Sunday, December 31, 2006

So, Farewell Then, Saddam

Television takes things very literally. If there’s a news item “Schools are closing for the summer holidays” they show you a shot of an empty classroom, just to make sure you understand what “summer holidays” and “school closed” means.

If there is a news item “More tourists are visiting the countryside” they show you a shot of firstly a tourist and then some countryside, just to make sure you understand.

And if there is a news item, “Saddam Hussein was hanged today” then blow me, if you just happen to turn on the telly, mid-afternoon, as I did, and there’s Saddam at the gallows, having a noose put round his neck. Good job they showed me, because I’d never have been able to imagine it – and great educational value for all the kids watching too.
“You grow up to be a dictator, little Eddie, and this is what will happen to you, so think on.”
Sadly they didn’t show us Saddam actually plunging to his death – what a shame eh? Otherwise they could have used it in all future dictator-was-hanged-today stories, just so we could know exactly what it means.

I don’t believe in the death penalty. That’s not to say that I don’t think Saddam was an evil tyrant – I do. Matthew Parris (who’s a Conservative, I feel I should point out) wrote in a column in The Times at the time of the Iraq War that (and I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist) going around invading other people’s countries is really never a good idea. You think that Right, and God, are on your side – well, guess what, so do they, and they believe it just as strongly as you do. But, of course, we know we’re right. AND SO DO THEY.

Also, has anybody ever invaded another country out of pure selfless altruism and a desire to help its people? I really don’t think so. There are always other issues involved, invariably to do with money and power.

Enough of that. The death penalty. Saddam and his men showed no mercy so why should we? Hang the bastard. Torture him first, though, just so he knows what it felt like for his victims.

And then, of course, we are no better than him. Oh, ah, yes, well – we’ll miss out the torture bit, just to show we’re superior. We’ll just put a rope round his neck and hang him.

Hmm - - still a bit barbaric, for 2006, nearly 2007, don’t you think?

Ah - - well, we’d better show it’s all legal and decent and not barbaric at all, with some proper Paperwork. “All the necessary paperwork is in place,” we were told a couple of days back. Thank goodness for that!

In the USA they take the paperwork to its logical conclusion: you have to undergo a medical examination to make sure you’re “fit for execution”.
“I’m sorry, Bobby, you’ve got a bit of a cold. No execution for you today, I’m afraid. Here’s some Lemsip, come back on Thursday when you’re feeling better.”

What do I think they should have done with Saddam Hussein? Kept him in a remote jail, treated decently, but never, never let us hear anything about him ever again.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Rabbits aaaah

Here are some rabbits that I saw today in our local pet shop. I think they were practising their audition for the Cute Overload website. Let us hope that the one peering through the small hole doesn't suffer from claustrophobia.
Lots of people seem to keep rabbits indoors in a pen these days, and then let them out to hop round the house, depositing little round pellets everywhere. I think that's a bit strange: I kept a lot of rabbits as a child and many breeds don't really have the fluffy personalities to go with their looks. They will bite quite hard and have really rather big teeth. They will also box with their front legs.
The best breed for keeping indoors, if you must, would seem to be the Netherland Dwarf, which is very small: though even they can be "highly strung" according to the website. The reason Netherland Dwarfs are so popular is this: a highly-skilled bunch of Research Rabbits spent years researching Human Beings and found out that, as with any kind of animal, you get a much better deal if you look as much like a human baby as possible. Hence these rabbits decided to evolve to have roundish bodies, short ears and huge eyes. They were next seen in a pet shop shouting "Nobody loves you and we don't care!" at a tank full of baby snakes.
The rabbits in the picture above are going to grow big with long ears and hence will look like rabbits and not like cuddly toys. Only their retail price of £24.99 each will save them from forming part of a delicious pie.

Friday, December 29, 2006

In the Department Store

First I tried the Polite Approach:

“Hello, I’d like this, please.”
“Thank you. And can I interest you in taking out one of our storecards today and saving ten percent on your purchases?”
“No, thank you.”
“And are you aware that you can use our storecards in Bodge-it-Quick, Cheapotat, Dodgy Décor and Gubbins Garages?”
“Yes, but I’m not interested, thank you.”

On the next floor I tried the Surly Approach.

“Hello, I’d like this, please.”
“Thank you. And can I interest you in taking out one of our st – “
“And are you aware th-“

On the second floor I went for the Explanatory Approach.

“Hello, I’d like this, please. And I’d just like to point out that I am not interested in taking out one of your storecards today and saving ten percent on my purchases, and I’d also like to make you aware that I know that I could, if I so wished, use your storecard in Bodge-it-Quick, Cheapotat, Dodgy Décor and Gubbins Garages. However, this information is of negligible interest to me because I am not interested in taking out one of your storecards.”
“Thank you. And can I interest you in taking out one of our storecards today and sa-“
“Hello? HELLO? May I just ask whether you simply work here or whether they have, perhaps, BOUGHT YOUR SOUL?”

Remember the days when assistants in department stores used to ask you about the weather?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Diverting Festive Story

Stephen works for a very big and important company which has its base Somewhere in Europe and has three branches in England: one in Yorkshire: one in, let’s say Birmingham and one in, let’s say Hastings. (Most names have been changed to protect the stupid).

It was very quiet at work today, even quieter than expected, so Stephen, being Supertechie, was asked to investigate (“and why was this my job?” he commented mildly later. And the answer is "You don't get to be Supertechie without doing a lot of explaining of How To Plug Things In and similar")

A swift investigation demonstrated that the reason it was very quiet was that the phone wasn’t ringing. At all.

A bit more investigation and he discovered that this was because somebody called Tracy had diverted all phone calls to the Birmingham branch.

What she was supposed to do was divert all calls FOR RECEPTION to the Birmingham branch, to give the Yorkshire receptionists a festive afternoon off. What she had actually done was asked BT to divert all calls meant for anyone at all in the Yorkshire Branch, to Birmingham. And BT, bless ‘em, - for here’s a story where they’re not at fault (though I can hear you shouting “for once”) - had done exactly that.

So what it meant was that anyone ringing Yorkshire would immediately be diverted to Birmingham, where a polite receptionist would say “oh, you need to speak to Mr Boggins in Yorkshire, I’ll put you through.” And she’d put the call through to Yorkshire, where it would immediately be diverted back to Birmingham. Customers’ calls would ricochet back and forth for ever, in a kind of perpetual motion, until they finally hung up in a sobbing heap.

Finally, Birmingham’s reception, exhausted by listening to a morning’s raging and sobbing, shut up shop and went home early. They tried to put the answerphone on but failed in this tricky manoeuvre. Instead they diverted all calls. To Hastings.

