Well now, that was interesting… #NHS

Getting carted off to hospital in an ambulance at 4am, doubled-over with acute abdominal cramps that just won’t go away; not the best start to the week.

I’ve had a stressful year, upturned – the untimely death of a parent does that. So when stomach problems started to surface a few months ago, that’s what I put it down to – stress. I’ve had several instances of crampy discomfort, one or two much worse episodes more recently. And then there was Sunday. Sunday was off-the-scale. I’ll spare you the details, but the upshot, after several increasingly painful and vile hours, was this: A call to NHS111 when I could stand the pain no more and was thinking I might be having an actual heart attack; the despatch of an ambulance; a day in a chaotic and overwhelmed A&E; nil-by-mouth; the extraction of blood – lots of it; X-rays and ultrasound; people prodding and poking (I hope they were doctors); a further day on a ward operating beyond its remit; industrial quantities of antibiotic and painkillers on drip; thence to be packed off home with instructions to avoid overly fatty meals and attend a clinic next Monday to see what comes next.

Unbeknown to me, over recent weeks, I’d developed an inflamed gallbladder and a ‘deranged’ liver, courtesy of some errant gallstones, one of which kicked off the latest, greatest episode of vileness and agony. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t pretty at all.

That’s more detail than anyone would want, so I’ll leave the rest of this miserable experience to your imagination. Save to say a word or two about the extraordinary situation in my local hospital (that’s Hillingdon Hospital in West London, but it could just as well have been any hospital, anywhere in the country), and the equally extraordinary professionals who are doing their very, very best in utterly over-stretched conditions.

I have a lot of time for the NHS – it has served my family well over the years and is a good and positive thing,  whatever Donald Trump might think. The UK is a much, much better place for the NHS. But this venerable institution is in trouble, thanks to a decade of austerity (from the financial crisis, which was kicked off by the USA’s sub-prime loans catastrophe).  A decade of under-funding has left the armies of dedicated and committed professionals across the NHS fire-fighting, horse-trading, and doing everything in their power to deliver care in totally and utterly strained circumstances, day after day, night after night.  And do you know what? All except for one sullen nurse, every single person I met in the last few days at Hillingdon Hospital, was doing it with a smile and good cheer. And I imagine it’s much the same in every hospital and clinic across the country – because that’s the kind of people they are.

They raced around, chasing down scarce equipment. They juggled cubicles, tended to people on beds in corridors and chairs all over the place. When they needed more beds they ‘flexed’ a day ward into service, forcing them to cancel who knows how many minor operations in the process. If the odd minor thing fell through the cracks, they stayed on top of what mattered.  And they kept going, through twelve hour shifts and acres of… carnage.

It’s a crime that the NHS has been expected to operate under such conditions.  And now that we’re getting the small hints that ‘austerity’ might be coming to an end, the very, very first priority of the Government must be to pump money into its veins and jump-start its exhausted heart before it expires altogether. The country deserves it, but more than that, those hundreds of thousands of extraordinary professionals – nurses, doctors, consultants, radiologists, anaesthetists, orderlies, porters, paramedics and everyone else, yes, even the administrators and managers – deserve it.


Ben Enwonwu #UnexpectedDiscovery

Ben Enwonwu’s Tutu (1974). Photograph: Ben Enwonwu / Bonhams Press Office

It’s an extraordinary experience, filtering through my mother’s personal archive. Many times, it has elicited a ‘what the…’ response from me. Why did she collect this or that?… What was she thinking of, when she put this or that at the back of a cupboard?…  How did she…?  Who was that…? What on earth is… this or that? If you’ve ever cleared-down the accumulation of a busy and engaged life, which, it’s fair to say, held the odd secret, you might relate to these feelings.

But every now and again, something rises to the surface which makes me stop and properly ponder.

Yesterday, I was listening to the BBC London News. There was a short piece on the recent discovery of a ‘lost’ artwork of considerable value, by the now renowned Nigerian artist and sculptor, Ben Enwonwu. It was fascinating, as this artwork had been gracing the walls of an apparently ‘ordinary’ North London flat for several years. You can read about its discovery, and the forthcoming auction here. The painting, dating from 1974, is of the Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi, known as Tutu.

