The Modern Salonnière

Pippa has let us know the sad news of the death of Sarah Vernon. Accomplished actress and artist, and one of the cornerstones of our blogging community for many years. She published the sites Rogues and Vagabonds, First Night Design, First Night History, and First Night Art. One of the first bloggers I followed, and someone I am proud to say I counted as a good friend.

Pippa Rathborne's SCRATCH POST

This is a post from 2013 dedicated to my great friend, Sarah Vernon, who died last week.

Through bad health and bad luck, Sarah’s acting career was cut short. Like many actors’ children, she could never be sure if she would have gone into the entertainment industry if her parents had not been actors. It wasn’t an industry for Sarah: it was a romance and an art. Being an actor wasn’t a job for Sarah: it was body and soul, an act of love uniting emotional aspiration with technical accomplishment, a child’s dream of perfection made real. Don’t put your daughter on the stage.

Sarah could have been a casualty of the devil’s profession, but she had a brain, a life-sustaining sense of humour, and other artistic and literary talents. She engaged in the present and the past with equal intellectual force, she was computer and internet savvy, and…

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Ollie’s Sister

Last week, we heard the sad news that one of Ollie’s sisters had to be put to sleep, after suffering acute kidney failure.

I don’t have a photo of Milly, but she was identical to Ollie in every way, as the only other brown pup in the litter. She was somewhat smaller than him physically, but otherwise they were impossible to tell apart facially.

The lady who had Milly lived in our nearest town, and a few years ago, she brought her to see us. Ollie seemed to know her instinctively, licking her face, and sticking close by her side.

He doesn’t know she has gone of course, but it made us feel so very sad.

RIP lovely Milly. 2012-2020.

Brian Cushion: RIP

I wrote this post on Saturday. Most of you will remember it.

I received many kind comments, and my blogging friends and followers were, as always, very sympathetic.

Later that day, I got the news that my dear friend had died late that afternoon. So I thought it appropriate to update everyone with that.

I refuse to let Brian be a statistic, so here is something about his life, and the kind of man he was.

Troubled in his teens by the bone-wasting disease, Osteomyelitis, he was determined not to let the constant medical treatment get him down. He turned to music instead, with a voice to rival the Blues singers of the past, and even equal to the great Howlin’ Wolf. I was 17 years old when I met him, and he was singing at the front of a band, performing in a school hall in the London suburbs.

We were soon firm friends, and that friendship lasted for 51 years. Even though he has died, we are still friends, and always will be.

He later married, and I was the best man at the wedding. He and his wife had a daughter who he loved so dearly, becoming more than a father to her, a friend as well.

Over the decades, we lived together in a shared house, and spent a huge amount of time in each other’s company. We played Monopoly with an intensity usually reserved for Chess masters, and constantly disagreed on many things, especially politics. We shared holidays together, and saw each other through relationship and marriage break-ups, bad times and good times.

Many years later, decades of pain klling drugs caused his kidneys to fail. Brian had to go onto a dialysis regime until a transplant became available and he underwent the operation. Following that, he spent the rest of his days taking a daily cocktail of tablets, and having to attend hospital constantly. He still managed to play golf whenever he could, and once he retired, he rented a flat next to the golf club car park. He also continued to sing and perform with Blues bands around London and Kent.

Here he is five years ago, at his last ever gig. He is the man in the hat, singing and playing a harmonica. The pretty fair-haired girl at the front of the audience is his daughter.

He worked as a copy editor and proof reader, where his obsession with correct grammar and punctuation served him well. When I started this blog, he was one of my earliest and most loyal supporters, though he never failed to correct errors I made.

Brian was a good man, a loving father, and a true friend.

He will never be just a number.

Virus Deaths: One Story

I read something on a local newspaper website earlier this week. I went back to get a link to add here, but it has been taken down. Presumably to save the family from more distress.

We are all reading about deaths from the virus, all around the world. As the numbers get bigger, they stop becoming people, and are just numbers. I read that 1,000 people have died fom the virus in the USA. Can you imagine seeing 1,000 dead bodies laid out in a line? I once saw more than 20 bodies at the scene of a train crash. It looked like a lot of bodies. And I was an EMT, so used to seeing such things.

1,000 bodies arranged in a line would stretch almost 3,000 yards. That’s 1.7 miles. That distance would take almost 30 minutes to walk, at a normal pace. Hard to comprehend, I know.

So let’s just think about one person who died because of this virus, and the impact on his family.

A local man in his fifties had a mild heart attack last year. He had a stent procedure to open a coronary artery, was put on blood-thinning drugs, and sent home. He went back to work as normal, and returned home to his wife and two twenty-something children who still lived at the house. Just over a week ago, he woke up with a very high temperature, so stayed off work. The next day he had a very bad cough too. Covid-19 was suspected, and the call was made to the family doctor. That doctor decided to send an ambulance to take the man into the emergency department of the local main hospital.

He had to travel without his wife and family of course. They were not allowed to get close to him as he was taken to the ambulance, so no goodbye kisses. Then because they were in a house where those symptoms were found, they all had to self-isolate. Calling the hospital that night, they were told that he was ‘seriously ill’. The next day, someone called them to tell them he had died.

