Friday, August 31, 2007

The Patient Formerly Known as Ronnie

"Hello, is that Dorothy?"



"Daphne. My name's Daphne."

Because I have a slightly unusual name, once people have learned it they do tend to remember it. But there are one or two people who always think I'm either Dorothy or Diane and it always makes me instantly cross.

The Communist's name is Ron, or Ronnie. He has always hated his full name of Ronald, because, as he points out, the letter l and the letter d are not ones which sit easily together. Nobody has ever called him Ronald since he left school.

Until now. In both hospitals he's been in, and in the nursing home, everyone, without exception, calls him Ronald. Above his bed in the hospital it says Ronald. I hear all the doctors and nurses and health care assistants:

"Come on Ronald, it's time for your tablets Ronald, here's your cup of tea Ronald, do you want asweetener Ronald?"

And I want to shout THAT'S NOT HIS NAME.

I asked him about it tonight and he said he's not too bothered any more: he just thinks of Ronald as his hospital name, like actors have an Equity name.

But I think they should take the trouble to get the patient's name right. Wouldn't it be good if the name plate above the bed gave the full name and then the name that the patient likes to be known by? Would that be beyond the NHS's organisational ability?

Even better, wouldn't it be a Good Thing if the hospital staff, when they first meet a patient, could ask them what they like to be called and then put it in their notes and tell everyone else? Is that too difficult? When medical students are trained in Communication Skills, I know that they are trained to ask the patient how they would like to be addressed.

Perhaps next year I will have to try to get the "put it in the notes and tell everyone" bit added. Whatever happened to common sense and just that tiny bit of insight?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On Not Being Racist

The Mighty Consultant happened to come round when I was visiting the Communist today, with his accompanying flock of junior doctors. As they all do, the Mighty One was clearly a bit stumped by the Communist's condition: he feels quite well: two of his toes on his right foot are - well - fucked, really: he is perfectly with it mentally but just can't move. If he were younger they would take a Sharp Knife and remove the toes. But he's nearly eighty-four and his blood vessels are all buggered and we all know the foot would never heal.

"We need better pain relief," said the Mighty One. "How about something morphine-based?" I explained about the Communist's really bad reaction to morphine. The Mighty One muttered something about getting the Palliative Care team, because, although the Communist's condition is not terminal, the Palliative Care team know about pain control.

I told the Mighty One that I was very pleased with the way the Communist has been looked after in this ward (as opposed to the Ward of Doom in Another Leeds Hospital) and that the staff were great, and that I work helping to train medics in Communication Skills and so I know a bit about it, and the junior doctors chorused that indeed some of them do know me. Mighty One was pleased to be told this, of course, and thanked me, and said he was going to get the Even Mightier One to look at the Communist, and went away with his little flock.

"You told him the staff are great," said the Communist loudly, "and they all are, apart from the big black woman. She never talks to me except to tell me she's too busy, and she's really rough when she does anything."

"Ssssh!" I said, "you can't go calling her the Big Black Woman, it's really racist."

He wouldn't like it, of course, if he were referred to as the Bearded Communist Jew.

"But she IS big and she IS black," he said. And, as if to prove the point, she hove into view and was charming to me.

"She's not like that when you're not here," he said.

"Yes, I'm quite prepared to believe that," I said, "but can you call her something else? Let's find out her name, shall we?"

"I don't remember names," said the Communist, "and she is big and she is black. I'm not being racist. I'm just describing her."

I know I'm on a loser with this and she will be the Big Black Woman to him forever. All I can hope is that I can stop him saying it loudly and frequently.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cough Up

Every week, with a heavy heart, I look in the folder of unpaid invoices in our office. Usually, lurking at the back, is one that’s several months old.

Somebody rings up wanting an actor for something – usually a video or a corporate event. I write a letter suggesting a choice of suitable actors and send their cvs and photos by post or, more usually these days, by email.

They audition some actors and choose an actor for the job. We ask them how they will pay us. “Oh, send us an invoice,” they say.

Because I have been caught that way before I ask the person I’m talking to – let us call her Michelle - to whom the invoice should be sent and for whose attention it should be marked and I ask them if they need to send us a purchase order any further paperwork.

“Oh, no,” says Michelle, “just send it to me.”

The actor does the job. We send the invoice to Michelle. The sun rises and sets lots of times and after six weeks or so we ring Michelle to ask her what’s happening, but Michelle’s away on holiday in Turkey with her boyfriend Mike and we’re now speaking to Lisa who doesn’t know anything about it but says we need to speak to Julie in Accounts.

Julie’s gone home with a headache but we ring the next day and leave several messages before finally catching her unawares in a rare telephone-answering moment. “What’s your purchase order number?” she says.

“Michelle told us we didn’t need a purchase order,” I say, sweetly.

“Oh no, you shouldn’t agree to do any job for us without a purchase order. Our payment terms are forty days from receipt of the invoice which must quote the purchase order number. I’ll have to send you a purchase order.”

Can she not just write the purchase order number on the invoice she’s already got from us? - - No, no she can’t. Not possibly.

