PC 269 Hope

Hope – noun: ‘Expectation and desire combined; feeling of trust”. Also a verb: ‘To Hope.’ So; without desire, no hope?

After my last somewhat bleak postcard, I thought something entitled ‘Hope’ might lift any spirits that had have been wallowing in the mire. You may not believe it but some of my postcards require me to engage my brain to write something interesting, informative and illustrated. I have a ‘dump’ file where I put some thoughts and sometimes some of these coalesce into a suitable one-thousand-word piece. Then you have the origin of my last post, a documentary advertised as too shocking to watch, which interjected and I wanted to remind my readers that we must not forget that particularly horrific period of the last century. Those caught up in it lost all hope for survival. This morning I needed the warmth and companionship of the familiar so I’m sitting at a table in The Hope Café.

I look up as Susie comes over, bringing a double espresso. Both she and Josh (note 1) are in today and she’s got some news.

Next door a new cake and delicatessen shop has opened, run by Teresa, a Brazilian from São Paulo. She’s one of many Brazilian’s living in this city; most seem to have come to study at one of our two universities and then stayed, charmed by someone of the opposite or of the same sex! We’ve done a deal with her. Her customers can have a 5% discount on what they may buy here and our customers have the same. Only been running since the beginning of January so it’s early days but already there’s been an increase in the footfall. By the way, the Brigadeiros are to die for!”


I ask Susie why the owners named this place The Hope Café. She shakes her head and mumbling ‘no idea’ goes across to Josh who’s operating the commercial coffee machine.

Josh raises his voice over the noise of the machine; I can just hear him tell Susie that his father was a great fan of the British-American comedian Bob Hope (1903-2003). By the time Susie relays this to me I have got the connection, as Bob Hope’s wonderful one-liners and entertainment career spanned many decades in Hollywood. He made 45 films; one was a series entitled ‘Road to ….’, for instance ‘Bali’ or ‘Morocco’. I remember being in my parent’s car, a Riley Pathfinder, driving into Central London through the endless confusing suburbs. At one T junction my step-father was not sure whether to turn left or right. Ahead of us was a billboard advertising the latest Bob Hope film ‘Road to Hong Kong’ (1962). Unusually for me, as I don’t think I am good at the quick bon mot, I said: “Well, if you could go straight on you’ll end up in Hong Kong.”

With the contents of my last postcard still rumbling around in the grey matter, I looked at Josh and imagined he had been named Joshua. That’s a very Jewish name and I wondered whether his grandparents had been incarcerated in one of the many concentration camps, or escaped to England on some Kinder Transport (1938-1940).

‘Hope’ features in the song ‘Land of Hope and Glory (Mother of the Free, how shall we extol thee, who are born of thee …..), which is based on a trio theme from Edward Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance March No 1, first performed in 1901. Queen Victoria died in the same year and for King Edward’s coronation Elgar worked this trio into his Coronation Ode. Writing about hearty singing, we all love singing “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,” the hymn written in 1719 by Isaac Watts.

Some of you will know I started researching my family history in 2007. It culminated in a get-together in Auckland, New Zealand, in March 2011 of 43 out of some 236 living relatives. One of those attending was Debs Nation, who lives in Lyttleton just south east of Christchurch on South Island. Her mother was a Frances Hope (1925-2006)

‘Hope’ came second equal in the Christian Bible’s Old Testament’s Corinthians 13, which compared faith, hope and love ….. ‘but the greatest of these is love’.

There is a town in Arkansas in the USA called Little Hope. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher visited a fictional town called Despair where all the bad guys lived; the good ones lived in nearby Hope! 


Here in England the pretty village of Hope in Derbyshire is situated where the River Noe and Peakshole Water meet. The Doomsday book records the village had a church and priest in the C13th.

Most of us probably think the Cape of Good Hope marks the most southerly tip of the African Continent.  In fact that’s Cape Aqulhas, about 150kms away to the south east, whereas the Cape of Good Hope marks the tip of the Cape Peninsula and is some 50kms south of Cape Town. For those sailing down the western coast of Africa, it’s the first place south of the Equator where you can make some easterly offing.

Some years ago I needed to find a particular light fitting and was recommended to go to Edwards & Hope, a family-run light bulb and lighting shop in the centre of Brighton. I recounted my experience in Postcard number 72 (June 2016). Last week I needed some coloured flex and dropped in after yoga, as the studio is quite close. Saddened to hear it’s going to close at the end of March after 87 years.

Such a good name for a café, ‘Hope’, as it raises all sorts of thoughts in our minds. As Michelle Obama said: “…. because history has shown us courage can be contagious and hope can take in a life of its own.”

          Alexander Pope wrote: “Hope springs eternal.”

So without hope we have nothing, no future, not even a present! Hope gives our existence meaning and purpose. Let hope wrap itself around you … and change your life.

Richard 11th February 2022


PS Today’s Codeword 4509 in The Times had, as one of its answers, ‘Hope’! Love these coincidences.

Note 1 On Wednesday I attended the Graduation Ceremony of the University of Brighton’s Sports & Health Science students. As it closed the names of the 650 new graduates scrolled on an overhead screen. There were many ‘Josh’s ….. but not one ‘Richard’! A sign of our society’s changing favourite first names. 

PC 268 Least We Forget

The Twenty Seventh of January is International Day in Memory of the victims of the Holocaust, commemorating the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, between 1933 and 1945 by Nazi Germany. This date was chosen as it was the day the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in occupied Poland in 1945. Six million European Jews, together with countless others, perished in camps like Auschwitz that were doted across Eastern Europe. Forever will we associate Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrűck, Belsen and Auschwitz, to name some of the 23 main concentration camps, with unspeakable horror.

On the day following Holocaust Memorial Day, a British television station, Channel 4, broadcast a documentary film which hitherto had been deemed too awful to be screened; it was entitled “The Holocaust film too shocking to show – ‘Night Will Fall’.” (Note 1)  Alfred Hitchcock was its main editor. I suspect it is still ‘too awful to show’ but the producers believe it needs to be shown, as the knowledge of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany in pursuit of their ‘Final Solution’ fade from our collective consciousness.

