Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Golden Brown

This is the most beautiful autumn in England in the whole history of the whole world ever.

Oh, go on, argue with me if you want to. But I'm right.

Perhaps it was the torrential rain early in the summer that made the trees grow so many leaves.

There's been nothing like this for years. Last year the leaves just stayed green until November - I have the photographic evidence to prove it - and then all fell off at once in the winds. Of recent years, I haven't been too struck on autumn - it's just been a grey, windy prelude to winter.

But this year, it's been an idyllic, textbook autumn: an autumn of clear blue skies and greens and browns and golds. All my favourite colours, in fact.

It's been especially poignant to me, knowing that the Communist's view from his hospital window doesn't include even one glorious tree of it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Reader, I kissed it.

Yes, yes, I can hear you all laughing, you can cut all the smart-alec comments right now, I've heard them all before. Yes, yes, I know, it certainly worked, didn't it, okay, ha ha.

On the 29th July, 1981, at about half-past eleven in the morning, I kissed the Blarney Stone. It's supposed to be part of the Stone of Scone, on which all the Scottish kings were crowned.

It's high up on the battlements of Blarney Castle - you have to lean backwards to kiss it, whilst a man, thoughtfully provided for the task, holds your legs. It was actually a bit scary and I remember being impressed that the Communist, who most certainly doesn't like heights, volunteered to go first.

We all had our photographs taken by another thoughtfully-provided man and I have most of them in an album. For some reason my mother refused to keep hers.

It was a strange day. We knew that the rest of the world didn't care about us and our Blarney Stone. At about the time that we were doing our kissing, the rest of the world was at home watching television. They were watching Prince Charles marry Lady Diana Spencer.

Eire didn't seem to care that much about it. At the time, the British press was in a positive orgy of fairytalewedding excitement and I was interested to see that there was much less enthusiasm in the Irish press - - and even a dark hint, which I didn't pick up on until many years later, that young lovestruck and royalstruck Lady Di might be making a big mistake. For some reason, Britain was so swept away by the romance and glamour of it all that we just didn't look too closely at that engagement interview where the reporter asked "And are you in love?" and Diana looked up with her big eyes and said "Of course" and Charles said "Actually, I'm shagging Camilla and fully intend to continue to do so."

Perhaps that wasn't quite what he said - I think it was "Whatever love is" but rarely has a man looked so uncomfortable. But oh no, we British - or the press at least - chose not to notice this until years later.

Massive great wedding, televised around the world: massive great wedding dress, the original fairy-tale meringue: Charles and Diana's kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on the front page of all the papers next day.

I picked the most appropriate day of the century to kiss the stone, of course, for it was all pure, unadulterated blarney.

Dreaming the Future

It was quite late when I visited the Communist in hospital today - about seven o'clock in the evening - and the ward was quiet. I found I was quite enjoying feeding the Communist a cup of coffee - his hands were shaky tonight - and simultaneously talking to the Irish gentleman opposite about places we had both been to in Ireland.

Killarney? -- - No, he said, he hadn't been there.

Limerick? - - No.

Cork? - - No.

Dublin? - - No.

We had just concluded that, although he had a strong Irish accent, I had actually been to more places in Ireland than he had, when the Communist finished his coffee and suddenly said, in tones of slight amusement,

"I had a terrible dream last night."

"Go on," I said, "tell me."

"It was the day of Emily and Gareth's wedding," he said, "and I was in Tenby, on the beach."

Indeed, Emily and Gareth's wedding is planned for next February, at Park Hotel in Tenby: the hotel is on a headland with a steep cliff path to the beach.

"So what happened?" I asked.

"I was trying to get up the cliff path, because I didn't want to be late for the wedding," he said. "But the proper path was closed so I tried to climb the cliff. There was a lot of sand and loose rocks and it took me a long time but I finally made it. But when I got to the top, I found that I'd missed the wedding, and nobody had noticed."

"Oh, for goodness' sake," I said cheerily, "your brain's really tangling things up, isn't it? You'll be worrying about giving out the wrong medication in your chemist shop next."

But, of course, the likeliest thing is that he won't be at the wedding. And although he keeps saying that he wants to come, and we keep saying that we'll get him there if we possibly can, somewhere, deep down, he knows it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

To Hull and Back

I read in a survey that, of all the British cities, Hull was the one that the fewest people could place: they simply hadn't a clue where it is.

So, just in case you're one of these people, you start at the South Coast, slightly to the right of the middle, and head North until you're just below half-way up the whole island, and you'll find yourself in Leeds! Hurrah!

And now head East along the M62 for what seems to be forever - in fact it's 65 miles - and you come to Hull - full name Kingston-upon-Hull - which isn't really near anywhere of any size - you couldn't really turn up on someone's doorstep in Hull and say "I was just passing" with any conviction, unless you lived in, say, Grimsby, which isn't too far away.

Today I was going to do some work with first-year medical students, and very good they were too. They weren't exactly local, some of them - Belarus and Hungary were where two of them came from.

There's lots of traffic going through Leeds, of course, but once you get on the M62 heading East the traffic always lessens. The flatness of the landscape always surprises me. From Leeds, West is hills and more hills and mountains. Going East, it's flat and more flat. Trees sticking up and shouting at you "This is a TREE" in a way they just don't in the landscapes I'm used to.

But eventually I got to the River Humber, which is wide and has an end-of-the-world feel to it: but in a good way. Estuaries especially always have a very pleasing melancholy. The Humber Bridge is huge and splendid, looming above the A63 - but then I love great big feats of engineering, too.

And finally, to Hull, and to the University, and an interesting afternoon's work. And then back through Hull's rush hour. It's not a scenic city at all: but it does seem rather big and solid and to know what it's about, and the people were friendly.

I stopped at a Little Chef for something to eat on the way back, to let the traffic clear a bit. It was nearly empty and did feel a very long way from Leeds.

And, of course, with the clocks going back, it was dark, and I enjoy driving in the dark with the radio on. Though, if they are going to start playing John Williams' music from Schindler's List, they should at least broadcast a warning first, because I can't see too well to drive when I'm crying.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sartorial Splendour

Jeans and a T-shirt, that's what I wear. Sometimes a long skirt and some kind of top that's not made of slippy material (I hate slippy material).

That's it, really. One of my friends once said to me "Of course, when you get to our age you start wanting to wear more sophisticated clothes."

I am waiting for this wanting for it hasn't happened yet.

Emily, of course, is a standard size Very Slim, with long slim legs and long slim arms. Clothes just take one look at her and want to be worn by her. I, on the other hand, am a standard size broad-backed Russian Peasant - which is, indeed, my ancestry. Whenever I see photographs of Eastern European peasant women toiling in the fields in their long skirts and headscarves I think - - oh yes, that's me, that's how I should look. None of your nasty slippy material. Bring out the cheesecloth and the cotton.

But clothes are not made for Russian Peasants: they are made for Victoria Beckham, all of them.

So there I was in town today, buying clothes. This, if you are a woman (and I am), is supposed to be enjoyable. You see them standing there, bored man in tow, picking up top after top, having a great time.

Well, I wouldn't take any man with me, nor no woman neither - they couldn't stand it. Sometimes I walk into a clothes shop, stare round bemusedly and walk straight out again.

