Four years on . . . and still the same sense of pride

20160229001 OBE

Four years ago today

Yes. Four years. How time flies. It was Wednesday 29 February 2012, and I was in London—with Steph, our younger daughter Philippa, and former IRRI colleague Corinta—to attend an investiture at Buckingham Palace.

I was there to receive my OBE that had been awarded in the 2012 New Years Honours, for services to international food science. Since this honour was given after I’d retired from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, I assume it was a recognition of the contributions I’d made to genetic conservation of rice as well as strengthening international support for rice research.

Travelling to London
It was an early start from Bromsgrove, to catch the train from Solihull to London Marylebone Station, where we met Phil, who had traveled down from the northeast. Then a short hop across central London by taxi to arrive at Buckingham Palace in time for the briefing before the actual investiture took place.

As you can imagine, security was tight. We all had to show IDs, and the invitation tickets. I had to be at the Palace about 45 minutes before the investiture, and was surprised to find that I was one of the last to arrive.

The gates of Buckingham Palace - from inside.

The gates of Buckingham Palace – from inside.



Corinta was impressed by Buckingham Palace

Briefing over, and the investiture was also over before it had begun. I’m still surprised how quickly it went, even though it seemed as though HRH The Prince of Wales spent at least five minutes speaking with each of the awardees. It couldn’t have been more than a minute. But he was remarkably well-briefed, and we held a conversation about rice in the Philippines. His opening question being, ‘Are you still working in the Philippines, Dr Jackson?

20120229104 OBE

Talking rice with HRH

After the ceremony we joined up in the palace courtyard, and outside the gates for more photographs.

It was a memorable occasion for all of us, and after four years I still have that same sense of pride as I did when I first received the letter in November 2011 informing me I had been nominated for the OBE. I rarely take my insignia out of the safe, but this morning I thought I would have a four-year update.

Making progress . . . one step at a time

Believe me, there’s almost nothing more annoying than an unscratchable itch beneath a plaster cast. Finally, however, my cast was removed during an outpatient appointment yesterday at the ‘Alex’.

I had an appointment for 10:30 and, based on my previous two appointments, I expected to have to wait for at least an hour beyond my appointment time before I would be seen.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, after having just arrived to the clinic, and making myself comfortable, that I was called to the ‘plaster room’ to have my cast (the red one) removed.


That took about five minutes or so. Given that the cast was very hard (made, I was told, from bandages infused with a type of fiber glass that sets on exposure to the air), the nurse had to use a small circular saw to cut through it.

Then I was sent to the X-ray unit in the fracture clinic. I didn’t have to wait very long there either. But I did get into conversation with a couple a little older than myself. The wife had broken her arm, and was also waiting for an X-ray after me. They asked me what I had done to myself, and before long, after discovering I was retired, they asked me what I used to do before retirement. I mentioned that I’d worked at the International Rice Research Institute. ‘Golden rice?’ asked the husband, and they both went on to decry the irresponsible campaign (their words) against GMOs that denied life-saving technologies like Golden Rice to millions of people (many of them children) around the world. I have to say it was most heartening to hear these perspectives from complete strangers.

Anyway, after a couple of X-rays had been taken, I was wheeled back to the reception waiting area to see one of the surgeons. Again I didn’t have to wait more than about five minutes before joining one or two other patients waiting outside the actual consultation rooms. I was with the surgeon less than 10 minutes. He showed me the latest X-ray images, told me that everything was healing as it should be, and that I would be fitted with a ‘boot’, and have to attend physiotherapy sessions. I don’t have to return to see the surgeon for another six weeks, when he expects to give me the all-clear.

Wheeled around the corner again, one of the staff from the plaster room fitted a ‘boot’—what a marvellous invention—and then I had to wait for someone from the Physiotherapy Unit to come and see me. That was my longest wait, maybe 20 minutes. Anyway, the young woman brought me a pair of crutches, had me test them out and adjusted them to my height. Then she wheeled me over to the Physiotherapy Unit so I could quickly practice climbing and descending stairs. Tricky!


And before I knew it, I was ready to go home. I called the taxi company, a driver arrived after about 15 minutes, and I was home before 12:15. Feeling very positive and optimistic.

I’m now allowed, encouraged even, to walk about and begin (slowly) to put weight on my damaged leg. In fact the surgeon told me that adding weight to the leg would encourage healing, surprising as it may seem. Anyway, I still have my walking frame as well as crutches, but the surgeon has told me that after about three weeks, I’m to give up walking with any support at all. Let’s see.