So a week later, after several phone calls, she emails us the purchase order and Jane our trusty finance person sends Julie the invoice again with the purchase order on it.

The sun rises and sets many more times and we ring Julie again and she says she hasn’t managed to get it in this month’s pay run but it should definitely be paid at the end of next month.

“So would you think it was fair if you didn’t get your June salary until October?” I ask politely.

Julie clearly doesn’t realise that actors actually work for money and is very confused by this idea.

Some more weeks pass and finally I ask to speak to the managing director of the company and by a miracle I get through to him.

“Ah, well, you should have said you needed the money - - “ he says, as if speaking to someone with severe learning difficulties.

It’s so easy to take advantage of actors or of anyone running a small business. People who get people to work for them, and then don’t pay them, infuriate me. .

The people who make me the angriest are the ones who don’t pay for six months and then, when you threaten them with Equity or the small claims court or similar, get very uppity and start saying things like “Ah well, if you’re going to be like that about it - - “

When someone burgles your house it’s actually a much more honest transaction – you’ve got something they want, they’re taking it from you and both parties know where they stand. For some reason some people seem to think this kind of not-paying theft is acceptable. They are definitely going to pay at some point, they say. They just haven’t done it yet. Bastards.

A Pheasant and a Load of Rubbish

I took this photo on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire. I liked the contrast between the top half and the bottom half.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Still Life with Chain Mail

This weekend Emily has had the rest of her eighteenth birthday celebrations, which had to be postponed from early August because some of her Little Friends were away.

The Little Friends are now rather big, mostly over six feet tall. They started off when Emily was five or six, as in "Emily's having some little friends round to play." Even then it was said with slight irony and it's grown in irony as the Little Friends have grown in size.

Most of them have stayed overnight. They've played Dungeons and Dragons: they've been out for a walk: they've been out for two meals: tomorrow they're going horse-riding.

Some of the Little Friends are interested in historical re-enactment and this afternoon some of them slugged it out with swords on the lawn, making loud clanging noises which echoed round the neighbourhood.

Here's the photo I took after they'd finished:

Yes, I know that the corner of the greenhouse does slightly detract from the historical authenticity. And they probably didn't have quite that kind of potted bush at Agincourt.

Had it up to Here

Tonight Emily, Gareth and two of their friends went out for a meal to celebrate Emily's eighteenth birthday. The two friends were away on her actual birthday so couldn't come with us for the meal then.

Stephen and I were supposed to be going too but in the end Stephen went - at my suggestion - and I didn't because I was just too tired and too unsociable and too fed up. Fed up with the state of the house, mostly, and fed up with everything else, especially the relentlessness of the ongoing roller-coaster of the Communist's illness.

Visiting the Communist in hospital takes at least two, frequently three hours out of the day. I have a full-time job with the actors' agency and do medical roleplay as well. I didn't go to visit today and I feel bad about it, which helps nobody, but in general I do go every day.

I am gradually sorting my way through the ancestral junk which is piled in the dining-room, and which came out of the caravan. Plenty of it's not even mine - it belongs to my parents, who are, of course, not currently in a fit state to sort it. I did manage to return my brother's two childhood teddy bears to him this week when he was over from Amsterdam. The continuing heaps of junk in the dining room infuriate me, as do the casual comments from visitors which imply that I just don't think clearing it is important. "I see the junk's still there, ho ho."

My mother comes over and sees me sorting stuff or cleaning stuff and always, ALWAYS, says something along the lines of "Oh, stop for a bit and have a rest," because she thinks I do too much, and she's right, but I find this "stop for a bit and have a rest" idea, without any further suggestions as to how the work will get done, infuriating rather than helpful and have to try not to show this.

Then, finally, as happened tonight, I sit down to watch the one programme I really want to watch, and I lock the door, and everyone else is out, so I am totally freaked out when the lounge door opens very, very slowly. It is my mother, who has come over, found the door locked, gone back and got her key and come back again to see if I am all right.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm just watching this programme."

"What is it?"

"Look, could I just watch it and tell you later?"

"Well I just came to see if you wanted any ironing doing."

How can you shout GO AWAY at an eighty-three-year-old who's offering to do your ironing?

"Well, not at the moment, thank you, because I'm just watching this programme."

"I'll just get some off the pile, shall I?"

- - But I can't just let her do that, because it seems rude, so I go to find her some, and then I feel terrible for feeling cross, and then I've lost track of the programme anyway, so I go back to clearing and sorting.

And then Stephen comes home, and at about midnight, just as I'm starting to clean the bathroom, Emily and Gareth and David and Luke all land back here, because David and Luke are staying here tonight.

So I finish cleaning the bathroom, and start writing this, thinking that when I miss part of my daughter's eighteenth birthday celebrations and start cleaning the bathroom at midnight, something has gone wrong with my priorities somewhere. But at the moment, there doesn't seem to be a way of doing things differently.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Quietly Understated

Interior design? I'll tell you everything I know. Walls should be white and carpets should be green or, occasionally, terracotta. Then you can put pictures on the white walls. The green is restful and the terracotta is warm. Varnished floorboards look good but are a bit noisy. Have lots of bookshelves.

