Christmas Greetings from Birmingham

I hope everyone has stayed well and enjoyed a successful 2014.. This year seems to have passed extremely quickly, apparently that is what happens as one gets older!

A cold night in January produces a cold photograph

They call her “The Fluzi in the Jacuzzi”!

2014 has been a really enjoyable year. Birmingham has become a fascinating city, with so many things to see and do, and I begin to see it as my adopted home –  although I am not about to adopt the local accent!. When I first visited, in the late 1960s, people told me the city would be  wonderful once they had finished rebuilding it. ‘They’ are still rebuilding it, as anyone who has been into New Street station will know.

In early April I finally sold my two bedroom flat. Bought originally as a ‘bolt hole’ It had served its purpose extremely well. I am now enjoying living at my new, somewhat larger, flat.  I have had both the heating and lighting improved but there remains plenty more work to be done here.  I am still hoarding an amount of ‘stuff’ I do not really need – a job for next year!

Once more I am studying. An attempt to join an MA in Victorian Studies had to be postponed owing to administrative difficulties. For this year, I am enjoying courses in Creative Writing, German and French. These are keeping my brain working. I am still a gym member and try to work out at least twice each week.

The river at Perth on a cold, wet, February afternoon.

The river at Perth on a cold, wet, February afternoon.

The travel bug has really bitten me. My first expedition this year was to buy a rover ticket, allowing me seven days of almost unlimited first class train travel throughout England, Scotland and Wales. This proved an ideal opportunity to meet old friends in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sheffield and Leeds. Although the weather was cold, I met some interesting people and saw some spectacular scenery. I visited Aberdeen and Perth for the first time. My intention, to reach Penzance on my last day, was thwarted by a landslip, which had blocked the line between Exeter and Plymouth.   There still remain so many places to visit, and I would be tempted to spend another week on the trains.

The Ponti Veccio, the most famous bridge over the river Arno.

The Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge over the river Arno.

In April I joined my friend Nicole on a holiday to Florence. We both really enjoyed the Italian scenery as well as the wonderful buildings and works of art. We were both pleasantly surprised by the warm weather.  After a long English winter, it was wonderful to be able to eat lunch outside!  While in Florence, we took the local train to Sienna, where we spent a lovely day including a drink in the city’s famous square, the Campo.

The Atomium, centrepiece of the Brussels 1956 World Fair.

The Atomium, centrepiece of the Brussels 1956 World Fair.

Although I had travelled to Brussels by Eurostar on previous occasions, I had never ventured into the city itself. It is fascinating, as we found out at the end of May. We took the tram to see The Atomium, once the centrepiece of the 1956 World Fair now restored and well worth a visited. The Parlamentarium – the museum of the European Parliament – was fascinating, showing the story of European co-operation from the late 1940’s to the present day.

The island of Alcatraz - we were allowed to escape!

The island of Alcatraz – we were allowed to escape!

In July Nicole and I returned to America, this time to California. We spent three days in San Francisco where we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, visited some local  wineries, and took the boat for a fascinating morning on Alcatraz.  San Francisco is an amazingly diverse city with Italian and Chinese quarters.  Street cars still rumble up and down the hilly streets – just like in Tony Bennett’s song.

El Capitan - a sheer cliff of over  3,000 ft.

El Capitan – a sheer cliff of over 3,000 ft.

We had looked a hire car for our journey inland: we were presented with a red Ford mustang convertible!  Aided by a sat-nav complete with American accent – we nicknamed it “Dolly” – we drove across central California to El Portal at the entrance to the Yosemite National Park.  Here we stayed at The Blue Butterfly Inn, a wonderful bed and breakfast with humming birds feeding on the patio and real English tea made with boiling water!.  Our intention had been to do some serious walking in Yosemite, but temperatures of over 35 degrees centigrade and an altitude of six thousand feet persuaded us to see the sights from the car and from the park bus.  The scenery throughout was breathtaking: as well as viewing cliffs and peaks, we also walked through a grove of ancient sequoia trees.