Stephen sat Tracy down with a nice cup of tea and explained why what she had done wasn’t quite right, and how the customers (for whom, incidentally, the collective noun is “a wunch” so we won’t pity them too much) had not been too pleased.

He is not convinced that she understood the problem and is prepared for similar excitement tomorrow.

I draw your attention now to my post of yesterday. We don’t need sabotage to screw up. Incompetence and human error will triumph every time. Makes you proud to be British.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Incompetence and Human Error Every Time

“Common things are common” is one of the things that medical students are told. So if someone has a headache, the most likely thing is that it’s just a headache, with no sinister undertones. If it goes on for a few days, then it could be something more serious, but if you’ve just had it for an hour or two, then the likeliest thing is a headache.

Sometimes, however, the likeliest thing is so dull and ordinary that we don’t want it to be the case. How could our beautiful, ethereal Princess Diana have such an everyday death as to be killed by a drunken driver who was driving too fast? Surely not. The conspiracy theories – such as that it was the Duke of Edinburgh Who Done Her In – are far more attractive. The speculation can go on for ever – when the results of the enquiry are that she was in a simple car crash, we can argue ah, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? (And, let’s face it, they would.)

I saw an interesting programme about the Potters Bar train crash of 2002 recently. The last carriage was derailed at some points as the train approached Potters Bar station. The carriage ended up horizontally across the tracks and more than twenty people were killed.

Sabotage! cried Jarvis, the company in charge of track maintenance. Which, of course, was a good theory from their point of view, since it got them entirely off the hook.

However, when Health and Safety examined the set of points, there were a mere 63 things wrong with them. Only some of the faults could have caused a major problem, granted, but 63 faults would seem to be quite a few.

At the time there were more than forty companies nationally looking after track maintenance, and these were sub-contracting all over the place to smaller companies, such as Reg, who got the job because he owned his own fluorescent jacket and a spanner, and a van with Ring Reg: I’ll Get You Back on Track written on the side - - and you think I’m exaggerating? Well, only a bit.

Health and Safety had some film of Reg supposedly maintaining the track, clearly having no clue what screwed into where or why.

So it turned out to be a national problem, with trains likely to career off the rails all over the place. Oops. As a result the track maintenance was brought back in-house, and Reg went back to bodging Mrs Hedgley’s central heating.

It wasn’t anything as glamorous as sabotage, then: it was caused by human error and incompetence. Common things are common, in train crashes as in illness.

But how on earth did the Powers that Be ever think that subcontracting the maintenance of the tracks could work? If the idea had been explained to you, or to me, beforehand, we would have said no, it's a really bad idea, how can you think of it, there’ll be a disaster and people will be killed.

But nobody asked us. Common things are common – but common sense, it seems, is rare indeed.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

White Christmas

Just the thing for Boxing Day - Father Christmas singing White Christmas.

Try it, you might like it. I did.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Eat Your Heart Out Nigella

Here's the work of art I made at half-past seven this morning:

I fear it was more Damien Hirst than Delia Smith but the family seemed to like it once it had been stuffed in a hot oven for a bit.

I don't think I put any hallucinogenic drugs in it but looking at this photograph I do wonder.


Just wishing everyone who reads this blog a very Happy Christmas! Thank you for reading it: it's great when you leave comments too.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Whilst Waiting for Father Christmas

Emily and Gareth have thoughtfully put a very large glass of Bailey's out for Father Christmas and I am just waiting until they go to sleep and I can hear the sound of approaching reindeer, and then I'll make sure that Father Christmas doesn't trip over the glass because it would be a shame if it were to go to waste.

Meanwhile, I have decided to make an announcement. I have wrapped my last present.

Now that doesn't mean I am not going to give presents any more - far from it, I love choosing and giving presents. It simply means that I am not going to wrap them.

I made this announcement with regard to sewing a few years back and nobody seems to care or even to have noticed. The sewing was always a struggle - I can't tell you how much I hate doing anything fiddly. At school I took six weeks of sewing lessons to put in a zip, very badly, and made a mental note that any future clothes could remain unzipped for all I cared.

The peak of my sewing prowess was winning a prize for my hand-sewn buttonholes. Oh, the effort it took to get the sodding things right. But finally, there they were, rows of perfectly even stitches, and I think I can safely say that this skill has been of NO USE AT ALL in later life.

I began to sense that my present-wrapping skills were not going to be all they might be when we were continually made to back exercise books at school using old bits of wallpaper. My books looked bent and hideous by the time I'd finished with them, and covered with bits of Sellotape sticking out at strange angles.

But nobody seemed to understand that I couldn't do it: that I couldn't sew neatly or back books: they simply thought that I wasn't trying. But I was. And it still looked shit.

A few years ago someone approached me with a button that needed sewing on, and instead of reluctantly doing the wretched thing (because yes, I do know how to), I smiled regretfully and muttered demurely, "Sorry, I don't do sewing." AND IT WORKED! THEY WENT AWAY!

So from now on, I don't do wrapping presents. This doesn't necessarily mean that if you get a present from me, it won't be wrapped, because one of Stephen's skills is his hospital-corner-present-wrapping and luckily he seems to regard this as one of his jobs.

But it does mean that if I can't get someone else to wrap it for me, it won't be wrapped. It will be in some kind of festive carrier bag and it will be labelled and it won't mean I love you any the less and I will have taken much care in choosing it.

But it won't be wrapped. I hope that's clear and I hope you don't mind.

Practical Householder

It doesn't take a lot to distract me from any attempts to become a Domestic Goddess. I live in the house where I grew up. My parents lived in this house from 1959 and in 2000 they had a house built in its garden, where they now live.

Of course, when they moved out, they didn't take all their old junk with them and from time to time I dare to look at it. I don't exactly clear it, just look at it, go all nostalgic, shuffle it about and put it back.

And so 'twas this afternoon - whilst trying to tidy up ready for Christmas, I came across Practical Householder January 1957, and a fascinating read it is too.

Ah, 1957, when men were men, and stood with a saw in their hand looking butch, and women wore frilly aprons and gazed at them adoringly. Well, that's what happens in this magazine. It's full of fascinating products - "A Simply Made Breakfast Tray" " A Domestic Boiler Guard" "A Simple and Inexpensive Clothes Horse" "A Simply Constructed Coal Bunker", or, for the more ambitious: "Making a Refectory Table".

To keep the whole place spotless, the husband could buy Frilly Apron all the latest gadgets and I particularly enjoyed the adverts for these.

