We landed in this unfamiliar city after dark …
No, we haven’t quite got that far yet. It’s just like what they say about London buses. You wait for ages and then two come along at once. This will be my second attempt at blogging this week. Not because it has been a particularly exciting week – though it has been; but in an attempt to explain the recent two month hiatus. As the world started to open up a bit in the late summer and in the autumn, we had more opportunities to meet up with friends and family, in particular with family. And I spent a lot less time turning the pages of books and writing about [some of] them.
It was great to see my two brothers and their wives, Paul and Jean, Peter and Alice, in Scotland in September. It was the first time we had seen them for about two years. And the first time since Peter’s gloomy medical diagnosis earlier this year. They were renting a cottage on a farm down at Kelso. We drove down for a relaxed pub lunch on a grey day in the Borders. And they came up to Edinburgh a couple of days later for a walk in the Botanics followed by lunch at our place. Jamie Oliver’s Baked Chicken [with sweet potatoes, red pepper, parmesan, and cream] went down well. As did Katie Stewart’s old apple pie recipe. Then we met for lunch at The Maltings in Berwick [excellent, thank you], followed by a walk round the Berwick town walls. I don’t think I realised when we lived along the road in Duns what an attractive place Berwick is. Albeit a bit run down. They say that the parish church is one of the very few churches built during Cromwell’s Protectorate.
Another ‘opening up’ treat was going down to see the children at half-term. Generally people wore masks as advised on the train down, except for what was probably a wedding party who invaded the quiet coach at Newcastle. But there were fewer masks in London than in Edinburgh. It was good to see a bit more of the children and grand-children after a long gap. We stayed with Joanna and Craig in High Wycombe, and walked with all the family at Cliveden. Great views across the river. No sign of the Astors, nor of Profumo and Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. Which all seems a long time ago. And we ate with Jem and Anna and family at Chalgrove, and walked round Watlington on the edge of the Chilterns. Which is Vicar of Dibley territory.
In the middle of November it was time to brave overseas travel for the Men’s Retreat down at Maredsous. Organised once again by Armin Kummer and his helpers from the German Protestant Church. We thought about the notion of sanctuary, and talked about the tension between security and liberty in a time of pandemic. Seeking a Christian perspective. Numbers were reduced because of the pandemic, but it was very good to be back in familiar surroundings of the Abbey surrounded by autumnal forests. In between worship and discussion we managed an 11 kilometre walk on the Saturday afternoon.
But the bureaucratic paperwork was a nightmare. I am double-jabbed and have had the booster jab, but I was instructed to take an antigen test within 24 hours of arrival in Brussels. Not possible on a feriè [on November 11th]. Returning to the UK was worse. The gov.uk website is not fit for purpose. And persistently refused to accept my user-name and password. The PLF [Passenger Locator Form] demanded that I book a test within 24 hours of my return. There is a perfectly good NHS Test site near us in Edinburgh. But gov.uk insists on a commercial test. I booked with bad grace with a company in Northamptonshire, who charged me for a test but failed to turn up on-line on Tuesday morning. It’s probably a scam run by a Tory back-bencher’s girl-friend. Or boy-friend, I suppose. Just a reminder that the whole COVID epidemic has been a cash-cow for many Tory party supporters. [See Private Eye passim.]
All of which makes me wonder how and why we are now abroad again …