to me, but I've had occasional indications that my words might have made a difference. I can only hope so. In terms of prosperity and life expectancy, humanity continues to advance, so maybe our political errors don't matter as much as my worries suggest. I must hope for that too. 

Anyway, if you have been, thanks for reading.


Day 6 on the Thames Path: Tower Bridge to Canary Wharf – Mission accomplished

Rather than give up on my exercise regime during Lockdown #2 (a mistake I made during Lockdown #1), I resolved to walk the Thames Path in sections from Hampton Court to Canary Wharf. Walking is less efficient as exercise than swimming. According to my tracker, today's walk burned only the calories I would usually expend in swimming for an hour. In fairness, I have done better than that on other, longer sections – but all the walks took more time too. I have never enjoyed physical exercise. I only do it as medicine. Walking costs too much for my taste.

Work on the Tideway (aka the "Super Sewer") and the presumably-furloughed employees who usually open the gates through Docklands housing developments subject to daylight hours rights of way, meant I spent too much time out of sight of the river. Today this was often just a Thames-proximate Path. On a couple of occasions I took the opportunity to go down alleyways that led to a river view, only to have to come back to Wapping High Street, or wherever, to resume my non-riparian stroll. 

IMG_1260

I was surprised by how smart Wapping is. Huge amounts of money have clearly poured in since the days when locals bemoaned the closing of the docks post-containerisation. There are elegant wharf and warehouse conversions; some of them by Housing Associations so not (intentionally) occupied by the wealthy. Even the social housing (always detectable by the state of the balconies, even though the cars outside – often Jags and Mercs these days – are no longer a reliable signal) seemed mostly very pleasant. Rather than an area of deprivation, it looked (after considerable redistribution of wealth, presumably) a very agreeable community to live in. It's nice to know someone's enjoying the proceeds of my lifetime of work, I suppose.

I spent some of the most fun times of my life working on the negotiation of lease for a major initial tenant in One Canada Square (the Canary Wharf Tower). The banks who financed the development had committed to lease there themselves, provided x,000 square feet was let to other banks by a deadline. I suppose they wanted to make their borrower prove that the Wharf would work as an extension of the City of London. Our client was a bank and its lease hit that limit – as it turned out – in the last hour before the deadline. Our client's negotiator didn't know the details, but had sensed that something was up. He procrastinated to get us as close as possible to the deadline to maximise his negotiating advantage. Such was the landlord's desperation in the end that our lease was ridiculously favourable. I had a lot of fun devising imaginative, plausible (but impossible) demands to help him delay. 

Passersby may have thought I was appreciating the architecture when the sight of that building made me smile today, but in truth I was remembering the only time I was paid to take the p*** for months. I know some of you think that's what lawyers always do,  but I promise you that was the only time for me!

My health club opens next Wednesday and I have two swims booked, b.v.*, already. So my walking days are (I hope) over. I can't say I have enjoyed the activity itself, but I have enjoyed getting a sense of the shape of London. I had been to many of the places before, but had not fully understood where they were in relation to each other. Walking through a city will fix that for sure. In fairness to walking, you can combine it with photography – and you can get to see new things worth photographing. Swimming's no good from that point of view. Still, I shall be going back to it – and motoring to my photoshoots!

The photos from the final day are here. I hope you enjoy them. 

*Boris volenti.


Day 5 on the Thames Path: Vauxhall Bridge to Tower Bridge

This is one of the shortest sections of my planned walk, but richest in photo-opportunities. From the MI6 Building to the Houses of Parliament, Lambeth Palace, the more famous bridges, City Hall and (more poignant to me) the various buildings I worked on when I was a young property lawyer.

My then firm was neither one of the genteel Inns operations handling aristocratic estates nor one of the corporate City outfits where "dirt lawyers" are looked down on. Our reputation was on the aggressive side (snobs were known to call us "spivs") but I believe it was the best place to learn the ways of the racy, exciting real estate business that is still (even after almost a decade of retirement) the world where I feel most comfortable. It was my experience at that firm that made me feel far more a real estate person than a lawyer.

I wouldn't bore you with the details of old deals even if professional ethics permitted, but I remembered them fondly today in all their long-forgotten details. There is one building featured in today's photographs which has such complicated subterranean boundaries that I'd bet I am still the only person who fully understands them. I remember the reaction of HM Land Registry when I suggested to them that they could only be properly represented by a hologram.

There's a life lesson that I reflected on today though in how little all those things we agonised and fought about matter now. I missed key moments of my daughters' lives to deal with issues the people fighting over them have long forgotten. I hope my daughters are wiser than I was when their time comes.

The walk barely needs describing. The most casual visitor to London will recognise most of the landmarks featured so the captions to the photographs will suffice. If you can't name a prominently-featured building, then I took a fee for legal advice in relation to it!  The photographs are to be found here and I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed making them.


Day 3 on the Thames Path: Kew Bridge to Putney Bridge

C3C21FA7-7E8A-409B-B857-7E577E96EDB7
Kew Bridge is close to home. I crossed the bridge to the steps I ascended, exhausted, at the end of Monday’s walk and set off. I’ve spent a lot of time on this section of the Thames near my home in Chiswick, but never on the opposite bank.

The guide book I’m using to plan my days says:

This is one of the greenest and most beautiful lengths of the Thames Path, with no irritating diversions. Just after Kew Bridge the path passes Kew Pier, from which boats depart for Richmond, Hampton Court and Westminster. The following stretch is pleasantly countrified, along an unmade track with trees and flowering bushes on both sides, which at points join up to form a canopy overhead.

I passed Mortlake and the local cemetery where it’s likely my earthly form will one day be incinerated, and walked on to Barnes, where the cultural references include blue plaques for the founder of the Royal Ballet and Gustav Holst plus a Stormtrooper from Star Wars on some local’s balcony. 

I ate my sandwich lunch, prepared by Mrs P2, on a bench outside St Paul’s School. A Remembrance Day service was in progress, ending with The Last Post. I’d been feeling footsore and sorry for myself but this reminded me of what a real problem was and inspired me to take on the final march for the day.

After Hammersmith Bridge (closed for emergency repairs to the great inconvenience of locals) I passed the London Wetland Centre and had the chance to see progress on the new stand replacing the one where my seat used to be at Craven Cottage. Having been excluded from my football home by our COVID tyrants it was quite nostalgic to see the place. From there it was not far to my destination and the bus home from a stop on the middle of the bridge. 

Today’s pictures are here