I’m also now allowed to shower, and that’s a treat to be enjoyed later today once I’ve mastered climbing and descending the stairs using crutches.

It was bliss having the cast removed. A good scratch, but even more so the chance to bathe my foot and leg that has been encased for the past six weeks. A nice foot massage in warm water, followed by a generous application of cocoa butter cream, and my foot began to feel almost normal.

I’ve been very pleased with my treatment under the National Health Service (NHS), and it has not cost me a penny. I think of the hours of treatment from the moment the first ambulance arrived on the scene on 8 January, the four days spent in hospital, the outpatient appointments, the drugs administered, the equipment loaned to me (Zimmer frame, crutches, and a frame around the toilet for support), and last but not least, the boot that I’m now wearing. The boots, for example, don’t come cheap and I have no idea if they are recycled once I have finished with mine in six weeks’ time (hopefully).

Having lived in a country like the Philippines where there is limited socialized medicine, and where families can very quickly run up catastrophic medical bills, it makes me appreciate even more the value of the NHS in the UK. No wonder it is such a hot potato and contentious political challenge (which this current Conservative government does not appear to be facing professionally nor astutely).

A reply from my Member of Parliament . . .

When I broke my leg at the beginning of January, I spent four days in the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, one of three hospitals managed by the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust. The ‘Alex’ has not been out of the news for many months—for all the wrong reasons. Now I know there’s a lot in the media these days about the shortcomings of the NHS. One ‘failing’ hospital after another is brought into ‘special measures‘ (the situation with the Alex), the NHS is almost broke, the junior doctors are on strike. Also, there is a perception that this Conservative government aims to privatize our cherished NHS, step-by-step. In my earlier post I mentioned that the A&E department at the Alex had recently lost several of its consultants, and that the maternity unit had been closed (supposedly only a temporary measure) and its services transferred to Worcester.

JavidHowever, the care I received during my brief stay was second-to-none. I tweeted about that, but also felt compelled to write to my Member of Parliament (for the Bromsgrove constituency), the Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid (right), who sits in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. After all, positive outcomes need to be highlighted just as much as the negative (of which we hear all too frequently).

So I penned the following letter on 14 January, and sent it to him through his House of Commons web site:

Dear Mr Javid,
I have unfortunately had to avail of local NHS services in recent days, having slipped on black ice outside my home last Friday and severely dislocating and fracturing my right ankle.

I was rushed to the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, after a remarkably rapid response from the ambulance service, and spent three nights there following surgery on Saturday night.

At a time when the NHS is under ‘assault’ from all quarters, including, I’m afraid to say, the Government of which you are a member, as well as the continual bad press that the ‘Alex’ seems to attract, I believe it’s opportune to celebrate what is great and worthy about the NHS and those dedicated doctors, nurses and support staff who are its backbone.

From the moment of my arrival in A&E, admission and stay on Ward 17 (Trauma and Orthopaedic), and visit to theatre, I have nothing but the highest praise for all the staff, who looked after me with dedication and compassion, and a good degree of good humour. Although their morale has recently taken somewhat of a battering, this did not affect their sense of professional pride in offering the best care possible.

And lying there on the ward, another thing struck me. At least 50% of the staff, possibly more, were immigrants, both EU and non-EU, and of all faiths. Indeed, I believe that the particular speciality where I was being cared for would not be able to operate were it not for the support of our immigrant friends and colleagues.

Mr Farage and his moronic UKIP followers, and those on the right of your party, have been permitted to hijack the immigration (and EU) debate with the result that those from outside the UK who come here to make our country a better place, are demonised. Surely as the son of immigrant parents this is a perspective you should be fighting tooth and nail to reverse.

I spent much of my career working overseas with scientists and support staff from all around the world. I celebrate this cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. I deplore deeply that our society, famed for its broad mindedness and tolerance is being dragged in a direction that undermines these core values.

I deplore that this Conservative government does not appear to have the stomach to take on the immigration bigots.

Yours sincerely,
Michael Jackson

And there I left it. Last weekend, Mr. Javid organized a job fair in Bromsgrove and there was a lot of publicity in the local press. It was that which reminded me I’d not received any reply from my MP. I thought (incorrectly, as it turned out) that he and his staff had chosen to ignore my comments.

However, this envelope dropped through my mailbox yesterday afternoon.

