Have you ever trapped your finger in a door frame? I hadn’t until we were in holiday in Suffolk this August. I don’t recommend trying it, because it hurts like hell. And all because I was careless and not looking at what I was doing.

I well remember losing a toenail 40 years ago. You bleed for a few minutes and the pain goes away after a few days, but when you look at that damaged nail you know that it is going to take a long time for a new one to grow back. Certainly some months.

I realised that I would not be able to play the guitar for a while.

The nation let out a sigh of relief

I thought I had broken the index finger on my left hand (which is not ideal – especially if you already have arthritis). But I hadn’t, which was nice. And so One for the Wall was able to meet for a second time this year with a full complement, plus drummer. It is ridiculous; most bands, if they are at all serious about it, rehearse at least once a week. Somehow we managed to record six songs over the weekend and, thanks to the internet and digital technology, we are now some way towards knocking out the notoriously Difficult Second Album.

Here’s one of our efforts, as recorded on the second take.

“Broadleaf Summer”, October studio version

Although we meet (when we do meet) in Cumnor just west of Oxford, I rarely see much of the city. After spending eight hours in the studio none of us has a great deal of energy to spare and we usually stay in and order a takeaway. But on this occasion I’d thought to ask my former tutor and supervisor if he were available for a pint or two. We had planned to meet last February, before Covid-19 put a stop to all socialising. Our last meeting was in the King’s Arms in 2005; I can’t even remember the time before that, but it was before I abandoned Oxford for London in June 1984.

We met at The Plough in Wolvercote

John Rutherford, distinguished Hispanist, translator of Cervantes and Alas for Penguin Books, and novelist (in Galician!) is long retired – but at 80 he is only 14 years older than me. When he interviewed me for a place at Queen’s he was only 31, and when I was a 25-year-old post-grad student of Spanish literature he was not yet 40. I have much to thank him for: for example, he once gave me a lift in his 504 Estate from Oxford to Ribadeo in Galicia, where I stayed for a few days with his in-laws before moving on to Corunna, That is quite some lift: a long drive to Plymouth to pick up the ferry to Santander, then a considerable way along the northern coast towards Portugal. I mentioned his kindness but he could not recall it. “I’m not in the habit of giving my students a lift to Spain”, he said. I am honoured.

As a student, naturally you will have only a few teachers, but over his or her career a teacher may have many hundreds of students – so you have no right to expect to be remembered as special. After the first pint of Tribute I presented him with the OftW CD, to which he later responded in an email: “I’ve never liked pop music. But this is quite different, with its fascinating complexity of harmony and melody, and words that are written to be listened to and enjoyed.”

I apologised for not being a better student. He replied to the effect that I had nothing to apologise for.

A nice man, and a great influence on me

***

I have hardly been at home this month. Almost as soon as I got back from Oxford Anne and I went off to the Lake District, where we had the rare pleasure of seeing Lake Windermere bathed in bright sunshine. A veritable picture postcard.

Lake Windermere from Waterhead

Whatever weather the Lake District throws at you, you know that, sooner or later, you will get a soaking.

Of course the sunshine could not, and did not, last

After three nights at the excellent YHA we moved on to the Wirral to visit my parents. The Marine Lake at West Kirby cannot compare with England’s biggest body of fresh water, but on a good day it’s not a bad view across to Wales.

Marine Lake at West Kirby, Wirral with attendant redshanks

Back to London once more, to see the scaffolding at the back of the house come down (hooray) and hoover up the piles of dust, then off for lunch with friends in Kent, taking in Penshurst Place along the way.

Penshurst Place is still owned and lived in by the Sidney family

***

The following Tuesday I took a train to Norwich

One of the best things about being a language student is the opportunity to live abroad for a while. Not only does it improve your knowledge of the language but it is an unforgettable experience. To spend nine months in Spain at the tender age of 20, even in the Francoist 1970s, was like winning the jackpot. I was fortunate, as I’ve described before, to have been allocated a school in León, a pleasant town of middling size where they speak good Castilian, rather than Catalan or Galician.

There were few British ex-pats in the town and we formed a strong social group. Bernard and Sally were two of my closest friends. In the last 30 years we’ve only met once, because they’ve been working in the Middle East. Now they have moved back to Norfolk we have the opportunity, at last, to talk about our time in Spain. Bernard was the only one who regularly took photographs, some of which I had never seen before.

Bernard and Sally’s flat in León: blogger, centre; on his right, one-time girlfriend, the lovely Teresa (1976)

As well as jabbering about our time in León, we talked about their many years in Oman. Bernard commented that hardly anyone bothered to use their traffic indicators when driving. The reason? Using them was seen as a sign of weakness. I laughed and shook my head. Then I realised why many people don’t wear masks on public transport (and I have noticed that a large minority of Londoners do not): they regard it as a sign of weakness. Bizarre, but maybe that is how their confused minds work.

Covid cases are rising steeply once more, with an estimated one million people infected, and yet the government is loth to do anything that might indicate that we have a serious problem. As when driving, if other people are going to act irresponsibly you have to take even better care of yourself. I’ve just had my booster jab (my “Bertie Wooster”, as Londoners might say) and I will continue to shun the Tube and wear a mask when in the company of people I don’t know.

Our gallivanting is not yet done, at least I hope not. We plan to go to Paris next month and I shall be mightily peeved if anything happens to put the mockers on that.

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