What stuck out for me, was the artist’s name. You see, I recognised it. Not from being a connoisseur of art of any kind – I’m not!  I’d come across this name very recently. It took me a few minutes to locate what I was looking for amongst my mother’s profusion of paperwork and correspondence – the stuff she never threw away; an airmail envelope, containing three letters, two handwritten, one typed, along with a clipping from a newspaper. The sender of the letters – one Ben Enwonwu.

The two handwritten notes date from 1970, and it seems that Ben Enwonwu had noticed someone in a restaurant in London, who he believed to be my mother. He was not certain it was her, as it had apparently been some years since they were friends, and she was with a man he assumed to be her husband. So he had not approached her. He commented that she looked just the same as when he’d known her – an observation which would undoubtedly have delighted her. As he had only her maiden name and father’s address, to which he subsequently wrote, I assume their original acquaintance must have been prior to 1956.  My mother had apparently replied, and at some point had sent Ben a book relating to house purchase.  Whatever else happened between those two 1970 letters, and indeed after that, remains a mystery.

The third letter is from early 1978 and seems to have come as a result of my mother sending Ben Enwonwu a card, which had by then found its way to him in Nigeria. He updates her on the purchase and subsequent sale of that original house, and muses on how good it would be to live nearer to my mother. Well, I thought. Well, indeed.

It’s clear from this trio of notes that there was certainly a friendship, fondness and perhaps at one time, more, between my mother and Ben Enwonwu. It’s not insignificant that she kept his letters.

It’s an intriguing discovery on many levels, and it always delights me to see different facets of my mother’s life reflected in the accumulation of her paperwork, and I never judge what I find. But I’m a little wistful that we’re unlikely ever to know more of this unexpected friendship.

Meantime, the whereabouts of the other two of the trio of missing Tutu paintings remains a mystery. Disappointingly (from a purely financial perspective) all we have… is those letters.



Vision Versus Reality #2017 #2018

In January 2017, in preparation for the year ahead, I created and shared my first Vision Board. You can see the post about it here. As regular readers will know, 2017 didn’t quite go the way I had envisioned.  You can’t plan for the kind of disruption that comes from your mother getting a brain tumour. Life goals and good intentions go out of the window as every energy is directed towards the most pressing – and distressing – of circumstances. I rest my case.

My 2017 Vision Board reflected various aspects of my life on which I wanted to focus during the year; healthy lifestyle, relationships and family, work/life balance, creativity/creative writing,  travel – that kind of thing. In the end, by far the most important aspect was… family. We, my brother, sister-in-law, their children and I, pulled together as a family like never before. As the ties with our mother severed through her illness and death, the ones which bound us together strengthened immeasurably.  That was an incredible positive from last year. And set against all the sadness, the weary work of clearing down our mother’s life, those strengthened ties have been an overwhelming joy, and by far the best thing to emerge from the last 12 months.

At the start of 2017, I also had some themes for the year ahead: Health, Inspiration, Renewal, Social, Creativity, Love.  The two which resonate most with me as I look back at the year are Inspiration and Love. For all the difficulties and challenges which bumbled along over the decades, but don’t seem at all important any more, I see my mother as an inspiration to the kind of life I want to live in the years to come. For various reasons, her life changed course in her mid-fifties, and she made the very most of those last 28 years or so. I can think of no good reason not to take the very same approach myself, to the next however many years of life I get.  And love… of course. How can you care for your mother in the last weeks of her life without experiencing an overload of love. Frustration, pain, despair, anxiety; all the above, yes. But overwhelmingly, you experience… love.

This year I’ve broadened out my themes a little – you can see. I make no secret of the fact that after giving the last year to my mother and her passions and priorities, I’m looking forward to reclaiming my life.

To help keep me on-track, there are some Acid Test questions:

  • Is what I’m doing/eating helping me to become more healthy?
  • Is what I’m doing/eating helping me to get closer to my life-goals?
  • Is what I’m doing/eating aligned with my personal values?
  • Is what I’m doing/eating making me feel happy and positive about myself and about life?

I’m the first to admit, I’m not perfect – a long way from it. But I need to do better, hence those tricky questions.  I need to recover some of the mojo which powered me through an incredible 18 months of weight-loss and health improvement and get back on track with all that business. I want to reawaken my creative brain and I need to regroup, socially, professionally and personally.  It feels like a tall order at the moment, I confess.

