A birthday surprise for Dido

a PICTORIAL celebration of my WIFE DIDO’S sixtieth birthday*

2020 is a particularly auspicious year for my wife Dido and I, for, not only do we both turn 60 this year, on New Year’s Eve we will have been married for 30 years. As a rule, we don’t pay too much attention to birthdays or anniversaries, but for this rare accretion of events we had for once made some serious celebratory plans. However, Covid-19 has meant that both main birthday plans have been (in my case), and will be (in Dido’s case) put on hold for the duration, to possibly both be enjoyed together with our anniversary – a kind of 150 year grand party.

In the meantime I didn’t feel I could let Dido’s big day pass without some kind of surprise acknowledgement of the 32 of those 60 years I have been privileged to share with her. So, with apologies to any strangers happening upon this site, I am dedicating this post to a series of highly distinctive picture impressions of my remarkable life companion and love…

When I met Dido I got two beautiful female companions for the price of one, as she came together with her fabulous Maremma Sheepdog, Aura
Waiting for laundry to dry on our first trip away together – a modest skiing excursion to Les Deux Alpes
December 31st 1989; our first evening of wedded bliss – understandably, the happiest of my life, albeit from the little I can remember of it…

Working with the orphaned and abandoned boys at a “hogar” in Santiago, from our first trip as a married couple to Chile in 1991…
Dido relaxing by the pool of our hotel in L’Hospitalet de l’Infant on a 1992 trip which was to prove to be the beginning of half-a-lifetime’s involvement with Spain…
My sleeping beauty just after we’d moved into our new home in southern Spain in 1993. We slept on the floor of the half-ruined cottage for the several months it took us to find a builder prepared, and sufficiently competent to build our house
After being forced to abandon our original plan of permanently settling in Spain, we spent several years driving to-and-from Boulogne-sur-mere, and then later to England. This picture dates from about 1994/5, during a one-night stay at the-then faded-but-pleasant Chateau Rosay in Normandy, and captures our mood at the time, perfectly…
During that transitory period, whenever we had the money, and needed an emotional pick-me-up, we would stop in Montreuil for a comfortable night and a good meal. This photo, from about 1994, would have been on a pre-supper stroll through the pretty old citadel section of the town, with Dido looking suitably enchanting…
Despite not being able to live full time in our Spanish home, we have always managed to find the time for several visits a year, including a long one at the end of the summer for the grape harvest. This dates from about 1998/99 during just such a visit, and illustrates perfectly why Dido finds our finca to be the perfect place to recharge her mental and emotional batteries…

We always tread our grapes in the old way, as here in about 2000. I think that’s a tequila and lime helping Dido’s treading rhythm
After we settled back in London and Dido’s career took off, we got to travel all over the world for her work. Between the conferences and meetings there was always plenty of time to explore and have fun, such as here in Melbourne, in 2008, at the top of the Eureka Tower…
Apart from London and in Oxford, Dido has held academic posts in Israel and Sweden. This dates from 2011, when her time at Tel Aviv University gave her plenty of opportunity to indulge her passion for wild-water swimming. Here she’s enjoying a post-swim beer at the beech-side bar near our apartment in Netanya…

This is photo is particular favourite of mine, although I don’t believe Dido has ever seen it. I think she looks suitably stylish for our brief 2016 stop in Venice…
Finally, Dido doing what she enjoys most – some of the time…working.

* Header photo shows Dido approaching the Great Crater during a drive through the Negev Dessert in 2011


…and the bitterness of life without hand-drawn bitter

The “lock-down” started to really get to me about a week ago. It actually hit quite suddenly, as we stepped out on a balmy April evening for our “permitted” once-daily ration of exercise, and I had an overwhelming desire to walk down into the centre of Oxford, to The Bear Inn for a pint of beer. It was the impossibility of enjoying that simplest, most basic of pleasures which hurt in a way more serious deprivations had failed to register.

Sure, I miss things like travelling, and meeting up with friends, and I miss terribly our Spanish finca. Yet, none of these “misses”, and many more “misses” besides brought home the severity of the restrictive regulations than not being able to go for pint on a whim.

One of the persistent observations made of current British public opinion, justly or not, is that it reveals a country that has become timid and which is governed by fear. Some observers have remarked how the recent Victory in Europe Day commemorations, rather than jolt our collective backbone, merely resulted in a mass national wallowing in sentimental nostalgia. And in the midst of all of this, as I struggle to make up my own mind about the accuracy of these opinions, my craving for a hand-drawn pint of bitter reminded me of a little poem I learned at school. The poem, “Strong Beer”, by Robert Graves is particularly apposite to my current condition, for not only does it imply a link between courage, and lovers of good ale, but also the fact that it was written when he was a student at Oxford, and was perhaps inspired by a session at the same “beerhouse” I so longed to visit the other evening. The poem could have been written for this very crisis.

In all seriousness, I do believe, that the prompt reopening of our pubs and taverns is essential for the intellectual and physical health of the nation. One only has to consider the many great advances in the arts and in the sciences which were achieved with the help of a refreshing pint or two in the pubs of places like Oxford (e.g. King James Bible – at The Bear), Cambridge (e.g. DNA at The Eagle) and London (e.g. Penicillin at the Fountains Abbey), to appreciate the urgency of restoring hand-drawn ale to the national palette ASAP. Judging by his poem, if Robert Graves were still alive, he would agree most strongly…

A pint of HSB (Horndean Special Bitter – by George Gale and Company) – possibly the very “brown beer” of the poem? A masterpiece of a beer in any event, on a table at The Bear Inn.


A poem by Robert Graves

“What do you think
The bravest drink
Under the sky?”
“Strong beer,” said I.

“There’s a place for everything,
Everything, anything,
There’s a place for everything
Where it ought to be:
For a chicken, the hen’s wing;
For poison, the bee’s sting;
For almond-blossom, Spring;
A beerhouse for me.”

“There’s a prize for every one
Every one, any one,
There’s a prize for every one,
Whoever he may be:
Crags for the mountaineer,
Flags for the Fusilier,
For English poets, beer!
Strong beer for me!”

“Tell us, now, how and when
We may find the bravest men?”
“A sure test, an easy test:
Those that drink beer are the best,
Brown beer strongly brewed,
English drink and English food.”

Oh, never choose as Gideon chose
By the cold well, but rather those
Who look on beer when it is brown,
Smack their lips and gulp it down.
Leave the lads who tamely drink
With Gideon by the water brink,
But search the benches of the Plough,
The Tun, the Sun, the Spotted Cow,
For jolly rascal lads who pray,
Pewter in hand, at close of day,
“Teach me to live that I may fear
The grave as little as my beer.”
Beer pumps at The Bear Inn – Oxford’s oldest pub, dating back to 1242. It’s a tiny warren of a place with a subsequently small, but high quality selection of beers, including the superlative HSB. Long since the days when Graves would have drunk here, The Bear was taken over by the London brewers, Fuller’s, and hence, this selection on offer. No bad thing though, as all of Fuller’s beers are extremely good, with their very strong ESB almost as delicious as its Gales neighbour.