On my radar Jan 21

It’s a long time since I’ve written one of these and with lockdown too many experiences are off limits so you’ve really got to work hard to come up with a good list. However that’s just an excuse so here goes.

Book(s): I’ve always read a lot but if I’m not on an aeroplane or otherwise on holiday I tend to read in short bursts so it takes me some time to finish a book. I’ve got two on the go at present and one’s non-fiction which I’m making/motivating myself to read during the day especially when I’m enjoying my regulation coffee and tea breaks. This one is Agent Sonya, as non-fiction goes it’s pretty light, by Ben Macintyre. It was serialised on the BBC last year and is the saga of a fierce German woman who became a communist in pre-war Germany and then embarked on a life time of spying for Russia ending up in the UK where she facilitated the almost industrial scale transfer of state secrets to Russia. She left for East Germany in 1950 just as it seemed she was going to be arrested and died, apparently unrepentant, there shortly after reunification at the age of 93.

In parallel I’ve been reading Typhoon by Charles Cumming. It’s a good ‘spy thriller’, supposedly in the John le Carre mould, based firstly on Hong Kong in the years before the 1997 handover and then inside China. I lived in Hong Kong in the late 70s so that part of the book resonated with me. Reading the two books at the same time was a tad confusing when Sonya was also spying in China, albeit several decades earlier.

Whilst we’re talking about reading on aeroplanes there was a time when I travelled frequently on business and I was fortunate enough to sit in the front of the plane. I had this idea then that I could partly justify this by reading a business book. That’s why I’ve got so many of such books withe a bookmark a third to halfway through.

TV: the program makers have taken some time to adjust to the challenges of making good drama within the constraints of Covid and so much of what we’ve got to watch is unexciting. However there has been some good stuff in the pipeline which has just not been broadcast and that’s the case with Spiral, the Parisian crime drama. I don’t pretend to understand the French legal system so there’s much that confuses me but the characters are well developed, over several series of course, and the interplay’s between the different stands of justice are fascinating. You get a real feel for the challenge of policing in those poorer parts of Paris with large immigrant communities. There’s lots of grit in the portrayal and it leaves our Law & Order looking a little shallow.

There’s been other good stuff too. I’ve especially enjoyed Queen’s Gambit, was it worth the Netflix subscription, and The Undoing with Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman on the BBC.

Photography: I take lots of photographs especially when I’m travelling and/or meeting people. There’s limited scope for either at the moment and although the photo magazines etc would encourage more ‘creative’ indoor photography that’s not, maybe not yet, for me because I take photographs to chronicle my life and not primarily as an art form. The void is doubly challenging because of where I live. Cambridgeshire is flat and there are few interesting buildings in Histon. I’ve done my best however and have taken a number of ‘photo walks’ around the community and done my best to come up with 12 interesting shots from each one. Click here for a collection of my Lockdown walks

In parallel I am doing my best to improve and there are several good video bloggers whom I follow. Perhaps my favorite is James Popsys who provides a nice balance between getting out and taking good photographs and using Photoshop etc to smarten them up. He’s just moved to North Wales and has the knack of making fairly ordinary opportunities look special. His secret seems to be careful framing of the shot. He’s also got a nice line in self deprecating humour which makes him easy for me to like.

Reminiscence: I wrote a blog post recently which referred, inter alia, to the time when I was responsible for mining chemicals as a part of my marketing portfolio at Dow. My technical lead at the time was Simon Isherwood with whom I enjoyed a trip to South Africa in the late 80s. That was my first trip to the country since my early years there in the late 40s and it was still apartheid era South Africa.

I thought I should check my facts so googled ‘Simon Isherwood Dow’ and it came back trumps with a reference in a mining magazine to a company which Simon has run in the days since we worked together. I emailed the company and got a phone call back from Simon the next day. It would be nice if all Google searches would be so quickly successful.

