For the first time in seven months, I have made it out of Buckinghamshire… I exaggerate slightly for effect, we did make it all the way to Northamptonshire for a massive lump of meat with sister/brother-in-law Carolyn and Andrew some time in the summer. But this was my, and Otto’s, first night away from home since before the official lockdown in early March – Fo and Ava-Jane had been galavanting in the Big Smoke when AJ had her heart op.
We had a booking for a cottage in Cornwall in the summer that we were supposed to be holidaying in with some dear, dear friends in August but we had to cancel. Fo was determined that we should try to take it up, even if it was only going to be for four days and just us. She knew that a change of scenery, even if it wasn’t a change of cast, would do us all a power of good. Otto and I, being the slouchers that we are, thought it all sounded like a bit of a hassle. But, as she so often is, Fo was absolutely right. He wouldn’t admit it, but Otto really enjoyed being away from the X-Box for a few days, he even committed that most dread sin in a teenager and showed enthusiasm. He was gripped by Tintagel Castle and wanted to see it from all angles – he dragged his mother down to a sea cave and made me scurry up a very steep hill… I just wanted to get back to watch the rugby (Scotland won their match – yay! England won the championship – boo!)
At one point I changed the the title of this blog to “The Baxters Go East” for our monumental road trip to Budapest and back to Buckinghamshire. This road trip seemed to reflect the reduced horizons of 2020 when compared to 2013. Back then we drove carelessly through Europe snapping the signs on the borders of all the countries we blithely passed through, this time we had to get excited by county signs.
Our image gallery of signposts for this trip is somewhat less glamorous than the 2013 version, as you can see below:
But still we made the most of things and turned it into a proper road trip. I even managed to put together the playlist I created way back when; you can read all about it in this blog post. And if you really want to, you can listen to it here (I am listening to it now):
We were hoping to make a small detour to see my old mate Ed and family in Somerset on the way down but decided that we needed to keep safe so sadly had to keep our foot down and fly by.
Getting all Ava-Jane’s kit together, even for just three nights away, is quite an undertaking – all the meds, nappies, wipes, the feed pump, the feeds for the feed pump, the tubes for the feeds for the feed pump and now all the accoutrements of the Keto diet… so inevitably we forgot something. This time it was the Cal0gen. She has to have this fat supplement for her diet to make sure she is not going to lose weight. As we are newbies to the diet we panicked a bit – there are natural alternatives, including clotted cream. Being in Cornwall, this would have been a good option but we might not have passed smoothly through her feed pump tube. I got on to the excellent Daisy Garland Facebook site and asked what to do and a lovely person popped up to say that she lived in Cornwall and had a load of bottles that she didn’t need. And the next day we found ourselves in the car park of an agricultural supplier to get our supplies – we gave them a bottle of wine in return and the whole thing had the air of a surreptitious drug deal, which was quite fun.
And as it turned out, we were lucky to make it out and make hay while the sun shone, though the sun didn’t shine very much if the truth be told even if we did avoid the gale force winds and non-stop rain that had been predicted.
Because it looks like this was the last weekend that any of us will be going anywhere as LOCKDOWN 2 (all caps) is upon us. Who saw that coming? Well, OK, pretty much anyone could see that coming from a mile off, except for our elected leaders, of course. Dear old Boris, will he never learn? You’d have thought that he might learn to be wary of becoming a hostage to fortune at some point. After all the claptrap he spouted about how marvellous Brexit would be during the Referendum campaign that turned out to be complete tosh. After telling us that he had “an oven ready” deal, less than a year ago, that was at best a half-baked turkey, you’d think he’d be careful about making promises that he had no means of guaranteeing, but no, he persists in digging himself ever deeper into holes.
We are, of course, living in unprecedented times but some things do have precedents, like half-term school holidays, for e.g.. Even back in the Palaeolithic age when I was at school we had half-term holidays. So we all knew that half-term was going to roll around some time towards the end of October, just as it always has. So firstly this meant that the kids on free school meals that needed feeding over the summer holidays were going to need feeding again at half term, and, spoiler alert, they are going to need feeding over the Christmas too (Boris, me old matey, that’ll be two weeks round about December 25th). So how the hell did they get blindsided by Marcus Rashford, MBE? Does no one in the governmental set up have the political chops to think that just maybe it would be a better look to be siding with the concept of feeding poor children and standing by the young footballer that you have just decorated with an MBE for feeding children? Doh!
And given that we know that half term is a thing and the scientists were telling the government that some sort of national lockdown was pretty much inevitable, how about making that lockdown coincide with the time that kids would be at home, in the bosom of their family? You could have had a proper, two-week lockdown that included schools, which might have been effective. But no, because this is what the leader of the opposition proposed, Johnson had to oppose it. So what we are going to end up with is a month-long lockdown, which Michael Gove, the brains of the operation (😯 😟 🥺 😢) has already conceded might be a lot longer, and it will not include schools, colleges and universities, and so is unlikely to work. Double doh!
And the worst of it is that this lot are supposed to be the Machiavellians! Being sneaky buggers is what they are supposed to be good at. Poor old Niccolò would be turning in his grave at their ineptness.
If you have got this far, I will tell you a thing… it looks like the Keto diet is having an effect, of course, I am not getting my hopes up but AJ is hitting those ketone readings consistently and she has not had as many seizures as she is wont to have. She might not have enjoyed being sand blasted on a Cornish beach as much as the rest of us but she has been on very fine form throughout.
There is a great song song by Half Man Half Biscuit (sic Martin Beevers) that says that there is nothing better in life that writing on the sole of your slipper with a biro, but actually, there is nothing finer in life than cuddling Ava-Jane, be it in Buckinghamshire or Cornwall.
Nonny was a bit discombobulated by the whole road trip thing but she did have fun on the beach too.
So, we started Ava-Jane on the Keto Diet last week. And that’s a whole new adventure. The diet involves you completely rearranging what you eat to change how your body functions. Given that Ava-Jane gets the vast majority of her food through her stomach tube, it is relatively easy to alter her diet.
We want her to reach a “ketotonic state”, which sounds like what some of my more dedicated raver friends were aiming for but it turns out that this is the point where the body starts burning fat for energy rather than glucose and things begin to change.