HoC envelope

If you click on the image below you can read the full reply from Mr. Javid. It’s a courteous and explanatory letter, and (to a certain extent) agrees with the points I raised. He does duck the immigration issue since I guess he can’t deviate from the government line.

Javid letter

Nevertheless, I am pleased to see that someone in his office did take time to address the issues I raised. While my politics (such as they are) do not align with this Conservative administration, I do acknowledge that Sajid Javid has a high and prominent profile in the constituency, and appears to be a good constituency MP. Which is saying something considering the ministerial responsibilities that he has to balance as well.


A wounded badger update . . .

It’s now four weeks since I had my mishap. And while there has obviously been a lot of healing going on, I’m getting impatient to be back to normal, sleeping in my own (new) bed again, and be able to get out and about and enjoy some fresh air. It’s ironic that we had ordered the new bed from Dreams in Redditch on 3 January. The store is located about half a mile further down the road from the Alexandra Hospital, a district in Redditch we’d never visited before. I never had the slightest inkling that I’d be back there five days later, under rather different circumstances.


Once and future bed in the living room.

Since leaving hospital four days later, I’ve been confined to the ground floor of our home. Fortunately, with a three-seater sofa at my disposal, we were able to make a comfortable bed  there. The downstairs toilet/washroom is just a few hops away (with the support of my Zimmer frame), as is our kitchen diner. So there’s been no need to even face the challenge of going upstairs.

The surgeon has been quite clear in his instructions to me: no weight whatsoever on the damaged ankle and leg for at least another two weeks.

A week after leaving hospital I returned to the Alex to attend the Redditch Orthopedic Clinic. Although we had a specific appointment, there was still a delay of more than 90 minutes before I saw anyone, and I beginning to become somewhat frustrated. When returned to the clinic a week later I anticipated there would again be a delay, but was pleasantly surprised when we were called to see the surgeon after only about 30 minutes. The plaster cast was removed, and the surgeon checked that everything was healing as it should be.

I was quite surprised to see the extent of the ‘damage’, with a scar down the outside of my right leg (held together by 17 stitches) through which a 10 inch steel plate had been screwed to the fibula. The surgeon showed me the X-rays taken when I was first admitted to hospital. I hadn’t realized then that the fibula had completely snapped, a displaced fracture with a 1 inch break. Yikes! The 10 hole steel plate looked pretty impressive on the X-ray, as did the ‘tie’ between the tibia and fibula adding additional strength in that part of my ankle where I’d done all the damage to the tendons and ligaments.

On that first outpatient appointment my plaster cast was replaced with a lightweight one made of fiber glass bandages that react to air and harden. Much more comfortable than the old plaster one. What surprised me is the choice of colors I was offered: white, black, blue, red, purple or pink. I chose purple that time, and a week later when I returned to the clinic to have the stitches removed I wanted the blue, but had to settle for red. Pink was a color too far!

So here I sit in my chair, with my leg in the air. It still hurts more than I’d expected by this time, but at least I can move it around and find more comfortable positions. I return to the clinic on 16 February. This red cast will be removed, and it’s likely that a ‘boot’ will be fitted after which I should be able progressively to put some weight on the leg.

20160204006Hopefully I’ll be approaching normality by the middle of April, but the surgeon did warn me it would be a long, slow recuperation as it had been a nasty fracture. Patience is not one of my better virtues, but I’m learning.


Music can stir such improbable memories . . .

It was a Saturday afternoon in September 1970. I’d arrived in Birmingham less than two weeks before to start an MSc degree on plant genetic resources at the university. However, I’d spent the first week of classes holed up in the university medical centre where I’d had two impacted wisdom teeth extracted under general anaesthetic.

SteeleyeSpan-frontBack home in my digs¹, I was taking it easy, feeling sorry for myself, with a very sore mouth indeed. I’d been listening to a folk music program on the radio. I don’t remember the actual details. What I do remember very clearly about that afternoon, however, was listening to what must have been a pre-release of a beautiful track, Lovely on the water, from the second album (Please to see the king²) of the electro-folk group Steeleye Span. And I’ve been a fan ever since. I saw them in concert twice in Birmingham before I moved to South America in January 1973. The first concert, held in one of the university halls of residence was brilliant. Peter Knight on the fiddle was clearly inebriated, but his playing was unbelievable. The sound balance and level for the relatively small hall was just right. The second concert was at Birmingham Town Hall, a much bigger venue. By then the group had become more rock focused, the sound level was too high and almost painful. Not such an enjoyable experience.


