Saturday 28 November 2009

a ward

Sometimes life throws something unexpected at you.

And sometimes life kind of swoops down out of the blue, plucks you up and whirls you away to an entirely unexpected place.

I woke up at 0100 on Tuesday with pain in my stomach. It got worse, and I started vomiting, which didn't ease the pain. And it got worse. And worse. So I checked the NHS Direct website for symptoms, and the closest match to what I was experiencing seemed to be in heart attack country and I though, "No, that's not a heart attack."

So I phoned up the number and described what was happening and the helpline person said "Go to hospital", and I thought how embarrassing it would be to turn up and find out it wasn't anything important.

And I also thought of my father sitting up all night suffering the symptoms of a stroke and not doing anything about it and how that contributed to shortening his life.

So we drove through the rain to the hospital (I didn't know how long this was going to take, and I didn't want to leave Katie on her own) and got there at about 0400. The A&E department had people hunched around outside smoking or sitting in the waiting area enveloped in their own personal miseries. We waited. I was writhing by now. We went through to an examination room and I was checked over, then given a hospital gown to put on and a tube in my arm, into which someone pumped morphine. It was by now fairly apparent that I wouldn't be going home soon.

I phoned Brendagh, and she came and rescued Katie.

As the day went on, I got x-rayed and ultrasounded. The ultrasound images showed that I had gallstones, and the gall bladder was apparently inflamed. It was explained that the usual procedure in cases like this is to remove the gall bladder. So I was put in the queue for emergency ops, and went onto NBM (nil by mouth), which is very thirsty work, especially after two days, let me tell you.

I settled into life on the ward, zonked on Tramodol. There were some nice folk there. People are often at their best when their worlds are being turned upside down, or they are working in that sort of place.

Meanwhile, out in the world, people were sorting things out, and after what must have been a miserable and worrying time for Katie, she was being looked after; and the car was collected, along with the parking ticket it had picked up; and a phone charger arrived and I was finally able to talk to people again, including Richard, who had been expecting me in Birmingham that evening for a reading event at the library theatre...

I was in a different theatre the next day...

And now I've got four little sticking plasters on my abdomen, where they put the various things into me. The nice surgeons explained that my aching shoulders were a result of them inflating my abdomen with CO2, to make it easier to tinker around in there, and I decided that, while I was very grateful to them for doing it, I wasn't sure I liked to hear about the precise ins and outs of it. Must have looked v funny, all inflated, though.

"So, how are you feeling?" they asked
"Pretty good, thank you. Ready to go home... no offence..."
"None taken," they said. Beds are at a premium in the hospital.

I said some fond farewells. And set off home. And collapsed into the Guild cafe when I realised I wasn't really up to walking.

And got rescued by Brendagh.

Sunday 22 November 2009


At the last tally, I know of three cyclists killed in Bristol this year. And ghost bikes have appeared in the city. If you haven't heard of them, ghost bikes are painted white overall and installed at the scene of a cycling death, as a memorial and a reminder that cyclists are vulnerable.

So I was a bit alarmed to spot this bike on Cotham Hill last night, as I hadn't heard of any new fatalities. But it turns out that it was put there by some students, to advertise their "Social Enterprise Project".

False alarm, then. Apparently, the bike is not white but sky blue, and symbolises 'aspiration and ethicality'. Still looks like a ghost bike to me. And, knowing the facts behind the appearance of the bike and nine others (thanks, Niall!), the thinking behind their installation seems at least muddled, and plain wrong. Fail!

Tuesday 17 November 2009

in the bag

Lucy was asking "What's in your handbag?" so I've dug out this pic from a few years ago.


Car keys for my old Ford Sierra
Keys for everything else
Moleskine sketchbook
Fineliner pens
Fruit drops
Hair gunk
Nurofen/Rennies/Rescue Remedy
Make-up stuff
Credit cards
Kipling bag
Mobile phone
Gerber Multiplier
Richard Beard's "Manly Pursuits"

Must get an up-to-date pic sometime...

our lady's well, Hempsted

I went to the Midlands by the old road on Sunday, along the A38 from Bristol to Gloucester and then to Tewkesbury. (After Tewkesbury I cheated and took the motorway, because it gets complicated after that). I wanted to look at Llanthony Secunda, the daughter establishment of Llanthony Priory, established on the outskirts of Gloucester when the monks evacuated from the Black Mountains during one of those periodical times of troubles-with-the-natives. But first I stopped at Hempsted, a village on a sort of extended island between the Severn and the Sharpness Canal, to look at a holy well. It's marked as Lady's Well on the OS map.

