Friday, October 31, 2008

Blogs and Barcelona

Many thanks to Milo, whose blogs - under various different names - I've been enjoying for some time now. He gave me a very kind mention yesterday on his blog Milo and the Year Zero and there are some other blogs well worth reading, in his list The Dearly Beloved.

Some of the blogs he mentions I know well - Retirement Rocks, of course, written by my good friend Silverback: and Big Yellow Taxi, written by Mike Deakin.

Both of those live not too far from me (that's when Silverback's not in Florida!) I think I originally found Silverback's blog through Leeds Blogs - - or maybe he found me - - I'm not sure! Always tremendously enjoyable. He comes up with very funny lines apparently completely in passing and I remember when I first started reading his blog, nearly two years ago, I kept laughing and thinking "did he know he just wrote that?" - - Of course, now I know, he does!

Strangely, I found Mike's blog because Google was helping me to search the whole world for the lyrics of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi - - - and I found Mike's blog - - and then found he doesn't live too far from me, and writes a really interesting blog, too! It's a funny old world, t'interclacker.

I'll mention other blogs that I enjoy from time to time: thank you, Milo, for giving me the idea.

On Sunday I'm going to Barcelona! WOOHOOO! (she said calmly). Stephen is going there until Friday, to the Tech Ed Conference and he's taking me with him to explain all the difficult technical stuff.

Oh, okay, stop laughing, I'm just going for FUN. Everyone tells me Barcelona is lovely and I've never been there.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Drifters

"You get the behaviour that you expect." Someone said this to me when I started working as a teacher, and I found it to be, in general, very true.

It's not so much that if you expect the students to be little angels they definitely will be. It's rather that, if you expect them to riot, they most certainly will. If you have that hard-to-define "I'm in charge" thing about you, then they seem to pick it up and act accordingly. It took me a while to work out how to do it - - but eventually, I realised that when I KNEW in my head that, whilst I was speaking, they were jolly well going to LISTEN, then they did listen. Mostly, anyway.

And, these days, I just won't put up with any rubbish when I'm in any kind of teaching situation. If I've done the preparation, and put the effort in to get it all ready, and I'm doing my best to make it as interesting as possible, and I really care about it, then any class can choose to either take part or - - well - - leave. (I could phrase that less delicately, but I won't). I won't let anyone sit silently at the back either - - I just weigh in chirpily with "And what do you think, Angus?"

(That's Angus McCoatup, usually to be found hiding at the back next to Annette Curtain and Willy Eckerslike).

Somewhere in England today I was doing a roleplay for a group of healthcare students.

They were second-years. The class was supposed to begin at nine o'clock and we started the first roleplay- of three - at ten past.

During the next fifteen minutes, four more students drifted in, the last one arriving at twenty-five-past.

Although by the time the Drifters appeared we were well into the teaching session, they didn't harm my concentration, or that of the student doing the roleplay with me, because by then we were well into it. However, the bit of my brain that's thinking about the teaching session, rather than the bit that's playing the patient, clocked these late arrivals.

None of them apologised to the facilitator or to the other students or indeed to me - -not at the time, and not later on. The first three just shuffled in and sat down: they did take part in the discussion and the session generally.

Number four came in his coat, scarf and gloves - it was cold outside but we were upstairs in a warm room - and kept them on throughout, with a martyred expression as though he was somewhere in Siberia. He crossed the circle to reach a seat, and then just sat there, immobile, not joining in at all.

The students who did the roleplay were excellent and it led to a very lively discussion, except for Siberia Man, who was clearly there in body but not in spirit. He was doing the healthcare student's equivalent of "phoning it in" - which is an actors' expression for when the actor is there, onstage, theoretically acting, saying the lines, but their mind isn't on the job.

Siberia Man made me realise that, when I'm in any kind of facilitator or teacher role, I'm not very tolerant of this kind of behaviour.

This class - thirteen of whom were taking part whole-heartedly, of course - weren't a bunch of fourteen-year-olds who had to be in school - they were young adults who had chosen to do this course, and the facilitator was excellent - - though more tolerant of the Drifters than I would have been.

I had been in charge of this group, I know that things would have been done rather differently. In the first class of the year I would have explained that anything up to ten minutes late is acceptable, as a one-off, with an apology. But if you're going to arrive later than that, you don't come in. And you don't get marked present, and if that causes you problems, then that's a shame, and perhaps you'll turn up on time next week.

I've seen these Drifters again and again in all sorts of different areas of healthcare - - there are always one or two who turn up late with an expression of extreme suffering. "I would far rather be asleep in bed, but hey! I am honouring you with my presence."

The sessions I'm involved with are all about communication skills and they require - and usually get - much sensitivity from both staff and students. I think that if the students don't want to buy into that, then they shouldn't be there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Out of Season

I was in Scarborough, on the East Coast of North Yorkshire, yesterday, where I saw our actress Rachel Jane Allen giving an excellent performance in Jack Lear at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

I was with my mother and hence we needed no discussion: Scarborough has a beach, so that was where we went.

There were huge waves.

I know it's hard to see the scale of the waves without a bit of foreground interest but actually I was too busy trying to avoid drowning either me or the camera. Here are the waves splashing up the wall of the promenade:

and here they are looking towards the Grand Hotel and the harbour on North Bay:

I'm not one for the amusement-arcade type of seaside (though anything's better than no seaside, and I do have a bit of a soft spot for the brash-and-proud-of-it Blackpool).

But I love that melancholy, out-of-season feel: here's the Spa in Scarborough yesterday, with the sea in the background:

and again:

And the light was wonderful:

just before sunset:

If I lived by the seaside, I'd be so busy staring at the sea that I'd never get anything done. It was freezing cold - there was a blizzard as we drove into Scarborough - and we loved every moment.