I’m asking the universe for a break – no more all-consuming crises this year please.  Though if they come, they come, of course. But in the meantime, I’m going to set off along the path, the one I marked out a year ago, a little later than intended, and I’m going to give it my very best.

Festive Greetings

This is the Christmas Greeting sent out by Edition Peters, the music publishing house that is so closely connected to my family heritage. It’s so beautiful, I wanted to share it with you for Christmas.

The firm is based in Leipzig, London and New York, and they’ve found some lovely imagery of each city, to reflect the season. The ensemble is singing in the salon, which was once part of my great-grandfather’s apartments ‘above the shop’, at 10 Talstraße, Leipzig, where my brother and I recently visited. We can find connections everywhere in the world, if we only look for them, but this one is a strong one for me, and to have stood in this room as we did, listening to music as our family did in the pre-war years, before everything changed, was significant.

Happy Christmas, internet friends and followers. Thank you for staying with me through a difficult year. Thank you indeed.

Leipzig: A Pilgrimage

My brother and I recently took a trip to Leipzig, Germany, the city in which our mother was born, back in 1935.  You can read here about the challenges presented by her dual/mixed heritage (Jewish father, Catholic mother in 1930’s pre-Holocaust Germany), and the important role she carved for herself in later years, before her death last May.

We’d always intended to make a trip at some point, but the opportunity came sooner than we expected, with an invitation from Edition Peters (the music publishing company, and our erstwhile family business), who were about to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their renowned Green Series.  We were asked if we’d like to attend some of the week-long series of events, in which our mother would most certainly have actively participated.

Contemporary design meets an historic brand, to great effect

My heritage might be immersed in the world of classical music (not only were my grandfather and great-grandfather proprietors of one of the world’s foremost classical musical publishers, and friends of Edvard Grieg and other composers, but my father sung for years in the New Philharmonia Chorus), but I’m more of a generalist when it comes to music. My tastes run from Abba to Zucchero, via classical, jazz, soft rock, ambient electronica, R&B and whole lot more. Nevertheless, it was a privilege to share in these celebrations.  We enjoyed a violin and piano concert in the Mendelssohn Haus (onetime home of composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy), and attended an impressive Reception (including, of course, another delightful concert – this time, piano and voice).

There, we were introduced to Burkard Jung, Mayor of the City of Leipzig, who had written heartfelt and warmly appreciated letters to our mother when she fell ill. We met many more of our mother’s Leipzig friends – their close relationships formed over the 25 years during which our mother laboured unceasingly to re-establish her family’s name in the city’s cultural heritage, and through her talks, educate students on the Holocaust through her family’s traumatic story.  We watched the 20-minute film created by Edition Peters, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Grüne Reihe, and were immensely touched to see in its final shot, a photograph of our mother, and a commemoration of her life and contribution. It would have meant so much to her.

Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen with the ‘Chronik’

We went to the Edition Peters offices, met all the staff, and had the opportunity to present a treasured book to them, which we had found in our mother’s effects. This book, a one-off, hand-typed, beautifully bound tome, chronicled the history of the company from 1800 to the 1930’s, and had been given to our grandfather as eldest son. He brought it with him when he emigrated to England from Germany in 1937, thus escaping the fate which befell so many of his immediate and extended family. It seemed more than appropriate that, with the company’s headquarters restored to Leipzig in recent years, and our great-grandfather’s name re-established alongside all of his many social and cultural endeavours, we should return this extraordinary ‘Chronik’ to its origin.

In our private time, my brother and I soaked up the modern-day city, with its traditional and its supremely modern architecture sitting side-by-side.

Thomaskirche Leipzig, resting place of J S Bach
Statue to the man himself
Leipzig University Library, an intriguing absence of symmetry
The Gewandhaus concert hall, Leipzig

We visited the family’s memorial stone at the Südfriedhof Cemetery – the stone which came into being as a result of our mother’s work.

Hinrichsen memorial stone, Südfriedhof Cemetery

It stands right by the central avenue.

Hinrichsen memorial stone, by the central avenue, Südfriedhof Cemetery

We found the 4 Stolpersteine outside Talstraße 10 (the family’s original home and location of the business, now once again home to the business) – yes, you guessed it, those cobbles were there for us to stumble upon as a result of our mother’s mission.