I recorded the programme and watched it the following day; too depressing to be watched at night! The film is the result of the editing of hundreds of hours of footage shot by the military press as the Allied Forces liberated the various concentration camps.

I have read ‘Auschwitz: The Nazis & the Final Solution’ by Laurence Rees and more recently books written by Holocaust survivors like Edith Eger (‘The Choice’) and Primo Levi (‘If This is a Man’). Jack Fairweather wrote an interesting book (The Volunteer) about a Polish underground operative Witold Pilecki who volunteered to become a prisoner of Auschwitz so he could tell the outside world what was happening in the camp. The situations millions found themselves in has been portrayed by films such as Sophie’s Choice (1982 Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline), Schindler’s List (1992 Liam Neeson) or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008). I thought I had some idea of what had gone on in these camps.

During my Army service I spend six years in Germany, part of the British Army of The Rhine (BAOR). At that time Germany was divided into West and East (Note 2); East Germany was a member of the communist Warsaw Pact, which was considered to be a real threat to western democracies. BAOR was part of NATO, which covered most democratic European countries. We trained and trained for something we hoped would never happen! It didn’t ….. so we were successful in providing some deterrence. Parts of each year were spent on the NATO training area of Bergen-Hohne, an area some 284 square kilometres in the state of Lower Saxony, north of the City of Hannover

It wasn’t all work and no play and during one three week exercise on a Sunday I went with a chum to the site of the Belsen Concentration camp. Our knowledge of the Nazi’s attempt at the extermination of the Jewish Race was quite board so we were aware what the camp had been and knew there was an exhibition centre. I can only describe our visit as extremely moving and educational. As we left, we drove across a bridge that spanned the railway line by Bergen-Hohne Station. It was by now dark, windy and with a steady relentless drizzle falling. The station overhead lights moved in the wind, rusted metal joints setting up a weird banshee. It didn’t take long for one to imagine, thirty years before, a train of cattle trucks arriving in the station, discharging their human cargo. Soldiers with barking dogs, everyone shouting, the sullen tide of humanity being formed up for their final walk, the two kilometres to Belsen Camp. We knew from our visit that over 50,000 humans had died in Belsen,

Belsen was liberated on 15 April 1945 by soldiers from the British 11th Armoured Division. The soldiers discovered approximately 60,000 prisoners, half-starved and seriously ill and another 13,000 corpses lying around the camp unburied.

Typhus was rampant. The horrors of this camp were recorded on film and formed the major part of ‘Night Will Fall’. Most footage was of the burial of these corpses, with the German guards and SS Troopers carrying them from piles and throwing them into a pit. There was no solemnity, no care, no tenderness normally associated with the disposal of a corpse and I find it difficult to find the words to describe what the film portrayed. The skeletons had become like mannequins, a frame with jointed pieces attached by tendons, moving independently every which way. I had a fleeting recollection of the disposal of dead cows during the last BSE epidemic in the UK, but sensed the animals were treated with more respect. But it prompted me to write this postcard – least we forget.

The world has witnessed similar atrocities, most recently the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when the Tutsi and moderate Hutus were attacked by Hutu activists. It is estimated over 1.1 million Rwandans were killed; this included some 800,000 Tutsi. Read ‘Shake Hands with The Devil’, an account by Canadian Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire of the failure of the world community to stop it.

Skulls and bones in Rwanda

During World War One over three quarters of the Armenian population of two million were systematically killed by Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire.

In Russia during Stalin’s reign (1946-1953) it’s estimated that 20 million perished in his Gulags, while in China Mao’s pursuit of his Communist ideological aims resulted in the deaths of ‘tens of millions’. In Argentina those who fell foul of the Military Junta (1976-1983) became known as The Disappeared and numbered some 30,000. In the white settlement of Australia, the indigenous Aboriginal People were considered sub-human and treated as such. In Tasmania they were rounded up and exiled to Flinders Island, where they gradually died out. During the 1992 Bosnian War images of prisoners looking half-starved revived memories of the Nazi concentration camps.

Dutch Jews being rounded up in 1941

But the film reminded me that the Nazi’s Final Solution was so developed, so systematic, so unique, so enormous in its goal, the complete extermination of a race of people,  that it stands on its own in the history of human depravity. 

Least we forget.

Richard 4th February 2022


PS Whoopi Goldberg got herself into hot water this week by saying The Holocaust was not about race but about two groups of white people, despite the well-known Nazi view that the Jewish people were an inferior race.

Note 1 The film was made in 1945 but only found by researchers in 2014.

Note 2 Unification followed the fall of the Berlin Wall which came down on 9 November 1989. Britain’s permanent deployment of troops ended in 2020, although a small detachment remains in Bielefeld.

PC 267 Modern Complexities

I remember my mother’s state-of-the-art Twin Tub washing machine; it was such a huge improvement on what she had had to use before there was much excitement when it arrived. The mangle could be dispensed with but you had to lift the soaking wet clothes from the washing tub across to the spinner – water everywhere. That was of course if you had managed to secure the rubber hoses to the appropriate taps and ensure the drainage hose was over the bath. Thankfully the ‘white goods’ industry today provides  machines which are better, more efficient, better for the environment, more cost–effective than those my parents had to contend with and they can be plumbed in! But with the advantages has come unnecessary complexity.

One of the simplest machines we have in the kitchen is our indispensable toaster. When the last one died about four years ago, choosing its replacement was complex. Did we want a long one, one that could take thick bread slices, two pieces or four, a coloured one costing 200% more than a standard cream or metal? The one we bought has a dial to determine how toasted we want to the bread, numbered 1- 6: one doesn’t make any difference and 6 creates cinders! Mind you it has to cope with a slice of San Francisco Sourdough from the freezer so a difficult challenge. I have only just read the label on the side – and it tells me I should have removed it four years ago!