Small Creatures

This house is always full of the chirping of crickets, which live in a special tank upstairs (which I call a cricketarium, though that is not really its name.) Luckily they are unaware that their short and merry lives will end when they become food for the leopard geckos.

Anyway, that's where they live when they're not escaping and finding their way to anywhere warm and chirping a lot and being scooped up by me and put back in the cricketarium.

Also upstairs in a tank live the Giant African Land Snails. They eat dampened paper ("no, m'lud, the snails ate the evidence") and dandelion leaves and suchlike. These, you will of course remember, were a wedding present to Olli and Gareth from the owners of the excellent Silent World aquarium in Tenby.

They were babies then. Now they're not, they're huge. Well, huge for snails that is - - several inches long. And when Olli was cleaning out their tank the other day she found that they had laid eggs, and that some of the eggs have hatched - - so we have some tiny babies, the size of a grain of rice. I can hear you saying "Aaaaaaw" from here.

I can see an interesting future where our house is crammed with tanks and tanks of Giant African Land Snails. They are edible, so I suggested to Olli that she should sell some of the babies to her student friends and that they should farm them for food, feeding them on essays that failed to make the grade.

Finally, for my Small Creatures survey, what's with the wasps in the bathroom? Six yesterday and five this morning. I am not keen on wasps and I don't know where they're coming from. I know where they went though: - out of the window with loud cries of "Death to the German Invader!" Quite why our family shouts that at wasps I'm not sure, but I think the Communist began it sometime during the Second World War.

I find it hard to love wasps.

That's enough of the Small Creatures and I have posted no photographs so as not to horrify anyone.

And today I've been to the seaside! More of that tomorrow.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Night Walks

I know I keep going on and on about it but please bear with me. When I was in Paris I stayed in the stunningly beautiful, and huge, Hotel Concorde Saint-Lazare: it has 266 bedrooms:

The foyer is listed as being of special historical interest as it's so unusual and glorious and it too is huge - - you could fit our house in there, probably a couple of times:

It's all marble floors and pillars and mirrors and gold - - not usually my kind of thing, but beautifully done and I loved it.

However, one of the things I enjoyed most was wandering round about - - and just nearby is the station, the Gare Saint-Lazare. Parts of it are very swish and new but then I found this, all very run-down and deserted at night, and I'm always rather drawn to such places - I think many people are: that's one reason why the American artist Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks has always been so popular.

At the end of the station, where I was standing, and entirely unnoticed by almost everyone, was this:

A war memorial, to railway workers killed in the Second World War.

It didn't look much from a distance, but when I looked more closely I saw that it was actually very well made:

Though sadly forgotten - with two hideous grey modern pipes across its front:

And then, at the bottom, I noticed this:

Amongst the sculpted leaves, a real red rose.

Somebody, at least, had remembered.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On the Carpet

Here's the hall in our house. Eat your heart out Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and all you other interior designers.

Yes, it's like a scene from Life on Mars - - instant time-travel to 1977.

Here's the carpet:

"Oh, we had a carpet like that!" I hear you cry.

Yes, yes, I know you did. Everybody did. The difference is, WE'VE STILL GOT OURS. My parents, in one solitary incident in a lifetime of "bodge-it-quick" interior repairs, decided to buy a carpet of such quality that the blasted thing has just refused to wear out in any way at all.

I broke the news to my mother gently.

"Mum, we're going to decorate the hall. And the stairs. And the landing. And the back hall. And the back passage." (Insert your own back passage joke - - I can't do all the work).

All these bits of the house join together and they were all last decorated in 1977, when the new carpet was laid.

She paused for a little while and then said, magnanimously, "Well, I suppose it's a little while since it was done."

"It was last decorated in October 1977, just before I went to Cardiff, when the water tank burst and flooded the hall, remember?"

Ah - - that's why it was such a posh carpet! I bet it was the one and only time they've ever claimed on the insurance.

My mother is stunned when she thinks I spend money that could be better spent on other things. I'm not sure what. Holidays, probably. She doesn't buy clothes and is astonished when I buy myself new clothes (and I don't, often). All her clothes were bought for her by her family as Christmas and birthday presents. Occasionally she'll pick something up in the charity shop at Moortown Corner. She cuts her own hair. These aren't money-saving measures, more lack-of-interest measures. Her teenage years, of course, were full of "Don't you know there's a war on?" and the attitude has stuck.

"And, Mum," - I paused before daring to say it - "we're going to get a new carpet."

Deep shock. "Oh no! Why? There's nothing the matter with the old one!"

"Yes, Mum, I know it isn't worn out, but it's been there a very long time. 1977, you remember."

"But it's a waste of money."

"No, because if we get the hall decorated it will look much better if there's a new carpet to go with it. And that carpet must be very dirty, even though it doesn't show the dirt."

"Well, you could always get it cleaned - - "

Living next door to your parents has definite advantages - - and disadvantages. Now, I happen to think that I'm very lucky to still have two parents alive, one aged eighty-four, one eighty-five. But this guilty feeling that somehow I am a terrible spendthrift because I want to replace a thirty-one-year-old carpet is definitely one of the downsides.

And, what's more, under this hideous 1960s hall is hidden a far more elegant 1898 hall, and I'm going to find at least some of it. Watch this space.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Half Cat Half Cheetah

We are kitten-sitting this weekend for various complicated reasons to do with Gareth having to work during the night and Olli staying over here.

Wendy the kitten is the Lewis Hamilton of kittens. She has a ridiculously long back and very long legs and she is generally a blur.

So taking photos of her is tricky.

