All the landscape was the mill

A crowd of ladies from a faraway land, each dressed in brightly coloured fabrics, would come chattering past the house each day. They would sweep along every morning and evening, their conversations bright, adult, and quite incomprehensible in some unknown language. The little boy asks, who are those ladies? His mother tells him that they all work in the mill at the bottom of the street.

The boy learned a lesson young: who you are and what you are can be seen from where you’re going – and when. The direction you’re walking, and the time of day, tells us something about who you are.

At the bottom of the street, a crossroads. Go left into a quiet lane past the allotments to the edge of town. Go right past a bowling green smooth like a billiard table, to a sweet shop. Straight on, to the park, to school, to Cubs. The crossroads of our lives – turn each way for different lives, different paths. People will know where you are going, when you walk through these streets. Here, brick and tarmac, there, woods and quiet shrubs and grasses. Straight on – for play, and for learning.

The sepia stains of history lie on these streets, or at least it seems so, to the boy and to the man he became. Here, a grandfather swam in an outdoor pool. There, a street where an unsmiling lady stood in a crowd of joy and cheers, struggling to see the good in VE Day. Over there, the flats, and the outlines of vanished streets. The streets are gone, but the memories remain, thick like dust, easy to discern if you’re the right sort. Listen carefully, even today, and you can hear the treble drone of bombers, or the wretched tears of poverty, the grinding life of the urban poor.

He came back to those streets in a kind of pilgrimage, thinking somehow to reconnect with the past, with the feeling of those early days. If he could represent his childhood. all the carefree years of boyhood, as an icon, that icon would be a little image of the mill at the bottom of the street. He walked past that mill every day for years uncounted, it seemed to him when he was young. Endless weeks, he went past that mill, morning, afternoon, evening. And he never went inside it, in all his life.

As a young man, he’d sat with this father watching old Laurel and Hardy movies. They were amusing; there were wry smiles. But even as he watched them, he found that they were just not as funny as they had been when he was a small boy. He’d mentioned this to his father, who’d shook his head with the greybeard wisdom of ages. “The boy who rolled around laughing on the floor at these movies, no longer exists”, he said. The boy became the man, the young man became the older man.

Could these streets ignite a kind of holy nostalgia? Could they form a harbour into which a pilgrim might sail, to sojourn briefly in the past – a visit only. Not to remain. The mill was still there; the streets were still there. The crossroads by the bowling green was unchanged. The municipal lines of alternating plane trees and lime trees in the park – still there, save for a few gaps caused by storms of old.

Walking in past the park, he’d noticed that no single youngster was out playing. It was 4.30pm on a spring weekday afternoon. The roundabouts were siezed and rusted, the swings abandoned, it seemed. Where was everybody? Where were they all? He knew, really. No Marie Celeste mystery here. Just the modern world, risk averse, focussed on itself, with smartphones, tablets and unwillingness to be out of doors.

The mill was the fixed point – all the landscape was the mill. But there was no river of bodies pouring down the street to find work there. That river had dried up long ago. Here had been a future for hands of skill. No longer. That much had changed even in his own youth. What remained now, was clearly foreseeable even back then – if you could read the writing on the wall. What had been a mill making clothes, was now a university department. It was a department covering such matters as textiles and art, so there remained a tenuous connection with what had been. On the river of time, you cannot paddle upstream. That river flows only in one direction.

He walked up the street, remembering the red and blue bricks in the pavement. He recalled cycling down the street on a baking hot day, trying to keep in the shade. The baleful sunlight of reality was upon him now, beating mercilessly on his head. No golden light of evening, nor delicate pink at dawn, but scorching tropical sunshine at noon. A sunshine, as Kipling wrote, that sometimes strikes men dead.

Yet, though saddened, he knew things had to change. There is no going back. There’s no returning to those places of golden childhood. Nostalgia is a hip-flask from which we can allow ourselves no more than a discreet sip, every now and then. If we look back, we must look in thankfulness, not in nostalgia.

Treading his way up what he thought was a dried up riverbed, he noticed that there was a new river of bodies making their way to the mill, young people, people learning. people looking to the future. And reassured somewhat, he left that harbour and sailed away back home.

Victoria

I sat in the bar on the mezzanine level, looking down at the jostling throng. There were crowds of people, rivers of humanity, rushing streams and babbling brooks of concerns: work, life, holiday, family, health. The people flowed back and forth across the concourse, each intent on their own business.

