Defending Britain

With the prospect of invasion in 1940, following the evacuation at Dunkirk, Britain quickly prepared for the expectation that Germany would try to invade this country. As well as the coastal defences, inland preparations began too, with the hurried construction of small brick and concrete bunkers, known as ‘Pill-Boxes’.

(All photos can be enlarged, to be seen in detail)

Many of these remain, and can be found in all parts of the country, including this one at a country lane road junction in the small hamlet of Hoe, around one mile from where I live in Beetley. The idea was to site them at strategic points, including close to targets like railway tracks, and the places where various roads converged. This one is very near the now disused railway line that once carried trains up to the north coast of Norfolk, and the towns of Holt, Sheringham, and Cromer. They were intended to be occupied by either Home Guard volunteers, or regular troops. Defended by a light machine-gun, and ordinary rifles, having to fight inside the cramped space of one of these small buildings cannot have been a welcome prospect for any soldier given the task. As you can see from my shadow in this photo, the entrance was small, and the interior only had room for around three men.

If German parachutists had arrived in force, it is unlikely that such a defence would have troubled them for too long. The position is easily outflanked by a larger body of troops, and the fate of those inside would be inevitable. They would either be killed during the fighting, or captured. Had they managed to inflict any casualties on their attackers, there is also the real possibility that they might have been executed after surrendering.

Over the last 79 years, nature has done its best to reclaim the ugly intruder. But it is a testament to how well-made it was that it still exists today, exactly as it would have looked in 1940. And it could still be used for the purpose it was intended for.

The possibility of shorts


This February has started out exceptionally mild. Continuing the overall theme of a mild winter, here in Norfolk at least.

I am not fooled of course. We still have the rest of the month to go, and March yet to come. However, I cannot argue about the recent temperatures. Two or three days of bright sunshine, with a high of 16 C (61 F) yesterday, and a warm walk with Ollie. Sadly, it is not enough heat to dry out the lingering mud, but for once, I am not complaining.

The TV weather forecasters are getting very excited. The high temperatures are set to continue throughout this week, due to an unusual ‘bend’ in the Gulf Stream, drawing warm air from as far away as North Africa. Last night, one weather presenter was predicting a new record high for Britain in February, which should arrive by next Friday or Saturday. 18 C (64.5 F) is unknown in this country during February. If we achieve that somewhere, it will break all previous records for this month.

But more importantly, it will mean that I can start wearing my shorts again, at least one month early.
(Like the ones on the left. Not those retro things on the right. 🙂 )

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Books, and reading.

As I have started to read again, after a long break, and because I was reading a book in bed before I went to sleep last night, it is understandable that I woke up today thinking about that subject.

I am not getting on that well with electronic reading. On the plus side, it is great to be able to read an ‘illuminated page’, with no need for additional lighting. And I can store a lot of books on something the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The downside for me is that the page-turning feature can be over-sensitive, frequently flipping back to previously read pages without warning. It also freezes up more that I am happy with, leaving me having to restart, to return to the last page I was reading.

So many of you report no issues with this, I am beginning to wonder if I have a faulty Kindle Fire. But it may also have something to do with me, and my unfamiliarity with using Tablets.

When it comes to the books, I have now read five of them in one month. Considering I only finished one book during the whole of the previous year, then that is progress indeed, and definitely a result of having the new way of reading, as well as not having to further clutter diminishing space with large paperbacks or hardback copies. I have enjoyed the books written by other bloggers, and have been pleasantly surprised by the high quality, readability, and refreshing subjects and themes.

That has not been the case with the mainstream books though. Despite great reviews, and large sales on Amazon and elsewhere, I was disappointed to find that familiar ‘formula’ writing very much in evidence. Characters conceived so that they can be featured in sequels, or living in stylised, unrealistic situations that are hard to identify with. Many years ago, I regularly read at least one book a week. I used to follow authors, including Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and some more serious writers. When they had a new book out, I would buy it immediately, believing I would be sure to like it.