Down stairs in the utility cupboard is a plumbed-in washing machine from Herr Bosch. We generally use one programme on the basis it’s almost the shortest – 60 minutes (Note 1). It’s not as short as the ‘briefly worn refresh’ although if you use this programme you have to subsequently spin the clothes and the shortest spin time is 22 minutes, so what’s the point? What’s the point of the 30 different programmes you can choose? Well, not actually 30 but a lot; hands up who changes the programme for a ‘special’ more than once a year.

So can I not buy a simpler and therefore cheaper machine? These days I understand the focus on the environment and try to do my bit. However, I think only a research mathematician could work out whether the 2 hours 30 minutes ‘eco’ cycle is better for the environment. The variables are inter alia the amount of water used, the temperature of the water, the cost of the electricity (note 2), the amount of wear & tear using it for twice as long as a standard cycle; does my head in even thinking about it!

There is an ‘eco’ cycle on our dishwasher, another of Herr Bosch’s products, and it’s the same deal here. The programme runs for over two hours – just to wash some cutlery, plates, mugs and glasses. If the machine is relatively full, how long would it have taken me to wash and dry that lot by hand? Twenty minutes maximum? So we chose the same programme every time, just a 30 minute wash and dry; couldn’t I buy a dishwasher with an on/off switch that would just er! wash the crockery?

We have a microwave, our third Bosch! It has a digital clock, various buttons and settings, and a ‘start’ button. Ninety-nine per cent of the time we put something in, adjust the time and press start. What all the other buttons do I have no idea!

Can I use the expression ‘in the old days’ without sounding like a dinosaur? Even writing it is bad enough, but you may remember when you couldn’t control your television remotely. To switch it on you had to press a button on the set itself; changing channels required you to get up off your arse and stagger to within reach of the set. Mind you there were only two channels so you weren’t conflicted by too much choice – “It’s this, or this!” Televisions grew deeper as the Cathode Ray tube got bigger and bigger; now, thankfully, they had got thinner and thinner. I am going to make no comment on their size, believing you need to have one you can view without pushing yourself back into the wall. A neighbour across the garden has one so big we could sit and watch it from our hall.

Recorder, Television and DVD Player remote controls

But it’s the remote control that intrigues me; there are 47 buttons. Normally I use the on/off, the source, the channel selector, the volume control, the button that gives me access to the non-terrestrial stations like Netflix and BBC iPlayer and their associated pause/play/stop, the mute and the ‘return’; a total of 10. I must be missing out big time being so unadventurous; I often wonder what the blue button’s for! The control for the Freeview Box has a similar number and most have a coating of dust.

Don’t get me wrong, domestic machines have changed our lives beyond measure; I admire the way our digital world is progressing and thank the boffins for designing this and that and the other. It’s just a plea for a little common sense when someone says we could design the programme to do this ….. and that …. without someone questioning whether anyone would use it.

Richard 28th January 2022


Note 1 When it finishes it bleeps. Sometimes I am willing it to finish as I am in a hurry to do something else, after hanging up the clothes. The timer shows 2 minutes ……. sometimes this two minutes can be 5!

Note 2 Most people have no idea what electricity tariff they are on. They probably did when they signed up five years ago, but have a vague memory that Wayne called and offered a slightly better tariff and now you really don’t know. So putting the dishwasher or washing machine on at 0300 might, or might not, make a difference. And living in a building with other apartments, isn’t it inconsiderate to have your jeans spinning around at 1200 rpm with the machine wobbling and about to take off, making a lot of noise?

PC 266 Inside one’s head

The other evening Celina and I started watching a new Scandinavian TV drama series about a criminal psychologist, Maja Angell, trying to get inside the head of someone she assumes to be a serial killer. Not family entertainment you understand but filmed around Kautokeino in northern Sweden, so the scenery is stunning – if you like mountains and pine forests and lakes and more mountains and more pine forests and more lakes. There is an added dimension; it’s high summer and there are 24 hours of daylight!

Some way into the drama Maja is retracing the probable route of the killer with a male colleague, who’s driving. She encourages him to start thinking like the killer: “You’ve picked her up, you’re giving her a lift; she’s pretty and you start imaging what could happen. You’re male, so think of sex at every opportunity, hundreds of times a day, and here’s this young woman, in your car …… you feel horny, do you? You think she’s ‘up for it’? Come on, Claus; start thinking like the killer might.” (Note 1) After a pregnant pause, Claus obviously engages his brain and the two of them start making real progress. This is great television, subtly encouraging audience cerebral participation!

Certainly got me thinking about some of our base human emotions and behaviours. Could someone who is not a sociopath and/or psychopath think like one? (Note 2) Surely one’s own values and morals would prohibit certain threads developing? Do we have an innate sense of whom or what we are, about what goes on inside one’s head, about good and evil? These thoughts occur to me in the middle of a savasana, a yoga posture when you lie still on the mat, completely relaxed, immobile. It is about an hour into my 90 minute hot yoga session, sweat dripping, my mind wandering  … about the posture, the class, the other students, the fact it is Sunday morning, about the rather empty bus in from Hove.

This sequence is described as a ‘conscious moving meditation’; one’s mind is meant to be completely focused on one’s breath and that imaginary spot between your eyes, the ‘third eye’. Sometimes I achieve it but more often than not my mind drifts. Monkey Mind is everyone’s enemy; difficult to still sometimes, when life gets out of control. For instance it’s a challenge to shut out the sounds of one’s own body as its systems work to digest, process, absorb, circulate or pump, not to listen to the vague sounds from outside the studio or those of the heating systems blowing hot air into the room.

The teacher’s voice interrupts my thoughts; Ah! Yes! Concentrate on the breath! My eyes look at the pipework on the ceiling, my slight OCD needing to move one large 40 centimetre pipe about 5 cms to create a proper right-angle! Sad huh? Fortunately most of us generalise what we observe, so avoid information overload; it’s just pipework!