Apparently the Keto diet is also just a normal diet, i.e. one designed for weight loss. I know this because buried within my junk mail of emails telling me about unclaimed millions in Nigeria or from “the sexy Russian girl” who had seen my profile pic and thought I looked “hunky”, I got one for the Keto diet, promising to help me get “my bikini body back”. These are the kinds of emails that make me feel that we are still a way away from the kind of micro-targeted advertising we have been hearing so much about in recent documentaries. I mean, I would love to dream that there was even the merest whiff of authenticity about anyone finding a picture of me in which I look hunky but when they can’t even micro target your gender, their algorithms can’t be that scary, can they?
The weight loss variant of the diet is an offshoot and the ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920s to help people with epilepsy reduce their seizures. It helps one in two people a bit but can make 10-15% of people seizure free entirely.
We have received a lovely package from the Daisy Garland foundation with everything from scales to stirring spoons to laminated diet plans branded with the foundation‘s daisy logo. It’s all very cute… and complicated!
There’s lots of measuring and monitoring to be done. We have to prick her finger and test her blood daily, which isn’t very nice. We are testing for the number of ketones she has in her blood before they reach a critical stage and she enters a ketotonic state and the ketones do their thing. Fo has just called out tonight’s reading and she is on 0.2 and we want to get to 2.5.
Yeah… I don’t really understand it but worth a shot. Her seizures have become really bad again. We have to tell ourselves that they are generally bad in winter but it is quite heart-breaking when she spends much of the day slightly out of it. This anecdote might fall into the “too much information” category but the other day Ava-Jane and I had a very big cuddle because she was feeling extremely shaky. She does get less twitchy when we have a big cuddle. But this cuddle must have relaxed her a lot, so much so that she did a big wee all over me. But the thing was, it was such a very good big cuddle that we held it for quite a while even with the wee and everything.
But then you’ll have an evening like this evening when she is absolutely full of it. Generally when I take over after work, she tells me she just wants to watch Peppa Pig (both she and Nonny, the dog, know I am a soft touch, Fo only feeds Nonny to a schedule, whereas I give in to her doggy eyes that say “I have literally never eaten in my whole life”) but this evening AJ wanted a dance. So we twirled round the living room to Maria by Blondie, which, incidentally, was a big hit in Spain as all the boys can croon it to their girlfriends, who are all called Maria.
…then she asked to watch Peppa Pig. But we had a great reading session. We have been mainlining the Mr Men books recently. She has the full collection, a perfect present from her Granny, and she loves getting the whole box of them and to choose the book we are going to read, “Me choose”. This can take a while, she is very opinionated and refuses to follow suggestions.
But this evening I decided that we were going to read A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson. It’s a lovely book based on an old Jewish tale, with the moral of the story that you should enjoy what you have. I used to read it to Otto and do the voices and have read it a lot to AJ, so she knows the words and that’s how I can tell that she really is having a good day, when she is straining everything she has to join in. We’ll get to the main refrain and she’ll shout out “squeeze!” and that’s what she was doing this evening.
…maybe the keto diet is working already… they say to expect to see a difference, if there is going to be one, after about three weeks but things can happen sooner….
hahaha, nah!! I have learnt over the years with AJ not to get my hopes up. The brilliant new med is unlikely to make much of a difference; the wacky Hungarian physiotherapy isn’t going to get her to walk; if it is a problem with her spleen or leukaemia, it’ll be leukaemia; and if she “might need another heart operation but not for another five years at the earliest”, she’ll definitely need the op and it’ll be after five years to the day.
No one will be more delighted than me if the diet does work, but no, a single fun-filled evening does not mean that she is cured!! But let’s hope for the best.
One weeny politics thing… apols!
Did you see that Steve Baker, the Brexiteers Brexiteer, has suggested severing the ties between church and state because the bishops of the Anglican Church have urged the government not to break international law?
That’s quite a thing you have there. That’s the Conservative party, the party of tradition, the party of the rule of law, the party of, well, conservatism, firstly planning to break international, a law that it created and signed, being told off by the Church of England. And then someone suggesting that the Anglican Church should de disestablished because… Brexit.
As it happens disestablishing the Church of England is something that I have long been in favour of – I have never been an antidisestablismentarianist (cool, managed to work one of the longest words in English into a sentence in context! Though apologies for all the negatives to wade through in the sentence above). It’s always seemed rather odd to me that we are one of the few countries in the world, Iran being a notable other, that is partly a theocracy, i.e. a country where the priesthood hold political power. Bishops sit in the House of Lords and our Head of State, currently the Queen, is also the head of the Church of England.
But it is exactly this kind of thing that the Conservative Party should be into. I am a little try-hard radical but pulling apart one of the key pillars of the British Establishment should not be what the Conservative Party is about. But hey, this is the Conservative and Unionist Party that is happy to destroy the Union to deliver the vanity project of its current leadership.
Well, as the song says we are all home again. It has not been entirely problem free… it rarely is. It quickly became apparent that being in hospital was not going to help Ava-Jane whatsoever. She has got an infection, possibly e-coli, and she needs antibiotics but we can administer these at home.
The National Health Service is under pressure and it is noticeable. It definitely felt as though we were there during a hiatus, while the whole service is readying itself for a second wave. Fo and AJ were confined to their room for the whole day today and were not visited by a nurse since the early morning. The doctors’ morning round normally happens when I am just coming round on a camp bed after a groggy night in the early hours. Today they came round at lunchtime.
So we pulled a “Donald Trump” and, like the great man himself, discharged ourselves and brought AJ home.
And it does do her good. She is still pretty out of it but lying in bed in hospital doesn’t help very much. So getting her back, has taken her from this:
By the way, did anyone notice the cloud formation in the photo above? Does it look like Donald Trump, lying in his sickbed, staring upwards and contemplating his many misdeeds and his own mortality? Is it just me? Might I be losing the plot?
Anyhoo, I did promise/threaten that if we got AJ home, I would be regaling you with some politics. This is where Bill scurries to click ‘close’ and Kate tops up her glass.
As I said, the NHS is under pressure. It has coped remarkably well with the first wave of COVID and is gearing itself up for the next. But the NHS was under pressure before COVID ever reared its ugly head and the pressures it was under have not been relieved. We are very plugged into it and can see where it is struggling.
