Friday, March 25, 2016

Like a bore at a party ‘Brexit’ is the bane of our lives. Roll on June 23 after which we will know whether it’ll be terminal cancer or a debilitating stroke

It’s fair to say we’ve all met a boring person or, indeed, several. I always recall one in particular, a reporter on the Birmingham Evening Mail called Barry P, a Brummie, who was responsible for property stories. He was immensely dull, but the trouble I had was that he was a nice guy and I always felt hellishly guilty when speaking to him of actively trying to find some way of ending the conversation a lot sooner than later. A quote I came across years ago, by one Samuel Foote, originally of Bodmin - yes - but who went to London and made his name in the theatre: ‘He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others’. Many a time I’ve escaped a conversation with Barry (who was our National Union of Journalists rep for while) after realising with horror that I was beginning sound equally dull.

That is not, of course, to say that Brummies are necessarily boring, despite the jokes about their accent. They’re not. I should imagine that if such an exercise were possible you would find the proportion of Brummies who are boring identical to the proportion of Yorkshiremen, Scots, Devonians, Muslims, men who sell and repair bicycles, journalists and gays. None of these, and none of every other category you might care to come up with (except, of course, the category of boring people) is intrinsically more or less boring than anyone else. In fact, I’m prepared to go out on a limb and suggest that you might well, if your luck’s in, come across some quite interesting - as in not-at-all boring - trainspotters, country and western fans and passionate environmentalists.

You might yourself be on the boring side, although you would, of course, pretty much be the last to know it. If you really want to know, finally to establish the truth of whether or not you actually are quite boring – and my advice is to let well alone and on your head be it - have a word with friends and ask them directly: ‘Am I boring?’. If the honest ones take more than even a millisecond to respond with a thoroughly convincing ‘you, boring? Of course, not, old chap, whatever gives you that idea?’ and if there’s even the slightest hesitation, you know the honest answer they would like to give but most certainly dare not is ‘well, er, you know, er, sometimes, er, you can, er, rattle on a bit. But you know, I’m pretty sure I’m boring too, well, possibly sometimes, so don’t feel too bad about it.’

. . .

What of all this talk of ‘boring folk’? Why bring it up? Simple: just as you will at some point most certainly been cornered by someone who assumes you are just as fascinated as they are in the long and laborious process of selling their house which a surveyor has just confirmed is threatened by subsidence, along come the various Brexit campaigners trumpeting at every opportunity why it would be a tragic folly to leave/remain in the EU. Every day now some jackanapes with some kind of alleged expertise in some field or other joins the fray of bores warning us that to leave/remain in the EU is unthinkable.

Most recently it was one Sir Richard Dearlove who for five years was head of MI6 (in newspaper speak ‘Britain’t top spy’). He announced a few days ago in a magazine called Prospect that leaving the EU would mean Britain would be safer from terrorism. Perhaps, perhaps not. He should know, you might think, he’s ‘Britain’s top spy’, and, you know, spies sort of, you know, know that kind of thing, like they have information the rest of us don’t ’cos their spies and we’re not, if you see what I mean’. Well, in Sir Richard’s case, perhaps not.

A year and a half ago he also had something to say about how safe we are from terrorism: jihadists, he said, were more concerned with affairs in the Middle East and the threat they posed to the West was overstated. (The media were making monsters of ‘misguided young men, rather pathetic figures’ who were getting coverage ‘more than their wildest dreams’, said Dearlove, adding: ‘It is surely better to ignore them.’) That was in July 2014. Sixteen months later just under 100 people were massacred by jihadists in Paris, and three days ago around 30 died in Brussels.

