Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunrise, Sunset

Here's the sunrise in the mediaeval French village of Montreal, on Friday, April 6th, 2007. This was the beginning of the end of the olden days. For me, anyway.

It was a glorious Spring day and we went to Guedelon, where ils batisssent un chateau fort - they are building a castle. A mediaeval castle, using mediaeval methods. It won't be finished until 2023. It was fascinating, and one of the best days of the year.

The next day we set off back to England and it was from then on that the Communist's health deteriorated. We hadn't taken my parents to France as it was obvious even then that he wasn't up to the journey.

I had a strong feeling, as I looked at the sunset over the sea as we left France, that everything was about to change. I'm glad I didn't know how difficult it was all going to be.

Still, I thought the Communist would be dead by now, and he's not: he's minus a leg but in much better health and not in pain any more. He still hasn't accepted that he won't be able to come home permanently, and I know there are further difficult times to come.

There have been plenty of good things, though: two enjoyable holidays in the Lake District and in Tenby - though, in my head, both were greatly overshadowed by the Communist being in hospital.

Emily's fantastic A-level results. Gareth finishing university and getting a good job after only three weeks. Emily starting Archaeology at York University, and enjoying it. Gareth and Emily finding a house they like in York, and moving in. And, of course, their forthcoming wedding in February - only six weeks or so away!

It's when things are difficult, of course, that you find out who your friends are. I knew my family would be great, and they have been, and so have my friends. I'd like to list them, but don't want to embarrass them, and I hope you know who you are, whether you're in Leeds, Huddersfield, Oxford, Manchester, Darlington, London, or that place that poor Dustin was aiming for in Midnight Cowboy. Thank you all.

And also, many thanks to those of you who read my blog, and to those who leave comments, whether regularly or occasionally - I love getting them, please continue!

Well, this was going to be about New Year's Resolutions, but it hasn't been. I'll do those tomorrow.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


You either have that kind of mind or you don't.

I do. I can do spelling. Once I've seen a word once, I can generally spell it for ever. Often when people say "What does this word mean?" I say, "I don't know, but I can spell it."

Because of years of teaching, I know the words that people find tricky and I was determined that this wouldn't be the case with Emily.

So, once she learned to speak, there she'd be in her pushchair and as we went along we'd play a Lovely Spelling Game which went "Let's spell Necessary. N - E - C - E - S - S- A - R - Y". Or Business, or Mississippi, or any of those tricky ones. The poor mite learned to spell them before she had any real need to use them at all. I hoped it would save time later.

I needn't have bothered. Emily has inherited my spelling ability, and because she spent most waking moments reading a book, she swiftly learned to spell every word she came across.

It can be tricky, though. When I spot a spelling mistake, I never know whether or not to point it out to its creator. People can get very upset about such things. Some very clever people have a real mental block about spelling, and can get very offended if you point mistakes out to them.

So I've invented a kind of rule book for myself:

If someone asks, I will tell them.

If it's somewhere that isn't important, it doesn't matter and I'd never mention it - it's the meaning that matters.

If it's on something that is important - a leaflet, a document - then I will mention it whether they've asked me to or not, because I think they should know, and if they hate me, that's a shame.

It's a dodgy area, though, ripe with opportunities to give offence.

Now then, what I'm really bad at is anything in three dimensions. Rubik's Cubes. Puzzles. Parallel parking. That kind of thing.

Do people take account of any sensitivity that I might have about my lack of ability in this area?

No, they do not. Sometimes kind people will park my car for me. Mostly they fall about laughing.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Appropriate Christmas Gift

So, what's a suitable Christmas present for a seven-year old girl? Book? Doll's house? Bike with stabilisers? Lego? £1200 quad bike that can do forty miles an hour?

Quad bike! Great idea! And perhaps she and her brother, who is ten, could have one each, and drive their quad bikes in the darkness on an unlit winding country lane, following their dad's car, near the village of Blackmore, Essex.

Yes, an interesting gift idea, but unfortunately a Range Rover collided head-on with the little girl's quad bike and killed her.

So, on to the quotation from Schoolfriend's Mum, on the subject of the little girl:

"She was absolutely perfect and was loved by everyone. She loved horses. Her mum used to bring her horse to school for Elizabeth to ride home. They were wonderful parents, really lovely."

They always find someone to give a quote like this, don't they?

This autumn I took part in a conference on Child Neglect in a very poor region of the North. The stories of neglected children were horrifying.

But this story is equally horrifying. The only difference in this one is that the parents were rich.

Never mind the "wonderful parents" bit. Bollocks. Over-indulgent, thoughtless, deeply stupid and criminally neglectful in a different way. It's illegal to ride a quad bike on a public road if you're under sixteen anyway.

Of course, the parents will be devastated. I hope they'll replace ten-year-old Jack's quad bike with a more suitable Christmas present before he gets himself killed, too. I hope the story will have some influence on other rich-but-stupid parents.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No Plants Please

On a hospital ward door I found this notice:

It's a long time, thankfully, since I was in hospital, but I found all the kindly-meant flowers that I was brought a bit of a trial.

I wasn't allowed to get out of bed. More and more plants and bunches of flowers kept arriving. An Evil Sister kept coming in and remarking on them disapprovingly. They cluttered the place up. They breathed all the oxygen. Why did my visitors keep bringing them?

Because I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't do anything about it. I couldn't ask the visitors to take them away, because they were meant to cheer me up. It was all very tricky.

However, many people love being brought flowers when they're in hospital. And this Flower Ban seems to me to be another example of Health and Safety gone mad.

I expect they've installed Flower Police on the door, with Pollen Detectors in case anyone tries to smuggle in the odd bunch of daffs. All plants must be confiscated upon arrival. Any breaches of this rule and we'll pull out your relative's drip.

I think I'm the exception. For many people, a plant or flowers when in hospital are a welcome link with the outside world, as well as being enjoyable in themselves. If there's anyone with a severe allergy, then fair enough, as a temporary measure. But making a ward a permanent plant-free zone seems, to me, a bit much.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ellen Naomi Cohen

No, I don't expect you've heard of Ellen Naomi Cohen. But if you're old enough to remember a group called The Mamas and the Papas, you will know her as Mama Cass Elliot.

She was a large woman with a wonderful voice that just does it for me.

If you don't remember the group, I'm sure you'll know some of their songs - California Dreamin', Monday Monday and Dream a Little Dream of Me.