And it seemed to me as I sat in the bar, nursing my beer, that amongst the swirling crowds, that sea of people, just a few of them stood out. Across space and time, I saw a handful of people crossing this station concourse.

A man – two men – in morning suits appeared as from the pages of history. It was 1957. Britain was only slowly recovering from the austerity of rationing. There was a greyness, a grim and drab feel to the station. These two young men were rushing, desperate to catch their train to Dorking. For it was a special day for them both. One was a Best Man; the other, the Groom. They had been in what seemed like an endless queue, and somehow, they had convinced the staff of the railway company to let them jump the queue and get on. Now, at least, they were almost on the platform and on their way.

I took a pull at my pint, and when I looked down again, the scene had changed. Soldiers streamed across the station. Orderly ranks, serried columns. Rifles, rucsacs, the harsh shouts of sergeants. These men were entraining for Dover, bound for Flanders field. The hopes and fears of a generation of young men are hidden on a thousand faces. Here is a young subaltern, pink of voice and cheek, bravely concealing his worry, doing his best, biting his lip. His men may have to depend on him being strong.

Back in the present, I see a young lady, a refugee from war, crossing the station carrying everything she owns in one immense suitcase. Three young children accompany her, silent, scared, intimidated by the noise and crowds. Their mother knows only a few words of the language; she holds little or no currency. But she and her kids are in a better place by far than where they were before. .

Here is a youth in his eary twenties, visiting the big city for the first time. perhaps. He’s crossed by tube from one of the great northern terminii, and must now make his way to a small town in Kent, for a job interview. Days before, a mighty storm leveled trees all aross the south of England. He will soon travel by bus through all that chaos of fallen branches and broken limbs, from a town whose very name has been rendered a lie by the storm.

The scene changes again and I see a man carrying a small grip crossing the station. The crowds have all disappeared and the grey light of early morning can be seen in the glass roof. He has come up from the underground to find it pouring with rain. He pauses for a moment to take in the scene. Rain cascades from the gutters. The tarmac gleams wet in the reflected street lights. He crosses the forecourt, taking in the calm of early morning. The rain, the sound of the rain, calming his nerves, as he makes his way to the airport train and the other side of the world.

Sapiens, by Noah Yuval Harari

A very readable canter through the entire history of humankind, from pre-conscious apes out on the Savannah, through to the possibility of post-human cyborgs and immortality.

Harari has taken a humanist and atheist standpoint throughout, which I found challenging and upsetting in places. I was warned by the person who recommended the book to me (who knew I was a Christian) that I would find it challenging. And it is, and rightly so. But my faith in a transcendent, caring and personal Cod is not shaken by the work of this liberal academic. Some might say I’m too thick to understand.

He has expressed some outrageous and refreshing ideas; a key theme throughout the book has been to question the established wisdom on economics, politics, history, culture and language. I was particularly impressed with his chapter on the individual, the market and the state, noting that the free market cannot really survive without the state. He avoids the espousal of Socialism, but manages nonetheless to articulate the main flaws in the free market, capitalist system. He acknowledges that, notwithstanding those flaws, it is that same system that has brought us so far this last five hundred years.

He notes that European cultures prevailed over comparable or even superior Islamic and Asian cultures because of the concept of credit. What he does not say is that there was little choice. Kings came before Parliaments seeking money: they needed credit, generally to fight wars. This development, of itself, fueled the rise of Parliaments and of democracy.

His final remarks on the future seem ill-at- ease and somewhat hurried. He describes a number of ideas as if they were new- ideas like immortality and post-humanity, cyborgs, genetic modification of people, to name a few. Some of these ideas have been discussed by modern science fiction writers such as Paul McAuley, Richard Morgan, and Alister Reynolds, for decades. He goes on to confuse science fiction as a whole genre with that small sub-genre we call space opera, demonstrating a perhaps understandable ignorance of sci-fi at the very part of his work that would call for an understanding of it. But his final chapter does articulate some of the potentially dreadful and also potentially changing possibilities that lie ahead of us.

Overall, refreshingly positive in outlook, once you are past the early sections where you could be forgiven for thinking that the author does not like the human race. Me, I do like the human race. I think it is excellent. I am a member.