Prospect makes a point of not being ideological and has also published a piece which claims the opposite of Sir Richard’s view, that leaving the EU would make it more difficult for Britain to fight terrorism. So there you have it: you pays your money and you makes your choice. You want Britain to leave the EU, then here, from the mouth of Britain’s top spy (‘Look, he’s got to know what he’s talking about, of course he does and it would be silly to pretend otherwise’) is the proof that ‘Britain would be safer out of the EU’. If you want Britain to remain a member, then here David Anderson’s piece in Prospect supplies your proof that it would be sheer folly from the point of view of Britain’s security to leave the EU. David Anderson is billed as an ‘independent QC [i.e a barrister] tasked with reviewing the UK’s anti-terrorism laws’. It seems that he was appointed by the government, but don’t get too cynical about that - it’s often useful in important matters to point out where you are going wrong. Well, the ‘we must remain in the EU at all costs’ folk will say ‘Look, he’s got to know what he’s talking about, of course he does and it would be silly to pretend otherwise’.

So what’s the upshot? Simple: we are up shit creek, but not yet a lot further.

. . .

Being the chopsy sort who is not afraid to talk to strangers (about my only one gift which made me suitable to work as a reporter all those years ago) I conducted an ad-hoc vox pop the other night. For reasons which are far to dull - that word again - to go into, last week and for the next two weeks I shall not be driving to work in London, but taking the train. And that means that rather than stopping off at the Brewer’s Arms in South Petherton, I stopped off at the Tor Valley Inn, in Sticklepath, Devon, on my way home last Wednesday. And as I was chatting to a couple of guys, I asked one what he thought about ‘Brexit’.

His name was Paul, he was about mid-forties and had a wife and two teenage children. He said he was sitting on the fence on the matter, but thought when push came to shove (it will do in the voting booth on June 23) he will vote to stay, mainly because he feels it would be safer. Not much of a ringing endorsement, you’ll have to admit. He went on to say that he felt overall the majority of those casting their vote in the referendum would feel the same way.

Then there was Keith (pictured). Originally from West London, he moved to Sticklepath many years ago and eventually started a drainage business. He recently sold this to a firm in Wales (who, according to Keith, haven’t a clue) and plans to retire next year when he will be 70. I don’t know
how he sees himself politically, but I should imagine he’s a Tory, though like most Brits, whether nominally Tory or Labour, thinks ‘the government’ is pretty much ‘fucking it up’, whatever ‘it’ might be. I have been friendly with Keith and his wife, who are more or less permanent fixtures at the Tor Valley Inn, since I started dropping in several years ago. I asked him how he intended to vote: he is pretty unequivocably for getting out.

So was Roger, another punter that night who was there for the darts (the pub has thriving darts team, and more often than not when I drop in of a Wednesday a match is on against some team from another pub, for which the landlord, another Keith, always lays on sandwiches, crisps and nuts. Very friendly pub is the Tor Valley Inn). I don’t know how old Roger is, but should guess in his early seventies. He has a very florid face and a boozer’s now, not just florid but lined with thin purple veins. Before he retired, he did something in technology and travelled throughout Europe quite a bit, so I shouldn’t mark him down as some kind of little Englander.

Unsurprisingly, when I asked him whether he was for Leave or Remain, he unequivocally said get the hell out of Europe and, like Keith, cited the fact that ‘we can control our own borders again. Surprisingly, both Roger and Keith’s views are most certainly not rigid: when I gently put the opposite case for the sake of argument, they agreed that there might also be good reasons for staying. So the Lord knows what they will eventually vote.

None of the three was or is boring, though Keith’s rather robust somewhat blokeish humour wouldn’t go down to well among bien pensant folk. And I don’t say that the question of whether or not we should leave the EU or remain is necessarily dull. But I do, however, object to is the sheer zealotry of both sides and how in the media they take you by the lapels and shake you, shake you, shake you until you see sense!

And my attitude? Well, I’ve said before that as far as I am concerned we are on a hiding to nothing whether we leave or remain. Whatever the leave goons say, economically it could get very rough indeed for several years as Britain has to go about the very laborious business of negotiating new trade agreements.