They had that essence-of-sixties cheering sound that just made my heart lift when I first heard them, and they still do.

I was listening to Liza Tarbuck on Radio Two on my way back from visiting the Communist today and suddenly she said "Well, I haven't heard this for years."

I hadn't either. It's It's Getting Better and it's SO sixties it's even got the word "groovy" in it. And I absolutely love it. Why? Dunno. Mock me if you like for my uncoolness, I don't care.

Mama Cass Elliot died of a heart attack in 1974, aged only thirty-something.

The only version I can find on Youtube is this one. I don't know what the accompanying video is at all, but it's truly terrible. Watch it with your eyes shut. Listen to her voice.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Global Warming On the Lawn

I'm always feeding things. People tease me about it. The birds in our garden are so fat they can hardly fly. The fox in our garden is the biggest in Yorkshire.

Our cat, however, like all cats, is fussy about food: she's also tiny so never eats a full serving of cat food. So I throw it out of the window where it is eaten by passing cats, foxes and sometimes birds.

But this evening, I looked out of the window and there, tucking into the cat food, was a hedgehog.

Hedgehogs, as any fule kno, hibernate. Come October or November they find a pile of leaves and curl up until Spring.

Not any more, it seems. The climes they are a-changin'.


For months and months, every time the Communist has said the word "home" he has burst into tears, and I don't blame him.

But today, finally, with the assistance of a wheelchair taxi, we managed to bring him home for a couple of hours: the first time he'd been home since he was taken to hospital in June.

After that, he was exhausted, and we took him back to the nursing home.

But it was very, very well worth it. Here he is, with my mother. She's only six months younger than him - which means she'll be 84 in April - but, as you can maybe see from this photo, she's still incredibly fit. Yesterday, when there weren't enough chairs in his room, she simply sat cross-legged on the floor. Oh, and she doesn't believe in hair dye, either - that's its natural colour.

Now we know we can do it, we'll bring the Communist home again very soon.

Look and Learn

Here's the kind of thing we got given for Christmas in ancient times:

I always looked forward to getting books for Christmas. This year I was given several which I know I'll enjoy. Emily operates using the philosophy "Those books won't read themselves, you know" and with great consideration read her way through the copy I've been given of Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There, starting it just before lunch and finishing it sometime before the Queen's speech.

To digress a moment, no, I didn't watch the Queen's Speech and indeed have never seen it. There are many traditions in our family, but that's not one of them. Emily watched it later on Youtube as a gesture of teenage rebellion.

Back to Look and Learn. Now then, as a child I would read anything you put in front of me. I wouldn't go anywhere, no matter how interesting, without an emergency book in case there was an empty five minutes of dullness where I could read instead.

And I know that for a while we subscribed to Look and Learn magazine. And I suspect I was given many of its annuals - well - annually. I was the kind of child of whom relatives would think "oh, Daphne will like Look and Learn, she likes learning things." I know I read them all: as I said, I read everything.

In general, I remember lots about the books of my childhood - they were a world as real to me as the real one. Alice in Wonderland. The House at Pooh Corner. Jill Has Two Ponies. Strangers at the Farm School. The Wind in the Willows. Carrots at Orchard End. Little House in the Big Woods. I could go on listing them until morning. I read lots of fiction, and lots of non-fiction too: I have particularly fond memories of Other People's Children, which was a book about the lives led by children in different countries. I've still got it, of course. I've still got them all.

So, looking in Wikipedia, I am told that the premise of Look and Learn was "to delight and inspire the imaginations of its young readers".

And it clearly had lots of articles about things that would interest me - the World Wildlife Fund - - space travel - - geography - - the farming community - -

But I can't remember anything about any of them. Because Look and Learn was presented in a worthy-but-dull format that coated everything in a middle-class isn't-education-interesting soup.

Yes, I read it, I know. But it was boring as shit.

I looked, but I didn't learn.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Prize Turkey

Here's my entry for the Turner Prize:

I'm going to call it Inter-Species Co-operation in the Promotion of Man's Domination of the Planet, because I was thinking up pretentious names for things when Damian Hirst was just an oiky teenager at Allerton Grange school up the road.

Happy Christmas

A Very Happy Christmas to everyone who reads this blog.

Thank you for reading - - and for your comments - - and, in some cases, for everything else too.

I hope you'll all have a lovely day.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ideal Christmas Gift

Here's a present that was given to Gareth:

It's a plastic chameleon that plugs into the USB port on the computer.

From time to time it rolls its eyes and from time to time it sticks its long red tongue out, as if catching a fly.

And - - ta-ra! - - that's it.

Of course, I loved it instantly, because I like chameleons anyway, andI love that strange rocking-backwards-and-forwards thing they do to pretend they're perched on a tree in a breeze, so they can't be spotted. This plastic one hasn't mastered that, though, sadly.

Yes, it's completely pointless and as such would have been a worthy inclusion in the much-missed Innovations Catalogue. (do look at the link, it's very entertaining).

You may remember that this little gem used to arrive periodically, unasked-for and unnanounced, inside a newspaper or magazine.

The newspaper would immediately be thrown aside, rejected for the thrills to be found within the magnificent Innovations Catalogue. Although you would have never had thought of wanting any of the items therein, once you saw it, you wanted everything. A new kind of self-cleaning shoe-rack! A battery-powered device that would tell you if it was raining outside - and all whilst you were still lying in bed! A device to stick in your plant-pot that turned red when your plant needed watering!

"Oh, that's a good idea!" you'd think, leafing through the catalogue. But when you'd done that, you'd somehow find you'd had your fill of Technology, like eating too much chocolate cake, so you never actually ordered anything. Which is why, presumably, it went bust.

And yet - - look here! Innovations on t'interclacker! Climbing Santas! Automatic TRV - 10 Robot Vacuum Cleaner "Can you imagine not having to do the vacuuming ever again? With the TRV-10 Science Fiction becomes fact - - " There's the Dreamate "for a trouble-free night's sleep every night" - - "every 5 seconds, tiny electrodes emit barely noticeable impulses" - -

Aaaah yes, this is what we want. Hurrah for the Innovations Catalogue, and bring back Tomorrow's World on telly, says I, whilst you're about it. If it says "you'll be amazed" - and it so often does - that's good enough for me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

God Bless Us, Every One

Yes, I know, the photos are a bit dark. That's because it was night. In the middle of a wood.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas in Leeds without David Robertson (second from left) and Theatre of the Dales performing David's adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

Last night it was in Dagmar, a patch of woodland in Headingley, Leeds: the same venue where a huge crowd came to see Theatre of the Dales perform The Tempest and A Winter's Tale last summer.