Hinrichsen Stolpersteine – we should have brought a cloth

We stood in what was once the family apartment in the same building, in the room restored to its original formal state and now housing an exhibition to honour Edvard Grieg.

On the afternoon when the weight of emotional tension twisted my gut and forced me to rest, my brother took a long walk across the city and found Hinrichsenstraße, the street renamed after our great-grandfather – yet another of the many projects brought about due to our mother’s tireless campaigning.

“Henri Hinrichsen: 1868-1942 (Auschwitz); Publisher, in 1900 took over the publisher C.F. Peters; Founder, City Councillor, Honorary Doctor, University of Leipzig” (My brother, chilled to the bone.)

The one thing we didn’t manage to do was visit the Musikinstrument Museum, where our mother had unveiled a bust to her grandfather back in 2012. Turns out that whereas everywhere in Leipzig still closes on a Sunday, the Musikinstrument Museum is just about the only place that opens on a Sunday… but stands closed to visitors on Mondays.

It was an extraordinary three days; reflective, and very heartwarming indeed. We met friends everywhere; we were hosted to a wonderful ‘traditional dinner’ by a group of our mother’s friends who had entertained her in the same way every time she visited for 20 years. We learned how much she was respected – and loved – by those with whom she connected in the city of her birth. We felt very proud – and just a little inadequate too, truth be told.

The ‘traditional dinner’ with new ‘old friends’

For both of us, the trip to Leipzig was far more than a tick-in-the-box, a part of the process of saying goodbye to our mother. It gave us valuable time and a place for reflection – together; it affirmed to us everything that our mother held so dear about family and her heritage – our heritage; it opened a window into her second home (I strongly suspect she felt more at home there in Leipzig than she did in London) and the close ties she enjoyed with friends and associates. And it has enabled us to push forward with what remains of the sorting-out of her life, with renewed love and understanding.

Now, it’s onward to 2018, and my sincerest hope that I can begin to re-establish my own life again, after this troubled and very sad year.


In my twenties, I was employed in a number of global enterprises. In this particular company, I was a Secretary/PA for one of the senior executives in the UK.  Looking for more challenge in my working life, I was keen to develop my career within the company. It was a good place for that. If you performed your current responsibilities well, canvassed for support and advocacy, sought advice from seniors and then followed it, demonstrated enthusiasm and commitment, then doors to new opportunity would open.

So it was that I came to be moving on from my secretarial position, to take up a role as a sales trainee. My boss, for whom I’d worked for two years, was – he said – reluctant to lose me, but he was supportive of my career ambitions.  Worth saying, he’d been an excellent boss and I’d very much enjoyed working for/with him.

He wanted – he said – to thank me for my services. Would I like to come out for dinner? I said yes, not because I desired to have dinner with him, but because it would have been rude to decline. I was his direct report, and we’d enjoyed a good working relationship for two years. He had never been even the slightest bit inappropriate with me. I was, the very next day, to leave his office and join a sales department whose manager reported to a manager who reported to him. I had no inkling that this dinner invitation was anything other than the professional thank you that he said it was.

He had meetings in London on the day in question and had asked me to book him into his preferred hotel. He said he hoped I wouldn’t mind coming into London and suggested we would eat at the hotel restaurant. You may look askance at my naivety – but I promise you, I did not suspect a thing.

He met me at the hotel and we went to eat; the meal was enjoyable and the conversation convivial. Until, that is, he suggested that we continue the evening up in his room. I thought at first I’d misheard him. I think I may have ignored his suggestion, so he had another go round. Surely – he said – I understood why I’d been invited into London, to his hotel. Didn’t I realise? I was about to cease being his direct report and – he said – this meant he was now free to behave differently towards me. With my move away from his office, my place in the order of things had – he said – changed.  Apparently, that meant I was fair game.

He delivered his little speech with his usual gentle charm, but there was an edge to it, something I’d never seen before. It was abundantly clear to me that he wasn’t joking, or teasing. He was deadly serious. I was totally blind-sided.

Falteringly, as I remember, but very politely, I told him I did not want to go to his room. I didn’t know what to think, but I genuinely feared what my rejection of his invitation might do both in that moment, and to my nascent career prospects. Was I sure, he asked. Yes, I was absolutely certain. I suggested it was time I went home.