Today I wanted some clothes for work and some for leisure. Looking round at the brand new distressed-denim jeans being worn by all those around me, it occurred to me that my jeans were more than distressed - they were gravely ill, because of old age, every single pair. Why is it that jeans which are new are allowed to look old, and jeans that are old aren't allowed at all?

But hey, the job had to be done, and I assembled an unwieldy pile of garments, thinking well, that'll do for winter, I'll be back in the summer. Then, thinking I'd get another identical pair of black cords, since I'd found a pair that fitted, I left my little pile on the desk, asking a Helpful Assistant to look after it.

It took me a few minutes to look, and I couldn't find another pair of cords the same, so I returned to the desk, where I discovered that my unwieldy pile now wasn't. I drew Helpful Assistant's attention to this interesting fact and Helpful Assistant asked her co-worker, whom I shall call Thick As Pig Dribble Assistant - Bill Bryson I love you for giving me this phrase - where they were.

And Thick as Pig Dribble Assistant, clearly responding to some kind of electrical impulse in her brain, had returned each item to the rail whence it came. Why? - - er - - she could not explain. So, whilst a long and grumpy queue grew e'er longer and grumpier, Helpful Assistant and Thick as Pig Dribble Assistant spent twenty-five minutes scouring the shop to find all my prospective purchases. And in the end they did it. It caused chaos.

If there is a God, and he is trying to give me a sign to avoid clothes shopping as much as I possibly can, then I grasp it gratefully. I shall put off any such thing until July, when I shall belatedly realise that I need some summer clothes, and will as usual find all the shops full of autumn colours and Christmas cards.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Oh, all right then, I gave in and joined Facebook.

If you haven't seen it, this is what happens: You join it, which is easy, and fill in your profile page so everyone can laugh at your choice of music and wonder why you liked that particular film and see how generally uncool you are.

Then you look up a couple of your friends on it, and ask them to be your friend, just like you did when you were eight. And, unless they've hated you all along, they agree, and their photos now pop up on your page, and then you can look at their friends, and their friends look at you and think hey, I know her, I'll ask her to be my friend.

Eventually you end up with a respectable number of friends. Anything over three is respectable. Anything over 300 shows you're a saddo who spends your whole time lurching drunkenly up to people in clubs and asking if they'll be your friend on Facebook.

And you can put lots of other things on it as well. You can write things on people's Walls. You can poke them. You can send them messages. You can send them free virtual gifts. You can put up pictures. You can update your "status" - ie, say what you're doing at the moment.

And what is the point of all this? - - Oh, I expect there'll be people doing PHDs in it soon - - but hey, it's fun, and I don't have enough fun at the moment, so hurrah for it.

So you can look me up if you join and mock my taste in everything, but I don't mind if you do. And if you don't know my surname - well, frankly, my dear, I've given you enough clues for you to be able to work it out.

Slowly, now - - -

In order to appeal to human beings, animals need to have as flat a face as possible.

Baby panda - - aaaaah.

Baby crocodile - - forget it. Most people would make you into a handbag as soon as look at you.

Baby snake - - well, actually, we thought our corn snake - now fully grown and about four feet six inches long - was really cute when he was a baby, just about the size of a pencil. But I know that many would disagree.

I thought these tiny snails, found last week on some leaves at Bolton Abbey, were really sweet.

Now why should that be? When I find a big snail I don't tend to tread on it or harm it in any way or even eat it - but I don't think "aaaah, how cute" either.

I realise that the "aaaaaah" reaction is so that we will look after our babies, rather than abandoning them when things get difficult. But - well, in my case, at least - it seems transferable to most small creatures. There must be some evolutionary advantage in this, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cheekbones and Demeanour

I tend to read the news rather than watch it on television and I hadn't seen much of the McCanns, parents of missing Madeleine for those who have been in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri recently. I knew Gerry McCann was from Scotland and had heard his accent described as "harsh".

When I switched on the television earlier today, I caught just the last thirty seconds of an interview with the McCanns and sure enough Gerry had a Scottish accent. It sounded fine to me so perhaps whoever wrote the article that I read which said his accent was "harsh" was just trying by the use of "harsh" to suggest "and he murdered his daughter".

But I was genuinely surprised to hear Kate McCann's strong Liverpool accent. I only heard about one sentence of it during which she pronounced "back" as "bach" as in "loch".

And that shows my prejudice and pre-supposition, doesn't it? Because she's a doctor - and I work with medical students, don't forget, and most, though not all, of them have middle-class accents - I expected her to sound, well, a bit posher than she does. Oh, all right then, a lot posher.

Now why did I think that? It's not just the fact that she's a doctor. It's the cheekbones, the groomed elegance. She just looks - - well - - a bit posh. A bit as if she'd be "very bay window, very cut glass" as my friend Connie would say. If I met her and didn't know who she was, I wouldn't think that she'd be friendly. How unfair, to judge her like that - and yet, we do, don't we?

It's her looks that have put people off her: and the combination of those looks and that accent is very strange. I expect Liverpudlians to be warm and friendly, because that's always been my experience in Liverpool - and yet why should they be? That's as prejudiced as thinking they're all crooks.

It's strange, the impression that we give out without meaning to. I know I give out Respectability, I've no idea why - though I do tend to be quite good at taking responsibility for things, so maybe it's that. And - I confess - because I went to a girls' grammar school, I do sound a bit - er - posh. When I was a supply teacher, years ago, the students called me "'Er wi't posh voice".

But I don't think I look standoffish - in fact, I think I must look friendly, because when I meet people they generally soon strike up a conversation with me. And actually, I am friendly, or so I like to think.

So my approachable demeanour tends to override my posh accent. Thank goodness for that. But Kate McCann gives out mixed messages: we don't know where we are with her, and we don't like it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Suddenly Lynched

Well, you know me, I've got an opinion on everything. And I've got the kind of mind that remembers a bit about everything so I can blag my way on most topics.

When I'm blagging I'll just go so far: when I think I know what I'm talking about there's no stopping me and I often surprise myself. Such as the time when I found myself talking to one of the directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company about acclaimed (and subsequently knighted) actor Antony Sher.

"Yes, well, he's all very well when he's playing the lead," I said, "fantastic as Richard III, but when you cast him in a supporting role he just unbalances the cast and he made Twelfth Night into The Tragedy of Malvolio - - " at which point I thought DAPHNE! THIS IS ONE OF THE DIRECTORS OF THE RSC AND WHO THE HELL ARE YOU? and I shut up. Well, a bit. Not before I'd got him to agree with me, I have to say.

There are a couple of things where I wouldn't even try blagging, though: - okay, there may well be more than a couple, but these two spring to mind immediately.

The first one is massage. No interest in it, don't want to know, leave me alone, don't TOUCH me, the very idea gives me the creeps, don't even want to hear about it, and now I've put my fingers in my ears lalalalala so please go away.

Which is probably some great failing in me, but there it is. It surprises everybody that I feel that way.

The second one is Transcendental Meditation. It's not like massage: I don't have any strong feelings against it: I just don't know anything about it. Except maybe that it involves chanting.