Women give it no rest!
Day in and day out, it is hard at work.
You take its efficiency for granted - it is your vacuum cleaner.

Ask your wife about it - she uses it every day for cleaning carpets, furniture, stairs, curtains easily and without any fuss.

But are you sure your cleaner is safe and really efficient? Compare it with the latest Vactric. If you haven't bought a cleaner yet, see a Vactric first.

Fill in this coupon and we'll let you and your wife know all about the latest Vactric models which you can still buy on easy terms. Top-price allowed on your old cleaner.

(Note to wives: If he needs any extra persuasion, tell him about the optional spray-gun attachment!)

And there's a lot of this kind of thing:

When you discover how easy it is to cover up old-fashioned wooden surfaces with FORMICA laminated plastic, you'll get ambitious.

Yes, indeed, for that is what happened to my parents. Thrilled by the advent of Formica and its ilk, they took this Victorian house and ripped out all its period features, such as the fireplace and the carved wooden banisters and replaced them with late 1950s and early 1960s easy-to-clean fittings.

As a small child (a very, very, very small child, I hasten to add) I really regretted the loss of the fireplace and the banisters. But to the Communist, in particular, anything Victorian was old and dreary and he wanted to look to the future. Which, in some things, was good - but in others it wasn't.

I've always liked the feel of this house - friendly and comfortable and welcoming, I like to think - but visually it's a real clash of styles. And magazines such as Practical Householder were to blame. It was not one shilling and threepence well spent.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

New Supermarket Excitement

Look, I know it's quite hard to get excited about a supermarket but our local Sainsbury's has had a rebuild and a refit. I have tested it thoroughly, so you don't have to.

I have found some problems with it and here they are for your edification and enjoyment for I am certain you long to know more about it this Christmastide.

Firstly, in the cafe they have provided some sweet little tubular plastic chairs for teeny tots to sit in, made in very, very bright colours. The teeny tots love them because when they kick their cute little feet they make a very, very loud noise akin to the noise made by a kind of drum called a Floor Tom. Imagine how appealing that is when there are three or four of the little ones in the cafe.

Secondly, in the toilets adjacent to the cafe there is a special little sink for the tinies to wash the blood off themselves when they have been hit repeatedly by customers unable to stand the drumming. Good idea, little sink for tiny tots. Bad idea to put it on the end of the row of sinks, just where the door opens. One little child standing in front of the sink - fine. But if a mother is so unlucky as to have two children with her, one stands in front of the sink and one at the side so when the next person opens the door to the toilets, the one at the side is swept off its feet and hurled to the other side of the room, as I witnessed today.

Thirdly, and perhaps most interestingly, is the Smelly Aisle. Huge new supermarket, all shiny and clean - but as the customers approach one end of it, they may be observed wrinkling their noses and, soon afterwards, fleeing that aisle and the aisles adjacent to it. For in that aisle lurks the terrible stench of decay. If, for example, you were to split up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and leave them on very bad terms, and desire revenge, and unpick the hems of all the curtains on all the windows in their house, and place cooked prawns in the hems, and sew them up again, and leave them for three weeks - - well, that's the smell of the Smelly Aisle.

The smell has been there since the place opened about a month ago, and has shown no sign of decreasing. Sainsbury's, who were so keen to supply us with helpful notices when they were rebuilding the place ("There'll soon be a new supermarket for you to try" etc) are not so keen on this notice idea now, are they? For where are the signs saying "We apologise for the Putrid Stench and hope that this does not impair the pleasure of your Sainsbury's shopping experience".

Or perhaps "Welcome to the Retch-Inducing Stink Aisle. We hope that the rest of our produce will smell better, in contrast. Why not try some of the lovely perfumes from our Pharmacy department?"

Where can the smell come from? Has one of the builders been accidentally walled in? More to the point, why on earth has nobody seen fit to investigate?

Perhaps I'll have to write to the manager - particularly since the position of the children's sink is actually really dangerous. I am turning into the kind of person who writes to supermarkets. Sigh. Next it'll be the beige cardigans.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Evolution or Intelligent Design

Just before Christmas is upon us, I'd like to clear up a troubling issue which seems to be in the news a lot: i.e. Evolution versus Intelligent Design.

And the winner is: EVOLUTION.

And why? It's because of duvet covers and washing machines.

You will, if you ever do any washing in a washing machine, have discovered that if you put a duvet cover in the machine with any other items - towels, pillowcases, stray socks, bright red underwear - whatever else happens, whatever colour it all ends up, however clean it is and whatever programme you wash it on: EVERYTHING ELSE ENDS UP INSIDE THE DUVET COVER.

How stupid and how deeply annoying is that? Because our washing machine is in the cellar and hence I don't want the clean washing to end up on the Victorian stone floor, I can either contort myself into all sorts of ridiculous shapes to try to extract the errant washing, or I can trail all the way upstairs to sort it out before trailing downstairs into the cellar again to dry it all.

If there were a God of Intelligent Design - which there jolly well isn't, I'm telling you - the washing would all come out separately, and probably folded.

So it's Evolution. Because Evolution doesn't care. Evolution just brings about things that are useful, such as eyes, and doesn't bother getting rid of things that aren't, such as male nipples and wasps.

And as long as cursing while extricating a lone sock from a duvet cover doesn't actually cause death, Evolution will leave the Laws of Washing Machines exactly as they are, in spite of the best efforts of Mr Dyson and his ilk.

That's it, that's cleared that one up. We can all go back to fighting our way round festive supermarkets now.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Festive Christmas Emails

There seems to be a sudden vogue this year for not sending Christmas cards. Instead you send an email with a little message saying that Ernest Boggins Limited are not sending Christmas cards to their Valued Customers this year: instead they are making a Contribution to Charity of the Equivalent Amount.

They often have a slight air of self-righteousness about them: oh, you people who still send cards in the post, that's SO twentieth-century! Think of all the people that you could help with the money instead!

Has anyone actually tried emailing them back with what I want to say, which is:

I don't believe you. I think you've saved yourselves a lot of trouble, time and expense in not choosing cards or getting cards printed, not to mention the postage. And did you include the labour costs for the time taken to stuff proper cards in envelopes? Bet you didn't. Kindly send me a copy of:

a) all the receipts from what you spent on cards last year


b) the receipt from the charity this year for your generous donation.

Otherwise, you cheapskates, I will take my custom elsewhere.

Actually, it's not just companies who are doing this, it's real people too - a quick email to all their address book saves a lot of time. Of course, some of them are totally genuine and it's great that the charities benefit. But I fear it's likely that, if this idea spreads, there'll be a lot of people sending no cards at all and giving a fiver to charity - or nothing at all! - and calling it right.