Ava-Jane should have been having two more operations this year. She needs a hip operation and for her temporary gastric tube to be replaced by something more permanent. For both of these we have been told that we shouldn’t expect anything within the next six months. We do not know how much pain she is in from her hip and the gastro doctor has told us to be “very careful” with her tube. But given that she got severe sepsis when it was first inserted, it is a bit troubling that she is going to have an open hole into her tummy for much longer than recommended. We only heard about e-coli this evening and I have no idea where that gets in but, you know…
And to echo my wife on Facebook, we all need to work together to make sure we don’t pile pressure onto the NHS, so that it can operate the way it should. It has a backlog of operations to deal with already and we need to make sure that it doesn’t get worse. So errr, wear a mask, don’t go protesting in Trafalgar Square, be sensible and look after each other. It is kind of up to all of us because (here it comes) this government (wait for it) is fucking (rude!!) incompetent! (and he’s off)
And the very troubling thing about this government is not just that they are incompetent it is that they are unaware of their incompetence, worse still, they think they are geniuses. All they have ever done is win a very dodgy referendum four years ago and this has made them think they know how to run the extremely intricate business of governing a country. To make an analogy close to home. I mended a couple of sections of fence the other day, so Fo proposed to me that I should put up a fence round our whole field, “oh no my darling,” I told her, “you see that was the very limit of my competence. If we need a fence around the whole field, what we need is someone who knows what they are doing.”
But unlike me, and my boundless humility, this lot think they can do anything just because they managed to do, against the odds, that one thing (analogy clarification: the government’s one thing is that they were the Brexiteers who won the referendum, my one thing is knocking a nail into a fence). And because they think their “thinking” was vindicated by the referendum victory and the 2019 election, they think they have been given licence to deposit this thinking onto all parts of the state.
They want to clear the civil service of expertise and experience and replace it with innovation and “blue sky thinking”. They believe that private is always better than state run. And of course, because Brexit was such a great idea, they believe that Great Britain is greater than any nation on Earth. So let’s examine where this gets us, we can see so much about how this government thinks and operates in the way it has dealt, so badly, with the crisis that we are facing.
Exhibit A: Reshaping and renaming Public Health England and putting Dido Harding in charge. Yup, so right in the middle of the worst health crisis we have suffered for generations, they think it is a good idea to shake up the body that oversees health provision and to put it into the hands of one of their chums. A person whose track record includes being the boss of mobile phone company TalkTalk when it was on the receiving end of an enormous data breach and also, as an influential member of the Jockey Club, advocating for the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead in mid March, just as the risks of COVID was more than apparent. Does this sound like the person who should be in charge of the data of COVID???
And anyway, it’s just thinking that any sort of reorganisation is a good idea right now, that seems so baffling. All the staff, even if they are not worrying about their jobs, will probably have to change their email address, passwords, headed notepaper and all kinds of shit which is a major pain in the arse, just when they should all be laser focussed on the whole COVID thing.
One outcome of all of this shake-up is that it will give more control to the Health Secretary. Does anyone think that what we need right now is more Matt Hancock??
Exhibit B: NHS Test and Trace. Have you noticed that they always call it “NHS Test and Trace” with a big emphasis on “NHS” because, we all love the NHS, right? But it isn’t anything of the sort. It is a Serco Test and Trace system, run by a private company, that has a very chequered back story. To prove the point, when they did finally get the app up and running, some months after it had been promised, the app was unable to register tests taken at NHS centres, it only accepted tests run by private operators.
Over the last few days this whole sorry saga has taken a truly farcical turn. It turns out that they have lost thousands of test results. And the reason that they have lost these results is because they fell off the end of a spreadsheet. So you see, this privatised system was attempting to run a database on Microsft Excel. There can’t be many, but there are some people who love Excel… but it is not a database, I am sure we can all agree.
Some people have dug into this and apparently the results were lost because there were not enough columns in the spreadsheet. And this leads us to two conclusions.
That the people who set it up didn’t know about Excel and should have set the data out in rows rather than columns because you could always have an unlimited number of rows, whereas early versions of Excel had a limit on the number of columns you could have, which means that…
They were running a pre 2011 version of Excel because, since that year, the limit to the number of columns has been lifted.
So this private enterprise, hired because private is always better, more efficient and of course, so very cutting edge, was using an outdated version of the wrong software.
Exhibit C: World beating. Johnson always bangs on about how all our pandemic responses have been “world beating” but we don’t want then to be world beating, we just want them to be Corona Virus beating. He was at it again today, in a different context, waffling on about how we would have the greatest wind power generation in the world. I know he thinks he is Churchill reincarnated (spoiler alert: he isn’t) and there was a time when it was truly important that we were better than Germany, when we had a world beating army, for example. But it doesn’t matter at all whether our wind power is better than Germany’s wind power, all that matters is that it generates electricity. And for what it’s worth, it is very unlikely that our wind power generation will ever be good as Germany’s as they are already far ahead, but, yay! Great! Let’s build windmills, well done Boris. (and I do mean that)
Well, this is exciting… I am out and about for the first time since early March. We did have an outing to the safari park but didn’t get out of the vehicle, so that doesn’t count. Otto has been at school for the past few weeks interacting with his mates and teachers (very much in that order). While Fo and Ava-Jane have had their little jaunts to London and Oxford, for me it’s the bright lights and flesh pots of Aylesbury – Stoke Mandeville hospital to be precise. Well at least it gets me out of the house.
It’s the first time that I have had to wear a mask for an extended period and so far so good. I haven’t yet felt the urge to march to Trafalgar Square to defend the rights of all red-blooded Englishmen to cough on whomsoever they wish. I will, of course, update you, should this situation change.
Enough about me… we are here, back at hospital because AJ’s seizures have been really bad over the past few days. We can’t really put our fingers on why this might be. It is probably because she is constipated and when she is under the weather in any way, she gets seizures. It’s pretty horrible because it means that she is constantly out of it. For e.g. right now, she has got Peppa Pig on and can’t really lift her head to watch and if she isn’t engaged with Peppa, that’s a bad sign. But I get to listen to Peppa, at least this episode is one with Brian Blessed in it, so it could be worse. Now it’s “Grandpa Pig’s Train to the Rescue”, one of the absolute classic episodes.
Hmmm… it’s not sounding great. They have now decided that they need to do all sorts of tests. We have had the usual fun of getting a cannula into her arm. She has had so many of these over the years that her veins are hide to find, like a long-term junkie. However much I know it is for the best, I do hate seeing them stick needles into my little girl. We had to go through the rigmarole of listing her various medical conditions… this is rather a long list (see Home page of this blog for bullet points, even if not up to date for 2020… ahhh 2020!) The doctor actually seemed to get bored before I was halfway through and just asked me if she had had a difficult birth, to which I was actually able to answer “No”. Things only got tricky 24 hours later and haven’t really given up since.