I have quite a few like this:

and a couple like this:

My camera has a dangly strap, which is just fascinating to Wendy and here she is performing The Ascent of Daphne to get at it (yes, that is my dressing-gown, since you ask. It was very early this morning).

Her favourite toy is a piece of blue string:

and again:

Just occasionally she has been known to pause for nearly a whole second and then, if you're lucky, you can see her beautiful markings, with identical circles on either side:

She's eleven weeks old and is possibly the cutest kitten in the whole world. Though when she comes from nowhere and lands on your head it does tend to make you jump a bit.

Our cat Froggie, aged about nine and not lacking in the cuteness department herself, is, quite simply, terrified of her.

Friday, October 24, 2008


We moved the actors' agency that I work for into my house in the year 2000. Prior to that, we were in a room in one of those business centres where a lot of small businesses lurk. Ours was one of the smallest and lurkiest and our office had, let's face it, been designed as a stock cupboard. Yes, it was small - and for the first few years I was there - from 1993 - it didn't have a ceiling. So in the summer it was incredibly hot and in the winter it was incredibly cold and most actors smoked then so it was always full of a blue haze. Really, how I stood it for so long I don't know: I suppose it was because the work was always interesting.

We moved the agency to our house really quickly, over a weekend. What became our new office was built on to this Victorian house in 1965, when my brother was born. My grandmother lived with us in those days. My brother had the new room downstairs as his playroom, and my grandmother had the room above it as her bedroom.

Because the agency moved in so fast, we never really had time to plan where we would put everything and it's always been very cramped, with two big desks facing each other and a third with the printer on it, and lots of things all over the walls:

These shelves were built by the Communist in the Sixties and they're not bad at all. On the other side of the room, however, were these:

All the wrong size to be useful and very bendy in the middle. And you see that yellow curtain over the door? There were matching ones on the windows. One of them had a patch on it, where my brother's hamster escaped and ate a hole in it in about 1972.

However, although it was not the smartest office in the world - - and was, perhaps, in the running for the scruffiest - we did a lot of good work in there. Looking at the office it might perhaps be assumed that the actors are extras or walk-ons - - but no, the agency is a non-profit-making co-operative, and the actors are proper actors, who play proper roles in film, television and theatre throughout the country.

And, because we represent some excellent actors and we've all worked very hard, we have had a degree of financial success.

So, we thought, let's push the boat out and paint the office.

And then, more ambitiously, we thought - - hey - - let's have it completely redone! With the right kind of shelves! And a specially-designed desk.

We were very fortunate in that John agreed to do the carpentry for us.

But before John could start work, it all had to get much worse before it got better. Before he could put the new desk and shelves in place, several noble actors mucked in and decorated the room, and a really tricky job it was too:

But then Susie's friend Jackie finished the decorating after our actors had got it all ready and done some of it: Rob's girlfriend's brother Dave turned up and fitted a new carpet, beautifully.

Then John turned up with some wood - all pre-designed and pre-cut in his usual clever way - and some nails, and some bits of machinery that I didn't understand, and a glorious page of instructions:

And we soon had strong shelves spaced at just the right intervals:

And, best of all, our special Curvy Desk, designed so that two people can sit at computers.

It looks quite delicate but actually it's really solid: "strong enough to dance on" as John said. More photos on John's blog here.

Over the next few days we'll be moving back in from the office's temporary home in our dining-room (and that lends a whole new meaning to the word "cluttered").

You don't, of course, need posh surroundings to do good work- I think our first, stock-cupboard office proved that. But I think pleasant surroundings make everyone feel better, and I hope that our new office will bring great success for all our actors.

And many thanks to John: and also to Susie, Ruth, Byron and everyone who helped!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sucked In Again

I'm always, always a sucker for a big sentimental ballad.

Suddenly, driving through Sheffield last week, I heard this one on the radio and I hadn't heard it for years and years. I wish I knew how many years.

Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, in 1970 (hence the moustache).

Autumn Childhood

I was beginning to think that today's children don't really know about autumn.

When I was little I loved it. Scuffing my feet through the leaves, collecting blackberries, climbing the trees in the garden to pick apples and pears. And, of course, trying to find the best possible conkers to put on a string to play with, or just to keep in their beautiful shiny roundness.

These days I find conkers lying on the ground everywhere, unloved and un-played-with. If you click on the link in the previous sentence it explains about the game, if you don't know it. Basically, you put your conker on a string and try to break your opponent's conker by swinging your conker towards it. And yes, when I was little we really did say, as in the article on the website,

"Oddly oddly onker, my first conker".

Now Health and Safety has banned the game of conkers from schools, considering it to be dangerous. Sighhhhhhhhhh.

But then, in the Tuileries in Paris last weekend- a beautiful park by the river - I found some children playing in the autumn like children should, running about and making a huge pile of leaves:

Others were busy on a playground:

yet more were on a roundabout:

And everywhere I looked there were improvised games of football. It was, granted, a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. I didn't see anyone playing conkers. But it was great to see all those children "playing out" just like we used to do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Steak and Chips - - and that's all I want

I don't like complicated food, in general.

One of the things I liked about the food in France its simplicity.

I had a couple of lunches here:

The unpretentious-looking and strangely-named Pomme de Pain, just across the road from the almost unbelievably posh and beautiful Hotel Concorde Saint-Lazare:

I asked for a baguette Parisien, which is a baguette with ham, and a raspberry tart and a Diet Coke and here they are:

The baguette with ham was a fresh baguette. With good quality butter. And excellent ham. Nothing else.

The raspberry tart was a tart. With raspberries. Delicious.

In the evenings I ate here:

On Rue d'Amsterdam, just near the Gare St-Lazare.