Christmas cards, when sent in the right spirit, are a Good Thing. I'm not religious, but I write as someone who sends about eighty personal cards every year, and I do it because I want to say hello to those people, especially the ones who are far away and whom I don't see very often: and I write personal messages in many of them, and I do this because I want to and for no other reason, and I take pleasure in choosing cards that I hope people will like, and it's my decision to do that.

An email just isn't the same. If you are my friend, I will most certainly not take offence if you don't send me a Christmas card because you are too busy, or don't like Christmas, or have a different religion or no religion, or don't feel like it, or can't afford it. It won't matter because you are my friend.

But please don't think you have to send me an email to say you're not sending me a card. If you want to give a charitable donation, that's entirely up to you. Don't feel you have to tell me all about it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Cookery

Captain James Cook, eighteenth-century explorer and adventurer, was born in October 1728 at Marton-in-Cleveland but first went to sea from the delightful North Yorkshire port of Whitby.

Whitby is always worth a visit – it’s very pretty with lots going on. Beautiful beaches, lovely walks, Goth shops, jet workshops, Dracula everywhere and of course the Captain Cook Museum which sadly isn’t open all year but when I went there I found it fascinating – there are some of his letters to relatives there and it was very interesting to read them.

Of course, Whitby has so much respect for its famous explorer that it has commemorated Captain Cook with a magnificent statue.

Here’s a photo of the statue that Gareth took last weekend.

When I read some of Cook’s letters I thought he came over as a thoroughly decent chap. I think he might have liked his new hat.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Outside My Comfort Zone

Although I work in an actors’ agency, I’m certainly not an actor, though I do a lot of roleplay work for the training and assessment of medical students, doctors, nurses and other healthcare people.

However, a company that I work for sometimes asked me if I’d be in a play for a medical conference, in just a small role (phew) and I thought it sounded interesting, so I agreed.

The rest of the cast were all Proper Actors and they were excellent.

The venue was the Great Hall of Leeds University. The last time I was there I was doing the Shakespeare paper in my Finals – yes, a few years ago now, no need to point it out - so at the time I wasn’t too interested in how it looked, but it does look rather impressive.

Because I had to take the hired lights for the open-air performance of A Christmas Carol – see Saturday’s post to this blog - back to the hire shop, early this morning, I arrived at the Great Hall before eight o’clock and it looked very good in the dawn light:

I was the first one there. Stained glass -

and an empty stage.

Because I was so early, this gave me a bit of time to think about what I was doing, and also to set up the stage – this made me feel better as I like stage-management and have done quite a bit of it over the years. The actors arrived, we did a quick run-through and then we were on at ten.

It was a good script: the three actors in the leading roles were superb (one of them starts rehearsals for a play with Prunella Scales after Christmas) and I managed to say all my lines and in the right order too. The audience paid rapt attention to the play and laughed in the right places. Success.

But it was really, really scary: the Proper Actors were as scared as I was: and we were all a bit hyper afterwards when it had gone well.

Why do actors do it? I suppose partly because, for them, the enjoyment of the work and the buzz afterwards outweighs the terror beforehand. Not for me though. I did enjoy it, but it didn’t make me think that I wish I could be an actor: it just served to renew my respect for good, hardworking actors who simply get on with the job with no fuss. Hail to them.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Christmas Number One

I watched the final of The X-Factor this morning, because I was out at A Christmas Carol last night so I recorded it (yes, I did, and I’m not ashamed. Well only a bit).

For those of you who don’t know, the final was between:

Ray, 18, Liverpudlian and a born entertainer, though I’m a bit suspicious of anyone of eighteen whose preferred music is swing.

Leona, 21, from London, a modest girl with a great ability to feel the emotion of a song and with a truly fantastic voice.

And she won. Now, I know that if you care at all, you were watching, and if you weren’t watching you just don’t care.

But my point is this. At the end of the final, both finalists sing their versions of a song which they have already recorded: then the winner’s is released and becomes a near-enough dead cert for the Christmas Number One.

Last year’s was called One Moment in Time.

This year’s is called This is My Moment.

Do you see a bit of a pattern? Me too. I want to overhear the conversation where the songwriter is commissioned to write it: - - “ballad - - Christmas - - must be catchy - - strong emotion - - key change - - will look good when the winner sings it with tears in his/her eyes”

And a big “money moment” which is the memorable point in such songs, often just at the key change, like that one that goes and I eeeI eeeI -- - - - - - will always love you - - -

My bid for next year’s is called Moment of my Heart, because television programmes with Heart in the title are always successful so I don’t see why this shouldn’t apply to songs too.

Oh this is my moment
The moment of my heart
I think of all you give to me
When we are far apart

And soon we’ll be together for
It’s Christmas in my heart
And we’ll make lots of money
As this song goes up the chart

Next year’s X-factor winner will sing it, millions of people will buy it in December and by March they will find it in their cd collection and feel faintly embarrassed. Ah, showbiz, isn’t it great?

A Christmas Carol

David Robertson is the best Scrooge in the world, of course. He has been Scrooge every Christmas with Theatre of the Dales for some years now and in fact I don't think it's Christmas until I've seen David as Scrooge do that quick costume change into his nightshirt.

Every Christmas there's been a different cast to accompany him and the show has toured to many venues in Yorkshire over the years: and is, indeed, touring at the moment with two shows tomorrow, one in North Yorkshire and one in South Yorkshire.

But today there was a slightly different performance. Theatre of the Dales has done several outdoor plays in the summer with great success. So what could be more natural than A Christmas Carol outside? In a Woody Glade. At night. In December.

Here was the Woody Glade this morning, looking lovely in the winter sunshine.

You can see the pallets on the ground:

Now that, by this evening, was a stage. The transformation was astonishing and never fails to surprise me. A carpet over the pallets and some lighting and four actors all giving it masses of talent and energy and commitment. Over sixty people came to watch. It rained at first but then thought better of it. And here is Scrooge in his nightgown with the ghost of Jacob Marley:

It was really too dark to get a good photo and I didn't want to keep using the flash and annoying the actors.

The audience loved it and I always cry when Scrooge undergoes his transformation after meeting the three ghosts.

There are lots of things I don't like about Christmas, but Charles Dickens knew a thing or two about what it should be about, and so do Theatre of the Dales.

Friday, December 15, 2006

And Put Your Vest On

And so goes the cry from the parent to the child. Put your vest on. Have you got your coat? Why not take a sandwich with you? Be careful crossing the road, it’s always busy there.

Then, over the years, it changes slightly.