On the other hand to me it seems pretty obvious that unless major reform takes place and the EU draws in its horns on several fronts, not least its obsession with ‘ever closer union’, it will pretty much collapse in on itself under the weight of its contradictions, not the least of which is its paper-thin claim to unity among members.

As for the future of Britain whether in or out of the EU: well, can anyone reading this care to tell me what the weather will be like on the weekend of, say, October 15/16? No? Didn’t think so.

. . .

A couple of snaps which I took last May in Mallorca, just for the craic.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Cars, especially first cars, and chips off the old block: I hope my daughter isn’t as stupid as me

About six or seven years in this blog when it was still a thing of fresh, juvenile enthusiasm and I hadn’t resorted to writing potted resumés of the most recent Economist analysis I had come across, I included an account of all the cars I have owned. Not in itself a topic of unbridled fascination you might think, but please bear in mind that this blog is as much a diary and a compendium as it is anything else, and quite probably more for my benefit than it is for yours.

Yesterday, I jotted down a list of all the cars I have bought and owned since I passed my driving test and bought my first and the number came to, er, 28. And I don’t say that by way of bragging, for the sad fact is that although some were fine and dandy and did the biz, several were, at best, not fit for purpose, and one was a complete lethal wreck.

. . .

I was 25 at the time and working as a reporter in North Gwent, which in those days given what is always euphemistically called an ’industrial downturn’ was pretty much in many ways the Wild West of South Wales. Rough doesn’t even begin to describe the area. The steelworks at Ebbw Vale, which had employed the vast majority of everyone locally, was within a year of being closed completely as were various coal mines in the area. And, of course, an area hit by widespread unemployment suffers as much because shops and businesses are also affected.

As a district reporter for a local weekly paper, The News, I was eligible to claim mileage expenses, so not only was I as keen as every other young lad to get my first car, having one also meant I could try to boost my wages. Later, once I had moved on to the local evening paper, the South Wales Argus, I went on to boost my weekly wage rather well: newsdesk insisted by made our police calls in person, so short trips to do them from the office in Ebbw Vale to nearby Tredegar (3 miles away), Brynmawr (4 miles) and Abertillery (10 miles) went down on expenses as a total of around 80 miles, with trip assuming I returned to base before starting off on the next.

As soon as I passed my driving test - on November 25, 1975 I remember, I happen to remember one or two odd dates when I had just move from the Lincolnshire Chronicle in Lincoln to work for The News in South Wales - I set about saving up for my first car. That first car was a wreck of a Triumph Herald (and, dear reader when I say ‘wreck’ I am going easy on the bloody thing). Until I was able to boost my pitiful wages with expenses, I did not earn a lot, but was saving as much as I could for ‘my car’ and finally had £65. This was in 1976, and today that would be worth around £600.

I scoured the the cars for sale columns of the South Wales Argus for something I could buy locally for that price but there was nothing. Then, one day, going by bus from Abertillery north to Brynmawr, I passed through Nantyglo and there the narrow valley spreads out into a plain. And there, off to my right I could see, in the distance a row of three cars for sale. I got off and walked down side-road towards them. They were on offer at what I would now realise was a scrapyard. Still. I wistfully looked at all three, but they all cost more than I had. Then the owner approached me and asked me if I was interested in buying one of them. Yes, this one, I said, pointing at the Triumph Herald which was offered for £95, but I haven’t got enough money. ‘How much have you got?’ he asked. £65, I told him. ‘That’ll do,’ he said.

His ‘that’ll do’ should - and these days would - set off an array of very noisy alarm bells in any man less green behind the ears than I was then. His ‘that’ll do’ meant nothing more than ‘well, I’ve got a right one here’, and he was only too pleased to relieve me of my pot of gold for the heap of shit which shouldn’t, in a more just world, even be allowed to call itself ‘a car’. He explained that as the

As I saw it . . .

car was quite old there, were one or two things amiss with it, mainly that in order to get a circuit going between the battery, alternator and distributor, you had to run a wire from here to there - but, he warned, you should disconnect the wire every time you turned the engine off or else the battery would be drained and go flat. More alarm bells? Not for me, as just about to be the proud owner of my first car, I was in seventh heaven.