The interview

The interviewer glanced sharply at Igor. Whilst she did not actually move her eyebrows, he had the impression that she did not approve of him.  Negativity and discouragement seemed to come off her in waves.  He made a conscious decision to gather up his courage, taking it up about him as if it were an actual cloak; with an effort, which he hoped was concealed, he held her gaze steadily.  He’d been through battle, through fire and storm; he had no need to be afraid of such as she – and yet, he was. But where had she been at Yekatarinburg? Had she attained to battlefield promotion? Had she seen what he’d seen, done what he’d had to do? Yet, he knew in his heart the answer to all those questions.  The interviewer was an air force officer and very much senior to him. She was a combat veteran – we all were. She would have seen as much action as he, if not more than he.

She took a short intake of breath, as a precursor to speaking.  Ages passed in an instant.  All time seemed to him to stand still in that single moment between her little intake of breath and the words that he knew would follow.

“OK, Major. Thank you for time and for joining us today. The panel will consider your application and we will let you know in due course.”

And that was that.  He had hoped against all hope that he would know in the interview itself, though he should have known better. He would have to wait. He arranged his face in what he knew would appear as a grave and formal military mask, and thanked his interviewer.  He pushed back his chair, rose to his feet, and saluted the officers of the panel. And he left the room.

“What does the Group Captain think?” asked one of the other two members of the panel, once Igor had left the room.

“He’s easily the strongest and most able candidate we’ve seen so far. A definite.  I don’t want him thinking he’s God’s gift to Mother Russia though, so I had to take a stern line with him in the interview. If he has a weakness, it’s that he will tend to see things in black and white.”

“That could be his downfall” replied the Army officer to her left.

“Indeed.  In these times, the need is for balance and nuance, for political nouse, for treading carefully through the post-war wreckage and taking forward what is right, but letting go what is not right, whilst not condemning it overtly.”

“Letting the old, bad ways wither on the branch”, put in the Army officer.

“Tochna” replied the third officer, heretofore silent. Precisely. “Much is at stake.  Stray but a little to the left or to the right, and our new-found strength will snap in our hands.  We would not wish to return to the past.  Russia has moved a long way during and after the war.”

There’s a new young man at Tony’s

There’s a new young man behind the counter at Tony’s coffee shop.  Young, good looking and Italian – of course Italian.  As Italian as they come.  Thick black hair, olive skin, white teeth, lots of gesticulation.

I once knew an old man who spoke perfect Italian.  As a soldier in the war, he’d been set to be a translator, during the Italian campaign.  He told me once that he’d grabbed an Italian officer by the hands.  He’d took hold of both the guy’s hands, and held them still.  And the poor chap was speechless.  Literally.  You ever met an Italian man who could say anything without moving his hands? I reckon this new chap behind the counter at Tony’s will be like that.  I saw him talking – no, gesturing – to one of the waitresses.  He’s very energetic and outgoing.  Cram full of energy, like Tony used to be.

“Issa good job amma fromma Sardinia” Tony once said.

These days, Tony looks a little careworn.  Particularly so, since his mother died – you know what Italian men are like with their mothers.  Tony’s black hair is edged with grey.  Look closely at his eyes, and you see care.  You see concern.  Tony has a kind word for everybody.  An older man’s friendly kiss for every young mum.  A hug and a chuck under the chin for every baby. A handshake for every man. Tony knows everybody’s name.  And now he has a new man behind the counter.  A new generation is coming, taking up the mantle, ready to continue in his footsteps.

 

 

2017 in reading

It has been a challenging year in a number of different respects. Difficulties at work, family bereavement, complexities in my volunteer role as a senior Scouter.

I’ve read nearly fifty books in 2017, though some of this reading will have been comfort re-reading – a bit like comfort eating or comfort shopping, but healthier. We’ll look at some of the more edifying reading, as well as some of the comfort food, here.

Peter Frankopan – The Silk Roads

I started off the year reading this excellent overview of world history from the standpoint of trade.  Trade goes along roads.  This was a history of the world in roads, and had little enough to do, however excellent and readable, with the Silk Road or with Central Asia.

Stephen King On Writing

Perhaps the best and most inspiring read of the year, recommended to me by fellow members of the Woldingham Writers Group.  This was an encouraging and stimulating autiobiography, telling the story of how King wrote his first novel – “Carrie” – in his lunch breaks whilst working at a laundry. 

Stephen King – The Stand

Thought I’d re-read quality fiction after my interest in Stephen King was re-ignited by his autobiography on writing. The opening paragraph is unforgettable, classic Stephen King – “Arnette, a pissant four street burg in East Texas”.  Yet, he is never disrespectful of such a humble place or of the humble folk who hail from ordinary places.  King’s heroes in The Stand are not the Walkin’ Dude or the old lady Abigail, but common folk like Stu Redman, hailing from “pissant four street burgs”. 