I am back home now. Fo has taken over. You are only allowed to have one parent at a time during these conditions. I overheard the medics tutting at someone who “claimed to be Destiny’s dad” and insisted on being on the ward. Apparently Destiny had been eating coins but luckily they thought it was only a 1p coin and possibly a 20p coin so mercifully small. That’s the problem with kids, they don’t know we have a global epidemic on the go and they will carry on doing the stupidest things.
They have conducted all the tests – I even managed to get some clean urine… no small matter! She has been dosed up with antibiotics – the nurse asked us if she had had such and such antibiotic before and Fo and I simultaneously answered “probably”. So we hope for the best and that this episode of seizures is just another inexplicable hiccup amongst many and she will pull round in a few days and be back to her funny old self. It is heartbreaking when she is like this, when she can barely muster a grin and is floppy all over.
And as ever, “Hurrah for the NHS”, we were greeted by the amazing nurse, Sarah, who had seen AJ through the first stage of the sepsis in January, staying way beyond her shift to make sure everything was sorted properly. She, and all the other nurses, seem to have taken what must be an incredibly difficult time in their stride. So, if all goes well, the next post will be telling you all that AJ is back home and on the mend, so I will be able to turn my attention to quite how much this government is to blame for the unnecessary additional pressures that are being put on the NHS and why I wish that Mr Trump makes some sort of a recovery and gets to face the electorate. If that’s what I am blogging about, it will mean that AJ is on the road to recovery.
Oh, and finally, this month is Down’s Syndrome awareness month, so, errr… be aware of Down’s Syndrome people! They are a good bunch generally, with all the warts and all of everyone else and our world is all the richer for their inclusion in it.
By popular acclaim, I am doing a political blog post. Well, I say “popular” and “acclaim”, Immo and Rowena vaguely mentioned that they would want to hear my opinions on the Russian influence on British politics, which I had refrained from airing when I was updating on the far more important issue of Ava-Jane and her recovery to good health. I can happily report that she is still going in the right direction.
We had a very fun going-to-bed session this evening. We rocked some quite nice Goth tunes – Siouxie, The Cure, Iggy as I medicated her. When she is on good form, she really is the most fun person to hang out with and we chuckled a lot getting her to bed.
I wrote the above a couple of weeks ago and the going to bed thing has not changed much. It’s my time with Ava-Jane. We have established a pretty good routine under lockdown conditions, without a carer around, where I start work early and hammer through until just about the point when Fo is about to lose the plot. I then whisk AJ away, so Fo can go on a therapeutic ride or to attempt to eradicate a field full of thistles on a mower, see pic below.
Ava-Jane then watches a bit of Peppa Pig and I read my book, then we have our going to bed session. This involves lots of loud music, last night we had a soft rock, “Leather and Lace” session. I wanted to find her The Rainbow Collective, a collection of beautiful lullabies by a friend of ours, but happened upon Rainbow, the metal band, so we did lots of screeching and air-guitaring as I took her through the evolution of metal from Zeppelin to Deep Purple all the way through the splinter groups like Whitesnake or the above mentioned Rainbow… Sorry, is no one interested in the heavy metal backstory?
We have been able to have a little bit of a social life of late with our friends from Lesbos, my sister and family and Fo’s parents coming over for subsequent weekends.
… we don’t seem to have any pics of Lottie and family….
So… erm but politics it is then.
I have been trying to sit on a big “I told you so”, but I think that now is the moment to pull it out. I did say that Boris Johnson was going to be an absolute disaster and, blimey have I been proven right. The amazing thing is that you can completely put to one side his utterly incompetent handling of what is, admittedly an unprecedented crisis, we have to be fair, and no one did see the whole Covid-19 thing coming. And let’s put to one side all the spin-off incompetencies like the exams fiasco or the inability to and let’s just focus on a couple of things that we could see coming from a mile off, Brexit and Russia.
I am writing this in the week when the British Government, openly, in Parliament, declared that it was planning to break the law. This was not some ancient, arcane law based on a Saxon precedent that prohibited you from laying with your chicken on the second Tuesday of the month. No, this was law that this same government enacted barely a year ago.
You see, our dear Boris, pulled a legerdemain where he was distracting us at Yuletide with his “oven ready deal” that was nothing but an incinerated turkey. When he actually looked at the deal that he had signed his name to, apparently a couple of weeks ago, he realised that it was rubbish. Everyone else, including your faithful blogger, knew it was rubbish. He basically just cut out the complicated bit that was supposed to ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom and prevent Northern Ireland descending into another round of internecine warfare.
And now, just a few months later, he has just come to his senses, thought, “oh Crap!” and decided that the sensible option is to make the United Kingdom look like an international pariah that cannot be trusted to stick to its treaty obligations rather than owning any of this mess himself.
This might get a little too geeky but the hill that Boris Johnson, leader of the Conservative Party, has chosen to die on, one of the main reasons that he cannot agree is a deal is the question of state aid. Boris thinks, well, I say “Boris thinks”, by which of course, I mean “Cummings has told Boris to think” that Britain can become a thrusting new economy if they can pump money into the latest, cutting-edge, disruptive, cool, tech companies.
Now if we cast our minds back to a time long, long ago, there was this bonny fellow called Jeremy Corbyn who was a dreadful old lefty who we could not possibly have anywhere near the levers of power because he would have been a complete disaster. And as the dreadful old lefty that he was he didn’t like the European Union because it was a frightful capitalist cabal that would not let socialists like him aid British companies. Back in the day, Tony Benn, the guiding light of the Corbynistas and a firm opponent of Britain joining the EEC in the 1970s, had also been a big fan of state aid to fund cool, cutting-edge projects like Concorde.
So what we have is the party of Thatcher, who made one of her greatest speeches telling of how Britain was the greatest historical champion of international law, breaking the law so that it can be free to enact Bennite policies that would make Thatcher turn in her grave.
The EU is not letting Boris Johnson and his mastermind, Dominic Cummings be as socialist as they would like to be.
And of course, good children of Thatcher that we are, we do believe that the state should never hand out money to companies, because that would go against the sacred cow of the Free Market (capital “F”, capital, “M”). But this is what Johnson is insisting on. He wants to be more socialist than the EU would let him be… go figure as some might say. Apparently he wants to pump funds into tech companies in the same way that he pumped, errr funds into that blonde, pole dancing “tech entrepreneur”, whom he visited of an evening to learn how to “clear his cookies”.