Inside it looked more like a cafe than a restaurant:

The waiter was friendly, the service was excellent. I asked for steak and chips with a green salad and here it is:

You see the pattern? Does that look like steak, chips and a green salad? Oh yes it does. With chunks of fresh baguette and some butter as a bonus.

It was, seriously, the best steak and chips that I have ever had, only equalled by the steak and chips that I had in the same place the previous week. (I returned a week later on a purely investigative mission to find out if they could always cook them that well. They could).

I think that the French have learned something about food that many British haven't.

They can do simple food, cooked well, and they don't think there's anything wrong with that: there's nothing to be ashamed of in the simplicity of it.

In other eating establishments nearby, they did more complicated food, and for those who like that, I'm sure it was really good.

Whereas the British think that, in order to be good, food has to be complicated.

So in Britain a ham sandwich would have mustard or pickle or mayonnaise with it, whether you wanted it or not (and I didn't want it, thank you). And steak and chips would have some leafy bits, and some shredded beetroot, and peas, and mushrooms, and half a tomato - - but the steak and chips themselves just wouldn't be as good. Why not? I don't know. Except, as a French lady said to me last weekend, the French just won't put up with bad food.

Which is why you can go into the most ordinary-looking little cafe in France and eat something that's excellent. And is also why in Britain there is a vast assortment of dull and badly-cooked food.

I think it's time that, as a nation, we stopped settling for it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Racialism Revisited

That's what it used to be called when I was a student. Racialism. There were lots of marches and T-shirts against racialism. I don't know why racialism was replaced by racism.

Very often I hear a sentence that begins with "I'm not racist, but" and then it ends with some sentence about how the Zargians are all really clumsy, and are really bad at cooking.

Well, of course, by definition, anyone who starts a sentence with "I'm not racist, but" - - is racist.

And, actually, so is everyone else. I think we've evolved to be deeply suspicious of anyone whom we perceive to be different from us, and probably for good reason, because that lot from the cave down the valley would club you to death and nick your women as soon as look at you.

I was brought up in an almost all-white society. At the school I went to - about 400 pupils - there was just one girl of Afro-Caribbean descent, and two Asian girls, and I still remember all their names.

There were, however, some Jewish girls in the school. Everyone else was white, and Christian. Except for me: Jewish Communist father: white, nominally-but-not- really Christian mother. "You're a half-breed" said the Communist cheerily and frequently: he still does.

These days we're all so concerned about being called racist that it's hard to tease out what are actually racial characteristics, and what's genuinely offensive. Do all Jews, for example, have big noses? Well, probably not. Though I have. But I don't think I have that other supposedly Jewish obsession with making and keeping money - - but hey, I know Jewish people who have.

I remember once some white boy in my class pointing out that an Asian boy smelled of curry - - and, do you know what, he did. Because if you eat curry a lot that's what happens, no matter what your country of origin. I pointed out to the white boy that he himself smelled of chips. He was rather surprised.

I think that the key thing is to know where your prejudices lie, and to be prepared to take them out and look at them. I know, for example, that I am prejudiced against Asian male doctors, because I have encountered many Asian male doctors and medical students who have treated me with tremendous lack of respect. In a recent medical exam that I worked on, the two candidates of the day whom I considered to be the worst were Asian male doctors, pandering to all my prejudices: but then, the best of the day was also an Asian male doctor.

I think we should accept that there's a grain of truth in all the racial stereotypes, rather than pretending that we think we're all the same - - because we don't think that, really, at bottom, even though we might wish that we did.

And then, when we meet a new Zargian from the planet Zarg, and he isn't clumsy at all, we should be prepared to reconsider our prejudices in the light of that. And then, if he cooks a meal and it's delicious, we can reconsider that prejudice, too.

The key to overcoming racism is to meet more people from different races, as individuals: it's a big anonymous group from a different race from ours that really scares us. That takes us straight back to when we were Prehistoric Man. We haven't changed much at all, really.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Goodbye, Shoes of the Summer

One of the Communist's claims to fame is that when he was a Bevan Boy, working down the pit - or "dahn t'pit" as the Yorkshire miners would say - during the Second World War, he had the biggest pair of boots in the Yorkshire coalfield.

Size elevens, his feet were - - - his foot is - - and, by the way, the missing foot, amputated a year ago, still hurts him from time to time.

Size elevens! And he was not very tall, at five feet eight, and has big hands too. In those days, nobody wore size elevens, except him.

Size elevens! And what size - - I hear you beginning to wonder idly - - could your feet be, Daphne, with a father who needed such enormous shoes? And you only five feet four, as well!

Hah! Credit me with some sense. I planned it quite well, since you ask. Keen to avoid having size nines myself, I made sure he married my mother, and, as extra insurance, brought my grandmother - my mother's mother - into the gene pool.

My mother takes size two and a half. My grandmother took size one and a half.

So my feet, whilst not exactly small, averaged out at a size six. Though when I was pregnant they increased to a seven, and never went back. Still, not bad - - though they are rather wide, so not all shoes fit me.

I never have many pairs of shoes. I always have a pair of Fairly Smart Boots, for when I'm at some kind of Fairly Smart Occasion. Then I have Walking Boots - - though mine are about ten years old, and I may have to replace them at some point. For those lazy hazy crazy days of summer (no, I don't remember them either, not this year) I have some of the original design of Crocs and I'm not getting into the Crocs debate. You say they're ugly: I agree. But they are great for the beach or going swimming. I love my Crocs.

And then, for times when I want to walk some distance but don't need such heavy-duty walking boots as my Walking Boots, I have trainers.

I've always been told that it's important to choose trainers with care, and I did. I spotted them in a sale and I thought "Those'll fit me, I'm having them." They had been reduced to five pounds, so clearly they didn't fit anyone else.