That's it for the interior design bit. And now, furniture.

The furniture should be carefully chosen to complement the above. Unlike ours which is a complete mixture of styles and colours. But ours has history, though not quite the same kind of history as, say, the furniture at Chatsworth. We have the big old sideboard which was dumped outside the Communist's chemist shop in about 1980, which he subsequently painted with gloopy varnish. We have the table which belonged to the old woman with one leg who lived in the flat above us in Cardiff, who had the dog which never left the flat (all possible imaginings which that conjures up were true). We have the rather wonky dining chairs which we bought as a temporary measure in about 1985 and never replaced. Only recently have we got rid of the coffee table which we bought from the Post Office in Cardiff for £2.25. I suppose furniture just can't be that important to me, or I would have done something about it all years ago.

The decor I enjoy most all year is at Park Hotel, Tenby, where we've been many times, where Emily and Gareth are getting married, and which doesn't know the meaning of subtle:

They also have a truly naff website (though if you click on The View you can see one reason why we keep going back there). But a website's not really a Park Hotel kind of a thing. The idiosyncratic cheery decor is entirely symptomatic of an idosyncratic cheery place. There's a place for Tasteful, and this isn't it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Vuzzy Tweels

The phone rang. Thinking about the letter I was writing, I answered it.

"Omfra Vuzzy Tweels."

No information. I hadn't a clue what she was saying.


"Vuzzy Tweels. Yafulledinaforrum. Omfra Vuzzy Tweels."

I thought of saying "I can't understand you. Goodbye," but I was intrigued.

"It's a very bad line," I said, pathetically and untruthfully. "Could you say it again, a bit more clearly?"

"Vuzzy Tweels. Forrum. Ya fulledinaforrum."

Ah - - Light dawns! "I filled in a form?"

"Yus. For Vuzzy Tweels."


"Vuzzy Tweels."

There's a limit to the number of times you can ask someone to repeat Vuzzy Tweels, and they can repeat it in exactly the same way, and you can continue to fail to understand, before it all gets very embarrassing and you have to hang up and then hide under the table for the rest of the day. So I decided on some further questioning.

"Sorry, it's really hard to hear. What does the organisation do?"

"Utsa wubseet fu Weels."

Ah. Finally. VISIT WALES. A Welsh tourist organisation. I had filled in a form saying I was happy to answer a telephone survey. But the Scots had clearly decided to sabotage Welsh tourism by getting a woman with the most impenetrable Scottish accent I have ever heard to do the ringing round.

Now don't get me wrong: I love Scotland. Edinburgh is one of the best cities ever. Scenery is wonderful. Whisky's great. People friendly. I even like haggis and bagpipes. Most Scottish accents I have no problem with. But this woman not only had the thickest accent ever, she had no idea that she had any accent at all, so she had no idea that wording something in a slightly different way might be helpful. We completed her five-minute survey a mere half-hour later and she thinks I'm stone deaf: and I'm still bright red and I'm typing this from under the table.

I think it's all part of a subdivision of Murphy's Law.

a) There are very few people in the country who like to be in bed and asleep by nine o'clock, but the ones who do all run bed and breakfasts. "We like all our guest to arrive by eight o'clock at the latest and we simply never answer the door after half past".

b) There are very few people in the country with incredibly strong accents, but the ones who do have them all work for call centres.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

AD, OT and AGO

The Romans counted backwards, as any fule kno. They counted down slowly until they got to O and then started counting forwards again until they got to 43. "Hurrah!" they cried. "Time to invade Britain!"

In preparation for her forthcoming Archaeology at York University, Emily today wrote all the major periods of history and pre-history on the bedroom wall (Yes. It needs decorating. Okay. I take the hint) and it struck me as very odd that we still do this counting-backwards-to-Jesus's-birth thing in 2007. Though, of course, if we didn't do the counting backwards thing, it wouldn't be 2007, it'd be Something Else, and I suppose it's because we could never agree what the Something Else would be that we've stuck with 2007.

It's just that many people these days aren't Christians. A lot of them say they are, but they're just of the births-marriages-and-deaths kind. And lots of people - lots and lots and lots, in fact - belong to other religions. And some, like me, don't belong to any, and feel that if we didn't have God as an excuse for lots of wars we might be much nicer to each other.

So I think that dating everything from the birth of Jesus now seems a bit old-fashioned, and distinctly unscientific. Perhaps it's become a useful starting point for that's-as-far-as-we-can-remember-back, and we're all used to it being 2007. So, okay, it can stay as 2007. It's all this counting backwards that should be done away with, because it's very confusing.

How many people care that AD stands for Anno Domini which is In the Year of our Lord anyway? I'd change it to something like OT for Our Time.

