Travelling around 1

Catching up with friends

My first trip back to the U.K. in over two years.

The journey through the airports and flight went smoothly as fast as pre-pandemic. I had test results and certificate proving I’d had my vaccinations. No one checked anything.

Day two test negative so all ok
Celebrating Halloween.

Being entertained by and entertaining my granddaughter Poppy. She’s eight and I’ve missed seeing her for two years! All of us share that pandemic experience.

What’s the game?

Exploring Hebden Bridge with Liz, the mum of my boys, big ex or as Manjula would say: wife number one. We remain close and dear friends of over thirty years.

Cherishable

Today’s cherishable sad and sweet memories are the times Manjula and I spent together.

Here

The writer Didion coined the term ‘vortex’ in her book ‘a year of magical thinking’ about the year after her husband died.

It helpfully describes when one is ambushed by trigger memories of good times spent together.

But I wasn’t ambushed, as I fully expected it.

These are sad and tearful yet happy treasured moments in central London. I know it so well yet it now has an other dimension.

What a mess

That’s been with us for a thousand years.

I’m from the U.K./Britain/England/the North/Yorkshire… We often joke about the north/south divide, I mention how the British pronounce words oddly, sometimes (?) to hide their French origin, I’ll explain how my accent and the words I use enables others to place me geographically and allocate the class I was born into and then of course there’s Brexit.

The U.K. becomes more the disunited kingdom by the day, has a rich pedigree and mongrel history. There’s the rub, the divisions we recognise are far more ingrained than we realise and have been established over a thousand years.

The divisions we see, the power games and the ascendancy of certain groups, represented by ‘The Tories’ now seems to be breaking it apart.

I recommend this book . It reveals, in surprising ways, how the established patterns of behaviour are difficult to break, we continue to adapt our national house, following the foundations and seem unable to create any real and lasting change.

Meet We Three….

Hello from Manjula, Lucie and Stephen. Please follow the links below to the videos introducing you to our family.

An introduction from Stephen

A wonderful message from Manjula on what would have been her 47th birthday. Created by Faizan from the many videos she made for Stephen and our worldwide family.

The two lovely videos below are made by Tom and Amy who became so significant in our lives, we ‘adopted’ them.

Manjula preparing a meal and gifting her love.

Stephen guiding a MYcycle tour and providing historical, political and cultural insights in a boring Yorkshire way.

Lucie

A community asset

In the USA some are concerned they may lose their publically owned postal service.

They’re right to be worried. It’s a social good that could be lost. In the early 90’s in the UK I recall conversations in social services about how services such as the postal service helped connect and create healthy communities. Individual posties, and refuse collectors and others who delivered to the home helped people feel less isolated and provide a safety net.

Well since those remembered discussions we’ve reduced costs of delivery, reorganised the services endless times, utilised technology, using a tremendous amount of effort and other resources. Why? To reduce the cost of the service to the consumer? No, it now costs more. Ok, to improve the service? No, there’s now fewer deliveries and more limitations. Well, is it better for the employee? That’s very subjective but I’m told that it’s not for a series of reasons. So why has there been so many ‘improvements’? In my view it’s to reduce operating costs, to increase profit potential and sell it off. And what happened? You know.

I write this as someone who’s family has worked in Royal Mail for many years and who’s worked as advisor on helping it to be a more responsible responsive organisation in terms of employee wellbeing.

So was privatisation a success? yes in terms of creating a profit for investors, and admittedly some limited income for government but in terms of being an asset to our community, in my view it’s not. We’ve lost the social value.

Storytime four and three quarters

There’s two stories today, well one is a sad story ‘The Memory Tree’ so check it out before you show it to a little one. It’s a lovely story in its own right and really useful in a context of a wider conversation about death. Here is a link to how I explained to my granddaughter Poppy what happens when someone dies. This was after Manjula slipped through my fingers.

The next is a rhyme by Roald Dahl, a different take on Cinderella.

I’ve had a technical question from my granddaughter about my filming set up. I expect that behind this question is an ulterior motive. That I need to up my game and improve the quality of the video. So I’m trying a different Heath Robinson set-up. It’s a bit out of focus, for that I blame my age.

Here’s the photographic evidence of my studio.