Be careful on the M62, it’ll be extra busy today. Have you got your coat (oh, perhaps that one stays the same). Have you got money? Have you got a map in your car? Here, take this sandwich (or perhaps the sandwich thing is just me).

“Be careful,” I say to them as they leave, “now what are you going to be?”

“Careful,” they reply obediently, sometimes. More often I get a cheery chorus of

“Dead.” Or “Dead in a ditch with our broken limbs sticking out at crazed angles.” Or “Dead in a pool of slowly congealing blood.”

They just do it to wind me up and because the young think they’re immortal. I have to say that Emily and Gareth are very good at letting me know that all is well, though: hence last night’s text message from Emily: “Concert was great. Going to club now. Alive” and the one later on to tell me that they remained alive and were now about to go to sleep on their friend’s living-room floor. It’s great that they do this and I know many young adults don’t so I’m grateful.

But this feeling of youthful immortality is why some young adults take risks: they take drugs, binge-drink, parachute-jump out of aeroplanes, bungee-jump, drive too fast, join the Army.

And when they get older, most of them stop doing all this and some of them even start playing bridge.

Well, I think it’s the wrong way round. Surely young people should know to keep themselves safe? They are needed to produce the next generation, for goodness’ sake!

It would surely make more sense, in evolutionary terms, if young people were the cautious ones. When we’re older it doesn’t matter so much. The roads should surely be choked with half-blind seventy-year-olds roaring along on motorbikes on their way to the hang-gliding club.

Some of the stupid things that some young people do are most definitely best avoided – racing each other along the motorway, for example. But it’s possible to be too cautious. And one thing about being older is hey, it’s now or never. Who cares what people think? If we care passionately about it, and have always wanted to do it, we should. Unless it’s murder. Or bridge.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Voted Off the Planet

The formula’s well-established in television – get a group of people in a hostile environment and vote for the one you want to keep: the rest get voted off one by one until finally there’s only one winner who gets a large prize.

So now they’ve decided to do it with endangered species, in a series called Extinct. Various celebrities each champion the cause of one endangered species and the species with the most votes at the end of the series gets half a million quid to spend on its own survival.

Of course, it has to be a level playing field so all the species are extremely telegenic and appealing to the human race. If the Ethiopian Giant Green Slug dies out, we don’t give a monkey’s. So, you’re a crocodile? Byeeeeee! If you’re any kind of snake, forget it, you’re a dead snake slithering. But here, in Very Very Selective Endangered Species Television, we can choose from the following:

Polar Bear

Giant Panda

Hyacinth Macaw



Asian Elephant

Leatherback Turtle

Bengal Tiger

Each and every one either cute, with that baby-faced look of the giant panda, or that head-on-one-side almost-human look of the macaw, or majestic with the hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck factor, like the tiger. And sometimes majestic and yet with really cute babies – they’re our favourites, beloved of all mankind!

So, the premise of this show is, that we vote for our favourite, and if, say, the polar bear wins, the measly half a million is used to entirely stop global warming so that polar bears don’t run out of ice (as is currently happening) and the polar bear is saved! But if the Leatherback Turtle - only added as a makeweight, I feel, being a reptile and hence related to snakes – loses, what happens then? Is it, in effect, voted off the planet?

Yes, it's simplistic rubbish. I suppose they’d justify it as raising awareness of environmental issues in an accessible way, blah blah - - But oh, have we come to this?

Coming next – Here are three cute Third World babies. Which one do YOU want to save?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Grey and Red

Not being perhaps at the cutting edge of fashion, it has taken me a while to notice that everyone everywhere is wearing grey and/or red, and that every item of clothing for sale in all the shops is one of these two colours.

Now grey can be a Good Thing if it’s a deep, smoky, sexy, mysterious charcoaly kind of a grey. And this isn’t. Oh no, it’s Primary School Uniform Grey, the kind that makes me wonder where my maroon and silver tie went. I gave up that shade of grey when I started at Big School and I ain’t going back to it.

Okay, Emily has a V-neck jumper in that shade of grey and she looks fantastic in it, but that’s because she teams it with black in a very stylish way, and also because she is a size 8. The trouble with light grey is it has no edges, it just seems to go on for ever outwards. So if you are a size 10 you look like a 12 and if you are size 12 you look like a 14 and if you are over a size 14 you look like - - well, you know elephants? It’s a little-known fact that they’re not really that big, they are only about the size of a cow. The only reason they look that big is because they are LIGHT GREY. I rest my case.

Now, on to the red. There are many shades of red – including bright red – that I love. Rich red, vibrant red, cheerful red, sultry red. But THIS shade of bright red has had a brush with orange. It is as if you took a pillar-box and made it a bit brighter.

It is the colour of the anorak that Hayley wears in Coronation Street. She is a completely style-free character and she has been wearing this anorak for at least five years. Why was it chosen for her? Because this shade of red is a vile colour that suits nobody and the Coronation Street wardrobe mistress was trying to make her look as bad as possible and the red anorak was a good joke. But now hey! look! half the other characters are wearing that colour!

If you have a rosy complexion, as I have, it makes your cheeks look purple – delightful. If you are pale it makes you look as though you are dying of tuberculosis. If you have brown skin it makes you look like a Seventies living room.

I can’t believe that people have tried these colours on, looked in the mirror and said to themselves, yippee, that red jacket makes my face look really mauve, fantastic, and the grey skirt makes my hips look just like a rhinoceros in size, shape and colour. Just what I wanted.

SO WHY IS EVERYONE WEARING THOSE COLOURS? Just go into town, let your eyes blur slightly over the Christmas crowds and there you have it. Grey and red.

Come on, folks, do you HAVE to buy new clothes all the time? Just go on strike until they give up trying to foist this nastiness upon us and are forced to bring back proper colours. Otherwise, next autumn, you’ll be looking in the wardrobe at your grey jumpers and red winter coat and thinking ye Gods! Did I really wear those? They’re hideous and SO last year. Must rush out and buy some new clothes.

Could that be what the clothes manufacturers want, by any chance?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Screwdrivers in Space

A choice for the discerning viewer this evening. Should it be the Royal Variety Show on television or a live spacewalk at the International Space Station viewed over the internet on NASA TV?

I chose the spacewalk. It was strangely addictive even though all I could see for much of the time was a man’s gloved hands – the camera was fixed to his head - working a screwdriver to bolt on extra bits of the space station. Most of the astronauts are American but apparently there’s a Swedish one who’s been having quite a few problems with it all: I have a theory that they’ve given him a diagram of Ikea self-assembly furniture to work from, in a sort of international plot for revenge on behalf of everyone who’s ever bought from there.