It was all very surreal. He wasn’t angry, upset or even embarrassed.  He pretty much turned back into ‘good boss’ again, almost as if it hadn’t happened. It seemed he was not in the least bit bothered. It was as if I was just one of many he might proposition in the same way – a sleazy numbers game.  His attitude seemed to be, some you win, and some you lose. That really made me think.

Rather than let me go home by underground, he came outside with me to see me safely into a black cab. I stood away from him, but as the taxi drew up, he pressed cash conspicuously into my hand to pay for it. He may just have been being thoughtful, but I remember thinking, the taxi driver probably thinks I’m a prostitute now. I was shaking with, I don’t know what… anger, shame? Whatever else, an acute sense of betrayal – betrayal of a professional relationship I had valued and trusted.   Damn it, I’d been to his home, I’d met his wife.

I was so upset that the taxi driver asked me if I was alright as we drove away.  He was very kind, but I couldn’t explain what had happened. I was close to tears. I felt so stupid. In that moment, my boss had undermined the sense of achievement I’d felt at gaining the career progression I’d so badly wanted. He’d made me doubt that I had got this on my own merit. He’d made me wonder if he’d nudged it along for reasons that had nothing at all to do with my professional capabilities or potential.  And he made me dread the possibility of similar situations arising in the future, at company sales and training events for example.

And then… because his sleazy proposition had seemed such a run-of-the-mill thing to him, I began to doubt my interpretation of what had happened; I actually began to think I might have imagined it, or read too much into something that was… nothing. So I carefully approached one or two of my female sales colleagues to see if anyone else recognised the position he’d put me in, or had experienced anything similar with this man. What I learned shocked me all over again. It seemed he was a prolific offender. Not only that, but these professional ladies all assumed I’d known all along and, by implication, tacitly turned a blind-eye to his behaviour. After all, I’d been booking his hotel rooms for long enough, hadn’t I? I don’t know whether I was more embarrassed by my naivety, or by the realisation that these colleagues of mine had all assumed I was ‘in’ on his behaviour.

My career didn’t suffer as a result of my rejection of this man’s advances, and the situation didn’t arise again. On the contrary, it seemed to me that his some you win, some you lose attitude served to make this a totally insignificant event to him. I avoided him where possible but I barely saw him thereafter anyway, so far ‘up the tree’ was he from me. I don’t know either which of my female colleagues ever felt the pressure to comply with similar invitations.

There’s a lot being said in the context of the whole Harvey Weinstein business about women speaking up, or not. It’s easy to be a judge of this in hindsight. It’s not so easy though, when the object of any allegation holds a position of seniority, power or influence. It seems to me that women with far greater assertiveness and confidence than I possessed at the time, had chosen to stay silent. One simply didn’t make a thing of that sort of situation. Who was I to stand out, and where could it go, except somewhere damaging? I can make no apology for my twenty-something reticence – I never even contemplated making any kind of official complaint. With a great deal more mileage on the life-clock, I like to think I’d respond differently today. But who really knows, until it happens?

Is this a Metaphor?

So… it’s a lovely, warm autumn afternoon, and I thought I’d go out for a little stroll, just to get some air. I’d seen workmen in my local park recently, and it looked like they were laying a path.  ‘Yippee!’ I thought. They laid a path half way around the park a couple of years ago, which I’ve been enjoying several times a week. I have a nice circuit, half way round inside the park perimeter, and the other half out in the street. Now I’d be able to walk all the way around inside the park, and I wouldn’t need to go on the streets at all.  Three or four circuits would make a great little walk, and so close to home.

So I set off, in a more cheerful mood than is apparent from this picture…

The path looked interesting… promising, wouldn’t you agree?

It wound steadily downwards, following the shrubbery at the edge of the park.  Previously this area was boggy and sludgy – good for dog-walkers with wellies but not for me in my trendy, porous Skechers.

The path, I was already thinking, was an excellent addition to an already very pleasing local amenity.

Further along there are fifty yards of blackberry bushes.  I wondered if there would be anything left on them, musing that I should have brought along a tub or a bowl.  Foraged food…. nice.

But then…


It’s back to the roadway then.