I've taken them to lots of good places this summer and they've stood me in very good stead - - London, Cambridge, Tenby, Paris, a trip on a narrowboat - - and then, when autumn came, I took them to Paris again.

And, as I walked round Paris, suddenly the ground under my right heel seemed a bit harder than usual, so when I got back to the hotel I looked at the trainers. Or pumps, as we used to call them when I was at school. Or plimsolls, as the teachers called them. Or daps, or dappers, as they called them when I lived in Cardiff.

Back to my pair. The rubber under my right heel had split completely and I was now walking on what could best be described as the ground.

Something like this always happens with my shoes after a while: because I once had a thrombosis in my right leg, I always tread more heavily with my right foot. I don't notice this but it always shows on my shoes eventually. And this is why I can't wear high heels: I'd fall over, providing much entertainment to those around me.

It didn't seem sensible to bring my trainers home but I felt bad just abandoning them: I associate them with many happy walks. So I took a couple of photos of them in my posh hotel room in Paris.

Then I threw them in the bin, and came home without them.

I keep looking for them. Must get some more.

Back from Paris

Another wonderful weekend in Paris: the work I did seemed to go very well and was really enjoyable and interesting and I had plenty of free time too. Here's the river Seine yesterday morning in all its autumn glory:

and the Tuileries by the river, full of joggers and children playing:

and, in contrast, another of the many tramps:

This one looked rather less dishevelled than some but still had the paper cup to hold out and still had the regulation sign "SVP - JAI FAIM" (Please - I'm hungry, though it should have an apostrophe, "J'ai" and they never put it in). I did spot a different sign though: "AIDEZ-MOI" (Help me).

This weekend only one girl tried the Ring Scam on me (if you missed last week's post, it goes: "I've found this ring on the ground - -oh look, it's gold - - but it won't fit me, would you like it? - - and now please can you give me some money since I've given you this real gold ring")

I couldn't be bothered to get involved at all this time - - just kept on walking as her indignant cries of "Madame! Madame!" followed me.

I saw exactly how she did it this time though - hid the ring in her palm as she bent down and then muttered a surprised "Bonne chance!" as she pretended to pick it up. Not her bonne chance this time, though.

Clearly they are taught to recognise me at Ring Scam School. I am just what they are looking for - - rucsack on my back, camera round my neck, copy of Time Out Paris in my hand.

To wander round Paris all day with a supply of gold rings trying to con tourists sounds really hard work and not at all a romantic gypsyish-type thing to do. Perhaps I should have pointed out that a real job might be considerably easier.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Sunny Day in Paris

Blogging from Paris, how cool is that? - I still have a big smile on my face all the time I'm here! I know I haven't travelled as much as many people and it's still really exciting to me - and I hope it always will be.

I have had a really lovely time again working here at the Johnson and Johnson Diabetes Institute - you can see its new website here.

Great, friendly, caring people and the Institute does really interesting and useful work, helping doctors and nurses to learn more about the care of diabetic patients.

It's easy to be cynical and say it's a huge company with huge profits - well, yes, but this Institute seems to me to be putting those profits to excellent use.

It's strange looking at the photos on their website and thinking I was there a couple of hours ago! And now I'm off to explore Paris some more. Fantastic!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bonsoir de Paris

Well this is a first! Here I am on my cute little Asus Eee laptop, in my room at the Hotel Concorde St-Lazare, having got the wifi to work (thank you Stephen).
So this is my first post from Paris - and I'm having to work hard to get rid of the typos because I'm not used to the keyboard yet and it's really tiny (and I type so much that I don't think about it at all - so a new keyboard really tangles my brain.)
If anything this room is even posher than last week's - it is at the front of the hotel and has two sinks in the bathroom - just how dirty do they think I am?
The company I'm working for suggested I get room service and it's on an elegant table with rose petals all over the cloth: a huge and delicious pizza and an excellent green salad.
It still seems strange to me that I wrote a short post from glamorous Leeds earlier in the day and now here I am in Paris.
Though I spotted Noisy Overtired Toddler across a crowded airport in Leeds and knew - just KNEW - that he'd be on my row on the plane. And, sure enough, he was.
I'm so delighted to be unexpectedly back in Paris after only four days back in Leeds (four incredibly busy days, mind) that a huge smile is plastered from ear to ear on my face and I think it'll stick there for a while yet.
More news tomorrow I hope! Tomorrow of course, I'm working - but it's work that I love, so I'm not sure it counts as work really. I can't believe that they're actually paying me for this weekend - - - don't tell anyone that I said that!

Cone Man

I was driving along Shadwell Lane this morning: there is a long line of traffic cones along the left-hand side.

A young man - probably about twenty-five, not a teenager - walking along the pavement, stopped and picked one up.

He put it on his head, smiled to himself and danced a little jig with the cone on his head.

Then he replaced it on the road and continued on his way.

I just wanted to say that I think that Britain needs more of this kind of thing.

Now I'm off to catch a plane to Paris woooohoooo! If the wifi works I'll post from Paris - - otherwise I'll be back on Sunday evening. I hope you all have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Lemonade Time Machine

When I asked for lemonade in the cafe in Paris, I didn't expect to be taken on a journey through time.

Back to 1970 in an instant - my second-ever trip to France, to Jullouville in Normandy, camping in a tent.

Of course you couldn't drink the water in France in those days - the Communist spent a lot of time dropping water purification tablets or whatever they were into big plastic bottles of water. And they made the water taste horrible.

So we drank rather a lot of lemonade: I think the Communist rather disapproved of Coke, considering it to be an evil invention of American capitalism.

Lemonade it was, then: and it was called Pschitt, which we found hilarious. Ah, they were simpler times, you know.