But then they started to feel ‘familiar’. The names were changed, but the plots similar. Things happened in those books as I had come to expect them to, and I became convinced that we were all reading much the same story, with just the locations and characters altered slightly. That was one of the main reasons I stopped reading novels, and switched to non-fiction instead. After almost twenty years, I have returned to fiction, in the hope that things had changed. In many respects they have, but in some cases, I can see it is just the same old story. Literally.

So I am not sure about reading again. I feel a little cheated by some writers, but refreshed and inspired by others. Maybe that has always been the case? Not sure.

I am still thinking about it.

Seven Today!

Today is Ollie’s seventh birthday. As usual, he was refusing to pose for photos on the walk, even though I took him somewhere nice for a change. After many attempts, this was the best I could get.

(Please enlarge the photos, by clicking on them.)

He was happy to receive two birthday presents this morning. A stuffed toy version of the famous ‘Grumpy Cat’, and a new nylon chew bone to replace his much loved previous one. He was so excited by the gifts, he wore himself out, and slept for the rest of the morning.

I drove him the short distance to Beetley Common, for a change of scene, and he was happy trudging through the mud over there. He spotted some sheep, and probably expected a birthday greeting. But they eyed him suspiciously instead.

Further down, he saw a swan on the fishing lakes. But that was busy grooming, and not at all interested in the birthday boy.

He had to make do with me, and the best part of two hours doing circuits of the Common, woodland, and lakes. And by way of celebrating, he has decided to start moulting heavily, covering everything in dog hair. 🙂

Chicken for his dinner tonight, with some extra birthday treats.

A Winter Moon

Spotted tonight. Misty, cold, 10:15 pm. The moon illuminating the garden, through the branches of the oak tree behind our house. Hand-held long exposure, (1.3 seconds) zoom range, 200 MM. Settings, F 2.8, Aperture Priority, Sony RX 10. A standard colour shot, rendered in monochrome by the available light conditions.

A Norfolk moon, as seen by the ancient Iceni tribe.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Age and infirmity.

As I have mentioned, I haven’t been at all well lately. So it is no surprise that I woke up (early) from a feverish sleep, thinking about how things change as you get older. I have written about this before of course, but in a few weeks from now, I will be adding an even bigger number next to the 6 in my age. And I woke up thinking about just how fast that seems to come around.

If you have a long time to go before you can even think about retiring, or the thought of sixty candles on your birthday cake seems like some distant event in an uncertain future, then you might do well to read this, and take pause for thought.

I spent the last fifteen years of my working life planning for the time when I could retire on the pensions I had paid into. Research informed me that I would have to work until I was 60, to make it financially possible. So like many before me, I started to ‘count down’ the years until I would no longer have to work, more or less wishing away a great deal of my life, hoping to get older faster. Does that seem crazy to you? Then maybe wait until you get close to that yourself, and see how you feel. By the time I got to my 58th birthday, I was coasting in neutral. I had a date fixed, and had already applied to retire on that day, excited to receive pension forecasts and confirmation in the post.

One week after my 60th birthday, I was no longer a ‘worker’. I was now one of ‘The Retired’, a ‘Pensioner’. With five years still to go before the addition of my official State Pension, I took a 60% drop in monthly income, and moved to Norfolk to live the quiet life. Well, I didn’t plan on it being quiet. I would get a dog, do a lot of gardening, some decorating, and various jobs around the house.

At first, it went just as expected. I didn’t get around to the decorating, but I tackled the big jobs in the garden, painted some fences, and got that dog. That got me out of the house, exploring the local area, and meeting new people. And I tried my hand at starting a blog too. In most respects, life was quiet, also peaceful, and content. This was how I had hoped it would be, and I could anticipate the coming years, planning ahead.