Last night - in stark contrast to the warm sunshine of the summer performances - it was freezing cold: there was a huge bonfire: there was mulled wine: there was carol-singing afterwards.

More than a hundred people came, which I think is rather amazing considering the weather. Judging by the applause, they loved it. Here are some of them:

I'm beginning to feel a bit Christmassy.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

About to Leave Hospital

My mother came over to our house this morning (it's not far: their house is next door).

"Have the hospital rung you?" she asked, in tones of great worry, which is how she announces all news, good or bad, these days.

"No, what's happened?" I asked, fearing the worst.

"They've moved him to another ward!" she said, horrified.

They have only moved him because he's about to be discharged to the nursing home tomorrow. We went to see him, and he's really very bored - he can't read as his eyesight has changed and he needs new glasses, and there's no television in the little side-room where they've put him.

But he cheered up mightily when we arrived. Here are Emily, Gareth and the Communist this morning.

I'm hoping that, by tomorrow, he'll be out of there.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On trying to be Dr Dolittle

I was a big fan of Hugh Lofting's Dr Dolittle books when I was a child - though they'd be very old-fashioned now. Dr Dolittle was subsequently portrayed - in a rather odd yet strangely enjoyable musical film - by Rex Harrison . He was the dashing, debonair actor who couldn't quite sing so spoke his way through all the songs, most memorably, perhaps, in My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn.

Anyway, the crucial thing about Dr Dolittle was that he could talk to animals and this was a skill that, as a child, I really coveted.

I've never managed it to Dr Dolittle standards but I must say, I've picked up quite a lot along the way. Such as that, if you stare at a cat with wide-open eyes, it sees that as a threat, as that's what cats do to intimidate each other. Our minuscule cat Froggie sees off quite a few intruders to our garden that way.

On the other hand, if you look at your cat and narrow your eyes that's a friendly greeting and it will do it straight back to you. Well, Froggie does, though obviously she understands every word we say anyway and is vastly superior to all other cats.

I saw a documentary about a child who'd been brought up with a pack of dogs and she was doing this too - never made full eye contact as that would be interpreted as a threat.

My latest achievement is learning a few words of Sparrow.

I am an obsessive feeder of birds - yes, okay, you can stop laughing, those who know me, I am an obsessive feeder of anything that eats, I admit it.

I have over the past few years tried to stop the national decline in house sparrows by cultivating my own little flock, now numbering at least a couple of dozen.

Every morning, when I put the food out, I have been hearing one of them, from the ivy on the garage, saying "T-t-t T-t-t" - that's the nearest that I can write it - it's a cross between the letter t and a click.

And, very soon afterwards, the whole flock shows up. So I reckoned that this must be Sparrow for "She's putting the food on the bird table - get over here now".

Over the past few days, I have practised this little Sparrow sentence, until I reckoned I'd got it near perfect.

This morning I thought I'd try it. So, as I went out, feeling a bit self-conscious, I spoke in Sparrow. I suspect my grammar wasn't perfect as I was probably saying "She's putting the food out" rather than "I'm putting the food out" but, much to my amazement, it worked - two dozen sparrows instantly appeared from various different sets of bushes.

Another new skill for my cv.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Out of Africa

Many thanks to Katrin for sending me this video: I thought it deserves to be seen by more people.

It's a tense drama starring, in order of appearance:

A Herd of Buffalo

A Pride of Lions

Two Crocodiles

and introducing, in his first major screen role:

Lucky The Buffalo Calf

There are several exciting plot twists and plenty of action. I shan't give away the ending, but I like the bit where the buffalo go off, have a tactical discussion, and come back mob-handed with all their mates.

Long, Long Time Ago

Here's a rare photograph from the last century. I haven't seen it for many, many years but some of my relatives kindly sent it to me.

I know it looks a bit like an illustration from a Janet and John book - and it was, indeed, 1966 (n.b. I was Very Young Indeed).

We were staying with some of my nicest relatives in an old-fashioned, and, to me, totally idyllic cottage in the Duddon Valley in the Lake District.

One day we opened the cottage door and a little black lamb walked in. This was, to me, the best thing in all the world: I was euphoric with happiness.

The lamb was subsequently rescued and taken to the farmer and bottle-fed and I was allowed to feed it. Unbridled joy! It actually takes a bit of looking to spot the lamb in this picture. My mother has no memory of the whole incident. But to me, it was one of the very best days of my childhood.

On the left is my cousin - the one who, sadly, has recently been diagnosed with cancer.

The baby is my brother Michael, sitting on my mother's knee: the Communist took the photo.

And Glasses, Orange Cardigan and Too Many Teeth is - - well - - me. No wonder I grew up hating that look. I went from small girl with sensible-sized teeth, blonde curly hair and no glasses to very slightly larger girl with huge teeth, much darker hair and enormous glasses.

Eventually I grew into the teeth, and actually they look fine now my face has grown to fit them. I've always hated the glasses. But now they're so much a part of me I don't think I could be without them.

One photo: so many memories, and so many strong emotions.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Cost of Being Old

I've learned a lot in the last few days.

If you need to go into a nursing home, and you have less than twenty-one-and-a-half thousand pounds, Social Services will pay.

If you have a house and your spouse is living in it, you don't have to sell it - he or she can stay there. But all your other assets are taken into consideration.

If you have over twenty-one-and-a-half thousand pounds, you are regarded as "self-funding" and this means that you have to pay all the cost - which is, for anywhere decent, somewhere between five hundred and fifty and seven hundred pounds per week.

Then, when your money drops to the twenty-one-and-a-half thousand level, Social Services will take over paying it.

BUT - - - they only pay up to a certain amount, and many homes charge more than this. So the payments have to be topped up - by any amount from a tenner a week to a couple of hundred.

So who will top them up? - - Well, it can't be the person in the nursing home, because their money has now dropped to twenty-one-and-a-half-thousand and they're allowed to keep that.

So it falls to the relatives. And, as you can imagine, this can be a huge financial burden on them. So what happens if they can't afford to pay?

Well, their loved one gets kicked out into somewhere cheaper, that's what happens.

Which, if they're old, frail and used to the place where they've been living, is a big trauma for them.

Of course, if the Ancient Ones give their money away to their children, which they're allowed to do, at a certain amount - I think it's three grand - a year, then when they do finally need a nursing home, they won't have enough to be self-funding.

