So, just a few months away from blogging but the events of the recent weeks make me feel as if it has been a lifetime. Not laziness on my part, the reasons have been many and various; one potentially wonderful, which I hope to write about soon; at least two of great sadness (collective sadness - the murder of Jo Cox MP - and personal - the death of my beloved Dear Old Edinburgh Gent); a nasty and lingering bout of bacterial broncho-pneumonia, from which I have not fully recovered, although I am nearly there, and the shock and sadness of watching my country as it unravels, left to the mercy of a shifty bunch of politicians who clearly haven't a clue where we go to from here.
The Dear Old Edinburgh Gent, my beloved Labrador, deserves a post to himself and I will write that in due course but his death came just a few days after my excellent GP told me that I was 'very ill indeed' and must rest. I took the medicine (conventional and then homeopathic), I stopped doing everything that I love - yoga, Pilates, singing (impossible when one has no puff) - and restricted myself to walking the dogs (my two and one guest) twice a day, and doing special breathing exercises. A few days later, there were just two dogs to walk . . . but at least the sun shone for most of the time, and I could sit out in my garden, watch everything spring into abundant life, and listen to the birds singing, all of which softened the blow a little.
The thoughtful Dear Daughter sent me not flowers but the box set of Spiral. 'When you're ill and can't concentrate, there's nothing better than a box set.' She was right; between dog walks, I stretched out on the sofa and lapped up every moment of all five series of Spiral (I managed to get hold of a very reasonably priced series 5 on eBay, to add to the box set of series 1-4.) I loved the characters (Laure, Gillou, Sami, TinTin . . .), the storylines, the themes; I learned a great deal about the French legal system (fascinating); I brushed up my French, and played 'spot the Parisian location'. Total immersion in a box set was, indeed, highly therapeutic and lasted longer than flowers would have, much as I love flowers. Spiral got me through the worst of those weeks, Spiral and my dear Miss P, my faithful Border collie-springer spaniel cross, who spent an inordinate number of hours alongside me on the sofa, with her head across my lap. I should also give an honourable mention to Little Miss P, the Shih Tzu, who was our house guest for a month, and who helped to take the edge off our sadness. The news that there is to be a series 6 of Spiral was a bonus.
And then the madness of the R-word . . . I watched the daily news output with increasing alarm. The Vote Leave brigade were all over the media and not in a good way. The front pages of the worst tabloids railed against immigrants; an over-excited and sweating Farage was everywhere; the rhetoric never went beyond 'taking back control', and Gove and Johnson played fast and loose with the country's future - and, as it turned out, with the truth (over the past 25 years or so in Johnson's case) - without ever once stopping to think that they might actually need a plan. Just in case their wishes came true.
I was at home when the first indication of what had happened to Jo Cox filtered through. Later that afternoon, I watched the news conference at which her murder was confirmed. We know that terrible things happen to very, very good people, every day, everywhere in the world, but this senseless act, whatever the motivation for it, was beyond cruel. For a few days, at the very height of pre-EU referendum fever, the country came together to mourn the life of a young woman who had already achieved so much but who had very much more to give, not just to the nation but to those who loved her, above all, her two young children. The words spoken by her husband and her sister left no-one in any doubt just what they - and we - had lost and what we could all do in Jo's memory. If only we could have bottled that feeling and drawn on it over the past few days.
I don't mind nailing my colours to the mast; I'm a Europhile, through and through. In 1959, when I was 11, my brother, who was old enough to have served in the armed forces towards the end of, and in the aftermath of, WWII, took me travelling across Europe: to Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. He shared his enthusiasm for other people, places, cultures, and food - and for working together for peace and prosperity. (He's almost 89 now and all this remains dear to his heart.) It was the best possible informal liberal education an impressionable British pre-teenager could have had. I went on to a more formalised version at a convent grammar school, founded in the 1800s by a French nun. We sang French songs and carols, and studied not only French but Italian, Spanish and German, not to mention Latin (for the judgin', as E L Wisty said), and Greek. Learning to speak other languages, and to be interested and at ease in other countries, felt like the most normal thing in the world. It still does. How lucky we were.
Years later, my professional life would involve me in working with colleagues from across the European Union, sharing information and advice, and in supporting legal cases that would be heard, in time, by the European Court of Justice. Cases that have made a difference to the lives of millions of women, not just here in the UK but across the EU. I am proud of that work and of what we achieved.
During those years, I sometimes thought of my forebears and how amazed they would have been at all this because I am descended, in part, from economic migrants who came to this country almost 200 years ago, from Ireland and France. They came to escape destitution, to work and to provide for their families, something their descendants, including me, have been doing ever since and, in so doing, contributing to the wealth of the nation that took them in. Paying our dues and happy to do so.
So, if people ask me what I am - in terms of citizenship - I say European and British. Even better, as a friend of mine says, 'I am a citizen of the world.' The multi-lingual Dear Daughter, who benefited from the educational opportunities offered by our membership of the EU, thinks this way too.
That is not to say that I do not recognise the shortcomings of the EU. Of course I do. But I also believe in the old Fabian principle of orchestrating change from within, rather than standing on the sidelines and shouting slogans, chucking metaphorical Boris bricks, or, in that 21st century way, ranting at screens to nobody listening.
A week after Jo Cox's murder, and 100 years after the events in Ireland that inspired W B Yeats's poem, we woke to a country 'changed, changed utterly', but not to the birth of 'a terrible beauty'. It was something quite other, quite alien, and I did not recognise it. We are only just beginning to understand the full import of what a slender majority of those who voted (a minority, in fact, of those actually registered to vote) have wrought. This wretched and ill thought-through referendum has divided families and friends; many of those who are eligible to do so are now applying to become citizens of other EU countries to protect their jobs, their careers, their futures. This includes at least one much-loved member of my own family, for whom I am helping to assemble the necessary paperwork. Surreal doesn't even begin to describe it.
We are going to need a great deal more than plasters to cover the wounds or fairy dust sprinkled over everything to make things even remotely better again. Perhaps we should start collecting old fiddles and send them to Messrs Gove, Johnson and Farage, the Gang of Three, who drove us into this mess. They can stand on the coastline - our only border, the control of which they are so keen to 'take back' - and, like Nero, play, while everyone else burns. Or drowns.
I have read any number of media articles and comments and followed a good deal of social media, as the whole sorry saga has unfolded, and one of the phrases I keep seeing is along the lines of, 'I want to be proud of my country again; I want us to be Great Britain again.' I've thought about this and confess that I'm not sure what it actually means, other than a desire to turn back the clock to a semi-mythical past, a sort of Basil Fawlty view of how the country should be but never really was. Instead of worrying about becoming Great Britain (which, of course, constitutionally and legally, we already are and continue to be, for the time being at least), perhaps we should aim to become Good Britain. That would be a start.