The USS Midway permanently moored in Seatle.

The USS Midway permanently moored in Seatle.

We then flew south to San Diego, spending four days at the Hotel del Coronado.  This hotel had featured in the Marilyn Munro film “Some Like it Hot”.  We enjoyed a couple of lazy days in the hot sunshine, along with a tour around the USS Midway.  When built, this had been the world’s largest ship. No longer in active service, it has become a fascinating interactive museum portraying life aboard a US aircraft carrier.

Madrid's Royal Palace - a really magnificent building.

Madrid’s Royal Palace – a really magnificent building.

Madrid proved an ideal destination for the end of October. The weather was still warm allowing us to enjoy walking around and eating outside in this lovely city. The people of Madrid take a lively interest in good, wholesome food, which is available from first thing in the morning until last thing at night.  We really enjoyed a fascinating tour of the Royal Palace, but have left the Prado and many other museums for a future visit.

This year’s cricket season passed me by. I saw some county cricket at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, but did not go to any of the test matches. Hopefully, 2015 will provide more opportunity and good weather.

I still enjoy visiting Symphony Hall and remain a friend of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The highlight of this year must be CBSO’s wonderful performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony at the Beethoven week in September.

This is the CBSO’s last season with Andris Nelsons as conductor: we await the appointment of his successor.

I hope you will enjoy a very happy Christmas, and that 2015 will be a really good year.

With all best wishes

Stephen

Email: stephenosborne@mac.com

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And So It Is Christmas

As always, Christmas has been a long while coming and yet has arrived almost before I am ready for it.  The state of the flat would suggest I am still not fully prepared: the study is a mess and the lounge floor remains in need of a visit from my vacuum cleaner.  There are still several presents to be wrapped.  Never mind.

For the first time in my life I have sorted out Christmas almost entirely on my own.  I am far more pleased with what I have attained than I am disappointed by what has been forgotten or remains undone.

The salmon mousse is in the freezer:  I hope it will be easier to get out of the cling-film lined mould.  Wine and flowers have been bought so I am all ready to go to friends for Christmas lunch.

I recommend an early start to shopping.  By 08.00 I was in Marks and Spencer’s food hall, where a lovely blonde-haired lady called Anne helped me find all the things I found difficult to locate.  It is possible to receive great service in a supermarket: it is a matter of asking politely and being a considerate customer.

In previous years, two of us working together would have done Christmas Eve’s shopping  at one visit.  We should probably have found time for a coffee and a cake!.  Working alone, there is a limit to how much one can carry.  So it takes me three separate visits to various stores in Birmingham to purchase all the things I need.  But all is completed in time for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.  King’s College Cambridge never fails to please.  As usual, I enjoy it along with a mince pie and a cup of coffee and it becomes my rest in the middle of the day.

I manage a short visit to my friend Christine, who looks a lot better.  Then it is back to work in the kitchen and the lounge.  All the cards are now strung up and on view, and the Christmas tree is moved to a more suitable position in the bay.

I am watching the Midnight Mass from Leeds. It is a Roma Catholic celebration, but reminds me so much of what used to take place at St Alban’s in Birmingham when Anne and I sung there many years ago.  Tonight, the Sussex Carol is used at the offertory – I remember it well.   “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” is sung by the congregation – my late mother’s favourite carol.

And I plunge back headlong to land amid my memories: to contemplate so many happy Christmases past.  So what is wrong with that?   At least now I can enjoy being with those memories, re-presenting myself in those earlier times and with those who were around me.  Too heavy for this time of the morning!

Merry Christmas everyone!  May you have a really good Twelve Days of Christmas and find at least a little time to relax.  Thank-you to everyone who has sent me a card, text message, email, tweet or who has contributed to the blog.

Good night – more accurately Good Morning.

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No ‘F’ in Phone Line

It has been one of those days.