Prior to that would be just AGO, as in "Twelve thousand years ago." Because, at those distances into the past, the odd couple of thousand years don't matter. The Palaeolithic period, or Old Stone Age, is at present reckoned to be from 450, 000 BC to 10,000 BC (hah! counting backwards again). So if you do away with AD you just have to add on 2007. So the Palaeolithic period would now go from 452,007 years ago to 12,007 years ago. And the 2007 years suddenly don't seem that important, do they?

This is Daphne, probably offending everybody, at 9.30pm on August 21, 2007 OT.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Brief Encounter in Carnforth

Towards the end of the Second World War, David Lean filmed Noel Coward's Still Life as Brief Encounter, a classic film starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. It's about Laura and Alec, each married to someone else, who meet by accident at a railway station, and fall in love. It's still an excellent film, though demonstrates clearly how English pronunciation has changed and has moved much further forward in the mouth - their pronunciation of "back" really does sound like "beck" to the modern ear.

ALthough it's set somewhere in the South of England, much of the location filming for Brief Encounter was done at Carnforth Station in Lancashire. A few years ago the station was near-derelict: now it's been beautifully restored with a refreshment room like the one in the film (excellent scones), a visitor centre, a gift shop selling all things Train, and Brief Encounter showing on a loop on a television. The clock, which features largely in the film, is there too:

Today I went over to Carnforth to see Theatre of the Dales performing a shortened version of it in Carnforth Station, directed by David Robertson with our very own Sonia Beck and her fairly-newly-married husband Adrian Metcalfe as Laura and Alec, plus Jane Oakshott doubling as the tearoom lady and Laura's friend, who annoyingly interrupts their goodbyes - - oh, look, just go and see the film, if you don't know what I'm on about.

The piece is clearly still popular: the place was packed: here are some of the audience:

And the play still works, if done well, which this was. It's not an easy piece to act - it must be acted really well or else it could descend into melodrama - but today it made us all cry. In a good way.
There's a story there somewhere about a man and a woman, each married to someone else, who meet whilst watching Brief Encounter at Carnforth Station, and fall in love.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Autumn is y-comen in

We never quite managed to trip lightly round singing "Summer is y-comen in" this year. And now, here's autumn already in Gledhow Woods :

Mysterious creatures, fungi, and I associate ones like this with autumn. I suppose it's all the dampness of this wet summer that has encouraged them.

But never once this summer have I had that "It's summer! Hurrah!" feeling, perhaps because of all the rain, and perhaps because of the Communist's illness: he hasn't been at home since June. And now summer's just about over.

Children's Stories

In The Times yesterday there was a story about three boys, aged ten and eleven, who were playing in the woods, gathering branches to build a treehouse like something out of Richmal Crompton's William books.

Whilst playing their merry game, the boys came across a holdall hidden in the undergrowth. It contained a double-barrel sawn-off shotgun, about twenty cartridges, some black balaclavas and traces of blood.

Knowing they weren't in an Enid Blyton story, they didn't try to track down the villains themselves, but sensibly picked it all up and took it home to their somewhat alarmed mothers. "I carried the gun really carefully in case it was already loaded," said the appropriately-named John Peace, 10.

Apparently the woodland was near Frankland Prison, a maximum-security prison, and police think the boys have unwittingly foiled a prison break.

Well, I'm very shocked. Not by the fact that they found a sawn-off shotgun: I think that Britain's undergrowth is probably stuffed full of such things. Just like you're never supposed to be more than ten yards from a rat, it's probably the same with sawn-off shotguns.

No, the shocking thing is that there are still three boys left in Great Britain who are allowed to go and play in the woods and build tree houses. I thought boys nowadays all spend their time on their computers and Playstations and are never allowed to go out in case they play in the woods and find a sawn-off shotgun. But look! When something really dangerous did happen, these three boys dealt with it very well.

Children have more sense than they're often given credit for. Which is why I was also shocked by the banner headlines about the McCanns. They, of course, are the parents of missing Madeleine, for anyone who's been living with a remote tribe in the Amazon Jungle since early May and doesn't know the story.

Now, apparently, for the first time, the McCanns have told their toddler twins that Madeleine is missing. Previously, Sean and Amelie had been told that their sister was on holiday and would be back soon.

Those poor toddlers! The tension around them must have been very obvious to them from the beginning. And why is everyone so tense, and everything so different? No convincing explanation - except their sister has gone on holiday and will be back soon.

Stupid. They should have been told the truth, as their parents understood it, from the beginning. Told that their sister is missing: reassured that it won't happen to them. Some things are too important to tell stories about.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


At the moment the Communist's days consist of lying in his hospital bed, punctuated by meals and visitors and sleep. This ward at Leeds General Infirmary is the equivalent of the Ward of Doom at St James's - but the atmosphere is uncannily different. It's far more positive and cheerful and I hope the Communist will stay there for a while.

Now they seem to have worked out the correct doses of his drugs, he's far more alert and seems to be much more his usual self. The only thing is, when he falls asleep, which he does fairly often, he tends to think it's a new day when he wakes up: and where is Daphne?

