Happy New Year

My intention to write daily has not been honoured.  (Putting this in the passive makes it look less grave…)  I can only say that at least this intention was not a New Year’s Resolution.  Luckily I haven’t made any New Year’s Resolutions.  These secular acts of perfect contrition are just as shaky and unreliable as their religious counterparts.  And whereas God is infinitely merciful, I am less so.  My resolutions are set up to fail as perfectionism leads me to force myself to dictate that by 31 December 2018 I shall be happily married with a better job.  Perhaps also laziness, that willing accomplice of perfectionism, is at play too.  If it cannot be perfect, then why bother?

But the encouraging news is that I have lowered my Paroxetine dose for the first time since summer 2011.   I am now down from 10 ml to 5ml.  I started on Sunday and survived the day.  Monday, when I couldn’t do just as I liked, was harder.  Monday usually is, of course.  That day I could feel symptomatic headache and increased temperature creeping in after lunch.  Given what other people have to suffer, this is mild.

My last bout of depression was in June (see first post).  Since then I’ve had plenty of anxiety, almost daily, usually first thing in the morning.  But the black dog has gone back to his kennel.  I therefore see little point in paying £8.60 every four weeks to treat something that does not bother me.  Yes, I can see the objection that perhaps the medicine has worked; but it didn’t work years ago when the dose was much higher.

I first went on Paroxetine (Seroxat then) in the autumn of 1998; I was 23 then; I am 42 now.  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on it.  That is a positive ending to this post.




The train came into Chertsey station.  My journey had been in three parts: first from Exeter St David’s, where there was standing room only; then from Reading to Virginia Water, crowded because Paddington is shut so travellers from the Westcountry had to change to get to Waterloo; the last was a short chug from Virginia Water to Chertsey.

When I stepped off the carriage, the first thing I noticed, to my irritation that part of my barbour zip had landed on the platform tarmac.  When I looked up, a group of youths were haranguing the ticket collector.  He told them to calm down and back off; instead one of them spat at him, kicked him and called him a paki bastard before they all ran off.

I had given token support to the ticket collector, saying sorry about that and promising to act as a witness.  But I had done hardly anything to help him on the spot, other than murmuring ‘oi stop it’ and gesturing to get my phone out to photograph the attacker.

Angered, at them and at myself, I left the station and walked along Guildford Street, cursing this awful country where this sort of behaviour is becoming more common.  I had finished Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit on the train and I like to return library books as early as possible after I finish them.  Chance would have it that the youths, with their white faces and hoodies, were gathered together in the entrance to the closed library, a squat 1960s structure that sits fifty yards from the road, partly hidden by black railings and leafless bushes.  The tall blond one recognized me and shouted ‘Fuck you!’ as I went past.  That did it.

I turned into the library precinct, marched along the diagonal path to the portico, walked past the group, put the book into the returns box, turned to the group and said ‘Proud of yourselves?’


‘Proud of kicking, spitting and racially abusing the ticket collector just now?’

‘He attacked a boy yesterday…’

‘My grandfather fought right through World War II,’ said I in full non sequitur.

‘Good for him,’

‘You do not use racially abusive language!’

‘He’s mentally ill,’ said tall dark hair about blond.

‘He’s mentally ill,’ said blond about tall dark hair.

‘And as far as I am concerned you are the lowest of the low’ and I got out my phone to photograph them.

They ran.

I followed.  Blond turned round and punched me in the face, hitting my left cheek.  Tall dark hair then thumped the back of my head hard and they all ran off.

Meanwhile, a middle-aged librarian, with glasses and purple Surrey County Council lanyard, appeared.  I asked him to ring the police: ‘I don’t think that would help’ he said coldly, ‘But I can be a witness’ he added with a shrug.

Two girls from the group wandered up to me.  I am afraid I shouted at them and told them to get new friends when they asked me if I was all right.

I needed to be inside somewhere.  I stormed up Guildford Street, finding the Travellodge’s doors would not open; the estate agents with people inside was shut; the Sue Ryder charity shop was open but the volunteer was too near the door by some shelves with a customer and told me to mind the shelves.  I snapped that obviously shelves were far more important than someone who’s just been attacked.  (I went and said sorry later.)

The newsagent’s was open and the man let me stand in his shop and call the police (I needed to be reminded what the number was: 101).  I partly expected to be told that I’d been bloody stupid and had provoked an attack on myself.  But I wasn’t.