(Okay, I still think it's quite funny).

I hadn't seen this interesting brand, or given it a thought, for nearly forty years. And suddenly, there it was, taking me back to the golden sands of Jullouville and collecting cockles to eat, and making friends with a family whose name was Coleman, and reading one night by the light of the lightning in a terrible storm, and being careful how we crossed the big main road from the campsite to the beach, and listening to a commercial on French radio where they sang "Martini Dry est agreable".

Straight back there. I wonder if actually we really forget anything, or if it's all in there somewhere, waiting to be brought back.

And it tasted just the same. It tasted of 1970. In a good way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Le Saturday Night Telly En France

So, relaxing on my hotel bed, which was the size of Wales, I decided to spend the latter part of Saturday evening improving my French by watching television.

Oh, all right then, I simply decided to watch telly. And it happened to be in French. But luckily, I was able to follow it because I do speak French - not absolutely fluently, granted - - and also because - - well, it was Saturday-night telly, not too demanding, vocabulary-wise. So now I'm going to broaden your horizons with some French culture.

It was a popular-science-type game show, a kind of How? for grownups. It's not that the science was any more advanced - far from it - but you could tell it was for grownups because the presenter was demonstrating some of the differences between men and women by wearing a very low-cut frock.

There were two competing panels of unfeasibly attractive young people - one of men, one of women. They were mostly actors, and one was Miss France - you could tell from this that the emphasis of this programme was perhaps slanted away from the science, I didn't spot France's answer to Stephen Hawking anywhere - and one of the women was clearly The Comedy One. The young men all seemed identical - - spiky hair, expensive-looking clothes.

The Science Man wore glasses to prove he was a real Science Man. He resembled a better-looking Woody Allen.

The programme started with a real-life dilemma that must be truly terrifying for any Frenchman or woman. Suppose that you had friends coming round for dinner. And, further, suppose that, just before the visitors arrived, you realised that you had made a dreadful mistake. You had forgotten to chill the wine! Oh no! What should you do?

The panel were offered three alternatives for quick wine-chilling.
Should you:
a) Wrap the bottle in paper dipped in vinegar and sugar and put it in the freezer?
b) Make a mixture of ice cubes, water and salt, put it in a bowl and lay the bottle in this?
c) Cover the bottle in lemon juice, wrap it in silver foil and put it in the freezer?

The panel hadn't the foggiest, but they did look very attractive, which seemed to be their purpose. Miss France smiled a lot, displaying some excellent dentistry.

After a bit, the bottles' temperatures were measured. A and C were at 21 degrees Centigrade and B was the winner at a mere ten degrees.

So now you know – so very useful, I'm sure you'll find. Bear it in mind when your friends pop round. It could save you from so much social embarrassment.

We turned our attention to what might happen if we dropped some sodium in some water. I was by now shouting excitedly at the screen. “I know! I know!” For my old chemistry teacher, Mr Nolan, once showed me exactly the same experiment. Would it:

a) dissolve

b) sink

c) explode

Yes, it exploded nicely. I was delighted to find that the French for "explode" is "explose" and they all said it in one of those "Is anyone expecting a beumb?" Inspector Clouseau-type accents.

Finally, dans quelle liquide la television continue-t-elle de fonctionner? (Did they ever teach me that phrase at school? No, they did not.) But let me tell you, just in case you ever need to know, that if you drop a working television into water it will go off bang, and the same in an isotonic drink. But - and I can feel your mounting excitement - it will work in a big vat of kitchen oil! But don't try this at home, folks! (The same goes for the sodium, by the way).

And so we arrived merrily at the closing credits, and everyone seemed very pleased with their achievements. To think we in poor old Blighty have to make do with The X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing!

The good news is that I will, if I so choose, be able to watch the next instalment this coming Saturday.

"Why's that, Daphne?" (Go on, ask me, ask me)

Because I've been invited to return to Paris next weekend to do the same job again, that's why. I fly out on Friday, back on Sunday, and I hope I can get the wifi to work this time.

"And stop thinking you're not good enough for that fancy hotel," said my friend, supportively, before pausing for a moment and then following it up with a glorious and perfectly-timed punchline:

"I mean we all know you're not......but stop thinking it."

Rainfall of Another Planet

October 14th, which is now yesterday, but I'm still up so it feels like today, was our first baby's birthday, in 1984. He was born prematurely and lived for three weeks. Now he'd be twenty-four.

No, actually, I've never got over it, though I have got used to it. How other people cope who lose their children I don't know. The most extreme example I can think of is Sally Clark, who lost two children to cot death and then was convicted of their murder and locked up, and then was freed and came out of prison looking more like a ghost than anyone could think possible, and who died a while afterwards. She died of grief, whatever they put on her death certificate.

I wasn't planning to write about the significance of October 14th, but then the tune of Kiki Dee's song Amoureuse came into my head.

It was firstly in the charts in 1973 - and I presume that's where the ghastly video that accompanies it came from. But it had another foray into the charts in 1984. Which is why the hospital ward where I was imprisoned before and after my baby was born - oh yes, imprisoned is the only word for it, believe me - played it on the radio three times an hour.

The song haunts me and follows me about. One year on November 4th, the date my baby died, I was driving through the darkened countryside on the way somewhere and it came on the radio and at the very same moment fireworks appeared everywhere in the sky. For Bonfire Night, of course - - but I still had to stop the car in shock.

And - always a sucker for a big sentimental ballad - I love the song in some ways, and I love her voice. But imagine having to listen to those lyrics three times an hour when you know your child is dying - - especially the chorus: "I should have told him - - " Oh, it still makes me cry.