Rear row ( L to R): Rick Kemp, Nigel Pegrum, Bob Johnson; front row (L to R): Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, Peter Knight

But there are some twists to this story, as I’ll explain below after you’ve had chance to listen to Lovely on the Water.

After the radio program was over, I decided to take a brief nap. I’d planned to meet an old friend, Allan Mackie, from my undergraduate days in Southampton, for a pint at a pub in the city centre later that evening. We would meet there from time-to-time.

I woke up more than an hour later. It was already dark. I quickly realized that my mouth was full of blood, and the pillow was stained a rather bright red. I’d haemorrhaged while asleep. I dialled 999 for assistance, and very soon afterwards an ambulance turned up outside, blue lights flashing, and I was rushed into the Dental Hospital (part of the University of Birmingham) in the city centre. The medical staff stanched the haemorrhage after about an hour, when they felt I was safe to be discharged. The problem was that I’d left home without my wallet. I didn’t have any money on me whatsoever.

Fortuitously, the pub where I was due to meet Allan was just around the corner from the Dental Hospital, so I set off there to see if he had hung around, even though I was late (no mobile phones 45 years ago). I was very relieved to see that he’d not gone home, and he was propping up the bar, pint in hand. Once I’d downed a couple of pints of Ind Coope Double Diamond, he lent me a couple of pounds, and I made my way home by bus.

Now the reason all this has come to mind right now is that I have been listening to a lot of music in recent days, since I had my mishap and am unable to do much but sit in a chair all day with my broken leg in the air.

I was working my way through all the Steeleye Span CDs I have. And that brought back memories of when I first joined the University of Southampton as an undergraduate in October 1967. Having an interest in folk music, a Sunday evening spent in the Students’ Union at the weekly Folk Club became a regular fixture on my list of entertainments.

folksongsofoldengland_1_tepeeNow Steeleye Span only formed in 1969, but two of the members were Tim Hart and Maddy Prior who sang at the Folk Club quite frequently over the three years I was in Southampton. They were quite popular on the folk circuit, and had released two well-received LPs of traditional folk songs. In 1971 they released their widely-acclaimed LP Summer Solstice. Click on the album cover below to listen.



That’s me on tea-chest bass.

My continuing interest in folk music had grown out of an earlier 1950s interest in skiffle music, which I’ve blogged about elsewhere.

But in the early 1960s, it was The Beatles, The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and a host of other rock and pop groups that took my fancy. I’ve never been a Rolling Stones fan. However, I always returned to my folk music roots: The Ian Campbell Folk Group (with the inimitable fiddler Dave Swarbrick who later formed a duo with Martin Carthy [an early member of Steeleye Span], and was a member of Fairport Conventionn), The Dubliners, The Corries, Robin Hall & Jimmy Macgregor, among others.

Here are The Corries with Flower of Scotland (recorded in 1968 ), that has—to all intents and purposes—become the unofficial national anthem of Scotland.

All these memories came flooding back, just because I’m sat here with time on my hands. And while researching snippets of information for this blog post, I also unearthed another jewel.


Bob Davenport (born in 1932)

In 1965, a Geordie singer, Bob Davenport released an LP, Bob Davenport & The Rakes, which my elder brother Ed bought, and it quickly became a favourite of mine. I’m not sure how, but I inherited it from Ed, although it was lost in Turrialba, Costa Rica following a burglary in my house.

Now this Bob Davenport & The Rakes LP had never been released as a CD.


Until now. And last week, as I was surfing through various Google searches, I discovered that it, and other recordings by Donovan, Mick Softley, and Vernon Haddock’s Jubilee Lovelies had been released in 2014 as The Eve Folk Recordings (RETRO D957). There’s an interesting review here.



I did a bit of folk singing myself, and a few of the tracks on the Bob Davenport LP became part of my repertoire. I even sang this song, Old Johnny Booker at a folk evening jointly held with the local girls’ convent school, St. Dominic’s when I was in high school in Stoke-on-Trent.

One Folk Club evening in Southampton, Bob Davenport was the guest singer, and I asked him if I he would mind if I sang Old Johnny Booker. He was most gracious and supportive.

So, there you have it. Just listening to a single track, and all these other stories began to take shape. So, to end, here is another classic song, William Brown from that Bob Davenport album, accompanied by The Rakes.


¹ Digs: an informal term for lodgings, actually a bedsit.

² Released in March 1971.