It's me he wants to see most at the moment because I can deal with it all far better than my mother, who's fantastic if you need your gardening doing or even your ironing - she did a big pile of mine just this week, sneaked it away and brought it back done - but she can't deal with new things, especially hospitals.

So I am much more use to the Communist. I will find out what's going on, do little jobs for him, hold his hand whilst they change the dressings on his legs, and I'm not scared of strong emotions like my mother is - if he gets upset, her reaction is "Come on now, Buck Up!" which is not terribly helpful.

Having apparently forgotten that I have work or anything else, the Communist would like me there all the visiting hours, really. And that's from twelve to eight. Impossible.

The last few days I have been going from twelve until about two (the car parking lasts two hours) and then my mother later on. But when I go home, he goes to sleep. And when he wakes up, he thinks it must be a new day. And when my mother turns up, he greets her with an aggrieved "Where's Daphne? Why hasn't she been to see me?"

And my mother tells me this and I feel terrible. Even going for two hours, it takes three hours, of course, with the drive there and back; and I'm exhausted with trying to fit everything else in too: and yet, of course, I do want to be there as much as possible. I'm glad my brother's coming back from Amsterdam on Wednesday to help with it a bit.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's All She's Ever Wanted

"More emotion, Mum," said Emily. "Try it again. You're not tear-jerking enough."

"Okay," I said, "how about this? - - - It's - - sob - - all she's - - gulp - - ever wanted."

"Better," said Emily, "and then you've to tell her about all my achievements from age one, from my first word, the time I learned to tie my own shoe-laces, the day I learned to read, until she can stand it no more and gives in."

This was weeks ago, in Tenby, and we've been honing my performance ever since until now it's near-perfect and enough to make a whole rugby-team cry, never mind the Admissions Office at York University.

Emily had an offer of three Bs from York to do Archaeology. One of them had to be in History. One of her key European History exams was the day the Communist was first taken into hospital, and Emily was very upset about this when she did the exam. She had no memory of what she wrote and hence was bound to have done badly.

Emily and Gareth were going to the Bloodstock Open-Air festival today, until Saturday, and hence her plan was, after she had got the Dreadful Results, for me to ring up York University Admissions and alternatively wring their hearts and bore them to death until they agreed to let Emily come to their university.

However, I have missed my Dramatic Opportunity, because Emily went to school this morning and collected four Grade As.

So, many congratulations to Emily: she's very clever but she's worked very hard too and her results are well-deserved and anyone who says that A-levels in History, English Language, English Literature and General Studies are easy should jolly well try taking some.

As for the European History paper, she got 100% on it. And 100% on several other papers too. And I'll shut up boasting now. But she's my only child and this is My Moment To Boast and I'm sorry, you'll just have to bear with me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

No Trumpets or Dancing

Carry has been thoughtfully travelling Europe this summer with the express intent of finding interesting signs for this blog. This sign just makes me want to buy a trumpet, learn it and TAKE IT TO SPAIN SO THERE.

Similarly, in Israel, I'd definitely feel the desire for a quick polka, probably whilst wearing a leopard-print bikini, if I saw this:

In contrast, the exotic locations I have visited in the past couple of weeks include a tour of Leeds hospitals, mostly, where I found this:

A home for old nurses! I picture them, each aged about a hundred and twelve, still in their long skirts, black stockings and complicated hats, each clutching their Florence Nightingale lamp, toddling along to the wards.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Take Care

On the multi-storey car park that I sometimes frequent, when it stamps your ticket as you leave it prints on "Drive Carefully". What's that all about? How many people have seen it and thought "Hey, I was going to roar out of here at seventy, but now I've read that I think I'll creep out at ten"?

"Have a nice day" is the most irritating of these fake-caring phrases, and I always want to reply with some cuttingly smartarse response, but I usually manage to smile weakly and exit.

But, I notice, I say "take care". I say it often at the end of phone conversations and frequently write it at the end of emails. Sometimes I write it and then delete it because it sounds hollow. Sometimes I write it and then leave it there because as a matter of fact, I never say it or write it when I don't mean it. I say it to family and friends and I don't say it to people who are trying to sell me a new kitchen.

In the days when "Goodbye" meant "God be with you" then this gave a parting a bit more feeling than today's "Bye", and I think that's why I tend to add "Take care".

Seeing all the elderly, ill people over the past couple of months while the Communist has been in hospitals and the nursing home has given the phrase "take care" a stronger meaning for me.

"Do you smoke?" asked the doctor in one hospital.
"No," said the Communist, "I haven't smoked for over fifty years."
"Mmm, thought not," said the doctor, "or your legs would have been as bad as this ten years ago and you'd probably have died before the heart bypass."

It did bring it home to me. Another doctor, young and conscientious and very likeable, wrote down all the Communist's health problems and then looked up at me.

"All these conditions have a hereditary element. Diabetes, blood clots, heart disease, stroke - - you should take care of yourself."

Well, I've got the diabetes, and I've had a blood clot in the past. I'm doing my best to fend of the rest by never having smoked, not drinking alcohol, eating masses of fruit and vegetables and getting lots of exercise. If that sounds horribly virtuous, it's because I have seen the Ward of Doom and I don't want to end up there. And, take it from me, when I ask you to take care, it's because I don't want you to end up there either.