So Olli is particularly precious to me, of course. Though would have been anyway.

Here's the song. Don't watch the video.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Down and Out in Paris

I wandered a long way through Paris last weekend and on my way I saw a surprising number of bag ladies, tramps - - whatever you choose to call them, or whatever the current term is.

One was sitting on top of a grating, drying all her clothes, which were spread out next to her, in the hot air coming up from below.

Several more were just wandering about, and many were asleep.

This old lady was by the church known as La Madeleine, near the Place de la Concorde, as all the worshippers were coming out on Sunday morning:

Here she is from a distance: if you follow the railings along from left to right, she is just to the right of the end of the railings.

Three hours later I passed the church again, and she was still there, still muttering to herself, still holding out a plastic cup.

Walking by the river Seine, I passed another old lady:

What was strange was that all of them, both male and female, had a lot in common in the way that they presented themselves.

All the ones who were sitting down had a little notice made from a cardboard box, folded, and on it it said SVP JAI FAIM. Now I know what it means: it means S'il Vous Plait J'ai Faim, or Please I'm Hungry. But they all had the apostrophe missing, and they were all written in a similar style. It was very puzzling. Is there a centralised Tramp School somewhere where they learn to make these signs?

And they were all holding out a little plastic cup. As a matter of fact, if you are hoping that people will give you money, then a plastic cup held in a wobbling hand is not a good receptacle: any would-be givers would have to get far too close to you. Some kind of hat a couple of yards away would work far better. Part of me wanted to go up to them and try to explain this.

I found myself intrigued. Where were they from? How had they got there? What happens to them?

Most of them didn't try to make eye contact or ask for money at all - just sat there holding out the little plastic cup.

The ones that really upset me were a much younger woman and a very grubby child, both asleep in the middle of the Rue de Rivoli, as shoppers and visitors to the Louvre rushed by.

I found the whole thing very unsettling. This was all, of course, in one of the richest parts of Paris with shops and headquarters of famous designers everywhere.

Here, if you look closely at the writing on the building, is L'Oreal. Because you're worth it.

Do we care about the tramps? I found them both intriguing and disturbing. I didn't have the courage to speak to any of them - I wasn't even sure if they were French or from elsewhere. I have the lingering feeling that Something Should be Done, but I don't know what, or by whom.

Monday, October 13, 2008

All That Glisters - -

I was walking towards the Arc de Triomphe on Friday when a teenage girl came walking towards me. She was slightly grubby and unkempt-looking and just slightly odd.

She bent down and apparently picked something up.

It was a ring, too large really to be a real ring, and apparently made of gold.

"Look," she said to me in French, "I have found this ring."

She pointed to some writing on the inside, supposedly a hallmark.

"You see? It is made of gold!"

I could see that it clearly was not made of any such thing: it was made of metal and was certainly yellow, but that was the closest to gold that it was ever going to get. However, I was slightly at a loss as to where this was going - - and, since there was just her and me, and she was definitely a bit strange, I thought I'd just keep quiet, hold tight to my handbag and see what happened next.

She showed me how it was too large for her slim fingers.

"It doesn't fit me," she said. "You have it." She handed it to me and I made to set off away from her, without speaking.

"But" she said (and, d'you know what, I'd been waiting for the "but")
"I have no money. And I have found this ring. And I am poor and hungry. Would you give me some money in exchange for the ring?"

Aaah. Now I knew where it was going, and I wasn't going to go with it.

I knew I had 20 cents in my pocket so gave her that, to her evident disgust.

"That's all," I said.

She said it wasn't enough, so I shrugged and offered her the ring back. She glowered and walked away, leaving me with the ring.

About a mile later on, as I approached the Arc de Triomphe, a young man bent down in front of me.

"Look," he said, in French "I have found this ring."

"Sorry, I don't speak French," I said and walked on.

As I wandered round the Aerospace Exhibition on the Champs-Elysees, another young woman bent to the ground.

"Look," she said, in French, "I have found this ring."

"Je ne suis pas as verte comme je suis cabbage-looking" I said in fluent Franglais. She looked puzzled and went on her way.

As I walked past the Louvre along the banks of the Seine a slightly older woman bent to the ground in front of me.

"Look," she said, in French, "I have found this ring."

I was getting bored now and also wondering what is it about me that makes me always, always a target for this kind of thing.

I considered "Oh, just fuck off, will you?" but settled for "Sono Italiano" and that worked.

All my life I've had this kind of thing. In the Seventies it was the Moonies who were always trying to get me to go with them for a cup of tea. Anyone with a scam or the weirder religious leanings makes a complete bee-line for me. One theory is that the pupils of my eyes are always large, which is true: apparently this makes me look both warm and welcoming (which I am, unless you're trying to con me) and also very gullible.

No doubt it's connected to the respectability that I know I give off in bucketloads. If you know me, you'll know what I mean. I don't know what it is that I do, of course.

Anyway, I took a photo of the ring, back at the hotel, on top of the hotel's book containing information and very expensive menus, and here it is.

So there we have it! A luxurious Paris hotel and the seamier side of Parisian life all neatly captured in one photograph.

When I publish Daphne's Book of Pretentious Arty Photographs this will be the one on the cover.

The Brushing of the Teeth

I have just been reading on Laura's blog about how she accidentally used her brother's toothbrush and was - quite correctly - horrified. Shared toothbrushes are one thing that I really don't like - - just makes me go ewwwwwwwwwww noooooo.

In the queue to check-in at Charles de Gaulle Airport today (that's in PARIS, because I've been to PARIS, did I mention it?) I found myself a kind of Daphne Sandwich between two French women who were talking past me to each other whilst encroaching greatly on my personal space.

The one behind me kept banging into my rucksack in a very irritating manner.