We’ve since exchanged emails and brought ourselves up to date with each other’s lives and careers. I told him about my stent and he told me about his two and the blue light journey to the hospital post heart attack. I’m forever finding people with more dramatic cardiac stories than me.

In recent years I’ve hunted for my three close friends from my Jakarta days (mid 70s). I’ve successfully found Chuck Adams in California but Phil Judd in New Zealand seems to have died and the trail to John Finnegan went cold after he left a senior position at a Mongolian private bank.

Music: I grew up with music in the 60s and have sadly not really stayed current with developing genres in pop and rock. I’m beginning to realise what I’ve missed as YouTube recommends videos to watch. Because I’ve not taken out a paid-for subscription its AI robots send me recommendations which are generally relevant, sometimes bizarre. Just recently it’s introduced me to St Vincent aka Annie Clark.

St Vincent is an American singer, song writer and guitarist. She’s been around for about 15 years and it’s fair to say that her style and stage presence has evolved over time. Nowadays at a mature 38 she takes the stage on her own favouring thigh boots, a leotard and a range of strongly coloured guitars. She commands the stage but what impresses me most about her is the delight she appears to show in her art and the almost surprised rapport which she has with her audience.

Covid: as a consequence of my local political activity I’ve found myself involved in Histon & Impington’s Covid-19 response whereby we do our best to ensure that people have access to food and medicines, that our community observes the rules and does its bit to bring infection rates down and, when it’s allowed, that full support can be given to local businesses. Until the second wave we enjoyed low infection although we didn’t know it at the time and enjoyed a summer with limited constraints on our local freedoms. However wave number 2 has changed all that and our local infection soared from the start of December peaking at 80 in the weeks after Xmas and the New Year. It’s now down to 48 and the County Council’s Director of Public Health cautiously suggests that the situation may now be stabilising.

Our local Covid-19 response group meets weekly and during this wave we’ve been able to operate and guide our activity with good data. We have a compehensive network of volunteers who pass messages out, provide support and feed information back. It seems that the lessons of wave 1 have not been forgotten and despite the much higher infection rates there are limited calls for extra support.Fingers corssed that we will have a benign perfect storm of good behaviour, vaccination and warmer weather leading to a little more freedom in the Spring.

5 indicators that the worst of Covid might be over

1 going for a coffee

We’ve already been there of course and it made life so bearable through last summer. We’re blessed in Histon & Impington in having a choice and the St Andrew’s Centre, the Geographer and Delicious all provide good coffee and they’re each different from the others.

Last year though a fourth option was presented with the Urban Shed opening at 0900 and offering all day coffee with breakfast in the morning and cakes at tea time. I’ve been a great fan of its morning offer and its scrambled eggs with smashed avocado have been the staple of many of my morning meetings. Such meetings were eminently preferable to the alternatives by phone or with the dreaded Zoom. I imagine if we’re lucky we might get this option presented sometime in the second quarter.

2 booking a vacation

We very fortunate in having the time and the resources to be able to take more than one holiday plus a few short breaks each year. In 2020 we were lucky to have just got back from a long trip to Indonesia when lockdown hit in March, in fact Juni reckoned she got Covid when we were in Lombok, and then we squeezed in a short trip to Yorkshire in September but that’s all. Our planned trip to Naples in May was cancelled (we got our money back) and I’m really keen to rebook it or similar for travel later in 2021. I was just about to do so when lockdown 3 was announced so I don’t know when or even if it’s going to be possible later this year. The vaccines are going to have to have a dramatic impact if it is.

3 having a meeting

Zoom and the other have proven invaluable and to be honest some of the meetings have been more efficient than they normally would have been. But they are soulless. The last face to face meeting I had was mid summer when meeting outside in groups of six was allowed and we met on the deck of Delicious. I confess to a handful of meetings at the company I’ve been working with in St Ives but they have been very strictly socially distanced. I haven’t had a county or parish council meeting in person since the beginning of the first lockdown. We won’t have real meetings again until I step down as a county councillor (May 21) or, as threatened, as a parish councillor (similar time frame) and business meetings will creep in as lockdown is relaxed through the summer.