The space station looks exactly as you’d expect: ie like a bit of the set from the sci-fi spoof Red Dwarf. Lots of pipes and tubes and bits of metal. I kept looking to see if there were any egg-boxes glued on and sprayed silver.

We kept returning to a map of the world showing the space station hovering over Australia, and also to Mission Control, or, as they used to say it in the old Apollo days, Missioncontrolhouston. I was pleased to see that they still had all the banks of monitors, though strangely the picture is now in colour when it never used to be in 1969, and there aren’t as many strange beeps and whirrs as there used to be. Probably the man in charge of them has retired. There are also little American flags all over the place. Funny lot, Americans, needing to be reminded where they are all the time.

They’re bolting on a new bit to the space station, and of course all the tools are kept on the space equivalent of bits of string – otherwise if you drop your screwdriver it clears right off to Alpha Centauri or somewhere. Of course, it’s rather important that they get all the bits in the right place. I expect they practised on the lawn before they set off, like you do with the tent before you go camping.

So, a pair of gloved hands doing a bit of DIY – not too interesting on the face of it. But I still have that rush of excitement dating from the Moon missions in the late sixties and early seventies (I was VERY VERY YOUNG, let’s be clear about that). I don’t think younger people have ever experienced that kind of excitement, and I think it’s a shame that this mission hasn’t captured the national consciousness more.

Behind the man with the gloved hands is part of a circle, mostly blue. Oh yes, that’s the Earth. Wow.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Live it, Love it

Leeds has acquired a snappy new slogan, which will of course enhance the quality of life for all those who live here.

Live it
Love it

In the olden days Leeds didn't need a slogan, oh no. It was a big smoky place full of lots of Victorian terraces and it knew what it liked and it didn't like anything that could remotely be classed as Culture: that was for soft Southerners.

Gradually the smoking chimneys were done away with and Leeds started to reinvent itself with the first slogan that I remember:


That was presumably because the M1 reached all the way to Leeds - amazing! Those from the South could actually visit.

Then, in the eighties, came the more nebulous:


It didn't of course, it never has done. It is cautious. It thought about having a modern tram network and then decided that waiting half an hour for a bus in the rain was infinitely preferable, because we are Northern and we are Tough.

But, of recent years, Leeds has tried to transform itself into a European City, mostly by adding pavement cafes and posh shops. Harvey Nichols is always quoted as a sign of Leeds as the new Paris or similar. (No, I have never set foot in it and I don't even know where it is, as those who read my previous post about posh clothes will guess).

None of these slogans is much use, really.

Here's mine: LEEDS - The people are friendly it's quite hilly so not as good for bikes as Cardiff or Norwich but on the other hand you get good views there are lots of parks lots of interesting old stone buildings the art gallery's worth a visit did I mention the parks the West Yorkshire Playhouse can be good but I find the seats uncomfortable haven't been to the Grand Theatre since it reopened oh yes lots of clubs if you like that sort of thing classical concerts in the Town Hall lots of societies doing all sorts of stuff and it's near to the Dales which are bloody gorgeous parking can be quite expensive but the traffic's not as bad as Bradford you can get out into the countryside very quickly it doesn't straggle out for miles like Manchester housing much more expensive than it used to be but not bad compared to some places the water used to be soft but is now harder I notice they've just demolished the Olympic Swimming Pool which I really used to like and it's time they built another open-air pool there are two big universities and lots of things for students to do some good cafes which I like and some very posh restaurants don't know what they're like a couple of good hospitals quite a lot of crime just like any big city I suppose and you can get to just about anywhere in the British Isles without too long a journey because geographically it's about in the middle in fact the main drawback is it doesn't have a seaside.

Okay, I'll condense it a bit:


Saturday, December 09, 2006

One Thinks One Knows It All

“Of course, when one is eighteen one thinks one knows it all,” wrote Stephen’s ex-stepfather to him in a letter – he was forbidding Stephen to live with me, as a matter of fact. I was, Ex-Stepfather believed, a shameless hussy of twenty-one and Stephen and I weren’t even married.

Of course, it might not have worked out: Ex-Stepfather might have been right. But I don’t think you can go round forbidding adults – even young ones – to do things: they have to work things out for themselves. Otherwise one generation could just give the next a list of instructions and every generation would show a marked improvement upon the one before.

Life doesn’t work like that. It would be wrong if it did.

But do people change? I think some do, some don’t. I met a woman the other day whose daughter was at the same university interview as Emily. The daughter and her boyfriend had been together for three years, the mother really liked him “but if they get engaged, I’ll kill both of them,” said the mother. I bet she wouldn’t have thought like that when she was seventeen.

And, of course, Emily and Gareth have been together for almost three years and engaged for a year and a half of those. Things may work out for them – I can currently see no reason why they wouldn’t – or they may outgrow one another and it may all go wrong. But I think they have to be given the chance to work things out for themselves.

I don’t feel I have changed much in essence since I was eighteen. I still like the things I liked then (the sea, the countryside, small groups of close friends, unpretentious cafes, casual clothes, paintings, reading, museums, to name just a few) and I still dislike the things I disliked then (posh shops, formal clothes, formal food, anything termed “sophisticated”, parties, crowds).

But maybe I just haven’t grown up. Someone I know reasonably well said to me recently “Well, of course you can’t wear the same clothes now that you did when you were eighteen.” - - Well of course, I can’t. But only because there’s not that much cheesecloth about these days. At eighteen I wore jeans and a T-shirt, or a cheesecloth top and a long skirt. And now I wear jeans and a T-shirt, or a fairly informal top – cotton generally, I don’t like anything too synthetic - and a long skirt, which is quite often made of, er, denim.

Other people, of course, of my age, wear formal suits and pearls and high heels and hats. But I don’t and I won’t, so there. I’d feel ridiculous.

So, some people change more than others over the years. I think we should give young adults – the ones who are clearly thinking about things, at least – the benefit of the doubt. We can advise them, but they must make their own decisions, and live with the consequences, good or bad, because that’s what life is.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Myocardial Infarction

My friend, whom I'll call Anna, lives in a Foreign Country. I won't tell you which, but it's known for cheeses. And clogs. And windmills. And no hills.

After a strange incident involving an organic orange full of maggots, Anna ended up in their version of A and E, and having had some pain which she thought was indigestion, she had an ECG done to measure the heart's activity.

"You have had a myocardial infarction," announced the female doctor neutrally.

Now, had this been a medical roleplay, I would undoubtedly have reacted to this with a baffled "what do you mean?" to indicate to the doctor that this is not a good way to tell a patient such a thing, and to provoke the doctor into explaining what she meant.