Then one day, I found it difficult to lift a shopping bag from the back of the car. I thought I must have misjudged the weight of it, and was surprised to discover I needed two hands to lift it. After doing some minor digging and weed-clearing the following week, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee later. I went to the doctor, and she took blood tests. I had been taking medication for high cholesterol for around five years before retiring, and it turned out that I was one of the unlucky ones. The tablets had caused muscle wastage, predominantly in my arms. Cells and muscle tissue were found in record numbers in a liver function test, and the medication was stopped immediately, never to recommence.

I had to readjust. I was never again going to have the upper body strength I had enjoyed for most of my life. Jobs would have to be tackled slowly, and I had to buy a small hand-truck to move things around. My arms ached to the point of bringing me to tears, and simple things like opening a stubborn jar lid were now almost laughably impossible.

I was annoyed with myself, but had to learn to live with it.

Not long after that, I felt dizzy in the bath one day. I was sure that the bath had overturned with me in it. Impossible as that sounds, I scrambled out the bath in a panic, knocking over everything in the bathroom. I considered that it might be a stroke, and spent a long time waiting for the symptoms to subside. Then I went to the doctor again. It was Vertigo, a simple painless condition that can seriously blight your life. Lying for even a short time flat on my back was now impossible. Look up at a tree, or down at some weeds, and an overwhelming dizziness would convince me that I was about to fall. The doctor suggested head manipulation exercises, but they didn’t work. So she told me that I would have to learn to live with it.

I needed to readjust, again.

The next summer, I was bitten badly by horseflies, when out walking Ollie. Some of the bites became grossly swollen, and others I had scratched continued to hurt, and bleed constantly too. Back to the doctor, and this time I saw the nurse. She told me not to scratch them, (yeah, like that works) and gave me some cream to help with the swelling and itching. I remarked that I was surprised how long they were taking to heal, and she smiled. “You’re not as young as you were, unfortunately”. On top of having arm muscles with the strength of bath sponges, and feeling dizzy doing so much as changing a light bulb, I now had to contemplate the possibility that a simple insect bite might never quite heal, and provide the possibility of worse infections attacking my bloodstream.

Retirement was becoming a contest with my own rapidly-ageing body. And a contest I was losing.

So the next time you dream about the day of your own retirement, whether it be sailing that yacht around the world, spending time with your grandchildren, or landscaping your beloved garden, I have a tip for you.

Check with your body first.

You’re not the one in charge, whatever your brain tells you.

A Viral Delay

For the last few days, I have been revisited by the body-crushing virus that I have christened ‘The Boomerang Virus’.
(Because it keeps coming back of course)

It has a distinct combination of symptoms, and once they appear, there is no mistake that it has returned.

Hot, painful, and watery eyes.
High temperature followed by feeling ice cold.
Weakness, tiredness, and lethargy.
A sore throat that feels like broken glass.
Random coughing fits that can last for up to fifteen minutes.

Yesterday, I was in bed for almost 20 of the available 24 hours. And for 16 of those 20 hours, I was asleep, in something akin to a feverish coma. I only emerged to take Ollie for a 90-minute walk, and later to eat dinner. I am taking the usual shop-bought medications to reduce the effects of a runny nose, and a headache that feels like an Eagle’s claw around my skull. They are helping a little, but I suspect it must be left to run its course, like the last time I had it. Meanwhile, much of my normal life has been put on hold, not unlike waiting for a delayed train, on a windy station platform.

So many people now have this here, that I am beginning to wonder if it is biological warfare, gone wrong.

I am unable to concentrate on anything for too long. So no reading, very little TV, and no long sessions on the blogs. Sitting in my office chair for more than an hour is too uncomfortable, and lack of enthusiasm and energy means that nothing else gets done at all.

To everyone who is awaiting the next part of my current fiction serial, I apologise. I haven’t been up to writing it, sorry to say.

If I feel better later tonight, which seems unlikely at the moment, I will try to get it done.