I had that car for just a week or two before it was written off (which was rather easily done). It wasn’t a particularly fast car and one annoying and very tiring aspect of it was that the spring which is attached to the accelerator pedal to return it ‘to neutral’ when you stop pushing it down to accelerate had long been lost and had been replaced with another spring, a very heavy duty, industrial affair which surely started life as part of an articulated lorry. This spring was so powerful, that after only ten minutes of driving your poor right foot would ache and ache and ache merely because you had been pressing down on the accelerator pedal.

That weekend I drove the 140 miles home to my parents home in Henley-on-Thames to show the car to my younger brother. It was the first time I had driven and the route I took was substantially longer than it need have been, and Christ did my right foot ache once I got there. The car would go no faster than 50mph and if I remember the journey took just under five hours. It should have taken just over two.

On the Monday morning I got up early to drive back to work in South Wales only to find the battery as flat as a pancake. I had forgotten to disconnect the thin wire which ran from somewhere in the engine to somewhere else to put the whole show on the road. I roused my brother, and we pushed the car a quarter of a mile to the nearest hill (Gillott’s Land down to Harpsden on the outskirts of Henley, on the road to Rotherfield Greys and Peppard Common if you know the area) before I could roll down it and bump start the car.

A week or two later, I parked the car in a street in Abertillery to dodge into a cornershop to get some cigarettes. When I got back a minute or two later, the car had gone. My first thought was ‘shit, my car’s been stolen!’, followed immediately by my second thought ‘but no one in their right mind would steal that car!’ In fact, what had happened was that almost as soon as I had parked the car and

. . .  as it really was

dodged into the shop, it had started rolling forward down the street - like all Valley towns, Abertillery is very hilly indeed - and then, coming to a T-junction to a road which was even steeper, had turned right and rolled some distance further down before crashing into the back of a parked car. I discovered what had happened just moment later. The owner of the other car (which wasn’t much damaged at all) had called the police who, once they had arrived examined my car and established that it didn’t have a handbrake.

So, dear reader, within just a few weeks of owning my first car, I earned my first motoring conviction and got the standard three penalty points on my licence. Worse still, I no longer had the means to legitimately claim mileage expenses to raise my wage from ‘pitifully small’ to ‘very poor’.

There is a postscript to that, it has to be said very minor, crash, and one which could only have occurred in South Wales: as I, the owner of the car my Triumph Herald and the copper were getting through the necessary business, who should walk by but the local representative of the Co-operative Insurance Society who I had seen just a few days earlier to insure myself and my car. He asked me what was up, and I explained.

So the business of starting to settle the other man’s claim for damages, whatever they were, got underway rather more swiftly than might have been the case but more to the point, when I moaned that I didn’t have a car any more, he advised me to get the bus to Newport and go to Brown’s (I really don’t know why I can remember that) who often had cheap cars for sale. I did, a few days later, and came home with a Hillman Superminx which cost me £100 (though on reflection how and why I suddenly had £100 available to buy it, whereas just weeks earlier I only had £65 and had already spent that on the Triumph I really don’t know and can’t recall. Perhaps this is a point where this blog sidesteps in magic realism. Who knows, and, more to the point who cares? You have to remember that this all occurred 30 years ago).

. . .

This stroll down Memory Lane, which, to be honest has become more of a trek than a stroll, has a point. My daughter, who will be 20 on August 7, passed her driving test last October and is equally as keen to get ‘her first car’. I recalling my excitement, I can’t blame her. I have been echoing my father telling her that running a car is the fastest way to lose money yet invented by man, that it isn’t just a question of buying one, but that every year it has to be insured, taxed and weekly filled with petrol, that there are the unexpected incidentals to pay for and the rest, but nothing, nothing, nothing will dampen her enthusiasm.