Speaking of hills to die on, the other hill Johnson is willing to die on is far more fluid, being the sea-based fishing industry. Weirdly, for an island nation, we really do not have much of a gastronomy of the sea. Over here, the only way to eat fish is when it is heavily battered and wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper, the more fused the batter and the paper are, the better.
What I still haven’t satisfactorily heard, after all the years of wrangling and pain, from the Brexit side is the answer to this gapfill activity:
Brexit will be marvellous because___________ .
Johnson wrote a piece in today’s Telegraph which, apart from being a pack of lies, because… obvs, was still saying, “Brexit because Brexit.” He is still unable to provide any benefit of Brexit beyond getting it done. To be fair, he does mention the recent trade deal with Japan, which will mean a whopping 0.07% contribution to GDP.
I will post a picture of the article below. For sad, Boris nerds such as myself, (you know, the kind of people who watch our prime minister closely as he is supposedly the pinnacle of our democracy, so you would want to know how he operates), you’ll appreciate the turn of phrase “Australia-style deal”, the cute thing here is that there is no trade deal between the EU and Australia. But Johnson is chronically unable to deliver bad news, which, incidentally, is one of the reasons he has been such a poor leader in this time of never-ending bad news. So rather than say he is happy to have no deal, he chooses instead to call it an “Australia-style deal”, hey Australia is the land of hoppy rodents and cricket badgers, what’s not to love about Australia. We love Australia so much that we have recruited their misogynist, homophobic, climate change denying, ex-PM to represent us around the world. (update: England beat Australia yesterday in the cricket just as I was typing out this blog post… sliver lining and all that.)
And while we are on the subject of no deal that Johnson is now telling us would be absolutely fine, barely a year ago he was saying that not reaching a deal would be a “failure of statecraft”.
It’s his treaty, one that he told us all was marvellous in all sorts of ways. It was so marvellous, in fact, that no one need look at it too carefully. There are all sorts of videos of the great and the good of Brexit telling everyone to just learn to love the bomb, by bomb, here, I mean Boris’ Brexit deal (apologies, for the Kubrick ref there). So no one looked at the deal, Boris got himself elected on the back of this marvellous deal, it was indeed such a good deal that he signed it into law. And then, lummocks, blow me over with a feather, it turns out to be an absolute turnip of a deal but now it’s law so Johnson has to break the law… his law… his treaty to pretend that he gives a crap about the integrity of the United Kingdom.
And let’s not forget that Boris Johnson and company had already broken the law to push through this treaty that they are now preparing to rubbish when they lied to the Queen to prorogue parliament.
So, enough of that… on to Russia. Where to start? Well, I should probably start with saying that I am no qualified expert and there are probably holes in some of the things I might say. I should probably also come clean with the fact that I am a child of the James Bond movies so I do tend to have a slightly juvenile view of the Russians as “the baddies”… I mean they are “the baddies”, aren’t they? With their long black coats, pasty, unsmiling faces and monotone voices so well attuned to an interrogation. As I say, I am prejudiced by my coming of age threatened by the red menace. But, you know Putin is ex-KGB and rides around half naked, which is about the most “baddie” thing you could possibly do.
But, having got the necessary “fake news” and my own biases caveats out of the way, this is how I read it:
There was this report into Russian meddling into various British elections: Scottish Independence, Brexit, 2017 General Election. Boris Johnson sat on this report to make sure that it was not released before the 2019 General Election. This report was prepared by some sort of security committee and, and this is the best part, Boris Johnson tried to put Chris Grayling in charge of this committee. Now, for my international readership, Chris Grayling is known as “Failing Grayling” because anything he touches immediately falls apart. It is hard to identify a particular lowlight of Grayling’s ministerial career but it is probably when he commissioned a ferry company that had no ferries.
So Johnson, a Prime Minister with a stonking majority should be able to rig a security committee and get his placeman in place. Wrong! Grayling was ambushed by a fellow Conservative who managed to get the committee members from other parties to back him. Grayling was quoted as saying he “did not see that coming”, which, when you think about it is not what you want to hear from a proposed head of our secret services.
The report did come out and it was quite condemning. One of its key conclusions was not that there was any evidence of Russian involvement in the Brexit Referendum or any subsequent election, it was that there was no evidence because no one had looked for evidence. We knew that Russia had interfered in the the Scottish referendum and we knew that Russia was seeking to be involved in elections across the Western world but we did not then do the obvious thing, i.e. to check that the Russians were not getting involved in a number of our elections. You know, because they really probably were and really probably did.
The other big thing to come out of this report is that this country is awash with dubious Russian millions that are more than likely corrupting our political institutions. And lots of this is washing up into the Conservative Party.
Call me paranoid but it does sometimes feel like we are living in a poorly-scripted James Bond movie when the Prime Minister of Great Britain has just ennobled the son of a KGB agent. You could not make up Evgeny Lebvedev, the media mogul, friend of Boris and man of highly trimmed beard. Evgeny, he of the castle in Tuscanny where he throws extravagant parties, that Boris attends, has just been made a lord. Come on… tell me this is not fishy?!
It is quite mad for someone of my generation to think that a British Government, especially a Conservative Government could be implicated in Russian influence in a number of British elections and break international law in less than a year.
I know it is probably not a good thing to say in a time when stereotyping is not well regarded but the Russian are the baddies. They just are, and Putin is the baddiest of all of them! I was brought up on a diet of James Bond movies as well as all sorts of dross where the goodies and the baddies of the Cold War were very clearly delineated, so I know that the Russians are the baddies, so what the hell are we doing letting the Russians manipulate our democratic processes? Back in the eighties, if we had seen Putin on screen, we would have all screamed – “he’s the baddie!”
It just seems to me that the very people who adore Brexit for the paroxysm of patriotism that it represented should be stopped in their tracks when they think that their victory might have been won thanks to Russian intervention and now to make it have any sense at all, its greatest proponent has to break his own laws.
Of course, I know that the ship has sailed. But at some point we will have to stop and take stock of what we have put ourselves through over the past few years. We will have to assess whether it was all worth it and what we have lost through the process. Then, I hope, we can pick ourselves up and realise that, as a country, we are a bit better than this.
If you have read this far, firstly, well done, and this is the update on Ava-Jane. Her hip has really got quite bad, so she needs her op sooner rather than later.