And, of course, if the Ancient Ones have never saved a penny and have spent all their money, or if they never earned that much in the first place, then they won't have to be self-funding either.

The Communist was a pharmacist with his own shop: he worked very hard: he saved hard too, because he didn't want to be a burden to anyone.

Lots of people now keep saying to me "Why didn't you get him to give it to you?"

Because I didn't want to ask him that, and I still wouldn't: he's given me some along the way, and the rest he wanted to leave it to me, and to my brother, but there is no way I would have said, "Please give me the money now."

If it has to be spent on nursing-home care, too bad: I am currently trying to get him into the nicest place I can find. Lots of people keep saying things beginning with "But surely - - " and they mostly finish with ways to hide the money, spend the money, or give it to me. And I don't want to get involved with any dodgy dealings of this nature, thank you, because it just feels WRONG. (Though SG, thank you for your very kind offer to look it over and check we're doing it right - I will take you up on that).

I'll let you know when I've sorted it out. It's the nineteenth of December and I'd really rather that the Communist wasn't in hospital for Christmas: my ambition is to bring him home for at least some of Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On the Randomness of Things

The Health Care Professional said "I can't recommend any particular nursing home, of course," then coughed in a way that sounded just like the name of one of the nursing homes in the booklet she'd just given me.

I asked about it and she said that, as a matter of fact, she'd happened to find out that it had a vacancy.

So after we'd finished the financial assessment - or as much as I could, looking through the Communist's filing cabinet, all labelled neatly in his handwriting from what seems like a lifetime ago - I rang the nursing home and the woman who answered was really friendly and said I could visit whenever I liked and she'd show me round.

So I did, and it's only a mile and a half from home, and it was pleasant and warm and had a garden and the rooms were nice and didn't smell of pee and all the staff were really friendly and I thought yes, if he has to go into a nursing home, this is the one.

And then I came home and started nursing-home things in motion and then took Emily - who has a bad back - to the doctor's, and then went straight off to a two-hour meeting at Leeds University about roleplay for medical students in the New Year. And then I went to visit the Communist in hospital, and found him still saying "So how many weeks will I have to be in this nursing home?" and dealt with it as well as I could.

And then, on the way home in the rush-hour traffic, I thought hey, I've got to be in Bolton early in the morning to do a medical roleplay: I'd better get some petrol.

So I drove to the garage and pressed the little lever next to the handbrake that opens the cover to the petrol cap: and it didn't open.

I tried several times and cursed rather a lot, but to no result. So then I drove home and mustered all the technical expertise I could, which was actually quite a lot, and the way that I did it was to wail "Stephen - - heeeelp!" in a girlie Fotherington-Thomas voice.

Now, thanks to Mr Techie, the cover of the petrol cap is jammed unlocked, and to actually open it I can use a piece of special equipment known as a Small White Plastic Spoon.

So I went and filled up the petrol tank and once I've worked out the way to Bolton and moved stuff for the carpet cleaners who are coming tomorrow and had a look at my roleplay script, I can relax.

But if you'd asked me to guess what was going to go wrong with my car, I would never have guessed that. Life can be very random sometimes.

Paradise Lost

Yesterday, the Communist was struggling to remember the name of the nursing home where he stayed earlier this year.

It was called Harrogate Lodge, but he couldn't remember the name, only the vague sound of the words.

"You know," he said, with a smile, knowing it was quite a good joke, "Paradise Lost."

Today, at the Care Planning Meeting, a little bombshell was dropped very early on. Unbeknown to the Communist, he does need care at night-time: they turn him in his sleep to prevent bedsores, and, each time, it takes two nurses to do it.

I swiftly took in the meaning of this single piece of information. It means that, unless he gets a lot more mobile than they're currently expecting, it means that he can never come home. They can provide people to come in, in twos, up to four times a day: but not at night. The cost of a private night sitter is more than sixty pounds a night, and it would need two.

But they're about to discharge him from hospital, into the first nursing-home bed that becomes available, and then we'll have to find him a good nursing home that's near his house. Then, with luck, he can be brought home to visit sometimes, in a taxi that will take a wheelchair with him already in it, because the only way of getting him from the bed to the wheelchair is with a hoist, so you can't get him into an ordinary chair.

All this was explained and agreed and I know he understood it: but then, right at the last minute, he determinedly had one last try.

"When will I be able to go home for good?"

Everyone said a lot of guff about taking one day at a time and seeing how it goes: they didn't lie, but they didn't tell the truth.

I thought it, though.

"Never, Dad. You won't be going home."

Paradise Lost.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My First Beach

It's the first beach you see that sets the standard for all the other beaches in your life.

If your first beach is in the Caribbean with golden sands, hot sunshine and palm trees, that's how you'll judge all other beaches in the future.

If your first beach is somewhere in European Tourist Land, with many people and lots of high-rise hotels, then that, in your belief, is a beach.

If, on the other hand, your first beach is in Barrow-in-Furness, with a freezing wind, icy water and lots of rounded stones and pebbles, then that's what you think a beach should be like.

Guess which mine was?

Here's the beach on Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness. There are always good big waves to swim in, because there's always a breeze there. Sometimes it's more of a gale.

Although it's sandy when the tide's out, the top of the beach is mostly pebbles, and teetering along these is my first remembered experience of walking. My feet fitted nicely on the little stones and I remember being very confused on a subsequent visit when my growing feet no longer fitted.

There are also lots of shells to collect, and very often some interesting things to find on the tideline.

And that, to me, is a beach. Oh yes, and it can have rock pools too.

But that's it. That's all it should have. There shouldn't be any people, either, unless they're with me.

Sorry if that sounds selfish. These early childhood experiences really do set the pattern for life.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Filling it In

I'm quite good at filling in forms. When they're other people's, that is. When they're mine I just can't bear it. So I tend to put it off and off, even - as with the insurance policy that's just matured - there's quite a bit of dosh there for the asking.

When I took out the policy in 1994 it was supposed to pay Emily's way through university blah blah and now, of course, it won't, but the money will still come in useful to help with the odd tin of baked beans etc.

A form arrived in early September saying the policy was due to mature at the beginning of November and please fill in this claim form and send it back with the original policy document.

Now why do they need the original policy docment? They know I've got the policy: they sold it to me for goodness' sake and they've just sent me a letter with the policy number on it. At the time I was more preoccupied with the Communist's illness than with filling in the wretched form, so I put it somewhere and have spent the rest of September, plus October and November and half of December, idly wondering where that place might be.