However, this being real life, my friend went
"WHAT? AAAAAAAAAAAARGH! A HEART ATTACK? ARE YOU SURE? AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!" - which was perhaps another way of pointing out to the doctor the inappropriateness of her approach.

"Oh yes, quite sure," said the doctor,"but we can't tell when it happened. You'll have to come back on Tuesday and see the cardiologist."

My friend pointed out that, at forty-nine, slim and very fit, and eating an extremely healthy diet, she really isn't top of the risk factors for a heart attack: but the doctor was adamant. Definitely a heart attack.

Having thought about this for a few days, made her will and written letters for her children, Anna decided she didn't fancy hanging about for nearly a week to see the cardiologist, so made a bit of a fuss and got to see the cardiologist today. He did lots of tests.

"I'm pleased to say you definitely have NOT had a heart attack," he said. Apparently her heart was slightly tilted the wrong way, possibly because of her slimness, and this had affected the results of the initial ECG.

So, two things here:

Firstly, the appalling communication skills of the initial doctor. Giving no "warning shot" so the patient has a moment to prepare herself for the bad news, coupled with using a medical term which the patient might misunderstand or not understand at all. Not to mention the lack of empathy.

Secondly, the first doctor should not have said "definitely a heart attack" - particularly taking into account my friend's lack of risk factors.

Of course, this all happened in the Land of the Cheese, where they are all barbarians and have barely invented hospitals let alone communication skills, and of course it could never happen here, not in the good old NHS, and oh look! a giraffe just flew past the window.

And, as a final point, if you click on the link to myocardial infarction, you will find out what it means - - but only at the cost of finding a lot of misplaced apostrophes as well.

"the heart muscle suddenly loses it's blood supply"

So, some good learning points here for doctors and medical students:

1) Don't use medical terminology unless you are certain that the patient knows what it means (but don't go down the "let's have a teeny look at your front bottom" route either, oh please no)

2) Don't break bad news unless you are certain, absolutely certain that you have bad news to break

3) It's only ever has an apostrophe when it means it is, and never at any other time.

Aah - - I feel a bit better now, and so does my friend Anna.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Are you a Twirly or a Turn?

Well, are you? Quite a few people whom I know are. A Twirly or a Turn is actor-speak for a dancer or an actor (actually, it's luvvie-speak - I don't hear ordinary actors use the expression much!)

I am, of course, neither Twirly nor Turn, though I do work for an actors' agency. I also do some freelance work helping to train doctors and other medical practitioners and at the moment I've been cast in a short play for a medical conference.

Everyone else in the play is a Proper Actor and I have only a small role: I think I've been cast because of my experience in improvisation, which will happen later on in the day. This piece, however, is scripted - and it's a good script, too.

We performed a run-through for the client today. She was amazed to see the Proper Actors, whom she had met out of role a week ago at the read-through, transform themselves into different characters and lift the script off the page into something watchable, believable and entertaining.

And, as I only have a small role in it, I was able to watch them do it too. We take it for granted that actors can do that in films, with the help of make-up and costume: but people are always amazed that they can do it in a bare rehearsal-room with no make-up and costume at all.

I find it fascinating to watch, and I never tire of it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Ordinary Yorkshire Field

I've driven in a Great Yorkshire Triangle today. Firstly, I went south-west from Leeds to a morning meeting in Holmfirth, then south-east from there to work with doctors in Doncaster in the afternoon, then back up the Great North Road to Leeds. I had never driven from Holmfirth to Doncaster before and it was a pleasant surprise. The route-finders suggested that the M18 would be the quickest way but I chose the scenic route and it was a strange mix of pretty villages and massive roundabouts.

I set off from Leeds at about quarter to eight in the pitch dark, howling wind and lashing rain, but there was dawn light by the time I'd turned off the M1 towards Denby Dale (famous for its huge, record-breaking pies which I'm sure are about to be Healthandsafetied out of existence, if they haven't been already) and then, later on, sunshine.

The road to Holmfirth, and then again from Holmfirth towards the A1 and Doncaster, is never particularly spectacular but always very pleasing to the eye - stone houses, little villages, distant hills, woodland and lots of stone walls dividing the fields. It's hard to park along the road, but I stopped in the only place I could find on the way to Holmfirth and took this photograph.

It's not a very good photograph because I took it from the only place I could: it's not a great view and the light isn't particularly interesting. It's just very typical of the scenery around there. I was thinking about how much I love that scenery, and how it changes with the seasons and always looks summat like - to quote an old Yorkshire expression - and I was feeling quite emotional about it.

Then I got back into the car and switched the radio on and the very first thing I heard was the beginning of that Belinda Carlisle song:

Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth - Ooh, Heaven is a place on earth.

How corny is that? It made me cry though.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I'd Like to Be A Celebrity Again Please Keep Me In Here Long Enough To Revive My Career

The latest series of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here has just finished (Matt Willis from the group Busted won, though I know already you don’t care and hadn’t heard of him before it all started).

A dozen or so “celebrities” are dropped in the jungle in Australia and have to perform certain trials and tasks to get food., and are then voted out one by one until one of them is left and wins. The trials they have to do tend to involve either something physically challenging and scary (bungee-jumping out of a helicopter) or something involving insects, toads, rats, snakes and any other creature that makes many people go “errrrgh”. The third kind of trial characteristically involves eating witchetty grubs or cooked rats’ tails or similar.

I had no clue who some of the so-called “celebrities” were, but yes, true confession, I love the programme. I would enjoy it just as much if they weren’t supposed to be celebrities – what interests me is how they change and develop and how they get on with each other (and I met a psychologist last week who loves it too, so there). Also the games are very entertaining in a “could I do that?” way.

And could I? I really don’t know how I’d react if asked to jump out of a plane or walk on a high platform amongst the trees but I like to think I’d have a go. The eating one I’m really not sure about – I think I would find that really difficult, just because I’m not used to eating anything that wriggles.

But the ones involving rats, snakes, insects - - oh, get a grip! There’s not going to be anything there that’s actually poisonous – the worst that will happen is you’ll get bitten a bit. Snakes don’t bother me, in fact I like them (we have Kelloggs, our very own Corn Snake, in a vivarium upstairs). I do wonder if some people on the programme make a huge fuss about how scared they are of snakes etc in order to come over as really, really brave when they have to face them.

David Gest, who was one of this year’s crop of celebrities, I had only heard of because he was married to Liza Minnelli. But he was very, very rich and clearly in real life employed people to do everything. By the end of his time in the jungle, the other celebrities were running around doing everything for him too. He seemed to have considerable charm and they mostly succumbed to it.