Still in savasana – this one’s about 20 seconds – it’s amazing where your mind will go in that time. “What is this thing that I am, this collection of molecules, cells that form together ……. dust to dust, ashes to ashes ……. a collection for a period of time ….. and then? Now that would be good to know; what then?” I appreciate in the hot room my senses are more challenged, particularly, obviously (!), my awareness of temperature; I feel I am radiating, my sweat glands open, dripping onto the mat. Then there’s the smell. I expect we’ve all been to a gym at some stage – when you’re exercising you’re focused and don’t smell the combined odours in the room. Here I think I smell of Digestive biscuits, so not unpleasant but curious, unlike the whiff of unwashed dreadlocks or garlic carried on someone’s breath from last night’s Indian curry.

I was back in the Hope Café this week, able to write in the warmth of a familiar space. You may remember it was closed last week due to Covid and Duncan has used the time to install a limited number of charging points and WiFi – with a proviso that you have to spend at least £5 to gain the password, which will change each day. Clever huh! These places are an attractive alternative from WFH, the collective buzz you can’t get in your spare bedroom, the sights and overheard conversations about life that give you a lift. I see the chap who a few weeks ago was reading John Grisham’s ‘Sooley’ (see PC 258), sitting in a corner, having just been given a second cup of coffee by Susie. This afternoon he’s reading Grisham’s latest ‘The Judge’s List’.

I mention it here as the central figure in the fictional tale is a judge who, whilst outwardly successful and prosperous, is a serial killer. Grisham weaves together many threads that detail the efforts to identify his victims and to eventually apprehend him.

So, the contrast between yoga and its peaceful beliefs of self-actualisation (Note 3) and the actions of a serial killer couldn’t be greater; the celebration of life and someone who wants to take it. All inside one’s head, where these thoughts start and finish.

Richard 21st January 2022


Note 1 These are a synopsis of the actual script, not verbatim by any stretch!

Note 2 I am at last reading the Italian Chemist Primo Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’, first-hand observations of his eleven months in Auschwitz (1944-1945). He experienced and saw humanity at its most basic, in survival mode. Life had little value, unless it was your own but then some just gave up that will to survive, the will to live. Serial killers of course simply want to take life for their own gratification.

Note 3 Ernie Zelinski, in his book ‘The Joy of Not Working’, defines these as being self-confident and secure about one’s position in society, being able to create one’s own purpose in life, not being addicted to material possessions for self-esteem and being able to accept other individuals’ points of view. (A hot topic in 2022!)

PC 265 A Bucket

You may or may not recognise these lines?

“Wenn der Beltz em Loch hat

Stop es zu meine liebe Liese …..


They are from a German song about a hole in a bucket, which dates from about 1700. I remember a much later English version by Harry Belafonte and Odette which reached number 32 in the UK Singles chart in September 1961 – ‘There’s a Hole in My Bucket’. (Note 1)

My last postcard, ‘Bits & Pieces’, engendered some comments about such a bucket, in this case a vehicle used to demonstrate that identifying the crucial aspects of your life must be the top priority. Ted suggested I shouldn’t kick it while Carol still uses one to remove the ashes from her log burner. On the way  back from Rahmi’s last Saturday morning, head down into the latest torrential rain, I thought the humble bucket could be the subject of my next PC, rather like PC 203 on A Milk Bottle (November 2020).

If you were hoping for more erudite comments about China and Covid, Novak Djokovic versus The Australian Government (Advantage Canberra?) or an update on the UK Post Office Scandal or The Cladding Crisis (See PC 235 Generosity in Government June 2021), I hope you won’t be disappointed with what follows?

A bucket is typically a watertight, vertical cylinder or truncated cone or square, with an open top and a flat bottom, with a semi-circular carrying handle called the bail. While a bucket is usually open-topped, a pail (Note 2) can have a top or lid. Milkmaids traditionally carried two pails suspended from a beam across their shoulders.

I am glad Ted suggested I shouldn’t ‘kick the bucket’ as this phrase derives from either the suicide’s kicking away the bucket on which they were standing in order to hang themselves, or from the ‘bucket beam’ on which pigs were hung after being slaughtered. Writing ‘pigs’ reminds me of the bucket used to collect kitchen refuse that was then used to feed pigs. Known as Pigs Swill, pig farmers arranged collection of the swill which was processed into pig food. Although banned in 2001 as a possible key link in a foot-and-mouth outbreak, recent research suggests no such link and the practice may return.

Our little kitchen container for waste

Using a bucket for pig swill brings me nicely to the use of a bucket for slopping out! Prison inmates without a flushing toilet in their cell had to use one for their personal waste. ‘Slopping Out’ was the term given to their manual emptying in the morning. In theory abolished in the UK in 1996, in practice one or two prisons still continue to use it.

By the way, I haven’t mentioned either Susie or Josh so far and that’s because the Hope Café is closed this week. A customer who was resisting vaccination had tested positive for Covid and the manager Duncan had no option but to shut for 5 days. So one person ruins it for the others: bit selfish in my view!

And here’s a Limerick about a bucket:

“There was an old man from Nantucket,

Who kept all his cash in a bucket,

But his daughter, named Nan,

Ran away with a man,

And as for the bucket, Nantucket.” (Note 3)

A bucket seat is cosy and sort-of wrap-around, with a rounded high back, whereas the bucket of a water wheel is anything but!

Writing about buckets reminds me of The Slump Test. Some of you will know that I studied Civil Engineering at university, way back when, and inter alia we spent an enormous proportion of those three years studying concrete! Yes, I know, you might think a little like watching paint dry, but it is a fascinating material and worthy of that attention. It’s obvious that concrete needs to be of the correct consistency, too dry and you can’t compact it well, too wet and it loses its strength. For the Slump Test the mixed concrete is poured into an upside down cone, a little like a bucket with no bottom (!), in three distinct layers and tamped. The cone is removed and the decrease in height at the centre is measured to nearest 5mm: the ‘slump’ needs to be within certain limits. Fascinating!