A lot of people on Facebook and elsewhere have been most kind in talking about my bravery.  Truth be told, though, I didn’t feel ‘brave’ at the time (who does?): I just felt very, very angry and aware that I’d be even angrier if I didn’t give them a piece of my mind.  This was just the same anger I feel about pavement cyclists, the sort of anger that doesn’t fill me with pride.

Yes, I did confront them when I didn’t need to.  Well done me.  But I am privileged.  I am a white, straight male.  Most white, straight males in the UK can expect never to be punched in face by a racist; to be punched in the face by a racist, a white, straight male needs to put his face in the firing line.  For ethnic minorities it is different.  You expect somehow to be racially abused at some stage.  You take with you that knowledge, or indeed foreknowledge.  I have never as an adult been abused for having reddish hair or being left-handed.

As a historian I am horrified for two reasons: first, how the hell can I be one if I cannot recall an incident like that, or at least what the perpetrators were wearing?  Yes I know the insight it gives me about memory and trauma; I am just jealous of people with better recall.  More generally, I am appalled that people born probably in the twenty-first century are ready to be racist: it is nearly forty-nine years since Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, which is over a half a lifetime. The British Empire is a memory for a few but history for many.  So why do people need to use racist language?  I am no Pangloss and I don’t believe in the perfectibility of humanity but this does bug me.

Isca Dumnoniorum

I have always known Exeter. I was not born there but it is the one place that I have known continuously throughout my life. The houses of family members I knew in childhood have been subject to multiple moves; some have been vandalized by their new owners; other just look cruelly redundant now that a cherished grandparent has died.

Exeter like any other city in the UK has known its changes since the 1970s. The High Street for instance has now been almost totally taken over by alien chains who dominate every other, homogeneous high street.  In 2007-8 the ugly postwar Princesshay was replaced by ugly millennial architecture… On Sidwell Street my beloved Toy & Pram Shop that became Toymaster that became Toys R Us is now Sainsbury’s Local.  It is now just one storey so you can no longer go up the stairs accompanied by the green snake handrail.

Most devastating is the Cathedral Close.  In winter it is a dismal prospect: the Royal Clarence suffered a fire recently and now through the leafless oak you can see the shell of half of its façade, like a mouth with its top teeth punched out; scaffolding stretches along the buildings, stops and resumes at the Edinburgh Woollen Mill.  The grass on the close haa been razed by the Christmas Fayre: bare and muddy rectangles and incongruously light green grass patches mark where tents were pitched that sold glazed pottery or frankfurters at inflated prices.

Exeter marks a boundary. This boundary is ancient and is deeply engraved in the awareness of us who come from further down the Peninsula.  Here the Romans stopped (actually a villa was discovered at Ipplepen a couple of years ago); here in the 1980s the trains of Network Southeast stopped too; westwards beyond Exeter are no motorways, just A roads; here until the 1990s was the last university in England (Lampeter and Glasgow are of course further west); here is the last stop of civilization that Sherlock Holmes and Watson enjoy before reaching the murderous morass of Dartmoor.  Here is the last old Cathedral: the Victorian cathedral  in Truro and Catholic cathedral also of nineteenth-century vintage in Plymouth somehow don’t quite count.

Exeter is ancient in a personal way too: when I look at an old photo of Plymouth I feel no connection: the pre-Blitz city is unrecognizable and I never really heard the oral history of those times. Plymouth is where you are born, that’s all: Captain Scott, Guy Burgess, Michael Foot, Sir Donald Sinden and Wayne Sleep go before me.  In Exeter, my father and uncle were born on the corner of St Leonard’s Road and Wonford Road; my grandfather died a few blocks further down St Leonard’s Road; my grandmother was born in May Street in 1917 (no 10 now called Tiz Yer: coincidentally, tiz is Hungarian for ten). Her family have roots here: this gives me a sense of connection.

I used to have a sense of this deeper past: of memories of the place from the 1920s through to the Blitz of 3-4 May 1942 and beyond.  Now they are dead.  It is my responsibility to pass this on.


At last I am on the train. When I was little I used to be excited by being on a train. Unfortunately adulthood has corroded that. Nowadays for a train journey to be exciting it has to involve Russia or Scotland or the Exe and cliffs beyond Exeter.

I have been exhausted this week at work. Perhaps that is an exaggeration; perhaps ragged feeling amd looking and sighing often. I’d really prefer not to do anything or spend any money for the next fee days but it is Christmas and my bank balance must be punished for it, for some reason.