However, after he came out there was some film of his bodyguard instructing a maid in the hotel to get his - already immaculate, five-star – room ready. The pillows had to go, they were not good enough quality. The bed linen was terrible. She must disinfect all the woodwork. On and on and on, treating the maid like some form of slave. This short sequence, for me, undid any good that David Gest had done for his image in the jungle.

Every year I’m amazed by the fact that the “celebrities” never seem to have seen the programme. In spite of cameras and microphones everywhere, they seem to think that if they hide behind a bush and speak quietly, nobody will hear. They don’t know that in the jungle, everyone can hear you whisper.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Back in the Flower Dungeon

After a gap consisting mainly of schoolwork and university applications, Emily has tonight written another post on her blog Emily's Flower Dungeon . She and Gareth went to visit the Communist in hospital today, completely unprompted ("we'll pop out for an hour in the middle of Dungeons and Dragons to see him") and I know he really appreciated it.

She writes about their visit extremely entertainingly. I am of course proud of my daughter for many reasons - her individuality, her kindness, her cleverness, her beauty, her hard-workingness to name but a few. But her ability to be FUNNY - - well, I love it.


The Communist had a bit of a funny turn while finishing his lunch in a pub yesterday and he ended up in hospital.

It might have been a diabetic hypo, caused by eating too late, or it may have been low blood pressure – he’s on tablets to lower it and it might be a bit too low – we’re not sure, but they’re doing tests.

He was taken to A and E, from where my mother rang to tell me. She can’t speak too well when she’s stressed, because of the stroke she had nearly fifteen years ago, but a doctor spoke to me – very well and very clearly, I was pleased to note, since I spend a lot of time helping to train doctors to do exactly that - and he explained that the Communist was being kept in to see what was going on. Once he was transferred to a ward, she came home and Stephen and I went to see him later to take pyjamas, etc.

By the time we got there he was feeling much better, was very cheery and I could see he was working up to flirting with the nurses and explaining to everyone exactly where the Government is going wrong.

The ward was full of very, very old people – I think their average age was about a hundred and thirty-six. The Communist at a mere eighty-three looked very young and fit in contrast. He’s quite a good patient, I have to say – I think he likes having a tame audience who are longing to hear about the political changes since 1940 told from a Marxist-Leninist viewpoint.

The Communist is diabetic, as I said, and we hadn’t taken his insulin to the hospital because of that thing that hospitals do where they won’t let you take any of your own drugs, not even recreational ones.

And this is where we went wrong. The staff on the ward were delightful but unfortunately they hadn’t been able to find the Communist any hot food that evening as the evening meal was over by the time he was transferred to the ward. They did their best and made him a sandwich.

Unfortunately, however, also, the Insulin Shop had now closed for the weekend or something, so they were completely unable to find him any insulin. Finally a doctor decided it would wait until morning.

Hospitals have made tremendous efforts over the past decades to train their staff in communication skills and that’s great – everyone we met was just as we hoped they would be.

However, getting the correct medicaments, plus proper food for patients of a kind they might wish to eat, available when the patients need it, would seem to me to be somewhat fundamental in patient care and perhaps the Government might work on that one over the next few years.

Get Well Soon, you old Communist.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Oh well, I had to do it eventually. After twenty years of backing the car out of the drive.

Our drive leads to a side road and it’s just near a primary school. At school chucking-out time all the parents park their cars along the side road. They park all along the main road too, with two wheels up on the kerb, so pedestrians can’t walk along the pavement because of the wildly opening car doors. If you’re trying to turn out of the side road onto the main road in either direction, you simply can’t see because of the parked cars – you just have to edge forward carefully.

Sometimes they park right across the drive, so we can’t get out. Always they park on the other side of the road opposite the drive. Their little children mill around happily between the parked cars and wander cheerily across the road. Add to this the normal traffic trying to get along the side road and there only being room to go in one direction because of all the parked cars and - - well, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

And because of this, we get used to looking very carefully to the right and to the left as we drive out from the drive, because of the potential for running over small children and indeed their parents, and we come out very slowly.

But, if there is a dark coloured car parked directly opposite the drive’s entrance, and if it’s night, which it often is, and if you’re used to looking carefully to the right and to the left - - and then a quick glance in the mirror to see if there’s anything behind you and no, there isn’t, just darkness, so you go back a bit and BANG! - - Oh yes, there was a car there after all, it was just hard to spot.

Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. And I have to say I am one of the last people in this house to do it. My brother did it years ago, leaving an exact imprint of the back of his car in the side of our neighbour’s car. My mother did it fairly recently. My friend did it just a couple of months ago.

And tonight it was my turn. BANG. Though not a very big bang, because I was going very very slowly. I pulled into the side of the road.

The owner of the car came and tapped on the window of mine.

“Yes, yes, I know, I just backed into your car,” I said grumpily. “And now I want you to come and look at this.”

He followed me in bewilderment, with his two tiny children in tow.

I made him stand at the end of the drive.

“Now, I want you to imagine you’re backing a car out of this drive,” I said, in full Schoolteacher mode. “Look to the left. All clear. Look to the right. All clear. Look behind you. What can you see?”

“Er - - well, nothing. Darkness.”

“My point exactly. So it wasn’t a very sensible place to park, was it?”

“Well, probably not - - But look, there’s a dent in my car door.”

“Yes. And at the top of our drive live two pensioners, who both drive. And a twenty year old man who drives. And me, and I’ve just backed into your car: my husband who hasn’t yet but give him time - - oh, and my daughter who’s just about to start driving lessons. And everyone else who has ever lived in our house has backed out of the drive and into a car parked opposite, and so have lots of our friends who come to visit. So, I promise you, if you ever park there again, WE WILL DO IT AGAIN!”

He looked at me, clearly thinking that he had met the Mad Woman of Leeds, muttered that he didn’t think he would be parking there again and I got Gareth to give him my insurance details just to complete the scary effect, because Gareth is Tall and has Long Hair.

And when I looked at the man's address I found that he lives a maximum of two hundred yards away. He was collecting the two tiny children from the nursery that is attached to the primary school. Perhaps next time he might consider walking the two hundred yards, so as not to add to the continual death trap that is our side road.

Damage to my car: nil. Damage to his car: dent in door. And I know it was my fault and I should be more careful: but it was a very minor accident. And there’ll be no change: the side road will be full of cars owned by parents who live two hundred yards away right until one of their children is run over and killed, and then everyone will be very sad and very sorry and they may even consider putting some double yellow lines there.