A bucket you may not have heard about is the canvas one kept on a yacht, called a drogue when used in extremely windy conditions. The bucket is attached to a rope which is payed out behind the yacht to slow it down and to prevent the hull becoming side-on to the waves. Without one, the yacht might speed down one wave and crash into the next, with catastrophic results! Fortunately I have never had to use one.

You will, I suspect, remember the 2007 film The Bucket List? Two terminally ill men, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, escape from a cancer ward and attempt to do things they’ve always wanted to but ……. before ‘they kick the bucket’. During my coaching years one of my questions asked of clients was to list 30 things they wanted to have, wanted to be and wanted to accomplish. (Note 4)

Samuel Wordsworth (1784 – 1842) wrote a poem – The Old Oaken Bucket:  “The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket, the moss-covered bucket, which hung in the well.

And how can I get to the end of these scribbles without mentioning the plastic bucket & spade, so beloved of children and adults alike.

On the beach, in the warmth of the sun, building castles with wet sand – and no requirement for a Slump Test!

Richard 14th January 2022


Note 1 “There’s a hole in my bucket dear Lisa dear Lisa.” “Then mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, mend it.” “With what shall I mend it …..”

Note 2 Not to be confused with pale. These words are homophones, pronounced the same but are spelled differently and have a different meaning (See PC 256 – towards the end)

Note 3 I guess this should be pronounced ‘Nan took it’

Note 4 Gordon Roddick, husband of Anita, had on his bucket list:  ‘To ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York’. To keep busy while he was away, she opened a little ‘lotions & potions’ shop in Brighton. It did quite well ……. and grew into The Body Shop!

PC 264 Bits & Pieces

‘Bits and Pieces’ is the title of a hit single by The Dave Clark Five in 1964 (Note 1). The lyrics talk of a lost love – ‘Since you left me’ …… ‘all I do is sit and cry’ ….. ‘I’m in pieces, bits and pieces’. Whenever I see or hear ‘bits and pieces’ the music comes to mind. Additionally it’s a good title to cover some unconnected thoughts for the start of the New Year, some that have been festering in my mental scrapbook.

Last year a couple of particular news items stopped me in my tracks; made me cry ‘Wow’! One concerned the obituary of a chap called Ziona Chana, who had died aged 76. “So?” you might ask, “Who the hell was he?” Well, the Indian living in Mizoram State (Note 2) had 38 wives and 89 children.

Mizoram State lies between Bangladesh and Myanmar

An uncle, Khuahtuaha, had been excommunicated from the local Presbyterian Church sometime in the 1930s for having an illegitimate child. His outgoing charismatic personality led to many people settling near his home and they founded a polygamous sect. Ziona took over in 1997 and the sect currently has some 3000 followers, two hundred of whom live in the main house! Wow!

Ziona Chana and his wives and children

And the other ‘wow’ was news that a 25 year old woman from Mali, Halima Cissé, had given birth to nine babies, two more that doctors had detected during scans. Three months after the birth they were reportedly all alive and well; apparently Halima had said she wanted a big family!

The Hope Café is extremely quiet, the clientele somewhat subdued, the uncertainty of how you identify those who are being selfish and not getting vaccinated permeating into how we behave. Susie comes over and perches on the edge of a chair (Note 3). Discovering I was bringing inconsequential and unrelated notes together, she tells me something she had witnessed the other afternoon. An elderly lady, white-haired and slightly stooped, had come in with a young chap, Susie thought probably her teenage grandson, and had settled in one of the bench seats along the side. Susie took her order “A pot of Lapsang Souchong, with a slice of lemon please, a Cappuccino with extra whipped cream and could we have a couple of rounds of toast, brown bread, and some honey?”

“Is that OK, Stephen?” – who nodded to indicate ‘that would be fine’.  

“Later, I overheard the conversation” recounts Susie. On the arrival of the toast, Stephen had taken a slice off the slab of butter and then, using the same knife and disregarding the spoon beside the honey jar, had scooped out some for his plate. The lady was obviously anxious to improve his manners. “You need to take some butter with the butter knife and use a spoon to take some honey. If you don’t you get the result we have, with butter in the honey. No doubt if you wanted more butter you would simply use the same knife to get it, so transferring the honey to the butter probably with some toast crumbs and stuff. It’s called being couth, dear.”

The business world is full of auditors, accountants and advisors, consultants and coaches, motivators and managers, all wanting to improve the way companies work. Accompanying this lot is the large library of motivation sayings, good ideas, buzz words and phrases like ‘blue sky thinking’, ‘pushing the envelope’, ‘going forward’ and general business gobbledygook that means nothing to anyone else and little to those who use it. I hope you’ve read, for instance, the tale of Hem and Haw, the two mice in ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Spencer Johnson, or ‘The Tao of Pooh’ by Benjamin Hoff?

Sometimes the ideas are picked up by the general population, to help us deal with ‘life’. One that has stayed with me, as it’s quite believable in its telling, is the one using a galvanised steel bucket.

The bucket’s put onto a table and it’s filled with large stones. When there is no more room, the audience are asked whether anything else can fit in. As the mutterings of ‘no’ ripple through the crowd, a bag of gravel is tipped into the bucket, until there is room for no more. “Is it full now?” asked the demonstrator. There is uncertainty …. as a bag of sand is emptied in, to fill the holes between the pieces of gravel. “Now?” No one commits themselves. And of course a jug of water completely replaces any air holes left. “What does this show?” “That you can always fit in something else?” “Well, yes, but more importantly, that you need to select the most crucial things in your life before you can fit in anything else.

I recently bought a couple of rechargeable stand-alone light discs for an area of our hall.

The lights are made in China but marketed here by Evatost Consulting in Cardiff, Wales. I am unsure whether the original instructions were written in Chinese or Welsh but their translation, obviously by someone for whom English is not their first language, is a wonderful example of how Google Translate doesn’t always work, however charming the result:

“Please closely touch the light where lies the touch sensor with your finger belly and the touching speed should not be too much quick so that the touch sensor could receive your command successfully and sensitively.”   

