31 December, 2001 INDEX
Jonathan (Jo) Brind,
519 Lea Bridge Road,
London E10 7EB
Phone 020 8558 5527/ fax 020 8932 0243
email j@brind.co.uk

The end of 2001 finds me in a creative frenzy, with far too much to do and far too many opportunities. I have what I believe is a really good idea for a book, and I know which publisher would want to publish it, but I haven't had time to write the letter. An editor phoned me up the other day and asked me to produce crosswords for him (I compile crosswords sometimes). And there are other possibilities. Suddenly, as the economy goes into recession, I go into over drive! Very strange.

It is hard to remember what it was like just 12 months ago. January 2000 was such a memorable month that it was difficult to forget. In January 2001 we settled down and just became more comfortable, or more comfortable than I had become accustomed to.

Last year Charlie the cat with FIV, the feline equivalent of aids, had run away and we wondered if we would ever see him again. He reappeared, sitting almost completely out of reach on an outside window sill. I managed to coax him close enough to grab him by the neck and pull him in the window. Very ungainly. Since then Charlie has become a real house cat. He's now almost fearful about going out and seems to be terrified of the noise of the traffic in the main road outside our house. Charlie is comfortable with us and we are comfortable with him. For a while we experimented with cat walking. This consists of putting a cat collar on Charlie and taking him to a public open space. Charlie then decides whether or not he wants to move. We have no say in the matter. Sometimes, rarely, he moves very fast indeed. Usually he slopes around bushes, attempting to get the lead trapped so he can escape. Cat walking can be very cold and very boring. Cats don't seem to be bothered by the cold and have a very high boredom threshold indeed! But Charlie is good at catching mice, one of the reasons we got him in the first place. The people in the flat above have a strange sticky device that catches mice attempting to enter their door. Charlie recently found a mouse stuck to this, grabbed it and brought it into our flat! He then let it go, playing with it for several minutes until he ate it. We didn't get Charlie to bring mice into the flat, but it's good to see he has the right instincts.

In March the film club Katy and I set up, McGuffin's, showed its first film. It was Satyajit Ray's The Adversary. I was selling tickets so I got into the film late and was horrified to hear everyone on the film speaking in English. We had agreed that we would only show Indian films. There was a covenant on the cinema preventing the showing of anything but Indian films. Fortunately, the English didn't last long, but it worried me. This was not the last time we had problems with languages at McGuffin's. But that month the Odeon group decided it didn't want to be the bad boy in the local newspapers any more. It made a deal with the cinema owner, lifting the covenant. Ever since we have been receiving praise for saving the local cinema, allowing it to show English films. We have seen several films there, notably The Dish, Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone and Lord of the Rings. Getting rid of the covenant was quite an achievement. However, all did not go well with McGuffin's. We didn't find a way to book good quality film prints. We couldn't even manage to get foreign language prints when they were ordered. It's a lot harder to run a film society than it looks. In the end the committee of the society was taken over by a small clique more interested in pub quizzes and vintage television than quality foreign language films. I wish them good luck but I don't hold out much hope that they will succeed.

Thanks to Katy, who knows how to manage the system, I was offered the chance to have a hernia operation on March 26. This was my first major encounter with the NHS since I was a teenager and had a motorcycle crash. It was an extraordinary experience, surreal even. The ward itself was filthy, you certainly wouldn't have wanted to allow any ill people to be there. Whenever one of the staff told you anything it probably wouldn't happen. Yet customer services came round and filled out a satisfaction questionnaire. I would have been a lot more satisfied had they spent more money on cleaning (or supervising the cleaning) and less on customer services. I also had to endure Sunday night in hospital simply because some bureaucrat wanted to ensure that the bed would be available for me after the operation on Monday afternoon. I didn't need to be there but the system didn't want to risk the bed getting filled since that would mean the operating theatre couldn't be used. So long as the bed was occupied it couldn't be taken away!

That said, the operation was a complete success. I now have a surprisingly small scar. The NHS does work, if only just. There is no fat on the bone. Like everything else these days it is running on empty: minimum wages and minimum investment. It was not supposed to be like this. As society got richer (thanks to technological advances) the NHS was supposed to get better. It does get better (again thanks to those technological advances) in some respects, but the basic things like nursing, cleaning and the fabric of the buildings are run on a shoe string.

In June Katy and I (madly) decided to go to Marseilles, basically for the weekend. We got the boat across from Dover to Calais and then took a train to Lille. From there we took the sleeper (a mistake) to Marseilles, staying two nights and then returning on the TGV (high speed train) to Paris. This is what we came for. It had only started running a few days earlier and offered trains at 300km/h plus. In the event the trains proved to be boringly stable and reliable. They got us to Paris very fast but were about as exciting or atmospheric as a station waiting room. At top speed you hardly seem to be moving at all. The trains also run more or less on time. If anyone ever tells you it's impossible to run a railway these days, tell them to take the ride from Marseilles to Paris. We had about four days on holiday, spending two nights in Marseilles, a beautiful town: strangely cheap. We had heard Marseilles was a dirty, dangerous, industrial town.    It may have been once, but these days it is wonderful. I can thoroughly recommend it.

In June an old friend, Bill Rose, died. He would have received a copy of this round robin if he had still been about. Bill was a truculent, son of a gypsy, with an Irish accent that made him almost impossible to understand until you tuned into his speech pattern. He was about 75 and had played major roles in the anti Vietnam war campaign and the unemployment movement. Once you understood what he was saying you realised that he had a brilliant mind and spoke a rich and sophisticated English.

On July 11 I went to Laura's graduation. I could have been in Switzerland, all expenses paid, but I opted to go to Portsmouth instead.    I was very proud of the fact that Laura got a B.Sc. 2:1 in biology, but it has to be admitted that the graduation ceremony is a bit boring. Laura has just got herself a job working in the police scientific service, basically finding DNA on evidence. She's starting at £15K and has high hopes of rapid promotion. It sounds like a great career.

In August Katy had a birthday party. Sorry if you didn't get an invite, an oversight. An awful lot of people did come, particularly for the bat walk. I bought Katy a bat detector for her birthday so we took it down to Whipps Cross to see if we could find some bats. We could hear some but not see them. It was a disappointing night. We have seen a lot more bats at Whipps Cross on other nights.

In September I went to Vinopolis and learnt some of the basics of wine tasting. I'm afraid I will never be a wine taster. I find it hard to take the whole thing seriously, but even I came away believing there was more to wine than I had thought before.

In November we went to Australia for three weeks. It's a long way. Too far to go for three weeks. Australia is a beautiful, unexpected place. I'd probably like to go back there, but only if I had six months to spare. I've put many of my photos onto a cd and will send it out to anyone who's interested. If I don't send you a copy and you'd like one just drop me a line.

I didn't get a pay rise in 2001 but I'm coming increasingly to the conclusion that the answer for me is to have a variety of small incomes, in addition to the pay I get from editing a business to business magazine. Certainly the crosswords are going to help in 2002. In 2001 I probably spent more than I earned and I am far from certain that the flat, my only real asset, increased in value. At least I'm not in debt. Not yet! But Arthur has another two years at university and I continue to make significant contributions towards his living costs.

I'm older, not very much wiser but happier. Looking forward to the longer evenings of the spring. Love,
31 December, 2001INDEX Jonathan Brind