Only thanks to Liz, who badgered and bullied Virgin Media on several occasions, did I finally get my telephone back.  It was after 20.00 when two engineers finally appeared,  and by that time I had given up hope.  What appeared a large problem for Virgin Media, who termed it a “Network Fault”, was in fact no more than a broken wire in the switch box at the bottom of the stairs. Two polite young men took little more than quarter of any hour to solve the problem!  I had spent much of the day singing to myself: “No ‘F’ in phone line.  No no there’s no ‘F’ in phone line” to the tune of The Sandpipers’ song “Guantanamera”.

The Christmas Letter is now in this blog at https://stephenandanne.wordpress.com/2012-xmas-letter/  You will also see it on the menu at the top of this page.  I have a lot more photographs taken during the year and will try to add these and some more text if I have time.

Time – now there’s an odd thing.  I have spent much of the day sorting out the flat, washing, cleaning and tidying.  It is nearly done, except for a short edition of The Ironing! But it is hard to see what I have done with my time!

Am I really ready for Christmas?  Is anyone ever really ready for Christmas? There is plenty to do.  Tomorrow I hope to find a Christmas tree and put my many Christmas cards around the lounge / dining room here in the flat.

I have removed some pages from the visible section of the blog.  They have not been destroyed and will return in a few weeks’ time.  I intend to leave this blog as a memorial to Anne and a memory of my first months on my own  Readers will soon be redirected to another site on which will be 2013 items.

As always, i welcome all constructive comment and messages.  Please bear in mind that the site is in a state of change and will be so for until the beginning of next year.

Time for bed.  I am not sitting writing until 02.00 when I have jobs to do in the morning!.

Sleep well  S

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Return of the Blog

Spruced up and looking in my prime

Spruced up and looking in my prime

The blog is back.  Do I hear howls of derision or sighs of boredom?

Tonight’s post is something of a “dummy run” to remind me how the software works.  This will be one of the last posts on this site.  Soon I hope to redirect you to another address as life progresses.

Currently my 0121 telephone number is not working thanks to Virgin Media’s failure to cure a fault.  If you wish to contact me, please use my mobile number, email, Skype, tweet, or reply to this blog.

I shall put a Christmas letter on the blog, hopefully tomorrow or Thursday.

Thanks to Liz for coming on a visit to a lovely flat with me.  Special thanks to Robin and Barbara for locating a present for a friend and for taking me out to dinner.

Window wash

Birmingham looks great at Christmas.  The flat should look better after I have spent most of tomorrow cleaning and tidying.

By the weekend I hope to have a Christmas tree in the bay and all my Christmas cards hung up.  Why does the week before Christmas go so very quickly?

Oh, thanks to the kind man who cleaned the flat’s windows!

Good Night

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Tuesday – 8 May – Mu Penultimate Post

Why did I start this blog?  It was created in July 2011 to inform people of Anne’s condition and save me saying the same thing over and over again on the telephone each night.

Time marches on as this photograph taken last week in Glasgow suggests.

In fact, the clock was not working: perhaps time really does stand still on occasions!  For me, a lot has happened since my first post some ten months ago: Anne has died and I now live  in Birmingham.  My life has changed in many ways: it is still changing and may continue to do for some time to come.

The blog has been an important tool for me, as I came to terms with Anne’s decline and death.  It has fulfilled the purposes for which Anne and I created it: none of us need a nightly – latterly thrice-weekly – monologue about my progress through bereavement.  There is a limit to the amount even I can write about oneself without it becoming more than just a little repetitive, perhaps even boring.

I shall not leave you without information, but there are better ways to communicate this.  During the next week or so I propose to upgrade and update a web site I currently own.  This will allow me more easily to show what I am doing and invite people to comment or to support me.  The site is likely to include a blog, to seek contributions, and to be updated regularly.  Hopefully, it will become a far more diverse site and enable communication with a broader audience.

Once the new site is ready, I shall inform everyone of how to find it and include a live link.  