I know with all this effort, you’d expect the quality to be better. Well I blame my parents.

New beginnings are disguised as painful ends

It’s late at night and the page is blank so I turn to Laozi and Pooh bear.

Actually that’s not true. I turn to you…… to help me get the ball rolling, to create and share my and Manjula’s story. It’s the age old writer’s conundrum. As you see I have a pile of full notebooks but how to get the blank page filled to begin to start the actual story. Can you help?

If you know Manjula and I or even if you don’t 🙃 what’s the key ingredients of our story that might interest you or a wider audience. What are the main themes that will interest people?

an open letter 

 

to our extended family, our friends from around the world, the community that grew around sharing our home

27th March 2020

Dear family,

thank you for your patience, kindness and support.

It’s been an awful twelve months since Manjula died, a pot-holed, rocky roller-coaster ride. Being able to speak to you directly, through my writing and sharing my feelings has been tremendously helpful. Your direct responses and visits have helped me through these difficult times. Thank you for those who’ve also been here to provide direct practical and emotional support, you know who you are and have made an impossible situation manageable.

Thank you for being a witness as Kessler writes:

“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed……… they need to feel their grief acknowledged and reflected by others.”

As you know, I’ve shared and its helped. Thank you for letting me share with you, gain your support and help me to manage this tragic loss. I’ve most definitely been through the five stages (Kubler-Ross) of loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, often all at the same time and what I hadn’t realised was the anticipatory grief years before Manjula actually died that we also had to experience. 

Loss of a lover, loss of a life, loss of control, loss of the opportunity to do things differently, loss and the grief that results from it, is for me the hardest thing in life.

I also know now that: Grief unites us.

“You will never forget that person, never be able to fill the unique hole that has been left in your heart,” 

I’m so pleased you met and go to know my beautiful smiling brilliant wife directly through visiting us, or introduced through these pages. She leaves a wonderful legacy in what she created and leaves part of her in all of our hearts.

It goes without saying that she will always be with me and I know the grieving will never be over but I look forward to finding the right balance in Manjula continuing to be part of me and me finding meaning and growing beyond that loss, then ……….  “the time will come when memory will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes” (Kessler)

We’ve now recognised Manjula’s death anniversary with a Hindu Pooja ceremony and lunch for immediate friends on the 12th March (the official Hindu anniversary), shared the BIG photo album (a copy is on this site) then on the 23rd I cycled Manjula through the city, sponsored meals for older people at a local ashram, and had a few drinks here at home. We still have Manjula’s shoes carefully positioned around the house in case she returns and needs them. (Didion) 

Over the year I’ve been careful to do the Hindu rituals, placed flowers at her two main photos in our living rooms monthly, some times weekly, sited benches in our park and at a city museum. I’ve printed t shirts in her memory, hoisted bunting made from her clothing, created a memory tree (Teckentrup) (please ask how you can add a memory or wish) and given gifts of Manjula’s pens. 

We plan to celebrate Manjula’s life in August, around her birthday, please do join us in person or virtually, that’s when we’ll also re-open Mysore Bed and Breakfast, if we’re through these challenging virus times. I plan to keep this place going for at least a few more years (our first season without Manjula was bitter sweet but worked OK)  and so invite you to continue to share our home.

Manjula will always be here.

I have been trying to write to Manjula for months and failed, I need to share my remorse for things I feel I could have done better and more, to ask for her forgiveness and to thank her for our wonderful, funny, life enhancing nine years together. It will be posted soon.

I’ll continue to post on www.meandmycycle.com which is the best place to follow. Writings will be varied: about life in India, more factly fiction stories and I promise there will be a lot less of the grief. I’ve committed to Manjula to write our story.  I’ve verbally shared bits and people have liked it, I just need to write better to do it justice. Who knows when that gets finished and released, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime there’s many of our times together and challenges of living in India already featured here and I’ll add more, including her funny videos.

Thanks for becoming Manjula and my family and I look forward to travelling together on the next chapter of our journey.

Your loving friend

Stephen

and Lucie

PS

Manjula would joke that I as I was bringing so many books into the house it would become a library when I was 75 and no longer leading cycle tours. Well, the quantity and variety of books have grown and grown and now include sections on grief and writing (guess why?)  and so Manjula’s library is now at our house. 😉 and no I’m not 75 yet. Do pay a visit or ask for recommendations.