Monday, August 13, 2007

February Fill-Dyke

"Why are they getting married in February?" asked my friend Connie.

"Emily says it's a much neglected month," I said.

"There's a reason for that," said Connie. "February Fill-Dyke, Be it black or be it white, But if it's white, it's the better to like."

"Yerwha'?" I inquired with gentility.

"Old country rhyme," said Connie. "It means that the ditches get filled in February either with mud or with snow. The snow looks better."

I've never heard this rhyme before. Connie's not in her first flush of youth, as she'd be the first to agree - she won't see eighty again. Or eighty-five again. Or eighty-six, come to that. She was probably around when the rhyme was invented. But, to use another Connie phrase, she's got all her chairs at home (meaning she's still totally all there mentally). So I googled her little rhyme and found this Victorian painting, called February Fill-Dyke, by Benjam Williams Leader. who is Worcestershire's most famous artist, apparently.

Sadly I had never heard of him: though this doesn't mean a lot as I don't know much about a good deal of Victorian painting. I find a lot of it too heavy and gloomy and - well - Victorian. The Communist brought me up with anti-Victorian prejudice, at least as far as furniture, decor and paintings are concerned - not literature, for he has always been a great admirer of Dickens - and it's taken me a long time to overcome that.

But hey, Benjamin Williams Leader, I really like February Fill-Dyke. It is atmospheric, with a pleasant melancholy of the kind I so enjoy when visiting estuaries when the tide has gone out. If I'm ever in Birmingham, I'll call in at the Art Gallery to see it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Day of the Lepus

Here I am trying to be all cool and cutting-edge, and suddenly, THIS!

I can avoid the topic no longer. Way back in about February, my old friend Jo asked me if I would look after their rabbits in August while they went on holiday to Cornwall.

"Oh, yes, no problem," I said cheerily. "Did you say rabbits? Are there more than one?"

They cunningly delivered the rabbits just before we got back from Tenby, presumingly using a couple of HGVs to do so.

Six rabbits, all female. Three hutches. More carrots and hay and wood shavings than have ever been seen outside Windsor Safari Park. Several pages of instructions. And a well-made wire run on the lawn.

Well, I thought, I'll put a couple of them out in the run, and then swap them later on.

And that's what I've been doing for the past fortnight, as well as everything else. Rotating rabbits. The rabbits have been mowing the lawn in squares where I keep moving the run.

But it has reminded me of a long-forgotten skill which I possess: Rabbit-Wrangling.

"How do you pick them up?" asked Emily, noting that the rabbits above - called Bovril and Blackie, since you're so insistent upon knowing - are each the size of, say, a Fiat Uno.
"How do you keep them still?"

Well, when I was a child, many a rabbit and guinea-pig came under my tender care. Many a dog, cat, frog, mouse, hamster, gerbil, goldfish, crow, newt, toad, tortoise, terrapin too, I have to confess.

And the rabbits sense this. They know that I know. They sense my experience. They know there's no point in wriggling, or kicking, or biting. They just keep still and wait for the carrots.

I am considering adding Rabbit-Wrangling to my cv.

Night of the Lepus, by the way, was a 1972 film about giant rabbits terrorising America. It is the only horror film that has never frightened me. That's the other thing about rabbits: they're just not good at being scary.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Patient Journey

There is much discussion these days in medical circles of "The Patient's Journey" and how it could be improved. By this term they mean the patient's journey through their illness: the bigger picture of it all.

The bigger picture is, however, composed of lots of smaller pictures. They're the ones that have a big impact on the patient's well-being. They're not given enough thought.

This morning the Communist had an appointment at the hospital to have his blood checked - he's on Warfarin tablets to make his blood thinner to stop it clotting and causing a thrombosis. Too little Warfarin and you can get blood clots: too much and you can bleed to death internally. So it's important to check it.

The nursing home asked if I could go with the Communist to push the wheelchair and generally keep an eye on him, and this I was happy to do.

They had ordered an ambulance to take him. So he was dressed and in a wheelchair from about half-past seven. I arrived at the nursing home at 8am as they weren't sure what time the ambulance would arrive. His appointment at the hospital was 9am.

At twenty past nine the ambulance arrived at the nursing home. It was rattly and the Communist - who can't pull himself up in the wheelchair as he can't press on his feet as they're so heavily bandaged and painful - was worried that he might slide out of the chair. The ambulance collected another patient on the way, which made the journey even longer.

In the ambulance a commercial radio station was playing very loud rap music, interspersed with very loud commercials. I'm not sure for whose benefit this was - the paramedics showed no interest in it. I doubt whether this would be the music of choice for any of the patients being transported.

This seems like a minor point, but I don't think it is - the uncomfortable, rattly journey was stressful enough for the patients without uncomfortable, rattly music.

We arrived at the hospital: the Communist was pushed through many dreary corridors and finally we arrived at the Warfarin clinic. After a half-hour wait, he was called through into another room and they took some blood. We were told it would take about three-quarters of an hour to process it.