The posts on this current site I intend to leave where they are for a few months, before I eventually archive them to save space. I have no intention of destroying the blog.

Thank-you to everyone who has read the blog and who has made it the vehicle by which they have been able to help Anne or myself.   Anne and I appreciated people’s comments about the site, almost all of which were supportive.

So, for the penultimate time …

Good Night.

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Friday – 27 April – “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch”

This will be a very short blog to explain just a little of the week’s happenings, for they have been both many and varied.

Tuesday morning led swiftly to Tuesday afternoon and to Susan’s coming to help me with the flat.  During the afternoon I received a phone call from Amy to tell me Hepplewhite would be playing in a competition that evening – for the performance of music by a female composer.  A string quartet was highly likely to win the competition: I was welcome to come but was not to expect a Hepplewhite win.

The competition was interesting: four very different groups playing very different music.  Despite Amy’s prediction Hepplewhite won: three tired musicians were elated.

Amy, her mother, Tim and I returned to the flat to enjoy cheese, wine, tea and talking among ourselves.  We were interrupted by a small visitor – a mouse walking quietly but purposefully across the kitchen floor.  I decided there and then to name him – Maurice Mouse!  He has not been seen again, but I now know someone is sharing the flat with me.

Wednesday morning was a total come down after the previous evening: cold rain and wind swept across Birmingham as I lost my umbrella but caught my train to Burton.  Brian and I spent a useful two hours sorting out details about Anne’s estate before I returned to the flat, set the bread-maker to produce another loaf of bread, and made a start on a large episode of the ironing.

Dave and Sarah, “alias Mole and Duck”, joined me during the evening.  They were on their way between Leeds and Cornwall, taking the last of their possessions to Kate and Ted’s prior to the start of their year-long trip round the world.

Thursday was showery, but we missed most of the rain. Dave, Sarah and I walked around Birmingham and then on to the Jewellery Quarter.  While they enjoyed part of the heritage trail, I spent time with Robin and Barbara.  I received a shock: what I thought was a brass curtain ring, found in my mother’s button box, turned out to be a twenty-two caret gold wedding ring!

For the evening we found beer and then beef burgers – not my normal fare but a good evening with excellent company.  While the rain had held off for one day, it could not last.  Friday morning saw both Dave and I get very wet on our quick trip to Jessop’s to find an additional battery for Dave’s camera.

This evening I have been to hear Kevin play the Mozart piano concerto no 23 with its beautiful slow movement.  This was followed by Hepplewhite playing the Martinu concertino for for piano trio and string orchestra.

I think I may be beginning to appreciate modern music – only a few years ago this piece would have frightened me away!

All is packed for tomorrow’s trip to Helensburgh.  I shall return on Wednesday with Joy, and hopefully with joy.  (I promise I shall make that pun only once!)

(Blogging appears to be taking a back number: there are more things happening in my life and I am happier with what is happening to me.  Of course there have been times I have felt low, there are things it is difficult to discuss even with close friends.  The change is that I am beginning to take charge of my future: I have discovered that I am allowed both to enjoy what is happening around me and also to seek happiness.  Here’s to a little hedonism and to a good few days away.)

Thank-you to everyone who has been to see me, or who has spent time with me over the past few days.

Thank-you to everyone who has texted, phoned or emailed me.

Congratulations to Elizabeth and David on the birth of Eleanor, their first child.

Good night.

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Monday – 23 April – To the New St George

An unusual day – it is easy to say I have taken a step backwards as well as two steps forwards: I suspect all three steps have been forwards although one was much more painful than the other two.

I am not very good at leaving my bed: this is my indulgence and I am sticking with it for the time being.  Still, I am dressed and ready for action by 09.00.  The first task is to sort out a repeat prescription on-line – much easier than I expect.  The software works and accepts both my log-in and password.