Now, this lunchtime, film director David Lynch, he of Twin Peaks, strange television drama series whose haunting music is still in my head, and he of the strange and interesting film of The Elephant Man, came on my radio and spoke to me of Transcendental Meditation.

And I've always rather admired David Lynch - his work is interesting and he also looks very different from how I thought he would, which is also interesting.

He spoke passionately and with great conviction of how Transcendental Meditation should be compulsory in schools: students should do it twice a day at the beginning and end of lessons, and it would transform their lives and make them happier and calmer.

Now if he'd been in the car with me, instead of merely on the radio, I'd have said to him,

"Look, David, sounds like a good idea, but wouldn't that time be better spent teaching the students parenting skills? Because they don't routinely learn them in school and perhaps if they did then their own kids might not end up so messed up and perhaps there'd be no need for the Transcendental Meditation. What's your take on that one, David?"

But, sadly, he was on the radio, not in the car, and hence he couldn't answer my question.

Nevertheless, it was very interesting to me to hear someone that I admire talking with such passion - and with the desired end result of happy, calm, kind people. So I realise that the great empty hole of lack of knowledge is mine alone and I should find out more about it. If you know anything, please tell me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hoisting New Harmony to the Heavens

At four thirty-eight UK time today they launched the Space Shuttle Discovery, on its way to the International Space Station.

I was working in the office and, although I did know it was today, I might well have forgotten, "Ah yes, Space Shuttle launch, what time is it happening again? And what time is it now? - - ah, five o'clock - - oh, damn" so thanks to Silverback for reminding me.

I'm still surprised to see it all in colour, having of course been brought up watching the Moon missions. But many things are still the same - the banks of people at Mission Control, Houston - - even the fact that it's still called Mission Control, Houston.

And apparently, it's still the same room! They stopped using it after the Apollo missions and then refurbished it (nice new carpet, couple of coats of Magnolia, got rid of the old television monitors, put in shiny new computers).

The countdown is still one of the best and scariest and most exciting things ever. And then, after the launch, I love all those statistics about how many miles it has travelled and what speed it's going - - 900 miles per hour - - 1,700mph - - 3,300mph - - 4,600mph - - . And they tell you that it'll be okay if one engine fails, adding reassuringly that all three engines are currently operating well. Once it got to orbit it was going at 25,000 mph which is pretty fast if you ask me.

I like the cheesy thing that they always say once it's safely up in the sky and this time it was "Hoisting new harmony to the heavens" - the module that they're going to connect up when they get there is called Harmony.

The commander, this time, is a woman. And apparently recent research shows that women make better astronauts - smaller, lighter, use less air, good at multi-tasking (oh yes, I'm cooking tea, mending the car and crocheting a blanket whilst writing this blog) - and, what's more, if they get lost they'll ask for directions, unlike men who'd rather end up on the wrong planet than ask any passing Vulcan the way to Mars.

So I'm expecting the call from NASA any day now. Unfortunately I'm going to have to turn them down because I get seasick, carsick and planesick and I'm pretty sure that's an indication that I'd get rocketsick too. But hey, watching the lift-off is still the most exciting thing in the world.

Monday, October 22, 2007


In 1959 my parents bought the house in Leeds where we now live. (My parents, for those of you who don't know, live in a house in its garden, which was built in 2000).

Many things have changed since that time. There was a pigeon loft in the garage - which was in fact originally built as a stable - with pigeons in it. There was the remains of an air-raid shelter in the garden. The greengrocer used to send a boy on a bike round to deliver the fruit and veg. Television was in black and white and Mr Pastry was a cutting-edge comedian (well, I thought so). Muffin the Mule was not a criminal offence and that joke hadn't even been invented yet.

And, in our house, when you turned the taps on, the water came out with gusto and a small cry of Pssssssssssssssssch.

That's one of the things I remember from my very, very, very early childhood (I am stressing the very, you notice, because I know that many of you believe that such a vasty deep of history cannot exist).

Over the years, Leeds has got bigger and the water gradually lost its Pssssssssssssssch.

By the 1970s it was down to Psch. By the 1980s it just trickled out meekly.

And recently, if you put the washing machine and the dishwasher on at the same time - especially if Emily then decided to have a shower, which she frequently did - the water would give up on us completely. Not so much Pssssssssssssssssssssch as a dry silence.

But then, late last Saturday night, I was sitting at this very computer and I heard a strange noise. Several strange noises, in fact. Firstly a gurgling in the pipes. Then a lot of heavy-breathing type sounds. And finally a strange whistling and howling, like a strange watery banshee.

It stopped eventually. Wondering what on earth had happened, I approached the nearest sink with some trepidation and turned the tap on.

PSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSCH! it said. Water spurted out like a scene from the Dam Busters (and don't go telling me you're too young to remember the Dam Busters, please: just get hold of a copy and see it. Great music, too).

I turned the tap off. Gingerly, I turned it on again.


I kept sneaking in and repeating the experiment at five-minute intervals until I went to bed. And the next morning I tried it again. It seemed to have settled down a bit and was now merely going Psssssssssssssssssssssch, which was nevertheless about three times the force that we had before this new excitement.

And it's stayed that way. You turn on the tap, and water gushes out. It's like going back to the 1950s, in a really good way. I found myself singing a Cheery Fifties Song in the shower. All together now, come on, Buddy - -

Every day it's a-gettin' closer
Goin' faster than a roller coaster
Love like yours will surely come my way
A-hey, a-hey hey

Thank you, Water Engineers, I think I love you.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bolton Abbey (Part Two)

So, see previous post, the path to the Strid is now a Sculpture Trail. Though, in places, the labels are more obvious than the sculptures.

It was said to me once, most entertainingly, that sculpture is the stuff you bump into when you're trying to look at the paintings. Okay, I don't entirely agree, but I like sculpture to be in a sculpture park or other suitably man-made environment. I think wild countryside should look wild. And although Bolton Abbey and Strid Wood are part of the Duke of Devonshire's Estate and therefore paths are maintained and other management done, I think man's input should be as unobtrusive as possible.

And, to be frank, I'd prefer the tree stump without the wicker dog. And the slightly dimpled paving stones, above, don't do a lot for me either. In a different environment, I'd be more interested in them. But in this natural environment, I like my sculpture to be done by Nature.

Here's Nature doing a pretty good job of sculpting some stones in the River Wharfe.

And, right at the top of this post, I think "Dead Tree in Landscape" is a particularly fine piece of sculpture.

One or two of the sculptures have been removed as they've been vandalised, which I think is sad. But actually, I wish they were somewhere else.

Bolton Abbey (Part One)

Yesterday was a perfect Autumn day with blue skies and orange leaves.

Bolton Abbey, in the Yorkshire Dales, was looking stunning:

We had quite a long walk, about six miles perhaps, to the Strid and back. The Strid (meaning "stride" is where the whole river Wharfe, above, is compressed through a small gap between the rocks - just narrow enough to jump, perhaps - - except, that if you get it wrong, you die for sure. Nobody has ever fallen in and survived.

The walk to the Strid, on both sides of the river, is through beautiful woodland. But because countryside these days isn't allowed to be just - well - countryside, someone's had the bright idea of making it a Sculpture Trail.