This summer she is due to have a holiday job managing a local pub/restaurant (and not one of those ‘big plate/small portions nouvelle cusine gastro-pub outfits’, but a local pub/restaurant, and so far - she has been working there for several years - we have been running her over there and picking her up, but she now insists she ‘needs her own car’.

My wife, who runs a tiny Daewo Matiz (a runt of a car) has told her that we can insure her for that car and she can have the use of it whenever she likes, but no, ‘she needs her own car’ - she would sometimes like to stay overnight with her boyfriend’s family (about 20 miles away) and it would be inconvenient for my wife if the car weren’t there. ‘Don’t worry,’ we say, ‘no big deal, we still have my Vauxhall Astra available’, but no, she really does need her own car. And so on. And to be honest, recalling own desperation to ‘have my own car’, I’m finding it difficult not agreeing with her.

My attitude is that yes, her ‘own car’ will be a terrible drain on her resources - resources she doesn’t much have - but that no amount of telling her will make the slightest difference. She will have to learn the hard way so that when the time comes she can tell her own children that the car they ‘need’ will be an unaffordable drain on their resources and they can then, in turn, ignore her. We’ve told her - or it somehow came about, I can’t quite remember - that the cost of her insurance can come out of the children’s benefit we have (at my insistence) been saving since she was born and which is intended for college fees and such. I suppose covering the cost of insurance for the care ‘she needs’ can, at a pinch, but thus justified.

She has only around £800 to spend and has been keeping a keen eye on the Autotrader website for anything available at that price. And she has been bombarding me with links to cars for sale on Autotrader and wondering what I thought about this one and that one. I tell her that cars are ten a penny, that most at that price are shit and not worth the asking price, and that the best way of going about it is to look at loads of cars until she gets an eye for what is complete crap and what might be worthwhile and can then grab a reasonable one when she comes across it. Which is all in through one of her ears and out through the other.

I am reasonably certain that my involvement in helping her find a car will inevitably mean that I shall get all the blame when that car breaks down within three weeks, but then I’ve been married for 20 years now and you get used to that sort of thing (rather as Russian servants in Tsarist Russia got used to being beaten - they most certainly didn’t like it and it hurt each time, but each beating no longer came as a bolt from the blue). I am also certain that my daughter will hint more than once that, sigh, she’s got to fill the car again and . . . and that I shall slip her £20 with the stern instruction that ‘this is really the very last time.

What’s new in this world?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Will the last hack to leave the industry please put out the lights? And Germany’s AfD might be making strides, but I shouldn’t fear the jackboot quite yet

I watched Spotlight the other night and liked it. So did the Oscars committee and awarded it Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. It is an unlikely winner, to be honest, in that not a lot happens: four intrepid journalists in the investigations department of a big morning newspaper uncover what amounts to corruption in the Roman Catholic church in Boston and do the business.

The film was especially gratifying for me, a still working hack (though possibly the word ‘working’ is used rather loosely these days), in that there was none of the spurious grandstanding you get in far too many films about newspapers and hacks, except possibly for one scene, but even that is debatable. The film gave a sober account of the unexciting work which must often be done when you want to uncover what others want to hide.

So, for example, the hacks spent days searching through annual diocesan directories trying to spot priests who might have been moved on from a parish or put on sick leave because they had been caught kiddie-fiddling. And that kind of work is not glamorous. It’s a slog, and although, if I recall, there were one or two of eureka moments when something turned up, the film conveyed them in a low-key way. Even the one scene which might have been more ‘filmic’ than true to life, when one of the investigating reporters loses it and has a go at his boss for not publishing now, but holding on for more evidence and, then his rant over, storms out of the office, was, at pinch, quite possible.