4 getting on a train

I’m no longer a commuter, I did the Cambridge King’s Cross run for the best part of a year in 2001 but I’ve still had the need for occasional train journeys to London. I also have a habit once a year or so of going further afield to visit a UK city which I want to walk around and get to know better. So far this has included Cardiff, Edinburgh, Durham, Plymouth, Salisbury and Manchester. Technically speaking I could do that now if travel was allowed and as soon as overnight stays are permitted. However it wouldn’t be much fun until there’s a little more freedom for the hospitality sector. I’ll probably feel safer travelling by train than sitting on an aeroplane so maybe quarter 3 will be possible,

5 making physical contact

This is my biggest gripe. touching people is a part of socialising and that doesn’t mean banging elbows which just looks stupid. It means a handshake, a kiss on the cheek or a simple hug. It’s a part of your relationship with people and life won’t be normal until we can all do it again. I guess that’s unlikely before we’ve seen another winter through and proven that the virus has been normalised.

5 business trips (which didn’t go to plan)

I’ve travelled enough so that I’m pretty adept at avoiding the pitfalls of business trips and the stresses that go with them but even then stuff happens which is outside your control and then you have to adapt. It’s happened to me several times, fortunately never catastrophically, but in today’s world the consequences of the earlier ones wouldn’t have been so easily managed.

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That was 2020 that was

I generally keep a diary when there’s something special going on. That typically includes travel and special events so I’ve been keeping one over the last few days and included in it my reflections of 2020. This is what I’ve written.

We’ve had no holidays. We were due to go to Italy in May but that fell foul of Covid and we got our money back. Otherwise we had just a couple for nights at the Windmill in Linton, that’s the one near Wetherby, early in September when we went to see the Bradburys and to celebrate Sophia’s 5th birthday. Of course we’d also planned Xmas up north as well but cancelled that as infection rates began to climb.

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Photos of the month: October, November and December

Oops … this is a bit of a catch-up to make sure that I can round off the year within the year and not some time in 2021.


I drink more wine than I do beer but I don’t have the same regular habit of photographing wine as I do with beer.

I’ve spent enough time in Spain that I’ve drunk enough Spanish wine to appreciate it and the Cune 2015 Reserva is super.

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Brexit: it’s all about the fish

In a year of such bad news the headline that a Brexit deal has been signed counts as good news but it is only relatively, and minimally, so.

For the country at large it means duty and quota free access for manufactured goods and that’s surely good news for those who’ve exported a substantial part of their production to the EU and there are many of them. In particular I’m pleased that Welsh sheep farmers now have a chance of survival. However they and the other exporters will now have to contend with export documentation, which was unnecessary as long as we were still a part of the EU, and that’s not inconsiderable.

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Breakfast at Bill’s @billscambridge

It doesn’t really have the same cachet as Breakfast at Tiffany’s but I like the alliteration.

Until the first Covid lockdown we went to Cambridge just about every Saturday morning and we’d generally have breakfast at Don Pasquale with Tony and Christine. Sadly times have changed. We’ve only been in twice since, Don Pasquale has closed and Christine has died. Who knows what more’s to happen before we’re through the pandemic.

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My mother didn’t have a happy life

I don’t mean that it was uniformly unhappy but after a promising start she suffered a misfortune which, despite her undoubted mental strength and determination, was to blight the rest of her life.

Audrey Vickers was born in 1923 and as far as I know enjoyed a happy childhood in a stable and loving but fairly strict family environment. Her father was a successful butcher and the family lived ‘over the shop’ in Wepre Buildings in Connah’s Quay. She went to the same schools, and was taught by some of the same teachers as me: Dee Road Infants, Custom House Lane County Primary and then Hawarden Grammar. From school she went to teachers training college as was the norm in those days for many girls who’d made it through to the 6th form. She secured a place at IM Marsh in Liverpool.

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