There's a bit more to this story - but for some reason Blogger won't let me move the pictures down over the text so I'll have to continue in another post - -

At the Doctor's

A while ago I was put on Metformin tablets for my diabetes. One tablet a day wasn't enough: two a day made me feel slightly nauseous all the time. Eventually I got bored with this constant nausea and went back to the doctor, who prescribed Glucophage, which is a slow-release kind of Metformin. This proved much better and didn't make me feel sick.

So when I was a few days away from running out of these tablets, I emailed a request for a repeat prescription, typing GLUCOPHAGE.

When I went to collect it the prescription said METFORMIN.

I showed this to the receptionist and said this was the wrong drug. Much faffing about ensued. Finally, after it had all been discussed with everyone behind the counter, she wrote a note for the doctor that said This Patient Wants GLUCOPHAGE Instead Of METFORMIN and said the doctor would redo it - could I come back at half past four to collect it?

Well, I couldn't, actually, because I was busy, so I went back the next day.

The receptionist handed me the prescription that I'd rejected the previous day, with METFORMIN crossed out on it.

Then she handed me the new prescription, which said METFORMIN.

I held them both up to her. "Can you tell me any way in which these are not identical?"

She looked at them. Much faffing about ensued. Finally, after it had all been discussed with everyone behind the counter, she wrote a note for the doctor that said This Patient Wants GLUCOPHAGE Instead Of METFORMIN.

"The doctor's busy at the moment," she said, "can you come back at half past four?"

I explained firstly that however busy the doctor was he wasn't busier than I was, and secondly, that I was beginning to feel that I was in Groundhog Day rather than at the doctor's. She could tell I wasn't happy.

At half past four, having learned a thing or two in all my years of dealing with the NHS, I rang the receptionist. She wasn't keen to speak to me, I could tell, but she told me that Doctor was running late but that Doctor would do my prescription and it would now be ready at half past five.

I just couldn't be bothered to collect it. So this weekend I'm on Metformin, feeling slightly sick and wondering what exciting prescription item will be awaiting me on Monday.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Little House in the Big Woods

I thought I'd look in my copy of Little House in the Big Woods to find the chapter about killing the pig.

My copy is very old and I have owned it since I bought it in my primary school's bring and buy sale, very shortly after I learned to read. It's a green hardback copy and I can picture it perfectly.

I've read it dozens of times over the years. I've always known exactly where it's kept, where it is on the shelf, next to my battered paperback copy of Little House on the Prairie.

But tonight, it's not there. I couldn't believe it at first. Maybe someone had moved it just a few books along. But no, there was a gap where it should be, and it's not there.

So I've looked on every bookshelf in the house - and there are plenty - and I can't find it. I've rung Emily and asked her where it is and she says she doesn't know, she hasn't seen it recently.

I've searched the house, and I can't find it.

Tonight is the first time since I was five that I haven't known exactly where it is. I know it's stupid and ridiculous to be so upset over a book - a book that's probably still in print, a book that I can get another copy of. But not my copy!

There are always lots of people coming and going in our house, and I like it that way. Could one of them have picked it up? I really don't see why.

I know that probably what I'm upset about is that I've spent the summer expecting the Communist to die at any moment and that this is probably just transferred loss. And, yes, I know I've been working too hard recently: lots of people keep telling me, and you're all correct: and I'm over-tired and over-emotional, yes I know.

But I feel absolutely gutted. Me, who claims to put little store on material possessions, heartbroken over a book. A book, for goodness' sake! Bonkers.

And yet that's how I feel.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Yesterday I went over to see John and Katrin in Huddersfield (click here and you will find out all about the evils of Bread and its Crumbs).

A couple of weeks ago, in Bavaria, John and Katrin saw a pig being killed, and took some photographs, which - at my request - they showed me.

Such an everyday thing to those involved: such an unusual thing for most people these days to see.

It was very humanely done: the men stunned the pig and then slit its throat. There was lots of blood and I was struck by how human-like the dead pig looked. I'm not going to give you a graphic description, because I don't think I need to.

By the end of the day almost every bit of the pig had been used for something. and there was a photo of the rows of hanging sausages. That pleased me, as I think if we're going to kill an animal we should at least make use of all of it so it hasn't died in vain. There's a very similar account of a pig being killed, in the USA well over a hundred years ago, in one of the excellent books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, about her childhood in the wilds of America: but I can't remember which book.

I'm trying to frame the words for what I thought and it was this:

I think we should know more about where our food comes from, so pork chops aren't just thought of as something wrapped in clingfilm from the supermarket. Perhaps if children at school were routinely shown photos of where farm animals are kept, how they live and how they die, then we might be more humane in our treatment of animals.

And there's something too that says to me that if we stop pretending that death is a neatly-wrapped pork chop instead of a bloody carcass on the floor, then perhaps we might be more humane in our treatment of people, too.

Whilst I was looking at the photos John handed me a piece of sausage.

"Here," he said,"try this."

It came from the very pig in the photos, brought back from Bavaria. It was delicious.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Eddie Izzard's Death Star Canteen

I've never been much of a one for cartoons, as many of you will know by now, because I found the Disney ones both too scary and too emotionally draining when I was a child. And when I was a teenager. And now I'm a "grown-up" (kindly note the inverted commas).

But last night, I watched my first ever episode of Family Guy, which Silverback had recommended to me, and I thought it was hilarious. It was a Star Wars parody and full of brilliant one-liners of the kind that the Americans do really well. Yes, yes, I know you've probably all seen it, but I'm always a bit slow to catch on to new things.

And then Ruth pointed me towards this magnificent oeuvre, Death Star Canteen, voiced by the wonderful Eddie Izzard. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thank You

Many thanks to all of you who have sent best wishes to the Communist during his illness: I have told him about them and he's really appreciated them all.

And particular thanks today to Jeff McFadden who has sent a lovely letter to him from Kentucky. It was somewhat delayed because of the postal strike here, and has just arrived today.

The Communist was delighted and wants to dictate a reply tomorrow, which I'll then type up - the Communist is annoyed that his jumpy hands don't let him write more than a signature these days.

It's a small world sometimes. People complain about all the bad things on the Internet: but, in my recent experience, there are many good things and great people out there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


And now, after all these months, they're beginning to think about the Communist coming home.

He's been in hospital, then nursing home, then hospital, since the beginning of June.

At first it was a terrible shock to us all. Now we're used to the routine. Taking two pounds for the car park, knowing where the spaces are likely to be in the multi-storey. Deciding every day what's the best time to visit - the two till four or the six till eight. Working out who else is visiting and fitting our visits round them.

Taking a deep breath as we approach the door, wondering how he is, and sighing with relief if he seems his usual self. Asking the staff how he's doing. Knowing which uniform is which.

But now, they're thinking more long-term, looking at my parents' house: making us look at it with new eyes. Yes, there's a downstairs bedroom, but the downstairs bathroom's rather small, hard to manoeuvre a wheelchair in.

Some friends are shocked when I say that they are planning up to four visits a day from carers. Why so many? But to get him from the bed to a chair needs two people, and a hoist.

"A hoist? Why?" they ask. But if you think about it, a man with only one leg, who's been in bed since June - he can barely lift himself up.