After about three-quarters of an hour, the Communist was told that his blood was just the right thickness.

Then I pushed him through more corridors to wait for the transport back. The wait took another hour.

We arrived back in the nursing home at half past twelve. By this time the Communist had been in the wheelchair for five hours and was totally, totally exhausted: so tired he could barely speak. I was pretty tired myself.

If I hadn't gone with him, I expect they would have found people to push the wheelchair, but there'd have been nobody to keep him company or bring him a cup of coffee, and these things are important when you can't move.

All the staff we met during the course of that long morning were very pleasant: I'm not complaining about any of them - oh, all right, except perhaps the paramedics who had the loud music playing in the ambulance.

Surely, in 2007, you'd think there'd be a simpler way of checking a tiny sample of blood from an ill old man. A way that didn't involve a five-hour ordeal.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Path of Righteousness

Here's an old path that used to be used by the Cistercian monks who live on Caldey Island:
Beautiful, especially in the dappled sunshine. That pattern and those colours are incredibly pleasing to the eye - well, my eye, anyway, in fact both my eyes. There must be a reason for this and I'm trying to work out what it is.
The colours are very natural, which I like, and the symmetry is good, particularly when combined with the wildness of the foliage. I can explain why I like it: but not why I like it quite so much. It gives me feelings of warmth, comfort and safety as well as beauty and I can't quite explain why.
Perhaps it reminds me of something that I knew long ago. Or perhaps everyone likes dappled sunshine and everyone likes those colours and everyone likes that pattern. It's such a traditional pattern, it would be interesting to find out why it's lasted so long.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Cormorant Rock

What's the difference between a cormorant and a shag? - Yes, sounds like a bad music-hall joke, I know. But it's one of those things that is easy to learn and I like things like that.

Both cormorants and shags are large black seabirds with long thin bodies. But a cormorant is bigger. And a shag has a curl of feathers on its head. Sorted.

Here's a Pembrokeshire rock that I like, set in a silver sea:

On top of it there are always cormorants as it's a good fishing place for them.

Cormorants have always seemed to me to embody the wildness and remoteness of the sea - not quite so much as the wandering albatross, perhaps, but heading that way.

Then, a couple of years ago, I saw one sitting on a post in Waterloo Lake, Roundhay Park, Leeds, about fifty miles inland. Perhaps it was on holiday.

Monday, August 06, 2007

From This to This

I still think it's surprising that these caterpillars - -

turn into these moths:

They are cinnabar moths. These live near Tenby, which is where I took their photographs. The caterpillars eat ragwort, which is poisonous, and absorb the poison, so birds quickly learn that it's not a good idea to eat either the caterpillars or the moths.

It's this kind of thing that lends weight to the Intelligent Design theory. How clever of God, its supporters argue, to invent this. The caterpillars even have that yellow-and-black not-good-to-eat signal which is also worn by wasps and bees and other insects.

Actually, I find it easier to believe that it all came about by evolution. Those caterpillars which ate a poisonous plant, and didn't die, and happened to be a bit black-and-yellow-stripy, just did better, survival-wise, than the ones that either ate the poisonous plant and snuffed it, or turned out to be brown with BIRD FOOD written on them in big letters. And because they survived, therefore the next generation were even more poison-absorbing and stripy.

But if God designed them, I find myself asking WHY? And what was the conversation down the pub later?

GOD: "I've done the moths now. Most of them, anyway. The cinnabar moth caterpillars have black and yellow stripes, so the birds will know not to eat them, because they absorb the poison from the plants they eat. Clever eh?"

GOD'S MATE JEFF: "So what do the birds eat, then, if they can't eat the caterpillars?"

GOD: "Errr - - well, I haven't finished the birds yet. Worms, I expect."

GMJ: "So what have you got against the worms?"

GOD: "Pardon? Oh, I see what you mean. Well, nothing, really. But they're not poisonous."

GMJ: "Why not?"

GOD: "They're just not, that's all. The birds have to eat something, don't they?"

GMJ: "So you prefer caterpillars to worms? You seem to be giving the caterpillars an unfair advantage."

GOD: "Well, no, not really. And there are other caterpillars which aren't poisonous. The birds can eat those as well as the worms."

GMJ: "So you're basically giving cinnabar moths preferential treatment?"

GOD: "Look, I've had a very busy day and I've got the Great Plains of Africa to do tomorrow. Drink your pint and shut up."

Hurrah for Charles Darwin, says I.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Island Picnic

I can't say I've ever been a big fan of picnics - not the conventional kind, anyway. The usual kind of picnic is where you fuss about for hours packing lots of different kinds of food in some kind of big bag, and then you drive to a beauty spot and either sit by the car and eat it or carry it for half a mile until you get fed up with it. Then you unpack it all, and it takes ages and you all have to have a little plastic plate and a plastic cup full of warm orange juice or cool coffee, and the ground is wet so you have to sit on a rug and there's not quite enough room and everything is covered in either sand or wasps or both. Then you pack it all up again and drag it all back to the car.