Love the ‘finger belly’!

We started with a memory from a 1960’s pop group so it’s appropriate to end with another. Graeme Edge, the drummer of a rock band The Moody Blues (eg ‘Nights in White Satin’), died in November aged 80. I was amused to read this: “(We) Have to get used to the adoration as we know we are not worth it. We still put our trousers on one leg at a time.”

I hope 2022 brings you all you need and some of what you want.

Richard 7th January 2022


Note 1 The Dave Clark Five had 12 ‘Top 40’ hits in the UK between 1964 and 1967. In addition to ‘Bits & Pieces’, ‘Glad All Over’ and other hits, they produced 7 studio albums in just two years.  

Note 2 Mizoram is a land-locked state in the north east of India, sharing international borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar and domestic ones with Assam, Manipur and Tripura.

Note 3 I know all the staff at the Hope Café are fully vaccinated as that has become a condition of their employment.

PC 263 Freedom

Josh looks up as I order a double espresso; Susie is on the late shift. “Hello! Richard, how are you doing?”  (Note 1)

“Oh! I’m fine. Need to gather my thoughts for this week’s postcard.”

What? The last one of the year? Why don’t you write something about freedom? Been in the news a bit recently!”

“But I limit my scribbles to about 1000 words, otherwise I think my readers will get bored! Freedom is potentially such a wide topic ……”

 “Just be succinct then!” Josh interupts, putting my coffee on the counter in front of me. I pick it up and head for a table; there are a number free, socially distanced of course!

For those of a certain age the word freedom instantly brings back a memory, the 1987 film ‘Cry Freedom’. Set in late 1970s apartheid-era South Africa, it was based on books written by the journalist Donald Woods about his black-activist friend Steve Biko. Woods attempts to uncover the reasons Biko dies in police custody. He is banned from leaving the country, decides he must expose the corrupt nature of South African politics and is forced to trek to neighbouring Lesotho disguised as a priest, before flying to London.

But here in Britain we don’t need to go back to the memory bank to read ‘freedom’, as our shores are a magnet today for migrants fleeing persecution in many countries, for instance Syria, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan. The UK is often chosen as the migrant not only has some knowledge of English but also believes our flexible black market economy will allow him or her to find a job quickly.

Matthew Parris, writing in The Times, rightly points out a couple of things; that ‘voters on an island will never soften towards settlers arriving uninvited in boats’ and that ‘persecution is most oppressive when the country is poor but individual rights are most respected in countries that our rich.’ Unless that changes, the poor will attempt to gravitate to where the rich live.

Migrants on an inflatable crossing the busy English Channel’s shipping lanes (Photo The Times)

On the news the other evening, a small malnourished 8 year old boy in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, close to the Turkish coast, turned to the camera and pleaded: ‘I just want to be free. I just want freedom.’ On the other side of the pond – “Freedom feels different to different people ….” So began an article in the Sunday Times magazine about 55 year old Jens Soering, who had just stepped outside an American prison for the first time in 33 years.

Whilst it came in for a great deal of criticism as the writer was not from Central America, so how could she write about the subject (?), Jeanine’s Cummins’ ‘American Dirt’ was an eye opener on the migrant struggles to cross from Mexico into the southern USA. I even Googled the train that carries this human cargo northwards and watched some documentary video – tragic of course, but fascinating if detached. All in the desperate search for freedom, real or imagined.

Freedom has been sought over the centuries by groups of people: for example the Israelites crossed the Red Sea in search of it, the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to North America to flee persecution and find freedom and Jews have been victimised until they were granted freedom in a homeland in 1948.  

Some might consider it wonderful to be ‘completely’ free, although as soon as you live with others, in some form of community or society, rules and laws are introduced to bring a sense of order to what would otherwise be chaos. Over hundreds of years these laws have been refined, or changed in response to altering views and values. Most of us in democratic countries believe in the rule of law and adhere to the restrictions, restrictions on our ‘personal freedom’. Some do so only when it suits! Nobody says it’s a perfect way to live but it reflects the variable nature of the human species; rules for the majority.

Here the anti-everything brigade cry about lost freedom, about government interference in their personal liberty, without realising how conforming they are. Societies mandate certain requirements. Currently if you want to work in a nursery you have to have a DBS (Note 2) check; certain countries require you to have a Yellow Fever vaccination if you want to visit them; to drive you need a licence. It’s your choice to accept the mandatory requirements or forgo the right to work in a nursery, travel or drive. That’s your free choice. It may be we will require a Vaccination Passport to go to certain events, eat in restaurants, work in certain sectors. To those who do not want to be vaccinated, you have a choice.

The antivaxers reject the wisdom of medical science one moment, in this case that the overwhelming scientific evidence says the Covid vaccine is statistically safe, but accept it the next as an infection puts them in hospital needing specialist care (Note 3) – that could have been avoided if they had been vaccinated. Carol Midgley, a Times columnist, repeated a joke doing the rounds: ‘A man who has refused to have a jab saying he’s concerned about the side effects, is challenged by a work colleague. “But they said masturbation made you blind, Gary, and yet here you are without a white stick.”’

I pay Josh, who asks: “How did it go, the scribbles about freedom?”

“Actually hardly touched the surface. No space to mention Chinese repression and re-education of the ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, no time to explore sexual freedom or modern-day slavery, or even mention Freddie Mercury’s ‘I want to break free’ (Note 4)!”

Ironically it’s the antivaxers who are potentially keeping everyone else under threat of restrictions to their liberty, to their freedom. A close friend just doesn’t believe in vaccinations. Normally I accept her decision, but not during a pandemic when there is a collective need for everyone to be protected. Of course our ‘loss of freedom’ pales into insignificance compared with the little refugee on Lesbos.

Richard 31st December 2021


Note 1 When you go regularly to a restaurant, café or even a shop, being on first-name terms with those who serve brings colour to the whole experience!