Usually I'm quite well-organised with such things and I had a good guess that the policy document might be in a hanging file in the filing cabinet labelled Scrooge Insurance or similar. But I never actually got round to looking: just kept searching from time to time for the letter with the claim form. Never found it.

Today I thought, oh HELL, I'd better deal with the wretched thing since it matured over a month ago.

Bravely I looked in the filing cabinet and there, sure enough, was a file labelled Scrooge Insurance.

And there, in the file, was the original policy document. Hurrah!

And there, in the file, next to the original policy document, was the letter with the claim form.

I had filed it in the proper place when it arrived. I think the correct expression here is "Doh!"

Anyway, I've filled it in now, and I hated every moment, and I bet it will get lost in the Christmas post.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wrong Wresult

Unless you've been watching, you won't care.

I just watched the final of The X-Factor and the Wrong Man Won. (Go on, disagree with me, I dare you).

The winner was Leon, Babyfaced Crooner, over Rhydian of the Spine-Tingling Voice.

Judge Louis Walsh kept saying "It's a talent competition" but of course, once the judges lose their say in it, it really isn't. It's a popularity contest, and I expect that Leon mopped up masses of teenybopper votes, whereas Rhydian, classically trained but seemingly able to sing anything, is a bit older at an ancient 24, and a bit harder to pigeonhole.

Still, my consolation is that Rhydian's voice is so fantastic that he'll have a career anyway: whereas Leon, if he'd come second, would have just faded into obscurity, as happens to most people on these programmes who come anything other than first.

Third were brother-and-sister duo Same Difference: cheesy, old fashioned, happy, and totally professional in everything they did.

That's it - I'll quit whingeing - I'm all X-Factored out until next year.

Normal service on this blog - whatever that is - will be resumed tomorrow.

Man with a Dog

My mother's habit of chatting to everyone she meets sometimes backfires somewhat.

During our trip to Barrow we met an oldish man walking his dog.

Nice, friendly dog. Friendly man, too. My mother told him that we were from Leeds. He told my mother that his son lived in Wakefield, then added,

"They call it Land of the Waving Palms, you know. Geddit?"

We didn't, for a fraction of a second, until he added a nudge and a few winks and we realised what he meant.

"Not far from Bradford, either. Want to know what they call that?"

We didn't, actually. I was already moving in the general direction of anywhere else.

Anyway, he told us his unfunny nickname for somewhere where Asian people live.

"Goodbye," said my mother. I had already left.

"I'm not a racist, mind," he said to my retreating back. "As long as they don't come round here."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Beach Sculpture

At the beach at Roanhead, just outside Barrow-in-Furness, yesterday, there was the lowest tide that I have ever seen there. At Roanhead, the estuary of the River Duddon - lovely river of my childhood, all clear waters and rocks and tiny fish and paddling and swimming - leaves the Lake District and reaches the sea.

But yesterday there was no discernible sea at all: just the distant river in the middle of a huge expanse of sand.

In the sand were patterns left by the departing tide:

That was quite interesting - little bobbly heaps of sand: they didn't look quite like worm casts but maybe that's what they were, or used to be.

And then there were some patterns that were very obviously made by waves:

And then there was this, which had no doubt been constructed by a large number of Beach Elves with buckets and spades, working hard throughout the night under very precise instructions:

John was telling me today that there is lots of this kind of thing in the desert, made by Desert Elves, I expect: and unless you drive over it at the correct speed then all the screws in your vehicle will come undone. In fact they probably will anyway.

I'm generally keen on man-made beach sculpture of the ephemeral kind, such as those to be found on the World Beach Project (search for Sandsend, which is in North Yorkshire, near Whitby, to find John and Katrin's sculptures). But I thought this Elf-made sculpture was fantastic.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Some Way to Go

It was a beautiful journey to Barrow-in-Furness yesterday - cold and crisp and sunny: here's one of the views on the way.

As you may know by now, I work part-time to help to train doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in Communication Skills. It's a mandatory part of all doctors' training now, and this is very much a Good Thing.

My cousin in Barrow told me his story. He had been taken into hospital for an emergency operation. Afterwards, he was awaiting the results of what they'd found out during the operation. He didn't know what was wrong with him.

Before the surgeon had spoken to him, a nurse arrived at his bedside and explained that she was from the Palliative Care team. She had been told that my cousin had already had the test results. The Palliative Care team were there, she explained kindly, to help patients with illnesses such as his cancer, and particularly to help patients with terminal illnesses, such as he has.

And this, dear reader, is how he found out his diagnosis.

The surgeon, when questioned about why he had not told my cousin the previous day, apparently said,
"But I told him yesterday." Then he thought for a while and said,
"Aaah - - well, I meant to - - but I forgot."

A number of times during my work with medical students - over more than twenty years - I have come across a student who has had very poor communication skills, and has said that this doesn't matter, because he or she wanted to become a surgeon.

May I suggest that the above story shows that this idea is entirely WRONG?

It's clear we've some way to go with the Communication Skills.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gone West

Hello from the Far West - i.e. Barrow-in-Furness.

I am typing on my very slooooow laptop which is built out of toilet-roll middles and powered by coal.

Every two minutes the signal on my 3G card dips from a fast speed to a slow speed and cuts me off completely.

But I am doggedly persistent and am determined to get even a tiny post up on my blog. More tomorrow, when I shall be back in Leeds, via, I hope, a trip to a beautiful beach.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Two a Day for Five Years

Two a day for five years. That's a lot of hymns.

At the school I went to, which was a Grammar School for Girls, we had a Proper Assembly every day, with the whole school. A hymn: a reading: a lecture on the errors of our ways: some boring bits about hockey and exams: another hymn and then off to our lessons.

I enjoyed the hymns: they were fun to sing and far better than Domestic Science which was the dull prospect to come. Christian forgiveness did not extend to any sinful girl who had forgotten her cookery apron.

I sang them lustily. Never listened to the words. By the time I left school I had an excellent repertoire of hymns of the more worthy, Victorian kind. I knew nearly all the words, but not quite. And I still do. Here's a medley of the kind of thing:

All glory, laud and honour, To thee, Redeemer, King, To whom the lips of children, Do loud hosannas ring - -

Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before, Christ the royal ba-a-nner, leads against the foe, Forward into ba-a-a-tle see his banners go - -

The rich man at his castle, the poor man at his gate, He made them high or lowly, and ordered their estate

Just the thing for a Communist's daughter to be singing. But, as I said, I never listened to the words anyway, just sang them loudly and enthusiastically and hoped that Assembly would carry on well into the the time that should have been Double Maths or similar.