But this post isn’t about Spotlight, the film, nor the Boston Globe. For the odd thing was that throughout watching the film, one thought kept going through my mind: were the Boston Globe’s circulation figures holding up? Or were they, like the circulation figures for newspapers here in Britain, both the national and regional ones, heading south at an alarming rate?

I’ve just looked up the Boston Globe circulation figure for 2015 and it seems to be hovering around the quarter of a million mark and seems reasonable steady. (There was a blip a few years ago when the Globe switched its companies delivering the paper every morning to subscribers and the new company cocked up to such and extent that 10pc of all subscribers complained they weren’t regularly getting their Globe every morning. But that now seems to have been sorted out.)

Here in Britain, however, the story is different: newspapers are dying on their feet. I’ve previously noted how the circulation of the UK’s national newspapers is crashing - the Sun which at one point topped four million circulation is down to around 1.5 million and the Daily Telegraph (the ‘Buffer’s Own’ as it is known fondly in care and nursing homes up and down the country), once a standout for broadsheet papers, shifting an average 1.5 million a day, is now down to a more than pitiful 450,000. But yesterday I took a look at the circulation figures for our regional morning and evening newspaper and I was astounded. Things aren’t simply bad, they are catastrophic.

Take the Doncaster Press (which says it serves Doncaster, Barnsley, Chesterfield, Rotherham and Sheffield, a sizeable area): it’s latest ABC circulation figure is - 686. My first evening paper was the South Wales Argus, which then served and probably still serves Newport and the county of Gwent (or Monmouthshire if it has yet again changed it’s name). I worked for it as the North Gwent reporter based in Ebbw Vale (‘Jewel of The Vallies’) from October 1976 until July 1978 and at the time the paper had a circulation of around 55,000 a day. Now? 11,475.

The next evening paper I worked for, though not as a reporter but a sub-editor, was the Birmingham Evening Mail. When I joined, it still regarded itself as a player and operated a London office whose reporter was often sent abroad on stories. It’s circulation was around a quarter of a million (250,000). Now? 24,260 - a tenth of the previous figure.

Many regional morning and evening papers have converted themselves into weekly papers. And many, quite obviously, still make money for the owners or else they would long have been put out of their misery. But what is going on? It can’t just be ‘social media’ which is driving this decline in circulation, although that is what is usually cited by the pundits as the cause. And it can’t just be TV and radio news because Britain had TV and radio news when circulation were still reasonably healthy.

Answers, please, on the usual postcard which you can email to me at

NB By chance I came across another, pertinent blog which you can find here.

. . . 

Just over two years ago, I wrote about the new ‘anti-euro, but pro-EU party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) which several economists and academics had set up in Germany. I made the point that broadly it didn’t much resemble Britain’s UKIP (to which is was often being compared here in Britain) at all in as far as it didn’t seem to be made up of assorted pub bores and boring chaps with too much to say, but – well, economists and academics who were quite prepared to settle into a reasoned, intelligent discussion about why Germany should ditch the euro. Oh, and they didn’t want to leave the EU, they just wanted to see it reformed. Well, that was then and this is now.

Now, AfD is labelled as a ‘far-right’ party which is apparently put the shits up one Angela Merkel. It seems Afd is no longer the respectable party of reasonable chaps who had a distaste for the euro, but an increasingly rabid bunch who are dead against any immigrants from North Africa and the
Middle East being settled in Germany and have gained a fair degree of support. I already knew that Bernd Lucke, one of the co-founders of the party, was ousted from the leadership of the party last summer by Frauke Petry, but I was rather taken aback (i.e. I hadn’t gone to the trouble of keeping myself informed about developments in AfD) by the new ‘far-right’ tag. And to be honest, it is, as yet (as the Germans say) etwas übertrieben. Certainly Afd is further right-of-centre than the CDU and CSU, but the problem Germany always has after experiencing Hitler’s 12-year Nazi rule (the shortest 1,000 years in history, by the way) is that whenever – whenever there’s any mention of anything remotely ‘right-wing’, it first becomes ‘far-right’ and non-Germans are already inclined to hear the march of jackboots in the distance. Bugger that Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, Norway, Denmark and several other countries are home to far more unsavoury and truly ‘far-right’ parties, as soon as Germany becomes associated with it . . .