The one in front of me kept swinging her handbag into any bit of me which is to be found at the front above my navel and below my head (you notice how delicately I put that? Clearly Paris has given me some sort of refinement).

They were arguing about what you'd use to brush your teeth in England. The one behind thought it was a toothbrush. The one in front thought it was a teethbrush. (Going from the French, you see - brosse a dents, plural: logical - - but so wrong.)

After some discussion Teethbrush Woman declared herself correct, with just one final assault on my frontage by her handbag.

At which point Big Gob here had to open it and say mildly, "Actually, I'm English and it's toothbrush and can you STOP BANGING INTO MY TITS PLEASE?" (Okay, I said the first bit but not the second, because of my new Parisian refinement.)

On the plane I was sitting in aisle 8, seat E.

Can you guess, firstly, who was sitting in seat D?

And, secondly, can you guess who was sitting in seat F?

Yes, I thought you could probably work it out. It was elbows all the way.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Interclacker Deprivation in Paris Shock!

So, here I am, back again, all full of the incredible fabulousness of Paris.

I had, of course, hoped to blog and to be in touch whilst I was there. But the wifi on my beautiful little Asus Eeeeeeee laptop just wouldn't work.

Of course, I thought it was me. I just don't do technical, and everything technical knows that. I rang Stephen - who is Half Man Half Computer - and he talked me through a few things. It still didn't work.

So I took my little laptop down to reception, to Snooty Reception Homme.

Here is the moment to drop in, ever so casually, that I was there to work and staying in a really, really posh hotel, the Hotel Concorde St-Lazare. Should you wish to stay there, it costs a mere 400 Euros a night which is something around three hundred and sixteen of our best British pounds, five hundred and forty US dollars. Though you do get a very good breakfast. No, you're right, I wasn't paying. A hotel like that to me is Pearls Before Swine. Even though its lobby is just stunningly beautiful and absolutely huge.

But I just didn't encounter the notorious Parisian snootiness, except in Snooty Reception Homme, who was clearly thinking "Stupid middle-aged Englishwoman, I'm surprised she owns a laptop at all, ye Gods where DID she get those clothes from, Tesco's?" (He'll have been thinking it in French, though, obviously, and was probably right about the clothes).

"Oh, Madame, le wifi eet eeez vairy eeezy."

"Not on my Eeee eeet eez not."

With a competent swoop he pounced on my Eeee and pressed a few buttons with a practised air of competent snootiness. It failed to work.

"Aaah - - il ne marche pas" he said, mightily discomfited. "I am afraid I cannot 'elp you, Madame."

It was vairy nearly worth eet (sorry, I've been hearing that accent rather a lot) just to see his snooty expression replaced by crushed puzzlement. BUT NOT WORTH IT ENOUGH! I WANTED MY INTERCLACKER!

Stephen reckons the hotel's wifi was set up with a mistake in it which meant it only works with Windows. The Eee doesn't have Windows.

So I had an interclacker-free weekend. And this is where I should say never mind, it was good for me, I didn't miss it at all, there's more to life - - - etc.

But of COURSE I missed it! I spent quite a lot of my life just waiting for t'interclacker to be invented and I love it.

Still, Paris did its best to console me by being stunningly beautiful and giving me some really good stories too.

Some of which I'll tell you very soon. Using the interclacker. Hurrah!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pushy Mother

As I drove to Sheffield for some roleplay work today I heard a piece on Radio Two about some Pushy Mother who has written a book about how to be a Pushy Mother.

What had happened was that her son had applied to Oxford University and, in what she considered to be a great tragedy for the nation, he had been turned down, even though he was very very clever and no doubt knew what a fete is and everything, see my previous post.

He, she admitted, wasn't too bothered and had "moved on". She, however, was gutted. She had learned that other parents knew tricks that she didn't know to get their children into university.

So, having amassed all these cunning tricks, she has put them into a book and I don't know what the title is and I wouldn't tell you anyway because it's a hideous idea. The ones we heard were things like having a mock interview in the kitchen with several relatives and a clock to time it. She tried this on her twin daughters, apparently, and then the relatives gave them feedback and the daughters didn't like it.

Apparently the book tells us lots of free ways that will help - such as applying for courses that aren't too popular - or costly ways - private tuition, bribing the admissions department - - oh, I don't know what else because I found the whole thing ridiculous.

The point was, she was trying to get these two daughters into medical school and was so pushy about it that her husband threatened to leave her. I think that the daughters did get in eventually - - I think I'd stopped listening properly by then.

The point, for me, was that I was working today with a group of young doctors who had been through medical school, and were about to do their final exams after three years' training to be GPs.

They were a great group: intelligent, hard-working, committed. Getting into medical school is one thing: getting through it and then working as a doctor is another. From what Pushy Mother was saying, she was the one who was the keen one, not her daughters. What was she pushing for? To be able to say she has two daughters at medical school? What if they hate it, or aren't very good at it, and leave?

What a disappointment they will be to her then. But perhaps they'll have a better time of it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Prince Charles and Me and a Stamp

We don't have much in common, Prince Charles and me. However, one thing that we DO have in common is that we sometimes talk on the phone to someone whose picture appears on a postage stamp.

For Pablo, an actor I know - I'd better not give his surname in case you have to sign the Official Secrets Act to be on a stamp - is the Ugly Sister on the second-class stamp this Christmas. How impressive is that? - Very, since you ask - I bet you don't know anyone who's been on a stamp!

He's the one on the right: "larger but more beautiful" as he said to me earlier.

He's played a lot of Ugly Sisters and treated me to a standard Ugly Sister joke:

"We're fastidious - - I'm fast and she's hideous!"

Boom boom!