View Larger Map

It was a surprisingly peaceful spot; from the map, I'd been vaguely expecting something quite suburban. But the door on the west wall of the wellhouse was gated and locked, and the floor inside it was dry. Apparently the water had recently been channeled into a cattle trough in front of the structure, but there was no sign of it today. Though there is a cattle trough at the bottom of the hill, as you can see from the aerial photo.

There was much commotion from a large flock of jackdaws in a nearby row of trees; and to the north-east, great clouds of gulls and crows wheeling over a landfill site. But to the west the sun was declining over the Vale of Severn, a kestrel flew by, and a buzzard mewed.

I never did find Llanthony Secunda, because I got lost in some dispiriting industrial estate instead.

Monday 16 November 2009

a Miranda sort of day

I kept bumping into Miranda today. I just thought I'd mention it.

First it was on Anji's blog, where she posted about Hilaire Belloc's Tarantella, you know, the one that goes "Do you remember an inn, Miranda?" (By the way, you can hear Mr Belloc reciting it here, if you can bear to watch that extremely creepy animation of his face....)

And then someone on a forum I use linked to Miranda on BBC iPlayer. This is a comedy starring Miranda Hart, who is quite large and, in this show at least, keeps getting mistaken for a transvestite, with hilarious results.

And then Kaptain Kobold, over on Flickr, was getting ready for a trip to Miranda, which is a suburb of Sydney, Australia, which is where KK lives. Australia, that is.

Sometimes things happen in threes. I wonder what it all means?

Friday 13 November 2009

that Tesco emotion

some folks don't cover their mouths when they cough, y'know

Lordy, I had a little epiphany yesterday. And it happened in Tesco, too.

I'd popped in to get some Baldwin's Sarsaparilla, the soft drink of choice at Schloss Marland, and went hunting for two-for-one offers while I was at it, and the other stuff in the World Foods aisle, which is a useful indicator of who is moving to Bristol from where; the Polish section got quite big a couple of years ago, and is still chugging quietly along although there are now dedicated Polish shops out there. Anyway, so I had to have some Zywiecka sausages. Oh, and some processed cheese with ham in it. The Polish one, not's Tesco's Finest, which does sound a bit off-putting.

And then I used the self-service check-out. And everything scanned and I managed to pay for it and leave without the system freezing up on me and ordering me to wait for assistance, which has happened every damn time I've used these things in the past.

Which was a good thing, because the assistant who was detailed to do that was being harangued by a tall young man with dreadlocks and a Home Counties accent; something to do with carrier bags and packaging. I think he was trying to raise her consciousness. I wonder what he was doing shopping in Tesco in the first place?

Anyway, it was a glorious moment, and even Natty Tarquin couldn't spoil it, though I had to keep looking back as I left to make sure I'd not really messed up somehow.

Thursday 12 November 2009

almost silence

Armistice Day. At eleven o'clock, I pulled down the sash window in the kitchen and leaned out. Big Ben chimed the hour from the radio beside me, and a jay on a chimneypot on the house opposite rasped a response to the chimes. Then after the fifth chime it cocked its tail and dropped into space, unfolding its wings as it went.

Robins singing. The hum of traffic. A door slamming shut.

Then the radio came to life again.

At Newbridge Grammar School, several of the older teachers had fought in the war, though they didn't talk about it. On Armistice Day, Latin Jones, the deputy head, would give a little speech in assembly, about his time in the jungle and his dead comrades, always ending with Binyon's verse from For The Fallen:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Although we knew that war was definitely a Bad Thing, we were (or at least I was) ardent for some desperate glory. Fortunately, probably, that desperate glory eluded me. And now people young enough to be my children are fighting and dying.

Katie's school re-scheduled the minute's silence, as the official one coincided with their break time. So they had it at twelve o'clock, instead, and switched off their monitors for a minute.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

getting knocked off the bike

On 30th September, I was knocked off my bike in Clifton. I was turning right into Worcester Road from College Road, and a car that was waiting to emerge from Worcester Road pulled out into me, knocking me off the bike, and injuring me.

View Larger Map

Last week I got a phone call from the Collisions Support Unit, telling me that they were not going to charge the driver with anything, as they had received a witness statement claiming that I had been going too fast, and that I was not signalling, and that I was cutting the corner. None of this is true, so I was really rather upset. I wrote back to them, as follows:

To: Collision Support Unit
Avon and Somerset Constabulary
Re; ROAD TRAFFIC COLLISION Worcester Road junction with College Road, Clifton, Bristol. Time: 12:30 Hours Date: 30th September 2009
Dear Sir or Madam,
I refer to this incident, when I was knocked from my bicycle and injured, while turning into a side road, by a car emerging from that side road.
I received a phone call from a member of your unit on Wednesday 4th November, advising me that you did not propose to take action against the driver involved in this incident. I understand that a witness has given his opinion that I was to blame, alleging that:
  1. I was riding too fast
  2. I was not indicating
  3. I was cutting the corner
I am very concerned by this, on the following grounds:
  1. In my opinion, I was going at a safe and appropriate speed. What is ‘too fast’, and why did the witness think that I was going ‘too fast’?
  2. I was indicating, precisely as described in my statement. As I was about to turn into a junction where a car was waiting to emerge, it would have been foolish of me not to signal my intentions. I am a cyclist, a car driver, and a sometime motorcyclist. I understand the importance of making my intentions clear to other road users. I always indicate before manoeuvring when riding my bicycle.
  3. It would have been impossible for me to cut the corner even had I wanted to, as the Ford Galaxy that was waiting at the junction was straddling the white line at the middle of Worcester Road, the side road into which I was turning. The position of the car can be seen in the photograph which I attached to my statement.
  4. I understand that the witness in question was working in a house opposite the junction. The house is set back from the road, with a courtyard at the front, and the witness’ large white van was parked in that courtyard. He came across to the scene of the collision, and spent some time talking with the driver; I was sitting on the ground in a dazed condition, and missed what was said. I question how much of the incident he actually saw, and what grounds he had for venturing his opinion that I was at fault.
I appreciate that you are busy, but I feel that I have been wronged. As it seems that I shall be denied the possibility of cross-examining the witness at a hearing, I should be most grateful if you would question him further to clarify what he actually saw, as I am sure that he would not willingly be understood to have said something which is not true.
Yours sincerely,
Drusilla Marland
...well, I heard back from the police this morning; a police officer phoned me and said that they were not going to take the matter any further, as they can't just go around interviewing people who have sent witness statements in, in case it discourages them from doing it, or something. So I (and indeed the police) will never get to ask the mystery man why he said what he said.

Monday 9 November 2009

a brush with the archivist

More from the Little papers, pulled out of a Clifton skip fifteen years ago. Here's an incident from 1950, which all started with a piece in the Bristol Evening World, a long-defunct newspaper. Well, actually, it all started with the Blitz...

1. Transcript of feature in Evening World 8/9/50


Historians, like many other writers, are often condemned to a remote, hermit-like existence when getting to grips with their subject. Maybe that is why, among other things, "dust" and "cobwebs" have been traditionally associated with the writing of history.

And now along comes an historian to add another description of his work - "fungus brushing".
Bryan Little who has just completed a 200,000 word book about Bristol, carried a little brush with him every time he examined ancient documents in the City Archives.

"That brush was very necessary," he tells me "because some of the documents were coated with green fungus which had to be cleared before I could read them."
Mr Little has now started a 30,000 word book about C......

2. Letter from the City Archivist

The Council House
Archives Department

25th September 1950
Dear Mr Little,

I have just returned from a holiday and have been shown a newspaper report of an interview which you had with a Evening World reporter.

In view of the statements you made concerning the care of the records in this department, I should be glad if you would call to see me at this office.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth Ralph

City Archivist.

3. Notes made by Bryan Little (for the interview with the City Archivist?)

No interview given (nor is it stated that it was)

(a small part of an informal talk at lunch)

made it clear that this only applied to a tiny proportion of lesser matter damaged by water in the blitz. Hitler guilty not Council.

All the priceless treasures intact etc

Brush lent not brought on all occasions

Steps now taken to put right


Personal apology to Cttee

Joint statement

would have been easy & fitter

4. Draft of letter to Evening World

The report, in your issue of 8/9/50, of my remarks on the condition of a small proportion of the City Archives, has only just come to my notice. In fairness to those who care so well for Bristol's historic treasures, I would like to make the following points clear by way of exact record and explanation.

The damage, by damp from water necessarily used to combat surrounding fires during air attacks, affected only a tiny fraction of the less important records, and all the widely famed archives of the city are intact. Though inevitable in the conditions that prevailed it reflects in no way on the arrangements made for the storage and preservation of the City's documents; the cause of the trouble lay solely in the war. Ample steps have now been taken to put matters right.

Moreover, it would not be true to say that a brush was taken down on all occasions when I examined old documents. It was unnecessary to use it more than once or twice, and on these occasions it was kindly lent to me by the staff of the archives department to whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude for this and much other vital help.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Betjeman and Bristol

Letters from John Betjeman to Bryan Little, rescued from a skip a few years ago. Click on images to see large.

Saturday 7 November 2009

a bit wild

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Leigh Woods, on the Somerset side of the Avon Gorge, can be a bit variable in its wildness. At dawn you may meet the local wildlife, as Geraldine Taylor often has. On Friday around lunchtime, you are more likely to meet a dog walker trogging along behind her labrador with a mobile phone clamped to her head; or a jogger clad in inappropriate lycra; or indeed Brendagh and me, out for a little walk along one of the ostentatiously-waymarked paths. In our case, the Purple Trail (all-ability path, surfaced).