It's going to be really difficult, and my mother, who finds all change particularly hard, may not cope well at all. But I think we should try.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I've always longed for someone to give me a diamond necklace.

Then I could flog it and buy a narrowboat instead.

I've never seen the point in expensive jewellery. If you're young and beautiful and clear-skinned, then you don't need it - you look good in anything. If you're old and wrinkly, then all that expensive jewellery says to the world is "Look, I'm rich! Old, but rich!" It's not a message I'd be too keen on giving out.

In what I refer to as my "jewellery box" - hah! - there are a variety of things, but most of them wouldn't generally be classed as jewellery.

There's my grandmother's wedding ring: I think it's the only thing there that's made of gold and, of course, it's precious to me just because it was hers. She was the Communist's mother: she travelled here from Lithuania at the age of fourteen, speaking no English, and she had the large hands of a Russian peasant: the ring is far too big for me - and my hands are by no means delicate.

There's a cheap silver ring that I wore all the time when I was a student and it's somehow a vivid reminder of my student days. There's an amber brooch that the Communist brought back for me from his one proud trip to the Soviet Union.

But that's it for anything that could be called "jewellery". There are lots of badges: POCKET THEATRE, says one that's full of good memories. UP THE CUT ("the cut" means "the canal".) I'M A CANALOHOLIC (oh dear). A few nuclear disarmament badges: AGEING HIPPIES AGAINST THE BOMB, and CLOUSEAU FANS SAY THERE IS NO REUM FOR THE BEUMB.

My favourite badge is there: it is round and blue with a short poem by Brian Patten. He was one of the Liverpool Poets in the 1960s, with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri, and we shared a hall with him and with Roger McGough at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the mid-Seventies. Brian Patten was very introverted on stage, and very jolly off it, I remember: Roger McGough was entirely the opposite.

Here's the poem:

I'd rather my sins were black

Than my poems were read

And obscurely living

Than famously dead.

Jewellery that you can read is definitely more interesting than jewellery that just twinkles at you.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Judgement and Instinct

When new actors apply to join the agency, firstly we look at their letter, cv and photograph. Then, if we think they're interesting and different enough from other actors whom we represent, we ask to see them in something - usually a play. Then, having seen them perform, if we think they're good, and we think we may be able to represent them and get them auditions and hence work, we invite them to interview.

It's very important for actors to have an agent, for although they might be able to get theatre work without one, casting for television, film, radio and just about everything else is done through the agent. So it's a big deal for actors. To put it in context, the agency that I work for gets about forty applications a month, and takes on about four actors a year.

At the interview they're asked some standard questions about their careers etc and then the other actors can ask them questions: and then they can ask the other actors any questions. Then off they go, out of the room and home, and we vote as to whether or not they should be offered a place in the agency.

But should the vote be carried if there's a simple majority? What if eleven people want to take that actor on, and, say, ten don't? Should we still offer the actor a place? It's not as simple as it seems, as the actor has to be able to work with everyone in the agency, because it's a co-operative.

Over the years - quite a lot of years, I've worked here since 1993 - we have tried lots of different methods to be used in the case of a split vote. We have thought about it: we have had hours of discussion (we do that): we have applied rules: we have allowed written submissions: we have disallowed written submissions. We have faffed about like crazy, in other words.

Once or twice it has been a disaster: we've taken someone on who proved entirely unsuitable, or failed to take on someone who would, I suspect, have been superb.

And recently I think we've worked out why. We've been applying judgement where it wasn't needed: logical thinking where there wasn't a place for logic.

When we've thought "Well, he's got lots of experience but why's his cv set out so it looks like an explosion in a Disney film?" and we've taken the actor on, because everything else seemed right, it's been a disaster.

No, what's needed here is instinct, not judgement. When, as has happened a few times recently, after the interview the applicant leaves the room, and all those in the room go "Wow! Terrific!" and we almost forget to vote on it - - well, that's the person to take on.

Because choosing the right person for the agency is greater than the sum of its parts. There's got to be something extra, so you just know.

Now I've worked it out, I've realised that it happens in real life as well. On several occasions I've met someone - perhaps introduced through a friend - and something about them has made me think "Noooooooooo" - but it's seemed somehow impolite to say,

"Well, nice meeting you, but my instinct tells me to avoid you from now on."

And, of course, it works the other way too. Sometimes I've met someone and I've instantly thought, "Oh, you're a Good Thing." Some of you who might be reading this fit into this second category: and none of you into the first.

My judgement is occasionally wrong: my instinct knows what it's talking about. I'm trusting my instinct from now on.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

On Making the Wrong Choice

Here's the river in York, quite early in the morning on Wednesday.

I made the wrong choice of university when I went to Leeds. Foolishly, I listened to everyone who told me that it was the course you were doing that mattered: that was the most important thing and that was the main criterion you should use when choosing a university.

And the second most important thing was the prestige of the university: choose one with a good reputation, so your degree might actually be worth something at the end.

So I found myself applying to big cities, such as Manchester and Birmingham and Leeds and Liverpool, and completely ignoring the fact that I don't really like big cities, even though I live in one. Because they were tried-and-tested universities with solid English degrees.

And then, when they all seemed much of a muchness, and I didn't know which to choose, I didn't really fancy any of them, actually, so I just stayed put and went to Leeds.

And - it's taken me years to admit it - I didn't enjoy it much. The course wasn't anything like it made itself out to be and the School of English was then based, temporarily, in the hideous Sixties concrete of the Genetics department.

And, okay, it was temporary - but that temporary lasted the whole of the three years I was there.

The result of the course was that I've not read that much fiction since. I'm too prone to start analysing its prose style. Pah.

But okay, I grant you, it was a well-respected course and the phrase "English degree at Leeds" has definitely opened some doors for me. So I really should stop moaning.

Emily, on the other hand, having more wits about her than I had at that age, knew what was important: the subject and the environment.

Here's the Archaeology Department which is based at Kings Manor at York University:

It's just gorgeous.

I hope the course will be as good as the building. So far, the signs are promising.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Tudors

There's a new drama series on telly, The Tudors, second episode tonight, just seen it. I watched it last week too, but in case you haven't seen it, you won't need to once you've read this, so I'm doing you a favour really.

It's one of those series where you're nearly at the second murder by the time the opening credits have finished. But the opening credits are full of clues to its historical authenticity: it was made by a company called Showtime.

It's a kind of Tudor England's Greatest Hits. I think it's about the young Henry the Eighth. I don't know what happened to Henry the Seventh: presumably he wasn't as interesting, so they missed him out. I suppose The Tudors But Not The Dull Ones didn't seem such a good title.

Anyway, they were all very clean and shiny in Tudor times: even the walls of the cell in which Steven Waddington, playing Buckingham and Token Northerner, was thrown, were very nice and white. Their faces were clean, their hair was immaculate and their clothes were all in lovely bright colours.

This is what it was about, starting with the first episode:

nipples fighting sex whispering in corners sex fighting few more nipples whisper whisper nudity plot plot jousting sex plotting plotting galloping round on horses pregnancy shouting more whispering oral sex (ooh) galloping round France whispering fighting sex rejection birth sword fights execution sex

It did look very pretty and if you happen to have any red or gold in your living room I think you'll find it goes rather well with your decor if you watch it next week.