The one’s referred to in the letter are:

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the five stages of loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Finding Meaning: the Sixth stage of grieving by David Kessler

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion 

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup

 

Virus update 2

16th March ish

Canada

my son Oliver and partner Rachael live and work in Vancouver. In some ways they are typical millennials with a portfolio of different jobs. Their jobs vary but might all be considered ‘casual’. They are in the service industries: fitness, restaurants, guiding tours. All are affected as things close down. If there’s no work, there’s no pay. They might just about get by for a couple of weeks but what about medium and long term?

The risk and therefore the cost is more likely to be covered by the individual rather than the company or society.

There are many people in this situation. There’s a good argument for a minimum guaranteed income.

Imagine what it’s like for poor people in India and elsewhere. Check here

in India we have a curfew day with minimal testing. It’s just not good enough  

SB has the week off on full pay which will be extended

My plans

are currently on hold. Eric was going to look after Lucie and the house while I was away for three months. He’s now back in the US under the instructions of his scholarship funders

Otherwise I’m at home or walking Lucie 

in the U.K.

at last they’re catching up …… there are clear cases of over reaction and hysteria, this is when we need the wartime posters to keep calm and carry on. Oh and learn from the Indian communities, use water and NOT toilet paper. 

The PHoenix Coup: Part Two

Maisie a journalist living near London but originally from the US has already begun to investigate an astonishing announcement and payments unexpectedly being made into people’s bank accounts. It’s part of a universal basic income for everybody in the UK and increasingly it seems, for people around the world.

 Part Two : Groundhog Day

As I thought, Simon would have quite a different perspective:

“I can’t quite understand. How can it be organised without Government. I can’t see how this coordination on  a global scale works.   It’s bound to unravel as quickly as it appeared. It’s an interesting idea; I can seriously see the benefits but it’s just not going to happen. It’ll be a ‘flash in the pan’.”

We met as students at a university in northern England or the north of in what, the dark and distant past, was jokingly called the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. Mine was a very general degree. A bit of this, a bit of that. It was called social studies and included a mix of sociology, politics, social policy, even a dip in the waters of social psychology. It was a lot about people and understanding them. It suited me down to the ground. I went on to do a postgraduate degree in journalism after a few years on the journalistic coalface, on a local paper, the Star and Morning Telegraph, still in the steel city of Sheffield.

I was originally from the US and moved to London as a child  as my father had work there and we never left. We lived and around London and holidayed in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. I wasn’t to discover the north of England, quite a different place, until I went to University. I think my view of the world from both a US and UK perspective was invaluable in helping me see how the power games of dominant societies and the increasing power of the corporates played out across the world.

Simon, my husband, who I met in Sheffield, was studying law. A world apart from my easy going mish mash of a course. He had to show real commitment. He knew where the library was. But rather like the student doctors (did they ever grow out of it?) both worked and played hard. He often has a different take on things to me. Now he is a banker.

We married after my masters degree in our late twenties and had our kids by the early 30s. I’d managed to squeeze in some reporting for newspapers and a little TV in crises around the world: Eastern Europe, Africa, South America and Asia but having the kids meant a refocus on more investigative journalism than on the spot reporting. A recent project was finding out about how international corporations and the very rich avoided taxation. Often I’ll work at home on the computer but the kids and Simon, and Simon’s mother are incredibly helpful and supportive, enabling me to shoot off, following a lead, sometimes at a moment’s notice. 

Admittedly I fly too much. Our footprint of consumption is too great for the world to cope.

If I’m truthful. It’s not nearly enough. Maybe, trying our hardest isn’t good enough.

It’s now day two.

I checked with Simon, who was back at work at the bank. Yes the payments had been coming in to everyone and the source was really difficult to identify as it was from some crypto currency or at least a source that was untraceable. Was this real? legitimate money? Was it legal?

I spoke to friends, family, neighbours, here and back in the US.

Whoever was behind this had very sophisticated technical knowledge and systems. so obviously not the Government. I jest but it’s actually true. Neither the British Government, nor for that matter any government or european or global organisation had accepted responsibility. 