In truth, AfD’s antipathy to immigrants is shared by any number of Tories in Britain, but no one has yet decided they are ‘far-right’. I know that rather makes me sound like an apologist for the Afd (as it has now become) and I don’t want to be anything of the kind. But a sense of balance never goes amiss. The party was in the news over these past few days because it did rather well in elections in three German states. It is, however, nowhere near being in a position to ‘take power’ or anything of that sort, so perhaps the order should go out to Dad’s Army here in Britain to stand down for the time being.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ignore this, if you like, just having a general whinge about this sodding itching which has beset me for these past five months

I’ve got to say very little has been on my mind except looking forward to the day when this perpetual torso itching goes away. Writing it here is intended to help my see the situation more clearly, and if you decided you really don’t want to carry on reading, I shan’t be offended. (In fact, I shan’t even know, shall I?)

Some days are worse than others, but none is better than pretty damn uncomfortable. My GP did blood tests and I was hoping something might be found to be amiss so that some kind of treatment could start, but Sod’s Law, I passed all tests with flying colours. That would normally be good news but it wasn’t. That consultation, at the end of last week, ended with him saying ‘well, there’s nothing more I can do for you. I could send you to see a dermatologists’. I was rather taken aback that he should give up so quickly and that his offer of ‘seeing a dermatologist’ should be made almost as a favour. I said yes, of course, and was hoping the system would have moved so fast that when I got back from London last night waiting for me would be an appointment. Well, what do you think? Nothing.

Last night wasn’t just uncomfortable but downright unpleasant. I woke as some point and itched all over, although as you are half-asleep and probably still dreaming, and as I am starting a cold and as my wife has already put away the heavy duvet for the winter and I was freezing - though still half-asleep - and as, for some very odd reason an iPad and a task I had to get done with the iPad was all a part of it - I spent a few miserable hours until daybreak, half-awak, half-asleep and wholly not knowing what the hell was going on.

I have, naturally, scoured the internet for causes, but nothing I have come across seems to fit what I am getting. Oh, and there’s the usual trick of using a medical word for the condition - pruritis - which spuriously seems to persuade you that, now it has ‘a name’, you are some way along the road
to recovery. Well, you are not. I shall try to describe the symptoms, by way of trying to get my head around them and in the hope that they might ring a bell with someone out there who found treatment: at different times, I can itch all over my torso, neck, forehead and scalp, though not beneath the waste. Although I have irregular red marks, some tiny, some a little bigger, some of the itching areas show no marks at all. While I was in Rome two weeks ago, the red marks I had became quite prominent, but although still in evidence have faded somewhat. When it is really bad, as it was in Rome, my whole back feels raw and it’s it as though I am wearing a hair shirt. As a rule I cover my upper torso with cream everywhere (except a spot above the small of my back which I can’t reach) and that sometimes soothes the skin and banishes the itching and sometimes doesn’t (Last night it bloody didn’t!).

My doctor initially prescribed anti-histamine tablets and I regularly take those, though whether or not they are effective I really don’t know. From my trawl through the net I am pretty certain it is not exczema or anything like that. The closest I have come is hives, except that hives are supposed to come and go in a matter of days, whereas I have had this sodding itching for at least five months now (Christ, that long?).

As I told my GP, I feel rather silly in that many of his patients come to him with rather nastier ailments (my nearest neighbour here up the road was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago after successfully overcoming another ailment, and, of course, my stepmother suffered her second stroke just before Christmas) but on the other hand it seems rather silly to put up with something which you might be able to do something about.

Pip, pip.