Next to phone Warwickshire County Cricket Club, from whom I have not received my this-year’s membership pack.  I find a suitable phone number and am informed a new card will be available for me to collect tomorrow.  (The club almost certainly did send out the original membership pack, but it has probably gone to one of the other Burton Old Roads!)

Time to go to Snow Hill station.  I ought to walk, but find a bus arriving at the stop at the same time I walk past it.  The train to Solihull is on time, which means I am early for my appointment.  My iPhone shows me the quickest walking route from the station to the venue: all would have been well had I not input the wrong house number into my address book!  In the end I have to ring AM, who tells me the correct house number and is waiting for me on my arrival.

The meeting goes well: I find no difficulty working with AM and we make some progress.  She gives me homework to do before our next meeting in around a fortnight’s time.  By the time I leave, my mind is very tired: I am glad to retrace my steps to the station on a dry day.  It is even quite warm providing one is out of the wind.  A fast train from London takes me back to Moor Street from where I walk to New Street in order to purchase tickets for my Scotland trip at the weekend.

Home to the flat and to some much needed lunch – bacon and red pepper in a cream sauce with pasta.  This concoction of my own design is quick to make and tastes quite good.  Were I in less of a hurry, or were someone here to share it, I should use more vegetables and make it a whole lot more interesting.  Today my simple version suffices and is washed down with a cup of coffee.

Daniel (DMR Decs) rings and brings Claire and the children up to the flat to see me and to present me with a pepper plant.  This visit causes a few biscuit crumbs to be added to the lounge floor but provides my first meeting with lovely two-year old twin boys, Ethan and Joshua.  When they are gone I fall asleep for half an hour!

Time for me to attend the launch of the Symphony Hall and Town Hall 2012-13 International concert series.  I join Tim, Andrew and Martin after collecting my brochure from the table.  V joins us as we stand discussing the concerts over a drink of wine. After some half an hour, we are ushered into stalls seats where we hear a presentation about the International 2013 Season from Lyndon Jenkins and Paul Keen.  V has to leave us as she is on call: Andrew, Martin, Timothy and I enjoy canapés and more drinks.  I know I am very tired and so stick to orange juice.  We talk for an hour or so and I decide to buy a subscription package for myself and additional seats for the concerts at which I should like someone to join me.

By 21.00 I am walking back to the flat alone.  I ring Jane in Cambridge and then call Joy to tell her what time I shall arrive in Helensburgh on Saturday.  Then it is time to blog.

(It is St George’s Day.  I remember a socialist call to action based on the idea of a new St George.

This song is strangely apt as I feel it is time for action – to do something positive and to stop beating myself up for a situation which is neither my fault nor of my making. This-morning’s meeting was not easy: being totally frank about one’s own feelings is stressful and often creates an emotional “down” afterwards.

This-evening’s launch of the International series was always one of Anne’s favourite events in the musical year.  Last year she really enjoyed it: Anne could manage the canapés without problem whereas a large meal was causing her problems – only later were we to understand why.  Returning over last year’s event in my memory made the evening very hard – I should have preferred for brochure and booking form to have been sent by post.  But it was vital I attended, vital I felt the emotional pull and grieved for Anne’s absence.  With friends’ help I got through: my subsequent phone call to Jane helped me rearrange the pieces in my brain.

There remain dragons to be slain: from their lair deep within my mind they emerge intent on extinguishing my new life with grief and fear.  Not too fleet of foot, they can be left behind if I run away and immerse myself in other tasks.  Sooner or later they must be met with and conquered.  Let me not take this illusion too far: I do not imagine myself as St George, nor do I attempt to effect a maiden’s release from a dragon’s power.  I have begun to win my battles but need not see myself immersed in a war.  Despite a difficult day, I am no longer running away from myself.  Here’s to St George and to a merry England!)

Thank-you to AM for her help this morning.

Thank-you to Tim, Martin and Andrew for keeping me going this evening and to V for joining me for part of the time.

Thank-you also to those who have commented, phoned, texted or emailed.

Does anyone else use Twitter?

Good night.

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