Note 2 DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) is an analysis and record of someone’s past, looking for criminal convictions, cautions etc, which might bar someone from employment in certain sectors.

Note 3 Recovering Covid patients need to stay in ICU three times longer than someone recovering from, say, a heart bypass.

Note 4 The 1984 song was actually about a failed relationship but it became an anthem against oppression and in support of freedom.

PC 262 Christmas Eve Post

I was all prepared to post some thoughts about freedom, as it’s a word often in the news at the moment; had even written 900 words. I paused, thought about the subject, one where the breadth of associated emotion runs from elation to abject misery, and decided it could wait until after the celebrations.

A distant cousin in Auckland sends me her seasonal newsletter by email; I don’t think I am the only recipient! In a wonderfully serendipitous way, somewhere embedded in it is an explanation of how the Maori understand the future. They feel that we walk backwards into the coming years, unable to view what that will bring, only able to look at our past years and what eventuates for us then. It’s good to take our blinkers off sometimes and understand how others see the world, for their view is not wrong and it can be challenging. Personally looking back I only see the experiences I have had, maybe make some judgement about how they have shaped me, but very firmly look forward into my future and all that it may or may not contain. Physically walking backwards without fear of falling over, without looking over my shoulder to see where I am going, is not natural to me.

          So …… enjoy your Christmas Eve ……. I hope you have a fun time …… thank you for reading my scribbles …….. and I promise my freedom thoughts are coming! Walk backwards into the coming year, or face it with energy and enthusiasm and embrace all it offers.

May 2022 be better

Richard 24th December 2021


PC 261 That Moment

Susie’s on her day off and Josh is making the coffee this morning. He is a very accomplished Barista and my double espresso with some hot water on-the-side is well-made. Don’t have long before I need to head down to the hot yoga studio in Middle Street but thought a shot of caffeine was needed. Caffeine is easily absorbed by the body within a few minutes and can increase one’s mental alertness and physical energy; for me very necessary! That very first sip, lips on the side of the cup, the hot liquid seeping into the mouth and down the throat – one of those ‘ah!’ moments.  

Last Sunday morning, head down into the biting north easterly wind, I passed a couple of rough-looking chaps outside the Smart Seaview Brighton Hotel. One of those delightful misnomers as it’s neither smart nor in Brighton, although to be fair you can see a patch of sea between some buildings!

They sat either side of a wooden table & bench combination, concentrating madly on rolling some tobacco or something stronger in some paper; a couple of stained mugs with steaming tea lay on the table.  I didn’t want to interrupt the process, as I was aware how important the first ‘something’ is, in this case the first inhale of smoke, in through the nose and down into the lungs and then the heady rush of nicotine. Being an ex-smoker I can well remember that first morning cigarette, the nicotine entering the blood stream, stimulating the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. God it felt good!!

Got me thinking of other times when we all experience ‘that moment’. Maybe we have hundreds, maybe even thousands but some are more instantly recallable than others, aren’t they?

A visual one comes to mind, prompted by a recent television programme, ‘Griff’s Great New Zealand Adventure’ (Note 1). Griff Rhys Jones was making his way down the South Island of NZ when he had to stop …. simply had to get out of his car …… and shouted ‘wow’, looking at the stunning scenery through which he was driving. I have had many such moments in New Zealand, such is its breath-taking landscape. My most recent one was in December 2019 (See PCs 169 & 170), driving away from Elmslie Bay where, in 1877, the girl who became my great grandmother came ashore from a shipwreck. It’s 100% pure New Zealand and around every bend there was another photo opportunity; the rolling landscape of this hill looks like a Pug puppy’s face! That is a moment to treasure.

Yachts have their own idiosyncrasies and it takes a while to get to know how to get the best performance out of them. Sailing in Uomie in the Fehmarn Light Race in Kieler Woche , the German equivalent of our Cowes Week, many years ago, the first leg of some 35 nm (6okms) was out to a lightship off the German island of Fehmarn.

We beat into a cold northerly; pointing the bow too much into the wind and the yacht slows, too far the other way and it heels over too much. On the tiller, I somehow managed to get Uomie sailing as best she could, thrashing into the night. In sailing parlance she “lifted her skirts”, like mums in the 50m dash at a school sports day  (Note 2) ; we rounded the light a few hours later, tacked and bore away towards Sønderborg and the second course mark about 80kms away ….. but that moment stays with me, that and the fact we won our class!

Nothing comes close to seeing something in real life; no matter how many times you’ve seen pictures of, for instance, the Mona Lisa or the Taj Mahal, you can still gawp and wonder either in the Louvre or in Agra. My first glimpse of Christ the Redeemer on the mountain overlooking Rio de Janiero is one.

And this reminds me of a sister-in-law’s children, in London for the first time, seeing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament as we drove in from Heathrow one night. The excitement in their voices: “Look! Ah! Wow!”

Some of you will be parents and maybe grandparents. Whilst I acknowledge that the birth of a child is special, I think the birth of a first grandchild is extra special. The realisation that the little mite has some of your DNA in its cells is a moment like no other.

And there’s another moment, maybe more sombre than others, that I was reminded of recently. When your last surviving parent dies, there is this rather weird realisation that there is no one ‘above’ you in the family. We are so used to having our parents around ….. and then they aren’t!

At this time of year when alcohol is being advertised more than normal, I am reminded of the first whiff, and then the first taste, liquid on lips, into the mouth and eventually down the throat, of some Australian Grenache.

I asked a friend what “Ah!” moment immediately came to mind and she said: “Losing my virginity in a caravan”. She didn’t elaborate and I thought it would have been indelicate to ask whether the experience met her expectations!

When your body is hot from being in the sun, a dip into a cold sea is an absolute delight; that sense of being enveloped by water. Interestingly many more here in the UK are swimming in the sea all the year round – great for increasing one’s immunity from disease.

Josh came to collect my empty cup and asked what I was scribbling about this week. When I told him he immediately said: ‘First Love!’ Maybe that’s a topic that could fill a PC on its own?