Did this early exposure to a somewhat Victorian God:

a) establish my high moral values?
b) create a desire to rebel which still remains with me now?
c) instil a natural deviousness whereby false enthusiasm for one thing might get me out of an even duller alternative?
d) act as a kind of brain-dead meditation before I had to switch my brain on and do a bit of Latin?

All of them, I reckon, except for a).

There was, however, one hymn I really liked, for its rousing tune and its sense of peace. I used to sing "Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, O still small voice of calm" to myself on my way to exams.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives thy service find,
In deeper reverence praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still small voice of calm!

I still like singing hymns: if one of the old favourites comes on the radio, I'll sing along loudly, to everyone's surprise. I still know most of the words. And I still don't listen to the meaning.

Tenby 1966

"The hotel hasn't got any stars or anything," said my mother, "so we don't know what it will be like."

In those days travelling through rural Wales was an Adventure, requiring a Route Planner Map, specially ordered from the AA, which unfolded as you went. In those days we travelled through inland Wales, staying overnight at a pub in a village called Llandinam on the way. My brother Michael was a baby. The car was a green and yellow Shooting Brake, a sort of primitive hatchback which made a loud bang when the Communist slammed the boot shut.

After travelling for half of Saturday - because we couldn't set off until the Communist had worked in his Chemist shop on Saturday morning - and half of Sunday, the map unfolded onto its last page and suddenly the signs said Tenby.

We followed the signs for North Cliff, as instructed, and drove up the hill until we could drive no further, and there was a big white hotel with Park Hotel on the side.

A middle-aged man in a checked shirt was busy with a cement mixer. Seeing us drive up, he wiped the cement off his hand and stuck it through the car window.

"Hello," he said, "I'm Howells."

It took us a little while to work out that this was the owner of the hotel.

We climbed out of the car and walked five yards to the clifftop to look at the view.

It took me no time at all to work out that this, to me, was Paradise.

We wandered round to the back of the hotel, where we found Paradise's Extra Bonus:

Beautiful beach: safe swimming in the sea: more swimming in the pool: unspoilt beaches round about: good food: great scenery and lovely walks. The Howells family were a bonus.

We liked it. A lot. We've been there every summer now for over forty years. All the best things are still the same. In February, Emily and Gareth will get married there.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Wallowing Naked in December Snow

It's cold today, and cold always makes me think of Bolingbroke.

Shakespeare, rather untidily, moved straight on to Richard II without ever writing the first in the series: Richard I, the one about Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood, which would have been a big box-office hit. Lots of bows and arrows and crusades and fighting and romance and stealing from the rich to give to the poor. It could have been The Lord of the Rings of its day, but no, Shakespeare missed his chance.

Still, there are some juicy bits in Richard II, and I've always liked it. The plot is: weak king pisses everyone off, speaks some great poetry, gets murdered. (Sorry if I spoiled the ending for you).

It's the one where John of Gaunt describes his country - our country - as "this precious stone set in the silver sea" and okay, it's a cliche, but I still like it.

And, whenever it's cold, I think of Bolingbroke.

The story is, the King sends Bolingbroke into exile, and Bolingbroke's gutted. He can only think of how vile and how shameful it's going to be. Old John of Gaunt tries to cheer him up saying - rather more poetically, granted - look mate, it might not be so bad, try to think positive and look to the future.

And Bolingbroke replies:

Oh, who can hold a fire in his hand
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
By bare imagination of a feast?
Or wallow naked in December snow
By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?

And it's the two last lines that I always think of when it's cold.

So Bolingbroke thought that it's impossible to be able to wallow naked in the snow simply by thinking of the summer's heat. I find it hard to imagine, in this kind of weather, that our garden was ever hot, ever like this:

Here's a photo taken in Shakespeare's time. Well, nearly. Summer 2003, before I had a digital camera. Hot, hot day. That smell of sunburned grass. Flowers.

If it snows tonight, I invite you to try out a bit of Naked Wallowing. I think you'll find that Bolingbroke was right.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Keeping In Touch

The first thing ever that I received in the post was a postcard with a picture of a monkey on it. It came from my Grandpa, in Barrow-in-Furness. I was thrilled - I still remember that feeling of that card mysteriously appearing through the letter-box, from Grandpa, just for me, and I can still visualise the picture.

Small children know more than we think. Grandpa died when I was eighteen months old.

As a kind of tribute to him, I started sending postcards as a child and I still send lots to friends and relatives - they are a good way of saying "hey, I'm thinking of you" often because I'm in countryside or seaside that I think you might like.

When I was younger, I sent lots of letters too. Now I don't send many, because of email, though I still send letters to people - mostly older people - who don't have email.

Lots of people say it's a shame that we don't send handwritten letters so much - and in a way it is: I only have to look at one of Amy's beautifully written and illustrated letters from Barrow to understand that.

But, in general, I think the advent of email and phones means that we can keep in much better touch these days - and I do.

This week I've been looking at photos emailed to me from an old friend in New Zealand, who lived in England in the seventies, and is planning a trip to Europe next summer - she last came over a couple of years ago and it was great to see her. So now we send each other photos by email - such a difference from just a few years ago when you had to choose extra copies of photos, and wait a week for them to arrive at the chemist's, and then put them in the post, and then they took days to get there, if they didn't get lost on the way.

This morning I was talking on the phone to an old friend, whom I've known since Emily was a baby, in Holland. Late last night I was talking on Skype to a new friend - who already feels like an old friend, in the best way - in America. And last night, at Carry's party (thank you Carry) a mixture of old and new friends (thank you) kindly looked after me when I suddenly came over all sad about my cousin's cancer diagnosis earlier this week.

And then there are the people I've never met whose blogs I read, and it's great to know about their lives too.

It's great to see friends face to face. But when that's not possible, hurrah for t'interclacker and telephones and modern technology of all kinds. They have opened up possibilities for making new friendships and keeping in touch with old friends in a way that was simply unheard of less than half a century ago.

Hopeless Feet

Chiropodists are now called Podiatrists, I found out the other day whilst working with some of them. Their job has become a lot more technical, apparently.