That made me wonder… if it wasn’t a government, who could it be? We know that many global corporations mine our data. It’s their business model and they use this knowledge to sell to others, to influence our actions. We’re bombarded daily with ads tailored to our interests, gleaned from our online activity. This also became even more sinister when it helped the campaigners win the Brexit vote and Donald Trump get elected twice.

I wonder if what we’re experiencing now is connected in some way.

First things first. The kids, their friends and I cycled to school and I was returning home.

“Good morning” shouted Jacqueline from down the road.

“How are you guys?” She’s a bundle of energy and one of our best neighbours.

“All good. How are you and John?” I sometimes feel that I’m a bit too distant but Jacqueline is bound to have an opinion on what happened. I ask, “Did you hear the announcement yesterday?” 

“I did. It’s about time that the government did something like this. There’s been too many cuts, services are nothing like they used to be and people hung out to dry. I do worry though, where will the money come from?”

That pretty much sums up what most of my neighbours would think but I think many others will feel something quite different. We’re on the edge of London but it is a rich mix of the original villagers, the poorer working classes that had been shifted out to council house estates through slum clearances and then the professional classes that commuted into work in the city. 

Back home I felt like pinching myself. I was beginning to imagine all sorts of things. It was too good to be true.

How was this possible? It went against everything we had experienced for years.

There was likely to be a lot of negative response. I checked some of the US channels. Fox came up trumps. As I expected, there was a news anchor with strong opinions. He was ranting about something for nothing and felt people need an incentive to find work and make a contribution. It’s working against our values of rewarding those who work hard. We rely on merit, on inventiveness, innovation. The push comes from needing to support your family. This will demotivate people, it’s a catastrophe…… blah blah blah.

Yes you heard that right. They are reporting that absolutely everyone is affected. From the European aristocracy, to the village dwellers in the remotest African savannah, up the Himalayas to the isolated communities, to the cut off tribes in almost deserted islands left behind by the modern age. One way or another, as of today, every man, woman and child would benefit from this change.

But that couldn’t be true. How had they managed to plan and implement this on such a scale, to reach out to every nook and cranny of our complex diverse world? and who are they?

You might think of reporters as cynical. I think you might be right. For my part, I prefer questioning. I’m not easily impressed. I’ve seen a lot and generally I’m angered by people’s attitudes to one another, which is often selfish, violent, aggressive, intolerant, prejudiced.

We seem to follow a predetermined path. To be superficially nice (sometimes) but ultimately fighting for me and mine. Be selfish. Focused on our needs. That might manifest itself in competition in the economy, arguments in the street, online trolling, or more extremely violence, aggression and war.

I’ve always felt that it needn’t be this way.

Was this generosity? Was this amazing action of a benefactor a new chapter in our history? A break away from the predetermined patterns of our previous generations.Wouldn’t that be cool? But, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I am a journalist What’s the catch? How is this possible?

I  switched on the TV and tuned into Prime Minister’s Question Time. The leader of the opposition was challenging the Government to explain how they had done this without the approval of Parliament. The PM is waffling. It’s obvious that they don’t know, they have absolutely no idea how or why this has happened. 

 I needed to look at this as an investigative project and start to work on an in-depth piece. My usual approach is to just cascade ideas on even the most improbable hypothesis.

Maybe we’re all on an acid trip; the powers-that-be having seen the light; maybe it’s a manifestation of the Buffet/Gates super-rich who’ve decided to pay every living human being a basic weekly income. There are, however, no statements from the usual suspects. Even the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook are denying any involvement or even knowledge. But they did deny involvement in previous scandals, so we can’t take things at face value.

So it felt as if we had been squashed and pummelled through the wringer of change but there ultimately seemed to be no downside. This is astonishing. It has had the most positive effect. I’m embarrassed to say, that with all my experience as a journalist I was still no closer to understanding how this had happened and who was behind it.  

There was a further announcement.

All debts are removed. What? So what does that actually mean? 

There’s information coming up on the BBC World News programme. They’re reporting from Australia and South East Asia, where it’s already later in the day, on celebrations in the street. News cameras and journalists are out interviewing people.

There’s information about activists meeting people in the street handing out leaflets; little clusters are gathering on street corners;  public meetings were being convened.

I felt like I needed a drink.