This didn’t prevent me from casting an envious glance at the noisy office workers (and you can just tell) wgo poured out of the train at Ascot for their day of Christmas cheer (this was at 10.40 a.m.). Yesterday we had thirty minutes for a buffet lunch and Secret Santa. The night before a group of us that got smaller as childcare plans fell through, headaches got worse and in one case a wife had a car crash (no harm to the wife but a lot to the car) eent to a steakhouse in Ottershaw. I risked a small glass of red: in the South East this costs £5. Everyone else was driving so I was the butt of lots of ‘he’s drunk already jokes’. I’d forgotten what hard work social occasions can be, especially when you are expected to pay for them.

What will be nice will be seeing the family again, especially my sister’s family.  And the cat.

Silly triggers

I hate pavement cyclists.  I really do.  I want them all to be put on a permanent naughty step for ever.  I hate their smug assumption that somehow they can get away with breaking a law that is both clear and obvious why it is there.  I hate also their assumption that their journey is more important than mine, that they have right of way where they have no right.

I have every reason therefore to dislike pavement cyclists.  But there is a side to this that I don’t like about myself, even though I try to keep in check most of the time.  This is the side that enjoys getting angry, that likes an opportunity to be completely in the right and able to guarantee to myself total victory, that feels like a satisfying scratch on an itch.  While war, famine and unemployment are spread dolefully across the news sites, pavement cyclists give me the chance to be a self-righteous knob.

Take today for instance.  I was already cross about something else on my way to work, when I heard a bell ring behind me.  The cycle path is on the other side of the road; there is also a road that cyclists can use; but no, this cyclist just had to ask me to get out of the way because my journey to work was less important.  The normal thing a normal person would do at such a moment would be to shrug inwardly (if at all) and step aside; what I did instead was to turn 180 degrees and give the schoolboy my usual Spiel about it being illegal to ride on the pavement, there is a cycle path on the other side, etc., etc.  He snapped back ‘I’ve got mock GCSEs this morning you little rat’ (a lot less ruder than what I have got in the past) but I stood firm and stopped the traffic so that he could cross the road.

Like scratching a spot this sort of outburst is initially satisfying but very quickly becomes sore; in the almost post-coital shut-down I have after anger, I often feel stupid and embarrassed at my showing off.  Anger like sex can be a great motivator: but often it feels like bad sex, where you only have a one-night stand and realize that other person might be more emotionally involved and you have to deal with the consequences of the night before in the cold light of day.  So it is with anger: the consequences, the bomb craters and the ruined walls where there used to be a house need to be cleared away and everything has to begin afresh.




Morning in Staines

I needed to go to Staines yesterday as Chertsey doesn’t have the shops I needed.

I was at the bus stop by 9. Opposite me on Abbey Fields, perched against a bench is a life size silhouette of a First World War Tommy, erected recently by the Rotary Club, with the warning to one and all of not to forget. I won’t.  But just a hundred yards further up Windsor Street there is a statue of another First World War Tommy raising his helmet in greeting who has been there for nearly a century. One might say the Rotary Club is worried for no good reason.

I used to like this bus journey; it felt *local*. I liked how you saw the same people each week.  That was before the Brexit referendum.  Two days after the vote the usual passengers, in their late 60s and early 70s, climbed on the bus at Penton Hook park. Right behind me a woman was saying how bad it was to boo Boris Johnson. I said I disagreed.  For this I was shouted at by her husband as he spat out his accusation that that bitch Merkel was a Communist agent. ‘SHE WAS BORN IN EAST GERMANY!’  I should have said she was born in Hamburg but I replied lamely being born in eastern Europe didn’t make you a Communist. ‘I am not going to argue with you. She was a Communist agent!’  His wife settled into a monologue deprecating those foreigners who come here and take our jobs.

I had to get my shoes repaired that day so I went to Timpson’s. There, the cobbler informed me that Hitler saw where things were going with certain racial groups taking over the world even if gas chambers were going too far. I had previously thought this particular cobbler wasn’t that friendly.  But I didn’t think he was a Nazi.

Still, I quite like Staines. I certainly prefer it to Woking. Staines is Exeter; Woking is Plymouth. Staines has a nondescript centre but all the shops; Woking has all the shops but it is cheerless and ugly. I have not worked out quite why: Plymouth at least had the excuse of one of being one of the most insensely bombed cities in the UK.

I cannot help saying ‘Dawn of the Dead’ in the Elmsleigh Shopping Centre.  Naughty I know.  I always glance left into Timpson’s to check whether the Brownshirt fascist still works there. I haven’t seen him there for a while in fact. Perhaps my complaint had some effect.