She is going to school though, she has just started secondary school. See below for AJ in her new school uniform. She has only been at school six days this year what with one thing and another and though it scares the crap out of me and knackers the hell out of her, it must do her good to experience the world beyond the confines of our four walls and the four of us.
I am just going to publish and go on this post. I know it is a bit rambling and ordinarily I would revise and organise but I am just going to hit “publish” and go to bed. Apologies!
Ava-Jane and Fo got home last Thursday evening, which is a pretty quick turnaround from open-heart surgery on the Monday. And she even managed to slip in a quick complication because of course she did. I mean when has Ava-Jane ever not had a complication? This time it was the lungs, we haven’t had lungs before, so that’s new.
She was making a really super fast recovery from the op when Fo was taken aside to be told that the membranes in her lung had become detached during surgery. It was not a biggie, we were told, and in 95% of cases, the membranes would heal themselves with a dose of oxygen. I immediately thought, “I bet she’s the 5%”, because from since AJ was in the uterus, she has been on the unlucky side of the percentage chances of things. In fact, she has actually invented her own categories of unlucky statistics, as in no one has ever had the complications that she had from the chemotherapy. But on this occasion, she smashed the stats and did indeed need nothing more than a dose of oxygen and was home within three days. Ordinarily I would want her to be in hospital for as long as possible but with the whole Covid thing going on combined with the fact that it wasn’t me who was having to be in intensive care, masked with no access to water on the ward or even in the accommodation provided, I was very much up for getting Fo and AJ home as soon as possible.
Now, I know that I did a bit of an icky blog post for out 15th Wedding Anniversary just the other day, but I would like to send a shout out for Fo for the being the amazing mother she is. Those days in London in the hospital were not at all easy. Ava-Jane generally thrives in hospitals, she feels very comfortable in a clinical environment, having spent so much of her life in that sort of setting. But with everyone wearing masks, she was apparently very disconcerted because she wasn’t seeing the smiles she always raises. Now Fo doesn’t like public displays of affection – she once scolded me for giving her a kiss in a field of cows – but it is good to record, here in black and white, how much I appreciate her and everything she does for the three of us.
Obviously we do need to be super careful with Ava-Jane now that she is home, bearing in mind what she has been through. What she most needs in rest and recuperation. Hospitals are not restful places and now that she is home, AJ is catching up on her sleep and sleeping for 14+ hrs a night, which must be doing her a lot of good. I spent the first couple of nights sleeping on her floor to make sure she was OK through the night and probably also to atone for my guilt at not being in London with her.
Lifting her is a bit tricky as you can’t pick her up under her arms and we all have to take care not to hug her too hard, which is the natural reaction when you are with AJ – giving her a good hard hug is one of the great joys of this world and she loves it. She has a special hand signal, which basically means “give me a hug.”
She is also extremely constipated, I won’t go into details but I have spent quite a lot of the past three days holding her on the loo.
She is obviously in some pain still and is not dealing with feeding particularly well but is getting back to herself and was hilarious over supper this evening. So hopefully things are going in the right direction and I won’t need to update on the update and something else has gone horrendously wrong.
I wrote a post some years ago about the metaphorical sunflowers. You can read it here. Well we have grown some more sunflowers this year, I think from our dear friend Niamh. Only one sunflower has flourished but this sunflower is also quite metaphorical. Now I am no horticulturalist but I thought sunflowers always turned south towards the sun. But this sunflower has turned north, towards Ava-Jane’s bathroom, as you can see in the picture below. Obviously AJ’s sunshine is a powerful attractive force!
I was going to do a long spiel about Russian interference in the British democratic process with maybe a bit about how its great that we are facing up to China but what a shame it is not because we give a damn about the plight of the Uighurs nor the people of Hong Kong but because we now do the bidding of an unhinged President of the USA. I’ll be back…
So, third time lucky, Ava-Jane’s heart operation did eventually go ahead today. She was first in the queue and went in at about 8.30 this morning. After a six hour wait, Fo could let me and Otto know that it all seemed to have gone well. Those waits are interminable. It was strange with me and Otto here and Fo on her own on the streets of London – she was kicked out of her first night’s accommodation at 10 (slightly exaggerating for effect here – her old friend MC kept her company). Apparently AJ didn’t let either of them sleep well, she probably thought she was having a sleepover party with Mum, so Fo went off to her van for a snooze. She is a lot more chilled than me.
Otto and I went on a long walk. He talked at me about computer games, which at least was some sort of distraction. Then I just pottered around, listening to the cricket (England just won – yay!). “Pottering around” could be interpreted as “pacing”, I suppose, though some cleaning was achieved.
So it was great to hear from Fo that things were OK but then she also said they were going to bring AJ straight out of sedation. So that got me worrying again; she had been under sedation for a couple of days last time she had this op… wasn’t this too soon?!? But over-anxiousness aside, that is probably a very good sign. They probably want to keep people in hospital for as short a time as possible, and that seems like a very wise approach in these times. (Haha, I was just discussing with someone how fun it is when a song you are listening to somehow mirrors what you are doing. At the time I was having a G&T and Billy Joel sang about an old man with his tonic and gin. Just now, I was writing about Covid caution, and Richard Thompson’s Keep your distance came on.)
It will probably be best to get her home as soon as possible, so that we can look after her here. We will have to be super cautious as her ribcage has just been cut open and will need to heal. Lifting her will be very stressful. But then again if you have just had your ribcage cut open, you certainly don’t want to get Covid-19.
It’s great the operation has gone ahead. It was taking it out of me, having to go through all the pre-op/hospital-prep routine. She needed to have a thorough scrub in the bath, which she complained a lot about. She basically thinks that the way I wash her hair is akin to waterboarding and kicks up a massive fuss, which is always quite funny. But then when she gets out of the bath, we have our “after bath cuddle”, which involves wrapping her up in a towel and making sure not a square inch on her is outside the wrapping and cuddling hard. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get her all into a towel as she grows but she is very strict and particular about this being down properly.
Drying her hair is also a bit of challenge as you have to balance her on your knee, while trying to handle the dryer. And a complete nightmare if you are also trying to take a selfie at the same time.
That was a slightly longer update than I had envisaged, but thanks to everyone for prayers, crossed fingers, hopes, thoughts and general good vibes sent for Ava-Jane. It means a lot to know so many people are rooting for her.