Nicholas Monsarrat – The Master Mariner

Read masterly fiction – it should sharpen your eye and make keen your appetite for good writing. This is classic tale weaving.  Our hero Matthew, guilty of cowardice at a battle in the 15th century, is cursed by a witch to live on and on until he learns courage.  Clearly he had not managed it by the time of Trafalgar, centuries later.

David Eugene Smith and Louis Charles Karpinski – The Hindu-Arabic numerals

This is a nineteeth century work on the history of numbers, and is, for something hailing from that era, surprisingly accessible and informative.

Len Deighton – Declarations of War

Another fine writer whose work we would do well to emulate.  Deighton here brings us a series of short stories about war, some with amusing twists in the tail. We read one about the rise of right-wing politics amongst honourable and upright men – ostensibly in the UK – and only in the last lines  do we see the name of Herr Goebbels mentioned.  In another, men battle in the home counties against the German invasion, as the front rolls inexorably toward London.

Richard Morgan – Altered Carbon

Richard Morgan’s characters are bitter and twisted.  You don’t need to read more than a few dozen pages of his fiction to feel anger and frustration boiling off the page.  Here we have a dark detective story set in the San Francisco of 500 years hence.  An immortal man has killed himself – and it is important to find out why.

Chuck Palahniuk – Fight Club

Why did I read this? It was on my daughter’s shelf.  It was certainly compelling, but ultimately a futile read about a futile subject.  And in any case, the first rule of Fight Club is, don’t write about Fight Club.  I should point out that I never watched the film, nor ever will I watch it.

W.H Murray – The evidence of things not seen

For me, the long-awaited autobiography of celebrated Scottish climber and environmentalist Bill Murray.  His work “Mountaineering in Scotland” is one of the best pieces of mountain literature available.  In this longer work we see the whole of Murray’s life laid out before us, from childhood, through his war service as a tank commander in the Western Desert, imprisonment in Germany, and onto his work in Everest reconnaissance in the Himalayas after the war.

Bruce Sterling – Holy Fire

I like Bruce Sterling; this earliest of the “cyberpunk” authors here tells a rather odd story of an old woman who through late twenty-first medical technology, is restored to full health and youth.  The holy fire, I think, is that of youth.

Peter Fleming  – Bayonets to Lhasa

Peter Fleming was the older (and today, less well-known) brother of Ian Fleming. Both brothers were capable and gifted writers. Here, Peter Fleming writes an account of William Younghusband’s assault on Lhasa in 1904.  It is an essential piece of reading for anyone like me interested in Central Asia or in “The Great Game”.

A. N Wilson – Our times

Another sweeping historical perspective work, covering the new Elizabethan era – our times – from the mid 1950’s until the early noughties.  Much changed in the first four decades of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.  But, it might be said that more has changed in the UK since A. N Wilson finished this book, than in all the forty years before.

Geoffrey Wellum – First Light

A delightful boys-to-men account of a youth who longs to fly, joins the RAF, and becomes a great pilot, taking part in the Battle of Britain.  Even as I write this, I am reminded of Robert Mason’s classic “Chickenhawk” which tells a very similar story about a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.  But Wellum’s account is stiff upper lip throughout.  Mustn’t grumble, old boy….

J D Vance – Hillbilly Elegy

J D Vance has been condemned as a “poster boy of the right” for his Republican views, but what he surely is, is an example of conquering adversity and winning through against the odds.  It is the story of how a boy from the backwoods of Kentucky,  a hill-billy – made good.  Three things contribute to his success: the faith, love and support of his grandmother; serving in the Marine Corps, and a certain amount of luck.  Other reasons are available: ability, charm etc.  A very inspiring read.

Isaac Asimov – It’s been a good life

I set out deliberately this year, to read autobiographies of great writers.  Find me someone who thinks Asimov was not a great writer, and I’ll find you a fool.  Isaac was blessed with a mind far sharper than most of us, and as a writer was energetic, prolific, and wide-ranging in interest.  John Campbell said of him, I think, “Isaac Asimov once had writer’s block….it was the worst ten minutes of his life”.

Rick Broadbent –  Endurance – life of Emil Zatopek

This was encouraging to me as an erstwhile and very amateur 10km runner.  I first heard of Zatopek when I was just a boy.  I recall reading about his amazing triple triumph at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. That year, he took the gold medal in the 5000m, 10000m, and in the Marathon.  I found the book much more interesting in the first half, which dealt with Zatopek’s upbringing and his early success as an athlete.  The second half, dealing with his fame and his struggles with the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, whilst important enough a subject, I confess I found less stimulating.