A couple of weeks ago, on Caldey Island, however, we managed to achieve the perfect picnic.

We bought some food from the cafe in the middle of the island, and brought our own bottles of water with us. The cafe's food is perhaps on the unimaginative side - a ham sandwich is BREAD and BUTTER and HAM and THAT'S IT - but at least it doesn't cost a fiver and contain half a tub of mayonnaise and twelve other ingredients that don't go with ham.

So, sandwiches. Caldey Island chocolate, made on the island by Cistercian monks. Bottles of water. We put it all in rucksacks, walked across the island, strayed ten minutes from the usual paths and we found this:

Gorgeous, springy grass. Blue sky. Nobody about. And, if you stood up, this was the view:

No wasps. Seals in the sea below. Bit of a sleep after lunch on the springy grass (yes, admittedly, face rather red from the sun by the evening).

I've always loved small islands - to me, they still have that Swallows-and-Amazons feel to them. I could grow to like picnics too.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

No, Daddy, No

It was probably Christina Crawford who started the genre of Horror-Childhood autobiographies with Mommie Dearest, her book about her mother, the actress Joan Crawford.

More recently, the whole genre was reinvented again by Dave Pelzer in his autobiography A Child Called It, about the terrible abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his mother. It's a gripping and horrifying book.

But now they're everywhere. On the shelves of one supermarket recently, Emily and I counted eight separate horror-childhood titles all with titles such as Please, Mummy, Please, and No, Daddy, No. They have cover drawings depicting sobbing, bewildered children. They're all about abused-by-father, or beaten-by-mother, or beaten-and-abused-by-nuns - lots of variations on the same theme.

They make me uneasy. Supermarkets don't generally have a wide range of books - they're usually of the kind of Jordan-and-Peter celebrity autobiographies, or the Beckhams, or badly-written romances or thrillers.

So why the current vogue for these horror-childhood books? A quick glance through shows that the most recent ones are not very well-written: it's clearly a case of bandwagon-jumping. One of the abused-by-nuns ones was recently held to be a fake.

They are published because they appeal to the same "ooh, isn't it terrible" feelings that led the whole country to get itself in a state over the death of Princess Diana, or the Ian Huntley murders, or the abduction of Madeleine McCann. It's one step further than enjoying a horror film - these are horrors that we can wallow in: they're real, but they're not real to us and after reading the book we can feel glad that at least our lives aren't like that.

I don't think it reflects very well on us as a society. Of course, that's not to dismiss the genuine vileness of the experiences written about in these horror-childhood books: but I think that for every one of these genuine horror stories, there are dozens of children who are having childhoods, not of sensationalist horror, but of deep, dreadful, dull every-day awfulness.

You don't need to look too hard to see them every day: children who are continuously being slapped for every minor misdemeanour: children who are constantly stuffed in front of the television-babysitter: children who are constantly bullied at school in many apparently minor ways: children who aren't fed properly in a land of comparative plenty: children in genuine poverty: children from middle-class houses who simply aren't given enough love or attention by their parents.

That's the sort of thing that we should be addressing, if we want the whole of society to improve. In a way, we should lower the levels that shock us, and stop putting up with it all. We shouldn't be so accepting: we should be more easily shocked, not less. Then we might start to do something about it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Twelve Years Ago Today

Here's Emily, looking thoughtful, twelve years ago today.

Twelve years ago today was her sixth birthday. I expect the reason she's looking so thoughtful is that she's thinking "I bet that mother of mine's going to put this photo on her blog on my eighteenth birthday. Why are parents so embarrassing?"

For today is Emily's eighteenth birthday. She's fantastic, always has been, ask anyone who knows her - and the best daughter we could have had.

This week's news is that Emily and the lovely Gareth are going to get married next February. Okay, they're young - Gareth is twenty-one - but they've been together for three and a half years and are clearly very happy together.

We wish them both all the very best for the future, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY EMILY!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Parking and God

Very considerate of Tenby Harbour Authority to give us their views on God as well as on Parking, I thought.

As always with Official Notices, there's some small print: in this case it reads "Murderous, Bigoted and Sexist Crap".

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Machines with Balls

I like machines that know what they're about. I don't like machines that don't. I hate television remote controls, for example, with all their little hieroglyphics that don't mean anything to me. I am gradually learning my way round ours but I refuse to learn more than one new button a year, so it's taking a while.
I don't like fiddly little machines. I like machines like this one.

It's an old stone crusher, dating from the 1890s, and it was used to crush stones to make the paths on Caldey Island, South Wales.

You can tell just from looking at it that it knows everything there is to know about crushing stones, and I love it.

I like this one too:

Not as good as the stone crusher, but pretty good. I don't know what it does - something with hay, I guess - but it lives on the farm on Caldey Island, and whatever it does, it's still doing it. And long may it continue to do so. In these days when everything seems to work by pushing electrons around, it's great to come across things that work with big bits of metal. They are machines of character, and should be treasured.