Monday 31 May 2021


On a cold November evening, eleven years ago, Mum and I entered what used to be the Olde Post Office down the road (now our friend Sue's cosy, charming cottage), to attend a reading by Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth. The Book Club had invited Jane, GP and travel writer, to share her memoir, A Glimpse of Eternal Snows: A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas, and when the reading and Q&A were over and we were chin wagging over snacks, I asked Jane if there was an audiobook version Dad could read. 

A decade later, Jane writes in her blog

It was an idea I’d been incubating for yonks, ever since Shaista Tayabali (@lupusinflight) suggested it when I spoke to her reading group. Initially I was too busy and distracted to get down to it, but eventually I began, having no idea how long it would take. My experience of reading out loud in writing groups meant I knew that I could narrate 1000 words easily in ten minutes, so although my memoir is quite a tome at 374 pages and a little under 130,000 words, it was doable. It couldn’t take much more than 22 hours, so recording it wouldn’t take much longer than a week or so.

Spoiler. It takes longer!!

Recording consumed all of March, April (when we evacuated to the UK), May and some of June and July. I had already decided to add various bird calls to begin and end each chapter. Some are Nepali birds, some are English, depending upon where the action takes place.

The whole project took longer than I expected but it has been a labour of love. A Glimpse of Eternal Snows is a book that is written from my heart so I’m sure listeners will enjoy it, as long as no-one is too appalled by my attempts at Celtic accents. Here's the link to Audible audiobook

I wrote about Jane on my own blog as soon as I got home, in a post titled The Good Doctor, wishing she were my doctor but glad, soon enough, that she became my friend, and recommended me to the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presenters as an interesting guest! I helped edit Jane's memoir for the American edition, which gave me a chance to fully immerse myself in Jane's life in Nepal, where she and her husband decided to take their two sons, including baby David, whose medical frailty had been dealt with in the least compassionate manner by doctors from my own Cambridge hospital. Nepali life gave David three years of burbling happiness...

The one sympathetic hospital doctor in Cambridge had advised us to treat David normally and we took this as a licence to take him on his first trek; at the age of four months, we packed up David’s heart medicines and tubes and headed up over precipitous drops and wobbly rope bridges to explore drippy forests and medieval hill-forts. The mountains were spectacular and healing. Strangely David’s heart disease protected him from the effects of high altitude. Our arrival in each mountain village was heralded by choruses of, ‘Children have come!’ We’d be surrounded and David taken from his carrying basket to be handed around for all to cuddle. He glowed in all this attention. He smiled and burbled appreciatively at all his admirers. Nepalis helped us see David’s qualities and talent for laughter...

June will be here tomorrow and Dad will sit out in the sun, eating mangoes and listening to Nepali birdsong and enjoying a glimpse of those eternal snows I read about eleven years ago... thank you, Jane!

Monday 24 May 2021


After many bends in the road, some looked for, some hated (war), some simply endured, we laid our beloved Mary to rest beside her husband John in St Mary's Church, down the road from where Mary and John spent most of their married life. 

Mary was born June 11, 1916 and died on the 15th of December, 2020, and I have been not at all impatient to say formal goodbyes. I liked pretending that Mary had gone quiet in the room next door, quiet but for her piano, fingers practising her favourite pieces of Beethoven or reading Barbara Pym, her always comfort read. When I'd ask Mary what she was reading, she'd sometimes say, 'Oh it's not for you. It's too old-fashioned.' But occasionally she would want to share the 'not for me' books anyway, and my collection now includes some of her favourites from Kathleen Raine to Gervase Phinn.

In the end, there was nothing formal about it, and nor was there any goodbye. Just four poems, among them this one by me, a blackbird singing, and school children laughing next door. The trill of birds, the peals of laughter and her parents’ shared gravestone watching over a marriage blessed, in life and death.

Mary's hands. Mary's voice on the telephone. Mary saying 'darling' or even just my name, 'Oh Shaista...' These I hope never to forget. May I recall them a hundred years from now.