In a different hospital, somewhere in England - for I have worked in many different hospitals this autumn - I found this door, which I rather liked.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Nature Table

Thanks to Birdwatcher for reminding me of this bit of ancient history, with his comment on my blog t'other day.

When I was five, we had a Nature Table in the classroom. You know the sort of thing: tadpoles in a tank. Daffodils in a jamjar. Conkers and acorns in the autumn. I bet you had one in your classroom when you were five.

I was keen on the Nature Table. I didn't enjoy school, though nobody ever believed me when I said that because I got on well with the work and had plenty of friends. But I felt trapped: and the Nature Table reminded me of my previous freedom before I was imprisoned at the age of four.

And, keen to help, I used to bring in things for the Nature Table - little bunches of wild flowers, interesting leaves, pebbles, driftwood. (I begin to realise that I haven't changed much).

One day I thought of something particularly interesting. I made one and took it in proudly.

It was a jamjar full of stripes.

"What is it, dear?" asked our teacher, Miss Hale.

"It's a wormery."

"A what?" she asked absently, probably distracted by being surrounded by a little group of children saying things like "Miss, he's stolen my pencil," and "Miss, I've got to the bottom of the page, what do I do now?"

"A wormery. There's a layer of sand and then a layer of soil and then a layer of sand and then a layer of soil and then a layer of sand and then a layer of soil. Then I put some worms in. We can watch while they mix up the sand and the soil."

"You - what? - put some worms in?"

"Yes, Miss, look." I took one out to show her.

She screamed and fled the classroom, which was not the reaction that I was expecting.

I bet that never happened to David Attenborough.

Friday, December 07, 2007


I think of myself as unshockable.

I realised that I am wrong this week, when I learned that my cousin has cancer, and it felt like a great big whack with a baseball bat. One of those life-changing moments. He's four years younger than I am. I keep having strange, apparently unrelated dreams, but I wake up knowing that this is what they're about.

But, in general, I am not easily shocked. Sometimes I wonder why not, because although in some ways my upbringing was unusual (my Dad's a Communist, you know) in others it was very conventional - suburban house, garden, Very Prim girls' grammar school.

The grammar school gave me my voice, which may best be described as Posh Northern - I say "bath" and not "barth" but otherwise, okay, I sound Posh. So people tell me - it started when I was supply teaching and known throughout the school as 'Er Wi't Posh Voice.

And I don't look unconventional - I look jeans and T-shirt and no make-up, generally. Oh all right then - no make up always. The last time I wore make-up I got married. It was 1980. I was a child bride, of course.

And my eyes have very large pupils, and this makes me look gullible, so every religious cult member in Leeds comes up to me in the street and tries to convert me. And I probably am gullible, in some respects: but I'd rather be gullible than whatever the opposite is. Ungullible.

So this combination of characteristics all combine to make me look shockable. Many times, especially when I was younger, people didn't tell me things, in case I was shocked. I think they wanted to protect me: but it just made me feel stupid when I found out anyway and realised that they hadn't felt able to tell me in case I fainted, or something.

But finally people seem to be working it out. I'm not shocked by the many darknesses of the human soul and I'm not shocked by drink, drugs or the things people do to each other for pleasure or for pain. I wish they didn't want to do some things which I think are harmful: but I'm not shocked by them in that "Ooh! WHAT?" way that some people seem to be.

Good thing? Bad thing? What shocks you?

I come back to it. I was shocked when the Communist was taken into hospital in June and I was shocked this week by learning of my cousin's cancer. Those are the kind of things that change everything for ever.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


This post has NO PHOTOGRAPHS because I know that some of you just won't like them.

Emily and Gareth have moved to York. But they have left their three geckos behind them, temporarily at least, and I am Gecko Feeder-in-Chief.

The geckos are cute little lizards. They are brainier than the snake, but then so is this coffee cup that I'm currently drinking from.

The geckos eat crickets.

The crickets come from the pet shop in little transparent plastic boxes. I transfer them to a bigger plastic tank, which I have christened the Cricketarium. It has long dark tubes in it. Crickets love long dark tubes.

The crickets are about a centimetre long, and eat apple, and something called Bug Grub which seems to mainly consist of calcium. The calcium's not vital to the crickets, but it is vital to the geckos.

I'm glad I don't have to explain it to the crickets. "Sorry you've got to eat all this calcium, but it's because - - er - - "

Looking after the crickets is nothing new to me: Emily and Gareth, who love the geckos, are not at all keen on the crickets.

"Too many legs - - ewwwww" is their full explanation.

The crickets, if poked or otherwise provoked, can jump a couple of feet in the air and this was quite a problem in my early days of dealing with them. When I transferred them from their little boxes to the Cricketarium lots of them used to jump and escape. However, I have become an expert now. I know how to remove the lid of the box and put them in the Cricketarium without them knowing a thing about it: they just continue sitting there on a piece of eggbox thinking their crickety thoughts as I move them.

But, although the Cricketarium is supposed to be cricket-escape-proof, there are tiny holes around the long dark tubes, and one or two crickets in every batch always creep out and hop away.

They invariably end up in the bathroom, because they like the warmth. They crawl under the bath, where they live happily for weeks, chirping merrily to themselves, like grasshoppers. only louder. And again, I have become an expert at catching them, as soon as they wander out into the middle of the room. I know just how to make them jump into my outstretched hand. I'm wondering if this is a marketable skill that should go on my cv.

There - Expert Cricket-Handler. Modest bow. Oh yes, even if you've been reading my blog for a while, there are still some things you don't know about me.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Passing On

Today, somewhere in England, Claire, a single woman still living with her parents, was telling the Mental Health nursing student about her family situation.

"I feel stuck here," she said, "because every time I try to leave home there's some disaster or other with my mother and I have to come back. I've very few friends now and I hardly ever go out. When my parents die, though, I'll have nothing."

"So you're worried about what will happen when your parents pass on?" asked the nurse.

"Yes," said Claire, because Claire was very polite.

Daphne, on the other hand, who was playing Claire at the time, was not best pleased, and neither was the nursing students' teacher.

It was a teaching roleplay and they were practising their counselling skills.

"Why did you say when your parents pass on?" asked the teacher in the feedback.

"What do you mean?" asked the student.

"What did Claire say?" asked the teacher.

"When my parents die though, I'll have nothing", said one of the other students.

"So why did you say pass on when Claire said die?" asked the teacher.

The student thought for a bit. "It seemed more polite."