Imagine that. No goodbyes, no last moments together, no chance to comfort the man she had been married to for thirty years.

The funeral was just 24 hours later, a cremation arranged by a local undertaker. The family was informed that only ten mourners could attend. But as they were self-isolating, they were not allowed to go. Any relatives or friends that might usually have attended did not want to travel during this crisis. So the man was cremated in an empty facility. The undertaker sent a bill, adding that they understood it would be some time before payment could be made. The ashes would be sent to her in due course.

That’s it. Thirty years together comes down to three phone calls, and it’s all over.

Then the everyday problems begin. To get an official death certificate, you have to attend the appropriate department at the Town Hall, with the initial certificate given to you at the hospital. But you are self-isolating, and are not allowed out. Even if they could go out, the office is closed because of the lockdown of workplaces. And you would not be allowed into the hospital to collect their form, as you were too close to someone who died from Covid-19.

Without that death certificate, you cannot access the man’s bank account or savings. Cannot cancel his credit card, or any other payments still going out of his account. You cannot make a claim on his life insurance, sell his car, or do a dozen other things that have crossed your mind will need doing.

On top of your grief, you have to deal with all that stuff too.

Then there is the worry. What about me? What about the chldren? Will we get it now? You can’t seek comfort from relatives and friends either, because you are not allowed out. Anyway, it wouldn’t be a good idea, even if you were.

In the last 24 hours in Spain, 832 people died. Imagine that story above, mutiplied by that figure.

That’s the reality. Are you scared yet? You should be.

Yes still, social media is showing people, mostly young people and teenagers, who think it is funny to spit on food in supermarkets, or rub their saliva over the handles on public transport. Parcel delivery people spitting on parcels that they then hand to a recipient, idiots licking toilet seats, some deliberately touching things in shops then replacing them, and even claiming that Covid-19 is a hoax, and doesn’t exist. Some of those videos have been shared over half a million times, watched by giggling youngsters who think it is all a great joke.

Try telling that to the wife of the man who died near here this week.

Winston’s Last Walk

Last April, I posted about a birthday party for one of the most-loved local dogs. Winston was 15 years old, and doing well, despite having a few medical problems.

I recently visited the house of his owner, Michele. She told me that he was having trouble walking, and was close to his time. I went in to see him, and he was bright-eyed and delighted to see me. But it was obvious that he was struggling to stand and walk properly, so we all knew it wouldn’t be long for the grand old dog. Recent medical tests also confirmed kidney failure, so a hard decision was made.

Today, I received a lovely card from Michele, hand-delivered. She told me the sad news that Winston was put to sleep by the Vet yesterday. He was at home, surrounded by the other family pets, and those who loved him the most.

Earlier this week, he had been well enough for his final walk on Beetley Meadows. He got to see many of his canine friends, and no doubt they also said farewell to him, in their own way.

Losing a pet like Winston is no different to the loss of a family member, or loved one. Despite all our sadness, it is nice to imagine him chasing a ball somewhere, full of the vigour of youth once again. He will be remembering what a wonderful life he had lived here in Beetley, and how much he was loved not just by Michlele and her family, but by everyone who ever encountered him.

Rest in peace, Winston old friend.

Euthanasia does exist

Thinking about my Mum this morning, and her distressingly hard departure from this life. The Liverpool Care Pathway mentioned in this post has since been discredited.

Too late for her, unfortunately.


During the last quarter of her life, my Mum was often ill. Her breathing problems became so bad, there would be crisis after crisis, occasions where she was not expected to survive. After recovering from these, she would usually say the same things, and have an identical conversation with me. She lamented the fact that voluntary euthanasia was illegal in the UK. She could see a future where she would not want to go on, but be unable to end her life with dignity, at a time of her own choosing. A vocal supporter of the ‘right to die’ campaign, she would always tell me that she did not want to, in her words, ‘end up as a cabbage’.  There were numerous times, when she would ask me to reassure her that I would advise any medical authorities that she was not to be resuscitated, and that her life was…

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R I P, Big Rocky

I wrote recently about how some of Ollie’s canine pals are becoming unwell. Big Rocky (I call him that because there’s a small Rocky too) the Newfoundland cross has been unwell lately, and hardly able to walk. His loving owners, Steve and Gill, bought him a cart so that they could at least wheel him down to the river for a swim, and to see some familiar faces.

Today, I was informed that they had to have him put to sleep at home.
Naturally, they are heartbroken, and all of us dog-walkers are very upset too.

Rocky had a great life, with two of the best people who could ever own a dog. He was loved and cared for, given all medical treatment when necessary, and never wanted for exercise until he could no longer manage it.

Steve and Gill have lost a much-loved companion, and Ollie has lost one of his oldest friends.

Ambulance stories (19)

Another post from 2012, reflecting on my time as an EMT in London. I don’t think any of you have ever seen this one.


Phone calls in the night

Some jobs in the Ambulance Service do not involve rushing off on blue lights, heading for the local Casualty department, trying hard to save the life of the patient on board. They do not involve any contact with the patient at all, save for a brief confirmation that nothing can be done.