 

R.A Heinlein – The unpleasant professional of Jonathan Hoag

Representing the many sci-fi books I read this year, this is Heinlein’s only real horror story.  It would make an excellent movie if only someone would write the screenplay.  The story opens with a man trying to find out from a doctor what the substance is that is stuck in his nails. He goes on to hire a private detective – to find out what he does for a living. After that, things get macabre.

Hampton Sides – Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West

This was spot on: whilst at one level, a biography of Kit Carson, at another level, it is a biography or history of the American nation in the late nineteenth century, as the imperial expansion out to the Pacific was made reality by the grit, determination and plain nastiness of men like Carson and his mentor Fremont.  A very worthwhile read.

Tim Harford – Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy

A first rate canter through some interesting technical and cultural developments that shaped the modern world.  The book is basically an extended version of some chats given on the BBC World Service.  I wasn’t sure which one of the fifty I would have chosen, if any, as the most important, but if I had to pick any one, it would be the JOint Stock company or the concept the Limited Liability Company or LLC.

Len Deighton – SS-GB

I remember when this came out; I tried to read it then as a youth and could not make headway against it, however well-written it is.  Len Deighton is a master of the written word and you’ll learn a lot by him: read him, emulate him.  Unsurprisingly much-copied, this is the grand-dad of all alternative history spy thrillers.  I was particularly gratified to find in his story that the side-streets around the back of Victoria Station, on Vauxhall Bridge Road, were considered one of the roughest inner city areas in Europe.  Go there now!

Tim Marshall – Prisoners of geography

I go this in a charity shop in St Ives. A most excellent account of history as seen through maps, cartography and the importance of where you live, where your country lies.  Straits, river mouths and estuaries, mountain ranges,  cliffs and forests – these are the difference between life and death, wealth and penury.  Even in the days of cruise missiles and cybersecurity, your location still matters.

In a country churchyard

We have experienced a quintessentially English village hall wedding, that of the daughter of a dear friend of ours. I am moved to create Chaucer-like descriptions of some of the main characters, the chief set piece scenes.
I took a day off to make the journey from my home to the place where the wedding was being held. My wife preceded me by car, to offer help to the Bride’s mother.  On a sunny morn I went on foot from London Bridge to St Pancras, stopping to look in the outdoor equipment outfitters in Covent Garden. I stopped in a café on Shaftesbury Avenue, before pushing on through the streets of this great city. Whenever I walk in this town I am accompanied by the shade of my wife’s dear Aunt, who died at the beginning of April this year.

She knew this town, and I oftimes walked these streets, especially those around Bloomsbury, on my way to have dinner with her.  Those walks are memories to treasure, for I shall never again have dinner with her.  But we press on and remember well. 

Recall from our Lewis, how Screwtape rages when his young devil allows his “client” to do something he really likes doing. Be it a walk by the river and a cream tea; be it a deep scented bath with candles; be it a glass of lager and a Club sandwich.  Or a walk through the streets of this great city.

Arrival

People close to the bride’s family gather in the days before the Great Day.  For months prior to the event the Bride’s mother has been preparing decorations, ordering drinks, planning settings.  On a hot Friday I journeyed by train from Surrey, arriving in Aston-on-Trent by omnibus at 6pm on a sweltering summer evening. 

My wife, the Bride’s mother, the Bride, my oldest daughter (one of the Bridesmaids) and a host of other ladies, including the Groom’s mother, are preparing the Village Hall. I am minded of the Natalie Merchant song “My sister Rose” about a similar village hall wedding in the USA. In other rooms, ladies in black Lycra do synchronised stretching. Kids gather for a karate lesson. 

Tables are endlessly adjusted – a foot left here, one a bit forward and slightly to the right there.  Eventually the tables are arranged to the satisfaction of the Bride, whose critical eye sweeps over the tables one last time.  It is time now for table cloths and place-setting. All wash their hands. We do not now leave the hall until the table has been laid for all the guests.  Vintage china, napkins, glasses. It has to be just so. The sun is low on the sky before we set off back to the Bride’s mother’s house for a well-earned drink ourselves.


The morning of the wedding

Immense quantities of Prosecco, wine, beer and soft drinks are transferred to the hall, in fridges and cool boxes. Cake, cheese, rolls, sandwiches: food is delivered to the kitchen in the hall, which has been scrubbed to within an inch of its life. Eventually, after much going back and forth, all seems ready and it is time for the labourers to scrub up and put on their glad rags, and become magically transformed into guests.