We met a stone. It's Welsh slate, carved with the words AND STONES MOVED SILENTLY ACROSS THE WORLD. It was put there by Alyson Hallet, who got the idea for it when she was up on Cadair Idris, and met an erratic boulder. And, since then, has been dumping carved rocks around the world. I feel ambivalent about this sort of thing; air-freighting rocks, and carving them so that you are imposing your idea upon them and upon the people encountering them, if you see what I mean... I was at Bristol Central Library for a reading by Alyson a couple of years ago, and she seemed very nice; but I wondered how I would feel if I came upon one of her rocks while i was out and about, and finally I did, yesterday. What I got from the experience was a vision of the bureaucracy and machinery of public art behind the positioning of this rock, here, with these words on. So... on the other hand, I really enjoyed finding some of Peter Randall-Page's sculpture embedded in the land around Drewsteignton way, especially with the prospect of a pint of Speckled Hen (or 'funky chicken') at the Drewe Arms afterwards. But that didn't seem to be trying to tell me anything.

It's been a long time since I've been in this part of the woods. There has been a fair bit of woodland management going on, and for the first time I managed to get a clear view of Stokeleigh Camp, an iron age fort which, along with the one on Observatory Hill on the other side of the gorge, dominated the Avon. Last time I'd been to this bit of the woods, you couldn't see the Camp for the trees.

We scrambled over the banks and found that some Devon Red cattle had taken up their night quarters there. They've recently been introduced to the woods. We didn't see them, just the evidence of their passing. As it were.

I commented that there had been talk of clearing the trees from Observatory Hill, too. "It's always the archeologists who want to do that," said Brendagh. "It's like shaved pubes in the porny business".

Walking to the top of the cliff, we heard a buzzard mewing from the treetops. And then a peregrine calling, down in the gorge. Slightly wild, then.

Tuesday 3 November 2009


Katie had an Insect Day, so we went off to the Forest of Dean. Here we are at Little Doward, a hill at the side of the Wye Gorge above Monmouth. we looked in on Arthur's Cave, but there was no-one home.

I'd hoped to hear stags grunting in the woods, as it's that time of the year; but there was only the shishing of leaves under our feet. And nuthatches calling through the trees. They're much more easily heard than seen, are nuthatches. As are stags, of course.

The best pictures are the ones you miss taking, of course, so there isn't a picture of the car broken down on the A40. It was quite an exciting breakdown. We were heading north from Monmouth, going up that long hill there, and I was just pointing out to Katie the wood on the hill opposite the road which had been planted so that "ER" was picked out in a deeper green against a paler green. I remember seeing that back in the 60s, when I passed along this same road (which was a lot smaller then) with my parents. And now I was pointing it out to Katie. And then suddenly the engine wasn't running any more. Fortunately, there was no great hulking lorry right behind us, but there was a serendipitous layby into which we coasted to a halt.

Diagnostics. Fuel pump? -switch ignition on. Tick.... tick from the fuel pump.

So there's fuel, so check electrics. Lift bonnet, peer inside. Ha! One of the two wires that supply the 12V to the HT coil's primary winding has parted from the crimped connector.

I stick it back. Engine starts, and we carry on.

"I really like breaking down like that", I remark to Katie.

"Isn't it better not to break down at all?" she responds.

"Well, we were just bimbling along feeling a bit blah after lunch before it happened, and now I'm really happy", I say. "It's really good when something goes wrong and it turns out to be easy to fix."

I'm not sure that she's convinced.

Today I am round at someone's house fixing the loo. It's been leaking and misbehaving and is generally overdue a bit of TLC.

When I arrive, they're in the kitchen with the telly on. "I don't really watch telly in the morning", my friend says as we go upstairs to get started. "It's Keith."

Keith looks up sternly from in front of the telly.

"He's from Canada," she adds.

I strip down the cistern and we decide that it is best to replace the flushing syphon and the filling valve as they are a bit ropey. Keith appears and says "It's best if you change the parts while you're at it".

Driving to B&Q, Z says, "He's not really very practical; he's a musician."

I reflect that this explains a lot, though I don't say so.

While we're rebuilding the cistern, Keith makes us cups of tea. "There's a nice Morris Traveller outside," he comments.

"It's Dru's," says Z.

"It's really nice," he says. "They'll run for ever, those. You need to work on them though. Your tyres need more air in them. They're a bit soft."

Last time I had a musician in my car, of course, it was the Finest Swordsman In France, and he'd diagnosed three different problems with my car before we'd even got out of the city.

Clever people, musicians.