Day 10 – Weybourne to Overstrand

“A robin redbreast in a cage puts all of Heaven in a rage,” wrote William Blake in 1803 in his famous “Auguries of innocence”. No one can know what he might have written in disgust at seeing dogs being walked on empty beaches or fields on leads!

Of course, dogs should be restrained near a town or a group of people, but keeping overweight dogs waddling along and restricted on leads on a permanent basis is no less than cruelty. The people who own dogs should learn how to get them to return as soon as commanded, but, for heaven’s sake, set them free to leap and dance freely for the joy of being alive.

Oh yes…On the walk, we saw a number of people walking with dogs peering out of prams! Well, I suppose it takes takes all sorts.

Rage, Rage…

Dylan Thomas was right. We should not “go gentle into that good night”.

Some care homes are excellent, and others are not. I visited Helen in hers recently. She’s a beautiful woman of great character who, with her doctor husband, carved out a magnificent life as a nurse and missionary in the Australian outback. Now widowed and in her early nineties, her energy levels may have been sapped by time, but her mind is sharp and clear.

Battery Hen

Helen told me quietly that since Henry died her will to live is faltering. “I hoped death would come easy,” she confided, “but it hasn’t!”  

There’s no real conversation in the home to stimulate her apart from workaday chit chat with Romanian carers. Someone told her “mobile phones don’t work in your room” and she accepted that as fact. Mine worked perfectly.

Because she’s a member of the church reticent, she never complains. Grey gloom hovers like a shroud.  

Government legislation allowed homes to gold-plate lockdown rules and in so doing they made darn sure that even the great escapist Houdini would be stymied. Walking up and down stairs is risky – as is doing most things – so why allow risk? Homes operate in our litigious society, and they are afraid of being sued by vengeful and greedy relatives. It’s in their interest to say as to a dog, “Sit!” – and Helen does just that.  

Helen hasn’t been on an outing for over a year. In the distant past, she used to climb in the Welsh mountains. Today her legs have atrophied and she can only just stagger to the loo. I guess the home is doing the best it can by keeping her like a battery hen on £5,000 per month until her savings are finally pecked dry. But what then? Best not to ask.

Helen might just as well be in any nick’s hospital wing and chained to a bed. Same ghastly result but at least the nick’s free. Now here’s a thought for the future… announce you are an arsonist and boom! Broadmoor hospital wing, here we come!

“Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Best Before

I knew Clement Freud – Clay to his friends – when we were in parliament together. Did I like him? Well like is the wrong word for he was possibly an abuser, and I could see that he had something of the night about him. His humour was original, lethal, quite cruel – and relentless. When Scots-born Teddy Taylor with a broad accent was bussed in for election in Southend, Freud arranged for him to be followed by an interpreter.

Clay’s constituency included “Bury St Edmunds”. He couldn’t resist a campaign with the slogan, “Dig up St Edmunds”. When someone once suggested, “Let’s run upstairs and make love,” his repost was, “Only one of those suggestions is possible at the same time.”

His advice to the elderly who were worried about their mental health was this: “If you go into the kitchen and you can’t remember what for, don’t worry for we all do that. But if you go into the kitchen and you can’t remember what the kitchen is for, then you have a problem.” And his helpful advice to new authors? “Any fool can write a book, but it takes a genius to sell one!”

When I last lunched with him in his Marylebone flat, Clay showed me his great uncle’s election poster in a US senatorial campaign. “Bring back slavery!” it read – I think it was from 1863, in Alabama. “And he nearly won!” chortled Clay.

A while back I visited Burford Priory where Clay is buried. The gravestone reads, “Sir Clement Freud, 15 April 2009, and underneath: “Best before”.

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