So Ava-Jane avoided having to have her heart op on the day of her 11th birthday, when it was originally scheduled, but it is going ahead today, which happens to be the day of our 15th wedding anniversary. It has been quite an action packed few years, what with one thing and another.
It’s now 6 o’clock in the morning and we were up early to pack the girls up for their “adventure” in London. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only one of us can go with her and only one of us can stay with her. And Fo drew the short straw. So that’s why the only moment we had together on this, our wedding anniversary, was a mad dawn rush, trying, unsuccessfully, to get AJ to go to the loo and finding Fo a coffee cup with a lid that she could take in the car. Then a quick peck and off they went.
Luckily, 15 years ago, I married a woman who is made of stern stuff. She gets wobbly at times like this, of course she does, but I cannot think of many people who could deal with all of this the way Fo can. I was in tears as they drove away after some frantic waving and blown kisses from AJ. But Fo just just out the car into gear and off they went (I hope she remembered the A413 is closed… I was supposed to remind her!) It will be very hard for Fo to be alone in London. That wait between the time you give her a last kiss before the anaesthetist does their thing and when you get called back up is interminable and it is always that bit longer than they had originally said, which is excruciating. Though, it might be somewhat more relaxing for Fo not having me by her side, biting my nails and chain smoking.
And so, for Otto and me, the wait begins. He’s asleep… I am fretting. I had vaguely thought that I might be able to work today but as I felt the panic rising yesterday evening, I soon realised that I would be useless at anything that required me to engage my brain and focus. These waits are horrendous. It’s not just the wait while she is in the actual operating theatre, it’s the wait until she comes round again.
She had this self-same heart operation some six years ago. It’s very full on, where they have a heart-lung machine that emulates these organs as the blood is pumped away from her heart, so the surgeons can do their thing. It inevitably comes with risks and complications could arise from the brain being starved of oxygen. They will knock her out for a few days after the op and it’s that time that is also so hard to bear. That time until she comes round again and focuses on you with those big blue eyes and gives you one of her enormous grins that will tell you that she has come through it all. The last time she had this op, mum kept on asking me, “has she smiled at you yet?” Because we both knew that this was the sign that she was going to be OK. Mum isn’t with us this time, but she was there by AJ’s bedside when she came round last time and she got the grin. If there is such a thing as a spirit, Mum’s will be there, by AJ’s bedside, like she so often was.
I didn’t think I would post this blog immediately, I thought I would just jot down some incoherent blathering and then pick up some time later today. But I have probably said enough and I can’t imagine that I will have much more to say until we get some news. I will try to update with this news so that people know how she is getting along.
So, I will spend the rest of the day, pacing around, trying not to hassle Fo too much. Luckily there is a cricket match on today, so I can have that burbling away in my headphones as some sort of distraction.
So good luck to my girls and a happy anniversary to my darling wife. We’ll raise a glass to our happy, helter-skelter years together when you get back and thanks for being you.
This blog post was going to be a slightly gloomy affair, with me tapping away in a fretful state while AJ was undergoing a heart operation in faraway London but the op was postponed. So instead, we decided to take the day off en famille and go to Woburn Safari Park, one of my mum’s favourite places.
Weirdly this chain of events mirrored 2014, when she last had a heart operation. That time we were on the station platform on our way to London when we got the call to say that the op wasn’t going ahead, so Fo, AJ and I went off to Whipsnade Zoo instead. You can read that blog post here. This time Fo and AJ were actually sitting in a waiting room in Great Ormond Street ready for the pre-op blood and Covid tests when Fo got a text message instructing her to call as there was news about the op – the news was that it was postponed!! Given that they were already in London, they did manage to have a good conversation with the surgeon.
Of course spending the day all hanging out together and seeing lots of cool animals was far more preferable than poor AJ going under the knife on her actual birthday. She has had some wonderful birthdays but it was on her 2nd birthday that she showed the signs of what would be diagnosed as leukaemia the next day. So it was good that she could enjoy her day today.
We were lucky enough that a giraffe came right up to our car and Ava-Jane has told us a lot about seeing the giraffe ever since.
The monkeys were fun too and taught us a valuable lesson in Karma. Fo and Otto had been getting impatient with a car ahead of us that was blocking the traffic and hogging the views of the monkeys. They then laughed when a monkey ripped the car’s rear windscreen wiper off. It was only later that we noticed that a monkey had also ripped our rear windscreen wiper off. Our car was also suffering from a dodgy cooling system – for someone reason it could only blast out super-hot air, so we managed to recreate the experience of the African savannah in Bedfordshire as we sweltered in the lion enclosure, unable to open our windows.
We had tried to do our best to make sure that Ava-Jane had some sort of celebration by having a Zoom party last Sunday with lots of her dearest people joining in from around the world. When we got back, our neighbours had put up our social distancing gazebo, so we could share some cake with them. Fo decided that as AJ is 11 now, she could have some Prosecco.
In other news, “the girls”, i.e. Fo, Ava-Jane and Nonny have been campaigning. See the front page from our local newspaper below.
It looks like the people from the Byways quickly realised that they had met their match and they soon opened up our little path. It’s great living in the country and to have so much nature on your doorstep. Nonny and I go off for long walks together. I have built a rudimentary stile over a fence into our friendly neighbouring farmer’s field. From there we can walk along tractor tracks, jump ditches and scramble over more stiles and go for miles. But obviously, with Ava-Jane we cannot do any of this – getting a wheelchair over a stile is a bit of a challenge, to say nothing of jumping ditches. However, Ava-Jane loves taking Nonny for a walk. We got Nonny to be her companion dog. But other than that stretch of footpath when we all go out together, we have to walk along roads that have no pavement. We do make for quite a big target with AJ in her wheelchair and insisting on holding Nonny herself and quite a lot of drivers seem to think that if the speed limit is 60 mph, they should be doing 60 mph whether that speed suits the road conditions or not. We have often had to try to throw Ava-Jane, dragging Nonny along with her, into a ditch to avoid a vehicle hurtling towards us.
I have vague permission from Otto to post a picture of him in the blog, (“for your sister’s birthday blog”), so I am going to take advantage and whack a few in. He has made sure that Ava-Jane has the best possible birthday today – he even put his phone away the whole way round the safari park so he could point the animals out to AJ. And read her, her bedtime story. So here are some pictures of him holding her up and making her laugh in a variety of scenarios.