Holidays Out

I know already that you've never been there on holiday, but I shall cunningly disguise its identity to protect myself.

The first two letters are the first two letters of SLUG. And then the next four letters are the last four letters of ROUGH. But you pronounce it as in a cry of pain. Which is ironically appropriate.

We had two actors booked in Car Park View, an overpriced hotel there, for Wednesday night. Sixty-five quid bed and breakfast. Flaming rip-off but this is the South-East of England which is special because - - er - - I forget.

On Tuesday afternoon a chap from Car Park View rang me.
"I'm ringing to ask whether you still want your two rooms for tomorrow night."
"Yes, we do, and we've guaranteed them by credit card. Why do you ask?"
"Er - - I'm not sure."

On Tuesday afternoon, two hours later, a chap from Car Park View rang me.
"I'm ringing to ask whether you still want your two rooms for tomorrow night."
"Yes, we do, and we've guaranteed them by credit card. Why do you ask?"
"Er - - I'm not sure."

Rather dull, I know, having almost an exact repetition of the same paragraph. Imagine how I felt.

On Wednesday morning, the same chap from Car Park View rang us.

"You had two people booked in for last night. They didn't turn up and we'll have to charge you in full."

It was hard to answer because my mind was dwelling on Bill Bryson's glorious phrase "thick as pig dribble" but I managed it.


"Aaaaaaaaaaaaah. I'll ring you back."

He rang me back. The news was not good, and yet somehow not unexpected.

"We've given your rooms to somebody else. We thought your booking was for last night."

I tried silence to see what would happen next.

"But we've transferred your booking to Skidmark Towers down the road. You'll need to send them a fax."


I looked up Skidmark Towers on t'interclacker and read a few reviews. "Damp bed - - cobwebs - - didn't like to touch anything - - "

I racked my brains to see if Ruth and Alastair, the two lucky actors involved, had ever done anything to offend me mightily. Sadly, they hadn't, so I thought I'd better find them somewhere else to stay.

There was nowhere, because nobody wants to stay in that town anyway. Ruth suggested to me, eventually, that as they were working the next day in a hotel that's part of a big chain, we could try there.

So I rang the Holiday Out (another cunning disguise, you notice) and asked them if they had two rooms. They had just had two cancellations! Fantastic! I asked them How Much.

"One hundred and sixty-nine pounds each, including breakfast."

Musing quietly on the delightful Lake District or Yorkshire Dales bed and breakfasts I've stayed in for thirty quid, I booked it.

Speaking very carefully, I said "And I want to PAY for the rooms on this credit card, NOT JUST RESERVE THEM. How do I do that?"

"You'll need to send us a fax with the room reference and the date and the last four digits of your credit card and the names of the guests and this coming Saturday's winning lottery numbers."

I sent the fax, and all went well for nearly three hours, until Alastair arrived there.

"I'm sorry to bother you, Daphne, but they say the room's not paid for."

"I sent them a fax earlier."

"They don't seem to have it."

I sent it again and all went well for nearly an hour, until Ruth arrived there.

"I'm sorry to bother you, Daphne, but they say the room's not paid for."
(That one of the Ten Commandments about not killing people. Is it always correct, I wonder?)

"Tell her to look at the fax machine. There'll be a fax in it. From me."

Oh yes, a superior standard of service. That's what the hundred and sixty-nine quid's for.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Daylight Throbbery

I read somewhere that you can tell if someone is getting older, because when they sit down they invariably go "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah" with pleasure.

Not me, obviously, oh no. I don't feel older. But now I have a daughter at university (coughs proudly) perhaps I should stop feeling about twenty-one and start being grown up.

There are only two signs of impending grownupness, oh, all right, olderness, that I notice and they are these.

1) Things hurt from time to time in places where I never used to notice that there were things. Like my left hip. It throbs from time to time during the day, probably because I walk unevenly because my other leg had a thrombosis in it years ago and never quite got its act completely together again.

But my left hip! I owned it for years, but paid it no attention: I ignored it and it ignored me. Until the last year or so I never knew it was there. Like my feet: I still pay them no attention. When people talk about foot spas or foot massage I'm hey, stop encouraging my feet to listen to such talk. They are very undemanding and I'd like them to stay that way, don't encourage them.

2) The other sign is PUNS. Did I ask for them? No, I did not. They spring unbidden to my brain with increasing ferocity. Sometimes I have to hide under the table to escape them. Mostly I keep them quiet but sometimes one gets out.

So, that's it for now. But when the time comes that I start looking at clothes labelled Comfy or Cosy and those tartan slippers with zips up the side and a pompom on top, and thinking hey, they're rather attractive - - well, then I will know. Or, more probably, won't. Please tell me. Though my reply to you will probably be "Ssh, I'm watching Heartbeat and it's really exciting this week."

Personal Ads

Emily and Gareth were discussing what personal ads they might have used to advertise for a partner if they hadn't met each other.

They each composed an ad for the other and have given me permission to quote them.

For Emily, who likes things clean:

"Neurotic woman seeks disinfected man."

For Gareth, who's rather more laid-back:

"Man seeks woman. Yay."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Role in the Conquest of Space

Yesterday came the splendid news that a small software company, 3SL in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, has beaten off competition from the likes of IBM and Siemens to produce the software for what will eventually become the first manned mission to Mars.

"Furness" means "far peninsula" and indeed Barrow is a small industrial town in the West that is not so much in the back of beyond, but thirty miles or so beyond it, with its own strange accent that's a mixture of flat Lancashire and lilting North East with a tinge of Scottish.

It looks a bit like Liverpool, as they were both designed by the same man. When I first visited Liverpool, I thought wow, there's a coincidence, it looks like Barrow. Once known as a great shipbuilding town and producer of mighty liners, Barrow has of recent years produced the much less pleasurable nuclear submarines.

Some of my very favourite relatives come from Barrow, including my mother. But it is so far away from everywhere else that, when the owner of 3SL said they only had forty engineers, I was astonished that there were any software engineers at all in Barrow. I think of it as a town of beautiful beaches and hundreds of men riding bikes home from the shipyard. That's how it was when I was growing up, anyway.

In Barrow people have evolved separately, like kangaroos, and everyone's related to everyone else, and some of these software engineers are bound to be related to me, hence the modest title of this post.

I think that NASA are being short-sighted though. Having got Barrow to do the software, I think it's only fair that Barrow should build the rocket too: they have all necessary skills and equipment.

Because Barrow built some beautiful passsenger liners. And I think, for a manned trip to Mars, the current rockets look a bit - well - functional. They could be greatly improved by a couple of swimming pools, a sweeping banister rail, some traditional oak panelling and a nicely carved knocker on the front door. And Barrow's just the place to do it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Long Ron Silver

The Communist was worried about us today because we were late visiting him. The traffic was horrendous - it was tipping it down and was clearly the wrong sort of rain, so had blocked up all the traffic in Leeds.

So just as we arrived on the ward - after a journey of an hour when it should take half that - my mobile rang - the hospital had rung home, so Stephen was ringing to see if we were okay.