"But Claire had just used die, said the teacher, "and if you then use pass on, it looks as if it's you who can't cope with the word die."

I couldn't say anything at that point, because I was being Claire, frozen in role during the feedback. But afterwards, right at the end of the session - and the students had mostly coped very well with it - when I was introduced as Daphne, I got my chance to say how strongly I agreed with their teacher.

Pass away's bad enough, but pass on? Pass on where to? It assumes the existence of an afterlife which the patient might really not believe in.

When I'm asked to name a character I'm playing, I often choose Claire, because of its overtones of clarity: we want all medical professionals to be clear when dealing with patients.

Oh, how I hate euphemisms. Except for funny rude ones, of course - I love those.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Child of Courage

I've written about my cousin Colin and his wife Cath, and their daughter Helaina before.

Here they are: Cath on the left, Colin far right. Helaina's the one in the middle doing a demonstration of the phrase "grinning from ear to ear."

She's thirteen, and has Costello's syndrome, which is a very rare genetic condition that results in various physical problems, including heart defects, tumours and curvature of the spine, as well as learning difficulties.

She's had countless operations but her naturally cheery nature, coupled with her parents' incredible caring optimism, have brought her through them all. She seems totally accepting of everything that's happened to her, and her natural happiness is a real lesson to us all.

Emily studied Helaina's language development as part of her A-level English Language, and found it fascinating - we were very grateful to Helaina, Cath and Colin for their help.

Helaina's just been chosen, from 500 children, as one of this year's Children of Courage. These annual awards, initiated by Woman's Own magazine, have been taking place since 1973, and ten children every year are chosen. There'll be a ceremony in Westminster Abbey on December 12.

So Helaina's on the front cover of this week's Women's Own (dated December 10) and there's an article about her inside too.

That's it really. I just want to say I'm really proud to be related to Helaina and her parents. Congratulations to them all. There's a time to be soppy and emotional, and this is it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Last Doll

In the beginning there was a rather strange bear called Koala.

Then I moved on to the dolls.

It seems to be the thing now for girls to say "Oh no, I never played with dolls much, I preferred Lego."

Well, I didn't. Nasty, prickly stuff, Lego. Its only use was for building a dolls' bed.

I did all the other proper-childhood stuff - - all the treehouses, and the dens, and the fishing - - fantastic.

But I always loved the dolls.

Early on I had Charlotte, with a pottery head, given to me by my grandmother and given her name too - not by me, for I was then too young even to name my own dolls.

Charlotte's head was prone to breaking, and having to be mended at the Doll's Hospital (yes, such a wonderful shop did actually exist). For "mended" read "a whole new head" but I didn't know that then, or I would have been upset. I've still got her, of course, final head intact: I've still got them all.

Later, I graduated to the teenage dolls. I never had Barbie: I had Sindy, and her little sister Patch, and Penny Brite, and Tressy: slogan "Her - Hair - Grows!" And so it did, after a fashion - you could pull up a long strand of it from inside her head and put it in a pony tail.

But that was not where my interest lay. I wasn't interested in dressing them up or doing their hair - they stayed in one outfit for ever and their hair got only a perfunctory combing.

No, my dolls had adventures. Usually out in the garden, and usually involving tremendous peril up a tree, with a Robin Hood-type good and evil element. They didn't await rescue like soppy girlies. Oh no, they were early feminists and always secured their own release from the forces of evil. They were, of course, all girls - there were no boy dolls in those days.

What this says about me, and my childhood, I leave to your conjecture.

When I was about eleven, I was given some birthday money and decided to buy a doll. We went to the shop: I looked round and finally decided on a baby doll in a white dress with a sweet expression: the look on dolls' faces was always of paramount importance to me.

And, as I bought it, I knew it was too late really: I knew it was the last one. I knew I was growing up. I remember knowing, and yet buying the doll, and knowing she'd be kept in pristine condition because I was really too old for her. Damn.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Manners in Dewsbury

I'm working today as it's the company's monthly meeting (it falls on every fourth Sunday).

And afterwards it's our Christmas meal - a bit early, I know, but the actors live all over the country and won't get together again until after Christmas.

So here's just a quick post to show you a Very Very Polite Notice, found on a toilet door in Dewsbury, where I was working earlier this week. I took the photo: the camera flashed: and since I was inside the cubicle at the time I sincerely hoped that nobody saw the flash and wondered what I was doing (insert your own cheap gag here)

Anyway, I'm a big fan of notices of all kinds, as regular readers will know. Should the aliens ever land, they could learn everything they need to know about mankind by reading all the little notices that we plonk about the planet.

So, in an increasingly rude world (and I know that makes me sound like Stuffy Middle-Aged Person, which I really don't want to be - but why shouldn't we be polite to each other?) I just want to thank Sue, above, whoever she may be.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Water Babies at the Seaside

Sunshine glinting on the sea is one of my Very Favourite Things.

Here's a deserted Yorkshire beach, where I was fortunate enough to be today:

Looking the other way, you will see it is, in fact, the East Coast seaside resort of Scarborough:

Now Scarborough is not, I think, as picturesque (I don't like that word but can't find a better one) as, say, Whitby. The cliffs are good: the castle is atmospheric: the beach, as above, can look great and I always love harbours with seagulls and a good tangle of fishingboatery.

But this is out of season, with very few tourists about.

Scarborough's a stately Victorian town, and along the front there are some interesting old buildings. But, unfortunately for the look of it, these are interspersed with a nasty-looking blend of trashy gift shops and such which should rightly be in Blackpool on the west coast, which is the natural home of such things. Oh - that sounds pompous! But unlike Scarborough, Blackpool has a flat, very unscenic beach - so the scenery's hard to ruin: there never was any.

I think we had the best of Scarborough today - an uncrowded seaside resort is not good for the local economy, perhaps, but great for the crowd-hating Daphne.

We'd gone to see the theatre company Northern Broadsides' production of The Water Babies.
I haven't seen much theatre this summer or autumn because of the Communist's illness, and have missed many productions featuring actors represented by the company that I work for. This is a shame and I feel really bad about it.

But, if I had to just see one play, I'm glad it was this one. Five superb actor/musicians, wonderful music and an excellent script. It's had great reviews. Superb storytelling, brilliantly inventive, great fun. I've seen a lot of theatre and I get very fed up when it's dull. This was fantastic. So if you happen to be near Scarborough during the next four weeks, do go and see it. If you get the sunshine shining on the sea too, that'll be a bonus.