It’s not late, Ava-Jane is not recovering from massive, invasive surgery far from home, I have posted some cute pics, covered the “Otto is a great brother thing”, which means, I am very sorry to inform you all, that I might have to allow myself a weeny political rant… apologies!
So, Brexit… obvs!
Today is the day that the clock has ticked on the last moment that we could request an extension of the Brexit transition period. This means that come what may we are fully out of the EU on the 31st of December. Now, I know that for some, this is a moment of great jubilation but as things currently stand we have no trade deal with the EU or, for that matter, pretty much any major economy in the world. And whaddaya you know, the deal that Boris Johnson had assured us all was “oven ready” in his election campaigning back in December, turns out to be half-baked, at best. And obviously last December was a different age and the likelihood is that next December will be different again. But regardless of the self-evident fact that we are living through a uniquely disruptive moment, the fanatics that are in charge of this country have decided to plough on with their pet project. That Brexit was going to be disruptive is obvious, in fact the likes of Cummings loved it because of its disruptiveness, as I have said before, they might not look like revolutionaries, but that’s what they are. But they did assure us, over and over again, that we would have a great deal with the EU, this would be easy to negotiate and a win-win for all of us. Well, we have six months to sort that out, we have six months to negotiate the kind of trade deal that normally takes years to resolve. And we are doing it in the middle of a crisis that is not “once in a generation”, it’s “once in a century”. If we do not have a deal in place, our food and medical supplies will have a major spanner thrown into their works, or as per the John Lennon book – A Spaniard in the Works. And we have just seen how quickly that can go awry – remember the supermarket aisles denuded of paper with which to wipe your arse? Remember how there was suddenly no bread flour, not because no one was baking bread but because different people were baking it in different quantities. The whole bread supply went tits up not because people were eating less bread, just that the bread was being made at home and not in bakeries or restaurants.
But, you might ask, what has this got to do with the EU, I make my bread from the finest Canadian Strong White flour… and Canada is not in the EU… duh!
Brexiters have long said that we can secure a Canada-style deal with the EU. The kind of deal that would have allowed you to buy your Canadian Strong White flour at a vaguely reasonable price. The EU-Canada deal took seven years to work out. Britain wants to have a Canada-style deal with the EU but we will not even have a Canada-style deal with Canada.
Because it’s not just a trade deal with the EU we need to work out, it’s with EVERYONE! We are negotiating with Japan, we had a great deal with Japan – as members of the EU, we are negotiating with Australia, Johnson made a big speech about how soon we will be able to buy their slightly crappy chocolate covered biscuits that taste very much like our slightly crappy chocolate biscuits for slightly less than we can buy their slightly crappy chocolate covered biscuits already (Tim-Tams are available on Amazon). We will also be able freely trade our versions of a weird, yeast-based spread for toast that the rest of the world finds repulsive. And, this is hilarious, we will be able to sell boomerangs to Australia. What a jape. Sorry if that all sounded a bit niche – it was, see below for the statesmanlike speech I am referring to.
We are also negotiating a deal with New Zealand. That’s great, I love New Zealand, lovely people, great at rugby but it’s a long way away, and there aren’t that many of them. I would think that we would be better of having a deal with France, 22 miles away, lots more of them and pretty good at rugby too.
Presumably we are negotiating with Canada too and they aren’t even good at rugby.
And, of course, we are negotiating with the United States of America. We are dealing with the USA currently led by a president who wrote a book called “The Art of the Deal”. I have to confess that I have not read this work but say what you like about The Donald, he is presumably a hard bastard when it comes to negotiating deals. He doesn’t some across as much of a win-win kinda guy to me. He will quickly sense the desperation of those across the table from him and make us swallow all kinds of unpalatable atrocities that will devastate the British farming sector and make a mockery of climate protection schemes. He will also, of course, demand concessions that will open up the NHS to private competition, the very NHS that we have been clapping and that has shown the very best of this country during this appalling crisis.
Now if you look back through the annals of this blog, you might find that I might have mentioned somewhere that I had my doubts that Boris Johnson was cut out to be Prime Minister of this fine country. Now I like to be proved right as much as the next man, but oh boy, I wish I had been proved wrong on this one. I do so wish that, having climbed to the very top of the greasy pole, Johnson could have put his past self behind him and risen to the challenge of leading the country. I wish that this serial liar would have realised that, in a moment like this, the truth is a uniquely valuable commodity. I wish that this buffoon could have summoned up an inner seriousness that matched the seriousness of the times that we are in. But, no, sunk to the challenge, he has dug down on the bullshit, he has played the clown. He has clung to his Brexit mania and clung to the man who delivered it, Dominic Cummings, when it is clear that this man’s actions have helped contribute to beaches crammed with people who obviously feel that the precious solidarity that we had found, had been made meaningless if the very people who had devised the rules felt that they were above them.
And we are being led out of lockdown by this man, exhorting us to go to the pubs at 12 noon on Saturday while at the same time asking us to show some common sense. Now, I would love to be in the pub but to be quite honest, if you put me in a pub right now with a load of my mates, I would drink too much, too quickly and before you know it, I would be hugging all and sundry and jostling for yet another pint at the bar. Johnson has banned the playing of village cricket because the ball would be a “vector for disease” but, fuck me, can you think of any greater “vector for disease” than a pubful of British people deprived of a pint for the past four months. It’s going to be Hurry Up Harry, We’re Going Down the Pub (to get ourselves a load of Covid).
So we, as a family, are not paying much attention to Boris Johnson. Sadly, I will not be going down the pub on Saturday, we left our house as a family for the first time since March today. We did something fun within the bubble of our own car, with our own sandwiches, taking great care. I don’t trust Boris Johnson, so we will have to tread our own path through this delicate situation.
Ava-Jane nearly died of sepsis earlier this year, we were “fortunate” that she was ill just before Covid wreaked havoc on the NHS. Her heart op has already been disrupted. Because of Covid, if and when it does go ahead, Fo will have to be by her side alone, we might be “fortunate” again and get her heart op done before a second spike of Covid is upon us. But I do wish that the life of my dear daughter was not just in the hands of fortune. I do wish I didn’t live in a country led by a man who is basically winging it. And I very much wish that I felt a little more confident about the future that awaits AJ as she turns eleven. But:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AVA-JANE, you absolute beauty!
And in the interest of uncovering fake news wherever we see it, I will include a picture of behind the scenes of the “Ava-Jane sitting on a horse” shot.