Most people who die from natural causes, do so in the early hours of the morning. They are sometimes discovered later, often much later, but the chances are, that they actually passed away after midnight, and before 6am. Of course, the Ambulance Service is a 24 hours a day operation, so if the unfortunate person is found, an ambulance will usually be summoned to the scene. The deceased person may have been found by a carer, if in an old people’s home, or possibly by a neighbour, who might have a key, and…

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Losing friends

One of the most depressing aspects of getting older is the loss of family members to illness or old age. I was quite young when my maternal grandfather died, but remember it well. It was an introduction to the loss of older relatives that prepared me for many more that came later.

However, I don’t think I was ever prepared for the loss of so many friends. For some reason, I grew up thinking that my close friends would be around for as long as I was, and their unexpected loss came as a harder blow than that of very elderly relatives who had lived long lives.

But you forget you are getting to an age where friends begin to pass away too. It just creeps up on you, but never gets any easier to deal with.

Last week, I was informed of the death of another close friend. Someone I had known since I was 28 years old, so almost forty years of friendship. As I received the text message from his wife, I was struck by the fact that I was holding the last letter he had sent me, preparing to reply to it that morning.

I met James Cassidy on my first day at the London Ambulance Training School. He was an experienced Paramedic who had chosen to become a training officer. As our large group of new entrants sat nervously eyeing each other in a big classroom, he walked in to introduce himself as our class instructor. Within minutes, his easy manner had relaxed everyone. He joked and laughed with us as if he had always known us, and when we went for a tea break, we all agreed that we were lucky to have got such a character to guide us through the long weeks of training to come. We also concluded that any job that could produce such a man must indeed be a good choice of career.

The next weeks of training showed his caring and commonsense nature to the full. He helped those who found it hard going, and continued to encourage us, as well as never sugar-coating the harsh realities of the job we would soon be doing. On completion of the classroom training, he became my personal instructor for the on-road, real life training. Six weeks of 999 calls, in one of the busiest ambulance stations in central London. Non-stop emergencies of all kinds, with very few days off.

During that time, Jim and I became firm friends. In between jobs, we would have long debates about politics, life experience, travel, literature, and the pros and cons of life in the emergency services. But once my training was over, I moved on to my permanent posting, and Jim went back to take on his next class of new entrants. But we didn’t let that distance stop us keeping in touch, and began many years of correspondence by letter, something that endured even after emails had become the norm. I only bumped into him occasionally over the years, sometimes at headquarters, or at retirement celebrations. But we kept in touch as frequently as our busy lives allowed.

Many years later, Jim left his training role, for promotion to Divisional Officer, in east London. Despite his elevation in rank, we stayed in contact just the same, right up until the time I was due to leave London for good, and retire to Norfolk. Jim and his wife came to my leaving party in 2012, and he promised to visit me in East Anglia. And he kept that promise. When he retired and bought a motor caravan, he arranged to bring it to a site close to Beetley, and we spent two marvellous days catching up. In his last letter to me, he mentioned that he would be coming to visit again, this time with his wife, and hopefully in the summer of 2019.

But that was sadly never to be, and his unexpected death last week came as a great shock indeed.

So rest in peace, my friend Jim. A great bloke, a true and loyal companion through most of my life, and never forgotten.

Approaching the end of a positive year

As 2017 draws to a bleak and chilly close, I have cause to reflect.

After decades of seeing a glass half full, and of always looking on the black side, I made a decision.
2017 would be approached with a positive outlook. Problems would be faced head on, adversity shunned, and foul weather ignored. As I was all-too aware that I would be 65 last March, I knew that I had to do something to drag myself out of the trough of melancholy that had blighted so much of my life.

So, I determined to look for the good in everything. Even the worst things have a good side, surely?
I did my best, I assure you. Without going into detail, this past seven months have been some of the most difficult of my life. But I didn’t let on, and refused to just lie down and let it all roll over me. I looked for those elusive positives, and to a large extent, I found them. It might have taken some searching, I admit that. But they were there all the time, I just had to recognise them.

Our short holiday was plagued by bad weather. On the positive side, we managed to miss most of it, enjoying our time between the downpours. Dog-walking was often a chore. Finally tiring of the same old walk, I tried other places. But Ollie wasn’t impressed, and lusted after his routine. So, I knuckled down, stuck to the same boring trudge, and tried to find the positives. They were staring me in the face. Ollie was happy. That was the positive, and after all, dog-walking is all about the dog, not the owner.

Events in our personal lives have been less easy to reconcile. The death of a beloved aunt, and one of my dearest and oldest friends. Hard to find positives there. But at least they were no longer suffering. Their lives were remembered with love and respect, and we were all better for knowing them. That’s a positive, if I ever saw one. Other life issues had to be dealt with in much the same way. This happened, that happened. But it meant that we no longer had to put up with X, or suffer Y. Looking for the positives takes off the edge of events that might otherwise lay you low.

Christmas looms, quickly followed by the futuristic-sounding year of 2018. Whether or not I can continue with such a positive attitude next year remains to be seen. The way things are at the moment, that’s a 50-50 chance. But I will do my best, and try to make it work again.

Staying positive, until the end of 2017.