Anyway, the Communist was very proud, because he was out of bed and sitting out in a chair, and he wanted us to see him there. He'd been sitting out all afternoon, and had managed this for much longer than they expected. The leg-that-used-to-be was propped on a pillow, with its ghost toes hurting him, and he looked a bit pale because of this, but was nevertheless in a positive frame of mind.

He'd been given some hospital-issue cream crackers and plasticky cheese which were sitting there impenetrably wrapped in polythene. Using only my nail scissors and a few of the scarier-looking implements from the surgical ward, we managed to get into them and he ate them with pleasure.

So, things are going well. But I'm suddenly very tired. I usually have endless powers of keeping-going and at the moment I don't feel I have them.

This afternoon I was doing some medical roleplay to help train some qualified doctors in challenging consultations. I was playing a woman who turned up rather frighteningly angry but who would swiftly burst into tears of sadness if dealt with sympathetically by the doctor.

I didn't have a problem tapping into either emotion.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Birds by the Snow

Emily started university today, studying Archaeology at York.

I took her to the station and sobbed gently at losing my little girl for ever.

Jolly good job she came back again this evening. She and Gareth will be moving there in a few weeks. I'm taking my trauma in stages.

She had a good day and plans to join, amongst others, the Quiet Society who sit in a room together and read books. I can see this would appeal to her.

When she was born, of the names we had selected to choose from, she was clearly an Emily. And, in choosing that name, one of the people foremost in my mind was the American nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson.

Her short, compressed, unusual poems with their idiosyncratic punctuation have always appealed to me.

Water, is taught by thirst.
Land - by the Oceans passed.
Transport - by throe -
Peace - by its battles told
Love, by memorial mold
Birds, by the Snow

They take a bit of thinking about, this one included, until you turn it round and say you don't know the meaning of water until you've been thirsty: you don't know the meaning of land until you've been out at sea: you don't know the meaning of a transport of delight until you've been in the throes of agony - - and so on.

Emily - our Emily - likes Emily Dickinson's poetry too. And when our Emily was born I hoped that she'd be like Emily Dickinson in some ways - a quirky, interesting, original thinker.

It's not always a good idea to name children after other people. I was at school with a girl called Titania - nemed after the Queen of the Fairies of course - and, inevitably, she was a big, lumpy, plodding kind of a girl.

But, in our Emily's case, I think it worked.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


I've been watching Louis Theroux talking to people before and after plastic surgery.

(In this post the word "watching" can also be taken to mean "eyes tightly closed and hands in front of my eyes". As long as we're clear.)

The language of it all is strange to me: "I'm just positioning the nipple" and "These breasts are Playboy-perfect".

And indeed they were. But they were - to me - and admittedly women's breasts don't float my boat - characterless, unsexy breasts, like over-inflated balloons.

A woman with a Streisand-like attractive quirkiness had a nose job and then looked like any other blandly attractive girl: she had lost all her individuality.

"There aren't many guys of fifty look this good" said a guy of fifty with strange, Schwarzenegger - like implants where his chest used to be. The implants were slightly too far apart and looked very odd. He had his arms done too and acquired strange lumps where muscles used to be.

And the faces! Those strange, smooth, expressionless faces. Young faces with taut skin are lovely. Older faces with taut skin look like older faces with taut skin. You can tell their owner isn't as young as he or she was, and you can tell they regret this - but plastic surgery doesn't make them look twenty-five again.

Of course there's a place for it, when people are disfigured by birth or accident, or do look so strange that it really is causing them problems. But these people who have "procedure" - as they call it - after procedure in a bid for perfection - - oh, no.

If you find a person attractive, then you do, and if you don't, you don't. I can't imagine finding anyone - of either sex - more attractive because they'd had plastic surgery. I can't imagine liking anyone to any greater extent because they'd had plastic surgery. In fact, d'you know what, I think the opposite is true. I like to see a bit of someone's history when I talk to them.

It wasn't mentioned on the programme that there's a risk to your life every time you have a general anaesthetic, but there is a risk, albeit a small one. If you're ill and need an operation to save your life, then that is worth the risk. The last time I had a general anaesthetic they cut my stomach open and out came Emily. That too, of course, was worth the risk.

But a "brow lift" to make your eyes look wider? Oh, for goodness' sake.

The Very Safe Bridge

One of my favourite walks nearby is round Waterloo Lake in Roundhay Park. At one end it's very parky with flower beds and neat grass: at the other end it's a bit more woodlandy and wild.

However, I have always lived in fear of crossing the Dangerous Bridge at the far end. It was, until recently, just a wooden bridge with no railings around it or anything, above a stream that flowed into the lake. Imagine! No railings! You could have fallen over the edge into the boiling rapids below. Here they are:

Yes, that water must be six inches deep in places and some bits of it are very nearly moving.

So, to prevent a terrible accident, this is what they've done to the bridge:

Ironically, the lake, a former quarry, is extremely deep in the middle and many people have drowned trying to swim in it: most recently a teenage boy just a couple of years ago.

The point I'm trying to make is this. How can you make a whole park safe? Fence off the lake? With barbed wire on the top of the fence? You could put it at the bottoms of the trees too, to stop people climbing them.

What all this overmakingsafeness does is make people think that they don't need to think for themselves. And that leads to far more accidents.

Yes, I've said it before. Sorry. I'll probably say it again the next time I come across something equally daft. On the plus side, aren't the early autumn colours pretty?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

And Now, Some Music

It's been a very stressful time recently and we're not out of the woods yet - there's still a long way to go before the Communist's leg is healed.

But I'm allowing myself to be a little bit happy, because at least the operation's done and he's got through it and there are lots of other things to be happy about, too.

A little while ago I put the Saddest Song in the World - which is Sinead O'Connor singing Nothing Compares to You - on this blog.

And now, here's the Happiest Song in the World and it is Daydream Believer by the Monkees. The best and simplest version has them just singing next to a piano and you can find this here but Youtube won't let me embed that one. So here is a pirate video (and by that I mean a video with pirates in, not an illegal copy). It dates from the days before Johnny Depp, from the days before videos - hell, it's so old it probably dates from the days when there were such pirates.

What is it about it that does it for me? It's that Sixties optimistic jauntiness I think. The words don't make much sense at all, but who cares? The bits that get me every time are the chorus, and, for some reason which I can't ever fathom, the lines "You once thought of me as a white knight on a steed, Now you know how happy I can be." It makes my heart just lift and I usually cry.

Just an old pop song by a manufactured band - and it's one of my favourites ever.

"How potent cheap music is" as Noel Coward said.

And next, if you still feel like grumbling, here's the Helsinki Complaints Choir singing all their complaints. A glorious idea, splendidly executed - though, I have to say, there doesn't seem to be that much to complain about in Finland other than it's cold, it's dark and I've lost my reindeer.

I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Important News in Blighty

Since the title of this blog has political overtones, and since lots of my friends are abroad at the moment, I thought I'd better update you all on the major items in the newspaper headlines today.

There are two important developments that you need to know in order to be up to speed with the news in Britain: they are on the front of every paper and I'm going to tell you them now, and I hope you're grateful.

1) Madeleine McCann's still missing

2) Princess Diana's still dead

British news coverage, eh? Best in the world, and no mistake.

Does it Hurt?

The Communist is on a surgical ward, not surprisingly.

He's doing very well: a bit confused the day after the operation, but with one thing on his mind.