Left the Hope Café in a hurry, off to yoga.

Richard 17th December 2021


Note 1 Griff Rhys Jones travels from Cape Reinga on the tip of New Zealand’s North Island to the bottom. Four episodes UK ITV.

Note 2. ‘Showing her underneath/keel’? Yachts are always female hence this expression – today I hope, sincerely hope, we don’t shy away from this tradition. “It lifted its unisex trousers ….” doesn’t create the same emotion.

PC 260 Bread

In my last postcard I highlighted toast, aided initially by a Tony Buzan mind map. Then I thought I was ahead of myself, as I should have started with ‘bread’!

Before we go any further can we define ‘bread’? It’s a staple food most commonly made from wheat flour and water and one of the oldest human-made foods. It can be made to rise with naturally occurring microbes as in Sourdough, with chemicals for example baking soda, with yeast or high-pressure aeration – all creating gas bubbles which fluff it up. Additives can be added (well, they would be, wouldn’t they, by definition additives are added?!!!) which improve shelf life, texture, colour, flavour, nutrition and ease of production.

If bread has been an absolute every day necessity of life for thousands of years, I wonder whether the Christian writers of the Lord’s Prayer: “……. give us this day our daily bread ……” were referring to the food or to their belief that Jesus was represented as bread in some metaphysical sense. Following this thread, in the Christian ritual of Communion the ‘body of Christ’ is represented by a piece of bread or wafer – so did Christ appropriate bread to be his own, as in essential for life?

Thinking of bread immediately brings Manna to my mind. According to the Christian bible it was ‘an edible substance that God provided for the Israelites during their 40 year wanderings in the desert. That figure ‘40’ keeps cropping up in the Christian story, for example Christ wandered in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, but forty years, like from 1980-2020 surviving on manna ….. beggars belief …….. wandering the desert ……. sand and more sand ….??

Away from religious beliefs, to earn one’s living became synonymous with earning one’s bread, or even crust! Therefore bread, or even its uncooked name dough, became slang for money and the person bringing in the wages the breadwinner.

Here in the UK, with its history of Victorian religious piety, the examples of great stirring hymns, today so loved by Football and Rugby spectators, are numerous. ‘Jerusalem’ comes to mind, but scribbling about bread it must be ‘Bread of heaven’ as it’s become known. Written in 1762 by Welsh hymn writer William Williams, ‘Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer’ became a favourite for funerals; translated into English in 1772, it was set to the tune Cwm Rhondda in 1905 (Note 1) I am not sure many singing in the terraces understand the phrase ‘bread of heaven’, probably thinking of a sandwich (?), but hey! ho! good to open your vocal cords and SING.

My mother would have been astounded at the variety of breads available today, from an essential wholemeal sliced bread (Waitrose £0.60 for 800g) through to Sourdough for £3.50 and San Francisco (SF) Sourdough for £3.90. Celina and I have come to prefer sourdough and particularly the SF version – both available in our local Gail’s bakery (£4.00). SF sourdough has a somewhat sour taste, brought about by a longer proving time than ordinary sourdough and the specific lactobacillus in its yeast. Sourdough generally is a great alternative to conventional bread as its lower phytate levels make it more nutritious and easier to digest. It also is less likely to spike your blood sugar levels. However if you buy the SF you have to pay for the holes that are more numerous than in the ordinary version!!

SF Sourdough on the left

I was lucky enough, many years ago, to have a birthday treat making various types of bread and buns at The Lighthouse Bakery Workshop south of Bodiam in East Sussex.

Going into the oven


It was a fun day; the results were distributed to our neighbours in Battersea! These days you can you own bread very easily by investing in a bread maker. In the morning the smell of freshly baked bread will fill the kitchen. Buying freshly-baked bread, still warm, is a treat; the difficulty is getting it home in one piece, resisting the temptation to stick your fingers into the centre and pulling out a ball of gorgeousness!

Two bread recipes here in Britain come to mind, Bread & Butter Pudding and Summer Pudding. The former uses stale bread, as in Pain Perdu, raisins, and an egg custard which are baked in the oven. The crispy edges to the slices are particularly unctuous!

The latter uses plain white bread which is layered around the side of a bowl; the centre is then filled with strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc and some sugar and placed in a fridge overnight. It holds its shape when turned out:

Murphy’s Law (circa 1949) states that if anything can go wrong, it will. It’s best demonstrated by a slice of buttered bread, which will always fall onto the dirty (?) floor butter-side down.

Being of a certain age I can remember an American band called ‘Bread’. The first of many hits was in 1970; some of you may recall ‘Make it with You’, ‘Everything I Own’ and ‘If’, as in “If a picture paints a thousand words, why can’t I paint you …..”. They called themselves ‘Bread’ after getting stuck in traffic behind a Wonder Bread truck!!

And no postcard about bread would be complete without a mention of the French baguette. Defined in law, they have to be sold on the premises where they are made and can only contain four ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. They can’t be frozen or contain any additives or preservatives. Personally the best thing to do with a baguette is slice it, coat the slices with garlic butter, wrap it in tin foil and put it in a hot oven for 20 minutes!

The Italian Ciabatta loaf is perfect for bruschetta – in its simplest form, lightly toast, rub with a little garlic, cover with sliced tomatoes and basil and drizzle with Olive Oil. Yum! If this Christmas you get offered some Bread Sauce to go with your slice of Turkey, you may not know that it’s made by infusing milk with an onion, some cloves, a Bay leaf, some black peppercorns and butter. The strained milk is then thickened with bread crumbs, commercial or homemade.

Must stop these scribbles to write a ‘bread & butter’ letter to Meryl, a dear friend, who took us to The Ivy last night.

Richard 10th December 2021


PS There is of course a fruit about the size of a melon whose whitish pulp looks like new bread; unsurprisingly it’s called Breadfruit!

Note 1 “Guide me oh thou great redeemer, Pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand; bread of heaven, bread of heaven Feed me till I want no more, feed me till I want no more.