The rain

As we put the orders of service into the church, it starts to rain.  It was a long time coming; we could see the storm approaching all morning. The rain drums on the roof of the ancient and lovely church, and for a moment we are happy to be trapped inside. But only for a few minutes. In ten minutes it is over; in an hour, little sign remains of the downpour.

The gathering and the wedding

Guests start to arrive about an hour before the service is due to start.  They gather like birds of paradise in their bright clothes, near the ornate lych gate on the main road.  The Groom’s mother recalls that the Groom’s party arrive in a body, striding down the road toward the church like a western posse. Eventually, all are gathered in the cool of the church.  1pm comes and goes. Some of us discuss, in low tones, how fashionably late the Bride will dare to be. At the altar, the Groom and the Best Man stand, looking nervous.  This is possibly the one occasion in the life of a young Englishman not schooled to military service, when he must stand up straight and look smart for a long period of time. 

The conversation of the waiting guests dies down, and an expectant hush fills the church. It is 1.15pm. “All stand” rings out, though some of the guests can hear the vicar saying “excellent, excellent” as he has forgotten to turn off his throat mike. All are on their feet, ready, and the Bride with her father make their entrance

“…dressed in simple white, wearing flowers in her hair,

Music as she walks slowly to the altar” (Chris de Burgh)


Classic English hymns – Jerusalem, Thine be the Glory – are drowned out by a brass band in this small English country church. The readings are taken.  Firstly, by an elderly lady friend of the Bride, who reads slowly, beautifully, and with the greatest dignity, and secondly by the Bride’s Grandfather, a devoted Christian man whose soft Geordie accent and clear faith illuminate the words.

At the Signing of the Register, the band play a wonderful and moving piece written by a songwriter known to many of us.  This is the brass band’s finest moment, and it is achingly beautiful. And then, out into the churchyard for the photos.

A bridesmaid approaches my wife discreetly, holding some keys.  The confetti…it is still at the Bride’s Mother’s house…might we fetch it? Off we go on a short car journey, a Confetti mercy dash, and the day is saved. No-one is the wiser.

The afternoon tea

To the village hall, on foot. A journey of a few hundred yards on a pleasant summer afternoon.  Eventually, after standing around drinking Prosecco for a time, we’re all seated in our places. The warm wind billows the curtains in through the open French doors. More Prosecco. And then there is cake and sandwiches, served on vintage china.  Tea is brought in, in large teapots. 

We are sat at a table with two very similar looking brothers in their late fifties, uncles of the Groom. One has a teenage son with a thin shadow of a moustache.  The youth wants to be a professional footballer, but is refreshingly reticent about this ambition.  The other person at the table is the wife of one of these two brothers, an attractive lady in a red 1950’s style dress.  She and her man have been married 44 years, and they both look good on it.  It becomes clear in conversation with the lady – she has a certain look about her – that she is involved in the Guide movement, and indeed, was once a District Commissioner for Guides. 

The elderly couple

Here are an elderly couple – let’s call them Jill and David.  They have been married 60 years; old and frail they seem, but they are not as frail as they look.  Each week David visits his elderly brother in a care home near Stockport, travelling by train from their own home in retirement, which is near Brighton.  To make a return journey between Brighton to Stockport by train could be a trial for anyone; for someone in their eighties it is a demonstration of immense commitment and love.  This lovely Christian couple were the Bride’s landlords during some of her time at university.  Indeed, they became friends with the Bride and offered her the full hospitality of their own home.   David was a consultant surgeon and speaks with a lovely cut-glass English accent – though he is ostensibly of more humble origins than his wife. He bears a startling resemblance to the TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough.  

He spoke of a wedding he attended in Edinburgh, at which there was a fight.  Someone in this fight got their thumb bitten off.  David recounted how the wound, infected as it was with baccal bacteria from the mouth of the assailant, smelt of halitosis – bad breath.  We feel assured that David played a full part as a surgeon in returning the victim to full health. 

He spoke of struggling to get to his own wedding. He and his Best Man were at Waterloo, trying to get to Haslemere by train. And there were immense queues. Somehow they made it on time – it was 1957.  It was said of this couple that they found their own wedding reception (controlled and run as it was by their parents) so stultifying, boring and bound by the conventions of the day, that they made their escape, hid under some railway arches and then took train to the Isle of Wight for their honeymoon.