"Pass me my stick, I'm going home."

But yesterday and today he's been completely with it mentally, though with slightly slurred speech, which he's aware of - it might be the painkillers, perhaps. And - although he can still feel the leg and the foot that's gone and especially the two toes that gave him so much hell when they were there - the leg isn't hurting him any more. And he's got his sense of humour intact. Which is brilliant.

Now, as I said, it's a surgical ward. People with bits of arms and legs missing being wheeled about on trolleys. Stray kidneys lying about in trays. Unidentified bits of innards under your feet. Blood splashes all over the walls. That kind of thing. So you'd think that the nurses on the ward would be used to it.

As Emily and I visited the Communist today, one of the many lovely nurses stuck her head round the door.

We waited for her to say something important about the Communist's condition, but she didn't. She just stared. At Emily. More to the point, at Emily's facial piercings, of which there are a few. To me, they're just part of Emily and they look great. But the nurse continued to stare, though with interest, not criticism.

After a very long pause, the nurse spoke.

"Don't they hurt, all those piercings?"

Emily thought it was hilarious. There we were, sitting next to a man with half his leg missing, in a ward where every second person has a huge bloodstained wound.

"And she's asking if my PIERCINGS hurt?"

Thursday, October 04, 2007


So, you're twenty-something. Ok, you're young, cool and sexy.

But you've really missed out on something and it's something you're never going to experience.

It's fifty years today since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to be sent up into space. It wasn't very big - about the size of a basketball. It orbited the Earth in ninety-eight minutes. It went round a few times, beeping so they knew where it was, and then burned up.

But it was the start of the Space Age - and now even that term, once so new and exciting, sounds old-fashioned.

By November the Soviet Union had sent up the next Sputnik, with a dog named Laika inside it.

The Americans weren't happy. If the Soviet Union were sending things up into space, then they could in future be used to carry nuclear weapons. They didn't like the idea of the Ruskies being ahead of them in the game, either.

So they quickly assembled all the latest technology - string, toilet-roll middles, the computing power of one of today's digital watches - and started working rather fast.

Twelve years later they had a man walking on the moon. It was a small step for the man, but a giant leap for Mankind.

And the Apollo missions were exciting beyond belief. They happened in black and white, of course - everything did in those days, certainly in our house, well into the Seventies. The breathtaking countdowns when we were waiting for the rocket launch. Ten - nine - eight - seven - six - whenever I see old film of it now it still gives me the same frissson of excitement.

"And now, over to Mission Control, Houston" - - and grainy shots of men sitting at banks of monitors. And then the astronauts talking from the spacecraft. Yes, from the SPACECRAFT! In SPACE! And all accompanied by the sssshing noise of what sounded like a Space Mission Cappuccino Machine.

They were going to LAND A MAN ON THE MOON! Incredible! And that feeling of excitement, anticipation and fear, all the time they were up there. With Apollo 13, when it all went wrong and the astronauts nearly died and it was touch and go whether they would manage to bring them back to Earth, it seemed to me as though the whole of Planet Earth was waiting and worrying. I knew even then that this wasn't so, but that was how it felt.

Earth was a much bigger planet then. No internet, of course, and even phone calls from abroad were very rare: so that whole-planet-united feeling was even more surprising.

The Apollo launches seemed to happen very often - and, in fact, they did, of course - so there was always another one to look forward to.

And Sputnik started it all. History is what you can remember, of course, and NASA's account of it may differ slightly from mine. But what I remember is the feeling. The heady excitement of it all.

I'm sorry, twenty-somethings, but there's been nothing like it since, and there won't be again in your lifetime. In a much more innocent age, with all the comparative technology of a horse and cart, they put a man on the moon. Wow.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah

You may recall that, a few weeks back, I mentioned this strangely-named theatre company, who have been going for over twenty years and do some excellent work.

Though actually, the focus of my piece was really that I want their lovely green van.

And now, they have very kindly put my piece on their website. If you click on "About Us" and then "Blah People" they have added my piece about the van to the list of people, at the bottom of the page.

I'm very proud that they have quoted me.

Though, if they ever happen to leave it lying around with the keys in the lock, they shouldn't think that this mention will stop me nicking it.

Ghost River

What's this?

If you look closely, you will see it's a waterfall. Or rather, a little flight of several waterfalls. But without the water.

I went there with David on our trip to the Dales last week: it's a valley called Conistone Dib near the far better-known Kilnsey Crag in Wharfedale.

I found it very confusing. There was the place where the stream wasn't, flowing quickly down the valley, with rocks on the river bed - but no water.

I almost expected to see the fish flapping where the water had just left.

Here's David standing where the stream had carved its way through the hillside:

You can see the grooves on the rocks where the water had flowed by over thousands and thousands of years.

But where had it gone? Already knowing the answer, I asked David if the stream was there when he used to visit as a child.

And no, of course not - it probably vanished from this valley hundreds - or thousands - of years ago. Of course, this is limestone country and water disappears and reappears in all sorts of strange places through the rock.

It brought it home to me how different River Time is from People Time. And it's a lovely walk.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Still Here

So finally, late afternoon today, they did the operation. A spinal anaesthetic, so he was awake.

And here was the Communist at seven o'clock this evening.

Amazing, really. He'd eaten some quiche and my mother had brought him a nectarine which he ate with great relish. They had taken off the leg below the knee, rather than above it, which pleased him.

"Well, I've been in the hollows of hell today," he said cheerily, "but I can't remember much about it."

Of course, he's not out of the woods yet - the leg has yet to heal, of course. But my mother, Emily, Gareth and I were all there and it was great to see him in such good form. Gareth pointed out afterwards that his head, which was lolling about a bit yesterday, was upright today.

"I'm ready for my peg-leg now," he said, "but I'm a bit tired."

"Well," I said, "you've had a busy day."

"Little man, you've had a busy day," sang the Communist, who has always had a song for every occasion. His singing wasn't quite in the fine baritone he used to have, but I felt that, in the circumstances, it was a damned good beginning.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Still Waiting

It was a glorious early-autumn day here in Leeds, all very season-of-mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness - if you'd like to read the whole, excellent poem by Mr Keats, Honey quoted it on her blog on September 19th.

Here was Gledhow Woods this morning:

I had been told to ring at two to find out how the Communist's operation had gone. I took my mother for a walk to distract us both for a bit, and then did lots and lots of work in the office to distract myself.

Then I rang at two and he hadn't gone down for surgery yet, but it should be soon - they would ring me - - -

David came round and took me for another walk - great - and Mark kindly manned the office, and I did a bit more work and finally I rang them and it has all been postponed until tomorrow. Nothing to do with the Communist, presumably because someone else's operation had taken longer than expected.

But the poor Communist had had nothing to eat or drink all this time and so they finally gave him some food.

We went to visit just after six and took him a scone, which he enjoyed - here he is, all ready for the operation in his hospital gown.

He was remarkably philosophical - the Very Very Important Surgeon had been to apologise to him, and the staff were being lovely.

But I like to think that if I were In Charge of Everything (not that I am by nature a despot but hey, some things really need sorting out) then they would not do this waiting thing to an eighty-four-year-old, or indeed to anyone.